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Tribute for Choi Min Ho Birthday

I am feeling generous today, since it is Choi Min Ho’s Birthday.  I am going to release the romance novel that I wrote for him, until Sunday. 

A Shinee Love Story

 

Chapter 1

 

“Umma.  Where are you U-mma?”  Ari sat on the leather recliner with a Kleenex box on her lap and tissues pressed against her nose.  As she gasped for breath, she continued to yell for her mother.  “Um-ma, come here.  He’s screaming at her to wait for him!”

 

Mrs. Kim came into the basement from upstairs.  “What’s wrong?” she asked.

 

“U-m-m-a, come watch this.  It’s so”, a coughing spasm interrupted her. “—sad!”  She continued only after grabbing a few more Kleenexes and blowing her nose.  “This girl is going back to America and he didn’t find out in time to say good-bye.”  Ari reached up to pull her mother down onto the armchair.  By taking her hands away from her face, she uncovered black streaks of mascara, swollen red eyes and a cherry red nose.  Ari’s shoulders jerked as she explained: “He just cleared a 7 ½ foot high jump and he’s telling her to wait for him.”  The tears and gulps for air only increased as she fixes her eyes back on the screen.

 

Mrs. Kim pats the head of the child, now a woman; that she has cared for since birth.  Ever since Ari began watching Korean dramas on Hulu, cries of hilarity and wales of weeping could regularly be heard from this room.   Each time Ari would shed tears, she called Mrs. Kim.  Ari always expected the older woman to see mere moments of the show and feel the agony being acted out before them.  Mrs. Kim couldn’t help but smile.

 

The show ended as the high jumping champion showed up unexpectedly at the home of the girl who loved him.  Ari dried up her damp face.  Dreamily Ari tells Mrs. Kim, “He’s the most beautiful guy I’ve ever seen.  All he has to do is look at her with those charismatic eyes and your heart begins to race.”  She leaned back on the chair, “I’m so in love with him!”

 

Suddenly she sits up with wide eyes, “Umma, wouldn’t it be awesome if I got hired to work in Korea and this guy was my co-star?”

 

She sunk back into the deep cushions of her leather chair.  While she stared off into space, she didn’t notice the phone ringing.  She was deep in the throes of her own mind as the man on the screen pulled her close and leaned in to press his lips softly against her own.  The sound of the phone striking the floor brought her back to reality.  Her contorted face clearly expressed the question on her mind.

 

Mrs. Kim stumbled through her words as she attempted to explain her actions.  “You’re not going to believe this….. There is a guy from Korea on the phone.  He wants to talk with you.”

 

Shock and surprise spread across Ari’s small delicate features, “No way!  That’s just too freaky!”  She squirmed in her seat and then jumped up to race over to the phone.  “You don’t think…. it couldn’t be a job with the guy on the show.  Ooooh, I hope so!”

 

Ari shook out her body to regain her usual silky, yet friendly composure before grabbing the phone.  All signs of her previous giddy nature surrendered in her greeting, “Annyeonghaseyo.  Jeoneun Ari ieyo.”

 

Ari was silent as she listened.  Mrs. Kim stood with eagerness written upon her aging features.  At last Ari spoke, “Ne, gomasseumnida.  “Have you presented this idea to Taemin? Before I commit I would prefer to speak with him myself.”  There was a pause as Ari grabbed a pen and paper.

 

“I’m ready!  Ne, gong hana n set set daseot dul ilgop ilgop ahop dul.

 

Ari stood in silence as she hung up the phone.  Mrs. Kim shook the girl, “What did he want?”

 

“Some of their Kpop stars are coming to Los Angeles for a concert.  They want me to choreograph and dance with their top dancer to bring more American attention to the event.  I wonder if FT Island will be there.  Or maybe, CN Blue!  You know how much I love those bands!”

 

“Are you going to do it?”  Mrs. Kim asked.

 

“I told them I’d talk with their dancer first.   I don’t want to work with someone who doesn’t want to work with me.”

 

“Well, dont just stand there, jagiya, call him.”

 

Ari dialed the overseas cell number and left a message when no one answered.  “Well, we’ll see if he calls back.  In the meantime I’ll see if YouTube has any videos of him dancing.  That way I’ll get an idea if I can even work with him.”

 

Ari spent the next hour watching YouTube.  She could tell that Taemin was influenced by Michael Jackson.  She’d been lead dancer for Michael’s final concert.  She could still remember the feel of his hand holding hers as he pulled her into his side and the two of them moved across the stage.  A sting of tears returned to her eyes as her memory flashed to a casket and a little girl telling the world how much she loved her daddy.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

That evening Ari was restless and decided to work out in her studio.  Dancing always calmed her nerves.  Typically she would become so tuned into the music and the movement of her body that it was nearly impossible to draw her attention away.  But this time, she heard her cell phone buzzing despite her blaring music.

 

She dove for the phone and tripped over her words as she tried to breathe and speak at the same moment. “Annyeonghaseyo.”

 

On the other side of the line was a voice so velvety she was unable to distinguish it as male or female.  “Hello, is this Ari?”  She was surprised that he spoke English.  She heard a moderate accent in those words, but she could unmistakably understand him.

 

In fluent Korean she responded, “Ne, this is Ari.  Are you Taemin?”

 

“Ne.  I’m sorry I didn’t call you back sooner.  I was in rehearsals.”

 

“I understand.”  There was a small pause before she continued, “Do you have any previous knowledge of me?”

 

“Ne.  I watch all of your videos and once in Paris I attended a play you were in.  I am a huge fan!”

 

“Gomawo!”  She wasn’t sure why she used an informal thank-you.  “I’ve spent my afternoon watching your videos.  Did you know I danced with MJ?”

 

“Ne.  I never had an opportunity to meet him.” Taemin responded, sounding crestfallen.

 

“Before I agree to perform with you, Taemin, I wondered if this was something you were willing to do?”

 

“Ne.  I suggested this!” In this moment she could hear the smile behind his words.  “If you dance during our concert it will bring those who haven’t heard us to see you.  This could better our popularity in America.”

 

Again, “Gomawo.”

 

With that gentle voice he asked Ari to please consider this opportunity.  How could she refuse!  There was no way she wasn’t going when her favorite Korean singers might be there.  She might get to personally meet Lee Hongki and Jong Yong Hwa.  Just thinking about it gave her goose bumps.  “Ne.  I would love to dance with you!”

 

She invited Taemin and the members of his group to stay at her house during the two week rehearsals.  “This way we can use my personal studio and not compete with other performers for time.”

 

“Gomawo.  The other members will not be coming until a few days before performance, this will be fine?”

 

“Aleso.  Let me know your flight schedule and my driver will be there to pick you up.”  The two ended their conversation with informal good-bye, as if they were lifetime friends.  Ari couldn’t wait to meet the boy behind the voice.  She could tell by watching his videos that the boy would soon be a man.  He carried himself across the dance floor popping with a virile assurance.

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Ari received the contracts and music within a week of talking with Taemin.  She spent long hours listening to the song over and over, planning how to give Taemin’s natural movements a new look, while still keeping to the expression in music.

 

On the day Taemin was to arrive, she could hardly hold back the excitement in meeting him and showing him what she had choreographed.

 

Mr. Kim picked Taemin up at LAX airport and called Ari to let her know they were on their way.

 

“Gomawo, Abba!”

 

When Taemin arrived, Ari was sitting on the steps to her house. Mr. Kim parked the car and got Taemin’s luggage out.

 

Ari ran to the car and threw her arms around the slender man standing before her.  When she stepped back, she could see his surprise at her open affection but he didn’t appear offended.  He was beautiful with his long mushroom brown hair and radiant smile.  “Mannaseo bangawoyo.   I am so excited having you here to dance with me.”

 

Ari grabbed Taemin by the arm and showed him into the house.  “Abba took your things up to your room.  Let me show you where you’ll be staying.”

 

Taemin walked in and onto a marble floor that was larger than Shinee’s whole apartment.  To his right, the steps curved around to an upper floor.  Ari lead him up the steps.  At the top there were several doors.  “This first door is my room.  You can have the room next to mine.  When the other members get here they can chose their own rooms.”

 

“I’ve never stayed in a house this big!” Taemin exclaimed as he looked over the banister down to the marble floor below him.  “Where are the kitchen and the living room?  What about a bathroom?”

 

Ari giggled. “There is a bathroom between your room and the next.  You’ll have to share.  Put the rest of your stuff down and I’ll show you around.”

 

Like two long-lost friends Taemin and Ari ran around the house as Ari showed him her home.  She led him from the garage down a narrow set of steps.  “And, this” she continued, “is the studio.”  It looked very much like where Shinee rehearses.  There were mirrors all along one wall and a hard wood floor with undercarriage to absorb the shock and vertical deformation, all necessary for dancing.  The far wall was all glass and featured double doors that opened out onto the courtyard.

 

“I usually come to the studio about six in the morning and dance for three hours, and then I am back in here about seven in the evening until nine.  What are you accustomed too?  I’ll do my best to work with your schedule.”

 

“I like to start early in the morning,” Taemin replied.  “I haven’t seen our schedule yet, but once the rest of the members arrive we’ll have long hours of rehearsals.  Many times we work straight through the night.  In Korea we have very busy schedules to keep.”

 

“Let’s enjoy an easier work schedule for both of us.  To the best of my knowledge neither of us has anything preplanned other than dancing together and an interview with Good Morning America.

 

 

“There is dual interviews scheduled with reporters from Korea as well.  I believe they are coming here to talk with us.” Taemin reminded her.

 

“That’s right!  I’d forgotten about them.  Probably because I don’t have to go anywhere.”  Ari switched the subject.  “Are you hungry, jet lagged?”

 

“I’m starving!”

 

“Let’s go see what Mrs. Kim has prepared for us.  You’ll love her cooking!  I know she prepared some kimchi.”

 

Back to the kitchen, Mrs. Kim was just setting the table and had prepared Korean style steaks.  Taemin’s eyes grew larger when he saw the meat sitting before him.  “How did you know I love steak?” he asked.

 

“I know how to turn on a computer too!” Mrs. Kim answered.  “Just type in your name and a person can learn nearly everything about you.  I’m surprised how open your life is.  Ari has always been very private and conservative about her life.”

 

“We share everything for the fans.  It is their love for us that we work so hard.” Ari loved listening to his broken English.  In between swallows Taemin continued to talk.  “We are hoping that American people will love also.”

 

Ari did not eat much meat, especially steak.  She preferred fruits and salads.

 

“Ari quit picking at your meat.  You can’t live on fruits and vegetables alone.”

 

“U-mma,” she whined, “I only like chicken and fish.  You know that!”

 

“While you have guest you can eat what they like and be settled!” Mrs. Kim responded smartly.

 

Ari reluctantly picked up a small piece of the steak and forced it into her mouth.  She hated it when Mrs. Kim told her to be settled.  It meant she didn’t want to hear any more complaints and she was expected to do as she was told.  Ari whispered, “Yuck!” in response.  Mrs. Kim turned and glared at her before returning to work.

 

“Is Mrs. Kim your mom?” Taemin asked.

 

“She’s raised me since I was born.  So I’d answer “yes”.  My birth parents are always busy and I don’t see them except for those rare formal parties where my presence is expected.”

 

“Don’t you call them Umma and Abba?”

 

“Aniyo.  I address them as Sir and Mam.” Ari answered with a bit of cynicism to her voice.  “They don’t want me to be informal with them.  Besides why would I when I don’t know them?  They may have given me life but they have not shared that life with me.”

 

Taemin decided to let the subject go seeing the ache in her eyes.

 

After dinner, Taemin showered and took a nap before they began their first rehearsal.  Ari told him she had some calls to make and she’d see him in the studio at seven.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

That night, Taemin arrived in the studio promptly at seven to find Ari already perspiring from her efforts.  Mesmerized by her fluid movement, Taemin just watched in the near-silence as her feet seemed to sweep across the floor.  He preferred to dance by popping and focusing on the isolations of his chest, but as he watched her create music with her body he could not help but appreciate the art that was her. Later that night he tried to describe what he’d witnessed to Min Ho. “I think I’m falling in love with this girl, Min Ho!  She is everything I’ve dreamed of.  Her skin is milky rich.  I just want one time to run my fingers through her honey-colored hair.  Best of all, when she looks at me her eyes twinkle with merry like she is stroking the petals of a flower.”

 

Minho laughed in his deep rich base as he listened to his hyung talking.  “It shall be it then!”

 

“I can’t wait for you to meet her.  Just make sure you don’t smile or give her that look.  You know the one I’m talking about!”

 

“You want me to be rude?”  Minho asked.

 

“Not rude, but don’t do any of that charisma stuff that makes the girls like you.”

 

“I promise.  I will do my best to be unappealing.  Feel better now?”

 

The two best friends continued talking until Minho had to head out to meet with his obligations for the day.

 

 

Over the next week Taemin and Ari spent long hours in the studio perfecting the choreography they would perform during the concert.  When they weren’t dancing, they would spend their leisure time on the beach near her house.

 

They talked about how her parents had hired the Kim’s to raise her before she was even born.  For years she lived in her parents’ home, just down the beach, but when she turned sixteen she won America’s Favorite Dancer on “So You Think You Can Dance”.  After that, her career took off—and once she was making her own money, she built this house and she and the Kim’s moved in.

 

Taemin shared his early years in training.  He described how hard it had been to live with other guys.  He didn’t really know them and he missed his family.  They worked long hours.  “We even had lessons on how to walk,” he said.  “They said we looked sloppy.” He was silent for a moment.  “We all missed our parents.  I remember we were asked during a radio interview to say something to our parents.  All of us broke down in tears, except Minho.  He rarely gets emotional about things.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  It isn’t like he’s ashamed to cry—he is just stronger emotionally than the rest of us.  He shows his love with a gentle and joyful nature.”

 

“You talk about him like he is someone special in your life.”

 

“He is!  Minho is my best friend.  We aren’t really family, but as members we are strongly united with each other.  Onew is the oldest and the leader.  He has this quiet, childlike spirit to him.  You rarely see him get angry or raise his voice.  I’d say he is the most patient and caring of us, but he also nit-picks.  Jonghyun is the lead singer and he expects to live his life on his own terms.  Key is a free spirit who bosses us around and makes sure things get done on time. We each have our own style like our look, but but Key lives for his image.  Min Ho is quiet around most people, but at home he makes the most noise.  If you want to get him to talk, the best way is to hand him a puppy or bring a child around.  He’ll surprise you with his fun nature.”

 

Ari felt closer to Taemin after they shared so much about their personal lives together.  She was sure they’d be friends for many years.  Tomorrow the other guys would be arriving, and Ari was anxious to meet them—she always had a hard time meeting people, even though she spent her whole life traveling from job to job and working with new individuals.  But despite her nerves, she wanted to meet these guys and get to know them as the people Taemin expressed them to be.

 

 

Chapter 5

 

The next day was long and exhausting.  Ari and Taemin needed to finish their solo portion of the dance so the whole group could begin working together.  The other members of the band would be arriving later this evening, and the two would no longer work alone.

 

Mrs. Kim didn’t even remind them about lunch.  She knew Ari well enough that when she was preparing in this way she didn’t want to be interrupted.

 

Mr. Kim arrived at the airport at four that afternoon.  After nearly sixteen hours on the plane the other members of Shinee were eager to shower and rest.

 

When they arrived at the house, Mr. Kim took them in and introduced them to Mrs. Kim.  First she met Onew and fell in love with his sweet face and simple nature.  Key was polite but his makeup and wild clothes left her clueless.  Jonghyun was easy to talk with and seemed more mature.  When she looked up at Min Ho, she stopped speechless.  “I know you from somewhere……”  Her face turned white as recognition struck her.   “You’re…….”

 

“Min Ho.  Choi Min Ho.”

 

Trying to regain her composure, Mrs. Kim smoothed down her dress and offered him her hand.  “Uh, yes.  I, uh, must have been mistaken.  Please come in boys.  Let me show you to your rooms.”

 

Mrs. Kim was flustered as she rushed over to Mr. Kim and whispered.  “That’s him!  That’s the guys our Ari wants to meet.  Oh my, I can’t believe he’s here, in our home, and she predicted working with him.”  Again Mrs. Kim straightened her skirt.  “Mr. Kim will show you to your rooms.”  Then she bowed and skittered off to the kitchen.

 

“What am I going to tell Ari?  I know she’ll be upset if I bother her during rehearsals.”  She busied herself cleaning counters that didn’t need cleaning.  “But if I just let her bump into him, she’ll never forgive me.  Oh, what shall I do?”

 

After Min Ho was shown to his room, he asked where he could find Taemin.  “They’re in the studio.  I don’t think Ari would mind if you went down there, but you’ll have to forgive me for not introducing you.  Ari does not like to be intruded upon when she is dancing.”

 

Min Ho bowed, and thanked Mr. Kim for directions to the studio.  He walked out to the garage and began descending down the steps.

 

Ari was beyond tired.  Her and Taemin had been dancing strong since six that morning and it was now seven that evening.  She couldn’t remember breakfast.  Did she have breakfast?  She wasn’t sure.  She did know that she needed to eat.  “Taemin I’m going to go see if Mrs. Kim has something prepared for us.  Let’s take a small break and eat something.  Ok?”

 

“Aleso.  I’m starving.”

 

Ari headed over to the steps.  Just as she started to ascend she saw black high-top men’s boots in front of her.  She looked up into the eyes….the eyes…..those eyes.  She nearly fell over backwards; strong arms caught her and pulled her into a chest of iron.  She looked up at his face, so serious and concerned.  Then he broke out into a dazzling smile.  Her body quivered as he held her close.  She was sure he could hear the mad beating of her heart.

 

Min Ho clutched the small frame he’d nearly walked over.  It was effortless to capture her and pull her in close to him.  He studied her closely to determine if she’d been hurt or not.  Wide sea-green eyes and soft, sensuous lips the color of coral unveiled before him.  He could feel her trembling in his arms and wondered if she’d been frightened, or maybe……  A smile slowly fashioned across his handsome features and his eyes softened as he realized this magnificent being was trembling at being held so close to him.  He could see she was captivated because of him and he liked it.  He liked her!

 

Ari placed her hands upon his chest and felt the hardness of his body.  She gathered her decorum as she pushed away.  Once she’d regained her balance and senses—well maybe not her senses—she bowed. “Mian hamnida.”  Min Ho stepped down the last step and bowed as he apologized in turn.

 

Taemin rushed over and introduced them. “Hyung, this is Ari Smith.  Ari this is my hyung, Min Ho.”

 

Ari somehow managed to say, “Annyeong,” again using an informal greeting.  What was wrong with her?  Mrs. Kim raised her to be proper.

 

“Annyeong.  Taemin has spoken well about you many times during our conversations.  I’m glad to finally meet you.”  His voice was so ornamental and deep it seemed to be coming up from his toes.

 

Ari was relieved that he’d been informal back with her as well.  She bowed again and said, “Excuse me.”  She turned to Taemin, “I’ll go up and check on dinner.”  Then she rushed up the steps and into the kitchen.

 

 

“Omma, it’s him.”

 

Mrs. Kim came bustling over and the two woman grabbed hands as they starred at each other in shock.

 

“It’s him, Omma.”

 

“I know!”

 

“He’s so, so, wow!  I can’t even get the words out.”  She let out a scream of breath as she tried to regain her self-control.  “Omma, he is beautiful!  Even more beautiful then I imagined.”  At that moment, Minho and Taemin walked into the kitchen.  Ari wondered to herself if he had heard her.  She hid behind her Omma and held onto her dress like a school girl with a crush.

 

“Min Ho, Taemin come in.  Dinner is about to be served.  Have a seat.”

 

Taemin came over and gave Mrs. Kim a hug before he went to his usual sitting space.  Min Ho bowed and then sat next to Taemin.

 

“We smell food!”  The voice coming from just outside the kitchen was Jonghyun’s strong tenor.  Ari was introduced to each member of the group.  After several greetings and bows they all set down to a dinner of Gal-Bi, or BBQ short ribs.

 

 

Chapter 6

 

The next two days were spent dancing for long hours as each member was taught the movements Ari had designed.  Min Ho rarely spoke to Ari.

 

Onew’s sweet, uncomplicated nature made it easiest for Ari to talk with him.  He looked at everything through fresh eyes.  Clearly, he was a man capable of withstanding the pressures of this world.  The world each of them lived in, worked in and accepted.  Onew had to be tough, but she could see no signs of a person hardened by an industry that treats them like a commodity.  It was clear he was the nurturing one in the bunch and tended to their needs like a mother.  His voice was pure honey and his face was smooth and pretty.

 

Jonghyun was the most brazen about his sensuality.  He was confident handsome and moved with a sureness of self.  Ari enjoyed watching him, but she was awkward in his presence.  He always showed her respect, but she knew she’d be in danger if she found herself alone with him.

 

Ari liked so many things about Key.  Ironically, his personality was as far from hers as she could find in a man.  Even so, his frolicsome authenticity was charming and endearing.  AS she spent more time with him, she began to see underneath the wild clothes, the make-up, and painted nails.  This guy was sensitive, and sincere.

 

Min Ho was always serious when she was around.  Sometimes, when he didn’t know she was near, she could hear him joking with the other guys.  The timbre of his voice flowed like melted bonbons.  His long, lean frame moved with liquid confidence.  She often found her eyes lingering on him while he danced.  He pushed each move harder than the other guys with consistent effort, and yet he still presented himself with rhythmic awareness.   Onew, Jonghyun, and Key made each move look effortless, and Taemin hit extra hard when most effective and smooth the rest of the time.

 

As she stood watching Min Ho, she remembered being held by those long arms and strong hands when she was pressed against his chest.  She would lay in bed at night remembering and dreaming for a repeat performance.

 

They were all standing around in the marble entrance talking about how well Ari speaks Korean.  Mrs. Kim told them that she was raised speaking Korean at home and English at school, but spoke many languages.  Minho pointedly looked at her, smiling, and said in Chinese, “Do you think I am handsome?”

 

Ari was just beginning to walk up the steps when she heard him speak.  She stopped, turned and saw that he was looking directly at her.  In French she responded, “Are you testing my Chinese, or wanting an answer?”

 

Jonghyun answered him in Chinese, “Doesn’t look like she is going to answer that one Min Ho.  Better to give up.”

 

Min Ho smiled up at her and walked off.

 

 

On the third sleepless night, Ari got out of bed and walked down to the beach.  As she stood in the sand in her long white nightgown, the sea air twisted and turned her gown around her bare legs.  Her hair was loose and flying as the wind captured it and pulled it away from her face.  Occasionally a lose strand came back to her body only to be swept up with the stream of air once again.

She was lost in thought when her body felt the capitulating presence of another.  She not only sense his presence, but she also smelled him —a scent so commanding and masculine it demanded a response, and to which her body always responded.  She knew his natural perfume as surely as she knew the smell of a lilac, her favorite flower.  It could be no other than Min Ho.

 

He stood along beside her, his dark hair tousled by the same breeze that had entwined with hers.  When he spoke, Ari quivered as his smooth voice drifted across her ears.  “The sounds coming off the ocean are more arresting at night. The constant crash of the waves soothes me.”

 

Ari stood immobilized by the power that was him.  She wondered how any men could be this perfect.  There was nowhere on this earth Ari would rather be this moment, this second, this heartbeat, than right here next to him.  She wished she could capture it and step back into this instant as often as she desired.

 

“Would you like to take a walk with me along the shoreline?” he asked.

 

Ari could see that he was looking straight at her, but her body refused to respond to his gaze.  “Ne.”  Was that all she was able to say?  She screamed at herself to talk with him, to say something more than a simple “yes”.  She didn’t want to leave him with the impression she was without character.  She was behaving like another screaming fan who pressed to get close but without spoken words to formulate before him.

 

They walked along in silence.  He stayed close to her and their hands brushed as they walked.  He was the magnet; and she was the iron.  As their hands swung past each other, her arm naturally pulled toward him.  Each time they touched, an electrical shockwave surged through her.

 

 

Yet, she knew this wasn’t just another school girl crush.  She was a woman attracted to a man.  Her whole life she’d been surrounded by rich, powerful and virile men.  These men had been attractive, but Ari had always remained calm and kept her integrity.  How could this one man bring her about so easily?  She told herself it was crazy.  There was no future with him, despite her urge to spend her life looking upon him.

 

“All of the guys are motivated by the moves you’ve given us.  We work hard to lead this industry.”

 

“I’m looking forward to seeing you perform live.”  Suddenly she remembered what she wanted to ask the guys. “Is Lee Hongki going to be at the performance?  Or, Jang Yong Hwa?”

 

Min Ho laughed as he stopped and looked at her.  “Are you crushing on them?”

 

Ari turned away shyly, “Aniyo!  They are just my favorite bands.”

 

“Have you ever heard Shinee?”He asked.

 

“Aniyo.  Not before working with Taemin.  I don’t have much time to listen to music, other than the songs I’m working on.  Mrs. Kim keeps the radio on in the kitchen.  Occasionally I hear these two bands, so I buy their music and play it in my room when I’m trying to relax.

 

He smiled, “So maybe you have heard us and just didn’t know it!”

 

“It’s possible.”  She turned back to him and grabbed his arm.  Fire flashed through her hands and she dropped his arm, stunned.  Embarrassment flooded over her as she tried to pretend nothing had happened and moved forward down the beach.

 

“Ne, CN Blue will be there.  I’ll introduce you to them.  Hongki couldn’t make it this year.  I think he’s in Japan right now.”  He quickly strode back up beside her.

 

“But, you do know them?”

 

“Everyone in this industry knows them.  Key is good friends with Yong Hwa.  He’d probably be the best one to introduce you.  Hongki hangs out with Guen Suk and Lee Min Ho more than guys our age.  Yet, I do know him.”

 

“No way!  You don’t know Lee Min Ho and Guen Suk, do you?”

 

“Oh, now I can see you really are crushing!  Do you watch Korean Drama’s?”

 

“Ne.  I watch all of their shows.  I suppose I am crushing just a little!”

 

“In that case, I’ll make sure I don’t present you to them.”

 

Now that they were talking, things became easier.  She liked speaking with him.  She wondered what he thought of her.

 

When they got back to the steps leading up to her house, Ari turned on the first step to say goodnight.  Min Ho was right there at eye level.  He looked at her with intense, dark eyes.

 

In French he said, “Oui.  I do want to know if you like me!”

 

Ari’s heart plummeted. He had known what she said.  “I heard you were the shy one!”

 

“Do not confuse my silence with a lack of confidence.  I felt you tremble as I held you.  Your heart beat thundered with the sound of my own.  I am asking you to stay beside me.”  He smiled, patted her head and headed back up to the house.  She stood there in silence, unable to move.  When he saw she wasn’t following him, he walked back down the steps.

 

His warm hand enclosed hers, and he pulled her up the stairs.  She followed, astonished and euphoric.

 

 

Chapter 7

 

The next morning, Min Ho was the first one of the guys to arrive for breakfast. He smiled brightly at Ari as he walked in, and she shyly smiled back.  She wondered to herself why she fell apart every time he shared the same space with her.

 

Min Ho sat down at the breakfast table and took a swallow of his bean sprout soup.  Then he grabbed some fish, and mixed vegetables to eat with his rice.   Ari sat down and Min Ho placed a piece of fish in her rice bowl, encouraging her to eat.

 

Key came into the kitchen and was surprised to see his hyung up and eating.  “I’ve been looking for you.  I went to wake you up but you weren’t in your room.”

 

“I got up early this morning,”  Min Ho replied as he continued to eat and pile more food on Ari’s rice.

 

The rest of the members came down and they were all enjoying their breakfast when Ari heard a familiar voice. “What’s for breakfast?”   She stood up so quickly her chair fell over backwards. Min Ho got up and sat the chair back upright. e H  He was standing there, confused and looking to Ari, when George entered the dining area.

 

“Good morning!” he said in English.  He walked over to Ari and embraced her, then he took her chin in his hand and reached down to kiss her cheek.  Just as he was leaning in, Min Ho pulled Ari out of George’s grasp and threw himself between the two.  The fire on Min Ho’s face made George take a step back in surprise.

 

Taemin stood up and moved around the table to stand in front of Min Ho, thinking his hyung was protecting Ari for him.  “Who are you?” he asked in his most demanding English.

 

“What is this?  Who are you guys?”  George couldn’t believe any man would stand between him and Ari, and right now here there were two.

 

“What right do you have to touch Ari in such a familiar fashion?”  Taemin clenched his fists at his side as he spoke.   Jonghyun and Onew were up and trying to pull Min Ho away from the scene, and Key was  pulling Taemin out of range of George’s fist.

 

“I am Ari’s fiancé.” The silence in the room was the quiet of death.  George smiled and sat down for breakfast.

 

Ari finally found her voice. “George, what are you doing here?”

 

“I knew you were working on a new dance routine, so I came over to watch.  You didn’t tell me that five guys were staying in your house.  I don’t think I can sit back and allow that to happen without me being here to protect my interest.”

 

“George, I am not your fiancé, and you have no interest here with me.  I wish you’d quit playing these games.”

 

George looked up from his food and squarely looked at Min Ho. “I intend to marry this lady one day.  She may not have accepted my proposal yet, but I assure you, she will!”

 

Taemin looked at Ari, bewildered.  “George has been my best friend since we were little.  We dance together and frequently we are in the same productions.  He’s always saying these things just to get my dander up.  Just ignore him, and let’s finish breakfast.

 

Ari started to sit down next to George.  Min Ho grabbed her arm and a couple of her bowls and moved her around to sit between him and Taemin.  George ignored it and kept on eating.  Onew moved his bowls and sat next to George.  Jonghyun moved on the other side of this intruder.  Both members wanted to make sure there were no further threats to Min Ho or Taemin.  Key used his naturally bubbly personality to make small talk with George and settle everyone’s nerves.

 

After breakfast they all headed down to the studio.  They played musical chairs while they danced and Ari seemed to be the only chair.  She was beside herself trying to figure out how to ease the tension.  At least Taemin had settled his emotions—Ari had not been aware of his growing feelings for her.  Now that she knew, she wasn’t sure how to respond so that she wouldn’t damage their new and growing friendship.

 

Min Ho and George were battling their raw nerves through dance and often Ari was stuck in between them.  Jonghyun and Onew tried their best to keep pulling the guys apart.

