Chapter 84: When You’re Missing Pieces of the Puzzle (1)
TL: emptycube / ED: Isleidir
“Are they all here to see the concert?”
The girls looked out the window with open mouths.
Everyone’s eyes were so wide that it seemed like they would pop out if they were hit on the back of the head. My eyes were no different since I was looking out the passenger seat window in surprise.
The last recording for Next K-Star was a concert. It was a concert where the eight teams would show the performances they had showed off in the missions.
Since it was a hot topic, I expected there to be a lot of people. However, I was speechless when I saw the number of people gathered at the entrance of the concert hall. Although there were audiences at music broadcasts and regional events, the scale was incomparable to this.
“Ho-how many people are coming today?”
“Since they said the tickets sold out, there should be more than five thousand.”
The traitor replied from the driver’s seat.
Im Seoyoung displayed unusual behavior as she bit her nails. Since it seemed like she would even eat her fingers at this rate, I moved my arm behind me.
“Here, since there aren’t any dolls, grab onto this.”
“You will be blessed!”
Im Seoyoung grabbed my arm.
Humans only had two hands, but why did it seem like the number of hands multiplied? Thinking something was strange, I turned around and saw that Lee Songha was holding my hand as well. She was rarely nervous during drama shoots, yet it seemed she still found performances to be difficult. Her face was stiff.
Well, it made sense since it hadn’t been long since she heard that she alone was lowering the team’s average.
“Uh, that person….”
Suddenly, Lee Taehee narrowed her eyes as she saw the crowd outside the car window.
“Why? Did you find someone you know?”
“I think I saw him back when we held a guerilla concert in Hongdae.”
Kim Hyunjo was astonished at her reply.
“You still remember someone you saw then?”
“He stood out because of his large figure and he was the first person to give us a present.”
“Ah! The butter cookies?!”
Im Seoyoung stuck against the window. The butter cookies they received back then were still ‘preserved’ in the living room. LJ threw them out multiple times because they were moldy, but Im Seoyoung brought them back every time. They had a long life.
“Then did he come to see us? He probably came to see us, right?”
“Don’t know. He might have changed the team he supports during this time.”
LJ said something that lacked any dreams or hopes. However, Im Seoyoung’s eyes were already shining. Since she was someone who was concerned ‘fans’ to an unusual degree, it seemed her confidence and motivation were surging at the thought that a fan had come.
It wasn’t only Im Seoyoung, the other girls were the same.
The atmosphere in the van gradually heated up.
Since Next K-Star was a competition program, there were many in the audience who came to support a specific team. Also, there was bound to be a war of nerves when fans supporting different teams gathered in one place.
“Is Lee Taehee really that good at singing? I don’t know about that.”
“I’m not even sure if LJ is good at rapping or not.”
“There are probably a lot of people who voted for Neptune because of Lee Songha’s looks? But is she really that pretty? I don’t know if she’s that pretty.”
“Hey, to be honest, she really is that pretty. If you don’t know this, then memorize it.”
A few who came to support Sugar Cats whispered amongst each other.
Because there was a past between Sugar Cats and Im Seoyoung, there was a mood of being wary of Neptune amongst their fans from the start.
It was fine in the beginning since Sugar Cats was ranked high enough to compete against the boy groups while Neptune was at the bottom. However, as episodes aired, Neptune had long since passed them after being neck and neck for a while.
Because of this, there was an especially large number of haters amongst the Sugar Cats fans.
Although a few of the audience members who came to support Neptune revealed displeased expressions, the Sugar Cats fans continued to whisper.
From behind them, a large hand that was the size of a saucepan tapped their shoulders.
“Hey, you people who know nothing, please be quiet.”
“What? Can’t we even spea…!”
They suddenly halted while turning around out of irritation.
His shoulders were broad and his figure was well-built like an athlete. The Sugar Cats fans crouched quietly. If they got into an argument with the man behind them, they thought they might spectate the afterlife instead of the concert.
Just then, a cameraman approached them carrying a 6mm camera.
He shoved his camera towards the man behind them.
