Title: Skandl! (Chapter 14)
Pairing(s): TaengSic, side!YulTi
Rating/Genre: PG-13 + Some Sexual themes, language; AU Idol Romance
Warning(s): Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.
Disclaimer: I don't own Soshi. I don't own anyone, in fact. All Fiction.
Author's Notes: Damn, I’m nervous about this one. lol. Another longish chapter.
Edit: Y'ALL. Check this out ♥♥: Skandl! Picset by mrlazyputa
An 18-year-old Kim Taeyeon held her underarm to the mirror, catching unwanted hairs into a plastic four-blade razor. She mirrored the action for the other side, picturing improvements to her flat, black mane. The young trainee knew she wanted something fresh and exciting, only to lose her nerve at the very sight of a salon chair. Her roommate promised her she’d get used to drastic style changes. She wasn’t so sure.
“Sunny,” she called into the small dormitory. “I need help.”
Her girl padded in, half a pizza slice dangling from her teeth. “With?”
“Make me look seductive.”
Thick tomato paste beaded at both corners of the girl’s lips as she snorted in delight. “Seductive? You?”
“Damnit.” Taeyeon threw her razor into the running sink, unhappy about the mediocrity reflected in real time. “Am I hopeless?”
Sunny winked and tossed the pizza crust onto the bathroom counter. “Not hopeless, ol’ chum. We’re not Group A material, but we clean up well. Sit your pretty butt on the toilet.”
Group A: the highest prospects to fit Won Chi Woong’s of Elite’s new girl group. Of course, they were skilled in singing, dancing, or charms, though any lack of the three would be remedied later. Brilliant faces begot cash flow--so, if a trainee looked the part, she and her superior genes/work earned the ‘A List’.
And Group B, which included Sunny and Taeyeon, were the Potentials. Pretty enough, yet not whiplash-inducing. With age, they could blossom into graceful swans or decline into troll city. This was the bigger of the two groups, accommodating the “plainer” visuals and eclectic areas of expertise.
Taeyeon wished for a Group C just so they wouldn’t linger at the bottom of the food chain, knowing anything less than ‘B’ wouldn’t stand a chance.
It didn’t take long for the army of recruits to realize this group would break records. The brand had to look perfect. Cut by brutal cut, that number reduced to 18. Eight Team A-ers and ten left to fend solely on raw ability.
Taeyeon parked onto the cold lid, automatically closing her eyes for the onslaught of Lee Sunkyu-issued makeup. She had a habit of going a little overboard to ‘drunken night club jezebel’. Although, Taeyeon’d been too busy training to study up on beauty and too shy to ask for help outside her roommate.
“My hot rich sent this in the mail; it’s my new favorite,” Sunny murmured, smearing a heavy application of what Taeyeon assumed to be a radioactive green or pixie vomit blush. “I swear--she’s gonna fuck you so har--”
“That’s what you want, right?”
Taeyeon swallowed her denial. Self-manicured fingers danced amongst themselves on her lap. “I thought I’d dress up for once. I’m always in workout stuff and I don’t...well, I don’t want her to think I don’t care, ya know?”
“You should wear a skirt. A short one.”
“Like your leopard-print one?”
She giggled, flinching from an aggressive eyeliner tip. “I doubt I can pull that off.”
“The only thing you’ll be pulling off is that skirt, if you catch my drift.”
“Thanks for this, Sunny,” Taeyeon breathed, “I know you don’t get along with her…”
Sunny tutted aloud. “Jinnie’s smokin’ hot and she lets you go down on her. Who am I to judge a sweet hookup?”
“She’s more than a hookup.”
With the help of her parents’ funds and months of begging, Kim Taeyeon entered the Elite Entertainment training program, intent on achieving her dreams as a world-class singer. The dancing and prettifying would come eventually, but she had a thirst for showing her talents to others. Call it hubris, genuine love of entertainment, or teenage female aspirations. Whatever described her passion didn’t matter.
Taeyeon viewed her competition with an air of fear. Many of these girls had been in the game since diapers. She had a mighty learning curve to overcome.
Besides buddying Sunny, she kept to herself. A quiet, undeniable competitive streak fueled her as she belted for head honchos in periodic showcases. Weaker vessels were whittled off; Taeyeon’s confidence grew. She knew she could do it. She just did. A place on Elite’s next big act had her name shining all over it.
Girls--or, eye magnets according to her hormones--surrounded the rising star, as expected in the all-female segment of Elite. Whenever boy band prospects infiltrated, flashing their straightened teeth and store-bought swagger, she wasn’t one to giggle. Kim Taeyeon observed the other girls giggle, eagle-eyeing who could possibly be like her.
The least expected of the bunch: Bae Soojin.
