poetry of the stars
❦ synopsis: yn and her family are social pariahs a year after her older brother confessed to the murder of his secret girlfriend, who was also yn's best friend. with normalcy as a thing of the past, all yn wants is to work through the summer and save up enough money to leave her town forever. but what happens when the job she gets hired for means working alongside the brother of the friend she lost?
❦ genre: fluff, angst, enemies to lovers, best friend’s brother au
❦ warnings: theme of murder; guilt by association; hurt/comfort; general emotional pain; minor character death (pre-fic); lots of anger; emotional bullying; lots of sadness; taehyung is a bit 'rough' in one of the scenes; yn gets physically assaulted by someone (non-graphic);
❦ playlist: sweet night by kim taehyung; soldier by before you exit
❦ book inspo: even if i fall by abigail johnson (an absolute fav)
❦ word count: 25.4k
❦ dedication: @diorpark and @unstablecutehoe, thank you for always being so kind in your reviews, it means the world to me <3
❦ author's note: this fic was inspired by the book mentioned above, which focuses on murder, the power of love, and a search for the truth. this fic is angst-heavy, though it has a happy ending. despite the warnings, i hope you will give it a chance. side note: although this is 100% a reader/yn fic, i couldn't help but imagine actress, choi seongeun (yoo jaeyi from beyond evil) as YN. while watching beyond evil, i thought she perfectly encapsulates how i imagined YN in this fic. please enjoy this a lot! happy reading~!! :]
Every morning, there is a loud banging at the door.
It starts an hour or so after sunrise and lasts about five minutes. Most days, no one in my family pays much attention to it. My father, who lives in the guest room now, wears earplugs to bed while my mother is usually too lost in her own thoughts to notice any sort of sound. My little brother throws a pillow over his head and pretends he doesn’t hear it.
I don’t do any of these things.
Instead, I grab my brown cardigan and tiptoe downstairs, careful in skipping the third to last step. It’s creaky, and also a reminder of the person who said he would fix it eventually.
When I get to the front door, I only open it a smidge. Just enough to inspect the damage before I have to deal with it. Today’s weapon is two dozen eggs. Large, white eggs from the only grocery store in this town. The way the eggs splatter against the blue of our door would be perfect for an art exhibit in New York City. They would call it broken eggs upon a door and charge people to see it.
It’s funny because I get to see it for free.
I take a step back from the door once I realize the boys are gone. Then, I head to the kitchen for some paper towels and an extra bag. The weather is warm. Customary for the start of summer. Most people in the neighbourhood should be out for walks, but they aren’t. It may have to do with the fact that not many people live around here anymore. Almost a year ago, after the indictment, most of our neighbours sold their properties and moved away. Whether it was the reporters who drove them away or the fact that they were living on the same street as the family of a murderer, I don’t know.
“What a waste of perfectly good eggs,” I comment to myself as I gather the broken eggshells then use a paper towel to wipe up the liquid. “They should have stuck to paint balloons.” It takes me a few minutes to wipe up the best to my satisfaction. When I’m done, I tie the small bag.
Just as I’m standing up, another egg comes flying my way, pelting me square on the back. I stagger forward from the impact, grabbing the edge of the door to keep myself upright.
“Murderers!” A familiar voice yells, followed by the pelting of about a dozen more eggs. I don’t do the smart thing and race inside. What I do instead is crouch on the floor, hiding behind one of my mother’s old potted plants.
“Shameless! You all deserve to be in prison!”
“You raised a murderer!”
“You call yourselves human?!”
There are about four or five voices in total. I recognize all of them as classmates. Boys I’ve known since I was five years old. We went to the same schools all our lives. Played tag and hide-and-go-seek during recess. Skinned our knees together. Made fun of our teachers together. Grew up together.
And perhaps this is what hurts the most. That while knowing me, and growing up with me, they still choose to do what they do to me. I don’t know why I’m so hurt by it. It’s been a year. I should be used to it by now. But does anyone ever get used to something like this?
After another minute or so, the pelting dies down alongside the aggressive voices. I know I should stay in hiding. It would be better that way. I should wait for them to leave so I can finish cleaning up. Our door is once again covered in a gooey mess of eggs, and I need more paper towels.
Counting to three inside my head, I squeeze my hands into fists and slowly rise to my feet. I try not to look at the boys as they stand on the road, watching me, but I can’t help it. For a brief moment, my eyes flicker to where they shake their heads at me then start walking away.
The only one whose voice I never heard. The only one I know best from the lot. The only one who continues staring even as the other boys turn their backs to me.
As soon as our eyes meet, I lower my gaze. I used to dream about the day he would look at me for longer than a few seconds. I just never imagined it would be in this context.
I hear one of the boys shout his name and that’s when I look up again. He’s walking towards me now, up the short flight of stairs, until we are face-to-face.
I don’t know what I expected him to do, being so close to me, but perhaps, just like everything else today, I should have known what would come next in the sequence of events.
The boy I have known all my life reaches inside the pocket of his sweater and pulls out an identical white egg. His eyes are dark. Unreadable, even though I used to be able to read them so well. He used to say, YN, you’re the only one who knows me and that’s why I like you best, which always resulted in his sister smacking him on the arm for teasing me. Don’t listen to him, YN. He’s being an idiot, she would tell me.
But later, when I left their home and returned to my own, I would lay in bed with my eyes closed and pretend he really meant it. That I knew him. That he likes me best. That he sees me as more than just his little sister’s best friend. I wanted to believe I had an advantage over all the other girls vying for his attention. I liked thinking I was special to him.
That was before, and this is now.
The last time he teased me was the last time we spoke. Even at the funeral, it was his best friends who threw me out, not him. He hadn’t said a word back then. A face of stone. Grim, emotionless. He was grieving in his own way, unlike his parents who cried all through the service.
Quiet eyes boring into mine, the boy of my childhood dreams raises an arm above my head then cracks the egg between his fingers. As the cracked shell and liquid pour down my hair, I don’t break eye contact and neither does he. I watch the way his jaw sets and his lips thin out. He keeps his eyes on me while the egg runs down my cheeks and drips onto my cardigan.
And perhaps I am shameless because I whisper his name.
A smirk hints at his lips for a fraction of a second before he replaces it with a frown. Barely there before it’s gone again. Shaking his hand out, he flicks away the remainder of the egg and stands back, distancing himself from me. I fist my hands again, and keep them tight by my side.
“Enjoy your breakfast, YN,” he jests, not a trace of a smile to be found. “Sorry, I forgot to bring the salt and pepper.”
When he leaves, I count to three again before reaching up to touch the broken egg flowing through my strands. The yellowy fluid is rancid. He used a rotten egg. I don’t know why this adds to the pain.
Turning on my feet to watch him walk down the road to meet his friends, I think back to the first time we met.
I was seven, and he was eight.
I was far too shy back then to say hello to anyone at the park. But his sister wasn’t, and neither was he. Hyeryung and her brother were social butterflies. The best of friends who had no trouble befriending me.
I was sitting in the sandbox trying to build a castle when she asked for my name. Once I told her, she ran to grab her brother and forced him to say hello to me. And when he did, my little seven year old heart felt like it was soaring. It felt like the best feeling in the world. I knew right then and there that this boy would mean something special to me.
Later, almost a week later, Hyeryung came over to my house for the first time. That was the weekend my older brother was having his eleventh birthday party. I didn’t know it back then but that was the day Hyeryung’s own little seven year old heart soared, too.
. . . ❤ . . .
Back inside the house, I stand in the foyer to gather my incessant jittering and shaky limbs. With the putrid scent of the eggs all over me, I know I need to shower if I want to feel anything like a normal human being again.
Quietly taking off my slippers, I lay them to the side and start walking towards the stairs when I hear someone slurp. The sound directs my head towards my little brother at the breakfast table with a bowl of cereal in front of him. He keeps his eyes trained on my figure, taking me in in all my misery while I stand at the foot of the staircase. Blindly, I reach up for my hair. I don’t want him to see me like this.
“O-Oh, you’re awake,” I greet anxiously, trying to smile despite the flickers of dry egg yolk on my cheeks. “Did you sleep well?”
My brother blinks twice before he reaches in for another spoon of cereal. Around a mouthful of Coco Puffs—which I’m sure are stale since I don’t remember buying a new box on Saturday—he says, “If you wanted to go out, you should have used the back door.”
“R-Right,” I mumble, glancing down at my dirty clothes. Before I look back up, I plaster on a smile. For both our sakes. “I bought some Corn Flakes on the weekend—”
“Did Tae throw eggs at you, too?”
His question feels like a blow to my stomach, sending me flying back out the door I walked in from. Just by the way he nearly whispers the question, I know he didn’t want to ask it. And even more, he is afraid of the answer.
All these years, despite their age gap, Jinnie has always proudly claimed Taehyung as a friend. Best friend, he would often correct me when Hyeryung and I teased him about it. Even more than our older brother, Taehyung spent time playing games with Jinnie or helping him with homework. I hate that I can’t fix this for him. I hate that my baby brother’s memories are muddied rotten because of his older siblings.
Slowly lifting my shoulders, I clear my throat and answer, “It wasn’t him, Jinnie, so don’t worry. I’m just going to shower and then we can study together, okay? Before Mrs. Nguyen calls for us.”
With that, I spare him one last broken smile and quickly race up the stairs. They creak absurdly with the weight of my hasty movements, but I could care less. Fresh tears are flowing down my cheeks before I even make it to the bathroom. I don’t bother wiping them and step into the cold shower.
Around fifteen minutes later, I open the bathroom door again and race to my room, dripping wet. Of course I forgot to take a towel in with me. Thinking through my actions isn’t something I’ve been doing a lot of lately. I tell myself if I think less, then the memories and the reminders of two families’ sorrows will fade away.
They never do.
Inside my room, I focus on the painting hanging on a wall next to my bed while I change into jeans and a t-shirt.
Hyeryung painted it, back when we were freshmen. It was a painting which she received a prize for at our school’s annual talent exhibition. She had painted it in under an hour. After receiving the award, Hyeryung pushed the painting into my arms.
A gift, she said. For my second favourite person in the world.
Who’s your first?
You know who.
In the painting, there are two ships. Two different colours, two different styles, two different desires. One ship was painted blue and sitting at harbour. The other ship was a bit further into the ocean, and it was purple.
When Hyeryung was asked what the ships represented, she explained, “A ship in harbour is safe – but that is not what ships are built for.”
I was standing next to Taehyung as she delivered her grandiose speech to the crowd of parents and teachers gawking at her artistry, equally as amazed by her art as I was with her words. But then Taehyung, upon noticing my awe, poked me in the side of my stomach and showed me something on his phone.
A Google search.
It was just like my best friend to quote someone and not give them credit.
Looking at the painting now is difficult. It reminds me of the person who painted it, who helped me put it up, and the person who deserved better than what she was given. A year ago, Hyeryung was a happy-go-lucky sophomore in high school who had her whole future planned out.
“I want to be a pharmacist.”
“I said,” Hyeryung playfully rolled her eyes. “I want to be a pharmacist after uni.”
“You? Seriously? You really want to do that?”
“Why? What’s so bad about being a pharmacist?”
“There’s nothing wrong with it, just that… I imagined you doing something in the arts.”
“Nah,” she shrugged. “Painting is my hobby. If I made it my career, I would end up hating it. That’s why I want to be a pharmacist, so I can make lots of money and afford expensive art equipment.” She pauses. “And also so my kids can tell their friends their mother sells drugs.”
The walls of my bedroom are encased in her laughter, as well as my own. Every surface littered with the giggles from my our childhood—nine years old, coming home with McDonald’s and sharing fries; thirteen years old, talking about ‘whatever are we doing to do about our first kiss?’; and sixteen years old, talking about what life after graduation would be like.
My hair smells like strawberries as I unwrap the towel. Thick, mid-length tresses flow down my shoulders in a hue of black and crimson. While I sincerely regret box-highlighting my hair, I can’t help but think it’s the only thing in my life which still means something to me. This was the colour Hyeri picked out for me, while I picked blue for her. We were going to be like those girls in the animes we loved. In a way, this horrible hair-job is a way of celebrating her memory, as much as I am able to.
Jinnie is laying out his books and stationary when I walk back downstairs. Next to his things is a bowl of Corn Flakes and a jug of milk—my breakfast. Smiling to myself, I gently ruffle my little brother’s hair and sit down, crossing my legs as I do so.
Before digging into my food, I ask, “Are you going to see Jamal and Hunter at the park later? Do you want me walk you over there?”
“No? Why not? Don’t you want to see your friends?”
Jinnie stops shuffling his pens and pencils, which are already perfectly in order, and mumbles, “They said they didn’t want me to come.”
“They don’t want you to…” as my words trail off into a mist, curdling pain seers its way in as substitute. All at once, I am rendered speechless and immobile. This news is nothing unfamiliar, and while I should be accustomed to it after the passing of an entire year, the truth is that I’m not. My little brother’s words affect me in this moment the same way they did the first time he uttered them. And the second. And the third. And all the times in between. Curling a hand over the edge of the breakfast table, I scoot forward in an attempt to wade off any worry I may pass along to the ten-year-old unknowingly. I paste on a faux jubilant smile and announce, “We’ll go for ice cream, okay? Just the two of us.” I don’t add – and he doesn’t comment – how it’s always the two of us who do anything together anymore. Our father is scarce around the home, and our mother even less so despite the fact that she does not work. Even when I bring dinner to her room, she does not touch it.
Pausing on his highlighters which he arranged lightest to darkest, Jinnie mumbles, “I don’t want ice cream.”
I bite my lip and tighten the grip I have on the table. It’s okay, it’s okay, I tell myself. It’s going to be okay. I can handle this. We may be eight years apart, but I can totally handle this. “Okay, no ice cream. Should we go get milkshakes—?”
“I don’t want stupid ice cream! I want my friends!”
Last year, after the final verdict blazed through the court and the officers took our older brother away in handcuffs, a group of news reporters heckled what was left of our family outside the courthouse. Our brother’s lawyer—the one we had to take out three different loans to afford— had arranged for a cab to pick us up discretely so that we wouldn’t end up on Channel 7 news, but it arrived late, which gave the news hawks plenty of time to interrogate us.
Mom was sobbing while Dad held her, shielding her face from the reporters. This didn’t leave much strength for Dad to protect us. When the reporters were finished recording our mother’s wails and our father’s deathly silence, they turned to Jinnie and me.
“How do you feel about your brother being in prison? Do you think you will be able to live normal lives after this?”
“Was he always aggressive? Did he ever try to hurt you?”
“Do you feel responsible for what happened?”
A video of Jinnie crying went viral on news platforms all around the country. Everyone claimed ‘he was next’ and that they hoped he wouldn’t ‘further his brother’s murderous legacy.’ They claimed his tears were fake—a ruse to gain sympathy from the town which would ‘never recover from such a harrowing loss.’
I never wanted to read the articles about us, but in the midst of my grief, I had forgotten that I was still a teenager. That I still attended high school with 600 other students who had plenty to say to me about what happened.
For the first two weeks after my brother confessed and the police arrested him, my social media was flooded with messages. Some were nice while others were accusatory. One person even made a deep-fake video of me laughing about my best friend’s death, which led to my expulsion from school. Neither of my parents fought very hard to keep me there. Good thing, too, since I wasn’t keen on staying either.
Jinnie still went, despite our court-appointed psychiatrist’s warning that he should be homeschooled like I now was. Little kids, I found, were much less technological. Instead of violent videos of a cartoon version of Jinnie getting his head chopped off by our older brother, his classmates put worms in his lunchbox, lured him with games only to throw baseballs at his head, and shunned him at recess. Even his best friends from preschool, Jamal and Hunter, stopped speaking to him publically. Their parents were afraid of our family, too.
But occasionally, one of the boys—and if he was really lucky—both of them would ask Jinnie to hang out, and it would lift his spirits. He would ask me for permission, then pick out an outfit, dust off his bike and helmet, then wait patiently for the clock to tell him it was time to go. I never admitted it to anyone, but seeing Jinnie sit impatiently on the sofa while the clock ticked was one of the happiest moments of my life. Ever since what happened, joy was rare in our house. I wanted my little brother to enjoy as much of it as he could when it came.
Watching Jinnie now, I feel like his mother. I want to fix everything for him with the twirl of a magic wand.
There are fresh tears streaking his cheeks as he grumpily rearranges his highlighters again—darkest to lightest this time—and avoids my gaze. I know he wants to apologize. Jinnie hates being mad at anyone, especially me. Especially after what happened. I know it’s because he’s afraid of losing me, like everyone else we’ve lost through months which seem endless.
“Hey, hey,” I encourage, laying my warm hands over his shaking ones. I nudge him to look at me. Plastering on a smile which I hope reads sincere, I joke, “Do you remember that time Hunter wet the bed when you were seven? And Jamal cried?”
“I didn’t cry,” he whispers in return.
“That’s right. You didn’t cry at all.”
“I helped clean up.”
“You did,” I hum, scooting closer to my brother so he knows I’m not upset with him. “You always help people, Jinnie. You’re a good and kind person. Anyone would be lucky to call you their friend. Especially me.”
A smile starts blooming on his lips as he looks up. “Are we really friends?”
And for the time being, this appeases my ten-year-old brother enough to focus on his school work. When he turns back to his stationary, he doesn’t rearrange his highlighters. Instead, he pulls out his small sketchbook and picks out his favourite pencil before pressing it to paper.
I use this time to turn on our computer and log into Skype. Mrs. Nguyen will call us in a few minutes, and I don’t want to be late for her arrival. There are already so many dreadful adjectives associated with our family’s name. I don’t want unpunctual to be another.
At exactly 8 AM, Mrs. Nguyen’s name and professional photo lights up my laptop screen. I look towards Jinnie to make sure he’s ready. When he nods his head, I click to answer the call.
“Good morning, Mrs. Nguyen.”
