The next morning, my nightmare had begun. Splashed all over the papers and tabloids were pictures of Benson and me, hugging. On the internet, there were 20 second long videos of us caught in the act.
‘Sierra’s Secret Lover!!!’ was one of the headlines. There were articles making assumptions that I had been dating both Yun Ho and Benson all along, though Benson’s identity remained unknown.
“What the hell did you think were you doing?” Shi Kyung hyung shouted as he threw down a stack of newspapers and tabloids in front of me the moment we walked into the studio.
“Hyung, I was only seeing a friend off. I’m really sorry. I didn’t know they’d blow it out of proportion.”
“You didn’t know?” hyung said. “Agasshi! Uri Sierra agasshi! Wake up!!” he shouted. “Do you know who your boyfriend is? You’re dating U-Know Yun Ho, remember?”
“Yes…” I replied. “But…”
“And do you remember what I’d told you? Be very careful, this wasn’t a relationship you could take lightly.”
“We could release a statement to explain this,” I offered.
“Try explaining this to your anti-fans!!” he yelled. “Try explaining this to your boyfriend’s fans!!”
The reality on the gravity of the situation dawned on me. Shi Kyung hyung wasn’t concerned mainly about the scandal itself. He was concerned about the outcome of it. Shoei walked over and put his arm around me to comfort me. I stood there in silence, staring at the photo which had just sealed my fate. I was in serious trouble.
My mobile phone rang at about 4pm, it was Yun Ho. He must have found out about the scandal. I dreaded explaining it him, but I had to. I owe him at least an explanation.
“Yun Ho,” I said as soon as I picked up the phone.
“What happened?” he asked, obviously upset.
“You’ve seen the pictures?” I asked, stupidly.
“How could I not?” he said. “They’re all over the place. One of the assistants brought me a copy.”
“Really?” I said. Way to go in explaining myself.
“Is that all you can say? ‘Really?’ Do you know what the assistant said when she showed it to me? ‘Oh, Yun Ho, you poor thing. I knew that girl was nasty.’ That’s what I had to hear all day.”
“It was a misunderstanding. You believe me, don’t you?” I said.
“Of course I know it’s a misunderstanding. The question is why did you let it happen?”
“I was just saying goodbye.”
“You of all people should know better than anyone that we cannot afford that luxury. Explaining yourself won’t help now.”
“I know…” I said, almost in tears.
He sighed at the sound of my shaking voice, “I might come home tomorrow.”
“To fix this.”
“The management is handling it.”
“Sierra, I’m worried about your safety. Make sure they provide you with security when you leave the studio today. God knows what those anti-fans will take the chance to do. And god knows how my crazy fans are going to try to avenge my ‘broken heart’.”
I nodded in silence.
“Are you there?” he said.
“Araso, I heard you.”
“Saranghae, I don’t want anything to happen to you. Take care of yourself.”
“Araso… natto saranghae.”
“I’ll call you when I arrive tomorrow. Bye.” And he hung up.
We looked out the windows at about 6pm, an angry mob was forming at the entrance of the building. There were banners:
‘Sierra!! Go home!!’
‘Sierra!! You dirty ‘ho!!!’
‘Sierra!! Give us back Yun Ho!!’
‘This is how you repay us for giving you Yun Ho oppa?!!!’
“Woah… Nuna. Looks like they really hate you,” Skye said.
“Shuddup, Skye,” Shoei said when he saw that my face was frozen with fear.
We hung out in the studio for another 2 hours, hoping that the mob would clear, but they didn’t seem to be leaving. At about 10pm, the studio door opened and Jae Joong walked in.
“Yun Ho sent me to check if you were alright,” he said as soon as he walked in.
“I’m fine,” I said.
“The crowd is not gonna leave, we need to find a way to get you out of here,” he said.
“What about the back entrance?” Shoei asked.
“It’s blocked as well. We may have to try to force our way out,” Jae Joong said.
“But how?” Shoei asked.
“The guys are waiting downstairs and they have security on standby, we’re gonna have to try.”
