Jolene LaRue stared out the window of the Asiana flight taking her to Seoul, wondering how she should feel.
I’ll pass that child on a shoot, nothing will happen and that will stop my nonsense, she thought angrily to herself.
The current fixation with the whole ‘dream lover’ phenomena infuriated her. All of a sudden, the sanest people gave credence to the kind of silly fantasies only the credulous used to believe. She realized that she had some personal issues about this but she liked to believe that even under normal circumstances she’d throw this current meme in the trashbin.
As a passenger on the hijacked Over the Rainbow cruise ship Dorothy, Jolene had experienced a life-shattering experience. The hijackers held her hostage in a tiny isolated room for so long she’d created a dream environment to live in. Being very practical her illusion mirrored her reality enough to leave her confused as to what actually happened to her. After her rescue, the cruise company offered counseling sessions to survivors which Jolene eagerly accepted. She desperately wanted to talk about these hallucinations her long captivity induced.
Instead, the so-called psycho-therapist had tried to link them to this stupid fad! Jolene had reported the first woman to the medical authorities for fraud and malpractice, and tried another counselor. At first her new psychologist seemed to help her, by giving her focus and parameters to judge her experience. However, in her fourth (and last) session, the man had wanted her to entertain the possibility that her memories just might have basis in reality.
“I’ve seen some amazing things over the last three months,” he’d told her, trying to justify this absurd position. “Not only rejuvenation, as in your case, but also some reversals of medical conditions I’d have deemed incurable a year ago.”
“Obviously not if they happened,” she’d snapped back. “And I’m NOT rejuvenated!”
“You admit you look much younger,” he’d pointed out. “Does this bother you in some way?”
“Your inability to listen to what I am saying bothers me!” Jolene had snapped. “I could care about this rejuvenation nonsense. I worry about my hallucinations. It felt very real and I dislike delusional thinking.”
“I understand you feel disoriented,” the doctor had nodded. “ You spent a long time in captivity. Why so sure you didn’t have a cellmate?”
“I’m not sure. I know it couldn’t be who it seemed to be,” she’d countered. “And NO I’m not telling.”
“Then you must fear remembering the true face of your fellow captive.”
“Yes. I certainly don’t think I had another victim with me, however.”
“What rationale brings you to that conclusion?”
She’d stared stonily at the therapist.
“Considering who I conjured up as the face of my cellmate, I must have wished to hide his real identity. Plus, the boy had my information. If by some very strange chance it really happened, why have I heard nothing? Because it DIDN’T.”
“I understand your grief over that,” the man had started to say, in such an unwanted sympathetic tone that Jolene thought she might throw his computer at him. “Perhaps the person in question remains in captivity?”
“Oh no you don’t get to pull that trick, buster,” she’d yelled. “The particular celebrity I chose to fantasize about never even disappeared! And if you start yapping about my anger issues or even worse about the whole ‘dream’ phenomena I refuse to be responsible for what I do. In fact I’m leaving before I do anything I might someday regret.”
Out she’d slammed, terribly upset about losing her cool as much as over his total lack of support.
Jolene had to admit to her altered appearance. Some of the international investigators she’d talked to seemed to believe that the hijacking and kidnapping of passengers had links to the unlicensed testing facilities found throughout the world. This idea she could support. It surprised her that Jones & Matthews, the company selling this new wonder drug , had so far not suffered any repercussions. That new regeneration therapy of theirs had truly taken over the cosmetics market. Local health spas certainly touted it constantly.
She thought of Rhianna Lewis and Frieda Dolman, her two close friends who’d shared the same harrowing experience.
Frieda! How embarrassing! Jolene immediately felt the blood rushing to her face. I could never subject my family to that spectacle!
Frieda and Rhianna had shown up in a little town near Dunedin, about as far from Auckland, the Dorothy’s port of departure, as possible in New Zealand. Their little cabin cruiser grounded at night during a storm, with four young male crewmembers and five older (or more accurately, formerly elderly) women passengers from the fated ship aboard. Rhianna, injured, still lay in hospital in Wellington, suffering possible brain injuries and kept in a coma to hopefully heal with the least amount of stress. Frieda, seemingly fine, attached herself to one of the rescued crew and brought him home.
To be fair, the other three passengers did the same thing. They all insisted the crewmembers had heroically rescued them from the pirates, with which account the young men readily agreed.
Jolene couldn’t say how the other rescued passengers looked after their experience, but her friends both looked the same as they did as bridesmaids for Jolene’s wedding 35 years previously. Jolene had the pictures to prove it. Poor Rhianna might not look healthy but she looked young.
Jolene also wondered about those supposed crewmembers. She recognized Frieda’s little boytoy, not from the cruise but from Bollywood gossip rags. The three friends shared an interest in Asian cinema and television, specifically anything of the Bollywood, Hallyu or KungFu martial arts variety. Jolene felt sure she’d remember if Dakshi Khan had entertained on that cruise. Frieda swooned every time he showed up in a Bollywood production, so she’d certainly have mentioned his presence on board .
Funny thing about Mr. Khan, however – Jolene knew him to be in his late 50s. So apparently he’d somehow gotten rejuvenated as well, or else had fathered this young man.
The newspapers had gleefully revealed little hints at these ‘crewmembers’ identities, without naming names. Jolene checked on Dakshi Khan’s activities over the past few years, and seen that he’d gone into some sort of retreat at the time of the kidnappings. Then, of course, several months ago, Frieda’s boytoy publicly claimed to be Dakshi Khan. Jolene felt he must be some sort of imposter, but no one could disprove his claim.
Which just fed her own insane fantasy. She just had to keep reminding herself that the whereabouts of the young man she’d fantasized about were well-documented during that period. Ko Jung Hwa had enlisted three weeks after the hijackings, and spent those 2 years not in her little prison cell but with his unit in Chunchon, completing his military service.
Jolene sighed. She had no memories of the ship’s hijacking. She remembered celebrating at the Last Night party with Frieda and Rhianna, and then all of them toddling off to their suite. Next thing she knew, she’d woken in some little padded box of a room, with no windows and no discernible light source. It had a bathroom sectioned off with opaque plexiglass that glowed blue, and a wall section that opened with food from time to time. She’d spent a lot of time in that box; the authorities stated she’d disappeared for almost two years.
Sometime during that captivity she’d started hallucinating, in a very specific manner. Her mind created an imaginary friend to interact with. The fact that Jolene identified said fantasy person as her favorite Hallyu idol seemed a logical thing, proof that all of it originated in her mind.
Deep in her innermost being Jolene feared that she’d really had a cellmate, or rather, that her captor had ‘visited’ her regularly. Her mind simply conjured up a pleasant experience to cover up continual rape and molestation. Jolene relied on her practicality, her ability to be objective and cut to the chase in any situation. The thought of not being able to trust her own senses, her own memory, immobilized her as vertigo did when she leaned over a balcony of a skyscraper.
This just takes up too much of my time, she sighed, and picked up the overview sent her by her new employer, Sunrise Productions.
Before her retirement, Jolene worked at WETA in Specialty Costumes as a senior designer. For the eight years afterwards she had designed cosplay and masquerade outfits on commission, for people and for dolls (ball-jointed and fashion dolls both). Frieda, a retired tailor, and Rhianna, a widow whose late husband owned a sheep ranch, and who had 50 years experience working with wool and leather, would then make the outfits. They’d done so well that fantasy, anime and SF conventions world wide asked for them to come as guests. The year prior to the cruise, they had published a book on costuming for fantasy and anime. The past six months, while recuperating from the kidnapping trauma, Jolene had finished up the trio’s second book on recreating historical costumes.
The Sunrise Productions head of costume design apparently read both books and had seen some of Jolene’s work, because a month ago he’d come to New Zealand and asked to meet her. She’d arranged a tour of WETA for him, prying Frieda away from her lovenest long enough to join them. Together they’d shown him their portfolio. Director Chu expressed much interest. Frieda insisted the director wanted to take advantage of their momentary notoriety and Mr. Khan’s celebrity status, dismissing his offer out of hand. Jolene, who had a thoughtful conversation with him about the whole rejuvenation process, thought his attention more on contracting two very skilled designers coming out of retirement. She proved correct, for she had gotten an offer from Sunrise to work as a costume consultant about a week later.
Frieda had to admit Director Chu’s sincerity in the end. Full of plans to go with her new soulmate to Mumbai, she declined the offer. Jolene, however, thankfully accepted. She told people the idea of working in a different culture excited her, she needed a break from her routine, she felt suspended waiting for Rhianna to wake up, she loved all Asian culture and this presented a way to immerse herself in it.
The fact that Sunrise Productions held Ko Jung Hwa’s contract hardly influenced her at all. If she worked on costumes for a Sageuk cast that included him, it might cure her of this infantile daydreaming. Other than that, her decision had nothing to do with him.
Of course not.
“Hey, keep it together, Jung Hwa! We gotta go onstage in a week with this!” Tak Gu glared at his leader.
“Yeah, sorry, sorry,” Jung Hwa muttered.
“Guess you expect some drill sergeant to yell out the moves, huh?”
“Very funny, ha ha. Your brain’s not all here either, what with your purple feathers and mermaid obsession.”
“That’s merman! And I’m just thinking about it as a stage concept. So what?”
“Came in your dreams, right?”
Tak Gu sighed.
“That’s your particular problem there, bro. I got my idea from a painting!”
Jung Hwa looked uncomfortable.
“Yeah, ok. Sorry again,” Tak Gu apologized.
“Look, it’s just a bit unnerving, these dreams. Or the way they just stopped. Okay? “
“Sure. I guess. At least I know where my weird crap comes from.”
“You and your creepy pictures. I wish. Listen, let’s take a break, ok? We can look over the video later and figure out the weak parts. That good with the rest of you?”
“I got my moves down, “ Han Ha Joon told him. “I’ll split, sure.”
Jason Park nodded agreement.
“Meet up here again by two then. We’ll just check out the tapes & do a run-through.”
The members of Monstar grabbed their gear & headed out.
“Hey, Tak Gu, come get some spicy noodles with me?” Jung Hwa asked his friend.
“Sure, come on.”
The two young men, who’d been friends since junior high, walked off together.
Neither of them had much to say over lunch. Tak Gu recited some of Mi Sun’s sillier pronouncements for Jung Hwa’s amusement, and they both discussed the fine line between ‘really cool’ and WTF outfits for stage and video.
“Laughing’s all anyone’s going to do if you wear ankle fins, man. Especially purple ones. Just stick with the damn feathers.”
“In the print it looks so badass, bro,” Tak Gu mourned.
“Yeah, and Naruto looks cool in the manga. Dress up like that and you look ridiculous, man.”
Tak Gu shrugged.
“What’s up with you anyway? Worried you had those dreams, that they stopped, or that you told me?”
“I don’t know,” Jung Hwa admitted. “I feel stupid, letting it affect practice.”
“No, man. Lots of people having this problem, according to the talk shows.”
“Yeah, but who else had the dreams just quit? I’m pretty sure I just made it up out of frustration, in the army,” Jung Hwa shook his head. “Man, what an idiot I was – all heroic, going to do my service in the real way, none of this entertainer unit BS for me. Nearly died of boredom most of the time, interspersed with those blinding moments of terror when it looked like war might break out again.”
“I guess. I mean it doesn’t really do any good to think about that,” Tak Gu said.
“You try taking your mind off the situation when you’re sitting in the wasteland looking at mud all day. On alert, you got no time to do anything cause you’re on watch, being briefed, cleaning your weapon or sleeping. Can’t run laps cause you’re confined to barracks unless standing guard, can’t go to the canteen or the exercise area cause you have to be ready to roll. We’d get in trouble for playing Go/Stop or reading manwha. It’s brutal, man.”
“Yeah, I know. I did it too, remember.”
“Sure,” Jung Hwa stared at his coffee. “Look, it’s memories, ok? For me, my time with her seems just as real as my time with my unit. And she’s gone, nothing proves she exists, and I just miss her.”
Tak Gu looked sympathetically at his friend.
“Didn’t you say you had her info? What comes up when you Google her?”
“I just had her name, for sure. She said she lived in the States and then New Zealand. Or maybe born in Australia. I get hits on her name but none of the images look right. I mean some, maybe,” Jung Hwa sighed. “I got a good match from New Zealand two months ago, only come to find out it’s a memorial FB page. That, it hurt me. Like I lost a really close friend.”
“A lover, you mean, from what you told me.”
“Yeah, that too. But she started out a friend. You know, I told you, that whole thing didn’t play out like some happy sexy fantasy thing. At first I wanted to just, I don’t know, beat myself senseless on those walls. If she hadn’t been there I’d have lost it.”
“Or just woken yourself up more often, huh?”
“I guess. If I dreamed it, she represents sanity for me. She does anyway.”
“Just go with the dream as metaphor, then. That works, right?”
Jung Hwa nodded, but then looked sadly at Tak Gu.
“I really want to find her, though. So cliché, but it’s like a part of me just died when she disappeared.”
He put his head in his hands.
