Jieun gave him a tired smile. "Yeah. Bye…"
"See you." With that, Jiho left and stepped outside.
Jiyong froze as he saw Jieun sit across from him. She nervously took an orange, slowly biting into it. By now, Jiyong had cut all the oranges that she had bought him. He had some mixed feelings knowing that Jieun had planned to stay at his home a little longer. He thought that she would leave after she ate the rest of the oranges (there weren't very many), but he knew that at the rate which she was eating the food, it was going to be a while.
The two sat in silence, only eating or studying the environment. Jiyong waited patiently for Jieun to talk. The way she frantically glanced at him and brought her legs closer to her body told him that she wanted to say something, but it would take a while for her to gather up that courage.
Do I start talking first? Jiyong asked himself. Or should I let her talk and apologize to me first?
"I…" Jieun started, then stopped. She let out a sigh to herself, then awkwardly glanced up at Jiyong's emotionless features. "I… I know that I'm wrong here. I know that I'm the one who shouldn't have done that."
"Mhm," Jiyong replied.
She seemed surprised to hear such a short response because she looked up, eyes alert and wide. When she realized that Jiyong wasn't taking her seriously, she balled up her fingers into a fist.
"I… I'm really sorry! Really, I am! I should've told you that at some point, I was going to bring you to some part of the neighborhood where Chanyeol and his friends would beat you up. I should've told you, but I didn't. That was wrong of me," Jieun confessed. The words rolled off her tongue like a waterfall, spilling the truth out into the open world.
Jiyong sat still, then went to grab an orange. "Okay."
Jieun clenched her teeth. "I know you don't believe that I'm sorry, but I am! I am sorry from the bottom of my heart!"
"I understand that," Jiyong replied. He wasn't really sure where he was going with this. Just what did he want to hear from her? She was apologizing enough. Shouldn't he just let her off the hook?
But something stirred inside Jiyong's chest that caused him to push on his stubbornness. He was mad—more accurately ticked off—but he wasn't mad to the extent that he wouldn't accept her apology. There was just something he wanted from her…and he couldn't figure out what.
"I'm so sorry—"
"Jieun, I said that I understand. Just drop the topi—"
"No! You still didn't forgive me, yet. You might seat that this is all okay, but until I hear an apology, I can't stand this," Jieun explained, shifted her body uncomfortably.
Jiyong gave her a long stare. "I don't understand why you demand something from me, but you don't demand something from others."
Jieun gave him an alarmed look. "Wha—"
"You're able to apology, but you can't receive them from others. You're able to talk back, but you're not able to do that to others. You're doing what's right here, but you're doing everything wrong out there," Jiyong pointed out. He tilted his head a little to the right. "Why?"
Jieun didn't say a word. Instead, she had her eyes glued to Jiyong, her whole body stiff and nervous. She definitely didn't know the answer to his question. Was there even a proper answer for this? What should she say?
"I… I feel that I owe you a lot. I don't know, it doesn't feel like that's the answer, though. I just… I don't know, I feel like when I'm talking to you, I'm with an actual human being. Everyone out there… They're all monsters in my eyes, despite being human. From my perspective, you treat me with respect, and I'd like to return that respect to you." She paused for a minute. "It just feels like I'm taking part of society when I'm with you."
Jiyong's eyes grew big. There was a very odd, but familiar feeling crawling in his skin. He suddenly felt cold as if all the blood had drained away from his face. Turning pale, he studied Jieun's actions, praying that she wasn't heading towards the direction that he was thinking. The way she shyly looked away, her eyes moving around the room, and her fingers flexing and stretching made him absolutely terrified.
He quickly cleared his throat, catching Jieun's attention. I've got to change the subject.
"W-Well, you're forgiven. I forgive you a hundred percent," Jiyong told her. He got up when he realized that the tray was empty. "Anyway, I'm going to wash the dishes."
Jieun rose from her seat. "Let me help—"
"No!" he shouted, whirling around. Jieun froze, stunned from how he had raised his voice. She gave him a strange look, as if she was asking him if everything was alright.
