It Started With a Selca

Submitted into Contest #244 in response to: Begin or end your story with a character taking a selfie.... view prompt

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Teens & Young Adult Asian American Friendship

I lifted my phone in front of my face for the third time and grimaced at my reflection. Ugh. I hated taking selfies, but my sister, Bethany, insisted I take them and post them online so she knew I was alive. She said it was part of the experience of coming to South Korea.

As if my audition tomorrow wasn’t enough of an experience.

I put my phone face down on the table and smoothed a hand over my black hair. I took a deep breath and tried to quell the anxiety rushing through me. Tomorrow was a big day. The audition started at 7 AM and I had to be there an hour early. It was already ten at night. I should not be sitting at this café, but I couldn’t sleep. I’d thought a short walk and a cup of tea would help calm my nerves. Instead, I remembered I hadn’t posted a selfie—or selca, as they were called here—and decided I should do that before Bethany freaked out.

I took another breath and smoothed my hair again. I could do this. I would take the picture, post it, and head back to my aunt’s house. I gave a little nod and put what felt like a genuine smile on my face before I lifted the phone in front of my face again. I imagined smiling at Bethany as I adjusted how I positioned the camera. I tried a few different angles and tilted my head, but nothing felt right. Did I mention how much I hated taking selcas?

This one’s for you, Bethany, I thought and snapped the picture. Immediately, I reviewed the picture.

My eyes widened and a gasp caught in my throat. Was it—? But how? I zoomed in on the background of the picture to make sure.

Yes, it was definitely him.

Choi Jeongin had photobombed my selca.

His face appeared over my shoulder, his hand raised and fingers out in the usual peace sign. A bright smile lit his face as if he knew what he was doing. A giggle caught in my throat my skin heated and awareness filled me.

I couldn’t believe he was in my picture. Choi Jeongin was the hottest K-pop solo artist around right now. His current hit had topped all the charts. His face was everywhere, from magazines to beauty products. And now he was in my picture.

What was he doing here?

I spun around in my seat. My skin tingled as my eyes locked with his. He was still there, sitting at a table tucked into the corner of the café. That bright smile returned to his face. He nodded to the other chair at his table. Me? He wanted me to sit with him? I put a hand on my chest as if asking the question. He nodded, pointedly gazing at the chair this time. I nodded and turned around to gather my things.

My brain scrambled and my hands shook. My inner fangirl squealed and completely freaked out. I was going to sit with Choi Jeongin. We could fall in love over a cup of coffee!

Okay, so maybe not, but this was an unusual experience. Where were his bodyguards? Or his manager? Why hadn’t anyone else noticed him sitting in the corner? So many questions raced through my mind as I slung the strap of my purse over my shoulder, grabbed my jacket, and stood from my table. With a glance around to make sure nobody paid attention to me, I hurried towards the table in the corner.

“Annyeonghaseyo,” I greeted him as I sat on the chair. My stomach shuddered with nerves and my fingers curled into the fabric of my jacket, which I held in my lap. Belatedly, I realized I’d left my cup of tea at my table. Oh well. I was not going back for it.

“Annyeonghaseyo,” he said with a slight bow of his head. He shifted in his seat and leaned forward, his elbows on the table. “I hope you don’t mind that I photobombed your picture.”

What did I say? I had no idea what to say.

“Obviously, I can’t post that one. My sister will be disappointed.”

I mentally facepalmed. That’s the best I could do? I wanted to shrivel up and hide in my seat. Put my jacket over my face at the very least. My cheeks grew hot as I waited for him to say something.

“Disappointed you didn’t post a picture? Or disappointed because she doesn’t get to see the picture with me?” he asked after a long moment.

“Um, yes, both,” I said. Bethany was a bigger fan of him than I was. She’d been following his career since his debut three and a half years ago and even tried to win a video call with him last year. She would die if she knew I was sitting at a table with him right now.

He chuckled and relaxed in his seat, his dark eyes dancing with mirth. “Is that so?”

What did I just say? Yes, both what? Crap. I needed to pay attention or he was going to think I was an idiot. That was not the first impression I wanted to make.

I sheepishly smiled. “She’d be disappointed because she’s a huge fan and because if I don’t post a picture every day, she will think I’ve been kidnapped or killed,” I admitted.

“That’s a little extreme. We’re not really that violent here,” he said.

I nodded. “I know. She’s always been a little overprotective of me.”

“She is older?”

“Yes, two years older.”

He nodded like her extreme reaction made sense. I remembered he had an older sister. Maybe he understood more than I realized.

“Is this your first time in Seoul?” he asked.