Jinnie had it all. Looks. Certainty. Style. A gravel-y, distinct voice that spread goosebumps whether Jinnie was introducing herself into a microphone or simply asking her to make room for a friend. Taeyeon would scoot to another bench, over-bowing and over-blushing like the biggest ‘mo in Korea.
Guys (and girls) tripped themselves for a taste of her attention. Soojin flirtily humored the tallest, muscular males, she noticed. Dudes plagued with acne, Mickey ears, or nonexistent eyes always got a vocal brush off. Rude and terribly self-important, though Taeyeon snickered alone to herself, mentally ranking herself above the rejects.
To no surprise, Jinnie kept her social links A-listed. Which spun Taeyeon’s head in cyclones when Soojin pulled her aside, inviting the stunned girl to her room.
The first week or so consisted of silently watching idol shows each evening. Her roommate, Choi Sooyoung, stuck around sometimes. She usually got bored and wandered out to find their other friends. That’s when Jinnie started to lean closer, touching their lips with a tenderness that’d set Taeyeon’s skin aflame, then, break away as if nothing happened. Taeyeon caved quickly, reciprocating brushes of affection until they grew less gentle, physical.
Group A chicks--encompassing all the Lucky Six members--hadn’t bullied Taeyeon. Still, they steered clear of her. Especially when Taeyeon and Jinnie got close. Every girl knew what they did while alone, but this was Bae Soojin-- the number one Elite hopeful. Nobody dared to cross her.
“Eh? Ehhhh?” Sunny purred, holding Taeyeon’s face to the watermarked mirror.
Taeyeon actually didn’t look like a multicolored hooker. “Awesome. Thanks, girl.”
After a month of fooling around, Jinnie broke her silence on the s-e-x word. Jinnie was no virgin regarding hetero or homo- relations, yet she took extra careful steps to the next level. She had no idea how the girl got rid of Sooyoung so frequently; she savored it nonetheless. Now matter how stretched thin from training, Taeyeon eagerly nodded through fixed goals for the night. Be it intensive makeout sessions or stroking down south.
However, the true intimacy followed.
She’d never met another woman her age who loved music as much she did. Jinnie was an instrument. She memorized every commercial jingle on TV, improv-scatted to her favorite jazz songs, hummed while she drank, laughed in rhythmic bursts. Jinnie knew what she wanted in life; it ruled her body.
After rolling around in bed, they sang together. Sometimes, Jinnie would unpack her dad’s old MPC for silly background beats. More often, though, they’d lay on their sides and softly riff through duets until neither could recall the rest of the lyrics. Taeyeon lived for these nights. Carefree, swimming in vivid rings of hazel.
“See ya in the morning,” Taeyeon chirped, shouldering into a massive coat to cover her belt of a skirt.
Sunny tapped the invisible watch on her wrist. “Won Chi Woong and some executive peeps want us to sing for them tomorrow morning. Be late for curfew and be sorry.”
“Wait up for me?”
Her friend beamed and shooed her away. “Now, go. Don’t leave your lady waiting.”
As more girls were sent packing, the dorm hallways’ noise lessened considerably. Except Bae Jinnie’s room. Taeyeon cycled a needed breathing exercise before knocking.
A pigtailed Tiffany Hwang answered. She regarded Taeyeon quietly, stepping aside. “Jinnie! She’s here.”
“She is?” Bae Jinnie surged from a beanbag chair, prettier than anything. Her hair had been styled into a dark, flowing mass and a simple lilac dress complemented her radiant eyes. “Welcome back, Taeyeon.”
The girl grinned, balling on her heels. “Thank you.”
“Did you just come from a club?”
The trainees posed around the room giggled. Taeyeon forced a low laugh, swearing she should have went barefaced. This makeup thing wasn’t for her. “Sunny was experimenting on me.”
Jinnie pooched her heart-shaped lips, voice up several octaves. “Well, tell her to use her tacky eyeshadow on some other dummy. Your face is too pretty for that.”
Taeyeon grinned to the floor, only hearing the praise. “Okay.”
“Good. Remember that.” Jinnie eyes narrowed to scrutinze the onlookers. “Scram. Or should I show you the door?”
Whining, the girls--Tiffany, Sooyoung, Yoona, Seohyun, Hyoyeon, a couple others--formed a line at the exit to slip on their shoes. Taeyeon sensed her readiness to make eye contact until they rang out a string of “Happy Birthday”s, filing out the dorm. Taeyeon patted her jacket pocket with a sweaty palm.
Jinnie pushed Taeyeon onto the bed once the door handle clicked into place. “Why aren’t you wearing the jacket I bought you?”
