"That was a messed-up idea. They live in opposite directions," Minah said, rolling her eyes. "Honestly, you're just making him do more work."
"Well, you can kind of see that he likes it," pointed out Jiyong, who flashed Minah a grin. He stopped smiling when he saw her solemn expression. "Did I…say something wrong?"
She paused for a few more minutes. The two walked in silence, and she finally answered him by shaking her head. She let out a heavy sigh and adjusted the strap of her bag.
"No. No, you didn't say anything wrong. It's just me being weird," Minah told him. She took a deep breath and changed the subject. "Anyway, you said that you've been seeing a lot of weird people?"
"Right," Jiyong said, nodding his head firmly. "Do you remember that one customer who came to the store? He was wearing all black. If you looked, you would've definitely noticed that he was an odd guy."
"How odd? It's a nice weather to wear a thin coat," Minah told him.
"But… But he wouldn't leave."
"What do you mean?"
Jiyong bit his bottom lip. "He… He wouldn't leave the store. He kept pacing back and forth, and he kept looking at the window from afar. I was watching. I'm pretty sure the cameras outside didn't catch that, though. He was too far to be in the camera range."
Minah paled once again. "O-Oh. So a guy like that was running around…"
"Yeah. Any idea who that guy is? I was wondering if he was related to you or to one of the guys," Jiyong said, mentioning the delinquents.
"W-Who knows. It's a good thing that you told Jiho to walk Jieun home. It would be a lot safer," Minah said quickly. She rushed her words and looked away nervously. Her eye wandered in space, gazing at particularly nothing.
Jiyong raised an eyebrow. He was beginning to take the hint that Minah was hiding something. Whether it was important or not, he knew that she knew something about the old man. Was he right about the relative? Or was this guy someone totally unrelated to her? Seeing how scared she was, he couldn't help but think that the man could've been—
"Oh. What a coincidence," a familiar voice blurted.
The two looked up and were quite surprised to see Jiho waiting for the bus. Jiyong eyed at Minah, who seemed horrified at the fact of seeing Jiho waiting for the bus. From her petrified expression, the older man began to sense some kind of troubling premonition lurking within his soul.
"Did you walk Jieun home?" Jiyong asked, giving Jiho a friendly wave.
"Sort of. I insisted on following until she got home, but she said that a little someone at her house would get mad if he saw us walk together. I dropped her off at the bus stop two blocks down," Jiho explained. His thumb pointed at the street below them, where they were able to see another bus stop.
"Why? Why didn't you follow her all the way?" Minah asked desperately, her eyes wide as the moon beaming above them.
"I didn't see the reason. She kept insisting. Besides, we live in the opposite direction. We left the store late, so if I dropped her back home, I would get home at, like, midnight. I have parents who'd freak out, you know?" Jiho pointed out.
"Minah, I've been meaning to ask you," Jiyong slowly started, "but do you know something about that man?"
Minah flinched and bit her tongue. Again, she looked away, cowering as she stared down at the ground. Jiho frowned, then raised an eyebrow in a curious manner.
"A man? What about a man?" Jiho asked.
"Jiho, by any chance, was there a man with a black cloak getting on that bus?" Jiyong questioned him.
The boy kept quiet for a few minutes. He stared at the bus stop two blocks away, carefully thinking about who had gotten on the bus and who hadn't. He had been paying attention to Jieun the entire time, he wasn't able to remember if there was another passenger on board. After a moment of thinking, Jiyong snapped his fingers and looked at Jiyong with a nod.
"Yeah. I remember seeing the man. He was in a hurry to get on the bus. He even shoved my shoulders before he got on," Jiho informed him.
"He's on the same bus?" Minah exclaimed. She began to chew on her nails. "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh…"
Jiyong narrowed his eyes at her. "Minah. What are you hiding?"
"Was he sitting close to her? Far away?" Minah asked Jiho, grabbing his shoulders. He quickly pushed her away.
"I don't know," Jiho said, shrugging his shoulders. "How the heck am I supposed to know?"
"Minah," Jiyong called her again. "Tell me what's going on!"
