Chang Min (TVXQ) as Max Shim Chang Min
Jeon Ji Ae (Goong) as Genevieve Sung Rae Ru
Yamashita Tomohisa (Nobuta o Produce) as Yumegashi Akira
Credits to Ying Ling for helping me proof read!
Credits to LunarGaze for the poster!
Chang Min… that’s what we called him. He was one of us; awkward, studious teens, until he found fame. His name was now Max. Max was the name he was christened with when he joined the in-crowd. Since he joined them, he never turned back. When we walked past in the hallways, he wouldn’t meet our gaze, and even when I sat beside him on the bus, he would keep looking out of the window or pretend to be asleep, just so he wouldn’t have to speak to me.
He no longer spoke to me or called me. He no longer called me ‘Sugar Rae’, his nickname for me back when we studied together almost everyday. By the way, my name is Rae Ru, Sung Rae Ru.
A year ago, we were freshmen in high school. Chang Min and I transferred into Pil Song High from different provinces. We stood side by side in front of the class on our first day, and that was the first thing we had in common.
“Class, this is Shim Chang Min and Sung Rae Ru,” the homeroom teacher announced. “Rae Ru,” he said as he scratched his head. “Is that Chinese?”
“Nae,” I said. “My father is of Chinese descent,” I explained. “Sung Rae Ru-imnida. Pangapseumnida,” I said and I bowed to the class.
“Shim Chang Min-imnida,” Chang Min said as he bowed. “Please feed me well,” he added, and the class burst into laughter.
As he straightened up, I could see the twinkle in his eyes, he was smiling, and when he smiled, his eyes became uneven; his right eye becomes smaller than the left one. With him around, I guessed that there wouldn’t be a dull moment.
“Rae Ru,” Min Ju tapped me on my arm with her pen. “Have you found the answer to 8.1?”
“Huh?” I mumbled, coming out of my stupor caused by excessive reminiscing.
“8.1… are you doing your sums or are you day dreaming?” Min Ju sighed.
“Oh… mianhae,” I smiled sheepishly. “I’ll do it now.”
In a few minutes of furiously scribbling the calculations, I found the answer.
“3.843,” I proclaimed proudly.
“Ya… how did you do that?” she said as she grabbed my notepad away from me and studied the calculations I’d just made.
In the past, Chang Min was the one who came up with the answers. I could never beat him. He was still at top of the class. I wonder when he actually found the time to study, with all the time he spent going to the noraebang, the movies, the amusement park and all those activities he had with his new crew.
We’re still in the same class, but he sat in the back now, where all the cool kids sat, while I sat in the middle with Min Ju. We were in-between-ers; not exactly the teachers’ pets, but still good students. You could also call us the faces in the crowd, the people who just make the room look like it was filled, and we played no important role. I was content to remain a ‘filler’… a face in the crowd… but fate had it that I wouldn’t remain unknown until I graduated.
In Chang Min’s crew, there weren’t just guys, there were girls. The guys were pretty alright, but the girls, they were possessive. They were possessive of their status, and possessive of the guys in Inki. The crew called themselves Inki, which meant popular, and it did suit them, no matter how big-headed it seemed. The girl who lead Inki was Na Hae Mu. Not a very glamorous name when you’re the leader of the pop crowd, so she called herself Ashley, which suited her. She always reminded me a little of Song Hye Kyo and Jessica Alba put together.
Ever since Han Tae Ik, the previous leader of Inki graduated, Chang Min, now known as Max, was the unofficial leader of Inki. There was never a public announcement, but people started to regard him as such, and since there were no objections from within Inki, it meant that he was the leader for real. Ashley was rumored to be his girlfriend since she was the girl leader, but no one had ever seen them holding hands or doing couple stuff.
No ‘common’ girl dated a guy in Inki, and same went for the girls in Inki. They either remained single, or dated each other within the group. If there was a ‘commoner’ someone wanted to date, he or she would have to first be converted into a member of Inki, and it was no simple process. The person would have to go through a series of tests and inquisitions and finally, if successful, would have to undergo a makeover of their image and attitude so that they fit in.
I remembered when Chang Min first joined us. He was adorable, and sweet, and no one could deny that he was good looking, despite being awkwardly tall, but as the year progress, the awkwardness went away, and Chang Min became one of the school’s most sought after heartthrobs. That was when Han Tae Ik recruited Chang Min into Inki.
“Sugar Rae…” Chang Min sang into the phone when he called me that fateful day. It was almost the end of our first year at Pil Song High. “Guess what?” he said.
“What?” I laughed when I heard his voice. The way he’d croon his nickname for me, it always made me smile.
“I’ve been asked to join Inki,” he said excitedly.
“What?” I exclaimed.
“You just said that,” he laughed.
“I know…” I rolled my eyes. “Why would they ask you to join Inki?”
“He said that I was meant to be part of their crew,” Chang Min said.
“You said ‘No.’, right? You know what would happen if you say ‘Yes.’, don’t you?”
“I haven’t given him an answer, and what’s wrong with being part of Inki?”
“Chang Min!!! They’re nothing but spoilt, lazy brats!” I exclaimed.
“You don’t even know them,” he said.
“And you do?”
“Tae Ik seems nice,” he said.
“That’s cos he wants you to be one of them. You’re not a brat, you don’t belong with them.”
“Then who do I belong with?” he asked me.
“With us,” I said. “The studious, nerdy bunch.”
“What if I don’t want to be studious and nerdy for life? I wanna have some fun,” he said.
“They have fun all the time, and they never study. Do you want to ruin your future just for a place with the in-crowd?” I asked him.
“I’ll still study,” he said. “I’d never neglect that.”
“You wouldn’t have time,” I said.
“I’ll make time,” he insisted. “Why are you being so unsupportive?”
“I just don’t want to see your future go down the tubes,” I said.
“Or are you just jealous you’ve not been invited?” he said in a sing-song voice.
“You heard me…” he continued in that annoying tone.
“You’re crazy Chang Min. Why would I be jealous that you want to join a group of brats?”
“Come on… admit it…” he laughed, and I started to get more annoyed.
“Quit it, Chang Min,” I said.
“Don’t be upset, Sugar Rae. I’ll get you in once I’m part of the crew.”
“I don’t want to be part of the crew.”
“I know you do, you just don’t wanna admit it,” he laughed.
That last line did it for me. Without a word, I hung up on him, and that was the last time we spoke.
“So are we going ahead with the plan?” Ashley asked me.
“Can we not do this?” I said. “Can’t we just graduate peacefully from high school?”
“We have to… it’s tradition!” she insisted.
Every year, the graduating senior leader in Inki has to pick a cause. No… it’s not to donate to AIDS victims or visit the orphanage. Every year, they’d pick a student to convert him or her into someone worthy of being a member of Inki. It didn’t matter which year the person would be from, but the fun was to take what Inki defined as a ‘lost cause to all’ and give the person a full makeover, just as they’d done for me. Whether the process was cruel or kind, it depended on the leader of that year, and this year, it was Ashley and I.
I didn’t know until I became a full-fledged member that I was Tae Ik’s cause. But I was far from lost. He picked me not because I looked like a ‘lost cause’, but because if he thought that if he didn’t, I would eventually be one.