“What if they try to attack her?” Skye exclaimed.
“That’s why we’re here. We’re gonna shield her. They may want to attack her, but they might not attack us.”
“What if they attack you?” I asked.
“I’ll take my chances,” he said. “The guys have my back; they’ve agreed to do this.”
I looked at Jae Joong. Why did he always have to be the one who rescued me? Must I always be at his mercy?
“Let’s go,” he said and we all got up and left the studio.
In the lobby, I put on a sweater and pulled the hood over my head, and I had on a pair of sunglasses.
“Hi guys,” I said glumly as we approached them. “Thanks for coming.”
“Yun Ho’s our brother and you’re our friend. It’s the least we could do,” Hee Chul smiled.
My human shields for the night, Jae Joong, Yoo Chun, Chang Min, Hee Chul, Han Kyung, Si Won, Ki Bum and Dong Hae. Jun Su was waiting outside in the car. They were about attempt a big test, ‘Would their popularity be enough offset the mob’s determination to get even with me?’
As we approached the entrance, the guys formed a huddle around me, Chang Min was in the middle with his arms around me since he was the tallest and he was to shield me from above in case they decided to throw something at me.
“Ready?” Hee Chul said.
“Ready,” the guys answered.
The security guards went out first to try and push a path through the crowd so that we could get to the car parked just a few yards away.
“Give her up!!” I heard an angry voice shout.
“Don’t protect her, oppa!!” I heard another call out.
Jae Joong was right in front of the huddle and he politely asked the girls to move aside.
“Choesonghamnida,” he said, as he pushed through to make way for the group. When we were about halfway through the crowd, something flew at us, hitting Si Won on the head.
“Ouch!!” he said and he rubbed his head.
“Don’t lose focus,” Hee Chul said.
I looked down to see what it was. It was a copy of our first album.
When we reached the car, Jae Joong opened the passenger door and got in. The guys broke up the huddle so that I could get into the car, then Chang Min got in after me and the guys shut the door. As the car pulled out, the girls pounded on the windows and screamed at us, or rather, at me.
“Wow…” Chang Min said as soon as we got on the main road, “That was some experience.”
“One that I hope we will never have to experience again,” said Jun Su from the driver’s seat.
“Ya… I saw a girl with a damn scary face, looked like she could’ve eaten us alive,” said Yoo Chun as he turned around to face us from the front passenger seat.
“Keumanhae…” Jae Joong said. “It’s not funny.” He turned at looked at me; I’d been very quiet since I got into the car. “You okay, Sierra?”
I didn’t answer immediately. I was still in shock at how the mob reacted.
“Sierra,” Chang Min nudged me.
I looked up and I looked at all of them. Thank god for their faces, they beautiful faces. Because of them, I didn’t have to die tonight. I started to cry. I’ve been doing a lot of crying lately, but tonight really took the cake. The horror, the fear and the guilt I felt, they welled up inside me and exploded. Jae Joong put his arm around me and pulled me to him.
“Uljima,” he said.
“Sierra, uljima,” Chang Min said as he patted my hand.
“It’s not your fault,” Jae Joong said, “You’re just a victim of a big misunderstanding.”
“Yea…” Chang Min agreed.
“A misunderstanding I caused myself,” I sobbed.
“You can’t blame yourself for what the paparazzi did,” Jae Joong reasoned.
“I could’ve handled myself better. I shouldn’t have hugged Benson. I should’ve controlled my emotions.”
Jae Joong sighed and he rubbed his hand on my arm. He knew what had caused me to be careless.
“No more talking, just close your eyes,” he said. “Close your eyes until we get home.”
I was to stay with the guys that night since their apartment had better security than mine did and the mob hadn’t guessed that I’d be there yet.
“Welcome…” Yoo Chun attempted to lighten the mood as he bowed to usher me in through the door.
