chanyeol/hyerim, one-shot, pg, 19766 words
how wonder girls' hyerim and exo's chanyeol find a way to fall in love
i wrote this pretty much for myself and later on, naladot. please love them as much as i do.
They ordered pizza and stayed in on the last day of the year.
Hyerim thought it was kind of like an off-day in the States, when they were still angling for a breakthrough, five girls in shimmery dresses and singing an English version of the monster hit that she wasn’t even originally part of. She alternated between hating and loving the American experience, but it wasn’t like Hyerim’s opinion mattered. A lot. This was also why they got Sohee’s favourite crust instead, but she’d managed to sneak in her kind of toppings in the end. Hyerim was good at being under the radar and getting things done. She had to tiptoe around some of the fans still, but she figured it was better now. At least they weren’t scowling at her and demanding for Sunmi’s return. Most of them.
“Pretty,” she commented when Jia’s face, eyeliner gliding upwards in the most beautiful cat-eye ever, appeared on her television in brutally high definition glory. Didn’t even put on the twenty pounds everyone warned her about, even on a forty-two inch screen.
Sohee turned and gave her a look, the glazed plate from Ikea that Hyerim had begged her mother to lug from Hong Kong for her balanced expertly on her stomach. She’d eaten three slices already, and all of the crust crumbs had fallen nowhere else but on the plate itself. It was the dead of winter, and they had central heating, but Sohee still was so well put together. Hyerim stared at her sweatpants and snorted in her head: yeah, Wonder Girl alright.
“PD-nim could pay me a year’s bonus and I still wouldn’t go near the TV station with a stick,” Sohee snorted, “look at those PVC pants. Do you want to be in them?”
She did, but Hyerim had something her trainer called a “calves problem”. “She’s really skinny.” She said, and Sohee snorted again. “I mean, she’s always been skinny, but she’s gotten even skinnier. How do you do that?”
Jia and Fei and Min and Suzy always told the media that they ate whatever they wanted and just worked out. Hyerim thought about it and wondered why nobody ever called them out for it. Or maybe it was just her metabolism on a really bad acid trip? It didn’t work that way for her, ever, and her trainer was hung up on her “calves problem”. Hyerim stared at her piece of pizza, and pushed it away slightly. Sohee was still looking at her when she was done. Sohee knew everything, and Hyerim felt a pang of guilt, but Sohee was the nation’s younger sister. The first one, and maybe Suzy held that title now, but she didn’t do battle with a “calves problem”.
“Stop going on Tumblr,” Sohee said as miss A’s performance came to an end. The way she pronounced the English word reminded Hyerim of the days she and Yubin and Yeeun and Sunye would practice vocabulary lists, their tongues curling around the language they were suppose to conquer without a fight. In the end it had pinned them down and the Wonder Girls were dwindled to nothingness. “Whatever you see there is not real.”
“And whatever we see here is?” Hyerim asked, and immediately she wanted to bite her tongue. Sohee looked unruffled, though, and shook her head slowly.
“It’s far worse,” she said and Hyerim could feel the sofa beneath her, warm from the hours they’d just spent there watching the idols of Korea gather and perform to be immortalised into tweets and Facebook statuses and Tumblr GIFs that would stay there forever. She sometimes chanced upon GIFs of 2PM. The tags were often livid with desire.
“Sure.” She didn’t want to sound like a surly teenager, but as Hyerim settled back down into her sofa, she saw Sohee give her that indulgent look again. They remained quiet until a commercial break was announced, and she saw the names of idol groups dart across the screen, flashes from music videos that she pretended she never pored over sometimes, and then the wide grin of someone from that new SM boyband before Sohee stood up and asked where the white wine was.
Hyerim was happy to oblige.
Chanyeol doesn’t have a type.
At least, he thinks he doesn’t have a type. Sehun, for one, has a very specific checklist of what he looks for in a girl. Chanyeol thinks that’s stupid. Life never follows the boxes on a hypothetical piece of paper, and to pin your hopes on that? Dumb. Most of the girls he’s dated think the same way, and he’s liked all of them. At that point in time, anyway. So maybe he does have a type—a girl he happens to like. It sounds a bit assy, as he tumbles it through his head, but it’s also true.
“Kind-hearted and friendly?” Therefore it must never be told. He finishes with an upward tilt of his voice, and gives the female interviewer a very well-practiced smile. It’s the one that shows the best number of teeth for maximum effect. She blinks rapidly at him before gathering her face into a very satisfied expression. Works everytime.
He answers a few more questions, all vetted through by their PR team, and before he knows it, he’s free to go. Chanyeol pulls himself out of the expensive clothes they’ve dressed him for this shoot, and slips back into his equally expensive T-shirt and artfully ripped jeans. He can’t remember if they’re both fan presents, or sponsored gifts, or swiped from Baekhyun’s closet. Sometimes they meld into all the same thing.
He’s been doing photo shoots a lot more often lately, ever since one of the magazines discovered that he could pose well when given the right background music. Now he does them more frequently than even Jongin, which isn’t a bad thing. Jongin has a bad back, and they don’t sit all the time in shoots. He slides into the back of their company van and pulls up the Instagram app. Chanyeol’s turned off notifications now, but he used to get a kick from watching the numbers balloon up against their orange icon. Popularity is something clean to get high on. But he also felt a little stupid after that, so he turned it off.
“You have another shoot next week,” his manager informs him as they drive off. In the distance he can hear muffled screaming, his name torn into odd sounding syllables. Chanyeol’s name is mangled in a lot of ways—different tongues move in different patterns. Not all of them can get his name right. He nods and scrolls through his feed. Nothing interesting. For a while his followers count was the talk of the town. When he’d unfollowed Tao there was an uproar, and then he’d posted a post with a heartfelt caption, and then everyone was on their side. He was grateful for it, but also fascinated by the way it had manipulated everyone into the correct position. Social media truly is the invention of the century.
“Who with?” He says when he’s done with peeking into a handcrafted version of his friends’ lives. His manager thumbs upwards on his phone and stops, squinting. Their manager is short-tempered but efficient. Actually, he used to be pretty nice. Chanyeol thinks the fans must have sandpapered the good guy out of him. “Sehun? Again?”
