Chapter 1: Who are you?
It’s only been twenty minutes since she last picked up her phone from her jacket pocket, and she’s heard it buzz away incessantly for at least another five times. Public relation disasters are not common occurrences for Moonbyul Yi, CEO of Moon Star Entertainment Records, but when they do come, they tend to suck up an inordinate amount of time and energy.
The elevator dings and Byul resists an urge to pick up her buzzing phone again; she really has to start trusting her team to deal with some of these issues, and stop taking everything on herself. She stalks up to her assistant, Minji, and plants both her hands on her desk. Her features morph into one of feigned pain, and her body half collapses with the drop of her head.
“Why do they always do this to me?” Byul groans. Minji is probably one of the few people in the company she would let loose and act so unprofessionally with.
“CEO, why do you think you get paid so much money?” Minji says, wide-eyed and blinking at her with an innocence that mocks. She would only ever call her ‘CEO’ in front of other employees. And also to mock her.
“I mean, how hard is it for him to not get engaged and announce it, then get photographed tongue deep down the mouth of some other equally as famous pop-star in a month. Seriously. I give them freedom, because I respect that. But what I am I supposed to do with this.”
Byul looks up and throws her hands in the air.
Minji shrugs at her with a look of sympathy this time. “Well… I’ve got, like, fifteen other things on your roster, you have a call on line two that’s been waiting for–” Minji glances down at her laptop, “fifteen minutes already. And you have a social at eight this evening, RBW’s hosting a whole bunch of producers and talents.”
“Yeah, I deserve all the money I make.” Byul winces as her thoughts fly to mentally organize her day.
“I’ll get your coffee.” Minji smiles at her. “But go, line two.” She points at the phone on her desk, before waving Byul away in the direction of her office then getting up.
When Byul picks up the phone to be greeted by a journalist wanting an interview, she wishes she just stayed in bed instead.
_ _ _ _ _
Byul emerges out of her office as the clock hits six thirty p.m.
“I was only this– ” Byul holds up her thumb and index finger pressed together, “close to firing three people today. So, I’d call that an improvement from the last disaster.”
“I had your suit picked up, it’s probably at your place now.” Minji ignores her.
“What would I do without you?”
“Um…your company would fall apart.”
“Don’t jinx it.” Byul fakes a gasp. “This is superstitious shit.”
Minji scoffs lightheartedly, rolling her eyes once at her, and instead, moves to grab a brown package off her desk.
“Here, probably another portfolio from some indie artist. Do you want to listen to it, or do you want Sandeul to go over it first?”
“No, I want to try and keep doing these things myself first. Unless I just end up dying from all the stress this debacle has caused me.” She sighs loudly. “Just leave it on my desk, please.”
“It’ll blow over, no one really cares enough about these things.” Minji pats her on the hand.
“Well, if it’s not, I really don’t think there’s much I can do anymore.”
“If you drive home fast, you’ll have some time to catch a breath before you go over to the RBW venue. I texted the address to your driver for the event.”
“I don’t frown upon monetary rewards.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Byul laughs as she walks out. “Put that on a memo for me.”
The sounds and music from the gathering vibrate off the door of the venue; Byul knows it’s jammed with a cluster of noteworthy people from the entertainment industry. When she opens the door, she’s met with a gust of air and a large animated space, with purple, blue and white lights dancing off a dimly lit banquet style room.
This part of the job is the part she dreads.
It’s not a daily thing, not even a weekly thing, not at this scale; but it happens once in a while, a necessity to keep everything running– because what is business without a network?
She picks up a small pastry on a tray circulating the clusters of people, and downs a small glass of wine with it. With the turn of arm to place the glass on a table, she bumps into familiar face, Kim Do Hoon.
“Byul Yi!” He smiles at her.
“I’m glad to see you here, like this.” He leads them a couple steps closer to a pillar, and leans against it.
“You know, back then when you came to me asking for advice, wanting to start your own company– I’ll be honest– I didn’t picture you doing so well in such a short period of time.”
She pretends to be offended, but her wide-spread grin betrays her, and she laughs genuinely at his remark, knowing where he’s coming from.
“I really had a lot of help.”
“It’s also you. You’re good at this.” He says matter-of-factly.
“Well, I learn from the best. Besides, I’m probably making you way more money now and I’m way better off camera. I can do all the stuff you never let me do on camera.” She winks.
“I let you do everything on camera.” There’s a hint of fondness when he sighs.
“No, you just couldn’t stop me.” Byul laughs.
“I could never quite tame your creative side.” He gives a quick shake to his head, “but that’s a good thing.” He pats Byul on the shoulder and turns his focus to a group of people sitting together on couches. “I’m going to go say hi to some other people, give me a call when you want to catch up.”
She nods and reciprocates his smile.
As she makes her own rounds around the venue, interacting and greeting other executives and producers she’s acquainted with, she can feel the red hue from the alcohol make its way up to her cheeks. It’s really not a bad thing; it gives the impression she’s a lot more drunk that she actually is, and in this kind of industry, amongst these kinds of power plays, a little vulnerability never hurt her. Instead, she plays it to her advantage. It’d take a whole lot more to render her a drunk.
She’s ten minutes too long into a dreary conversation with a producer, regarding new musical tech programming that’s been the ‘talk of the town’, when she notices a small commotion in the corner of the room by a water station. She probably wouldn’t have noticed it if she wasn’t trying so desperately not to fall asleep to this young, overly enthusiastic producer.
It wasn’t anything more than an aggressive arm grab, and probably some strong language, from the look on the guy’s face before he stormed off. What ticks Byul off is the way the girl (who looked equally as angry at the beginning) pulled her furious features to one of forced composure– even as he grabbed her arm. And when he left, all she does is close her eyes for a quick second, before faking a smile and fidgeting with her clothes.
Byul introduces herself eventually. She had to. She wanted to. She catches her as the girl grabs another glass of champagne off the table.
“There are probably better drinks than this here.” Byul moves to take the glass out of her hands.
The girl spins towards her at the sound and the movement.
“Here.” Byul hands her glass of water. At a closer look now, Byul can really see her. And she really is gorgeous, with her blonde hair and borderline suggestive outfit, that hints at a little at her recklessness. She wears a white crop top, with a series of silver necklaces that dangle at different lengths, accompanied by dark slacks that imitate denim, hanging at all the right places.
