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Chapter 1 – She’s not my girlfriend

 

Minnie cursed as the coffee seeped deep into her boots. The cyclist who’d swiped her hand didn’t even look back as he rode down the street. Leaving the scene of the crime and an angry journalist in his wake.

“Kill me now,” she muttered to the heavens.

Ten minutes and a handful of napkins stuffed into her shoes later, Minnie was striding into the hellhole that was her office. A too cramped, too loud, too cheap attempt at a millennial newsroom in downtown Manhattan. It was supposed to just be her stepping stone after college into a promising career as a journalist, but three years later and she was still here. Still grinding away at this thankless online print.

“Nice outfit, Minnie Mouse. I see you’re putting those girlfriend dollars to use,” Her jackass of an editor called out to her as soon as she sat down at her tiny desk.

“Not my girlfriend,” she deadpanned for what felt like the thousandth time that week.

“Not what HighStreet’s saying,” he mocked. Then he carelessly threw his phone at her, making her rush to catch the device before it met an untimely death. “Front page again. Picture’s good too. Gotta say though, your girl’s looking pretty hot.” His loud voice attracted the attention of quite a few of the other staff writers around them. Nothing much to do in a place that didn’t even offer health insurance than gossip and pretend to work. Man, she couldn’t wait until she got out of here. “When you gonna get us pics so we can print stuff like that too?”

Wanting to at least know what the hell he was talking about, Minnie looked at the phone in her hands. A browser was open to a familiar gossip website, HighStreet International—now why it was called ‘international’ when it only talked about American celebrities was a mystery she had no interest in solving. The extent to which Minnie cared about the gossip rag started and ended with the large picture she could see on the bottom left of the front page.

It was a paparazzi shot of Minnie and the woman she was currently seeing in a slightly-more-than-friendly capacity these days: Cho Miyeon.

More specifically, it was a picture of rising model and established socialite Cho Miyeon, with the girl that just so happened to be beside her as they walked out of a restaurant. Minnie had dreamt about the day she’d see herself on the front page of a national paper, ever since she was a little girl reading NYTimes stories with her dad. This… really wasn’t how she’d imagined it happening.

For one, HighStreet didn’t even know her name. The caption of the photo read: Model Cho Miyeon and new girlfriend out on the town.

But that was so far from the truth. She wasn’t dating Miyeon, they were just… talking. Often. And going out to eat at high-class restaurants and getting their pictures taken in tabloids. That wasn’t dating.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Minnie repeated, somewhat defensively.

“I don’t care if she’s your long-lost sister, there’s people who dig that sick shit too,” her editor replied, perching precariously on the edge of her desk.

“Fucking gross, Jack. Seriously?”

“I’m serious as a heart attack, Minnie Mouse. If we get clicks, who cares?” He greasily grinned back at her. “So when’s the next date?”

She rolled her eyes and pointedly handed his phone back. “None of your business. What’s my next story?”

“Think we got something brewing on the whole soup or salad front again. Could even throw in some of that gluten shit too.”

“Salad. You want me to write about salad,” she echoed drily.

“That’s the story, babe. Don’t like it? We also got…” Jack twisted in place and pointed across the room to a mousy-looking woman whose cardigan was two sizes too small, “Brenda’s on brief or boxers, a female perspective, then…” he turned to a guy wearing non-prescription glasses that almost covered his entire face, “Patrick’s on top ten flannel picks for the summer and also…” he finally turned to a guy who was stuffing donuts into his mouth at an alarming speed, “Greg’s doing a ranking of the best donuts joints in the city. That one’s actually a personal project, but I’m letting him run it ‘cause I know it’ll get us what every good story does,” he smiled the smarmiest smile possible as he finished with, “Clicks.”

“So you’re saying if I came up with a good story, you’d let me write it.” Minnie grasped onto the tiniest thread of hope she could find. “Then what about—”

“I’m always saying that, Minnie Mouse,”  he interrupted, getting to his feet as he explained. “But all I’ve heard so far is housing problems, income inequality, the job crisis, blah, blah, blah. What I’m not hearing from you is anything good.”

And once again Minnie was struck by just how much she hated her job. It shouldn’t be possible to utterly despise the only thing that put food on her table, but here she was. Wishing she could be anywhere else.

“Fine, Jack,” she ground out. “I’ll write your fucking salad story.”

“Or…” He teased, smirking down at her. He knew he had her interest because the alternative was just so soul-crushingly bad. “Or…”

“Or what?” She finally snapped.

“Give me something that HighStreet would kill to have.”

She should’ve declined the second she saw that creepy-ass smile on his face. Well. There were many things she should’ve done in her life.

 

--

 

“What does he want?”

“Nothing much, really,” Minnie tried to downplay it as much as she could without invoking suspicion over the phone. “It’s pretty much a fluff story.”

“About what? Jack’s promising you the front page, there’s gotta be a catch in there somewhere.” And of course Yuqi would pick up on it already. This was the downside to being friends with an ex-coworker, there wasn’t much she could hide from the other reporter. “Hold on, is it that stupid soup or salad piece again?” Minnie had to pull her phone away from her ear as Yuqi’s cackles filled the speaker. “I swear, he pulls that out every three months. And he wonders why the LooseThread’s dropping subs like crazy? Nobody cares about salad!”

Minnie could only nod helplessly as she bit into the BLT she’d grabbed from a food truck she’d walked past. She was technically on her lunch break, but she knew she didn’t have to get back into the office any time soon. After accepting Jack’s deal, he’d graciously allowed her some time to get her ‘sources’ together. But she knew he really only had one source in mind: Miyeon.

And Minnie was nothing if not stubborn, so she’d avoided making that call in lieu of contacting the only other person she could tolerate in her industry: former coworker and current reporter at a rival print, Song Yuqi.

“It’s not the salad story,” Minnie clarified once she’d finished chewing. “But I could still do that if I want. It’s backup. The real story is…” She sighed.

“What? You’re making me nervous.”

“Seo Soojin.” And the silence that followed was exactly what she’d expected to happen. “Have you heard of her?” She pointlessly asked.

“Have I heard of her?!” Yuqi bellowed through the phone speaker.

“So, yes.”

“Are you crazy?! The actress from that Red Fox movie that blew up last year? That Seo Soojin? I haven’t seen a single story on the ice princess that didn’t make me feel sorry for the poor journalist who had to talk to her. She hates the media! Literally hates our guts!”

“I know, but—”

“And you said it’s a fluff piece? How fluffy do you think it’s gonna look when all you get on record is her telling you to go fuck yourself?”

“I know that. But—”

“I knew you were crazy when you started dating that model but this is a whole other level. Might as well quit now, this is pretty much a suicide piece.”

“Yuqi!” Minnie yelled, gritting her teeth to stop herself from hanging up on the other girl. “I am aware of how… difficult this story is.”

“Exactly, so why on Earth did you accept it?” Yuqi asked, somewhat calmer now but still far too excited for Minnie’s taste. “Seriously, why don’t you just quit? You’ve been saying it forever, just do it. You hate your job.”

“I do,” Minnie couldn’t help but agree to that. “But that’s why I have to do this story.” And the more she thought about it, the more she saw this impossible task for what it was: an opportunity. “Say I do get the Soojin story, just imagine it for a second. There’s not a single paper coast-to-coast that wouldn’t pay an arm and a leg to get it. It’s the perfect resume. If I get this story, I’m out of LooseThread for good and then, I don’t know—Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Elle, who cares? Even fucking HighStreet would be begging to sign me on.” She wasn’t a sell-out by any means, but financial security and a job that didn’t make her want to rip her eyes out were too good to pass up.

She was an adult. And making hard choices was a part of that.

“That does sound… if you do get it, I mean,” Yuqi reluctantly conceded.

“Exactly. I need to get it.”

“But how—oh… your model girlfriend probably knows her.”

“Not probably, definitely. Miyeon mentioned that she got invited to a birthday party the other day and guess whose party it is?” Minnie grinned as all the pieces started coming together. Almost as an afterthought, she added, “And she’s not my girlfriend.”

