“Look,” Jinjin said, “you have to stop being so hot-tempered with Bin. We’re a team now. We’ll be living in the dorms together. I need you to talk to him and straighten things out.”
Sanha, who was hovering nearby, looked back and forth between Eunwoo and Jinjin, waiting for another of Eunwoo’s famous explosions.
But instead Eunwoo bowed respectfully and nodded. “I know. I’m sorry. You’re doing your best as our leader. I’ll do my best for the team.”
Jinjin looked relieved. “Thank you, Eunwoo.”
Eunwoo bowed again, then straightened up, headed toward the back of the classroom where Rocky and Bin were hanging out. Even though Rocky and Sanha were in lower grades than Bin, Eunwoo, Jinjin, and MJ, they spent a lot of time around each other at school, not just in the practice room at the company.
“Bin? Can I talk to you for a moment?”
Bin turned away from Rocky, his expression polite but wary. “Sure. What do you want to say?”
“Can we talk somewhere private?” Eunwoo asked. He coughed into his handkerchief, apologized.
Bin looked skeptical. He said, “You’ve been coughing for weeks now.”
He had been coughing for months, Sanha thought. For months off and on, little coughs here and there, not too strange given that they were singers rehearsing intently and they had dry throats often, but then a few weeks ago Eunwoo had started coughing more frequently, and harder, and started carrying handkerchiefs that he’d cough into like an old man.
“I’m not contagious,” Eunwoo said. The last thing the rest of the team needed was to get sick.
“We can do this later,” Bin said.
Eunwoo said, “We should do this now.”
Bin cast a glance at the others. Rocky had been Bin’s friend first, always took his side, so he just shrugged; he would go along with whatever Bin chose. Jinjin nodded encouragingly at him, though, so Sanha did the same, and MJ smiled, so Bin followed Eunwoo out into the hall.
The rest of them stayed in the classroom, quiet and nervous. Sanha was tempted to go listen at the door, but he remained perched on the edge of Rocky‘s desk. If Eunwoo or Bin exploded they’d all hear it anyway.
A few moments later, Eunwoo and Bin returned. Eunwoo was coughing even more, and Bin’s face was red, but neither of them looked angry.
Eunwoo bowed to Jinjin again. “Everything is sorted. I promise not to blow up at Bin anymore.”
That seemed a promise he wouldn’t be able to keep easily, but Jinjin nodded.
Eunwoo doubled over in a coughing fit.
MJ was beside him immediately, patting him on the back. “Are you all right?”
Eunwoo tried to nod, but he kept coughing. Jinjin crowded close to him as well, steadying him so he didn’t fall.
“Are you sure you’re not contagious?” Rocky called from the other side of the classroom.
Sanha flitted around the older three boys, feeling helpless and hating it.
“I’m fine,” Eunwoo said when he finally managed to stop coughing.
“You don’t sound fine,” Rocky said, expression dubious.
Bin said nothing, his expression unreadable.
“Should we send you to the nurse’s office? Or call a manager?” Sanha asked.
“Want us to call your mother?” MJ put a comforting arm around Eunwoo’s shoulders.
“My mother has already made an appointment at the doctor’s office for me.” Eunwoo cleared his throat.
Sanha winced in sympathy; he sounded horrible.
Eunwoo fished in his pocket for his cellphone. “I should call her. She’s taking me today.” He headed for the door, bowed. “I’ll be leaving first.”
Jinjin nodded, and they watched him go.
“He better not be contagious,” Rocky said, frowning. He nudged Bin.
Bin didn’t respond, gaze distant.
Sanha plopped down at the nearest desk. “What now? Should I go get my guitar? We can practice that song Eunwoo wrote.”
“That’s a good idea,” Jinjin said.
MJ said, “Oh no, Eunwoo forgot his backpack.” He scooped it up, handed it to Sanha. “Can you take it to him?”
Sanha nodded. He was the youngest, so naturally such chores fell to him, but also he was the tallest, the longest-legged. He dashed out the door, headed for the stairs toward the front of the school where parents with cars picked up their children.
“Eunwoo-hyung, you forgot your backpack!”
Sanha rounded the corner - and there was Eunwoo, on his knees, one hand against the wall to keep himself upright as he coughed so hard he was retching. Blood.
Bright red bloomed and scattered all over the sidewalk.
Sanha dropped the backpack and rushed to his side. “Hyung! We have to call 119!”
Eunwoo shook his head, still hacking and retching.
“You’re coughing up blood! Do you have the plague?” Sanha had read about it in history class.
Eunwoo shook his head again, tried to shove Sanha away.
And then Sanha realized. It wasn’t blood on the pavement. It was petals.
Lots and lots of bright red flower petals. Not rose petals. Something else.
“Hyung?” Sanha was terrified and confused.
Eunwoo finally caught his breath. “You can’t tell the others.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
Eunwoo grabbed his wrist and squeezed, hard. “Promise!”
Sanha tried to wriggle free. He’d seen the horror movies, knew about ghost curses -
“Promise me!” Eunwoo rasped.
Sanha nodded, because denying a person’s dying wish would result in a ghost curse too, right?
“Are you going to die?” he whispered.
And then Eunwoo’s parents were there, his mother crying and clutching his backpack, his father helping him to his feet.
“Promise me,” Eunwoo begged.
“I promise,” Sanha said, helplessly, and watched Eunwoo’s parents drive away with him.
Sanha didn’t go back to the classroom. He headed straight for the library and found a computer and went hunting.
For a disease that made blood look like flower petals when people coughed it up.
There was no such disease.
But there was a disease that made people cough up first petals, then full blossoms.
Hanahaki Disease, it was called.
It was a rare disease. Details on it were scarce.
Most of the information was in Japanese.
Usually people coughed up roses. Sanha had grabbed a handful of the petals Eunwoo was coughing up and discovered fully-formed blossoms in the mix. They definitely weren’t roses.
Sanha finally found a Japanese website that didn’t translate into gibberish in Korean, and what he read sounded impossible, except he was holding red camellias in his hand, flowers Eunwoo had coughed up in front of his eyes.
People suffering from one-sided love could contract Hanahaki Disease. The flowers grew rooted in the patient’s heart and bloomed in the patient’s lungs until the person the patient loved started to love them back. Or until the patient died.
Or until the flowers’ roots were cut out, along with the patient’s feelings for that person.
If the disease was too advanced, the patient might not survive the operation. If they survived, they might lose all memory of the person they had loved, or never be able to fall in love again.
Sanha sat back in his chair, dazed.
Eunwoo was in love? With who? For how long? The disease could take months or years for him to develop. Sanha wracked his memory. How long had Eunwoo been coughing? Months, Sanha had noticed. When had he started coughing up petals?
Probably when he started carrying handkerchiefs. He could hide petals in the handkerchiefs.
How had none of the others noticed? Were they bad friends?
Sanha was terrified for Eunwoo. Would his lungs be ruined forever? Would he never be able to sing again?
Sanha searched further. Most people coughed up rose petals, but some people coughed up other flowers, sometimes the favorite flower of the person they loved, or flowers that meant something special.
Eunwoo had coughed up red camellias.
In Japanese flower language, they meant in love or perishing with grace.
Was Eunwoo dying? He was definitely in love. Was that what the flowers meant? Or did the person he liked prefer red camellias?
Sanha sat back, dazed. Hanahaki Disease sounded impossible, but Sanha and five of his school mates had been scouted by an entertainment company and recruited as an intact team and now they were on the road to debuting. That should have been impossible too.
Hunger made itself known, and Sanha went to catch the next bus home. As he jolted along, staring past his own reflection in the window, he knew he couldn’t tell the others what he’d learned. They wouldn’t believe him.
And anyway, he’d promised Eunwoo.
It was bad luck to deny a man’s dying wish.
The next day at school, Sanha stared at the ground whenever he walked outside, studying the flower petals scattered by spring breezes. Which were from the trees, and which were from people suffering from one-sided love?
“You never came back yesterday,” Jinjin said, catching Sanha at lunch.
“Ah - sorry. I made sure Eunwoo-hyung got his backpack. And then I remembered I had to study, so.” He ducked his head apologetically.
“You’re such a diligent student.” MJ ruffled his hair playfully.
“There’s good and bad news, by the way,” Jinjin said.
Bin and Rocky joined them at the lunch table.
“Oh?” Rocky asked.
“Good news is Eunwoo really wasn’t contagious. Bad news is he’s in the hospital for a few days.” Jinjin’s expression was sympathetic.
“We should take him some flowers,” MJ said.
Bin said, quietly, “We should just let him rest and recover.”
“We could send flowers instead.” MJ smiled, pleased with himself.
Sanha said, “I don’t think Eunwoo likes flowers. We should send paper cranes.”
“What makes you think so?” Rocky asked.
Sanha shrugged. “I don’t know. He doesn’t seem to be the flower type. Do you have a favorite type of flower?”
Rocky shook his head. “No.” He nudged Bin. “Do you?”
Bin shook his head and dug into his lunch.
“Me neither,” Jinjin said.
MJ liked sunflowers. “But we should do something Eunwoo likes. Cranes are a nice idea, Sanha. You’re so thoughtful.”
Jinjin clapped him on the shoulder. “Get folding.”
So Sanha did. Between classes, during lulls in practice, he folded, crane after crane after crane. And he wondered: who had Eunwoo loved? Who wouldn’t love Eunwoo back? Girls came from all over the school and even other schools just to look at him.
Sanha figured doctors had gotten to Eunwoo in time, because the instructors and managers at the company weren’t too concerned, just encouraged the team to practice hard so they knew their vocals and choreography so they could help Eunwoo get up to speed once he got back.
Eunwoo’s release from the hospital was the same day the team moved into the company dorm. He showed up on the doorstep with his suitcase and backpack and a bright smile.
“How can I help?”
“We need to get everyone moved in, and then we’ll pick rooms with Rock Paper Scissors,” Jinjin said.
Eunwoo nodded and smiled. He had some home-cooked food and a little lamp, housewarming gifts from his parents.
Sanha caught him before he went out to grab a box.
“How are you feeling?”
Eunwoo’s smile was sunny and sweet. “I feel fine. Thank you for the cranes. They made me feel much better.”
He looked fine, so Sanha nodded and smiled back.
Most of them had come with just their clothes, MP3 players, and school supplies, so moving in was fast.
Then came room assignments. There were no beds and only one bedroom, so four would sleep in the bedroom and two in the front room, but everyone would have to share the closet and dressers in the bedroom and also share the bathroom.
Sanha already missed his bed at home. But he stood in the circle with the other five and played Rock Paper Scissors.
In the end, MJ and Rocky would sleep in the den, leaving Sanha, Jinjin, Bin, and Eunwoo in the bedroom.
Rocky glanced between Bin and Eunwoo. “Is that a good idea?”
Eunwoo looked at him, confused. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“You and Bin don’t always get along,” Rocky said.
Jinjin put a hand on Eunwoo’s shoulder. “He promised to be better about his temper toward Bin, and you two talked it out, right?”
Eunwoo nodded earnestly. Bin nodded too, but he was staring at his feet.
Sanha hoped they would get along. If it got too bad, MJ could switch with Bin or Rocky could switch with Eunwoo or something. Room assignments weren’t permanent.
But Eunwoo smiled brightly at Bin. “We’ll be fine. Bin is talented and hardworking and part of our team.”
Bin glanced at him, surprised, then smiled back tentatively.
Jinjin looked pleased. “See? Everything will be fine. Now, let’s clean and unpack.”
By the time the apartment was clean and they were all moved in, they were exhausted. They bought some illicit ramyeun, and then they opened up the side dishes Eunwoo’s mother had sent, and they celebrated. Their new life as trainees in the dorms had just begun. They were on their way to success. Hard work lay ahead of them, but they were ready.
Except they weren’t. At least Sanha wasn’t. At first life didn’t seem so different, going to school and then going to the practice room, but after that he went back to the dorm with the others. Sanha missed his family and his mother’s cooking even though the food at the company cafeteria was pretty good. He missed sleeping in his own bed. More often than not he woke with Bin’s elbow in his ribs.
They weren’t allowed to have cellphones anymore, and Sanha only got to call his family once a week, and not for very long since other trainees also wanted to call their families.
Studying all day, then dancing and singing and playing his guitar all afternoon and night was exhausting. Sanha dreamed about choreography and harmonies. He dreamed about practice interviews and guitar chords.
He missed his friends.
And then one day Rocky accidentally let slip that Sanha had a girlfriend at school, and Management was clear: they had to break up. Trainees had to be single. Dating was a distraction. And he would be an idol soon, and idols couldn’t have girlfriends, at least not publicly. There would be a three-year no-dating clause enforced in their contracts as soon as they debuted.
Sanha was devastated. He sat in the corner of the bedroom, guitar across his knees. How could he break up with Yejin? She’d always supported his dream to be a singer and performer. She loved him. He loved her.
It was Eunwoo who found him, sat beside him. “Are you all right?”
“Manager says I have to break up with Yejin.”
Eunwoo’s expression was sympathetic. “I’m sorry.”
“How do I do it? She’ll be so hurt. I - I love her.” Sanha felt his breath hitch and he blinked rapidly, fending off tears.
Eunwoo looked at him for a long moment. “I’ll be honest - with how busy we are, I don’t know how you’ve managed to sustain a relationship with her at all, and we’re only going to get busier as we get closer to our debut. But if you want to keep seeing her, I’ll cover for you.”
Sanha looked at him in surprise. “Really?”
Eunwoo nodded. “Yeah. We deserve to be happy. And besides, how can we earnestly sing about love if we never love anyone?”
“Technically we can love without dating,” Sanha said, and then winced. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring it up.”
Eunwoo tilted his head. “Bring what up?”
Sanha had gone out of his way to avoid talk of one-sided love with Eunwoo for the first month or so in the dorms. Everyone else had been wary of his health, but Eunwoo kept up with them just fine, worked extra hard to catch up on everything he’d missed, and since they were on the road to debuting, other things fell by the wayside.
“Nothing,” Sanha said quickly. Then he remembered what he’d read about Hanahaki Disease, about what happened if the disease was too advanced before doctors intervened. Either Eunwoo had lost all the feelings he’d had and forgotten he’d ever loved that person at all, or he’d forgotten that person’s existence altogether, or he could never fall in love again. No point in asking about her. “Have you ever been in love? I know you’ve never dated.”
Eunwoo shook his head, but he rubbed at his chest absently, over his heart. “No. But - I can imagine. And one day it’ll happen, I suppose.”
Sanha turned to him fully. “What’s your ideal type?” He still wondered who Eunwoo had been in love with, so in love it nearly killed him.
Eunwoo’s expression turned thoughtful. “Someone with a bright smile. Someone who works hard. I like someone who’s...a good dancer. And is confident. And someone who eats well.”
A good dancer. Did Eunwoo like one of the other trainees? Only he’d been sick before they’d met any of the other trainees. As far as Sanha knew, they were the only trainees from their high school. Although weren’t some of the girls from a nearby high school? Had Eunwoo fallen in love with a girl who always took the same bus or something? He seemed the type to do that. Even in school, before the team had been recruited, Eunwoo had been a bit of a loner, because he was so hardworking. His only friends for the longest time were MJ, Jinjin, and Ahrin, and he spent most of his time studying, had been third in their entire school during the last round of exams.
Eunwoo nudged Sanha. “The no-dating clause isn’t in effect yet. So, keep seeing Yejin. I’m here for you.”
Sanha laughed, relief trickling through his limbs. “You’re such a lawyer.”