The girl laughs at her, holding the glass of water up to her eyes and squinting at it. “Is this supposed to be vodka in disguise or something?”
“You see, the key here is to let everyone think you’re drunk. But not to actually be.” She whispers by her ear.
The girl pulls back at that and gives her a slow once-over, taking in the unusual choice of a suit for these kinds of events. For a moment, there’s an interesting display of amusement, that sets Byul off her calm demeanour. Those eyes are so fixated on her; and Byul’s breath starts to quicken, finally realizing the close proximity between them.
The girl bites her bottom lip for a quick second before asking, “Who are you?”
“Moon Byul Yi. Or just Byul’s fine.”
Byul wonders if she’s connected the dots yet. She’s not exactly a small figure in the industry anymore, not since she’s debuted two fast climbing artists that went through the ranks and exploded onto the scene.
“Yongsun.” The girl extends a shaky hand that gives a little more of her inebriated mental status away. The way she smiles at Byul lets her know that she has no idea who she is.
But Byul knows who she is now. She kicks herself mentally because she really should’ve realized earlier. It’s Solar, rising pop Rockstar that’s been all over the tabloids as she starts to take on more of a ‘pop’ style in her music. She couldn’t tell without the heavy make-up and all the distracting lights flashing everywhere; but now that she knows she can’t not see it.
“Yeah.” She says and smiles uncomfortably. The grimace she makes at the comment makes Byul back-pedal.
“Who we are doesn’t matter in here.” Byul says ironically, relaxing at the way Yongsun’s grimace disappears at that. “But I’d really stick to the water as much as you can.” She winks.
The way she looks at Byul, with features that encompass relief and exhaustion at the same time, makes her feel unexpectedly affectionate.
“Well…thanks for advice, but I should really be interacting with those people over there.” Yongsun says as she gestures vaguely at the crowd to her left, and sighs. She tries to take a step in that direction, but staggers slightly in her attempt.
On reflex, Byul reaches out to steady her arm, but pulls back when Yongsun stares at her with glassy eyes. “Sorry…Maybe it’s time to call it a night. I can call you a cab.”
At first Yongsun looked confused, then a hint of irritation began to set, and now she tilts her head in question at Byul. “Who are you?”
Yongsun runs fingers through her hair, sweeping her parting farther to a side, and the golden locks fall alluringly there. Her look of confusion doesn’t subside, and after a second, she takes a step closer, and runs a hand up Byul’s arm suggestively, whispering another question, “What do you want?”
Despite Byul’s complete frustration with her own reaction, she can feel herself wanting exactly what she’s hinting at, her eyes sweeping down to her lips for sliver of a moment, wanting to capture it in a heartbeat. She’s upset that she would react exactly the way Yongsun predicted, stereotypical. Disappointing. Probably not unlike Yongsun’s other interactions in the past.
Byul takes a step back, her voice faltering, “um… I’m…” This is really not like her.
And then it’s like someone else is suddenly answering her question, when an artist from her company walks by and greets her, bowing and smiling formally. “CEO.”
It takes her a second to pull herself together, but it happens. She makes barely three exchanges with him, before he walks away. And Yongsun’s look of confusion intensifies during it all, until her lips form a small ‘oh’ as the pieces click.
It’s Byul’s turn to smile uncomfortably. “Yeah…Moon Star…entertainment?”
Even in the haze of her drunkenness, a lucidity snaps into her from the realization.
“Oh… Fuck. Sorry…I don’t really pay attention to all the politics and people. I just… make music.” Yongsun takes another step back, as if trying to undo everything. Her hand runs through her hair again, in nervousness. “But I guess... the question still stands. Did you want something from me?”
This time the question comes genuine. But Byul feels a heaviness at the fact that Yongsun’s default is that someone always wants something from her.
Byul chuckles softly. “No, not really. I just… saw you maybe having a…” She struggles with word choice “–difficult night earlier. So I thought, at least you could make it home from here. Um. Safely.”
Yongsun’s eyes widen at the statement, realizing what Byul was referring to.
“Oh. Right… I’m fine.” The smile that spreads now is taut, perhaps with a little embarrassment at what she thinks is a complete misread of the situation.
“Here. Take this.” Byul whips out a business card from her pocket and offers it to her. “It’s always nice to have another contact here.” She clears her throat in an attempt to ignore the fact she’s doing any of this on a personal agenda.
A soft chuckle escapes Yongsun, and she reaches out for it. “Thanks.” She stays there, studying Byul’s features for an another moment, holding the card in the air, and that flash of amusement from before returns. It’s so quick that Byul can’t pin point what she’s thinking. “I think I’ll head home after all.” Yongsun says at the end.
When Byul nods and leaves Yongsun’s vicinity, she can’t help but turn around again to look for her, not quite able to settle a restlessness that doesn’t subside even as she watches Yongsun walk out of the venue.
Byul laughs out loud when she walks into her office, and proceeds to rips a sticky off the center of her computer screen: ‘Give Minji a raise’. She sticks it down on the side of the table to notice the small package Minji had mentioned the other day, placed aside in the corner.
The brown package gets ripped messily. Byul curses when she sees that she almost tore the headshot of the portfolio, and takes it out carefully.
She’s intrigued, to say the least.
There’s an ethereal quality to this girl, delicate, but there’s something else– a melancholy that somehow seems to be screaming at you. When she plays the demo tape, sent with an accompanying tape player, Byul stops moving and listens with a stillness unlike her. Sending a tape alone caught Byul’s attention, but her voice... it carries a different element altogether.
Byul tapes the headshot roughly against her wall as she listens, pushing off with her feet to roll her chair backwards. She squints her eyes, and holds up her hands, framing the picture in a rectangle with her index finger and thumb. Her hands drop eventually, and she sits starring at the picture, even after the song has finished, thoughts churning.
The silence is broken when Byul abruptly rises from the chair, stalking out of her office. Minji watches her move with a raised eyebrow, but shrugs and counts it as another completely ‘Byul’ thing to do.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
She bombards into Sandeul’s office. He really doesn’t appreciate it– maybe because it’s the third time she’s done it this week. He looks up startled for a second, before realizing what was happening, returning his attention to his desktop as if nothing had happened.
