Sometimes parents can be more excited than their children when preparing for a feast. After all, they don’t want their child to look bad in front of others. That’s precisely what was happening at that moment.
“CEO, what is all this?”
I received an unexpected call to go to the agency. But as soon as I entered the CEO’s office, I couldn’t help but widen my eyes. It was just like a little snippet of a clothing store with various clothes displayed everywhere. CEO Kim Seonghwan stuck out his tongue and said,
“You know what it is. It’s all Park Suyeong’s work.”
“Yes, I brought them all! I can’t shake off this ominous feeling. Were you planning to wear just any clothes to the wrap-up party?”
At that moment, Actress Park Suyeong appeared between the displayed clothes. The wrap-up party wasn’t an award ceremony, so what was the problem with casual clothes? Park Suyeong looked uneasy as she continued to eye me in my school uniform.
Her eyes narrowed as if she was about to nag.
“Look, Yeongguk, you’re wearing school uniforms again. This kid has filmed several ads and a successful drama, so it’s not like he doesn’t have money, but he always wears the same thing. CEO, haven’t you received any sponsorships for him? I’m sure there should be a lot.”
“Sponsorship” was a word that I didn’t particularly like. Having built strong relationships with stylists and managers while playing bit parts in my past life, I was well-versed in the ecology of sponsorships. The range of celebrity sponsorships was beyond the imagination of ordinary people. It started with clothes and accessories and sometimes extended to skincare, beauty treatments, and even houses.
Among them, clothing sponsorship was particularly tricky. Not only did they have to subtly expose the brand and design in the media, but stylists had to take extra care in case the clothes got dirty or wrinkled. In my past life, I avoided sponsorships unless absolutely necessary. It was the same even now. I had already told the CEO I would not receive personal sponsorships since I felt more comfortable without them.
“Is that important? Park Suyeong, my office is not a playground. What am I going to do if you continue barging in like this? If Yeongguk wanted to buy clothes, he would have gone to a department store. Why did you make my office into a department store? You could just lay them out in the meeting room!”
“CEO! You finally said something right. Do you know how popular Yeongguk is? It was possible when he was a child actor, but now, if I take him to a department store, everyone there will swarm, making it difficult to even escape, let alone shop. Stop thinking about marketing other things, and please pay attention to his clothes. You still haven’t found a stylist for him, right?”
“I did, but since Yeongguk said he doesn’t need one, I… Ahem.”
“Look, I knew it would be like this. Both of you only care about the script. People might think you’re the only one doing art. I’m not just playing around, either. I just finished shooting a movie in the mountains for four months! You used to say I was the best, but now you only care about Yeongguk. If I’m neglected like this, I’ll go somewhere else.”
“Why are you like that? Park Suyeong, you know I’m always thinking about you, right?”
“I don’t know!”
CEO Kim Seonghwan showed an embarrassed expression. How could he win against Park Suyeong with words? She continued without even looking tired.
“By the way, Yeongguk, are you and Seo Minhye dating or something?”
“What kind of nonsense are you talking about?”
“Judging by your reaction, I guess not. But these days, rumors are going around among reporters that Seo Minhye confessed her feelings to Yeongguk. My fellow actresses are also very interested in Yeongguk.”
“Your fellow actresses are older than me, right?”
“I mean juniors, juniors! I found it strange when actresses I barely knew suddenly acted friendly, but they all had ulterior motives. I cut them all off. How dare they approach a minor? You remember this, too! No dating until you enter college!”
“No need to worry about it. But why is noona making a big fuss? Anyone would think you’re my parent.”
“When you were a kid, you used to follow me around, calling me ‘mom.’ In my entire acting career, you’re the first and last child actor who has ever called me ‘mom’ and followed me around. Can I reveal this later when I go on a variety show? I saw that Actor Song Jeongseok also talked about you. It’s quite a hot story, right?”
“Ah, why bring that up again! Anyway, it’s always bad news when that’s mentioned.”
CEO Kim Seonghwan’s gaze was full of affection as if he were a parent looking at his children. Although they were young, they had each other’s back for the parts that were difficult for him to address.
Wasn’t this the ideal world he had always dreamed of for his agency? A place where relationships were not entangled with calculative thoughts and money but where the people acted like family, bound together with strong emotional ties.
“Noona, are all these clothes borrowed?”
“What are you talking about? Where would I borrow all these from? I bought them all. Of course, the cost will be charged to the CEO. That’s why I laid these clothes out in his office and not the meeting room.”
CEO Kim Seonghwan’s face, once full of laughter and happiness, turned pale at that moment. Well, Park Suyeong did have a big hand in it.
* * *
The wrap-up party.
The wrap-up party for Youth was held at a theater, which was quite unique. The broadcasting station had rented the theater, intending to watch the final episode together. No matter how you looked at it, this brilliant idea must have come from PD Kim Jin’s head.
“Mr. Jang Yeongguk! Please take a look over here!”
There was a crowd of people and reporters, similar to a preview screening. After taking pictures on the photo line and entering the theater, PD Kim Jin and Writer Hwang Sugyeong greeted me.
