I stood in the entrance of the salon, staring in disbelief at the rain which was pouring down. It was summer. It was summer in California. During a heatwave.
We’d had warnings for weeks about being prepared for fires and the possibility of evacuation, and while I was certainly grateful that the rain would probably do some good to help with that, it was not the thing I wanted on the day of my graduation when I had to get from the salon to my car and keep the curls in my hair.
When I’d left my apartment only a couple of hours ago, the sky had been blue, free of clouds, and given me the assurance the lack of rain would continue. After months of dry weather, I had stopped checking my app and just assumed it would continue.
I hadn’t even brought an umbrella with me.
“Ah, Sophie, that sucks,” the stylist said, joining me at the entrance. “Here, take this.” She handed me an umbrella that had been lying by the door.
“Won’t you need it?” I asked, taking it from her.
“I’ll take my chances later,” she assured me.
“Thank you,” I said, gratefully. I stepped outside under the sheltered walkway and put the umbrella up. As the rain lashed down, I darted across the parking lot, trying to avoid the small streams that had formed. By the time I got to my car, everything from the shoulders down was drenched, but my hair had survived.
I sat back, turning the vents on to demist my windows, and synced my phone to my car. Moments later, the music player kicked in and I was greeted with KARD’s Dumb Litty, picking up where I had left it when I’d gone in the salon.
No sooner had I set my phone in the cup holder, did it bleep at me. I picked it up, humming along to the song. It was an alert from a fan site I subscribed to. Although I enjoyed listening to K-pop, the only group I really followed was Drako.
The news would have to wait. I had to get home, get changed, and get to college. We’d been warned for weeks that if we were late, they weren’t going to let us into the auditorium. I knew for a fact, my parents were already there, two hours early. They had travelled down from Washington last night. I turned the music up and pulled out of the parking lot.
It was still raining when I reached my apartment block twenty minutes later. Silently thanking my hair stylist for the use of her umbrella once again, I darted over to the apartment building. It was a three-story building with a sloping roof, external stairs and no elevator. I didn’t mind. I had an apartment on the third floor to myself. I was humming a song to myself as I was pulling my key from my purse, when I was suddenly aware of the fact I was being watched.
My hand moved to the small can of pepper spray I kept in my purse and I wrapped my fingers around it. The person behind me took a step towards me and I whirled around, arm extended.
“What the fuck, Soph?”
I dropped my arm at about the same speed as my jaw. “Justin? What are you doing here?”
I hadn’t seen Justin in person in almost four years to the day – my high school graduation. The same night, he had left for Seoul. Since then, the only time I had seen him was in music videos, or on the fansite I followed.
My twin brother, Justin Kang, was the keyboard player in the K-pop group, Drako.
And his presence, completely unannounced, made absolutely no sense.
Ever since he had moved out to Seoul, staying in touch was almost impossible. In the early days, his company had taken his cell phone away and he had been able to send an email once a week. After he had debuted, they had given his group a shared Instagram account which they used themselves, but I knew to be monitored by their company.
“Is that any way to greet your brother?” he asked me with a half grin.
I put all my thoughts to one side and launched myself at him. “I missed you,” I muttered into his shoulder as he held me tightly. Finally, I stepped back. “Come inside. I have about an hour and then we need to get to graduation, but I am still the queen of multitasking.”
I unlocked the door to my apartment and walked in, stepping to the side so Justin could follow. He stood in the entrance, looking around the room.
“I’m sorry about the mess,” I said as I pointed at the piles of boxes. “I’m moving back to Washington over the summer. Did Mom or Dad tell you I got an internship at a media company in New York? I’m going back to the diner I used to work at over the summer when I was in high school to earn a bit of money as it’s an unpaid internship, and it doesn’t start until September…” I stared at my brother and then shrugged. “I still talk a lot?” I offered at the bewildered stare he was giving me.
“Mom and Dad didn’t tell me anything. They don’t know I’m here,” Justin muttered.
“Sit down,” I instructed him. “I need to get changed. But I’m glad you’re surprising them. They’ll like that.” I looked him up and down and frowned. “Well, Mom won’t. She’ll tell you you’re too skinny. Which you are, by the way,” I added as I hurried to my bedroom. “I’ll be back in a bit. Get comfortable. There are drinks and snacks in the kitchen.”
Much as I wanted to properly catch up with him and let him fill me in on the life I had only seen through controlled social media, I still had a graduation to get to. I rushed around my bedroom, changing into the skirt and blouse I’d picked out about three weeks ago, and then after checking my makeup was still OK, walked back into the living room.
