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CHAPTER VI
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  PART I

 

∞⇢

I WAS IN THE LIBRARY.

A few books right in front of me but my mind was not in the mood for texts written on the pages. It was somewhere else. Again. Right at the same time and place.

The morning of the outreach, in his house.

“Then…kiss me.”

His stare was piercing as if examining if I was serious or not at that time. For every second that passed, I couldn’t process anything in my head properly. It was as if I blanked out and all I was aware of was the fact that his hands were on my waist, carrying my entire weight. His face was so close to mine, his damp hair making him look a little more handsome than I had already acknowledged. I remembered how his freshly brushed, minty breath fanned into my skin.

And His lips, my god, why was I so drawn into them that very moment. It was like I was under a spell, I couldn’t move.

Then I saw him gulped and the next second later, I watched how he slowly inched his face closer to mine. That was when I panicked, just as he was about to dismiss any form of space between us, I jerked and pushed him away.

We both looked startled as I watched him gaze at me a foot away. Suddenly, I became so conscious, my head filled with a realization that he was really about to kiss me. I swallowed, as I looked away. Turning to face him once more, I expected his attention somewhere else but I was wrong. He was still gazing at me as if his eyes never left me.

He looked stunned but there was something else. I wish he could tell me what it was but he was too quiet and for some reason, this was making me uncomfortable. It was as if we just landed on a territory that we had never crossed before.

“Seol?” I heard Auntie call, followed by a couple of knocks on his bedroom door.

I turned around to the door, intending to step out but my feet refused to leave my spot.

“Did Baek get up?” She asked.

I answered his mom’s question but only in my head. What was happening to me, I could not even talk. I was about to turn to him when I sensed him leave and watched him walk to the door of the bathroom.

“I’m up mom.” He answered.

I was sure Auntie spoke but I couldn’t make out of what she said anymore.

I was still trying to make sense of everything in my head while my attention was on his every move. And speaking of his every move, my eyes grew wide when I saw him walking back and without a warning, pulled his shirt off by the collar and casually dropped it on the floor.

The next thing, I was bombarded with his broad shoulders and chest.

He stepped into the shower area, walking past me. For some reason, I couldn’t take my attention off of him. I watched him turn on the shower and test the temperature of the water. Even in my shocked state, and the fact that his toned back was on display right now, I wanted him to look at me so I could try and read his reaction.

As if reading my mind, I watched him take a deep breath before he turned to me. He met my eyes for a split second before I watched him open his mouth to say something. However, for some miracle, I was able to finally verbalize my thoughts.

“Were you really going to kiss me?”

I was sure his attention darted to my mouth before he tilted his head down and looked away.

I waited for him, I could hear the water from the showerhead gently running. Honestly, I didn’t know why I was still here and had to ask him about it. I wasn’t sure what I was going to get from hearing his answer. I guess I had not fully gotten back into my rational state yet.

“I guess I didn’t need to be told twice...” He answered accompanied by a nonchalant shrug.

So, he was going to do it just because I told him to?

“So,” He took another breath. “Now if you don’t mind, I’m gonna take a shower.”

The moment he mentioned shower, I was somehow nudged back to the present.

“Okay,” I muttered. “I’m gonna go wait for you downstairs.”

His response which came in a form of a nod was the last thing I saw before I turned around and left his bathroom.

As soon as I closed the door behind me, I felt the need to take a deep breath.

What the hell was that Kang Seolhee?

***

“Why, what did you do?”

I was sure it was Naeun’s curious voice that I just heard. When I checked, she was getting ready to sit in front of me, placing the books on the table.

“What the hell was that Kang Seolhee?” She said, eyeing me.

Did I say that out loud? I sighed, of course, I did. There was no way she could read my mind which was a relief she didn’t know what I was thinking before she arrived.

“I uhm…” I trailed off. “I remembered I forgot to turn the fridge off.” I blurted out, desperate for an excuse. “I think I need to give gramps a call to unplug it-”

She scoffed, shaking her head before she looked at me incredulously.

