Namjoon blinked rapidly as recognition flashed across his features. The girl standing before him was Hong Ah Ra, Ji Ah's teenage sister. She had been a little over ten years old when he had last seen her, vaguely recalling babysitting her along with Ji Ah in the initial stages of their relationship.
"Hong Ah Ra? I can't believe it's really you!" The rapper smiled, his fond memories of the girl stirring an inherent affection within him. "How have you been?" He gestured for Ji Ah's sibling to take a seat, which she did as she dumped her backpack on the table and plunked into the chair opposite him.
Ah Ra returned his smile, shyly brushing stray strands of hair to the side. Where Ji Ah had been feisty and lively, her sister had been calm and the voice of reason even at the young age at which Namjoon had been acquainted with her.
"I've been alright, Oppa. I was so surprised when I spotted you sitting here, and for a moment, I wondered if my eyes were tricking me. I mean, it's been such a long time!" She gave a small laugh and Namjoon chuckled.
"Well, I had some time off so I decided to spend it here," he explained, his eyes marveling over the uncanny resemblance that Ah Ra now bore to Ji Ah. "What about you? Are you in high school now?"
Ah Ra nodded energetically. "It's my last year! I'll be graduating soon." She bit her lip as she studied Namjoon, wondering if she should broach the topic that was just waiting to roll off her tongue. Ah Ra took a deep breath and decided to dive straight in.
"Are you still in touch with her?"
'Her' could mean only one person. Namjoon glanced at Ah Ra in surprise, finding it strange that Ji Ah had neglected to inform her sister that they were working together. Or maybe she was instructed not to. Big Hit was always careful with such delicate details and the rapper gathered that to be the reason Ji Ah hadn't told Ah Ra anything.
"Sort of," he replied carefully, scrutinizing Ah Ra's features for signs of anything amiss. But the girl furrowed her brows, leaning forward.
"How is she?" Ji Ah's sister finally asked. All her earlier energy seemed to have deserted her and Ah Ra's eyes darted about nervously.
Baffled, Namjoon couldn't grasp the context of her question. Why would she ask him that? A sinking feeling began to take root and a possible reason solidified in Namjoon's mind.
"Ah Ra," he addressed the sensitive girl who seemed to be looking everywhere but at him, "when was the last time you spoke to your sister?"
Ah Ra's eyes widened at Namjoon's keen observation. She lowered her head, her eyes clouding with an emotion he couldn't discern.
"It's been almost five years."
Five years? That didn't make any sense. But Namjoon was uncertain if he should pry any further. He had resolved to stay out of Ji Ah's business, but the morose expression on Ah Ra's face had his convictions wavering. But before he could voice a word, she spoke of her own accord.
"I'd always thought of you as family, you know," she began, her words faltering slightly. "Even though I was quite young, I could see that Ji Ah was happy with you. She could be who she was without having to worry about what you'd think." Ah Ra finally met Namjoon's gaze and the rapper reined in the multitude of queries that had formed on his lips.
"Even after you guys broke up, she would tell me how your determination inspired her," Ah Ra continued, a tinge of sadness lacing her words. "Ji Ah had always dreamed of becoming a videographer. But our parents were against it. They believed that something as fickle as a position in the entertainment industry wouldn't suit her potential."
Namjoon was silent, beginning to piece the puzzle together. Ah Ra averted her gaze, fixing it on the trimmings which decorated the sliding doors of the convenience store. He was still unsure but decided to venture a question anyway.
"But your sister railed against them, didn't she?" he asked softly and Ah Ra nodded solemnly.
"She wouldn't stop, applying for interviews, sending her portfolio to universities which offered videography as a major. The storm hit when she was accepted into one, and our parents staunchly warned her against going." Ah Ra faced Namjoon once again. "But Ji Ah didn't listen. She didn't stay. She decided to leave anyway and mom and dad haven't spoken to her since."
Ah Ra gave a bitter laugh, her fingers twitching frantically. "Not that Ji Ah herself tried to contact us again. I understand her not wanting to speak to our parents, but she hasn't even tried to speak to me!"
Namjoon could feel the pain her words emanated. Ah Ra had been very attached to Ji Ah; that had been obvious to Namjoon from the start. And for such a bond to be suddenly severed must have been a huge shock to a girl who had been little more than a preteen.
He slid his hand across the table, laying it gently over the distraught girl's. "Hey, I know you're upset. But it must've been immensely hard for your sister too, Ah Ra-sshi. From what I know, she's stubborn and always has been. It doesn't mean that she doesn't think about you."