Justin was perched on the edge of the sofa, rubbing his knee absent mindedly as he stared at the photographs on the shelves. I watched him, unnoticed. He’d taken his hood down, but the hoodie was still on.
My brother and I had a similar body type; slim and straight. He couldn’t bulk up in the gym (he’d tried in our last year of high school), and I had no curves unless I was helped out with a padded bra.
Despite this, he looked too thin. Mom really was going to try to fatten him up when she saw him. But worse than that, he looked exhausted. I knew he was in the downtime before his next comeback, but his face looked gaunt and there were dark circles under his eyes that weren’t caused by eyeliner. “We have about twenty minutes and then we need to leave,” I told him. I looked around with a frown. “Justin, where are your bags? Did you check into a hotel?” I swear if this was a flying visit and he was on the last flight back to Seoul, I was going to steal his passport and make him rest.
“Something like that,” he muttered.
“You can check out and stay here,” I told him as I walked over to the open plan kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Moments later, I joined him on the sofa, handing him a bottle of banana milk. “Do you still drink this?”
“Not as often as I’d like,” he said as he took the drink off me.
I watched as he jabbed the straw through the foil lid and took a sip. “Spill,” I told him.
He gave me a sideways glance. “What do you mean?”
“You left for Seoul four years ago, and in all that time, you’ve never been able to come home, and you barely call or text. I know more about you from JustinLove.”
This time, Justin turned to face me fully, an eyebrow arched. “You follow… my fansite?”
“You don’t call. You don’t write,” I shrugged. “What’s a girl supposed to do?”
Justin pulled a face. “You sound like an ex.”
“Ew, gross!” I cried, grabbing a cushion and using it to smack his head. “The point is, this is the only way I can find out how my brother is doing, without having to go through mom, because I don’t like listening to her rant for forty minutes about how you’re too busy to call.”
“I told you when I moved out there that they were going to take our phones off us and restrict our social media access. It’s completely normal for trainees.”
I tossed the cushion to the side as I rolled my eyes. “You’re not a trainee anymore, Justin. You’re not even classed as a rookie group. I know that officially your social media is restricted to the group accounts, but if you dare to tell me that you haven’t got a secret phone with secret accounts on it, I will punch you. There’s no way that your company would let you come to the US without having some way of contacting you.” I frowned. “Unless they don’t know you’re here?”
“They know I’m here,” he muttered, looking towards the window.
I followed his stare. My blinds were set at an angle that you could only see the sky; black and still raining. “But Mom and Dad don’t?”
There was a long pause and then he said something, so quietly, I couldn’t hear him.
“Say that again, Just,” I requested, moving closer.
“I need your help.”
I reached over, grabbed his shoulder, and pulled him to face me. The last thing I was expecting to see was tears in his eyes. “What’s wrong?” I asked in alarm.
People always seem to think that twins have these special psychic bonds, and maybe identical twins do. Maybe some fraternal twins do… Justin and I had never shared the psychic bond. We were more like siblings who happened to share the same birthday. We’d been close when we had been younger, but when we’d hit high school, our circle of friends had changed. Then he’d been scouted while he was in LA and the next thing I knew, he had been whisked away to Korea and I’d gone to college.
But just because we hadn’t been as close over the last few years didn’t mean I didn’t care. He was still my brother – my twin. “What’s wrong, Justin?” I repeated.
My brother closed his eyes, quickly wiping at one as he sucked in a deep breath. “I need to go to rehab.”
“What is it? Coke? Heroin? I swear to God-”
“It’s not drugs!” he snapped.
“Alcohol?” I demanded.
Justin got up and stormed over to the other side of the room, running a hand through his hair. “I mean it is drugs, it’s just not those drugs.”
“Is this one of these instances where you’ve been speaking Korean so long that you’ve forgotten how to English?” I demanded. “Because I can switch to Korean,” I told him, doing just that. “What’s wrong? What drugs are you addicted to?”
“Painkillers,” he confessed. “My knee.”
I stared at the knee I had caught him rubbing earlier, frowning. “What did you do to your knee?”
“We were filming on Seoul Nights and I fell over my own laces as I left the stage,” he admitted, looking sheepish all of a sudden.
When he had said he was moving to Korea to be in a K-pop group, I’d almost laughed. My brother was the most uncoordinated person I knew. He couldn’t play sports without hurting himself. And then he said he was going to be in a K-pop group? I might not have followed the music back then, but you don’t grow up in a Korean household without some Korean culture coming into it, and my mom loved the variety shows. I’d seen the groups dancing.
