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Joo Won 주원- Welcome Back !

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Not an MBTI profile today - just two miscellaneous goodies:

 

1. "My Sassy Girl" bloopers

 

 

I love the ones from when JW was trying to do the "domino shot" - especially the time when he started hitting the table from underneath to try to make it work :P 

 

2. I want to offer up a final Preview 3 for my upcoming "Seolleim in Salzburg" fic before the full thing goes up sometime in early December. So here goes!

 

Spoiler

“Can you…can you call Milch, Orabang?” Taking one of my hands in both of hers, she looks up imploringly at me. “Jebal?”

 

I do my best to smile at her. “Geu rae. Arasseo. I’ll call the Professor for you, Nae Il-ah – I was thinking of doing the same thing myself. Now” – I lean forward to plant a gentle kiss on her forehead to seal the deal – “you should get some rest. Go clean yourself up, then go to bed.”

 

Nae Il whines in protest. “But, Orabang–”

 

“Jebal, Nae Il-ah,” I say. “Don’t ask any questions; just – just do as I say. Just this once.”

 

Her brow furrows in confusion – or is it suspicion? – as she tilts her head slightly to one side. Finally, though, she gives in, answering me with a nod before sullenly slipping out of the room.

 

I wait until Nae Il is out of sight before I take out my phone, idly pressing the number I have saved for Professor Stresemann on speed dial as I step closer to the sliding door that opens out to our balcony. Nae Il, I’m sure, hasn’t obeyed me; chances are, she is standing somewhere just outside, refusing to leave until she’s sure I’ve gotten through.

 

I don’t blame her; if I were her, I’d do the same. But I still need to have some sort of a buffer – just in case.

 

The phone keeps ringing, and ringing….I brace myself against the cold glass door, my free hand curling up into a fist.

 

Damn it. Why is it taking so long?

 

Why isn’t he picking up?!

 

“Come on,” I mutter to myself, trying but failing not to assume the worst. “Come on…come on….”

 

“Franz von Stresemann.”

 

I open my mouth to give the proper response, but feel myself coming to a stop, the words dying on my lips.

 

That…that’s not his voice.

 

There is an awkward silence before the woman – for that could only have been a woman’s voice – tries again. “Hello?”

 

“H-hello,” I stammer. “Is – is this Professor Stresemann’s phone?”

 

The woman takes in a sharp breath. “Yes, this is,” she replies curtly. “I already said so.” Her voice tightens with annoyance. “But who are you?”

 

Her sharp tone makes me jump with a wince.

 

“Ch-Cha Yoo Jin,” I finally manage to blurt out. “This is Cha Yoo Jin.” Taking a deep breath to steady myself now that I’m back on track, I ask, “May I speak to Professor Stresemann?”

 

“He’s not here right now.”

 

Something lurches deep inside of me. “Then…would you know where he is, or when he would be back?”

 

A pause. “Herr Cha–”

 

“I have to speak with him,” I demand, cutting her off. “Please: it’s urgent!”

 

“Elise, my girl, what on earth are you doing? Trying to answer my calls now, are you?”

 

Hearing the Professor’s humoured voice on the other end, even if from a distance, makes my legs almost give out in relief. But then, a fraction of a second later, something he’s said hits me.

 

Elise? That…that woman…had been Elise? And I had…I had….

 

Biting back a curse, I slap myself on the forehead. Well, I’ve just gone and made a mess of things now, haven’t I?

 

“Hello? Cha Yoo Jin?”

 

Even though he can’t see me, I instinctively bob my head slightly in greeting. “Professor.”

 

“What did you say to Elise just now?” he asks pointedly. “She looks like she just drank something sour.”

 

“Well,” I stammer, “about that….Well, it’s because…because….” My voice grows short. “Scheisse – where were you?! Why weren’t you answering the phone?!”

 

Omo...clearly not everything's right in Cha Yoo Jin and Seol Nae Il's world, not even during Christmas. But what happened and what does it have to do with Professor Stresemann? You'll have to wait and see.

 

(By the way, if some of the dialogue seems off, it's because I use a number of German words/phrases that I just hastily translated into English for this preview. The one exception is "Scheisse" - which is a German swearword. ;))

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So, there were a crazy ton of new photos released today on Instagram. I can't share all of them, so I'll just focus on my favourites:

 

Spoiler

Omo, omo, omo - this is so cute!!!

 

 

 

It reminds me of this one ad JW did for GGIO2 way, way back:

 

 

By the way, does anyone know if JW actually has a dog? Or does he just have to resort to playing with all of his friends' dogs? :P

 

Anyway, moving on!

 

I'm always game for a nice black and white pic:

 

 

And this behind-the-scenes shot is also really nice

 

 

However, as with most fashion photo shoots, there are a couple of looks that just don't do it for me :P Nothing against JW as a model - just that the clothes in these two shots don't really work for him, in my opinion.

 

Like...does anyone get this look? Because I don't and I want an explanation.

 

 

Also, I know I'd said I liked JW's slim waist before, and I still stand by that. But the way this vest shows it off with such a baggy shirt underneath...ends up looking like a corset :lol:

 

 

 

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I really like the puppy pictures! Soooooo cute. I'm glad I can reset my iPhone wallpaper. Hahah.
Looking at Joo Won energizes me on my off days at work. :P I will always chuckle a bit seeing this.

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I feel like if Joo Won had a dog, he probably would have posted pictures of it already. I could be wrong though.
I would have assumed he would of went on walks with his cute puppers by the Han River.
With his crazy work schedules between filming and what not, it might be difficult for him to have a dog though.
 

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23 minutes ago, tokkimoon said:

I feel like if Joo Won had a dog, he probably would have posted pictures of it already. I could be wrong though.
I would have assumed he would of went on walks with his cute puppers by the Han River.
With his crazy work schedules between filming and what not, it might be difficult for him to have a dog though.

 

lol - Point. It still would have been fun to imagine, though :P 

 

By the way, thinking back to our earlier conversation about comparing JW to the characters he plays (you know, the thing that prompted the whole MBTI series I have going on), it did cross my mind once a while ago to rank JW's characters along a number of different scales.

 

One of them, incidentally, is ranking them based upon the likelihood of them having a pet. So, since we're already on the subject....

 

Already Has a Dog

Hwang Tae Hui

Gyun Woo (by the way, isn't that pekingese, like, the CUTEST THING EVER???)

 

Doesn't Have a Dog, But Would If He Could

Han Gil Ro (he just seems like that fun-loving sort of guy)

Kim Tae Hyun (same - plus, we know Lee Sang Chul wants one, so why not?)

Lee Kang To (I mean, he's already got a horse - I'm sure a dog won't hurt, too)

Park Si On (okay, this guy's just an animal lover all around - any pet would do, not necessarily a dog)

 

Doesn't Have a Dog, And Doesn't Want One

Gu Ma Jun (I dunno...I just don't see him as the pet-owning type - but I could be wrong)

Cha Yoo Jin (because Nae Il's enough chaos as it is :P Just kidding, but in all seriousness, I think he'd find pets too boisterous, especially dogs. If anything, he'd have a cat)

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I know I'd said that this fic was going to be this year's Christmas Special - but I've changed my mind :P It's still set during the Christmas season, but - time permitting - I'll also be throwing together an actual Christmas Special later this month. Something cuter and fluffier than this one ;)

 

Spoiler

Title: Let Nothing You Dismay

Drama: "Nae Il's Cantabile"

Characters: Cha Yoo Jin, Seol Nae Il, Lee Yoon Hoo

Premise: After skipping out the year before, Cha Yoo Jin and Seol Nae Il kick off this year's Christmas season the way many Austrians do: partying with and getting chased through the streets by monsters at the annual Krampuslauf. It's all harmless fun, meant to show how good behaviour is rewarded and bad behaviour is punished. But that all changes when a real-life monster strikes a bit too close to home. Yoo Jin's instinct is to shield and protect Nae Il at all costs - but can he?

Warnings: Some mild play-violence; Discussions of both Islamic terrorism in Europe AND Islamophobia. If any of this can be triggering for you (especially in light of events in recent years) please take whatever steps you need to ground yourself before starting to read this fic - or skip it entirely. (Like I'd said, I will try to prepare a more family-friendly Christmas Special later on!)

 

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"

 

Notes on Timeline: Remember how I'd said once that the year we are now in (i.e. 2016) will matter in an installment in this series? Well, this is the one. You may have guessed from the "Warnings" already, but this fic addresses the terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that took place on December 19, 2016.

 

Don't worry - Yoo Jin and Nae Il are in Salzburg the entire time. :sweat_smile: But that doesn't mean they weren't affected, as you'll soon find out. 

 

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:

 

Ja - Yes

Tante - Aunt

Onkel - Uncle

Nein - No

Guten abend - Good evening (also a formal way to say "Hello" at night)

Hallo - Hello

Grüss Gott - Hello (Austrian German; formal)

Herr - Mr.

Bitte - Please

Scheisse - A German swearword (I can't translate into English without it getting censored - use your imagination ;))

Na? - Well?/How'd it go? (plus a gazillion other similar meanings - it's a bit of a catch-all way to jump straight into a conversation without much small talk

Was? - What?

 

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

Let Nothing You Dismay

 

I raise my hand to knock the door, but the sound of music echoing through from inside makes me hesitate.

 

There’s no way that Nae Il would hear me. Not when she’s clearly so absorbed in her playing.

 

Still, I have to give it a shot. After all, she was the one who suggested we go out tonight, not me. So I wait until there is a suitable lull, and then knock gently three times before stepping inside at her invitation.

 

Flashing a fond smile her way, I amble towards her, taking a spot just behind her at the piano. “How’s the transcription going?”

 

Nae Il returns my smile with one of her own. “It’s coming along, Orabang.” Then, after a moment, she adds, “Do you want to hear it?”

 

I answer with a beatific gesture. “Juseyo.”

 

She beams at that, then turns back around to resume her place at the keyboard. Within moments, she is playing a gently swaying tune: her own rendition of the “Waltz of the Flowers” from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. It’s her newest project, one that she started soon after I formally invited her to join me at the Vienna Philharmonic Ball in January. That’s still more than a month ahead, it now being only early December, but already, her piece is starting to come together quite nicely.

 

It is, however, still not complete, and within a few minutes, she slows to a gentle stop. “So, Orabang…” she begins hesitantly, “what do you think?”

 

Giving her one more smile, I reach down to clasp one hand on her shoulder. “It’s beautiful, Nae Il-ah.”

 

“It’s also ours.” She punctuates her statement with a firm nod as she moves to close up the piano, today’s session now at an end. Stepping out from her side of the bench, she adds, “Our waltz, Orabang. Just for you and me.”

 

Her earnest expression makes me laugh. “You would say that, Seollebal.”

 

“But,” she goes on, “the rest will have to wait for tomorrow - because it’s time for us to go now.”

 

As she steps past me out into the hallway of our apartment, I follow her several paces behind. “You know, Nae Il-ah,” I call out to her, “we don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”

 

She pivots on one heel, turning to face me. “Nonsense, Orabang,” she retorts. “After all, this was my idea.”

 

“Geu rae,” I answer as she resumes heading for her room, “but weren’t you the one who was scared last year?”

 

Nae Il stops once again, this time to roll her eyes at me. “That was last year, Orabang!” she whines. Her tone makes me bite back a laugh; she’d said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Last year was my first Krampuslauf, so I didn’t know what to expect. But this year” – she tosses her head in a careless shrug – “this year, I’ll be ready.”

 

I stare wordlessly at her for a moment, looking deep into her eyes to make sure she means what she’s saying. Sure enough, I see a glimmer of determination there, and even a good deal of mischief as well. It’s the same look she gives me before going up on stage for a performance, and that’s enough reassurance for me.

 

“Geu rae,” I concede with a nod. “Arasseo. Then….” I gesture towards the door to her room. “See you in five.”

 

“Ne!”

 

We meet up in the foyer at the aforementioned time, both of us bundled up in warm wool coats and scarves. Nae Il has added a hat to her ensemble, but I, rather disliking how I look in them, have opted to go without. She makes faces at herself in the mirror as she pulls the hat down over her ears with a sharp tug, peering up at me with a bashful grin when she catches me biting back a laugh.

 

“Come on now, Seollebal,” I say, reaching past her to open the latch, “let’s get going.”

 

We’ve just stepped out into the corridor when the door across from us also clicks open; two little girls, hand in hand in matching winter coats, squeeze out through the opening, their parents just steps behind. Spotting us right away, the girls stop in their tracks; the younger sister gives us an enthusiastic wave as the older one bobs to us in greeting.

 

“Hanna! Liese!” Nae Il calls out, dashing past me to crouch down in front of the children. “Are you two going to tonight’s Krampuslauf, too?”

 

“Ja, Tante Nele,” Hanna, the older sister, replies. She’s using the nickname that the girls have come up with for Nae Il, mostly due to her insistence that the two of us should have proper German names that would be easier for her little sister to pronounce. Letting go of her sister’s hand now to place that same arm proudly around her shoulders, Hanna adds, “Our parents finally decided that Liese was old enough this year to go.”

 

Nae Il’s face lights up in surprise. “Oh, is that so?” she gushes, directing her attention to the smaller girl. “How old are you again, Liese?” She makes a perfect mock-confused expression, one that makes the child smile shyly in response. “Silly old me – I must have forgotten.”

 

Liese’s smile widens into a full grin as she holds up one hand with all the fingers spread wide.

 

“Really?!” Nae Il’s eyes grow as wide as saucers. “You’re five years old already?! And here I was, thinking you were still four!” She bursts into giggles, and both little girls follow suit.

 

All this time, save for a brief exchange of pleasantries with the girls’ parents, I have simply looked on in silence, quite frankly entirely blown away by Nae Il’s easy manner with the children. Seeing her like this, I can understand why she had wanted to be a schoolteacher until she gained enough confidence in her own playing to consider performance instead.

 

Just then, though, Liese squirms out from under her older sister’s hold and comes close enough to grab hold of my sleeve. Unlike Nae Il, I don’t get all the way down to the floor, but I do glance down at the child with what I hope is a reassuring smile.

 

“Do you want to say something?” I ask her.

 

She hesitates for a moment, worrying her bottom lip as she casts a questioning look back at her parents. But finally, she manages a soft murmur. “Onkel Wolf” – her own shortened version of "Wolfgang" – “is…is Krampus scary?”

 

Nae Il peers up at me, and we exchange a knowing glance before I, too, crouch down in front of the child.

 

“Well,” I say, resting my arms across my knees, “that depends on if you’ve been naughty this year or not.” I raise a questioning eyebrow at Liese. “Have you?”

 

“Nein,” she answers with a firm shake of her head. Then, quick as lightning, she points a finger at her older sister. “But Hanna was.”

 

All of us adults burst out laughing at that; after a squawk in protest, even Hanna joins in. Then, once we’ve settled back down again, I look Liese firmly in the eye.

 

“I’ll tell you a secret,” I tell her in a hushed voice. When she lights up and gives me an enthusiastic nod, I add, “You said you’re five now, right?”

 

She nods again.

 

“That’s how old I was when my own parents brought me to a Krampuslauf for the first time.” Actually, I was even younger than she is since I meant five by Korean reckoning, but it’s not like anyone’s counting here. “And even though it is a little bit scary” – I pinch my forefinger and thumb together in demonstration – “it’s not all that bad. Because,” I add, my eyes flickering up to her parents for confirmation, “even if Krampus knows about all the naughty things you and your sister did, he knows about the good things, too. So if you’ve been more good than bad this year, you’ll be fine.”

 

When I finally get back up to my feet, it’s to find Nae Il standing beside me, her lips tightly pressed together in amusement. Then, as we step aside to let our neighbours go downstairs first, she sidles up beside me and weaves one hand in mine.

 

Chuckling softly, I give it a gentle squeeze. “Wae?”

 

She nestles closer, resting her cheek against my arm. “Nothing. Just that you’re not bad with kids yourself.” Then, after a pause in which her eyes close in contentment, she adds, “You’d be a good father, Orabang.”

 

Her sudden sentimentality makes me stiffen for a split second before shrugging her off of me. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, Seollebal.”

