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XOXO: Chapter 40

Traffic is at standstill outside Madison Square Garden, so I abandon the taxi at 36th and 7th and run the last few blocks.

In the cab, I’d sent a message to FWOJ:

On my way to Madison Square Garden. Wish me luck.

The replies come in from my friends, hyping me up:

Gi Taek: AJA! AJA!

Angela: JENNY! Fighting!

Sori: Get your man!

I check the time on my phone. It’s 7:40, which means XOXO goes on in twenty minutes.

I try to call Jaewoo but his phone must be turned off because it goes straight to voicemail.

Hurriedly, I text Nathaniel, who I haven’t contacted since the night Jaewoo and I broke up:

I’m at Madison Square Garden. Is there any way you could get me inside?

Even with twenty minutes to showtime, there’s a huge line outside the stadium, slowly pouring through the doors where staff are checking tickets and guards are checking bags.

Without a ticket, I’ll never get in.

I open my phone to call Nathaniel and it immediately powers down. I was so exhausted from traveling last night that I forgot to charge it.

I estimate around fifteen minutes until showtime. Or at least, when they’re scheduled to start. If this concert is anything like 95D’s concert in Seoul, it won’t begin on time.

I circle around the building, looking out for something, anything.

There! A side area cordoned off with a single guard. Visible behind the rope is a door, a separate entrance for the road crew.

I hurry over.

The guard, a burly Latino guy with a beard eyes me with suspicion. “The line for entry is on the other side of the building.”

“I need to see XOXO.”

“Yeah, you and the twenty thousand other people.”

“No, like, I know them. I’m a classmate.”

“Sure you are.”

“Seriously, ask Nam Ji Seok. He’s their manager.”

“Nice try. Now if you’d step back . . .”

No, this can’t be how it ends, foiled by a security guard. My eyes dart behind him.

I can’t give up now. I need to see Jaewoo, to tell him that I’m sorry, that I was wrong and afraid and . . .


Someone approaches from behind the security guard from where they exited another one of those sleek black vans. My heart lifts, then immediately sinks.

It’s Sun.

“What are you doing here?” he asks. He’s already dressed to go on stage, in a sparkling dark-blue jacket that probably cost a million dollars, his long hair falling elegantly over his shoulders. He’s absolutely beautiful, and the last person I wanted to see.

“I came to see Jaewoo.”

“Ah.” He bites his lip, and I can see him thinking.

“I know you don’t like me,” I blurt out, and he raises a single, well-groomed eyebrow. “I know you think I’ll only distract Jaewoo, that his career will suffer from being with me. But I think you’re wrong. Jaewoo can’t help taking care of people—he’s too good-hearted—but he doesn’t have to take care of me. Because the truth is, I don’t need him. I have a whole life that’s separate from his. But I still want to be with him. I want to be there for him when he’s unhappy just as much as I want to be there for him when he’s happy. Though I hope he’s never unhappy because it physically hurts when he’s unhappy, you know?”

“I know.”

I’m so startled by his response that I immediately shut my mouth.

Sun turns to the security guard, who’s been watching us with a quizzical expression. Unless he can understand Korean, he has no idea what I just said.

“Excuse me, sir.” Sun holds up a card on a lanyard he’s wrapped around his wrist. Speaking in broken English he says, “I am one of the artists. She’s”—he gestures vaguely in my direction—“VIP.”

A piercing scream comes from behind me. “Sun-oppa!”

He’s been spotted. Soon, more screams join the first, and the ground literally appears to shake with the rush of pounding feet.

“Damn.” The security guard reaches for his radio to call for backup. “Take her inside. Hurry.”

I bypass the rope and follow Sun to the side entrance. The cries of “Sun-oppa” can be heard, cutting off as the door shuts behind us.

“Thanks,” I say, catching my breath. We haven’t gone far, but my heart’s still racing from the adrenaline. “I—I didn’t think you’d help me.”

“I’m not helping,” he says, completely poised. “I’m just choosing not to stand in the way.”

“That’s helping.”

He shrugs. Pivoting, he starts walking down the hall, and I hurry to follow. We pass by a few crew members who bow to him and wish him a good show, while glancing at me curiously.

“You and I both have different views on what’s best for Jaewoo,” Sun says, glancing down the corridor to check that no one’s watching, then returning his gaze to me, “but it’s his life. He should be the one who makes the decision that he thinks is best, don’t you think?”

