King & Queen is a Kpop fan fiction drama that is released in an episodic format exclusively at Critical Kpop. Enjoy and keep tuning in for the continuing story! Catch up on previous episodes here!
Resting comfortably in an armchair in the dressing room, JYP slides a cigar beneath his nose, inhaling the smell. He doesn’t drink. No drugs. This is his one allowance, his one cheat. A single Ramón Allones Cuban cigar. Pre-revolution. Fatter than a finger, but he never lights it. What was it that Will Smith said? Just for the look?
Temperance is a virtue his students couldn’t possibly understand. The ability to avoid self-destruction, to let your career flower and develop without a clear expiration date. He turned forty-two-years-old last month. Forty-two. And in fifteen minutes, he will crown a King and a Queen of Kpop High. Guess how long that will last? How long until they throw it all away with one bad decision, one mistake on Twitter, one lapse of judgment on stage?
The Ramón Allones is earthy. Woody, even. It has history. He knows where it came from, and he knows it’s not about to disappear.
There’s an insistent knock interrupting him. Time already? JYP sheaths the cigar in his breast pocket, but before he can stand, the door to the dressing room opens.
“Bora? What are you doing here? Did Principal Hyori send you?”
“No. I just needed to talk to you, professor.”
She looks stunning. He knows he shouldn’t even think it. Things aren’t like they were when he was young. The girls now, so anxious to be women.
“What is it, Bora?”
She turns away from him, walking instead to the full-length mirror. She checks her eyes, first, then smoothes out her dress. She is waiting to see if he watches her, JYP thinks. He looks, instead, at his brown loafers. Recently shined. Impeccable.
“I was just thinking,” she says, now turning to inspect herself from every angle, “Sistar has had a great year. Don’t you think?”
JYP meets her eyes in the mirror. “You’re talking about King and Queen?”
Bora laughs, but he knows her well enough to see that it is an act. “Everything we’ve accomplished, all the Showcase wins we had, it’s all thanks to you.” Bora turns to face him. “Surely someone in Sistar deserves to be Queen.”
“I hope you’re not disappointed with the results tonight.”
JYP watches as Bora’s eyes seek out the envelope resting on his armchair. “Have you read it yet?”
“No.” A lie. Can she tell?
Bora smiles then, a dangerous smile. As she walks by, her smallest finger brushes against his arm. “I hope I’m not disappointed either.” And then she is gone.
JYP collapses into the armchair. He holds the envelope in front him, containing the results he already knows. He pats his breast pocket, seeking his friend, Ramón Allones, but another knock disturbs him.
“Park Jin-young?” he hears, and he knows who it is immediately. No one else would forgo “JYP” for his full name. No one except, of course, IU. She always has to make everything so difficult.
“What can I help you with, IU?” he asks. “Want to convince me that you should be Queen?”
“That’s just the thing,” IU says. She enters his dressing room and she’s not alone. Jiyeon and Suzy are with her, towering over her like sentinels. Or her henchmen. Or is it henchwomen? The thought makes JYP smirk, but IU is not in the smiling mood, so he sits up straight. “I don’t want to be Queen,” IU says.
“Excuse me?” JYP asks. He doesn’t have time for this. He wanted to enjoy his Cuban, but now he’s going to be late.
“I don’t want to be Queen.”
“Who says you won Queen?”
“I know you already know the winner.” IU sees right through him. She always does.
“If I’m the winner, I’d like you to name someone else. For me. I forfeit. I’m not eligible. Whatever’s easiest.”
“And who should win in that case?”
IU turns to Jiyeon, then to Suzy. “You have two candidates right here.”
“Ha!” JYP instinctively laughs. Suzy blushes, her eyes peering at the envelope in his hands. Jiyeon shakes her head, rolls her eyes. “I’m sorry,” he says. He stands. “But I’m not at liberty to reveal who the winner is. It could be you, IU. It could very well be Suzy too. Or even Jiyeon.” Not likely! “We shall see. Very soon.”
Suzy taps IU’s shoulder. “Let’s go, IU. We’re not going to convince him.”
IU shakes her head. “You had your chance,” she says, but it’s not so much a threat as a promise.
JYP smiles, says, “Ladies.” He salutes them with the winners' envelope, and they leave as if on cue. He feels a chill travel up his spine, but it’s just because he’s late, isn’t it?
Ailee doesn’t quite understand. What’s this that she’s feeling? f(x)’s “Rum Pum Pum” is playing and she’s in Rap Monster’s arms, they’re grooving to the exotic beat, not quite setting the room on fire, but is that smoke that she’s seeing? The only other people dancing are HyunA, with Taemin in her arms. HyunA and Ailee lock eyes and, for the briefest of moments, there is an understanding between them. HyunA is holding Taemin with affection, but there’s a distance between her and him. The distance is in self-awareness. While HyunA knows the game that they’re playing, Taemin’s never kept score.
Rap Monster smiles. He says, “What’d I tell you, girl?” And Ailee wants to believe that they can set the room, no, the world, ablaze. In just the small time they’ve talked, she’s felt more free than she has since her incident.
Her incident. There’s no way past it. And now that she’s in the cafeteria, those eyes, piercing into her, have returned, and not anyone, not even Rap Monster, can make them go away. He’s so naive, in many ways, just like Taemin. He doesn’t seem concerned with the politics of Kpop High. But just because he’s not concerned with Kpop High’s politics, doesn’t mean that the politics won’t affect him. Just him being here with her is making a statement. She’s brought him into her mess, and he’s loving it, he has no idea.
HyunA knows, and Ailee wants to share one more moment of recognition with her, but HyunA’s stopped dancing completely. What’s she looking at?
Oh no. The mess continues. HyunA is looking at Zico. He’s here and he’s furious. He’s standing and he’s not even blinking. He has one hand in his pocket. Is that a gun? He wouldn’t dare, would he?