“No, it’s a 92-line special. Your year this year, whatever, all that fucking crap.” He says and Chanyeol makes a face. His manager finds it with a triumphant arm pump into the air. “With the Wonder Girls. Wait, one of them.”
Chanyeol thinks through the current members very quickly. They, too, had undergone member changes like they have, but at least no one dropped a thinly veiled diss track about them. He can’t remember who is the same age as he is in the group, and gives his manager a questioning look.
“Hyerim,” he confirms, and Chanyeol struggles to process a semblance of her face, “you lucky bastard.”
Sunmi is fascinated by the fact that she gets to do a photo shoot with an Exo member. Hyerim plays her guitar with headphones clipped firmly over her ears as Sunmi jabbers on and on about how they’re so interesting. Why are they? Hyerim knows Jongdae, and he’s about the least exciting person on earth. Jongdae is someone SM managed to blindly find with lots of talent and stuck into a group hoping it would work. It did, because Jongdae had too much talent to spare. Hyerim was put through the same treatment and it didn’t turn out quite the same.
“—rim?” Sunmi knocks with her knuckles on one side of her headphones, and Hyerim glares up at her. But it’s no use—they’ve always said that her eyes are too soft. Too unintimidating. It’s like having a rabbit stare you down. She doesn’t like that comparison anymore. “Hello. Are you there?”
“Clearly not,” she snaps as she pulls the headphones off. Sunmi grins at her and flops onto the couch behind her. Hyerim stares at her for a while, before reaching over to tickle her on the stomach. Sunmi squeals like it isn’t a punishment for interrupting her practice time. The white shirt she’s wearing rides up, and Hyerim can’t decide if she hates Sunmi’s stomach, no matter how innocent it may be and that she has one perfectly flat, taut one of her own now. Some things don’t go away.
“Did you hear what I said?” Sunmi says after she’s done giggling, and Hyerim shakes her head. “Biggest boyband in the last four years—not in size, obviously, since they lost so many guys—and you’re getting to shoot with them! I vote Xiumin.”
“For what?” Hyerim bristles and Sunmi laughs again. It’s the kind you can never get irritated at, the kind that is girlish and light and so Sunmi that everyone loves it unconditionally. The brand that Hyerim supposes has never been assumed for her.
“For taking really good photos with.” Sunmi looks at her like it’s obvious. It’s not. Hyerim can’t fathom how Sunmi ticks, even if they’ve been in the same group for years now. She’s from the generation before, the original, and Hyerim’s the replacement. The original and replacement as bandmates and friends? Only in the Wonder Girls, as Yeeun likes to say proudly.
Her fingers brush over the strings of the guitar. For a year she had devoted herself, until she filmed the teaser video and everyone, every single comment she read on the Youtube comments section, was suitably impressed. Hyerim has found her niche. But inside, deep inside where she tucks unwanted and unnecessary emotion away into neat drawers that may or may not be from Ikea, the awkwardness remains. It’s like an essential part of her, Hyerim reasons. It’s also the reason she can’t deal with any of the crap she knows is bound to be thrown her way. She doesn’t want to handle fans leaving unintelligible comments and tagging handles on her Instagram account. The first time was hard enough.
“He’s not part of 92-line.” She says finally, and stands up, her guitar hanging at an awkward angle where she’d put its strap across her body. Sunmi nods noncommittally, and Hyerim starts packing up. “I don’t know why they didn’t ask you to do it.”
“Me?” She hears Sunmi echo as she zips up her guitar case. “Why on earth would you think that way, Limmie?”
“Because,” she turns around and gestures at the space between them. Sunmi watches her, blinking in what must be confusion. Hyerim doesn’t quite know what she’s trying to say either, so her hand falters and stops in the middle of the gap between them. It’s one she can’t hurdle across without any difficulty. “because look at us. Why wouldn’t they?”
Sunmi gapes at her. For a long moment Hyerim wonders if she should feel angry at the fact that she can’t understand. Does Sunmi think she did weights and yoga and ate tofu salads because she liked it? Sunmi’s weight hovers naturally in the range that Hyerim has to give half her life to attain. It is so unfair, she thinks, but yet she can’t hate anyone. It is just her, Hyerim realises, and suddenly she feels so stupid.
“Sorry, Mimi.” She mumbles, and Sunmi stares at her for a while more before suddenly standing, her shirt sliding back down, and pulling her into a tight hug. Her perfume is a light, flowery scent, and Hyerim lets herself be hugged. “Didn’t mean it.”
“Stop apologising for things you don’t have to,” she says and Hyerim doesn’t answer, “don’t do that.”
But it’s very difficult. It’s tough.
Chanyeol broke up with his girlfriend three weeks after Valentine’s Day. Nothing to be ashamed of, really, except that she was a trainee and then quit before she left the country two days after the break up. Clean enough. Chanyeol sat on the edge of his bed and wondered if he should mope. It took ten minutes before he decided that he wouldn’t.
The rest were either out for a quick food run or in the studios. They were releasing their first album in an unspecified number of months—management was always vague because it kept them on their toes—and Chanyeol had finished his last recording a few days ago. Also the day his girlfriend texted him to say that they were over. A modern day Dear John, except less rambly and more environmentally friendly. He kind of understood her: the training wasn’t working out, he didn’t have a lot of time for her, his band was neither very popular nor very unpopular. He understood how the world worked, now that he was immersed in it and had no viable way back.
You chose this, he would think sometimes, and that would be enough to stave off any thoughts of wanting to quit. Besides, weren’t they SM? Though, now that he thought about it, their ratio of investment to returns wasn’t that high. K suffered through a series of non-wins and M—Chanyeol frowned as he ambled to the kitchen, pulled the fridge open, and rummaged—M was actually doing okay. Guess the four Chinese members helped.
He picked out a slice of cheese, wrapped in crinkly plastic, and dug around for soda before remembering that they were on a diet. The cheese in itself was a lucky find. He still tried to look, though, before giving up and slamming the door back shut.
“Don’t keep doing that,” someone said from beside him, and Chanyeol jumped. “You’ll ruin the hinges.”
“Kyungsoo, what the fuck are you doing here?” He yelled and Kyungsoo narrowed his eyes at him before he walked past and got himself a glass of water. “Aren’t you recording?”