"Are you sure you don't remember? Think harder!" Minah urged him. When Jiho gave her a cruel look, she snapped out of her thoughts and gasped. Embarrassed, she looked away while hiding her face with her hair. "I shouldn't have gotten involved…"
"Bang Minah!" Jiyong yelled, startling her. "What are you hi—"
His cell phone rang. He looked down at his phone, and saw an unfamiliar number displayed on his screen. He glanced over to the teenagers, who gave him a cautious look. He excused himself and turned around, flipping his phone open to accept the call.
"Hello?" he answered, glancing behind his shoulder to see if the two were still there. He waited for a response, but heard nothing. Small pants echoed at the other end of the line, and he was sure that he heard some kind of tapping noise, like light steps trudging across the pavement. "Hello? Is anyone there—"
"Jiyong?" The older man recognized the voice in an instant. "Jiyong? Is this you?"
"Jieun! What's wrong?" he aske. He could sense Jiho and Minah become tense. "What's going on? Are you home?"
"I-I was going home, but I saw someone following me and I decided to take another way. I tried to lose him, but then he kept following me. Now I can't find my way back home and it's dark." She whimpered and gasped when she heard something clang behind her. "Please… I-I don't know what to do!"
"Stay calm, Jieun. Do you see anywhere bright? A store, perhaps?" Jiyong asked.
"No… It's just a dark alley way. There is a street lamp, but if I stop there, I'm afraid that he's going to catch up with me," Jieun explained.
Jiyong nodded and ran his fingers through his hair. "Okay. Do you mind telling me the address?"
There was a short pause. "Jiyong, I'm going to text you. The longer I'm on my phone, the closer he tries to approach me. I'll send you the address. I—"
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Jiyong widened his eyes and stared at his phone. He looked up, noticing that the sky would only get darker. His thoughts were quickly interrupted when Jiho forced him to turn around by grabbing his shoulder. With a worried expression, Jiho panicked.
"What's happening to Jieun? What's going on?" Jiho questioned him desperately. "Are you going to her right now? You got to take me with you. I just can't stand—"
The two were interrupted when Jiyong saw a text coming in. Jiyong quickly pressed the button and saw the address that Jieun had sent to him. He bit his bottom lip and glanced around.
There's not going to be any bus stops. It's too late, Jiyong realized. I should call the taxi… but that would take up a lot of money. Train would be the best.
"For now," Jiyong began, "take Minah home, Jiho."
The two widened their eyes in disbelief. Were they really being told to go home when someone they knew was in trouble? That was outrageous!
"No. I'm going with you," Jiho said firmly.
"M-Me, too!" Minah stuttered, nodding her head furiously.
However, the two flinched and retreated when they saw an unfamiliar gleam in his eyes. The way he looked at them was almost frightening. They silently swore to themselves that the little hair on their neck stood straight and tall as a shiver ran down their spine. A quick knot twisted itself in their stomach as they could cringe in terror and stare into his deep, black pupils which seemed like there was no end to the hypnotic glare.
It was when Minah accidentally took a step back and tripped over her own shoes when the two snapped out of Jiyong's fixed gaze. Jiho quickly caught Minah by grabbing onto her waist, supporting her while she reached for his shoulders for support. The two stared at each other for a moment, surprised. The sound of the bus screeching at its stop alarmed them, and Minah quickly got back on her feet while Jiho removed his arm back to his side. They blushed awkwardly, but they focused back on Jiyong, who only looked at the bus.
"Go," Jiyong said quietly. He faced his back against them. "Jiho, take Minah home. You guys live close, anyway."
Jiho clenched his teeth. "Hold up, I still want to g—"
"I said go," Jiyong commanded firmly. He refused to look at the kids. "It's better for you two to go home. Less risk for me. If you guys go, you'll only be a hassle and who knows what can happen."
Jiho sealed his lips, dejected. As much as he wanted to protest, he knew that Jiyong was right. With a hateful glare, Jiho turned around and walked towards the bus.
"Hurry up, idiot," Jiho said, directing his attention to Minah. "We're going."
Minah paused, troubled. In spite of her concern, she went along with Jiho, obeying Jiyong's order. The two climbed aboard, leaving their trust to the intimidating poor man. As the doors to the bus closed, the vehicle resumed its routine and merged with the empty street.