“If I weren’t going to be an idol, I’d be headed university to study law,” Eunwoo admitted. “But I’m here now with my team, and I promise to work as hard for you as I would have studied for my parents. That means making sure my teammates are happy, hm?”
Sanha slung an arm around his shoulders. “Thank you, Hyung. I mean it.”
Eunwoo smiled at him. “I know if I were in a similar situation, you’d do the same for me.”
Sanha supposed he already had, by keeping the Hanahaki Disease a secret.
Eunwoo made good on his promise to take care of Sanha - and the rest of the team. Jinjin was their leader, the one who encouraged them to work hard in practice, mediated with their managers and instructors when needed, made sure they showed up to places on time and behaved and did their best. He was like their dad. Eunwoo was more like their mother, straightening their hair and checking their collars and pointing out when their makeup needed fixing (putting on BB cream every day was habit by now but Sanha was still getting used to full makeup for television interviews and whatnot). Sanha figured Eunwoo got it from his own mother, who often brought them side dishes when she came into town. She fussed over Eunwoo’s health and plied him with red ginseng, which he shared with the others.
Eunwoo claimed he was tutoring Sanha extra for school - which he was, though not as much as he led people to believe - so Sanha could spend time with Yejin. Eunwoo had also befriended the foreign noona who lived across the hall from their apartment. She didn’t know anything about idol training, and she would let them use her phone a couple of times a week so they could call their parents extra, and she would let Rocky borrow sugar and things when he was doing one of his cooking experiments. Eunwoo bought them all dust masks and so they could breathe easily, and he bought cute matching animal eye masks so they could sleep well. Sometimes Jinjin and Eunwoo nagged a little too much, enough that MJ had taken to calling them Dad and Mom, but they took care of the team.
“Here, eat well,” Eunwoo said, nudging a plate of his mother’s homemade tteokbokki over to Bin.
Bin smiled at him. “Thanks.”
“We all worked very hard at practice today,” Eunwoo continued. “Your solo is looking really good. I know out of the six of us I’m the worst dancer. It’s a good thing we have you, Rocky, and Jinjin on the team.”
Bin nudged him. “Don’t sell yourself short. You practice very hard, and we look good together.”
There was no denying that Rocky, Bin, and Jinjin were the best dancers on the team, though. Sanha knew his gangly limbs and the fact that he was still growing made him clumsy at times. Since MJ was the lead vocalist, he had to be able to hit his high notes and still dance well, but his cardio wasn’t quite there yet.
Jinjin said to Eunwoo, “I’m glad you and Bin are getting along better.”
MJ pretended to wipe away a tear. “Your little boys are all grown up.”
“Or maybe just too tired to fight,” Rocky said. He’d never been around for Bin and Eunwoo’s arguments at school, but he’d been Bin’s friend before he’d joined their team, and he was still loyal to Bin first.
“Too tired,” Sanha agreed, waving his chopsticks.
Eunwoo ducked his head. “I know I’m hot-tempered with all of you. I’m working on it.”
MJ nudged him. “It’s fine. We’re all fine. But it is nice, that you’re not as mean to Bin as you used to be.”
“What changed?” Jinjin asked.
Eunwoo studied Bin sidelong. “I don’t know,” he said. “If Bin used to annoy me especially, I can’t remember why.”
“Well, I’m glad you’ve forgotten,” Jinjin said.
Bin smiled at Eunwoo. “We’re friends now. We’re a team.”
Eunwoo smiled back, and Bin didn’t look away like he had when they’d first moved into the dorms together.
“Yes, a team.”
Bin cleared his throat. “Since we are friends now, you can tell me. If I start to especially annoy you again.”
Eunwoo furrowed his brow, chewed slowly on a piece of tteokbokki. “Like I said, I really can’t remember what annoyed me before. You must have stopped doing it, whatever it was.”
“Let’s leave the past as it is,” Jinjin said. “Sanha, how are your studies coming? Eunwoo tutors you a lot.”
Sanha cast a glance at Eunwoo, who pasted on a guileless expression. “My studies are going really well thanks to Eunwoo-hyung.”
“You mean Eomma,” MJ said, and Rocky and Bin laughed.
“Well, keep it up,” Jinjin said. “As idols we’ll have to be good examples to our fans.”
Sanha nodded. He felt a little guilty, for lying to the rest of the team, but he and Yejin were still close, were getting along so well, and Sanha was happy. One of the reasons he worked so hard and trained so hard was to make her happy, because she wanted to see him sing and perform, wanted to see him debut. (When he was doing practice interviews, though, he told people his father had always dreamed of being a musician and he was making his father’s dream come true.) Sanha’s grades were good, though, since more often than not his dates with Yejin were studying under Eunwoo’s partial supervision. “I expect to perform well on the next round of exams.”
“Not as well as Eunwoo,” MJ said, and added, “Hermione.”
The others laughed. Eunwoo took it in stride.
“I don’t know how you’re still alive some days,” Bin said to Eunwoo, “with how hard you study on top of how hard we train.”
Eunwoo shrugged. “The surgery helped, I’m sure. I have a lot of energy these days. I think - I think I was very tired, before. When I was sick. My mother says I was sick for a long time, longer than I realized - or really remember. Being healthy helps so much.” He nudged a mug toward Bin. “So drink more red ginseng tea.”
“Yes, Eomma,” Bin said, and there was more laughter.
That night, it was Sanha, Eunwoo, and Bin’s turn to clean up after supper. Sanha cleared the table while Eunwoo washed and Bin dried.
“Just so you know,” Bin said in a low voice, “I really am glad things aren’t awkward between us anymore. It was - kind of a burden.”
Eunwoo said, “I’m sorry you felt burdened. I’m also glad things aren’t awkward anymore. There’s no reason they should have been especially awkward for us, and things shouldn’t be in the future.” He took extra care scrubbing the dishes his mother had sent food in.
Bin cast him a narrow-eyed look. “You weren’t kidding, were you? About forgetting about - everything.” He shifted a little awkwardly.
Eunwoo smiled. “No. We’re close friends from now on.”
Something about the exchange carried a weight Sanha didn’t understand, but he kept quiet, kept to himself. For all that the six of them basically lived in each other’s pockets, they all had secrets to keep, big or small.
“I’m impressed,” Bin said. “And - thank you.”
“Anything for the team.”
The best thing about studying with Eunwoo was that he didn’t force Sanha and Yejin to be trapped in the library for hours after school - they could study in a park on the grass, with snacks and refreshing drinks. Sometimes Sanha would take a break and get out his guitar, serenade Yejin or show her songs they were working on. The second-best thing about studying with Eunwoo was that he was helpful without being overbearing. He helped when Sanha or Yejin had questions, but he wasn’t an awkward third wheel - he had his own studying to do.
One afternoon Sanha was poring over his math homework, his textbook open on his lap, fingers laced through Yejin’s while she did her biology reading, when Bin called out,
“There you are!”
Sanha lifted his head, eyes wide. He snatched his hand away from Yejin’s. She went to protest, but then she saw Bin and Rocky coming toward them, and she scrambled toward the other side of the picnic blanket.
Bin’s grin dimmed as he came closer to the blanket. “Sanha...what are you doing?”
“Studying,” Sanha said quickly.
“But the managers said you and Yejin -”
“We haven’t debuted yet, so the no-dating clause doesn’t apply to Sanha yet,” Eunwoo cut in coolly, without looking up from his textbook.
It was looking like one of their fights from the old days.
Bin raised his eyebrows, and his shoulders tightened.
But then Eunwoo looked up, his expression tentative, and said, “If you wanted, you could date Yeoreum. We wouldn’t tell either.”
Everyone knew Bin had liked Ahrin, but she hadn’t liked him back. While Bin had been pining over Ahrin, he’d been oblivious to Yeoreum liking him, though he had seemed to notice as the school festival had come closer and closer. Yeoreum, like Ahrin, had always been supportive of their musical aspirations, and she’d contributed to some of the tension between Bin and Eunwoo in the days leading up to the festival.
Bin looked uncomfortable. “Ah, no, Yeoreum and I - we’re not like that. We’re better as friends.”
Rocky looked back and forth between Sanha and Yejin. “Blatant rule-breaking. I like it. Didn’t think you were the type, Eunwoo.”
“Our team is at its best when we’re happiest,” Eunwoo said primly. “I want Sanha to be happy, and Yejin makes him happy.” Then he nudged the picnic basket he’d packed. “Do you want some red bean steam buns?”
Bin was never one to turn down food. He plopped down on one corner of the blanket, and Rocky sat down beside him. Even though Sanha loved red bean steam buns, he didn’t protest, because it looked like Bin and Rocky weren’t going to tell on him to the managers or instructors.
“Thanks, Eomma,” Rocky drawled.
“I want you two to be happy as well,” Eunwoo said.
Sanha added, “You’re welcome to study with us.”
“If you bring snacks,” Yejin said.
That made Bin laugh. “All right. I want to do well in school, too. What are you studying?”
Sanha made a face. “Math.”
Yejin tapped the spine of her textbook. “Biology.”
Eunwoo said, “English.”
Rocky leaned in. “You’re really good at English, right? You should help me. I want to put more English in my rap.”
Eunwoo nodded. “Any time.”
Bin unzipped his backpack and found his textbooks, so Rocky did the same, and they both lapsed into comfortable silence.
Yejin dared to scoot closer to Sanha again, and before long they were studying hard, fingers intertwined, till it was time for Sanha and the other boys to head to the company for more practice.
“Thank you,” Yejin said to Bin and Rocky.
Bin smiled at her, and she ducked and blushed. Sanha wasn’t too jealous, because lots of girls thought Bin was handsome, and besides, he was grateful to his hyungs for being generous to him.
“See you next study session,” Rocky said, and the four boys walked away.
After that, Bin and Rocky studied with Sanha and Yejin a lot. Sometimes they’d study with him instead of Eunwoo. Since Eunwoo was technically part of the hyung line with MJ and Jinjin, it made sense for him to hang out with them more. Also it gave Eunwoo some flexibility to do his own practice and studying - and it gave Sanha more people who could cover for him if needed. Sanha knew that the more people who knew about a secret, the more likely it was for that secret to stop being a secret, but he trusted his teammates.
He felt bad for lying to Jinjin and MJ, though.
Most of the time he was glad to be living his dream, training to be an idol, and glad to have good friends and a sweet girlfriend, and all the good food Eunwoo brought to study sessions.
Sanha had heard that Bin loved food - it was one of the reasons he’d been popular with girls, because he was always willing to eat the food they brought him - but before they’d become teammates he’d never witnessed the true depth of his appetite.
“Aren’t idols supposed to be on strict diets?” Yejin asked one time, after Eunwoo had brought cake and macarons.
Bin, on his third slice of cake, shrugged. “Well, we’re not idols yet, right?” He slanted a glance at Eunwoo and grinned.
Eunwoo pretended he didn’t notice, but the corners of his mouth turned upward in amusement.
“Besides, we’re all growing boys. Look at Sanha - he’s going to be twice as tall as Jinjin soon.” Bin clapped Sanha on the shoulder, and Rocky laughed.
“With how much we practice, it’s a wonder the rest of us don’t eat as much as Bin,” Eunwoo admitted.
Bin patted himself on the stomach. “I’m eating just right for me and how hard I work.” Then he nudged Eunwoo and pushed the plate of macarons toward him. “You - eat more.”
Eunwoo picked up one of the cookies and nibbled on it.
“That’s not how a man eats a cookie,” Bin said.
Eunwoo cast him a look. “I’m enjoying the taste, all right? I don’t know how you manage to taste anything.”
“That’s why I like spicy food. Spiciness sticks with you.” Bin finished off his slice of cake. To Eunwoo he said, “One day, you’re going to make the perfect wife.”
Eunwoo elbowed him sharply. “Shut up. Just because I like to cook occasionally - Rocky’s a better cook than me, and you’d never say that about him.”
“Rocky’s not as pretty are you are,” Bin said, and Rocky punched him in the shoulder.
“Yah! My visuals are no joke.”
Bin winced and affected hurt, clutching his shoulder. “I didn’t say they were, but everyone knows Eunwoo is the prettiest princess of them all.”
It was Eunwoo’s turn to protest. “Yah! Don’t call me a princess.”
Sanha refused to be left out. “Hyung, don’t be ashamed. We all know you have a tiara.”
Eunwoo turned to him, wide-eyed. “You too?”
Bin burst out laughing, and so did Yejin, and then all of them were laughing. When they finally settled down, Bin said,
“It’s true, Rocky is a better cook, but you’re by far the better baker. If I have to eat homemade sweet things, I’d rather they be from you.”
“I’ll remember that the next time we have to study,” Eunwoo said. Then he prodded Bin’s textbook with his pen. “Now study.”
As much as Sanha enjoyed studying with his friends and his girlfriend, lying to two of his teammates was burdensome, and often he was anxious, waiting for the other shoe to drop. He suspected that their instructors and managers allowed them to study as much as they did was because they were all doing so well in school.
So he was mildly alarmed when he showed up to study in the park behind the school one day and only Rocky and Yejin were there.
“What’s going on?” he asked, sitting down beside Yejin. She smiled up at him, and he kissed her on the cheek.
“Bin and Eunwoo had a test they needed to study for.” Rocky shrugged and went back to his history homework.
Since Bin and Eunwoo were in a different grade, that made sense. Them studying together also made sense.
“You know,” Yejin said, “since I’m allowed to study with you, I don’t get why Yeoreum and Ahrin don’t get to study with you all too.”
Sanha considered. “True. I mean, they’re just friends.” Maybe it would seem less suspicious, if Ahrin and Yeoreum studied with them as well? Three girls, four boys. No dating to see here.
“Granted, would Bin get anything done if Ahrin were here? Or is he dating Yeoreum now?” Yejin tapped her pen against her chin thoughtfully.
“It really isn’t like that,” Rocky said. “I wondered if Ahrin liked Eunwoo, maybe.”
Yejin nodded her agreement. “Maybe. I’m surprised Eunwoo has never had a girlfriend.”
“You know how he is, though,” Sanha said. “So focused. Kind of - like a music-making robot. As if he’d have time for a girlfriend.”
“He’s in idol training now, which he wasn’t before, and he still has time to bake for you punks,” Yejin said.
Rocky sat up straighter. “We’re not punks - we’re his teammates. We’re like brothers. And besides, I cook for us too.”
“You are a very good cook.” Sanha nodded vigorously.
Yejin eyed Rocky. “Why don’t you have a girlfriend?”
He shrugged. “I always cared about dancing more - Bin taught me. He learned on the streets when his parents refused to let him take lessons. Then he taught me and other kids for free.”
“I think it’s so nice that he taught other kids to dance,” Sanha said.
“It paid off. Bin and I are a great dance line now.” Rocky smiled to himself.
“I should have made extra money teaching guitar lessons when I had the chance.” Sanha sighed, thinking of his friends who were getting part-time jobs now.
Rocky patted him on the shoulder. “Once we’re idols, you won’t need the extra money.”
“True that.” Sanha gave him a high-five.
“Hey, have you seen Bin?”
Sanha and Rocky looked up. Ahrin and Yeoreum were walking toward them.
“He and Eunwoo are studying for a test,” Rocky said.
Sanha smiled at them. “Did you want to study with them? Since you’re in the same class.”
Yeoreum’s mouth twisted into a frown. “It doesn’t seem like we’re in the same class most days. I hardly see him.”
