Minah looked down at her black uniform. which consisted of a white colored-shirt covered with a black blazer. She was also wearing a knee-length red-and-blue checkered skirt. Her legs were covered with some socks that came up just below her knee. She smiled to herself and twirled around a bit.
"Doesn't the uniform fit me? I picked this school just because the uniform was so cute!" she exclaimed.
"It looks the same with any other girl, doesn't it? I see tons of people wearing clothes like that," Jiyong bluntly replied.
Minah glared at him. "It seems like you want some bad chocolate, hm?"
He laughed while closing the door behind him. "No thank you!" He stopped smiling when she pulled out a box of chocolate. "Did you really get me some chocolate?"
"Of course. You helped me a lot when I was working under that old man. Here," she said, handing him a box. "It's the least I could do."
Jiyong paused and stared down at the chocolate. It was an expensive brand, and he wondered how on earth Minah could get such an expensive box of chocolate. Was she rich, or did she steal this?
"My uncle owns this place, so he gave it to me for free," Minah explained after noticing how skeptical Jiyong was. "Take it. I have a ton of chocolate at home, too."
"But this is really expensive. Are you sure—"
"When someone gives you something, you take it. It's okay as long as you give your thanks and if you really mean it," she said. When Jiyong didn't take the chocolate, she sighed and grabbed his hand, slamming the box onto his palm. "I said take it, okay?"
Jiyong bit his tongue, opening the lid. "I know, but—"
He paused when he saw that the box was actually full of messed up chocolate truffles. They were all bent and out of shape; none of them were the kind of perfect sphere that would appear in a fancy box like the one he was holding. He closed the gold lid and looked at Minah, who gave him a cheesy smile.
"Surprise! My friend just gave me the box. The actually chocolates are homemade," Minah said, still smiling. "Surprised, huh? I got the same box for the manager, except his looks all fancy. The only thing with his is that I put hot sauce! Wasabi was too hard to find at night."
Jiyong was just about to make a comment until he heard the door knock. He heard a few whispers and hushes, and he was just about to open the door until he heard a loud bang! against the door. It was like a large bird had crashed against his door. Acting casual, he opened the door, and was shocked to find the three delinquents standing in front of his door.
Of course, they were accompanied by Jiho.
"King Kwon!" Wooshik exclaimed. He bowed, and his friends followed. Jiho refused to greet him and only looked away, gritting his teeth in annoyance.
"King Kwon, we got you some chocolate!" Kyungsoo announced, sticking out his small chocolate bar out.
"Aren't the girls supposed to give you guys chocolate?" Jiyong asked, smiling while leaning against the door.
"King Kwon, you have won our respect, and we couldn't find a better day that would show our appreciation than today. Please accept our chocolate!" Changshik said, handing out an identical bar of chocolate.
"Wait! Choose mine, first!" Wooshik exclaimed, pushing away Changshik and Kyungsoo. The three began to push around each other, struggling to extend their hand and give the respected adult some chocolate.
It didn't take long for Jiyong to know that this would take a while. He quickly stepped aside, gesturing them to come in. The three stopped fighting, and held their breaths as they saw the small room. Their eyes stopped glowing when they saw Minah, who was already inside, sitting down on the ground. She tried to bow at the three since they were her seniors at school, but was surprised when they looked away and pouted at Jiyong.
"King Kwon, why do you have her in your room?" Kyungsoo sadly looked down at his chocolate bar with his friends. "Were we too late to be the first one to give you our chocolate?"
"Um, uh… Well, yeah, I did get chocolates from her. She's just hanging around a bit," Jiyong said. "Why don't you all come in?"
Their eyes glowed again. They were all hesitant, wondering if it was okay to go into Jiyong's little home. Getting annoyed, Jiho pushed all his friends aside and barged inside. He shot a glare at Jiyong, still bitter about what had happened a while back.
Taking this chance, he patted Jiho's hair, messing it up. "Sorry, Jiho. What I said back then was awful. I have no idea what came over me that time. Forgive me?"
Jiho narrowed his eyes. "How do I know that I can trust you?"
