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Loveboat in μ„œμšΈ

SObeR


I can't wear this.

Thursday night, I look at my reflection in the mirror Sohee bought for a dollar and taped to our door. Sohee, generous to a fault, gave me a makeover fit for a queen. Hair tied up in high pony and accessories shined against my makeup. My angelic and shimmering eyeshadow and pouty pink lips, by my prudish Arizona standards, could get me arrested.

But it's my outfit that scares me most. The ribbon that ties the back side of the black, see-through-lace dress that gives the imagination to think. I'd fallen in love at the market, and was all set to break the dress-modestly rule, but I can't go out in something so ...Β revealingβ€”

"We better head down. It's almost eleven." Sohee puckers her lips at her reflection and applies a second coat of lipstick. Her gold lamΓ© dress glitters. "Kang and Seonho are meeting us by the kitchen." There's been a quadrangle of flirting in Korean all week, from Kang to me and Sohee to him to Seonhoβ€”par for course all over Loveboat. The gossip chain is buzzing loops about who's after whom, and tonight, I can't help feeling, will set more in motion.

"Give me a minute." From my drawer, I pull my soft black cardigan on, covering the see-through mesh on my shoulders. My phone on my dresser chimes.

Sihyeon: Eomma and Appa driving me nuts summer reading schools 2 months away wish you were here did you find a dance studio

The missing punctuation marks tells me she's dictating her text and having her laptop read to her, which she does to help with her dyslexia.

Me: Hang in there. If you read them now, they can't be on your case anymore. I found a studio but too expensive, still looking
Sihyeon: theyll find something else
Me: Ugh, I know. Hang in there. Love you!

"Ready??" Sohee grabs the doorknob, then frowns at me. "We're goingΒ clubbing. You're going to be too hot in that."

I set my phone down beside two notes from Jihyo to call my parents, which I've ignored. My legs flash in the mirror under the black skirt, an unseemly amount of skin. I pull my skirt down farther.

"I don't get hot," I lie.

"Are you sureβ€”"

A knock sounds. Sohee pulls on the stubborn door. "Oh for heaven's sake," she fumes, then yanks with both hands and the door flies open. Wonder Boy, hair rumpled carelessly, steps through in a fitted canary-yellow button-up over black pants.

Sohee throws up her hands. "Yellow. Joohyuk,Β I give up."

He smiles, a sallow picture of innocence. She was rightβ€”yellow isΒ soΒ not Wonder Boy's color. If the game tonight is dress to impress, he's not playing.

Which, if he were any other guy, would be sort of impressive.

"I'm just here to chaperone, remember. Besides, you look nice enough for the both of us." He catches my eye.

"Suzy." His eyes widen. I'm suddenly conscious of my magnified eyes and lips, the way my black dress hugs my torso and the skirt shows off my legs. His brows knit together over his forehead in a scowl. "Your ribbon's undone."

"Oh." I reach behind for the knot Sohee tied earlier.

"Here." Wonder Boy comes around to my back, his voice impatient. The loose knot was re-tied again, tighter, once, twice, extra-secure. Like I'm a child and he's myΒ dad. Utter humiliation.

And he doesn't even notice. Next thing I know, he's peering out the doorway.

"Coast is clear. Come on."

Κ•ΰ₯-Μ«Ν‘-Κ”ΰ₯ΰΎ‰*α΄Έα΅’α΅›α΅‰α΅‡α΅’α΅ƒα΅—βœ²οΎŸβ±βΏ*γ€‚β‹†Β μ„œμšΈγ€‚β‹†Β *

A sliver of moon hangs in the sky as we emerge from the dormitory into the narrow lot behind the kitchen. The ivy-colored wall rises before us and the sour stink of trash wrinkles my nose. I keep moving past a twig broom, stacks of plastic crates, and a truck-sized dumpster, putting as much distance as I can between me and Wonder Boy.

But the others are close behind. As I reach the building's edge, Kang glides into the moonlight beside me. His hand is in his pocket, wrinkling his designer black shirt that glints with silver threads. His dark eyes cut to me and a smile curves the corner of his lip.