“Has anyone told you that you’re wise?”

He smirks, then turns with a flip of his long hair, calling over his shoulder as he leaves, “They don’t call me the leader of XOXO for nothing.”

I walk swiftly down the corridor. I don’t know what time it is, but Jaewoo’s somewhere nearby, I just have to find him.

“Hey, stop right there!” Another security guard; this time one of XOXO’s crew, as he speaks in Korean. “Do you have clearance to be down here?”

Dammit! I’m so close. The corridor hooks at the end. Should I make a run for it?

“Don’t mind her,” another voice interrupts, one I recognize. “She works for the venue.”

I glance over my shoulder.

Youngmin engages the man in friendly conversation. His hair is dyed bright red and he’s wearing a black outfit with chain-like accessories. Catching my gaze over the man’s shoulder, he winks.

I seize the opportunity he’s given me, racing down the corridor, rounding the corner, and running smack-dab into Nathaniel.

“Hey, Jenny, isn’t this a surprise.” Nathaniel’s wearing a paisley jacket over loose trousers. He’s also bleached his hair since I last saw him, to a brilliant-white color, a stark contrast to his dark eyes. “What are you doing here? Last I checked, we weren’t in Los Angeles.”

“I’m auditioning for a place in programs for cello at a few New York universities.”

“Nice. How’d you do?”

“I got into my top choice.”

“Congrats!” He raises his hand for a high-five and I raise mine instinctively.

“Wait!” I scowl. “I’m not here to make small talk with you. Where’s Jaewoo?”

A small crease forms between his brows. “I don’t know.

“What do you mean you don’t know? Isn’t your concert about to start?”

He sighs, scratching at his cheek, careful not to mess up his makeup. “You know Jaewoo. When he’s feeling overwhelmed, he likes to be alone. Just—uh—not a great time to go disappearing. I was actually on my way to ask Sun if we should push the show back another thirty minutes. It’s 8:05 already. We’re supposed to go on in ten minutes.”

Jaewoo’s missing. A feeling lodges in my chest, not so much worry but determination. “You go find Sun. I’ll get Jaewoo.”

Nathaniel watches me for a few seconds, then nods. “I leave him in your care.”

We part ways, him back down the corridor I just passed, and me down the hall that branches to the left, opposite where I’d run into Nathaniel.

Where does one find a lost K-pop star ten—now nine—minutes before he’s supposed to perform live?

All the doors in the hall are closed. I go to the nearest and wrench it open. Four crew members with cup noodles lifted to their mouths turn to stare at me.

“Sorry!” I apologize, bow quickly, and close the door.

I’ll never find him, if I go door-to-door. Think, Jenny!

The lights in the hall are dim, the roar of the stadium reverberating through the floors. Light filters from beneath each doorway, suggesting activity within.

Except for the last door on the right. No light penetrates from beneath the crack. I start walking toward it, then jogging, then full-out sprinting.

You know Jaewoo.

I do know him. The first time we met, I found him in the karaoke room, sitting alone in the dark with his eyes closed.

Reaching for the doorknob, I find it unlocked. As I twist and press it open, the light from the hall cuts through the darkness. Jaewoo looks up from where he’s seated on a couch at the back of the room.

“Jenny?” He stands. “What are you—” He falters. “What are you doing here? Is everything all right?”

I step through the door. “Everything’s fine.”

Now that he’s here, in front of me.

Like the others, he’s dressed like he walked straight out of a fashion magazine, in a dark blazer with a shirt underneath that has a deep-cut V. I have to force myself to keep my gaze on his face, and not his exposed chest. His outfit also has a few chain motifs, to match Youngmin’s, including a light strand that rings his neck.


“Sorry, I was distracted. You’re very . . . distracting.”

His face, which held a measure of confusion smooths out, and his lips twist in a rueful smile. That’s when I notice he holds something in his hand.

“Is that . . . ?”

The sticker photo. I’d thought it was lost for good.

He nods. “Turns out someone from our school found it on the lawn and sold it to a local gossip magazine, but she’d only sold a photo she’d taken of the original.”

“Was it Jina?”

He frowns. “Kim Jina? No, this girl was a First Year. She was only thinking of making a bit of cash. She returned the picture and apologized. I accepted her apology. By then, the scandal had blown over anyway.”

