22: Save Me

Yooji: Love is War

               Winter had insisted that we walk our way to wherever she was taking me; saying it wasn’t that far and it would only take us ten minutes. Classes were ongoing so I wasn’t worried about being seen by a student from our school. Besides, I would like to take this rather rare chance to appreciate the usually rambunctious surrounding area of Seoul High which, for some reason, was silent today. 

               It was a tranquil afternoon. 

               Minimal bustling chatters in the neighborhood. A minor amount of cars honking at the passers-by straying from the sidewalk to get them to move out of the way. Even the normally loud street vendors shouting catchy phrases to sell their products were just patiently waiting for customers to approach their stalls. 

               I was pleased.

               This was the kind of place that I wouldn’t mind walking around. 

               My gaze went upward when I felt a hand squeeze mine to see the owner who was looking ahead; a somewhat contented expression plastered on her face.

               It had been around five minutes since we left the campus and no one had yet to speak. Winter seemed fine with the silence, however, as she wasn’t showing any signs of wanting to engage in idle conversation. 

               “Where are you taking me?” I piped up, breaking the silence between us. 

               “I already told you, didn’t I?” 

                I tried to look around to search for that “someplace fun” where she was planning to take me only to find nothing in sight that piqued my interest. Now, I was starting to doubt if what she told me was true or she was just bluffing to get me to come with her. 

               “Could you be more specific?” 

               “Patience, babe.” She untangled our entwined hands and wrapped her arm around my waist, a habit of hers I had already grown accustomed to. “We’ll be there soon.” 

               I huffed. “You really do love spontaneous dates, don’t you?” 

               “It’s more fun that way.” She turned to me, pulling her lips to a toothy grin. “Not knowing how our dates are going to play out always has my blood pumping in exhilaration.”

               Ah.

               Slowly, I nodded my head. 

               I guess some points were made. 

               Planned dates feel too scripted sometimes.

               “What is the reason this time?” 

               “What do you mean?” 

               “For your impulsive decision of asking me out on a date,” I clarified. 

               “Well.” We made a turn to our right that led us to a dark, wide alleyway where plenty of students flock to every Friday once the school hours end to ease the stress that had accumulated over the past days. “I was bored.” 

               Oh. 

               I let out an amused chuckle. 

               She really always does whatever she wants.

               “You’re always bored.” 

               “Meh, I am not when I am with you,” came her nonchalant reply. 

               I pursed my lips, feeling the heat rising from my neck up to my face. “Well, you are with me now, aren’t you?” 

               She stared at me, a tinge of adoration swirling in those dark orbs. “Yeah.” Her hold on me tightened. “And I couldn’t be happier.” 

               That ought to silence me. 

               She always acts as if she knows everything, but she wasn’t aware of what her words do to me.

               “Ah...” 

               “Eyes up, babe.” 

                I tore my gaze away from my feet and looked up to see the establishment before us. It was a monochrome two-story building stretching quite long—probably as large as four regular classrooms combined. It had a transparent automatic door placed in the middle and several huge glass windows on each side. “...what is this?” 

               “An indoor gaming club,” she answered. 

               “A what now?” I caught a quick frown. “I don’t know how to play games.” 

               She shrugged. “Neither do I.” 

               I watched her face closely for any signs of deception. Winter was close with Aeri—someone who knew every game there was in existence and hence, it was rather hard to believe her statement. 

               “You’re lying,” I deadpanned. 

               “I am not,” she denied. “I only know how to play console games.” 

               “Then why did you bring me here?” 

               We sauntered into the building, the door opening by itself once our presence was detected and there, I was greeted by the sight of football tables before me, billiard tables scattered about on the right side, dartboards hanging at the far back left corner, video game arcades lined up against the wall next to basketball machines, and more. All of these were familiar to me, but not once had I ever tried playing even a single one of them. 

               “For us to compete on equal grounds.” 

               I glanced at her and raised an eyebrow. “...compete?” 

               She wore a smug smile. “You failed to win against me in a go-kart race, remember? Now, I am giving you another chance.” 

               “Are you serious?” 

               It’s not that I don’t like the idea. 

               I would never let an opportunity to beat her slip away. There’s just this nagging feeling that I would only lose if I gave it a try. The only game I ever played was Gardenscapes on my mobile phone! And here, we had Winter who claimed she only knew how to play console games, but that alone was already an advantage. 

               “Of course,” she said. “Come on, it’ll be fun!” 