The middle-aged schoolteacher smiles warmly at our dual greeting. Her dark auburn hair is pulled back in a loose bun today, and she’s wearing her reading glasses. She must have had a long night because she almost never wears her glasses unless she absolutely has to. “And good morning to you,” she chirps in her usual voice. As she picks up a cup of coffee to take a sip, she asks us, “Did you both have a good morning?”
“Yes, we did,” I answer for the both of us. Short, direct answers. After a whole year of managing questions from reporters, counselors, teachers, and everyone in between, I had grown to realize the shorter I made my sentences, the easier the lives of others became. No one wants to hear about our grief. No one wants to know that our mother hasn’t left her room in a year or that our father drinks himself to sleep every weekend or that this morning, I got pelted with eggs by the boy I’ve been in love with all my life.
Mrs. Nguyen smiles and asks, “Jinnie, I marked your math test. I’m pleased to announce you received an A.” Jinnie can hardly contain his excitement as he grins and practically vibrates in his chair. “And YN, your essay on the role of censorship in advertising was a marvelous read. You also received an A. I’m very proud of you both for working so hard this term.”
“You’re very welcome, Jinnie,” Mrs. Nguyen replies before she reaches for her phone. “I would like to schedule a meeting with your parents to discuss school in September.” She scrolls through her phone for a moment before going, “Jinnie will be entering middle school, and YN—university, I presume?”
“I set up online classes with a certified sixth grade teacher for Jinnie in September,” I answer, feeling my hands shake under the table. Again, I go to grip it to keep myself from tipping over. “But I won’t be attending university.”
“Oh… college then?”
“No. Not college either.”
All of us are silent for a few moments as the significance of my answer dawns on our teacher. As Mrs. Nguyen’s brows furrow in confusion, I brace myself for her upcoming question.
“YN, you are a very smart girl. I can’t imagine that you would be alright with skipping post-secondary education. Have you spoken to your parents about this?”
“Yes,” I gulp, lying straight through my teeth. I’ve gotten very good at it—lying. Among other things. “They’re aware of my decision.”
Mrs. Nguyen sinks back in her seat, as if everything she had planned for this morning just evaporated into thin air. I feel the guilt of such crawl up my neck and begin to choke me in silence. “There are plenty of colleges and universities which offer part-time schooling, my dear. Most of them would be very accommodating to your specific needs.”
“I understand that. I’m just not interested in going to college.”
There is an edge to my seemingly mundane words which appear to slice through Mrs. Nguyen’s good conscience. Where once she deemed herself prepared to argue with me about my future prospects, she now collapses under the weight of our unspoken rule to never argue in front of Jinnie.
“Very well then.”
Though our conversation ends there, my phone screen lights up with an incoming message.
mrs. nguyen: lets talk about your decision later.
For the remainder of the next hour, Mrs. Nguyen teaches Jinnie about Egyptian hieroglyphics. Then the following hour, she tutors me in data management and statistics. While Jinnie continues drawing in the living room, and I begin packing up my belongings after the second hour nears its end, Mrs. Nguyen coughs to catch my attention. I know what’s coming before she even utters any words.
“YN, I know it is difficult due to your parents’ work, but please arrange a time for me to speak to them about the future of your education,” she says, completely unaware that it isn’t their work which keeps them from talking to her. It’s the fact that they don’t even know that she exists. “I understand that your situation is unique, but it does not mean you have to let go of post-secondary education. Most of the professional world still requires a person to at least have a bachelor’s degree—”
“There’s nothing I want to study, so there’s really no need for me to go to university, Mrs. Nguyen.”
Mrs. Nguyen leans into the camera and retorts, “You can enter university with an undeclared major and make your final decision by the end of the first term of your second year. There are options, YN. I don’t want you to close the door on your future.” When I don’t reply immediately, she goes on to tell me, “Graduation is a month away. Although you missed the original post-secondary application date, I have friends at several different universities whom I can write to in your stead. There are options.”
For the rest of the day, Mrs. Nguyen’s words replay in my head like a broken record. Every time I try to busy myself with a task or a chore or even a small hobby—like painting with Jinnie—her advice flies back to me full force and punches me in the gut.
Back before everything happened, I did dream about attending university. My older cousins loved it. Besides the studying and the late nights and the monstrous lack of self-care that goes into obtaining a post-secondary degree, they all used to gush about the parties, and the extracurricular events, and the clubs, and the boys. Most of the men my cousins are married to now were their college boyfriends.
Admittedly, hearing their stories over the years made me curious. I had wanted to attend university. Hyeri said she wanted to study pharmacy, I thought about studying wildlife biology and conservation. I had always loved animals, had always wanted to have a dog or cat or even both. I never gave it too much thought but I imagined that a degree related to animals and nature would be something I would love.
After Daniel went to prison, I stopped dreaming about anything that didn’t have to do with getting out of this town with Jinnie in tow. University didn’t factor very well into that goal, and it still doesn’t.
. . . ❤ . . .
Two days after graduation, which took place online with a guest list of exactly zero, my cousin Eloise shows up at our front door with a purple suitcase and a sunshine smile. My dad has a lot of siblings, seven to be exact, and all of them have between three to five kids each, which has led to ginormous family reunions every couple of years as our family grew up.
Eloise, nearly my twin as she was born only a month before me, was the closest friend I had aside from Hyeryung. The three of us would often go out together when Eloise would visit during the summers. We got along well, the three of us, and it was always terribly sad when Eloise would leave for boarding school at the end of August.
During my brother’s trial, Eloise’s family was the only one who came to support us. Whether it was financial or emotional support, they had plenty of it. The other members of our grand family pretended we weren’t related to them. Many of them even blocked our numbers and social media.
But Eloise was there for me, and right now, she was here with me—standing in our front door, waiting for me to let her in.
“What are you—?”
“Happy graduation, dimwit,” she greets, smiling from ear-to-ear as she cascades past our foyer and into the living room. No one is there, of course. Dad is at work. Mom is in her room. Jinnie is learning how to code in Dad’s old office. I had just turned on the stove to start preparing dinner. “Where is everyone?”
Eloise turns on her heel and says, “Let me guess: Dad’s at work, Mom refuses to come out of her room, and Jinnie is being Jinnie?”
Nodding, I step closer. “Ellie, what are you doing here anyway?”
Eloise’s smile brightens. “Glad you asked! I’m moving to Australia at the end of summer for university, so I thought I’d swing by for a girls’ weekend with you before I head home to my parents.”
The words girls’ weekend sends me into a state of nostalgia. Hyeryung and I would talk about taking a trip together—just the two of us—someday after we both graduated. A trip across the country in her beat up Honda Civic Taehyung helped her buy after she got her license. We planned out all the sights we wanted to see and the restaurants and the diners we wanted to eat at and all the gifts we would buy for our friends and family on the trip back home.
When Hyeryung passed, she took the dream with her, and I hadn’t thought about it since.
“I don’t think—”
“You’re not allowed to say ‘no,’” Eloise cuts in, settling herself down on the sofa. “I’m already here.”
“Ellie, I can’t just—”
Eloise leans across the arm of the sofa and says, “Yes, you can. Your dad doesn’t work on the weekends. He can take care of Jinnie for a night or two.” Suddenly, her smile dims and I know exactly what she’s going to say. “You’re not even going to university. You never do a single thing for yourself anymore, YN. Let’s just… enjoy this weekend together, yeah?”
And that is how I end up standing in the middle of a crowd of strangers the very next night while Eloise beelines for the bar.
There is loud party music thumping throughout the spacious room covered inch-by-inch in dancing, swaying or standing bodies. The atmosphere reeks of alcohol and sweat, and it is everything I expected a club to look like.
Darting my eyes left and right, I cross my arms and try to step towards the bar in search of my cousin who is taking an awfully long time to bring our drinks. Some kind of liquor for her, and a non-alcoholic drink for me. I’ve never had alcohol before and I don’t want to start now.
Eloise is standing by the bar talking to a group of men I don’t recognize but who all look to be in their late twenties. Their starving eyes and lustful gazes continually drop down to Eloise’s outfit and I just know she’s eating up their attention.
“Hey, uh—“ I tap my cousin on the shoulder, and she turns to face me with an irritated expression. Instantly, I feel bad for intruding on her conversation and feel my heartbeat pick up speed. With ears burning red, I almost whisper, “Is it o-okay if I go home?”
“Yeah… I feel kind of sick.”
Eloise rolls her eyes a bit then turns back around to say something to the men. They all glance over at me then nod at her. One of them even leans in to kiss her cheek to which she slaps his chest in what can only be described as characteristically her.
When she turns back around, her irises are dark, and definitely full of disappointment. She looks just like her mother when Aunt Marci finds her kids doing something she forbid, like the time Eloise snuck out during a family dinner to meet her then-boyfriend.
“YN,” my cousin sighs, “what did I say in the cab about letting loose?”
“I’m… loose…” Even as I say it, I cringe. That was not the way to say it. Straightening my shoulders, I argue, “Ellie, this is your scene. Not mine. I don’t like it here.”
“Lots of people don’t like clubs when they first come to them,” she returns, ruffling her black hair so the curls bounce. Eloise has always been beautiful, but under the canopy of the foggy club, she looked extra pretty. I wonder what people think when they see us together. An older sister and her whiny baby sister? The popular girl and the nerd? I hated feeling so inadequate next to my own family, but right now, I feel it full force. Eloise goes on with, “But you get used to it and you have lots of fun. Look, let me order you a drink—“ I open my mouth to protest but she’s already calling for the bartender. “To be honest, I was just going to bring you a bottle of water, but this is better. Now that you’re here, I can show you why everyone loves to drink.” To the bartender, she says, “One Jack and Coke, and a Long Island Iced Tea.”
Are both of those for me?
As I’m wondering this, the bartender drops a small glass of what appears to be Coca-Cola on the table. Eloise uses the tip of her finger to slide it my way, and if not for my quick reflexes, I’m almost one hundred percent certain it would have slid off the bar top.
With anxiety racing through my bloodstream, I shakily raise the glass.
“Drink up, little cousin.”
Eloise doesn’t wait for me to finish my sentence before she tips the glass towards my mouth. The ice chimes against the walls of the glass as the crisp liquid flows over my tongue and down my esophagus. Its brumal sting gallops down my throat causing me to blink fast.
Leaning away from the glass, I mumble, “This tastes like coke mixed with something else.”
Eloise chuckles and takes two sips of her iced tea. “What you’re tasting is the whiskey.” Placing her drink down, my cousin tilts her head in mock interest. “Gosh, YN, you’re so weird sometimes. How have you graduated from high school and never had a Jack and Coke?”
“You already know I don’t drink.”
“Oh, I’m well aware. I just didn’t know your social life was so boring. Didn’t you and Hyeri ever—”
I lower my gaze at the same time Eloise’s eyes widen three times their normal size.
The two of us never talked about it, but my best friend’s death was a topic Eloise trekked very quietly. In about everything else in life, my cousin is loud and boisterous. She is the life of the party and the roar of the crowd. But topics like family and death are difficult for her, and she almost never speaks of them.
After Hyeri passed, Eloise stopped bringing her up in conversation completely. If she ever did bring her up, it was with the words, ‘your best friend’ or ‘that girl.’ Never her name. It was almost as if Eloise was petrified of saying it. As if some grand significance stood idle behind our friend’s name and she could not bring herself to utter it out of fear of the unknown.
And so, because I know with absolutely surety that Eloise didn’t intend to say Hyeryung’s name, I answer her question with, “No. We never drank. At least, not together.”
Eloise nods and looks away, occasionally sipping on her iced tea as her own ears blaze.
It must run in the family.
Minutes of silence later, two of the men from earlier return and Eloise doesn’t look my way as she instructs me to call her if I need anything and to ‘stay by the bar if you aren’t going to dance’ before walking away. Then I watch her be whisked off by men who snake up to her like she’s a film star. And honestly, she may as well be with her larger-than-life persona that I never quite grew out of being envious about.
Turning on my heel, I am about to place my Jack and Coke back on the bar top when a deep voice snickers, “You look like you’re having fun.”
The voice of my childhood dreams freezes me in place. Before I can build the courage to raise my head and look to its source, the blatant sarcasm laced with the veins of his tone buries me ten feet under. Dread, and pure, unadulterated mortification staples me to the ground even as he takes two steps closer.
“What?” He asks mockingly. It hurts. Oh God, it hurts so much. “You can’t look at me now that we’re practically strangers?”
“It’s funny,” he drawls, leaning one arm on the bar top. His darkening gaze traces me from the tip of my head to the tip of my green tennis shoes. A gift from him last year. “I didn’t think you would ever have the courage to show up to a place like this. It’s not really your scene, is it, YN?”
The fact that his comment mirrors my earlier argument with Eloise is startling. Although, it shouldn’t be. I grew up with him. He knows a place like this is the furthest from my comfort zone. I just hate that he knows it. I have never fully admitted it to myself, but so much of me wishes any memories he has of me would be erased. I wish we had never been friends. Maybe then, he could be happier never having known me, and I could have lived without the guilt I carry like a phantom limb.
“My c-cousin brought m-me—”
He juts his chin towards my cardigan. “Then maybe she should have told you that most girls don’t dress like that here.” A pause. “Not unless they want to become fresh meat.”
Instinctively, I tighten the cardigan around my body. When my fingers make contact with the cotton, I realize it is the same cardigan I wore that day on my porch with the eggs. Blushing embarrassingly, I mumble, “I’m not fresh meat.”
“To one of the drunk bastards here, you are.”
“W-What do you want, Taehyung?”
At the sound of my question, one of his eyebrows does a slight jump before descending. A smirk starts to play on his lips as he seats himself at the bar. He’s wearing a black zip-up bomber jacket twice his size, and so when he leans across the bar top, it conceals much of his side profile. A disappearing act whenever he wants it.
Tapping spry fingers along the damp, wooden bar, Taehyung hums, “Well for one, I’d like my sister back.” He turns to me with a smile brewed from rage and vindication causing my heart to hammer between flashes of inordinate grief. Of their own accord, my tennis shoes skid back one step, though not quite far enough to miss the remainder of his answer. “But you can’t bring her back, can you? After people die, they’re gone forever. I wish your family had known that before it destroyed mine.”
“Breathe in, breathe out,” she instructed.
I make a face at her. “That’s the dumbest advice ever. I know how to breathe!”
“Just listen will you,” she sighed, rolling her eyes obnoxiously. “It helps with anxiety. Sure, you know how to breathe. But when you’re anxious, it’s like your body forgets what normal functioning is, so you have to help it get back on track.”
“I’m not anxious.”
“You’re literally shaking from head to toe, YN. Just breathe with me, okay, dumbass?” Holding my hands in hers, she counts me through long breaths. “Breathe in, 1, 2, 3… now slowly exhale, 1…2…3…”
Breathing is difficult when I try to focus on it with purpose in the midst of my panic. All at once, whirlwinds of agonizingly lethal pain injects my bloodstream and leaves me both immobile and ready to dash away. Except, in this smoky club where I am a stranger to everyone but two people, places to run to are miniscule in number.
I will myself not to think about it, but when I can’t help it when I do think about the breathing exercises I learned from someone who can no longer teach me anything.
In the minute I stand vibrating in tandem with the thundering EDM music surrounding us, Taehyung has ordered a drink for himself, and over the rim of the thick glass, he slyly asks, “How’s your brother?”
“You can’t tell Tae.”
“Hyeri… why are you hiding this from him?”
“Dani doesn’t want me to tell anyone. Not yet.”
Rolling my eyes in exasperation, I release my arms from their crossed position. “Daniel is an idiot. An idiot I cannot believe you want to be with. Like… ew, he’s my brother.”
“Never say that in front of me again! Ew, ew, ew!”
“You just don’t see it because he’s your brother. But trust me… he’s….” her eyes mist over, and it’s the first time I’ve seen my best friend look so moved. “I think he’s the one. I really do.”
Droplets of cold sweat burn the back of my neck as they transcend the path downwards and split in the middle of my spine. The experience is ordinary. Perhaps, more ordinary than breathing has been for the past year. My body and all its corners have learned the art of showcasing my inner trauma in ways which I am still growing accustomed to.
The sweat clouding my back feels like rain in the middle of this putrid club. On any patch of Earth, rain gives life. On me, this rain of sweat fuels my immeasurable anguish—both for the situation and the questions I know Taehyung doesn’t really want me to answer.
He asks them to taunt me—nothing else. Lately, he has learned to become quite good at doing so.
“I’m sorry,” I murmur, throwing the apology his way despite knowing that over the thud, thud, thud of the musical bass, it may go unheard. Taehyung doesn’t look at me as he takes another sip of his drink, finishing it all this time. I swallow and try again, despite my nerves begging me to stop. “I-I’m sorry, Taehyung, I—”
His eyes are menacing as he glares me down. “When I look at you, YN, there is only one thing which goes through my mind, and do you want to know what that is?”
Wobbly lips whisper, “What?”
“That I wish it had been you.”
“I think he likes you~”
“Hyeri, stop. No, he doesn’t.”
Hyeri smirks and crosses her arms. “Then why did he specifically ask me to invite you? He even made a card for you.” She pushes a small, white card with the words ‘To YN’ my way. “Do you know how many other girls he made a card for?” Staying quiet has the desired effect because my best friend giggles, “Zero. He only made this card for you.”
“Then… why didn’t he give it to me himself?”
Hyeri shrugs. “Probably because he’s too chicken. And also because he’s dumb and forgot to give it to you earlier. But the tournament is tomorrow and he really wants you to come. You’re going to come, right?”
“Good,” my best friend grins. “He’ll be so happy to see you on the bleachers.”
His admission punches my gut.
The sound of the EDM music echoes in my ears, as if suddenly further away than it originally was. Though I stand directly in front of him, Taehyung seems to vanish right before my eyes. In his place stands the imaginative illustration of his words and my guilt in combination of a thought I have wished to be real over and over again.