“You have potential to be popular,” he told me. I was about to tell him that I was already popular but he beat me to it. “You’re already popular, but not in the way Inki is. You’re loved by all, but are you revered? A member of Inki would be revered, and the position I have in store for you would make you the king of the school.”
At that point in my life, being a freshman and all, I was swayed by Tae Ik’s grand dreams of me ruling the in-crowd in school, but as time went by, I began to realize that unless you lived for this kind of life, it wasn’t going to be an easy one to lead. The first weeks I spent with Inki, I had fun. We roamed the streets and enjoyed ourselves till late at night. We never went home before 10pm. By the 2nd week, I started to realize what I had gotten myself into. My parents started lecturing me on the hours I spent outside, my weekly assessment results started to slide, and I was falling asleep in class. I felt like I couldn’t keep up, but I couldn’t quit now. To quit would mean that Rae Ru was right, and I would become an outcast because Inki would tell the entire school that they kicked me out, and not the other way round. I would become a social outcast.
Rae Ru… I see her every day in class, but I’ve never really thought about her until today. In the beginning, I couldn’t get used to not being with her each day. We were both new students who arrived in Pil Song High on the same day in our freshman year. We’d instantly bonded and spent most of our times together. It pained me sometimes, when I thought of how we parted. We just stopped talking; neither of us wanted to initiate a conversation after that petty fight we had about me joining Inki. Eventually, we just ignored each other and cut each other out of our lives.
I spend each day after school with Inki, but I was adamant about returning home by dinner time on weekdays, on weekends, I’d spend all my time hanging out with them. I started creating my own weekday schedule so that I could cope with Inki and schoolwork after the 3rd week.
“My mother’s on my case,” I would say. “She threatened to send me off to boarding school if I don’t get home on time.”
When I got home, I would do everything I always do; eat dinner with my family, do my schoolwork, study… and in the beginning, the only thing missing was the calls I made every night to Rae Ru.
Even before I’d joined Inki, I’d notice that Rae Ru wasn’t the ordinary nerd. Rae Ru was tall, slim and pretty. It was her choice of social life that kept her away from the in-crowd, away from Inki. She didn’t dress up like the girls in Inki did. She wore the school uniform in exactly the way the rules demanded; skirt reaching her knees, tie knotted neatly, shirt tucked in, and blazer loosely fitting. The girls in Inki had skirts that showed off their views down south whenever they bent down, shirts untucked, ties hanging loose around their necks, and their blazers were usually short and tight. You could say they were dressed like most of the popular girls you see in high school dramas on television.
Rae Ru wasn’t fashionable, but she wasn’t shabby either. Again, it’s her choice to be the way she is. She could’ve easily made the in-crowd like I did, but she held back. After joining Inki, I understood why she held back. Being popular wasn’t as simple as it seemed. It was an endless effort of looking good, maintaining a reputation and a lot of insecurities.
We’re having a meeting today to decide on the ‘lost cause’ of the year. I’ve not seen the list yet and I did not contribute a single name to it.
“Here’s the list,” Ashley said as she tossed it on the table.
Tanya, a sophomore, picked it up and started reading it.
“Cha So Hyeon, Ryu Cho Jin, Tak Yi Bong, Lim Jang Rim, Sung Rae Ru, Han Hyuk Jae…”
Did I hear Rae Ru’s name?
“Sung Rae Ru?” I said, cutting Tanya off.
“Yep… Sung Rae Ru.”
“Not her,” I immediately said.
“Why not, Max?” Gerald asked me.
Note that they all have English names, just as mine is Max now, because members of Inki have to have new names.
“She’s not really a lost cause,” I said, which was the truth, but in actual fact, I didn’t want her dragged into this.
As soon as I said it, the girls shrieked with laughter.
“Not really a lost cause?” Mischa laughed hysterically. “Have you seen the way she dresses?”
“The way she walks,” Tanya piped in.
“I identified her as a lost cause,” Ashley said. “You have a problem with that?”
“I just think she is not a worthy cause,” I said. “And she’s a senior,” I pointed out. “Shouldn’t it be someone who could benefit from this in the long run?”
I looked around and the guys shrugged. They didn’t have an opinion. You could say that this year, the girls in Inki were more opinionated, so us guys mostly sat back and allowed them to run the show, and because we’ve been sitting back for almost a year, it’s unlikely that they are going to listen to us now.
“I think she would be a marvelous cause and it would do her good to end her school year with a better image,” Ashley said. “And if you won’t take her, I will.”
“Someone else, Ashley,” I said.
“I want Rae Ru,” she said firmly. “Is this because you two used to be buddies?”
“I cut my ties with her the moment I joined Inki,” I said, and this was true, except that I wish I hadn’t.
“Then you won’t have a problem helping me inform her?” Ashley looked at me, smirking, daring me to say ‘No.’ with that smirk of hers.
I knew that Ashley was challenging me. People outside of Inki thought that we were a couple, but we were actually just partners in leading Inki. I’d insisted that I didn’t want to lead Inki, but somehow, I ended up being the leader, despite there having been no announcement that I was. If I didn’t do this now, the other members would start to doubt my loyalty to Inki. So here I was, a reluctant leader, about to incur more hatred from my old friend than she already had for me.
“No problem,” I replied, and I got up and left the room without a second glance.
I walked into the school gates just in time before the bell rang.
“Ppalli! Get into your classroom!” the discipline master yelled at those of us who were slowly ambling towards the school building.
I bowed at him as I sprinted past. By the time I started up the first stairs, the hallways were almost empty, and when I reached the landing, I saw a tall figure standing there, blocking my path.
“Hey there, Sugar Rae,” he said, in that familiar tone he used more than a year ago.
“Chang Min,” I squinted at him.
The sun was shining through the window on the landing and sort of blinding me.
“I’ve not heard anyone call me Chang Min in school for almost a year,” he chuckled.
Okay… why am I even speaking to him?
I walked up that last step I’d paused on and tried to push past him.
“We need to talk,” he said as he continued to stand in my way.
“I have nothing to say to you,” I said. “I need to get to class.”
“Come with me,” he said as he started to drag me up the stairs by my hand.
“Chang Min,” I protested.
“That sounds so nice,” he sighed melodramatically. “Say my name again,” he added.
“Michoso…” I giggled at his silly remark.
I didn’t hate him. It just felt unfamiliar to speak to him again, to go somewhere with him, to actually have skin contact with him. For the past year, it felt as if he was a mirage that sat at the back of the classroom, and now he was real again. He dragged me into an empty lesson room and closed the door.
“What’s up, Chang Min?” I said as soon as he turned to face me.
“You’ve been selected,” he said simply.
“For? A lottery?”
“Sort of…” he said. He was starting to sound nervous, I wonder why.
“I’m late for class, spit it out,” I said, with a hint of frustration in my voice.
“Inki has chosen you to join them,” he said.
“What?” I exclaimed. What in the world….
“Every year we pick someone who we think should be improved and added to Inki, and this year, they’ve picked you,” he explained.
“What? And you think I need improving? I’m not your crew’s charity case, Shim Chang Min,” I said as I poked his chest with my finger.
He was tall, 187cm to be exact, but I wasn’t exactly short. Even if I was shorter, I was gonna hold my own against him. What utter nonsense!
