“Sierra onni!” they called out again. I just stood there and stared, trying to make out who they were as they walked towards me.
“Onni, I’m Tresa!” the tall girl said.
“Onni,” the shorter girl exclaimed. “I’m Anna, don’t you recognize me?”
When I heard their names, I lit up in recognition. Anna and Tresa were my net friends from the Virginia. I’d met them on Asteria’s forum back when I was still training, before my debut. Asteria was a TVXQ international fan club which was started because it was difficult for most international fans to be part of Cassiopeia. I was actually a member until my debut but had remained in contact with the both of them.
“I’m sorry,” I laughed. “I almost didn’t recognize you.”
“You didn’t recognize us at all!” Anna exclaimed. Anna was Korean and you could tell just by looking at her. Tresa was Nepalese, but spoke Korean and Chinese pretty well.
“I have not seen you guys in ages, and I have not actually seen you guys in the flesh. You have to pardon me just this once.”
“It’s alright,” Tresa smiled. “We’ll cut you some slack this once.”
“So what brings you guys here? You didn’t tell me you were coming.”
“It’s a surprise. Besides, we’re TVXQ fans. Did you think we were going to miss their first ever huge concert in the USA?” Anna said.
“Not likely,” I laughed. “But I was kinda hoping that you guys were here to support me too.”
“We are!!” Tresa exclaimed. “It’s not every day a member of the fan club becomes a big star.”
“I’m not that big a star yet,” I laughed.
“You get to perform with TVXQ and see them on a daily basis. In my book, that makes you a big star!!” Anna said.
“I guess,” I smiled. Suddenly, Jae Joong came up from behind me and put his hand on my shoulder.
“I was wondering where you went,” he said. “We’re starting soon and if you don’t show up, Sang Min hyung is going to flip out.”
“Mian, I got sidetracked here,” I smiled. “Jae Joong, I’d like you to meet two TVXQ diehard fans. This is Anna and Tresa.”
“Annyong,” Jae Joong said as he held out his hand to the girls.
“Jae Joong… I’m finally meeting Jae Joong,” Anna laughed and Jae Joong grinned.
“Nice to meet you,” Tresa said as she shook Jae Joong’s hand firmly.
“We really need to go,” Jae Joong said as he turned to look at me.
“It was nice meeting you girls,” I smiled. “Maybe we can meet up after the concert?”
“Okay,” Anna said as she started to scribble some numbers on a piece of paper. “Call us,” she said as she handed me the paper.
“I will,” I promised, as Jae Joong and I turned to leave.
We entered the arena and the stage was already set and ready. The technicians were testing the sounds and lights while some of the crew were adding the finishing touches to the stage décor. The stage was a sight to behold. It was even grander than the stage TVXQ had when they held their Rising Sun concert. This time, they had a cosmic theme for the stage. Huge disco balls, stars and the fabrics which hung on the stage were silver and red. The runways were covered with silver glitter and little blue lights lined the sides.
The guys were eating backstage when I walked in.
“Nuna! Hurry up! We have like 5 mins before rehearsal starts?” Shoei said.
“What? We’re gonna dance with all this food in our stomachs?”
“Sang Min hyung will start us off slowly, don’t worry,” Yun Ho said.
15 minutes later, I climbed onto the stage, the guys were warming up. We kept on our jackets for the rehearsal since arena was a little chilly. We’ll probably be stripping them off midway since we’d start to sweat and feel warm once we started dancing and with the stage lights beaming down on us.
I started stretching, warming up my vocals as I did. I’ve never really been a morning person. I sing best after 10am because by then, my sinus problems would’ve cleared and my throat would somehow feel more limber. I lay down on my back and lifted my legs, bringing them up until they almost touched my face. Jae Joong came to me and helped me push my legs down, slowly, until the touched the floor behind my head. This was to warm up my hip and back area. If I didn’t do this exercise, I would get aches in the small of my back.
“Can we start now?” Sang Min oppa asked.
“Ne,” we replied.
We ran through every single routine prepared for tonight; from the entrance till the finale. Apart from a few glitches in the lighting, everything else went smoothly. We managed to not make any mistakes while dancing, the sound system worked well and none of the lifts were jammed. During this rehearsal, we had to sing live. I was glad for those extra hours I’d spent in the gym with Jae Joong. If not for that, I would have been out of breath and probably sounded like some obscene caller when I sang.