“It’s--” She mewled into Jinnie’s lips, acutely aware of experienced hands slithering between her legs. “Too light for the weather.”
“Form over function, Taeyeon.”
Jinnie growled and tore off the puffy coat, pitching it to a far corner. “It makes you look like a linebacker. Wear what I give you.”
Taeyeon didn’t argue. No-one argued with Bae Soojin. “H-happy birthday, by the way.”
“You finished my song?”
“Mmmhmm.” Actually, Sunny wrote it for her. She wasn’t one to pen her feelings. “I think you’ll love it.”
Jinnie’s creased eyes studied her, unreadable. “Your voice is amazing, dancing solid, and you even write. Are you a prodigy, Taeyeon?”
Butterflies flitted; echoing her squirming body. She couldn’t think up a proper response with the world’s most beautiful girl hunched above her, tracing the elastic of her panties. “What do you want me...um, to do?”
“How about…” She tugged the fabric down Taeyeon’s thighs. “I do something for you? Since you’re giving me a better present than all my friends combined.”
“It’s not really--”
“Shhhh.” Jinnie placed a fine finger on Taeyeon’s lips, smiling like a stunner. “Talky time after this.”
Taeyeon grabbed handfuls of the sheets while the girl peeled Sunny’s skirt inside out over her top. It left her bare and open for Jinnie of all people. She swallowed hard.
Jinnie wet her lips, breath hitching. “You’re so much hotter than they know.”
She gulped in reply.
Taeyeon’d touched girls before she met Jinnie--high school classmates, friends of friends. Although, until that very moment, another girl’s mouth had never taken her this way. She assumed Jinnie to be more of the receiving kind granted their previous trysts in bed. She’d never been happier to be wrong.
Jinnie moaned heavily, huskily as she consumed Taeyeon. Over-the-top. But, Jinnie did everything over-the-top and the moist sounds didn’t exactly hurt her ears. Taeyeon bit her lip, caging vulgar curses or demands running rampant through her mind. Her girl didn’t take kindly to orders and she wouldn’t sacrifice an orgasm for anything.
Taeyeon body locked, spilling a sensation she’d read of in dirty books. Jinnie brought her to that point. Bae Jinnie, the most beautiful girl at Elite.
Jinnie snatched tissues off the nightstand to wipe her mouth. Taeyeon pouted. What she wouldn’t do to kiss evidence of their passion off those lips. That’d be too gross of a question to ask, though. “Jinnie…”
“I love you.”
Jinnie leaned onto her elbow, smirking down at Taeyeon’s spent state. “I love you, too.”
Her heart could have ripped at the seams. “Really?”
“You’re gifted, loyal…” Eyelids low, she chuckled. “You don’t mind when I belt showtunes out of nowhere. That’s not annoying?”
“Which part of your singing is annoying?”
“It’s decided. We were made for each other.”
Vocabulary failing, Taeyeon gestured to her linebacker coat. “Your song’s in there.”
Its poetic lines of affection and sneaky side-glances came from the think tank known as Lee Sunkyu, but re-writing them on the best piece of stationery in their room established a connection. It was romantic, laying ink to paper in a cell phone-less atmosphere. She almost convinced herself that the words could be her own.
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” Jinnie chanted, zipping for the unwanted puff on the floor in swift, softly toned strides. “This is it!” She held the envelope up to the light, spurring on her paramour’s laughter.
Jinnie pressed a fingertip to her pursed lips. “I’d rather you sing it.”
Charm lessons were wasted on this natural, for sure. “‘Kay.”
“But, first!” Shoulder-length hair glimmered like a flag while the girl bounded to a foldout table trashed with crumpled plastic cups and Pixar character napkins. Claiming a gold bakery box in the center, she returned to the bed. “Take one.”
Two cupcakes remained. One chocolate, the other orangish, like carrot cake. Taeyeon wasn’t a fan of the latter, though she knew Jinnie hated the flavor even more. “Mmmm. Carrot.”
“Be my guest. Whoever thought to put vegetables in dessert should be shot.”
“Now,” Frosting stuck on the top of Jinnie’s lip. “Go.”
For months, Taeyeon put her skills on the chopping block in front of Elite’s CEO, instructors, and droves of rivals. Not a damn bit of those trials readied her for one-on-one Jinnie. Choking down a doughy mouthful, she unfolded the sheet. “It’s called ‘Bae’s a Babe’.”
Damn. She and Sunny high-fived over that one. “Pending title.”
Taeyeon had mountains of snark pending as well. Instead, she skimmed the length of “Bae’s a Babe”. It’d be finished in two minutes. A minute and half if she hustled the hook.
She knew she wouldn’t, though.