“You mean the Seoul Nights show two years ago?” Seoul Nights was a music show. Groups and solo artists would go on, interact with the hosts, and answer some questions. I’d watched it (of course). It was closer to eighteen months ago than two years – four comebacks ago. I remembered the posts on Instagram afterwards; there had been pictures of Justin being taken to hospital. He’d missed out on two shows, and then he was back for the rest of the promotions. He’d seemed fine not long after that. “They had you back on stage after two days.”
“Yeah, because I was taking oxycodone.”
I stared at him, speechless. I’d had no idea. “Does Mom-”
“Of course she doesn’t,” Justin snapped. “Why do you think I don’t come home?”
Honestly, I’d thought it was because of his schedule, but this made sense. “OK, well, this is California and there are dozens of rehab places around here. I have money that I can use to pay for this.” I had no idea how much rehab cost, but I was prepared to use all my intern savings if it was going to help him.
Justin gave me a grateful smile and then slowly shook his head. “I don’t need your money. I have a place booked and I check in tomorrow.”
I slowly licked my lower lip, trying to make sense of this. “KSTARZ Entertainment arranged this?” I asked, confused. I knew drugs were a big deal in Korea. The news hadn’t broken that he was taking them – I was assuming after eighteen months he wasn’t getting them from a doctor legally – so maybe his company was paying for this?
Justin scoffed. “Of course not. They don’t know anything about it. They would end my contract in an instant if they did.” The bottle of milk in his hand was slammed down on the bookcase.
“Will you please quit getting angry at me for asking questions?” I asked him, sharply. “I want to help you. I’m just trying to work out how you need my help.”
Justin sucked in a deep breath and nodded. “Do you remember Declan Kline?”
“From high school?”
“Yeah. Well, we kept in touch and he’s the one who booked me into a treatment center. I sent him money under the pretense of buying a guitar and he paid for it.”
I had to bite my tongue. Declan Kline was a fucking moron who had been the reason Justin had tried going to the gym to bulk up in the first place. The fact Justin had not only kept in touch with him, but had turned to him for help, hurt. I counted to three before answering. “What do you need from me?”
“My company, my group, and my fans can’t find out about this.”
I arched an eyebrow. “I don’t exactly plan on blasting this on social media, Justin,” I told him, my tone dry.
“I’m going to rehab for thirty days.”
“I’m fairly certain if they haven’t missed you already, they’re going to very soon,” I pointed out. “I mean, I can tell anyone who asks that I haven’t seen you, but it won’t be long before they discover you bought a plane ticket.”
“They know I’m here.”
“You just said-”
“They think I’m here for your graduation,” he snapped at me. “They think I’m flying back tomorrow morning.”
“And they’re going to get a shock when you don’t walk off the plane!” I yelled back at him, finally losing my patience with the unnecessary levels of anger being directed at me.
“Not if you walk off the plane!”
“Are you high right now?” I cried.
“I’ve thought it through, Soph,” he told me, starting up the pacing again. “The only way this can work is if you pretend to be me.”
“What about my internship?” I asked, only just stopping myself from laughing. “I’ve got plans this summer.”
“It’s one month and you said your plans were to work. I can pay you more than what that diner was ever going to pay you.”
I wasn’t entirely convinced of that. “Justin, we’re not six years old anymore with identical ridiculous haircuts when we could pretend to be each other. You’re an idol. An idol in a really popular K-pop band, for fuck’s sake.”
“We’re on a rest period. Do you think they would have let me come over here if we were in the middle of a comeback? I have no solo projects scheduled. It’s downtime for everyone but JJ who’s in a drama. You just have to chill out in my dorm room for a while.”
I stared at him, tilting my head. “You’re being serious.”
“Of course I’m being fucking serious!”
I pinched the bridge of my nose as I closed my eyes. He’d never actually answered my question about being high… “Justin, I can’t be you for a month. You are an idol. You have fans who follow you everywhere and take pictures. There is no way in hell I could ever pull it off.”
Justin hurried over and sat down beside me on the couch. “Sophie, I am begging you. I need to go to rehab. I can’t keep going on like this. I can’t let that happen again.” Tears started streaming down his face. “Drako pretty much hate me right now and I need to make this right. I owe them so much.” He reached out for my hands, clutching at them. “Please, Sophie. I have thought about this and thought about this. If anyone finds out about this, it’s going to destroy Mom, it’s going to end Drako, and it’s going to ruin KSTARZ. You just need to be me for thirty days.”
I closed my eyes, sucking in a deep breath. This was possibly one of the most insane things that had ever come out of his mouth.