“Or Eunwoo,” Ahrin said. Her expression was somber, almost sad.
“Well, we are all working hard,” Rocky said, because he was loyal to their hyungs. Then he added, “I heard a rumor that we might have to do duets for the next monthly evaluation. Maybe they want to work with each other.” He nudged Sanha. “Want to be my duet partner?”
Sanha nodded. “Sure!” He shrugged up at the older girls. “Sorry, Noonas. Don’t know where they are.”
“We’d call them for you, but - none of us have phones now.” Rocky shrugged.
Ahrin smiled briefly. “Thank you. If you do see them, let them know we’re looking for them.”
“You could try email,” Sanha offered. “I check my email at the library at least once a day.”
Yeoreum lit up. “Yes! Thank you.” She tugged on Ahrin’s arm. “Let’s go to the library.”
Sanha watched them go and wondered if maybe he should have suggested they call Amy-noona, their foreign neighbor, but he couldn’t give her cellphone number out without her permission; he’d gotten her permission to give Yejin her number, and Yejin was very careful not to abuse the privilege.
Rocky glanced at his watch. “We should get ready for practice.”
Sanha nodded. “All right.” He leaned in and kissed Yejin on the cheek, blushed when she kissed him back - Rocky looked away politely - and then scooped his books into his backpack.
They headed for the company and their practice room, which was in the basement. Most trainees might find that insulting, but they were some of the newest trainees, and also the practice room was accessible from an exterior door, so they could dash down the stairs and kick off their shoes and drop off their backpacks and get changed without having to exchange pleasantries with every sunbae or company official they ran into.
The other four were already there. Eunwoo was playing scales on the piano for vocal warmups, the other three clustered around him. Rocky and Sanha immediately joined in.
Vocal warmups were soothing. Sanha could close his eyes, relax his breathing, let the day’s tension drain out of his limbs.
Once they were done with warm-ups, they worked on harmonies for some of their performance numbers, and after that it was practicing choreography. Eunwoo was hands down the worst dancer out of all of them. He was good at memorizing choreography, but for him to make it look smooth and polished like Bin or Rocky or Jinjin took a lot of extra work, so while Rocky and Bin helped him with the fine details, Jinjin was huddled in the corner writing lyrics. MJ came to sit with Sanha, who dug his guitar out of its case, and they set to practicing some more songs. Having a guitarist on the team was handy, so if they were ever called upon for an impromptu performance, they could always have accompaniment even if no piano was handy.
“Don’t overthink it,” Bin said, one hand on Eunwoo’s shoulder. “Let it flow from you. You’re being flirty.”
“I don’t know how to be flirty,” Eunwoo protested. “If I did, I’d get the move right.”
“You don’t have to be flirty as yourself,” Rocky said. “You need to be flirty as idol Eunwoo. Have you seen MJ flirt? He’s terrible at it.”
“Yah!” MJ protested, and then kept on singing without missing a beat.
Sanha laughed and fumbled a chord. MJ kicked at him playfully.
“But,” Rocky continued, “MJ has a great flirty face when he’s dancing. Try again.”
Eunwoo nodded, and suddenly he wrenched himself away from Bin, his arm over his mouth, coughing.
Sanha abandoned his guitar and was across the practice room like a shot. “Hyung! Are you okay?”
Eunwoo nodded, still coughing, eyes watering. “I’m fine,” he managed to gasp out. “I just - water?”
“Are you sure?” Jinjin asked. He held out a bottle of water.
Eunwoo unscrewed the cap and drained half of it in one swallow. Then he took a deep breath. “Yes. I just - you know how you feel a sneeze coming on, and then it turns into a cough? I think I inhaled some dust. It’s dusty in here. We’ll have to clean well when it’s our turn.”
Jinjin patted him on the back. “That’s all it was?”
Eunwoo nodded, flashed him a genuinely bright smile. “It’s fine. Really.” He nodded at Bin and Rocky. “Let’s try again?”
Bin and Rocky exchanged looks, then nodded.
Sanha retreated back to MJ, who’d been ready to bolt out the door to call for an instructor or medical professional. They went back to practicing songs together, and Jinjin retreated to his notebook, but all of them kept a weather eye on Eunwoo while he worked on his dancing.
When practice was finally over, they packed up their gear and headed back to the dorm together. The whole setup was pretty convenient - the dorms were near both school and the company so precious training time wasn’t eaten up by commute time. The six of them looked like any other students headed home after hagwon.
Once they were back at the dorms, they took turns showering and getting ready for bed - and calling home. Amy-noona, the foreign lady who lived across the hall from them, would let them use her phone for an hour or so. She said it was so no one could bother her for an hour, and she’d sprawl on her couch, knitting or doing other complicated things with strings while the six of them made their phone calls home.
Sometimes they went in order of age, or reverse order of age, or by lines - rap line, oldest-youngest line, middle line - or just played rock paper scissors to decide who got to go first, but tonight they were tired, so they just went one at a time as soon as they got done with their showers. To be fair to each other and Amy-noona, they all kept their phone calls the same length of time. Sometimes they needed privacy, but half the time they hung all over each other, chatting to each other’s families.
Sanha sat on the balcony beside Eunwoo, squinting and trying to see some stars amidst the city lights while Eunwoo spoke to his family.
“Dancing is still a struggle, but I’m working hard,” he said.
Sanha couldn’t hear Eunwoo’s mother’s reply clearly, but he could hear the tone of her voice. She was very concerned.
“Bin and Rocky are good teachers,” Eunwoo said. “How’s my little brother doing in school?” He paused, coughed into his shoulder.
Immediately Mrs. Cha’s voice rose on the other end.
“I’m fine, I promise,” Eunwoo said, but Sanha wasn’t so sure.
“No, Eomma,” Eunwoo protested. “No, I don’t like anyone. You know I - I don’t have time to like anyone. It’s all school and training. I promise!”
Mrs. Cha’s voice rose further.
Eunwoo sighed flipped the phone onto speaker. “Sanha, tell my mother I’m fine.”
“Sanha-ya,” Mrs. Cha said, “Eunwoo is behaving, yes?”
“He’s the best of all of us,” Sanha said, which really was true, now that Eunwoo no longer got into stupid fights with Bin.
“He’s not spending time around girls?” Mrs. Cha pressed.
“Not at all,” Sanha said, in as virtuous a tone as he could muster. Yejin didn’t count, since she was Sanha’s girlfriend.
“Not even Ahrin?”
“Not even her,” Sanha said. “In fact, she came to speak to me because she hasn’t spoken to Eunwoo in a while, wondered where he was even though they’re in the same class. Not that Eunwoo is skipping class - he’d never do that. But we’ve all been very busy, and he’s been tutoring me.”
Mrs. Cha made a low noise. “Thank you, Sanha. Eunwoo, make sure you focus on training and school, all right?”
Eunwoo took the phone back, switched it off of speaker. “Yes, Eomma. I will.”
Sanha leaned in and said loudly, “He’s working very hard!”
Eunwoo smiled at him. “I love you, Eomma. Tell Abeoji I love him too. And my brother. Good night.” He disconnected and handed the phone over to Sanha, who pounced on it and immediately dialed his parents.
Eunwoo ruffled Sanha’s hair before he stood up and headed back into the apartment.
Sanha flopped onto his back and gave up his search for stars, listened to his mother and father and brothers’ voices.
That night, as they all settled down to bed, Sanha watched Eunwoo again, making sure he didn’t cough. He even made sure to have a bottle of water handy, in case Eunwoo started coughing in the night.
Had it been Ahrin? Who Eunwoo had loved? Who’d been the root cause of Eunwoo’s terrible disease?
Sanha stared at the ceiling and pondered. It would explain why Eunwoo had always been so hot-tempered with Bin, because Bin liked Ahrin. But after Eunwoo had the surgery, his feelings for Ahrin were gone, so he’d have no reason to be tense around Bin, wouldn’t be jealous of him. It made perfect sense.
Sanha wondered if Ahrin knew how Eunwoo felt, if he’d confessed and been rejected.
Sanha wondered if Eunwoo at least remembered that he’d had feelings for Ahrin, and that was why he wasn’t spending that much time with her now, so he didn’t get sick again. Could someone get Hanahaki Disease again over the same person?
Long after the others fell asleep, snoring softly, Sanha tumbled into dreams, and he dreamed of flowers the color of blood.
The team had been recruited because they’d totally rocked their performance for the school festival, which they’d worked so hard for. Rocky and Bin and Jinjin had done the choreography, Euwnoo had written the song, Sanha and MJ had pitched in on arranging the harmonies, and of course Jinjin and Rocky wrote their own rap parts. It was an awesome song. The company officials had talked about refining it and including it on their first album.
As trainees, however, they were stuck doing covers. Cover dances. Cover songs. Covers of everything. Because Rocky was a good choreographer, sometimes they could do original choreography to someone else’s song, but all of them were itching to write their own songs. They were good songwriters.
But that wasn’t the way of trainees.
Trainees had no phones. Trainees went to school all day and trained all night.
“Wait, girl groups?” Sanha asked.
They were sprawled on the practice room floor, tired from working out.
“Haven’t you ever watched idols on variety shows?” Bin asked. “A lot of times for games they have to do random dance challenges, and the songs include ones from girl groups.”
“It’s not a bad idea,” Eunwoo said virtuously, even though he hated learning new choreography the most. “It’ll give us a chance to learn about our sunbaes, male and female, so if we run into them at a broadcast show or something we can be polite.”
“I can’t dance like a girl,” Sanha protested.
“No one expects you to actually look like a girl.” Rocky was doing a butterfly stretch. His dad was a gymnast, and he was unfairly flexible. “You’ll be a boy doing choreography originally meant for girls, but unless you undergo some serious surgery, you’ll never actually look like a girl.”
“The trick to pulling it off is to be confident and put a lot of energy into it - and smile a lot, if it’s a bouncy song,” Jinjin said.
Sanha pouted. “Prove it.”
Jinjin nudged Bin with his shoe. “Turn on Cheer Up.”
Bin obeyed, went to get his phone and unlocked it.
Sanha watched, skeptical, as Bin started the song and turned it all the way up.
Rocky jumped to his feet, and he and Jinjin started into the routine. Rocky danced perfectly, because he was Rocky, but -
Sanha sat up straighter.
Jinjin was going all out, smiling brightly and bouncing, and he looked happy. Cute. Confident. MJ started clapping along right away, grinning and cheering. Eunwoo and Bin joined in quickly, and finally Sanha did too.
The song ended, and Jinjin collapsed back on the floor.
“Okay, fine, you’re good at it, and I can learn to do that,” Sanha said. “But - I’d rather do our own choreography.”
“Monthly evaluations are coming up, so you’ll get your chance,” Jinjin said. “Remember, we went through a lot to get here. We need to listen to our instructors and work hard.”
Sanha sighed, nodded. “Yeah. I’m just so tired.”
“We’re all tired,” Eunwoo said gently, patting his shoulder. “But we’re all here together, and we’re a team.”
Sanha smiled at him. Then he nodded at Jinjin. “Teach me the choreo for Cheer Up.” He pushed himself to his feet.
Jinjin looked pleased, and the others mustered the energy to stand up as well.
This was Sanha’s life, and he was going to do his best at it.
As a team they’d been exempt from monthly evaluations for three months while they settled into their training routine, and Sanha was nervous. For their evaluation they had to do one dance performance and one vocal performance. This time they’d perform as a group, but in future they would perform in any number of sub-units or even combinations with other trainees or, worse, solo.
Other trainees would be performing as duets, so the rumor Rocky had heard wasn’t wrong, and while Sanha would have liked to do a duet with Rocky, the thought of the monthly evaluations was pretty scary. Working as a team would definitely make him feel safer.
For their vocal performance, they picked a slow pretty ballad that would show off their harmonies, and for their dance performance Jinjin, Bin, and Rocky picked an energetic song that would really show off their dance skills.
They were sitting around in the practice room again, conferring.
Jinjin turned on the song, and Rocky showed them the choreography he’d come up with so far.
MJ and Sanha clapped and cheered. It looked amazing. Rocky was such a talented dancer and also an excellent choreographer. Sanha knew a lot of the dance instructors liked to watch Rocky dance, talked to him like he was one of them. Sanha suspected some of them might even be jealous of him, because their team rarely asked for time with the dance instructors.
Rocky looked right at Eunwoo once he’d finished. “Can you do this?”
Eunwoo’s expression turned thoughtful. He was good at memorizing just about anything, including choreography, but executing it was another matter.
Bin put a hand on Eunwoo’s arm. “I’ll help him. Me and Sanha, right?”
Sanha nodded vigorously. He wanted to keep an eye on Eunwoo anyway, make sure he was looking after his health.
“Okay,” Rocky said. “If we need to make modifications to some of the choreo, we can. Let me know. Be honest with me.”
“Really, be honest,” Jinjin said. “We’re a team. We want to stay a team. We have to work together.”
Eunwoo nodded, and he smiled at Bin and Sanha.
“That means I get Rocky and Jinjin all to myself.” MJ beamed.
Truth was, MJ was a really good dancer, very energetic, and even if he didn’t have as much swag as Rocky, Bin, or Jinjin, his performances were good because he was so energetic.
This was it. Their first true test as a team.
They could do this.
Only monthly evaluations were happening at the same time as school exams, and Sanha felt like he was being pulled in two directions.
They booked the practice room from right after school till the end of the night. First they’d work on their harmonies and simple choreo for their vocal performance, and then they’d break for a snack (which meant Sanha, Rocky, and Bin, as the youngest, had to run up to the company cafeteria to bring food back for the others), and then they’d work on choreo as a group. After that, half of them would study, and the other half would work on whatever fine points they wanted to, and then they’d switch, and then they dragged themselves back to the dorm, slept as best as they could, and started again the next day.
It was exhausting. Sanha barely saw Yejin, and when he did he only had energy for a smile and a quick hug. Sanha also barely saw Amy-noona, who looked more and more worried each time she saw them, especially as none of them had come to her for their phone calls home. They made their weekly phone calls on their manager’s phone, explained that it was both exam time at school and monthly evaluation time, and their families wished them good luck.
When exams arrived, Sanha went in and did his best. He tried to remember all he’d studied, but his mind was chaotic, and when he was supposed to be doing math he was tapping his feet under his desk, choreography practice. When he was supposed to be doing English, minor harmonies looped in his head over and over again. In the middle of his history exam he found himself tapping on his desk, guitar chords.
At the end of exam week, he dragged himself out to the front of the school to wait for the others so they could all head over to the company together. They had all weekend to practice for their evaluation, which was on Monday.
Then it would be anxious waiting, to see how their evaluation results turned out, how their exams were scored.
Sanha sighed and closed his eyes. When he opened his eyes, he wanted it to be next Friday, for him to have made it into at least the top half of his class on his exams and for his team to be intact at the company. Was that so much to ask?
“Are you all right?”
Sanha opened his eyes.
Eunwoo sat down beside him on the bus stop bench, held out a little paper bag.
“I’m just tired,” Sanha said. He peeked into the bag and saw there were cute bear-shaped macarons inside. “Aw, hyung, thank you!”
“Your brain takes up one fifth of your energy every day,” Eunwoo said. “You’d better get your blood sugar up before training.”
Sanha threw an arm around him and hugged him. “You’re the best.”
“Why him and not me?” Bin asked.
“Because he brought me cookies,” Sanha said, munching happily on a pink strawberry flavored one.
Bin perked up. “Cookies?”
“There’s one for you too,” Eunwoo said, and offered the bag to him.
