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Joo Won 주원 - Finished Drama: Alice


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15 hours ago, tokkimoon said:

Is he looking at some kind of teleprompter or is it more like a device that shows replays of filmed scenes?

 

He's monitoring - i.e. reviewing what he's just filmed - as you can see in these new shots. Nor, does it seem, was he the only one. :) 

 

 

And here's another pic, shared by his co-star Kwak Si Yang - can you guys find JW? ;) 

 

 

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And now, the finished fic!

 

Spoiler

Title: Hats Off, Gentlemen, for Meister RaRo!

Drama: "Nae Il's Cantabile" + some elements from "Secret Love Affair" (i.e. the other music-themed K-drama I pull in from time to time)

Characters: Cha Yoo Jin, Seol Nae Il, Lee Yoon Hoo, Yoo Il Rak, Jung Si Won, Lee Sun Jae (from "Secret Love Affair" - imagine Yoo Ah In for visuals ;)

Premise: Trying to squeeze two major concerts into a single month-long break from the Mozarteum is stressful by any standards, with Cha Yoo Jin and Seol Nae Il scrambling just to meet their hectic rehearsal schedule. But that's not the only challenge that's thrown their way: Rising Star is thrown into chaos when an old conflict rears up again and past secrets are revealed. If Yoo Jin's going to get through this month with his sanity intact, he will need help from a rather unexpected ally.

Warnings: Depictions of drinking and smoking, discussions of an extra-marital affair (in short: spoilers for "Secret Love Affair" - if you haven't watched it yet, then just be aware of that)

 

Note: this story is part of the set of sequel stories I've written for "Nae Il's Cantabile", which I am calling "Seolleim in Salzburg". Thus, in order to fully understand this story, I strongly advise you to read its predecessors first:

 

"The Sound of Christmas"

"Angel of Music, Come Down from Above"

"In Mozart's Name"

"Seollal, Seollebal, Seolleim"

"A Little Baroque, A Little Romantic"

"Rhapsody in Red"

"From Darkness into Light"

"For the Love of Music"

"If Music Be the Food of Love"

"Carmen, Micaela, Don José"

"Let Nothing You Dismay"

"The True Viennese Waltz"

 

Notes on Language: While most of the Korean in this fic should be pretty self-explanatory (if not, sound it out - chances are you'll recognize it that way), I do work in some German here and there. So for those who don't know the language, here's a quick glossary:

 

Meister - Master/Teacher

Nein - No

 

Finally, before we begin: Once again, please do not re-post any content from this fic on any other website. If you want to share it, just post a link back to this site. Thanks!

 

Spoiler

Hats Off, Gentlemen, for Meister RaRo!

 

“See, Orabang? What’d I tell you? I knew you could make it happen!”

 

Nae Il pushes past me onto the stage, making straight for the piano in its centre. As she crouches down to inspect the rich glowing warmth of its old wood grain, smoothed and polished with a conservator’s loving care, I move to join her.

 

“Do you know just how many strings I had to pull to get this here, though? And on such short notice!”

 

“Ara.” Bracing her hands on her knees for balance, Nae Il gets back up and turns to face me. “Which is why I think you’re awesome.”

 

My jaw drops. “Ya, Seollebal–”

 

“Honestly, who would have thought that having connections with the historical performance department would come so much in handy?”

 

“Don’t remind me.”

 

We’d already booked the Wiener Saal – the smaller of the two admittedly-still-large auditoriums in the old Mozarteum building – well in advance for today’s shoot: photos we’ll send back to Haneum to be used in RaRo’s promotional materials. However, with today being even less than a week since Nae Il first brought up the idea in Vienna, it’s a small miracle that I was able to convince the booking office to include the 1830s Graf piano as well.

 

But still, in hindsight, as Nae Il settles down on the bench, hands resting demurely in her lap, I do have to admit that all that extra work has been worth it, if only for this moment.

 

“Go on, Nae Il-ah – let’s hear it.”

 

She starts off small, simply picking out a few notes here and there, before bucking up the courage to attempt a full scale. As is typical for historical pianos, there is a slight harsh dissonance to the sound: a sharp twang that, while unusual to a modernly-trained ear, is surprisingly not unpleasant. It makes Nae Il’s brow furrow slightly at first, but by the time she has finished working all the way up and starts her descent, her features have relaxed once more.

 

It’s without any prompting on my part, then, that she launches headlong into an excerpt from one of the two pieces she’s set to play with Rising Star in February: Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A-minor. She doesn’t get more than a few bars in, though, before we are interrupted by the sound of applause.

 

Nae Il stops in surprise as I round on the source of the interruption. A second later, though, I let out a sigh of relief.

 

“Well, that certainly took you long enough.”

 

“Sorry, guys.” Our friend, Muhammed, flashes us a sheepish grin. He tosses his messenger bag casually onto the floor, following more carefully with the violin case on his back. “You know how it is: Professor wants you to meet him first thing in the morning, but ends up showing up late himself.”

 

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Nae Il nodding in sympathy, but I simply resort to drawing myself up to my full height. “Well, let’s get on with it, then – we’ve got a bit less than an hour before we have to give this room back.”

 

“Still as much of a taskmaster as ever, I see,” he quips dryly, referencing the practicum I had last year as the keyboardist-cum-conductor for the period music ensemble where he – a violinist who’d taken up the Baroque instrument for his Master’s – acts as concertmaster. “Honestly, sometimes you’re even more German than I am – but I feel you.” Taking the hand I wave at him as invitation to rummage through my bag for the camera, he adds, “Any particular shots you’re looking for?”

 

Nae Il, who’s jumped up from her seat to stand beside me, shakes her head with a cheery “Nein!”, but I respond with a question of my own:

 

“You do remember the concept, do you?”

 

“Of course!” Muhammed says. He starts to say something more as he straightens up from my bag, our camera now slung around his neck, but cuts himself off once he turns to face us.

 

“Good thing I’ve heard of ‘concert dress’ before,” he blurts out, wide-eyed, “or I’d say you two had some sort of couple-thing going on here.”

 

Nae Il and I exchange glances. It’s just black-and-white: a black dress with white collar and cuffs for her; the usual crisp white shirt and black trousers for me. Nothing special.

 

Well, save for one thing.

 

“Do you like it?” Nae Il asks, stepping closer to the edge of the stage and twirling in place so that the knee-length skirt of her dress billows out around her. When Muhammed nods appreciatively, she points at me with a grin. “Good – because he bought it.”

 

My jaw drops. “Ya, Seollebal–”

 

“For my first competition,” she presses on. “Back in Seoul.”

 

Heat rushes up to my face; I wish that the stage could crack open and just swallow me whole. But Muhammed, clearly enjoying my mortification, starts again with his slow applause. “Good for you, Cha Yoo Jin,” he says, flashing me a thumbs-up. “I never would have taken you to be such a romantic.”

 

I round on him. “Look – could we just get on with it?”

 

“Right.” He flashes me a knowing grin, acting like he was the one to suggest it all along. “Let’s do it, then.”

 

We start with the solo shots. Nae Il’s are easy enough, Muhammed simply snapping photos of her seated at the piano from multiple angles. But when it comes to my turn, she shakes her head at my suggestion that I do the same.

 

“Hold on a sec, Orabang,” she chirps, dashing back down from the stage for her bag. “I’ve got an idea.”

 

She returns moments later, what looks to be a short black ribbon in one hand. Once she is close enough, however, I recognize it as my bow tie.

 

“Ya, Seollebal,” I murmur softly, “have you been going through my things again?”

 

“Trust me.” Bouncing up on tiptoe, she undoes the top button of my shirt, then drapes the tie loosely over my neck. “This will look much better.”

 

I shoot Muhammed a questioning look, but he simply shrugs. “Don’t look at me; I’m just the photographer.”

 

I make to tie it, but Nae Il waves my hands away with a pout and a shake of the head; clearly, her intention is for me to wear it loose. So, with little choice left on the matter, I simply follow along with her instructions for two poses: one in front of the keys, leaning forward just enough to brace my hands on the main body of the piano; and another standing beside it, one leg crossed in front of the other as I glance down at a score in my hand.

 

As with Nae Il before, Muhammed takes several shots each time, just to be safe. After the last shutter click, he lowers our camera with a smile. “That’s all the solo shots down; now it’s just the group ones left.”

 

Leaving the camera dangling around his neck, he fishes his phone out of the back pocket of his jeans. “I did some homework when you two told me the concept you wanted,” he says, unlocking the device and tapping about briskly with his thumb. “How about something like this?”

 

The reference photo he shows us is one that both Nae Il and I have seen before: an image of the Schumann couple themselves, often reproduced in books and online. Photo shoots during the nineteenth century were rare; people might only have had them done once or twice in their lives, mostly just so their loved ones would have something to remember them by. So it’s little wonder to us now that Clara and Robert chose to be shown doing what they loved most: she seated at an upright piano, her hand just lightly touching the keys; he, hand resting on his chin in thought, looking on from the side.

 

We copy the pose easily enough, adapting it for the grand piano so that I’m standing inside of the curve, my forearm resting just so on the raised siding. But when we huddle back together around the camera in Muhammed’s hands, our smiles fade away into hushed disappointment.

 

There is no need for words; all three of us know what is missing. With her face uplifted towards him in the original photo, everyone can see the fond affection in Clara’s eyes; but Robert’s feelings are a mystery, obscured by downturned eyes and a face in perfect profile.

 

“That’s not going to work,” Nae Il says, shaking her head from her position in front of the rest of us. “Not for RaRo, anyway.”

 

Muhammed nods in agreement, one hand reaching up by habit to stroke his chin. Surprise briefly flashes across his face as it dawns on him for what must be the hundredth time that the short cropped beard he used to sport there is now gone – he’d decided to shave it off after the incident in Berlin last Christmas – but he quickly rallies himself back to the task at hand.

 

“Do you have any ideas, then?”

 

Standing beside Muhammed, on the camera’s other side, I have a good view of Nae Il and the grand piano behind her. The raised lid, the long wooden prop holding it in place, form a perfect triangle around the music rack….

 

“That’s it.”

 

Caught by surprise, Nae Il blinks up at me as I hurriedly step past her. “Mwo?”

 

Quickly, I disengage and then fold down the music rack, tucking it out of sight in the piano’s main body. Then, as she scurries up beside me, I gesture for her to sit down.

 

“Play something.”

 

Nae Il, already settled on the bench, gapes at me over her shoulder. “Mwo?!”

 

“Don’t just pose with the piano,” I explain, gesturing vaguely at the keyboard. “Play something.”

 

“I got that,” she quips back at me. “But what?”

 

Muhammed, unable to understand a word we’re saying, leans forward in interest, but I deny him the chance to eavesdrop by bending down to whisper in Nae Il’s ear. “Love. Longing. Whatever you think would stir up those emotions in me.”

 

Hovering so close, I could hear her gasp in anticipation as my words sink in. She doesn’t need to be asked twice, agreeing to my request with an emphatic nod.

 

“Komawo.”

 

In several long strides, I cross all the way to the end of the stage behind Nae Il, calling for Muhammed to stand inside the piano’s curve.

 

“You see that triangle? Where the lid and prop frame her?” I ask, sketching out the shape with one hand. “Try to see what you can get of us in that.”

 

Once everyone is in place, I slowly close my eyes as I take a deep breath. In an instant, I feel myself growing still: quiet, calm, my mind completely open to the music.

 

For a moment, there is only silence. But then, coming from the piano, I hear it.

 

Music. A slow rolling chord played by the left hand, met and echoed by a similarly shaped figure from the right. Two undulating voices, both in the lower reaches of the keyboard, weaving and overlapping, changing places like waves lapping on the shore, syncopated yet in perfect harmony.

 

The opening of Robert Schumann’s Piano Sonata in F-sharp Minor.

 

This piece is the one into which he poured all his pain and longing for Clara during a forced separation by her father; the one which she then performed in a rare act of defiance, a public declaration of her love for him….

 

The one that Nae Il played during her competition here in Salzburg.

 

It calls me, beckons me; it draws me in as, step by step, I come up behind her.

 

I’ve never told her this, in all the years we’ve been together, but I dreamt of this moment before: once after our Mozart duet at Haneum, and once during her competition here. I hadn’t understood it the first time, when, strangely enough, the Nae Il I had seen had been playing Liszt’s Liebestraum; but the second time – the time that counted – she was playing this.

 

Maybe, just maybe, Nae Il senses it, too. Maybe that’s why, when the introduction comes to its end, rather than moving on to the rest of the piece, she extends it: improvising a continuous, hypnotic wave that draws me ever nearer to her.

 

There is a small space on her right. Slowly, keeping my movements small so as not to disturb her, I sit down, my body turned sideways so my back is to her. Nae Il, focused as she is on the music, doesn’t pay me any mind, not even as I turn to peer at her over my shoulder, as my right hand reaches across my body for the treble keys….

 

Click.

 

Barely, just on the very edge of my awareness, I hear the camera’s shutter. It cuts through the music, breaking the spell that has come over Nae Il and me.

 

Together, suddenly shrinking back in mutual shyness, we glance up at the other side of the piano. There is Muhammed, the camera in his hands. The grin on his face tells us everything we need to know, but he says it anyway:

 

“Perfect.”

 

~~~~~

 

All of the photos we sent over – one for each pose – have been used in some way or other; but that last shot, the one with Nae Il and I seated together at the keyboard, is the one that appears on the large poster hanging in the window of Eomma’s coffee shop. There we are, framed by the Graf piano, in the bottom right corner; the warm ivories and golds of the Wiener Saal, through some artful Photoshop, fade away into the rich black that dominates the poster, making it as though we are caught in the middle of some intimate candlelit moment.

 

Eomma, noticing the look I am casting over my shoulder at the poster, gives me a knowing nod. “Everyone talks about that,” she says. “You two definitely came up with a good idea with that pose.”

 

I shoot her a pointed look. As if I need to be told again. From the moment Nae Il and I arrived at Yoo Il Rak’s place after taking a taxi from the airport, we have seen copies of it. In shop windows and on public poster boards; on social media sites and Haneum’s student newspaper – everyone with any connection with Rising Star, however slight, seems to have wanted to get their hands on one.

 

Nae Il, from her spot beside me at the coffee shop’s long bar table, nudges me with her elbow. “Don’t look at it like that,” she chides me coolly. “It’ll pay off once we end up with a full house at the concert. You’ll see.”

 

“She’s right,” Eomma adds, throwing in a fond smile when I finally turn back to face her. “Not since your Grieg concert has there been this much fuss over a performance here. As proud as the faculty are about your studying to become a conductor, Yoo Jin-ah, they’ve also been hoping that you’d make some sort of comeback as a pianist. And here we are.”

 

My face falls. “But what about Rising Star?”

 

“Rising Star can fend for itself, Sunbae,” Choi Min Hee cuts in, showing up right this moment with a tray laden with our drinks. “We’ll make sure of that.” She turns to leave after setting down our mugs, but Eomma jumps up from her seat instead, offering to take over at the register for a short while.

 

“You go ahead and take your break early this time; how often is it that you all get to sit together like this?”

 

As Eomma heads for the counter and Nae Il snatches her drink with an excited gasp, I turn my attention to Min Hee. “How is Rising Star, by the way?”

 

“Same old,” she replies with a shrug, taking the spot Eomma had just left. “A few people have left to study abroad; a few new ones have joined. Wae?”

 

“Nothing. Just asking.”

 

Min Hee’s eyes narrow slightly. “Sunbae….”

 

“It’s because of Si Won-eonnie,” Nae Il cuts in, now finally joining in after photographing the cocoa powder design stenciled onto her mocha. “We haven’t seen her in our chats for a while, so Orabang’s been wondering if she’s left Rising Star or something.”

 

“Ah….” Min Hee throws her head back in understanding, then shakes her head. “Ani – Si Won-sunbae’s still around. It’s just that….”

 

Nae Il leans forward urgently at the way Min Hee’s eyes shift nervously around us. “Is something wrong?” she gasps. “I thought she and Rak-kun were doing great.”

 

“They are!” Min Hee blurts out, just a bit too hastily. “Or, at least I think they are.”

 

I shoot her a pointed look. “Choi Min Hee….”

 

Realizing I’m not about to let this go, she jumps straight to the point. “Rak-kun’s being a lovesick idiot all over again.”

 

My brow furrows. “Mwo?”

 

“You’ll see what I mean, Sunbae, when we start rehearsals. Ever since she came back from Vienna….” She lets her words trail off with a rueful shake of the head. “Honestly, Sunbae, what I think Rak-kun needs is a good smack upside the head; but without you around, that’s never gonna happen.”

 

Nae Il looks bewildered. “But what about Yoon Hoo-sunbae?”

 

“That’s the thing. Yoon Hoo-sunbae –”

 

Min Hee stops herself mid-sentence, noticing that Eomma is once again heading towards us. I answer her furtive glance at me with a knowing nod: she could trust us to stay discreet, but Eomma, gossip that she is, is another matter.

 

Eomma has a tray with her, which she sets down on the table as Min Hee gets up from her seat. We try to invite her to stay a little bit longer; but, flustered by what we were just discussing, she declines, mumbling something about needing to see to the other customers before ducking away.

 

As Eomma passes out the snack she had brought over – individually-portioned slices of chocolate cake – we watch silently as Min Hee takes a long circuitous route back to the register. She heads over to where Lee Sun Jae is seated at the piano, the two exchanging a quick word and a laugh, then passes by each customer in turn, presumably asking whether there is anything more they need. A couple of times, I notice some of the guys trying to flirt – chatting a bit longer than necessary, holding out their hands just so in hopes that Min Hee’s fingers would brush theirs as she passes – but she stays as coolly professional as ever, only giving out the slightest perfunctory nod to their advances.

 

“I see that Choi Min Hee’s still as popular with the boys as ever.”

 

Eomma’s gaze follows mine. “She is, isn’t she? I’ve joked with her sometimes that she should just pick one and get it over with, but she says she’s not interested in any of them.”

 

Nae Il peers up at us, her first forkful of cake stopped halfway to her lips. “Good for them, then,” she quips knowingly. “They probably think that because Mini Min Hee is so small and cute, she’d be easy to handle.” She lets out a wry chuckle. “Little do they know!”

 

I look askance at her.

 

“Do you know, Orabang, that she was the one who taught me how best to deal with taller guys?”

 

“You mean…?” I make a small upwards motion with one hand, leaving the rest of my question unspoken. When Nae Il nods with a smug smile, I let out a short incredulous laugh. “Ya, Seollebal – jinjja?”

 

“What?” Eomma leans forward, eyes twinkling in that way they do when she knows there’s a juicy story to be told. “What are you two talking about?”

 

Quickly, I explain: how, last December, I had taken Nae Il to Salzburg’s annual Krampuslauf, and how she had fended for herself against one particular costumed reveller who had snatched her hat.

 

“She climbed him – literally climbed him,” I finish to Eomma’s amazement. “I swear, if I hadn’t seen it in person….” I let my words trail off, shaking my head with an indulgent smile.

 

“So those guys over there,” Nae Il butts in, “really have no idea what they’d be getting themselves into if Mini Min Hee actually chooses to go out with any of them.”

 

“I can see that!” Eomma admits with a laugh. “But still,” she adds slightly more wistfully, “I do wonder whether she’s a bit of a late bloomer. Imagine: twenty-three years old, and still not having had feelings for a guy even once. Why, when I was her age, I–”

 

“When you were her age,” I cut in drily, “you’d already had me. Honestly, Eomma: we’ve heard this about a dozen times.”

 

“Well, then,” she retorts just as drily, “do this super-young mother a favour and try some of the cake.” She gestures at the saucer in front of me. “Let me know what you think.”

 

Doing as I’m told, I glance curiously down at the slice before me. Unlike what I usually see from cakes here in Korea, this one is not that tall, nor is it smothered with cream or elaborately decorated. Instead, it is dense and compact, covered with a thick chocolate glaze and decorated with a single piped treble clef, made to stand out through the use of white chocolate rather than dark.

 

Fairly unassuming at first glance, but as I lift up the plate to get a closer look, I see that what I had taken as a single layer is, in fact, two: a darker, moister line across the middle revealing just a hint of filling.

 

“Eomma – are you honestly thinking of adding Sachertorte to the menu here?”

 

Nae Il, already halfway through her slice, blinks up at me. “Mwo? It’s Sachertorte?”

 

Her bewildered expression makes me laugh despite myself. “Ya, Seollebal – you’re saying that after you’ve eaten it?”

 

As Eomma also bursts out laughing, doubling over and clapping her hands together in glee, Nae Il tears her eyes away from me, glancing down at the floor. “Mianhae,” she says, shifting sheepishly from side to side. “But you know me: chocolate is chocolate. I don’t care much more beyond that.”

 

“Geu rae,” Eomma says, touching a subtle finger to one eye to brush away a laughter-induced tear. “Actually, it’s been on the menu for a while already, and seems to be doing really well, too. But” – she directs another pointed look at me – “this is my first chance to show you two, so just humour me and let me know what you think.”

 

Unlike Nae Il, who had practically inhaled her slice of cake, I take my time with it. Sachertorte, especially the way it’s made in Austria, is notoriously dry: courtesy of a long-ago aristocrat’s request from the baker for a more “manly” cake in contrast to the cream-laden confections then in vogue. From experience, the only way to really appreciate its flavour is to slowly savour it, letting the rich dark chocolate cake mingle with the sweet-yet-slightly-tart apricot jam filling on the tongue. Eomma, perhaps realizing this, has adapted the recipe to create a slightly moister consistency, more in line with what customers would expect here.

 

She, chin resting on her hands, watches eagerly as I first try a bite by itself, then a second with the accompanying dollop of whipped cream – a clue that, amazingly, Nae Il had managed to miss earlier. As she shoots me a questioning look, a slight tilt of the head, I glance across the table at her with a nod.

 

Immediately, her face brightens. “Is it good?”

 

“Mm,” I answer, now moving on to finish the rest. “It’s good.”

 

Eomma beams at me. “Great – because I was thinking of having this for your birthday party.”

 

Nae Il and I exchange surprised glances. “My what?”

 

“Your performance just happens to fall on your birthday, right?” When I nod in response, Eomma adds, “Well, when word got out to Rising Star about that, they suggested that rather than the usual after party, we should celebrate that instead.”

 

I bite back an exasperated sigh. “Eomma….”

 

“What, I can’t even do something like that for you? It’s enough that you were unable to be here for your birthday last year – not to mention Seollal for two years in a row. Just let me have this chance for once.”

 

I start to make some sort of rebuttal, but Nae Il stops me with an elbow to my side.

 

“Wae?”

 

“Come on, Orabang,” she whines, tugging on my arm with both hands. “Why not?”

 

I shake my head. “You know I’m not one for parties.”

 

“Ara,” she answers promptly. “But still. Our friends want to do something for you that they haven’t had the chance to before, and” – she peers over at Eomma – “it sounds like it’s already set.” Her lips press together in her cutest, most puppyish pout. “It’d be so sad, then, for all that effort to go to waste….”

 

I glance at Nae Il beside me, then over at Eomma across the table. Both of them are staring at me so pleadingly, so eagerly, that, after one last moment’s hesitation, I relent with a sigh.

 

“Geu rae; arasseo. If you’ve already put all that work into it….But just so we’re clear” – I raise a knowing eyebrow in Eomma’s direction – “ask me next time before you plan something like this. Our focus right now should be on Rising Star and RaRo, not me.”

 