“Dead or imaginary. Great choices. I hate both.”
Tak Gu looked at his friend sadly, but said nothing for a while. The two young men sat slumped in their seats, moping.
Suddenly Jung Hwa got up , slapping the table loud enough that the waitress came over to apologize for ignoring them.
“No, no, we just need the bill,” Jung Hwa assured her, and then turned to Tak Gu.
“Bro, let’s go watch that video at your place. I gotta drink something stronger. No way I’m going back to the studio today.”
Quite a bit later the two sat in Tak Gu’s condo, pleasantly buzzed. They’d long since finished studying the choreography CD, and switched to playing videos of their favorite girl groups.
“Ah, look at those National Treasures,” Tak Gu smiled fondly. “Mi Sun uses all of her braincells just memorizing her moves, but its worth it.”
They watched appreciatively as Mi Sun led her girls through the complicated choreography of their latest hit, Funny Guy.
“Hey, bro, what if you did find her?” Tak Gu suddenly asked.
Jung Hwa looked up, surprised.
“I’d be happy, of course. Why?”
“I mean, if you saw someone on the street that looked like your girl, how could you tell if anything really happened?”
“That’s stupid. She’d remember too, right?”
“Of course she’d know you, ‘cause you’re famous. I mean if it’s all real she probably thinks it all a fantasy too.”
“I guess,” Jung Hwa nodded. “So?”
“Just think of all those fan fiction sites. At least one girl must have written about you locked up in a room with her. ”
“Oh man, that’s harsh,” Jung Hwa grimaced. “So what? I’d know if someone tried to con me. I know what she looks like!”
“Yeah, I suppose,” Tak Gu stared glumly at his water glass. “You know I’m heading to the States in two weeks.”
“You just gotta use that painting for your solo debut no matter what, don’t you? Obsessed.”
“That’s true,” Tak Gu agreed. “But I really just want to meet Corinna. You know, my so-called dream girl artist.”
“Ha! You’ve had dreams too!”
“No I haven’t! I’d feel less a fool if I had,” Tak Gu admitted. “Did you know she uses herself and her sister as models? I mean, I know she started painting at least 20 years ago and can’t really look like that anymore but I need to see. I can’t explain.”
“Hey, Tak Gu, what will you do if your painter turns out to be sixty, or deformed? Or even a guy?”
“I will beg her to let me use her merman painting regardless,” Tak Gu said solemnly.
“Yeah, yeah, but what if everybody’s wrong about who Corinna used as models?”
“I’ll go find the models, that’s what,” Tak Gu told his friend. “But if she’s just old I won’t mind any more than you did.”
“Your lost dream girl. Or dream ajumma, at least at first. Dream lover ajumma.”
Tak Gu ducked as Jung Hwa threw a pillow at him.
“Okay, I know, you left her alone. Right up till she got hot,” Tak Gu laughed, ducking somemore.
“Idiot. Think about it. She acted like my auntie, like your grandma does when we all go hang out at her place in the country. Don’t be weird!”
“I believe you! You manfully suppressed your urges until she turned young and gorgeous. I get it.”
“No you don’t,” Jung Hwa finished his beer and peered moodily at his friend. “She looked pretty damn good from day one, fool. For an older lady. I doubt I’d have said no, after a couple weeks locked up in there with her, if she’d seemed interested.”
“Oh sure. That makes sense.”
“Clueless, Tak Gu,” Jung Hwa tried explaining again. “She told me first off not to give in to what ‘they’ wanted. She couldn’t explain who she meant, but it bothered her a lot. ‘I’ve got children and you’ve got a mother’ she said to me that first week. ‘We can stand in for them – you for my son and me for your mother.’ That felt very comforting at the time.”
“I’m sure,” laughed Tak Gu, and poured Jung Hwa a shot. “Come on, pour me one too. Admit it, at first you wanted your mom and then you wanted, well, something else.”
“If I hallucinated all this I guess that’s true,” Jung Hwa sighed. “But nothing happened at all for a long time after she’d gotten younger.”
He poured Tak Gu a shot and downed his own.
“She worried that she’d keep getting younger and younger until she disappeared, just like that Brad Pitt film, when she believed me about her looks. Then other times she’d tell me not to trust what I thought I saw, not to get tricked.”
“What changed, then? Cause you told me…”
“Never mind,” Jung Hwa fidgeted a bit. “I think she finally just gave up hope. Said nothing mattered, we’d never get out.”
“She seduced you, then! That’s rich.”
“Yeah. Whatever. None of your business,” Jung Hwa put his hand over his glass. “I’m done drinking tonight. I should go home before Mi Sun shows up.”
“You should take her off my hands, forget about all this angst.”
Jung Hwa laughed.
“She’s just a pretty little butterfly flitting around.”
“Butterflies can stir the air enough to clear it for a bit, you know,” Tak Gu pointed out. “I’m tired. You drank too much to drive home, so just crash on the couch. I’m heading for bed.”
“Your office, Ms LaRue,” the Sunrise assistant smiled and bowed slightly, gesturing for Jolene to go thru the door. “Please let me know what you need.”
“Thank you very much,” Jolene said, in Korean, which won a smile from the girl.
She’d found her knowledge of the language very useful over the past few days, enabling her to lease a car, rent an apartment and open a bank account without any help. However she really preferred not to dwell on how she became so proficient in the language.
Sitting at her new desk gave her a sense of accomplishment, however. Jolene had thought her working days over long ago, but now she headed a design team, ran a state-of-the-art workshop, and not only had a private office but a secretary!
“I better work on my hangul,” she thought. “I just feel so illiterate, sounding out my words like a child.”
Jolene learned Korean from her ‘imaginary’ cellmate. It worried her immensely, because obviously someone had taught her, and that screamed Stockholm syndrome and repressed memories to her. Nothing frightened her more than the thought she didn’t control her own mind.
Some little bit later, Jolene put away her study materials and gathered up the synopsis of ‘Return to Tomorrow’, the new drama, determined to puzzle through it. The team needed to design some 1970s looks, but she wanted to find out about the sets first. She also had a lunch meeting set up with the drama’s producer.
“Ms Shin, please tell the team to gather after lunch. I will go over the new project with them. I need to see Designer Yang about set design right now.”
Jolene walked down the hall and headed to the set design offices. Designer Yang greeted her as she walked through the door, and indicated a seat. Producer Lee Won Kil sat there, smiling at her.
“Ah, Ms LaRue! Come in, so happy to see you,” he said. “You must see Designer Yang’s preliminary drawings.”
“Yes, come see my ideas please. I welcome your comments. And Producer Lee’s, naturally,” Yang had a perpetual worried look about him.
“I like the colors, sir. Very vibrant.”
“Yes, yes. So much a part of that age, in pop culture. To contrast with the political sets of course. Blacks and greys there, you see.”
He handed her more sketches, looking at both her and Producer Lee in turn.
“I like that sketch of the Minister’s office. Very stark,” Producer Lee nodded his approval. Then he beamed at both his subordinates.
“I have a treat to propose. I wanted to have a lunch meeting, I mentioned, and we shall have some guests!”
Mr. Lee looked like an Asian Santa Clause, jolly and bubbling, very excited over his surprise.
Designer Yang frowned, but said nothing.
“How lovely that sounds,” Jolene murmured. “Who are your guests?”
“I’ve persuaded our leading lady to come, for one. She wants so much to meet you, of course. Then two young gentleman that may be in the drama – neither has committed yet but the studio wants to persuade them.”
Jolene sighed. Actresses always wanted to take over their own costume design. Drawing the battlelines a bit early in this case, she thought.
“Wonderful, Producer Lee! I will do my best to sell the drama to the young men,” she told him. “Miss Kim Na Na definitely has the lead role, correct? I expect one of our lunch guests must be Jeon Jin Ho.”
“So true! You keep up with the gossip already, I see. Miss Kim must do her best to bring him in to the fold, so to speak,” he clapped his hands and stood. “Come, I have reservations at Arirang for us.”
A bit later, Jolene, Designer Yang and Producer Lee followed the waitress to their private table in the back of the restaurant. As she entered she heard the director greet their young guests and went to stand by him to offer her own greetings.
“You three already know Designer Yang, of course,” Producer Lee told the little group. “Let me introduce our lovely costume director, Ms LaRue, imported from New Zealand.”
“So pleased,” Jolene did the little half bow and smiled, but nearly froze when she saw the third actor. Or idol. Hallyu star Ko Jung Hwa sat there, watching her solemnly, as if questioning her right to exist.
She forced herself to look away, in a natural manner.
Had to happen at some time, she told herself. Just deal.
“I vision such lovely outfits,” gushed Kim Na Na, in English. “So wonderful, the flowy pantsuits of then.”
Jolene sat opposite the girl, smiling at her sweetly. She had no illusions about the motivations behind these pronouncements.
“Flowing and flowery both,” she agreed, in Korean. “We must have at least one such outfit in the drama somewhere.”
The lunch proceeded very pleasantly, as Jolene smoothly dealt with this young girl as she had with all the actresses over the years. If the child wanted one of those 70s pantsuits, so be it. Jolene actually liked finding out what the players she dressed thought their best styles and colors consisted of. It didn’t always work out for them but if making the effort to include their preferences, or seeming to do so, helped smooth the production, Jolene felt it worthwhile.
As they stood to leave, making their farewells, Ko Jung Hwa came over to Jolene. She didn’t even know he’d done so until he spoke to her, which made her jump.
“Excuse me, sorry, but have we met somewhere before, ma’am?” he asked her in a very quiet tone.
“I doubt that,” she said quickly, not really looking at him. “Perhaps you’ve seen me about at the studio?”
Jung Hwa didn’t answer, just stared at her for a bit. She felt forced to meet his eyes and tried to act normally.
“You’ve just returned from your military service, have you not, Mr. Kim?” she asked. “This would make a nice comeback for you.”
“Perhaps. I am very glad I came today, whether I decide to sign on this project or not,” he told her. “So happy to have met you.”
He bowed slightly towards her and walked out, following the other two young stars.
“Oh, wonderful! Jung Hwa looked interested at last! Thank you so much, Ms LaRue,” gushed Producer Lee.
“Thank me? I did nothing! I barely talked to him the entire luncheon.”
“That boy stared at you the whole time. No wonder, I’m sure, such a lovely lady as you are,” Designer Yang told her.
“He just thought I looked familiar, sir.”
“Maybe, maybe. Love to get all the Monstar fans behind this drama, though,” Producer Lee said wistfully. “And Na Na wants him in the show, of course.”
“I think she must be the reason he’s showing any interest,” Jolene insisted. “I barely said two words to him.”
“Quite a tasty bit from down under, huh, Jung Hwa?” Jeon Jin Ho laughed and clapped his friend across the shoulders. “Come on, have a drink. Na Na’s gone home to mull over her success today.”
“Sure. Why not.”
“You seem down. Why? Don’t want to play second fiddle to me again? They’ll get a girl for you this time.”
“Idiot. I don’t care. All the little fangirls squeal about getting us back in a drama together. Should help the ratings,” Jung Hwa shrugged, indifferent. “I care more about the concert tour afterwards. We need to do a CV in a month for promotions.”
“Hey, I hear Tak Gu’s gone off to America for some reason. He looking for a dream lover girl?”
“Pfft. Idiot. He wants to dress like some merman from this painting, and needs to find the artist for permission. No dreams, just obsessing like he always does,” Jung Hwa shook his head. “He said he liked what everyone thinks are her self-portraits, then that he didn’t care if they aren’t her at all. Go figure.”
“You worried he won’t make it back in time for the performance?”
“Nah. No problem. Just, I’m tired of so many people with strange fixations. You don’t have one, do you?”
“Not in my opinion. Unless you think my liking Na Na’s weird,” Jin Ho tried looking menacing. “I’ll have to pound you if you do.”
“Glad to hear that. I mean, Na Na’s a great preoccupation. Normal,” Jung Hwa opened his car door and climbed in behind the wheel. “Come on, let’s go drink your liquor.”
“No problems! Want to see what this little dream machine of yours can do,” Jin Ho said enthusiastically.
For several minutes, neither young man spoke. Jung Hwa concentrated on his driving, and Jin Ho appreciated the smooth power of the Porsche.
“Hey, Tak Gu told me you had a dream girl,” Jin Ho broke the silence.
“Well, damn him!! So much for private conversations,” Jung Hwa accelerated, weaving between a truck and car ahead of him.
“Watch it! Don’t kill us! You shouldn’t tell Tak Gu things if you don’t want anyone to hear. He’ll tell me. BJ probably knows too,” Jin Ho had a thought, and laughed. “Maybe even Mi Sun.”
“He told that bimbo, I’ll murder him.”
“So give over. What’s the deal? You had dreams in the Army, right? Find her yet?”
“I might just have, at that,” Jung Hwa admitted. “None of your concern. Or BJs.”
“Introduce us, boy. We all want to meet one.”
“A dream girl, you idiot! All I hear about on the talk shows. I quizzed Na Na about having one – dream boy naturally. She said she had one – me!” Jin Ho preened. “Whoa, there! That’s the curb, man!”