“Four,” he said in between long gulps, and Chanyeol turned around to look at the clock. It was only noon. Funny how it felt otherwise. “What are you doing?”
Chanyeol stared down at him. Kyungsoo finished his glass, washed it, and put it up on the rack to dry. Most of the others didn’t do that, preferring to leave their dirty utensils in the sink until their cleaning lady came over every Friday. Chanyeol was guilty of that, but he at least wasn’t as straight-laced as Kyungsoo was. Whatever good did that do?
“I’m hungry.” He avoided the question and Kyungsoo raised an eyebrow. “Got food?”
“Only a muesli bar,” he said and made to walk back to his room, the one he shared with Jongdae because nobody cared much about rooming arrangements when the comeback date was supposedly so near, “I don’t think that’s enough for you.”
“Don’t fucking care,” Chanyeol muttered and tore the packaging off his slice of cheese. Why did it have to be Kyungsoo who was at home with him? If it were Kris he’d at least be more at ease groaning away about the ex who was so ruthlessly efficient at cutting off all loose ends. Chanyeol never liked being that heartless, and Kyungsoo looked to be the type. They were never close, not even as trainees, and as M and K eased back into being one—their team slogan was something even Chanyeol had a hard time putting his heart into—he found himself being drawn to the others instead. Same-aged Kyungsoo was boring and he always looked like he knew everything. He hated it when people were good at that. Why bother, he always wondered, because everybody always has a secret to hide anyway.
Kyungsoo returned with a bar shortly and threw it at him. He caught it with his right hand and ripped it open, biting off more than half of it in his first mouthful. Kyungsoo sat down opposite him and watched. It was awfully quiet, and all he could hear was the rumbling of the fan in someone’s room that they’d forgotten to turn off. Must be Lu Han. He always forgot the small stuff—turning the lights off, his wallet, their door lock passcode. Chanyeol took another bite and finished the bar. Kyungsoo was still watching.
“I broke up with my girlfriend.” He announced, goaded by the urge just to tell someone, even if it was silent Kyungsoo with the all-knowing eyes. “Over text. Is that spineless, or what?”
“If you did it, yeah.” Kyungsoo replied and Chanyeol narrowed his eyes at him. Another thing about Kyungsoo was his excessive bluntness. It didn’t border on rude, like Tao when he wanted to be and acted like he didn’t understand Korean too well as a watertight reason, but it needled.
“She did,” he said and Kyungsoo actually froze for a moment. Chanyeol blinked, before he realised that he could savour the moment of having caught him off guard. The taste of it was surprisingly good on the ego’s tongue. Chanyeol had nothing against Kyungsoo, but really had very little reason to like him that much either. Their team was a microcosm of what their company was—tight on the outside, otherwise on the inside. He didn’t mind, though, not when there was Kris to hang out with. Now he was cool. “Still spineless?”
Kyungsoo looked at him after he’d said it a little too coldly, eyes flashing with something Chanyeol couldn’t be bothered to read. He picked at the muesli bar wrapper, soggy with the too-sweet yogurt topping that had probably melted after too many days in Kyungsoo’s backpack. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Kyungsoo open his mouth, as if to say something preachy in return, but he didn’t.
“Sorry,” was all he said, and Chanyeol watched as he mutely got up and shuffled back into his room. That was it? He stared at the empty spot Kyungsoo left behind, a gaping, yawning feeling at the bottom of his chest, before he kicked the chair away and heard it squeal against the wooden floor.
Then he felt stupid, and put it back into place before their manager could see it and yell at him.
Hyerim checks through her social media accounts as their company van winds through traffic. It’s a game of live-sized knitting, with the van as their needle and the roads as their yarn, almost soothing while they drive out of Seoul. The set is located in Namyangju, not too far away but long enough for her to just check. Hyerim scrolls through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and updates none of them. Sometimes it’s just about seeing who cares enough to tag your handle and write an essay of how they love you. Or hate you. More often than not the negative ones are the ones that stand out the most.
“Sunmi says she’s still envious,” their manager calls from the front seat. Sunmi has the day off and is probably eating fries in front of their television, watching cable and wearing thick sweats. Hyerim doesn’t see why she needs to be. “Also, she has popcorn ready when you get back.”
“I’m on a diet,” Hyerim says and their manager lets out a snort. He’s not the one who bloats up in the morning, she thinks angrily. But he’s also the one who holds her hand and tells her everything will be fine, so it’s tough to stay angry. “No carbs or fried stuff.”
“Go on the popcorn diet,” he suggests and it occurs to Hyerim that it’s usually easier for someone on the outside to say things like that. Imply it’s easy. It never is. They pull into the lot outside the set, converted from a giant warehouse of a shipping company that went bust a decade or so ago. Hyerim looks up at it as she drops herself off from the car, wet drops of half-snow-half-rain splattering on the ground beside her. It looks like an oversized birdhouse.
The assistant editor greets them at the door. It’s been a while since she’s shed the weight, but every time she meets someone new, that little spark of admiration and sometimes envy makes her ego swell, just a bit. It’s good payback for all the bruising it took five years ago. Words cause the worst sort of bruises, the ones that reach deep and turn green and yellow and purple and never go away. The assistant editor has that sort of look in her eyes, and Hyerim smiles the smile that got her number one on Naver’s real time search chart when they came back as a real, legit band and she’d looked at the camera with full intention of shooting to the top.
“We’re so happy to have you here,” she says as she leads them into the set. Wires snake everywhere, and Hyerim steps over them delicately in heels she’s learned to perfect walking in. New Hyerim, she thinks, is the result of perfectly plotted goals. Her body fat percentage is down to ten percent, so who can say that her checklists don’t work? Nobody, that’s who. “Let’s get you started on makeup. Oh, and here’s your rundown! I love your hair, by the way.”
She pulls at the ends, swishy against her jaw. Hyerim keeps the short cut because everyone likes it. “Thank you,” she says with that smile again, and the assistant editor grins at her before disappearing back on set. Her manager goes off with her, and immediately she’s settled in a chair and surrounded by a team brandishing brushes and hair irons. She’s used to it now, but back when she was a newbie, they scared her. Maybe that was why she always got the worst end of the stick for styling. But now, as they spray something in her hair and pull eyeliner across her waterline, she looks good. Took six years to achieve this sort of normalcy in idol-land, but she’s good.
