Music Hyperlink: Beautiful Pain, by BTOB.
Suffocating, so suffocating. If the air was any thicker Yena would gladly choke to death. Anything would be better than this ill-timed reunion. Takahashi Juri was her trauma, her past that she fought so hard to erase only for that illusion to be shattered in mere seconds. No matter how deep Yena tried to bury her hurt, the pain and the heartbreak from their separation, no matter how much she tried to move on, it was almost as if there was just no allowable respite for her.
And now, with Yuri just behind her, Juri just in front; they were the two owners of her heart, two magnets drawing Yena in, but only one could succeed. There should only be one who would succeed - this was Yena’s firm belief, but Juri’s presence shook that fragile pillar of belief like an earthquake.
“How have you been?” Juri’s smile was plastic, like the one she gave Yena before leaving.
"Good." Yena felt her mouth curl into a smile equally fake - not fake, she told herself, merely polite and nothing else. They exchanged gazes, gazes that burned and ripped through the fabric of space between them. Any fool who dared to step between them now would be crushed by the ferocity and heat palpable in the surrounding atmosphere.
“Yena.” A quiet voice cleaved the tense air in half. Just like that, the hairs on Yena’s neck that stood up at the sight of Juri relaxed when she turned to Yuri. “Who is…?”
Yena reached out to take Yuri’s hand, fingers curling into her palm. “This,” she said, gesturing with excessive politeness, “is Juri. Juri, this is Yuri.” Just holding her hand calmed Yena down immediately. Yuri really was the yang to her yin, soothing her anger and all the negativity that boiled and bubbled in her chest in the presence of Juri. She didn’t dare imagine having to meet Juri alone under these circumstances - just when she had managed to stand on her own again, regaining her balance, who was Juri to sweep the rug from under her feet and topple her again?
“Oh. Hello. Nice to meet you.” Yuri bowed to Juri.
Was it just Yena, or did Juri’s smile grow stiffer? The Japanese woman inclined her head in greeting. “You’ve moved on quickly, Yena,” she muttered, just loud enough for Yena’s sharp ears to hear. “A bit too fast.”
Yena flushed angrily at the comment. She shouldn’t have any right to say something like that, Yena thought, not when she was the one who left. But when she looked at Juri, were her eyes playing tricks on her, or did the Japanese woman look a bit remorseful?
No, that wouldn’t make sense. Why would Juri, of all people, be remorseful after what she did? Yena dismissed the notion and shook her head.
“We should go, Yuri,” Yena announced loudly, glaring at Juri as she said so. She tugged on Yuri’s hand to drag her away. “It was nice meeting you again, Juri.”
As they walked away from Juri, feet moving a little faster than really needed, Yena squeezed Yuri’s hand. She needed to reassure herself that the younger girl was still with her.
“Yena!” Juri called from behind them, her voice sing-song. A siren calling her victim to their doom. Yena spared a tentative glance back, making eye contact with Juri. Juri’s smile spread like a child’s, dangerous hunger hiding behind innocence. “Let’s meet again soon.”
“Are you okay?” Yuri asked in the ride home. She reached her hand out to smooth down Yena's hair, concern written all over her face.
If she was being honest, Yena was far from okay. She was angry, shocked, and most of all disgusted with herself because she just knew in the few seconds she first laid eyes on Juri her heart had leapt in stuttering, foolish hope - as if nothing had changed from a year ago.
Hadn't she learned yet?
"I'm just tired, I guess," Yena muttered, pinching her nose bridge between two fingers.
“Really? That’s it?”
“And a bit surprised, to be honest. I didn’t expect to see Juri here again.” This wasn’t a lie, Yena told herself. It wasn’t a lie, just an underwhelming truth.
“I could tell.” Yena’s head snapped up at Yuri’s admission. “You two seemed, well, close.”
Yuri nodded, curling up in her seat. She hesitated, then gently asked, “Were you two… together?”
Silence engulfed the car. Yena licked her lips. Her mouth was dry. Her mind immediately rushed to make something up, to lie to Yuri not just because she didn’t know what Yuri would think of it but also to protect herself from something she desperately did not want to recall. Yet when she opened her mouth, the only words that came out of her mouth were: “How did you know?”
“Just a feeling.”
“It didn’t end well.”
Yuri hummed in response, choosing not to say anything. It was impossible to miss the tension between Yena and Juri, the pain in Yena’s eyes. If Yuri had picked up on that then, then maybe her stepping between them was on purpose. And if that was the case, then Yena was eternally grateful.
Yena took Yuri’s hand in hers and squeezed it, feeling bones moving under delicate skin. Cars sped by outside, hidden behind drawn curtains. “Thank you.”
“Don’t worry,” Yuri said, echoing Yena’s words earlier in the day. “I’m here for you.”
But Yuri couldn’t always be there with her. Not when there were other commitments, like university classes and property settlements in Busan and everything else that filled up her schedule and brought her to the brink of exhaustion.
