The first time she saw Solji she thought that this whole idea might not be so bad after all.
So far she'd been on the border of quitting the whole girl group thing. Her members were so pretty and feminine, the total opposite of everything Hyojin knew. But Shinsadong begged her and her rapper friends always said she should do this. She kept those facts in her mind throughout the first day of debut preperation.
Solji knocked on the door of the practice room right after lunch. Hyojin was sitting with her back against the mirror, staring at the others. Jeonghwa was already practicing, while the others talked to their manager.
The manager looked over at Solji's knock.
"Girls, this is your vocal trainer, Heo Solji," he said, standing up.
The other girls scrambled into a neat line. Hyojin tacked herself on to the end of it, unsure what they were doing.
"Hello, Heo Solji! We're EXID!" the others chorused.
Hyojin hadn't known to join in, but she bowed with the rest as if she had. Hearing them all speak with one voice was kinda creepy. She felt totally out of place.
As soon as she looked at Heo Solji, her worries floated away. The older woman was one of the prettiest girls Hyojin had ever seen. She was tall, with a round face and slim body. Just Hyojin's type.
Solji smiled and her whole face was transformed. Her eyes lit up with life. Even though she was older, she was adorable. Hyojin clenched her hand into a fist, trying to stop her heart fluttering.
Pretty girls had always been Hyojin's weakness. In her underground rapper days there had been girls who followed them around, like groupies for western rock groups. They were mostly there for the guys, but it was always easy enough to get them into Hyojin's bed. And Hyojin loved it. Loved the game of attracting girls, that is. None of them stuck around for long.
When she joined an idol group, she made one promise to herself. Well, actually she made several, but one main one. She would not fall for any member of her group. She didn't need that kind of complication.
Looking at the other girls, she didn't think that was going to be a problem. The innocent looking girl in the white dress was pretty- what was her name, Honey or something?- but the rest radiated straightness. She could easily keep her promise.
Did her promise include Solji? Surely, as a vocal trainer, she was open for Hyojin to date. It wasn't like she would try to bang her without getting to know her. But she was just so damn pretty.
It took around a month for Hyojin's assessment of Solji to change. The girl was scary, ruthless in her judgements of the girls. Hyojin had never been more glad to be a rapper then when she watched Solji yelling at Uji. Uji could sing, but Solji always wanted her to be better.
However, Hyojin still couldn't stop thinking about Solji. She felt like a schoolgirl with a hopeless crush on her teacher. When she was around Solji she felt her heart beat faster and her palms grow sweaty. It was inexplicable! It was just what Hyojin didn't need. She had long ago given up on dating the girl, she was far too scary, but no matter how hard she tried to shake the crush it would not go away.
For example, take one day around a week before debut.
Hyojin pushed open the door to the practice room, huddled in her padded coat. It was January and bitterly cold, so she blew on her fingers to warm them as she yanked off her gloves.
Solji was sitting cross-legged on the floor, running scales with Jeonghwa. She smiled at Hyojin as she came in, just that action sending a flash of heat through her.
"Unnie, Jeonghwa," she muttered in greeting. She didn't particularly want to talk to either of them. She found living in a house with five other girls tortuous enough without having to speak to them all day.
She went to the other side of the room and began stretching. She hated dancing, but it was part of being an idol so she'd better get good at it before debut. As she rehearsed, she listened idly to Solji and Jeonghwa.
"Just try to sing these notes again, Jeonghwa," Solji said patiently.
Jeonghwa kicked her heels, bratty. "I don't want to! Ugh, I'll never be a good singer!" She folded her arms, pouting cutely.
Their youngest had trained for the longest, was overtrained in Hyojin's opinion. She could never tell whether the teenager was being authentic or putting on a show. Everything about her was perfect, artificially so. In her more cynical moments Hyojin wondered whether Jeonghwa even had a real personality. Even now, her display of aegyo would have fit in perfectly on a variety show.
Solji must have agreed with her, because she met Hyojin's gaze and rolled her eyes. Hyojin smiled in a long-suffering way and went back to training, trying not to blush.
Uji and Hani arrived pretty soon after that. The two friends were talking at a million miles an hour, both hyped for debut. They had been bouncing off walls for days. Hyojin wished she could feel anything more then a vague nervousness about her debut. She was excited to see people's reactions to her song, she supposed, but no more then that. It was weird that she'd been more invested in Troublemaker's debut then her own.
She was thinking about this when she felt a hand on her arm. She was surprised to see Solji, apparently finished with Jeonghwa.
"Unnie?" she asked uncertainly.
"Can I talk to you outside for a moment?" Solji asked.
Hyojin had the feeling that she was about to get yelled at by a teacher, probably because in high school she had always been a bad student. A tiny, paranoid part of her also insisted that, somehow, Solji knew about the crush. She rubbed her sweaty hands against her baggy pants as she followed her out.
When they were in the corridor outside the practice room, Solji rounded on Hyojin.
"Hey, LE, I don’t get to talk to you much, since you're a rapper. I just wanted to check that you're doing ok. I know that debuting is a lot to manage. And I really want this group to do well!" She smiled that transforming smile Hyojin liked so much.
"I'm doing fine. There's really no need for you to care about me. I'm not one of your charges."
"That doesn't mean I don't care! It's clear you're working really hard for this. Please know that you can come to me whenever you need to talk."
And then Solji took Hyojin's hands in her and leaned forwards to kiss her on the cheek. Hyojin just stood there like an idiot as she left.
She really hadn't realised that Solji gave a shit about EXID in any way other then as her job. She hadn't realised that Solji had been watching her, or seeing that she was working hard. And just those few words lingered in Hyojin's heart, a reminder that there were people excited for her and EXID.
She pressed her fingers to her cheek, sealing in the kiss, and went back inside.
Their manager was on the phone. The members of EXID were scattered around the room in various positions of despair. Hani was actually lying eagle-spread in the middle of the room.
The door cracked open. Hyojin looked up from where she was folded against the wall as Uji came in, back from her talks with the CEOs. She shook her head no at Dami's look of hope.
"What’s happening?" Dami asked, her fear clear in her voice.
"I tried to tell them not to split up the companies, but it's no good. They've decided that all people signed to Shinsadong will stay as a group and the ones signed to the company will go away. They're arguing over who gets the name now."
Hyojin groaned, burying her face in her hands. "What does it matter?"
Fuck, when she signed the contract she hadn't even paid attention to who the contract was to. It was to Shinsadong, right? She'd better be able to stay with him, she was terrified that a different company wouldn't let her write the songs.
"Exactly," Uji said. "No matter how you look at it, we're done as a group."
Hyojin felt like screaming. Or crying. Goddamn it, why had she ever invested anything into this idol dream? Why did she think they would be any different from the dozens of idol groups that debuted and then disbanded immediately every year? She was pathetic.
The manager hung up. The girl stared at him, hoping against hope for different news.
He spoke soullessly. "LE, Hani and Jeonghwa are EXID, since they're signed to Shinsadong. The rest are out. It's been decided."
Dami let out a half-stifled sob. Hyojin just let her head drop back down to her chest. It wasn't all bad news. She would still be in EXID, still be able to write her own songs.
But of all people, why did it have to be Hani and Jeonghwa? Hani had got to be one of the weirdest people Hyojin had ever met and she still wasn't entirely convinced Jeonghwa had an actual personality. Maybe she'd get more used to them.
After that everything happened really fast. Hyojin's former members moved out the next day, with a lot of tears and fuss. The day after that, the three remaining members of EXID were gathered back in the practice room with the manager and Shinsadong.
Hyojin had just stepped outside for a moment when she saw Solji come in the main door. The vocal trainer paused uncertainly in the entrance when she saw Hyojin's exhausted expression.
"Oh, honey. I heard what happened. It's not fair. Your debut didn't go that badly!"
It had flopped and Solji knew it. Hyojin accepted a hug from her, then led her into the practice room.
Jeonghwa let out a pitiful cry as soon as she saw Solji. Their maknae had always had the power to wrap Solji around her little finger, so Solji sat on the floor and let Jeonghwa snuggle up to her. Hani slowly shifted over, as if Solji wouldn't notice. When she got close enough Solji put an arm around her too.
"Solji, thank god you're here," the manager exclaimed. "These are the girls. Do you think we can just debut them as a trio?"
Solji looked around the room, then shook her head. "No way. We don't have the best singers here, so you at least need a main vocal."
