The instructor observed the uncomfortable expressions across many of the trainees' faces. "Now that you've received your scores, the next evaluation in a week will be based on the improvement of your assessments." And with that note, he promptly left without giving the trainees time to ask questions.
"Assessments? Why did he say that instead of scores?" Jiyeon wondered out loud, voicing the same thoughts as Cindy.
If this was based on improvement, then Cindy had the most room to improve. Even though this evaluation cut two trainees out of ten, her anxiety had diminished a little. She was sure that she could pass this round because it wasn't scored on who was the best, but who worked hard to grow.
'As long as I suddenly don't get low scores again, then it should be fine. .....No, there's no way I could decrease because they already gave me the lowest score!' Cindy's heart quickened in anticipation.
With that assurance, Cindy's determination and confidence swelled. She smirked. 'You thought you could bring me down? Hello naw betches!'
For the rest of the week, she redoubled her efforts. Jiyeon was amazed by Cindy's fighting spirit. Indeed, this was the self-confident Cindy reappearing again after a bout of hardship. She wouldn't let anything stand in her way, not even her senseless haters.
'Mic Drop, bam? That's an idea.' Cindy grinned and altered her routine to be more dynamic. 'This theme should appeal to the teachers as this is Big Hit after all. The underdogs rise to the top!'
As she began practicing her newly amended routine, Cindy noticed for the umpteenth time, the persistent, adoring stares of Ahreum hiding around a corner. Cindy finally felt fed up with the mysterious admiration, so she surreptitiously danced her way over.
Suddenly, she swiveled and pinned Ahreum to the adjacent wall. The petite girl gasped with huge eyes flickering side to side in nervousness. A slight blush crept up her cheeks.
"I-I'm s-sorry!" she stuttered. "I-I didn't mean to s-stare so much but you just looked so cool!" Ahreum regained the steadiness of her voice by the end and almost shouted the last words in determination.
Cindy merely looked at her with one eye raised. Her two hands were still straight out on either side of the other girl with her palms flat on the surface.
Seeing Cindy not budge, Ahreum sweltered a bit under her intense hazel gaze. "T-that," she apologized again. "I'm a fan of Iris, so I wanted to get to know you because you're her cousin. Although you aren't as talented as her, I—" Ahreum faltered when she saw her words seeming to stab Cindy.
'Ah, this girl is too honest, really. Not as talented.. hah, that's true though, but it still hurts.' Cindy smiled wryly with an air of gloom.
"I-I think you're just as cool!" said Ahreum with a small pump of her two fists and furrowed brows. "You're a total newbie, but I was impressed by how hard you worked! It was just like Iris on Produce 48!"
Cindy appreciated the girl's cute and spirited compliments. However, Ahreum's blunt honesty made it feel like they were insults too. She didn't like being compared to Iris, but thinking back to their high school days, Cindy remembered how people would compare Iris to her based on their background and appearance. Like the comparisons of sisters, cousins underwent the same scrutiny.
"Thanks," replied Cindy simply while releasing Ahreum from the wall. The other girl bobbed her head in restrained enthusiasm and continued watching Cindy's back.
Feeling the stare behind her, Cindy whipped around and point a finger at the brown eyed girl. "You. Stop staring."
Ahreum jumped and mumbled her compliance. Cindy felt a little disgruntled at the timid girl. So, she crooked her finger and directed, "Come here." Ahreum widened her eyes and scurried eagerly over.
"Let's practice." Cindy's invitation made Ahreum visibly brighten up. Cindy couldn't help being reminded of a little puppy. 'She would be that cute member in a group that everyone fawns over...'
Meanwhile, Jiyeon watched this whole spectacle with an amused grin. She was happy to see Cindy take the initiative to finally extend a welcome hand toward someone else. Jiyeon shook her head while still smiling. It was no wonder that people read Cindy wrong. Her aura was just too domineering. But in truth, she was soft and rather cute at times herself.
Thus, for the last few days before the evaluation, the three girls practiced together. The day of the evaluation arrived, and Cindy was positive of her passing. After she performed, both Jiyeon and Ahreum applauded. The latter even cheered, making Cindy cough in mild bashfulness.
But the rest of the girls were silent. The two girls who had always mocked Cindy openly behind her back had loathing expressions on their faces. However, the remaining five just seemed uncomfortable. They fidgeted and often glanced over in the direction of the two girls, making Cindy's suspicions arise. She merely narrowed her eyes while saying nothing. But her eyes said everything necessary. 'Don't mess with me.'
Once again, after the evaluations, assessment sheets were handed out. The same method of scoring was reused.
After the girls handed in the papers upon completion, Cindy rejoined Jiyeon and gently nudged her in the side with an elbow. Jiyeon swatted her away. "I'm not telling you." Cindy laughed. The girl had correctly perceived her silent question through Cindy's expression and gestures.
"Besides," Jiyeon continued. "You should be worried about me. I could very well drop unlike you who can only go up!"
