21: Stay Away

Yooji: Love is War

                If someone told me a month ago that thoughts of  Winter would occupy my mind day and night, I would definitely gag in disgust and accuse them of blasphemy.

               The old me wouldn’t even waste a single second coming up with ways to kill her off without leaving any trace of evidence that would point the murder to me, let alone think of her in a positive light.

               This drastic change in myself was so baffling in a sense that I didn’t see it happening, yet at the same time, it was as if something leaden inside my chest disappeared into oblivion and was surmounted by peace.

               I knew my initial plan was to act like a good girlfriend to make it up to her for being such a the other day, but along the way, I found myself throwing everything out of the window and behaved according to the emotions I was having.

               Special mention: The kiss.

               I think that was the most genuine gesture I ever did in my entire existence. At that very moment, when she was about to open the door of her car, I got the gnawing feeling that Winter deserved a token of appreciation for bringing me into that magical place and I was glad the first thing that popped out in my mind was to kiss her.

               The reaction that I got afterward was so priceless. It wasn’t every day I get to witness the Minjeong Kim who was always so confident, looking so flustered and embarrassed.

               I couldn’t believe I’d say this, but I was glad I accepted her offer that day. Through that, I was given the opportunity to know Minjeong Kim beyond her reputation.

               She was an unpredictable person.

               I could never guess what she was thinking nor what she was going to do every time we were together.

               It was endearing nonetheless.

               Though, there was still this thing that kept bothering me.

               We’d already gotten past the one-sided hate relationship a week ago and I’d already established the fact that I care for her; even admitted it out loud.

                However, labeling what we had right now was close to impossible. I mean, yes, we were in a relationship due to our deal; but setting that aside, what exactly were we? Friends were out of the question since she made it clear that she doesn’t need one so where does that leave us?

               I was trying to come up with answers when I felt someone tapping my shoulder, interrupting my thoughts.

               “A penny for your thoughts?”

               Oh, right.

               I was with Yeji.

               We had agreed to pass by the remaining minutes of our lunch break at the back of the main building since the music room was locked for some reason and we couldn’t contact Chaewon. This place was one of the spots in school where students don’t flock in so it was just perfect for us both who weren’t people person.

               “It’s nothing,” I answered. “More importantly, what’s with this crowd?”

               I looked over the two people who were occupied with their own Switch, playing something I was assuming was Breath of the Wild based on the sound. They were loud as they argue over trivial matters.

               The other one was a few meters away from me, her back resting against a tree, arms folded over her chest, and her eyes were closed, appearing so tranquil.

               She messaged me earlier, asking where I was when she found out the music room was unavailable. I figured it was fine to tell her since it wouldn’t be just the two of us. Besides, I kind of wanted to see her.

               “It’s cool.” Yeji let out a chuckle. “I don’t have a problem with it.”

               I was honestly surprised since I knew she wasn’t the friendly type. But when the two barged in on us like nobody’s business, she was unexpectedly welcoming and even introduced herself on her own. Though, she was indifferent toward Winter for some reason. It was like she was purposely ignoring her presence.

               “It’s just unexpected,” I said. “Aeri was supposed to be with the members of the Choir Club. Yizhuo, on the other hand—”

               “I am a member of the Choir Club too,” Yizhuo chimed in, earning our attention. “Aeri didn’t tell you?”

               Oh.

                I see. That explained it then.

               “She didn’t.” I glanced over the girl in question who still had her eyes riveted on her gadget, pressing the buttons furiously. “Actually, she doesn’t tell me things about you that much.”

               She was rather secretive.

               Whenever I’d ask her, her replies were always short and vague.

               Sometimes, she’d even avoid the topic.

               Suspicious behavior, if you ask me.

               “For real?” When she saw me nod my head, she clutched her chest and acted as if in pain. “Man, am I a secret or something? This is cruel!”

               “Gee, you’re being dramatic,” quipped Aeri, eyes never leaving the screen. “I just don’t see the need to.”

               “Don’t see the need to?” Yizhuo was in disbelief. “Jimin Yoo is your best friend!”

