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Not Meant to Be

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Summary

When Ava comes face to face with her childhood crush Taemin, she is thrown into the shiny world of her beloved K-pop group BPD. But not everything is as easy as it seems and her heart and feelings won't be enough to make sure everyone ends up happy...

Genre:
Romance / Drama
Author:
Sierra Christenson
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
7
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
16+

Chapter 1

AVA’S POV

~SEPTEMBER~

The world clashes all around me. The screams of the kitchen staff surge over the clanking of pans and metal utensils. Servers scurry around, shouting back to the cooks about where their food is. But it’s my mother’s clipped lecture that rings in my ear.

“Ava, that’s enough.”

I shift my cellphone from my hand to my shoulder, and I jerk on the strings of my serving apron. Anxiety dances in every bone of my body, tightening around my heart.

One of the older servers shouts into the kitchen, hands raised. “Where’s table eleven’s food?”

Servers and line cooks yell back at each other causing the cooks to bang around with their pans. It’s not like we’re even that busy. I have to shift away and plug my other ear to hear what my mother is saying.

Her voice slices through my speaker in a growl. “Enough of this writing nonsense. You need to put your childish thoughts where they belong—in the past. Get a real job, with a real salary.”

A swirling ball of heat shoots through my arm, urging me to punch out at anything, everything. I inhale slowly. “Mom, this is a great job. I get paid and I have sa—”

“We cannot help support you. You need to get out of that cramped apartment and start thinking about your future.”

The florescent lighting burns my eyes, and I close them momentarily to stop myself from swaying. “I have to go, Mom.” 

“Ava.”

“My break is almost over.” Not that we even really get breaks here. I just need to get off the phone. Any longer and I might say something really stupid. My mother holds no control over my life anymore, but she can still harass me.

“Okay, just remember what I said.”

“Yeah, I will.”

The sides of my tongue sting as I grit my teeth to hold at bay the boiling pit in my stomach. I am twenty-three years old. I can take care of myself and make my own decisions without her help. I drop the phone into the left side of my apron and rewrap the strings tighter around my waist.

I push the strands of my hair back and take a second to calm myself. It takes almost a minute for my heart to calm down and loosen. I can’t greet my tables looking so disheveled.

Talking with my mother always leaves me feeling depressed and anxious, my body trembling from the hum in my nerves. Why didn’t I just ignore her phone call? That would have been so much easier than having to deal with the constant nagging.

“Ava, you’ve been sat at table thirteen.” It’s one of the other servers—a tall guy, a few years younger than me who calls through the entryway before disappearing back out front.

Perfect. Now I can stay busy with work and push away all thoughts of my mother. I pull out my phone once more and type up a quick message to Jake. It’s too busy to hold a conversation with him, but he’ll understand from the highlights.

I had a fight with mom again…She’s being a bitch…Again. Can I come over today? Work is hell and I need to vent, I’m so pissed.

Jake responds immediately, as per usual.

Ofc! Come cuddle with me!

That’s something to look forward to at least. I return my phone and check to make sure I have my pad of paper and several pens. Check.

Now to get back to work.

***

How can such a prestigious condo in Topanga have a broken elevator? Shouldn’t they jump right on fixing anything that goes wrong here? Jake’s parents pay a premium for that exact convenience. Not that they check up on him enough to notice the elevator.

Which means I get to huff and puff my way up all of these stairs to the seventh floor. Fantastic.

On the plus side, I’m burning off all of my anger. I don’t even really feel irritated anymore. Not that I’ve forgotten what my mother said. Why she thinks she can order me around as if I were still in high school is beyond me.

All I want right now is to see Jake’s adorable face and melt into his welcoming hug. Just the thought has my heart warming and my shoulders relaxing. Even after fifteen years he is still the one constant in my life that can calm me down completely. The one man that I can actually count on to be there for me.

Seven flights of stairs doesn’t seem like a lot, until you’re already halfway up them. Sweat drips down, rolling into my eyes even as I am constantly wiping them away. Lovely. I like to think that I’m not too out of shape, but the throb in my legs is a recurring reminder that I can’t pretend otherwise. I can’t even breathe correctly. My throat is so raw from my heavy panting that each breath scratches like sandpaper.

Once I set foot on the final landing, I want to weep with joy. I actually made it. And all it cost me was the use of my legs which now feel like jelly. Can I make it down the hallway? I definitely can’t just collapse right here on the top step. That would be dignifying indeed.

With every agonizing limp down the hall, my feet scream at me. I’ve been picking up too many shifts lately, and my feet hate me for the hours and hours of standing and walking. Maybe I need different inserts for my shoes or something, help soothe the pain.

