24: Take Care

Yooji: Love is War

               It was already past three o’clock in the afternoon when I groggily opened my eyes from a two-hour sleep.

               The drive to Busan drained my energy to zero that I immediately drifted off to sleep as soon as I entered our hotel suite.

               I was also sleep-deprived because of the unwanted thoughts that kept on bothering me last night until I could hear the rooster crowing.

               With difficulty, I pushed myself out of the comfort of the bed to walk toward the balcony.

               A cool wind immediately kissed my skin after I slid the glass door open.

               The sky was a clear blue speckled with the softest accents of white; a warm light hugged the land as the sun stretched out, rays cascading onto the world, bringing the scene into full view, adjusting the brightness and contrast to allow anyone to witness a scenery only this place could offer.

               Now, this was something you would rarely see in the city.

               I would’ve enjoyed this more, if not for the current situation outside my room.

               The indistinct chatters of people of different professions along with the annoying sound of their voices as if fragmented metals inside a sack, moving and grinding against each other, the rushed and heavy footsteps on the floor, and the pressure in the air invading my nose had me regretting I agreed to come with them here.

               Those people were so intense.

               Not that it was anything new.

               My parents view social gatherings as an opportunity to show off and secure their status in the society. They were among those stinky people who would give their blood, sweat, and tears in order to gain attention and impress the public.

               Pretentious as well.

               Because when we weren’t inside the privacy of our house, they would behave as if there wasn’t a feud within our family caused by their failure to be decent parents to their child just to project our image as a “perfect” family everybody should admire.

               It wasn’t really a problem to me especially since I rarely attend events with them anymore, but it doesn’t mean I don’t find it annoying every time they would smile at me and pretend like doting parents they never were.

               Even though unwilling, I forced myself to leave my room, ignoring every person who would politely sens me their regards on the way, and made a beeline toward the other room.

               “There’s always a crease on your forehead every time I see you,” remarked Jisoo once I closed the door behind me. She was in front of this room’s vanity mirror; at least three people were surrounding her doing her make-up, nails, and hair. “Did that become permanent already?”

               “Oh, shut up.” I dropped myself on the chair beside her. “You know why my face is currently like this.”

               “Jimin.” There goes that tone again. “Mind your manners.”

               “Whatever.”

               “Minjeong and Ryujin will be there,” she said as a matter of fact. “You won’t be bored.”

               I rolled my eyes, folding my arms over my chest.

               As if that would be of any help.

               I was not looking forward to seeing Ryujin, honestly because I get the feeling that she was disappointed in me for disregarding her favor.

               Ah, crap.

               Just imagining the look on her face once she sees me had me second-guessing my decision. Moreover, she probably had questions and I don’t think I am ready to answer them as of yet.

               Fortunately, Aeri’s going to be there as well.

               It wouldn’t be as bad as I initially thought it would be with her by my side.           

               “What time is the party going to begin?” I asked, changing the subject.

               “Seven o’clock.”

               I still had less than four hours to prepare then.

               After a couple more minutes of waiting, Jisoo was finally done getting herself dolled up. My sister had always been pretty, but right now, a word of compliment almost slipped past my mouth while looking at her through the mirror.

               She stayed for a while to tell me a few stuff that I didn’t bother to listen to because I knew it was unimportant before she took her leave. I wonder what else would she be doing since she’s more or less ready for the party.

               “I dislike heavy make-up. Make it as simple as possible,” I instructed calmly to the person in front of me; then I turned to the one on the right who was tidying the nail polishes. “The color of my outfit is red; I trust that you know the suitable shade for my nails.” And without turning around, “My hair, well, I am leaving it up to you.”

               “Understood, Miss Yoo,” they responded in unison.

               It was going to take a while before they were finished so I decided watch random videos to entertain myself. I was about to tap on the streaming application when it suddenly vibrated.

 

               1 Message: Cruella de Vil

Cruella de Vil:     What are you doing?

Jimin:     I’m getting ready for the party later.
                   You?

Cruella de Vil:     For the party? Or for me? :b
                                     I’m playing console with Rj.
                                    
Jimin:     Shut up.  
                   Shouldn’t you be preparing now?

Cruella de Vil:     Meh, it’s alright.
                                     Maybe later.

