Saturday arrived, and as the morning sun forced shafts of light through the window blinds, Kee Yoon slowly slid out bed. Rubbing her eyes and clearing her throat, she slid her feet into her furry flip flops and shuffled slowly into the bathroom. She looked at her haggard face in the mirror. Every morning was a disappointment. She kept expecting to wake up looking perfect for once, but it was always the same story. Sagging eyelids. Frazzled hair. Gummy lips. She moaned in disappointment and began her morning ritual of applying God knows how many different facial cleansers, soaps and what-have-you. She woke up much earlier than her brother and parents so she could have plenty of time.
As she massaged various varieties of facial products onto her already immaculate skin, she turned to her room to glance at the dress she was going to wear tonight. She had it neatly laid out on the small couch next to her bed, an expensive designer dress that her mother bought her on her last birthday. She didn’t quite like it. She remembered feeling like an arrogant little princess trying to show up the Americans when she wore it to last year’s prom. Then her mother threw away her cherished, simpler dresses, and now she didn’t have much of a choice. She rinsed her face and shuffled back into her room, walking outside in careful, measured steps, so as to not wake anyone up. She approached the sliding door to the balcony and slowly opened it. Her body was immediately blanketed in warmth as the sounds of distant traffic and brooms sweeping concrete floors greeted her. The balcony was small, but large enough for one person to move about comfortably.
Stepping outside, she slid the door shut and turned to her easel, which had a large cloth draped over it. Pulling the cloth off revealed a large half-finished painting of an ocean. It was simple in its content, but Kee Yoon had spent an enormous amount of time making sure that each wave and undulation in the water was perfect, with just the right amounts of color and sharpness given democratically to every inch of water. Though Kee worked with a variety of media, her mother refused to allow anything beyond her pencil work to be done inside the apartment. Kee was deeply uncomfortable with the idea of working in plain sight of everyone inside and outside the apartment, but it wasn’t like she had a choice. She gently felt the dried acrylic with the back of her hand, gazing longingly at her depiction of a seemingly endless sea, held back only by the horizon. She turned away from her painting to face the massive apartment building that sat uncomfortably close to her balcony, and sighed in resignation. She leaned over the edge, seeing someone sweeping the ground floor below. In the distance, where the building met the road, she gazed at her favorite bagel shop that her mother would sometimes bring lunch home from.
“Something wrong, babe?” Linton snapped out of the deepness of his thoughts as Tara’s gentle voice pierced the veil. He stirred slightly and remembered where he was: that nice little bagel place she loved so much. She told him last Wednesday that today would be a warm day, so it would be perfect to spend the whole day together before topping it all off with a night at Neo-So.
“Naw, I’m alright. I’m cool.”
“You suuuure?” Tara tilted her head and smiled at him, sipping her coffee at the same time.
“I told you, I’m cool, Jesus,” Linton snapped as he realized he had been sitting with the sun in his face the whole time. He quickly shifted his chair into a shaded spot.
“Sorry,” she said, patting him on the shoulder. He furrowed his eyebrows and cursed himself inside.
“No, it’s alright babe. I was just thinking about stuff.”
“Nothing important, really. Let’s just like try and enjoy the day, you know?”
Before Tara could reply, she heard the server call her name behind her.
“I got it,” Linton said as he stood up to get both of their orders. Leaning against the counter, Linton waited as the server plated their egg and ham bagels onto the tray. He turned his head to look at Tara, whose back was facing him. Her skin was a perfect light beige hue and her blonde hair seemed to practically reflect the rays of the sun. She was one of the hottest girls at school, and she was his. It almost felt like cheating, the way she fell for him so easily during their sophomore year. And the best part? She seemed to think he was Portsdown High’s Brad Pitt, and no matter what he did and who he fucked, it was as if some part in her head refused to believe or comprehend any of it. Maybe Tara really had no clue, but it wasn’t a big secret around school. Since they became an item two years ago, Linton had bagged the other hotties in school. There was Michelle, Jennifer T, Audrey, and that smoking hot Egyptian chick Talia. And he was still with Tara, who was, by the way, on track to become prom queen. There was only one girl at Portsdown High that still occupied his target list, and things were starting to get weird with her. A small part of Linton was terrified of what she might look like tonight.
