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oh, and it's contagious

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[you’re like a mirror, reflecting me, takes one to know one,
so take it from me you’ve been lonely, 
you’ve been lonely, too long ]

 

 

 

She turns her head and pretends she can’t see him, when she runs into him at the KBS headquarters the next time.

It sort of works, till it doesn’t. And that takes about a full fifteen seconds.

“Cindy-ssi," he greets, awkwardly. He’s always awkward, painfully easy to read, unnecessarily sincere.

It still makes her jealous sometimes. That ease.

She just nods in response. Takes an unconscious step back. Maybe she’ll fall outside the force of his gravity then. His magnetic north. It’s annoyingly strong. Like just his presence creates some sort of black hole in the room, and she always feels like she’s constantly standing on the edge of something.

Not anything in particular. Nothing she can define. Just something.

The silence stretches awkwardly, and she thinks please go, and please don’t go, all in the space of the next minute so maybe it cancels each other out, and it’s like she didn’t think anything at all. She hopes to god that’s how it works.

"Goodbye," she says, forcing herself to move away first, but, for what it’s worth, when she looks back, he’s still the first to turn the corner, and disappear from her sight.

She wonders if he knows she thinks in ellipses around him.

 

 

-

 

 

(So here’s what she beginning to realize: not wanting to want what you shouldn't want doesn’t actually make you not want it.

Well, that sucks.)

 

 

-

 

 

They don’t get cancelled after all. At least not that week. It has more to do with Suzy’s packed China-schedule for the next several months than any inadvertent merits of Baek PD-nim's previews, she knows. She’s in love, not stupid.

But it’s like the whole fucking universe has it in for her, because it starts raining at the very next shoot, and when the first drop hits her through the crack in the concrete, she thinks she may just scream.

She avoids Manager Oppa’s knowing sideway glance, and plays with her mirror instead. From the corner of her eye, she can see Seung Chan ssiBaek PD-nim, she corrects herself, Baek PD-nim, there’s nothing begotten by being a fool- in the distance, holding an umbrella over the camera-man.

She almost laughs. But doesn’t. Because she’s not looking.

When he finally comes over, Manager Oppa glances over at her again, still with that knowing look, and it's honestly starting to make her want to ask him to run and get her wild berries native only to Australia. There is no need for A Look. She’s Cindy. She’s already over…whatever it was, yesterday. Cindy doesn’t fall in love with maknae producers. Cindy doesn’t pine. Cindy definitely doesn’t get rejected and still tilt her mirror a little to the left, so her reflection doesn’t even make it to the glass.

“We’re going to have to postpone the shoot for a few hours, Cindy-ssi,” he says, “it’s raining too heavily to continue right now.”

“I can see that,” she snaps, without looking up. She’s not a nice person, anyway, she never has been. Keeping to character would probably have been a good idea from the start.

When she finally meets his eyes by accident, there’s something different about his gaze. He glances down at her mirror, then looks up again. Like he knows something about her beyond everything she’s ever told him. He’s not allowed to know anything beyond everything she’s ever told him. She’s told him too much already.

You’re prettiest when the main camera isn’t on, and you’re not looking at your mirror.

It makes her pause, the memory. Then defiantly hold the mirror straight. Her too-startled reflection covering the traces of anything that came before. She can’t even tell if she’s winning, when she’s the only one playing the game.

“We apologize for the inconvenience,” he says, formally.

He’s gone, when she next looks up. Manager Oppa isn't looking at her now, staring at the pillar instead, like it may hold the secrets of the universe. She's grateful, sometimes. She really is.

"Let's go, Op—" she begins, moving forward. Only notices the KBS umbrella left on the ground before her, when she almost steps on it. Then shuts her brain down before it does something stupid. Like mistaking coincidence for fate. She's too old for that now. 

 

 

-

 

 

She leaves it on the ground. Texts him a thank you anyway at night.

At least you won’t have to pay the fine for a late-return this time, she adds. She’s terrible at giving things back. It's better this way.

 

 

-

 

 

The engagement invitation arrives with the morning mail. The raised gold lettering in a neat, straight line. Something about it settles the chaos in her veins; she likes neat, straight lines.