Jimin:     Well, if you say so.

Cruella de Vil:     I miss you.

Jimin:     You always do.

Cruella de Vil:     Don’t pretend to be a stranger later.

Jimin:     I will try.

Cruella de Vil:     Let’s see each other soon, baby.
                                     I love you.

 

               I inhaled a deep breath before placing my phone back inside the pocket of my robe. Closing my eyes, I allowed myself to relax on the chair.

               Lately, her I love you’s had been doing things to me that I couldn’t quite explain. Something inside my stomach would do a flip, and I’d feel giddy for some reason. She must be doing some kind of witchcraft on me or something.

               More than an hour had passed, I felt a light tap on my shoulder together with a robotic voice announcing that they were finished and I was good to go.

               I released a deep sigh before scanning myself from my head-to-toe through the mirror. I was wearing a long-sleeved, square collared dress made of soft fabric that hugged my waist perfectly, stopping just above the knee; my hair was styled up in a delicate crown braid with loose strands framing my face.

               I felt really satisfied with how I looked.

               The people in charge deserved a raise.
              
               Once I was done checking myself out and giving my sincere appreciation to my stylists for a job well done, I made my way toward the door, intending to return to my room, only to stumble backward because of the person that welcomed me once I swung it open.

               My eyes went up and down.

               Aeri wore her dress in a rebellious way if that was even possible. It was of color black that hugged her body in all the right places. There was a slit that showed her pale slender long legs. She had placed a wide-brimmed hat on her head and high-heeled shoes upon her feet.

               “Yooji—girl, oh my god,” she exclaimed, her hand hovering over . “You look so gorgeous!”

               I smiled bashfully. 

               “Thanks, Ri. You look gorgeous yourself.”

               “That girl will surely drool over you.”

               “Who?”

               “Oh, come on.” She made a face. “You know who.”

               “But I don’t?”

               “Anyhoo.” She clasped her hands together. “I only stopped by to see how you look. I’ll get going now since they are probably looking for me already.”

               “Sure,” I replied. “See you later.”

               Once she was out of my sight, I continued my way to my room to while away the remaining time before the party.




 

              

               “I need you to be on your best behavior tonight,” my mother said in a strict voice the moment our car stopped in front of the venue. “Do you understand me?”

               “Sure, I guess.” I shrugged.

               “Answer your mother properly, Katarina,” Father chastised, giving me a look of disapproval.

               Ugh.

               “Whatever.”

               The moment I stepped a foot outside the car, I almost wanted to go back and shut myself inside for all eternity.

               Swarm of people crowded the entrance of the venue, each sporting expensive-looking dresses and suits all walking toward the same direction. Every single one of them looked so extraordinary.

               The majority of the women held themselves with grace, their every moves refined as if one wasted movement was a crime while the men walked with pride in their steps, heads held up high and moved with booming confidence; then there were those who tried so hard to blend in, but they stuck out like a sore thumb.

               Seeing so many people who probably shared the same values as my parents in one place suffocated me.

               My hand reached for Jisoo’s arm for support, causing her to smile at me reassuringly. “It will be fine, Jimin.”

               I had my eyes fixed ahead of me the entire time, ignoring the people who would follow me with their judging eyes, looking for the minimal of flaw to criticize.

               Even though I couldn’t see them, I knew my parents were now doing their best to put on an act, smiling at every person who would acknowledge their presence.

               Once we had arrived inside, I had to remind myself that this was going to be over before I know it. Three hours maximum.

               God, their stares were making me so uncomfortable. It was as if they were surprised—intrigued even to see me here after a long time.

               Somehow, I became the center of attention in a short period and I wasn’t even doing anything aside from breathing the same air as them.

               This was why I despised social gatherings.

               They don’t know how to mind their own businesses.

               It was suffocating me.

               Jisoo brought me to the table occupied by familiar faces. I immediately noticed Aeri there who was waving her hand at me enthusiastically.

               “Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Uchinaga,” said Jisoo before bowing her head. “It’s a fancy evening, is it not?”

               “Indeed it is, Miss Yoo.” Aeri’s father smiled. “How’s your work going?”

               “It is going quite fine, thank you,” Jisoo replied shortly.