Bin pounced on it. “Glad I got here early.” He picked a baby blue one and sniffed it, then bit into it, testing its flavor.
“Think your exams went all right?” Eunwoo asked.
“Honestly, they probably went better than they ever have before, since you helped me study this time.” Bin smiled.
Eunwoo smiled back. “I’m glad.”
“What about you? How about yours?” Bin asked.
“Probably not as good as in times past, but well enough that I don’t feel bad.” Eunwoo shrugged.
“What, not third in the school again?” Bin shoved at him lightly.
“Training comes first these days,” Eunwoo said.
Sanha said, “Do you think we could convince Jinjin to let us have tonight off? We’ll be practicing all weekend anyway. Bin, could you take us for rides on your motorcycle? That would be super fun.”
“Yah, Moon Bin!”
All three of them turned and saw Ahrin and Yeoreum heading toward them. Yeoreum looked furious.
Sanha immediately clung to Eunwoo’s arm, nervous.
Eunwoo tried for a smile. “Yeoreum, Ahrin, hello! How were your exams?”
“Bin-ah.” Yeoreum planted herself in front of him. “You haven’t answered any of my emails and I know you’ve been avoiding me in the halls. Why won’t you spend any time with me?”
Ahrin grabbed her arm. “Wait, don’t -”
“Yeoreum, please, lower your voice,” Bin said. He looked a little panicked.
It was Eunwoo who said, “Yeoreum, please don’t be mad at Bin. We’ve all been working extra hard for exams and our first monthly evaluation. None of us have had time to -”
“Sanha had time to spend with Yejin, and Bin and Rocky and you had time to study with them, so that’s no excuse,” Yeoreum said.
Sanha was confused. Yeoreum sounded like an angry girlfriend, but Bin had said they weren’t dating.
“What about Yejin?” Jinjin asked.
Sanha turned and saw Jinjin and MJ coming toward them.
Sanha said, “Yeoreum, please -”
“What about Yejin?” Jinjin demanded, fixing his gaze on Sanha.
Over his shoulder, MJ mouthed, Sorry!
How had MJ known?
“Sanha and Yejin are still dating,” Yeoreum said. “So Bin has no excuse for not spending time with me.”
“But I thought you said you weren’t dating,” Sanha said to Bin, which was possibly the worst thing he could have said.
Yeoreum’s eyes flashed.
Jinjin stared at Sanha. “Management was very clear -”
“There’s no dating ban on us till we debut,” Eunwoo said, shifting in front of Sanha, who clung tighter to his arm.
Bin jumped to his feet. “Yeoreum, I told you, we can’t date -”
“You heard Eunwoo. We can!”
Bin yanked a hand through his hair. “I don’t want to!”
Yeoreum’s eyes flashed. “Who is she?”
Bin took a step back. “What?”
“There’s someone else, isn’t there?”
Bin shook his head, but Yeoreum grabbed him by the shoulders and yanked him in so they were eye-to-eye.
“There is someone else. It better not be Ahrin.”
“It’s not Ahrin,” Bin said quietly.
Jinjin tugged Bin out of Yeoreum’s grip. “We have to go to practice. Now.” Then he turned and marched for the bus stop.
MJ scrambled after him.
“We’d better go,” Eunwoo said. He grabbed the bag of cookies, bowed apologetically at both girls, and practically dragged Sanha away.
Bin followed, head down, his grip on his backpack strap white-knuckled.
At the bus stop, Jinjin was frostily silent. MJ looked anxious.
Sanha said, “Hyung, I can explain -”
“We’ll talk after practice,” Jinjin said.
Rocky chose that moment to arrive. “Hey, Hyung,” he began, smiling up at Bin, but then he noticed Jinjin’s expression. “Is everything all right?”
Eunwoo handed him the paper bag. “Here. Have a cookie.”
“Thanks,” Rocky said slowly, and reached into the bag for a cookie.
“Can I have one?” MJ asked brightly, and reached out.
Jinjin slapped at his wrist. “No.”
Eunwoo smiled hopefully and shook the bag enticingly, so Rocky took one.
“How were your exams?” Eunwoo asked.
“Good,” Rocky said. “Better than usual, I think, since you were helping me study.”
Jinjin spun and cast Eunwoo a dark look. “Have you been helping everyone on the team ‘study’?”
Sanha whispered to Rocky, “He found out about Yejin. And also Bin and Yeoreum?”
“Bin and Yeoreum weren’t dating,” Rocky whispered back.
Sanha peeked at Bin. He looked pale - and ready to run, like before, when he’d fought with Eunwoo, when he’d get on his motorbike and just go.
Please don’t run, Sanha thought.
Practice that night was brutal. Jinjin was like a military drill sergeant, shouting at them. Even though MJ was older than Jinjin, he obeyed like the rest of them. They didn’t let up till midnight when MJ finally begged for a break for food, because all they’d had since lunch were energy drinks and the cookies Eunwoo had made.
Jinjin was the least angry at MJ. He couldn’t seem to decide if he was the most angry at Sanha, Eunwoo, or Bin, though he was marginally less angry at Rocky.
As soon as they got back to the dorm, Rocky dragged MJ into the kitchenette to start cooking dinner. Jinjin was the first to shower, which was rare, surely a sign of just how angry he was. Eunwoo went to help in the kitchen, leaving Bin and Sanha in the den. Sanha fretted, fidgeting with his guitar. Bin was slumped in a corner, exhausted.
“You said you and Yeoreum weren’t dating,” Sanha said in a low voice.
“We weren’t. She wanted to, but I didn’t.”
“But - you like her, don’t you?”
“Was she right?” Sanha asked. “Is there someone else?”
Bin sighed. “There isn’t always someone or someone else. Sometimes you just - stop liking someone.”
Sanha was pretty sure he’d never stop liking Yejin. Even if he had to stop dating her for a while, like when men who went into the military had to be away from their loved ones, he wouldn’t stop loving her. He just wouldn’t get to see her for a while.
“Jinjin seems really mad.”
Bin nodded. “Yeah. He is. We’re a terrible combination, me and Yeoreum. Both so hot-tempered.”
“Well, Eunwoo’s also hot-tempered, but you get along now,” Sanha pointed out.
Bin’s gaze went distant. “Yes, well - Yeoreum isn’t Eunwoo.”
“True. But - why is it so bad if we spend time with girls? There are some mixed groups out there, boys and girls. Obviously if there were girls on our team they couldn’t live in the dorms with us,” Sanha said. Then he paused. “Could they? I mean, we’re like family, right? Brothers? It’s not like it was weird for you at home with a little sister.”
Bin smirked and swatted at Sanha. “You’re my little sister.”
“Yah!” Sanha tried to swat him back, and they tussled, laughing.
MJ poked his head out of the kitchen. “Hey, what are you two -?”
The bathroom door flew open, and steam rolled into the den. Jinjin stepped out, toweling his hair.
“MJ, you can shower next,” he said, his tone still frosty.
Sanha and Bin separated, kept their gazes down.
“Ah - thank you.” MJ went and grabbed his shower kit and a clean towel, then scurried into the bathroom.
“Hyung,” Rocky said, “there’s some food if you want it.”
Sanha carefully put his guitar away, then stayed in his corner of the den, not looking at Jinjin while he sat at their low table and ate.
Eunwoo and Rocky served up the rest of the food.
Jinjin said, “Bin, Sanha, you have to eat. We start practice early tomorrow.”
Sanha crept toward the table and sat as far from Jinjin as he could manage. Bin sat beside him. Sanha scooped up a pair of chopsticks and set about serving the older boys, waited to take his first bite until all of them had started. Jinjin, however, served himself.
They ate in silence till MJ came out of the shower, and then it was Eunwoo’s turn.
They continued to eat in silence and take turns showering one by one until it was finally Sanha’s turn.
When he came out of the shower, all of the others were kneeling on the den floor, arms raised above their heads like teachers made them do when they’d been bad. Jinjin was standing over them, arms crossed over his chest.
Sanha scurried across the den and knelt beside them, put his hands up too.
“Management was clear,” Jinjin said. “Yoon Sanha, you were supposed to break up with Yejin. All of you were aware of this. And yet Eunwoo, Bin, and Rocky covered for you while you spent time together, and MJ found out you were still dating and didn’t tell me. All of you lied to me. How am I supposed to feel about that?”
Eunwoo said, without breaking posture, “You shouldn’t feel that bad about it. None of us are under a legally binding dating ban right now. Sanha has done well in training, and you’ll see - he did well on his exams. If he continues to do well, he should continue to be allowed to date Yejin. If his performance drops, then he’ll need to rethink his priorities.”
Sanha swallowed hard.
Jinjin crouched down in front of Eunwoo. “But you lied to me. How should I feel about that?”
MJ dared to lift his head and say, “Glad to know that we’ll lie our asses off for you if you fall in love?”
Jinjin stared at him.
Sanha was prepared to throw himself on the ground and beg for mercy, but then Jinjin burst out laughing. He fell back on his haunches, clutching his gut and roaring with laughter.
Eunwoo lifted his head, eyes blazing. “Have you been pretending this whole time?”
Jinjin shook his head and fell onto his back, still laughing.
Sanha lifted his head, peered at Bin, who shrugged, looking confused but also relieved.
Finally Jinjin caught his breath, pushed himself up on his elbows. “No, I was mad. I was so mad. You lied to me. I’m not just your leader, I’m your teammate and your friend. I can’t believe you didn’t trust me. Especially you, Sanha. I’ve known you longer than I’ve known Bin and Rocky and even Eunwoo. But - MJ’s right. You guys had Sanha’s back, and I know you’ll have mine, right? When it counts.”
Sanha nodded vigorously. “Definitely, Hyung.”
Jinjin sighed and flopped back onto the floor. “Is this what it’s like for parents when they’re mad at their kids? It’s exhausting.”
“I’m really sorry, Hyung,” Sanha said.
Jinjin turned his head to look at Sanha. “She must mean a lot to you, for you to do this. Bin didn’t stick it out with Yeoreum, but you’re still with Yejin, and that’s impressive. Eunwoo’s right, though. If your performance drops -”
“It won’t, Hyung. Especially with Eunwoo helping me.”
Jinjin pointed at Eunwoo. “You really are the mom on this team.”
“Maybe I am,” Eunwoo said, a little stiffly. Then he was at Jinjin’s side, massaging his calves. He pitched his voice higher. “Was it a difficult day at work, yeobo?”
MJ and Rocky giggled.
Jinjin pitched his voice lower. “It was, yeobo. But now that I’m home and you’ve fed me a delicious meal and the children have been disciplined, I feel much better.”
“I did most of the cooking,” Rocky protested.
Eunwoo fell back, laughing.
MJ clustered closer to Jinjin. “I’m sorry, Appa. I promise I’ll be good from now on.”
Jinjin patted him on the head and said, with mock-solemnity, “My son.”
Sanha figured everything would be all right. He caught Bin’s eye, smiled, but Bin wasn’t smiling.
Was he still sad about Yeoreum? Eunwoo had suffered an awful disease because of Ahrin. Would Bin suffer as well because of Yeoreum?
Sanha didn’t have time to think on it further. They had to clean up their meal and get to bed. Jinjin was right. Training started early tomorrow.
Even though Jinjin was no longer mad at them, he was still their team leader, and he worked them hard over the weekend. They only got breaks for food and water or when they were too exhausted to move. Since they didn’t have to do any studying, they were in the practice room for as long as they could book it. Other trainees were also practicing, so when they didn’t have the practice room, they were back in their dorm working on their harmonies since they didn’t have enough room to really dance.
Monday morning dawned far too early.
Instead of the usual mad scramble to dress and brush their teeth and comb their hair, Sanha awoke to a different kind of chaos.
Instead of Eunwoo going around and shaking everyone awake, he was pounding on the bathroom door while MJ shouted for Rocky and Jinjin to kick the door down or pick the lock or something.
Sanha tugged on his glasses and stumbled to his feet. “What’s going on? Is everything all right?”
“Bin, please, let me in,” Eunwoo said. “I have some medicine that will help calm your stomach.”
Sanha tapped Rocky on the shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
“Bin locked himself in the bathroom and won’t come out,” Rocky said, expression grim. He joined Eunwoo at the door. “Hyung, please. Let us help you.”
Jinjin turned green and backpedaled rapidly, and Sanha heard retching noises.
“Just - give me five more minutes,” Bin pleaded. He sounded horrible.
MJ fretted. “His vocal cords will be wrecked.” He reached for his wallet. “Sanha, run down to the convenience store and get some honey. Rocky, start boiling water. He’ll need a steam treatment.”
Sanha accepted a handful of crumpled bills from MJ and headed for the door, only when he pulled it open, Amy from across the hall was standing on the other side, fist raised to knock.
“Sanha-ya! Good morning.” She smiled at him and wagged her phone. “Yejin called to wish you good luck. The rest of you have text messages from your parents as well.”
Sanha lit up. “Yejin?”
MJ shouted, “Rocky and Jinjin are going to kick down the door right this second!”
Amy, who was shorter than even Jinjin, craned her neck and tried to peer past Sanha. “Is everything all right?”
“You’re not helping,” Eunwoo snapped. Then he said coaxingly, “Bin, we worked hard all weekend and slept well. Come have a nice breakfast and some honey tea - Sanha’s getting you honey now - and also do a steam treatment. Then we’ll help each other pick our outfits and do our makeup and we can go together, all right?”
“Sanha!” MJ shouted. “Why aren’t you going to get the honey?”
“You need honey? I have lots, the organic local kind,” Amy said. “Be right back.” She handed Sanha her phone and hurried across the hall to her apartment, reappeared moments later with a plastic bear that was actually a bottle of honey.
She handed it to Sanha, and he thanked her.
“Amy-noona has some honey for Bin,” Sanha said, waving it aloft.
Rocky snatched it from him and headed into the kitchen, where a pot was boiling on the stove.
“Good morning!” Amy sang out in English. “Your families sent you text messages to wish you good luck.”
“You hear that, Bin?” Eunwoo asked. “Your parents sent you a good luck message. Do you want to read it?”
There were more retching sounds.
Amy looked concerned. “Is he sick?”
“He’s nervous, I think,” Jinjin said.
Amy sidled closer to the door. “Do you want me to read the message to you?”
Sanha handed her phone back to her.
The door opened a crack. “Good morning, Noona. Sorry the others disturbed you.”
“Not at all. Your big evaluation is today, right? Your families all sent messages.” Amy beamed at him and unlocked her phone, held it out.
Bin accepted it hesitantly.
Sanha was afraid he was going to lock himself in the bathroom again, but instead he read the message, slowly, hands shaking.
He sniffled, scrubbed at his eyes.
Jinjin burst into tears.
Sanha had forgotten what a big crybaby Jinjin was. Eunwoo started to sniffle. MJ patted Jinjin’s back. Rocky was there in an instant, rubbing Eunwoo’s shoulder.
Sanha reached out, flung his arms around Bin’s waist. “Hyung. We’re here for you. It’ll be okay. We worked hard.” Only he was tearing up and his voice hitched.
Amy cleared her throat. “How about honey tea for everyone, steam for everyone, and I’ll make you breakfast, all right? How about pancakes?”
Jinjin nodded, sniffling, and Bin hugged him and Eunwoo both, and then MJ was piling in, smothering them all in a group hug.