“Wow, you could really do this, I can’t believe it.”

“Me neither. But I have to, right? This is my chance.”

And the voice in the back of her head that had been scared of calling Miyeon was suddenly silent. She was just asking a favor from a friend. A very well-connected friend who she’d been having slightly romantic meetings with over the past couple of months. That’s all. And, in any case, Miyeon knew better than anyone else how important it was to network. That’s practically all she did when she wasn’t getting her pictures plastered on the side random buildings on Fifth Avenue. She would understand.

 

--

 

Minnie had no doubt that Miyeon would understand. Which is why… she avoided telling her altogether.

No need to have a conversation if she knew exactly how it would turn out, right? Right?

Even to her own hopeful ears, it sounded like a pitiful excuse.

“Hmm, I’m still not sure about the neckline here… Do you think it looks too tacky? And especially without a big necklace to draw the eye…”

Minnie sat in the larger-than-her-living-room fitting room as she absentmindedly watched Miyeon twirl in front of the mirror and stylist. The boutique they’d come to didn’t technically offer personal styling services, but when Cho Miyeon walked through your door, you made adjustments. (You also kicked out the rest of your clientele, but that’s probably not something you wanted to publicize.)

“You look wonderful, Miss. The cut works perfectly with—”

“It looks weird,” Miyeon spoke over the stylist, ignoring his pandering. “And from the left it looks, ugh. Minnie, what do you think?”

Said girl was fully zoned out, contemplating things people often didn’t think about when shopping for clothes—like morality, inappropriate networking practices, and how to tell if you were dating someone or not.

“Minnie?”

“Hmm?” She snapped out of it quickly enough to catch the inquiring look on Miyeon’s face. Minnie hadn’t heard a word she’d said, but she wasn’t a reporter for no reason. Her eyes flitted around for context clues—Miyeon’s frown, the worried look on the stylist’s face, the way the model’s hands kept touching her collar—and with a fairly confident tone, she said, “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. We can always get something else.”

“I know,” Miyeon pouted, looking back at the mirror. “But I promised I’d wear Valentino to the party.”

“I’m sure he’ll forgive you,” she deadpanned.

“Hmm, you’re right. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”

“That’s right.”

“Okay,” Miyeon resolved, turning to the anxious stylist. “I’ll take it.”

His eyes bugged out before he could stop himself. “You’ll tak—but I thought you said you didn’t like it.”

“No, I said it’s tacky and it doesn’t work. So I’ll just have to make it work.” The model gracefully stepped down from the podium and started reaching for the zipper by her shoulder. “Fashion is all about change and adaptability.”

The stylist looked flustered but he recovered well, bowing as he inched his way out of the room. “Ah—yes, you’re right. Sure thing, Miss. I’ll get it all ready for you.”

Once he stepped out, Miyeon turned a mischievous eye to her seated friend. “Do you think I could get him to lick my boots, too? It feels like he’d do it if I asked nicely.”

“You could get him to do whatever you want,” Minnie shrugged.

“What about you?”

“Hmm?”

“If I ask nicely…” Miyeon carefully zipped down the top part of her bodice, letting the fabric peel down around her shoulders. “What would you do… for me?”

“I…” And Minnie was a fully-functioning, hot-blooded human being with a pair of working eyes so it was no wonder she fell suddenly speechless. It was only natural. When faced with a goddess like Miyeon, how else could she react? She grasped for a thought, any thought, in her suddenly vacant head. Finally, she said, “I’ll go to the birthday party with you.”

“Wait, really?” Miyeon asked hopefully.

“Y-yeah. I mean,” she cleared her throat. “Of course. You said you were looking forward to it, right? And you wanted me to meet—”

“Paulo and Jean and Francine and Giorgio and—oh, I think Dolce’s going to be there too.”

“Right. I can finally meet all your friends, like…” Minnie gulped. “Like Dolce. Of… Dolce and Gabbana. Right.”

“I can’t believe this. Are you serious? You’re not joking, are you?”

“I’m not, I swear.” Minnie stood up and felt familiar comfort from the fact that she was taller than Miyeon was. Not by much, but enough to give her some ground in the face of their social imbalances. She wasn’t rich or famous and she didn’t have friends whose names sounded more expensive than her entire college education. But she was tall. So… she had that, at least.

She liked to imagine that that’s what drew Miyeon to her in the first place, because it sure as hell wasn’t her job or social standing.

“You know you don’t have to do this, right?”

“A few days ago you were begging me to come.”

“I know, but that’s just… I know you’re not always comfortable being around…” Miyeon gestured vaguely to the private fitting room they’d commandeered. “All this.”

“Maybe. But I want to be around you, so.”

The model smiled beautifully then, more picturesque than anything she’d done so far today. It had a hint of an emotion that should not be named. And it was the best thing Minnie had ever seen.

Too bad they weren’t dating.

 

--

 

“You said you wouldn’t be surprised,” Miyeon smirked as their car was finally allowed through the gate.

“I said I would try not to be. You forgot to mention we were going to a private island, though.”

“Must’ve slipped my mind.”

“Ah, seriously. Cho Miyeon,” Minnie grumbled as they drove onto the private dock. It was no different than many of the other docks in the area—it had a couple of boats and yachts lined up beside each other on the water. The only big difference was that apparently all of it was owned by just one person. Only daughter of the reclusive founder of tech giant Yehtube and heir to the billion-dollar company: millionaire-for-now Yeh Shuhua.

Apparently she was the one throwing the party for one Seo Soojin, since they were such good friends. And, instead of having a regular high-society party in a club or mansion or boat or whatever, they were going to take a yacht to Shuhua’s mansion on her private island and party with one of the biggest DJ’s in the world. On a private island. Minnie felt like it couldn’t be understated the fact that they were going to an island that was owned by a single, very rich person. She’d thought one of the richest things you could do was have a private driver, like Miyeon did, but apparently not.

“Okay, do you have everything?” Miyeon checked as they alighted from their town car.

“Who knows?” Minnie quipped. “Not like it’s worth much around here anyway.”

“Hey, don’t be like that. If you want to go—”

“No, it’s fine. I was just joking.”

“Are you sure?” Miyeon asked, grabbing her hand and playing with her fingers. The model looked absolutely divine in her reconstructed Valentino dress, definitely a cut above the other partygoers that Minnie could see filtering in around them. But here she was, eyes focused on Minnie alone, trying to make her feel better. Truly a goddess among men. “Soojin and I aren’t even that close, so if we leave now I’m sure she won’t mind. I don’t want you to have a bad time.”

“I won’t,” Minnie promised. She had to be better than this. Her entire life was on the line here, she couldn’t chicken out before she even got in. “I’ll be fine.”

“Okay… Let’s go, then.”

They walked hand-in-hand towards the large yacht that everyone was boarding. It was clearly outfitted for a party—music and lights and champagne filling it to the brim. Minnie felt like she was stepping into a whole new world. Or, at least, she would’ve felt that way if they’d managed to get on the ship. As it was, they were stopped and pulled aside by security merely steps away from the entrance.

“Sorry, Miss, we were told to stop you from joining the others,” the white-suited security detail haltingly explained to them.

And Minnie started to freak out.

Why had they been singled out like this? Was it because of her? Sure Miyeon was famous, but maybe there was some kind of plus-one standard that Minnie hadn’t met. Maybe they’d found out the real reason why Minnie had come tonight. It seemed impossible, but well-paid security like this were supposed to know everything, weren’t they? Now Minnie and Miyeon were going to be thrown off the yacht—or no, they didn’t even make it to the yacht yet. They were going to be booted from the island—but they hadn’t made it that far either. They were going to be carted away in chains—

“Are you sure you’re feeling okay?” Miyeon double-checked as they waited towards the side. No, Minnie was the furthest thing from being okay right now. But she didn’t say that. She looked up to utter some mollifying statement, but her eyes caught sight of something that made her freeze. “What’s wrong?”

