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Annyeong chingudeul...


I am now replaying Good Doctor and Yong Pal in Netflix...

Glad to see Joo Won's dramas there!

Also, I seriously only watched My Sassy Girl in Netflix, because it's there...

I don't really like sageuk... Just for the sake of watching Joo Won's drama... I hung in there and watched it... :love:

And as usual, he really nailed it...

For those who misses Bridal Mask, it's there too in Netflix...

I was hoping the Naeil Cantabile will be there...

But I am not sure why, the title was there but I cannot see the drama...


And YES, Hwang Tae Hee is still the reason why I fell in love with Joo Won...


His emotions and actings were amazing...

I will sometimes search for clips and gif on Joo Won as Hwang Tae Hee in YouTube...

Unfortunately they didn't upload it on Netflix... nor YouTube... 



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Hai girls! Sorry I've been out of it for the past couple of days. I didnt have time to go to soompi, hadnt even back-tracked the pages since Saturday and my phone takes the longest time ever to upload

After Korean Drama Awards, I read somewhere that 80% of the netizens' comments was on how Kim Soo Hyun deserved the award, 10% were hurling insults on Yong Pal writer and Kim Tae Hee for winning and 5

@Tasia, Annyeong..

High Five..I don't like Sageuk either, that, avoid it mostly unless someone really favorite plays in it...I only liked one/two historical..My Sassy Girl has some lacking but it was a lighthearted one and has many references from modern life which made the drama enjoyable to me.. And as usual when JW plays a role he get so into it that you can't help but see him as the character. Gyun Sabu was such one. JW was so cute in that.

Though I don't watch many Joseon drama, I've a feeling Gyun Woo was one of the sweetest Boyfriend among Joseon Boyfriends.




BTW, JW's Chinese drama 'Love Express'..anyone interested in that? I thought it'd be aired after he comes from military, now that china ban has been withdrawn. But no sign yet. I hope it'll get aired even if it's late. JW worked so hard for this one, practiced Chinese even though they dub the voices. His Chinese projects are the reason why we lack a JW drama in 2016. :P I heard his movie Sweet Sixteen (haven't watched it) got highly edited out, I hope the drama will be aired properly. :(




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7 hours ago, flutterby06 said:

WOW @kittyna, It's sooo good to see you. You're one of those people who joined this thread sometimes after me and I loved talking along with your engaging post. after me Honestly, I missed seeing your insightful post on this thread when i came back from my slumber. Well, I did skip your fanfic because I don't want to read drama fanfic ( I hope and I know you probably won't mind for being honest), But I love how it engaged other people in this thread. Keep writing.. :thumbsup:


Thanks for the welcome! :heart: And don't worry - my hope is that I won't just be here for posting fanfics, either. All I meant by that is that I probably can't do the daily pics posts that I used to: it actually takes me hours to post a fic here on Soompi (completing the important info in the beginning, copying/pasting/formatting the actual fic text, writing up the Author's Notes and embed relevant pics and videos), and with my schedule now, those several hours will likely be spread out over days. And you guys should know that, with the way this text box is set up, that prevents me from making shorter spontaneous comments along the way. ;) 


Also, I do have a mental schedule for when I want to post particular fics, and they'll be spaced at least weeks apart. So what this means is just that my priority will be on posting fics when my real life busy-ness allows, but if I end up with free time in the periods in between.... *fingers crossed*


And, @flutterby06 - of course I don't mind if fanfic isn't your thing. Why should I? It's what I like to do, and it's something I'd do even without an audience (how else have I accumulated a year's worth of writing by this point?), but it'd be really stupid and unreasonable of me to assume that everybody's into that. :) 


7 hours ago, flutterby06 said:

None can blame us for being biased towards Hwang Tae Hee.. He was the most level headed one among the brothers. I remember crying with Tae Hee whenever he cried. He was so cute when he fought with Tae Bom.. I loved the brother bonding in the middle, when they consulted together in case of emergency. I remember this one scene where Tae hee refrained himself joining in drinking with Ojakgyo males because he was feeling lonely and conflicted (may be thinking that that's how the family was supposed to be. He knows they loved him, he was grateful but sometimes he can't help but think what could've happened if....). It broke my heart. I love how the maknae later reacted when he knew how painful it was for Tae Hee sometimes and these two brother bonded after that.


In terms of brother-brother bonding, my favourite was Tae Beom and Tae Hee as well. Yes, they fought - a lot - and yes, Tae Beom could be a serious jerk sometimes (like, pulling the 'I'm the hyung' card to steal your detective brother's confidential information? Seriously?), but I did like that he, out of all the brothers, was the most aware of Tae Hee's feelings when it counted (e.g. when Guk Soo showed up or when Tae Hee was upset about the stolen contract or when his mom supposedly "came back" to Korea).


7 hours ago, flutterby06 said:

Speaking of rewatch, SBS new SBSWorld YouTube channle is uploading Yong Pal with English sub.


Thanks for the update! I already have access to it elsewhere, but it's great to know that SBS is finally getting into marketing to international viewers with a channel like this. I'd always wondered why only KBS had that when, given the international appeal of Hallyu, it really should be an obvious good business decision to host channels like that. Now here's hoping MBC gets the hint, too....


7 hours ago, flutterby06 said:

I wish KBS would upload Good Doctor in YT too..after US and Japan remake Good Doctor is having an Turkish remake. KBS should promote this drama properly considering how it caught the interest around the drama world.


Yes, I knew about the Turkish remake, and that's really awesome :) I don't know if somebody's keeping track, but I'm starting to wonder if Good Doctor now holds the record as the K-drama with the most international adaptations. (I know "Boys Before Flowers" has a ton of different versions as well, but did it start in Korea, or was it itself a Korean adaptation of a drama from someplace else?)


7 hours ago, Tasia said:

I am now replaying Good Doctor and Yong Pal in Netflix...

Glad to see Joo Won's dramas there!

Also, I seriously only watched My Sassy Girl in Netflix, because it's there...

I don't really like sageuk... Just for the sake of watching Joo Won's drama... I hung in there and watched it... :love:

And as usual, he really nailed it...

For those who misses Bridal Mask, it's there too in Netflix...

I was hoping the Naeil Cantabile will be there...

But I am not sure why, the title was there but I cannot see the drama...


First of all, forgive me if I'm wrong, but I don't think we've met before, @Tasia, so annyeong! :heart:


And thanks for that list there. I don't have Netflix, but for those who do, it's good to know - especially after Dramafever just disappeared.


Nae Il's Cantabile is a bit weird for that. I'd noticed that KBS World even started uploading episodes on YouTube when they did a replay of the drama a couple years back, but then they not only didn't finish, but took down what they'd already posted. Why? It's their own property so it can't be copyright, can it? *shrugs* So yeah, once you find it, wherever you find it, you have to bookmark that link or download the video ASAP, or you might lose it.


As for My Sassy Girl, I still have yet to watch it. It's the only JW drama (except for Love Express, for obvious reasons) that I haven't watched properly yet. Just little snippets here and there, without subtitles so I don't really know what they're saying. I'm holding off until JW's comeback drama's been announced, so it won't ever feel like I've "run out" of his stuff to watch.

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Annyeong @kittyna :heart:

Yeah, I was active mostly years ago then went on hiatus for few years (because I forgot my Soompi login password!!! and suddenly years later I tried again and succeeded :phew:...)

So.... thanks to you and @flutterby06 and  @tokkimoon and @valinor500 to name a few who kept this thread alive.... :kiss_wink:

I really hope, soon,  perhaps during Joo Won's next drama, more of us will come and make more noises in this thread again...



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On 9/16/2019 at 7:33 PM, kittyna said:

And, @flutterby06 - of course I don't mind if fanfic isn't your thing. Why should I? It's what I like to do, and it's something I'd do even without an audience (how else have I accumulated a year's worth of writing by this point?), but it'd be really stupid and unreasonable of me to assume that everybody's into that. :)


Oh no..Don't get me wrong.. I'm not against fanfic. I do sometimes read fanficion related to some of my favorite anime.  I love it how potential writers can sharpen their writing with fanfics. but I'm kinda unwilling to start reading fanfics from other media such as books/drama etc. I don't have right vocabulary to word why it is like that. ha ha..


On 9/16/2019 at 7:33 PM, kittyna said:

As for My Sassy Girl, I still have yet to watch it. It's the only JW drama (except for Love Express, for obvious reasons) that I haven't watched properly yet. Just little snippets here and there, without subtitles so I don't really know what they're saying. I'm holding off until JW's comeback drama's been announced, so it won't ever feel like I've "run out" of his stuff to watch.


Oh I know this feeling. I was saving 2d1N and &th Grade Civil Servant for that purpose when JW went to MS.


On 9/17/2019 at 8:27 AM, Tasia said:

So.... thanks to you and @flutterby06 and  @tokkimoon and @valinor500 to name a few who kept this thread alive.... :kiss_wink:

I really hope, soon,  perhaps during Joo Won's next drama, more of us will come and make more noises in this thread again..


I thank you all too.. I'm also hoping that JW's next project may bring many other older fan back..may be some new fan too.:)


Joo Won for Brentwood..





And Joo Won for us.. :D




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6 hours ago, flutterby06 said:

Joo Won for Brentwood..


I really liked that pic with the flowers when I first saw it - so sweet!


And this one is my favourite from Brentwood's most recent set.



I don't know why, but I just have this thing for the high turtleneck + wool overcoat combo on JW - which may explain why costume-wise, Cha Yoo Jin's my favourite "look" out of all the characters he's played.




Maybe it's because I think it does wonders for his facial structure or brings out the features I like most... *shrugs*


5 hours ago, Tasia said:

We have got to see this!!!

I almost fainted to see this yummilicious picture!!!



To be honest, I'm usually not big on the shirtless pics; my motto ever since MeToo started has been: "Men are usually the perpetrators, but I'm a woman; if I don't like men treating women that way, then I shouldn't do that to men." So I actually find that I can't look at this photo for long before I end up having to look away - there's just something so intimate and bedroomy about it that...I dunno, it just feels invasive for me to stare. And to think that not much is actually being shown: just his shoulders and a bit of his chest. It's the whole "less is more" paradox: the blanket's covering up just about anything that could be considered too much, but that just makes the photo feel that much more sensual.


I do want to say, though, that this one stands out because of how rare it is. Like, is it just me, or is this actually JW's first topless photo shoot pic? I know he's gone shirtless in various acting-related contexts before (i.e. in dramas or films or on stage), but I don't think I've ever seen him like this in a magazine or print ad before. Does anyone know?


And I'll probably be "absent" from here for the next bit - the fic-posting process will be beginning soon!

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Our handsome Joo Won was exercising together with his label mate, actress Lee Si Young 

I just can't get enough of those bulging muscles!! :love:


Also I admire Lee Si Young, a mother of around 9 months old baby, and look at her body!!! 



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For myself as a fanfic author, a comeback doesn't feel like a comeback until I start sharing my writing - so here goes!



Title: Carmen, Micaela, Don José

Drama: "Nae Il's Cantabile"

Characters: Cha Yoo Jin, Seol Nae Il, Chae Do Kyung

Premise: After a successful concert run in Seoul, Cha Yoo Jin and Seol Nae Il return to Salzburg closer than ever before. But a new school year comes with new challenges, and Yoo Jin is thrown headfirst into the world of opera. Reduced to little more than an accompanist by his classmates, he is shaken to the core by a series of strange coincidences that force him to confront his past. As it turns out, real life can be stranger than fiction.

Warnings: Depiction/discussion of sexual assault (i.e. a forced kiss). If this is something potentially triggering for you, please take whatever steps you need to ground yourself before reading this fic!


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"


Some past readers may also remember that these stories take place in a real-life timeline - so, just as a refresher, this fic is set in September/October 2016. Does it matter now? Not really. But the year will matter in a future installment, so let's make sure we're all on the same page right from the start ;) 


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:


Ich liebe Dich - I love you

Spatzl - (Austrian German) a common endearment that literally means "little sparrow"

Ja - Yes

Danke - Thank-you

Was? - What?

Nein - No


There is also some Italian and some French here in the form of song lyrics. For translations/explanations of those, please refer to the Author's Notes at the end of this fic, where I discuss the music in more detail.


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!



Carmen, Micaela, Don José


The first thing I am aware of is the feeling of fingers resting gently on my forehead. The touch is soft, soothing, not too cool and not too warm – just that perfect in-between temperature that makes me wish that it could last forever.


Slowly, my eyes flutter open as I breathe out a contented sigh, revealing Nae Il, the source of that gentle hand, seated in a chair she had pulled up beside my bed. Smiling, she pulls her hand back from my forehead, only to gently slip her other arm under my shoulders, silently helping me to sit up.


One corner of my lips twitches up into a small smile as I turn my head towards her.


“Nae- Nae Il-ah….”


I cut myself off, cringing at what had just come out. My voice sounds terrible. Rough, hoarse, as dry as my tongue, which I can feel sticking to the roof of my mouth.


Fortunately, Nae Il seems to notice my predicament, because the next thing I know, she is pressing a warm mug into my hands. Steam rises up from the drink inside; desperately, I breathe in its soothing citrusy scent before taking a careful sip.


“Feeling better, Orabang?” she asks when, at last, I decide I have had enough and pass the mug back to her.


Slowly, I nod. “Ne. Komawo.”


Shooting me a grateful smile, Nae Il sets the cup down on the nightstand beside me. “You’ve got to hand it to Eomeonim, Orabang,” she pronounces firmly, pointing towards it with her chin. “It looks like she was smart to give us a jar of yujacha before we got on the plane.”


I shake my head, just barely managing to suppress a shudder at the thought. “Don’t remind me.” When Nae Il gives me a curious look, I add, “As if I didn’t already have enough reason to hate flying, now I can add catching the flu from some other godforsaken passenger to the list.”


“Geuraeyo,” she concedes with a nod. “That couldn’t have been fun. But” – her shoulders rise up in a casual shrug – “at least the worst is over now: I haven’t checked with a thermometer yet, but going by what I just felt here” – she holds up the same hand that had been on my forehead earlier – “it’s a lot better than it was before.”


Something about the way she says that makes me tense up in dread.


“Ya, Seol Nae Il – just how bad was it? How long was I…?” I let my own words trail off, choosing instead to sweep one outstretched hand across the bed to show what I mean.


“Oh, don’t worry about that, Orabang,” Nae Il replies, promptly waving one hand dismissively in the air. “It’s not like you were delirious or anything.”


“You’re not answering my question,” I growl back in response, straightening up against the headboard as best I can. Even if I wasn’t delirious, the fact that I honestly couldn’t keep track of the time is concerning enough. “How long?”


“Three days,” she blurts out, relenting with a sigh. “Three whole days – not counting the part of the day before that when you started feeling sick. So….” Her voice trails off as she counts silently to herself on her fingers. “Three-and-a-half? Four? I don’t know, Orabang; how do you want to count it?”


I stare at her, gobsmacked. “That long?” Opening and closing my mouth several times, I try to cast my mind back to when this had first started: a task easier said than done, considering just how fogged up my head still feels at this point.


Noting my confusion, Nae Il moves to explain. “Well, I’m not surprised if it felt shorter to you. Except for when you were eating, or drinking, or using the bathroom, you were pretty much just sleeping it off the entire time.


“Still, it’s a good thing.”


My brow furrows in confusion. “Mwo?”


“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?


“And I presume, then, that you were playing nurse all this time?” I ask drily.


Nae Il nods, a self-satisfied grin on her face. “Ne.” Her smile grows even wider as one hand shoots up to her forehead in a mock-salute. “You do such a good job taking care of me when I’m not feeling well, Orabang, that it’s only fair that I get to return the favour.”


“Fair enough, but what about your other responsibilities?” I gesture towards the wall separating my bedroom from our music room next door. “Did you practice?”


Biting her lip sheepishly in response, Nae Il turns her face away from me. One hand idly fidgets with the hem of her shirt. “Well, school isn’t starting until October, so–”


“Of course I know that!” I manage to bark out before my voice breaks into a burst of coughing. Almost instantaneously, that mug of yujacha is back in my hand, and I can’t help but think that Nae Il knows just what sort of temporary respite this has bought her. In fact, I know she does, so I shoot her a glare over the rim of the cup as I take a drink.


“Of course,” I continue once my voice has returned. “Of course I know that you don’t have any new repertoire yet. But come on, Nae Il-ah, you know this already: no matter how good you are, you need to keep your technique up–”


“‘And any day spent without practicing can lead to backsliding,’” Nae Il finishes for me. “Don’t worry, Orabang – I did remember.”


Now it’s my turn to look sheepish as I turn to glance down at the blanket spread out across my lap. “Then why didn’t you say so sooner?” I mutter under my breath.


“And when I wasn’t practicing,” Nae Il continues, her voice brightening once again, “I was working on this.”


Curiously, I turn to face her once again, just in time to catch a brief glimpse of the embroidery hoop that she is brandishing proudly in the air. Pegged inside of it is a stretch of white fabric: a plain light cardigan that I know she had gotten recently for cheap with the intention of decorating it to suit her own purposes. Right now, though, Nae Il is waving it so quickly that I can’t quite make out the design that she is working on.


“My plan right now is to have this finished in time for Rupertikirtag,” she says, punctuating her words with a firm nod. Placing the hoop back down in her lap, she strokes her work gently with her fingers. “You know, Orabang, when you started getting sick, I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to go to the fair this year. Just for a bit. Arayo: it’s silly of me to worry about something like that when there are more important things – like your health – to think about, but…but still: sometimes I just couldn’t help it.”


“Well, at the rate we’re going now,” I add, reaching out to place my hand over top of hers as I give her a warm smile, “it looks like it’ll happen after all.”


Nae Il looks down at our joined hands for a long moment, then nods, her own lips curling up into a grateful smile. “Ne, Orabang. It looks like it will.”


Neither of us says anything for several minutes: I settling back against the pillow, looking on as Nae Il completes some more stitches. But eventually, she speaks up once again.


“Do you think you could manage getting up out of bed for lunch this time around, Orabang?”