“I have an idea–” Byul starts.
“No.” He doesn’t look away from his screen, only holding a hand up in Byul’s vicinity.
“No. No I’m serious this time.”
“When are you not?”
“No, here look at this. Look at her.” She slaps the headshot on his desk and ruffles his hair to get his attention.
He yelps in response, ducking his head and spinning around. “Dude. Byul, I am going to murder you.”
“Don’t call me dude. Ugh, Listen.” She sighs loudly and tries to jam the earbuds from the player into his ears.
He swats at her hands and takes the buds with his fingers. “What? What is it?”
“A track, a new artist. Just listen first.”
He groans, “What am I going to do with you…I’ll give you five minutes.”
“You’re going to want more than five minutes…” Byul mutters as he leans back and she presses play. Her arms cross and she leans against the wall, chewing on her lip as she watches him listen. The corners of her mouth lift when he looks up at her for a second, eyebrows raising for a quick moment. She almost laughs out loud when he picks up the headshot now, putting two and two together. A minute into the song, he squints his eyes at her and throws her a look, like he’s mad at her for being right. She knows she’s right.
Sandeul stays quiet for another second after pulling the earbuds out, but eventually caves to Byul’s prolonged silence. “Okay. Tell me. What’s your idea?”
“Just tell me I’m right.” She grins. “I am going to make this girl a fucking star.”
“Well, I see you didn’t really come for an opinion.”
“I can see it.” She waves her hand across the air like she’s painting the image in her head.
He laughs at that. “Don’t exaggerate.”
“Sandeul. Come on. You have to see it. She can be it.”
“You’re not… wrong. She’s good, like really good.”
“Do you think Hyejin would write for her? I mean, with both of us on board, you’ll make it work right? This style is totally up her alley. She sounds versatile. Doesn’t she?”
Byul’s excitement and intent to rope Hyejin in has Sandeul a little taken back, which also meant Sandeul knows Byul wants to go all in with this. Byul initially brought Sandeul on as her marketing director, but eventually found out he was capable of a whole lot more than just marketing; his musical sense blew her away. Now Sandeul essentially dabbles in all the departments, and she can’t help but need him with most of her decisions.
“You’re really going to do this aren’t you?” He sighs.
“Why do you think I’m in here?”
“You came in here to show me a picture of your dog the other day.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t come with this.” She jabs a finger at the picture on the table.
“You don’t want to think it over first?”
“I did. Just now.”
He rolls his eyes at her. “What’s her name?”
He squeezes the back of his neck with a hand and leans back on his chair. “Hm. I could make it work. Set up a team meeting.”
“Ugh. I knew you’d get it.” She laughs and reaches to mess his hair again, but he grabs her wrist this time.
“Don’t. You. Fucking. Dare.”
She’s still laughing when she walks back to her office.
The next time Byul actually sees Yongsun is after an award show– maybe a month later. Half the crowd was still lingering and chatting, and people were flitting in and out of the back stage area. She’s seen Yongsun plenty, on screens and billboards, blown up and lacking a reality she felt in person. Yongsun never called her– not that she expected her to.
So when she approaches her at the award show, Byul’s startled to say the least. It’s probably half to do with the fact that Yongsun is wearing this black-laced sleeveless gown. The fabric over her collar-bone area is see-through, revealing a slip of cleavage. She doesn’t look there.
“Moon Byulyi– ssi?” Yongsun says to get her attention.
It takes a second for Byul to recover, and when she does, she raises an eyebrow at her to repeat, “Byulyi– ssi?”
A look of fluster flashes across Yongsun’s features, and she opens her mouth in an attempt to say something. Yongsun ends up closing her mouth and smiling awkwardly at her instead.
“I don’t remember you being this formal the last time…” Byul teases.
“About that… That was… unprofessional.”
Byul can’t help but find her embarrassment a little amusing given her flare last time. “It’s fine.” She brushes off. “We have enough of professional in front of cameras.”
As if on reflex, Yongsun takes a quick glance around the room. Her eyes widen before she whispers, “Right. I can’t imagine anyone here is smiling genuinely after that fifteenth award.”
Byul laughs out loud at the glimpse of actual honesty in Yongsun.
There’s that spark in Yongsun’s gaze again, like she’s intrigued by something, and she breaks out into a wide smile that stretches across her face. Byul finds herself reciprocating it.
“You know, there’s something I didn’t tell you last time.” Byul says.
Yongsun looks at her in question, waiting for her to continue.
“I’m a fan.”
This only makes Yongsun more confused, and her eyebrows furrow. Byul has to hold back her laughter.
“Is it that hard to understand?” Byul lets out a chuckle then. “I like your music.”
“You’re a fan…?” Byul can see her try and hold back a smile now, her lips pursing ever so slightly with a rise to the corner of her lips; it’s weirdly attractive, the unintended humbleness.
“Yeah.” Byul reiterates.
Yongsun’s eyes narrow for a second. “You’re just messing with me, aren’t you…”
Byul splutters. “Oh my god. Okay… uh…‘Kill me slowly’”
“It’s one of your songs–” Byul rolls her eyes once. “Maybe second or third album? I’ve never seen an artist pull off acoustic rock the way you do.”
There’s a desperation to her music that’s enticing. Byul doesn’t say this.
“Oh. You weren’t joking.” That tug at the corner of Yongsun’s lips goes a little higher, and she fiddles with one of the sequins on her dress, but she never lets up that gaze.
“That was… a long time ago.” Yongsun laughs softly. “I can’t believe you know that song. I don’t… make songs like that anymore.” She stares down at the floor awkwardly, betraying the thought that she said a little more than she intended. Byul notices she tends to chew on her bottom lip if she’s nervous.
“Well that’s a pity. What you do is special.”
Surprise flashes across Yongsun’s eyes. She hesitates for a moment but then says, “I miss it.”
“You should do it then.”
Yongsun’s scoff is filled with contempt, telling a story in itself. “It’s not that simple. You should know.”
“I do know. That’s what I am trying to change with my company.” She states it so simply that Yongsun doesn’t know how to respond.
Byul finds herself breaking eye-contact to regain a composure she didn’t realize she was losing. She swallows hard during the period of silence– it feels like Yongsun always has a dozen different expressions that she just can’t quite figure out how to read yet.
