Jiyong paused for a moment. He let his manager reminisce about the past until he received some kind of sign to continue. When the manager turned around and walked back into the employee's room, Jiyong knew that the conversation had ended for the manager.
What luck I have, Jiyong thought sarcastically, sighing. He began mopping the floor, but stopped when he felt the need to look outside.
It was still white.
* * *
At five, Jiyong took his break and stepped outside, taking out his pack of cigarette from one of his thick pockets. Despite the cold wind blowing, he managed to lite his lighter. He carefully brought the fire close to his cigarette, which he put between his lips. He gave it a few brief draws, and when the smoke started rising from the other side, he placed the lighter back into his pocket. He inhaled slowly, removed the stick, then exhaled, watching the cloudy puff of smoke rise and disappear into the sky.
Apologizing was hard; Jiyong knew that. However, he didn't know that it was that hard. A simple reconciliation seemed to not exist for teenagers. He saw the kids as lazy brats who didn't care about the world, taking the blows of society like fools. He didn't even see a look of sincerity in their eyes. Rather, they were almost always empty or cold, glaring or drooping.
He raised the cigarette back to his mouth and inhaled.
Damn them, Jiyong thought, exhaling. He coughed for a moment, feeling a need to cough for no clear reason. Damn them for being kids.
He paused, then chuckled to himself. Why was he getting so worked up on this? This had nothing to do with him. He was Kwon Jiyong, for crying out loud! He didn't care about people. He just needed to live his life. Didn't he say that he wasn't going to be involved? Didn't he say that he was going to start anew? Didn't he say he wouldn't…
His heart anxiously pounded against his chest. He groaned and clutched the right side of his shirt, pounding his fist against his chest, hoping that the beating would slow. Whether it was bad health or not, Jiyong began to notice that he was feeling more stressed out. His body ached, and he wasn't quite sure why it did. He would've went to the hospital, but going to the hospital meant the possibility of seeing his old friends, which he clearly didn't want. If his friends came, then Jiyong's life would be over.
"Jiyong! Don't you think it's time to get rid of that and come back in? Minah is back here to work," the manager said, popping his head out of the door. Jiyong stared at his manager, sighed when he heard Minah's name, then got up.
"I'm coming, sir," he replied, crushing the cigarette with his foot. "Is she already at the counter?"
"Of course, of course. Oh, and another girl wants to see you," Manager Kim said.
Jiyong looked up at him. "Who?"
"The scary-faced girl. Long, bad hair that covers her face? She's small," the manager said, describing what Jiyong defined Jieun. The employee gave his boss a small nod, and picked up the cigarette to dispose it. Once he did, he walked back in the room, eventually entering the store.
As the manager had told him, Jieun was waiting for him. She was roaming around, hiding her face from Minah, who didn't even bother to hide herself from Jieun. The two girls knew who had more power over the other, establishing a silent agreement to not to recognize each other. Jiyong cleared his throat, greeting Minah with a small nod. Minah bowed half-way, but she looked away with a calm expression. He walked over to Jieun, who was startled to see him.
"Hello, Jieun. How are you?" Jiyong asked. He smiled at her, hoping that she would grow more comfortable.
"G-Good," she stuttered. She paused, then rubbed the back of her neck. "I-I wanted to thank you for lunch last week."
His smile grew bigger. "That's thoughtful of you. You're the only one who actually gave me proper thanks for paying your meal."
He made sure that he was especially loud for Minah to hear him. Minah scowled, knowing that she would have to thank Jiyong later. He smirked, then glanced back at Jieun.
"So, was that all?" he asked her.
"U-Um…" Jieun bit her bottom lip, then glanced behind her. Jiyong looked past her shoulder. He saw Chanyeol and two of his other friends hanging outside, waiting in the cold for Jieun to come back. Suddenly, Jieun gave him a small flyer. "On this day, we have this event at our school. I want you to come and see us do…um, to do some stuff."
It was obvious that Chanyeol had set her up to this, which meant that the sneaky boy had plans for Jiyong. Right when Jiyong was about to refuse, he saw an odd bruise mark on her collar bone. Her tiny body shook with fear, as if she was afraid of failure.