As he carried the tray over to their table, Tara turned and gave Linton the sweetest smile ever. All of a sudden, a pang of guilt hit him like a train. He felt like a little pussy for feeling that way. He wished he could kill those feelings right away and man the fuck up dude, but it didn’t change the fact that that one smile made him feel like crap for everything he’d done behind her back, if only for a few seconds. Linton summoned everything inside of him to squash the emotional pest within him and sat down, placing the tray on the table.
Tara delicately lifted the top half of her bagel and evenly divided the egg and ham filling between the two halves. She then cut each half into segments and ate them one by one. Then she looked up and saw Linton chomping on his bagel like it was a donut, and burst out laughing, much to her boyfriend’s confusion. It was the small things that she loved the most with Linton. The way he seemed oblivious to his unsubtle ways. The way his inner child would creep forth from his manly exterior when faced with her pet cat, Tulip. The bigger things about him weren’t too shabby, either. He did get kind of annoying when he put on his jock face, but Tara knew that it was just him maintaining the right image in front of his football peers. Still, she wasn’t too thrilled that Adrian was tagging along for tonight for that precise reason, but at least she had all of the morning to spend with the real Linton.
They drove down to Manhattan Beach instead of the usual Santa Monica Pier, which Tara had grown bored of. As they walked down the sloping path towards the boardwalk, he bought her an ice cream cookie sandwich at the local creamery. He knew that she was cautious about her weight, but he also knew she was deeply in love with him.
The sun went down over Los Angeles, and as the hour grew late, the 405 and 110 freeways slowly lit up like Christmas trees with only red and white lights, depending on which side you were looking at them from. In the heart of that hive of scum and treachery known as Hollywood, LA’s hottest new nightclub, Neo-So, opened its steel plate doors to the masses. Hundreds of eager night clubbers, all dressed like it was the party of a lifetime, formed a line that snaked all the way down the street and round the corner. Thumping bass pulsed from within the building, clearly audible to all the unbearably excited clubbers outside.
“Oh thank God!” Jill exclaimed as she saw a car pull out of the metered parking spot in front of her. As soon as the car completely vacated the spot, she swiftly slid into it, pulling the best piece of parallel parking, saving her from the outrageous $20 parking lots that punctuated the Sunset strip. Jill stepped out of her car, and almost immediately attracted several stares from other clubbers heading for Neo-So. She felt confident and powerful, having worked her body in the gym every day since Tuesday till today. Dressed in a sexy halter top and skirt, the realization of the changes in her body really hit her as she felt herself surrounded by the sounds of the Los Angeles night life. She walked a short distance towards Neo So, and it didn’t take long for her to recognize Adrian, Tara and Linton standing on the street corner, waiting for her. She waved at them as she crossed the street.
As she got closer, she noted the distinct looks on each of their faces as they saw her approaching. Linton’s was a sort of brooding worry. Tara’s was one of total shock. Adrian’s typical confident look didn’t break. Boy was that guy a tough one to crack.
“Wow, Jill!” Tara exclaimed as her boyfriend looked on, his face seemingly unable to decide if it should looked worried or confident. Maybe it was just that her attire created optical illusions to bring out all the right qualities, but Jill seemed more muscular than when he last ran into her a few days ago. In fact, it was totally unmistakable now: she was buff. As she walked up to Tara, Linton noticed how much broader Jill shoulders were compared to his girlfriend’s. Her abs were also bold and visible in spite of the dimly lit sidewalk they stood on. And Jesus her arms and shoulders were fucking toned. It didn’t make sense. She must have been on the juice. There’s just no way.
“Hi guys! What’s up?” Jill said, her voice still as girlish and feminine as it always was. Okay, so if she wasn’t on the juice, was it really the amazing genetics? The possibilities ran through Linton’s mind so quickly that it nearly stunned him.
“Jill, I mean, wow, you look amazing,” Tara said.
“Thanks girl. Linton, lost for words?”
“Pfft, in your dreams,” he replied, smiling coyly, “Let’s get in line before it gets too long.”
The four of them joined the tail end of the line, which by this point was so far from the club that the music coming from inside was barely audible. Linton sighed, “Shit, getting here early didn’t do shit for us.”
