C H A P T E R O N E
“Aren’t you tired of the taste
of blood in your mouth?”
— Emily Palermo
“Yoongi, dear, can you take the next order please? I’ve got my hands full with these boxes.”
My mum yelled something else over the deafening hum of the ice-cream machine but I didn’t quite catch it when the bell tinkled above the coffee shop’s brass door. The store door clicked, her voice muffled in the vacuuming basement.
My attention zoomed onto the girl who had been waiting two minutes for my mum to finish stocking the slushie packets into the freezers. Her mild frown dissolved into a coy smile when I jogged around the counter to take post as cashier. I still had three tables to wait and tax forms to fill out before I needed to dash across the city for work. Hastily, I wrapped a striped apron around my waist and flashed the customer a gummy smile–the very one my mum had sworn would get me into Seoul Institute of the Arts (SIA) on a full-ride scholarship if I just showed them what I could do with a mixing board. Turns out the admission board were looking for more than a pimply teenager who could rearrange tracks and mix generic beats. They didn’t even bother listening to my mixtape.
I had since ripened into a mellow shell because not every journey started with an easy road. At least the girl seemed to love my mum’s favourite smile.
“How may I take your order?” I asked, eyes already catching the waving hand of a couple ready to pay their bill.
The girl tucked a pastel pink curl behind her hair. “Two Americanos.”
“Name?” I asked, pen in hand to scrawl on her cup.
A spark of recognition lit my eyes but I couldn’t remember where I’d heard her name as I wrote it on the cup in a hasty scrawl. Maybe on a girlgroup poster somewhere? She definitely had that trainee look about her.
“Would you like any milk in your black Americano?”
The girl’s acrylic nails tapped away at her phone screen. I took that as a no, and filled her cup with black coffee from the machine. The soft whirring didn’t soothe my nerves. What was taking my mum so long? Her back injury wouldn’t sustain another fall.
“Would you like that to take away?” I rushed, nodding at the couple by the window that I would be with them in a minute. They lowered their hand and returned to their conversation.
The girl glanced up, wolfish eyes glowing when her amber contact lenses caught the light. I lowered my gaze to her oversized sweater; it bore the SIA logo. That explained her brave hairdo. All the college kids at the performing arts school fought to stay on top of fashion, imitating idols from their favourite boy and girl groups. Just last week, during Seoul Fashion Week, we had managers and paperboys asking for large coffee orders, some as big as fifty.
I couldn’t make sense of the paper clip choker the girl was wearing around her slender throat. I didn’t care either.
“Would you like that to take away?” I asked again.
She blinked. “Huh?”
“Would you like that to take away?” I droned.
The coy curve of her lips reappeared. “Yes, please.”
“Lovely,” I replied, hands already moving for a clean napkin. “Careful, it’s hot.”
“Actually, I’ve changed my mind,” the girl said to my annoyance, glancing up from a text that came through. I raised my eyebrows, but didn’t say anything, when she added, “I’d like to drink it here. Can I get two slice of carrot cake with it as well?”
I grew six more arms, transforming into an octopus as I tried to manage eight tasks at once. Once I had served the girl, taken care of the couple’s bill, helped my mum in the store room, completed our tax return for the year, served the flood of college students that poured in during their lunch break, the girl returned to the counter and asked me to reheat the americano that had gone cold. Usually I’d make customers pay for another one, but there was something pitiful about her expression.
“Thank you,” she said with a smile, rushing back to her table at the back corner.
A few minutes later, the bell above the door rang and in came a college kid with a stylish bowl cut and jeans that were folded above the ankle. The girl jumped up and waved at him to sit down, at which point I felt a tickle of breath behind my ear.
“Mum!” I cried, hitting the ceiling in fright.
“They’re dancers. Just look at their beautiful postures,” she gushed, a puppy pawing at my jumper. “Let me serve them.”
“I’ve already taken care of those customers.” I took off my apron and pressed it into her palm as the bell rang again. “But you can deal with this lot.”
