1 | Persona non grata
This is my debut.
I crutched below the stage and waited for the platform to hoist me up. Just a few seconds more I would rise into the spotlight. The crowd was cheering my name and I knew that this was my starting pitch of fame. With this stage, I was ready to create my best impression and make the audience become my true fans. This was just the beginning.
My dream, to be Asia's most inspirational k-pop artist and I am about to live it.
I want people to take one look at me and recognise me for who I am, to be more than the average, and have everyone love me for me. I smiled to myself with the perfect future drafted in mind, hoping and believing that one day, it would all come true.
"Jisoo! Get ready, you're gonna be up in 5!" One of the guy crew voiced out to me. I stood in position, briefly adjusting my hair and waited for the next cue. "You hear me?" He asked. I nodded my head, barely containing my excitement for what's about to come.
This is it, it's really it.
"Jisoo! I said get up!" The guy crew sounded annoyingly, making me frown back.
His voice was strangely familiar, and what's with the change of attitude?
I looked down to check that I was standing at the right platform. It should hoist me up on stage by now. Why wasn't that guy doing his job?
"I'm ready!" I replied back, searching for him but he wasn't there anymore. My heart pounded faster as I changed focus back to the crowd chanting my name...
'Kim Jisoo! Kim Jisoo! Kim Jisoo! Kyahhhhh!'
"YA! Kim Jisoo!" His voice roared into my ears and startled me.
"I'M READY!" I jumped up blurting.
Blinking, I stared straight into the air and was utterly confused at the changed surrounding. It turned immensely silent. Everything was different from before, from the dark to bright white lighting, the sensation of my dry throat and... people's eyes on me. My eyes hopped from one person to another and they were staring right back at me. Hold on, these people aren't my fans, and this isn't the stage.
This is my classroom.
"Ms. Kim," my math teacher, Ms. Ryu said to me. She was standing by my desk glancing back at me and wearing a fake smile. "Did you have a good dream?" She asked sarcastically, and soft giggles from the others filled the room.
I quickly wiped away what felt like dried saliva around my mouth and combed my hair, completely conscious of the mess I was for waking up so abruptly. In the middle of class. With all attention on me.
Damn it, so embarrassing.
The first to blame was the culprit who scared me up from my sleep, and my first instinct was to whip my head to the left. To find the dude sitting a desk beside me, arm on the table to support his head. He was smiling cheekily at me and trying his best to hold in his laughter when tears were already oozing out of his eyes. He, by the name of Jaehyun, has been my close buddy for two years now.
But this asshole just made a joke out of me.
I was about to whack him on his back when Ms. Ryu interrupted me. "Kim Jisoo!" She raised her voice a little more this time.
"Yes?!" I turned back to her, accidentally coming off as annoyed. That was totally uncontrolled for. I was going to direct my frustration to Jaehyun but I obviously made another mistake.
Ms. Ryu blinked at me for a second but recovered quickly enough. "YOU! 2 hours of detention after school today! And wipe your drool!" She reprimanded me.
Woohoo, there goes my afternoon nap.
I sighed loudly, shutting my eyes for a bit to register whatever just happened before turning to glare back at Jaehyun. This was all his fault. Tell me why are we friends again?
"You'll pay for this! And for god sake, stop scaring me awake!" I hissed at him as soft as I could and sunk back into my seat.
"Then you should stop sleeping in class," he smiled back at me and I had the sudden urge to shove my fist into his face.
"I will freaking punch-"
"Jisoo, do you still have something to say?" Ms. Ryu's voice thundered across the classroom. There there, all eyes were on me again.
I cleared my throat this time. "Actually, yes." I turned towards Jaehyun and revealed my evil smirk, and he dropped his smile this time as if he knew what I was going to do. "Jaehyun's been using his phone under the table the whole time."
"Jisoo you son of a-" Jaehyun cursed under his breath and I stuck my tongue out at him. He tried to hide his phone but I snagged it out of his hand in time and waved it up high for Ms. Ryu to see.
Now I have company for detention.
"Come onnnnn who does homework in detention? Even the teacher is sleeping on us!" Jaehyun whined by my side. I briefly glanced at the teacher-in-charge in front and he was indeed sitting like a rock with his eyes shut.
Jaehyun sighed, "if you were going to ignore me like this, I should've just gone on a date with Hyewon."
I put my pen down and finally turned to look at him. "Excuse me, you got me into detention first! And come on, it's just a date... you can always postpone it."