“Say, where’s Rhonda?” Tara asked.
“Oh she had some crap at work she had to do, late night shift.”
“Aw, poor girl,” cooed Tara.
“So what’s going on, Jill?” Adrian interjected, “If you’re not on the ‘roids, there’s got to be something else to it, right? I mean-“
“Ugh, she’s genetically gifted, remember?” Tara scoffed.
“There are a few women who can build muscle like guys, you’re looking at one of them!” Tara said, gesturing to Jill grandiosely. Jill gave a cheesy smile and flexed her bicep.
“Not even guys can build muscle the way you do, Jill. Really, what’s going on?” Adrian said, unfazed, his arms folded. Jill gave him an increasingly hostile glare. His prodding was not welcome.
“Adrian, can you just leave the interrogation for later?” Tara said. Linton, who was looking on silently, couldn’t tell if she was crossing over into being dead serious or not.
“Later? Look at the line, we’re gonna be here forever!” said Adrian.
As if on cue, a tough looking bouncer appeared before the group. He certainly looked the part, being bald, dressed in a black suit, and wearing one of those cool ear pieces with a telephone wire coming out the back.
“What’s up, what’s up you lot,” the bouncer said in a striking English twang, “Is it just the four of you?”
There was a moment of surprise, but Adrian, collected as always, replied “Yes.”
“Come on,” the bouncer said as he gestured for them to abandon the line. Tara turned to Linton and smiled excitedly.
“This is awesome!” she squealed as the four of them streamed past dozens of hapless clubbers who could only look on enviously. Jill was used to being “expressed” into clubs with her friends on the grounds of their sheer good looks; I mean you’re talking about two football hunks and two blonde girls, but this was still the shortest amount of time she’d had to wait to get inside any club, let alone the one that everyone’s been talking about for the past few weeks. Maybe the bouncer liked her muscles.
The music got louder and louder as their express lane to good times got them closer to Neo-So. The club had a minimalist post modern look, and it was clear that someone had put in a lot of money and love into building it. Inside, a complex array of lights bathed Neo-So in artistic, deliberate shades that alternated slowly between harsh primary colors and more muted ones. The whole place looked very artsy and very cyberpunk. Though DJ Tentalon wasn’t due for another hour, the DJ they had on was spinning some mean beats on his turntables, and Tara didn’t waste any time joining the dance floor while dragging Linton along with her. That left Adrian and Jill standing next to each other awkwardly.
“I can’t dance to this crap! I’m getting a drink!” Adrian shouted to Jill over the music.
“I’ll go with you!” Jill replied. The two of them headed for the bar, and as they did so Jill attracted stare after stare from both guys and girls in the club. Of course, she always did attract stares when she went clubbing, but it was obvious that these stares were a different kind. She liked the change, and it made her body feel more powerful. She loved the way her sleeveless turtleneck showed off her bigger arms and shoulders, which she spent most of the past few days working out. A wave of euphoria washed over her and she smiled to herself.
The bar was in a separate room from the dance floor, and was thus a little quieter, although Jill could still feel the pulse of the music in her chest. Adrian got a Red Bull and Vodka, Jill got a Rum and Coke. They found a booth and sat across one another.
“Looks like you’re already getting some attention,” Adrian said, glancing at a booth adjacent to them with two guys and girls, all staring at Jill.
“I quite like it, to be honest,” Jill said. In spite of the complex relationship between her and Adrian, she always did feel that she could be more upfront with him than anyone else. Perhaps it’s the way he made it seem like he already knew everything, and therefore there was no fear that he would respond in a bad way to anything.
“Is that so?” Adrian said, sipping his drink.
“Yeah,” Jill said, pausing to think. The music was helpful in filling the gap where an awkward silence would be in any other situation, “I used to think that having muscles was like a bit gross, but they’re not gross, they’re powerful.”
“Alright, so now you can tell me what your secret is. It isn’t ‘roids, that much is clear to me, otherwise your voice would be an octave lower by now and your jaw line would be getting all angular. So?” Adrian said, leaning closer to Jill. She simply sat back and smiled cunningly at him, holding her drink to her lips.
