Special chapter, through Hae Rin’s eyes.
We’re on our way back to Seoul after the big accident in Kwangju. I still felt short of breath when I think of last night. I’d almost died and no one noticed until the very last moment. Were they blind? Skye… he’s such a busybody.
“Hae Rin, why did you disobey the producers?” he asked me as we waited in the ER for a doctor to attend to me.
“What did I do?” I looked at him innocently.
“You said that you were dancing beside Jae Joong hyung. You weren’t supposed to be beside him. Weren’t you at the briefing?”
“Everyone was goofing around back there. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t listen to instructions,” I retorted. Who was he to list me my faults? I might still be a trainee, but I’d been guaranteed a debut next year.
“You could’ve been killed,” he said quietly.
I could have been killed. When I saw the sparks of electricity just seconds after Skye had pulled me away, I was horrified. I could’ve been fried alive. Skye… he’s still in front of me. What a bother! “Why do you care?” I asked him defiantly.
“No we’re not. We just happen to belong to the same group of friends. You and I are most definitely not friends.”
“I saved you tonight,” he raised his voice.
“And am I supposed to feel indebted?” I matched his tone.
“Whatever,” he said and he walked away to sit on the benches along the corridor.
Yesterday night, I couldn’t sleep. I thought about Jae Joong oppa.
“Why were you behind us anyway?” Sierra onni had asked me when we’d boarded the bus after leaving the stadium. “Why didn’t you get off the stage with the trainees earlier?”
“I wasn’t dancing with the trainees,” I’d replied her. She stared at me with that confused expression she always has. I hate that expression. It makes me want to tear out her hair. Did she think that she looked cute just because she’s had her face fixed?
“You weren’t?” Skye said.
“I was dancing beside Jae Joong oppa at the end,” I said.
“I didn’t notice you beside me,” Jae Joong oppa said.
He didn’t notice me. I was right beside him all along, and he didn’t notice me. He never notices me. All he sees is Sierra onni. When we were rehearsing yesterday, I watched him as he stood in front of the stage and stared at Sierra onni when she danced. That expression he had on his face. I suppose they call that love or even tenderness; Jae Joong oppa never looked at me like that. I was so upset that I didn’t notice the puddle. That’s why I slipped and fell. And whose arms did I have to fall into? That busybody, Skye.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I think Skye’s ugly. He isn’t the least repulsive. He’s got nice hair, nice facial features. He’s pretty adorable sometimes, despite being tall and all. He actually reminds me of Won Bin with those eyes of his. But he isn’t Jae Joong oppa. No one can ever come close to Jae Joong oppa.
I looked out of the window as the bus sped past the countryside. How I wish I were on the same bus as Jae Joong oppa. I wonder what he’s doing now. He’s probably playing footsie or something with Sierra onni. They’re so lovey dovey, even when we go out as a group, it makes me want to hurl. I wonder why they hadn’t officially announced their relationship yet. Or why they hadn’t been caught yet? It’s probably because the management is turning a blind eye on them. It’s so unfair. Just because Jae Joong oppa is from TVXQ and Sierra onni is from S-Cube, they cut them slack. S-Cube isn’t that great to begin with. All they know are love songs. I wonder why they even bother to have Sierra onni in the band. Probably just to differentiate them from FTTS.
“Hae Rin-ah,” Su Bin nudged me. “You want some chips?” she asked as she passed me a bag of potato chips. I looked at it and sighed. I was supposed to be on a diet in preparation for my debut. I dipped my hand into the bag and pulled out a few pieces. What the heck, I can always lose it in the gym tomorrow.
“Komawo,” I said as I munched on the chips. Su Bin was my closest friend among all the trainees. I lost any friend I had the moment they decided I could debut as a solo artiste. I knew the kind of rumors that were circulated about me amongst them. They said that I’d seduced my manager. Then there were those who said that I used to be butt ugly and had to have surgery before I was accepted at SM. Su Bin was the only person who didn’t indulge in the gossips. And because of that, she became a target herself.