"I like the dress, Suzy."

Unlike, Wonder Boy, he's dressed for clubbing. His opal stud gleams on his earβ€”my parents wouldΒ soΒ disapprove of me standing anywhere in his vicinity. My hand strays self-consciously to the back of my dress, though he can't see the mesh of skin. I force myself to return his gaze evenly.

"I like the attitude."

"Mr. Song." Sohee tucks her arm through his. "Good of you to join us."

His corner-smile deepens, as if he can't be bothered with the effort of a full one. His arm brushes mine as he moves ahead. I inhale the musky scent of cologne and my stomach dipsβ€”everything about tonight feels new and dangerous.

"Eau de Parfum by YSL," Sohee whispers. Isn't heΒ yummy?"

"Suzy, do something for me, okay?" Wonder Boy's voice close enough to tickle the back of my earlobe, makes me jump.

"What?" My voice comes out uneven. He smells like SauvageΒ  by Dior, like freedom.

"Keep your distance from Kang."

"What?" I turn to him but our noses bump and I spring back with a small yelp.

Before he can answer, a crowd of kids comes between usβ€”ten, then fifteen, then two or three dozensβ€”y in sequins, bangles, lots of pale, moonlit skin. Way more than I was expecting. Someone giggles, then is shushed by a dozen voices. Just ahead, Kang's leaning against the ivy-colored wall, thumb hooked in his belt loop, talking with Krystal and Sulli, both cute in little red dresses.

Everyone's ready to break loose, except Joohyuk-the-Chaperone.

The more I think about it, the more his warning annoys meβ€”once again, it'sΒ exactlyΒ something my parents would say. Yes, Kang might be a Player, but that also might make him the perfect guy to break a few breaks with tonight.

"Where next?" Sulli shakes the back her hair.

I banish Wonder Boy-the-Chaperone from my mind. "The catwalk. There's a ladder. Sohee and I checked it out. Once we cross the river, look for cabs."

"And keepΒ quiet," Sohee adds.

We slip along the wall toward the concrete pillar with its ladder leading into the night sky. There's one flaw to our escape plan. The moon shines like a spotlight on the blue pipe. Which means that for the entire two minutes it should take to cross the catwalk, we'll be exposed to every river-facing window of Yonsei.

"Good thing there are so many of us," I whisper as Sohee begins to climb, the heels of her stilettos hanging off each rung. "They can't send us all home." But a knot cinches in my middle.

The ladder runs up into a metal tunnel formed of curved rails. It smells of rust. As I climb, a breeze ships my skirt against the back of my thighs. I clutch it tight, silently hurrying Sohee, hyperaware of Wonder Boy's weight on the rungs below. Why didn't I let him go first?

But at last, I scramble over the pillar's top, three stories high, where the winds whip hair into my eyes. "Hang on," I call. The wind steals the words from my mouth, and sweeps the earthy, slightly fishy scent of the river at me. I grab hold of the painted rail and look into the dark waters below. Then wish I hadn't. At the twist of vertigo, I yank my eyes back toward the sea of lights beckoning from Seoul ahead. The promised land. A line of silhouettes are already filing across the catwalk.

"Hurry," Sohee murmurs. I clutch the rail and focus on taking one step after another on the metal grid. My back prickles with the imaginary eyes of Yonsei windows.

"They've reached the other side." Wonder Boy's ticklishly close voice makes me jump again. I need to stop overreacting to every little thing he does. Seriously.

"Cool," I say cooly.

I take another cautious step after Sohee. Another. Another. Another.

Then a rattling shakes the catwalk beneath my heels. The force sends me crashing into Sohee's sweat-soaked back. She emits a yelp as I fight for balance. My foot slips off an edge. My ribs hit steel and my shoe flies off, arcing toward the black waters. Scrambling for a hold, I catch a handful of air, then Wonder Boy's arm encircles my waist, halting my trajectory like a seatbelt,

Down below, the darkness swallows my shoe like a silent river god.

"You okay?" His mouth against my ear shoots a shiver into my tailbone as he rights me. "Your shoe. Maybe we should go back."