Shinsadong put his head in his hands. "Where are we going to get a main vocal from? That's a serious question, by the way."
The others glanced at each other before Hani offered a suggestion. "I don't know if you remember… there was a trainee with us before we debuted who was a really good singer. She was cut in favour of Uji, but she was great. Do you remember?" she trailed off.
"Do you mean Hyerin?" Solji asked. "I still have her number. I think she's still a trainee, I could give her a call."
"Let me do it," the manager said.
The small operation waited with baited breath while Solji read the number out to the manager. Hyojin looked at Solji with her arms full of girls and phones and thought, for the millionth time, why is she so invested?
Hyojin knew from her idol friends that vocal trainers aren't usually as involved as Solji was. Once, when she was mad at her, Uji had said that Solji cared so much about them because she herself was a failure. She wanted to live through them.
Maybe true. But somehow, watching Solji stroke Jeonghwa's hair, Hyojin just couldn't buy it. She thought it was more likely that Solji had seen a group of girls who desperately needed her and decided to help them with everything she had.
Because Jeonghwa and Hani really did need someone, especially right now. Hyojin knew she was only able to spend this time thinking about Solji because she didn't really care about EXID. She lived life freely. Being an idol was just another pastime for her, another thing that would allow her to keep creating music. But for Jeonghwa and Hani, it was their whole lives. They had never known anything else.
They were plainly terrified. Hyojin , Shinsadong and the manager were bad at comforting and lost when it came to the next step. So Hyojin was grateful to Solji for being there, for comforting the younger girls and helping them decide what to do. It seemed that Hyojin was always grateful to Solji these day.
Then Hyerin picked up the phone and Hyojin forced herself to pay attention.
"Hello, this is AB Entertainment. We'd like to make you an offer," the manager said, putting the phone on speaker.
"Oh, yeah, I remember you. Look, I'm not interested in going back to being an trainee there. No offence, but you guys have basically no money. And there's no chance you'll debut a second girl group right after EXID."
Hyerin was brutally honest as always. Hyojin only remembered the younger girl vaguely, but she had been struck by her lack of filter. She recalled her baby-face and cheeky grin. The first time they'd met Hyojin had thought she was in middle school or something.
"It's not about being a trainee. We want you to join EXID."
There was a pause. "Wait, you want there to be seven of us?"
"No. Three of the girls have left. You would be with LE, Hani and Jeonghwa to give EXID a new image."
Solji was leaning forwards now, listening to the conversation intently. Her fingers drummed on the floor in a nervous rhythm.
"I'm interested," Hyerin said finally. "Can I come into the studio for discussion?"
"Of course!" the manager jumped on the opportunity. "When are you free?"
"Tomorrow? I'll be there at around noon."
"I'll see you then," the manager hung up and slumped back into his seat, relieved.
"Do you think we'll get her?" Hani asked.
"We'll make sure of it," Shinsadong replied. "There's just one more thing to sort out. Hyerin's nineteen, so that means LE is EXID's new leader."
"No!" the cry burst out of Hyojin's mouth before she could help it. There was absolutely no way she could be a leader. She was totally unsuited to it.
Hyojin struggled to make her emotional response into a cohesive argument. "I'll be making the songs. There's no way I can be the producer and the leader, the two things are totally at odds with each other! C'mon, Shinsadong. Hani can do it or something."
"No way!" Hani exclaimed. "Can you seriously imagine me as a leader? I'd be the worst."
Shinsadong cast a despairing look around the room, as did Hyojin. She needed to find anyone, anyone at all to replace her as leader. She'd rather the fucking manager joined the group rather then her having to be leader.
She saw the tight huddle against the wall, Solji with her arms around the members. She looked so natural there, like she belonged with the girls she was sitting with.
The penny dropped and Hyojin had the stupidest idea of her life. Well, maybe second to joining an idol group.
She looked at Shinsadong and saw that he had had the same idea as her. He stood up, chair scraping painfully against the group.
"Solji, I need to talk to you outside."
Solji looked concerned, but she unwrapped herself from Hani and Jeonghwa and went outside with the manager and Shinsadong. The remaining three looked at each other.
"What are they talking about?" Hani asked.
"Let's find out," Jeonghwa suggested, rushing up to the door and pressing her ear against the crack. It didn't take long for the other two to join her.
"- just don't think this will work," Solji was saying.
"I swear it will. Just give it a chance."
"I'm a failure. You're better off without me," Solji insisted.
Hani peeled her head away from the door. "What are they talking about?"
"I think they want Solji to join the group," Hyojin supplied.
"Well, she's wrong," Hani said casually. "We'd be better with her. I hope she joins." She flattened her head against the door again.
"Just be at the talks tomorrow, that's all I ask," Shinsadong said. "You can sign at the same time as Hyerin, if you want to."
"Please think about it," the manager added. "The girls need you."
Solji sighed. "I will consider it. And I'll see you tomorrow."
The conversation was at an end, so the girls- Hyojin realised that she had included herself with that word for the first time- scattered back to avoid being caught. Solji had a small smile on her face when she came in.
"I'm going to head off now. I'll see you guys tomorrow."
"Bye," Jeonghwa waved her hand but didn't move. The poor maknae was exhausted, cracks evident in her cheerful persona.
Selfishly, Hyojin didn't want Solji to join the group. She still held out hope that someday something would happen between them and that was impossible if they were in the same group. She would be amazing to write for, that was certain, but Hyojin's emotions would be too complicated to deal with.
But Jeonghwa was exhausted and sad to see Solji go. For Hani and Jeonghwa, this was their whole existence. Hyojin could not let this group flop and Solji was their best chance at not flopping.
"I have to go," Hyojin said quickly before rushing out the door.
She scanned the street, quickly finding Solji. Hyojin raced towards her, grabbing her arm roughly.
Solji jerked around, hand already in a fist, but stopped when she saw it was Hyojin. "What are you doing?" she asked instead.
"They asked you to join EXID, right?" Hyojin said breathlessly.
"Please do it. Please say yes."
"I don't-" Solji's eyes dropped to the floor. "I don't think I can ever succeed. I wouldn't be a good leader."
"What are you talking about? You'd be the best leader. The girls rely on you, you know that."
"And what about you? Do you rely on me?"
Hyojin's first instinct was to say that Solji wasn't her teacher, so she didn't. But that wasn't really true. Nursing her crush, she looked forwards each day to the butterflies that would explode in her stomach when she saw Solji. She listened in on her vocal lessons just to hear her sing.
In this whole crazy process of becoming an idol, Solji had been a constant for Hyojin. She wouldn't say she loved her, but rely on her? She could say that.
"Of course I do."
"Then I'll do it."
"Just like that? Because I asked?"
Solji's face split into a smile. "You girls are what I care about now. Oh wow! This is so exciting!" she pumped her fists in the air, a cute display. Hyojin couldn't help but laugh along with her.
Rapidly, Solji pressed a kiss to Hyojin's cheek. "Thank you for coming to me."
"No- no worries," Hyojin stammered.
She went back to their studio with a ridiculous grin on her face. She tried to be tough, to wipe it off before anyone saw, but she just couldn't. Solji always brought that out in her.
"So, when's the comeback?" Jeonghwa asked, and Hyojin felt like smacking her.
"The comeback is whenever we manage to get enough money for a comeback. All I can do is write songs." Her usual response.
The maknae slumped back into the couch, eyes re-focusing on her drama. Hyojin joined her. The couch was uncomfortable, a broken thing Solji had gotten from a friend. A stray spring poked into Hyojin's back.
On screen, the handsome lead wrapped his arms around the gorgeous herione's waist, leaned in for a kiss. Jeonghwa sighed, settling into Hyojin's shoulder.
"I want a romance like that." When Hyojin cast her a sceptical look, she gave in with a smile. "I'd settle for acting in a romance like that, I suppose."
The one upside to having no money and no fame was that Jeonghwa had lightened up. She could still be annoying and over-cheerful, but she was more honest with Hyojin now. In a way, it's better to when your worst fears come true. There's no reason to be perfect anymore.
The door opened and Solji came in. She had been out recording vocal guides. She looked around the tiny, messy apartment, sighing through her nose.
Jeonghwa stiffened slightly. Even though it had been nearly a year since Solji moved in with them, Jeonghwa couldn't shake her image of the older woman as a scary teacher. Hyojin also expected her to tell them to start tidying up.
But instead, Solji just dropped her handbag on the kitchen table and sat down.