“Your face is so small,” the make up artist coos as she brushes a light dusting of blush on her cheeks, “I love the shape of your face!”
“Really?” She says and the make up artist laughs. It’s funny, because they used to put her face beside the rest and go, look at how square she is. It actually isn’t that funny, but Hyerim tries to keep it that way. Making the whole debut era a fiasco makes it a lot easier to deal with in retrospect. “Thanks, unnie.”
They talk a bit more about her face, mostly the make up artist and not Hyerim, before the hair people come to tousle her hair a bit more. “He’s really good looking,” the hair stylist tells her, his hand running through her long bob, slick and damp, “you two look fabulous together.”
Hyerim looks in the mirror and observes the girl with dark eyes looking back. They’ve done a really good job with the smokey eye makeup and bright red lip. She looks like a rebel. But she’s only Hyerim with a hobby for checklists and PowerPoint presentations on life goals. The magazine readers don’t need to know that, though.
“Who?” She turns around to ask, but the room chatters as the door clicks open. The hair stylist nods in his direction, the Exo member. The really tall one, Hyerim dimly remembers from Jongdae’s last minute pep talk on Katalk, the one she doesn’t quite remember because really, you have to be loyal to M when your friend is in there.
He towers over everyone in the room. His manager trots in behind him, and her manager swoops in to do whatever managers do. In their company it’s easier to see the managers as uncles and older sisters that meddle a lot. So she’s never had a clear idea of what their job scope is like, except that they do protect them. One time Sohee was accidentally mobbed by overenthusiastic fans and their manager managed to extract her without anybody’s feelings getting hurt.
“Sunbae-nim,” he calls out once he’s about three steps away, and Hyerim looks up. Her neck has to crane, and she can feel her brows furrow lightly. Hyerim is never anything short of bright and polite to outsiders. No reason that he should be the first one otherwise. “Let’s work well together today.”
She blinks at his leather jacket and upswept hair. He is really good looking, the way SM likes their idols. If she’d auditioned for them so many years ago, Hyerim is sure that she would have given up the dream on the spot. She’d have become a college student and wow her professors with exquisitely designed PowerPoint presentations. But instead she’s sitting on a chair with a leather backing, torn and scratchy where her bare shoulder touches it, and looking up at Park Chanyeol. He nods slightly at her and then she can hear their junior manager suck in a sharp breath when the edge of his mouth quirks upwards in a smirk that really isn’t one. A smirk disguised as an attractive, harmless smile. It’s cute, the way he tries.
“Let’s,” she says drolly and holds out a hand. She smiles, though, so nobody says anything. He looks like he doesn’t understand what just happened. I’m immune to your wiles, the voice in her head yells a little meanly, but Hyerim jiggles her hand. The senior’s waiting. He blinks once and then immediately shakes it.
Chanyeol pulls at the strap of his leather jacket as they wait for the lighting levels to be finalised. In a corner of the studio his manager is hunched over, shoulders bunched up high and a blue light ghosting his face. He’s probably playing some game, the only free time he’s had in weeks and weeks, and Chanyeol can’t fault him. His eyes dart over to where Woo Hyerim is, current Wonder Girl, guitarist, and icy cold photoshoot partner. She’s smiling for a Polaroid picture, the ones they take and use for footage in the behind-the-scenes video magazines always release to hype things up. A camera is trained on him in the distance—he pretends to look up like it’s by accident, and waves.
“Chanyeol!” Someone yells and he’s ushered back onto the set. It’s a simple one, draped with curtains and ancient-looking furniture. Looks almost like the back room of a retro bookstore, those frequented by hipsters in the Jongno area. Chanyeol knows this because he’s one of them. Jongin, though, appreciates the interior design for real. They don’t bother taking Jongdae or Baekhyun along on these trips, sneaking out of the back gate, grabbing a taxi with caps pressed down so low he has grooves in his forehead when he takes it off.
“Hey,” she says when he approaches. Not so icy after all, he thinks and sits down. The make up artist that has been hovering immediately moves forward to touch up. He’s wearing a shit load of eyeliner today, a look that Baekhyun normally pulls off better. But he snuck a look at himself in the mirror earlier, and it’s not too bad. The wild child look on Hyerim though—he doesn’t remember her looking this way, ever, not from all the research he did on the Internet. “Holding up well?”
The tone of her voice is level. Chanyeol thinks of how the smirk, the smirk, had failed to work earlier. The ends of her lips turn up a little, her make up artist dabbing on more of the blood red lipstick, and he’s hit by a very sudden, almost train-like force of a realisation that he really is a lucky bastard. She’s much better at the smirking game than he is. Again, he thinks as the make up artist fumbles for her eyeliner pot, he doesn’t remember her looking this way. Feeling this way.
“Yes, quite well.” He manages to reply. The Wonder Girls are a bit of a weird subject in SM. Everyone wishes to acknowledge the fact that Girls’ Generation is unbeatable, but once, a long time ago, there was this other group that dominated the girl group scene. To admit this would be tantamount to failure on management’s part, so everyone tiptoes around the giant elephant in the room. But the elephant—or at least one-sixth of it—is here with him in this room, and she’s not the awkward one. “How long more do you think this will take?”
The art director yells, and Chanyeol shifts closer to Hyerim as per the short, blonde woman’s instructions. “I don’t know,” she admits as an assistant rushes forward and readjusts the curtain on their left. The art director yells instructions again. He moves closer and drapes an arm around her shoulders. His fingers touch her bare arm, pale and smooth, and the sensation burns. “Individual shots take less time.”
“Mmm,” he says and he knows it’s rude because he’s a junior and she’s a Wonder Girl, but the photographer is already heaving his camera into position, “let’s make this quick then.”
She angles her face towards him, eyes sultry, already in their sexy, grungy photoshoot mode. Chanyeol feels the edge of his lips quirk up again, in that smile that failed to make any impact. “Sure,” she says in a whisper, and turns around to look straight into the camera. He raises an eyebrow, for his pose or at her words he doesn’t exactly know, when her hand reaches up. She tangles her fingers loosely between his, and there is an explosion of light as the flash goes off.
