26: ing Hell

Yooji: Love is War

               If I only knew that would be the last time that we would talk to each other, I wouldn’t have allowed it to turn out the way it did.

               I should have spoken more.

               I should have opened up.

               I should have told her my worries.

               For the next couple of days, she continued pretending as if I was just an invisible entity who was roaming around the campus. Not even once had she spared me a glance.

               She didn’t only give up on me.

               She likely hates me as well.

               I couldn’t even be mad about it.

               Because if I were in her shoes, I would definitely hate myself as well.

               The need to talk to her again was immense.

               But the universe was never in my favor.

               I couldn’t find an opportunity to be alone with her.

               There seemed to be always a nuisance.

               Whenever our paths would cross, it was either she was with the council members conversing about council affairs or with a random fling entangled with her like a leech.

               It was so frustrating.

               Everything was against me.

               There was this one time a chance was handed to me on a silver platter by none other than Yizhuo Ning.

               The secretary probably sensed that Winter and I weren’t on good terms that was why she took matters into her own hands and messaged me about the vice president’s whereabouts: The office of the Student Council.

               Thank god for Yizhuo Ning.

               “Winter.” I walked up to the swivel chair she was seated on while reading some documents on the table. “Can we talk?”

               She lifted her head, eyebrows furrowed in apparent confusion while looking around the room. “There must be a phantom in here. Or it’s probably just my imagination.”

               I had to remind myself that I came here to make amends and not to add fuel to the fire because I almost rolled my eyes at the behavior she had just shown.

               God, why does she have to be so childish?

               I was about to speak again; sternly this time only to be interrupted by the arrival of the other council members, leaving me with no other choice but to let her go.

               After that fruitless encounter, I had gotten real preoccupied with the music club since there were only a few days left before our performance in the school festival that I hardly had time to worry about anything else.
              
               God, we had really come a long way.

               I was now the one who was chasing after her.

               The tables had indeed turned.              

               Or maybe that was her way of showing that she no longer have time for me.

               I let out a deep sigh as I reclined on my seat.

               It was already lunch break and our usual table in the cafeteria seemed to be rowdier than it normally was.

               Before me was Ryujin, chugging a can of soda.

               Aside from driving me to school and back to my place, she had been joining us in our lunch as well; except when she had important matters to attend to.

               I was now less bothered by the sudden change in her behavior and was relishing the special attention she had been giving me instead.

               She probably had a reason that she wasn’t ready to disclose yet.

               “I think I flunked our History quiz earlier,” Chaeryeong whined while banging her forehead on the table.

               This was the first time I was seeing her after the training camp and the bags under her eyes had noticeably gotten bigger and darker.

               Academics hadn’t been nice to her, apparently.

               “That’s why I told you not to participate in the rehearsals for the meantime,” Ryujin reprimanded softly. “You are so stubborn sometimes.”

               Surprisingly, Chaeryeong was also a member of the dance club and was quite close with Ryujin. They would often spend time together especially since they were the duo or whatever that was.

               I was too focused on Ryujin alone that I had no time to pay attention to the other members; much less familiarizing myself with them.

               I wonder how she was managing her time—being a music and dance club member simultaneously.

               “You know I can’t,” Chaeryeong argued.

               “So, that is the reason why you have been missing practices,” I remarked in an accusatory tone. “You chose the dance club over the music club.”

               “That is not so true!” Chaeryeong denied, her eyes wide in horror. “It’s just—it’s just—”

               Aw, she was so adorable.

               “Hey, I’m just joking,” I clarified since the baby looked as if she was about to cry any minute now. “We know how important that competition is to the dance club.”

               Besides, Prez Chaewon was giving her the audio recordings of our practices every day. That way, she would still be updated on our progress.

               Chaeryeong was a gifted guitarist.

               I am sure she would be able to catch up on her own easily.

               “When’s the competition again?” said Aeri who was repeatedly poking the poor kimchi on her tray.

               “This upcoming Sunday,” Ryujin replied. “Are you gonna come?”

               My best friend jokingly rolled her eyes.