“I would like to ask for an interview. Who did you come to support?”
“I came to support Neptune.”
The Sugar Cats fans in front of him crouched down even lower at his words. While they were whispering to each other if they should give their seats up and look for another place to sit-
The woman accompanying the man smiled cunningly.
“Hey, why are so serious all the way here? ‘I am Neptune’s fan! I danced with my hands in the air after successfully getting a ticket!’ You have to be like that so that you can get on the broadcast and show your face to Neptune!”
The man glared at her, but the woman didn’t pay him any heed and said to the cameraman,
“We were there during the guerilla concert too. At first, he snorted, saying that idol performances were lame.”
“When I told that he might end up becoming a fan of one of them and line up for their autograph a month later, he told me to stop with the nonsense. Yet he’s like this now because he became a fan of Neptune.”
A chroma-key fabric hung like a curtain on one wall and four chairs crowded below it.
The Neptune members sat on the chairs and prepared for the preliminary interview.
“This is the last interview.”
Producer Go Joontae said while waving a densely filled questionnaire.
Maybe it was because this was the last, but he looked less malicious today. His eyes, which had been filled with the obsession of raising the ratings, and his tongue, which tried its best to make them say more provocative remarks, were calm.
“At the first recording, five out of the seven teams picked Neptune as last place. However, today, which is the final day, you have reached third place in the overall ranking. As many complications as there were, do you reminisce about the past?”
Right, Im Seoyoung was frozen stiff when she first heard those words.
However, like Producer Go Joontae said, Neptune was third.
Punchline was first, and considering that the second place was also a boy group, Neptune was first out of the girl groups. Even excluding the firepower for their fans, there were many who thought that their rank would go up.
“Honestly, there are times when I’m surprised when I wake up. Thinking it was a dream.”
Im Seoyoung pressed her chest as she replied,
“Not so long ago, I was so worried that the team would be disbanded that I felt I was standing on the edge of a cliff, but my world has changed in only four months. I would be surprised, thinking it was a dream, then, when I realized it wasn’t, I would become so happy.”
Her happiness was displayed through her expression and voice.
Questions continued for a long while. Only after twice the time of other teams’ interviews had passed did the preliminary interview end. When I looked at the time, it was almost time for the performance. I was about to leave right away when Producer Go Joontae held me back.
“Wait, I would like to interview Mr. Sunwoo a little.”
“If you think about it, Mr. Sunwoo is the one that brought us together. If Mr. Sunwoo didn’t approach me four months ago, would today even have happened?”
Producer Go Joontae said with a bitter expression,
“Let’s do an interview. I’m still being scolded from my superiors because the attempt to cast Mr. Seo Jijoon fell through.”
That was good to hear.
Since Kim Hyunjo left me behind after telling me to do the interview, I did an interview that wasn’t scheduled. Although I didn’t know if my interview would affect the ratings at all, it seemed Producer Go Joontae was satisfied nevertheless.
After finishing everything, I awkwardly shook Producer Go Joontae’s hand, while thinking,
‘Let’s not meet in the future.’
20 minutes before standby.
A heavy tension hung in the waiting room. It felt like there wasn’t enough oxygen.
Sugar Cats’ performance was going on outside. I could hear the screams of thousands of people all the way here.
Neptune’s first performance was right after them. The girls each had their own way of brushing off the tension. Im Seoyoung was breathing deeply while hugging a large bag, and Lee Taehee and LJ were concentrating with earphones in their ears.
Also, Lee Songha sat quietly next to me.
While even the sounds of breathing were silent, Lee Songha’s phone vibrated.
When I glanced at the screen, the phone number was saved as ‘Home’. Grabbing her phone, Lee Songha hung up without hesitation. Then she completely turned off her phone and put it in her bag.
“You can take it. You have time for a brief call.”
At my words, Lee Songha shook her head.
“I don’t need to take it.”
“Your heart might relax after talking with your parents.”
After thinking for a moment, Lee Songha soon mumbled,
“Also, I relax best when I with oppa.”
10 minutes before standby.
We went out of the waiting room and moved towards the stage.
