Jin-Ho Jo had everything -- looks, popularity, a designer wardrobe, millions of fans, and a job with one of the largest entertainment agencies in South Korea. Then one night at a party a few months ago, his entire life changed when someone spiked his drink with a drug. He not only ended up in the hospital suffering from seizures, but he also got blacklisted and his contract sold to an American company. Jin-Ho has always wanted to visit the United States, but on tour, not on a permanent basis. He knew how to speak English, not Spanish, which he discovered that ninety-nine percent of the employees of the Acosta Entertainment Group spoke. So here he was barely twenty-one years old, alone, vulnerable, and friendless in a foreign country trying to get back his career as the number one K-pop idol in the world.
Cortez Acosta didn’t know what he was getting into when he assisted a guy having seizures on the men’s room floor in a hotel in Mexico City after a big concert. Less than an hour before he’d seen the same guy, Jin-Ho Jo performing on stage, along with three other members of the K-pop group, Part D. He could have, should have walked away. Not only had he been conned into buying the guy’s contract when his current employer was trying to throw him on the streets, but he had somehow promised to help him win back the respect of his fandom, while trying to clear up his reputation and image. Once he looked down into Jin-Ho’s soulful brown eyes, Cortez found it was a challenge he couldn’t resist.
Ooh, be still my heart. Jin-Ho looked absolutely fantastic in the black suit he wore. The grayness to his skin had disappeared. In its place was a creamy whiteness. He didn’t have on much makeup, just enough for Cortez to see the innocence that lay beneath it. Cortez loved his eyes. They were double-lidded, and the lashes swept his cheeks when he blinked. To say the younger man was gorgeous would be an understatement. He wasn’t tall by any stretch of the imagination. He was about average height five-seven or eight and barely weighed enough to protect himself from a strong gust of wind. Cortez imagined the sight. Jin-Ho would be all bundled up in winter clothing and trying to stay grounded through the wind and cold. Lucky for him it didn’t snow in Los Angeles where they would be living.
Jin-Ho locked up the door then turned and bowed, respectfully. “Buenos Dias, Señor Acosta.”
How cute. His Spanish/Korean accent sounded kind of sexy.
“Annyeong,” Cortez said in Korean. That was one of the few words he knew. He had taken an on-line course for the trip, but he’d only learned the basics. They both could speak English so that’s what they would use. “You look very handsome.”
Cortez was rewarded with a smile and a blush that could sink a thousand ships. There was no denying that he was attracted to the South Korean singer, but that didn’t mean the feelings would be welcomed or returned.
“Thank you. You do, too.”
That smile was enough to keep Cortez satisfied for the entire evening. He escorted Jin-Ho to the car. The driver had gotten out. He held the back door open. Jin-Ho got in first and Cortez got in next to him. The driver closed the door and got back into the driver’s seat. Everyone fastened their seatbelts.
Jin-Ho wore a cologne that just rocked Cortez’s world. He supposed it was a specialty blend created exclusively for the K-pop star. He had learned a few things about the current South Korean culture. Plastic surgery was very popular, along with wearing cosmetics and having their skin whitened. Cortez didn’t know if Jin-Ho was all natural or had he been altered. Cortez didn’t care. He did like the results. “Tell me a little about yourself.”
“What would you like to know?” Jin-Ho asked.
“Anything you’d like to tell me. I know you’re twenty-one years old. Your birthday is August sixteenth, which makes you a Leo. Your blood type is O-Positive. Your parents and grandparents are deceased, and you’re an only child.”
“Wow, you’ve done your homework,” Jin-Ho said sarcastically. “Let me see. I’ve been training with Team Music since I was eight and made my debut at sixteen. Not only am I a singer, but also an actor. I have done some modeling and commercial work, too. I can play the piano and guitar. I’m also a songwriter and have several credits to my name. I’ve graduated from high school. I have also completed my mandatory military duty.”
“You didn’t want to go to college?” Cortez asked.
Jin-Ho shook his head. “I can read music and carry a tune. What can a professor teach me?” He paused. “I am taking Business Administration online.”
