“So tell us about a Valentine’s Day memory…”
Jo Yihwan realized too late he had let out an audible groan—live on internet broadcast, no less—which was quickly picked up by the female host interviewing them.
“Jo Yihwan-ssi… you seem to have remembered something horrible.”
“The lack of a Valentine, maybe,” Steven Bae interjected. Beside him, the youngest member of East Genesis Project, Song Minchan, stifled a laugh. Yihwan fought the urge to land a smack on the back of Steven’s head, but flashed the drummer an incensed grin anyway. I’ll get you later, you pr—
“Let me rephrase the question then,” the host said, laughing softly. Her gaze flitted from Yihwan to Steven to Minchan. “If you had a Valentine, which EG Project song would you dedicate to that person?”
Steven chose Firefly Dreams from the band’s debut album while Minchan went with Homecoming from their last one. Yihwan pretended to give the question much thought, but really, he only had one song in mind.
“Mine would probably be Without Fail, from our second album,” he replied and caught the knowing glances of his band members. Steven, the bastard, even went so far as clearing his throat like he was about to divulge a well-kept secret.
. . . . .
Valentine’s Day, 2012
“Please tell me you’re not planning some cheesy Valentine’s Day event.”
A knitted gray scarf masked the smile on Yihwan’s face as he recalled his girlfriend, Han Haera’s apprehensive tone over the phone last night. She had a grand total of four events to attend today, she said, and sneaking out for a date was completely out of the question.
“You underestimate me. Why is that?”
“I don’t. I know what you’re capable of, and that scares me.”
“I’m not careless.”
Haera knew that too. Thanks to Yihwan’s careful planning (and the reliable heavy-tinted windows of their cars), not a single paparazzi photo of them floated around the Internet in these ten months they’ve been dating. The band leader was confident the news outlets had nothing on them, else they’d have been exposed a long time ago. A relationship between a rising actress and an up-and-comer in the music industry was as attractive to paparazzi and entertainment journalists as blood was to sharks after all.
“I’ll figure something out.”
“Please don’t get into trouble.”
“You’d still like me if I do.”
“We’ll see about that.”
Clutching a small bouquet of white roses in one hand, Yihwan took a few steps forward when the line in front of him moved. He was still a long way away from the entrance of the jewelry store Haera was having a meet-and-greet event in, but he couldn’t really complain. This was his idea of a Valentine’s Day surprise after all. Besides, his height allowed him a perfect view of her through the shop window, and that was enough for the meantime.
(He had things to say about the unnecessary perm her stylist gave her today, though. It made Haera look older. Was that today’s concept?)
“Numbers 320 to 340, please stand by!” a female event organizer who stood by the front door announced, disrupting his train of thought. “Numbers 320 to 340—”
Yihwan glanced at the piece of paper that had his number on it. 548.
“O baek sa ship pal,” he mumbled under his breath and wondered how much longer it would take before number 548 could get to the end of the line and meet Han Haera. Maybe another hour? Two? “O sa pal,” he murmured repeatedly, grinning when an acrostic poem crossed his mind:
I only love you, even though my arm hurts read like lyrics Steven would write, but Yihwan borrowed a pen from the lady in front of him and wrote the poem on the piece of paper anyway. As more silly poems crossed his mind, he decided to write something decent for Haera instead as an additional Valentine’s Day gift.
“I’m sorry but can I borrow this a little while longer?” he asked the owner of the pen.
“Sure. Oh! You even bought flowers for Haera!” the lady noted, her gaze falling on the bouquet he held. “You must be a big fan.”
“Ah.” Yihwan’s cheeks warmed under the cold February air. If he hadn’t pulled his scarf up to his nose, he was certain the lady would’ve seen him blush. “Yes, I am.”
“Me too. She’s so pretty. And she can really act, you know? Not like other actresses out there who only look pretty for the camera and don’t do much else.”
“And she does charity work too, bless her heart,” another fan commented, joining the conversation.
Yihwan could only nod, unsure if he should offer his own biased opinions. That Haera could cook a mean budae jjigae wasn’t exactly public knowledge, was it? And saying she’s an excellent kisser was probably not something he should put out there.
“Gong Yoo would be a perfect match for her.”
“Isn’t he a little too old, though? Someone a little younger like Kim Soohyun would be better.”
As Haera’s two female fans jumped from one topic of conversation to another, Yihwan willed himself to focus on the task he’d decided on. He almost got upset when the topic of “suitable leading men” evolved to “suitable boyfriends.”
Shutting the noise out, he let the pen bleed words, rhymes that flooded his head every time he raised his eyes and saw Haera’s smiling face from the shop window. The words came to him like a bullet train that he had to dig his pockets for something else to write on. But he only had a bunch of receipts, an empty gum wrapper, and…
- Dorm keys in pocket of your navy blue coat.
- New pairs of shoes arrived at the dorm. Allocate equally please.