“Are you okay Seol?”

“Yeah, I am,” I replied, trying to sound casual. “Why wouldn’t I be okay?”

“BECAUSE.” She emphasized. “Who in their right mind turns off the fridge and has it unplugged?” She added in a matter-of-fact tone.

It was at the moment I realized that I messed up. That I kept going back to the moment Baekhyun and I almost kissed.

What was happening to me? It had been almost a week since it took place yet the scene kept replaying in my head like it was a song played on repeat.

***
Later that day, I joined Namindae. We were hanging at the student picnic area located in front of the University’s Main building. There were several groups of students aside from us. We were on our usual spot which was right under the tree.

Naeun was talking about the trip we planned to have by the end of next week due to the long holidays. She was excitedly describing the Lakehouse of her Aunt that we were going to stay at. She mentioned how it will be perfect for us to relax and unwind. Dae and Minseok also started to suggest activities that we could do.

I, however, was just busy listening to them. Not until I caught sight of Baekhyun from afar. He was heading in our direction. I was certain that he had just finished his exam on one of his subjects and immediately went here. His eyes were on his phone as he was probably texting.

His hair that was slightly longer than usual was dancing with the afternoon breeze. He looked pretty serious for a bit as he seemed to concentrate on what he was doing.

I only tore my attention off him when he finally reached our spot and sat in front of me next to Jongdae. Though he was with us, his focus remained on his phone.

“We were just talking about the holiday trip.” Minseok informed him.

“Ah really?” He replied, he looked up to us. “That’s great.” He added before he turned to me. “By the way Seol, can you tell coach Choi that I can’t attend the meeting later? Something urgent came up, I’ll just call you later and ask about the details.”

“Yeah,” I replied though I wondered what he had to attend to all of a sudden. “Okay, I’ll tell him.”

“Thanks.” He thanked before his eyes fixed on his phone once more.

His phone. Lately, he had been always on his phone more frequent than he usually did. I didn’t know who he was talking to but that person was getting his attention a lot for sure.

I guess I was right when I saw the corner of his lip rose before it turned into a subtle smile. My eyes darted on his fingers that were busy tapping on his screen.

“Yah Byun.” Dae nudged him. “Why are you making us feel like we are competing for your attention right now?”

Baekhyun locked his phone before turning to Jongdae.

“I was just talking to a groupmate about a project.” He reasoned out.

“Group mate? Project?” Jongdae added doubtfully. “Then your groupmate must have sent you some heart emoji for you to smile like that.”

His eyes grew wide at Jongdae’s remark.

“No man.” Baekhyun chuckled. “What the hell? When did I smile?”

“You just did.” Jongdae. “Are you sure it’s some group project thingy or…” Jongdae paused to close his eyes as if he had to muster some courage to say what he was about to say next. “Some LUNA thingy?”

Why did I suddenly become uncomfortable at the mention of her name? Like she wasn’t here but flashes of how she looked that day she showed up in the court flooded my thoughts. Then as if automatic, I thought about her and Baekhyun back in High School.

How they walked together around the campus, held each other’s hand and that kiss at the back of the old PE building.

I was so deep in my thoughts for a few moments that I did not catch Baekhyun’s reaction to Jongdae’s remark.

“You’ve been on your phone pretty often lately dude,” Minseok spoke. “You can’t blame us for thinking that you and Luna probably rekindled the fire or something.”

I did not like how Minseok described it.

“Seol,” Jongdae called. “Do you know something?”

I was a bit caught off guard, I didn’t know what to say.

“Is Luna the one Baekhyun texting?” He added.

Baekhyun and I exchanged looks, however, there was nothing for me to reveal nor confirm, and so I looked away and turned to Dae.

“I don’t know anything Dae,” I replied briefly.

“So it’s a secret huh?” Jongdae eyed Baekhyun. “You’re keeping secrets from us now?”