               “I heard you are climbing the ranks rather rapidly. Your parents must be so proud to have you as their daughter,” said Mrs. Uchinaga to which Jisoo denied in a humble manner.

                “I’ll be leaving Jimin in your care again.” She then gestured to me. “Will that be alright?”

               Ever since Aeri became a friend of mine, I was always staying with them every time we were invited to social gatherings. Though, I could never be comfortable around them in spite of their “kindness” because I was aware of their treatment toward Aeri.

               “Of course, of course,” came Mr. Uchinaga’s response, seemingly happy to have me over.

               “Listen Jimin, as much as I want to be with you tonight, it is not possible. I need to be on our parents’ side.” Jisoo said that earned her a nod. “Stay with Aeri.”

               And that I did before she could say anything more.

               “How are you feeling?” Aeri asked lowly.

               “I feel like going home now.”

               She let out a chuckle. “I knew you’d say that,” she remarked before she let her eyes wander around the venue. “But damn, I never thought it’d be this grand. This is the first time I have seen this house and damn is it so huge.”

               “You’re right.”

                Everything seemed so classic, elegant and came straight out of a book in a palace setting. It was majestic, to say the least. The attendees were so jubilant, conversing by themselves with high enthusiasm, the mellow songs that were playing in the background drowning out their voices. The atmosphere felt so alive.

               I shifted my eyes to the group of people standing near the staircase. All of them demanded attention; what with the air of sophistication radiating off of them, and the way they carried themselves. One person stood out the most among them, however.

               Winter Kim.

               She was beautiful.

               That was without a doubt.

               But tonight, even Aphrodite would bow down to her.

               Her stunning black dress made her complexion even paler if possible. It was a pleasure to see her flowing, raven hair upon her shoulders, her bangs framed her small face, accentuating her features to the highest degree, her plump red lips that were redder than usual had me wondering how it would feel like to have it against mine again.

               And the one thing that made her so unimaginably attractive, was, of course, her dark expressive eyes. Those usually cold eyes that haunted me even in my sleep.

               Then I began to question myself—asking as to how could someone defy all odds and actually look so stunningly magnificent.

               How could someone look so, so, so beautiful?

                I figured she was discussing something important with those people as her expression appeared serious, and the aura she was exuding was strong enough to have most people looked solely in her direction, eyes showing that of admiration and envy.

               “Yooji, you’re drooling,” Aeri said, breaking the thread of my thoughts.

               My eyes widened, hand was quick to wipe the drool off my mouth only to realize she was just playing with me.

               There was no drool.

               “ you, Ri,” I hissed. “I thought I had made a fool out of myself!”

               “I can’t blame you though. Kim looks extra beautiful tonight.”

               I could only nod my head, afraid that my mouth would spill my thirst over her if I let even a single word slip.

               The music shifted to a slow, jazzy one.

               “Oh, there they go.”

               A throng of people came forward and started to dance. I watched as they moved their bodies to the rhythm with great precision as if they had already done this before. The air filling the hall suddenly grew romantic.

               “Dang, I should’ve brought Yizhuo with me,” I heard Aeri mumble. “What a shame.”

               Oh?

               I bit back a grin.

               “How’s it going with her?”

               “What do you mean?”

               “Quit it with the feigned ignorance, Ri.” I scoffed. “You know what I am talking about.”

               “Chill.” She held up her hands. “We are doing fine. You know, getting to know each other.”

               God, they were still in that phase.

                It’s been 84 years!

               “You are so slow.”

               “I’m new to this kind of thing.” She reclined on her seat. “Besides, I want everything to flow slowly but surely. Yizhuo preferred it that way as well.”

               Slowly but surely, huh?

                I wonder if that was also applicable to—never mind.

               “It’s amusing how you are being straightforward right now. You used to give me vague answers.”

               “There’s no point in hiding it to you, anyway.” She moved her shoulders up and down. “You are my best friend.”

               ...okay.

               Now, I feel a tad bit guilty.

               There were a lot of things that I was keeping from her.

               I was about to speak when the hall suddenly grew quiet. The people moved to the side to make way for a certain someone who I was waiting for to approach me all this time.

               Winter...

               She had a blank look on her face, looking so bored out of her mind as she stood in the middle. In her hands was her violin.