~~~~~

 

Finlandia. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. Rhapsody in Blue.

 

All three pieces that Lee Yoon Hoo’s picked for his first half of Rising Star’s programme have some sort of dream-like quality to them: whether Sibelius’s vision of a free Finland; Debussy’s fantastical mythical landscape; or Gershwin’s freely spontaneous style inspired by New York jazz.

 

For my benefit, he begins our first rehearsal with a quick run-through of the first two pieces; with their months of practice beforehand, Rising Star doesn’t need much more than that. Still, Yoon Hoo does make a point of picking out various specific points in the music: places that are technically difficult, or where he wants to bring out a particular mood.

 

All this I make note of from my place in the back of the room, jotting down his comments in the notebook on my lap. But now, it is time for the rehearsal to start in earnest, as Nae Il heads over to the piano set up at the front for Rhapsody in Blue.

 

“Ya, Seollebal!” Yoo Il Rak, in the concertmaster’s seat, may be right next to Nae Il, but he’s pitched his voice to carry through the entire rehearsal hall. “It’s a good thing you pre-recorded your part for this.”

 

She pauses in the middle of setting up her sheet music, turning to face him with eyes dancing in mischief. “Wae?”

 

“Your tempos were all over the place!”

 

Nae Il joins in with his laughter, as do several other orchestra members. “Geu rae,” she concedes, sitting down on the bench with a flounce of her skirt. “That’s what Orabang said, too. But in my defence, Rak-kun, I did try to keep it together in the tutti parts.”

 

“Geu rae – but what about the solos?”

 

Their joviality is infectious. “Ya, Yoo Il Rak!” I call out, now no longer able to resist. “It’s called ‘rubato,’ idiot!”

 

Laughter breaks out all through the orchestra; from the nearby percussion section, I hear Ma Su Min confide to his companion, “Cha-neunim’s joining in today; that’s a good sign.”

 

As the hilarity peters off, a joking voice rings over from the brass section. “Besides, not like your tempos are much better, Yoo Il Rak!”

 

“Ara,” he barks back in the same teasing tone of voice. “Which is why I have you guys to thank for keeping me in line.”

 

Is it just me, or was he glancing at Jung Si Won when he said that?

 

Finally, Lee Yoon Hoo brings the joking to an end, lightly rapping his baton on the edge of his music stand.

 

“Nae Il’s right, though, guys.” His voice, quiet and conversational, still manages to command everyone’s attention. He leans forward casually, arms crossed loosely on the stand’s metal surface. “If there’s any piece where freedom of interpretation should be allowed, it’s this one.” His eyes scan over the orchestra. “So feel free to have some fun with it, especially those of you who have solos. Not to the point where you’re doing something different every single time, of course – but as long as you’re consistent so that everyone can recognize your cues, then some freestyle is perfect here.”

 

The practice now starts in earnest, the music starting with a long sensual upward glissando from a clarinet before swelling into a full orchestral fanfare. As Nae Il, the main soloist, joins in on the piano, I flip silently to the section in my notebook I’ve set aside for this piece.

 

Nix the saxophones (no point in grabbing people from the jazz program only to leave them with nothing to do for the rest of the concert) as well as the banjo (where the hell would we find one at Haneum anyway?)

 

Already, courtesy of my meeting with Yoon Hoo yesterday, I’ve made a few notes based on his interpretive decisions, albeit adding my own personal commentary. Now, moving on the next line on the page, I add one more: In jazz-inspired pieces, freestyle/improvisation is fine. Let Seollebal be Seollebal.

 

“Jeogiyo, Yoon Hoo-yah – could I ask you something?”

 

Il Rak’s sudden question breaks me out of my concentration; a quick glance back up tells me that the orchestra has come to a stop. My brow furrows as I squint down at my notebook, now updated with several more pages worth of notes – just how long have we been at this already?

 

From his spot on the podium, Yoon Hoo nods graciously. “Go for it.”

 

“This section here, Section 29…are you sure you want to go with the solo?”

 

Yoon Hoo looks confused. “That’s what it says on the score.” One brow quirks up pointedly. “Wae?”

 

Il Rak breaks eye contact first, glancing off to one side while sheepishly grasping onto the nape of his neck. Nae Il, for her part, turns to look curiously at him; but it’s the other orchestra members’ reactions that I notice most.

 

Rolling eyes, shaking heads – clearly, what he’s bringing up here is an old issue.

 

Il Rak, however, is either oblivious to this or completely undettered, because after a moment’s hesitation, he presses on. “Well, you see…about that…I was thinking….”

 

Yoon Hoo’s jaw clenches. “We’ve already talked about this.”

 

“Ara,” Il Rak concedes, nodding enthusiastically. “But–”

 

“Waeyo?” Nae Il cuts in, glancing back and forth between them in confusion. “What’s the matter?”

 

Rather than answer her directly, Yoon Hoo aims his response at Il Rak. “That solo is yours by right.”

 

“Which means it’s also my right to pass it on to someone else.”

 

“True,” Yoon Hoo quips back drily. “But not to a second violin.”

 

A second violin? Of course that’s not possible. The solo in question, I know, is supposed to be for someone from the first violins, so why on earth would he…?

 

Rak-kun’s being a lovesick idiot again….You’ll see what I mean, Sunbae, when we start rehearsals.

 

Choi Min Hee’s comment to me the other day creeps back up in my mind: a small, nagging voice that simply refuses to go away. Like I’m irrationally confused in the middle of putting together a puzzle that, really, should be so simple that a child could figure it out.

 

And then, it hits me.

 

Orchestra convention is that wherever there is a solo, it is given to whoever is first chair in that instrument section. And the first chair for the second violins right now is….

 

Aish.

 

~~~~~

 

“I hope you don’t mind my turning down the solo this time around, Cha Yoo Jin.”

 

Meeting Yoon Hoo’s apologetic expression with a small smile, I shake my head before taking my spot on the black leather loveseat across from his on the matching sofa. “Gwenchana; it’s for the best,” I answer, scanning over his living room – so similar yet so different to the one I’d had here in Seoul – with a rueful nod. “That’s the only way we can keep your part in the encore a surprise, after all.” I raise a meaningful eyebrow at him. “Your cellist – is she new?”

 

“Ne.” A proud smile comes over his features as he passes me a can of beer, opening a second one for himself. “She’s my hoobae; we had the same teacher when we were kids. Her talents are enough to allow her to study abroad, but her family’s finances have never been all that great, so….” He takes a quick sip with a shrug. “Good thing Haneum, through Rising Star, is willing to help kids like her.”

 

“Indeed,” I say back in response, joining him in his drink.

 

“But,” he says, setting down his beer and leaning forward to rest both elbows on his knees, “that’s not what you’re here for. Knowing you, you wouldn’t be willing to step foot in my place if all you wanted to talk about was my cello, Nae Il’s concerto or not.”

 

I bristle in defence. “You were the one who suggested this place, Lee Yoon Hoo – not me.”

 

“‘In private, where no-one else can hear,’” he retorts. “That’s what you said after today’s rehearsal. That rules out Haneum, Mendelssohn, your mother’s café…pretty much any public place we know.

 

“So out with it: what’s this really about?”

 

I mirror his posture, shooting him a pointed look across the coffee table. “Yoo Il Rak and Jung Si Won – how long has this been going on?”

 

His eyes narrow. “Do I have to answer that?”

 

“I’m not the one who’s in over my head.”

 

“Mwo?” His jaw drops, but his eyes are blazing. “Ya, Cha Yoo Jin. Are you honestly implying that I’m–”

 

I whip out my notebook from my bag and slap it onto the coffee table with a bang. It falls open to the place I’d marked in it: the page where, to the best of my memory, I’d recorded both Min Hee’s request to me and the confrontation between Yoon Hoo and Il Rak earlier today.

 

Blinking in surprise at my gesture, he reads it over, eyes widening and jaw slowly dropping open as the words sink in.

 

“Cha Yoo Jin….”

 

“When I handed Rising Star over to you,” I begin coolly, “I did so with the full belief that you would work with its best interests at heart. But clearly” – I point first at Min Hee’s comment, then at my own note at the other members’ attitude towards Il Rak – “there’s a bigger problem here than simply today’s incident, and I want to know what it is.” When he only furrows his brow skeptically, I add, “Don’t look at me like that. I’m not trying to undermine your authority here. But sooner or later, if things keep going on like this–”

 

“Something’s going to blow,” he finishes curtly. “Ara. I get it.” Determination flares up in his eyes. “Don’t think I don’t.”

 

His passionate response makes me soften despite myself. “Now you know,” I say more gently, a chuckle rumbling in my chest, “what it felt like for me when you started making all those cryptic comments about Rising Star back then.”

 

Yoon Hoo blinks incredulously at me at first, but then looks relieved, a small smile tugging at his lips. “Now that you mention it…geu rae.”

 

“Which is why,” I finish, “I’m coming to you about this.” Clasping my hands together for a second, I stretch one out to him in a benevolent gesture. “Let’s work on resolving this. Together.”

 

His gaze drifts down to my hand. For a long moment, he simply stares wordlessly at it, although I do see when he swallows nervously, a lump moving up and down his throat. Then, at long last, he looks me in the eye with a genuine, albeit sad, smile.

 

“Ne.” He takes my hand so we could share an amicable handshake. “Let’s do that.”

 

“Komapda.” Retrieving my beer from the table, I lean back in my seat and take a sip, noting out of the corner of my eye that Yoon Hoo does the same. We even set our cans down together, prompting an amused twinkle to spring up in his eyes.

 

“Well, then,” I say at last. “What’s going on?” A pause. “When did this whole thing start?”

 

He shrugs. “Not too long after Jung Si Won came back.”

 

My jaw drops. “You’ve been going through this for half a year?”

 

“Not exactly ‘half a year’….”

 

“But close enough.”

 

Yoon Hoo mulls over it for a moment, then nods. “You remember how it was before, with the Tchaikovsky concerto.”

 

One corner of my mouth twitches up in a wry smirk. “Don’t we all.”

 

“So you’d know how Yoo Il Rak kept trying to foist his solo on Jung Si Won.”

 

“Geu rae. But that actually made sense – he was second violin, and she was concertmaster. So what’s wrong now?”

 

He gives me a long look. “You’re probably one of the few people in all of Rising Star who knows that the old A/S conflict never actually went away.”

 

I nod. “Because the original members still remember where they came from and the hierarchy that came with it.”

 

“Well, if Il Rak had it bad before Si Won went to Vienna” – he spreads his hands helplessly – “you can imagine what it’s like now that she’s been there and back.” He raises a knowing eyebrow. “It’s not so much the solo that’s at stake here as it is the post.”

 

With the way he’s worded it, it takes me a moment to fully understand what Yoon Hoo’s implying. But once I do, I glance up at him in alarm. “Concertmaster?”

 

He affirms my suspicions with a grim nod. “Mm.”

 

“Why not just give it to her, then?”

 

“Because,” he quips back smartly, “she doesn’t want it. Not when it’s so clear that this is coming from Il Rak’s own low self esteem. And both of us know just how determined Jung Si Won can be once she’s made up her mind.”

 

“Mm.”

 

“What is it with you Haneum guys?” he says, his words trailing off into a long sigh. “First you, now Yoo Il Rak…you’re all so masochistic.”

 

I let out a short scoffing laugh. “Aren’t you one of us, too?”

 

Yoon Hoo stares at me for a moment, then softens with a small sheepish grin. “Guilty as charged. But” – he shoots me a pointed look up through his eyelashes – “you won’t get far at Juilliard living like that.”

 

“Point.”

 

“I’m used to competition,” he presses on. “Competition, rivalries, jealousies…people fighting to reach the top. New York’s no better than Seoul, Cha Yoo Jin – you’re lucky you’re Austrian instead.

 

“So what we saw with Rising Star at first – the schisms, the infighting – I can handle that. But fighting to step down in favour of someone else? You’re right, Yoo Jin-ah: I am in over my head, if for no other reason than because none of this is making any sense.”

 

I blink at him, incredulous. “So you’ve just been ignoring it?”

 

He bristles. “It’s not like that.”

 

“So how come–”

 

“If there’s one thing working in our favour,” Yoon Hoo cuts me off, his voice growing firmer, “it’s that neither Yoo Il Rak nor Jung Si Won are the sort to futz around with the orchestra. When push comes to shove, no matter what happens behind the scenes, Il Rak will play that solo and he’ll do it well.”

 

He excuses himself at this point, heading to the kitchen with a belated invitation called over his shoulder for me to make myself at home. So getting up from my seat, stretching my arms over my head to work out the kinks in my shoulders, I make my way around the living room.

 

To what had at first been my annoyance, and now more my amusement, Yoon Hoo has rented the unit right beneath my old one in Seoul. Here is the familiar high ceiling, the row of windows just beneath it…the landlord had even painted both of our units with the same light blue on the walls, the same teal on the door frames and trim. But this is Yoon Hoo’s apartment, not mine; where mine had built-in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves along one wall, his is a brown accent wall, which – true to form – he’s covered with his own favourite art prints: a collection of vintage posters.

 

I hear a soft chuckle behind me. “Figures you’d notice these first.”

 

I peer over my shoulder at Yoon Hoo, his smile as smug as a cat’s. “Opera?” I gesture at the posters. “That doesn’t sound like your sort of thing.”

 

“You got me,” he admits with a shrug. “I’m more a Broadway person, to be honest. Opera…the music’s fine, but in the hands of a self-inflated singer….” He shakes his head, a slight smile tugging at his lips; clearly someone’s told him about Do Kyung. “But,” he concedes with a sigh, “I actually keep these more as a reminder of New York: I found them for sale at the Met, so I figured, ‘Why not?’.”

 

“Geu rae.” I find myself suddenly unable to hold back a soft snort of laughter. “At least I can get behind this better than Yoo Il Rak’s collection.”

 

“The rock posters?” Yoon Hoo asks wryly. “True. A number of my friends from Juilliard were into that, too – but I can’t see you doing that.”

 

I’m about to retort, as usual, that I’m not actually one of his friends, but he stops me with a subtle knowing shake of the head. Instead, then, I follow him back to our original places, reaching into the bag of honey butter nuts he’s just opened on my way down. Eating my handful one at a time, I shoot him a pointed look. “But we digress. What are we going to do about Rising Star?”

 

Yoon Hoo pauses, his hand still in the bag. “Eh?” After collecting himself, he adds, “That’s what I’d wanted to say before: if it doesn’t impact our performances, then this is simply a private matter between Il Rak and Si Won. And who are we to intervene in something like that?”

 

I stare at him, incredulous. “And yet you admit that there is a problem.”

 

“Look, Cha Yoo Jin.” Some of the fire from before appears in his eyes. “If neither of them are about to change their minds on their own, what can we do about it? You honestly think we can force them?”

 

I shake my head. “Ani.”

 

“So that leaves us with only one choice,” he says, “and that is to wait until this ‘Gift of the Magi’ scenario plays itself out.” When I only raise a skeptical eyebrow, he lets out an exasperated sigh. “Look. I know what you’re thinking: that I used to be the one getting you for standing back when Rising Star ran into problems. But first of all, that was my mistake; I hadn’t understood the bigger plan you’d had in mind. But secondly, and more importantly” – he leans forward defensively in his seat – “unlike last time, none of us at Rising Star are about to let this affect our playing.”

 

For a while after he has finished, I simply give him a long look: one that makes him squirm uncomfortably and glance down at a random spot on the floor. Then, once I suspect that he’s already started to back off, I take my turn to speak:

 

“You think that this is simply a private matter: a lovers’ spat, a ‘Gift of the Magi’ scenario as you put it. Except it’s not.”

 

His head jerks up, and he blinks at me in surprise.

 

I tell him what I’d seen through the window of a small practice room on my way out after the rehearsal this afternoon: Il Rak and Si Won, their words muffled by the heavy soundproof door, but the heated intensity of their exchange clear from their emphatic expressions and wildly gesticulating hands.

 

“If this doesn’t settle on its own soon,” I finish, shooting Yoon Hoo a pointed look across the table, “we’ll have a ticking time bomb on our hands, just like the last time. And when it goes…even if the conflict’s just between the two of them, how can you guarantee that Rising Star won’t be hit as well?”

 

My analogy doesn’t escape his notice. Yoon Hoo leans in closer, eyes narrowed in defiant challenge. “And will you be the one to light the fuse?”

 

“Let’s hope that won’t be necessary,” I answer, meeting his steely glare with one of my own. “But if it comes down to that or letting their relationship explode on its own…if it’s for the good of Rising Star, then I won’t hesitate.”

 

~~~~~

 

Despite my threats to the contrary, I have no intention of actually intervening right away. Unlike the last incident with Rising Star – where I had snuck a recording of Sae Yeon’s orchestra into the rehearsal hall, allowed the members to be filmed unawares by the observation camera, and leaked the truth about its internal feud to the press – I haven’t thought much further than simply talking to Yoo Il Rak one-on-one about what I saw. There simply isn’t anything else I can do in the couple of weeks prior to this concert that wouldn’t risk things getting worse instead of better.

 

But even that hasn’t happened.

 

Because a couple of weeks is all I have – and they are full enough as they are.

 

Whereas Nae Il and I had close to a month to prepare for our concert with Rising Star last summer, with this being in the middle of our month-long term break from the Mozarteum, we only have two weeks between our arrival in Seoul and the concert. Along with preparations for RaRo’s premiere in the midst of all this, we have a packed schedule: the two of us practicing together in the morning, followed by orchestra rehearsals lasting most of the afternoon.

 

Even our evenings haven’t been spared. On the nights when I’m not already meeting with Lee Yoon Hoo to compare notes, the two of us are dragged, along with Nae Il, to one social promotional event after another: dinners with Haneum’s faculty, board of directors, and alumni association; interviews with local news broadcasters and Classical Monthly,the same magazine that covered both my Grieg concerto and Rising Star’s premiere. Only because Nae Il finally put her foot down was she able to get me to herself last night on Valentine’s Day, which we spent simply watching a film and playing arcade games in the local cinema. With a schedule like that, it’s enough for me to just join Yoo Il Rak and his father in their living room every night for an obligatory piece of fruit before I literally drop from exhaustion on the mattress beside his bed, sleeping so soundly that he once told me in the morning, voice hushed in ghoulish glee, that I’d been as still as the dead.

 

So here I am, two days before RaRo’s premiere on the 17th, and still no closer to doing what I’d promised. If things stay as they are until after Rising Star’s concert, when I’ll have a few days before my flight back home, then we’ll be fine. But if not….

 

“Orabang…Orabang…earth to Orabang….”

 

Vaguely, I can make out Nae Il’s sing-song voice beside me, but it’s only when she claps her hands right next to my ear that I finally snap out of my thoughts with a jolt.

 

“Ya, Seollebal!” I swivel around in my seat on the piano bench. “Don’t scare me like that!”

 

She casts her eyes sheepishly sideways at the floor, one finger rubbing her lower lip. “Mianhae.”

 

I shoot a pointed look over her shoulder at the clock on the wall. “What took you so long? And” – my eyes flicker down at her empty hands – “where’s our coffee?”

 

Immediately, she perks up. “You see, Orabang: about that….”

 

I follow her gaze to the door behind her, startling a second time when I see Lee Sun Jae standing just inside of the threshold, holding a cardboard takeaway tray filled with three paper cups. Eyes twinkling, pressed lips giving way to a bashful grin when he’s no longer able to contain his amusement, he bows slightly in greeting.

 

“Annyeong, Sunbae.”

 

I glance questioningly at Nae Il. “What’s…?”

 

“We ran into each other at the café,” Sun Jae explains, stepping past us to set his load down on the small table beside the couch. His shoulders tense up in something like a shrug. “I’m not on shift until this afternoon, so….”

 

“So I invited him to join us,” Nae Il finishes, punctuating her statement with a smug smile and nod.

 

Still needing a moment to let this sink in, I can only look on as Sun Jae skillfully wiggles one cup out of its holder and holds it out to me. “Your Americano, Sunbae.”

 

I make a face as I cross over to take it. “But I’d asked Nae Il to get me a double espresso.”

 

“And the day she manages to bring you that,” he retorts, “is the day Choi Min Hee and I lose our jobs.” Seated on the couch as he is, he peers up at me through his lashes. “You know how the boss is, Sunbae.”

 

“Ara.” I sit down beside him, coffee in hand. “You don’t have to tell me.” Carefully, so as not to burn my tongue, I take a sip. “You’d think that Eomma would know my habits by now.”

 

“She does,” Nae Il adds, pulling over the instructor’s chair to join us with her own drink. “She just doesn’t like seeing you so overworked.”

 

“Like she doesn’t know what goes into preparing for a performance,” I mutter back sarcastically, settling further back in my seat.

 

Sun Jae lowers his cup, glancing thoughtfully down at it in his hands. “Would that include spacing out as well, Sunbae?”

 

I jolt up ramrod straight. “Ya!”

 

“Ne,” Nae Il blurts out right over me. “Not to mention turning into a grumpy cat.”

 

I round on her. “Ya, Seollebal, I do not–”

 

“Case in point.”

 

Sun Jae’s laughter at my expense makes me slouch back down in my seat with a huff. “Shut up. See if you could do any better.”

 

“Gwenchanayo, Sunbae.” He flashes me a warm smile. “It’ll all be worth it in the end.”

 

“Of course!” I agree emphatically. “When has it not?”

 

“Which is why,” Nae Il adds, “I brought Sun Jae here in the first place.”

 

When I peer questioningly at him, he breaks eye contact, glancing down at the floor between his knees with a bashful grin.

 

“Well, you see, Sunbae,” he mumbles, “it’s…it’s been a while.”

 

My brow furrows. “A while since what?”

 

He shrugs, his eyes still downcast. “Last time was last summer.”

 

I turn back to Nae Il, hoping she could offer some sort of explanation. Fortunately, this subject must have come up at the café, because she delivers: “He means RaRo, Orabang: a four-hand duet.”

 

“Exactly,” Sun Jae stammers, looking relieved that Nae Il’s finished for him. “I…I do plan to go to the concert, Sunbae, but it’s just that…just that….”

 

I nod. I think I know what this is about. At the same time, Nae Il stands up with a slap on both knees.

 

“Alright, then, Sun Jae-yah – one private viewing, coming right up!”