 

~~~~~

 

Just like the May Day celebrations, there is no one Krampuslauf here in Salzburg. Instead, starting from sometime in November and going all the way to Christmas itself, each neighbourhood seems to have its own such event. However, officially, the festival falls tonight, on December 5, so there are several such events happening in the city centre.

 

There’s a Krampuslauf going on tonight on the Linzergasse, close to the Mozarteum on our side of the river. But after talking it over, we’ve decided on the larger one on the Getreidegasse, just steps away from the Christkindlmarkt. And we’re not the only ones; already, even though we made a point to get here early, the street is lined with revellers, and we are forced to huddle close to several others under the arched entryway of one of the shops.

 

It doesn’t shelter us entirely from the icy wind blowing down from the mountains, but it’s better than nothing as we settle down to wait for the procession to reach us. Fortunately, Nae Il had suggested we stop at the market itself on the way here, so the two of us are now sharing a paper bag of the roasted chestnuts she loves so much. Cupping the bag in one hand, she devours them, popping them into her mouth so quickly that she could barely close it due to the heat. Her breath comes out in short billowy puffs of air, and no sooner does she notice this than she tries to affect some sort of rhythm: blowing in time to riffs and phrases from various pieces we both know.

 

When, much too soon, we have finished our snack – Nae Il eating about twice as many chestnuts as me – she clutches the bottom of the bag tightly in her hands, trying in vain to capture the final remnants of its warmth. Soon, though, she gives up on the exercise, crumpling up the bag and shoving it in her pocket before scooting closer to me and nuzzling by my side in her usual way.

 

“How much longer do we have to wait, Orabang?” she mutters, her eyes wide and her lips pressed into a firm pout.

 

Turning my head from side to side, I scan what I can make out of the street through the rest of the crowd. “I don’t know,” I answer at length. “But I think it should be soon.” Peering down at her, I add, “Wae? Are you cold?”

 

She nods, and that’s all the sign I need to reach out and place my hand firmly at her waist to draw her in even closer. “Gwenchana, Nae Il-ah,” I whisper back softly. “It won’t be long now.”

 

Sure enough, a few minutes later, I hear it echoing out to us from further up the street: clanging bells, startled yelps, and nervous shrieks of laughter all jumbled together into some strange cacophony of noise. All around me, people start to stir, nudging each other and pointing in the direction of the chaos, some even whipping out cameras and phones in anticipation. Nae Il, too, seems to perk up in interest; she’s too short to see over the heads of the crowd, but she now grabs hold of my hand, squeezing it in excitement. Together, we duck out of the storefront, edging our way to a spot in the crowd lining the street – and not a moment too soon, as the first of tonight’s costumed revellers now start to appear in the distance.

 

The Krampuses are here.

 

Each figure is beastly and grotesque: the actors inside the costumes completely invisible under shapeless layers of shaggy fur, gigantic horned headdresses, and carved wooden masks. Some bear the wizened ageless features of old men; others are more demonic, with bared fangs and faces contorted into permanent snarls. Their eyes, due to the addition of small electric lights, glow red or green in the darkness as the creatures turn their heads this way and that, scanning over the entire lot of us. They march down the street with a slow shuffling step that shakes the large bells hanging on belts around their waists: a homage to the fact that although they now brandish birches or horsehair switches, the original legend had Krampus wielding a metal chain instead.

 

As they come closer, I instinctively tighten my grip on Nae Il’s hand, but I don’t make a move until, at some unknown signal, the group of Krampuses suddenly breaks and scatters out into the crowd.

 

Pandemonium ensues.

 

Quickly, pulling as hard as I can, I yank Nae Il back, ignoring her startled yelp as I shove her behind me. But my gesture was unneeded; the Krampus I thought had been aiming for us makes a beeline for the trio of teenage girls beside us instead. They retreat, shrieking with laughter, into the shop itself, but he gives chase, managing to deal each of them a smart swat on the legs with his switch.

 

Eyes dancing in amusement, Nae Il worms her hand out of my grip, stepping back out to resume her original place at my side. Peering past me into the shop, where the Krampus has finally relented just long enough to join the girls in a selfie, she then looks pointedly up at me, her mouth twitching up into a knowing smirk.

 

I meet her steady gaze with one of my own. “Wae?”

 

“You’re scared – aren’t you, Orabang?”

 

I shake my head, just a little bit too fast. “Ani.”

 

Nae Il, of course, isn’t fooled. “Aish…” she scoffs. “Just admit it and be done already.”

 

I open my mouth to answer her, but just then, I hear a single piercing wail coming from the other side of the street. A small boy, only around three or four years old, has burst into tears; his mother, noticing his fright, immediately scoops him up in her arms, briskly brushing away his tears with one hand as she murmurs softly in his ear.

 

It’s a small moment, but it takes me back to my own first Krampuslauf, right here on the Getreidegasse. Never mind what I had told little Liese earlier tonight; in reality, I had been just as terrified as this young boy is now. My first sight of the Krampuses had made me tense up, eyes wide in alarm; and when one of them had made a grab for me, I had run and hid behind Eomma, burying my face in her skirt as I cried.

 

But I had not been as fortunate as this boy is – because even though Eomma would have let me stay there, Abeoji didn’t. Even then, even when I was little more than a toddler, he had had no patience for tears or any other show of fear. With a single sharp reprimand, he had ordered me to stop, and I had – so abruptly, taking in such a large gulp of air, that I’d broken out in hiccups instead. Then, unceremoniously, he had pushed me back into the fray until, after several more false starts, I had been able to not only look at the monsters but also take a beating of my own without flinching.

 

Nae Il’s eyes now follow mine, her mouth opening into a small “oh” as she notices the pair. Although I do not say anything, she deftly worms her hand into mine and gives me a firm squeeze: palms touching and fingers intertwined. She flashes me a warm smile as, on the other side of the street, the mother, still balancing her child on her hip, finally manages to coax a small smile from him. Then, moments later, they disappear from view, ducking away through the crowd.

 

Still softened – and perhaps a bit chastened – by what we have just seen, Nae Il hangs back with me for a short while longer. But soon enough, her curiosity comes back to the fore, and she is off once again, squeezing her way closer to the front with our camera in tow.

 

I had thought, given her aversion to disciplinarian teachers, that Nae Il would be afraid of the Krampuses and their violence. But instead, to my surprise, she is absolutely fearless. She, like so many others our age, makes a game out of teasing the costumed actors: getting all up in their faces before dancing away with a laugh as their switches flick at her heels. And, living up to her nickname, she’s good at it, too: actually managing to dodge and escape more often than the other girls in our small section of the street.

 

But sooner or later, even she has to meet her match as one Krampus, rather than going for her directly, swoops down to snatch her hat right off her head.

 

Immediately, she squawks in protest, jumping up on tiptoe and waving her arms frantically in attempts to grab it back. But he is a good deal taller than her, and easily holds it up out of her reach, driving her back with his horsehair switch until she finally relents with an indignant shrug.

 

By this point, I, too, have stepped closer to the action, slowly drawn to the front line by simultaneous concern for Nae Il’s safety and fascination at her performance. So as this particular Krampus, more trickster than devil, now capers about in a jangling circular dance with his prize, Nae Il can actually make out my face in the crowd. Eyes burning in indignation, she stomps several steps toward me, throwing up her arms in helpless frustration.

 

If she thinks that I’m about to step in to help her, though, then Seol Nae Il is sorely mistaken. Instead, I make a shooing motion with one hand, gesturing for her to try again.

 

“Mwo?!” she mouths at me, incredulous. “How?”

 

I switch tactics. This time, flashing her a reassuring smile, I move my hand in a quick upward sweep, similar to what I would use to prompt a quick skipping beat from an orchestra.

 

With all the noise around us, I can’t hear what Nae Il murmurs to herself as she intently watches my hand, trying to figure out the meaning of my gesture. What I do see, though, is the exact moment when she gets it; she immediately brightens, her mouth opening in a small “oh” in understanding. Then, after giving me a smart salute in thanks, she turns and runs back towards the Krampus, parking herself resolutely right at his feet.

 

Just as I’d thought, he stumbles to a halt, surprised at the sight before him: Nae Il, her hands planted firmly on her hips, staring back up at him with the most aegyo-infused pout that she could manage. His hand, still holding her hat up in the air, slowly lowers down until it is level with his head….

 

Without warning, she makes her move. Jumping up just high enough to grab onto his furry shoulder, Nae Il propels herself upwards, easily snatching her hat clean out of his hand before springing back down to the ground – and straight into my arms.

 

She lets out a piercing shriek and swiftly breaks free with a sharp elbow to my ribs. As I double over and stumble back several paces with a startled cry of my own, she whirls around, the hand holding her hat raised and poised to strike…until the sight of me stops her in her tracks.

 

“Orabang!”

 

“Ya, Seol Nae Il…” I gasp out, slowly straightening up even as one hand is still pressed to my side where she had hit me, “gwenchana?”

 

For a moment, she simply stands there, jaw dropped in astonishment. Then, without warning, she lashes out, swatting me on the arm with her hat anyway. “What was that for?! You scared me!”

 

“Mianhae, Nae Il-ah.” I laugh sheepishly, taking several steps back away from her with my hands raised in surrender. “I just didn’t want you to fall.”

 

She answers me with her cute mock-serious pout, pulling her hat back on with a huff. She strides towards me, her mouth opening to throw back some retort – but then, suddenly, she stops, her eyes wide as saucers.

 

“Or-Orabang….”

 

But I don’t get to ask her what’s the matter, because just then, out of nowhere, a large paw claps down on my shoulder.

 

I stiffen in alarm, going completely still for a moment before, pulse pounding in my ears in dread, I slowly turn to look behind me….

 

Oh. My. God.

 

This is the largest Krampus I have ever seen. He looms over me – no easy feat given my height – but the man inside the costume must be my equal at least, and that’s not even counting his headdress. Instead of the usual goat’s or ram’s horns, his are the tall majestic antlers of a stag, its tips painted red as though stained with blood and gore.

 

But what holds me transfixed, frozen with my feet rooted to the ground, is his face: the ageless smooth features of some ancient pagan god, gleaming white in the darkness.

 

Time seems to slow down to a crawl. I don’t know how long I simply stand there, gaping up at him. What I do know, though, is that I am eventually brought crashing back to reality by a sudden sharp crack across the back of my calves.

 

It’s surprise more than pain that makes me stagger with a gasp at first, but a split second later, I start to feel it: a searing, stinging burn all along where the birch – and it just had to be a birch! – had struck me. And no sooner have I registered that than the Krampus strikes a second time, then a third.

 

When, after several more blows, he finally lets me go with a shove, it’s Nae Il who comes to my aid, rushing up to support me as I stumble towards her. She stands behind me, propping me up as both hands tightly clutch one of mine. Instinctively, I move it closer to the centre of my back, taking her along with it to shield her from view.

 

Together, we edge back several paces, never daring to take our eyes off the Krampus in front of us. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know that there is nothing left for us to fear: now that we have finished the ritual, he should leave us alone in search of his next target. But still, I can’t help the way that my mouth goes dry at the sight of him: so dry, in fact, that it takes me several failed attempts before I could tell Nae Il what to do next.

 

“Run.”

 

My command comes out so quiet and hoarse that she doesn’t quite catch it. “Mwo?”

 

“I said,” I repeat, this time forcing myself to speak louder, “run!”

 

And so she does, turning on her heel and bolting down the street, pulling me along behind her. It takes me a while to find my stride, my legs still stumbling and unsteady from the beating I’d received, but soon, we are running together, hand-in-hand, through the throng of Krampuses and revellers alike. The shops on the Getreidegasse hem us in on either side, leaving us nowhere to go but further up the street, in the opposite direction as everyone else. Every now and then, I stumble under a sudden stinging crack across my shoulders or my back – enterprising Krampuses trying to land some quick blows as we pass – but always, Nae Il continues to hold my hand tightly in hers.

 

Suddenly, in the midst of the chaos, we spot a side street opening up on our right. Nae Il takes it in a sharp turn, yanking me so hard that I nearly lose my balance in my desperation not to lose hold of her.

 

We burst out into a small square, still holding hands as we stumble to a halt. Our breaths come out in ragged gasps; I can feel my heart thudding in my chest, Nae Il’s pulse pounding just as hard through my palm.

 

Now that the coast is clear, we break apart, staggering to an empty spot on the closest wall. Together, side by side, we collapse back against it, closing our eyes as we catch our breath. In the darkness, I reach down with one hand and start briskly rubbing my sore legs, one at a time; slowly, the stinging pain starts to subside, shrinking down to just a dull ache.

 

Once I feel myself returning to normal, I crack my eyes open and turn my head towards Nae Il. Her cheeks are flushed; she is still breathing hard, the hand on her chest rising and falling in time with each gasp.

 

“Seol…Seol Nae Il – gwenchana?”

 

At the sound of my voice, she finally opens her eyes, straightening up off the wall to look at me.

 

“Ora-Orabang…” she pants. “Did – did you…?”

 

Finally, after she has taken a deep breath, it bursts out:

 

“Did you see that?!”

 

And that’s enough to set us both off as we burst into uncontrollable, uproarious laughter, the tension melting away as we finally let ourselves take in the absurdity of it all.

 

“You – you should have seen – should have seen your face, Orabang,” Nae Il gasps out, still laughing well after I have already stopped. “I – I never would – would have thought….And then, you – you were – you were just focused on – on looking out for me, and….”

 

Whatever else she meant to say, though, dissolves into giggles, and I can’t make out the rest. Instead, finally, I start to look around in attempts to get our bearings.

 

Seconds later, though, my jaw drops.

 

“Seol Nae Il.”

 

She finally stops laughing and blinks at me in surprise. “Eh?”

 

“Where have you taken us?”

 

I like to consider myself an expert on Salzburg, having spent so many years of my childhood here. But this, oddly enough, is a place I have never seen before.

 

Taking in the astonished look on my face, she, too, starts looking around, her head turning this way and that.

 

“I don’t know, Orabang,” she answers eventually. Her shoulders jerk up in a slight shrug. “I just took the first exit I saw.” She steps out into the square, leaving me still leaning against the wall, and turns in a circle to take in our surroundings. “But I’ll tell you what: it’s beautiful.”

 

It most certainly is.

 

From the place where we have just come off the main street, there is a large restaurant on our right, and a shop selling traditional handicrafts, topped by yet another restaurant, straight ahead. Between them, an alleyway – even narrower than the street we had taken – stretches on into the distance, while on our left, the square tapers almost to a point before coming to a stairway that leads, from the sound of cars whizzing by, up and out onto a more modern thoroughfare. Evergreen garlands spangled with twinkling lights adorn the shop windows around us, glowing invitingly in the darkness.

 

Perhaps, during the day, there would be more people here: shoppers and tourists led down the path we had taken in curiosity. But tonight, with all the attention on Krampuslauf on the main street, and the Christkindlmarkt in the main squares, we have this place all to ourselves.

 

Someone from the shop has set a few pieces – a bench and several child-sized rocking horses – out in front. Nae Il now pulls out our camera for a quick photo before, after a furtive glance in case anyone stops her, settling down on the bench. She stretches her arms over her head with a contented sigh as, finally, I push myself off of the wall and approach her.

 

“Ya, Seollebal,” I begin teasingly, coming to a stop right in front of her, “this isn’t like you. Don’t tell me you’re tired already.”

 

“Not much,” she answers. “Just a little bit.” Then, after scooting over slightly to the side, she pats the empty spot beside her on the bench. “Sit.”

 

I don’t need to be told twice. Smiling in relief, I sink down to join her, leaning forward to rest my elbows on my knees. For a long moment, we stay like this in companionable silence, but then I notice Nae Il glancing sideways at me out of the corner of my eye.

 

Chuckling softly, I turn my face towards her. “Wae?”

 

Her eyes flicker down at my feet. “Gwenchanayo?”

 

“Mm,” I answer with a noncommittal shrug. “I’ve had worse.”

 

Nae Il’s brow furrows skeptically. “Jinjja?”

 

“Geu rae,” I retort firmly. “Jinjja.”

 

She, however, is undeterred. “That must have hurt pretty bad, though,” she whines, squirming a little in her seat.

 

I shoot her a penetrating look. Last I’d checked, we had rather different standards on what constituted “bad” as far as punishment was concerned.

 

“But still,” she concedes, leaning over to rest her head against my shoulder, “komawoyo. Tonight’s been a lot of fun.”

 

I give her one more sideways look before directing my attention once more to the square around us with a contented sigh of my own. We’ve only been here for a few minutes, but already, I love it. I love that even though we are still close enough to the Getreidegasse that the noise from the festivities drifts back to us, this square is so calm and peaceful. I love the way that the Christmas lights twinkle from their garlands on the shop windows, lending a soft warm glow to the darkness.

 

Soon, however, as the sounds from outside finally seem to be dying down, I feel Nae Il growing heavier beside me. A quick glance out of the corner of my eye tells me why: sometime in our time here, she has dozed off. Her eyes are closed, and her lashes just graze her cheeks – I’m not sure if they’re flushed because of the cold evening air or our huddled warmth.

 

She looks so content that, just for a second, I pause, wondering whether I should wake her. But then, after a moment’s consideration, I gently nudge her with my shoulder.

 

“Come on, Nae Il-ah,” I murmur softly. “It’s time to go home.”

 

Letting out a soft whine, she stirs and opens her eyes. Then, once she is fully awake, she sits back up straight, stretching her arms once again with a yawn before blinking owlishly at me.

 

“Aw, Orabang…” she whines. “Do we have to?”

 

Her bleary expression makes me laugh despite myself. “I’m cool with staying here longer, to be honest,” I answer as I stand up, “but you’re the one who’s falling asleep, so….”

 

I don’t need to finish my sentence for her to nod in acquiescence. “All right, then,” she concedes, stifling yet another yawn. “If you say so.”

 

“Komawo.” Putting my hands in my pockets, I straighten up to my full height in a subtle stretch. “I should probably look around,” I say absently, nodding my head this way and that to encompass the entire square. “See if there’s a good way home from here.”

 

She points somewhere behind me. “What about the way we came?”

 

 “What, the Getreidegasse?” I ask, cocking my head over my shoulder in that direction. “Andawe. It’s too crowded; if we go that way, it’ll take us forever to get home. The forecast said it’s supposed to rain tonight, and at this rate” – I squint up at the overcast sky above us – “it’ll just as easily be snow or ice.” I gesture forwards, at the alley that branches off from the square. “The river’s that way anyway, so this should get us back sooner.”

 

Now it’s Nae Il’s turn to glance back over her shoulder, her eyes squinting in effort. She appears to hesitate for a moment, but then turns back to face me with a nod. “Ne, Orabang – if you say so.”

 

There’s just enough reluctance in her voice that I decide to use my trump card. Asking Nae Il to hold her hand out, I reach into my pocket and pull out two Mozartkugeln.

 

Immediately, her eyes go round. “Where’d you get those?”

 

I answer with a smirk. “From your stash at home – where else?” Pressing them into her hand before she could scold me for going through her things, I add, “My original plan was for us to share them later, but you can have mine as well.”

 

Thus placated, she smiles at me, bobbing her head slightly in thanks. She immediately unwraps one of the chocolates, popping it in her mouth as she slips the other one into her own pocket for later. But then, as she makes to get up, I gesture for her to stay seated.

 

“Gwenchana, Nae Il-ah,” I blurt out. “You can wait here.”

 

One eyebrow raised, she tilts her head to one side. “Wae?”

 

“Because I’m just going to have a look. That way, if I do make a mistake, I’m not dragging you around with me.”

 

“And what if some bad guy comes along or something?”

 

I answer with a soft laugh. “What could possibly go wrong here?” Both of us know, after all, just how safe Salzburg is at night: the worst that could happen is getting pickpocketed, and that’s never happened to either of us. “And besides,” I add wryly, “you’re Seollebal. If anyone tries to give you a hard time, just yell. Or run.”

 

Mischief sparks in her eyes. “Can I kick him?”

 

“Go ahead,” I answer back. “You can even….” I bend down to get closer to her eye level, then whisper conspiratorially, “You can even bite him.”

 

Nae Il squeals with laughter, belatedly pressing her hands to her mouth when it rings out all around us in the silence. Her amusement makes me smile despite myself; I know she’s thinking back on that wild thing she was so long ago.

 

“Honestly, Seollebal,” I murmur half to myself as I straighten back up, “what am I going to do with you?” Then, after one last admonishment for her to stay put – once she feels safe enough, she’s liable to wander off on her own – I make my way for the alley leading out of the square.

 

Alley, as it turns out, is a misnomer. Even though it starts off small and narrow, there are brightly lit shop windows on either side, telling me that this place is probably quite popular during the day. Soon, I find myself stepping into a covered shopping arcade, similar to the ones that branch off the Getreidegasse to make room for more restaurants and stores.

 

And next thing I know, I’m out on yet another busy street.

 

As the traffic whizzes by, I take a look around at my surroundings. There looks to be an intersection somewhere on my right, so I make my way in that direction.

 

Sure enough, the street opens up into a large open plaza that I immediately recognize. It’s the same one that Nae Il and I often pass through on our way to the old city centre; not too far from here is the Salzach River, and the footbridge that would take us back home.

 

Mission accomplished.

 

Briskly, I turn and march back the way I’d come, my steps quickening in amazed excitement as I head back for that little square.

 

How had she done it? How, in the midst of the familiar, had Seol Nae Il managed to find something new? And just by fluke?

 

The question is on my lips as I burst out onto the square from the alley – but no sooner have I done so that I’m brought to a stumbling halt by the sight before me.

 

I don’t see anybody.

 

Nae Il is gone.

 

Slowly, feeling my heart starting to pound in my chest even as the rest of me grows cold, I shake my head in disbelief.

 

Andwae. It can’t be. I must have missed something.

 

Swallowing hard in attempts to keep my rising panic at bay, I race for the bench. Maybe I just didn’t see her. Maybe she’s lain down and fallen asleep….

 

But she’s not.

 

The bench is empty.

 

Muttering a curse, I stumble closer to the centre of the square, desperately turning around in hopes I’d catch sight of her.

 

She couldn’t have gone far. My whole trip couldn’t have taken any more than five minutes – I know that much, at least! So where could she be? Where could she have gotten off to in such a short amount of time?

 

“Nae Il-ah!”

 

No answer.

 

“Ya, Seol Nae Il!”

 

Whap!

 

I jump, letting out a startled yelp, at the sudden smack on my backside. Muttering yet another string of curses, I whirl around to face the culprit–

 

“Ya, Seollebal – jinjja?!”

 

For there is Nae Il, standing there, doubled over with laughter. One hand is making some vain attempt to cover her mouth, and the other…the other is still holding her scarf, one end trailing beside her down to the ground.

 

“Or-Orabang,” she pants out between peals of laughter, “I…I….”

 

I close the gap between us, urgently slashing through the air with one hand. “Ya, Seollebal! It’s not funny!”

 

She doesn’t stop.

 

“I mean it! Do you have any idea how worried I was?!”

 

Finally, my reproach seems to get through to her. She goes completely still, the last laugh dying on her lips as, slowly, the hand over her mouth drifts down limply by her side. She shifts her weight from one foot to the other, her eyes cast down toward the ground. When she speaks, her words just come out in a listless murmur. “Mianhaeyo, Orabang.”

 

Seeing her like this takes some of the weight off my chest, but I’m not finished. She’s not forgiven – yet.

 

“One of these days….” I close my eyes, dipping my head down to pinch the bridge of my nose between my fingers with an exasperated sigh. “One of these days, Seollebal, something bad could actually happen – and then…and then…..”

 

She gives me a slight nudge with one foot. “I said I was sorry.”

 

I open my eyes, biting back yet another sigh as I straighten back up to shoot her a penetrating look. “Where were you hiding, anyway?” I ask gruffly.

 

She points off to the side at the corner of one of the shops in the square. Stepping off to the side, I can see now how the side of the building dips in there, leaving an empty space about the size of a small car. From the bench where we had been sitting, though, the wall had completely obscured that space: a truly blind corner.

 

Softly, on shuffling feet, Nae Il sidles up beside me, reaching out to grab onto my sleeve with her fingertips. “Mianhaeyo, Orabang,” she says again. “I won’t do that again.”

 

I answer with  a noncommittal grunt. “You’d better not.”

 

She lets go, stepping around to face me again. “Are you still mad?”

 

“A little.” After a moment’s pause, I add, “Not much. More worried than anything else.” Then, noting the sad look on her face, I extend one hand towards her. “Come here.”

 

Nae Il doesn’t need to be told twice. At my invitation, she shuffles closer until I can actually take her hand and pull her right up against me in an embrace. As I move my hand to gently stroke the top of her head, she lays her cheek on my chest, just over my heart. Her arms move to circle around my waist, and, now that she knows she’s forgiven, I can feel her taking in a deep contented breath.

 

We stay together like this for a long moment, and it is only because of a sense of the time niggling in the back of my mind that, reluctantly, I pull out of the hug. Giving Nae Il a fond smile, I reach down once again to take her hand.

 

“Come on, Nae Il-ah – let’s go home.”

 

~~~~~

 

If I could take a screenshot of Lee Yoon Hoo’s face right now, I would.

 

We’ve just finished with our summary of Monday’s Krampuslauf during our weekly video chat with our friends at Haneum – and right now, he is staring so incredulously at Nae Il and me that even Yoo Il Rak, Choi Min Hee, and Lee Sun Jae on either side of him can’t help peering questioningly at him as well.

 

Nae Il is the one to finally break the awkward silence: “Sunbae…gwenchanayo?”

 

Yoon Hoo seems to snap out of whatever befuddled state he had been in. He shakes his head slightly, blinking several times, before shooting me a pointed glance.

 

“Pardon my language,” he manages to grind out at last, “but what…the hell…is wrong with you?”

 

Now it’s my turn to blink in surprise. “Who, me?”

 

“Mm.” His eyes scan over both of us. “You…and Nae Il…and possibly all of Austria….”

 

Nae Il leans forward in her seat, eyes wide in concern. “Sunbae….”

 

“Point is,” he finally blurts out, his voice tight, “that is one messed up way to start the Christmas season, and you know it.”

 

At this point, Il Rak, unable to hold it back any longer, suddenly bursts out laughing. As the rest of us round on him in surprise, he doubles over, grabbing onto Yoon Hoo’s shoulder for support.

 

“Ya, Yoo Il Rak!” Yoon Hoo barks, shrugging him off, “What’s the matter with you?”

 

“Nothing,” he says, trying in vain to rein himself in. “Just – why do you have to be so serious all the time?” He waves a hand in my direction. “Honestly: you’re as bad as Cha Yoo Jin.”

 

I bristle in protest. “Ya!”

 

“Just saying,” Il Rak throws back, adding a wink for good measure.

 

“Because,” Yoon Hoo finally manages to break in, resuming his train of thought, “because…because it’s just wrong.” He looks around at the others, in hopes of finding some sort of sympathy. “Think about it: dressing up as some sort of demonic monster, trying to scare kids into behaving….” He shoots me yet another pointed glare. “Hitting people–”

 

“Oh, come on!” I bark back defensively. “It’s not that bad!”

 

I know what Lee Yoon Hoo’s trying to do this time, and I’m not about to rise to his bait.

 

He raises a skeptical eyebrow. “It isn’t?”

 

“Look” – I raise my hands in a placating gesture – “I know it sounds awful, but really, it isn’t. Most of the time, the Krampuslauf is totally safe–”

 

“‘Most of the time.’”

 

Damn. He’s just not letting this go, is he?

 

“Take it from someone who’s been there,” I fire back, resorting to my own trump card. “The guys go easy on the kids – ask Nae Il if you don’t believe me – and even for teens or adults, it’s no worse than when we’d get smacked when we were little.”

 

Immediately, I’m met by a whole host of mixed reactions. Nae Il, sitting beside me, suddenly reaches out and grabs onto my hand. Sun Jae, who had been silent this entire time, now gives me a knowing look, one corner of his mouth twitching up in an enigmatic smile. Min Hee, the tough country girl that she is, nods in understanding, as though thinking back to her own childhood. Il Rak, meanwhile, looks confused, peering at each of us one after the other.

 

But it’s Yoon Hoo that catches me completely by surprise – because rather than knowledge or understanding, the look I see flashing in his eyes is one of appalled shock.

 

“Ya, Cha Yoo Jin….”

 

“Wae?” I shoot him a questioning look. “That’s never happened to you before?”

 

He shakes his head. “You?”

 

“My father was Cha Dong Woo,” I answer pointedly. “You do the math.”

 

To be fair, instances like that had been rare: I had, after all, been a well-behaved child by anyone’s standards. But besides Nae Il and I, Yoon Hoo’s the only one in our group today who has dealt with Abeoji in person, so it’s no surprise to me now that he finally seems to get it. Slowly, I see him start to relax, settling back in his seat with a sage nod. “Geu rae. Arasseo.”

 

“And besides,” I add for the benefit of the others in the room, “even if Abeoji only ever had to raise his hand at me a couple of times” – one corner of my mouth twitches up in a knowing smirk – “I daresay that Professor Do more than made up for the rest of that quota.”

 

Il Rak rounds on me. “Ya, Yoo Jin-ah – was Professor Do that bad?”

 

“Just count yourself lucky that he’s in the piano major, Rak-kun,” Nae Il mutters back. “That fan of his was something vicious!”

 

Yoon Hoo’s jaw drops, scandalized. “Professor Do never even touched you!”

 

“I know.”

 

“So how do you–”

 

Nae Il’s finger points straight at my head. “Ask him.”

 

Now it’s my turn to round on her. “Ya, Seollebal–”

 

“Honestly, Orabang,” she deadpans at me, “if you didn’t know before, you should know now: everyone in the piano department knew whenever Professor Do scolded you.”

 

My jaw drops. “Mwo?!”

 

She leans in closer, her lips pursed into a pout. “You two weren’t exactly quiet.”

 

I’m about to throw back some sort of retort when, to my relief, Il Rak saves me by turning to look at Yoon Hoo. “But just wait a second here: you…you’re saying that your parents never….”

