That was the mark that was scrawled on the top corner right of my portfolio folder.
Every page was full of commendation from my professor.
They were utterly amazed at how superb I conducted the project that even the things that they hadn’t mentioned in class were listed down and was explained in full detail.
There was even a note below saying how I was the best student they had ever had and they were proud to have someone like me studying under them.
Normally, I would be jumping around in joy by now, hollering like a madman after receiving such compliments from one of the most respected professors of our school, but since I wasn’t really the one who was responsible for the project, I could only sulk internally and wallow in regret.
“You got the highest mark for our project but why the long face?” said Aeri while we were walking around the campus to find a nice spot to hang around.
Our supposed professor today called in sick and only asked for our signatures on a piece of paper for attendance then we could leave.
My best friend didn’t want to stay inside the room so here we were.
I unconsciously puckered my lips.
Thank you so much for adding salt to the wound, Ri.
“I wasn’t the one who got the highest mark.”
To be honest, I wasn’t mad or anything of the sort.
What I feel was more like a self-disappointment for failing to do my responsibility on my own and relied on somebody else instead.
Then again, I doubt I would even receive the same mark if I was the one who made it.
“It was your cousin who did.”
“What?” Aeri asked, obviously puzzled. “Girl, are you okay?”
“She was the one who made my project.”
I noted how her face morphed into a surprised look, leaving me wondering which exactly was she surprised about.
The fact that I allowed the devil to help me and be at her debt or the fact that the devil volunteered to help despite being a slacker?
“Kim hates projects.” So, it was the latter choice. “If it wasn’t for Ryujin, I’m sure she’d fail all of her subjects since there’s no way she could get a passing grade just by acing the quizzes and exams. But you’re telling me that she was the one who did your Math project? And out of her own will too?”
“Yes, Ri,” I said. “That’s what I’m saying.”
“That girl really...” She shook her head, fighting back an amused smile. “She is whipped, I’m telling you.”
I think that word was too wholesome to describe the spawn of the devil.
“Anyway, how about you?” I inquired, dropping the subject at hand. “What grade did you get?”
“B+,” came her nonchalant nonchalant reply.
“Ri, you need to take your studies more seriously,” I chastised, trying not to sound like a certain menopausal unmarried old woman in everyone’s neighborhood. “I’d rather us enrolling in the same university as much as possible. I mean, it’s totally fine if you have other plans in mind. It’s just wishful thinking, I guess.”
“You are such a baby, Yooji.” She draped an arm around my shoulders. “Don’t worry yourself too much about the future. Focus on the now. We will get there eventually.”
Focus on the now.
So resolute about living in the present first and foremost, not giving a care about what kind of future awaits her.
“Fine, if you say so.”
We were about to make a turn when I caught sight of two familiar faces occupying the biggest gazebo reserved only for the members of the council.
My first instinct was to ignore them and continue walking, but I was too late to take action because then, the secretary was already calling for my name in a very, very loud voice that I almost covered my ears to protect my eardrums.
A quiet curse slipped out of my mouth.
I pulled a tight-lipped smile before waving my hand stiffly their way while Aeri yelled back with the same vigor. The devil beside her was watching me, the hint of a goofy smirk playing across her lips.
I could feel the warmth of the blush crawling up my neck as the events that happened yesterday poured itself into my mind as if to mock me for allowing myself to succumb to earthly desires.
“Let’s go there.” Aeri left no room for refusal with how tight she was gripping my forearm as she pulled me toward my terrible fate in disguise.
I sat as far away as possible from the devil who in return studied me with what appeared to be amused interest. She had probably already caught on to what I was trying to do.
“Are you guys cutting classes?” It was Yizhuo who initiated a conversation first. She was extremely shy around my best friend the other day, but now, any trace of her previous demeanor was gone and reduced to atoms.
“No, we’re not that kind of students,” Aeri answered, shooting me a knowing glance. “Or so I thought.”
I looked the other way as I put a false display of cluelessness about what she was trying to imply.
After we made it back to school, I immediately told Aeri about my impromptu escapade with the devil, excluding the intimate scene because she really didn’t have to know that.
Her face was a combination of disbelief and bewilderment once I was done. Because one, I ditched my classes which I had sworn to never do, and two, the reason was her one and only cousin.