To be honest, I still feel drained: almost like my body is made out of lead, and my arms and legs too flimsy to support its weight. But experience has taught me that that’s as much from staying still like this as it is from the flu. So, after thinking it over for a moment, I answer with a nod.


“Ne, arasseyo,” Nae Il says, setting down her embroidery and springing up out of her seat. She leans in just long enough to plant a soft kiss on my forehead. “I’ll go and get everything set up; you just take your time,” she chirps, heading towards the door with a slight skip in her step.


And I do just that. In her desire to make things easier for me, Nae Il has kindly left my bedroom door open, and I can hear her bustling around in the kitchen as, slowly, I toss the blanket to one side of the bed and swing my feet down onto the floor. Hunger and the last vestiges of the fever make me strangely lightheaded when I stand up, and, for a moment, I am left swaying unsteadily on my feet, one hand pressed against my right temple in attempts to stop the room from spinning. But fortunately, I manage to keep my balance. Stopping just long enough to snatch up the long white cardigan draped over the back of the chair that I use for a housecoat, I throw it on over my shoulders. My steps grow firmer and stronger as I make my way out into the hallway, then down along its length towards the foyer and the living room on its other side.


Nae Il likes to say that she is a shoddy cook, and it is true that between the two of us, I’m better at it. However, she is still able to manage on her own when she needs to, and that is certainly the case today with the lunch she has prepared: frittatensuppe. Austrian comfort food at its simplest – a combination of a clear beef stock with thinly sliced crepes – it was one of my childhood favourites, and also has a story behind it.


“When we first moved back to Seoul from Salzburg,” I explain to Nae Il as, partway through the meal, I start feeling my strength coming back, “Eomma used to convince me to try different Korean foods by comparing them to things we had had here. So galbitang was like tafelspitz, or, in this case” – I hold up a spoonful in demonstration – “any sort of noodle soup became the Korean version of frittatensuppe.”


Nae Il giggles, covering her mouth discreetly with one hand. “Was it really that hard for you to get used to it?”


I shake my head. “Ani. But you can’t blame Eomma for worrying. Korean food was harder to come by around here back then, and what little memory I might have had of Korea before coming here to Austria was from when I was a baby. So, as a nine-year-old who already felt more Austrian than anything else….” My words trail off into a shrug.


She gives me a knowing nod, and the two of us subside once again into a companionable silence. As we both finish eating, Nae Il waves for me to leave first.


“Gwenchanayo, Orabang; I can tidy things up here.”


I raise an eyebrow at her. “Are you sure?”


“I’m sure,” she answers firmly with a nod, already gathering up the bowls and utensils together into a neat pile. “Besides, I know you: after spending three days sweating out a fever in bed, you’re probably wanting to take a shower.”


She does have a point there. Far be it from her to complain about my state right now, but the thought of being able to freshen up and wash off the sticky feeling of dried sweat does sound incredibly appealing.


“Arasseo,” I concede, pushing myself up out of my seat and making for the foyer and the corridor beyond that would take me back to the bedrooms side of our apartment.


The sight of the kitchen out of the corner of my eye, however, makes me stop in my tracks. Turning around, I stare at it, wide-eyed.


“Seol- Seollebal!”


Right on cue, Nae Il scurries out from the living room to join me in the foyer. “Ne, Orabang?”


Vaguely, I sweep one arm towards the kitchen doorway. “What…what’s all this?”


“Eh?” Nae Il peers past me into the kitchen, then suddenly winces as it hits her just what exactly I’m referring to. One hand reaches up to sheepishly rub the back of her head. “A- about that….”


The kitchen is a mess. The sink is filled to the brim with a pile of unwashed dishes, far too many to have been caused just by this one meal. The same could be said for all the small bottles and jars scattered across the countertop: while I could accept that at least some of the various herbs and spices and seasonings were for what Nae Il has prepared just now, far more must have been just left there after she was finished with them.


Ducking down slightly to avoid my pointed gaze, Nae Il now sneaks past me towards the kitchen. “Mianhaeyo, Orabang,” she murmurs. “I’ll…I’ll go and fix that.”


I don’t hear the rest of what she says, choosing instead to lower my head and pinch the bridge of my nose with one hand with an exasperated sigh. “Three days.”


She stops in her tracks, halfway between the doorway and the sink, and glances back over her shoulder at me. “Ne?”


My head jerks up as I shoot her a levelling gaze. “Three days, Seollebal, and already, you’ve made a mess of this place. I think that’s a record, even for you.”


Fortunately, Nae Il being Nae Il, she doesn’t let this faze her. Instead, she only answers me with a shrug, before snatching up one of the spice jars with one hand.


“Well, look at this way, Orabang,” she says, reaching up to open the cabinet beside the stove. “As long as I’m in charge” – her words cut off into a small grunt of effort as she stands up on tiptoe to put the jar away on a shelf well above her head – “I’m going to put things where I can actually reach them without grabbing a stool every single time. If you don’t like that, Orabang, well, too bad: it serves you right for liking someone as short as me.”


I take a step towards her. “Ya, Seollebal–”


“And besides,” she continues, now shutting the door with a satisfying bang, “this isn’t bad, as far as my messes go.”


A small laugh bursts out from me before I could stop myself. “Geu rae,” I concede, before adding drily, “But considering that your baseline involved cockroaches, masses of trash bags, and nearly giving yourself food poisoning, that’s not exactly saying much.”


Nae Il starts laughing in earnest now. She rounds on me, hands placed saucily on her hips. “Well, if that’s the case, Orabang,” she says, tossing her head over her shoulder at the sink, “then come and help me out.”


“Last time I checked, Seollebal,” I retort, closing the gap between us, then stepping past her to get to the sink, “I’m still a recovering patient.”


“A recovering patient who’s already well enough to not only care about what the apartment looks like, but also make jokes about it,” she quips back without skipping a beat. “Besides, Orabang,” she adds, peering pointedly past me into the sink, “you’ve already started, so any protest you make at this point is moot.”


“Eh?” Starting in surprise, I glance down at my hands. Sure enough, one is already covered with suds from the sponge that I’d grabbed without even realizing it.


“Oh, you’re good, Seollebal,” I concede with a laugh as, defeated at last, I turn on the faucet with my free hand. “You’re good.”




A blur of colour, moving so quickly that it is followed by a slight draft, races past me as I set our cups of coffee down on the dining room table in one corner of our living room. Seconds later, I hear Nae Il throwing open the sliding door to our balcony, and just manage to turn around in time to see her burst out onto it. Spreading her arms wide, she leans back slightly, tilting her face up into the sunlight with her eyes closed, letting out a loud contented sigh.


I bite back a snicker. “Ya, Seollebal!” I call out to her. “You’re just missing the twirling right now!”


To my amusement, she does exactly that: spinning around in a circle so that the skirt of her green dirndl flares out and moves with her. After several such turns, she comes to a stop facing me, and starts to open her mouth….


“All right, Seollebal; that’s enough,” I cut in, just managing to stop her before she could burst into song. Gesturing towards the table, I add, “Breakfast is ready.”


Letting out a mock-scandalized scoff at my interruption, Nae Il grabs onto her skirt and gives it a brisk indignant shake as she steps back into the living room. “Orabang,” she growls out at me as she takes the seat on her side of the dining table, “are you saying that I can’t sing?”


“Ani.” I take my spot across from her, snatching up my mug of coffee in one fluid motion. “I’m just saying that our neighbours might not appreciate your rendition of The Sound of Music first thing in the morning,” I add, punctuating my statement by taking a sip.


“Waeyo?” Nae Il blurts out, mirroring my actions. “Is something wrong with it?”


I shake my head as I set down the mug and help myself to one of the rolls in the basket between us. “They just get it enough from the tourists as it is without us adding to the mess,” I explain, adding a casual shrug to show that I really mean no harm.


Turning my head towards the balcony, I take a moment to soak in the cool morning breeze blowing into the room through the still-open sliding door. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Nae Il, finally satisfied at my response, following suit.


“Are you really that excited about today?”


Nae Il, her mouth stuffed with a jam-smeared bite of bread, nods enthusiastically, but holds off on answering until she has swallowed. “Of course, Orabang!” she cries out, slapping one hand heartily on the table. “It’s Rupertikirtag today!”


I let out a short laugh. “It’s been Rupertikirtag for several days already.” Both of us have, in the midst of our daily routines, already seen traces of Salzburg’s autumn fair, held every year at the end of September in the old city: the carnival rides, the stalls selling a wide variety of local crafts and foodstuffs, lively brass band music as an accompaniment to performances by folk dance groups of all ages.


“I know – but what I mean is that today’s the day that we get to go,” she replies, shooting me a bright grin. “Not just passing through, but actually going in and doing everything.”


One corner of my mouth twitches up into a smile as I make a sweeping motion from Nae Il’s head downwards with one hand. “Is that why you’re ready so soon this morning?”


“Mm!” Nae Il nods once again, this time springing up out of her seat and skipping a step away from the table so that I could see her entire outfit. “See, Orabang?” she asks, making a matching motion with her hand to indicate her dress. “Isn’t it beautiful?”


I point towards a spot at her waist. “You’re still missing the apron. Again.”


“Ara.” Holding up a single index finger at me, she adds, “Just give me a moment; I’ll go get it!”


She doesn’t even give me a chance to respond before she dashes past me right out of the living room. Shaking my head in bemusement at her antics, I down what is left of my coffee, then get up and move to close the sliding balcony door: not all the way, but enough so that there is only a slight crack left to let in the breeze.


No sooner have I finished than I hear pattering footsteps behind me: Nae Il scurrying back into the room. Turning around, I see that she is now holding two garments: the first – the same white cardigan she had been embroidering recently – she tosses casually onto the couch for later; the second, which she now pins to the waistband of her dress, is the apron she has chosen for today’s excursion. Unlike the May Day festivities, during which she had picked a dark pink but otherwise plain apron, this one is more whimsical: a pale pink adorned with a striped floral pattern.


But one thing still hasn’t changed from this spring. Once again, although Nae Il adjusts the apron’s fit and draping on her own, she stops short of tying the bow. Instead, her hands holding firmly onto the ribbon ties at the right side of her waist, she glances up at me, her eyes sparkling in coy invitation.


I know what she wants. And, just like that time a few months ago, I am more than happy to obey.


Taking several steps so that I am right in front of Nae Il, I drop down onto one knee, taking the proffered ribbons in one hand. As I tie them together into a neat bow, I can’t help letting out a wry chuckle.


“You know, Nae Il-ah – although the tradition is that you tie this on the right side to show that you’re taken, really, it means that you’re already married.”


I hear her giggle in response; I feel her reach down and run one hand through my hair.


“So are you saying I should tie it on the left side, then?” Her voice noticeably thickens when she adds, “What do you think, Orabang? Should we let other boys know that I’m technically still single?”


A shudder – whether from revulsion at her words or from growing desire in response to her touch, I don’t know – passes through me. I shake my head as I finish and let go of her. “Of – of course not.”


“So you see? I’m doing you a favour, Orabang,” Nae Il says, her voice growing softer and lower until it is little more than a whisper. She bends down at the waist; the hand that had been in my hair now moves down to caress first my cheek, then my chin, as she tilts my face up towards hers. “A wonderful, wonderful favour,” she murmurs before closing the gap between us, pressing her lips against mine.


Unlike some of the other kisses we have shared in recent months, this one is slow, languid. Both of us linger as long as we could on this single moment, simply focused on reveling in each other’s company.


All too soon, however, we find ourselves drifting apart, but neither of us breaks eye contact as I get back up on my feet, Nae Il straightening up in time with my actions. After exchanging one more lingering glance, she glides over towards the couch. Picking up her cardigan from where she had draped it over the cushions, she unfurls it with a shake and drapes it loosely over her shoulders.


“So, what do you think, Orabang?” she asks. “Do you like it?”


I take a step closer as Nae Il turns in a slow circle, giving me my first true glimpse of her latest project.


To be fair, it doesn’t take much for her to impress me. I know next to nothing about sewing, knitting, or needlework – nor, since Eomma never really got into it when I was younger, do I have a mother who could make for possible comparison on that front.


But even so, the embroidery that Nae Il has done on this cardigan is some of the best I’ve seen from her thus far. She’s kept it simple and understated: a smattering of several dark green tendrils, each one topped with white flowers with a yellow centre, just barely noticeable against the cardigan’s own white background.


I lean in even closer, squinting my eyes to make sure I am seeing the design clearly. Those flowers, after all, look oddly familiar….


“Is – is that edelweiss?”


Nae Il tosses her head, glancing back at me over her shoulder. “Bingo!” she chimes, throwing in a wink for good measure. “I knew you would get it.”


Straightening back up, I make a vague gesture towards her jacket with one hand. “Well, considering it’s you, Nae Il-ah,” I say noncommittally, “it’s rather obvious.”


She giggles. “It is, isn’t it?” Nodding slowly in time with her words, she chimes, “Love, and courage, and purity....And, of course, there’s also the song.” Indeed, she starts humming it right away, slowly turning and gliding along with the beat in that improvised waltz step of hers. The cardigan, still held closed at her throat by both hands like a shawl, dances along behind her, the edelweiss flickering in and out of view.


“You know, Orabang,” she says, clearly still caught up in her dreamlike state, “they say that a girl with edelweiss is especially lucky: because it means that she is loved by a man who is brave enough to climb a mountain to get it for her.”


I let out a short laugh. “Trust you to know an old legend like that, Seollebal. But I didn’t get those flowers for you; you sewed them on yourself.”


Nae Il stops mid-twirl to give me a pointed look. “But you did get on a plane – and that, for you, is far scarier than any mountain.”




The world might be more familiar with Munich’s Oktoberfest, but it is Salzburg’s Rupertikirtag that holds a special place in my heart.


We used to come here to the festival in the old city every year, my parents and I: usually on the Sunday, its final day. After the hustle and bustle of the summer’s Salzburg Festival – the main highlight of the classical music season – Rupertikirtag would the first time that we could have a free day entirely to ourselves. Eomma would make doubly sure that I had finished all my schoolwork on Saturday, Abeoji would free up his normally hectic schedule, and together, we would spend the day exploring the different market stalls and activities set up in Salzburg’s main squares, only heading home after watching the fireworks that bring Rupertikirtag to an end.


Even before we have arrived to the Residenzplatz, the first of the interconnected squares that we’d come to after crossing the bridge from our side of the river, we are greeted by music: the tinny music piping out from the carnival rides and midway games, competing against and intermingling with the lively beat of the folk dance melodies from the brass bands. Skipping and humming along with the latter, Nae Il races down the street, her small figure weaving in and out of the crowd, just barely in my sight.


It is only when, stumbling and gasping for air, I burst out onto the square with a lurching step, that I finally manage to catch up with her.


“Ya, Seollebal! Just how…how many times…have I told you…not…to run like that?”


Nae Il, however, doesn’t answer. Instead, after giving me a casual shrug in apology, she’s off again, disappearing once more into the crowd.


Fortunately, though, it doesn’t take me long to find her this time; just like last year, she’s made a beeline for a lebkuchen stand all the way on the far end of the Residenzplatz. While there are other shapes and forms of these classic spiced cookies on offer, I know that what has really caught her eye is the vast selection of lebkuchenherzen: each plastic-wrapped heart-shaped cookie decorated with icing and strung with a ribbon so that it could be worn around a girl’s neck as a token of affection.


As I greet the stall owner, Nae Il looks over the entire display, bouncing her weight from one foot to the other in excitement. “Come on, Orabang!” she calls out once she registers my presence beside her. “Pick one!”


Just barely managing to bite back a bemused smile, I glance down at her. “Wae?”


Stopping in surprise, she turns her head over her shoulder, peering up at me. “What do you mean, ‘Wae’?”


I gesture at the display with one wave of my hand. “You know I’m no good at this sort of thing.”


Nae Il blinks up at me, wearing her most innocent expression. “What? Romance?” Eyes dancing in mirth, she grabs onto her necklace, holding it up so that its jeweled pendant – a treble and bass clef intertwined into a heart – is dangling between us. “Explain this, then.”


Swallowing nervously, feeling the blood rush up to my face, I tear my eyes away from the pendant, choosing instead to stare off in some random direction. “That – that was different.”


“Ne, ne – if you say so,” she quips back at me, her sing-song tone of voice telling me that she is not actually convinced.


“Look,” I blurt out, turning back around to face her, “I’ll treat you to one if you want, but just…just pick it out yourself. Arasseo?”


“Ne, Orabang.” Nae Il gives me a grateful smile, then directs her attention to the closest bunch of lebkuchenherzen hung up on display. Gently taking them up one at a time, she peers closely at the greeting written on each one with white icing. Some of them feature dedications to friends or family, or even something as neutral as just a simple “Salzburg”; but the majority feature some sort of romantic saying or pet name. So naturally, it’s those that Nae Il gravitates towards, which I note with alarm as she slowly picks up one heart in particular.


“Nothing too sappy, though.”


Letting the heart drop from her fingers, Nae Il shoots a mock-glare over her shoulder at me. “Aish – you’re no fun,” she mutters before resuming her inspection. The lebkuchenherz she had dropped swings back and forth on its hanging ribbon like a pendulum, its label – “Ich liebe Dich” – swaying mockingly at me.


I do have my limits, after all.


“What about this one, Orabang?”


Tearing my eyes away from the other heart, I peer closely at the one that Nae Il is now holding up just inches from my face. It’s small and delicate – probably no bigger than her hand – decorated with a piped border of pink icing and a single bloom of edelweiss. But what really catches my attention is its label: “Spatzl”, an Austrian dialect pet name meaning “little sparrow”.


“Geu rae,” I answer with a nod. “This one’s good.”


Nae Il beams, pleased to have finally found something I liked, and she holds the heart close to her chest as I pay for it. Then, once it is actually ours, she hands it to me, standing still so that I could gently place it around her neck like some larger version of the pendant that is already there.


We double back the way we had come and head for the market set up in a side street branching off from the Residenzplatz, taking our time at the various wares offered at the market stalls. Most feature some sort of traditional art or craft: products set up in the front of the stall with the artisans still hard at work making more in the back. As I pause to look at a display of crystalline glass figurines, I feel Nae Il grabbing onto my hand, her fingers interweaving with mine.