I stop to take a breather once I reach Jake’s door. Somehow, placing my hands on my hips and leaning back helps the flow of air into my lungs, and also keeps me from flopping onto the ground like a fish out of water.

I try not to ruin my makeup too much as I dab the sweat off my face. I mean, it’s more than likely almost all worn off from work this morning, but I have to make the most of it. Jake always makes that tsking sound when I come so disheveled. He’s so high maintenance. My stomach contracts as I hit the doorbell. A rumbling shoots through my body. Great, and of course I’m starving. I haven’t eaten all day since we’re not allowed to take a break when lunch is already so crazy busy.

The lock on Jake’s door clicks and the knob shifts. That’s odd. It normally takes him ages to work his way through the condo to answer the door. I already have the key in my hand, poised to unlock the door myself when it opens.

“Jake, that was—”

Nope, not Jake. Not even close.

This man is taller. Though he is definitely of Korean descent, like Jake. His eyes are a little narrower than Jake’s. To the point that he looks as though he is glaring down at me. There is a dark shade of eyeshadow, smoky around his eyes giving his already dense gaze more depth and character. His skin is lighter than mine, and his frame is more masculine than Jake’s. Snakebite piercings glint in the florescent lighting every time he moves his mouth.

Did Jake get himself a new boyfriend? What happened to that Mathew guy?

And he prefers Americans? I mean, I’ve never seen him date another Korean even though he is constantly around them. Maybe this man is different? He would have to be in order to get Jake’s attention. He’s quite picky with his partners.

And why does he always get the good-looking men?

The stranger doesn’t move nor does he speak. His eyes are simply roaming over my face, probably noticing the smear of eyeliner under my eyes or the splotchy foundation. I knew I should’ve fixed it before I came over.

“Hi.” Server mode kicks in, and I force down my confusion to spread a polite smile onto my lips. Maybe he doesn’t speak English? It could be that he doesn’t know what to say? I should ask him instead of just running through so many questions in my head.

The man’s brow twitches, and he presses his lips together, his hooped piercings shifting.

Hold up now. That expression. Almost like he is holding something back—hiding. The dimness of his gaze and the way he scours my face. I can see the resemblance with Jake now too. The way the man clenches his jaw is the same as Jake, the slight grinding of his teeth too.

I know him.

“Taemin?” Although my voice releases in a hoarse whisper, I know he hears me.

His brow shoots up into his ebony locks and his tongue slips out, running the length of his lips. It bumps over the hoops and flicks them as he nods softly. “Ava, it has been a while.” A small smile tugs on the corner of his mouth, and his eyes refuse to leave my face.

Is it hot, or am I still sweating from the walk up here? Could he just stop staring and let me in!

“Ava!” Jake’s familiar, high pitched voice screeches through the condo, bouncing off the high walls. “Hyung, stop blocking the door and let her in!”

Tae clears his throat and takes a step back, just enough for me to squeeze by, but it also means that I have to step up real close to him first. Definitely not what I want after a long shift. He probably smells the grease clinging to my hair and the blotchy makeup from sweating so much. Perfect.

For some godforsaken reason I breathe in as I step forward gaining a large whiff of Tae’s soothing musky cologne. Nope, I’m not a creep. Not in the slightest.

As if it’s not awkward enough to be this close to him, I glance up to meet his gaze. I’m making all sorts of bad decisions today. Tae shifts his face to the side, his round earring glinting in the light. Great. He probably really thinks I am creepy. I don’t blame him.

“Thanks.” Clearing my throat and mind at the same time, I slip my shoes off and slide my feet into the fuzzy slippers that sit near the entrance.

Jake comes sliding across the large floor singing, “My darling.”

Unable to hold back the fit of giggles bubbling within my chest, I allow him to throw his arms around my neck. I return the embrace and fall into him. His soothing touch and soft cologne set me at ease.

My voice is muffled by our hug as I say, “You’ve been shopping again, haven’t you?”

“Duh.” He chuckles. He’s wearing a dark vest that contrasts his white shirt underneath. The long sleeves are rolled up, showing off his toned arms. He is a bit tanner than Tae, but living in LA will do that. His older brother has been in Korea for several years now.

Jake pulls away, his hands on my shoulders pulling me down. The bright afternoon sun gleams in through large floor-to-ceiling windows, fading his dark eyes to a rich brown. “How I’ve missed you! How are you feeling? Any better? How was work? I know you said it was crazy busy. You haven’t seen Hyung in years. How is it seeing him again? Does he look different? Do you—”

“Jake, pause, and breathe. Deep breath.” I inhale slowly, making sure he follows suit with me. We are in tandem, breathing, as Jake calms down.