"No. Way." I pull free and took off my other shoe. My heart pounds. He's blocking my way now.

He frowns. "You'll cut your feetβ€”"

"Omo, I don't need a chaperoneβ€”"

A beam of light flits over the catwalk ahead.

Sohee swears. "Someone's awake."

I look back over my shoulderβ€”and the beam catches me full in the face.

"Go," I yell. "Go go go!"

Spots swim in my vision and I drop my other shoe. I shove past Wonder Boy, grab Sohee's shoulders and stumble us across the last yards, cringing with every clank. The catwalk rattles and shakes with the rush of students behind us.

We drop into an empty parking lot surrounded by a concrete wall, lit by a row of five street lamps. A cat shoots off with an ear-piercing yowl. It escapes out a gate flanked by two stone pillars, which open onto a street.

I should feel panicked, but instead, a laugh tickles my throat. "We're crazy!" Beside me, Sohee gasps for breath. "Come on." I grab her hand and pull her a long. The gravel is hard and cold beneath my feet.

"I'll find a cab." Wonder Boy brushes against me as he lopes past. "Watch the glass."

Just in time, I dart around the broken bottle.

Ten feet beyond the gate, yellow cabs have lined up at a curb. Headlights gleam off chrome bumpers and engines purr in the humidity.

Stunned, I jerk to a stop. "No freaking way."

Sohee whoops. "Seoul knows us better than we know ourselves!"

"Aideul, deul-eo bwa. Dol-awa!" Distant voices from the left cut through the night. The glow of a flashlight spins closer as two guards in black and Jungwoo emerge from the shadows a quarter mile down the street.

"." Sohee pulls me toward one of the middle cabs. "Don't let them recognize you!"

Then a flood of students boils out from the gate behind us like a well-dressed herd of buffalo.

"Let's go." Wonder Boy yanks open the front door and gestures at me. "Goβ€”come on!"

"Don't be all chivalrous. You go!" I shove him in by his shoulder, waving Krystal and Kang into the back. "Go, go, hurry!" Kids soar in after Kang. A girl crams into Wonder Boy's lap in front. Cabs screech away until only Sohee and I are left on the curb, Jungwoo and the guards fast approaching. I can see the blue stripes of Jungwoo's pajamas as I push Sohee into the back of the last cab.

"Bae Sooji, gidalim!" thunders a voice.

My Korean name freezes me to the pavement.

From across the street, the Dragon herself is running at us. On the curb beside her, a light glows inside a black sedan. Her blue nightgown billows like scaly wings around her body.

"Sooji, eodiganeungeoya?"

"Suzy, getΒ in!" Sohee kicks her door wide open.

I spring forward but the Dragon's hand clamps onto my bicep. Her grip is like steel, pinching my flesh.

From the shadows of the cab's backseat, Sohee's eyes meet mine, uncertainty bubbling. No sense in all of us getting caught.

"Just go!" I shout, but the cab doesn't budge.

The Dragon's grip tightens. "Soojiβ€”"

Suddenly, an explosion like fireworks goes off by her car, shooting white sparks in every direction.

I take the moment of distraction to tear free and dive after Sohee, scrambling over skirts and pants as I pull myself through. Cologne fills my nostrils and the door slams against my foot and someone yelps.

"Go!" I shout.

"Seodulleo!" Sohee shouts. "Go, hurry!"

Our cab lurches forward and I slam sideways into a wall of chests. I struggle upright, my knees tangling in a boy's pants. I brush hair from my sight as Kang seizes my waist, steadying me on his lap.

"What happened?" I gasp, pretending not to notice the heat of his hands.

Sohee's laughing. "JoohyukΒ happened."

Up front, Wonder Boy holds up a small disk between thumb and forefinger. "Fire snaps."

A startlingly Sihyeon-like move. "Did you destroy her car?"

"Her car's fine. Can't say the same forΒ you."

I wipe a trail of sweat from my forehead. "I'm so busted," I moan. I brace for a patronizingΒ I told you so.

Wonder Boy's teeth flash with a smile, and instead, he says, "Then we better make tonight worth it."


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