His head throbbed in pain while he felt his heart pounding against his chest. He knew that he was still very pale, and it seemed as if he hadn't recovered from his hangover. Above all, he knew that whatever he said next would take him to a whole new detour in life. He bit his tongue, then turned away to put away the dirty tray into the sink.
"I-I mean… I shouldn't have yelled at you for that, but how could I let you wash the dishes? Besides, it's not much. I can take care of this," Jiyong told her.
Jieun slowly sat back down. "Ah… Y-Yes! Of course!"
The two became silent. The clocked ticked on, accompanied by the sound of running water from the sink. Jiyong quickly cleaned the dishes. As he had expected, it took him less than five minutes to finish cleaning. When he was done, he looked behind his shoulder and saw Jieun looking down, covering her eyes with her long hair.
Now that I think about it, I haven't really apologized for yelling at her, Jiyong realized. Plus, I didn't get to see her face clearly. Did she get more bruises or scars? Probably, since I didn't go at the designated area.
Guilt stabbed his chest, as he let the words slip out of his mouth. "Did Chanyeol do anything to you?"
Jieun looked up at him. To his satisfaction, there weren't any new bruises or scars. In fact, it looked like they were healing. Though when he looked closer, he realized that it could've been the makeup that he had bought her earlier that could've covered the sacred marks.
"C-Chanyeol? Why… Oh… No, he didn't," Jieun mumbled. Her hand moved towards her thigh. "He didn't do anything…"
Oh come on, he thought to himself, rolling his eyes mentally. That was totally a lie.
"So he hit you there? On your leg?" Jiyong asked.
Jieun flinched. "H-How did you—"
"You made it kind of obvious," Jiyong replied. "Can you walk?"
"Did you go to the hospital to get it checked?"
Jiyong sighed. "Of course. Why did I bother asking?"
Jieun bit her bottom lip. "I know that you lack faith in me, but this is going to get better one day. They always say that the underdog gets the best prizes later."
"Nothing gets better when you don't try to make it better, Jieun," Jiyong lectured her. "If you don't stand up now, it'll be harder to do that later."
She paused for a few seconds, then nodded her head. "I'll… I'll think about it."
He nodded back in response, then began walking towards her. He stopped when she saw her rise from her seat and dust off her skirt. She gave him a small smile.
"I should leave now. I've stayed too long," Jieun said. Jiyong only nodded again, and walked her out to the door.
When he opened the door for her, he felt a breeze of cold air rushing into the warm room. He sniffed, looking outside and watched last night's snow scattered all over the snow. A random truck passed by, and a few kids ran around the streets with a soccer ball. Her heard a bird chirp somewhere in the trees, and a dog happily bark somewhere around the neighborhood. He gently closed his eyes, and inhaled through his nose.
This was peace.
He brought his attention back to Jieun, who had just finished putting on her boots. She stepped outside the frost, but stopped to bow at Jiyong. She bid him a goodbye, and began walking away. Jiyong waved back and was about to close the door when he remembered that he didn't properly apologize. He opened the door wide, and poked his head outside the door and into the cold.
"Hey Jieun!" he yelled. Jieun, who was already at down at the base floor, looked up. "I'm sorry for shouting at you earlier!"
To his surprise, he saw a smile form on her lips. She giggled to herself, covering her lips with the back of her hand. She only bowed in response, nodding her head as if she had accepted her apology. He let out a sigh with a smile, but stopped when his keen eyes caught something.
He ran out into the snow, his upper body leaning over the second floor railings. Squinting his eyes, he studied her back carefully, noticing something peculiar from what he saw. Then, slowly, his eyes enlarged and he felt his heart stop from his new discover.
Jieun, still smiling, had her ears red. There was a little shade of red on her cheek, which only grew brighter when she smiled wider to herself.
In his head, he prayed that her ears were red from the cold, and not from anything else he wanted to be involved in.