That silence suddenly breaks when Yongsun glances in a direction behind Byul and gasps, moving to tug them towards the wall on their left. She quickly steps into Byul’s space, using her as a human shield.
“Fuck. My manager’s over there.” Yongsun mutters.
Byul can feel the hand on her wrist. It’s warm. She doesn’t know what to do with this turn of events.
“You’re hiding from your manager?”
“Why…?” Byul tries to turn around to look. Yongsun takes her head with both her hands and turns her around.
“Don’t look! He’s going to see me.”
They both suddenly realize the position they’re in and Yongsun drops her face like a hot potato.
“So… why are we doing this…?” Byul whispers comically.
“The after-party. He wants me there– I don’t know, to entertain or something. Network. You know.” She makes a face at Byul that makes her chuckle.
“Oh. Yeah. That’s terrible.” Byul stands a little taller and holds the collar of her shirt up to fulfil her role as a shield. “I’ll try and do a better job at hiding you.”
It’s genuine. So much so that Byul can see a little more of what’s under the whole façade. “You’re really not just how you portray your image for the public.” Byul utters. She was mostly thinking out loud.
Yongsun raises an eyebrow. “What is my public image…?”
“I don’t know.” Byul actually wants to answer the question. “Dark? Funny…Umm…Vulnerable. Provocative.”
Yongsun’s breath catches.
“They’re smart for marketing that.”
“You really are a fan aren’t you?”
“Oh yeah. Die hard.” Byul winks at her.
Yongsun grins at her. “Don’t tease me.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t dare. If I remember correctly…” Byul can hear her heart beating in her ears. This wasn’t an obligatory chat anymore, she can feel it, like that other night, the wave of desire to do something completely inappropriate here.
Byul clears her throat to break the moment, taking one of Yongsun’s wrist into her hand instead. “Come on, let me get you out of here without him seeing.” She hushes by her right ear. She can hear Yongsun inhale rather sharply, and she knows she’s got to leave– before she does something stupid.
They stumble their way across the venue. Byul can’t seem to figure out who they’re trying to avoid, but keeps Yongsun close by the wall, following the direction of Yongsun’s tugs as she glances around.
Eventually they reach the coat room.
“Thanks for getting me out.” Yongsun murmurs.
“Don’t worry about it. I spend half my time protecting my artists from crazy people.”
Yongsun chuckles at that.
They proceed to exchange pleasantries that seem awkward given how the last fifteen minutes went. It stops when Yongsun tells her about her concert in a couple weeks.
“I can get you tickets, if you find the time to come...”
Byul barely hesitates before she says, “save me a seat. A good one.”
Okay, so I tried to think of a way to write Hyejin as president. Lol. I don’t know how. So…. producer/composer it is…she’ll have more of a role later on…
Chapter 3: Art Should Be Recognized
Thank you for all the kind comments and kudos!!!!! (I know I’m pretty slow at this…but I’m getting pumped about this story!) Merry Christmas!! Or Happy Holidays :) Hope you guys like it!
Hyejin has large silver headphones on, and is perched on a chair with one knee up in an oversized jacket that almost engulfs her in the seat. She’s bent over a panel of musical equipment in the recording studio, immersed, her head bobbing to a beat. Typical. Byul sees all this through a slit of glass on the door. The sound insulation is a little too well-done to let her make out what she’s playing with.
The door slides open quietly, but it’s like Hyejin senses her presence, spinning around and pulling the headphones off one ear. She raises her eyebrows in question, asking Byul what she’s doing here.
“Don’t look at me like that.” Byul shakes her head at her and stands with her arms crossed at the door. “You forgot, didn’t you. We literally had the meeting last week.”
Hyejin’s eyes narrow suspiciously and an expression halfway between guilt and confusion spreads. “Uh… right. Yeah. We’re supposed to… what?”
“We’re auditioning Wheein today.”
Hyejin makes a little ‘o’ with her mouth, the recollection evident now. “Who? Your hippie artist?” She chuckles at her own joke and Byul moves to shove her lightly on the shoulder, collapsing into a chair next to her.
“A versatile hippie artist.”
“I played through the rest of her tracks. How does gold just land itself on your lap?” Hyejin turns serious for a second. “Half of those were originals.”
Byul smiles at the look Hyejin pulls, it’s not exactly easy to impress her.
“Don’t look so smug. We don’t how she is live.” Hyejin says.
Byul takes Hyejin’s face between her palms and squishes it. “I am trying to plan our future here.”
Hyejin doesn’t move, just looks at her with features morphed and unimpressed. “You don’t even know if she wants to sign us yet.”
“Who wouldn’t want to sign us?” Byul lets go of Hyejin and waves her hands once in the air.
“Maybe you should tone down the crazy later, so she doesn’t find out you’re an insane woman.”
“Don’t put it like you’re not dying to work with her.” Byul retorts.
_ _ _ _ _
When Wheein walks in, the room is uncomfortably quiet. Sandeul and another staff is seated behind a table at the back. Byul randomly pulls up two chairs, for Hyejin to sit with her, in the middle of the room. Perhaps this ought to make it less formal. It doesn’t really.
Wheein’s shy, is what first comes to mind after their exchanges, also polite, elegant almost.
“Show us what you can do.” Byul gestures lightly.
It’s what they’ve heard on the recording, and there’s that same delicacy to it live, a precision to her runs that Byul wants to play with on a track. She notices a quiver to her voice though, like she’s holding something back, nervous or restrained.
To Byul’s surprise, Hyejin stops her mid-song and walks over, picking up a mic on the way before telling her to start again. Wheein looks at her unnerved and agitated for a second.
But then they sing.
Hyejin sings harmonies above her chorus, and she nods at Wheein to take the next verse. She’s getting her to loosen up, Byul realizes, and it works.
When Hyejin gets her to dance next, it’s like she changes to another person, all within the span of second.
Her hips sway, movements sharp and defined but dripping with fluidity. Her eyes are focused, with her tongue darting out to lick her lips quickly. Byul can’t help but think: there’s sex appeal alright. She couldn’t stop watching her– the musicality with every gesture. When the song ends, Byul notices Hyejin smiling, more like smirking in Hyejin’s case, pleased that this brought out something else entirely.
“We’ll sign you.” Byul blurts out once the room silent again and Wheein is standing there waiting patiently. Sandeul looks at her like she’s gone insane.
