Chapter 21: The Mom Is a Listener and the Free Spirit Meets the Troubled Woman
It was the most enjoyable time, yet the most murderous time for Jaejoong. He loved to forget about everything by becoming a workaholic, but he never understood why all of the singers loved to make their comebacks around the same dates, all packed closely together. Was this their way of establishing their spot as the top singer? Was it that enjoyable to flaunt their win in front of their foes’ faces?

He could never understand that sense of competition. He just wanted an easier life without all the multitasking. Actually, he just wished his clients would be truthful. It seemed that as soon as they removed their make-up, their true characters emerged. Then, he had to bid farewell to beauty; the horrors of entertainers were revealed. Backstage, he thought, had to have been the perfect term for this situation. For him though, his escape would be a bathroom break. Yes, he treasured his bathroom breaks so much that he had found the perfect washroom, one that barely anyone used. The problem? It was on an obscure floor, 25th, at the corner of a hallway.
            When the elevator doors opened, he hadn’t expected to encounter a weeping lady.
             “You . . . are you . . . okay?” He didn’t know why he asked his most dreaded question. He really shouldn’t have bothered. It wasn’t as if they were related to each other.
            Yumi scratched her eyes and turned away from him once he passed by her to press the floor of his choice. “I’ll be fine. I don’t need you to worry for me.”
            Hogging the other corner of the elevator, he jeered, “I’m not worrying about you. I just didn’t know you cried so easily.”
            “I don’t cry easily.” She subdued her choke and stated, “You just catch me at the wrong times.”
            “Then, you have a lot of wrong moments.”
            He caught her frowning at him. “Do . . . do you always have to be so rude?” he asked.
            “Well, you’re not explaining yourself very well,” he uttered while staring at the red digits glowing after each successive floor.
            “So, I’m supposed to tell you all my problems and then maybe you can solve them for me, doctor?”
            Jaejoong argued, “You don’t have to tell me anything, but . . . usually talking helps.”
            “You’re pretty nosy.”
            “I’ve been told that.” He now handed her his glare. “I’ve also been slapped before, if you recall.”
             “And I thought you’d get over that.”
            “Not with a meager apology.”
            Flailing her hands, she shrieked, “Can’t you see that I’m already in a bad mood?”
            The elevator doors had opened to his floor. He didn’t know why he said this, but it slipped from his mouth, “Then, I have the place for you.” He towed her sleeve, dragging her to his sanctuary.
            “The washroom?” she harked after seeing the men’s sign on the door. “This is the place for me?”
            “No one comes here,” Jaejoong explained, pushing the door open. He then placed her in a stall and ordered, “Lock yourself in. I’m sure you need a place to hide.”
            “Gross?” He snickered. “It’s not that bad. No one uses this washroom. Trust me.”
            “Why are you being so nice to me now?” Her voice seemed to echo, making Jaejoong feel claustrophobic.
            “I’m not sure. Maybe, I understand how you feel.”
He now faced the mirror, examining his own expression. No wonder, he thought. No wonder he wanted to help her. She shared his look, a look of a heartbroken soul.
“How can you even—“
“You’re suffering from love, right?” he asked.
He turned the tap and dabbed his hands with soap. There was only the sound of running water battering against the sink. Placing his fingers underneath the tap, he could sense the sharpness of the liquid piercing his skin. A wake up call.
            “You know . . . you were right about success and me.” She revealed a weak chuckle. “You were probably the only one that saw through it. I . . . did everything for him. Because he said I was lovely and that I could be a star, I believed in him. I wanted to be his star. Even when I knew that . . . he would never be just mine.”
            “That sounds silly.” Jaejoong’s voice was muffled by the splashing of water.
            “Yeah,” she sniffled, “it is silly. I was naïve then. I-I was ignorant too.”
            “I’m no better,” he said. “I was ignorant as well. I pretended that everything was okay even when the signs were there. I thought . . . I thought she’d stay no matter what.”
            “Haha, I thought I could stay regardless of his situation. I thought I could always believe that he loved me and only me.” Her sobs augmented. “But . . . there’s family. I couldn’t . . . I couldn’t . . .”
            Jaejoong’s eyes were fixated on the door behind him. He could picture her crying, hugging herself for comfort. He wondered what would happen if she burst open that door, if she had shown his face. Would he have consoled her?
            He switched the tap off before knocking on her door. “I’m going to be leaving—“
            Her door had unlocked, and she stood before him, still in tears. “I’m, sorry, Jaejoong,” she murmured. “I’m sorry for saying those things to you. I’m really sorry for slapping you. I was wondering . . .”
            Before she could even continue, he had dragged her again. This time, he headed for the elevator and then to his office. He couldn’t stand seeing a face smudged with mascara and eye shadow. This had to have been the curse of his trade.
            “Sit,” he demanded, pointing his finger at a black stool in the centre of his room.
