The Magic of Christmas Time in Seoul 2

Concert weekends are always hectic and busy and a little insane. You find yourself going hungry, eating meals at weird hours and lacking sleep.

After an insanely late night on Day 1, I found myself waking up early. Prior to the trip, I had planned to take a dip in the heated pool that my hotel has. I had been determined to swim in it because of the #$%^ expensive cost of staying in such a hotel (utilizing its facilities make me feel better). So even though I was tired and lacking sleep, I went for a swim anyway.

I’m glad I went for the swim. The heated pool was delightful and I felt refreshed after the short swim and hot shower. By then, it was time to report down at the lobby for the day’s programme.

First up was lunch at SM’s Celebrity SUM Café. It was beef bulgogi rice or something like that which was decent enough. At any rate, I hadn’t had breakfast because I went for a swim so I was starving and any kind of food would have tasted pretty good to me then.

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After lunch, we were put in a line to wait our turn for the “event” planned for us. If I may be completely honest, I think was totally a waste of my time in Seoul and I could have been doing something else, like catching up on sleep in my very expensive hotel room.

What’s the event? Getting a photo taken with Taeyeon’s standee.

I love Taeyeon but there are times when pictures of her aren’t great and this standee of hers wasn’t one of the better photos. I can’t understand why SM staff would choose this photo for the event. In fact, I can’t understand why such an event even exists. I’m not sure what the SM Travel staff were thinking when they came up with this. All I know is I felt pretty meh as I stood there smiling for the camera.

After that, we were deposited at COEX so that we could spend more money in the SUM store (I bought a SNSD bottle warmer lol) before the bus came to pick us up. We arrived at the venue more than two hours before the start of the concert. Later on, another guide told us they made it even earlier than before because there was an instance where the bus was late for another concert.

I have many things to say about the travel department of SM but I shall move on to the concert experience now.

Saturday, December 23

One of the best things about a soshi con is meeting friends. I met all the familiar faces and said hi and we stood around, just hanging out in the cold, cold Seoul winter (lmao). Even then, it was a good feeling and I was happy to see my friends who I only get to see at such events.

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The doors finally opened and it was cold so we headed in to all our different seats. On this day, I was seated on 1/F, section A, which is stage left. The seats were decent enough and afforded a decent view of the stage.

Before the concert started, loud cheers came from 2/F. I turned and caught sight of short blond hair. Hyoyeon had arrived. Apparently, all of Red Velvet had come too, but I didn’t spot them.

Today’s mood was different from Day 1’s. I think I was able to shrug off much of the heaviness from before. I watched the opening VCR with an excited heart and cheered when Taeyeon appeared for the first song.

After a few songs, I felt that Taeyeon’s condition was better than before. Previously, I had mentioned how I felt that a lack of practice during the most critical time (due to reasons you and I know) affected the overall performance. On this day, it felt like some problems had been cleared up and the stages felt more polished than before.

While we know that losing a close friend would have a great impact on the performer’s state, the reason why I harp on the lack of practice as a reason is the difference between her PERSONA songs and her newer songs. Songs like Eraser and Night were done fluidly, and with charisma that flowed naturally, compared to songs like Shhh.

Other instances where a lack of familiarity showed was when she went the wrong way to exit after a song and when she missed the entrance of the first line for “My Grown Up Christmas List”. None of these kinds of mistakes happened during PERSONA, so we can compare and conclude this.

The highest point of this concert would be when Seohyun appeared. Her presence was like the sun to our universe, a source of strength and light that we all needed. It’s amazing, really, because not so long ago, Seohyun was also one of the grieving people who had just lost a dear friend and colleague.

And, with her appearance, especially as a person who is no longer with SM, all of us roared with cheers. I say roar because it was seriously much louder than anything I had heard so far during the concerts. We couldn’t even stop cheering when Seohyun started singing. We cheered for a good, long while. More than half of the first verse that Seohyun sang was just wiped out by our cheers – we were that glad to see her.

Seohyun’s singing was STEADY and her voice, DELIGHTFUL. She has a soft, gentle voice, sweet and smooth. It felt so great to see Seohyun on stage with Taeyeon and we went wild with cheers again when they smiled at each other and hugged. It was like the most natural hug ever and totally heart-warming.

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There was a change in Taeyeon as well, having someone she’s close to and comfortable with on stage with her. And the conversation Taeyeon and Seohyun had after Winter Story went on for a long time but it didn’t feel long at all. It was natural, comfortable conversation between two people who were great friends and open with each other. We all know what that looks and sounds like.

They talked about lots of things. We cheered again at the mention of Seohyun going to the US. Of course, Tiffany was brought up and more cheers came. They talked about their dogs – it was so cute. And Seohyun wanted to bring Ppoppo to Taeyeon’s place to meet Zero. HAHA.

Everything was cute, but the funniest was when Seohyun joked about having to leave because she wasn’t in SM anymore. That was great. I love it when they joke so easily about things that everybody else are so uptight and nervous about. To me, that means they had already worried about everything, thought of everything, explored all options, settled on a decision they are all in on and are confident about it.

Anyway, we had no idea what was going to happen next, so we were ecstatic when they sang another song together. Merry Christmas! They did beautiful harmony together and it was adorable when they looked at each other and went Merry Christmas!

I was sorry to see Seohyun leave the stage after the second song, but it was Taeyeon’s concert after all. But Taeyeon started on one of my all-time favourite Christmas songs and I was happy again.

Taeyeon did better for the rest of the concert even though she got emotional during one of her later talks. She talked about how this day isn’t coming back again and that was when she paused a little. Of course, all of us yelled our support and she gathered herself again, continuing well. At the same time, I was reminded of how special the circumstances of this concert was. T_T

The concert picked up at the end with her ultra happy segment starting from Dear Santa and interestingly enough, there was an additional VCR at the end after the stage doors closed on Taeyeon. It wasn’t shown on the first day so we don’t know if it was a mistake or deliberate.

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The day ended with chimaek with my friends at a place that opened late enough in Gangnam.

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It was a good day.

Sunday, December 24

Once again, after a super late night, I woke up with just enough time to get ready for the day and report for the bus. We were trucked super early to the venue once again and our guide cutely bemoaned how she was the first bus to reach again. She was fairly concerned for us because it was raining and she was seemingly upset we couldn’t walk about freely in this weather. She even offered us tips on where we could find the toilets which was adorable and sweet.

Anyway, we dropped off and found a sandwich shop to camp in until it was time for the concert. Nothing much happened at the shop. Just a bunch of people eating. HAHA.

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Moments before the concert started, we heard the ruckus which meant some idols had arrived and I turned around to see who it was. Yoona was obvious to my eyes. Short hair and complexion that glowed. Then I spotted Yuri. She was less obvious (little makeup) but she was wearing a hat and that made me look at her face.

Today’s concert opened with a lot of energy. It’s the last day after all and everyone was going all out. There was some problem with the music during the opening song, however, and Taeyeon had to stop singing for a verse, waiting for the music to take a familiar turn, before finding an entrance to sing into.

The songs that followed were better sung. I dare say, Taeyeon was more ‘in-the-zone’ on this day and pulled off stronger adlibs and belting than in the first two days. For one, she had obviously done some corrective work behind the scenes and didn’t miss the timing to pull her mic off the stand during Shhh. She also didn’t go the wrong way while exiting.

All in all, it was a much better performance, closer to her usual standard, or at least, the standard she had shown in PERSONA.

Seohyun’s appearance was warmly welcomed, but we didn’t cheer for as long as yesterday. HAHA. So we got to hear her sing the first few lines that had been cheered over previously.

Taeyeon and Seohyun switched sides today and on this day, I was seated 1/F, section D, which is stage right, so I got to face Taeyeon again during their conversation (because they looked at each other while talking).

Today’s conversation is just as adorable and funny and lovely. The cheers were extra loud when Taeyeon mentioned missing Tiffany and contacting her (kekeke). After the conversation, Taeyeon and Seohyun sang Merry Christmas again and this round, they hugged a lot more overall. Seohyun even lifted Taeyeon and spun her as they hugged. HAHA. Too cute!

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The rest of the concert proceeded well and Taeyeon sang her English Christmas songs well. Today’s My Grown Up Christmas List was the best out of the three nights and I feel fortunate I could be there to hear it.

The most emotional part of the concert would be the moment when Taeyeon revealed who her Christmas tree is from. The way she talked about her friend was with such gentleness and fondness. Fans who had shouted for her to give the tree away were totally apologizing then. And she had the cheek to ask if fans still wanted the tree after saying all that (lol). Cheeky Taeyeon.

It was also a reality check. Taeyeon had done such a good job of delivering her concert that you can forget about all the sad things in the world. But with that, you remember that this performer standing on stage is still fresh from the week of grief. It reminds you of how incredible this performer is, to be able to deliver good cheer on stage even as the grief remains in a corner of her heart.

The concert ended with the encore, but there was a plan to stay and cheer for an en-encore. She did come back out for a short while, a short chat and then we bid her goodbye for the year.