If only it was me.
If I had died instead of Hyeryung, then she and Taehyung could have moved on somehow. They would have had each other, the siblings who some thought were twins based on the closeness of their age and adoring friendship. If it had been me, they would have been able to mourn my loss then continue living because they had a rope in each other to hold on to.
It has been a year and never have I been this way for Taehyung: not during the trial, when my loyalties to my own family froze me to their side; not during the funeral, when I was removed from the venue before I could even see what picture of my best friend they chose for the service; and especially not after, when no one had heard from Taehyung in months and when he did come home eventually, almost no one recognized the man who returned—scruffy hair, exhausted eyes, and limbs so skinny that his jeans were inches from falling off his body at any moment.
As tears spring to my eyes, I don’t wipe at them. They pad down my cheeks, and I whisper, “I’m sorry, Taehyung. I wish it had been me, t-too.”
Taehyung’s gaze traces my tear-stained expression. Despite the room we are in, I feel alone with him now. In this moment, it feels like it’s just the two of us here and every single thing we do will not go unseen by the other. I feel stark naked, and I don’t like it. I hate feeling this way around him when everything I used to feel with him was the exact opposite.
Sensations heightened and heart hammering, I swallow around something thick weighing down my throat. He is staring at me, silent, even as a giggling, much-too-drunk girl bumps into his side and stays there. And so for a split second, Taehyung’s eyes dart to her salaciously stretching her hand over his chest.
Leaning her weight against him, she asks, “Wanna dance with me?”
And as if he has done it a million times before, Taehyung wraps a hand around her wrist and tears it off his chest. The gruff motion seems to startle the strange girl into sobriety, and as she blinks fogginess away, he grumbles, “No, I don’t want to dance with you.”
The girl is smart enough not to start an argument. With her tail between her legs and an embarrassed flush rises high on her angled cheeks, she throws a glance between me and him before running away. The clicking of her heels feels like pinches in my skin as it travels farther and farther away. And when I dare to look at Taehyung again, I almost wish she would come back.
Over the past year, Taehyung has been scarce around town. For one, he had just started university when the news of Hyeryung’s death reached him. Then, after her funeral, he went missing for months. Word in the neighbourhood was that he went to Scotland to see his uncle. Another group of friends said he went to New York to sell his photography. I couldn’t ask around to see which of the floating rumours was actually true.
I remember what Taehyung looked like before his sister died. I wish I didn’t, but I remember it all too well. Like a memory burned to the back of my mind.
Taehyung had a growth spurt sometime during the end of his junior year of high school. He, Hyeryung, and I went back-to-school shopping together and his mother had to buy him three new pairs of jeans because none of his old ones fit him anymore. By then, his style had changed from ‘anime fanatic’ to ‘rich art student,’ too, and so his mother shelled out over two hundred dollars on new shirts and shoes, as well. And so by the time the three of us started school again, Taehyung was suddenly a part of the popular crowd. They opened their arms to him so quickly that it gave me whiplash because I could remember only a few months before when none of them wanted to be seated close to us. We were a small school in an even smaller town, and it was difficult to join new friend groups once they had been established. But Taehyung was different and I knew it.
Hyeri called him a traitor for joining the popular crowd, but I didn’t agree. It’s not like Taehyung forgot about us. His priorities were just different now, and we had to adjust to it. I never told Hyeri, but I liked watching Taehyung bloom into the extroverted, confident, and handsome man he was becoming. It was like watching the smallest star in the galaxy learn to shine brighter than it used to.
I still feel this way, though it is quieter now. It has to be. The circumstances have forced me to be, and once again, I have learned to adjust.
“You’re pathetic,” he seethes, eyes the colour of murky water after midnight. Every word from his lips is a laceration, and a targeted whip against my heart. I am shaking beyond measure, and by now, I am too far from the table to grip it. The man in front of me keeps going. “I wish we had never met you. All you and your family ever did was bring misery into our lives. I wish my sister had been smart enough to see that.” He takes two steps closer. I don’t do the noble thing and move back. It’s like I’m glued in place with nowhere to go. “And you know what? I resent her for that, too. Maybe if she had been smart, she would have seen you for the monster you have always been.”
Taehyung does not cry.
I have known him all his life and not once has he ever cried in front of me. But tonight, he does.
Just like mine sprung with tears minutes ago, his beautiful brown eyes fill with droplets of woe, and suddenly, we are mirrored halves of grief. After a year of mourning apart, we are standing on the same foot path of heartache. Alone, but together.
I would give up anything in the world for you to not be sad anymore.
As Taehyung begins to blink his tears away, I finally take a step forward. My hand, trembling and afraid, reaches up for his face as if it is separate from my mind, screaming at me to stop. Affliction rises from a corner of my heart and rushes down to pool in my stomach. I push past that, too, and touch his face despite everything fighting against me to not do so.
Taehyung doesn’t move back. Not like I expect him to. Slowly, his eyes meet mine in the overcast of the hazy room.
The last time I was this close to him, he had kissed me. It is not a memory I think of with fondness any more. I didn’t think it was fair. What right did I have to dream about a boy whose life I had destroyed? What right did I have to love him?
I tell myself I don’t, that I never did, as I use the pad of my thumb to dust the tears off his warm cheeks. He is stiff, as I expected him to be, but two swipes later, he softens. Perhaps no one else in the raucous club would have noticed it, but I do. I feel it wash over my skin, shuddering and more illuminating than any strobe of colourful lighting around us.
Taehyung traces me with his eyes again, studying my face.
I wonder what he sees. He says I’m a monster, and I can believe myself to be. Is that what he’s seeing? A monster who should have replaced the death of a sister he loved more than anyone else in the world. What colour is this monster? Is she red like the devil? Does she have horns and claws? What love is she capable of if all she does is hurt others?
It is unkind of me, but I selfishly desire for this moment between us to last a while longer when it starts to fizzle. He reads something in my eyes and it seems to wash away the mistiness inside his mind. And then, just like he did the girl before me, Taehyung wraps his long fingers around my wrist and pushes me away.
He does not say a word to me when he walks around my figure and heads into the crowd. Watching him leave splits my heart open. I shift closer to the bar and fall against it, gripping whatever piece of wood I can touch. In seconds, I am soaked with tears all over again.
Wiping my eyes with the back of my hand, I shake my head and push through the pain as much as I can, smiling as I go. “It’s okay. Really, I’m fine.”
Hyeri immediately hugs me to her and grumbles, “I don’t know what happened. He made that card for you and he asked me if you were going to come. I don’t know why he would kiss her—”
“I think it was a mistake… me coming here. I’m—I’m gonna go.”
As I pull out of her arms, trying to sniffle less than I was a few moments ago, Hyeri asks, “Do you want me to beat him up for you?”
Her lips push into a pout. “Tae is an idiot. You’re way better than her. Smarter and prettier and far more talented.”
“She’s literally a cheerleader and she got into a pre-med program at SNU.”
“He’s just confused. He’s my brother, and I know he likes you. I don’t know what went wrong, but I’m going to fix this. Okay? I’m going to make him—“
“No!” Grabbing her arm, I stop all of Hyeri’s rapid, fiery movements and force her look at me. “It was just a crush. It’s not like I’m in love with him. He should be with the girl he likes, and it’s okay if that girl isn’t me. So don’t worry about it.” I bump my shoulder with hers. “Now that you’re going out with Dani, at least I know there’s a chance we’re still going to be family someday.”
“We already are,” she grins, and wraps her pinky around mine. Her fingers were always smaller than my own, and it was something her brother and I would tease her about all the time. “We’re sisters. Forever and always.”
. . . ❤ . . .
I like driving into the city.
Back when I was still on my learner’s permit, my mother had to drive everywhere with me. And by everywhere, I mean she made me drive to the grocery store or the town mall while she sat in the driver’s seat going over her various shopping lists. My mother loved lists. She could rarely function well without them. I learned how to create a list for ‘getting ready for school’ before I turned five years old. It was instilled in my brain that ‘living is only done right by those who organize their lives.’ My mother was a perfectionist, and strived for me to be the same.
I started driving alone a year ago, after I passed my second road test. It happened only a week before Hyeryung went missing. Back then, when I was cruising down the empty road behind my neighbourhood listening to Brighten at the perfect volume, I never could have imagined what a few days into the future would look like. No one could have.
There aren’t many people around at this time of day. After all, it’s 7 AM on a Sunday. Everyone is sleeping in or just getting ready to sleep in following a night of Netflix binging or video gaming. I went to bed early last night to avoid doing the same as I had grown prone to lately. With not much to do now that school is out and I am officially a graduate, I spent the past week watching a lot of television despite how it strained my eyes and gave me headache after headache.
As I pull into the parking lot of the town sports shop, I notice Kevin, the store manager, unlocking the front door. I quickly locate a parking spot then kill the ignition. I have exactly twenty minutes before the shop opens for business, which means I need to get to Kevin right away.
I pull down the driving mirror and check my face.
Eyebrows are fine.
Eye bags hidden by drugstore concealer.
My skin is a bit saggy, but that’s okay. No one will really notice.
My lips are—
I quickly apply lip tint then sigh against the driver’s seat. I’m already worn out from stress and I haven’t even gone in there yet. I think my brain knows how scary and exhausting the trek is going to be so it’s decided to keep me from trying my luck. If only I was willing to abide.
No one in my family knows that I’m here.
I wanted to tell Jinnie, but thought better of it since he’s prone to overthinking. He might have tried to talk me out of it. Dad was asleep when I left, and Mom was talking to her sister on the phone. At least, I think she was. I heard the words ‘I want to die’ a few times and she only ever says that to Aunt Yura. She said it to me once, but I think I cried too much afterwards for her to try it again. It’s messy—dealing with someone else’s emotions when your own are so amply charged. My mother transformed into a shell of the person she once was after they took my brother away in handcuffs. Over the months in trial, and between prison visits and being harassed by the town, bits and parts of my mother began chipping away until all she was left with was something unrecognizable—to us and to herself.
Kevin is fixing an arrangement of hockey sticks near the back of the shop when I walk in. He doesn’t turn around as I expect him to, which leaves me standing awkwardly between the doorway and the register, wondering if I should call attention to myself before he realizes I’m there.
“We’re not open just yet—”
Swallowing, I go, “H-Hi.”
Kevin is taller than a lot of men in our town. At six feet four inches, he towers over a great deal of the male population of Butterpond. There is a big picture of him and his basketball teammates hanging on the wall outside of the gymnasium of the local high school, and if you ever eavesdropped on a group of boys standing by it, one of them was bound to claim he would be just as tall as Kevin someday and join the NBA.
Daniel and Kevin graduated together. They were best friends once. The two of them were ‘two peas in a pod;’ consistently side-by-side growing up. Good thing, too, and perhaps only natural, since our father and Kevin’s were also best friends since childhood.
When Hyeryung’s body was found in the backseat of Kevin’s Mazda, no one knew what to think. The best friend? It was a story which ran for exactly six hours before Daniel turned himself in, unbeknownst to our family. My mother cried a lot that day, and so did Jinnie and I. Dad was a rock—his go-to emotion of choice. I can’t say much has changed since then.
Kevin never said a word about what happened the night they found Hyeryung in his car. Not to his lawyer, not to his family, not to us, and especially not to any reporter. An out-of-town podcaster running a true crime podcast reached out to him a week after they buried Hyeryung, and despite how much money they offered for Kevin’s story, he stayed mute. Whether it was because he was hiding something or because of his loyalty to my brother, no one knows.
And as I stand here, in Kevin’s shop a year after the last time I saw him, I wonder how many secrets Kevin still keeps.
I do my best to ignore the pang in my chest upon hearing the surprise in his tone as I take two steps forward. Kevin’s light brown eyes follow my footwork until I am standing less than a metre away from him. I can only imagine what I look like to him in this moment.
Growing up, Kevin would often refer to Jinnie and I as his siblings, too, due entirely to the fact that he spent enough time at our house to warrant it. It was fun having Kevin around. He and Daniel would play video games together or show us scary movies which we later had to lie to our parents about, and on the odd weekend, they would let us join them for fun activities, too.
I missed Kevin all these months because even though I had never said it out loud, I thought of Kevin as my big brother, too.
“How have you been?”
Kevin moves towards me with one step in my direction but then stops, like he’s afraid of the closeness. In a quiet voice, he replies, “I’m fine… what are you doing here?”
There is no one else inside the shop, but it feels like I’m being watched by a hundred people when I reach inside my tote bag for my resume. I hold it out for Kevin’s uncertain hands. “I want to work here.”
Kevin’s eyes snap up. “What?”
“You’re hiring, aren’t you?”
“Well, yes, but—”
“I saw your job posting at the grocery store over the weekend,” I add in before he can talk me out of my request. “You need someone to work in the back of the shop.”
The hand holding my resume falls limply to his side, effectively sending my heart into overdrive. Please, please don’t say no. I need this. “YN, I can’t—” A sigh escapes him as he places my resume atop a nearby box. “I can’t hire you for that job, YN. Please look somewhere else.”
“I just can’t.”
When Kevin turns around, I know exactly what he’s about to do. As someone who does it quite often, it is easy enough to note the signs on another person—Kevin is going to walk away and hope I take a hint to do the same.
But I won’t.
Because I need this job.
Besides the fact that this may be the only place in town where I can still walk in without covering my face with a mask or a hoodie, this is also the only place which receives less than a few customers a day, meaning I don’t have to face anyone who would spit on me without thinking twice. I can lie to myself all I want, but I’m not as strong as I thought I would be when my father said you’re the oldest now after they took Daniel away for the last time.
“Kevin.” Saying his name rings a bell inside my heart, somewhere deep and lonely. Perhaps it is because I haven’t said it for months and months. Or maybe, it’s because of the way he turns back around with pained eyes I’m nowhere used to seeing on him. My words are wobbly as they murmur, “Please, Kev. You’re the only one who—”
The sound of a heavy door bursting open tears us away from the disagreement. The back door of the sports shop swings open to reveal a familiar bed of brown curls, and sun kissed skin. His skin shimmers where the short sleeves of his white Calvin Klein shirt don’t reach, exposed biceps curling to accompany the grip his hands have on a small box he carries in.
Taehyung does not notice me at all, and says to Kevin, “Diego dropped these off. Should I put it next to the baseball gear?” And then he does notice me and with the way his eyes darken, I wish I had taken the initiative to hide when he was unaware of my presence.
“YN was just leaving—”
“No, I’m not leaving.” The tone and finality of my voice scares even me as I stand my ground before the older man. Though my hands shake a bit, I argue, “You can’t d-discriminate against me for this job.”
Kevin’s shoulder slump into a position which tells me he has lost, at least a little bit. Sighing to himself, he tells Taehyung, “Put it down by the baseball gear. I’ll take a look at it later.” To me, Kevin asks, “Can you lift more than 50 kilograms?” But before I can reply, he shakes his head and says, “I know you can’t, so just… just be careful, YN. Please.”
I hold my breath until Kevin walks off, heading for Taehyung who won’t stop staring at me. I turn around and squat to untie my shoelaces just to re-tie them. Anything to get him to stop gazing my way. I used to dream about the day when Taehyung wouldn’t be able to stop himself from looking at me, but now that the day is here, all I want is to go back to the way things used to be.
In more ways than one.
“Hyeri… don’t be mad…”
My best friend blinks up at me, probably thankful for the minute-long holiday from her sixth grade math homework. “What’s up?”
“I think I like—” I squeeze a sofa cushion closer to my face as a fierce blush blossoms over my cheeks. “IlikeTaehyung.”
Hyeryung tears the cushion off. “Say it again. I couldn’t hear you.”
With a sharp inhale, I whisper, “I like Taehyung.”
Hyeri’s shoulders drop. Her face is expressionless. “My brother, Taehyung?”
Suddenly, Hyeryung’s face breaks out into the biggest grin I’ve ever seen on her. She looks like she could explode from joy. It makes my heart grow calmer. “YN! What?! Really?! Do you really like Tae?!”
“This is so perfect!”
“Of course it is! My two best friends liking each other! What could be more perfect than that!”
“I don’t think Tae likes me, though…” I start playing with a loose string, twisting it around my forefinger. “He doesn’t even notice me. He just plays soccer or guitar all day.”
Hyeryung smirks. “Sure he does. He asked me what he should get you for your birthday.”
My brows pull together as confusion floods through me. “But my birthday is seven months away.”
. . . ❤ . . .
Everything in my chest twists and burns as I reach down for the first box of men’s winter jackets.
There are approximately four boxes of unsold menswear from the winter season which never sold out. Kevin asked me to tape them up and place them in the back, behind all the new summer items like flip-flops and sun tan lotion. I hadn’t expected the task to be so daunting. After only a few minutes of heavy lifting, my arms hurt so much that I’m afraid they may never regain proper mobility.
The pain makes me realization I am not cut out for this job despite how much I wanted it last week. But when I compare this pain to the one of feeling stuck in this little town, I ignore my body’s cries and keep pushing.
Kevin isn’t around a lot, preferring to work in his little office where no voices can be heard coming out. But everywhere I turn, Taehyung is there. He mans the register six out of the eight hours we work, and when he isn’t doing that, he strolls around the shop fixing and rearranging items on shelves that look as though they have not been touched since they were placed there.
Most of my time at the shop is spent trying to pretend I don’t notice him. But in trying not to notice him, I only end up noticing him more. Like the way he stands by the water dispenser for minutes at a time, drinking out of the small, paper cups until they get soggy instead of using a bottle. Or how he makes funny faces at himself in the store window whenever he’s bored (he’s very good at doing a horrible Joker impression. Or that he calls his grandmother every other day to check up on her, and uses the gentlest voice in order to do so. Or the fact that he pretends I don’t exist even if I walk right past him.