Well, Chanyeol thinks as the photographer spits out directions at top speed and she slides closer to him, midriff bare and legs in jet black jeans ripped at the knees, he’s one lucky bastard alright.
When Sunye broke the news to them in their Katalk chat group that yes, she was going to get married, Hyerim had run to the bathroom and cried in front of the mirror. It was the uncontrollable, body-wracking kind, and she didn’t know if she felt deep sorrow or joy. It had to be the latter, she told herself afterwards, that finally Sunye was getting the happiness she deserved.
It came to her much later, when she was picking out a dress online, that it was also sorrow of the deepest type. Maybe, she thought, this was the end. This was the end of the Wonder Girls as they knew it. She paid for the dress with her credit card and ignored the text message informing her that a hundred bucks had just been deducted from her account. Curled up on the bed with a pillow, she tried to imagine someone next to her. Hyerim didn’t have an ideal type—those were dreamy. She had personality traits instead, an entire checklist of them. Those worked better than an ideal type. “Ideal” was a word never much associated with the likes of her. She thought hard about it for a long time, and fell asleep without getting an answer.
Later in the month Yeeun gathered them in a cafe, under the guise of buying them cake. Hyerim couldn’t resist cake, even if she was doing yoga and eating tofu salads and losing two pounds a week and gaining muscle strength. She weighed in at the gym every week. Seeing the scale tick downwards was something that inspired euphoria in her. Her Tumblr queue would be so proud. But she couldn’t resist either cake or Yeeun, so she appeared in the Garosu-gil cafe right on time. Pulled off her shades and ordered a latte with soy milk. The barista punched in the order and didn’t recognise her.
They were playing 10cm. Hyerim tapped her fingers along to the light beat, trying to imagine if she could play the chords to the song. It was a silly thought, but she harboured many of those anyway. Her buzzer shook violently and she looked up to see the barista place a large mug on the pick-up counter. She made to stand up, but Yubin swooped in just then and picked it up for her instead. Yubin always did things like that—made her feel welcome when Hyerim knew that she wasn’t really. When she asked Yubin why one day, when she’d enough fool’s courage (ten shots after a tour leg, long bus rides made for good drinking time), all she did was look at her forehead and say, I’ve been here once. It was more than enough for Hyerim.
“Hi love,” Yubin drawled in English as she set the cup down. She’d picked it up from one of their American road managers, a Japanese-American girl with the strongest Southern accent Hyerim had ever heard. “Is Yeeun late? Of course she’s late.”
“That’s not necessarily a given,” Hyerim replied as she sipped at her latte, “but she is.”
Yeeun burst into the cafe ten seconds after she’d said that. Yubin arched an eyebrow, looking every bit as sultry as she did when she was in that one photoshoot with Sunye and Taecyeon, and Hyerim shrugged. Guess she had to take back her words. Yeeun stalked over to where she was and pulled her cap off her head, hair in a frenzy. She still looked good, though.
“Hi,” Yeeun said breathlessly and Hyerim slid the cup over to her wordlessly. She took a long drink, no matter that it was still somewhat hot. Yeeun, when excited, was oblivious to the world. Yubin and Hyerim knew that from months of experience on the American tar roads. Yeeun was the one to get frustrated first, a little angry, a little disappointed at the lack of response. Nobody said excitement had to be of the good kind. But in the end she’d put it all behind her, pulled herself together, and defended the mantle of a Wonder Girl by becoming a singer-songwriter who danced barefoot on stage. That, Hyerim thought, she wouldn’t be able to pull off.
“What’s up?” Yubin said with a small smile. She was the oldest and that afforded her the leeway to indulge them.
“Just came from a meeting with PD-nim,” Yeeun pushed the cup back to Hyerim and said a quick thanks, “girls, we’re doing this.”
Hyerim heard herself finish half a beat behind Yubin. Yeeun looked like she hadn’t heard the confusion in their voices, and flapped a hand. She was wearing a thin gold ring on her index finger, the one that her ex had given her as some hundredth day present. That same ex was now immortalised in the form of Hatfelt’s first studio album. Not that he would know—Yeeun was pretty good at making heartbreak sound universal.
“Sunmi already agreed, because I staked her out in the practice rooms—do you know how hard it is to get to her? She needs to have fixed eating times. Anyway, Sunmi’s agreed, and I hope you two will too!” Yeeun said, her voice a rising tilt. Hyerim blinked. It was like she had said an entire lot of stuff and at the same time, said nothing at all.
“Wait, what, Sunmi?” Yubin frowned and held up a hand. “What’s Mimi agreeing to that we have absolutely no idea about, Yeeun?”
“Playing the bass,” Yeeun said again like it was a given, and Hyerim’s jaw fell slightly slack. The what? “We also have highly recommended instruments for the both of you.”
She caught Yubin’s eye, who now looked like she had the truth dawn on her in a very violent way. In one of those tour buses that smelled like lemon freshener for the leather seats, they had once played a game of decide the next album concept. Hyerim knew that they were very firmly planted in the retro genre, roots deep and sprawling, but Yeeun was adamant that if they wanted to, they could totally be a band. Sohee had laughed at it, Sunye encouraging as always, but Hyerim remembered the streak of determination in Yeeun’s eyes, the one that manifested in the hard setting of the edge of her mouth. And now she had gone and made it a reality.
“PD-nim recommends the guitar for you, Limmie.” Yeeun informed her very practically. Beside her Yubin was still in disbelief, her hand on her crossbody like she was going to leave any moment. But Hyerim knew that Yubin wouldn’t. In the end Yeeun was going to convince them and they would all be in this together. It had been that way in the tour bus with the lemon freshener, and it was going to be the same now.
She felt that sort of conviction in her bones. Even more so when Yeeun bought them cake and Yubin stopped being in shock long enough to seriously consider the idea of her mastering the drums. Hyerim looked at her fingers, unaccustomed to the dexterity a guitarist would need. She wasn’t good, not by a long shot, at all the things an idol was supposed to excel at, but as she looked at Yeeun, digging into the cake and hair flailing animatedly at the idea of a Wonder Band, she felt it.
That sort of conviction that she could for once, build something out of herself.
