Jungwu lay across the top of a wooden box.
This was the storage area of the shopping mall, and compared to the chaos outside it was relatively quiet and peaceful.
“How did you find a place like this?”
“This is already my 3rd time setting up an event here.”
Soochan plopped down next to Jungwu and handed over a canned coffee.
“Jungwu, it’s so nice chatting with you while working again. It sure makes time fly.”
“My joints hurt. Who is Yulhwi anyway? And why am I doing this?”
“But you said her gentle smile washes away all your worries.”
“I’m not so sure about that now. What good is an idol when my body is in pain?”
“The singers are on their way to the prep room. Most of the heavy lifting is done so all we have to do is some light menial tasks and watch to your heart’s content.”
Jungwu rubbed the warmed up can of coffee against his cheeks as he asked,
“How much longer do we have left on lunch?”
“1 hour and 30 minutes.”
“Wow, we still have plenty of time after rushing to eat our food. Let me just nap for half an hour then.”
Jungwu yawned loudly.
“I told you, I had to stay late too many times. I get so sleepy at random hours. I just need to pass out for a little while.”
Soochan clicked his tongue when he saw Jungwu immediately close his eyes.
“If you sleep like that your face will freeze. Do you want me to get you a hotpack?”
“Ooh, thank you. Soochan is such a great worker~”
Jungwu was starting to slur and appeared to be drifting off to sleep already. Soochan shook his head as he left the storage unit.
Not too long after, he returned with two hotpacks and put them inside of Jungwu’s jacket. Although Jungwu was moved around, he was like a corpse and did not wake up.
“Overtime? Wow, he must really be living like a normal member of the society.”
Soochan checked his time and then said,
“I’ll be talking to the Director. I’ll come wake you up when it’s time.”
There was no answer from Jungwu who had already fallen asleep.
Jungwu felt hotness coming from somewhere around his chest and patted himself to find the source.
The two hotpacks were in the middle of giving off intense heat.
“Hey, Soochan, you almost burnt m…”
He was in an empty room all alone.
Jungwu sat up and took a look around. It was a dark and quiet storage space filled with products. He didn’t think of this earlier, but he could have frozen to death sleeping in here.
He checked his cellphone for the time. It was 1:15 pm and luckily, his break time was not over yet.
His friend who had left him with a long cold can of coffee and two hotpacks was nowhere to be found.
‘But why was I so tired?’
The exhaustion he felt earlier was not something he could overcome with willpower. It was the second night in a row when he had fallen asleep as if passing out, making Jungwu worried if he was ill. He patted himself down to check.
‘I’m not in pain anywhere. I wasn’t like this even a week ago.’
He could only suspect his symptoms to be a side effect of AF-12. But Doctor Moon had confidently declared that there was no such thing and went as far as to guarantee compensation for damages.
Jungwu resolved himself to give her a call after he is done with the part-time job here and picked up the canned coffee.
He was just thinking that he prefers a warmed up can of coffee during winter when his eyes fell on the hotpack that was still giving off warmth.
Of course, he was able to immediately understand the chemical process of how the hotpack produced heat.
“A reaction between fine powder of iron and oxygen…”
It was not all that different from the process of forming rust. It was just that it happened at a faster rate than usual, creating heat in the process. The mixture of salt and activated carbon in the solution further accelerated the oxidation reaction.
Jungwu stared at his palm before turning to look at the hotpack.
‘It’s usually warm for about half a day, right?’
He wondered if it was possible to speed up the reaction even further and heat up the canned coffee. Jungwu placed one of the two hotpacks on his palm as an experiment.
“Hya hya, gather, dust stars.”
Half-jokingly, he gathered as many free electrons in the storage unit as he could into the hotpack.
Because of the free electron’s kinetic energy, slight current began to run through the iron powder.
‘Great, good job! Keep going!’
Perhaps his wish got conveyed? The free electron that was already swirling in the hotpack in his hand began to move even more rapidly.
The heat became too much to bear with his hands, so Jungwu placed the hotpack on top of the wooden box.
“Wow, it works.”
With just a rough estimate, it seemed like it became 3 to 4 times hotter. Impressed that his hotpack reached temperatures fit for a heater, Jungwu placed his can of coffee on top of the hotpack. With this kind of temperature, it would be enough to heat the can and a bit more.
“Stardusts, I didn’t realize that you guys would be so useful. Great work. But.”
They worked hard, but it wouldn’t be good if they built up static electricity, so Jungwu quickly chased them all away.
It would have taken just 3 minutes for the can of coffee to be sufficiently warmed on the supercharged and improved hotpack, but the door to the storage unit opened up on the other side.
Jungwu assumed that the person would be Soochan and turned to look, but he froze in place.
It wasn’t his friend, but a small and slim young lady with a guitar slung around her back.