“You think it’s such a joke, huh? Not knowing if you’re going nuts, then not sure if the person you remember exists, or did and died – you think that’s fun? And then thinking you made her up but meet somebody just like her who doesn’t blink an eye or remember you? Your idea of a good time?”
“What!? You met her? When? Who?”
“Shut up. Never mind.”
“No way. Your mood really changed over lunch. Even Na Na said something,” Jin Ho concentrated. “That Aussie chick! You asked her if you’d met! Na Na said.”
“Just drop it. I needed to see, that’s all.”
“So Tak Gu told me you knew her name, checked her on Facebook but she’d died. So this costumer girl, her name the same as your dream girl? Or does she look like her? What?”
“Sheesh! You just won’t shut up, will you?” Jung Hwa peeled across three lanes to turn up the access road to Jin Ho’s place. “Both, ok? I must have read an article somewhere about her. I just made it all up. Leave it.”
“Ok, calm down, come up and chill,” Jin Ho frowned at his friend. “Wish Tak Gu hadn’t gone off on his quest already.”
“Maybe I should just go home,” Jung Hwa slumped at the wheel.
“Oh no, not like that you don’t. I refuse to tell your momma how I let you go off and kill yourself in traffic. I’m not taking that responsibility,” Jin Ho opened the driver’s door and manhandled Jung Hwa out. “Up we go. Few bottles of soju and you’ll be fine. Or unconscious on my couch. Good either way.”
Twenty minutes later, the two sat on Jin Ho’s couch, sorting through video games, beers in hand.
“I told Tak Gu not to spread this all over. I feel fool enough that he knows.”
“That idiot Tak Gu doesn’t think telling me or BJ counts. Use your brain.”
“Did you tell Na Na?” Jung Hwa looked accusingly at Jin Ho.
“Um, no, not really.”
“What does that mean?”
“I might have said something about your dream lover experience. When she told me about her brother. Nothing specific,” Jin Ho looked speculatively at his guest, seeing how well that went over.
“Define that a bit more, dunce.”
“No need to get pissed. Her sister’s married to Tiger Lee’s brother. So he’s all hung up about some dream girl – Tiger, not the brother-in-law . Na Na mentioned it to me so I told her about Tak Gu’s crazy artist lady, and just kind of threw in that you had some dreams. Nothing much.”
Jung Hwa half-heartedly punched Jin Ho on the shoulder, then flung himself back on the couch cushions.
“So great. I can expect to hear from Strong Heart soon, I suppose.”
“Good. Never could see the point of baring one’s soul on live TV anyway,” Jung Hwa sat up and grabbed his beer. “Not the point. Na Na will make sure that the entire entertainment industry puts my name on the list of stars with fantasy girlfriends. I’m so screwed.”
“I don’t know why you think that,” Jin Ho frowned.
“Really? How many people know about poor Tiger now after he had the bad judgement to confess to his brother? I feel for him.”
“Don’t blame Na Na for that stupid article!”
“I don’t necessarily. I’d rather blame Jennie Moon, of course. Cause I’m sure Tiger told his leader, for the same stupid reason I whined to Tak Gu,” Jung Hwa grabbed one of the games and stood up to put it in the Xbox. “Don’t care. I just dread getting dragged into the melee.”
He came back to pick up the controls, and stopped in front of Jin Ho.
“One word of me meeting my girl comes out, I will know exactly who to blame. No way you’ve had time to let anything slip to Na Na yet.”
“She’s not stupid, you know. She heard what you asked Designer LaRue, I told you.”
“So what? Doesn’t mean anything. Just you keep your mouth shut.”
The two sat down and concentrated on killing a band of Orcs, and several more bottles of beer, for the next hour or so. Finally Jin Ho pushed his controller away.
“Boring. I’m too drunk. I can’t hit the buttons fast enough.”
“Ha! It’s ok, good place to leave off. Guess I should crash on your couch,” Jung Hwa said, taking stock of the dead bottles in front of him.
“Sure. Hey, come to think of it, you never really answered me about this girl of yours. I mean, you want me to keep my mouth shut and all, I should get something out of it.”
“What a gossip! Worse than my auntie.”
“Just give. Tak Gu told me your story’s different. How?”
“Look. I had dreams during my enlistment, ok? Something like all these idiots spilling their guts on TV talk about. But then they just stopped. When I got discharged I looked up the girl’s name, the one I had the dreams about. The only person I could find that seemed to fit all her particulars had died in some boating accident around the time I joined the Army. So maybe I got visited by a ghost in my dreams? I don’t know.”
“Then who’s this foreign female you met today, then?”
“Like I said, same name. Maybe I read about her, when she worked at WETA. I don’t know. Her face looks the same. Obviously she doesn’t know me.”
“She does. She knew you just got discharged.”
Jung Hwa grabbed up all the bottles to carry them to the recycle bin, shaking his head at Jin Ho’s denseness all the while.
“I realize she knows who I am, you braindead punk. I mean no way she remembers me, as in my dreams. She couldn’t. She’d have said something.”
Jin Ho looked at his friend, who stood leaning on the counter with his head on his arms.
“Hey, pitiful, ever occur to you that she thinks she’s crazy? There’s no way a woman like that’s gonna admit she had any kind of fantasies about your sorry ass, ever. Think about that!. I’m off to bed now,” Jin Ho grabbed some blankets and a pillow out of the hall closet while offering this insight. “Really hope Tak Gu comes back soon. Or you get the balls to go talk to this designer lady.”
Jung Hwa looked up at that.
“Should I? I wonder,” he said to Jin Ho’s retreating back. “Why not? Who cares?”
“You do, punk,” Jin Ho yelled out from his bedroom.
“Madam, I’ve got a list here of the actors,” Jolene’s assistant knocked on the door hesitantly.
“Thank you, Ms Chu. Please arrange to get their measurements.”
“All done – we received everyone’s files.”
Jolene nodded abstractly, going over the preliminary sketches her team had worked on over the past week. Producer Lee wanted the two male leads in something immediately for promo picks and she needed to make a decision tonight.
“Let’s see, Designer Yang said they meant to use the disco set, so maybe vaguely Saturday Night Fever?” She took one drawing out, imagining Jung Hwa in it, and immediately blushed.
“Hell. How stupid can I be?” Jolene slammed the picture onto the desk and deliberately looked at it. “Fine. Black suit, flared pants, but not that black shirt.”
Again she pictured the young second lead, with different colored shirts. An image of him with no shirt floated through her brain and she discarded that as unhelpful. Perhaps he might actually pull off the leisure suit look, though. Open shirt, gold chains – iconic yet on Jung Hwa probably very attractive.
“Damn. I need a drink,” she muttered. “So ridiculous.”
She walked over to the window and looked out over Seoul. Or at least the tiny portion visible from the 18th floor of the Sunrise building, she amended to herself.
“Largest city in the world – why should I run into that boy so easily!” she complained out loud.
“Ma’am?” Ms Chu asked, and Jolene jumped.
“For heaven’s sake, you startled me. Don’t just creep up like that. Did you need something?”
“The receptionist called – one of the actors wanted to see you, Ma’am. Shall I tell him to come back? Or make an appointment? I can get you a cup of tea.”
Jolene stared at the flustered girl, exasperated but not wanting to take it out on poor little Ms Chu.
“Which one? Does he have that Kim Na Na in tow?” Jolene sighed. “Let them in. Part of the job to deal with the talent.”
“Certainly, Ma’am. I don’t believe the young man brought anyone with him.”
“Fine. Let him in. I’m certain he bears messages from the young lady.”
She sat down behind her desk and assumed what she hoped conveyed a superior, confidant pose. Useless with actors, naturally, but it helped her at least emphasize the need for professional behavior.
“Mr. Ko, Ma’am,” Ms Chu announced, and Jolene frowned. Surely it should be Mr. Jeon?
“Ah, Ms LaRue, please don’t let me bother you,” her visitor said politely. “I wondered if I might talk to you for a moment? I hate to intrude but I really need to sort this out.”
Jolene sat paralyzed, watching Ko Jung Hwa walk into her office. Mechanically she motioned to a chair by the desk, and he smiled and took it.
“I need to apologize profusely right from the beginning for annoying you over such a trivial thing,” he stated, looking at the papers on her desk.
Finding her voice, Jolene croaked, “Do not worry. I expect Ms Kim sent you.”
Jung Hwa, surprised, said, “No! Not at all. Although Jin Ho suggested I should bring it up.”
“Na Na better not meddle,” he added a little heatedly.
“I see. Did you not wish to see the preliminary costume sketches?”
“What? Oh, the clothes. I mean, that would be fine, I guess.”
“Here’s one for the disco scene, for yourself,” Jolene handed him the leisure suit drawing.
“Ha! Saturday Night Fever. John Travolta! Funny,” he smiled. “My mother really loves that old film.”
Old film, Jolene thought. Naturally. She felt ancient.
“I made changes, to fit the new locale and character. Very few men pull off this look successfully, but you can.”
The young man laughed again.
“I guess that’s a compliment,” he told her. “At least so far no plaid like Ahn Jae Wook got stuck with in his drama.”
“No, not for you. I do have one for Mr. Jeon. And you might tell Ms Kim that I’ve done her up a ‘flowy flowery’ pantsuit for the promos.”
“Oh good. Jin Ho in plaid,” Jung Hwa grinned. “He won’t like it.”
“It’s the 70s. Somebody has to wear one,” Jolene looked up from the sketches. “What did you need from me today, if not the costumes?”
Might as well get to the point. Anything to shorten this extremely uncomfortable visit.
“Ah. I wondered, if your mother might have worked with you at WETA at some time?”
“My mother?” Jolene asked, confused.
“I, we, uh, looked up your name on Facebook but it’s listed as a memorial page,” Jung Hwa explained to her. “I thought, perhaps a relative? Or I just did it wrong? Most of us use Cyworld here.”
Jolene stared at him. Memorial page?
“Just a minute, Mr. Ko. I want to check something. And no, my mother nor any of my female relations ever worked in this business or for WETA. I am older than you think,” Jolene told him, as she quickly punched in her old Facebook ID. “And my mother lives in New South Wales, Australia.”
Damn it, they told me it got cancelled, she muttered to herself.
Sure enough, up came the page, with black borders and posts from her friends mourning her loss during the hijacking. Apparently the account had locked since she couldn’t post anything.
“I see. Just goes to show that the Internet can mislead people. Nothing like old-fashioned research for accurate information,” she told him. “Several of my friends had the misfortune to take a cruise on the Dorothy several years ago. It was hijacked and passengers held for ransom.”
Jolene took a deep breath.
“I had the misfortune to be one. Most of my acquaintance assumed I died. I didn’t.”
Interest lit the young man’s face.
“Yes. The New Zealand police listed me as presumed dead for over a year. Hence the Facebook memorial. How annoying! I want it deleted. How does one do that?” She focused on the page, not wanting to pay attention to the young man in front of her.
“I didn’t hear about this hijacking,” he told her. “But I heard of people captured and disappearing. And of people seeing them in dreams.”
Jolene immediately stiffened.
“I’m sure. You went into the Army about then, didn’t you? Must have since you’ve finished now and I saw that article when you received your discharge. So naturally you didn’t know,” Jolene tried for her most dismissive tone. “As for all these silly dream stories, wishful thinking. Any professional therapists giving credence to them should be disbarred or whatever the correct term for losing their credentials. Disgraceful.”
“So you think people make up all these dream lover stories?” Jung Hwa frowned. “I, uh, have a friend who had dreams. Then they stopped, and later he found out the person had died. He might have fantasized the whole thing but he really suffered over it. Not something he wanted to do, really.”
“What?” Jolene turned startled eyes on him. What did he mean?
He look calmly back at her, expectantly, and she suddenly remembered the Seoul Times lead story this morning, about Tiger Lee.
“Oh, yes. I did read that news story. You know the young man of course. I’m sorry,” Jolene said to him, taking a deep breath.
“I think that people have always experienced these things. I had some, well, interesting ways of passing the time I spent in captivity. I sympathize with your friend. No, I reserve my anger for the so-called doctors encouraging people to think these fantasies real. That’s all,” she told him, forcing herself to look straight at him.
Jung Hwa stared at her for a long moment, biting on his lip and tilting his head in a very familiar gesture as he puzzled out her statements.
Finally he nodded and smiled at her.
“I see. You too had some dreams, and think them nonsense, correct? So how might you believe in them?”
“Never! In fact if someone came to me to prove them, knew what had happened or what I hallucinated while locked up like that, I’d call the police since that person must be in collusion with the kidnappers,” Jolene said emphatically.
“Really,” Jung Hwa murmured.
Smiling brightly, he stood.
“I am so completely embarrassed over bothering you like this for such a trivial matter. I obviously trespassed on your time and brought up painful memories. Please forgive me.”
“Not at all. I had no idea that website existed. Thank you very much for bringing it to my attention. I am sorry to hear about your friend as well.”
Jolene watched as the young singer walked out the door, and sighed. She’d not been completely honest with him. If he started telling her what they’d done in her dreams she knew she’d not call the authorities.