I know the right thing to do is to feel thankful, but I don’t. I just feel hurt, and upset, and alone. Which, considering the circumstances, is not only disrespectful to his sister’s memory, but agonizingly inhumane on my part. I’m making everything about us, when it isn’t, and that’s why, after a week of working away at Kevin’s little sports shop, I think about quitting every few hours. I feel selfish in believing I shouldn’t for the sake of Jinnie and me.
A knock sounds at the door as I’m lifting the very last box onto a sturdy shelf. My chest heaves once I lodge it up there with the rest of the boxes which will hopefully stay put until the next time Kevin decides to bring them out.
I move to the door as another knock flitters past, and before I decide to take a seat on the dirty floor of the backroom. My fingers are numb as they twist the door handle and reveal an expressionless Kevin standing behind it. He keeps his gaze locked on a spot behind me as he speaks, and yet again, I feel out-of-place.
“It’s lunch time,” he murmurs in a voice which tells me he wishes he didn’t have to speak to me at all. And I end up hating myself a little more for putting him in such a position. “Go and take a break.”
Giving him a simple nod, I watch Kevin walk away, probably to inform Taehyung of the same thing. Movement by the front door tells me that Kevin is locking up for the next hour, as is customary for lunch. I go to the small lockers where I keep my things and pull out my lunch bag. It swings from my fingers as I move to the back door, using all my strength to push it open.
Outside, the early July sun waves hello as I find my spot closest to the door. Then, I reach inside my lunch bag and pull out an old bed sheet with the Power Rangers on it that Jinnie used to sleep on. Laying it on the gravel, I push down the ends as much as I can then take a seat in a criss-cross position.
For lunch today, I packed some of last night’s leftovers: a glass noodle stir-fry I learned how to make off a TikTok recipe. Dad pretended to like it for the sake of me being his daughter, Mom hardly touched hers, while Jinnie asked for chicken nuggets instead. I didn’t think the noodles were too bad, but if I could choose between this lunch and a Big Mac, I know which one I’d pick in a heartbeat.
I swirl the noodles around with my chopsticks as a group of ants slowly trek their way up and onto my makeshift picnic blanket. They must have smelt the food and announced it to their troop.
Smilingly, I reach inside my Tupperware of noodles and locate a slice of beef then lay it on the cloth. Almost instantly, they all jump for the meat and take it away with them. I do this a few more times until all that’s left in my lunchbox are a few strings of noodles that look even less appetizing than before. So I cover it up and set it aside, then reach for a cosmic brownie I promised myself I wouldn’t eat but can’t help myself to now when my stomach grumbles out of hunger.
I’m nearing the end of the exceptionally delicious brownie when the door swings open, nearly slapping me in the face. Okay, bad lunch spot. Further away from the door next time, YN.
“What are you doing…?” It’s Taehyung, and he’s staring at me like he can’t believe what he’s seeing. I lower my head out of instinct. He must notice my set up because his next question is, “You eat lunch out here?”
I nod so I don’t have to verbally reply, and also so that I don’t actually have to lift my head and talk.
“I thought you went to McDonald’s or something…” I’m silent as well unmoving in the hope that maybe he will walk back inside without questioning me further. But that’s not the case when he goes on to ask, “Why don’t you eat in the staff room?” The staff room he’s referring to is the small room next to Kevin’s office and the bathroom. It has exactly one table with two seats, a mini microwave, a kettle, and a box of napkins. I would be both stupid and heartless (perhaps more than I already am) if I sat myself in that room next to Taehyung in silence while we ate our lunch.
But now, Taehyung is waiting for an answer I don’t want to give him, but one which I have to. “I didn’t… um… I didn’t want to bother you…”
“By eating your lunch?” I stay quiet again, and I can almost hear him rolling his eyes. “It’s not like I care where you eat your lunch, but just eat in the staff room from now on. I don’t want to be held responsible for you bringing bugs into the shop.”
I know that he knows his argument is weak, and that it’s just his inherent goodness talking, so I nod and agree. Taehyung doesn’t stay outside for much longer after that. I don’t know what he came out here for, and he never shows me. After he leaves, I wait a few minutes before heading inside and to the lockers.
Kevin is waking up from his short nap and as he passes me by, he tells me to finish logging all the winter boxes into the system. It’s one of the various tasks I have to deal with, and in my opinion, probably the most difficult. I know next to nothing about Excel spreadsheets, but Kevin doesn’t know that so he’s never tutored me on it. Most of the time, I turn to Youtube or Google to help me figure it out. Now if only the physical labour was as simple.
The shop has been pretty empty today. Most days are like this considering the fact that summer only just started and a lot of the town folk go on vacation during this time. Kevin tells me that the shop doesn’t see an increase in sales until at least late July, when the vacationers return and their kids start asking for new shoes or sports gear.
As I’m finishing up the winter log, the front door chimes, announcing the arrival of a customer. When I take a peek outside, from where my door was left ajar, I notice Mrs. Bloom and her son, Cody, walk in.
Mrs. Bloom is the wife of the town’s grocery store owner, Mr. Bloom of Blooming Butterpond. Everyone who lives in our town gets their groceries from them. Their prices are reasonable, and their customer service is alright, but I still know a lot of people who order their spices online. The Blooms are one of the richest families in town and anyone who is anyone knows who they are. Mrs. Bloom is especially popular. She is friends with nearly all the women in town, young and old. Back before Daniel’s arrest, she used to be friends with my mother, too. She would come around for afternoon tea sometimes or invite our family to picnics by the lake. Daniel and her older son, Brandon, knew each other from football, too, though they were separated by a three year age gap.
Mrs. Bloom stopped calling and visiting our house first. After she did, all the other women in town followed. One by one, they all cut our family off—terrified for their own sons and daughters.
I haven’t seen nor heard Mrs. Bloom’s voice since last winter, when she gave the local news station a personal account of my brother’s violent upbringing. Not that she was even a part of it. Daniel wasn’t even born in Butterpond, but on the other side of the country while our parents were on vacation.
“Taehyung, honey, hello,” Mrs. Bloom’s voice chirps. It is cheery and full of delight, and everything which screams I come from a lot of money. “How have you been, sweetheart? I haven’t seen you around these days. Are you eating well? How’s your family?”
Taehyung’s voice is less bubbly. “It’s nice to see you again, Mrs. Bloom. I’m fine and so are my parents.” I peek my head our further to watch him smile at Cody, a boy only a few months younger than my baby brother. “Hey, Cody. How’s soccer going?”
“I made captain!”
“No way! High five!” Cody jumps high to slap his palm against Taehyung’s. The boy I haven’t seen smile all week is nothing but in front of the customers.
Mrs. Bloom ruffles her son’s hair and grins at Taehyung with pearly white teeth. “We came here to get Cody some new running shoes and grab Brandon’s new football gear. Can you help us out today?”
“Of course. Please, follow me.”
As Taehyung leads them to the section of the shop where we keep kids’ running shoes, I slowly back away from the door and shut it behind me. Knowing myself, I’ll keep listening just to give myself something to do now that I’ve completed the winter log. And knowing Mrs. Bloom, my employment here will become the talk of the town if she sees me.
For the next few minutes, I busy myself with the physical inventory list Kevin keeps by the door. Flip-flops, swim trunks, swimsuits, sun-tan lotion, sunscreen, surf boards… After a minute or so of reading, the words seem to pile together until they may as well have been written in a foreign language. When my eyes begin to blur with the strained ill movement of my eyes, I look away, blinking furiously.
That’s when I hear two taps at the door—Taehyung’s knock.
I slowly pull it open to reveal Taehyung standing there, as expressionless as Kevin was a few hours ago.
Taehyung holds up a yellow Post-It note sprawled with his messy handwriting. “I need these Nikes in size 7.” Then he pushes the paper my way before I can ask him to hold on while I go and find it.
The Nikes Cody wants are a limited edition pair of running shoes which came out only a month ago. I read about their stock number in the shop on my first day working here since Kevin wanted me to be well-aware of which shoes would be likely to sell out first and where to quickly locate them. The only thing is… Mrs. Bloom and her son are the first customers to come asking for them since I started my job, and I’ve long since forgotten what I learned last week about running shoes.
I walk through the men’s shoe aisle, scanning the boxes as quickly as possible while flipping through the inventory list just as fast.
“Level 2, Box 2C…”
Level 2 is high enough for me to need a ladder, which I pull to my side from the very end of the aisle. The ladder is shaky as I ground my foot onto the first step, careful to hold onto something so that I don’t fall off-balance. It takes me a few tries to control my breathing as I stand on top of the ladder, but eventually I’m able to find the box I’m looking for and reach inside it. The shoe box is wrapped with a thick film of bubble wrap, which I manage to tear off as soon as I’m back on solid ground.
Taking a deep breath, I squeeze my fingers to pump some energy back inside me before pulling the door open. Much to my surprise, Taehyung isn’t there like I expected him to be. With confusion growing in the pit of my stomach, I glance around several times to see if maybe he was scrolling through his phone close by, but he isn’t. He isn’t there at all.
I don’t know what I’m doing when I slowly walk out of the back room and towards the main part of the shop where anyone could see me. Usually, I never walk out when we have customers. I know Kevin has never said it, but his eyes on the day he gave me this job was enough to tell me that I wasn’t really allowed out here at all. His shop has been in the family for decades. I can’t allow my family’s reputation to destroy it.
Yet here I am, walking forward with my gut twisting the way my chest was earlier this morning. And when my eyes fall upon the scene I walk up to, the biting sensation strengthens so tight around my ribcage that it is a wonder I am still breathing.
Mrs. Bloom appears to be talking on the phone a little ways away, while Taehyung bounces a soccer ball on his knee, seemingly to show Cody how to do it. Cody is smiling and giggling cutely at the way Taehyung appears to mimic real soccer stars. I probably shouldn’t think much of it except that I do. Because this small blip in time marches in tandem with the days Jinnie would stare up at Taehyung with all the love in the world pouring from his sparkly eyes.
“Tae, I don’t think Jinnie will be any good at soccer,” I whisper to the brown haired boy. I feel bad for saying it, but Jinnie hasn’t always been the greatest at sports. That was more Daniel’s forte. But these days, Jinnie was missing our older while he went to visit colleges with our Dad, and he wanted to impress him when Daniel returned. “He can’t even throw a ball.”
Taehyung grins towards Jinnie. “Good thing that soccer balls aren’t meant to be thrown.”
I was right in the end—soccer was not Jinnie’s strong suit. But Taehyung was against my ‘poor spirits’ as he called it. He wanted to show Jinnie that it was perfectly possible for anyone to learn how to play soccer, even if it took some people longer to learn than others. And the thing is, Taehyung did show Jinnie exactly what he set out to do. Over and over again, Hyeri and I would be hanging out after school, studying for an upcoming test or painting our nails pretty in pink, and Taehyung would come by looking to hang out with my baby brother. Jinnie loved it. He started calling Taehyung his big brother, too, and Taehyung wore the badge like an honour.
I’m sniffling back tears before I even realize they’re falling while the shoe box shakes in my hands uncontrollably. That’s when Taehyung glances my way, and immediately stops what he’s doing to walk over to me.
“YN YLN, is that you?” Mrs. Bloom slides past a befuddled Cody and straight up to me, bypassing Taehyung who blinks at her aggressive stance. Mrs. Bloom is a woman much taller than I am, and when she stands so close, I feel cornered in, like a mouse with nowhere to run. I try to meet her fiery eyes, but am unable to when she starts speaking again. “What are you doing here?” To Taehyung, she incredulously wonders, “Taehyung, honey, don’t tell me you work with her?”
Mrs. Bloom snaps her gaze to mine. “I’m not speaking to you, YN, now am I? I’m speaking to this poor boy whom you’re troubling with your presence.” Her eyes narrow as they take me in. “The audacity! Do you lack a conscience, YN? A heart? Is your family a pack of wolves?!”
With each word her burgundy painted lips spit my way, my heart crowds in on itself. It’s hard to breathe, and I can feel something thundering inside my chest, willing me to fall to the ground in foetal position until everything around me goes away. It may work out well for her, too, since she’d have plenty of small tidbits to sprinkle her story with for the other town folk to listen to.
Though before I can move out of her atmosphere, Taehyung steps forward, and effectively shifts Mrs. Bloom’s attention to himself.
“Mrs. Bloom, let me ring you up,” he suggests with a slight wobble to his voice. His eyes are indecipherable as he looks her way. “I can offer you a 15% summer discount on the shoes.”
As he does so, I use the back of my hand to push away my tears and square my shoulders. This is not the worst thing you have ever been through, I remind myself as I start walking back to the inventory room. I can still hear the chattering of Mrs. Bloom and Taehyung at the register when I touch the doorknob. Then, as I start to pull it open, I hear Taehyung call my name.
He’s right behind me wearing an uncertain expression. It’s one I can fully read this time, and it sets my gut aflame.
“Mrs. Bloom, she…” he raises his arm to rub the back of his neck, both awkward and unsure. “She wants you to carry Brandon’s football gear to her car.”
I do my best to ignore the way my chest tightens again. My still-damp eyes swim to the front door where Mrs. Bloom stands waiting for me, one hand on her hip and frown evident even from afar. Gathering my strength, I nod at Taehyung then move towards the older woman who huffs as I reach down to pick up the box. Just like all the boxes have been today, this one is heavy, too, and I struggle to hold it up. My weak arms shake with the intensity of the weight as I walk through the door, noticing Taehyung trail behind me and up to the register.
Mrs. Bloom’s car is parked right outside the shop. It’s a silver Hyundai Palisade with a personalized licence plate which brokenly spells out her first name. As I stand there on the concrete waiting for directions about what to do with the box, Mrs. Bloom helps Cody with his seat belt. I shift on my feet as I wait, trying to imagine what worlds are inside this box which make it so hefty while she finishes up. Afterwards, she flips open the trunk then stands behind me as I try to place the box inside. Except, there’s no space since the entire trunk is filled with groceries.
Awkwardly, I stutter, “M-Mrs. Bloom, w-what should I do with the, um… with the groceries?”
“Move them, obviously.”
I don’t argue with her and start moving the plastic bags around. Her gaze is hawk-like as she watches my timid movements shuffling vegetables and produce aside to make space for the sports equipment. Eventually, I find enough space to fit the box and load it in. Then before I can move my hand away rapidly enough, Mrs. Bloom nearly closes the trunk on them.
With my heart pulsing a mile a second, I’m stupid enough to think this is all she will do when I take a step back and she turns around. In a split moment, her full hand comes flying my way, striking my right cheek.
Splintering agony explodes behind my eyelids and throughout the expanse of my brain, causing my eyes to squeeze shut involuntarily. My nose makes a weird sort of sound as Mrs. Bloom’s hand moves back, and she snickers.
“Your family will pay with hell for what they did to poor Hyeryung and the Kims,” she spits while I use my utmost power to stop my shaking hands from reaching for my face, lest I show her disrespect. “I don’t know where you found the nerve to work here, but rest assured that one of these days, someone will come along to put you in place!”
I don’t get to say anything to her as she huffs one last time before climbing into her car and driving away.
The walk back to the shop is harder than I imagined it would be. With my stinging cheek and my shaking limbs, it’s difficult to ground myself in the reality I’m living. But then I think about Taehyung behind the register, and how I don’t want him to see me like this. I start rubbing both my cheeks as I near the door and by the time I’m grabbing the handle to open it, I hope against hope that Taehyung will not question me.
Then my hope breaks when he does.
“YN…” His quiet voice is a thousand sad songs bursting through to my veins simultaneously. I know he saw everything. “Are you… okay?”
“You should have—” Taehyung cuts himself off. Should have… what? Stood up for himself against her accusations which you and the rest of the town share? “Go take a break or… something. I’ll let Kevin know—”
“No, I’m fine.”
I lock eyes with him. “I’m fine, Taehyung. There’s no need for you to worry about me. I can handle myself.”
And with that, I walk off to the washroom before he gains anymore courage to destroy me with words which hurt lightyears more than his silence.
“Tae, I’m fine—”
Taehyung gently blows on the scratch against my leg where I fell of his new bike.
I had been wanting to ride it all week and he had finally giving me the chance to do so, only to have me fall off barely a minute into riding. Now the two of us were sitting on the end of a sidewalk, while I tried to hold back tears as the pain from my small wound tore away at my nine year old heart.
“I’m sorry, YN,” Taehyung whispers as tears pebble along his waterline. He stares up at me worriedly. “I should have held onto you longer. I didn’t know you were going to fall off like that.”
I smile to comfort him in the place of my hand which was too afraid to touch him just yet. “If I’m with you, I don’t care about falling.”
. . . ❤ . . .
My car won’t start.
It is well into mid-July now and the nighttime air feels muddier than the crisp air our town experiences the remainder of the year. It’s obnoxiously hot, and despite the air conditioning I was stationed next to for the past eight and a half hours, it feels like pure torture to be fighting with my car’s engine out in the parking lot where Kevin’s car is missing.
Kevin and Daniel used to work on my car all the time. Well, back then it was Daniel’s car and he adored taking care of it as if Esmerelda was his daughter (yes, he named her, and no, I was not allowed to change her name). Daniel took care of her all throughout high school and when he moved away, he passed the car along to me seeing as his college town was well-equipped with accessible public transportation.
Daniel loved Esmerelda no matter what—even when she gave him a hard time. Whenever that would happen, he and Kevin would spend hours gruelling over her ‘body parts’ and experimenting with different techniques to fix her from videos they found on YouTube. Kevin was always more hands-on, though, and managed to figure out the problem much faster than Daniel did. But during the short time they managed a makeshift mechanic shop out of our family garage one summer, they both took credit for the work.
I wish Kevin was here right now to help me with my car.
I don’t know how to get home without it. Calling Dad during this hour would mean that he would have to drive after drinking, which obviously wasn’t happening. Mom would not bother to answer her phone and even if she did, the last thing she would be capable of doing it getting behind the wheel to come pick me up from a job I have yet to tell anyone but Jinnie about. Speaking of Jinnie, I wish to all the stars above me right now that Jinnie could magically come and save me. Or that I could save myself from this mess.