Jiyong forced a small grin. "Have you ever trusted me before?"
The boy paused. "No, but—"
"Just go inside, Jiho!" Changshik cried out, pushing the boy in. Jiho yelped and crashed to the ground. When he saw Minah, he quickly got up and dusted off his clothes. Ignoring her, he turned to the boys and glared at them.
"What was that for?" Jiho asked, raising his voice. He was completely ignored when the three slowly walked in, taking in the new feeling of stepping inside a whole new place.
Awed and flabbergasted, the three wandered around the home, even though there was hardly any space to wander. Jiyong closed the door behind him, breaking into a weak smile. He glanced at Jiho, trying to figure out if he was forgiven or not. Jiho glanced back at him, shot him a small glare, then took a seat at the center of the room near where Minah was at. The other three boys copied exactly what Jiho did, and they sat down with great posture, trying to impress Jiyong.
Jiyong walked into the kitchen, checking the fridge to see if he had anything for the kids to eat. When he saw nothing in his fridge, he walked over to his cabinet, only to find two small bag of chips and a half-filled box of crackers. He pulled out the items from the cabinet, grabbed a plate, and began to dump all the snacks on one plate. He took one bite of potato chips, then walked out of the kitchen to give the snacks to the teenagers. He gently placed the plate at the center, and everyone began to reach for the snacks.
At that moment, he heard the door bell ring again. He let out a deep sigh to himself, then ran his fingers through his messy hair. He looked down at the kids, who gave him a curious stare.
"It seems that I have a lot of guests," Jiyong commented. Laughing lightly, he walked over to the door. Opening it, he found Jieun standing in front of the door.
The first thing he noticed was a scarf she used to cover her lips and nose. It was hard to see at first, but when he saw her lift her head stiffly with a smile, he could see exhaustion written all over her face. Her right eye was swollen, obviously bruised.
"Hello," Jieun greeted, trying to smile. He would've had trouble recognizing her happiness if it wasn't for the tone of her voice.
What happened to your face? was the first question running through his mind. Instead, he decided to keep quiet and have that topic be opened when she was comfortable with telling him. "Good afternoon, Jieun. It's been a while."
"Y-Yes, it has. I just wanted to give you this…" She reached down her school bag and pulled out a delicately wrapped gift bag. The clear wrapper showed two dark and rich cupcakes. "Happy Valentine's Day…"
The thought of her having a crush on him was completely off his mind. All he was worried about was her new bruise and her stiff movements. He stepped aside, almost hesitating to bring her in.
"Would you like to come in?" Jiyong asked her quietly. Jieun struggled to nod, and when she did, Jiyong gently grabbed her arm and pulled her inside the house. He closed to door, and helped Jieun take off her scarf.
An ugly shade of murky purple decorated her neck, almost scaring him. When she took off her mittens, there was a strange red pattern around her wrist, almost like finger prints. Her cheeks were slightly sore, and there was a small cut on the corner of her lips. He helped her to the center, and was surprised when she resisted a bit. Her eyes were on the box of chocolate Minah gave her, and for some strange reason that Jiyong couldn't figure out, it seemed to have troubled her. Eventually, Jieun sat down, wanting to nibble on a cracker.
He was silently surprised at how awkward the atmosphere was. Minah nervously glanced at Jiho, who was looking at Jieun with pain. She kept looking back and forth between her bag and Jiho, and Jiyong assumed that she had made some chocolates for Jiho, too. However, Jiho was far too busy studying Jieun to notice Minah. His eyes were stuck on Jieun's scars and bruises, and he almost looked angry at himself as if he wanted to do something about her situation.
On the other hand, Jieun was staring at Minah's "expensive" box of chocolates. Her eyes eventually met with Jiyong, who was wondering why she seemed so anxious and disappointed. Her cheeks slightly turned red, and she looked away.
"Aw, man! King Kwon, you're amazing! You got two chocolates from girls! You must be really popular with the ladies!" Kyungsoo exclaimed.
Wooshik whispered. "King Kwon, I never knew that you were such a player! Maybe I should start flirting with the girls in our class…"
Jiyong let out an awkward laugh. "No, no. Guys, these are just chocolates without any romantic feelings."