I let out a chuckle and give her a slight sideways nudge. “Wae?”


Nae Il sidles up beside me, resting her head against my arm. “Both ‘Spatzl’ and ‘Ich liebe Dich’ are romantic – so why one and not the other?”


I glance down to find her peering up expectantly at me. “It’s all in the sound.”


“Eh?” Letting go of my hand, she takes a step back away from me. Her brow furrows and her nose wrinkles just a little bit in confusion. “What do you mean?”


“Say ‘Spatzl’.”


She does, then looks back up at me. “What about it, Orabang?” she asks, shaking her head. “I don’t get it.”


Not with an accent like that, she wouldn’t.


“Try it like this.” I say the word right back to her, this time exaggerating my own Austrian accent to make the ‘a’ sound more like an ‘o’. “Does that sound familiar?” I ask with a raised eyebrow. “Just a little?”


Nae Il tries it again, this time imitating my own pronunciation. “‘Spotzl’…’spotzl’…..”


Suddenly, her face brightens, and she lets out a loud gasp.


“Ah, so you get it now.”


“ Ne, Orabang!” she answers brightly. “It’s – it’s like – just a little bit–”


“Seollebal,” I finish for her.


“Exactly!” Pressing both hands to her mouth, she just manages to smother an excited squeal. Then, placing both hands on my shoulder like some sort of a springboard, she bounces up and plants a kiss on my cheek.


“Ya!” Startling back away from her, I reach up and wipe the kiss off with one hand, the other clasping onto Nae Il’s shoulder to hold her firmly in place. “Don’t do that.”


Nae Il flings my hand off, tossing her head in indignation. But it’s all a show; she still keeps her good humour as she sashays away from me down the street, throwing back over a shoulder yet another quip that I should lighten up a little.




“Come on, Orabang – just this once?”


Squinting and shading my eyes against the sun’s glare with one hand, I peer up at the silhouetted figures, each flying by above us on an individual swing, and then back down at Nae Il’s wide-eyed puppy-like expression.


“How many times do I have to tell you, Seollebal?” Glancing up once again, I shake my head. “Andwae.”


Nae Il pouts and leans closer into my side, linking one arm with mine as she lets out a soft whine. “But Orabang–”


“I’ve already been getting you everything you want today.” My voice hardens in determination, as I gesture towards the stick of bright pink cotton candy in her free hand as a case in point. “So this time, we’re going by my terms.”




“If you want to ride the chain-carousel,” I cut in, “then fine. Go ahead. I’m not stopping you. Just don’t ask me to join you.”


This chain-carousel, after all, is an iconic fixture of Rupertikirtag: towering above all the other rides, games and stalls in the midway that takes up most of the Residenzplatz. Each seat is a simple metal swing seat, connected to the ride by a pair of long chains; as the carousel turns, the seats float upwards and outwards over the heads of onlookers below.


All things considered, as far as amusement park and carnival rides go, the chain-carousel is quite tame: so tame, in fact, that even my rather overprotective parents had let me ride it when I was small.


But that doesn’t mean I want to do it now. And no amount of pleading from Nae Il is about to make me change my mind.


She still keeps up her onslaught, though.




“You know why.”


“It’s perfectly safe.”


“I still don’t want to.”


“Waeyo, Orabang?” A pause. “Are you scared?”




“So what’s wrong?”


“I just don’t want to.”


“You are scared. I just know it.”


“I’m not!”


“Well, if you’re not scared, then come with me.”


“How many times do I have to repeat myself, Seollebal? I’m not scared – I just don’t want to.”


“Says the guy who was willing to get on a plane for my sake.”


“Well, said guy would also not like to go on any sort of a flight anytime soon.”


At that last comment, Nae Il’s eyes light up and she snaps her fingers.


“Aha! I knew it!”


The look of triumph on her face makes me turn brusquely away from her, a frustrated growl bursting out from me. All afternoon, Nae Il has been steadily chipping away at my reasons for avoiding the carousel; and at the rate that this is going, even if I succeed in winning our little argument, I’d end up losing any chance of doing so with my dignity still intact in the process.


There simply has to be a better way to do this!


Turning my head slowly, I cast my eyes over the rest of the square, looking to see if any inspiration comes. Sure enough, it does: in the form of the row of games of skill and chance spread out along one side of the midway.


Smiling in satisfaction, I reach out and drape one arm over her shoulder. “Let’s do it this way, Nae Il-ah,” I begin as I steer her away from the carousel towards the game booths. “Let’s make a bet.”


Just as expected, Nae Il perks up at the prospect of a new idea. “A bet?” she echoes. “What sort of bet?”


“You’ll see.”


We make our way down the row of game booths until we come to the one that had caught my eye: a shooting gallery. As Nae Il scarfs down the rest of her cotton candy, licking her fingers clean when she thinks I’m not looking, I step over to the booth’s owner and buy a single chance to play.


“Trying to impress your girl?” the man asks as he takes my money, adding a surreptitious glance at Nae Il, whose attention is still focused on the next bunch of riders on the carousel.


“Ja,” I answer as I take up the game’s wooden air rifle, cradling it with both hands to get a feel for its weight, giving it a careful look over to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with. While I highly doubt that to be the case, considering my plan, I can’t be too careful.


Only when I am satisfied with my inspection do I turn my head over my shoulder to call Nae Il. She looks over at me, stopping mid-turn with wide eyes when she sees the gun in my hands.


“What do you think, Seol Nae Il?” I jerk my head towards the row of targets. “Do you think I could hit one on the first try?”


Sidling over beside me, she looks over the gun in fascinated curiosity. “Is this the bet?”


“Geu rae,” I answer with a nod. “Here’s what I propose: if I can hit” – I glance over at the row of targets – “a hundred-point target with one shot, then you go on the chain-carousel by yourself. But if I miss….”


“You’ll go on with me.”




Nae Il looks over at the targets herself. “That’s one of the smallest ones, though, Orabang,” she notes.


“All the more reason for you to agree to it, Seollebal,” I quip in response. “Think about it: what are the chances?”


She mulls over it for a moment, then agrees with a nod. However, seconds later, her eyes narrow and her lips purse together. “You’re onto something, Orabang,” she says with a wagging finger. “I know you are.”


“Too late. You’ve already agreed,” I retort, raising the gun to my shoulder and nodding for the booth’s owner to start up the motor that would set the targets moving back and forth along their tracks. “So you’ll just have to watch closely.”


Slowly, I take several deep breaths, feeling myself grow more relaxed and steady with each one. This was, after all, the method that Abeoji had taught me while playing this exact game when I was little. Although he usually had little patience for what he termed “childish games”, he’d approved of this one, seeing it as a way to test my capabilities. He’d believed that, as both his son and a child prodigy in my own right, I should have an innate advantage: a strong sense of time and rhythm; steady hands; and good coordination. He’d showed me how, even as my mind was focused on figuring out the rate at which the targets were moving, I should work to keep my body’s own in-born meters – my breath and my pulse – as naturally steady and unchanging as a metronome.


Finally, after reaching a point where my hands have become completely still, I aim the gun slightly in front of the target. My finger moves to the trigger and I brace myself to take the shot. If I have timed this right, it should work….




Biting back a curse as I lower the gun from my shoulder, I shoot Nae Il a glare out of the corner of my eye. “What was that?”


I could just barely make out her casual shrug. “Our camera.”


Good thing I haven’t actually shot yet, because I find myself taking in an exasperated breath. “Now?”


“Why not, Orabang?” she answers with a laugh. “Don’t you know just how cool you look right now?”


I’m sure I do. But now’s not the time to be debating that.


I round on her. “Ya, Seollebal – if I lose because you’re distracting me, then it doesn’t count. Arasseo?”


“Ne!” she replies cheerily, miming zipping her mouth shut for good measure. Satisfied that she’ll stay quiet this time, I resume my shooting stance and focus on the target once again.




Just as I had been taught, I pull the trigger in that brief pause between breaths – at the point when, as Abeoji had shown me, the body ends up entirely still. And, sure enough, the hundred-point target flops back: a direct hit.


Nae Il bursts into applause, letting out an excited whoop. Then, before I could even return the gun to its owner, I feel myself staggering to one side, her arms squeezing tightly around my waist.


“That was awesome, Orabang!” she cries out, her voice muffled by the way her face is pressed into my side. “How did you do it?”


Letting out a chuckle, I stroke her on the back of the head with one hand even as I return the gun with the other.


“You know me, Seol Nae Il,” I answer. “I don’t do things by halves.” As she lets go of me, I gesture towards the assortment of stuffed animals hanging from the top of the booth. “Now – which one do you want?”


Beaming, she points up at a warmly smiling teddy bear, pronouncing it as the perfect gift for the two little girls of the family in the unit across the hall from ours. No sooner does she have it in her arms, then, does she skip back towards the carousel, just barely remembering to call back a word of thanks. Shaking my head at her antics with a bemused smile, I follow, allowing myself a brief clenched fist in triumph.


The best thing about a bet like this, I’ve found, is that Seol Nae Il doesn’t even care if she loses.




Since we already had lunch in the beer tent, drinking and rubbing shoulders with other revellers to the sound of a lively brass band, and we still have some time to kill before tonight’s fireworks, we decide to have a more formal sit-down meal for dinner. So, at Nae Il’s suggestion, we have come to another one of our favourite haunts here in the old city: the rather aptly-named Café Mozart.


Although we have been to another café of the same name in Vienna once, these two places are not related – not that we know of, anyway. Tucked away on the second floor of a building on the Getreidegasse, the thing we like most about the Café Mozart here in Salzburg is the seating: along with the usual tables, there are a number of curved booths that, even in the dull roar of its many patrons – locals and tourists alike – offer something resembling intimate privacy.


Perhaps it’s because we’re Korean, and it’s normal back home for everyone to share from the same communal dish, but I have noticed that Nae Il and I actually have a tendency to order similar, if not outright identical, dishes whenever we eat out. Tonight is no different: whereas I got the fiaker gulasch – a spicy beef stew topped with a fried egg – Nae Il, perhaps in attempts to combine two of her favourite foods, got a similar beef dish – braised in beer and served with a side of noodles.


Dessert, however, is where we almost always differ. Both of us have been of a mind to share the Café Mozart’s signature dessert – the Salzburger nockerl – for a while now; yet whenever we come here, Nae Il inevitably caves to her own love for all things chocolate and ends up ordering a slice of Mozarttorte instead: chocolate cake layered with pistachio nougat and green marzipan, all topped with a piece of her favourite candy, the Mozartkugel. And since there is no way that I could possibly finish a dessert that’s meant for two all by myself, that usually leaves me with no other recourse but to order something different: in tonight’s case, skipping the conventional dessert in favour of one of the café’s spiked coffees.


“One of these days, Seollebal,” I say drily once both of our desserts have arrived, “we’re actually going to stick to the plan.”


Nae Il answers me with a noncommittal hum and a casual shrug, her mouth already full of her first large forkful of cake. She blinks coyly at me, her mouth twitching up into a teasingly beatific smile.


“Ya…don’t look at me like that.” I point an index finger across the table at her. “Aren’t you the one who always wants to try something new?”


“Ne, Orabang,” Nae Il says. “But then every single time we come here, I end up seeing the Mozarttorte, and I end up remembering just how good it is, and–”


“Ara, ara – I get it,” I say with a laugh, holding up both hands in defeat before gesturing for her to keep going. “Honestly, I don’t mind – I’m just saying.”


She gives me yet another nod and resumes eating as I, leaning back in my seat with one arm folded across my chest, take slow sips of my coffee. I watch as her slice of cake grows smaller and smaller; but then, just when I think she’s about to shovel the last bite – the one topped with the Mozartkugel – into her mouth, she instead scoops up the candy with her fork and holds it out to me.


“Ya, Seollebal – what’s all this?”


“Nothing, Orabang,” she answers, raising herself halfway out of her seat to stretch her arm out a couple more inches towards me. “I just want you to have it.”


I let out a chuckle. “Are you sure?”


A nod. “Ne.”


“You won’t regret it?”


This time, a shake of the head, followed by yet another thrust towards me.


“Even though the Mozartkugel’s your favourite part?” I ask impishly.


“Come on, Orabang,” she whines, her free hand forming into a fist and tapping urgently on the table. “Just take it!”


“Arasseo,” I answer. “You win.” Still, before she could make any move to feed me, I reach out and make a grab for the fork, my fingers wrapping over top of hers. Then, and only then, do I lunge forward to eat the chocolate right off of it.


Nae Il giggles and gives me a warm smile as I settle back down in my seat, chasing the cloyingly sweet chocolate with some more coffee. However, instead of finishing her cake right away, she sets her fork down on her saucer, then props both elbows on the table, resting her chin in her hands.


“Have you heard anything from the school yet, Orabang?”


Her question catches me mid-sip and entirely off guard. Slowly, blinking in surprise, I set my cup back down on the table. “Mwo?”


“You know, about your practicum.”




I know where this is going now.


Even though students in the conducting program at the Mozarteum already have a set program – three years of more general studies followed by two years’ specialization in either choral or orchestral conducting – it is possible to work with the department to develop something more personalized. And, at Professor Stressemann’s suggestion that this would be a good way to get experience outside of my own focus on orchestral conducting, that’s exactly what I have been doing. Last year, it had been historical performance entailing conducting from a keyboard: hence my placement with a Baroque ensemble made up of graduate students. This year, however, while I had asked for a second such placement, I had left its exact nature up to the school.


“Ne,” I say at length. “I did hear from them, in fact. Just the other day.”


She leans forward in curiosity. “So…what’s it gonna be?”


I give her a firm look, straight in the eye. “Opera.”


Nae Il’s eyes widen and her jaw drops in surprise. “‘Opera’?”


“Mm,” I reaffirm with a nod. “Opera.”


“But…but doesn’t that department already have professors doing the conducting?” she asks, her brow furrowing in confusion.


“You’re right. I was a bit confused too, so when I got the e-mail, I replied asking for more information. When I said I’d heard from them ‘the other day’, this is what I was referring to. To be honest, I still don’t know all the details, but here’s what I know so far.


“As it turns out, I wasn’t the only conducting student to ask for a practicum this year; there’s someone else – I’m not sure who yet, just that he’s from the choral side of things – who also asked for one. And when the faculty saw that combination – one orchestral, and one choral – they decided this would be a good way to get us to learn from each other.”


Nae Il gives me a slow nod, clearly still trying to process everything. “So…sort of like what you did with Lee Yoon Hoo over the summer.”


I answer with a shrug. “More or less.”


“Ne. Arasseyo,” she says softly, her face falling slightly as she gives me a nod. “But I still don’t get it, Orabang,” she adds a second later. “Just what are you supposed to do?”


“In rehearsals for the entire company at large, nothing much,” I explain. “As you’ve already guessed, that will be the responsibility of the faculty, so while my partner and I will be expected to attend rehearsals, we’re more there to observe than anything else.


“What we will be in charge of, then, is the one-on-one practice sessions. We’ll be joining the pre-existing teams of vocal coaches and accompanists whom students are assigned to for more focused practice: either on their parts in the company’s productions, or on their own repertoire outside of that.”


Nae Il gives me yet another nod, this time in understanding. Then, as though to make the matter official, she finally eats that last bite of cake.




As it turns out, I did already know my partner. Or, at least, I knew of him.


Alain, originally from France, is my sunbae, being in the third year of his general studies. And although we haven’t had any real chance to work together before, I immediately recognized him at the general meeting with the opera department’s faculty on the first day of class.


Mostly, it’s because of the nickname.


Short and chubby, with a mop of unruly curly brown hair and dark plastic-rimmed glasses, Alain was immediately dubbed “Schubert” by his classmates when he entered the program: a name that soon spread through the entire conducting department. In fact, some of the more enterprising – and historically nerdy – among us have even taken it a step further: calling him “Schwammerl”, the actual affectionate nickname that Schubert had been given by his own friends.


I told him during that first meeting, though, that I would rather call him by his real name. With the two of us on that strange threshold between teacher and student as conductors-in-training, I’d explained, it would set a better example for the students if we took ourselves seriously.


Right now, it’s just after Nae Il and I have parted ways after meeting together for lunch: time for our first session.


I am the first to show up at the large practice room that’s been assigned to us. Despite the ample floor space and the floor-to-ceiling mirrors lining one wall, the room is only sparsely furnished: several chairs and music stands, a single small desk, and an upright piano. I make my way to the instrument now, placing my bag on the floor next to the bench before opening up the keyboard lid and setting up the fold-down music rack inside.


Briefly, I cast a glance over my shoulder at the door behind me, which I had left open for Alain’s arrival.




I turn back around to face the keyboard with a shrug. After all, he’s not late; I’m just the sort who prefers to show up early. So, with little else left to do in the meantime, I reach down into my bag with one hand and pull out my copy of the score that we had been given at the general meeting:


Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.


This is one of two productions that the Mozarteum’s opera company will be working on this year; all of the students have been divided into two teams accordingly, with more specific casting still to come.


Setting the score onto the music rack, I flip it open to the first page. In deference to my own specialization in orchestral conducting, it is a full score, with all the vocal and instrumental lines written out on separate staves. Alain’s, I know, is a vocal score, with the orchestral part rendered down into a piano transcription.


Still, it’s not like I can’t play it all out anyway. And, with several minutes still to spare, I might as well give it a shot now.


It’s a good thing that the opera’s opening overture starts on a relatively simple melodic line, because I need those first few seconds of simple sight-reading to work up the nerve to really throw myself into the piece. As the music grows in depth and continues on at a frenetic pace, though, I feel that something isn’t quite right.


Something doesn’t sound right.


What I’m playing on the piano doesn’t match the orchestral sound in my head – but why?


As, once again, I raise my left hand to flip a page, the answer comes to me.


Of course.


Orchestral scores can only fit several bars on each page, so it’s inevitable that I have to turn the page every few seconds. But every single time I do, I lose a few precious notes in the bass.


I remember Professor Stresemann’s words to me from one of our first lessons: When you have to choose between the score and the music, choose the music.


All right. I’ll do it. To hell with the score, then!


Setting my jaw and pressing my lips into a thin line in determination, I plunge on ahead, letting the music in my head guide my hands.