Along the ride, the two kept silent. They didn't dare to speak, and they knew why. Jiho would probably get angry at whatever Minah had to say, and Minah had absolutely no right to say anything to defend herself. However, their minds were occupied of something else. They weren't able to erase the dark look Jiyong had in his eyes. The way he had looked at them like they were some kind of inferior beings struck deep within their hearts. They weren't offended by the look, but they were more agitated. It bothered them, and they weren't sure why.
Still, more than ever, they were sure that there was something different about Kwon Jiyong, and their curiosity as youths demanded to know more.
* * *
An hour later, Jiyong found himself at the street Jieun had texted earlier. He looked around, scratching his head. He was frustrated and annoyed at himself. When he looked down at his phone, he realized that it was late enough for anything to happen.
Damn it, Jieun, he thought, watching his thumb furiously press on the buttons on his phone. Why aren't you picking up the phone?
He had tried to call her multiple times, but all of his calls were redirected to voicemail. Text wasn't working, either. His texts were unanswered for reasons he didn't know. Without phone, he had absolutely no way of contacting her. Shouting and screaming wouldn't do anything good; he was sure that if he did so, the neighbors would be interrupted and the stalker could do something to Jieun in just matters of seconds.
Exasperated, Jiyong reached down in his pocket and pulled out another cigarette. He fished out the lighter, watching his shaky hands struggle to light the lighter. When the sparks flickered and the fire bloomed, he brought the flame near the drug. A lazy puff of smoke sizzled up into the air, and with one deep breath, he exhaled a cloud of chemicals. Putting the lighter back in his pocket and placing the cigarette between his lips, he continued his search, flipping his phone open and close, open and close…
He was beginning to wonder what was happening to Jieun. Did she go back home safely? Perhaps Chanyeol had came over and helped her out. Maybe the two were having a small chat, and maybe Chanyeol realized how precious Jieun was. Maybe he was going to treat her better and help cure her terror. Who knows—He could be walking down the street and might see Jieun in a store with her boyfriend, having a small night date. The stalker could've been Chanyeol. After all, there was a high percentage that a stalker was someone the victim knew.
Something tugged his heart and caused Jiyong to stop his tracks. He rubbed his sore chest, realizing that the more he thought about Jieun's and Chanyeol's happiness, the more bothered he was.
Aw man. He cursed at himself. Get ahold of yourself, Jiyong. Just find Jieun and—
"Get the hell away from here, you dimwit! You can't even do your job right!" a deep voice shouted.
Jiyong's eyes shot wide when he heard a messy sound of metals slamming against the ground. He hid behind a wall, waiting for the figure who was running his way to appear. After counting for a few seconds, Jiyong jumped out of the wall and had his hands claws around the stranger's neck. The stranger let out a terrified whimper and struggled, but Jiyong kept a firm grip on his clothes.
"Damn it, you bastard! I knew it! It was you!" Jiyong hissed at the man in the black cloak. It was much easier to see his face without the facial costumes, even though it was a pitch black night.
"S-Save me!" the stranger cried out.
"Cut it!" Jiyong snapped. He slammed the man's body against the wall with his fingers wrapped around the man's collar. "Who told you to do this?"
"A-A girl! A girl set me up on this!" the man told him.
"Which girl? Tell me her name!"
"I-I don't know! She's anonymous, but she gave me a lot of money! A-Anyway, save me! There's a monster coming to get me!" the man said. "He bashed the girl's head with a trash can lid and now I'm about to get killed! Help!"
"Give me the money of whoever set you up for this. Then I'll help you," Jiyong said. He was quite surprised when the man pulled out a thick envelope with yellow cash.
"Here! Take it! I don't want to do this anymore!" the man exclaimed. He took off, running away and disappearing into the shadow.
That's right! You don't mess up with these kids when I'm around! Jiyong yelled triumphantly in his head. He smirked, tucked the money in his pocket, and made a mental note to give it to Minah later. He walked forward in the direction where the man came from. Just as he suspected, he heard some rough grunts and a high-pitched cry.
"Can't even teach you one damn lesson, can I? What do you want from me? Huh? What do you want from me, Jieun? Money? If you want money, here, take it! I have a lot of money!" Chanyeol screamed. He pulled out his wallet from his blazer and showered her with cash. Some flew away with the wind, while others stayed like a petrified object.
