Chapter 3: The Leader Surprises the Queen of Spontaneity and the Free Spirit Attends an Awards Ceremony

There was only one place to find Kannei, and that was at her university on a Thursday afternoon. That was when Kannei supposedly had a book club meeting. He waited in front of the building that Kannei had walked out of that day when he picked her up from school. Due to the wintriness, he wore a pair of red mittens and a grey beanie, which he had found in his car trunk. They helped disguise his business attire, complete with a matching black suit and tie. Leaning his back on the wall beside the glass doors, he wondered why he was even here. He had no idea how he was going to confront her. Was he even going to thank her for the gift? He had come empty-handed, forgetting to buy her a gift. That was only because he was in too much of a hurry. Moreover, he did not even know what she would like. I guess I should treat her to some food, he thought. Or maybe, I should just take her shopping.

A door had accidentally opened too far, which almost Rhett’s head. Luckily, Rhett had extended his hand out to stop the door from injuring him. “I’m so sorry!” he heard a familiar voice and glanced downwards to find Kannei rushing in front of him. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. Are you . . . Yunho? W-w-what are you doing here?” Her tone had instantly changed from softness to mere harshness.
For you, he almost replied. Instead, he asked, “Why did you write that message to me?”
“What message?” her head tilted slightly to the side.
“You said that we shouldn’t be friends,” he callously informed. “Tell me why.”
Kannei hadn’t expected him to demand an explanation. She actually believed that Yunho would forget about her text message. It wasn’t that important anyhow. “I thought I was clear about the reason,” she looked away.
“Look at me then, Kannei,” he ordered after seeing her dodging glance. “Look at me and tell me why we can’t be friends.” She didn’t listen to him and instead, remained still. Deciding to take initiative, he forced her to maintain eye contact with him by shifting her face towards him. He even bent his back to her level and regurgitated, “Tell me why.” Upon staring into her eyes, he realized how swollen and red they actually were. He had never seen such puffy eyes before. Even when his sister had cried, she never had bee-stung eyes. “Have you been crying?” out of the blue, he asked.
“No! Why would I be crying?” She glared at him. She bit her lip, knowing that Jaejoong’s de-puffing job had been a failure.
He noted, “Well, I’ve never seen them like that. Are you sure that you didn’t cry?”
“It’s hard for me to cry,” she added. “I usually only shed one or two tears maximum.”
Knowing that she was lying, Rhett suggested and dragged her hand. “Come on, I’ll treat you to some Italian food. You’ll probably cry from happiness.”
She couldn’t resist letting out a grin. It was hard to ignore him now that he was in front of her. She knew she had to be away from him, yet her heart stayed the same. It was too natural for him to hold her hand. It would have been natural too for him to lead her to the car and then arrive at an exquisite restaurant if it were not for Hana’s presence.
“Yunho, you came to pick me up?” He turned his head to find Hana, along with a group of her friends, who were now gossiping among themselves. Now, it wasn’t Rhett who had let go of Kannei’s hand. Rather, it was Kannei who had wriggled her hand away from his grasp.
Then, she whispered before walking past him, “Go to her, Yunho. She’s the one that needs you.”
Hana went to Yunho’s side and slipped her arm around his. “Guys, this is my boyfriend, Jung Yunho!”
He heard the squeals from her friends, but after that, he tuned out the blabber and just nodded along with Hana. He had glanced at Kannei’s disappearing figure once and had felt his throat clump. He should have caught onto her wrist and interrogated her until she erupted to tears. He shouldn’t have permitted her to escape. He didn’t know though that this would be the start of a series of running and chasing sessions. He would also learn that the hardest part was not the chasing, but rather the releasing. There could only be one grand prize after a hunt. One and only one.
Yoochun was only here to fulfill his boss’ demand. In fact, he hated attending awards ceremonies, and especially the after parties. The anticipation of receiving an award was filled with anxiety, the sort that Yoochun had trouble tolerating. Frankly, he didn’t really care whether or not he was the recipient of some trophy. He was just happy, knowing that people enjoyed listening to the songs that he wrote. For him, a simple compliment from a supporter was greater than a golden figure. A fan could express feelings, whereas a plaque was there to gather dust. It wasn’t as if the songs were generally graded equally. There was always some practice of unfair judging, especially for the best artists of the year.
His manager, however, had ordered Yoochun to attend the 50th Awards Ceremony for Seoul Artists for one of their biggest sponsors was hosting this event. There had also been rumours of their entertainment company boycotting a particular company’s activities. The CEO wanted to dispel those rumours, which were actually nothing, but the truth. Friendly and healthy competition did not exist in business.
“Yeah, I brought you a suit.” His manager had purposely arrived at Yoochun’s place an hour earlier.
Yoochun at that point was clad in a simple button-up shirt, a pair of khakis, and sneakers. “This won’t do right?” he had sighed while receiving the outfit from his manager. “I’ll be back in five.”
Even when he returned with a black bow-tie, and an equally dark pinstriped suit, he still had that scruffy look. His manager, knowing how bothered Yoochun was, had handed him some hair gel. “Gel your hair in the car.” He had walked back to the van. “And don’t do it half-heartedly. You don’t want to end up looking like an idiot.”
“I know, I know.” Yoochun had heaved another breath.
Now that Yoochun was seated beside his close friend and renowned singer, Sura, he felt more at ease. Sura nudged Yoochun’s elbow. Sitting with his legs stretched out in a sleazy V-shape, he slouched in his chair. Yoochun even wondered whether or not Sura ever cared about his reputation among his fans. He remembered asking Sura once over a drink if Sura was always himself in front of the cameras and the fans. With a slurred speech, Sura rambled about how his fans would have to accept his frankness and how it was better to be hated for being honest than to be loved for being deceitful.