 

Jonghyun wondered what was wrong with Min Ho.  He’d never seen him so upset.  Typically he was easy- going—except when things got in the way of his perfectionism.  Min Ho always felt that if a person was to do something, he should do it at his best.  He had never been one to worry about how others carried on, but remained in conflict with his own drive for perfection.

 

Onew was not a fighter; his personality didn’t even carry violence.  Yet, he wondered if he’d have to protect his hyung before this day was ended.  For the first time in his memory he was felt anger.

 

Key was rarely more serious than he was now.  He was thinking how best to calm the testosterone in the room.

 

Taemin didn’t have the experience in life to understand how to change the inevitable, so he did his best to keep Ari away from possible flying fist.

 

The tension grew the longer they danced.  Min Ho and George were now standing face to face, and fist were about to fly.  Ari broke free from Taemin’s grasp and stepped between the two men.  “Stop this now!  George, I want you to go home.”  Ari turned and dragged Min Ho out the far door that lead up to her bedroom.

 

George stood watching, enraged.   “Why would she be taking him to her bedroom?”  He walked over and hit the door with his fist.  “She’s telling me to leave while she takes him to her personal quarters.  I won’t leave until you come out of that room,” he yelled at the door, expecting Ari to hear him and rush right back down.

 

Behind the drawn curtains, Ari’s room was blackened.  She was so angry she didn’t even notice that Min Ho has softened.  “What are you doing down there?” she asked.

 

“I will not have any man laying a hand on the woman I have claimed as my own!” his anger beginning to reignite.

 

“What are you talking about?”  I’m not a piece of property.”

 

“Are you telling me you have accepted this man’s affections?”  Min Ho drops down to his knees.

 

“No.  I haven’t!  We are friends, just friends.” she yells in frustration.

 

Min Ho pulls her down in front of him.  He cupped her face in his hands and said, “Let us take this to the end.”

 

She grabbed his wrist and pulls his hands down to her knees, “What end, Min Ho?  We belong in two different worlds.  Both of us have schedules that leave no time for friendships. We live with an ocean and fifteen hour’s flight time between us.  I sleep while you’re awake.  Take what to the end?  When you leave in a couple of days the end will be here.”

 

He brought her hands to his heart.  ”I will figure it out.  Trust me!”  Ari left him sitting there, her heart full of pain, and returned to the studio.

 

George was still standing there, dumbfounded.  Taemin was beginning to understand and withdrew to his room.  “What are you thinking, taking that creep up to your room?  Did he touch you?  If he did, I’ll kill him!”

 

“Calm down, George.  He didn’t touch me.  I just needed to separate the two of you.  I really think it’s time you left.  I have only two days left to pull this concert performance together.  We’ve never interfered with each other’s performances before.  Let’s not start now!”

 

“You’re right.  I’ll leave this time.  When this is over, I don’t want you accepting any more jobs with this group.  Okay?”

 

“George, go home!”  Her voice wasn’t much more than a whisper. George headed out to his car through the glass doors.  As he walked over to the black Audi R8 Spyder GT, he saw Min Ho leaning up against his car.   Cool and relaxed, Min Ho stretched out his long legs and placed one foot over the other, his hands resting easy in his pockets.  George was shaken by the other man’s confidence.

 

But George was also a man determined to win the heart of the girl he’d loved since they were little.  He remembered that first time he’d confessed to Arianna.  They were in first grade and another girl was making fun of her green eyes.  “You look like a sea creature, Arianna. Why don’t you go back to the lagoon and grow some scales.”

 

Ari’s eyes glistened with freshly fallen tears.  George looked into those eyes and new he’d just found the girl for him.  Like a raging bull, his fist clenched, George stomped over to the platinum blond princess and spit in her face.  With the sting of the girls slap George walked back over to Ari. “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.”  After that day Ari and he had become best friends—where you found one the other would be.  That is, until this dark Asian man came into her life.  He was worried, but he’d never let it show.

 

George strolled up to the car and faced the fierce confidence of Min Ho.  “What?  Do you think you’ve won?  I have no intention of stepping away.  Ari is mine!  Soon you’ll be leaving and I will be the one here, always by her side.”

 

“You may be by her side, but I am the one who has her heart.”  Min Ho remained calm and self-assured.  One day, I won’t allow us to be separated anymore.  Remember this if you want to remain her friend.  If you attempt to come between us again, I will surely strike you from her life.”  With ease in his steps the Asian strolled back to the house.  George got into his car and squealed his tires as he pulled out of the driveway.

Chapter 8

 

Ari felt only disgust.  She had always tried to be sensitive to George’s feelings about her.  She hated hurting him!  At the same time she had never given him reason to continue pursuing her this way.  Their years together had always been special to her, and she hoped those years would continue to grow.  The last thing she wanted was to sever ties with her best friend.  But she wondered if she was doing him any favors by continuing to spend time with him.  He deserved someone who loved him back.

 

Then there was Min Ho.  What was he thinking?  They barely knew each other and he was laying claim to her as if she were a piece of property.  Ari paced her bedroom as she became more infuriated by Min Ho’s response to George, as well as the way he talked to her.

 

As angry as she was over his behavior, she couldn’t deny her feelings for him.  It wasn’t that he was misreading her intentions.  But how dare he show an entitlement she’d not given him!  That may be the way they did things in Korea, but here in America a woman is free to decide with whom she marries, and when she is in a committed relationship.

 

Crumpling on the floor, she gave in to the wave of wonder at his strength and sense of honor.  “Who are you trying to fool?” she asked herself out loud.   Ari knew she belonged to Min Ho.  She wanted to be his woman, she wanted him to protect her and need her.  She grabbed her hair with both hands and screamed, “You fool!  This will never work.  Get out before you get your heart broken!”

 

That evening at dinner Ari noticed Taemin was exceptionally quite.  Normally, he was a bubbly young man who carried his words across the table with enthusiasm.  She tried watching him without being noticed, but Taemin looked up at her and their eyes met.  Before she turned away, she saw sadness in those beautiful, dark eyes.  She thought to herself, “How lonely he looks right now!  He has all of us sitting here with him, but he looks unbelievably lonely.”

 

When dinner was over, she stopped Taemin as he was leaving the dining hall, “You want to go on a walk with me?”

 

When he looked up, she noticed just how beautiful he was.  He was as pretty, if not prettier, than any girl she’d ever come across.  Ari fully appreciated the term “flower boy”, as she admired his beauty.  Everything about Taemin was graceful and elegant.  Yet, when he moved on the floor, there was nothing about him that appeared young or delicate.  He was as masculine as any man she’d ever share time with.

 

Looking into his eyes, she realized he had grown to care for her, and he wanted to be the one to protect her this afternoon.  Sadness over came her as she realized this wonderful, talented, beautiful boy wanted her for himself.  Why had this happened?  What was she going to do now?

 

Taemin agreed to walk with her.  She took ahold of his elbow and led him outside.  She was aware that Min Ho was watching.  He seemed to always be watching, but when it came to Taemin he appeared to have a soft spot.  At first she had been worried Min Ho would stop them from going anywhere alone, but he didn’t—he just stood and watched.  His expressive eyes showed only consideration.

 

The two dancers walked along the beach in silence.  Ari continued to stay close and held his arm as she tried to work out what words to say.  Finally, she broke their silence, “Taemin this time we’ve had together is nearly over.  I hope one day we will cross paths again and stand side by side on stage as co-stars.

 

“Are you trying to tell me good-bye?” he asked.

 

“Not exactly!” she answered.  “I’m not exactly sure what I’m trying to say, or how to say it, so just bear with me a moment.”  The two walked on, the silence once again becoming their escort.

 

When Ari finally found her words, she asked Taemin to sit for a while.  “Earlier today, when you stood in front of me, facing George,” she stopped a second and let her heart settle, “I realized you were willing to fight for my honor.  I also realized that your heart had stepped past friendship.”

 

Taemin  put his head down and nodded in agreement.  Then boldly he looked up, “Did you also know that Min Ho cared deeper than friendship?”

 

“Ne. I did.”

 

“Are you going to have this talk with him?”  Taemin was looking into her eyes as he waited for her answer.

 

“I already have.”

 

“You care for him too, don’t you?”

 

“I do.  I didn’t mean for any of this to happen Taemin.  Mian hamnida.”  The space grew silent between them.  “I also told him that despite my crazy emotions for him, it must end when you return home.  I don’t believe in long distance relationships.  This is more than long distance.  This is more like two different lifetimes.”

 

“I understand.  This is my first experience falling with saranghae.  It won’t be easy but I don’t want to lose either one of you from my life.  I hope you will find a way with Min Ho.  I’ve never seen him like this.  Everyone always asks why he never date.  What they don’t realize is so many girls watch to see if he like this one or that one.  They get jealous if he shows more attention to one than another.  Always he’s asked to show which girl he prefers.  Min Ho become very uncomfortable and doesn’t want to hurt anyone feelings.  Once he said a girl was the best in her band and paper reported it that he said she was his ideal girl.  With his good looks and all the girls chasing after his attention, it has been hard for hyung, but you are the first one he’s shown his feelings.  That’s how I knew.  At first I thought he was just protecting me, but when I saw how angry he was—” He paused for a second. “—I knew he’d claimed you for himself.”

 

Ari became agitated.  Taemin’s words reminded her that Min Ho had used the same words about claiming her. “Just because he decided I am his, doesn’t make it a done deal!  We don’t accept a man just because he says it is so.  I understand things are different where you come from, but this is America and I am an American woman!”

 

Ari realized that Taemin was looking past her while she talked.  “He’s behind me, isn’t he?”

 

“Ne.”

 

Slowly she turned around while Taemin walked back down the beach toward the house.  Min Ho stood watching her with his arms crossed, anger written upon his face.  Ari recoiled from his gaze.

 

Once Taemin was far enough away, Min Ho walked over and took Ari into his embrace.  Her knees grew weak.  “Don’t deny me Arianna.  I can’t live without you.”

 

His words haunted Ari’s heart hours later as she lay in her bed.  How could she let him go?  How could she possibly hold onto him?  She drifted off to sleep remembering the warmth of his body against her own.

 

 

Chapter 9

 

Jonghyun was the first awake the next morning.  As usual he woke up Key.  Then Key would wake up Onew,Taemin and lastly Min Ho.  Ari always awoke at five, but this morning she was still sound asleep.  Key couldn’t find Mrs. Kim to wake Ari up.  They were leaving for Time Square in less than thirty minutes for their interview with GMA.  This meeting would bring more recognition for Korean performers.  In desperation, he went to Min Ho’s bedroom.  Min Ho had just stepped out of the shower when he heard Key yelling for him.  He wrapped a towel he wrapped it around his slender waist and used a second towel to dry his hair.

 

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

 

“It’s Ari.  She’s still asleep.”

 

“How do you know?”

 

Because she isn’t anywhere in the house so I banged on her door.  When she didn’t answer I cracked the door to see if she was okay.  I saw her lying there in bed, so I yelled for her—and she just rolled over.  If she doesn’t get up soon we’re going to miss our interview.  I can’t find halmoni or haraboji.”

 

“They told me last night they were going shopping this morning and they’d leave breakfast on the stove.” Minho responded.

 

“We’ve got to wake Ari up.  I’ll do it if you don’t want to, but I didn’t want to go in there without discussing it with you first.”  In these situations, Key had always been more comfortable with girls than the rest of the members.

 

Min Ho quickly snapped at Key, “Aniyo.  I’ll wake her up myself.”  Quickly dressing into a white jacket with black trim and form-fitting black pants, Min Ho went to Ari’s room.  Showing confidence he wasn’t feeling, he stepped into Ari’s bedroom and crossed over to a king size bed in the middle of the room.  Looking down at her sleeping face, his heart began to pound and he knew he’d stepped into unsafe territory.  He needed to get out of this room before he’d dishonored both of their families.  Before he could even think to stop himself he reached down, drawing in her scent, and gently kissed her cheek.

 

Ari thought she was dreaming when she could smell the presence of the man in her dreams.  She didn’t want to wake up.  If she stayed here sleeping, he wouldn’t leave her and return to Korea.  In her dream Min Ho was getting closer.  She was sure he was going to kiss her and she waited for the moment with anticipation.  When she felt his lips upon her cheek her eyes fluttered open.  Seeing Min Ho’s face so close to her own, she let out a small scream and quickly sat up and pulled her covers close to her chest.

 

Seeing she was awake, Min Ho stood up quickly.  “Your parents are gone and we needed to wake you.  We have to leave in thirty minutes to make it to the interview.  The job could only be accepted by me.”  Then he promptly left her room.

 

Her faced flared a bright red as she remembered his smell, his lips, his face next to her own.  The dampness from his hair dropped sprinkles of water on her face.  She reached up with her hand and touched the moisture that had moments before been clinging to his hair.

 

Realizing her tardiness Ari jumped out of bed and threw on the Adrianna Papell dress she had had flown in from New York for the interview.  The dress was a black and white applique sheath that would fit with the suits Shinee would be wearing.  She pulled her hair up into a bun and slipped into a black pair of Prada shoes.  After washing her face, she ran down the steps to five stunning men waiting patiently for her.

 

A black limousine waited outside the front door.  Once they were downtown, the driver pulled along the curb of Chateau Marmont.

 

Crowds circled around Ari as she stepped out of the vehicle.  Min Ho became nervous when he saw so many crowding in close.  He stepped out of the vehicle next, expecting to protect her.  Jaws dropped as men, woman and girls saw this beautiful Asian man standing tall next to Ari.  But after him emerged four more gorgeous men that were prettier than most woman.

 

“I’d like to introduce you to Shinee.  They are from Korea.  They will be giving a concert in two nights at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on April 12th.  This tall gentleman next to me is Min Ho.  The good looking guy next to him is a superior dancer that I will be dancing with and his name is Taemin….” She continued until she shared each of their names.  “I’d like to stay and sign all of your autographs but unfortunately we have an interview with Robin Roberts this morning.  I hope each of you listen into GMA tomorrow and catch our interview.”

 

The fans separated without following and allowed them to walk into the building, surprising the members of Shinee.  In Asia they couldn’t go anywhere without bodyguards to keep the fans back.  People would follow them all over the airport, and most times the band would be forced to go through back entrances to keep from being seen.  “How did you do that?” Taemin asked.

 

“I give them what they want, my attention.  They just want to be seen and heard, just like we do.  I know it gets old, but I’ve been flash mobbed by fans, it isn’t fun.  I’d rather acknowledge them.  Word gets out that I will stop and talk and they are more respectful of my privacy.”

 

The Shinee members smiled and waved to the American people patiently watching them enter the hotel.  Once inside, they were greeted by one of the directors and lead to a private room.  Fresh make-up was applied to their faces as they waited for Miss Roberts to arrive.

 

Ari’s hair was released and curled until it fell in soft swirls around her face and down her back.  Min Ho had never seen her with make-up on.  He was surprised how the color brought out her eyes and features.  From the moment he had seen her on the steps he’d thought she was gorgeous, and he had accepted her beauty in its natural form.  With the soft hues accentuating her beauty, he was blown away by this magnificent creation that was his Ari.  He couldn’t take his eyes off of her—but then he noticed that the rest of the members were also starring as intently as he was.  Feeling possessive, he jumped up and stood in front of her, protecting her from their gaze.

 

Ari just giggled at Min Ho and shoved him gently away from her.  “You act like they should never look at a pretty girl!”

 

“It’s just—” Min Ho stuttered, “—that you’re my girl.”

 

“When have I accepted your affections?” Again she gently shoved him aside and turned slowly around so the other guys could admire her beauty.  She posed as she would for a magazine and pretended she was going to blow them a kiss.  At the last second she blew that kiss to Min Ho and then winked at him.  Feeling the effects of that wink, Min Ho sank into the seat behind him.

 

Miss Roberts entered the room at just that time. “Stunning as always, Ari.” The two ladies hugged like old friends.

 

“It’s been a year since our last late-night interview.  Where did you find these pretty men?”  Robin walked over and introduced herself.

 

Ari introduced each member of Shinee as they stood and bowed to greet her in return.  Walking directly to Taemin, Robin questioned him, “Are you sure you’re a man?  Put a dress on and I’d never know you weren’t a girl.  All of you could pass for woman, with the exception of the tall one.  Isn’t your name Min Ho?”  Min Ho nodded.  “You, young man, have a masculinity to you that is undeniable.”  Min Ho bowed again as he thanked her in English.

 

It was time to begin the interview.  Robin asked Ari the first question.  “Today we are talking with Ari Smith and some of her colleges.  Ari, I understand you are going to be performing with these gentlemen sitting next to you.”

 

“Yes.  Shinee is a boy band from Korea.”

 

“From Korea?  What brings you flower boys to America?”

 

Onew spoke up as leader, “It is our dream to bring our style of music to everyone.  We are already performing in Mexico, Argentina, Canada, Europe and all across Asia.”

 

Robin explained to her listeners about the upcoming concert. “Korean music has become very popular in the states.  How many musicians have traveled with you for the Kpop concert?”

 

“Approximately ten different groups.” Jonghyun answered.

 

Some of our audience has never heard of Shinee.  I prepared a special treat for them.” Robin announced.  “It’s a video of your latest release.  I believe it’s called “Everybody”.  Am I correct?”

 

It’s Key’s turn to answer, “Yes.”

 

The camera crew played the video.  When it was over, “Wow!” was the only thing she could say.  One of the reasons for Robin Roberts’s popularity was her comfortable presence with others.  She had a smile that reached her eyes. “You guys are great!”  In unison the guys thanked Robin and bowed.

 

“Which one of you is lead vocalist?”

 

“Jonghyun and Onew do a large part of our vocals.” Key answered.  “Taemin is the lead dancer, Min Ho is our lead rapper and I rap and sing.”

 

“So Taemin, you’re the one our Ari will be dancing with.  I hear you are considered one of Korea’s best dancers.  Can you show us some of your moves?”  Taemin smiled shyly and stood up.  He began popping and spinning on his feet.  At the end, he struck a pose and tipped his hat to Robin and the cameras.

 

As the group became more comfortable, they talked easily with Robin.  Ari would have been surprised, but she reminded herself that these guys were not new to this industry—they were huge in Asia.  When she had talked that one night with Taemin, he’d explained how many events, interviews and TV talk shows they attended on a weekly basis.  She couldn’t help but feel sorry for them.  She knew what it was like to be busy all the time, traveling, and meeting fans.  It was exhausting.  Silently, she was pleased she had taken this job.  Not just because she got to share time with each of them, and not just because she got to meet her dream man.  Simply because this had been the closest thing to a vacation she’d had since she was sixteen.

 

“Can each of you share a little something about yourselves for our viewers?”

 

“I sing, that’s the only thing I’m good at!” Jonghyun said.  Robin asked Jonghyun to sing a Capella for them.  He stood and sang a ballad that accentuated his vocal range and timbre.

 

Next, Key said his special talent was his English.  “Of our group, I am the best at speaking English.  I am also known for my fashion sense.”  Key stood up and pretended to walk the runway.  He had always been the one who could win hearts.  Key was dynamic in nature.  Everything about him was “big”.  When people first meant him they would either love him instantly or stand back.  Once they spent a little time with him they would realize, despite his flamboyancy, he was a man who loved everything and everyone passionately.  Standing in his presence, you would quickly admire the aura of him.

 

“What about you Taemin?” Robin asked.

 

“I play the piano.”  At her encouragement, Taemin went to the piano and played a few keys as he sang.  He blushed when he stopped.  Shyness is the charm that spills over in Taemin’s heart.  The only time he truly came alive was on stage.  Once on that platform he would change into a sinuous, demanding lover.

 

Onew sang opera.  His gentle and quiet voice grew in strength and depth as he sang a few chords of Nessum Dorma.

 

When Robin turned to Min Ho, he answered, “Sports.  I’m very good at most sports.”

 

“Aren’t you also known as “charismatic”?” she asked.

 

Min Ho laughed and nodded.  Key placed his hand in front of Min Ho’s face.  When he pulled his hand down, Min Ho pulled his eyebrows together with that alluring glare he is so well-known for.  He only held it for a second before he laughed, but it was long enough to get the attention of the women watching.

 

“Ari, I look forward to seeing you perform with Shinee on April 12th at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.”  Ari nodded and thanked Robin for having them.

 

The interview was over at last.  Robin turned to the camera and reminded the audience to go see Ari dance with Shinee and enjoy the music of several Korean Kpop Stars.  “You can go to our website: go.gma.com to get more details.  Good night!”

 

Robin stood up to say her goodbyes.  She shook each of the guy’s hands, gave Ari a hug.

 

Outside, fans waited for Ari to come back out.  Word has spread along the street that she had arrived with flower boys from Korea.  Most of them didn’t know what a flower boy was, but they were eager to see for themselves.

 

“When we get outside, let’s stand in a straight line and give them eight counts of our dance beginning at the point when the rest of you guys join in with Taemin and me.  We’ll get great media coverage and bring more fans to the concert.”  The guys each agreed.

 

Ari wasn’t sure how much she could do with a tight dress on and these heels, but she always gave her best for her fans.

 

Once out the door, the guys stepped to each side of Ari.  Taemin counted out hana, dul, set and they danced for their exclusive audience.  People down the street could hear the cheers. Cameras flashed from every angle while they danced.  When they finished, everyone stepped aside and let Ari pass through to her awaiting car, cameras clicking continuously until they’d driven off and could no longer be seen.

 

 

Chapter 10

 

That evening after dinner, Min Ho asked Ari to join him out on the beach.  When arrives, she was surprised to find he’d already laid out some blankets for them and had a small fire going. “Have you been waiting long?” she asked.

 

Min Ho turned his head only slightly as he responded, “Just long enough to get the fire going.”  He patted the blanket next to him.  Ari walked over and sat down.  It seemed like months since the last night they’d share their first time alone on the beach.  Had it really only been days?  She felt like she’d been struck by a rock, she was so dizzy with emotion.  How had this man come into her life and turned her heart on?  She’d kept it so tightly locked her whole life, and now, she couldn’t imagine not loving him.  Was she in love with him?  Ari looked at Min Ho sitting quietly beside her.  His strong profile made her inhale deeply.  She was in love with him!  She knew it to be true.  He stole her breath away and left her with only love to replace it.  How was she ever going to say goodbye?

 

As Min Ho turned and looked at her he noticed a single tear sliding down her velvety skin.  He gently wiped it away with his thumb, leaving his strong hand against her face.  He was sure at that moment her mind had come to the same understanding he’d been trying to accept for days.  This was their last night together.  Tomorrow would be a full day of rehearsals and interviews and in the evening the concert in the evening.  Would he even have a chance to say goodbye?  He had to find a way to see her again.  Not just once or twice, but for the rest of his life.  He wasn’t going to let her go!

 

Min Ho stretched out on the blanket, hands behind his head and one knee bent.  He’d never seen so many stars as he did this night.  How he wished he could keep this moment going forever.  Tears swelled in his eyes as he thought about leaving this woman beside him.

 

She didn’t know why she did it, but Ari lay down beside Min Ho and placed her head on his shoulder.  She could feel his arm move around her as he pulled her close.  Neither wanted to move from the other.  The silence was beautiful—just the two of them, a calm sea, the stars, the crackling of the fire and the night to embrace them.

 

Min Ho noticed the fire had died down.  He knew Ari had fallen asleep.  Reluctantly, he gently picked Ari up.  Her skin was getting cool to the touch and he didn’t want her to get sick.  After carrying her up to her room, he placed her in bed and pulled the covers up.  He stood over her, watching her sleep.  Before he left the room he whispered into her ear, “Ari,e be wait for me.”

 

The next morning all of the guys were solemn.  They’d become so attached to Ari they didn’t want to leave.  There were two interviews after breakfast.  The first one was with KBC and the second was MBC¸ from Korea.  KBC focused mostly on Shinee and the impact they had on their fans.  MBC focused more on their relationships with one another and how Ari had impacted their lives.

 

Min Ho grew quiet.  The interviewer was confused by the absence of his normal charismatic charm.   She pressed him to find out what was going on.  At one point she caught him looking at Ari and she knew instantly that Min Ho was love struck.  Had the girl fallen for him as well?  She had to find out.

 

“So, Min Ho, have you guys had much of an opportunity to get to know Ari outside the studio?”

 

“Ne.  She and her caretakers, Mr. and Mrs. Kim, have been kind enough to invite us to stay with them during our time in America.”

 

“Would you say that you’ve grown fond of Ari, Jonghyun?”

 

“Sure, we all have.  She’s a beautiful girl and a wonderful dancer.”

 

“What about you Taemin?  You’ve been here longest.  How has Ari affected you?”

 

“I fell in love with her.  At least I thought I did.  Made a fool of myself over her too!”

 

“How was that?” the lady asked.

 

“She’s in love with someone else.” Taemin answered.

 

“Oh, who would that be?”

 

They all looked at each other except Ari.  She was a professional and kept her smile and gaze on the lady conducting the interview.  “Ari can you tell us who the man in your life is?”

 

“All five members of Shinee have stolen my heart.  I’m in love with each one of them.”  Then Ari, for the first time since the interview, began looking at each member one by one.  She did not linger on Min Ho, despite longing to do just that.  “How could I not!?”  It was more a statement than a question.

 

With her best efforts in place, the lady conducting the interview was not able to confirm her suspicions.  Eun Kyung was well known to be one of the toughest journalists in Seoul.  Ari was resilient, but Eun Kyung would be watching.  She was sure there was a bigger story here than the one she’d been sent for.

 

After the interview, each of them packed their bags and headed out to the coliseum.  Ari did not go with them.  She would follow later in her own car.  She didn’t want her Abba to see her at the end of the concert.  Her chest was tight and she’d been struggling to hold back her tears all morning.  She allowed them to flow freely now that she was alone in her room.  Alone in her house.  Min Ho would soon be gone from her life.  Would her memories be enough?  Would she one day find a love as complete and full as her love for this man?  She doubted it!

 

She sat and cried till there were no more tears to shed.  Afterwards, Ari took a long, hot bath, dressed and headed to the coliseum.  Shinee was up on stage performing just as she walked in the door.  They were spectacular.  Up until this point she’d not heard them singing together.  How did she miss that?  She wished they sang, just once, for her.

 

She waited for them to come off-stage before she let them know she was there.  Fighting the urge to hide away and sink within her own sadness, Ari reminded Min Ho that he’d promised to introduce her to CN Blue.

 

Jealousy overcame him.  It was an emotion he’d never experienced before, but Min ho was sure what he was feeling was jealousy.  It made him angry, not just at himself, but her too!  “Why don’t you have Key take you?  I already told you they are better friends than him and I are.”  Then he stormed off.

 

“He’s just hurting, Ari.  He didn’t mean it the way it sounded.” Onew told her.

 

“I know.”  Ari smiled at these wonderful men she considered brothers.  “So, Key.  Can you introduce me to Yong Hwa?”

 

“Let’s go.  I think we could use a change in scenery.  These guys are all too gloomy.”  He took Ari by the hand and led her away.

 

“They hadn’t gone far when Key stopped.  “Ari, I don’t want you crying alone.”

 

“What are you talking about?  I haven’t been crying!”

 

“Your eyes are puffy and red.  I know we’re going to leave tonight.  Why don’t you let us hold you while you cry?  We’re still here, lean on us.”

 

Ari hugged Key. “Gomawo, Key.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you’re saying, but I prefer to keep my sadness to myself.  I promise, I’m going to be fine.”

 

“In that case, let’s make the rest of this day filled with smiles and wonderful memories.”  Key drug Ari throughout the backstage rooms until he finally found CN Blue.

 

“Yong Hwa, I’ve brought a special noona to meet you”.  Yong Hwa stood up and strolled over to the door.  When he saw Ari, he stopped in his tracks.

 

“I don’t believe it!  You’re that dancer I saw in CATS a few years ago on Broadway.  I was here visiting with Chang Yong Lim when I went to see the play.  You are spellbinding!”

 

This whole time Yong Hwa was speaking to her in English.  “How is it that you met Ari Smith, Key?”

 

“She’s dancing with us.  Didn’t you hear about her and Taemin doing a duet?”

 

“No way!  Are you saying Taemin gets to dance with the famous Ari Smith?”

 

“Ne.” Key answered with a broad smile.  He knew his longtime friend was steaming with envy.  “I brought her over to meet you at her request.”

 

Yong Hwa looked at Ari, “Really?”

 

In Korean she explained that she is a huge fan of CN Blue and FT Island. “Gomawo.  Hongki is sure to meet you once he finds out you’re a fan of his.”  They continued talking for a while longer, but soon it was time for them to head to the stage and practice.

 

Once on stage, all the pent up tension in Min Ho and Ari subsided.  They both lived to perform, and tonight was no exception.  Taemin matched Ari step for step and the roars of the audience were thunderous.  For a hair-splitting second as Min Ho was raised out of the floor and began dancing with her, Ari was again mesmerized by his talent.  Then, just as quickly as her thoughts had turned to him, they turned back to her job, dancing.

 

Afterwards, the Shinee members each performed their solo.  Onew sang the American song, “I won’t give up”.  Ari loved the sweet melodies that flowed from Onew.  Jonghyun had the power vocally, but what came from Onew was something special all on its own.  His voice was beautiful and pure, capturing every listener within the swirl of its tones.

 

Key did a duet with a girl from BoA that was electrifying and exciting.  Key is the true performer of the group.  Always he was the show.

 

Jonghyun is a master on stage—a powerhouse —a powerhouse vocally!  Every note carried a message that demanded your attention.  Ari was sure he was born for the sole purpose to perform—and perform he did to a Spanish song, “Y Si Fuera Ella”.  Before he’d finished, Ari was overcome with tears.

 

Taemin just released his first single, “Danger”.  His pretty face, impressive dancing talents and confidence upon the stage sent the younger girls screaming for his eyes to meet with their own.  If they could have reached him, those girls would have torn him to bits.  Everyone there wanted nothing more than to touch this pretty boy who became the man before them.

 

Then it was time for Min Ho to come out and sing, “Turn Up The Music.” The crowd was deafening.  All the ladies wanted him to thrill their hearts as only he could do.  They begged him to give them everything he was, physically and visually.  His dancing, his charisma and his incredible virility were there before them and they couldn’t get enough.  Ari stood off stage left and steadied her heart as Min Ho stepped up, dressed completely in black.  His shirt was unbuttoned half way down.  His voice, she loved his voice.  Again she regretted she’d never asked him to sing to her.

