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They say there are two types of death a person experiences in their life. One is the final death where your body no longer functions as it should, where they say your spirit leaves your body. And the other is that moment when you’re still alive but you already feel like it’s probably better in hell. Or be lost and drowning in the Bermuda Triangle.

Of course, Wendy just made those two things up. Or maybe not. The last few days have felt like the second death explained above, except this one happens everyday.

“You look like you need coffee,” Joy says as she sits across Wendy and gently slides her a large mug of her usual coffee: a cappuccino but with more espresso and less steamed milk.

“You know what I need, Joy?” she asks hypothetically and then answers her own question, “Money!”

“Everyone needs that,” Joy makes a point as she sips from her own cup of coffee. Hers is black, like her soul as Wendy would often suggest. “Drink your coffee,” she tells Wendy.

Wendy does what she’s told. She grabs the mug resting on the table and takes a sip. Releasing a heavy sigh, she looks around the coffee shop. It’s nearly 10 in the morning so, basically, the morning horde of white-collar millennials are done getting their quick coffee fix. There are only a handful of people seated by the tables and they’re either reading the paper or looking at their laptops. Yay free Wi-Fi!

Red Flavor, a three-year old coffee shop located at the heart of the Yongsan district, has been Wendy’s second home. Well, third if you count her actual home in Cheongdam which she rarely visits anymore. Anyway, Red Flavor serves the best cappuccino in town and also because she co-owns it with Joy, her bestfriend in the whole wide world.

They met when they were eight and have been attached at the hip since then. They went to the same school together and only took different paths when it was finally time for Uni.

Joy took up business while Wendy went to medical school because… well, if you come from a long line of doctors, you’re going to be a doctor, too.

Right after Joy’s graduation from business school, they put together this coffee shop with Joy’s business savvy and using the money Wendy’s father left for her before he died. Three years in, Red Flavor was able to establish itself as one of the neighborhood’s staple cafes.

It has an Instagram-friendly interior design with its brilliantly crafted vintage feel. Along with the wooden counters, tables, and chairs, the brick walls also add to the overall feel of the place. There are shelves attached to the wall with random objects placed on them.

If you ask Wendy, this is exactly the place you’d go to if you’re too proud and impatient to wait for the long line to dissipate at the Starbucks right across the street. Or if you need to Instagram a coffee with a beautifully designed latte art on it—this is the place.

If you ask Wendy, and also Joy, they hate how this whole thing is designed. But it makes money. You hang out at a certain place for long periods of time, you begin to forget how awful some things are.

“Six months, Wendy,” Joy pulls her out of her reverie. “Six months, you’ll attract new customers to the café and eventually make enough money to buy out the building owner.”

“I cannot believe I am sinking this low,” Wendy mutters as she takes one more sip from her cup.

“You know what they say, your low is someone else’s high,” Joy says with a smile.

“Go to hell.”

“Of course I will, I won’t let you get comfortable in there alone.”

“Bold of you to assume I’m going to die first,” Wendy banters.

Joy was about to muster up a great comeback when the door to the coffee shop swings open and in comes Chanyeol, Joy’s older brother. He manages a lopsided grin the moment he sees them both, “You both look horrible.”

“Brother of the year, right there,” Joy rolls her eyes as she signals to Momo, the morning shift barista. Upon seeing Chanyeol take his seat with them, she nods and starts preparing his usual drink. It’s hard to miss him enter a room with that police uniform and all.

“Big day, huh?” he asks Wendy.

Wendy releases a breath, “I am so poor.”

Chanyeol laughs, “Oh come on, Wendy, that’s not true. You just don’t want your mom’s help. Plus, what’s the worst that could happen?”

She looks him in the eyes, “I’m about to date the biggest bitch in high school. Tell me, what’s the worst that could happen?”

Joy and Chanyeol only laugh at her.

“Wendy, may I remind you that Irene was not the biggest bitch in high school. You were,” Joy makes a point. “You were kind of a snob. You’re only saying she’s a bitch ‘cause she never gave a damn about your popularity. Well, she didn’t appear like she cared about anything at all but still.”

Wendy could only roll her eyes.