I sat at the edge of the stage, drinking from a bottle of mineral water when Jun Su came to sit down beside me.
“Yah! I can’t wait for tonight,” he exclaimed. Everyone who knew Jun Su knew that he loved performing.
“I bet…” I smiled. “Where are the others?”
“They’re somewhere backstage,” he said as he wiped the sweat off his forehead.
“I’m starting to feel nervous,” I said as I scratched my head.
“Really?” he said. “I didn’t think you’d still get nervous.
“This is MSG,” I exclaimed as stretched out my arms upwards and outwards. “How can I not be nervous? This is like the closest I can ever get to ultimate stardom.”
Jun Su laughed, “You’re so cute, Sierra. What makes you think you’re not already there?”
“Never thought I was.”
“Jae Joong hyung was right. You don’t know what you’re worth,” he smiled.
“Yea, but that’s what makes you attractive. You don’t know how capable you are, or at least you don’t know what you are capable of.”
I blushed and nudged his arm with my fist, “Sweet talker.”
“I’m telling you the truth, Sierra. You and Ri In, both of you are attractive and talented, but never flaunt it. But then, your image is the opposite of hers.”
“No. Ever since they cut your hair, you looked sexier in a serious and tough way. When you debuted, you were a softer and sweeter kind of sexy.”
“And there is a difference between a soloist and being a member of a band. I think I’m lucky to be in the band. People wouldn’t scrutinize me as much as they would if I were a soloist.”
“True. But I feel that it would be a matter of time before they allowed you a solo project.”
“You’ve had so many collaborations with bands and artistes other than S-Cube. It wouldn’t be farfetched to say that the management will have considered a solo project for you. You just don’t know what they’re planning for you.”
“And you think I have the ability to carry off a solo career?”
“I’ll admit that you’re not the strongest vocalist, but you’re good enough. And it’s your overall image and aura that will give you the edge. You have the power to mesmerize people.”
“Thanks, Jun Su,” I blushed again. “It means a lot to hear it from you.”
“Anytime… just have more faith in your abilities. You were signed for a reason. SM would never sign someone they didn’t think had potential.”
We continued rehearsing and ended at about 2pm, in time for a late lunch. They had prepared a catered lunch in the dressing room and we sat in a row in front of the dressing tables, facing the mirrors, as we ate. The food was plain and so-so, but we could hardly complain since we had no choice. There were sandwiches, salad, some pasta drenched in olive oil and vinegar and we had the choice of energy drinks, coffee or water. How I longed for hot food. Jae Joong noticed my expression as I ate.
“Don’t you wish they had rice?” he smiled. He’d read my thoughts as usual.
“Yes! I was dying for rice and meat. I can never get full on cold food.”
“I heard that there were a few Korean restaurants near our apartment. Maybe we can sneak out, when we get back, for a quick meal,” he whispered.
“I don’t think I can eat later. It would be too close to show time and I would be too nervous to eat.”
“Hmm… you’re right. We’ll just rough it out today and go tomorrow,” he said.
After I’d finished eating, I text-ed Anna.
‘What are you guys up to?’
A few minutes later, she replied.
‘Just waiting around outside MSG. Hoping to catch a glimpse of the guys since we’re not allowed inside the arena during the rehearsals.’
I flipped my phone shut after reading that message and went up to the guys.
“Hey, guys,” I called out.
“Wassup?” Yoo Chun drawled in his American accent.
“How would you like an impromptu meet and greet session with Asteria?”
“You mean they’re here? Waiting for us?” Chang Min asked.
“Yes, they’re outside,” I replied.
“If the manager is fine with it, I don’t mind meeting them for a short while,” Yun Ho said.
“Yea, it’ll be fun,” Jun Su added.
We checked with our managers and when they okayed the idea, I text-ed Anna again.
‘Asteria is cordially invited into the arena for a short meet and greet session with TVXQ ;)’
She called me back immediately, “Onni! Omigod!!! Sierra onni!!! I love you to death. We’re coming in right now!!!”
“Calm down. Just be sure everyone behaves,” I laughed.
“We will!” she exclaimed. “We’ll be very good. See you in a heartbeat,” she said and I hung up.