"But you know what's funny? These two girls gave their chocolates to the same guy today, too!" Changshik mentioned. "Maybe you're being played?"
Jieun looked surprised and she stared at Minah. "You gave chocolate to my boyfriend?"
Minah remained calm. "Of course. All the girls in our class did that."
"A-All of them?" Jieun looked confused, but she was deeply hurt.
"Come on, Jieun! It's Chanyeol, for crying out loud! He's such a sweet boy, it's almost sinful to not give him chocolates!" Minah cried out.
"Can you just shut up?" Jiho snapped.
Minah bit her tongue. "Why? She should know about this. For a girlfriend who doesn't know that her boyfriend was accepting chocolates from other girls, it's kind of pathetic for her."
"I said to shut up!" Jiho shouted. "Plus, that guy already has a girlfriend. Why would you even try to give him chocolates? You're just being disrespectful to their relationship!"
"As if you supported their relationship!" Minah yelled back. "I just saw you a few weeks ago getting all mad at Jiyong for supporting her relationship with Chanyeol."
That statement made Jiho clamp his mouth shut. He gritted his teeth, unable to say anything back. He grabbed a handful of his snack and shoved it in his mouth, loudly crunching on the snacks with his teeth.
Jiyong decided to change the topic. "So, how was school today? Did anyone get any chocolate from someone?"
The group remained quiet. The atmosphere was bad enough, and just by mentioning school, Jiyong had failed to lighten up the mood. He met eyes with Minah, who seemed to be struggling with her situation. He curiously glanced at the bag sitting next to her. She looked down, realized that Jiyong was telling her to give the chocolates to Jiyong, and quickly shook her head. The two continued to repeat the same action for a few minutes: gesture, refuse, gesture, refuse.
Finally, when Minah realized that there was no way for the topic to go anywhere else but an apology, she reached into her bag. She inhaled through her nose, then exhaled quietly.
"Does Chanyeol really accept those chocolates?" Jieun interrupted.
Minah looked up, a bit shocked that Jieun was still on the same topic as before. "W-Well, yeah—"
"Does he really?" she asked, pressing her lips. "I mean, how does he accept them? Does he accept them like he's friends, or is he interested—"
"Can you just let this conversation go already?" Minah asked tiredly. "You're the only one who wants to know the details."
"Woah, woah, woah! That's being a mean girl right there!" Wooshik called out, pointing at Minah with his index finger. "King Kwon has both the mean girl and the weak girl wrapped all around his fingers!"
Jiho glared at him. "Can you just shut up? Jieun's not weak!"
"Dude, we already know that you're moody because you got no chocolates today," Kyungsoo said, munching on a snack with a smile.
"So? As if you guys got any. I already got some from Jieun, and that's all the chocolate I'll need from anyone!" Jiho declared. He looked at Jieun, who gave him a slightly surprised expression. Embarrassed by his statement, his ears turned red. To cover himself up, he pulled his black hood over his head and looked down at the ground.
Jiyong watched Minah from the corner of his eyes. He saw the chocolate box she was about to give Jiho: a beautifully wrapped pink box with a perfect golden ribbon tied around it. Turning slightly pink, she pushed in the chocolate back into the bag and placed the bag to her side, trying to forget about her attempt to give the boy some chocolate. Feeling dejected, she looked away, curling herself into a small ball while trying to hide her pink cheeks with her knee.
Ah, what a pity, Jiyong thought, mentally shaking his head. Valentine's Day was ruined for everyone sitting under the dark atmosphere. He examined everyone carefully, watching their next steps and waiting for someone to say something. What he did notice, though, was that everyone was looking at him, anxiously hoping that he would come up with a new topic that would push away the murky cloud above them.
For some reason, he refused to continue the topic. He didn't like the awkward tension between everyone, but he felt like if he did get involve, all he would be doing was push people around, making them say things that they either mean (like Jiho) or things that they didn't mean at all (like Minah). Either way, all Jiyong could talk about was how their school was and what was going on with their lives. He was lucky to find the three other delinquents' company, but they seemed to want to leave.