               Oh?

               “This is entertaining,” I heard Yeji mumble, amusement lacing her tone. “I’m glad I came with you.”

               “You said it,” I replied, before turning back to the bickering duo. “Is there something I should know?”

               “There is!” came Yizhuo’s aggressive response while Aeri merely sighed in defeat.

               “And that is?”

               Yizhuo looked so different.

               The day the two of them first met, she was redder than a ripe tomato and was a stuttering mess who couldn’t even look at my best friend. Seeing her so comfortable around Aeri now had me guessing that the thing that I should know was probably that they were dating.

               “Aeri and I are now...” She paused momentarily and drummed her fingers on her lap. “Anime buddies!”

               ...anime buddies?

               That’s a thing?

               Yeji and I exchanged glance.

               I could tell that she wanted to laugh, but since she wasn’t close with them, she held it in.

               Now, she looked constipated.

               “Oh, I see.”

               Of course, Yizhuo was still moving like a turtle.

               I guess it wasn’t easy to change the pace she was going that quickly. As for Aeri, well, she had zero experience in romance just like me. I should have known a relationship between the two was unlikely; at least, for now.

               “Yep, that’s right,” Yizhuo said, animatedly. “We have been watching Kaguya-sama: Love is War every day after school in her place for a week now.”

               In Aeri’s place?

               Oh, I wasn’t expecting that.

               So, there was progress.

               Small, but progress nonetheless.

               “Not buddies?” Winter covered as she yawned. “Meh, that’s boring.”

               All of us collectively gasped, surprised at the sudden use of vulgarities. Aeri was the first one to regain her composure, her expression appalled. “Watch your language, Kim!”

               Winter shrugged. “You guys aren’t babies.”

               I turned to Yizhuo whose head was hung low and was probably about to explode any moment now.

               Poor girl needed some saving, it seemed.

               “Shut it, Winter. Not all of us are like you.”

               She met my gaze, the side of her lips stretching into a taunting smirk. “Like what, Karina?”

               I opened my mouth, preparing for a rebuttal but stopped halfway, realizing I was on the verge of judging her again.

               Aeri wasn’t in my field of vision, but I could picture her shaking her head in disappointment.

               “A playgirl, Minjeong Kim,” Yeji spoke ever so casually for me when I remained silent.

              My neck snapped in her direction, eyes wide in shock. “Yeji Hwang!”

               “What? We both know she is a known playgirl, cupcake. Different girls every week.”

               Oh my god.

               She doesn’t know how to read the room!

               “Well, that’s true,” Yizhuo seconded. “Our office is actually their “motel” and it’s a nightmare, I’m telling you.”

               “See? Everyone knows that for a fact.”

                I buried my face on my palms in exasperation. Yeji and Yizhuo together were a menace. Having them in the same place was a very bad decision.

               “Of course.” Winter looked unbothered, however, and was even wearing a smug expression on her face. “Of course, you’d know, Yeji Hwang.”

               My ears perked.

               ...hold on.

               Why was I getting the feeling that she was lowkey trying to trigger Yeji?              

               “Unfortunately,” Yeji replied, petulantly.

               Tension emerged between the two.

               Yeji’s gaze had spite in them, while Winter’s was hard to read as always.

               As I eyed them back and forth, an idea that they had a past that I wasn’t aware of came up in my mind. That was probably why she made that strange remark when we were inside the minibus on the way to the location of the training camp.

               I diverted my attention to the duo who were obviously having fun watching the scene before them. I could’ve sworn I caught a glimpse of Aeri sneaking two paper bills into Yizhuo’s hand.
              
               “Winter,” I called out, breaking their eye contact.

               “Yeah?”

               “Are you two acquainted or something?”

               She smirked slyly and brought her gaze back to Yeji. “Are we acquainted, Yeji Hwang?”

               Yeji forced a smile. “Something like that.”

               My eyes narrowed at the vague reply.

               Suspicious.

               Highly suspicious.

               There was something more than they were letting on. Weird, since I don’t remember them interacting before.