No, she’d have herself committed.
Jung Hwa danced down the staircase. He hadn’t felt so good in months.
“Ha,” he said out loud. “I so owe Jin Ho!”
“Sir?” A young copyist, arms full of papers, narrowly avoided him as he swung out of the parking level door.
“Sorry, please,” he smiled, and blew the shocked young lady a kiss. “Wonderful day, don’t you think?”
Reaching his car, he took a breath and thought about strategies.
“She remembers, that’s so sure,” he laughed.
An image of the terror darting in her eyes when she made that preposterous statement about calling the police came to him and he sobered up.
What did she think?
Exactly what she always told me, he told himself grimly. That everything must be an illusion.
She probably had dropped the whole idea of some all-powerful ‘them’ she’d had in that cell. Then, she never questioned that he existed with her, captive with her. She talked then of ‘others’ capable of transporting people, of reading her own mind, of manipulating reality.
Of course she also most likely did think him a fantasy. He thought she might be one. Jung Hwa grimaced, and sat looking out his windshield, not wanting to drive out just yet.
If she thought her mind just transformed her captor into me, he thought, she’d not want to mention it. Not want to force reality to appear, not with the creep there with her.
“Damn,” Jung Hwa hit the steering wheel. He remembered how Jolene refused to admit feeling afraid or uncertain. She’d always had explanations, had reassured him, encouraged him not to despair, urged him to occupy himself with counting the sleep periods when their captors turned off the lights, talked endlessly to him on every subject she knew anything about and got him to do the same, even insisting on learning to speak Korean from him to give both of them a focus.
And he totally recalled his own terror when she’d finally broken down, crawled to him that ‘night’ to cling weeping to him, crying that it didn’t matter what she thought real anymore, as long as he held her and stayed with her.
“So. A plan,” he told his steering wheel. “I probably should just seduce her.”
Jung Hwa smiled broadly at the thought, back to his original jubilant mood.
He grabbed his phone and called a nearby Japanese restaurant, making reservations for two that night, and then dialed his manager.
“Get me Ms LaRue’s number, could you? I need it for costume questions,” he asked. “And sure she’s easy on the eye. So? Proves I’ve got taste. The number?”
After that success, Jung Hwa used it to dial Jolene.
“Ah, Ms LaRue. So sorry for bothering you yet again, but I wondered if you had plans for dinner?” he smiled, listening to her reaction. “Perhaps you might join me for a meal.”
“No, no, no trouble. In truth my manager had to cancel his dinner engagement and asked if I could use the reservations. I thought of you, working so hard and new to town. Oh, excellent. I shall fetch you – not a problem – at 7? Fine.”
Jung Hwa hung up, spun around and punched the air. Great.
A knocking on his window startled him and he looked up to see BJ of all people waving at him. Jin Ho hovered in the background, looking furtive.
“So. Tak Gu or this moron clue you in? Cause I know one of them spilled their guts about my business,” he said, attempting to sound pissed. “What you want?”
“Hi. Nice to see you too, after such a long time,” BJ drawled.
“Jung Hwa, come on – be cool,” whined Jin Ho. “Just, you know, trying to help here. Let’s go get a meal, huh?”
“Get in, whatever. Be glad I’m in a good mood.”
In they got, and Jin Ho used his cell to inform a nearby Thai eatery of their good fortune, as he put it, to host lunch for the three young men.
“Someday, somewhere, some restaurant owner’s gonna blow you off,” BJ remarked from the back seat.
“Oh, they have, don’t worry,” Jin Ho grinned. “Works like a charm most of the time, though.”
Jung Hwa just drove, ignoring the others, and continued to do so while they made their way into the Thai place, where an obsequious manager led them to a private little dining room.
“Listen, I brought BJ up to date cause I thought you might like to hear what happened to him,” Jin Ho said.
Jung Hwa looked at his two friends quizzically.
“Last I heard, BJ, your mom’s on the rampage about your little redheaded friend there,” he remarked, and stabbed a likely piece of fish.
“Uh, well, won’t say that’s wrong,” muttered the young man. “Says she’s worried about her grandchildren. So unfair too. She’s got this Viking dude hanging about, you know. At her age!”
“Beside the point here,” Jun Ho broke in. “Tell him where your girl came from!”
“She a dream girl? She sure looks like one,” grinned Jung Hwa.
“I guess. I mean, during my Army time I had a major weird dream experience,” BJ looked at them. “Seriously you cannot open your mouths about this. Na Na does NOT get to hear it. Nor Tak Gu. Nobody.”
Both of his buddies nodded seriously.
“Maybe you should just tell me – you got nothing to hold over that punk’s head,” Jung Hwa suggested, laughing.
“I’m paying here, ingrate. Trying to help. Besides, too late.”
“Okay, sure. I trust you both,” BJ said. “Listen, I’m really not sure what happened. I remember doing my Army time, you know, everybody says I did. But I also remember waking up somewhere in the US, some tiny town, and being really old. Like, they put me in a home and everything. Crazy. And I met this ajumma. We got close, you know? She looked pretty good, all in all, and I sure didn’t. But up comes the time for me to get discharged, wham back I am at camp.”
Jung Hwa narrowed his eyes as BJ talked.
“You really thought you’d gone somewhere, right?” he asked. “Like, no waking up at camp or anything?”
“Nope,” agreed BJ. “I did manage to call my hyung, but I never totally explained everything to him.”
“You actually talked to Bon Hwa? He remembers?” Jung Hwa looked startled.
“Yep – hyung’s still totally confused about all this. I mean, I DID kinda, sorta tell him, but it’s pretty hard to believe.”
“So your fiancée? Tell him,” Jin Ho gestured towards Jung Hwa.
“Yeah, ok, MJ. Sure,” BJ took a breath and shook his head. “Like I said, I wake up at camp, think I’m nuts, and remember everything that’s happened to me in the Army, all at once. The way you do a dream, you know? But I still remember all the crazy stuff too, and that STILL feels more real to me. I had to robot-walk through that day, leaving camp, giving my little speech and greeting the fans, all that. Bon Hwa came to fetch me, but I had stuff to do at NYP.”
He nodded at the Monstar leader. “You know, you did it.”
“More than you know,” murmured Jung Hwa.
“Anyway, I get back to my digs late, walk in the door and there’s this vision. I mean, maybe I’m prejudiced but MJ’s already done several CVs and magazine spreads. You’ve all seen her.”
“Yeah we have,” Jin Ho laughed. “You’re the envy of us all.”
“What? You saw her on TV or what?” asked Jung Hwa.
“No! I saw her on my COUCH!“
BJ’s two friends stared at him, suitably impressed.
“I mean, I didn’t know what to do – I thought she must be some crazy fan,” BJ glared at a smirking Jin Ho. “Laugh all you want, it’s unsettling. But then, well, she told me her name. I knew her, from that crazy dream I’d had.”
“Your ajumma lover, in other words, right?” Jin Ho smiled, then turned to Jung Hwa. “See why I thought you should hear this?”
“So the lady you’d gotten involved with in your crazy dream world, while at Army camp, that’s MJ?”
“So where exactly did you last see her?”
“Clever boy, there, Jung Hwa. That’s so nuts. We’d gone to Hawaii together, supposedly, and I’d gone to sleep next to her in a hotel there. AND shut up, Jin Ho.”
“How’d she get to Seoul? Did she still look, I don’t know, her real age the last time you saw her?”
“Big problem there. She just appeared. No passport, no nothing. And she’d looked, I don’t know, fiftyish, in Hawaii.”
Jin Ho, still smirking, held up a hand.
“So a little different than our Monstar boy’s situation, but similar. At least you don’t have to run around getting a fake passport for your girl, Jung Hwa.”
“Something like this happened to you?” asked BJ.
Jung Hwa nodded.
“I went away like that, my entire time in the Army. Woke up in my cot, the day I got discharged.”
BJ looked sympathetic.
“But I got to spend a couple years in some damn cell instead of turning old. Not alone, either. I had this poor old grandma with me, scared to death. But she got younger. Not overnight – gradually. Some crazy dream, you know?”
“I know,” BJ told him. “So your fellow captive, what about her? She here now?”
Jung Hwa nodded.
“Yeah – turns out she’s the costumer for my new drama.”
BJ looked puzzled.
“That’s good, right? I mean, well, does amnesia figure here or something?”
“BJ, get real, man! NOT a drama – you an ajumma now?” Jin Ho guffawed.
“Well what then?”
“She’s so certain she imagined the whole thing that she said if anyone admitted to being the guy with her she’d have him arrested as the kidnapper,” Jung Hwa shook his head. “Not like she told me who she had fantasies about of course. But I got the message.”
“Man! Not cool.”
“I know what she’s feeling. I thought I dreamed the whole thing myself, but then all these crazy things started happening all around. You know, how does she explain getting younger? Damn. ”
“Glad you took my advice there, aren’t you?” Jin Ho stated. “Talking to her, I mean.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure,” He clapped Jin Ho on the shoulder. “Really, thanks. At least I’ve a game plan.”
Jolene stared at the phone in her hand, paralyzed.
What in the world? Why did I say yes? Such a FOOL. He’s so got an agenda here.
The thoughts whirled through her mind, making her dizzy. She just wanted to smash something, or run into the bathroom to cry like she used to do in school.
“Ma’am, the producer called a meeting for this afternoon,” Jolene heard her secretary say, and focused on turning her head to look at the woman.
“Ma’am, how do you feel? Should I get you a glass of water? Ma’am?”
Jolene managed to take a deep gulp of air and turn her head.
“I’m fine – just thinking on a design problem. Thank you so much. I guess I would like something to drink. How much time until the meeting?”
Somehow Jolene made it through the rest of the afternoon. She called a pre-meeting of her team, and then after the producer left had a rehash with them of his suggestions and concerns, to make sure that she had no time alone with the whirlpool in her mind.
Time, however, progressed. She finally sent the team scurrying off to their work, and tried to concentrate on her drawings, but her looming dinner-date gnawed at her until she threw a sheaf of papers on the floor and hissed in very immature fashion.
Good grief – just call and cancel! Or better just go and be professional! Not the first time an actor tried to romance me for a better wardrobe. I’ll just threaten him with that plaid suit.
She felt better after this little outburst, and tidied up to work some more, even finishing one troubling design before calling it a day.
Her cell rang as she walked to the elevator.
“Ms LaRue? Ko Jung Hwa here – just wanted to let you know that there’s a van waiting in the garage for you, to take you to the restaurant. Don’t worry about going back to your place first, if that’s okay.”
“Ah, Mr. Ko, yes, that’s fine. I’m bringing some of the designs Producer Lee approved with me tonight,” Jolene said to him, proud to hear the steadiness of her voice. Make sure he understands it’s all business.
“If it makes you more comfortable, by all means,” he answered. “I shall see you at the restaurant in a bit, then.”
Jolene stamped her foot.
When she reached the basement, sure enough, a black van waited, complete with driver, bowing at her and opening the door.
“Now this I can understand,” she muttered to herself. “He’s just angling, like all actors do.”
Buoyed with this conviction, Jolene watched the Seoul skyline through tinted windows until the van reached the restaurant. The driver ran around to slide open the door before she could do it herself and she smiled, thinking she could live with this treatment.
The maitre d’hotel met her as she entered.
“Please, to escort you, madam – your host he waits in private booth,” he bowed and gestured, all smiles, obviously proud of his English.
“Thank you so much,” Jolene nodded at him, feeling sure the man thought this an assignation. An impulse to just blurt out an explanation rose in her but she quashed it.
They reached a door towards the back of the restaurant, which her escort opened.
“Sir, your guest has arrived,” the maitre d’hotel bowed again and waved her inside. “Please let me know if anything is wanting.”
Jolene took a deep breath, smiled, and went into the little private dining room.
“Ah, welcome!” Jung Hwa walked towards her, motioning to the table. “It’s Japanese style, you see, sitting on the floor.”
“Yes, I rather expected that. Japanese restaurant and all. Thank you so much for inviting me,” Jolene flashed a sweet if insincere smile as she sat. “The sashimi looks delicious.”
Jung Hwa sat down opposite her.
“I try to pay attention to all the staff when I’m involved in a project, you know,” he told her. ” I enjoy that with some more than others.”
“Well I hope this will prove more rather than less fun for you,” Jolene replied. “I did bring some of the latest designs, if you want to look at them. I do encourage input from the actors for my costumes, even though I retain the final say.”
“Ah, you know, I don’t believe I have the slightest interest in business tonight. I’ll just leave myself in your hands and let you dress me however you want.”
Jolene, flustered, busied herself with picking out choice fish bits.
“Tell me, Ms LaRue, how you come to be so good at dressing men?” Jung Hwa said, all wide-eyed innocence.
Jolene about choked, and glared at him.
“I’m interested in characters, Mr. Ko. I want to create an outfit, a design, that fits each character, brings out their inner selves,” Jolene said, thankful for a way to deal with this come-on. ” Looking at what a person chooses to wear does reveal something about them, even in ordinary life. When doing theatrical costume that needs to be exaggerated to help the audience properly understand that figure.”
