Los Angeles, 2008.
You’re sipping down the last of your latte when Yoohyeon brings it up for the first time.
“You should come on tour with me.”
And you’ve got a reputation for staying cool in any situation, but when the words actually come out of her mouth, you start coughing. The look in her eye shifts from excitement to concern, and she starts to stand up. You manage to choke down the liquid and reach across the table for her arm, pulling her back into her seat before she draws attention to herself.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” you tell her, but your voice is still raspy.
“Rodrigo knows CPR,” Yoohyeon says, gesturing towards the polo-clad giant sitting a few tables over, pretending to read Sports Illustrated. You know he’s pretending because as soon as Yoohyeon signals, he’s bounding to her side like a well-trained Rottweiler.
“I promise I’m fine,” you repeat, and take a deep, exaggerated breath to prove it. Yoohyeon finally looks convinced, and the wrinkle in her brow disappears.
“False alarm,” she says. “Sorry, Rod.”
Rodrigo nods and returns to his seat, a close yet measurable distance away. Yoohyeon swears up and down he’s not her bodyguard, that he’s her personal assistant or trainer or something. But she also told you that he knocked a pap’s teeth out once, so you’re not sure what to believe.
In all honesty, you’d forgotten Rodrigo was even there. It serves as a reminder, one you don’t really want but probably need.
She’s always being watched.
“So! Anyway,” Yoohyeon continues, using one manicured finger to flick her bangs to the side (the bangs are new, they frame her face nicely). “The tour manager’s been trying to book an opening act for the European leg, and they’re actually letting me have some input this time. It’d be great exposure, and you’d get paid and everything. Obviously.”
There’s a (large) part of you that feels the immediate urge to laugh in her face. You hold it in, because you’re not an asshole, and also, you’re only just getting used to having her in your life again. It still doesn’t feel real, in the same way it didn’t feel real when her face started showing up on magazines. You really don’t want to mess it up.
So instead you say, “Just me?”
“Why not? You’re so talented. And DJs are hot.”
“I’m not really a DJ, Yoohyeon.”
“DJ, producer, potato, po-tah-toe. Right?”
Wrong. But Yoohyeon’s eyes are sparkling in a relentless sort of way, like the California sun, and you don’t want to correct her when she looks like that. So you pick another item from the endless list of reasons why going on tour with Yoohyeon would be a bad idea.
“I can’t leave Siyeon and the band right now,” you say. “We’re in the middle of this new album and I’m pretty much all they have on the production side of things.”
“Oh. Right. That makes sense,” Yoohyeon says. She’s smiling, but her shoulders slump a little. You pretend not to notice. “How’s that going, anyway?”
“It’s good,” you say, and remember to smile back.
Yoohyeon reaches for her discarded straw wrapper and starts weaving it in between her fingers. “I’m glad. But you know, if you ever change your mind-”
“Hi, I’m so sorry to do this, but are you Rachel Kim?”
It’s a mother in her thirties, with streaky blonde hair and two kids pressed into her side. Not exactly the picture of a dangerous threat, but you stand up anyway. So does Rodrigo. Yoohyeon smiles, tight-lipped. “It’s okay, guys.”
“My Emily is your biggest fan,” the woman says, pulling a digital camera out of her purse. “Could we get a picture?”
Yoohyeon nods politely, and you move to get out of the way. The little girl can’t be more than ten, and she hides her face behind her hands when Yoohyeon crouches down next to her. And okay - it’s kind of adorable. You never claimed to be made of stone.
Besides, you’re grateful for the interruption. You haven’t performed in front of people since high school - which yes, was only five years ago, but when it comes to you and Yoohyeon, it might as well be a lifetime.
And to this day, you struggle with telling her no.
“See you next week?” she asks, as you’re getting up to leave.
“Of course,” you say.
You spend the rest of the day thinking about how your hands pressed into her waist when she loosely threw her arms around your neck to say goodbye.
When you get home from work the following afternoon, all you want to do is eat the leftover pad thai in the fridge and head straight to bed. The small record label where you’ve been employed for the last six months works you to the bone, and your paycheck is more about the experience than anything else. It’s a good thing you have the band and a decent amount of friends in the area; otherwise, you imagine you’d hate your life a little.
The conversation with Yoohyeon has been nagging at the back of your mind all day, and you’re ready to collapse as soon as you open the door to the apartment. When you see the scene in the living room, however, you realize that’s not happening.
Siyeon Lee, your best friend of the last six years and roommate of the last two, is standing on a kitchen chair, red-faced. Her bandmate and boyfriend, Davy Jones (you don’t know his real name and never cared enough to find out) is glaring up at her with his arms crossed.
“Will you get down from there? You’re crazy.”
“It’s not crazy to ask for some respect,” Siyeon retorts. Her eyes light up when she spots you taking off your shoes by the door. “Yubin! Tell Davy I’m right.”
“Siyeon’s right,” you say, because she usually is, and if you learned anything in college it’s that men who are decent lead guitarists can still be scummy people at the end of the day.
Davy sneers in your direction before moving towards the futon, where his beautiful vintage Stratocaster is leaning against the armrest. Siyeon starts humming the opening notes to Good Riddance as he angrily buckles the instrument into its case.
“I give it a week, Siyeon, before your ass is drunk-dialling begging me to come back,” Davy says, standing up and hoisting the guitar on his back. “Because without me? You’re nothing.”
“Get out,” you say, and wonder why Siyeon (or you, for that matter), has put up with this guy for a year now.
From the chair, Siyeon shifts from song to laughter. “It’s kind of adorable how delusional you are. My friends don’t like you. I don’t want you. And my band sure as hell doesn’t need you. We’re better off without you there.”
“Good luck with that,” Davy huffs, and pushes past you to leave. You lock the door behind him. Just in case.
It’s just the two of you left in the apartment. You expect Siyeon to quiet down now that Davy’s left, but her laughter only grows louder and more hysterical. You double-check the freezer to make sure the ice cream you bought last week is still in there. It could be a long night.
“Yubin, will you come help me down?”
Instantly, you move to Siyeon’s side. You hold your hand out for her to take, but instead of using it to climb off the chair, she just sort of pulls you in. You’ve lived with Siyeon long enough to know when she needs affection, even when she can’t voice it out loud. So you put your arms around her, awkwardly shifting onto the chair so you both have space to hug.
“We broke up,” Siyeon says, and she’s still laughing a little, but her voice also sounds stunned.
“Yeah, I got that,” you say. “Are you okay?”
Siyeon shrugs. “I don’t know. I will be, though. Soon.”
You know she’s right. She’s one of the toughest people you know. Boys like Davy Jones don’t bring girls like Siyeon down for very long. That’s a rule of the universe if there ever was one.
“I never liked him anyway,” you confess, prompting Siyeon to giggle again.
“I know. You did a good job of hiding it for my sake, though.” There’s a far-off look in Siyeon’s eyes, like she’s reminiscing. “I wish I was more like you. Smart about people.”
Smart about people. Not necessarily. Yoohyeon’s face flashes in your mind, and you remember skinned knees and dark basements, but it isn’t - you can’t do this now.
So you change the subject. “What happened, anyway?”
“He came over to talk about the album, but I could tell he wasn’t listening to me. He hasn’t been listening to me at all, lately. And he kept saying things like...he expected me to just nod along and accept that he was right. But none of his ideas were, you know, good.”
“Sounds like Davy,” you say. Siyeon playfully smacks your arm. “What? I can’t be mean to him now?”
“Anyways,” Siyeon continues. “I had an epiphany.”
“I realized that lately, it wasn’t even about the relationship for us. He didn’t give me butterflies anymore, you know? But I was used to him, and then there’s the band. He’s been a part of it for so long, and I didn’t…” Siyeon’s voice trails off.
“Fun Cult is your band,” you remind her. “You don’t need him.”
“Yeah,” Siyeon says. “It’s probably a bad idea to keep someone around just because you’re scared of what your life will be like without them.”
Silence falls over the two of you. Distantly, you can hear someone shouting in one of the apartments below. You’re grateful that the weather in Los Angeles never strays too far from perfect. People are crazy enough without extreme temperatures making them crazier.
“Siyeon,” you say, changing the subject. “Why were you standing on a chair?”
“I wanted to be bigger than him.”
Siyeon snorts. “He always had a way of making me feel small. Or like I’m not going to be anything, and never get anywhere with my music. And I don’t know, I guess I started to believe him.”
“Don’t say that,” you say, louder than necessary. “He’s full of shit.”
“Yubin, all I want to do is sing. I don’t want to be a waitress anymore, and I don’t want to just play bars and house parties for the rest of my life.”
“You won’t,” you say. “You’ll find a new guitarist and make a great record and everyone’s going to want to sign you guys and the rest will be history.”
Siyeon scrunches her face up. “I mean, maybe. But it’s like the majority of the world is allergic to anything original. Everyone’s just happy listening to more Disney Channel teeny boppers making the same repetitive bubblegum shit.”
It’s a familiar rant, the same words Siyeon has been preaching since college. You almost tune it out. Until.
“Like that new Rachel Kim song, or whoever she is. Might as well be the background music of a Target commercial. I mean, at least she can actually sing. But there’s no spice.”
“I don’t think Rachel Kim was on Disney Channel,” you say, because you can’t think of anything else. You feel sort of frozen in place, and you wonder if Siyeon can sense all your muscles tensing.
It’s not like your friendship with Yoohyeon is something you purposely try to hide. The two of you fell out of touch, and then she went and got famous out of nowhere, and it never seemed necessary to bring up. When she made her way into your life again, you weren’t sure how long it was going to last. You didn’t want to make it a whole thing. And if it turns out that it is a whole thing, you’d rather pretend it isn’t one.
So you don’t mention it. This night isn’t about you anyway.