While Amy cooked, they drank hot tea and took turns breathing in steam from the pot that Rocky had set to boiling on the stove. Then they picked out their outfits for their performance. They all had to splash their faces with cold water to get rid of the swelling from crying. Jinjin helped them all do their hair. MJ, who liked to draw in his spare time, had the steadiest hands, so once everyone had on BB cream and foundation, he did everyone’s eyeliner. They also took turns reading and responding to the messages from their families.
Once they were all dressed, they gathered around the table for pancakes, juice, and bacon.
“Thank you so much, Noona,” Bin said, digging in. “This is delicious.”
“Wow,” Amy said, kneeling beside MJ at the table, since she was the oldest of them all. “I’ve never seen you dressed up like this before. It’s very - emo boy meets hip hop gangster. So this is what it means to be a trainee?”
“They could give us a different concept before we debut,” MJ said. “But this is what we choose for ourselves.”
“Good luck today,” Amy said. “Now eat up!”
After breakfast, clean-up went fast because they all worked together.
Amy took her phone back and headed back to her apartment to get ready to go to work herself, and the six of them set off for the company.
They arrived in time to do vocal warmups and stretches, and then they had to wait in the hallway outside one of the practice rooms while other teams and trainees did their performances. The judges were dance instructors, vocal coaches, managers, and other company officials. Critiques were given right after performances, so there was no telling how long they’d have to wait till it was their turn. Was a long critique a good sign or a bad sign?
A team of two boys shuffled out of the practice room, shoulders drooping.
“You’re up,” one of them said to Jinjin.
He nodded, stood. “Let’s go.”
Sanha made his final bows to the evaluation team, then stumbled out of the practice room on shaking legs. As soon as they were outside, Jinjin told the next team they were up. Sanha sank down on the nearest bench. Rocky sank to the ground, curled over his knees and breathing hard. MJ was pacing up and down in front of Sanha’s bench, shaking himself out and doing some kind of meditative breathing exercise really loudly.
Bin turned a shade of green and darted for the nearest bathroom. Eunwoo followed him.
They’d made it. They’d survived their first evaluation. Sanha had heard from older trainees that evaluations were always harsh, not to expect anyone to say anything nice, that he had to hold back his tears and listen closely to the things he had to do better, and as long as he improved those things at the next evaluation he’d be fine. He knew he was still growing, that he was gangly and uncoordinated, and his voice breaking was beyond his control. Eunwoo struggled with dancing, and MJ was a bit manic. But Bin and Rocky had been on point with their dance moves, and Jinjin had brought the swag, and MJ had really belted out those high notes, and Sanha and Eunwoo had harmonized really well, and they’d survived.
As a team. The evaluators had pointed out all their flaws with stark brutality, but they’d agreed that the six of them worked as a team.
Jinjin headed over to the bathroom, poked his head in, backpedaled.
“Is Bin throwing up again?” Rocky asked, straightening up.
MJ reached into his pocket and found his wallet, handed Sanha some money. Sanha headed for the nearest vending machine to find some gatorade for Bin to drink. When he got back, everyone but Jinjin, who was a sympathy puker, was in the bathroom outside one of the stalls while Bin retched.
Eventually Eunwoo helped him up. Rocky got on the other side of him and helped him over to the sink so he could rinse his mouth out.
Sanha offered up the gatorade, and Bin thanked him, drank it slowly.
“We’re done for today,” Eunwoo said. “We should go back to the dorm and rest.”
Going to school was out of the question.
“Does your throat hurt?” MJ asked.
Bin nodded again, clearing his throat and wincing.
Eunwoo smoothed Bin’s damp hair back from his forehead. “I’ll make you some honey water.”
“Everything all right?” Jinjin asked from the doorway.
“Yeah,” Bin said. “Let’s go.”
They regrouped at the door, and Jinjin led them to the bus stop so they could head back to the dorm.
Back at the dorm, Jinjin went to shower first. Eunwoo went to the kitchen to start some honey water. Rocky made sure Bin was comfortable on the couch. MJ and Sanha stayed close to him as well.
“We did great,” Rocky promised him. “Given how mean the evaluators can be, we did great. We’re still a team.”
As soon as Jinjin was out of the shower, it was MJ’s turn. Jinjin joined in the conversation with Bin, and then Eunwoo was there, giving Bin warm honey water to soothe his throat.
“Sanha, rub his shoulders,” Eunwoo said, and Sanha obediently squirmed up behind Bin, started working his neck and shoulder muscles with careful hands.
Rocky joined in, massaging Bin’s calves, and Jinjin offered him a hand rub.
“I’m really proud of all of you,” he said. “We worked hard, and it paid off. We’re a good team. We’ve got this. We’ll make it to debut.”
“I promise I’ll be fine,” Bin said.
Sanha winced. His voice still sounded horrible.
“Drink more honey water,” Eunwoo said gently. “Breathing in some steam while you’re in the shower should help you.”
“If we pass our exams, life will be perfect,” Sanha said.
“If we pass our exams,” Rocky said, “I will make us a huge feast.”
“We passed,” Eunwoo said firmly.
Bin wrinkled his nose. “No fish.”
“But I love fish,” MJ said, toweling his hair.
Eunwoo said, “Bin, you go next. I’ll go after you.”
Bin nodded. “Thank you,” he said.
“Don’t talk, not yet.” Eunwoo helped Bin to his feet and guided him over to the bathroom.
Jinjin watched them go. “Can you believe they used to fight like cats and dogs?”
“The family that slays together stays together,” MJ said breezily.
“Are you all right?” Jinjin asked.
MJ grinned. “I’m fine. We did awesome.” To Rocky he said, “I really do love seafood. One day I’m going to open my own sushi restaurant.”
Once everyone was showered and dressed and had had a snack, they curled up on the couch as best as they could and used Eunwoo’s laptop to binge on a historical drama that Jinjin really liked.
“I can’t believe you like this,” MJ said.
“It has pirates,” Jinjin said firmly.
Sanha wasn’t much of a fan of historical dramas, but he didn’t mind, because he was with his team, and everything was all right.
He wasn’t sure when he fell asleep, or when any of the others fell asleep. He came awake sharply when someone knocked on the door, and that was when he realized he’d fallen asleep on Rocky and drooled on his shoulder. MJ elbowed him in the ribs as he stumbled to his feet to answer the door. Sanha blinked and rubbed his eyes. He’d fallen asleep with his contact lenses in, and his eyes felt dry and gritty.
“Hello?” MJ asked, rubbing his eyes.
Amy was on the other side of the door talking on her phone. “Yes, Eunwoo’s mother, all the boys are back from school now.”
Sanha squinted at his watch. School had ended about an hour ago.
“Would you like to speak to Eunwoo?” Amy smiled brightly at MJ.
MJ said, “Eunwoo, wake up. Your mom is on the phone.”
Eunwoo wriggled out from under Bin, who’d fallen asleep on him, and staggered to his feet. He offered Amy a sleepy smile and a polite bow, and she handed over her phone.
He sank down on the floor in front of the couch. “Hey, Mom. Yes, our evaluation was today. It went really well.”
The others came awake blearily, rubbing their eyes and smiling tiredly at Amy. She waved at them and told them to bring her phone back when they were done, and she headed for the door.
“Noona, wait,” Rocky said, and he followed her.
Eunwoo, lawyer that he was, carefully dodged questions about how school had gone that day. He also artfully glossed over how harsh the evaluators has been with their critique, just told his mother that he’d received a lot of helpful feedback and had new things to work on.
After that, Jinjin called his parents. He was the biggest crybaby of them all. Whatever stress he’d been feeling as their leader seemed to spill out all at once, and soon he was crying too hard to speak coherently, so MJ put the phone on speaker and the others assured Jinjin’s mom that all had gone well and Jinjin was being a very good team leader.
Then MJ called his parents and cheerfully told them all about how wonderful the team had done. He was so bright and bubbly that his parents didn’t suspect for one second that the evaluators had been grueling or that MJ had skipped school after. It probably helped that MJ kept the phone on speaker and the others chimed in about how well MJ had sung and danced.
Then it was it was Bin’s turn to call his parents. He cradled Amy’s phone in his hands and stared at it for a long moment. His parents had never approved of his love of dancing, were only grudgingly supportive of him becoming a trainee. Sanha’s father had always dreamed of him being a musician, and his entire family was excited for him, plus he had Yejin.
Bin didn’t really have anyone except his little sister.
Finally, Bin dialed. Sanha held his breath.
Bin’s mother answered. “Amy-ssi?”
“Eomma, it’s me.”
“Bin-ah. Are you taking a break from studying?”
“Ah - yes. How are you and Appa?”
“We’re doing well.” Bin’s mother’s tone was clipped.
“She is also doing well.”
“Is she eating well?” Bin asked. That was rich, coming from the boy who’d puked up his guts at least twice in the last twenty-four hours, but Sanha and the others kept very quiet.
“She’s doing well. Would you like to talk to her?”
There was a pause, and Bin’s mother hollered for Sua. A moment later, she got on the phone, breathless.
“Bin-oppa! Your evaluation was today, right? How did it go?”
“We did really well. Our team is doing well,” Bin said.
“I’m so proud of you,” Sua gushed. And then she said, “When are you going to introduce me to your teammates? I watch the video of your festival audition all the time. MJ-oppa is so handsome -”
“Hi! I’m MJ!” He leaned in and actually waved at the phone.
“Hey!” Bin protested.
And then his mother was back on the line. “I’m sorry, Bin-ah. Sua needs to study harder. You should study too.” And the call was over.
Bin sighed and closed his eyes. Eunwoo rubbed his shoulder gently.
“They’ll come around after we debut,” he said softly. “You’ll see.”
Rocky returned just then. He paused in the doorway, took in their expressions.
“Bin-hyung? Did you call your family? Was it all right?”
Bin nodded and smiled tiredly. “It was fine.”
Rocky looked at Eunwoo. Eunwoo shook his head minutely from behind Bin.
“Your turn. Sanha has to go last, because you know he’ll be on the phone with Yejin forever.” Bin rolled his eyes and handed the phone to Rocky.
Sanha protested, because he knew the others expected it of him, but like Eunwoo, he was worried about Bin.
Amy ducked out of their apartment with a cheery Return my phone whenever! I’m going to binge on dramas!
They waved at her, then concentrated on Rocky’s call with his family, telling his parents all about how well he’d danced and rapped. Even though he’d had to learn how to dance from Bin instead of having formal lessons, his parents were supportive of his dream to become an idol, and they were very proud of him.
And then, finally, it was Sanha’s turn.
He left the phone on speaker while he spoke to his family, checked in with his parents and his older brothers, but when it came time to speak to Yejin, he took the phone off of speaker and headed for the door.
Rocky asked MJ and Jinjin to help him with dinner. Eunwoo stayed on the couch with Bin, fretting over him.
“I love you!” was the first thing Yejin said.
Sanha blushed even though no one was there to see him. He curled up on the small balcony between the apartments and rested against the railing. “I love you too.”
“We didn’t get our exam results yet, so don’t worry about missing school,” Yejin said.
“But when I missed school I missed you,” Sanha said, pouting.
“You’re so silly. It was best for you to rest up.” Yejin giggled. “How did your evaluation go?”
“It went well,” Sanha said. “It wasn’t easy, but we worked hard all weekend.”
“How did Bin and Eunwoo handle the pressure?” Yejin asked.
“Bin got sick before and after, but Eunwoo did really well even though he struggled with the dancing right up to the actual evaluation.” Sanha cocked his head. “You’re not secretly crushing on Bin and Eunwoo, are you? Everyone thinks they’re the prettiest.”
“Ahrin-unnie asked me to ask you,” Yejin said. Her tone turned sober. “She told me about what happened on Friday after school, that Jinjin-oppa found out we’re still dating. Was he mad?”
“He was very mad at first, but as long as I keep doing well he won’t tell on me.”
“You did well on your evaluation, so you’re halfway there.”
Sanha could hear her smile, and he smiled back, felt his heart beat a little faster.
“I’m sure you did well on your exams. We studied hard. Eunwoo made sure we did,” Yejin said.
“I hope so.” Sanha sighed. “How are you doing? Did you have a good weekend?”
“I missed you,” Yejin pouted. “But it’s really nice of Amy-noona to let us call each other.”
“It really is. I shouldn’t take advantage of her too much, so I should end this call soon. But - I thought of you. As I was performing. I was performing for you,” Sanha said softly.
“I really miss you,” Yejin said. “But after you debut and get first place on a music show you’ll get a phone and then we can call each other whenever we want. So work hard!”
“I’ll work the hardest,” Sanha promised. “Okay. I better go. I love you.”
“Love you too,” Yejin said.
“I love you!” Sanha said, and forced himself to hang up.
Then he went and knocked on Amy-noona’s door and gave her back her phone. He would work the hardest he’d ever worked to make sure he debuted with his team. There was nowhere to go but forward.
The next day they had to go to school, so they dragged themselves out of bed and dressed and headed to the bus stop together.
Bin was still coughing.
“Did you make yourself sick by stressing yourself out?” Eunwoo asked. “I used to do that over exams all the time. Let me go get you some medicine.”
While the others waited at the bus stop, Eunwoo headed into a nearby convenience store to buy some cold medicine and a bottle of water to take it with.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine in a couple of days,” Bin said, but he took the medicine anyway. “I’ll have some more steam when I get home.”
“And honey water,” Eunwoo insisted.
Sanha watched them and thought it really was amazing, how nice they were to each other now. Maybe Eunwoo had been cranky and impatient with Bin so much because he’d been sick? Sanha was always grouchy when he was sick. Everything between them had been fine since Eunwoo had gotten out of the hospital after his surgery.
When the bus came, it was crowded, so they had to split up and sit alone. When the bus got to the school, Sanha and Rocky peeled away from the others, headed for their own classes. Yejin met Sanha on the steps, and he carried her bookbag for her as they went to their classroom.
Sanha ducked his head when his homeroom teacher eyed him askance, and he hurried to his desk and sat down, determined to behave well. Through all his morning classes he kept his head down and worked hard. He could feel the other students looking at him, was pretty sure some of them whispered about him. He and his team weren’t the only trainees who’d been recruited from this school, and he knew a lot of trainees struggled, that they struggled even more once they debuted. He and his team were the only ones who’d been recruited as an entire team, though, and being recruited as a team was so rare. If Seonhyeok’s team had won the competition at the festival, only Seonhyeok would have been recruited.
Maybe at lunch Sanha and Yejin could eat alone, or maybe they could even find Jinjin and the others and eat with them.
Only the lunch bell had barely rung when one of the other students poked her head into the classroom and announced the news.
Exam results had been posted.
Sanha grabbed Yejin’s hand, and they followed their classmates into the hallway to cluster around the noticeboard. There was a lot of jostling and pushing, so Sanha pulled Yejin into his arms to shield her from everyone else.
“How did you do?” Rocky asked, popping up beside Sanha. How he’d managed to work his way in there despite the crowd was a mystery. “I made it into the top half. Eunwoo-hyung will be very happy.”
“I haven’t been able to check yet,” Sanha said. Then he had a bright idea. “Yejin, get up on my shoulders.”
She peered up at him. “What?”
But Rocky laced his fingers together and held his hands out. “Use this to step up.” He turned his head away. “I won’t look. If you do it fast, no one will see.”
Sanha crouched down, and a moment later, Yejin was up on his shoulders. There were protests, but Yejin cheered.
“We did it! We’re both in the top half!”
Another girl called out, “Yejin, how did I do?”
Yejin answered her, and before Sanha knew it, he was wobbling beneath Yejin’s weight while she read out exam results for all the smaller students - mostly girls - who hadn’t been able to see for themselves.
