“Thank you New York City! We love you!” Eunhyuk cries into the open night air, his breath turning white in front of him by the coldness of the December air. The crowd erupts in a chorus of cheers and pleas for an encore, purple glow sticks waving frantically. He turns to the right, hopping down the steps of the stage and being swarmed by back-up dancers and clothing designers. It’s a swarm of hot bodies patting his back, handing him water bottles and towels to wipe down the sweat that had trickled down his back from preforming. Eunhyuk smiles politely at the people that give him comments on his talents, nodding at each and every one respectfully. “Thank you,” he says, a smile plastered onto his face.
He throws himself onto the couch, closing his eyes and running a hand down his face. A body crashes down beside him, and he isn’t that dumb to know exactly who it is. “That was a good performance, Xiah,” he comments, removing the hand from his face and staring into the bright, joyful eyes of his fellow member. Xiah Junsu laughs, that familiar ‘kyah kyah’ filling the room with a sense of happiness. “And just a day before New Year’s, too. Hopefully people will remember this as the best New Year’s Eve Eve ever!” The redhead taps Eunhyuk’s leg, pressing down on his kneecap to get up, swinging his tight ass in his skinny black jeans, forcing the lead rapper to laugh.
Donghae came next, bouncing happily on the seat beside him. “Hyung, why are you so good? When will I ever be as good as you?” The back-up dancer pouts, hanging his lower lip out. Eunhyuk chuckled, patting Donghae’s back. “Ask the boss, maybe he’ll shove you into a group last minute. You do deserve it though—your rapping’s improved.” Donghae smiles, hugging his hyung before running off, shouting, “Minho, Minho!” behind him. Eunhyuk’s smile rested on his face as he looks down on his lap, running his fingers through each other. He feels exhausted—but he’s always super jumpy and excited after a performance. His fans get him so ecstatic that it takes him awhile to settle down. Thankfully, Xiah’s the same.
He sips on some water from a plastic bottle that he fished out of a small freezer, a few drops running down his lips. He runs a hand over his mouth, watching the managers and stylists pack up their stuff and go. Eunhyuk smirks, throwing the disposable bottle away, empty except for a few drops that he can never seem to get. He catches up with Siwon, his manager, and loads himself into the black van behind him, sitting across from the tall, lean business man. They sit in silence, until the car drives up to Eunhyuk and Xiah’s hotel. “You did well tonight, Hyukjae-ah,” Siwon comments, “Eat and sleep well, and have a happy New Year’s.”
Eunhyuk smiles sheepishly at the sound of his real name and nods, stepping out of the car. The doors of the elevator close and he presses his back against the cool, metal railing, closing his mouth and allowing himself to breathe. Junsu and he stay at the penthouse, and he doubts that the other member isn’t sleeping. The elevator inches up at an extremely slow pace. At least it gives him time to think: a thing that he hasn’t been given for a very long time.
The doors to the elevator ease open and he enters the penthouse. The lights aren’t on, but he can see perfectly well by the lights from outside, casting through by the room’s large window that takes up most of the left wall. The rapper stops to stare at the sight, watching the twinkling lights and the fast-moving words that pass over screens. Their glow blinds Eunhyuk’s eyelids as he closes his eyes, white specks against black. New Year’s in New York—ever since he was little, it had held a sense of magic to it. Watching the ball drop down, the crowd erupting in laughter and screaming, confetti flying everywhere. He bites down on his lip, pressing his hand down onto the window to steady himself. ’And have a happy New Year’s,’ runs through his mind and he sighs.
New Year’s will never really be the same, can it?
A sixteen-year old, pimply faced boy enters the building that is fit for better people. People with long, tanned legs and sculpted legs. So in other words, not Lee Hyukjae. A hand drops down onto his shoulder and he feels a squeeze, and he looks up to see none other but schoolmate Kim Junsu. He brightens, any form of fear for training disappearing at the sight of his old friend. Junsu pushes him further into the SM building, and the two walk throughout the halls until they find the room they were assigned just a few days ago. There they find friends. There they find pain. There they found hours of lying on floors, drenched with sweat. There they find the aches in their sides that weren’t there a day ago. There they find the poverty that leads them to eating cheap food from convenience stores late into the night. There they find lowered school marks and heightened marks on their arms and backs. But it’s worth it—it’s the price of fame.