               “What kind of cousin I am if I won’t?”

               Ryujin chuckled. “I’ll reserve you a seat then.”

              Then Aeri reached forward to bump her fist against Ryujin’s awaiting one.

               “How about you, Jimin?” I glanced over Chaeryeong. “Will you go?”

               “Yep, I’ll go.”

               “With Minjeong Kim?”

               I dropped the spoon upon hearing the name, the chunk of meat that I swallowed going down the wrong pipe.

               Why did she have to bring her up...

               “A-Ah, no.”

              Her shoulders visibly deflated.

               “Oh, is that so—wait, there she is!”

               I whipped my head to follow to where her finger was pointing at; only to crumple my face in annoyance because of the view that welcomed me.

               There she was all in her glory.

               The necktie around her collar was loose.

               The buttons of her blazer were undone.

               Sleeves were rolled up to her elbow, showing her toned forearm.

               I would’ve found her oozingly hot if not for the fact that a different girl from yesterday was clinging to her arm possessively as they made their way to the exit.

               My brows drew down in a scowl.

               Oh, the audacity she must have had to act as if she owned Winter right in front of my face.
              
               “That’s the captain of the swimming club if I am remembering it correctly,” Chaeryeong commented once they were finally out of our sight. “Are they toge—”

               I slammed my palms on the table in aggression, interrupting whatever nonsense she was about to say.

               “No freaking way!”

               I must’ve said that a little too loud than intended because a good amount of students turned to look at the sudden loud noise.

               Ryujin looked a bit surprised to see me lose my composure while my best friend was eyeing me with an unreadable look on her face.

               Crap.

               I’m doomed.

               These past couple of days, I had been trying to avoid a confrontation with Aeri; making lame excuses regarding the sudden obvious indifference of her cousin toward me.

               I knew for sure that whatever she was going to say once she found out what happened would change my life forever.

               No, I don’t think I am ready to face that.

               I cleared my throat and composed myself before looking around the cafeteria and glared at anyone still watching us until we were free to converse again.

               “Um,” Chaeryeong spoke hesitantly, earning back my attention.

               “I mean, she is not dating anyone,” I corrected as softly as I could. “That’s just her being a womanizer.”

               She slowly nodded her head.

               “Okay...”

               I inwardly groaned.

               She definitely finds me weird now.

               How embarrassing.

               “Yooji,” said Aeri.

               “Hmn?”

               “Let’s go to the library.”

               I frowned. “What?”

               “I said, let’s go to the library,” she reiterated.

               I pressed my lips together.

               What’s with her?

               “Ri, we can’t just leave them here,” I reasoned out, seeing our other two companions watching us without a word out of the corner of my eye.

               “It’s fine,” Ryujin assured. “We actually need to be on our way as well.”

               “Ryu—”

               “Yooji.”

               I immediately closed my mouth as I recognized that familiar tone of voice.

               Aeri rarely used that on me.

               When she does, however, I know I’m in deep .

               “Fine.”





 

               Minutes later, we were settled on the farthest table on the second floor of the library.

               The towering bookshelves on each of our sides were enough to hide us from the students nearby.

               A perfect location.         

               I peered over Aeri who was staring at me blankly, looking like she wasn’t planning to speak anytime soon.

               “Ri?”

               “She broke up with you, didn’t she?”

               I caught myself freezing up, eyes widening in shock.

               What the hell?

               “H-How did you know?”

               “I’m not dumb, Yooji,” she deadpanned, resting her chin on her hand. “It’s painfully obvious.”

               Oh.

               Right.

               Of course, she would catch on to what happened.

               Aeri had always had that peculiar instinct.

               One look and she would know what was going on with me.

               I worried my bottom lip between my teeth for a second.

               “She gave up on me, Ri.”

               “And?”

               I cocked an eyebrow.

               “Huh? What do you mean?”

               I was dumbfounded.

               She had the tendency to confuse me with her nonchalant replies, but this was strange, even for her.

               “Are you hurt?”

               I let out a shaky breath.

               I’d be lying if I said I was not.

               Because it was painful.

