You weren't sure what you had expected Taemin's mother to be like. The only solid expectation you had was that she would be terrifying – and on that front, you were right. Your support system, Taemin himself, had been sent to another room, unfortunately for you.
The woman sat in front of you was a tall, statuesque woman dressed in a slimming black suit that must have cost a fortune. Her hair was pulled into a tight chignon, not a strand loose, and topped with an understated diamond clip. Were those real diamonds, you wondered? They almost certainly were. You had thought your family was well off – you were paupers compared to this woman.
She wasn't beautiful, not quite, but her features were striking, with a commanding strength to them that made you wonder if she had been a model when she was younger.
She was scrutinising with an upturned nose (nobody's nose could be so perfectly shaped, you mused; you would bet money she had had work done), as if you were a bug caught underneath one stiletto heel.
“Taemin, um, showed up at my apartment this morning,” you said, glancing at Kibum for encouragement. Kibum gave you the smallest of nods. You sat up straighter, tucking a strand of what suddenly felt like ridiculously messy hair behind your ear.
“And you thought you would return him,” Taemin's mother finished for you, licking her lips before adding a pointed, “this time.”
“Madam,” you said, flinching when she raised one perfectly plucked eyebrow at you. “Ma'am... Ms... Look, the first time I saw Taemin he was curled up in a cardboard box outside my house with bruises all over his body. When I told him I wanted to take him to the police he panicked and begged me not to. For all I knew he was escaping an abusive home – I'm not saying he was,” you added quickly, noticing the way she scowled at you, “just that I had no idea. I just wanted to do what was best for him.” You paused for a few awkward seconds. “I really care about your son.”
To your surprise, Taemin's mother sighed, leaned back in her armchair, and slipped her stilettos off her feet, kicking them aside. Her posture sagged slightly, as if the strings that had been keeping her so perfectly upright had been loosened. “I'm sure by this point you've realised Taemin does not do feelings in any half measures,” she said. “He's always been very... how would you describe it, Kibum?”
Kibum looked as taken aback by the sudden relaxation of her demeanour as you, but went along with it: “He's very intense.”
“That's a good word for it, yes. He's very intense. When he was about six he got his first crush... one of the maids who was working for us at the time. She was about the age you are now, very friendly... and because she was nice to Taemin he decided he was in love with her. She couldn't even do her work because he was following her around all the time. One day she let slip she had a boyfriend, and he cried non-stop for the next two weeks.”
“Three weeks,” Kibum corrected.
You had no idea what she was trying to say, but you nodded politely anyway.
“He's always been very serious about his crushes,” she continued, “but when it comes to you he's even more intense than usual. I've been considering whether we'll have to start force-feeding him because he just won't eat if he's not allowed to see you,” she added, with a roll of her eyes.
You felt a small flutter of hope rise within you. “I feel the same way about him,” you began, “I--”
“Then you'll understand,” said Taemin's mother, sitting up straight again, “when I tell you I can't allow you to see him.”
As if its wings had been shot, the flutter of hope within you plummeted.
“I need Taemin to focus on his studies right now,” said his mother. “And eventually I have hopes he will marry someone a little more... appropriate for him. Can you understand that?”
“Mother--” said Kibum, but he fell back when sharp eyes were turned on him.
“I would expect you of all people to understand this.”
Kibum's face fell.
She turned back to you. “However, Taemin's feelings for you are very strong. I dare say he may even think he's in love with you. If I simply forbid you from seeing each other who knows how long he'll sulk and mope and continue making escape attempts for. So I need you to do something for me.”
You had a feeling you were not going to like whatever it was she had planned.
“I need,” she said, “you to tell Taemin you don't want to see him anymore.”
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