"Where's Hani and Hyerin?" she asked.
"Hani's in her room reading comic books, and Hyerin's out. Hyerin's always out," Jeonghwa told her.
Hyerin really was always out. Hyojin supposed they all had different ways of coping through difficult times, but she was getting worried about Hyerin's actions. She was barely home and kept dodging questions about where she went.
Solji put her head on the table. "I want a comeback," she said into her arms. "I hate having nothing to do."
"Yeah, well, we all want a comeback," Hyojin snapped. "It's just not happening, alright?"
"Ok. I'm sorry."
It's weird to hear Solji apologise to her, and it made Hyojin soften. "Don't be sorry, unnie. I'm frustrated too."
"At least we have that fanmeet tomorrow!" Jeonghwa said, trying to be cheerful.
"Oh yeah, that'll be great," Hyojin said bitterly.
She knew that any event was better then another day of sitting at home, all of them rattling around in this too-small apartment, but their fanmeets were an exercise in humiliation. Most times only a few people turned up and they're left chatting to them awkwardly, nobody knowing what to say. Sometimes nobody came at all. Hyojin tried her best not to care, but when she saw Solji holding back tears it cut her heart as well.
Jeonghwa knew what Hyojin meant. Her head drooped. "It's fine as long as we have fun," she muttered.
That stupid motto. Hani had said it randomly one day and the younger girls had taken to it. They repeated it to themselves like a chant before every event.
"We won't have fun at a fanmeet by ourselves," Hyojin said cruelly.
Jeonghwa suddenly stood up and turned off the tv. "I'm going to hang out with Hani unnie," she said and left.
When she was gone, Solji rounded on Hyojin. "Why do you always say things like that? They need you to be positive!"
"I'm not their fucking mother," Hyojin retorted crankily. "They don't need me to do anything."
Solji came and sat next to Hyojin. "I get it, it's a shitty situation. But you have to at least try, Hyojin. You're acting like a teenager."
"No, you don’t get it! I'm sick of this! I spend all my time either writing songs that nobody will ever give a shit about or being bored to death in this stupid apartment with all of you!"
Solji's eyes narrowed. "Actually, I think I understand you pretty well. You used to be some big-shot rapper, right? In the top rap group in Korea. And then you were, I don't know, a rap trainer to the stars or something. So you have no idea what real life is actually like. You've been successful at everything you tried and you're angry that this isn't working out the way you planned. But this is what being an idol is like! This is how the majority of idol groups live. And trust me, your illusions being shattered is nothing compared to the illusions that the others have built up over their lives. And now it's all failed-" Solji paused to hastily scrub away sudden tears- "can you just be there for them for once? Can you just be there for me instead of being distant and angry all the time?"
It was so accurate and devastating that Solji may as well have punched her in the stomach. Of course, Solji would already know what it was like to be a flop. She had always lived like this. But now she had to deal with idiots who didn't know and their pain was making it harder for her.
Hyojin never wanted to make anything harder for Solji. She put her arms around her, letting her sink into her side. Solji was now crying in earnest.
"I should never have joined you," she said, her words muffled by Hyojin's shirt. "It's all my fault. I'm sorry, Hyojin."
Hyojin had to pull her away, gripping her firmly by the shoulders. "It's not your fault! You are the best singer I've ever heard. This is nobody's fault."
Solji was taller then her, but at that moment she looked so frail. "I just try to be positive all the time and it's so hard. I wish you could understand me. I feel so alone," she sobbed.
"You're not alone," Hyojin murmured, trying pulling her back into a hug.
Solji resisted, pushing against Hyojin's shoulder. Her eyes suddenly looked very big. And then her lips were pressed against Hyojin's.
It wasn't a kiss, not really, that was what Hyojin told herself. It meant nothing. It was Solji reaching out, a lonely, desperate attempt at connection. Being kissed by a crying girl was just a manifestation of her own emotions.
And yet she couldn't help but enjoy it. Solji tasted of salt and lip gloss. Her skin was soft, her mouth even more so. Hyojin pressed her hand to the back of Solji's head, loving the feeling of Solji's hair sliding through her fingers.
She should stop, should tell Solji that she was here for her but not like that. She didn't know who this kiss would fuck up more, her or Solji. It wasn't healthy for either of them. But she kept going.
They sprung when someone at the door screamed, followed by a loud crash. Hyojin whipped her head around to see Hyerin, a bag of groceries spilt at her feet and the biggest smile ever plastered on her face.
"Oh my god! This is like walking in on your parents kissing."
Solji scrambled away from Hyojin, her face a splotchy red. "I- no- Hyerin, don't tell the others!"
"Don't tell the others what?" Hani said, leaning against the door to their room. "These walls are thin."
"They were kissing!" Hyelin burst out, eager to share her gossip. Hyojin wished the floor would swallow her right now.
"Seriously? Do you do that a lot?" Hani seemed genuinely interested.
"No way! It was just a one-time thing!" Solji squeaked defensively.
Even though her words hurt, Hyojin had been expecting them, and the look on her face was priceless. She couldn't help but laugh, which of course set off Hyerin. Before long they were all laughing, the sound bouncing around the apartment. It was the first time Hyojin had felt truly happy in a long time.
She'd thought this silly crush thing on Solji was over, but she had to face facts. It was back and stronger then ever.
Their first comeback in forever, and it was… well, it was flopping, let's be honest. Hyojin can't help but feel resentful towards Shinsadong. He was the one who'd insisted on the concept change and it wasn't even working.
They were practicing when their manager came in. Hani turned off the speaker with a kick, silencing it mid-wi arae. The practice room was a mess, littered with their bags and equipment. Their dancing shoes were in a pile in the corner, staining the floor with the marker that they used to turn them black.
The girls were hopeful as they turn to the manager, but he shook his head. They were mid-promotion, or at least they should be, but it was really hard to get on tv. Nobody wanted to hear Hyojin's music, or see them performing it.
"It's no good. I've called a million places and they're not interested."
"We could go to the army again," Hyerin suggested. The army was always positively inclined towards them, but they couldn't exactly buy albums so it wasn't the most useful fanbase.
"If we could just get a music show," Solji said pleadingly.
"I'd do it if I could!" The manager responded. "I can't bear to call another person and be yelled at. I suppose all you girls can go home."
Hyojin decided to stay behind while the others went off. She wanted to revisit one of the songs she was writing, even though in all likelihood it would never see publication. Maybe she could give it to someone else.
She spent a couple of hours huddled in her closet-sized studio down the hall, squinting at her laptop until her eyes strained. When she was finally satisfied enough to leave it for another day, she was surprised to see that the light was still on in the practice room.
She opened the door to see Solji sitting on the floor, phone pressed to her ear.
"Yes, I see. Of course. I'm sorry for wasting your time," she said politely.
When she was done she picked up a piece of paper next to her and crossed off a number. Hyojin went fully into the room.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm calling people. There's got to be someone who will let us perform."
Hyojin sat next to her. "You can't do that, you're a member."
"I'm pretending to be the manager," Solji laughed. "If they accept us and we show up with a male manager they're going to be really shocked."
"Maybe they'll think we have two managers," Hyojin giggled. Just the idea of having two managers seemed like a ludicrous expense. "I want to help."
Solji considered for a moment, then shoves the paper at Hyojin. "Call the next number."
Hyojin did it. A male voice answered, sounding bored out of his mind. "Hello, this is music bank."
Hyojin put on her best professional voice. "Hello, I'm the manager of girl group EXID. We were really hoping that EXID would be able to perform on your program, they've just made a comeback."
The guy openly laughed down the line.
"Who is it?" a voice in the background shouted.
"Just some nugus," the guy answered, before focusing again on Hyojin. "Look, sweetie, I'd love to. But you need to actually chart to perform on music bank. Did you?"
"Not as such, no. But I promise, they're really worth a shot."
He dropped his voice suggestively. "Look, maybe I can pull some strings for you if you pull one of my strings, you know what I mean?"
He breaks into laughter. "Just kidding! Don’t be so uptight, sweetie. Seriously, you're wasting my time. Nobody gives a fuck about you or your shitty group."
Hyojin was the first one to hang up. She stared at the phone in disgust. Solji had already finished with hers and gave her a sympathetic look.
"You got a bad one, huh?"
"Men really are disgusting," Hyojin said.
"Don’t you just know it." Solji was already pulling the paper towards her. "You don't have to do any more if you don’t want to."