Hyukjae turns the music up, flipping his long, uneven brown hair from his eyes. It’s been six months since he’s had a haircut, and Junsu’s told him time and time again to get it cut because it’s influencing his dance technique. He keeps telling him that in 2003, long hair is the style and he’ll probably be debuting with long hair down to his shoulders. It’s just him in the glass-covered room, his reflection coming from all sides as he shakes his hands out, before tensing up and listening to the beat. He had practiced it over and over again with Donghee and Junsu, now learning the moves practically by heart. His feet are sore and blistered when he starts, signs of constant repetition of the moves, but he bites down, focusing on his hands and chest as he pops, ignoring the cracking noises from his back.
The song instantly slows down, and he bends down at the waist, his arms starting to do a robotic movement. Kibum was really the one that taught him how to do his robot dance moves, because the American could do it better than any of the other dancers in SME. He enjoyed watching him, copying every move that Kibum did, just to make sure that he was doing it properly. He smirked confidently as he stood back up straight, taking a step forward, bending his arms and shaking slightly as the beat picked up. His arms unfroze and moved in squid-like movements—Jung Yunho’s teachings. He would admit that the countryman is an extremely good dancer, but he isn’t one to accept that someone’s better than him at something. No—Hyukjae’s too cocky for that.
Plus, he’s a good dancer, right? Junsu’s told him this thousands of times. He’s a lot better than some of the other trainees at SME. And his rapping was improving, too. And he had a few friends, too. He and Junsu were inseparable for the last few days, and he’s happy to see Junsu interacting with the other trainees, too. He’s a little shy around the others, especially Jongwoon and the other lead singers. They’re so talented, and what about him? He shakes the thoughts out of his head as he jumps back, spinning on his heels and doing a short hip-thrust before grabbing his head by his hair and pulling his head down to his chest. He panted—short intakes of breath entering and leaving his body. He looked up to stare at himself.
And a small, chubby-cheeked face stares back at him. The shy boy notices that Hyukjae’s staring at him through the mirror and ducks behind the door, his cute, little fingers still poking out. He turns around, placing his hands on his hips as he breathes deep breaths. “Yah, who are you to watch me preform and not clap?” Hyukjae calls, staring at the adorable hands that grab at the solid, gray door. A flushed face pokes out from behind. “Me?” he asks stupidly, eyes wide as Hyukjae nods ‘yes’. The curvy boy moves from behind the door, closing it gently behind him, before turning to face Hyukjae once again, a small pout on his lips. “Lee Sungmin—one of the singers… I just wanted to practice my dancing and I saw you and you… Your dancing is very good, Hyukjae-sshi.”
Hyukjae smiles, his gums peeking through his lips and he hears Sungmin giggle. His puffy cheeks turn to a shade of apple-red, and Hyukjae covers his laugh with his hand, admiring Sungmin’s soft features. He has a feeling that he’ll like this Sungmin guy.
They’re sharing cold beers with each other—cheap but still cold. It’s a freezing December night, and their dorm barely has any heat, so the two have to cuddle up together to get heat. A TV takes up the rest of the small room, flashing images of silver, white and blue. Hyukjae smiles, he likes these colors—maybe he’ll have their balloon colors either of the three when they get popular. Sungmin shivers beside him, and he drapes a hand over the elder’s shoulders, bringing him closer into his chest. “Thank you, Hyukjae-ah,” Sungmin says. Hyukjae’s already been given his stage name—Eunhyuk—but the other still prefers to call him by his first name, saying it’s much more beautiful than his ugly stage name. Sungmin won’t get a stage name because there are no other stars with that name, which makes him much luckier than some of the other trainees who’ve been given names to work with.