Maybe it was because today was the last day or because everyone was nervous being in front of thousands of spectators, but other group members gave us words of encouragement.
We arrived backstage right after Sugar Cats’ performance ended. While the special MC and the judges had a light conversation while looking at footage, Sugar Cats came down from the stage while celebrating amongst themselves.
Then, as soon as they saw us, their complexions changed.
They had said stuff about how Lee Songha was now a one-man team and that it was troublesome that the member who was acting was the focus of a girl group, constantly rubbing us the wrong way, but it seemed they couldn’t control their expressions as they looked like they had swallowed a bug.
It was probably because Neptune, especially Im Seoyoung, came under the spotlight after Star Manager. I bet they were frustrated since they had put in a lot of energy in disregarding and being wary of Im Seoyoung for no reason.
The Sugar Cats’ leader, Han Saetbyeol, stopped beside Im Seoyoung.
“Neptune’s new song is coming out in spring, right? The one by Simon Lee?”
“We’re going to have double title tracks. The other one’s made by Taehee unni.”
Im Seoyoung said with a smile.
As she passed by, Han Saetbyeol said,
“We’re making our comeback then too. I guess we’ll see each other in music broadcasts.”
“Hello, we are Neptune!”
The girls greeted the audience when they went on stage.
Although this was a greeting they had said constantly to spread their name, there probably wasn’t anyone in the audience who didn’t know this name.
Right, it did feel reminiscent.
Soon, the instrumentals of the mission song the girls had practiced overnight began to play.
I was inwardly worried since it was their first time performing in front of such a large audience, but it was for naught. I couldn’t find a trace of nervousness from the girls on stage. They were like fish in water.
I gazed at the stage without looking away for a moment.
A smile unconsciously hung on my lips at some point.
In celebration of the last recording, we had a simple ending party.
Even though it ended after we each had a piece of cake because it was so late, it was already late into the early morning by the time I arrived home.
Depending on the streetlights, I entered the parking lot.
As if someone had left out a can of tuna, a black alley cat had its face on the ground in the corner of the parking lot. When I parked my car close to it, it raised its tail up and raised its guard against me.
I stretched after turning off the ignition. Just as I was thinking that I should forget about taking a shower and just sleep, suddenly, my vision was filled with static.
If there wasn’t any static, I would have wondered why my hand was moving on its own since I was sitting in a parked car like before.
The familiar inside of a minivan, a familiar steering wheel, and a familiar air freshener.
It was night here too.
On top of the static, there were no streetlights. It was completely dark when looking out the window. Although I could vaguely make out a building, I couldn’t see it properly. What was certain was that I wasn’t familiar with this place.
“… Then hold an interview and explain.”
I was on the phone with someone, but something was odd.
It sounded like I was threatening someone. It was similar to the time I threatened Teacher Shim Kyungtaek last time. No, to be exact, it was similar to my voice when I played back the file I had recorded.
I could hear rough breathing from the other side.
Who was it?
“This isn’t a request. If one interview isn’t enough, then do two or three and correct this situation… Unless you want to roll in the mud together.”
Although my words continued, it was far from being a hint. Instead, it made me more confused.
What about an interview and what did I mean by correcting the situation?
And what did I mean by rolling in the mud together?
My brain was complicated. The breathing on the other side only became rougher, but there wasn’t a reply yet. If I could move my head with my will, I would have immediately turned around and checked the phone number…
The growls of a cat pierced my ears.
Surprised, I turned my head. I saw the black cat, its fur was raised.
After seeing this, I realized that I had returned to the parking lot.
I swallowed my saliva and recalled the future I had seen. Although the alley cat kept making threatening sounds as it prowled around my car, I couldn’t move due to the surge of question in my head.
Just when did it occur?
At a sudden thought, I looked at the air freshener stuck in front of the passenger seat.
There was a little over half remaining. There wasn’t a big difference between the one in the future. Although I could have put on the exact one after using this one up, if that wasn’t the case, then the future could be earlier than I expected.
Who was the person I was on the phone with in the future?
Why was I threatening that person?
… Just what would happen now?