"No way, I can handle it. Have you done this before?"
"I used to do it all the time for 2NB." Solji rarely talked about 2NB, so Hyojin was eager to listen.
"Were they like this back then?"
"Actually they're more receptive now. It was alright in our first few years, but at the end we were getting nowhere. It was frustrating. It's amazing how awful people will be to you when you've been labelled as somebody who doesn't matter."
"You matter," Hyojin said, but even as the words left her mouth she knew how useless they were.
Solji shook off her feelings with her whole body, buried her hardships away again. "Thanks Hyojin. I'm going to call the next number."
Hyojin couldn't bring herself to go through that again, so she sat and watched as Solji called more numbers. Once she got screamed at, cringing away from the phone as some employee poured tirades of abuse down the line. Solji hung up mid-rant and called the next number, not meeting Hyojin's eyes.
Hyojin was about to insist that they took a break when Solji started smiling. She pressed the phone to her ears with both hands, looking delighted.
"Of course! Yes, whatever you want! Thank you!" She hung up and turned to Hyojin.
"We got something?" Hyojin asked excitedly.
"Yeah! Sistar dropped out of music core, so…"
"I can't wait to tell the others!"
Solji's smile dropped. "There's just one thing. They want the song cut down to a minute and a half."
Hyojin stopped dead. "What?"
"Yeah, they're dividing Sistar's slot into two groups."
"Solji, it's three and half minutes long. It's impossible!" Or maybe not, but she really didn't want to. "How long do I have?"
"Three days. And we have to revisit the choreo and everything to get it to work."
"Alright." It's not great, but Hyojin will live with it. She doesn't exactly have a choice "I'll remix it tonight."
Solji startles. "You can't! You have to sleep."
"No, I'll just do it tonight."
"Then I'll stay up with you and help you."
She should have insisted that Solji goes to sleep, but again to be honest Hyojin wanted her around, so she just nodded. They decided to go back to their apartment and work in the living room, because that's where Hyojin kept all her equipment. Solji texted their manager to tell him about the gig, peppering her texts with cute love heart and party emojis.
They stopped on the way home to get food and alcohol, so when they arrived Hyojin was already pleasantly buzzed from the open can of beer she held. Their apartment was four rooms; two bedrooms, a living room and a bathroom. Despite the two bedrooms, Hyerin was passed out on the couch.
Hyojin got settled in her work chair, an enormous comfortable leather thing that the maknaes were always trying to steal. She slid her headphones over her ears, taking another long pull at the beer. It might not be the best idea to get drunk when she had to work, but she'd need to be tipsy to sacrifice her baby.
Meanwhile, Solji picked up Hyerin and carried her into a bedroom. The younger girl shifted in her sleep but didn’t wake. She looked so cute in Solji's arm, Hyojin thought, so much younger and more innocent then she really was.
The girls of EXID were always touchy with each other, always casually hugging or touching each other, and there was only one chair, so it only made sense for Solji to sit practically on Hyojin's lap as she worked. Every so often, Hyojin would get Solji to listen to the song and tell her whether a certain part could be cut. Solji also got Hyojin water and food to help her sober up a little.
When it was finally done, Solji was nearly asleep, her head in Hyojin's lap. Hyojin run her fingers through Solji's dyed hair, the combination of alcohol and physical contact making her emotional.
They were going to disband. Right now, this seemed inevitable. Hyojin was already casually making plans for what she would do after EXID, though she felt guilty whenever she thought about it. She was going to lose all this.
This life was objectively shitty, and Hyojin should have been glad to be on the cusp of leaving it all behind, but somehow she couldn't bring herself to see it like that. There were many things about idol life that she hated. She hated the dancing, hated the distance between herself and the crowd. Hated having no money.
But she loved her girls. In her opinion, that made it all worth it. Jeonghwa was so aggressively cheerful, always trying to make her unnies feel better when they were upset. She could annoy Hyojin so much, but she loved her too. Jeonghwa was just like what Hyojin had always imagined having a little sister would be like.
Hani was a fucking weirdo who made no excuses for that, and Hyojin loved it. She was the first to suggest any crazy plan and then go through with it. She lived to have fun. Hyojin couldn't count the number of times this so-called genius had done something completely insane backstage just to entertain her members. Hyerin would be the second to cooperate with Hani's antics. She was so unpredictable and uncontrolled, she would just do whatever she wanted, consequences be damned.
And then there was Solji. God, how could she explain how she felt about Solji? She pictured her earlier, calling people, enduring abuse alone just for the merest chance of advancing EXID. She cared so much about everything. Solji's feeling were on display in a way that Hyojin's weren't. It made her vulnerable but was also what Hyojin loved about her.
Loved. Just thinking the word made something in Hyojin's stomach jump. She didn't love Solji, of course. She just had a crush. Just a crush that she really needed to stop thinking about.
She shook Solji lightly. The older girl smiled up at her, clearly more then a little tipsy.
"Hello Hyojin. Did I fall asleep?"
"Yeah, unnie, you did. C'mon, let's go to the couch."
"Ok. You're so cute."
Solji was giggly as Hyojin helped her stand up. The room swung ominously. Hyojin was drunker then she'd thought.
Solji settled onto the couch, tugging Hyojin down with her. She slid her arm around Hyojin's waist, pulling her closer.
"You're so cute," she said again into Hyojin's ear.
"I know, you already told me." Hyojin laughed.
Solji propped herself up on one arm, hovering over Hyojin. "Can I kiss you?"
Without thinking about it, Hyojin nodded. Solji pressed her lips on Hyojin's for the second time. This time, she tasted like alcohol. Her lips moved against Hyojin's, kissing her for real. Hyojin just lay there, trying her best to kiss her back. She felt light-headed.
And then Solji was gone. "Thank you!" she chirped, like it was nothing, and dove back behind Hyojin. In a moment she was asleep, snoring lightly on Hyojin's shoulder.
Hyojin lay there in the darkness, heart thumping and still feeling the ghost of Solji's kiss. When she was a kid she had gone around with a rapper unnie, another lesbian. She had told her that girls who kiss you when they're sad or drunk are nothing more then straight girls experimenting. The worst thing you can do is fall in love with these type of girls.
So Hyojin wasn't going to. No matter how good Solji felt snuggled against her back or how right her lips had felt on Hyojin's, she was not in love with her. It was nothing more then a crush.
She closed her eyes, and didn’t sleep all night.
This was the best day of Hyojin's life.
Jeonghwa was in the backseat with their trophy, since she wouldn't let it go. That's right- they have a trophy now, a for-reals first place trophy, and Hyojin still thought that someone was going to call them back in and take it off them.
The five of them ran into the carpark with their stolen trophy. They were supposed to get straight into their van but they didn't, because Hani's laughing and Jeonghwa's still crying and Hyojin felt like the world was light. So they spent a bit of time running around, burning off a bit of energy to the great relief of their manager, and then they got in.
Solji sniffled again when they were in the car. She'd obviously been crying and normally that's terrible but today it's great. Hyerin climbed into Solji's lap instead of into her seat, just for fun.
"Don't drop it!" Hani squealed from the backseat, snatching the trophy from Jeonghwa's trembling hands.
"Let Solji unnie hold it," Hyojin suggested.
She deserved it the most, she really did. Solji looked at the trophy with sparkling eyes. For the first time she was being given the reward that the universe owes her. Hyojin couldn't be more proud of her. Of all of them.
The trophy was duly passed around. Everyone wants to hold it, to read the words written on it.
"This can't be happening," Jeonghwa said over and over again. "This must be some mistake."
It only makes sense that she's overwhelmed. Jeonghwa is the girl who lost everything she worked for and is now gaining it all back again. Hyojin felt an enormous swell of pride for her. This whole month had felt so surreal, like a wonderful dream. She couldn't help but wonder when she'll wake up.
Hani wasn't crying, the only one among them, and Hyojin knew that's because she thought that they will wake up. 'One hit wonder' is the words that some had already started branding them with, the words that were written in worry all over Hani's face. In Hyojin's opinion, it’s better to be a one-hit wonder then to be nothing at all.
"Have we all called our mums and done all that?" Hyerin asked.
When she's met with affirmations from the others, a wicked grin spread across her face. "Great. Then let's really celebrate."
For Hyerin, just like Hyojin, celebrating means alcohol. Hyojin was totally up for it and so was everyone else, so Hyerin got their manager, who was going to get drinks with Shinsadong so he could cry in peace with another man, to drop them off a block away from their apartment.