He paused, then pondered on his thoughts. School. All he had been asking them was school. He did remember talking about other topics, but they always linked back to school, and it was definitely a topic that the kids didn't like talking about. However, he had always pushed them to the direction of school, talking about how great it was when these kids were living in completely different lives than he had been living in.
"King Kwon? King Kwon!" Changshik shouted. Jiyong snapped out of his thoughts and looked up, only to realize that everyone else was staring at him.
"W-What?" Jiyong asked, still feeling a bit dazed.
"I asked you if you had a girlfriend when you were our age," the boy repeated. He held his breaths. "Was she pretty?"
"I did date a few girls back then, but my relationships never went as far to Valentine's Day. Usually around this month, I would be single and random girls would give me chocolate," Jiyong told them. He laughed to himself. "But I did have a really nice girlfriend back when I was still a college student. She was terrible at cooking, so what would happen was that I would make chocolates for her on Valentine's Day."
"You cook?" Jiho asked, widening his eyes.
"I can cook if I want to, but I get too lazy. Besides, I was making chocolates. That's more like making deserts rather than cooking," Jiyong replied.
"C-Can we eat some of your chocolates, King Kwon?" Wooshik asked.
"I don't have choco—"
"Use the chocolate bar we bought for you!" Kyungsoo encouraged. "Please? We want to eat your chocolate!"
Jiyong gave them a small smile. "I'd rather not. You guys bought this chocolate for me to eat. Maybe I'll make you guys something better than chocolates."
"King Kwon, what can be better than chocolates?" Changshik asked.
"Maybe a party? Well, that depends on how much money I save, though," Jiyong said.
The boys got all excited. They were about to keep talking until they heard Changshik's phone ring. Everyone kept quiet and waited for Changshik to answer his phone. When he did, he rambled on for a few minutes, often sounding annoyed at the person on the other line. His eyes widened for a moment, and after a few more words, he hung up. He got up on his feet and grabbed his bag.
"Where are you going, Changshik?" Kyungsoo asked.
"I forgot to feed Boss and apparently, we ran out of cat food at home," Changshik said. He stared at Jiyong's puzzled look. "The cat we saved, King Kwon. We named it Boss, remember?"
"Oh, right," Jiyong remembered, nodding his head. "You know what, Changshik? It's nice to see you taking responsibility like this. It really shows that you're a responsible person,." He whispered to himself while turning away: "Even if you forgot to feed the cat."
Hearing the earlier praise, Kyungsoo and Wookshik became envious. The two got up, claiming that they were going to help take care of the cat along with Changshik. The three eventually drove each other out of the house, running and slipping outside on the ice whenever they tried to rush towards Changshik's house.
Seeing the boys leave, Minah got up and grabbed her belongings. She looked down at the last box of chocolate she had in her bag, then glanced at Jiyong. Jiyong motioned her to give it to Jiho now, but she shook her head and sighed to herself.
"I should be going, too," Minah said.
"I'll go with you," Jiho told her, also getting up. "The crowd's gone, and I need to go home to get something."
Minah stared at him, surprised. "W-Why are you coming along?"
"What do you mean 'why'? You should know why," Jiho said.
She became sorrow, as if she understood what he was saying. She walked out of the door, thanking Jiyong for welcoming her inside. While Minah waited outside for Jiho, he glanced at Jiyong, then back at Jieun, who was still on the floor.
"Are you not going home?" Jiho asked curiously.
"Huh? Me?" Jieun bit her bottom lip and shook her head. "Not yet. I'll go home soon, though…"
Jiho continued to stare. "You sure you'll be okay with this old man here?"
"Hey, hey, hey," Jiyong called out. "I'm not old, and I'm a perfectly nice guy."
The young boy rolled his eyes. "Whatever. You're still a pathetic old guy to me."
Jieun let out a small giggle. This caused Jiho to turn bright red. Jiyong stared at him in amusement, slowly understanding what the situation was. The young man bid a "goodbye" to Jieun, then left to go home with Minah. When Jiyong saw them disappear at the corner of the street, he turned around and looked at Jieun, who was still sitting down.