“That’s it?” Wheein asks, wide-eyed and curious now.
Byul smirks at the duality that exists in this girl; it’s as if the last performance never happened. “Yeah…That’s it. You have quite the voice.”
Hyejin elbows her in the flank, recovering a lot quicker than Sandeul did with Byul’s decision. Don’t be gross. “What she’s saying is, everything else will start rolling if you decide to sign. But it’s your choice. Make the right one.”
Byul rolls her eyes at her. “Right. That too.”
Hyejin widens her eyes at Byul for moment, and Byul takes the hint, asking Wheein to wait outside for a while.
“What did you think?” Byul asks openly to the room once she’s gone.
“What did we think?” Sandeul repeats. “I think that question normally comes before you tell them we’re signing them.”
Byul looks at him sheepishly.
“It’s not like I disagree.” He huffs. “She’s…got potential. Girl can dance.”
“There’s more.” Hyejin says quietly, physically looking like she’s confused and pondering. “She’s… she’s something. She just– I don’t know… needs a push. There’s something though.”
Byul’s lips quirk up, it’s funny seeing Hyejin so wound up. Byul watches her scratch the back of her head spaced out or still in thought, as the conversation veers towards logistics. They eventually pull Wheein back into the room, and Byul doesn’t miss the glint in Hyejin’s eyes, like she’s charmed and trying to tone it down. This is exactly what she wanted to happen.
They hand Wheein the paperwork to look over, and Byul has a feeling they’re going to see a lot more of her.
Three weeks before Yongsun’s concert Byul gets a text from her. Yongsun sends her the tickets she promised. Plural. There’s four attached e-tickets to an email, and it says, ‘Hope you can make it, enjoy the seats…”
Byul ends up asking Hyejin to come along with her. At which point, Hyejin replied, “of course. I know you don’t have any other friends to invite. Who are we seeing?” So now the two of them are clambering upstairs, searching for the entrance to their area. Byul can’t seem to remember the last time she attended a concert for someone she wasn’t directly involved with managing in some way.
They walk through the venue and eventually get ushered to their seat. The lights are dim where they get directed into a private area, and the usher swings a beam of light around.
She really went overboard with the seating, Byul thinks.
Byul nods to a couple other well-known faces as they step into a private booth of sorts, seating about ten-twenty people. It sits higher than the standing areas, a fraction more isolated, but obviously centered at the perfect location for the stage.
“Shit. You’re becoming important if artists are gifting seats like these to you.” Hyejin mutters as they slide across the front row.
“Shut up. You love expensive shit like this.”
“I never said I’m not loving it. When are we going to have artists performing at stadiums like these?”
“Oh, we will…” Byul says to herself more than anything.
The lights start to fade out after a good twenty minutes, and the crowd erupts with noise at the flash of lights that signal the start. Two songs in, one thing was clear, the woman knew how to play an audience. It didn’t matter what song really. She found a way to mark it as a performance, a completely different feel than her recordings.
For a second, Byul actually misses performing on stage, even though the concept is distant and almost foreign to her now. She can feel the energy coming off the audience.
Halfway through the show Yongsun stands alone, lit up singularly in the middle of a dark stage. She’s a little short of breath after the last song, and she slows herself as she paces in a small circle, reaching for a bottle of water momentarily.
“The next one I’m going play is something going a while back.” Her voice echoes loudly across the stadium, amplified by the lack of other sounds. “Because someone recently reminded me to keep holding onto something I love, and this song has little bit of my heart and soul in it. So this one’s for all those who stuck by me since then.”
Byul sits up on the edge of her seat. No fucking way. She grabs Hyejin’s arm next to her. Hyejin raises an eyebrow at her, but Byul’s already turned her attention back to the stage.
“It’s a little song from way back when: ‘Kill Me Slowly’. Hope you enjoy it.”
Byul stops breathing for a second.
The lights fade out completely, until all Byul can see are glow sticks and aisle lights. A warm white light flashes twice and disappears, and Byul can make out Yongsun half sitting on a high stool now, with one leg bent and a worn guitar hanging by a strap. The lights flash again but stay this time, and then there’s a stripped-down strum coming from her guitar.
She’s really playing it.
She knows Yongsun can’t see her from all the way up in this booth, but she’s grinning ear to ear.
Everything about the lyrics talks about being slow; the eternity of time, pain and love. But the track– the sounds, the tempo, the melody– it builds, and it becomes fast. When the bass line and drums comes in mid-song, Yongsun stands and swings her guitar behind her, strutting across the stage.
Byul forgets to blink. The way she embodies the stage; she fills it, commands it. She does it all with the backgrounds remaining simple, letting her voice pull the spotlight. Byul recognizes the changes she throws into the song, letting the runs flow freely as she actually enjoys the stage.
After the song ends, Hyejin turns to her left ear. “Well, fuck. I should’ve gone to see her live earlier.”
“Yeah…” Byul trails indistinctly; she never would’ve thought she’d do this live. Not like this.
_ _ _ _ _
When the show ends, Byul starts to weave her way to the backstage with Hyejin close behind her. It’s cluttered, and busy, full of people marching around with intent and haste. She spots her more than several feet away, surrounded by people flitting around her.
Up close, it was different than looking at her distant figure on the stage. It’s hard to focus on anything but her. She’s not completely unaware of the way she is staring.
But there’s a lot to look at. The amount of skin showing with her neon bodysuit from the last stage. The glitter over all that skin, spanning her neck and collarbones. The hair, originally set to perfection, now tousled after performing. And little golden sequins, glued around her eyes.
Yongsun eyes meets hers then. The way she looks so carefree, messy and out-of-breath, makes it somehow... seductive.
She’s still far away, caught up in conversation with three other people around her, but she’s only looking at her. It takes a second for realization with both parties and then Yongsun’s smiling at her, genuine and playful; Byul could almost see the adrenaline physically coursing through her.
Yongsun could feel her skin tingling, and her breaths come quick as she makes her way down the stairs. It’s been three hours since first walked onto stage, but somehow she feels euphoric still, more energized than when she started. The adrenaline’s like a drug every time. She thanks the crew as she makes her way down through the backstage area, ripping her earpiece out and chugging down water.
