Chapter 1

Fallen Leaves

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

 

The cool breeze swept through the thin tips of the willows as she lightly stepped on the narrow dirt path. It was almost ethereal, with the long tree trunks watching her movement silently and the breathing of the earth underneath her feet. The forest didn’t need noise for someone to know it was alive, for it was clear that the trees, animals, and flowers were living together in tandem. In perfect harmony, as if they fit together like an orchestral piece.

 

Just as she was finding herself to be lost in the simple beauty of the scenery, a high voice disrupted her dreamy thoughts. “Areum! Where did you go?” The worried voice of her aunt sounded through the thick flora. After letting out a sigh, she pushed her way back to be welcomed by the bright reality of modern technology and housing. Her aunt was standing on the back porch with her hand on her hips, squinting her eyes to look for the girl. “Ah there you are! Please be careful, its only your first day here; I wouldn’t want you getting lost.” Areum smiled light up at her. “Don’t worry aunty, I was just taking pictures. I didn’t go too far.”

 

In response, the older woman smiled, her eyes lighting up with affection. “Well, I hope you enjoy your stay here. It is the first time your parents have left you with me for the summer, and I would like you to leave with a smile on your face.”

 

“Oh don’t worry, everything here is so beautiful. I’ll probably fill up my memory card within a few days.” Areum replied. With that, she was shooed off to enjoy the serene weather. This whole “summer home” concept was new to her, as she was used to spending summers in her home town with her friends. After the events that transpired in the last few months of school, however, her parents thought that it would be better for her to get away from the big city for a while. And Areum agreed whole heartedly.

 

That evening after dinner, she set out to explore the other side of the forest. With the long standing love of her life, her beloved camera, she treaded on the dusty paths that wound through the forest like a snake. Ever since her middle school years, she had completely fallen in love with the art of photography. It was her rock, something she could always hold onto when the rest of the world was in turmoil. It allowed her to see the beauty in everything, though the rest of the issues may be trying to cloud it. With a lens in hand, a person had the ability to focus on whatever they pleased, even if there was a noisy background surrounding it.

 

Like a budding rose among a garden of thorns, or an oasis in the middle of a dehydrated desertland. 

 

As she continued her nature trek, she never failed to find something worthy of a photo. In reality, she believed that pretty much everything is photo-worthy, but the key is looking at it in the right way. Within a a few minutes, her camera’s memory was filled with snapshots of small flowers and little bugs, even the way the fading sunlight shined down upon the greenery; things people might not take notice of at first glance. As she delved into her own infinite universe, there was one thing she failed to take notice of. But of course, that only lasted for a small moment.

 

A strong, yet entrancing voice drifted throughout the forest like a light layer of fog. The sound fit in perfectly with the flow of the woods, as if it were made to illuminate the otherwise silent aura of the summer breeze. Areum continued to follow the source of the sweet tune until she felt the hot texture of fine sand under her sandals. She looked up to see a dark figure against the setting sun, it’s chest rising gently with each new breath. Without thinking, she put her camera up to her face and quickly snapped a picture. Unfortunately, she didn’t realize that the flash was on, and the stranger’s wonderful singing came to a halt as the obnoxious click of the camera sounded. Areum cursed under her breath. Without giving it another thought, she made a run for it, almost tripping over a fallen branch. 

 

If she had waited just a moment more, she would have seen his pink lips form a playful smirk.


Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

 

It almost felt as if her cheeks were still burning from what happened the previous night.

 

“Are you okay?” Her aunt questioned as she watched the girl nervously chew her waffles. “Uhm, I mean, yeah.” Areum grinned, snapping out of her daze of regret. After giving her a skeptical glance, the older woman arose from her seat at the ebony dining table. “I have a regular day of work today, so I’ll trust that you can handle yourself? I encourage that you try to find some friends, there are plenty of teenagers like you hanging around in the summer here. I’m sure you’ll find someone.” With that, she kissed her on the forehead before getting dressed and leaving for work. The house became awfully silent, and Areum found herself considering her aunt’s advice. She set out to the streets with her camera as usual, and looked for some sort of café to grab a cup of coffee.