The result’s not perfect. I’m sure I’m making mistakes here and there: places that don’t quite match up with what’s on the page. But I don’t care. Because what I’m losing in accuracy, I’m gaining in musicality. Now, with my attention focused entirely on the sound, I can do things that I might not have been able to do before: playing tremolo in the bass chords to imitate the rapid bowing of the cello and double-bass; using octaves in the treble to capture both the high tone of the winds and the more medium sound of the strings; adding layers and depth and even the occasional ornamental flourish.


As, finally, my rendition of the overture comes to an end, I sag forward in my seat, resting my hands on my knees as I breathe out a loud sigh of relief at a mission accomplished. Then, in the silence that follows, slow clapping rings out behind me.


“Bravo!” a deep male voice calls out in time with the applause. “Bravo, bravo!”


Turning around slightly, I glance over my shoulder to find Alain standing just inside of the doorway, a folder tucked under his arm to keep his hands free. Quickly, I dip my head in greeting. “Sorry – were you waiting long?”


“I should be asking you that question, not the other way around,” he answers, finally stepping into the room towards me. “I showed up…oh, about half-way through your performance, but what you had going there was so good I didn’t want to stop you.”


Once again, I give Alain a slight nod. “Danke. But,” I add as he makes his way towards the desk, “I thought all of us were required to translate a score onto a piano by sight as part of our audition.”


Alain stops, his hand hovering just above the back of his chair. “True,” he quips back, pulling the chair out and taking his seat. “However, whereas I could play well enough to get by, I could never do it with the same” – he waves one hand in a flourish – “finesse that you just did.”


My eyes narrow in skepticism. “Was?”


“You were a piano major, weren’t you? And a virtuoso at that.”


I give him a nod in reply. “And you’re not?”


He shakes his head. “Voice major. A former choirboy who was lucky enough to get through puberty with something somewhat decent, but who actually came away with more passion for what happened behind-the-scenes than for performing on stage.”


“I see.”


“Well, enough about that,” Alain says at length, tossing his folder down onto the desk and flipping it open. “What matters now is what I’ve got here.”


I think I know what it is, but I decide to ask anyway. “What is that?”


“Our roster,” he replies. “These are the students that we’ll be working with this year.”


“Ah.” Turning my attention back to my score, I add, “Let’s hear it, then. First of all: how many are there?”




Eyes widening in surprise, I swivel back around to face him. “That’s it?”


Alain gives me a helpless shrug. “There aren’t all that many students in the company to begin with. Split that number in half, then divide them up to all the practice groupings…you get the idea.” He pauses for a moment, then asks, “Why? Is that a problem?”


“Nein,” I reply, shaking my head. I wave a dismissive hand at him. “Go on.”


From where I am on the piano bench, I can just see the small stack of papers that Alain has in front of him, each sheet corresponding to a profile that the students had to fill out for themselves. He picks up the first sheet, and, adjusting his glasses, starts reading out the relevant details.


“Ying Xi Wen – that’s Wen as the surname, mind you – a first-year Master’s student–”


“They’re all Masters students,” I cut in drily.


Startled at my interruption, Alain stops reading and peers up blinking at me. “Right,” he stammers out. “Moving on. She’s a first-year student from China.”


I nod to show that I’m following his words thus far. “And her Fach?” I ask, referring to the system by which different voices are typed according to range and tone.




That makes me perk up in curiosity. “Is she a newcomer, then?” Soubrettes, after all, are usually sopranos who still have relatively young- and light-sounding voices.


Alain nods. “She’s already got a voice major and some solo performances under her belt, but this is her first serious foray into opera.”


“I see.”


“So it’ll likely be either Barbarina or a chorus role for her this time around.”


Now it’s my turn to give a helpless shrug. “You’re the one who knows that stuff, not me. But anyway – back to business. Who’s next?”


He places Ying Xi’s file down on the desk, slipping it in the back of the pile, before picking up the next one. “Niklaus Steiner. Yet another first-year, this time from Switzerland. Actually….” He pauses and takes a quick peek at the last sheet, then nods to himself. “All three are first-years, so let’s just leave it there. As for his Fach, he’s a cavalier baritone who’s also willing to do lyric if that’s what’s asked of him.”


Once again, I respond with a simple nod, signalling to Alain that I’m ready for the third student’s profile. However, when he goes to do just that, flipping to the last page, he suddenly stops. A split second later, he snatches up the paper, holding it just inches away from his face, his mouth opened slightly in surprise.


“Well, this is interesting….”


Deep inside of me, I feel something clench. From the way he said that, this could either end really well, or really badly.


“What? What is it?”


Alain waves the paper in my direction. “This girl’s Korean – just like you.”


Trying to ease the tension I’m feeling, I let out a scoffing laugh. “So? It’s not like everyone from Korea knows everyone else – not even in classical music.” I jerk my head slightly to one side. “Tell me her name, and we’ll see whether or not I actually know her.”


He answers with a nod. “Of course.” Then, rustling the paper once more, he peers down at it. “If I were to say it the way you’re probably used to, then her name is Chae Do Kyung.”


Wait, what?!


Moving so fast that I end up pushing the bench backwards across the floor, I scramble up from my seat at the piano. Briskly, I march towards the desk, one hand outstretched.


“Give it to me,” I bark out. “Give it to me!”


I snatch the paper right out of Alain’s hand before he has even had a chance to move. Giving the sheet a shake so that it flattens out with a crisp snapping sound, I look down at it with narrowed eyes.


It can’t be. It simply cannot be.


And yet, it is.


The Fach is the one I already know hers to be: a lyric soprano. The history is one that I’ve literally watched her in: Micaela in a production of Carmen in Seoul. The face in the attached photograph is one that I would recognize anywhere.


Chae Do Kyung.


“So you do know her.”


Startled right out of my thoughts, I look up over the top edge of the paper at Alain. “Sorry?”


“I don’t know what sort of history you have with each other that would have you looking like you’ve just seen a ghost,” he explains. “But suffice it to say that there is something.”


“We’ve known each other since we were kids.” Hopefully, he won’t notice just how forced my words are.


“Ah….” Alain gives me a slow nod. “Childhood sweethearts, then?” He adds, punctuating his question with a wink.


Damn. This guy’s smarter than I’d thought. But I can’t exactly say that, so I simply respond with a snap: “Look – could we not change the subject right now?”


Realizing that that’s all he’s about to get from me, Alain surrenders with an exaggerated shrug. “All right, all right – whatever you say. So, getting back to the original subject at hand, I don’t think I need to tell you any more about her, since you’ve already read the file yourself.


“And speaking of which….”


He suddenly shifts in his seat, ducking his head as though trying to peer past me at something behind. “Well, you’re here early.”


From behind, I hear the light clicking sound of high-heeled shoes as someone takes several steps into the room. Then, moments later, it’s followed by a familiar voice, smooth and lilting as silk: “Apparently I am.”




If it’s any consolation, Chae Do Kyung seems to be just as caught off guard at the sight of me as I am of her. When, at Alain’s introduction, I finally turn around to face her, it is just in time to catch her eyes widening in surprise, followed a split second later by a mixture of recognition and relief.


“Cha Yoo Jin,” she says in greeting, gliding towards me with an outstretched hand. “How are things? It’s been ages since we last ran into each other!”


Her German is odd: spoken with a slight lisp as though still unaccustomed to some of the harder or more guttural sounds in the language. Or, perhaps, it’s not her accent that is odd, but simply my own perception of it. After all, up until now, not counting song lyrics, I’ve only ever heard her speaking Korean, with the occasional phrase in Italian.


But it’s that same foreignness that’s making it easier for me to recover from my own initial shock at seeing her name on the file. Meeting in a new place, speaking a new language…it’s a new beginning, without any of the baggage from the past.


So, as I return her handshake, I find myself finally able to smile. “I’ve been well, danke. And you? Last I heard, you were still in Italy.”


That was, after all, where she’d told me she was going at our last meeting two years ago.


Do Kyung answers with a beatific smile, addressing her next words to me even as she moves on to the desk to shake Alain’s hand. “I was – but one can only go so far in the audition circuit without some sort of official accreditation.”


Turning around in time with her actions, never once taking my eyes off her, I get a nagging sense that I’m missing something, that Do Kyung’s not giving us an honest answer. However, when Alain takes her words in stride, and even gestures for her to get set up for our first practice, I shake my head.


Ani. I’m trying too hard; thinking too much. It’s just surprise at seeing me combined with her unfamiliarity with German that’s making her sound so formally rehearsed right now.


Once Do Kyung is settled, standing in an open space on the floor beyond the piano, Alain leans forward in his seat, tenting his hands together under his chin. “So, Do Kyung,” he begins, “what do you have to show us?”


All three students have been asked to do this: to prepare and select a brief piece as an introduction and a showcase of their individual strengths. So it’s no surprise to either Alain or I when Do Kyung, her face cracking into that familiar smooth smile, pulls out the folder tucked under her arm and holds it out to me.


Just like the old days. She’s making me come to her.


At the same moment that I cross over to take the folder from Do Kyung, I hear her answering Alain’s question: “‘Io Ti Penso Amore’.”


I feel rather than see his surprised blink. “That’s a contemporary piece.”


Do Kyung doesn’t miss a beat. “Is there a problem with that?”


“Nein. Of – of course not,” Alain stammers. Noting that I, too, have now turned to face him, he moves to ask me. “Yoo Jin – do you know it?”


I shake my head. “Nein. But” – I hold up the folder for him to see – “as long as there’s an accompaniment part in here, I’ll be fine.”


“Of course there is,” Do Kyung replies smoothly, before shooting me a pointed look. “Have you ever known me to be unprepared?”


Shaking my head yet again, I head back towards the piano, folder in hand. As all three of us go through the motions to warm up Do Kyung’s voice – my hands idly marking each note as she works her way through her scales at Alain’s prompting – I take a moment to skim over the sheet music in front of me. Thus, by the time she nods at me to signal that she’s ready, I’m already confident that I can play the entire piece by sight.


The accompaniment to this piece – composed for a film to a melody taken from one of Paganini’s violin concertos – is sparse: broken chords in the bass while the treble, for the most part, follows the singer’s melody. All the better, then, for showcasing Do Kyung’s voice. Clean and clear, she keeps her vibrato and ornamentation at a minimum, focusing instead on letting each note ring out as freely and effortlessly as she can.


Io ti penso amore

Quando il bagliore del sole

Risplende sur mare

Io ti penso amore

Quando ogni raggio della luna

Si dipinge sulle fonti


This song, like so many in solo vocal repertoire, is a declaration of love. Slow and languid, it conjures up the image of a woman reflecting on all the different instances and moments when she would long for the man she loves. In daylight, in nighttime, on the road or by the sea…always, thoughts of him fill her mind.


As the piece reaches its climax, Do Kyung’s voice and my accompaniment both darken. Her phrases become shorter, her words more clipped, as she rises up higher and higher and higher until, finally, it happens. I drop away just as she leaps up to the highest, ringing note in the entire piece: so strong that it echoes throughout the room in the silence that follows; yet so pure that it seems to just burst spontaneously out of her with no effort at all.


When, at last, the song is done, all three of us – Alain, Do Kyung, and I – are left momentarily stunned, struck dumb by what we have just heard. Finally, after seconds that feel much, much longer, Alain pushes back his chair and climbs to his feet, giving her that same slow clapping applause he had given me.


“Brava,” he calls out. “Brava. Bravissima!” Stepping out from behind the desk, he makes his way towards her. “A prima donna – right in our midst!”


Quickly, my hand flies up to my mouth, just managing to muffle a snort of laughter, even as I surreptitiously roll my eyes in Alain’s direction.


He is, to put it lightly, absolutely besotted.


As, finally, I regain enough composure that it now feels safe to let go and return my hand to its place at the keyboard, Do Kyung places one of hers over her heart and dips down in some informal attempt at a curtsey.


“You really think so?” she asks. When he answers with an enthusiastic nod, she finally accepts his proffered handshake. “Danke; you’re too kind.”


The two of them exchange several words: words that, from my place at the piano, I’m unable to make out. Then, finally, Alain beckons me over so that the three of us can work out a more concrete practice schedule, eventually settling on two afternoons a week.


“That is, of course, because we need enough space to accommodate everybody,” Alain finishes, his words jumbling and running into each other in his excitement. “But Do Kyung” – he places one hand solemnly over his heart – “I really, really do look forward to working with you again.”


As she thanks him with the same fluid courtesy that she did before, I find myself resisting a childish urge to burst out laughing a second time at the earnest look on his face. I force it down, biting the inside of my mouth, as we exchange a more casual farewell. Then, when she has finally gone, sailing elegantly out of the room in that way she does, I round on Alain.


“Don’t even think about it; she’s not interested in you.”


Immediately, the smile melts off of his face while the rest of him seems to deflate. Shoulders slumped, he plods slowly back to his spot, sitting down with a sigh.


“Look,” I add in my own defence, “I’m not saying this to be cruel, but you’re not the first guy I’ve seen react this way to her.”


He blinks up at me. “Was?”


“It’s like that line from Carmen – you know, from ‘La Habanera’.” The French feels foreign on my tongue, and I’m sure my attempt grates on Alain’s ears as a native speaker, but I sound it out anyway: “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle que nul ne peut apprivoiser; et c’est bien en vain qu’on l’appelle s’il lui convient de refuser. The point is: back during our undergrad at Haneum, Chae Do Kyung left quite a string of broken hearts behind her. Most of the guys tried to ask her out at some point or another, but she rejected every single one of them. Instead, like Carmen, she loves whomever she does – and no matter what he does, she’ll get her way.”


Something in my response must have revealed too much, though, because Alain’s first response is to answer with a sardonic laugh.


Now it’s my turn to blink at him in confusion. “Was?”


“Nothing,” he answers in a falsely innocent voice. “It’s just…spoken like a true ex-boyfriend, that’s all.”


My jaw drops. How on earth did he know?


“That look you gave me when you heard me say her name, changing the subject as soon as I asked about your past…those rank right up there with ‘It’s complicated’ as dead giveaways about what really happened between you.”


I take an urgent step towards him. “It’s not like that!”


He cuts me off with one raised index finger. “Don’t think you can fool me on this one, Cha Yoo Jin. First of all: I’m French. It may be a stereotype that we’re all steeped in romance, but in this case, that stereotype holds true. And second: this is opera.”


Before I could get a word in, he plunges on ahead. “The stories may be exaggerated, but where do you think they come from? Real life – where else? All those melodramatics, they all happened somewhere, to someone.” He shrugs. “It might as well be you.”




For a moment, Nae Il doesn’t seem to have understood what I have just said. Head lowered over her soup, having just taken a spoonful, she goes entirely still, her eyes widened in surprise. But then, moving so fast that I could scarcely react, she snatches up the bowl, just barely managing to spit her mouthful back into it rather than onto the table – or, for that matter, right into my face.


“Mwo?!” She jerks her head back up, shooting me an incredulous glare across the dining table. “Chae Do Kyung?!”


Realizing my mistake, I raise both hands, palms facing forward, in a desperate gesture for her to calm down. “Look, Seollebal–”


“Out of all the people you could possibly be working with, Orabang,” she cries out, her voice rising in hysteria until she is nearly screaming in my face, “it has to be her?!”


Normally, when it comes to Nae Il and I, I’m the voice of reason in our relationship: the one who has to step in to rein her in when she’s too earnestly wearing her heart on her sleeve.


But tonight is different. Tonight, I’m feeling her rubbing off on me instead. Letting out an exasperated growl, I fling both hands down onto the table, withstanding the temptation to curl them up into fists.


“Aish, Seollebal – could you just stop freaking out for a moment? It’s not like any of this was my idea!”


My earnest plea sweeps away anything she might have been about to say, reverberating over our heads like a living, pulsing thing. In the silence that follows, Nae Il once again grows still, taking several deep breaths in attempts to calm herself down.


“Ara,” she gasps out as soon as she could manage the words. “I know. It’s not your fault.” Her words are hesitant, as though she is trying to convince herself even as she’s thinking them. “You…you have no choice on the matter. Whoever’s assigned to you and Alain is not up to you to decide. It’s just…it’s just….” She stops, taking in one more deep gulping breath, before blurting out, “It’s just bad luck on our part.”


“Which is why,” I rush in, reaching across the table to place one of my hands over one of hers, “I’m coming clean to you about this.”


Nae Il lets out a soft gasp. “Orabang….”


“I know what you’re thinking, Nae Il-ah.” Slowly, keeping my eyes on my actions, I start to stroke the back of her hand. “After all, who wouldn’t feel the same? Your boyfriend…now colleagues with his ex….” I pause, and look up earnestly into her eyes. “Of course you’d worry.


“But I can promise you, Nae Il-ah,” I add, “that what you’re afraid of won’t happen.” Something hitches in my throat; I cough softly to clear it before moving on. “I chose you then, and I’d still choose you now.”


She gives me a nod and a grateful smile. But as I let go of her hand and retreat back to my seat, I can see that she is still not convinced. For a long moment, she stares down unseeing at her food; her shoulders are tense and, although I cannot see them, I imagine that her hands are clenching tightly to her skirt under the table.


Stopping myself mid-spoonful, I set down my own spoon and look back at her with a sigh. “Wae?”


Nae Il squirms uncomfortably in her seat, swaying slightly from side to side, as she stares off at some distant spot in the room behind me. “It’s…it’s not that I don’t trust you, Orabang,” she says glumly. “I…I might have worried that you were a player or a cheater before, but…but not anymore. I know now that you’d never do something like that. It’s like Rak-kun used to say, Orabang: you have your faults, but at least you’re loyal.


“But I am worried about Chae Do Kyung,” she adds, her voice growing firmer and more determined. Finally, she works up the nerve to look me straight in the eye. “You’re a guy, so you wouldn’t know this, but foxy girls like her…she’d never take ‘no’ for an answer.”


“What?” I let out what I hope is a reassuring laugh. “Are you afraid she’s going to try to seduce me or something?”


For a moment, Nae Il doesn’t say anything. But then, biting her bottom lip in a pout, she nods.