She would never get tired of the simplicity of standing on stage in front of an audience, with just her and a mic. It’s moments like these that put everything else disproportionately out of perspective.
The wide smile she sports comes unconsciously when she realizes Byul actually showed up. She makes her way over to her and suddenly becomes self-conscious of her song choice earlier. It felt like something she needed to do for herself, but now standing in front of her, it feels vulnerable, like Byul knows too much about her.
Hyejin clears her throat, waiting to be introduced.
Byul blinks and Yongsun tries not to laugh at her break her line of gaze. She’s not a prude. She’s not completely unaware of how she looks right now, just like that night they met, she has to hold back an impulse to make an improper comment.
Byul wasn’t like everyone else. She barely knows her. But...there’s always something she does that catches her off-guard. She just won’t ever admit that out loud.
“This is Hyejin. One of our producers.” After a beat, Byul waves a hand in the air awkwardly.
Yongsun smiles at the two of them as they rain praise on her performances, the sincerity of their comments making her feel out of her element. She starts to shuffle uncoordinatedly on the spot. And then Byul unexpectedly says, “you know, if your contract permits, I’d love to collaborate sometime.”
Yongsun thinks she misheard her for a second. Then she’s trying to formulate some words, because, it’s the last thing she thought she’d ask, and actually, yes, she thinks she’d love to. But why?
In the time she’s spent coordinating her thoughts, Byul smiles gently and uncomfortably runs fingers through her hair.
“It’s just… I think art should be recognized.” Byul says quietly.
There it is again, Yongsun thinks. She says things that throw her so askew it’s hard to remember what they were talking about before. She tries to reciprocate that same gentle look Byul had, and realizes that she needs to actually say some words.
“I’d love to.” She blurts.
She’s collaborated before. It must be in the contract somewhere.
Yongsun watches Hyejin’s eyebrows go higher and higher, and picks up on the fact that this is probably as unforeseen to her as it was for Yongsun. That brings a different degree of amusement for her.
Byul grins at her then, and Yongsun’s glad she said yes, even if she's wondering where her impulsivity came from.
Chapter 4: Rules that are bendable
So… it’s been, like, a month. The goal was not a month, but you know, life’s a bitch. You might have to re-read the beginning for this one. It’s a little longer, hope that makes up for it. Thanks for all the comments!! They really do make my day :) Let me know what you think!
She gets a text from Yongsun. Byul was expecting an email or something (not that the text wasn’t formal, it was.) There’s a bit of push back for the collaboration, apparently, but it works out– more pleasantries that Byul ends up navigating.
It’s not about that though. Byul could care less about the publicity and all the other minutia that’s clearly there to protect Solar’s brand.
She honestly just wanted to make a song, but she assumes that simplicity is lost on most others.
They end up texting about trivial things like logistics and small-talk.
Minji grumbles when Byul asks her to schedule in the meetings for her, partly due to Yongsun’s limited availability. She chastises her for not handing it off earlier. Perhaps it was also because she should have been contacting Yongsun’s manager instead, so maybe she stepped over a couple toes.
But that’s a fine line– these kinds of rules are bendable.
Byul ends up writing most of the demo for the song in another week and bullies Hyejin into fixing it up. Hyejin spends most of the time making underhanded comments about how Byul is acting like a groupie. She chooses not to fuel that fire.
_ _ _ _ _
Yongsun arrives with two other people, of course. Byul sees them from down the hall, and then Minji’s pointing towards Byul’s direction, and all parties are bowing.
She chooses the nice studio room, because it’s all about first impressions. Then after a couple seconds of fiddling with the equipment, again, she realizes she nervous– about what? She has no idea.
By the time they walk into the studio, Byul recognizes him.
She didn’t at first, but after they shook hands, she finally places him. It was that social, the party where she met Yongsun. My manager, Yongsun says. Byul grits her teeth at that memory, some things make more sense now.
Yongsun holds a hand out to him, silently asking for her bag, which apparently he was holding. He leans in to say something quietly, something Byul couldn’t pick out from across the room. And she is just trying to smile pleasantly through all this.
Yongsun turns to her embarrassed for a second, and mutters something to him, it’s fine, don’t be rude, or something along those lines.
To Byul’s surprise, the rest of her staff ends up leaving. Yongsun ends up sitting awkwardly across the coffee table in the studio from her. This kind of silence, Byul doesn’t know what to do with. “Let’s see, we can get started with…” She shuffles some papers on the table around.
But then she couldn’t help herself, so she asks out-of-context and inappropriately, “he doesn’t… uh, he doesn’t, like, hurt you right?”
“Wha– .” Byul can see the sequence of thoughts running through her mind. She’s confused at first, like she misheard her, because why would Byul even ask that. Byul wonders if she even knows what she’s referring too, it wasn’t like Yongsun was sober that night.
But the clarity of how she speaks, says otherwise.
There’s surprise when she connects the dots, and then a small self-conscious laugh when she realizes what Byul was insinuating.
“Oh. God no. It’s not like that. I would’ve left.” Yongsun trails and the words are genuine enough that Byul doesn’t question it. She waits for her to continue. She doesn’t.
“Okay, good.” She says, deciding to drop whatever it was that she started.
“So what’s it like? Being famous and all.” Byul starts again after a beat.
Yongsun makes a sound of laughing without any indication of it on her face. “Overrated.” She pauses. “Don’t get me wrong. I love music. There is this... pressure though.”
“To be perfect.” Byul finishes absentmindedly for her.
“But that’s not it.” She says, reading Yongsun's face.
“No. It’s not.” Yongsun hesitates for a second, “it’s, like, the need to be someone else. To… impress. I don’t know, flirt sometimes, I guess. Most people tend to respond well to that.”
“They tell you to do that?”
“No… they don't exactly say these things out loud…” Yongsun breaks out into an awkward laugh.
“Why do you put up with it?”
“You know how all this works. Don’t deny it, you’re a CEO. It’s not like I’m losing anything.”
“That’s… not what it seems like.”
Yongsun’s eyes narrow for just a second, and there’s a flash of anger. “Don’t pretend you know what I’ve experienced.”
Byul backs up. “I didn’t.”
“Sorry. Fuck. It’s just not that simple.” Yongsun sighs. “If you know the right people, and they like you? You get further a whole lot faster.” She picks at the piece of paper in front of her. “Why’d you think I got a full album out in a under a year back then?”