               The crowd all had the same expression, their eyes glued to the person before them.

               Excitement.

               My eyebrows furrowed.

               No one told me anything about this.

               “What is going on?”

               “She is going to play the violin for her mother,” said Aeri. “It’s a tradition within their family.”

               Oh.

               But I thought she had an unresolved issue with her mother?

               Would she be able to play well?

               “This is your first time watching her personally, right?”

               “Yes, that’s right.”

               “You’ll be having your jaw down on the ground by how amazing of a violinist she is.”

               I knew she was amazing.

               But we’ll see.

               Winter placed the violin up to her shoulder, resting her chin on the rest, and closed her eyes. Slowly, she moved her bow across the strings, and a beautiful melody came forth from the instrument.

               Music filled the air without effort; the sound rushing in and around every person in the hall, rendering them in utter awe. Some who weren’t into music continued to chatter, but surely, it spoke to them in some manner.

               I could feel myself shuddering.

               Amazing...

               Air on the G String.

               Johannah Sebastian Bach.

               The sound entered through my ears, reverberating all throughout my body; the notes relaxing every nerve I had, enabling the song to call to my entire being.

               Winter was arrogant.

               And she had an awful personality.

               She had the worst reputation.

               However, right at this very moment, the more she weaved her bow with great expertise in a gentle manner to produce a tune only she could do, the more she rocked her fingers to create a series of vibratos to add another level of emotion to the violin, the more she was drawing me in.

               I was captivated beyond words.

               God, she was beautiful.

               And when her gaze found mine, my chest began to tighten; the volume of her music dropped significantly; whispering, so kind, so tender, it was as if she was trying to communicate with me as her eyes remained locked in on me.

               There are things I cannot say in words, so, I pray, that you listen to the sound of my violin.”

               Such brilliance.

               A round of applause erupted from the crowd right after she played the last note, clearly so impressed by the performance; those who were seated even stood up to show their adoration.

               “Bravo!”

               Winter didn’t even bow.

               Didn’t even show a hint of emotion.

               She did nothing that would imply that she was pleased by the responses she was getting.

               Her attention was solely focused on me as if I was the only person in the room.

               Then, she was walking.

               I watched her as she marched toward my way, holding my breath as a small smile appeared on her face. People followed her with their eyes along with their hushed whispers, wondering what exactly she was doing.

               When she was only an arm away from me, I finally let out the air that I was holding and smiled back.

               “This party is boring.” She pulled her lips in a y smirk. “Do you wanna come somewhere else with me?”

               Damn.




 

               “I didn’t expect you would do such a thing in front of those people.”

               I looked around the area we had found after a few minutes of walking to find a place away from where the crowd was.

               We were inside a small gazebo situated at the backyard. Around us was a really wide lawn with hedges, bushes, trees, and flowers, giving the place a calming ambiance as the oxygen I was inhaling felt so unpolluted for some reason.

               It was quiet and peaceful.

               “I have always loved exceeding people’s expectations of me.”

               “You are probably just stating the truth, but why does that sound so conceited?”

               She chuckled. “I must have missed the part where that is my problem, babe.”

               “Whatever,” I conceded; knowing it was pointless to argue with her anyway.

               We settled in comfortable silence, my head tilted, gazing upward as I recalled the events that had happened just a little while ago.

                It doesn’t really matter, but I was kind of curious about the reactions of the people back in the hall. They were probably shocked to learn that the daughters of the top neurosurgeon and cardiologist were close; especially those who were aware of my hatred against Winter before.

               We were going to be the talk of the town.

               Strangely, I wasn’t really worried about it.

               “You play the violin exquisitely,” I muttered after a moment of silence.

               “Of course.” There was arrogance brimming in her tone. “I’ve been doing this since I was a child, after all.”

               “Or maybe you are just born gifted.”

               “Ah yeah, that too,” she said as if she was only realizing it now. “I am able to accurately replicate a piece that I have only heard once.”

               Right.

               Perfect pitch.

               “Arrogant.”

               “Amazing, you mean.” She wiggled her eyebrows, causing me to roll my eyes.

               “But are you okay?”

               “Where did that come from?”

               “I mean, you played the violin for your mother, right? And, well, you know, about what you have told me yesterday.”