And without further ado, Taeyeon sang her heart out. Voice sparkling clear and polished--avoiding any technical glitches that’d furrow Jinnie’s eyebrows while keeping a back-of-the-throat grit that made this all real. By the time her lips finally sealed in the longest two minutes of her life, Jinnie’d been reduced to a deer in the headlights.
And Taeyeon’s ego grew. “Am I good or am I good?”
The woman shook loose of the invisible hold, ceding a sigh. “What makes love so special?”
“Um.” That was unexpected. “Ex-explain?”
“No. What makes love so special?”
“To me, love isn’t true without honesty. Bravery, selflessness.” Jinnie plucked the paper from Taeyeon’s fingers, running careful thumbs along its edges. “Love’s about sacrifice. Do you agree?”
“Will you be honest with me, Taeyeon?”
Jinnie’s balanced, unwavering cadence stirred hairs. “I will. Nothing to hide.”
“Are you more talented than me?”
Baffled at this stark, unappealing turn of the night, Taeyeon drew stalling hands across her face, into her hair. Sunny’s aunt’s eyeshadow smeared powdered blurs onto both wrists. “Can we not compare?”
“I thought you loved me.”
“I...I do!” These feelings gave her vertigo. “Jinnie, you’re a Group A trainee. I’m not. That means I have to work twice as hard to be noticed half as much as you and your friends.”
“Are you saying you’re better than me?”
“How about in singing? Tell me.”
Jinnie smiled rigidly, pupils batting back and forth. “C’mon. I can take it.”
“Fine,” Taeyeon hitched a shoulder. “Yeah. I’m better. I need to be, Jinnie. Please understand.”
Pain flashed through hazel eyes, steeped in obvious shock. Jinnie grasped Taeyeon’s hand. “See? Was that so bad?”
Yes. “I hurt you.”
“I value your honesty. Are you ready for the sacrifice?”
“As long as it doesn’t offend you.”
Her smile was small, but present. “It won’t. Stay the night with me?”
An active endocrine system and just the privilege to be held battled with Taeyeon’s logic. Curfews were no laughing matter at Elite and she’d already broken hers. “I should be heading back.”
“Sooyoung’s staying at Yoona’s,” she added, tone squishing into something playful again. “Don’t leave me here alone.”
If ‘sacrifice’ meant hours mashed into into Jinnie-shaped curves until sunrise and possibly more oral. For love, rules could be broken.
“Sure, Jinnie. I’ll stay.”
“We’re in deep shit.”
Taeyeon regarded her roommate, changing out of last night’s clothes. She woke up to a Jinnieless bed and foreboding churns wrecking her stomach, not the lovey high she expected. Taeyeon received no wake up shove. No kiss good morning. No warning about the CEO’s presentation in fifteen minutes. “Why?”
“Guess whose room was randomly visited around curfew.”
Her heart jolted. “You’re lying.”
“No, but I lied last night. Told Park that we got in a huge fight and I kicked you out. When he asked where you were, I didn’t snitch. Damn, he spits when he yells.”
“Sunny! That’s going on your record.”
“Hence the we’re in deep shit.”
“That’s crazy,” Taeyeon huffed, ironing shirt wrinkles with her palm. “Why’d you take responsibility? I overslept.”
“How the fuck could that happen? Jinnie didn’t wake you?”
“No, she didn’t! I’m as confused as you.”
“Oh, I’m not confused. She’s screwing you over. In the unfun way.”
Taeyeon wouldn’t believe it. Not after their night.
“Jinnie’s first and foremost your competitor. Why the hell would you put yourself in that position?”
“And you?!” Taeyeon sneered, needing to change the subject. “Tell me why you’d make yourself out like a dorm bully?”
“Because I’m your friend, stupid. Your only friend here.”
And as they headed downstairs to the audition room, a hefty older woman in a pantsuit intercepted. Ushered into an empty dance studio, Taeyeon sought for mercy in agitated, scar-colored lips and sunken eyes. She’d heard ominous tales about these people.
“Taeyeon, I’ll cut to the chase. Your behavior’s been reprehensible.”
She balked. This was her first offense, after all. “I’m sorry?”
“Sorry can’t fix this, I’m afraid. We have a standard here at Elite; you do know this.”
“Yeah, I know.” Taeyeon ignored her haggard reflection in the wall-length mirrors.
The woman thumbed a file from her brown attaché, murmuring a need for coffee as she flipped through documents. “...caffeine and an awful start of the morning.”
“It was just a broken curfew. Who cares?”
Scar-colored lips puckered with outrage. “I’m not in charge of scheduling infractions.”
“What else could it be?”
“An anonymous source has been tipping us off for the past month. Concerning you.” She bore no eye contact, licking her index finger for each page. “We maintain a very high standard here at Elite, Kim Taeyeon. We encourage our idols to keep their lifestyles private, which you are unable to do.”