               “Oh, okay.” I took a mental note to ask Winter about this later.

               A round of silence filled the air.

               All of us were waiting for someone to speak up.

               Then, Yeji stood up. “I gotta go, cupcake.” She nodded her head to the duo’s way in which they returned kindly. “It was nice to meet you two.”

               “Sure. Take care.” As I watched her walk away, I realized, I don’t really know her at all. Our knowledge of each other’s personal lives was little to none.

               “What was that?” Aeri probed, looking at Winter curiously. “Was she one of your girls?”

               Thank god for Aeri Uchinaga.

               That was exactly what I was thinking!

               “No, she wasn’t,” came Winter’s dull reply.

               I released the breath I didn’t know I was holding.

               “So, what is she to you then?” Yizhuo queried and waited in anticipation. “By the way, if you don’t find talking about Winter’s past flings comfortable, you can cover your ears, Jimin Yoo.”

               I rolled my eyes.

               It wasn’t as if I wasn’t aware of it.

               Instead of answering, Winter pushed herself off the grassy ground and walked up to me. “Let’s ditch, Karina.”

               Immediately, I turned my head from side to side, firmly opposing the idea. “Winter, no.”

               “Yeah!” Yizhuo cheered. “Don’t be such a bad influence!”

               “Yizhuo, Link is dying,” Aeri informed.

               She fumbled on her Switch in panic. “Oh, . Why didn’t you tell me sooner!?”

               “Girl, it’s your fault for not pausing it.”

               “But still!”

               I could only massage my temple as they argue for the nth time. They get along really well, apparently.

               “You are brilliant, Karina,” I looked at Winter again when she spoke. “I’m quite certain you can get an A+ even if you don’t attend your classes.” She extended her hand. “And I promise to bring you someplace fun.”

               I pursed my lips.

               See here, I used to think that she was the type of person who had a twisted definition of fun. She wasn’t ordinary, in the first place. However, after our “date” yesterday, I now found myself looking forward to wherever she would bring me next.

               “Fine,” I muttered. “Ri, cover for me, please.”

               She hummed. “Use protection, okay?”

               I choked, face growing a deep red.

              “Eh? But they are both females,” remarked Yizhuo, a huge question mark etched on her face. “Does Winter have magic fingers or something?”

               Oh my god.

               I scrambled to my feet and made my way toward Aeri and strangle the hell out of her, but Winter was fast to take a firm hold of my arm, stopping me. “That is noted, Uchi.” She sent me a playful wink.

               “Winter!” I’m sure fumes were coming out on the top of my head right now. These three were going to be the death of me someday.

               “Let’s go, babe.” She tugged my hand. “Time is running.”

               Okay.

               Calm down.

               Deep breaths.

               They were just messing with me.

               There was absolutely no reason for me to get so worked up.

               I inhaled deeply and allowed the air to come out of my mouth in a soft sigh. “Take me away, Winter Kim.”

              
       



 

               We made for the parking lot with her following behind me with enough distance between us. The students who grabbed their lunch in the cafeteria and outside the campus were pouring in on the open grounds to go back to their respective classes. The large crowd made it easier for us to move unnoticed.

               When the black GTR came into my view, I picked up my speed and jogged until I was close enough to see that there was someone standing on the other side.

               My heart pounded.

               It was Ryujin.

               She looked up from her phone upon hearing my footsteps. “Oh, hey, you’re here. I was just about to text you.”

               “I-Is this about your message yesterday?”

               “Yes.” She smiled. “Is it fine if we talk now?”

               “Well...” I turned around to see Winter a few meters away from us. She had an unreadable expression on her face as she stared at me. I know Ryujin could also see her and it was strange that she wasn’t saying anything. “S-Sure.”

               “I’ll make this quick.” She scooted closer; then with a low voice, “Do you like Mj?”

               “W-What?” I stuttered, completely taken aback by the unexpected straightforwardness.

               “Do you like Mj?” There was firmness in her tone, her eyes fixed on my face.