Since the day he saw Jieun blushing at him, Jiyong couldn't take off the scene from his mind. He was deeply troubled to the point where he temporarily stopped smoking and drinking. Instead, he was in daze, often staring at the ceiling or rolling himself with a blanket at home. When he went to work, he managed to act like how he would every day, except his movements were more stiff and robotic than usual. It didn't take long for people around him to figure that something was wrong. The manager was especially worried about him, but he didn't say anything since he thought that Jiyong should willingly open up the topic.
It was after a week when Jiyong decided to talk about his problems. However, he didn't talk it over with the manager. Instead, he (kind of) talked it over with Minah, who was happily spending her last day at the store. He didn't want her mood to drop, but he knew that if he talked about Jieun, it would drop anyway. Besides, it was her last day. It wasn't like she was going to meet up with him or anything, right?
It was late at night, and Minah had an hour left until she was free from her service. A wide grin appeared on her face, as she anxiously tapped her foot against the floor. Her eyes kept glancing at the clock, wondering when time would speed up just for her sake. Jiyong, standing next to Minah behind the cash register, glanced towards her delighted expression.
"So…" he started, "how's school?"
"Absolutely perfect!" Minah responded enthusiastically.
"Always the best!" Minah exclaimed.
"Did you talk with Jiho? You guys did fight last week at my place—"
"Nope! He's a jerk, as always. I have nothing to be apologetic for," Minah declared. Her smile became smaller as she remembered her fight with the delinquent. "Besides, lately he's been hanging around Jieun and stuff…"
Jiyong flinched when he heard Jieun's name. "Speaking of Jieun, is she doing well? Are you still bullying her?"
Minah frowned. "Doing well? Her? Do you really expect her to be doing well? Chanyeol's going crazy over her!"
"Why? What happened?"
"Lately she's been giggling to herself, and Chanyeol has no freaking idea why. He's been asking her why she was so happy, but she just keeps pushing him away. Honestly, it's really annoying. She's acting like a girl in lo—"
Jiyong quickly put his hand over her mouth. "Don't say it! Don't say it!"
Minah, eyes wide, gave Jiyong a surprised look. She pushed away his hand, throwing it to his side. She uncomfortably scooted away from Jiyong, lowering her head as if she was warning him not to take a step closer. She continued to study him, but stopped when she realized a strange look on his face. With a deeper frown, she began to glare at him.
"Do you know anything about Jieun's situation?" Her face paled and she stopped frowning. "Did you do something to her?"
"No, no! It's just that I don't like that word, that's all," Jiyong lied, looking down at his hands.
Minah continued to stare. "Lately, it seems like you're avoiding her. You leave early and she comes late. I know this because I have to take over your night shifts sometimes, and I see her. She's always asking for you, too."
"She left her scarf at my house," Jiyong lied again. "That's why she's asking for me."
"Chanyeol's been talking about you, too. Other kids don't know who you are, but he's been talking about what a jerk you are. He makes you seem so bad, people are wondering if Jieun met you and if she was influenced by you. Rumors are going around that she's two-timing with Chanyeol and Jiho. Others are convinced that she's dating Chanyeol, Jiho, and an older fat man," Minah explained. She smiled to herself. "The girls are waiting for Jieun to break up with Chanyeol. Honestly, the only reason why she's in the center of attention is because she is Chanyeol's girlfriend. If it wasn't for that, then she would've been a total—"
"I think that Chanyeol and Jieun should continue dating," Jiyong said quickly. He wasn't sure if he meant it, but he knew that if the two continued dating, then he wouldn't have to worry about Jieun having a crush on him.
The two heard a loud thud! on the counter. They looked up and saw Jiho holding out his empty hand. They looked down at his feet, where there was a bottle of water and a few snacks. Minah, seeing him, cringed as she tried to avoid eye contact. Jiho, snapping out of his thoughts, bent down to quickly gather items. He slowly walked over to the counter, putting down the items while glowering at Jiyong.
Oh boy, Jiyong thought, forcing a tight smile. He swiftly placed the items in a bag and calculated the price. Before he could even say another word, Jiho decided to open his mouth.