Wow, they cornered me good, Jiyong thought, realizing his tight situation. If he didn't go, then Chanyeol would happily beat her up some more. Though if he did go, he knew that he was going to be in for some kind of foul treat.
"Yeah, yeah! You should go!" Minah agreed, speaking up. At that moment, Jiyong realized that Minah's long hair had covered one side of her face so that Chanyeol, who was still waiting outside, wouldn't recognize her. Still, he knew that even though she was hiding from him, she was also into the plan.
Sneaky little bastards, he cursed. He looked at Jieun and gave her a fake smile. "Sure, I'll go."
Jieun looked up at him, her eyes wide with fear. Her face had paled like the snow outside, completely white and cold. Her lips trembled. She tried to say something—anything to stop Jiyong from coming—but no words came out of her purple lips. It was only her brown orbs that spoke what she desired: Don't come. Please, don't come.
Don't look like you're afraid of this. You chose this path. Now I'm going along with it, he thought to himself. "I'll post this flyer on the shop, too. Lots of people would like to come."
"Jieun, why don't you run along now? It looks like your boyfriend is waiting for you," he told her, pointing out the window. He spotted Chanyeol eyeing him, as if he was watching his every move.
Jieun bit her bottom lip. She hesitated for a moment, but when she saw Minah give her a serious look, she only nodded meekly and walked out of the store. Jiyong watched her from indoors, observing her behavior and Chanyeol's. When Jieun's mouth opened, Chanyeol began to smirk with pride. He gave Jiyong a cheeky look, made a sign with his two fingers slicing his own throat, and walked away with his group, his large arm wrapped around Jieun's thin shoulders.
"That guy is totally planning on revenge," Jiyong muttered. He walked over to the counter, where Minah was fixing up her hair.
"You noticed, but you still agreed to go along with it?" Minah asked.
"Was that the wrong thing to do?"
"Heck yeah! Why would you sacrifice your life like that?"
Jiyong kept quiet. "Did you think that I was going to go?"
"What? Were you planning on not going?" Minah gave Jiyong a long stare. "You're so dumb for an adult."
"Well, what would you do?"
"Flat-out reject the offer! It's stupid and you're stupid for accepting it."
Jiyong chuckled softly. "You know, you're also part of this. You're the one who encouraged me to go."
Minah pressed her lips. She looked away with a look of shame rising with her burning cheeks. She played with the register, opening it and closing it while tapping her other fingers against the counter. She had the same look Jieun had just minutes ago: guilt.
Jiyong heaved a sigh and checked the clock. He rotated his neck and pulled out a cigarette. Placing it between his two lips, he began walking out to the front of the door. Minah finally looked up, her eyes following Jiyong's every move.
"Where are you going?" Minah asked curiously, her head almost poking out of the counter.
"Out," Jiyong said. "I'll be right here, don't worry. Just going to smoke for a bit."
"Now? It's not your break, though—"
"I'm going out to chase away the teenagers. Yeah, that's what I'm going to do," Jiyong lied, getting a bit annoyed at Minah. She kept her mouth shut, nodding her head like a child who was just yelled at for causing trouble.
When he stepped outside, a gush of cold air hit his face. Luckily for him, it was snowing, which meant that he didn't need to deal with the cold droplets falling against his bare skin. After all, he wasn't even wearing a proper jacket outside.
He fished out his lighter from his pocket, and carefully cupped his hands near the end of the cigarette. He lit it, slowly at first, until the light flickered and touched the end with upmost delicacy. The drug burned away, a thin layer of smoke rising into the gloomy weather. He inhaled slowly, then exhaled as he felt his stress and worries drift off with the smoke.
Why was he so involved in this drama? It was annoying as heck, and he just wanted to crawl out of it. But every time he tried to escape, the number of arms got bigger and the sound of pleads and cries just got louder. These kids—these poor, dumb kids who couldn't do anything for themselves—kept asking for help without doing anything. What would help do when they, themselves, didn't try to change them? No matter how ashamed or guilty they feel for doing the things they did, wasn't it their fault for doing it?