“No Dae.” Baekhyun denied, unable to suppress a smile. “Stop acting like my wife and being all suspicious.” He joked.

“You don’t really know who it is?” Naeun leaned over to me and asked discreetly.

I shook my head before I turned around to hear a phone ringing.

It was Minseok’s. We all had our attention to him as his forehead creased seeing the number on his screen.

“What’s the matter?” Naeun asked curiously.

“It’s an unregistered number,” Minseok replied before he stood and stepped away to get the call.

“Don’t be scammed, man!” Jongdae told him before he turned to us. “Did you know the father of my friend has a neighbor whose sister has an officemate who got scammed?”

Naeun rolled her eyes at him.

“You’re aware that it would have been easier to comprehend if you just said you know someone.”

“WHAT?” Jongdae asked, innocently. “That wouldn’t be concise if I do it that way.”

Their conversation kinda blurred out to me as I focused on Baekhyun who went back to his phone again. Could it really be Luna that he was communicating with lately?

As I come to think of it, I never really knew what they both talked about when I left them at the clinic that day. Could it be that they were able to fix things in the past and decided to try to work it out again? Could Baekhyun’s reason for not telling us about it be because he didn’t want us to meddle with it when they’re still both figuring things about their relationship?

Baekhyun and Luna in a relationship. Why did it feel like I took some bitter pill and couldn’t swallow it? Why was I reacting this way? Why do I keep glancing at Baekhyun whose full attention was on the person he was messaging? Why did it feel like it was that year in High School over again?

My train of thoughts was put to a halt when Minseok came back with a pleased reaction on his face.

“Seol.” He faced me, all smiles. “Guess who that was?”

All pairs of eyes were on me at the moment while my forehead creased wondering as well.

“A scammer?” I said, totally clueless.

My reply sent Jongdae and Naeun laughing. Baekhyun however was just plainly staring at Minseok as if he was waiting for him to reveal who it was.

“No.” Minseok laughed as well. “It was Jongin.”

“Oho!” Jongdae exclaimed. “Mister smooth Kim Jongin.”

When I heard his name, my brain automatically recalled how he looked whenever he smiled at me. The one that brought me comfort during the most awkward moment.

“Really?” I muttered, “What did he say?”

I noticed Baekhyun went back to focus on his phone once more.

“Well,” Minseok leaned closer. “He’s asking if I could ask you if you’re fine with him having your number.” He added but paused once more when he seemed to remember something. “He also mentioned that you have something that’s his?”

Naeun clapped her hand.

“HIS HEART!” She guessed, pointing to Minseok this time.

I was unable to stop myself from smiling due to Naeun’s reaction.

“Whoa!!!” Jongdae joined her. “This Jongin might be the smoothest guy to ever pursue our Seolhee. I’m actually impressed.”

“No guys,” I told them. “He meant his backpack, okay?” I cleared.

“YOU HAVE HIS BACKPACK?” Naeun and Jongdae chorused.

“You reached that level already?” Minseok asked. “We must start calling him Mister Flash.”

Jongdae cackled at Minseok’s remark.

“Hyung, I swear your jokes are off-tuned.”

Minseok glared at him.

“Shut up or I’ll sew your loud mouth Kim Jongdae.” The older guy warned.

Jongdae acted like he was zipping his mouth.

“Seol really?” Naeun giggled. “You have his backpack? Oh my god, why does this sound romantic already?”

“Romantic?” I couldn’t believe her. “He just lent it to me when he returned my shoes.”

“And!” Jongdae intercepted. “I say you’ll know a guy’s a keeper when he takes care of your belongings like that.”

“Which you never did to any of your girlfriends right, Kim Jongdae.” Minseok teased.

“Tsk Hyung.” He whined. “Stop attacking me already, okay?”

We all laughed. We all did, except Baekhyun obviously. He seemed to be in an entirely different world. I wondered if he was able to hear anything.

“So, Seol.” Minseok got my attention. “Is it okay if I give him your number?”