“Even if they’re not ready for you, you’ll make them see,” you say, instead.
“Thank you, Yubinie,” Siyeon sighs. “I’m lucky to have you.”
“Likewise,” you say, and give her shoulder a tight squeeze.
Handong sends out the brunch evite to the whole band (plus you, who isn’t technically in the band, but spends enough time with them that you’ve earned the inclusion). Gahyeon replies with a string of crying face emoticons and a reminder that some people are still in college and have class. Siyeon writes back saying that she has to work but everyone has permission to get day drunk in her honor. So it’s just you, Handong and Minji sharing a table by the windows at the trendy place near Handong’s office.
“Mimosas all around?” Handong says. She’s dressed for work: trousers and a silk button-down. “I’ll buy.”
“You sure?” you ask, helping yourself to the muffin basket.
“Special occasion,” Handong says with a wink.
“What do you mean?”
Minji and Handong exchange amused glances. “Think of it as Siyeon Independence Day,” Minji says. “From the third world country of Davy Jones.”
“More like Everyone Independence Day,” Handong adds. “We don’t have to deal with him at practice anymore. You don’t have to deal with him at the apartment anymore. We’re free.”
“Aren’t you a little nervous about losing your guitarist?” you ask, because it’s been itching at the back of your mind. Siyeon seems to be getting happier with each passing day, so you would never bring it up to her directly, but also, there’s been no mention of finding a guitarist to replace Davy. You want to keep working on the album, but there’s not much that you can do as a producer without someone to play one of the most important instruments.
“Siyeon will find someone,” Handong says. “And hopefully they won’t be an awful person this time.”
“And hopefully she won’t start dating them, so if they are awful, we can kick them out way sooner,” Minji adds with a small smile. The end of summer looks good on her. You know she’s probably staying up late working on lesson plans, because Minji never stops working, but that’s nothing compared to herding screaming children all day. Minji swears up and down she loves her job, that she wouldn’t trade teaching for the world. But there have been practices where Minji shows up with messy hair and paint all over her sweater, practices where she forcefully plays the keyboards until her fingers turn white. For such a small person, Minji can hold a lot of stress in her body. But today, she looks soft and well-rested. It’s good to know she’s getting a break.
You don’t know when exactly you became protective of Minji, or comfortable with Handong buying you drinks, but you’re at the point now where you don’t want to imagine your life any differently. The two of them were Siyeon’s friends first, but you don’t think of them that way anymore.
“Next time, I’m putting my foot down,” Minji says. “No one can date Siyeon unless they have a real job.”
“Have you always been such a Mom?” Handong asks teasingly, as the waiter places your drinks on the table.
Minji reaches for her glass. “No, I don’t think so. In high school I was a wild child.”
You can’t control the burst of laughter that escapes you. “No way.”
“You should have seen me. I would skip class, sneak out of the house, you name it. My parents still have nightmares about that dark time, I’m pretty sure.”
“I could have sworn you came out of the womb wearing glasses and a turtleneck,” Handong says dryly.
Minji rolls her eyes, fake-annoyed. “Oh, please. Who were you in high school? Voted most likely to succeed?”
“No, actually,” Handong says. “I moved here in ninth grade, and I didn’t have enough confidence in my English to do many activities. I would have liked to try out for the musicals. If I could do high school again, that’s what I would do.”
“Geek,” Minji says, voice full of affection. “What about you, Yubin?”
“What were you like in high school? Unwrap the big mystery.”
You swallow, even though your mouth feels dry. You know Minji and Handong don’t mean anything by the question - they’re just making conversation, and it would be easy to skirt around it and move on.
However, the past is pretty much all you think about nowadays, and there’s a part of you that wants to talk about it. And there’s something about Minji and Handong that makes you feel like you can trust them with this.
“I played music with my best friend,” you say. “Nothing big or anything, just parties and local venues. We had a Myspace page.”
Handong’s eyes light up. “I knew you used to play guitar, but I didn’t know you were a rock star.”
“I wasn’t a rock star,” you say, even though you know that in the old pictures you probably looked the part, because you would jump around onstage and sing with your mouth too close to the mic. It’s been years, but you still remember how playing side-by-side with Yoohyeon gave you an adrenaline rush like no other. The movements and sounds used to flow through your body like caffeine.
“Well maybe one day, we’ll see you on the other side of the booth again,” Minji says. You don’t answer. You can feel the conversation starting to change topics, and this is your one chance.
“My friend’s name is Yoohyeon,” you say, a little louder than necessary. Minji nods, and Handong sits up straight. Their attention is completely focused on you now, like they can sense this is important. “But she doesn’t really go by that name anymore.”
“What name does she go by?” Handong asks softly.
“Rachel Kim,” you say. It comes out an almost-whisper. “Yes, that Rachel Kim. After high school she started posting more solo stuff. Videos of her singing, that kind of thing. And a lot of people must have liked it, because one of her covers got a crazy amount of views. And then I guess she got a record deal and...yeah.”
Handong’s eyebrows shoot up almost to her hairline, and Minji’s hand lightly covers her mouth. Their reactions make sense. You had always assumed that famous people would stop being a big deal once you moved to LA, but it’s the opposite. The cashier at your local 7/11 sold tissues to Jennifer Aniston two years ago, and she still brings it up every time you go there.
“Rachel Kim, wow. She’s everywhere lately,” Handong says, voice tinged with surprise.
“Her song was just playing in the place where I got my hair cut,” Minji says. “What’s it called again? Let Love...Let Love something.”
“Let Me Love You,” you say.
“That’s the one.”
You eye your empty mimosa glass, because you don’t want to look at anything else right now. Your cheeks are burning. You hope it isn’t too obvious.
“Are you still in touch?”
“We weren’t for a long time,” you say. “But we are now.”
“Oh,” Minji says. “How’s that going?”
The question is bright, casual. The kind of question that probably warrants a simple answer, except you don’t have one. There’s a lot of history surrounding Yoohyeon’s place in your life, and it has weighed heavy on your thoughts for what feels like far too long. It’s not the kind of thing Minji and Handong need to be dragged into. You’re just happy there’s someone willing to listen.
So you find the simple answer. “It’s good,” you say. “It’s good.”
You weren’t expecting a call from Yoohyeon on Saturday morning. You answer on the second ring. “Hello?”
“Hey! So I’m in your neighborhood...”
“ You’re in my neighborhood?”
“...And I just had a realization. You haven’t been in my car yet.”
You eye your reflection in the switched-off TV screen. The dark circles under your eyes seem extra prominent after the ungodly late hours you’ve been working all week. You weren’t really planning on leaving the couch today, let alone the apartment.
“So, what do you say? Wanna go for a drive?” Yoohyeon’s voice is sing-songy, the way it always is when she’s in a good mood.
“Yeah,” you say, casually, as if you were ever going to say anything different. As if you would have given yourself the choice.
Yoohyeon is pulled over on the street across from your building, and she rolls down the window on the driver’s side when she sees you approaching. You think she might have the most expensive haircut out of everyone who has set foot in your neighborhood. Ever.
“Hey,” Yoohyeon smiles. “I recognize those shorts.”
You glance down. You hadn’t realized, but yeah, those are the same green cargo shorts you wore non-stop throughout high school. Yoohyeon used to tease you about them until she realized you could fit all sorts of things in the pockets, and then she was just happy that she no longer had to carry a purse everywhere.
Yoohyeon gestures for you to hop into the passenger’s seat, so you do. It is, admittedly, a really nice car. The kind your Dad would probably lose his shit over. The interior is tan leather and the new car smell still lingers. You take a deep breath.
“What do you think?” Yoohyeon asks as you fasten your seatbelt.
“It’s sweet,” you answer. “All yours?”
“Yeah,” Yoohyeon says with a smile. “I mean, it was a gift from my parents. But there’s no way they would have been able to afford it without my career, so it’s definitely mine.”
“How are they?”
“They’re good. They live with me now. My Mom likes the weather.”
Yoohyeon doesn’t roll the windows up when she starts driving. The breeze is nice, and feels surprisingly fresh, especially considering the time of year. You don’t recognize the acoustic pop song on the radio, but Yoohyeon definitely does, since she hums along. Her shoulders are tan and bare, and her face is glowing with one of her big smiles. You can’t get enough of looking at her.
“You know, we’re probably the only two people in the city right now who are going on a drive for fun, ” you point out, as Yoohyeon exits onto the highway.
“They’re missing out. They need to stop and smell the roses.”
“You mean the asphalt where the roses used to be?”
“Funny,” Yoohyeon says, shaking her head a little. “Yubin Lee, you’re too funny.”
It’s LA, so it’s not long before you’re stuck in traffic. Yoohyeon rolls up the windows. You notice they’re tinted.
“Sorry, just let me text my manager back real quick,” Yoohyeon says, grabbing her iPhone from the cupholder. “They want me to dye my hair for the Teen Choice Awards.”
“Platinum blonde?” Yoohyeon says, clearly a little unsure. You try to hold it in, but you can’t. You let out a giggle. “What?"
“Nothing,” you say. “I just can’t really imagine you as a blonde. I like your dark hair.”
Yoohyeon huffs out a breath, fingers flying over her phone’s keyboard. “I like my dark hair too, but my team thinks it’s too vanilla, girl-next-door, et cetera.”
“What’s wrong with that?” you ask, because this is Yoohyeon Kim, a girl who used to make friends with all her teachers and cry whenever she saw a small animal on the street. She’s not like everyone else, no matter what Siyeon says. And she shouldn’t have to be.
“They’re worried about me becoming, I don’t know, boring?” Yoohyeon says, putting the phone down as the traffic starts to move up ahead. “I get what they’re saying, I guess. People don’t want the same thing all the time. And it’s cooler to be a bad girl these days.”