 

“Geu rae,” Yoon Hoo answers back with a nod. “Never.” Noting the confused looks some of us are shooting him, he explains. “We went back and forth between the States and here so much that my parents learned really early on to use other modes of discipline.” One corner of his mouth twitches up into a knowing smile, and a fond look grows in his eyes. “You can blame my hyung for that, actually. He was always the rebel out of the two of us, and he realized that in the States, all he needed to do if our parents tried to spank him was threaten to call the cops.”

 

As Yoon Hoo’s words sink in, Il Rak’s eyes grow as wide as saucers. “Ya…” he gasps, “and I thought I was the only one.” There’s no need for him to elaborate: we all know how Abeonim treats him. So instead, Il Rak simply follows up with a proffered fist; and as Yoon Hoo meets it with his own, the tension finally starts to melt away.

 

“By the way, Nae Il-ah,” Min Hee cuts in, “did you get Yoon Hoo-sunbae’s Christmas present yet?”

 

It’s a bit of a non sequitur, and all of us know it. But still, she’s not the only one who wants to change the subject right now. Sure enough, Nae Il beams, answering with a bright grin. “Ne! We just got it in the mail the other day.”

 

“Jinjja?” Yoon Hoo gives her a pointed look. “Could you go grab it, Nae Il-ah?”

 

His sudden request makes her start in surprise. “Eh?”

 

“I’d like for you to open it now.” He glances quickly around at the other three, who all nod in agreement. Then, seeing as they are all of one accord, he flashes her his signature grin. “Juseyo.”

 

Slowly, the smile fades from her face as she glances down at the floor. “But Sunbae, shouldn’t we wait until Christmas?”

 

Softly, I reach over and clasp one hand on her shoulder. “Gwenchana, Nae Il-ah,” I say gently in her ear. “Just do as he says.”

 

Nae Il hesitates a bit longer, but eventually, she agrees with a nod, getting up from the couch to head for our music room. Moments later, she is back, holding out the small gift-wrapped parcel in both hands. I take it with a grateful smile, but only just long enough for her to sit back down beside me before I pass it back to her.

 

“You do us the honours, Nae Il-ah.”

 

From the looks on their faces, the others already know what the present is – and going by its thin square shape, it appears to be a CD of some sort. But I definitely wasn’t expecting one with a cover like this: a rather comical scene set in what looks to be an ancient desert landscape, featuring a pianist and a cellist both dressed up as Indiana Jones.

 

As Nae Il bursts into giggles at the image, I quietly read out the title to myself: “Uncharted, by The Piano Guys….”

 

From his end, Yoon Hoo flashes us his signature eager grin. “Have you heard of them before?”

 

I answer with a nod. “A couple of times.” Enough, at least, to know that this is a piano-cello duo known for their mashups of classical and popular pieces. “What about them?”

 

He gestures at the CD. “Open it to Track #5.”

 

Nae Il hurries to do just that: unwrapping the disc and cracking the case open for the first time; popping it into the player on my laptop. Then, once the disc has been properly loaded, she goes to the computer’s music player and scrolls down to the piece Yoon Hoo’s just pointed out.

 

“‘Pirates…’” She perks up and glances over at me. “It’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ again, Orabang.”

 

“Indeed it is.”

 

I look on as she moves the cursor over to the “Play” button, but just before she clicks on it, I reach out and grab onto her hand, a niggling suspicion taking shape in the back of my mind.

 

“Ya, Lee Yoon Hoo.” I shoot him a warning glare through my eyelashes. “You’d better not be–”

 

“Don’t worry,” he answers back. “It’s not what you think.”

 

“Jeongmal?”

 

“Jeongmal.” Once again, he waves for us to go ahead. “Just listen.”

 

As, finally, I let go of Nae Il, I hear Il Rak quietly ask, “Ya, Yoon Hoo-yah – what’s going on?”

 

“I said: just listen,” he hisses back. “You’ll see in a bit.”

 

At his encouragement, Nae Il finally starts the music – and after the first few seconds, I stare up at the others with a jolt.

 

“Ya, Lee Yoon Hoo,” I gasp. “This…this is….”

 

An orchestra.

 

“Exactly.” He flashes me a conspiratorial grin. “I knew you’d get it, Cha Yoo Jin.”

 

Of course I do. Why would I not?

 

As the music continues ringing out around us, Yoon Hoo now leans forward in his seat, tenting his hands under his chin. I copy his gesture: the signal to ourselves and to the others that we’ll be talking about business now.

 

“So, what do you think, Cha Yoo Jin?” He raises an eyebrow. “For our concert in February – do you think Rising Star could do this?”

 

“Of course,” I answer back, mirroring his gesture. Nae Il and I, once again, have been invited back to Seoul for yet another collaborative concert during our next major school break. “But I doubt we’re referring to the piano solo here.”

 

“Geu rae,” he says promptly, shooting me a pointed look. “I’m not.”

 

Nae Il glances back and forth between us – or, rather, between me and the computer – before poking me in the shoulder with one finger. “Orabang,” she whispers in my ear once I lean down closer, “if not the piano part, then what are you two talking about?”

 

“Think about it this way, Nae Il-ah,” I answer, pitching my voice loudly enough that everyone could hear. “What parts does this piece need?”

 

She starts counting out on her fingers. “An orchestra, a solo pianist–”

 

“And a solo cellist,” I finish for her.

 

“‘A solo cellist’….” Il Rak echoes softly to himself. Immediately, his eyes widen. Gaping, he rounds on Yoon Hoo. “Jinjja?” he gasps excitedly. “You’re – you’re making a comeback?! Like, this is not a joke – you’re actually doing it?!”

 

Yoon Hoo’s smile couldn’t get any wider, reaching up so high that his eyes are almost squeezed shut as he gives us all an enthusiastic nod.

 

In an instant, all hell breaks loose.

 

Il Rak lets out a loud whoop, and Min Hee, who’d been seated between them, only has seconds to duck out of the way before he throws himself on top of Yoon Hoo, wrapping his arms around his shoulders in a bear hug. Yoon Hoo, on his part, is caught entirely off guard, just barely managing to stop himself from falling over on top of Sun Jae on his other side, who now reaches over to give him a firm clap on the shoulder.

 

As for our end of things, Nae Il, too, bursts into applause, pumping one fist triumphantly in the air as she lets out a loud cheer. Her piercing cry right next to my ear makes me shy away from her with a wince, but soon, even I have joined in: not with a shout, but with warm heartfelt applause followed by a single thumbs-up.

 

It’s a small gesture, but one that Yoon Hoo notices right away. Tears – happy tears, grateful tears – spring up in his eyes as he, too, gives me one of the warmest smiles I have ever received from him, before he silently mouths, “Komapda.”

 

Out of those of us gathered here, after all, I know more than anyone else how much this decision means to him.

 

Il Rak disappears from our view on the webcam with a shout, but soon returns, pulling his father along behind him.

 

“What’s with the celebration?” Abeonim asks. “We could hear you through the whole restaurant.”

 

Quickly, Yoon Hoo fills him in on the details: that Rising Star plans to hold yet another joint concert in February; that Nae Il and I have been invited; and that, after years of simply conducting, he now intends to take on a cello solo as well.

 

“It’ll be the first time that all of us are on stage together at the same time, Abeonim,” he finishes. He tilts his head coyly to one side. “Wae? Is that not something to celebrate?”

 

All this time, a large smile has been growing on Abeonim’s face. “Of course it is!” he booms. “And I have just the thing for all of you.” He disappears at this point, but soon returns with a tray bearing several glasses of Mendelssohn’s signature cocktail.

 

“Here,” he says firmly, setting down the tray on the table just out of our sight. “It’s on the house.”

 

As the others thank him, Nae Il gives me a nudge. “You should get something for us too, Orabang,” she murmurs.

 

Nodding in assent, I excuse myself to the others and get up from the couch. Just as I’ve reached the foyer, though, I hear Nae Il calling out after me:

 

“Not the wine, though, Orabang! Just – just don’t.”

 

I bite back a laugh as I make my way into the kitchen. Of course I wouldn’t do that. For one thing, I know Nae Il doesn’t like wine; and secondly, it’s just late morning for us and I still have some pride left. But still, given that the others are drinking, it wouldn’t feel right for us to have something like juice. Instead, I fetch a bottle of radler from the fridge – the closest thing we’ve got to a cocktail right now, and still weak enough to make sense for daytime – and two glasses, setting the whole lot on a tray before heading back.

 

As it so happens, I return just in time to hear her sternly admonishing Il Rak’s father not to tell anyone else about Yoon Hoo’s solo.

 

“It’s going to be a surprise, Ahjussi,” she says, her lips pursed into a pout as she wags a knowing finger at him. “So don’t you go and ruin it for Yoon Hoo-sunbae.”

 

Still standing out of sight from the others, I bite back a snort. “Ya, Seollebal–”

 

“Don’t worry,” Il Rak’s father drawls right back. I can’t see him from here, but I can just visualize him exaggeratedly putting a finger to his lips with a wink. “I can keep a secret.”

 

This time, I’m unable to hold back a scoffing laugh, surreptitiously rolling my eyes as I finally come over to rejoin the group. “Ye, ye Abeonim…” I drawl back sarcastically, kneeling down to set our drinks on the coffee table before resuming my seat.

 

Nae Il’s the only one who hears me, giving me a sharp elbow in the side as soon as he has left the room. But then she is all smiles again as, together, we toast to this new promise of a bright future.

 

~~~~~

 

“So, Nae Il-ah, what do you think?” I ask, glancing down at her head resting in my lap. Idly, one hand reaches down to stroke her hair. “Did you like it?”

 

It’s the first Monday of the Christmas break for us students at the Mozarteum, and we’ve decided to just spend it relaxing at home. On the TV, the credits are starting to roll as a gentle Mozart melody – the second movement of his Piano Concerto in D-Minor – drifts out through the living room, bringing tonight’s movie to an end.

 

“Mm,” she hums contentedly. She had been laying on her side earlier to get a better view of the TV, but now rolls over onto her back to gaze up at me. “I can see why you do, Orabang.”

 

“What did I tell you?” I quip back in response, a laugh bubbling up in my throat. “Amadeus is a classic.” After a pause, I nod ruefully. “Of course, its portrayal of Mozart is grossly exaggerated. And the actor who plays him can’t conduct to save his life–”

 

“Not to mention,” Nae Il adds eagerly, “that that’s not how the Requiem was composed. Or The Magic Flute.”

 

“But, all things considered, if we know the actual history and are prepared to just laugh at it,” I finish, giving her a playful tap on the nose with one finger, “it’s still entertaining.”

 

“Ne.” She smiles up happily at me, then suddenly raises herself up, head tilted back. I know exactly what she wants; leaning down a little bit myself to meet her in the middle, I give her a soft tender peck on the lips.

 

Thus satisfied, Nae Il lies back down with a contented smile. We stay as we are for a moment, when she suddenly speaks up again, the smile melting from her face.

 

“I do feel bad for Salieri, though.”

 

I glance down at her. “Wae?”

 

“Because he wasn’t such a bad person in real life,” she says glumly. “But for those who don’t study music or don’t know the history, that’s how he’ll be remembered now.”

 

I nod grimly – since when had Nae Il grown so wise? “Geu rae. That’s true enough. But if you ask me, there’s an important lesson here for all of us musicians.”

 

Nae Il perks up in interest. “Jinjja?”

 

“Mm. All of us will be in Salieri’s position at some point in our lives: no matter how good or talented we think we are, sooner or later, we’ll meet someone who’s even better. In fact,” I add with a chuckle, “I’m sure even Mozart himself had those moments.

 

“So a story like Amadeus is a good reminder for us: if we let jealousy and resentment take over, we’ll only be hurting ourselves in the end.”

 

“Because,” Nae Il finishes for me, “even if Mozart’s death had nothing to do with Salieri, he still felt guilty about it for the rest of his life.”

 

“Exactly,” I say firmly, giving her a fond smile. “I knew you’d get it.”

 

She seems happier now, shifting slightly in my lap to make herself more comfortable. Then, a moment later, she lets out a giggle.

 

“Wae?”

 

“You won this time, Orabang,” she says, biting her lip in amusement. “But the next time we do a movie night like this, we’re watching The Sound of Music.”

 

I let out a short laugh. “Ya, Seollebal!” I blurt out, giving her a mock-reproachful look. “When are you going to learn to quit while you’re still ahead?”

 

She now sits up all the way, shifting to a spot beside me on the couch. “Just watch me,” she retorts proudly. “One of these days, it’s gonna happen.”

 

“Jinjja?” I ask her impishly. “How so?”

 

“Well…” she drawls out, her eyes sparkling with mischief, “I could just do this!”

 

She throws herself at me, knocking me over sideways onto the sofa. Laughing, I raise my hands in a show of resistance, but I soon let her win: sprawled on top of me with my wrists held above my head. Smirking in triumph – Nae Il knows what I’ve done, but she’s not about to let that stop her – she then lowers herself down until her face is just inches from mine. “Even if I have to hold you down, Orabang,” she murmurs, her voice noticeably thicker and huskier than before, “I’ll make sure you sit through the whole thing at least once.”

 

And I’m about to say something in retort, but she cuts me off before I could even start: closing the gap between us with a passionate kiss.

 

All too soon, we drift apart. Nae Il returns to her original spot, smoothing her skirt with both hands; I sit up as well, using a cough to give myself an excuse to touch my lips in silent appreciation. Then, once the moment has passed and both of us have calmed, I start tidying up the mess on the coffee table: piling up the plates we had used to eat our dinner as well as my empty mug of what had been Nae Il’s signature hot chocolate.

 

She, however, snatches her mug away before I could get to it. “Just a minute, Orabang,” she blurts out hurriedly. “I haven’t finished it yet.”

 

“Arasseo.” Nodding down at the dishes in my hands, I add, “I’ll get started on these, then.” I then gesture at the television where, now that the credits are over, the view on the screen has now returned to the DVD’s main menu. “You can take care of that, right?”

 

“Ne, arasseo,” she answers brightly, pausing to take a sip of her chocolate. “You go on ahead; I’ll come over once I’m done here.”

 

I leave her to it then, heading straight for the kitchen without a backward glance. Setting the stack of plates and my mug down in the sink, I half-expect Nae Il to step in at any moment as I start doing the dishes. But even after I have washed, dried, and put everything away, she still has yet to appear.

 

“Ya, Seollebal,” I call out over my shoulder towards the foyer. “What’s taking you so long?”

 

No answer.

 

That’s strange. Normally, if she had trouble with anything, she would say so: either calling for me or coming over in person. So what’s with the silence?

 

“Seollebal?” I call a second time. “Is something wrong? Do you need help with anything?”

 

Still nothing.

 

Eyes narrowing in suspicion, I stalk slowly back to the living room.

 

“Ya, Seol Nae Il,” I say, pitching my voice so it could reach her before I do, “if you’re thinking about pranking me again like you did last time, then–”

 

Just inside of the entrance to the living room, I stumble to a stop.

 

Nae Il stands, unmoving, in front of the television. The hand holding her empty mug hangs limp by her side; the other one, still clutching the remote, is suspended in mid-air.

 

She doesn’t notice me. Whatever is playing on the television right now, it has her complete attention. She stares at it wide-eyed, her face ashen and pale – completely oblivious to my presence.

 

Slowly, a ball of dread growing in my stomach, I make my way towards her.

 

“Ya, Seollebal,” I ask, adopting a lightness in my tone that I do not feel, “gwenchana?” Coming up beside her, I bend my knees slightly to bring my face level with hers. “What’s going on?”

 

Nae Il doesn’t say anything. Instead, still staring straight ahead, she simply points at the television. Slowly, my pulse starting to thump louder and louder in my ears, I follow her finger with my gaze….

 

“Omo….”

 

Now, at last, I can see what Nae Il saw. A series of broken, disjointed images, one right after the other.

 

Flashing lights and yellow police tape. A gigantic tractor-trailer stopped on the sidewalk, flanked by piles of debris where wooden stalls had once stood. A forlorn Christmas tree lying on its side, flanked by smashed and broken decorations. An ambulance, its doors wide open as paramedics lift a bloodied stretcher inside. Knots of people huddled together in fear: some in tears, others frantically speaking into their phones. Bright blue lights from police cars flickering in the darkness, reflecting off dark puddles on the ground.

 

This is Berlin. This is – this was – a Christmas market. And someone has just smashed a truck right through it.

 

I’d heard of things like this before, of course. Just this past summer, while we were in Seoul, something similar had happened in France.

 

But…but surely it couldn’t be…be that, could it? Surely, I hadn’t brought Nae Il with me to Europe for…for something like this?!

 

Blindly, I lunge forward. My hand darts out to grab hold of hers. Slowly, firmly, I dig in with my fingers. She surrenders the remote without a fuss, that hand, too, falling down by her side as I hurry to turn off the television.

 

The screen goes black, the room goes still. Nae Il, finally free from its spell, blinks in surprise before turning her face towards me.

 

“Orabang….”

 

Wordlessly, I take the mug from her as well, setting it and the remote down on the table. Then, grabbing onto her wrist, I pull her close, wrapping my arms fiercely around her in a tight embrace.

 

Trembling, she nuzzles closer, burying her face in my chest as she holds on to me with all her might. A shudder passes through her as finally, after holding it in for who knows how long, she bursts into tears.

 

“Hush…” I whisper in her ear, one hand reaching up to gently pat the back of her head before moving down to rub large slow circles on her back. “Gwenchana, Nae Il-ah…gwenchana.”

 

Damn…what’s the right thing to say at a time like this?

 

“I’m sure….” I swallow nervously, forcing myself to plunge on ahead. “I’m sure that the police have everything under control. You saw them earlier, right?” When she doesn’t respond, I press on. “They’ll…they’ll figure it out: whether the driver was drunk, or had just lost control, or–”

 

I cut myself off, my breath hitching in my throat, when Nae Il tenses up in my arms. She pushes back away from me, shaking her head.

 

“Aniya.” She’d managed to stop crying before, but now tears well up in her eyes all over again. “Aniya, Orabang. It’s – it’s not like that.”

 

I take a cautious step towards her. “Seol Nae Il–”

 

“You weren’t here, Orabang!” she bursts out. “You didn’t see it – when they interviewed the witnesses. They…they said that…that the truck….” Trembling, she looks pleadingly in my eyes. “It was going so fast, and – and got in so far, and – and the police, they – they found…inside the truck, in the passenger seat….” Her voice rises in sudden hysterical anger. “They found a body, Orabang! A dead body! Don’t you understand?! Someone – someone stole that truck. He – he killed – killed the driver, and then he – and then he–”

 

I lunge forward, wrapping my arms around Nae Il once again as she breaks into wracking sobs. Her knees buckle; her hands grip onto my sweater with all her might, as though afraid I’d disappear the moment she lets go.

 

“Ara, Nae Il-ah,” I hiss urgently in her ear. “Ara.” After a moment’s pause, I add, “Mianhae, Nae Il-ah. I…I hadn’t wanted to frighten you, but….” Tears start to prick in my own eyes; I take in a deep shuddering breath to ward them off. “In truth, I’d guessed all along: that this wasn’t an accident, that someone had done this on purpose. But you’re so good, Nae Il-ah – so good and innocent and kind – and I didn’t…I didn’t want to….” I close my eyes with a sigh, no longer able to stop the tears from falling. “Mianhae, Nae Il-ah – I…I just wanted to protect you.”

 

We stay leaning on each other’s support like this for a long time. Finally, Nae Il, who’s more of the crier between the two of us, starts to calm down. Her sobs slow down, softening into a series of deep steadying breaths before, at last, she straightens back up, pulling out of my embrace.

 

Softly, I cup her face with one hand, rubbing away what’s left of her tears with my thumb. “Gwenchana, Nae Il-ah?” I ask, gently tilting her chin up towards me. “Do you want anything?”

 

Her mouth opens slightly, an answer already coming to her lips. But it takes her a few tries before she can actually eke any words out.

 

“M-Milch.”

 

Of course. I should have guessed.

 

“Can you…can you call Milch, Orabang?” Taking one of my hands in both of hers, she looks up imploringly at me. “Jebal?”

 

I do my best to smile at her. “Geu rae. Arasseo. I’ll call the Professor for you, Nae Il-ah – I was thinking of doing the same thing myself. Now” – I lean forward to plant a gentle kiss on her forehead to seal the deal – “you should get some rest. Go clean yourself up, then go to bed.”

 

Nae Il whines in protest. “But, Orabang–”

 

“Jebal, Nae Il-ah,” I say. “Don’t ask any questions; just – just do as I say. Just this once.”

 

Her brow furrows in confusion – or is it suspicion? – as she tilts her head slightly to one side. Finally, though, she gives in, answering me with a nod before sullenly slipping out of the room.

 

I wait until Nae Il is out of sight before I take out my phone, idly pressing the number I have saved for Professor Stresemann on speed dial as I step closer to the sliding door that opens out to our balcony. Nae Il, I’m sure, hasn’t obeyed me; chances are, she is standing somewhere just outside, refusing to leave until she’s sure I’ve gotten through.

 

I don’t blame her; if I were her, I’d do the same. But I still need to have some sort of a buffer – just in case.

 

My first time is a bust: the phone ringing several times before going to voicemail. Cursing, I swipe to dismiss that attempt before trying again.

 

The phone rings, and rings again….I brace myself against the cold glass door, my free hand curling up into a fist.

 

Damn it. Why is it taking so long?

 

Why isn’t he picking up?!

 

“Come on,” I mutter to myself, trying but failing not to assume the worst. “Come on…come on….”

 

“Franz von Stresemann, guten abend.”

 

I open my mouth to give the proper response, but feel myself coming to a stop, the words dying on my lips.

 

That…that’s not his voice.

 

There is an awkward silence before the woman – for that could only have been a woman’s voice – tries again. “Hallo?”

 

“Gr-grüss Gott,” I stammer. “Is – is this Professor Stresemann’s phone?”

 

The woman takes in a sharp breath. “Ja, this is,” she replies curtly. “I already said so.” Her voice tightens with annoyance. “But who are you?”

 

Her sharp tone makes me jump with a wince.

 

“Ch-Cha Yoo Jin,” I finally manage to blurt out. “This is Cha Yoo Jin.” Taking a deep breath to steady myself now that I’m back on track, I ask, “May I speak to Professor Stresemann?”

 

“He’s not here right now.”

 

Something lurches deep inside of me. “Then…then would you know where he is, or when he will be back?”

 

A pause. “Herr Cha–”

 

“I have to speak with him,” I demand, cutting her off. “Bitte: it’s urgent!”

 

“Elise, my girl, what on earth are you doing? Trying to answer my calls now, are you?”

 

Hearing the Professor’s humoured voice on the other end, even if from a distance, makes my legs almost give out in relief. But then, a fraction of a second later, something he’s said hits me.

 

Elise? That…that woman…had been Elise? And I had…I had….

 

Biting back a curse, I slap myself on the forehead. Well, I’ve just gone and made a mess of things now, haven’t I?

 

“Hallo? Cha Yoo Jin?”

 

Even though he can’t see me, I instinctively bob my head slightly in greeting. “Professor.”

 

“What did you say to Elise just now?” he asks pointedly. “She looks like she just drank something sour.”

 

“Well,” I stammer, “about that….Well, it’s because…because….” My voice grows short. “Scheisse – where were you?! Why weren’t you answering the phone?!”

 

A startled gasp from behind makes me turn around. Nae Il, who must have snuck back into the room at some point, stares at me wide-eyed, hands pressed to her mouth in shock. But that’s nothing compared to the earful I’m getting from the Professor right now for my language:

 

“You brat – is that any way to be addressing your Professor?! I know that you’re Cha Dong Woo’s son, but even he had his limits!”

 

I open my mouth to give back some sort of protest, but then think better of it. “My apologies,” I say at last, ending my words with a sigh. “It won’t happen again.”

 

He decides to let it go – for now. “But what is it? You wouldn’t be so worked up unless something’s seriously wrong.”

 

My jaw drops. “You…you mean you don’t know?”

 

Professor Stresemann sounds confused. “‘Don’t know’ about what? Speak clearly, boy – what’s going on?”

 

Covering the receiver with one hand, I turn to glance down at Nae Il. “He doesn’t know what happened,” I whisper to her, “which must mean he’s fine.”

 

She breathes a deep sigh of relief, one hand pressed to her chest, as I turn back to the phone. Quickly, I explain to him what the two of us had seen on the news: that someone had stolen a truck and rammed it right through one of Berlin’s Christmas markets.

 

“I did hear the sirens,” he explains once I have finished, “but I assumed it was simply a normal traffic accident….” He trails off into silence, then starts up again. “And you’re saying Baby was the one who saw this?”

 

Closing my eyes with a sigh, I answer with a heavy nod. “Ja.”

 

“Oh….” The Professor clucks softly in dismay. “She must have been frightened, then.”

 

“Which is why,” I move to explain, “we wanted to call you and make sure you were alright. That square is in Charlottenberg, and so is your house, so….”

 

Nae Il’s hand tugs at my sleeve. I glance over at her, gesturing to the phone with one hand. When she answers me with a nod, I respond with one of my own before turning back to our conversation. “Actually, Professor, Nae Il wants to talk to you herself.”

 

He agrees heartily, so I pass my phone over to her. She snatches it right out of my hand, plunging breathlessly into a flurry of questions.

 

Silently, I turn and slip away. Carefully, grabbing onto different pieces of furniture and then the door frame along the way, I make straight for the relative privacy of the kitchen.

 

Then, just as I’d feared, it happens.

 

My legs, already shaky to begin with, go completely weak. I collapse sideways into the countertop with a clatter, just managing to catch myself upon it with both hands when my feet nearly slip out from underneath. My throat tightens; I can’t breathe. My pulse pounds and throbs inside my head, in perfect time with the growing ringing in my ears.

 

Supporting myself with one elbow on the counter, I clench my hand into a fist, digging into my palm with my nails. I squeeze tighter at regular intervals, concentrating on each small spike in pressure, using that to keep time as I try to stretch my desperate gasps into deeper breaths of air:

 

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

 

With Nae Il’s help, I seldom get attacks like this anymore, thank goodness. But I’ve experienced them enough in the past, in moments when I’ve felt lost or afraid, to know that there’s little I could do but to just ride this one out, let it pass on its own.

 

Nae Il’s voice is the first thing I hear when the ringing finally subsides, when I can once again see my hand gripping onto the dark kitchen counter, the bank of wooden cupboards overhead. Thankfully, she is still speaking hurriedly to the Professor, completely oblivious to what just happened.

 

Slowly, I push myself off from the counter, but reach out to grab onto it again just seconds later.

 

Everything else has returned to normal, but my legs still feel light, empty – almost not even there. Closing my eyes in exasperation, I bite back a curse.

 

Of all the possible things that could happen right now. How the hell am I supposed to be there for Nae Il when I’m like this?!

 

Instinctively, I grope blindly up with my free hand to open the cupboard above me. Only when my fingertips brush against the wine glass do I manage to stop myself, that same hand now curling up into a loose fist as I shake my head, disgusted by my own instincts.

 

Andwae. Not like this. I can’t do it like this.

 

With a burst of newfound strength, I reach slightly over to the side to grab a water glass instead.

 

It’s going to be a long night. I’ll need my full mental faculties about me.

 