 

She scampers eagerly to the piano, but I get up more slowly from my spot beside Sun Jae: slowly enough that, just for a moment, our eyes meet.

 

“You don’t mind, do you?”

 

I meet his hesitant look with a reassuring smile. “Why should I? If I had a problem with being watched, would we even be going on stage on Friday?”

 

He mulls over that for a moment, then breaks into a smile of his own. “That’s true.”

 

I move to join Nae Il at the piano, each of us setting our unfinished cups of coffee out of the way on our respective sides of the music rack. Behind me, I hear a harsh scraping sound: Sun Jae switching to the instructor’s chair, pulling it over to Nae Il’s side.

 

As I get into position, shifting just so in order to reach the pedal more easily, she peers over at him, head tilted to one side. “By the way, Sun Jae – didn’t you say that you’ve done four-hand pieces with that friend of yours before?”

 

A soft rumbling chuckle rolls out from somewhere in his chest as, out of the corner of my eye, his eyes flicker back down at the floor. “Well, you see…that’s different. That wasn’t with a girl.”

 

I stiffen in alarm – just what on earth did he mean by that? But, as neither Nae Il nor Sun Jae say any more on the subject, I choose to shrug it off. Quickly, I school myself into a more neutral expression and posture, my initial reaction fortunately unnoticed by the others as we begin.

 

Every time Nae Il and I prepare a four-handed piece, we follow the same pattern. First, there is learning the piece, both of us practicing our parts separately before joining them together. Then, there is interpretation as Nae Il, true to form, lets herself go to develop her own version of the piece, trusting me to rise up to her challenge and complement her perfectly. Finally, there is solidification: the two of us playing our rendition of the piece over and over again until we know it by heart.

 

By now, just two days before RaRo’s premiere, we are well in the thick of that last phase; save for the occasional moment when one of us might stop to go over a particularly challenging passage or to experiment with a slightly different take on the expression, it’s simply a matter of running through our entire programme from the top. Still, just playing everything once takes us an hour, and even a late practice like this, if done properly, pushes close to two. So it’s no wonder that Sun Jae, soon tired of just sitting there, gets up to retrieve a book from the shelves lining the wall. Idly, his eyes downcast, he leafs his way through it, but, unbeknownst to him, his fingers continue to tap along with the beat between pages.

 

Going by the surreptitious glances I shoot past Nae Il in his direction, he stays like that through the joyous celebration of our rendition of The Magic Flute, the crisply precise fugal depths of the Orgelstück, the sprightly prancing rhythm of the Polka Italienne, and the complete set of six short pieces that make up Bilder aus Osten.

 

You don’t mind, do you?

 

Under any other circumstances, such behaviour would come across as rude. But Sun Jae’s question, the soft hesitation in his voice, reveal to me his true intentions. Here is a pianist who has been closely watched during a rehearsal, who knows how uncomfortable it feels to have another person’s eyes boring into the back of his skull, silently staring intently like a hawk.

 

But then, as we move on to our final piece, the Schubert Fantasie, that changes.

 

Just over the sound of the hushed opening passage, I hear it: a soft gasp of recognition followed, seconds later, by the subtle squeak of creaking leather. A quick darting glance out of the corner of my eye reveals Sun Jae leaning forward in his seat. Nae Il, absorbed in her playing, doesn’t notice anything at first; but then the book, now forgotten, slips from his finger down to the floor.

 

In a flash, we both stiffen in alarm, turning our heads toward the disturbance. Sun Jae, jolted right out of his reverie, fumbles to retrieve it, grinning at us both in apology, yet Nae Il and I, well-practiced as we are, simply respond with curt nods of our own before resuming the piece.

 

Within moments, we sink back into the music, Nae Il and I. Perfect harmony; each phrase a sighing breath of longing desire. Her left arm and my right touching, brushing against each other, my hand laid overtop of hers. Below the keyboard, unseen and unnoticed, my leg, too, touches hers as I reach for the pedal on her side. She feels it, senses it, as she has always done: the way our music melts – the way we melt – together as one.

 

I turn to look at her, to see her eyes closed and her mouth open as she revels in the melody – but then, beyond her, I see him. Lee Sun Jae. He, too, has closed his eyes; he, too, is completely absorbed, the book lying uselessly in his lap as, caught in our spell, he plays along with both hands.

 

Interesting. He’s playing the treble, just like Nae Il.

 

That one detail, for some strange reason, sticks in my head, repeating itself over and over with the others none the wiser.

 

It’s strange. I don’t know if it’s always like this, but considering that the bass also gets the pedal, I assume it is: that where there are two pianists in a four-handed piece, it’s the more senior – the teacher – of the two who plays bass, the junior – the student – who plays treble. That’s how we’d started, after all: Nae Il and I.

 

Teacher and student; senior and junior….

 

Didn’t you say you’ve done four-handed pieces with that friend of yours before?

 

That’s different. That wasn’t with a girl.

 

A female teacher…a male student….

 

You do know about what happened at Seohan, right? The corruption scandal?...Our Sun Jae here had been right in the middle of the whole mess…not to mention, there was the whole deal with his instructor–

 

Andwae. I don’t want to hear it. It cannot be – it simply cannot be!

 

My stomach turns; for a second, bile bubbles up in my throat as I swallow it back. I squeeze my eyes shut, try to force the thought – Eomma’s words from last summer, hushed with scandalous glee – out. Out from my mind. Out from this room.

 

It can’t be real. It just can’t be real!

 

And yet, try as I might, I can’t get rid of it, that tantalizing forbidden image: two bodies intertwined, one dark and the other fair, a woman’s long black hair cascading down her naked back….

 

How had the gossip columns put it again? Clara and Brahms together, with Robert – poor, dear, mad Robert – left by the wayside.

 

The Fantasie is in its final segment now: a grand fugal chorale, intricate and sacred as Bach. And yet…and yet…driving, pounding forward, faster and faster, to climax.

 

Climax. Agony and ecstasy rolled into one.

 

The final chords sound, echoing and fading away into silence: awful, stunned silence.

 

Sun Jae is the first to recover, pulling back the hand he’d pressed over his still-shining eyes to give us an emphatic clap and thumbs-up.

 

“That. Was beautiful.”

 

Beside me, Nae Il beams. “You really think so?” she gasps eagerly. She thanks him when he nods, then turns to face me.

 

“Speaking of which: what was with that ending, Orabang?” Her brow furrows slightly in thought. “You’ve never taken the chords so fast before; I was having a hard time keeping up.”

 

I avoid her gaze, chewing my bottom lip as I turn my face away. “I – I did?”

 

“Mm.”

 

Guilt clenches deep inside my chest. “Was it bad?”

 

Fortunately, to my relief, she shakes her head. “Ani.” She smiles. “I thought it was great. Intense, vivid, splendid…the kind of music that would get stuck in people’s heads.”

 

A secret smile tugs at the corner of my lips at the memory her words conjure up in my mind. But it disappears with a jolt when she suddenly claps her hands with a gasp.

 

“Maybe we should play it like that, for real.”

 

I round on her. “Mwo?”

 

She leans in close, hands clasped and eyes wide. “It’s been so long since you’ve bewitched someone with your playing, Orabang – you should do it again.”

 

Despite Nae Il’s earnest appeal, I hesitate. How could I explain that what had happened was not so much an outpouring of passion, but a loss of control? But then, over her shoulder, I see Lee Sun Jae nod.

 

Lee Sun Jae.

 

Staring at him now, I feel my jaw clench. If he could be so brazen, then why can’t I?

 

“Geu rae,” I answer Nae Il at length. “Arasseo. We’ll do that, then.”

 

If she senses the tension in my voice, she brushes it aside. Instead, she lunges forward to take my right hand in both of hers. “Komawoyo, Orabang!”

 

I force myself to smile, deftly twisting my hand out of her grip. “Alright, then. That’s settled.”

 

Our practice now at an end, we start to pack up: putting away the sheet music, finishing what’s left of our now-unpleasantly-cold cups of coffee. Sun Jae offers to help, but I brush him aside, even as I tell Nae Il to head to our lunch appointment first.

 

“Tell Yoon Hoo to order without me; I’ll be over there soon.”

 

Although Nae Il looks confused, she does as she’s told, prancing out the door with a quick farewell bow. Lee Sun Jae makes to follow, but I deftly sidestep to block him just in front of the door.

 

“You.”

 

He stumbles to a halt, caught off guard by the harshness in my tone. “Mwo?”

 

“You,” I say again, forcing him back with a single long stride in his direction. “How could you?”

 

“Sunbae, what are you talking about?”

 

The hand holding the strap of my bag tightens into a fist. “Those rumours about you – they’re true, aren’t they.”

 

His jaw drops. “S-Sunbae, I–”

 

I cut him off with a slash of my free hand. “How could you?! Your own instructor–”

 

Sun Jae rushes to defend himself. “She–”

 

“A married woman!”

 

“In a loveless marriage–”

 

“I should have known,” I blurt out right over him, “back then, when people derided you by calling you ‘Brahms’–”

 

“Mwo?”

 

“But even Brahms – even Brahms, with his love for Clara – had the decency not to actually act on his feelings. And you…you….” I let out a disdainful scoff. “Do you even realize what you did?!”

 

“Geu rae,” he answers promptly, voice tight. “Of course. But, Sunbae,” he adds more softly, “what are you getting so worked up about? It’s not like any of this has to do with you–”

 

Roaring in frustration, I whirl away from him, hammering a fist down hard on the keyboard. A harsh jangling chord rings out around us, echoing and pulsing in time with the throbbing ache in my hand.

 

Startled, Sun Jae rushes over beside me. “Sunbae!”

 

“I trusted you!” I burst out, rounding on him and forcing him back with yet another wide sweep of my arm. “I defended you! Back when everyone else here at Haneum was sniggering about it, I was the one who said it wasn’t true!”

 

I turn away once again, letting my bag drop down to the floor as I sag forward to brace myself with both hands on the keys. My pulse pounds and roars in my head; I close my eyes, forcing myself to breathe.

 

Hana, dul, set, net…hana, dul, set, net….

 

All my life, I’ve been taught that a classical musician must be beyond reproach. Let the pop bands and the rock stars, the avant garde artists and provocative designers, have their scandals. Classical, especially in this day and age, should be different – must be different. That’s what Abeoji said. Stern, disciplined, aware enough of the world’s vices to understand them, but with enough self restraint not to succumb oneself….

 

“Sunbae.”

 

“Get out,” I growl through gritted teeth. “I don’t want to deal with you right now.”

 

From the long silence that follows, it seems at first like he’s done as he was told. But then, out of the stillness, Sun Jae tries again.

 

“Sunbae….”

 

Damn him. Why can’t he just quit?

 

“Wae?”

 

“About having you find out like this…joesonghamnida.”

 

I straighten to face him with an exasperated sigh. “Why didn’t you say anything before?”

 

To his credit, he gets straight to the point. “You never asked.”

 

I accept his response with a nod, which prompts him to take in a deep breath, drawing himself up to his full height.

 

“But still, I don’t need you – anyone, really, but especially you – to defend my honour.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because….” In lieu of answering directly, he gestures to the piano. “That Fantasie just now, with Nae Il–”

 

I bristle. “Are you calling my a hypocrite?”

 

“Ani,” he answers matter-of-factly. “I’m just saying that you feel the same way for her that I do” – his use of the present tense doesn’t escape my notice – “for Oh Hye Won.”

 

“So?”

 

“So imagine what that might be like, Sunbae,” he adds. “If, by the time you met Nae Il – your muse, your soulmate, your goddess – she was already someone else’s.”

 

My eyes narrow. “I’d still hold back,” I scoff, lip curling in disdain. “I’m not like you.”

 

“And you’re the luckier one out of the two of us for it,” he retorts curtly. “I know what it must look like to you, but we didn’t do anything wrong: I’m not a homewrecker, and she’s no cougar. Whatever you may think of us, Sunbae, it was – and always will be – the music that came first.”

 

~~~~~

 

“You know, Nae Il-ah, you don’t have to wear a black dress if you don’t want to.”

 

Nae Il stops in the middle of pulling a short wisp of hair loose from the front of her neatly braided style. “What do you mean?”

 

I gesture up and down with my hand to point out her outfit. “Don’t you usually prefer something more…vibrant for a concert performance?”

 

She rounds on me. “I do, Orabang. But this is RaRo – I should match you whenever I can.” Holding out her skirt with one hand, she turns slightly side to side as though to show it off. “Besides, I like this dress. You?”

 

I crack a small smile at her. “Ne,” I answer promptly, my nod encompassing the entirety of her long black gown: its gently sweeping horizontal neckline that, once again, leaves her white shoulders bare; its subtle lace overlay on the bodice and long sleeves; its flowing skirt that flares out just slightly from her hips. “Of couse I do; it’s beautiful

 

“But, Seollebal,” I add a second later, “are you done with the mirror yet?” One corner of my mouth twitches up in a smirk. “This is my dressing room, not yours; and” – I gesture to show that, unlike her, I’m still in my shirtsleeves – “I’m not finished yet.”

 

Nae Il springs back from the dressing table with a soft yelp. “Oh! Right. About that….” After one last check in the mirror, she scurries out of the way, letting me finally get close enough to have a good view as I tie my bow tie.

 

A dark motion out of the corner of my left eye makes me pause, however. “And just what on earth do you think you’re doing?”

 

“Nothing!”

 

I hear jangling from the wardrobe beside me and smother a laugh. “Ya, Seollebal – jinjja?”

 

Sure enough, Nae Il’s reflection bobs into view beside me, my tailcoat held in her hands by both shoulders. “You were the one who said you weren’t finished, Orabang. So, I’m here to help you.”

 

I start to say that I am perfectly fine putting it on myself, but when her hopeful smile melts into an exaggerated pout, I relent with a sigh. “Geu rae; arasseo. Whatever you say, Seollebal.”

 

She beams at me, immediately restored to her usual cheerful self.

 

Once again, I’m forced to bite back a laugh at her antics. “You’d better not be letting the tails touch the floor, though – not unless you plan on cleaning them yourself.”

 

Noting the mischievous tone in my voice, Nae Il tosses her head with a mock-disdainful scoff. “Ya, Orabang,” she laughs, “I’m not that short!”

 

I chuckle softly. “Jeongmal?”

 

She squawks again in protest, but there is no real fire in it, this being an old joke between us. To be fair, the difference in our heights is really only a problem when we’re at home: without shoes, Nae Il just comes up to my shoulder. But tonight, with the heeled pumps she tends to wear for performances, she’s raised up enough that I can actually see her dancing eyes reflected in the mirror as she moves to stand behind me.

 

I finish with my bow tie, then reach both hands out behind my back. Right on cue, Nae Il slips the armholes of my tailcoat on over my wrists, helping the sleeves up my arms as I shrug on the coat in one fluid motion. As she brushes the shoulder seams smooth with both hands, I grab onto the front and give the coat a sharp tug so it falls perfectly into place.

 

This, then, is how Eomma finds us when, seeing that Nae Il has left the door ajar, she glides in with only a quick knock on the wall for advance notice.

 

“So this is the coat you were so desperate to call home about back in January.” She gives me a quick once-over, then flashes an appreciative grin. “Looks good.”

 

Nae Il beams, sidestepping to link arms with me. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?” she giggles. “I’d thought Orabang couldn’t possibly look better than he did the day of the Rachmaninoff concert – turns out I was wrong.”

 

She makes to say more, but I stop her with a subtle nudge from my elbow. “Clothes, however,” I add to Eomma, “don’t nearly matter as much as simply being confident.”

 

Eomma meets my level gaze with one of her own. “And are you?”

 

“Of course,” I answer smoothly. “We’ve practiced, we’ve prepared…what more is there to worry about?”

 

Nae Il takes the brief silence that follows as her cue to leave, promising to wait for me at the stage door. “After all,” she says, ducking past me on her way out, “it’s your birthday; it’s only right that you two have your mother-son moment.”

 

Sure enough, no sooner has the door closed behind Nae Il does Eomma make straight for one of the chairs lined up against the wall, beckoning for me to join her. By the time I’ve taken the seat beside her, she is already rummaging about in her large purse. She pulls out a small gift-wrapped parcel and holds it out to me with a smile. “Happy birthday, Yoo Jin-ah.”

 

From its shape and size, I know it to be yet another addition to my ever-growing collection of recordings; and considering that it’s from Eomma, I know it will be one I’ve been searching for for a while. “Komawo,” I say simply, tucking it away behind me to open later.

 

She accepts my thanks readily, but tuts a second later. “I shouldn’t have to come all the way here just to see you,” she points out wryly. “Would it have killed you to come by the shop at least once after the last time?”

 

I shrug. “You know I’ve been busy.”

 

“So busy you haven’t even been able to get your own coffee?” Without warning, she cups my chin with one hand, turning my face to examine me in profile. “Aigoo…just look at you: one week since I last saw you, and already, you’re losing weight.”

 

Flustered, I shake myself free. “Aniya,” I protest as she starts rummaging in her purse again. “It’s not like that. You know how it is, Eomma: all the stuff that goes into a performance–”

 

I cut myself off, though, when I see the small beige tube in her hand.

 

“Ya.” Slowly, cautiously, I scoot back away from her as far as my chair would allow. “You – you can’t honestly be thinking–”

 

Wearing her most innocent-looking expression, she bats her eyes at me. “Wae?”

 

I make a face. “Shiro.”

 

“Well, you’re just going to have to get used to it,” she retorts.

 

My jaw drops. “I – I do not–”

 

“What’s so wrong with a bit of makeup, huh?” She shoots me a pointed look. “It’s not like you don’t use products to begin with.”

 

“That’s skincare; that’s different.”

 

She anticipates my next move with a knowledge born from years of experience, grabbing both of my wrists and pressing them down into my lap. “Just hold still,” she chides me, deftly dabbing some concealer under each eye before I could pull back. “You haven’t been eating or sleeping well lately – we can’t risk you going on stage looking like a panda bear.”

 

She moves quickly despite my continued protests, stroking briskly with her fingers to blend the concealer in with my skin; as she works, she mumbles softly to herself: ”Good thing you seem to get your colouring from me; why, if you were as dark as someone like Lee Sun Jae, then….”

 

I roll my eyes. “What would Abeoji think if he saw us like this?”

 

This time, my defiance has struck a nerve. With a sharp breath, Eomma rears back away from me. “Well, your father’s not here right now. And good riddance.”

 

A twinge of guilt pierces me in the chest. My voice softens despite myself. “Eomma….”

 

“His own son’s birthday.” Her voice breaks, so she tries again. “His own son’s birthday, and a concert premiere to boot. Of all the possible days for him not to show up….”

 

It takes a moment for her to steady her trembling hand, but she soon collects herself and moves on to foundation, dabbing it onto my face with the accompanying sponge. Still, there is no hiding her resentful hatred of my father, just simmering beneath the surface.

 

I twist one hand free to rest it upon the one she has in my lap with a reassuring squeeze. “I thought you didn’t want Abeoji to come here tonight.”

 

“You’re right,” she retorts sharply. “I don’t. But you do.” Noting my surprise, she shoots me a look. “Don’t think I don’t know: you fear his criticism, but you still want him to see what you’ve become.” She curses him under her breath. “Never mind me; you’d think that he could realize that much, at least.”

 

“Well, if it’s any consolation, Eomma, he did send a note.”

 

“Yoo Jin-ah….”

 

“Besides, if Nae Il and I get our way, I’ll be seeing him soon enough.” When Eomma tilts her head quizzically at me, I move to explain. “I plan to host my own solo recital in Salzburg, after her graduation this spring. There’s no way Abeoji would miss out on that.”

 

Eomma pauses in the middle of putting away her makeup kit. “Now, now, Yoo Jin-ah: don’t you go living your life for someone else….”

 

“Gwenchana,” I reassure her. “This isn’t just about Abeoji; I want to do this, too. Because I can’t help thinking about something Nae Il said to me once: that just like I have my dreams, Abeoji has his. And if it’s in my power to fulfill that dream – and I know now that I finally can – then why not?”

 

For a long moment, Eomma doesn’t say anything. But then, a warm smile growing on her face, she reaches over and claps me on the shoulder with her clean hand. “Geu rae,”  she concedes at length, “you’re right about that.” She switches to cupping my cheek, but stops short of pinching it the way she would have done when I was little. “You and Nae Il, both – every single time I see you, you’ve grown up just that little bit more.

 

“And now,” she adds, standing up with one last affectionate pat, “it’s time. Go out there, Yoo Jin-ah, and show the world what you’ve got.”

 

We part ways just outside of the door: Eomma heading back out to the main body of the concert hall, and I – after checking one last time that I’ve locked up properly – heading for the stage door.

 

True to her word, Nae Il is already there, lighting up with a warm smile as soon as she sees me.

 

Returning the greeting, I gesture towards my face. “What do you think? Do you notice anything?”

 

She peers up at me, eyes squinting slightly to see me better. After a moment’s such scrutiny, she shakes her head. “Ani. Why? Was I supposed to?”

 

I, too, shake my head, but it is actually the sigh of relief that follows that clues Nae Il in.

 

“Gwenchanayo, Orabang; I understand.”

 

“Mwo?”

 

“Who do you think laced me in this time?” she quips, tossing her head to hint at the back of her dress. She raises a suggestive eyebrow; her voice drops down to a deep throaty purr. “You know I can’t do it all by myself.”

 

I shake my head again, this time in efforts to dispel the particularly vivid memory her words have just conjured up in my mind. As Nae Il, the minx, bites back a triumphant smile at my reaction, I hasten to change the subject. “I also told Eomma: about my recital.”

 

Sure enough, she takes the bait. “What’d she say?”

 

“She approves,” I answer tentatively, then shake my head. “But I’d do it anyway, even if she didn’t.”

 

Nae Il chuckles at that, but just as she might have said something more, an usher appears by our side.

 

“We’re on in two; are you ready?”

 

I bow slightly, answering for both of us. As the usher turns his face away, speaking into his walkie-talkie with hushed tones, I offer Nae Il my hand. “Shall we?”

 

She takes it with a smile, intertwining her fingers with mine so that she’s the one holding me, not the other way around. I feel a slight pressure: her palm pressing against mine as she gives it a reassuring squeeze.

 

We stay like this as the usher opens the stage door for us, as we cross the stage to take our bows to the audience and assume our places at the piano under the spotlight.

 

RaRo. That’s who we are, Seol Nae Il and I.

 

Together. Hand-in-hand. Just how it’s supposed to be.

 

~~~~~

 

“Guys, guys, guys! How…how about we do it like this?” Waving his fork haphazardly in the air, Yoo Il Rak easily commands all the attention in the room. “I’ll…I’ll go once around the table, and…and when…when I” – he gestures once again with the fork – “point to each of you, you…you’ve gotta say which of tonight’s numbers was your favourite.” His head lolls from side to side as his eyes scan over the group; after several hearty toasts – to RaRo, to Nae Il and me separately, to Rising Star – the alcohol’s clearly gotten to him. “Arasseo?”