For some reason, my eyes darted to Baekhyun once more who although his attention was still on his phone, immediately stopped typing. As if subtly waiting for my response as well.

His eyes were on his phone. His phone. His phone. He was always on his damned phone. Both the sight and the thought irritate me.

“Yeah,” I answered. “I don’t see why not.”

“YASSS GURL!” Naeun applaud. “YOU GO GIRL!”

“JongSeol!” Jongdae cheered. “JongSeol! Jongseol!”

Naeun joined him and I couldn’t help but laugh at how chaotic they were. My focus was completely glued to them that I was surprised when I saw Baekhyun stand and walk away.

“Where’s he going?” Jongdae asked, wondering.

“He said he needed to go meet someone for the urgent thing he mentioned earlier,” Minseok replied who seemed to have talked to him.

“Oh. Okay.” Jongdae uttered. “I thought he was acting jealous all of a sudden.”

Jealous my foot, I thought. He was busy giving his attention to whoever he was texting.

 

***

8:34 PM

I retired to my room and was about to wash up when I heard my phone’s message notification. It was a message from an unregistered number. However, seeing the text, I knew who sent it right away.


010-4553-****
Hi Cinderella.
08:34 pm

I shook my head, letting out a short laugh at his message. I was about to type in my reply but I thought that he might think that I was too excited to receive his message. I placed my phone back on my bed and went to the bathroom to wash.

When I was ready to reply, I have received another message from him.

010-4553-****
I’m pretty sure I’m trying to contact Cinderella, not Sleeping Beauty.
8:53 pm

Me:
Why do I get the feeling that you memorized all the names of the Princesses, Jongin?
09:04pm

010-4553-****
Thank god you replied, I was ready to ride my horse and offer a true love’s kiss to wake you up.
09:04pm

010-4553-****
Kidding. Hi Seolhee. J
09:05pm

This guy sure had his league of crazy, I concluded.

We texted each other for the next thirty minutes before I told him that I gotta work on my report for tomorrow’s class. He was easy to talk to, I learned that he studies Business Administration at his University. We were in the same year as well. He had a younger sister who was in 5th grade. Aside from Basketball, he likes playing tennis and soccer as well.

I worked on my school stuff on my desk until I felt tired and nodded off. I didn’t know how long I dozed off until I heard an object falling on the floor. Struggling to open my eyes, I found out that it was my ruler.

Needing to check what time it was, I grabbed my phone. It was 11:43 pm. My forehead creased seeing that there weren’t any messages from Baekhyun. I thought he was going to ask about the meeting with coach Choi earlier?

My thoughts then were taken back to how he appeared engrossed in his phone earlier this day. I scoffed, unconsciously rolling my eyes before I placed my phone back on the desk. Feeling a bit annoyed and wanting to get rid of it, I threw my body on my bed and forced sleep to take over.

***

The next morning, I did not see Baekhyun’s shadow anywhere near me. I had not heard anything from him too, so I ended up going to the University taking the bus.

I arrived at around 9:10 and my first class was at thirty past nine. I walked unhurriedly towards the main gate when I caught sight of someone. I had to blink my eyes to make sure that my brain was not playing a trick on me or something because how could a Jongin be here?

He was leaning against the wall, wearing a plain white shirt, some faded jeans, and converse shoes. He carried a bag and a small brown paper bag. I watched how he straightened his posture when he saw me. Focusing on his face, his hair was down, slightly parted in the middle and a growing smile was on his lips.

He walked to meet me before he handed the paper bag that he was holding to me.

“What’s this?” I was curious.

He did not say, instead urged me to take it. The smile never left his lips.

 “We aren’t that close for you to give me stuff, right?” I stated, the corner of my lips raising unable to hide my amusement.

I took the bag from him and proceeded to open it.

It was an apple.

“Good Morning,” I heard him greet. “Snow-white.”