“N-nothing. It’s just, I think I see someone I know.” There was no mistaking it.

“Oh?” Miyeon swiveled to try and see who she could be talking about, but of course she had no idea. Neither of them had met the other’s friends yet. “Can she go talk to her friend? Just for a second.” She asked the white suit beside them.

He nodded without argument and Miyeon gently pushed her toward the crowd still on the docks.

“Are you sure?”

“Mhm,” she nodded with a smile. “I’ll be right here when you’re done, don’t worry.”

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Minnie took her chance and walked up to the familiar face she’d spotted. She slapped an unforgiving hand down on their shoulder.

“Fancy seeing you here, Yuqi.”

“A-ah,” the other girl grimaced in pain as she turned to see a less-than-impressed Minnie. “Oh, Minnie… Yeah, fancy that, huh?”

“Start talking.”

“Alright, alright.” Yuqi held up her hands in surrender and Minnie finally backed off. Might as well give her a chance to explain before she killed her. “So, you know how you were talking about this whole birthday party thing—”

“Yes, my one chance at a lucky break. I remember,” Minnie gritted out.

“I know. But it kinda sounded… like a pipe dream? If I’m being honest—not to hurt your feelings or anything.”

“Trust me, it’s not my feelings you have to worry about.”

“Okay, okay,” Yuqi rushed out. “So I did some digging to see what it was all about. You know, stay informed. And I found out…” she carefully lowered her voice, “I found out that the whole thing was organized by some kind of millionaire heiress or something. Her name’s Yeh Shu—”

“Yeh Shuhua, I know,” Minnie sighed irritably. “Still haven’t heard the part that somehow magically got you invited.”

“I’m getting there, jeez,” Yuqi muttered. When she saw the glare focused on her however, she quickly continued, “So this Shuhua chick is crazy rich, right? But she doesn’t really do the whole rich girl party act that you’d expect from someone like her. She doesn’t party, there are almost no pics of her online except a few times a year. It’s always some benefit to save the planet or clean the ocean or whatever. She’s super clean. But there are a couple rumors flying around… that she might be dating Seo Soojin.” Minnie’s eyes widened when she heard that piece of information. “Some random sightings, anonymous stories, but nothing concrete yet. Soojin’s pretty private too, so it’s almost impossible getting any proof. But a big party like this?” Yuqi’s face lit up with her excitement. “They’re absolutely banging, no doubt about it.”

“Don’t be gross,” Minnie chided. “And what if you’re wrong? Miyeon says she’s just a benefactor.”

“Oh, kind of like Miyeon is for you? Nice jacket by the way—the whole oversize thing, looks very designer?” Yuqi jeered, causing Minnie to self-consciously smooth out the lines of her outfit. She’d thought she looked nice.

But very quickly, Minnie managed to arrange her thoughts on all of what Yuqi had said and came to a conclusion that left a sour taste in her mouth. “You’re scooping me.”

“What? No! I’d never—”

“You’re trying to steal my story you piece of shi—”

“Listen,” Yuqi quickly tried to plead her case. “You’re targeting a fluff piece, right? With Soojin? I’m not interfering with that, that’s yours. I’m just trying to get some kind of proof pic of the biggest celebrity couple since Brangelina.”

“And when you sell your seedy pap shot for half a million bucks, where does that leave me? Who’s gonna want my story then?”

“You… you really think I could get that much for it? I was thinking more like a couple thousand, but I guess you’re right—”

“You are dead to me, Song Yuqi,” Minnie scowled. “I won’t even go to your funeral, that’s how much we’re done.”

“Ah, you’ll get over it,” Yuqi waved off her threat. “It’s just business, Minnie Mouse.”

And with the added burn of that dreaded nickname, Minnie nearly saw red. She was sure she was well on her way to committing first-degree murder when a deep voice sounded behind her.

“It’s time to go now, Ma’am.” It was the security guard. He absolutely had to have some kind of sixth sense.

With a parting glare from Minnie and a perky “See you later!” from Yuqi, the two friends-turned-mortal-enemies went their separate ways. And just when Minnie thought things couldn’t get any worse, a loud foghorn blared out as she returned to Miyeon’s side. Shortly after, the rest of the crowd on the docks (including one traitor Song Yuqi) was efficiently herded up the gangplank and onto the ship.

“They’re leaving,” Minnie realized with a drop of fear. “We have to go—”

“No, Ma’am, you won’t be getting on that ship.” The white suit was resolute, his face as impassive as ever behind his thick shades.

“But we have to… I have to…” It felt like her dream was slipping through her fingers. And right into the traitorous grubby hands of Song Yuqi. It wasn’t an overreaction to say that she felt like crying in that moment.

Moments later, the yacht pulled away from the dock and that was that. Her dream was officially gone.

But just then, Miyeon turned to look at something just past Minnie’s shoulder. “And you say I’m the lazy one? Look at you, late to your own party.”

“It wasn’t my choice,” a soft voice drily proclaimed.

Minnie whipped her head around and her eyes bugged out. Because standing right behind her was the lady of the hour, Seo Soojin. That was her. That was definitely her. Dressed in a sinfully tight red dress and wearing eyeliner that made her face look absolutely predatory, the actress had finally arrived. But after the boat had left…?

“These guys insisted that we take a separate boat,” she offhandedly gestured to the white-suited security team standing by that had only multiplied upon her arrival. “And the boat guys wouldn’t start up till the other one left. Seriously…” she sighed, rolling her eyes. “Isn’t this too much?”

“It’ll never be too much for my honey,” a significantly louder voice cooed. Minnie saw the smug face first and then she realized that someway, somehow, she’d hit the jackpot. Because this new woman was dressed in the kind of unassuming but obviously outrageously expensive outfit that only the top 0.01% wore. So this had to be the heiress Yeh Shuhua. Another clue was the legion of bodyguards that followed her every move. Different from the white-team, this second team seemed more specialized, more… deadly. And that’s when Minnie also saw the armored truck that had apparently carried the two women to the docks under the highest levels of secrecy. Was this some kind of movie…?

“Shuhua, you say that, but I don’t think you even know what that word means. Do you?” Soojin teased. The heiress only giggled, practically draping herself over the stoic actress.

And Minnie was dumbfounded.

Wasn’t this too obvious? From Yuqi’s description, she’d expected the ‘couple’ to be more discreet, maybe exchanging secret glances at each other when no one else was looking. But this was… major PDA territory. How had no one leaked their relationship yet? A quick glance at the swarm of armed personnel surrounding them gave her a big clue as to why that might be.

“Happy birthday, Soojin,” Miyeon congratulated.

“Ah, yes,” Minnie rushed to say something, anything. “H-happy birthday. Uh, I’m—I’m—”

“You’re Miyeon’s little mouse aren’t you?” Soojin tilted her head, feigning thought. “What was it, Mickey?”

“No, it’s Minnie,” Shuhua chided lightly, not sensing that her girlfriend (what even was their status anyway?) had messed up her name on purpose.

“Ah, that’s right. Nice to meet you… Minnie.”

And the way that Soojin glared at her made her skin crawl with unease. Man, she really was the ice princess. What was her problem?

“Let me introduce you guys,” Miyeon quickly stepped in. “Min, this is Soojin, the birthday girl and biggest diva I’ve ever met.”

“Cho Miyeon…”

But the model ignored the warning, “And this is Shuhua. It’s her island that we’re going to. Or not? Is that still happening?”

“We’re going,” Soojin answered, sashaying her way towards the much smaller boat that was currently being prepped. It was still an expensive vessel in every sense of the word, but it was no party boat like the yacht that they could still see in the distance.

Shuhua stepped out next to speak to them, “JinJin really wanted a smaller hangout with friends before we got to the party, so I asked the guys to stop you. Hope you don’t mind.” And the heiress was honestly too cute for this world. Her smile was earnest and her eyes shone with excitement. Her words were a bit short and choppy with her heavy accent, but her sincerity was clear to see. How this pure angel had ended up with that frosty devil of a princess was the world’s biggest mystery.