I just want to go home and take a shower.
Today was a bad, bad, bad day and I just want to wash everything about it down the drain so I no longer have to sit with the motions and decode them. Am I getting punished by God for what my brother did? Am I a monster for working next to Taehyung when my family is the reason why his is missing a piece? Am I stupid enough to believe I’m not awful?
As I’m contemplating all of these questions, Taehyung walks out the front door, then locks it behind him. His motions are quick—focused, as if he’s closed up shop a thousand times before. I wonder if that’s true. Taehyung didn’t go back to school like he was supposed to, and everyone in town spread rumours about where he may have gone and what he was doing when he got back. Because the sports shop is a relatively slow business most days, it doesn’t take much guessing to understand that a lot of townsfolk probably don’t even know that he works here yet. Or they do and they have just decided to move on from gossip about the Kim family.
There is an uncomfortable edge to his voice coupled with surprise. He says my name like he hates saying it. Hates knowing that I’m here and that he has to put up with me. I hate that I’ve put him in this position.
“Why didn’t you go home yet?”
I shift so he can see the upturned hood of my car. “My car won’t, um, it won’t start.”
“Then take the bus.”
His nonchalance as he starts walking towards his own car stops me from answering him. Instead, I start patting my jeans to look for my phone. I find it in my back pocket and pull it out. Google Maps says my taxi fare would be around fifty dollars, bearing traffic in mind, if I call for one right now. The last bus to my neighbourhood stopped running at least an ago. I don’t think Taehyung knows this.
Suddenly, a car horn beeps at me.
Taehyung sits behind the wheel of his car looking stoic and tense. His knuckles are burned tight around the wheel, gripping it with his might. Up above, thunder rolls across the once clear sky. Was it supposed to rain tonight? As I look up to inspect the droplets of rain, Taehyung sticks his head out the window.
He rolls his eyes. “It’s raining. I don’t want to be responsible for you taking a sick day tomorrow.”
I don’t want to be held responsible for you bringing bugs into the shop.
His earlier words ring fierce in my ears even as I shut the hood of my car, lock it, then get into the passenger seat of Taehyung’s Toyota Camry. Doing so hits me with the regret of not sliding into the backseat. Now I’m going to have to share even closer space with him inside a car that already feels like it’s suffocating me.
Without a word more, Taehyung backs out of the parking lot.
We drive in silence for a few minutes. It’s not as though I expected either of us to fill it, although it does remind of the days when laughter was the tune of choice which played for hours and hours inside this car.
Taehyung would drive Hyeri and our friends around sometimes, or he’d bring his friend, Jimin, and the four of us would go exploring out of town. We’d always get in big, big trouble with our parents (I was grounded for a whole month one time), but it was worth it. None of us ever regret what we did together. We had all the pictures and videos and memories to prove that our youth was something beautiful.
I train my gaze on the tote bag I carry everywhere with me. Hand-stitched words read, trust the timing of your life, with Hyeryung’s name stitched at the bottom. I fold the bag over so Taehyung doesn’t notice it.
“You don’t have to take me all the way home. I can—”
Taehyung reaches out to flip the radio on. A chorus of a loud pop song starts to blare.
A bead of sweat forms and trickles down the back of my neck, and my hands start to shiver. I squeeze them into fists under the tote so he doesn’t notice them either. I sit like this for the remainder of the ride, hating myself for accepting it when I could have sat just as uncomfortably inside a taxi.
When we were kids, Taehyung and Hyeryung used to put on mini musicals for their parents. They were both pretty decent at singing, and loved the attention, so it made sense that they would show off for their family who adored them.
Taehyung loved to sing oldies music, like the kind you would have heard on the radio in the 70s and 80s. They were his parents’ favourite, and anything they liked, Taehyung would instantly grow an attachment to, as if his life’s purpose was to please his mother and father.
I always admired that about him, especially since my own relationship with my parents was something I felt as though I was always building towards but was never truly mine. And after Daniel went to prison, what was left of our relationship disappeared for good. Dad tries his best to stay out of the house as much as he can, and Mom never speaks to me unless she has to. Sometimes weeks pass and I wonder if she even remembers me and Jinnie’s names.
We are nearing a red light when the song changes. It’s a song I would recognize anywhere, and I know Taehyung would, too. What Makes You Beautiful, the song of our summers. The three of us would sing it loud and proud everywhere we went, not caring who saw or heard us. Those were the moments when I truly felt like I belonged to my friends, like they were really mine and not someone else’s.
I clench my hands tighter as Taehyung starts to hum along. He doesn’t belt the song like he used to, when he would use old plastic bottles as a microphone and make his sister and me laugh until our bellies hurt.
I don’t know when I start crying. When the first tear hits my tote and melts against the fabric, I try to sniffle up the rest so Taehyung wouldn’t see them, but the effort is futile because the boy next to me snickers and says, “Don’t cry in my car.” Then turns the radio off.
Taehyung doesn’t say anything else to me as we drive up to my house. The lights are off and it looks like no one is home except for the small lamp emitting light from Jinnie’s room. Taehyung stops the car at the edge of my street and just stares. I wish I knew what he was thinking. All my childhood was spent hoping that I would one day be able to read Kim Taehyung’s mind without him ever having to speak. But I never did.
The street light is faint so I clutch my phone in my hand as I walk out, careful to whisper my ‘thank you’ instead of voicing it normally. Taehyung ignores me and keeps staring at my house.
There is so much I want to say to him, and talk to him about. We used to be able to talk about most things with ease. Laughed about them, too. Everything from cartoons to school to politics. Now it feels like we are both shells of the people we used to be.
I walk along the sidewalk with my phone flashlight guiding me. The walk is short enough, but I don’t want to risk the fall over something I can’t see. When I get to the house, I use whatever ounce of courage I have left inside me to look back. To my surprise, Taehyung is still there. It’s too far to see in the dark, so I don’t know if he’s still staring at the house or waiting for me to go inside, but I tell myself it’s the former only so I don’t stay up all night wondering about the latter.
. . . ❤ . . .
Mom is wailing in her room.
I hear it sometime after breakfast, when I’m washing the dishes and thinking about what to cook for dinner. Dad is passed out in the basement from the night before and I know better than to ask him to check on her.
I make Jinnie put in ear plugs before I walk to her room.
The door was locked, as it always is, so I go to my room and retrieve my extra set of keys. I also grab a bottle of water that was sitting on my nightstand.
Mom is curled up into a ball at the foot of her bed—her position of choice on the less than normal days.
I place my arm under her body and help her up, sitting her against the fabric headboard. She sniffles but doesn’t say anything. I use the back of my hand to wipe her cheeks then help her take small sips of the water.
Following the second sip, she murmurs, “Is Jinnie okay?”
“Yes,” I reply, ignoring the pang of hurt which bursts my chest open. Are you going to ask about me, too? I smile and add, “We just had breakfast. Overnight oats and French Toast.”
“Okay,” she nods, but I’m not sure if she completely understands. “Take care of Jinnie. He needs to drink his milk.”
I leave the room promising to bring her breakfast in a few minutes, but the wailing starts up again as soon as my foot touches the top of the stairs. I shake my head and keep walking.
Jinnie takes out his earplugs as soon as he sees me come down. There is a look on his face which tells me he’s terrified that something has happened to our mother. I wrap him up in a hug before he can question me about it. I’m thankful then, that Jinnie isn’t one of those kids who hates being touched. These days, he is the only reason I manage to keep myself upright.
“Wanna go to the park?”
My brother looks up at me with wide eyes. “Really? Can we get ice cream?”
I ruffle his hair just the way he likes and nod my approval. “Go grab your soccer ball. We’ll head out in ten minutes.”
. . . ❤ . . .
When we get to the park, I’m grateful for its emptiness. Less people means less eyes and less gossip for Jinnie to hear.
I throw a smile toward my little brother. “Do you wanna go on the swings first or play soccer?”
So that’s what we do.
Jinnie and I both get on the swings together then make a competition about who can go the highest. I’m terrified of heights, absolutely hate them with all my being, but seeing the blissful expression on my brother’s face makes me fight off the demons which demand I stay on solid ground. We swing and swing for minutes until Jinnie jumps off while still in the air. I scream-laugh his name as he grins, waiting for me to hop down, too.
“That was so scary!”
“You’re a wimp!”
Jinnie giggles as I chase him down to the grassy area where he placed his soccer ball. When I’m close enough to reach it, I kick the ball with all my strength so that it goes flying over to the other side. Jinnie laughs and runs after it, his little legs taking him far and far off until I all I can see is his mop of dark hair and blue shorts.
I stand rooted in my spot, waiting for him to kick the ball to me, yet, when he does, the ball spirals past and hits the foot of someone standing behind me. I turn around to apologize only to find Taehyung staring at me, the same way he was staring at my house last night.
Of their own accord, my feet shuffle back, and I’m scared all over again.
Jinnie slowly walks up and instead of jumping up for Taehyung as he always used to, my little brother hides behind my legs. His hands are shaky as they clutch the material of my pants, and I know, without even looking at him, that he wants to go home.
“It’s okay,” I whisper so only Jinnie will hear. I place my hand over his and gently pull him to stand next to me. “We’ll go, okay? Lets go—”
But then Taehyung surprises us by bouncing the soccer ball on his right knee. He makes a show of bouncing it three times before catching the ball and placing it under his arm. Taking a step closer to Jinnie, Taehyung gets down on one knee and smiles at my brother.
“Can I play with you?”
Jinnie’s eyes widen, like he can’t believe what he’s hearing. I’m sure mine look the same. “Really?”
Taehyung grins. It’s the first time I’ve seen him smile in months. “Yes.”
Jinnie loosens his grip on my pants and looks up. “Can I, YN?”
Taehyung doesn’t glance my way, but I can’t help but stare at him. What is he playing at? I don’t care if he hurts me, but the idea of him hurting Jinnie makes me want to hurl. I’ve never been a strong person—emotionally nor physically, but for Jinnie, I would do anything.
I need Taehyung to know this.
Clearing my throat, I say to Taehyung, “Do you really want to play soccer with him?”
“Yeah, I do.” He looks up. “What? You don’t want me to?”
Jinnie makes a noise and pulls on my pants. He doesn’t want me to ruin his chances of playing soccer with Taehyung again. “N-No, that’s not—” I swallow my fear. “Fine. Thank—”
Taehyung gets up and looks directly into my eyes. I’m not prepared for the way it makes me tremble. His eyes are full of anger and resentment, and a darkness which I would have thought unfathomable a year ago. “I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing this for him. He didn’t do anything wrong, so don’t thank me.”
He didn’t do anything wrong?
As Taehyung takes Jinnie by the hand and starts to lead him away, I fall onto a park bench thinking, then what did I do wrong, Tae?
. . . ❤ . . .
Taehyung is eating a sandwich that looks days old.
I don’t mean to sneak glances at his meal while I eat my own, but I can’t help it when the rancid smell of the sandwich attacks my nostrils. I don’t think he even knows it’s rotten. Or maybe he doesn’t care.
I do, and I hate that I still do.
I push my bag of chips his way. Taehyung looks down at like I’ve offered him tiny mice. His face twists into an irritated shape, but he doesn’t deny himself the barbeque flavoured junk food I bought on my way to work this morning.
We sit in silence while we eat. This is only the second time I’ve eaten in the staff room, and I’m already regretting it. None of the food I eat comfortably trails down my esophagus and into my stomach. It seems to lodge first in my mouth then at the edge of my throat, as if my body is waiting for further instructions.
Taehyung finishes the bag of chips within a few minutes, and I know he wants to apologize for eating all of it, but he holds himself back. He doesn’t want to say anything to me, and for that, I release a slow exhale. I don’t want to strike up a conversation with him either.
Pulling out my phone, I start to scroll through Instagram. Hundreds of pictures litter my phone screen of people my age having the time of their lives in Cancun or LA. Photographs of boys in swim trunks hugging girls in colourful swimsuits; pictures of past friends having a picnic by a sparkling lake; and photos of people celebrating summer birthdays. It reminds me of Hyeryung, and how her birthday is at the end of this month.
Tears sting my eyes.
I miss her. I miss my best friend. I want to turn back time. I want to fix the hurt my family has given to everyone in this town. I want everything to be okay again.
I don’t realize that I’m sniffling until Taehyung clears his throat. I wipe my eyes with the back of my hand before looking up at him. His eyes—dark, mysterious, and totally unreadable—are staring at my phone. Or rather, what’s behind my phone case.
I turn the phone over. There is a picture of Hyeryung and me from our first day of second grade. That was also the day we decided to become best friends forever following an entire summer of playdates at each other’s houses. Hyeryung was wearing a purple shorts with a white shirt and I was wearing white shorts with a purple shirt. We had picked the outfit together when our mothers took us shopping for back-to-school clothes.
Hyeryung has her arm thrown over my shoulder while I’m clutching her waist, smiling as widely as she is. The backdrop is our second grade classroom before all the other kids came rushing in. We have one with our teacher, too, but I like this picture more because it’s just the two of us. Two best friends who thought nothing in the world could ever harm them or their friendship.
Taehyung grabs my phone out of my hands before I can fully register what’s happening. He tears the case off and reaches inside for the picture. I don’t know what to think as he stares down at it with an unfamiliar expression spreading over his features. His chest heaves, though, and his shoulders tense. Whatever he’s thinking, it isn’t good.
My theory is proven correct when the next second, Taehyung rips the photograph in half. Then in quarters. Then in tiny little pieces which scatter over the lunch table like shards of shattered glass.
His eyes snap up, and this time, they are black. “You don’t get to grieve her,” he retorts. A single tear escapes his eye and falls down his cheek. “She was my sister. My family. You don’t get to fucking grieve her death.”
My heart and lungs and probably ever other organ freezes as his eyes bear into mine. I’m unmoving but even that feels tenacious in the given situation. Taehyung’s white shirt expands with the punch of his shaky exhale while his hands clench firmly on the table. I bite my lip and look down, lowering my gaze.
Every inch of my heart is hammering, like some strange person is whacking at it ferociously. I move one of my hands to grip the table, but Taehyung hits his fist against it. Instantly, my clammy palm moves away from the shaking table. For the first time in my life, I’m petrified by Kim Taehyung, and the suffocating feeling which swam over our heads only a minute ago transforms into deeply sorrowful fear.
My lunch box is still shaking when he growls, “You don’t even regret it, do you?”
Another tear drips down his cheek. “Hyeri dated that bastard brother of yours and died for it, and you don’t give a single fuck.” He places his trembling right hand on the table and splays his fingers out over the cold material. “Why do you get to live a normal life when he took hers away? Huh? Why?! Why, YN?!” When I don’t answer, Taehyung grabs the table and flings it so it hits the wall behind him. Terrified, I rise from my chair and move back, but he’s faster. He gets up close to me and says, “Why didn’t you die? Why couldn’t he have taken his anger out on you? My sister—” I try to hold back, but when a sob wracks through my body, Taehyung’s anger deepens. “I told you not to fucking cry in front of me.”
This only makes me cry harder. I feel like my mother as I stand in front of Taehyung crying worse than I have in weeks. A choking feeling rises in my chest and squeezes my ribs tight. I just want this nightmare to end. I wish it was me who died instead of Hyeryung. I wish it every night before bed, and especially now, when Taehyung looks at me with fury lining his irises.
I want the ground to open up and take me. I wouldn’t argue. I would just go.
But then the door is being smacked open and Kevin is staring at the two of us with confusion.
He looks at me first, with my tear-stained cheeks and frightened stance, then at Taehyung, who takes a step back immediately after seeing Kevin. He doesn’t look at me again as he darts past the older man and out to the store.
“YN, are you—”
I wipe at my cheeks and force a smile. “I’m fine, Kevin. Don’t worry.”
“Should I talk to him—?”
“No!” My loudness is a surprise to both of us. Swallowing, I try again. “No, please don’t talk to him. Nothing happened. I’m completely fine. We j-just a-a… um, it was a misunderstanding. We’re fine. C-Completely fine.”
Kevin doesn’t believe and I know it. But I don’t want him to fire Taehyung or worse—talk to him about just happened. It might actually kill me.
For the next few hours, I stay far and away from Taehyung. When I need to go to the bathroom, I triple check the room before scrambling like towards it like a mouse. When I’m thirsty, I beg my stomach to hold onto until I get home to drink water. And when I feel the urge to check on him, sneaking peeks the way I’ve been doing for the last two weeks, I pinch my wrist and stop myself from doing so. All the while, my heart vibrates from the memory of our clash back in the staff room.
By closing time, Kevin swings by inventory to ask me to take out the trash.
“I would ask Taehyung, but he’s…”
“I’ll do it.”
Kevin nods. “Thanks, YN. I appreciate it.”
I time myself well.
While Taehyung goes to the bathroom, I sprint to the trash bins and pull them out, telling myself I’ll tie them when I get outside. Then I pile up all the recycling in the industrial bin and use my shoulder to push open the back door.
I haven’t been out here after it gets dark. It looks different now that the sun isn’t shining and the birds aren’t chirping and there are no ants I can see well enough to feed.
I tie the garbage bags first. Twisting the plastic around in my fingers, I tie them as tight as I can muster then squish them inside the black garbage bin. Thankfully, there isn’t much trash today so when I practice wheeling the bin, it’s easy enough for me.
Next is the recycling. We always get a lot of that. There are boxes—old and new—and various stacks of paper and other miscellaneous items that need to be properly disposed of. Unlike the garbage bags, I struggle to squeeze all the recyclables into the bin neatly. And as I’m doing so, I hear a distinct kick at garbage bin I left to sit idle behind me.
I turn around to inspect the noise, thinking it’s an animal, when I come face-to-face with Brandon Bloom.
