Music Hyperlink: Lesson 5, by Epik High.
“Dude, you’ve messed up big time.”
Chewing on a cut of her honey toast - the most expensive set meal on the cafe’s menu, and Yena’s treat - Chaewon jabbed her fork at Yena, hunched over in her chair. While Chaewon was dressed in what she liked to call her casual university fashion, a pair of skinny jeans and a leather jacket, Yena was covered from head to toe in the most unassuming things she could pull out of her closet. There was a bucket hat fixed on her head, a mask and sunglasses covering as much of her face as they could, and a way oversized coat keeping her very, very warm.
In Chaewon’s eyes, talk of the town Choi Yena looked absolutely ridiculous.
“Are you telling me that I should have been more careful of my relationship with Yuri?” Yena glared at her under the rim of her hat. “The CEO’s told me that. The netizens have said that, repeatedly. I get it.”
“No, as in, you should have known better with bringing her to a music show where so many fans gather with their huge-ass cameras. At least five people there would easily sell out any information, fake or not, if their photos would be in the news.” Chaewon shovelled more toast into her mouth. “How long have you even been in this business?’’
“Clearly not long enough,” Yena grumbled. She shrunk in her chair and ran her hands over her face. “I don’t know what to do now, Chaewon. Yuri hasn’t replied to my texts or calls since last night.”
“Did you try ringing her doorbell?”
Yena stared at her dumbly. “Obviously.”
Chaewon put her fork down and hummed, deep in thought. Sighing, Yena moved to copy her posture, putting an elbow on the table and propping her chin up. One missed day. Just one missed day, and already she was missing Yuri this much. Of course, the netizens’ comments didn’t help.
“Chaewon.” Yena leaned in towards her friend, pulling down her mask so she could be heard clearly. Her voice came out as a whisper, hoping not to draw the attention of anyone nearby. “Be honest. Did anything happen at your campus? Like, suspicious people hanging around, or paparazzi, or-”
“No, definitely not.”
“That’s a relief,” Yena muttered, leaning back and putting a hand over her rapidly beating heart. She would not have any idea what to do if people - strangers, netizens - really were to start flooding the university in search of Yuri. But if Chaewon said that the coast was clear, perhaps she was just overthinking it. Typing terrible words on the Internet and carrying them out in real life are two very different things, after all, and for an odd moment Yena felt a wave of relief wash over her as she hoped that maybe these hurtful netizens were just cowards that hide behind keyboards and speak empty words.
A look of vexation crossed Chaewon’s face. She reached up and patted Yena’s head. “If there are any suspicious-looking people hanging around the Music building in the future, I’ll definitely tell you.”
Yena smiled gratefully. “Thanks.”
“But isn’t this some really coincidental timing?” Chaewon picked up her fork and twirled it in the air before jabbing it at Yena. “You know, you went to Busan with Yuri a long while back, but no articles came out about you being with someone else. Now, you’re suddenly so busy, and so is she, so neither of you have time to meet - and yet the tabloids have come up with this story of you two dating.”
She was right. Yena had been in such a panic that she had failed to realise how odd a time this had occurred. Her music show emcee gig occurred days ago, almost weeks, so why were the tabloids only bringing it up now?
It was all a bit strange, wasn't it?
"Yena. Don’t look now, but I think there’s a paparazzi guy stalking you,” Chaewon hissed, interrupting Yena’s thoughts. Yena jolted up in her seat before hurriedly sinking back down at Chaewon’s sharp look. “What part of don’t look do you not understand?”
“What does he look like?”
“Standard paparazzi look, I guess. Tall guy in all black with sunglasses and mask and everything.” Chaewon scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Honestly, does he think that his getup and stupidly huge camera would make him less conspicuous?”
Yena had no answer to that. Not especially after she looked down at her own outfit and realised that the same comment was applicable to her. But she needed to get out of here, stat. “Chaewon, I should go.”
“Okay. Do you need me to distract him?”
