β€”πŸ›πŸŸβ€”

Loveboat in μ„œμšΈ

FUTURE


The opening notes of "Private's Letter" play and my girls flow forward to form three identical bundles: a girl pirouetting, arms upraised, and four revolving around her like the petal of a black flower. Three stage lights halo over them. Their faces are neutralβ€”for now. With languid motions, hips and arms, they form changing shapes to the soft beats of the drums.

One of my favorite aspects of choreography is that there is always a story. At least with me. The story of this dance has evolved each time we practiced, each time we added new elements.

As the music accelerates, the girls strip off their back robes and explode into sapphire, emerald, and orange. Silk ribbons erupt, blue fans snap open, jazz-hands wrist-flick. Their skirts and hair fan out like petals as they whirl: blues, greens, and oranges mixing across the stage.

Then Subin's drums beat out a counter rhythm. Blues, green, and oranges coalesce like a flower arrangement as I emerge in red, bo staff twirling. My heart pounds with stage fright. It comes with the territory, but this is differentβ€”Appa's in the audience.

And he's about to watch me dance. With a boy.

Keeping my focus on my dancers, I weave figure eights through them. Their silk ribbons whip against my arms and my feet stamp the floor to Subin's counter-beat as I search for a homeβ€”do I belong to the ribbon dancers without ribbons? the fan dancers without a fan? the jazz dancers who clasp hands and knock me aside?

My dancers line up in an undulating wave, alternating blue-green-orange. They wall me out. My bo staff flies spinning in the air while I whirl in red beneath it, catch it, cast about for a place in line.

But I don't belong anywhere.

Then a fanfare of drums and vocalization herald a newcomer: Joohyuk steps onstage, bo staff revolving to match mine. Stage lights glitter off his coal-black hair.

A murmur ripples through the audience.

Feigning outrage at this intruder, I leap at him. My staff whistles through the air as I bring it down on his with a crack that echoes. Bo in both hands, I fly into barrel turns across the stage then back around to him.

But at a sharp pain in my ankle, I cut the turns short. Epel a breathβ€”hang in there.Β My dancers form a phalanx behind me, and we're sixteen advancing on one as I swing at Joohyuk's head. He blocks. Counterattacks. Swings at my head, my feet, my waist as I dodge, give him ground.

Crack, crack, crack! Joohyuk smiles as he drives us all back. The cracks reverberate into my hands as he beats out our fight down the stage. My dancers, defeated at last, drop back to form a rustling choral line.

I forget the audience, my ankle, as I take center stage with Joohyuk. With every swing of my staff, he mirrors me, every crack augmented by the drums. Neither of us get the better of the other as we feint and dodge, swing and cry out.

Crossing staffs, we spin a circle together, faster, faster, faster, then Joohyuk yanks my stick from my hand. Not to be outdone, I wrestle his staff free, tossing it aside with a clatter. His hands go around me, my hand glides down the side of his face, and my dancers loop a double circle around us, flowing in opposite directions in rainbow rings.

Then my ankle gives way.

I bite back a cry as I pitch forward. My foot slips on the waxed floor and I'm falling toward Joohyuk, about to land at his feet in an undignified heap.

But smooth as silk, Joohyuk seizes my waist. He lifts me into the air as if I were as light as a feather, spinning, spinning circles we didn't practice, blurring the lights into colors. I'm flying and I go with itβ€”arch backwards nearly double, hair whipping the air, arms and legs pliant, surrendered and free.

At last, Joohyuk folds me into his arms, spin a final few circles, and lowers me to rest against him. His damp chest heaves against mine, both our hearts pounding louder than the dragon drums as we gaze at one another, the world spun away.

Only the thunder of applause brings me to my senses.

My dancers are bowing. Joohyuk and I jerk apart to our clasped hands and drop our own bows. My heart thunders in my ears and I'm smiling so hard my face hurts. The audience beyond the stage is a blur of faces.

Except for the man who leaps from wheelchair to feet. His tortoiseshell glasses slip to the tip of his nose, and he shoves them back into place and keeps clapping as the audience follows him into a standing ovation.

Appa.

We take a second and third bow, but the clapping doesn't stop. Finally, at a pre-arranged signal for me, the drums swell for an encore.

