The room had exploded into excited chatter. I, on the other hand, was far from excited. “I object!” I cried, loudly. The room fell silent as the rest of Drako and the CEO turned to look at me. If the blood hadn’t already run from my head, I swear my face would have turned red at all the attention on me.
“This isn’t a wedding,” Yeonwoo said, coldly.
For the first time, I didn’t care if he was acting like he never wanted to see me again. At this moment in time, the feeling was mutual. “We’re on a break,” I snapped. “That’s time off; time to rest.”
“Since when do you care?” Sungjae asked, staring at me like he didn’t recognize me.
“It doesn’t work like that,” the CEO said, before I could respond to Sungjae’s question. “And as I’ve just explained, we need to move on the success of your last comeback. In fact, if I recall, that was your suggestion when we announced you were having a break.”
“I’m not saying no comeback,” I hurriedly told them, trying not to squirm under the glares that were being sent my way from Yeonwoo and Sungjae. “I’m just saying I really wanted this break. If we could just push the comeback back a month…”
“We have it on good authority that Big Hit will be having one of their groups have a comeback the month after. Unless of course, you want to go up against one of them.”
In the back of my mind, I recognized the name Big Hit, but at that moment, my thoughts paralyzed at the prospect of being a part of this comeback, I blurted out words. “We can do that easily.”
Five faces stared back at me in disbelief. “Are you… feeling OK, Justin?” the CEO asked.
I pulled at the neck of my collar, feeling like the world was closing in around me. “No,” I muttered, getting to my feet. “I just need to get some water.” I stumbled out of the office, blindly walking down the corridor until I found a bathroom. I pushed the door open, walked straight to the hand basin and ran the water. Scooping it up in my hand, I drank it like a woman who had been wandering the desert for weeks.
Feeling a little bit better, I splashed the cold water over my face, not caring that I was getting just as much down my t-shirt. I stared at my reflection, glowering at it. With wet hair, I looked even more like my brother. “I’m going to kill you,” I threatened my reflection.
“Are you OK?”
I turned, finding a woman standing in the doorway, looking at me in concern. “Yes, thank you,” I lied. She didn’t move. “Honestly.”
“You’re in the ladies’ bathroom,” she pointed out.
I glanced in the mirror at the room around me. There was no urinal in sight. There was a tampon machine attached to the wall.
Or lack of.
I was in the wrong room.
I turned the water off and straightened my back. “I’m sorry,” I apologized with a slight bow. Keeping my head up, I walked past her, out of the bathroom, and into the hallway. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” I muttered under my breath.
“Did you just walk out of the ladies’ bathroom?” Sungjae asked, appearing in front of me.
I shot him a withering glare and pointed to the door to the men’s room next to the ladies. “Get your eyes checked.”
“I don’t know why I bothered,” Sungjae muttered, turning on his heel as he walked off.
I watched him go, feeling guilty, but also relieved that he had believed my lie.
The ladies’ room? I needed to be more careful. I couldn’t screw up like that.
I sucked in another deep breath. “OK, you can do this,” I told myself. Logistics could be worked out later. It wasn’t like there were dance routines required. Justin played in a band. He was also a talented musician. If I could send him photographs of the sheet music, he could be learning that while in rehab, right? I could get a selca to him and then he could go to a salon to replicate the look.
This was doable.
There was no need for DEFCON 1 just yet.
No, acting like this was more likely to cause an issue. I just needed to keep it together for a month. Justin could deal with the live shows. “Come on, Soph,” I muttered to myself. “If you can do this, you can do anything. And it’s just four weeks.”
Wait… four weeks?
How the hell did anyone learn a song, record an album, make a music video, and be ready for a comeback in a month? Was this normal? Did all groups manage to turn this around on such short notice?
“One month,” I said, firmer this time.
I held my head up, sucked in a deep breath and forced myself back into the room. The conversation that had been in progress stopped when I walked in.
“Done with the dramatics?” Yeonwoo asked, although he said it quietly as though trying to make a point, but not wanting an answer.
I gave him, and the rest of the room, one anyway. “I apologize,” I said, formally. “We worked hard during the last comeback and I was looking forward to the break, but I am here, and I am committed.”