“Hey, it’s your fault for not wanting to go out this New Year’s—now I have to watch this American crap,” Hyukjae rolls his eyes, pointing at the images on the screen that he can’t understand because he always sucked at English and Kibum barely teaches anyone. Sungmin rolls his pretty eyes, punching his arm and turning back to the screen. “You ruin everything, you know that?” He pulls the blanket further up his arms to hide from the chill from outside.
“Will we ever spend a New Year’s over there—in New York? It looks so magical.” Sungmin turns to Hyukjae when the program turns to infomercials and their beers are finished. Hyukjae smiles, lifting his hyung up and grabbing his hand. He throws his sandy colored coat, dragging Sungmin out of the door of their dorm, down the steps and into the crisp December air. He takes a lungful of it into his body, breathing out and smirking at Sungmin. “Come on, I want to celebrate 2003 in style.” Sungmin rolled his eyes, following the younger male to the busy streets of Korea. Though Korean New Year’s wasn’t until a few weeks from now, there was a lot of action in the streets as they weaved through crowds of people, the Christmas lights from a few days ago still up and hanging, leaving patches of the ground in halos of light.
Sungmin sipped some of the coffee. They had enough money for only one cup that they shared between the two of them, the hot drink steaming in Sungmin’s hands. He smiled, admiring the glittering sky above him that he remembered watching years ago, back when he was younger. He leaned into Hyukjae’s warm body, smiling at the heat that emitted off the dancer. “Don’t lean into me too much—I’ll fall in!” They sat on a beautifully designed fountain, with some form of water spirit at the top, her hands up and her eyes digging into the souls of the people that sat underneath or happened to piss in the lake whilst drunk. The two giddy friends sat, sipping on the shared coffee, their eyes watching the couples and the families that walked the park late at night. Sungmin sighed at the sight of their empty cup, before glaring at Hyukjae and throwing the cup at him.
“Get me another!” The dancer sighed. “I don’t have any more money, and you didn’t bring any.” Sungmin pouted, crossing his arms and looking down at his lap. From beside him, he could hear laughter—the familiar laugh that belonged to Hyukjae. “It’s not funny!” he protested, pushing the dancer into the fountain, not before he had a grip on Sungmin’s wrist, bringing the two of them into the water, cold and biting into their skin. Their teeth clattered and they had a small case of hypothermia in the end—but they agreed it was their best New Year’s ever.
“So, are we going to celebrate New Year’s in New York one year?” Hyukjae smiles and nods.
Junsu chewed down on another piece of meat, smiling at the taste before placing another piece of the pork in his mouth. It was cheap, but they worked with anything they could get, and the group of trainees divided it up and all paid for their share of the food at the end of the night. Hyukjae watched as Junsu conversed with Yunho and Changmin, laughing at stupid jokes that Yunho came up with. He smiled from afar—he was happy to see that his friend was having fun with the other trainees. He liked Donghae, another dancer, and Donghee, but there were a few that he was still a little shaky with. Jungsu was a good man, but the worry that laced his words laced everyone else’s. Jungsu and Heechul, the eldest of their group of trainees, were getting old and how long could they put up in the company before being kicked out?
Hyukjae sips on some more water—they can never afford alcohol in these places. Kibum laughs, his million-dollar smile that probably got him into SME shining underneath the restaurant’s lights. Everyone here is so pretty—or has extreme talent that they don’t have to be that pretty. So where he does he fit in, then? He can’t sing, but he’s a good rapper and dancer. But he knows full well that if you have a bad face you’ll probably get sent off to back-up dancer land. Hyukjae prays every night that it isn’t the path that God has given him. He bites down at his nail, keeping his eyes on his plate. He isn’t that busy with any of the other trainees, and even sitting beside Donghae right now is very awkward for him. Thankfully, Sungmin is on the other side.
