"I shouldn't have done it." Regret haunts me as I walked the moped-lined sidewalks with Sohee toward the bus, to Yonsei for her, the More Than Youth Ballet Studio for me. "That last pose—"
My cheeks burn with the memory. When I close my eyes, I can still see Nana's flashing lights, still feel them on my skin. The worst is that, left to my own devices, I'd have worn the jumpsuit and returned to the States happy as cream cheese. Why? Why did everything eomma say make me want to do crazy things?
"Calm down." Sohee twists her hair into a knot and secures it with a clip. She frowns, impatient. "Not like anyone's going to see your photo. Unless you were planning to hand them out.
"If my parents find out, they'll disown me."
"Well, they won't find out. You're so paranoid about them. Honestly, Suzy. All this insecurity is getting annoying."
She's trying to stop me from worrying, but I can only imagine Wendy's wide-eyed horror. Sihyeon's, too.
This isn't like you, Suzy! they'd say.
And would they be right?
The fact that I'm not sure scares me.
Sohee and I separate at the bus, and I walk another few blocks to the next stop, still trying to shake my worries.
It's done. No one has to know.
More Than Youth studio is forty-five minutes from campus, on the outskirts of Seoul. I cross a few quiet streets to a modest, two-story building, swing open a glass door—
And step into heaven.
Faded pink walls enclose a reception room of dated but well-loved furniture. The air smells of lilacs. Past a desk, I come upon a mirror-lined studio and a dozen girls my age, black ponytails whipping as they bend and stretch along a polished double bar. Tchaikovsky's "Waltz of the Flowers" plays. A red-haired woman calls in time, an unbelievable mix of Hangul and French, "Ye, ge rond de jambe, deobul rond de jambe, arabesque—heumpong, Eunbi! Jeongmal johda, Yurim."
My own heart lifts with the familiar liturgy. Then an elegant Korean woman, black hair pulled into a tidy French braid, glides toward me. She's in her forties. Her graceful carriage tells me he was once a dancer herself.
"May I help you?" American-accented English—I guess she could tell from my clothes. She seems surprised.
"Um, I'm here with Yonsei and saw your Coppélia album at a photography studio. I'm, um, a dancer"—I stumble over the word—"and wondered if you have space in your classes or summer ballet."
"Yonsei, of course! I'm Madame Yoo. You're welcome to join us." She walks me back to the reception desk and hands me an amateur playbill. "We're performing excerpts from Swan Lake in August. At the community theater."
"Oh, Swan Lake! One of my favorites!" The Princess Odette cursed into a swan, her dress of white feathers, her evil double, the love story that makes me cry. "How—how much are lessons?"
My hunch was right—she must not have raised prices in ten years.
The cost for the summer, week by week, will still wipe out the rest of my savings.
But it's a chance to dance.
"Are there auditions?"
"No need. Only the solos require auditions." She opens her ledger.
"Which solos?" I blurt.
Her brow rises. "All but the prince. Odette—"
"—Odile, Von Rothbart ... to be honest, the roles will likely go to the girls who danced with us year-round. You may try out, but would need to prepare a two-minute piece—"
"Sure." I knock a pointe shoe off the counter and hastily replace it. "I can do that."
"Well, most of the girls have been preparing for weeks—I don't want you to be disappointed." She opens a notebook. "I could squeeze you in Sunday after next—eight a.m.? I realize it's early."
Not for the chance to dance a role whose choreography I've studied obsessively! I might even improvise a bit to show off what I can do. I'll take the bus from Sohee's aunt's house. I read the brochure. The performance is the second weekend of August—when Yonsei is on the Tour de Seoul, the highlight of summer. But so is dancing, for me. And this will be my last dance. My farewell. I'll find a way out of the tour.
"I'll take the slot," I say. "Thank you," I stammer as she inks Bae Sooji onto her ledger. She hands me a card for a dance shop for clothes and shoes and I clutch it like a lifeline.
Back outside under the hot sun, even though I don't approve of showy cartwheels, I put my hand on the sidewalk and turn one anyways.