"I thought you were on Jieun's side," Jiho said.
"I am," Jiyong replied awkwardly. "I mean, she really wants to be with Chanyeol. I remember her telling me that she wanted to marry him, too."
"But he's not good for her. She's way too good for him," Jiho argued.
"But he makes her happy—"
"He makes her cry more."
"Tears of joys! Have you heard of that?"
Jiho balled up his fingers into a fist. "There is no love when violence takes part in romance!"
Those words snapped Jiyong out of his simple-minded thoughts. He stared at Jiho with a blank face, almost puzzled at first. His mouth opened to say something, but the words refused to slip out. He couldn't think of a reply, and when Jiho knew that he was stumped, he grew even more furious. Angrily swiping the bag Minah had put his stuff in, he slammed down some cash on the counter.
"Keep the damn change," Jiho muttered. He stormed out of the store, disappearing into the streets.
The manager walked over, scratching his head. He looked at the direction Jiho left with a frown. Clicking his tongue, he shook his head and placed his hands on his hips.
"Teenagers. What did you say to him to make him that mad? Honestly, I thought he was a decent kid, but after what I just saw today? Nope, that guy just got knocked off from my list," the manager said, slightly disappointed.
"Did you hear what we said?" Jiyong asked softly. The manager shook his head. "Then I ask for you not to judge the boy. This was my fault. I said the wrong things."
"Wrong things?" The manager faced Jiyong. "I can never imagine you saying something bad. Are you tired?"
"No, no! I'm not tired. Something just happened, that's all," Jiyong replied quickly.
His manager continued to stare at him for a few minutes. "You know, Jiyong, if you need to talk to someone, I can always lend you an ear. If you don't want to discuss it with me, I know someone who's a very good listener and will never tell your secret."
Jiyong laughed. "Is that so? There's always some way to spill out a secret, though. I don't really trust those types of people."
The manager gave him a weak smile and turned away. "Oh, there is someone like that. Just say something, and I can arrange a quick appointment between the two of you."
"Thank you for the offer, sir. I'll take it into consideration," Jiyong replied.
"Manager, can I leave early?" Minah asked eagerly. "I'm only a few minutes until my last shift ends!"
"You're working until that last second of that clock. Don't try to get off early. I'm not going easy on you, even though it's your last time stepping in here," the manager said.
Minah groaned, slumping back on the stool as her eyes followed the clock: Tick, tock, tick, tock…
* * *
"Yes! Freedom at last!" Minah cried out, stretching her arms when she stepped outside.
Jiyong fixed up his coat, then closed the door behind him. Through the clear windows, he bowed politely to the manager, who remained in the store with another employee. Rather than bowing, Minah turned around and stuck her tongue at the manager, earning a glare from the old man. She laughed loudly and scurried off. Jiyong sighed, and quickened his pace in order to catch up with her.
His task was simple: Walk Minah to the bus station, then walk straight back home to sleep.
The two walked slowly, inhaling the frosty air and complaining about the thin layer of snow below them. They kept walking, exchanging a few words here and there whenever they thought that they should start a topic. The topic would die a second later, though, since the responses were mainly "yes" or "no."
After a curious look, Minah decided to blurt out a question. "Do you have a girlfriend, Jiyong?"
Jiyong choked on his own spit. "W-What?"
"Valentine's Day is coming soon. I was just wondering if you had a girlfriend. Are you getting any chocolates from someone special?" Minah asked. She grinned. "Guess who I'm giving my chocolates to?"
"Do I have to guess?" Jiyong asked, knowing that she was talking about Chanyeol. "Besides, doesn't Chanyeol already have a girlfriend? Wouldn't Jieun give him some chocolate?"