Well, this just won’t do. Breathing in a deep sigh, I push my chair backwards away from the table. Then, once I have turned myself slightly to the side to make more room, I open up one arm to the side.


“Come here.”


Nae Il doesn’t need to be told twice. Her face breaks into a sad smile as she gets up from her seat and slowly shuffles over to my side of the table. When she comes to a stop in front of me, I take hold of one of her hands and guide her to sit down in my lap, the arm that had offered the hug now coming down to rest across her stomach.


Holding her close, I lower my head, laying my chin on her shoulder. We don’t make eye contact, both of us choosing to just look straight ahead, but I do manage to whisper in her ear.


“That won’t happen, Nae Il-ah. I promise you.” I let out a wry chuckle. “The thing is: Chae Do Kyung was the one who dumped me, not the other way around. Back on the night that we first met. Even though you saw and heard us together a few times since then, it was always as friends. No more, no less.”


I feel myself moving along with Nae Il as she lets out a sigh. “But – but that time she came with you to my apartment, when – when you weren’t around, she said–”


“Whatever it was Do Kyung said to you back then, it doesn’t matter now,” I add earnestly, tightening my embrace for emphasis.


“I just don’t want you to get hurt.”


“I won’t. She’s just an opera student, and I, as it turns out, am just her accompanist. Even if, for the sake of practice, we have to do a love scene” – I feel Nae Il stiffen at that, but press on anyway – “even then, it’ll just be acting. It won’t mean anything.”


I pull back just enough that she now turns around, moving to sit sideways on my lap as she peers up at me in curiosity.


“What? Did you honestly think that guys just lose their heads at the sight of a pretty girl – or the sound of a beautiful voice, for that matter? Ya, Seollebal – that’s rather unfair, isn’t it? Men have hearts, too. We know who we want or don’t want to be with just as much as girls do.”


A devilish glint starts to appear in her eyes. “And you want me, Orabang – is that it?”


“Exactly,” I answer promptly, darting forward at the last second to give her a soft peck on the lips.


When I pull back, it is to find her blinking at me in surprise. And no wonder; rarely am I ever so forward like this. But then, just as I’d hoped, she slowly runs the tip of her tongue over her bottom lip before giving me a genuinely warm smile.


“You know, Orabang,” she says at length. “I’d ask you to do that more often, but then it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore.”


And that’s all the warning I get before she closes the gap between us with a kiss of her own.




In all the years I’ve known her, I have never seen Chae Do Kyung lose her temper.


It’s all part of a well-constructed façade she had put together for herself, she once told me: a way to survive when, as a young girl, her parents had sent her away on her own to a boarding school in Italy. Struggling to adjust and battling homesickness, she had tried to compensate by making as many friends as possible, putting on an air of sophisticated grace to charm her way to the head of the pack.


Still, I have learned to read the signs to know when she’s upset, and I can see them now: the defiance flaring up in her eyes; the arrogant way she tosses her head, her hair flicking back over her shoulder; her arms crossed in front of her chest, the perfectly-manicured fingernails on one hand tapping out a quick ostinato rhythm on the opposite arm.


Turning on the bar stool beside hers in Cafe Classic where we’ve decided to meet, I mirror her posture with my own.


“All right, Do Kyung-ah.” My words come out as an exasperated sigh. “What is it this time?”


She raises an eyebrow at me. “Do you even need to ask?” She tosses her head once more, this time bursting out with a disdainful scoff, before reverting to look me dead in the eye. “A chorus role. Not even an understudy part, but a character in the background, without even a name.” Uncrossing her arms, she sweeps one in a wide arc in the space between us before placing that hand down on the counter. “Is that all I’m good enough for here?”


“Ani,” I answer promptly. “Of course not. But still,” I add, one corner of my mouth twitching up into a smirk, “it’s better than a silent role.”


One finger flicks forward, pointing threateningly in my face. “Don’t.” Do Kyung shoots me a levelling glare. “Don’t you dare laugh at me, Cha Yoo Jin. I might have let you get away with that at Haneum, but not here.”


“I’m not laughing at you,” I retort, keeping my voice steady so she knows I mean it. “That’s just how things are here at the Mozarteum.” I cast my mind back: how had Nae Il put it once? “This place is full of geniuses, and you are just one of them.”


Needless to say, she does not take that well. “Ya, Yoo Jin-ah–”


“I know the sort of treatment we got at Haneum, Do Kyung-ah,” I cut her off, “but it’s not going to happen here.” When she pouts at me, I answer with yet another sigh of exasperation. “Look. I know what you’re trying to ask me, but I can tell you right now that my answer is no. No appeals. No re-auditions. The girls who got the Countess’s part got it fair and square, and that’s final.”


Do Kyung gives me one more long look, but then she relents with a shrug.


“Ara. I didn’t expect you to say anything different.” It’s a bald-faced lie, and we both know it, but I don’t press the matter further, because what she says next is sincere. “You always were like that, Cha Yoo Jin: the type who prefers music over women.”


“And you,” I retort without skipping a beat, “prefer fame over both of those.”


She cracks a small fond smile at that, and for a moment, both of us bask in the same shared memory. The exchange is an old joke, dating back to when we were still kids and just starting to figure out what we wanted in life.


“Well, right now,” Do Kyung says at length, “you’re coming along further than I am.” She glances down at the counter, a wistful look in her eyes. “I’d thought that getting some more experience here in Europe would help, but….”


She doesn’t finish her sentence. And I, moving by instinct, reach out one hand to comfort her, just barely managing to stop myself with a jolt at the last possible second.


Eyebrows quirking up in surprise, Do Kyung stares down at our hands, mine hovering just a hair’s breadth over hers. Heat rushes up to my face, and I snatch my hand away, hiding it in my lap just under the counter’s edge.


“Mi- mianhae,” I stammer, tearing my eyes away from her. “That – that wasn’t – I didn’t–”


“Gwenchana,” Do Kyung answers, giving me a gentle smile once I work up the nerve to return her gaze. “I understand. Things are different now that you’ve got a girlfriend.”


Something about the way she said that makes me tense up in dread, Nae Il’s earlier warning rising up unbidden in my mind. But I squash it back down just as quickly, rolling my shoulders back in something resembling a stretch.


After all, Do Kyung’s already said it herself: I’ve chosen Nae Il, and the only option left for her now is to accept it.




“Your problem, Chae Do Kyung, is really quite simple.” Leaning forward in his seat, Alain props his elbows on the desk and tents his fingers under his chin, his lips twitching up into a smug expression. “You’re too perfect.”


As Do Kyung raises an incredulous eyebrow, I round on him from my place on the piano bench.


“No offence, Alain, but what sort of lame excuse is that?”


He shoots me a harsh glare. “Shush! Don’t forget who’s the vocalist here; if I want your input, I’ll ask for it.”


I meet his glare with an equally defiant one of my own before, rolling my eyes and giving him a disapproving shake of the head, I turn back to focus on the score in front of me. I sense rather than see Alain tensing up in annoyance, but right now, I’m simply beyond caring anymore.


Three weeks into our arrangement, and already, the cracks are beginning to show. Despite my earlier warning, Alain’s crush on Chae Do Kyung is still as strong as ever, and he is infuriatingly obvious about it in a way that makes me have to hold back the temptation to gag.


I could, for instance, never imagine him telling either Ying Xi or Niklaus that they’re “too perfect”.


Now, with the news that our attempt to get Do Kyung cast as the lead in The Marriage of Figaro has failed, Alain is feeling a rather strong bout of wounded pride. Given that he can’t blame the opera department for this outright, I’m not surprised that he’s now resorting to taking his frustration out on me instead. After all, I’ve made no secret of the fact that despite my years-long friendship with her, I’m not about to give Do Kyung any special treatment or sympathy: an arrangement that, to be honest, she’s taking better than he is.


But for Alain to so openly pull rank like this? That’s a first.


Still, despite my pointed attempt to ignore him, I feel his eyes burning into the back of my head for one more long moment before, finally, he returns his attention to Do Kyung.


“Tell me,” he begins, adjusting his glasses with one hand. “Were you told to make your voice sound beautiful? Like, as a goal in and of itself?”


The two of us – Do Kyung and I – exchange knowing glances: a gesture I’m sure Alain doesn’t fail to notice.


“Ja,” she answers him. Then, looking once more back at me, she adds, “My teacher at Haneum used to tell me that that was proper technique.”


Alain claps his hands together once. “And that’s exactly what I’m talking about!” He makes a sweeping gesture with one hand. “My dear, that might be what you need for a solo or concert career, but it’s not going to get you far on stage.”




I open my mouth, an answer already on my lips, but yet another pointed glance from Alain makes me think better on it. Silently, I close my mouth, gesturing for him to go ahead.


“Basically, it’s like this: opera is not really about singing.”


Do Kyung’s mouth opens slightly in surprise. “But – but I thought–”


“Of course, it’s important to sound pleasant,” Alain blurts out, making a magnanimous gesture with one hand. “People do attend the opera to hear beautiful music. But what good is that when the singers cannot move the audience? If they cannot bring them into the story? Because, my dear, that’s what it is all about in the end: the story. The characters and their feelings.”


Slowly, my gesture unnoticed by the others, I nod, one corner of my mouth lifting up in an approving smile. Alain’s words of advice now remind me so much of what Professor Stresemann had said to me, back when we were preparing for my Grieg concerto.


It seems that most of Haneum’s elites have had to learn this lesson the hard way.


And, from the way that understanding is starting to dawn in Do Kyung’s eyes, I can tell that she, too, is finally starting to get it. “So…” she drawls out slowly, “you mean acting, then?”


“Exactly.” Punctuating his words with one more clap, Alain gets up from his seat and steps around to the front of the desk. “That’s what I want you to focus on today: your acting,” he says, casually crossing his arms in front of his chest. He dips his head in something resembling a bow. “Pick a piece.”


Once again, Do Kyung blinks at him in confusion. “Eh?”


“Any piece you know off by heart,” Alain answers, spreading his arms wide in invitation. “One that you can sing on a moment’s notice, without having to focus on the sound.”


In the brief pause before she answers, my hands move of their own accord to rest silently in the proper starting place on the keyboard. And sure enough, her choice is exactly what I’d thought it would be:


“‘La Habanera.’ From Carmen.”


If Alain is surprised, he does a good job at hiding it. However, even he couldn’t help a single incredulous, “That’s not in your Fach.”


“I know,” Do Kyung replies smoothly, throwing in a casual shrug. “That’s why, at Haneum’s production, I was cast as Micaela instead.”


Her response, given simply, without missing a beat, makes me smile. I still remember the countless times I had tried to tell her this exact thing when she had come to me with her anger at being denied the lead role; she had refused to believe me then, but it seems that that’s no longer the case now.


“However,” she continues, “that doesn’t mean that I can’t do it. If Yoo Jin would be so good as to transpose it up into my range” – she gives me an imploring look, which I answer with a nod – “then everything should work out. Out of all the pieces in my repertoire, ‘La Habanera’ is still my favourite – and you, Alain,” she adds, already starting to get into character with a flirtatiously raised eyebrow, “were the one who was asking for something I knew by heart.”


Having known Do Kyung for so many years, I can see that she is playing him: using that polished charm and wit to bend him to her will. And sure enough, after one last half-hearted attempt to dissuade her, he acquiesces.


“Well, if that’s the case,” Alain says, pushing himself up and off the desk with both hands, “let’s begin.” Gesturing for Do Kyung to step back into the empty space in the room, he positions himself several paces in front of her.


“Now,” he begins, “remember how this is staged. You” – he makes a sweeping motion from her head down to the floor – “are Carmen. You’ve just come out from the cigarette factory, a long line of beaus already trailing behind you, when you are approached by a group of soldiers. Soldiers” – he points to himself – “like me. And right now, you want to have some fun with them: play them just like you have all those local boys.


“So, Carmen,” Alain finishes, placing a peculiarly French-sounding accent on the name, “I want to see you try. Try to seduce me.”


From my vantage point at the piano, I can see alarm flare up in Do Kyung’s eyes. But, a split second later, it is gone: replaced by a sharper twinkle that signals to me that she is now in character and ready to begin. Sure enough, there is a certain imperious and regal quality to the nod Do Kyung sends my way.


As of this moment, she is the one in charge.


There is a slinky, sensual quality to Bizet’s music here: a slow but steady ostinato in the basal accompaniment; a slowly descending chromatic scale in the melody. It is music that invites the singer – Do Kyung – to move with it, swaying her hips as she dances towards her desired target.


My hands move on their own accord, making their way through the familiar accompaniment without my guidance, thus affording me the chance to watch the pair more closely. As Do Kyung continues to sing, she leads Alain in a flirtatious dance: slowly stepping closer and closer towards him, but always turning on her heel and stalking away at the very last second. The entire time, I can just make out his quietly murmured encouragement: “Ja. That’s it. That’s it. Just like that. Sing to me.” A subtle beckoning gesture with one hand. “That’s it. To me….”


Just when we reach the halfway point in the piece, though, Alain abruptly waves his hand in the air.




Startled out of her own concentration, Do Kyung stumbles to a halt. Her eyes widen in confused surprise. “Why? What’s wrong?” She looks herself over, arms spread out slightly to either side. “I was doing it, wasn’t I?”


“Ja, you were,” he concedes with a pensive nod. “But something…something’s still not quite right.”


This time, I’m the one to speak up. “What do you mean?”


“I’m not sure,” he answers. “Just….” He glances back at Do Kyung. “You’ve got the actions right; that’s for sure. But I don’t know…I’m still not feeling it. I’m still not convinced.” Noting the way her jaw drops at that, he quickly moves to correct himself. “Nein, I don’t mean it like…like that! What I mean is…what I mean is–”


I can’t help it. “What you mean is that she’s just not that into you.”


As Do Kyung presses one hand to her mouth to hold back a startled burst of laughter, Alain rounds on me. His mouth opens – most likely to give me yet another scolding – but then, suddenly, he seems to think better of it. Instead, rather than give me a sharp rebuttal, he now turns his head this way and that, glancing from Do Kyung to me and back again. For a moment, I can see what looks like several conflicting emotions flickering on his face, but eventually, he seems to make up his mind about whatever it is he is puzzling over.


Next thing I know, Alain has rounded on me, snapping his fingers as he beckons me with a flick of the wrist. “You.”


Blinking in surprise, I point to myself. “Me?”


“Ja, you,” he answers. “Get over here; we’re switching places.”


Wait. What?


Something in my expression must have given me away, because he moves to explain. “If you think the problem is me, then let’s see if you do any better.”


My jaw drops. If Alain is implying what I think he is….


There’s not much that I can actually say to the contrary. After all, there’s no harshness or challenge in his tone: nothing that I can protest without looking really petty about it. Still, as I move to obey, scrambling up from my seat and heading briskly towards them, I can’t help asking anyway.


“Are you sure this is wise?”


Alain blinks owlishly at me, a genuinely innocent look in his eyes. “Why not?”


I bite back what would have been a more scathing remark. “You know why.”


“Don’t worry,” he responds smoothly, reaching up to place what he intends to be a reassuring hand on my shoulder. He lowers his voice so that only I could hear him. “It’s just acting; it’s not like any one of us actually means anything.”


Well, actually, about that….


“Besides,” he continues, “it’s just an experiment. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll just switch back.” He gives my shoulder a squeeze, pressing so hard that it feels more like a pinch – which, come to think of it, might actually be his intent – before letting go and making his way to the spot I had vacated at the piano.


Do Kyung and I both watch him go, neither of us yet daring to look each other directly in the eye. She, however, is the first to speak, letting out a hushed question in Korean: “Jealous much?”


“Who?” I whisper back. “Him?”


I sense rather than see her nod beside me. “Mm.”


“I suppose so,” I answer, finally turning to face her. “But there’s not much we can do about that.”


Straightening up to her full height, she saunters several paces away from me, pivoting around on her heel at the last second so that we are now in position face to face.


Already, I can see that sharp steely look in her eyes: the one that tells me she is shifting into character. It’s sheer power and sensuality, all-knowing like a tigress – or a fox.


Foxy girls like her…never take “no” for an answer.


Nae Il’s words, once again, flare up in my mind. Quickly, urgently, I push them away, swallowing a mouthful of saliva as though those words could go down with it.


Do Kyung, it seems, notices my gesture. “Gwenchana?” she murmurs at me, her voice so quiet that only I could hear her.


“Ne,” I answer, throwing in a nod for good measure.


A twinkle appears in her eye. “I’m not going to go easy on you, you know.”


“Geu rae.”


Taking a deep breath, I shake my arms loose, willing myself to relax. Then, straightening up to my own full height, I shoot her a level look across the room.


It is now my turn to set the scene.


“Alain already told you the set-up, so I won’t say too much there. But, there’s going to be one difference: I’m not one of the random soldiers in the crowd; I’m Don José.”


That, I’ve decided, is my only solution here. In this scene, Don José is the only one out of all the men on the stage who seems immune to Carmen’s charms. True, as the opera’s male lead, he falls in love with her later on, but not yet. Not now.


Allowing myself one more nervous swallow, I continue. “You, Carmen, have noticed me in the crowd. You can see that I’m not interested, and that makes you curious. Intrigued.” My own voice deepens despite myself. “Challenged.”


I know that I’m treading on thin ice here; or, perhaps, playing with fire would be more accurate. With this set-up, I know that Do Kyung will be trying harder with me than she had with Alain just minutes ago. But at least this way, I not only have license to resist her; it is imperative that I do.


Don José, after all, also already had a girlfriend: Micaela. Sweet and innocent, girlishly pretty in her blue dress and braided hair….


What clearer image of Nae Il could there be than that?


It’s Nae Il’s face, then, that I keep in mind as we begin: her own figure, dancing in our living room with the edelweiss-embroidered cardigan draped over her shoulders, drawing me closer and closer towards her. And it’s because of her that I am able to give as good as Do Kyung, making a tight turn on one heel to dance away from her even as she approaches me.


Together, we meander around the room, our bodies moving as though linked together by some invisible tether. With each rising refrain, each new phrase, Do Kyung approaches me; and with each one, I turn and stalk away, my own movements as fluid as hers.