 

I look askance at him. “Is this really necessary? The reviews will be out by tomorrow morning.”

 

“Ara.” He answers readily enough, but then slaps one hand hard upon his chest. “But…” he slurs, “this is different. This, Yoo Jin-ah…this is from your friends!”

 

Nae Il nods enthusiastically, not even pausing as she scarfs down a large forkful of the Sachertorte that, as promised, Eomma had provided for tonight’s party. Chocolate crumbs fall down onto the table, just barely missing her sweater; as I hand her a napkin to tidy up the mess, shaking my head in bemusement, I hold back a sigh of relief.

 

Good thing we changed back into our street clothes immediately after the concert; if Seol Nae Il was still in her rented concert dress right now, that would have been a mess.

 

Seeing us thus occupied, Il Rak chooses to start at the opposite end of the table. “So, Yoon Hoo-yah – what do you think?”

 

Never mind that it’s more the drinks talking than Il Rak himself; Lee Yoon Hoo still takes a moment to seriously consider his answer.

 

“Me? I’d choose the first one: Magic Flute.”

 

His response catches our attention. “Waeyo, Sunbae?” Nae Il asks, hastily swallowing her food in order to speak more clearly.

 

He smiles beatifically. “It’s fun, lively…a perfect intro, and the most you, Nae Il-ah.”

 

Seated at the foot of the table while I’m at its head, there’s no way he doesn’t notice the pointed look I dart at him. But Yoon Hoo’s gaze is unwavering.

 

Choi Min Hee, in the spot closest to him at what’s become the girls’ side of the table for tonight, chooses this moment to speak up. “Me, too.”

 

Across from her, Ma Su Min raises his hand, fingers loosely curled around his imaginary mallet. “Can I…” he begins nervously, eyes flickering to meet mine, “can I just say that I like the encores most?”

 

I blink in surprise. “Geu rae?”

 

“Mm. Because, Cha-neunim,” he continues hopefully, eyes round and shining, “that’s the only solo you got.”

 

Yoon Hoo bites his lip hard in amusement, leaving Il Rak the only one to burst into raucous laughter. Jung Si Won, from her spot directly across from him, smiles and shakes her head in bewilderment, while Min Hee mimes stabbing him in the chest with a fork.

 

Startled at our friends’ reactions, Su Min rounds on them. “It’s true, though! I…I thought the Grieg was good, but I’ve…I’ve never heard Cha-neunim do an actual solo piece before!”

 

“Forgive me if I’m wrong,” Si Won cuts in, “but yours was a Schumann, wasn’t it?”

 

The question is directed at me, but it’s Nae Il who answers: “Actually, Eonnie, both of our encores were.” She steals a quick sideways glance at me. “We thought, with this being RaRo and all, that that would make the most sense. Mine was by Clara, though.”

 

“I see,” Si Won replies, nodding slowly in understanding. “That might explain why it’s also your Schumann set, Bilder, that I liked the most. I was like, ‘Ah – that’s what they mean when they talk about piano music sounding “like an orchestra”.’” She glances back and forth between us. “I’m not too familiar with his work, since there’s not much strings repertoire there, but…are there a lot of four-handed pieces like that?”

 

“You’d think so,” Nae Il answers wryly, “but actually….”

 

She lets her words trail off into silence, leaving me to finish: “Robert Schumann dabbled with music from childhood, but it was only in his early twenties that he really seriously began training as a concert pianist. Clara’s father was his teacher, and already, she was a prodigy with a number of performances under her belt.” I’m unable to hold back a wry chuckle. “Maybe he was jealous? Maybe he wanted to reach her level? Who knows? Point is, it’s said that he tried to use some strange contraption – you know, one of those macabre pseudo-scientific inventions that were cropping up everywhere back then – to strengthen his right hand–”

 

“Except,” Nae Il finishes, “he completely wrecked it instead.”

 

Vague recognition creeps up in Si Won’s eyes, while Il Rak and Su Min both wince, as though some grisly vision of the aftermath has suddenly cropped up in their minds. Yoon Hoo, meanwhile, seems to retreat into himself, his expression becoming wholly unreadable.

 

“Since then,” I continue, “Schumann’s been a sort of cautionary tale for young pianists: what happens when you push yourself too hard, too fast. Rather than becoming better, you risk losing what little you had to begin with.”

 

Although Si Won was the one to ask the question, I aim my words farther – all the way across to Yoon Hoo, his face still frozen in that mask of feigned indifference. His eyes narrow slightly, noting that I have seen past his disguise, but he need not worry: I have no intention of revealing his secret.

 

“But,” Nae Il, oblivious to our silent exchange, adds optimistically, “that’s how we wound up with Robert Schumann, the composer.” She smiles fondly. “He wrote for Clara’s level rather than his own, and so, RaRo – one of the world’s greatest musical partnerships – was born.”

 

Min Hee snickers. “You mean you two, don’t you.”

 

Nae Il just shrugs helplessly at that.

 

“Which means,” I say once our laughter has passed, “it’s just you left, Yoo Il Rak. Come on, you started it. Which piece did you like the most?”

 

He may have drunk more than the rest of us, but Il Rak’s not so far gone as to drop out of the conversation. Still, it takes a long moment’s bleary blinking at me before he answers.

 

“Me?” He leans in close, nearly sprawling out upon the table until his face is just inches from mine. “I…I liked that…that last one.”

 

Nae Il gasps excitedly, joining us in our strange huddle. “You mean, the Schubert?”

 

“Geu rae – that one.” He reels back the other way now, his voice growing in volume to address the entire room. “It was freaking epic, and no one – no one! – can say otherwise!”

 

“Ne, ne, arasseo,” I drawl back at him as, clearly more than used to such enthusiastic outbursts, Si Won waves for him to settle down.

 

But Yoo Il Rak is either too drunk to notice or to care, because he plunges on right over us: “It was! I…I mean….Ya, Yoo Jin-ah – you were just so…so into it. Just pounding into it, pounding into it so hard….Hard to believe that you’re actually still a vir–”

 

“Ya!”

 

At Si Won’s warning shout, Su Min darts sideways, clapping his hand over Il Rak’s mouth. In a flash, everyone is staring agape at me. Under their scrutiny, the room starts to feel blazing hot, and I find myself reaching up to tug at my collar with one hand.

 

“Cha-neunim,” Su Min stammers, “gwenchana?” He yanks Il Rak closer to his side, shooting him a surprisingly harsh glare. “Mianhae, Cha-neunim – I don’t know what’s gotten into him….”

 

My mouth goes dry, and it takes a few attempts before I could get anything out. “Gwenchana,” I answer, gesturing for Su Min to let go, “I don’t mind. Really.”

 

As Nae Il, cheeks flaming red on my behalf, tries to smooth things over with the others, babbling nervously in an artificially bright tone of voice, I focus my attention on Lee Yoon Hoo, who meets my alarmed expression with one of his own. Not because I’ve just been outed like this – in fact, considering how long Nae Il and I have been living together abroad, Il Rak’s revelation is actually of some benefit in quelling some of the speculation surrounding us – but because in a single awful moment, we’ve realized just how far gone he actually is.

 

“But still,” I continue, now glancing over at Il Rak in hopes that he’ll take the hint, “I think it’s time we call it a night.”

 

Yet even as Yoon Hoo nods his agreement, subtly gesturing for Min Hee to help him tidy up his end of the table, Il Rak resists when I try to move his glass away from him.

 

“Shiro!” he bursts out, swatting my hand away like it’s some gigantic fly.

 

I press my lips together. “Ya, Yoo Il Rak–”

 

“But” – his voice cracks into a petulant whine – “but the party’s just started!”

 

And he, I note to myself, has just ended it by downing four glasses of somaek – one for each toast – in rapid succession instead of pacing himself like everyone else. But rather than point this out, I simply stand up, forcing my features into a more accommodating smile. “Well, there’s still tomorrow – not to mention Rising Star’s concert next week–”

 

“Exactly!”

 

I’d been about to grab onto his arm to guide him out of his seat, but his sudden outburst makes me stop, my hand falling limply by my side. “Mwo?”

 

“We’ve just got today,” he slurs, “and next week, and then…then that’ll be it. That’ll be it, Yoo Jin-ah...beppu….”

 

Nae Il joins in, standing up as well. “Ani, Rak-kun,” she says soothingly. “There’ll be plenty of chances after that–”

 

“But not with me – because, after this concert, I won’t be here!”

 

The room goes silent.

 

“I’ll…I’ll be gone, somewhere else, and then” – he gestures grandly across the table – “you’ll have Jung Si Won as your concertmaster, and…and then everything will be fine, and Rising Star will get what it deserves, and–”

 

“Ya, Yoo Il Rak!”

 

Si Won shoots out of her chair so abruptly that, were it not for quick reflexes on Nae Il’s part, it would have clattered backwards onto the floor. She, however, doesn’t seem to notice, as her full attention is on Il Rak across from her.

 

“What the hell is wrong with you?! Are you crazy?!”

 

That seems to wake something up inside of Il Rak, because he now turns towards Si Won, his eyes glum like a sad puppy’s.

 

“Mianhae, Si Won-ah...this…this is the best that I can do for you….”

 

She doesn’t let him finish, striding briskly over to our side of the table. She pushes roughly past me and grabs onto Il Rak’s collar. “Get up.”

 

He blinks up at her. “But, Si Won-ah–”

 

“I said: ‘Get up!’”

 

Before any of us could intervene, she yanks him out of his chair and steers him roughly towards the door, one hand still planted firmly on his shoulder.

 

I stay where I am, eyes glued to their retreating backs, until they have both vanished from view in the hidden depths of the restaurant. Then, swallowing a mouthful of saliva in efforts to stay calm, I turn back around to face the others.

 

“Mi-mianhae, guys,” I begin sheepishly. “I’ve known Jung Si Won since first year, so I knew she had that side to her after a few drinks, but…”

 

Min Hee cuts me off, a hard look in her eyes as she makes a quick scurrying motion with one hand.

 

My jaw drops. “Me?” I mouth silently, pointing to my chest.

 

She nods, eyes narrowed just enough to show that she won’t take no for an answer.

 

All of the others, in fact, are now peering expectantly up at me, wondering just what I’d do next. So, after stammering out a quick promise to look into what’s going on, I turn and dash out of the room, making straight for the stairs that connects the restaurant with the apartment above.

 

Knowing Jung Si Won, that’s where she would go.

 

Abeonim meets me at the bottom of the stairs, most likely drawn out from his nightly kitchen cleaning by our sudden commotion. At my questioning glance upwards, he nods and steps out of the way to let me through.

 

“What’s going on?” he asks as I step past him. “Is everything alright?”

 

I pause, one hand still on the banister; even in my haste, I catch more than a hint of disapproval in his tone.

 

“Being a tomboy is one thing,” he confesses, his voice tight. “But if I’d known that that’s how she’d treat my Il Rak-ie, then–”

 

Offering what I hope is a reassuring smile, I shake my head. “Gwenchanayo, Abeonim; it’s not so bad as that. This…this is just something we need to work out, one musician to another.”

 

He looks unconvinced, but eventually answers with a curt nod, which I take as permission to keep going, throwing off my shoes and bounding up two steps at a time on stockinged feet. Pressing my back flat against the wall when I reach the top, I turn my head just enough that I could peer around the corner towards Il Rak’s room. I can’t see the door from my vantage point, but my ear is now close enough that I could make out voices:

 

“Is this what you’ve been planning all this time, then? Quitting Rising Star?”

 

Barely, I manage not to gasp aloud: going by Il Rak’s words earlier, I’d suspected that that’s what he had meant, but hearing it directly now still hurts.

 

“Si-Si Won-ah–”

 

“You’ve been working with these people for how many years, and this is how you want to repay them? And you just have to announce it in the middle of Cha Yoo Jin’s birthday party?” There is a pause, possibly for a gasp or a scoff. “What the hell is he – what the hell is anyone – supposed to say to that?!”

 

“Mianhae, Si Won-ah; but I’m only doing this for you, and–”

 

“Then at the very least, you should have consulted me first instead of just going completely over my head!”

 

“I take it things are bad over there?”

 

I whip around, urgently gesturing for Lee Yoon Hoo to keep quiet. Then, after checking one last time to make sure the coast is clear, I beckon for him to follow me as we scurry as quickly as our need for silence would allow over to the guest room – Nae Il’s room – in the opposite corner from where we’d started. Once we have both slipped inside, albeit with the door opened just enough that we could still see Il Rak’s room from our hiding place, Yoon Hoo darts me a sideways glance.

 

“Abeonim’s helping the others clear up downstairs; Nae Il filled him in on what just happened.”

 

I, too, peer sideways at him. “Did he say anything?”

 

“Ani – although, given his usual temperament…depending on how this turns out, I wager it’ll take a while before Si Won’s back in his good graces again.”

 

I let out a soft grunt of assent. “Even when it’s clearly Yoo Il Rak who’s being the idiot here.”

 

A pause. “So: things did blow up after all.”

 

“Shut up,” I mutter through gritted teeth. “Need I remind you that it was your oversight that got us to this point in the first place?”

 

He lets out an indignant scoff. “You said you’d take care of it.”

 

“I was!”

 

“And look what happened.”

 

“Ya, Lee Yoon Hoo.” I bite back an exasperated sigh. “You know my schedule; you above all others should know that I simply haven’t had the time.”

 

“True,” he concedes reluctantly. “But still, now that we’re already here…what are you going to do?” He presses on, thinking out loud in that way he does: “I mean, if things keep going on like this, or if they actually break up or something, then–”

 

“Shut up,” I hiss at him a second time. “Stop talking and let me think.”

 

He subsides into silence, and the two of us resume our vigil just inside the guest room. Somehow, in some bizarrely childish attempt at stealth, I wedge myself, half-crouching, in the crack we have allowed ourselves in the doorway. Yoon Hoo, meanwhile, leans in close behind me, nearly bearing down on me with all his weight in his attempts to peer out over my shoulder. From this new vantage point, although we can’t actually make out individual words, there’s no mistaking the fact that Si Won is dominating the argument: for the most part, the only voice we can hear is hers.

 

Time creeps slowly, minutes feeling more like hours as we wait motionless for whatever might come next. It takes almost all my concentration to keep my balance as my legs grow tenser and tenser with each passing second: the muscles cramping even with Yoon Hoo’s helpful supporting grip on the back of my sweater.

 

Suddenly, the door clicks open, making me nearly topple forward in surprise.

 

“That’s it. I’ve had it. I’m sick of you always pandering to me like this.”

 

Yoon Hoo and I exchange alarmed glances over my shoulder: is Si Won saying what we think she is?

 

“So, fine. Have it your way. Leave, if that’s what you want; I don’t care. Just – just don’t even think about saying anything to me until you’ve learned to grow a pair!”

 

If Il Rak tries to stop her, he is unsuccessful: the next thing we know, the door slams open all the way, banging against some piece of furniture inside the room. A second later Si Won, her hands clenched into fists at her sides, storms out of the room and down the stairs, head held high in some last desperate attempt to keep her pride intact.

 

I reach out blindly behind me, yanking Yoon Hoo closer until his head is hovering just next to mine. “Go after her.”

 

He shrugs himself free. “Mwo?”

 

“Go after her,” I whisper again, “or – if nothing else – ask Nae Il to.”

 

“Arasseo,” he fires back. “I’ll do it. But why me?”

 

I gesture at Il Rak’s room from which he, probably stunned from Si Won’s outburst, still has yet to emerge. “Because, out of the two of us, who’s more likely to get through to Yoo Il Rak right now?”

 

“Point.”

 

Stepping out into the hallway just enough for Yoon Hoo to slip past me, I wait until he has disappeared down the stairs before darting back over to Il Rak’s room, reaching it just as he emerges.

 

“Ya, Yoo Jin-ah,” Il Rak stammers, “wha–”

 

I don’t let him finish, shoving him back into the room with me before closing the door.

 

“Ya, Cha Yoo Jin–”

 

He tries to get past me, but I, expecting this move, grab him firmly by the shoulders and wrestle him towards the bed. “Enough, Yoo Il Rak,” I say firmly, seating him down. “Get some sleep: you’re drunk.”

 

Despite my attempts to hold him, he manages to raise himself half-out of bed. “But–”

 

“I mean it,” I retort, pushing him back down again. My voice tightens into my most professorial tone. “Whatever it is you need to say, it can wait until morning.”

 

“But – but Si Won-ie, she–”

 

“Enough, Yoo Il Rak!” I snap, unable to resist the urge to give him a shake for good measure. “She’s not here anymore. And even if she were, how the hell are you going to get through to her like this?!”

 

He continues to struggle for a while against my grip, but then, just as suddenly as this whole thing began, the fight seems to slip out of him. Lips trembling, tears springing up in his eyes, he stares up at me. At first, I assume that he’s simply too drunk for my words to fully register; but soon, right before my eyes, I see him growing pale….

 

Miraculously, a large basin darts in between us at the exact same moment I spring back, just barely saving me from being doused by the aftereffects of tonight’s party. As, gingerly, I take the basin from its offering hand and scoot closer to give Il Rak several soothing pats on the back, I glance up gratefully at my saviour.

 

“Komawo.”

 

Under the circumstances, Lee Yoon Hoo could be forgiven for gloating, but he simply offers me a smile instead. “Don’t mention it,” he replies smoothly, now reaching in to offer Il Rak a glass of water. “I figured you could use some help.”

 

As Il Rak drinks gratefully between us, I glance over at Yoon Hoo. “Jung Si Won…?”

 

“Nae Il’s with her right now,” he answers promptly. His smile widens into something close to his normal grin. “By the way, Cha Yoo Jin: she says to tell you that she’ll be sleeping over at Si Won’s place tonight, just in case.”

 

Once again, I flash him a relieved smile before turning my attention back to Il Rak. “There. You see?” I ask gently, setting the basin down to one side before returning to rub large slow circles on his back as he continues to stare glumly down at his feet. “Si Won will be fine, as will you.”

 

He looks up at me. “But – but Yoo Jin-ah – the things we said….”

 

“Gwenchana,” I say, keeping my voice as calm and soothing as I can. “Whatever apology you need to give, it would be better off done while you’re sober.”

 

~~~~~

 

Abeonim lets me into the downstairs kitchen the next morning, nodding in approval as I whip up my version of the hangover cure Muhammed taught me. Then, after a kind admonishment not to stay outside in the cold for too long, he directs me to the stoop in front of the restaurant: “Ever since he was little, that was my Il Rak-ie’s favourite place to sulk. You should find him there.”

 

Sure enough, there he is: huddled on the front step outside, a thick puffer jacket draped around him. He starts in surprise when I open the sliding door, staring up at me for a second before hurriedly snuffing out his cigarette on the step beside him.

 

“Mi-mianhae, Yoo Jin-ah.” He breaks into a sheepish grin as I come closer. “I’m…I’m not usually one to smoke first thing in the morning, but….”

 

“Ara,” I reassure him, waving off the perceived offense with my free hand. “Extenuating circumstances.” Il Rak sags in relief, his smile growing slightly more cheerful as I sit down beside him, glass in hand. “But still, compared to a cigarette, this should do a better job curing that hangover of yours.”

 

He accepts the drink with both hands, holding it up to his nose to smell it. He hesitates before taking a careful sip, but then follows that up with a hearty swallow – only to throw himself forward as he bursts into a loud coughing fit.

 

As I hurriedly take the glass from him, he rounds on me, eyes wide in scandalized surprise. “Ya! Cha Yoo Jin!” he gasps out between coughs. “What the hell did put in this?!”

 

I avert my eyes, focusing on the wall behind him instead of on his face. “Nothing. Just tomato juice and hot sauce – why?”

 

“You’re…you’re paying me back for nearly throwing up on you last night, right?”

 

“A-aniya,” I blurt out hastily, thinking back to the couple extra dashes of hot sauce I’d added when Abeonim’s back was turned. “But I’m glad that you remember.”

 

Il Rak stares at me, gobsmacked, but then, slowly, he starts to grin. “Ya….” His voice is hoarse and rough from coughing, but even so, I detect a hint of admiration in his tone. “Who would have thought you’d actually prank me for once?” He holds out a clenched fist, prompting me to meet it with my own, the two of us exchanging bashful smiles.

 

He gestures for the glass once again, which I wordlessly pass to him. As he continues to drink it – more slowly now that he knows what to expect – I take a deep breath. “I spoke with Nae Il just now. Jung Si Won’s parents told her to stay over for breakfast, after which they’ll be meeting with Choi Min Hee on a girls’ day out. So, today, it’s just the two of us.” When he rounds on me, eyes wide in alarm, I gesture for him to calm down. “Gwenchana. Si Won’s fine – Nae Il told me that much, at least. Take this as your chance, then, to think through what you want to say first.”

 

Il Rak sniffles – whether due to a combination of hot peppers and the cold winter air or due to his own emotions, I don’t know – and answers with several silent emphatic nods. Seeing that we are finally in agreement, I stand up, bracing my hands on my knees. “Right. Now that that’s dealt with, let’s take this back inside.” A sudden burst of icy wind makes me shiver, my sweater little protection against the chill. “It’s freezing.”

 

As though for the first time, Il Rak notices what I’m wearing; immediately, he scrambles back up, scurrying past me to open the door and usher me back into the house. Abeonim, observant as ever, is already there to meet us, unable to resist steering me by the shoulders towards the piping hot soup he’s prepared for breakfast.

 

Later, after several helpless rounds of Il Rak and I offering to help with the dishes and Abeonim herding us both out of the kitchen before we could even start, we find ourselves back in Il Rak’s room. He busies himself with making the bed for a moment, then suddenly starts talking.

 

“Yoo Jin-ah, about what I said last night….”

 

Immediately, I know what this is about. “Have you been planning this for a while?”

 

Back still turned to me, he shakes his head. “I don’t think I’ve thought about it until last night – maybe, possibly, on some subconscious level, but not seriously.”

 

“Arasseo. But if you were to leave, where would you go?”

 

“I dunno,” he mumbles. “Another orchestra? There’s gotta be at least one that’s hiring.” He babbles on, sounding like he is trying to convince himself as much as he is answering my question. “Or, maybe, the military? I still have to enlist; unlike you, I never scored high enough in those competitions to earn an exemption, so….” He hesitates. “Mianhae – you don’t mind, do you?”

 

Although I know he wouldn’t see it, I shake my head. “Ani. What you choose to do with your life, your career, is up to you. You’re not accountable to me.” I pause a breath before adding, “I can’t say the same for Jung Si Won, though.”

 

Il Rak freezes in the middle of smoothing his already-smooth blankets. After an awkward silence, he turns to sit down on the bed with a heavy sigh, eyes downturned and hands dangling loosely between his knees. “Ara. But…but I just wanted to do something for her, you know? What we’ve got right now, with Rising Star? She’s literally playing second fiddle, and she deserves so much more.” He looks up at me, pleading eyes earnestly searching my face for sympathy. “You know what I’m talking about, right? I mean, you…you’ve been doing this with Nae Il, and Rising Star, and all our friends, and–”

 

I gesture for him to stop. “I do. But I’ve also learned the hard way that what I think is best for others might not actually be what they want.”

 

He lets out a loud groan and buries his face in his hands: sign that I should probably give him some space. Carefully, walking only on the balls of my feet so as not to make any noise, I step over to the opposite corner of the room where, when he is not practicing, Yoo Il Rak keeps his music stand. A brightly coloured cardboard folder lies open on it, revealing a haphazard stack of sheet music: his scores for Rising Star’s concert next week.

 

Idly, I leaf through the pages, only coming to a stop when I come across his brief solo from Rhapsody in Blue. I trace over it with my finger, its soaring soulful melody ringing inside my head.

 

“Yoo Il Rak.”

 

The mattress creaks as he startles to attention, sitting bolt upright. “Wae?”

 

“While it’s true that what you choose to do with your career won’t affect me,” I begin, tracing the arc on the page a second time, “I…I do hope that you would stay. As concertmaster, that is.”

 

He scrambles to his feet with a gasp. “Ya, Yoo Jin-ah–”

 

“You told me yourself once: the job of the concertmaster is to bridge the gap between the conductor and the rest of the orchestra. Which of you, then, do you think is better for the job?”

 

Il Rak had been about to come closer, but he now stumbles to a stop, just visible out of the corner of my eye. He opens and closes his mouth several times before words finally come to him: “I…I know what you’re trying to say, Cha Yoo Jin, but weren’t you the one who chose Si Won-ie in the first place?”

 

“I was,” I answer matter-of-factly. “But why?” When he doesn’t answer, I try again. “Think about it: I’ve worked longer with you as the concertmaster than Jung Si Won, so why did I choose her for Rising Star?”

 

“Because….” He hesitates, kicking at the floor with one foot. “Because she’s a better violinist than me?”

 

The memory that springs to my mind makes my voice harden despite myself. “Because there was no way in hell the A’s would take you seriously back then.” I turn to glance at him. “If it weren’t for that, if I could have just done what I wanted…it would have been you. Same with the Tchaikovsky concerto: you were so busy making eyes at Si Won during the auditions that you never noticed that I was watching you.

 

“And yet, every single time, Yoo Il Rak, you played right into their hands. You still do, with the way you’re acting now.” I close my eyes with a sigh. “You hate it when people treat Jung Si Won like that – how do you think it makes her feel to see you doing it to yourself?”

 

His voice, when he responds, is noticeably thick. “Yoo Jin-ah….”

 

Seeing the telltale glimmer in his eyes, I tear my own away and focus back on the music. Pinching the sheet in front of me – the one with his solo – in my fingers, I rub the corner absently between my forefinger and my thumb. “Do you remember Eroica?”

 

“Mm.”

 

“What did I say to you guys then, just before we went on stage?” Although I know for a fact that he remembers, I begin answering my own question anyway: “I’d said that Professor Stresemann had it wrong – that the heroic fighting spirit Beethoven wrote into Eroica wasn’t directed at the system….”

 

“But at himself,” Il Rak finishes, right on time. “At his deafness, and at his own fears that he will never be good enough.”

 

A smile tugs at the corner of my mouth. “Exactly.”

 

I ask him to bring me a pencil. When he passes it to me, I lean in close over the music stand. “So remember, Il Rak-ah,” I say as I start writing in the margin of his sheet music, “you are good. All the S’s are. No-one can say otherwise, and you’d better not start telling that to yourself.”

 

When I have finished, I pull back, finally revealing to Il Rak what I had written: Remember Eroica.

 

Silently, he steps closer, peering closely at my message. He stays rooted like that for a long moment, but then, before I could spring out of the way, he suddenly throws himself at me, wrapping his arms tightly around my shoulders.

 

“Komapda!”

 

I stagger under his weight – Il Rak is just as tall as I am, with a stockier build as well – and my attempts to pry him off only make him hug me even more tightly, his face burrowing into my shoulder. So, with little choice left on the matter, I shift to patting him awkwardly on the back.

 

“You mean well, Yoo Il Rak, and I daresay that’s what Jung Si Won likes about you. But remember: she’s not looking for a fanboy; she’s looking for a boyfriend, possibly even a husband. Whatever it is you want to do with your life, make sure that it’s something you can decide upon together.”

 

A sob catches in his throat as he nods.

 