“Are you sure you don’t like her?” I remember Aeri asking me yesterday. ”Because your inability to decline her demands is telling me otherwise.”
I denied her stupid allegations at once, reminding her that her cousin was the devil incarnate. Hence, she was always one step ahead to make sure things would go her way without any trouble.
An evil genius.
“I didn’t decline because I had no other choice.”
Even though she looked really unconvinced and very much doubtful, she didn’t push the topic any further, much to my relief.
I don’t think I could badmouth Minjeong in her presence anymore after I found out that they were cousins.
It was wrong in so many ways.
It was a wonder why Aeri didn’t get mad at me for all the times I insulted her cousin.
“By the way, Jimin,” Yizhuo said, interrupting my train of thought. “I heard the tea from Winter. No one should know that you two are dating because it is a top-secret, yes?”
Was that a nickname?
I chanced a glance at the person in question who only raised her eyebrow and cocked her head to one side, evading my gaze.
So, despite saying that she could care less if anyone found out that we were dating, she still went and asked Yizhuo to treat our relationship as if it was a confidential matter that could trigger the third world war.
“My lips are sealed!” Then she did a gesture of zipping . “You can trust me!”
Well, Yizhuo didn’t seem like the type who would spread things for her own entertainment.
I guess it wouldn’t be bad to trust her.
“Thanks, Yizhuo.” I gave her a sincere smile. “I appreciate it.”
“But I had to know...” She trailed off, probably for dramatic effect. “What is it about Winter that you find attractive enough to date her?”
My breath caught in my throat at the unexpected question.
Aeri snickered beside me, only stopping when I nudged her with my elbow while the devil was now looking at me curiously, wearing an expectant expression on her face.
Suddenly, I felt like I was in an interrogation room surrounded by the police force.
“I said, what is it about Winter that you find attractive enough to date her?” She repeated, oblivious to the situation she created. “Let’s not include her physical attributes, ‘kay?”
This girl really had no concept of holding back with her questions. She’d ask whatever she wanted to ask. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel like she was being intrusive because she wanted some juicy gossip. She was genuinely curious as if she was discovering the world for the first time.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know how exactly I would feed her curiosity. All of this was just a sham, anyway. There was nothing I find attractive in the devil enough to date her. Though, I knew I had to say something because in her perspective, the devil and I were dating and happily in love.
“I guess her intelligence.”
That wasn’t a lie.
Her intelligence was something I really hate but admire at the same time.
Let’s not lie.
We all had some kind of a weak spot for people who we could learn things from.
Minjeong had this unexplainable expression when our eyes crossed. For some reason, it didn’t seem like she was satisfied with my answer.
“Ohhh.” Yizhuo nodded her head thoughtfully. “That makes sense. Intelligent people attract intelligent people. I see, I see. I’ll write that down.”
“Why would you write that down?” Aeri asked in pure wonder as she watched Yizhuo scribble on her small notepad.
“For research purposes.”
A mischievous idea popped out of my mind.
“What about you, Yizhuo?”
“What about me?” she asked back without looking at me.
I was forced to hold in my grin to hide my intentions.
“Do you like someone right now?”
Yizhuo abruptly dropped her pen as she grew pale and red alternatively, glancing first at me and then my best friend while attempting to open , only to close it again when nothing came out.
“She does,” came Minjeong’s dull reply on behalf of her friend who widened her eyes in response to being exposed.
“You weren’t supposed to say that!” Then she continuously slapped Minjeong’s arm with the latter breaking into a fit of laughter while trying to shield herself from her companion’s wrath. “I’m so gonna kill you!”
I subtly eyed Aeri who was just silently awaiting the next scenario to unfold, looking like she hadn’t the faintest idea that it was her that Minjeong was referring to.
“Do I know this person?”
I was trying to catch her with the words of . Aeri knew there weren’t many people I was familiar with in our school. Identifying who exactly Yizhuo’s crush was wouldn’t be difficult.
Yizhuo appeared to be carefully thinking what her response was going to be. “W-Well, uh, see here, I am not sure...”
Oh my god.
This was so funny.
She was behaving like a defendant in the middle of a trial who was being cornered by the prosecutor like a mouse.
“You’re not sure?”