“That’s fine, Shuhua,” Miyeon answered for the both of them.

And just before Minnie and Miyeon could follow the other two onto the boat, Minnie just had to say one last thing. “I thought you said you weren’t that close. Now we’re going to a private party?”

“Oh, it’s not really a party…”

“What do you call all this then?” Minnie subtly gestured towards the boat that was now ready and rearing to go. She was sure Shady McShades security guy had probably seen her though, no matter how much she’d tried to hide it. Dude had eyes in the back of his head.

“I don’t know, it kind of feels like… almost like… a double date?” Miyeon trailed off.

“Oh… I guess it could be like that, too,” Minnie conceded in a murmur. And then the two of them were ushered unto the boat, as well. A double date? Hmm…

Too bad they weren’t dating.

 

--

 

Minnie felt like she was being pranked.

All the way leading up to where she found herself in that current moment, she’d thought she’d had to do the impossible.

Write a fluff piece on the notoriously icy Seo Soojin? Impossible. But there the actress was, sitting across from her on the deck of this private boat. And while she wasn’t exactly loose-lipped, she wasn’t silent either. They were talking. Almost like… friends.

Find proof of the secret relationship between Soojin and millionaire heiress Yeh Shuhua? Impossible. Except, there the two of them were. Right there. Right in front of her sal—tastefully arranged hors d’oeuvres. No investigative journalism required, the only proof she needed was her eyes. Shuhua had been practically glued to the actress’ side since the moment they’d all met. If she wasn’t leaning on her shoulder, she was brushing her hair or gazing into her eyes like some kind of lovesick teenager. And while Soojin wasn’t exactly bursting with affection, she was clearly fond of the other girl. Nonchalantly feeding her from the platter of hors d’oeuvres, playing with the fabric on her sheet-like clothing, wrapping a hand around her arm whenever Shuhua got too excited and then forgetting to let go. It was absolutely sickening.

Somehow Minnie had gotten extremely lucky.

All the things she needed for a better life were right here on this boat.

Now. If only she could get to her phone so she could fully secure her good fortune…

“Why are you wriggling so much?” Miyeon chuckled from her spot leaning against Minnie’s shoulder.

“No reason.”

“You’re not uncomfortable, are you?” Miyeon kept her voice low, just in case.

“No, don’t worry. I’m just…” And she found herself honestly saying, “I’m just really happy right now.”

Miyeon smiled shyly, ducking her head to try and hide it. “Me too.”

And Minnie would be even happier if she could just get her phone out of her pocket—

“Did you see that?” Shuhua gasped, springing to her feet.

“What? What?” Minnie felt her heart beating a mile a minute. “What?” But then she saw that the young heiress was pointing at the star-filled sky and she barely managed to calm herself down from a potential heart attack.

“That was a shooting star, right? Did you see that, JinJin?”

“I don’t think it was?” Soojin drawled in disbelief. She was already grabbing at Shuhua to drag her back down to her seat.

“I swear I saw it! Really fast, faster than an airplane—it had to be a shooting star, right?” The heiress turned to her security team that had hidden themselves away as best they could on the tiny vessel.

And almost like they’d been doing this for years, a bodyguard stepped forward and reported, “The chances of a shooting star passing over our current location is approximately 34.77%.”

“Mhm,” Shuhua pouted.

“But with the added factors of the beautiful night and the fact that it’s Miss Soojin’s birthday, the odds are closer to 67.2%.”

“See, JinJin~” Shuhua proudly proclaimed. “Told you.”

“You’re impossible, you know that?” Soojin scoffed.

“You always say that, but still you…” and for the first time in more than an hour, Shuhua’s voice got too quiet for Minnie to hear what she was saying. A modern-day miracle. The only hint of the rest of her words was the tiny smile pulling at the corner of Soojin’s lips. That and the smug grin that was splashed across Shuhua’s face.

“What do you think of them?” Miyeon suddenly asked, out of the blue.

Minnie turned to give her full attention to her friend and realized she must’ve been staring at the impossible couple for so long that Miyeon had gotten curious.

“I’ve never seen two people so different in my entire life.”

“I know, right?” The model chuckled. “When Shuhua told me they were dating, I thought she was joking at first.” Minnie felt a rush of blood to the head at the direct confirmation. Finally! “But they also match too, don’t you think? Like they just… fit. Somehow.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Minnie nodded. “So you knew Shuhua first?”

“Yeah. She and I… we’ve known each other for a long time.”

“And Soojin?”

“She takes a while to warm up to. That’s why I said we weren’t that close. But,” Miyeon softly smiled as she thought, “Shuhua said Soojin wanted to ride with me as friends, so… I guess we’re friends now.”

“Just like that?”

“This isn’t reality TV, you know. People like us can be friendly without a big fuss.”

“People like you?” Minnie smirked. “What do you mean by that?”

“You know…” Miyeon slapped her arm, a bit embarrassed. “Like—”

“Goddesses?”

“Ah, stop it!” Miyeon practically shoved her off the bench they were sharing, hitting her once more when she started laughing. “Seriously!”

Minnie instinctively started apologizing, “Alright, alright,” but as she stood up, she met eyes with Soojin for a moment. It wasn’t particularly long, but it felt like a certain understanding passed between them. And then the moment was over. And Soojin went back to mostly ignoring her for the rest of the ride. That was fine too, they were all too busy stargazing to really have any substantial conversations anyway.

It wasn’t until they started pulling up to the island that Minnie finally returned to reality. The noise from the already docked yacht ahead was overwhelming. And in that moment she remembered that there was supposed to be a party going on. If she was going to get her Sooshu proof pic, it had to be before they docked on the island.

The boat crew carefully cleaned up their plates and chairs, and the security team started their docking preparations. In those few short minutes, it was more hectic than it had been for all of the past hour. So Minnie was able to slip her phone out of her pocket without much problem.

Everything was fine up until that point.

Everything was fine.

She just had to open her camera, lift it up and—

“Oh, my apologies, Ma’am,” Shady McShades security guy apologized as he roughly stumbled into Minnie with the boat’s rocking motions. An honest mistake. Except for the fact that her phone! Wasn’t in her hand anymore?! Minnie barely glimpsed the back of the pink case as it fell overboard and disappeared into the cruel, cruel sea.

“My... phone…” Minnie brokenly uttered.

“Oh no, what happened?” Miyeon quickly rushed to her side, trying to decipher her shocked expression. “Did your phone fall?”

Minnie tried to speak, but no words came from her mouth. She felt like she’d just lost her child.

“Don’t worry, Minnie,” Shuhua called out as the boat finally finished docking. “I’ll get you a new one. My gift to my new friend.”

Not even that could make her feel better. Because it was over now, wasn’t it? She’d gotten her once-in-a-lifetime chance and she’d fucked it up. Just like that.

And in the bustle of de-boarding that followed, Minnie swore she heard Soojin’s dangerously low voice warning, “People will take advantage if you’re too trusting, Shuhua. Be careful.”

 

--

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 – Don’t fuck up

 

Minnie’s reality check.

She was on a private island. She was in a mansion on a private island. She was in the middle of a custom-made dancefloor, with strobe lights flashing overhead, a world-renowned DJ playing their music, and at least a hundred people she’d only seen on TV or in the news. In a mansion. On a private island.

“Why are you so stiff?” Miyeon complained as she swayed to the aggressive synth beats.

“Stop making fun of my dancing,” Minnie blearily shot back.

“You look like you’re limping.”

“See, now you hurt my feelings.”

“Okay, fine.” Miyeon playfully rolled her eyes, then she stepped closer to the other girl. “Tell me where it hurts.”

“Hmm?”