When I closed shop later that afternoon, I wiped down the tables and the mopped the floor, snatching my backpack from my room–careful not to jostle it around and risk damaging my laptop and audio equipment. My work experience at SIA started in an hour and the commute was a pain. Leaving MinMin Cafe, the streets of Gangnam wailed with wind and noise, restless with activity. I bowed my head under a black baseball cap and swam with the tide of people heading towards the nearest subway station. Led down intersections and street corners, I was no longer enchanted by the neon lights and vending stalls the way I had been when we first moved here five years ago. Something about the city had died when I got rejected from SIA. The city became a bride without her tiara, still beautiful but no longer dazzling to my eyes.
The train ride to Jungang Station was suffocating and laborious. Namjoon and Seokjin were waiting outside SIA’s grand theatre, cigarette butts glowing brighter with each drag. I shook my head when they offered to light one for me.
“Am I late?” I asked, double checking the time. “It’s still early. Seokjin’s uncle told us to be there for seven twenty-five. We’ve still got ten minutes to kill.”
Seokjin remained distracted on his phone and Namjoon’s gaze bored a hole into my face.
“You answered your own question, why are you looking at me like that for?” he asked, stamping out his cigarette with his Puma trainers.
I clapped his shoulder. “No need for the cheek.”
He exhaled a chuckle and scratched at his mild stubble. “Well you’d be pretty pissed off if you had to work for the same department that rejected your SIA application.”
“You can’t go back on your promise now,” I muttered, glancing at the looming structure of the romanesque theatre. SIA weren’t shy with their money. The marble pillars glistened in the weak moonlight like a watery reflection.
“Don’t pull long faces, boys. This is the most anticipated college showcase of the year. Don’t you know that this work experience could catapult you both into stardom?” Seokjin laughed. “How do you plan to repay me when you make it as music producers after this? An apartment in New York? An island in the Caribbean?”
“A coffin,” I joked, fixing my cap when a bustling group of art majors swept past carrying large canvases.
Seokjin puffed out his chest like a robin. “You guys should be kissing my feet not acting like I’ve handed you a prison sentence.”
Namjoon glowered. “I’ll bash your head with that massive cello on your back if you don’t shut up.”
Seokjin clutched his cello case, changing the subject before he lost his instrument for good. “Wait till you guys see Park Jinah’s dance during the Swan Lake. When you see the way she moves on the stage you’ll understand this showcase isn’t an ordinary college show.”
The name tickled my mind with recognition but I couldn’t place where I’d heard it today.
“We’ll see,” Namjoon replied, dusting his edgy sweater. Only I looked out of place on this campus in a simple leather jacket and ripped skinny jeans. It shouldn’t matter much since today was the first rehearsal in the grand theatre. The dance majors had complete the first round of rehearsals in their studio across campus while Namjoon and I worked closely with Seokjin and the rest of the live orchestra to create the most chilling masterpiece for the showcase. Today was the first time both sectors were coming together.
The two boys continued to bicker while I checked my SNS to kill some time. I only jumped between them when they poked at each other’s wounds, acting like ahjussi’s on their eighth round of soju. It wouldn’t hurt Seokjin to be more considerate towards Namjoon’s flaring temper, but Namjoon did ask for it sometimes.
“Stop it, guys,” I said with little force, waving a hand without looking up from my phone. “I’m sure you’d be just as bitter if your application feedback came back diagnosing you as tone deaf.” A couple of academic teachers walked past with their briefcases. “Keep your voice down. People are staring.” They both glared at me. “What?” My eyes grew round as I turned to Namjoon. “You’re mad at me all of sudden but let the worse pass with this camel?” I said, pointing at Seokjin. “I give up. I’ll never understand the two of you.”
Eager to return to his slapstick teases, Seokjin took the load off me and poked fun at his best friend. “I did tell you to listen to your parents and apply to SNU instead,” he said to Namjoon. “Your entrance score was in the highest percentile and they’re always looking to admit country pumpkins to boost their statistics.”
“Ilsan isn’t country,” Namjoon fired back at Seokjin, jabbing a finger at me. “Here’s the real country pumpkin.”
“Guys,” I begged, prickled by the passing students who stole glances at us. “You’re making a scene.”
They both broke into laughter, faces splitting in half. I didn’t get the joke.