The guys and I were standing on the forked runways as the group came in. Some of them screamed excitedly, some shushed those who’d screamed and most of them were whispering excitedly. There were more than a hundred of them.
“Sierra onni!” Anna yelled as she ran up to me.
“Is this everyone?”
“No… the rest of them will only be able to make it here for the concert tonight. These here are those who were able to come and camp here for the day. Hehe!”
“Nice…” I laughed.
Tresa clapped her hands to get the attention of the group. “Hana, dul, set!” she said.
“Annyong haseyo, Asteria-imnida,” the group greeted in unison.
The guys smiled and returned the greeting, “Annyong haseyo, Dong Bang Shin Ki-imnida.”
“Oppa,” Tresa said. “We’ve brought you guys some gifts.”
A few girls walked forward with some packages. The guys bowed as the accepted the gifts. Then they sat on the edge of the platform and started opening them.
“Mandu!!” Chang Min exclaimed when he opened one of the packages.
“We thought that you guys would probably miss the food from back home, so we brought them here to you,” said a girl whom I recognized to be Lisa aka banananana.
“Komawoyo!” Chang Min smiled broadly at her.
Ari aka viceofvirtues handed Yun Ho the biggest package of the 5. Yun Ho opened his gift and it was a huge scrap book. Handwritten and printed letters, photos and notes from Asterians to TVXQ were pasted on each page of the book. I could see Yun Ho almost tearing when he saw them. The other members crowded around him to peek at the book. Some of the messages were written in messy Hangeul, but you could still make out what was written.
“Kamsahamnida,” Yun Ho said as he looked up at the girls.
The rest of the gifts consisted of ‘I Heart NY’ T-shirts, custom made Asteria membership cards for the boys and a CD of songs and voice clips recorded by fellow Asterians. Yun Ho immediately took off his shirt to put on the t-shirt the Asterians had given and that elicited screams from the girls.
“Yun Ho!” I laughed and he just grinned as he adjusted the shirt.
The rest of the guys followed and there was a moment of mayhem. When they were done, they jumped off the stage and went around meeting all the girls. Thankfully, they behaved very well. Most of them were polite and shy, a few of them hugged the guys, most had books and photos ready for their signature, but no one tried anything drastic like cutting their hair.
“Thanks for coming today,” Chang Min told Lisa as he gave her a quick hug.
“We’re happy to be here,” Lisa blushed.
“Sierra onni,” Tresa called out. “Can I hug your boyfriend?” she laughed.
“Go ahead,” I smiled and she hugged Jae Joong. I knew how it felt. If I had been among them today, I would want to hug Jae Joong too. In fact, I’ll do more than just hug him.
After that, the guys sang ‘You Only Love’, acapella, for the girls. They listened in reverent silence as they swayed to the sound of their voices. As they sang, Yoo Chun pointed at Tresa and she pretended to swoon. Skye, Shoei and I stood nearby watching them and hoping that someday, we would get the same level of adoration from our fans. When their song ended, Yun Ho stood up and addressed the Asterians.
“Thank you for coming today. We really enjoyed meeting all of you. It’s really overwhelming to know that we are loved around the world.”
“Oppa, saranghae!” Emily aka kiwistar yelled and immediately covered her face with her hands and blushed.
“We love you too,” Jun Su yelled and everyone laughed.
“Any other special requests for us?” Yun Ho asked.
“Oppa,” Ari raised her hand.
“Can we see a special performance from both TVXQ and S-Cube?” she said.
Yun Ho looked at Skye, Shoei and I, and we nodded. We huddled together to discuss what to perform and when decided, we turned to face the girls.
“Hope you like the song,” Yun Ho smiled and counted, “Hana, dul, set.”
We sang the popular Korean children’s song, ‘Semari Kom' (Three Bears). As we sang, we did a cute dance we’d choreographed sometime ago, out of boredom, during one of our rehearsal’s breaks. As we danced and sang, the girls clapped in time. Some of them even sang along. At the end of the song, we paired up in twos and joined our hands over our heads to make the sign of a heart. The girls laughed and cheered as we bowed.
“See you guys tonight,” Jae Joong said as we waved and walked back towards the main stage. And anyone could see that the Asterians couldn't wait for tonight.