Scar Lips was addressing her in a serious tone and all she heard were warped garbles beneath her future crashing into pieces. She blinked down to a manila folder she couldn’t remember taking.
“...a small council, including myself, reviewed your case for CEO Won Chi Woong early this morning. Your coaches and teachers gave you glowing accolades.”
“Um…” The folder sagged in her hand.
“Won, however, had the final say. Vocal prowess doesn’t cover for a career-damaging flaw. It endangers you and the other girls.”
“It’s not a flaw.”
“I’m not here to discuss politics, only to inform. We’re letting you go. Your parents have been notified to help you move out.”
Taeyeon’s eyes blurred, frantic. “Elite can’t out me to my parents!”
“You’ve violated your terms.”
“Wh-what about Jinnie?” She noticed the woman tense at the revealed name. “Our feelings were mutual. Is she kicked out, too?!”
“The love song we received this morning supplements prior complaints. Therefore, Bae Jinnie will be staying with us at Elite. She has much more to lose.”
And that very moment, something within Taeyeon snapped.
“You’re fucking kidding me. This shit--” She crunched a dent into manila. “--is criminal! How the hell?!”
“I can offer a severance package of sorts. For compensation."
Compensation. As though anything could atone for betrayal. “Keep your money.”
So, Taeyeon marched from the room, leaving those accusations behind. Leaving Elite. Leaving her loyal friend. Leaving Bae Fucking Jinnie. And most importantly, leaving her opportunity of being the best.
C♡ma: Tae...what happened with Bae Jinnie?
Taeyeon was a slab of marble in her stylist’s chair, dimly recalling every loaded word required to answer that question. She typed, “tell you in person”, doubting if that’d be possible. Taeyeon’d pushed the specifics of her gullible past in memory’s dungeon. But, like a vengeful creature, it bit back with fangs.
These last few weeks were brutal. Effects of Sunny and Minah’s brouhaha, Yuri’s separation anxiety, witnessing her girlfriend publically embarrassed, and this. Bae Jinnie picking up where she left off in ruining Taeyeon’s life.
“Everything alright?” Ye-seul questioned, fogging both their lungs with hairspray.
“Mmhm. Don’t worry about it.”
“You’ve been too reserved lately. It’s unnerving.”
Her eyes followed the woman taming uncooperative wisps of hair. Circumstances put Taeyeon’s mouth on maximum security, but Ye-seul didn’t deserve a forked-tongue response. “Living up to our name. Scandal, scandal.”
“I hear ya,” she muttered, “It’ll blow over. Always does.”
“Not if I’m going on this show.” Being mandated to push the whole Taeyeon/Loco farce on firebrand Heechul’s show doused the drama in gasoline, essentially.
The stylist groaned. “His hair artist was out today, so I had to fill in. I thought he was interviewing me; he had so many questions.”
“Sniffing for a lead.”
“I told him nothing,” she assured, patting the star’s shoulders. “Not that I know anything.”
She turned to where Ye-seul stared, immediately paling at the visitor. Loco.
“Am I interrupting?” he asked, posing a sneaker into the room.
Taeyeon shoved him in the chest once Ye-seul gave them their privacy. In addition to her internal struggles were rumors of that Fifteen debacle. She disliked the dudes, sure, but five of them sent to the hospital? “The fuck were you thinking?”
His jaw clamped audibly. “It went wrong, little cuz. Too wrong.”
He held his hand out in a leveling gesture. “Yeah, me and two of my boys got rough. We had to.”
Taeyeon slapped her own forehead. “You had to snap them likes twigs. Smart.”
“What were you expecting?”
“I don’t know,” she lied. “Intimidation?”
“I’ll be honest, cuz.” Loco grappled with the bill of his snapback, shadowing his story. “Our plan was to smack those punk asses around a bit. But--but…” His razor-slitted eyebrows lowered. “Those dudes were not in their right mind, man. I threatened that punk Chanyeol; told him to respect womens’ space and he pushed me first.”
“And then you slung a crowbar to his knee.”
“Nah, I punched that motherfucker in the face.”
Taeyeon couldn’t handle macho talk; although, that left a pocket of restitution. She massaged her temples. “Get to the point.”
“There were three of them. Three.” Loco held up his long fingers to count. “And outta nowhere two more dudes showed up and shit got hairy. My dudes are stronger, but five on three is trickier to contain. One word led to another and boom, a fight broke out.”
“Where was your self control?”
“He said some ill shit about you and I saw red! I’m sorry.”
“Yes, Tae!” he pressed, “That broken leg biz is a fat lie.”