“Tell me where it hurts so I can…” And then Miyeon smirked mischievously. She grabbed Minnie’s hands and used them to pull the reporter around her smaller frame. It took a moment to sort out her limbs, but soon Minnie got the hang of this closer style of ‘dancing’. Mostly it involved short shuffling movements that relied on her keeping constant contact with Miyeon’s body. “Tell me so I can make you feel better.”

“… You already did.”

And that was the honest truth. Minnie had been feeling pretty down since she lost her phone and any conceivable chance of getting her Sooshu proof pic. The other couple had immediately been whisked away by their security team the second they’d stepped foot on the island. So she’d been feeling kind of blue. But now? There wasn’t much she was feeling that wasn’t some part of Miyeon’s body, so… Yeah.

“You know, I have a room here,” the model whispered carefully in her ear.

“What?” Minnie tried to blink past the fog in her brain, but it was nearly impossible.

“Since I’ve been here before, you know. Key and everything. Shuhua said we could stay over tonight.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah,” Miyeon bit her lip with a look designed to kill. “Just let me know.”

“Hmm, okay,” Minnie muttered, already lost again in the beats of the song that was blaring through the speakers. “You know… sometimes I feel… I feel like…”

“Do you even know what you’re saying?”

“Of course, I’m not drunk,” Minnie protested, quickly wiping some sweat off her forehead. Her bangs were killer in this heat, but Miyeon always said she liked them like this. So, suffer she would. “I’m not drunk,” she repeated.

“Whatever you say, baby.”

Sure, they’d had a few glasses of champagne since they’d gotten to the island. And there were those drinks from back on the boat… but whatever. She was sweating it out anyway.

“Sometimes I feel like we’re… like we’re dating,” Minnie finally got out. “Like this. And you call me baby too… And we go out…”

“We do,” Miyeon nodded, throwing her hands up around the reporter’s neck. Bringing them even closer if that was possible. “And you met some of my friends tonight.”

“That too… Doesn’t it feel like… Don’t you feel that? ‘Cause I do.” Minnie rested her head on the shorter girl’s shoulder for a moment, gathering her thoughts. “I’m not the only one, right? People at work too, and Yuqi. That bastard…”

“Maybe we should get you some water,” Miyeon chuckled in her ear.

“No,” Minnie stood back upright, barely missing a beat. “I’m fine. And you… are the most beautiful person I’ve ever met. Seriously.”

Even in the darkness of their makeshift dancefloor, the blush that lit up Miyeon’s face could be clearly seen. “Sweet talker,” the model whispered.

“Too bad… I really want to date you.”

“Listen,” Miyeon started, but failed to find the rest of the words needed to finish her sentence. Instead she dropped her hands down to her own waist, untangling Minnie’s hands there and gently slowing their dance until they were motionless in the middle of the dancefloor. In a mansion. On a private island—“I’m going to get you some water, okay?”

Minnie could only nod. She’d used up all the words she had in her little impromptu speech.

“But first—”

And suddenly Miyeon’s lips were on her own, wrapping her in a kiss that had been too long coming. And Minnie was a hot-blooded human being who knew when not to fuck up a good thing, so she moved her own lips in response, pressing against the other girl in a bid to stay in this moment forever. It had to end sometime though, and it did with a lingering peck from the model. They stared into each other’s eyes for a few seconds, uncaring for the still-dancing crowd around them.

“Also, I want to date you too,” Miyeon softly announced. And then she grabbed Minnie’s hand and started pulling her towards the bar. “Let’s go.”

 

--

 

It was a wonder what five glasses of water and two bathroom trips could do to one’s sobriety.

Minnie felt like a whole new woman now.

She was currently sitting in a very expensive armchair, waiting for Miyeon to return from her own bathroom trip. And it was barely 11 pm. The night was young, she had a non-insignificant chance of getting lucky, and she was at the biggest party she’d probably ever attend in her entire life. She felt good. So what if there was no pic? So what if she didn’t get to write that fluff piece? Those worries felt worlds away at the moment.

So of course that was the perfect time for her to catch a glimpse of one Song Yuqi leaving the DJ booth and disappearing down a certain hallway. Minnie tried not to react, she really did. But she could only hold her investigative journalism instincts down for so long. And Yuqi was the worst person on Earth, so whatever she was getting up to couldn’t be any good. So before she knew it, Minnie was up on her feet, heading towards the same hallway—

“Minnie?” Miyeon called before she could get too far. Minnie smoothly changed directions, swiveling to meet the model halfway. “Heading back to the bar?”
“No… No, I… was actually hoping to drop by the DJ booth for a second.”

“Oh? Do you know the DJ?”

“Maybe. I think my friend does, the same one from before. And we run in pretty similar circles, so.”

“Okay, that makes sense,” Miyeon conceded. She reached up to grab Minnie’s face and bring her down for a quick kiss. “Let me know when you’re done—oh wait, you lost your phone.”

“Yeah…” She grimaced, that particular wound still too fresh in her mind.

“We’ll do it the old-fashioned way then. I’ll be waiting down through there when you’re done, okay?” And by some weird twist of fate, Miyeon pointed towards the same hallway that Yuqi had disappeared down. “Just come find me. It’s a big room with a bunch of chairs, you can’t miss it.”

“Sure.”

One last kiss and Miyeon was gone, leaving Minnie standing around in her now-sweaty designer shirt and holding her oversized designer jacket in her hands.

It felt like a siren call was coming from that cursed hallway. She didn’t know it for sure, but she was willing to bet anything that Soojin and Shuhua were over there too. All she had to do was go find them. Yuqi, Miyeon and the infamous Sooshu couple? She was dead certain that they were all down there.

So why did she feel so nervous to follow after them this time?

Maybe… maybe she was scared to find out who she’d pick if she was forced to make the choice.

So, instead, she walked over to the DJ booth.

She spotted a familiar head of shocking blond hair and a small figure that could only belong to one person. “DJ Jelly,” Minnie called out just above the loud music.

The DJ didn’t turn around, but she raised a hand back in a wave to show that she’d heard. Half a song (and some weirdly complex knob-turning technique) later and that same hand waved her up to the booth. DJ Jelly slipped her headset off one of her ears and grinned up at Minnie. “Knew I’d run into you, too. You’re like dumb and dumber, the both of you.”

“At least tell me I’m ‘dumb’ and not ‘dumber’. Yuqi is obviously worse than me.”

“Ha! I’m not even going to answer that.”

Soyeon, aka DJ Jelly, continued to play her songs and hype up the crowd in a way that only someone with her experience could do. It was pretty impressive. “So, are you trying to do the same shit Yuqi is or are you just here to party?”

“I don’t know.”

“Seriously,” Soyeon shook her head. “You should just forget about the rest of that mess. Look at this—go on, look.” She gestured towards the crowd going wild in front of her. And then she did some fancy DJ thing to change over to a very popular Top 40 song and the reactions were priceless. People were practically worshipping at Soyeon’s tiny feet right now. For the chance to let loose and just party their asses off—they were beyond grateful. “You should join the party, Minnie Mouse. Fuck out of here with all that work crap, when are you ever going to get a chance like this again?” A horn sound effect blared out through the speakers, adding to her point.

And Minnie found herself the most sober she’d been all night. Soyeon was right. When was she ever going to get a chance like this again?

This was her impossible moment.

“Thanks Jelly,” Minnie patted the much shorter girl’s head as she stepped back down from the booth.

“Any time.” And then Soyeon picked up the mic and yelled out, “Turning up right now, who’s ready to fucking go?!” The crowd yelled out their consent. “Don’t say I didn’t warn y’all,” she slyly grinned as the song steadily built towards the drop. “Who’s ready?!” A sea of hands raised towards her booth in wild abandon. “Ready? Let’s! Fucking! Go!”

And then the drop.

 

--

 

The room at the end of the hallway was the strangest room that Minnie had ever entered. In her entire life. By far.

The second she walked in, she stopped in her tracks.

Miyeon had said there would be chairs and she was right. Granted, she’d had to get through the guards stationed by the door before she could even see inside, but that was easier than Minnie had thought. One look at Shady McShades security guy and she’d gotten her ticket in. Maybe he was still sorry for knocking her phone overboard. Maybe.