“I tried to override them, but the girls were adamant that it’d be you,” he sighed.
“This is ridiculous. You guys can’t make me.”
“I don’t want to imagine what they’d do if you refused, and I’m gonna be in a tight spot if you refuse,” he sighed.
“I’m not doing it!” I said as I crossed my arms over my chest.
“Come on, Sugar Rae,” he pleaded.
I remember this face all too well. Whenever he wanted something from me, this was the look he’d give me.
“No, Chang Min,” I said firmly. “Don’t give me that face. It doesn’t work anymore.”
He straightened his face and sighed in frustration as he combed back his hair with one hand. He actually looked kinda hot doing that.
“What’s it gonna take?” he asked me.
“What do I need to do to get you to accept this?”
“Nothing… because I want no part of it,” I said.
“Sugar Rae… you have to. I don’t want the girls to hurt you. Just join us, please?” he said.
“Aren’t you the leader of Inki, can’t you stop them?”
“I told you I tried to override Ashley’s decision, but she wouldn’t budge.”
“Isn’t she like your girlfriend? Doesn’t she listen to you?”
“Whoever told you she was my girlfriend?” he scoffed.
“The whole school knows about the both of you.”
“Ashley Na isn’t your girlfriend?”
“No… I don’t have a girlfriend.”
Now why do I feel relieved to hear that? I looked at him and he looked back with pleading eyes. Was he that desperate to keep his position in Inki that he had to drag me into this?
“Please, Sugar Rae. If not for yourself, please do it for me? For old times’ sake?” he said.
I sighed loudly. This was my last year anyway, and after this, I might never see Chang Min again. It wouldn’t hurt to help him out a little.
“Fine…” I conceded, and Chang Min hugged me.
“Thanks Sugar Rae,” he said as he pulled away. “You won’t regret it.”
And I really hope I don’t.
Today’s my first meeting with Inki. I stood nervously outside the empty classroom they usually occupied for their meetings, waiting to be called in. After about 15 minutes, I was ready to walk off, then Chang Min popped his head out at the door.
“They’re ready for you,” he said and he pulled me in by my hand.
I walked in and saw the whole group sitting in a cluster on the desks and chairs at one corner of the classroom.
“Annyeong,” I said, and bobbed my head a little.
“Sung Rae Ru,” Ashley was the first to speak. “Do you know why you’re here?”
“Not really,” I said.
“Max,” she said as she shot him a look. “You didn’t tell her?”
“I did, Ashley. She just isn’t sure what you're gonna do to her,” Chang Min said in a voice filled with boredom and yet, exasperation.
“Fine… you are our lost cause of the year,” Ashley spat out.
“Lost cause?” I echoed her.
“Yes… we’ve decided that out of everyone in the entire school, you need a makeover the most.”
“So what happens after the makeover?” I ask her. “Am I free of Inki after that?”
“You don’t know anything do you?” Tanya, Ashley’s sidekick piped in.
“Cut her some slack Tanya,” Akira, the very cool exchange student from Japan, came to my defense and to top it off, he gave me his dazzling smile.
Akira was the only member of Inki who didn’t required a name makeover since everyone thought his Japanese name, Yumegashi Akira, was cool enough.
“You’re a member of Inki the moment you step into this room today. You’re fortunate that we have chosen you because you don’t need to go through the tests and inquisitions,” Ashley explained.
“And after I graduate?” I ask her.
“You’re free to go, but you will always be seen as a member of Inki,” she said.
“Good,” I replied. “Cos that’s far enough for me.”
“Whatever,” Ashley said, waving her hand dismissively. “Let’s get to work,” she added as she stood up and smoothed down her mini-skirt.
“Huh?” I said.
“Your makeover starts now,” she said as she walked past me and dragged me along with her.
“Yah!” I exclaimed in protest and looked back at Chang Min pleadingly, but all he could do was shrug.
Was this really what became of my friend? He joined the coolest crowd in school only to end up a wimp of a leader?
I was dragged to a nearby tailor where the girls pulled off my jacket and made me change into a pair of sweatpants.
“What are you doing?” I asked them.
“We can’t have you going to school in that uniform now that you’re one of us,” Mischa, sidekick No.2 said.
“What’s wrong with my uniform?”
“The skirt is too long, and the jacket is too big. Haven’t you noticed that ours are tight and short?” Tanya said.
While the girls drilled all these supposedly vital info into my head, the guys hung out outside the shop. Some of them, Gerald and Akira, were smoking, while the others, Chang Min and Evan were just hanging around, scuffing their shoes on the sidewalk as they listened to their MP3 players.
If you think that I was watching Chang Min, you’re wrong. I was watching Akira the whole time. I knew he existed in school all along, but now that I knew him personally, well… sort of, I’m beginning to find him more intriguing. I was never one of those girls who were into bad boys, but Akira wasn’t all bad. It’s just his image that screamed ‘bad’, but in person, he was really nice, and it didn’t hurt that he reminded me of another Akira… the Akira played by Yamashita Tomohisa, better known as Yamapi, in Nobuta o Produce.
Before the first week ended, I had a new wardrobe, new hair, new face, and I was supposed to have a new attitude to go with it.
“Do you really like me better now?” I asked Chang Min.
“I like you no matter how you look,” he said, matter-of-factly.
Was I supposed to be happy that he said that? If I were likeable in the first place, why bother to change me?
One of the greatest trials brought about by my admission to Inki was explaining it to Min Ju.
“I guess you won’t be hanging out with me now that you’re with Inki?” she said.
“I just can’t hang out with you after school, but we’ll still be together in class,” I said.
“It’s not the same,” she sighed, “but I understand. Who would give up the chance to be a part of Inki?”
“It’s not like that. I’m doing it for Chang Min,” I explained.
“You don’t have to explain, Rae Ru,” she said. “If you didn’t accept, they’d ruin your social life, and you won’t want that on your final year. Kwaench’ana, Rae Ru. I understand how difficult it is for you.”
“Min Ju-yah,” I said, as I started to tear a little, “komawo.” And I hugged her.
“Pabo…” she smiled. “What are friends for?”
From that day, I was the same Rae Ru in class, but the moment I stepped out of it, I was now Genevieve, or Gen, for short. Genevieve was a variant of the name, Guinevere, the queen of King Arthur in the Arthurian legend. Chang Min had found the name while flipping through a book of mythologies.
Genevieve… am I going to like the new me?
I named her ‘Genevieve’. I named Rae Ru ‘Genevieve’ because I thought it was a beautiful name; the name of the queen consort to a legendary king. The original name had been ‘Guinevere’, but I chose the French variant since it sounded more sophisticated, which was the exact image I had of Rae Ru; sophistication. For the next few months, I watched them transform Rae Ru into someone I could barely recognize.
They made her cut her long, straight hair. She now had a shoulder length, layered look, as opposed to her previous traditional, straight, school girl hairstyle. They got rid of her glasses, and she now wore soft brown colored contacts. She looked like one of them now, or rather, one of us; the in-crowd. No one would believe them if she’d told them she wasn’t one of us up till recently. She fitted in easily, as I knew she would have.