But they're only kids, Jiyong reminded himself. Yes, they were poor, little kids lost in a large group of students who picked on them. So they must be given some sympathy, right? They…
A voice interrupted Jiyong's thoughts. He looked up, and saw Jiho and his three other friends standing behind him. Everyone but Jiho stared at him with sparkly eyes, awed by the fact that their role model did what they had always wanted to do: smoke and chill.
"Can I have one, King Kwon? I know how these work!" Kyungsoo exclaimed, taking his hand out.
"You're eighteen?" Jiyong asked him, his eyes a little wider than usual.
Thinking this was impressive, Kyungsoo pressed on. "I'm seventeen, but turning eighteen later! Give me—"
"Fat chance, kid. Wait until later. Follow the law," Jiyong said, pointing at a random sign.
Suddenly, he began feeling like he was being stared at. He slowly looked at Jiho, who had his eyes on the flyer Jieun had given him. It was sticking out of his little pocket, and the colorful poster didn't help drive Jiho's attention away from it. Jiyong awkwardly pushed in the flyer, catching Jiho's piercing gaze.
"A flyer?" Jiho asked. "A date?"
The three other friends froze. A date? For their king? Did this meant that their would be a Queen Kwon, too? Did that mean that they had to bow down to her like how they did to King Kwon?
"A flyer," Jiyong repeated. "No date."
Their little hearts eased as they let out a deep sigh.
"For what?" Jiho questioned him.
"That's my little secret," Jiyong told him with a small smirk. He spotted Jiho's frown.
"Without sharing secret?"
Jiho slightly gritted his teeth. "Are you going to do anything with Jieun?"
Am I? Jiyong wondered. He was impressed with how quickly Jiho caught up to the situation. "I don't know. Maybe a little walk-around with her?"
"So it's a date?" Jiho asked again.
My, my. So many questions. Jiyong groaned and got ready to dispose his cigarette. "Not a date, Jiho. I wouldn't date a high school student."
"You don't know that." Jiho began to grow hostile. "You're a weird guy. Who knows, maybe you have a for liking high school girls."
Appalled, Jiyong blinked his eyes. He began to wonder how low Jiho thought his standards were. He watched Jiho's three friends lunge towards their bad-mouthed friend, covering his eyes, mouth and ears.
"He didn't mean it, King Kwon! We swear!" Wonshik declared.
"He's just a bit moody because he got another detention! It's nothing big! Really!" Changshik added.
"I…It's fine," Jiyong said. "Really, it's fine…"
Jiho, who was stumbling over his own shoes and struggling to push his friends away, finally managed to pry their hands off his face. He growled at them, glaring at the ones who had prevented him from thrownig more questions. He dusted his sleeves and stared back at Jiho.
"So?" Jiho asked. "When is it?"
Jiyong hadn't looked at the date. He pulled out the flyer, reading the messy handwriting on the paper.
"Oh," he said. "It's apparently tomorrow."
"Tomorrow, huh," Jiho muttered. He nodded his head. "Okay. Thanks. Come on, guys. We're leaving."
The three others whined, but they ended up following Jiho. They made their way up the hill, disappearing from Jiyong's vision.
Alone, Jiyong stared back at the paper. As he continued to read it, he heard the door open behind him. He didn't look back until he heard his manager's voice calling for him. When he did look back, the manager examined his face and scrunched his eyebrows.
"What's wrong, Jiyong?" the manager asked. "Do you feel ill?"
Jiyong paused, then pulled out some extra money he carried in his pocket. Faking a smile, he looked at the manager with a peculiar look that confirmed his bad mood.
"Manager," Jiyong started, "may I have the day off tomorrow? Oh, and can I buy the box of alcohol and some more cigarette packs…?"
Tomorrow, he wasn't going to go. He wasn't going to go and have some kids beat him up to death.
But tonight, he was going to dine. He was going to drink like a thirsty animal, smoke until the room was filled with layers of gray gas, and go crazy to the point where his mind would think that he had traveled to insanity. He was going to drink and smoke; he was going to embrace the night as if it was his last day of life.