You’re not one of those people who hate Hollywood on principle, but if Yoohyeon gets it in her head that she’s not good enough the way she is, it might just tip you over the edge. “They’re wrong. Don’t listen to them.”
You ignore the way the words make your ribs feel like they’re dissolving. “How are you supposed to be a bad girl, anyway? You couldn’t even rescue your own frisbee from that tree in your yard.”
“Don’t you dare bring that up.”
“I had to climb the tree to get it for you…”
“Yubin, oh my god.”
“And I ended up falling and breaking my knee. I couldn’t leave the house for an entire summer.”You watch her, eagerly anticipating her reaction. Just like clockwork, her eyes get huge and she starts to bounce in her seat. “Yubin, you know that I am so so so sorry about that, and if I could I would time travel back to that moment and beat myself up , because I didn’t even like the frisbee that much anyway. We’ve been over this, I don’t know why you still feel the need to guilt-trip me because I am truly haunted by that memory, and I don’t know why you’re laughing because it’s not funny!”
She’s wrong. It’s hilarious. It’s hilarious that she still feels guilty after all these years, and it’s hilarious that you know her so well, and it’s hilarious how she’s completely unaware that you’d climb the same tree over and over again if she asked you. You’d break your knee a million times.
After about an hour of driving around aimlessly, Yoohyeon announces that she’s hungry, so she pulls into a strip mall that she remembers has a frozen yogurt place. The girl behind the counter has hair that’s dyed a bright shade of silver, and you catch Yoohyeon staring.
“Silver?” you ask. “Really?”
“I don’t know,” Yoohyeon says. “It might be a little bold.”
You take a second to admire her features: the sharp curve of her jawline, her cheekbones, the light in her eyes. She’s striking no matter what color her hair is, but with silver, you imagine she could walk into the Pentagon and they’d just hand her the controls.
“You should go for it,” you say. “If it’s what you want to do, you should do it. I think it would look amazing.”
Then she’s beaming at you, that smile turned up to its full wattage. You think it’s something you’ll never get used to, no matter how long you know her.
You don’t get cable at the apartment you share with Siyeon, so you invite yourself over to Handong’s. From the other side of her living room couch, she pauses her absentminded plucking at her bass to eye you suspiciously. You don’t really blame her; it’s not like watching the Teen Choice Awards is an activity you’ve demonstrated any prior interest in doing.
“I just don’t understand why.”
“Shh, it’s starting.”
It turns out it isn’t starting, because before the show can start, they have to shoot footage of the red carpet and go into detail about what everyone’s wearing. You watch impatiently as the interviewer asks questions to a bunch of people whose faces you vaguely recognize.
And then Yoohyeon’s face is on the screen.
You should be used to seeing her on TV by now, but it still manages to catch you off-guard. Her hair definitely has something to do with it. Whoever dyed it did a great job: it’s silvery blonde with blue highlights. The interviewer calls her a knockout. You can’t help but agree.
“Oh,” Handong says flatly. “I get it now.”
You ignore her.
“Any more surprises we should be expecting from you?” the interviewer asks.
“Well, you never know,” Yoohyeon says. “But no matter what happens, I’ll still be the same me.”
She looks straight at the camera, and even though she can’t see you, you look away.
Siyeon’s been giving you strange looks all week, but it isn’t until she walks into your room and places her Les Paul on your bed that you start to realize what’s up.
In retrospect, you probably should have seen it coming.
“Tell me you can still play Stairway to Heaven.”
“When did I tell you I could play Stairway to Heaven in the first place?” you ask, and wonder if there’s still a way out of this. Judging by the fire in Siyeon’s eyes, probably not.
“Every guitarist learns Stairway to Heaven. Come on.”
Sighing, you pick the guitar up by its neck. The notes come easily, even though you haven’t played this particular song in years. It’s not that you don’t play at all anymore: you do, when you get around to it. Besides, music has always made sense to you. It’s not the kind of thing you have to think too hard about.
You play about sixteen bars. When you stop, you look up to see Siyeon smiling so hard her cheeks might burst.
“Yubin,” she begins. “My best friend, my beloved roommate, light of my life, my partner in crime…”
“Do you want to join the band?”
You had a feeling it was coming, but hearing it out loud is another story. “Are you serious?”
“As a heart attack,” Siyeon says, moving the guitar out of the way so she can sit next to you. “It just makes sense. You can play. You spend all of your time with us anyway, and you don’t have to stop producing for us either, unless you want to.”
“You really can’t find anyone else?”
“I don’t want anyone else,” Siyeon says, like she means it, and you feel yourself starting to soften up against your own will. “We tried holding auditions, but it was just a line of dudes who thought they were too good for us. And they didn’t even have the talent to back up the ego. You, however, are so talented it kind of makes me hate you sometimes.”
You roll your eyes. She’s the most talented person you know, she has absolutely no place to talk. “Yeah, yeah.”
“If what’s holding you back is like, a stage fright thing, we can work on that. Minji and Handong said you used to perform in high school, so maybe-”
You interrupt her. “They told you that?”
“Was it a secret?”
You don’t know how to answer, and your silence makes something in the air shift. Siyeon is staring at you, and the look in her eyes is confused and almost hurt, which brings you back to earth. No matter how hard she tries to put on the cool rock chick persona, you know Siyeon is sensitive. Maybe it was weird, you think, to tell Handong and Minji about high school and Yoohyeon before telling Siyeon. You’re closer with Siyeon than you are with most people; she’s one of the most important friends you’ve ever had. The only thing is that she has a tendency to push, to jump to conclusions, to make a big deal out of a situation that really isn’t one. And if there’s anything you want to keep not-a-big-deal, it’s your past (and ok, your present) with Yoohyeon.
“It wasn’t a secret,” you say, finally. “But, um, what did they tell you?”
“Just that you were in a band with your friend or something in high school,” Siyeon says. “I mean, I know you played, I didn’t know you played played.”
“I- It wasn’t even a band. Just a handful of shows. And they were probably pretty bad. It’s not a big deal, that’s why I never brought it up,” you say, and laugh. It comes out squeaky.
You wish this was something you knew how to talk about, but it isn’t. If it was, you probably would have told Siyeon much sooner.
“Well, if you say it’s not a big deal then it’s not a big deal,” Siyeon says, and pulls at a stray thread on your bedspread. Her hair hangs all the way down her back. She hasn’t cut it short since college, when she had been known for her trademark chunky highlights.
Sometimes, you wonder what your life would be like if Siyeon hadn’t come up and introduced herself to you at that party during your freshman orientation week. You would get a lot more sleep on the daily, for sure. You probably wouldn’t be subjected to half as many shitty superhero movies. You would never have been dragged along on that one weird night sophomore year, which means you wouldn’t have to write “technically, yes” when job applications ask if you’ve ever been convicted of a felony.
But also, you never would have moved to LA. You never would have started working in your dream industry if Siyeon hadn’t been pushing you, hadn’t been constantly reassuring you that you were good enough. You wouldn’t laugh as much as you do, or know you always have a shoulder to lean on, even if you prefer to be alone when you’re sad. You wouldn’t be so content that you’re right where you’re meant to be.
The truth is, you’d do anything for Siyeon. Your mind was probably made up a long time ago.
“Fine,” you say. “I’ll play guitar for Fun Cult.”
Siyeon lets out a loud squeal, throwing her arms around your stomach and knocking both of you over in the process. “Thank you thank you thank you, oh my god. It’s going to be amazing. I know it’s a time commitment and we’re all kind of hard to deal with sometimes but we really have so much potential and we’re gonna get signed and get famous and be rich.”
You feel a rush of excitement, despite yourself. “I can’t wait.”
The next few weeks go by in a blur.
You thought there would be an adjustment period: that it would take some time for you to catch up with everyone else, since they’ve been playing together for a year.
But after only three practices, you can feel yourself getting in the rhythm of being in a band. It definitely helps that you’re familiar with all the material, since you’ve been helping with writing and producing since the beginning.
Your first gig is at a local bar. Siyeon and Minji are friends with the owner, so it’s a place the band gets booked a lot. The crowd is loud and lively, and they don’t seem to notice when you mess up because your hands are shaking.
“The nerves go away,” Minji says during a water break in the middle of the set. “Just try to focus on having fun.”
She pulls you into a hug. Gahyeon squeals and sprints over to join in, and it’s not long before you feel Handong and Siyeon’s arms as well. Your hands don’t shake for the rest of the night.
When you perform for the second time, you feel yourself start to loosen up immediately. You jump around onstage and interact with Siyeon and Handong. There’s something about the energy in the air- it’s almost like you’re weightless. By the end of the night, there’s sweat pouring down your neck, and people are coming up to the stage to tell you they liked your solo. Siyeon smiles at you from across the room, and you wonder why the hell you avoided this feeling for so long.
“We’re going out for drinks. Wanna come?” Handong asks, once the set is over and everyone is packing up the equipment.
The offer is tempting. You haven’t felt this alive in a long time, and you want to celebrate with everyone. But there’s something important eating away at you, telling you you need to be alone.
“Not tonight. Thanks, though.”
It doesn’t fully settle in until you’re back at the apartment. This is the first time in your life you’re performing without Yoohyeon by your side.
And it’s not like the question of whether or not you could do it was constantly hanging over your head or anything. At least, not that you were aware of. But there was always some unspeakable force holding you back, pushing you to shake your head when asked to break out the guitar or get in front of a crowd.
The light, airy feeling from the gig is still humming through your body. It feels like you’ve overcome something.