               I eyed her for a while. 

               Winter had a cheeky smile on her face, dimple was showing for everyone to admire, her fists were clenched in a childish manner, eyes sparkling with anticipation as she waited for my response. 

               This was so rare. 

               To see her so out of her character. 

               How could I refuse? 

               “What are we playing first?” 

               I looked away when her smile widened into a full-blown grin as it was too bright for my eyes. I don’t know if I had already mentioned this but while Winter looked attractive with her poker face on, she was a thousand times more attractive when she was smiling. The purity and innocence her smile exuded were something nobody would expect to see from someone who was known as the spawn of the devil. It was ridiculous, to be honest, how she possessed multiple charms. How was that even possible? 

               “Since the nearest to us is the table football, then I guess we should play this first,” she suggested. “What do you say?” 

               “It’s fine with me. But I don’t know how that works.” 

               “We can look it up on Google.” She took out her phone. “I’m sure it isn’t that complicated.” 

               I watched as she tapped and scrolled on her phone. After a few minutes, she looked up and showed me the screen. “Here, it says we just have to kick the ball into the goal by moving the four rods with player figures on them.” 

               Hmm, sounds easy enough. 

               “Okay, is that all?” 

               “It also says here that a basic game of table football is a race to 5 goals. The first player to 5 goals wins the game,” she explained carefully. “Matches can be played where winning 2 out of 3 games wins the match.” 

               I hummed before reaching for the rods to try to move and rotate them. I couldn’t say for sure if I could beat her, but since I’m already here then might as well go all out. “Let’s begin then.” 

               She shot me a mischievous smirk as she positioned herself beside me. “Alright, babe.” 

               At the count of three, the game started. 

               At first, our movements were slow since we were still testing the waters. We gradually gained speed the more time passed by and soon we were both attacking and defending proficiently. Nobody was letting up, doing everything we could with our little knowledge of the game to not let the ball reach the goal. 

               It didn’t take long before the match ended. 

               The score was 2-3. 

               “It looks like I won, huh?” 

               I rolled my eyes. 

               God, I couldn’t believe I lost!  

               I thought I was doing so well! 

               “Shut up!” 

               She let out a low laugh. 

               “Chill. It’s not that deep.” 

               I folded my arms over my chest. 

               Well, I guess. I’m actually surprised that I wasn’t upset that I lost. If anything, I’m just annoyed because I gave her another reason to be arrogant. Was this a side effect of admitting to myself that I was attracted to her? 

               “Whatever,” I dismissed. “Let’s proceed to the next game.” 

               This time, we chose to play billiards. The rules were fairly simple. We aim to pot the balls in order until the 9 ball drops. Whoever potted it would be the winner, regardless of how many of the previous balls we were responsible for holing. If we miss a shot and no balls go down, our turn was over and the other comes to the table. 

               Since we were both beginners and billiards wasn’t something one could be good at by playing once or twice, we decided one game was enough to determine the winner. It took almost thirty minutes before the last ball was potted. 

               “Oh, well.” Winter snickered. 

               I don’t even have the face to argue with her. It was clear from the beginning she was the one who was going to win. To say I big time was an understatement. 

               “Are you sure this is your first time playing this?” I asked, eyes squinted in suspicion. 

               “I am sure.” 

               “Then how are you so good?” 

               “I don’t know,” she answered. “Perhaps, I’m just that good when it comes to putting things into holes.” 

               My ears burned at the ual implication. 

               “!” 

               “Huh?” She looked at me in feigned innocence. “What are you saying?” 

               I rolled my eyes and turned my back on her, choosing not to prolong the topic any further for my own sanity. 

               We continued to try everything we found interesting. Though initially skeptical, I found myself having so much fun the more games we played despite my pathetic lose streak. Especially when we played Tekken. I managed to win against her once out of five rounds, and when I tell you I screamed when I heard that you win voice over, I screamed so loud I was sure the people outside the establishment heard me. 

               “Ha! Take that, loser!” My chest was puffed out as I looked down my nose at her. I was oozing with pride. 

               “This is impossible,” she muttered as she gazed at the screen, dumbfounded. “I used to play this game a lot as a kid.” 

               “You what?!” I regarded her in disbelief. “That’s cheating!” 

               She appeared unbothered, however, and was even unapologetic. “To be fair, I did mention earlier that I play console games. Moreover, it was you who aggressively dragged me here.” 