Taeyeon examined the rapper perched on the corner of a vanity, restraining stubborn manbaby tears. “Were you hurt?”
Nodding, Loco raised the edge of his jersey. Black and blue blotches accented a pretentious scorpion tattoo like foreboding clouds. “It’s taking too long for these bruised ribs to heal. No shirtless photoshoots for me.”
“My manager. Anybody who saw us show up to our house bloody.”
“Didn’t mean for this to happen, little cuz. I promise.” He quivered in pain, patting himself through his shirt. “When I saw you crying, I couldn’t help it. So, I started plotting.”
Taeyeon needed another grudge like a hole through the head. “Be careful from now on. Okay, Eddy?”
Eddy Moon sighed unmistakable relief. “I’ll let you fight your own battles.”
Somehow, Taeyeon felt more of these so-called battles trudging her way. Whether she had any fight left was the real question.
When Heechul and his beefy co-host kicked off the first half of the show bantering with two uninteresting newbie idols about their equally uninteresting premier album, Taeyeon knew the finely-polished incubus harbored several schemes up his Armani sleeve. She wasn’t wrong. By the end of the second commercial break, his leer could be described as one word: predatory.
His eyes flashed from herself to Loco, stealth in his hunt. Taeyeon all but volunteered for the grilling when Heechul took her for a loop. “Loco and Taeyeon. Are you two in a relationship?”
An asthmatic Loco fan’s peel of dismay echoed from the seated audience. The panel chuckled at her desperation.
Taeyeon had every part of herself--down to her hairs under control. “With whom?”
“Eh, anybody,” Heechul tossed in with staged grace.
“It’s the most popular question posed on our Twitter,” Ace supplied. “Why not reveal right here for confirmation?”
“I believe my company’s in charge of that,” Loco jested, easing out hesitant laughs.
Ace cheesed on a white smile. “It’ll be exclusive. Are you in a relationship--on the count of three?”
Taeyeon couldn’t have hated this awkward situation more. Honeybadgering through this bitch would be easy, but ineffective.
Narsha made it crystal clear: try. At least try to seem keen on the rapper bobbing his nervous leg. It wouldn’t be a lie to say yes. Jessica was very real. On the other hand, a ‘single’ status wouldn’t hurt her reputation.
“Yes,” she and Eddy Moon the idiot droned in unison for a fervently pleased studio audience. The uninteresting idol girls giggled about “a beautiful couple” and she wanted to set them on fire.
“It’s official, Korea,” Heechul, temporal emperor of the K-Pop gossip world announced to the camera. “Taeyeon and Loco are an item.”
Taeyeon sensed the control seeping through her grasp. “We didn’t say with each other!”
“Your blushing cheeks are saying enough. You’re infatuated.”
No. She was mad. “This is bullshit.”
Ace threw a signal to a crew member. Probably a to-be-censored tag. “Our apologies if this is um, imposing--”
“Don’t even,” Heechul interrupted, dimples cratering his power-tripping jowls. He pointed a card to the ‘couple’ in question. “Be free! Idols would kill for this privilege.”
Skandl--the singular element keeping her glued to her chair. Straight-lady leaders appealed to the public and regained trust amongst undying whispers.
Heechul moved to the male half of the sham. “Loco, are you relieved?”
“I’m...something,” he sputtered, inching a tattooed hand to--
She bit her tongue of every “back the fuck up” as he scooped her tiny hand into his. It felt every variety of wrong. Dry, rough, uncomfortably cold. Nothing close to cashmere.
“Wow, so lucky!” Uninteresting Idol Girl #1 squealed in unnecessary ecstasy. Taeyeon’d sooner join the Loco fan who was probably suffered a fatal heart attack.
“No smile from you, Taeyeon?”
She shrugged at Ace’s question, peering through her useless water bottle.
“Tae’s embarrassed,” Loco faux-whispered, enraging her further. Taeyeon wasn’t his voiceless fucking arm candy. And she was not Tae to him.
Heechul basked in the crowd’s reaction for a few luxurious moments. “Let’s move on.” He flicked the two topmost cards to the table. “More interesting developments for the girl-on-girl dating scandal.”
Taeyeon kept her head low.
“Another claim surfaced. About...a new couple...or the same? Sources aren’t sure. The site hosting the first blind item has been shut down, so we can assume it’s about the same women.”
“There’s always a nugget of truth in those rumors,” Ace appended, flitting his gay eyelashes. “Should I read it?”
Heechul declined. “Nothing new. Girl group Member X and girl group Member Y met each other behind the scenes, yadda yadda. One is rumored to have a boyfriend. I mean, really--who isn’t?”
Dread sluiced over Taeyeon. Even the hand-stealing jerk at her side didn’t disqualify them.