“Why Business Administration?”
“Because I need to keep up with my money and investments. I pay my taxes and doubt if someone will embezzle me.”
The driver chuckled from the front seat.
“Now tell me about you,” Jin-Ho said.
“Me?” Cortez asked. “Okay. My name is Cortez Acosta. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. My parents and grandparents immigrated from Mexico. I have three older brothers and two younger sisters. Both parents and sets of grandparents are still alive and residing in Los Angeles. I have a Master’s Degree in Business Management and a minor in music. I’ve been in business for fifteen years.”
“That would make you….”
“Older than you,” Cortez said. “I just turned forty.”
“That’s not too old,” Jin-Ho said. He paused. “Are you married and do you have any children?”
“No and no.”
“Have you ever been married?”
“No,” Cortez answered.
“How many acts do you employ?”
“At the moment, twenty-five.”
“How many South Korean acts do you manage?”
“I thought so,” Jin-Ho said. “Did Hyo-Sonn bully you into buying my contract?”
Cortez chuckled sarcastically. “Do you think someone his size could bully me? No, he offered it. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but after a few days I know it was the best for both of us.”
“How?” Jin-Ho asked.
“Do you know that Los Angeles has a big K-pop following?”
“Yes. Do you know that my name is being slandered, and I have fallen from grace because of what happened?”
“That was not your fault,” Cortez said.
“Yes, I know, but the fact is, I am now probably black-listed from every venue in Asia.”
“But not America,” Cortez said. “I’m sure your fans will eventually forget about what happened.”
“I’m glad you think so,” Jin-Ho said. “I hope you won’t regret your decision.”
“I won’t,” Cortez replied.
They eventually arrived at the restaurant. They got out of the car and Cortez escorted him inside. Jin-Ho spoke to the hostess. “Reservations for two under the name of Acosta.” Cortez had asked him to speak in his behalf since he wasn’t fluent in Korean. The hostess led them to a private dining room. She bowed and left. Moments later a waiter appeared to take their order. He was a nice-looking young man with short black hair and small brown eyes. He appeared to be around the same age as Jin-Ho, or maybe a tad bit older. Cortez did not miss the other guy checking out the singer.
“I’ve never eaten Korean food before. What do you recommend?” Cortez asked.
“Do you like your food spicy?” Jin-Ho asked.
Cortez nodded. “Yes. The spicier the better.”
“Are you allergic to shellfish or peanuts or any other foods?” Jin-Ho asked.
Cortez shook his head. “No.”
Jin-Ho ordered for them. “Korean barbeque.”
The waiter returned to set the table with rice and soup for both of them. Cortez and Jin-Ho had gotten out of their suit coats and draped them across the back of their seats. He left and came back with an assortment of other dishes for them to share…. banchan. Banchan was usually pickled or steamed vegetables, kimchi, an assortment of dips, like hot oil. The utensils consisted of a set of stainless-steel chopsticks and a spoon. Cortez had eaten a lot of Chinese food so he knew how to use the chopsticks. The waiter returned and placed cups of tea next to their plates. He then prepared the meat, beef ribs at the table on a grill, using shears to cut the cooked meat into bite-sized pieces.
Jin-Ho selected a piece of lettuce. He placed a piece of cooked meat on the greens, along with rice, thinly sliced garlic and seasonings, then he offered it to Cortez.
Cortez tried to take it from Jin-Ho, but the younger man insisted on feeding it to him. There was something really intimate about it, especially when he looked down and saw Jin-Ho watching him with intense brown eyes.
Cortez tried it himself the next time, feeding Jin-Ho. The singer ate beautifully, no smacking, just chewing slowly before swallowing. The waiter returned and was still checking him out. He said something to Jin-Ho in Korean. Did he recognize him? The waiter left.
“He said you are very handsome and wants to know if we are lovers?”
“What did you tell him?” Cortez asked.
“That you are my very handsome boss.”
Cortez chuckled at the response.
Jin-Ho picked up some kimchi and served himself. He demonstrated how Koreans used the chopsticks and the spoon. “Normally I would wait to eat until you started because you are the elder.”