"C-Chanyeol, please. Stop it. Y-You're going to wake up the people around us—"
"Let them! Let them damn wake up! I wish they'd wake up! Then they would know how stupid and pathetic you are!" Chanyeol shouted. He kicked a garbage can. The sound ran in the empty alley and sounded almost like a hollow drum creeping up to space.
"S-Stop… Chanyeol, please stop! I beg of you!" Jieun pleaded. Tears streamed down her cheeks, blending in with the blood that trickled down from the side of her forehead. She bit her bottom lip while her hand soaked the blood spurting from the open wound. "Why can't you just go back to how you were before? Why did you have to change? Chanyeol, I can't stand this… I can't stand it if you keep lying to me and keeping an eye out for me! Chanyeol, I can take care of myself! I won't cheat or lie to you! I would never do such a thing!"
Fuming with anger, Chanyeol only responded by spitting on her and kicking her. "Shut up! A useless trash. You're such a useless trash. You can't do anything right! You can't even pretend that you learned your lesson with that guy."
"Chanyeol, he was following me and I was scared!" Jieun shouted desperately. "Why can't you understand that?"
"Understand? You want me to understand, huh? Then why can't you just understand this—" He raised his weapon up in the air. The metal bar rose in the sky, swirling in the air. Chanyeol staggered a bit, but once he squinted his eyes and located the target, he thrust his weapon behind him. Right before he was about to smash the bar against Jieun again, something had grabbed ahold of the bar.
Jieun never felt so relieved to smell the scent of cigarettes burning in the haunting night. She loosened up as she understood that she was being protected. Her eyes wandered up at Jiyong's scowl.
"You're freaking drunk, aren't you?" Jiyong muttered.
"Let go, bastard!" Chanyeol screamed. He tugged for the weapon, but it had slipped out of his hand.
"You smell drunk, too. Don't underestimate my nose. I know when someone's drunk," Jiyong said. With ease, he reached for Chanyeol's forehead and tapped it. The boy tripped over his own two feet and collided against two garbage bags. He growled furiously at Jiyong, who only smirked. "See? You're as drunk as any old man."
"Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up!" Chanyeol repeated. His voice slurred and his cheeks turned bright red.
"Chanyeol… You drink?" Jieun asked softly. "You're not even old enough to…"
"I said shut up! Shut up, woman!" Chanyeol shrieked.
"The one who has to shut up is you, dimwit," Jiyong mumbled. "Anyway, I'm calling the cops."
"Yeah! Go! Call them!"
"No, don't!" Jieun said. "Please, I ask for you not to call them."
Jiyong sighed. "Jieun, are you going to keep this up? Look. You got your head bashed."
"I-I'm fine," she stuttered. "See? I can stand." She rose from the ground, but gasped and fell back down when she realized that everything was becoming black. Fortunately for her, Jiyong rushed to her sound, saving her from hitting her head against the ground. "I guess I can't stand…"
"I told you," he said with a smug look. "Anyway, if you see Minah, make sure she apologizes to you."
"Minah? Why?" Jieun asked. Her eye lids were slowly covering her eyes.
"I think she was a part of this," Jiyong told her. "Geez, you're bleeding a lot. We need you to get to the hospital."
"I'll only go to the hospital if you don't call the police. Take care of Chanyeol. Our home isn't too…far…" Jieun stumbled over her words and pointed to a random direction. Her vision blurred and she began to feel light-headed. Her hands gripped on his chest as her eyes closed, fainting.
Jiyong paused for a moment, and stared at Jieun. He looked down back at Chanyeol, who was finally snoring away. Then, picking up Jieun's legs and carrying her bridal-style, he glanced up at the direction Jieun was pointing at. He stood still, then looked back at Chanyeol.
Forget about taking him home. I'm leaving him right here where he belongs, Jiyong thought. He walked away, deserting Chanyeol with nothing but the bag of trashes surrounding him.
* * *
The next morning, as Minah feared, Jieun didn't come to school. However, she didn't worry much. Along the way to school, she stopped by at the store, where she saw Jiyong working with a few bruises on his hand. She figured that if Jiyong was healthy enough to work, then Jieun didn't go through anything horrific.
"Good morning, guys!" Minah exclaimed, greeting her friends at the entrance. Her friends glanced over at her, not amused. With a blank expression, they walked away, not even greeting her back.
