Chapter 57: The Leader Takes the Ideal Girl to the Movies and the Mom Goes to a Rehearsal

Rhett strived for perfection, so he was pleased to find that practice did lead to perfection. Hana greeted him with a wave and then lengthened this friendly gesture with a hug. He couldn’t help comparing this greeting with Kannei’s, which was aloof. Even the way Hana smiled differed from Kannei. Did Kannei even smile? He only remembered her complaining.

“Rhett? Are you all right?” Hana asked upon arriving at the scene.
“Yeah, of course,” he answered while shaking his head to forget about his previous thoughts. “I’m sorry about that. I was just thinking.”
She looped her arm to his and alluringly posed, “What are you thinking about mhhm?”
He gulped once and just once.
If he were suave like John, he would have answered, “You.”
If he were witty like Max, he would have retorted, “Why so curious?”
If he were naïve like Wesley, he would have stuttered, “I-I-I . . . I was just thinking.”
If he were blunt like Jaejoong, he would have responded, “You’re really different from this girl I know.”
Because he was unlike any of them, he lied with flustered cheeks, “I’m just a bit tired from work. That’s all.”
He didn’t want Hana to worry or to question. He just wanted everything to be immaculate. It was a question of priorities. His priority was always aptness, and . . . he didn’t need someone probing his already withered brain.
“Don’t get too worked up about work, all right?” Hana advised. “It’s not good for you.”
That was what he liked about her. She didn’t interrogate him over a simple phrase, unlike Kannei, who could explode over a word. He was somewhat surprised that Hana didn’t press for the truth. Perhaps, he was disappointed. It was apparent to him that he had masked what was bothering him. It would have been apparent to Kannei too that he had been lying. He chuckled to himself, thinking that she would probably throw a tirade because of his sentence.
“What’s so funny?” Hana asked with a cheerful grin.
“Ah, it’s nothing,” he mumbled. “It’s just something silly.”
Although Rhett had had this date with Kannei before, he still felt rather uncomfortable. When he asked whether or not Hana wanted a snack, she told him to decide. He didn’t expect that response; she was supposed to choose yes or no. Instead, she tossed another question at him.
 “Well, usually I get popcorn and a drink,” he explained. “Is that okay with you?”
“If it is fine with you, then it’ll be fine for me.”
Rhett had become too accustomed to disagreement and discordance. Kannei had trained him well as a peacemaker, not as a director. Thus, he appreciated Hana’s easygoing nature. It certainly made his life less problematic, and so he returned a smile. This time, he absolutely enjoyed the movie, maybe even smiling all through the scenes. This is going well, he thought from time to time. He was so focused on the screen to prepare for the subsequent conversation that they would share that he only glanced at Hana once. That one time he looked to her side was when she looked at him too. It was a coincidence how their heads turned at the same time and in the same direction.
Rhett blushed. She blushed too. He grinned. She grinned too. It was as if she were mirroring his reactions, making the situation more awkward than perceived. However, it seemed natural for Hana to behave this way. She was tamed, unlike the unruly Kannei. She was accommodating, which meant for peaceful times. It could be arduous for Rhett to adjust to this method of communication. He didn’t mind adjusting for her. She could be compared to a breath of fresh, winter air, piercingly refreshing. By the end of the movie, both of them were extensively rosy. Their cheeks were stippled with matching tones.
“T-T-that was an interesting film,” Rhett managed to cough.
How unsmooth, he complained to himself.
“Yes, it was,” she tenderly answered.
There was an inexcusable pause, which Rhett sensed to be a sign for disaster. A pause during a conversation meant a break in nature. A ripple in a pond. Snowfall in early March. A flood in a desert. He had to stop this and that suggested to him to speak. What could he talk about?
“What was  . . . your favourite line from the film?” he repeated Kannei’s question.
“Favourite line?” Hana pensively uttered. “That’s hard. I usually pick out favourite scenes, not really specific lines.”
“Yeah, I suppose I should have asked for your favourite scene instead.”
“Well, I’ll tell you my favourite scene,” she blurted. “My favourite scene . . . was when you and I looked at each other just like that.”
His initial reaction was bashfulness for his cheeks glistened with a familiar shade of red. This was out of the ordinary. It was too intimate to be predicted. She gazed at him, senselessly troubled.