“So tell me, what does my outfit say about me tonight?”
Jolene looked at him critically. Standard Hallyu suit attire – red pants with a black and red patterned jacket, over a black T-shirt. She felt fortunate, as the current fad for seduction demanded dress shirts worn half-buttoned and jacketless. She nodded.
“Flash and comfort, I’d say,” she answered him. “Dressing to impress.”
Jung Hwa grinned.
“I so hope to. Now, let me try with you,” he said. “Very professional, that pencil skirt and sweater set. A bit retro, but tres chic and feminine. Your armor?”
“My uniform, rather,” Jolene stated. “You picked up on the style – very impressive. I like to set the mood for my designs and if I dress somewhat in the period it helps me work.”
Inwardly, she flinched. She did often think of her professional wardrobe as armor, warding off unwanted flirtations and other pitfalls that yawned before the feet of women working in the entertainment business. Men so often found standard high heels and a skirt suit intimidating, especially when she wore her hair up and her glasses on.
“I’ve always thought that kind of secretary look really hot,” Jung Hwa remarked, as he picked up the little bottle of saki. “Let me pour you a glass.”
Much, much later that evening, Jolene found herself deposited at the elevator in her apartment’s garage, Jung Hwa’s driver dutifully pressing the up button while he said his farewells from the van’s open door.
“I’d be happy to escort you up, you know.”
“Not spiffed. Not at all. Fine as can be. You stay there, now. Famous muso, you – can’t cause a scandal,” Jolene waved him off. “Now what you laughing at?”
Jung Hwa hung his head, grinning.
“Not a thing. Australia, I’ve spent a bit of time there. Glad of it tonight.”
“Yep, fine big country that. Not like this big smoke but great scenery. Oops, the lift’s here. Thanks very much for a lovely evening.”
Jolene weaved onto the elevator, mumbling her key code under her breath, and shook her head at the driver to stay.
“I’m doing great,” she managed a nod and a smile as the door closed.
“Oh my goodness, I am so stupid,” Jolene berated herself, all the way up to her floor, and down the hall where she managed to enter the right code after three tries. “Why, why, why? Just, water. Must drink water or my head will explode. Bloody migraines.”
Waking up the next morning, NOT a workday thankfully, Jolene really hadn’t moved on from her personal internal tirade.
“I guess your stupid self just wants to recreate that FANTASY time,” she raged outloud, using her favorite stress relief. “Cause that’s an ideal situation of course, being kidnapped and captive. Oh, crikey, my bloody head!”
Hot shower and two cups of coffee later, she stretched out on her couch to consider what on earth might be motivating Jung Hwa.
“Really, trying to impress me for a better wardrobe? I suppose, ” she mused. “Maybe he wants to show off his skills, or has a bet going. Or maybe I just watch way too many dramas.”
Her phone rang, and she winced as the throb in her head tried to match it.
“여보샤야, Jolene LaRue here,” with migraine, she added, grimacing. Was a hangover headache really technically a migraine?
“How are you this lovely morning?”
Jong Hwa’s voice rang through her head, sounded nothing like a young man who’d drunk a lot himself the night before. This irritated her unduly.
“Just fine, thank you. No problems. Nice of you to check, of course.”
“Ah, I see. Ice packs and lots of water always makes my head stop hurting.”
“I’m sure. I appreciate the advice. Now you’ve done the proper, checking I made it home – anything else? I’m busy here.”
“Oh, just wanted to remind you of the picnic tomorrow. You seemed wild to come, last night.”
“Ah. The picnic. Yes,” Jolene thought a bit.
They HAD talked about some get-together round the barbie, as Jung Hwa tried out his Australian slang. She smiled, then bit her lip.
“You have quite a group coming, I believe? The drama cast?”
“Most of them. More of that socializing I talked about. I thought I’d pick you up a bit early so I could take you on the scenic drive – the picnic’s at my country house which is near Cheongpyeongho Lake.”
Jolene thought about this. She did vaguely remember this conversation. A cookout at Jung Hwa’s villa, all the cast and production VIPs invited, plenty of room for everyone to stay overnight – the usual Korean method of mixing business with an outing, in other words. When did he organize this? Why hadn’t she heard about this yesterday at work?
“Ah, Ms LaRue?”
“What? Oh, I’m so sorry, yes. That really sounds very nice – I do remember you talking about that riverside drive, it being designated a National Scenic Route,” Jolene said. “Since I’m expected to attend anyway, I’d love to have you give me a tour on the way. I’m just wondering why I hadn’t heard about this at the office?”
“Don’t have any idea,” lied Jung Hwa. “Maybe the producer thought I only wanted the actors out there, or something. But that’s not important. I will pick you up around 8 tomorrow.”
Jolene nodded, and regretted it as the throbbing in her head exploded. She needed Ibuprofen, caffeine, ice packs and immobility.
“That’s very sweet,” she mumbled. “I will see you tomorrow.”
“Can’t wait,” answered Jung Hwa cheerily. “Ice that head, and feel better!”
It took half the day to nurse her head back to a condition where she could think about something other than how to breath the least painfully. As she shuffled to the refridgerator with a grumbling stomach, she realized what bothered her the most about the previous night and Jung Hwa’s invitation this morning.
She’d felt happy about it.
Jung Hwa hung up the phone after this very satisfactory conversation and did a little silly dance.
“Called me sweet! Love it. So working it.”
He grinned, but then scanned through his contacts. He wanted to make sure everyone remembered his invitations from Thursday.
“Hmm, I told BF & Jin Hoo about Sunday. Ok. They’ll bring their girls. Told the producer and the director yesterday so they took care of the crew,” He thought a bit. ” I should call Ji Sang sungbae myself – never actually talked direct with him. Being polite and all. He’s the real big noise in this drama anyway.”
Jung Hwa had come up with this brilliant plan two days ago, after first seeing Jolene at that lunch meeting . In the Thursday script reading he’d told everyone to come over to his country villa for a Sunday picnic brunch, planning on snagging all the support crew. Including the delectable Ms LaRue.
“Just forseeing the future,” he smirked. “Planning ahead. Being proactive.”
His phone rang. Jung Hwa answered to hear his housekeeper’s voice.
“Ah, Mr. Ko, there is a question. On Sunday, you expect many people? Mr. Song, he called and made most unclear requests.”
“Oh, Mrs. Jung, yes, I am so very very sorry to be burdening you! It shall be a cookout picnic – nothing that you must worry about much. We will cook, just make sure to get all the supplies,” Jung Hwa made a face as he listened. “Yes, some of the guests may spend the night. Just leave the bedding about. No, no, you do not have to stay the afternoon. Not at all.”
He hung up, laughing but a bit sour about it. That woman and her ‘old family retainer’ act! His mother had hired her to spy on him, of course. Nothing he could do about it without insulting his mom. A vision of his mother’s reaction to Jolene as a daughter-in-law rose unbidden, which he firmly quelled.
“Cross the bridges first,” he thought. “Dad can handle mom. I hope.”
The next morning he sent his driver to pick up Ms LaRue promptly on time, with instructions to meet up with him in the basement parking of the company’s trainee dorms, where he’d be waiting for her. He usually ignored paparazzi and saesangs, but with Jolene he knew he had to be careful.
“All this cloak and dagger stuff!” she said to him, when he met the van and helped her out. “I feel like a spy or something.”
“All nonsense, but they will make scandals out of anything. Come, let’s take off. Nobody really watches this building. All unknowns here!”
“All this scandal fuss – it reminds me of that movie Inside Daisy Clover.”
Jung Hwa looked blank.
“Old film from, oh, the 50s? Natalie Wood and Robert Redford starred. All about using a rising starlet to cover up the matinee idol’s scandal. You can stream it,” Jolene laughed. “Ancient, I realize. I’m just a relic.”
“I might check that out,” Jung Hwa looked at her. “You must be using the wrong Korean word. You mean you like relics.”
He put the car in gear, and drove out of the garage.
“See how smooth this shifts? I love Porsche – they take off the second you press the pedal. See?”
“Zoom, zoom,” Jolene murmured. “People might think Porsche just a flash car, but they function.”
“Designed for the Autobahn,” Jung Hwa agreed, pleased. He took his driving seriously.
“No cup holders,” she said, looking around. “I heard that about Porsche.”
“Hmmm? You need one? I took it out.”
“All business behind the wheel,” Jolene laughed. “I’ve heard a lot can be gleaned from what kind of car a man drives, and how he handles it.”
“Hope I pass that test,” Jung Hwa told her.
He concentrated on getting out of the city, and Jolene returned to watching out the window as the city gradually turned into countryside.
“Korea looks very green,” she said. “Most people think I’m a native New Zealander, but I grew up near Dubbo, in New South Wales, at a sheep station. All the bush there looks dusty, full of eucalyptus and pine. Very fragrant, though.”
“I’ve seen some of Australia. Very little, around Sydney. We performed there,” Jung Hwa remarked. “I already knew you for an Aussie, but I’d have figured it out the other night. You get quite local when you drink.”
Jolene glared at him.
“I’m not a morning person. I will just doze for a bit.”
Jung Hwa felt pretty wonderful so far. He did love driving, and approached it as he did a performance on stage, with his entire attention, humming a little under his breath. Finally he could see the river in the distance, and turned to follow it up. A few kilometers on, he pulled in to a rest stop.
“Ah, Ms Larue, the scenic road turnoff will come up soon. I’ve stopped for gas before we get off the highway.”
“Hmm? Ah, yes, let me just go throw some water on my face. Don’t want to sleep through the scenery.”
As they got back on the road, Jung Hwa pointed to the river beside them.
“That’s the Bukhangang River which we’ll follow. It turns into Cheongpyeong Lake, then farther up Nami Island appears.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of Nami Island! So many dramas make it look like you just take a ferry from someplace in Seoul.”
“Ha! I guess that 2 hour bus trip doesn’t count,” he laughed. “I used to do that, in middle school, with a group of friends.”
That sounded a bit wistful, he thought, annoyed with himself.
“That’s before you became a trainee, right? Do you ever see those friends anymore?”
“One of them,” Jung Hwa smiled. “Tak Gu. You’ve not met him. He’s off on some wild goose chase in America right now.”
“He’s in your group,” Jolene smiled “I enjoy his singing. He’s got some very original ideas about stage costumes and set designs. I’d love to chat with him about that last solo tour of his.”
Jung Hwa looked sideways at her.
“Using Tak Gu to get me jealous won’t work, you know,” he smirked, thinking of his friend’s mystery girl. ” Look, the river is coming up now. Very lovely.”
For the next couple of hours, they drove leisurely alongside the ever-widening river, passing through a little town at one point, and finally reaching the lake.
“It seems to just be a thickening of the river,” Jolene remarked. “But just beautiful! All the blues of the sky and water, with that green, just sweet as, really.”
“Good idea of mine, I guess.”
Pretty soon the road veered away from the lake, and wound through a tiny, quaint town.
“What an adorable little village! It looks so European.”
“Oh, Le Petit Prince. It’s a silly fake village for tourists but the kids love it, you know.”
“As in, St. Exupery’s modern fairytale? How interesting.”
“Maybe a stop for another day,” Jung Hwa told her. “We’ve a few miles to go before we catch the river again, and the prettiest part of the drive.”
“Oh, I’d love to see this in the fall, how beautiful that must be!”
“I promise to take you on this road in every season, and to Nami Island as well. Cliched but lovely. Of course my villa has cool views of the river and mountains, too. Never have to worry about getting rooms in the tourist season,” Jung Hwa looked sideways at her.
“Ah, Nami Island! Do you live very near there? How wonderful for you, when you can get away. Be forewarned, I may take you up on that offer,” Jolene said, then hesitated. “I mean, I’d enjoy seeing the sights, of course. I’d not want to trespass on your hospitality.”
“No problem. In fact, I totally want you to show up on my doorstep, any time you want,” Jung Hwa laughed, and gunned the engine to speed out of the village. He glanced at Jolene, who seemed to be breathing a bit hard, and grinned. Maybe he couldn’t call himself a genius, but every once in a while he had a flash of brilliance.
Jolene sat in front of her vanity, staring in the mirror, thinking over the events of yesterday.
That damn company picnic! she thought furiously.
She had enjoyed that drive just entirely too much. Then of course it seemed the minute they reached Jung Hwa’s home, off he’d gone to play host and everything seemed all business again.
“He’s such a sly bloke, really,” she told her reflection. “All charm and suave, not paying any more attention to me than to anyone else.”
This caused her to reflect on that afternoon, how she watched him move about his guests, as she gradually got over that breathlessness she’d developed on that lovely drive by the river in the morning. Putting her at her ease, lulling her really.
Like a snake charming a rabbit, she sniffed.
Na Na had of course wandered over to her to chat about costumes (Na Na’s) and the drama (her part). That young man from Boy’s Day came over with his girlfriend to chat, which she remembered chiefly because of the novelty of seeing a hallyu idol openly dating a Westerner.