It’s downtime for Exo.
Rare, but still downtime, and Chanyeol makes the most of it by staying up to scour through the Internet for Wonder Girls articles, reading them, and waking up at noon the next day. He stares up at the ceiling for a while, his legs hanging over the edge of his bed at an awkward angle. Jongdae isn’t in the room—he’s back in Siheung for vacation. Funny how going back to your hometown is considered a holiday, he thinks. It’s quiet outside, so Sehun’s probably not up either, or else he’d be perched in front of the television, fingers jabbing away very vigorously at a Playstation controller and TV volume turned up to the loudest. He apparently likes it when people can hear whatever he’s playing within a five mile radius.
His laptop must have fallen to the ground when he fell asleep, and Chanyeol hangs over the precipice of his super-single to haul it back in. The browser’s still on the page where he’d pulled up their magazine photoshoot and interview. Hyerim’s face, perfect eyeliner and that red lip he’s had in his head for weeks on end now, stare back at him. Her eyes are so round. A rocker rabbit.
“You’ll strain your back,” someone points out from the doorway, and Chanyeol is startled enough that he joins his laptop on the ground. The carpet is hot from the heating, emanating from the depths of their expensive high-rise apartment. They’d moved another time in the past year. There really isn’t a pressing need to room with each other anymore, but Jongdae stays with him apparently for loyalty’s sake.
“Hyung,” he groans, and Yixing blinks in reply. “Don’t scare me like that!”
“I’ve been standing here for quite a while,” Yixing shrugs and says. “I made breakfast. Lunch. Brunch. Food, anyway.”
Chanyeol watches him turn and walk off, before looking back at his screen, where Hyerim is still watching with those eyes. That red lip—what colour is it, exactly? He thinks about it for a split second, before pushing his laptop shut and climbing up to go get some breakfast. Out of all of them, Yixing cooks the most decently when Kyungsoo isn’t around (often) or in the mood to (also often). He pops his head into Sehun’s room to see that he is, indeed, still lumped under his blanket, snoring intermittently.
“Sausages and rice,” Yixing announces when he pulls a chair out at the dining table. It screeches and Chanyeol flinches. Yixing doesn’t even bat an eyelid. He looks exhausted, dark circles evident under his eyes, so Chanyeol is grateful that he even has anything to eat at this hour. “Help yourself.”
“Where’s everyone else?” Chanyeol asks as he reaches for the ketchup bottle. Yixing shrugs and begins to count them off: the Gyeonggi kids Baekhyun, Jongdae, and Kyungsoo have all gone back home, Jongin is out with his elder sister, Junmyeon is possibly playing golf with his dad, and Minseok is just out. Somewhere. Even Yixing doesn’t know. He nods, making a face, and starts shovelling rice.
“Why is Hyerim on your laptop screen?” Yixing’s voice is flat, the way their voices are after forty eight hours of music video filming. Sort of sounds like a deflated horn, really, but Chanyeol chokes and grabs his glass of water.
“Why is Hyerim on your laptop screen?” Yixing repeats again patiently as he coughs and hacks. “Do you need time to think it through? Hope it has nothing to do with late night, um, needs.”
“Hyung, come on!” Chanyeol protests in outrage. Yixing stares at him for a moment, before he has the cheek to laugh. It’s a nice change from the flatness of his voice. Yixing hasn’t sounded this alive in ages, straddling the flight routes between Korea and China like he’s on a pogo stick. He’s on two Chinese variety shows now, a fixed presence that requires such aerial acrobatics. Chanyeol can’t say that he’s not grateful. They all thought that Yixing would leave, now that there was no one to anchor him down, but he stayed. He’s staying, Chanyeol thinks, and that pretty much seals his loyalty to Yixing for life.
When they started losing members—one at first, then two, three all in quick succession—Chanyeol was one of them, he figures at least, who felt the betrayal the most keenly. He’s always been about doing the job. The Chinese members were supposed to help them get out there, be the Chinese element that would allow them to break through in their homeland. As it turned out they did, but it also backfired against the rest of them, the non-Chinese speaking, extremely Korean them.
Sometimes Chanyeol does a quick search—Kris, Lu Han, Tao—and the results scroll on endlessly. He glares at their pictures sometimes, wanting to dredge up something, anything that would fuel his desire to do even better. Instead he sits there, glaring, and realising that shit, it doesn’t matter anymore. Even his pseudo-public feat of unfollowing Tao on Instagram had just amounted to him sneaking out to buy a bottle of soju and finishing it on his own inside their shared walk-in wardrobe. Jongdae found him there later, buzzed and salmon-red in the face, and pulled him back to bed.
“Come on,” his voice gets a bit smaller and Yixing gives him a look. He’s not lying, Chanyeol reasons, not entirely, because even if his intentions aren’t anything gross and inappropriate, he has been thinking of her incessantly for a while now. “I’m not, like, that gross.”
“How do I know that for sure?” Yixing says very seriously and stabs at a piece of sausage with his chopsticks. Chanyeol closes his eyes in defeat and keeps them that way when he hears Yixing laugh again. When he opens them again, Yixing has finished half the plate of sausages. A car horns very loudly outside, but the shrill sound dissipates in a few seconds. Chanyeol’s reminded of the many times he’s been deafened by sheer screaming, the way it messes up the in-ears and causes them to shriek. It’s all part and parcel of the idol life, he thinks. At least he’s never been physically hurt. Yixing pushes the plate of sausages towards him and places a hand on his back.
“Do you, um, know her?” He asks as he dips a sausage into more ketchup. Chanyeol doesn’t even bother trying to hide anything, mostly because Yixing, with all his lack of keen observation skills, still manages to know everything in the end. He has this uncanny ability to get information out of people, like truth serum in the form of mild looks.
Yixing begins to shake his head, before pausing and nodding. Then he reverses the process. “Not really,” he puts his chopsticks down and angles his fingers together, “I heard she’s part of China-line.”
“Aren’t you China-line?” Chanyeol asks with a little more exasperation that he would have thought, and Yixing gives him an odd look. “I mean, you’re… Chinese?”