“Are you . . . bothered by what I said?” she confirmed.
“N-N-No, n-not at all?”
He wanted to duck in a corner after what he had said. Why did I have to sound like a wimpy kid, he asked himself. Why was I making such a stupid mistake?
Unexpectedly, he had felt a soft sensation swipe by his cheek, and when he realized what had happened, Hana was already teasing him in a giggly manner, “You’re a joy to tease.”
What did this mean? Did she like him in that way? Why was he blushing so hard? Her fingers were now interlocking with his. Her hand was even pulling him forward. She was leading him, but to where? Where did his heart want to go? Everything was occurring too quickly. He needed preparation. This situation resembled a pop quiz. He was never ready for those, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t adjust to unforeseen circumstances. Following Hana’s lead, he was suddenly reminded of Kannei. Kannei was always full of surprises, so in a sense, he should be able to adapt, adapt to Hana. This was love’s ability to cause changes in a person . . . right?
            Great. Just great.
            Those were the exact thoughts that kept bombarding Jaejoong’s mind when he read over the script. Why did he have to be the second male lead, who happened to be perpetually in love with the female lead? Why did he also have to be her best friend, as well as her childhood friend? Why was it that the ending was unhappy for his character, who watched his most beloved marry someone else? Honestly, he wanted to throw the script down a building and have pedestrians trample all over the piece, yet he had to agree to this job.
            Now, he was sitting in a chair waiting for the other cast members to arrive. He had come to the conference room too early because Kannei had reminded him not to be late. Well, it was more like he had purposely made her call to tell him to wake up. Somehow, hearing her voice in the morning seemed heartwarming, and it was . . . in a sense. Besides her frequent yawning, and slight grumbling, Kannei had still phoned him. That was already good enough for him, but it wasn’t enough to stop him from wanting to tear this book into pieces.
            “Fuck,” Jaejoong at last cursed while leaning back on his chair.
            “Wow, a swear word already?”
            From the corner of his eye, he saw Yumi walking and taking the seat beside him. Soon, Sora followed with a bunch of bags, costumes, and food alike in her hands. Now, normally, Jaejoong would have helped a girl struggling like that, but today wasn’t his day. So, he had his butt glued to his seat, and even confessed, “That’s right. My life is fucked up thanks to you.”
            Yumi answered with a grin as she received her coffee from Sora, “You’re welcome.”
            “And you still have the guts to say that.”
            “Of course I do,” Yumi snickered, “but at least I gave you the script beforehand. I could have messed with you even further.”
            “Oh, so you do admit that you fucked up my life,” he argued.
            “Whatever,” she shrugged her shoulders, saying, “you’re committed to this by contract.”
            “Yes, with a breakthrough role like this.”
Before Yumi could answer, the other cast had arrived along with the director and script writer. When Jaejoong stood up to greet his coworkers, his mouth gasped once he saw who had also entered the room: Yong Sura. Yong Sura could have been known, even among the boys, as Jaejoong’s archrival. The two had learned to hate each other’s guts after working together once. Sura kept rejecting Jaejoong’s recommendations and instead, forced Jaejoong’s assistant to do what Sura had asked. Sura claimed that Jaejoong was “incompetent” and “hard to please”, while Jaejoong believed Sura was a “spoiled brat” and a “tyrant”. Somehow, this collaboration had occurred years ago when Jaejoong and Sura had just started working in the industry. Even then, Jaejoong would never forget about Sura’s spiteful look. Sure, Sura had grown much taller and had aged, but had obviously not matured from the way he greeted Yumi.
            “Boo!” Sura shouted, causing Yoomi to shriek before smiling. “Happy to see me?” he asked while wrapping his arms around her.
            Yumi had snickered, looking at him with much familiarity. To Jaejoong, he had felt that the two had known each other for a long time. That stare that she had given him had made their acquaintance obvious. So, pests do join with pests, he chuckled in his mind.
“I think I see you too often,” Yumi replied. “So, what brings you here? Did my dad ask you to spy on me?”
            “You think I’d waste my time spying on you? The reason that you’re here is the reason that I’m here.”
“Are you—“
She covered her mouth with her hands and pointed her finger at him. When he nodded, she burst out laughing. Actually, the two of them had shared a laughing fit and soon, Sura embraced her, regardless of the fact that everyone was waiting for the two to start the meeting.