You climb into bed and check your phone. There’s a few unread texts, but your eyes immediately go to the one from Yoohyeon: can u call tonight? :)
Did something happen? you message back.
nope, just wanted to talk like old times. missed ur voice haha :P
It feels like you’ve overcome something, and that doesn’t go away when you’re dialing Yoohyeon’s number and listening to her recite the details of her day with more energy than anyone should have at this time of night. There’s a difference between need and want, you think, but it can be difficult to tell when the years that passed feel more like decades and the changes are so subtle you barely notice them at all. When it’s still the same person, despite everything. It’s hard sometimes.
“Sleep well, or I’ll be mad.”
“I’m not afraid of you.”
“But will you sleep well anyway? Non-threatening threats aside.”
It’s hard sometimes. And sometimes, it’s easy.
Gahyeon approaches you after a particularly long, grueling practice. “You sounded really cool today,” she says, offering you a Coke from her grandparents’ fridge. You accept. Gahyeon’s grandparents are nice people for the most part, except they still treat Gahyeon like she’s six years old, and would wrap her in bubble wrap every time she left the house if they could. When Gahyeon moved into the university dorms, her grandparents offered up their garage as a place for the band to practice. It was a pretty blatant excuse for them to check up on her and make sure she’s still intact, but there’s an expression about gift horses and mouths.
“Thanks, I tried something new with the riff” you say, taking a moment to study the front of her T-shirt, where the words “hit like a girl” are spelled out in drumsticks.
“Well whatever you tried sounded pretty awesome from where I was sitting,” Gahyeon says. “Are you ready for the gig this weekend?”
You put the Coke on the ground, and start to pack your guitar back into its case. “I think so.”
The gig this weekend is some club’s local band night, so the set will be shorter but the crowd will be bigger. You’re at the point now where you look forward to performing, anticipating the buzz it gives you. There’s a lot of lost time you have to make up for.
“I’m inviting some girls from my hall,” Gahyeon says. “It’ll be the first time they see me play.”
“Do you think you’ll invite anyone?”
You glance towards the back of the garage, where there’s a door leading to the rest of the house. Siyeon should be out of the bathroom at any moment. She’s your only ride home, since Handong and Minji already left. “Probably not.”
“Not even Rachel Kim?”
You freeze, your hands stuttering over the clasps of the guitar case. “What?”
“You’re friends with her, right?”
“Handong and Minji told you?” you ask, standing to face her.
“I overheard them talking about it,” Gahyeon says, a look of guilt overcoming her features. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think it was a big deal.”
“It’s not,” you say, quickly. You can tell Gahyeon means well, she always does. And you know she’s not a kid or anything, but you still feel like a horrible person when you hurt her feelings.
“So it’s true?”
“Yeah. We were friends in high school.”
“I almost can’t believe it,” Gahyeon says, voice full of awe. “I mean, you’re so cool. ”
You burst into laughter, and not just because Gahyeon admitted for maybe the first time in her life that she thinks you’re cool. “You don’t think Rachel Kim is cool?”
“Well it’s just that her music is so...you know...bubblegum. Wait, are you going to tell her I said this? Because she’s rich, and she could probably hire a hitman to kill me in my sleep.”
“She’s not going to hire a hitman,” you say. “But I won’t tell her, just in case.”
Gahyeon looks visibly relieved. “Then you should invite her to the gig! So we could tell everyone a famous person saw us play.”
“I’ll think about it.”
On the drive home, in Siyeon’s beat-up pick-up truck, you turn the radio to the Hot 100. Siyeon doesn’t protest, probably because she’s still exhausted from her early morning shift and the intense practice that followed. You only have to wait three songs before the plucky guitar notes of Yoohyeon’s latest hit are coming through the speakers.
Out of the corner of your eye, you watch Siyeon. For some reason, you expect her to say something. But she just keeps a steady gaze on the road ahead, absentmindedly drumming her fingers on the steering wheel.
I want you to love me, I want you to love me, I want you to love me, I want you to love , Yoohyeon sings on the chorus. The song is bright and catchy and far from terrible. Yoohyeon’s voice has only gotten stronger and more beautiful over time, and she sings with an earnestness that makes it impossible to tune her out. You understand why people like it so much.
The first time you heard one of Yoohyeon’s songs in public, after getting over the initial shock, you went home and googled if she wrote it herself. She didn’t; there was a long list of names in the songwriting credits, but none of them were hers. You wonder if she would ever try writing again. It was something she used to do back in high school, but she would always get frustrated, refusing to let you see her progress and insisting you were better, anyway.
You’ve been meaning to ask her about it. There’s a lot of things you’ve been meaning to ask.
“Can you change the station?” Siyeon asks. Her voice sounds tired. Yoohyeon’s song has ended, and a Taco Bell commercial is playing instead. You turn the dial.
“Well, you invited me,” Yoohyeon says. “Did you think I wouldn’t come?”
It’s loud in the club, the DJ blasting EDM while the next band sets up their equipment, and Yoohyeon is leaning in close to make sure you can hear her. You’re still buzzing from the set and the vodka cranberry you chugged right before, and her proximity just increases the rush running through your body. Despite the darkness of the venue, you can make out her smile (so big it bends her eyes into crescents) and her outfit (tight, short). Feeling bold, you reach for her waist and tug her into an embrace. “I’m really glad you’re here.”
She doesn’t pull away, even as bodies push up against the two of you. “I’m really glad I’m here, too.”
You stay like that until something causes Yoohyeon to jerk back suddenly. It’s Rodrigo, standing behind her, wearing dark sunglasses even in the already-dark club. You’d forgotten he was there, again.
“People are starting to stare,” Rodrigo says, urgently. You take a step back.
Yoohyeon sends you an apologetic glance. “Do you think we could go somewhere more private?”
You make your way to a glowing exit sign at the back of the club. Opening the door, you find the alley empty, save for some rats scurrying between the dumpsters. Rodrigo gives a silent nod of approval, and stays behind like a bouncer as you and Yoohyeon exit through the doorway.
The cool breeze is a nice contrast to the packed heat of the dance floor. In the dim light, you can make out Yoohyeon’s face better. She’s wearing some kind of glittery eyeshadow, but the night had smudged it, causing sparkles to dust her cheeks. It makes her look like a fairy, and it’s almost irritating, how stunning she’s always been.
“You shredded it tonight,” Yoohyeon says, breaking the silence. “Is that the correct use of the term? Shredded?”
“Not at all. But I’ll give it to you.”
Yoohyeon lets out a short laugh. “I can’t believe it’s been so long since I last saw you play.”
“Yeah,” you say, suddenly feeling on edge. This isn’t something you and Yoohyeon talk about yet. It’s strange, how things can feel so familiar between the two of you, and also not at all at the same time. “It’s been a while.”
“Years. We’ve aged.”
“When you say it like that it sounds like you’re saying we’re old,” you say, wrinkling your nose. It’s easier, sometimes, when you choose not to deal with things.
“We are old,” Yoohyeon says, bouncing up and down like it’ll somehow enhance the point she’s making. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.”
You glance down at her wrist. She’s wearing the charm bracelet she wears all the time now. It looks expensive, but the charms are cute and almost childlike: puppies and rainbows and cupcakes. Absentmindedly, you reach for it: hook a finger through, brush your thumb against her inner wrist. “Speak for yourself.”
She’s close now, closer than she was inside the club. And there’s no one around; no people dancing, no Rodrigo. You could brush the glitter off her cheeks, if you wanted to. You could-
“Yubin? We’ve been looking for y- oh.”
You back away from Yoohyeon so fast that you nearly knock your head against the brick wall behind you. Somehow, you didn’t hear Siyeon approaching, but here she is: standing in the alley, the rest of the band behind her. Gahyeon’s eyes dart from you to Yoohyeon and back to you like the scene is an exciting tennis match she’s watching, and if you weren’t frozen still on the spot, you would shoot her a glare in return.
“Miss Lee, do you know these people?” Rodrigo says, jogging up behind the group. That snaps you out of your trance, because even though he’s the last person you want to see right now, it’s comical how he’s always always there. Fucking laugh-out-loud hilarious. “They say they know you.”
“Yeah,” you say. “They’re my band.”
“Oh my god!” Yoohyeon exclaims, smiling in a way that tells you she hasn’t picked up on any hesitation on your end. “You guys were amazing. The real deal. I thought you were lucky to have Yubin, but clearly she’s just as lucky.”
“Okay,” Siyeon says. Her eyes are bigger than you’ve ever seen them, and she says “okay” in the same way she might if Janis Joplin came back from the dead and asked her to sing a duet. Handong, Minji, and Gahyeon all look slightly in-awe as well, and it hits you, suddenly, that the rest of the world sees Yoohyeon differently. Not that this is news, exactly. You’ve watched her music videos and TV show appearances for years and still haven’t really gotten used to it. But it’s different when it’s your friends who have never met Yoohyeon, and they’re still looking at her like she’s special. Obviously, you know Yoohyeon is special. But for you, it’s different. Your version of Yoohyeon was molded by playground days and reckless teenage nights, the feelings you understand and the ones you don’t let yourself think about. Their version of Yoohyeon is the same as everyone else’s, as flat and shiny as her posters in Tiger Beat.
“Everyone,” you say. “This is Rachel Kim. Um, Rachel, these are my friends. Siyeon’s also my roommate.”
“I’ve heard so much about you,” Yoohyeon says, offering her hand for Siyeon to shake. Siyeon just stares at it. The silence is thick and awkward for about five seconds, and then Yoohyeon moves on like a pro, turning to the rest of the group.
“I’m Gahyeon, I play drums. Love your music. Don’t tell anyone I said that, though.”
“Your secret is safe with me.”
You glance at Siyeon, and she stares back at you like there’s a time bomb where your head should be.
“You killed it tonight, and your shirt is so cute, too. Where’d you get it?”
You wish everyone was gone, suddenly, so you could speak to Siyeon alone. You want to explain, but you don’t know what, exactly.