“What are you—?”
Brandon grins, and it feels menacing. Panic flushes my system as I take a step back from the recycling. Brandon takes this as invitation to step closer until I can hear the thick breaths he takes.
“My mom’s been telling the town that you work here,” he says. “Thought I’d come here and see how you’re holding up.”
“W-Why would y-you—”
Brandon reaches for my wrist and twists it so my skin burns. I yelp, and try to loosen his grip, but he’s holding on too tight.
“You know, YN, your brother…” he grins again, and it makes me feel sick to my stomach. The dread inside me is building and everything I ever learned from self-defence on YouTube slips from my mind. “He used to tell all the guys that your cute ass was off limits. Said you were too young to be with any of us. But then he went and fucked Hyeri and none of us knew.” He leans in close to me so I can smell the alcohol on his breath. “I’ve never liked hypocrites, especially ones who tell me what I can and cannot have.” He grabs my throat and squeezes. “Imagine if I fucked you right here, right now. I’d put him in his fucking place then, wouldn’t I? Bet you’d feel so fucking tight around my dick—” I bite down on his hand as hard as I can, tasting copper when he screams and jumps back. I start to run from him, reaching for the door handle, when he pushes my front against it with all his body weight. “Fucking bitch! How dare you! I’m—”
Brandon is cut off when someone charges at him. A tall body pushes him to the ground and lands two punches straight to his face. I’m trembling as I step back, and blinking so fast that my eyes may as well fall out.
Another punch, and this time, it’s one which knocks Brandon out.
The heaviness in my chest grows louder as Taehyung slowly stands back up. He tries to take a step towards me but I flinch and move back.
“Are you okay?” As soon as he asks me this question, Taehyung’s remorse is visible. He swallows and steps over Brandon’s body to open the door. “Go inside. I’ll take care of this.”
I do as he says and then crawl into a foetal position on the floor of the stock room. A few minutes later, I hear a cop car pull into the parking lot. The lights aren’t flashing, but I can hear the distinct sound of their radios asking for the perpetrator and the victim.
“Daniel—Daniel, no! Wait! Officers, this isn’t—“
“Ma’am, please take a step back. I understand that you are in distress but we are only doing our job. Please take a step back from the accused.”
My mother didn’t listen and grabbed Daniel’s hands anyway, hands which were bound together by handcuffs. He tried to tell her to stop, but she is a mother and a mother for her child would do anything.
“My son would never do this! Daniel would never do this! He’s innocent! Please, just listen! Please—!”
“Mom,” Daniel whispered, begging our mother to look his way. “I’m okay. Please go.”
“Mom,” he tried again, crying this time as several people at the station fell silent. “I hurt her.”
. . . ❤ . . .
The police offer to take me home but I’m not talking. Or moving. I’m not doing much of anything except staring down at my lap as the officers speak to Kevin and Taehyung about what happened almost an hour ago.
I never saw them take Brandon away, but Kevin did, and he confirmed that he would be filing a restraining order against Brandon to stop him from coming near his shop again. The officers then asked told me they would be pressing charges against Brandon in my wake. “Physical assault,” I heard one of them say. “Poor thing. She looks distraught.” The only thing they don’t do is call my parents, seeing as I’m legally an adult in our province and no one is asking where they are anyway.
Taehyung walks into the staff room to see me sitting on the ground. I have my head between my legs, taking small breaths every now and then to remind myself that I’m still alive, though I wish I wasn’t. I’ve spent a lot of time this past year wishing I wasn’t.
I don’t look up, and he doesn’t try to say my name again. But what he does do is sit beside me and gently touch my arm. I recoil from his touch, but he persists.
“You’re bleeding,” he whispers, one soft hand on the side of my face.
I lift it to meet his eyes, warmer than I’ve seen them all this time. He touches my neck where a bruise has formed. I wince when he touches me, and it almost makes him stop, though he doesn’t.
Taehyung reaches for the First Aid Kit sitting in his lap and tidies my wound. He doesn’t say it, but I can tell Brandon’s nails left bruising marks on my skin. Using a wipe, he cleans the wound first then dabs the slashes with a white cream which absorbs into my skin pretty quickly, but not before making me wince from the pain. I do it a few more times as he tends to all the rips, but by the time he bandages them, I’m starting to feel better. Yet, I’m well aware that I shouldn’t.
If Brandon hates me then Taehyung hates me even more. And his is a hatred I can’t fault.
“This is about all I learned from Grey’s Anatomy Medical School,” he jokes, voice above a whisper. He says it to make me laugh, but all I can muster is a timid smile. Standing up, he holds a hand out. “I’ll take you home.”
“You don’t need to. My car is—”
“I know, YN.”
Taehyung’s car is as quiet this time as it was the first time he took me home, and when he drops me off at my house, it’s he stops the car closer to the driveway than the first time, too. Jinnie meets me by the front door, worry written all over his face since I came home later than usual. I pat his head and assure him that I’m okay, and when I glance outside to see Taehyung’s car, it’s gone.
. . . ❤ . . .
Kevin closes the shop for the next few days.
He sent Taehyung and me a text telling us not to come in and ‘recharge’ before he opens the shop up again on Friday. With nothing to do, perhaps more so than usual, I set Jinnie up with his online coding class and decide to deep-clean the house. If only just to take my mind off yesterday.
My whole night was filled with nightmares. No matter how hard I tried to pretend like nothing had happened to me, that whatever did happen was nothing to be so scared about, my subconscious littered my mind with horrific images of Brandon cornering me at every turn. I imagined his Cheshire cat-like grin and his beady, dark brown eyes, and his rough hands tightening around my neck.
I woke up several times in the night, breathless and sweating.
Deep-cleaning is easier than I imagined. With Mom asleep and Dad at work, and Jinnie occupied with his hobby, I got around to everyone’s room pretty easily. Except one. It’s the room no one has been in all year.
After they arrested him, it became an unspoken rule that none of us were to go inside ever again. In a way, I think my parents were safeguarding it for when he would return. For when he would come back and everything would go back to normal. Perhaps we were all a little delusional about it because I never thought about going inside either.
But now, I want to.
Taehyung’s voice rings in my ear as I creak the door open.
He didn’t do anything wrong.
Based on pure assumption, Taehyung must think that I did do something wrong. Something that took his sister from him.
Daniel’s room is hot and full of dust with clothing strewn here and there. There is also his unmade bed, from that weekend he came home to visit us and the weekend that Hyeryung died.
I go to his desk.
It’s filled with textbooks and loose paper. There’s even a manila folder which says, “Final Exam Prep.” I can only assume it has to do with one of the various mechanical engineering courses he was taking.
He also has a wooden framed corkboard with his university’s banner on it, a few pictures of him and his friends, and then… a picture of Hyeryung. She’s alone in the picture, standing in front of an unfamiliar house.
I pull it off the pin and take a closer look.
Hyeryung looks just like her happy-go-lucky self. A picture of pure joy in a cute floral dress and sparkly, blue flats. Her smile is even brighter than the day this picture was taken on. I don’t know what pushes me to do it, but I turn the picture over. On the other side, there is a paragraph presumably written by my best friend.
I love you, Dani.
Maybe you’re going to think I’m crazy for wanting to marry you, but I knew I would from the moment I met you. Disagree all you want, but I know I’m the only girl on your mind. Just like you’re the only man who’s ever going to be on mine.
As soon as my first tear hits the ink, I wipe it away. Then I put the photograph back where it belongs and step away from the desk. But my foot hits something hard and I reach down for it.
Daniel’s old phone.
I don’t know how long it’s been on the floor since Daniel replaced the old generation Samsung with a new one. Picking it up, I’m surprised to see it’s still intact. I sit on his bed and plug in the charger, waiting for the phone to load. I don’t really know what I’m hoping to achieve by snooping through my brother’s phone, but my inner curiosity keeps pushing me forward.
When the lock screen pops up, I try several different numbers.
His own birthday.
I know for a fact that Daniel would never make me or Jinnie his password so I gloss over that. I glance over at the picture of Hyeryung again. That’s when it hits me—I’m so stupid.
Hyeryung’s birthday logs me in and takes me straight to Daniel’s home screen in which, there is a picture of him and Hyeri at his eleventh birthday party. The first time they met and our mother made him take a picture with all the kids who attended. It’s the only picture I’ve ever seen Hyeri look shy in.
I click on his messages. There are quite a few unread ones. Oh right, he changed his SIM card, too.
At the very top of the message list is one from Kevin. I click on that, too.
kevin: look man, im sorry ok? it's not like i asked for this
daniel: what? like you didn’t ask to like MY gf?
kevin: why are you making such a big deal out of this? she doesn’t even want me. she wants you. so be happy with that ffs.
daniel: kev, you’re supposed to be my friend. i can’t believe you told her you like her. fuck man.
kevin: again, not a big deal. she said she’s in love with you so.
Kevin liked Hyeryung? Since when? And how come Daniel never told me? How come Hyeryung never told me?
There are a million questions buzzing through my mind but the one at the very top is about Kevin—did he know something about Daniel that I didn’t know? Something that could help make sense of what my brother did to my best friend?
I’m racing out of the room faster than I can fully comprehend what I’m doing. I grab my cardigan off the dinner table, slip my bag over my shoulder, then text Jinnie to let him know that I’ll be back in two hours. I need to find Kevin.
I throw open my front door while I’m still pulling my shoes on when I bump into a hard chest.
“Oof,” the voice groans, but it’s quiet enough to tell me I haven’t done any real damage.
My eyes meet Taehyung’s.
Kim Taehyung is standing at my doorstep.
What the fuck—
“Where are you going?” He asks at the same time I question, “What are you doing here?” His cheeks seem to redden, and though I’m in a hurry, this morsel of information does not slip past me. He rubs the back of his neck and quietly admits, “I came to see if you were alright… after everything that happened yesterday.”
I nod. “I’m fine.” Then I try to sidestep him but he catches my wrist. I flinch, thinking about Brandon last night and Taehyung must notice the look on my face because he immediately lets go. “I’m in a hurry, but thanks for checking upon me, Taehyung. Really appreciate it.” I hop down the stairs in a speed of light only to be met with the reality of a missing car.
Right. Taehyung drove me home last night.
“Do you…” He walks up to me and says, “Where are you going? I’ll take you.”
He looks stumped. “Why… what?”
“Why do you want to take me anywhere?”
A shrug. “An apology. Of sorts.”
“What do you have to apologize for?”
“Taking the trash out was my responsibility,” he replies, suddenly unable to meet my eyes. “He never would have hurt you if I’d just done my job.”
I nod, again. I don’t really know what else to do. My heart feels like it’s caving in on itself every time I come close to him and one of these days, it may just stop altogether. “I’m f-fine. Don’t worry.” I pull out my phone and look up the bus schedule. Twenty minutes until the next bus. I can wait that long… right?
“I can still take you… wherever it is that you need to go.”
And so that’s how I end up in Taehyung’s car for the third time.
I give him the address to house but don’t tell him it’s Kevin’s. This is something I need to figure out on my own.
Kevin isn’t home when I ring the door bell, but someone else is. An older woman, probably somewhere in her early thirties, answers the door with a baby on her hip. She sizes me up and says, “What do you want?”
“Uh… I’m looking for Kevin.”
“He’s not home.”
“Okay, um. Do you know when he’ll be back?”
“Not for a while.”
I blink. She’s really giving me nothing. “Do you know where I could find him? It’s kind of an emergency.”
Her left brow lifts high, so high that it nearly disappears. “What kind of an emergency would a girl like you need my boyfriend for?”
I swallow to hold myself back from stuttering. Her eyes are so stern and hot on my face that I wish against all wishes that I’d ignored my curious heart and never came here at all. “It’s nothing. Thanks for your ti—”
The smack of the door being shut on my face makes me take a big step back. A whirling storm at the bottom of my stomach tells me something isn’t right here. Kevin has a girlfriend? And possibly a kid? He’s never mentioned either. Coupled with the fact that I now know about Kevin’s feelings for my best friend, I make the executive decision to jump off the porch and slip down to the window where I can clearly hear the woman talking on the phone.
Taehyung whispers, “What are you doing?!” To which I wave him off. I need all my attention on what she’s saying.
“Kevin, come home from whatever you’re doing. Some girl came to the house looking for you.” A pause. “How am I supposed to know who she is? Do you tell me about all the women you’re seeing behind my back?” Another pause. Longer than the first. “If this turns out to be like the last girl, it’s you who’s going to die this time.”
I close my eyes slowly, letting the woman’s words sink into my brain.
It’s you who’s going to die this time.
I fall back on my butt at the same time Taehyung comes scrambling over to help me. As soon as his hand touches my arm, my eyes snap open.
“We need to find Kevin.”
. . . ❤ . . .
Taehyung parks his car in the parking lot of the local bank. Through the large, floor-to-ceiling windows, we can see Kevin standing in line behind a four other people. I never would have guessed that we could find him here, but based on Taehyung’s knowledge about what Kevin usually does on his days off, this is where it begins.
“Why do you want to talk to him so badly?”
“I’ll tell you when I have concrete information.”
Taehyung sits back in his seat and huffs. He looks ticked off, but is trying hard not to show it. “If you’re going to do something that puts you in danger then…” he trails off. I can tell he doesn’t know how to finish his sentence. Not after everything that’s happened between us. “Just be careful.”
“I’m not getting out of the car just yet.” I tell him. “I’m observing.”
“Observing a twenty-three year old man at the bank?”
I nod. “There’s something that Kevin knows that he needs to share with me.”
“Can’t it wait until we go back to work on Friday?”
“No.” I breathe, thinking about the picture of Hyeryung hanging in Daniel’s room. “It can’t.”
Kevin leaves the bank fifteen minutes later. I count down the seconds until he steps out, and as soon as he touches the handle of his car, I rush to his side. His eyes blow wide in surprise.
“Kevin,” I gulp. “I need to talk to you.”
He looks taken aback. “Talk about… what?”
I hold up Daniel’s old phone. “Do you recognize this?”
“This is Dani’s old phone. I saw your texts to him.” His face blanks. “About Hyeryung.”
Kevin pulls on his door handle and jumps inside his car. “I don’t have anything to tell you about that. Please leave me alone.” He starts the ignition, but I jump into the passenger seat before he can back out of the lot. He looks at me with fearful eyes as my heart ricochets off its cage. “YN, please. This isn’t—”
“You know something,” I push. “I know you do, Kevin. I heard your girlfriend say that you’ll ‘die this time.’”
“You went to my house?”
“I was looking for you.”
That’s when Kevin backs out of the lot before I can get another word in. He drives with expertise, bypassing several other cars and onto the road. My heart starts screaming at me to jump out of his car right the fuck now! But I’m not listening. Instead, I buckle my belt and start throwing questions at him.
“Kevin, tell me the truth: do you know what happened to Hyeri that night?”
He’s silent, but presses harder on the gas. I clench my fists to stop myself from vomiting out of fear. I might die today, but not before finding out the truth.
“Kevin! I know you’re hiding something!”
He shakes his head and drives even faster. The road we’re on is empty, which makes it infinitely easier for him to drive carelessly. All around us is farmland with cows and horses and chickens that Hyeryung and I loved to go see on the weekends when we had nothing else to do but volunteer to help out her aging grandparents.
The man next to me presses down tightly on the gas, so hard that no turn of the break could have stopped the car from hitting the tree I never even noticed we were hurtling towards.
. . . ❤ . . .
The police officers arrested Kevin ten minutes after he woke up at the hospital. His girlfriend had been arrested several days before while I was still asleep. I didn’t undergo any massive operation after the accident, but I did need a few stitches at the crown of my head which the doctors told me would heal quickly enough.
I’m sitting in my living room on the phone with Daniel.
He isn’t saying anything. Typical. He never talks when I need him to.
“Dani,” I sigh, clutching the phone tighter against my ear. My mother is holding Jinnie in her arms on the other side of the room, watching me talk to my older brother. Or at least, attempting to. “Everything is already out in the open now. You can come home.”
“I…” I hear a sniffle. He cries like our mother does. “I can’t. YN, I… I’m not—”
“Not what?” I’m raising my voice at him for the first time and it feels exhilarating. I’ve gone all my life letting Daniel do what he wants without any of my input because I was taught to believe I was younger and therefore, less important in his decisions. But not anymore. Not after what we know now. “You’re not innocent? That you did kill the girlfriend you were in love with?”
“Am,” he corrects me in a small voice. “I still—I love her, YN. I never stopped.”
I wipe at the tear escaping my right eye. “Then come home, you jerk. Let’s go… let’s go see her. I know she misses you the most.” This time, I cry with my brother when his broken-hearted sobs pour through the line.
. . . ❤ . . .
Taehyung is sitting on my porch steps when I walk outside. It’s Hyeryung’s birthday and I planned on driving to her favourite coffee shop tonight to celebrate and order a low fat latte in her memory. Daniel planned on visiting her grave, but I don’t think I have the courage to do that just yet, and I don’t know why.
The brown haired boy looks up as the door shuts behind me. Neither of us says anything to the other until I take a seat beside him, far enough away so that I don’t make him uncomfortable. He has something in his hand—a photograph—and he hands it to me before I can ask what it is.
“I found it in Hyeri’s room,” he tells me. It’s identical to the photograph I kept inside my phone case. “I’m sorry that I… I’m sorry, YN.”
He nods and looks out at the neighbourhood. It’s empty. The reporters stopped coming by a few days ago after Daniel promised to give one of them an exclusive interview. Now they’re all piggy-backing off that one twenty-minute segment on the local news channel.
“They kicked you out, didn’t they?” Taehyung suddenly asks. “At the funeral… my friends… they, um… they made you leave.”
My voice is so quiet that I wonder if he even heard me answer him.
“Do you want to… can I take you to see her?”