 

Then her jaw dropped as Min Ho’s movements became more sexual.  This man on stage was the same quiet, unassuming man that had been living in her house for the last week.  The same man that had carried her to her bed just the night before.  She wondered at her own safety those many moments they had stolen alone.  She’d never been so aroused by a man dancing and singing in her whole career.  When he lifted his shirt she could see the muscles rippling across his stomach.  She had felt that strength the first day she had met him as he had pressed her body against his own.  She was shaken by how alarmingly she was off-balance just watching him.

 

Just before the lights went out, Min Ho ripped open his shirt, posing for the crowd.  When the lights went dim, she could see he was walking directly toward her.  His lean body stood over her as she remained in numbed silence.  Leaning over he lifted her jaw and said, “That performance was just for you.”  Then he patted her head and walked off.

 

In the background, some of the other girl bands were talking.  “Who does that girl think she is?  Min Ho has never patted even one of us on the head.  “Why her?”

 

“Doesn’t he know American girls have a reputation to be easy?”

 

“Maybe that’s why he singled her out.  Maybe Min Ho is looking to lose more in America than just time.”

 

About this time one of the girls from f(x), a fellow rapper overheard the other girls talking.  “Has it ever occurred to you that Min Ho doesn’t like you, but he does like her?”  Amber said, pointing to Ari.  She’d seen Min Ho pat Ari’s head.  She knew him, and he wasn’t the type to do something like that to any girl unless he was paid too or he liked her.  There were no cameras watching so Amber was sure Min Ho had fallen hard for this American girl.  She continued walking, and as she passed Ari she smiled.

 

The concert ended soon after Min Ho’s solo.  Everyone was rushing to their changing rooms and headed out to the limousines waiting to take them back to the airport.  Ari looked for Min Ho, but she couldn’t find him.  She wondered if he’d left without saying goodbye.

 

When she got back to her room, she sat and cried.  “What is wrong with me?  Why am I crying like this over a guy I’ll never see again?”

 

“What do you mean you’ll never see me again?”

Stunned, Ari looked up to find Min Ho.  He’d changed his clothes and was leaning against her open door.  He strode over to her and placed his hand against her cheek.  “Didn’t I promise you’d I figure it out?  I’ve already formulated a plan.  Give me time.  Trust me.”

 

Through her tears, Ari looked at him and she knew he believed what he was saying.  She wished she could hold the same confidence within her own heart.  “Aleso.  I promise to trust you.”

 

Min Ho asked Ari for her cell phone and then dialed his line.  “Don’t call my number because my manager will find out and they will end us talking to one another.  Wait for me to call you, okay?”

 

“Aleso.”

 

 

“Good.  I’ve got to go.  They’ll be looking for me.”  His naturally intoxicating aroma filled her nostrils as he slowly leaned in and gently placed his full soft lips against her own.  The taste of those lips stayed with Ari for many hours to come.  She was sure that this was her first and last kiss.  When he released her, he whispered, “Wait for me.” And then he was gone.

 

Min Ho’s chest was tight as he rode in the limousine to the airport.  He placed his hand to his heart and silently cried.

 

 

Chapter 11

 

For weeks, Ari struggled to think of anything besides Min Ho.  Everywhere she went reminded her of moments they had stolen.  Her heart ached with the need to see him, touch him.  His scent faded away and became only a memory, a memory she tried hard to hold on too!

 

Day after day, she listened to the Shinee recordings she had downloaded on her phone.  Each time she heard his voice, the longing only grew stronger.  Daily she checked to see if he’d called, texted, or left a message.  Never once did she hear from him.

 

When she at last accepted he was not going to contact her, she hoped Taemin or one of the other members would.  Any news about Min Ho would have made it easier.  Despite her hopes, there was nothing.

 

In a last ditch effort to know where he was and what he was up to, she turned to the internet.  Never once during an interview did he mention Ari.

 

Mrs. Kim tolerated Ari’s cycles of grief.  After dancing for hours, Ari dropped on the floor screaming for it to all to be a dream.  When Mrs. Kim would try and talk with her, she would tell her mom how he’d asked her to trust him.  “I have to trust him!”

 

The next was anger.  Ari came home from rehearsals and started throwing her shoes and bags across the marble floor.  Mrs. Kim ran into the living room, “What happened?”

 

“I hate him, Omma!  Why has he done this too me?  I told him it would never work, but he wouldn’t let it go.  Now he’s left me and I HATE him!” she screamed vehemently.

 

After nearly three weeks of crying and the chest crushing pain that comes from a separation, Ari realized it was over.  Acceptance was the last stage of grief.

 

The next few weeks went by quickly.  Min Ho was too busy to spend much time thinking about Ari.  They had flown from Los Angeles to Mexico City for their first Shinee concert to promote their “Boy Meets U” album.  After that they were in Argentina, Japan, Hong Kong, Shanghi, Paris, and London, then back home in Seoul.  The nights were the hardest, but long hours in flight and physically demanding concerts left him exhausted.

 

Something changed in Min Ho since leaving Ari.  He’d always been hard-working and conscientious of the mandates of his job for SM Entertainment as well as his commitment to the members.  But, he no longer felt the dedication to this pledge alone.  Ari became his priority.  He knew if his hand was forced he would give all this up for her.  He had hoped that could be avoided.  He loved the other members of Shinee and performing was who he was.  He was assured he’d be able to find work without SM Entertainment, but these guys were home.  Min Ho was now discerning about his daily life.  The only way he was going to be able to keep both Shinee and Ari was to plan each move.  He couldn’t behave impulsively just because his heart was aching.  He longed to call her, to hear her voice.  He wondered how she was holding up.  Remembering how she’d tried to smile for him as he left her standing there, he had wanted more than anything to run back to her, to hold her, but he knew he couldn’t.  He had forced his feet to move.  He could only hope her belief in him would soothe her heartache.

 

When Shinee finally arrived back home, they were given a few days off.  Min Ho drove to Incheon to see his parents.  Mr. Choi typically was at soccer practice, but today he was home.  Min Ho’s brother was not going to be over; he had other plans.  This disappointed Min Ho.  He needed to ask his brother for a favor and he couldn’t do it over the phone.

 

Mrs. Choi noticed that her son seemed different, more mature in nature than was typical.  Normally when he came home he talked a lot, and louder than his normal tones.  Today he was sullen and didn’t smile much.

 

“What’s wrong with you Min Ho?” his mother finally asked.

 

“Mueoseulyo?”

 

“You seem distant.  I’ve never seen you like this!  Did something happen while you’ve been gone?”

 

His mother could see right through him.  He wondered how many others were noticing a change.  He would have to be more careful.  He smiled his brightest smile, “Omma, I’m fine.  I’m just tired!  We’ve been gone longer than normal.  It’s good to be back!”  Min Ho hoped he’d convinced his mother.  He hated deceiving her, but he wasn’t ready to tell his parents about Ari.  They’d tell him he was too young for a serious relationship and he needed to focus on his career.  He also wasn’t sure how they’d feel about him accepting an American girl.  He suspected they would be disappointed.  Mrs. Choi had always told him that he should find a traditional Korean lady.  Ari was traditional, but not Korean.  He wasn’t sure how to handle this single issue.

 

Hours later, he lay awake in bed and knew that tomorrow had to be the twist in his situation.  He couldn’t make a mistake and let anyone know his true intentions.  He fell asleep, exhausted but sure in his words.

 

The next morning Key woke Min Ho just as usual.  The group was going to be on the TV show Strong Heart.  When the guys got to joking with Min Ho, it was about an incident in the bathroom.  Ho Dong was using the urinal next to Min Ho and told Min Ho that he had a manly scent coming from him.  Everyone was laughing, including Min Ho.  He was surprised by these words and didn’t know if he should consider them or feel complemented.

 

Later, Ho Dong asked the guys what it was like to work with Ari Smith.  Taemin, who did most of the talking, answered, “We really enjoyed our time with Ari.  It felt more like a vacation then work.  Still, she made us practice long hours and the routine was difficult.”

 

Ho Dong said, “I heard in your interview that you fell in love with Ari, was this true Taemin?”

 

“Ne.  I did fall in love with her, but now she is just like an Nuna.”

 

Key spoke up “I think we all felt the same way toward Ari.  I’m sure she returned those emotions toward us.”

 

“What was it like dancing with her?”

 

Min Ho grabbed his chance, “She glides across the floor, moving with a fluidness that is fascinating to watch.  I’d do it again!  Actually, Dancing with Kpop Idols has been bugging me for two years to do their show.  If they got Ari to be my partner, I’d have to consider it!”  The other guys looked at Min Ho finally understanding where his mind had been lately.

 

“So you’re saying you would dance on their show as long as they got Ari Smith over to Korea to dance with you?”

 

Craftily he pointed to them and responded, “I said I’d have to consider it!  She’s a great dancer and I think we’d do well together.”  The seed was planted.  Now he just needed to sit back and let the managers work their magic.  Min Ho smiled at his own resourcefulness.

 

When the show was over, Jonghyun walked over and slapped Min Ho on the back, “Way to think on your feet Min Ho.  You might just be able to pull this one off.”  Again, Min Ho smiled accepting hyung’s praise.

 

For the last two months, Ari was working on a play in Munich, Germany.  She’d been hired to portray Elphaba, the wicked witch of the west in the play “Wicked”.  This was a new role for Ari.  She’d never played the part of an evil person before.  She found it suited her current state of mind.  The critics were praising her work, so she felt positive.  She enjoyed letting off some of the ache that still surged through her chest.

 

It had been three months since she’d last seen or talked with Min Ho.  She had tried to stay positive, but she couldn’t stop her mind from believing it had all been a dream and he’d moved on.  That was the way it was in this industry.  Stars fell in love with who they were with at the time.  As soon as a new damsel glistened by make-up and fame came along, their hearts made a shift.  She’d wanted to believe in him, wait for him, but she’d been living in this world for too many years to be fooled by a pretty face and words soaked in carmel.

 

Drained and sick at heart, Ari flung herself across the lush bed in her suite at Sofitel Munich Bayerpost,   and allowed her tears to roll down her face.  Just as she was ready to drift away, Mrs. Kim unlocked her door and entered, “Ari you’ve got a phone call.  You’d better take it.”

 

“I’m so tired Omma.  Please, you handle this!”

 

She tried so hard to not smile, but the edges of her mouth kept creeping up, “Aniyo Ari.  Get up and accept this call.  It’s from Korea!”

 

Ari sat up, “Is it—” she paused afraid to ask, “—Min Ho?”  Mrs. Kim shook her head and watched Ari sink back into the covers.

 

“It’s the manager from the Korean version of the American hit, Dancing with the Stars.  I know you’ve always rejected the offers to do this show, but…..” She pushed the phone into Ari’s hand, “…listen to what they have to say.”

 

Reluctantly, Ari answered the phone, “Annyeonghaseyo, this is Ari Smith.”

 

“Miss Smith, our company would like to offer you a position on Dancing with Kpop Idols for our fifth season.  We’re prepared to pay you proper compensation!  We’ve been trying to get Choi Min Ho to dance on our show every season.  Recently he said publicly that he would consider our show if you were his dance partner.”

 

The person on the phone continued talking, but Ari didn’t hear anything that was said.  He’d asked for her, he’d really asked for her.  She sat straight up in bed, and with an overabundance of enthusiasm she answered, “Yes.  I’ll do it.  Yes!”  She didn’t even realize she’d responded in English and they probably didn’t know her answer.

 

Mrs. Kim removed the phone from her daughter’s hands as Ari jumped and screamed on top of her mattress.  When her mom got off the phone, Ari threw herself into Mrs. Kim’s arms and hugged her tightly.  “Can you believe it?  He hasn’t forgotten me.  He still wants me next to him!  Oh, Omma my heart has been stolen and I am elevated.”

 

Mrs. Kim smiled as she removed Ari’s arms from around her neck, “You’re choking me jigayo!”

 

“Yungamimnida Omma.  When are we leaving?  I want to go now!”

 

“They won’t begin rehearsals until December.  You can’t leave until you finish your contract here.  That means we should be able to fly to Korea and spend a few days sightseeing around Thanksgiving.”  Ari sunk onto the edge of her couch.  She was disappointed, but she knew if she walked out on this deal she’d lose her credibility and would never be under contract again.  Even still, she did consider that as an option.

 

 

Chapter 12

 

The next month went by much faster than Ari anticipated.  The critics were now singing her praises as they saw Ari’s dancing and singing grow more pure.  She spent her days walking along the city streets, and dancing in Englischer Garten.  She’d attracted vast crowds as she whirled and masterfully soared into the air.

 

Finally her contract was complete, her bags packed, and she was about to board a direct flight from MUC to ICN.  Her expected departure was eight in the morning and her plane was expected to land at 11:46,  Munich time, 6:46 in the evening, Seoul time.

 

The manager of Dancing with Kpop Idols contacted Min Ho to inform him Ari Smith had agreed to dance on the show.  Min Ho convinced his manager that he didn’t want to take the job but he’d kind of committed to it on Strong Heart.  Reluctantly, he signed the contract.

 

When he left SM Entertainment, Min Ho was striding in a haze of rhapsody.  He couldn’t believe it had worked.  He’d needed it to work!  He missed Ari deeply.  Now, at last he would hold her in his arms and with a three-month contract they’d have more time to drown themselves in a shroud of their love.

 

He managed to bribe the lady at the airport to inform him when Ari’s flight would depart and arrive.  In camouflage, Min Ho stood waiting for her arrival.  When she entered the terminal, it was all he could do to not rush down and scoop her into his arms.  He knew there would be cameras watching and it wouldn’t be long before they’d know it was him in those pictures.  Patiently he watched, satisfying himself with her presence just a few short feet from where he stood.

 

Unassumingly, Min Ho followed her as she left the airport and arrived at Cheongdam Human Star Ville.  He stood close enough to hear the clerk tell her the room number, and then he forced himself to leave.

 

A couple of hours later, Min Ho was sitting with his brother at Café De Seoul eating a pastry.  “Hyung I need you to get me a cell phone in your name.”

 

“Waeyo?” Min Ki asked.

 

“I can’t tell you right now.  I promise I will one day.  I just need to contact someone without drawing attention to my calls.”

 

“Is it a hae haesseoyo, a girl?”

 

“I can’t tell you anything else right now.  Please hyung, do this for me.  Bring the phone to my flat and ask Taemin to take it for me.  He’ll know what to do with it.  Don’t give it to anyone but Taemin and don’t let the other guys see you give it to him.  Bootakamnida?”

 

“Ihae haesseoyo.”

 

“Gomasseumnida hyung.  I will return the favor over and over.”

 

Arianna felt light on her feet when she landed in Seoul.  She wished Min Ho had been there to greet her.  Secretly she looked around for him.  She thought for a moment she’d seen him, but when the tall, slender man hastily strode out of sight, she was sure it hadn’t been him.  It did look like his walk….she had to quit expecting him to be around every corner.  His schedule was busier than hers.  He couldn’t just drop his responsibilities to see her arrive at an airport.  Also, she told herself he’d be in danger of being noticed and ambushed by fans.  She would just have to wait until rehearsals began and enjoy time sightseeing with Mr. and Mrs. Kim.

 

Refreshed and awake for the first morning since Min Ho left her side, Ari got up, showered and ate an ample breakfast of fresh blueberry and walnut pancakes.  After dressing, she hurriedly met up with Mrs. Kim to go sightseeing.  They had already chosen the places they wanted to see the night before.

 

First they went to Seoul Square.  Displayed on the side of Seoul Square Office Building was the largest LED screen Ari had ever seen.  Mrs. Kim told her it was actually the largest in the world.  It covered one side of the building.

 

Just as they were turning to look elsewhere an advertisement of Choi Min Ho fixing and eating a Rice Pasta came onto the screen.  It felt strange seeing him nine stories tall.  As she watched him eat the pasta, she remembered watching him eat at her house.  She couldn’t help but smile as she thought to herself how handsome he was even with a mouthful of pasta.

 

Next they visited the five palaces.  Her favorite was Gyeongbokgung Palace.  “Omma, look, here is the courtyard where there were so many scenes from The Princess Man.  The movie starring Park Shi Hoo, was her all-time favorite, along with the 1967 version of Romeo and Juliet.

 

Mrs. Kim told Ari about the first time her parents had brought her to see the palaces.  It was during a school field trip and one of the rare occasions both of her parents had been able to participate.  “I didn’t make it back here until Mr. Kim and I were on our honeymoon.”  Mrs. Kim blushed as those memories returned.

 

While at Deoksugung Palace, they walked a small portion of Cheonggyecheon stream.  The man-made river was 8 km long.  There was a festival going on and Ari bought a couple of souvenirs.

 

“At night there is always a laser show.  It’s a shame we couldn’t have come sooner.  In the first couple of weeks of November there is a lantern festival and everyone comes and places their rice paper lanterns in the stream,” Mrs. Kim said.

 

The last place they visited was the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan Family Park.  “We’ll never be able to see all of this in one day, Omma.  Besides, I’m getting tired.  Why don’t we get a small dinner and watch a movie outside on the lawn?”  Mrs. Kim agreed.

 

The outdoor theatre was playing a 2013 competitive sports movie called, No Breathing.  Ari really liked it.  The girl was a musician and the guys competed in swimming.  Somewhere in the recesses of her mind, she knew something was different.  As the scent became more distinct in her mind she wondered away from the movie and knew Min Ho was close.  Her senses were on overdrive when she heard him say, “I’ve missed you!”

 

Instantly she was grinning, but she kept her face forward, fearful her mind was playing tricks.  When she finally turned to look, he was sitting next to her on the bench.  He was wearing a scarf wrapped around the lower half of his face, a sports cap, and a long ratty-looking trench coat.  But in the darkness she knew his voice, his scent, his eyes.  By this time Ari was grinning with so much force her jaws were beginning to hurt.  Min Ho had found her!  “How?”

 

“I’ve been following you since you left the hotel this morning.  Yesterday I waited at the airport until you arrived and then followed you to where you’re staying.”  Then smugly he announced, “I even overheard your room number.  I’m beginning to feel like a stalker!”

 

“Why didn’t you say something?  You could have at least let me know you were there!”

 

“My manager has been having me and Taemin watched ever since we got back from America.  He’s especially nervous since we signed the contract for this show.”  Min Ho took a handful of her popcorn and popped a few into his mouth.  “I think he is suspicious that one of us is dating you.  He keeps asking us questions about our trip but we’ve done a pretty good job of avoiding them.  I got these clothes from a second hand store and sneaked out.”

 

“I can’t stay any longer.  I’ve already been gone too long.  If I don’t show up soon, he will really be tagging my movements.  I wish I could have been close sooner, but I had to wait for dark, and then those other people sat right next to you.”

 

“I’m just so happy to see you,” Ari whispered shyly.  Briefly he squeezed her hand.

 

“Tomorrow and the next I have rehearsals and meetings all day.  How about Thursday we meet at the Seoul Zoo?  I’ll only have a couple of hours so it shall be it then.  Just come to the entrance around nine and I’ll find you.  Ok?”

 

“Aleso!”  As quickly as he arrived, he was now gone.  His lingering scent was the only proof he’d been there.

 

Ari looked next to her.  Seconds after he left Mrs. Kim returned from the bathroom.  “Omma, did you see him?”

 

“See what?  Who jagaya?”

 

She smiled to herself, “Oh nothing, just enjoy the movie.”  Ari put this memory away in her heart and locked the key.

 

 

Chapter 13

 

On Thursday morning, Ari could hardly contain her excitement.  She went through every outfit she brought, but none of them suited her.  It was nearly time to leave and she still hadn’t decided what to wear.  She called down to the shop in the hotel.  “I have an emergency meeting and I don’t have the right dress for the event.  Could you please have one of your girls bring up your nicest dresses to suite 501?”  The attendant told her they would be up in ten minutes.

 

She chose a simple white dress with a full length picture of the Eiffel Tower on the front.  The design was created to appear as a picture of the tower seen through the branches of trees.  Ari loved it!  Simple, yet elegant.  She chose a pair of white flats and a stylish wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off her face.

 

The weather was perfect, with warm, breezy days and cool nights.  The sun was bright and pleasant against her skin.  She’d only needed a thin angora sweater to protect her arms from the cool breeze.  She stood facing the entrance looking for Min Ho.  Suddenly her hand was captured within the grasp of another and she was being lead toward the zoo.  With tickets in hand, they were permitted immediate entrance.  Once inside, Min Ho finally made eye contact with her, “One day when we enjoy the freedom that comes from an open relationship, I will rent the whole zoo for the day.  Unfortunately, today we will have to share our time with those around us.”

 

Looking into his eyes and feeling the quintessence, she told him, “I don’t mind.  They are now a small part in the sketch being drawn before us.”  Min Ho smiled as they slowly began the venture hand in hand.

 

The two spent the morning amazed by the baby Asian elephant pulling on his mom’s tail, and the giraffes eating handfuls of corn from their palms.  When they got to the Indochinese tiger exhibit it was time for his daily training.  They could see through the glass as the tiger made his way down a slope and up to the heavy metal fencing that protected them from the immense paws and long canines.  Min Ho wrapped his arms around Ari from the back and leaned his chin on the top of her head while they watched, mesmerized.

 

Being this close they could feel the vibrations coming from the tiger as he made his sound to greet them.  The trainer told the crowd, “The noises you hear are called chuffing.   They make this sound by shooting air out their nose at high speed.”  Some of the people around them were beginning to stare at Min Ho.  Rather than draw any unwanted attention they continued on.

 

Lastly they walked through the gardens, “The Chrysanthemum Flower Festival just ended a couple of weeks ago.  You can see a few are still in bloom.  During the festival everything is covered in yellow blossoms.” The two sat on a bench, their hands still firmly clasped.  Min Ho pulled a flower and handed it to her as he continued, “It’s almost time for me to leave.  We’d better head back to the entrance.  I think it’s best if I leave first.”

 

“Will I see you again before rehearsals begin?”  Ari asked.

 

“I know we have an interview with the rest of the contestants one day soon.”  Seeing Ari’s disappointment, he continued, “But, I’ll figure out something.  When I do I’ll leave you a note with the concierge, okay?”

 

“Alesyo.”

 

Ari’s hand felt cold and empty when Min Ho finally let go and left the zoo.  It was going to take a lot of patience to make this relationship work.  She marveled at Min Ho’s fortitude and self-control.  Always he was a gentleman, always he was respectful—yet each time he left her side, she felt like a woman who had spent the day in the arms of the man she loved and he’d just left the warmth of their bed.  Surprised by own her thoughts, she wrapped her arms close around herself and shivered in the cool of the afternoon.  This was going to be harder than she’d thought!

 

It was nearly a week before she received the note she’d been promised.  It wasn’t really a note; it was a key, the key to one of the rooms in the hotel.  Ari followed the directions of the hotel clerk and went to the second floor.  When she arrived at the room, she stood frozen.  She wondered if the key had been left by Min Ho or was it a trap.

 

Each day since the visit to the zoo, Ari had gone to the concierge and asked if anyone had left her a note. Each day she’d been told “no”.  Today when she began to speak the gentleman behind the desk greeted her. “Good morning Miss Smith.  A key to one of our rooms was left here for you this morning.”

 

“A key to what?”  Ari asked puzzled.

 

“A key to one of our rooms on the, uh…” He looked down, “on the second floor.”

 

“Ari accepted the key, and now she had to decide whether or not to enter the room.”  Her hand shook as she placed the card into the slot and then quickly removed it.  She heard the click and a green light shined.  She placed her other hand on the knob and began to turn.  Before she opened, she looked down the corridor.  This was the last room at the end of a hall.  There was little chance anyone would notice if she entered the room, or if she ever came out.

 

Ari heard a noise on the other side of the door.  She was about to release the handle and run away when the door swung wide.  A grinning Min Ho stood looking down at her.  He grabbed her arm and pulled her into him.  They stood there several moments before he let go.  “Bien,” he said as the two embraced.

 

When at last he tenderly released her, his hand slid down her arm.  Entwining their fingers, he gently pulled her into the room.  When Ari saw the bed, she stopped and looked at Min Ho with confusion.

He ruffled her hair.  “This room is the only thing I could come up with.  I wish it was a suite where we’d have a couch to visit but those rooms are watched more closely.  I was sure others would see us leaving and coming.”  Min Ho sat down on the bed and patted beside him, inviting her to sit down.  She did.  She trusted this man with her life.  Besides—if this room, with this bed, was the only way they could spend time together, then she wasn’t going to leave.

 

Like the true gamer he was, Min Ho brought his favorite sports video games with him.  For the next few hours, the two laughed and fought as Ari tried in vain to win even one.  When she finally gave up, it was nearly eight in the evening and they’d neither one had dinner.  “I’m starving!” she told him.  “Do you think we could get something brought up?”

 

Min Ho got the menu out of the drawer next to the bed, sat down, and started thumbing through it.  Ari jumped on the bed and kneeled behind him to look over his shoulder.  “What do you want?” he asked.

 

“I’d love some dumplings and gaejang.” She answered.

 

“Are you sure?” he asked.

 

“Ne.”

 

Min Ho picked up the receiver and ordered Ari raw crabs and dumplings with rice.  For himself, he got Ginseng Chicken Stew, Bulgogi Bibimbap, and an assortment of side dishes with rice.  He also left instructions for them to knock and then leave the tray of food outside the door.

 

Ari had forgotten to eat breakfast.  She gobbled up her food and then began picking at Min Ho’s.  He smiled as he watched her eat.  He’d always preferred girls that would eat without being fastidious.  The more he knew about Ari, the more his affection grew.  When Ari had eaten all she wanted, she looked up at Min Ho.  Their eyes met and what he saw was a woman—a woman that loved him and held nothing back.

 

He could feel his heart pounding and knew he was in danger of losing control.  Everything within him wanted to possess all of Ari, making sure no man questioned his place in her life.  He gulped and pulled his eyes away from her.  Now was not the time.  One day, when the time was right, he knew they would share every day openly and without shame.  One day, he would claim this woman, his woman, forever!

 

Min Ho stood and told Ari it was time for him to leave.  “Keep your key.  I’ll be back tomorrow evening if I can.  This time I’ll bring you dinner.  Key makes the best dumplings.”

 

Min Ho grabbed his coat and left.  Again Ari felt cold and alone.  She called Mr. and Mrs. Kim to tell them where she was and that she would be staying in the room for the night.  She knew her bed upstairs was larger and more comfortable, but this room still carried the scent of him.  She could still feel his presence; this is where she wanted to be.

 

Mrs. Kim brought fresh clothes, pajamas, and Ari’s toiletries down.  When Mrs. Kim left the smaller room she was washed with sadness.  Would Ari be left heartbroken in the end?  Would the child give herself completely to Min Ho to find his heart only temporary?  Despite her fears, Ari needed to find her own path in this lifetime.  Interfering would only cause disappointment and regret.  As much as she saw the genuineness of Min Ho’s intentions, they were both still young and their lives were ruled by their fans.  Without the fans, one would just be a rapper and the other just a dancer.  Sadly, there were thousands of “just” performers without a job, without money, and without the one thing they crave the most—acknowledgement!”

 

 

Chapter 14

 

The next morning Ari ate breakfast in the restaurant at her hotel and then headed out shopping.  She usually did most of her shopping at designer shops where her clothes were tailored to fit.  She didn’t need these types of clothes right now.  What she was looking for were clothes that would allow her and Min Ho to blend in with every other person on the streets.

 

Ari knew people would begin to talk if he kept wearing the same outfit, looking like one the homeless and if she pranced around carrying a designer handbag and Prada shoes.

 

After asking around, she finally stood in front of a store that was similar to Good Will in America.  She searched for what seemed hours.  People were staring at her as she shopped.  Some knew who she was and asked for her autograph.  When they asked her why she was shopping there, she told them she was buying clothes for a family that had lost everything to a fire.  They would smile and walk off, convinced they’d met an angel.  She hated deceiving them but persuaded herself that protecting Min Ho’s career was of upmost importance.

 

In the end she’d purchased her and Min Ho five complete outfits each.  She knew she couldn’t hide the way he walked, or talked, but these outfits would disguise his physique, and with the unattractive sunglasses she found, he wasn’t going to draw attention to himself.

 

She found clothes for herself that would make her appear older and tomboyish.  She’d just finished playing a wicked witch, so she changed her walk to appear tougher.  Once she got back to the hotel, she tried on one of her new outfits and paraded down around the lobby.  Eventually she got the nerve to speak with the concierge.  At first he was agitated and short, but then he got a clear glimpse of her face, “Oh my!  Miss Smith, I do apologize.  I wasn’t aware it was you!”

 

“Wonderful!” she exclaimed.  The poor man behind the counter was bowing and apologizing.  When she seemed elated, he stopped and looked up.

 

“Excuse me but did I miss something?” he asked hesitantly.

 

“Ne.  You responded just as I wanted you to.  Actually I would have been happier if you’d escorted me out of the hotel.”  She twirled around and then asked, “What gave me away?”

 

“Your face, mam.  Even without make-up your face is like a flower, straight and proud under the afternoon sun.”

 

“Awwww…..” Ari bowed and properly thanked him.

 

“Please, mam.  Allow me to make a suggestion.”  Jang Park Yong had been a concierge for many years.  During that time, he’d been entrusted with many celebrity secrets.  He also made a point of staying informed about current “high society” news and gossip.  He was well aware that Ari and Choi Min Ho would be dancing together.  When a gentleman arrived a few mornings ago and left him a key, asking that it be given to Miss Smith, well, it didn’t take much to figure out what was going on.

 

On the outside, Min Ho had looked like a bum but he couldn’t disguise the confidence in his walk, the carriage of his form or his voice.

 

Park Yong led Ari to a salon just around the corner.  The man fixing an elderly lady’s hair turned his head and smiled.

 

“I have a young lady here to needs to be unnoticed,” the concierge whispered.

 

Holding hair pulled tight in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other, the hairdresser winked at Mr. Jang.  “I’ll have someone with you in just a moment, miss.  Please have a seat.  My assistant will be happy to provide you with a snack, or perhaps a glass of wine.”