“So, who do you think will snatch the top artist of the year?” Sura asked.
“Sit properly unless you want Jaehyuk barking at you again,” Yoochun still reminded.
Sura stretched his arms out and then pinched Yoochun’s cheek before placing his arm over Yoochun’s shoulder. Then, he uttered, “I wonder what fans would say about this. Apparently there are fanfics about us. They keep promoting our relationship! What do you say I help them continue their imagination?”
Shrugging his shoulders, Yoochun hollered, “Man, you gotta be this way? I was just telling you for your own good and this is how you show your thanks?”
“All right, all right.” Sura lifted his arm off, cursing, “I fucking swear this ceremony is taking its toll on you.”
“Sure is.” Yoochun breathed out once more. “But you know what they say: you gotta do what you gotta do .  . .”
“To feed yourself!” both of them chanted at the same time.
It was an expression they had changed to encourage themselves to finish mundane tasks. It was also the expression that had marked the beginning of their friendship. Although Yoochun and Sura were part of the same company, they had never encountered each other. There was no need for them to collaborate. Sura sang upbeat dance songs and hosted TV shows, while Yoochun was specifically in charge of composing love songs. It wasn’t until one day they happened to be at the lounge area, grabbing a drink from the vending machine, did they encounter each other. Sura was kicking the machine that had swallowed his coins and cursing all types of curses while Yoochun walked by.
Yoochun remembered thinking, so that’s Sura. Sura was known in the company as the lovable rascal for his playful personality and happy-go-lucky attitude about life. He also had an excess amount of flings; his defence was always that they were friendships. The media had become bored of his flirtatious disposition that they didn’t report every single woman he had met at the bar. It was undoubted that Sura possessed talent and an enthralling aura that captured the hearts of his fan base comprising of a million.
“You know if you break that, they’ll deduct the damages from your pay cheque,” Yoochun had spoken from a haunting experience. Once, Yoochun had faced a similar situation and he was charged with a tab for his actions.
“Fuck this!” Sura had kicked one last time before shouting. “Fuck my life too! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
“Is . . . everything all right?”
“You think?” Sura had rolled his eyes and had plummeted into a chair. “Manager suddenly calls me up and tells me that I need to sing a fucking ballad.”
Yoochun had taken a seat across from him, and wondered, “Ballads are that bad?”
Sura had explained, “They’re fucking stupid. That’s what they are.”
“I think they’re quite nice,” Yoochun had murmured. “There’s meaning to ballads.”
“Sure, for people that got dumped.” Sura had chuckled. “Really, people just need to get past getting dumped. Okay, so someone doesn’t want you? So what?”
 “Well, you gotta do, what you gotta do to feed yourself.”
“I feel for you man,” Sura suddenly announced during the middle of the ceremony. “I gotta say you’re stuck here because of that man.”
Sura had pointed to a familiar face, who was now walking on the stage with another lady. Hold on, Yoochun thought. Isn’t that . . .
“That’s Song Jisung and his wife, Bae Junghwa,” Sura explained. “The couple is known for their charity work. Not to mention, Jisung is fucking loaded, except well . . . don’t tell anyone about this, but they say that he’s the head of some crazy gang. Apparently, he’s even starting to supply drugs to entertainers here and there.”
So, this was why the entertainment company wanted to show their support for him. Yoochun was curious now. Although he had known Sura for several years, it was still hard to predict what that man would do. Sura had a way of contradicting himself, and forcing others to accept his contradictions.
“Did you get some then?” Yoochun pondered.
“Fuck no. Course not. I’m not stupid like some people.” When Yoochun casted a doubtful look, Sura added, “Okay, sure, I drink more than the average guy, but drugs . . . no. Ruin my career like that? Fuck no.”
“Then, how’d you know about it?”
“Well, I heard the rumours from some trainees,” Sura clarified to clear his name. “Apparently, he’s targeting that group. You know, with all the pressure and what not, they’d need to vent their stress somehow. And you know . . . the other reason.”
Yoochun bobbed his head. The company was always finding ways to completely control their entertainers. The higher celebrities ranked, the more they strived to direct their stars. This method had to be imposed when the entertainers were young and weak, when they only believed in becoming famous and nothing else. This was when they would sign their contracts, which undoubtedly sold their souls away.
Sura had been too fortunate. His father was a well-established, veteran singer, who certainly understood the industry too well. His father was also a producer, a talent seeker, a judge on a superstar show, and an actor. Because of all the fame that his father, Hwang Heechul, had garnered, Sura was incredibly secretive. Only a few people knew of his relationship with his father; he had even purposely taken his mother’s surname, Yong.
“He’s not my father,” Sura had scoffed once to Yoochun. “What kind of father would leave his family behind for his career?”
“Mine did too,” Yoochun had responded rather coolly while finishing the last drop of his beer. “He also cheated on my mother.”
Sura had his arm over Yoochun, patting him to the point of slapping. “Fuck our lives,” he sung. “Oh, and cheers!”
Their bottles of beer had clinked, signalling the proper start to a friendship. It was difficult to pinpoint exactly when people began to be friends, Yoochun now thought. Was it important to know how everything commenced? No, he answered his own question as his eyes followed Junghwa’s presence. She was now announcing the song of the year. No, she was announcing his name.
“Yeah, you fucking awake?” Sura roughly elbowed Yoochun, demanding. “You . . . my lazy asshole, have won! Now, go frigging get your award before I sack you!”
Practically pushed from his seat to the aisle by Sura, he felt his stomach churn. As he marched in her direction, their eyes had caught each other. He grew even more anxious when he saw a glare from Jisung. This glare was one of suspicion. If people said women’s intuitions were correct, then what of men’s?
Was it important then to know how everything would unravel in this case?
Yes, Yoochun gulped.

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