Byul hates this part. The games and the politics. “I don’t like it. The game.” Byul says quietly.
A scornful laugh escapes Yongsun. “No. Of course not.”
“What?” Byul challenges with a tilt of her head.
“You’re idealistic. It’s fine. It’s obviously worked for you.”
Byul scrunches her eyes closed for a second, taking a deep breath through her nose. When she opens them, Yongsun’s features are blank and she sits, hands clasped together on her lap, waiting for Byul to reply.
Byul sighs, her expression changing decisively, and to Yongsun’s surprise, she gets up and moves to Yongsun’s seat, putting both hands on her shoulders from behind.
Perhaps it was the way Yongsun was sitting, impassive but brewing an underlying current of impatience. Byul always got the impression this girl had so much more to say than she was actually saying. So she’s going to give her a way to say it.
“You know what– ” Byul starts, and pulls her to stand, ushering her to the adjacent room with the recording mic.
“Just– shh. Ignore what we were talking about. Let’s just start recording now. We can talk later.”
Yongsun looks at her, unconvinced, and breaks out into something between a laugh and a scoff. “What? You want me to sing. Now.”
“Yeah, emotions are good. You look mad. So sing it.”
A laugh slips out now, the completely unforeseen request resulting in quite the opposite, as Yongsun’s irritation dissipates. “I’m not mad.”
Byul raises an eyebrow.
“You are so weird.” Yongsun shakes her head, but her face dances from confusion to a playfulness. After a second, she shrugs her shoulders once with the raise of a hand in surrender, okay, whatever you say.
“Stay.” Byul shuffles her some more to stand in front of the large hanging mic, and shuts the door behind her. She’s able to see Yongsun through the tinted glass panel where she’s sitting, and she presses a button to turn on her mic.
“Can you hear me?”
Yongsun nods with a smile.
“Did you listen to the demo? You know it?”
“Just take it wherever you want, we’ll fix it after.” Byul’s met with an uncertain nod this time, but a nod nonetheless, cuing her to run the track.
Her fingers glide over the panel as she fiddles with settings, but she gives up fairly quickly, sitting back into her chair and choosing to just listen instead.
It feels like she’s back at her concert for a second, but this time it’s intimate, more tangible than sitting a stadium away from her. She can see her head tilt and her eyes squeeze tight when she belts a note. Byul ends up letting the track run– doesn’t make an attempt to cut her off. It makes sense, the way she wrote the song for her, but still, Yongsun takes it somewhere else.
Byul smacks her mic on when she’s done, “and that– is how you make a masterpiece,” she grins.
“Don’t exaggerate.” Yongsun’s voice comes out through the speakers.
“Okay. Fine. Let’s redo the second verse. But admit it– the extra emotion helps right?”
“You are so weird.” A suppressed smile tugs at the corners of her lips.
“They say weird makes art.” Byul starts to move the tracks around, sequentially clicking on the computer.
“No they don’t.”
It takes three seconds for Hyejin to spot Byul emerging from the elevator doors and then Byul is suddenly holding one less cup in her hands.
“Oh, good, how did you know I needed a coffee?” Hyejin says.
Byul tries to pluck the cup back out of Hyejin’s hands but she dodges to the side. “Damn it Hyejin, that one’s for Minji.”
Byul gives up and sighs, continuing to strut down the hallway towards her office with Hyejin close behind, sipping carefully at the hot liquid. Byul drops the remaining coffee in her hand next to Minji’s rapidly typing fingers and gets a smile and a quick look up, “it’s like you can read my mind.”
“What is it?” Byul asks after she plops all her things down in her office and Hyejin similarly plops onto the couch by her desk.
“Nothing. I literally saw you holding fancy coffee and it distracted me from my initial task.”
“It’s like I hired imbeciles.”
“I am actually offended.” Hyejin says nonchalant, lifting only her head in her splayed out position. “You are not getting this coffee back.” She makes a point at awkwardly trying to sip at the coffee in that position.
“Well are you here to take a nap? At eight in the morning?”
“Are we finally going to talk about it?” Hyejin shifts to sit up a little more.
“Talk about what?”
“What’s with this collaboration with Yongsun?” The way her eyes tinkle with its slight narrowing implies a lot more than her question.
Byul looks towards Hyejin with clear confusion, but is met with eyes that narrow even more and a singular head shake, don’t bullshit me.
Byul purses her lips for a moment, “don’t do that.”
It easy enough for them to read what each other is trying to say.
“What? Don’t make an obvious conclusion based on your obvious actions?” Hyejin exclaims knowingly.
It seems like Byul is trying to say something genuine for a moment – Hyejin can tell by the way she avoids eye contact– but that dissipates quickly and she knows she’s not going to get anything out of Byul. “Yes. Fine. I’m a fan. She sings well." Byul gestures towards Hyejin. "You’re a fan. We’re making a song. Stop exaggerating, it’s really that simple.”
Hyejin sighs. “Any more statements you’d like to add to that?”
“Yes. You’ve been highly unproductive.”
“Don’t change the topic.”
“You’ve been working on Wheein’s songs for how long? She’s already started training, you can stop holding back now.”
“I’m not holding back.”
“I actually want to debut her within the year.”
“You’re like a child, would it kill you to have some patience?”
Byul sighs this time. “I think I’m just stressed.”
“If you want to debut her so bad, throw her into your little collaboration with your ultra-famous Rockstar.”
“She’s not mine– ” Byul’s eyes widen for a second. “You’re a fucking genius.”
“Wait, what. I was kidding.”
“Why? You’re right. It works.”
“So you’re assuming Yongsun is fine with that?”
“I know her, she’ll be fine with it.”
“I know her.” Hyejin imitates her. “It’s really that simple,” she continues.
Byul pulls a finger against her own lips. “Shh. No more words from you.”
Hyejin rolls her eyes so far back her head tilts.
“I’m going to do it.” Byul says, more to herself than anything.
Hyejin’s grimace is followed by a long, exaggerated groan, “you are a literal dictator. Why do I even exist here?”
Byul shakes her head at her and repeats, shhh.