Cindy winked in response. "(Nah) girl, you fine. 20 of 10! Just not on paper." Jiyeon chuckled at the American girl and waved her hand. "Riiight."
Ahreum suddenly jumped onto their backs and shouted, "Fighting!!" The first time Ahreum had done this, they had all toppled over into a heap. Since then, Cindy and Jiyeon were prepared for a surprise attack any time. Ahreum had quickly acclimated in the group and revealed her true bubbly nature. The shyness was only an initial state until she got to know people. Cindy was correct in deeming her like a puppy because she truly was as exuberant and playful as one.
A few hours later, envelopes with their scores were handed out. To Cindy's surprise, only the teachers' scoring sheet was inside hers. She showed this to Jiyeon and Ahreum, but they had the trainees' assessment sheets just like last time.
'Why am I the only one without them?' Puzzled, she watched the other girls. It seemed like they had the assessment sheets too based on the thickness of their papers. 'No way... Did I not make it? The score from the girls increased only slightly because of Jiyeon's higher score, but averaged with the teachers, I'm three points higher from before. Sure, a six still isn't great but....'
Before she could ponder on it any longer, the instructor from the very first day along with other staff demanded everyone's attention. The girls quickly gathered in front of them, and they indicated for some of the trainees to come forward. Cindy was one of them.
Although nervous, she kept a cool expression. She noticed that the two gossipy girls were called up with her along with two other trainees. Half of the group was separated, so Cindy was furthermore puzzled by the situation. Her unspoken questions, which were shared by all the girls, were soon answered.
"Instead of two people being eliminated today--"
Everyone gasped at the beginning of the instructor's speech. It couldn't possibly be that they'd cut half of the group?! Jiyeon and Ahreum looked at Cindy in alarm. The feeling of unfairness was already welling up inside them.
"--more will be leaving us today. The trainees in front of me either scored the lowest or had insignificant improvement. There are also other--"
Ahreum suddenly couldn't stand it any longer and interrupted the man. "Excuse me! A while back some girls told me to purposefully give Cindy a..." She trailed off when the instructor gave her a sharp gaze that told her to be quiet.
But Ahreum's words weren't missed by the other girls. Cindy stared at her in shock and bafflement. Surely, she wasn't alluding to some kind of score manipulation, as she? What else could she be speaking of? Scores and surviving were all that could come to mind.
As for the others, they communicated with their eyes at Ahreum to 'shut up.' Only Jiyeon peered at everyone in a mixture of bewilderment and suspicion.
Ignoring Ahreum's outburst, the man continued. "--reasons for their dismissal. It has come to our attention that certain individuals have colluded to purposefully try to kick out other trainees. We at Big Hit do not condone this kind of behavior.
"Thus, those individuals will have their trainee status revoked along with the two previously to be eliminated. But firstly--" The instructor halted and gravely stared at the suspects.
"They will apologize for their manipulation."
The whole room resounded with loud, stifled gasps after the girls listened with bated breaths. Jiyeon, Ahreum, and Cindy looked into one another's eyes, coming to the same conclusion that they could barely dare to believe. It wasn't until two girls stepped forward after a long moment of hesitation that Cindy's hope flared.
"I'm sorry," they both apologized and bowed to Cindy who discreetly bit the inside of her lip to stop herself from smiling.
'Indeed, you b*tches had it coming.' She cheered inside, but it wasn't over yet. She could very well be one of the other two being kicked out.
However, the tension was soon dispelled as the instructor announced that the two trainees leaving didn't include Cindy. After the staff left with the four girls, Cindy released a heavy breath of relief. It was finally over.
Now maybe, she could properly try talk with the other girls. With the manipulators gone, the other girls possibly wouldn't shun her. Cindy could see that they were actually curious and dying to speak to her, but something was holding them back. It was clear that the thorns in everyone's sides were gone.
Since the staff hadn't told them about their next mission, the girls relaxed. It was at this point that the three remaining girls besides Jiyeon and Ahreum approached Cindy. They apologized to her for their weakness and hoped to start again on a better foot.
To be honest, Cindy wasn't so keen on making their acquaintance after snubbing her for two weeks, manipulation or not. But for the sake of appearances, and she was in a good mood, she accepted their apologies.
An hour later, one of the staff suddenly returned. It seemed that their rest wouldn't last long.
"The next evaluation will be held in two weeks, but before explaining the mission, we're going to watch something today. Please be on your best manners." The glint in the female staff's eyes let the six girls know that if they acted out of line, Big Hit wouldn't hesitate to cut them.
[A/N: So sorry for not updating in four days. With the new full-time job this week along with taking care of the dog first by visiting for hours in the hospital to then taking her home with a schedule of medications and other care, I've been both too emotionally and physically tired and tight on time to write. With the weekend here, I'm catching up. But please note that this may happen until my schedule steadies out... However no worries, this story won't be dropped as promised!
Here's an extra long chapter, and another update will arrive soon after today!]
Next chapter: New Beginnings
BTS and Iris reappear!
[ 03.29.20 Addition - Created a Discord server, join at:
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