"Nah, not that I want to go out with her or anything," Jaehyun mumbled, which got me confused.
"Well the thing is, I didn't ask her out," His little smile popped up. "She did. She offered me a pair of movie tickets and asked if I wanted to watch it with her. I said yes by accident."
"Accident?" I blinked hard and he nodded, feeling handsome, which made me conclude one thing. I leaned back on my chair and said straight into his face. "You're a dick."
"Ouch, that hurts. But hey, I was trying to be a nice guy and accept her invitation until I realised that I didn't really want to watch it with her."
"Okay wait, who the hell is Hyewon?" I flipped back through my memory to see if the name would ring a bell, but nope, not at all.
Jaehyun shot me the 'are you serious' look. "You're as horrible as me, I hope you know that. How can you not know your classmate's name?"
I rolled my eyes at him, not at all guilty for forgetting. I have no interest in other people so most of the time, I don't remember them. Maybe I'll know it when I see a face more often but most of the time I wouldn't even bother with their names.
"Hold on, you didn't purposely get into detention to skip this date, did you?" I frowned. "But it doesn't make sense because I'm the one who got you here," and my frown went deeper, "unless... you knew that I was going to drag you here with me? Please tell me that I'm wrong." I shot him a death stare.
I came to understand that Jaehyun was a guy who always had plans up his sleeve.
"Oh Jisoo, when did you get so smart?" Jaehyun flashed his cheeky smile.
I rolled my eyes at him again and decided to resume my homework. Telling myself that I just wasted 30 seconds of my life talking to him. Homework should be my priority now because outside of school, I had no time for this.
Because I live a double life- Student at school; and a trainee outside of it.
It's been a week since I've been accepted into a trainee program at SM entertainment, but no one around me knew. I kept it a secret because I wanted to graduate quietly like every other school kid. And there was no need to garner some puny trainee fame.
This was the final semester of my senior year before I'd officially say goodbye to the student life, and getting into the trainee program was a sweet hello to the start of my dreams.
"I still want to watch this movie though. Wanna catch it with me over the weekends?" Jaehyun offered, but my weekends were long packed with trainee activities so my answer was a straight no.
He shifted closer, "aww come on! It's just a movie. It's not like you're busy with anything else, unless... you're hiding something from me?"
I threw my head back and broke out chuckling. Think my reaction came off a bit too unnatural considering that I was trying to hide it. "No, o-of course I'm not hiding anything!" The more I spoke, the more anxious I became. And Jaehyun was able to see through me.
"You're really terrible at lying," he smirked. "Now spill."
I dropped the act and smirked back, "What makes you think I'll tell you?"
"I'll find out soon even if you don't tell me."
"What you gonna do? Stalk me?" I challenged, instinctively turning my body towards him and realising that he's successfully got my attention.
"If that's what it takes," he smiled cheekily again. I almost threw my pen at him but decided to flung an eraser instead. Without saying more, I got back to work and left Jaehyun to slump down on the table facing away from me.
When he wasn't looking, I stole a glance his way and saw him scrolling through his phone. For a brief second I wondered if I should've said yes to the movie. Had he asked me two years ago... I would have said yes. Not until I realised that we were impossible since he always treated me like his little sister. At some point I decided to put this one-sided crush to an end, and I guess it worked.
I spent the whole of last year justifying to myself that he was great as an older brother, and my feelings were sorting out as it is.
"Hey, oh my god," Jaehyun got up from the table and showed me his phone. "Isn't she gorgeous?"
Again and again, he tells me about pretty girls or about the girls he met or ditched. And I. Am. So. Uninterested.
When he came closer with his phone, I rolled my eyes and pushed his forehead away using the pen in my hand. "I'm prettier," I said proudly, but I still stole a glance at his phone screen. That girl looked like a model and she was really pretty. I hate that he still makes me compare myself to his ideal kind of girls when here I am almost sure that I was over him.
When Jaehyun started laughing at my comment as if it was a joke, it stung me a little.
"What? You think I'm not pretty?" I asked.
I wouldn't say I am the prettiest of them all but I wouldn't want to be trampling over my own self-esteem. Beauty comes a lot from maintenance after all, and you have to appreciate your own looks to feel pretty so that others can see it. I wouldn't think I was any less than the other girls.
"Whatever you say..." Jaehyun chuckled and I inched forward to make him take a closer look at me. His smile dropped when our faces came near, and I thought my heart would flutter at that but I was impressed at how tamed it was.
"Am I not pretty?" I asked again, looking right at him but he gave nothing.