His barrage of questions dissipates the remainder of my irritation with my mother. This is why I needed to come here. He always has a way of making me forget everything.

Touching his hands as my laugh vibrates up from my abdomen, I shake my head. “Yes, I’m okay. Thanks to you I’m not upset anymore.”

Jake squeals and spins around in the center of his condo before abruptly stopping, his face splitting in half from his grin. “Fantastic! Now let’s making some delicious food. I’m starving, and I know you are too.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Darling, you never eat at work and always wake up right before your shift. So that means you haven’t eaten anything all day. Stop being polite just because hyung is here.”

He’s not wrong, but does he have to say all of that in front of Tae? I haven’t seen him since he left for Korea the first time ten years ago. Sure, he has come home a couple of times a year, but never for more than a few days at a time. Mrs. Baik always refused to let me come visit when Tae was home. It was ‘family time’, so I was just going to get in the way . Of course, she never made it sound so harsh, but that’s how I took it.

“I can’t stay too long,” I say. “Stella wants to video chat before she goes to bed.”

Tae is still near the door, watching our interaction. I can’t read his expression, which isn’t new. He’s always been this way. In that aspect he hasn’t changed, but the rest of him surely has. He used to be a scrawny teenager with acne lining his jawline and a cocky smirk on his lips. He’s grown a lot since the last time I saw him. A lot. The mature aura that now encircles him has my heart picking up. I’ve never felt this way towards him. I mean the last time we interacted we were kids, and he was constantly bullying Jake—always pushing him around and making fun of him. Even now, my body is reacting, tensing as he moves, just incase I have to defend Jake one more time from his older brother.

His stature alone is enough to cause a hot shiver to creep down my arms and back. Tae’s—

No. Cool your jets woman. Calm your hormones and get a hold of yourself. You are not some starstruck teenager anymore. You are a grown ass woman with a career of writing ahead of her. Plus, he’s probably still the same jerk as he always has been. Now pull it together.

“You can always video chat here,” Jake says as he pivots away from me and moves toward the kitchen. His condo has a large floor plan, but it’s all open concept.

“I know, but I don’t want to impede on you anymore than I already do. Especially since you have company.”

Tae’s heavy footsteps follow behind me toward the kitchen. Sliding onto one of the bar stools at the large marble island, I keep watch as Taemin leans against the counter to my left. His shoulders are broader than I remember. I wonder if he gives good hugs.

“Don’t worry about Hyung. He’s fine.” Jake shrugs as he pulls out what seem to be a thousand ingredients from his fridge and cupboard along with mixing bowls and utensils.

It’s hard to keep track of what he’s doing when I am watching his older brother instead. I’m not being too obvious right? If Tae realizes I’m staring, that will be the end of me. I would never be able to show my face here again. A big problem, since I’m here almost every day.

“Jake.”

Holy, I forgot how deep Tae’s voice was. When he said my name earlier it was so soft that I couldn’t quite get a grasp of how husky it really was. Now I can truly revel in it. It warms my chest and the pit of my stomach as I block everything out and listen to him speak.

“You don’t need to cook that. We can have western food.”

His accent is thicker than when he was younger.

Shoot he’s looking at me. Did he notice me staring? No, right? What did he just say to Jake? Something about the food. Oh yeah.

Jake speaks up before I can.

“Nonsense. Ava loves Korean food. You don’t need to be formal around her.” Jake’s chuckle is soft but deep at the same time. He carries himself elegantly, but really, he is still a man.

Tae doesn’t look at me again. He focuses in on what Jake is making, not responding to his brother. Why has he become so mysterious? It’s almost like he’s a completely different person.

Although he was always mean towards Jake, Tae never forgot my birthday and always gave me presents for Christmas. It was odd, but it made it hard to hate him.

Tae always backed down when I stepped in between him and Jake. He would try to make some snarky comments, but otherwise never continued the bullying in my presence.

It isn’t until we are finally all sitting down at the dining room table that I notice what exactly Jake has cooked.

There is quite a spread tonight. I wonder why Jake made so much? Probably because of Tae coming home. There is rice, kimchi, a seaweed roll that I believe is called Gimbap, and fried meat dumplings I’ve heard Jake call Mandu. In the center of the table is a portable grill with plates of marinated, raw meat in front of each of us. God, I love bulgogi.

“To be honest,” Jake begins, mumbling as we all grab for our chopsticks. “This is all that I know how to make that’s Korean. Eomma never taught me much.”