“I’m Minji, I play keyboards. You’re so pretty, by the way.”
“Me? I’m sorry, but have you seen you ? Are you an actress, or something?”
“She’s a teacher,” you say. Anything to distract yourself from the sharpness of Siyeon’s gaze.
“A teacher, really? Well, if you ever decide to go into modeling, give me a call. I know a guy high up at Wilhelmina.”
The look on Minji’s face is a mixture of stunned and overjoyed, and it’s so wonderful that you almost don’t notice Yoohyeon at the top of the cliff, beginning the dive towards disaster.
“Actually, I know a lot of people. Like my label! Oh my god, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before.”
“What are you saying?” Siyeon asks, voice already guarded. Yoohyeon doesn’t seem to notice, however, because she keeps talking.
“Well it’s really hard for rock bands to make it nowadays, right? But if you send me a demo or something, I can make sure the execs hear it, and maybe they’ll want to sign you! I mean, why wouldn’t they? You’re all so talented.”
“That’s really nice of you and everything,” Siyeon begins, “but-”
“Or, wait! Even better idea,” Yoohyeon interrupts, voice overflowing with excitement. “You guys could be the opening act on my tour! I mean, I already invited just Yubin, but she said she was busy with the band. But if the band comes with her, then problem solved, right?”
“With her,” Siyeon repeats, eyebrows raised so high they’re practically brushing her hairline. “On your tour?”
“It would be an amazing opportunity! And I’m sure we’d all get along. I mean, any friend of Yubin’s is a friend of mine.”
“Yoohyeon,” you cut in, because this is all happening at a break-neck pace, and you’re not sure which hole in the canoe you should try to plug first. “We’ll think about it.”
“Really? Awesome,” Yoohyeon says, smiling again. Either the band inside finished playing or they’re taking a break between songs, because the silence in the alley feels louder, all of a sudden.
Rodrigo clears his throat.
“Well, I should probably get going. But it was so, so nice meeting you all. And hopefully we’ll talk more soon, yeah?” Yoohyeon says. She pulls you into a quick hug, and then waves goodbye to everyone else before following Rodrigo back inside. Minji, Gahyeon, and Handong wave back. Siyeon stays put.
“Wow,” Gahyeon says, as soon as the door closes. “She’s taller in real life.”
“Siyeon? Everything okay?” Handong asks.
When you turn to look, you find Siyeon still staring at you. “What the fuck just happened , ” she says, more bewildered than angry.
“I can’t believe she invited us to open for her on tour,” Minji says. “Do you think she was serious? Because I’d need to see if I can take the time off work.”
“Of course she wasn’t serious,” Siyeon snaps. “And even if she was, we’re not going.”
“Are you kidding?” Gahyeon exclaims. “This could be our big break!”
“It does seem like an amazing opportunity,” Handong adds.
“Look,” Siyeon says, in a short, angry breath, and it’s always unsettling when she gets like this: upset to the point that her signature goofiness is nowhere to be found. “This is my band, and I make the decisions. We’re not opening for her.”
“You do realize you’re not making any sense right now, right?” Handong counters. Her tone is calm, but her eyes are angry. “Chances like this are too rare for us to not even discuss it.”
“Our chance will come, and when it does, I want it to be because we earned it, not because some manufactured pop star wants to bang Yubin.”
Siyeon’s words bounce off the alley walls like spiked boomerangs, sharp enough to hit you in the throat. You feel stuck in place as your face begins to flush, but even if you could move, you don’t know where you’d go.
“Hey,” Minji says firmly. “Too far.”
Siyeon ignores her. “I know you all have real jobs or school or whatever, but I don’t. All I have is this. All I have is my music. And I’ve worked too damn hard to throw away any chance I have of ever being taken seriously, all to perform for a bunch of twelve-year-olds who don’t even care, just because you guys don’t have faith we’ll make it on our own.”
“Screw you,” Gahyeon snarls. You don’t think you’ve ever seen her this angry, and you hate it. You hate all of this. “We’ve put in just as much as you have, we all work hard, you can’t just discredit that because you’re miserable.”
Siyeon narrows her eyes and takes a step forward, but before she can open her mouth, Minji places a hand on her shoulder. “Hey,” Minji says in her best teacher-voice, “it’s late, and we’re all a little...tense, so why don’t we take some time to cool down. We can talk about this another time. Okay?”
“Whatever. I’m going home,” Gahyeon says, angrily turning and marching back into the club.
“I’m her ride,” Handong sighs, casting one last angry glare in Siyeon’s direction before following.
Minji looks at you, and then Siyeon, and then you again. “You two gonna be okay?”
Surprisingly, Siyeon answers first. “Yeah. We’ll be okay.”
You sneak a glance at Siyeon. Her jaw is still firmly set, but her head is hanging in a way that tells you she hates this just as much as you do. No matter how tough Siyeon acts, you know she’s soft and sensitive on the inside. “You heard her. We’ll be okay.”
Still, the drive home is mostly silent. You don’t know what to say or where to start, really. You kind of wish Siyeon would speak first, but she’s probably waiting for you to do the same.
So when you stop at a red light, you give in. “She doesn’t want to bang me.”
“Rachel. She doesn’t want to bang me. We’re just friends. We’ve been friends...for a while.”
“Oh,” Siyeon says, voice small. “Why didn’t you tell me about her?”
The streets are unusually empty for this time of night. Normally you’d find it peaceful, but right now it just gives you an odd feeling. “I don’t know.”
“I mean, you’re obviously close,” Siyeon continues. “She clearly wasn’t some random acquaintance. Did you think I would judge you, or something?”
“Would it be wrong if I did?” you ask. “Because you seemed pretty judgmental tonight.”
Siyeon doesn’t have an answer to that, which tells you she knows she’s in the wrong but isn’t quite ready to admit it. You don’t push, because it isn’t your style, but you don’t try to offer an explanation, either. After five minutes of neither of you saying anything, Siyeon turns the radio on. She never could stand the silence.
It’s a Rachel Kim song, one of the hits from her first album. You move to change it, face heating up.
“Wait. Don’t,” Siyeon says. “I don’t hate this one.”
It’s a small gesture, but you count it as progress nevertheless.
The next morning, however, Siyeon is nowhere to be found. The restaurant is closed on Sundays, and Siyeon likes to spend them sleeping in until at least 3 PM. But when you tiptoe into her room to look for the earrings she borrowed last week, her bed is empty.
“I think she’s avoiding me,” you say on the phone to Minji. “Am I crazy?”
“You’re not,” Minji says. “She’s avoiding you. She told me so.”
“How can you avoid someone who lives with you?”
“That’s what I said. But you know how determined she gets.”
You let out a frustrated groan. Minji chuckles on the other end of the line.
“She feels bad about how she acted, Yubin. I think she needs time to sort her thoughts out, and then she’ll apologize and everything will be fine.”
“Okay,” you say, grabbing a box of cereal from the cabinet.
“It was lovely to meet Rachel last night, by the way, despite everything that happened. She seems really sweet,” Minji says.
“Yeah, she is.”
“How long have you two known each other, again?”
“Since we were kids.”
“And you never…” Minji’s voice trails off, and it takes a second before you realize that’s meant to imply something.
“What? No! No. If you mean...no. No, we never dated, is what I’m saying,” you say, and find yourself talking faster than you mean to be. “We kissed once, but we were like ten so it doesn’t count. I don’t even think she remembers.”
“Sorry,” Minji says, but something in her tone makes you think she doesn’t mean it. “You two just seemed really close, is all.”
“We are close. Close friends.”
“If you say so,” Minji says, smug like a PTA mom who just found out the principal’s wife is having an affair.
“I’m going to hang up on you.”
“You’re so cute, Yubin.”
“I’m hanging up on you now,” you say. And you do.
You don’t have any plans for the rest of the day, but you feel antsy all of a sudden. Siyeon is avoiding you, and you don’t feel like hanging around the empty apartment waiting for her to come back. And even though the phone conversation with Minji brought up the question (the one you shove deep deep down as much as you can, because you know never, nevernever, not ever), it also made you miss Yoohyeon. So you shove a handful of cereal into your mouth, pick up the phone again, and dial a familiar number.
“Hey!” Yoohyeon answers. Her voice sounds breathless, like she’d just been running. “I’m on set right now, what’s up?”
“Is it a bad time?"
“No you’re good. We just took a break in filming.”
“What are you filming?”
“It’s a hair dye commercial,” Yoohyeon says, and laughs. “Apparently this temporary hair dye company liked my new hair so much that they wanted to hire me. My hair color isn’t temporary, but I don’t think they care.”
“You’re going to have every tween in the country asking their parents for blue hair, you terrible influence,” you say.
“I see it as encouraging creativity,” Yoohyeon replies. “But what’s up with you?”
You stare at the box of cereal. The smiling mascot on the front stares back. “Absolutely nothing. Are you free any time today?”
“I’m pretty booked, unfortunately,” Yoohyeon says, and the speed at which your heart sinks is, quite frankly, embarrassing.
“Oh. That’s okay.”
“Wait!” Yoohyeon shrieks, suddenly. “I just remembered! Um, there’s this party tonight, and I think they’d still let me bring a plus-one if I asked. It’s for the premiere of some new show on the CW or something. Would you want to come? They’ll have food. And an open bar!”
“Uh, sure! That sounds cool,” you answer, even though your brain is still stuck processing “new show on the CW.”
“Great! We’ll pick you up at seven. And uh, there’s going to be a red carpet, so look nice. I mean, you look nice all the time. You know what I mean. Do you know what I mean? I think my director’s calling me, I need to go back to set, but see you tonight. Seven!”
She hangs up, and you take a moment to wonder what the hell you just got yourself into. Then, you take one last bite of cereal, and force yourself to refocus. You’ve got an outfit to figure out, after all.