“We’re just fooling around. I’m actually pretty excited for this evening, aren’t you, Seokjin hyung? Sound engineering for a lame school production is way better than frying chicken for eight hours. Have you heard about the reporters dressing as students to sneak inside and watch the rehearsals?”
“Well considering that the CEO of the big three companies are coming, what else would you expect?” Seokjin said, stepping aside to let three girls in leotards pass by. His eyes followed them as they tittered and flushed, mistaking his beige straight coat and deep green turtleneck for idol material. He was just another senior but he liked to pretend he had already graduated and debuted.
Namjoon’s eyes followed the girls. “Aren’t they too young for you, hyung?”
“Well you wouldn’t want to be calling a girl noona, now, do you?” Seokjin laughed.
Namjoon agreed. “Oppa sounds so much better in bed.”
I rolled my eyes, deflecting Seokjin’s cheeky smile. “I think it’s time for us to go in now,” he said, rolling up his sleeve to squint at his watch in the early night, making a show of letting the Rolex wink in the moonlight. “The dancers and ensemble are going to be here soon and you boys need to set the equipment up. My uncle is stuck in traffic all the way in Gwanak so Yoongi can supervise for now.” He grinned. “I expect you both to use honorifics towards me whenever Park Jinah is within earshot.”
“Yeah right,” Namjoon and I chorused.
We made our way up the marble steps, falling into silence, overwhelmed by the smell of ancient library books inside the grand theatre. The deep red carpets and black velvet seats circled the main stage, concentric circles that rippled outwards, getting steeper with each level. The high ceiling shimmered with hand drawn constellations, a grapevine chandelier hanging in the centre, dousing the grand theatre in a warm sunset glow.
The dance troupe filed in just after we finished unpacking our gear and connecting them to the sound equipment. Seokjin did most of the talking, welcoming the dance director and the dancers to the grand theatre as if his parents owned the place. Actually they only owned half of it; the government had funded the rest of the grand theatre.
Two mops of pink hair appeared when the dancers took to the stage, identical by face but different in stature. The frailer figure was the girl with wolfish contact lenses and an elegance that was beyond her years. She caught my eyes before the music started and stumbled, the first break in her composure.
It was the same girl I had served earlier.
Everybody followed her gaze and stared at me while I promptly restarted the music, face on fire, hands unsteady from the sudden attention. The lights grew dim and two spotlights appeared, one haloing the girl while the other sought out a taller figure, crouching in the exact same stance as her, a boy with hair the same shade of candyfloss, an effortless bowl that moved with a body of its own as he leapt across the stage like a deer. Their limbs moved like water, falling and reaching all directions, exploding like catherine wheels, bright with youth and desperation. I almost forgot to change the track and adjust the volume to match climactic moments because I was so hypnotised by the boy’s fluid movements. The girl’s moves were sharper compared to his, as if she was imitation of him.
“Who is that?” I asked Seokjin when the first rehearsal ended. The dancers dabbed their sweaty faces with small towels and slipped sweatpants on top of their leotards, readying themselves to leave. Seokjin was too busy gawking at Jinah to hear me.
I turned to Namjoon but he was jogging after one of the secondary dancers, a girl with midnight black hair that swung like soaked climbing ropes, heavy and tightly braided as chords. He tugged at her pigtail and melted into an easy conversation. She flushed with delight when he imitated her stretching moves. Backpack slung over their shoulders, they left together. I envied how easily he made friends. Conversation came easy to him. For me it was a sandstorm.
Seokjin’s eyes followed Jinah towards the exit.
I waved a hand at the running cables. “Help me pack this stuff away.”
“We’re already short on hands,” I complained, but he was already wrestling his coat on as he hurried after the bubblegum-pink girl.
“Why am I always doing the dirty work around here?” I muttered, standing straighter when a music major came up to me and asked if I could provide a backup drum mic at the next rehearsal. “I’ll run through that request with Mr. Kim, but he should be able to provide you with an alternative mic if you’re not satisfied with the ones we currently have installed.”
“Thank you,” the saxophonist replied.