“Hm.” Heechul clucked his bottom teeth. “This anonymous tipper swears to have photo evidence. Bring it on.”
“If it’s true,” Loco attached.
“Indeed. If it’s true.”
Taeyeon put her car in park, just a block or two from the Lucky Six living quarters. The hum of the engine purred to a close, leaving silence to take the wheel. Sweat trickled down the slope of her brow. Her fleece jacket was too hot for the weather, but it harnessed stability, disguise, and a taste of home--the last gift her parents bought for her before Skandl hit its upward trend. Taeyeon thought about calling them, certain that neither party would know what to say. She pat-checked her pocket, abhoring the impression of a silenced, under-answered smartphone’s weight upon her lap.
A passenger’s troubled sigh permeated her hood’s cotton barrier.
“This is well past my curfew.”
Taeyeon nodded at Tiffany’s statement, a foolish blush adding to her tension. “I had to talk to you.”
Tiffany Hwang rested her elbow onto the glove compartment. All scrutiny and judgement of a 2 a.m. car meeting drilled through her stale gaze. “Speak.”
Shaking in printed pajama shorts, she searched her naked legs. “I feel powerless.”
“And...it’s destroying me. I haven’t felt this way in years.” Taeyeon drummed her kneecaps, despising their feeble, quaking condition. “I’ve taught myself that everything can go my way if I preserve some kind of control. When Andy Lim named me the leader of Skandl, I knew I had it figured out.”
The Skandl residence hadn’t ever been so disheartening.
As the member sanctioned/encouraged to make public appearances, Taeyeon went home to Yuri passed out--sober or otherwise--in front of the living room television. And that was better than the oak exterior of Sunny’s locked bedroom. When they communicated, it was curt. When Taeyeon suggested a card game or shots, they deflated and returned to their lonely stations. There was no evident classification for the raincloud of an environment. Resentment? Anger? Frustration? The two in Taeyeon’s flock had gone astray.
Tiffany’s sleepy voice lacked no spikes. “Total control isn’t possible in our field. We’re fucking trapped.”
“We get each other.”
“Would you say we’re cut from the same cloth?”
Taeyeon tried on a smirk. “Alpha types, like you said. You and I...we’d rather push the chess pieces ourselves; call the shots. Do anything to save our girls from themselves.”
Tiffany smiled in return. “Anything.”
“Shouldn’t you be disclosing this to your girlfriend? She is our appointed leader, or so I’ve been told.”
Call it protective or belittling, but Taeyeon couldn’t unload her rants on Jessica. Their relationship was an escape from harm. “What with you and Yul’s separation, I thought I’d lend you my ears.”
“Oh, well goody for me,” Tiffany spat, tone so suddenly brusque that Taeyeon shrank into her seat. “Why didn’t you bring Yul, then? You selfish fucking bitch.”
Whoa. “Fany, what’s--”
“So you can talk shit about me and my friends for nearly four years and I can’t call you how I see you? You don’t want to help me; you’re worried about yourself and Skandl. Emphasis on you and goddamned you!”
“Okay, fuck. I deserve that. I assumed after what Jinnie did--”
“To us or you, Tae? Isn’t that what this is about? How Jinnie hurt you?”
“She betrayed me.”
“Jinnie did for herself and she owns up to her high bitchiness. Stop playing the victim.”
Taeyeon revisited Tiffany’s hard eyes, dumbfounded. Why’d the conversation flip this way? “The hell are you smoking?”
“I’ll set something straight--” the dark-haired woman countered, “when I express my dedication to defending my girls, I’m including Yuri. At the very top. Do you do the same for Jessica?”
Unconsciously, maybe. “Sure.”
“Yul is my everything.”
“Work on that poker face of yours, Ms. Moon.”
The applause, Heechul’s pompous face, that wrong, wrong hand claiming hers… “Jesus, you’re vicious!”
“I’m not. I’m fed up and ready for this to end. Alas,” Tiffany’s mockingly lighthearted giggle raised Taeyeon’s fever. “I ended it.”
Taeyeon snatched her hood off, ignoring the cool air hitting dimples of perspiration. Her breathing went ragged, taking her back to the panic attack in Jessica’s car. Her vision, though glossed with dew, didn’t waver its sharpening point of focus. And her head itched like crazy. “Shut up.”
Tiffany was crying. “You chose this idol game, Taeyeon. Now play.”
“I don’t wanna.”
“Really? Giving up when it’s gettin’ good, huh? How about a story--a story starring popular girl group member named F and her girlfriend G. Member F’s puny company didn’t have the chops to take down a stupid libelous gossip website, so G’s company did instead because it has the money and clout and top-notch team of lawyers?”