ʕु-̫͡-ʔुྉ*ᴸᵒᵛᵉᵇᵒᵃᵗ✲ﾟⁱⁿ*。⋆ 서울。⋆ *
The Dragon's lecture at dinner leaves our ears stinging. She stands on a stage under red paper lanterns, facing our dozens of round tables, but there's nothing festive in her expression.
"You are intelligent young people with bright futures. Why do foolish things that could harm yourselves? Anyone else leaving campus past curfew will be severely punished and may be sent home."
Yesterday, I'd have welcomed the chance, if I were brave enough to stomach my parents' anger and disappointment. Now, I don't want to go home. I'm free to dance. Spend money the way I want. Kiss a boy if I find one. I was drowning back home, and Yonsei is a lifeboat.
"Looks like we're the hook for strike one." Sohee pushes her empty dinner plate toward the center, then opens a box of gourmet cakes she got Kang to buy her. Four square cakes, burnt-butter tops stamped with intricate designs, nestle on a read silk bed. She hands me one. "Sesame seed balls or lotus cakes for afternoon tea?"
I bite into sweet lotus paste. "Um, yum. Both?"
"What about dessert? Shaved ice or make-your-own mochi? Too much sugar?"
Seems it will be full speed ahead planning the visit to Aunty Yumi's for the next two weeks. But I don't mind. I'm looking forward to meeting Sohee's family—not to mention she's filled my head with stories of rooms and meals straight out of Beauty and the Beast.
"How about one per day?" I suggested.
"Did you buy those cakes yourself? Or did you get your rich boyfriend to do it?"
At Minnie's voice, Sohee pauses mid-bite. She chews and finishes swallowing before twisting around to face Minnie in a baby-blue dress.
"Nothing wrong with knowing what you want," Sohee says coolly.
"So, you admit it." Minnie folds her arms across her chest. "You're after him because he's from the richest family in Korea."
Sohee gives her a level stare. "I like nice things. So what?"
Minnie's amrs unfold and her hands balls into fists, then she stomps away.
Sohee lets out a breath. "She's jealous. It's understandable."
My cheeks feel singed. How much does Kang suspect his family's money is a draw for the girls who are after him? I've never given much thought to a guy's money; I always assumed I'd be the one supporting my family. But maybe a guy like him has to think about it.
"You didn't mean all that, did you?" I ask.
Sohee pops her last bite of the cakes into . "When I was seven, our landlord used to pound on the door of our crap apartment every few months. I still remember hidding under the covers. And after he left, I'd ask, 'Will we have to move?' and my mom would cry, 'You promised you'd take care of us,' making my dad feel like the little that he is."
"Gosh, Sohee." She has such good taste and incredible clothing—I'd assumed she came from money herself. Nothing like this. "I'm sorry."
"My mom's life is exactly what I'm not going to have. So yeah, Kang coming from the richest family in Korea—I'd be lying if I said I didn't care. But that doesn't mean I don't like them."
I frown. His money shouldn't matter, but she's right, too—it's not something you can ignore about him either.
Sohee hunches toward me. "Maybe your artist is Kangjoon. He's going to Royal College of Art in the United Kingdom."
I automatically glance around for his stuffed bear, Kimchi.
"God, I hope not." I shudder, then realize how cleverly she changed the subject.
ʕु-̫͡-ʔुྉ*ᴸᵒᵛᵉᵇᵒᵃᵗ✲ﾟⁱⁿ*。⋆ 서울。⋆ *
With Sohee sitting between Kang and me in Hangul. I have front view into their growing relationship, and also the space I need from Kang. The few times he catches my eye, I find an excuse to turn to Yoo Subin on my other side.
Henry, as far as Sohee is concerned, has fallen off the planet.
Over the next weekend, we practice bartering in the marketplace and talk about our families (gajogdeul), boyfriends (namja chingu), and girlfriends (yeoja chingu). Kang makes Sohee go first with the partner readings every time, like he did with me. She forges right ahead—it seems characteristic of their relationship.
As for me, I ace every quiz. What little pride I have won't let me write down the wrong answer. Even if it would help me break a Bae Rule.