Chanyeol butts in with a small laugh, “Also, she’s no longer high school Joohyun.” He reaches out to the table next to them and grabs the paper resting on it. It is today’s Chosun. He turns the pages until he reaches the Entertainment section.

He clears his throat playfully as he reads today’s Entertainment headline: “’Irene Bae: The Homecoming Queen’—she’s Irene now.”

Joy smiles, “You’re no longer the Queen, Wendy.”

“Of all people.”

Chanyeol ignores their banter and proceeds to reading the first few paragraphs of the headline, “Irene Bae, star of the Hollywood hit dystopian trilogy The Red Summer and a Lee Soo-Man International School alumna, is set to come home for the filming of her upcoming TV show, Russian Roulette.”

He glances at Wendy before he continues, “Russian Roulette stars Bae as Margaret Winters, a young and clever homicide detective who stumbles into new evidence that unlocks several doors to a past she’s been running away from. The filming starts on October in Dongjak.”

“Sounds just like every detective show I’ve ever known,” Wendy shrugs.

Joy grabs the paper from her brother. “This is my favorite part,” she says and then reads, “The highly anticipated TV show boasts a star-studded lineup which includes Yook SungJae who recently wrapped up the Daesang award-winning KBS2 thriller, That Day Long Ago.”

“Damn, I loved that show,” Chanyeol says.

“You guys are not helping.”

Chanyeol continues, “Look, I’m just saying. They’ll pay you for dating her, you being linked to her will draw attention to the coffee shop—“

Joy interrupts, “—and me.”

“—so, there’s no reason to freak out.”

“Not to mention,” Joy unfolds the paper and raises it right in front of Wendy, “look at her. She’s fuckin’ gorgeous.”

Wendy didn’t want to admit but the half-page photo of Irene that came with the headline story highlights the girl’s best features. She’s gorgeous but then again, the situation is fucked so yeah.

Just bury me alive now.

.

Aside from Asan Medical Center where her mom works and Severance Hospital where she’s currently serving her first year as an Intern, she’s never really been inside any of the fancy buildings in Seoul.

So sitting inside this office located on the 34th floor of some office building is quite a new thing. The girl who escorted her to this huge conference room was friendly enough to give her a glass of water and was also nice enough to open the blinds. The windows are thrice her height and it gives her a nice, inviting view of the Gangnam District and wow .

It’s so inviting that she might actually jump right out of the window if this meeting doesn’t turn up well.

She hates to admit it but while Red Flavor isn’t on the verge of bankruptcy, it isn’t making enough money to stop real estate developers from trying to buy their space from the city. Sure, they’re earning enough to run the shop but since there’s been a boost in Yongsan’s population over the last few years, residential developers are now looking to buy land everywhere and Red Flavor’s prime location has been one of their targets.

On top of that, the coffee shop is Wendy’s only source of income aside from what little she gets from her internship. Any chance of financial support from her mother has gone out the window the day she decided to keep the café running.

Long story short, her mom wasn’t exactly supportive of the idea of keeping it running after her father died. But Wendy, ever the stubborn daughter, decided to keep it. After all, it was the only thing she has left of her father.

She wasn’t going to lose it without a fight.

She’s standing by the window, taking a Snap of the breathtaking view when she hears the glass door of the conference room slide open.

She turns and sees who she can only assume is Jessica Jung, Irene Bae’s manager and defender of the world.

“Hi,” Wendy greets nervously. She bows out of habit and the other woman does the same.

“We’ve spoken on the phone, I’m Jessica,” she introduces herself.

The manager gives Wendy a look from head to toe and then smirks.

God, even her smirk is intimidating.

Wendy can only hope that she liked what she saw.

Jessica is wearing a pair of black skinny jeans topped with a plain white shirt, a red scarf, and a black leather jacket. Her brown boots extend to her calf. Her golden brown hair that has streaks of blonde is freely let down. Her skin is glowing even under the fluorescent light of the conference room.

This is an LA thing, that much Wendy knows.

But there’s something about Jessica that seems so intimidating. Just by looking at her, you know she’s someone smart and knows her craft well. Everything about her screams fuck with me and I’ll hunt you down and kill you myself .