"Yeah, but the girls still give their chocolates to him, anyway. We can't beat Jieun's chocolates, though. Her chocolates are amazing. Last year, she made this chocolate cake and it was so moist and rich! Everyone else had given him a chocolate bar or some truffles, but nothing could beat her cake. Gosh, the girls were so annoyed at her. We basically melted a whole lot of chocolate and poured it over her textbooks." A smirk formed on her lips. "Now that I think about it, I wonder how much that cost her…"
"Do you not feel guilty?" Jiyong asked. "I mean, you've hung out with her for a little bit. Don't you feel weird hanging out with her while doing all this?"
"For your information, I wasn't 'hanging around' with her. No, I would never do that in a million years! I'd only do that if I was desperate," Minah said.
"Really? Then what do you consider going to a movie with us, hanging over at my house, and having lunch with everyone?" Jiyong questioned her, raising his brow.
Minah shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. It's not hanging out, though."
Jiyong sighed, knowing that it was pointless to continue the conversation. He decided to move on, hoping that Minah would be more responsive if we went back to the previous topic.
"So, Valentine's Day, huh? I don't have a girlfriend. Besides, I'm not getting any chocolates," Jiyong told her.
"That must be a joke. Don't you get some chocolates from some stranger?" She stopped for a second. "Have you ever gotten chocolates on Valentine's Day before?"
"I got some from my mom—"
"Besides your family members or any relatives," Minah said sharply.
Jiyong frowned and covered his mouth and nose with his scarf. "I had a ton of chocolates from my classmates when I was in middle school and high school. In college, I got some chocolates from stranger, but there was only one box of chocolate that I would eat because…" He paled. "I…I just ate that one box. No big reason behind it."
Minah scowled. "Ugh, you seem like those popular guys who gets everything without caring about it. Kind of like Chanyeol, except he's an exception because he already has a girlfriend."
"Are you only going to give chocolates to Chanyeol?" Jiyong asked.
"I'm giving some love chocolates to Chanyeol. I can make you some pity chocolates, though. I'm planning to make a prank chocolate for the manager. Wait until he tastes wasabi filing when he bites into my truffles!" Minah snickered, and rubbed her hands together. "Oh, and don't worry. You were pretty good to me, so I'll make you normal chocolates."
Jiyong faked a laugh. "Yeah, I'm good without chocolates." He paused. "How about Jiho?"
Minah flinched at his name. "W-Who?"
"Jiho. He hung out with us, remember? You guys fought a couple of times, too. Maybe you can make some apology chocolates or something," Jiyong pointed out.
She faked a laugh. "Chocolates? For him? No, no, no. I can never."
"Because it's him."
"I can't make chocolates for him! He'd probably throw it away or something. Besides, he never accepts chocolates." Minah's eyes softened. "He only eats one person's chocolate and that's it…"
Jiyong could hear a tone of envy. She seemed upset, but she seemed more jealous over that particular person she didn't dare to name.
"I'm sure he'll take it. Jiho's not that type of a guy."
"How would you know that? You hardly know him. Plus, I just saw you get into a fight with him."
Jiyong gave her a small smile. "That was my fault. I need to apologize to him for that."
"Okay, but that doesn't explain that you're speaking for his action without knowing his true personality."
"That kid… Jiho's kind of like me. Whenever I see him, he reminds me of how I was like before," Jiyong tried to explain. "That's why I'm sure that he'll forgive you if you apologize. Givin him some chocolates would be like a bonus."
Minah scoffed. "That's just adult talk. You guys know nothing! Sometimes, I wonder if you guys were really kids in the first place."
Jiyong chuckled. "That's okay. Sometimes, I wonder if I was a kid, too."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing, nothing. Oh look, we're here."
The two looked up and saw the bus stop. As if on cue, the bus slowly came rolling in, eventually stopping right in front of them. Minah was just about to get on until she stopped climbing the stairs. She bit her bottom lip, then turned around.
"Do you really think he'll take my chocolate?" Minah asked Jiyong.
Jiyong widend his eyes in surprise. "Well, that's what I assume—"
"Yes, or no?"
Jiyong kept quiet. Then, taking a deep breath, he held up his chin and looked at her with firm eyes.
"Yes." It wasn't right for him to answer for Jiho, but the girl seemed desperate.
