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CHAPTER I:
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∞⇢

WE WERE AT THE POLICE STATION.

We filed a report against the man who attacked me. He was put behind bars and I silently prayed that ne never leave and put anyone through that. However, he didn’t even stop glaring and yelling at me since we got here. I don’t understand why he was so mad at me. Shouldn’t I be the one who should be livid?

However, I still felt exhausted to even be angry right now. From the soles of my feet to the top of my head, I was tired both emotionally and physically.

Whenever I look at him, what happened earlier flashes back. It brought shivers down my spine. My hands start to shake once more, so I made an effort to hide them under my legs.

Thankfully, the police officer had just finished interrogating me. 

“Since we’re done here,” I heard Baekhyun speak to the officer. “I guess we can leave now?”

Observing him, I saw how he was making an effort to sound calm. He was mad but he was trying to conceal it. The way his jaw clenched gave it away.

I could not also overlook the bruises on his face caused by the fight. He’s got one right at the corner of his lips and another on his left cheek. It was a relief that nothing worse happened to him.

“Yeah.” The officer said before he turned to me. “We will contact you if we have more questions.”

Baekhyun stood, pushing his chair in the process. I had to look up to check his reaction and this time whatever façade he was wearing earlier was now gone. He glared at the officer.

“What else do you want from her?” He asked, irritated but his voice still had the slightest amount of control. “Our statements should be enough. Just lock the ing and make sure he never gets to come close to her ever again.” His eyes were piercing with his fists on the table, his knuckles white.

The officer looked quite stunned.

“You don’t understand, it’s normal for us to contact the victim-”

He shook his head, displeased by the officer’s reasoning.

“Well she’s ing traumatized, can’t you see it?” He pointed at me. “You don’t want her to forget what happened?” He exhaled loudly. “We already gave you our testimonies. All that’s left for you to do is to do your ing job.”

The officer turned to me as if checking my condition. I opened my mouth to speak but was not given a chance to let any word out when Baekhyun took my still slightly shaking hand and walked us out of the station.

 

∞⇢

He was still holding my hand while we stood outside the station. I knew he could feel me shaking and that he was purposely not letting it go. He gave it a gentle squeeze, his eyes on it as well. The warmth his hold was giving me was comforting in every sense.

The way he looked and his body language were all telling me that he was worried sick.

The truth was, I was still terrified and for some reason, I badly want him to give me another hug but would it even be okay to be vulnerable in front of him when things have been utterly complicated between us lately. I wanted to cry and I had to bite the inside of my lower lip just to stop myself.

He let go of my hand and I suddenly felt his absence, my heart sank.

“We better call you dad.” He suggested as he took his phone out of his jeans pocket.

“No.” I grabbed the phone from him and held it tightly. “I don’t want to stress him or Gramps.” I reasoned out. “You know he just got out of the hospital recently.”

He stared at me as if questioning my decision.

“I’ll tell them when I get home,” I added. “At least I’m already in front of them and they won’t have to wonder if I’m okay,” I went on, wanting to persuade him to drop the idea of calling my family.

Just when I thought I had him convinced, he took my hand off him.

“They’re your family, it’s a given that they’ll worry about you no matter what.” He stated. “They have the right to know.” He added as he proceeded to look for my dad’s name in his contacts.

Slightly panicked, I snatched his phone from him which he questioned immediately.

“I just…I just need some time to calm my nerves down.” I told him before I tilted my head away. “I don’t wanna talk to my father in this state.” I breathed in deeply before exhaling. “Please.”

The moment I turned to face him again, he seemed to have been finally persuaded. He proved me right when he nodded before extending his hand towards me, asking for his phone back.

“Okay.” He muttered, his eyes never leaving mine. “Wait for me here.”

“Where are you going?” I called, suddenly feeling anxious about being left alone.

“Just stay right here, don’t go anywhere without me.” He instructed. “I’ll be right back.”

I watched him leave and cross the street as he disappeared from my sight. I waited for about ten minutes on my spot until he came back with a bottle of water and some calming pill.

He handed them to me and urged me to drink by opening the lid of the bottle for me. There were no words spoken between us even after I took the pill. I saw him shove his hand inside his pants pocket and take Band-Aids out.