Her nervous gaze flickered to Aeri before she lowered her head. She was fidgeting and crossing her legs in a way that suggested she urgently needed the toilet.
“Yooji, I don’t think she’s comfortable disclosing that information to us,” Aeri butted in, sending her a comforting smile. “It’s alright, Yizhuo. You don’t have to answer her.”
Yizhuo shied away from her friendly gesture, face reddening up to the tips of her ears.
Just as I was starting to have so much fun playing cupid, she had to be such a grandma. I was doing this to liven up your nonexistent love life!
“You are such a bummer, Uchi.” Minjeong gave her cousin a thumbs down while booing to show her disapproval.
Aeri stared at her with her eyebrows raised, her arms crossing across the chest.
“What do you like about Yooji?”
I sensed more than saw the tiny twitch lips of a knowing smirk. Minjeong threw her hands over her head, feet dropping on the concrete table as she laid her dark eyes upon me.
I paused, creases forming between my brows.
What kind of answer was that?
If that was the only reason why she was so into me, then I guess she was a shallow person.
What a disappointment.
With the way she was so hellbent on proclaiming that she was in love with me every day, I assumed she had a more logical reasoning.
“Woops!” Yizhuo waved her index finger back and forth. “Physical attributes are excluded!”
There was a thoughtful silence.
Her eyebrows were even furrowing as if she was really thinking this through as we waited in anticipation.
Should I get my hopes up?
Did she really have a more wholesome reason behind her feelings for me?
“Ah, it is almost time for my next class,” she said instead while looking down at her wristwatch. “I should get going.”
A string of complaints and boos filled the gazebo as Minjeong unceremoniously took her leave without even bidding us a bye.
We fell into silence for a few seconds, eyes on her retreating back until Aeri expressed her thoughts.
“What a way to avoid the question,” she remarked to which earned nods of agreement from us.
That was anticlimactic.
The rest of the day passed by like a blur as I spent most of my time listening intently to my professors’ discussions even if most of them had already been read and imprinted in my mind when I was doing an advance reading. I get this exhilarating feeling whenever I could predict what the professors were going to say next in the class. A sense of pride would bloom and spread over my chest knowing I was capable of doing that.
Before going home, I stopped by the music room for more details about the training camp tomorrow. I wasn’t that thrilled at first since I wasn’t really a fan of long travels, but my clubmates’ high energy was so contagious that I found myself looking forward to tomorrow.
“Call time is 6 o’clock in the morning sharp,” Chaewon announced. “We have rented a minibus to accommodate our number. It will be our ride for our entire trip.”
“Should we bring our own snacks or will it be provided as well?” One of us raised the question.
“Nope. Only breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be provided. If you guys want to bring snacks to have something to munch on during your free time, then feel free to do so.”
So, I would need to go to the grocery store later to buy some necessities.
What a hassle.
“We have also rented a separate minibus for our instruments. Rest assured, they will reach the location safe and sound.”
Everyone released a sigh of relief simultaneously.
I thought I was the only one who was worried about that. Musicians really valued their own respective instruments more than their own well-being.
“We will also have some guests to supervise us. I’m not sure how many nor who are they going to be. Be prepared, just in case.”
My eyebrows pushed themselves together.
Was that really necessary?
“I will be sending you the schedule of our activities later this evening so make sure to peep our gc.” Chaewon clapped her hands. “If there are no more questions, you may leave now.”
They began to leave the room one by one while I stayed on my spot to take a breather before I had to be alone together with that certain person again.
“So, are you going to bring a plus one?”
“Nah, I’ll go by myself.”
“Don’t worry.” Yeji placed a hand upon my shoulder. “We’ll keep you company.”
If she meant I’d have to interact with Minju again, then I’d rather be alone for the rest of the camp.
That girl really made me uncomfortable with her unnecessary gestures the other day.
I wish I could say that to Yeji directly, but I couldn't. She’s her friend, after all so I settled with a quiet, “Sure, I guess.”
Maybe I should just talk to Minju about the matter without involving Yeji and hoped that she was matured enough to understand my issue with no hard feelings.
Despite what she did, I really wanted us to at least be comfortable with each other for the sake of our friend. I wouldn’t want to feel awkward around her especially in Yeji’s presence.