At the mention of the princess’ name, the apple suddenly made sense. And I just had to shake my head and let out a small laugh at his humor.

“Well, I guess good morning to you...” I looked at him. “Evil stepmother?”

He looked down at what he was wearing.

“Oops, looks like I forgot to wear my cloak.” He replied, ending his remark with a chuckle.

“Yeah, the excessive eyeliner too,” I added.

We exchanged looks for a second before we burst out laughing because of our corny exchange of lines.

 “Are you sure this doesn’t have poison?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“I ate the ones with poison, don’t worry.”

“Wow, and you’re still alive?”

“Yeah, gotta fight for my life and survive so I could see you smile.”

I just had to laugh once more at how lame that was.

 “There it is.” He stated. “Ahhh it’s good to be alive.” He raised his hands in the sky. “WHAT A GOOD MORNING!” He exclaimed exaggerating obviously.

“Shut up,” I told him in between laughter as I asked him to bring his hands down.

He walked me up to the gate like it was the most natural thing for him to do. Glancing at him, he shoved his hands inside his pockets.

“What brought you here this early?” I couldn’t help but wonder.

“Well, you mentioned last night that your class is at 9:30.” He answered. “So, I dropped by. I actually thought that you’re an early bird I came here at 8:15.”

My eyes grew wide.

“But you’re obviously not.” He went on. “I bet you even come late to your classes sometimes.”

“What?” I looked at him unbelievably. “No, I don’t come in late,” I said.

He looked a bit skeptical.

“Okay, maybe once a week.” I shrugged.

“My god, that’s too much.” He remarked.

We ended up laughing once more.

“So, it’s 9:25.” He informed. “You should probably start running to your class now.”

“Yeah, I should.” I agreed. “Thanks for the apple, evil stepmom.”

“Yeah.” He nodded with a wide smile before he waved goodbye.

When I got to my class, I immediately sat on my chair. I was only seated for a few seconds when my phone vibrated. I checked and saw a message from Jongin. I grabbed my phone as I discreetly checked his message.

Jongin:
I should come by next time riding a horse, that way you get to call me prince charming
09:34 am

Me:
Good luck with the white horse.
09:35 am

I felt myself smiling as I placed my phone back inside my bag wanting to give my undivided attention to our prof who just started with the lesson.

***

A few days later.

It was Wednesday of the following week and two days before our trip.

I had a deadline to catch the following day and had been using all my free time working on it. If I didn’t spend hours in the library, I would be at my workstation, which was a spot right under the big shady tree. There was a table where I could work on my designs.

I had always loved coming and working here when I wanted to clear my mind and be away from the populated areas of the campus. In short, a place where I could solely be an architecture student. Nothing more, nothing less.

I had been here for nearly an hour and a half when I sensed someone joining me. For some reason, I did not need to glance back to tell who it was. I could smell his familiar scent and anticipated for him to say a word. However, he didn’t which made me turn around to him instead.

Locking gazes with him right away, I saw him just standing there, hands in his pockets. He was in one of his black shirts paired with plaid long sleeves that remained ed, jeans, and his usual Nike shoes.

“Can I help you?”

He smirked at my question before he placed his backpack on the ground next to the trunk of the tree.

“Just do your thing and pretend I’m not here.” He suggested.

I observed his every move, waiting for him to say something else but to my surprise, the next thing he did was to sit on the ground, leaning on the tree trunk before he closed his eyes.

“You okay?” I wondered.

His response came in the form of a silent nod.

What’s wrong with him? I thought.

More like pretending I wasn’t here.

I stood there, watching him for the next minute before I decided to go back to what I was doing. Placing my pencil on the table, I went to tie my hair in a bun before I concentrated back on my design.

I was working in silence for about thirty minutes when I sensed movements from him. Turning to where he was I found him busy with his phone. Was he texting that person again?

How could he be here, seemingly lacking energy for a conversation yet he was in the mood to communicate with whoever he was exchanging messages with.

Feeling slightly annoyed, I went back to finish my design.