By the time I had safely unplugged all the systems, the lights in the grand theatre were dim and only a few dancers were milling around, concentrated near the main exit, faces grey with impatience.
“Jimin-ah!” one guy called out at the Jinah’s dance partner. It was the same guy who had joined Jinah in the cafe earlier. “We’re going out for chimaek. I’ve been craving chicken all day and could do with a beer.”
Jimin poked his head into his bag, searching for something that was clearly lost. “You guys go on without me. I can’t find my locker keys and need to grab something from the dance studio.”
The guy grimaced but forced half-smile. He obviously didn’t fancy trekking across campus to risk missing the next train.
“We can wait for you,” he offered.
Jimin waved a distracted hand. “It’s fine, Hoseok. Really. You guys go on out without me. ” He paused, looking around, and turned towards the door; his friends were already on the other side. “Has Jinah already left? She was supposed to wait for me.”
The slamming door answered his question, but I stepped into the light. “The girl with the pink hair?”
Jimin jumped in fright, almost tumbling off the stage, only catching himself by drunkenly jerking to the left. It was the first time his body moved like a human, rough around the edges like a sketch instead of the renaissance oil painting he had on been on stage. The break in his elegance was a stone skipping a lake, rippling outwards. He dropped his bag, yelping when it crushed his bare foot, succeeding in belly-flopping off the stage this time.
“Oof!” he cried, landing on his tailbone.
“I’m so sorry.” I rushed to his aid, scooping him into standing position. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Jimin waved a dismissive hand but winced. “It’s cool.”
“That must’ve hurt like hell,” I said, adding fire his embarrassment.
He flushed harder, skin toasted with light. The natural pink hue to his cheeks brightened to match is hair.
“I’m not usually like this,” he stuttered, scratching his hair, embarrassed. .
“Dancers can be clumsy, too. They’re human after all,” I said with a smile. He mirrored it, hesitant at first before realising that I wasn’t actually making fun of him. The softness melted his lips into a stretch of pink. I caught myself smiling more.
I shifted my bag onto my other shoulder while he rolled back on his heels, neither of us saying much.
“You know you’re a pretty good dancer,” I blurted, wishing I could master conversation like Namjoon without having to feign confidence. Instead I came across as a mouse.
Jimin passed a hand through his hair. “Just good?”
The teasing lilt was golden. I laughed and corrected myself. “You're alright, I guess.”
He doubled over in mock pain, body bent at the spine. “You wound me.”
“Only your inflated ego.”
“Alright is a bit harsh, though.”
“Then settle with being just good.”
Quick-witted, he held out a hand, rehearsed like his grace. “I’m Park Jimin, though most people either refer to me as the second lead or the Black Swan. At this college, everyone is known by their achievements.” He smiled. “And you are?”
I filled in the blank with “Min Yoongi.”
I wondered if he was this charming with everybody and felt dampened by the thought that this interaction wasn’t unique to me. I reached out, expecting his hand to be cool instead of clammy and warm. When I let go of his hand, the spaces his fingers had filled felt cool, yearning for warmth again.
“You’re Jinah’s brother, right?” I asked with my own rehearsed smile, though it became crooked and boyish when he breathed a light laugh and nodded. “She’s a great dancer. Probably one of the greatest I’ve ever seen on stage. I don’t know much about dance but my mum used to take me to the theatre all the time as a kid. Jinah’s pirouettes are something else.”
Pride broke his face into a smile. “Yeah, those pirouettes are the envy of every training ballerina. I don’t know why she chose to major in contemporary dance.”
“She probably wanted to follow your footsteps?”
He nodded. “Ballet is daunting. I’d say it’s the fiercest type of dance in the world. The control is an agony and the grace is brutal.”
I thought about my mum’s pointe shoes collecting dust in the attic and nodded. “I can’t blame Jinah. I heard it’s the first time in history that the lead role has gone to a freshman. Madame Ahn must have a lot of faith in Jinah.”
Jimin distracted himself with a ladder in his tights. “Roles are allocated by skill, not by age. Even though Jinah is the face of this showcase, we all work pretty hard.”
“I can tell. The synchronisation is impressive.”