He reached for my right arm and pushed the sleeve of my sweater up which revealed a small cut on the side of my wrist. He put the first band-aid on it before fixing my sweater. Then he grabbed my other hand and turned it over to place another band-aid on the bruise on my palm a few centimeters below my pinky finger.

I thought that was it but no, I watched him peel another band-aid. He stepped closer before lifting his hands to put on the third one on the upper right part of my forehead. I winced a little as it made contact with my skin giving it a slight sting.

“Does it still hurt anywhere?” He asked me.

I shook my head.

I extended my hand in front of him to ask for some more Band-Aids so I could put them on his bruises as well.

“You need them too,” I said, sure that he knew what I meant.

“There’s none left.” He replied briefly. “I’m fine.” He added as he cleared his throat, looking away.

I sighed. How could he only buy ones for me and not even think about himself?

I took a deep breath but as soon as I turned around and saw people going in and coming out of the police station, I recalled how the man looked in the cell earlier. My stress level suddenly rose.

While I was trying to dismiss the unwelcome thought, he took me by the hand and walked me towards his motorcycle. As we reached it, he grabbed a helmet and put it on me while I did nothing but watch him. Then he hopped on it and proceeded to wear his helmet as well.

It took me about half a minute to just continue staring at him. It had been so long since I rode with him, this was giving me mixed feelings. The last time being that day we drove to the fields where he confessed.

“Let’s go.” He told me, his hands on the clutches. “Let’s get you outta here.”

For a moment, I saw him. I had a glimpse of the version of him I needed the most right now. Baekhyun, my bestfriend.

My emotions shifted real quickly, and I hopped on his motorcycle.

Suddenly, I became so aware of how close he was to me. His broad shoulders and back were right before my eyes. I was hesitant to hold on to him, so I ended up balling my hands on top of my legs.

 

∞⇢

I knew better than ask him where we were going as we didn’t take the route home. The next thing I noticed, he started to drive faster which made me lean closer and unstoppably wrapped my arms around his body. In most cases, I would have yelled at him but this was a different one.

Instead of asking him to slow down, I shut my eyes closed as I rested my head on his back. I liked how the sound of the gushing wind was so loud it helped drown out not just the thoughts in my head but also the sadness in my system.

When I opened my eyes, we were on a bridge. It was long and still occupied by several vehicles. I turned to the river and saw the water glisten under the light posts. The wind brushed against my face and it came like a reminder to me. For some reason, it reminded me of how scared I was earlier and how melancholic I had been in the last few weeks.

I hated it. I hated how when I momentarily shut my eyes closed, my brain highlighted the memory that I desperately wanted to avoid. Again, I pictured the man out earlier. The way his eyes stared at me threateningly, the way his voice sounded like he was going to kill me. My breath started to hitch like I was still in that exact moment. I began sweating and feeling cold and it wasn’t because of the wind.

Feeling terrified, I leaned closer to Baekhyun. The lump in my throat made its presence known as the urge to cry was so strong. Yet I took every ounce of control I have left to resist.

What the , Kang Seolhee! I loathe myself for being so vulnerable these days. Especially when I’m around Baekhyun. It almost felt like I was a different person. What was happening to me?

I tilted my head up in the sky, wanting to have control over my emotions at least. I could neither just give in to the heavy weight of my unshed tears nor the sinking feeling behind my chest, especially not the creeping anxiety in my veins.

Just when I was preoccupied with the internal war happening to me, he stopped driving which startled me.

I leaned away and then hesitantly removed my hands around him. He took his helmet off and asked me to get off. I did what I was told and he followed suit. He turned to me and just stared at me before he left his spot and walked towards the railings of the bridge.

I took a few deep breaths before I took my helmet off and went near him. I gazed blankly in the water for a few minutes before I tipped my head in his direction. I unexpectedly found him staring at me already.

Maybe I appeared pitiful in front of him, I thought.

“Tell me.” He said in a calm voice. “Everything that’s going on inside your head right now.” He said. “I will listen.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat, still fighting the urge to break down. I looked away, blinking as I started to feel my eyes getting misty.

“I would do that,” I replied with the same amount of calmness, my attention on the river. “If I have the slightest idea where to start.”

I heard him exhale which caused me to pay attention to him.