The young, geeky liquor shop employee nearly dropped his jar when they entered the store.
"Oh my god," he stammered. "Are you the real Hani?"
Hani looked totally taken aback. "Um, I think so. I'm EXID's Hani, if that's what you mean."
"Ohmygosh," he said, all one breath. "Can I get your autograph? I saw your fancam, you’re so gorgeous!"
He went beet red at the mere mention of the fancam, a curiously common reaction. Hani was hot, sure, but the fancam did nothing for Hyojin. She supposed she's spent too much of her life actually with the crackheaded girl to ever find her sexy.
Hani signed a scrap of paper for the kid and they got out of there. Groups of people stopped and stared at them as they walk down the street, a very strange experience for Hyojin. True, they were mostly looking at Hani, but still.
They were looking for a new apartment, one where they could all have their own rooms, but for now they were still in the hole they'd been stuck in for two years now. Hani dug the trophy out from her bag and put in place of pride in the living room, while Hyerin puts the alcohol on their coffee table.
Solji poured the first toast. "To EXID's future!" she shouted.
Hyojin winced as the soju went down hard, but relished the burning feeling that accompanied it. This was going to be a fun night.
An hour later things were getting good. Hyerin and Hyojin were both heavyweights, so they had agreed to match each other drink for drink. Solji had promptly wanted to join in, which was a terrible idea because she was a total lightweight. That meant that she was now giggly and clingy, obviously drunk.
Jeonghwa had gone back to her room to talk to her mum when Hani got a bit too touchy with her, as Hani always did.
"Aw, c'mon!" Hani shouted at Jeonghwa's closed door. "Half the guys in Korea would kill to be where you are!"
"That's probably actually true," Hyerin slurred.
"Because I am so fucking sexy," Hani said, running her hand down her body. On stage it would have been sexy, but she was drunk so it was just sloppy.
Solji laughed loudly, deafening Hyojin. The older girl was pressed right into Hyojin's side, arms wrapped around her midsection. The feeling of her slim body against Hyojin's was turning her on. She gently pushed the wasted girl off her, holding the soju bottle out of reach. Solji snatched for it tiredly, but slumped over before she could get it.
Their second hour of drinking saw Solji somehow even more gone. Hani was asleep on the carpet and Hyelin was stretched out on the couch. Hyojin was trying to stop Solji from drinking more.
"You're going to kill yourself," she said, holding the girl back.
The world was spinning so severely that Hyojin was seriously worried. Solji was just as far gone as her and was craving physical contact. She always wanted cuddles when she got drunk.
This was a problem today because she was turning Hyojin on quite badly. Maybe it's all these days of seeing Solji in leather pants and short shorts. Maybe it’s Solji being on top of her, Hyojin's hands dangerously close to her breasts. Or maybe it's just how wasted she was.
Solji suddenly turned herself around so that she was pressed against Hyojin's front, straddling her lap. Her wandering hands went everywhere, climbing briefly over her thighs before settling at her waist. Her face was an inch away from Hyojin's.
"Solji," Hyojin groaned, "get off."
Solji just mutely shook her head.
"I'm serious," Hyojin warned, desperately ignoring the knot in her stomach which intensified every time Solji moved.
"No. I'm happy today."
"Me too, babe."
"Babe?" Solji quirked an eyebrow.
Then she surged forward and pressed a kiss to Hyojin's lips, quickly chasing it with a series of rapid-fire pecks. Her strawberry-coloured lips moved from Hyojin's lips to her cheeks and then her neck, slowing gliding further down.
Hyojin opened her eyes to see that Hyerin's eyes were also open. She wasn't moving, but she was watching them.
That sent a shock through Hyojin that prompted her to grasp Solji's shoulders, lifting her off her lap.
"Solji, we can't do this." Her entire body cried out in protest of her words, but it was the right thing to do.
Solji pouted. "Why not? I love you. Don't you love me?"
"I love you. But we have to stop."
"At least cuddle me?"
It was going to play havoc with Hyojin's feelings, but she couldn't ever say no to Solji.
As she drifted off with Solji in her arms, Hyojin couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if she hadn't stopped Solji. She didn't really want to have sex with Solji, not while they're both out of their minds and especially not while Hyerin was watching them, but It's undeniable that she was going further.
It might not be a reflection of Solji's genuine feelings, but it was tearing Hyojin's emotions apart. Every time Solji touched her there was this tiny, pathetic part of her that came to life and dared to hope.
Maybe that part was love. Maybe she was in love with Solji, after all.
Hyojin hummed over her lyrics, which she'd scribbled down on a sheet of paper. She sang aloud, her voice scratchy over the notes. They'll sound beautiful when Solji sings them, she knew.
She's in her studio, reclining in the leather chair she's had since forever. Like the Seasons was the final song for the album, their first full-length album, so she was really excited about it.
She played the music again and sung a part of Solji's lines over it.
"When I walk the path again/ I hope you are by my side."
It sounded good. Hyojin was so focused on her equipment that the sound of the door opening startled her. She swivelled around, glaring. She hated being interrupted.
Hani poked her head around the doorway. "I got food," she said, holding up a plastic bag filled with takeout as a peace offering.
Hyojin relaxed. "I suppose I do need to eat," she said grudgingly.
"You sure do!" Hani came fully into the room, putting the takeout on the table and getting her half of the fried rice. They really shouldn't be eating this right before the comeback, but Hyojin wanted to be naughty just this once.
As they ate, Hani read through Like the Seasons. "This is sounding pretty good."
"Don't say that, please," Hyojin made a show of covering her ears with her hands. There's a running joke among them that whatever Hani likes is going to flop.
Hani laughed. "Fine, I'm sorry. It's trash."
Hani looked great today, even as she shovelled fried rice in her face. Hyojin really liked shorter hair on her. She'd been more cheerful lately. Strangely, as the offers for variety shows and hosting gigs started to slow, Hani only got happier.
It was the relief of pressure, Hyojin thought. For the last year, Hani had been rushed off her feet. Hyojin felt like she couldn't turn on the tv without seeing her. And even though she was super proud of her, she was also a first-hand recipient to the toll that it took on Hani's mental health.
"How's Weekly Idol going?" she asked her.
"It's good! Last week was Oh My Girl, they're seriously cute!"
Hyojin had also been loving Weekly Idol. Whenever Hani got back she would inevitably be swarmed by her members and pestered until she told them some funny story about her day on set. When you're the kind of person Hani is, you always have an entertaining story.
Hani picked up the Like the Seasons lyrics again. "Who'd you write this for? It's so sappy!"
"Maybe I'm a relationship right now."
Hani rolled her eyes. "I know you're not, don't lie to me. And your last one ended terribly, so it's not about that. We're kinda singing a song about it, y'know?"
Even though her feelings for Solji were as strong as ever, Hyojin had been dating other people. She refused to feel guilty about that. She needed sex every so often and it'd been over a year since the last time her and Solji even kissed.
"Fine. I wrote it about you guys."
Hani laughed. "That's so sappy. Are you sure you didn't write it about Solji?"
Hyojin's chopsticks froze over her rice. "What are you talking about? I wrote it for Solji as much as I did the rest of you."
"Sure. Because you have no extra feelings towards her at all."
"I don't!" Hyojin heard her voice go all embarrassed and high-pitched.
"Hyojin, you must think I'm an idiot. Sure, say whatever you want. But I like girls too and I know gay panic when I see it. Let's be real, the one you want to walk the path by your side is Solji, right?"
"No way. Now look, I have to work."
Hyojin kicking Hani out is basically her admitting to it and Hani knew it, but she couldn't think of anything else to do. When she sat back into her seat her whole body was shaking.
So Hani knew. But Hani's bisexual so not likely to tell on her. She thought about scrapping Like the Seasons, but in the end decided to keep it. It was selfish but she really wanted to hear Solji singing this song.
A couple of days later, Hyojin and Shinsadong were fighting in the recording room. Solji sat on a high stool behind the glass, her boredom written all over her pretty face.
"It's not fair to make me do the directing again, I already did it for LIE," Shinsadong moaned.
They both hated this job, which required them being mean to her members, and were constantly fighting over who had to do it. They especially hated critiquing Solji because she always did so well that it was hard to find flaws.
"You should do it oppa, you have seniority over me. It's weird for me to direct my members!" Hyojin argued.