"So when do you plan to go home?" Jiyong asked, closing the door behind him.
Jieun kept quiet. Understanding that she wasn't planning to go home soon, Jiyong silently nodded his head and locked the doors. He looked at Jieun again, who continued to remain emotionless. Just by sitting there, she kind of looked like a beaten rag doll that struggled to hold its head up because the neck was too skinny to help keep it up.
"Well, since you're going to stay for a while…" Jiyong walked over to the kitchen and pulled out two coffee stick packs. "Would you like coffee or something else…?"
* * *
At nine at night, the two began to eat dinner at Jiyong's little home. They had finished a cup of coffee in silence, and Jiyong couldn't do anything but just patiently wait for her to speak. Every time he saw Jieun, he saw her lips move, but when she met his eyes, her mouth was shut and she would only drink her coffee in the awful silence. After they had finished their drinks, Jiyong could only ask if she wanted pizza for dinner, to which she had responded with a nod.
So, the two were sitting down on the floor, sharing a box of large pizza with a liter of soda.
Man, I wish she would leave, Jiyong thought, glancing at the clock. He was getting a bit tired, but he couldn't say that when Jieun was around. After all, her facial expression seemed to be more worn out as the minutes passed, and she seemed exhausted to the point where she almost struggled with eating the pizza.
"Jieun, are you planning to go home any time soon?" Jiyong asked.
She didn't respond.
"Then are you ever going home?"
She refused to say anything.
Jiyong sighed. "Jieun, do you even want to go home?"
"My boyfriend might be cheating on me," Jieun finally whispered. Jiyong wanted to get up on his feet and cheer about how he finally made her talk. However, the pain in her voice and the way she seemed like she was going to cry chained him to his spot.
"You don't really know that—"
"Yeah, but Minah just confirmed half of it," she pointed out. She finally looked up with water eyes. "Why would he accept chocolates from other girls? Am I still dating him?"
"He might be accepting them out of kindness," Jiyong said. "I'm pretty sure that he really likes what you've made him."
Jieun cringed. "Does he? Does he really like what I've made? Does he even like me?" She looked down at the chocolates Minah had left behind. "I bet you prefer her chocolates instead of mine, don't you?"
"What? I don't prefer anyone's chocolates over—"
"What do I do when I go home? Can I even open up this topic to him?" Jieun clenched her teeth. "He would be so angry if he found out! How can I open such a topic to him?"
"Jieun, can I ask you what you even like about Chanyeol?" he asked.
She paused. She looked away, pressing her lips, thinking hard about his question. Then, she bit into her pizza with a funny looking smile.
"I liked how we would cuddle on the sofa and just watch movies all day. I liked going outside and holding his hands, walking side by side. Oh! I really liked it whenever he stroke my hair and told me that I was beautiful, and that he would love me no matter what would happen. He was always so soft and gentle… He made me blush and my heart would go wild whenever I saw him at school. But…" Her smile faded. "One day, our parents found out about our relationship. My parents didn't like him and said that he was a bad influence, while his parents didn't like me because I didn't have much to offer. So when he asked me to run away with him, I was the happiest girl in the world!"
"But I bet you don't cuddle on the sofa anymore," Jiyong said. "I bet you don't go outside and you're always lagging behind him. I bet he doesn't stroke your hair but just beats you up, abusing—" She gave him a sharp look. "—telling you words that you don't really want to hear. I bet he's not so soft and gentle anymore, and that he makes you go pale and your heart only races from the fear of seeing him."
Her eyes saddened. "But I still love him…"
"Do you? I'm sorry to say this, Jieun, but it always seems like you've loved the previous Chanyeol. It doesn't feel like you love him for the kind of man he is now." He looked down at his pizza. "People change, and they change for the worse or better. It just happens that your boyfriend changed for the worse."
"But why?" Jieun asked. "Why did it have to be Chanyeol?"