I wash Joohyuk's shirt in the basement laundromat, but I can't muster up the courage to return it to him. It's a dryer-warm in my arms as I climb the stairs, debating whether to run it again with my next load. And when I see him in the lobby, dropping off a postcard to Rosie, I spin on my heel and dash off in the other direction.
In Korean Medicine, Dohyun, Sungwon, and Dean dub themselves the Angry Asian Men. Between sets of push-ups and swigs from their steel bottle—I finally get a detergent-flavored sip—they compile a list of Asian-guy stereotypes:
"Kung fu master," Dohyun saus.
"Nerd engineer," Dean says. "Followers, not leaders."
"Effeminate," Sungwon growls from a mid-push-up.
"Own it, bro." Dohyun shoves Sungwon's head down. "That mustache isn't fooling anyone."
"This is war." Dean cracks his knuckles. "We need to take back these stereotypes."
"Yeah, how?" Sungwon asks, and they huddle around their bottle, plotting.
I turn to Kang. "Why aren't you angry?"
He shrugs. "I grew up here." And he doesn't come close to any of the stereotypes. But he doesn't contradict the guys either. He acts like he doesn't care, but I think he sort of does. I get the feeling there's a lot he doesn't let show, like his relationship with his dad. I wonder what else he's hiding under all that tousled hair, but it's not something I feel safe asking about.
A week and a half into Loveboat, the romances ratchet up. Someone leaves an anonymous flower on Lia-from-Canada's pillow (everyone knows it's Subin). Sulli and Krystal steal Joohyuk's basketball to lure him to their room, Rosie be damned. Sohee worked through a dozen different menus, down to which wineglass name tags to ask her aunt to bring out.
As for me, I move my feet to the beat of music from Sohee's speakers and study my mysterious sketch. I sneak by Kangjoon's open door, looking for artwork, but only spot Kimchi sitting glassy-eyed pillow. Once I discover my artist, I have a fantasy of flinging my arms around his neck and breaking the No Kissing Boys rule. Maybe I'd kiss Kangjoon. But would I be brave enough to kiss Dean? Or Sungwoon, despite the mustache?
Messages to call home pile up on my desk, but now that Sihyeon's WeChat account has been commandeered, I only email her—she's lonely, her friends are away for the summer, she's trying to make progress on her Mozart Sonata in C, forcing herself to read all those notes through her dyslexia. Eomma and Appa want me to call. Wendy's well, but hard to reach—she's on a cruise with Nick and her parents, and although I initially try to keep her posted, too much is happening. Fill you in when I'm back, I emailed her.
Evenings after dinner, I toss dance bag and pointe shoes over my shoulder and race out to More than Youth Studio.
"Naleulbwa, hagsaengdeul. Eyes on me, girls." Madame demonstrates each combination in her muted flow across the floor: "pas de bourrée, pir-ou-ette." I greedily emulate the glide of her legs, the flawless sweep of her arms. She speaks Korean, then English for my sake, and I start to pick up all sorts of dance words. "Turn the foot out more, but lovely arms, Joohyun. Bend your elbows like so. Very graceful, Jisoo." She's a stickler for technique but finds something encouraging to say to every girl. In my second class, she grips my biceps in firm fingers: "Engage your arms more. Pull them apart to here and feel how that locks in your balance. Feel the lines of energy, side to side and pulling from your head to your toe." She lifts my chin higher. "When you love the dance, it shows, my new bird. Let it show."
She sees me. Her praise is a dip in a warm bath of honey. I barely get out a "gomawo" in thanks. I haven't loved ballet as much as modern and jazz, but under her, that's changing. If I get a solo, Odette, I'll get to work one-on-one with her. And so I double down—tighten my turns, push my leaps higher—then waltz on a bed of clouds back to Yonsei.
ʕु-̫͡-ʔुྉ*ᴸᵒᵛᵉᵇᵒᵃᵗ✲ﾟⁱⁿ*。⋆ 서울。⋆ *
I've never slept well, and almost two weeks into Loveboat, I still haven't adjusted to the jet lag. Plus tonight, the song in my head demands satisfaction. My feet itch to dance, my body follow its lead.