"How would you know?" she demanded almost angrily and Namjoon recoiled at the stiffness of her tone.
How would he know? Ji Ah and he weren't close enough to discuss something as important as this. But for some reason, his gut told him that his ex-girlfriend wasn't as apathetic as Ah Ra seemed to think.
"I don't. But I have a way of finding out," he said, attempting to reassure Ah Ra with a wink and her eyebrows scrunched.
"How?" she asked almost hopefully, and Namjoon prayed that he'd be able to live up to the unsaid promise he was about to make. After all, he didn't know how Ji Ah felt about this. Yet. Somehow, he was confident that he would be able to extract an explanation from her.
"Don't worry, Ah Ra. I have my ways," he stated spiritedly, watching as the girl's features softened. She thanked him, stating that it was time she got home. Ah Ra held his gaze, and Namjoon read the unspoken message in her eyes.
And as the rapper walked home, he reflected on how lucky he was to have a supportive family, to be able to live apart from them and still not worry about how his absence would be perceived. Because his family knew he was doing what he loved and they accepted that, just as they accepted Namjoon for who he was. Even if he wasn't sure of it himself.
But it was obviously different with Ji Ah. Namjoon had always thought of her as possessing an indomitable spirit which could never be stifled, never once thinking that she might not be as tough as she made herself out to be. The rapper resolved to never take the support he received for granted, hoping that Ji Ah, too, would find her way back home.
And Namjoon was surprised to discover that he wanted to help her do it.
"Do you need my help?" Mi Na asked calmly, too calmly for the current predicament Ji Ah had managed to land herself in. "Or will you deign to explain this situation yourself?"
Her boss slid a photograph across the glass table and Ji Ah ceased its momentum by placing her finger over it. It was a snapshot of Namjoon and her; the only difference being that his features weren't visible owing to the mask concealing the lower half of his face, while hers were clearly defined.
Ji Ah looked up to find Mi Na glaring at her and shrugged nonchalantly. "Explain what? That it's a photograph? I don't think you need any help figuring that out."
Mi Na's sneer sharpened as she slammed her fist on the table. "Don't you get sassy with me, Hong Ji Ah!" her voice rose an octave higher and Ji Ah winced. Her boss seemed to be in a much more sour mood than usual. "Be thankful that one of the paparazzi was an employee of MSL and succeeded in suppressing any unwanted information from going viral."
Ji Ah wasn't immune to the gravity of the situation, realizing how close she had come to sabotaging not only her own position but also that of Namjoon's. She tried her best to appear unfazed but couldn't subdue her surfacing worry for the rapper. "Well then, what's the problem? Isn't this issue sorted?"
"The problem," Mi Na stressed as exasperation shone in her eyes, "is that you decided to take Kim Namjoon on an evening stroll. Without informing anyone at Big Hit. Without even taking the necessary precautions! Do you know how dangerous the situation could've gotten?"
Ji Ah did know. She knew it very well, which is why she cursed herself constantly for devising such an utterly stupid scheme.
"I understand," she said slowly and Mi Na waited expectantly for her to continue. "And I apologize. But he needed a little encouragement and I thought it would be a good idea to get some fresh air." Ji Ah instantly stopped, realizing her error but it was too late. A suspicious glint entered Mi Na's eyes.
"And how would you know what Kim Namjoon needs? I don't remember you two being chummy," she said, carefully studying Ji Ah who had assumed an indifferent demeanor.
"We're not. I just happened to overhear him mentioning how he wanted some-"
But Mi Na interrupted her by waving her arm in dismissal. "Stop. Forget it. I don't want to know." Her face was unreadable as she faced Ji Ah. "But what I do want to know is that you realize your job is shooting the documentary and not counseling aggrieved members. Do you understand that?"
Ji Ah bit her lip, hating the dismal feeling beginning to descend over her. Mi Na was right; she should be concentrating on her job and not on Kim Namjoon. Why couldn't she just ignore the presence of the rapper?
Because I can't, she realized much to her dismay.
"I understand," she asserted, her face devoid of any emotion.
But I don't, an internal voice seemed to be saying.
Mi Na looked unconvinced but she didn't probe further, indicating that Ji Ah could leave. She strode towards the door, halting at her boss's parting words.
"I hope there won't be any more problems, Ji Ah. You're talented and I wouldn't want you losing an incredible opportunity because some member of a boy band caught your fancy. So will you leave him be?"
I wish I could, was the only thought in Ji Ah's head.
And as she exited Mi Na's office, Ji Ah knew, without a shred of a doubt, that her days at Big Hit were numbered.
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