“PD, how did you think of using a theater as the wrap-up party location? Did the department head easily give his permission? It’s more common to rent a convention hall so that we could chat with reporters.”
“Yeongguk, right now, I’m the most popular person in our drama department. I have this much capability. And why would I dampen the wrap-up party atmosphere? It’s not even enough for us to celebrate together. The reporters will wrap up with the photo line. We’ll be in the theater for the first round, and for the second round, we’ll go to an expensive BBQ restaurant! Hahaha.”
“Is it really true that you got permission?”
“Of course, I was rejected at first. But who am I? I pushed forward unconditionally, taking advantage of my popularity. You have to make the most of it when you’re successful, right? Who knows when I’ll have another day like this.”
The cunning PD Kim Jin explained everything with a sly smile.
“Writer Hwang, did you see the articles from the press conference?
“Yeongguk looked great in the priest’s outfit. At first, I wondered if he would fit the priest role since he’s still a student, but what do you know? All my worries disappeared. It’s difficult to find someone who fits the black cassock so well. Yeongguk, you were really the best.”
“Writer Hwang, thank you for saying that.”
“I felt this every time we filmed, but Yeongguk looks amazing on camera. That’s why I can’t help but feel regretful. It would be great if we could work together on another project.”
“PD Kim is insatiable. Look at him now. He prays every morning for the ratings to exceed 40%. And he doesn’t even have a religion.”
“That’s not just my wish. It’s the wish of the entire drama department.”
The highest viewer rating for Youth so far was 38.7%. It was quite an accomplishment for a high-teen drama to achieve this much, but human greed knew no bounds. The higher the numbers went, the more one craved even higher numbers.
Anyway, being in front of that sharp-nosed guy made my ears burn. Just as Actress Seo Minhye arrived at the theater, PD Kim Jin dashed toward her like an arrow. Now it felt like we could breathe a little. That’s when Writer Hwang Sugyeong looked at me and added softly,
“I’m grateful even with this level of success. To be honest, when I chose high school as the theme, I didn’t expect a character like the nation’s first love to appear. It was a fateful encounter. Am I right, Yeongguk?”
“Of course. I never thought that the person I met back then would be Writer Hwang.”
Hwang Sugyeong recalled the time she visited her alma mater. Who would have known that the tall boy who blocked the incoming basketball would become the protagonist of her script? Moreover, she was thrilled to learn that the boy was a child actor. It felt like fate.
Soon, the film crew and the actors took their seats in the screening room.
It was my first time watching the drama on a big screen. As it was the final episode, our characters were no longer in school uniforms. Kim Dojin (Jang Yeongguk) eventually entered the Military Academy to pursue his dream. As it was for everyone, there were farewells and new encounters.
When Dojin, clad in his military academy uniform, appeared before his true love, a girl (Seo Minhye) still holding onto the passion of her youth, the theatre erupted in screams. Writer Hwang Sugyeong was especially delighted to see her ideal world unfold on the screen.
The drama concluded with the reunion of Dojin in military uniform and the college girl (Seo Minhye) under the warm sunlight, like the return of spring. The last episode ended, but everyone still seemed unable to easily escape from the lingering emotions.
That’s when it happened.
“Ah! On a day like today, we must hear the thoughts of the main characters!”
PD Kim Jin grabbed the microphone and went up on stage, acting like an emcee. He even called out to me. When I finally stepped on stage, I could see the film crew and actors filling the theater.
The refreshing school grounds and the filming scenes from the past were still vivid in my memory as I looked at each crew member.
“I have many happy memories during filming. To me, who took on the lead role for the first time, I’m truly grateful for PD Kim Jin, the directors, and Writer Hwang Sugyeong, who cared for me in many ways. There are countless others I’d like to thank, but it’s hard to mention everyone one by one. Thank you once again. As we gathered under the name of Youth, I look forward to the day we meet again someday. Lastly, I want to say this…”
While roaming the filming sites in the past, I often saw self-indulgent actors. Most of them gained huge popularity at a young age, but naturally, they didn’t last long.
There were many invisible hands involved in making a drama, from the chief editor, whom I never even saw face-to-face, to the youngest member of the props team. Their sweat created the picture that everyone loved. That’s why we must never forget their efforts. At my following words, everyone’s faces were filled with deep emotions.
“Youth existed because all of you were there.”
* * *
The crescent moon in the night sky seemed to mimic their smiling lips, and the barbecue restaurant was filled with lively chatter. The filming crew and actors of the drama Youth gathered together, pouring drinks for one another.
They had rented out the entire restaurant, but without the presence of high-ranking executives like the vice president or CP, it was a truly carefree atmosphere. At this moment, it was their own world. As evidence, PD Kim Jin monopolized the microphone, showing no signs of letting go.
Cho Yong Pil’s Let’s Go on a Trip played.
“From singing Phuket songs to now even singing Let’s Go on a Trip, PD Kim must be really excited. By the way, Yeongguk, you’re going on the reward vacation, too, right?”
“Well, I’m not sure how it’ll turn out.”
“Why? Is it because of the next project? That’s such a shame. After all, it’s rare for the broadcasting station to even send us on a reward vacation abroad. At most, it was Jeju Island. It would be great if Yeongguk could go too. You’re our drama’s number one contributor.”