~~~~~

 

As the person I’d been talking to finally hangs up on the other end, I glance down at the time displayed on the phone in my hand. The image shifts and blurs in front of me; I blink hard several times, trying to force my tired, burning eyes to focus.

 

Finally, after a couple of failed attempts, I see it. The number there makes my heart sink, and then the rest of me goes, too; folding my arms on the dining table, I bang my head down against them with a groan.

 

2:00 a.m.

 

I’ve been at this for two hours straight.

 

The calls started coming at midnight, at the time when people in Korea were just starting to wake up. The incident in Berlin, naturally, had been the biggest news item in the reports this morning – and I’ve been assaulted by an endless barrage of frantic calls and text messages since.

 

I’d known this was coming. It’s why, instead of my phone, it’s Nae Il’s that I’m holding right now. After she’d finally finished speaking with Professor Stresemann, I had sent her promptly off to bed. This time, she had obeyed me, going mechanically through the motions of washing up and changing into her pajamas before finally climbing wearily under her covers. Then, in a spur of the moment decision, after she had buried her face in the pillow, I had swiped her phone off the nightstand and pocketed it next to mine.

 

At least this way, only one of us will be kept up all night.

 

It’s amazing just how many people back home confuse Germany and Austria. For some, perhaps, it’s understandable: Nae Il’s family, for instance, in their small seaside village on Jeju-do. In their eyes, probably all of Europe feels like a single large country; how much more so two nations side-by-side that share the same language?

 

But I also got one such phone call from Eomma – and that’s just ridiculous.

 

Worst, though, have been the calls from people I don’t know: Nae Il’s friends from before university, colleagues and children’s parents from the kindergarten where she had worked in Seoul. Now I know how Elise must have felt, having to deal with that initial moment of sheer panic that comes when a call to a friend caught in a disaster is answered by a complete stranger instead. Countless times, I had to raise my voice just to be heard, identifying myself as her boyfriend and reassuring them over and over again that the only reason why I was speaking to them instead of Nae Il was because she was asleep.

 

I don’t even notice that I’ve dozed off until I find myself opening my eyes in response to the buzzing sound next to my head. Burying my face in my arms with a groan I reach out blindly for the phone.

 

Who is it this time?

 

I bring the vibrating phone right up to my face. It’s mine, which is a relief, but the name makes me bite back a curse.

 

Why, of all people, does it have to be him?

 

I swipe with my thumb to answer anyway, placing the phone by my ear. “Wae?”

 

“What?” Lee Yoon Hoo quips back at me. “Not even so much as a ‘yeoboseyo’?” He scoffs in disbelief. “I’m disappointed.”

 

I sit up fully now, growling in exasperation. “This isn’t the time for your games,” I mutter back through gritted teeth. Then, slightly louder, I add, “If you want me to be civil, maybe you shouldn’t be calling me at two-bloody-thirty in the morning.”

 

“Well, you’re the one who’s actually answering,” he retorts without skipping a beat. “And if you’re wondering just how I knew you’d be up right now…let’s just say I know you.”

 

I hang my head with a sigh, shaking it ruefully. Trust him to respond with something like that. “So what do you want?”

 

“How are things?” Before I could answer, he adds, “I already called the Professor, so I know you’re all safe.”

 

Now it’s my turn to scoff. “Ya, Lee Yoon Hoo–”

 

“So what I’m really trying to ask,” he blurts out, cutting me off mid-sentence, “is: how are you? Personally.”

 

My brow furrows in confusion. “Me?”

 

“Geu rae.” I can almost picture his knowing nod in my mind. “You.”

 

“I’m fine.”

 

“Jeongmal?”

 

“Jeongmal,” I reply back shortly. “In fact, I–”

 

I’m cut off by the sound of Nae Il’s phone, which I glare at with a grimace. “Aish….”

 

“Wae?” Yoon Hoo asks. “What’s going on?”

 

But I don’t answer him right away. Instead, I turn my focus to Nae Il’s phone, glancing down at the name on the display – another one I don’t recognize. Biting back yet another exasperated sigh, I swipe to dismiss it, but then immediately open up a text message box.

 

“All right,” I say at last, typing rapidly with one finger, “go on.”

 

Lee Yoon Hoo, of course, is as astute as ever. “That was Nae Il’s phone, wasn’t it.”

 

“Mm,” I answer noncommittally, now pressing the button to send the text: a short affirmation that everything’s fine. “I told her to get some rest,” I explain.

 

“So you’ve been taking her calls and messages as well as your own?” He lets out a sigh – I imagine him shaking his head. “Look at you, Cha Yoo Jin: always the martyr.”

 

My eyes narrow. “Mwo?”

 

“Watch that you don’t overdo it,” he blurts out. “You’re not exactly in the position to be taking everything upon yourself.”

 

“And you’re the one to judge that?” I retort sarcastically. “Ya, Lee Yoon Hoo–”

 

“Let me put it this way. Did you – did you have – did it happen again?”

 

I feel myself tense up. “Does it matter?”

 

“So it did.”

 

“Shut up,” I bark back shortly. “My own situation isn’t what’s important right now.” I pause for a moment before growling out, “You do realize that Nae Il was the first one to find out about this, right? Alone.”

 

That, at least, gives him pause.

 

“She…she was?” He gasps. “Aish….” The curse sounds strange coming from him; but then again, if there’s any occasion to be doing it, this would be it. “She must have taken it hard, then.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

“But still,” he adds, his tone gentler than before, “make sure you’re taking care of yourself – if nothing else, then for Nae Il’s sake.”

 

“Mwo?”

 

“You may think you’re helping her right now,” he goes on, an earnest edge creeping into his voice. “And maybe you are. But it won’t do Nae Il any good if you end up collapsing from exhaustion yourself.

 

“And,” he adds, “if it makes you feel any better – I don’t think you’ll be getting any more calls tonight, anyway.”

 

Whatever retort that I had been about to throw back now dies on my lips. “Wae?”

 

“I’ve just come from making a school-wide announcement with Dean Song,” Yoon Hoo answers. “We would have done it sooner, but she needed to make sure that everyone from Haneum who’s studying abroad had been accounted for first.”

 

“And are we?”

 

“Ne,” he answers brightly. “Everyone’s fine. So I think you should be able to call it a night now.” He pauses for a moment, then adds, “But, still: komapda. You’ve worked hard.”

 

I’m just about to reply when Yoon Hoo hangs up, leaving me staring open-mouthed at my phone before tossing it onto the table in disdain.

 

Damn him. Why must he always have the last word?

 

The phone call itself had woken me up, but now that everything is quiet again, I feel myself getting drowsier. My head grows heavy; I lay it down on folded arms, peering sideways at my phone through half-lidded eyes as I wait to see if anyone else tries to call or text us.

 

But there isn’t anything. Perhaps word’s already started to get out: people passing on my message or Haneum’s announcement to each other. By the time my phone shows that it is now 3:00 in the morning, I’m finally willing to breathe a sigh of relief, pushing back my chair as I lurch unsteadily up to my feet.

 

It might be late, but I should at least try to get some sleep.

 

I haven’t had a chance between putting Nae Il to bed and the calls starting to come in to take my shower, so I do that first. The hot water jolts me awake at first, but then cocoons me in its warmth like a comfortably weighted blanket, leaving me yawning by the time I stumble out of the bathroom….

 

“Orabang.”

 

I freeze, instantly alert, in the middle of the hallway. Slowly, I turn my head this way and that, squinting in the darkness, trying to make out where the sound had come from.

 

Was…was that Nae Il?

 

It had sounded like her, to be sure. But the door to her room is still closed, and the voice had been strangely muffled, as though it were coming from far away or through some sort of barrier.

 

When, after a brief moment, I’m simply greeted by silence, I softly chuckle in relief. Grasping my temple with one hand, I shake my head ruefully to myself as I cross over to my room and head towards my bed.

 

Lee Yoon Hoo was right. I’m so tired right now, I’m actually hallucinating.

 

“Orabang!”

 

I stop, frozen, a second time – now fully awake. My eyes widen at the voice echoing through the wall.

 

There was no mistaking it this time.

 

The bundle of clothes tucked in the crook of my arm drops down to the floor as I turn and bolt to her room, throwing the door open with a crash.

 

“Nae Il-ah!”

 

A startled yelp comes from the bed. Standing at the threshold, I can just barely make out Nae Il’s shape in the darkness. She’s sitting up, knees drawn up to her chest; and going by the way her head jerked up in alarm when I burst inside, she’d previously had her face buried in there as well.

 

“Or-Orabang….”

 

In several brisk strides, I step over to the nightstand beside her bed. Switching on the lamp, I turn around to face her. She stares up owlishly at me, her lips pressed in a quivering pout – but it’s the shimmering tear tracks on her face that make me tense up in alarm.

 

“Aish….”

 

Instinctively, I take an urgent step closer to the bed; seeing my intent, Nae Il scoots over, leaving me just enough space to sit down beside her. I offer her my hand, and she immediately lunges out, grasping it so tightly with both of hers that I have to fight to hold back a wince.

 

“What is it, Nae Il-ah?” I ask when, still trembling, she yanks my hand closer, touching it to her cheek. “Did something happen?”

 

Her head jerks up, as though she’d still been asleep and my question has just jolted her awake. “Mi-mianhae, Orabang,” she stammers out, her eyes scanning mine in concern. “Did I disturb you?”

 

Her question catches me up short. What could I possibly say that wouldn’t end up with her fussing over me?

 

“Ani,” I answer, forcing myself to look her steadily in the eye so she won’t suspect anything. “I’m fine. But what about you? Why were you crying?” When she doesn’t answer, I venture a guess. “Did you have a nightmare? About what happened tonight?”

 

For a moment, she looks like she wants to shake her head, but then, slowly, she starts to nod, her eyes cast unseeing down somewhere on the floor.

 

I take in a slow, steadying breath. Of course. Gently but firmly, I pull my hand out of hers with a turn of my wrist – but only so that I could reach across her back and clasp onto her shoulder, guiding her to lean against my side.

 

“Gwenchana,” I whisper soothingly, giving her shoulder a firm squeeze. “You’re safe here.”

 

Something in my words or my actions must have broken a dam somewhere inside of Nae Il, because now, slowly, she begins to speak, her voice hushed and haunted:

 

“We were there. Or maybe it was here. I don’t know – it didn’t look like the Residenzplatz, but the point is that we were at a Christmas market, somewhere. And – and we were having so much fun. We were at this one corner stall and we – we had this – this game going on where we’d pick a surprise for each other on opposite sides.

 

“And…and things were going well. They really were. But then – but then you must have seen something, Orabang, because you then looked over at me and…and just like at the Krampuslauf, you yelled at me to run.”

 

My breath hitches in my throat as my free hand, resting idly by my side, slowly clenches into a fist in dread. I know where this is going.

 

My hand tightens on her shoulder. “Seol Nae Il.”

 

“And I,” she goes on, either oblivious to my attempts to stop her or no longer able to now that she’s started, “I thought you were right behind me. I really did.” Her voice starts to quiver; underneath my hand, I feel her starting to tremble once again. “So I…I di- didn’t think to look back, and then – and then....”

 

The catch in my throat grows into an all-out lump, making it nearly impossible for me to breathe.

 

“There – there was this – this crash, coming from behind me, and I – I turn around, and…and….”

 

She breaks off in a thin keening cry, covering her eyes with both hands in attempts to shield herself from whatever image is now in her mind. I spring into action, grabbing hold of her by the shoulders with both hands, turning her around so I could wrap my arms around her in an embrace. It takes Nae Il a moment to realize what I’ve done, but once she does, she returns in kind: throwing her arms around my waist as she collapses into deep wracking sobs.

 

“Gwenchana, Nae Il-ah, gwenchana…” I whisper soothingly, my head hovering just over her shoulder as I rub large smooth circles on her back. “Don’t think about that anymore. Whatever you heard, whatever you saw…it wasn’t real. None of it was real, arasseo? You’re here, and you’re safe, and that’s what matters.”

 

“So was I there.” Her voice is thick from crying, muffled by the way she has now curled up against me. But even so, I hear the accusation in her tone. “So what if I was safe?” Her voice grows stronger, rising shrilly into a scream. “If it’s just me, and not the both of us, then what good does that do?!”

 

I take in a sharp breath. “Ya, Seol Nae Il–”

 

“You want to know why? Why, even in my nightmares, it’s you in trouble and not me?” Without waiting for a response, she answers her own question. “Because that’s what you’d do,” she blurts out vehemently. “That’s what you’d do, Orabang, and you know it!”

 

Look at you, Cha Yoo Jin: always the martyr.

 

Lee Yoon Hoo’s words from earlier tonight echo in my mind as I continue rubbing and patting Nae Il on the back, trying to convey through touch what I cannot say aloud.

 

“How?” she asks, finally starting to calm down. “How could someone be so cruel?”

 

At last, we’ve come to the crux of the problem.

 

“All those people at – at the Christmas market…they didn’t do anything wrong. They were just there to have fun, with – with their friends, and their families – maybe they were on a date, or…I don’t know, just something. They – they could have been anyone…they could have been us.

 

“They’re good people, Orabang – good and innocent people. So – so how could someone – he didn’t know them, and they didn’t know him…how could he do something like that?!”

 

My hand slows, then stops altogether. For a moment, the only sound is the loud thumping of my pulse in my ears.

What am I supposed to say to that?

 

Ultimately, I decide to go with the truth. “Mianhae, Nae Il-ah – I wish I knew, but I don’t. Sometimes, people are just cruel and wicked like that and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

 

Strangely, given Nae Il’s strong sense of curiosity, my response seems to satisfy her. She doesn’t ask again, choosing instead to nuzzle closer, shifting down to press her ear against my chest. At the sound of my heartbeat, she starts to relax; she lets out a deep sigh and she closes her eyes, one last pair of tears slowly trickling down her face.

 

I reach up with one hand and stroke the back of her head, gently combing her hair with my fingers until I feel that she is finally calm at last. Softly, I give her a nudge, prompting her to sit up straight again as I get out of her bed.

 

Nae Il’s eyes widen in alarm. “Where – where are you going, Orabang?”

 

I hold out one hand, palm facing downwards: the same gesture I use to command the orchestra members to stay in their seats. “Gwenchana, Nae Il-ah,” I answer. “Just stay here; I’ll be right back.”

 

Her eyes bore into my back as I turn to leave the room, but I ignore that as I cross over to the bathroom. I grab her washcloth from its hook by the shower and run it under hot water from the sink. Then, after wringing it out just enough that it won’t drip, I return to Nae Il’s room and hold it out to her.

 

“Here, Seollebal.” I screw up my face into a mock grimace – thankfully, it brings the small smile that I hoped for. “You look a mess right now.”

 

She takes the towel from me, bobbing her head in thanks. To my amusement, she simply opens it up and presses it to her face at first, but soon, she starts to vigorously scrub at the tear tracks on her cheeks.

 

I look on for just a moment before excusing myself once again. This time, I head for the kitchen, where I pour some milk in a saucepan and set it on the stove. As, slowly, it starts to warm up, I grab cinnamon and nutmeg from our spice cabinet and throw in a bit of each. Then, when the milk has started to foam up, but before it actually boils, I take it off the heat, stirring in some honey before carefully pouring the entire concoction into Nae Il’s mug.

 

Normally, I’d wash the pan right away, but just for tonight, I simply fill it with water and leave it to soak in the sink. She needs to drink this while it’s still hot.

 

Nae Il is already back in bed by the time I get back, her washcloth folded up neatly on the nightstand. She has left the light on, and I can see her eyes shining as I step over and set the mug down beside her.

 

“Drink this,” I tell her as she slowly sits back up again. “It’ll help you sleep.”

 

She takes the mug from me with a word of thanks. Her eyes light up as the warm smell of sweetened cinnamon floats up to her nose, and after she takes a careful sip, she smiles up at me.

 

“Do you like it?” I ask gently. “This,” I explain when she answers me with a nod and starts guzzling it down, “was what Eomma used to give me whenever I had a bad dream. It’s good, isn’t it?”

 

By this time, Nae Il has downed all of her milk; she sets the empty cup down on the nightstand with a contented sigh. “Ne, Orabang,” she says, burrowing under her blanket once again. “It’s really good. Komawoyo.”

 

“Well, I’m glad you like it.” I come right up beside her, leaning forward to look gently down into her eyes. One hand reaches out to pick up the mug; the other brushes her hair back from her forehead. “Now, get some sleep,” I say, bending down all the way to plant a soft kiss on her forehead. “It’s still a long way to go until morning.”

 

Nae Il nods at me as I straighten back up, her mouth pursing as she blows a kiss at me. But just when I’m about to leave, her hand reaches out and grabs mine, stopping me in my tracks.

 

I glance at her over my shoulder. “Wae?”

 

“Don’t go,” she whispers, eyes staring pleadingly up at me. “Just – just stay with me tonight, Orabang. Just this once.”

 

My mouth falls open. “Ya, Seollebal–”

 

“Jebal,” she pleads, her grip tightening on my hand. “Just this once.” Gulping nervously, she tears her eyes away, aiming them down at the floor beside the bed. “I…I know you wanted to wait until we were actually married, but….”

 

“But you’re scared to be alone right now,” I finish for her.

 

She nods. “I mean, I should be fine, but, you know…just in case.”

 

Seeing the earnest look on her face – eyes round and puppy-like, lips pressed together in her cutest pout – I concede with a sigh.

 

“Geu rae. Arasseo.” I step around Nae Il’s bed to the opposite side. “If you say so.” I flash a single pointing finger. “But only because we’re dealing with extenuating circumstances tonight – don’t make too much out of it, Seollebal.”

 

“Ne, ne,” she drawls back, snuggling further down under her blankets. “Whatever you say, Orabang.”

 

I shrug dismissively; Nae Il might not be convinced, but this is the most she’s going to get from me for the time being. Fortunately, I know from all those times we sat here chatting while preparing for her debut recital that her bed is wide enough for both of us, so I simply climb in without a word.

 

After peering over her shoulder to make sure that I’m actually settled, Nae Il reaches over and turns off the light. In an instant, both of us are plunged into darkness.

 

We’re no strangers to being in close proximity to each other anymore, but something about this – about us lying just inches apart in the same bed – still feels more intimate than anything we’ve done so far. Nae Il is lying on her side, her back facing me, so near that if I listened carefully, I could hear her every breath.

 

How easy it would be for me to touch her right now – to wrap my arms about her and bring her close. And my hand does reach out towards her with a mind of its own, until it stops, hovering, just an inch above her waist….

 

“You know, Orabang,” Nae Il blurts out, so suddenly that I jerk my hand back with a startled hiss, “you’d feel way less awkward about this if you’d just propose already.”

 

Hearing her start to stir, I hurriedly turn over so that now my back is facing her. “I – I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

Her laughter, given everything that’s happened tonight, is the most beautiful sound imaginable. “Aish….” She touches one hand to my shoulder, subtly nudging me until I finally relent and turn back around to face her. “Come on, Orabang,” she says softly, holding out one hand towards me. “You know you want to.”

 

I don’t need to be told twice. Our hands meet in the middle, fingers woven together in the space between us. As our palms touch, Nae Il lets out a giggle. She squeezes my hand mischievously, and when I answer in kind, she closes her eyes, a contented smile on her face.