She looks at it, unseeing for a minute, before it registers in her head. She runs a finger over the fancy indents of their names, two of the only three people she’s ever taken a chance on.

For a brief moment his face flashes before her eyes. Bright, alive, in love. Stealing glances whenever Tak PD-nim wasn't looking.

She can feel a dull ache settle in the pit of her stomach, strangely heavy. Something like second-hand disappointment. Not for herself, not this time. For him, for his unrequited love.

“I think,” she says out loud to her empty bedroom, “I think I was rooting for you to get the girl.”

The invitation slips from her fingers, lands on her bed.

“Isn’t that strange,” she whispers. There’s no echo, the room is silent.

She picks up her phone. Gets only half-way through. Leaves the message unsent.

 

 

-

 

 

She thinks of not going, then goes anyway. She’s secretly started calling Tak PD-nim unni in her head. The whole thing is just ridiculous, and maybe she just went crazy somewhere in the last two months and should have been locked up in a mental asylum already. Maybe that's what Byun Entertainment has really been all this while.

She takes pictures with everybody who asks, the cameras flashing in her eyes at monotonous intervals. Just ten minutes in, she can’t see beyond the white light.

“Where is that guy you’re in love with?” Go Ah Ra asks, when she runs into her, literally runs into her, and has to take a step back.

“What guy?” She asks, and honestly, her life is beginning to get unbelievable these days. Insane. Less Notting Hill and more…a made-for-TV movie. That she’s not even the lead in. Doesn't even have a speaking part in. She's a goddamn cameo in her own life story.

“Oh, you know,” Ah Ra stretches, “the maknae PD you couldn’t stop looking at? Isn’t this his sunbae’s engagement? Shouldn’t you be somewhere close to him pretending you’re not sneaking glances at him like you did throughout the entire shoot from hell?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” is the lamest comeback ever, it's not even a comeback at all, but it's kind of the only one she can come up with over the pounding in her chest, drowning out all reason. She never gets caught.

Ah Ra only laughs. Not even evilly. It’s weird.

 

 

-

 

 

By the time she finds him, she’s stopped looking. He’s sitting under the stairs of a dark corner of the unlit transition room, surrounded by at least ten bottles of soju, materialized out of nowhere, because she’s pretty sure there’s none at the party.

She’s drunk enough herself for the courage to be liquid inside her in the moment, and maybe that’s what makes her crawl in the small space with him. It’s the death of her peach dress, her head informs her, but she ignores it. A ruined peach dress is literally the best part of this idea.

She’s not drunk enough to not know that. Just drunk enough to not care.

He looks surprised to see her for a moment. Then unsurprised to see her. And she thinks- god, maybe she’s just obvious.

“I would,” he begins, then stops, carefully enunciates over the slur, four of those bottles are empty, “I think I would like to be alone, Cindy-ssi. I don't mean to offend you, I just- would like to be alone for the moment.”

“Everyone,” she begins, philosophically, “is alone in this world.”

That makes him pause for a moment. Then laugh. The sound warms her from the inside. More than the wine had.

She picks up the empty bottle by her side. He watches her line them in a neat row, his gaze fixed on her hand as she places the fourth and final bottle behind the imaginary white line in her head.

"My mother would like you," he says, unexpectedly.

She plays with the hem of her dress, to give her hands something to do, suddenly nervous. Then stops when his eyes are drawn to it. “I can leave you alone, if you really want me to. I didn't mean to interr-”

He picks up another bottle. Holds it out to her. “Everyone," he quotes, "is alone in this world.”

 

 

-

 

 

 

It’s by the fifth bottle that they start speaking in Demian quotes.

She’s read it, like, thrice now. Read his underlined parts more times than she’ll admit to under gunpoint.

“I like listening to music, but only the kind you play,” he slurs, half-sleep.

It’s the first thing that seems to make sense, and she’s so startled, she spills some of her drink on her dress, and thinks it’s never, ever, ever coming out.

She gets herself together, “if a person were to concentrate all his will power on a certain end, then he would achieve it.”

