"So I hear you're good friends with the members of ANJell, Yu Heyi-ssi."
Minyeo poked her head out of the kitchen to stare at the television. She fumbled for the remote and quickly turned up the volume.
"Oh, well, I wouldn't presume to say good friends," Heyi-ssi was saying as she shyly tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.
"Who's your favorite ANJell member then?" the MC asked in a teasing tone. The camera panned over to Taegyeong-ssi, who looked impatient and annoyed, then to Jeremy, who had an adorable worried pout on his face, and to Shinwu-ssi, who was wearing one of those unreadable polite smiles. Finally, the camera rested on Minam-oppa, who was slouching in his chair, his head tilted as he watched Heyi-ssi with narrowed eyes.
"I really couldn't say, not right I'm in front of them," Heyi-ssi giggled and opened her eyes very wide.
The MC grinned and leaned towards her, saying in a mock whisper, "I bet you still carry a little flame for your ex-boyfriend, Hwang Taegyeong-ssi, no?"
Heyi-ssi stiffened but then glanced over at the A. members. She frowned, and for a moment, Minyeo could see Heyi-ssi's carefully constructed celebrity persona slip. Then she turned to the MC and said, in her brightest, sweetest voice, "Why of course. Who wouldn't love Taegyeong-oppa best?"
"Do something about your brother!" Taegyeong-ssi snarled as soon as she opened the door.
Minyeo blinked as she stepped aside to let him storm in. "What did Oppa do?"
"He's driving me up the wall!" Taegyeong-ssi said as he fell dramatically into a chair. His hair, equally dramatically, fell over his left eye, as he glowered at her. "He's deliberately been trying to aggravate me for the past few days! He blocks my face during photoshoots so we have to spend hours of extra time reshooting. He leaves anti comments on my fan cafe - and I know it has to be him because the IP traces back to his computer, which I set up, so it would be spectacularly dim of him to think that I wouldn't find out. Three times this week, he drank out of my cup! Three times is no accident! And this morning during rehearsal, he claimed that I had botched some of the notes - on a song I wrote, I may add - and tried to correct me!"
He paused, waiting for her reaction. Instead, she turned her face away to hide her smile.
"Are you laughing at me?"
She burst out giggling.
"You're laughing at me."
Too breathless to speak, she simply nodded. At that, Taegyeong-ssi swooped out of his chair and wrapped an arm around her, lifting her feet just off the floor and began spinning her about.
"As punishment for mocking me, I'm going to make you very, very dizzy."
She shrieked with laughter as she squirmed in his grip and settled her feet back on the ground, turning around to clasp her arms around his waist and bury her face against his chest. She felt his chin rest on her head.
For a long moment, they stood there, warm and comfortable, as she listened to Taegyeong-ssi's heartbeat.
Taegyeong-ssi finally broke the silence. "So can you explain what's going on with Minam? It's a little late to be playing protective brother, isn't it?"
She wrinkled her nose. "I don't know. I mean, Oppa really respects you. He says you have the most musical talent out of everyone in the group."
Taegyeong leaned back to look down at her. "Oh. Well. Of course I do."
She giggled again, and he pinched her nose in mock retaliation.
"I'll talk to him," she promised, and apparently satisfied, Taegyeong settled down for the far more interesting business of teasing her into a kiss.
"Oppa, why are you annoying Taegyeong-ssi?"
He jumped. "Give a person some warning, would you, instead of sneaking up on them!"
She ignored him and repeated, "Why are you annoying -"
"I'm not annoying him."
She gave him her best skeptical look and waited.
"I'm just...I wanted to...okay, I realize I'm being childish." Oppa said with a pout and glared at the floor.
Minyeo furrowed her brow. "Well, Taegyeong-ssi's a very important person to me, and you, well, you're the only family I have left...I'd like it if you two got along."
"We do get along. Or we did before...I guess I just...Why do all of you girls like Taegyeong-hyeong best anyway?" Oppa said with a scowl.
"That's not true. I like Taegyeong-ssi the best -"
"Oh, thanks a lot," Oppa grumbled.
"- but there are a lot of fans who like Jeremy or Shinwu-ssi better. And you have even more fans than either of them."
"I don't have more fans than Prince Taegyeong though."
"Is that what this is about? Are you jealous of his popularity?"
"No! Well, sort of...it's complicated." He brooded for a moment then asked her abruptly, "How long did Yu Heyi go out with Taegyeong-hyeong anyway? And how did they break up?"