He tries to smile. I know it still hurts him to do it. “Hyeri wasn’t just my sister, she was also yours. I don’t know why I let myself forget that.” He exhales through his nose. “I see her everywhere even though she’s not here anymore.”
“I do, too.”
He wipes at his tears, and chuckles. “I wanted to hate you forever,” he admits. “I had a plan for it. I would hate you until my last dying breath.”
“I don’t know.”
Why does that hurt more than a ‘yes?’
Taehyung does end up taking me to Hyeryung’s grave. He stands next to me as I place her favourite purple tulips on the ground next to her name. Under my breath, I whisper a prayer that I hope she hears.
I’m sorry it took me so long to come and see you, Hyeri. I love you to the moon and back.
He tries to buy me food after, but I deny him. So we sit in his car, in the parking lot of a random Burger King, staring out opposite windows in the hope that one of us will shatter the silence.
“I still hate you a little bit.” I look at him. This isn’t how I expected him to start talking. His knuckles are white over the steering wheel where he grips it. “You knew they were together and you never told me.” A long sigh. “But I guess you have your reasons.”
“Hyeri, you never hide anything from Tae. So why are you hiding this?”
My best friend sighs, the same way her brother does when he’s frustrated and doesn’t want to answer a question. “Tae doesn’t want me to date, much less someone even older than he is.”
“Yeah, but this is Daniel we’re talking about. Tae knows him.”
“Tae knows a lot of people. If I used this argument, he would go, ‘What? Are you going to date everyone I know then?’ He’s so stupid like that.”
I bite my lip. “I don’t like hiding things from him…”
“That’s because you have a crush on him so it’s distorting your rational thinking.”
“Tell me I’m lying, YN. I’ll wait.”
Hyeryung giggles as I punch her arm. And after that, I promised myself I’ll never share the news of her relationship with anyone she doesn’t want knowing. Even back then, I knew all Hyeryung was doing was protecting her budding relationship with a boy who she was head over heels for.
“They were in love,” I murmur, quiet as a bee. “I’ve never seen two people more in love than they were with each other.”
Taehyung’s lips flatten as he presses them together. “I think I would have liked to see that.”
“I’m sorry, Taehyung.”
“I’m sorry, too. I did a lot to hurt you… didn’t I?”
“YN...” his voice is even quieter than mine as my name slips past his bitten lips. “Can you look at me?”
And so I do, and I want to regret it—I want to regret looking into his beautiful brown eyes pouring into mine—but I don’t. He inches closer to me and takes my face into his warm hands. They’re big enough to encase my much smaller face, and then pull me closer.
His eyes land on my lips. I know what he’s going to do and I have to stop him before he does.
“T-Tae…” I whisper, voice timid and broken and not the least bit convincing. “Please, d-don’t. You’ll regret it…” But as my voice trails off, his eyes simmer with an unfamiliar desire.
He gazes at my lips again. They are full of hunger this time, mixing easily with the pain he pushes past in order to hold me close. “I would never regret anything with you,” he whispers just as his head curves down and our lips meet.
For a second, I don’t think about anything but his kiss. His sweet, warm kiss which I have craved in all my dreams and awakened hours. His mind-numbing kiss which touches my soul as softly as his hands trail the length of my cheeks and my neck.
I let myself experience the kiss for what it is for all the seconds he kisses me. I don’t count them, but I know it could not have been a minute he kissed me for because when we come up for air, I feel like no time has passed by at all.
And I want him to kiss me again.
“I-I’m sorry,” I whimper, not knowing exactly what I’m apologizing for this time around. “You’re confused, right? I’m confusing you—”
Taehyung kisses me again. Harder and fiercer and stronger than the first time. This time, he grabs my face with eagerness and crushes his lips to mine with a hunger akin to a starving animal and I can do nothing but kiss him back with the same intensity.
“All my life, I’ve wanted to kiss you the way I did just now,” he breathes while still holding me. “Every birthday, every celebration, every soccer match I ever won or lost—I wanted to kiss you at the beginning and the end of them.” Another kiss, then two smaller pecks. “Maybe Hyeri was scared of telling me about her and Daniel, but I was terrified of telling her about my feelings for you.”
A tear drips down my cheek, and he catches it. “She knew.”
“God,” he groans, dropping his forehead on mine. “I’ll bet she’s watching us from up there now, and making jokes.”
“The worst jokes.”
We kiss again. Then one more time. Every kiss hurts a little bit less than the one before it.
“Tae…” I whisper as the sun begins to set outside our windows. I don’t look at him as I speak. I don’t want him to see my eyes when I say my next few words. “I’m always going to be a reminder of what you lost,” I tell him as my heart twists and burns. “I don’t want you to spend the rest of your life feeling hurt because of me.”
His reply is instantaneous.
“And what about you?” He asks, almost as quiet as I am. “Am I not a reminder?” He slips his hand through mine and coaxes me to look at him. “You lost someone you love, too, YN, and I will always be a reminder of that.” He tries to smile. “But I think… if Hyeryung was here with us right now, she would tell me to go for it.”
“Go for it?”
“To tell you that I love you,” he breathes, eyes full of new tears. “I love you, YN. And I know it’s not right of me to tell you this after all the hurt I’ve put you through for a crime that was never yours, but… here I am, telling you anyway.”
I burst into sobs. “I-I’m s-so sor-ry.”
Taehyung leans over the console and pulls me onto his lap, whispering, “It’s okay, it’s okay,” and then, “I’ve never fought for anything in my life, YN, but I’m going to fight for you now. I love you, and that’s all I know.”
I hide my face in his neck as another storm of tears blows through me. I think of Hyeryung—my best friend, my sister—and her tragedy. Of the love she fought for with my brother every day and the love she died protecting. I think about my brother—the man I always looked up to—and how he will spend the rest of his life mourning his love. I think about our broken families and this town which lost someone who lit up every street and every corner she ever walked on to.
Mrs. Nguyen once told me that grief is something we carry with us all our lives. Something we can never really shake off completely. Every person in the world grieves. It is a part of human nature to love and to lose.
It’s Hyeryung’s birthday today and I don’t know how to celebrate it. But I think about how she lived and how she existed and how every square inch of her life was love. Love for herself, love for her family, love for her friends, love for strangers, and love for the man she never looked away from.
And so, in her memory, I kiss the words, “I love you,” on Taehyung’s lips and follow in her footsteps.
. . . ❤ . . .
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure. What’s up?”
I gulp down my fear. I can still taste the orange Fanta I had with dinner tonight at the Kims’ house. “Do you only like me because I’m Hyeri’s friend?”
I shy away into my sleeping bag. I’m afraid he’ll see how I truly feel about him if he glances over. “I’m scared that you only spend time with me because Hyeri is my friend.”
“I’m your friend, too, YN.”
“And do you… like me?”
“I do,” he whispers, voice sweet and incandescent after midnight. “I like you a lot. I’ll probably like you forever.”
I’m really blushing this time. “Can I tell you a secret?”
“I’m going to like you forever, too.”
203 notes · View notes
Church (Choi San) Rated
Pairing: Choi San × Reader (Female)
Genre: Smut, Angst, Fluff, College AU, Friends to Enemies(?), Enemies to Lovers (?)
Summary: He used to be her best friend until he abandoned not only his childhood beliefs, but her in the process. One night, he decides to show her a glimpse of what she's been missing out on. Inspired by Chase Atlantic's Church .
Word Count: 6.3+K
Warnings: Mentions of religious beliefs, brazen college parties, allusions to alcohol/nicotine intake, body insecurity (reader has small breasts), oral (female receiving), fingering, nipple play, body worship/praise, slight cumplay, multiple orgasms, unprotected sex (always use protection), slight corruption kink, inexperienced reader, experienced San. (Probably forgot something)
Taglist: @little-precious-baby @yunhoiseyecandy @yunhofingers @galaxteez @brie02 @deja-vux @a-soft-hornytiny @multidreams-and-desires @couchpotatoaniki @daniblogs164 @yunsangoveryonder @minhyukmyluv @nanamarkie
The infamous rebel let out a pernicious snicker when he saw the serene and usually proper former acquaintance walk in his direction.
"Are my eyes deceiving me or is that really the pastor's prissy little daughter out past her bedtime in a college party?" He found the situation much too amusing that he just had to point it out.
"I have a name you know." The female he was referring to halted in her steps to turn her head and give him an unkind and unfriendly look.
"You have several, actually. There's goody two shoes, priss, prude, prig-"
"Oh shut the fuck up Choi San." She scoffed as she began walking away from him, already feeling annoyed by his presence.
The man trailed after her, his face donning a shocked expression as he flailed his arms around in a dramatic way.
"Guys it's happening! The apocalypse is really here if L/N Y/N has not only attended a wild party full of debauchery, but her mouth has actually uttered out cursed words!" He shouted out, the other attendants either joining in laughing at her or ignoring him in favor of the bottles or sticks in their fingers.
"I'm surprised you even know what that word means." She turned to look at him with a mocking smile, arms crossed over her chest.
"Please, I know a lot more than you have ever pretended to know." He clicked his tongue, elbow coming up to rest on the wall next to him.
"Is that why you turnt corrupt and abandoned everything you believe in?" She couldn't help but spat back at him.
"Hey at least I was honest and didn't hide it like you people who lead double lives. Preaching one thing but living the total opposite. You're all nothing but a bunch of hypocrites." The venom in his voice was unmistakable, nose scrunching up in disgust as he remembered gross sins he had more often than not had witnessed from people who claimed to be pure and holy.
"I do not lead a double life." She remarked.
"Oh really? Then why the hell are you here in a college party? Full of alcohol, drugs and walking STDs? Riddle me that princess." His foot tapped against the floor, patiently awaiting an answer from her.
Y/N swallowed the non existent lump in her throat and turned her gaze to the floor in embarrassment.
"I just wanted to see what it was like. Just once." She admitted begrudgingly, the man in front of her chuckling lowly.
"Well you sure are going to have a lot to confess on Sunday to your dad. Silly girl, walking into the lion's pit like this." He jeered at her.
"Don't get ahead of yourself. Just because I came here doesn't mean I've done anything morally wrong." She counteracted his words to which he only snorted.
Tired of his overly obnoxious attitude, Y/N spun on her heel to get away from him, but she spun so carelessly and fast that she ended up bumping into another classmate who unfortunately was holding a full cup of beer that ended up being doused all over her white blouse.
"Oops! Sorry, my bad." He excused himself, looking completely unapologetic about the situation.
Meanwhile Y/N looked absolutely horrified as she took in the drenched state of her shirt that now had the stench of alcohol on it. The fact San was bursting out in giggles only served to make her even more mad.
"Now tell me how do you plan on explaining that to dear old-"
"Can it San or I swear I'll gauge your eyes out." She threatened him as she stormed out the building, not caring that she bumped into a few figures on her way out.
Feeling just a bit of empathy for his old friend, San sighed softly before following after her. Upon catching up to her, he took hold of her wrist and started dragging her in the opposite direction.
"Hey! Get your filthy hands off me! I will not hesitate to scream!" She tried tugging her arm away.
"Calm down I'm not planning on kidnapping or anything like that sweetheart. I'm taking you back to my car."
She let out a dry laugh at that.
"But that's not kidnapping?" She raised an eyebrow at him.
"I have a spare shirt in the backseat that you can change into. Unless you wanna go home smelling like PBR." He looked back to see the mess one more time, lips curling up into a smirk.
Against her better judgment, she allowed him to take her all the way where his car was parked, standing there quietly as San rummaged through the backseat before taking out a clean plain white tshirt and held it out to her.
"Here. Put it on."
She looked at him with a face that asked if he was stupid.
"Well what?" He asked.
"Oh yes..I'm totally going to strip in a middle of the street and let anyone passing by see." She rolled her eyes at him.
"Oh for fuck's sake, there's nobody here, nobody is going to see and frankly I don't think anyone cares about seeing your non existent boobs." He scorned at her as he gestured to her chest.
"Ok rude and uncalled for." She felt slightly hurt by his comment, having always been somewhat insecure about the size of her chest.
"Don't look." She warned him.
"Not like I want to." He jeered at her as he turned away to not only give her privacy, but to also serve as a lookout for anyone that might accidentally show up and see the scene. He could hear her behind him tearing off her clothes and then slipping it back on.
"Ok there. I'm done." Y/N announced as she stuffed the soiled shirt into her bag.
"Not even a thank you?" San pouted slightly, to which Y/N gave a feigned smile.
With that said and done, she brushed past him and started walking away, absolutely done with the night.
"Careful not to get caught sneaking back inside your house." She heard San say from behind.
"For your information I'm not living with them anymore. I moved into the dorms 2 months ago." She stated in a matter of factly, a proud look on her face.
"Well in that case....want to ride back with me?" He offered.
"Yeah no, I'd rather take my chances at being kidnapped and then butchered up. Besides, I wouldn't want to cut your wild night short." She declined the offer.
"Stop being so negative Nancy and accept my generosity. Geez."
Running over to her, he quickly snatched her up and threw her over his shoulder, ignoring her shocked exclaims and protests.
"Now this is really kidnapping!" She declared.
"Yeah I know, now shut up before I duct tape that bratty mouth of yours." San grinned mischievously as he tossed her into the backseat and shut the door before striding over to get on the driver's seat.
"Oh come on. Stop looking at me like I'm a criminal. Just because I indulge in a few sins every now and then, doesn't make me into a bad person." He stated when he saw the dirty look she gave him.
"Whatever." She muttered as she locked in her seatbelt.
San opted for just driving back to the dorms and get Y/N tucked in her bed since it was clear to him she needed it.
"You're lucky my roommate is on vacation, otherwise I would have left your ass back there." Y/N spewed out as she threw her keys onto her dresser.
"Thanks Y/N, I always said you were the nicest and most giving person in the planet." San complimented her as he felt he should given she was letting him stay the night in her dorm after a little tiny incident with his keys dropping inside one of the manholes surrounding the university. And the administration office wouldn't be open til the morning, meaning he was screwed unless his roommate showed up to let him in, but that was a definite no since San knew Seonghwa would definitely end up in someone else's bed and come back til the next day, hickeys plastered all over his neck and chest.
"No, you always said I was the most stuck up-"
San shushed her by pressing a hand over her mouth.
"You dwell so much on the present image of me you drew up in your head that you completely erased the friend you had all those years ago." He slid his hand off her mouth, shoulders slumping down as he turned away from her to crouch on the floor.
"That friend doesn't exist anymore, that is if he even existed in the first place. If I recall, my friend wasn't into parties, booze, vaping, tattoos, piercings and fucking around with every whore in the school."
San didn't say anything as he heard her ramble, he just let her talk away as she started pulling out spare blankets and pillows for him to use.
"My Sannie was sweet, cute, adorable, always ready to lend people help and respectful to others." She reminisced with a sad look. Pulling her expression straight, she laid out the blankets and started arranging them neatly on the floor.
"I still am."
San's voice was so quiet that she barely registered that he even opened his mouth in the first place, but she heard him.
"Maybe if you weren't so puffed up with pride and didn't cut me off after I cut ties with the church, you'd see that I'm still the way I was. You think I changed completely because of ink and metal on my body? Because I wanted to try certain substances and yes, satisfy some perfectly normal and humane needs?"
Y/N averted her gaze from him and continued the task she was in. San let out a despondent scoff.
"Of course you do. And yet didn't I just demonstrate to you back there that I haven't changed? Giving you my shirt, giving you a ride, yeah I know, it's not much and no big deal, but wasn't those the types of things I'd do even back then?"
Y/N's tongue poked against her cheek as she knew she couldn't deny that was San said was absolutely true. He did nothing different back at the party as he used to do years ago. Helping old ladies with grocery bags, giving away some of his clothes to less fortunate kids, he was always known as being such a giving and kind person.....
No wonder so many were devastated when it was announced he had resigned as a member of the church. Y/N herself was hurt and even indignated by his decision. And after that she adamantly refused to see him or talk to him, and of course San respected her decision and avoided contacting her so as to not make her uncomfortable. He understood that their friendship was broken and he wasn't going to overstep boundaries just to try and fix it when the other party didn't want it. So he just decided to live his life as he thought was right without his conscience bothering him. And he was much happier now, he felt free, something that he had never felt before. Perhaps he was so chained down by formality, discipline, strict regulations and even fear that he didn't realize that he was miserable all that time until his eyes were fully open and he found he didn't like what he saw, especially after seeing the dark and ugly side of what was supposed to be a safe and pure sanctuary. He was let down severely and he suffered in the process. But now that was behind him and he had no regrets......
Except Y/N. He truly missed her and her company. As he laid on the makeshift bed on the floor, he found himself unable to sleep as he recalled all those fond times spent with her. The trips to the lake, hiking, first day of school, their first accident after he had gotten his driver's license. He let out an involuntary smile at that memory. Unbeknownst to him, the girl on her bed was equally reminiscing on the old days filled with her best friend. She had been so alone ever since she distanced herself from him, the world now feeling empty and cold without him. Shifting around in her bed, she whined into her pillow as she desperate tried to sleep.
"What's the worst thing you've ever done?" Her question startled San momentarily.
"Are you that sleep deprived that you're suddenly asking me to confess my worst sins?" He chuckled amusedly.
"Maybe it'll help me get actual sleep, I don't know. And.... I'm just curious." She clutched one of her plushies and started messing around with it.
"Curiosity killed the cat and I don't think your virgin mind will be able to handle my confession." He asserted confidently.
"I'm not a virgin, but oh well. Just tell me, what's the worst?" Her casual response made San flip out. He sat upright and kneeled at the front of her bed with an incredulous look.
"What do you mean you're not a virgin? When did you-?" He was so flabbergasted he wouldn't even finish his sentence.
Rolling over to where he was, Y/N smirked at him.
"Uh uh. I asked you a question first and you have to answer it before I can answer any you want."
Knowing he had no alternative, San placed his chin on the top of her mattress.
"Had a threesome with 2 of our professors." He laughed when he saw how shocked Y/N looked.