She put her ears against the inside of the door and listened to the sounds coming from the outside. Once she verified that there was no one else around, she quickly climbed and sat on top of the product boxes to the side.
‘Who is it?’
Jungwu decided that he needed to make his presence known to the lady who seemed to be oblivious to the fact that he was there, so he stood up.
As if he was possessed, Jungwu stopped when he heard the song she began to hum out of the blue.
The sweet sound of her humming was producing an appealing melody.
It wasn’t like he listened to much music recently, but even he could tell that just listening to this song was noticeably uplifting his mood. It was an experience he never felt before.
Once she had her guitar out and added the guitar accompaniment to the melody, her once quiet hum evolved into rich and powerful chords, filling the air of the storage room with her graceful tone.
‘This must be what people mean when they say ‘it brought tears to my eyes’.
The music of the unfamiliar lady brought stimulation to his ears that were as surprising to experience as the first time he was able to see the atomic structure with his eyes.
Once her humming was complete, she began another melody using only the ‘ah’ sound. She changed octaves here and there and sang in various intensities as if she was warming up her voice.
‘She’s a singer, right? Well, it’d be strange if she wasn’t with that kind of skill.’
Between the metallic shelving, he could see white sneakers bouncing up and down to the rhythm.
Jungwu who finally woke up from the sudden ambush of music and charisma immediately moved toward the shelves. Despite his footsteps, the guitarist was too focused on the music to notice him.
The profile view of a graceful lady strumming away at the guitar with her pale fingertips entered his sights. She was wearing a baseball cap, so the bill was concealing her face. Her face was so small that only a small portion of her chin was visible underneath.
Once Jungwu opened his mouth, the guitar stopped immediately.
Jungwu sensed that she was startled so he quickly added,
“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. I was taking a nap during lunch time on those boxes over there. Are you one of the participants in tonight’s mini concert?”
Once she saw the staff badge around his neck, she seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.
“I must have disturbed your sleep.”
The sound of her voice had the same timbre as the voice singing the song. It was a neat and sharp voice. Jungwu felt that the mere suggestion that such a sound could be considered a disturbance ought to be considered a sin and waved his hand in denial.
“No, I was already awake. And I don’t know what song this is, but I really enjoyed it.”
“…You don’t know what song this is?”
“I haven’t been able to listen to much music lately. Anyway, I’ll disappear right away. Please continue with your practice.”
Jungwu had been speaking when he suddenly saw the position on the guitar touching her hand zoom-in as if his perception was sucked in. He had to stifle a groan.
‘At this timing?’
He saw the strings made of Copper and Zinc twist and taut in a chain structure. They had a coating on it to keep away rust and foreign matters. Most of the coating on the strings were chemically successful in providing the intended protection.
But among them, Jungwu noticed the lowermost string. As if there was a humid spot on the string, he saw free electrons glued onto the center of it causing a corrosive reaction.
‘It might snap anytime soon, I guess.’
Jungwu felt that he should inform her, so he opened his mouth, but the canned coffee he had on top of the hotpack fell over on the side.
Jungwu ran over to the wooden box and caught the can that was rolling away. It was nice and toasty. He pulled the sleeve over his palm and also picked up the hotpack.
“I was lying down here for about half an hour, and it’s cold here. Here, take this.”
Jungwu placed the hotpack next to her and backed up.
“I don’t need it anymore. Make sure not to touch it directly; you might burn yourself. It’s not a normal hotpack, that one. For about 2 hours the Activated carbon will vibrate and cause accelerated oxidation reaction and… well I guess that’s unnecessary information. Well then.”
Jungwu bowed and was on his way out when her hat moved up slightly.
“I would like it if you could keep it a secret that I am in here.”
Jungwu didn’t even know who she was, so he nodded and opened the door.
“Oh right. The bottom string on the guitar, it looks like it got rusty. Please inspect it. Unlike the other strings, it only has one layer applied.”
Once he was in the hallway, he saw Soochan walking towards him.
“Did you rest well?”
Jungwu put his hands over his lips and pointed towards the exit.
“What’s up? Why are you being so cautious?”
“There is someone practicing inside. Don’t bother her.”
“I don’t know. But I think it’s an extremely talented solo singer.”
Soochan lurched when he heard.
“The only solo artist today is Isul Yoon.”
Jungwu turned to look at the product storage room.
“Eey, no way. Why would such a famous singer be doing that in there?”
“Did you see her face?”
“I couldn’t see because it was dark, not to mention it wasn’t like it was the right moment to have a conversation either. Oh yeah, I did see that the guitar had the letter IS writt…”
“That’s Isul’s guitar!”
Soochan explained as he opened the exit door.
An idiot who couldn’t recognize a major star in person, not even thinking to ask for an autograph when he was so close, Jungwu couldn’t help but smile at his friend’s many complaints.