“You can start by telling me that you’re not fine.” He answered, his words starting to bear much weight. “That you were scared.” He exchanged looks with me.

What he said and the way he was able to read and understand how I feel have encouraged the part of me that wanted to cry.

“Seol.” He called. “It’s okay.” He added. “You can cry now.”

Oh god. Did he just tell me to do the very thing I was trying not to do?

“You can be furious like how you’re supposed to. I don’t care if you vent everything you feel to me. You can yell or curse at me. Anything that you have to do to feel better.” He suggested his brown orbs fixed on mine.

“Do it.” He egged on. “I’m here.”

Staring back at him while hearing those words was too much for my heart to take. The pain in my throat got worse like my entire system was agreeing with him. I had to look away, a knot in my stomach.

NO. I refused in my head. Don’t ing cry Kang Seolhee.

“Your hands haven’t stopped shaking for Pete’s sake.” He stated, sounding worried.

I consciously hid my hands behind me.

“No,” I muttered, my voice was small. “I don’t want to cry. So, don’t ask me to.”

He didn’t reply.

“If I cry.” I bit my lower lip, still resisting. “If I allow even just one tear to fall…” I had to pause and clear my throat for the words to come out. “I’d cry for so many things and you’d know…” I trailed off. “You’d know how much my heart breaks right now.” I cleared my throat once more.

“Am I not allowed to know?” He asked, even his question was an encouragement to succumb to the heavy weight in my chest.

“I don’t know,” I answered quickly. “You’ve been avoiding me I don’t know if I’m still allowed to have a breakdown in front of you,” I added, breathless as I tried my hardest to finish speaking ASAP.

He exhaled loudly before he made a step toward me and stopped a foot away. He first faced the river and tilted his head down.

“I have no excuse for the way I behaved.” He sighed. “But right now…” He trailed off to exchange looks with me. “I just wanna stay here with you until you feel better.”

I felt my stubborn tears start to pool in my eyes after hearing his remark. I looked up and saw the dark skies as I finally felt the first tear roll down my cheek which I quickly wiped right away.

I silently cried on my spot for the next seconds, wiping my tears as if it could conceal them. Then I sensed him completely face me. I was desperate to hide my face, I covered it with my hands.

About a minute or two, I removed my hands off my face to wipe my cheeks. However, the tears kept falling like there was no end to this.

“You’re right,” I said avoiding eye contact, my voice almost broken. “I was terrified,” I paused feeling another tear roll down my cheek. “I was so scared for my life. I thought I was going to die.” I barely managed to finish my words before I unstoppably sobbed.  

I saw how he momentarily shut his eyes closed at my remark.

“I ran for my life but he was fast. He was stronger too. He pulled my damn hair twice and I almost died from the pain and my head still ing hurts…” My mouth formed into a downward curve, silencing another sob.

I turned to the river once more, I couldn’t bear seeing his reaction as I told him what happened.

“I tried to fight and put up with everything, I can’t remember how many times he dragged me but he had a knife....” I trailed off as I felt the need to inhale and fill my lungs with air. “He had a knife pointed at me and my life almost flashed before my eyes.” I had to bring both my hands on my face again to wipe and get rid of my tears, swallowing.

I desperately breathed in deeply, inhaling the night air.

“And I’m mad at myself for being so weak during the time I had to be strong. All these years, I learn a lot of defense moves but earlier, it was as if I never knew anything…What the was wrong with me?”

“You’re not weak.” He spoke. “You were scared, that’s all.”

I knew he said it to comfort me but it didn’t help at all.

“I thought I was going to die alone in that dark area without seeing my dad, gramps, and my friends and without telling you…” I went on, biting my lower lip to keep myself from crying out loud, and immediately dismissed what I was going to say next. “I thought no one was going to come and help me.”

“I should have shown up earlier.” He replied a tinge of hurt in his tone. “So you wouldn’t have gone through any of that.” He went on, sounding regretful.

I shook my head.

“It was enough that you came.” I reasoned out. “If you didn’t,” I trailed off as I grew anxious at the thought.

I opened my mouth for air as I started to feel suffocated.

“If you didn’t…” I had to quickly wipe my stupid tears from my cheeks as it was also hard for me to get the words out. “Who knows what he would have done to me, I’d probably be dead by now-”

“Kang Seolhee.” He called, halting my words.