An all-you-can-eat BBQ dinner with friends was the wonderful close to the day.

Till next time! I miss my friends already!

The Magic of Christmas Time in Seoul

I was having post-concert dinner with my lovely SONE friends when our guide of the group reminded me about the long ass fanaccount I had written for PERSONA in Seoul. Back then, I had really been blown away by the concert and felt compelled to write something as a way to remember my thoughts and feelings at that time.

This time, I can’t say I was blown away like that. The magnitude of this Christmas concert series was never as big as PERSONA in the first place. It’s a seasonal “Special Live”, not so much a full-on concert tour concept like PERSONA. But due to the passing of Jonghyun just days before this concert series, everything changed.

I find it hard to put those feelings into words so I’ll just get into the swing of it and let it fl(sn)ow.

What makes this concert series so different is the mood in which most SONE came with. We had just experienced a loss of someone we were familiar with. Along with this personal loss, SONE also carried worries about Taeyeon herself. Her grief and sadness was evident on her SNS as well as footage of her all over the news on Thursday, December 21.

To be honest, I wasn’t at my best for those few days. I was affected by a few factors and didn’t have the mood to enjoy Seoul at all. It wasn’t until after I went with my friend to Jonghyun’s funeral hall to pay my last respects to him that my head cleared up somewhat. And if a person like me, who never knew him personally and had only seen him on stage a few times felt this affected, it is crushing to imagine how hard the hit would be for Taeyeon.

Personally, I felt that doing the concert would be a good way to keep her going. To be able to do something she clearly loves, on the stage where she is most confident, with thousands of people who have good feelings for her. I thought, hey, this way she wouldn’t be staying at home with nothing much to do during such a difficult time. So, just like all the other SONE who were attending her concert on Friday, I went with my heart and mind ready to support her as much as possible.

With all these in mind, I headed to KHU Peace Hall with my friend.

The venue is clearly meant to be part of the experience. It is a majestic piece of architecture, much like a grand cathedral. I was thinking, this is the ‘magic’ right here. Walking up the steep slope I ‘love’ so much, it felt somewhat magical because of the beauty of the place.

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Like many people said, it gives off Hogwarts vibes. And this is enhanced upon entering the grand main lobby.

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I don’t usually comment on the venue as part of my concert experience because it’s been pretty standard concert venues so far, like Olympic Hall. But this place is an experience in itself. Taeyeon mentioned how KHU Peace Hall is a place she has memories of – GDA emcee along with Tiffany – and how this place is peaceful. Yes, the grandeur and serenity of this place is wonderful.

Friday, December 22

I was up on 3/F, section C, so I got a pretty good central view of the stage as well as the top of Taeyeon’s head. HAHA.

It started with a VCR. I got some PERSONA vibes from it. Maybe the director is the same person? But the music, jazzy and grand, a tad mystical and later on, majestically sad, is interestingly PERSONA-ish too. Then came Harry Potterisque music which is the introduction, leading to “The Magic of Christmas Time”.

It’s also interesting to me, that the VCR featured KHU Peace Hall and had a shooting star shooting over it and a spiraling magical light, all of which resembles the trademark Disney castle animation as well.

We all cheered with a blast when Taeyeon appeared. And I held my breath as she sang her first few lines. It’s a beautiful song, well suited for this magical, grand setting. The backdrop was of the venue’s grand entrance which I found interesting too.

And Taeyeon’s beautiful, grand red dress. It’s similar to the red dress she wore in the opening VCR and the lobby shown in the VCR is the actual lobby of the venue, as well as the huge Christmas tree there. This doubling up of the actual scene and dress in the VCR is another interesting element, further enforcing the concept of bringing the venue onto the stage.

I got really excited when Taeyeon sat on a chair in front of a mirror after doing 11:11 (which had cute bells arranged into the ending to suit the Christmas mood if I remember correctly). Mirrors are an icon of PERSONA’s concept and sure enough, the lights turned red and Eraser came on with the dancers pulling off sensual dances to the fiery music.

Clearly, Taeyeon had to change her outfit within this time, so when she reappeared with a sexy, yet cool black-jacket-white-shirt-hidden-black-shorts-huge-black-ribbon-thigh-high-black-boots ensemble, we all cheered like crazy. I was especially high right then because I LOVE Eraser very much. It’s my favourite song in the album and I hope she performs it at every concert like Rain and Gemini.

It’s a nice shift from the melancholic songs to the fiery and sexy, Eraser and Night,  so it’s funny that Shhhh comes next, after the VCR. And Shhhh is also the first song performed ‘behind the doors’ whereby the exterior face of the ‘building’ was lifted, revealing the ‘indoors’, the more intimate ‘inside’ so to speak. Ahem.

My theory is that Taeyeon and the band, as well as crew, did not get enough practice together due to the unforeseen circumstances. Because on this first night, by this time, some errors had happened. For example, Taeyeon missing the timing on pulling her mic off her mic stand during Shhhh. But as mentioned before, this concert is done under unique circumstances and can’t be judged the usual way.

Rain was well done. Rain is jazzy in nature but they went full out Christmas and even jazzier than usual in the arrangement. Part of it is due to the spotlight parts given to the brass instruments. Taeyeon even did a tiny bit of scat singing which got me really interested. I would love to see her dive into even more scat singing in future.

(Scat, also called Scat Singing, in music, jazz vocal style using emotive, onomatopoeic, and nonsense syllables instead of words in solo improvisations on a melody.) A recent use of scat can be seen in BoA’s new song Jazz Club where she does quite a significant amount of scat.

Next came the ‘energizer’ part of the concert. I got real excited when Good Thing and Hands On Me came on. I love those songs so much. Then came, Winter Story.

The moment WS music played, I knew this would be the song Seohyun was going to sing on the second and third nights. But perhaps, due to the difference in singing it alone versus with Seohyun, Taeyeon fumbled in this song too. Later on, Taeyeon mentioned Seohyun’s collaboration with her but I don’t think she had to, everyone had probably already guessed it. HAHA.

Classic Christmas carols were next. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. I-LOVE-THIS-SONG. Truth be told, this was one of the Christmas songs I used to perform during Christmas time. And out of the many Christmas songs, this is one of my top few favourites. I love the melody, the feel. It’s a touch of sentimental, a pinch of melancholy, yet really sweet and fluffy.

So HYAMLC is one of my top few favourites and another favourite of mine would be My Grown Up Christmas List. This Kelly Clarkson classic is one of my all-time favourites and I was on the verge of raising both my hands and shouting ‘OMG YES’ but I didn’t because Taeyeon was singing and I had to listen. Her condition wasn’t great but I was happy to hear her sing that song nonetheless because I had missed the opportunity during Marchen Fantasy (SAD).

After the emotional ‘I Am All Ears’, it was encore time. The VCR introduction to the encore segment had a ton of product placements which had me rolling my eyes and laughing. Anyway . . .

From my vantage point up on 3/F, I could see Taeyeon hiding inside the huge gift box. She was adorable, waving at us on 3/F, giving us a little treat that only us 3/F-ers could have. HAHA.

Dear Santa wasn’t very well sung, to be honest. I do think it is difficult to sing a song that was originally meant for 3 to sing and some of the high notes went off. But other than that, Taeyeon was adorable in her reindeer hairband and woolly top. I didn’t quite like the black translucent bottom skirt-like thing though. Lace just gives me the creeps.

Candy Cane had a nice ‘signed ball’ surprise which 3/F-ers had no part in. Then it was lottery time. That was fun. Taeyeon had drawn 1/F and 2/F so we were like ‘3/F come on!’ and Taeyeon was super adorable trying to draw a 3/F ticket. She would draw one, peep at it, and return it if it wasn’t 3/F. She tried a few times, and we all laughed. She was so cute with that. She even tried to explain that there are more 1/F and 2/F seats so it’s hard to draw a 3/F. HAHA.

Finally, she managed to draw a 3/F, but it wasn’t me. T_T

She also talked a bit about why she brought her little Christmas tree from home and spoke of it fondly. On the first night, I was thoroughly amused by how she treated her tree like a dear friend but we found out on the last night, just how significant the tree is to her. T_T

All in all, I left KHU Peace Hall with a strange kind of happiness. Truly unique and difficult to put into words.

The walk down the my beloved STEEP slope wasn’t too fun though. XD

 

 

 

FSOP2: 36

Helene’s return to Ms Pink’s castle is completely out of my mind by this time so I am rudely surprised when she appears in the room, standing before us.

“Ma fille. Who took you out?”

If I were only listening to Helene’s voice, I would think she is calm but I am looking at her also and the flames spewing out around her indicate the opposite.

Ms Pink pushes herself up, absurdly unperturbed by her lack of clothing and reaches for her silk robe. Meanwhile, I am looking about for my undergarments but they are nowhere to be found, leaving me no choice but to don my clothes without them.