“I’m a biological miracle, Adrian.”
He laughed and leaned back. Of course she wasn’t going to tell him, “I figured you’d say something like that. Don’t worry, I’ll find out,” He took another gulp of his drink, “You know, Linton’s getting jealous of you.”
“Oh yeah?” Jill said, raising her eyebrow and smiling wryly.
“Jealous, scared shitless, I don’t know which one. He doesn’t want to admit it of course, but I can tell.”
This time it was Jill’s turn to learn towards Adrian, “How do you know? What does he say?”
Adrian took another sip, “I see him in the locker room after practice checking himself out. Admiring his biceps and shit. He never does that. Never. And the look on his face when he’s doing that, it’s like he thinks you’re using voodoo magic or something, draining the muscles from him.”
She laughed triumphantly, “I don’t know if I told you this before, but he was a pretty skinny kid back in sixth grade. But when he started getting all into like football, that’s, you know, when he started…”
“…to build himself into, like, modern Linton.”
“Man. This whole thing sounds kinda tragic when you put it that way!” Adrian said, and they both laughed. In that moment, there was a brief moment of understanding between the two. As their laughter died down, they found themselves gazing into one another’s eyes wordlessly.
“There you guys are!” cried Tara as her and Linton approached the booth. Linton sat next to Adrian and Tara next to Jill, “Ah, I love this place. Love it. Tentalon should be in a few minutes! What’ve you guys been talking about?”
“Current affairs!” Adrian quipped as he eyed Linton.
“Dude, you sound like how my brother talks to my parents,” Linton said, laughing, “Where did you go? Out! What did you eat? Food!”
“The lights here are amazing. Jill, you gotta come dance with me. The lights are too amazing.” Tara said as she grabbed Jill’s wrist and dragged her along towards the dance floor. Jill gave Adrian an “Oh well” sort of look as they rose from their seats, and the two guys followed them out as well.
There was a loud cheer as DJ Tentalon began his set, and the music became noticeably louder and the lights flashed more dramatically, alternating between staccato strobe lights and deep colors that probed the sea of dancers like an army of searchlights standing sentinel around the dance floor. As arpeggiated sequencers looped over and over to an earth-shaking programmed drum beat and blasts of overdriven sawtooth and square synthesizers, Jill and Tara gyrated their bodies wildly in ecstasy while Linton dry humped his girlfriend and Adrian simply bobbed his head, drink in hand. Although Jill was a regular clubber, her new muscles made her feel sexier and assertive on the dance floor, as if the whole place was dancing to her, not the other way around. As the song wore on, she stopped feeling the music. She did not feel enveloped in the beat, because she felt as if every swing of her hips, every thrust of her toned, muscular arms and every bend of her knees was making the music happen. For a brief moment, Jill was certain that the music was feeling her.
The experience was cut short when Tara patted Jill on the arm, snapping her out of her trance. Jill opened her eyes and saw that her friend was sweating like a pig. Her hair had lost its shape as it cling to her face from all the sweat. She signaled that she needed to take a breather and Jill understood. Together with Linton and Adrian, they slowly made their way through the crush of the crowd back to their booth near the bar.
Concealed in one of the few unlit sections of the club, Kee Yoon watched vicariously as Jill and her friends made their way back to the bar and slowly followed them. She was careful not to bump into anyone, as if she were walking in the middle of the wrong side of a freeway. She had a drink in her hand, something she realized would help her blend in, although it was just water.
Kee found a nice, dark spot close to the bar counter and simply watched Jill sitting at the booth, talking excitedly to her friends. She took the occasional sip of her water, a paltry attempt to not appear out of place, but with the way she clutched her arm with her free hand and stood with both legs pressed together, she knew it wasn’t working.
“Need some company?” said a voice to her left. Kee Yoon let out a high pitched yelp and jumped as she turned to face the young man that was now standing next to her, “Whoa, easy there. Ha! I don’t bite,” the man said. Kee Yoon scrutinized him. He looked to be in his late twenties or thirties, and she didn’t like how his shirt was unbuttoned all the way down to his chest, “You look a little lonely there. Need some company?”
Kee Yoon quickly shook her head and smiled nervously at the man. She held up her drink at him to try and imply that she was busy enjoying her drink, but she realized a second later how that made no sense.