Suppressing the laugh that gets caught in my throat is harder than I expected. “Come on, I already know this is delicious. It always is when you cook it.”

He glances up through his long eyelashes at me, a grin playing on his lips. “I love you, Ava. You’re the best.”

Brushing off his comment with a shrug, I look over at Taemin who bears a smirk. Heat blooms in my cheeks, but I swallow down my heart. I have to stay focused on being as normal as possible right now. It’s like I don’t even know him anymore, so why am I getting so darn nervous?

With a flick of my brow, I hand the plate of gimbap over to him. “Here Tae-Tae, dish up first.”

Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Tae’s dense eyes are now focused on me, roaming my face once more. The longer he keeps them there, the hotter my body becomes. Why is he staring at me so much? I was awkward before, with him watching, but now he’s blatantly doing it without even trying to hide. All I did was call him by an old nickname.

The shiver that grabs a hold of my neck and trembles my entire body forces me to release a quivering breath. I look down, unable to keep eye contact as Tae grabs the plate.

Once we have all dished up, the thickness of the air subsides slightly. Jake takes up most of the talking, laughing at old stories the three of us shared and antagonizing Tae for bullying him all those years ago.

As dinner continues, I find out Tae is only here for a few weeks before he has to return to Korea. He was overworked, being the head of Mr. Baik’s companies overseas, so he is taking a vacation.

Now that I am taking a better look at him, Tae has dark shadows under his eyes that contrast his eyeshadow. There are also deep lines outlining his mouth.

I hope he can relax while he is here and not worry about work.

Jake sends Tae to the spare room while I help him wash the dishes.

We stand next to each other. He hands me a soapy plate, and I rinse it before sliding it onto the drying rack. He smiles softly, “It’s good to see hyung again, right? He works himself to death for Appa. Without more than two vacations a year and both less than a week. He needs to stop being a workaholic.”

Of course he would want to talk about his brother. “He’s changed a lot since I last saw him.”

“It’s been what, ten years?” Jake cocks his head to the side, staring at the textured backsplash.

It’s crazy to think about how long ago it all was. “Something like that.”

“I still can’t believe Eomma never let you come over when he was home.”

“I understand it though. She wanted time with her son. She only got a few days with him, and I would have taken time out of that reunion for her.”

Jake shakes his head. He obviously doesn’t care that I already accepted it. It’s not like it was a big deal, even back then.

“But still. It’s not like you and Hyung were ever close. You would only be there to see me.”

“Even so, then you would have had less time with him too.”

He bumps into my side. Jake wrings his hands off after he has washed the last item. “Tae and I only started getting along recently. Before, I would’ve gladly left the house and not seen him.” He laughs, drying his hands off on the dishtowel.

As I grin, I put the last item on the counter before we dry the bowls and utensils. “He was kind of mean to you back then.”

Jake, obviously very baffled at my reaction, takes the towel and smacks my back with it. That hurt thank you very much!

“Kind of? Try a lot!” He twists the towel once more, ready to send it flying again.

“Okay, okay.” I give up. Especially if he’s going to keep hitting me with that damn towel!

Once everything is put away, Jake glances up at the large clock on his wall. “It’s getting late. I’m going to shower quick. Are you about to call Stella?”

“Yeah, I’ll see if she has time now.”

“Okay, I’ll be back out shortly.”

“Okay.”

I flop down on the plush couch; I slide out my cellphone and scroll through my messages until I find Stella’s name.

How was school?

Stella actually responds quicker than normal.

It was okay. Better than it is to be home right now.

They fighting again?

When don’t they?

It’s the sad truth, really. It seems like every day they are at each other’s throats. It lasts for hours, and now that Stella is the only one still in the house, she’s caught in the middle, walking on eggshells.

Do you want to FaceTime?

This time it takes her a few minutes to reply.

No. Mom will hear and yell at you again.

The stress pinching in my neck builds until I have to roll my head to the side to relieve the pressure. Stella is always watching out for me. She understands how strict and crazy Mother can be. It’s adorable, especially since she is so much younger than me.

Thanks

I should at least pretend to do homework before dad notices.

Again. I haven’t been able to talk or see Stella much because of the toxic dynamic of our household. All I want is to spend time with my sister.

Ok ok. Have fun. I’ll text you tomorrow.

Love you.

Love you too

The intense pressure only continues to build until I am forced to release a gruff groan and dig myself deeper into the couch. The cushions all but hide me from view. Stella is being forced to live with our warring parents and since she’s a minor there is nothing I can do for her. All I want is for her to be happy, but it sounds like I would need a miracle for that.

“Come on.” I mutter to myself. I need to figure something out.

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