 

Ari squirmed in her Prussian blue velvet seat and shyly asked for a glass of dry red wine. She sat watching the tall blond American male as he clipped the hair of a distinguished looking lady.  She was dripping in diamonds and he wore a bright pink silk blouse with dark black pants that were so tight they gathered up his male parts into a snug little ball on one side of his zipper.  His feet were immaculately groomed and his toes were glossy.

 

Ari sighed.  Gay men had once been a hidden treasure for a female dancer.  You could allow them to touch you anywhere they needed to without getting lost in their own objectives.  These days nearly every dancer was claiming to be a “flame” or they were bi-sexual.  It rather stole the fun out of having an “uninterested” dance partner.  During interviews, they use to be baffled how a guy and a girl would dance together without any romance.  Now when you tell them you truly are not dating, the journalist will just smile with understanding.

 

Shortly, a stunning tall seductress came out and led Ari to another room.  As the lady studied Ari’s face she saw this woman’s incredibly long eyelashes were implanted, and fake. It wasn’t long until her face had been cleaned; massaged, and fresh make-up applied.  As the beautiful, slinky woman worked she started complimenting Ari about how flawless her skin was.  The woman was applying a darker tone base to Ari and some of the dust was accidently inhaled as she leaned in close.  She broke into a coughing fit, but the sounds coming out were not the same soft, gentle tones she’d talked with.  Her coughs were deep and throaty like a man’s.  It was then that Ari noticed her Adam’s apple bouncing with every cough.  She turned to Ari and demurely said, “Excuse me.  I’ll have to be more careful in the future.”  Ari just smiled with understanding.

 

The man-lady grabbed a mirror and held it gingerly before her.  “There you go, darling.  You now look flawed and just like any other person walking the street.”

 

Ari looked in the mirror and wondered where she was, “Is that…. Is that me?” she asked.

 

“Ne.”

 

“Oh, I love it!  Would you be able to do this for me, let’s say, anytime?”

 

“Sweetie for the right money, I can do this for you in the mid….well, anywhere!”

 

Ari kept the make-up on all day and walked around watching to see if anyone noticed her.  They didn’t! So she sat in the hotel room waiting for Min Ho to arrive.  When she heard the key click she ran and sat in one of the chairs by the window.  Min Ho walked in and set the food down on the table before he looked at her in the light.  When he saw what she’d done, he started laughing.

 

Ari was surprised by his laughter.  She expected him to be appalled, or think the room had been rented to someone else…she wasn’t sure what she’d expected, but she didn’t expect this!  Then panic set in, what if one day she did just look like any another person on the street, would he still like her?

She started to stomp off, angry and humiliated, but Min Ho grabbed her arm and pulled her back to face him.  He cradled her face in his hands and said, “Clever!  I wouldn’t have thought to use make-up to hide my face, but it’s clever.”

 

“Are you laughing because I’m despicable?”

 

“Even with all that make-up on a man only needs to look into your eyes and know your delightful nature and he would still find you beautiful, Ari.”

 

“Mr. Jang suggested it,” she paused, “so, this way we could go out into public—” She stomped. “—and nobody would guess it’s us.  Look, I even bought us some clothes at a second-hand store.”

 

Min Ho went through the clothes, “Ari, I’m sorry.” He sat down on the bed. “I should have never put you in this position.  A woman as beautiful and full of life as you should never have to hide her beauty or keep things secret.”

 

Ari bent down on her knees in front of him.  Looking up, she told him to never be sorry.  “I am having a great adventure.  It’s the most fun I’ve had in a lifetime.  Both you and I have cameras fixed in our faces most of the time.  We’ve never truly had a chance to live like normal people do.  Perfection is the name of their game and we always try to deliver.  Now, with these clothes and my makeup, we can go out in the world and no one will take a second look wondering if we are who they think we are.  It’s liberating!”

 

He smiled as he picked her up off the floor and sat her on the bed next to him.  “Okay.  Let’s go out in the world and be unnoticed.  I’ll try on some of these clothes and will go to Dreamland.”  Ari looked confused.  “Don’t worry you’ll love it!”

 

Together they road all three roller coasters and even stood in line for the ride—something neither could remember doing before.  At the games Min Ho won her a giant teddy bear at the Basketball hoops, a pink elephant at the bell, and had a heart necklace engraved with the word “liberated”.

 

When they got back to the hotel, they were both sick from to many fried fish sticks, cotton candy, and Deduk Cgo Chi.  Ari took a quick shower to get all the make-up off her face and wash her hair out.  She came out with her hair still wet and wrapped in a towel and a long, silk, sapphire-blue gown.

 

Min Ho’s eyes were like two silver dollars as he watched her drying her hair with the now-damp towel.  Not being able to stop himself, he walked over and with a clean towel he began drying her hair.  Ari dropped hers.  She’d forgotten he was sitting out here waiting for her.  No, that wasn’t right.  She knew he was out there but she’d gotten so use to his presence.  Had she gotten to comfortable?  They both remained quiet as Min Ho continued to dry Ari’s hair.

 

When he thought it was dry enough, he led her to the chair and combed it out.  He loved the way her hair felt as the strands slipped between his fingers.  He made a promise to himself to always comb her hair even as they grew old together.  He never wanted to lose this feeling, the feeling of being united.

 

When her hair was tangle-free, Min Ho dropped his arms and told her it was time for him to leave.  He knew she would stay there, just where he left her.  He longed to stay as well, but he couldn’t.  That night, and many nights after, Min Ho took a cold shower and lie in bed, longing to be back at the hotel with Ari sleeping beside him.

 

 

Chapter 15

 

Still sound asleep at 6:30 the following morning, Ari was awakened by her cell phone playing Y Si Fuera Ella by Jonghyun.  At first the words were soft and soothing, but the longer she ignored them, the stronger and louder the music became.  Slowly, she rolled over and folded her blankets to untangle herself.

 

Reaching for the phone, she saw George was the one calling.  Ari’s voice was hoarse from the cool air and all the screaming she’d done the night before at the amusement park.  “Good morning, George.”

 

“What’s wrong?  Why is your voice sounding scratchy?  Are you sick?” As usual, he was always overprotective of her.

 

“I’m fine, just a little raspy is all!” she assured him.

 

“I knew you needed me.  I just landed at INC airport.  I should be at your hotel in about an hour!”  Ari sat up straight in her bed.

 

“You’re what?” she asked.

 

“I’m coming to your hotel.  I got a couple days off.  I thought you and I could enjoy some sights together.  What’s your room number?”

 

After jumping out of bed and already changing into another outfit, Ari told him what hotel she was staying at and where to find her room.  They hung up and she went to her official suite.  On the way up, she called Mrs. Kim to tell her that George was on his way.  “What is he doing here, Omma?  Min Ho is going to be angry about this!  Why does he have to show up now?”  Ari wasn’t sure if she should call Min Ho or try to find him before the interview.

 

Knowing she had to tell him, she searched for his number in her list of calls.  Then she remembered she wasn’t supposed to call him on that line.  “Oh, what to do!  If I don’t tell him, he will be angry when George shows up with me.”  She remembered she had Taemin’s and Onew’s numbers.  Should she call one of them?  Do they know she and Min Ho have been seeing each other?  “Yes, Taemin had to know, they’re best friends,” she answered herself out loud.

 

Dialing the number for the first time, Ari was shaking.  “Annyeong, Ari.  Do you need Min Ho?”

 

“Uh, yes—uh no!”  She was so nervous she didn’t know what she wanted.  “I—would you tell him something for me?”  Was she really chickening out?

 

“Sure!  He’s gone out anyhow.  He left early this morning.”

 

“Are you expecting him back before our interview at 2?”

 

“He said he’d be out for the rest of the day.  Do you want me to call him and tell him to run over to your hotel as soon as gets a break?” Taemin asked.

 

“Aniyo!” Realizing she’d been a little too quick in answering, she became flustered. “I mean—I’m fine.  If you do see him, would you tell him George has come for a visit?”

 

“Ooooh, that doesn’t sound good.  Maybe I’d better give him a call.  You don’t want him finding out at the interview,” Taemin told her.

 

“Do you think he’s going to be mad, Taemin?” she asked.

 

“I don’t just think it!  Why did George come?”

 

“I didn’t know he was coming!” she said in self-defense.  “He just called me and told me he was on his way from INC.  I didn’t know what to say, so I gave him my room number and called you.”

 

There was nothing else that could be done, so the two got off the phone and Taemin dialed Min Ho’s cell phone.  No one answered, so he left a message, “Min Ho, this is Taemin.  You need to call me as soon as you get this.  I’ve got to tell you something.”

 

“Onew, have you talked with Min Ho?” Taemin asked.

 

“I haven’t. Why?”

 

“It seems that George just arrived by plane and is headed to Ari.  She wants Min Ho to know before she seems him later.”

 

“Doesn’t sound good!  Did you call him?”

 

“Yep but he hasn’t answered,” Taemin explained.

 

“Key, Jonghyun, do either one of you know where Min Ho is today?” Onew asked.

 

“I heard him tell our manager that he had an interview today with Ari.  That was around six.  He left a little after that.  I’d call Ari and see if he isn’t with her.” Jonghyun shouted back.

 

Speaking to himself, Onew said, “That won’t work!”  Then he looked over at Taemin sitting on the coffee table.  “I don’t know what else to do other than wait for him to call.  Maybe we should ride along with Ari to the interview, just to make sure Min Ho knows they weren’t alone.”

 

“Good idea!”  Taemin called the other guys into the meeting room and they all made plans to diffuse the situation.  It was decided that Onew would go to Ari’s hotel room and visit with her and George until it was time to leave.  Then Key would wait at the doors for Min Ho to arrive and give him the heads up.  Taemin and Jonghyun would get themselves invited into the interview and keep the conversation light.  “What journalist doesn’t want a chance to speak with all of Shinee members?” Jonghyun boasted!

 

Onew managed to make it to Ari’s hotel room before George arrived.  Just barely, though.  He’d only been there a couple of minutes when there was knock on the door.  Onew answered.

 

“Hey, George.  We’ve been expecting you!”  George looked strangely at Onew and then turned to Ari questioningly.  Onew didn’t stop there.  The plan was to keep George busy so he didn’t become too friendly in his greeting to Ari.  He slapped George on the back and then led him over to the couch.  For the next hour they talked with Ari while she sat alone upon one couch while George, with Onew on another.  Each time George would start to get up, Onew would pull him back down and tell him another story about the mistakes he had made on stage.  “They call it the Onew Condition,” he laughed.  I don’t know why, but I just occasionally space out.  I forget words, where I’m supposed to be, or what I was just doing.”

 

George seemed agitated, but Onew wasn’t here to make him happy.  He was here to protect Ari.  If Min Ho found out the two had been alone in her hotel room, they would all have a crazy man to deal with.

 

“One time we were performing in Tokyo and I blanked.  I ended up turning in the wrong direction and my elbow smacked Jonghyun in the mouth.  Fortunately it didn’t draw blood, but it nearly knocked him off his feet.  It took three or four counts before he stood up and moved back into position.”  Ari giggled as Onew told his funny stories.  She couldn’t help but love this soft, childlike Obba.  He had a pure heart that loved those around him without reservation.  Later, she told herself, she’d have to thank him—all of them—for getting her out of this mess.  Oh why had George decided to come now?

 

It was time to leave for the interview, and George insisted on going with her, “It will be fun watching you.”

 

She told him that he’d already done hundreds of interviews with her and this was just another one.  She suggested that he should stay and rest while she’s gone.   But nothing she tried worked; George was going.

 

In desperation, Ari pleaded with Onew, “Later we can all go out and get dinner, right Onew?”

 

“Sounds like a good idea to me.  I’ve got lots of stories to tell George!  I’m sure the other guys would like to see him again, as well.  I’ll give them a call!  Maybe we could all go out right after the interview.  I’ll make sure we’re all there so we can leave right away.  I’m already hungry!” Onew added.  He hated missing a meal.  Too often in his work he would go all day with little to eat but a quick bowl of rice, or soup.

 

They all three arrived at KBS station around eleven.  Min Ho hadn’t arrived, but the other guys were already in place.  Ari was greeted at the door by one of the attendants and then she was led to the “green room”, or waiting room.

 

Jonghyun, Onew and Taemin sat and visited with George in a separate waiting room.  Key maintained his station incognito.  That is, if you can call a ridiculously brilliant pair of tight pants, blinking tennis shoes, and a ripped up coat with huge white sunglasses and a cap, “incognito”.

 

Min Ho finally arrived ten minutes before air time, which was hardly enough time to even get into make-up.  Key tried to give him the heads up, but he was hustled by a staff person to the dressing room.  Key followed, but each time he tried to talk with Min Ho, someone would rush in and attend to some other preparation before leading him out with the other contestants.

 

As Min Ho walked out the door, Ari watched his face to see how he seemed to be handling the news.  She was greeted with a broad smile.  She relaxed and smiled back.

 

The journalist, Lee Mi Cha, started by introducing the couples.  When she got to Ari, she continued to talk about her distinguished career in America and other countries.  “We are so pleased to have you here in Korea.”

 

She had addressed Ari in English, so Ari answered her back in her most formal Korean, “I’m pleased to be here.  I am looking forward to making new friends and meeting new faces.”

 

“Ah, you speak Korean flawlessly!  How is that?”

 

“Gomasseumnida. I have been with Mr. and Mrs. Kim, my caregivers, since birth.  They came to America from Korea, so I spoke only Korean in our home.”

 

“I’m sure the Korean people are looking forward to seeing you and Min Ho dance together.  Isn’t it true this will not be the first time for the two of you to dance on a stage, together?”

 

“Ne.  Shinee came to America nearly a year ago.  Taemin and I prepared a duet for their concert. The other members joined us, and we all danced together then.”

 

“We noticed you brought with you a long time dancing partner today!”  Min Ho looked confused.  “We talked with George backstage, and he tells us the two of you have been together since were children.”  It took only seconds for Min Ho to become noticeably agitated.  Angry was a better word.  “He also told us that he intends to marry you one day.  Has there been any formal proposal yet?”

 

Ari fidgeted in her seat and tried to make light of the situation, “George has asked me to marry him on many occasions but our relationship isn’t that way.  We are just friends!”

 

“Seems like more than friends for him to rush to Seoul to be by your side after just wrapping up a play in London!”  It was spoken like a statement, but Ari knew full well Miss Lee was asking for more.

 

As she thought about her response, she could not help but notice Min Ho’s scent was stronger today.  His face appeared calm and basically uninterested, but the heady aroma immolating from him revealed his true feelings.  He was angry.  He was more than angry!

 

Miss Lee continued, “Why don’t we have George Larkin come out and the two of you show us a few dance steps together.”  Ari tried to stop this nonsense from going any further, but within seconds George was next to her, pulling her into a standing position.

 

Her body reacted to George’s lead but she wasn’t aware of a single movement she made.  All she could think about was Min Ho.  They hadn’t done more than a couple of steps when the rest of Shinee came into the interview and stole the attention.  Ari could only sigh in relief.

 

A short time later, the interview was over.  After cleaning her face and changing clothes, Ari left the dressing room to find Key waiting for her.  “Min Ho left right after the interview.  Sorry!”

 

“I expected as much.  What do I do?”

 

“We can’t leave you alone with George.  That will just make him madder than he already is.  I think we should all just go out and have dinner like Onew suggested.  Then we’ll go from there.  I promise we won’t leave you until it’s time to call it a night.  I’ll do my best to pull George out when I leave and walk him to his room.  Okay?”

 

Ari couldn’t help herself; she wrapped her arms around Key and gave him a quick kiss on his cheek.  Key stood there with his beautiful smile lighting up his face and said, “Do you want to make Min Ho even angrier?  I don’t want that headed toward me!”  Ari released him reluctantly but smiled.

 

The five of them went to Hanilkwan, just off of Seoul Square.  The BBQ meal was the best Ari could remember ever having.  All of the guys shared stage stories, including George.  Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves—everyone but Ari.  She kept looking at her cell phone expecting something, anything from Min Ho.  He never contacted her.

 

When it was time to leave, George told the other four that he’d be happy to see Ari back to her hotel room.  “I know you have a busy schedule, and I don’t want to keep you up.  I’ll see Ari safety back!”

 

“We’re not tired!” Key wrapped his arm around George’s shoulder.  How about we all see Ari home and the five of us go down to the bar and have a couple of drinks.”  His suggestion left little room for George to argue.

 

By the time the four Shinee members returned to their dorm, they were exhausted and drunk, and without even looking for Min Ho, they went to bed.

 

The next morning Min Ho was sitting on an upright chair facing entrance to their living room with his legs crossed and his arms folded.  Jonghyun was the first one up.  With only a few hours of sleep, he looked pretty rough.  When he saw his hyung, he was instantly awake.  “Hey, Min Ho, you’re up earlier than usual.”

 

He didn’t mention that he hadn’t even been asleep yet, “Why didn’t you get home until two this morning, and why were you four drunk?”

 

“Hey, don’t be mad at us!” Jonghyun said defensively.  “We were out doing your job, protecting Ari from George’s attentions.  Where were you?”

 

“I went for a walk and got some fresh air.  Then I came back here and waited for you to return.  I’m not worried about George,” he said this a little too defensively.  “I trust Ari!  I’m sure she would have gotten Mr. and Mrs. Kim to chaperone.”

 

Jonghyun thought to himself, “If we’d done that you would have been angry at us, hyung.   Not interested in driving down that road.”  Then he left to wake up Key, who wasn’t having any part of it.

 

When he turned to take a shower, Min Ho was standing right behind him. “Did he say how long he was staying?”

 

“He said he had to leave on Saturday.  He’s headed back to America to choreograph an episode for a show there.  I think he’s leaving early that morning.  He said something about Ari taking him to the airport after breakfast.  That’s all I know, hyung.  If you want more, you’re going to have to ask him yourself.”

 

All through rehearsals, voice, and their studies four members of Shinee were dragging feet.  Repeatedly they were chastised and questioned, but not one of them said anything other than mumbling.  Min Ho, who hadn’t slept at all, was the only one with energy.  He was working hard, as was usual, but if anyone spoke to him, he would snap.  His face was set in steel as he glared at nothing and everything.

 

When their work was finally done, they all went to bed.  At least that is what their manager thought.  Min Ho showered, changed and snuck out.  He arrived at the hotel room he and Ari shared around seven thirty.  Anticipating Ari already being in the room, he walked in expecting her.   She wasn’t there.  He waited through the night, again not sleeping, but she never came.

 

Filled with rage, Min Ho returned to his dorm at four in the morning.  He completed another day of rehearsals and came back to the hotel again that evening.  To his disbelief, Ari was still not there.  He couldn’t remember ever being this angry!  What was worse, he couldn’t even let her know.  Without a way to contact her, he was left to himself.  He laid there for hours and finally his body gave out and he slept.

 

 

The bright afternoon sun glaring in his eyes was what eventually woke him up.  He’d told Ari to keep the curtains closed so paparazzi couldn’t look in and take pictures.  With his hand shading his face, he managed to open his eyes.  To his surprise, Ari was sitting right next to him on the bed.  Her eyes were red and swollen.  It looked as if she’d been crying.

 

As she started to speak, “I’m so….” Min Ho pulled her down on the bed next to him and held her close.

 

“I’m the one that’s sorry.  I shouldn’t have left like I did.  I should have stayed beside you while he was here.  I was just so angry that he had the nerve to come see you.  I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t…” he thought about what he would have done if he’d been left in the same room with George any longer and decided to not finish his sentence.  He didn’t want to upset Ari more than he could already see she was.

 

“I’m staying here beside you for now on, Ari.  Let’s place this behind us.  The guys already told me they stayed with you the last few nights, protecting you from being forced alone with him.  They’re exhausted.  I’m exhausted.  Let me just hold you and sleep a while longer.”

 

In his arms at last, Ari was able to sleep soundly for the first time in two days.  Neither one of them awoke until nearly dinner time.  Min Ho checked his phone and found he had received several messages from his hyung. He called Onew right away.  “Hey, it’s me!  Sorry I didn’t call back sooner.  We’ve been asleep.”

 

“So you’re with Ari, good.  None of us has been able to reach her and we thought George had taken her back to America.  At least Taemin was going on about it and had the rest of us worried.”  Min Ho picked up Ari’s phone and saw several messages for her as well.

 

Rubbing his eyes and yawning, Min Ho got off the phone and looked down at Ari.  “Babe.”  He brushed her hair tenderly away from her face.  Her mouth was slightly open, her soft full lips were so inviting, and he found her irresistible.  Slowly he bent down to kiss her.  He was so close he could feel her breath.  Ari’s eyes opened just as their lips were about to touch.  Min Ho quickly jerked back his head and said something about making sure she was breathing.  Ari giggled.  “Aren’t you hungry?  It’s nearly five.”

 

Ari sat up just as her stomach growled.  Upon hearing her unanswered answer he used his favorite catchphrase, “It shall be it then.”  He pulled out the menu and ordered them dinner to be delivered.  Within an hour, they were eating while watching the final episode of My Love From Another Star.  Ari was crying so hard she couldn’t eat her meal.

 

When the tears stopped flowing like rain running down a glass pane, she looked at Min Ho, who was sitting against the headboard watching her with a silly grin.  “Are you done crying?”

 

“Didn’t you think it was sad?”  She turned onto her knees to sit facing him.  “Kim Soo Hyun is the best!  I love that guy!  Don’t you think he is handsome?”

 

“Why, do you want to meet him?” he asked.

 

“Ne.  I do!  Can you introduce me?” she begged.

 

“Aniyo!  No way!  I’m not going to have my woman mesmerized by another man!”

 

“Come on Min Ho.  I’m not “mesmerized”, I just think he’s pretty to look at, is all!”  He grabbed her arm and pulled her to his chest.  His heart was pounding as he looked down at her.  He was just feeling possessive, it’s true, but his heart wasn’t beating this hard because he was jealous.

 

Suddenly Min Ho jumped out of bed and walked toward the bathroom, only because there was nowhere else for him to go, “If you want to meet him, I’ll introduce you.  Just don’t faint, or throw yourself in his arms.”  He walked into the bathroom, closed the door, and leaned onto the counter.  When he looked up, he was flushed.  Quickly he washed his face off with cold water.  He wondered if Ari was finding this close proximity as difficult as he.

 

“How am I going to stay with her each night?  I think I’ve lost my mind!” he said as he spoke to the man in the mirror.  “I have lost it!  Now I’m talking to my own reflection.”  Quickly he flushed the toilet and walked back into the room.  “Why don’t we put on some of your make-up and go for a walk along Han River.”

 

Shortly after, the two of them went out; covered in layers of clothing making them appear heavier with their faces adorned with dark make-up.  Ari and Min Ho were walking through one of the many parks along Han River.  Ari had read about this walkway.  She knew this was most often journeyed by lovers, much the same way as American’s considered “Lover’s Lane”.

 

When they approached the Bampo Bridge, Min Ho held her closely from behind, leaning down he whispered in her ear.  Just as he spoke, Ari let out a scream of joy and missed what he said.  The bridge lit up with a rainbow of water streaming with rolling waves all along its side.  It was one of the most picturesque moments Ari had ever witnessed. She clasped her hands over Min Ho’s and stood hypnotized.

 

Min Ho had seen it many times in his life, but this was his first time to be with a girl.  He knew there would never be another woman to stand beside him.  The lady in his arms was the only one that could fill his spirit with this much passion and delight.  She was the final piece to his life’s performance.

 

 

Chapter 16

 

The next morning, Ari and Min Ho arrived separately for their first rehearsal with Dancing with Kpop Idols.  They were given a Rumba as their first dance.  Ari had previously choreographed a Rumba to Fire to the Rain by Adele.  They had seven days for Min Ho to learn the choreography.  She’d already watched a past performance where he danced with another lady, so she was aware of his weaknesses and strengths.  During that performance he’d wore a jacket that hid his hips, but she could still see he needed work.

 

Later, Ari talked with the costume staff, telling them to make sure Min Ho wore an outfit that allowed the sway of his hips to be seen.  For them to get high scores, it was important that the ladies be enticed to vote.

 

First she had to teach him how to move across the floor while accentuating his hips.  This was clearly foreign to him.  Shinee performed very little action in the hips, preferring their focus on their legs, chest and arms.  When she wasn’t getting the results she wanted, she used new tactics, “You have to feel the movement.  It isn’t something that just happens.  A Rumba is sensual and allows for movement that is much like when a man caresses a woman.”  Min Ho’s face went white.

 

Understanding dance and its movement, Ari had envisioned love making many times as she glided around the body of another man.  Certainly, she’d never been with a man in that way.  She never even had her first kiss—that wasn’t scripted—until Min Ho kissed her in LA.

 

She turned around and saw the look on his face.  The camera was still rolling. What had she done?  What was he thinking?  How could he!  How dare he even give her that look!  If he thought for one second that she would….she couldn’t even think it.  This was her job!  By gosh, she was going to show him she knew what she was doing.  A woman doesn’t have to be with a man to know what desire feels like!

 

Ari glided across the floor, her hips swaying and moving rhythmically as her body allowed the dance to bleed through her.  She walked up to him, precisely positioning her fingers on his shoulder.  Slipping up close, she slid her body along his back and wrapped her long legs around his as she embraced his thigh.

 

Min Ho watched as Ari moved her body, flowing and fragrant like a work of art, toward him.  As she slid around his body, every nerve ending was on fire.  He’d never seen her like this—so assertive, so amatory. Ari had pulled herself around to stand at his left side, her hips hugged him.  Standing with his legs slightly separated, Min Ho looked down at her.  His arms ached to hold her, to know her.

 

Ari hastily stepped back when she saw the smoldering look in his eyes.  She’d gone too far, and she knew it.  Before she could step away, Min Ho grabbed her, pulled her close, and began moving into her as his hips found their rhythm.  With her hips firmly clasped between his hands, he easily controlled her.  She tried to stop him, but he gathered her closer, allowing his hard body to press firmly against her own.  He seemed oblivious of the cameras watching their every move.  Filming!  What was she going to do?

 

Finally, she was able to loosen his grip and step away.  Flushed she told him, “I believe you’ve mastered that part.”  Min Ho grinned.

 

The camera operator stopped filming for a moment.  “Keep that up guys, this is great film.  The audience is going to go nuts!”

 

The rest of the rehearsal was more “hands off”.   Min Ho was moving with a masculine grace.  By the end of rehearsal they’d already completed several counts of the dance.   When they were finished Min Ho bowed to Ari and the camera operator.  As he turned, he gave a small wave and left.  Ari wanted him to stay, to dance without the cameras.  She wanted the music to move around them, through them, and in them.  She wanted him.

 

When he arrived back at his flat, Min Ho took a cold shower before even speaking to the guys.  He ate some Ramen in silence.  Taemin was the first one to ask how rehearsals went.  Min Ho was frustrated from thinking about Ari dancing with other men, so he decided to ask Taemin about it.  “Did you know—” He was clearly flustered. “—have you ever seen…” His words trailed off.  “Have you watched any videos of Ari dancing with other guys?”

 

“Sure!  There must be hundreds out there, and I’m pretty sure I’ve watched each one of them.  She’s hot, isn’t she?”  Min Ho gave him a threatening look before he continued.

 

“When she’s dancing does it look like she is…?” His hand was floundering around trying to help him make a point. “Describe what it looks like when she ballroom dances with a guy.”

 

“Uh, well let’s say I, uh…. That’s an unfair question Min Ho.  She’s your girl and she’s super attractive with a great body and she’s so enticing!”  Taemin stopped talking, yelped, and ran from the room fearing Min Ho’s fist.

 

Much later, Min Ho arrived at their hotel room. Ari was watching a new Running Man episode.  Kim Soo Hyun and Lee Hyun Woo were the guest stars.  He plopped down on the bed and stretched out.  After kicking off his shoes, he rolled over and looked at her as he pressed up against her legs.  “What do you want to do tonight?  Do you want to eat out or stay in?”

 

Ari was laughing as she watched the people run across a path covered in lumps.  To make it funnier, the stars were asked to remove their shoes.  Soo Hyun was the only one who didn’t react; he just charged through and did the job.  “Do you really like him that much, that you don’t even notice I’m here anymore?”

 

“Don’t be silly.  Of course I know you’re here.  It’s only one room, how could I miss you?” she answered sounding agitated.

 

Min Ho placed a fist on each side of her hips and drew himself up in front of her face.  His face brightened as he got in close to her.  “Are we fighting over this show, or are you mad at me about rehearsal?”

 

Ari swept his hand away, causing him to collapse on the bed.  She jumped off and turned to face him.  “What were you doing?”

 

Min Ho rolled over on his back and propped his head up on one elbow, “Me? You’re the one who started it!  What was all that talk about a man making love to a woman?  If I hadn’t known better, I would have picked you up and carried you right back to this hotel room.  You’re lucky I didn’t do it anyway!”

 

I teach, it’s what I’m getting paid to do.  You were as stiff as a board in your lower abdomen and down into your hips. I had to make you feel it.”

 

“Find another way from now on.  I’m a man just like any other man.”  He got out of bed and walked over to her.  As he stood in front of her looking down he asked the question he dreaded to hear the answer to. “Have you danced like that in front of other men?”

 

“Well, yes, I have too!  But I don’t intentionally try to seduce them.”  Immediately after saying that, she wished she hadn’t.

 

“Are you saying you were deliberately seducing me?”

 

“I wouldn’t say it like that, but sort of.  It was all in fun.  I never dreamed you take it so far!  You were awful, Min Ho.  Anybody watching that segment is going to know there is something between us.  How are you going to explain this?”

 

“I’m not.  Let them talk!  That’s what I want.”

 

“You want people to know we’re together?” she asked, astonished.

 

“Not yet, but eventually ne.  What I want is for my fans to fall in love with you.  When they see us like this, they will gradually come to love us together.  Just like the drama’s you love to watch.  At first you want the sweet, gentle underdog to win the girls heart.  As the show progresses you watch in anticipation of that first kiss—” He moved in closer. “—that moment when he tells her “saranghae”, the moment you know there can be no other man besides her.