Fortunately, my newly acquired supernatural power of speed reduces the duration my embarrassment and I am standing beside Ms Pink, clothed, within a couple of seconds. Helene narrows her eyes at me, clearing noticing the difference in me.

“Was it you?”

I open my mouth to answer without really knowing what to say, but Ms Pink takes me hand and beats me to the answer. “Erika’s blood saved me, Maman.”

Helene’s intensity doesn’t let up much but she does take a less aggressive stance, relaxing her arms and shoulders a little. “You don’t have to protect her. She is now stronger than you are.”

“I took Erika’s blood before meeting Qas.”

Helene’s eyes flash in understanding. “That was risky.”

“I knew the risk.”

“Fine.”

“Are you?”

“I’m fine.”

I hope my eyes don’t give anything away with their glance at Ms Pink.

“How much did you lose?”

Ms Pink grips my hand just a little harder. “Some.”

Helene smirks. “Let’s see.”

A blast of fire shoots at Ms Pink and I find myself raising my hand to stop it. The flames bend around the curve of my force field and Ms Pink is safe.

“Why are you doing this?” I raise my voice in a fury.

Helene doesn’t answer. She simply applies more pressure, forcing me to focus on the energy she is expending. I am bending her energy away with the force field but the amount of energy is indeed incredible. Yet, she is supposed to have been weakened after trying to convert me repeatedly?

“You’re weak!” she hollers and blasts another ray of flames at me.

I raise both hands, feeling the energy, moving the energy and close my eyes to focus. Energy isn’t seen. It is experienced. It pulses in the air and right now, it is pulsing in great torrents towards Ms Pink and I.

“Maman, stop.”

The flames persist for a moment longer but they stop coming for us and I can finally relax my mind. It is taxing, I realize. Yet, in the heat of the moment during the battle of the Dark Thicket, I was not struck by fatigue at all. Could it have been the adrenaline?

“She is strong enough to keep you safe for the time being. But you must regain your strength.”

Ms Pink takes my hand again, squeezing it gently. “I will.”

Helene takes another look at me and this time, I hold her gaze with a strong, defiant chin. To my surprise, Helene smiles and it isn’t sinister. “Everything was for you. Protect Pan Ni with your life, Erika.”

I swallow my surprise and nod, keeping my expression neutral. “That goes without saying.”

Helene laughs, flicks her luxuriously velvety black cloak-like dress, and exits the room without another world. I am mystified. Did I just earn the approval of my mother-in-law or something?

“Helene seems happy,” I say, testing the waters a little with Ms Pink’s opinion of her ‘mother’.

“She has always wanted me to be with someone powerful.”

“So I did pass the test.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It was a test. She fired at you to see if I could protect you and I did. I protected you.”

“You showed your hand.”

Ms Pink’s answer stuns me a little. “Don’t you trust Helene?”

With arms reaching out for my waist, pulling me in, Ms Pink looks into my eyes. “The only person I trust completely, is you.”

“Not even Seo? Cartu? Glazia? You sent them to help me.”

“I trust Seo with my life. However, Seo is loyal to justice also. While you,” Ms Pink smiles and strokes my cheek, “are with me, body, mind and soul.”

“Is there no one else you trust as much?” I ask, heart thumping like a kind of hammering machine.

“Only you.”

Tears threaten to brim. I really don’t know why I’m tearing easily these days. I’ve never been the type who cries a lot. Is it the Erika in me?

“Ms Pink—”

Lips stop my lips from moving and Ms Pink swallows my question before I can ask it.

“It’s time you stopped calling me Ms Pink.”

Looking into Ms Pink’s empty black eyes, I cup her cheeks and pull her in for another kiss.

“Should I call you Tiffany instead?”

“I told you to call me Tiffany a long time ago.”

“I remember. But Ms Pink sounds so right to me. Especially when you lord over me.”

“You have become the Erika now. You are no longer beneath me.”

I raise a brow. “Did you seriously consider me to be beneath you when I was only human?”

A corner of Ms Pink’s lips lifts in amusement. “Yes.”

My brows dip into a frown. “Well, I suppose that’s not really a surprise.”

“It doesn’t matter. My feelings do not follow the rules of hierarchy.”

With a shake of my head, I feign disappointment. “Ancient vampires . . .”

Ms Pink pulls me into her arms and rests her head on my shoulder. “Call me Tiffany.”

“Is that an order?”

“Yes.”

Her answer has me grinning like a dork. “I will do my best to obey your order, Tiffany Pink.”

“I will punish you if you don’t.”

My grin only grows wider. Something tells me I’ll be calling Tiffany Ms Pink quite often.

X

Darkness surrounds me.

The hairs on my body stand.

Goosebumps form on my skin as the cold air brushes past.

A gigantic figure lying on its side appears.

And I wake up, chest and shoulders heaving. “Gerant,” I gasp, in the dark of the night. An arm slips around my waist, giving me another jolt.

“Taeyeon.”

I calm down at the sound of Ms Pink’s voice. “Ms P—”

A sharp smack on my rear end stops me. “Say Tiffany.”

“T-Tiffany.”

“Now tell me what happened.”

“Gerant.” Just the thought of Gerant lying in that cave all alone makes it hard to breathe. “Gerant is still in the cave where we found the Pratikan. I can’t believe I forgot all about Gerant. We have to go back and save him!”

Ms Pink frowns as she gets off the bed and picks up her ultra slim pink phone. “Seo, what happened to Gerant?”

I’m up by her side in a flash, trying to hear Seo’s reply.

“The rats brought him out. He’s recuperating now.”

“So he didn’t die?” I can’t help interrupting.

“It was close but he didn’t die.”

“Oh, thank god,” I utter and sag onto the bed. “That’s such a relief. Can Seo bring me to see Gerant? I have to thank Gerant in person.”

“Seo, arrange for us to visit Gerant today.”

I can’t hear Seo’s reply but I’m pretty sure it’s her saying yes.

Ms Pink eyes me as she ends the call. “The smell of your blood no longer entices me,” she says a little too casually as she climbs over me, on hands and knees.

My eyes widen. “What does that mean? Aren’t you a vampire?”

“Your blood used to be special.” Ms Pink lies beside me, arm and leg draped over, marking her territory. “Now, it isn’t.”

It’s my turn to frown now. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

“Good.”

“Why?”

Her hand creeps towards my hips, making me bite my lip to keep from smiling. “Now I know it is pure.”

“What’s pure?”

“My lust for you.”

It’s hopeless. My teeth lose hold of my lip as I end up grinning broadly.  “Lust? Not love?”

“You are my fair lady.”

“Don’t try to change the topic.”

Ms Pink’s teasing smile kicks my heartrate up a notch. As do her wandering fingers. “Stupid human.” Her hand grabs my waist and pulls me in. Our lips meet in the middle and my arms find her of their own volition. Her lips leave mine to travel down my neck and it is all I can do to hug her to myself.

Every touch is precious. Every touch is desire.

“Oh, Ms Pink—oww!” I groan from the smarting spank on my rear end. “Tiffany.”

Another illusion of a pink flame prances in Ms Pink’s eyes as I stare at her. “Again.”

“Tiffany.”

Ms Pink closes her eyes and moans, “Taeyeon.”

“Tiffany,” I say with more deliberation and Ms Pink grabs my rear cheeks hard. “Am I turning you on?”

“Fire.”

“What?”

“I can feel the fire inside.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means I need to eat you up.”

X

The flashy pink car that arrives at Ms Pink’s castle is no longer jarring to me but it still isn’t with the greatest pleasure when I get on it with Ms Pink. Seo’s warm smile gets me smiling too, however, so all is good.

“Ms Pink, it’s been arranged.”

Ms Pink nods. “Alright.”

Neither of them seem to have any intention to tell me what it is about so I don’t ask. There’s no need to ask about everything all the time. Besides, Ms Pink’s thumb caressing mine is distracting me. The sweet floral scent of Ms Pink is distracting me too. This scent is new, in fact. I’ve never noticed it before. Or are my senses gaining power too?

“Do you want to know what has been arranged?”

Looking into Ms Pink’s eyes, I get the strange feeling that she’s suddenly a lot more ‘human’ now. “You’ll tell me if I need to know.”

“A visit to the dungeon.”

Tiles click into place. “To see Tatua?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“For information.”

“About?”

“My father.”

This gets my attention. “Your father? Is there something wrong with your father?”

Ms Pink shakes her head slowly. “I am looking for the answer.”

I am still pondering the connection between Tatua and Ms Pink’s father when the car pulls up at the edge of the Dark Thicket. We get off and stand shoulder to shoulder, staring into the dense vegetation.

Ms Pink looks at me with a crooked smile. “Do you need to be carried?”

I grin right back with cheek. “I have no problem keeping up.”

“I will be faster.”

I roll my eyes. “You don’t know that for sure.”

“Race?”

“You’re on.”

“The slowest will be punished.”

I pull a smirk and flex my knees. “It won’t be me.”