Wendy prays she can’t read minds.

“You’re prettier in person,” Jessica comments nonchalantly. She smiles and even her smile scares Wendy. But the compliment sort of throws her off.

“Thanks?” she asks, unsure if that was really a compliment.

Jessica takes a seat and gestures for Wendy to sit as well.

Slightly nervous, Wendy takes the seat across Jessica which is probably a bad decision because if Jessica decided to throw a chair at her, it wouldn’t take much to hit her.

She really, really hopes Jessica can’t read minds.

“So, one of our researchers ended up finding you.”

“You know, that’s one of the questions I have coming in here,” Wendy says. She tries to square up her shoulders the way Jessica does so perfectly but she can only guess she’s failing miserably in pulling it off. “Why me?”

“When we thought of this publicity stunt, we had three things in mind,” Jessica starts. Does she even blink at all? Is she human? “We needed someone who’s pretty, smart, and poor.”

“I am honestly flattered,” Wendy is amused at how flattered she is by those three qualities. She is pretty, come on. She is smart, of course. And yeah, she’s poor by the mere definition of I can’t pay my bills anymore .

Jessica continues, “We thought we’d spice it up and find someone from Irene’s hometown and bam , you just seemed to pop up in every place we looked at.”

“What places are those?”

“Just the school.”

“Great,” Wendy mutters. “So you needed someone from the school?”

Jessica adjusts on her seat, looking just about ready for a throwdown, “Okay, Wendy. Let me just walk you through this quickly, okay?”

Wendy nods because really, she doesn’t know how she ended up here although she knows very well that she needs to be here.

“There’s a casting coming up for a big movie next year,” Jessica starts. “This movie is a lot bigger than The Red Summer. Let’s face it, Red Summer was big but the audience were primarily teens. We need Irene out of that box. That box is great but with the talent Irene has, we could make her a Kate Beckinsale, an Angelina.”

Wendy listens attentively. If she’s gonna do this, she’s gonna do this right.

“To land that role, we need to convince the market and the producers that we’ve taken Irene out of that box. We need to create the vibe that Irene has grown out of her role in The Red Summer but not the way Miley grew out of Disney, you catchin’ my drift here?”

Wendy nods again, “So basically, you need to make her a little more edgy? And what better way to make her more edgy than to have her date a girl, right?”

“I know how this sounds, Wendy. But her coming out party a few months ago wasn’t a gimmick. The rumors have been circling around since the paparazzi feasted on her makeout sesh with Jan Olsson on the set of Red Summer last year. We just confirmed what the public already knows.”

Wendy rolls her eyes, “Her speech at GLAAD was nice.”

“I wrote that speech.”

“You write good speeches. You should work for the President.”

Jessica lets out a laugh. “You’re weird, I like you. Look,” a pause, “We’re already making her a little edgy by landing that role on Russian Roulette. That show has so much potential to give Irene a darker twist. The writer at the Chosun Ilbo will pay for writing that shitty synopsis. But my point is, we just have to make her grow up more. The people need to see her out with someone not from the business.”

“I get it, I do.”

“But?”

Wendy shrugs, “I don’t know what to say or what I’m actually worried about. I just have a feeling this isn’t going to end well.”

“How bad can it be, really? We’ll pay you. Your coffee shop will attract new visitors once this story blows all over the Internet and after six months, you’ll break up. It’s not very complicated. As big as it seems, nothing happens in show business that people like me can’t control,” Jessica reassures her.

Wendy lets out a deep breath, “Whatever. It’s not like I have much of a choice.”

Jessica smiles, “Don’t worry. Before you know it, it’s over.”

“Fine.”

Jessica nods contentedly as she stands, “Great. So we were able to bribe Principal Cho into inviting your batch for a reunion. In our narrative, that’s where you and Irene met again and decided to catch up since she’s back in town.”

“You’ve planned this down to the very last detail, haven’t you?”

“Honey, we’re just getting started.”

“And Irene? She’s on board with this idea?”

“How do you think we tracked you?”

“Was it her idea to have me for this?”

“I lied about the researcher part.”

