Copyright © 2015 by L.A. Frank
All Rights Reserved.
Shakespir Edition November 2015
Cover Photo modified from original by Vecree.com ()
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, trademarked products, events, and locations are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual events or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.
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Want to read more about Shinwoo, Mac, Jung-Ja, Leo, Ji Hu and Min-Jun? K-Pop Summer tells about Mac’s first summer with the band and how he stumbled into the world of K-pop. Saving Seoul is about what happens during Mac’s college Spring break. He and his band brothers have to dodge bullets and other attempts on their life to save the city of Seoul from certain disaster.
All proceeds from both full-length novels, K-Pop Summer and Saving Seoul go to charity. I’ve designated Water Is Life Kenya to benefit from any and all sales. By purchasing either e-book, you help this non-profit organization to help others in need of clean water, improved hygiene, and education. Please help by buying the books. Thank you.
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Table of Contents:
The church was cold without many other parishioners to add their body warmth. In a dark pew at the very back, Mac huddled, shivering slightly. The chill seeped into the small of his back where it touched the wood. He shuddered. The cold enveloped his heart with the same dampness that echoed his lonely thoughts. The church was not as desolate as the dorm, though. Everyone else already took off for Christmas, eager to leave, even Shinwoo and Ji Hu, and they weren’t Christian. Leo left for home right from the concert arena, after their special holiday matinee, wishing everyone a “Happy Christmas!” He joked that he didn’t want to see any of the rest of their ugly faces until the twenty-sixth, when they all would be back at work, doing another scheduled performance.
The matinee concert had gone well. They had even added a Christmas number at the end, singing “Please come home for Christmas,” as the fans waved their arms back and forth, red and green glow sticks swaying in the crowd. Mac took the lead, singing part of the tune in the English that was native to him, with the other four providing the harmonies. However, that final number, for some reason, had opened him to depression and even the smiling, crying, screaming fans in the lobby afterward hadn’t lifted his mood. They had annoyed him, instead.
He wouldn’t be home for Christmas and couldn’t go home. His group’s schedule left little free time, only one day. It took at least twelve hours to fly from Seoul, South Korea, to the States, so going home for Christmas was out of the question for Mac. After changing in the dressing room, Mac returned to the dorm with thoughts of his parents and home circulating in his brain, pulling him down, while the others cheerfully bustled around, eager to see their own families or start their much earned vacation.
Jung-Ja left the dorm after wrapping a hasty gift in his room, using Mac’s finger to hold down a ribbon while he made a sloppy bow.
“Ow! Jung-Ja! I think you tied my finger in with that bow.” Mac tugged on his finger that was now secured, nice and tight, on top of the package. It was starting to turn purple from lack of circulation.
“Hang on. I get it out.” Jung-Ja tried to untie the bow, then grabbed the scissors and carefully cut the tangle, freeing the finger.
Mac shook his hand, trying to get color back into his digit.
“Mac, you come home with me? Don want see you alone on Christmas Eve.” Although it didn’t affect his singing in the least, Jung-Ja still had speech problems, a leftover from his motorcycle accident many months ago. His meaning was clear enough, even if he lacked some words.
“No. I’m fine, Jung-Ja, but thanks for thinking of me.” He’d only be a third wheel at Jung-Ja’s house. He’d feel out of place. Even though Mac certainly wasn’t fine, and he probably shouldn’t lie about it, he smiled, anyway, so that Jung-Ja wouldn’t suspect.
Shinwoo took off to go to an opera performance. “Peace, away from everyone, especially Leo and Ji Hu. Who could ask for more? I won’t have to listen to their incessant, happy chatter and I’ll get to hear some quality singing, as well. Want to come, Mac? I’ve got plenty of tuxedos in my closet collecting dust. I’m sure they won’t turn you away, even if you don’t have a ticket. They’ll probably give you the best seat in the house where everyone can see your pretty face, happy to have an idol come to the performance.” Shinwoo thought a moment about what he said. “Hmm…I’d better keep a low profile until I get to my box and then lock the door. I don’t want them ushering me down to those orchestra seats.”