These days, I ask myself… did I like the old Rae Ru, or do I like the new Gen. Sugar Rae… I used to call her that, and I still call her that. I decided to call her that on a whim… since the ‘Rae’ in her name sounded like ‘ray’ in the name of the band Sugar Ray. Sugar Ray was one of her favorite bands, so she didn’t really mind me calling her that.
I have a confession to make now, one that I’ve never made to Rae Ru. I was actually ready to tell her before I joined Inki, but our little squabble stopped me. All this time, I was in love with Rae Ru, and I never stopped loving her, but now I had a problem. Rae Ru seems to be taken with Akira. Akira was a nice guy, despite his vices, but that’s beside the point. The point is if I was ready to step back, and allow Akira to have Rae Ru.
This was the other irony in her new name, Genevieve. Genevieve was the queen consort of King Arthur, who fell in love with Lancelot, Arthur’s chief knight and this lead to the ultimate fall of the kingdom. So was I Arthur, and Akira, Lancelot? Or because I had missed my chance, I was now Lancelot instead? If we were either, would our affections for Rae Ru lead to the fall of Inki? Akira had not mentioned it, but I could see he was a little fond of Rae Ru himself. Whether or not this would lead to an attraction, I dared not imagine. Should I step up to claim Rae Ru, or should I allow Akira to have her if she was happier with him?
“Do you like Akira?” I asked her one day, and she laughed.
“What makes you say that?” she said.
“I dunno. You sure talk an awful lot to him, and he seems to like you,” I pointed out.
“Chintcha?” she said, and blushed a little. “We’re just friends. He would never date a girl like me.”
“Why not?” I asked her.
“I’m nothing like the kind of girl he likes. He probably likes pretty, sophisticated and confident girls, like Ashley,” she said.
“If he did, he’d have dated her by now,” I said.
“Hmm… he hasn’t?”
“No one has ever dated Ashley. No one dares to,” I laughed.
“I wonder why,” she giggled.
“Yea…” I smiled.
I smiled at her, but inside, my stomach was churning. Rae Ru… Rae Ru… don’t you know how beautiful you are? How sophisticated you are? Coupled with your modesty, you were the ultimate girl… exactly the kind of girl Akira would want… exactly the kind of girl I want. What was confidence? Confidence was only a shield to protect a wary heart. Rae Ru had an open, generous heart; the kind of heart that captured most men with its ideals and innocence. Ashley could never be like Rae Ru because she was already too jaded to open herself up to anyone.
My fears were confirmed the day Akira started walking Rae Ru home. Akira was definitely interested in her.
“Akira,” I confronted him one day. “Are you serious about Gen?”
We referred to her as Gen within Inki and everywhere else. She was only Rae Ru when it’s only the two of us.
“She’s great, isn’t she?” he said, and I could feel my heart fall to my stomach.
“Isn’t she a little too innocent compared to your usual tastes?”
“I find her innocence refreshing,” he smiled. “It’s hard to find a girl like that these days. I’m pretty glad they’d brought her into Inki. They might have changed her appearance, but they haven’t managed to change her character.”
He was right. Rae Ru was still Rae Ru, despite looking like Genevieve. She still had her morals and her true character. It was something she never bothered to change or hide, no matter how often the girls tell her that it was unbecoming.
“Stop speaking to those losers,” Tanya had once told Rae Ru when she stopped to talk to a classmate.
“She’s not a loser,” Rae Ru said sternly. “Don’t say that.”
“You’re too friendly. You can’t be nice to everyone,” Tanya continued nagging. “You’re gonna make us too approachable, and people are not gonna respect us anymore.”
“Whoever told you that?” Rae Ru asked Tanya.
“Don’t you know anything? As long as people know nothing personal about you, and you’re unapproachable, they admire you from afar, and they’d also respect you,” Tanya explained, with the kind of pomp that you’d expect from someone who’d just discovered the cure for cancer.
“What a load of crock,” Rae Ru scoffed, and Tanya’s eyes nearly fell out of their sockets, shocked by Rae Ru’s boldness. “If anything, being a little nicer to people should bring us more respect.”
Tanya was rendered speechless by Rae Ru’s remark, and since that day, she never bothered to correct Rae Ru. Slowly but surely, Rae Ru’s character and her will to keep it had forced the others to accept it, even if it wasn’t the Inki way. In the past, all the members had always done what the Inki seniors told them to. Rae Ru had turned the tables, and made the others accept her rather than change her. How did she do that?
Had it been anyone else, they’d have kicked her out of Inki and shunned her by now, but for some odd reason, Ashley was putting up with Rae Ru, and since Ashley allowed it, the others had no power to reject it. I found it weird that Ashley was even slowly becoming friends with Rae Ru, despite being exact opposites. Did she have a motive in bringing Rae Ru into Inki? I wasn’t sure what Ashley was up to, but one thing’s for sure… if she hurts Rae Ru, I would never forgive her.
Hearing the way Akira spoke of Rae Ru, I was sure that his feelings for Rae Ru were genuine. I had no option but to silently step aside, and allow their relationship to happen.
“Be sure you don’t hurt her,” I told Akira, as I gave him a friendly thump on the shoulders.
“I wouldn’t for the world,” he said. “She’s too precious for me to be breaking her heart,” he smiled.
“You’re starting to sound a bit too love struck, Akira,” I laughed. I laughed even though this pain seared through my heart when he said that. It hurt… because it was exactly what I thought of her too.
“I can’t help it,” he grinned. “But don’t tell the others. I don’t want them to think the bad boy, Akira, had gone soft.”
“Sure,” I smiled reassuringly at him.
From that day onwards, I tried to give Rae Ru up, bit by bit. Before she joined Inki, I was waiting for our graduation to come. I’d planned everything for the moment we graduated. I was going to tell her how much I loved her, and how long I’ve waited for her, but someone had beat me to it. Akira was going to tell her how much he loved her, while I continued to wait. I didn’t want to confess while we were still in this school, because I knew the pressures she would have to be put under if I wanted to date her, since she wasn’t part of Inki. Now that she was in Inki, it would’ve been easy… if Akira hadn’t beaten me to it.
“Do you like Akira?” I asked her again some weeks later.
“Isn’t this like the 2nd time you’re asking me?” she said as she furrowed her brows.
“I think he likes you,” I told her.
If I can’t have her, the least I could do for her was to help her along, and make sure she finds happiness.
“Chongmal?” her face lit up.
“He told me,” I admitted.
“Omigod…” she said, and her expression changed from ecstatic to worry.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her.
“It’s nothing,” she said. “I’m just a little shocked.”
“You don’t look well,” I said. “Do you want to go to the nurse’s office? You really do look a little pale.”
“I’m fine… Nan kwaench’ana. Kotjongman,” she said.
“If you insist.”
“So what should I do?” she asked me.
“What should I do about Akira?”
“What do you mean?”
“What do I do now that I know he likes me?”
“Just act normal. He’ll tell you eventually. Let him make the first move, araji?”
“Araso,” she replied as she nodded.
I sighed as I watched her get back to doing her homework. I’d let her in on my schedule, and she’d decided to join me. We’re the only 2 members of Inki who actually take time off to study. I’m not sure what I’m doing now, but I just handed the girl I loved to my rival on a platter.
‘Why am I even nervous?’ he thought to himself. ‘That’s because you never had to ask, fool,’ he smiled to himself.