“What are you planning to do if I say yes?”
“Do you want to find out?”
Recalling Chaewon’s mother was a well-renowned musical actress, Yena bit her lip to suppress her grin. “Sure.”
Chaewon nodded grimly and stood up. At her prompt, Yena followed suit, her chair making an obnoxiously loud noise as it drew back. “Let’s do this, then.”
Yena couldn’t stop cringing all the way to her company building. Honestly, the shame. She was so glad she was wearing her bucket hat, since at least it would hide her tomato-red face flushing from embarrassment. She expected a distraction, but not what Chaewon did. That bird-like screech, weird limb movements, an excessively dramatic swoon – she shuddered just thinking about it.
Better to erase it from her memory as soon as possible.
Striding into the building, she immediately headed off to find her manager. After an arduous hunt, she found her manager sitting in the CEO’s office, seemingly in a deep discussion. Peeking into the room through the tinted windows, she deliberated over her choices: waiting outside until her manager was done, or enter to request both manager and CEO for a favour. Thinking it over, she unconsciously leaned on the window. Her gaze darted through the glass to meet her CEO’s bemused, steady gaze. A glance down had Yena stifling a laugh at her manager’s surprised face.
Choice two it was, then.
“How did you know I was standing outside?”
The CEO chuckled, clearly amused at such a silly question. “I could see your shadow.”
“Of course.” Yena settled herself down in the chair adjacent to her manager’s. “May I ask what you were discussing?”
“You,” her manager replied. He was a soft-spoken man with an empathetic heart – perhaps too empathetic, sometimes, for Yena was sure that when he was driving her and Yuri to and back from the music show he had taken a long glance at them through the rear-view mirror but had kindly opted not to mention a word.
“And the rumours surrounding you and… your friend,” the CEO continued. “And most importantly, who was the one that came up with this rumour at such an opportune time? It seems almost as if they intended to ruin your reputation, or at the very least create a scandal that might affect the huge influx of offers you received after being an emcee.”
“Right.” This was something that Yena wanted to know too, the one favour she was hoping to be able to request from the company. “You don’t happen to know who that was, do you?”
Her CEO’s face grew dark – a sign of impending doom. “Not only do we know who created the rumour,” the CEO said, voice suddenly gravelly, heavy with the gravitas of the situation, “but we’ve also been given a way out.”
“Really? Who was it? I mean, if this can all blow over it’ll be fine, won’t it?”
“But will you be fine?” her manager asked quietly, his head bowed. He glanced up, gaze flicking over to study Yena’s face.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Yena’s gaze shifted between him and the CEO.
Her CEO took a deep breath in, then spoke four words. “Japanese Idol Takahashi Juri.”
Yena was stunned. Her eyeballs shook in their sockets. Gripping the handrests of the chair, she leaned forward, tongue darting out to wet her suddenly dry lips. “W-what does she have to do with anything?”
“I heard she’s your ex-girlfriend.”
Yena glanced at her manager. He shifted his gaze guiltily. Yena looked back at her CEO and sighed. “She… yes, she is. Was.”
The CEO steepled her fingers and pressed them to her lips. “Takahashi Juri was the one who we assume created this rumour, as she has given us a proposition to get rid of the rumour. For what she likes to call a ‘little favour’.”
Juri created the rumour. Takahashi Juri with her shark-scary smile and unnaturally polite demeanour in that cold corridor. It was a sight that Yena could absolutely not erase from her memory.
And now she was offering them a way out? That didn’t make any sense. What was she trying to do?
Yena took a long-suffering breath. It shook and trembled with the weight of the world on her shoulders. “What does she want?”
What a twisted game Juri wanted to play, pretending that they were dating to divert media attention from Yuri. Even though she was the one who created the rumour in the first place, the one who forced both Yuri and Yena into their current positions.