Author's Note: I apologize for the long wait. I was going to update this last week, but I had the cram in some ACT time and fell too sick to write. I was feeling a bit better, so I decided to write. I'm hoping to get in another chapter soon as apologies for the long wait, but I can't make any promises on that. Hopefully it'll be longer than today's update because I feel that this update was too short, but it just might be me.
He was completely broken by the time he woke up.
He didn't know what time of the day (or what day of the month) it was, but when the sunlight blared into the small, dark room, he knew that it was day. The way the light tried to eat its way into the room, gobbling up the darkness told him that it was probably around noon, or whatever the brightest time of the day was. He was just about to get up until he felt something crack beneath the palm of his hand. Letting out a groan, he slowly raised his head, lifted his droopy eyes, and saw his hand bleeding from cutting the broken shards of the bottle.
Last night…Or two days ago—he couldn't remember—he had been drinking and smoking, feasting on his own thoughts as they drove him to an unbelievable state of pain. If he hadn't locked the doors, he was sure that he would've left the room and did something embarrassing and wild out in public. Maybe he would've met Chanyeol's friends and get knocked down early, so that he wouldn't have to go and be pummeled alone.
Although his mind went blank when he tried to think of his actions, he did remember dreaming. He had dreamt about being caged, with feathers falling on top of him. They were dull, soft feathers, but when they touched his hands, they turned to a remarkable color. Shades of white illuminated when they met his skin, glowing, but fading once the feathers dropped to the ground.
However, that dream had quickly turned to a nightmare when the feathers had turned to money. Thick, fat rolls of cash fell from the sky, and he was no longer caged in. He was outside of the cage, watching the feathers fall in there while money fell out at where he was. Eventually, the cash had stopped to Jiyong's height, nearly drowning him. He felt nothing below his feet, and all he could do was swim in the dreadful scent. He had woken up when he saw familiar faces—faces from his past—standing in the distant, opening their arms, waiting for him with odd smiles that freaked him out.
"Come back, Jiyong," they had chanted. It was then, when the chants got louder, Jiyong had woken up from his nightmare. Still, he didn't get up too suddenly. In fact, he was too dizzy from last night. The partial reason was that he had been dreaming his nightmares for quite some time that it wasn't surprising when they came back, but he decided to let that idea slide and go with the fact that his hangover didn't help him at all.
It's time to get up. Jiyong knew that. He kept repeating the phrase in his head, but his body wouldn't budge. Besides, there were so many glasses everywhere, he was sure that he would injure himself more if he moved.
There was a knock on the door. Jiyong slowly turned his head, staring at the door with confusion. A visitor? It was certainly not the neighbors; they were all too embarrassed or shy to greet each other. It couldn't be the manager, since he was working.
Oh, it must be one of the workers from work, Jiyong thought. Groaning, he picked himself up, but collapsed when his vision turned blurry to black. He moaned in pain, resting his forehead against the bloody hand. Dang it. The door's not even opened so I have to get up.
"I knew it. He moved," a soft voice muttered outside.
"Why would he move? The manager said that he was absent for just a few days. It could be that he just went out or something," a deeper voice commented.
A few days? Jiyong cursed himself, knowing that he had probably been sleeping off the alcohol. No wonder why he was so thirsty and hungry!
"Should we go?" the soft voice asked quietly.
"Well, I have to stay here. My manager told me to ask the landlord of Jiyong moved. You two can go and run along, now," another female voice said.
Who's manager…? Oh, this must be Minah, Jiyong thought. Then that means…
"W-Wait! I'll stay a bit longer," Jieun's voice stuttered.
"Wha…T-Then I'm staying, too," Jiho declared.
Jiyong pondered on his thoughts for a moment. Should he go out and greet the kids? Or should he wait it out, and continue resting here?
He flinched when he heard the door knob twist.
"Oh, the door's opened," he heard Jieun say.