Byul ends up calling her. She was reminded of Minji’s last lecture for her, but decided against her better judgement. It’s probably what makes it easier when she brings up her ideas about Wheein, which out of the confines of her conversation with Hyejin, was actually a lot harder to ask, seeing as they pretty much recorded the whole song last time already.
Unsurprisingly, she says yes. She even offers to meet with Wheein, who– let’s be fair– is as relevant as any pedestrian down the street.
Byul finds out she’s maybe a little obsessed with tteokbokki, so she ironically takes her to a tattered old stall she knows of, as a thank you. It’s run by this old man who tells stories as if he’s lived three lives, and that’s perhaps the biggest appeal of the place.
Yongsun goes wearing three times the amount of clothes an ordinary person wears– not including the cap and mask– and Byul can’t blame her because the last thing she needed was to fight off a fanatic crowd in that tiny stall for her.
The first time she comes wearing all that, Byul laughs out loud, because, what a dork.
The third time, Byul pays the old man a little extra to let them eat right after closing. She may have flaunt the famous card a little harder than she needed to.
He makes a quip at them when they leave about how famous people are overtaking the world these days, and Byul throws a look at Yongsun that makes her chuckle.
“Come on, I’ll drive you home,” Byul says, as they walk out.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll call the company car.”
“What, and wait for a hoard to recognize you without your triple layer protection?”
Yongsun squeezes her eyes close with a laugh. “Okay, fine, you’re right.”
_ _ _ _ _
In the car, it’s dark, and a comfortable silence sits around them. But then at some point, Yongsun gets a text, and now she’s all uncomfortable and fidgety in her seat.
“I don’t know what he wants from me.” Yongsun murmurs after a minute, it sounds like a slip – something more personal than what she usually diverges.
“Your CEO?” Byul tries to make an educated guess from their conversations, because if she’s talking about anyone else, Byul doesn’t know what to do with that information. She hates that her mind went there.
“Yeah. I don’t know. All of them? Sometimes…I feel like… an object.”
“Was it always like that?”
“No. But it’s been five years, I can’t tell.” Yongsun’s staring out the window, and Byul catches glimpses of her reflection with a side glance.
“You think...you want out?”
“No. I mean, I don’t know. It’s more complicated than that.”
“So you keep saying.”
“There’s a way to do things, you know?”
Byul’s insecurities slips through for just a second. “Is that why you got to know me?”
But it’s enough for Yongsun’s gaze to snap up over to stare at Byul’s side profile. Byul might have thought there was a physical blow with the speed that it happens. Those eyes flip from shock to confusion, and Byul’s hands clenches on the steering wheel.
She turns into Yongsun’s place at that point, and the way the car rolls to a stop gravitates the whole question.
It’s hard to tell with the momentary glances at her before, but now she’s sure it’s just disappointment now, and Yongsun’s smiling in a way like it’s painful for her.
“You think I’d befriend you to climb my way up?”
Byul knows she shouldn’t have asked. She could actually start to read the little tell-tales on Yongsun’s face after spending this time together; a sincerity she just undermined.
“No.” She states with a force. “No, I don’t. I… just– you said before, about it all being easier… knowing the right people… I don’t know. Forget it.”
Yongsun listens to her talk with an unreadable expression – bites so hard on her bottom lip Byul thinks she might draw blood.
There’s a couple seconds of silence where she can see Yongsun struggle to find her words, an anger beginning to flare in her eyes.
“You asked to make the song– ”
“I’m not doing this to further my fucking career Byul. I don’t need that.” Yongsun scrunches her face together at the sound of her own arrogance.
“That’s not– ”
“That night we met–” Yongsun starts suddenly, pulling Byul’s focus back to her eyes. “You came over. And yeah, I fucked around with you. I wasn’t even sober. But you. You’re not like… everyone.”
It’s maybe the first time they’ve actually acknowledged whatever it was that was going on between them.
Yongsun continues. “My company didn’t really want to approve of this.” She waves a hand between them. “None of this is my scheduled time. It’s my time. My manager was not fucking impressed he had to come along that once.” Yongsun scoffs at that. “Don’t–”
Somehow those words bring a clarity Byul didn’t see before.
“So you did something you wanted for once.” Byul says.
“You– you always look like you’re going to say something, something you mean but then you stop, like you’ve determined it’s not right to say. You have people watching you, following you all the time. When was the last time you did something you wanted to do?”
Yongsun spends a full three seconds starring at her, taken back by the question. She chews on her lip again, and her eyes are scrutinizing Byul so much that it’s hard to maintain eye contact. It’s hard to predict what she’s going to say.
“This.” Yongsun says quietly after.
Byul stays silent.
“This.” She repeats. “I actually wanted– ” She stops talking.
Then it’s like something snapped in Yongsun. Byul can feel her throat tightening, she doesn’t know how much longer she can keep looking into her eyes.
“What?” Byul says so quietly she could barely hear herself.
“I–” Yongsun falters now, eyes darting down towards her lap.
But then she looks up, eyes wide like she’s figured it out. "Fuck."
And the way she says it is so quiet, yet so obscene, whatever dwindling resolve Byul had to keep this professional goes out the window.
It happens quickly. Yongsun leans over the console of the car and lightly grips the collar of Byul’s shirt, hovering for a fraction of a second to wait for her response. But there’s little to be questioned regarding Byul’s response to her intent.
It’s soft, almost too soft, and only serves to tighten the tension inside Byul, because there’s this need now. She can taste her lip balm.
They pull back after a good couple of seconds, and Byul can still feel her against her lips. She gets it then, in that moment staring at her; it's all over her face, a vulnerability so obvious now. It’s what Byul was waiting for– for that composure of hers to break, like she finally gets to something real.
Yongsun touches her own lips for a second – disbelief about what just happened– her thumb quickly taking over to wipe the corner of her lips.
Byul can see panic slip into her eyes a little. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t– ” Yongsun starts, reality sinking in a little more.
“No, don’t. I wanted to.”
A bit of calm returns. “Okay...” There’s only silence again, one that Byul isn’t sure she wants to fill, and it’s not the comfortable one like before all this happened. “Uh… maybe I should just go.” Yongsun says after a second.
“Yeah, maybe.” Byul doesn’t know how to broach the complexity of their situation in that moment, and she certainly didn’t want to do in this car. Her hands goes back to clutching the steering wheel after Yongsun slips out of the car.