His eyes were boring into mine, looking serious-even mad for what I just said.  

“I wouldn’t let something like that happen to you.” He told me as if meaning every word that came out of his mouth.

“I know.” I was surprised by the volume of my voice. “I know Baekhyun. That’s why I desperately prayed for you to show up earlier.” I paused to cry louder again. “And I hate how I want you to show up whenever I’m in trouble because….how am I gonna survive without…” I shut my mouth closed. “I will be in a different country in the next few years, I can’t keep wishing you’d be there for me.”

I tilted my head down and stared at my hands. I fidgeted with the ring on my index finger, not knowing what to say next.

Then I saw his hand reach for mine, his touch giving me a different kind of comfort. I looked up and met his eyes. He had a serious look on his face as we maintained eye contact. He gave my hand a gentle squeeze before he pulled me into an assuring hug.

I closed my eyes, biting my lip before I gave in to everything.

“You’re safe now.” He murmured as I felt his hand rubbing my back. “You’re fine.”

I cried so hard, cried not for what had just happened tonight. I cried for so many things that have occurred in the last few months and even cried for the things that are bound to happen soon.

His embrace was tight and felt like a rush of comfort. He held me in his arms for a long time and it helped me calm down.

“You shouldn’t have said that…” He told me, giving my back another rub. “Now how am I supposed to have peace of mind while you’re away?”

That broke my heart.

 

∞⇢

3:54 AM

We were outside my house, I got off his motorcycle and stood next to him. I fixed my hair but I knew it was impossible to fix the mess that I already was. But I guess, I didn’t feel the need to hide it from him. He had seen me in my worst, this was but one of them.

“Thank you,” I said as I handed the helmet back to him.

He took it from me and just stared at me.

I held his gaze for a few good seconds before I turned around to the gate. However, before I could even open it, I spoke.

“How did you know I was in trouble?” I asked, my curiosity winning over me as I turned around to him once more. “How did you know I was there? You couldn’t have known, right?” I wanted answers.

He took his time staring back at me before his mouth parted to reply.

“I saw you from the store,” He replied briefly. “Before you made a turn in the corner.” He momentarily tilted his head down to avoid my eyes. “I heard about the rumors. I had a bad feeling so I left to check on you.” He paused to clear his throat. “I walked and took the way to your house but when I got here, the lights in your room were still off. That’s when I figured that you hadn’t made it home yet.”

My heart sank hearing this from him.

“You looked for me,” I concluded.

He inhaled and subtly exhaled before looking at me.

“Yeah,” He admitted, “Despite our situation, of course, I would look for you.” He added, his eyes boring into mine. “Then I thought I heard you scream and when I finally saw your things on the street…” He gulped as his grip tightened on the hand clutch.

“So, you still care about me.” I intercepted, absent-mindedly.

We exchanged looks, held it like we have all the time in the world.

“Old habits die hard I guess.” He replied. “Some things just take time.”

The fact that he was waiting for it to wear off or something was displeasing to me.

“Would it hurt you?” I asked unable to think straight.

“What?”

“To continue caring.”

He looked away as if my remark hit a spot.

“You should get some rest now.” He told me when he turned to me once more. “Just…” He gulped before he turned the engine on. “Just make sure you don’t walk home late ever again.” He instructed. “If you have to, you better tell your dad.”

He drove away before I could even answer.

And his refusal to answer my question gave me that familiar sinking feeling.

At this point, what was I expecting anyway?
 

∞⇢

When I got inside, my father was still in the living room. It was obvious that he was waiting for me. Just showing up in front of him, he immediately sensed that something was off.

“Where have you been?” He was worried as he stood and went to me. “Are you okay?” He held my head with his hands. “Have you been crying?”

I would have answered if my mouth didn’t form into an instant downward curve. He pulled me into a hug.

“What happened Seol?”

“I got chased by this man on my way here.”

“What?!” He freaked out hearing my reply as he leaned away. “Where? How come I didn’t know? Oh god, are you okay?” He cupped my face with his both hands, his eyes grew wide with concern. “Are you hurt somewhere? Oh what happened to your…” He saw the bandaid on my forehead and sighed. “Maybe we should go to the hospital to have you checked.”