“That word makes me sound old,” Cortez said.
“You’re older than me. Even if you were a second older you would still be my senior.”
Cortez tried his soup. It was delicious. “What is this called?”
“Doenjong jjigae,” Jin-Ho answered.
It contained a variety of vegetables, shellfish, shrimp and mussels, with just a hint of anchovies.
They continued to get to know each other over the meal. He followed Jin-Ho’s lead so he wouldn’t make a mistake.
The waiter returned with two more bowls of something, then cleaned away the empty plates and cleaned up the barbecue grill. He added two glasses and a pitcher of water to the table.
“What is this called?” Cortez asked.
“Nakji Bokkeun,” Jin-Ho answered. “Octopus in sauce.”
Cortez must have made a face because both Jin-Ho and the waiter chuckled.
“You’ve never eaten octopus before?” Jin-Ho asked.
Cortez shook his head. “No. Is it good?”
Jin-Ho ate some to show him. “Yes. But I must caution you that it is very spicy.”
Cortez was game. When in Rome. He scooped some of the mixture into his mouth and chewed. A few seconds later his tongue felt like it was on fire. Jin-Ho ate his without complaining. Cortez wasn’t going to let this youngster outdo him. He continued to eat. A few minutes later he grabbed the glass of water and drank all of it.
The waiter left chuckling.
The octopus had a sea-foodie taste and the tentacles felt a little strange and rubbery.
Jin-Ho never even broke a sweat and he finished his entire dish.
The waiter returned with a glass of milk and placed it in front of Cortez.
“Go map seum ni da,” he said in Korean. It was one of the phrases Cortez had learned. It meant, thank you. He drank the milk. It cooled down his stomach and mouth.
The waiter gave Jin-Ho ice cream. “You’re my bias,” he said in English. “I don’t believe one word of the gossip.”
“Thank you,” Jin-Ho replied.
Cortez finished the octopus and the milk. No other explanation needed. Some fans were loyal. After dinner Cortez escorted Jin-Ho out of the restaurant. The driver had retuned and picked them up out front. They got in and the chauffeur drove away from the curb and got into the traffic.
“I wish I could stay longer,” Cortez said. “Maybe I’ll return with you in six months.”
“I’ll take you on a tour,” Jin-Ho promised.
They ended up back at Jin-Ho’s place. He invited Cortez inside. “Did the movers take everything you needed to ship?”
Jin-Ho nodded. “Yes. I’ve cleaned out the refrigerator, put out the trash and the recyclables. My suitcase is packed.”
“Good, I’ll be here to get you at eight so we can get to the airport on the time.” Cortez didn’t want to leave. “Have you said your goodbyes to everyone?”
Jin-Ho shook his head. “No one cares.”
Cortez could not believe everyone Jin-Ho knew had turned against him. The singer sounded pretty damned depressed to him about. “I do. You’ll make new friends and fans.”
Jin-Ho gave him a look like he didn’t believe him. “Did you check out my social media lately? There are more negative comments than likes.”
“Turn off the comments, then you won’t see them. Listen. I’m not saying this will end overnight, but it will. If you don’t give them ammunition to use, then eventually your fans will return and start idolizing you again.”
“And if they don’t?” Jin-Ho asked.
“They will. In the meantime, take advantage of the downtime and get to know California. Take some classes or get a new hobby. Or you can write some songs. Don’t sit around moping about things you have very little control over. What happened to you was wrong, but it is not the end of the world.”
“I better go and let you get some rest. We have a ten o’clock flight in the morning. Don’t forget to be ready by eight.”
“Okay,” Jin-Ho replied.
Cortez left, got back into the car, then the driver took him back to the hotel. Cortez packed up his things. Then he showered and crawled into bed. He lay awake trying to find a way to keep Jin-Ho from being a statistic. He might not know a lot about Asian culture, but he did know amongst its young people, it had a high suicide rate. He didn’t want Jin-Ho to worry. Before he went to sleep Cortez promised himself, he would make and keep Jin-Ho happy.