As the song progresses and approaches its climax, I feel myself becoming more confident, more daring. Slowly, I allow myself to wait just a moment longer, to let Do Kyung come just a little bit closer, building up the tension between us with each repetition.


By the time “La Habanera” reaches its final refrain, we are almost touching: I holding off until literally the last possible moment before moving away. An answering glint forms in Do Kyung’s eye, my open defiance intriguing her, daring her to rise up to the challenge.


Quickly, with an urgency that even I had not anticipated, she closes the gap between us. Her left hand snakes behind me to the small of my back, pulling me up so suddenly against her that our bodies bump together.


I feel myself tensing up, sucking in a sharp breath through my teeth. As Do Kyung grasps onto the end of my scarf with her free hand, slowly and inexorably winding it around her fist, I hear my pulse start to pound in my ears. Harder and harder, faster and faster, almost drowning out everything around me, so that even her final crescendo sounds strangely far away:


Mais si je t’aime…prends garde à toi!


Somewhere on the edge of my mind, Alain plays the final cadence from his place at the piano. But no sooner have I noticed that does Do Kyung suddenly tighten her grip on my scarf. Then, the next thing I know, I feel myself lurching forward, courtesy of a sudden sharp tug on my throat, until my lips all but crash into hers.


Carmen has won.


I try to pull away, but to no avail. Her left hand still on my back, her right hand, still holding my scarf, pulling me forward like a dog on a leash, Do Kyung holds me firmly in place. Even my attempts to cry out don’t work; the second I try, she is inside of me. The smell of her perfume washes over me like a wave; I can taste the coffee she had had just before our practice in my mouth.


My mind goes blank. I can’t breathe. The only thing I seem capable of doing right now is surrender: letting myself sag against Do Kyung as I wait for her to finish what she’s started.


And that’s when I feel it.


A strange familiar clenching somewhere deep inside of me. The feeling of something too tight in my trousers….




I grab Do Kyung by the shoulders, hurling her away from me with all my strength.




Startled, she staggers back, tottering away from me on her high heels. One misplaced step, one stiletto heel twisting under her foot, and she stumbles sideways, just managing to break her fall on the wall beside her. She cries out in pain, a high-pitched yelp, as one hand flies down, grasping onto her ankle.


In an instant, Alain is by her side. Stuck in the place where I had pushed her, my feet glued to the floor, I could only look on, still gasping for air, as he crouches down on the ground to gently cup one hand around her injury.


“Do Kyung! Are you all right?!”


Tears swim in her eyes as she nods. “I’m…I’m all right.”


That’s all the warning I get before he jumps up and rounds on me. “What did you do to her?!”


My jaw drops as I let out an incredulous scoff.


What did I…do to her?!


Not even bothering to dignify that with an answer, I push past him, storming up to Do Kyung, who is now rising unsteadily to her feet. “How dare you. After what we’ve said in the coffee shop – about things being different.” My voice goes shrill as I roar at her, slashing the air between us with one hand. “Do you even know what you just did?!”


My words were in Korean, but my tone tells Alain enough. Grabbing me by the arm, he yanks me away from Do Kyung. As I try to get past him once again, he quickly steps in front of me, shifting his grip to clasp onto my shoulders. “Enough, Yoo Jin!” he barks out as he holds me back. “Isn’t it already bad enough that she’s hurt because of you?”


I let out a short scoffing laugh. “She’s hurt – because of me?” I shoot Alain a harsh glare: one that makes him let go and step back away from me in alarm as I point at Do Kyung. “And did you not see what she did? Without my consent?!”


For just a moment, I wonder if he would sympathize. Certainly, he grows a shade paler, and his eyes widen a bit in shock. But then, my hopes are dashed when his eyes actually flicker down  between my legs.


“Right,” he growls out, his voice dripping in disdain as he gives me a hard shove, sending me stumbling back several steps away from them both. “Because it’s apparently her fault that you can’t keep it in your pants.”


“Was?” Gasping in surprise, Do Kyung now rushes forward, peering over Alain’s shoulders at me. And, from the way the colour suddenly drains from her face, I know that she sees it, too.


“Yoo – Yoo Jin-ah….”


“Nein,” I gasp out, taking yet another urgent step towards them. “It’s not like that! It’s like – the point is….”


Is that I don’t even know anymore.


Is that I had promised Nae Il that something like this wouldn’t happen.


Is that despite my best efforts, it happened anyway.


Is that even though I know in my heart that I hadn’t wanted it, somehow my body had.


Nae Il appears in front of me, her image conjured up in my mind. Nae Il in Micaela’s guise – blue dress and hair in twin braids – with tears running down her face.


“Wae, Orabang?” the image asks me. “Why did you do it?”


Slowly, shaking my head in disbelief, I back away from her. I feel myself going weak at the knees, the flush of heat I had felt before rapidly turning into an icy chill. A shudder passes through me; something churns in my stomach, bile rising up in my throat….


I tear myself away, turning and bolting out of the room as fast as I can. Bursting out into the hallway, I rush into the washroom on the other side, just managing to lock myself up in a stall before I double over, my stomach emptying itself of its contents.


Time seems to pass by in a blur. I don’t know how long I stay in there – just that I can’t stop. Even after I have thrown up everything, I’m still gagging: wracked by dry heaves so strong that I soon find myself crouched down on the floor, bracing myself against the side of the washroom stall with one hand. Vaguely, I make out the sound of someone knocking on the door, an unknown voice asking me if I’m alright; I hear my own voice shouting back, screaming for whoever it is to shut up and leave me alone.


Finally, after what feels like forever, the nausea seems to pass. Reaching out to flush away the mess I’d made, I slowly stagger to my feet. For a long moment, I simply stay there, swaying on wobbling legs, gasping for breath, my hair plastered to my forehead by a sheen of cold sweat.


Slowly, though, I feel my strength coming back to me, all my roiling emotions condensing together, coiling up into a ball deep inside of me like a snake poised to strike. As fear melts away, anger, revulsion, disgust take its place. My breath hitches in my throat as the fingers of my free hand slowly clench together into a fist.


This desperate purge has just about drained everything out of me – except for the one thing I’m trying to rid myself of in the first place.


Fortunately for all three of us involved, the practice room is empty by the time I storm back inside: Alain and Do Kyung already long gone. As I flick on the light switch, I see that they have left my belongings as they were. My bag is still resting at the foot of the piano; my copy of the score is still on the music rack; my coat is still draped over the back of a chair in the corner. Hurriedly, my fingers nearly fumbling in my haste, I pack it all up – grabbing the score roughly from the piano and stuffing it into my bag, marching briskly to snatch up my coat and drape it over one arm – leaving as abruptly as I came.




The hallways and main staircase of the Mozarteum are as crowded as ever as I make my way through them, but my tense bearing, my brisk but unhurried pace, make most people give me a wide berth as I pass. Some turn their heads to glance after me, but a harsh glare is enough to make them shrink back, to ignore what they have just seen. At one point, I hear something that vaguely sounds like Nae Il’s voice; but rather than slowing down, I only move even faster, shoving it away to the back of my mind.


My pace quickens as I burst out through the doors onto the street, my strides growing longer and longer until I reach our building. Throwing open the front door with a satisfying bang, I dash up the stairs, my stomping footsteps echoing all the way up to our unit on the third floor.


No sooner am I inside that I throw my bag down onto the floor, dropping my coat upon it as I make a beeline for the kitchen. Snatching a wineglass with one hand and my most recently opened bottle of red with the other, I pour myself a drink: filling the glass almost all the way to the brim before downing it all in one go, following that immediately with a second.


Something lurches inside of me and I feel a slow steady pounding in my head. I fall sideways into the counter; leaning against it to keep myself upright, my grip on the wineglass growing tighter and tighter….


A snap. A sudden absence, like something has just given way. A sharp lancing pain in my hand, followed by the sound of glass shattering on the floor.


Numbly, I stare down at the mess on the kitchen floor, then back up at my own hand. It is still clenching tightly onto what little remains of the wineglass: a broken stem, its sharp jagged end now red with blood.


My blood, coming from where the glass had lanced into the base of my thumb.




But I don’t have time to worry about that now. Because just then, new sounds come from behind, making my heart leap up into my throat:


Scrambling footsteps pounding their way up the stairs. The jangling of a set of keys. A click as the lock gives way. The front door of the apartment bursting open with a bang, followed by a single shout.




Nae Il.


I seize up. Every muscle seems to tense up so that I can’t even breathe, let alone move. A sinking feeling takes hold in the pit of my stomach.


Of all the things that could possibly happen….


“Orabang!” Nae Il calls again as she scurries inside. I hear her fumbling out in the foyer, muttering a soft curse to herself as she yanks off her shoes, letting them fall where they may.


My back is to the entrance to the kitchen. I don’t dare turn around.


“Orabang?” she continues, her voice still coming from the foyer, but edging ever closer.


Silence. I open my mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.


“Gwenchanayo? I thought I saw you earlier, but when I called, you didn’t answer….”


Her words stop. Softly, giving way to a simple exhalation of breath.


She has found me.


I hear shuffling footsteps: Nae Il stalking cautiously into the kitchen, making her way towards me. Slowly, she comes up beside me; even though my gaze is still fixed to the floor, I can see her out of the corner of my eye.


“Orabang?” Her voice is soft, hesitant. “Is – is something wrong?” She starts coming around to the front. “Gwenchanayo? Why – why aren’t you answering–”


Suddenly, she freezes, her words cutting off in a strangled gasp. Her eyes, wide in shock, fixate on my hand.


“Omo…” she gasps out, stumbling as she reaches one hand out towards me. “Orabang, you’re bleeding!”


“Gwenchana,” I murmur, shaking my head as I glance over at the injury. “It’s nothing.”


“Are you sure? It looks pretty bad–”


“Andwae! Don’t come any closer.”


My left hand flies up, gesturing for her to stop before she could take yet another step: one that would have landed right onto the broken glass. She gulps nervously at the sight of the mess on the floor, then casts a long sideways glance at the stem on the counter, the still-open bottle beyond it.


It doesn’t take her long to put the pieces together.


“You’ve been drinking again,” she says, her voice flat. Her shoulders tense up then fall, forcing back the sigh of disappointment that nearly slips out through her lips.


My mouth goes dry. “N- Nae Il-ah….”


“What happened, Orabang?” she asks, this time carefully sidestepping over the glass to come up beside me. “Really.”


I match her step with a backwards one of my own. “I told you: it’s nothing.”


Her lips purse together into a pout. Another step. “Don’t lie to me. I know when something’s bothering you.”


I retreat once again. “I’m alright,” I stammer, just a bit too quickly to be convincing. “Jeongmal.”


Nae Il clearly catches me out on the lie: suspicion flickers in her eyes. But what else can I do? Everything that happened today between Do Kyung and I – every moment, every touch, every feeling – still looms in my mind. It is like a demented demonic film: playing and replaying itself no matter how hard I try to make it stop.


How can I possibly tell her about that?


Still, I must give some sort of ground – or else Nae Il will never stop asking. She will never stop trying to pry the truth out of me, and I cannot bear the thought of seeing her hurt.


Briskly, I turn around, my back to her as I step out of the kitchen, across the foyer towards the bedrooms. “Gwenchana, Nae Il-ah; I just want to be alone for a while.”


I hear pattering footsteps as she follows after me. “Are you sure?”


I close my eyes, biting back an exasperated sigh of my own. “I’m sure,” I reply, my voice tight.


She takes yet another step closer. “But…don’t you want to talk about it?”


I shake my head, forcing back what would have been a sharp refusal.


“Because I know that when I’m upset about something, Orabang, talking to you about it helps me out – so, you know, if you want to–”


“I’ve told you already, Seollebal,” I snap, whirling around to face her. “I just want to be alone!”


It catches both of us by surprise: my sudden harsh rebuke. My jaw drops as I realize what I have just said.


“Mi- mianhae,” I stammer out, shaking my head. “I – I didn’t mean it like that.”


Nae Il looks steadily at me, eyes widening in surprise. But unlike past times when I had lost my temper, she doesn’t look hurt. She doesn’t pout, nor do I see tears springing up in her eyes. Instead, this time, I see her straightening up to her full height, her shoulders rising and falling as she takes a deep breath.


“Arayo,” she says at length. Her tone is tired and resigned, but I don’t hear any censure in it. “I know you didn’t. If…if you want some time by yourself, that’s…that’s fine with me. Just…just….” She swallows a lump in her throat, then gestures at my injured hand. “Just make sure you take care of that.”


I glance down at it, too. “Arasseo,” I concede with a nod. “I’ll do that.” Nae Il returns my nod, then, and turns to go back into the kitchen; as for me, after ducking into the bathroom to retrieve antiseptic and a bandage from the medicine cabinet, I retreat into my room and shut the door.


Letting out a deep sigh, I seat myself on the bed, setting my supplies down on the nightstand beside me. There is still enough light coming through the window that I don't actually need the bedside lamp; but I flick it on anyway, holding my finger up under its light.


The cut isn’t deep and has already stopped bleeding; it stings momentarily when I apply the antiseptic, but otherwise doesn’t give me much trouble as I bandage it. When I am finished, I put everything back down on the table and pull myself up entirely onto the bed, scooting back to lean against the headboard. Drawing my knees up to my chest, folding my arms up on top of them, I bury my face in them with a sigh.


What do I do now?


I hear a distant high-pitched whine: Nae Il giving the kitchen a once-over with the vacuum cleaner, making sure that all the broken glass has been accounted for. Then, a few short moments after she has put it away, I hear a knock followed by her muffled voice through the door.


“Orabang. Can you hear me?”


From the sound of her voice, my guess is that she is sitting on the floor outside: her head resting back against the door, her knees similarly tucked up to her chest. The thought of her doing that sends a sharp stab of guilt through my heart; strange that we’d mirror each other, even in circumstances like this.


She doesn’t wait for me to respond; perhaps she already knows that I won’t.


“I know you said you wanted to be alone for a while,” she begins hesitantly, “but I just want you to know that no matter what…I’m here.”


Slowly, I raise my head, turning it to look over at the door. Part of me so desperately wants to believe her, but it can’t be true, can it? If Seol Nae Il knew just why I was hiding from her, would she still say that?


“I said to you once, Orabang, that I was really thankful that you would open yourself up to me: that even if you shut everyone else out, you’d still let me in. I…I know that I can’t force you to talk to me about what’s hurting you, and I don’t want to force you, either. I know you, Orabang: I know that if there’s something you’re not telling me, you must have your reasons why.


“But Orabang…I don’t get it. You told me yourself that if something was eating me up on the inside, then I shouldn’t just hold it in. That I should talk to you about it. Because if I didn’t…if I just let it sit there…it would fester. It would hurt me, and it would hurt everyone else around me.


“So, why can’t you do that yourself? Why can’t you tell me? What could possibly be so bad that you’d want to hide it from me?”


She goes silent after that, most likely having already talked herself out. I don’t know how long she stays there or when exactly she finally decides to get up, but sometime later, I hear the sound of the piano. It’s coming from the music room, drifting through the wall that separates that room from mine despite the padding we had put in between.


The melody, although muffled by the wall, is still recognizable: Clara Schumann’s Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann.


An image from earlier this afternoon pops up in my head: Nae Il taking in that deep breath when I snapped at her. I don’t know why, but in hindsight, it looked as though she was drawing strength from some unseen force in the space around us.


Could this be it? Could Nae Il have been taking courage from Clara Schumann herself? She who remained faithfully loyal, almost to a fault, to her husband despite his increasingly unstable mind?


Just who exactly is Nae Il playing this for? For me – or for herself?




It takes an apology from Alain to convince me to finally confess to Nae Il.


We don’t get a chance to discuss the incident during the practice session, leaving the tension between us so thick and visceral that Ying Xi spends most of the hour glancing furtively between us like a frightened deer. But afterwards, once she has finally bolted out of the room in relief at being dismissed, he comes up beside me as I am gathering up my sheet music.


“Yoo Jin. A- about yesterday…my apologies. I was an idiot. I…I knew that I would have really wanted to be on the receiving end of a kiss like that, so when I saw your reaction, I…I thought you were slandering Do Kyung to cover for your own dirty mind. That was my mistake.”


But it’s what he says after even that – after I have accepted his apology and started to leave – that finally makes me decide:


“You can’t blame me for being wrong, though. The chemistry between you two during that scene – no offence, but you both looked really hot. Especially Do Kyung; she looked like she really meant it.”


That’s not something that I could just leave unaddressed, no matter how tempting the thought of that might be.


So after cleaning up from tonight’s dinner – Nae Il had volunteered to cook, so the dishes were on me – I steel my resolve and head straight for her room.


She is sitting curled up on her bed when I find her, her Mozart-costumed teddy bear tucked in the crook of one arm. In her free hand, she holds a small book – a novel, it looks like – propping it open with her thumb.


For a long moment, I simply stand out in the hallway, watching her unnoticed through the open door. The scene is so idyllic, Nae Il so peaceful, that I almost lose my nerve right then and there.


But no – I have to do this.


Softly, I knock on the doorframe, then lean casually against it, my arms crossed in front of my chest. “Nae Il-ah.”


She glances up, and instantly perks up at the sight of me. Shooting me a warm smile, she closes her book, tossing it off to one side, before patting a spot beside her on the bed.


I accept her invitation, but opt instead to take my seat in a place closer to the foot of the bed. The distance I’ve just put between us doesn’t escape her notice; her brow furrows slightly as she glances at the gap with narrowed eyes.


“Aren’t you going to come closer?”


I shake my head. Considering what I’m about to tell her, I doubt it would be wise. Slowly taking a deep breath, I glance down at my hands in my lap. “There’s – there’s something I need to tell you.”


Nae Il’s a smart girl; without my needing to say so, she figures it out. “It’s about yesterday, isn’t it?”


“Geu rae,” I answer with a nod. “Just in advance, though: I doubt you’ll like it.”


“I figured as much,” she answers coolly. “You wouldn’t have acted the way you did if that weren’t the case. But still: I want to hear it.” When I glance cautiously at her for that, she lets out an incredulous huff. “We’re a couple, Orabang; we’re in this together. I trust you to listen to me when I have problems or burdens, so you should feel free to do the same.”