They can't come in and see this, Jiyong thought. He cleared his throat, and with a scratchy voice, he said, "Coming, coming…"
The door knob stopped turning. It was this when he realized that the three wouldn't go and barge into his house. He cleared his dry throat again, and his chapped lips with his dry tongue.
"Can you guys drop by at the supermarket? It's at the curb to your right. Buy me some fruits. I'll pay back," Jiyong managed to say. While the kids would go grocery shopping, he planned to clean up and air out the room. He waited for a response.
"We'll be back in ten minutes," Jiho told him. Jiyong heard footsteps disappearing, fading into a distant echo.
With that, he slowly rose from the ground, and looked at the messy room. Oh gosh. There's a lot to clean…
* * *
By the time the three got back, they were surprised to see how cluttered the room was. However, in Jiyong's opinion, the room was a lot better than how it started off in the morning. The glasses were swept and thrown away in a garbage bag, and he aired out the room by opening the window and using an air freshener. For him, the scent of burning cigarettes went undetected. Still, to the teens with a more acute sense, they could still smell smoke lingering in the air.
"We brought over some oranges," Jieun said, handing him the bag of oranges. "The receipt is inside."
Jiyong had almost forgot about his earlier request. He thanked Jieun, pulled out the receipt, then took out some cash and handed to her. He told the three to take a seat at the center, where he had set up a small table. As the three went ahead and stepped inside, he took the bag and headed for the kitchen, where he found a knife to cut the oranges.
"Anyway, the manager's been asking about you," Minah said. "He was worried if you were sick."
Jiyong faked a cough. "Well, I'm feeling better. Tell him that I'll be back to work in about two days."
"How'd you get so sick?" Jiho asked, looking around the room. "This place smells like smoke. It reeks of alcohol."
"I had a few friends who came over yesterday. They wanted to celebrate, but it didn't end up too well. They went home drunk and broke my stove," Jiyong lied. He banged his knee against the weak stove, pretending as if he was directing the source of the smell towards the oven. The others flinched at the loud soound, and continued to remain quiet.
"You have friends?" Jiho retorted.
"Not close ones," Jiyong muttered. "I act like they don't exist."
"Really? Who are they?" Jiho inquired, raising his eyebrows as he watched Jiyong bring a plate of oranges to them.
"People you don't know. People who don't matter to you," Jiyong replied hurriedly. He turned to Minah. "Anyway, when are you done with your hours? Haven't you stayed long enough?"
Minah rolled her eyes. "Ugh, I ask myself that all the time! Apparently I have a few more hours left. I should be done by the end of this week or next week, depending on my attendance."
"You should just hurry and finish. I haven't seen you with your friends lately, too. Have you been hanging around with them at school?" Jiyong asked her.
Minah choked on an orange, earning a few awkward glances. "Um, yeah! Of course. I've been totally hanging around with them."
"That's good news. Did you have fun during the school fair?" Jiyong asked, the words slipping out his mouth subconsciously.
Hearing this, Jiho threw him an odd look. "What school fair?"
Jiyong froze, realizing that he had just let an unnecessary information slip out. Oops.
"Nothing," Jieun said quickly.
"We didn't have a school fair. Where the heck did you hear that?" Jiho asked, still scowling.
"Oh…You didn't? Well, that's strange. I just heard a few rumors floating around. I assumed that it was true," Jiyong said, trying to cover up his mistake.
"Y-Yeah! I mean, I don't know about you, but I've heard that a few girls talking about a school fair. They were just talking about it. T-That was all. Really! It was!" Minah stuttered. She tried to help cover the situation, but the way she stammered caused Jiho to be suspicious. He stared at her for a moment, his cold brown eyes boring deep into hers. She looked away in silence, unable to handle his strong gaze.
Jiho turned to Jieun, who pressed her lips and clenched her fist as she looked down to the ground, ashamed. He studied both girls' odd behavior, but he remained silent. He kept quiet for a whole minute until he suddenly recalled something. His orbs peered into Jiyong's, trying to dig out any truth just by looking. Unfortunately, Jiyong's face smile was enough to fool the rebel. Jiho lowered his defense, accepting the obvious lie.