Minah gave him an awkward smile, then nodded her head. "I think you're too optimistic. You just gave a little girl some false hope."
She bowed at him, continued climbing the steps, paid for her ride, and disappeared into the deeper parts of the bus.
Jiyong stood still, watching the door close and the bus drive away. When he saw the bus disappear at the corner of the street, he sighed and began to walk to the direction he came from. As he heart his boots crunch the snow beneath him, his mind wandered off the the snowy weather and the starry sky.
Maybe I should make some chocolates, too, he wondered. Silence overlapped his thoughts, and worries drifted from his shoulders. He gently closed his eyes, inhaling and exhaling the night's refreshing air.
Alone and in the dark, Jiyong found himself at peace.
* * *
"Damn it, you're so annoying! Stop giggling to yourself! You sound like a freaking idiot!" Chanyeol hollered. He tried to throw his textbook at Jieun, who was in the kitchen. He stopped himself when he saw Jieun flipping through some pages from her kitchen book. He glared at her. "You better not be making me chocolate cake. I told you, you can't make the same thing twice and you have to be better than the other girls! Gosh, just telling you this makes my head hurt…"
"Sorry," Jieun said, biting her bottom lip. "I'll be more careful."
Chanyeol glared at her. He wanted to wipe away the smug look she had on her lips. She was happy—way too happy.
"Chanyeol, what do you think of cupcakes?" Jieun asked, her eyes still glued on the pages.
"I just said that I don't want anything that has to do with cakes—"
"Oh, this isn't for you. It's for someone else," Jieun said. "Don't worry, I have something else for you already. Hm… How about a fudge cake? No, that won't do…"
Happy. She just looked so, so happy. Why was she so happy? Why? What made her smile all the time? Even he couldn't make her smile like that. Happy? Why was she grinning? What was so funny? What was going on in that little bird brain of hers?
Chanyeol dragged his body away from the couch. The veins in his fist boiled, and he couldn't keep his fist from shaking. He stormed over to Jieun, then grabbed a handful of her hair with his other free hand. She attempted to scream until Chanyeol slapped her cheeks.
"Didn't—" A hit. "—I—" A punch. "—Say—" She fell. "—To Stop—" He released her hair. "—Smiling?"
Without mercy, he kicked her arm, causing her to yelp in pain. He lunged forward, grabbing her wrist and twisting it just enough for her to feel pain without sereverely harming her. Jieun looked up at him with fear, her eyes wide and her whole body trembling at the thought of another long, painful night that she would have to bear with.
Jiyong woke up when he heard the doorbell ring. He kept quiet, snuggling closer to his warm blanket. When he heard someone knock rapidly against the door, he sighed and rose from his bed, knowing that whoever was at the door was desperate. He got on his two feet, stretched his arm, yawned, then lazily dragged himself over to the door. He unlocked the door, opened it, and was surprised to find Minah there.
"Good morning, Minah," Jiyong said, too tired to ask her why she was here. For some reason, he felt like he was used to kids coming to his house lately.
"Why isn't the shop open? Valentine's Day isn't a holiday for you guys to take a break!" Minah cried out. She raised her bag. "I have chocolate to give to the manager!"
"The manager goes to the hospital on these kinds of day. He also said that he had to go to a graveyard," Jiyong explained.
Minah frowned. "The graveyard? On Valentine's Day?"
"Yeah. Don't ask me why. I don't know the reason, either. Do you want to come in?" Jiyong asked.
"Mhm. It's cold out here, and I've been walking around for hours!" Minah cried out. She looked down at her watch, then back up at Jiyong. "Did you just wake up? It's already in the afternoon."
"I had to run some late shift. Things got a bit busier since you aren't around. The manager's been thinking of hiring an extra employee just so that I won't be so tired anymore. I keep telling him that I'm find, but I guess I don't look fine enough to convince him," Jiyong said. He stepped aside to welcome her into his room. She walked in as if she had been living here for years. "Anyway, did you just finish school? You're in your uniform."
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