X

PERSONA in Seoul: I’m from Miami

This is the first time I’ve ever felt a pressing need to write about a concert I attended. But PERSONA is truly . . . man, I have to write this. So here goes.

I had stayed clear of any spoilers of the very first concert on Friday cos I was only gonna attend 5/13 and 5/14 shows, so when I first entered the venue on 5/13, I was frikkin’ eggcited, to say the least.

5/13 recollection & review: My first impressions and some after-thoughts

The first thing that surprised me, was the stage. At first, it seemed standard enough. Not unlike Butterfly Kiss, I thought. There were butterfly wings design at the sides for ButtKiss and this time, there were like shattered fragments of glass on both sides and ‘PERSONA’ in the middle of the screen on stage. But when the stage ‘opened’ up, SURPRISE, there were lots of boxes, almost like a grid on stage. Each block works as a screen and can be used for images (pictures of sones SM asked for submissions were screened during this time) and the uppermost, middle block is pushed back.

Taeyeon appears right there, at the highest point, elevated into the space and belts U R right away.

Now, I didn’t think much of it at that time, but now I realize that starting with U R at that particular part where the song is at its climax, makes it feel like we picked up from ButtKiss (which ended on U R) and carried on with the show. I find it meaningful like this – a simple way to remind us of ButtKiss and therefore the continuation.

Then the stage surprised us with the levels. Taeyeon went from the highest block, down to the middle block for Feel So Fine and I must say, they made really good use of the ‘screen blocks’ for images corresponding to the song’s ‘feel’. The stage was an absolute treat for the eyes. Taeyeon then goes straight on to I, which I feel is a great progression cos of the similarity in both songs (open, uplifting, band-ish songs).

At this point, the stage proved to be even more interesting cos there was an elevated surface that rose up to the middle block to bring Taeyeon down to the stage floor level. This path is used many times during the concert and it’s a really smart way to ‘transform’ the stage without actually changing anything at all.

Then I was surprised yet again, when Taeyeon got on the crane (at the extended stage) and was lifted and rotated around in the air above us as she sang MMLY. It got all of us really excited cos she came closer to us and gave her more opportunities to interact with us better. This is another stage design that is a level above ButtKiss.

Insert wardrobe comment: Personally, I feel that her first outfit is beautifully designed.

tysosh

Slightly (white, not black) Gothic / Victorian-ish? design (I’m no fashion expert) but to me it’s sophisticated and regal and current all at the same time. It is also feminine yet not entirely girly. This outfit matches the songs in the first segment well, imo. And her hair cut is a smart one cos the hair stylist and pull the long parts into a ponytail behind, leaving her with a fresh shorter look from the front. Deceptive. Funky. Smart.

By this time in the concert, I’m already thinking that this is a completely different Taeyeon we’re seeing. In ButtKiss, Taeyeon was still a little shy. Understandably so, since that was her maiden solo concert and all things first are a little unnerving, even if she had stood on numerous stages by herself before.

If ButtKiss were at rookie solo concert level, then Taeyeon literally went from freshman, to final year student, comfortable in her skin, confident on stage and beyond at ease with her audience. Taeyeon had graduated in the span of one year, from her first solo concert to her second solo concert. Absolutely no trace of nerves. No trace of insecurity.

In ButtKiss, Taeyeon’s sexiest segment was when she did Night. She had on a nightgown-ish slip on and a sexy two-piece top and shorts. Her dance moves were smaller, subtle body waves, what we call 小性感 (small sexy).

But in PERSONA, Taeyeon went full on sexy. Taeyeon has her own idea of exuding her sensual side and it is not in the Hyuna way. Firstly, the outfit.

C_x8VHMUMAMj-_S[1]

Nothing but sheer behind, just covered by the black lace(?). How’s that for bringing sexy back. -wink- Also, this is again a regal outfit, full black, and quite Gothic imo. Very tasteful and classy. Her hair style also suits this fusion look. It’s all very pleasing.

So when the stage reopens, there she is, in her Gothic, regal glory, standing in the middle block. To me, IGL is probably the best stage act, right next to Eraser. This whole segment is just award-winning level. IGL’s choreography is brilliant. Lots of voguing. Nothing to big. Mostly smaller, sharper moves. Fast and slow.

One move in particular, a smart body wave step forward so Taeyeon could get out of her box without hitting her head yet look sexy at the same time. B-R-I-L-L-I-A-N-T. Another move that I really liked and is still stuck in my head is the part where Taeyeon simply flips her hand/arm from one side to the other while her dances do voguing. Oh. My. Gawd. Excellent use of backup dancers for maximum effect.

The voguing.

This mind-blowing performance is followed by I’m OK, and then, the BAMMM – Eraser.

Oh. Eraser. I’m pretty sure I had a huge grin on my face throughout Eraser because it is the one song in My Voice that I found to be a HUGE song. Huge as in musically, its performance potential and instrumentation etc. And I was not disappointed. Eraser got a lot of focus, had smart props and extended the sexy into sheer bad-ass sexy complete with Chicago-ish lit up bars of red spinning around and just when you think it can’t get any sexier, Taeyeon leaps onto the bars and totally makes the audience go wild.

Tbh, I’m quite done by the time this song is done. I’m like, I cannot with Taeyeon. But the next segment is softer and more emotional (where I literally sit and totally forget to wave my fanlight cos I’m just so engrossed listening to her singing), followed by fun and hype with Cover Up and Hands On Me where she does the fan service part and gets a cart to travel and meet second floor audience up close.

But right after the fun and chill, she goes and blows your heart up with the most emotional songs ever before laying it off and talking to us, jokes and all. And if you haven’t already lost it and thrown in the towel by now, she goes and does the acoustic version of 11:11 wearing THIS (without the jacket).

C_8otOTV0AAUnlN[1]

The music arrangement is cool and smart here cos Taeyeon sings the last ‘nanana’ part in a cappella so you don’t hear the guitar rift and when it comes back in, it’s in a higher key and is now used as a guitar rift for Why’s verse. Such a neat little trick. Yet another surprise.

Then, you think . . . okay, this concert can’t possibly get any better than this. But Taeyeon comes back with an encore segment featuring Fine, Time Lapse and Curtain Call. I will not insert her outfit for the encore here because I don’t think it fits the genre of music featured in the encore segment. She really should have come out in the leather jacket concept they used for Fine’s MV or something ‘rockier’ than that much-too-flimsy dress that clashes with the heavy band sound of the three songs.

Fine is fine, of course, but let me talk more about Time Lapse. While TL isn’t my favourite song on the album (I have some comments about the mixing), Taeyeon’s rendition of the song in a LIVE performance is absolutely what the song is for. This song just needs to be performed LIVE. The guitar that I didn’t like so much in the studio recording is perfect in this concert setting. And Taeyeon’s emotional expression, voice, facial and body, were all on-point. Incredible.

Finally, Curtain Call. How apt. And that’s the end. But it’s not the end for us members of the audience. I then proceeded to join my friends for Korean BBQ but on the way there, we were talking about the concert. Then I went back to my guesthouse with another friend I’m sharing the room with and the entire time, we talked about the concert too.

So it’s not the end, like SHINee’s Key said, the songs get stuck in your head. Everything you saw is stuck in your head.

I noticed even more things about the concert on my second night, 5/14, but I’m gonna stop here cos I don’t want this to turn into a thesis. I mean, I can’t even say enough about my first night on 5/13, lol.

What I watched over the weekend, is a concert made for an artiste who is no longer simply catering to a young audience looking up to their idol, looking for some fan service and cute moments to spazz over (although there were no lack of such moments in PERSONA too).

What I watched over the weekend, is a quality concert brilliantly designed by a professional team, packed to the brim with high quality multi-genre music played by a live band, performed by a performer who can deliver the vocal prowess, vocal expression, dance and act required to pull off a convincing rendition of each of the songs on the set list.

I would go and watch this even if I’m not a fan. Like how I went and watched Jacky Cheung’s concert simply because he has the reputation as a singer and performer. Kim Taeyeon might not at that level just yet (I say this because Taeyeon did go flat on quite a few of her high notes on 5/13 and 5/14. There were also some other vocal hiccups here and there. Nothing major enough to ruin the overall experience but definitely some room for improvement there). However she’s gonna be there soon with the rapid improvement she makes from concert to concert.

Meanwhile, I will look forward to the next concert series.

FSOP2: 26

It is another long journey. This time, through the underground tunnel. And after we come back out into the open, do I find out that we are only just half way to the outskirts of Nam.

“You mean that underground place we were at isn’t in Nam?”

“We were out of Shaw but not in Nam,” Glazia replies.

“Ariz, you lied to me.”

“I never said we were in Nam.”

“But you said we were going to Nam.”

“Exactly. I didn’t say we had reached Nam.”

“Is Ms Pink really in Nam?”

“We suspect it but we really don’t know,” Glazia admits, her blood-shot eyes making me more and more uncomfortable as she stares at me. “We tried to track her via satellite but we couldn’t find her.”