“Yeah, I know the drinks here are a fuckin’ rip off. Mind if I buy you one?” said the man, leaning uncomfortably close to Kee. She winced as her nose was blasted by the putrid mixture of alcohol and bad breath emanating from his mouth.
Kee took a step back and held her hand up, “Oh no no,” she said meekly.
“Come on, you’re a pretty lady. I love your dress. Lemme get you a drink and we can sit down somewhere,”
Kee Yoon kept backing away and when her back hit the wall, she realized her formerly tactical decision to watch Jill from the darkest, unseen part of the club was now a huge mistake. The man kept approaching her.
“You scared? Cute Asian girl like you, you don’t need to be scared! Come on, I’ll take good care of you.”
Jill grabbed a paper towel from inside her purse and wiped the sweat from her face. Of course, Tara was a total mess compared to her.
“Jesus, you’re like sweating puddles!” Linton remarked as he put his arm around her. Tara smiled as she toweled her face off and kissed him on the cheek.
Amidst the jovial banter, Jill took a sip of her drink and as she peered above the rim of her glass, she saw two figures in a dark corner by the bar. Instinctively, she realized that the body language of both figures wasn’t quite right. She lowered her glass and leaned forward to get a better look. Tara and Linton took note and followed her gaze.
No, it couldn’t be. Was it really that girl again? That weird Korean girl that kept following her around? Jill recognized the scene immediately as the intoxicated man was practically about to pin Kee Yoon to the wall.
“Aw shit, someone’s about to get raped!” Linton guffawed. Tara snapped around and gave her boyfriend an indignant look, “What? We’re in a crowded place, someone’s probably gonna-“
Jill got off her seat and marched towards the scene between the two figures. With her fists clenched she could hear the creepy dude’s ominous words to a petrified Kee Yoon as she got closer and closer to them.
“Look, come on, there’s no need to be scared, I just don’t want you to be lonely ya know?”
“Hey!” Jill shouted. The man turned around. Standing before him was one seriously hot chick dressed to kill. But wait a minute, this girl was fit as hell. She had her fists clenched, which made her arm muscles bulge visibly. The man stared at Jill for a moment, confused by this combination of sheer beauty and muscular strength. He looked back at Kee Yoon, who looked even more terrified of Jill than of him, then looked back at Jill, who was giving him a death stare. Maybe he shouldn’t have had so much to drink. He slowly slinked away from Kee Yoon and without saying another word, walked past Jill out of the bar room, looking confusingly into her stern eyes as he passed by her.
Kee Yoon, still backed into the wall, looked straight into Jill’s eyes for a microsecond before staring at the floor, thoroughly embarrassed. As Kee continued to stare at the floor without moving, Jill looked at her for a moment, and without exchanging words, turned around and walked back to her table.
“Nice going Jill! Awesome!” Tara said as she and Adrian clapped, “Is it just me or have I seen her at school?”
“Yeahp, she goes to school with us,” Jill said as she sat down and finished her drink.
“Well I am proud of you, girl,” Tara said, patting Jill’s bulging shoulder.
“Yeah. That was actually impressive, the way that dude fucked off like that. Looks like those muscles of yours have some practical application,” Adrian said. Jill could tell that he wasn’t being sarcastic for once.
“Pfft, ‘practical application’? Who says that, dude?” said Linton, seemingly oblivious to what had just happened. He gulped down his drink and then gestured for Tara to scoot out of the way, “I gotta hit the john.”
“Me too, actually, I need more paper towels,” Tara said, “And seriously, awesome job, Jill. You rock.”
With Jill and Adrian once again left alone, they bantered for a while before Adrian felt something in his thigh and whipped out his smart phone to check the text message he received. As he typed away, Jill sat back in her seat and smiled to herself. She looked down at her arm and admired the power that coursed within her. She clenched her fist and watched her bicep rise out of her arm, this time far more pronounced and bulging harder than it used to when she first hit the weights last week. Adrian, Linton, Tara, Kee Yoon, the club and everything else in life momentarily seemed to become a distraction as she felt another wave of euphoria wash over her. It was an amazing feeling that she wanted, needed more of.