Joohyuk and I separate to retrieve our staves, beat out one last fight across the stage. My ankle holds. The audience clapping turns rhythmic and my dancers from a semi-circle behind us.

And as I lunge forward and whirl my bo staff, dancing to the ancient drum beats, I fell all the parts of myself coming together: glad that a part of me is Korean, a part of me American, and all of me is simply me.

Κ•ΰ₯-Μ«Ν‘-Κ”ΰ₯ΰΎ‰*α΄Έα΅’α΅›α΅‰α΅‡α΅’α΅ƒα΅—βœ²οΎŸβ±βΏ*γ€‚β‹†Β μ„œμšΈγ€‚β‹†Β *

At Kang's request, Sohee auctions off his mural as the work of an anonymous student. I sit on a stool offstaf while Min wraps a bag of ice around my angry ankle. The bidders in the audience duke it out, higher and higher, until at last she declares it sold at US $7,150.

"Holy moly, his dad won it," Krystal says.

"No kidding?" I crane my neck at the familiar-looking man with his military bearing, not a wrinkle on his snow-white jacket, his steel-gray hair parted at the side. But how ironic. He can't know it's Kang's work he bought.

"I wish I could see Kang's face right now," I gloat.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Sohee declares, "on behalf of the typhoon relief fund, all of us at Yonsei thank you for your support. I'm thrilled to announce we raised over seventeen million Korean won!"

US $16,000!

Even before the curtains hit the stage floor, we scream and hug, a tangle of sweaty bodies and stiff-sprayed hair: Sulli, Subin, Dohyun, Krystal. Min cries. Subin high-fives the world. Dean kisses Kangjoon. We're drunk on ourselves and our success.

Jungwoo pumps my hand up and down, stops when I wince. "I'm proud of you guys. When you all first arrived, I thought you were a bunch of spoiled Americansβ€”I, uhβ€”"

"We were," I say, and hug him, too.

Sohee pushes through the curtains, yanking off one high heel, then the other. She tosses her clipboard into the air and raises her arms, glowing like the chandeliers.

"Sixteen thousand!"

I throw my arm around her neck. "Not bad for a girl with no talent!"

"Harvard Business School, here I come!"

Kang climbs the stage steps toward us, a thumb hooked in his pocket as usual. But a new light illuminates his eyes. He fans a handful of business cards.

"Art collectorsβ€”and myΒ dad." He shakes his head, disbelieving. "Someday, I'll tell him."

"I'm glad." I squeeze his hand fiercely. "So,Β soΒ glad!"

Sohee flips through his cars. "Not this guy." She crumples one card. "My aunt knows him. He's a scammer. But these two"β€”she presses them back into his handβ€”"are legit."

After a startled pause, his mouth pulls into a smile. "Thanks."

Then they head across the stage toward the Dragon. Bossy Sohee has outdone Beautiful Sohee tonight, but I'm glad she's both.

We are powerful.

We can be anyone we want to beβ€”daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, citizens, human beings. We showed Seoul that tonight. And in the days to come, we will show the world.

A familiar hand falls on my shoulder.

My own hand reaches up to take it as I turn.

Joohyuk smiles. "We did good."

"We did." I smile back, then spot Appa rolling off the stage elevator in his wheelchair.

"Hold on, Joohyuk. Annyeong, Appa." I move toward him.

His arms surge as he rolls toward me. "Suzy, your arm! When I saw you walk onstage, your ankle givingβ€”"

"I had to do this."

"You might have damaged your body for good!" Appa holds a hand out for my ankle, which I placed in his lap. He probes at it with expert fingers, then sets it down and rises onto one foot to check my shoulder. It aches, but nothing more, and at last he sinks back into his chair. "You need to rest that arm and ankle for the next month.Β At least."

"I will," I promise. And I mean it. Some rules are no-brainers.

He takes hold of my hand in both of his. "You were wonderful. And you look so beautiful. Maybe you can teach me how to stick spin when we get home. I saw it in a taekwondo film."

My throat swells. "I will."

Joohyuk has been hovering in the background. Now, I lace my fingers through his and pull him forward. Appa's eyes open wide and I wonder how many more surprises he can bear tonight. But I only have one more.

"Hey, Appa." I smile. "Remember Wonder Boy?"


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