In the months it’s been since you’ve reconnected with Yoohyeon, you often find yourself forgetting she’s a celebrity. It’s only when she mentions something completely out-of-touch with normal human life (“flying private is easier, anyway”) or Rodrigo is breathing down her neck, or other people recognize her in public that you remember. Most of the time, she’s the same Yoohyeon you’ve always known: clingy and energetic and easy to talk to, with a not-so-secret nerdy side and a smile that makes your heart speed up. The fact that you were absent from her life for the past five years is more distracting than the person she became during that time.
When she’s standing in front of a limo, hair and make-up professionally done, designer halter dress showing off her long legs, diamond jewelry sparkling in what’s left of the daylight...you feel like you might as well be looking at her through a screen. She’s that far above you, away from you.
But then she smiles and calls your name, waving in this objectively dorky way, and you recognize her.
(It does little to help that your knees still feel like they’re made of putty, or that your heart is somewhere in your stomach, or that she’s always made you feel this way and everything’s just heightened now. But that’s too terrifying to think about. You try not to let yourself).
“Hi,” you say. “You look beautiful."
“Thanks! So do you,” Yoohyeon says. “Beautiful and also handsome.”
You know you’re blushing, you just hope it isn’t too obvious. You chose to wear the suit you keep in the back of your closet, swapping out the tie and button-down for a plain white tee and topping it off with the fedora Minji got you for your birthday last year.
“Do you always drive around in a limo to events?” you ask, as you follow her into the backseat.
“No, but I felt like being fancy. Plus there’s champagne!” As if to demonstrate, she reaches for the bottle and starts to pour into two empty flutes. “Are you still a lightweight?”
“Please,” you say, “I’m not in high school anymore.”
But as you near the bottom of your second glass, you can feel yourself start to feel the effects of the alcohol. It’s probably for the best, though, that you’re not completely sober, because the sheer number of people and cameras you see up ahead is enough to make you want to tell the driver to turn the car around.
“Just so you know, you don’t have to walk with me,” Yoohyeon says, appearing to sense your nervousness. “What happens is they’ll take pictures of us together, and then uh, they’ll take pictures of just me. The media always uses those ones, so if you’re worried about your picture being published, you don’t have to be. I thought it would be fun to walk together, but if you’re not comfortable, I can call Rodrigo and he can take you in through the back entrance.”
At this point, you’re inebriated enough to feel brave, and dead certain of the fact that you’d rather do anything than spend time alone with Rodrigo. “Let’s do it.”
Yoohyeon was right: it is fun. You can tell she’s in her element because her smile and her laughter are the same as always, even when sweaty men with giant cameras are yelling at her to pose. At one point, you put your arm around her waist. At another, she grabs your hand and squeezes it.
(Looking back, it was probably a mistake. But the same goes for a lot of things).
Inside, the party is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Everything looks expensive, or at least highly thought-out, and you recognize at least three of the faces in the crowd from movies and magazine covers.
You’re a little dazed, taking everything in, but then Yoohyeon grabs you by the wrist and makes a beeline for a row of white leather couches.
“Bora!” she exclaims, practically diving onto a short girl wearing heavy eye makeup and a sequin miniskirt.
The girl lets out an obscenely loud yelp in return. “Watch it, biatch, I’m holding a drink.”
“Yubin, this is Bora Kim, one of my dancers,” Yoohyeon says, ignoring her. “Bora, this is my friend Yubin.”
As soon as Yoohyeon says your name, Bora’s face becomes guarded and her eyes turn cold. “Pleasure,” she sneers, offering her hand out, and you shake it even though you’re almost positive she’s being sarcastic.
Next to you, Yoohyeon lets out a small groan. “Ugh, I forgot I told my manager I was going to talk to this one editor guy tonight. I’m just going to get it over with. Yubin, are you cool to wait here?”
“Definitely,” Bora says, answering for you. Yoohyeon shoots both of you a grin and then buzzes off across the room.
You’re trapped now, so you decide not to beat around the bush. “Is there a problem?”
“Why don’t you have a seat, Yubin,” Bora says, tapping the space next to her with the tips of her french manicure. So you sit. “There isn’t a problem unless you create one. Does that make sense?”
“Allow me to rephrase. What are your intentions with Rachel?”
You let out a short laugh. “Are you her Dad now, or something?”
“Well, someone’s gotta look out for the kid,” Bora says. “She’s sweet and she trusts people and honestly, she’s too good for this city. Now, I know it’s hard to make moves in the industry, but if you hurt her, it won’t be worth it for you. Believe me.”
You’re caught off guard by both the bluntness of Bora’s tone and the weight of what she’s implying. “You think I’m using her?”
“You’re a low-level producer at a label no one’s ever heard of. Of course I think you’re using her.”
“I’m not,” you say, trying not to let Bora’s words sting. “We’re friends, we’ve been friends forever, it’s legal for us to hang out.”
Bora lifts one thin eyebrow. “Friends? Really? I’m her friend, and if she talked about me half as much as she talked about you, I’d think about filing a restraining order.”
“You’re not serious,” you say. (It’s easier, sometimes, when you choose not to deal with things.)
The ice in Bora’s gaze softens slightly, but you still can’t bring yourself to fully commit to eye contact. “Yubin. You’re all she talks about.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes. You are.”
“Stop lying,” you say. It comes out louder than intended.
Bora looks taken aback, but in a split second her eyes are set with determination. She grabs you, tightly, by your shoulders (she’s surprisingly strong for such a small person) and gives you a teeth-rattling shake. “Listen. I don’t know how to convince you, so you’re just going to have to believe me. I’ve been everywhere, I’ve seen everything, and I know what feelings look like. Rachel Kim’s got it bad for you. That’s the fucking fact of the matter. What you do next is completely up to you, as long as you don’t walk around with your head in the sand anymore.”
It all feels like too much at once. “Your nails are sharp,” you blurt out.
“Thanks,” Bora says, and lets go of your shoulders. A tuxedoed waiter bends over the back of the couch with a tray of drinks. You take one without thinking, gulping down half of it before Bora can get her next question out. “So, do you have feelings for her?”
“Why do you care?”
“That doesn’t sound like an answer to my question.”
In response, you just stare back blankly. Because you don’t know what else she expects from you. Because Bora’s question isn’t just any question, it’s the question, and you’re so used to shoving everything deep deep down, because - never, nevernever, not ever.
Except something about tonight feels different. You don’t know if it’s the party or the alcohol or Bora’s stubbornness, but it’s there. Maybe it’s been there the past couple months, ever since Yoohyeon came back into your life, and you were just too caught up in the past to notice.
Maybe it’s time to let yourself have something.
“Yeah,” you say, finally. Finally. “Of course I have feelings for her.”
“Then what’s holding you back?”
You’re not even sure you like Bora, at this point, so god knows why you’re so quick to spit out the raw, honest truth to her, but oh well. “I don’t want to lose her again.”
“Look. I get that,” Bora says, and awkwardly places a hand on your knee. “But you can’t let fear control you. I know from experience that that’s how you drive yourself crazy. And between you and me, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”
In response, you take another sip of your drink.
“Sorry that took so long!” Yoohyeon is bounding towards you, and when you hear her voice you sit up straighter.
“All good,” Bora says.
“Talk about anything interesting when I was gone?”
You find yourself scrambling for words - literally any words. Luckily, Bora doesn’t seem affected. “You, of course. What else would we talk about?” You resist the urge to bury your face in your hands. Yoohyeon sits down next to you, and she smells like a number of things you can’t afford. “I’m gonna go talk to my friend, but I’ll catch up with you two later, okay?”
“Okay,” Yoohyeon echoes. Bora waves goodbye, giving you a pointed look over her shoulder as she walks away. You just hope Yoohyeon doesn’t see. It’s just you and her now, and that’s the only cue you need to finish the rest of your drink.
You don’t want the silence to become an uncomfortable one, so you speak up. “How was the talk with the editor?”
“Oh! It was fine. Kind of boring. How was Bora?”
“Not boring at all.”
“Yeah, never a dull moment with her,” Yoohyeon laughs. “So, what did you say about me?”
You eye your empty cup, wishing it was full again. “Nothing.”
“I don’t believe you. I bet you were talking all about how horrible I am,” Yoohyeon says, and you know she’s joking, but you still feel bad.
“No, we talked about how amazing you are.”
“You think I’m amazing?” Yoohyeon asks in this soft voice. You’re scared to look at her.
“You know I think you’re amazing.”
Then, the silence is back. You feel your cheeks heat up, and you’re not sure if it’s the effects of the alcohol or the fact that you’re close, closer than you’ve ever been, to saying it. The cause is probably about fifty-fifty.
“Do you want to dance?” Yoohyeon asks, jerking you out of your thoughts.
“There’s a dance floor in the next room, with a DJ and everything,” Yoohyeon says. “I heard them playing Kanye.”
“You don’t like Kanye.”
“I like some of his songs!”
“You just like the hits. That doesn’t count.”
“Okay, but you like Kanye, and I want to dance with you.” She tugs at the sleeve of your jacket like a kid. “Pleeeeaase?”
“Fine,” you say, like it’s a big chore, even though it isn’t, because you’ve always loved to dance, and you love dancing with Yoohyeon most of all. It’s just habit to feed into the push-and-pull. You roll your eyes when you help her off the couch, but when she moves to pull her hand away, you grasp it tighter.
The dance floor is crowded. You make it just in time for the end of the Cupid Shuffle. Yoohyeon is overeager and forgets about her long limbs, and you burst out laughing when she accidentally delivers a kick to the calf of some guy you’re pretty sure was on Smallville.
“Don’t laugh!” she hisses in your ear. “He’ll know it was me!”