He opens his eyes wide at that, and when he next looks at her, he looks hurt. Slightly broken. Like there’s a wound somewhere in him, just beginning to fester, and it’s worse because he doesn’t know where it is, what to do about it. And it's so raw and real, in his eyes, it makes something inside her hurt too. A second-hand ache.

She can still hear the sounds of the party, if she only listens hard enough.

“Bullshit,” he says, gritting his teeth. It’s the first time she’s heard him curse.

Through the haze, she thinks of him sitting in the dark pining for the woman in the next room. Thinks of herself sitting in the dark pining for the man pining for the woman in the next room. Thinks of that endless waiting for a phone-call that was never going to come anyway. This is an unholy mess. She didn't sign up for this.

“Bullshit,” she agrees. Clinks her bottle with his.

 

 

-

 

 

She remembers falling asleep, and doesn’t remember getting home.

It’s only when Manager Oppa calls her and tells her, sounding like he's on the brink of insanity himself, that he just can’t live because of her, that she figures she probably got caught in the end.

It's beginning to happen far too often these days.

“Do you know what a scandal it would have been, if someone else had seen you, Cindy-ah? What are you doing? This is so unlike you.”

Kumaon, oppa,” she says. Hangs up. Pulls the blanket over her head. She feels hung-over and drained and exposed, and doesn’t even know why.

She doesn’t realize she’s expecting anything at all, till the next time her phone buzzes and she has it in her hand faster than necessary. Like she possibly broke the sound-barrier on the way.

It’s Manager Oppa, again. A grainy picture of her with Baek PD. His arm around her shoulder, their heads resting together, asleep. Her hair is a mess, the mascara just starting to run, her face still much too big next to his.

You’re welcome, the caption reads.

She laughs. Saves it in a private folder.

 

 

-

 

 

Are you okay? He texts, and she honestly hadn't even realized she was still waiting till she stopped.

She's dehydrated. Body sore from the cold floor. I'm always okay, she texts back. Then picks up the book again.

Only when I found myself sitting in front of you did I realize that my wish was only half fulfilled and that my sole aim was to sit next to you.

The page is unmarked. He hasn’t underlined it.

She does, anyway.

 

 

-

 

 

She calls him in the middle of the night, "let's go drinking." Like this is something they do.

His voice is low, deeper with sleep and confusion, and it makes her bite her lip, hard, "Cindy?" He forgets to tag on the ssi, and her blood runs hot.

God, she's easy.

So yeah, there is no way this is a good idea. No way on earth this is acceptable. But whatever. Acceptability has never been her unique selling proposition anyway. She's the resident rebel without a cause. "Let's go drinking," she repeats. Steels herself for rejection.

Maybe she's a masochist. Maybe they can offer her Anastasia in the Fifty Shades Korean adaptation. At least she'll be method as hell about it.

"Okay," he says.

She tries not to let her surprise sound. She's probably just a replacement. But she can't be a replacement when she's not even playing the part.

"Okay," she echoes.

Yuna unni, she was a replacement for. But here's the thing; there can be no replacement here. Not for him. She's been in love. This, at least, she knows.

 

 

-

 

 

It's hours, or maybe minutes. But it's a lifetime of everything she's been missing out on. She doesn't know if she's taking advantage of him when he's heartbroken or he's taking advantage of her heartbreak. But maybe if neither of them care, it doesn't matter either way. 

“I debuted when I thirteen,” she says sadly, pausing before each syllable, words muffled by an overgrown scarf she's using to hide her face. Everything is sad after five drinks. “What does a thirteen-year-old girl know anyway?”

“Nothing,” he says sagely, taking her phone away just as she reaches for it, “I knew all the provisions of the Constitution when I was thirteen.”

She considers that for a moment, “you must have been smart once before you became stupid.”

He looks offended at that. Or maybe he doesn’t. His face is a pixelated, eight-bit image anyway. She can’t make out any expressions, “I’m still smart.”

"I'm always pretty," she adds, fits his words around her tongue like a cherry stem.

He raises his glass in silent toast.

“I debuted when I was thirteen," she begins. "What does a thirteen-year-old know." She's not even drunk at all, really. It's like the alcohol is just not even getting her drunk at all, really. Maybe she's one of those people who just never can get drunk at all, really. "I’ve never even kissed anyone,” she confesses, "because I debuted when I was thirteen and what does a-"

“You've kissed me,” he points out.