I nodded as I started to relax. “Yes. I’m actually here for an audition.”

His eyes widened and he straightened in his seat. “And you came here alone to do it?”

I pushed some hair behind my ear. “Yes.”

“That’s very brave. Not many people will travel to a foreign country alone, even for something like that.”

I shrugged, suddenly self-conscious. “Music is in my soul and I love to perform.”

Recognition filled his face, brightening his smile. As I stared at his perfect teeth, I realized the words I’d spoken were the same ones he’d once said in an interview when asked why he chose to leave Canada to pursue a career in K-pop. He’d come to Seoul when he was fourteen, only three years younger than I was now.

“What song are you performing?” he asked.

“Love Wins All by IU,” I said. His eyebrows rose at that. I nodded. Yes, it was a difficult song to learn, the range in it was crazy, but I’d always loved a challenge. I wanted to do something that would show off my range and hopefully impress the judges. I’d been practicing for months with my vocal coach.

“Where is your audition tomorrow?” he asked.

My heart stuttered in its pounding against my ribs. I swallowed as my throat suddenly dried out.

“At your company,” I told him, my voice half of what it was a moment ago.

“That’s at seven. Shouldn’t you be at home trying to sleep?”

“Shouldn’t you have a bodyguard or your manager with you right now?”

My cheeks warmed again. I hadn’t meant to snap, but talking about the audition made me more nervous than I already was—especially talking about it with him. Thankfully, he didn’t seem to take my words to heart. He simply shrugged and nodded, a small smile on his lips.

“Technically, yes. But I’ve come here before without them and it’s never caused a problem, so why should tonight be any different?”

“Because tonight you’re talking to me. I could be some deranged sasaeng hellbent on making you mine.”

His head tilted back as he laughed, a full-bodied sound that reverberated through my chest. I sat in awe, the column of his neck mesmerizing me. His Adam’s apple bobbed when he sucked in a breath as he tried to calm down. I had no idea what was so funny, but I would let him laugh at my expense if I could watch him do it.

“You are not a sasaeng,” he said once he calmed down. His eyes sparkled as he grinned at me. “You would have attacked me or asked me for something by now. And you would not have been shy about telling me where your audition is tomorrow.”

Shyness overcame me. I pushed more hair behind my ear and lowered my gaze from his. I had no idea what to say. He was right; I was not a sasaeng. I hated overzealous fans who invaded idols' privacy. I was still shocked at where I was sitting and who I was talking to. I knew this wasn’t normal. Obviously, he’d come to the café to get away from the limelight and find a little quiet. Instead, he was talking to me.

“What’s your name?” he suddenly asked. My eyes jumped back to his. I couldn’t believe he had asked.

“Why do you want to know?” I asked. His smile changed into the one I’d seen him wear at fan meetings, the one that put fans at ease. I started to relax, some of my nervousness disappearing as I continued to look into his eyes.

“It’s only fair since you know my name,” he said. “Plus, then I can ask about your audition tomorrow.”

“What?” I shrieked and leaned forward in my seat, reaching for his hand without thinking about how inappropriate it was. I should not touch him. But now I clutched his hand between both of mine.

“Please don’t do that,” I begged. “I’m already so nervous about the audition. I’m not sure I’ve practiced enough and my dancing isn’t going to be as good as everyone else. Don’t ask about me at the audition.”

His other hand came up to cover both of me. “You’re really that nervous?”

I nodded, my throat too tight to speak. “Yes. Please,” I managed to say.

He gently squeezed my hands and nodded. “Okay, I won’t ask. I’m sorry I teased you.”

“Thank you,” I whispered.

His eyes locked on mine. “You have nothing to be nervous about. You will do great tomorrow.”

Tears pricked my eyes and I rapidly blinked them away. Homesickness overwhelmed me. My mom had said the same thing before I boarded the plane to come here four days ago.

“How do you know?” I asked, my voice still quiet.

He grinned, this one different than the others he’d given me. “I just have a feeling about you. You remind me of me. You came here on your own and you aren’t sure you’re good enough. More importantly, you hate taking pictures of yourself. I hated it, too, even though I knew it would be part of the job.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat and smiled, some of my nerves disappearing.

“You’ve already done the hardest part. You made it here. Going to the audition and performing will be the easy part,” he said.

I shook my head. “But what if I fail? Coming here will have been a waste of money and time.”

“Coming here is not a waste of anything. Whether you pass the audition or not, you already won. You came here and took a chance. How many other people do you know would do what you’re doing?”

“You did it.”

His grin widened. “Exactly. And look at where I am now. Sitting in this café talking to this pretty girl hoping she will believe what I’m saying.”