               “Blah, blah, blah. That doesn’t change the fact that you cheated.” 

               I made a face when she merely shrugged her shoulders and ignored me. 

               For our last game, we both agreed it’d be darts. To be safe, I made sure she hadn’t played this before by means of thorough interrogation. If she lied in order to have the upper hand, then that was on her. I’d already done my part by choosing to trust her. 

               According to Google, 301 darts was pretty simple. We start with a score of 301 points. Each of us then takes alternating turns at throwing our darts at the dartboard. The points scored were removed from the total, and then the opposing player does the same. The first to reach zero wins the game. 

               “Ready, babe?” 

               “Duh, of course.” 

               “Then you go first.” 

               I positioned myself, closing an eye to effectively aim the dart. I must score 50 as many as possible to decrease my score in no time. Taking a deep breath, I threw one dart and it landed on the outer ring which was equivalent to 25 points. I threw the remaining two; the one hitting triple 4 while the other hitting single 12. 

               “Okay, that’s minus 49 points,” I said. “I’m down to 252.” 

               “You are kind of good at this.” There was mirth in her tone as she said those words. 

               “Shut up and just play.” 

               She raised her hands in mocked surrender before taking her position. She stared at the dartboard for a minute as if she was calculating the distance before throwing 3 darts in quick succession, all of them hitting the bullseye. 

               I gawked at the dartboard. 

               What the hell? 

               “It appears that my score is down to 151.” 

               “T-That’s—” 

               “Your turn, babe,” she said, cutting me off. “Hurry up.” 

               Again, what the hell? 

               How was this her first time? 

               She was like a professional! 

               Did she lie to me? 

               I suddenly lost the energy to keep on with the competition, no longer caring where the darts I was throwing were landing. I just wanted the game to end right away. It was obvious who would win, anyway. 

               Ten minutes had passed and Winter was still leading with only 12 points left while I was trailing behind with 32 points left. She only needed to hit a single 12, double 6, or triple 4 and she’d win. At this point, I already accepted my loss. 

               It was now her turn, but she wasn’t moving and was just spinning a single dart in between her fingers. “What are you waiting for?” 

               “You know what? This is getting boring.” She placed the darts down on the table. “Let’s go. I’m hungry.” 

               I blinked, baffled at the sudden change of her behavior.  “H-How about the game?” 

               “Screw that.” She grabbed my arm. “Come on. I know you’re hungry as well.” 

               I allowed her to pull me along with her.

               This person was really unpredictable.

               She was so enthusiastic just a while ago, and now was behaving as if she would die out of boredom if we stayed here any longer. I swear, I’m this close to thinking she had a split personality. 

               I peered over her expressionless face. 

               When Winter wasn’t smiling nor smirking, she looked really intimidating. That was probably one of the reasons why people don’t have the courage to approach her. At the same time, I think that was also why a lot of people were drawn to her. She had this air of mystery around her that could pique anybody’s curiosity. If we met under different circumstances, I most certainly would have been charmed. 

               “Good afternoon, grandma,” she suddenly spoke, breaking the threads of my thoughts. I stood straight and faced the old woman properly. “I brought Karina with me today.” 

               “It’s been a while, Grandma Sol.” I smiled at her. “How have you been?” 

               “Why, I have been well,” she replied warmly, gaze bouncing between us. “I’m glad you accompanied her here this time, sweetheart. Our Winter here glows differently when she’s with you. It is a wonderful sight to witness.” 

               I turned to Winter. “Really? I mean, are you aware?” 

               She chuckled. “That’s a no-brainer. I am in love with you, after all.” 

               Right...

               “I see...”

               Grandma Sol prepared our food right away.

               Since there were many customers today she needed to tend to, we weren’t given a lot of time to converse. It was unfortunate as I really wanted to catch up with her and ask stuff about Winter, but I guess, I needed to save it for another time.

               Nobody spoke while we were consuming our food.

               I think Winter was extremely starved because she was already in her fourth servings. She would only nod to Grandma Sol every time the latter would ask a question even though some of them weren’t answerable by yes or no. Maybe the food was so delicious that she had forgotten she was not alone. It was fine with me, though. It was actually fun to watch her devour her food like there’s no tomorrow. It seemed as if she hadn’t eaten for several years. 

               Once we were finished, she invited me to hang out in a nearby park before returning to school. She said she had not been there for a long time so she wanted to visit and see if it was still the same.

