He grimaced in pain at the sound of his heart breaking. It was two seconds after he sent the text message that ended it all. He was sweating bullets before then, sitting in his car, pounding on the steering wheel, hesitating each second at what he was about to do. “Mianhae, noona. This is for both of us.” He said in his mind mere seconds ago. He stared at his phone again. Looking at the digits glaring at him. He repeated the digits in his mind, refusing to talk to anyone in case any interruption distracts him from committing those digits to memory. The protocol was that he would turn in the handphone back to the network, and they will delete everything. Since they were trailing him, he wouldn’t be able to write down any of her contact information.
Upon reaching their dorm, he quickly grabbed his notebook to write down the only thing he let run in his mind. Her number. As he completed writing it, a familiar voice yelled. “Hong Star, are you home yet?” He jolted in surprise, like a cat caught in the act. Minhwan entered his room. “Man, you look like you’ve seen a ghost! What happened? You okay?” He nodded in response. “You sure?” The drummer probed. He nodded again. Minhwan knew better, but let his friend keep it to himself. Sooner or later, they will find out.
Hours, days, months went by. He started out staring at the numbers he wrote in his notebook. Fiddling with punching them on the keys of his handphone every now and then. “I did want to keep contact, noona. I do want to get to know you.” That and other variations thereof were what he was texting for more than one day. Only to keep himself from keying in the final number and the send button. It became even harder when their episode finally aired. When he saw her bubbly self slump down almost to the point of tears on a subway train. He broke her heart, it seemed. The worse thing is that in that process, he also broke his own.
She felt the tears pool in her eyes. She fought so hard to keep them from falling. She knew well enough not to wear her heart on her sleeve in front of national TV. Yet, she played dumb, and where did it land her? The price she paid for needing some exposure in the world she wanted to join. Was it even worth it? She thought to herself. An idol, a brat at that, just broke her heart. She had no place in his world. At the end of their encounter, she was just another ordinary girl. He was just playing a role. After all, didn’t they say he was a good actor? “Pabo! Pabo! Pabo!” she kept telling herself knocking her forehead as she walked home when the show crew finally left her alone. Why was she so vulnerable? At that moment, she was a little annoyed with the natural goodness of her heart. “Be tough, sometimes YeoHee-ya!” she scolded herself.
She went to her bedroom. Wrote down the number she committed to memory, tore the page off and inserted it into a book she knew she was not going to read any time soon. “You’re as good as forgotten now, jashik!” She took her guitar, and strummed her heartache away.
Hours, days, months went by. Her friends kept teasing her that they have seen her summer affair in one of those dramas on TV. She pretended not to care. She already forgot about him, she kept telling them. Only her friends knew that it wasn’t them she was trying to convince, but herself. She did watch a few bits, or maybe more, of that drama he was in. She was moved to tears when he was singing his heart out on that bus. And, she did find that book she hid his number in. She did ‘accidentally’ see that scrap of paper. During a high moment from making her music one night, she even dared to type from her iPhone, “I’m not an easy girl to get rid of. I can stay, just ask me to.” But she thought that sounded desperate, so she deleted it. “Ya! It’s Noona. Just wanted to say hello.” She typed instead, only to send it to another dongsaeng, since her pride and fear got the most of her. She didn’t want to lose him, but she knew that had she been the one to run after him, to make him stay, she would’ve lost herself instead.
“Your Noona will be on Inkigayo” Yong Hwa teased his newly dyed red-haired friend. “Some people say it can’t be done, some say it’s a game that can’t be won.” Yong Hwa rapped the lines from her single. Red-haired and annoyed, he glared at his friend. “Shut up. Will you?” It was August, a year and some after that summer they met. Yet, it still gets at him when he is teased about her. He wanted to do something now, but thought the timing was bad. Now that she was getting the spotlight, on her own, his efforts would look like a lame attempt to connect with the fame she is quickly gaining. “Pabo! Stop being scared. I really think you should do something” He heard Yong Hwa say. “Do you want to come watch her film her Inkigayo bit? You can just hang around, pretend you’re a mouse or something.” Yong Hwa suggested. “I’m busy”was his defensive and quick reply. “Ahrasso,” Yong Hwa said, “but the offer stands. Just come by if you want.” That was the most tempting thing Hong Ki heard in a while.
He paced back and forth in his dorm. Wasting minutes when he was supposed to be practicing their new songs. He was keying her number again, thinking to maybe congratulate her for her recent success. He was proud of her, at least that was true. His friends knew, after all, each one of them saw him replay over and over her Applegirl videos on the web. Like a true fanboy, or just a guy smitten. Would his answer be different had he known this side of her then? That was the oft-asked question he got from his hyungs. It would have been the same, because that’s what he was told to do. And at that time she wouldn’t understand, so he didn’t know how to explain. Or how to even begin making things right.