~~~~~

 

At the sound of my knock, a round-faced bespectacled student opens the door. “Ah, Cha Yoo Jin,” he says. “Come on in; you’re just in time.”

 

His partner, a girl dressed comfortably in jeans and a dark oversized sweatshirt, greets me with a nod as I step into the sound booth. She gestures at a pair of headphones on the table beside her, identical to the ones she’s got draped around her neck. “You said you wanted to listen in, so help yourself.”

 

I know that I must look a sight – holding a large set of black plastic headphones while dressed in tails – but both technicians are gracious enough not to comment on it. Instead, they busy themselves with their equipment: the man with a machine covered with complicated switches, dials, and sliding bars; the woman with a computer screen featuring multiple windows corresponding to cameras scattered around the auditorium.

 

As he works, the guy babbles on to me about the soundboard’s inner workings and the state-of-the-art computer program associated with it, but after several minutes of this, I wave for him to give up the exercise.

 

“All that matters to me,” I explain, “is that you two know what you’re doing.” Realizing how brusque I just sounded, I soften my next words with a smile. “I’ve never been disappointed by the quality of Haneum’s official recordings before, so I know for a fact that tonight’s will be stellar as well.”

 

“Of course!” the girl chimes in, flashing me a grin and a thumbs-up. “And you’ve got the best seat in the house!”

 

Well, if nothing else, this has to be better than the tinny muted sound coming from the monitor in my dressing room downstairs. While I understand the reasoning behind it – that no-one wants sounds from backstage to emanate into the auditorium – that’s also no way to be watching Nae Il’s performance.

 

A flurry of motion comes from the stage: the orchestra members finally making their way to their seats, instruments in hand. The female technician, having spotted them on the monitor, gestures for us to put on our headphones: “The concert’s about to start.”

 

I slip mine on over my ears, careful not to muss up my hair in the process, and am immediately met by a muffled stillness. These are far more effective at cancelling out background noise than the set I have at home; the only sound I can hear is the faint rumble of my own pulse.

 

No wonder, then, that the pair now switch to using hand gestures, signalling to each other as they check one last time that all the microphones and cameras on stage have been turned on. As for me, I come up as close behind the man as I dare, looking past him to the stage below.

 

Slowly, the lights – also under the girl’s control – go dim; the audience, noticing the change, goes still, and a hushed silence falls over the entire auditorium. Right on cue, the stage door opens and Yoo Il Rak steps out, violin in hand, and makes his way to the concertmaster’s seat to polite applause. Just barely, I can make out Jung Si Won’s warm smile as he leads the orchestra in one final tuning, the two of them apparently having made up in the days following their quarrel.

 

Lee Yoon Hoo is the last to emerge, stopping just long enough to bow to the audience before taking his place at the podium. And then, after one last moment of stillness, the concert begins.

 

As Rising Star makes its way through the first two numbers – Sibelius’s Finlandia and Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun – I let myself glance back and forth between the stage and the soundboard. The technician is entirely focused on his work: sporting a similar set of headphones, he constantly adjusts the sliding switches by minute degrees, working to achieve a perfectly balanced sound.

 

I may not understand how it all works, but his actions fascinate me nonetheless. This is how, in any professional recording, the blaring brass does not overwhelm everyone else; this is how something as soft as a single flute solo can still manage to ring clear and true over the strings. This is how a conductor’s vision for a piece of music is preserved, ready to be played and replayed, over and over again, even outside the confines of a concert hall.

 

At the end of each piece, Yoon Hoo takes a moment to bow to the audience in thanks for their applause, waving for members who had solos to stand up as well. Then, after the Debussy, he takes it a step further: leaving the rest of the orchestra to bask in the applause, he steps down from the podium and slips out through the stage door.

 

As the clapping and cheering subside, and the audience returns to silence, I take in a slow steadying breath. Now, at last, is the moment I’ve been waiting for.

 

The door opens. Nae Il comes out onto the stage, Yoon Hoo several paces behind. Her sparkling dark blue dress perfectly skims over her girlish figure, its long skirt and short diaphanous sleeves shimmering under the bright lights with each step she takes to the piano.

 

“It’s Rhapsody in Blue, Orabang,” she’d said to me back when I’d first seen her like this backstage. “I want to look like I’m in a snazzy jazz bar.”

 

Not just jazz, as it turns out. Under Yoon Hoo’s direction, Rising Star takes me on a journey through time and space. In my mind, I see not the dense urban squalor of today’s New York, but the glitz and glamour of classic Broadway: sparkling multicoloured lights; yellow taxis lining the snow-dusted streets; men in sharp suits and women in long fur stoles spilling out of the concert halls and theatres, heading to hidden darkly-lit speakeasies to continue the night’s festivities. Vibrant, dancing, and bright – the sort of music that makes Yoon Hoo bounce about on the podium and makes me bite back the urge to tap my toes with the beat.

 

And, in the centre of it all, under the brightest stage lights, Nae Il. Free to play as she wants, she gives each phrase, each solo passage, a springing skipping step: bright and sparkling and carefree.

 

No wonder, then, that Yoon Hoo asked her to play this. There’s nothing any more “Seollebal” than what I’m seeing on the stage right now.

 

She casts a spell over not only us in the audience, but the orchestra as well. Yoon Hoo encourages the others to move along with the beat as Nae Il does; the entire orchestra buzzes and hums with the same energy that he lent to Mambo years ago. Even the softer moments in the Rhapsody have their own inner force and pull; when it comes, Yoo Il Rak’s solo soars out like a longing sigh.

 

The piece ends with a grand flourish, Nae Il throwing in an improvised glissando as Yoon Hoo leads Rising Star to one last fanfare. And, just like that, it’s all over. Instantly, the audience erupts in thunderous, hollering applause. Even I, despite knowing that the orchestra – that Nae Il – can’t hear me, join in, a single “Brava!” bursting out alongside my clapping hands.

 

Back on stage, Nae Il dips down in her standard curtsey – but no sooner has she straightened up than she spots me up in the sound booth. Immediately, she beams, bouncing up excitedly on tip-toe as she gives me a wave. The gesture does not go unnoticed; within seconds, Yoon Hoo and many of the orchestra members are also waving up at me, and even some people in the audience, drawn by curiosity, start to join in.

 

All this happens so suddenly that for a moment, I simply stand there stupefied, my headphones held loosely in my hands.  Then, at a subtle encouraging gesture from the technicians on either side, I respond with a small, barely perceptible wave back.

 

Of course, Seol Nae Il is Seol Nae Il: any gesture I make, no matter how small, never slips past her notice. If anything, her smile grows even brighter, her wave even more enthusiastic.

 

And then, out of nowhere, she blows me a kiss.

 

My jaw drops; the hand I’d raised drops to hang limply by my side. My cheeks grow flaming red – a change not helped at all by the techicians’ barely smothered snorts of laughter, or the burst of fresh cheers and applause from the audience ringing back to me through the glass window separating us.

 

Even in front of a crowd of hundreds, Seollebal is as brazen as ever.

 

~~~~~

 

Did you know, Orabang, that this concerto was actually a collab? Clara composed the piano part herself, of course – but Robert did most of the orchestration.

 

Nae Il’s comment – spoken during one of our early one-on-one rehearsal sessions back home – now float back up to my mind as she takes her spot behind me at the piano. After all, it was for this reason that she chose tonight’s concerto, Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A-minor, at all.

 

Right from the start, it’s clear that Clara, then still a teenager, was already a master pianist. After a dramatic entrance from both the orchestra and the piano, Nae Il – the soloist – takes up the orchestra’s majestic fanfare-like motif, transforming it into a poignantly touching theme. Under my guidance, the orchestra pulls back, fading away to become an almost imperceptible accompaniment even as Nae Il’s part swells and grows. With each passing moment, the solo grows increasingly complex and virtuosic until suddenly, the orchestra, which had until now only provided support, bursts out with yet another fanfare.

 

In any other concerto, this would be the signal for the pianist to launch into a cadenza – but not here. Here, instead of bursting out in triumph, Nae Il seems to shrink in on herself until the concerto’s main theme is once again transformed: this time into a slowly lyrical melody, every phrase – every note – tinged with love and longing. She starts off alone, but is soon joined by a single cello. This new soloist – Yoon Hoo’s hoobae – seamlessly takes over the melody, leaving Nae Il to play accompaniment to the end of this most unique second movement.

 

As the pair play their final chords, I subtly signal Ma Su Min to start a deep rumbling timpani roll. Tension rises in the auditorium as he is joined by a series of steady trumpet blasts….

 

And then, just like that, the third movement begins.

 

Nae Il bursts out full-force into a triumphant solo, as rich with virtuosic flourish as the concerto’s first movement was. But where the previous movements had been almost exclusively the pianist’s – Clara’s – domain, here the orchestra, rather than fading away into the distance, rises up to meet it. In every single phrase, the orchestra makes itself heard: sometimes as a simple punctuating chord, other times to finish what the soloist has started.

 

The difference is there, for anyone who cares to hear it. This is the collaborative movement, the one where Clara and Robert’s creative visions come together into the perfect piano concerto: the soloist and orchestra in continuous harmonious dialogue.

 

So it’s no wonder, then, that even as the movement started with Nae Il in the forefront, by the time we get to the end, we are in perfect sync: each catching the other’s offbeat in a massive final cadence.

 

With an ending as grand as that, even after I have gestured the final cut-off with my hands, it takes a silent awed moment before the audience bursts into ecstatic applause. But once they begin, they go all in: claps, cheers, whistles, calls of “Bravo!” and “Encore!”.

 

Beaming, we take our bows together: first the orchestra and I, then – at my subtle gesture while stepping down from the podium – Nae Il by herself. She offers me her hand as I come up beside her, but rather than shaking hands, we simply step out together to the centre front of the stage at which point, hand-in-hand, we both bow formally at the waist.

 

In an instant, the lights go out.

 

As a flurry of rustling and hushed startled murmurs carry back towards us from the audience, Nae Il and I spring into action. Pressing our lips together to suppress the laughter bubbling up in our throats, we scramble back to our places, Nae Il feeling for her spot on the piano bench while Yoo Il Rak gives me a hand back up onto the podium. Meanwhile, having already worn a blindfold backstage to accustom his eyes to the darkness, Lee Yoon Hoo shuffles back on stage, cello in tow. A stagehand hurries along beside him with a chair, which he places just inside of the curve on the grand piano, after which Yoon Hoo hurriedly gets into position.

 

We have all rehearsed this operation multiple times before, knowing full well that we’d have mere seconds before someone in the audience panics under the assumption that there’s been a blackout. So, sure enough, everything goes smoothly this time around, and we are all already in our proper places when a single spotlight goes back on.

 

Immediately, the audience’s murmuring cuts off into stunned silence at the sight: Yoon Hoo on stage with his cello. A thin smattering of applause crops up here and there as the remaining stage lights turn on, but not much, people still unsure just what exactly is happening.

 

But we don’t give them time to figure it out. Instead, at a prearranged signal from me, we jump right into the music: the Piano Guys’s arrangement of Pirates of the Caribbean.

 

Right from the start, this piece goes all out. Heavy bass chords from Nae Il and the orchestra are quickly joined by Yoon Hoo playing the main theme – and from there, there is no going back. Dense, compact, layered, and ever-changing, this arrangement makes use of every opportunity for dramatic expression that the original movie theme offers.

 

And nowhere is that more apparent than in the solo cello. Out of all the instruments in the entire ensemble, it is the one constant: breaking out with its own melodic line one moment, doubling the orchestra’s bass line the next.

 

Don’t force yourself, Lee Yoon Hoo. If you need a break, no-one will notice if you drop out during the tutti sections.

 

That’s what I’d said to him when I first saw the score for this piece back in December. That’s what I said again when, after several straight days of rehearsals, I noticed him wearing his brace during our evening debriefs when I was the only one around to see.

 

But Yoon Hoo has never been one to quit; like me, and like so many other musicians before either of us, he can and will power through anything by sheer force of will. After all, he’d put it best himself: that’s the only way to survive at Juilliard.

 

So now, from my place on the podium, even as I guide the orchestra through the music, I keep one ear peeled behind me, listening for his playing, his voice. Sure enough, there he is. Every bar, every phrase, every note…all of it is there, played with vigour and passion in that way that only Yoon Hoo, whose Sicilienne was so achingly beautiful that it would have reduced audiences to tears had he been allowed to perform it, could do.

 

And when, close to the end, the cello breaks off into one high soaring descant, I can hear it: the tears coursing down his face as the full enormity of what he’s doing finally hits him.

 

He’s doing it. He’s actually doing it. After convincing the world that his cello was gone for good, Lee Yoon Hoo has finally made his comeback.

 

Let’s see what his critics say to that!

 

~~~~~

 

“You know, Professor,” I point out as we take our seats across from Professor Stresemann in his office, “we don’t have to do this first thing in the morning if it’s not working for you.”

 

Yoon Hoo shoots me a hard look. “The Professor said himself that he wanted to see us.”

 

I stare back unwaveringly at him. “Ara – but in a state like this?”

 

He opens his mouth to retort, but both of us are brought back to reality when the Professor groans loudly before massaging his temples with his fingers.

 

“Little boys,” he mutters, the crisp over-enunciated accent that comes out whenever he tries to speak Korean even more pronounced than usual. “Little boys don’t know how to behave – especially when their elder’s head is already hurting.”

 

Both Yoon Hoo and I exchange guilty glances, stopped short by his rebuke.

 

“Joesonghamnida.”

 

Beside me, Yoon Hoo nods his agreement. “Do you need anything, Professor? It’s only fair, since it’s our after-party that led to this.”

 

Professor Stresemann gestures to his backpack on the couch, yet when Yoon Hoo starts to rise, he orders me to go instead. On my way up, I spy out of the corner of my eye the indignant jaw-dropped expression Yoon Hoo directs at him, but I push it away to the back of my mind as I start to rummage through the bag. Its contents are so haphazardly shoved inside that it takes me a moment to find what I’m looking for: a small bottle of one of those convenience store hangover drinks.

 

Opening the cap with a satisfying click, I close it back up before bringing it over to the table – a small gesture that earns me a tiny, albeit pained, smile. The Professor first takes a cautious sip from the bottle, then tilts his head back to down the rest in one go. Then, after suppressing what, from his expression, would have been a belch, he begins:

 

“So, you brats tell me: how did this collaboration go?”

 

Yoon Hoo blinks in surprise. “What did we think? How about you?”

 

His voice tightens. “I asked you first.”

 

The two of us exchange glances yet again: clearly, the Professor’s still in a foul mood given his hangover. No wonder, then, that Yoon Hoo gestures for me to go first.

 

“Well,” I begin cautiously, “I do think things went well this time….”

 

“How so?”

 

Yoon Hoo jumps in. “Cha Yoo Jin and I both made a point to work together every step of the way this time, Professor – more so than we did last summer.” He elaborates with a short summary, without naming names, of the conflict we’d worked to resolve, ending his words with his brightly placating smile. “I’ve got our notes down on my phone, if you want proof, or” – he glances sideways at me – “if you prefer something analog, there’s his book as well.”

 

Professor Stresemann, who was listening intently to Yoon Hoo’s report, now peers over at me, as though expecting some sort of contradiction. But when I nod in agreement instead, a twinkle slowly lights up in his eyes and he claps several times.

 

“Good, good….” If it weren’t for his splitting headache, he would start chuckling at this point. “That’s exactly what I want to hear; finally, you young idiots are beginning to understand.

 

“So now, we go to Phase Two.”

 

Yoon Hoo and I react at the same time: “Eh?”

 

He leans forward in his seat, pointing an index finger back and forth between us. “Now, it is time for you two to show the world what you have learned.”

 

As Yoon Hoo stares wordlessly at him, I blink rapidly several times in surprise. “By ‘show the world,’ you mean…?”

 

“I’d promised you,” Professor Stresemann cuts in, looking pointedly at me, “that we would go on tour someday, did I not?”

 

I answer with a nod. “But–”

 

“So now is the time to do it. With Baby, of course. And” – he now glances over at Yoon Hoo – “I want you to join in as well.”

 

Clearly still trying to take all this in, Yoon Hoo leans forward cautiously. “With Rising Star?”

 

I subtly bite the inside of my cheek to suppress a laugh. The earnest hope in his tone just now is something I, at least, can relate to.

 

But to our surprise, the Professor shakes his head. “Ani. The Royal Berlin.”

 

Our jaws drop.

 

“The Royal Berlin?!” I burst out. “You mean, your orchestra?!”

 

“Of course,” he snaps back. “Were you thinking the Philharmonic? As long as that’s Viera’s territory, then over my dead body.”

 

As I’m left stammering incoherently about how that was not what I meant, Yoon Hoo manages to say it for the both of us: “But what about Rising Star? You know we can’t just leave them!”

 

The Professor, however, is unfazed. “That is up to you to decide: whether you let them take a holiday or find a hoobae to substitute for you as Cha Yoo Jin did is your own business.”

 

Yoon Hoo subsides into silence, unsure of what to say in response. Noting that there is no dissuading the Professor at this rate, I jump to the logistics instead:

 

“When were you thinking?”

 

“This summer.”

 

“Where?”

 

“Salzburg – we’ll coincide our performances with the Festival – Vienna….” Professor Stresemann’s mouth twitches in a wry but fond smile. “Berlin, of course….”

 

My brow furrows. “And what about Elise? What does she have to say about all this?”

 

“Elise, that girl, knows nothing about music,” Professor Stresemann fires back bluntly. “For her, it’s all about business, profit…no appreciation for the arts, whatsoever. But no need to worry.” He glances at both of us in what looks to be an attempt to reassure us. “With all the attention you three have received so far, she’s certain to come around.”

 

Hearing the Professor put it like that, the entire prospect of this tour sounds somewhat more promising: still so sudden that it still hasn’t sunk in for Yoon Hoo and I yet, but not impossible.

 

Noting our softening expressions, he moves on to give us his full set of instructions:

 

“For each stop on the tour, I plan for there to be a series of three concerts.” He lifts up his fingers one by one to demonstrate. “First: a concert I will conduct, with each of you playing a concerto of your choice.” Oblivious to the way Yoon Hoo stiffens in alarm, he explains, “This will be your introduction.”

 

Yoon Hoo moves to protest, but I stop him with a subtle shake of the head before turning back to the Professor. “And then?”