So I tell her. All of it: the entire incident during yesterday’s rehearsal, from beginning to end. For much of the retelling, I can’t bring myself to actually look at her, choosing instead to keep my eyes focused on a random spot on her bookshelf. But even so, out of the corner of my eye, I can see how Nae Il tenses up: hugging the teddy bear to her chest, her grip growing tighter and tighter with every passing moment.


Only when I am finished do I dare to look at her again. By this point, she has shrunken back into herself: her knees drawn up to her chest, her eyes wide and her face pale as she still holds the bear in a vice-like clenching grip.


Seeing her like this makes me feel a fresh twinge of guilt. “Mianhae, Nae Il-ah,” I murmur, reaching out one hand towards her. “I know it’s a lot to take in all at once, and–”


I start in surprise when something suddenly flies past my head. I turn to follow it, just in time to see the teddy bear strike the wall beside the bedroom door, making contact with a soft whump before collapsing down to the floor.


Slowly, feeling something clench tight in my chest, I turn back around.


“N- Nae Il-ah….”


She is seething: staring at that same spot on the wall with fiery eyes and gritted teeth.


Hesitantly, I try again. “Nae Il-ah….”


“I hate her.”


This time, I’m the one whose brow furrows in confusion. “Mwo?”


“I hate her, I hate her, I hate her!” she cries out, slapping an open hand down upon her bed before bursting into tears.


Immediately, I scramble all the way up onto the bed, making my way beside her. To my relief, she doesn’t push me away as I put my arms around her. Instead, she collapses into my side, where I hold her close as she cries.


“Mianhae, Nae Il-ah,” I say to her once she has finally subsided, one hand reaching up to stroke her gently on the side of the head. “Mianhae.”


She stiffens in my arms, breaking free to stare incredulously at me.


“What are you talking about, Orabang?” she blubbers, one hand reaching up to wipe away her tears. “It’s not your fault.”


Now it’s my turn to stare at her in disbelief. “Ya, Seol Nae Il – didn’t you hear a word I’d just said?”


She nods. “I did.”


So why isn’t she angry at me?


“I am mad at you,” she says, shooting me a penetrating look as though she could read my thoughts. “I’m mad at you for trying once again to keep everything to yourself instead of letting me help. But if you mean the original incident…why should I be mad if you already know what you did wrong? You made a bad choice, but I can’t blame you for what another person does to you. And besides: I know for sure that you won’t do something like that again.


“I can’t say that for Chae Do Kyung, though.” She glares towards the foot of the bed, where we both know the fallen teddy bear lies just out of sight. Her voice grows grim. “I knew from Mini Min Hee all along that she was a fox: sucking up to Eomeonim, going around Haneum saying that you two were still together even when you really weren’t. But even I didn’t think she’d go this far.”


My gaze follows hers. “Funny: Alain said much the same to me, too.”


“If more than one person is saying something to you, then perhaps they’re right.” Nae Il nods solemnly, a faraway look in her eyes. “That’s what you said to me once, Orabang.”


“That’s hardly consolation,” I retort. “What good does it do to suspect that Do Kyung still has feelings for me when we both know that she and I still need to work together?”


One corner of her mouth twitching up into a sad smile, Nae Il reaches over and takes one of my hands, placing it gently in her lap. “Forewarned is forearmed, Orabang – haven’t you heard that before?”


Her confidence, her assurance, is so absurd that I let out a wry chuckle despite myself. “And Lee Yoon Hoo says that I’m hopelessly naïve….”




“N- nothing,” I stammer, shaking my head. “The point is: I can’t just go back and hope that things will turn out well. Not after I’ve already failed once. I need a way to guarantee that something like this doesn’t happen again.


“And I think,” I add, feeling a plan starting to take shape in the back of my mind, “I’ve got an idea.”




Do Kyung’s already waiting for me when I show up at the Cafe Classic. This time, in the interest of privacy, I’d asked for her to choose a table in the back corner rather than a spot at the bar, and I’m glad to see that she has followed through.


“How’s your ankle?” I ask as I sit down. She’s claimed a spot on the banquette lining the wall, so I take the chair on the other side of the small table.


“A bit late to be asking that, aren’t you?” she retorts wryly. “That was on Monday – and it’s Friday now.”


My eyes flicker down to the table. “Mian.”


“Gwenchana,” Do Kyung answers, leaning casually back in her seat. “I was more surprised than hurt, to be honest. Besides” – she idly traces the grain of the wooden table surface with one finger – “considering that Don José actually ends up killing Carmen by the end, I suppose you let me off easy.”


I let out a chuckle despite myself. “Geu rae. That’s true enough.”


We decide to order our drinks before going any further. Once again, I opt for the café’s signature Mozartmelange, secreting the free Mozartkugel inside my blazer when it arrives.


Do Kyung follows my hand with her eyes. “I was wondering last time when you’d developed a taste for stuff like that.” One eyebrow quirks up knowingly. “Nae Il?”


I answer with a noncommittal nod as I take a sip of my coffee. If she thinks that’s the only way I’ve changed in the past two years, she’s in for a surprise.


“Does she know you’re here?”


I tense up, pausing mid-sip before setting my mug down on the table. “Ne. She knows.”


It had taken a good deal of talking from me in order to convince Nae Il that doing this was a good idea. And, considering that she literally sent me a text reminding me to “Beware of the witch” prior to this meeting…she still might not be. But Do Kyung doesn’t need to know that.


Even though I was the one to arrange this meeting, it is only after we have both finished our drinks that I bring up the subject at hand:


“Do Kyung-ah, do you remember how we first met?”


“Mwo?” She laughs softly before making a strange face at me. “Ya, Yoo Jin-ah. What’s gotten into you? You’re not usually this sentimental.”


I close my eyes, feeling my jaw clench. “Just answer the question.”


She reels back slightly, blinking in surprise at my tone. “Ne, I remember,” she says hesitantly. “It was our first day in middle school, wasn’t it?”


I give her a grim nod. “Geu rae. It was.”


“I’d just come back to Korea from Italy….”


“And I don’t know what the hell I was,” I finish curtly. “Lost, perhaps. Stranded. All I know is that I didn’t know a single person in our class.”


She chuckles yet again. “All the girls were staring at you, though.”


I start in surprise. “They were?”


“You didn’t know?” When I shake my head, she adds. “Geu rae…you never were one to pay attention to the girls’ side of the room.”


“That is, until the teacher introduced you to the class and brought up your background.”


“You cornered me in the schoolyard during our lunch break, then,” Do Kyung adds. She cracks a small smile at the memory. “You asked – ani, you demanded – that I sing for you.”


That’s not how I remember it, but details don’t matter when the effect is the same. Because what resulted was a beautiful rendition of Handel’s “Lascia Chi’a Pianga” that I still remember to this day – and the very first compliment I had ever paid her. The same one I have fallen back on ever since whenever things got awkward between us: Chae Do Kyung – I like your voice.


“But Yoo Jin-ah,” she continues, brow furrowing in suspicion, “I doubt that you asked me to meet you here just to talk about old times. So what do you really want?”


“Right.” My expression grows serious once again as I lean forward in my seat, folding my arms on the table. “Chae Do Kyung – have you ever thought about that? Why the one thing I praise you for, over and over again, has been your voice?”


“Ara,” she replies, her breezy manner telling me that she thinks she’s got this down. “It’s because you love music over everything else, and–”


She stops herself mid-sentence, mouth gaping open slightly in surprise. “Oh.”


“‘Oh’ is right,” I reply curtly.


Because both of us know how the rest of that exchange goes.


Naturally, she bristles at that. “Is it my fault that I want to actually make something of myself? That I don’t want to go back to being the nobody I once was? That tiny, scrawny little thing with glasses and braces to whom no-one except for you would even give the time of day?”


Giving her a sad smile, I shake my head. “Ani. There’s nothing wrong with striving to be your best. But this does tell me that even though we’re friends, as a couple, we’re simply…incompatible.”


“‘Incompatible’?” Do Kyung scoffs incredulously, then looks at me with a sneer. “Ya, Cha Yoo Jin – is that seriously the best you can do?”


My own voice hardens to match hers. “If you want me to put it more strongly, I can."


It comes out with such finality that she now, finally, goes rigid, a breath hitching in her throat in dread.


I don’t wait for a response or a rebuttal. I lean back in my seat, crossing my arms in front of my chest, dipping my head down slightly so that I am almost glaring up at her.


“I have asked for a transfer to another practice group.”


“Cha Yoo Jin!”


“Not for you – for myself.”


Whatever Do Kyung had been about to say, she stops herself at the very last second. Instead, after a moment’s pause, she simply asks, “Does Alain know about this?”


I answer with a nod.


“But…won’t you need some sort of explanation?”


It doesn’t take a genius to know what she’s really asking.


“Officially,” I answer, “I’ll cite some sort of difference between Alain and I as my reason for doing this. This way, only the four of us – you, me, Alain, Nae Il – will ever know the truth.”


Do Kyung opens her mouth slightly, her tongue slipping in between her teeth in thought. “I see.” She concedes with a solemn nod, but then shoots me a glare. “I didn’t know you to be this cruel.”


I return her level gaze with one of my own. “‘Cruel’?”


“Geu rae. Cruel. Because rather than resorting to some sort of petty dramatics like most of the guys I’ve dealt with, you’ve guessed that this punishment is what I fear the most.”


I slide my chair back and stand up. I don’t lean forward or make any sort of threatening gesture; just by staying still, I know I am already doing enough.


“You know me: I don’t do things by halves,” I retort. “But just so we’re clear: you’re the one who is calling this punishment, Chae Do Kyung – not me.” I place one hand down firmly on the table as I slant my eyes down at her. “And if this feels like punishment to you, then I suggest you ask yourself what you did wrong to make that the case.”


With that said, I turn on my heel and start to leave, this audience clearly at an end. But I only make it a few steps before I hear Do Kyung scrambling up from her seat.


“Cha Yoo Jin.”


I stop, turn to glance at her over my shoulder. “Wae?”


For a moment, she seems to struggle to find the right words: her mouth opening and closing wordlessly several times.


“I – about that rehearsal….” She stops, breathes a deep sigh, then tries again. “I – I didn’t mean for that to happen.”


One of my eyebrows quirks up as I turn all the way around to face her. “Forgive me, but I don’t see how something like that could have been an accident.”


“Not an accident,” she stammers. “Just…just….” She lets out a defeated sigh, throwing up her hands in a shrug. “It was an impulse: just a stupid idea I had on the spur of the moment. We…we were both responding so well to the Carmen that, well….”


I bite back an exasperated sigh. “That what?”


For the first time in this entire conversation, Do Kyung finally has the grace to look ashamed: her hands folded demurely in front of her lap, her eyes cast downwards towards the floor. That single gesture tells me all that I need to know.


“That,” I finish for her, “somehow, we could go back to the way things were before.” When she doesn’t say anything in response, I finally let out an incredulous scoff. “Ya, jinjja–”


“Mianhae, Yoo Jin-ah.” Finally, it bursts out. “I shouldn’t have played with your – with our – feelings like that.”


“You’re right,” I answer grimly, stalking slowly back towards her. “You shouldn’t have. So, you see: you leave me no choice.”


Gulping nervously, Do Kyung takes a step back, but I lengthen my stride to close the gap between us. Noting the way her eyes widen in fear, I lean forward, lowering my mouth to her ear.


“This time, it’s just a transfer: something that will allow me to free myself of you without tarnishing your reputation. But if you dare do something like this again, I won’t stop here.” My voice grows icy cold. “We’ve been friends for so many years, Do Kyung-ah – you wouldn’t want to lose that, too.”


When I pull back, it is to find her recovered, now shooting me a fiery glare. One hand reaches down to the table, groping blindly for the glass of water that accompanied her coffee. When she finds it, she grabs on, her knuckles turning white.


For a moment, it looks as though she is going to dash it in my face. But then, perhaps thinking better of it, she lets go, choosing instead to draw herself up to her full height and stalk past me out of the café, sending one last sharp glare at me on her way out.


Her bill sits on the table, still unpaid.




Standing at the threshold to our living room, I look over at Nae Il. She is seated on the couch, nursing what looks to be a mug of hot chocolate in her hands. A second cup – presumably mine – sits, ready and waiting and piping hot, on the coffee table.


I smile fondly at her as I head over to take the spot beside her on the couch. Picking up the mug with one hand, I help myself to the plate of her freshly baked cookies with the other.


“So, Orabang – how’d it go?”


It has been close to a week after my application for the transfer, and I have just come from being summoned to the conducting department’s office to hear their response.


“Not as well as I’d planned. The transfer didn’t go through.”


She glances skeptically at me. “Waeyo?”


“The faculty wasn’t having it. They told me that learning how to work together with Alain was part of the exercise, so if we weren’t getting along…we’d just have to work it out on our own.”


Nae Il gives me a slow nod. “Except that that’s not the real reason why you were asking.”


“Ara,” I answer, punctuating my words with a sip of hot chocolate. “But they don’t need to know that.”


The two of us settle into companionable silence then, giving ourselves fully to enjoying this mid-afternoon snack Nae Il’s prepared. Finally, though, after a few minutes, she speaks up again.


“Did you tell Chae Do Kyung yet?”


“Of course.”


Nae Il lets out a dejected sigh. “This isn’t the outcome you were looking for.”


I wince. “True. So let’s hope she sees this as the mercy that it is.”


Setting down her mug on the table, Nae Il scoots closer. She nuzzles up by my side, hugging onto my arm as she rests her head upon it.


“You’re too good to her, Orabang.”


I hear rather than see the pout on her face. “Ya, Seollebal,” I chide her, giving her a gentle nudge with my shoulder. “Are you getting jealous now?”


I feel her cheek rubbing against me in time with her nod.


“Well, like it or not, Chae Do Kyung’s one of the first real friends I ever had,” I explain. “In fact, prior to meeting all of you guys at Haneum, she was my best friend. My only friend. That’s not something I can just throw away lightly.”


Nae Il pulls away, conceding with a slow nod. “True enough.” A pause. “She doesn’t deserve you.”


Something catches in my throat. I swallow in attempts to force it down. “Ya, Seol Nae Il–”


She shushes me, gently placing the tips of her fingers to my mouth. “Don’t start now, Orabang,” she chides me, her tone like that of a mother dealing with a particularly fussy child. “You’ve still got me.”


“Ne. Arasseo.” Reaching out for one of her hands, I place it in my lap, giving it a light squeeze. “Komawo, Nae Il-ah.”


Seeing that she has won this round, Nae Il bounces back into her seat, even going so far as to softly simper to herself. Then, perhaps growing bored of the silence in the room, she fishes out her phone, turning on her music player.


Within seconds, an orchestral waltz melody fills the air.


I chuckle softly. “Tchaikovsky?” I ask. “I thought you’d prefer Strauss.”


She giggles, flashing me a smugly satisfied smile. “And that’s where you’re wrong, Orabang.” Weaving her fingers together, she extends her arms in front of her in a languid stretch. “The Nutcracker was my first exposure to dance music,” she explains, sighing in content as she relaxes once again. “Including the waltz.”




Which reminds me….


“By the way, Nae Il-ah: you checked the mail while I was out, right?”


She answers with a nod. “Ne, Orabang.”


“Was there anything special in there?” When she raises a quizzical eyebrow at me, I gesture vaguely in the air with one hand. “You know…anything other than the usual bills, flyers, that sort of thing.”


Nae Il mulls over my question for a moment, tapping one finger against her chin in thought. “I’m not sure,” she answers at length. “I mean, there was one thing, but….”


I perk up in interest. “But what?”


She blinks at me in surprise, then points with one finger back out into the foyer. “I put it on your desk in the music room, Orabang.”


“Was it from the Musikverein? In Vienna?”


Her jaw drops. “How’d you know?”


But rather than answer right away, I get up out of my seat, gesturing for her to stay put. Then, ignoring her curious calls behind me, I head straight for my desk in our music room.


Sure enough, just as she said, there is something: a slim envelope addressed to me from the Vienna Philharmonic. I pick it up, testing its thickness and weight in my hand. Through the paper, I feel the stiff crispness of good quality cardstock; I clutch it tightly, just barely managing to bite back a joyful laugh.


This is exactly what I had hoped it would be.


I return to the living room, holding the envelope loosely in one hand. Nae Il, who had been watching closely for me, now stops the music on her phone and stands up to greet me.


“Geu rae,” she says, after casting a quick glance at the envelope. “That’s the one. I thought at first that it was some sort of promotion from the Vienna Philharmonic – you know, since we went to see their New Year’s Concert and all that. But I’m sure they’ve sent us their subscription catalogue already, so –”


I cut her off with a smile and a slight shake of the head. Then, taking a step closer, I hold the envelope out towards her.


“Happy birthday, Nae Il-ah.”


She makes a face at me. “My birthday’s in January.”


“Ara,” I answer. “But trust me,” I say, pressing the envelope into her hand, “you’ll be glad you’re knowing about this now.”


One corner of her mouth twitches up into a curious smirk as she slides one fingernail under the edge of the seal, slowly tearing it open. Still keeping her eyes firmly on me, she reaches into the envelope, pulling out a neatly folded piece of cardstock, slipping her thumb into its edge to prop it open.


Then, and only then, does she look down at what she is holding. Immediately, she lets out a loud gasp, her free hand rushing up to her mouth as her eyes widen in surprise and wonder.


“This – this is….”


Two tickets to next year’s Vienna Philharmonic Ball, including a coveted place at one of the tables overlooking the Goldener Saal.


I smile fondly at her. “Do you like it?”


“Like it?” she gasps. “I love it!” And that’s all the warning I get before she pounces on me, wrapping her arms around my waist in a tight hug, just barely managing to avoid crushing the card in her hand in the process.


Seconds later, though, she pulls away, loosening her grip on me without actually letting go. “But these tickets don’t come cheap, Orabang. How on earth did you manage it?”


“Ya, Seollebal,” I say with a laugh. “I’m usually the one who cares about stuff like that, not you.”


“I know,” she retorts without skipping a beat. “Which is why I’m wondering now.”