"Um, several weeks, I think? And they broke up because...well, because -"
She blushed, and Oppa snorted. "I see how it is."
"Taegyeong-ssi said they weren't really going out in the first place but that she had, um, blackmailed him because of, um, me being disguised as you and...it's complicated."
"Blackmail, huh? That woman," Oppa said, his voice suddenly grown fond and affectionate. Minyeo suddenly narrowed her eyes.
"Oppa, do you by any chance -"
"What?" His eyes shifted away.
"Do you...like Heyi-ssi?"
"Of course not! I mean, I don't dislike her. I respect her. As a fellow talent and entertainer. That's all."
"Right," Minyeo said, her eyes still narrowed. She suddenly had a lot to think about.
"I'll have you know that I had to make space in my very busy schedule to meet with you," Heyi snapped as she slid into the seat across from Minyeo. "Mocha, with soy milk and two shots of espresso, hold the whipped cream," she added to the waiter before he had a chance to open his mouth.
"Thank you, I realize my message came out of the blue. But I wanted to talk with you. I thought maybe we didn't really have much of a chance to...clear the air. Especially when it came to Taegyeong-ssi."
"Is that what you called me out here for?" Heyi sniffed. "Trust me, I've forgotten all about that. I guess you weren't in the business long enough to realize, but celebrity relationships come and go and are more about publicity than about feelings. You'll realize that soon enough, I'm sure."
Minyeo couldn't help feeling a little hiccup of panic at the thought but she touched the star necklace at her throat and continued, "I saw the interview you did with ANJell on Happy Together the other day, and it made me think that perhaps you might still -"
"Still have feelings for Taegyeong-oppa? Oh please. I just said that to make Minam-ssi - why am I explaining myself to you anyway? It's just a TV interview. It doesn't mean anything."
"Oh, I see." Minyeo nodded to herself.
"What? What do you see?" Heyi-ssi looked increasingly annoyed. "You don't see anything. Ugh, I don't know why I waste my time on you, Go Minyeo."
"Your mocha," the waiter interrupted as he set down a glass mug topped with an artful swirl of whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles.
"Didn't I say to hold the whipped cream? No, never mind. I'm leaving anyway." Heyi-ssi slapped down a 10,000-won bill on the table. She stood up. "Sometimes I don't know who is more infuriating, you or your brother."
Minyeo hid a smile as Heyi-ssi swept majestically out of the cafe. Well, that definitely confirmed her suspicions.
Her first plan was to talk to Manager Ma.
"An MV starring our Minam next to Yu Heyi? It's brilliant!" Manager Ma became starry-eyed. "I can see it now...Yu Heyi-ssi as the ethereal fairy princess, the other ANJell members the princes who court her, and Go Minam the poor but brave and handsome peasant boy who wins her hand!"
Minyeo bit her lip. "I think it might be even better if they were featured alone together, don't you?"
Manager Ma considered the suggestion but shook his head. "No, that would just spark rumors that they were a couple, and our Minam's fanbase would be heartbroken if he abandoned them to devote himself to one woman."
"But Taegyeong-ssi only increased his fanbase when he started dating Heyi-ssi."
"That's different," Manager Ma said, waving his hand in dismissal. "Hwang Taegyeong's appeal is in being aloof and unreachable. It doesn't matter if he's taken. But Go Minam's image is the bad boy with a heart of gold. He belongs to everyone and no one!"
Minyeo wrinkled her nose in confusion. "But Manager Ma, what if he wants to belong to someone?"
"Do you think the life of an idol is easy? It requires sacrifice!"
"Poor Oppa...surely idols are allowed to fall in love too?"
Manager Ma shook his head. "Idols are not meant to love; they are meant to be loved."
Her next plan was to invite Oppa and Heyi-ssi on a double date. Unfortunately, she had to persuade Taegyeong-ssi first.
"I thought you wanted me to do something about Oppa."
"Yes, but I didn't mean that you should drag me into it." Taegyeong crossed his arms and looked mulish.
Minyeo tried a different tactic. "It would let us spend some time together too."
"I'd rather spend it alone with you than chaperoning that squabbling pair of children."
She didn't say anything but gazed at him with pleading eyes.
He glanced at her and turned away. She remained patient. He looked back over his shoulder. She clasped her hands together.
He sighed in exasperation. "For the record, I think it's a terrible idea, and I reserve the right to tell you that I told you so."
Five hours later, in the karaoke room, Heyi-ssi said, "This was a terrible idea. I don't know why I let you persuade me to come."