"Why do anyone change?" Jiyong questioned her. "Maybe he's not satisfied, or maybe he's too fulfilled. I wouldn't know what kind of guy he is. Maybe I'm not seeing the Chanyeol you're used to seeing. I see Chanyeol as this guy who's been messing around with people I know."
"But…" Tears began to trickle down her cheeks. Jiyong widened his eyes, clearly shocked to see her cry. "I don't want to go home… I don't want to go home!"
"H-Hey! Hey, kid! Listen to me, okay? Calm down!" Jiyong exclaimed.
Jieun wouldn't stop crying. She was crying rivers, the tears falling down and splashing onto the ground, forming small pundles in front of her knees. Her nose became runny, but Jiyong fixed that up when he found a nearby napkin and helped clean herself up. Why was she getting so emotional right now? What was he supposed to do? He wasn't familiar with handling crying girls!
"Jieun, stop crying! Get ahold of yourself!" he said, raising his voice.
"I-I-I-I'm trying…!" Jieun wailed. However, nothing was able to stop her from crying. Jiyong scratched his head, clearly confused more than ever.
But wait, did he have to stop Jieun from crying? Wasn't it best for her to cry and let all those tears that she had been coping up inside of her flood out? She had suffered enough, so shouldn't Jiyong give her a little pity? But how would he comfort her?
Okay, let's hope this works, Jiyong thought. He took a deep breath through his nose, opened his arms, then embraced Jieun into a small hug.
He had hugged many people before, but it was his first time hugging a rather small girl like Jieun. Her shoulders were thin and her skinniness made Jiyong fear that he might break her. He could feel her shaking in his arms, trembling and whimpering at the thought of what she had been through. His back was getting soaked with her tears, absorbing each and every drop that fell from her chin to his clothes. He awkwardly lifted his right hand and caressed the back of Jieun's rough black hair, whispering little words of comfort as his lips leaned close to her ears.
"You're strong, Jieun," he whispered. "You're strong."
The hug seemed to have worked. Her cries became shorter breaths as she tried to compose herself. She sniffed many times, trying to prevent the mucus from falling to her lips. She shut her eyes for the last time, causing one or two tears to slip out of her eyes. She clenched her teeth, mentally demanding herself to stop crying.
When he thought it was time to let go, he pulled back. He brushed away a few strands of her hair away from her face and tucked them behind her cold ears.
Then, staring right into her red eyes, he said, in a very soft tone, "Would you like to stay here for tonight?"
Jieun nodded her head as she closed her eyes and wiped away her tears. "Yes…"
Jiyong woke up the next morning, expecting the scent of eggs and rice wafting in the air like how it usually was when Jieun woke up earlier than him. However, his room was exactly like it was last night: dark and messy with a girl sleeping on the ground with soft snores.
He attempted to groan, but stopped himself when he remembered that Jieun was at his home. He slowly got up, tucked another blanket on top of the pale girl, and took two giant steps to his kitchen. He checked the fridge, realizing that there was nothing for the two to eat except for chocolate. He sighed, then looked out the window.
Mornings had gotten brighter, the sun already hitting at least a couple of degrees higher from where it would've been a season back. The inches of snow had significantly decreased since the winter he met Jieun. Even though it was still winter, some areas already had flower buds popping to greet the last month of the winter season. The color of the world was transitioning from the colors of pure white and murky gray to dots of light green and shades of brown.
Jiyong looked over his shoulder. He figured that Jieun would be knocked out for quite some time (after all, she had been crying throughout the entire night). He quietly went to grab a coat and his boots. Zipping up his coat, he decided to make a quick visit to the super market. Before leaving, he looked behind him, checking to see if there were any signs of Jieun waking up. When she failed to budge, he nodded to himself and opened the door.
Despite the end of winter coming, a gush of cold wind hit his face. He thought of bringing a scarf, but when he realized that it would take too much time to find his scarf, he decided to slip on his boots and step outside of the warm house and into the cold. Quietly closing the door behind him, he took a deep breath and began walking down the stairs to reach the ground. He stopped himself when a neighbor's door opened. He was planning to give the old neighbor a quick bow and leave to the market, but he stopped when the old man smiled at him and handed him a bag of produce.
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