               We said goodbye to Grandma Sol after paying our tab, promising to come back as soon as we could. Just as when we were about to take our leave, she suddenly called out my name. Winter signaled to me that she would just wait for me at the front of the alleyway, to which I immediately agreed. Maybe Grandma Sol wished to say something that was only for my ears to hear. 

               “Yes, Grandma Sol?” 

               “I can see that Minjeong is happy with you,” she said. “I ask that you take good care of her. She’s a fragile person.” 

               Fragile person... 

               Though confused, I didn’t ask anything about it. Winter herself said that she tells Grandma Sol her problems so I’m sure she knew a lot of things that I didn’t. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, why she called Winter a fragile person. That’s what Aeri told me before as well. 

               “Worry not, Grandma Sol,” I said while smiling. “I will.” 

               She gave me a smile of gratitude before turning around to go back to her work. I took it as a cue to be on my way. I’m sure that devil was already bored out of her mind. 

               “Let’s go?” she asked once got close enough to her. 

               “Let’s.” 

               The park was not far from where we were so it didn’t take long before we arrived. It was a little crowded as it was already afternoon. Kids playing by themselves and running around the place, couples cuddling while sitting on scattered benches, families happily spending time together. I don’t know why, but while I was watching them, I felt my lips curving upward. They seemed to be having real fun and the energy they were radiating was contagious.

               When I caught sight of a man with his arms covered in tattoos, a memory came up in my mind.

               “Winter?” I called out as silent as possible. 

               “Yeah?” 

               “You have a tattoo, right?” 

               Those clusters of snowflakes. 

               God, that made her even ier in my eyes. 

               I wonder if it had anything to do with the season she was born into. 

               She looked at me. “I do.” 

               “Since when?” 

               “Two years ago.” 

               My eyes widened. 

               That long already?

               “What did your mother say?” 

               Her eyebrows twitched. 

               “Nothing.” 

               “Nothing?” 

               “We don’t talk much.” 

               I just nodded and didn’t speak a word anymore.

               She seemed to be harboring a deep resentment toward her mother with how she spoke of her. Even if I wanted to ask about it, I figured I shouldn’t. It was too personal, after all, and something I shouldn’t stick my nose into.

               A comfortable silence engulfed us once again. 

               Winter was just peacefully gazing at the sun that was beginning to set, painting the skies in fiery red and orange, marking the end of the day. A small amount of sunlight landed on her face, highlighting her features, making her even more attractive than she already was. 

               I could only stare and stare and stare in awe. 

               There was just something in her right at this very moment that was preventing me from looking away. It was like I was hypnotized and the only person I could see was her, everything blurring into the background. 

               “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.” 

               My face reddened. 

               , she caught me staring like a fool. 

               “S-Shut up!”          

               “Do I now have a place in there?” She briefly gestured my chest where my heart resides underneath. “Or is it still my sister?” 

               My body froze. 

               “W-What?” 

               “You heard me.” 

               I swallowed. “Why do you ask?” 

               “Because I want to know.” She clicked her tongue, impatience evident in her tone. “Well?” 

               “O-Of course,” I stammered. “I l-like Ryujin. Ever since then, it is only her and that won’t change anytime soon. Winter, I like your sister. I really do.” 

               “Okay.” She shrugged. “However, it seems to me that it is yourself and not me that you are trying to convince.” 

               My heartbeat quickened. 

               “W-What’s that supposed to mean?” 

               “Are you having doubts now, Karina?” 

               “H-Huh?” 

               “Tell me, am I making you question what you used to firmly believe?” 

               I turned away, suddenly finding her gaze suffocating.

               “I-I don’t know what you are talking about.” 

               “That’s alright. You will, eventually.” 

               It was like a slap to my face. 

               The thought of me liking her terrified me.

               “T-That’s impossible.” 

               “Hey, don’t say something so horrible,” she chided. “It is bad for my lungs.”

               “Bad for your lungs?” 

               “Yeah.” 

               My eyebrows knitted, not quite understanding what she was trying to convey.

               “How?” 

               There was a long pause. 

               Then an uncomfortable silence. 

               “Because the air in my lungs continues to dwindle the longer you refuse to entertain the idea of us.” She bore her eyes straight into mine, a faint smile ghosting her lips. “And I am afraid you wouldn’t be there to save me.”

Like this story? Give it an Upvote!
Thank you!
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 :)
No comments yet