 

Only after I am certain she has fallen back asleep, her breathing deep and slow and even, do I let myself do the same.

 

~~~~~

 

Nae Il let me sleep in the next morning, waiting until well past nine before coming to wake me with a cup of coffee. She made it stronger than usual, its bitterness a welcome jolt to my senses, but it was only when she sat down beside me with her own cup that she explained why:

 

“Yoon Hoo-sunbae emailed me last night,” she’d blurted out, her lips pursed into a firm pout, “so now I know everything. And here I was, worrying about whether I’d disturbed you last night.” She’d then shot me an exasperated look, shaking her head in dismay. “Baboya….”

 

And I didn’t have anything good to say to that.

 

Now, the two of us are in our music room, determined to get some work done before lunch. While Nae Il takes the piano, I am seated at my desk, my copy of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture spread out in front of me. It’s one of the pieces that will figure in my half of our programme for the upcoming Rising Star concert in February, so I have been working steadily through the score: listening to one recording after another, making notes directly on the sheet music as my own interpretation slowly takes shape.

 

I have my head down, eyes focused on the score with headphones covering my ears – a habit I’ve developed so that Nae Il and I could both work without disturbing each other – so I don’t notice that she’s stopped playing until she actually comes over and claps once right in front of my face.

 

Startled, I hurriedly stop the music playing on my phone, taking off my headphones and setting them down on the score. “What is it, Nae Il-ah?” I ask. “You’re hungry already?”

 

She shakes her head, her eyes closed as she turns slightly from side to side, like she has some song stuck in there. “Aniyo,” she answers in a sing-song voice.

 

I bite back an exasperated sigh. “Then what is it?” I gesture down at the score. “You know I don’t like being interrupted.”

 

Her eyes fly back open. “Arayo,” she replies promptly, an earnest expression on her face. “But I just thought I’d tell you.” She gestures back at the piano. “It’s done.”

 

My eyes narrow skeptically. “What’s done?”

 

“My transcription.”

 

“I thought you finished that one a while ago,” I retort.

 

She bursts into giggles. “Not the Tchaikovsky, idiot!” Her eyes start dancing in knowing mischief. “I did this one just now – don’t you want to hear it?”

 

One corner of my mouth twitches up in a smirk. “Well, of course I do,” I answer promptly, pushing my chair back so I could stand up. As she sits back down at the bench and I move to stand behind her, I add drily, “And you’re certainly feeling better now, seeing as you’re actually mocking me.”

 

“Of course!” she answers eagerly, smoothing out her skirt with both hands before resting them lightly on the keys. “There’s nothing like music to make me feel better after a bad day – or night, for that matter.” She darts a glance at me over her shoulder. “Are you ready?”

 

“Mm.”

 

The thing about Nae Il’s transcriptions is that, while she is working on them, she never actually writes them out. So, in principle, any new transcription she is showing me would be a surprise. However, this time, she is so giddy, wriggling excitedly in her seat, a self-satisfied smirk on her face, that I figure it out before she could even begin.

 

“Ya, Seollebal,” I laugh as she starts to play a light skipping dance melody, confirming my guess. “You’re absolutely incorrigible.”

 

“Ara,” she answers breezily, not even skipping a beat in her rendition of the Ländler from The Sound of Music. “I know I am. But you know what Maria says in the movie, right? That one should focus on one’s favourite things when they’ve been feeling sad – and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

 

The melody is pretty, catchy in its simplicity: as easily sung as a child’s nursery rhyme, its triple meter suggesting a playful prancing step. It draws me in, slowly, inexorably – before I even realize I have moved, I’m standing beside her as my right hand starts to follow along:

 

ONE-two-three…ONE-two-three….

 

Soon, much too soon, the dance comes to its natural end, Nae Il’s fingers slowing until the melody fades into silence. Glancing at my hand out of the corner of her eye, she then turns to look up at me with a warm smile.

 

“What did I tell you, Orabang?” she asks coyly. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

 

“Mm,” I concede. When she scoots over to the side, I sit down to join her. “It’s quite nice.”

 

She braces her hands on her knees, her head tilted slightly to one side as she pivots around to face me. “And do you know the dance that goes with it?”

 

I purse my lips in thought, trying to cast my mind back. Now that she mentions it….

 

“Ne,” I answer at length. “I think so.”

 

Nae Il brightens. “Jinjjayo?” she gasps, clasping her hands together in glee. “You really know it?”

 

“Not well,” I say hurriedly, throwing up my hands in defense. “I mean, I’d know it if I saw it, but….”

 

“But you can’t dance it?” she asks coyly.

 

“Well, about that….”

 

“You can?!”

 

“Ya, Seollebal,” I stammer out hurriedly, “don’t get ahead of yourself. It was all a long time ago!”

 

But it’s too late. Without another word, Nae Il grabs onto my hand and scrambles out of her seat, pulling me along with her all the way to the opposite end of our apartment. She flings me loose as we stumble into the living room, but only so that she could dash over to the coffee table.

 

“And just what do you think you’re doing?” I ask teasingly as she bends over at the waist and grabs hold of it by the edge.

 

“What else do you think?” she quips back, refusing my offer to help her as she half-waddles-half-drags the table over to one side of the room. “I’m making a dance floor.”

 

My jaw drops. “Ya, Seollebal, you can’t seriously–”

 

“Come on, Orabang,” she whines as, finally satisfied with the table’s placement, she prances to the centre of the space she has made. “Show me!”

 

I stare at her, incredulous. “And how the hell do you expect me to remember something from more than ten years ago?”

 

“How do you remember a piano piece you did ten years ago?” she retorts, hands planted firmly on her hips. “Even if your mind has forgotten, your body still remembers – you just have to let it.

 

“But,” she concedes at last, reaching into a pocket in her skirt to retrieve her phone, “if it makes you feel any better, we could have a look first.”

 

It doesn’t take Nae Il long to find a clip from the dance on YouTube. As we watch it together, I peering over her shoulder, a secret ghost of a smile forms on my face.

 

I may not have watched all of The Sound of Music – nor do I want to. But this was one of the few scenes I had seen when I was little, and it had easily edged out all the others as my favourite.

 

Perhaps it’s because, unlike other depictions of Austrian culture, this was decently accurate. In truth, “Ländler” refers not to one folk dance but many, each with its own unique set of intricate turns, holds and figures – the version in the movie actually makes reference to several of them.

 

But more than that, it’s perhaps because I have always been drawn to dance. Here in Austria, dance holds a special place as the art of expressing music through movement. How many times had I, as a child, found myself skipping or sliding down the street in time with some melody that only I could hear? How often had I stopped in my tracks at the sound of a street musician, watching in silent awe until I started swaying with the beat? Even Maestro Viera had commented on it: the way my hands would flick in time with the orchestra he was conducting, or my feet would tap along while I sat at the piano.

 

For years, I hadn’t been able to indulge. The teaching I got from Abeoji and Professor Do had focused far more on technical accuracy than expression and enjoyment. But now that I’m here, in Salzburg, with Nae Il beside me…why not?

 

So when she offers me her hand, I don’t hesitate.

 

Our first attempt is a mess. My memory of the dance’s intricate figures – which I had learned for a school performance in my childhood – is still rusty; it’s Nae Il’s first time altogether; and even with the cleared space, our living room is simply too small for dancing. More times than we could count, we end up with our arms awkwardly tangled together, or stumbling sideways to collapse laughing on the couch.

 

Or, in one rather painful instance, right into the corner of the coffee table itself.

 

As I sit back up, reaching back with my hand to massage the shoulder onto which I’d landed, Nae Il winces in sympathy and scrambles out of the room. Moments later, she returns, an icepack in one hand and our first aid kit in the other. She brusquely brushes my hand away and orders me to take off both my sweater and the buttoned shirt underneath, leaving me entirely exposed as she kneels down behind me to inspect the slowly darkening bruise.

 

Fortunately, she doesn’t comment on my nakedness, nor does she stop me from holding my shirt up to my chest in attempts to cover myself. Instead, Nae Il is all business: pressing the ice-cold compress to my shoulder, barking for me to keep still when I flinch.

 

Moments later, she removes the icepack, switching gears to treating the bruise with medicated ointment. She rubs it firmly into my skin; I can feel its radiating warmth spreading across my back. I take in a deep breath, basking in its comforting herbal smell.

 

“Komawo, Nae Il-ah.”

 

She goes still, caught by surprise; but then, after what sounds to me like a shrug, she resumes the massage. “No problem. I’m going to be doing this more often from now on. After all, Orabang, it’s only fair; I should be doing as much to take care of you as you do for me.”

 

“Mm,” I agree with a nod. “If that’s what you want.”

 

“It is,” she replies promptly. But then, a split second later, she murmurs, “Mianhaeyo, Orabang. I guess I’m not a very good dancer.”

 

“Gwenchana.” With a fond smile, I reach out my hand over the injured shoulder. Recognizing my gesture as a movement from the dance, she promptly takes hold of my proffered hand, at which point I give it a reassuring squeeze.

 

“Don’t worry, Nae Il-ah,” I say in the companionable silence that follows. “The waltz is easier.”

 

~~~~~

 

Over the sound of rushing water, I can just manage to make out Nae Il’s voice. She is singing in the shower, the sound – bright and merry and just a bit out of tune – reverberating loudly in the confined space of the bathroom, and even out through the door all the way to my room.

 

A relieved smile tugs at the corner of my lips as I recognize the melody. We’d just been playing Rachmaninoff’s Polka Italienne earlier today, so it’s no wonder that she now has its infectiously sprightly melody stuck in her head.

 

All things considered, today has gone quite well, with both Nae Il and I trying our best to keep each other’s minds off last night’s events. Together, we’ve done just about anything we could imagine: working, mangling our way through the Ländler, doing somewhat better at the waltz, making a couple dozen Linzer cookies at her insistence, playing the most light-hearted four-handed pieces we knew. Then it had been time to prepare and eat dinner, followed by the washing up.

 

But then, when I’d found myself entirely alone for the first time today, it had all come slowly creeping back: the images we saw on the news, the terrified look on Nae Il’s face as she described the nightmare that had been so horrible she’d literally woken up screaming my name.

 

My heart had clenched somewhere deep inside my chest at the thought; my breath had lodged somewhere in my throat, unable to go all the way down to my lungs.

 

Desperate, like a man drowning, I latch on to the music that now pours out to me. I close my eyes, so hard that I could feel my forehead crease in effort, as I focus all my concentration on listening, on conducting – flicking my wrist along with the beat. By sheer force of will, my breath eventually pushes past the blockage, flooding my entire chest and abdomen with life-giving oxygen.

 

In and out…in and out….

 

An insistent beeping breaks into my consciousness. Muttering a curse, I crack my eyes open and shoot a sideways glare at the offender: my cell phone on the nightstand.

 

“What now?” I mutter to myself as, half-heartedly, I reach out to grab it. However, one look at the name written on the display has me scrambling to take the call.

 

“Na?” I drawl out as I get up from my seat on the bed, stepping out into the hallway. “Talk to me – what’ve you got?”

 

Like me, my friend Muhammed jumps straight to business. “It was ISIS.” He pauses as, I imagine, his face screws up in disgust. “Again.”

 

“Again?” I gasp, parking myself at a spot just inside of our foyer. Shaking my head in disbelief, I lean back against the wall, one arm crossed loosely across my stomach. “Scheisse.”

 

“‘Scheisse’ indeed,” he echoes grimly. I hear him sigh heavily. “Honestly, Yoo Jin, I don’t know why I even bother checking these things anymore.”

 

“Mm,” I concede with a grim nod of my own.

 

“Because let’s be real,” he goes on. “Whether or not ISIS has anything to do with what happened last night, they’re still going to claim the attacker as one of theirs. So long as some ‘damned infidels’ died,” he drawls sarcastically, his voice dripping with a level of hatred that I’ve never seen or heard from him before, “it’s a win-win for them.

 

“But that doesn’t make things any easier for all the rest of us normal law-abiding Muslims who are left to clean up their mess.”

 

My lips purse into a thin line as, for a second time, I nod grimly to myself. “I take it things are bad up there?”

 

“Not as bad as they could be,” Muhammed answers. “Thank goodness I’m from Frankfurt; I don’t want to think about what it’d be like to be in Berlin right now.

 

“You know,” he adds after a moment’s pause, “I know I’d said before that seeing you and others drunk was plenty of reason not to drink, but…but now I can see why you do.”

 

I take in a cautious breath. “Muhammed….”

 

“Wouldn’t that be great?” he presses on. I doubt he actually is drunk, but his tone is so tired, so weary, that he might as well be. “To be able to forget everything and act like none of this even matters – even if just for a moment.”

 

Something about the way he says that last bit gives me pause. “Alright. Quit stalling. What do you want?”

 

He pauses for a moment, as though trying to find the right words, but eventually it comes out: “Yoo Jin…help this Oppa out for a moment.”

 

I roll my eyes despite myself. Of all the possible times to test out random Korean words! “I believe,” I retort wryly, “the word you’re looking for is ‘Hyung’.”

 

“Nein,” he barks back drily, “I’m pretty sure I mean ‘Oppa’ – because it’s about Fatima.”

 

It takes me a moment to recognize the name, but once I do, I gasp in understanding. Muhammed, whose parents came from somewhere in the Middle East – I never asked where exactly – is the eldest of his siblings, and the only son. Like any older brother should, he dotes on his numerous younger sisters; but Fatima, the youngest at only sixteen, is the especial apple of his eye.

 

If Muhammed’s speaking about his sister with such a tone of voice, it can’t be good.

 

I take a deep breath to brace myself. “Go on.”

 

“Well,” he says at length, “you know how….How should I put it? Let’s just say that it’s been a bad year.”

 

“Ja,” I agree. From all the times Muhammed has either called me or met up with me in person to rant about this very thing, I know that such attacks in Germany have been on a rise.

 

“And you know that my family moved house last summer.”

 

“Mm.”

 

“So this past fall, Fatima’s been going to a new school, and….” He hesitates. “And….”

 

At this rate, he’s not going to get to the point unless I prompt him. “Did something happen?”

 

“Well, the thing is – you know how it is, when you’re just starting off someplace new and everyone already knows everyone else, but….” I hear him taking in a deep breath, as though deciding to just take the plunge. “She’s being bullied.”

 

I tense up, hissing in alarm.

 

“Look, Yoo Jin,” he explains hastily, “I didn’t know about this. Not until now, when I got home for Christmas break; Fatima had sworn everyone else to secrecy, but one thing led to another, and it just came out all at once.

 

“Apparently there’s this group of boys in her class, and I guess some of all that ‘alt-right’ rhetoric has gone to their heads.” His voice grows more agitated. “They’ve – they’ve been tailing her for weeks, on the way to and from school: taunting her, calling her names.” He pauses for a moment. “You don’t need me to tell you what, right?”

 

I shake my head. “Nein.” I’ve heard enough of Muhammed’s own experiences with this sort of thing that I could at least guess. “Go on.”

 

“At first she tried to just ignore them.” I hear a short sardonic laugh. “‘Just hold your head up high and keep walking,’” he says, a hint of indulgent pride in his voice. “That’s what I always told her to do; it helped me, after all.

 

“But these guys, they weren’t having it. The insults kept getting worse: harsher, more vitriolic…even obscene. And then, one day, they got physical.”

 

Once again, I feel it: my heart skipping a beat, my breath catching in my throat.

 

By “physical,” he couldn’t possibly mean….

 

“They cornered her in the schoolyard – I don’t know how. And while a couple of the guys held her down, one grabbed her hijab and ripped it right off her head.”

 

Hearing it now, I feel an enormous rush of relief. I let out a deep sigh; I can start breathing again.

 

But then, in response to my reaction, I hear Muhammed click his tongue in dismay.

 

“Scheisse – you have no idea what any of this means, do you.”

 

What is there to know? I’m aware that he’s referring to the distinctive headscarf that many Muslim girls wear when out in public, so any attempt to snatch that from Fatima would automatically be an invasion of her private or personal space. But she wasn’t injured, so it couldn’t possibly have been that bad. And besides, Nae Il hadn’t seemed to mind when someone had grabbed her hat during the Krampuslauf, so….

 

“I know what you’re thinking,” Muhammed says at length. “It’s just a scarf, so what’s the big deal? Well, let me put it this way,” he growls out through gritted teeth. “You know how Nae Il likes to dress rather modestly, right? Now imagine that a bunch of guys surrounded her and ripped her shirt open.”

 

It all sinks in in an instant. My jaw drops and my blood runs cold. “Was?”

 

“All because,” he presses on, refusing to let me break away, “all because this is a ‘free country’ and she should be able to expose herself without worrying what you – ja, you, Cha Yoo Jin – think about it.”

 

“Was?!”

 

The cry bursts out before I could hold it back, reverberating in the space around me. From the bathroom, I hear a startled splash before the water abruptly turns off, leaving me standing in a stunned silence just as loud as my shout had been.

Biting back a curse, I close my eyes, my free hand reaching up to pinch the bridge of my nose.

 

Damn. Nae Il’s heard us.

 

Muhammed, unaware of what’s just happened, keeps on going, as though now that he’s started, he is unable to stop. “Let that sink in for a moment: my little sister – the sweetest and kindest girl I know – was sexually assaulted, and those” – he growls out something that I can only assume is an Arabic curse – “actually thought they were doing her a favour.”

 

The bathroom door clicks open; I turn to glance at it just as Nae Il scurries out. She’s in her pajamas, but is holding her towel in her hands, her sopping wet hair dripping water onto her shoulders. I don’t know how I must look at this point, but whatever my expression is, it seems to alarm her. Her eyes widen and she opens her mouth to say something, but I immediately gesture for her to keep quiet before beckoning her closer.

 

In response to one hand tugging on my sleeve, I hold out my phone so Nae Il could see Muhammed’s name on the screen. Then, as she, with a satisfied nod, starts vigorously drying her hair with the towel, I turn my attention back to our conversation, my voice tight. “So what does this have to do with us?”

 

“Here’s the thing,” he answers. “I’ll be coming back to Salzburg early – and I’m bringing Fatima with me.”

 

I’m not sure what I was expecting his response to be, but this wasn’t it. “Was?”

 

“I wasn’t going to at first,” he hurriedly explains. “Fatima was shaken by the experience; for the first few days, she was even too afraid to step outside and had to be kept home from school. But thanks to Allah – by the time I got home, she’d already gotten over it for the most part and was willing to think rationally about it. We’ve decided to report the incident to the school once classes resume in January, so we’re all hoping that the admin will intervene; if no-one else, her teacher seems to be a reasonable person and will likely take her side.

 

“But that,” he continues, his voice suddenly going grim again, “was all before yesterday.”

 

“Point.”

 

“What can I say?” Muhammed asks. “With the way things are right now, I just want to get her out of Germany for a while.”

 

Even though he won’t be able to see it, one eyebrow quirks up in skepticism. “And you think Austria’s any better?”

 

“Not necessarily,” he answers promptly. “But you two are.”

 

I peer out of the corner of my eye at Nae Il, making her stop and blink up at me in curiosity. “What do you mean?”

 

“Fatima’s been wanting to meet you for a while,” he explains. “So I used that as my excuse for bringing her here for Christmas.”

 

I let out a short scoffing laugh. “You’re saying it like we’re celebrities or something.”

 

Nae Il, having no idea what any of this is about, blinks up at me in confusion; but much to my relief, Muhammed finally manages a laugh of his own. “It does, doesn’t it?” he admits sheepishly. “But that’s my little sister for you – just mention anything vaguely Korean and she’ll come running over.”

 

~~~~~

 

“Ya, Seollebal – just what on earth do you think you’re doing?”

 

Startled at my voice behind her, Nae Il whirls around in the middle of our kitchen, a bottle of wine cradled in each arm. For one heart-stopping moment, her stockinged feet slip and slide on the tiled floor; but fortunately, she manages to regain her balance before disaster strikes.

 

“Or-Orabang!” she finally yelps out. “What are you doing here?”

 

“That’s what I’m asking,” I say as, taking several swift strides towards her, I firmly take both bottles from her. Gripping each one by the neck, I brandish them both in her direction. “What’s all this?”

 

Nae Il’s mouth opens slightly, but nothing comes out until, with a bemused shake of the head, I place both bottles back on the counter.

 

“Well, you see, Orabang…you know how Muhammed and Fatima are coming over today, right?”

 

I turn around to face her, arms crossed casually in front of my chest. “Mm.”

 

“And you know how Muslims don’t drink…right?”

 

“Geu rae.”

 

“It’s been so long since we’ve had guests over,” she gushes, “and I really want us to be the best hosts that we could be. And so….” She breaks eye contact, glancing down somewhere at the floor beside me as she shifts from one foot to the other. “So…so I thought that, well….”

 

“You thought,” I retort drily, “that you should get rid of the wine first – before they could come in and see it.”

 

Nae Il’s eyes widen and her lips press together into her most puppyish pout as she nods. I, for my part, simply stare at her, incredulous.

 

“Ya, Seollebal,” I gasp out. “You…you seriously….”

 

It starts slowly: a deep rumbling chuckle somewhere in my chest that, for her sake, I try to suppress. But soon it grows stronger and stronger until finally, I burst out laughing.

 

Fortunately, rather than being offended, Nae Il cracks a relieved smile. “Wae?” she asks. “What’s so funny?”

 

“Nothing,” I answer. “Just….” Stepping right up to her, I cup one hand to the back of her head before pulling her close. “Trust you to come up with something like that, Seollebal,” I murmur as I stroke her hair.

 

Nae Il responds with a hug of her own, reaching out now to wrap her arms around my waist. But soon, she steps back, head tilted back to peer up into my eyes. “So can I do it, then?”

 

I chuckle a second time, switching from stroking her hair to ruffling it. “Baboya – you don’t need to.”

 

Finally, she seems to get it. Her mouth opens slightly as she nods in understanding.

 

“Well, then. That’s settled.” I bend down to place both bottles back in the wine cooler next to the refrigerator. “By the way, just where the hell were you planning on hiding these?”

 

She hesitates for a moment before answering sheepishly, “Your room.”

 

I round on her with a jolt. “Mwo?”

 

“More specifically: your wardrobe.”

 

My jaw drops. It takes me several rounds of opening and closing my mouth like a fish in mute astonishment before, finally, I turn my back on her, throwing my hands up in mock exasperation.

 

“Geu rae,” I bark out sarcastically as I march briskly outside toward the bedrooms. “Just go with the option that makes me out to be some sort of alcoholic, why don’t you.”

 

Nae Il’s pattering footsteps follow close behind me. “Come on, Orabang – it’s not like they’d actually know.”

 

I come to a halt, just shy of the threshold to our music room. “But I’d know – and how do you think that makes me feel?”

 

For a long moment, neither of us says anything, but then Nae Il closes the gap between us, her arms wrapping around my waist. “You’re right, Orabang,” she says softly, her face pressed somewhere into my back. “Mianhaeyo; I didn’t think of that.”

 

I reach down and unclasp her hands, but only so that I could turn around to face her. “Gwenchana.” Once again, I stroke her on the back of the head with one hand. “You meant well, and that’s what matters.”

 

Ever since we both agreed to this visit, Nae Il has been in a frenzy of preparations. Not even when her own parents came over for her debut recital last spring had she been so determined to get everything just right. For once, she actually volunteered to help me with the housework, working to clean and polish everything to a shine. At the same time, after convincing Muhammed to give her Fatima’s number in advance, she’s been calling the younger girl every single day, the two of them conjuring up an endless stream of possible activities and pastimes for this weekend.

 

“Now,” I say at last, taking a step back to look her up and down, “is there anything else we need to do? You’re the one who made the plans, after all.”

 

Nae Il taps her chin with one finger as she thinks, humming softly to herself as she shifts from side to side. “Nothing much, Orabang,” she answers eventually. “Just…could you grab the decorations? You know, for the Christmas tree.”

 

I shoot her a look, one eyebrow raised knowingly. “So you two have agreed to go ahead?”

 

“Mm.” She nods, triumph flashing on her face. “Fatima said that she and Muhammed talked their parents into letting them.”

 

I let out a short laugh. “Geu rae?”

 

“Why else didn’t I ask for us to set it up last night?” she retorts. “Come on, Orabang,” she chides me teasingly, sharply prodding me in the chest with her finger, “use your head.”

 

My jaw drops. “Ya, Seollebal–”

 

But she’s already gone, sauntering off into her room and shutting the door, leaving me standing awkwardly by myself. For a moment, I am tempted to chase after her, but then, thinking better of it, I simply allow myself a helpless shrug.

 

If that’s how she wants to play this game, then so be it.

 

It’s no wonder that Nae Il’s asked me to take charge of the Christmas ornaments. With the limited storage space that we have in our apartment, we’ve had to resort to shoving the large cardboard box of decorations up on the top shelf of a cabinet in our music room. Slowly, supporting it on the bottom with one hand, I slide the box out just enough for me to grab hold of it with the other hand and pull it out all the way.

 

I’m in the middle of carrying the box to the living room when a flash of colour on Nae Il’s door stops me in my tracks. Backtracking to peer closely at the sheet of colourful stationery paper she has taped up there, my jaw drops when I read the message she has hastily scrawled on it in German:

 

No boys allowed (that includes you, Cha Yoo Jin)!

 

For a long moment, I could only gape helplessly at the sign. But then, knowing that she’s still inside, I give the door a swift impulsive kick.

 

“Ya, Seollebal – jinjja?!”

 