She felt something tug her heart, but she remained calm. It's okay. They just didn't see you. Just greet them again at the classroom.
With that thought, she took a deep breath and entered the school. She walked over to her shoe locker, ready to change to her indoor shoes. At the moment she opened the locker, she heard a few girls giggle behind her.
The same tug in her heart came back. She brushed the aching heart away until she saw a love letter in it. Her eyes widened and she blushed. She wanted to share the news with someone, but there was no one nearby. She quickly took the letter and changed her shoes. Should she wait and open it with her friends? What if something cheesy was written inside? Wouldn't her friends laugh, then?
Thinking that there was no choice, Minah anxiously opened the envelope. Her heart raced and she felt herself at bliss. Maybe this was some kind of reward Chanyeol gave her for doing all that nasty work. It was like someone finally understood her situation and properly gave her something that she would treasure. She just hoped that the man was good-looking. If he wasn't good-looking, then there was no way that Chanyeol had set her up with him.
"'Dear Minah,'" Minah read, "'I am from Year 2 Class 3 and I really fell in love with your… hideous ugly… face…?"
Her joyful expression crumbled as her heart sunk. She quickly ripped the letter in half and slammed the locker close. Storming to the nearest trash can, she threw it away, knowing clearly well that someone was pranking her.
As she walked up the stairs to her classroom, she couldn't help that she was having an odd start. Her friends were ignoring her, and for the first time in a while, she was getting pranks. Usually what would end up happening was that her friends would tell her that it was a prank, but it seemed like her friends were excluding her…
Cold sweat leaked out from her pores as she paled. She nervously her lips and found herself standing in front of the doors to her classroom. She shut her eyes, took a deep breath, then brushed her fingers against the door. Her heart raced, knowing fully well that she was anticipating on something. She was hoping that this was some kind of cruel joke, that her friends weren't really ignoring her. With over confidence, she looked straight ahead with a dumb smile and opened the door.
The classroom, which had students laughing and chatting, fell deadly quiet. All Minah could hear was her heart pounding against her chest. It cried and pleaded to pop out of her chest and run away in freedom, leaving her body dead because that would be better. She awkwardly walked over to where Chanyeol was, who didn't even bother to look up from his phone. He seemed perfectly fine except for his skin, which was less colored than usual.
"G-Good morning!" Minah stuttered. She cursed at herself for stuttering, but continued to smile. "Nice weather, huh?"
"The weather?" Chanyeol repeated. He looked up at the grey sky. "It's okay."
Minah sighed in relief, glad that at least one person was talking to her. "Yeah, you're right. It is an okay weather. Anyway, Chanyeol! Can I see your math homework! I forgot to do it and—"
"Oh? Were you too busy telling someone about our plan?" Chanyeol asked. His eyes were still glued to his phone.
"Um… Excuse me?" Minah asked, tilting her head a bit.
"I told you that we would be teaching my girlfriend a lesson. Did you not want to teach her a lesson?" he asked calmly.
"O-Of course I wanted to teach her a lesson!" Minah cried out. "Who wouldn't? I mean, she's so useless—"
"But yesterday, I remember seeing the guy from the store mention you. Yeah, he was saying how you should apologize to my girlfriend. I don't think he was around when we were talking about this, so I figured that it must've been you who told me," Chanyeol said. He finally looked away from his phone. "So, I was thinking: If Minah is going to tell the truth to everybody, then why don't everybody tell the truth to Minah?"
A familiar wave of feelings rushed towards Minah. Ah. I'm being punished.
"So," Chanyeol continued, getting up from his seat, "if any of you guys have anything to say to this woman, go ahead."
The room slowly erupted into gossips and harsh mutters. All Minah could hear were words that criticized her behavior. She could only stand still like a dummy, taking in the words which were dipped in the finest poison of pain.
"You're such a pest, it's annoying."
"You're dumb. Drop out!"
"Can't you see that no one wants you? You're a hassle."
"A wannabe. That's what you really are!"
"Nobody even likes you. You're the only one who doesn't know that."
For the rest of the school day, Minah quietly accepted her punishment and listened to her peers, unable to shut the words out and only able to swallow back her tears.
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