Mac thanked him, but he certainly wasn’t about to stuff himself into one of Shinwoo’s tuxes and listen to a fat lady sing something in Italian or German. He’d had enough performances for one day, anyway.
Volunteering at a homeless shelter, Ji Hu rushed from the dorm as soon as he showered and changed. He also asked Mac if he wanted to come and help, but Mac declined, this time. He kind of agreed with Shinwoo about needing quiet, but didn’t want to tell Ji Hu this. A little tranquility, after all those screaming teens at the matinee, would be preferable to the depressing scenes of the homeless at the shelter. Mac’s ears still rang from one girl that yelled so loudly, right next to him during their autograph session in the lobby. He was positive he went deaf in that ear for a few minutes.
Being in one of the hottest K-pop boy bands in South Korea sometimes had its perks. Jung-Ja could afford to buy his family the present he frantically wrapped at the last minute. Shinwoo would get special treatment at the opera, even if he tried to avoid it. Ji Hu had no problem recruiting volunteers to help him at the homeless shelter, and Leo drove his own expensive vehicle home, to spend the holiday with his family.
Sometimes, like now, though, it had its downside. Mac was thousands of miles away from his parents, back in the good, old U.S. of A. Sure, he scheduled an online chat with them tomorrow and would arrive at his aunt’s house in Seoul to celebrate Christmas, but tonight, it was lonely. He missed all those Christmas Eve traditions that he shared with his mom and dad. He sorely missed home.
He remembered his first Christmas with his parents, when he was nine. He experienced many firsts that year, but that was when he saw a real Christmas tree, up close. With stiff, springy needles, the tree stretched nearly to the ceiling in the living room, in front of the window. White lights twinkled in the branches, casting reflections on the ornaments, and a fragrance of pine enveloped the room. He helped decorate the tree with his mom and she let him put up the manger scene underneath its branches. Carefully unwrapping figures from tissue paper, he placed them in and around the three-sided, wooden structure that served as the manger. She told him the story of Mary and Joseph and their journey to Bethlehem as he gingerly placed the figures in the straw. He had heard the story before, but that time it held new meaning for him. Having spent a good part of the year in the hospital battling cancer, he was heading toward remission. After the last many months sporting a bald head from chemotherapy, his new hair was finally starting to sprout, so light it was almost white. Just as Mary and Joseph had given birth to the Christ Child and started a family, he had been given a family, as well, his new mother and father. This family, Mac’s new parents, unlike any of his other foster families, was going to last. His mother and father had already started the paperwork to adopt him and he couldn’t have been happier about it. He had found peace, warmth, and abundant love with them. They accepted him for who he was, not for another check from the government because they were putting up a foster child. They actually wanted him and loved him.
Mac was lonely knowing he’d be away from his parents for this Christmas. It was the first time he’d been away since he joined their family. He wondered if they were feeling a bit sad, too, not having him at home, eating all the food in the refrigerator or cleaning up on all the Christmas cookies that his mother spent days baking. He’d probably be trailing crumbs throughout the house, if he were home. Did they miss him leaving his dirty towels on the floor in the bathroom after a shower as he walked naked down the hallway to his bedroom? Did they miss his smelly socks tucked into the couch cushions or his slurping coffee too close to the computer hardware in the basement? He grinned, thinking of his dad’s scowl last year, as he sat with an extra large mug of coffee and three cookies balanced between his legs, his fingers flying on the keyboard. Hey, he never spilled a drop! He didn’t know why his dad always got so mad whenever he ate or drank near the servers in the basement office. He smiled remembering past holidays. Yes, he missed home.
The church was decked out in its Christmas finery, all ready for the midnight service. He’d found this one on the internet, not extremely far from the dorm, but in a different neighborhood, a much less prosperous one, not that it mattered. He decided, at the last minute, to attend the service. He needed to get out of the dorm. One of the first to arrive, on purpose, he was given a candle and song book in the vestibule by a priest not yet robed for mass, and wished a “Merry Christmas.”
