Soojin ruffled her little brother’s hair, a fond and proud look on her face, as Jae continued to admire the golden medal around his neck.
His soccer team had just won the New York junior soccer league championship, and had been voted ‘Most Valuable Player’ by his teammates.
“Proud of you, kid. Always.” Soojin complimented, softly pinching his cheek to his dismay.
“Soojin! Don’t pinch my cheeks. There’s girls around. I don’t want them to think that I’m being babied.” Jae whined, eyes darting in his surroundings to see if anyone saw.
Soojin scoffed, a smile forming on her lips, “excuse me? My baby brother? Are you interested in girls now? You’re like ten.” She moved to pinch his cheeks again, only for Jae to step back and away from her reach.
“I am sixteen.” Jae deadpanned.
“Yeah, but whenever I ask you about girls, you always tell me you’re gonna be the next Lionel Messi, and that you don’t have time to be talking to girls.” Soojin said, with amusement in her voice, and eyes filled with wonderment at the sight of how grown up her little brother was.
Jae scratched his head, “y-yeah, well, Lionel Messi didn’t say that to be a good soccer player, you can’t date, right?”
Soojin crossed her arms, “is this your way of telling me that you have a girlfriend? Who is she? Is she here?” Her head turned left and right, trying to look for someone she didn’t even know existed.
Jae clicked his tongue, “Soojin, no. I don’t have a girlfriend. Chill out.”
Soojin smiled, “but you like someone? Aw, does little Jae have a crush on someone?” She spoke to him in the best baby voice she could do, only for his ears, and his ears only because in what world would Soojin show this side of her to anyone else?
Jae groaned, “you’re so annoying.”
Soojin laughed, hooking her arm around his neck, and pulling him closer towards her. Jae bent his knees a little at the height difference, an annoyed expression still on his face.
“Whoever this girl is. She better be a good one. Otherwise, she’ll answer to me, if she breaks my little brother’s heart. Got it?” Soojin’s voice was serious, but still filled with affection for Jae.
Soojin wanted him to know that even though she was working most of the time to provide for their little family, she was still going to be involved in their lives as much as she could.
“Yeah, but don’t talk to any of them, or you’ll scare them off. How am I ever going to get a girlfriend if that happens?” Jae playfully said, a hint of a smile on his lips.
“Yeah, yeah. I won’t be nosy.” Soojin rolled her eyes, pulling Jae along to walk with her.
“Yoon, let’s go. Say bye to the doggy.” Soojin shouted after Yoon, waving her hand for Yoon to catch up with them.
Yoon pouted at the golden retriever that she had made friends with while the game was going on. Soojin chuckled, shaking her head, when Yoon enveloped the dog into a tight hug, giving the fur ball a few more pats on the head, before running towards her siblings.
Soojin took a hold of Yoon’s hand, “what was your new friend’s name?”
Yoon turned to look back at the owner of the dog, waving her hand in gratitude for letting her play with her golden retriever. “Her name is Daisy, and Ms. Floyd said Daisy helps her whenever she feels sad.”
“Oh, Daisy’s an emotional support dog.” Soojin commented.
Yoon looked up at her sister with round eyes, “sometimes I feel sad. Like when you tell me I can’t have ice cream everyday because it’s not good for me? Does that mean I can have a dog friend too?”
Jae snickered, but immediately stopped after Soojin threw him a warning look.
Soojin hummed, “I’ll think about it.”
Yoon immediately smiled at that, “think about it really hard, okay? Really hard.” Soojin chuckled, and only nodded.
They walked their way home, with Yoon constantly pointing at the dogs she would see, even stopping the owners and politely asking for the dog’s names and asking them if she was allowed to pet them.
Jae mindlessly threw the winning ball into the air, bouncing it onto his legs, and juggling it skillfully. It was only when he had almost kicked the ball into a passerby’s face, that Soojin had to scold him to hold onto the ball while they walked.
“Jin, is that—,” Jae clutched onto Soojin’s arm, and the older girl looked at him with a confused look, “what? What is it?”
Soojin followed his horrified gaze, and her body immediately grew rigid.
There, sprawled on a bench, looking haggard and a mess, was their father. It was obvious that he was as drunk as ever, drinking during every hour of the day in broad daylight or in the dark hours of the night.