“Are you still thinking about last night?” she said, as she patted my arm. “You’re safe now. So stop stressing yourself by thinking about it.”
“I’m not stressing. I was just thinking how close I was to dying after all I’d done to get to where I am today.”
“Ya… you’re still here. Be thankful and work hard.”
“It sucks that I can’t perform with you guys for the finale,” I sighed.
“There are plenty of chances to come. What’s more, by the time the next tour comes, you'd have debuted and you’ll get to perform solo.”
I smiled at the thought of my future, my very near future. “Will you dance for me then?” I asked Su Bin.
“Sure I will!” she replied brightly.
We’ve stopped for a toilet break. I could see the guys from Super Junior getting out of the bus in front of us. I stepped forward quickly, wanting to run over to join them, and the pain seared through my ankle.
“Aahh…” I groaned.
“Hae Rin!” Su Bin panicked. “Kwaench'ana?” she asked.
“Kwaench'ana. I just forgot that I had an injury.”
“You’d better remember that if you want to get well quick,” she chided me like a mother.
“Araso,” I smiled at her as she helped me off the bus.
After Su Bin and I were done at the toilets, we walked over to join Si Won oppa and the guys. They were sitting on any bench and ledge and rock which was available.
“Hae Rin, you’re here!” Si Won oppa greeted me. All the female trainees love Si Won oppa. They’d give their arm to talk to him the way I did. I guess that’s one of the reasons I’m not popular. Si Won oppa had always treated me like a little sister. He’d stop by during my training with snacks and when he went out with the guys, he’d take me along. In my eyes, Si Won oppa is just a brother I never had. I’ve always asked myself why I didn’t have a shred of infatuation for him. Maybe it’s because I’ve known him for too long.
I sat down on the bench beside Si Won oppa and Su Bin sat down beside me.
“How’s your ankle?” he asked.
“It still hurts, but I’ll be fine,” I smiled.
“Take good care of it. You don’t want your career ruined in the future because of a recurring injury.”
The break ended when the producers and managers started ushering us onto the bus since we’d begun to attract the attention of other motorists who’d stopped for a break at the same area. I turned around to look for Jae Joong oppa. I hadn’t seen him since I got off the bus. Then I saw him and Sierra onni emerge from behind one of the big boulders erected for landscaping purposes. They were holding hands and Sierra onni was giggling as if he’d just told her a secret. I could feel myself turning green with envy as I turned away to get on the bus.
We'd finally arrived in Seoul. The bus dropped us off at SM’s HQ and we had to find our own way home. Just as Su Bin and I were about to walk out to flag down a taxi, a car pulled up beside us. The windows wound down and it was my manager, Ryu Ji Tae.
“Get in,” he said.
Su Bin sat behind while I sat in front with Ji Tae oppa.
“I haven’t had the chance to interrogate you about your near death experience,” he said. “So what were you doing at the front of the stage?” Oppa was one of the toughest managers at SM. I was lucky to have been taken under his wing, but sometimes, it was a horror. His face is always masked with a serious expression and many people do not dare to approach him.
“Oppa, I…” I started and was cut off.
“You disobeyed the producers and almost got yourself killed. What were you doing during the briefing where they’d specifically said that all trainees were to remain at the back of the stage? Is that such a difficult instruction to follow?”
“Everyone was goofing around at the time. The other trainees came forward as well,” I protested.
“But they got off the stage first. Where were you when they did?” he retorted.
I kept quiet. There was no point arguing with him as it was clearly my fault. I wasn’t about to tell him that I’d gone to dance beside Jae Joong oppa to get him to notice me.
“Do you know how much I’m banking on your debut? You’re going to be a star, Hae Rin, and you’d better start thinking like one.”
The rest of the drive back to our hostel was silent. When we arrived, Su Bin got off first and helped me out of the car.