Terror tasted like bile.
“But F’s company of theatre geeks won’t know what hit ‘em when X and Y are caught. Thanks to Member G. Are these letters confusing you?”
Tiffany, stumbling into her sobbed explanation, clapped her hands together beneath her chin. “I’ll spell it out for you: We can sue a group of stalkers with fancy cameras and that won’t eliminate the country’s curiosity. So, why not satiate them myself?”
“You,” Taeyeon rose from her seat, body eager to push away from the Lucky Sixer. “You?!”
“They won’t stop chattering until someone is revealed and it damn sure won’t be me.”
“You put out the second blind item?”
“I have contacts. And picture proof.”
Taeyeon pounded her head for memories. “Under the bridge?”
“No. When you were cozied up with Jessica on the couch. I deleted the pictures off my phone, but cloud works for a reason. I’ll have those photos forever. And if I hit the right buttons, so will everybody else.”
Nausea tingled at the bottom of her throat, threatening to take hold of the situation. She’d been such an idiot from the get-go. Lucky Six was actually the trouble she’d always voiced to cynical, stubborn ears. “You’re just like Jinnie.”
“Jinnie has endless connections, but she’s an impulsive idiot. Give me more credit.”
“Cut from the same cloth, remember? Or does that not count for hiring hitmen on intoxicated flower boys?”
Holy shit. “That wasn’t my fault!”
“I’ve always wondered about Yoongie. Never expressed noteworthy interest in guys or girls. Unlike you, though, she knows how to use her assets. A few smiles and winks over dinner and she had him eating out her palm. You really should get a muzzle for that boyfriend of yours.”
“Yoona’s in on this?”
“I would never risk that; she’s my perfect little sidekick. Yoona had dinner with him, came home, and gave me the sauce on his unbalanced fight with the Fifteen guys. No questions asked. Loco fell into the ‘ideal’ trap so easily, I almost felt bad. As if she’d date violent types. ”
“Why would she do that?”
Tiffany lit her phone for the time, dabbing her puffy eyelids. “If Jess thinks she’s special for summoning Jinnie’s wrath, she’s wrong. Before your girlfriend, Yoona bore the brunt of her jealousy. And Jinnie was brutal. I stood up for Yoong and I’ll do it again, if necessary.”
Taeyeon rolled her eyes closed. She didn’t own enough head space to wrap her brain around these revelations. “Ruining me will ruin Skandl.”
“Yul’s love means more to her than a second-rate pop group. Wish Jessica could say the same for you.”
“Fany, please,” Taeyeon croaked, pouring out all she had left, “You fucking win. This group means so much to me. My friends…Sunny broke her Elite trainee contract to regroup with me. And...and Jessica, what happens to her?”
“It won’t be a stretch to convince the public of an susceptible young starlet getting on over her head with every news outlet’s least favorite idol. She’d bounce back with some respect for Lucky Six’s true leader: me.”
“Would she be fine with that?”
“She’s your girlfriend, Taeyeon. How much does she love you?”
The warm hood of Taeyeon’s car made her sweat more. Nowhere could she dredge the energy to get behind the steering wheel. Let alone drive.
A crazier, badass Kim Taeyeon would have left Tiffany’s ass blocks away to walk home. Instead, there sat this defeated version of herself numbly kicking the tip of her Supra on metal and wishing for a smoke. Taeyeon counted the hours until security would show just as headlights beamed blindness into her direction. The blonde moved not an inch. If they arrested her, who would care?
“Tae!” Yuri hissed, shutting her car door with churchlike care, “What brings you here?”
To meet your psycho bitch girlfriend. “Um...Jessica.”
“No kidding?” The taller woman grinned mischief. Exactly like the Yul she missed. “I can’t stand another day without Fany. Are they up?”
“Don’t pussyfoot, woman. I know a way in from the back.”
Taeyeon slid off the silver finish, suddenly missing Jessica. Amongst the vindictiveness, Tiffany’d pointed out some startling facts. “Yul--”
Yuri linked their hands to hopscotch around motion light detectors. Taeyeon’s joints ached for sleep’s mercy. “I ordered Fany a cute penguin keychain and it got here today. Its nose lights up.” She tapped her jeans pocket, proud.
Would this be the time to warn her friend?
That’s what a team leader would do, right?
“Tae, is this gift too dorky?”
A wrinkle of anguish nicked her bandmate’s face, so Taeyeon held her tongue. Tattling on the most important person in Yuri’s life would only depress an innocent party. At least one of them deserved to be blissfully ignorant until she had a plan. For Skandl.
“Not at all. She helped bake us lopsided cupcakes, remember?”
Sorpresa, putas. ;D