Yeonwoo actually snorted in disbelief, although he didn’t comment. He was stopped by the silencing look Sungjae sent at him. The CEO missed it, but I didn’t. Once again it was very apparent that Justin had done something to screw with the dynamics of this group.
“Glad to have you back on board,” the CEO said with a roll of his eyes. I suspected this wasn’t the first time Justin had done something with unnecessary dramatics in his presence, either. “We were discussing the units before you walked out. The marketing team has been paying attention to the comments in the fan cafes and we’ve created two units for this comeback. If it’s successful, I think it’s a trend we might continue going forward on future albums.”
I slipped back into the seat I had previously vacated, wishing I had a notepad with me. This wouldn’t be the first comeback for the rest of the group, but it was mine. I’d not done this before and I was only vaguely aware of the process – more so the end part of it than what it took to get to that single and album. There was no way I was going to be able to ask the others without giving my identity away.
“Do you have the schedule prepared already?” I asked.
Five disbelieving faces looked at me and I mentally kicked myself. Justin had never been the person to organize and schedule his life when he had been at school. He’d still been relying on me or mom to remind him what classes or extracurricular activities he had on any given day. Why on earth would that have changed now he was here? “I just want to know when I can get some naps in,” I shrugged, hoping that still sounded like Justin.
“With the units releasing music videos in the lead up to the comeback, you’re not going to get much opportunity for sleeping, Justin,” the CEO sighed.
And there was the Justin everyone knew…
Note to self; laziness is what will get you through this.
“You will have this week to learn the unit songs, the comeback single, and the rest of the songs on the album. At the weekend you will be recording. Next week we will finalize your looks and we’ll be photographing the first version of the album jacket. We will shoot the unit videos then, too. The week after we will be on location to shoot the video and then we’ll be finishing the jacket for the second version of the album.”
I watched the CEO reel all this off and everyone else listen like it was normal. I mean, yes, it was, but to me, this was insane. A week to learn an album? The only thing I was grateful for at that point was that this was a band and not a group, because choreography on top of all of that was going to kill me.
As it was, I wasn’t sure I was going to survive this.
“But what are our units?” Chan asked, excitedly. He was bouncing up and down in his seat like an excited puppy. It was cute. Unfortunately, his excitement wasn’t catching.
The CEO smiled. “You are with Sungjae and JJ.”
I could feel the blood draining from my head as I looked over at Yeonwoo and caught him glowering at me.
I definitely wasn’t going to survive this.
“How is this going to work?” Sungjae asked, either not noticing the arctic atmosphere which had settled in the room, or he was choosing to ignore it. “Three guitarists, and then a keyboard player and a drummer?”
“It will become more evident when you hear your guide tracks, but your units will have more of a raw acoustic sound to them.”
I’d stopped listening.
I knew I shouldn’t have done. I knew that this was crucial information and I needed to take it all in, but it was taking every shred of concentration not to freak out. In four weeks, Drako would have a comeback and I would be a part of it. I was going to be stuck in a unit with the member of the band who seemed to hate me the most.
But what was worse was that the music video was going to be filmed on location. What if it was outside of Seoul? If it was anywhere that required a flight, what was I going to do?
I was so focused on not having a meltdown that it took Sungjae shaking my folder for me to realize that we had been dismissed and the others had already left the room. I jumped up, thanked the CEO, and hurried out of the office. In the corridor, I stopped, closing my eyes.
“Are you OK?” Sungjae asked.
I opened my eyes and found him watching me with a slight frown. I slowly nodded. “Jet lag,” I muttered.
That made him roll his eyes. “Whatever.” He started to walk off, but then he stopped and walked back to me. “I don’t blame Yeonwoo for being pissed at you, and you’ve done nothing to rectify this in the last few months, despite me telling you constantly to fix things. Maybe now is the time to start, otherwise, your unit is going to suck.” With that, he walked off.
Fixing things with Yeonwoo was not my responsibility. Justin needed to do that when he came back, because he was the one who was in the band with him. He was the one who had fucked it up. He was the one who needed to be sincere with fixing things.
The problem was, if I did nothing, I was going to be the one dealing with whatever this shit was. The next month was going to be hard enough as it was.