Seeing how worried he was, I felt guilty not telling him as soon as I could. He did nag me for keeping it from him. He told me that I should not keep stuff like this from him. He got worried about me being in Spain and keeping stuff from him. I had to assure him that I would not do it again.

I also mentioned how Baekhyun showed up and got me out of trouble. I informed him that the man who attacked me was already locked up at the police station.

“Baekhyun,” He muttered, looking straight into my eyes. “What do we do without that boy?” There was evident sadness in his tone. “I was worried he stopped looking after you because I had not seen him around lately. I should call him first thing tomorrow morning.”

I remembered what Baekhyun said a few nights before about how dependent his mom on me was. I guess our parents got used to us being there for each other all these years.

I also told my father that I was anxious about telling Gramps just to change the subject.  Thankfully, promised me that he would help me out. He also knew that Gramps shouldn’t be stressed out but we could not keep what happened from him because he’d be more heartbroken.

He walked me to my room and I lost count of how many times he asked me if I was okay and suggested to take me to the hospital again. It was obvious that he was worried sick and I feel bad for making him.

 

∞⇢

I couldn’t bear to be alone in my room that night. So, after taking a shower, I went to Gramps’ room. I climbed onto his bed and immediately wrap my arms around him. As soon as he felt my presence, he placed a hand over mine and gave it gentle taps.

I would always do this whenever I was sad or anxious and he knew it exactly.

I will miss Gramps. I hate that I had to leave him. He’s old and I could only wish for the heavens to grant him good health and more years. I want to live with him for a very long time.

Baekhyun, my dad, and Gramps.

Just the thought of being apart from them rips my heart.

 

∞⇢

Just as planned, my father and I talked to Gramps about what happened to me the next day. We cautiously told him everything, wanting to make sure that it would not affect his health. After listening, all he did was come up to me and hug me.

“That bastard,” he held me tightly. “I’m going to kill him.” He added firmly. “At this point, I wanna send Baekhyun with you.”

I blinked my eyes at his remark as he let me go.

“Can’t that boy go to Spain with you?” He added, sounding serious. “I have enough savings, I can book him a ticket and leave with you.”

My father and I exchanged looks.

“How much do you think he’ll ask for payment if I hire him to be your bodyguard?” He went on, “I can look for a part-time job if he asks for too much but I’ll have to sue him for overpricing.”

My dad and I laughed at his remark.

“Okay, now where is that Bastard!?” He completely let go of me and went to the door. “Yah c’mon son,” He called my dad. “Let’s go to the station and beat that garbage of a person! Go get your baseball bat.” He kept yelling as he walked towards the gate of the house.

Oh my god, my dad and I ran after Gramps who seemed more serious than ever.

 

∞⇢

The next couple of days went by in a blur once more.

Most of my days were dominantly sad. I didn’t know if it was possible to be homesick already but that was how I seemed to feel.

I told Namindae what happened and they overflow with concern. I had to assure them that I was okay too. When they heard about Baekhyun helping me out, they were relieved.

Because of what happened to me that night, I grew more anxious to go home alone so I tried to go home as early as possible.

The last few days that I had left to spend with them were nothing but amazing. My father tried his best to go home early and show up for dinner. Gramps wasn’t so grumpy around me anymore which was a miracle somehow. I bet it was hard for him to resist scolding me whenever I purposely annoy him.

As for Baekhyun and I, we didn’t have another interaction after that night but I never saw him hang out with Jieun, Yongjun, and Hangyeol either. This also meant not seeing him smoking in the alleys as well which was a relief somehow.

I saw him on the bus on my way home a couple of times which made me wonder what happened to his motorcycle. We would sometimes exchange looks but that was it.

 

∞⇢

The week ended and so was the semester. We were officially free from all academic stress in the meantime. Minseok had one more semester left to graduate. It saddens me somehow that I wouldn’t be there to celebrate with him when it happens.

I was set to leave for Spain on Thursday which was three days after. Namindae threw a little send-off party for me on Tuesday night. We were in a newly-opened hang-out place near Minseok’s. It was such a nice place being located in a high spot overlooking the neighborhood. The air was great which we enjoyed thanks to its alfresco setup.