He’d deliberately come extra early for a few reasons. First, he wanted to remain as anonymous as possible. If he arrived with everyone else, then they would all notice him. His celebrity status virtually guaranteed that fact. He couldn’t go anywhere in Korea, now, without someone pointing at him, girls surrounding him, or people asking for his autograph. Second, he wanted the quiet, the peace. It was a different quiet from the dorm, not empty. A solemn, serenity bathed the sanctuary. Church had always been, to Mac, his way of recharging his batteries for whatever came next and he desperately needed and wanted that renewal of spirit tonight.
The candles near the altar spread a soft glow in the nearly deserted church, casting shadows that flickered and danced. He’d had enough dancing for the day, though. His legs were tired. His arms ached. His throat was sore, as well, and he hoped it was only from all the singing, and not that he was catching a cold. Concerts always drained him. He needed a few hours to recharge and, to him, church was the perfect place. He sat in the pew, in the shadows, reflecting on his life in the past few months and how drastically it had changed.
A year ago, halfway into his first year at college, he loved life at school, the independence, the girls, the calculus. He shouldn’t really admit that he loved math, but he did. A year ago, coming home for the holidays was the best thing about the end of exams. He’d had a few weeks to lounge around, not doing much of anything. He fooled around on his computer, watched stuff on the internet, and did whatever he wanted. Wow. Had things changed from last year.
This year, by contrast, he sat all alone in a church, in Seoul, South Korea, thousands of miles away from home. This past summer he’d accidentally won an audition for a replacement member of a K-pop group. Now, he spent all his time juggling college and the band, bouncing back and forth from school in the U.S., to South Korea and K-pop. He’d spend every day of his college winter break away from home, working. Well, he’d work every day except tomorrow, Christmas. That was his contract. During every school break, the company booked his group, G5, for performances, practice sessions, and appearances. Every day it was go, go, go. From the time he stepped off the plane onto Korean soil on December eighteenth, the day after his last exam, until his flight back, the day before school started for spring semester, the singing and dancing wouldn’t let up. Tired already, he still had a month to go before he went back to school.
The Thanksgiving holiday, only a month ago, had blurred by, as well. He’d left campus as soon as his last class finished, not even going home to say good-bye. His group was booked for four events during his long weekend, two on Friday, and two on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, before he hopped onto a plane in the wee hours Sunday morning to fly back so that he could attend classes on Monday. He’d been exhausted despite sleeping most of the twelve hours on the plane. Thank goodness his grades hadn’t suffered, at least not yet, anyway. He’d managed to keep his stellar g.p.a., although he didn’t know how, exactly.
Mac had relatives in Seoul, and he could have gone to his aunt’s home tonight, but he needed to be alone, in a quiet atmosphere for a few hours. He’d go to Aunt’s tomorrow, and even attend church with them in the morning. It didn’t matter that he’d go to two services in as many days. Not extremely religious, he still appreciated church for the peace and solitude it gave him. The same prayers and rituals, no matter where in the world he was at the moment, were comforting. He used that structure to put order into his chaotic life. Besides, he’d never get quiet at Aunt’s, not with two teenage girls ruling the house. The twins were loving, but they were also loud, very loud. They talked more than Leo and Ji Hu put together, and that said a lot, since Leo and Ji Hu could out talk just about anyone.
Mac hung his head, drinking in the silence. Occasionally, a cough from another pew broke the peace, but for the most part, it was heavenly. He smiled. Pun intended.
“No, I don’t have the music for that number. I can’t sing, remember?” Mac heard a voice loudly whisper from somewhere above his left shoulder.
“You don’t expect me to sing, do you? I’m only here to turn the pages. If you don’t have anyone that can sing, then I’m going back downstairs. You don’t need me.”
“Wait!” A frantic whisper called out. “Who did Father expect to sing during the service?”
“I thought you were going to do it.”
“Me? I thought you were the one singing.”