“But it’s so funny.”
The next few songs are similarly upbeat, and you and Yoohyeon move closer to the center of the floor. She makes faces at you as she executes her moves, over-dramatically mouthing the lyrics she recognizes. You’re reminded of when she would do the same thing in your bedroom, during sleepovers when it was just the two of you. You’re glad things haven’t changed too much.
“I missed you,” she says, as Katy Perry’s voice begins to fade from the speakers.
You must be drunk, because her words make you want to stay, not run. “I missed you too. A lot.”
The next song starts playing, the one by Kings of Leon about sex being on fire. It’s slower and more sensual, and the mood on the dance floor shifts. The people next to you start making out, and there’s a sudden heat in the air, and the distance between you and Yoohyeon feels wider now than ever. So you close it, stepping forward to cautiously rest your hands on her hips. To your huge relief, she doesn’t shriek or pull away. Instead, she drapes her own arms over your shoulders, pulling you closer.
You’re significantly shorter than her, which makes the whole slow dance thing kind of awkward. But it’s hard to get hung up on that when your face is so close to her neck. You can see her breathing, and it’s — fascinating. And you’re not thinking clearly because of the alcohol (or at least, that’s what you’ll tell yourself when you remember this in the morning), so you lean in and just. Brush your lips over the skin there, slightly.
She lets out a gasp, airy and feminine, and you feel it. You decide right there you’re ruined for the rest of your life, although if you’re being honest, you were probably ruined a long time ago.
“Yubin,” Yoohyeon says, catching you off-guard with the way her voice...trembles. “Are you drunk?”
The disco ball overhead is scattering diamonds over her face, and your brain is slow to meet your mouth. “Yeah, I’m drunk,” you say, and think but even if I wasn’t, I still would.
“Then we should, um. Maybe you should sit down?”
“But I had something…” your thoughts feel all over the place now, and the air is so, so hot. “Something I wanted to say.”
“Well, you can say it when you sit down. Okay?”
Even through your drunken haze, you can pick up on the frustration in her tone. You wonder if you crossed a line somewhere, and the thought makes you feel sick. You wish Bora was back, even though she kind of scared you, because she at least seemed to know what she was talking about. Right now you don’t know anything.
By the time Yoohyeon sits you down, and runs to fetch you a glass of water, you’ve forgotten what you wanted to say.
The limo takes you home, and Yoohyeon doesn’t talk to you, but she gives you a hug outside your apartment, and tells you to be safe.
As you fall into bed, you tell yourself it will be okay. Whatever went wrong, you can fix in the morning.
(That isn’t how things happen.)
When you wake up, Handong and Minji are in your kitchen.
That should have been your first sign that something was wrong, since neither of them have a habit of showing up unannounced. But you’re half asleep and a little hungover, so you don’t question it right away.
“Did Siyeon invite you for breakfast?” you ask, moving to turn on the coffee machine.
“Siyeon’s at work,” Handong says. “Yubin, it’s one in the afternoon.”
“One in the afternoon? Shouldn’t you guys be at work too?”
“We both took the day off,” Minji says quietly. “Yubin, there’s something you need to see.”
Your stomach sinks, because Minji only uses that tone in the most serious of situations. You watch, frozen, as she pulls a tabloid magazine out of her tote bag.
“Were you at a party with Rachel last night?”
“Because someone took pictures of the two of you...together.”
Oh no god please fucking god no.
Something possesses you, and you snatch the magazine from Minji’s hands, frantically flipping through until you find the right page. And it’s not — okay. If it was someone else, you would say it could be worse, because it’s not like it’s a full page exposé, just two photos in the corner of the Rodeo after Dark section. But it’s not someone else, it’s you, and more importantly, it’s Yoohyeon, and you might as well be looking at the end of the world.
In the first photo, you and Yoohyeon are standing arm-in-arm on the red carpet. She’s smiling at the camera, and you’re smiling at her. The second photo is much lower quality: just a dim, blurry snapshot of two figures on a dance floor. If you didn’t already know, you wouldn’t have been able to say for certain that it was you and Yoohyeon. But you’re guessing the tabloids don’t care about 100% certainty, especially when mere suggestion is enough to ruin more than a few lives.
Good Girl Gone Bad? the text blurb reads. Rachel Kim was spotted getting awfully cozy on the dance floor with her plus-one, DJ Yubin Lee. Yeah, you read that right. Is the pop sweetheart the new Lindsay, or are the two ladies just verryy close friends? Our source speculates… you stop reading.
You feel the soft weight of Minji’s hand on your shoulder. “Hey. It’ll be okay. No one reads this crap anyway. Yubin, remember to breathe. It’s okay.”
“Okay?” you exclaim, except it comes out in a pathetic choke. “How can you say that? Everything is ruined now, everything.” You’ve never been an easy crier, but as the panic rises in your chest, you know the tears are close. “We were just...this is her career.”
“There are dumb rumors like this published all the time,” Handong says. “I’m sure her management knows how to deal with this kind of thing. Besides, there’s nothing to those pictures. Absolutely no proof of anything other than an adorable friendship.”
“But my name is in the article.”
“Yeah, and right next to it, they say you’re a DJ. I’m still not seeing any reason to take this rag as a reliable source.”
You let out a long, shaky exhale, as Handong’s words start to sink in. She’s always been the most practical person you know, and her confidence seems to ease some of your panic.
“Will it make you feel better if we burn these?” Minji asks, opening her tote bag to reveal dozens of copies of the same magazine. It’s so ridiculous that even though you’re still on the brink of tears, you burst into laughter.
“How many copies did you buy?”
“Every single copy at Barnes and Noble, and then every single copy at 7/11,” Handong says matter-of-factly.
Minji plants a gentle kiss on your forehead. “Anything for you, sweet pea.”
“Gross,” you say, making a big show of wiping the kiss away. But when they fold you into a big hug from either side, you can’t help but feel a little better.
“You should talk to Rachel, though,” Handong says, once you’ve visibly calmed down. “I know you’re going to want to avoid her. Don’t do that.”
“Yeah. You’re right.”
“I’m always right. The sooner you learn that, the better.”
You don’t have much time for second-guessing, however, because Yoohyeon texts you thirty minutes after Handong and Minji leave.
hey. come over??
btw don’t freak out!!!!!! :)
Even when everything is terrifying, it’s still the same Yoohyeon. So you take a moment to collect yourself, and grab your TAP card.
You’ve never actually been to Yoohyeon’s house in Beverly Hills before, but as you approach the gate out front, it’s pretty close to what you pictured: white walls, terracotta roof, perfectly manicured emerald lawn, a circular driveway bigger than the apartment you share with Siyeon. The picture of the Hollywood dream achieved. You carefully punch the code Yoohyeon sent you into the box by the gate and you’re in. Before you even make it to the intimidatingly-shiny front door, however, it swings open.
“Hey MTV, welcome to my Crib,” Yoohyeon says, striking a dramatic pose in the doorway. You feel a wave of relief ripple through your body, because Yoohyeon doesn’t look angry, or devastated, or worried that her career is over. Maybe the situation really isn’t as bad as it had seemed earlier.
“You know, that joke isn’t as funny when you’re actually rich and famous.”
“That hurts, Yubin.”
She ushers you through the door and into a humongous foyer. The inside of Yoohyeon’s house is just as nice as the outside, with marble floors and a spiral staircase and, visible through a row of bay windows, a pool in the backyard. You would feel super out-of-place if Yoohyeon wasn’t dressed even more casually than you are, in sweats and reading glasses and a ponytail, face free of makeup and feet bare. You haven’t seen her this dressed-down since high school, and the realization feels like a soft fist around your heart.
“My parents aren’t home right now, but you should come by again soon. They’d love to see you, ” Yoohyeon says. She leads you into the kitchen. “Can I get you anything? We have tea, juice, Evian, yoghurt…”
“I’m good, thanks,” you say. “Um, about the tabloid thing, because I assume you’ve seen it. I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.”
“What? Why are you sorry?” Yoohyeon asks in the same bright tone, not even bothering to look away from opening the fridge.
It throws you off. “Because...it’s your career, and you don’t want…” you scramble for the right words. “I should have been more careful.”
“Oh, Yubin ,” Yoohyeon exclaims, slamming the fridge door shut and coming to sit next to you. “You didn’t do anything wrong, and you don’t need to apologize! I was going to apologize! I’m the one who invited you to the stupid party, I made you walk the red carpet, and I’m the reason your name and face are in some magazine against your will. I mean, I didn’t think anyone would be taking pictures, because it was a private event, but I know how bad the industry can be, so that’s not an excuse. This is all my fault, and I’m so sorry. ”
You’re taken aback, both by Yoohyeon’s words and the genuine look of guilt on her face. Her view of the situation is so different from your own, and it’s tempting to just accept her apology and pretend you don’t know why. You could put the whole ordeal behind you, forget the pictures were ever taken. Forget the proximity of your body to hers in the process.
But that wouldn’t be fair. The two of you are on drastically different playing fields, and she deserves to know.
“Yoohyeon, I’m gay,” you say, stomach lurching like you’re eighteen years old again, coming out for the very first time to Siyeon on the porch outside that disgusting frat house. You’ve known since high school, and maybe even before then, but telling Yoohyeon always seemed like an impossible feat (telling anyone seemed like an impossible feat, at the time).
But things are different now. LA is different, and sometimes you feel so surrounded by gay couples and rainbow flags that you forget it’s not the norm. Jerome, the fifty-year-old sound tech at work, invited everyone to come to his drag show and no one batted an eye. Gahyeon always tries to talk to you about the L Word, and even your parents love Ellen. And then there are people like Bora, who will suggest that Yoohyeon has feelings for you like it’s not completely outrageous. Like it’s something that can realistically happen. Like it happens every day.