Jongdae, Naeun, and I were already there and had started to order food. Naeun and I went to stand before the rails to enjoy the view. The weather was so nice I was thankful.

“I can’t believe you won’t be around in the next hangouts,” Naeun said, already sounding sad. “Can you imagine me having to deal with Mindae alone? I will go crazy for sure.”

I laughed at her remark. I was about to reply when Jongdae joined us. He also checked the view, his eyes lighting up and seeing the houses from afar.

“Minseok’s probably still there getting ready.” He groaned. “How dare he repeatedly tells me to make sure to be here early for him to end up taking his time?”

Naeun and I laughed at him.

“But really, though,” Jongdae spoke once more, his eyes on the view again. “It would be good if Baekhyun would come.”

“Right.” Naeun agreed. “We haven’t been complete since that Lakehouse trip.”

I didn’t say anything, choosing to remain silent. Expecting him to come wouldn’t be realistic.

The food was served in the next ten minutes. I left to go to the restroom. After using the toilet I stood in front of the mirror to fix my hair. I wanted to tie my hair up but I didn’t have a hair tie with me, so I ended up fixing my brown shirt that was tucked inside my jeans. After washing my hands, I left to join my friends.

I was a couple of tables away from ours when I notice that Minseok had arrived. He must have just gotten here as all of them were standing up. I mentally counted in my head as there seemed to have an additional person with us. When Minseok made a step towards the table, my breath hitched to see who the other person was.

He was standing between Jongdae and Minseok. I knew that pair of dark jeans, sneakers, and that plain white shirt. That black cap, I was certain who the owner was. Baekhyun.

My heart beat faster as I heard Naeun call me.

“Seolhee!” There was pure excitement in her voice.

I couldn’t see her expression though, as my attention was solely focused on Baekhyun who was looking back at me now. We exchanged looks for a few seconds until I noticed Naeun walking toward me.

“He came.” I did not expect to see the downward curve made when she spoke. “He came with Minseok and they seemed to have patched things up before coming here.”

I feel Naeun being sentimental and I could not blame her. I could not even begin to process how it felt seeing Baekhyun with Namindae again.  

 

∞⇢

We all ate the food we ordered. Baekhyun sat at the opposite side of the table and we have yet to speak to each other. We would meet each other’s eyes briefly but that was it. Our friends were obvious to be cautious as well. We talked about stuff but never touched the topic.

“But seriously though Baek,” It was Jongdae. “We missed hanging out with you, man.” He added, giving him a quick nudge on the shoulder as they were seated next to each other. “I was worried I’d be the only funny guy in this group.”

“Sorry.” Baekhyun apologized as he tilted his head down. “I was a complete these few months.”

I could feel his guilt as he avoided everyone’s eyes by fixing his attention on the table.  

“I’m sorry too,” Minseok spoke, taking all of our attention except Baekhyun’s. “For letting you do it.” He cleared his throat. “I mean, being the eldest in this group I should have gone the extra mile and did what I had to do to fix this sooner.”

“No, it was my fault,” Baekhyun said as he finally turned to Minseok.

“We’re at fault for not checking on you as well.” Naeun intercepted.

“Wow,” Jongdae exclaimed, his eyes wide on all of us. “You guys sounded so mature.” He clapped his hand, obviously making the mood lighter. “I’m so proud of you, my friends. Wah, daebak!”

“Yeah, you should try it sometimes too,” Naeun suggested.

All of us laughed when Jongdae looked offended. He exaggerated that look of betrayal on his face which successfully made us more comfortable.

“And now…” Naeun turned to me. “I can’t believe we’re going to miss Seolhee too.”

“Ugh.” I groaned. “Naeun, please don’t get me started.”

“Seol,” Jongdae called, making me turn to his spot. “I’m partly happy that there’s one less person to threaten me with high kicks but I’ll miss the badass Kang Seolhee here too.”

I sighed, not being able to reply to the first two when Minseok spoke as well.

“You’re awesome Seol.” He said. “I bet you’ll be awesome in Spain too.” He smiled at me. “But yes, I’ll surely miss your naggings, your dagger looks and I miss how you could make Jongdae shut up by one single high kick threat.”

I let out a small laugh. These guys.

“You’ll miss her too, right?”

I he

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