When I was done and was already organizing my stuff, he immediately stood on his feet. He waited for me as he finally shoved his phone in his pocket.

“What’s with the silent treatment?” I asked, casually.

“I just didn’t want to disturb you Seol.” He reasoned out in a matter-of-fact tone as he grabbed my pencil and gave it to me.

“So, why did you come here in the first place?” I added, taking the pencil from him but not meeting his eyes.

“Because I wanna be here?” He replied. “And we’re supposed to meet Namindae after this, right?”

I had to fight the urge to roll my eyes at him and just focus on fixing the rest of my things.

We didn’t talk much and left the spot.

We headed to the café where Naeun was working part-time. It was just a walking distance outside the University. When we got there, they were already gathered on our usual spot which was located outside. Naeun immediately waved at us while she still wore her café uniform and apron. Next to her were Minseok and Jongdae of course. However, aside from them, I saw another person with them.

The moment Minseok and Dae turned around to greet us, the other person did as well.

Jongin.

I still could not process the idea that he was with Namindae right now when he stood up to greet me with a smile.

“Hi Seol.”

Slightly confused, I smiled at him before I turned to check Baekhyun whose focus was on Jongin as well. He was probably wondering why was he here.

“What are you doing here?” I asked Jongin.

“Well,” Minseok intercepted. “I got a message from him asking where you were.”

“Why would you come looking for her?” Baekhyun spoke, his tone a bit authoritative in a way.

The way he spoke like that caught everyone’s attention. We were all staring at him while he focused on Jongin.

Jongin, on the other hand, looked a bit taken aback by his remark. I watched how his gaze got transferred to me before he turned to Baekhyun once more.

“You must be Baekhyun.” He stated with a polite smile. “The Best Friend.” He added with subtle firmness as if he was making a point.

The rest of the group was too quiet that the small gasp Jongdae made sounded like a scream. When I darted my eyes on Baekhyun, he was plainly staring at him.

“I’m Jongin.” He introduced as he extended his hand to him.

Baekhyun did not even move an inch, in short, did not even take Jongin’s offered hand. Jongin hesitantly retrieved his hand which made me a little bit annoyed at Baekhyun.

“I uhm…” Naeun was to the rescue. “Will get you two something that you usually order okay.” She announced before she went inside the café.

There was a seat next to Jongin and before I could even walk towards it, Baekhyun overtook and sat on it. I just openly looked at him as my head was filled with memories of him acting like this whenever a guy would show the slightest interest in me.

The guys would think that he was acting jealous or something but I had known him for too long for me not to distinguish that he was only being protective of me.

I sat on the chair next to Baekhyun and was just settling in when I saw Jongin leave his original seat and occupy the seat next to me.

Now, I was seated in between them. On my right was Jongin who was, I supposed, making his intentions clear while the dumbfounded-looking Baekhyun was seated on my left.

When I glanced across the table, Jongdae and Minseok were both quiet as they watched the three of us like we were some characters in a movie.

***

Naeun came back with our drinks and as expected, her attention was immediately on the three of us as well. She proceeded to occupy the seat next to Jongdae. The three of them eyed each other and I need not ask to know what they were thinking.

“Seol,” Jongin caught my attention. “Minseok told me that you can do Hapkido.”

Turning to him, I nodded in response.

“So, will it be fine if you teach me some moves some time?”

I was about to answer when I heard Baekhyun clear his throat.

“How about you learn from me instead?”

There was silence for exactly four seconds before Jongdae burst out laughing. We all looked at him except Baekhyun and Jongin who remained focused on each other.

“No, thank you,” Jongin replied briefly.

Baekhyun subtly scoffed as he whispered coward which I heard. My god, can he stop acting like this?

“Great choice Jongin,” Minseok told him.  “He’s quite ruthless. We…” He paused to point at himself and Jongdae. “We won’t even dare.”

“Yeah.” Jongin nodded. “I kinda ha

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