My feet seemed to spring into life, making a decision for me. I ran after Sungjae, slowing when I reached his side to walk beside him. “You don’t think it’s too late to fix things?” I asked. I couldn’t ask him outright what had happened, but I could dance around the issue and try to piece together the answers.
Sungjae looked at me in surprise. “You want to fix things?”
I raised a shoulder. “Things suck.”
“Yeah, and you deserve it,” he told me. “But if you’re going to fix it, you need to fix it because you want things to be better between you and him, not because you want an easy ride through this comeback.”
“I messed up,” I said, hoping that was the case… sort of… “I just don’t know how to fix it now.”
Sungjae stopped so that he could face me. Then, with his lips pursed, he stared into my eyes. I wasn’t sure what he saw, but he arched an eyebrow in a way that made me shift uncomfortably on the spot. “Owning up to things and apologizing might be a good start.”
The way he continued to stare at me, as though he was trying to penetrate my mind and read it, continued to make me feel unnerved. “Thanks,” I muttered, deciding to put some distance between the two of us. I hurried back outside to where the others were already waiting in the car.
The fans from earlier had disappeared, probably because it was as hot as a furnace with humidity that my longer hair would have cursed at. Just the walk from the main entrance to the car had a bead of sweat running down my back.
I took the seat I had been sat in on the way here, grabbing the folder from it first, and then sank into the cool leather with a sigh. Asking more from Sungjae was going to be treading dangerous waters. But there were two others I could try to piece this puzzle together with.
I turned my attention to the thin plastic document wallet and pulled out some sheets of paper: sheet music. There were eight songs in total.
Eight songs I would have to learn to play by heart: I had never seen a band perform with sheet music.
And I had a week to do it.
I poured over the music as we drove back to the dorm. The single was called ‘She’s Dangerous’. It was about a guy who fell so hard and deeply in love with a woman that he was willing to do anything for her. The keyboard was carrying the melody, and aside from some fancy finger work on the bridge, was quite straightforward.
‘Our Way’, the duet I was doing with Yeonwoo had several key changes. Playing the keyboard for that would be OK, but the singing was going to be the thing that killed me. I was an alto, like my brother, but he could hit the lower notes better than me, whereas I could go higher than him. It was nowhere near the high notes that JJ could reach, but I would have been more comfortable with something a little higher.
I could sing. I’d been in a choir during high school.
And then I’d gone to college. I’d barely played the piano as much as I had during high school, but the best singing I had done was along to the radio when driving. Did they still get vocal coaches after they had debuted? I needed one… although they would be able to tell instantly that ‘Justin’ hadn’t just forgotten everything – he’d never been taught it.
By the time we reached the dorm, I was feeling lightheaded. What I needed was something sweet. After checking the cupboards while I’d been cleaning and exploring, I knew there was nothing in the dorm that I wanted.
I followed the others to the door, and then passed my document wallet to JJ. “I’m going to the store. I need chocolate,” I told him. JJ took the wallet off me, giving me a surprised look. A quick glance around the group and I realized they all were. “What?”
“We have a comeback in four weeks and you’re eating chocolate?” Sungjae asked, answering my question to JJ. “You?”
My brother liked chocolate. I knew he had a sweeter tooth than I did. “Yes.”
Yeonwoo snorted. “I have no idea what you were eating in America, but you might want to reconsider that.”
My mouth dropped open as I looked down at my stomach. I wasn’t fat. Sure, my body wasn’t quite as muscular as Justin’s considering he was actually a guy, but we both had skinny frames. Maybe my hips were a little more curved, but I’d been cursed with a boyish figure since puberty. And I wasn’t fat.
With narrowed eyes, I glanced up at Yeonwoo. “Fuck you.”
Antagonizing the person I was supposed to be in a unit with was not what I was supposed to do, but he was saying that to get a reaction from me, and he got it. Although he got a swipe from Sungjae, I walked off, muttering curses in two languages under my breath.
Justin may have done something to fuck things up, but it wasn’t fair that I was now receiving the fallout from that. I knew it wasn’t personal – to me, at least – but that didn’t mean I was going to stand around and take it.
I paused at the door to the shop, catching sight of myself in the window. “But you’re Justin, not Sophie,” I told myself. “You don’t have any choice.”