“Good to be working with you, Yooms,” Sura remarked.
With her arms hugging Sura, she chirped, “Yeah, it’s good to see you again, Su.”
“Su?” Sura finally took his seat across from Jaejoong and questioned. “Didn’t I tell you not to call me by a woman’s name?”
            “Well, Su,” the director now joked, “I believe that we shall begin the reading. Sorry Yumi, Sura said that he wanted to surprise you, so he made me keep this a secret.”
            “It’s okay,” Yumi uttered. “This was a nice surprise.”
            “Oh right, I forgot to add that Jaejoong had joined our cast, but I’m sure everyone knows already from the news blabbing around,” the director explained, “which could be a good thing for us. This also means that we have to work extra hard for our ratings. There’s a hype and I’m willing to ride that hype. All right, we’ll . . .”
            A hype. Was that what all this was about? Just for their careers, they’d use him like that? Jaejoong sighed, realizing the cruelty of his situation. If he were to act poorly, then that wouldn’t be his problem, right? He never wanted to be here. He didn’t even belong here, and he knew because during the reading, the director kept interrupting him, criticizing the way he enunciated or emphasized certain words. No one else had that many disruptions to the point that he could see Sura snickering at him. That punk, Jaejoong grumbled to himself.
            “All right, we’re going to break for five,” the director announced harshly, “and Jaejoong, I expect more from you after this. Maybe after you’ve cleared your mind, you’ll get into your role properly. You clearly aren’t capturing Hitoshi’s spirit.”
            Fuck. Yes, he wanted to give up everything in his life. Nothing was going smoothly. As he checked his cell phone to see if Kannei had texted him, there was nothing. Instead, Jaejoong called her first like usual. Maybe, he thought, hearing her voice would ease his feelings.
            “Hello? Jaejoong?”
            “Hey, how’s your studying coming along?” Jaejoong asked.
            “Okay, I was just thinking of taking a break, and you called.”
            “That’s good.”
            After a short pause, she said, “Jaejoong, you . . . Is work going okay?”
            “Yeah,” he lied, “it’s okay. We’re just practicing reading out our lines.”
            “You . . . don’t sound okay though.”
            “Well, you could give me a kiss—“
            “A kiss over the phone and I’ll be okay,” he teased. “It’ll boost my energy too.”
            “You’re right. I’m not doing well at all—“
            Then, he heard it. He heard that quiet, puckering noise, the sound of lips pressing together. That immediately brought a smile to his face. His frustration had dissipated, and as a result, he remarked, “I never thought you’d do that for me.”
            “I’m trying,” she clarified, “I’m trying to move on.”
            “Jaejoong! Time’s up! We’ve got to—“
            “Hey, I’ll talk to you later, okay?” Jaejoong verified.
            “Yeah, sure.”
            “Maybe, I’ll even pop by or something. We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted. Bye.”
            As he ended the call, he felt Yumi’s hand on his shoulder. Sura happened to be on his other side as well. Sura had that arrogant, snub gaze, the sort that Jaejoong faced ages ago. Luckily, it was Yumi, who had opened her mouth first.
            “How sweet of you two,” she chirped. “I hope you can put your love for her to use in this drama.”
            Sura, who was holding onto his stomach while laughing, teased, “Yeah, give me a kiss over the phone!”
            If Yumi hadn’t elbowed Sura, then Jaejoong would have given him a beating. Fortunately too, Yumi had interrupted, “We really need you to do your best. Really. We have to be the top series. Everyone is pretty much counting on you too.”
            Those statements, though, only pushed a forced grin out of Jaejoong’s lips. He had always hated pressure, and expectations. His mother had expected him to disappear. His adopted parents had wanted him to live a normal life by graduating from university and working at a desk job, preferably a government related one. His sisters had insisted that he didn’t visit the family again. The boys had expected him to be the housewife of the household. When . . . when had he ever thought about himself? When had he counted on someone else?
         He could only sigh as he entered the room. He heard the door snap shut, and there were sets of eyes gawking at him. He could read their minds simply; they all wanted to be successful, and they needed him to reach their goals. Yes, he was a tool. No, he had always been a tool.