            “Do you want to go out looking like a run-over raccoon?” He scurried to retrieve his toolbox of cosmetics.
            “No, but—“
            “Then, just stay there and I’ll get to work,” he hollered.
            When he arrived with all his material, he first removed her foundation. As he reapplied all of the necessary steps, Yumi inquired, “Why are you . . . doing this?”
            “Beats me,” he grumbled. “I just can’t stand a screwed up face.”
            “Jaejoong, thank—“
            “Shut your lips,” he commanded. “I’m trying to apply lipstick here.”
            For a while, she stayed silent and still. She didn’t dare ask anything or say another word. Jaejoong was looking so serious that she couldn’t approach him at all. It wasn’t until he handed her a mirror, did she even move.
            “There you go!” he declared. “What do you think?”
            She was stunned by what she saw. Her skin was glowing and her eyes were not puffy. Her features seemed more prominent and striking than before. “Wow, Jaejoong, this is . . . really nice,” she uttered. “I actually look—“
            “Like a star.” Jaejoong grinned. At the sound of his words, Yumi felt her eyes water again. Immediately, Jaejoong yelled, “Hey! You can’t cry! I’m not redoing this!”
            “Okay, okay.” She giggled, smiling at him from the reflection of the mirror. “I promise you that I won’t cry anymore. I will also promise you that I’m going to work for myself. I’m going to be happy.”
            “Those sound doable,” he murmured.
            “And . . . you should be happy too,” she added. “You . . . looked pretty miserable a while ago.”
            “I know. I saw my own face.”
            They stared at each other for too long until Yumi asked, “Jaejoong . . . do you think we could start over again? I know we got off on the wrong foot, but I was hoping that . . .”
            “Fine.” He extended his hand to her. “Hi, I’m Jaejoong Hasegawa. It’s nice to meet you.”
            “And I’m Yumi. It’s a pleasure knowing you.” She shook his hand firmly. “I look forward to working with you in the future.”
            Jaejoong sniggered, “If you even get there.”
            “You’re still awful,” she sighed. “I’m sure that’s why she and you broke up.”
            Smiling too wearily, he agreed, “I am quite awful, but that doesn’t mean you’re any better. You’re finally showing your ugly, truthful self.”
 Yoochun always believed that loneliness was contagious, much like yawns. Thus, he avoided one-on-one meetings and instead preferred large parties. If the majority was happy, then his sadness would be forgotten. Today, however, he just wanted to be alone. He had forgotten, though, that to a victim of loneliness, the best cure was to meet another sufferer.
As he exited the entrance of the hotel, he noticed Junghwa outside, smoking. He remembered that she never drank nor smoked. That couldn’t be her. She was the one that always bothered him about his drinking and his occasional smoking whenever she caught him during family gatherings. Ironically, he was the one that caught her.
“J-Junghwa, what are you doing?” he questioned. She had her back towards him, so he leaned forward to double check her identity.
She had turned her head around and with a lit cigarette in her fingers, she sullenly grinned, “Care for a smoke?”
 “I’ve quit smoking for a few years now.”
“And I’ve started when you quit.” She giggled as she stretched her neck and shoulders.
“What happened to you?” Yoochun asked with great concern. Her sudden change was shocking. Just a while ago, she was still calmly chatting with him, even encouraging him.
She inhaled the cigarette before answering, “Nothing much I can do about it. Say, do you have some money that I could borrow?”
“How much do you need?” His eyebrows furrowed.
Junghwa threw her finished cigarette to the ground and stepped on it with her heels. “How much are you willing to give?”
“What’s this for?”
Her erratic behaviour was beginning to frighten him and to make him question whether or not people could change so much. He should have known that nothing would remain the same, besides non biodegradable products. There was no test with time. Time always won.
She bit her lower lip and responded, “Forget it. You’re just like them, unwilling to help.” She shook her head in dismay for she always thought Yoochun was the sort to help unconditionally.
“Why can’t you tell me why you suddenly need money? I don’t ever think you were in debt.”
“I need money to live. Good enough?” she scoffed at his innocence. He hadn’t experienced a life of hardship and poverty, so he would never understand what it was like for her to face each day.
Seeing her desperation, he decided to yield to her wish, “How much do you need?”
“Just lend me 3,000 for now,” she quickly enlightened. “I promise I’ll give it back.” Yoochun then took out his cheque book and wrote down the sum that she had requested. “Thanks,” she muttered and took handed her cell phone to him, “Add your number. I’ll give you a call once I have everything set.”
He hesitantly inputted his cell phone number; he didn’t like waiting for an answer. He honestly believed that fate loved to make him wait, to test his patience. Once he had passed this test, though, what was to come? More waiting? He hoped not. He wanted for once for someone to be the one that lingered. A reversal of roles. That would be nice, he thought.