This story is a response to this writing prompt on Reddit.
Photo by: Timothy Eberly
5am alarm. Wake up hungry. Always hungry.
Breakfast is at 9am. Alarm is 5am.
Throw on the offensively pink designer sweats some sponsor gave us. Then workout in the choreography room in the basement with the other four girls.
Living the K-Pop mansion dream. A mansion with no privacy that a dozen people walk into and out of every day to keep our machine going.
In the basement all five of us are bodies just hanging on our skeletons. Slow cooked oxtail meat. Dark eyes, frowns chiselled onto our faces from morning after morning of this.
The fans never see us this way. And we don’t anymore. We workout in front of mirrors but we look past our own reflections. Just silhouettes.
General workout dissolves into choreography after an hour. New choreographer. Still getting used to him. He’s a bit harsher. I’ll get blowback for that from Hyemi.
New routine today. Something… can’t remember what… until the music registers. It’s for our new single. A cover of Baby, I’m a Star. We ruined it. Sorry Prince. Can’t even tell if I have a lead or backing vocal on this one. Everyone’s voice smudged into the same autotuned tone.
The five of us are close. Too close, like family. Close enough to hate each other – to hurt each other for sport.
After showers it’s another fluorescently coloured sweatsuit from another sponsor. Breakfast in the huge kitchen. All the team is already there. Chefs, managers, minders, all of them.
One of the minders asks us if we want anything to drink. Effie asks for boba tea with extra sugar and cheese foam. Not allowed obviously. It’s the same joke every day. But we still smirk.
If you look fat for the video, you don’t look fat once, you look fat every time the video plays. The last one played over a billion times on YouTube.
Nicotine is allowed. Suppresses your appetite and our careers will be long over before that addiction has any visible effect.
The other vice we get at breakfast is our phones. After they’ve been scanned by the social media manager. Any texts from males are questioned. That’s my fault too.
She updates us on the social media plan. The weirdo is back in Yuna’s DMs. “Why don’t you just block him,” she asks the social media manager.
“Don’t block, it’s a form of acknowledgement,” the four of us say in a miserable chorus.
“What’s he saying?” asks Yuna.
“I’m not supposed to tell you,” confides the social media manager. “But this one is weird.” We’ve all learned to go silent in these moments. People fill silences. “He just keeps saying he wants to move in. Move in here and live. He sends screenshots of furniture he wants to bring. Asks about the dimensions and colours in the house.”
“Does he know where we live?” I ask.
“Doubt it,” she says.
Effie bursts out laughing then stops abruptly when we look at her. Yuna is looking at her feet hanging off the breakfast stool.
I feel sorry for the guy. Everything is designed to make people obsessed with us. It’s no surprise some people literally become obsessed.
The social media manager walks away to get breakfast.
“What do you think of the new choreographer?” asks Yuna flatly, still looking down. I know where this is going.
“He seems a little less chill,” says Fei. “Less vibes.”
“Yeah less vibes,” says Yuna. She looks at me, “Why don’t you fuck this one as well. We’ll see if the next one is better.”
“Don’t…” says Hyemi. “We’ve all broken the rules…”
“I broke up with…” she starts crying. “To be in this group.”
The social media manager comes back over to the table. “What happened?” she mouths. The girls shrug. She takes Yuna away.
“She doesn’t mean it,” says Hyemi. “It’s just the stalker.”
But she does mean it. “I’m going for a smoke,” I say.
Slippers on, slide my bony frame through the glass doors and lock it with the key I’m not supposed to have. Guaranteed privacy if only for five minutes.
Huge manicured lawn dusted with frost. A patio with integrated barbeque. Concrete benches either side of a long, all-weather picnic table made from some sort of resin. Luxury mod-cons for food we’re not allowed to eat.
A fence lines the garden, tall enough so I can only see the tops of the other mansions. Bushes and small trees cropped into unnatural shapes scattered around the edges. A gate leads to the private pathways that connect the mansions in this area.
Light the cigarette and draw in the first drag. The best drag. The breaking of the fast. The petit mort of withdrawal.
Before the relationship Ji Sung, the last choreographer, I was numb. Just focus on making it – the first hit. That happened. Then focus on the tour. Then focus on recording the new album. Then the product deals. Then the reality show. Success after success. But feel nothing. Until Ji Sung. An ember of lust in a canyon of materialism.
The gate is open at the bottom of the garden. Someone will get fired for that. I walk down to close it. The frost melting unevenly on the lawn. Sometimes footsteps crunch, sometimes they squelch. The house keys jangle in my pocket.
I couldn’t go back to numbness after Ji Sung. So I filled the void with hatred. Almost as engrossing as lust – if you commit to it. Hatred for my bandmates, hatred for my job, for the music, for the fans for…
The lock on the gate is broken.
I turn to my left. A man is hiding behind one of the larger bushes. Slightly crouched to stay hidden. The fur hood of a dirty parka coat crushes his face into a sweaty dumpling. Unkempt hair stuck to his forehead. A furniture catalogue in his hand.
“Hi,” I say, suddenly conscious of how far I am from the house. How long is this garden? Half a soccer field? And the door is locked.
“Is Yana in the house?” He asks.
“Yes,” I say, then trying to recover, “But she’s busy.” It made sense in my head.
“Oh,” he says, seemingly understanding. “I can wait.” I don’t know what to say next. After a few seconds he fills the silence with, “Are you thinking of running away?”
“The gate,” he gestures. “If you want to run away, now’s your chance, I’ll cover for you.”
I look at the gate and then back to him, “Run away?”
He pulls a single key from his dirty coat pocket, “My car is parked at the bottom of the path. On the little service road. Swap you?”
“Swap this key for your keys.” He looks down at my pocket.
I look at the gate, look at him, look at the keys. “Swap our keys?”
“If you want.” He smiles warmly.
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