 

“The other two concerts…you will each take charge of one of them.” He shoots me a darted glance. “Starting from today, you have two weeks to tell me your programme. The first half of your concert should be a symphony, and the second….” He trails off for a moment, his expression softening somewhat. “I want the second half to be a concerto with Baby as the soloist, along with anything else you need to match the lengths of both halves.” 

 

Well, if that’s the case, there is still one thing I need to consider before agreeing to anything, and I say as much:

 

“I’ll have to discuss it with Nae Il first.” Even though I’m aware it’s rude, my voice hardens anyway. “If you wanted to include her in this, Professor, the least you could have done was invite her to this meeting.”

 

Yoon Hoo barely manages to suppress a surprised bark of laughter while the Professor quite literally pouts at me across the table. However, my only response is to give him a slight, but firm, shake of the head: this is not something I’m willing to compromise on.

 

After a moment, he finally sees it, too. “Very well,” he sighs at length. “I should have known you would listen more to Baby than your own teacher….”

 

“Well, then,” I say, starting to rise, “if that’s settled, then perhaps we could call this meeting adjourned.”

 

“Not so fast.”

 

I freeze, already half-out of my seat. “Eh?”

 

“Sit down,” the Professor says, gesturing along with his words. “Before you go, there’s something Lee Yoon Hoo wants to say.”

 

I blink at both of them in confusion, especially when Yoon Hoo corroborates Professor Stresemann’s announcement with an emphatic nod. “What’s that?”

 

“Three words,” Yoon Hoo says. “Lee. Sun. Jae.”

 

I start to ask what he’s talking about, but then stop myself when it hits me. “Aish….”

 

“Ah,” he adds knowingly. “So you remember.”

 

Before he could say any more, I raise my hand to have my say. “First of all: does Nae Il know?”

 

Because, if I recall correctly, Nae Il had been on her way to meet Yoon Hoo for lunch when my quarrel with Sun Jae broke out. And if Yoon Hoo knows about that incident, then….

 

Much to my relief, though, he shakes his head. “Gwenchana. To the best of my knowledge, she still doesn’t.”

 

“Good.”

 

“But since you’re probably wondering now….” Yoon Hoo pauses a moment, as though searching for the right words. “Actually, the truth is, all of us here at Haneum knew already.”

 

My jaw drops. “You – you did?”

 

“Mm.” A slightly wistful look grows in his eye. “Sun Jae was reluctant to talk about his past at first, but while you and Nae Il were in Salzburg, as we all got to know him better…it just came out.”

 

Something grows tight in my throat. “And none of you thought to tell me this?”

 

“None of us told you because, knowing you, we figured this was how you would react.” His shoulders rise in a self-deprecating shrug. “Mind you: I was all for just telling you outright. I thought it would be better just to get whatever bomb might explode over and done with, then focus full-time on repairs.”

 

“So why didn’t you?”

 

“With all the stuff going on for the concerts,” Yoon Hoo retorts, “do you really think it would have been wise?”

 

“Geu rae,” I concede. “That’s true enough.”

 

“But when Lee Sun Jae – who’d played quite a large role in the planning – suddenly bowed out from your birthday party last week….” He now gives me a rueful shake of the head. “I may be better at reading the atmosphere than most, but I think anyone would have guessed what happened then.”

 

“Well, then,” I retort smartly, “if what you want is an apology from me, then forget it. You know how I think on this issue, and I still stand by my judgment.”

 

Yoon Hoo looks stricken. “Don’t get me wrong, Cha Yoo Jin: I feel the same way as you about the scandal, but when push comes to shove…you work with what you’ve got. So promise me that you’ll at least consider making peace with Sun Jae before you fly back, alright?”

 

My jaw sets stubbornly and I shake my head. Because while a part of me does regret my outburst from last week, that does not extend to the sentiment behind it. What Lee Sun Jae did was just plain wrong – not only that, but forgiving or condoning his behaviour now would tarnish all of our good names as young up-and-coming classical musicians.

 

You fear your father’s criticism, but you still want him to see what you’ve become.

 

Eomma’s right: I do care about what Abeoji thinks. And right now, with things as they are…I simply can’t risk ruining that, no matter what anybody else says.

 

All this time, Professor Stresemann has been content to remain on the sidelines, but now, out of nowhere, he rears back in his seat with a disapproving click of the tongue.

 

I turn to face him. “Waeyo?”

 

“You,” he says, wagging an accusatory finger at me, “and Cha Dong Woo – you’re still just the same. What can you possibly do for Baby when you know so little about love?”

 

When I only respond by rolling my eyes, however, he softens, a tiny mischievous twinkle growing in his eyes.

 

“But then again, you do have the sort of cheek I want in an apprentice; so perhaps I’ll be the one who wins in the end.”

 

Author's Notes (in "Hidden Contents" because of spoilers)

 

Spoiler

Well, this was a different installment than most - less romance, more...just about everything else :P But it's actually a taste of some of the things that will come in the last few installments of Seolleim in Salzburg.

 

That's right - last few. Because I expect this particular series to reach its natural conclusion sometime this year, with about 3 (maybe 4? depends on how I divide things up) installments to go. That doesn't mean I won't continue to work with these characters, just in different ways.

 

But anyway, like I was saying, this installment is just a little teaser of the things coming up: lots more music and concert-related stuff, crazy roommate shenanigans (because Yoo Jin and Yoon Hoo being next to each other for any extended period of time = comic gold), plus some other major developments in the romance department as well. ;) 

 

So, without further ado, the behind-the-scenes stuff!

 

1. The Photoshoot

 

Not much to say here, save that it took place in, as stated in the fic, the Wiener Saal of the older Mozarteum building in Salzburg. I won't say too much here, since it'll feature again in this series in the future, but for now, here's a pic (albeit with a modern piano):

 

 

 

Also, for those eagle-eyed fans out there, yes, I did draw off some of JW's actual promo shots for this:

 

Joo Won Demonstrates He’s A Piano Virtuoso In New “Tomorrow Cantabile” Stills | Couch Kimchi

 

Joo Won’s Character Shots For “Tomorrow Cantabile” | Couch Kimchi

 

Yong Pal - Joo Won

 

And, of course, the actual reference photo of the Schumanns they use:

 

Clara and Robert Schumann

 

And, for this time at least, that's it for the Salzburg-related stuff. Moving on!

 

2. Concert 1 - RaRo

 

(For those wondering on the name, keep your eyes out for another note down below about that specifically)

 

So, just to get visuals out of the way, this is my inspiration for Nae Il's dress - i.e., her idea of couple concert fashion ;) 

 

Buy Wonhi Off Shoulder Long-Sleeve A-line Evening Gown | YesStyle

 

Buy Wonhi Off Shoulder Long-Sleeve A-line Evening Gown | YesStyle

 

And now, for the music. Since RaRo is a piano duo that plays predominantly four-handed pieces, I thought it would be fun to challenge myself to find live performance videos whenever possible. Also, compared to previous such notes, I also want to give quick shout-outs to the performers as well - since, as it turns out, every single duo I wound up using had some sort of special relationship (which, if you ask me, makes the musical chemistry that much better, and the overall vibe that much cuter).

 

1. Overture of Mozart's Magic Flute (performed by Maki Namekawa and Dennis Russel Davies - married couple)

 

 

 

2. Orgelstück or Fantasy for a Mechanical Organ in F-Minor by Mozart (performed by Pieter and Sophié van der Westhuizen - married couple)

 

 

By the way, a fun tidbit about this piece: Mozart was originally commissioned to compose it for a mechanical organ (think a strange mash-up between a clock and a miniature pipe organ :P). These instruments had a notoriously high pitch given their small size (and, therefore, small pipes) - which is why this four-hand arrangement is rather heavy on the treble compared to others in this programme.

 

3. Polka Italienne by Rachmaninoff (performed by Sandra and Jürg Hanselmann - married couple)

 

 

 

 

4. Bilder aus Osten by Robert Schumann (performed by Clara and Marie Becker - sisters)

 

 

 

 

5. Fantasie in F-Minor by Schubert (performed by Lucas and Arthur Jussen - brothers)

 

 

 

And, very quickly, the two solo encores - because even though I don't mention them by name, I want you guys to get a chance to listen to what I had in mind anyway.

 

Nae Il's Encore: Le Ballet des Revenants by Clara Schumann

 

 

 

 

Yoo Jin's Encore: "Pause" and "Marche des Davidsbündler" from Carnaval by Robert Schumann

 

 

 

And that's just half of the music for today!

 

3. Concert 2 - Rising Star

 

Again, just to get the visuals over with, this is the dress Nae Il's wearing:

 

Chic / Beautiful Navy Blue Starry Sky Evening Dresses 2017 A-Line / Princess V-Neck 1/2 Sleeves Rhinestone Sash Floor-Length / Long Ruffle Backless Formal Dresses

 

 And, again, most of the music is stuff that I just mention in passing, so I'll just post listening links for anyone who's interested:

 

1. Finlandia by Sibelius

 

 

 

And yet another interesting tidbit: there are, to the best of my knowledge, two different versions of this piece, one of which includes a choir. Obviously, for our purposes, I went for the purely intstrumental version ;) 

 

2. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun by Debussy

 

 

 

3. Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin

 

 

 

 

4. Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture by Tchaikovsky

 

 

 

 

5. Piano Concerto in A-Minor by Clara Schumann

 

Note: the recording I found is split up into three separate tracks on YouTube, but the added bonus is that the third movement (i.e. the one with the most orchestral involvement) is live.

 

 

 

 

Encore: Pirates of the Caribbean by Howard Shore (performed by the Piano Guys)

 

 

 

Whoo, boy....I know, it's a lot. So don't try to listen to everything in one go ;) 

 

4. Historical Context: "Meister Raro" and the Schumanns' relationship with Johannes Brahms

 

Okay, so first of all: what's up this fic's really old-fashioned title? Well, you can all blame Robert Schumann for that. See, he - like so many other creative introverted types out there - had a vivid, overflowing imagination...and a complete inability to communicate that in conversation. Yoo Jin describes him as having depression, but I personally would argue something closer to bipolar disorder combined with severe social anxiety - like, he could literally spend an entire visit or social gathering just sitting on the sidelines listening to everyone else for hours without being able to say a word.

 

So where does that leave that overactive imagination? Well, Robert Schumann resorted to expressing his ideas in music (no duh!) and in writing. For a good chunk of his younger years, he wrote regularly for a number of German music magazines and journals, giving his thoughts on the new up-and-coming musicians and musical ideas of his time. And the way he did that...well, for our intents and purposes, was through fic :) I kid you not. Many of Robert's writings - publicized and more private - made use of multiple fictional characters, loosely based on different sides of his character, close friends and associates, etc. For example, he would write entire stories featuring the characters Florestan and Eusebius, which were reflections of his passionate and introspective sides respectively. And another such character was, well, Meister Raro - originally loosely inspired by Friedrich Wieck (Robert's piano teacher and Clara's father), when things soured between them, the character evolved to represent what, in Robert's mind, was perfect rational stability (i.e. the happy medium between Florestan and Eusebius).

 

No wonder, then, that Raro is also a mashup of his and Clara's names - they do seem to complement each other really well. ;) 

 

As for the title, that's based on one such story, in which Robert reviews, through Eusebius's mouth, a new piece by Chopin - he's so enamoured by it that he ends up declaring, "Hats off, gentleman! A genius!" (And, well, we definitely know that Chopin was.)

 

And that brings me to my next point. Robert Schumann can be very generous with his praise once he meets a fellow musician with potential - and nowhere is that more known historically than his endorsement of the young Johannes Brahms.

 

By the time they met, Schumann was in his 40s, while Brahms was just 20, with Clara right in the middle at 34. Brahms had showed up to the Schumanns' household to get Robert's honest opinion on his piano playing and composition, and literally the first thing Robert did when he heard the music was to call Clara into the room to listen as well. In short: Brahms was good. Really good. Robert not only wrote a glowing review of Brahms's work, but took the boy under his wing as well. (And he would have been a boy: not only are we talking about a significant age difference, but Brahms was a bit of a late bloomer physically, so you have to imagine someone looking more like a teenager with a voice that hadn't fully changed yet.)

 

And, well, if the Schumanns loved having a young prodigy to bring up, Brahms loved having such interesting people to look up to. Clara was a world-famous concert pianist, and although Robert's compositions were not very well known yet, he was a popular author in his own right because of all the magazine articles he wrote. So, maybe it's no-one's fault in particular, but as time went by, Brahms developed an enormous crush on Clara.

 

Therein lies the crux of the problem. Like it or not, as I have Lee Sun Jae put it in the fic, by the time Brahms meets his muse, she's already his teacher's wife. A teacher who, after not even a year of apprenticeship, becomes so severely mentally ill that he attempts suicide and admits himself into an asylum, leaving said wife and their many young children behind. Brahms, like any faithful friend and student, steps in to pick up the pieces as best he can: acting as the Schumanns' main go-between and messenger, babysitting and managing the household when Clara goes out to perform in order to make ends meet. And historically, we know that through this entire process, the crush Brahms had turns into something more: love.

 

So now what? This is where the historical record gets fuzzy. Personally, there's no way that Clara wouldn't have noticed Brahms's feelings for her - and no doubt she came to like him as well, if for no other reason than for his faithful devotion to Robert's good name throughout his illness. But did Clara ever actually reciprocate Brahms's love for her? Was there ever *gasp* a "Secret Love Affair"?

 

(Because, yes, that entire drama is inspired by this series of historical events.)

 

There are many people who think it was possible - if not physically or sexually, then at least emotionally. The idea is so prevalent that it's even something of a meme in classical music nerd circles (i.e. Brahms stole Schumann's wife). But as for me...I don't think so. First of all, because - like Yoo Jin - I'd just rather think not. Given Clara's really obvious devotion to Robert all her life, I simply have a hard time seeing her falling in love with another man - especially a man who, mind you, she met via her husband. To me, that simply doesn't make sense. But more importantly, what matters to me is that even if it would have been unfaithful for Clara to enter a romantic relationship with Brahms during Robert's life, it should be perfectly okay after his death. After all, she's a young-ish widow with eight(!) small children to raise, and he's already a close friend of the family with enough of a promising career that he could seriously contribute to it financially if she'D have him. And yet...they don't get together. They simply don't. Why? Who knows? The exact reasons are lost to history. But I like to think that it's because Clara and Brahms chose to remain as self-proclaimed "best friends" - although it is known that Brahms continued to idolize Clara for the rest of her life.

 

 

So, that's it for this fic. If anyone wants to access a Master List of all my K-drama fanfics, that can be found under the "About Me" tab on my profile page.

 

Thanks for your time - and enjoy reading!

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Some more behind-the-scenes goodies from Alice:

 

 

Some people in the comments on this post guess that the set is for JW's character's house. Me? I'm not so sure - because all I know is that he's a police detective, so I doubt he's that loaded. :blink: Still looks awesome, though.

 

 

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I see we've got a new face here - welcome, @Dallas1278!

 

4d6cef5df7f6b4dfbfd10a3280cb6f31.jpg

 

In the meantime, though, I'm actually here to share some awesome fan creations I found today on Instagram (hidden due to the number of images involved):

 

Spoiler

 1. Isn't this awesome? The more I look at it, the more details from the drama I recognize :) I also love how the artist shows Park Si On literally stepping into the world of the hospital, or how everything looks like it's compartmentalized in his head.

 

 

Plus this smaller sketch by the same artist:

 

 

2. A very sweet-looking (in more ways than one) Valentine's Day cake

 

 

Plus the birthday cake I missed when it first got shared online:

 

 

These are cute, too (honestly, I'm just going back through the artist's page by this point and discovering more and more :))

 

 

 

 

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JW did a live broadcast on TikTok recently.

 

 

 

Now, I don't know how TikTok works, but my guess is that he and his fans are also still trying to iron it out: some people on Instagram say that they didn't receive any notifications when the livestream started, or couldn't find where on the app the livestream would be stored afterwards for future viewers. In the meantime, though, someone did manage to re-post the livestream on YouTube if you want to watch:

 

 

As for myself, fic-writing, etc., I am working on getting enough of a future installment of Seolleim in Salzburg together in order to share a preview - it hasn't happened yet, but it will soon ;) In the meantime, though, I just want to point out that writing about Koreans living in Europe right now, in this moment, feels really, really weird somehow. Like, the story I have is set in 2017 (i.e. well before this coronavirus outbreak), but trying to write about Yoo Jin and Nae Il's lives while hearing stories about how now in 2020, a number of East Asians have encountered racial discrimination while living or travelling in Europe because of the outbreak...yeah. It's just weird.

 

Spoiler

I mean, I know that most of what happened has been fairly mild in the grand scheme of things (e.g. people avoiding Asians or making rude jokes/comments like, "Get out - we don't want your virus here"), but I have heard of instances of people actually being pushed/shoved, punched, or otherwise physically attacked. And while I know that, again, the vast majority of Europeans are reasonable and wouldn't do something like that (i.e. that anyone who says or does something racist probably has their own serious underlying issues and are just using the coronavirus as an excuse to be open about it now), but it's taking me a while to separate the stories I hear now from what I have going on in my head for Yoo Jin and Nae Il in 2017.

 

But no need to worry, guys - the fics are still going on as planned. So stay tuned for the first preview somewhere in the near future :) 

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So, as promised, here is Preview 1 of the upcoming installment of Seolleim in Salzburg:

 

Spoiler

Whereas the Café Classic is just a stone’s throw away from the Mozarteum, the Café Tomaselli – Salzburg’s oldest coffeehouse with a history going back almost 300 years – is all the way on the opposite side of the river, inside the old city centre. But Salzburg is still small enough that even that walk takes only a few minutes, aided in no small part by our rush to get out of today’s chilly early spring rain. Even with our umbrellas, we walk as fast as we can, quickening our steps into a jog as soon as the café’s distinctive green-and-white striped awning comes into view before ducking inside.

 

From its exterior, with its bright awning and rows of planters stuffed with evergreen trimmings for the winter, one would be forgiven for assuming that the Tomaselli would be some frilly affair on the inside as well. But instead, in stark contrast, it is like most other old-school Austrian coffeehouses: hardwood floors with matching panels on the wall, polished to a warm glow by years of loving wear; classic brass fixtures accompanying simple wooden chairs and stone-topped tables.

 

With such an atmosphere, combined with its long history, the Tomaselli is a major tourist draw: even now, in the slow season, many of the tables are already taken, especially with few opting for the outdoors seating on account of the rain. Given that, it takes Do Kyung and I several minutes of wandering around the premises before we find a good spot in a tucked-away corner. As I take her coat and umbrella from her, hanging them up alongside mine on the closest coat rack, she claims the banquette seating built right into the corner, surreptitiously combing her hair while I sit down in one of the two chairs across from her. From here, I could see the entrance of the room that we’re in, giving me a clear vantage point for when Nae Il arrives.

 

A waiter approaches our table, and we decide to make a head start by placing our drink orders first. Our coffees are soon followed by one of the Tomaselli’s famous “cake ladies”: waitresses bearing large trays filled with an assorted sampling of cakes and pastries from the café’s bakery case.

 

“Can I get you two sweethearts something to start?”

 

As I blink up at her, startled by her use of such an endearment, Do Kyung steps in. “In a bit, Madam – we’re still waiting for his girlfriend.”

 

If the cake lady is surprised by our response, she doesn’t show it. Instead, after giving us a warm smile, she goes on her way with a promise to return later. Once we are left to ourselves again, I round on Do Kyung, eyes wide.

 

“What was that all about?”

 

She leans forward, eyes twinkling in her most innocent expression. “What, you didn’t know?”

 

“Of course I did!” I sputter. “Why wouldn’t I?” I take a sip of my coffee to buy myself a moment. “But still, given that…komawo.”

 

“Gwenchana.” As though I need further proof of her intentions, Do Kyung throws in a casual shrug. “I know where I stand as far as you two are concerned, and I’m not about to cross that line again.”

 

A moment later, however, a mischievous smile creeps up on her face.

 

“Wae?”

 

“Nothing,”

 

“It most certainly is not ‘nothing’.” I cross my arms in front of my chest. “Come on, Do Kyung-ah – out with it.”

 

“Alright, then. If you say so.” She comes forward even further, inviting me to do the same until we are huddled together over the table. “I was just thinking back on how this was how we’d started out. Remember? Back in first year?”

 

I recoil back to my side of the table, but when she merely laughs, I point a warning finger at her. “Don’t you start.”

 

“Why not?” she asks. “I think it’s funny.”

 

“Ara – but I don’t.”

 

Do Kyung, finally realizing that I’m not about to budge, changes the subject: moving on to a story from her travels around northern Italy. However, I find that I am only partially listening to her, another part of my mind casting back through the years of its own accord, all the way back to when the two of us had been first year students at Haneum.

 

Both of us, for some reason or another, had drawn an annoying amount of attention from the opposite sex, until one night, Do Kyung had finally had enough. That night, over drinks at our usual bar, she had ranted to me about one boy in our cohort after another, each of whom had tried to ask her out only for her to reject them for some perceived flaw.

 

“And why are you coming to me about this?” I’d asked then, more than a bit exasperated myself by her endless complaining. “Maybe you should just pick one and have done with it!”

 

And that’s when it had come out. Her confession.

 

“I can’t – because they’re not you.”

 

It hadn’t crossed my mind before that moment so long ago that Chae Do Kyung could possibly have thought of me as anything more than her best friend. Nor could I have expected the plan she’d proposed next.

 

“Komawo,” she’d said, after I’d agreed, almost without hesitating, to act the part of her boyfriend in front of the other guys. “Does that mean you like me, too, Yoo Jin-ah?”

 

I hadn’t. Not in that way, at least. Still, unable to bring myself to break it to her directly, I’d replied with the one thing I could say to this childhood friend of mine: “Well…I like your voice.”

 

Something in my expression must have given me away now because the next thing I know, Do Kyung’s voice trails off and she gives me a knowing look.

 

“So you do remember.”

 

Startled, I tear my eyes away, fixating them on a spot on the wall behind her.

 

[...]

 

But mercifully, before either of us could say anything, my phone rings: Nae Il calling to say that she has now arrived at the café and asking where our table is.

 

Although I mentioned Do Kyung’s presence in my text, Nae Il still looks taken aback actually seeing her here with me. But when I rise to greet her, she visibly brightens and scurries over.

 

As I take care of her wet things, Nae Il takes the empty chair beside me. Then, immediately after I have returned to my seat, she presses her hands together and holds them out at me.

 

“Orabang….”

 

Unable to help a fond smile at her gesture, I envelope her hands with mine, keeping them there until her chilled fingers start to grow warm under my touch. “Ya, Seollebal,” I chide her teasingly, “I thought I’d told you to bring your gloves with you this morning.”

 

“Ara,” she quips back, tilting her head coyly to one side. “But this is so much better.”