 

Ari could feel the hot air of his breath; his eyes were two dark magnets luring her into their depths.  She could feel the thick dampness in the water vapors that heated their room.  She could barely breathe from the heat.  Then, just as suddenly as he stood before her, he turned away and plopped back onto the bed.  “We are going to play out our drama on live TV.  They will all hate you in the beginning, but by the end they won’t be able to think about me without you being beside me.”

 

She sat down next to him, “Do you really think it will work?” she asked.

 

“It has too!  I can’t live like this forever.  I need you with me every day.”  He just laid there looking at her for a second.  She was beautiful!  Grabbing her hand as she walked near, he pulled her down on top of him.  As he smiled he told her, “I knew I could get you to stop thinking about another man!  Now, what do you want for dinner?”

 

 

Chapter 17

 

Ari and Min Ho practiced long hours at the studio.  They moved the furniture in their hotel room and continued to practice at night.  She knew he could lift her without any difficulty, but she had to teach him how to perform a lift and stay balanced as he moved.  He wasn’t comfortable holding her along her thigh but she explained this was a natural part of a couple dancing.  He nervously thought to himself, “But I’m the one lying next to you each night!”

 

He dropped her twice but managed to catch her before she struck the floor.  He was amazed by how much she trusted him.  He told himself that she’d been trusting men her whole life while dancing.  As he thought about the different ways those men had touched her, he had to let go of the picture so he wouldn’t get angry.

 

They grew more confident with the dance and with the movement.  Soon they were gliding effortlessly across the studio, working in rhythmic motion.  Their camera operator captured every movement and closed in on their faces as their eyes locked with intensity.

 

Each day at the end of practice they bowed to each other and the camera man and left going separate directions.  The camera man was confused by the passion expressed between the two as they danced and the cool indifference as they parted.

 

On Wednesday the following week Min Ho arrived for make-up.  He was given a long sleeve black shirt and tight, black, wide leg pants.   His hair was pulled up and curled out of his face.  His shirt had been unbuttoned down to the last button.  He didn’t think much about his attire.  He was accustomed to others choosing his clothes and how he wore them.

 

As he stood waiting with the other contestants, Ari walked in to stand beside him.  She was wearing a bright red dress that swirled around her knees.  The middle was cut out with only a thin line of material holding the skirt and breast into one piece.  Her long hair was adorned with curls but left hanging.  The outfit glittered in gold.  She reminded him of the hot embers in a fire.

 

Ari walked over and took Min Ho by his arm.  She was so proud of her man and she smiled as she looked up at him.  His eyes were smoky as he looked down at her.  She hoped he’d be able to stay focused on the dance and not her.

 

They were the third contestants to perform.  Min Ho stepped out onto the dance floor, standing firmly at center stage.  Ari placed her back against his with her hands on his thighs.  As the music started she swayed down his legs¸ then back up.  Min Ho bends at his knees.  When he leans forward, Ari pulled herself straight up into a backwards headstand.

 

Adele started singing when Min Ho took her hands, pushing her up off his shoulders and she slid down to stand just off his side.  When she dropped backwards, his hand shot out, catching her behind the neck and slowly lifting her up.  They briefly embraced before she twisted to move away.  He pulled her back, touching her cheek, and lowered his down to hers.

 

Ari’s left knee came up as their lips touched and his hand dropped and took hold.  He walked backwards, dragging her across the floor.  So lost in their own passion, Min Ho and Ari were unaware of the silence as the audience watched.

 

He stepped into her as she straightened and spun across the floor.  When she stopped, her body swayed with the music and her arms twisted through her hair.  Seductively she turned, and after several aerial movements, she leapt into his arms.  He held her high above his head and slowly she slid straight down his body until they were face to face.

 

She wondered as she looked into those eyes if this was the way it would feel if Min Ho made love to her.  She’d never felt more like a woman than she did now, with those dark eyes breathing in her splendor.

 

He lowers her to the floor and spins her around.   She stopped!  With her body facing away from him, she moves into a back walkover.  Min Ho catches her leg and takes hold of her behind the knee.  Ari continues her upward movement until she has straddled his shoulder.  Their hands clasped Min Ho spins her around.  The audience is nearly on their feet with excitement.  In one movement, Ari was parallel to his form and he was raising her high over his head.  She rolled across his chest and he lowered her.

Strong hands slid down to Ari’s hips, she swayed within his hold.  He placed his hand upon her neck as she rolled away and faced him.  Her hands come up as he pulls her close and rolls her back over his arm.  When they are again facing each other, she turned away, looking frightened as she hugged herself.  He pulled her back into his arms and then lowered her to the floor.  Min Ho did a handstand.  With controlled strength he lowers himself, resting just above her on hands and toes.  When he rolls off, Ari’s back arches reacting to his hand sliding down her side.

 

In one fluid motion, he is facing the floor and rolls straight off one knee and stood, pulling Ari up with him.  Their bodies so close as they swayed and spun across the dance floor.

 

Again he lifted her high above his head.  As the music reached its climax, he dropped her into a roll that left her inches from striking the floor.  With a spin she slid away from him.  As the music fades, Min Ho stood firmly, looking away from her.  Ari, on the floor, stared and reached for him.  The lights faded.

 

The audience and judges were up out of their seats.  The clapping was deafening.  Min Ho walked over to Ari and offered her his hand.  She stood, arm in arm the two walked over, smiling, to the judges.

 

The first judge took in a deep breath and sat back down.  “Min Ho were you performing a dance out there are did you just make love to this girl?  Wow!  I’ve been judging this show for five years, and never have I seen a couple light this stage on fire the way you two have just done.

 

Min Ho bowed and thanked the judge.  “Ari is an amazing dancer and an excellent teacher,” he responded.

 

“She is that indeed.”  Then, turning his attention to Ari, he added, “If this is what you brought to us this first week, I’m not sure I don’t need to have my pacemaker replaced before the next show.  My goodness lady, you are a force out there.  How you developed such balance, such control, such strength!  Is there anything you can’t do on the dance floor?”

 

She bowed and told the judge she was honored by his words.  “Min Ho is tenacious in learning.  Combine that with his perfectionism, and you have a student that doesn’t quit trying.  It paid off!”  She looked up at him and smiled.

 

All three judges gave them a perfect 10.  Never had they awarded perfect scores on the first night.

 

The next few weeks, the two continued to score with top points.  Each dance more daring and challenging than the one before.  Min Ho wouldn’t stop pushing his abilities and insisted they work harder.

 

The third week they easily won the crowds approval with a Salsa.  At the end of their performance, the judges announced they had a special guest in the audience.  Ari was standing talking to one of the other ladies.  She wasn’t particularly paying any attention to what was being said.  Out of the corner of her eye she saw a man in a black jacket and red pants walking toward her.  Something clicked, and instantly she knew who it was.  Her heart started pounding as the words began registering in her head.  “Kim Soo Hyun got word that Ari wanted to meet him.  He called us and asked if it would be okay if he came to our show tonight and introduced himself.”

 

Ari couldn’t speak as this beautiful man walked up to her, took her hand and kissed her cheek.  She felt like a screaming school girl as her face flushed and she felt the urge to jump up and down.  Her hand covered her mouth as she frantically tried to control her emotions.

 

“You’re even prettier in person!” she responded to his presence with a giddiness that belied her normal behavior.

 

Soo Hyun smiled, “You are not only beautiful, but an absolute virtuoso on the dance floor.  I envy Min Ho!  Maybe one day you will compete with me?”  She wasn’t given a chance to respond.  The announcer was saying goodbye to the viewers.  Soo Hyun put his arm around Ari’s waist and pulled her next to him.

 

When the light went out, Min Ho pulled Ari from Soo Hyun’s arms.  Soo Hyun looked around and could just see Min Ho’s face in the faded light.  He smiled!  Min Ho had given him strict instructions to not kiss Ari or hug her.  After watching her dance and taking in her beauty, he felt compelled to see if Ari could be swayed otherwise.

 

Laughing, he patted Min Ho on the shoulder.  “You are a lucky man, my friend.  I wish I’d captured this lady before you found her.  Min Ho continued to glare at him.  “Ari, I hope we can be friends for a long time.  I’m honored you wanted to meet me, and I meant what I said about you dancing with me.  If you can get this guy to loosen up, give me a call.”

 

Flying on cloud nine was the best way to describe Ari’s condition for the rest of the evening.  Her smile seemed glued to her face and she couldn’t stop talking about meeting Soo Hyun.  “He is really beautiful.  Don’t you think so, Min Ho?”

 

A boiling pot of Ramen Noodles was the best way to describe Min Ho.  He’d wanted to surprise her, but he never believed she would act like this, or Soo Hyun would try to steal her right in front of him.  “Do you really have to act like a love sick baboon over him while I’m right here?” he asked.

 

Ari went over and sat on his lap, “Are you jealous, Min Ho?”

 

“Of course I’m not jealous!  I just don’t understand why you got so flushed when he kissed you and why you’re twirling around the room.  Do I have need to be jealous?”

 

“Aniyo.  It’s just that he’s so pretty!”  Min Ho pushed her off his lap.

 

She knelt back next to him, “Did you really ask him to come and meet me?”

 

“Ne.  It’s the first and last time I introduce you to someone.”

 

“You still have to introduce me to Lee Hong Ki.  You promised!”

 

“I don’t think I could go through this again.  Find someone else to introduce you.  Or better yet, forget about Hong Ki.  I don’t remember you getting this excited over meeting me?”

 

“Min Ho, there is a huge difference between meeting you and meeting Soo Hyun?”

 

“Waeyo?”

 

“There just is.  For me he is a beautiful famous actor and you, well….”

 

“What?  What am I, nothing?  Have you not seen how our fans throw themselves at me?”

 

“Silly, I was going to say you are the one I want to be with!  That is a huge difference in my book.”

 

“If you want to be with me, than it is time to stop talking about him!”

 

Ari climbed back up into his lap, “Alesyo!  I promise to lock this night up as a memory, and I will never pull it out again, when you are with me.”  Min Ho stood up, about to drop her again.  She clung to him, “Aleyso, never will I open this box again.”

 

At the beginning of the fourth week the director asked Ari to come into his office.  When she arrived she sat down in a soft black leather chair.  Mr. Jang sat down behind his desk and offered her some bottled water.  She thanked him as he shuffled some papers.  “The ratings have been hitting their highest points this season, thanks to you and Min Ho.  People are buzzing about their being a romance between the two of you.   Eun Kyung has been here every night keeping the fans glued to the articles about the two of you.”

 

“SM Entertainment is getting nervous and has asked us to try and contain this talk.  They suggested we have your dancing friend, George, come and do a special performance with you for an upcoming show.”

 

Immediately Ari was up out of her seat and standing in front of his desk.   “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

 

Shocked he responded, “Why?  I thought you two were good friends!  I believe during the interview to introduce the new candidates, he suggested things were much cozier between you two than friendship.”

 

Defensively Ari reacted, “We are nothing more than friends.  We’ve never been—”—”  She accentuated these last words, “—more than just friends.”

 

“I’m sorry, Ari, but your contract gives us the right to decide who dances with whom and how we schedule performances.  SM has asked us for a favor, and since they supply many of our dancers, we feel it is within our means to comply.”

 

“We’ve already contacted George, and he has scheduled a flight.  I have to confess, I am very interested in seeing the two of you together.  The audience will have to decide if they want to see you with Min Ho or with George.  Could be interesting!

 

Personally, I think the dance will be superior with George, but I consider myself a pretty good judge of character.  There is more between you and Min Ho out there then just two people dancing for their fans! The two of you together are like a flame burning out of control.”

 

Ari left his office dreading what lay before her.  George would insist their dance be fierce and passionate.  How was she going to work all morning dancing with one and then rehearse with the other?  Both men were going to attempt to outshine the other.  She would be tossed like a rag doll between their intentions.  That wasn’t the worse part; every time George touched Ari, Min Ho was going to be angry and may decide she was at fault.

 

Earlier in the week Min Ho’s brother had delivered the new phone he’d requested.  The two were finally able to connect when they weren’t together.   She decided to take the easy route and tell him over the phone.  Knowing it would be better to tell him in person, she knew she couldn’t.  She pulled out her phone and started pressing the numbers.

 

“Annyeong Babe.  What’s up?”

 

“I just left the director’s office.  Ratings for the show are skyrocketing.  He told me how pleased they all are.”

 

“That’s great!  I’ve been watching the gossip columns.  The fans love you!  They’ve even been talking about a secret love relationship between us.  It’s exactly what I’d hoped for!”

 

“Well, don’t get too excited.  Seems your company is getting nervous.  They want the rumors brought under control.  They’ve asked for me to do a special performance with George to take the heat off of you and me.”

 

“Mueoseulyo?”  Ari could tell he was angry.  “How can they do that?”  She was sure she heard a few choice words be breathed into the phone.  She’d never heard him use foul language.

 

There was silence, and Ari was afraid he’d hung up.  “Min Ho, are you still there?”

 

“I’m here.”  Again, silence.

 

“You understand that I have to do it.  I’m under contract.”

 

“I understand.  Don’t worry.  Somehow we’ll make this work.  Make sure you choreograph some of your best work, Babe.  The audience can’t be fooled by a great dance.  Don’t let this worry you.”

 

“I’m not worried about what the audience thinks.  I’m worried about you.  I don’t want you doing anything crazy when you see us dancing together.”

 

“Ari, I trust you! It’s true that I don’t want him touching you, but I don’t want any man laying his hands on you.  Yet, it’s what you do!  I’d better use this as a stepping stone for future performances.  I don’t want to hold you back with your career.”  He took a deep breath, “Everything will be fine!  Just do your best, Aleso?”

 

“Aleso.  Will I see you later?” she asked timidly.

 

“I’ll be late tonight, just go to sleep and I’ll let you know when I come in.”  Min Ho needed some time to clear his head and decide his next move.

 

“Momjosimhaseyo and make sure you eat dinner!”

 

“Ae kakoisseoyo…..don’t worry!” he told her.

 

Later that night when Min Ho arrived at their room, Ari was sound asleep.  He changed into his pajamas and climbed in next to her.  Every night next to her became more and more difficult, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave her side.  Now that George would be returning, he wondered if she would be next to him at night.  His stomach tied in knots knowing they would be together, alone, for hours each day.  He knew George would leave little left on the table as he tried to bring Ari to his side.  Min Ho was confident that Ari wouldn’t waiver.  What he really worried about was the fans rooting for the little guy.  George was a superior dancer to Min Ho; would he be able to stay their loyalty to him?  He knew he couldn’t fail.   Somehow he’d have to keep them on the side of his love.

 

Exhausted from the burning in his heart, Min Ho reached for Ari’s hand just as he did every night and drifted off to sleep.

 

 

Chapter 18

 

George arrived the next day and registered in the suite across from Ari.  She’d already left for rehearsals and was unaware of his arrival.  Getting this gig was pure luck, and he intended to use this advantage to out-dance Min Ho.  When Ari was in his arms, he would convince her to step over to him.  Finally he was going to win her heart forever!

 

He unpacked his bags and went to see Mr. and Mrs. Kim.  They greeted him with the same warm, loving

fashion they’d always shown him.  He knew they weren’t Ari’s real parents, but since she thought of

them that way, so did he.

 

The schedule for his rehearsals had been left at the front desk.  Ari would be dancing with Min Ho from

seven in the morning until eleven-thirty.  She would have one hour for lunch, which he intended to

share with her, and then their rehearsal time was scheduled from twelve-thirty to four-thirty.  He would

have preferred morning  rehearsals when Ari would be fresh, but anytime worked for him.

 

George arrived at the rehearsal hall just before eleven-thirty to take Ari to lunch.  When she walked out of the dance studio, he was there waiting to scoop her up.

 

Ari was taken by surprise as she found herself being bodily forced into George’s powerful arms.  The close contact made her heart stop.  Min Ho was right behind her.  He had to see what was happening.  She loved George like a brother and did not personally mind the hug, but she knew Min Ho would feel otherwise.

 

Min Ho walked out the door just as George scooped Ari into his embrace.  There were people everywhere around them.  He forced himself to smile and shook George’s hand.  “Hello, George,” he greeted.  “When did you arrive?”

 

George released his hold on Ari and looked up at his rival.  “I’ve had enough time to get settled before coming over.  He turned to Ari, “They gave me the suite directly across from yours.  I hope we can stay up late into the night playing cards and listening to music like we use too.”

 

What was she supposed to say: “No I’m sharing a room with Min Ho.  We sleep together every night.  I know that seems wrong but nothing is going on.  Nothing!”  Yeah right!  No one would believe that.  She wasn’t sure she believed it herself sometimes.  How did Min Ho lay there night after night and never once make a single inappropriate move?  Yeah, he’s flirted with her, he’s held her next to him, but not once has he even kissed her.  It wasn’t like she was prepared to do anything!  She was proud that she was saving herself for the man she married.  Yet it would be nice if he’d show some interest.  Doubt began to formulate.  Maybe he wasn’t attracted to her in that way.  Maybe he only liked flirting with her and holding her, but didn’t want a relationship that would last forever and he was saving himself as well.  No, that couldn’t be it.  A man like Min Ho—girls offered themselves to him daily.  Ari was sure he’d been intimate with lots of girls.  By the way he responded to her when she was dancing, she could tell he was experienced.  The more she thought about this, the more upset she became.

 

George was gently shaking her.  She seemed lost in her own mind.  “What?  Oh, I’m sorry, I was thinking.”  She was thinking, alright.  She worked herself into a frenzy thinking about how many women Min Ho had shared a bed with, and done more than sleep!  When it registered that George was offering to take her to lunch¸ she glared back at Min Ho, took George’s arm, and walked off.

 

Min Ho was astonished.  Why had Ari just given him that look?  What had he done wrong?  Maybe she wanted him to be angry and drive his fist into George’s face.  That was what he’d wanted to do!  If he followed, everyone would grow suspicious, so he decided to go home.

 

That night, Min Ho went to their room.  He didn’t believe Ari would be there, but just in case she was, he wanted to be with her.

 

When he arrived, it was just as he’d thought, Ari was not there.  He played some soccer, ate some rice and noodles, took a shower and got ready for bed.  He’d just turned out the light when she entered.  He could tell by the way she was staggering back and forth she was drunk.  She walked over and leaned against the table.  “What’s wrong with me?”

 

“You’re drunk!  Why?”

 

“I needed to air out some things with you and this seemed like the best way!” she told him honestly.

 

He sat up in bed and said, “Aleso, I’m listening.”

 

She stumbled over to him, placing both hands on his shoulders.  “Why don’t you like me?”

 

“I do like you!”

 

“No, I mean like me!”  She got down into his face.  The scent of alcohol was strong.  “Why don’t you like me like you’ve liked other girls?”

 

“What other girls?” he asked, confused.

 

“The ones you’ve been intimate with!  How many have there been?”

 

Min Ho stood up and looked down at her as he gripped her shoulders.  “There haven’t been any girls, Ari.  I’ve never been with anyone.  Where did you get these crazy ideas?  Did George feed you a lot of lies tonight?”

 

“Why?  Don’t you like girls?”

 

Min Ho laughed, “What are you, some kind of alien?”

 

“You don’t like me that way!”

 

“What way?” he asked.

 

“That way!  You know, the way a man likes a woman?”  Min Ho suddenly understood.  He let go of her and went to sit in one of the chairs.

 

Trying to keep his composure at this moment—at any moment when Ari was near—was difficult, but this moment was especially rough.  “Why would you think I don’t want to share more with you?”

 

“We’ve been sharing this bed for weeks, months now, and not once have you made a move on me.  Why?”

 

“Are you telling me that’s what you want?  If that’s what you’re saying, I assure you I can accommodate you?”

 

“I just want you to desire me!”  In two strides Min Ho was at Ari’s side.  He picked her up with urgency in his actions.  His body pressed her against the wall.  His dark eyes showed her the full force of his need. His kiss was deep and full of the passion that had been burning within him since he’d first held her.  Her body, so close, was intoxicating.  A craving he couldn’t control was consuming him.  This night he would show Ari who her man truly was and what he was capable of doing to her.

 

Somewhere in the recesses of his mind he heard, “Stop”!  Slowly he regained his composure.  Stepping away, he released her and dropped his arms.  “Don’t test me like that again, Ari.  Next time I won’t stop.  Next time I will know you completely.”

 

He turned to leave, but stopped without looking as the door opened.  “I won’t be back until after George leaves.”  And he was gone.

 

Ari placed her hand on her swollen lips, where is open passion still burned.  What had she done?  She knew she had willingly given herself to him.  She knew she wouldn’t have stopped. Now she hoped she wouldn’t lose him!

 

The next morning, Ari arrived for rehearsals just as they were to begin.  She was frightened that Min Ho wouldn’t want to see her and terrified that he would despise her as a woman of dishonor.  Reluctantly, she entered the studio to find him still tying his dance shoes.

 

He looked up when he was aware of her presence and smiled.  Ari’s heart grew lighter.  He’d smiled; that was all she needed.

 

This week they’d been given the quick step.  This was going to be the easiest for Min Ho to learn.  The fast and challenging pace would be something he was comfortable with.

 

After four hours of rehearsal, Min Ho had already learned most of the routine.  His movements were clean and once they were perfected he would look polished.  At the end of rehearsals, he bowed and left.  He had hardly spoken a word throughout the rehearsal.  She began to wonder if his smile had been for the camera.

 

Once again, George was there to take her to lunch.  They discussed the routine they’d be doing.  George didn’t want to pull something up from their past.  He wanted to create something new and even more exciting.  “I want the judges and audience to know they’ve witnessed something special,” he told her.

 

“I’m fine if that’s what you want to do.  Did you have something in mind?”

 

“Actually, I did, now that you asked.  I thought we could perform the Vietnamese Waltz.”

 

“Why?”  Ari was surprised by his choice.  The Vietnamese Waltz rarely got the applause it deserved.  It was physically one of the hardest ballroom dances to perform.  The importance was placed so highly on precise, smooth, fluid movement between partners.  They needed to work as one, appearing to glide across the floor, to truly win the appreciation from the audience.

 

“Because I know the two of us will float across that floor, appearing effortless.  We have a connection most never experience! Take one of the hardest dances, with our dance skill, along with our emotional and physical response to one another, and you will have a spellbinding performance.

 

Ari couldn’t deny the truth to his words.  George would get what he was seeking: a moment when the world would think the two of them belong together, as one.  Maybe this was for the best!

 

He chose a Celine Dion song,  A New Day Has Come.  Ari didn’t see any point in arguing, yet she knew his reasons for wanting this song.

 

The week went by quickly.  Each morning Min Ho continued to perfect the Quick Step.  Their conversations were minimal at best.  She went to lunch with George and then, for the next four or more hours, they refined their routine.

 

As the two of them moved, Ari knew the audience would be rapt throughout the dance.  She had forgotten how easily the two moved together, how even separated they continued to be one.

 

On the night of their performance, Ari wore a knee length soft pink skirt that spun and twirled as she moved.  Her blouse was a white silk.  A large sash brought the two pieces together.  Min Ho wore grey checkered pants and a white shirt and grey vest.  To finish his outfit, his slicked back dark hair was adorned with a grey felt mobster hat.

 

The two covered the floor with steps so fast they must have been designed to trip dancers.  Ari soared across the stage as Min Ho’s strength and confidence carried her.  They twirled and entangled their feet with precision.  Ari was so proud of this man she loved.  How would she live without him if he left her?  Both were breathing heavily when they faced the judges.  Ari couldn’t stop the tears from welling in her eyes.  The judges thought she was just overwhelmed by their performance.  One of the attendees handed over a tissue, and Min Ho grabbed it.  With his arm wrapped snugly around her waist, he turned her toward him and dabbed at her eyes with the handkerchief.  His eyes twinkled with merriment as he looked down at her mascara smudged face.

 

Again they scored perfect tens.  The audience began chanting, “Minari, Minari, Minari”.  Min Ho listened as the audience, in their excitement, combined their names into one.  His plan was working!

 

After all the dances had been performed, the announcer came out onto the dance floor.  “We have a special performance this evening.  Ari, along with her long time dance partner, George Larkin, will be gracing our stage with a Vietnamese Waltz.

 

The lights went dim.  George picked her up into his arms and she pulled herself into his chest.  The music began as she unfolded her long legs.  George spun as he released the woman in his arms.  The movements were as fluid as the blossoming of rose petals.  Her floor-length, sea green dress molded to her slender body.

 

Ari didn’t think, she only moved as her and George became swept up in the dance, the music, and each other.  Their movements were so pure, so simple, from an unconscious understanding of one another.  They separated as they performed side-by-side triple pirouettes.  They seemed to continue spinning as each leapt out of the pirouette reaching heights never before seen on that stage and then floating down ending perfectly into one another’s arms.  With a contortionist’s skill, they lifted and moved one another until once again they continued their flight upright.

 

With her back to him, he loosened his hold and allowed her arms to slip through his hands as she arched her back nearly touching her own legs still at his side, then just as quickly he dropped one arm and she went spiraling to the floor as he began spinning forcing her body to become airborne.  When he released her, Ari slid across the floor like a feather floating on air.

 

Without her hands touching the stage, Ari gracefully moved into position to step out of her stance with a aerial walkover.  George was spinning in the air and leaping as Ari turned to him.  She ran to him without hesitation, and in one leap she flew several feet before landing in his arms.  He spun to center stage as he rolled her over to face him and they returned just as they had begun with her held closely in his cradled arms.

 

The audience was up on their feet screaming.  People came out of the stands and encircled them while George continued to hold Ari.  Perfection was the simplest words to describe what the audience had just witnessed, excellence was more fitting.

 

Min Ho watched, entranced by the two of them together.  He’d known Ari would relinquish herself completely to this dance.  For her, dancing with George was a freedom of her expression.  To have done otherwise would not have been within her awareness.  He now understood how Ari had known such words as “a man caressing a woman.”  George had been making love to Ari long before he’d been a part of her life.  He wondered how many others had known her passion this way.

 

Despite the turmoil of emotion raging through him, this woman who had ornamented this stage with another man spellbound him.  This was her at her best!  How could he be angry that she shares her spirit with others on stage when he knew he held the key to her heart eternally?  With all that she is and all that she will ever be, she was his, completely.  He stood up from his seat and walked down to join the others.  Silently he made his way through the crowd to where George stood holding Ari.  With arms outstretched, amidst the crowd that enclosed them, Ari unfolded her body and left the arms of George into the waiting arms of Min Ho.  She wept as he held her.  It was at that moment he knew she had not been dancing for George, she’d danced for him.eHe

 

 

 

While George had held Ari in his arms, he had been sure she could feel the connection between them.  He was sure she’d seen the power that was the two of them together.  When he looked up, Min Ho was standing in front of them.

 

Ari seemed to know he was there without looking.  Like a swan unfolding its feathers, Ari slipped from his life and stepped into Min Ho’s.  He knew he’d lost her!

 

 

Chapter 19

 

The next morning the market was inundated with articles about George, Min Ho and Ari.  Some of the audience swore Ari left the arms of George for Min Ho.  Others were confident she stayed with George.

 

Speculation over this love triangle had fans arguing over which man would be best for Ari.  Min Ho fans insisted that the chemistry between he and Ari was spiritual, while, fans of the show felt Ari should and could only be with a man who matched her talent.

 

Eun Kyung asked for an interview before George left the country.  All three declined!

 

Together, Ari and Minho escorted George to the airport.  They behaved like lifelong friends as they walked to his terminal.  Just before he got in line, George asked to have a moment with Ari.  Min Ho smiled and reluctantly agreed.

 

Ari grabbed his hands and held them firmly as she spoke, “I’m sorry, George.  I didn’t mean to hurt you like this!  You’ve always been the best friend I’ve ever had, the only one I’ve truly trusted.  I hope we don’t lose that!”

 

“I’m not going anywhere.  I’ll always be a phone call away.”  He pulled her into his chest and held her tightly, “I love you, Ari.  I just want you to know that!”

 

Ari wept as she answered, “I know!”  He released her and—without looking back—walked down the hall and out of sight.

 

Slowly she walked back to Min Ho as she attempted to dry her eyes.  He put his arm around her and led her from the airport.  Her face was in her hands as she noticeably wept.  Reporters were all around.  The weeping Ari did not notice the consistent sound of cameras snapping.

 

Min Ho knew the papers would be plastering these pictures of her crying, in his arms, and George leaving on the cover of every magazine.  At this moment, he didn’t care what they said.  Min Ho knew she loved George as deeply as she was able.  Hurting him had never been her intention.

 

When they got back out to his car, he headed away from the Incheon Airport, but not in the direction of Seoul.  Today, he wanted Ari to meet his parents.

 

As they left the city and entered the rural surrounding area, they drove up a winding mountainside to the villas above them.  Parking the car, they walked toward a beautiful white home with more windows than Ari had ever seen in one house.

 

Holding her hand, he walked up to the door and walked in, yelling for his mother.  His mother wiped her hands on her apron as she bustled out of the kitchen and into the entry to greet her youngest son.  She stopped as she saw him holding the hands of a lovely, young, American girl.

 

She had done her best to avoid the tabloids about Min Ho, but lately her friends constantly talked about “Minari”.  She was sure this girl standing in her spacious living room was the “Ari”  portion of this newly- fabled expression.  Gathering her wits about herself, Mrs. Choi walked over and hugged her son.  She bowed as he introduced his mother to Ari.  Ari showed her respect by bowing back.

 

“Won’t you come in?  Have you eaten dinner?  I was just about to set the table when I heard you yelling.  Your dad is out on the veranda.  Let’s introduce him to Ari and then we can all sit down and eat.”

 

The back side of the villa was covered in more glass then the front, making it appear that the living space continued outside.  There Mr. Choi sat on a lawn chair reading the newspaper.  Nervously Mrs. Choi called to her husband and let him know they have company.  He sat down the paper and quickly got up to greet his son.

 

Ari was standing behind Min Ho rather than at his side, so Mr. Choi missed her at first.  When he walked up to give his boy a hug, she came into view.  The gossip around their neighborhood had been missed by the soccer coach.  He was unaware that Min Ho was even potentially dating someone, now here he was holding a girls hand.

 

“Abba, I want you to meet Ari.”  It was then Min Ho realized Ari wasn’t beside him. Giving a little tug, he pulled her forward.  “Ari meet my Abba, Mr. Choi.”  Formally they each bowed.  The three stood there facing one another without a word spoken.