Very puzzling, that girl, Jolene remembered. So preRaphaelite. I really thought she had to be British until she opened her mouth. Sounded so American.
They’d talked live theatre, and MJ showed a lot of knowledge of stagecraft, considering her youth. When Jolene complimented her, MJ had smiled enigmatically.
“Just like yourself, I expect,” she’d told Jolene. “Can’t tell a thing from looks nowadays.”
The rest of that afternoon blurred into various conversations with her collegues from the drama, until people started to leave. That’s when her focus sharpened abrubtly.
At first she’d thought she’d catch a ride back with Designer Yang, but he left before she managed to locate Jung Hwa. That had taken almost an hour, totally frustrating for her. She’s felt as if in one of those old films where everyone just misses each other.
When she finally tracked him down, he’d looked pained.
“I thought we’d settled that you’d stay over, like Na Na and Assitant Writer Ban Mi Rae. I feel sure I mentioned this while we drove up here. Perhaps you dozed off?”
“I really have no recollection of any such discussion,” Jolene had snapped at him. “Telling me something like that without making sure I HEARD you does not count as getting my permission!”
“But what to do? I believe Designer Yang and Director Park have both left,” Jung Hwa had grinned at her, a bit sheepishly, but still! “If you insist I of course will drive you back immediately.”
She should have made him do it, Jolene thought. But how churlish that would have made her look! So she’d stayed, of course.
She’d not realized, since Jung Hwa purposely deluded her, that only dating couples made up the overnight guests. She knew about Na Na and Jin Ho, of course, while BJ and his girl had their own room. She’d been glad, naive little her, that she and Assistant Writer Ban Mi Rae shared a room, until that young lady had burst her bubble.
“It just floored me, when I found out about you and Jung Hwa sunbae!,” the girl had giggled.
“Whatever do you mean?” Jolene had coldly inquired.
“Oh, Jung Hwa sunbae asked my oppa to make sure I brought an extra outfit for you, since he thought we wore the same size,” she’d gushed. “So romantic, to surprise you like this!”
Her oppa turned out to be Han Ha Jun, MonStar’s rapper. So that had made the evening excrutiatingly uncomfortable. Of course Jung Hwa, hovering by her side in stark contrast to his behavior of the afternoon, did his best to soothe her. That alarming development caused her to drink a bit too much.
Right, she sneered at herself. Totally immune to his allure you are not! So stupid.
At least she’d shared that room with little Miss Ban Mi Rae, thankfully. Never mind that extended tete-a-tete she’d had out on the terrace with Jung Hwa.
“Come walk a bit outside,” he’d said to her. “It will clear your head.”
Bollocks. It ended up with him practically seducing her, which just totally addled her thinking.
Jolene looked at her reflexion, and sighed.
“Alright, I kissed HIM,” she hissed. “Okay? I just wanted to try the real deal.”
The next day dawned as usual, and Jolene dragged herself to work after a troubled night. She’d kept waking up, thinking herself still kidnapped, calling for Jung Hwa. She’d ended up taking a sleeping pill.
Work, I just need to focus, she told herself. No need to see that person again.
Comforted by this mantra, which she’d repeated throughout her subway ride and up the elevator to her office, she walked past the reception desk, smiling at the sweet young thing manning the phones there.
“Oh, Miss LaRue! Please, I have a delivery for you,” the girl chimed as Jolene passed. “See? So pretty.”
Jolene frowned, and then noticed a rather large florist’s box on the counter.
“I see. For me?” Jolene eyed the box warily, unduly alarmed. “I’ll just take it to my office, shall I? I do hope you only looked at the flowers and not the card.”
The girl blushed and looked uncomfortable. Jolene, her stomach in turmoil, ignored that and nearly ran to her office.
Once there, she gingerly took the top off and then stared at the dozen roses inside. A card nestled among them.
” ‘Thanks for a lovely day, and evening – KJH’ ” she read, and sank into her chair.
“Just ace. Lovely top to this bloody day,” she muttered.
Her secretary knocked, and Jolene told her to come in.
“I’ll need a vase along with a super-sized coffee, looks like.”
“Oh, certainly, Miss! Beautiful flowers. Shall I just take them and fix up a bouquet?”
“Thank you, do that. I appreciate it so much.”
The phone rang as Secretary Cho left. Jung Hwa, of course, Jolene saw on the caller ID display.
“Hello? Ms LaRue here,” she answered as perfunctorily as possible.
“I guess I should have called you yesterday,” Jung Hwa said, apologetically. “I’m sorry. Hope the roses slightly make up for that, however cliche.”
Jolene stared at the ceiling, rather confused how to continue.
“Could I take you to lunch today? Or I could bring you something delicious, if you’re too busy to go out.”
Jung Hwa actually sounded a bit hesitant, which somehow deflated her irritation. It occurred to her that the actual person Ko Jung Hwa had not caused her disquiet. No, her own fantasies caused that. She took a deep breath, trying to regain composure.
“Lunch sounds best, thank you. And for the flowers. They smell heavenly, that’s hard to find nowadays,” she managed. “I can’t think why you believe I’m upset. I didn’t expect you to call.”
“My mother raised me better than that,” Jung Hwa protested. “I guess I’ve impressed you the wrong way.”
“Not at all. I suppose it’s just a cultural thing. I do have to run, though. Let me know where to meet you for lunch,” Jolene couldn’t get the words out fast enough. “Noonish, then.”
She hung up the phone as if it burned her, as her secretary returned with the roses arranged lushly in the promised vase.
“Just put them on that little table, thank you so much,” she smiled at Ms Cho, and looked appraisingly at the bouquet.
She felt relieved, somehow. Or maybe that didn’t quite describe it. Jolene thought a moment. Her irritation had gone. The scent of the roses relaxed her nerves, she supposed. Such a deep red, almost burgundy, with the velvet finish – Jolene felt very pleased, and wondered. Roses normally left her indifferent.
A replay of that sojourn on Ko Jung Hwa’s terrace ran through her mind suddenly.
“Look, full moon, lots of stars, all romantic,” she’d slurred. “Just kiss me, why not. I’m such a sucker for pretty boys.”
Such a fool, she sighed. Still, didn’t scare him off, I guess.
When she realized that, a warm flood of happiness ran through her, and maybe due to her exhaustion she just sank into it for a bit.
When the phone rang again she reached for it happily.
“Ah, Miss Jolene, please bring those sketches with you to the meeting, after all,” Director Park told her.
“Certainly, I shall do that, sir,” she answered, her irritation coming back. Miss Jolene indeed.
Although she had to admit, after hanging up the phone, that little solecism hadn’t annoyed her nearly so much as her own reaction on answering the phone.
She’d wanted to hear Jung Hwa’s voice again, Jolene realized.
“Hey, bro! Glad to see you back! Thought you got lost in those blue mountains,” Jung Hwa laughed. “You find this painter of yours? Cause the world needs to see you as a purple merman.”
“Ha! Long story,” Tak Gu cocked his head and grinned. “Hey, hear your dream lady didn’t die after all! Or you got a new love fix. Which?”
“Yah, you tell me your saga and I’ll fill you in on mine. Come on, we gotta learn these moves and you came back a week late. Let’s hustle, huh? Shooting starts end of the week!”
“Yo, hey, Tak Gu! Back from the hills, yeah. They watch you?”
“Ha Joon, talk Korean, huh?”
“He watched horror flicks all last night. At my place,” complained Jason. “Thought we’d stop living on top of each other once we left the dorm. HA!”
“Your own fault. Note, he did NOT watch anything at MY crib.”
“You got your lady there, Jung Hwa! Ain’t gonna intrude, ya know?”
“Wow, what I missed right here! I’m gonna go catch a plane back yesterday!”
Jung Hwa whistled, making all the guys stop.
“Cool. Quit belly aching and let’s practice, okay? The choreographer’s coming in 30 minutes to see our progress!”
“You got a date, there, Jung Hwa?” Han Joon called out. “I can rap to it.”
“Cue the music, cut the crap,” Jung Hwa.
Practice proceeded smoothly – Tak Gu knew his moves despite his month-long absence.
He followed Jung Hwa out afterwards.
“Hold up, there, hyung! I need to shoot something past you,” he called out. “Be close mouthed about your love life all you want – just help me out with mine.”
“Sheesh, Tak Gu, all about you all the time,” Jung Hwa looked at him. “Come on, back to my place. I got nothing to do, so I guess I can hear you whine.”
“So what’s the deal with your costume maker, then? She really your lost dream girl?”
“Look, whatever, don’t go saying that around her. Like EVER. She’s real touchy about that whole experience,” Jung Hwa told his friend. “BJ’s girl tried that on, last week. Not pretty.”
“So, she ignore you? Throw salt in your face? What’s going on?”
“Damn, Tak Gu, I’ve some skills, you know. She’s my girl, whatever she admits,” Jung Hwa looked at his friend, as they reached the van. “You coming with me?”
“Sure. Hey, so you two dating then?”
“That’s it. She’s cute about it, all ‘we should get to know each other’, bringing up her age and ‘let’s just have fun’. That sort of thing.”
“Playing games – sad move there, Jung Hwa.”
“Who’s playing games? I’m not. I never need to tell her, why should I? I know how I feel. She’s coming round. No problems,” Jung Hwa stated. “I guess you have some though.”
Tak Gu leaned back in the seat, staring out a tinted window, not answering for a minute.
“I might,” he finally said. “I met her. She recognized me right away, turns out. But not a word to clue me in.”
“Didn’t you ask her about this painting?”
“Hell, I didn’t have a clue ! Man, she runs around in these ancient baggy trousers, real old-fashioned work pants. Probably her father’s. And flannel shirts, huge sweaters, just frumpy. This stupid cap on her head, big stupid glasses on, with those sunglass flap things attached. I first saw her I thought, just some local ajumma.”
He slumped down in his seat.
“So you found her out, though?”
“Not really. She pretended she knew somebody who knew my painter, and got me this private email to talk to RinSoeur. I felt so thankful. Never occurred to me. Stupid.”
“So how DID you find out?”
“My ajumma told me,” Tak Gu rubbed his eyes. “I’d run into the butterfly girl a couple times, knew RinSoeur had to be in the area. This butterfly sister, Mary, she yelled at me about snooping around and bothering them.”
“So she had you dead to rights.”
Tak Gu glared.
“No, she did not. The sister took me for some private investigator who’d been shadowing them. He’d actually talked to me, at one of the art galleries. Then he showed up in that Hot Springs town and told me this long weird story about, I don’t know, lost heirs and money – sounded like a drama plot to me.”
“So, lied to you,” Jung Hwa nodded. “Seems a necessary skill for that line of work.”
“Yeah, sure, thought so myself. But when I had my layover in LA, don’t I get this long text from RinSoeur telling me the same long story? Saying she’d thought me a very nice young man when she’d talked to me, and wanted advice.”
“Sounds like a scam to me.”
“Yeah, that’s what I told her. But she said she TALKED to me! So it clicked.”
“Yeah. You hope. Just ask her, what’s hard about that, bro?”
Tak Gu looked at his friend, exasperated.
“Yeah. So I guess that’s just as easy as you telling your girl you met her in a dream.”
“Mine’s more complicated,” Jung Hwa scowled. “Ok, out, I’ve beers in the fridge.”
Rather later in the evening, soccer game over and six-pack emptied, Tak Gu & Jung Hwa sat flipping tabs at each other rather listlessly.
“Hey, Jung Hwa, your team won! Cheer up. Cheer ME up.”
“Cheer yourself up. Pick up the phone.”
“Come on, tell me what’s your problem? I bared my soul, here.”
“Yeah, sure. Look I told you my Miss LaRue thinks she’s hallucinated the entire thing, right?”
“Did you? I guess. So, show her different. You’ll know things that prove it, right?”
“Wow, never thought of THAT! Duh, Tak Gu. Can’t do that.”
“Why? I mean, you shared that room for two years – you get close to her and stuff will slip out anyhow.”
“I know. It scares me to death,” Jung Hwa leaned back and closed his eyes. “When I first saw her, she ignored me, but Jin Ho told me to just confront her. So I tried.”
“Ah, same as you told me, I see. Jin Ho’s the genius behind that concept.”
“Yeah, yeah. I took his advice, or tried to. Thankfully I tested the waters a bit first. Man, she told me, flat out said that if anyone said they’d shared that with her she’d have them arrested as an accomplice to kidnapping!”
“Anyone? I mean, doesn’t she know who she got locked up with?”
Jung Hwa looked disgusted at this.
“Course she does. Like I said, she thinks it her own imagination.”
“How did you, uh, test her?”
“Oh, told her she had a memorial page under her name. That got her talking about the kidnapping. I brought up the dream stories, and she stiffened. Came out with that.”
“So then? She still agreed to go out with you? Skills, man.”
“Not. I already know how she feels, dolt. Didn’t take much.”
“Terrible situation. Feel for you. Dating the girl you fancy, who adores you. Yeah.”
Jung Hwa threw a beer tab at his friend.
“Told you MJ talked to her, right?”