“Yejin! How did Sanha do?” MJ asked.
“We did well!” Yejin said, twisting around to look at him.
“Glad to hear it,” Eunwoo said. “Come on. I’ll buy us lunch.”
Sanha let Yejin back onto her feet, and he went to hug Eunwoo.
“Thank you, Hyung. I wouldn’t have done so well on my exams without you.”
Eunwoo ruffled his hair. “Keep doing well, all right? So you and Yejin can stay together.”
“He will,” Yejin said firmly. She grabbed Sanha’s hand and held it tightly.
“How did you do?” Sanha asked.
“He was in the top ten percent,” Bin said, grinning. Then he coughed into his shoulder.
Rocky was beside him in an instant. “Are you all right? Are you getting sick?”
“I’m fine,” Bin said. “Now come on, while Eunwoo’s still willing to buy lunch.”
Eunwoo did buy lunch for all of them, and they sat together on the bleachers in the shade to eat. Jinjin ruffled Sanha’s hair, and he smiled at Yejin.
“So, how was your first evaluation?” Yejin asked. “I want to hear all the details.”
Bin winced. “You really don’t. Just know that we did well.”
Yejin dug her phone out of her pocket. “You should perform for me! My very own idol group.” She grinned and waggled her phone hopefully.
“Did you really do well?” Ahrin asked.
Sanha twisted around.
Ahrin and Yeoreum stood at the top of the bleachers.
Eunwoo was on his feet in an instant. He skipped nimbly up the bleachers to stand in front of them. “We did,” he said. “We passed as a team. And we did well on our exams. We really did do well.”
“I’m glad,” Ahrin said.
Yeoreum said, “Bin-ah? Can we talk?”
Sanha and Rocky both cast anxious looks at Bin.
Eunwoo said quickly, “Bin’s not feeling very well. He might have strained his throat a bit. Maybe give him a few days?”
But Bin pushed himself to his feet. “It’s all right. I can give you a few minutes, but I do need to finish my lunch before the break is over.”
Yeoreum nodded, and Bin followed her around the corner.
Ahrin and Eunwoo both watched them go, wearing matching anxious expressions.
Yejin sighed and put away her phone. “Maybe next time.”
Sanha went back to eating his lunch. Rocky kept glancing at the corner Yeoreum and Bin had gone around, waiting for Bin to get back. Sanha wondered just how bad it had been for Bin before, back when he was learning to dance on the streets and teaching Rocky to dance.
Yejin snuggled closer to Sanha and picked at her food with her chopsticks. Sanha watched her and wondered if Amy would let him use her phone to record a video of himself playing a song on his guitar just for Yejin. She’d like that.
Bin and Yeoreum returned several minutes later, both of them wearing solemn expressions.
Eunwoo and Rocky crowded around Bin immediately. Yeoreum grabbed Ahrin’s arm, and they hurried away.
“You all right?” Jinjin asked.
Bin nodded and picked up his chopsticks.
Everything would be all right, Sanha was sure. That they’d done well on their evaluation and their exams was a sign.
Bin coughed, and Eunwoo and Rocky patted his back.
Everything was fine.
When Sanha got out of the shower after practice the next night, the others were clustered in their kitchenette shouting at each other.
“What’s going on?” he asked cautiously, still toweling his hair.
It looked like things were split down the usual party lines - MJ and Jinjin in one faction, Rocky and Bin in another, Eunwoo by himself.
“We don’t have anything to make for dinner,” Eunwoo said. “Rocky forgot to go grocery shopping.”
“Don’t blame it all on him,” Bin protested. “He’s not our mother. We’re all responsible for ourselves. Look, we can just go back to the company and eat at the cafeteria -”
“It’s closed by now,” MJ said.
Jinjin reached into his pocket for his wallet. “I’m sure we can figure out something, right? Buy some noodles and vegetables. Rocky, you can think up something, right?”
Eunwoo said, “Rocky got done with practice a couple of hours before us. He could have gone then.”
“Hey!” Bin snapped. “Leave him alone!”
Jinjin and MJ exchanged looks. Was whatever truce Bin and Eunwoo had reached in danger of dissolving?
“Look, we’re all hungry,” Jinjin said. “Maybe let’s go get some snacks and then MJ and I can go grocery shopping after we’ve had something.”
“I can speak for myself,” Rocky said, pushing past Bin.
Bin turned to him. “I know that,” he began, and dissolved into a fit of coughing.
The fight was forgotten as Eunwoo and Rocky both converged on him, Rocky patting his back and Eunwoo asking if he was all right.
Rocky glared at Eunwoo. “You were contagious, weren’t you?”
“No,” Bin said. “It’s just - I think I’m still tired, from the stress of evaluations and exams. I think we all are.”
“Jinjin’s right,” MJ said. “Let’s get some snacks and go from there, all right?”
“I’ll make Bin some honey water,” Eunwoo said.
There was a knock at the door. Sanha went to answer it. Since they were all idols-in-training, they had to be on their best behavior when other people were watching, and a visitor would calm things down.
Rocky was standing between Bin and Eunwoo, expression suspicious.
Sanha pulled open the door and said, as bright and cheery as he could muster, “Hello!”
“Sanha-ya, are you hungry?”
It was Amy.
He turned bright red. “Oh no. Could you hear us arguing about dinner?”
She looked confused. “No. But are you hungry? I hope you’re very hungry.”
MJ was beside Sanha in an instant, batting his eyelashes. “We’re starving. We’ve been practicing for hours.”
“Rocky said you would be.” Amy grinned. “Come over to my place.”
“Your place?” Jinjin echoed.
Amy nodded and headed for her apartment, beckoning.
Sanha, still in his house-slippers, tip-toed across the hall to her open door, and - oh. Her apartment smelled amazing.
Amy led him past the tiny foyer and into her den. Her table was spread with a massive meal, beef and rice and seemingly dozens of side-dishes.
“Wow,” MJ said, eyes wide.
And then someone yelled, “Surprise!”
Sanha and MJ yelped and grabbed each other, terrified.
Yejin burst out laughing.
Sanha stared at her for a moment. “Yejin? What are you doing here?”
“Amy-unni invited me. She and Rocky made this meal together! To celebrate your evaluation and our exams.” Yejin hugged him.
Sanha hugged her back, still confused, but warmth started to spread through his limbs.
The others caught up to him.
“Rocky?” Eunwoo asked. “You and Amy-noona?”
“That’s why I left practice early,” he said.
Eunwoo ducked his head. “I’m sorry I yelled at you. And Bin, too.”
Rocky just grinned. “But you were very surprised, right?”
Jinjin clapped Rocky on the shoulder. “You’re the best teammate. Seriously. Thank you - and thank you, Noona!”
“Come sit,” Amy said, beckoning further. She had colas for everyone. “I’m not that good at cooking Korean food, so we had to call Rocky’s mom, but I think it turned out all right.”
They clustered around the table. Of course Sanha sat next to Yejin. Rocky sat beside Amy to help her serve the food.
Bin looked overjoyed. “Wow. There’s so much. Thank you, Noona.”
“I remember how stressful exams were when I was a student,” Amy said. “Eat up!”
Amy went first, because she was the oldest, but MJ and Jinjin were right behind her.
MJ bounced happily in his seat. “This is delicious!”
Sanha served Yejin some rice and meat, then served himself. MJ was right. The food was amazing.
While they ate, Yejin and Amy asked them about their performance, the songs and dances, how hard they’d practiced and how they’d felt as a team, how soon they thought they might debut.
“Next year,” Yejin said confidently.
“I don’t know,” Bin fretted. “I know some people train for six or seven years before they debut, if they manage that at all.”
“You and Rocky have already been training for six years on your own,” Jinjin said. “I think Yejin’s right. Next year.”
Sanha patted her hair fondly. She reached out and curled her hand through his, squeezed, and he squeezed back.
“How did you even pull this off?” Eunwoo asked.
“The other day, when your families called to talk to you about your exams and evaluation, Rocky asked me to help him make a big meal for all of you.” Amy smiled at him.
“You really are the best teammate,” Jinjin said, nodding at Rocky.
Rocky smiled. “Thanks. You’re the best leader.”
“Just date already,” MJ said, and Yejin and Amy giggled.
As they ate, talk continued on, about what Yejin wanted to do once she was finished with school, what she would do if she got good grades like she wanted.
She wanted to be a songwriter.
“Maybe you and Sanha could team up, down the road,” Amy said. “Write songs together.”
“I’m not nearly as good a singer as he is.” Yejin ducked her head and blushed, but Sanha squeezed her hand, and she smiled up at him.
“It would be super cute, though. And hey - you could write songs for the team.” Amy glanced at Jinjin. “Have you thought up a team name yet?”
He shook his head. “The company might choose one for us.”
“I like Astro,” Eunwoo said.
Bin glanced at him. “Astro?” He tested the word out.
“It’s from the Latin word for star. Also for constellation, a group of stars. We’ll be a group of stars, right?”
Rocky tried it out. “That’s not bad.”
“I like it,” Amy said. “It’s clever.”
“Also outer space, like in astronaut,” Sanha said.
Sanha was pleased; his English had improved a lot from studying with Eunwoo.
“I also like it,” Jinjin said.
“I suppose we could ask the company,” Bin said.
Eunwoo smiled at him.
After the meal, Amy had cake, and Sanha and his teammates and Yejin all leaned in to help blow out the candles, and they ate some more.
“You should show us your dance,” Amy said.
Two days ago, right after the evaluation, Sanha might have been sick at the thought of doing that dance once more, but he pushed himself to his feet. “Sure!”
Rocky helped Amy and Yejin clear the table. Jinjin cleaned it off quickly, and Bin and Eunwoo moved the table aside to make space for them to dance. Sanha helped Amy find the song they needed on her phone, and she connected her phone to her bluetooth speaker, and the six of them scrambled to find their places.
Yejin and Amy sat on the sofa, Yejin with her phone ready to record.
“Better stay close,” Rocky warned.
Sanha felt adrenaline spark in his blood. He loved performing, the thrill it gave him. He realized that this was the first time he was dancing just for Yejin and also the first time Amy would ever see them dance, and something in him lit up.
Sanha shook out his limbs, took several deep breaths, and then assumed the starting pose, head slightly bowed.
The first notes of the music hit the air, and Sanha lifted his head, sprang into action. The audience was only two people strong, but Sanha went all out, making eye contact with Yejin and Amy, flirting shamelessly with Yejin whenever he was in the center. Amy clapped her hands over her mouth, eyes wide when Sanha jumped off of Eunwoo’s back, but Yejin hollered and cheered.
When the song ended, all six boys were breathing hard, but Yejin and Amy clapped and cheered, and then Yejin surged to her feet and dragged Sanha into her arms, kissed him on the cheek.
“Wow!” Amy cried, and she pulled a startled MJ into a hug, but he hugged her back. “Is this what you guys do at training all night? You look amazing! You’re going to be so famous one day!”
“You think so?” Eunwoo asked, and Amy nodded.
“You have to sing for us,” Yejin said.
Amy agreed, so Sanha went to get his guitar while Amy helped Eunwoo set up her little electric keyboard. She even had a box drum for Jinjin to use for his part.
There was a certain intensity to performing for people who Sanha knew liked him and supported him, and he wanted to do his best for them. Yejin pumped one fist in the air and waggled her phone to let him know she would record. Jinjin counted them in, and Sanha strummed the first chord.
MJ picked up the vocal line, and halfway through the first verse, Amy turned on the light on her phone and began to wave it back and forth. She was grinning, and Sanha couldn’t help but smile back.
When the song was over, there were more hugs and applause.
“You’re all really amazing,” Amy said, patting Rocky on the shoulder, and he ducked his head and blushed. “All your hard work is paying off.” Then she checked her watch. “But it’s a school night, and you all probably have to get to bed.”
“I have to get home,” Yejin said. “Walk me to the bus stop?”
“Of course,” Sanha said. “Let me put my guitar away and I’ll get my shoes and meet you at the door, all right?”
“We’ll help you clean up, Noona,” Jinjin said to Amy, and she nodded.
Sanha scrambled to get his guitar back into its case, and then he toed on a pair of sneakers, and Yejin met him at the door of Amy’s apartment with her backpack.
She reached up and laced her fingers through Sanha’s, and together they walked down to the bus stop.
“You were amazing,” Yejin said. “You’ve only gotten better since the festival. You’ve worked so hard. I’m so proud of you.”
“I worked hard for us,” Sanha said softly.
They sat together on the bench at the bus stop, tucked close against the evening chill.
“As long as I work hard, we can stay together,” Sanha said.
“Don’t work too hard,” Yejin said. “Take care of yourself. Bin was coughing after you danced and after you sang.”
“He has been very stressed out,” Sanha admitted. “Eunwoo and Rocky are looking after him.” He cleared his throat. “Is everything all right with Yeoreum and Ahrin?”
“I don’t know the details of what happened with Yeoreum and Bin, because we’re not close, but - I think so,” Yejin said. “I think even if she and Bin don’t ever date again, she and Ahrin will still support your team.”
Sanha nodded and snuggled closer to her, and they sat in calm silence. Tonight was possibly the best night of Sanha’s life.
Yejin’s bus came all too soon, and she pressed a kiss to his cheek before she darted onto the bus. He stood on the sidewalk and waved at her till she was out of sight, then headed back up to the apartment. He’d help Amy with whatever chores were left, and then it was definitely time for sleep.
He was almost all the way at the top of the stairs when he heard someone coughing again. Was it Bin? Sanha went to take the rest of the stairs two at a time, but then he heard Eunwoo speak, so he paused, not wanting to interrupt.
“You’re really sick, aren’t you? What I had wasn’t contagious, but it was serious. I didn’t think it was at first, but I was wrong. What you have is serious too, isn’t it?”
“It’s just stress,” Bin insisted.
“If it is just stress, maybe you should talk to the company and take a break, or slow down,” Eunwoo said. “You’re one of our best dancers and a lead vocalist. We can’t afford to lose you. This team would be nothing without you.”
“I’m sure I’ll recover now that exams and the evaluation are over,” Bin said.
“We have evaluations every month,” Eunwoo pointed out.
“But we’ve survived one, and we’re always doing better as a team. Besides, if I take a break, they might send me home, and I wouldn’t get to see your pretty face every day.” Bin’s tone was deceptively light.
“Maybe we all need a break from each other,” Eunwoo said gently. “Sanha’s probably the one coping best because he has three older brothers, but living on top of each other like this isn’t easy.”
“I’m not joking,” Bin said. “If they sent me home to recover, I would miss you.”
Eunwoo made a puzzled sound.
Bin said, “Eunwoo, I like you.”
Eunwoo said, a beat too late, “Very funny. I know things between you and Yeoreum have gone wrong -”
“Yeoreum always liked me more than I liked her. I tried to like her for Ahrin’s sake. I guess I always knew Ahrin would never like me back, and - and I’m sorry.” Bin spoke quickly, frantically. “I know this is terrible timing, that my words are probably too little, too late, but I like you.”
Sanha wondered if he should interrupt and save Eunwoo from a very awkward conversation, but then Eunwoo asked,
“What do you like about me? By all accounts we barely got along before, though I’m still kind of confused as to why we didn’t get along.”
“I’m confused too,” Bin admitted. “I thought you hated me, but then that day Jinjin made us make up - you said you’d do your best to forget everything for the sake of the team. And you seem to have. You haven’t been anything but kind and caring to me ever since, and I can’t help it. I like you.”
