Winter’s here and he hated it. He hated the cold, the freezing wind, the slippery roads and how many times he had fallen because of them, the fear that he’ll crash every time he drives, the layer upon layer outfits, nights that came too early that causing everyone’s productivity to be at the new low, the need to use heater all the time, the fear of catching severe cold even how meticulous he was being with his health, the missing sun, and so much, much more.
What he couldn’t hate though, was how the scenery was so breathtaking, so white with snow, so pure, cleansing his eyes and his entire soul from the window of the minibus while on their way to the Manager Yoo’s villa for their annual skiing trip, making all the cons of winter almost bearable.
“Let’s go!” Dong-hoon shouted excitedly, followed by the others early on the trip, but now that they’re almost one hour into their journey, the excitement were half-buried in their slumber. The only one awake were probably him and the bus driver, maybe Go-eun, because he could see her head moving from slightly elevated seat at the back of this minibus, probably playing with her kid.
He glanced at her seat. Her head still, most likely asleep. She was probably tired. These few weeks, she kept going back and forth to the police station, the insurance company and the workshop where her car got taken to after the accident. It’s only yesterday that she finally got her car back, rushing to go the workshop after work and then rushing home to pack to go on this trip.
He knew all this not because he went with her—he’s keeping his distance, remember?—but because he sent someone to look after her and keep him updated.
Someone who could get close to her without suspicion. Someone who would do anything to get a piece of gossip. Someone who always had a free time, now that she was on a break from Se-chan.
Honestly, he would’ve recruited Kwang-soo instead because that man would’ve been a better choice, obviously. Kwang-soo was already close to her and more importantly, he wouldn’t dare to and even though he’ll wonder why he got sent for such ridiculous tasks, he won’t bother to ask. Not to him directly, at least. But since that man was still limping around, he settled for the next best person.
It was tough for an obvious couple of reasons at first but as he passed through the teasing, the trying to dig deeper but failed, the questions -a lot of questions- So-min seemed to be a dependable ally. He expressed his thankfulness for her one morning after she spilled some “tea” as she called it, and how he actually felt bad that he made her do all this, but that young woman only smiled brightly.
“No, oppa, I’m glad that I can help someone helplessly in love like you,” she raised her eyebrows knowingly at him.
He didn’t deny it. No point of doing that anymore, now that even her kinda knew about his feeling.
“You just like to be included in this, didn’t you?” He raised his eyebrows back at her, reminding her that she didn’t have to lie, that he could see through her obvious self. She pushed his shoulder playfully after that, giggling like a high school girl she weren't.
“Oh, it’s all so very exciting!” She squealed gleefully.
After the accident, the relationship between him and her did become better. They were never really avoiding each other anymore. They sometimes sit besides each other during lunch. He would to talk to her about some casual things. She would ask him about other normal things. Just never about them. Never about what happened between them. Never, ever about what happened that night.
And even how bittersweet all those memories between them could be, even now that he could finally understand her wish to turn back time to relive some memories, he willingly swallowed it to the back of his throat, and he will continue to swallow it, because this was how the thing should be between them, even though he still feel for her strongly.
Which was why he was considering not to join their trip this year, but Manager Yoo was depending on him, trusting him with every single aspect of this trip. Thus, when even the not fully recovered Kwang-soo joined in, he really had no other reasons to not go.
He planned to go through this trip like a breeze, grill some meat, talk to the people he’s comfortable with (which were all of them, really), go snowboarding, sleep and go home, all while concealing his emotions tightly. That’ll be as easy as doing 100 sit-ups on his regular workout day. He’s been doing that for years, three-days-two-nights trip wouldn’t bother him.
It shouldn’t bother him, but when the bus stopped at the rest area and he got out to pee, he saw her peaceful sleeping face as he boarded back, his determination crumbled to his feet. Oh, this is gonna be challenging, he sighed to himself.
They arrived rather quickly to Manager Yoo’s villa after two and a half hour journey on the highway and one hour climbing on steep roads, passing through a small town on their way. Se-chan whistled as they got off the bus, Kwang-soo echoing his amazement at the sight of the majestic villa before them while Suk-jin hyung were pretty obviously green with envy.
Manager Yoo himself went out to greet them at the front door, introducing them to the members who hadn’t met his small family which was only So-min, who quickly marvelled at how pretty his wife and how even prettier their vacation villa is. They even had huge back lawn that they even able to provide a parking spot for their rented minibus and could still probably baseball there if they wanted to.
After settling down at their assigned rooms -one bedroom for one family (Dong-hoon’s and Suk-jin hyung’s), while the singles shared the remaining bedrooms among them— they all gathered at front lawn, in a fully set-up, huge, transparent tent to start their barbecue session.