“Hyerim is Korean,” Yixing points out, “and anyway, China-line’s not really my thing. I mean it was more of T—”
He halts and the both of them look away at their bowls for a moment in commiseration, before looking back up at each other and pretending that it never happened. Yixing clears his throat and Chanyeol slides the ketchup bottle to the other side of the table. The thing about the three departed—as Chanyeol calls them in his head, Jongdae and Kyungsoo refusing to partake in this—is that they’re still here, somehow. Lingering on in names they can’t quite form with their tongues anymore. In fact, Chanyeol thinks, they’re not the angriest ones. Once Minseok mentioned by complete accident Lu Han’s name, and their assistant manager suddenly stood up, strode out, and slammed the door shut so hard that the edge chipped itself off the doorframe.
“Why are you so interested in her?” Yixing asks like he’s talking about the weather and the quality of the new fingerprint activated door lock, and Chanyeol takes a minute to consider before shrugging. He doesn’t really know either. Attraction sometimes works in a lot of different ways. “She isn’t your type.”
“I don’t have a type,” he answers reflexively and Yixing lets out a snort of disdain. Chanyeol can’t say anything, exactly because the band has seen a string of girlfriends in succession. Okay, so maybe he does have a type, but people change. Types change. Chanyeol can change too. “I seriously don’t have a type. A fixed type. Who has a fixed type anyway?”
Yixing automatically looks the way of the room opposite him, the one that Kyungsoo shares sometimes with Sehun when he’s being pertinent. Fair point. Chanyeol accepts that gracefully, and finishes the last of his rice. If their trainer could see him now, it’d be hell at their next session. But he’s hungry, and God knows how much he just wants to eat simple carbs for once. It’s the same with Hyerim, he reasons, that sometimes you just want something different. The phrasing sounds off in his head, though.
“Do you think you could,” Chanyeol does something weird with his hands and Yixing is nice enough not to laugh, “set me up on something?”
“I told you I’m not in China-line,” Yixing says and yawns. Bummer. Chanyeol stares at Yixing for a while, willing him to take that back and say that despite everything, he’s still Chinese and China-line will accede to his request of a not-a-date-date anyway. But the quality that has made Yixing stay—loyalty? stubbornness?—is also the one that refuses him any reneging on his words.
“You should ask Jongdae. They’re friends.”
Jia tells a long and complicated story of how she came to make this call to Hyerim:
“So Zhou Mi texted me to say that he’s been tasked by Donghae, who was asked by Sehun, who was assigned by Yixing—to ask you if you’d like to meet more of Exo at our next meeting. I think whoever asked Yixing to ask Sehun to ask Donghae to ask Zhou Mi to ask me to ask you has lots of patience, because man, this is one game of telephone to be playing. Why couldn’t Yixing just go to me directly? He has my number. Hyerim?”
“Yeah?” Hyerim says while scrolling through her Twitter feed. She isn’t posting anything today either—just the routine check. The photoshoot with Chanyeol brought out the worst in a lot of people but strangely enough she isn’t affected by users with unintelligible handles telling her to fuck off and possibly expire in many, different ways. Hyerim’s past all of that now. But she still isn’t going to update, so her last tweet’s going to be the one linking everyone to the W Korea site. Consider this a hearty middle finger to all of the people clamouring for her hypothetical death. “I don’t know, does he have your number?”
“Why wouldn’t he?” Jia sounds exasperated. “Anyway, yay or nay?”
“Is Jongdae going?” She asks and Jia launches into an explanation of how it’s dangerous because he really wants to keep this relationship going and he can’t risk anything that will expose it. Jia sounds a little scornful but Hyerim knows deep down inside they all envy Liyin a bit. A lot, for her. It takes incredible luck to be the kind of person Jongdae would go to such lengths for. “Okay, so no, he isn’t.”
“The SM boys are cute,” Jia admits ruefully, “no harm going.”
“Remember that one guy, what’s his name, Kr—”
“Okay, sorry.” Jia cuts her off, and Hyerim actually manages to laugh. The thing is, she isn’t averse to making friends. Not really, unless they belong to a company that actively encourages the illusion of ownership over idols. Hyerim has seen the people around her date, and those that get involved with SM’s lot (Jia, really) don’t usually turn out that well. Jongdae is the one exception, the kid her cousin knew from way back and introduced to her at a baptism party. Hyerim frowns, closes the Twitter tab, and starts going through Facebook. “Just, you know, you should really have fun. The SM kids are fun. Wasn’t Chanyeol nice to you?”
Hyerim scrolls past a picture of Sunye’s daughter, grinning at the camera, and presses Like. Her Facebook account is mostly private, though she knows when fans sometimes try to hack into it. The last time was when W Korea started posting teaser pictures of her and Chanyeol’s photo shoot.
“He tried flirting,” she says and Jia immediately pounces on the opportunity to convince her of how this really is a sign of his ability to hang out with everyone. Hyerim is about to say yes just to get Jia off her back when she realises that there’s no way Jia would know this much about Chanyeol—M, despite everyone keeping mum about it, is the group to be with. China-line loyalty, all that. “Wait, is Chanyeol the one asking?”
Jia pauses, and Hyerim can hear the TV over at her side. “Um,” she begins and it doesn’t take long before she breaks down and confesses. Jia can’t lie, not by a long shot. Hyerim sometimes thinks it’s insane how people on the Internet can think that blind items about in-group bullying are about Jia. Jia’s the kind to cry watching Nicholas Sparks movies, even when they’re re-running on cable. “Zhou Mi said not to say, I’m sorry.”
“That’s kind of dumb,” she points out and Jia coughs, “he really should have asked me himself.”
“I just need an answer,” Jia pleads, and Hyerim sighs. “We’re just going to hang out, I promise.”
Hyerim scrolls all the way back up to the top of her Facebook timeline and deliberates on posting something. Jia is waiting on the line, her TV still playing loudly in the background. Now that she’s listening intently, Rachel McAdams is the one talking, about love and its selflessness probably. All Nicholas Sparks movies are the same, and she knows because she cries at them too. Re-runs included.
Hyerim stares at the blue Facebook logo and hears herself give in.