"So was that why Jieun was crying at the fountain on the day you said you'd meet her?" Jiho asked softly.
Jiyong and Jieun widened their eyes, surprised from hearing such a comment. Jieun desperately faced Jiho, her tiny hands squeezing Jiho's arm.
"Please don't," she whispered to him. Fear was the only word that Jiyong was able to think when he spotted Jieun's despairing situation. The older man knew that Jieun felt guilty, and that she had probably cried because she was afraid that he would get hurt.
Then why did you keep telling me to go, idiot? Jiyong wondered, looking down at his feet.
"Jieun's always crying. There's no need to fret about something like that," Minah said ruthlessly, gritting her teeth. "I saw her crying yesterday at school, too."
"That's because you guys went too far!" Jiho began. "I'd be terrified if people treated me like a ghost! Really, you guys did too much. It wasn't only yesterday, either! You've been keeping up with this for an entire week!" He gave her a menacing look. "Why don't you grow up?"
Minah whirled around, angrily facing him. "No, why don't you grow up? Everyone knows that you're a total jerk. You can't study properly, you have no real friends, and you just don't fit with the class! You're like a piece of scrap that shouldn't belong!"
"At least I know how to treat people like a human being! I can't study? That's because those damn teachers can't teach. Plus, how am I able to study in an environment like this? It's only right me to do to as I want to do!"
"Ugh! You're being really annoying right now. Why can't you just go along with the group once?"
"Why can't you do the right thing for once?"
"You're impossible to do deal with!"
"No, you're impossible to deal with! Stand up for yourself!"
"No, no you're not! Stop acting like a leech and do something on your own for once!" He pointed out the door. "Friends? You call those group of bastards friends? What? Everyone knows that you're just a toy to them. The only reason why they let you hang out with you is because you're so useless to the point where you act desperate for attention. You—"
"You don't understand anything! You have no rights to say something like that to me! Me? A leech? So be that. Yes, I am a leech! Then what are you? You're just an animal ready to be extinct."
"At least I'm unique!"
"Then at least I'm surviving!"
"G-Guys, you shouldn't fight when you're at someone's house!" Jieun said hurriedly, running between the two.
Minah gave her a hot glare, causing Jieun to flinch. She glowered at Jiho, who also fought back by frowning right at her. After a while, she let out a sarcastic chuckle. She rose from her seat, her shoulders weary and her knees buckling.
"I'm a leech, huh?" Minah muttered. She looked at Jieun with cold eyes that Jiyong never imagined to see. "I don't understand why you don't consider her as a leech." She turned to Jiyong. "Yeah, I'm not coming back here. I'm going back to work, and I'm going to finish up my hours as soon as possible. After that, I'm not going to see you." She bowed. " Goodbye."
Jiyong didn't bother to chase after her or to comfort her. From his perspective, it seemed as if she really needed some personally space. He nodded his head towards her, and looked at her until she was out of the room.
A few minutes of silenced passed by. The room was filled with the sounds of chewing fruits and the clock ticking away. Jiyong liked the silence; it made him feel as if he was in a world where drama and noises never occurred. He helped himself to one piece of orange, chewing it until he realized the bitter texture of the oranges.
"Hey, this one's a bad orange," Jiyong said.
"What? They all taste the same to me," Jiho mumbled. He glanced at the time, then got up from his seat. "I got to go. Cram school." He paused, then looked at Jieun. "Shouldn't you be going, too?"
Jieun pressed her lips again. "I…I wanted to stay a bit longer…"
Jiyong glanced at Jiho, taking note of the younger man's shocked expression. He saw Jiho try to sit back down, but when he glanced at the clock, he realized that he couldn't stay for a few more minutes. With a hesitant expression, Jiho slowly nodded his head.
"Ah, sure. Just get back home safe, I guess," Jiho murmured to her. He looked at Jiyong, then glared at him. "Don't do anything funny!"
Jiyong raised his eyebrows. "I'm not!"
"Tch. Sure," Jiho responded, rolling his eyes. He focused his attention back on Jieun. "I'm going now, okay?"
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