“I don’t like you.”

“Good,” Jessica says with a smile. “The dance is on Saturday. We’ll mail you the dress by Thursday.”

“I have my own dresses.”

“No, not Vera Wang, you don’t.”

Ugh.

“I thought I was poor?”

“A girl will do anything to be noticed by her crush, right?”

“She said that? That's the story we’re going for? That I had a crush on her?” she cries in sheer frustration.

Jessica just laughs and walks out of the conference room. Wendy is left there alone. She no longer feels like she wants to jump out of the window, more like she wants to push Irene out of it.

Deep inside, she wonders how the hell Irene remembers her. Is it the poor? Or is it the pretty and smart?

Well, a girl can hope.

.

Saturday Afternoon

“Wow,” Joy manages. Her eyes dart on Wendy from head to toe. “I can’t remember the last time you dressed up.”

Wendy rolls her eyes, “Neither do I.”

She looks at herself in the full-body mirror. The dress Jessica sent her is a silver cocktail dress with a plunging sweetheart neckline. The fitted bustier top is designed with baroque-inspired rhinestone beading. It finishes off with a dramatic flared skirt which hangs about two inches above her knees.

“I look—“

“—young,” Joy finishes her sentence with a cackle. “And datable,” she adds.

“You can stop insulting me anytime now.”

“Never,” the brunette says with a wink as she walks to stand behind Wendy. She looks at Wendy in the mirror. “Are you ready for tonight?”

“To meet Irene?”

“That and also, you know. It’s the first time you’re going back there since—“ she doesn’t finish the sentence. She knows Wendy will get it.

Wendy opens her mouth to say something but no words come out. It’s almost eight years since high school; eight years since Rosé.

“It’s been eight years,” she echoes.

“That’s not exactly an answer to my question,” Joy counters, ever not one who takes her bullshit.

“I’m ready,” Wendy says quietly.

Joy smiles warmly, putting an arm around her shoulders. They’re looking at themselves in front of the mirror. “For what it’s worth, from where she’s watching, I’m sure her jaw will drop seeing you tonight,” Joy nods, a proud smile gracing her lips.

“I bet her jaw has dropped more than once for the last eight years with all the fucked-up things I’ve done.”

“Yeah, that’s more likely to be it,” Joy says with a laugh. She lightly taps Wendy’s cheek before she steps away from the smaller girl, “Good luck meeting her tonight. Please introduce me so she can introduce me to Sungjae, my future husband.”

“You’re delusional.”

“I am but so are you,” Joy laughs as she untangles herself from Wendy. “I am going now because I have to look decent enough to stand next to Irene Bae later.”

“You’re not the one who’s about to fake-date her.”

“Yeah, but she’s about to fake-date you which means I have to be her fake-friend. And Instagram can’t recognize fake,” she finishes and then completely vanishes from Wendy’s room.

Wendy releases a heavy sigh. There’s no going back now.

.

Reunion

Lee Sooman International School does not look the same. She can’t say she’s surprised that it looks different now. After all, it’s been eight years. After she graduated, she never really looked back. High school was nice but if she’s going to be honest, she has more bad memories from it than good.

Judging by the lack of people walking down the halls to the gymnasium, she’s sure she’s already late. She doesn’t bother walking any faster. She’s not thrilled about this event. She’s nervous and sad, and also a bit angry—because that’s what life does to you after high school. It just kinda makes you angrier at everything.

Walking the halls of the school is an interesting experience. The place doesn’t look like the way she left it but the feeling is the same. It’s like coming back to your childhood home after years of living across the country—you don’t remember dates but each room you pass by brings back memories.

Some of them good, some of them bad; but for Wendy, those memories are a bit odd. It’s like the Wendy Son that spent three years inside these four walls are way behind her now. She’s no longer that girl. It’s like the memories belong to her but she cannot remember who that girl is.

She passes by the glass cabinet that holds the school’s competition titles—because like every poorly written TV show she knows, the main protagonist refuses to take a different way to the gymnasium although she knows this hallway holds awful memories for her.

She stops by the glass cabinet and stares at it for a few moments. Under a huge National High School Music Championships trophy is a small banner that reads: In Memory of Rosé Park.