“Then why Nam?” I ask, my anxiety rising as I realise just how little they know about Ms Pink’s whereabouts.

“We know Qas Sogok has secret ownership of property here. And—” Glazia shares a look of worry with Cartu, “the blue murders have been travelling south.”

“But that is still only a guess.”

“A calculated guess,” Cartu interjects. “We don’t know how or why Pan Ni ended up with him, but we think he asked to meet her on his territory and to show her alliance, she must have agreed to meet him. We would have advised her against it if she told us before she went.”

“But I haven’t seen her since she told me she was going somewhere with Helene. That was three days ago. How do you know she only went missing a day ago?”

“She managed to send us a code two days ago. And another yesterday. But that contact was lost twenty-nine hours ago.”

“What kind of code?”

“It was probably hard for her to send it. Each code only contained one word. The first code said ‘stupid’ and the second said ‘human’.

My heart stops for a beat. Why did Ms Pink spend her limited chances to ask for help on calling me? Am I really the help she needs? Nothing makes sense.

Everything the Sovereigns have told me so far sounds legitimate but I still harbour doubt. Maybe this is an elaborate plan to take me far away from Ms Pink and kill me. On some level, I think I would rather this be the truth than the other version they have been telling me. Because if the other version is true . . . Ms Pink is probably in danger. Or in pain. Or both.

A thought strikes me. Is this why I’ve been having nightmares for the past few nights? Scary, dark, chilling nightmares. I had bad dreams in the week before Ms Pink came back to me too. Is this a sign that I will find Ms Pink soon?

“How are we going to find Ms Pink?”

“You will,” Cartu answers before Glazia does.

“But I don’t know how to find her.”

“You have her essence.”

“Huh?”

“Her essence is inside you.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Pan Ni has been infusing her essence into your body. This way, you will be immune and she cannot turn you into a vampire,” Glazia explains.

I think my mind just exploded. “What? Ms Pink has been doing this without telling me? For how long?”

“Since she went back to you.”

“She planned it from the beginning?”

“Pan Ni has put a lot of thought into this.”

“Ms Pink has never mentioned you as her allies.”

Everyone in the moving vehicle laughs but me.

“You are a rookie,” says Ariz between his chuckles. “You have much to learn.”

“Ms Pink has much to explain,” I mutter under my breath.

Ariz chuckles more and it irritates me. Doesn’t he understand the concept of asking for permission to deposit one’s “essence” in someone else’s body? These old farts have been around for so long but their manners are hardly up to par with their age.

The Sovereigns fall into silence after this little episode and I am perfectly happy to stew my unhappiness without any interruptions. Just wait till I find Ms Pink. Just. Wait.

X

We get on another vehicle after coming out of the tunnel and Ariz resumes driving. The ground below us becomes rockier and rougher as we go on. Eventually, the road disappears completely and we are driving over fallen branches and bushes in darkness. It is utter wilderness where we are and I half expect some kind of wild animal to attack us when my stomach growls. Without a word, Glazia takes a sandwich out from the compartment in the door and hands it to me. I thank her and munch on it gratefully.

We come to a stop shortly after I finish my sandwich. The doors open and a chill enters, making me shiver. My shirt and workpants provide little protection from the cold wind and I am rubbing my hands and arms when Ariz puts a black jacket over my shoulders.

“Thank you.”

“You need to stay warm,” Ariz says with a smile.

“We need to move fast,” Cartu says with a frown.

We move swiftly and silently. Ariz is carrying me again and it is twice as embarrassing as before with the other Sovereigns around. So, I turn my attention to my blur surroundings. Tall trees, straight and thick, stand in the foggy air, still as can be. Apart from the Sovereigns’ footsteps on the forest floor, I hear nothing else. This place is completely deserted. There is nothing here.

“Here.”

At Glazia’s word, we halt. I am allowed to stand on my own again, much to my relief. Looking around, I spot some curious colours around the forest. Some of the trunks have a purple sheen, as though brinjal slime had been coated on. Others have a curious turquoise, pearly sheen. But do I want to know what the sheen really is?

“Where are we? Why did we stop here?” I ask.

“We are setting up base here,” says Cartu.

“Aren’t we going to look for Ms Pink first?”

“You need to sleep.”

“No, I don’t. I want to look for Ms Pink.”

The Sovereigns ignore my demands and create a cosy little camp of leaves and jackets between four trees while I stand and stare, feeling utterly useless.

“Sleep,” says Glazia as she gives me a push. “We will continue the search after you get some rest.”

There’s only one thing left to do. Lie down and try to sleep.

X

 Ms Pink is walking to me. I can see her. She is smiling. Just for me. She is smiling the smile that means she wants me. I know that smile well. I can read it in her eyes. Pink and daring me to defy her, Ms Pink glides to me like the princess vampire she is and takes my soul through our lips. My back arches. It always does. My body always wants to get closer to Ms Pink. My body always wants more of Ms Pink.

“Ms Pink . . .” I can only gasp as my princess vampire latches her lips down my neck, licking and sucking her way across my skin, going where she pleases. The heat. The fire. The burn. My skin is on fire. “Ms Pink . . .”

“Taeyeon.”

I reach out for Ms Pink. Her face. Her body. Her heart. But my hands get nothing. “Ms Pink?” No matter what I do, I’m trapped and I can’t reach her. “Ms Pink!” My eyes spring open and I sit up, chest heaving from the dream and the burn that’s going on inside.

“Did you see Pan Ni?” Glazia is right beside me, staring.

“Ms Pink.” I blink. “I was dreaming.”

“But did you see her?”

“Yes.”

“Was she in pain?”

Shaking my head, I say, “No, she wasn’t in pain.”

“That’s a good sign.”

“What do you mean?”

“It means Pan Ni isn’t dead—or half-dead. Yet.” Turning to the other Sovereigns, she says, “Get going. We have to find her. Fast.”

X

I am almost getting used to piggyback-riding on Ariz’s back when a stab of pain hits me in the guts. I cry out in pain and the Sovereigns screech to a halt.

“What happened?” Glazia asks, her eyes searching me up and down.

“Pain. My stomach.” I clutch at my abdomen and groan. This feels worse than any menstrual cramp I’ve ever had to deal with. The pain is sharp and deep. It’s tormenting.

“Bad sign. But we must be getting closer.” Cartu looks at the palm-sized device he’s been holding since we starting searching. He taps on it and turns a full circle. “Possible obstruction to the southwest,” he says, and the search resumes.

A few moments later, I sense the air around us shifting. I think the Sovereigns can sense it too because they slow down and proceed more cautiously. This is when I realise that the sheen on the trees in this area is rusty red instead of the brinjal purple I saw earlier. The Sovereigns exchange looks when I point this out and with a nod, they fan out and walk carefully in different directions.

“What are we separating?” I whisper in Ariz’s ear.

“To widen our search. We are looking for an entrance.”

“Like the one that goes underground?”

“Maybe.”

My heart begins to thump harder and my anxiety rises as another throb of pain hits me. Is this pain connected to Ms Pink somehow? Is it because of the essence she infused into my body? I need to see Ms Pink. I need to see her, alive and in one piece. Please, please, please. Don’t be dead.

Ariz stops suddenly and I almost fly over his head. “Cartu found something,” he tells me, and sets off at top speed in another direction. I cling on to him, desperate to see what Cartu found. But when we finally get to him, I am unimpressed.

“That’s it?” I ask, staring at the ruins of a tiny castle about fifty metres from the trees we are hiding behind. It stands there in the near distance, desolate and lonely, with the still lake surrounding it. Thick fog swirls around it, making it look even more derelict and a little creepy.

“There is no path to reach it,” says Glazia.”

“There is a path,” Cartu counters, “but it is covered by the lake.”

“I hate getting my shoes wet,” Ariz grumbles.”

“That’s the least of your problems,” Cartu remarks. “The real problem is getting in without being seen.”

“What about underground?” Glazia asks. “There must be a tunnel. No castle is complete without one.”

“You are right,” says Cartu. He takes his device out again and smiles. “This will not take long.”

X

True enough, I barely got to sit long enough to warm the rock before Cartu found the entrance. Hidden behind the trees, it is right between two bigger rocks. A strategic position. But how do we open it?

“Misoka.”

There it is. That foreign language I don’t understand. But it seems to work because the ground opens up just like the first time Ariz said it. There are steps cut into the ground, leading into the dark, dark tunnel.

“I’ll go first,” says Cartu. “Glazia, cover our backs.”

I get back on Ariz’s back and off we go, with Cartu leading the way through the tunnel. It was obviously meant to be an escape route for those who lived in the castle, as evidenced by the torches hanging along the walls. We don’t light them, however, so our journey is made in the dark. Fortunately, the supers don’t seem to have any problems seeing in the dark, judging by how they maintain their speed the entire time, so I have nothing to worry about. The tunnels are a little bit like a maze but after hitting a few dead ends and retracing our steps, we finally get to a huge opening with a boulder the size of a Gerant blocking our way.