“Ah, our number one contributor is you, Writer Hwang. I just did my part. Don’t worry about me. Go and enjoy yourselves on my behalf. Oh, and there’s a place near Phuket Town called La La that sells amazing mooncakes. It’s run by Chinese expats.”
“Yeongguk, have you been to Phuket before?”
“No, a reporter I know told me about it. Our team going to Phuket for a reward vacation has already become widely known. PD Kim must have spread the news all over the neighborhood.”
“Maybe to secure it in advance, in case the higher-ups decide to cancel it. People who don’t know would think he’s just a loose-lipped guy, but it’s all calculated. Yeongguk, if you can’t go, I’ll buy you a nice gift from the duty-free shop. Thanks to you, I could keep the title, ‘Above King Writer, there’s Hwang Writer!'”
I responded with a faint smile to Writer Hwang’s question. Truthfully, even if it wasn’t for the next project, I had no intention of going on the reward vacation. I mean, hadn’t I visited there so often in my past life that I was bored of it? The long flight would have just given me a headache.
What I preferred more was taking a sip of cold tea in Grandfather’s grand hall while enjoying the scenery.
“Yeongguk, where’s Minhye?”
“I’m not sure. She went to the restroom a while ago and hasn’t returned yet.”
“Maybe she passed out in the restroom? No, I’ll go check.”
Writer Hwang tried to stand up but quickly stumbled. It was only natural, as they were all quite intoxicated. Even though they could still speak clearly, their bodies wouldn’t listen.
In the end, I stood up to take her place. At times like these, being a minor who couldn’t drink a single drop was regrettable.
Passing by the annex and arriving at the restroom entrance, I found Actress Seo Minhye barely standing while leaning on the wall. Judging by her pale face, it seemed she had thrown up multiple times already. I should probably call her manager.
“Hey, Jaaaang Yeongguk!”
Suddenly, Seo Minhye raised her head and looked at me. It was surprising, as she rarely spoke informally to me. I knew she was usually easygoing, but she seemed to have built a wall around herself in front of me for some reason.
“I didn’t even confess to you, so why did that rumor start!”
Ah, the gossip Park Suyeong mentioned.
“Noona, are you okay?”
“I didn’t say anything, but whyyy did that rumor start? I like you.”
Her mascara was running down her face. I almost laughed, as she looked like a panda, but managed to hold it in.
Considering her slurred speech, it seemed she was quite tipsy, just like the rest of the filming crew. She suddenly seized the timing as I held onto Seo Minhye’s swaying shoulder.
“Yeongguk, I want to confess.”
“I’m sorry, noona.”
Seo Minhye’s face suddenly sobered up. I knew her feelings well enough. I was not oblivious, nor was I cold-hearted. But there was a clear reason for rejecting her confession.
Firstly, she wasn’t my ideal type, and secondly, Seo Minhye would soon meet her destined partner. She just didn’t know it yet, but her wedding in her past life had been quite the talk. How could I not know about it?
That’s when it happened.
“Yeongguk, I’m sorry! Minhye drank too much, right? I’ll take care of her from now on, so you should go ahead. Minhye, get a grip. Why are you keeping your head down like that? That’ll only make you feel worse.”
This guy seemed to be quite the character. Song Jeongmin, one of the managers of Hyewon Entertainment, was young and talented enough to hold an executive position.
He would later establish his own agency and become its CEO. Of course, his wife was the leading actress. The couple was so loving that they were rumored to be the perfect match in the entertainment industry. Everyone envied how they respected and cherished each other.
“Manager Song, then I’ll be on my way!”
After Yeongguk hastily excused himself, Manager Song sat down and patted the crying Seo Minhye’s back. He had always been by her side and couldn’t help but know that she liked Actor Jang Yeongguk. Sometimes it was quite pitiful.
Wasn’t she at the prime age to be dating? But he had to stick to his duty as a manager. If someone else saw this, what would they think? It might even become tabloid fodder.
“Aigo, look at you. You can’t even drink well, but why did you drink so much today? I didn’t know you’d wail like this when drunk. If the CEO sees this, he might think I’m not managing our actors properly.”
“I’m not crying!”
“Alright, you can’t drink anymore. Let’s go back to the lodging quickly. Can you stand up?”
Manager Song tried to help Seo Minhye, but since she was so tall, it looked like he was struggling. Not to mention, she was completely drunk and had been crying, so she could barely support herself.
In the end, he knelt down and offered her his back.
“Get on. It’s a good thing there were no reporters at the wrap-up party. I have already informed PD Kim and the filming crew that you have an early schedule tomorrow, so we will leave first. Hurry up and get on!”
Seo Minhye eventually climbed onto Manager Song’s broad back. Her tear-streaked face, smeared makeup, and even her runny nose rubbed onto his back, but Manager Song didn’t protest.
He was too focused on taking each step with his shaky legs. Drunken Seo Minhye buried her face in her manager’s back and asked with a twisted tongue,
“Oppa, am I heavy?”
Under the crescent moon, Manager Song gritted his teeth and replied.
“No! You’re light!”
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