Wendy’s heart breaks again; just like the way it did on that fateful day.

Rosé was going to an exclusive music school in LA on a full ride. She was going to be one of the best musicians this school has ever produced.

But such is life, shit happens.

She decides to keep walking because that’s what she’s been doing for the last eight years. She was able to muscle through six years of med school at Seoul National University and was able to pass the KMLE—sure as hell she could make it through this night and the next six months.

Walking into the gymnasium is like surrendering yourself to the devil.

The seniors of the current batch are everywhere, looking young as Wendy will never be again. Then, there are familiar faces from her batch.

Some of them she still remembers. Thanks to Facebook, you get to stay in touch with people without trying too hard.

“Look who’s here,” a man’s voice distracts her thoughts. “Wendy Son, her royal highness.”

Wendy rolls her eyes good-naturedly, “Oh Sehun.”

Sehun walks to her and pulls her in for a quick hug. He’s one of the few people she considered a friend in high school. That time was a weird time. It’s not even the food chain thing.

High school is a lot like the apocalypse in the sense that you have to stay with people you trust. Sehun, though most people found it weird, was one of those people. He isn’t part of the cool circle. He didn’t give a damn about the high school food chain. 

She smiles at him.

“It’s been a while,” he says. “You want me to get you a drink?”

Wendy laughs, “I was hoping your first words to me in such a long time wouldn’t involve you getting me drunk.”

Lanky as ever, he runs his hand through his hair, “Look at all these people. No way you can survive this without alcohol.”

“I know,” she agrees. “But I’ll pass for now. I am looking for somebody.”

He shrugs, “I’ll see you around then. But the next time I see you, we’ll drink.”

“Great.”

Sehun walks past her to greet some other familiar faces. She scans the crowd and tries to look for someone in particular. It wouldn’t be hard to find her in this crowd. She’s Irene Bae after all.

She walks around a couple more moments until she finally spots her.

Irene Bae is standing by the corner of the room with a couple of people Wendy doesn’t recognize. The lights on that corner of the room are quite dim but even in poor lighting, Irene Bae shines. As cliché as that sounds.

Her long dark hair is swept to the side, thus highlighting her facial features especially that jawline. She’s wearing makeup so light that Wendy would’ve easily missed it. She’s wearing a white, sleeveless fitted crop top paired with a black flowy, floor-length skirt. She dons it so casually with an air of confidence that can only be learned with the lifestyle and popularity she’s had over the last few years.

Wendy doesn’t know what causes her to stop on her tracks. Maybe she’s star-struck? She doesn’t know. All she knows is that something about Irene Bae takes her breath away.

She notices that Irene isn’t much involved in the conversation happening around her. She could see her nod and acknowledge those people talking to her but her face doesn’t reveal much. She’s not smiling. She’s not frowning either. She has an impassive expression on her face which makes her all the more regal.

Maybe Wendy will die once she smiles.

Wendy swallows the lump that has formed in her throat.  She starts walking up to her without taking her eyes off the woman. After all, she’s supposed to have a crush on her.

She’s already close when Irene catches her eyes. Again, her expression doesn’t change but you could see a glint of recognition.

After what seems like forever, they’re standing face-to-face, Wendy and Irene about to begin telling a lie.

No one speaks for a while until one of the girls Irene’s talking to acknowledges her presence.

“Son Wendy?” she hears one of the girls say. She briefly takes her eyes away from Irene and looks at the girl who just called her name.

Soojin. She remembers Soojin. She’s one of the newspaper girls. She always interviewed her when the choir had national competitions.

“Soojin, hey,” she greets with a smile.

“I’m so glad you still remember me,” Soojin beams.

“I can never forget you barging into our practice room just to interview me. Worst days of my life,” she jokes. It’s not a joke. She hated Soojin. She hated the newspaper girls.

Soojin laughs as she gestures to the brown-haired on Irene’s other side, “You remember Miyeon?”

No. “Yes, I remember,” she lies. “It’s nice seeing you again.”

Miyeon only nods and smiles.

“And of course, Irene. I bet she doesn’t need any introduction,” Soojin says.