So Minnie had gotten in.

And then she’d seen that the chairs Miyeon had mentioned were actually ten or so chaise lounges all arranged around each other in some kind of furniture jigsaw puzzle. Seated on each one was a different person-of-interest that Jack, Minnie’s shitty editor, would probably sell his own soul to get a feature on. And smack-dab in the middle lounge was, she’d guessed it, Soojin and Shuhua.

It looked like some kind of renaissance setup, like they were holding court or having a highly sophisticated salon of some sort. Sooshu was obviously at the center, but the conversation shifted easily from one person to another. About fifteen people in total, including Miyeon. It looked like a painting. And that thought only slightly helped to explain the presence of about a dozen painters standing around the periphery of the jigsaw lounges.

Yes, there were painters—brushes, canvases and all. And they were currently painting the scene in real time, like some kind of Victorian-era high-society party.

This—forget the boat and the mansion and the island—this was what the rich could do. Stupid, ridiculous shit like this.

Miyeon was seated two chairs to the right of Shuhua, taking up her own lounge. She’d obviously kept the space open for Minnie to join. And that was sweet. Minnie tried to focus on that as Miyeon spotted her and called her over from the door.

“You found me,” the model whispered as Minnie sat down beside her.

“Did I? I feel like I walked into Wonderland.”

Miyeon chuckled and grabbed her arm to pull her even closer. Soon enough, Soojin’s eyes found her own and Minnie knew in that moment that the actress had been waiting for her too.

“Mickey Mouse, you made it,” the ice princess drawled.

“JinJin, your memory’s so bad,” Shuhua laughed. “It’s Minnie, remember? Everyone, this our new friend Minnie. Miyeon reeeeeeally likes her.”

Chuckles filled the room but Minnie realized that the only two who weren’t laughing were herself and Soojin. Miyeon ducked her head, blushing up a storm, so she didn’t see the WWE staredown happening between the two of them. And by the time the model looked back up, Soojin was already moving the conversation along.

“Shuhua, why don’t you explain what this room is to Minnie. She probably thinks we’re all crazy right now.”

“Sure,” the heiress chirped. She moved so she was almost completely laid out over Soojin’s lap, prompting an irritated huff from the painter who’d been drawing the couple. “It’s okay,” Shuhua said in his direction. “Even if it isn’t finished, it’s still good. Next pose—time for the next pose.”

And with that, the room moved as one, everyone shifting into some new ‘natural’ position, showing off their best features. Soojin moved only so she could resettle Shuhua on her lap, ensuring that the other girl was comfortable.

And Miyeon moved too, dropping her head down to Minnie’s stiff shoulder. “Don’t worry, she’ll explain it.” That was obviously supposed to relax the reporter, but it didn’t work. This was crazytown, it had to be.

“Okay, so,” Shuhua started again, “I call this room Neverland.” Minnie inwardly congratulated herself on not being too far off with her initial guess. “It’s meant to keep… to keep memories forever. And some of the best memories I have are with my friends and with Soojin and with Soojin’s friends. So that’s why you’re all here. Tonight is the birthday of the most important person in my life. So I wanted to celebrate that… And I wanted to keep the memory of that forever. So,” Shuhua glanced up at Soojin to see her lips quirked up in a warm smile. “JinJin… I tell you all the time that I love you, so I won’t say it again. But you know my heart, right?”

“I’d be stupid not to,” the actress admitted and quite a few people, including Miyeon, gushed openly at the display.

“That’s right. Happy birthday, my love.” Shuhua finished with a blinding smile.

Minnie nearly gagged at the couple. How unbelievingly, sickeningly sweet.

And then the moment they’d all been waiting for happened: Soojin leaned down to plant a solid kiss on Shuhua’s waiting lips. A chorus of ‘awws’ filled the room and Minnie could only roll her eyes.

The couple wasn’t even trying to hide it. They were obviously dating or engaged or married or whatever. They were in love, for sure. And they had no qualms against showing it off for the whole world to see.

So how on Earth had no one outside of their circle of friends borne witness to it?

Minnie had the stray thought that if only she had her phone or a camera right now…

And that’s when she remembered that she hadn’t seen Song Yuqi once since she’d gotten into the room. But she’d definitely seen her walking this way earlier. And she hadn’t seen her leave. So surely she had to be somewhere close by. And if she’d seen that kiss—

Suddenly, a loud crash and the sound of scuffling came from the closed door. A few people jumped to their feet as the door burst open, showing Shady McShades security guy wrestling someone down to the floor.

“What’s going on?” Soojin asked in a deadly voice. Shuhua raised her head to see what the commotion was about, but the actress protectively kept her body pinned down.

“Found her hiding in the coat closet, looking through a hole in the wall.” Shady McShades security guy shifted just enough for Minnie to see the intruder and confirm her suspicions. It was Yuqi. “She was trying to take a picture.” And then he grabbed her phone and raised it high over his head, ready to smash it down into the ground.

“I’m a reporter!” Yuqi quickly yelled out in Mandarin. The only reason Minnie could understand her was because she’d heard that same plea dozens of times before when the two of them had been working together. It was Yuqi’s get-out-of-jail-free card that she used way to often to not already be in jail by now. “I’m on a case! I’ll delete the pictures, I promise! Just let me go!”

The sudden language change startled him enough that he hesitated.

“Wait,” Shuhua called out stopping him. She was standing now, looking at them with a glint in her eyes. She carefully made her way through the furniture till she was in front of the fully-restrained Yuqi. “You’re Chinese?” And then she asked the question once more, but in Mandarin.

Yuqi hesitantly nodded and the smile that lit up Shuhua’s face was so unexpected, Minnie felt like she got whiplash just from seeing it happen.

The next few seconds were filled with a lightning-fast conversation between the two Mandarin-speakers and heavy confusion from everyone else. Then Shuhua suddenly laughed and reached down to pull Yuqi to her feet.

“It’s okay,” the heiress told her security team who were all still on edge, waiting for something bad to happen. “It’s okay, she’s harmless.”

“Shu, remember what I said about being too trusting?” Soojin rhetorically asked, testily raising an eyebrow. “This is what I was talking about.”

“No, it’s fine. Seriously. Listen,” Shuhua giggled, pulling Yuqi all the way around till they were standing behind Soojin’s seat. The actress visibly shifted away from the intruder who her partner had taken such a strange liking to. “Her name’s Yuqi and she was just trying to take our picture, see? Wait, where’s your phone?”

Shady McShades security guy held up the device in question, then upon seeing Shuhua’s look, he held up his other hand to stop her. “At least let us check it first, Ma’am.”

“Fine,” the heiress huffed, wrapping her arm around her new friend.

The next few minutes found them all winding down from the sudden fright, returning to a strange new normal. One by one, they each started to relax, once again reclining in their chaise lounges. The painters even got back to their work—or had they ever even stopped?

Even Yuqi had a tentative smile on her face as she spoke with a happy Shuhua and a glaring Soojin.

Everybody was fine, except for Minnie and Miyeon.

For Minnie, it was the fact that her sworn enemy had somehow managed to survive an encounter that should have had her in cuffs by now. But there she was. Making friends with the people she’d been trying to out. Minnie felt her blood boiling past the point of no return.

But for Miyeon…

“Minnie,” the model said in a small voice, sitting stiffly beside her. They weren’t touching anymore, but Minnie hadn’t noticed it yet. She hadn’t noticed a lot of things. “Minnie.” That time had more steel behind it.

“Mhm?”

“Isn’t that your friend from earlier?”

And just like that, Minnie felt her blood run cold. All the anger she’d been focusing on suddenly fled and all that was left was a strange detachment. She couldn’t even see Yuqi anymore, her sight had blurred as her eyes lost focus. She could only hear her heart pounding in her throat. And Miyeon’s voice felt like lightning in her ears.

“That’s her, right?”