Everyone had their own jobs trusted to them. The women doing the all the cutting and chopping as they planned to made Budae-jjigae and the man will be doing the cleaning, the washing, the grilling and stewing.
He was starting the fire needed for the grill when Manager Yoo came into the tent, looking all worried. “Everyone,” he called out, “I just about to take the meats out of the fridge, but one of them was actually broken so the meat were rotten—we still have some meat left that could be eaten, but it wouldn’t be enough for all of us, even for tonight, so if anyone could go down to the town to buy some....”
“With the bus?” Dong-hoon asked, blinking at their manager, voicing out the same question that probably ran into every mind now.
“No! No, of course not-“ Manager Yoo laughed. “I have a car in the garage- it’s an old car, the dashboard is broken, but the heater still works—and, and my housekeeper actually changed the tires to snow tires so it’s totally safe to use, I promise!”
Of course he would have a car in his garage. Honestly, he wouldn’t be surprised if someone told him that Manager Yoo got here by his private helicopter—
“I’ll go.” A small, too familiar of a voice reached his ears, making him accidentally dropped a few blocks of charcoal to the ground.
“Noona?” Se-chan looked up from his bowl of white radish he’s trying to clean. “You sure you wanna go?”
She nodded nonchalantly. “I’m not doing anything anyway.”
“I’ll go with you, then-“
Dong-hoon cut them off. “Yah! No, no, Se-chan, you stay. There were a lot of things to clean here!”
“You just wanted to bail from doing chores, aren’t you?” Dong-hoon ignored Se-chan’s protest.
“No—noona couldn’t possibly go alone—“
“It’s okay. I’ll go with So-min, then.” She interrupted, holding out her hand to So-min who quickly got up and took it. Oh, how they’ve grown closer to each other now that they spent all those time together. The time that could be spent with him—
“That won’t do, either!” Dong-hoon loudly disagreed with her, pulling him back to the reality from the weird thoughts that he’s having. “The roads are steep, Ji-hyo, it’s better for someone experienced to drive. Someone like—“
“Our bus driver?” She suggested.
He dropped another block of charcoal when Dong-hoon blurted out his name.
“How is Jong-kook hyung an experienced driver?” Kwang-soo raised a question.
“Yah! How dare you doubted our hyung! I’ve known him long enough to know his skill! We drove through the muds, the mountains, the rivers together.” While Kwang-soo rolled his eyes, Dong-hoon continued, “a steep, snowy road wouldn’t bother him!”
He wanted to laugh at Dong-hoon’s absurd claim, but he was too nervous as he waited for her answer. Would she say “no” or “what?! Why?!” or maybe “hell no” or even worse, “ew”? Would she laughed instead because Dong-hoon’s idea was comical and his reasoning was even more laughable? Her face was unreadable, but then she just shrugged her shoulders and muttered “okay” so he could breath again.
Still, he glared at Dong-hoon as Manager Yoo went back to the house to pick up the keys. “What are you doing?” He hissed.
Dong-hoon only smirked.
“I thought you said that it’s better to distance myself from her?” He pressed on, almost at the point of growling as he got closer to him.
Dong-hoon still put on a smug look but he saw the hint of nervousness growing in that small eyes. He’s amused but he kept to his expressions.
“No.” He corrected him. “Pretty sure I said you should help her without involving feelings, which you were -clearly, by the way- so you’re the one thought it’ll better to keep a distance from her.”
When he said nothing, just staring at the short man, wondering how and why they could be friends for so long because of how annoying that tiny man could be, Dong-hoon patted his shoulder softly. “Come on, hyung, give yourself a break. It’s been a couple of months.” He was about retort back, but Dong-hoon rattled on. “And— as much as I enjoyed knowing you being a big softie, I hated to see you like a broken young boy who got turned down by his favourite noona.”
He wanted to say something witty back or maybe hit Dong-hoon’s head, he really did, but he didn’t. Dong-hoon could be annoying, but that man could also be right. Annoyingly, he was often right. He did miss her. He did miss his muse. He did miss his daily dose of drug. One hit of her wouldn’t destroy him, right? Right? There’s no answer appearing in his mind, but he was willing to bet it anyway.
In the car, they didn’t talk much. She kept taking pictures, videos and time-lapse of scenery as they went down the winding road and he kept glancing at her.
“Shouldn’t you be conserving your phone’s battery, now that it’s low?” He commented, trying start up a conversation to make things less quiet and awkward between them—oh, who was he kidding? It’s actually because he missed her voice.
She took her phone down, seemed to be blushing that he noticed her red battery icon. “It’s just so pretty.”
“I know.” But, you’re prettier. Oh, please, someone slap his face before he could think or worse, actually say any other corny things!