“You have training tomorrow,” oppa said, just before he left.
“But what about my ankle?” I said. I was actually looking forward to the two weeks of resting the doctor had ordered for me.
“If you can’t dance, then you’ll sing,” he said and he drove off.
“He’s so mean,” Su Bin gasped as soon as oppa left.
“He is,” I agreed. “But he’s going to make me a star.”
That night, I couldn’t sleep again. Su Bin had left the dormitory we shared, after lunch, to attend the rehearsal for the finale concert and she still hasn’t returned. As I tossed around in the dark, my mind drifted back to Skye. I pinched myself, willing the image of his face to go away. He’d stopped me as I came out from the toilets at the hotel in Kwangju.
“Are you feeling better?” he asked me.
“Why do you care?” I said as I leaned my back against the wall. Walking with just one leg and a crutch sure was tiring.
“Can you stop treating me like this?”
“Like what? Isn’t this how we’ve always talked?”
“Things have changed,” he said softly.
“Mwo?” I said, puzzled at his sudden change of expression.
“My feelings for you have changed,” Skye said.
I stared at him for a long time. Was he mad? We’d always fought whenever we met. We’d insult each other and poke fun at each other in front of the others. How could his feelings change overnight? “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said as I started to walk away. I’m not about to be part of his temporary insanity.
“Hae Rin,” he said and he grabbed my arm to push me back against the wall.
“Let me go,” I said.
“Didn’t you feel it yesterday?” he asked earnestly. I really had no idea what he was getting on about.
“During the rehearsal…”
“It was an accident, don’t read too much into it,” I snapped.
He looked at me sadly and said, “My heart stopped when I saw you fall last night, as the stage was collapsing. I never thought I’d care so much for you. But even before that, I’d been thinking about you the whole day. I just couldn’t get you out of my head.”
“Then I suggest you get me out of there soon. I don’t have that sort of feelings for you. I never will,” I said.
“How can you be so cold, Hae Rin? I saved you yesterday and I truly care for you.”
“Thank you for saving me. But I never expected you to. And as for your feelings, you’re just wasting your time. I’m in love with someone else.”
“Who, Hae Rin? Tell me. I’ve never seen you close to any guy except for Si Won. Who else would you be interested in?” he said as he grabbed my hands.
“It’s none of your business and you will never measure up to him,” I retorted as I pushed him away.
“If you’re so sure I wouldn’t stand a chance, just tell me who he is. If I know for sure I can’t beat him, I’ll leave you alone,” he pleaded.
At that moment, I just wanted to get rid of him, so I did the unthinkable. I revealed my secret, “Jae Joong oppa.”
His face froze when he heard Jae Joong oppa’s name. Then he quickly recovered and smiled at me. It wasn’t a friendly smile. It looked like he was mocking me. “Jae Joong, huh,” he laughed.
“What’s so funny?” I said. I could feel my tempers rising.
“Jae Joong will never like you. He will never leave nuna.”
“I’ll make him,” I said defiantly.
He laughed again, mocking me. My hands itched at the thought of slapping him, “It’s so obvious he loves her too much. You’ll never come close to nuna in his eyes.”
And that did it. His last sentence shot straight into my heart. I slapped him across the face.
“You jerk!!” I yelled at him. “I’ll show you!!” I said as I gritted my teeth. Then I turned and started walking away. As I looked up, I saw Sierra onni standing at the end of the corridor. “Onni…” I stammered. Did she hear our conversation?
“What happened?” she asked me as I approached her. Obviously she hadn’t heard my conversation with Skye.
“Um… it’s nothing,” I mumbled. “I gotta go,” I said and I quickly walked away.
I’m staring at the crack of light on the ceiling, coming through the curtains. I felt so tired, tired of my life. Sometimes I just want to quit. But I can’t, not just yet. I’ll prove to everyone that I am worth my price as a kasu. And when Jae Joong oppa is finally mine, I would’ve fulfilled all my life’s ambitions.