 

Finding a cozy little coffee shop in the middle of town, Areum sat down at a round table and began to look through her pictures from the evening prior. Once again, as she came across the picture she took of the stranger, she mentally slapped herself. It was indeed a magical photo, but it was still embarrassing. The worst part of it was that she would never know who that person was; for all she knew, he could be sitting in the table right next to her.

 

Her train of thought was interrupted as she saw a hand holding a tray of drinks approaching her. “One small caramel mocha for the lady?” She looked up to meet the cat-like eyes of a young man who wore a friendly smile as he reached out to place the drink on her table. “Yes, thank you-” She paused to look at his name tag, only to find a white button down shirt.  “No name tag?” She questioned. “Call me Minseok.” He informed her.

 

And that was how she made her first friend that summer.

 

Upon hearing that she was a newcomer to the town, Minseok had told her that his shift ended in a couple minutes and would be glad to have a friend to relax with. Now, she found herself sitting across from this quirky boy, as they discussed quantum physics.

 

Never judge a book by its cover.

 

“You didn’t seem like someone who would be a total science geek.” Areum laughed.

 

“Hey, just because I’m a barista?” He defended. “But I’m not going to lie, I didn’t think you would be like this either.”

 

“Okay, so we’re even. Moral of the day: Don’t judge people by appearance!” Areum stated.

 

“Or by profession.” Minseok added. What followed was a comfortable silence between the two, filled with the background noise of the coffee machines and the lively chatter of customers. Minseok finally decided to break the silence as he turned his attention away from the window. “So, what brings you here?”

 

At the sudden question, Areum took a deep breath. “Well, lets just say my life back at home during the school year wasn’t exactly the best during the past few months. Something came up which caused my parents to leave the country for a while. But of course, they had to figure out what to do with me, right? So now, I’m spending the summer with my aunt here until they come back for the new school year.”

 

“Well in that case, I’m glad you’re staying here a while.” He smiled.

 

“What does that mean?” Areum replied playfully.

 

“It means; I hope we can be friends in these coming months.” He grinned, his almond shaped eyes creasing up. Areum naturally smiled back.

 

After leaving the café and bidding farewell to her new friend, Areum walked back to the house. It was still only 7 P.M, and her aunt had texted her saying that it might be a late work night. The sun was already beginning to set when she fished for her keys in her bag. The sunset was absolutely stunning in the town, as it was nowhere as near polluted compared to the larger cities. It was as if one could actually pick out the individual hues in the sky, almost like a giant mural. A mural in which the artist had planned every single for, and executed with beautiful precision. As she admired the sunset from the back porch later that evening, her mind once more wandered to her encounter in the forest.

 

Would he be there again?

 

Why was he there?

 

Just the simple thought that a stranger, such as the one she encountered last night, would have a life just as complicated as hers blew her mind. So many secrets, so many memories that she could not fathom. Naturally, Areum found herself following the same path as before into the woods. Though she struggled to convince herself that she was simply trying to find the beach again for photography purposes, her inner conscience knew the reason for her wandering. She longed to hear that voice once more, just once more.

 

Once she reached the beach, her eyes scanned the area. She took a few pictures, but for some reason she just didn’t have it in her to take more. Packing her camera away into its designated case, she set it down on the sand. She ran towards the inviting lapping sound of the waves against the shore, and found pleasure when the clear waters enveloped her feet. If it weren’t for the elegant maroon sundress that hugged her torso, she might have even gone for a swim. But for now, she simply enjoyed the cool ocean breeze that tossed her hair into a tangled mess. The horizon revealed nothing but an endless sea of blue. It seemed as if she were to swim to the horizon, she would fall off the face of the earth and into the atmosphere. Areum chuckled at her childish thoughts. As she looked at the splotch of orange lining the horizon, her thoughts were clouded by imaginations of the future.

 

The horizon line represented the future that each person held. It seemed so close, yet in reality, it was something that a person was unable change.

 

Intangible.

 

“Someone once told me, life is like the ocean; it's so vast but you can only ever hold a small portion of it.” A male voice sounded from behind her.

 

Areum, suddenly feeling self conscious, whipped around to meet the new person’s gaze. Her eyes were met with a pair of deep, onyx orbs that seemed to read her mind as she stood there, idle. It was a man, no, a boy whom she stood in front of, shell-shocked. 

 

It seemed as if eons passed before she mustered up a reply. “I was actually just thinking about something similar – the future…” She trailed off, not wanting to sound like a complete idiot in front of the stranger.