 

Mrs. Choi broke the silence reminding them that dinner was going to get cold if they didn’t sit and eat.  They sat on plush cushions around a large glass table.  Ari was surprised by how much food Mrs. Choi had prepared when she had not been fully informed of their arrival. Min Ho had only told his mother that he was coming for a visit and that he had a surprise.

 

The conversation during dinner was polite and enjoyable.  Ari became more relaxed as the afternoon progressed.  Mrs. Choi noticed that Min Ho frequently placed food into Ari’s rice bowl.  At times he had even offered her food straight from his silver chopsticks.  The silent words were clearly read by her.  Her son had fallen in love.

 

Ari was polite and spoke perfect Korean.  She couldn’t help but like her, yet she’d never envisioned an American at her son’s side.  She’d always assumed he would come home one day with a lovely Asian lady.  She wasn’t sure how she felt about this mix.  She was concerned her son would leave his home country and adopt the American culture.

 

After dinner they visited in the living room.  Ari was surprised that everything was white: the walls, the carpets, even the furniture.  Despite living in the home, it appeared unlived in.  It reminded her of her own home in Los Angeles.  Mrs. Kim had designed the front side to appear perfect, with marble floors and deep, rich, walnut banisters and trim.  The ceiling of her formal living room was two stories high with a large crystal chandelier hanging above.

 

What most people didn’t know about Ari’s home was that behind the formality of the front rooms lay her living quarters.  There she filled her rooms with leather furniture, plush carpet, and brightly colored throw pillows tossed everywhere.  Her area was off limits to guest unless they were people she was inviting into her life.  Up until recently, George had been the only person invited into that space.  She wondered where the Chois “lived”.

 

Min Ho rested back on the couch, his arm comfortably placed behind Ari’s back.  Up until this moment, no words had been spoken about their relationship.  Mr. Choi broke the silence, “Are you and Miss. Smith seeing each other openly?”

 

“We will be soon!  I wanted you to meet her first.”  Min Ho sat up, resting his elbows on his knees as he leaned in to make direct eye contact with his father.

 

“Does Lee Won Shik know about this?”

 

“I believe he does, but we have not formally discussed it.” Min Ho answered.

 

Mr. Choi did not want to offend Ari.  She seemed like a great girl, yet he owed his son wise advice.  “Min Ho, do you understand you are placing your career in jeopardy?”  Min Ho nodded in affirmation.  His dad continued, “Have you even considered what a joining of an American girl and a Korean man could bring to our family?” Again, Min Ho nodded.

 

“I’ve been over everything in my mind, Abba.  I’ve evaluated the outcome of our actions and the consequences.  I am prepared to face them!  Yet I don’t believe they will be as damaging as you are considering.”

 

“Have you behaved improper with Miss Smith?”  It was a direct question, and Mr. Choi expected a direct and truthful answer.

 

“Yes!”  Ari jumped up in shock.  Min Ho pulled her back down to the seat, his stern face making it clear she was to let him do the talking.  “Ari and I have been sharing a hotel room together since she arrived.”

 

Mr. and Mrs. Choi were shocked and enraged by their son’s words.  “How could you bring disgrace to our family name, Min Ho?” his mother asked.

 

“I understand your disappointment, Omma.  I assure you we have not consummated our relationship.  It has remained respectful.”

 

Mr. Choi jumped up, glaring at his son, “You have brought shame upon our family!  I am struggling to believe these actions would have happened if you had remembered your heritage and stayed true to them.”  It was clear to Ari: Mr. Choi did not accept her for his son.  “Not only have you brought your family displeasure, you have thrown your career away for a lady we can’t accept.  You are still too young and unsure in life to be making these types of commitments with anyone, especially with a woman who is not of our kind.”

 

Min Ho remained calm and dignified.  He’d been prepared for his parents to react in just this manner.  He’d forced himself to tell them the truth.  Once the news broke about their relationship, he didn’t want his parents to read about it in the gossip columns.  When his Abba refused to accept Ari, Min Ho stood to face his father.  He bowed to show his respect, “Abba,” he paused, gathering his thoughts, “I have caught you unbalanced and I believe once that balance has been restored you will clearly see the son before you has made his choice and will not be swayed.”  Then he turned to his mother, pulling Ari up with him¸”Omma, with time you will come to care for Ari as I do.  She may not be the Korean daughter-in-law you dreamed of, but you will soon know that she is the one best suited for your son.”  Again, he bowed to each of his parents and directed Ari out the front door.  As they closed the door behind them, they faced a mob of neighbors, all fans of Dancing with Kpop Idols.

 

“Miss Ari, we are such huge fans!  As soon as we heard you’d arrived here we rushed over to meet you.”  Ari bowed several times as she greeted the Choi’s friends and signed autographs.  One woman stepped forward.  Ari signed an advertisement for the show, “I’ve been watching you two.  I can tell there is something special between you as you dance.  Are you and Min Ho dating?”  Ari stood up straight, looking them all in the eyes and answered, “Aniyo!  We are just friends.”

 

Ari could feel Min Ho stiffen behind her.  When she’d finished meeting each person that had come to see her, Min Ho grabbed her elbow and forcefully led her to the car.  Once he was in and they were down the road he asked, “Do you have any idea how bad you made me look back there?  I just confessed my feelings before my parents and then you turn around and tell those ladies we are just friends!  How could you dishonor me like that, Ari?  Is that what we are? Did I lay myself open before my parents for you to reject my intentions?”

 

Ari was feeling overwhelmed by their visit with the Chois.  It was clear they did not approve of her.  “I was protecting you!  I never wanted your career to suffer.  Even more, your parents made it clear they do not want you dating me!  I don’t understand what you were doing back there, Min Ho.  Why did you tell them we were sharing a room?  Do you really think they believe we haven’t done anything in that room?  I’m so humiliated!  My self-respect is now being questioned and I haven’t done anything to deserve it!”

 

“Every move I have made since I left you the first time has been calculated and executed as I planned.  What I need now is for you to trust me even when you don’t comprehend my motives.  I told you I would make everything work, and I intend to hold true to those words.”

 

“For what?  You want to ruin your life, your career, and your relationship with your family¸ for what?  So you can tell them all you completed “your” plans?  What about my plans?  Have you even stopped for one moment and considered what I want?”

 

He couldn’t believe his ears.  Didn’t she know everything he did was to assure they both got what they wanted—each other?  He pulled the car over to the side of the road, and turned to her, “What do you want, Ari?  I thought I was doing what you wanted, but maybe I’m wrong.   Tell me what you want!”

 

“I don’t want to hurt your parents, and I don’t want to be the woman who you resent ten years from now you resent because she ruined your career.”

 

Slamming his hand against the steering wheel, Min Ho repeated his words, “Tell me what you want?  I just told my parents to accept you, if I am mistaken you need to tell me now?”  He’d never been this frightened and angry in his life.  Was he about to lose the woman he couldn’t live without?  Did she not understand that he’d just told his parents he intended to marry her?  How could she not see his heart when he’d left it bare before her?  He could feel the tears of his pain as he spoke.  “Please, tell me what you want?”

 

“I don’t want to hurt anyone,” she answered barely above a whisper.

 

The wheels squealed as he pressed the gas petal to the floor and headed straight for Ari’s hotel without speaking.  He felt shattered.  He’d asked her to reveal her heart as he’d done and she had rejected him.

 

He pulled up to the hotel and left the car idling as he stared straight ahead and waited for her to get out. Ari was confused and scared as she stepped out of the vehicle in the darkness and walked up to her suite.

 

The next weeks were torture for Ari.  Min Ho had cancelled their room.  He wasn’t aware that Ari continued to stay there hoping he’d show up each night.  Each day he continued to arrive at rehearsal.  It wasn’t in his nature to fail, so he gave her his full efforts.

 

The fans chanted for them, screaming out, “Minari” over and over just before they danced.  The newspapers and magazines continued to build upon their relationship.

 

Ari wasn’t eating and was rapidly losing weight.  Min Ho noticed she seemed weaker and often left early.  When he asked her about it, she told him she had a cold and she would be fine.  That night Min Ho was spinning her as they crossed the floor in a Cha Cha when Ari crumpled.  He picked her up in his arms and raced for the nurse’s station as he yelled for someone to get an ambulance.

 

When Ari came too she was racing to the hospital in a helicopter.  The first responder was inserting an IV.  She tried asking them where Min Ho was, but her mouth was swollen and dry.  Tears streaked down her face as she looked for him.  He wasn’t there.  She started screaming and thrashing, yelling for him.  The EMT held her down while the first responder finished inserting the IV and gave her a strong dose of medicine to calm her down.  Ari wafted off to sleep as the words, “Min Ho” drifted out.

 

The EMT was bending over her trying to hear what she was saying.  Finally, he looked up at the first responder, “I think she just asked for Min Ho.”

 

“Was that the guy who got so angry when we told him he couldn’t come with us?  I thought he was going to punch me for a moment.”  He could remember watching Min Ho raise his fist and then seeing someone came up from behind and pulled him back.

 

They arrived at Seoul National University Hospital and Ari was taken to the emergency room.  A nurse came out to ask who was responsible for her.  All five members of Shinee said, “Me.”  Min Ho gave his hyungs a look of entitlement.  In unison they all pointed and said, “Him!”

 

Min Ho was pacing the floor.  Key was off to the side talking with the nurses.  Taemin paced behind Min Ho.  Onew stood by the emergency room door and Jonghyung was texting.

 

When the doctor finally came out he walked over and asked for Min Ho.  Cameras were flashing as he walked up to the doctor.  “I’m Min Ho.  Is she okay?”

 

“She’s going to be fine. She’s severely dehydrated and exhausted.  The body can’t respond as it’s supposed to when it is driven to hard without sleep or nutrition.  Have you noticed her having a problem with anorexia or binge eating?”

 

Immediately Min Ho replied, “Aniyo!”  He knew where the doctor was going, but he knew Ari didn’t have an eating disorder.

 

“I’m only asking because she is extremely thin.  If we need to get her a psychiatric evaluation, I would call in a doctor who specializes in eating disorders.”  Again Min Ho told him she definitely does not have an eating disorder.

 

“You should be able to go up and see her soon.  Their placing her in room—”  He stopped and looked at his charts.  “—334.  I can’t say when she’ll be able to leave yet.  I want to run a few more test.”  He looked at the other four guys standing together close by.  “You can only go up two at a time.  She needs her rest!”  He turned to leave, stopped and turned back, “The first responder told me to tell you Miss Smith was asking for you on the helicopter.  Apparently she was stressed enough they had to give her a sedative.”  Then he was gone.

 

Taemin was the first to go up with Min Ho.  Most of the time he would have stepped back and let the others go.  This time, caring so deeply for Ari himself, he insisted on being first.  She looked small and frail lying there in her hospital bed.  Min Ho sat down beside her, placing his hand over hers.

 

Taemin went to the other side and bent down to kiss her on the forehead.  He told herr they were all there, including Min Ho.  “He’s right here holding your hand, Ari.  Wake up and look at him!”  Then he turned to his best friend.  “I’m going to step outside.  When I come back in, I expect you will have made things right.”   Taemin stepped out and sat down in a chair along the wall.

 

Min Ho sat there looking at Ari.  What did he say to her?  She had pushed him out of her life!  He’d made it clear how much he loved her.  Yet he wondered why she had called for him.  Why had she gotten so upset when he wasn’t by her side?  Could it be he’d misunderstood her response?  Maybe—maybe—she would protect him first, even if it meant sacrificing her own feelings?

 

As this realization struck home, he broke down.  He lay across her chest and cried.  “What have I done to you, Ari?  You were right!  I was only thinking about my needs and what I wanted.  I was so blinded by that need that I couldn’t see how you were scared for me!  I’m sorry!  Bien, Ari!”  His chest shuddered as he cried harder than he ever had.  “I promise if you come back to me, I’ll always put you first!”

 

Several minutes later, Taemin returned to the room.  As he watched his best friend crying, he released his own love for Ari and let her go.  Min Ho, for the first time in all the years Taemin had known his friend, had completely given himself to someone else.  Finally, the man known for his own selfishness found someone he cared for more.

 

Each of the other members took their turns sitting with Ari.  Min Ho never left her side. Sometime through the night, each member snuck up through the quite halls and entered her room.  When Ari woke up, she saw Taemin, Onew, Jonghyun, and Key asleep in different spots around the dark room.  She wasn’t sure what had happened.  She could remember going out on the stage to dance¸ but after that she drew a blank.  Moved that her dearest of friends had chosen to sleep on chairs and the floor rather than leave her, her heart soared with love for each of them.

 

She turned, hoping she would see Min Ho.  Her covers were so tight; she couldn’t see how to untangle herself so she could roll over.  As she struggled she felt the knowing warmth of Min Ho’s arm wrap around her and pull her in close.  He was there!  Safe within his hold she fell back to sleep.

 

 

Chapter 20

 

The next morning, she awoke to find him still holding her and fast asleep.  She wondered if he’d lost as much sleep these weeks as she had.  He could have been him here in this hospital bed, not her.  Again she chastised herself for not trusting him that night.  She needed to talk with someone about the things he’d said.  Even though the Kim’s had raised her, she was still living and learning in America.  She remembered what he’d said: “I just told my parents to accept you.”  She’d tried to ask him what he’d meant, but between their different cultures they’d been unable to break the language bearer.  She was so tired!  She pressed her body closer to Min Ho and drifted back to sleep.

 

Jonghyun was the first one to awaken.  He woke up Key, who woke up Onew, then Taemin, and last, Min Ho.  “Ari’s color looks better this morning.” Key remarked.

 

Min Ho stretched.  He noticed the other guys all around them watching as he lay on the small hospital bed next to Ari.  Feeling uncomfortable with them witnessing his intimacy with her, he quickly got up.  “How did you guys all end up in here?  I thought it was supposed to be only two people at any time?”

 

Just then the nurse came in. “It is!” she said sternly.  Then she smiled.  “When I came in around two this morning and found all of you in here sound asleep, well, let’s just say I bent the rules some.  But that’s over now.  You guys get out of here and let me tend to this friend of yours.”

 

“Aniyo!”  Min Ho looked at the nurse, his eyebrows pulled together as he stood up.  “I won’t leave her, not even for a minute.”  Then he turned to the other members, “You guys go on home.  I’ll tell Ari you were here.  Tell our manager I’ve already gone to rehearsals.  Say whatever you have to, but I’m not leaving.”  Onew gathered his hyungs together and they headed out the door.

 

At the last second, Onew turned back, “Call us if there’s any change.”

 

The nurse, who was not used to taking orders from a man so much younger than her, walked up to Min Ho and glared at him.  “I understand how you feel young man, but you should not assume you can speak with me so informally.  Show your respect!”

 

“I apologize!” Min Ho bowed.  “Now understand my words; I will not be leaving Ari’s side for even a moment.  If she wakes up and finds out I am not here, I may never see her again.  I won’t let you or anyone else take her away from me.”

 

Just then he felt her small delicate hand slip into his.  “Min Ho, I’m fine!  Go home and get some rest.  Please don’t cause a scene!”

 

He looked down and saw her pleading for him to be good.  He bent over, his face inches above hers. “I’m sorry, Ari.  I promise I will always talk to you in the future before I make plans.”

 

“I’m the one who is sorry.  I should have trusted you!  I will follow you wherever you take us.  Now please go get some rest and let this lady keep her dignity.”

 

He kissed her forehead, turned and bowed to the nurse, then left.

 

Two days later, Ari was released from the hospital.  She felt stronger and ready to face the consequences of her actions.  With so few days left to prepare for their next performance, Ari and Min Ho would have many long hours in the practice hall.

 

Min Ho had stayed close to her every moment he wasn’t previously scheduled with another commitment.  When he wasn’t there, another member of Shinee had taken his place.  Ari had finally found a moment to be alone with Onew.  “Onew, I need to ask you about something.  I hope you don’t find me to be inappropriate discussing this with you, but I don’t know who else I feel comfortable enough to talk about this with.”

 

“You can tell me anything.  Well, nearly anything.  I will discuss anything, other than intimacy!  If there is anything you need to ask in this category you will have to ask Min Ho.  Okay?”

 

“Aleso.  What I wanted to ask you was about something that happened at Min Ho’s parents’ house.”

 

“He took you to meet his parents?”

 

“Ne. I don’t think it went well.  I’m sure it didn’t!  His Abba told him he couldn’t accept me for his son.”

 

“Not good!” Onew retorted.

 

“It was awful, Onew.  Min Ho stood up to face off his Abba.  Then he turned to his Omma and told her I was the one he’d chosen.  When we fought about it later he said that he’d just asked his dad to accept me.  What did he mean by that, Onew?”

 

Onew smiled.  He wasn’t sure Min Ho had it in him to face down his Abba!  He was surprised to learn just how determined his friend was when it came to Ari. “When a Korean man takes his woman home to meet his family, it isn’t like in America.  In America, any woman a man dates can become a temporary part of his family.  Here, there is for only one reason for this action, he is announcing that he intends to be wed.”

 

The look on Ari’s face as her eyes grew two sizes and her jaw dropped made Onew laugh.  “You really didn’t know what he was planning?”

 

“He never said anything to me.  How was I supposed to know?  He never even proposed!”  She couldn’t believe he would make that type of announcement without asking her if she would marry him.  Then she remembered what he’d been so angry about.  “No wonder he was so upset when I told those ladies we were just friends.”

 

Onew was the one who looked shocked now.  “Was this after he made his intentions known to his parents?” he asked.

 

Ari hid behind her hand, parting two fingers to see Onew’s expression.  She answered, “Ne.”

 

“For Min Ho, that was what you would call in America, ‘a slap in the face!’  He not only announced to his parents his intentions to marry you, he also made it clear he was about to tell the world of those intentions, and you described him as ‘just a friend’.  His pride was stomped into the ground, Ari.  How could you do that?”

 

“I didn’t know?  I thought I was protecting him!  I don’t want his parents to disown him because of me!  Nor do I want Shinee to be busted up.  What do I do?” she pleaded.

 

“His parents are good people.  Every family has dreams for their kids.  You may not be their dream, but they’ll come around.  Give them a little time, and they’ll love you as much as we do!  If Min Ho is forced out of Shinee because the fans don’t accept you, he will have to make his choice at that time.  One day each of us will have to choose “this” present or our futures.  None of us want to lose him as part of our group, but we are prepared that it may happen.  Each of us knows where his heart is strongest.”

 

“You’re right, Onew.  In the end he will chose Shinee.  That will be for the best!”

 

Onew ruffled her hair.  “Are you really that dense?  Pull back those clouds out of your eyes, Ari.  Take a look at your man and you’ll see how he truly feels.  Even his fans know the answer to that question!  Fortunately, I think they’re on the side of Min Ho.”

 

 

Chapter 21

 

Back in America, fans of Ari Smith also knew the answer to that question.  Videos of Ari and Min Ho dancing had gone viral.  Rolling Stone magazine sent their own photographers to Korea to capture a picture of Ari and Min Ho dancing.  That picture made the front cover of their magazine.  The copy had record sales.

 

Good Morning America would weekly updated fans about “Minari” performances.  When they called and asked for the two performers to appear for a live interview, SM Entertainment didn’t respond.

 

Shinee was quickly becoming the number one searched band on YouTube.  The American fans demanded SM Entertainment bring the guys back to States for more concerts.

 

Ari and the members of Shinee were completely unaware of how Ari and Min Ho dancing together had brought people together, from all over the world, watching.  Requests for interviews with Minari were coming from Japan and China as well.  London requested a personal performance for the Queen and her guest.  Fans in Paris were asking for Minari to perform at Time Square during the Fred Astaire Cup Professional Exhibition at the Open World Championship.

 

Each offer presented to Shinee’s manager at SM Entertainment was either ignored or denied.  They were the biggest band on the Asian idol charts and their manager had grown increasingly worried about Ari Smith.  Something needed to be done, and it had to be done soon.  If Min Ho continued seeing the American girl, it could ruin the image of Shinee.  That image was of five eligible flower boys that could sing and dance, making the audience willing to pay more for the privilege.  A plan was put in place to end this relationship.

 

Min Ho and Ari dropped their shared hotel room.  He told her it was time for them to be open about their relationship.  He was sure that SM Entertainment had accepted them dating and had backed off.   They were no longer hiding their relationship, or that they were sharing a suite.  It seemed the fans and press had a respect for Ari, they had not shown for the privacy of Shinee.    Never once was anything reported about their private time together.  Yet he was sure they were being watched.  He wondered if it wasn’t the way Ari always made time for those interested in knowing her.  She never ignored anyone and would give up her own time to go see others in need.  This was one of the many things he loved about her.  Surprisingly, he was beginning to enjoy doing the same.  In one instance, some young fans had followed him to a show he was going to be doing.  Typically, he would have waved and then pretended they weren’t there.  In his business, that’s what most performers did.  Trying to have a “private life” was impossible, but by acting as if you are alone it helpd to deal with the pressures of “never” being alone.  Yet this time he wanted to talk with them.  They’d told him they couldn’t wait until he and Ari got married.  They really hoped he would let his fans share in their joy.  He had to admit, it wasn’t a bad idea.

 

Ari was getting stronger, so he asked her to join him on a date.

 

“You and me?” she asked.  “Are you suggesting we get dressed up, or are you asking me to go out into public with you as Ari Smith?”

 

“Me and you, as us, on our first official date as a couple! I thought we’d go to a concert,” he answered smiling.

 

Ari jumped up to hug him.  “Ne.  Who are we going to see?”

 

“It’s a surprise.  I have to go out for a little while, but I’ll be back around six.  We’ll go out to dinner before the concert.”

 

She spent the rest of the afternoon getting ready.  Who was he taking her to see?  It couldn’t be FT Island because he’d already told her he wasn’t going to introduce the two of them.  Maybe it was Infinite or VIXX.  Since coming to Korea, Ari was learning more about the different bands she’d been listening too.

 

Reporters would quickly discover their date, and pictures would be taken.  Ari knew she needed to look her best.   She was sure Min Ho would arrive in his best attire.  She asked the concierge where she could find the best clothes.  He recommended a classy piece from J Song.

 

Ari chose a pantsuit.  The wide-leg pants had slits up the sides with gold inlay between the seams.  The blouse buttoned up the front and was sheer black.  Over the top she wore a thin, three-quarter sleeve gold glittered jacket.  To finish her ensemble, she wore golden high heels.  Since it was cold this time of the year, Ari pulled out her long, sable mink coat.

 

Next she left her waist-length, honey-blond hair loose and parted on one side.   Rich curls ran down her thick strands.  She wore a gold bracelet and simple small gold hoop earrings.

 

When Min Ho arrived at six, she was ready.  She was sitting on the couch reading a magazine when he arrived.  Using his own key, he walked in without knocking.  He wore skin- tight black leather pants, black t-shirt and thick, bronze-colored cashmere coat that hung close to his knees.  He also wore a dark- toned scarf and a newsboy-style cap that matched his coat.  Black shiny shoes and gloves completed his outfit.    He was devastatingly handsome.

 

Ari stood up, twirling for his approval.  His smile and wide eyes showed his admiration.  He grabbed her coat off the bed and helped her slip into it.  “Are you ready to face our fans as a couple?” he asked.

 

With her coat on and gloves in hand, she turned to him, “I’ve been ready for a year.  Have you decided to catch up with me?”

 

“Ne.  I’m ready!”  He took her hand in his own, and they walked out of the hotel, cameras clicking and guest starring.  The two looked like the stars they were, neither hiding themselves or who they were with.  A long black limousine waited out front for them.  Min Ho opened the door and helped Ari into the car before he slid in himself.

 

First they went to Si Hwa Dam in Yongsan-gu.  Typically he would have rented the restaurant for himself and a date, but tonight he wanted their fans to see them out together.  He knew Ari would be happy if she could meet and talk with them.

 

From the moment they exited the limousine, they were greeted by surprised fans.  Min Ho loved watching her sign autographs and talking to people she’d never met.  He knew she felt a certain amount of discomfort being around others, but she never let it show.  He kept his hand on the small of her back as she made her way through the crowd into the restaurant.

 

The restaurant was like a museum of old Korean artifacts.  The food was too beautiful to eat, and each plate was adorned with fresh flowers.  They each had a four-course meal with flounder as the protein.

 

Once they were seated the other diners left them alone but their eyes were watching.  And again, when they were done eating, were stopped by those just wanting to congratulate them or get an autograph.  Never had Min Ho felt this much ease and happiness in a crowd of fans.  Ari seemed to make everything easier.

 

They arrived at Yonsei University Auditorium.  When Ari read that FT Island was there, on the billboard, she started jumping around in her seat like a school girl.  “I can’t believe it!  You told me you wouldn’t take me to see him.  I’m so excited, Min Ho.  Gomawo, thank you!  You can’t know how much I’ve wanted to see them in person.”

 

“Oh, I think you made your wants clear enough.  I’m glad you like my surprise.”  The concert was fabulous.  Hong Ki sang all of her favorite songs except for one.  She was disappointed because it looked like the concert was over and she wanted him to sing Let Her Go.

 

Hong Ki walked toward the front of the stage and grabbed the microphone.  Lifting it up to his mouth he looked out across the thousands of fans.  “Somewhere out there among you is a dear friend.”  The fans started screaming.  It had already spread throughout the auditorium that Min Ho was there with Ari.  When they’d entered the building there was no mistaking them.  They were dressed to impress and there was no misinterpreting their intentions to make a statement.

 

“Sounds like you already know who I’m talking about.”  Again the fans roared.  “Can you help me find them by pointing your lights in the right direction?  You see my friend has brought with him the special lady in his life.” Ari grabbed Min Ho’s arm and was literally jumping around.

 

“You told him I wanted to meet him, didn’t you?  I can’t believe this!”  She was beside herself with excitement.  Min Ho was grinning as he watched her.

 

Hong Ki continued, “Apparently she wants to meet me!  I hear she is truly beautiful.  What do all of you think?”  The crowds stomped their feet as they screamed.  “Good.  Let’s bring her up and see if I can’t get her to leave Min Ho and come to me!”  Min Ho raised his hand and shook his head “no”.

 

The audience separated and let them make their way down to the stage.  Once they arrived at the steps, Hong Ki met them and offered his hand to Ari.

 

“I’ve been warned that I’m not allowed to kiss you, but when have I ever listened to him.”  Hong Ki pulled Ari into his arm and briefly kissed her on the lips.”  Min Ho jumped up the last two steps and pulled Ari from his grasp.  Ari was blushing.

 

Hong Ki turned to the audience, “Wow!  She is something, isn’t she?”  The fans were on their feet in approval.  He turned back and took Ari’s hand.  Min Ho followed close behind, keeping a sharper eye on the singer.

 

Ari was introduced to the audience as the girlfriend to Shinee’s Min Ho.  “Seeing how it’s me she wanted to see for the next few minutes, she’s going to be all mine, so back off Min Ho.”  Again, Min Ho shook his head “no”.

 

Still holding Ari’s hand, the band started playing.  There, in front of thousands, Hong Ki sang just for Ari.  As he sang, she stood there, just watching him and feeling more special than anyone could have known.  This man with this wonderful voice was singing for her, and who was the one that made it happen?  Her Min Ho!  He trusted her enough to make her dream come true.  As the tears came, it was for the overwhelming love that she had for her man.  Only he could make her feel this special.

 

When the song was over, Hong Ki again grabbed Ari around the waist and he said good night to his fans.  The lights went out, and Min Ho quickly returned Ari to his side.  She hugged him and when she finally looked up, he spoke. “That’s the last time.  These guys just don’t respect my wishes when you get in front of them.”

 

“Aleso.  Gomawo Min Ho!  Gomawo.”  And she hugged him again.


 

Chapter 22

 

The next couple of weeks were shaky on the show as Ari strove to get her strength back.  Min Ho insisted that she take regular breaks and eat small, healthy snacks.  The first week after the accident, they performed a waltz, that still earned them enough votes to advance them.  The next week, they danced the Salsa.  Min Ho was now able to rotate his hips and received high praise from the judges.

 

It was the final performance.  Ari had drawn the Paso Doble.   It was down to her and Min Ho and another couple who were receiving high scores and votes as well.  She wanted this last dance to be special.  She would be leaving for another job back in the states soon.  Not knowing how long it would be before she would see him again, Ari wanted this moment to be memorable.  She was unsure how this change in their lives would affect their relationship.  Deciding to trust Min Ho, she brushed off her fears.

 

She chose the song, “Plaza of Execution” from Mask of Zorro.   Surprisingly, Min Ho excelled at this dance.  He’d already accomplished keeping his upper torso still in the Quick Step, now she needed to give him some moves that challenged him and showed off his strength.  The two of them worked on him spinning in the air and then landing on his knees.  He was already great with any kind of turns she gave him, but any move above ground calls for a greater center of balance and muscular fitness.  These were both things he already had; he just lacked the know-how.  They also worked really hard on their most difficult lift.  In the last dance, he’d held her over his head and then controlled her fall forward.  This time she would need him to throw her—straight up!

 

Finally it is the last night of performances.  The other couple danced first.  Min Ho stood in the waiting room.  He wore Spanish full-leg pants with a red strip up the sides.  Ari had decided it was best if he didn’t wear a shirt to accentuate his muscular frame.  Ari walks in wearing a Spanish skirt, full with layered ruffles.  Her top, with short, scarf-style sleeves, exposed her stomach and barely covered her breast.

 

Min Ho was use to exposing his chest, although he rarely did so.  What he wasn’t accustomed to was Ari revealing so much of her skin.  He wanted to grab a blanket, wrap it around her and then take her back to costumes.  Grinding his teeth, he kept his mouth shut, but his eyes lingered.  He’d never seen her look like this.  His mind racing, he grabbed her up to him as his passion ignited.

 

The lights dimmed.  For the last time for this show, Min Ho led Ari out onto the dance floor.  The Paso Doble was already a sexually driven dance, and when added to the yearning within him he’d been suppressing for too long, Min Ho was ready to caress Ari upon this stage.

 

He stands down left front stage.  A spotlight came up!  Min Ho is looking down over his bent knee, both arms out to his sides.  Ari is holding onto one of his shoulders and pressed against his back.  Her chest arched backwards, draping down toward her pointed toe.  Her other leg extends up past his shoulder.  The audience gasped as they realized Ari wasn’t touching the floor but was suspended by one arm.