"You only say that I have seniority during this fight!"
Solji put her lips to the microphone. "Hyojin, just do it so we can go home."
This was met with a cheer from Hyerin. The other three were on their phones on a couch in the back of the room.
Shinsadong cast her a victorious look and sat down behind the desk. He fiddled with the sound equipment while Hyojin told Solji what do to.
It only took a couple of takes, as expected. "It's pretty much perfect," Hyojin said. "Just put a little more emphasis on the song in 'I sing a song you and I sang together'."
Solji did it, her beautiful voice filling the studio as she repeated the line. Hyojin especially liked this line. Her favourite parts of EXID songs were always Solji's parts, even over her own, and she liked to try and sing them to herself. She thought the line showed how much affection she had for EXID songs. She liked to think that she would enjoy them even if she hadn't written them, just because they had her member's voices in them.
"Alright, and you’re done! Good job."
Solji always took less time then anyone else, so they tended to have her record last. It was late when they piled in the car, chatting as their manager drove them home.
Hani had plans to go out with her friends that night. They were waiting for her outside their apartment, wearing medical masks in an attempt to disguise their identity. Jin said hello to Hyojin and Moonbyul stopped to talk to Solji, but it was only a quick interaction before they had spirited Hani away.
On the way up Hyerin blabbered about some new bbq place that Hani had told her about and by the time time they'd reached the apartment she had convinced Jeonghwa to go with her. Solji shooed Hyerin out the door and rolled her eyes at Hyojin as Jeonghwa scurried about the apartment, sure that she'd left behind some very important thing.
When they were gone Solji sat down next to Hyojin. Hyojin avoided eye contact and turned on the tv.
Their apartment now was about a million times better then their last one. They all had their own rooms, along with a spacious living room with two couches and a kitchen. If you stood in the middle of the living room and hold out your arms, there was no chance of touching the walls. Hyojin loved it.
They watched a drama for a while and Hyojin was starting to think about heating up leftovers for dinner when Solji turned to her.
"I really like the songs in this album," she said.
"I know." Solji isn’t the kind of person who would lie that a song is good when it isn't, so if she doesn't like a song Hyojin will edit it until she does.
"I especially like Like the Seasons. Its lyrics are so beautiful, seriously. It's so touching. Hani told me you wrote it about me. Is that true?" Solji looked nervous and maybe hopeful, though that might just be Hyojin projecting.
"Kind of. I wrote it for all of you," Hyojin gave the most diplomatic answer she could think of. She was going to kill Hani, she thought, as the realisation that Hani had set up this whole night dawned on her.
"Oh," Solji stared at her hands, and was she… disappointed? No, she couldn't be.
"It's still meaningful, though. I thought of you while I was writing it."
"You thought of all of us."
"Well, maybe you a little more then the others." Hyojin admitted, rolling her eyes to try and pass it off as a joke. "I wouldn't really want to walk the flower road with those little monsters."
Solji laughed, a relieving sound for Hyojin. "It's weird to think you would want to spend all your days and nights with any of us. You were so against this at the beginning."
That was true. Hyojin cringed when she thought of that girl, all too-big t-shirts and what she'd thought was a rapper's attitude. She had distain for the girls she dismissed as typical idols, since she was too lazy to do the work of digging beneath the surface. Hyojin was glad she wasn't like that anymore.
"You know I haven't felt that way for a long time," she clarified with Solji. "Nowadays I love you guys so much."
It was weird to be sentimental with her members, but Solji brought it out of her the best. Hyojin would never have been this emotional with the younger ones. That was the whole point of the bloody song, to say things that would have been too awkward to speak aloud.
"Can I try something?" Solji asked.
"Um, sure. But don't hurt me or anything-"
Hyojin's uncomfortable rambling was effectively cut off when Solji kissed her. She made a little noise of surprise into Solji's mouth. They weren't touching, so Hyojin's hands braced on the couch. Solji was soft against her, her mouth falling open obediently when Hyojin demanded entrance. It was a sweet kiss.
Then it was over as abruptly as it had begun. Solji looked away shyly, her red hair falling in her face.
"Wow, it's been a while since we did that," Hyojin commented.
"What do you mean? We've never done that." Solji paused for a moment, thinking, before she snapped her fingers. "Oh right, that time years ago when I was upset! To be honest, I didn't even think you'd remember that."
It had never crossed Hyojin's mind that Solji wouldn't even remember their other kisses and it felt like a punch in the gut. Of course she didn't remember, she'd been wasted. Hyojin felt so stupid, clinging to these memories which had already vanished for the other girl.
Solji glanced shyly at her face and then recoiled, as if the reality of what she had done had just dawned on her. She grimaced and scrambled to her feet.
Hyojin grabbed her hand. "Wait! What did that… what did it mean?"
Solji still wasn't looking at her as she pulled away. "Nothing, I guess," she mumbled. "It was nice, though. Thank you. I just wanted to say thank you."
She rushed into her room, looking strangely on the verge of tears. Hyojin just sat there, devastated.
"Where is Solji?"
Hyerin finally said what they were all thinking, but nobody wanted t acknowledge it. The four of them were sitting around a table, waiting for the CEO. Hyojin tapped her fingers against the table nervously, a habit she'd picked up from Solji, who constantly had a song stuck in her head.
There was something wrong with Solji. That had become blatantly obvious during their recent trip away. Throughout the trip she had been weak, reluctant to get out of bed, and ate a lot more then usual. Near the end she had nearly passed out and had been caught by a manager when she collapsed. She brushed off questions, but Hyojin was worried about her.
When their manager finally arrived he was withdrawn and pale. He sat down, doing his best to ignore the hailstorm of questions from the girls.
"Solji has hyperthyroidism," he said at last. "We're going to announce her hiatus from the group today."
The news hit Hyojin like a bullet, leaving her emotions bleeding across the table. She gathered them back in, held them into herself, and sat there in stoic silence as the manager explains that Solji was extremely sick, that she will need surgery, that she cannot perform. That she will never be cured, only better. Maybe never even better.
Then there was discussion of what this will mean for the group, of Hyerin taking over Solji's part, but it all washed over Hyojin. She couldn't bear to think of Solji in pain and not telling them. The worst part was knowing that she probably hadn't told them because she wanted to protect them.
Even after all these years, Solji would still rather suffer alone then risk hurting them. She would still tear herself apart until she couldn't keep going any more rather then allow her members to help her. In case they got burnt on the fire that was destroying her.
Hyojin clenched her hand into a fist, shaking. Stupid idiot.
They gathered outside the room, all of them downcast. Jeonghwa was the first to start crying, which set Hyojin off, and then the four of them were holding each other and bawling in some random corridor.
Hani drew herself out of the huddle in time to ask Hyojin, "are you crying because of Solji or because you have to be leader now?"
"Shut up!" Hyojin responded, hitting her, and then she was laughing through her tears, head spinning.
Jeonghwa sniffled loudly, wiping her hand over her face. "Guys, I'm sure she'll be back soon."
Hyerin nodded. "She's strong. She'll pull through, just like she always has. We should visit her as soon as we can."
Solji was in hospital right then, but they made plans to visit her the next day and went home together, mostly in silence. They had recently moved into different apartments, but they lived in the same building because they were pretty much co-dependant at this point. Hyojin couldn't imagine going a day without seeing her members.
Then she remembered that she was about to not see Solji every day for a long time and felt sad all over again.
When she got home, Hani called her.
Hani had backed off since that disastrous night earlier in the year ("she kissed you then nearly cried?" she had said, cringing. "Oof."). She still talked to Hyojin about her crush, though, all the time. Hyojin loved finally having a confidant, even if Hani's ability to actually keep a secret was dubious.
"Hey," she said gently. "How're you taking it?"
"Pretty hard," Hyojin admitted. "She didn't tell me."
"She didn't tell anyone. She's an idiot."
"Maybe I'm an idiot for not noticing," Hyojin said, finally admitting what weighed on her heart.
"No," Hani shut her down immediately. "No you're not. We all knew she was sick, right? How could we have guess hyperthyroidism? I didn't even know what that was until about an hour ago."
"I guess you're right."
"I am right. Our group doesn't tell each other enough. It's our greatest flaw."
For some reason, that statement stuck with Hyojin. She had always thought that their casual style of communication was a benefit, a way for her to hide her emotions in the way she wanted to. They knew each other well enough to recognise common demons and clown each other about them. They could call out Hani when she was over-thinking things and force Hyojin to go to sleep when she was being a perfectionist.