It's true that Akira had never had to ask a girl. They usually threw themselves at him. He was pretty thankful to be in Seoul. The identity of the cool foreign student had given him a social status he might have had to earn in Japan. But here, the girls treated him like some super star. Even so, he was attracted to a girl who didn’t treat him like a star, but as a friend. That girl was Rae Ru, or Gen, as they called her now.
“Gen,” he called out to her as he approached her.
She turned around and gave him her warm dazzling smile; a smile that was her trademark among the crew, for everyone wanted to be cool and distant, but Rae Ru was always warm and inviting.
“Akira!” she greeted him.
Akira was tempted to close his eyes and savor the way she called his name.
‘God… I love her voice,’ he thought.
He could feel his affections grow for her each day; every time she spoke, every time they met. It could be just an overrated infatuation, but he enjoyed it, and so… he was going to move in for the kill.
“We need to talk,” he said to Rae Ru as he took her hand.
“Talk? Where are we going?” she asked him.
“Let’s go to the rooftop,” he said.
‘This is it…’ Rae Ru thought. ‘He’s gonna confess… ottoke?’
They walked up a few flights of stairs and came to the rooftop of the school’s main building. Akira walked towards the edge of the walls and looked down. As he looked up, Rae Ru admired the way the wind was whipping his hair back, and the expression of calmness on his face. Akira always looked laid back and Zen. Rae Ru often wondered if it was a Japanese trait of his.
“What is it you wanted to talk about?” she asked him as she came to stand beside him.
“I…” he started, but faltered. “What I’m gonna say might come as a shock,” he continued.
‘Here goes…’ Rae Ru thought.
“I think I might be in love with you,” he finally admitted.
“Ye?” Rae Ru exclaimed.
Even though she’d expected him to say something like that, she was still shocked to hear the words from his mouth.
“Nan… neoreul neomu choaheyo,” he repeated.
“Chintchayo?” she blurted out.
‘Aissshiii… pabo!’ she thought as soon as the words left her mouth. She felt like smacking herself for the stupid question she just asked.
“Chintcha,” he said, and he smiled.
“I…” she started stammering.
“You don’t have to say anything now,” he said as he took her hand. “At least just tell me if you’ll date me.”
“Yes… you know… go out, see a movie, hold hands… like what I’m doing now?” he laughed softly.
Rae Ru looked down at her hand and sure enough, he was still holding it. Rae Ru blushed and pulled her hand away from his.
“Wae?” he asked softly. “Nan shiro?”
“Ani…” she quickly said. She didn’t hate him. She just didn’t know what to do now.
“Then can you give me a chance?” he asked. “Give us a chance?”
“Can I think about it, Akira?” she asked him.
She’d been thinking about it since Chang Min told her, but somehow she felt she needed to think some more.
“Sure,” he smiled. “Don’t break my heart,” he added.
“Akira…” she sighed, obviously pressured.
“Just joking,” he said. “Whatever your decision is, I will respect it.”
“Komapda,” she said.
“Kwaench’ana,” he said. “Let’s go. The crew’s waiting.”
‘He’s confessed,’ Chang Min thought as he observed Rae Ru and Akira when they joined the crew.
Somewhere deep inside, he could feel a knife twisting. Did he make the wrong decision? Was Rae Ru supposed to be his? He noticed that they weren’t holding hands yet or even speaking to each other with ease. He concluded that Rae Ru hadn’t agreed yet. But it was too late for him. If he chose to fight for Rae Ru now, Akira would probably hate him for encouraging him in the first place.
‘Just pretend nothing had happened,’ Chang Min told himself as Rae Ru approached him.
“Max,” she smiled, emphasizing his name on purpose.
She’d always found it absurd that they wanted to change his name. Chang Min had such a cute name. There was no need to call him Max. She remembered asking him about it when she joined Inki.
“So what does Max stand for? Maximus… Maxmillian?”
“Just Max,” he smiled. “Maximum, maybe… always to the max,” he laughed.
“I thought you’d have a significant meaning for your name.”
“You’re the only one who has a really significant name. The rest of the girls named themselves after celebrities.”
“Really?” she smiled. “Thanks… I guess, for picking my name.”
Chang Min gave her a tired-looking expression when she called his name in that deliberate tone, then smiled.
“When are you ever gonna stop making fun of my name?”
“I’m not making fun,” she giggled.
“You know you’re lying,” he said.
“Aniyo…” she said sweetly.
Akira watched on as Rae Ru made friendly banter with Chang Min. He’d noticed the ease the both of them communicated for a long time. Rae Ru had never spoken to him in that manner, and sometimes, it made him jealous of Chang Min. It also made him wonder if Chang Min actually was more than a friend to Rae Ru. At least he could take comfort in the fact that Chang Min wasn’t interested in Rae Ru. If he were, he wouldn’t have encouraged him to confess to Rae Ru.
A week had passed, and Rae Ru had thought about Akira’s proposal. There was no reason for her to refuse since she had no other guy who liked her enough to confess his feelings to her, and she did like Akira.
“Okay,” she answered him, the next time he asked for her decision.
“Really? Chongmal?” he said.
“Yea,” she smiled. “But let’s take it slow… let’s have a trial period,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s try it out for a few months, and if it doesn’t work, we can part amicably. If we’re happy, we carry on,” she said.
“I really don’t see how this is useful,” he smiled, “but if this is how you want it, I’m okay.”
“Let’s have this trial last until the prom,” she said.
“And? What happens then?”
“If, for some reason, one of us doesn’t want to be together, we just say so, and we don’t have to give the other person an explanation,” she elaborated.
“Okay… if that’s how you want it.”
None of the members of Inki were really surprised that Akira wanted to date Rae Ru, but the entire school was shocked… especially Akira’s fans. From the day they became an official couple, Rae Ru would always hear whispers about her whenever she walked down the hallways with Akira or when she was alone.
“Ignore them,” he’d say, and tightened his arm around her shoulders as they walked pass the catty girls.
When walking alone, she’d just walk past them with her head held as high as she could and she’d block out the stuff they’d say about her.
“Do you regret your decision with Akira?” Chang Min asked her one day.
She stared ahead silently as he waited for her reply. They were studying together as usual, and he felt that she seemed distracted.
“No,” she smiled. “He makes me happy, and I really don’t care what people say,” she said.
“Good,” he smiled warmly at her, as his heart contracted and the pain seared through his entire being.
2 months had passed, and autumn had begun. In 1 month’s time, it would be prom night. I walked down the sidewalk with Akira, inhaling the cool autumn air as we headed home after an outing with Inki.
“What’s on your mind?” he asked me.
“Nothing,” I smiled at him, and I leant my head on his shoulder as we walked on.
“Nothing?” he repeated after me.
“Nothing,” I smiled.
“If I say ‘nothing’ again, will you say it again too?”
“Maybe… then we can keep at this all night,” I laughed.
“Come here, crazy,” he said as he hugged me tightly to his side has he laughed softly.
I lied when I told him it was nothing. Something was happening, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. Something had changed within me, and I didn’t dare say it to Akira.