 

The first beat of the music, Min ho twisted as he takes hold of Ari’s waist.  Her legs come together as her upper torso swings toward the floor.  In one fluid motion, she spun up into Min Ho’s arms, facing him.  Their hands clasped, and in the next beat he stretched his arms to allow Ari to bend backwards.

 

On the third beat, he pulled her up and stood her before him.  Each movement was precise, strong and commanding.  The final, singular beat, Min Ho took her hand out to the side, and with the other, firmly grasped her waist.  As the music begins to convey its power, they move across the floor in swift, dynamic steps.  As the music gets faster, so did their feet.  When the music was at an interim, they stopped and posed, Min Ho taking in Ari’s beauty, his chest heaving.   Suddenly, Min Ho was spinning in the air and then dropped to the floor on his knees.  He grabbed Ari by the hips, pulling her into him as he looked up, filled with the fury of his passion.

 

Ari did a pirouette over and over within the boundaries of his hands with wild abandonment.  The speed of her turns reminded the judges of a skater spinning on ice.  When she stopped, her hands were on his shoulders and she released her control, falling into the splits.  Min Ho took her hands and jumped instantly to his feet, pulling her up into his chest.   Her arms held him around the neck, with her legs pulled up into her chest on one side, Min Ho began turning in repetition.  Instantly he stopped, and Ari brought her legs down his back to stand at his side.

 

Their footwork grew faster as they move away from one another.  In unison they leapt and turned and then leapt again.  Softer music began to float around them.  Slowly, each moving toward the other, two bodies came back together and flare into an inferno. As they face each other, Min Ho pulled her back to his chest, his hands running down her slender arms along the sides of her breast and down her hips.  At the crescendo of the music, in one swift action, he threw Ari straight into the air over his head and he bends slightly forward to catch her on his back.  The lights faded and a spotlight fell upon them.  Ari’s arms are around his neck.  He looked up at her.  His expression is hot with passion, his breathing labored.  Taking her arm gently¸ he bent down on one knee and delicately, yet urgently, laid her across his knee.  He looked upon her for mere seconds before he lifts her chest and lowered his lips upon hers.  Their kiss was one of need and unending love.

 

When at last he released her, he whispered, “I love you!”  Ari responded with, “Saranghae”.  The stage went dark.  Not a sound could be heard in the theatre.  There was no any clapping, no screaming, no one moved.  They sat in stunned silence!

 

Several seconds passed before the lights came up.  When they did, Min Ho and Ari were embracing each other.  It was then that the mesmerized audience came to life.  Min Ho took Ari’s hand and stepped away as he encouraged the audience to applaud for her.  Ari curtsied deeply to show her appreciation.  Min Ho reclaimed his hold on her waist and they bowed together.

 

There wasn’t a dry eye among the fans and previous contestants.  The judges, for the first time ever, came down out of their seats to bow before them in honor of their performance and the love and passion they’d shared with them.

 

When at last they were allowed to leave the stage, Ari was whisked off to her changing room—at least that is what she believed to be happening.  Instead, she was lead up to the roof and forced to board a helicopter.  A private plane was already  waiting for her arrival. It took three men to hold Ari down and then drag her to the plane.  Once inside, they held her in the seat until they were off the ground.

 

By the time Min Ho started looking for her, she was already leaving the country.

 

Knowing something happened, he called Jonghyun.  When he answers the phone, he screamed, “Ari’s missing!”

 

In hushed tones, Jonghyun tells Min Ho he’d better come home.  Without stopping to explain his actions, he gets into his car and heads back to his dorm.  When he rushes in the door, he saw his manager sitting there at the table.  “Have a seat!”

 

Min Ho leapt around the table, grabbed Lee Won Shik by the collar of his suit, and forcibly pulled him out of the seat.  “What have you done to Ari?”  Two heavily muscled guards pulled Min Ho off of his manager and held him down in the chair across from him.

 

We haven’t done anything, Min Ho.  I’m only here to deliver a letter Ari asked us to give you after tonight’s performance ended, just before she left.

 

With shaking hands Min Ho took the letter, unfolded I,t and began to read.  He recognized her handwriting

 

“Dearest Min Ho,

            I can’t thank you enough for this wonderful journey you’ve taken me on.  The times we’ve shared have been some of the most complete of my life.  Our love I will cherish! 

 

            Now it is time for me to go home.  Remember that night when I asked you what kind of relationship you wanted from me?  I explained that our worlds were just too far apart.  I tried to tell you it could never be anything but a dream.  A beautiful, spectacular dream!  Now it is time I awaken.

 

            My life is in the States and yours is here, in Korea.  You are a proud Korean man; find the woman that will bring pride to your parents and love her even more completely then the love you’ve given to me.

 

                                                                                                                                    Always,

                                                                                                                                    Ari

Min Ho crumpled the letter to his chest and screamed in agony.  Standing, he threw the piece of paper across the floor and told all of them he didn’t believe it.  Something happened that forced her to write the letter—he would find her, and together they would fix it.

 

“I’m sorry, Min Ho.  In order to protect you, and your image, we’ve been forced to remove your passport, disable both of your cell phones, and place a hold on your money.  We can’t have you going out and making a fool of yourself over a girl that has rejected you.  Soon, when you are in control of your emotions, everything will be returned to you, and Shinee can move forward with our plans.”

 

Min Ho looked around the room, he was visibly crying.  The other members of Shinee were all standing there watching him.  Min Ho couldn’t see it through his own pain, but they were each fighting back their own tears.  Onew, who had grown the closest to Ari, was shaking as his emotions overcame him. Jonghyun walked over and put his arms around his hyung.  Seconds later, they were all crying and holding each other.

 

Once Ari had been forcibly placed on the private plane, she was instructed to write Min Ho a letter telling him she was returning to America and she wouldn’t be seeing him anymore.  She refused!

 

“It would be better for him, if you wrote your own words.  If you’d rather, we can write and tell him you’ve accepted George’s offer of marriage and never wanted to see him again.  You don’t want that, do you?”  Ari was screaming, fighting, kicking, and coughing hysterically as she tried to fight off the men holding her down.  “Don’t even think about coming back.  We’ve had your passport officially rejected for entrance.”

 

“Why?  Why are you doing this?”

 

“Simple.  Min Ho is a hot commodity right now.  A girl like you gets in the way.  The fans don’t like to see the guys with other girls.  It steels their fantasy that one day he’ll notice them.  I can’t afford to let that happen.”

 

“Are you crazy?” she shouted.  “Min Ho’s fans love me.  They love us together!  Haven’t you heard them screaming out our names?  I’ll write your letter, but Min Ho will never believe it!  Watch him.  He’ll come find me.  I promise you that!”

 

Barely able to hold onto a pen, Ari began writing her letter.  She never wanted him to believe she would leave him for another man.  She would do her best to soften the pain he was going to feel.

 

Once the letter was complete, Lee Won Shik departed the plane leaving his goonies behind.  Ari cried until her exhausted body fell to sleep.  When she woke up, she thought it had all been a bad dream.  She looked around and saw that she was no longer in the air.  They’d just landed at LAX.  She was home!

 

 

Chapter 23

 

The press went wild with the video of Min Ho and Ari’s last dance.  Specialist closed in on their faces and the pair’s private words to one another were now the subject of choice.  On Good Morning America Robin Roberts announced to their American fans: “Latest report has found that Min Ho did indeed tell Ari Smith that he loved her.  We are still waiting to hear what she said back.  It is now suspected that she spoke Korean.” As Robin spoke, a close up of Min Ho talkingwas shown  on the TV screens.

 

The next evening, during the final viewing of Dancing with Kpop Idols; the Director came out to make his announcement. “It is with great sadness we must report that Min Ho and Ari will not be with us tonight.  It appears that Ari has returned to the States.  Min Ho also has prior engagements and will not be able to attend.”  Thankfully, they found the news out in enough time to hire other performers to entertain the crowd until the end of the show when they announced the winners.  A video of short clips was played of Min Ho and Ari’s dances.  At the end, when it was announced they’d won, the show replayed a full video of their final dance.

 

All over Korea, crowds of protestors gathered outside of SM Entertainment chanting, “Minari, Minair!  Don’t keep Minari apart!  We want Minari!”  The president of the company eventually called for a press release.

 

The five members of Shinee were basically on house arrest for the next few weeks.  They never left the dorm without an entourage of attendants to report their every action.  Their friends did their best to help, but every attempt to reach Ari by phone or otherwise was thwarted.

 

It didn’t take long before Min Ho realized he would need a change of attitude to end this tripe.  Carefully he laid his next steps.  He knew it would take a will of fortitude to pretend he hated Ari, but convincing his hyungs to do the same was not something he looked forward too.  There would be the risk that Ari would hear about it.

 

 

When he found out SM Entertainment was having a press release he decided now was his opportunity.

 

When Adney O’Hare stepped onto the press box the crowd booed.   He bowed and sat down, and checked to make sure the mic was on.  “Hello everyone.  I’ve requested this meeting to discuss the current situation between Shinee’s Choi Min Ho and the American dancer Ari Smith. On the night of Miss Smith’s departure, SM Entertainment was unaware she was leaving the country.  It is our understanding Miss Smith left the building by boarding a helicopter that was on the roof.  She was flown to INC and left on a private plane.

 

I realize many of you suspect SM Entertainment playing a part in her departure, but we knew nothing about it.   It is true we questioned Choi Min Ho about dating at this time in his career.  It is also true that we discouraged it.  Yet, when we saw how you fans were responding to Ari Smith, we chose to leave them alone.  It is our opinion that Min Ho has conducted himself with dignity throughout this situation and we regret that this is what it has come too.  Understandably, Min Ho is under extreme duress and is not choosing to make any public appearances right now.  His manager, Lee Won Shik, is staying by his side, as well as the other members of Shinee, whom also fell in love with this American sweetheart. Thank you!”

 

Min Ho had already been in the building rehearsing.  It was an easy escape to make his way down to the lobby.

 

Reporters were raising their hands and asking questions.  Mr. O’Hara reluctantly agreed to answer a few.

 

One reporter asked him if Min Ho would be flying to America to bring her back.  “I am unaware of any such plans at this time.”

 

“Has Ari left any reason for this departure?”

 

“I believe there was a letter explaining her reasons!”

 

“I heard that Ari’s passport was revoked from entering Korea again.  Is this true?”

 

“Where did you hear such rubbish?  That is absolutely untrue!  Ari Smith is free to come and go from Korea at her will.”

 

“Do you believe she loved Min Ho, or do you think she was just trying to further her career?”

 

“At this time I am not sure what I believe, yet I do not know the answer to this question.  If I were able to contact Ari, I would certainly ask.”  Suddenly murmurs could be heard from the back of the room.  Many turned and saw Min Ho striding up to the mic.  As he got closer, the whispers became an unnerving buzz.  Grabbing the microphone, Min Ho faced the reporters.

 

“Annyeonghaseyo.”   The room grew quite.  “I appreciate that so many of you have shown me such genuine concern.  I am fine!  Ari and I were seeing each other during the shooting of “Dancing with Kpop Idols” but not as you may have thought.  It was a romance that began and ended with a dance.  Is it possible that I may have felt a deeper connection than Ari?  Ne.  I confess I was surprised by her note but I have accepted the situation and it’s time for all of us to move on.”

 

“Have you tried to contact her?”

 

“Aniyo.  I have not!  Nor do I intend to.”

 

“Do you have any regrets?”

 

“I do!  I regret that I let each of you fell in love with her.  Had I known she would leave like this, I would have protected my fans from being hurt as I have been.”

 

“If Ari had a change of heart, would you take her back?”

 

“Aniyo!  Gomasseumnida.”

 

As quickly as he had arrived, he left.

 

Lee Won Shik sent Ari a copy of the video from Min Ho’s second phone.  Things were working out just as he’d planned.  He was surprised that Min Ho was giving up on Ari so easily.  Won Shik was pleased Min Ho believed Ari’s letter and was making this effort to end their relationship permanently.

 

Min Ho new Ari would see the video.  He wouldn’t be surprised if it hadn’t gone viral already.  Now he needed to sit back and wait for his manager to let up his guard.

 

The other members of Shinee were regularly questioned about their own take on what had gone wrong.  Each of them refused to talk about Ari with anyone.  Their only response was one of anger and disappointment to find out a friend had deceived them so deeply.

 

Daily Ari watched recently released videos of Shinee.  When she saw Onew tell a reporter that he was angry that Ari had left without telling him goodbye and he didn’t expect to ever see her again.  Ari thought he must hate her.  Over and over she tried to call his cell number, but no one answered.  She sent each member of Shinee a text telling them what had happened.  None of them responded.

 

Ari was beside herself with hurt and self-doubt.  Maybe they’d just been playing her all along to help them get recognition in America.  It had worked!  Ari knew their fans had grown by the thousands since she performed with Taemin over a year ago.

 

Curled up on her couch, gently rocking herself as she desperately tried to ease her broken heart, Ari got a text.  She knew it was from Min Ho’s phone because of the sound.  Every connection by Min Ho rang as a chime.  Quickly she grabbed her cell phone from the coffee table and opened the message.  It was a video of him.  She pushed play.  Silently she listened as he told the reporters that he’d been fooled by her.  She couldn’t believe he was falling for all of this.  Even more, he stood there and told them he would not take her back if she had a change of heart.

 

All those promises she made him—to trust him and follow him where ever and however she was taken— everything they had been through just to be together.  How could he just shut off those emotions?  How could he be this cold?  Filled with raw emotion, Ari went to her studio and danced until her body refused to move any longer.

 

As she lay awake in bed that night, Ari cried.  She knew he’d loved her!  Why would he have told her he loved her on Asian television if he wasn’t ready to commit?  Didn’t Onew tell her that Min Ho had taken her to his parents to inform them of their impending marriage?  Was it all a joke?

 

It couldn’t be!  Min Ho was just hurting right now.  She knew he would be.  She’d wait a little while and give him a chance to think clearly.  Then he would trust her love and come for her.  She would wait for him, no matter how long it took.

 

George came to see Ari everyday once she arrived back in the States.  Min Ho had once told him that he would never have Ari’s heart.  As much as he didn’t want to accept it, he knew it was true.  What Min Ho didn’t know was a broken-hearted woman will often give herself to another man to ease the suffering of loss.  George intended to be that man if Ari’s heart faulted for even a second.  He may never have her love, but he could very well have the rest of her life.  It was enough for him!

 

Months passed without any further contact from Min Ho.  Ari dove into her work!  She accepted one job after another to stay busy.  When she was busy, the pain ebbed.  It was only when she was idle the torment of lonely days and nights without him beside her made her feel crazy.

 

Physically, she was stronger than she’d ever been.  The long rehearsal hours followed up with physical training with a professional trainer hardened her taunt body to steel.  As her body toughened, so did her heart.  She still ached for him, but she no longer gave herself over to the long hours of tears and mourning.  He’d left her, and it was over.  Time to move on!  She had trusted him for so long, and he never came.

 

For the next month’s Shinee worked hard, long hours.  They were about to go on their next concert tour.  This year they would not be attending the Kpop concert in Los Angeles.  It had been his last hope to see Ari. He was sure he’d convinced everyone that he no longer had any interest in her.  All the members refused to talk about her with anyone but each other.  All of them worried, especially Min Ho.

 

During the concert tour they would have to get their passes back.  Even though they weren’t going to LA, he was going to perform in Madison Square Garden.  New York was contracted to be part of their concert schedule.

 

Somehow he had to get his hands on some money so he could fly to LA after the concert.  They were scheduled to be in the city for three days so they could interview with Robin Roberts as well as Kelly and Michael.  The other guys agreed they would figure out what to say when the time was needed.  Since all of their money had been held and their phones taken, they were without means to help him.  They all knew this was wrong, but the fine print of their contracts gave SM Entertainment power of attorney.

 

Min Ho was given more freedom in Korea about a month before.   Since that time, he’d secretly gotten a PO Box at the post office. Every day he wrote Ari.  Not once had he gotten a letter back.  He couldn’t understand why she wasn’t writing him back.  It had begun to worry him.  So many months had passed.  Had Ari forgotten him?  Aniyo.  He wasn’t to start doubting their love now—not when he’d fought so hard for them.  He couldn’t let her go.  Not now, not ever.

 

He drove to his parents’ house in Incheon.  Niether one of them had asked him about Ari, but both were aware of the situation.  As much as they wanted their son to marry a Korean girl, they didn’t want to see him hurting like this.  They noticed how he never smiled, except when he was in front of his fans.  He wasn’t interested in the MUFC soccer games any more.  He would just sit there staring at the screen.  Their son had always loved soccer.  His animated voice and actions had given them many joyous moments over the years.  Now he seemed lifeless, dull, uninterested.

 

Min Ho went in and greeted his family with a warm embrace.  They sat down and had dinner, and then Min Ho and his dad went out on the veranda to watch the sun setting behind the mountains that were their back yard.

 

Finally Min Ho worked up the courage to ask his dad what he’d come for.  “Abba, I need some money?”

 

Not once since his son had moved out of the house has Min Ho asked him for money.  “Aren’t they paying you well enough?”

 

“Right now they aren’t paying Shinee anything.  They have a hold on all of our accounts.  We’ve been broke for months.”

 

“Why would they do that?” his dad asked, confused.

 

“To keep me here in Korea!  They also took my passport and my cell phones.  I got a PO Box but Ari isn’t returning a response to my letters.  I have to go to her!  That’s why I need your help.  I need the money to catch a cab to the airport after our concert in New York.  I also have to buy a ticket to fly out to LA, plus hotel and food and a ticket to our next concert stop in Mexico.

 

“Why don’t you let her go, Min Ho?  It seems she would have written you if she was interested.  Probably she’s moved on, dating someone else.  That’s how they do things in America. Here we don’t become serious with a lady unless we intend to marry her.  There they bounce in and out of serious to not-so-serious relationships all the time.  I’m sorry, son.  I liked Ari but it’s time for you to move on.”

 

Min Ho stood up, “If you don’t want to help me, that’s fine, Appa, but don’t ever ask me to give her up!”  The firmness in his sons tone surprised Mr. Choi.

 

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t help you.  Sit back down here.  I just urged you to protect yourself.  You may not like what you find if you go after her.”  Min Ho sat back down and smiled for the first time since he’d arrived.  “How are you planning on flying to LA or anywhere else if they’ve taken your passport?”

 

“The hyungs and I have a plan.”  Leaning back in his chair, Min Ho relaxed for the first time in a very long time.  Soon he would hold her, and this time he would make sure nothing like this happened again.  Never would he trust anyone with Ari except himself and his band members.

 

 

Chapter 24

 

Shinee had been flying from one country to another for a couple of weeks when they finally arrived in New York City.  They only had a couple of days to get their stage erected and rehearsals.  Min Ho couldn’t remember ever being this nervous.  They planned for Won Shik to take them out to a Broadway play that evening.  During the play, Min Ho was going to get sick and need to be taken back to the hotel.

 

Key was going to go into Won Shik’s room and slip his key pass off of the dresser and pass it to Min Ho.  Once he arrived back at the hotel and the guards thought he was asleep, he would sneak out of his suite and into his manager’s room.  His passport would be inside the backpack Won Shik always wore.

 

Everything went as planned.  Key had managed to take the key pass.  When Won Shik noticed it missing, he grabbed the second one.  He’d always had a hard time hanging on to his room keys, so he always got two.  Most of the time he would find them in a pocket after he got home.

 

They went to see Motown the Musical.  Chocolate always made Min Ho sick.  Tonight he ate two chocolate bars to assure an upset stomach.  About half way through the play, he was headed to the bathroom, his stomach turned over in knots.

 

It wasn’t long before he was back in his suite and had convinced the other guys he was there to stay.  After they had left, he jumped out of bed.  His stomach still growling at him as he snuck into his manager’s room, found the backpack, and rummage through it.  Luck was on his side;  just as he’d expected, all five of their passports were easy for the taking.

 

Min Ho put on a disguise and left the hotel.  He caught a cab and went straight to the airport.  There he booked a flight to LA in two days.  His flight time was at four in the morning.

 

The concert was a huge success.  Over 5,000 fans came to see them perform.  The members of Shinee reveled in the enthusiasm and love from their new fans.  This was nothing like the group that came to the Kpop concert—these fans had waited a long time for Shinee to come to America and they were up out of their seats screaming the whole night.  It was a ride the members would not soon forget.

 

Min Ho didn’t sleep that night for ear that he would sleep right through his departure timeIt was a three and a half hour flight to Ari—he figured he could sleep then.

 

At three in the morning, Min Ho was packet and dressed.  He’d ordered a cab and told Taemin he was leaving.  A half hour later, he was waiting to board his flight.  Everything had gone off beautifully.  Once on the plane, he talked with a few fans around him and then went to sleep.

 

He landed in LA four hours later.  They’d hit some bad weather and had to go around, causing a delay in flight.  Once on the ground, he caught the first cab he saw.

 

He pulled up to Ari’s house.  He was physically shaking as he walked to the door.  It had been nearly two years since he’d last been here.  He knocked and waited.  No one came.  He rang the doorbell, but still no answer.  He grew worried that she had left for a new show.  He’d been thorough in searching her on the internet.  She didn’t have anything scheduled outside of LA.  He’d just have to wait for her to come home.  He sat down his bags and lay down on the steps.  He was about to drift off when he heard music coming from the dance studio

 

He walked down the steps to the patio.  Ari never noticed him as he walked along the glass and watched her move with the grace of a swan. As he stood at the open door, he could see she was coated in perspiration.  He wondered how long she’d been dancing.

 

Back in New York City, Taemin went to Won Shik to tell him Min Ho was gone.  The manager ripped open his backpack and dumped it on his bed.  “How dare he play me like this!  Who does he think he is?  Doesn’t he know he’s nothing without me?”

 

Four members of Shinee sat in front of Robin Roberts.  “Where is Min Ho?” she asked.

 

Onew smiled as he told Robin, “He went to get Ari.”  The look on Robin’s face was priceless.  Everyone was bustling around making sure all cameras were focused on Onew’s face as Robin asked him to repeat what he’d just said.

 

“Min Ho flew out to LA this morning.  He regrets that he couldn’t make the interview but he thought you’d be forgiving when you are the first to get the scoop.”

 

“Oh, well yes, we are.  Didn’t they break up about eight months ago?” Robin asked.

 

“We aren’t sure yet what exactly happened.  What we do know was Ari would never have left on her own.”  By this time, Won Shik was beside himself with anger.  He was desperately trying to stop the interview, but the guards kept him out of the filming area.

 

“I believe most of America watched the video that went viral when Min Ho announced he had no intention of seeing her again.  Matter of fact, we played that video on our show.  Am I missing something?”

 

Key spoke up this time, “It was an unfortunate necessity.  When Ari was taken away, our freedoms were stolen.  Our manager, Lee Won Shik, took our passports and our cell phones and placed a hold on all of our accounts.  Guards followed us everywhere we went.  Min Ho knew the only way he would be able to find Ari was if he put on a front.  We all put on a front that Ari was out of our lives for good.”

 

The director ordered his staff to send a feed of this interview to KBS in Korea.

 

“He went to that press conference to make that announcement to regain the confidence of Won Shik.  Min Ho asked his parents for money, I stole the room key from our manager’s room the day before yesterday.  Min Ho made himself sick while we were watching a play and returned to the hotel.  It was all a ploy to get our passports.  Then he booked a flight out and left this morning after our concert.”

 

Taemin looked at his watch, “He should be there soon.  His flight was at four this morning.”  He laughed as he looked at the other members. “It went off like a dream.”

 

“Now it’s in Ari’s hands.  Will she accept him after so many months?” Jonghyun questioned this, but he didn’t doubt the answer.

 

Min Ho wanted to stop her so he could hold her in his arms, but he didn’t. This time she needed to come to him. If she didn’t, well, he’d deal with that if it happened.

 

As Ari danced, a familiar scent drifted around in her mind.  She told herself to ignore it, but she didn’t want too.  It had been eight long months since she’d been able to smell him.  Many times she remembered remembered his scent.  Maybe that was all she was doing now.  It continued to nag at her memory until she sat on the floor and as her eyes welled up.  She hadn’t cried in two months now, why was she breaking down now?  It was that smell—where was it coming from?  Was somebody playing a cruel joke on her?

 

Slowly, Ari started looking around.  When she reached the door, her heart stopped beating.  Shakily, she stood.  His smile, those eyes, that rich dark hair, and his long lean body stood in the doorway to her studio.  Min Ho had come for her!  There was no other reason, there couldn’t be any other reason for him to be here, unless he’d come for her!

 

Her feet seemed rooted to the spot.  Her mind told her to move, but she couldn’t.  She was afraid if she moved it would all be a dream and he would be gone.

 

Min Ho stood there watching her.  She wasn’t moving.  Was this her answer?  Did she forget about him?  Them?

 

Tears streamed down Ari’s face as slowly she reached out for him, “Min Ho, are you really here?  Am I dreaming?  Please tell me I’m not dreaming?”

 

That was all he needed to here.  He ran and scooped her up in his arms.  “I’m really here, Babe.  Saranghae.”  Their lips united as they both washed away the pain of their eight-month separation.  All the pain, anguish, anger and doubt became less than a memory in that one kiss.  She was still his!

 

Until late into the night they shared everything that had happened since they last saw each other back stage in Korea.  Min Ho was furious when he found out what his manager had done.  Yet he knew that could all be taken care of later.  Now he just wanted to hold her in his arms and never let her go.  Not once did either surrender their hold on the other, even as they slept through the night.

 

When Abney O’Hara received the satellite feed of Shinee’s interview with Robin Roberts, he was enraged at the conduct of one of his staff.  He arranged for a new manager to fly out to New York and clean up the mess.  Then he called Lee Won Shik and fired him.

 

Asia was out in the streets cheering Minari.  They’d never once given up that the two would reunite.  Min Ho’s harsh response to the press conference was forgiven now that they understood his motives.

 

The nine-story screen in Time Square¸ Seoul flashed pictures of Minari dancing as the news scrolled along the bottom.  Normally what was placed on the screen ran for ten minutes.  Tonight it never changed.  Shinee fans as well as Minari fans showed their delight dancing together in the streets.

 

 

Chapter 25

 

Min Ho and Ari spent two wonderful days together before he had to fly out to make his concert in Mexico.  Key had already called and told them everything that had happen on their end.  Kidnapping charges had already been filed against Lee Won Shik and his accomplices.

 

Mrs. Kim smiled as she entered the basement family room.  Min Ho and Ari sat on the couch, their bare feet stretched out on the coffee table and their legs entwined as they watch MUFC play at the championships.  When she set down a tray of snacks and drinks, Min Ho came up out of his seat.  His little boy face lit up as his eyes got wide and his mouth opened with a smile of victory.

 

This man, that was Ari’s, was too often a serious, determined man who let nothing stand in the way of what he wanted.  It was nice to see this side of him.  Relaxed, goofy and loud!  Soon the two were eating and screaming as the soccer game played out before them.  As they sat side-by-side, eyes glowing in the rapture of their love, Mrs. Kim wondered if the last months had only been a dream.  Had the two sitting in that loveseat together ever been truly separated from one another?  She was sure they hadn’t—it would be impossible for anyone to ever separate these two; their souls were united.  Somehow they would always manage to find a way to come back together.

 

Min Ho flew off to Mexico to meet up with the rest of Shinee and their new manager.  Ari flew to London for a dance event.

 

The next few months they rarely got to see each other, but they FaceTimed daily.  Sometimes Min Ho would fly to spend a couple of days with her, and other times she would fly to him.

 

It was time for him to plan for their future.  Soon after his funds were returned, he started shopping for a condo.  He found one he liked in Cheomgdamdong. Cheomgdamdong was an area of Seoul where most Kpop Idols lived after they left their dorms, along with many other wealthy young adults.  There were several shops with high-end retailers along one street.  Even a cup of coffee is double what you would pay in other areas of town.  Living in Cheomngdamdong was as free of a lifestyle as any performer could have.

 

Ari missed Min Ho more each day.  Their lives demanded long work hours and lots of travel time.  Ari began wondering what life would be like if they were together most of the time rather than always thousands of miles apart. They both loved what they did in life, but how would they ever have anything more than stolen moments?  When she thought about their future, she would become sad.  Their time together was also becoming more difficult.

 

Ari longed to be Min Ho’s woman.  It wasn’t something they talked about.  After the night she got drunk and questioned his desire to be with her, she had not doubted his needs.  She felt their love was strong enough to consummate their relationship.  If she was dating an American man, this would not have been a problem.  An American male would have tried consummating their relationship on the first night and would have married her within three months.  Korean men, apparently, were more protective of their woman’s virtue.  For Heaven’s sake, she’d never even kissed another man, let alone become intimate with one.  What was he waiting for?  Marriage!  What about marriage?  Wasn’t he ever going to propose?  Did he really want to continue on like this until they were in their thirties?  Or even older?

 

She started wondering if she should bring up the subject since he seemed so slow with making decisions about their future.  When the members nicknamed him turtle, they knew what they were talking about.  Min Ho was the slowest person she’d ever met.  He didn’t make any decisions without deliberating it for weeks, sometimes months.  In this case they’d been together for nearly three years.

 

She was pacing her hotel suite.  “If I asked him to marry me, would he say “Aniyo”?  What would I do if he did?  Would it mean he didn’t want to marry me, ever?  Or, maybe just not yet!”  Her frustration level was at an all-time high.  She knew it was time to find out that answer.  With trembling hands, she FaceTimed him.

 

When Min Ho responded, Ari questioned herself on whether she’d get up the courage to ask him.  She’d been so sure she could, just seconds ago.  Now, seeing his smiling face, she was getting scared.  “Are you feeling okay?” he asked.

 

“Uh,”….she stammered“…of course.  I feel fine!  Why?”

 

“You look at little pale.  Maybe it’s just the connection.”

 

“Min Ho, I’ve been thinking.  Well, what I’m trying to say is—” But words wouldn’t come out.  “—I miss you!”

 

“I’ll see you this weekend. Did you get your ticket yet?” he asked.

 

“Huh, oh, Ne.”

 

“Babe what’s wrong?  You seem distracted.  Talk to me!”