There was another terrible pause, and then Eunwoo said, “I’m sorry. I don’t feel the same way.”
“Really? Or are you just keeping your promise to Jinjin?”
“I’m sorry, Bin,” Eunwoo said, and Sanha heard footsteps fade.
“Eunwoo, please -” Bin cut himself off in a fit of coughing.
Sanha was up the stairs in a flash. “Hyung, are you all right?”
Bin was doubled over, clinging to the railing and coughing so hard Sanha thought he would break a rib. Sanha managed to wriggle under Bin’s arm and straighten up, drag him into the dorm room.
Rocky was there in an instant. “Hyung!”
“I’ll get some honey water,” Eunwoo said.
Bin cast him a sharp look. Apparently Eunwoo was perfectly willing to overlook Bin’s confession - his confession - in the face of his delicate health.
Rocky helped Sanha get Bin onto the couch. MJ and Jinjin ran down to the convenience store for some cough medicine. Eunwoo knelt beside Bin with a mug of hot honey water.
“Stay away from him,” Rocky said sharply. “You got him sick.”
“No, he didn’t,” Bin began, but devolved into coughing once more.
“Hyung,” Sanha said to Rocky, “go boil some water so he can have steam with his medicine.”
Rocky eyed Eunwoo, but he went to start a pot boiling on their little two-burner stove. Eunwoo had microwaved some hot water for the honey water, and he handed it to Bin.
MJ and Jinjin returned, breathless, with medicine, some for Bin to swallow, some to add to the pot of boiling water so he could breathe it in and let it get into his lungs quickly.
“We should let Bin sleep as comfortably as possible,” Eunwoo said, “so MJ-hyung, why don’t you switch places with him? He’ll sleep better with just Rocky, fewer people snoring and kicking.”
Rocky stayed close to Bin, fussing over him. Sanha was pretty sure only he and Bin noticed how Rocky kept Eunwoo away from Bin, but Sanha didn’t say anything about it, and neither did Bin.
“If you’re not better tomorrow, we should call management and your mom,” Jinjin said. “Maybe you have some kind of virus and the stress made it worse.”
Bin nodded and didn’t protest when Rocky and MJ tucked him into MJ’s bed roll.
MJ took Bin’s spot with aplomb.
Sanha lay down to sleep and tried not to stare at Eunwoo beside him, Eunwoo who dropped off to sleep as if he were without a care in the world. Bin had confessed to him. What would that do to the team? Was that better or worse than when Bin and Eunwoo seemed to hate each other?
What if Eunwoo started liking Bin back?
The next morning, Sanha woke to the sound of Rocky and Eunwoo arguing furiously while Bin retched in the bathroom.
“He’s worse. He got worse and worse all night, practically slept on the bathroom floor,” Rocky said. “This is all your fault.”
Eunwoo threw his hands up. “Dammit, I wasn’t contagious! If I were, he’d have gotten sick ages ago. We’ve been living together for months.”
Sanha stood in the doorway, appalled. “Hey, stop it, we need to help Bin.”
“I have water boiling on the stove,” Rocky said. “Everything is under control.”
“I bought honey from the corner store,” Eunwoo added.
Rocky shoved his shoulder. “You stay away from him.”
Jinjin pushed past Sanha with surprising speed, stepped between Eunwoo and Rocky. “Hey. We have to get ready for school. Sanha, get breakfast started.”
MJ was hovering by the bathroom door, which was partially open. “At least let me hold your hair back -”
“No,” Bin choked out. “Just let me be. I’ll come out when I can.”
Eunwoo started for the kitchen. “I’ll get you some honey water.”
Rocky lunged for him. Jinjin caught his shoulder to stop him. Rocky twisted out of his grip with lightning speed, and Sanha remembered he had a fourth-degree black belt in Taekwondo.
“I told you to stay away from him,” Rocky snarled, and he grabbed Eunwoo’s arm at the elbow.
Eunwoo cried out, pained.
“Hyung!” Sanha shouted, though he wasn’t sure if he was asking Rocky to stop or someone else to intervene.
The bathroom door banged open and Bin was there, hauling Rocky off of Eunwoo.
“Leave him alone!”
“Yah!” Eunwoo smoothed down his shirt. “I can defend myself. I wasn’t contagious and I know it. I’ll show you my medical records if you want. This has gone beyond ridiculous.”
Rocky’s eyes flashed, and he shook Bin off. “Why are you defending him?”
“Because I like him.” Bin’s face was pale, and his eyes were fever-bright.
Jinjin inhaled sharply.
MJ’s eyes were wide. “Wow. Is this a confession? In front of everyone? Eunwoo might need a moment to think -”
“I’ve confessed previously.” Bin pressed a hand to his chest, wheezing.
Rocky looked shocked - and betrayed. Oh no. Did he like Bin?
“I don’t need to think about it,” Eunwoo said, his tone still clipped even though he looked calmer. “I don’t like you back.”
“Are you sure?” Bin asked, stepping closer to him.
Eunwoo lifted his chin, held his ground. “Why wouldn’t I be? I know my own feelings.”
“Maybe we should all take a break,” Jinjin began, but Bin kept talking to Eunwoo.
“Have you been mad at me all this time? Are you punishing me? Do you hate me now?” Bin swallowed hard, then turned and coughed into his shoulder, his entire body shuddering with the force of it.
Eunwoo looked confused.
“Bin,” MJ protested. “How could you think of Eunwoo like that? He gets impatient, yes, but he’s not cruel.”
Bin swallowed hard. “Eunwoo confessed to me first.”
Rocky’s jaw dropped. “What?”
“I did not,” Eunwoo said indignantly.
Bin caught Eunwoo’s wrist. “Yes you did.”
Eunwoo pulled free, crossed his arms over his chest. “When?”
“The day you went in for surgery,” Bin said. “All those months ago.”
Eunwoo shook his head vehemently. “I did no such thing.”
“You did,” Bin insisted. He looked like a crazy person, face deathly pale, hair plastered to his forehead, clothes rumpled from being slept in.
“Hyung?” Sanha asked in a small voice.
“If it was the day of surgery, maybe you don’t remember,” Jinjin offered. “Surgery’s traumatic even if you’re under anesthesia. A lot of people have amnesia surrounding a surgery.”
Eunwoo stared at him. “Are you insane? Why would I confess to Bin if I’ve never liked him like that?”
“Why would I make up you confessing to me?” Bin countered.
Eunwoo considered that for a moment.
Bin reached out to him but didn’t quite touch him. “Eunwoo. Please. Just think about it.”
Eunwoo recoiled. “I know how I feel, and the answer is no.”
“The day you confessed, you said if I didn’t like you back, you’d forget about your feelings for me, for the sake of the team, that you’d promised Jinjin we’d get along better, but I like you back now. Things will be better for the team if we like each other. Please.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Eunwoo said. “And how could I just forget liking you?”
And then he paused.
Sanha figured it out at the same time.
Eunwoo pressed his hand to his chest.
“What?” MJ asked. “What’s going on? Do you actually like Bin back?”
But Eunwoo wasn’t paying attention to him. “All this time I thought it was Ahrin, because my mother was always asking if I was spending time with her. I must not have told my parents who it was I liked.”
“Wait, so you did like Bin?” Rocky asked, incredulous.
“But you don’t anymore,” Sanha said.
“How?” Bin asked. “All these months you’ve been so nice to me, we’ve gotten closer - how can you just turn those feelings off?”
Sanha reached out, put a careful hand on Eunwoo’s shoulder. “You can’t turn your feelings off. But you can have them cut out of your heart.”
Jinjin and Rocky stared at him.
“What?” Rocky demanded.
Eunwoo looked at him. “You knew?”
“The day you went to the hospital, I found out,” Sanha said. “You made me promise not to tell the others.”
“Tell us what?” MJ asked.
Eunwoo’s eyes went wide, and he reached out, caught Bin by the shoulders. “How bad is it? How far along are you?”
Bin met his gaze, realization and dread in his eyes. “You - you had it first. Because of me.”
Eunwoo nodded. “Yes. It had progressed really far because I was afraid to tell my parents about you.”
“How bad was it?” Bin asked.
Eunwoo curled his hand at the collar of his shirt and said, almost too quietly for the others to hear, “I can never love again.”
Bin collapsed to his knees, coughing and retching.
Sanha crouched down beside him, trying to steady him.
Rocky was on the other side of him, clutching his shoulders. “Bin? Bin! He’s coughing up blood.”
Jinjin flung open the front door and ran to pound on Amy’s door. “Noona! We have to call 119!”
MJ, kneeling in front of Bin, said, “He’s coughing up flowers.”
By some unspoken agreement, Eunwoo never went into Bin’s hospital room, though he waited in the hallway, would go and fetch drinks and snacks whenever people wanted. His parents were in the hallway as well. They knew the specialist who Bin needed to see, had come to help Bin’s parents as soon as Eunwoo called them, but it was already too late. The illness had spread in Bin much faster than it had in Eunwoo because of the immense pressure he was under, in school and in training and also from his parents’ relentless disapproval of his choice to become a trainee.
Dr. Yoo was a kind and competent woman. She came to Bin’s recovery room to check on him after the surgery and speak to his parents and the managers. “Red spider lilies,” she said, “symbolize lost memory, abandonment, or people who will never meet again, consistent with the circumstances of your son’s one-sided love.”
Bin’s mother was crying softly into her husband’s shoulder. Bin’s father was staring blankly past Dr. Yoo.
Bin was still sleeping, hooked up to machines, looking small and pale beneath the scratchy hospital blankets and harsh fluorescent lights.
“The surgery went well,” Dr. Yoo continued. “He’ll recover well. But he’s essentially going to be aromantic for the rest of his life. He won’t be cold-hearted. He will love his friends and family. He may even father children. But the roots were in deep, and in order to save his life, we had to cut certain portions of his heart away.”
Bin’s mother sobbed.
Jinjin, Rocky, and MJ were silent, grim.
In the hallway, one of the company managers had a long talk with Bin’s parents. Eunwoo’s parents were there for support, because management had had a similar talk with them.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Eunwoo said. “Bin will still be our friend. We’ll still be a good team. We’ll be the best-behaved trainees ever because we’ll never try to date.”
He smiled gamely, but when none of the others responded, he gave up.
“Please tell me this is a dream,” Jinjin said.
MJ rubbed his back gently.
“It’ll be okay,” Sanha said. “Eunwoo-hyung is right. He does fine. Bin will be up on his feet and dancing and singing in no time.”
Rocky, Jinjin, and MJ looked at Eunwoo.
He sighed. “Why do you all look ready to cry? I’m fine. I’ve been fine for months. Bin will be fine.”
“Hyung,” Rocky said. “I’m sorry -”
“You don’t have to apologize. It’s good that Bin has a loyal friend like you.” Eunwoo patted his shoulder. “Now cheer up. We have to share our energy with Bin so he can recover fast, okay?”
Sanha pumped a fist in the air. “O-kay!”
After a moment, MJ joined in with a bright grin. “Okay!”
Rocky and Jinjin looked hesitant, so Sanha linked arms with MJ and grinned.
“We should plan some big celebration for when Bin is allowed to come back to the dorms,” he said. “Amy-noona will help us. We can have lots of food and cake and play games. It’ll cheer Bin up.”
MJ nodded. “A huge party. Maybe we can even invite Ahrin and Yeoreum? And Bin’s little sister.”
Rocky shoved MJ in the arm. “You only say that because Sua has a crush on you.”
MJ widened his eyes innocently, but his grin said it all. “Who, me? And Bin’s little sister? Never.”
“I’ll bake the cake,” Eunwoo said.
Rocky glanced at Jinjin, who nodded, so Rocky offered a tentative smile. “I’ll get some recipes from my mom.”
It was going to be all right, Sanha was sure of it. Eunwoo had recovered just fine. Bin would recover as well. He’d be back to singing and dancing in no time, and they could go forward as the best team in pop history.
The team agreed not to tell anyone outside the team about what had happened to Bin. In the company, only a few managers knew what had happened to Eunwoo, and the same small circle of people knew what had happened to Bin. No one besides Dr. Yoo, Bin and Eunwoo’s parents, and the team knew that Eunwoo and Bin had been in love with each other, but their timing had been terribly, terribly wrong. Sanha would have felt guilty about not telling Yejin anything beyond that Bin had been very sick from stress, but he hadn’t told her about Eunwoo either, and these days she was closer to Ahrin and Yeoreum, and he didn’t think Bin or Eunwoo would want them to know what had happened.
Bin was in the hospital for three days, and then he was allowed to stay with his family for a week before he returned to the dorms.
As agreed, Sanha and the rest of the team - plus Amy - prepared for Bin’s Welcome Back party. Rocky worked hard on the recipes from his mom, and Eunwoo spent a lot of time watching YouTube baking tutorials. MJ, Sanha, and Jinjin planned some games they should play, and they pooled their money to buy decorations and some prizes for the games.
At school, all they’d tell their classmates was that Bin had been stressed out by training on top of exams but he’d be all right soon. It was more or less the truth, and no one needed to know anything more. At the company, the five of them stayed close together in the practice rooms, in the cafeteria. Sanha was sure he could hear the other trainees whispering about them, wondering if they’d survive as a team. There were rumors that a couple of other trainees might be added to their training team and they’d all be forced to compete for the final six spots on the debut lineup, but Sanha didn’t care. Bin was part of their team and the six of them would debut together.
The day of Bin’s return finally arrived. The five of them had received permission to skip out of practice early so they could hurry back to the dorm, shower, and then help Amy set up her apartment for the party. Rocky and Eunwoo were in the kitchen with Amy while Sanha, MJ, and Jinjin put up the decorations, arranged the table, and the supplies for the games.
Once everything was set up, they retreated back to their own dorm to wait for Bin to arrive.
After about half an hour, Amy knocked on the door and told them that Bin’s mother had texted her and said they were ten minutes away.
Rocky and Sanha ran to meet Bin at the bottom of the stairs and help him carry his luggage inside. They stood on the corner, peering anxiously at every car that came by.
“Do you really think he’ll be all right?” Rocky asked.
“You saw Eunwoo-hyung. He was totally fine,” Sanha said.
“Yeah, but -” Rocky scratched the back of his neck. “I thought it was strange, how he suddenly got along so well with Bin. You’d think it was the other way around, that he’d get along better with Bin while he liked him.”
“Just because he liked Bin doesn’t mean he was happy about it,” Sanha said. “You heard him - he was afraid to tell his parents about Bin. He was so afraid to tell Bin about his feelings that he didn’t confess till the day he needed surgery.”
“Why was he afraid to tell Bin?”
“Bin and Eunwoo are so hot-headed. Bin didn’t feel the same way. It could have gone really badly, and I know Eunwoo cared a lot about wanting to be a team, having us three younger ones on the team. He probably didn’t want to scare Bin away. Plus everyone knew how much Bin liked Ahrin at the time, and Ahrin is Eunwoo’s friend. Liking Bin wouldn’t have been easy.”
Rocky nodded. “When you put it like that, it makes sense. Maybe that’s why Eunwoo was always more hot-headed about Bin than the rest of us? Because he cared more about Bin.”
“Yeah. Also, maybe Eunwoo was trying to hide how much he liked Bin, and if he was mean to Bin, no one would know how he really felt.”
“Well, it worked. None of us knew.” Rocky sighed. “Do you think they’ll be able to be happy?”