               I wasn’t able to provide an immediate response. That came out of nowhere and I was in no way prepared for it. When she asked me if we could talk yesterday, this was the last thing that was on my mind. The one who was asking me such a question was the one who I actually like was so ridiculous.
                   
               “You are taking too long to answer,” she commented, snapping me back to reality. “Should I take that as a yes?”

               “N-No!” I blurted out. “I d-don’t like her.”

               I was only attracted to Winter.

               ...I can’t like her.

               “I see.” She looked solemn as she nodded her head. “It’ll be easy for you then to do my favor.”

               My eyebrows furrowed in intrigue.

               “What favor?”

               Her face turned serious. “Jimin, I want you to stay away from Mj.”

               ...what?

               “P-Pardon?”

               “I know you are aware of how in love she is with you and that love is hurting her.”

               I don’t understand.

               “How is that my fault?”

               “It isn’t,” she uttered slowly, her calm voice was sincere. “Mj is the foolish one between the two of you. She just doesn’t know when to give up. You are more logical, that’s why I am asking you this favor.”

               I pressed my lips together.

               Could I do it?

               A life without her.

               No more of her annoying smirks.

               No more of her sly remarks.

               No more of her cunning methods.

               No more of her arrogance.

               No more of our impromptu dates.

               No more of Winter Kim.

               The mere idea of it had my stomach churning in displeasure.

               I hate it.

               “I can’t do that,” I said, voice above a whisper. “She is my friend.”

               She looked at me as if I said something so controversial. “I’m sure Mj doesn’t want herself to be just a friend to you. She wouldn’t settle for that.”

               I grew rigid on my spot, memories of the events of the training camp came flooding my mind, specifically the one when we were by the beach.

               “I don’t need friends, Jimin.”

               “B-But...”

               “Jimin, if you can’t reciprocate her feelings, then please, for her sake, stay away from her.” She took a step back and bowed her head. “Thank you for your time.”

                I was too caught up with my thoughts to say anything and let her take her leave silently. I don’t know how long I was standing there, just staring into nothing, when someone spoke behind me.

               “What did she say to you?” Her voice was low and cold as if she was mad. Perhaps, she really was. She saw me again with her sister, after all. “Should I be worried?”

               I bit my lip as I contemplated my choices.

               Do I tell her?

               Was it better if she knew?

               “She asked me to stay away from you,” I answered, choosing to be honest this time.

               Silence.

               Every second that she wasn’t saying anything had my anxiety shooting up. My hands were clammy, breathing labored as I waited.

               “Are you going to do it?” The way she said it was so grave it sent a chill down my spine.

               “I-I don’t know...”

               “Don’t.” I felt her arms snaking their way around my waist, embracing me from behind. “Please, don’t.”

               “B-But she’s right,” I mumbled, weakly. “I am hurting you.”

               “I don’t care.”

               “W-Winter...”

               “I am in love with you.” She buried her face on my neck. “I am so in love with you...”

               Goosebumps erupted all over my body.

               .

               She’s making this so hard for me.

               “Ten days.”

               “W-What?”

               “Before our deal ends.”

               Oh.

               That’s right.

               We only have ten days remaining.

               I couldn’t believe it.

               There’s barely any time left...

               “Once that day arrives, I’ll be the one who will stay away from you,” she croaked out. “That’s what we agreed on, right?”

               “Yes...”

               She would stay away from me...

               Suddenly, the idea of her disappearing from my life scared me to no end. How spending time with her for three weeks had changed me this much would forever be a mystery to me.

               “Could you wait until then?” The fear in her voice that she tried so hard to hide didn’t escape my ears. She was just as scared as I was. Knowing that was somehow relieving.

               “I could.”

               If our deal was written on a piece of paper, I would have ripped it into shreds and burned it to ashes.

               “You will not stay away from me?”

               “I will not stay away from you.”

               I could feel her smile against my skin as she pulled me even closer, bodies molding perfectly like puzzles.

               “That’s my girl.”

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taglamig
Won't be able to update for a while. PH election is draining tf out of me. Not really in the right state of mind to write anything. Thank you :)
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