“Rum Pum Pum” fades into “Red Light.” Danger is in the air.
Zico grabs Rap Monster by the shoulder. Oh no. “You fool,” he says. “You pretend to be strong. But you’re weak. You’re such a f-” but before he can finish, without even thinking, Ailee pushes Rap Monster away.
“You have anything to say, you say it to me.”
“Come on, baby. Let’s not fight. Not like this. I forgive you for the slap. We cool.”
They are not cool. Ailee feels ready to slap him again, but he grabs her wrist. Everyone is silent. Rap Monster looks like he’s about to pounce, but Ailee waves him off. She can’t risk getting him hurt. She doesn’t want to imagine a world where she’s gotten Rap Monster hurt. Or killed? Did she really see a gun in Zico’s pocket?
Zico pulls out the stops. “I’m sorry,” he says, resembling the sweet young man that first asked her to prom, in just the way that broke her defenses when she needed someone the most. But now she knows better. She doesn’t need him to fill the empty spaces inside her. She can’t use anyone for that.
Ailee feels a power welling within herself. “Don’t say you’re sorry,” she screams. Her voice is so loud that it grinds “Red Light” to a halt. “Don’t try to explain. That’s enough now,” she says, releasing Zico’s hand from its grasp. “I’m out!” she yells.
Those words hit Zico harder than any slap could. Are those tears in his eyes?
“This is all bullshit,” he says. “This whole stupid prom.” He looks around, at the gawking audience. HyunA is cracking up. Rap Monster is glaring. Everyone else has their mouths open in awe. Where was IU? Ailee would love to see her expression now. “Oh, you’ll all get yours,” Zico says. "Count on it.” And with that, he runs off. To where? It doesn’t matter, because just as he does, Jay Park’s voice erupts from the speakers.
“You’ve all been waiting long enough,” he says. “It’s time to announce your King and Queen of Kpop High!” The eyes leave Ailee and everyone’s attention goes to the stage, at the spotlight. Jay Park taps his fingers at the podium, visibly annoyed.
Rap Monster taps Ailee on her shoulder and whispers in her ear. “You okay?”
“Never better,” Ailee says, and for the first time in a long time, she means it.
Lee Hyori holds the dressing room door open, waiting for JYP to get his butt in gear. Always on his time, always trying to make an entrance.
“Let’s go, you should’ve been on stage five minutes ago. Jay Park is introducing you as we speak!” Is that a cigar in his hand? “You know there’s no smoking in here.”
“Hyori?” She doubted he would have called their last principal by his first name, doddering idiot though Mr. Kim was. But this isn’t a battle she can fight right now.
“It’s a prop.”
“What? Mr. Park, let’s go, stage.” She indicates urgency with her clipboard, and he finally begins to move, then stops at the door.
“See?” He holds the brown turd of a cigar in front of her face until she waves it away. “It’s a prop. A thing. You carry your clipboard, I carry my cigar.”
She scratches her head. “Fine. Whatever. Let’s move.”
Lee Hyori guides them through the maze of hallways, curtains, and stage sets, a maze that neither of them could ever be lost in. The stage is why she got into performance in the first place. The joy of knowing all those eyes were on her, following her every move. But now, the attention takes on a different light. Her pupils seem so much younger than she was at their age, so much less-prepared. Every competition invites drama. Every grade is challenged. Every award is contested. They’ve lost the ability to lose, she thinks, as she pushes JYP in front of her.
“Next year,” she says out loud, “We’re canning this whole King and Queen thing.”
His use of her title is not comforting. It’s no secret he wanted the job of Principal when Mr. Kim retired. “What is it, Mr. Park?”
“King and Queen is an honorable tradition of Kpop High. You, of all people, should understand that.”
She could kill him sometimes.
“You won Queen, what, four years in a row?”
“That’s hardly relevant.” She tries to push him forward, but JYP stands his ground. Just ten feet to the stage. She can hear Jay Park struggling to extend his introduction, buying time.
“Principal Hyori. The students of Kpop High look forward to this event all year long.”
That’s it, Jay Park is done. He’s walking off stage.
“They started planning last year, in 2014.”
It’s dead air on stage. It’s every performer’s worst nightmare.
“Getting rid of-”
“Fine. We’ll keep it. Just go!”
JYP looks a little disappointed to have missed a chance to spar, but he turns anyways, just as Jay Park is passing by. And Lee Hyori catches something. Jay Park says it so quietly that she almost misses it. It’s clearly not directed at her.
Crosshairs? Is that what he said?
“What was that about?” she asks JYP.
But he is in his element now. His eyes are already on stage. All she gets out of him is a half thought, words that are only half meant. “Oh he’s still upset about the last Showcase,” he says. She doesn’t believe him.
JYP scuffs his brown loafers on stage. He glances left and right, looking for the smoke signal cue. He hears the familiar hiss and looks up feeling the warmth of stage lighting on his face. It’s time. Past time, he’s late. JYP slowly raises his arms to catch the crowd’s attention. Ladies and gentlemen of Kpop High, I present to you, your King and Queen of Kpop!
He opens the winners' envelope. He feels that tingle in his spine again. And then a crack. No, a pop. He distinctly hears a very loud pop. Did someone drop a bottle of cider? Did a light go dead? He suddenly feels warm around his waist. What’s this? He feels it. He staggers, goes weak at the knees. Blood. He’s bleeding. He’s been shot.
JYP drops to the ground, the envelope falling into the darkness. He sees a hand grab the envelope from behind the curtain and it’s gone.
JYP can’t believe it. He’s been shot and someone’s stolen the winners' envelope. There’s still time. But he only has time to say, “I, I, I -” and then the world, everything, goes black.
To Be Continued...