After our short conversation, I made my way straight to the parking space and hopped inside the devil’s car. I had been doing this for quite a while now that I knew exactly what path I should take in order not to be seen by the students.
“We’ll go to my house first before I bring you home,” said the devil. “There’s something I want to give you.”
After the kiss, I wasn’t exactly sure how would I act around her anymore.
It wasn’t even awkward.
It was more like I was frustrated at myself.
Because of what I did, I may have accidentally given her the idea that she now had a chance with me.
That I was slowly falling for her which wasn’t the case at all.
I didn’t regret allowing her to kiss me.
I enjoyed every bit of it.
How soft her lips were.
How it expertly moved against mine.
I had no one to compare her to, but I knew Minjeong was a damn good kisser.
Though, that was just it.
It was just a moment of weakness.
I highly doubt it would happen again.
Minjeong’s place wasn’t that far from the school so we had arrived in no time. I had been in here a few times before whenever her family would invite mine over for dinner so I knew how huge it was.
It was somewhat lifeless, however, from the open door to the wide hallway.
The floor was a combination of gray and black and the walls were a shade of white. Not a single soul was around that one would assume this was some horror house if not for the modern architecture.
“Stay here, I need to go to the comfort room.”
I only nodded as I busied myself checking the interior of their house.
The walls were decorated with several medieval and realism paintings. I may not be into art, but being here was gave me a certain feeling. It was as if I was in the middle of a museum.
I turned my head to see a huge family portrait above the fireplace.
There were five people in there.
Mr. and Mrs. Kim, Minjeong, Ryujin, and someone I wasn’t familiar with.
She bore a striking resemblance to Minjeong, leading me to think that this must be the other sister that she was talking about.
How come I never knew of her?
Our families were acquainted for years now, but I had never seen her even once. It was impossible that they wouldn’t bring her along with them on occasions since this unknown person looked considerably older than the two which means, she was the first child, the one who would inherit the family’s business by default.
“Jimin?” A familiar voice called. “Is that you?”
Oh my god.
I knew that voice.
There she was, the subject of my affection a few meters away from me. She was just wearing a simple oversized shirt and shorts that were barely visible, but she looked so fine as hell.
“Are you with my sister?”
She raised an eyebrow, intrigued plastered on her face as she approached me with unhurried steps.
“I didn’t know you were close with her.”
“We are not close!” I said in panic, afraid that she might get the wrong idea.
“Seriously?” She appeared surprised. “My sister seems fond of you though.”
Ryujin was aware of her sister’s feelings for me...?
“But I don’t feel the same way.”
“You don’t?” At my eager nod, she proceeded to throw another question. “May I ask the reason why?”
I caught my bottom lip between my teeth.
, were we really having this conversation?
My heart pounded hard against my chest as the realization began to kick in.
“I-It’s because I like someone else.”
She nodded her head understandingly.
“That’s too bad then.”
I gulped, growing suddenly aware of our current situation.
Us alone in this huge house with no one who would overhear us and her just an arm’s away from me.
I had always been contented with just admiring her from afar, but the sudden need to tell her what I feel was too strong to ignore at this very moment.
I knew I was being impulsive, but nothing mattered to me right now more than the person in front of me.
It was now or never.
“Hey, darling.” A strong arm s its way around my hip. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
She really had to appear again just as when I was finally about to confess the feelings that I had been keeping for years.
The timing couldn’t be any better.
“Excuse me, Rj, but I need my girlfriend.”
My head snapped to her side, eyes growing wide because of what she had just said.
I was too shocked to even put up a fight when she dragged me inside her room upstairs.
She just called me her girlfriend in front of Ryujin...
What the .
“Why did you do that?” I lashed out right away after she closed the door.
“Why did you tell Ryujin that I’m your girlfriend?”
She plopped down on the edge of her bed while giving me a dull stare. The nerve of her to pretend as if she didn’t wrong me. She knew exactly she shouldn’t have done what she did.
“Because you are.”
My blood boiled at her continuous nonchalant attitude. I hate how I was the only one who was affected. I hate how she didn’t care about what I would feel when she decided it was a good idea to reveal our relationship to Ryujin of all people.
“It is only a deal!” I spat out distastefully. “I am your girlfriend only behind closed doors!”