 

“What about the future?” He replied, his eyes still unreadable.

 

This guy actually wants to hear about my stupid thoughts?

 

Regardless, she took the opportunity to explain. “Well you see, this is the first time I’ve done something like this, and I found the ocean to be rather interesting to think about. It a good subject to relate to philosophy. If you think about something us humans share, it’s the thoughts of our future. We always try to predict what we will be doing in the next ten, twenty years or what not. But if you really think about it, the future that we all perceive is simply an illusion-a horizon. Though we think we can see it clearly, we really have no idea what is beyond it.”

 

She paused for a moment. “Assuming you know the Earth is round, not flat. If it were flat, I’m sure a few people would have literally fallen off the face of the Earth by now” She chuckled at her own sense of humor.

 

When she still didn’t receive a reply from the boy, Areum began to think that she had scared him with her philosophical ramble. Right when she was planning an escape route, he spoke again.

 

“The way you think is interesting.”

 

“That’s all?” She replied, and immediately regretted it after the words fell out of . “Oh god, I didn’t mean that! I was just, well, expecting a little more extensive, in-depth, response?” She desperately tried to cover for her mistake. And for the first time that evening, he showed some emotion. His laughter broke the awkward silence, and Areum wasn’t sure whether to be offended or glad that he wasn’t offended.

 

“Where are you from?” He asked casually once he had collected himself.

 

“Why do you need to know?” She bit back, still recovering from his sudden change in attitude.

 

“You don’t learn from the first mistake, do you?” He chuckled. “Anyways, since you told me that you’ve never been somewhere like this, I’m guessing you hail from one of the larger cities?” When she didn’t say anything, he simply assumed that his deductions were correct. “Also, I have one more thing that I could guess about you.”

 

“And what might that be?” She asked, slightly interested.

 

“You like photography.”

 

“What?” She exclaimed. “Oh wait, my camera bag is right there.” She spoke to herself.

 

“Oh no, I knew that you liked it before I even saw the bag.”

 

“Enlighten me.” She replied, crossing her arms.

 

“How did that picture of me turn out last night?” He smirked.

 

“What picture?” She asked, pretending to be oblivious.

 

“Still denying it, I see. Well if I must explain, I was sitting on that bench practicing my singing. And all of a sudden, I hear click!” He animatedly acted out the scene before pausing to see her reaction. When she simply looked at him with eyes as wide as saucers, he continued. “You seem smart enough to put the other pieces of the puzzle together, right?”

 

“I…I’m sorry.”

 

“That’s all? Sorry? I think a violation of personal privacy deserves more.” He quirked an eyebrow.

 

“Oh my gosh, I’ll delete the photo for you! But just to let you know, it was a really nice picture. If you saw it, you would forget about the privacy issues.”

 

“So, you think I’m beautiful?” He teased, his mouth forming a Cheshire smile.

 

“What? That’s not what I meant-”

 

“Show me the picture, please." She was cut off by his request. Areum ran across the beach to where she had abandoned her black camera bag, and pulled out the sleek DSLR. She sat down on the sand, ignoring the heat that spread onto her thighs, as he followed suit and sat down beside her, leaning in to watch the images on the screen as she scrolled through the files.

 

Ignoring the blood that rushed to her face due to his close proximity, she finally paused on said photo. “Okay, may be I won’t ask you to delete it. I am a beauty, aren’t I?” He ran his fingers through his hair in self-admiration. After shooting him a rather judgmental look, Areum rose to her feet and dusted off the sand that clung to her legs. “It was nice meeting you but, I have to head out. It’s getting dark and my aunt would not appreciate me staying out so long by myself.” She explained.

 

“But you’re not by yourself, you have me.” He replied.

 

“I don’t even know you.” She stated flatly.

 

“In that case, my name is Kim Jongdae, the king of iness and trolling-”.

 

Before he could finish his ridiculous monologue, Areum introduced herself. “Areum. The queen of beauty, as observed in my name. Much better than a troll.” She laughed at their childishness.

 

“I see you live up to that name.” He murmured, ignoring her insult to his self-proclaimed title. 

 

“What?” She pretended not to hear as a rose tint flooded her cheeks.

 

Thank god it was already dark that night. 

 

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