"What?! No way!" She refused to believe him.
"It's true. I won't tell you who they were since you won't be able to look at them the same way if I did...... I'll just dish this: they both got really huge tits and it's a shame they're married." He admitted with a smug expression.
"I can't believe you." She fanned her face which she was sure was now a deep crimson color.
"Ok now your turn. When did this happen? Who was it with?"
Y/N didn't even mind that San got up and crawled into her bed to lay down next to her. His face was rested on his hands as he looked at her with intense inquisitiveness. Knowing she'd have to talk about it sooner or later, she thought it would be best if San was the one to know since he would never tell anyone else and he'd understand since he was tainted as well.
"Remember when that group of missionaries came to stay over at our city for a while back in high school?"
San nodded, vividly remembering everything. Y/N blushed and smiled shyly.
"Do you remember that there was a family with a son our age? Chase?"
San widened his eyes and flopped over on his back as his hands came to hide his face.
"Oh dear lord, please don't tell me it was that Canadian boy." He groaned in pain.
"Yeah....yeah it was."
San couldn't stop cringing at the thought of his friend doing such a thing.
"How even did that happen?" He was so lost.
"I don't know! It just did ok? It happened while we were out in that camping trip. Somewhere there, we were left alone and we started talking about everything and nothing til it spiraled into talking about sex and us being virgins decided to see what was the big deal....." She bit her lower lip as the memory flashed in her mind. Looking over at San, she knew he was judging her as she expected. A tiny snort escaped his lips.
"That must have been the worst 45 seconds of your life." He joked, earning him a slap on his chest by Y/N's hand.
"It was not 45 seconds!............. it was 2 minutes."
San only laughed harder at that, nearly crying from how funny it was to him. He composed himself though when he saw how embarrassed Y/N looked about it. Feeling bad for laughing at her expense, he cleared his throat and patted her head.
"It's ok. First times are always awkward and uncomfortable. The problem was you weren't prepared and you were both inexperienced. He just didn't know how to please you."
Y/N couldn't help herself as she asked:
"And I suppose you can?"
Flipping onto his stomach, San cupped her chin with his hand and ran his thumb across her lower lip.
"Don't tread on dangerous territory little angel lest you want an evil demon to corrupt you." He warned her, and although he wouldn't actually follow through on it, he did want to tease her a little. But he wasn't expecting for Y/N to play along to his teasing, only she was not joking at all as she brought her face closer to his.
"Maybe I want you to corrupt me, show me what I've been missing out on." She brushed her lips against his, tongue daring to poke out and press on his slit briefly, leaving him stunned.
"You have no idea what you're asking for princess." San mused as he held himself back from touching her.
"I know what I'm asking for Choi San and what I'm asking for....is you." She responded with confidence.
Escaping from underneath the blanket that covered her, Y/N reclined back on the mattress, her head laying on her soft pillow as she gestured for San to come over to her, which he promptly did. Parting her legs so he could fit his body between them, he smirked softly down at her eagerness, fingers brushing against the soft skin on her thighs.
"You're serious about this?" He wanted to make sure it wouldn't be something she'd regret.
"I already messed up once, what's one more time gonna do?" She pulled him down against her, not caring when he lost balance and accidentally crushed her under him with his muscular body.
"Besides...." Wanting to further entice him, Y/N brushed her lips against his ear.
"Look at me and tell me you don't want to fuck me. That you don't want to stuff that hard cock of yours into my tight and inexperienced pussy. Bet you're itching to tear into me until I'm crying under you. Don't you want that?"
San let out a moan at hearing such filthy and depraved talk from her. It only fueled his appetite and hunger for indulging in carnal desires.
"Yes... I want that.... I want you."
Closing space between them, San molded his lips over hers, encasing them in a sloppy and wet kiss. Y/N could faintly make out the leftover scent of alcohol and nicotine as she let him taste her mouth, but she didn't mind or felt grossed out by it. She just kept her lips parted and allowed him to move his tongue freely inside her. Cupping her cheeks, San continued to roll his tongue over hers, massaging it gently with both deep yet gentle strokes. When he pulled away, he made sure to tuck her bottom lip between his teeth, pulling it towards him as Y/N let out a moan that was like music to his ears. Pausing briefly, their lips were barely touching as they breathed in each other's air. San was the first one to break into a smile, the one that had Y/N melting since it displayed his dimples to the fullest.
"Never thought I'd hear that sound come out of your pretty mouth." He teased her.
"S-shut up." She frowned, hand reaching up to smack his chest.
"It's not a bad thing. I like it. Now let's see if I can make sure you keep them up."
Stuffing his face into her neck, San ghosted his lips across her skin, tongue subtly poking out solely to hear her breath hitch slightly. Dipping his tongue into her collarbone, his lips opened up so they could firmly latch and spread wet kisses across her neck. Y/N gasped when she felt teeth sink down, head tilting back to give San more room which he took advantage of. Focusing on particular spots that he knew she was sensitive in, he sucked her skin into his mouth. Each time he pulled away, he reveled when he saw the finished mark that was now painted on her skin.
"I would love to see your parent's reaction to my love bites." He brushed a fingers across the newest spot he just embedded in her body, hand then reaching up to suddenly clasp around her neck. Y/N shuddered when his grip got tighter, her oxygen intake getting cut and making her feel hazy, but it was nonetheless enjoyable. Snaking a hand under her shirt, or more like his shirt, San swiped his tongue over his bottom lip as he started to pull the material up.
"How about I make some matching ones all across your pretty chest?"
Before he could lift the shirt any further, Y/N's hand clasped around his wrist, preventing him from moving any further.
"Don't." She begged him.
San retracted his hands away from her, fearing he made her uncomfortable.
"I'm sorry." He immediately apologized and began to move away from her, but Y/N's hands raked against his thighs to keep him in place.
"No, it's not you. It's just..... if we're going to do this, can I keep the shirt on? I don't...." She took a deep breath and closed her eyes as she admitted an insecurity of hers.
"I don't like my chest. My boobs are too small, it's unflattering and I'd rather you not see them." She slowly opened her eyes to see his reaction. San had a sad look on his face, bottom lip poking out as his fingers came up to brush against her cheek. Remembering what he had previously said back in the parking loyal, he felt terrible for saying that ill intended joke about her body. He probably hurt her and he didn't realize it.
"Y/N don't say that. Your chest size doesn't matter. You're beautiful the way you are and I bet underneath that layer is clothing there is the cutest and most adorable set of boobs in the world." She let out an involuntary giggle at his words, letting him run his hand down her clothed sternum.
"But if that's what you want, I'll respect it. Either way, my tshirt looks amazing on you." He acknowledged rather cockily.
Shifting further back, San took hold of the top of her shorts, making sure to look at her.
"Are you ok with these coming off?"
Y/N resisted the temptation to slap the top of his head.
"If you don't take them off, how are you going to fuck me genius?" She retorted.
"You'd be surprised at what I've learned." He uttered, mostly to himself than at her.
Like an expert, he practically tore her shorts down her legs, panties falling to the floor along with them. Y/N let out a soft squeal when he took hold of her thighs and brought her down so his face was at eye level with her most intimate part. San took a few seconds to admire her bare mound, lips parted and threatening to start drooling all over her thighs. Pressing both thumbs against each one is her lips, San pried her folds open, staring intently as he now clearly saw all of her.
"Oh fuck. I'm gonna need to prep you real good. I can tell you're going to be really tight."
She wanted to ask him what he meant by prep, but her words got caught in her throat when she felt his tongue delve into her core. She had never felt someone's mouth anywhere near her folds and she regretted not having experienced it before. Her eyes shut tight as she marveled at the sensation of San's tongue lapping at her bud, his lips making sure to enclose all around the flesh surrounding it before giving it gentle suckles. Shaky breaths blew out from her mouth, her legs wanting to close themselves around San's head but his firm grip on her thighs kept it from happening. He kept her knees pinned to the bed as his mouth continued to ravish at her taste, sloppily consuming her heat fervently. Her mind was so occupied in what he was doing that she didn't register the hand that slowly crept away from her thigh until she felt something poke at her entrance.
"Oh-" She gasped, opening her eyes to see what was going on.
"Relax princess. It's just my finger.....for now." He momentarily pulled off her heat to let her know what was happening before diving back in to continue his task of eating her out.
His finger inside her felt a little weird at first, sliding in slowly before pulling out only to plunge itself back into her. During one of those times where she expected him to slide back in, she was surprised when she felt herself being stretched out as San curled a second finger inside her. Keeping them lodged there, he began scissoring them alternatively so he could further spread her walls apart. During one of those movements, his fingertips brushed along her hood, making her hips slightly jolt up into San's face, who smiled against her folds as he now knew exactly where to angle his hips for later. Using this new knowledge, that was probably unbeknownst to Y/N, he slipped his fingers deeper into her, knuckles deep as he moved his tips rhythmically on the the spot he found. Y/N's mouth fell wide open into an 'O' as whiny gasps and airy moans poured out of it. San's mouth latched to her clit and his fingers working deep in her hole was producing a stirring in the lower pit of her stomach that she couldn't quite make out. But it felt good, especially since it continued to grow more and more, almost as if it was a cord about to snap.
"San- wait. I feel, I feel-" She couldn't finish her sentence as her body trembled slightly, a flood of overwhelming pleasure washing over her that was prolonged by San drinking up the juices that spilled forth out of her body. He didn't pull away until he made sure to swallow every drop she had to give.
"Aren't you grossed out?" She asked him, always having wondered about that.
"Nope. I love licking girl's pussies, especially if they're as sweet as yours." He affirmed while pulling his shirt off his body.
Y/N turned her flustered face away from him, keeping her gaze locked on the wall to her right, which was decorated with several polaroids of her with her family, friends and members of her church, some of them even had San in them, back when they were inseparable. Before she could become nostalgic, a strong set of hands clutched her chin and teared her gaze away from the pictures, forcing her to stare at the now naked man in front of her.
"Forget about that for now. Right now I want your full attention on me and what we're about to do. After we're done, that image of a good girl you have will gone." His words seemed to almost taunt her.
Although she tried not to look, Y/N's eyes fell in between San's legs, filled with astonishment when she glimpsed for the very first time at her former friend's member, fully erect and leaking at the tip as it awaited to be hugged by her warm walls.
"Like it? Maybe later I'll let you play with it." San giggled when her eyes shot up at him in surprise.
Placing himself to hover above her, he hummed lowly as he slowly stuffed himself inside her, working her open until he was fully nestled inside her warmth. Although she felt a light burn scraping against her inner walls, it wasn't unpleasant or painful like her first time. She could tell San knew exactly what he was doing as he began rolling his hips. Perfectly recalling exactly where to aim at, he made sure to angle his thrusts accordingly so each time he pushed back in, he'd hit her pleasure spot.
"Oh God-" Y/N exclaimed when he continued to brushed against the hood of her core.
"Really think it's a good idea to call out the good lord's name when I'm balls deep inside your pussy?" He asked with a malicious smirk plastered across his face.
"No baby. Tonight your only lord is me."
Pinning her wrists above her head, San continued pushing his cock deeper into her. The harsh pounding of his hips against hers was becoming louder, their bodies starting to get heated and producing sweat. Y/N couldn't do anything but whimper and wrap her legs around San's waist, keeping him firmly locked to her body. She closed her eyes once more as she felt the same familiar feeling from before start piling up, only it felt more intense and stronger probably due to the fact that she was getting railed to her bed by her ex best friend, whom she still cared about deeply. She was definitely not planning on making up with him this way, but holy hell, she couldn't deny that he was making her feel so many emotions at once. Pleasure, lust, satisfaction, happiness, euphoria, love? Perhaps that last one was definitely a stretch, but she blamed her confused thoughts on how well his cock was abusing her hole. She felt unable to focus on anything except him.
"Clenching so hard around me babygirl. Are you gonna cum all over my cock?"
Slipping one hand in between their bodies, San pressed his thumb against her clit, rubbing it back and forth so it would serve as an extra push to tip her over the edge. Y/N splayed her hands on San's lower back, nails raking against his skin, causing him to hiss.
"Fuck- am I seriously making you feel that good babygirl?" He knew for a fact he was feeling absolutely amazing, her tight warmth gripping along his shaft, making it hard for him to hold back much longer.
"Mmm yeah." She shamelessly moaned.
"Am I better than your first?" Although he already knew the answer, he still wanted to feed his ego and hear her say it.
"So much better! It feels so fucking good." She inhaled sharply when that she began to feel the sensation from before. With even louder cries from before, her body shook underneath San's, blood rushing to her head as an even greater orgasm coursed through her body. She was left speechless, a full on panting mess even after San had pulled out of her after helping her ride out her high.
"Oh geez. Shit." San's voice rasped out as he jerked himself off, his cum painting her thighs white, not stopping until he had finished coating them with everything he had to give.
Looking down at the mess, Y/N couldn't suppress a tiny giggle, one of her hands clasping over her mouth while the other picked up some of his cum and spread it between her fingers.
"Having fun there?" San grinned, finding her fascinated gaze to be completely adorable to him.
"Yeah.." She said as sat up to get a better look at the cum around her thighs.
"Well I was going to clean it off you, but seeing as you're so entertained by it, I'll just leave you with it."
Not forgetting that he was merely a guest, San slid himself off her bed and plopped his tired body onto the blankets on the floor. Closing his eyes, he was thinking he would finally be able to sleep, but he found his plans thwarted when he felt a pair of hands graze across his chest. Looking up, he found Y/N straddling his lap, biting down on her lower lip as she grinded her wet folds along his softened dick which was now becoming hard again thanks to her.
"What in the world are you doing you crazy girl?" He sucked in a breath, not expecting her to suddenly pounce on him.
"I wanna try that again." She pleaded, grinding her hips harder on him.
"Oh my- did I accidentally turn you into a nymphomaniac?" She chuckled at his joke and although he groaned as if he was frustrated, he obliged to her wishes and sat up.
Clasping her waist with his hands, he lifted her up and guided her so she could easily sink herself down on his length. Not letting go, he slowly rolled his hips up, burying himself deep in her body once more. Since they were both still riled up from their previous session, it didn't take long for both of them to start spewing out a clutter of moans and grunts as they once again get lost in a mist of lust that clouded their minds. San drunk up every expression on Y/N's face. Every twitch of her facial muscles, every shuddering breath she exhaled, each time her eyelids shut close, he marveled at seeing her enjoy the experience. He loved seeing her indulge in such an intimate practice with him, more so given how special she was to him, one of the most important people in his life aside from his family. Looking down at her torso, his fingers brushed along the hem of her shirt.
"Please...." His urging caught her attention.
"Please let me see all of you. I want to admire every inch of you and your beautiful body. I promise I won't laugh or judge. I just want to worship you."
Y/N hesitated briefly, still afraid to let him see what was hidden under the shirt.
"It's ok if you don't want to. I won't force you." He shot a kind smile at her as he focused back on making sure to drive his cock up into her.
Feeling safe and knowing she could trust her lifelong friend whom she thought of as a soulmate at one point, Y/N reached for the bottom of her shirt and peeled it off her body. Coming face to face with her bare chest, San groaned in ecstasy as he slid his hands up her body.
"Just as I predicted, you have very cute breasts."
Pulling her chest to his face, he opened his mouth and took one of her nipples in it, swirling his tongue around it before sucking on it. Y/N's fingers raked themselves through his hair, harshly tugging them when she felt his teeth sink themselves into her flesh.
"Aren't they too small?" She inquired.
Letting go of her breast with an audible pop, San cupped her chin.
"No baby, they're absolutely perfect. They're gorgeous, just like every other part of your body. You're gorgeous, absolutely stunning and holy fuck, you're driving me insane honestly." He confessed, his mouth diving into her other breast so it wouldn't feel left out from being tenderly kissed and sucked on.
His words sunk deep in Y/N's heart. He really did found her beautiful, attractive and it spurred something in her. Feeling a newfound passion, Y/N unconsciously began taking over their movements. Pushing against his thrusts, she began to set her own pace, rutting herself on top of his dick. San of course took notice and was happy about it.
"Oh wanna take over now baby? Well go ahead."
Laying back down on the floor, his eyes stared up at her with lust.
"Fuck yourself on me darling."
Encouraged by him, Y/N began bouncing herself on his cock. Finding an angle that she liked, she sunk down on his length over and over, her head thrown back as she used his body to push her down another spiral of immense pleasure. San just relaxed and admired the way she lost herself and gave into her deepest desires. He loved the way she rode his cock, and he loved feeling her walls tighten once more around his shaft.
"Oh shit- Sannie." She cried out his name as she quivered on top of him, her juices spilling out onto his cock once more.
Knowing fully well she was probably aching between her thighs, San gripped her hips and helped her ride out her climax so the feeling she was going through wouldn't go away just yet. He made sure to be gentle, easing her up and down his cock with absolute tenderness. Once he knew she was satisfied, he pulled her of him and set her down on the floor before sitting up above her body. Just like before, he took hold of his cock and began pumping his cum out of his body, plastering it all across her inner thighs and even splattering some on her stomach. Looking up, Y/N had the same giggly expression as before.
"Does my cum really make you burst into a fit of giggles?" He questioned her.
"I can't help it. It's just... I don't know. Maybe it's the fact it's so dirty and wrong, and then to have you spread it all over my body." She explained, which made San chuckle.
"Maybe I should baptize your thighs with my cum more often." Although he was joking, Y/N was more than willing to take him up on that offer.
"Will you?" She looked up at him with puppy eyes.
San studied her for a moment, before a wicked idea popped in his brain.
"How about you let me baptize and stain that pretty face of yours?"
Getting a hint of what he meant, Y/N got up on her knees while San stood up right in front of her, cock in hand as he brought it up to her lips.
"I hope you weren't planning on going to morning services tomorrow because I'm going to keep you up til morning until your knees hurt."
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