Wendy smiles, “Yeah, no need. It’s all over Chosun.”

Irene lets out a tight-lipped smile, “Hello, Wendy.”

Something knocks the air out of Wendy’s lungs. For a moment there, she forgets how to breathe. Irene’s voice is low and teasing. Like they’re existing in a bubble only they know about.

“Irene,” she greets back. It’s all she can manage.

“I’m surprised you acknowledged me this time,” Irene says, again with that smirk and that teasing tone. “You ignored me all of high school.”

Wendy swallows. She hopes Irene can’t see how much she affects Wendy. “Well, I ignored a lot of people in high school. That’s what happens when you’re popular. But I bet you already know that,” she bites back.

Irene nods, impressed.

“I’m actually here to get you to Principal Cho. He’d like to speak with you about the donation you made to the school,” Wendy says effortlessly. She remembers Jessica’s line from their conversation earlier:

This is how you’ll get her alone.

“Right,” Irene recognizes the cue. She turns to Soojin and Miyeon, “I have to go with her for a bit but I’ll catch up with you later.”

The two girls nod as Irene makes a move and stands next to Wendy. They start to walk alongside one another without saying anything.

The silence between them isn’t exactly uncomfortable. But it is tentative. They stay silent as they pass by a couple of seniors who look at Irene like they’re about to faint. Wendy can’t judge them. She almost fainted back there.

They reach the hallways and head toward the direction of the Principal’s office. It is when the gymnasium is out of sight do they stop and stand right in front of the other.

“I didn’t think you’d agree,” Irene states. Her voice isn’t warm. It isn’t cold either. It’s just devoid of any emotion at all.

“I didn’t have much of a choice,” Wendy retorts. “How do we do this?”

“When we go back there, you’re going to ask me to dance and I will agree,” Irene tells her.

“Great.”

“Right.”

Silence settles between them again and that’s when it gets awkward.

To break the tension, Wendy asks the first question she could think of, “You’re really on-board with this kind of shit?”

“I didn’t have much of a choice either.”

“Jessica said you’re the one who brought up my name. You know what’s so weird here? We never talked at all. We went to the same school but that’s just about it. For my name to pop up in your memory eight years later seems a bit random to me.”

“I kept in touch with some people from high school. They told me about the coffee shop. I figured you could use the money.”

“I’m not buying it.”

“Not forcing you to,” Irene deadpans. “You’re getting more from this than I do, so I don’t think you get the right to complain.”

“I have a few rules—“

Irene interrupts her with a laugh, “You don’t get to make the rules here.”

Wendy is honestly taken aback by this girl’s attitude. Is she like this all the time? Is she this—

Now it finally clicks in her head.

Wendy huffs, and then lets out a smug smile, “It finally makes sense.”

Irene looks at her, waiting for her to continue.

“You’re saying that I’m getting more from this than you do but that’s not true, is it?” Wendy spats, moving a couple of steps back so she could take a good look at the girl’s expression and body language. “You could’ve chosen anyone, anybody. LA, heck, Seoul is a huge place. Tons of people would jump at the chance of being your fake-girlfriend. But there’s just no one out there who needs the money badly enough to tolerate you.”

As expected, Irene doesn’t confirm nor deny what Wendy has said.

“Because the rumors are true,” Wendy says with a laugh. “You are an asshole.”

Thanks to hours of reading blogs and forums about Irene, the girl’s attitude problem no longer surprised her.

“You don’t know me.”

“And here I thought I was special,” Wendy says, now feeling like she has the upper hand in this conversation. “But really, you’re just running out of options because no one can stand you.”

Irene doesn’t answer and only looks at her with that emotionless face of hers. It irks Wendy even more so she only shakes her head and walks back to the direction of the gymnasium.

“Where are you going?” Irene asks.

“I need a drink,” Wendy says because what else can she do?

“Hey, come back here, we’re not yet done.”

“Nope. I’m not drunk enough for this.”

As Wendy serves herself a drink, she tries to ignore that weird feeling bubbling in her stomach.

Fake-dating Irene Bae could either be the best decision she made in her life. Or the worst.

/