Dilemma #17

His Plus-One Dilemma (Minor Editing in Progress)
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Baekhyun wasn’t sure how long he sat in the edge of Haerim’s soft bed early the next morning, watching her sleep, remembering how he’d held her in the night, her head beneath his chin, his hand on her hip. But at some point she’d curled into a little ball on the edge of the bed. He wondered if she always slept that way or if she’d been making room for him.

Figuring that it was too early for philosophising, he padded down the hall and into the main bathroom to splash water on his face.

And there amongst the stash of pens and paint samples on her bathroom bench, he saw a yellow legal pad. Even at a glance he recognized that it was Haerim’s research study, the questions he’s managed to avoid answering. Though apparently at some point somebody had—many had notes against them in a different-coloured pen, some with something that looked a heck of a lot like words Pub Crawl scrawled in the margin.

Intrigue and a healthy dose of jealousy—because some other man had given her what he wouldn’t—made him read on to find questions about intimacy, love, attraction, fear and faith. The kinds of things he’d rather eat mud than talk about at length.

And yet seeing her happy, curly scrawl racing all over the page it seemed to him a small thing she’ wanted—a few simple truths in exchange for all he’d asked of her.

He gazed down the hall to where she slept.

She’d put herself out there with his family, his friends, risking exposure, putting up with his irascibility. The woman had had her faith in people trodden on time and again, and yet her generosity was so hardwired she’d do the same thing all over again if he asked.

While he’d thrown a few bloodless titbits into the damn dossier as if they were some kind of gift. Because without thought, without care, he’d hardwired himself to resist anything remotely intimate.

He gripped the legal pad tighter in his hand as he was hit with a wave of disappointment. In himself. He was a selfish bastard. A wholly self-made one at that. Independence was one thing—grudging self-interest quite the other. That wasn’t the kind of man he’d hoped to be one day—not even within spitting distance.

He found a pen, then, taking a deep breath, went through the list, jotting down notes, sometimes paragraphs, giving her the answers she was missing moving on to the next before he had a chance to think about the one before in an effort to outrun the horror.

When he’d finished he let go a shuddering breath.

Then he padded into her room and kissed her on the shoulder, leaving the pages on the pillow beside her.

She still didn’t budge. Sleeping the sleep of the content. Of someone whose life was just as it should be.

He ran a hand over her shoulder, feeling the innate warmth that flowed just below the surface, like the crushed petal of a rose. In touching her, a soft milky scent rose up to him. The tattoo on her shoulder brushed roughly against the pad of his thumb. He traced it distractedly. And then not so distractedly.

She deserved better. More. He wanted her to know it. Needed to know she was as amazing as he knew she was. And there was only one way he could think of to tell her. To show her. To make her see.

Spurred, he pressed himself to standing, pieced together his clothes, threw them on only as decency demanded, and headed out through her door, closing it softly behind him.

The following Tuesday evening Haerim brought a hot chocolate into the lounge and sat, curling her toes beneath the skirt of her maxi dress.

Shakespeare padded in from wherever he’d been foraging and turned three times before settling on his doggy bed. The fire crackled softly, now she’d got the hang of it, and her new second-hand lounge chairs were gorgeous: red-and-white checked, with pale green and baby blue and soft yellow floral cushions—a riot of spring colour. Busy, her dad would have called it, and frowned, thinking of her mother, claiming it gave him a headache. Haerim would have exchanged t for something less lovely. Less her.

She’d added touches of riot everywhere the past few weeks, fancying up the relatively blank canvas until it looked to her like the very image of happiness.

Thanks—very much—to Baekhyun. He’d not only given her the opportunity to get out from under the weight of her debt, he’d pulled her from the even more debilitating hit she’d taken to her self-esteem after Donghwan. And those who’d come before.

She picked up the slightly rumpled pages of yellow legal paper covered in her swirly handwriting and Baekhyun’s y scrawl—rumpled because she’d rolled over them when reaching out for him to find not him but this gift.

She couldn’t for the life of her fathom what had changed his mind about answering her interview questions, but he had. He’d written about his interactions with women—the respect, the intrigue, the unashamed temptation. But she could feel his desire to be better. Do better. To become the man he hoped to be. And giving her this he’d given her himself.

No wonder he was always rubbing his temples in frustration, she thought, with all he had in his head. No wonder he worked himself to distraction. No wonder he’d come looking for her.

And Haerim couldn’t have loved him more for it.

It had been coming, brimming, easing, falling, pressing in on her from every angle. Her love for this man who had no clue that he gave so much and took so little for himself. This man who knew his strengths but couldn’t see his worth.

How could she know him and not love him? And she’d be so good for him. Take care of him. Relax him. Show him contentment. Make him happy. Love him all his days and nights. If only he’d let her.

Never having been there before, she had no idea what came next. So she sat in the middle of it, feeling it, living it, revelling in it, till her backside turned numb from sitting in the same spot too long.

Shakespeare leapt from his doggy bed and took off. A moment later a knock sounded.

By the time she reached the door Haerim’s heart was thumping through her chest at the thought that it might be Baekhyun. What would she say about what he’d given her? Would he even know what it meant to her? Could it be why he’d done it?

Jimin barged in, her arms with laden with grocery bags, hence the non-use of her key. “Men !” she announced as she trudged into the kitchen.

Not all of them, Haerim thought, the bliss riding high again.

“More than usual?” Haerim asked, padding

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Hae-joo
Editing in progress!
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