I’d only been to their home twice, since Yun Ho usually came and spent the night at my place. It wasn’t much different from the apartment I shared with Skye and Shoei, except that it was larger. The guys split their sleeping and working rooms into two groups; Jae Joong with Yun Ho and Yoo Chun with Jun Su and Chang Min. Previously, in their last apartment, they’d all slept together in the same room. There were two bathrooms, a common kitchen and they had a larger set of sofas for their living room.
“I’m going to bed,” Chang Min yawned as he walked away.
“Hyung,” Yoo Chun turned to Jae Joong. “Where is Sierra gonna sleep?”
“She can have Yun Ho’s bed. He’s not here, remember?”
“Right…” Yoo Chun said. “I’m going to wash up and get some sleep as well.”
I sat on Yun Ho’s bed and looked around. Bambi was sitting on his bed, as usual. On his bedside table was a photo of us. The photo frame had a cute 3-D penguin on the bottom right. I ran my finger across his face in the photo and sighed.
“You can wear these to sleep in,” Jae Joong said, as he tossed me a set of clothes.
I lifted the clothes up, they were Yun Ho’s. I held his shirt to my chest and closed my eyes for a moment, as though I were willing him to appear in front of me right this moment.
“He’ll be back soon, he sent me over to get you because he couldn’t get a flight tomorrow, and he had to tie up some loose ends. He’ll be back as soon as he can,” Jae Joong said. I looked up at him. “You don’t have to miss him so much,” Jae Joong continued, “At least not in front of me.”
I didn’t answer him; I just leaned back and laid down on the bed in a fetal position.
“Are you going to take a shower?” Jae Joong asked.
“Yea, in a bit,” I mumbled as I closed my eyes.
“You’d better shower first, it’s getting late and it’s gonna get cold. You know you can’t handle the cold,” he reminded me.
I sighed as I sat up, “Why do you care?” I said as I looked at him.
“Because I have a responsibility to fulfill,” he replied.
“I’m not your responsibility.”
“You are,” he said, “the moment I got you into this mess, you’ve become my responsibility.”
“What makes you think that you got me into this?”
“I know why you hugged Benson. You were upset because of me.”
“Fine,” he gritted his teeth. “You were upset for Yun Ho, because I put you in this situation and you felt that we’d wronged Yun Ho.”
“I’m tired,” I said, pretending I hadn’t heard him. “I’m gonna shower now.” I walked out of the room and closed the door.
After showering, I watched TV with Jun Su until he went to bed. Jae Joong hadn’t come out to join us. He’d showered after me and went straight into his room. I flicked through the channels until I got bored and satisfied with the thought that Jae Joong was probably asleep. I turned off the lights and found my way to the room slowly through the dark. I opened the door as quietly as I could and tiptoed to Yun Ho’s bed. As I lay on the bed, I tilted my head to the side so that I could inhale Yun Ho’s scent on his pillow. I pulled the sheets up to my chin and stared at the window. I could see the faint glow of the city lights coming up from the window sill. I thought of Yun Ho. How I wished that he was here. I felt so alone, so afraid. I didn’t dare to think of how I would face the world tomorrow. Would the mob find out and gather downstairs tomorrow? I’ve already inconvenienced the guys today and I don’t want to give them anymore problems. I covered my face with the sheets and sobbed silently. In the middle of my moment of self-pity and fear, I felt someone touch my hand.
“Sierra,” I heard Jae Joong whisper. “You’re not asleep? Are you crying?” he sat on the bed beside me and pulled the sheets off my face.
I turned away so that he wouldn’t see my tears.
“Pabo…” he said. He got into the bed beside me and pulled the sheets to cover the both of us. Then he gathered me into his arms as he spooned me. “Shh…” he said as he pushed my hair away from my face.
“Jae Joong…” I protested weakly.
“Just sleep… I’m not gonna do anything…. just go to sleep,” he said, as he stroked my head with one hand.
I was tired and lonely, emotionally exhausted. Having Jae Joong hug me at that moment was like finding an oasis in the desert. I gave in and soon fell asleep. When I woke up the next morning, I was facing Jae Joong. Our faces were almost touching and he had me in an embrace.