Why did she even want to do that? The thought of it made her toss and turn in bed, thinking of any and all other reasons why Juri would want to spread this type of rumour. They were so in love, so why did she suddenly want to harm Yena? She was the one who left, so she didn’t have any reason to do this. The more she racked her brains to figure out Juri’s intentions the more uneasy she grew, and soon night turned to day, light piercing through the windows to sear itself onto Yena’s eyelids and still she hadn’t slept a wink.
Her phone rang and snapped her out of her thoughts like a spear piercing through a balloon. Her bloodshot gaze drifted towards the annoyance, and she reached out towards it, slow as a turtle.
“Yena, you need to come here right now,” Chaewon hissed into her ear. Despite her groggy state Yena could hear voices talking loudly.
“Chaewon? What’s going on?”
“The weirdos are here. They came to our campus. I think they heard Yuri’s inside, they’re trying to get in. The security guards are trying to stop them, but…” Someone jostled against Chaewon, causing static to crackle over the line. “Hey, watch it!”
“Yuri’s there?” Yena shot up, already halfway out of her bedroom. As she made her way to the door, she instructed Chaewon to keep her informed. “I’m on my way. Don’t hang up. If anyone gets in, or if Yuri comes out, tell me immediately.”
“You got it.”
Swinging a coat over herself, Yena ran out the door, bedroom slippers slapping against pavement. Her hair flapped madly in the wind. She ran past the murals and the lamp posts that lined the street. Cold sweat trickled down her back.
It took her an eternity to reach the university's gates, and an eternity more to the music faculty. When she got there, she stopped dead in her tracks. The crowd was enormous, a tsunami of strangers and students battling it out to enter the building. Cameras waved in the air, obvious paparazzi shoving others to the ground in a bid to interview unsuspecting campus dwellers. Security guards were trying their best to contain the mess, checking every student's ID card before letting them into the building.
What the fucking hell was going on?
Worry overwhelmed her mind and eradicated any sense of control. Yena threw herself at the sea of people, attempting to make her way in. An arm here, a leg there. She pushed and pulled, swimming against the current. A body jostled against her. "Excuse me," she muttered, keeping her head down as she looked around for the next opening.
"Hey, you're Choi Yena!"
Suddenly all eyes were on her. Even campus security froze to locate the source of their troubles. A quick student took the chance to squirrel past them into the building.
"Yes," Yena growled through gritted teeth. "That's me."
A volley of questions were hurled at her all at once. Voices overlapped and crashed and drowned each other out, all vying for her attention. Shaking them off, she managed to squirm through half the crowd before one question reached her ears, clear as day.
"Is it true that you're cheating on Jo Yuri with Takahashi Juri?"
Silence fell at this unexpected piece of information. Who was that? Who asked that? Yena swivelled around, locating the source. A pimply reporter with thick spectacles and a lanyard too yellowed to identify his origins slowly raised his hand.
"Is it true?" he asked again.
"Who told you that?" she whispered.
"I'm not allowed to divulge my sources, miss." But his eyes shone behind his spectacles.
Clever bastard. Juri must have set this up, planted him here. Yena turned away.
"But is it true?" A different voice, the same question. Various voices echoing the same sentiment.
Is it true?
"I'm not cheating on anyone," Yena hissed. "Rumours are just rumours. That's all they are. Lies."
"Then what's the truth? Are you dating Yuri or Juri?"
The truth. What it was, she wasn't really sure either. She wasn't dating Yuri, as far as she knew at least. She definitely wasn't dating Juri, either. But if she told them that, they'd hound Yuri to no end. And Juri would invent new things to tell the press until she got what she wanted.
"What's the truth?"
Tell the truth, Choi Yena.
Overhead, in the building behind her, a window on the fourth floor opened. A girl leaned out, her brown hair fluttering in the paltry breeze, tired eyes searching the crowd beneath her for someone. Or something.
Yena cleared her throat. “That’s not it. Yuri and I are just friends.”
"So it's true.” Yena sighed. “I'm dating Takahashi Juri."