Sungmin pokes him, his cute, expressive eyes digging into his own when he looks down to answer whatever is on Sungmin’s mind. He finds himself stopping for a second—too taken aback. Is he really wearing eyeliner? The soft, curves of black near his eyes bring out the deep brown, almost black orbs, and do a beautiful contrast to his tanned skin that he’s always complaining about wanting to be paler. “Where did you get the makeup?” he whispers, and the fox-like eyes lighten up. “I have a few girlfriends.” For some odd reason—the sound ‘girlfriend’ coming from Sungmin’s lips feel like daggers. Of course Sungmin would have a girlfriend, he’s popular enough and he’s very attractive. Wait: what? he asks himself, shaking his head. Sungmin’s eyes fill with worry. “You okay, Hyukjae-sshi?”
“Y-yeah, totally.” The lie hurts him but he fakes a smile, turning back to his food. He hears a sigh beside him and he feels those icicle fingers case around his and he’s pulled away from the group. He manages to throw the 1,000 won that he finds in his pocket, promising the others that he’ll pay for more later. Sungmin’s grip goes stronger as he pulls him into the hot, sticky July air, the street lights bringing out Sungmin’s soft features out hard and strong. “You were upset in there. Tell me why,” Sungmin commands, increasing the grip on Hyukjae’s wrist. The dancer winces in pain, wondering why a man’s fingernails are that long in the first place. “I-I was worried about getting anywhere… I don’t want to just be a back-up dancer.”
Sungmin watches him for a while, concentrating on his face—the part people constantly make fun of him for. “You shouldn’t be worried, Hyukjae-ah, you’re too talented to get tossed because of something that isn’t a problem at all. You’re beautiful, Hyukjae.” Before he can retaliate, he feels a hand on his neck and another pulling his chin down so that their lips meet—the taste of the pork and the sauce on Sungmin’s tongue as it pushes into Hyukjae’s mouth, surprising the dancer. He doesn’t know where to put his hands so they land on Sungmin’s hips, commenting on the voluptuousness of them, the curviness he didn’t really notice until now. They part for air, Hyukjae’s Korean views completely thrown out the window for PDA.
Sungmin smiles up at him, standing up on his tippy-toes and giving him another quick peck before leaving him, waving behind. Hyukjae’s eyes go round, and he finds himself drunk because he can’t really stand. He hears footsteps and a hand on his shoulder, and he turns to see a giddy Junsu. “Hyukjae-ah! We’re in! The boss just texted me—we’re gonna be a two-boy boy band! Isn’t this amazing? We’ll finally be together, just like we said we would in the beginning! I can see it now—Xiah and Eunhyuk. EX-perience the awesome as these two dancers create a perfect clash of singing—that’s me—and rap—that’s you!”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s great Junsu.” Hyukjae nods, “What about the others? Is Sungmin in a group?” Junsu pouts, furrowing his brow as he tries to think. “Um, no… I don’t think so… Why?” Junsu looks up to see Hyukjae gone.
Sungmin never joined a group. Never became a back-up dancer, either. He was simply dropped from SME when the five-member boy group of Kibum, Yunho, Heechul, Jungsu and Jaejoong came out. Sungmin never contacted Eunhyuk during his time as a star—and he never picked up his cell whenever he called. He never saw him at the places where they were usually seen together. Sungmin just disappeared altogether, leaving Eunhyuk with the only other priority: work. Sure, EX became a very popular group internationally, why he was performing in New York City now.
He walked through the streets, the echoes of the chant humming throughout the busy city. He sighed; he needed to make it up for Sungmin. He turned into Times Square, watching the ball slowly ease its way down to the screams of the English watchers. He could only really add up to four in English—so he waited for ‘four’ to be screamed out into the night crowd before joining in, laughing along with the cheering as the ball came down to one. He screamed when the ball dropped—the world erupting in cheers for another year, 2012.
“I’d never thought you would have,” he hears from beside him in excellent Korean. He turns to see a slightly different boy than the years before, a halo of confetti falling around him. But he’s the same guy that kissed him nine years ago. He walked over, cupping that soft face. “Of course, it was our dream. Not to get famous—just to celebrate it here, together.”
Sungmin smiles, and allows their lips to touch, the blue, gray and silver confetti raining down and people cheering.