She stops. Reconsiders. “I’ve never been kissed back.”

There's a pause.

“Yet,” he says.

 

 

-

 

 

I should be moving on, she texts, head pounding, throat dry. The no-good, very, bad, terrible idea, even worse in daylight.

You should be not constantly texting me, Ah Ra replies, but here we are. Face it, kid, you're just incredibly bad with the shoulds.

 

 

 

-

 

 

“This is the last time we’ll be seeing each other,” she declares at the next shoot. The last shoot. Suzy is supposed to be back tomorrow, she’s heard, it’s sort of sounding the death knell around this variety town. She pretty much lost this Star War for sure.

At least the antis will be happy. She’ll have plenty of message board comments to while her empty evenings away with. She should probably text Roy Kim the good news. Maybe she can start a celebration thread as moderator.

He looks vaguely amused. It pisses her off.

“It is,” she insists, “goodbye. We’re probably never ever going to see each other again.”

“I’m not sure we're never ever going to see each other again,” he starts, busying himself with the papers in his hand, “you’ll still be coming to the KBS building, Cindy-ssi. You win at Music Bank practically every other week.”

She stops at that. Can’t help wonder if there’s anything different about the reference. Somehow, she can’t read him now. Can’t tell if anything is different. Whether bringing up Music Bank hurts him still. Whether the thought alone of Tak PD hurts him still.

“I won’t see you often.” she says. And- god- that is not what she meant to say at all.

“What are we supposed to be doing today?” she covers immediately, “I haven’t been briefed by anyone. This is highly unprofessional. Where is Ra PD-nim? I’ve never been—”

“I’ll get him,” he interrupts, turning away. And even though she shouldn’t, she feels a pinprick of disappointment that he avoided her avoidance.

She didn’t want him to acknowledge her slip. Of course she didn’t. That would be insane. She’s not insane. Yet. Maybe. Undeclared, anyway.

She clutches her headphones tightly, knuckles turning white. Belatedly realizes they’re his headphones. She should have returned these ages ago. Dammit, maybe she’s just coming off like a crazed stalker or a sasaeng fan or of his something. She really is shit at giving things back.

Shit at taking them back too. He has so many parts of her by now, there isn’t enough left on her side to make any sort of a functional whole. But, whatever. Dysfunction suits her just fine.

 

 

-

 

 

When the finale's been shot, she's pretty sure her reputation is shot too, with that end prank that still has her covered in an explosion of rainbow glitter. This is a terrible production. And she's already missing it. The excuse.

You've worked hard, she smiles at a bunch of people she's not sure she's ever seen before. Fifty minutes in, her jaw aches with it.

"It's sad that we never had the chance to get Notting Hill going," the maknae writer informs her. She looks like she's high on something, or maybe just happy. Cindy's never been particularly good with Identify The Predominant Emotion In This Expression schtick. "It would've been so cute to see you and Baek PD doing a- I'm just a girl, standing in front of a guy, asking him to-"

"Save her from the forced smiling," she thinks he mutters, as he steers the writer in Ra PD's direction, but she doesn't quite catch it. She can barely make out his silhouette through the dark of the evening. Fills in his features purely by sense memory.

When he turns to her, she holds her breath. Then exhales loudly. Because why on earth would she hold her breath.

His tie is slightly skewed to the left. That she can make out. The asymmetry is disturbing. She reaches out a hand pretend-casually to fix it, but it's less inconspicuous than she'd like, the fabric stained rainbow in the shape of her fingers as soon as she pulls back. 

"You're sparkling," he points out.

"I know," she frowns at him, shaking her head to get rid of the excess glitter. Then inhales. This is a part of her profession. She is a professional. She is Cindy. "Goodbye," she says formally, bowing her head, "you've worked hard."

“I saw your drama, Cindy-ssi” he says, unexpectedly.

She doesn’t know what to answer to that. What to read into that. “Which one?”

Dream High,” he replies.

“Okay,” she says, because this is so random, she doesn’t even have an appropriate Demian quote for it. “What did you think?”

His eyes rise to meet hers, “I could tell you were acting.”