Ariz’s foreign language doesn’t work on this boulder and we are stuck here for a while until Glazia finds a hidden switch.

“Could it be a trap?” she asks.

“There is only one way to find out,” Cartu replies and pushes the switch.

Glazia yells in alarm as an axe swings down from above, threatening to slice them into halves but being supers, they get out of the way in time. There’s no doubt a human would have been killed if caught in that situation. There is one good thing though. The swinging axe hits the other side of the wall and we hear the sound of metal colliding. It’s another switch! And the boulder begins to roll to the side as the axe comes swinging back down. To prevent any accidents from happening, Cartu grabs it by the handle and returns it to its hiding place in the ceiling of the tunnel.

Now that the boulder is no longer an obstacle, we are free to enter the castle. But what we see once we get into the dining hall throws us off completely. Because the last thing we are expecting to see is Ms Pink, sitting like the regal she is, sipping out of a tea cup like a dainty princess, and chatting merrily with Qas Sogok, the very man she is supposed to be investigating.

X

Happy Lunar New Year everybody!!! ❤

Distracted

All that time and effort put into studying for this test has been a complete waste. What’s the point of studying so hard for a test when she can’t even concentrate on it? Yoona puts her pen down in frustration. Ms Kim just has to choose test day to wear such a pretty black lacy floral dress. Not only that, she has to wear chic black heels as well, adding another layer of femininity to her look. It’s too much. Doesn’t Ms Kim know how distracting she is? How can she do this on test day?

Yoona squeezes her eyes shut and plants her head on her little flip-out table. This test is a goner. Everything she studied over the past week and left the building. The questions don’t make sense. The facts have gone and buried themselves in the muck of her memories.

But if she fails this test . . . no. She can’t. She has never failed a test before. This is not going to be the first. Not in Ms Kim’s class. She wouldn’t be able to hold her head up high in front of Ms Kim again. She has to pass it for Ms Kim. Especially after Ms Kim spent time to help her.

Drawing her body back to its full length, Yoona sits straight and takes another look at the questions. Just one question at a time, Yoona. You can do it!

=

Test done. Assignments done. Time to play. Yoona is out with her closest friends, Sooyoung, Yuri and Seohyun, at the shopping mall when she spots a familiar figure. Shorter than the average female and slim to boot, the woman’s shoulder-length bob moves with the turns of her head. She stares at the figure as they draw closer and feels her heartbeat accelerate.

Sooyoung nudges her suddenly. “Hey, isn’t that Ms Kim?”

“Ms Kim?” Yoona pretends not to have seen their teacher. “Oh.”

Sooyoung nudges her again. Harder. “Go say hi to your favourite teacher.”

“Who’s her favourite teacher?” Yuri asks.

“This is why you don’t go to a different school from your buddies,” Sooyoung teases. Then, jerking her head, she adds, “Two o’clock. Blonde hair. Short. Cute.”

“Oh . . . she’s your favourite teacher?” Yuri joins in. “Go say hi!”

Seohyun gives Yoona a push too. “You shouldn’t be rude and pretend you didn’t see your teacher. Greet her politely.”

Yoona throws her hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay. I’m going.” Then, she turns to Sooyoung. “You.” Grabbing Sooyoung’s hand, she tugs. “You’re coming with me.”

“Me too,” says Yuri.

“Me three—four,” says Seohyun.

Ignoring her friends the best she can, Yoona walks up to Ms Kim. “Hello, Ms Kim.”

Ms Kim smiles, flashing those beautiful teeth again. “Hello, Yoona. Sooyoung.” She turns to Yuri and Seohyun. “Are they your friends?”

“They’re my best friends.”

“I’ve never seen them before. Do they go to our school?”

“No. Yuri and Seohyun are in another school together.”

Ms Kim smiles again, a little dimple appearing at the side. How cute! “I see. Your friends are very pretty too, just like you.”

Yoona blushes. “Thank you, Ms Kim.”

“Taeyeon! There you are!” A loud voice bursts onto the scene and turns all their heads. A pair of bright smiling eyes and smooth flowing black curls greet Yoona as she looks at the newcomer calling her teacher by name. Her heart might have just been stabbed a little. “Sorry, I’m late—” The smiling eyes turn and look at the four of them. “Are they your students?”

Ms Kim chuckles. “Just two of them. Let me introduce you. Students, this is my friend, Miyoung.”

Miyoung? Ms Kim’s friend who calls her Taeyeon like they’re the best of friends. I wanna call Ms Kim like this too. I wanna be Ms Kim’s friend too.

“Yoona!”

The sharpest elbow in the world jabs Yoona back into the scene of Ms Kim and friend staring at her in amusement.

“Oww! Seohyun!”

“Your teacher is talking to you. Don’t be rude,” says Seohyun with a serious expression.

Yoona blinks. “I’m sorry. I got distracted.”

Ms Kim chuckles. “That’s alright.” She turns to Miyoung and grins. “She’s my most distracted student. And she claims that it’s my fault she’s distracted. Me. Distracting?”

Yoona is stewing in embarrassment. It doesn’t help when Miyoung grins and pats Yoona’s shoulder. Yoona tries to smile but she’s sure it looks awkward. “Just like me. My teacher always scolded me for being distracted too.” With a lower voice, Miyoung adds, “I couldn’t stop talking to my friends. But I’m a sociable person.” She winks. “It’s my strength.”

Ms Kim smacks Miyoung’s arm. “Don’t flirt with my student. Geez.”

Miyoung simply grins and hooks her hand on Ms Kim’s arm. “Well, we should get going. It was nice meeting you, Ms Kim’s students!”

“Bye, Ms Kim and Miyoung,” the four of them chorus.

But as they walk away in opposite directions, Yoona can’t help but look back. Wistful. Longing. If only she could be Ms Kim’s friend too.

=

Still more to come … 🙂

Distractor

Yoona finds herself pacing the corridor leading to the staff offices. She doesn’t really want to do this but the test is coming up in three days and she needs help. Desperately. Sooyoung tried to help her for the past two days but they both quickly realized that Sooyoung probably needs as much help as she does at this point so this helpline has gone south.

“Yoona? Is that you?”

Yoona freezes in mid-step and puts her foot down abruptly, spinning around to face the music. Her teacher looks fresh with fair complexion and pretty, short ash brown hair teasing her shoulders and her voice is as soothing as usual. Very attractive. “Good afternoon, Ms Kim.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I . . . well, I actually need your help but I wasn’t sure if you’d be in so I was kinda thinking if I should look for you in the office.”

Ms Kim takes a quick look at her watch. It’s a Casio, Yoona observes. An elegant, white strapped Sheen. “I have a meeting in twenty minutes.” Yoona’s heart sinks. “But it shouldn’t last long. So if you can wait something like thirty minutes, I can meet you at one of the study benches.”

Yoona smiles as her heart lifts. “I can wait. I’ll wait at a bench in the next block. Near the vending machine.”

“I think I know where that is. I’ll see you there.”

With happy feet, Yoona half-skips to the next block. The bench next to the vending machine is unoccupied. Fantastic. She sits down and puts her backpack beside her. Taking out her art textbook, she resumes reading from where she last stopped. Post-Impressionism to Fauvism. “Gawd,” Yoona mumbles under her breath. How is she going to pass the test with just three days left?

She’s reading and thinking deep thoughts when a voice interrupts. “Yoona, thanks for waiting.”

Yoona’s head snaps up too quickly. She may have pulled a vein. “Hi, Ms Kim.” That was smooth, Yoona. Not awkward at all. Nope.

Ms Kim smiles. Her teeth are really neat and pretty. “So how can I help?”

Yoona flashes a sheepish grin. “Maybe if you could explain Post-Impressionism to Fauvism . . .?”

Ms Kim spins the textbook around and glances at the page before turning it back to Yoona. “You’ve made a lot of progress in half a week. Alright. Let’s get into it.”

=

One hour later, Yoona is smiling widely and it isn’t because she thinks Ms Kim’s blue and white striped blouse looks really good on her. Neither is it because Ms Kim is wearing a wonderfully distracting scent. It’s because Ms Kim is a really good teacher and she has unwrapped the mystery that surrounded the entire period of modern art. How does she make everything sound so simple?

“Are you good now?”

Yoona nods with enthusiasm. “Yes. Thank you so much. It’s all clear to me now.”

Ms Kim smiles. “Good. It’s all worth it then. Even if I had to knock your head at least ten times in the past hour.”

Yoona blushes. “I’m sorry, Ms Kim. You have too many distractors.”

Ms Kim looks down at herself. “Distractors?”

“Your teeth, your hair, your eyes, your nose—”

“Hold on. I thought you said my voice is distracting? When did it become all these other things?”

“I like you.” What are you saying, Yoona! “I mean, I like you as a teacher. And you’re very pretty.”

Ms Kim chuckles. “So I should wipe off my makeup and put on a deep, rough voice to get your attention back on the topic.”

