2 years before they meet.
14-year-old Carmen Mitchell left school after saying goodbye to her friends. With the tap of her smartphone’s screen, her favorite music streaming app sprang to life and she clicked play on her carefully curated playlist.
A wide smile lit up her face as the catchy beats of ‘Boom Boom,’ the latest single by her newfound K-pop obsession, Blossom6, filled her ears at maximum volume.
Blossom6 was a rising K-pop girl group, composed of six members with Eunji Kim standing out as Carmen’s favorite within the group.
Eunji Kim was known for her striking platinum blonde hair, statuesque figure, and unique vocal prowess that resonated in the chorus of ‘Boom Boom; it was Carmen’s favorite part of the song, and its infectious harmony and beat compelled Carmen to sway on her feet a little as she navigated the crosswalk with carefree steps on her way to retrieve her bicycle.
In the heart of Seattle Washington, Carmen’s high school was just a ten-minute walk from her big brother’s workplace, and with her bike, it only took five minutes to get there.
Her 23-year-old brother, Alex Mitchell, was a dedicated firefighter at the Seattle Fire Department, and she visited him at the fire station more often than she’d like to admit. Well, it was often synonymous with needing money, to be honest.
After all, what was a big brother for if not a free ATM? Besides, her parents had a strict limit on how much she could request from them, whereas her brother Alex always spoiled her. She was his only sibling left, after all, following the tragic loss of their older sister, Dylan, five years ago in a devastating accident.
Carmen arrived at the station, leaving her bike outside. As the sunlight filtered through the large bay doors of the station, a subtle grin tugged at the corners of her lips as she envisioned herself meeting the six girls of Blossom6 in two weeks. For the first time ever, Blossom6 was having a fansign event in Seattle and all Carmen needed was money to purchase the tickets.
She entered, and most of Alex’s coworkers recognized her as his little sister and began to ask her how school was, some of them padding her head affectionately.
Reaching inside her book bag, Carmen retrieved the plastic container with the homemade cookies her friend Liz had brought to school today for the homeroom party, and began distributing them to Alex’s friends and coworkers.
“Alex, Carmen’s looking for you, and she brought yummies,” one of them called out, taking a bite of a warm, chewy cookie Liz’s mom had made.
Carmen pranced further toward the sound of Alex’s signature deep voice, her sneakers squeaking on the polished floor. She spotted Alex amidst the hearty laughter and camaraderie of his fellow firefighters.
“Hey, Chicken,” Alex said, using his affectionate nickname for her. “Oh, you brought cookies!”
Alex Mitchell stood tall in his firefighter uniform, his smooth, full, dark hair tousled as if he’d been running his fingers through it all day. It was just another day at work for him, but whenever Carmen visited, it made his day a hundred times better. His little sister was the most important person in his life, and after Dylan passed, he had sworn to protect Carmen from everything negative in life.
With open arms, Alex welcomed Carmen with a warm hug, and she jumped into his embrace.
“Oh, where have you been these past two weeks? I missed you, Chicken.”
Carmen beamed up at him. “I had cheerleading every day after school because of the game coming up. But I’m here now and I brought these!” She offered Alex a cookie.
Alex took a big bite and rolled his eyes in pleasure. “Chicken, where did you get these? You’ve outdone yourself,” he praised, ruffling her long brown hair. “Hmm, these will be a hit with the guys.”
Carmen handed Alex the container of cookies, and he grabbed another cookie before handing them off to another coworker to finish passing around.
“How’s ballet? Mom told me you were crushing it the last time she went to watch you practice.”
A fleeting, almost imperceptible, solemn look crossed Carmen’s face, and then she nodded quickly. “It’s good.” She swiftly shifted the conversation. “Guess what, Alex!”
“What’s up?” Alex said, taking another bite of his cookie and smiling down at her.
“You know how my birthday weekend is in two weeks…?”
Alex swallowed and walked over to the fridge to pour himself some water to wash down the sweetness of the cookie, Carmen followed.
“Of course, Chicken, you’re turning 15! How could I ever forget your birthday?”
“Well, I was blessed by the Birthday Gods, cause something serendipitous has happened!”
Alex grinned, his little sister’s joy too infectious. “Oh yeah, what’s that?”
“I’ve been listening to this group called Blossom6, and they are absolutely amazing! I can’t believe they’re coming to town on my birthday weekend! You won’t believe how incredible their music is!” Carmen exclaimed, vibrating with excitement, talking a mile a minute.
“You’re really into them, huh?” he asked with a chuckle.
Carmen nodded vigorously. “Oh, you have no idea! They’re the biggest thing in K-pop right now! I just have to meet them! Can you help me and Liz get tickets, Alex, please? Please! It will be the best early birthday present ever!”
As Alex considered her request, the blaring alarms interrupted their conversation. The klaxons wailed, summoning the firefighters to action. Alex and his comrades rushed to their gear, adrenaline surging through them. Carmen watched in awe as her brother transformed from big brother to hero.
“Sorry, Chicken, duty calls,” Alex said, strapping on his helmet.
“But text me. I’ll definitely get you those tickets, but you will need a chaperone to take you there, though so let me know who it’ll be.”
“Yes, totally, I’ll ask Liz’s big sister. She’s over 18, that’s cool, right?”
With a quick salute to his little sister, Alex bounded into the fire truck, his colleagues already revving the engine. The truck roared to life, and with sirens blaring, they sped off into the city.
Carmen stood there, waving goodbye to the retreating truck, a mix of pride, worry, and admiration in her eyes. As it disappeared around the corner, she breathed a sigh of excitement as her birthday weekend drew near.