               The moment Winter turned her back on me after announcing my victory was the same moment I realized that I really couldn’t lose her.

               I had to keep her somehow.

               “I am.”

               “Shouldn’t you be happy?” Aeri asked casually. “You finally won against her after all these years. Isn’t that worth being happy about?”

               I blinked, baffled at the unexpected bite lacing her voice.

               “W-What?”

               “That’s the reason why you can’t like her, right?”

               That was like a slap to my face.

               A reality check that I did this to myself.              

               “R-Ri...”

               “Let me change the question.” Aeri leaned against the backrest. “Why are you hurt?”

               I inhaled a huge amount of air.

               , my nerves were all over the place.

               Every question Aeri was throwing at me felt as if the keys to the chains surrounding my heart, sealed by several locks.

               It took a few seconds before I was able to respond.

               “Because I don’t want to lose her...”

               “Why don’t you want to lose her?”

               I felt my heart skip a beat.

               Nervousness enveloped me all of a sudden.

               “I-I don’t know...”

               Aeri sighed frustratingly.

               “I don’t want to be hard on you, Yooji,” Aeri muttered, trying to control the volume of her voice. “But unless I get blunt with you, you wouldn’t realize a single thing.”

               I perked up, staring at her with confused eyes.

               “Realize what?”

               Aeri looked so done for some reason; her hand making a slapping noise when it came in contact with her face.

               “God, Yooji.”

               I was getting frustrated the longer she delayed the answer to my question.         

               “Just tell me, Ri.”

               “You are in love with her.”

               My breathing stopped upon hearing what she had just declared.

               Me?

               In love?

               “And if you think you aren’t, then you are fooling yourself.”





 

               I wasn’t able to pay attention throughout the rest of my classes and even now that I was already inside Ryujin’s car on the way back home, I was still pondering what Aeri and I had talked about earlier.

               As much as I could see some sense in everything that she said, I found it really hard to believe.

               How could I be in love with Winter?

               I like Ryujin for god’s sake.

               It had always been her all these years.

               Falling in love with Winter was just close to impossible in so many ways.

               Then why don’t you want to lose her?

               Ugh.

               God, this was so frustrating.

               I never knew it was going to be this complicated.

               “You seem bothered.”

               “I’m fine.” I shot her a small smile. “There’s just a lot on my mind right now.”

               She hummed thoughtfully.

               It took about ten seconds without anyone speaking before Ryujin glanced over me.

               “What do you say about going somewhere to ease your mind?”

               “Huh?”

               “Spend the rest of your day with me, Jimin.”

               What she had said didn’t sink in my mind right away, but as soon as it did, I felt myself beginning to hyperventilate.

               Oh my god.

               All the nagging thoughts in my head suddenly flew out of the window.

               The only thing—person in my mind right now was her.

               Ryujin Kim.

               “Are you asking me out on a date?”

               “It depends.” She winked at me playfully. “Do you want it to be a date?”

               .

               She didn’t just wink at me.

               It took all of me not to scream at the top of my lungs because what the hell was what!

               I pressed my lips together to refrain myself from grinning like a fool.

               “Alright, Ryujin.”

              





 

               The drive turned out to be longer than I expected and I found myself dozing off the whole ride.

               When I woke up, we had already reached our destination.
              
               “How did you even find this place?”

               I swallowed thickly as I cast an eye to where Ryujin had brought me.

               It was an abandoned forest.

               Just by looking at it was enough to send goosebumps all over my body.

               And here I thought we were going to a place where I could be at peace.

               “One of the many advantages of having a car,” Ryujin then held out a hand. “Come on.”

               “R-Ryujin,” I stuttered out, scared of the thought of going inside.

               She smiled at me warmly.

               “I’ll show you the hidden beauty of this forest.”

               I felt my body move on its own as if possessed, and before I could process what was happening, my hand was already holding hers.

              Whatever, I guess.

               Then, I let her lead me through the forest.

               The both of us were being careful as to avoid thin winding creaks and the slippery rocks while dodging and zipping past rotting oak trees and lowered, snapped branches.

               A few moments later and we were already deep into the forest.