A bit of a silence ensued. Mac’s ears perked up, listening to the whispers. He was probably the only one that heard them, way in the back, near the steps to the choir loft.
“Someone’s got to sing for the service. We can’t do mass without any singing. It’s Christmas Eve, for crying out loud!”
“Did you just swear in church?”
“No, but everyone else might if they have to listen to me sing.”
Again, there was silence for a minute. Mac could almost picture the two looking at each other.
“Well, who are we going to get, then, if you can’t sing, and I can’t, either?”
“Heck if I know. Perhaps God will provide?”
“Right. We’d better go tell Father that he’ll have to do something.”
“I don’t want to tell Father. He was so desperate tonight. His parishioners don’t make a lot of money, but they still managed to donate enough to keep the church open for another year. He wanted them to have a beautiful service, to thank them for their generosity.”
“I don’t want to go to Father, either, but we’ll have to. We’ve got no choice. I guess I can play the piano and hope the congregation sings along. That’s the best we can do.”
“All right. I guess so. It will disappoint a lot of people this year, but we’ve got no other solution.”
Mac’s mother had spoken to him when he hugged her good-bye before his flight on the eighteenth. She said, “Don’t feel bad about leaving us for the holidays. Sure, we’ll miss you. You’ll probably be too busy to miss us, though, and that’s all right. Know that you’ll always be in our hearts. Remember, too, there’s a time and a purpose for everything, and you have this wonderful singing voice for a reason.” She hugged him good-bye and kissed his cheek. “Have fun and give that hug and kiss to your Auntie and the twins. Here’s another one just for you,” and she hugged him, again, brushed his hair back from his forehead, stood on tiptoe, and kissed him there.
Mac felt his forehead, now, where she left the kiss, remembering what she said. He had wondered, at the time, what she meant by a time and a purpose for everything. Now, thinking back on those words, something clicked in him, like God knocking him on the forehead, right where she had placed her kiss. He rose stiffly, his sore legs protesting the movement, and walked up the stairs behind the last pew.
“Excuse me, but I was downstairs and overheard you talking.” Mac addressed the two in the choir loft. It was dark up there and he could barely see them standing near the piano.
“So sorry, Sir. We didn’t mean to interrupt your prayers.” They both bowed to him.
“We should have kept it down. We’re sorry for speaking so loudly.”
“Don’t be sorry. I think I can help you,” Mac said. “Shit,” was what he thought, though. What the heck was he doing? He was tired. His throat hurt from all that singing in the concert. His legs ached from the non-stop dancing. One of the last things he wanted to do was stand in the choir loft for another hour and sing, but here he stood, for some reason, offering his voice to help them.
“You can sing?” One of them asked.
“Yes. I can sing. I play the piano, too, and guitar, if you have one.”
Twenty minutes later, after crawling around in the shadows, following snaking wires back to plugs and outlets, two ancient microphones were hooked up, one for him and one for a beat up guitar that had been produced from a dusty closet. The three had decided on the music and were ready. The church filled rapidly, now, as the time for the service approached.
“We might as well get going, and do something to warm up,” Mac told the two. They quickly nodded.
“Christmas carols that the congregation can join us singing, I think, would be nice,” one said.
Mac agreed. He finished tuning the guitar.
“Wait. I’ll go get some water, in case you need it, young man. Singing can make one’s throat parched,” the other said.
“I’ll come along,” the first one said.
Mac heard, as they made their way down the stairs of the choir loft, “Do you think he can really sing? What if he’s not any better than either of us?”
“It doesn’t matter. He’s willing. Even if his voice is crap, it will be better than either one of us.”
“Did you just swear in church, again?” The voices trailed off.
Mac chuckled to himself. If only they knew that they just booked one of the most popular K-pop idols in all of South Korea to sing midnight mass. Those people down there in the congregation were going to get a free concert.
“Thanks, God. I hope you are happy, now. Remember this for later when we meet, face-to-face. I might need all the good points I can rack up,” Mac whispered into the rafters.