“You would be pretty even without makeup, Ms Kim. You have nice big eyes and a cute little nose and your lips—” Shut up already, Yoona!

“So do you,” Ms Kim says with a smile. “You have lovely features too. Everyone says you’re the prettiest girl in the Class of 2008. I daresay, you’ll be absolutely drop-dead gorgeous when you’re my age.”

“How old are you, Ms Kim?”

“I’m six years older than you.”

“Twenty-four?”

Ms Kim smiles and nods.

“Oh . . .”

“Anymore questions?”

Yoona shakes her head. Then nods.

“Last question for you.”

“Do you keep in contact with students after they graduate?”

Ms Kim bows her head and laughs. “You’re a really smart girl, Yoona.” She nods. “Yes, I do have the numbers of some students and we meet up sometimes, the whole class.”

Ms Kim’s answer perks Yoona up considerably and she flashes a wide grin. “I see. Okay. Thank you, Ms Kim.”

Ms Kim’s chuckle is an important part of her charm. “Study hard, Yoona. I hope you do well for the test this week.”

“I will, Ms Kim.”

Ms Kim’s parting smile will be in Yoona’s daydreams. “Go home safe, Yoona.”

Yoona’s smile is bright as she gets up to leave as well. Ms Kim has just made her day. Her week, even. Now to find her pig of a friend, Sooyoung, who is probably hanging out in the canteen with their classmates, and eating.

=

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Distraction

Another picture falls to the ground again. Ms Kim bends to pick it up and the prettiest girl in class giggles when the blue pencil skirt stretches around the innerwear, revealing its seams. The picture goes back on the whiteboard and Ms Kim draws a circle around it. It is a picture of an artist. Who it is isn’t the focus right now. It isn’t going to be the focus later either. In fact, it isn’t going to be the focus, ever.

“Yoona,” a friend whispers, “what?”

“What?” she whispers back.

“You giggled.”

“Did I?”

“Pfft, are you losing your mind?”

Yoona ignores her friend and continues staring at Ms Kim. She likes Ms Kim’s voice and the way she looks. Because of Ms Kim, this is her favourite class but it’s also a class she isn’t doing well in for the same reason. How ironic.

“This is going to be included in next week’s term test so take note. Draw lines, stars, highlight it or whatever you guys do.”

“Test?” Yoona sits up straight, her cheek leaving her fist. She turns to her friend sitting next to her. “Sooyoung, did Ms Kim say test?”

Sooyoung rolls her eyes as she nods. “Yeah, there’s gonna be a test next week. Are you sleeping with your eyes open again?”

Yoona rolls her eyes right back. “I’m just surprised.”

“It’s in the calendar, you idiot. Why are you acting so strange? You’re not like this in other classes. And isn’t Ms Kim your favourite teacher?”

“She is.”

“You’re not making sense.”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“I’ll understand after lunch.”

“Food again. When will you stop eating so much?”

“When I’m dead.”

“Hey, you two. Yoona. Sooyoung. Do you have something to share with the class?”

Yoona turns red and her usual wit abandons her in her hour of need.

“Nothing much, Ms Kim,” Sooyoung replies. “It’s just that, well, I’m hungry.”

The class bursts out laughing and even Ms Kim smiles. She turns to look at the clock hanging on the wall behind her then addresses the class again. “How would you like an early lunch break?” The class erupts in approving cheers and applause and Ms Kim chuckles. “Okay, okay. Message received. Just remember to study for the test next week, alright?”

Yoona turns to Sooyoung. “You go ahead and grab seats. I’ll catch up quickly.”

“Where are you going?”

“I need to ask Ms Kim a few questions.”

“Yeah, you’re gonna need all the help you can get for the test. Okay, I’ll grab seats. See ya.”

Yoona stuffs her empty notebook into her bag, slots her pen into the side pocket and walks down the stairs to where Ms Kim is packing her things. “Ms Kim, may I ask you something?”

Ms Kim looks up from her laptop and smiles. “Of course. What is it?”

“I’m confused with the concepts of contemporary, modern and postmodern art.”

“That’s quite a big question,” Ms Kim says with a smile. Taking another look at the clock, she turns back and says, “The next class will start soon. We have to vacate this place first. Come, follow me.”

Yoona slips her thumbs under her backpack straps and hangs her hands on them as she follows Ms Kim out of the lecture theatre and down the corridor to a study bench nearby. Ms Kim puts her laptop bag and file on the bench and sits. Yoona follows suit.

“Okay, mmm, where should I begin?”

“I don’t really know the difference. Modern, postmodern. It’s confusing. And contemporary. Isn’t contemporary modern? And postmodern should be more modern than modern so isn’t it contemporary too?”

Ms Kim chuckles and her row of white teeth, perfectly positioned in a straight line, gleam in the lights of day. It makes Yoona smile too. “Modern art has a time frame. So do postmodern and contemporary art. But beyond the time frame, it’s mainly about the type of art. The style of art. It is the expression of man, defined by the times.”

“But how do you tell them apart?”

“You’re really unprepared for the test next week, aren’t you.”

Yoona looks down at her fingers. “I’m sorry, I haven’t been paying attention in class.”

“Why? I heard that you’re a good student.”

Yoona’s eyes bolt up to Ms Kim’s bespectacled ones and she bites her lip. “Well, it’s because I’ve been distracted.”

“By?”

“By you.” Yoona winces the second those words come flying out of her mouth. It sounds totally wrong and it’s incredibly embarrassing. “I mean, your voice. You have a very nice voice. Like a DJ.”

“A DJ?” Ms Kim’s eyebrows rise as she makes a sliding gesture with her hand.

“No, no. I mean like a radio DJ.”

“I see. And is my nice DJ voice distracting you from the lesson?”

“It’s not your fault. I don’t know why I’m distracted either. But your voice is like a lullaby. I feel very comfortable, and safe, and I guess, my mind starts wandering.”

“Well, there are a few more lessons left this term. Do you think you can pay attention to what I’m saying instead of the way my voice sounds?”

“I can try . . .”

Ms Kim smiles again, the corners of her eyes curling up in a cute way. “I’ll hold you to that.” She stands and picks up her belongings. “Study hard for the test next week, okay, Yoona? If you have anymore questions while studying, come and see me and I’ll help you.”

Yoona nods and smiles. “Okay.”

=

This is not the end 🙂

Picture Perfect

Tiffany smiles at the picture on her phone. Taeyeon, her flatmate, sitting on the floor, playing with Princess, one of the Maltese pups they own. The other pup, Prince, sitting like the dude he is, staring off into space. She remembers the day she took the picture.

It was just another day of the week. She was talking to the pet groomer about dog care, probably, and paying the month’s worth of bills. They visit the shop and leave Prince and Princess in the groomer’s care so often that they started a tab at the shop to avoid the hassle of making a transaction each time. Upon turning around, she was treated to the sight. Such a quaint, charming sight. Unable to resist, she picked up her phone and took a picture.

She likes to take candid pictures of her flatmate. Taeyeon, her long-time friend and confidant. Taeyeon, the person she runs to whenever she has a problem, whenever she needs a listening ear, whenever she feels alone. She likes to capture moments of her flatmate. Moments that she can reminisce in future, ten years down the road. Moments that are timeless, precious, as much as they may seem mundane to others.

Tens, hundreds, thousands of such moments are stored in her phone. Being a little paranoid, she backs her stuff up on online storage as well. The best ones, she posts on social media platforms like Instagram. Like this one. Filtered into tones of grey, it is a moment in time that she wants to cherish forever. It may seem a little obsessive to take this many pictures of her friend, but she thinks it’s better to take too many pictures than to miss out on a precious moment like this.

She is still looking at the picture when a call comes in. It’s Taeyeon. She answers.

“Fany, what are you doing?”

“Looking at a picture of you.”

“Of me? Which picture is it?”

“You on the floor with Prince and Princess.”

A pause. “Could you be more specific?” A laugh.

Tiffany laughs too. “I know, I take too many pictures of you.”

“Not that I mind,” Taeyeon says, sounding cheerful.

“I know you don’t,” Tiffany replies with a chortle. “You obviously don’t.”

“Why would I, when you always manage to make me look good in them?”

With a grin, Tiffany says, “I should take a picture of you looking horrible sometime.”

“You’re welcome to.” A beat. “Just don’t post it.”

“Would it really bother you if I posted an ugly picture of you?”

“Not really, but there’re sides of me I’d only show to you and I don’t want the whole wide world looking at it.”

“I’m really honoured, to be the person you’re willing to show your ugly side to.”

“You’d better be honoured.”

“Anyway, why did you call?”

“Ah, I’m at a shop selling clocks and I was thinking of buying one.”

“For yourself?”

“For the living room. The clock stopped working.”

“Right, go ahead and buy one then.”

“Trust my taste in clocks?”

Tiffany chuckles. “I trust you.”

“Okay,” says Taeyeon with a smile in her voice. “I’ll get one. And er . . . I’ll be home soon.”