               I gazed up to scan my surroundings.

               The forest looked ancient.

               The trees were thick and old, roots were all over the place. It might once have been something that you would see in movies with animals roaming around with stray flowers here and there, and maybe the occasional chirping of the birds, but now it was centuries past its former glory.

               The sun was up in the sky, but there was hardly any sunlight splashing down on us at all due to the very dense canopy of the forest.

               “Where is this hidden beauty you are talking about?” I asked, breaking the silence between us.

               “Patience.” She chuckled. “We will get there soon.”

               I pulled a face but didn’t retort anything.

               Instead, I took the chance to peer over her side profile, tilting my head forward, the minimal amount of sunlight that enlightened her face was just enough to put me in a daze.

               Those eyes...

               They reminded me of Winter.

               “Don’t look at me like that.”

               “W-What?”

               “Never mind,” she said, dismissively. “We are here.”

               Upon hearing that, I let my eyes fall down the abandoned structure before me and I couldn’t help the gasp that escaped my lips.

               “W-Wow.”

               “Beautiful, right?”

               A nod was the only form of response I could do at that moment.

               “This is one of the places I consider my haven.”

               Another nod.

               It was an abandoned greenhouse surrounded by a huge amount of overgrown grass that reached just below the knee.

               From where I was standing, I could see a shattered glass door placed in the middle with rusty metal beams on each side to hold it.

               The walls and roof had the same situation as the door and the pieces were now scattered around the muddy ground.

               Tangled vines housed the majority of the fragile structure which made it appear alive in spite of its broken façade.

               Shards of pots occupied the edge and a small, wooden bench was placed in the middle.

               “Can I go take a look around?”

               “Of course, you can.”

               I jogged towards the subject of my fascination, a hand automatically reaching for my phone to capture the superb beauty in front of me.

               There were no longer any vibrant flowers to feast my eyes on, but the serene atmosphere was enough to compensate for that.

               I felt at home for some reason, as if it wasn’t the first time I had been here. It was like a case of the body remembers what the mind had forgotten. It was weird, but that was what exactly I was feeling at the moment.

               Turning around, Ryujin’s smiling face came into the view, looking so entertained as she stared at me.

               “Thank you for bringing me here,” I said sincerely.

               She gently shook her head.

               “That’s not a problem.”

               “Do you often go here?”

               Ryujin walked around, stopping near the old bench in the middle before dropping her down on it.

               “Not really. Only when our house is becoming too suffocating for my own good.”

               Oh.

               I didn’t say anything.

               I wasn’t sure if I was even supposed to.

               “My parents and Mj often fight, you see,” she added on. “And since I couldn’t do anything to stop them, I will bring myself here to take a breather.”

               “R-Ryujin...”

               “Jimin,” she mumbled, cutting me off. “When did you realize that you like me?”

               The unexpected question caught me off guard.

               I gulped, looking down on my feet.

               “Oh, um, the first time we have met each other.”

               “Really?” There was a hint of disbelief brimming in her tone. “That long?”

               “Y-Yes.”

               “Why didn’t you tell me?”

               “I couldn’t.” I gazed upon her to see something akin to disappointment swirling in her eyes. “Besides, I was already contented admiring you from afar.”

               “How about now?”

               I threw her a puzzled look.

               “What do you mean?”

               Ryujin bore her dark brown eyes into mine.

               “Do you still like me?”

               My body went stiff momentarily.

               Why was she asking me that?

               What was the point?

               I paused, unable to formulate a single word with how chaotic my brain was right now.             

               So, I settled with a timid nod.

               “Then date me.”

               Hold on, I think I just lost my sense of hearing for a moment there.

               “What did you say...?”

               “Date me.”

               I took in a sharp breath.

               A fleeting, warm feeling rising to my face, leaving a tint of red in its wake.

               “D-Date you?”

               Date as in date?

               Not the calendar thing?

               ...you’re kidding me.              

               Ryujin came closer before reaching for my hands, filling the spaces between my fingers with hers.

               “I like you, Jimin Yoo.”

               ing hell.

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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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