“Yeah, sure. Said it got messy.”
“Understatement, that. I had a barbeque, you know, for the agency, so she’d have to come. Overnight at my place.”
“Well ain’t you the sly dog.”
“Lots of people stayed, fool. Anyhow, she’d gotten chummy with MJ, you know how girls do. So they made some kind of lunch date. MJ thought she’d help me out.”
“This going somewhere?”
“Ok. Couple weeks go by, things totally cool with Jolene and I, smooth. Then I get this call, late. Jolene’s crying, upset, sounded just panicky.”
“Yeah, & you went to console her. Nice. You should be thanking MJ.”
“Stuff that. I called BJ to find out what went down. Look, MJ just confided that weird story of hers to Jolene, that’s it! Jolene just lost it. Asked MJ what therapist had hypnotized her, said MJ should sue, that too many people had gotten taken advantage of by this current fad of fake ‘dream lovers’, on and on. When MJ tried to say she’d got proof it happened, Jolene just left. Said she couldn’t be around delusional people and that MJ needed professional help.”
“Damn. Not in public, I hope.”
“No, no, at BJ’s. He told me he heard the last of it, came down as Jolene slammed out. Told me MJ really took it well, but I guess she’s a counselor or something. Older than she looks, too.”
“Lots of THAT going around nowadays! How does that girl of yours explain her own transformation?”
“Literally can’t see it, from what MJ says. So no, I can’t just ask her.”
The doorbuzzer rang, and Jung Hwa checked it, frowning.
“Bit late,” he said to his manager.
“We’ve a problem,” Manager Song told him. “That stalker girl.”
“What the … that sasaeng! Damn. Come in.”
“Something happening with that crazy stalker girl again?” Tak Gu asked.
Jung Hwa turned to his friend, scratching his head.
Manager Song ran in, a bit breathless.
“What a mess! She’s disappeared. Her brother’s made a formal complaint to the police, the press are all over it!” He managed to explain. “I need a drink. Sorry, Ko Jung Hwa 씨.”
“What? Crazy run in that family?”
“Stupid creature left a diary. Fanfic, really. Saying you’d locked her up for weeks, she just managed to get out, afraid you’d do it again.”
“Big problem, seems someone overheard you talking about having some fantasy of being locked up with a girl. I found out cause the lowlife tried selling this to a paper a schoolmate of mine works on – tried selling it to HIM in fact. They threw him out but some rag will take that and run with it.”
Jung Hwa sank onto the couch, head in hand.
“So when did this supposedly happen?” Tak Gu asked.
“Right after he got back from military service. The agency’s demanding a gag order until you make a statement. But Dispatch will have it out in some form tomorrow. You know how they work.”
“I need to talk to Jolene. Ms. LaRue. Right now. Where’s my phone?” Jung Hwa looked about, trying to focus.
“What? Why? Lee Tak Gu 씨, please, why the costumer? Really, sir, call the agency lawyer. That’s who you must reach now.”
Tak Gu handed Manager Song a beer, shushing him.
“It’s his girl, come on, let him alone,” he said as he watched Jung Hwa head for the bedroom, phone in hand.
Jolene looked out at the waves crashing on the sand, feeling the breeze and the sun on her face. She sighed, leaning back into the pair of strong arms encircling her, letting the sounds of the ocean soothe her.
An insistant buzzing intruded, some strange insect.
“Jung Hwa, the bug, get rid of it. How rude to bother us,” she complained, trying to brush it away herself. It just buzzed louder, almost ringing.
She sat up, looking around her, to crush the nasty little bugger, but she couldn’t see it in the dark, so she opened her eyes.
Her bloody phone. She picked it up from the side of her bed, sighing, wanting to go back to her dream.
“Hello? What time is it?”
“Ah, did I wake you?” Jung Hwa’s voice came through the line, sounding very strained.
“Oh, Jung Hwa, no, not really,” Jolene lied, happy to hear his voice. “Something going on?”
After a long pause, Jung Hwa answered her.
“I’m in a bit of trouble, looks like. I felt I should call you about this, uh, small problem just as soon as possible. I apologize.”
Jolene shivered, wide awake and worried.
“What ever has happened, why do you sound so upset?”
“I should come to tell you this, but my manager says that’s impossible,” he told her. “But you can’t read it in the papers.”
“What can’t I read? Just tell me!” She stared at the phone, exasperated. “Just bloody tell me!”
“Ah, don’t get upset, no one’s died. I don’t think.”
“I’ve had a gutful of this, really. I’m coming over,” She threw on various items of clothing, preparing to go to the hospital or wherever he might be
“No, no, don’t do that. Reporters swarming outside,” Jung Hwa told her, alarmed. “Ok, listen, huh? I’ve got some crazy fans. You know that. OK, so one I had to get a restraining order on, she hung about bothering me, my cleaning lady, my mom, hacked my phone. Ok, you read about her. Right,” He took a deep breath, enough that Jolene could hear him. “So, she’s disappeared.”
Jolene sat down in her living room, waiting for him to continue.
“Listen, just tell me. Nothing can be as bad as me making up horror stories.”
“Yeah. Fine. This female, she wrote some diary. Like fan fiction. Her brother found it, after she went missing, you know? So she wrote a bunch of stupid stuff. He took it to the police, demanding my head, saying it proved I’ve done something with his sister.”
“That’s crazy. Right. I’m sure the police will sort it out.”
“I guess the police have been checking dates and times, CCTV and all that stuff, plus looking for her.”
“So it didn’t just start today, this investigation,” Jolene concluded.
“Manager Song says they’ve had the complaint for maybe a week now. Problem now, that brother of hers got impatient, went to the press to jump start the investigation.”
“So the tabloids got hold of this. Tempest in a teapot. I’m sure that’s what your manager’s telling you,” Jolene tried to calm him down. She felt quite nauseous.
“Yeah, that’s right. I’ve got to go down, make a statement, hold a press conference. Might end if the agency threatens a lawsuit.”
“Ok, so tell me what the fan fiction says, that has you so bolloxed up,” Jolene said in a very calm tone. “Just tell me.”
“It’s stupid stuff, she grabbed it from all that ‘soul mate dream’ stuff you hate. She claims I locked her up somewhere, you see. That kind of garbage. I don’t know exactly. She did hang about outside, despite that order, hiding. The apartment manager found her holed up in the storage rooms a couple times, even. Manager Song worries about that.”
Jolene felt a heat rising up in her, and it took most of her will to keep from screaming and throwing things. Harmless nonsense, indeed! Now her precious boy faced this nightmare.
“Ok, I get it. All ridiculous. I wish I could go there,” she managed to tell him. “I’ve said over and over that dream stuff can cause trouble. Now look!”
“Yeah, about that,” Jung Hwa breathed deeply. “Dispatch got hold of some stuff I said, I don’t know, some garbage feeder who overheard me talking with my bandmates.”
“About this girl? Who cares! She sounds a typical insane stalker,” Jolene told him.
“The police called BJ in to confirm some of it,” he told her unhappily. “I didn’t talk to you about this, because you hate this stuff so much.”
“Ah, BJ, and that delusional young girl of his,” Jolene snapped. “What does that have to do with this crazy girl’s disappearance?”
“Well, nothing, of course. Except I guess that Dispatch’s theory has it that I thought this nutcase one of these dream girls.”
“Are they bonkers? I don’t understand. You took a restraining order out against her!”
“So I did. My manager says the police think it a load of nonsense as well. But they’ve had this crazy brother breathing down their necks, and he’s got money, married to some politician’s daughter, some stupid stuff.”
“But what did you say?”
“I shouldn’t say this over the phone, but I’ve no choice,” Jung Hwa told her. “BJ’s not the only one who’s had these dream fantasies. A bunch of us did.”
“US?? What does that mean?” Jolene blurted.
Unbidden, a memory floated up from where she’d shoved it, where Jung Hwa, in this same tone of voice, kept telling her to calm down, to not worry. That little, dark, naked room, where he represented the only guardian against total breakdown. She remembered the terror, suddenly felt it again.
“I know you think all this just hallucinations, and for you I guess I can understand that. But you know, I thought it happened. I mean I really had a bad time about it, I really didn’t know what to believe.”
Ice started forming where the heat had just been. Just too easy, that’s you.
“What will I read, that you feel forced to tell me all this?”
“I had these strange dreams, like you read about and rage over. I had them in military service. I really thought I spent that time someplace else. Locked up somewhere, no clue about anything.”
Time – such a funny thing. Hours passed as she digested what Jung Hwa just told her.
Had she said something to him? Talked in her sleep? Those damned nightmares! He couldn’t possibly know anything about that nasty little room, just could not!
“I see,” Jolene felt a strange calm, more a disconnect in fact. “Not alone, I guess.”
“Well no, sweetheart. Do I really have to tell you who spent that two years with me? Not that crazy girl, that’s for sure.” Jung Hwa waited a bit, but Jolene, floating outside her body now, said nothing.
“I came back the night before my discharge, or that’s the impression I had. I remembered what I’d done in the army, but like I read it somewhere. I don’t know. The two weeks vacation I took after leaving, I spent looking for, well, like I said, you should know. And found that memorial page.”
Ah, Jolene thought. That stupid thing.
“So did you go to some quack counselor?” she asked. He’d obviously researched her, talked to her friends, and those so-called doctors she’d dismissed, all to make sure to successfully seduce her. Because obviously he couldn’t have had anything to do with that hijacking. Money could make people forget about their professional ethics. Liked to win, that she knew about him.
“I didn’t, really didn’t. Just my friends. It hurt, a lot. All these stories, people finding each other, and my dream girl, dead.”
“I see. I remember you talking about that ‘friend’. So you meant yourself.”
“Ok. Look, I just wanted to warn you. Just assume I got a little crazy because of military service, okay?”
“My name didn’t come up in any of this rubbish, I guess? Those trash reporters didn’t cotton on to who you decided to make your fantasy girl?” Jolene, even in her disassociated state, cringed a bit at her tone.
“I don’t know. I might have got a secretary to help hunt you up, at first,” Jung Hwa admitted, miserably. “I’m so sorry, really, I never wanted to bother you about this.”
So much for benefit of the doubt – he just flat-out admitted checking her out.
“I expect you didn’t,” Jolene felt like some alien being had taken over her body, using her voice. “I’m off back to my bed, now, Ko Jung Hwa. If my name appears in the media tomorrow, I may have to decide whom to sue. Please don’t mention me in any of your interviews, with the authorities or the press, or my lawyer will get in touch. And do NOT call me, ever again.”
Jolene then threw her phone across the room, smiling rather frigidly at the way it smashed against the far wall.
Not smart, she thought. I’ll need to call for reservations from my office, now.
She’d have to go to the company to resign, anyway, she realized. But she meant to be on a plane going back to New Zealand within 24 hours.
A little tiny voice inside her head suddenly shrieked No, he did that before he met you. Jolene spent the rest of the night curled up on her sofa, trying to shut up that noise. That buzzing insect.
Who’s Ko Jung Hwa’s Dream Lover?
Ko Jung Hwa, leader of Hallyu band Monstar, talked to the press yesterday about his current scandal involving Miss A. He denied all alllegations of kidnapping, saying he had no idea of Miss A’s whereabouts. When asked about reports that he searched for his dream lover when he left miltary service in June, Ko Jung Hwa gave no comment. Miss A’s sensational diary, first made public here in the pages of Dispatch, makes it clear that she believed herself to be the girl Ko Jung Hwa wanted to find. The teenager went missing two months ago.
Ko Jung Hwa had taken out a restraining order against Miss A prior to his military service. The courts renewed this three months ago, due to evidence that the girl hid in the basement of Ko Jung Hwa’s apartment building for several days. Her diary states she’d not hidden willingly, but Ko Jung Hwa’s legal counsel refutes this.
The police can find no evidence linking him to Miss A. Prosecutor Kim stated that the formal investigation of Ko Jung Hwa revealed nothing that could indict the Hallyu star. However, Prosecutor Park declared Miss A’s case still actively and openly under investigation. When asked if any other suspects had emerged, Prosecutor Park stated “Not at this time.”
“Why doesn’t this mystery girl just come forward, if Ko Jung Hwa has nothing to hide?” asked Miss A’s brother. “Let him identify her at least. His refusal to do so condemns him.”
Jung Hwa sat in his CEO’s office, with his manager, and lawyer, waiting while the Chairman finished reading the Dispatch article.
“These bottom feeders. Reporters – worse than lawyers,” Chairman Shin Hae remarked, then looked at his legal retainer sternly. “Can’t you shut this rag up, Lawyer Lee? I pay you enough.”
“The only misrepresentation in this article seems one of omission, Chairman Shin. That is not actionable.”
“My lawyers the only ones in the nation concerned with legality? Nevermind all that. Now look, Jung Hwa, just because the police dropped this does not let you off the hook,” Chairman Shin Hae Jun told him sternly. “And I’m not talking about that nutcase’s brother getting the prosecutors involved. It’s the publicity that’s damning us here! You’ve read this!”