She didn’t speak, prompting me to go on with my rant to soothe this uncontrollable hatred bubbling inside me.
“I don’t even like you!” I didn’t know what came over me, but I found myself blurting out something I probably shouldn’t have. “How dare you call me your girlfriend in front of the person I truly like?”
She remained unresponsive.
The room suddenly grew quiet after my outburst, allowing me to hear my own and her breathing. Mine was heavy because of the intense emotion that I was feeling right now while hers were shallow as if she was suffocating.
When she finally looked up, her gaze was filled with something I had never seen on her before.
“I-I’m scared,” came her meek voice.
“I’m scared she’ll take you away from me.” She ran a hand through her hair rather aggressively. “No, I’m sure she will. No one can resist you.”
“Are you hearing yourself right now?” I sneered at her display of foolishness. “She will never take me away from you because I’m not yours, to begin with.”
Another prolonged and general silence followed. The moment was so tensed that even a minimal noise would probably make me jump.
I saw the way she grasped the mattress with her quivering hands as she gritted her teeth, her aura resembling the cumulonimbus clouds.
“Do you really?” I tried to steel my voice even though I was starting to feel anxious about the sudden shift in her mood. “Because it sure doesn’t seem like it.”
“I know, Jimin,” she repeated, firmly this time. “You never fail to remind me every single day.”
It was my turn to be at a loss for words.
“However, we made a deal. You are to be my girlfriend for a month and there is still more than two weeks left. Don’t go back on your word.”
“I know that,” I retorted. “But Ryujin doesn’t need to know that I’m your girlfriend. What would she think of me? That I’m a preying on you two siblings?”
God, I even told her that I had no interest in her sister!
“You don’t have to worry. Once the deal ends, I'll explain everything to her.” She smiled a bit, albeit it didn’t reach her eyes. “Until then, until then, please, focus only on me.”
I heaved a sigh to calm myself. I was getting too worked up over this.
She was right.
I could just come out clean to Ryujin after the deal and poof! Everything would be alright.
Once the atmosphere became serene again for us to talk without shouting, I let my eyes wander around her room.
There was a cabinet at the corner full of trophies that she had probably gotten from entering various violin competitions.
Damn, I knew she was amazing, but I didn’t know she was this amazing.
At the bottom was her violin placed securely on a customized rack. There were purple light strips around as if to showcase that her violin was the main attraction and not the trophies.
I suddenly remember Ryujin telling me a story about their childhood. How they were asked to learn at least one musical instrument by their parents when they were younger.
“Have you ever tried playing the piano before?” I couldn’t help but ask.
“When I was younger.”
So, she didn’t learn how to play only the violin.
She sure was greedy.
“Why’d you stop?”
“Because of you.”
That left me unable to move for a while as my brain took a while to digest her response. Seconds later, with a creased forehead, I whirled around to stare at her.
She stood up and walked toward the direction of another cabinet, my eyes following her movements.
“It was back then when my mother brought me along with her to watch a piano competition. I was unimpressed the whole time I was there. I thought, why are these doofus even here. And then came you. I was smitten tout de suite. The way you caress the keys as if it was the most fragile thing in the world, how you close your eyes to connect deeper with the piece that you were playing. The child me was enthralled beyond words.” She craned her neck, eyes glazed in nostalgia. “I realized then, that the piano was made for you to play. That it’s a realm that I should never dare intrude on because it is solely yours to dominate."
I couldn’t formulate any word to give her a reply after that long speech and merely stared dumbly with a bewildered expression on my face.
That was the last thing that I expected to hear from her. I think that was the highest degree of compliment I had ever received in my life.
“Here.” I snapped out of my bubble when I saw something really familiar in her arms. “It took at least a week to complete this. It isn’t much, but hey, I tried my best.”
My hands trembled.
It wasn’t much...?
Are you ing kidding me?
It was a handmade miniature replica of Howl’s moving castle!
Oh my god.
She made this for me...?
“T-Thank you,” was the only thing I managed to utter.
I was too overwhelmed to even think logically right now. I had wanted to own one for so long, but it was difficult to find a precise model for a reasonable price. But this one that she was holding was the perfect copy of the moving castle; the details, the colors, everything was the exact same thing.
“Anything for you.”