~~~~~

 

The first thing I notice about Fatima is her eyes: large and sparkling, the same dark brown as her brother’s, framed by thick lashes and black liner….

 

And opened so wide that they’re nearly popping out of their sockets.

 

Smiling and giving a slight nod in greeting, I step back from the threshold to our apartment, still holding our door open in invitation. But she simply stands there in the corridor, frozen in open-mouthed awe.

 

Darting my eyes sideways, I shoot Muhammed a questioning glance over her shoulder. He, in turn, just manages to smother a snort of laughter before thrusting the paper takeout bag he is holding into her hands.

 

“Don’t even think about it,” he chides her teasingly. Gripping loosely onto her shoulders, he steers her around me into the foyer. “You’re here to see his girlfriend, remember?”

 

She keeps staring at me, though, turning her head to peer over her shoulder. “But…but…” she stammers to him in hushed tones, “he really does look like just like him.”

 

I have absolutely no clue whom I’m being compared to at this point, but it doesn’t matter. Fatima’s earnest expression is so much like Nae Il’s that now I’m the one who’s forced to hold back a laugh, raising one hand to my mouth to keep it in.

 

Muhammed, for his part, shakes his head ruefully in my direction. “You’d think she’s never seen a man before,” he whispers.

 

Fatima shrugs free from his grip and rounds on him. “Well, obviously you wouldn’t get it,” she quips back breezily. “You’re a guy!” Her hair might be covered by a printed scarf, but the way she tosses her head conveys just as much sass as if she had flicked it over her shoulder anyway.

 

He opens his mouth to give some sort of retort, but before any of us could say anything, Nae Il bursts out from the living room. Both girls greet each other loudly, Fatima just remembering to hold the paper bag out to me before Nae Il pounces on her with her usual welcome hug.

 

“Our lunch order,” Muhammed says, gesturing to the bag. “As promised.”

 

Nae Il, naturally, perks up at the mention of food. She joins me as I open the bag to peer inside, standing up on tiptoes to get a glimpse herself before peering back over her shoulder. “Is that Pommes Boutique?”

 

“Of course,” Muhammed answers with a careless shrug. “It’s what you asked for, isn’t it?”

 

“Only because you like it,” I quip back. A halal-certified burger chain with a branch just across the street from the Mozarteum, Pommes Boutique is one of few options near campus where Muhammed can order whatever he wants. He was the one who introduced it to us last year; and we have since met up there so many times that we all have our clear preferences from the menu.

 

Suddenly, Nae Il lunges for the bag itself, yanking it down to face-level so she could take an appreciative sniff.

 

“Ya, Seollebal,” I chide her teasingly, “what are you doing?”

 

“Smelling it,” she answers promptly before burying her face back inside. “It’s so good….”

 

Biting back a laugh, I snatch the bag away, holding it up out of her reach when she whines in protest. “Well, rather than smelling it,” I quip back, “shouldn’t we actually get to eating it?”

 

Just as expected, Nae Il promptly perks back up. Quickly excusing herself, she skips off into the kitchen to fetch some plates. Only after I have watched her go do I notice the looks the others are giving me, and I feel the blood rush up to my face once I understand why.

 

“Sorry,” I stammer hurriedly, “I didn’t mean to leave you two out.”

 

Muhammed snickers, so used already to the times when Nae Il and I have lapsed into Korean in his hearing that he now simply laughs at my discomfiture. But it’s Fatima who catches my eye as, holding her backpack firmly by the straps so it doesn’t slip, she bends over at the waist.

 

“Annyeonghaseyo.”

 

One single word. That’s all it takes to break the ice. As Fatima straightens up from her bow, I offer her a warm smile; immediately, she brightens, flashing a grin at me in thanks.

 

~~~~~

 

“Aw….” Fatima holds up her hand, a brass ornament in the shape of a French horn dangling from the crook of her index finger. “This is so cute! Where’d you get it?”

 

Nae Il glances at it. “Oh, that one?” She turns back to focus on the silver ribbon in her hands as she ties it into a bow on one of the branches on our Christmas tree. “We got it last year, at the Christkindlmarkt. Actually, that goes for all of them.” Finishing the bow with one last tug, she looks over at me. “Isn’t that right, Orabang?”

 

“Why are you even asking me?” I grumble back, half as much at the jumbled mass of tangled Christmas lights arrayed on the floor in front of me as at her. With both girls already wedged into the corner with the tree, I’ve been left with the more tedious task of untangling them. “You already answered the damned question yourself.”

 

Nae Il leans in closer to Fatima, shielding her mouth with one hand as she whispers in the other girl’s ear. I can’t make out everything she says, but something about a “grumpy cat” does drift back to me as both girls dissolve into giggles once again.

 

I bristle up defiantly. “Ya, Seollebal,” I begin before switching back to German, “are you mocking me now?”

 

Muhammed nudges me in the shoulder from his spot behind me on the couch. “Just leave them to it,” he says breezily. “Girls are like that.”

 

“Shut up,” I mutter back. “You’re not helping. And speaking of which” – I turn and give him an accusing look up and down – “what on earth do you think you’re doing?”

 

He answers with a casual shrug, leaning back in his seat as he crosses one leg on top of the other. “I’m supervising, of course.”

 

I shoot him a deadpan glare. “In my house.”

 

“Why not?”

 

Of course, I know that Muhammed, being the oldest out of the four of us, is simply teasing me in his usual way. But that doesn’t stop me from rearing halfway up out of my seat on the floor with a clenched fist anyway. “Ya!”

 

“Alright, guys – that’s enough!” Nae Il calls over brightly, bringing us both to a halt with her sing-song schoolteacher’s voice. But what really brings the blood rushing up to my face is what I catch her murmuring to Fatima next:

 

“And that is what boys are like.”

 

My jaw drops as I round on her. “Ya, Seollebal – how on earth is that fair?!”

 

Rather than answer me directly, Nae Il gestures down at the lights. “How are those coming along?”

 

I hunker down cross-legged on the floor, returning to the task at hand. “It could be better,” I mutter to her through gritted teeth. “Honestly, Nae Il: how the hell did you put these back last year? Next time, I’m doing it.”

 

All this time, Fatima has been completely focused on putting up one ornament after another on the Christmas tree, which is growing more ornate by the minute. Now, however, she pauses to glance quizzically between Nae Il and me. “By the way…what’s up with this whole ‘Orabang’ thing?” Her mouth presses into a confused pout. “I thought that, like, in Korea, girls called their boyfriends ‘Oppa’. At least that’s, like, what I’ve seen in dramas.”

 

Nae Il and I exchange glances; I gesture for her to go ahead. “They do. But, you see, I’m actually from Jeju-do; people talk differently there.”

 

“Ah....So, like how people from, like, Germany or Austria or Switzerland use different dialects?” she asks, glancing back at her brother for confirmation.

 

“Exactly,” I answer. “You can think of it that way. So where a girl on the mainland would say ‘Oppa’, someone from Jeju – like Nae Il – might say ‘Orabang’ instead.”

 

“Now, not all Jeju girls use dialect like that anymore,” Nae Il adds hastily, “but I do. I like calling Yoo Jin ‘Orabang,’ just as a nickname; no-one does that in Seoul, so it’s just something special for the two of us.”

 

Understanding blossoms on Fatima’s face, and she nods with a word of thanks.

 

We settle back into our respective jobs, letting the music playing on my phone – Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, at Nae Il’s request – take over in place of conversation. Some minutes – and muttered curses – later, I finally manage to sort out the Christmas lights, and I pass them up to Nae Il, who begins winding the string around the tree. And, after a sharp smack on the knee from me, Muhammed finally joins in, rifling through the boxes of ornaments to choose which ones should go up next.

 

Nae Il, as usual, is the one to break the silence.

 

“You know,” she says, as she hangs up a red glass bauble, “I still can’t believe you two have never done this before.”

 

Muhammed and Fatima exchange glances. “Well, to be completely honest,” he begins, choosing to answer for both of them, “our family has wanted to have its own Christmas tree for a while. Our parents are liberal like that.”

 

“Oh?” Nae Il glances over at them, intrigued. “So why haven’t you?”

 

“Because,” Fatima cuts in, “there’re a ton of people at our mosque who don’t like the idea of doing anything that’s not completely ‘Muslim’. I’m sure that, like, our parents wouldn’t mind, but….” Her face twists into a disgusted grimace. “People talk. And none of us wanted our parents to be the ones gossiped about over coffee.”

 

When Nae Il gives Muhammed a questioning look, he affirms his sister’s words with a nod. “It’s true. The way our parents see it, so long as we’re not literally praying to Jesus or Mary or whatever, there’s nothing innately wrong with the trappings of Christmas – especially if it helps us fit in better.”

 

Nae Il’s eyes widen, and she snaps her fingers in the air as she turns to Fatima. “Like your new blog, then?”

 

Where Muhammed’s passion lies in music, Fatima’s is in fashion. With a growing demand from Muslim and non-Muslim girls alike for more modest interpretations of current trends, her dream, from what she’d told us during lunch, is to ultimately become a fashion designer. Like her brother, though, Fatima is no dreamer. Already, she has a thriving Instagram account to her name, and has recently expanded into a full-scale blog with a small but loyal following of like-minded girls. We’d spent much of our lunch going through both sites: huddled around Nae Il as she scrolled through the photos on her phone. Both girls, it turns out, have similar styles: innocent and girlish, featuring skirts that reach at least to the knees, cozy sweaters, and cutely whimsical colours and patterns.

 

Fatima now beams proudly at Nae Il, affirming her guess with a single nod. “I love what you guys have got in Korea,” she says, gesturing to her own outfit in demonstration: a dark loose-fitting dress with shoulder straps worn over a white sweater, much like what I’ve seen in Seoul. “Especially the tops.” She tugs at her collar for emphasis, before ruefully adding, “Can do without the super-short skirts, though.”

 

As Nae Il chuckles in sympathy – she’s complained to me about much the same before – Fatima goes on. “So even though I can’t, like, fly over and buy some stuff on my own, I do, like, try to copy it here…you know? Which is why, now that we’re, like, on the subject….” She trails off, biting her bottom lip in thought, before once again looking Nae Il directly in the eye. “Would you like to do a collab with me this weekend?”

 

Nae Il’s eyes widen in surprise. “Eh?”

 

“You know how we’re going to the Christkindlmarkt tomorrow?” When Nae Il nods, Fatima goes on. “Well, I’m thinking of, like, doing a photo shoot or something – and I was wondering if you’d like to help out. It’d be nice to have someone else and not just me for a change. You know, modelling two outfits instead of just one.”

 

After just a moment’s thought, Nae Il readily agrees; as we finish up with the last of the Christmas tree decorations, both girls chat excitedly about possible plans. Finally, we come to the last piece: the gold star topper. Muhammed holds it out to Nae Il, but she declines with a shake of her head, gesturing for him to give it to me instead.

 

We switch places: I taking Nae Il’s spot by the tree as she curls up on the floor in front of the couch. Wordlessly, I place the star on the tree before reaching into my trouser pocket for the small remote I’d secreted there. As the lights flicker on, reflecting off the brass ornaments and glass baubles in a shimmering display, the others burst into applause.

 

~~~~~

 

“Of all the possible ideas that Seol Nae Il could get in her head, why of all things did it have to be this?”

 

Muhammed, seated on the piano bench, stops his idle pressing of the keys and glances up at me, eyes wide. “Why’re you asking me?” he retorts. “She’s your girlfriend – not mine.”

 

Closing my eyes in exasperation, I rest my head back against the cabinet door with a sigh. “Trust you to say something like that….”

 

Although I can’t see him, I feel his steady gaze on me all the same.

 

“Well, if it were up to me,” he says eventually, “my guess is that she’s doing it out of solidarity.”

 

My eyes crack open. “‘Solidarity’?” I let out a scoffing laugh. “Is this even allowed?”

 

“What – a non-Muslim girl wearing hijab?” he quips back. “Of course it’s allowed.” His eyes narrow slightly. “Why? Is something wrong with that?”

 

“Nein.”

 

Muhammed shoots me a questioning look. Clearly, he could see through just how hastily I had answered that.

 

“What I mean is,” I move to explain, “there’s…there’s nothing wrong with that….” My voice grows soft. “Not technically, anyway.”

 

His head dips in a curt nod. “But…?”

 

“Look,” I burst out, “you said it yourself: wearing a head covering like that immediately marks you out.” One arm sweeps urgently through the air. “Even if Nae Il isn’t actually Muslim, people will assume she is, and–”

 

I stop myself short at the harsh glare Muhammed sends me, his arms crossed in front of his chest. He raises an eyebrow in challenge. “You want to say that again, Cha Yoo Jin?”

 

“Alright, alright,” I stammer back, raising that same hand in surrender. “Sorry.” When his look doesn’t soften, I turn myself away abruptly, pacing back and forth along the length of our music room, my hand now reaching up to grasp my temples.

 

“Look, Muhammed,” I begin. “You know I didn’t mean it like that. If I’d actually had any issue with you or your faith, wouldn’t I have said so already?” He answers with a noncommittal grunt, giving me the courage to press on. “What I mean is…you know Nae Il. Once she’s convinced that doing something will help someone, she’s all over it, with no thought whatsoever for consequences.”

 

I stop and turn to face him. “Fatima said so herself yesterday, when Nae Il first brought this up: when she puts on the hijab, she’s got her own conviction to back her up. That’s what lets her – and you – hold her own against any opposition that might come up. But Nae Il’s different. She means well, of course – she always does.” My voice hardens. “But if anyone tries to accost her – or even touch her….”

 

“You’re not sure if she could handle it,” Muhammed finishes for me, his features finally softening into something like understanding.

 

“Ja.” At the very thought of it, my hand curls up into a loose fist. “Me too, for that matter.”

 

Hearing this last bit, he nods, his face set grimly in sympathy. “Did you get a chance to talk this over with her last night?”

 

I nod. “Of course I did–”

 

“Not in a say-your-own-spiel-and-hope-she-listens sense,” he cuts in, “but in an actually-listening-to-her sense.”

 

I blink at him in surprise, but then, as his words sink in, I feel myself sagging in defeat. “Is it that obvious?”

 

“Ja.”

 

Letting out a deep sigh, I cross over to my desk, pulling out the chair and sinking down into it. “So now what?”

 

He opens his mouth to answer, but I hold up a hand to stop him. From my seat, I can look right out into the hallway, and Nae Il’s bedroom door has just clicked open.

 

Fatima steps out first, flashing a bright smile and a wave when she catches sight of me. I get up from my seat as she scampers happily toward the music room, both of us meeting in the middle just inside of the door.

 

I take a quick glance over her shoulder. “You’re ready now?”

 

She answers me with a nod before striking a pose: arms crossed with her head held up high with pride. “Trust me,” she says, “you’re gonna love this.”

 

And that’s all the warning I get before Nae Il appears.

 

She’s beautiful.

 

When the girls had first brought up this idea yesterday, I honestly couldn’t envision what the result would look like: Nae Il might occasionally wear a hat or a hood if the weather was cold enough, but usually, her head would go uncovered. But the deep red scarf that Fatima had carefully draped over her head, rather than detracting from her features, actually draws them out. Her cheeks look softer and rounder; her eyes look bigger. Combined with one of her favourite winter ensembles – a chunky white sweater and long red plaid skirt – and my Christmas present for her this year – a black heart-shaped purse embroidered with flowers and a prancing deer – she looks so much like a little doll that I have to resist the urge to sweep her up into my arms. Not to seduce her, but to shield her and protect her from the world around us.

 

Something in my expression must have given me away because Nae Il, a mischievous twinkle in her eye, lets out a giggle before, swishing her skirt with both hands, she stalks closer.

 

“So, Orabang – what do you think?” She tilts her head slightly in her most innocent-looking expression. “Do you like it?”

 

“Ya, Seollebal!” I laugh nervously. Raising my hands to ward her off, I take a step backwards, casting a desperate glance over her shoulder at the others. “This isn’t how it’s supposed to work.”

 

“He’s right,” Muhammed cuts in, casually getting up from the piano bench to join us. As Nae Il, startled, turns to look up at him, he adds, “If you’re going to look the part, Nae Il, you’d better act it as well.” One corner of his mouth twitches in barely suppressed amusement. “You two may be going out as a couple, but flirting may not be the best idea. Especially since” – his eyes now flicker up at me – “he looks like he’s about to lose it any minute now.”

 

I burst into a coughing fit, just barely managing to turn away before I end up exploding right in their faces. “I’m not – that’s not–”

 

“Alright, alright,” he drawls, waving one hand dismissively. “If you say so. But I believe” – he gives me a pointed look over Nae Il’s shoulder – “that you two have some talking to do.”

 

Not giving either of us a chance to react, he turns to leave, gesturing for Fatima to go on first. Nae Il, blinking in confusion, makes to follow, but I reach out and grasp onto her wrist, stopping her just as the door to our music room clicks shut.

 

Slowly, she turns back around to face me. “Waeyo?” she asks. “What’s going on?”

 

Silently, still holding her hand, I guide her to join me at the window beside her desk. Our music room may be at the back of our unit, but it is actually in the front of our building; the view of the street below that’s offered here is one reason why Nae Il set up her desk in this spot in the first place.

 

I turn my head to glance outside; out of the corner of my eye, I catch Nae Il doing the same. Since we live on a quiet residential street, and it is now time for the Sunday mass, there are only a handful of people passing by, most likely on their way to busier parts of town. For a long moment, I simply stare down at them, trying to find the right words to say.

 

“Nae Il-ah….” I clear my throat, swallowing nervously. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

 

“Waeyo, Orabang?” she asks in response. Then, a moment later, it clicks. “You still don’t like it, do you.”

 

“Mm,” I answer with a curt nod. “Geu rae. I don’t.” I turn to face her. “In fact, Seol Nae Il, I–”

 

Did you get a chance to talk this over with her? Not in a say-your-own-spiel-and-hope-she-listens sense, but in an actually-listening-to-her sense.

 

Cutting myself off mid-sentence, I abruptly let go of her hand. I turn away, tearing my eyes away from her as I shake my head with a grimace.

 

Damn…what am I doing?

 

Eyes wide in concern, Nae Il reaches up to pat me gently on the arm. “Orabang….”

 

“You know what, Seol Nae Il?” I begin, looking back at her once again. “Why don’t you tell me: why you want to do this.”

 

She blinks in surprise. “Eh?”

 

“I know,” I say at last, resting my hand on top of her head in a caress, “that you must have put a lot of thought into this.” My hand moves down to her shoulder; I lean over to look deep into her eyes. “You already know my reasons for worrying, right?”

 

“Ne,” she answers with a nod. “You told me last night. That it’s because it’s the Christkindlmarkt, and today is Christmas Day, and it hasn’t even been a week since what happened in Berlin, so people are still really touchy right now.

 

“But that’s the thing, Orabang. That’s why I want to go like this.”

 

Her answer catches me off guard. “Mwo?”

 

“Would you prefer,” she asks pointedly, “that Fatima be the only one?”

 

I bite back an exasperated sigh. “Ya, Seol Nae Il–”

 

“Most people,” Nae Il continues earnestly, “are reasonable. That’s what Fatima told me: that even if they don’t agree with Muslims or Islam, they’ll just keep their thoughts to themselves without giving her a hard time. But – and I mean ‘but’ – if anything should go wrong….” Her features set into a determined pout. “Just by herself, Fatima’s gonna stick out like a sore thumb; but this way, she won’t be alone.”

 

Just for a moment, I’m tempted to give some sort of retort: something along the lines of how one person in Islamic dress might draw curiosity, but how a group might be mistaken for a threat. But I can clearly see that Nae Il is determined to see this through all the way to the end; and the fact that she is acting solely for Fatima’s benefit makes me feel a deep twinge inside as my own resistance melts away.

 

Eventually, I’m the one to break eye contact, tearing my gaze away from Nae Il as I glance up at some random corner of the room.

 

“Geu rae,” I concede at last. “Arasseo. If this is what you want to do, Nae Il-ah…then go ahead.”

 

I look back down at her just in time to see a bright smile spread slowly on her face. Eyes shining, she raises the hand that had been on my arm up to my cheek. “Komawoyo.”

 

“But just so you know,” I continue, now holding on to and rubbing the edge of her scarf between my fingers, “you’re not obligated to keep this on if you don’t want to. If anyone – or anything – makes you feel uncomfortable, none of us will fault you if you change your mind.”

 

“Ne, arayo,” she answers back promptly. She swats my hand away with a laugh before tossing that same corner of her scarf over her shoulder. “But I won’t.”

 

“Of course,” I agree. “Because you’re Seollebal – and as long as it’s for the sake of others, you’re not scared of anything.” I close the gap between us, wrapping my arms gently around her in an embrace. Softly, I pat her on the back. “Good job, Nae Il-ah. I’m proud of you.”

 

If anyone were to glance up at our window in that moment, I wonder what they would make of the scene in front of them: a girl in a hijab, incongruously linking her arms together around a man’s neck to pull him down into a kiss.