He looked over the music sheets the two choir loft attendants had found, brittle and yellowed. Might as well get started, he thought.
He spoke into the microphone, “Welcome and Merry Christmas. Before mass begins, feel free to join with me in singing.”
He saw a few people turn their heads and look up to the choir loft to see who had spoken, but he knew they couldn’t see his face. The light over his music stand only illuminated the pages and nothing more. The same for his companions. The lamp above the piano cast a circle of light onto the pages of the music and everything else faded to black. A hand reached up, once in a while to turn a page, and that was all Mac saw. He picked a song and started playing, plucking the guitar strings. “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Away in a Manger,” “Hark the Herald Angles Sing,” he played song after song, singing each carefully, mostly in Korean and not his native American English. It was terribly hard not to use English, since he’d sung these songs in that language ever since he could remember, but his audience was Korean so he stuck to their native tongue. He could speak Korean and sing it with no problem, though, having learned it from the age of nine when he joined his new household. His parents were both originally from South Korea, and even though he wasn’t Asian, it hadn’t mattered to them or to him. He’d picked up the new language easily.
Shortly before the service was scheduled to begin, he stopped the carols, downed a whole bottle of the provided water, and waited. This was a part he particularly enjoyed and that they also did at his parent’s church at home. As during the Easter vigil, a single candle appeared at the back of church. The celebrant lit another candle and that lit another, and another until the whole church was ablaze with the candle light. He started singing the entrance song and the service began. “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant…”
Later, the last few bars of “Silent Night” finished. He had played with the guitar, as was traditional, to imitate the first time the song had been sung in Germany, and the congregation sat in silence while the final few received their communion. This was where, in his parent’s church, the soloist usually sang one of Mac’s favorite Christmas carols. He looked over at the two in the choir loft and saw a hand, in the light of the piano, gesture encouragement for him to sing, almost as if they could read his mind.
“OK. I might as well go for it. My voice is pretty much shot, by now, but what the heck,” he thought. He needed no instrument except his own pipes for this song. He also didn’t need the music sheets. He knew the words by heart. He stood to give his lungs more room.
“O holy night, the stars are shining brightly…” he began then almost laughed at the ironic words.
This song had always been one of his favorites, ever since he heard it that first Christmas with his parents. He remembered the church, back then, as everyone settled down after communion, praying or just thinking, in the silence. From the quiet, in the choir, a voice began singing softly, and that voice entranced him. As the song built up, the soloist kept with it, raising her voice to the heavens, proclaiming the birth of the Lord. Mac remembered the past and he raised his voice, too, not feeling the scratchy throat he had when he entered the church earlier. He sang out strong and confident, reaching the high notes easily, “O night, divine…” He was glad to sing this song. It burst forth form his lips. As he remembered that first Christmas so long ago, and how he had felt so loved, he could almost feel his mother’s arm around him, sending tendrils of warmth down his shoulders and into his heart. His father, on the other side, held his hand providing a strong grip, letting him know that he was safe and protected. That Christmas Eve so long ago was the first time he allowed his new mother put her arm around him and his father hold his hand. It was the first time he felt loved enough to let them into his heart. He knew now what he had discovered back then, and that, more than anything in the world, gave him peace.
Mac sang, feeling this night as he had experienced it back then, eleven years ago with his foster parents, now his adopted parents. This song he sang for himself, not for the others in the congregation below. It was his gift to himself, and it took away his loneliness, replacing it with a warm glow. He realized he was happy. Happy to have found his family, happy with his job, even though it was in a K-pop boy band. He actually enjoyed it and liked the guys, although the schedule was crazy. He didn’t feel tired, anymore. An almost overwhelming sense of peace and joy enveloped him.
He finished the song, letting it die away with the last note and noticed more than a few faces looking up to the choir loft. A silence permeated the church, then he heard someone clapping, a few small claps, and before he knew it, the whole congregation stood and turned in his direction, applauding him. Embarrassed, he stepped further back into the shadows.