But they didn't tell each other when they were suffering. They just assumed that the others knew. Similarly, Hyojin didn't know if she'd ever actually told the other members that she loved them, bar awkward moments in radio shows. She just figured that they knew.
"You should tell Solji you love her," Hani said, as if she could read Hyojin's mind.
"No, she already has enough to worry about."
"That's why you need to tell her. Hyojin, let's face reality. Plenty of idols get sick and then leave the group. Solji might never come back again. You need to tell her now, before she leaves us forever and you lose your opportunity."
The thought of Solji never coming back seized Hyojin, filling her with terror. She tried to imagine never performing with Solji again. She imagined instead Solji watching from the sidelines, having finally, after all these years, given up on her singing. Given up on her dream.
She would never do that… right?
"She'll come back. Stop being such a fucking pessimistic," Hyojin barked shortly, hanging up. She was mad at Hani for even suggesting that Solji would leave, even though some part of her knew that she was projecting. She was scared of the scenario Hani had suggested.
She found it impossible to sleep that night, tossing and turning in her empty bed without the members down the hall. She hadn't thought that she'd ever miss dorm life.
The next day, the four of them stared at the van that was taking them to the hospital. Without Solji, Hyojin didn't know where to sit. It seemed stupid to leave her seat empty, forcing three members to cram into the back, but nobody could quite bear to sit there. So they just stood, half in and half out of the van, hesitating.
"Oh this is silly," Hani said eventually and dragged Hyojin to the back seat, letting the younger girls sit in front. Hyerin took Solji's seat, sitting uncomfortably in her chair.
In the back, Hani turned to Hyojin, talking quietly. "I'm sorry about what I said last night."
"No, it's fine. It's only natural that you should think something like that." Hani was always pessimistic. Her mind jumped to three steps ahead and prepared for the worst possible outcome. "But you know she wouldn't leave us, right?"
"I know. But even if I said it wrong, I still meant what I said! Don't you want her to know how you feel?"
"This is absolutely the worst possible time."
"It's not, she probably needs something else to think about. You're just too scared to confess."
This was not an untrue statement. Hyojin never wanted to see Solji's expression after their last kiss again.
Hani took her silence as agreement. "If you're too scared to confess, at least kiss her. You have to do something to tell her your feelings! I know you've done it before."
Hyojin rolled her eyes. "This isn't a romantic comedy, Hani. I don't have to tell her anything." At the pleading look in Hani's eyes, though, she relented. "I'll try."
They were herded to Solji's room by a matronly nurse who lectured them about not bothering the patient too much before she reluctantly let them in. It was terrifying to see Solji surrounded by hospital machines. She had been lying down but sat up when she saw them. Horribly, she wasn't able to sit up all the way before she collapsed again.
"Sorry," she smiled. "I'm still quite weak."
"That's fine!" Hyerin practically shouted in her attempt to reassure Solji.
"It's better then it looks," Solji said. "They're discharging me tomorrow. I'm going to go live with my parents. But I'll be back with EXID before you know it."
Hyojin got chairs for them all- her first act as leader, she thought bitterly- and they sat around talking. Solji didn't have much to say. She was quiet and still, so the others filled the silence with stupid jokes and conversation. As the hour went by Solji was able to sit all the way up.
After an hour the nurse re-appeared to hassle them out. She granted them a moment alone to say goodbye when Solji asked for it.
On the way out Hani raised her eyebrows at Hyojin meaningfully, so Hyojin paused later then the others.
"Solji," she began, drawing all her courage. "I need to know. I'll wait for you, you know I will, but- should I start working on a song for just the four of us?"
Solji's shoulders slumped. "Probably," she said, almost too quiet for Hyojin to hear.
"Alright. One more thing-"
Hyojin's words stuck in her throat. She lingered, eyes focused on Solji's lips, unable to will herself to do or say anything else.
Solji closed the distance between them. Her lips brushed across Hyojin's, feather-light, gone as soon as they were there. A butterfly kiss.
She avoided Hyojin's eyes. "That was what you wanted, right?"
Hyojin could feel her face burning. Unable to speak, she only nodded shortly and rushed towards the door, which Hani held open for her. In the corridor on their way out, she punched her in the arm.
"Ow," Hyojin complained. "What the hell? I kissed her."
"No you didn't. You chickened out. She kissed you, you big wimp."
Hyojin turned away from her, rubbing her arm, but not mad at Hani. She was going to miss Solji more then she could ever put into words. But the memory of her kiss would linger and hopefully, make it just a bit better.
Solji had lost weight. Hyojin had invited her to the studio to listen to DDD, the first time she'd seen her in a while. Solji was self-conscious about her looks these days, even though she was still gorgeous.
Hyojin had put in a second seat for her brother, but Solji sat on her lap anyway. She was terrifyingly frail, no heavier then a child. Hyojin wound her arms around the other and pulled her close, protectively.
Solji had always liked DDD. To be honest, this was a not-insignificant reason why Hyojin had pushed so hard for it to be their comeback. She listened to the song and sang it, then gave suggestions about where her parts should be switched to one of the others during the live versions.
After a few hours they had a bunch of scribbled-on sheet music and no reason for Solji to stick around any more.
Solji, who had now transferred to the other chair, put the music down on the desk. "I'll get snacks?" she suggested.
"Sure," Hyojin replied.
Solji returned with chip packets and ice tea from the vending machine down the hall. "I'm sorry it sucks, but I couldn't find anything else."
"No, it's great."
They ate in silence for a while before Hyojin spoke again.
"How are you dealing with everything? I know it must be very tough on you."
"It's not great, yeah. I hate the changes to my looks the most. It's shallow of me, perhaps, but I hate looking in a mirror and not even recognising myself. It's at the point where I don't even want to look at old pictures of myself. I wish I still looked that way."
"If it makes any difference, I think you're still very pretty."
"Thanks. You're always too sweet to me." Solji replied, tossing another chip in her mouth.
They talked for a long time. Hyojin was surprised at how much just being around Solji seemed to make everything better. She had missed her so much for the past year and even though that wound wasn't completely closed, being around Solji was soothing it. Just being here, doing such normal things, made Hyojin remember what it had been like when she was there all the time.
It would be like that again. No matter how long they had to wait, they were not giving up on each other.
The conversation turned back to bitching about hyperthyroidism.
"My parents are so overprotective," Solji whined. "They won't let me do anything by myself. And it's so hard to go to class when some days I can't even get out of bed."
Hyojin made the required sympathetic noises.
"You know what else sucks? I haven't had sex in forever. It's so awkward to do it at your parent's house, and it's not like anyone is going to date the bedbound anorexic-looking girl."
Hyojin choked on her ice tea at the merest mention of sex and Solji. "That, uh, that sounds awful."
"I know right!"
They sat in awkward silence while Hyojin's heart attempted to break through her ribcage. Her eyes involuntarily trailed down Solji's body. She was wearing a dress with a short skirt that left her legs exposed. She's tall so they're long, absolutely beautiful despite their thinness.
"You don't look anorexic," Hyojin finally muttered.
"Don’t lie to me," Solji responded glumly.
"I'm just saying…" Hyojin broke off, barely believing what she was about to say. "I'd have sex with you."
Solji looked shocked for a moment, but then that turned into a sly smile. Hyojin wondered briefly if this is what she'd wanted the entire time. Solji stood and walked over to where Hyojin sat motionless in her chair. She ran her finger lightly over Hyojin's jaw. Hyojin gulped.
"Is that a promise?"
Rendered mute with anticipation, all Hyojin can do is nod. Solji climbed onto her lap, straddling her. Her kiss this time was fierce, her lips burning. Hyojin put her hands around Solji's waist, feeling how fragile she was. Solji's mouth once again opened when Hyojin wanted it to, giving in to Hyojin's desire to properly make out.
Solji thought she was in control, but she was wrong. Hyojin grabbed the edge of her dress and pulled upwards, so that Solji was forced to raise her arms and allow it to fall off her. Underneath she was wearing lacy white underwear. Hyojin sat up properly and undid Solji's bra with one hand, keeping the other on the small of her back.
Finally, Hyojin felt in her element with Solji. Sex is what she knew. She kissed Solji's neck, sucking hard, claiming her. She wanted the whole world to know that she's hers, even though she wasn't. Solji threw her head back, loving it.