We were at the noraebang tonight, and everyone was there as usual, having fun, going crazy, and then I noticed Chang Min watching me. It wasn’t the first time that I’ve noticed, and it wasn’t the first time I’ve caught him. When I asked him about it, he just said that I was delusional. It was his eyes… the one thing I’ve always noticed about him. The way he looked at me… it felt like longing. But if Chang Min longed for me, why did he give me away to Akira?
The worst thing about this is that I’ve begun to feel that my relationship with Akira was a mistake. I was confused by my initial admiration for him and now that he was real to me, the admiration had faded. Sure we like each other, and I’m comfortable with him, but I’m pretty sure it’s not love. I promised him a trial up till the prom, so I guess I will have to honor it.
“Here we are,” Akira said as we reached my doorstep.
“Yep,” I said as I pulled away from him.
“Naeil pwayo,” he said as he leant down to kiss me on the cheek.
We’ve never kissed on the lips. He’d never tried to initiate it, and neither have I. I guess we’re just not prepared for it yet, but we were fine with hugging and holding hands.
“Naeil pwayo,” I said as I turned and walked up the steps to the door.
That was our routine. Each day Akira would walk me home, we’d share an innocent kiss at my doorstep, and that was all. He’d call me each night, and we’d have conversations, but we didn’t talk up a storm like I would with Chang Min. Some nights, I find myself missing his voice, and wishing he’d call, even if it was just for some meaningless conversation.
It was the week before the prom, and I was out shopping with the girls.
“How about this one?” Mischa said as she thrust a burgundy dress in my face.
“Yah! Mischa! Neo michoso?” Ashley said. “You want her to look like some ajumma?”
The good thing about being in Inki is that the girls never sabotage each other. They made sure everyone looked good, because they wanted to protect the reputation of the crew. They would never allow someone in the crew to look worse off than they were. They cared so much to the extent that they even took care of what the guys in Inki wore, at least those who were inept when it came to fashion. Guys like Akira and Chang Min never needed their help.
“What’s Akira wearing?” Tanya asked me.
“I don’t know, but I know he’s wearing something blue.”
“I think he’s gonna wear that student uniform thing he likes so much,” Cher said.
“Doesn’t he get tired of that?” Ashley said.
“I guess he just wants to be in touch with his Japanese roots,” Tanya laughed.
“I found it!” Mischa said as she held out a blue dress, the perfect dress.
It was a powder blue, empire cut dress with a flowing skirt; something like that gown Jennifer Lopez wore in the movie Maid in Manhattan.
“Omigod! I want that!” Cher exclaimed.
“I think Gen should wear it,” Ashley said.
“Aww…” Cher whined.
“Yea… it’s so gonna match Akira’s suit,” Tanya said.
“Thanks, Mischa,” I said as I took the dress out of her hands.
“What are you waiting for?” Mischa smiled. “Try it on!”
“Okay,” I said and I walked into the dressing room.
I opened the door after putting the dress on and took a few steps back so that I could see myself in the mirror.
“Wow!” Tanya said. “I thought we were going to need alterations done, but it fits you perfectly.”
“It does,” I said as I ran my hands down the dress, admiring how elegant I looked in it.
“How much is it?” Cher asked and Ashley pulled out the tag to have a look.
“150,000 won!” Cher exclaimed.
“What?” I said as I turned around to face them, my reverie shattered.
“50%,” Ashley added, and I heaved a sigh of relief.
“50%?” Cher said, looking at Ashley with a puzzled expression.
“Yea… didn’t you see?” she said as she held out the tag for Cher. “50%” she repeated as she pointed at the tag.
“Oooh… I see now,” Cher said.
“Sorry I pulled the tag off,” Ashley said. “You turned so suddenly.”
“Good thing you didn’t rip the dress doing that,” Tanya said.
“Yea,” I smiled. “No harm done. Let me change out of this and pay for it. It’s perfect isn’t it?” I said as I admired the dress once more.
“Yes it is,” the girls chorused, and then they all giggled.
I emerged from the dressing room a few minutes later to find the girls huddled at the cashier, waiting for me.
“Anything else?” the cashier asked me.
“No,” I said as I took out the cash I’d brought with me.
75,000 won for the dress. Good thing it had a 50% discount. Now I can find some shoes and accessories to go with it.
I had just gotten home and landed on my bed when my phone rang.
“Yeoboseyo?” I said as I answered it.
“Did you have fun?” Akira said as soon as I finished my greeting.
“Hey…” I smiled. “I found a dress! At 50% too.”
“Great job!” he laughed. “What color is it?”
“Blue, like your suit,” I said.
“Erm… Gen… my suit’s black,” he said.
“Black? Didn’t you say blue? You told me it was blue yesterday,” I said.
I was really confused and baffled now. I remembered distinctly that he’d said that his suit was blue.
“I said Max’s suit was blue,” he said.
“Yea. I was telling you how we went and got a black suit for me and a blue one for him.”
“Omo… ottoke?” I exclaimed.
“It’s fine…” he laughed. “Black goes with everything.”
“It does?” I said, and realized how silly I sounded.
“Yes it does…” Akira laughed. “Don’t worry about it.”
We talked a bit, and then hung up since I was tired from the day’s shopping expedition. I still can’t believe I remembered wrongly. What is wrong with me? How could I have gotten Akira and Chang Min’s suit colors mixed up?
I got up from my bed and pulled out the dress. It was so beautiful, and worth every cent I paid for it. I put it on again, together with the shoes and accessories I’d bought to complement it. I admired myself in the mirror and for a moment, I closed my eyes to imagine how I would look on Akira’s arm on prom night, but instead of Akira, I saw Chang Min.
“Chang Min,” I whispered, and opened my eyes.
Did I really want to be with Chang Min that much? I’ve been having dreams about him these past few nights. The closer prom day came, the more intense the dreams become. In those dreams, we were in each other’s arms, dancing, in an empty room, and as the music ended, I’d look up at him, he’d lean down slowly, and I’d wake up. What did it mean? Have I really been lying to myself when I called Chang Min a friend? Did I love him all this while?
I woke up with a start again. It was that dream again… I kept having the same dream for the past few nights. I’d dream of me and Rae Ru dancing in an empty room. Our bodies pressed against each other as I hummed the melody of the song into her ear, and as the music ended, I looked down at her, and she looked up at me with her beautiful eyes. When she looked up, I’d lean down slowly. I wanted to kiss her, I was dying to kiss her, but as soon as our lips were about to touch, I’d wake up.
Each night the dream would repeat itself, and each time I would come closer and closer to her lips, but the dream would always be cut short, and I’d wake up, my heart beating like crazy, and still wanting to know how her lips would have felt or tasted. Tonight, it felt like it was the closest I could ever get, and I actually felt a little disappointed.
I’ve not spoken much to Rae Ru these past months. She was busy with her relationship with Akira and getting acclimated to being in Inki. In another 12 hours, it would be prom night. The night most of us were waiting for, and the night I dreaded. Another event for me to witness the beautiful relationship Rae Ru had with Akira.
It was like any other Saturday, except today we weren’t going out with the crew since most of the girls were busy primping for the prom, but I managed to get Akira out of the house to meet me for a drink.
“Wassup,” he said as he sat down in front of me at our usual table, at the usual coffee place.
“I was bored, and everyone’s so busy getting ready for tonight.”
“Don’t you need to get ready?” he asked me.