“I’m sorry,” I blurt out. Then repeat the words deliberately, “I’m sorry.”

Jaewoo doesn’t say anything, just waits patiently for me to continue.

“I’m sorry for leaving like that, right as everything was happening. I was . . . afraid. It sounds silly now, but I was afraid of how much I cared about you, and I was scared that it would destroy me when we did break up. It’s ironic that it did destroy me, but it was my own doing.”

I take a deep breath. “I was wrong to begin a relationship with you thinking it would fail in the end. I should know better. I’m a musician. You don’t practice in order to give a bad recital. You work hard, you put in the time, energy, and passion, and you give a beautiful performance.”

Jaewoo watches me for a second, his expression giving nothing away. Then he says, deadpan, “I’ll be your partner for this beautiful performance.”

“Oh my God!” I groan. “You’re totally messing up my metaphor.”

He starts laughing, his whole body shaking, tears in his eyes.

I scowl. “What time is it? Don’t you have your own beautiful performance to get to?”

He stops laughing. “Oh shit, you’re right. I forgot about that.”

“You forgot about it!”

He grins, which is completely unfair, because with his makeup and that outfit, it’s like a cupid’s arrow to my heart. “My girlfriend that I was in love with who broke up with me on a hospital rooftop three months ago in Seoul shows up right before my concert in New York City. Yeah, I forgot about it.”

In love with!

“You almost made me forget why I was in here in the first place . . .”

“Oh yeah, why were you in here?”

He smiles shyly. “I was nervous. I am nervous. This is the biggest concert we’ve ever given, and our first in the US.”

“You’re going to do great. You’ve prepared for this. And you have bandmates who will support you, even if you do make a mistake, which you’re not going to,” I add hurriedly, “but you know what I mean.”

Wow, I suck at pep talks.

“You’re right,” Jaewoo says. “I think I’m ready now.” I reach out a hand to him, and he takes it. Together, we hurry from the room, rushing back to the junction where I last saw Sun.

The rest of the members of XOXO are all there, waiting.

“Jaewoo-hyeong! Jenny-nuna!” Youngmin shouts.

“Oh, look,” Nathaniel says with a teasing smile, “Jenny’s brought him back to us.”

“I just needed some time,” Jaewoo says, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand, while keeping a tight hold onto mine with the other.

“Yeah, we know,” Nathaniel says, but gentling his words with a wink.

“Are you all right?” Sun asks. “We can stall a bit.”

“I’m fine.”

“If you get overwhelmed up there, Jaewoo-hyeong,” Youngmin says, “just make this signal.” He raises his pointer finger and scratches the underside of his jaw. “I’ll do something silly and distract everyone.”

Jaewoo grins. “Thanks, Youngmin-ah.”

I start to tear up. How can you not, witnessing this moment?

It’s just so beautiful, the care they have for one another. The trust, love, and belief. It’s remarkable and just so wholesome.

“Jenny-nuna?” Youngmin asks. “What’s wrong? Why are you crying?”

Jaewoo releases my hand, only so that I can wipe the tears from my eyes. “I’m just . . . I’m just a big fan.”

They all laugh.

Jaewoo turns toward his bandmates. “Are we ready to do this?”

“Yeah!” Youngmin pumps his fist in the air.

Nathaniel grins. “Let’s give them the show of a lifetime.”

“Everyone put your hands in,” Sun says, and they all put their right hands in, from oldest to youngest on the top. “Who are we?”

They press down on their hands together, then lift up. “XOXO!”

Recipient: Jenny Go, The Manhattan School of Music


Happy New Year!

Thank you for the gifts you sent my mother and sister. Joori has been bragging to all her school friends that she has a cool eonni in the US. Both she and my mother can’t wait for you to visit Seoul for the summer. It’s all they talk about. But that’s all right, it’s all I can talk about too.

Wishing you luck on your final exams—this postcard should arrive before then—I know you’re gonna rock it. Because you’re great at practicing.

I’m great at practicing too. Let’s practice a lot the next time we see each other.

I know we spoke just last night, and I know that whatever I tell you in this postcard you’ll have known for however long it takes for you to receive this, but I still wanted to write down the words, that I’ll say to you in person, this summer.


XOXO, Jaewoo


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