               “I didn’t play it for her,” she corrected firmly. “I played it for you.”

               I blinked, caught off guard at the revelation.

               “For real...?”

               “For real.”

               Oh...

               So, that was why the performance felt so personal; like a love confession.

               Music indeed was something that exposes so much of oneself.

               God, Winter Kim.

               “Karina...”

               “Hmn?”

               “I wasn’t given the opportunity to do this with you earlier because I was busy entertaining our guests.” She held out her hand in front of me. “If it isn’t too late, may I have this dance?”

               I raised an eyebrow, amused.

               “There’s no music though?”

               “That’s not going to be a problem,” she replied. “Come on.”

               “Fine.”

               I slowly took the offered hand, causing a smile to spread across her face; she interlocked her warm, slender fingers with mine as she carefully led her into the middle of the gazebo

              Then she came to a halt, turning around to face me properly. The smile she was sporting grew wide as she pulled me closer to her body.

               “You look so wonderful tonight, baby,” she murmured before she began humming a familiar tune. Our bodies then moved to the rhythm; careful and tentative to test the waters. It was awkward at first, but soon we found the right timing to synchronize our movements.

               "T-Thank you...”

               Her arms eventually enveloped me in a tight embrace as we continued to sway our bodies, not caring if somebody would see us dancing like fools.

               She rested her head on my neck, feeling myself warming up because of the heat her body was emitting.

               Being this close with her felt so calming.

               She felt like home.

               “I wonder since when?"

               “Since when?"

               “Since when have you been in love with me?” I clarified. “When did you realize your feelings?”

               “I have been in love with you for as long as I can remember.”

               I felt myself blushing furiously.

               The crimson color-infused cheeks along with the growing smile I tried to suppress but failed miserably.

               “H-Hold on a second; how long are we talking here?”

               “Does it matter?“

               “Not really.” I pouted my lips unconsciously. “I’m just curious, is all.”

               “Long enough, Karina. Long enough.”

               That shut me up for good.

               How she always managed to be a puzzle to me would always be a mystery.

               Every time I thought I already had her figured out, she’d reveal another puzzle for me to solve.

               It was neverending.           

               I didn’t know how long we had been dancing when she pulled away; then she leaned forward to place a chaste kiss on my forehead.

               “You know, the way I love you frightens me sometimes.” She raised her hand to my cheek with utmost care. “And I do not mean this in the sense that I would do anything idiotic if I suffered the heartbreak of losing you. Rather, it is like I have always prided myself on my independence, but now, every waking second of every day is devoted to inescapable thoughts of you.”

               My breath hitched, my heart pounding loudly in my ears.

               “I hope you know how much I want this.” She scooted even closer. “How much I want you.”

               Oh my god...

               Every word she was saying was overwhelming me.

               The butterflies in my stomach were in chaos.

               For the second time this night, I found myself in a suffocating situation. However, it was for an entirely different reason this time.

               One was because of Winter’s eyes that seemed so chasmic I could drown in them, and instead of wanting to be saved, I would just let myself fall deeper.

               The other being that of our proximity that if there was a gust of wind strong enough to push either one of us, our lips would collide.

               “I-If I ask you to date me for real, would you say yes?”

              The question made my heart skip a beat.

              What...?

               I gulped, growing nervous all of a sudden.

              “Uh.”

               My eyes darted around the area restlessly.

               To the ants crawling on the tree, to the stray pebble near the bush, to the lone leaf that was slowly falling down on the ground—anywhere just to avoid her gaze—until it landed on the last person I wanted to see tonight.

               .

               “R-Ryujin...”

               “What?”

               “Ryujin.”

               With knitted eyebrows, she followed my line of sight that was fixed on her sister who seemed displeased to see us together.

               Ah, .

               “Oh.” The laugh she let out was humorless; then she took a step back to create some distance between us. “I see.”

               “H-Huh?”

               Winter gave me a stoic smile—like she was thinking something bittersweet; like she was a little bit sad.

               “I’ll be leaving you two.”

               Huh?

               Before I could even question her, she already had her back me as she sauntered through the lawn to approach Ryujin.

               “Take care of her, Rj.”

               Then, she was leaving.

               At that moment, I had a presentiment.

               A strange presentiment that she was never coming back.

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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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