Kaeun remembers Nayoung and Siyeon and the others. She is happy for them.
She remembers Nayoung collapsing to the floor when it was announced that Kaeun would debut and Nayoung would not. She remembers how withdrawn Nayoung became after that, how she’d lost her closest friend Jonghyun to a debut lineup, how she’d felt like she’d failed because she couldn’t join him. Nayoung got quieter and stronger, and danced and rapped and sang until she was one of the most skilled. Im Nayoung is one of the most determined people Kaeun has ever known.
Nayoung plays her cards close to her chest through the show. Nayoung stays elegant, worthy of the Stone Buddha image MNET gives her. Nayoung does not let on that she is scared, even though Kaeun can tell that she is.
Kaeun is proud to see Nayoung perform Bang! with the other trainees. She is proud of Nayoung’s AH! team and the praise she gets from Kahi eonni. She is proud of Nayoung’s rank rising. She is proud of Nayoung rapping with confidence, not stumbling over her words like she had the first time she’d tried it, five years before. She is proud of Nayoung leading, and not taking any shit from the individual trainee who was rude to her. She is proud of Nayoung doing voluntary aegyo for the camera. She is proud of Nayoung, of this person who once upon a time she had called her friend.
Park Junghyun. Yes, Kaeun remembers who she is. Junghyun is their little girl, Pledis’ little sister, spoiled by eonnis and oppas alike. Junghyun and Kaeun have been on sets together for years.
Kaeun has lost touch with their little girl over the years, so she is shamefully surprised when she appears on this survival show as Siyeon with a lisp much less defined than it had been in her childhood and vocal skills that appear to shock even the girl herself. Siyeon plays with concepts, toying with an innocent image Kaeun knows she doesn’t have, then roundly shocking the viewers with her choice of concept song. (To Kaeun, though, this is the most predictable Siyeon has been on the entire show so far.)
Siyeon ranks twenty-fourth, and the look on her face reminds Kaeun a little bit of Nayoung.
But Nayoung is the first member to be called for the final group and Kaeun screams and so does Yiyoung eonni and Hyerin eonni might be crying and someone has phoned Seungcheol and Jonghyun sends Kaeun a frantic text asking if she’s seen and hell yeah she has , their Nayoung is debuting. There is a shot of Yebin shrieking and clapping her hands for Nayoung and in that moment Kaeun thinks that she and Yebin are one and the same.
God, this hurts Kaeun to watch. They debuted the same year she did. Jonghyun, Minhyun, Minki, Dongho.
They put them into D class and no, this is not the pride Kaeun felt seeing Kyulkyung into A class and Nayoung into B, no, this is something different, something dark that hides around corners and makes Kaeun want to yell. This is shame and regret and fear, and most of all frustration. She cries for them. Jinah eonni cries too. Sooyoung eonni calls Kahi eonni and Kahi eonni cries over the phone. They do this because they know how strong the boys are and that they will not cry for themselves.
(Minki does cry. It shocks Kaeun to see, but the eonnis don’t act surprised.)
But they rise. Jonghyun finds this tall, awkward boy and mothers him, builds him, and Kahi eonni tells them how he takes the fall for his team before the episode even airs and Kaeun feels like punching a wall but oh, he ranks first a month later, and the shock and disbelief in his eyes numbs Kaeun because it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Minhyun mothers the same boy, and adopts one of the Cube babies, and another trainee who doesn’t get any screentime with Minhyun named Jinyoung who is apparently the Jung Chaeyeon of the second season. Dongho and his temper bring a laugh out of the After School watching party in the dorm that leads Yujin eonni to make a tiger joke. And of course Minki, playing the role of a hyung for the first time in years, acting every bit the Lady Gaga in his sunglasses and bleached hair. Aron oppa and Bekah eonni FaceTime them from America and show Kaeun memes some international fan made on Tumblr.
It falls apart. Minhyun debuts alone and Jonghuyn smiles as Korea once again tells him he isn’t good enough.
Seungcheol calls her later that night.
Yunjin is a nice girl. But Yunjin is seven years younger and has been a trainee for six months. Kaeun doesn’t know why she’s doing this.
Nayoung and Minhyun come to see her on the first day of filming. Kaeun has to hold back a cry when she sees Nayoung, because now Nayoung is the sunbae and Kaeun is the trainee. It’s a mirror, a mirror of 2012, a mirror of the first season. And Minhyun is there to watch sadly because he never wanted his nuna to share his fate.
Yunjin is a ray of sunshine, thankfully, she teaches Kaeun English and makes her listen to La Vie En Rose at least twelve times and introduces her to trainees from Blockberry and WM and Woollim and a couple 48 system girls who are ecstatic to meet the Lee Kaeun (and also to talk to someone who speaks at least basic Japanese).
They make Kaeun their center. The future looks bright.