Pretty. Choi Jeongin said I’m pretty. Bethany was going to lose her mind once I told her about this conversation.

I grinned and sat up in my seat, straightening my shoulders. I pulled my hand back from his, some part of my brain remembering we were in a public place and he was a public figure. I didn’t need to cause a scandal for him.

“You’re beautiful,” he murmured and cleared his throat. “Now, walk into the audition tomorrow with this confidence and you’ll blow the judges away.”

“Gamsahamnida,” I said with a bow of my head.

His phone chimed with a new message before he could respond. He pulled out the device and sighed as he read the message. His enthusiasm waned as he shot off a quick reply and returned the phone to his pocket.

“Sorry about that,” he said as he straightened in his seat. “Unfortunately, I am being summoned back.”

I nodded. “I know. You can only hide in plain sight for so long.”

He nodded. “My manager will be here in five minutes.” He smiled. “Which is enough time for me to teach you the proper way to take a selca.”

I shook my head. “No, you don’t have to. I know how to take one, I swear. I’m just not good at it.”

He chuckled as he jumped to his feet and hurried around to crouch down next to my seat. “Well, you’re going to need to know this when you become an idol. It’s not something they teach in the training.”

His belief in me stunned me. He didn’t even know me, but he was saying when instead of if.

“O—Okay,” I said as he reached for my phone. He picked my phone up off the table and held it up for me. I unlocked it, my mind racing again. I couldn’t believe we were doing this. As I pulled my hand back to my lap, I realized we had the same phone. How many more coincidences would there be between us? He hit the icon for the camera and then held the phone out in front of us, crowding next to me so he was also in the frame. The scent of his cologne assaulted my senses, something rich and earthy with a hint of spice, like amber and tonka beans. The scent reminded me of home, which helped me relax.

“Taking the perfect selca is about the angle of the camera and the angle of your head,” he explained. “There’s nothing more to it than that. You need to hold the phone up so you’re slightly looking up at it. Tilt your head a little to the right, towards mine. Chin up—just slightly. Perfect. Now smile.”

I grinned so hard I knew my excitement shown in the picture. Jeongin took three pictures, moving the phone a little with each one, and then handed it to me.

“Your turn,” he said as I took my phone from him. I took a deep breath, suddenly nervous again.

“You can do this,” he said.

I held the phone out in front of us. We tilted our heads together and I took the selca. Somehow, my hand didn’t shake. After two more pictures, Jeongin said we should do a silly one. I stuck my tongue out and he crossed his eyes and made a face. We both laughed as I put my phone down. At the same time, another message came through on his phone. He sighed and stood next to my chair.

“And now it’s time to go back to the real world,” he said. He walked around to gather his jacket from the other chair, slipping it on and pulling a black mask out of the pocket. I stood as well, thinking I should get back to my aunt’s house. I needed to try to sleep so I was rested for my audition.

“Thank you for the conversation,” I said. “I appreciate your advice. I’ll remember it tomorrow.”

He grinned, pulling the mask down to under his chin so I could see it. “Hwaiting,” he cheered.

“Hwaiting,” I said and giggled.

“It was nice meeting you…?”

“Beatrice,” I told him. “But my friends call me Bea.”

“It was nice meeting you, Bea. You’ll do great tomorrow.”

“Thank you. Again. For everything.”

“And don’t forget to take a picture you can post tonight so your sister doesn’t worry you were kidnapped.”

I giggled and nodded. That’s all I could do. And now that I knew how to take the perfect selca, maybe I wouldn’t hate it so much. I made a mental note to take the picture and post it once I got to my aunt’s house.

Jeongin’s phone chimed once again. I sobered, not ready to say good night now that the moment had come.

“Good luck tomorrow. I look forward to hearing about it,” he teased and winked. He pulled the mask up over the bottom half of his face and said good night as another message came on his phone.

“Good night, Jeongin-ssi,” I said.

“Good night. Good luck. I hope to see you again,” he said, bowed to me, and turned toward the door as he straightened. I watched him leave, hoping he would look back but also not wanting him to. He needed to leave.

As I watched him walk out of the café and get into the waiting sedan just outside the door, calmness washed over me. For the first time since I’d stepped off the plane at Incheon Airport, I did not feel nervous or out of place. I felt confident about tomorrow’s audition. I would walk in there and I would crush it. Choi Jeongin believed I could do it and I would.

April 03, 2024 16:45

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1 comment

Kristina Lushey
21:11 Apr 10, 2024

I enjoyed your story Erin. The passion for Choi Jeongin definitely came through :)

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