I slip from my bed and change into tank top and shorts. On the opposite bed, Sohee's arm is flung in a pale hook over her head. Her hair spills over her pillow. In the moonlight, her face is softer, like a little girl's. She mumbles and rolls over to hug her other pillow and I tug her sheet over her bare shoulders.
Our stubborn door almost does me in, but I finally yank it open with a wrench that echoes down the hallway. I hold my breath as it fades, count to twenty, but nothing stirs in the darkness.
Slants of moonlight stripe the hallway tiles, which are cool under my bare feet. I make a game of leaping over each stripe, landing without a sound, sashaying around the next. I waltz into the lounge, where empty bottles of litter the table and the scents of beer, rice cakes, and bean soup from an illegal Crock-Pot still linger. I've had so much fun hanging out each night, but now, I'm enjoying this loneliness, with just the music in my body.
The double doors to the balcony stand slightly ajar. I step out into the light of an enormous crescent moon in a milky halo. It dims the stars around it. The humid night air envelops me like a blanket as I raise arm and knee and turn a pirouette that lands me before the stone railing.
I spin around. To my left, the hulk of Joohyuk's shadow shifts. Moonlight gleams off his rumpled hair, painting silver highlights into the black. He's sitting on a bench in a sleeveless jersey, muscled arms locked around his knees. Just behind him, a clay drainpipe glints against the brick wall.
"Joohyuk! I was—"
I break off. Dancing, obviously. Tiny moons flicker in his brown eyes, which are as hard to read as always. I can't tell who's more annoyed by the interruption, him or me.
"I'm washing your shirt," I blurt. "I mean, I've already washed it. Twice. I want to run it one more time. It's clean, I promise. I mean, I'm not letting it sit around molding." Good grief. I clamp my mouth shut.
"I trust you."
"I'm so sorry you had to see me like that."
"You strike me as the girl who usually needs taking home."
"Oh, I'm not."
He shifts to one side of the bench. "Want a seat? It's a good moon."
Sitting under this gorgeous moon with him is a waste. I should be here with Dohyun or Dean. Anyone but Wonder Boy.
But I find myself taking a seat. "I don't think I've seen one quite that big." A darker band of sky encircles it, populated by stars, then light pollution from Seoul drowns out the rest of the stars down to the horizon.
"I like looking at stars," he says. "It puts things in perspective, seeing how small we are compared to the universe."
Surprising humbleness. But I get it.
"They're so permanent," I say. "So old compared to our short lives."
"Did you know there's a black hole that emits the note B-flat fifty-seven octaves below middle C?"
"That is the weirdest random fact I've ever heard."
"But cool, right?" His teeth flash with a smile.
"Yeah, it is," I admit. "Are you into astronomy?"
"I read all the Usborne books on stars and planets when I was little."
"Oh, me, too." I shouldn't be surprised, but I never imagined that kid reading books that I loved. "Why are you up so late?"
"Couldn't sleep." A pause. "Thinking about Rosie."
So, he misses her. Hence the romantic moon. Sohee mentions he calls her and sends her a postcard every single day. He's a good guy, to have taken home a drunk girl he barely knew. Maybe I haven't given him as much credit as he deserves.
"Are you up late most nights?" he asks. "You've been missing a killer breakfast."
And he noticed? "Um, yeah. I've been sleeping in."
"Why are you up now?"
"It will sound weird."
He shrugs. "I'm weird."
"Seriously." I smile. "Sometimes I get these songs in my head. I see the dance playing out in my head. Then I need to dance it. Hence the pirouette." I nod toward the railing.
"That is weird."
"Weird but cool. How long have you been dancing?"
"All my life. I was four when my parents put me in ballet."
"No wonder. So, you're a ballerina?"
"No. I grew up on ballet. I loved it—still do. But I love the dance squad just as much. And other dancing—jazz, modern, combing them. I know it's not serious, but I—I just love it."
"I get that. I can pick up almost any sport and be pretty competitive, but basketball's my favorite. All the strategizing. The team. what do you like about dancing?"
Funny how conversation with Joohyuk is easier in the semidarkness when I don't have to look at his perfect face.