So it’s not like you’ve held out on telling Yoohyeon because you’re scared she’ll be unaccepting. It’s more that the question of your identity is easily mixed into other questions, like your feelings, and, more specifically, your feelings about Yoohyeon.
Except now Yoohyeon isn’t saying anything, and you can’t quite read the expression on her face. So you keep talking. “I wanted to tell you because, um, you should probably know. But also because I’m pretty, like, out? So if anyone were to ask around...yeah. And it would make the two of us dancing together look, you know, a certain way.”
Yoohyeon’s eyes widen. “Yubin, please don’t worry about that. Please.”
“Okay,” you say quietly. “I won’t, then.”
“Thanks for telling me,” Yoohyeon says, and you know exactly what she means. “I’m glad you trust me. But, and I hope you don’t take this the wrong way...I kinda already suspected?”
“Really?” Was...everything...that obvious?
“I mean, you never had any crushes on boys or anything.”
Oh. You breathe a sigh of relief. “Yeah, well.”
“You know,” Yoohyeon says, looking away from you to pick at where her nail polish is chipping, “I don’t know if I believe in labels. For me, I mean. I think I like people for who they are.”
It’s definitely not what you were expecting to hear. But, hey, things are different now. LA is different. Yoohyeon isn’t the same girl you knew five years ago, even when the way she adjusts her reading glasses is so heart-breakingly high school. You grew up a lot in the time she wasn’t there, and so did she.
(You push aside your stomach fluttering and the part of your brain that reminds you of what Bora said. This isn’t about you).
“I think that’s really cool, Yoohyeonnie,” you say.
The silence that follows isn’t awkward, but comfortable. Sunlight is coming in through the bay windows, and for the first time since Minji and Handong showed up in your kitchen this morning, you feel like everything will be fine.
“So your team was okay with those pictures being published?”
Yoohyeon laughs dryly. “More than okay, actually. They were, uh, weirdly enthusiastic?”
“Are you serious?”
She returns to picking at her nail polish. “Yeah, remember what I said about everyone thinking I’m too much of a good girl?”
“I don’t think everyone thinks that.”
“Well, my management does. They were so worried about me seeming boring. And rumors of a lesbian love affair are definitely not boring,”
“I...guess that’s true,” you say, even though it makes you feel kind of gross on the inside.
“They actually wanted me to reiterate,” Yoohyeon says slowly, “that a spot on my tour is still available. If you changed your mind. We leave in a week, so I know it’s a long shot, but they wanted me to ask again.” She looks at you, eyes dark and soft. “I wanted to ask again, too.”
The sudden earnestness in her voice makes your face flush, but her statement is so unexpected that you can’t even manage to stay flustered. On the bus ride over, you had kind of convinced yourself that Yoohyeon’s manager would forbid her from ever talking to you again, and you would just have to find a way to be okay with it. Now, everything feels over your head: like you’ve been called up to the plate for a game you don’t know how to play. “So your team wants me to come on tour to fuel gay dating rumors?”
“I know it’s weird,” Yoohyeon says. Yeah, weird is one word for it. “But it would still be a great opportunity for you. And we’d get to spend time together. Plus, despite what my team might have in mind, I doubt anyone would even make the connection to some blurb in a tabloid.”
You can’t know that, you think. It was bad enough seeing those rumors published one time. Even if they didn’t have the career-ruining ramifications you’d feared, you’re still not thrilled about them. It’s embarrassing to admit to yourself, but it hurts to see yours and Yoohyeon’s names linked together like that. The whole thing is painful, in a personal sort of way.
But what you say is, “your team knows I’m not a DJ, right?”
Yoohyeon throws her head back laughing. “How did they even come up with that?”
You laugh too. The situation is so ridiculous that you can’t help it. “I’m not complaining. I heard DJs are hot right now.”
“They are, but that’s besides the point!” Yoohyeon says, gently tugging on your shirtsleeve. “But um, about the tour...you don’t have to give me an answer right now. Just take some time to think about it, and let me know today or tomorrow. Okay?”
“Okay,” you say. But you’re pretty sure your answer won’t change. On one hand, you feel like you do a pretty decent job of keeping up with Yoohyeon and the ridiculousness that is her life. On the other, you’re left feeling slow and far-behind more often than you would like. Besides, the whole prospect of going on tour with her still doesn’t seem real. You haven’t dared to let yourself consider it seriously. You have to remain level-headed to a certain degree, and it’s terrifying, knowing how fast you’d jump into the deep end if you weren’t constantly pausing to hold yourself back.
It’s dark outside by the time you get home. Yoohyeon insisted on giving you a house tour, and because her house is fucking enormous, it took longer than expected. Add in a bus ride home from the other side of the city during rush hour, and you’re more tired than you expect when you step into your living room. Not that you blame yourself: if any day fits the moniker “emotional rollercoaster,” it’s this one.
But then you see Siyeon, glaring up at you from the couch, and it’s clear the ride isn’t over yet.
“Where were you all day?” Siyeon asks, voice small and sharp as a pocket knife. “And don’t tell me you were at work, because I know it’s your day off.”
You think back to your phone conversation with Minji the other day: she feels bad about how she acted...she’ll apologize and everything will be fine.
So really, you see no reason to lie. This conversation has to happen sooner or later, anyway. “I was at Rachel’s.”
Siyeon huffs out a dry, humorless laugh, and the sound makes your heart sink. “Oh, well. I should have guessed that, shouldn’t I?” She stands up, steps into the light. There are smeared trails of mascara under her eyes, like she’s been crying. You want to run and comfort her. But she crosses her arms and squares her jaw, and you know her well enough to know that means stay away. “I bet she’s got a nice fucking house in Bel-Air or whatever. Or is it Beverly Hills?” Something in your face must give it away, because her lips bend into a smirk. “Beverly Hills it is, I see.”
“Siyeon, what happened?” you ask. You’ve only seen her get this way a few times in your life, but it’s never been this scary, before. You’re supposed to be the rational one, but you have no idea what to say, since her anger is radiating from her body, and so much of it seems pointed at you.
“I got laid off,” Siyeon says. Her voice is husky, like she’s going to start crying again, and you want nothing more than to hug her, but everything about her stance keeps telling you stay back, stay back. “I don’t know if you noticed while you were prancing around with celebrities, but everything sucks right now.”
“Oh my god, Siyeon. I’m so, so sorry,” you say. It’s not enough. You know it’s not enough.
“Yeah, me too,” she says. “You know, it’s almost funny, how fast everything can go to shit. One minute you’ve got a band and a boyfriend and a job and a best friend, and the next minute, everyone decides they don’t want you anymore, and you’ve got nothing. Fucking nothing.”
Her words hit like a punch in the stomach, and there has to be something you can say to make it better. There has to be. “That’s not true,” you protest. “I mean, the boyfriend thing is, but Davy Jones was a dick and everyone knows you’re better off without him. And yeah, losing your job sucks, but you can find another one. And-”
Siyeon cuts you off. “In this economy? Yeah, I don’t think so. And god, Yubin, don’t you get tired of being so damn emotionless all the time?”
You try not to let her words frustrate you too much, even though it’s clear she’s deliberately trying to get under your skin. Siyeon knows you’re quiet and calm in almost everything you do. She’s even mentioned before that she appreciates how you balance out her more wild side.
“I’m just trying to help. Talk to me.”
“You wouldn’t understand,” Siyeon says dismissively.
You feel your temper start to rise, because you hate when people don’t listen. You try not to let it show. “What do you mean I wouldn’t understand? I’m your best friend. I...I’ve always- ”
“Not lately,” Siyeon snaps. She sits up, looks straight at you. Her eyes are sharp and cold.
“Is this about Yoohyeon?”
“ Yoohyeon.” Siyeon makes a face, like the name tastes bitter on her tongue. You realize you haven’t said it around Siyeon before. “You know what? Maybe it is about her. Why did you keep her a secret from me?”
“Because I knew you’d react like this,” you say, louder than normal. “I knew you’d be judgmental.”
“The only thing I’m judgmental of is you throwing everything away for a high school fantasy that’s destined to go nowhere.”
“Shut up.” Your voice breaks. You ignore it. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I saw the pictures in the magazine, Yubin.” Siyeon stands up, face completely red. She has a couple of inches on you and uses them to her advantage, glaring down, making you feel small. “It’s humiliating, to be honest. You’re clearly hung up on her, meanwhile she’s never going to feel the same way.”
“Shut up,” you say, again. You’re supposed to be the one who stays cool in every situation, but this cuts a little too deep, and you can feel your composure slipping away like sand between your fingers. There’s a rush of anger, too strong to swallow down.
“Whatever. You know I’m right.”
You almost bite back, say something to hurt her back. But Siyeon is glancing back at you, eyes rimmed with red, and you don’t want to push this into something unforgivable. You always care about her, even when her words make you want to cry. So you don’t say anything.
The silence is thick and uncomfortable. Neither of you are looking at each other. There’s a lump in your throat, and you wonder how things got this bad. If there was a pattern that led up to this, signs you missed. If you went back, maybe you’d be able to figure it out. But that takes energy you really don’t have right now.
It’s easier, sometimes, when you choose not to deal with things. So you turn and leave.
“Where are you going?” Siyeon calls out, but you don’t look back.
Your neighborhood isn’t exactly the safest place at this time of night, so you find refuge at a nearby McDonald’s that’s open 24 hours. You buy a Coke and ask to borrow a pen from the friendly-looking woman working the cash register.
Then, in a corner booth, you write out a pros and cons list on a napkin. By the time the sun starts to rise, your mind is pretty much made up.
You open your phone and scroll to a familiar contact.
“Yoohyeon,” you say. “Let’s talk about that tour.”