He gave in. He asked for the day off from his managers and went to see Yong Hwa, or at least that was his excuse. He was walking around the Inkigayo set, wondering what time she would be arriving. “Kim Yeo Hee-ssi!” he heard a staffer call. And like a teenage boy, he ran to the closest empty room to hide from her. He was sitting by the dressing room mirror when he realized that she might actually be assigned that room, since she was the only one with no assigned dressing room. “Jashik! Pabo! How do you get out of that if that happens?” He heard a knock on the door, felt his blood pressure rise from nerves. “Hong Ki-yah!” he heard Yong Hwa’s familiar voice. “She’s here! Next door.” He heaved a sigh of relief hearing that. And his friend laughed guessing what just transpired.
When it was her turn to sing her bit, he was feeling goosebumps around. Her song moved him. So, this is what she had been up to all this time. Clearly, he had underestimated her. He already knew that watching her Youtube videos. But he was convinced, as he stood there behind the audience seats watching her performance. “Noona.” He said to himself with a smile.
Someone told her that he was on set. “This doesn’t help my nerves.” She thought to herself. She looked at herself in the mirror. She wondered if she looked okay. She wondered if she could sing fine. She was afraid she would forget the lyrics to her own song. Yet, she didn’t see him around. So, she thought that maybe someone was just playing a trick on her. Yong Hwa came by to say hello to her even. He was nice, especially nice actually, like an old friend she hadn’t seen for a while. She felt more at ease.
The rest of the time at the recording was a blur. As she ended her piece, she scurried back to her dressing room. Being the rookie, she needed to give up her space sooner as someone else needs to take it after her. With her manager and stylist, she fixed her things and got ready to go home. Not having seen even a shadow of his, she was convinced that he wasn’t in the premises.
In the parking lot, as her manager was hauling her stuff inside the van, she was still talking to some other staff member. Until she saw him, walking out of the studio, headed to his car, thumbing on his phone. She smiled, realizing that he really was there. Part of her wanted to think that he was there to see her. But she shrugged the thought away, not wanting her heart be broken into pieces again. “Not anymore, not now.” She thought.
He looked up and their eyes met, even briefly. He smiled, waved and bowed. She waved back, just for civility’s sake.
On the drive home, her phone buzzed, “Oraenmaniyo (It’s been a while), noona.” Knowing who it was, she smiled. “Nae, oraenmaniyo, Hong Ki.” Her heart skipped a few beats with it. She won’t tell him that. Or so she thought then.
He was still high from their performance at the Budokan. He was looking all sweaty, but he was happy. He’s having a good year. All of them in his band were. But what makes it better is that his heart was also in a good place. “Shiny Shiny Hong Hong!!” he heard a familiar bubbly voice weaving through the bustle backstage. “Noona!” he looked back and called chirpily. She hugged him. “It was so great watching you!! The Budokan, my dear, the Budokan!!” she said excitedly jumping up and down holding his hands. He hugged her back, giddy. “Nae! The Budokan, but I don’t know what’s greater, that I got to perform here, or that you got to watch me!” Her face turned red. She was crying now, while smiling. So, he hugged her again. And they stayed like that for a while.
Epilogue: Late Spring 2011
They sat beside each other. Late at night, on the same beach they were on two years ago. He brought fireworks like last time. She was listening to him intently as he spoke of his adventures. She was missing him quite a bit from all the traveling he had been doing with their hectic schedule. This was the only time they found to spend together recently. Sitting on the sand, they were looking at the stars. “Noona,” he started. She turned her head to look at him. “I did want to keep contact, then. I did want to get to learn more about the songs you were making. I did want to hear you sing,” he rambled. She nodded in understanding, and prodded him to continue. “I didn’t want to lose you. Yet, I didn’t want to confuse you. Mianhe.” She nodded again, looked to the direction of the sea, to breathe the salty night air. She hugged her knees, and sat in silence for a while. He waited until she would say something again.
“All I needed was some sort of sign. I would’ve stayed.” She broke the silence finally. It was his turn to nod. “But I know you couldn’t do anything, so I guess I understood.” She assured him. He scooted in the sand to sit closer to her. “It was quite a long journey to get here, eh, noona?” he told her. “Uh, uhm.” she said in agreement. “I don’t regret anything” she told him. “Nae, I do. I regret some things.” He said quite certainly. She looked at him with a question in her eyes. “Back then, I regret not having said anything. Not having done anything, to give you the sign you needed. Back then, I only wished you knew… what I…” She put her head on his shoulders. “Hajima (Don’t.) I now know, don’t I? You got to say it. You’re lucky. We’re luckier than all others who will never get the chance to say what they really want to say.” He put his arm around her, shielding her from the cold draft starting to come through. “I cherish you. Now that’s what I want to say. And I will say it every day.” He told her. “Go ahead, don’t worry. I won’t get tired hearing it.” She told him with a smile.
It’s on the tip of my tongue but I’m still afraid
Sometimes the only things words do is get in the way
Sometimes the easiest things are the hardest to say
But I don’t want to lose you, drive you away
Don’t want to confuse you, I need you to stay
Only wish you knew what I wanted to say
Only wish you knew what I wanted to say
-What I Wanted to Say, Colbie Caillat