“I’m not her understudy or anything,” he added, heavy in voice but light in tone. His eyes shifted to his feet.
“I know.” I didn’t push any further questions, realising that I was too close to his borders. There were landmines everywhere in his expression. I didn’t want to say anything to accidentally trigger him. “I have a train to catch but I’ll see you tomorrow?” I said, beating myself up for posing it as a question instead of a statement.
“Sure thing,” he replied, hopping back on stage. As he stretched his limbs, his hair moved as if he was underwater. I couldn’t take my eyes off him even if I wanted to.
“It’s pretty late. I can walk you across campus if you want,” I offered, knowing that we were heading the same way. He seemed like a pretty chill guy and it would be cool to have some friends around here since Namjoon had already made a couple of lady friends and Seokjin was hot on Jinah’s tail.
“I’m not heading that way,” Jimin replied, resuming his dance practice even though rehearsals were long over. He moved to music even though nothing was playing.
My brows creased. “I thought you said you needed to grab something from your locker.”
Jimin stopped. An embarrassed smile crept onto his lips. “Actually I said that so I could practice for another hour. The other dancers get antsy when I overwork myself but competition is high around here and everybody is desperate to get scouted by entertainment companies.” He let out a long exhale, staring intently at the far horizon of the theatre. “Rumours have it that the big three are coming to our end of year showcase. Jinah is already signed to JYP so I guess that’s why everyone’s mad she got the lead role and not one of the seniors, but we all want to get noticed this year.”
I echoed his previous words. “But roles are allocated because of skill and not because of age.”
He shrugged, chewing his cheek. “It’s political.”
“Dayoung and Jungkook are taking electives from the Korean Music faculty. Hoseok is stressed because he’s going to be a senior next year and still isn’t signed.” Jimin blew out another long breath. “It’s all a mess, really.” He stopped rambling, eyes flicking up to meet mine. “I’m sorry if I’m wasting your time,” he said, speaking formally. “You should go.”
“Don’t be,” I replied, dropping my bag and unpacking my audio equipment. “Do you know how to work the sound system in here?”
He seemed confused. “Isn’t it the same as the one in the dance studio? I wish I could summon the live orchestra right now but everybody has clashing schedules and nobody wants to stay this late with me. And I don’t have access to the soundtrack for this year’s showcase because Madame Ahn is being so cautious. Last year’s soundtrack leaked to the press and not one person got signed which brought so much shame to our faculty.”
I unzipped another pocket in my bag and pulled out a CD. “You mean this one?”
Jimin’s lips parted, a breath forming between them. “How do you . . . There are only three copies in existence.”
I shrugged, casual. “I burned myself an extra copy.” He looked dazed, a muddled confusion that reminded me of my puppy Holly. “You can borrow it for tonight but make sure you give it back to me tomorrow.”
I tossed it, the CD arcing until he caught it with both hands. He held it like glass. I shoved both hands in my pocket and stepped back, striding towards the exit with my backpack feeling refreshingly light.
My palms were laid flat on the door when I heard the air whisper back to me.
I waved without turning back. “Anytime.”
A/N: hi, it's Kaddy. how did you find the first chapter? did you like it? what did you think of the characters, both from BTS and fictional? comment here before reading the rest of my note and i'll dedicate the next chapter to best answer <3
this yoonmin fic is going to give you everything you expect and more. joon mentioned once that books should be stepping stones to our growth, so i hope we grow on this journey we're about to begin. i hope this fic is more than just a pass-time for you. y'all are in for the ride of your life ;)
also, i was rewatching my favourite old bangtan bombs last night to cheer me up (ahh don't pretend you don't binge watch them too haha. you guys know the one on yoongi's bday where he buys armys gifts and jimin stays behind to help? it's one of my favs. what's yours?)
to make things more fun, at the end of each chapter i'm going to ask the fandom a question. i'll leave my answer so you guys can get to know me too.
QUESTION: WHO IS YOUR BIAS?
(i'm a hoe for all my boys but jiminie stole my heart first.)
don't forget to vote if you haven't. updates are every thursday. b ig things are about to happen soon. stay tuned.
-- kaddy x