He would be satisfied if the conversation ended there, but she seemed to be in the mood of talking. “Manager Yoo is so lucky to actually have a home up here. Imagine waking up to this view, every single day. I’d die for that.”
“Maybe one day, if we’ll work hard enough, as hard as him, we could afford one.” He entertained her, realising too late the wrong use of the word ‘we’ that she could interpreted it as them together and made things weird again, but she smiled, making he relaxed.
“I doubt we’ll ever do.” She glanced at him, making him blushed as he noticed it from the corner of his eyes. “But if I could ever afford it, I don’t think I’ll buy one in here.”
Her statement made him glanced back at her. “Why not here?”
She thought to herself first before answering. “Why not overseas?”
“Where you wanna go then?”
“Nowhere in particular. Just... away from home, I guess.” She raised her shoulders, but he noticed something off with her tone.
“Sounds like you’re running away from something.” He guessed around, expecting her to answer with a loud laugh and silly remark but it wasn’t.
She just whispered, “maybe, I am,” and stared outside the window. If they were who they were back in autumn, he would’ve stopped the car right there to interrogate her on what she meant by that ambiguous statement, but they’re different now, so he kept quiet, bringing back silence between them, until he pulled in in front of the store.
They finished shopping in one go, basically taking all sorts of meats into the basket as Manager Yoo had blessed them with his credit card and a permission to use it as they pleased because “it’s my fault anyway”.
She helped him to select meat for a while and then wandered off on her own to pick ramen but she never came back to him. It’s a small store with one shopkeeper so he searched every aisle for her quickly, particularly the aisle with ramen, but found no trace of her.
Assuming she just probably went to the restroom outside or something, he picked up a few plastics of ramen and went straight to the counter to pay. He went out to the car to put their groceries in and still no sign of her. He considered waiting for awhile but he felt uneasy so he took out his phone to call her.
There’s a text message from her, sending chills down his spine as that night of her accident flashed in front of his eyes. Why would she texted him? He opened it impatiently and sure enough, it’s a cloud emoji, but this time, no location was given.
“.” He muttered. , , . He panicked.
He thought of calling of her name out loud—there’s forest all over this store, maybe she wandered there and got hurt but which direction did she go? What if someone took her—, what if she got kidnapped and they’re on the run now? But he would’ve heard the sound of cars coming and going away at top speed. She would’ve screamed. She would’ve fought back. The Ji-hyo he knew and love would’ve fought back. Maybe she went back—
He ended his pacing around and decided to go back to the store. Oh, . Oh, please be there. Please, please, don’t let anything bad happened to her—
Something hit his head suddenly, halting him in place and stopping him from thinking. The blow to his head wasn’t hard, nor that it was harsh, just cold, freezing—and, wet.
“What the ?!” He growled as he looked back and saw her behind him, her bare hands covered in snow.
She let a squeak, laughing happily as she started running away to the empty lot besides the store as he quickly went after her. She kept turning back, looking at whether he got closer to her, and it wasn’t far before she slipped on her own and fell into the pile of soft snow. She went down with a soft thud and he knew it didn’t hurt as much, but still, she let out a whimper.
She laid on her side, her whole outfit now covered in white, as she looked up to him, smiling like an idiot.
“Do you think it’s funny?!” He was fuming.
She didn’t answer right away, and that idiotic smile of hers—it melted his anger along with his heart. Still, he restrained himself from smiling or showing any signs of amusement to the prank she just pulled off.
She tried to stop smiling but failed miserably when she finally answered. “Not really.”
“Do you think it’s funny, now?!” He asked again as he threw two snowballs directly to her face. She laughed loudly as she covered her face, not caring at all that the snow got all over her face, hair and scarf, probably wetting her neck.
“Honestly, Ji-hyo, you got what you deserved!” He yelled at her, taking his turn of failing miserably to stop himself from smiling.
“Kim Jong-kook! You’re big meanie!” She pointed her index finger at him, trying to look angry, but she giggled soon after, clearly couldn’t contain her happiness that her prank worked.
He sighed. He really couldn’t be mad at her for long, even though the prank she played was horrible for his weak heart, as he was enjoying himself watching she smiled and hearing her laughs. He held out his hand at her and she took it, gripping it tightly to pull herself up.
Their touch—it burned, reminding him of a cruel reality waiting for him, but like Dong-hoon said, it’s been so long that he was willing to take it. He’s willing to let it linger for a little longer.
He let go of her hand, eventually, only to help her brushed off the snow from her outfits. “I really should’ve just left you out here to freeze alone.”
She giggled at his snarky comment. She was still giggling under her breath as they got into the car and drove away. She did stop giggling, however, when the car suddenly jerked a few times after fives minut