 

Do Kyung watches all this with an unreadable expression on her face, but she rallies herself to call for our attention when a waiter appears for Nae Il’s drink order. Then, moments after her hot chocolate arrives, the cake lady from before comes back around to our table with a fresh tray of cakes and pastries.

 

I glance expectantly at Nae Il as she scans over the selection available, but when she peers up at me with just the slightest shake of the head, I place an order instead:

 

“One krapfen for each of us, please.”

 

As the cake lady nods and hastens off to fetch our order, Nae Il flashes me a grateful smile. “Komawo, Orabang,” she says. “How did you know that’s what I wanted?”

 

“Because knowing you, Seollebal, you’d go for a seasonal special if there was one – and today’s the last day for krapfen until Christmas.”

 

Moments later, our food arrives. The three krapfen – jelly-filled doughnuts available only during the winter Carnival season – come together on a single large platter, each golden brown circle turned almost completely white by a thick dusting of powdered sugar. The cake lady had also thought ahead and provided our table with individual saucers and forks, which I quickly distribute to the others before urging them to help themselves.

 

Nae Il doesn’t need to be told twice, nearly spilling her drink in her haste to claim the krapfen closest to her. As she takes her first large bite, a cascade of sugar falling down onto her plate in the process, I serve Do Kyung her portion before taking the last one for myself. Yet even after I, too, have taken my first bite, Do Kyung still hasn’t moved.

 

“Wae?”

 

She glances down at her plate, then up at Nae Il and me. “You pianists are so lucky,” she points out coolly. “You can eat whatever you want, since you’ll end up burning all the calories just by practicing anyway.”

 

I stammer out a sheepish apology at my mistake, but Nae Il, after a moment’s pause, answers Do Kyung with a shrug.

 

“Well, if you don’t want it, that’s just more for me.”

 

I barely manage to stop her from reaching across the table to take Do Kyung’s plate, but when I glance cautiously across the table, it’s to find Do Kyung watching us with an indulgent close-mouthed smile.

 

“You know, Seol Nae Il,” she purrs, “I never would have thought I’d say this, but you’re actually kinda cute.”

 

It’s the same sort of reaction that Sohn Su Ji – yet another worldly and sophisticated young woman – had given to Nae Il years ago. And just like back then, she is more than happy to accept it, linking one arm with mine as she answers with a smug nod in Do Kyung’s direction.

 

“Arayo – that’s what Orabang likes about me.”

 

Do Kyung’s smile widens. “So, do you want it? You can take it if you do; I won’t mind.”

 

The offer clearly catches Nae Il off guard because after a moment’s blinking in confusion, her eyes narrow. “Is this a bribe?”

 

As I, mortified, chide her to behave, throwing in a subtle kick under the table for good measure, Do Kyung looks her over, an appraising glint in her eyes.

 

“It is whatever you want to say it is. But since Yoo Jin already went to the trouble to get this for me” – she uses her fork to carefully cut her krapfen in half – “I should at least have some of it.”

 

So, yeah - a bit more action between the girls this time around. I hadn't planned it this way for International Women's Day, but it's a good coincidence, now that I think about it. And the presence of female characters won't stop here - there's a new (well, new-ish) one coming this time around! :glasses:

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So, here's some heartwarming (albeit slightly morbid) news that's been circulating on Instagram lately:

 

 

 

I'm sure the "heartwarming" part is something you guys will get. But why "slightly morbid"? Because the fact that JW and other celebrities are donating money to relief efforts also means that this COVID-19 outbreak is still going strong in Korea. :mask: And, well, because whenever I see stories like this about celebrities, my fangirl/see-the-faith-in-humanity side goes all soft and melty, but at the same time, my more cynical side likes to interrupt with, "And they get a lot of publicity for this - so is it actually altruistic?"

 

Of course, JW being JW...I do believe his heart is in the right place, no matter how his actions can be interpreted or how he (most likely inadvertently) might end up benefiting as a result. :heart:

 

That said, maybe just a little bit of dark gallows humour is in order? I mean, I understand if it's too much too soon for any of you - and I want to take a quick moment to give a shout-out and best wishes to @valinor500, who, to the best of my knowledge, is based in Italy, so...FIGHTING! - but here's the thing. Remember how I posted not too long ago about feeling really weird about writing my Seolleim in Salzburg series set in 2017 knowing that this outbreak would happen a few years later in 2020? Well, it turns out that, for me at least, the best therapy is to actually follow through on those questions to their natural conclusion: for those of JW's characters who could, possibly, be living through this COVID-19 outbreak after the events of their respective dramas, what would it be like?

 

Now, I don't want to do a full-blown fic - that really would be "too much too soon", especially for something that's still developing and can change at any moment in time. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I could do one of those quick character rating/ranking lists, put some of the darker imaginary ghosts to rest (in other words: if I don't have a lighter semi-"official" version set down, my imagination goes nuts and that seldom ends well), and then move on to writing/imagining happier things in the future :) 

 

Obviously, there are some characters that I simply cannot include in this for  the obvious reason that they would, unfortunately, have most likely already passed on by 2020. So no Gyun Woo or Lee Kang To this time, sorry. :( And I drew blanks on Gu Ma Jun and Han Gil Ro, so they're not here either. But that being said, here's what I have for the remaining four characters I did think this through for.

 

Note: I'm putting this in "Hidden Content" in case you don't want to look - but rest assured that none of these will feature the actual characters or their loved ones getting sick. I'm not that cruel. Rather, this is more about their general lifestyle/way of thinking/etc. in a situation like this outbreak. Would anything change, or would it be life as usual? That sort of thing.

 

Spoiler

1. Hwang Tae Hui

 

Personally, I don't think he would be all that fazed by what's going on. As a police officer - and, hence, as a public employee - I think that life would simply go on for him: criminal cases don't stop for anything, and so there's always going to be work that needs to be done. As a husband and - potentially - a father (actually, make that most likely: because he'd be close to 40 years old(!) by 2020, if you do the math), I do think he would be concerned about his family as a general whole: Baek Ja Eun, his kids (if he has any), his parents, brothers, their families, etc. And I think that, if she's still around, Tae Hui would be particularly concerned about his grandmother's well-being. 

 

But that being said, I also think Tae Hui is one of the most likely out of the four characters I'm featuring today to just stay level-headed throughout. Beyond being careful with his own health, and possibly staying over at the precinct if he does get worried about bringing any germs home, I really don't foresee any real disruption to his regular life or routine, to be honest. That might sound strange given that we know from the drama that Tae Hui suffered from poor health as a child, including being hospitalized for pneumonia once, but that's because (unlike some others further down this list), I think he's fully confident in his strength and stamina now as an adult. Like, have you seen this guy run??? Enough said. :glasses:

 

2. Park Si On

 

This may surprise you, but I also think that he'd be okay. More or less. Yes, being a doctor would put him directly on the front lines, and there's always a ton of risk there (same with Kim Tae Hyun, who I'll get to in a bit). However, it's precisely because he's a doctor that I think Park Si On will get through this outbreak...well, not entirely unscathed, but at least without freaking out to the extent that some people might imagine.

 

See, while it's true that Park Si On doesn't do well in any sort of high-stress environment - and a disease outbreak in Korea would definitely count as one - a medical emergency, more so than anything else, is the sort of emergency that he could get through just by switching to autopilot. With his vast medical knowledge, which most likely includes at least some virology or immunology, he'd have the clearest sense out of these four characters just what exactly is going on: new developments in the research, how coronaviruses in general work/spread/mutate/etc., what methods for countering them work better than others...basically, he's on it, 100%. Park Si On's the one who'd have all the proper protective techniques (e.g. washing hands, when/how to use masks, etc.) down to a set routine - and not only that, I think he'd be the one who'd be able to put it into kid-friendly language so that his patients could follow suit. 

 

As for whether this outbreak scares him...most likely, yes. Park Si On, we know, cannot bear to see anyone sick or suffering - that's what made him choose to become a doctor in the first place. So the thought of so many people getting sick would scare him; let's not kid ourselves on that. But I think this is where his kind and good-hearted nature would still win out, helping him to fully commit to caring for his patients despite his fears.

 

3. Kim Tae Hyun

 

And now, the "other doctor" :P Similar to Park Si On, I do think Kim Tae Hyun would keep a level head, for the most part. He's also the sort of doctor who would prioritize his patients over his own safety, as well as having the knowledge on how best to prevent transmission.

 

However, unlike Park Si On, I can see Tae Hyun freaking out. Just a little. And here's why: for Tae Hyun, the stakes are so much higher. Whereas Si On works in pediatrics (and, thus far, COVID-19 seems to predominantly affect adults), Tae Hyun is now a general practitioner, who works with patients of all ages and from all walks of life. Anything can happen, literally - nor would he be the type of doctor to shy away from that (Yong Pal, anybody?). BUT! He has not one, but two, immuno-compromised people in his family: Kim So Hyun and Han Yeo Jin. Both of them are organ transplant recipients, meaning that they have to take immunosuppressants to survive (or else, their bodies will reject the transplants - and this is a risk that persists for life); but that also means that they absolutely cannot get sick, with pretty much anything. A cold or flu might not be too bad, but something like COVID-19...both So Hyun and Yeo Jin fit the profile for the sort of patient who could develop complications, become hospitalized, die(!), etc. 

 

So for Tae Hyun, this is no joke, nor should it be. He knows he has to be completely careful: a small slip that wouldn't carry consequences for Hwang Tae Hui or Park Si On, for instance, could be disastrous here. But he's a doctor, and he's still got his patients, and - like Si On - he can't bear to just leave them behind...so what could he do? My guess is that he would isolate himself: maybe stay in the apartment above the First Floor Clinic while sending So Hyun back to the big mansion with Yeo Jin, or - if he's in Seoul, staying by himself in the guesthouse while everyone else is in the main house...you get the idea. He would also, I imagine, demand that Yeo Jin do as much of her work from home as possible, rather than risk herself by going to the office every day.

 

4. Cha Yoo Jin + Seol Nae Il (because, try as I might, I simply can't separate these two)

 

Again, this might surprise you, but if anyone's going to be seriously affected, I think it will be these two. There are a couple of reasons for that. First of all, unlike all the other characters I've written about so far, these two are in Austria: while the situation there is significantly more mild than it is in Korea in regards to number of cases, fatalities, etc., that means that Yoo Jin and Nae Il will have to deal with the implications of COVID-19 being seen, at least in the earlier stages, as an "Asian" disease. That means that, like it or not, they will have to take the possibility of racism into account in a way that the others won't.

 

Given their personalities, I can see this playing out in a number of different ways: 1) speaking almost entirely in German while out in public (Yoo Jin especially) to try to make it clear that they've been living in Austria for years rather than being travellers from Korea; and 2) always having each other's backs in the rare likelihood of verbal or physical assault. For instance, I imagine that if anyone were to say or try to do anything to Nae Il, Yoo Jin will shield her while simultaneously cussing out her attackers with just about every local Austrian German swearword he knows - as for Nae Il's defence of Yoo Jin...she'd actually get physical.

 

But also, unlike the other three characters I've discussed so far, Yoo Jin and Nae Il would have some significant financial/career-related losses to deal with. Again, this is still a developing situation, so things can change at any given time, but even now, by March 2020, tons of classical performances have been postponed or cancelled worldwide, and as of today, I know that a number of Austrian cultural and performing arts institutions and venues (including the Musikverein in Vienna and the Stiftung Mozarteum - i.e. the performance venue I'd mentioned in my last fic - in Salzburg) are closing temporarily under the guidance of the Austrian government. All of which is, of course, for the greater good - and Yoo Jin and Nae Il are aware of that, to be sure - but that also means that if they'd had any performances scheduled for this time...those are out of the question. And considering that things like ticket sales make up a substantial portion of a musician's income...you can see where this is going.

 

But hey, we're in the 21st century - so I do think they'll make it work as best they can. Yoo Jin, I think, would be perfectly fine just staying at home: practicing, studying scores, livestreaming any performances he can (as a pianist rather than a conductor), etc. Nae Il, though, would most likely end up more stir-crazy, so here's hoping Yoo Jin's got ideas on how to keep her occupied if they should ever have to stay home for weeks at a time.

 

As for getting sick, I think Yoo Jin would be at less risk than Nae Il...but he'd also be more worried than her. Less risk because he's already very careful about his own health, personal cleanliness, and hygiene - disease prevention measures aren't that far a cry from what he already does at the best of times. But also, more worried because 1) he'd definitely be worried about Nae Il more than she would be about him (he tends to worry about her while she simply trusts him to have everything under control :P), and 2) as someone who's experienced several near-drowning incidents and developed PTSD as a result, any illness or injury that could potentially affect the lungs would be, quite frankly, absolutely terrifying. So maybe Yoo Jin needs Nae Il as much as she needs him: this time, to keep him calm and level-headed.

 

And that's what I've got so far. Again, this is purely my own interpretation and conjecture - maybe you think the outcome would be different.

 

Thanks for putting up with me and this post, and I promise you that the next thing I share here will be more optimistic and more my usual style. Stay strong, and stay healthy. Fighting! :thumbsup:

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One of the major recommended precautions against COVID-19 is to keep yourself healthy, and exercise is certainly a part of that:

 

 

Here's hoping that it'll soon be safe enough in Korea to exercise outdoors, though - I feel like going for a run outside is probably still safer than going to the gym. ;) 

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On 3/11/2020 at 5:26 PM, kittyna said:

So, here's some heartwarming (albeit slightly morbid) news that's been circulating on Instagram lately:

 

 

 

I'm sure the "heartwarming" part is something you guys will get. But why "slightly morbid"? Because the fact that JW and other celebrities are donating money to relief efforts also means that this COVID-19 outbreak is still going strong in Korea. :mask: And, well, because whenever I see stories like this about celebrities, my fangirl/see-the-faith-in-humanity side goes all soft and melty, but at the same time, my more cynical side likes to interrupt with, "And they get a lot of publicity for this - so is it actually altruistic?"

 

Of course, JW being JW...I do believe his heart is in the right place, no matter how his actions can be interpreted or how he (most likely inadvertently) might end up benefiting as a result. :heart:

 

That said, maybe just a little bit of dark gallows humour is in order? I mean, I understand if it's too much too soon for any of you - and I want to take a quick moment to give a shout-out and best wishes to @valinor500, who, to the best of my knowledge, is based in Italy, so...FIGHTING! - but here's the thing. Remember how I posted not too long ago about feeling really weird about writing my Seolleim in Salzburg series set in 2017 knowing that this outbreak would happen a few years later in 2020? Well, it turns out that, for me at least, the best therapy is to actually follow through on those questions to their natural conclusion: for those of JW's characters who could, possibly, be living through this COVID-19 outbreak after the events of their respective dramas, what would it be like?

 

Now, I don't want to do a full-blown fic - that really would be "too much too soon", especially for something that's still developing and can change at any moment in time. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I could do one of those quick character rating/ranking lists, put some of the darker imaginary ghosts to rest (in other words: if I don't have a lighter semi-"official" version set down, my imagination goes nuts and that seldom ends well), and then move on to writing/imagining happier things in the future :) 

 

Obviously, there are some characters that I simply cannot include in this for  the obvious reason that they would, unfortunately, have most likely already passed on by 2020. So no Gyun Woo or Lee Kang To this time, sorry. :( And I drew blanks on Gu Ma Jun and Han Gil Ro, so they're not here either. But that being said, here's what I have for the remaining four characters I did think this through for.

 

Note: I'm putting this in "Hidden Content" in case you don't want to look - but rest assured that none of these will feature the actual characters or their loved ones getting sick. I'm not that cruel. Rather, this is more about their general lifestyle/way of thinking/etc. in a situation like this outbreak. Would anything change, or would it be life as usual? That sort of thing.

 

  Reveal hidden contents

1. Hwang Tae Hui

 

Personally, I don't think he would be all that fazed by what's going on. As a police officer - and, hence, as a public employee - I think that life would simply go on for him: criminal cases don't stop for anything, and so there's always going to be work that needs to be done. As a husband and - potentially - a father (actually, make that most likely: because he'd be close to 40 years old(!) by 2020, if you do the math), I do think he would be concerned about his family as a general whole: Baek Ja Eun, his kids (if he has any), his parents, brothers, their families, etc. And I think that, if she's still around, Tae Hui would be particularly concerned about his grandmother's well-being. 

 

But that being said, I also think Tae Hui is one of the most likely out of the four characters I'm featuring today to just stay level-headed throughout. Beyond being careful with his own health, and possibly staying over at the precinct if he does get worried about bringing any germs home, I really don't foresee any real disruption to his regular life or routine, to be honest. That might sound strange given that we know from the drama that Tae Hui suffered from poor health as a child, including being hospitalized for pneumonia once, but that's because (unlike some others further down this list), I think he's fully confident in his strength and stamina now as an adult. Like, have you seen this guy run??? Enough said. :glasses:

 

2. Park Si On

 

This may surprise you, but I also think that he'd be okay. More or less. Yes, being a doctor would put him directly on the front lines, and there's always a ton of risk there (same with Kim Tae Hyun, who I'll get to in a bit). However, it's precisely because he's a doctor that I think Park Si On will get through this outbreak...well, not entirely unscathed, but at least without freaking out to the extent that some people might imagine.

 

See, while it's true that Park Si On doesn't do well in any sort of high-stress environment - and a disease outbreak in Korea would definitely count as one - a medical emergency, more so than anything else, is the sort of emergency that he could get through just by switching to autopilot. With his vast medical knowledge, which most likely includes at least some virology or immunology, he'd have the clearest sense out of these four characters just what exactly is going on: new developments in the research, how coronaviruses in general work/spread/mutate/etc., what methods for countering them work better than others...basically, he's on it, 100%. Park Si On's the one who'd have all the proper protective techniques (e.g. washing hands, when/how to use masks, etc.) down to a set routine - and not only that, I think he'd be the one who'd be able to put it into kid-friendly language so that his patients could follow suit. 

 

As for whether this outbreak scares him...most likely, yes. Park Si On, we know, cannot bear to see anyone sick or suffering - that's what made him choose to become a doctor in the first place. So the thought of so many people getting sick would scare him; let's not kid ourselves on that. But I think this is where his kind and good-hearted nature would still win out, helping him to fully commit to caring for his patients despite his fears.

 

3. Kim Tae Hyun

 

And now, the "other doctor" :P Similar to Park Si On, I do think Kim Tae Hyun would keep a level head, for the most part. He's also the sort of doctor who would prioritize his patients over his own safety, as well as having the knowledge on how best to prevent transmission.

 

However, unlike Park Si On, I can see Tae Hyun freaking out. Just a little. And here's why: for Tae Hyun, the stakes are so much higher. Whereas Si On works in pediatrics (and, thus far, COVID-19 seems to predominantly affect adults), Tae Hyun is now a general practitioner, who works with patients of all ages and from all walks of life. Anything can happen, literally - nor would he be the type of doctor to shy away from that (Yong Pal, anybody?). BUT! He has not one, but two, immuno-compromised people in his family: Kim So Hyun and Han Yeo Jin. Both of them are organ transplant recipients, meaning that they have to take immunosuppressants to survive (or else, their bodies will reject the transplants - and this is a risk that persists for life); but that also means that they absolutely cannot get sick, with pretty much anything. A cold or flu might not be too bad, but something like COVID-19...both So Hyun and Yeo Jin fit the profile for the sort of patient who could develop complications, become hospitalized, die(!), etc. 

 

So for Tae Hyun, this is no joke, nor should it be. He knows he has to be completely careful: a small slip that wouldn't carry consequences for Hwang Tae Hui or Park Si On, for instance, could be disastrous here. But he's a doctor, and he's still got his patients, and - like Si On - he can't bear to just leave them behind...so what could he do? My guess is that he would isolate himself: maybe stay in the apartment above the First Floor Clinic while sending So Hyun back to the big mansion with Yeo Jin, or - if he's in Seoul, staying by himself in the guesthouse while everyone else is in the main house...you get the idea. He would also, I imagine, demand that Yeo Jin do as much of her work from home as possible, rather than risk herself by going to the office every day.

 

4. Cha Yoo Jin + Seol Nae Il (because, try as I might, I simply can't separate these two)

 

Again, this might surprise you, but if anyone's going to be seriously affected, I think it will be these two. There are a couple of reasons for that. First of all, unlike all the other characters I've written about so far, these two are in Austria: while the situation there is significantly more mild than it is in Korea in regards to number of cases, fatalities, etc., that means that Yoo Jin and Nae Il will have to deal with the implications of COVID-19 being seen, at least in the earlier stages, as an "Asian" disease. That means that, like it or not, they will have to take the possibility of racism into account in a way that the others won't.

 

Given their personalities, I can see this playing out in a number of different ways: 1) speaking almost entirely in German while out in public (Yoo Jin especially) to try to make it clear that they've been living in Austria for years rather than being travellers from Korea; and 2) always having each other's backs in the rare likelihood of verbal or physical assault. For instance, I imagine that if anyone were to say or try to do anything to Nae Il, Yoo Jin will shield her while simultaneously cussing out her attackers with just about every local Austrian German swearword he knows - as for Nae Il's defence of Yoo Jin...she'd actually get physical.

 

But also, unlike the other three characters I've discussed so far, Yoo Jin and Nae Il would have some significant financial/career-related losses to deal with. Again, this is still a developing situation, so things can change at any given time, but even now, by March 2020, tons of classical performances have been postponed or cancelled worldwide, and as of today, I know that a number of Austrian cultural and performing arts institutions and venues (including the Musikverein in Vienna and the Stiftung Mozarteum - i.e. the performance venue I'd mentioned in my last fic - in Salzburg) are closing temporarily under the guidance of the Austrian government. All of which is, of course, for the greater good - and Yoo Jin and Nae Il are aware of that, to be sure - but that also means that if they'd had any performances scheduled for this time...those are out of the question. And considering that things like ticket sales make up a substantial portion of a musician's income...you can see where this is going.

 

But hey, we're in the 21st century - so I do think they'll make it work as best they can. Yoo Jin, I think, would be perfectly fine just staying at home: practicing, studying scores, livestreaming any performances he can (as a pianist rather than a conductor), etc. Nae Il, though, would most likely end up more stir-crazy, so here's hoping Yoo Jin's got ideas on how to keep her occupied if they should ever have to stay home for weeks at a time.

 

As for getting sick, I think Yoo Jin would be at less risk than Nae Il...but he'd also be more worried than her. Less risk because he's already very careful about his own health, personal cleanliness, and hygiene - disease prevention measures aren't that far a cry from what he already does at the best of times. But also, more worried because 1) he'd definitely be worried about Nae Il more than she would be about him (he tends to worry about her while she simply trusts him to have everything under control :P), and 2) as someone who's experienced several near-drowning incidents and developed PTSD as a result, any illness or injury that could potentially affect the lungs would be, quite frankly, absolutely terrifying. So maybe Yoo Jin needs Nae Il as much as she needs him: this time, to keep him calm and level-headed.