“I’ll be home after my job is done.”

“Alright, will you be home before eleven?”

“I’ll be done with work before eleven, honey.”

“Come home before eleven, and we can watch the show together.”

“Alright, see you soon, bye, boo.”

A pause. “Bye.”

With a happy heart, Tiffany puts her phone down. It’s time to get back to work.

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Deal Breaker 02

 

Entering the mistrepool called Leous, the girls invariably begin eyeing the glinting glass walls that rise high all around them. They are on the lookout for any possible snipers and such but it is hard to tell. Leous is a busy place. Full of commercial towers. Full of business suits bustling about in broad daylight. Full of other hovercars like the ones they’re in. The snipers (if there are any) could be anywhere.

“Spotted anything?” Taeyeon asks as she makes another turn in the never-ending maze of a mistrepool. In a big, busy place like this, roads can be confusing and getting lost in the concrete and glass jungle is about as common as hitting a stop traffic signal.

Yuri puts down her zoomer and shakes her head. “Nothing sighted.”

“We’ll comb another cluster.”

Over on the other hovercar, Sunny and Summer are scanning the surroundings for any sign of a lethal weapon as well. None are in sight and they report this information to Taeyeon and Yuri. After combing two more clusters each, both Taeyeon and Yoona are satisfied with the search and put their zoomers away. On to the SM building they go.

It is an unusual choice for a meeting place, considering how well known the SM building is. Located in central Leous, it is the premier media centre, housing a theatre, café and offices, rising high into the sky. Celebrities are known to visit the building and human traffic is high in this place. If the meeting were meant to be private, this would be one of the worst places for it.

Yoona parks her hovercar at a hovermobile storage tank (HOST) adjacent to the building while Taeyeon parks hers in the building. The three of them fan out around the sides of the building while Taeyeon enters the lobby with Yuri. All five proceed with caution, on full alertness, ready for any emergency situation.

The crowd inside is thick and as petite as Taeyeon is, she finds it hard to manoeuvre through the throngs of people milling about. Yuri must be having a hard time sticking close to her, thinks Taeyeon, so she reaches back to grasp her friend’s hand. Only, it isn’t.

“I’ll take that as a sign of willingness on your part to follow me,” a foreign voice speaks. It is low and textured like sand on the beach but there is no doubt that it belongs to a female.

Taeyeon releases the hand immediately but it is too late. The hand has taken over hers with an unshakable grip. So strong for a female.

“Uh, uh. I’ve got you now. You’re not running away from me.”

The pressure on Taeyeon’s hand guides her through the crowd towards a stairway exit. She contemplates making a run for it, or screaming something like ‘FIRE’ to create a diversion but the mystery female presses close and says, “We have your friends too. If you try something funny to get away, you might succeed, but your friends will die instant deaths.”

“What is this? Some kind of sick game?” Taeyeon mutters in disgust, even as a dash of fear slips into her heart.

The husky voice merely chuckles. “You could call it that.” A push. “Now, be good and follow me.”

Taeyeon suspects it may be a bluff, but under these circumstances, there’s no way for her to test the waters, neither is she willing to gamble on the lives of her most cherished friends. In the end, she finds herself entering the stairwell and down the stairs. Not halfway down a flight however, something pricks her neck and that’s the last thing she remembers.

Soft voices are murmuring in the background when Taeyeon comes to. The next thing she notices is the ache in her neck. That is probably caused by her hanging head so she lifts it and opens her eyes. Her movements are slower than she would like and her head is heavy like a sack of soggy rice. The only view she has is that of a concrete grey wall, unrefined and undecorated. And a ceiling adorned by a single florescent light tube. It is safe to say she’s not feeling great at the moment.

“Our heroine is up,” says the same sandy voice.

Taeyeon twists, trying to get a look at her abductor but her arms, legs and chest are secured to the chair, preventing her from moving excessively.

“Eager to see me, aren’t you.”

The mocking voice infuriates Taeyeon but she holds her temper, knowing what she stands to lose should her abductor be displeased. Instead, she puts on her calmest voice and says, “I don’t know what kind of plan you’re trying to pull off here but I’m willing to play along.” After a pause, she adds, “As long as my friends are unharmed.” The laughter that follows agitates her even more but she forces herself to inhale deeply. “It was worth a try.”

“You were right. This is a game. A sick game perhaps, but a game nonetheless. So here’s how to play it. We have all five of you in separate rooms right now. These rooms are sealed, airtight once the ventilators are shut off. That is to say, if some poisonous gas were to slip into the room by accident . . . you and your friends are probably not gonna make it out alive.”

Shaking with both anger and fear, Taeyeon retorts, “It’s not a game if I don’t stand a chance of winning.”

“Correction. It’s not a fair game if you don’t stand a chance of winning. But who’s into fair games these days?” Another laugh. “Alright, alright. Since you brought it up, let’s modify the game a little. I’ll give you a chance to win. Say the word, and I’ll gas your four friends in exchange for your life.”

“No,” says Taeyeon, without the slightest trace of hesitation. “No way.”

“Fine, let’s negotiate. Give me one name and I’ll let that friend go with you.”

This time, Taeyeon’s rejection does not come as easily, but she says no in the end.

“You’re a hard-core haggler, really.” A sigh. “Okay. You’re really making it hard for me here. Two. I’ll let two friends leave with you.”

Who is this deranged woman? How is she capable of talking about people’s lives with such . . . callousness?

“Let me see your face. I want to see who I’m playing this sick game with,” Taeyeon demands. She will have a good look at the woman’s face and she will hunt this woman down if she escapes from this hellhole.

“Not before you give me your answer, Taeyeon.”

Squeezing her eyes shut, Taeyeon takes another deep breath. Two friends. That’s half. She doubts this madwoman is going to give her anymore than that. But what if she’s so insane that she does give in? And who’s to say that she won’t be crazy enough to gas them all once she’s done with the game anyway.

“No.”

“My, my . . . I could see the wheels turning in your head. Somebody was thinking very, very hard about this. But somebody made a mistake and played beyond their hand.”

A presence brushes by and Taeyeon tenses, gearing up to see her abductor’s face at last. The woman is shockingly normal. In fact, she looks better than normal. She’s pretty. From the mess of black curls to the smiling round eyes to the curve of her hips, this woman standing before her is someone she would be happy to hit on if she were to meet her at a gallery or club or café. How can someone who looks so normal be so insane?

“You are trying for three but you’re not gonna get it. You can only save two.” The woman flashes a beautiful smile that would have stolen her heart if it belonged to anybody else but right now, it is downright sickening to look at. “Choose wisely.”

Taeyeon wants to scream. She wants to tear off this woman’s head, as charming as she looks. But she can’t. She can’t even scratch her nose if she needs to. She has to keep herself under control. Losing her mind to a criminally insane woman is the last thing she needs. Instead, she thinks. All is not lost. She can save two. And maybe . . .

“Am I allowed a trade?”

A cultured eyebrow lifts but the rest of the woman’s face remains passive. “What kind of trade?”

“My life for my friend’s. It would still be three.”

“I can count to three by myself, thank you very much. And my answer is a no. Choose two and no more negotiating or I’ll just gas them all.”

There is a nagging feeling that all of this is for naught but Taeyeon refuses to let go of the slim hope that she may salvage two out of four lives by supplying two names. No matter how hard it is, it has to be done. It has to be. And actually, if she were to simplify her thought process, it really isn’t that hard to choose two after all.

“Sunny and Summer.”

“Those two? Why?”

“You didn’t say my answers had to come with reasons.”

“I’m saying it right now. Tell me your reasons.”

“Sunny and Summer—” Taeyeon bites her lip. What if this bit of information inspires this woman to hatch another sick game? What if this psychotic woman uses the knowledge to torture Sunny and Summer instead? “Sunny and Summer are strong enough to live on with the guilt,” she says at last. It is somewhat true but it isn’t information that can be used against them.

“How do you know they are strong enough? What if they’re not?”

“Sunny and Summer are very supportive of each other.”

“And the rest of you are not?”

“Sunny and Summer are better with words. They’ll be able to comfort me well.” Taeyeon cringes internally at how pathetic her comeback is but the madwoman does not seem to have noticed. She is preoccupied with something attached to her ear that Taeyeon hadn’t noticed before. It is skin-coloured and looks like part of the woman’s ear. What is it?

The woman nods and says, “I’m done over here as well.” She pauses to listen, then nods again. “I’ve got enough. See you in the main.”

“Who are you talking to?”

“My accomplices.” The sickening smile widens. “It seems like your friends have passed the test as well. This is unprecedented. Unique. Amazing.”

“What test? What are you talking about?”

“All of you have passed the test.”

“What test?”

Suddenly, the smile on the woman’s face gains a shipload of warmth. “I am not a crazy kidnapper out to kill innocent ladies in a psychotic game of multiple choice. I am Tiffany Hwang, leading agent of an unknown secret service called Security Network Service Defence.”