 

But as I melt against her, and feel her doing the same, I find I don’t really care anymore.

 

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

Spoiler

Well, that was quite the trip, wasn't it. :sweat_smile: In my defence, I do want to point out that I had planned and written this installment well in advance (i.e. before the attack that also happened recently in London), so if this turned out to be too-much-too-soon for you, my apologies.

 

That being said, the Berlin Christmas Market attack is actually not something I want to dwell on in these behind-the-scenes notes - you can always search up the news stories from that time online if you want. Instead, it's everything else that I want to focus on here.

 

1. Christmas in Salzburg - Krampus and Krampuslauf

 

So, last year, I covered the sweet and fluffy side of the Christmas season in Salzburg, what with my coverage of things like the Christkindlmarkt and the origins of "Silent Night". But this year, given the fic's darker tone, I chose to focus on the other major tradition that the Austrian Christmas is known for: Krampus.

 

I believe it might have started as a remnant of some early pre-Christian tradition, but what matters for our purposes is that Austria is (or at least was) a Catholic country - from that perspective, it makes sense that popular folklore would include not only someone to reward good people (St. Nicholas in this case), but also to punish the bad. It's the classic carrot-and-stick method, just with a literal stick. ;) 

 

Of course, by this point in time, the annual Krampuslauf that takes place throughout Austria is just seen as a time for some wild and spooky fun, with police officers and staff on hand to make sure that everyone stays safe. The rule here is that the guys playing Krampus can't hit people above the waist, but once adrenaline and alcohol get involved, things can get a bit crazier. But still, that means that in many small towns in particular, the Krampuses can actually wind up looking more comical than scary:

 

 

But then there's Salzburg - there, they just like to jack the fear factor up to eleven :naughty::skull: Why? I don't know. But honestly, even if you don't want to watch the video below, just click on some random spots to see what I mean by some seriously messed-up costumes.

 

 

(The Krampus that gets Yoo Jin in the fic, though, is entirely fictional - I fudged around with it to add the stag's antlers from the wendigo, a similar bogeyman character from Native Canadian folklore. What can I say? He just sprang into my head like that.)

 

And just as a little side note - this is the small square that Yoo Jin and Nae Il happen to stumble upon (it's a Google Streetview, so feel free to click around and explore as I did):

 

https://goo.gl/maps/zRdvtd8mEVh4fzfq5

 

2. The Berlin Christmas Market Attack and Its Aftermath

 

I know I said I didn't want to dwell on the actual incident, so I won't. But there are still a few things from what I wrote that I want to address.

 

First of all: why let Nae Il find out on her own? Because in my opinion, that's the way to ensure that both Yoo Jin and Nae Il grow from this experience. Throughout the original drama, and even in this fic, Yoo Jin is really protective of Nae Il. Half the time, he doesn't realize he's doing it - i.e., he's not doing it to look good in front of her, he just does it automatically. We see that in, say, his attempt to stop Nae Il from following Stresemann to his hotel room at night (albeit kicking her out of his apartment once the coast is clear), the way he tries to convince Professor Do to give her more time, his tireless "I'm not giving up til I've literally tried everything" efforts to help Nae Il sort out her documents during the Salzburg Competition...you get the idea.

 

But here's the thing - selfless and noble as that is, it's not healthy. As I have Lee Yoon Hoo point out in this fic, Yoo Jin will just set himself up for some serious problems in the future if he continues like this: burnout, yes, but also the possibility of alcoholism (since, like so many other K-drama characters, that seems to be Yoo Jin's greatest vice). From this incident, then, we can see how much Nae Il wants to help - but also how much Yoo Jin needs to learn to step back in order to let her.

 

Secondly, I actually did have, in my head, the full version of Nae Il's nightmare. And I was really debating how much of it I should disclose, since - like all nightmares - it really wasn't pretty. So this was one of those times when, as a writer, I just let the characters take charge of the situation: writing it out as would make sense for the dialogue and action in the moment. And, well, Nae Il certainly delivered in setting up the scene - but the rest will be up to your own imaginations.

 

Finally, I might be preaching to the choir at this point (since I'm very well aware that a lot of the Hallyu fandom is based in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, or Singapore where there are really significantly large Muslim communities), but for those who weren't aware - yes, forcibly removing a Muslim girl's hijab is that bad! So don't do it - and, if you ever see it happen, offer the girl something with which to cover her hair and help her escape the situation.

 

3. The Music - as always

 

So, the music did take a bit of a back seat to just about everything else today. But there are a few pieces I mention in passing that I can share with you:

 

1. Piano versions of "Waltz of the Flowers" from The Nutcracker

 

Once again, as with all of Nae Il's transcriptions/arrangements, I don't have any set version of it in my head - she possesses a far greater musical imagination than me, so I really can't describe what she's doing there. However, that being said, I was at least partially inspired by some existent piano arrangements out there:

 

 

 

2. Rachmanionv's Polka Italienne

 

You'll hear more about this piece in a future installment, but for now, here's a clip so you can hear just how happy it is. By the way, there are several different arrangements of this piece floating around online, but I'm going with the piano-four-hands version, because of course I would with Yoo Jin and Nae Il:

 

 

3. "Pirates of the Caribbean" by The Piano Guys

 

Just the audio this time, but it really is quite epic. So, yes, Lee Yoon Hoo will be returning to the cello soon ;) 

 

 

4. "The Ländler" from The Sound of Music

 

So, chances are, you already know the scene from the movie that I refer to in this fic - but here's a clip anyway, just in case:

 

 

As for the real-life inspiration behind that dance, there are - as I pointed out in the fic - several versions of the ländler out there. I really wish I knew more, but because of the popularity of the version from The Sound of Music, more traditional examples turned out to be really hard to come by on YouTube :P I did manage to find this one, though, and you can see how at least some of the movements and figures from the film version were drawn from this:

 

 

Also, one last fun tidbit about this dance: it's actually an ancestor to the waltz, which is why both are in triple meter (i.e. counted as 1-2-3, 1-2-3, etc.). The ländler does appear to be both somewhat slower and more technically complex.

 

4. Miscellany

 

For those who don't remember from when I first brought this up in "A Little Baroque, A Little Romantic"...Fatima just happens to be a JW fangirl in a drama universe where all of his productions save "Nae Il's Cantabile" actually still exist. So her ogling Yoo Jin when she first meets him...that's my little nod at you guys ;) 

 

I also wanted to share my inspiration for the hijab that Nae Il wears at the end of the fic. Given her features and colouring, I was inspired by styles like these in particular:

 

Check out this cute beautiful and easy hijab tutorial for spring days, it looks so soft and simple with a flowing side for extra volume,  This look can be done with any hijab fabric but viscose ones are the best for…

 

Cute hijab

 

And as for the new Christmas gift - i.e. the heart-shaped purse - that's just pure Austrian:

 

Die schwarze Herz Trachtentasche der Marke Alpenflüstern zeigt nicht nur Herz, sondern auch ein elegantes braunes Hirschmotiv und farbenfrohe Blumenranken-Stickereien. Die schwarze Handtasche ist mit einem Reißverschluss und auf der Rückseite mit einer Gürtelschlaufe ausgestattet und eine farblich passende Satinkordel dient als Schulterband.

 

 

So, that's it for this fic. If anyone wants to access a master list of my fanfics, just go to the "About Me" tab on my profile page. Thanks - and enjoy reading!

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So, I know I've been away from the action for a bit, but there has been a good reason for that: no sooner have I gotten my Christmas/winter break from school did I end up sick with a cold :mask: To be fair, though, I should have known it was coming: real life in the past month or so has been super-busy, which means the little adage I had Nae Il saying in one of my recent fics ("Carmen, Micaela, Don José") does hold true, at least in part:

 

Quote

“Eomeong used to tell me,” Nae Il says, leaning proudly back in her seat, “that when there are two people, and only one gets sick when there’s a bug floating around, then whoever that is, is the one who’s been under the most stress and, therefore, needs the most rest.”

 

“Ah….” I concede with a sigh, nodding in understanding. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that that’s how this all works; but then again, who am I to argue with a mother about these things?

 

To be honest, I'm still somewhat out of sorts right now, but am on the mend, at least :thumbsup: 

 

But why am I saying all this? First of all, just to let you guys know that I still haven't given up on the idea of a proper Christmas Special yet. Obviously, the writing itself has been going more slowly than I'd anticipated, which means I might have to cut things short and really make this a cutesy, slice-of-life sort of fic, but I still want to do it - so wish me luck!

 

Secondly, and more directly JW-related, this got me comparing the characters he's played in my head again. The last time I did that here, it was about which of JW's characters would have or want to have a dog. *points above* But this time, because of my particular circumstances, the question I'm using is this: Which of JW's characters would I most trust to take care of me when I'm sick?

 

(Hey, I know I've said I'm not a big one for the fangirl fantasies, but that's just referring to JW himself, NOT his characters. His characters, as far as I'm concerned, are fair game.)

 

So with that in mind, here's what I've decided on:

 

No, I probably wouldn't trust him

Han Gil Ro (Because he's such a giant kid, he has a hard enough time taking care of himself, let alone others)

Gu Ma Jun (Growing up so spoiled and then becoming so bitter, I think it's unlikely he'd actually step in. Maybe the post-drama Ma Jun, though? I dunno - what do you think?)

 

Maybe/Hard to tell based on what I know

Lee Kang To (Have to give him points for effort, at least, but he's also got bigger things to worry about - and last I checked, I'm not Oh Mok Dan ;))

Gyun Woo (Again, because I haven't watched enough of "My Sassy Girl" to tell - but what little I have seen does look promising)

 

Yes, I definitely would trust him

Hwang Tae Hui (His bedside manner - where applicable - would need some work, but I can see from the way he treats his family and Baek Ja Eun that he's dependable, at least)

Kim Tae Hyun (Because he's Yong Pal - need I say more?)

Cha Yoo Jin (He's dependable, and knowledgeable - and even though he'll probably complain about it every step of the way, I'd know, just like Nae Il, that he does care underneath that gruff exterior)

Park Si On (Out of all of JW's characters, he'd probably be the most conscientious/reliable nurse/doctor to have around, but his habit of constantly checking up on his patients might get smothering after a while. Oh well, at least he means well. :))

 

By the way, this is purely what I personally think. Feel free to respond with your own ratings/rankings - especially if they're different from mine!

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And here it is: my Christmas Special 2019!

 

Sorry, guys, for being a bit late with this - that post-cold fog took me longer to come out from than anticipated :P But in my defence, it is still technically Christmas Day where I am (sometimes, crazy time zones do help).

 

Spoiler

Title: Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Drama: "Yong Pal"

Characters: Kim Tae Hyun, Han Yeo Jin, Kim So Hyun

Premise: It's time for Hanshin's annual Christmas party, and this is Kim Tae Hyun's first time taking part. However, while he is usually an outgoing and friendly person to begin with, he struggles to fit in with Han Yeo Jin's social circle. Right now, rather than a bunch of business magnates, he'd much rather be spending Christmas with close friends and family. Fortunately for him, Kim So Hyun's also been invited.

Warnings: Some Korean profanity (just once, but still worth the warning)

 

Note on names/titles: There are a few things I do here that might not be the norm in the "Yong Pal" fan-universe, so allow me a moment to clarify before you all get confused.

 

First of all: while Tae Hyun's post-marriage title is usually translated simply as "Sir" in the subtitled versions of the drama, I opted for the more old-fashioned-sounding "Master" instead. On the one hand, it's because I actually have no idea what his title translates to in English. On the other hand, I watched "Yong Pal" in Cantonese dub, where the title that's given to Tae Hyun is an archaic one used for a Prince Consort (i.e. the husband of a princess). While that could have been funny - imagine Tae Hyun being referred to as "Your Royal Highness" left, right, and centre :P - that's not really the most practical option out there. So I ultimately chose to go with "Master", because it's somewhat plausible, but is still old-fashioned/formal enough to be just a bit comical in the 21st century.

 

Secondly: I really wanted to refer to Tae Hyun's fellow resident friend (i.e. the one who calls him "Hyung!" all the time) by name, except that he never is in the drama. English-language sites refer to him simply as "Resident 3", which wasn't helping. Fortunately, though, I was able to make out a name on the Korean Wikipedia page: Kim Do Young. So, when you see references to that name in the fic, that's who I'm talking about.

 

One last Note: While this story can stand on its own, it does also allude to events in my earlier "Yong Pal" fanfics, "Your Sister's Keeper" and "One Summer Night". So if you haven't read those first, it might help to do so before beginning this fic: again, it's not mandatory, but should minimize confusion about story elements that are purely of my own imagination.

 

Once again, please do not re-post anything from this fic without my permission! If you want to share this, just share the URL link on the website of your choice. Thanks!

 

Spoiler

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

 

Pursing my lips in thought, I scan over the ornaments in the box that I have in front of me. Which one should I put up next?

 

“Ya, Sang Chul-ah,” I call down from my spot on top of the ladder. “What do you think: should I put one of the baubles here, or one of the snowflakes?”

 

Standing as close to the base of the ladder as he is, Lee Sang Chul is forced to crick his neck back to peer up at me, brow furrowed in thought. “I don’t know, Hyung – aren’t you the one with the better view?”

 

“Up close, you mean,” I bark back at him. “But you’re the one who’s got a better view of the tree as a whole.” I bite my lip to suppress a sudden urge to laugh. “So help me out here!”

 

He answers me with a nod, stepping back several paces so he could see the massive Christmas tree from the centre of Yeo Jin’s formal parlour. But if I’m expecting an answer, it’s not coming – in fact, Sang Chul takes so long slowly walking back and forth that I soon find myself stopping him.

 

“Ah, screw it!” I call down, reaching into the box for a white bauble decorated with gold scrollwork. “I’ll just do it myself.”

 

Despite my frustration, once I get started, the job turns out easier than I thought. All of the different ornaments have been chosen with the room’s main colour scheme – white, gold, and dark blue – in mind, so it ends up that I can just put anything anywhere and it’ll still work. As I work my way down the tree, stepping down on the ladder one rung at a time, I think back to the instructions Butler Yeo gave me when I’d insisted on helping the staff out with the decorations this morning:

 

Spaced out, but random – don’t crowd a bunch of the same thing together, but it shouldn’t look like there’s a pattern either.

 

Sure enough, I hear her coming around now, having just finished checking the maids’ progress on the other side.

 

“Is this what you meant?” I ask, reaching over at the same time to clip a tiny remote-control candle on a branch to my left. “I tried to ask Sang Chul, but he’s just as clueless as me.”

 

He bursts out a quick “Hyung!” in protest, but when I glance down at the butler for affirmation, she’s got a look of thinly veiled amusement on her face.

 

“Well, Master,” she points out matter-of-factly, “what you have is rather more ‘organized chaos’ than what I would have done.” Then, a moment later, she adds, “But it isn’t bad.”

 

Her response makes me want to laugh, but I’m still precariously perched a good way up off the ground, so I force myself to hold it in. Out of all the staff here, Butler Yeo’s the most likely to just give me a straight answer, yet even she caves to that knee-jerk deference so common to people like us.

 

It’s during the shared sympathetic look we send to each other that Yeo Jin waltzes in. In a flash, everyone turns to her with a bow or at least a nod in acknowledgment. Even I can’t help joining in, despite knowing that my doing so will, once again, become the biggest joke at tonight’s downstairs party.

 

Old habits do die hard, after all.

 

My gesture doesn’t go unnoticed, as next thing I know, Yeo Jin plants herself at the foot of the ladder, hands on her hips. She tilts her head coyly to one side. “And just what do you think you’re doing?”

 

I flash her a sheepish smile. “Mianhae, Yeo Jin-ah,” I answer, “but you know me. I can’t just stand around and do nothing when everyone else is working so hard to get ready.” Even her, I might add – last I checked, she’d been going over last-minute details for tonight’s catering with the cook. “Besides,” I continue, turning back to resume my task, “I’ve never done this before, so cut me some slack.”

 

Sure enough, that gets her attention. “Jeongmal?” she asks. “You’ve never decorated a Christmas tree before?”

 

I bite back yet another laugh. “Ya, Han Yeo Jin – you’ve seen my place. Where the hell do you think I would’ve had the room? And the place where I grew up was even smaller! But even more than that, we never really did Christmas when I was a kid, so this is practically my first time.”

 

Although I can’t see her face from here, I can sense when Yeo Jin nods in understanding.

 

“Geu rae – this would be your first, what with you being newly baptized and all.” A pause. “Komawo, Tae Hyun-ah – I know that wasn’t an easy decision for you.”

 

“Only because you wanted a church wedding so badly,” I quip back breezily. “Honestly, I’m not sure if I’m quite there yet when it comes to doctrine.”

 

There are, after all, still several major questions that I need to work through on my own: things that even the old priest who has been guiding me every step of the way has admitted could very well take an entire lifetime of soul-searching to figure out. But all things considered, I knew enough to give the correct responses at the pre-baptismal interview, and that’s all that matters for the time being.

 

Thank goodness, then, that Yeo Jin has been more than patient throughout this whole process; she might not be as knowledgeable as the priest, but she understands me and my own personal struggles better than anyone else could.

 

Sure enough, now that we’re on the subject now, she responds as she always does. “Well, let me know if you need someone to talk to; you know I’m always free.” With that as transition, she then excuses herself and starts to saunter away.

 

I steal a moment glancing after her, but a pointedly cleared throat from Butler Yeo snaps me back to my senses. Soon, I’m back to putting up ornaments, working myself into a mindless rhythm.

 

That is, until my phone rings.

 

Startled right out of my reverie, I fumble to answer it, moving so quickly that I don’t even notice my arm brushing against the box of ornaments until it’s swept right off the ladder down to the floor.

 

Crash!

 

All of us – Lee Sang Chul, Butler Yeo, the tag-team of maids on the other side of the tree, myself – freeze. For a single long moment, the only sound in the entire parlour is the still-ringing phone in my hand. Then, after I’ve stared helplessly down at the mess on the floor for Lord-knows-how-long, it comes out:

 

“Ai, ssibal….”

 

If anyone hears that, they’re gracious enough to keep quiet as I finally turn back to my phone. “Yeoboseyo?”

 

“Hyung!”

 

I give Do Young a perfunctory greeting, focused more on scrambling back down the ladder. Once I reach the ground, though, I jump straight to business. “So what do you want?”

 

Even though all I get is his voice, I can visualize the sheepish grin on my hoobae’s face with his response. “Well, Hyung, it’s like this: you know how we’re all coming to the party tonight.”

 

“Geu rae,” I answer promptly. “I already got your RSVP last week.”

 

Silently, Butler Yeo appears by my side with the cardboard box I dropped. Quickly, I rummage through it with one hand to survey the damage.

 

“So, well…” Do Young continues as I work, “we don’t want to come over empty-handed like we did the first time – I mean, I’m sure we’re all welcome regardless, Hyungsoo-nim being one of our former patients and all, but….”

 

Fortunately, considering the height from which the box had fallen, the damage isn’t too bad: two of the baubles have smashed, and one of the beautifully delicate glass snowflakes is now missing an arm, but the rest seem to have survived. Nodding to Butler Yeo with a relieved smile, I excuse myself and step several paces away from the tree before resuming my conversation on the phone.“So what’s the matter?”

 

“What should we bring as a hostess gift?”

 

His answer makes me stop right in my tracks. “Jjinjja?” I ask, incredulous. “You’re honestly calling to ask me that?”

 

“Aw, Hyung!” he whines. “Help me out: I don’t wanna mess this up!”

 

For a moment, I’m torn between rolling my eyes and snickering; in the end, I go with the latter. It was Kim Do Young’s earnest goodness that had made me take him under my wing ever since we first met in med school – and it’s good to know that he still hasn’t lost it, so many years later.

 

“Arasseo,” I answer at length. “Run your ideas by me and I’ll do what I can.”

 

“Well, we tried looking it up online,” he begins, “and Nurse Song saw something about bringing a bottle of wine, and–”

 

My burst of laughter cuts him off mid-sentence. “Ya, Kim Do Young – jugulae?!” I blurt out. “Wine? For a liver transplant recipient?!”

 

Just as expected, he joins in on my amusement. “That’s what I said!”

 

I snicker again. “There’s Nurse Song for you: she means well, but she can be an idiot sometimes.” After a moment’s pause, I add, “If you were to ask me…going by our habits, I think coffee beans would be good. You know that I need that more than food to function in the morning, and Yeo Jin’s a bit of a connoisseur. So pool money on the best bag you can get, and that should work for the whole lot of you.”

 

“Ah,” Do Young says. “Geu rae, that makes sense. Alright, Hyung – will do.”

 

We end the phone call on one last promise to spend more time catching up tonight. Smiling at the thought, I put my phone back in my jeans pocket, only to be intercepted once again by Butler Yeo. “Is everything alright, Master?”

 

“Mm.” I glance past her at the Christmas tree, one hand reaching up of its own accord to grasp the nape of my neck. “A-about those ornaments….”

 

“Gwenchansumnida,” she replies smoothly, her tone just as gentle and warm as if she were simply informing me it’s time for dinner. “No need to apologize. But if you will forgive me for saying so, Master, perhaps it would be better for us to take over from here.”

 

“Geu rae,” I concede sheepishly. “You’re right about that. I know you said not to apologize, but mianhae – I’m not usually such a klutz.”

 

I make to leave at this point, but she stops me yet again with a pointedly cleared throat. “Wae?”

 

One corner of her mouth twitches up into a knowing smirk as she holds out a hand, palm facing upwards. “That’ll be ten thousand.”

 

My jaw drops. “Eh?”

 

“You know – for the other thing you dropped besides those ornaments.”

 

Other thing?

 

Quickly, I cast my mind back to what happened earlier. What else had I managed to drop besides–

 

Oh.

 

“Aish,” I whine as, unable to resist the urge to roll my eyes, I reach for my wallet. “Do we have to do this?”

 

Butler Yeo, however, is undeterred. “You know the rules.”

 

“But still!” I quip back in response. “Isn’t ten a bit much?”

 

“That’s for the Chairwoman to decide, not me.” She raises a perfectly arched eyebrow. “Besides, the penalty has to hurt a little if it’s going to stick.”

 

“Ne, ne – arasseo.” Quickly, but still rather reluctantly, I surrender the ten-thousand-won note, slapping it down into her hand. “But trust me: I’m already doing my best.”

 

“I’m aware of that,” she replies smoothly. “But you’re the Chairwoman’s husband and a baptized Catholic now – we can’t have you cussing like someone from the gutter anymore.”

 

Never mind that I was, quite frankly, from said gutter to begin with.