 

And that's what I've got so far. Again, this is purely my own interpretation and conjecture - maybe you think the outcome would be different.

 

Thanks for putting up with me and this post, and I promise you that the next thing I share here will be more optimistic and more my usual style. Stay strong, and stay healthy. Fighting! :thumbsup:

While the stars are getting publicity, they are also encouraging others to come forward to help. You can spot the "look at me" ones vs the ones just wanting to help.

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Well, this week has been...let's just say, absolutely insane. What with the WHO finally calling COVID-19 a pandemic and countries all over the world finally being able to use that to push for more stringent quarantine/self-isolation/social distancing/whatever-else-you-want-to-call-it policies...it's been nuts seeing even how my own speculative post a few days ago re: JW's drama characters can go so quickly out of date :sweat_smile:

 

That said, I still stand by the whole "they'd all be okay" stance - things might be dicier for those drama universes where the characters are doctors, but things seem to be starting to turn around in China and Korea now (finally!), with recoveries outpacing new cases. Which, understandably, leaves the rest of the world wondering when the heck that's going to happen in their own countries.

 

To all the JW fans/readers on this forum who are based in Europe, Iran, and the US...FIGHTING! From my perspective here in Canada (which I'm still amazed has been relatively mildly hit so far, given its status as a major immigration hub, meaning that there's constant air traffic from all over the world - and yet it's one of the few countries that's using social distancing measures more as a preventative rather than a reactive coping method :thumbsup:), it's been a bit nuts seeing the numbers jumping up so rapidly in those places, but I hope that all the preemptive steps that state and local governments all over the world have been taking (e.g. cancelling classes at schools/universities, closing major tourist attractions, etc.) will help. Let's just make it through to the end of March/beginning of April - i.e. 2-3 weeks from now, which is how long the incubation period can last - and hope that we'll see improvement by then.

 

Spoiler

A quick word re: Austria specifically, since - for fic-writing/imagining purposes - I do take it into consideration still. Long story short: Yoo Jin and Nae Il are definitely stuck at home by this point in the game :P Actually, come to think about it...they would have been a long time ago: the ever-cautious and uber-introverted Yoo Jin would have started social distancing well before any of this week's chaos (and most likely convinced Nae Il to join him - although how exactly is still beyond me). But for me, seeing all the stories about people making music from their homes in Italy or musicians all over the world posting their playing on social media...there's something really heartwarming about imagining them doing the same in Salzburg. :) 

 

But what does this have to do with JW, or this forum? In short: being the introverted homebody that I am in real life, I'm taking advantage of all of these closures and enforced breaks from school/work/etc. to see if that could kickstart my creative juices. When you're busy with real life, hobbies take a back seat: but now, I hope that I'll have enough time now with my writing to keep a relatively steady stream of content to tide us over these 2-3 weeks.

 

So, what does that mean? At least one more character rating list (the idea's already forming in my head, so stay tuned) and several more previews - if not the finished product as well - from the next Seolleim in Salzburg series.

 

And, of course, updates of cool JW-related stuff I find on Instagram - like this post that compares JW's recent workout video with an interview he did in Japan while promoting "Level 7 Civil Servant"

 

 

Mind you, I think there are supposed to be some genetic factors involved in whether or not you could develop abs...like, I suspect that not every guy who's physically fit will actually have noticeable ridges because that's determined by in-born muscular structure. Like, I notice that JW's limbs and shoulders bulk up way before his torso does. But still, glad to see JW growing more and more confident in his own body (fitness and appearance combined) :) 

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When life gets tough, sometimes it's great to take a step back and remind ourselves to enjoy all the little things:

 

 

Looks like spring's arrived in Korea :love:

 

And here's some cute fanart:

 

 

And a cute behind-the-scenes moment from Nae Il's Cantabile filming

 

 

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On 2/20/2020 at 9:30 AM, exile18 said:

Hi all! I can't wait for Joo Won's new drama. But there doesn't seem to be much news on the filming and any idea when the drama will air? 

It'll air sometime in last week of August or first week of September. As you can see all the slots on SBS Friday and Saturday are booked till end of July, and Alice is also on Friday and Saturday slots. So, I think it'll probably air in last week of August or first week of September

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8 hours ago, kireeti2 said:

It'll air sometime in last week of August or first week of September. As you can see all the slots on SBS Friday and Saturday are booked till end of July, and Alice is also on Friday and Saturday slots. So, I think it'll probably air in last week of August or first week of September

 

Thanks for that! It's crazy...so much has happened recently that I completely forgot about Alice for a while. :sweat_smile:

 

Anyway, this time, here's another fun update. You know all those clips JW and his friends post of themselves at the gym? Looks like they've been turned into an ad of some sort :glasses:

 

 

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Here I am with the first of the more content-heavy posts that I'd promised to prepare during these couple of weeks when it seems like just about everyone is under some sort of self-isolation/social distancing measure: whether it's a full quarantine or lockdown, or you're staying home simply because just about everything closed recently to prevent any further spread of COVID-19 (this is the case in my home city - Toronto, Canada - right now). I'd said then that I would try to churn out more content so that you guys will have stuff to look at and/or read, but this time, I'm doing one better: there are even some things you can do, if you so choose ;) 

 

So, what is this thing, you ask? It's my next character rating list. And this time, it centres around a theme that I think all of us can relate to, no matter where we are or what the situation is in our home communities is:

 

FOOD. :cookie::yum:

 

See, one thing I noticed looking back is that just about every single K-drama uses food as some sort of plot or character device, and the eight dramas JW's been in so far are no exception. Rather than a rating list, though - since how on earth would I rank something like this anyway? - what I want to do is walk us through JW's dramas in chronological order, taking a closer look at the role food plays in each of their lives.

 

So where does the "some things you can do" come in? Well, prior to the world deciding to go nuts in the space of little more than a week, I was already planning this as a general list. However, I now realize that quite a number of us probably have way more time on our hands at home than we're normally used to, and those hours will start feeling really long after a while. So why not use some of it watching food/cooking videos as well as reading about JW's dramas? Or, if you're so inclined, why not try cooking something new yourself?

 

In other words, here's how this list will work: 1) a spiel just answering my original question about characters and food; 2) a list of what I think (based on the dramas and some conjecture of my own) what each character's favourite food(s) are; and 3) a recipe video for you guys featuring a food item that I associate with that character and/or his drama universe.

 

Whew...that's a lot, just for introductions. So, without further ado, let's get to it! (Note: I'm posting in "Hidden Content" to make site loading easier)

 

Spoiler

1. Gu Ma Jun

 

If you haven't figured it out from context already, this entry is - yes - going to be about bread. :P Now, it's been a while since I watched King of Baking, Kim Tak Gu in full, but from what I remember, Ma Jun's relationship with bread and the whole baking trade is...complicated. As a child, he hates it - or, at least, he hates being dragged out of bed first thing every weekend morning to accompany his father to the factory (and, when it's put like that, you really can't blame him). But it's also because of that childhood history that Ma Jun grows to associate bread with love and acceptance. To be more specific, once he discovers that he's not, in fact, the Chairman's son, he throws himself wholly into learning breadmaking as a means to prove himself in front of the man he wants to claim as his father, and also to make himself look more appealing and worthy as a son compared to Kim Tak Gu. Poor Ma Jun - he doesn't realize that there's actually plenty enough love to go around.

 

And that extends into his adulthood, too, when we see him apprenticing at Master Palbong's bakery. Ma Jun is good at what he does, but while his technique and creativity are solid, he's unwilling to put himself into the things he makes in the same way that the other bakers do. There's something about Ma Jun that's always guarded, always on alert...almost like he's built up a wall around himself. Personally, I think the clearest indications of that in the drama are also in moments when food come into play - not bread this time, but the big communal meals that everyone in the bakery shares together. Ma Jun is sometimes shown slipping out of the room or refusing to join in, and as a viewer, I have to wonder if it's because of his extremely low self esteem due to his illegitimate birth.

 

Favourite foods: Breads of various kinds (eventually), Japanese food (he did study abroad in Japan, and uses his knowledge of foreign cultures to claim superiority over Tak Gu)

 

Recipe: Sweet Potato Bread

 

 

In choosing this, I was inspired by the recipe that Ma Jun develops for the first round of the baking competition: the most filling bread. He comes up with a bread with sweet potato puree mixed into the dough, which is then smothered with caramelized nuts and more sweet potato on top (honestly, I rewatched the clip for this, and it looks like a Korean-ified sticky bun). Since that's a recipe of his own creation, and not something that exists as-is in the real world, this is a more generic Japanese (nod to his studies again) version.

 

2. Hwang Tae Hui

 

From what we see in the drama, Tae Hui's tastes are surprisingly old-school: he seems to share food preferences with his grandmother, and it's mentioned explicitly several times in Ojakgyo Brothers that he has way less of a sweet tooth than is typical for his generation. So we see that he enjoys meeting up with his father or Baek Ja Eun in a more traditional tea house than in a coffee shop (although he does get into the coffee shop action, too, what with Ja Eun's love for caramel macchiatos), and that his favourite dessert offering there is patjuk (red bean porridge) - or, at least, it should be a favourite, since I seem to remember him proposing while treating Ja Eun to it (forgive me if I'm wrong, though - it's been a while).

 

But even though I do get the sense that he prefers this really homey style of cooking - and he really would associate these dishes with his mother and grandmother - Tae Hui seldom gets the chance to indulge. Instead, as a police detective, he is constantly on the go, and so more often than not, we see Tae Hui eating quick convenience foods: instant ramyeon in the car or at the precinct, or a protein shake at home before running out the door. So he always appreciates it when people bring him food from home when he can't go back himself - including Ja Eun's not-so-great attempts at cooking.

 

Favourite foods: Shrimp soup (this is explicitly mentioned as something he loves, along with his grandmother), red bean paste desserts (the porridge, but also buns), sour things in general (remember all those glasses of that super-sour persimmon drink he kicked back at the sauna? Like, I know he was just trying to impress Ja Eun in front of Kim Jae Ha, but you really need to be able to handle it first.)

 

Recipe: Instant ramyeon

 

 

So, this time, I decided to opt for the "cop on the go" side more than his "at home" side. Why? Because chances are, this is something any of us can pull off under the circumstances we now find ourselves in. I was also strongly reminded of the really sweet scene when Tae Hui and Ja Eun cook ramyeon together on their road trip, including when they adorably bicker over just how exactly it should be made. Well, here are three different methods: take your pick.

 

3. Lee Kang To

 

Personally, Lee Kang To is a fun one to imagine for this exercise, because I actually think he's a bit of a chameleon when it comes to his tastes and preferences: what he likes - or says he likes - will vary depending on who he's talking to, with his answer shifting between more Japanese- and Korean-influenced dishes. This is really because of the context that he's in; as a Korean in a time and place where Koreans are second-class citizens, Kang To has a deep desire to be accepted by the Japanese.

 

See, in Gaksital, food is a marker of identity - and, by extension, of politics. Japanese and Korean food cultures are significantly different; it's even explicitly mentioned in the drama when the new Japanese chief of police complains about being posted in Korea because the locals "smell like garlic" (a reference to the generally stronger flavours and seasonings used in Korean food compared to Japanese - and it's actually true that garlic is seldom used in Japanese cooking). So given that, although it's not actually shown much in the drama, I can imagine that Kang To associates Japanese food with the Japanese people's higher social status, and would adapt his tastes accordingly in social or work-based settings.

 

But at home - on those rare occasions when he is at home - it's simple home-style Korean food all the way. Because of Kang To's choices, he's constantly ostracized by the people in his neighbourhood, and in public at least, his mother follows suit. However, behind closed doors, we see that she and Kang San still care deeply for him, going out of their way to splurge on Kang To's favourite foods when he's at home and making sure that he's well and truly full before sending him on his way. It's that association between food and familial love (hm...I see a pattern here - do you?) that brings Kang To to tears when he partakes in a simple meal of potatoes with his fellow resistance members near the end of the drama: it reminds him of the family that's no longer there to love him when he needs it.

 

Favourite foods: Fish (it's one of the few foods we know for sure he likes, since it's explicitly mentioned - plus, it's one food item that spans both cultures, albeit with different ways of eating it)

 

Recipe: Grilled Mackerel (Korean style)

 

 

I can't remember for the life of me what exact type of fish Kang San goes out to buy because Kang To likes it, but this does seem to come close as a simple home-cooked recipe that most of us should be able to whip up in a pinch. I can also vouch, from personal experience, that mackerel made this way (grilled with just salt and pepper for seasoning) tastes awesome - my family uses a different recipe, but the gist is the same as here.

 

4. Han Gil Ro

 

While food seems to be a primary way for some of JW's characters to receive love and affection, Han Gil Ro seems to approach food and meals as either a time for equal sharing and socialization, or a time to offer something of himself to others. Food doesn't figure as strongly in Level 7 Civil Servant as it does in most of JW's dramas, but as a general whole, we see Gil Ro preparing and eating food in some sort of social setting. For example, he's completely down for late night parties with his fellow NIS trainees, or even just a dinner-turned-noraebang-session with Kim Seo Won's family (it's funny how her parents went from literally beating him to welcoming him as one of their own in those moments).

 

Han Gil Ro is also one of the characters we actually see cooking, and from what I remember...his prep work skills are great, but his actual cooking, not so much :P But joking about his crappy cooking skills is one of the many things that end up bringing him and Seo Won closer together, so there's a plus. And I also want to give a quick shout-out to the scene where they're eating sushi and he tries to go for a kiss...only to have a piece shoved into his mouth instead. :D 

 

Favourite foods: No clear favourites, but has a general liking for easy, quick, or convenience items (he mentions cooking for his comrades while doing his enlistment, where the priority is for speed/efficiency rather than taste)

 

Recipe:  Fried Rice

 

 

 

This is another one of those quick and simple items where you could literally just throw in anything you have in the fridge - like, the recipe asks for certain ingredients, but you can easily leave things out or add other things in to suit what's available, your personal tastes, etc. Also, if I recall correctly, fried rice is one of the few "looks great but tastes meh" items that Han Gil Ro tries to make in the drama - although I'm sure this version should actually taste good as well :) 

 

5. Park Si On

 

Given that a number of people on the autism spectrum develop very strong food preferences or aversions, it's worth noting that Park Si On is quite an adventurous eater when he wants to be. He does have his clear preferences (i.e. the foods that he never gets tired of), but he also seems to be willing to try anything new that comes his way - and, generally speaking, he tends to like the result. Plus, he's got a cute tendency to give a bit of a running commentary on what he's eating or what foods he wants to try. :) 

 

(Just including this video because it's comic gold)

 

 

That being said, Si On is one of the masters of convenience foods out of all of JW's characters. Remember what I'd said about foods he never gets tired of? I'm talking about things like kimbap, bakery/convenience store sandwiches, ramyeon, banana milk...you get the idea :P Basically, when left on his own, Si On has really simple childlike tastes, and he definitely likes the familiarity and consistency of convenience store foods. However, since he's also a doctor, you do have to wonder what this implies for his health - he's clearly knowledgeable on the nutritional content of different foods, so he really should know that packaged and processed foods really aren't that great in the long run :unsure:

 

Given that, it's worth noting that Si On loves the opportunity to have more substantial meals, usually in a restaurant or social setting (since his cooking skills are pretty much non-existent). He strongly associates sharing food with love and friendship, so the people he likes are those he's willing to eat with and, on the flip side, he sees sharing food with others as a way to break the ice and get closer to them. 

 

Favourite foods: Triangular kimbap (seriously, this is a thing), sweets in general (we see him with cotton candy, a cupcake, drinking banana milk...you get the idea), meat in general

 

Recipe: Potato dumpling soup

 

 

Okay, you guys seriously had to see this one coming ;) It's so poignantly sweet to see Si On going completely starry-eyed when he sees this because it reminds him so much of one of the few positive aspects of his childhood. For Si On, then, this is the most tangible reminder he has as an adult of his mother's love for him as a child (at least until they're officially reunited), making it the ultimate Good Doctor comfort food. :) 

 

6. Cha Yoo Jin

 

In regards to this list, Cha Yoo Jin is a bit of an outlier. First of all, while a number of JW's characters can cook, Yoo Jin's the best one at it, hands down. He holds a strong preference for making food for himself, shying away from large dinner parties in restaurants with his friends unless he's literally dragged there by Nae Il, Yoo Il Rak, or both. :P He's also got the most diverse palate out of all of JW's characters, courtesy of his rather unique background: a childhood spent in Europe (predominantly Austria) and an adolescence in Korea.

 

What this means is that compared with any of JW's other characters, and also with his own peers, Yoo Jin's tastes skew more Western. While he's certainly open to more old-school Korean foods, he also makes Western- or European-inspired foods a lot when he's on his own - which his friends (for whom things like steak or pasta are more special occasion foods) take full advantage of, showing up on his doorstep on random occasions to mooch for meals. Or, in Nae Il's case, just letting herself in and waiting patiently in the kitchen for Yoo Jin to come home and make something for her :P 

 

On a level similar to what I've just described for Lee Kang To above, Cha Yoo Jin's food choices are actually a reflection of his identity and not just simple likes or dislikes. Since, for most of the drama, he sees Europe as being inaccessible on account of his PTSD, food is one of the few things he can hold on to from what he perceives to be a happier past spent where he felt most at home. So that's what we see in terms of what he makes for himself, his clear preference for wine over other alcoholic beverages, etc. We also see food - or at least food prep - as a reflection of his more practical nature: in the scenes where people just randomly show up, it's worth noting that although Yoo Jin hadn't planned on having guests, his table is still filled with several servings of a wide range of dishes. Part of this, I know, is the drama's way of showing his mad cooking skills, but I also think it hints to a tendency on Yoo Jin's part to make enough for leftovers and subsequent meals: a measure that saves both time and money in the long run.

 

Favourite foods: Western foods in general, coffee (seriously, he's got an addiction about as big as JW's own), wine, tuna (or at least I think so, given his massive stock of it in the cupboard :P)

 

Recipe: Tafelspitz

 

 

 

This is for all of you guys who live in places and communities where Asian or Korean ingredients are less available than Western/European ones ;) The video talks about tafelspitz being German, but it's more popularly associated with Austria, and that's where I'm drawing my inspiration from. It's one of those "made with love" comfort foods that you could spend a long time preparing - great if you've got a good chunk of the day to fill and no idea how to do so - but more importantly for our purposes, it's been explicitly featured in the Austria episode of "Battle Trip" as a good gateway into European foods for Koreans. :) 

 

7. Kim Tae Hyun

 

Here's another character who oftentimes has to juggle a desire for a proper sit-down home-cooked meal and a super-busy schedule that tends to forbid that. We see throughout Yong Pal that food is a key part of Tae Hyun's nostalgia for his past; although most of his childhood and early adulthood were dark times for himself and his family, being able to come home to dinner made by his mom would wash all of that away. As he puts it to Han Yeo Jin, the people who get nostalgic for foods like doenjang-jjigae are the ones who must miss their families the most.

 

It's also worth noting that because of his chronically ill and immunocompromised sister, Tae Hyun is the most clearly aware when it comes to nutrition, and when it's his turn to cook at home, he acts accordingly: making two different versions of the same thing so that both he and So Hyun have food that's best for their respective bodies and needs. In the future, after the events of the drama, I can imagine he'd put the same amount of care into Yeo Jin's diet as well - even if he himself would rather do things like skip breakfast (we see in the drama he'd much rather just drink a juice or shake as opposed to the full meal that's the norm in the Han household) or just scarf down bowls of instant ramyeon between patients.

 

Favourite foods: Soups and stews in general (especially doenjang-jjigae), vegetables, samgyeopsal (which he mentions to be his preferred party food)

 

Recipe: Doenjang-jjigae

 

 

Again - no way in hell did you not see this one coming ;) It's just so iconic in the drama I really couldn't have gone for anything else. I should point out, once again, that doenjang-jjigae is one of those Korean dishes where everyone's got their own personal spin on the recipe, nothing is better than one's own mother's version (:P), and you can put in just about you want so long as you have the doenjang itself. Doenjang-jjigae is one of my personal favourite orders whenever I go out for Korean food, and I've seen variations with or without various ingredients (e.g. without shrimp, with other proteins, etc.). So while I can't do much for those who don't have access to doenjang, at least everything else is flexible ;) 

 

8. Gyun Woo

 

And now for a complete change of gears: we're going back in time! Perhaps it's because of his family's yangban status and his frequent visits to the palace even as a child, but Gyun Woo starts My Sassy Girl with the suitably refined aristocratic tastes. Considering that he's more well-traveled than his peers, having spent three years on his own in China, it's likely he was a bit more adventurous than most from the get-go. If nothing else, he's taken a strong enough liking to Chinese food - which, it might surprise you to know, is hard for many Koreans to get used to - that he's got a whole series of restaurants and food stands that he could recommend to Hye Myung later on.

 

In all fairness, though, Hye Myung deserves the credit for pushing Gyun Woo's horizons far beyond anything he could have done on his own. Unlike her own peers, she doesn't shy away from the foods that were associated with the lower classes: the chicken feet, the fermented skate...you get the idea. In fact, she even makes a point of both accustoming herself to those foods and goading Gyun Woo into doing the same, her reasoning being that, as the Princess of Joseon, she should never look down on the commoners and what they eat. So it's funny to see Gyun Woo rejecting these foods at first, but then learning to love them and even taking the initiative to order them whenever he's thinking of Hye Myung.

 

The more high-class stuff is still there, too - take a look at all the scenes that take place in tea houses, for example. But it's great to see Gyun Woo's tastes evolving over the course of the drama.

 

Favourite foods: Chinese food (especially dumplings - because, yes, that was a thing in the drama as well), traditional sweets (e.g. dried fruits), whatever Hye Myung likes (eventually)

 

Recipe: Baesuk (Korean steamed pears)

 

 

While the chicken feet and fermented skate are more strongly associated with Gyun Woo's character...considering the circumstances we're in, let's not torture our families/roommates/neighbours/etc. that way :P So, instead, I went with the aristocratic tea house route for this recipe; and since I did want to include a dessert at least once in this post, I settled for this one. Compared to some of the other traditional Korean desserts out there, this one's known for being a very warm and soothing comfort food: the sort of thing you might make if you're feeling down or have a cold coming on. Given both Hye Myung and - eventually - Gyun Woo's interest in traditional medicine, I thought this would be suitable. (Disclaimer: I do NOT advocate this as either prevention or cure for COVID-19, though! Staying clean and social distancing are still our best bets there!)

 

Yep, I told you this one was a long one - honestly, it took me about as long to post as one of my fics would, spread out over two days :P But that being said, I hope you all enjoyed reading this - and maybe you've discovered something you want to try as well :) 

 

Stay strong, and stay healthy! Fighting!

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  • Jillia changed the title to Joo Won 주원 - Finished Drama: Alice

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