Everyone trode carefully in the dorms now. Chanyeol’s way of dealing with the departure was to lock himself in his room and play Starcraft ceaselessly, even after hours of filming at the TV stations and not being very good at it. He couldn’t imagine what the M members were feeling like, and he didn’t dare to ask either. His mother called to comfort him a few days after the official announcement, and Chanyeol felt a strange sense of detachment while she spoke. He didn’t need the words that much. If he could give them to Jongdae, or Yixing, or Minseok, or Lu Han, or Tao, he would.
There was a knock on his door one night when he was engrossed in macromanaging his forces, and he ignored it until someone tapped him on the shoulder and he jumped so violently that he accidentally ripped his headphones out of its jack.
“What the fuck,” he yelled and Kyungsoo closed the door shut with a quiet click, “Kyungsoo, what in the actual fuck?”
“Sorry,” he offered and Chanyeol glared at him so hard that he saw purple spots. When he turned back to the game it was already over, and the lines of GGGGGGGGGGGG that didn’t stop popping up pissed him off so much that he slammed his laptop shut and flung himself on his bed.
“What is it?” He remembered to ask after a while, and turned to look at Kyungsoo, who was perched on the other bed and looking down at his phone. Today had been a relatively short day for K, and everyone had chosen unanimously to stay at home. Junmyeon was cloistered in their manager’s bedroom, probably trying to make reason of everything by talking it out. Or he could be receiving instructions on what to say the next time a reporter called.
“I ordered chicken,” Kyungsoo said simply and pointed to the paper container on the floor. It smelled so good that Chanyeol couldn’t will himself to bury his face in his pillow again. So he slid down and tore in. “Thought you’d like some, since you didn’t eat lunch.”
“I’m surprised hyung even let you,” Chanyeol said as he pulled away a strip of meat from the drumstick he was working on. They were promoting, so busy that they hardly had time to eat anything but rolls of kimbap wrapped in aluminium foil. Chicken was a luxury that they ironically had their faces emblazoned on containers for. Chanyeol stared at the betrayer’s face, smiling so brightly like nothing was wrong, and tore the paper right down the middle.
“He didn’t,” Kyungsoo looked up from his phone, “I had them meet me at the gate. Used my own credit card.”
Chanyeol paused, and Kyungsoo looked down at him for a moment, before turning back to his phone. He was texting really quickly, the light of the screen dappled on his eyes and nose. Chanyeol had never looked closely at Kyungsoo before, not even when they were all struggling after debut, trying to match up to the hype that they’d been thrown into. Now Kyungsoo just looked normal. Okay. Like he was sympathetic, someone Chanyeol could consider a good colleague.
“Thanks?” He mumbled and Kyungsoo nodded like it was nothing, not looking up from his phone. Chanyeol finished two more wings before he really asked what he wanted to. “Why?”
“Why what?” Kyungsoo peered down at him and put his phone away. It buzzed again but he didn’t pick it up. Chanyeol studied his face for a moment, the way his eyes were widened not because he was doing it for a variety show reaction, but because it was just him. Kyungsoo very rarely did well at variety because he couldn’t fake it. Their manager had yelled at him a couple of times for it, until they appeared on Weekly Idol and everyone decided that his deadpan was hilarious. “Why buy the chicken? Dunno, thought you needed it.”
“Oh,” Chanyeol wiped his fingers on a napkin he found in the depths of the plastic bag stamped with the logo of the fried chicken company they were currently endorsing. Very soon they would be scrambling to remove the face of the betrayer on their paper boxes. He wondered how much that would cost. “Glad Baekhyun isn’t here to grab any, then.”
“I bought this for you.” Kyungsoo said, looking at him weirdly. “You didn’t have to share in the first place.”
But why? Kyungsoo’s answer opened up a whole other bouquet of odd possibilities that Chanyeol didn’t want to think about. Why would Kyungsoo, the member of his boy band that he worked hard to try and treat as part of the wallpaper, be so nice to him? Chanyeol stared at the horrible patchwork bed cover that Baekhyun insisted on using for months in a row, and wondered.
“I wasn’t the closest to him, so I probably don’t get what you’re feeling right now all that keenly.” Kyungsoo said after a long silence, and shrugged. Chanyeol listened without wanting to open his mouth and be a smartass for once. It was funny, because no matter how much he tried to avoid it, it always came back as this in the end—they didn’t have the sort of relationship Chanyeol thought they did. It was particularly difficult to swallow, especially when he’d been cut off on virtually every form of contact. He could no longer message Kris on Katalk because he had been blocked. It was a mind-numbing blow, a reminder that Chanyeol had over-thought the boundaries of their relationship. “But you’re my bandmate. My friend. Guess that’s enough reason to do something.”
“But I—” Chanyeol’s throat was unnaturally parched and he sounded like he’d been yelling for ages. Maybe he really had, just that no one else could hear. And here Kyungsoo was, cross-legged now on Baekhyun’s bed and extending an olive branch that wasn’t necessary, because Chanyeol had been such an asshole to him.
“Yeah I know. Nobody said boy band members had to like each other.” Kyungsoo shrugged and placed his phone atop his thigh. It lit up again. “I didn’t come in expecting to be best friends with everybody. But even strangers can be kind to each other, and I consider you my friend, Chanyeol. That really is more than enough reason for me to be nice.”
Chanyeol kept quiet and gaped. Kyungsoo’s phone buzzed again and he could see the faintest smile on the edge of his lips. It was odd, because Chanyeol’s mind was turning to mush. Clearly it couldn’t cope with the realisation that after all these years of treating Kyungsoo like an annoying colleague who didn’t entertain the bosses but got a bigger yearly bonus than he did, Chanyeol was a friend to him. He opened his mouth, expecting words to tumble out, but they didn’t.
“Besides,” Kyungsoo said, “my girlfriend likes you. Says you rap well. More reason.”
“You have a girlfriend?” That was enough to get his mouth working again. Chanyeol could hear his voice rise an octave. “You have a what?”
“Don’t play till too late,” Kyungsoo squarely ignored the question and got off the bed, scooping up the remnants of the fried chicken packaging and shoving them into the plastic bag. Chanyeol trained his eyes on him and repeated himself one more time. Again Kyungsoo ignored him.
“We have a schedule at eight tomorrow morning. The best way to deal with things is often to just move forward. Night, Chanyeol.”
He stared at Kyungsoo all the way until the door clicked back shut.