"It's the energy of the group. Everyone moving independently, but still coordinated."
"Every play's incredibly strategic. The whole team needs to be coordinated."
"Have you played long?"
"Since high school. It's one of those sports you can pick up later and still be competitive. Enough for Yale at least. I'm not in Dohyun's category. He could go pro in track if he wasn't so committed to journalism."
"He's hilarious," I giggle. "All his Angry Asian Men talk. Taking back stereotypes."
Joohyuk's silent a moment. "Dohyun's a hoot. We're running buddies now."
Yes, I've seen them jogging along the river together. I pull in a breath, then take a chance. "I found a sketch in my pocket after Club KISS. Of me. It was amazing."
"Oh?" His brown eyes are unreadable. "Who did it?"
"I don't know. I'm trying to find out," I confess.
"Show me the sketch tomorrow and I'll poke around, if you'd like."
"Thanks. Maybe Kangjoon?" God, how presumptuous. "Sohee says he's going to RISD—please don't say anything to him."
"I'll be discreet," Joohyuk says.
A hinge creaks down the hallway. The soft clip of footsteps draws near, and I bolt to my feet. ", someone's coming." I can't even guess at the punishment if we're caught, a guy and a girl in a skimpy tank top together hours past curfew.
I bolt toward the clay pipe, tripping over Joohyuk's outstretched legs. It's a water pipe that runs from the roof two stories above, all the way to the ground. I reach over the railing and grab hold: solid, clay-rough, hand-sized, much sturdier than the thin metal one outside my bedroom back home. The courtyard, the concrete steps leading to the main entrance is a three-story drop, but half-way down the wall, a narrow ledge intersects with the pipe.
"You're not going down that?" Joohyuk whispers, disbelieving, but I've already climbed onto the railing and grabbed the pipe, fireman-style. Using the brick wall for toeholds, I ease down the pipe until my feet reach the ledge. Inches from my nose, a splash of bird poop stains the bricks.
I step sideways onto the narrow ledge, balancing on my toes, as Joohyuk's lands beside me. His bulk sets me off-balance, but he grabs my shoulders and hugs me to his side, hanging on to the pipe for the both of us. He's warm and smells like grass, toothpaste. My heart pounds so loudly it's going to give us away.
Joohyuk's arm tightens warningly. Above us, Jungwoo appears in paisley pajamas, standing at the balcony railing. He looks up at the moon, which retracts off his glasses and illuminates the long cut of his cheeks. A short, green can of Pringles gleams in his hand. We're completely exposed—if he glances down, he'll see us.
I shrink deeper into Joohyuk and hold my breath. We're both sweating into his jersey. His hand squeaks on the pipe and we tense.
But Jungwoo merely crunches on a chip. Then another. Another. My back grows damper with perspiration and my foot begins to tingle like mad. I shift closer to Joohyuk and rotate my ankle, trying to wake it. A pebble pings three flights down, clanks down the steps. Joohyuk's fingertips dig into my shoulder, and we each hold our breath.
Jungwoo crunches another chip.
When Jungwoo leves at last, I expel a long breath. His footsteps slowly fade then Joohyuk looks at me, a question in his eyes. I nod, then he climbs hand over hand back up the pole, and I follow until I throw a hand over the rail. Joohyuk grabs my wrist and tugs me onto the balcony.
"We're crazy." I give a soft laugh of relief. "I can't believe we—"
"You could have gotten us in trouble." Joohyuk releases me so abruptly, I stumble back, catching myself on the stone railing. "They'd have called our parents. Kicked us out."
Not a laughing matter to him, clearly.
I rise to my full height, brushing dust from my hands. "I'm the one who made sure we weren't caught."
"If you weren't here in the first place, we wouldn't have had to go down that pipe."
What the heck? "I have as much right to be on this balcony as you do!"
The brows scowl. He folds his arms, so certain he's in the right, because that's Wonder Boy.
"Well, excuse me for almost tainting your good name. That's all you care about, isn't it? If Mommy and Daddy call, you can blame it on me."
I don't slam the balcony door on him, but only because that will bring Jungwoo running.