She flares up at that, because seriously, what the hell even, “are you saying I’m a bad actress?”

The corner of his mouth turns up, just slightly, and it is so fucking crazy that he's mocking her openly and she still can't stop staring at his lips, “yes.”

It’s only after he’s long gone, and she’s been stewing for ages in her van, on the way back, about the completely unnecessary insult, that she realizes— oh.

When she next catches her reflection in the window, she's smiling.

 

 

-

 

 

This is not Notting Hill, she complains, Notting Hill was a romantic comedy.

You're a Joseon tragedy, Ah Ra texts back, must be the nose. That nose is tragic. You can't deny destiny.

You're the worst friend I have, she texts.

I'm the only friend you have, Ah Ra replies. And where did you keep the goddamn sugar?

In the third cupboard, she types, sixth from the right. Next to the honey and the maple syrup. It's organized by container size and the fundamental characteristic it adds to food and/or the taste bud it affects. Keep up.

 

 

-

 

 

She dyes her hair brown in the summer. Then cuts it short. It’s the first time since her debut, and makes the front covers of three fashion magazines, and the entertainment column of all of the major newspapers.

Cindy is wild and free! A headline screams. She snorts.

Every time she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror for the next three weeks, the unfamiliarity makes her pause for a moment, the ends of her hair just reaching her shoulder-blades.

Are you still rebelling, Cindy-ah? A text from omma asks her, when the first comment hits the internet circles, it's rather weak, I’m afraid. Pointless, really.

She doesn’t text back. Then does text back. The empty space filled with a tongue-out selca.

She’s wild and free, after all.

 

 

-

 

 

She runs into him on her way to the Music Bank stage.

He glances at his watch, “never ever didn’t take very long. What is this, the fifth time?”

She eyes him suspiciously, because it sounds like he’s figured sarcasm out, and that just messes with her head because this is Baek Seung Chan.

“Best of luck, Cindy-ssi." He’s smiling, and just like that, she can feel her heart pounding in her throat. The racing of her pulse at seven points. Fast enough to drown out all the sense and sensibility in white noise. She's beginning to think normal is overrated.

Maybe it shows, because he asks, with something so close to concern, it definitely short-wires something important in her head, or maybe somewhere in her body, "are you okay?"

She flips her hair, forgets her hair's too short now to really flip, then pretends she was just tossing her head. "I'm always okay."

He looks at her closely for a moment. It makes her feel exposed somehow, vulnerable. She schools her resting bitch-face.

And says, "you don't always have to be okay, Cindy-ssi."

That's just-

Here's the thing; Cindy doesn’t fall in love with maknae producers. Cindy doesn’t pine. Cindy definitely doesn’t get rejected and still tilt her mirror a little to the left, so her reflection doesn’t even make it to the glass.

But he said she was a terrible actress anyway. 

This is the edge, she knows. Takes a step forward.

She doesn't fall, she jumps.

“My name,” she says, leaning in too close, but he's not moving back, so maybe it's okay, maybe they're okay, “is not Cindy.”

 

 

-

 

 

 

When she gets back home, there's a message from him.

She allows herself a moment of expectancy, of hope. It's probably stupid. But she's twenty-three. She's allowed to be stupid.

“Perhaps," said the man, "you would like to be lost with us. I have found it much more agreeable to be lost in the company of others.”

That's not from Demian, she texts back.

No, his reply reads, it's not.

 

 

-

 

 

("Am I a replacement?" she'll ask someplace, sometime, someday, when she's drunk enough for honesty.

"I'm disappointed," he'll say, and he doesn't have to be drunk for honesty, she knows, "I thought you said I'm easily caught.")

 

 

-

 

 

She buys The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane on her way back from the next magazine shoot.

The lines are smooth, unmarked. He's already read it, she knows, he's the one who mentioned it, after all, but maybe she'll give it to him later anyway. This copy, her version. Marked with her favorites, her straight lines, her thoughts. Make a different story off someone else's words and tell him to fill in her blank spaces.

She flips the pages. Breathes in. It smells new.

Open your heart. Someone will come. Someone will come for you. But first you must open your heart.

She picks up her pen.