“… Yes.”

“Your friend… She tried to take a picture of Soojin and Shuhua.”

“… Yes.”

“That’s why she came here.”

Minnie swallowed around her very dry throat. “It seems so.”

The moment felt like it stretched on forever. Out of the corner of her eyes, Minnie saw the now-cleared phone being handed over to Shuhua. And the heiress positively gushed over the picture that was on the screen, though Soojin looked far from impressed. But Minnie’s focus wasn’t on them at all.

It was on Miyeon who looked seconds away from slapping her. “That’s not the reason why you wanted to come with me… Is it?”

Minnie’s head started shaking on its own. She wanted so badly to deny it, but the words wouldn’t come. “I—”

“Tell me no or don’t say anything at all.”

And there was the death sentence.

She had no response at all.

Miyeon swiftly got to her feet and stormed out of the room, leaving Minnie staring helplessly after her. The sudden action drew a few curious gazes, but none more so than one Seo Soojin.

The actress stood up and announced to the entire room, “Miyeon’s right, I think we all need more alcohol right now. And I need to get ready for the cake.”

“That’s right,” Shuhua excitedly agreed. “Midnight cake cutting! Wait until you see it, it’s almost as tall as you JinJin.”

The room emptied out soon after that and Minnie found herself alone with the person she’d been after all night. Seo Soojin.

 

--

 

Soojin carefully closed the door to the Neverland room after the last of the painters had left.

Now it was just Minnie and Soojin.

And that terrified the reporter like few things ever had in her life.

The actress strolled around the room, stopping every now and then to look at the unfinished portraits left on the canvases. Minnie watched her like a hawk, not knowing if she was supposed to speak first or just wait for the other girl to chop her head off.

“Shuhua’s wrong, just so you know,” were the first words that the ice princess said. “My memory’s not bad at all.” She shrugged, glancing once at the seated reporter before she walked on to another canvas. “I know what your name is. I remember the first time I heard it from Miyeon. You know what I said to her?”

A sharp brow raised in her direction, so Minnie knew she had to answer. “I don’t know.”

“I said it sounded like that rat.” Soojin stared dangerously at her. “That Disney World rat. That’s what I thought of you at first… I didn’t know you’d prove me right.”

Minnie ducked her head and focused on her trembling fingers. She felt ashamed. She knew she’d messed up, it didn’t take a genius to figure that out. She’d known it from the second she’d accepted the assignment from her editor. She’d managed to convince herself that the ends would justify the means—whatever foul means she’d have to use to get there. But now that she was at that end, all she could see was the carnage she’d left behind. And now she was empty-handed in every sense of the word.

“Miyeon is Shuhua’s ex so I never really liked her all that much,” Soojin nonchalantly revealed. “But she’s a friend, whether I like it or not. You, on the other hand… I don’t think I could ever forgive someone like you.” She scornfully looked down at Minnie like she really was nothing more than a rat to her. No, even worse than that. “She loves you so much and you’re just going to throw that away? A love like that? Do you know how rare that is?”

Minnie let the words hit her freely, not defending herself at all because Soojin was right. She’d never felt so absolutely worthless in her entire life. And it had nothing to do with the opulent room she was in, or the famous actress looking at her, or the yacht or the mansion or the private island. It all came down to her. It was all her fault.

“I’m sorry,” Minnie finally said.

“And you think that’s enough?” Soojin scoffed, but then shook her head at herself. “No, you know what? Here.” The actress walked over to a table and picked up a box that had been sitting there the entire time. As she walked back over, Minnie saw that she was holding a brand new phone. “Shuhua got it for you.” She thought she couldn’t feel any lower, but that did it. “And even though it’s my birthday, I’ll give you a little gift.”

Soojin took the sleek, pink phone out of its packaging and turned it on. Once it was booted up, she quickly flicked to a particular app and held it up to her mouth. She spoke clearly and confidently. “My name is Seo Soojin. I’ve been dating Yeh Shuhua for the past ten months. Yes, that Shuhua—the Yehtube heiress, the millionaire, the loveable puppy who cares too much and loves me more than I ever thought I deserved. That person… whom I love so much and who loves me so much… I definitely want to marry her. One day.”

Soojin ended the recording, smiling down at the phone for a second. Then she carelessly tossed it to Minnie, who fumbled to catch the device.

“Now you have what you want. Get out before I call security on you.” And with that, Soojin strolled over to the door, clearly finished with what she had to say.

“I don’t want to leave,” Minnie croaked out right as the other girl reached for the doorknob. “I’m sorry, but I can’t leave yet.”

Soojin glanced back at her one last time. “Then give us a reason to let you stay.”

 

--

 

An hour and a half after that and Minnie still couldn’t find where Miyeon had gone.

She’d taken off as soon as she could, checking every room in every hallway on every floor of the giant mansion. Dodging partygoers like it was her job, she’d had only one thing on her mind. She had to find Miyeon. She’d ventured outside too, scouring the nearby open land of the private island. She hadn’t gotten too far from the house though—she didn’t want to risk getting lost in the thick trees.

But still, she’d come up empty-handed.

And with every passing minute, she could feel the pressure building. She’d pass a member of the security team ever so often and she just knew that they were tracking her every movement. She had a feeling that if she didn’t successfully set this all right by the time the cake was cut at midnight, then she’d be unceremoniously booted off the island. Probably face-first into the sea.

So, she kept looking.

She was on her third pass of the second floor, when her aching feet finally forced her to sit down for a moment. She found a chair and hung her head as she caught her breath.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a familiar white suit standing not too far away.

Shady McShades security guy was staring at her from down the hall—or really, his head was turned in her direction, she still had no idea what his eyes were doing behind his ever-present shades. She thought he might be sleeping, but then he reached into his jacket. And he carefully pulled out his phone.

Minnie stared at him in confusion as he held up his device.

He nodded once then walked away, pocketing his phone once more. And Minnie was a reporter for a reason, so even in her exhausted state she was able to signal to her brain that she’d just been given a clue. A strange one, for sure, but a clue nonetheless.

A phone. He’d pointed to his phone. So maybe… her phone?

She pulled out the new phone she’d been ‘gifted’ by Seo Soojin. She’d wanted to throw it away for what it represented, but she’d been too focused on finding Miyeon first. She examined it carefully, going to its home screen and looking for anything that might scream ‘I’m a clue’ at her.

On a whim, she opened up ‘Contacts’—and there!

There was only one number listed and it was under the name, ‘Ramyeon’.

Minnie couldn’t believe it. Had the answer really been right under her nose this entire time? She felt herself tearing up as she shakily pressed the call button.

The phone rang. Once. Twice. Three times and her heart started to ache, but then—

“Hello?”

“Miyeon?” She gasped out.

A moment of silence passed, so long that Minnie had to double-check to make sure the line was still connected. It was. It seemed like the other girl wasn’t going to make it that easy for her, and rightfully so.

So Minnie mustered up all of her remaining energy to say, “I’m sorry. I was stupid and I lied to you and I used you and I’m so, so, so sorry. Myeon-ah… I don’t—I don’t know what I was thinking… I was so focused on my job—and I don’t even like my job. I hate it so much and I let myself use it as an excuse to hurt you. I should’ve never agreed to get that story or that picture. I should’ve… I should’ve just told you the truth, from the very beginning. I’m sorry…”

When she still didn’t get a response, Minnie had to wipe at her eyes to stop the tears from falling.

“Please, Miyeon…”

“What do you want me to say?” The model’s soft voice finally came through.
“I don’t know. I don’t know, just—”

“You want me to forgive you? Just like that?”

Minnie dropped her head into her hands, trying to think of anything she could say or do to fix this. But nothing came to mind.

“You really hurt me, Minnie.”

“I know…”

“And I want to hurt you back. I don’t want to forgive you, I want to make you cry like how—” Her breath hitched and Minnie could hear the other girl sniffle into the phone. That only made the reporter’s heart hurt even more, if that was possible. “I want to hurt you.”