I retreated back when he didn't respond in good time, figuring that it wasn't an answer I needed to hear. I wouldn't want my ex-crush to pull down my confidence.
The rest of the detention was silent between us.
The trainee program spans across three months before the management decides who stays or leaves. The schedule was flexible to change one week in advance, but as far as I know, it involves over-the-weekend practices, intermittent evaluations, and even a training camp. Sounds intensive to me but this was the contract I signed with the company, and I was ready to give my all no matter what it takes to achieve this idol dream.
I left my house for the bus stop that was a kilometer down the street. There is a bus from there that would take me to SM in 45 minutes. When my phone started buzzing in my jacket pocket, I fished it out with one hand while the other busy holding onto my duffel sport bag. Inside it contained clothes, towel and all other necessities that would last me away from home over the weekends, and boy it was heavier than it looked.
As soon as I picked up the call, I listened to mom ramble on a string of things. "You came home? Why didn't you tell me? Where did you go? Jack is home with the car and he says that you rejected his ride? What are you thinking about this time?"
"Sorry, I thought you were out," I replied to her shortly. It was the only thing I was willing to answer. Jack was the chauffeur that mom hired for me but I honestly didn't need him 99% of the time. I always preferred to travel alone and I wished I could do that with my own car if I had gotten my driving license.
"I asked you where you're going," She repeated herself. I didn't like her tone because it always sounded like she was trying to pick a fight with me.
Mom was controlling as usual but that wasn't going to faze me. She had no idea about this trainee program and I had no intention of letting her know. I came to realise that my dream didn't matter to her because she and dad simply wanted me to take over their family business.
All these years, they go about business, business and business. I get that our business was flourishing and our family wealth was accumulating but I never once felt the family part of it. Wealth was all I had, but it wasn't what I wanted.
"Hanging out at my friend's place," I replied.
"Who? Where is that?"
"Jae-" I paused, "Hyewon." Naming a girl would be better, though either way it's a lie.
"Where!" I sensed her frustration over the phone, but I... don't care.
"Hey, I gotta go, call you soon, bye." I said it all at once, hung up on her and turned off my phone. I didn't want to get caught up in her interrogation. In any case, I'd rather take the bus and enjoy a peaceful 45 minutes to myself.
Years ago, I was still a gullible little kid thinking that people were kind and nice by nature. Turns out that people befriended me for ill intentions.
Thanks to a backstabbing friend, I had a bitter taste of what fake materialistic friends were and woke up from the harsh reality. I finally realise that people only approach me for my wealth, faking smiles in front of me and then go badmouthing me behind my back saying that I bought my friends. That was when I turned my back on everyone and kept my distance from people.
For a few years, I lived perfectly fine by myself, most of the time shunning those who crossed paths with me until Jaehyun came along. How he and I met was really typical - I was a transferred sophomore student that landed in the same class as him, sat next to each other, had to work together on a pair project, and we got along.
And no, I didn't become a popular kid with all the love and friendship drama. I was far from that actually, being a mannerless kid that no girl or guy eventually wanted to approach me.
I wasn't keen on being friends with Jaehyun too at first, thinking that he was just another classmate who would come and go. But Jaehyun was just... Jaehyun. Or maybe he had no friends like me.
"Oh! Have you heard of our upcoming project?" I overheard some girl trainee talking to her friend. This trainee program consists of 16 girls including me, and it's a routine that we gather in the main hall on Friday evenings for our weekly tasks.
The program started out a week ago but I barely knew anyone despite having orientation on our very first day. I couldn't be bothered to make friends because for one, I do judge a book by the cover and most girls here looked like a pretentious bunch. My plan was to brave through the program with minimal friendship; since, you'll never know who would stay and be true to you. So I mostly kept to myself, offering smiles from time to time to look friendly but with no intention of getting to know anyone better.
I sat on the floor in one corner of the hall room and waited for our program to begin. This hall was a big rectangular space with mirrors built on two sides, and I was facing one of it, checking myself out. Geez, of all days, I had two pimples on my face. One on my forehead and one on my cheek... no matter how much I tried to conceal it with makeup, it was quite visible. Or maybe I'm just bad at makeup.
Poor me, I regretted devouring a basket full of fried chicken with Jaehyun two days back. He made me eat it all because we played a game and I lost.
"Hey, she's alone again." I heard another girl talk and spotted her through the mirror. She was eyeing me with her other friend. Of all trainees, I recognised this one for I highly suspected that the outcast started because of her.