“What’s there to do other than to put on the suit and fix my hair?” I laughed.
“Nah… thought you might have gone for a facial or something,” he joked.
“Is that what Japanese guys do?” I asked him.
“Yea… we’re pretty metrosexual… NOT,” he laughed.
“For a moment there, I thought you were serious,” I laughed.
“Did Rae Ru tell you about her dress?” he asked me, out of the blue.
“Her dress… the one she was wearing tonight.”
“I haven’t spoken much to her lately. What about it?”
“Your suit’s blue,” he said.
“Mine’s black,” he added and rolled his eyes.
“Right… and does this have anything to do with me?
“She’d meant for her dress to match my suit.”
“I never knew that Rae Ru was color blind,” I joked.
“She got our suit colors mixed up, cos I told her about your suit when I was telling her about mine.”
“Okay… not color blind, maybe Alzheimer,” I laughed.
“What going on with her?” he said suddenly and his expression changed. “Sometimes I think that the both of you still share this bond that even our relationship can’t conquer. And the weird thing is, the two of you don’t see each other as often anymore, or even talk to each other. How is it that you keep living in her subconscious?”
“Whoah… cool down man. I’m sure it was her being ditzy or absent-minded. She would never intentionally play you like that, and neither would I. I’m sure she’s into you,” I said.
No matter how much I wish that what he said was true, that Rae Ru and I were not finished, I had to remember that as a friend, I couldn’t do this to him. I was the one who encouraged him to be with her. I can’t betray him like this.
“I know you’re in her mind, whether she knows it or not,” he said.
“You can’t be serious, Akira,” I said. “If I were, I would be beside her now, not you.”
“It just took her all this time to realize it, and I wouldn’t stand in your way if she chooses you,” he said.
“Stop it, Akira,” I said as sternly as I could.
“I’ve always felt that you had something… a certain fate that I would never be able to contest. If you guys are meant to be, then it shall be.”
“You’re crazy, Akira,” I said in disbelief. “If you love her that much, you hang on to her. You don’t just give up.”
“This isn’t giving up, Max. It’s nothing like how you gave her up and let me have her,” he said. “Don’t think I don’t know that you stepped aside just because you thought she’d be happier with me. You gave her up, and if I step aside now, it’s because I’ve tried, and found that it wasn’t meant to be. I’m not just giving her up without a fight,” he said.
When he finished his speech, he stood up, threw some bills on the table, and walked out without another word. I sat there for the longest time, staring blankly at the table, and trying to digest the words he’d just thrown at me. Did I give up too easily? Should I have fought for Rae Ru?
6pm… and I was dressed and walking out of my house. I checked myself in the mirror in the hallway just before I left the house. Akira and I had gotten these gakuran inspired suits, which looked a lot like the school uniforms worn during pre-1949 China, but we managed to snazzy it up so that they did not look bland.
“Oma! I’m leaving now,” I said as I walked out the door.
I got to the prom venue within half and hour and looked around for the crew. I found the guys hanging around the smoking area near the reception, even though only Akira and Gerald were the only ones who were smoking.
“Hey guys,” I said as I approached them.
“Yo… Max… looking good,” Evan exclaimed as he slapped my back.
“Yea…” Gerald said as he let out a puff of smoke. “Those girls there have been going hysterical since you walked in.”
I turned around and sure enough, there were a group of girls hovered in a corner, squealing as they kept pointing towards us.
“Omo! Max… omigod… I must dance with him tonight,” one of them squealed.
“In your dreams…” Evan answered for me, and the guys laughed.
Just then, the girls arrived. Ashley walked in with Tanya, and behind then was Rae Ru. I felt as if my lungs were being constricted when I saw her. That dress… the one Akira had been yammering about yesterday… it was breathtaking. It made Rae Ru look absolutely breathtaking. Then I noticed on her collarbone was the pendant I gave her. They called it the Asteria pendant; a crystal 6-point star. I’d given it to her long ago, but I never thought she’d kept it till now. Could Akira have been telling the truth? Did I still have a shot?
“Here come the girls,” Gerald smirked as he stubbed his cigarette in the bin provided.
“Really… Gerald,” Ashley coughed and fanned the air around her as she approached. “Must you smoke tonight? How am I going to survive the entire night beside you if you kept puffing like a chimney?”
It was really last minute, and a surprise to us all, but Gerald had asked Ashley to be his partner for tonight, and she agreed. In fact, most of the girls were pairing off with the guys tonight, and the only single one was me.
“You know you like how it makes me look like a bad boy,” Gerald joked, and Ashley smacked him with her purse.
I turned around to see Akira walking off with Rae Ru, and they were holding hands. I sighed to myself as I turned back to look at the rest of the crew; definitely wishful thinking on my part.
Akira led Rae Ru out to the little garden behind the hotel where their prom was held, and he sat her down on a bench.
“What is it?” she asked him.
“You look beautiful tonight. Neomu areumdapta,” he said as he reached out to touch her hair; she’d just blown it out and allowed it to frame her face instead of tying it up.
“Komawo,” she replied, blushing.
“Nice pendant,” he said.
“Oh… igo?” she said as she touched it. “Chang Min gave it to me long ago.”
“Max…” she said.
“Oh… yea. Sometimes I forget that’s his real name.”
“I just found it while looking for something to wear, and it matched the dress…”
“You don’t have to explain your actions to me,” Akira said.
“I just don’t want you to…”
“Get the wrong idea?” he finished for her.
“Yea…” she said.
“I know what I see, Gen. I’m not blind,” he said.
“Do you love me, Gen?”
“Chintcha… answer me… I’ve told you that I loved you, but you’ve never told me that you loved me. Today is the last day of our ‘trial’. I think you should decide now. Do you love me enough to continue with me, or is there someone else in your heart?”
“I… I do like you, Akira.”
“Liking is not the same as loving. Maybe you just like me as a friend. If that is the truth, then please say it. I can live with it. It’s your happiness you will be forsaking if you choose to lie and carry on with me.”
“I don’t know.”
“I’ve given you plenty of room to decide, I’ve been so patient with you… waiting for your decision. So I hope that you will do me a favor and end my misery now.”
“I thought we’d just go to the prom, and maybe decide later.”
“I can’t enjoy myself until I know the truth,” he said.
“But I don’t know the answer now,” she cried helplessly.
“You don’t know? Do you want both me and Max in front of you to help you decide?”
“Max? This is about Max?”
“Then, who else is on your mind?”
“No one… don’t be daft.”
“Then say it…”
“I can’t. I don’t know how to decide,” she said.
“Then, let me help you,” he said, and he pulled her up on her feet.
“Akira…” she protested, and he cut her off with a kiss.
It wasn’t a rough kiss, his hands gently framed her face and Rae Ru’s were clutching the edge of his jacket as they kissed. Oddly enough, Rae Ru didn’t feel violated. She just gave into it and allowed Akira to kiss her; she wanted to know how it felt, and she wanted to see if she really had any spark with Akira. A few seconds later, he pulled away and looked Rae Ru straight in the eyes.
“Nothing there,” he smiled.
“You didn’t feel anything either, did you?” he asked her.
“Mianhae,” she said.
“Don’t be sorry. All’s fair in love and war,” he said softly.