 

~~~~~

 

No sooner have I stepped out of the kitchen from yet another breather does Yeo Jin sidle up beside me, the train of her long dark blue velvet gown swishing behind her.

 

“There you were, Tae Hyun-ah,” she purrs, linking one arm with mine. “I was wondering where you’d disappeared off to.”

 

“Mianhae,” I answer softly, accepting the drink she offers me – sparkling juice, I having decided to join her in only opting for non-alcoholic choices tonight. “But you know me: I’m still not used to social gatherings like this.”

 

“Oh?” Yeo Jin tilts her head in curiosity. “I thought you liked parties.”

 

“I do! Just…just not when it feels like I’m under everyone’s scrutiny.”

 

“Ara,” she quips back, now surreptitiously steering me back to the public parts of the mansion. “However, that being said, Tae Hyun-ah, do at least try to put it up with it just this once. Ideally, this would have already been done and over with at the last party we hosted. But you know what happened then.”

 

“Mm.” Nothing more needs to be said than that, the series of events following that party a rather unpleasant memory for both of us.

 

Yeo Jin gives me a reassuring pat on the arm, and then we part ways: each of us to different parts of the parlour to join the mingling guests. I’m sure she takes to it with practiced ease, flitting from one small cluster to the next to exchange trivial greetings and well wishes; but when it comes to my turn, more often than not, I find myself just standing there at a complete loss of words beyond a simple “Merry Christmas”.

 

It’s not that I don’t know Yeo Jin’s guests; by now, I’ve seen enough of them here and there to recognize that they’re Hanshin’s major shareholders or the leaders of major business partners. But when I’ve met more than my fair share of these folks up on the twelfth floor, every handshake, every exchanged greeting and smile, carries some sort of hidden meaning: that silent awareness that I know their deepest darkest secrets, that the doctor they had felt comfortable airing their dirty laundry to is now the husband of the woman upon whose wealth they depend.

 

But even that is nothing compared to the women: the wives of the fat old businessmen who now hog the conversation. They might be the picture-perfect loving companions now, but I know better. Several of these corporate wives I have seen before, deep in the distant past: sneaking out with friends to seedy bars and nightclubs, seeking out young boys as desperate for their money as they were for love and companionship. It might have been almost ten years ago by this point, but I still remember – here, too, is a reversal of power, the person on the bottom now having risen to the top.

 

So it’s with more than just a little bit of relief that, in answer to his wave, I hurry to join Kim Do Young and my other former colleagues in the next room. Unlike the grandeur of the formal parlour, this space, normally a family room or den, is close and intimate. Lights placed at strategic intervals around the floor shine up to reflect off the turned-off crystal chandelier, casting a series of sparkling lights throughout the room. Small clusters of people gather at the buffet table set up along the back wall as well as the standing-room tables scattered about; my friends are at one of those now, and as I come closer, Do Young pulls me in with a hearty slap on the back.

 

“Finally, Hyung!” he gushes, gesturing for me to partake in the array of snacks they’d managed to compile in the centre of the table. “Who would’ve thought the receiving line was that long?”

 

“I know, right?” I quip back, throwing in a wink for good measure as I help myself to a canape. “But here I am with you guys, and I have no intention whatsoever of budging anytime soon.”

 

“And we’re glad to hear it,” Nurse Kang points out wryly.

 

We all share a laugh, but in the silence that follows, I feel Do Young prodding me in the shoulder.

 

“Wae?”

 

He points over to the far corner of the room. “That girl over there…is that your sister?”

 

“So Hyun-ie?” I look over in that direction, then answer with a nod. “Mm.”

 

“Jinjja?” He looks back and forth between us. “Ya…I’ve gotten so used to just seeing her as a patient – who would’ve thought she had a voice like that? Is she planning on becoming a singer?”

 

“Maybe,” I answer with a shrug. “She took part in a competition this past summer, and I definitely think she’s got potential.”

 

A snort from Nurse Kang. “Of course you would.”

 

“She didn’t place, though,” I continue. As the others wince in sympathy, I hastily move to reassure them. “Gwenchana – So Hyun’s tough. One setback isn’t gonna hurt her anytime soon. But to answer your question, Do Young-ah: she’s the one in charge of tonight’s music.” A fond smile creeps its way onto my face. “Yeo Jin thought it would be a good way for her to get some exposure, maybe even some future gigs if any of the other guests take to her.”

 

We settle back, then, and let the music take over. Given that it’s just meant to be some background entertainment, So Hyun has kept things simple: sometimes singing on her own, sometimes playing along on her guitar or accompanied by one of Lee Sang Chul’s colleagues on the grand piano. Every now and then, just so she could have a break, he takes over with the singing as well, purring out soft jazzy Christmas hits in a gentle tenor. At one point, they even come together in a duet, performing a simple rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. Several of the other partigoers in the audience sway along with the song’s easy rhythm; as for me, I jokingly direct an “I’m watching you” gesture when So Hyun makes eye contact with me, right at the moment her part of the song brings up an over-protective older brother.

 

When So Hyun finally steps away from the piano on a short break, I fetch a drink and assemble a small plate of snacks from the buffet and head over towards her. “How’s it going, kiddo?”

 

She accepts the drink with a kind word of thanks, but leaves me holding onto the food. “It’s been good.”

 

One eyebrow quirks up in interest. “Oh?” I join her in leaning back against the wall, out of the way of the guests. “Has there been much interest?”

 

So Hyun shakes her head. “Ani.” Eyes twinkling in barely suppressed amusement, she gestures to the table I’d just left. “Not everyone’s as attentive an audience as you guys have been.”

 

I let out a soft chuckle. “You can say that again. I had to remind Do Young twice in about as many minutes that you’re already taken – and that he’d be no match against Lee Sang Chul in a fight.”

 

We share a laugh and spend a few minutes just chatting with each other, but are soon interrupted by So Hyun’s partner.  Quietly, he tells us that Yeo Jin will be coming into this room soon, so she needs to get back to singing.

 

When she glances questioningly at me, I wave for her to go on ahead. “I get to see you at home anyways, so let Yeo Jin have her chance to listen to you.”

 

“Geu rae; arasseo,” she answers promptly, throwing in a nod for good measure. “But don’t go anywhere, Oppa!” She gives me a playful wink. “This next one’s gonna be for you.”

 

So Hyun hands me her empty glass, which I set down absentmindedly on the table beside me, and flits back to her post – just in time for the security guard posted by the door to announce Yeo Jin’s entrance.

 

All eyes turn to Yeo Jin as she glides down the steps into the room; the entryway fills up as people from the parlour crowd in to peer in curiously behind her. Turning her head this way and that to smile and nod to everyone in greeting, she comes over to my side.

 

“Well, don’t you know how to make an entrance,” I point out wryly as a suit-clad waiter comes forward with a tray of drinks.

 

“Jinjja?” Yeo Jin laughs as she makes her selection: yet another glass of sparkling juice. “Would you believe me if I said I don’t do it on purpose?”

 

“Actually, with you, I would.”

 

We exchange a small secret smile, then I direct Yeo Jin’s attention to the piano. “I believe So Hyun-ie has something special prepared just for you.”

 

Recognizing her cue, So Hyun hurriedly sets down her water bottle in the corner and steps up to the microphone. For just a split second, she hesitates, but then I see her beam out at the audience.

 

“Chairwoman, all of our honoured guests…I want to thank you all for this opportunity to perform for you tonight. It’s been a magical experience that I’ll never forget. Christmas is the time we spend with our friends, family, and loved ones – so I want to dedicate this next song to the person who means the most to me.”

 

With an intro like that, I really should have seen it coming, but I still start in surprise when So Hyun stretches out her hand in my direction. All eyes turn on me in an instant; I feel a strong urge to shrink back into the wall, but Yeo Jin stops me with a reassuring pat on the arm.

 

“For those of you who don’t know,” So Hyun continues, “Dr. Kim Tae Hyun is my Oppa, and I couldn’t ask for one better. He’s been by my side for as long as I could remember, always there for me no matter how tough things have gotten.

 

“For putting you on the spot like this, Oppa, mianhada. But I truly believe that the world deserves to know all the great things you’ve done for me.”

 

As everyone else in the room breaks into polite applause, I feel something pricking in my eyes. Hastily, I tilt my head up to look into a distant corner, blinking rapidly as I cough subtly to dislodge the lump that’s suddenly appeared in my throat.

 

Damn. So Hyun hasn’t even started, and already I’m getting sentimental.

 

If she notices the effect her words have had on me, she doesn’t show it. Instead, acting every inch a seasoned professional, she mouths something to her accompanist who, with a single nod in agreement, starts to play.

 

Do you remember me?

I sat upon your knee.

I wrote to you with childhood fantasies.

But I’m all grown up now,

And still need help somehow.

I’m not a child, but my heart still can dream.

 

So here’s my lifelong wish,

My grown-up Christmas list:

Not for myself, but for a world in need.

 

Never mind that she says otherwise: So Hyun knows that my English is just fine. So I have no problem whatsoever understanding what she’s singing now.

 

No more lives torn apart,

That wars would never start,

And time would heal our hearts,

And everyone would have a friend,

And right would always win,

And love would never end.

This is my grown-up Christmas list.

 

So Hyun looks straight at me as she sings the chorus: every single line is a wish for a better and brighter future, one where we would no longer be torn between choosing right or wrong.

 

I used to tell Eomma that someone in my shoes didn’t have a choice: that the only way to survive in this world was to suppress my own conscience. But that wasn’t me; that mooching sycophantic money-bug was never me. Deep down inside, I know that the real me is the one that now works at First Floor Clinic and volunteers at the church.

 

And for So Hyun to now bring that out into the open? It’s more than I could have asked for.

 

What started off as a soulful ballad soon becomes more upbeat, So Hyun repeating the chorus with a lighter skipping beat. It’s infectious; in no time, I’m bopping along with the music, as are several others in the audience.

 

The applause is a lot more heartfelt the second time around; out of the corner of my eye, I spy some couples holding each other close, and at least one person is subtly dabbing at their eyes. At her place in the front, So Hyun beams as she dips down in a deep bow from the waist.

 

And then she’s stepping out from behind the microphone. Yeo Jin, whose arm had been linked with mine, now lets go and before I know it, I’m draping my arm around So Hyun’s shoulders and pulling her close.

 

“That was awesome, kiddo,” I murmur to her as I plant a soft kiss on her forehead. “Komawo.”

 

My sister leans in closer, resting her head on my chest as I run my fingers gently through her hair. “I’m glad you like it,” she says, peering up at me with a contented smile. “Merry Christmas, Oppa – saranghae.”

 

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

 

Spoiler

So, there's not a whole ton to say here. This really was just a quick little ditty that popped up in my mind - and, in light of the darker, more mature tone of my previous Christmas-themed fic, I thought it was worth actually getting it down for those who would prefer just to have warm fuzzies for the holidays.

 

However, as always, I like to offer a small behind-the-scenes look - so here goes!

 

1. The bit about Kim Tae Hyun being a caffeine addict (i.e. where he asks for coffee beans as a Christmas/hostess gift)? That's my Easter Egg for this fic, inspired by a real-life coffee addict we all know and love ;) 

 

2. The two musical numbers in this fic are based on actual live performances I found on YouTube: not by Park Hye Soo (i.e. So Hyun) - although that would have been so cool - but Ailee. So, if anyone's wanting some Christmas listening to accompany the fic, I'll share them below:

 

a) "Baby, It's Cold Outside" - Ailee and Sung Si Kyung

 

 

b) "My Grown-Up Christmas List" - Ailee and Hwang Chan Hee (piano)

 

 

3. While I don't really describe it in much detail - Tae Hyun not being a very fashion-conscious narrator to begin with - I do want to show you guys the dress I envisioned Han Yeo Jin wearing in this fic, simply because it just screamed "Han Yeo Jin" to me (seriously - compare it to the white evening gown she wears in the drama, and you'll see what I mean):

 

338d85e5-f822-4a6a-9655-8623dfbde1fc.JPG

 

(By the way, considering from the mirror shot that this is a backless dress...count that as Easter Egg #2 ;))

 

 

So, that's it for this fic! If you want to access any of my other fics, there is a master list under the "About Me" tab on my profile page.

 

Thanks for reading - and Merry Christmas!

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Seems like Joo Won is sick. Let's send him encouragement and send warm thoughts so he can get better soon.

Credit: Joo Won via. Instagram

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On 12/2/2019 at 10:14 AM, kittyna said:

Doesn't Have a Dog, And Doesn't Want One

Gu Ma Jun (I dunno...I just don't see him as the pet-owning type - but I could be wrong)

Cha Yoo Jin (because Nae Il's enough chaos as it is :P Just kidding, but in all seriousness, I think he'd find pets too boisterous, especially dogs. If anything, he'd have a cat)

 

:lol:

 

This made me laugh so much..

Cha Yoo Jin specially..he definitely doesn't need a dog considering his personality and he already has his hands and mind full with energetic puppy Nae Il..:joy: 

Anyways I can't believe that we actually went two years without an JW projects..I almost lost my interest for new kdramas. I feel like re watching my old favorites.. So Can't wait for his comeback drama..There's a possibility of seeing Joo Won  in SBS Drama Awards 2019 with Kim Hee Sun. New hyped drama leads usually comes to present award for promotion in SBS Drama Awards. But that depends on when the drama is coming and if the trailer is ready. I hope it is. 

 

OH! We're on page 2800! :heart:

HRHl.gif

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On 12/29/2019 at 6:19 AM, flutterby06 said:

This made me laugh so much..

Cha Yoo Jin specially..he definitely doesn't need a dog considering his personality and he already has his hands and mind full with energetic puppy Nae Il..:joy: 

 

Yeah - and he literally does compare Nae Il to a dog in the show, too ;) 

 

I do see Cha Yoo Jin as being a cat person, though, if he should ever get a pet. It's unlikely for practical reasons (i.e. if he or Nae Il are planning to spend their careers going on tour like his parents did, it's really hard to take care of a pet as well), but if he did, he would want something quiet that could mind its own business.

 

Also, since I know you don't read my fics all that often, @flutterby06, I will say that in my Seolleim in Salzburg fic series, I have Nae Il actually describing Yoo Jin as a "grumpy cat" on at least one occasion - since that actually fits his personality quite well :P 

 

By the way, since it looks like people here like those rapid-fire character comparisons/ratings/rankings, I should seriously think of sharing a couple more. Hm...I'll have to think about that :smirk:

 

On 12/29/2019 at 6:19 AM, flutterby06 said:

Anyways I can't believe that we actually went two years without an JW projects..I almost lost my interest for new kdramas. I feel like re watching my old favorites.. So Can't wait for his comeback drama..There's a possibility of seeing Joo Won  in SBS Drama Awards 2019 with Kim Hee Sun. New hyped drama leads usually comes to present award for promotion in SBS Drama Awards. But that depends on when the drama is coming and if the trailer is ready. I hope it is. 

 

Well, I don't know about any trailers or promotions just yet, but the new drama has already started filming, so it should start broadcasting within the next couple of months or so - depends on if it's a pre-produced or live-shoot format, though.

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Happy New Year, everybody!

 

It's technically still New Year's Eve where I am - and will be for a while. But I am aware that those folks close to the Pacific are starting to ring in the new year about now, so let's start the celebration :) 

 

First of all...here's your "Alice" teaser, everybody! :star:

 

 

 

lol - Looks like you ended up calling it, @flutterby06! I hadn't known teasers during drama awards was a thing, but here we go :love: It looks like it'll be some straight-up sci-fi action here, so that's definitely interesting. I've only seen JW doing sci-fi in that mini-web-drama he did a few years back, so it'll be nice to see him tackling a more fleshed out character and story in that genre.

 

Now that that's out of the way, here's what I was actually going on Instagram for:

 

 

Finally, I've got another rapid-fire character comparison for today. This time, given that it is New Year's, the question I'll be answering if this: Which of JW's characters is most - or least - likely to enjoy going to a New Year's Eve party?

 

That means I'm thinking of the whole atmosphere: big crowds, glitz and glamour, lots of action and excitement leading into the countdown, party food and alcoholic drinks...the whole shebang. So here's what I've got.

 

Is the Centre of Attention at the Party

Han Gil Ro (he's got the whole rich playboy image down, and while "Level 7 Civil Servant" wasn't particularly memorable as far as dramas go, I do remember his karaoke/noraebang skills were right up there ;))

Gyun Woo (boy would need a time machine first :P, but I think he would enjoy it, based off the snippets of "My Sassy Girl" I've seen so far)

Lee Kang To (he already moonlights as a singer/dancer at the local jazz bar - plus, I'd argue that he's got the best dance moves out of all of JW's characters) 

 

 

Spoiler

And here's a fun bonus, since its more a full-cast thing:

 

 

 

Likes the Party, but Stays on the Sidelines

Gu Ma Jun (we do see him as the suave, flirty, nightclubbing sort, but I think he'd need some time to warm up before he really works up the confidence to join in. Plus, his fun-loving and serious sides would be warring with each other quite a bit.)

Kim Tae Hyun (for him, the more low-key and casual the party is, the better. So, if it's just ringing in the new year with friends and family, that's fine - but now that he's with the Chairwoman of Hanshin...that's never gonna happen, is it? :P)

Park Si On (he's the guy who everyone thinks is going to hate it...but if it's a relatively safe setting with good friends, he surprises everyone by just how much he gets into it. Honestly, watching Si On at his own welcome party was the cutest thing ever :))

 

Would Prefer to Skip Out - If He's There, Someone Dragged Him

Hwang Tae Hui (I think he could put forth the effort to join in, just a little - but he's definitely wanting it to be over quickly)

Cha Yoo Jin (more specifically: Nae Il dragged him. Or Yoo Il Rak. Take your pick. :P Even if he tries to pull out, he's still not safe - they'll just relocate the party to his place instead :D)

 

Spoiler

Re: Cha Yoo Jin - either what I said above, OR he ends up turning into this guy:

 

 

 

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On 12/31/2019 at 9:18 PM, kittyna said:

 

lol - Looks like you ended up calling it, @flutterby06! I hadn't known teasers during drama awards was a thing, but here we go :love: It looks like it'll be some straight-up sci-fi action here, so that's definitely interesting. I've only seen JW doing sci-fi in that mini-web-drama he did a few years back, so it'll be nice to see him tackling a more fleshed out character and story in that genre.

 

Now that that's out of the way, here's what I was actually going on Instagram for:

 

He he..It's actually a trend specially in SBS drama awards as far as I can recall, I started following SBS drama Awards since 2016 may be. Sometimes the leads of new dramas even comes to present awards. But looks like Joo Won didn't came. It's just the trailer. The trailer looks very vague to me but it looks like JW( His character is a detective/police) is looking for his mother's killer. And Kim Hee Sun has something to do with her son. Is it possible that Joo Won And Kim Hee Sun are mother-son or is it they're talking about different mother-son... Or is it too early to give theories..? :w00t:

Looking forward to extended trailer.

 

Joo Won looks so good :D

 

 

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1 hour ago, flutterby06 said:

The trailer looks very vague to me but it looks like JW( His character is a detective/police) is looking for his mother's killer. And Kim Hee Sun has something to do with her son. Is it possible that Joo Won And Kim Hee Sun are mother-son or is it they're talking about different mother-son... Or is it too early to give theories..? :w00t:

 

Well, there have been a few clues given in the general plot/character premises that have come along with the casting news articles:

  • Kim Hee Sun's character is one who supposedly "died in the past" - and yet she's also alive now? If this drama was made a few years ago, I'd be thinking reincarnation, but now...maybe she actually time-travelled instead of dying???
  • When Kim Hee Sun's character and JW's character meet, JW claims that their meeting is fate - Is it because he's working on a case that involves time-travel/"Alice" and she knows something about it? Or is there even more than that?
  • Kim Hee Sun and JW both play themselves at multiple ages - This was announced from the start for Kim Hee Sun, but we see that to be the case for JW now as well. However, given that this is about time travel, the actual age-time continuum might not actually be logical or sequential (i.e. do we see the younger versions of these characters in the past, the present, or the future?)

Yeah, I think guessing is fun, but I'm also aware that the drama probably has something entirely different up its sleeve: those character premise notes and teaser trailers are seldom accurate :P 

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lol - In hindsight, I should probably have just let fans who actually understand Korean do it ;) 

 

 

Now, I do still stand by my earlier comment that quotes in teaser trailers are usually shown completely out of context - and, thus, the impressions they create are not always accurate. BUT - can I just say that, in my opinion at least, the possibility of Kim Hee Sun playing JW's mother just made this drama a whole ton more interesting for me? Like, I was already behind this drama with the initial assumption that they would be a couple, but this just might be a ton more intriguing.

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Thanks, @tokkimoon! I came here to post those pics as well, but you beat me to it :heart:

 

So, instead, I'll share another sort-of-fashion-related thing:

 

What are your thoughts on JW's high school look in "Alice"?

 

 

 

lol - It's funny that the main tactic drama and film producers do to try to make JW look younger is to have him brush his bangs down :P "Fashion King" did the same thing, too. But still...I'm not sure if JW could pull it off; he was never the most baby-faced actor to begin with, and he's in his early 30s now.... :unsure:

 

Second big thing: the next installment of my Seolleim in Salzburg series will be posted later this month. So, for now, here's Preview 1 (which I chose to make another fashion-based moment) ;) 

 

Spoiler

Good thing I’d thought ahead and put on my shoes first.

 

As I carefully do up my shirt, working from top to bottom to give myself more room to manoeuvre each stud into place, I feel it closing in around me. The thick stiffened front panel, plain save for a subtle woven texture, lies snugly flat, pressing tightly against my chest like a piece of armour.

 

And armour it is. Dress shirts like this are designed this way for a purpose: to force their wearer to stand up completely straight and erect, head held up high with the help of a similar stiffened collar. Then – and only then, it is said – can the tailcoat’s elegant silhouette be achieved.

 

Eyes flicking up to my own reflection in the hotel room mirror, I mull over it for a moment before shaking my head.

 

I have to admit that it does look good – but I’ll be damned before I ever wear this up on the podium. I’m neither the first nor the last conductor to feel this way: more than once, I’ve seen them cheat during a performance, pairing their tailcoats with a thinner, looser-fitting shirt, and I have always done the same.

 

Fortunately, the next few items on tonight’s outfit come more easily. A pair of white cufflinks – Nae Il’s most recent Christmas present for me – each one decorated with a subtle treble and bass clef respectively. Braces, followed by my white waistcoat, attached to both my shirt and trousers by a series of hidden buttons and tabs.

 

“Orabang!”

 

I call out over my shoulder to the bathroom door behind me. “Wae?”

 

“Could you” – a soft grunt of effort – “could you lace me up, juesyo?”

 

My jaw drops. “Mwo?”

 

“My dress, Orabang – I can’t do it up by myself.”

 

Ah. So that’s what this is about.

 

Eyes dancing in knowing mischief, I bite back the urge to laugh. “Do you want to come out, then, Nae Il-ah, or should I come in?”

 

In the mirror, I see the bathroom door click open, Nae Il just barely visible in the crack. One of her hands is hidden from view, but the other is pressed firmly to her chest, holding her dress in place so it doesn’t fall.

 

As my eyes flicker over her reflection, she sheepishly worries her bottom lip. “I – I think it’s better if you come in, Orabang,” she murmurs. “I’m afraid I might just trip over this thing if I try to move now.”

 

Finally, I turn around to face her. “Geu rae. Arasseo.” With a wave of my hand, she shuffles back several paces as I step inside the bathroom with her.

 

:flushed: Omo. Did Nae Il just - and did Yoo Jin just...? Wow. 

 

(No worries, guys - I'm never going to write 19+ stuff here, to use the Korean way of referring to it. But still: you'll have to wait for the final product to know just what happens in there ;))

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