“Yes sir, we totally understand your position,” Manager Song said, as Jung Hwa just stared out the window. “Dreadful, having to postpone the concert tour.”
“If your charge there understands, then why won’t he just tell the damn press what they want! Even better, get that girl of his to give an interview!” Chairman Shin shouted. “Her leaving like that, good grief! Can’t handle your women, boy?”
Jung Hwa turned his head at that, and stared at the Chairman rather defiantly. Manager Song wrung his hands.
“No reason for Ms LaRue to be bothered, Chairman, sir,” Jung Hwa finally said, turning to Lawyer Lee. “Best not to involve her, correct, sir?”
“Very true. The woman threatened to sue, you might recall, Chairman. No reason to set the press on her. Not at all. She might complicate the matter.”
“Should just let these dogs of the Press bark away, I suppose you mean, huh? Not in my nature, not at all. Go sweet talk the girl! Your glares are wasted on me, boy!”
Jung Hwa stood up, and bowed to Chairman Shin.
“I abjectly apologize for bringing such problems to your attention, Chairman. I fully understand if you cancel my contract. Please let me remove my disgusting presence,” he bowed again, and left.
“That young man! He’s acquitted, that little female guttersnipe lied, why can’t the press let it go? Cause he refuses to say anything, that’s why!”
“Chairman, sir, Ms LaRue did threaten to sue us, remember? She refuses to speak with Ko Jung Hwa. What can he do?”
“Lawyer Lee, you mentioned another problem? Other than recalcitrant females and stubborn young singers?”
“Ah, yes sir. The missing young lady’s brother has filed a civil suit, against both Ko Jung Hwa and the agency. Also, I’m afraid that a ruling dropping his case for lack of evidence does not equal an acquittal,” the lawyer pointed out. “Senior Prosecutor Park made it very clear that he has no other suspects in mind, and that the entire focus of his investigation remains to find evidence against Ko Jung Hwa.”
“I read the damn article! Think I’m not aware?” the Chairman snapped. “What’s the girl? His grandniece? He should be off the case. What a country, everybody buys everybody else.”
Both Lawyer Lee and Manager Song directed their glances away from the Chairman at this pronouncement.
“Those US concerts – send the boys for those. Americans don’t care about all this – they’ve no morals. Just good publicity, should drum up ticket sales there.”
“Does that include the Toronto date, sir?”
“Same thing – of course it does. Go tell them to pack up!”
Jung Hwa slammed down the corridor, furious, bursting into the practise room and startling the rest of his bandmates.
“Ah, Jung Hwa, don’t break the door there,” Tak Gu called to him. “Any joy from the higher ups about tour dates?”
“Up theirs. Damned if I do, and screwed if I don’t, that’s their take.”
“The MV’s up, guys,” Jae Soon told them. “Saw it online this morning. Getting lots of hits.”
“By that, you mean dire threats and nasty suggestions?” asked Ha Joon. “No publicity can be bad kinda thing? Right.”
“My mom called me this morning,” Jae Soon informed them. “Not a happy conversation.”
All the bandmates stared at the floor, remembering the last time Jae Soon’s mom had appeared at the agency in all her formidable glory.
“Uh, Jae Soon, she’s not, like, going to show up, by any chance?” Tak Gu ventured.
“Dad won’t let her,” he assured them. “Says she’s worse than water on an oil fire.”
Everyone breathed a little easier.
Manager Song came rushing through the studio door, waving a newspaper at them.
“Boys, I’ve news,” he announced. “Chairman Shin wants to send you to America!”
“That’s in the Dispatch, then?” Tak Gu pointed at the offending tabloid.
“What? No, no, I brought this to show Jung Hwa,” Manager Song explained. “Chairman Shin decided that those four US concert dates shouldn’t be cancelled. Americans love scandals. Besides, it gets you out of Korea.”
“I read that trash already. Don’t need to see it again.”
“Look on the next page, please,” Manager Song insisted. “I believe you might recognize some names.”
“Let’s see this paper,” Jung Hwa said, grabbing it.
The item in question, not really an article but one of several listings under the “Airport Star Gazing” column, declared that Dakshi Khan, newly out of retirement, arrived at Incheon International, the previous afternoon. The writer, obviously female, gushed that he looked as fresh as when he first appeared decades ago in ‘Jaya’. She also grudgingly identified the lady draped on his arm as his new wife, some unknown from New Zealand. The two met dramatically, kidnapped and held ransom for months during the famous Rainbow Cruise hijacking case.
“Frieda Dolman,” Jung Hwa breathed. “Now why come to Seoul?”
“Some wag’s probably doing a mash-up Hallyu/Bollywood musical,” Ha Jun snorted. “Man, that guy’s ancient! My grandma loves his films, on account of my grandpa taking her to one on their first outing.”
“Really? This guy?!” Jae Soon looked at the picture. “That anti-aging stuff must work! But, man, if all these old geezers get young and come out of hiding, that’s a lot of competition for us!”
“Yeah, we’ll lose all our grannie fans.”
“Don’t knock the ajummas, Ha Jun,” Tak Gu said. “You worried yours will run away?”
“Just shut it for a second, can you?” Jung Hwa growled at them. “I gotta figure this out, okay?”
His bandmates looked at each other self-consciously.
“Sorry, leader,” ventured Jae Soon.
“Manager Song, could you perhaps get me in touch with Ms Frieda Dolman?” Jung Hwa asked, ignoring his stricken friends.
“Certainly, sir. I in fact have the number for her current place of residence right here,” Manager Song produced it. “I can see if she will give you some time, perhaps?”
“Sure, thanks,” Jung Hwa turned to the rest of his group. “You lot, practice. We’ve got some tour dates salvaged. No time to waste if we want to stay ahead of the geriatric crowd, huh?”
Jung Hwa lay on his couch, exhausted, letting the details of the upcoming gigs whirl through his mind. That’s all he wanted right now, to work and focus on those four concerts left for Monstar. Five, including Toronto. Right. Break into the American market and all these screaming netizens mean nothing, he knew. Be great for Tak Gu whatever happens. The other guys deserve a break, shouldn’t see all their hard work destroyed just because of some crazy little fangirl’s psychotic dreams.
He sighed, thinking of that call from Frieda Dolman, or rather Mrs. Khan.
“I’ve talked to Jo, dear,” she told him. “She’s a tough one, course I needn’t tell you that. Scared to death. Made sure, the last two weeks, she saw every scrap of news in the papers, like it or not. She’s that angry, about that crazy girl’s made up tales, I’ll tell you that. It’s ‘oh, how dare she’, and ‘he’s no angel but he’d never’, on and on. Still she won’t come round, says two crazy people together make things twice as bad.”
“Course she looks at me when she says that!”
“I’m so very grateful to you, Mrs, Khan,” he’d told her. “Just let her know, we leave for the US in two days time. Undoubtedly the company will keep me there for a good while.”
“Poor dears, the both of you! My Dak and I, we only got locked away for less than a year and I tell you I shudder still to get in a lift! Two years, goodness, I cannot imagine! Well, you got her through that, I know it, and she knows it too, no matter what she tries to tell herself. Have faith in her.”
Jung Hwa smiled, remembering. He’d seen those pictures of Ms Frieda in the paper, totally sophisticated, like Audrey Hepburn or, as his grandfather probably preferred, Jeon Yang Ja. Rather more accurately, he thought, Morticia Adams. But hearing her voice, she totally put him in mind of his grannie, telling him not to worry when his puppy ran away.
His phone rang. His manager, Jung Hwa saw, probably making sure he and Tak Gu didn’t stay up half the night drinking.
“Not to worry, Manager Song,” he answered the phone. “Tak Gu went home. I’m off to bed right now.”
“Good. Fine. Just letting you know, the Australian concert’s on again, in two days. So we head for there tomorrow.”
“Great. Sydney, right? Ok. thanks for the heads up,” Jung Hwa hung up the phone and shrugged.
He’d just turned out the light and thrown his head back on his pillow when the phone rang again. He grabbed it, thinking how in the world he could rest if Manager Song kept calling.
“Hey, Jung Hwa, go turn on your TV. Like, RIGHT now. KBS,” Tak Gu sounded excited.
“Why? What’s the deal? Cops coming to my house to drag me off to jail? What?”
He had managed to get to the living room and turn on the TV while making these protests. Up came one of the talking heads, junior edition, saved for late night exclusives.
“We here at KBS News have gotten exclusive footage of the interview, which I’m being told is streaming right now. Here it is for our viewers.”
A slightly out of focus view of a conference room full of reporters came on the screen. Most of them weren’t Korean, Jung Hwa noticed, and the voices spoke English.
“Ok, Tak Gu, I’m watching. Some news conference? Where?”
“Sydney, I guess. We’ll be there in 24 hours, probably facing those same clowns. Look at the screen, fool.”
“Ok,” Jung Hwa said, and dutifully tried to make out who the interviewee might be. The camera stopped scanning the room and focused on a slim figure walking up to the bank of mics at the head of the crowd.
“WTF, Tak Gu? Did that dirty old goat leak her name?”
“No, no, not according to the earlier news reports. Just listen! Hang up the phone or you’ll forget,” Tak Gu advised, and signed off himself.
Jung Hwa put down his phone and turned up the volume on his TV.
“I have no idea who this vanished young lady might be,” He heard Jolene’s voice, a bit tinny and hesitant but clear, say. “This becomes relevant when I state that I spent a good deal of my time in Seoul with Ko Jung Hwa. I acted as costumer and wardrobe mistress for his drama ‘Return to Tomorrow” of course. But I also dated him for most of that two month period, and stayed many nights over. I really think I might have noticed the random kidnapped girl lying about.”
“As for his so-called ‘dream love’, I despise the term and what generated it, but I do know that Ko Jung Hwa believed he experienced this. Not with this deluded young lady, but with me. I refuse to discuss this in public, but I am not refuting his claim. Proof exists that he looked for me once he left military service.”
“I stand here today to tell you all of this because Ko Jung Hwa will not do so. I refuse to see him slandered and vilified for protecting my sensibilities. He’s a precious person.”
The camera followed Jolene as she hung her head, turned away and left the room. By then Jung Hwa had grabbed his phone to try and reach her.
“Good old Manager Song,” Tak Gu told Jung Hwa. “He’s the reason the Sydney concert’s still on.”
“Yeah, lucky for him. I’d be on this flight going there no matter. He read that in his tea leaves, I guess.”
“You get hold of her last night?”
“No. Changed her phone, didn’t she? But I called that friend of hers,” Jung Hwa told him. “Just let me sleep. How many more hours on this flying bus?”
“Tak Gu, she going to be waiting there? Make for a good picture,” Jae Soon told him.
Ha Joon growled something at all of them, and flung his blanket over his head. Jung Hwa followed his example.
Hours later, some of which included sleep, the pilot announced the approach of Kingsford Smith Airport, and all the boys sat up.
“Weren’t we landing in Sydney?” Jae Soon asked, causing general hilarity.
Jung Hwa ignored this and stared out of the window as they circled, and eventually landed. He felt numb. Surely she’d call him, come see him, right? Not at the airport, of course. Stupid to even think that. All night before the flight he’d kept himself up worrying at what Jolene meant to do. Or if she meant to do anything at all other than making that announcement. She could be back in New Zealand by now. She lived there now, not in Australia. Besides, didn’t she say she came from some sheep farm hundreds of miles in the Outback?
“Come on, Jung Hwa, face the music,” Tak Gu told him, pulling him out of his seat. “Here’s your bag. Let’s go!”
Down the ramp, through the VIP customs check, out into the lobby. He saw the usual roped off area, and security guards holding back crowds of screaming girls. Typical. Through the glass doors leading outside he could see a couple black vans, more guards, and a phalanx of reporters. Great.
Then Manager Song, in front of the band, stopped suddenly, as a security guard spoke to him. Both men looked at Jung Hwa, and then Manager Song nodded. The guard walked up to Jung Hwa as the whole group moved on, out the doors to the vans.
“You go in this one, sir,” said Jung Hwa’s minder. As he said this, the rest of the group went past.
“Yo, leader, give a good interview,” Tak Gu slapped Jung Hwa on the shoulders.
Annoyed, Jung Hwa stood by the second van, eyeing the little group of reporters.
“Sir, can you tell us about your dream lover experiences? What did you think of Ms LaRue’s statements? Did you know this girl camped out in your basement?”
Jung Hwa sighed.
“As leader of Monstar, I’d like to thank the Australian fans for welcoming us so warmly, and assure them we will give a fabulous performance tonight,” he said. The fans gathering behind the reporters screamed on cue.
“Anything else, not about the band or our concert, can be discussed at a different time. Thank you very much,” Jung Hwa smiled over the heads of the reporters, still peppering him with questions, into the cameras and smart phones held by the Stargazers. More screams. A lot more. The reporters started looking over his shoulder as well.
“Jung Hwa,” he heard a very well known voice in his ear. “Don’t say a word. Just kiss me. Let these nice journalists have a scoop.”
So, he turned to Jolene, who’d just gotten out of the van, and did just that.