Her mouth dipped even lower to suck at Solji's nipple. Her breasts were small, another product of her illness, but Hyojin would find them beautiful no matter what. While one hand focused on keeping Solji where Hyojin wanted her the other dipped down. Hyojin brushed lightly around the crotch of her panties, never quite touching where Solji needed her.
Solji went crazy at Hyojin's touches. Her hips writhed over Hyojin's thighs, sometimes grinding down. It was too hot for words. The sight of Solji in nothing but panties, mouth dropping open in pleasure, drove Hyojin crazy.
Just the lightest touch on her panties told Hyojin that Solji was soaked. When she pulled back the front of the panties and let go, causing them to snap into Solji's heat, the older girl cried out.
She couldn't be too loud, so Hyojin grasped the girl. She was so light it was the work of a moment to turn her around so that she was sitting in Hyojin's lap. She moaned slightly at the loss of contact between her legs, but begun twitching and grinding again when Hyojin slid a hand into her panties.
Solji cried out as soon as Hyojin's fingers touched her clit, she was so sensitive. She did her best to shut her legs, trying to keep out the overstimulation, so Hyojin used her other hand to forced them apart.
Solji came undone on Hyojin's skilled fingers in a matter of moments. She cried out when she came, so Hyojin was forced to cover her mouth as she twisted in Hyojin's lap. The thought of Shinsadong walking in on them was enough to keep Hyojin up at night. Even her moans sound melodic, Hyojin thought vaguely through a haze of arousal.
When she was done, Hyojin brought out her hand, which was now dripping in Solji's slickness. Solji took hold of her wrist and brought Hyojin's hand to her mouth, where she spent time licking off each finger until Hyojin was clean.
"You turn," Solji grinned, fingers reaching for Hyojin's belt, but Hyojin forced her hands off her.
"Medically speaking, we probably should stop here. Let's just cuddle now."
Solji pouted, and how she could look that cute right after having really hot sex Hyojin didn't know. She did obediently stop moving, though, and let Hyojin just hold her.
"I can't believe we just did that," Hyojin said finally, when Solji was just lying in her arms.
"It was fun, though," Solji responded. "We should do it again."
"Really?" Hyojin wanted to say yes immediately, but she really did need to start looking out for herself a bit. "Solji, did that have anything to do with me, or was it just because you were horny?"
Solji looked affronted that Hyojin would even ask such a question. "Of course it's you! You're so attractive, Hyojin. And so good at… that. I wouldn't sleep with just anyone, you know!"
Her words are far from a confession of love, but it's close enough for Hyojin to relax a bit. "We'll do it again then. No strings attached though, right?" she knew that that was what Solji wanted.
"Right," Solj said quietly.
She abruptly got up from Hyojin's lap, putting her bra and dress back on.
"Oh.. Sorry about that," she said, concerned at the wet patch on Hyojin's jeans. "I'll clean those for you if you want, sometime."
Hyojin waved her away. "No worries. Just get going before your parents start to freak out about where you are."
Solji paused at the doorway to give Hyojin a quick kiss on the lips before walking away. As soon as she was gone Hyojin collapsed back onto the leather chair, the chair that she had just fucked Solji on, and put her hands in her jeans. It didn't take more then a minute for her to come, images of Solji dancing through her mind.
"Tonight's the night!" Hani announced from the kitchen.
Hyojin looked up from where she was putting bowls on the table. "Yeah, I know! Tonight is Solji's official return!"
Hani waved a packet of chips around with abandon. "It's also the night you're finally going to confess to Solji!"
This was actually something that Hyojin had promised Hani a while ago, during Lady promotions. Now that the day was finally here, she couldn't help but feel somewhat excited. Hani treated everyone else's love life like it was a rom com and her energy was infectious.
EXID had arranged to have dinner at Hyojin's apartment to celebrate Solji's comeback. Tomorrow was her first day at King of Masked Singer, so they weren't drinking so she wouldn't ruin her voice. It felt weird for Hyojin to be planning a party with no alcohol, but she supposed she would be better off with a clear head.
Hyerin came ten minutes later, still early, and freaked out in the living room for a bit. The little firecracker stuffed chips into her mouth and ranted to Hani about how hard doing the high notes had been.
Solji was the next to arrive. She was wearing a mask for public transport, which she pulled off before greeting her members. Hyojin was struck again by her face. It had changed since January, of course, so sometimes Solji seemed like a new person. That night she didn't. She looked so light and happy that Hyojin couldn't do anything but fall more in love with her.
Jeonghwa arrived on time, as she always did. She looked surprised to see that the others were all early.
That night was the first time it really sunk in for Hyojin that Solji was really, actually back. Nothing could wipe the smiles off all their faces. Solji sang them her songs for King of Masked Singer, which they greeted with great applause. The food was just something Hyojin had ordered, because cooking was beyond her, but it was delicious.
When the party was looking over Hani jumped up, stretching exaggeratedly. "Well, I'm going to call it a night. You guys want to head?"
"I'll help you clean up if you want, Hyojin unnie," Jeonghwa offered.
"No!" Hani exclaimed. "Um… I really need your help at my place, actually."
"I'll come too," Hyerin said, strangely receptive to Hani's antics. "Let's go."
The two enthusiastic girls practically pulled a confused Jeonghwa from the room. On their way out Hani glared at Hyojin and Hyerin also seemed to look pointedly at Solji. Weird.
When they were alone, Hyojin turned back to Solji, who sat cross-legged on the other side of the table. She was focused intently on the empty food bowls, eyes lowered. They hadn’t actually slept together since that one time in Hyojin's studio, but suddenly she couldn't get that night out of her mind.
Solji coughed awkwardly. Before she could say anything or leave, Hyojin bit the bullet.
"Solji, I have to confess. I love you."
Solji just looked at her, slightly confused. "I love you too."
"Not like that! I mean I really like you, as more then a friend. I love you, Solji."
Solji, to Hyojin's surprised, jumped to her feet. She backed away, shaking her head and holding out her hand as if for balance.
Hyojin was spiralling. She got up too. "I'm sorry! Please don't hate me."
Solji shook her head more violently, "I don't hate you, you don't understand- we had sex!"
"I know! And to be honest it tore me up inside."
"That's not possible! Because- because it hurt me too. It always hurts me. I like you too, I love you too."
"What?" And now Hyojin was the one caught off balance, the one staggering. "But you wanted it no strings attached!"
"You suggested that! It killed me to agree. I just wanted to be with you so badly, I would have agreed to anything."
"What about that time we kissed back in 2016 and it went so badly?" Hyojin didn't know why she was trying to find reasons to disprove that Solji liked her, but she just couldn't accept Solji's words as reality.
"That was also when I though you'd never like me. That song made me fall for you and when Hani told me you wrote it for me I was so filled with hope. But after the kiss I couldn’t bring myself to look at you and when I did you were so unhappy, I thought I had made you unhappy." She laughed. "I cried about that to Hyerin later that night, she's been telling me to confess ever since."
"No, no, that was-" that was just because Solji hadn't remembered their other kisses. Hyojin wants to laugh and cry at the same time, thinking of the missed opportunity. "You could never make me unhappy." The laughter bubbled over, welled up inside her. "How could you not know I liked you?"
Solji brushed her hand across her tear-stained face. "How could I know, Hyojin? You are so bad at talking about your feelings. You have never kissed me, you know? I keep initiating stuff but you never respond. I didn't know how you felt about me."
Hyojin shut her up by stepping forwards and kissing her full on the lips.
Oh my god, it felt so right. It was like two puzzle pieces clicking into place alongside each other. It was alike and yet different from their other kisses. This kiss didn't feel like a physical thing. It felt like butterflies exploding in Hyojin's stomach, the feeling she got when Solji smiled at her, the sense of belonging she got when she performed with her girls. It was, in a word, perfect.
When they finally pulled away Solji was smiling, a massive smile that lit up her whole face. She unexpectedly hugged Hyojin, squealing into her hair. Hyojin hugged her back, feeling all the pain of the past years sliding off them in their embrace.
"Hyojin," Solji whispered into her ear, "will you go out for coffee with me sometime?"
Hyojin laughed. "Well I don't know, we're both pretty busy right now. It might be hard to find a time…"
Solji giggled, her whole body shaking with the movement, and Hyojin couldn't help but kiss her again. Solji felt so right in her arms, with the warmth of their love washing around them like a glow.
In that moment, Hyojin knew that becoming an idol was by far the best thing she'd ever done.