“Mianhae,” she said, and a tear rolled down her cheek.
“Ya… uljima. You don’t want your makeup to run down your face,” he said as he gently wiped the tear off for her.
“Why are you still so nice to me?” she asked him.
“Because I do love you, and I know you never meant to hurt me.”
“I’m a bad person…” she said.
“No you’re not. If you were, you wouldn’t be crying now,” he said as he put an arm around her.
“Komapda,” she said, and she hugged him.
Now she understood why she was comfortable with him. It wasn’t love… it was the comfort of being with a friend, or a brother, because he always made her feel protected.
“Let’s go,” he said as he pulled away.
He offered her his arm, she linked hers with his, and they walked back towards the hall where the prom would be held.
It’s been about an hour, and Chang Min had been standing there all this while, watching everyone around him. Rae Ru and Akira had come in sometime ago, and they seemed to look happier than ever.
‘I guess that means it’s over for me,’ he thought as he sipped his drink.
He’d contemplated leaving a little earlier, but just then, the guys wanted to have a dance off, and he was dragged into it. It started off with Evan and Gerald competing. First Evan did this routine of robotic moves, then Gerald copied and added his bits as a challenge to Evan… this continued for a few more rounds until Evan gave up, and left the dance floor. The music continued, and the crowd was waiting for the next 2 dancers to battle it out. Akira stepped forward and he pointed at Chang Min.
“Me?” Chang Min said, pretend to be shocked, then he smiled and slid onto the dance floor in one smooth move.
Akira started break dancing. He did a windmill and ended with a freeze by standing on one hand, his legs in the air. Chang Min clapped his hands, applauding Akira, and got the crowd to do the same, then he launched into his routine. He started with the windmill, jumped up and did some wave movements, and then instead of a freeze on one hand like Akira did, he spun around on one hand, switching hands as he repeated each turn.
The crowd went wild when Chang Min jumped up, and Akira cheered, acknowledging Chang Min’s moves. Akira jumped forward and did a cartwheel in the air, then did a half-split as he landed before gesturing to Chang Min. Chang Min took off his jacket and handed it to Gerald before he walked up to Akira and did the same, but after his half-split, he got up, and did the caterpillar, that’s when Akira put up his hands in the air signifying defeat, and Chang Min bowed to the crowd as they cheered. Just as they were walking off the dance floor, Akira pulled Chang Min to him and whispered in his ear.
“Go get her,” he said, “I’ve got your back,” and when Chang Min gave him a puzzled expression, all he did was wink before he walked off.
Chang Min looked around for Akira as soon as he walked away from the crowd at the dance floor, but he couldn’t find him.
‘Go get her? What did he mean? Was he talking about Rae Ru?’ he wondered.
He started looking around for Rae Ru, and he found her at the edge of the crowd with the other girls, watching the dance battle carry on. He started walking towards her. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do when he got there, or what he was going to say, but Akira had given him the message, and he had a feeling this was what he’d meant. As he approached her side, the music changed from the hard beats of hip hop they were using for the battle, to a slow song, TVXQ’s ‘Proud’. Chang Min looked up and saw Akira beside the DJ, and when their eyes met, Akira gave Chang Min a little salute.
The crowd groaned in dismay, since the battle ended so abruptly, but one by one, couples started to pair off and slow dance.
‘It’s now or never,’ Chang Min thought, and he tapped Rae Ru on the shoulder.
“Can I have this dance?” he said to her, and she smiled.
They walked slowly onto the dance floor, and Rae Ru took Chang Min by surprise by putting both her arms around his waist and leaning on his chest as they swayed to the music. Chang Min put his arms around her and leant his head on hers.
“What’s going on, Rae Ru?” Chang Min whispered softly.
“What do you mean?” she said, not looking up to meet his eyes.
“What’s happened to you and Akira? Are you sure he’s not going to mind you hugging me like this?” he asked her.
“Akira and I are friends,” she said.
“Ne… chingu,” she said.
“Saranghae,” she said, and she tightened her arms around him.
“Mworago?” he said, and he stopped moving.
“Saranghae, Chang Min,” she said as she looked up at him. “It took me so long to realize, but I love you. I always have.”
Chang Min was speechless for a moment. His mind felt like it was running amok, and his heart felt like it was ready to burst.
‘She loved me?’ he thought. ‘She really loves me?’
“Chongmallo?” he asked her, and she nodded.
His hands came up to stroke her cheek, and just like in his dream, it felt like everyone in the entire room had disappeared as he leant down to kiss her.
“Saranghae,” he said just before their lips met.
Chang Min walked Rae Ru home that night. He’d taken off his jacket and put it on her as they walked with their arms around each other.
“So what do we do now?” she asked him.
“Go home and sleep?” he laughed.
“I mean us,” she laughed as she gently hit him on the chest.
“What do you wanna do, Sugar Rae?” he asked her.
“Are you gonna keep calling me that forever?”
“I can’t get used to calling you Rae Ru or Gen,” he said.
“Fine…” she laughed. “Sugar Rae it is…”
“You know… you’re gonna have some problems when we go back to school next week,” Chang Min said.
“You had to deal with Akira’s admirers back then, now you’ll have to deal with mine,” he said.
“Do you actually have admirers?”
“I’ll have you know that I have my very own fan club,” he huffed.
“Then, what else can I do? I’ll just have to face them,” she said.
“You know… that’s what I love about you,” he said.
“Your spunk… that bravery,” he laughed.
“Good… you’re gonna see lots of it from now on,” she said.
“From now till when?” he asked.
“Whenever… that is if I don’t get tired of you,” she giggled.
“Mwo?” he exclaimed loudly.
“Yea… I call the shots,” she said as she moved away from him.
“Who told you that you could?” he said as he tried to close the gap between them, but each time she moved further, slinking out of his grasp.
“Me…” she laughed as she broke into a full run, and he chased after her.
It felt like everything has come to a full circle now. Chang Min and Rae Ru were now together again. Different circumstances and stronger bond; they’d managed to realize their true feelings before it was too late, but not without a little help…
“Everything went as planned?” a figure emerged from the shadows as Ashley walked up to it.
“Yep…” she said.
“You look good,” he said, taking in her full attire.
She had on a pearl colored toga top dress that looked like something a Greek goddess would wear, and her hair was swept up in an elegant chignon.
“So do you,” she smiled.
He was wearing a simple denim jacket, t-shirt and a pair of jeans, but to Ashley, he could rival Won Bin or Hyun Bin or any good looking male actor with his style and charisma.
“Here,” he said as he handed her an envelope.
“What’s this?” she asked him.
“The money I owe you? For that dress you paid for.”
“You don’t have to, Tae Ik oppa,” she said.
“I asked for your help to get them back together. You don’t need to dip into your own pockets to help me.”
“I don’t want your money, but there’s something I do want from you,” she said.
“What is it?” he asked her.
She reached her hand out and placed it behind his neck, and she tiptoed so that their lips met.
“I was half expecting that,” he laughed, and he kissed her again just before pulling away.
“I never forgot you,” she said.
“I know,” he said. “Neither have I.”
They stood there for sometime, her hand still on his shoulder, as he caressed her free hand.
“Let’s go,” he said, and they walked away hand in hand, into the night.