Taegyeong-ssi was holding the mike determinedly and glaring at the karaoke machine as he sang, "I will promise you -"
Oppa was lounging in the corner, knee up on the couch, a lazy grin on his face. "I think it's quite funny."
Minyeo kept beat with the tambourine, as Taegyeong-ssi finished with a flourish, "I love you forever."
They held their breath as the instrumentals finished. The machine rolled out the score and announced chirpily, "Ninety-one! If you practice a little more, I'm sure you'll be great!"
"Gah!" Taegyeong-ssi threw the mike at the wall, where it barely missed crashing into the tiny disco ball. "Ninety-one? Ninety-one? This is my song! How can I score ninety-one on my song?"
Oppa smirked in the corner. "I didn't think it was so hard."
Minyeo hissed, "Not helping!" Oppa had scored a hundred on the same song.
"Give me the remote." Taegyeong-ssi held out his hand.
Heyi-ssi immediately seized it and said, "No! You've attempted this song five times, and you haven't scored above a ninety-five. No one else has gotten to sing!"
He turned his glare on her. "Give me the remote."
She glared back. "No."
As they grappled over the remote, Oppa said, "This is boring. I'm leaving. See you." He got up and sauntered out of the room.
Minyeo buried her face in her hands. This matchmaking business was more difficult than she had expected.
Her third plan was slightly more successful.
"Lunch at Cafe Praha?" she texted Oppa. Then she texted Heyi-ssi. "Something urgent to tell you about Minam-oppa. Please meet me at Cafe Praha for lunch at noon."
Her phone buzzed with Oppa's reply. "Sure, see you soon."
At noon, Minyeo stationed herself across the street from the rendezvous location, hiding her face with a convenient magazine. She peeked over the top of the pages.
Oppa was slouched next to the glass door, wearing a fedora with the brim pulled low and burying his face in his fringed scarf. Heyi-ssi arrived a few minutes later with large sunglasses covering half her face. She paused when she noticed Minam-oppa waiting by the door.
Minyeo couldn't hear what they were saying, but soon her phone buzzed. It was a text from Heyi-ssi. "Where are you? You didn't tell me your brother was going to be here as well!"
She hurriedly texted back, "I can't make it. Why don't you two have a good lunch together without me?"
Even from this distance, she could see Heyi-ssi roll her eyes as she closed her phone. She stood talking with Oppa for a while, and then the two finally went into the cafe. Minyeo breathed a sigh of relief.
Her phone buzzed again, this time with a text from Oppa. "Don't think I don't know what you're doing, Go Minyeo," it read. "So very obvious of you."
She smiled and texted back, "You're welcome."
For a few weeks after that, Minyeo was too busy with her internship at UNICEF to brainstorm more strategies to get Oppa to spend time with Heyi-ssi. When the last of her deadlines had passed, and she finally had the time to visit ANJell headquarters again, she wondered what other meetings she could engineer. Neither Oppa nor Heyi-ssi were the type to talk about their feelings openly, and she suspected that it would take more than just a lunch date for them to move to the next stage -
She turned the corner and gasped.
Minam-oppa was standing with two arms braced against the wall, leaning into what looked like a very enthusiastic kiss. Heyi-ssi had one hand on his waist, while the other was snaking up his back.
Minyeo felt a hand cover her eyes and an arm draw her back. "Not polite to peek at other couples' private moments," Taegyeong-ssi said into her ear.
She turned around and found him smiling at her, something which never failed to make her heart beat faster. Instinctively, she pressed a finger to her nose. He chuckled and leaned down to hug her.
She closed her eyes and reached up on her toes to wrap her arms around his neck. "They look good together, don't they?" she said, feeling just a little bit proud of herself.
"Whatever. Minam's no longer bothering me, and that's all I care about."
"To be honest, I thought it would take them a lot longer to get to this stage. I guess their first date went really well."
"No, they fought, and Minam came back, swearing that he would never speak to Yu Heyi again. But I got fed up with them mooning over each other and being cranky to everyone else, so I locked them in the same room for five hours yesterday. By the time I let them out, they were all over each other."
Minyeo stepped back and frowned. "Why didn't I think of that?"
"You don't know very much about romance," he told her bluntly.
She sighed. "I suppose not."
He leaned in, his lips inches from hers. "But guess what? That's what I like about you."
She pressed her mouth to his. She might not know much about romance but she knew about love, and that was enough.