“I only need Yulhwi’s autograph.”
When Soochan saw Jungwu pop open the canned coffee and take a sip, he said,
“Why didn’t you give that to Isul instead? I bought that can you know.”
“Do you have any idea how I heated this up? Why would I give it to a random woman I met for the first time. Its super warm now. Wanna taste?”
“I’m going to lose my mind. Staff who can’t recognize a celebrity. I bet Isul was beyond shocked.”
Isul who was going to practice the song for today began to look around when she noticed something warming her up.
‘Is it that thing?’
The hotpack left behind by the staff member. Amazingly, the hotpack was warming up the entire space like a heater. Now that she looked at it, she thought back to what he had said earlier.
Just in case, she plucked the 1st string. Isul shook her head after listening to the clear sound of the string. 1st and 2nd string were the most common strings to break, but it hadn’t been long since she changed the string; how could it rust already?
She grinned when she recalled being taken aback to hear that the man had never heard her hit song before. It was possible. No matter how famous or popular a song was, it couldn’t possibly be loved by everyone.
She messed up a note.
‘Did I really get that upset?’
She shook her head to deny it when her cellphone gave notification of an incoming text.
[Hey Isula, where did you disappear to?]
It was a text from her manager Sungjae Ji.
She had no choice but to escape from her designated prep room due to the fact that it was right next to TOT’s. The seven member all girls group that debuted last year is currently at the highest rank for their ability to mindlessly chat away.
When she thought of them sticking to her from morning until evening saying ‘sunbae sunbae~’ she had no choice but to escape to this place before the rehearsal began.
[I’m in the product storage unit. Please come quietly without alerting the TOT.]
She sent a text and resumed practicing her song. She was scheduled to play a minimum of four songs. She would need to sing additional songs if the audience demanded an encore, so she needed to focus much more than other events.
The music stopped with the polite knocking on the doors.
“Isul, are you here?”
The door opened, and a late thirties and rather sly looking man peeked inside.
“There you are.”
Manager Ji entered and closed the doors behind him before walking up to Isul.
“Hey Isula, couldn’t you just send TOT girls away if they bother you?”
Isul smiled, knowing that TOT had not a shred of malintent, and shook her head.
“Sunbae shouldn’t do such things.”
She had been the same at her debut. She completely and utterly understood the desire to stick next to her esteemed seniors and endlessly talk about music.
“Isul you are too considerate for your own good.”
“If that’s so, then you could just take care of me, you know?”
“Are you hinting that I’m somehow not?”
“I wouldn’t dare.”
Manager Ji took a glance around the dark storage unit and shook his head.
“How could I tolerate having Isul practice in such a place. If your fans find out, they’ll lynch me to death. In such a cold…”
He was about to continue when he noticed that it was warm around Isul. He made a puzzled look.
“Its nice in here. Does this shopping mall have heaters in their storage units?”
Isul paused from drinking water she took out from her guitar case and pointed at the hotpack.
“It’s probably because of that hotpack.”
The manager made a quizzical look as he reached out to grab it when he flinched and withdrew his hands in a hurry.
“What the hell! Why is it so hot?”
“Is it that bad?”
“It’s crazy how hot it is.”
“I did hear that it was a special hotpack.”
“Who said that? A fan?”
The manager poked it out of curiosity and yelped in pain.
“Ah, he warned me not to touch it.”
“It’s an amazing product. We should use this thing instead of a mini heater. Please ask that fan, where he got it from.”
Isul recalled the man she had just seen.
“Don’t know the name.”
“He’ll come when you perform.”
“No, I mean mine.”
The manager looked at her without understanding.
Isul took a moment to recall the man she had seen. Although he said some peculiar things, his eyes were clear, and his actions were earnest.
Words she had forgotten about.
‘What am I thinking, about an event staff.
But the subtle imbalance she felt in her heart, she didn’t dislike it. For a singer/songwriter, emotional stimulus was absolutely necessary; she remembered her Sunbae Sangun Yi say to her.
“Manager, prepare a spare string for the guitar please.”
2 PM, TS Mall Mini Concert Rehearsal stage.
Chief Director Mujin Kim spoke into the loudspeakers.
“We will now begin. Please have the first participant enter the stage. Sound, light, and special effect team, in your positions.”
A dozen or so staffs raised their thumbs to indicate they were ready.
The Public Relations staff ran up to Mujin who was going over the list of participants and preparing the setlist for the first group.
“We received a call that Girlfriends will arrive late. They were on their way from Gimpo international airport, but there seem to have been an accident somewhere in between, and the cars are backed up for miles.”
“Their estimated time of arrival?”
“About 40 minutes late.”
“Then please go request Isul Yoon ssi to go first.”
Mujin calmly gave the order and swapped the setlist for 3 and 4.