I give her a casual shrug. “Well, you know that my stipend from Oe Samchon is more than enough for the both of us. And you also know I usually keep a tight grip on it, so there’s room for us to splurge every now and then.”


Nae Il raises a skeptical, almost chiding, eyebrow at me. “Orabang….”


“Oh, all right.” I throw up my hands in defeat. “This actually came from Abeoji’s savings account.”


It had been completely unexpected: Abeoji asking for me to meet him in person in the few days following our return to Seoul from Jeju-do. There, after sternly admonishing me once again to stay in Austria, he had given me the information I’d need to access this account: one that he had set up shortly after the accident and steadily deposited money into, with the hope of finally giving it to me when I have returned to Salzburg for good.


“So if there’s anyone you have to thank, Seollebal, it’ll have to be him,” I concede begrudgingly. “There. Are you happy now?”


She answers with a single firm nod. Then she closes the gap between us to resume her hug from before, this time resting her head against my chest. Her eyes flutter shut as she lets out a contented sigh; I know without even having to look that she is listening to my heartbeat.


For a long moment, I let her stay there like this, but soon, I place both hands on her arms and gently nudge her away.


Nae Il opens her eyes and steps back, letting out a soft whine. “Aw, Orabang….”


“Mianhae, Nae Il-ah,” I say gently. “But dinner’s not going to cook itself.”


She purses her lips together in a pout, turning slightly to point at the coffee table behind her. “We can always just snuggle together there and eat that.”


I peer over her shoulder, taking in our half-empty mugs of hot chocolate and what remains of the cookies. A short laugh bubbles out from me. “You would say that, Seollebal.”


“So, can we?”


“As tempting as that would be….” I give her a fond smile and shake my head. “Andwae.” Acting on a sudden impulse, I lean forward and plant a quick kiss on her forehead to sweeten the deal. “But don’t worry, Nae Il-ah. I’ll make it up to you later. I promise.”


Author's Notes (in "Hidden Content" because of Spoilers)



Whoo boy - I just put these characters through hell, didn't I? Especially Cha Yoo Jin - although both Seol Nae Il and Chae Do Kyung are tied for a close second, albeit for different reasons. 


Don't worry: there is a method to my madness here, and I'll be explaining that in more detail in a sec. But first, let's get through the not-so-controversial stuff, shall we?


1. Rupertikirtag - Salzburg's Autumn Fair


As Cha Yoo Jin puts it, Oktoberfest in Munich might be the big autumn festival in the German-speaking part of Europe, but despite it being little more than a small town, Salzburg has its own in the form of Rupertikirtag. The name translates to "St. Rupert's Day", and it is that saint's particular name day (September 24) that forms the basis for the fair. The festivities run for several days, and - as mentioned in the fic - it traditionally ends on the Sunday with a fireworks display in the old city centre.



Anyone who's been to those old-timey festivals and fairs will have a decent idea of what to expect at Rupertikirtag: lots of music and dancing, midway games, arts/crafts/souvenir stands, street food...you get the idea. There is one feature, though, that I would argue is the most iconic when it comes to Rupertikirtag: the chain carousel.




The ride's popular with both kids and adults, and offers a gorgeous view of the Residenzplatz - one of old Salzburg's main city squares.


(By the way, here's a tidbit to all of you eagle-eyed fans: if you watch "Joo Won's Life Log" - the Japanese TV special, not his V-Live posts of the same name - go to the episode when JW travels to Salzburg to film for "Nae Il's Cantabile", and you will actually see the empty carousel in the background in some shots B) My guess is that filming took place just a few days before the festival began)


And, like with many of Salzburg's other local festivals, wearing traditional Austrian costume (dirndl for women; lederhosen for men) is the norm. Those who have read my earlier fics will know that Yoo Jin wouldn't be caught dead in lederhosen, so it's all on Nae Il to fill in this part. ;) As with the last time, I combined elements of different dirndls I saw online to create her own distinct ensemble:


The dress


Dirndl Theresa (GröÃe 40)


The blouse (I thought the higher neckline would suit her modest style more than the traditional cleavage-baring versions)



The apron (Note, however, that this one is tied on the girl's left - i.e. the opposite to Nae Il's)


Herbst-Winter 2015 â¹ Melega Fashion


And, the new addition this time around, that edelweiss-embroidered cardigan (I don't know if those are actually meant to be edelweiss in the original, but they do look similar)


Buy ode' 3/4-Sleeve Floral Embroidered Cardigan | YesStyle

And for those who are unfamiliar with the lebkuchenherzen (i.e. gingerbread hearts), here's one example (this one says "Ich liebe Österreich" - i.e. "I love Austria" and also features edelweiss in the decoration, so you can compare that with the cardigan if you want)


Gingerbread with a message :) Re-pinned by #Europass


Finally, for lack of a better place to put this, here's the Café Mozart where Yoo Jin and Nae Il have their dinner (don't worry: I don't understand what they're saying, either - just take it for the visual):



2. A Smattering of Opera


Let me be frank: I might consider myself knowledgeable about classical music, but that's really only on the instrumental side of things. So this foray into opera has been just as much of a new adventure for me as it likely has been for you guys.


That being said, there are a few things from this fic that I want to draw your attention to:


A. The Fach system


If you're an English speaker like myself, this is probably one of the most unfortunate-sounding musical terms out there (it actually rhymes with "Bach", but can come out sounding like the f-word if your German diction's not up to par), but it's one you'll see a lot in the opera world. Basically, this is a system for classifying singers' voices into different types.


I'm sure a lot of you are already familiar with the ways voices are classified by their range to some extent, but just as a quick overview, in opera, there are six-seven main types: soprano, mezzo soprano, contralto, countertenor, tenor, baritone, and bass. Some people might collapse several of these categories together - like in the video below where mezzo soprano and contralto are combined into one type - but that's the gist of it.



That's the basic classification, but the Fach system takes things one step further. It takes each voice type and divides it even more to account for the diversity of tone quality and strengths/weaknesses that can appear between people with the same vocal range. For example, a soprano who can play the Queen of the Night in Mozart's "Magic Flute" (which requires a really "big" soprano voice that's capable of elaborate ornamentation in a very high register) likely won't be able to play Pamina in the same production (since that requires a brighter-sounding tone). In that case, the Queen would be played by a dramatic coloratura soprano while Pamina would be played by a lyric soprano.


While there is some room for flexibility and versatility, it's not unusual for opera singers to become pigeonholed based on their specific Fach - which means it's entirely possible for an aspiring singer like Chae Do Kyung to never get his/her dream role simply because they don't have the ideal voice for the part. 


Speaking of Do Kyung, though, her situation's rather more complicated once you take events in the original drama into consideration as well. We see in "Nae Il's Cantabile" that she's really upset at being cast as Micaela rather than Carmen in the school production, even asking Yoo Jin to help her pull whatever strings she needs for a re-audition. The way Do Kyung puts it is that she thought she'd get the lead, but the part for Carmen went to "that girl who always plays my maid". The thing is, though, once you know the Fach system, it makes sense: Do Kyung is clearly a soprano (you can tell both by her ease with singing the high notes and the generally lighter quality to her voice), but in "Carmen", Micaela is the soprano whereas Carmen is actually a mezzo soprano role. When we see Do Kyung singing "La Habanera", it's a version that's been transposed to a higher key to accommodate her soprano voice: that works for a solo or concert performance, but it's unlikely an entire opera will be transposed like that. So, really, she's just gonna have to deal.


By the way, if anyone wants more information on the Fach system, particularly short 3-4 word summaries of each voice's main features, you can click here.


B. "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Carmen"


These are the two operas I mention in this fic, so I think it's only fair to zoom in a bit on the actual musical numbers that make an appearance.


First of all: the overture to "The Marriage of Figaro". I have Yoo Jin making up a piano transcription on the spot while waiting for Alain to show up, and that was inspired by this version I found online, played by pianist Sean Chen. Obviously, as a fully practiced transcription, this would be a better-quality version than what Yoo Jin could come up with on the fly, but it's still fun to listen to.



And now, "Carmen". Ah, "Carmen"....


The main musical number I feature here is "La Habanera", which is probably the most iconic aria from the opera, if not one of the most iconic arias out there, period. This is Carmen's introduction as the opera's female lead, and what an entrance it is!


(Note: this video is actually a full version of "Carmen", but I have set it to start just before "La Habanera" begins, when Carmen first comes onto the scene with her string of suitors. The soldier dressed in blue who glances up periodically, but then always goes back to fiddling with his equipment is Don José and the woman who comes on the scene right after Carmen leaves, with the folk dress and braided hair, is Micaela - according to the libretto/script, she's supposed to be dressed in blue, but the dress looks more grey here for some reason)



I also quote a few lines from "La Habanera" here, and since the video I posted doesn't have English subtitles for the French lyrics, here's a quick translation of those snippets:


L’amour est un oiseau rebelle que nul ne peut apprivoiser; et c’est bien en vain qu’on l’appelle s’il lui convient de refuser. ("Love is a rebellious bird, which no-one can tame; and it's in vain to call it if it chooses to refuse" - in other words: love goes where it wants; you can't make me love you if I don't want to)


Mais si je t’aime…prends garde à toi! ("But if I love you...be on your guard!" - in other words: if I love you, then watch out, because I will get my way)


So, yes, Carmen's quite the fox - and we actually see Do Kyung doing the same in "Nae Il's Cantabile" (stringing Han Seung Oh along while actually wanting Cha Yoo Jin - dang....)


C. "Io Ti Penso Amore" and "Lascia chi'o pianga"


And now, just a quick bit on the two shorter pieces I mention in passing:


"Io Ti Penso Amore" is actually a modern/contemporary piece, even if it's written in a more classically operatic style. It's actually from the movie "The Devil's Violinist", which focuses on the life of Paganini, the famous 19th century violinist. This one's in Italian, and I've found an English translation of the lyrics, so I'll just things at that:



As for "Lascia chi'o pianga", this one is a classic. No, seriously - I can almost guarantee that you've heard it before. But still, just in case any one needs a refresher, here's a performance of it; I chose to go with a boy soprano here because I'd mentioned Do Kyung singing this as a child, and a performance by an adult soprano doesn't have that same bell-like quality to what I imagined.



And now, finally, for the last thing I want to talk about....


3. What the hell was up with that kiss?!?!


For those who know what the term "character assassination" means, chances are that's what you're thinking about right now. For those who don't: in the context of creative writing, it's when the author goes out of their way to make a character look/act bad just for the sake of having a bad guy.


Considering my depiction of Chae Do Kyung in this fic, I don't blame you if that's what you think is going on. In fact, I did question myself at first about having the characters and plot go in this direction. However, there's a bit more going on here than that, so please allow me a moment to explain.


As a general rule, I don't write darker stuff unless there's a broader comment I want to make about the world, and this instance is no different. Like other times I've brought up sexual harassment/assault in my writing, my main inspiration is the MeToo movement and how it's allowed us to talk more frankly about these matters. In particular, I want to say that both male and female victims of sexual assault are met with a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes: the girl who "asked for it" parallels the guy who "always wants it".


As a woman, I don't need anybody to tell me what it feels like to be leered at or lusted over or touched and then doubted after the fact; even if I've never experienced it before, I know the discomfort and fear I feel just thinking about it. But, also as a woman, I want to take responsibility for my own limited understanding of the male experience. So since this whole MeToo movement started, I've read accounts from men who have been sexually harassed and/or assaulted - and there's one common thread that breaks my heart: it's assumed that men can't be victims because they must "always want it".


But the reality is: men don't "always want it". While some guys in some situations might be okay with any sort of physical intimacy from women, that's neither the case all the time nor for everyone. Maybe he's got someone he's faithful to; maybe he's just not in the mood; maybe...maybe...you get the idea. It's just as possible for men to not want intimacy or sex as it is for women - and yet, because of physiological factors like how easy it is for any stimulation to cause physical arousal in men, the assumption is that they "always want it". And that's simply not true. Yet the more we assume that as a society, the more likely it is that male victims feel overwhelming guilt and shame over something that is no more their fault than it would be a girl's fault for being treated the same way.


That's why I put Yoo Jin through what I did. That's why I had Nae Il be so reasonable and supporting and forgiving. As for Do Kyung...don't worry, she'll be redeemed by the time I'm done ;) 



And that's it for this fic! If anyone wants to access a master list of all my fics, you can go to the "About Me" tab on my profile page. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next time!

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4 hours ago, Tasia said:

Taken from IG Story of account @uuujooo7 in Instagram 

Credit to owner (who captured the IG Story and posted it on their instagram.

Thanks, @midori.zumoon  :heart:

Even his back is sexy.. :wub:


You know the one thing that is cool about Joo Won is his sense of creativity.
His instagram pictures are always so aesthetic.
Too bad he didn't post this picture he was taking... lol... or maybe he will post it later.
I wish my instagram photos came off chic as his, heck... even my selfie game is not up to par as his. Lol.
He takes the coolest artsy photos! I'm just glad he even has an instagram.

Remember the days where we would wait for a tweet on twitter or a selfie on Weibo? LOL. :joy:

Also... that picture makes me want to hug him from behind. :love:

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15 hours ago, tokkimoon said:

You know the one thing that is cool about Joo Won is his sense of creativity.
His instagram pictures are always so aesthetic.
Too bad he didn't post this picture he was taking... lol... or maybe he will post it later.
I wish my instagram photos came off chic as his, heck... even my selfie game is not up to par as his. Lol.
He takes the coolest artsy photos! I'm just glad he even has an instagram.


I don't remember which of JW's fans on Instagram noted this, but they observed that most of JW's Instagram posts fall into three categories:

  1. Working out
  2. Food
  3. Aesthetic shots

Which, in combination, is so typically "JW" that I'm really not surprised :P 


15 hours ago, tokkimoon said:

Also... that picture makes me want to hug him from behind. :love:


14 hours ago, Tasia said:

Same feeling here  @tokkimoon Hahahaha :love:

Group back hug?? :lol:


Lol - you guys are going on about backhugs, and I'm just like, "I'd count myself lucky just to be on that balcony with him at all...."

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Yeah...  @kittyna  I guess I was just bluffing...

I fainted when I did see JW in front of me (and it's from afar!!)  :sweat_smile:

But it really was a memorable memory... To be in the same room with him... To see him in person (although from afar).. 




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9 hours ago, Tasia said:

I fainted when I did see JW in front of me (and it's from afar!!)  :sweat_smile:

But it really was a memorable memory... To be in the same room with him... To see him in person (although from afar).. 



Maybe you already shared the story when I was on hiatus, but now I wanna hear it :star: Please?


Also, while I can't do the daily pics posts I used to, I do want to contribute something. Again, I don't know if someone's already shared this, but this is my favourite piece of JW fanart that I came across during my Soompi hiatus. Most of their art is for BTS, but as you can see in the description, this was a gift:



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Oh ok @kittyna

I think I did share that on Soompi, but I couldn't find it since it happened in 2015...

On October 10, 2015, Joo Won visited Singapore...

It was a Saturday... he was scheduled to come at around 7:30 PM at Suntec City.

I went there at around 10:00 AM, together with some of Joo Won's fans from Soompi... Known as Joo Won Cutie International Fan Club... 


Joo Won was here for the Fan Meeting for Yong Pal, and he was scheduled to have a Meet and Greet at Suntec City. 

There were some fans had queued before us.. We were at the 4th line on the front row...


It was my first time in my almost 40 yrs of life joining this kind of event, but it was just so exciting...

So we waited, while keeping track of Joo Won from the social media... Whether he had landed in Singapore or not, were there anyone welcoming him at the airport, where he was heading, etc etc...

More and more people came and queued... It was just incredible...

Youngsters, middle-aged, even little girls! He sure has a lot of fans!!!


He came a bit later than scheduled... 

When he came, we screamed our lung out and he walked handsomely and waved and smiled at every directions...

He was more handsome in real life... He's just so handsome...

We screamed when he waved at us... when he greeted us... We just couldn't content the excitement to see him and just scream his name over and over again...

His voice when he greeted us was so... handsome...

He spotted one of our chingus who had been a loyal fan of Joo Won and followed Joo Won's every concert, who flew from KL on that day just to see Joo Won... and he smiled and he waved at her... He didn't wave at me, but I felt his warmth on his smile and gaze. (I could feel it because that chingu was standing next to me.)

Gosh... It's so thrilling... 



Unfortunately due to my condition, I blacked out in the middle of the crowd... 

Next thing I knew, 2 guards dragged me out of the crowd... And that was it. :tired:

I didn't regret it at all...

I was so, so glad to see him in person..

To breathe the same air under the same building... :lol:

It was just a remarkable moment in my life... 


PS: you can read it also in the blog: 

It was created by our chingu, @Ma_Oo who is apparently not in Soompi anymore.... (Miss you chingu!!)

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That sounds like quite an overwhelming experience. I do remember, the one time I went to Korea on vacation, having to dodge out of the way of a bunch of fans who were rushing to see their idol in the Incheon airport - to this day, I still have no idea who it was, but just remember how quickly they ran over with their cameras...and then how quickly it was all over and everything went back to normal. This happened the day I arrived, so it was quite a welcome to Korea, if I may say so :P


1 hour ago, Tasia said:


Unfortunately due to my condition, I blacked out in the middle of the crowd... 

Next thing I knew, 2 guards dragged me out of the crowd... And that was it. :tired:

I didn't regret it at all...

I was so, so glad to see him in person..

To breathe the same air under the same building... :lol:

It was just a remarkable moment in my life... 


Well, I know it cut your moment short, but I am glad the security did that and that you were okay. Passing out in the middle of a crowd sounds pretty dangerous.... :unsure:


1 hour ago, Tasia said:

His voice when he greeted us was so... handsome...


Just have to pick this comment out, because I agree. I really like his singing voice (of course), but also his speaking voice. It just sounds really warm and inviting normally...and then (when he's acting) he might start yelling or screaming and then I'm like, "Dang...how does such a gentle-sounding voice suddenly sound so harsh?"


Okay, I do have my hypothesis on the whys of that, but it's not something I want to go into here....


Point is: quite a distinctive voice :) 

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  • Jillia changed the title to Joo Won 주원

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