- Injoo will pick up laundry tomorrow.
A sigh of relief escaped Yihwan when he found their road manager Fi’s laundry list of reminders tucked in one of his pockets. Fi often wrote up reminders for each of them and snuck the notes in the pockets of their clothes just in case they forget to check their always-exploding phone inbox.
Thanks, Fi, he thought as he scribbled furiously on the piece of paper. You’re a lifesaver.
. . . . .
Haera’s eyes sparkled in recognition when she locked gazes with #548 who slid his number on the table bottom-side-up.
“Sweet of you to write me a poem,” she said, flashing Yihwan a smile he knew was for him and him alone. “Flowers too? Oh, thank you.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” he greeted, placing the bouquet on the table. Tucked in between the blooms was a recycled piece of paper carrying the rest of his thoughts. He wondered if she’d mind that the reverse side had another girl’s handwriting on it. Maybe not. Haera knew Fi, after all.
“Happy Valentine’s Day to you too.”
Yihwan noted streaks of black ink on Haera’s hands as she signed a poster of herself flaunting an exquisite gold necklace around her delicate neck. It was regrettable that these few seconds could be the only Valentine’s Day memory he’d have with her this year, but they will have to do. There will be other days, he assured himself. Days he wouldn’t have to share her with the rest of the world.
Haera reached for Yihwan’s hand as she handed him the signed poster. “You must have been waiting long. Are you cold?”
“I’m all right.”
She pulled a hot pack from her coat pocket and pressed it into his palm. The gesture prompted some whispering among the fans in line who have seen it, but Haera didn’t seem fazed. Yihwan wasn’t, either. He relished the warmth that travelled from the inside of his palm up to his arm, then to his chest, where it settled in and made itself feel at home.
“Stay warm, then.”
“I’m sure this poem will do its job.”
“There’s more where that came from.”
Her lips turned up in a knowing smirk. “I’d love to read them too.”
“Next, please!” an event organizer called out, signalling the end of this Valentine “date.” Yihwan squeezed Haera’s hand and gave her a bow before being ushered away by one of her managers. He could swear he saw a fleeting “Hey, do I know you?” look on the manager’s face when their eyes met, but Yihwan kept his head down and said nothing on his way out.
. . . . .
“I’m not a fan of surprises / or the way you wear your hair / I don’t believe in second chances / or that the universe is fair…”
“It’s been a while since we performed this song, hasn’t it?” Minchan asked, chin perched over Yihwan’s shoulder. They were monitoring the broadcast they did hours ago and tried to answer as many fan questions as they could on their channel’s message board.
“But without fail, you / You’ve turned my world around / Without fail, you’ve / Made me wish I could drown…”
“Shame,” the youngest band member mumbled. “I liked this song a lot.”
Yihwan’s phone rang, distracting him from the broadcast they were watching. He left the tablet in Minchan’s hands and stepped out of their studio to take the call.
“To what do I owe this rare phone call?”
He heard laughter on the other line, and the air around him felt warm all of a sudden. “I chanced upon your broadcast today, is all.”
“Sure you’re not stalking me, noona?”
“Please. You’re not the only celebrity with a dedicated channel, you know.”
“Anyway, you played that song… and I thought to call and say hello.”
Yihwan leaned his back against the wall and smiled realizing the sentiment wasn’t entirely lost on Haera. “Okay, then. Hello is fine.”
‘Hello’ may be perfect, he thought. For what, he wasn’t so sure.
Three minutes and forty-two seconds later, Haera had to go. She told him it was nice to hear his voice again, to hear that song again after a long while. She said listening to it made her happy. A tiny part of Yihwan regretted not being able to say he felt the same way too.
Minchan was still monitoring when he returned to the studio. Steven sat there with him, picking out fan questions they should answer.
“So…” Yihwan began, chucking his phone on the couch before plopping down carelessly beside Steven. “What do you think about including Without Fail in our next tour’s repertoire?”
. . . . .
written & composed by Jo Yihwan
EG Project / Sophomore Year (2012)
How do you do it?
How is it possible
That I hear my breath catch
And my lips can’t hide a smile
When I’m around you?
You must be magic
And I must be dreaming
Hearing you say “We’re a match,”
And “Can you stay with me a while?”
And “Do you like me too?”
I’m not a fan of surprises
Or the way you wear your hair
I don’t believe in second chances
Or that the universe is fair
But without fail, you
You’ve turned my world around
Without fail, you’ve
Made me wish I could drown
In your eyes, in your arms
In your voice, in your charms
Exception to the rule
A one in a million anomaly
The universe was kind to me
Because without fail, you
You’ve turned my world around
Without fail, you’ve
Made me wish I could drown
In your laughter, your kiss
In your love, this bliss
The short story "548" first appeared in The Reading Belles, as part of a #romanceclass Say Feels special in February of 2017. Thanks for encouraging us to write this, April! Yihwan sends his love. <3