He finished the service with “Joy to the World,” singing it while one of his choir loft companions played on the piano. When the last verse was completed, he sat back down. He was stuck. He couldn’t leave until everyone else vacated the church. Otherwise, he would be surrounded once he stepped down out of the choir loft.
He turned to wish his companions a Merry Christmas and found no one. He wondered how they managed to leave the choir loft and get downstairs so quickly. The piano was still reverberating with the last notes. They didn’t even turn out the light that illuminated the music.
He called his limo on the phone and asked the driver to pick him up in another twenty minutes. That should be enough time for the church to clear and everyone else to leave. He waited, grateful for the silence, once more.
After twenty minutes, he was ready to call the driver to see if he had arrived when he heard a small cough from down below.
“Ahem…,” someone cleared their throat. “You can come down, now, Mac. Everyone is gone.”
Mac stuck his head over the railing and saw the priest down below smiling and beckoning. He put his coat on and headed down the stairs.
“Thank you for the singing. It was wonderful,” the priest said to him. “I figured it was you when you entered before the service. At that time, I only thought it was a rare treat to have a celebrity attend our service. We don’t get many, if any, here in this neighborhood. I had no idea you were going to actually sing, though. I thought I would have to lead the whole congregation tonight in a sing-along but was delighted when I heard you start the Christmas carols. Everyone I lined up to sing tonight backed out days ago, or had a last minute family emergency.”
“The two that helped me up there said they couldn’t sing, so I guess someone had to do it.” Mac smiled. “Glad you thought it was all right, Father.”
“What two? There was someone else that helped?”
“Yes. They both said you contacted them tonight,” Mac said.
“I did? I don’t remembering asking anyone but God to help me. No one has been up in that choir loft for years. I’m surprised you were able to even hook up the equipment. We haven’t used those microphones since the early eighties, I think, and the piano hasn’t been tuned for at least ten years.” He shook his head in wonder. “Well, it was beautiful. The piano sounded perfect and your voice was just the right touch. My parishioners all went home amazed by the angel in the choir loft. They’ll be talking about this service for years. Thank you, Mac.”
Mac bowed to the priest in response to the kind words. Oh well, whomever his choir loft companions were, they helped and it turned out fine. Maybe that was what his mother meant about a purpose for everything. He was meant to come to this church tonight and sing. He stepped out of the doors and onto the sidewalk. A light snow was falling, fat flakes landing on his head and shoulders. His driver waited, opening the car door. Ducking inside, Mac brushed off the snow from his shoulders, in the process.
“Happy Christmas, Mac!” Leo greeted him from the back seat, speaking in his near-perfect English. It was a habit when he was alone with Mac. He had been born in the United Kingdom, but immigrated to Seoul with his parents when he was young. “My mum said to fetch you and not to take no for an answer. You’re coming home with me tonight.”
“Aw, Leo. I don’t want to intrude…”
“Stop it, Mac. You know my mum. If she told me to bring you home, I’d better do it. I should have insisted earlier today, but I was in too much of a rush to get going. We’ve got to hurry, now. There’s Christmas pudding waiting for us!”
Mac smiled, the peaceful feeling from church still welling up in him, making him warm all over. He wasn’t lonely anymore. He might not be home this Christmas, but he knew he was loved by many friends and his family, and he loved them back equally, if not more.
“Merry Christmas,” Mac thought. “Love you, all.”
Singing and dancing in a K-Pop group, sometimes has its perks, but other times, like now, it has its downside. Mac is thousands of miles away from his parents and missing them terribly. His band mates are all off to have fun on Christmas, leaving him alone and lonely. Seeking solitude in the back of church for the midnight service, Mac sinks into his sadness. When he hears the voices behind him in the choir loft and their plea for help, he reluctantly answers. What happens after that changes his whole Christmas. K-Pop Christmas is a short story that accompanies the full-length books, “K-Pop Summer,” and “Saving Seoul.” It gives the reader a glimpse of Mac and his band mates, and their world of K-Pop.