Soojin clenched her teeth, “take Yoon home, Jae. Now. Take a taxi.”
Jae held onto Yoon’s hand, the little girl confused about what had triggered her siblings to act like this. “You’re not coming? Where are you going?” Yoon questioned, looking up at Soojin with furrowed brows.
“What are you gonna do? Let’s go home together.” Jae said, concern evident in his voice.
“Jae, what did I tell you to do?” Soojin looked at him with raised eyebrows, her voice low and firm.
Jae sighed, “alright. I’ll take her home.” He lifted Yoon up into his embrace, holding her safely in his arms.
“Don’t do anything stupid, Soojin. Please.” Jae looked at her pleadingly, and Soojin only nodded.
“I’ll see you at home, okay?” Soojin placed a kiss on each of their heads, before sending them off on their way.
Taking a deep breath, Soojin slowly approached the bench. She was thankful that there weren’t many people around in this area, too embarrassed to have people witness what kind of father she had.
Soojin towered over him, blocking the sun from his figure. “Why aren’t you at the shelter?” Her fists clenched at her sides, trying her hardest to calm herself down.
Once his eyes opened, Soojin refused to look into them. “Soojin!” Her name sounded slurred when it came out of his mouth. He reached for her hand, but Soojin immediately took a step back from him.
“Why are you sleeping on the streets, and not at the shelter?” Soojin repeated her question.
Her father let out a messy laugh, groaning as he sat himself up onto the bench. “What? You care about your old man, now?”
Soojin’s nose flared in anger, “no one should be sleeping on the streets.” She settled for that explanation.
He chuckled, waving her off, “I got kicked out of the shelter.”
Soojin’s eyes widened, “what? Do you know what I had to go through just for them to take you in?”
“None of that matters now.” He shrugged.
Soojin could feel her nails digging into her palm, fists clenching tighter in anger. “You ungrateful drunk.”
“Why don’t you give your old man a bit of cash, hm? I need more alcohol.” He lifted the bottle that was next to him on the ground, downing the rest of it into his mouth.
Soojin closed her eyes, turning away at the sight of her father chugging down what she only assumed was not his first bottle in the last hour.
Her bottom lip shook uncontrollably, tears forming in her eyes out of anger and hurt. Soojin let out a shaky breath, reaching for her wallet in her bag, and taking a few twenty dollar bills out, and laying it down onto the bench.
“You should buy yourself some food.” Soojin said.
He took the money into his hands, a wide and drunken smile splaying onto his lips, before he pocketed the cash into his pocket.
“Say hi to the kids for me.” He grinned, standing up and waving at his oldest daughter mockingly, before he started walking the other way. She was fully aware what he was going to do with the money, and where he was headed.
Soojin could only watch him sway on his feet, barely being able to walk straight with all the alcohol in his system. She bit her shaky lip, holding in her tears with all the strength she had left.
Shuhua walked into Yuqi’s apartment, not surprised at all that familiar faces were already there lounging in the living room.
“Little Shu!” Chan greeted with enthusiasm, raising his hands up in the air with a big smile.
“I have arrived,” Shuhua said, her enthusiasm not matching Chan’s at all, causing him to give her a disappointed look.
“I was hoping for the same energy back, Shu.” Chan clicked his tongue.
Shuhua shrugged, plopping next to the Australian, and immediately resting her head on his shoulder in exhaustion.
“I’m just tired.”
“Someone keeping you up at night, Shu?” Yuqi teased, earning a pointed glare from the younger girl.
“Anyway,” Minnie chuckled at their witty banter, changing the topic immediately, before the two cousins started grilling each other.
“Let’s talk about our annual Christmas party. ” Minnie clapped her hands once, clasping it onto her lap as if they were having a proper and professional meeting.
“Christmas party?” Shuhua questioned.
“Yeah, we’ve been having our own little traditional Christmas party for the past two years now. We have it the week before winter break, before we all disperse and go home.” Miyeon explained, clapping her hands softly in excitement.
Shuhua nodded in understanding, “I see.”
“Let’s just stick to tradition, yeah? Secret Santa, dinner, and maybe a bit of drinking.” Lucas said, his thumb mindlessly rubbing small circles on Yuqi’s legs, that were resting on his lap.
“Sounds good to me.”