“Hey.” Sanha nudged him. “I know I’m crazy in love with Yejin, and MJ’s crush on Yeoreum is kind of pathetic, but - being in love isn’t the only way to be happy. Bin’s happy when he’s performing, and Eunwoo’s happy when he’s making music, and if we do well as a team, I know they’ll be happy. We all will be. You’re happy, aren’t you? Dancing and rapping with Jinjin. And you’re not in love.” Then he looked at Rocky. “Are you?”
“Ah - no. I mean, Yejin’s friend was cute and all, but - you’re right.” Rocky finally stopped looking so worried. “Hey, I think that’s their car.”
Sanha jumped up and down and waved.
Sure enough, a car pulled over, and Bin climbed out.
Rocky hugged him carefully, mindful of his still-healing surgery incisions.
“Welcome back!” Sanha cried, and he also hugged Bin. “We’ll help you take your stuff upstairs.”
Bin nodded and grabbed his luggage out of the back seat. “Let me say goodbye to my family, first. Mom, Dad -”
Sua poked her head out of the car. “Where’s MJ-oppa? Oh, hi Rocky, other guy.”
“Sanha,” Bin said. “His name is Yoon Sanha.”
Sanha waved, then grabbed Bin’s bag from him.
“We’ll park the car, and then we’ll come upstairs with you,” Bin’s dad said.
Bin straightened up, surprised. His parents had been the only ones who hadn’t come to see the dorm the first day the team had moved in. “O-okay. We’ll meet you up there.”
Sua hopped out of the car. “I’ll help too!”
“I only have two bags,” Bin said.
Rocky had the other one.
They started up the stairs. Sua followed eagerly.
“Will you introduce me to MJ-oppa?”
“You can meet all my teammates once Mom and Dad are here,” Bin said firmly. “Also MJ-hyung has someone he likes.”
Sua tossed her hair. “I doubt she’s prettier than me.”
Sanha unlocked the front door and carried Bin’s bag into the bedroom.
Sua took off her shoes and padded after him. “This is your dorm? It’s tiny.”
“We’re only trainees,” Bin said.
Rocky put his other bag in the bedroom.
“It’s very clean, though,” Sua said, inspecting the kitchen.
“Eunwoo made us clean,” Sanha admitted, and Bin laughed.
He looked totally fine, like he hadn’t been sick at all. The shadows around his eyes were gone and his skin had a healthy glow. Granted, when Eunwoo had returned from his recovery, he’d also looked totally fine.
“Where’s everyone else?” Bin asked. “Are they practicing?”
“Actually, we planned a big welcome back dinner over at Noona’s,” Rocky said.
Bin lit up. “Really?”
Sanha nodded. Before he could chime in, Bin’s parents arrived, both of them carrying lots and lots of homemade food.
“Mom,” Bin said, “I don’t know if our fridge is big enough for all that. Usually we just eat at the company cafeteria while we take a break in training.”
Sanha decided not to point out that sometimes they didn’t get breaks in training.
Bin’s mother waved a dismissive hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll make it all fit.”
Bin sighed. “Let me help you.”
Bin’s father stood awkwardly behind Sua. “This place is very small. Where do you sleep? All of you in one room?”
“MJ and Rocky sleep out here in the den, and the rest of us sleep in the bedroom,” Bin said.
Bin’s father craned his neck to peer into the bedroom. “You don’t have beds.”
Bin shook his head. “No. I think once we debut we’ll get upgraded to a dorm room with beds.”
Bin’s father turned to Sanha and Rocky. “Is this what trainee life is like?”
Sanha nodded. “Yes, sir. Most of the trainees live in dorms like this. We’re lucky we get to live together as a team.”
“So you go to school all day and then train all night?”
Rocky nodded. “Yes. Training instead of hagwon, basically.”
Bin’s father’s expression turned thoughtful.
“Is Bin running late?” Eunwoo asked.
Eunwoo stood in the doorway. He saw Bin’s father and sister and bowed. “Hello again, sir, Sua.”
Bin’s father actually looked afraid for a moment, but then Bin said, “Hey, my mother’s given me a bunch of homemade food. We’re putting it away. I’ll be over once I say goodbye to my family.”
Bin’s smile was as calm and friendly as ever.
Eunwoo said, “Do you need some help?”
Bin’s mother stepped in front of Bin as if to protect him from Eunwoo, and she looked shaken. “No, but thank you.”
“Yes, ma’am. How are you feeling, Bin? Does it itch terribly?” Eunwoo pressed a hand to his chest.
Where his surgery scar was, Sanha realized. Eunwoo had always been careful not to take his shirt off around them, was careful even during practice when he went to wipe his face with the hem of his shirt if there were no clean towels handy.
“Not yet,” Bin said, and lifted a hand, though he didn’t quite touch his own chest.
“Once it starts itching you’ll know it’s healing,” Eunwoo said wisely. “Just keep it moisturized and don’t scratch it. If you keep it moisturized the scar won’t be as bad. You can probably cover it with makeup once it’s fully healed.”
“You would know,” Bin said, with a sardonic lift of his brow, and Eunwoo shrugged.
Rocky kept looking back and forth between them, like he was expecting some kind of dramatic explosion, but they seemed like themselves, like usual, like they’d been before Bin got sick.
Bin’s parents, however, still looked worried.
Sua was looking Eunwoo up and down with a newfound appreciation. “Hello! Are you one of Oppa’s teammates?”
“Yah,” Bin said. “I thought you liked MJ-hyung!”
Eunwoo bowed to her. “Yes, hello. I’m Cha Eunwoo.”
“I’m Moon Sua.”
“Nice to meet you, Sua.” Eunwoo looked at Bin. “Would you like your parents to stay for dinner? I can ask Amy-noona. We probably have more than enough food.”
Everyone else’s parents had come to visit at the dorms at least once, taken the team out for a meal. Jinjin had made lots and lots of promises to take care of people’s sons and brothers over some very nice meals.
Bin said, “My parents probably have to get back -”
“We’d love to,” Sua said.
“Sua!” her mother said sharply, but Bin’s father said,
“If it’s not too much of a bother.”
“I don’t think it will be, but let me check.” Eunwoo started to leave.
“If some of this food doesn’t fit into the fridge we could just eat it now,” Bin said.
Eunwoo nodded and then went back across the hall.
“Are you sure?” Bin asked his parents.
His mother patted his shoulder. “Yes, we are.”
Sua looked delighted.
Sanha kept watching Bin, waiting for the other shoe to drop, for him to look sad or longing, but - all his romantic feelings for Eunwoo were gone. Cut out of him with a scalpel. How would he and Eunwoo be able to sing love songs?
Rocky had never been in love, though, and he sang them just fine. Eunwoo and Bin were smart. They could imagine. And they could love. Just - not like fangirls might want them to.
Eunwoo reappeared a moment later, beaming, and Sua actually let out a sigh. “Amy-noona says there’s plenty of food, so come on over when you’re ready.”
“Thank you,” Bin’s father said.
Eunwoo bowed at him, and then he beckoned for Rocky and Sanha to come help him.
There was more than enough food at Amy-noona’s house, but table space was a bit of an issue, so they were going to move their table across the hall to make room for everyone. It would be a bit of a tight fit, and they would have to be good about serving each other, but they would make it work.
Sanha and Rocky made sure the tables were in just the right spot to maximize seating space, and then Rocky went to help Amy in the kitchen. Sanha straightened up, stretching, and suddenly arms were around his waist.
He started, surprised, and then someone pressed a kiss to his cheek.
He went to squirm away, because sometimes the others would kiss him just to fluster him - but it was Yejin.
“Yejin! You came!”
“I’m skipping hagwon, but I’m ahead in that class anyway.” She presented her cheek for a kiss, and Sanha leaned in, obliged her.
Warm shivers ran up and down his spine.
“Yeoreum and Ahrin were right behind me. It’s going to be an awesome party.”
“Not too awesome - I just recovered from surgery. You need to pamper me,” Bin said.
Sanha turned, and Bin and his family were just stepping into the apartment, greeting Amy. She welcomed them in, invited them to sit at the table.
Eunwoo and Rocky brought them drinks.
“Bin-oppa! Are you all better? You need to take better care of yourself. Don’t set a bad example for Sanha about overworking in training.” Yejin went to hug him.
“Who’s this?” Bin’s father asked, eyeing her warily.
“Dad, this is Yejin, Sanha’s girlfriend. Yejin, this is my mom and dad and my little sister Sua.”
Sua raised her eyebrows. “You’re allowed to date?”
“For now,” Yejin said loftily, and linked her arm through Sanha’s.
Sua turned a speculative gaze at Eunwoo, then at MJ.
Before she could do anything that might upset her parents or brother, Yeoreum and Ahrin arrived, both of them carrying bags of cola and cider. Bin smiled when he saw them. Ahrin smiled, and she seemed happy to see Bin, but Yeoreum’s smile was tentative, worried at the edges.
“How are you feeling?” Ahrin asked.
“Really good, all things considered,” Bin said.
“Go easy on yourself,” Ahrin said. “You’re not dancing in the streets anymore, hm?”
“Are these more trainees?” Bin’s mother asked.
Bin made further introductions both for his family and Amy, and then it was time to eat, so everyone settled in at the table. Bin sat between his mother and sister, and Sanha sat beside Yejin, and Yeoreum and Ahrin sat on either side of Eunwoo, and everyone else crowded in as best as they could (Jinjin close to the kimbap, MJ close to the jjajangmyeon, Rocky close to Amy).
Sanha distributed drinks, and it was Jinjin who made a toast - to Bin’s speedy recovery, to the team’s success, to love and support from family and friends.
Sanha held his drink high, and then Yejin tugged him in close for a love shot, and there was cheers and applause, and then Bin got the first bite of food, because this meal was for him.
Sanha looked around at his teammates and friends as they ate and talked and laughed, and he knew that even though hard times were ahead, they’d already weathered a big storm, and their team would make it, all six of them, just like they’d dreamed.
“Congratulations on your first win,” the MC said, and the six of them bowed and thanked her, beamed and waved.
“Thank you,” Jinjin said again.
A reporter in the crowd asked a long question that Sanha could only half-hear over the din of camera shutters and murmurs and clacking keyboards. He was doing his best not to squint under the stage lights. All those classes on being media-appropriate were finally paying off. He didn’t miss those parts of his trainee days.
“How do you feel about your first full-length album?” the MC asked. She made the questions shorter and easier for them to understand - and into the kinds of questions the company was comfortable with them answering. “Eunwoo-ssi, if you could comment.”
He nodded and lifted his microphone, said his name even though there was a name label on his microphone (not his costume, his carefully-crafted stage costume that he’d only get to wear a handful of times now that the music video and comeback showcase had been filmed). “We are very excited to offer our first full-length album to our fans. We worked hard on it so we could show our fans how much we’ve learned and grown as individuals as well as artists and performers. Jinjin and Rocky have always been able to write their own rap lyrics, which not a lot of artists always get to do, and as a team we’ve written special songs for our fans, but this album features a song Jinjin and MJ wrote together, and we’re all very proud of it. It’s a beautiful song.”
Eunwoo nodded at them and smiled, clapped, and Sanha cheered for them, because he was fiercely proud of them and their song. Eunwoo had always been their chief songwriter, and the fact that the company let MJ and Jinjin step up and add to the songwriting was huge.
Jinjin bowed, and MJ beamed.
Another reporter asked a long, half-heard question, and the MC restated it for Sanha and the other members to hear.
“The final track on the album, Bloom, was written and produced by MJ and Jinjin. MJ, could you tell us how that happened?”
MJ nodded and introduced himself, then answered. “I was with a friend and we were messing around in his studio, and I came up with this melody, and I really liked it, so I showed it to Jinjin, and he and his friend took it and played with it, and he came up with some lyrics, and then we worked together all night - haha, all night - and made a guide track to share with the others, and they liked it, so we took it to the company, and they agreed it should be on the album.”
Sanha clapped. He really was so proud of them.
“Jinjin,” the MC said, “tell us about the lyrics. In the video for All Night, flowers were symbols of beauty and love, but in Bloom they’re symbols of pain and sadness. What made you think of flowers that way?”
Jinjin cleared his throat and introduced himself.
No one noticed the way Bin curled a hand over his heart.
Eunwoo, always the professional, kept his hand down on his knee, but Sanha saw how he closed his hand tightly, swallowed hard.
Jinjin said, “Flowers can mean so many things, both good and bad. When we look at flowers, they’re beautiful, but they can also wither and die if we don’t take care of them. There’s a whole language of flowers and what they mean, both good and bad, and we’re older now, more mature, and understand that life and love have their ups and downs.”
The MC nodded. “Of course, of course. Can you share with your fans, what are your favorite flowers?”
“Sunflowers,” MJ said immediately.
Rocky said, “Wolfsbane,” which made the others laugh. He took his nickname as Wolf Boy seriously.
Jinjin considered. “I like chrysanthemums. And not just because they also make good tea.”
There was a ripple of laughter.
Sanha said, “I like lily of the valley.”
MJ cast him a look. “Really? How do you even know what those are?”
“They’re small and delicate and white and pure, like me.” Sanha framed his face with his hands and beamed, and there was more laughter.
“What about you, Bin?” the MC asked.
He said, “I’m allergic to flowers, so I don’t really like them. If you want to win my heart, I prefer food.”
There was even more laughter.
A few years ago, Bin would have said, Red camellias.
“And you, Eunwoo?” the MC asked.
The fans would think his smile was sweet. To Sanha, it was heartbreaking.
“I don’t really like flowers either. I used to like red spider lilies. These days, I prefer a good book. If you want to win my heart, recommend a good book.”
The MC giggled. “Of course, our Eunwoo is always looking to improve his mind. Congratulations again on your first win. We hope your future is full of lovely flowers.”
“And food and books,” Sanha added, and his teammates laughed.
After another few questions, they got to retreat back to the dressing room to change out of their costumes and into comfortable clothes for the van ride home.
“Are you all right?” Eunwoo asked.
Bin nodded. “I’m fine.”
“Next comeback,” Jinjin said, “we won’t film in a garden.”
Once they were in more comfortable clothes, they trooped out to the van, waving at the fans who were waiting for them.
Eunwoo, Bin, and Rocky piled into the back seat, leaving MJ and Jinjin in the middle so Sanha could sit up front with Manager-hyungnim.
“When we get back to the dorm, we’ll cook something,” Eunwoo said. “Me and Rocky. The rest of you wash up first.”
“Okay,” MJ said. He didn’t mind washing up first.
“Hey,” Bin said to Eunwoo. “I started reading this webtoon. I think you might like it.” He angled his phone so Eunwoo could see.
“Yeah. Let me start at the beginning.”
Jinjin sighed and slumped back in his seat. “We worked hard today. Tomorrow starts early, but we did well today. Thank you.”
Sanha smiled at him. “Thank you, too.”
“Did you ever think we’d really be here?” MJ asked. “With our first win?”
Rocky nodded. “Yeah. I always knew we would. We’ve been through a lot together. We can do anything together.”
Sanha smiled and closed his eyes. “Yes. We can.”
When they got back to the dorms, he would call Yejin.
Everything, he knew, was going to be all right.
And then MJ coughed. Sanha opened his eyes.
“Are you all right?” Jinjin asked.
MJ smiled sunnily. “Just fine. We sang a lot today. I’ll drink some honey water when we get home.”
Jinjin nodded. “Okay. If you’re sure.”
MJ smiled again. “I am.”
Please, Sanha thought. No more flowers.
Bin said quietly, to Eunwoo, “Sometimes I miss red camellias.”