Yena herself was busy with work. Ever since her appearance as the music show's emcee, she suddenly received many invitations from shows and events requesting for her emcee skills. With all these to attend, plus her regular variety show appearances and commercial filmings, it was impossible to catch a breather. She'd leave home early and return late, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning - but Yuri would always be there, waiting for her, strumming her guitar and singing until Yena returned.
And if not, Yuri was always a phone call away.
Until she wasn’t.
Yena was concerned, obviously. Pacing back and forth in the waiting room provided for her, she dialled and redialled Yuri’s number as her outfit, styled to fashion magazine perfection, swished back and forth with her movements. Why wasn’t Yuri picking up? She couldn’t be busy with university classes, not at nine-thirty at night, and Yena recalled that she had just returned from a Busan trip the day before.
Maybe she was occupied with something else. Maybe she was getting some dinner, or watching a show, or left her phone somewhere where she couldn’t hear it ring. So Yena left a message, a quick text telling her to call or text back whenever. Then she went off to work, leaving her phone in the waiting room.
But minutes turned to hours, and Yena had not heard back from Yuri. She repeatedly asked her staff members to notify her if her phone went off, but nothing. Every break she took was spent checking and double-checking her phone, making sure it hadn’t run out of battery, making sure she didn’t accidentally put it on silent. She considered texting Yuri again, or calling to make sure everything was okay.
When Yuri failed to pick up the call, fear started to sink in. Did something happen to her? Was there a robbery, or did something go very wrong with the house in Busan, or was there something else even worse, something else horrendously unimaginable?
Yena’s head shot up when a knock sounded on her waiting room door. Her manager stood by the doorway, leaning on the jamb with a weary look on his face. In his hand was her phone, screen bright with pictures flashing across it. He waved his phone, uncharacteristically serious.
“Have you seen the news?” he asked warily.
“Not yet, why? We’ve been busy the whole day, I haven’t had time…” Yena’s words trailed off as her manager handed her his phone. Scrawled across the screen in large bold letters were the words:
VARIETY STAR CHOI YENA DATING A NON-CELEBRITY?
And just under that, in plain sight, was a crystal-clear photograph of her and Yuri in the train back from Busan, holding hands as they snoozed on each other’s shoulders. Yena blinked, trying to process what exactly she was seeing. With a shaky hand she scrolled down, scanning empty words, seeing paparazzi shots of her and Yuri in the Busan train station, in Yuri’s university, and even the shots of her and Yuri arriving at that one music show.
Simple photos had been illuminated in a different light, giving the impression of secrecy and illicit relationships. Pictures of their hands brushing had been outlined by red circles; subtle glances that may not even be actual glances were interpreted in suspicious ways. And as if these weren’t enough, whoever had wrote this stupid tabloid article proceeded to speculate when they had started ‘dating’, what the Busan trip meant – even making up fake conversations.
What nonsense. How anyone could believe that, she’d never know. But when she scrolled down to read the comments, disbelief turned into disappointment. Some netizens expressed sadness that their favourite star wasn’t dating their favourite idol (like Yena would ever date Seungkwan, please, he’s like her brother). Some expressed disgustingly blatant homophobia. Yena blocked these out, she wasn’t too surprised given this was Korea, and she had a supportive family and friend group anyway and she was more than satisfied with that. The worst comments, however, were those directed towards Yuri – or in the tabloid’s words, the “shocking non-celebrity companion”.
There was so much hate there. People who were upset their favourite idol wasn’t dating Yena blamed it on Yuri, calling her ugly and many more terrible words Yena couldn’t digest. The homophobic ones blamed Yuri for “converting Yena”, which of course made no sense whatsoever. And others were just hate, pure hate, that some random non-celebrity was trying to “destroy” Yena’s career or “ruin” her.
One comment in particular chilled Yena’s blood. It read:
[+1000, -5] This girl looks familiar. Isn’t she an Enozi Uni music major?
A thousand positive reviews by this morning. If someone were to filter the comments, it would so easily be found. So easily read. They didn’t specify that it was Yuri, but how difficult could it be to spot someone so beautiful? A typhoon of fear and worry overcame her all of a sudden.
What if they – the netizens, crazed fans, the unwanted paparazzi – what if they had already found Yuri? What if they had stormed the campus and tracked her down, insulted her to her face like what they did here on the internet? What if, God forbid, they did much worse?
Yena couldn’t bear thinking about it. She immediately called Yuri again in a panic. No response. Damn it! She slammed her fist on the waiting room table. A headache began to brew at the back of her brain. Why was this happening now?
“What did the CEO say about it?” she asked her manager, eyes imploring.
He shrugged. “The company’s already given the standard statement. You know, “we are discussing it with the parties involved”, et cetera. But shouldn’t you be worried about your girlfriend?”
“We’re not even dating,” Yena lamented. “And my friend isn’t picking up.”
“Don’t you know any of her friends? Anyone who goes to the same university as her?”
“No, I…” Yena’s eyes widened. She shot up from her chair. “Kim Chaewon!”