Minnie bit her lip, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She could hear the party still going on downstairs and she knew she was running out of time. But her mind was blank. She was a writer, for god’s sake, and she couldn’t think of anything to say? Fuck it.

“Fine, fine,” Minnie muttered. “Tell me where.”

“… What?”

“Tell me where it hurts. Tell me so I can,” Minnie suddenly sprung to her feet, summoning the confidence she needed. “Tell me so I can make you feel better.” She used the same words that Miyeon had used on her hours ago. Back when things were good. She so very desperately wanted to go back to that place. “Tell me what I can do, please. Or hurt me. Do that instead, whatever you want,” she begged. She spun on her feet, working herself up as she spoke. “Or tell me where you are, so I can find you. Please. Because I really want to find you right now. I need to see you…” She tried to inject as much of her honest feelings into her words. Hopefully it wasn’t too late for them to reach the other girl. “So just tell me something, Miyeon… Please… Or tell me no… Tell me no and—” Minnie tried to finish strong, but she couldn’t. Her words ended in a broken whisper. “… Don’t say no. Please.”

Minnie knew she sounded pitiful, but what else could she say?

She wasn’t some strong, dashing protagonist who could give the love of their life an ultimatum and not be scared out of her mind that she wouldn’t get chosen. She wanted Miyeon to choose her. She wanted the love of her life—

“Do you remember that room I told you about?” Miyeon’s voice was like a balm for the soul.

“Yeah,” Minnie said as she wiped at her nose. “You said you had a key.”

“Fourth floor, the door with the puppies on it.”

The reporter felt hope bloom in her chest suddenly and uncontrollably. She burst into a happy smile, “Okay, okay. I’ll be there. I’ll be there as soon—”

The call ended and Minnie’s face fell. Did Miyeon just hang up on her?

But it’s only when she looked down at her phone that she realized what had happened. She saw the giant digits flashing 00:00:00 and watched as a new text notification popped up on the screen. It read: Happy birthday Seo Soojin

The screen then went completely blank—not like the phone was sleeping, no. More like it was broken beyond repair. She tried turning it back on, but nothing happened. And then it all made sense.

It was midnight.

 

--

 

Minnie had gotten into her fair share of hairy situations in the past.

Being a reporter meant putting yourself at risk to get a good story. It also meant doing whatever you could to avoid certain arrest. In a way, she’d been preparing her entire adult life for this moment.

But still, nothing could prepare her for the act of dodging a highly-paid security team hell-bent on capturing and shipping her off an island. It wasn’t just the white-suit team either. Several times Minnie had spotted one of Shuhua’s personal bodyguards running down the hall before she would jump into a closet or hide behind a very well-placed plant.  

This was definitely Mission Impossible.

Minnie slipped out of her third broom closet and eased carefully towards a set of stairs. A loud popping sound startled her and she dropped to the floor, fearing that they’d finally pulled out the big guns on her. But it was only a champagne bottle that had been opened by some revelers in a nearby room.

“Jesus,” she grabbed at her heart.

“What are you doing, Minnie Mouse?” A voice asked her from a scant few feet away. And if she hadn’t been close to a heart attack before, she was now.

Minnie roughly fell back against the wall, sliding down till she was sitting helplessly on the ground. She stared up at the person who’d found her and was only marginally relieved to see that it was her frenemy Song Yuqi.

“Yuqi… I think I’m dying,” she gasped.

“Looks like it,” Yuqi smirked down at her. “You know they’re cutting the cake right now. What are you doing up here?”

“I’m, I’m,” Minnie paused to catch her breath. “Don’t tell anyone you saw me.”

“You must be in real trouble, then. You know Shuhua was telling me that some of the people who work for her used to be CIA, FBI, Secret Service—”

“Yuqi, please.”

The other reporter stopped when she saw the serious look on Minnie’s face. “Does this have to do with that model girlfriend of yours?”

“Yes,” Minnie nodded. “I need to make sure she still wants to be my girlfriend.”

And that seemed to be the right thing to say, because suddenly Yuqi was beside her, helping her up off the ground. “About time, you big dummy.”

They smiled as they stood facing each other, once again on the same side.

“How many of those guys you think will tackle me if I try to take a picture of Soojin cutting the cake?”
“You really have a death wish.”

“Shuhua will love it, don’t worry. And… about that picture, forget about it. It’s already deleted.” Yuqi smiled bashfully and stuck out her hand for a handshake. “No hard feelings?”
Minnie nodded and shook her hand. “We’re good.”

 

--

 

One explosive Yuqi-led diversion later and Minnie was finally, finally on the fourth floor. Fucking finally.

After a brief scan of the many rooms—all closed and locked up here—she found the one she was looking for. A small crest with two puppies indicated that this was the one.

So she knocked.

And she stood with bated breath.

And a long moment later, the door finally opened to reveal… the person Minnie had been looking for all along. Cho Miyeon.

“Miyeon, I—”

But that’s all she got out before the model grabbed her by that stupid oversized designer jacket and yanked her right into the room.

“You’ll only need to apologize if you fuck up, okay?” Miyeon said with fire in her eyes. “So don’t fuck up.”

“Okay, I won’t,” Minnie immediately agreed.

“Good. Close the door.”

The reporter followed her instructions, but noted the peculiar tone of her voice.

“And take off your jacket.”

Now, that wasn’t what she’d expected to hear at all. But Minnie was a hot-blooded human being who knew that she was in no position to question any of the demands the other girl was making. So she did as she was told.

Miyeon looked her slowly up and down, then she nodded and finally said, “Don’t fuck up.”

And then she walked off deeper into the room.

Minnie furrowed her brows as she helplessly followed after the other girl. “What do you mean—”

And then she saw that Miyeon was standing in front of the large four-poster bed as she carefully peeled off the Valentino dress that had treated her so, so well that night. “Don’t fuck up,” the model repeated.

Minnie definitely got it that time. “Okay,” she said, already pulling at her own shirt. “Okay,” she echoed again, almost fighting with her clothes. “So does this mean—”

“This means yes for right now,” Miyeon slipped boldly out of her dress and right onto the waiting bed. “Don’t fuck up and we’ll see what happens later.”

Minnie needed no further instructions.

 

--

 

Shuhua was one of the first people to wake up the morning after the party.

Though most of the guests had been shipped back off the island at the end of the night, a handful of close friends had been allowed to stay.

And given the fact that she ran into Minnie in the kitchen that morning, she was willing to bet that the reporter had somehow managed to get herself back onto Soojin’s ‘close friends’ list. It was hard to tell who Soojin considered a friend, but a good rule of thumb was someone who could be trusted to keep a promise.

Miyeon had promised to stay in touch with Shuhua after their breakup and she did. The two of them had been close childhood friends first and the heiress had been scared to lose her after their romantic relationship ended. But Miyeon stayed and so Soojin put her on her list.

Soyeon had promised to cut back on the drinking after one too many nights spent blackout drunk after her sets. Soojin had been a friend of a friend who’d seen her hit rock bottom, but then watched in awe as she found the strength to get back up. And Soyeon had kept that promise for many years now, even as her career as DJ Jelly took off. Soojin probably hadn’t realized she’d put her on the list too.

Yuqi… Yuqi would take some time, for sure. But Shuhua had a sixth sense for these kind of things. She could see the fun, young reporter joining them in no time.

Minnie hadn’t realized she’d made a promise until she broke it. And that’s why Soojin had gotten so mad at her. But the other girl had gotten her act together fast and it looked like she’d made a new promise—judging by the smile on her face as she carefully plated a breakfast for two. Shuhua waved at her as the girl left the kitchen carrying the food she’d prepared for Miyeon. Yeah, she was definitely back on the list.

And as for Shuhua? She’d promised to love and cherish Seo Soojin for as long as she lived. And to seal that promise… Shuhua patted her pants pocket to make sure her real birthday gift was still there. If all went as planned, she’d probably make it onto a new list altogether.