 

She just couldn’t ask him.  When she finally tried all she could get out was, “I’m getting older.”  Min Ho broke out into laughter.

 

“You’re still beautiful, Babe.  You’ll be beautiful when you’re a short little lady with grey hair, at least to me!”

 

“Do you think we’ll know each other then?” she asked.

 

“What’s that supposed to mean? Of course we will!  If you even think about leaving me,” he paused, “I couldn’t live without you…. you know that, right?”

 

“I do, and I feel the same.  I’m just tired of never seeing you except through this screen.”

 

“Just be patient.  I’ll see you in a few days and then will have some uninterrupted time together.”

 

“A few days!”  Min Ho didn’t catch the venom in her voice.  “Ne.  I can’t wait!”

 

They only talked a few more minutes.  Typically they lingered on the phone until one of them had to get off.  Tonight Ari didn’t want to talk, so she came up with an excuse to end the call.

 

When Ari landed in New York City, her normal anticipation was building.  She couldn’t wait to be back in his arms.  She missed him so deeply.

 

As soon as she entered their hotel, the Ritz-Carlton New York in Battery Park, Ari saw Min Ho relaxing in the lobby.  He always waited to greet her as she entered.  He told her he waited because “when a man loves a woman she is worth the effort.”

 

She smiled as she remembered all those tender moments he showed her the depth of his love.  He was out of his chair and striding toward her the moment she entered.  He didn’t typically display much emotion in public, so Ari was surprised when he hugged her.

 

“I registered us in a wonderful little cottage just off the beach.  It’s secluded in a grove of trees.”  He took her bags for her.  He always insisted he take care of her luggage rather than the bellhop.

 

As she looked around the perfect room she would share with Min Ho for the next few days, she couldn’t help but envision this as the perfect space for their honeymoon.  The look on his face was one of disappointment.  “Do you not like the room, babe?”

 

“I love the room.  Gomawo.”  She pulled up into his chest and looked up at him.  He was looking down at her as she smiled.  His face lit up as he pulled her down on the bed with him.

 

“What would you like to do for the rest of today?” he asked.

 

“Couldn’t we stay right here, just the two of us?”

 

He reached over and kissed her deeply.  As his lips lingered against hers, she could tell he needed her as badly as she needed him.  Instead of taking her tighter into his arms and allowing his kiss to overcome them, he backed off and tapped her on the end of her nose.  This was his sign that it was time to stop.  Oh, how she’d grown to hate that tap!

 

“Why don’t we go for a walk before we eat dinner?”

 

Reluctantly, Ari got up and took his hand as he led her out the door and down a short path to the beach.  In bare feet the two of them walked on the water’s edge.  The bottoms of Min Ho’s white cotton pants were drenched but he never worried about things like that.  He knew he was handsome but it wasn’t something he worked at.   Some of the other members of Shinee were obsessed with their perfection.  Key was a perfect example.  Every piece of clothing, jewelry and shoes were perfectly thought out.  He needed his image to set trends.  The world expected this from Key and he always delivered.

 

Min Ho, on the other hand,  just threw on whatever was close by and his slender, yet muscular frame seemed to make the clothes look perfect.  She’d always been jealous how he could wake up in the morning, still in his pajamas, his hair a mess, and easily could have stepped in front of a camera to pose for Vogue.  One day he would be old and lose some of his physique, but now she would watch the excellence of his beauty and marveled at his walk, his manly fragrance, his masculinity.

 

The sun was dropping quickly as the two decided to go for a swim.  Ari went to the bathroom and put on the revealing bikini she’d found in Paris.  Typically he preferred her to wear a one-piece so she didn’t show too much skin.  This time she wasn’t interested in letting him protect his woman.  This time she wanted this man—her man—to see her as a woman who was ready to be married.  More importantly, she wanted him to be ready for marriage.

 

Ari stepped out of the bathroom and sidled up against the door.  As she leaned her head back revealing her long fine neck she seductively placed her hand upon her bare skin.  Slowly, her hand slid between her breasts, before stopping upon the soft skin of her abdomen.

 

She’d practiced this move over and over in front of a mirror.  She wanted to be sure it was prefect when she stood before him.

 

Min Ho watched as Ari stepped from the bathroom and leaned against the door frame.  The fine lines of her body arched as she seduced him with the milky softness of her exposed skin.  Desire filled him with an urgency he no longer wanted to ignore.  He held his feet to this spot as he whispered to himself, “Soon.”

 

When she finally looked at him he winked at her as a smile crossed his lips.  Then he went to the bathroom and removed a terry cloth towel from the rack.  He was still smiling when he walked over, and told her, “Put it on!”

 

She was incensed. He had once again failed to reveal his need for intimacy between them.  All of her dreams shattered.  She had been sure he would take her into his arms, kiss her passionately and say, “I think it’s time we get married, don’t you?”

 

Aniyo, it wasn’t the best proposal she could think of, but at this instant she wasn’t looking for the perfect proposal.  She would accept even the dumbest proposal at this point.

 

Soon they were laughing as they splashed and rolled with the oceans waves.  Ari had spent her whole life swimming in the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean.  She considered herself an excellent swimmer.  She’d never been a competitive swimmer.  Her focus was as a dancer, the ocean was her playground.

 

Min Ho was driven to be the best at whatever he was doing.  During Kpop athletic events he was considered a real threat to the other contestants.  Over the years he’d competed in diving, soccer, swimming, running, hurdles, basketball and many more.  He’d even won a competition that required him to move across, through, and around obstacles requiring strength, balance, precision and speed.  Ari equated it to a combination of the American show, “Wipe Out” and “American Ninja Warriors”.

 

They had swim about a quarter mile from shore when he asked her, “You want to race back?”

 

This time, she was sure she would finally beat him at his own game.  He may have won the swimming contest against several male performers, but she’d spent her life swimming in the harsher conditions of the ocean.  “You’re on!” she told him in English.

 

“On the count of set, I’ll even give you an extra dul seconds.”

 

“I don’t need an extra two seconds.  You just count to three and we’ll see who the winner is this time.  You can’t win everything!”

 

“If that’s the way you want it.  I was trying to be the gentleman, but I’m game.”  As they treaded water Min Ho counted out, “Hana, dul, set!”  The race was on.

 

From the beginning, his lead was obvious, but as they got closer to shore, he seemed to be tiring from the effort to fight the natural drag of the waves.  Ari was sure she’d taken the lead as she felt the sand seashore reach up and glide across her stomach.  She stood to see where he was.  A few feet away he was just reaching shore.  Jumping up and down, she started screaming, “I won.  I won!”

He sat in the sand smiling.  It only took seconds to see he wasn’t even breathing hard.  It finally hit her that he’d allowed her to win.  She ran over and bodily threw herself upon him in an attempt to smash him into the sand for cheating.

 

As her body landed on top of him, Min Ho easily caught her within his arms.  Her bare skin resting against his hands was more than he could endure.  Seconds later, Ari was under him.  The waves rolling across their bodies, the sand tickled Ari’s sides as it moved back and forth under her.  The force behind Min Ho’s kiss was breathtaking.  His large hands moved across her stomach, making her ache inside.  She didn’t want him to stop.  Not now, not ever.

 

His passion was revealed when he stopped long enough to look down at her.  His breathing was hard and fast.  Ari grew frightened he might hurt her.  He seemed lost to the deep need that was consuming him.  She hadn’t meant it to go this far.  She wanted this, yes, but not like this!  She had thought it was enough to force him to propose.  If she didn’t figure out how to put a stop to what was happening, she would find herself consumed by his fire come tomorrow morning.  If that happened he would probably never propose.  She did the only thing she could think of, she tapped his nose.

 

The fire still raged as he regained his control.  He didn’t tell her, but he was pleased she had taken control of the moment.  He knew this time he wouldn’t have stopped.  Again he reminded himself, “soon”.

 

 

Chapter 26

 

The next two days were filled with stage preparations and rehearsals.  The night of the concert, Ari stayed with the members of Shinee until they went into make-up.  Before going in he turned to Ari, “I want you to go with this attendant.  Her name is Amy.”  Quickly he instructed Amy, “Take her over by where I’ll enter the stage.”  Lightly kissing Ari, he whispered, “I’ll see you once I get over there.”

 

This was Ari’s first time behind the scenes at Madison Square Garden.  She’d performed many times on Broadway, but this stage had eluded her career.  Now here she was about to watch Shinee perform on this stage for their second time.  She could hear the excitement of the crowd.  The electricity in the air was alive.  The place was packed with over five thousand fans chanting, “Shinee, Shinee”.  She couldn’t really see out into the audience but she envisioned the Shinee glow sticks lighting up the darkness.

 

In all of her years performing, she had never experienced anything as magnetic as this love the fans had for these five men.  How did they prepare themselves to stand before such a crowd?  She could feel the vibration of their voices even down below the stage.  She knew that up there the full force of those screams would be so strong that they would feel like they were slicing through you.  Just once, she would like to stand beside Min Ho and feel what he experienced.  Her fans clapped and gave her standing ovations, and that was always a wonderful feeling, but this was different.  These fans loved Shinee!  At the same time, this level of fame and love overwhelmed Min Ho with intense pressure to give them what they wanted—him.  Each of them worked hard to be the Shinee their fans demanded.  It was a tall task and one they gave themselves over to willingly.

 

It didn’t take as long as Ari had thought it would for Min Ho to get into make-up, clothes, and his hair done.  She heard foots steps and cheers coming down the hall.  He was wearing a white t-shirt and grey/blue vest with light blue jeans that were embroidered in white.  What word would she use to describe him?  Sexy!  She blushed thinking about it.

 

He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her into the circle of flower boys.  They said a quick prayer and then shouted, “Shinee”.

 

Junghyun was the first to go up.  The electricity reached critical mass as the audience screamed at ear-splitting decibels.  Just before Min Ho ran up the steps he kissed her and said, “I’ll see you soon!  Make sure you do what they ask!”  She stood their mesmerized by it all.  Once they began singing she wondered what he’d meant.  What were they going to ask of her?

 

She knew there were three breaks during the concert.  Each time they got cooled off, changed clothes and drank some water.  The last time they came down she didn’t see them.  She wouldn’t have even known they were back on stage except for the screaming and Onew began singing.

 

It was about that time Amy came over and asked Ari to follow her.  She was taken to the make-up room. The air was thick with the smell of Shinee sweat.  The lady who fixed Min Ho’s make-up asked Ari to sit down. After applying a base, she put on an elegant touch of mascara, eye shadow, and lipstick.  All of this was confusing Ari, but she did what was asked.  Then her long silky-smooth hair was released from her pony tail.  Two women worked quickly to pull it back and put waves of curl into it.

 

Amy returned carrying a beautiful gown of snow-white silk.  As the attendant slid the dress down Ari’s slender form, Ari felt the rich fabric hug her body.  Just below her knees the material gradually widened and seemed to float as she walked.

 

“Where did this dress come from?”

 

“Min Ho had it made for you.  It fits you perfectly.”

 

“Why?  What is going on?”

 

“I don’t know.  I was just told to make sure you wore it.  Now let’s hurry back.  The concert is almost over.”

 

The five guys had just finished their last song.  They were standing at the back of the stage.  Onew stepped forward, “Tonight we have a special surprise for our fans.  We’re going to bring up a wonderful lady you all know.   We’re sure each of you loves this lady as much as we do.”  The fans took only seconds to figure out who this person was.

 

Taemin stepped forward as the chanting began.    His mic was turned up so he could be heard above the crowd. “Tonight is a night many of you have waited for.  Min Ho and the rest of Shinee want to share it with each of you!”

 

Key was jumping up and down, encouraging the fans to get louder as they called for Ari “We’re hoping you will help us get her up here for all the Shinee fans across the world.”

 

“And now,” Jonghyun yelled as Onew disappeared off stage, “who do we want?”  The fans started screaming as Min Ho stepped into the light in his white tuxedo.  The screams were thunderous as everyone began repeating, “Minari, Minari, Minari, Minari”.

 

Min Ho raised his fist up to the crowd, biting his lower lip as they continued their summons.  In all these years performing before thousands of fans, this moment¸ this crowd, swelled his chest with joy as they called for his lady in white. This night he would be united with the only one who owned his heart in a solo performance.

 

As Ari walked toward the steps in her high heels and white gown, she saw Onew walking down.  His smile owned his face.  He was dressed completely in white.  She wondered when he’d put that outfit on.  Then she’d remembered the pause in music when they’d gone off stage far right.

 

Onew reached for Ari.  When she took his hand he pulled her toward him and kissed her cheek, “You are magnificent Ari.”  Then he turned and urged her to follow him up the steps.  She remembered Min Ho’s words, so she started climbing.  She paused as the words being chanted registered in her ears, “Minari, Minari!”  It had been a very long time since she’d heard a crowd call for her and Min Ho together.  Her eyes glistened as it moved her to tears.

 

When she reached the top step, she saw Min Ho.  He was dressed in a white tuxedo.  Never had she seen him more handsome than he was tonight.  Onew held tightly as he wrapped her arm under his and walked her toward the man she loved.  His smile forced a glow to build deep inside her and when he winked  just before she reached him she felt that glow burst into a thousand glittering sparks.

 

Onew let go of her arm as Min Ho went down on one knee.  Suddenly, Ari knew what was going on.  The audience became instantly silent.  She felt weak in the knees and wished Onew hadn’t let go of her.

 

Key handed Min Ho a microphone.  “Ari, saranghae.”  The audience instantly started screaming.  He waited patiently for them to become quiet.  “Will you stand by me, forever?”

 

Still! The air was still as everyone waited for her to answer.  So overcome with emotion that she wasn’t able to speak—so she nodded, yes!  Min Ho stood up.  He was so close she could feel the steady rhythm of his heartbeat.  He placed his hand gently upon her delicate face and lifted it up.  Bending down, he lightly touched his lips to hers lingering upon them.

 

As they kissed, a portion of the stage lifted with two priests in formal gowns standing upon it.  All around this outer stage, lilacs were placed in extravagant vases.  There were many lamps between the flowers.  Min Ho took her arm in his and led Ari down stage and up to the priest.

 

All around them, cameras were clicking and reporters were feeding the video live to their stations across the world.  Min Ho had planned everything down to the smallest detail.  Everyone would witness him joining his life with Ari’s.  Never again could even one person come between them.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Choi joined their son from somewhere off stage.  Behind them were Mr. and Mrs. Kim.  Key stood beside Ari and Taemin witnessed for Min Ho.  In the background Jonghyun and Onew sang “Stand By Me.”

 

Each time the American priest spoke his words were repeated by the Korean minister so Ari and Min Ho’s marriage was recognized in both countries.  When it came time for their vows, Min Ho took the microphone from Taemin and first sang “Nothing Better” to her while Jonghyun played the piano.

 

His chocolate voice stroked at her heart as he sang these words of love.  I will be the warm wind that will embrace you…… I worry you are only an illusion but if you are, I will wait for you.  When he finished singing, his warm smile became serious as he said his vows.

 

My love has suffered frozen in the ice that held you

It wasn’t until this moment I could breathe

What once isolated me has now set me free

Stand by me.

 

I can’t live without you

Let me make this promise

To hold your warm hand each day

And allow me to be your world.

 

Taemin took the microphone and handed Min Ho the rings.  Min Ho lifted Ari’s shaking hand and smoothly slid a wedding band that blended silver and gold onto to her finger.  Next he slid a purple diamond upon her hand, and whispered, “The purple diamond stands for love and romance.”

 

Onew handed Ari a mic.  Long ago she had written her vows for this very day.  Today, at last, she would share her words.

 

From the edges of my heart

Endless waves fill me with happiness

I never want to leave you

My need is to be with you

This heart will forever be yours

 

Let’s move toward each other

You will become my oxygen

In this world, our world

We’ll find love together

 

After Key handed Ari the wedding band, she slid it onto Min Ho’s finger.  As soon as the ring was in place, he grabbed her hand and held it.  The priest placed his hand upon theirs and said, “Min Ho, Ari I now pronounce you husband and wife.  You may kiss your bride.”

 

Min Ho wrapped his arms around his wife, pulling her to his chest.  He gazed into her eyes, longingly breathing in as he placed his lips upon hers.  He wanted to take all of her in and he shared that promise to her as he explored the most sensitive parts of her mouth.  Never had he kissed her with such tenderness and with more meaning behind it.  Ari was now his wife and she would ‘soon’ be his lover.

 

When they turned to leave Onew, Jonghyun, Key and Taemin each took the corner of the palanquin or sedan chair that had been brought out by some of their dancers.  Min Ho led his bride to the chair and helped her in.  The palanquin was decorated with colorful paintings of geese that represent a long and happy marriage.  As the members of Shinee carried Ari to the back of the stage, wedding lanterns brightened until the stage was lit up with green, yellow, blue, pink and orange lights.

 

At the back of the stage, they all took hands with Ari and Min Ho in the center.  They bowed and said, “Good Night and thank you for sharing this night in our Shinee World.”  The fans were on their feet stomping their approval as the members of Shinee and Choi Ari excited the stage.

 

 

Epilogue

 

The next time Ari was carried away in a helicopter, Min Ho was by her side.  They flew to the airport and boarded a plane.  Min Ho told her they were first going to Seoul.  They were in the air for over fourteen hours but it seemed to fly by for Ari.

 

When they landed in Incheon they said good-bye to his parents and headed into Seoul in a limousine.  Min Ho poured some champagne for his wife.  “I have a special wedding present for you.”

 

“What is it?” she asked.

 

“Be patient!  It won’t take us long to get there.”

 

They crossed the river into Cheongdamdong and soon pulled up in front of luxurious condos.  Min Ho got out and helped Ari out.  He led her into the building and up to the top floor.  As they stood before a door, Min Ho said, “This is our new home.  Tonight—our first night—I want it be here. We’ve shared enough hotels.”

 

Ari was too shocked to speak.  He unlocked the door, then swept her up in his arms as he kicked the door and carried her over the threshold.  Quickly he showed her around the house, saving their bedroom for last.  Red rose petals formed a heart on the end of their massive extended king-sized bed.  The room was dark except for the hundreds of small lights that looked like flickering candles placed all over the room.  She turned to him, her faced filled with delight over his surprise.  When she looked at him, he was no longer focused on anything around them or the events of the last several hours.  It was a look she’d only seen written up his arresting face twice.  It was a man consumed by his passion.  She had only seconds before she was taken into his arms, full lips possessed her.  Gently he persuaded her to their bed and slowly, tantalizingly he removed her clothes.

 

The next morning they flew out to Jeju Island.  They spent five glorious days exploring the island.  While they were on Stone Beach they played a game of stacking the stones on top of each other to see which one could keep the tower of miniature stones from tumbling.  Ari found the smallest one she could and thought she had him beat.  Ultimately, he found one even smaller and he won.

 

He drove her through the mountains on a 4-wheeler, and they built a fire as they watched the sun go down. They took a ferry over to Udo Island and road a dul bicycle through the countryside up to the lighthouse.  They spent hours on the white beaches of Udo.

 

Fans recognized them everywhere they went.  They would stop and accept the words of happiness over their marriage.  Many would take pictures, but the fans never bothered them.  They went shopping on Jeju Island to find presents for the other members of Shinee.  They stopped at every shop looking for gifts that would suit their friends. Hand in hand, the two shared every moment with laughter and shared their love among the fans that helped them come together.

 

One evening they were playing in the water when some fans came along and started snapping pictures.  At first Min Ho didn’t know they were there.  Once he noticed, he ran up to Ari and placed her behind him.  She was wearing the small, revealing bikini she’d tempted him with in the states.  “Please,” he asked, “If you give us a second we’ll be happy to have you take a couple of shots.  Just please respect my wishes to protect her.”  The fans apologized and turned away while Min Ho wrapped a large towel around her frame.  Afterwards, they posed for a couple shots and then talked for several minutes before the fans moved on.

 

Each time they stopped and talked with people, it became clear their wedding had made an appearance in nearly every country.  “You had all of this planned, didn’t you?” she asked him.

 

“Ne.  I’m glad it worked!  Everyone we’ve met so far never lost the vision of Min Ho with Ari by his side.  Everybody, everybody, loves a good Korean Drama!”  She laughed as he sang the words, everybody.

 

When they got back home, they visited with the members in Min Ho’s old dorm.  The guys loved their new gifts.  “We got Jonghyun a gold necklace with some bling bling, and Key this ring.”  Ari helped him to put it on correctly.  It was a cartoon character’s face on one finger and on each side the hands were two other rings, so it was three rings in one.  They were so happy that he was pleased.

 

Taemin got some new scarves from Jeju, but Ari surprised him with one of the gloves Michael Jackson had worn when she’d danced with him.  Michael was always giving gifts to the performers.  Ari received a couple and one of those was the glove he’d worn one of the days they rehearsed together.

 

Onew got a new small yellow knit bag and a pair of white sunglasses on top.  He loved it!

 

A few days later, Ari and Min Ho went to the studio to dance.  Ari had to work on some choreography for her upcoming play in London.  Min Ho wouldn’t stop bothering her as she tried to think about the music.

 

Ari was standing with her back to Min Ho when he changed to the music to OMG.  Running up behind her he grabbed her around the waist and started singing, “Oh My Gosh!”  Ari started laughing and ran off.  “How am I supposed to think with you playing pranks, Min Ho?  Stop!”  She walked over and changed the music back.

 

After putting some steps to her song, Ari was deep into perfecting the timing.  Min Ho again changed the music but he fast forwarded this time.  Sneaking up behind Ari, he lifted her onto his shoulder and started singing after he pushed the remote, “Baby, let me love you down, there’s so many ways to love you.”  He placed her back on the floor, turning her toward him as she shimmied down his body.

 

Ari couldn’t help but giggle at her husband’s attempts to win her attention.  “I have to work!”  She ran away from him he started chasing her.  Bending forward, he was flipping the bottom of her short, one-piece dress as he sang, “She was dancing sexy…..never ever has a lady hit me on the first sight…….”  She was laughing to the point she nearly fell down as she tried to evade him.  “Girl you know I’m loving you, loving your style…..checking you out!”

 

He stopped and popped his hips as he gave her his charismatic look of a smile with his hand up to his chin.  This got Ari to stop moving away.  Instead, she gave into his charming ways and ran over, jumped into his arms, and started shimming over backwards.  Min Ho stopped long enough to chuckle.  “Ooh, she got it all.  Sexy from her head to her toes…..”  She snapped back to his face and he moved his hips as he sang, “And I want it all!”

 

He stopped singing and asked her, “Are you ready to take a shower?”

 

“Why do you ask me that every time we are here?”  She jumped out of his arms and turned off the music.  As she walked away from the stereo equipment, she looked over her shoulders, she rolled her finger and winked giving him the signal to follow her.

 

Scooping her up in his arms, he smiled and said, “Honey, I knew I could break you down.”  They went into the shower room and locked the door.

 

The other members came in so they could take a class with Ari.  The room was empty so they knocked on the shower door, “Min Ho are you in there?  This makes the third time this week you’ve made us wait for you.”  Jonghyun turned to the other guys, “Let’s just go ahead and practice what we worked on yesterday.  Those two will come out eventually.”

 

At the end of rehearsal time, Min Ho helped Ari dry her hair before they left for the night.  Outside, the wind had picked up a little and the night air had its late autumn chill to it.  As was usual, reporters were waiting for them.  Ari almost always stopped, smiled, and then performed a quick movement that would catch a great shot for their magazines.

 

There was a crowd close by hoping to catch Minari together.  As they walked to their car, Ari noticed as a small child had separated from her parents while they were busy taking pictures of her and her husband.  When the child headed for the street, Ari let go of Min Ho’s arm and ran after it.  It took only seconds for him to see what she was doing.  He looked out into the street and saw both his wife and the child about to get struck by an oncoming car.  The driver was looking at Min Ho rather than the road.  With the speed he is known for, Min Ho ran after Ari.  Just as Ari bent over to scoop up the child, Min Ho reached her.  His arm quickly circled her waist.  He twisted the upper half of his body, bringing Ari and the little girl into his chest.  The car came to stop where Ari had just been standing.

 

Relieved  that she was okay, Min Ho leaned his head against hers.  Ari was looking down at the little girl in her arms and smiled.  They captured a picture of Ari pressed against Min Ho’s back, his head leaning forward, eyes closed and a look of surrendered fear upon his face.   Ari, held high within Min Ho’s arms, was looking down at the small round face smiling up at her.  The encapsulated moment hit every local paper and magazine.  The headlines read:  MIN HO SAVES WIFE AND CHILD.

 

That night as they lie in each other’s arms, Min Ho said, “Tonight—watching you hold that little girl in your arms arms—”   He paused and raised himself onto his elbow so he could see her reaction. “I’d like to have a little girl of our own.”

 

Ari was dazed.  They’d never talked about children before.  Ari hadn’t even been sure he wanted any.  She knew he’d make a great father because he was good with the little kids that always find their way to him.  “You want a baby?”

 

“Ne.  When you’re ready I’d like to have a few.  I especially want a little girl!”

 

“Most men want a son first, why a little girl?”

 

“I’d like to have more of you to fuss over!” Min Ho tapped Ari’s nose.  She no longer objected to that sign of affection.  Min Ho never told her to “stop” her advances any more.  Now it was just his way of telling her he loved her without using words.  Ari realized it had always been a sign of his love.  Each time he used this move to slow things down, he was saying, “My love for you is great enough to wait—wait until I have honored you as my wife.”  She realized at that moment just how immeasurable his love had been all along.  Ari reached up to kiss him, “Saranghae.  I can think of nothing more I want right now then to create a child with you.”

 

One year later, after months of birthing lessons, all of Shinee was ready for the birth of Min Ho’s first child.  Together they had prepared a baby room.  The theme was, “all things Shinee”.  This baby would sleep in a crib shaped with soft downy faux wings.  The walls had glittering stars and bold colors for every Shinee member.  The carpet looked like white, fluffy clouds.  One wall was a screen.  They guys had recorded several lullaby’s that could be played as their baby fell asleep.

 

When the day arrived and Ari went into labor, Min Ho hit the button that would signal every member of Shinee on their phones.  By the time he and Ari arrived at the hospital, everyone was there and waiting.

 

Despite her contractions, Ari insisted they all pose for the cameramen that had been waiting days for this moment.  The cameras grabbed a shot right in the moment of a contraction, as Ari grabbed her belly and cringed, and the guys all looked straight at her slack jawed.  Min Ho swept Ari into his arms and entered the hospital.

 

When the doctor told them she was at ten centimeters and that she would soon feel the urge to push, Onew told the rest of the guys to come in.  Working as a team, they took their positions.  Key was the best at sitting behind Ari and helping her to push, Taemin was the nervous one, so he held her hand and allowed her to squeeze.  Jonghyun was the calmest, so he wiped her brow with a wet wash cloth, and Onew, the babies Godfather, was in charge of taking pictures.

 

Mrs. Kim videotaped the birthing.  Min Ho in a face mask and gloves sat on a small stool as he awaited the birth of his first child.  The baby crowned and with two more pushes, she fell into her Abba’s arms.  Onew took a picture of Min Ho looking earnestly upon the face of his new born daughter.  Min Ho just sat and held her for a few seconds without moving.  Ari whispered through her exhaustion, “Min Ho is the baby okay?”

 

Tears falling down his cheeks, Min Ho stood up, carrying their daughter and laid her upon her Omma’s still swollen belly, “We have a daughter!”

 

Onew continued taking pictures, and even through his own tears and whoops of joy he managed to capture the moment.  A special image showed the members all placing their hands upon the baby girl’s back with Ari smiling in the background.  He wished he could have been in that shot.

 

After the baby was cleaned up and wrapped in a blanket, Mr. Kim came in and snapped some pictures as Min Ho held his daughter and the guys were around him.  Mrs. Kim continued to video as together Shinee sang to the baby, “Return to Pooh Corner” from Winnie the Pooh.

 

Months later, Shinee was finishing their concert tour in Seoul.  Ari and the baby and been on tour with them for the last several weeks.  It had been exhausting, but she didn’t want Min Ho to miss a minute with his daughter.  At the end of the performance Min Ho stepped forward, microphone in hand.  “Many of our fans in Korea have shared their disappointment that Ari and I did not marry at our home stage.  Tonight Shinee has prepared a special surprise for each of you.”

 

Min Ho walked off stage as the other guys encouraged the crowd to show their enthusiasm.  When Min Ho walked back on stage he was carrying a small round-faced baby girl wearing a Shinee dress and small Winnie the Pooh headphones.  Her eyes were big and dark, just like her daddy’s, but there was no mistaken that she looked more like her mommy.  The little girl had one arm resting on her daddy’s shoulder and the other one was clutching her stuffed bear.

 

The smile on Min Ho’s face was beaming as the crowd stood up stomping in the stands, cheering this wonderful moment.  When he reached the end of the stage, he retrieved the microphone from Taemin and announced, “We want to introduce the newest member to our family, “Choi Minari Rose.”  The crowd went crazy.

 

Holding his daughter under the arms, Min Ho held her up for everyone to see.  The cameras were snapping as quickly as they could, and the moment was viral before he could bring her back into the embrace of his arms.  Together as they’d done at the hospital, the members of Shinee sang for his daughter.  Recently they’d released the album of children’s songs for others to enjoy with their babies.  Surprisingly he was a huge seller.

 

Min Ho handed his daughter to an assistant back stage as he took his wife’s hand and led her back to the rest of Shinee.  For their final song of the night Ari¸ an accomplished singer, sang with them.  Together they showed the audience the new choreography Ari had put together for them.  When the song ended, they were all spent from the effort.  Shinee all showed their hands for the audience to applaud her, and then they raised their hands together and bowed, then stood and waved.  Everyone turned to walk off stage except Min Ho.  He took Ari by the waist and kissed her deeply.  As the audience screamed their approval, he lifted his fist into the air and the lights went out.

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

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This entry was posted in: My Novels

by

I am a mother of 16 children and grandchildren. Some of them are by blood and the rest by heart. I was a foster mom for a few years and the children I cared for during that time have mostly stayed with me through the years. I love to write, read, dance, paint, and play with my animals. I enjoy dressage riding and just being in the barn. My words are my gift, as they allow you to know me as I really am. Thanks for joining me on this ride of life!

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