29: Crawl Back

Yooji: Love is War

               Never had I imagined that someone would come barging into my life capable of making me question my whole life; a person who had the capability to make me feel various unwanted emotions—which I presumed was just a product of humans’ imagination.

               Don’t you find it scary?

               To meet someone who would make you realize how wrong everything you believed in all this time; someone who will make you break your own rules just by simply existing.

               Because I do.

               To begin with, I am not very fond of changes—especially if it was something I hadn’t seen coming.

               I don’t know how exactly I was able to get back home that day since I wasn’t in the right state of mind after the unforeseen realization that I had in spite of Aeri’s loud voice repeatedly calling for me to come back.

               I had no idea how to face Winter after what happened; how to face the fact that I kind of have feelings for her.

               Or maybe, I just do not want to face it.

               I am scared...

               ...for an entirely different reason.

                And it was silly because I used to find it very stupid before.

               I had seen numerous romance films growing up—including those wherein the main character was too late to realize their feelings and end up watching the other main character fall in love with someone else or get over them in the distance because there was nothing they could do about it.              

               I recall the frustration that I would be having back then seeing the protagonist make idiotic choices while grumbling to myself: Why couldn’t they just wrap their mind around the fact that they were freaking in love with the other person?

               Little did I know...

               ...I would wind up in the same situation as them.

               The universe really had its own way to mess up with you in the most ridiculous manner possible.

               That being said, I highly doubt Winter had already moved on nor had she already fallen for someone else in a very short period of time when she had been in love with me for years.

               Still, I couldn’t help myself from expecting the worst-case scenario. Winter had always been an unpredictable person, after all.

               That night, I indulged myself in coming up with effective methods to have her acknowledge me again—that and if I should allow her to be aware of my change of heart right away.

               If I did, would she come running back to me with that sickening smirk on her face? Or she would find it as an insincere confession and would take it as some sort of a scheme to trick her into reconciling with me?

              I leaned back on my chair, puffing a sharp sigh in exasperation.

               Ugh.

               This was so complicated.

               I pushed my hair back, my gaze falling on the miniature Howl’s moving castle placed on the corner of my study table.

               Oh, right.

               This thing...

               My hand reached for the small button on the back, and a familiar melody began playing.

               Merry-Go-Round of Life.

               The film’s main theme.

               This piece had always been one of my favorite ghibli themes for it added so much to the otherworldly elements of the film. But this particular melody that was currently playing propelled it to the very top of the list.

               For one reason.

               It was a violin cover of the piece arranged and played by none other than the one who made the miniature.

              The tempo was slower and the melody was much more emotional that it made me want to tear up.

               I had always interpreted this piece as something gloomy. However, Winter’s version made me feel so euphoric every time I listen to it; it sounded like the stages of falling in love; the realization, the denial, the acceptance, the dwelling on what that meant exactly, the highs and the lows, everything.

               It was beautiful.

               I don’t know how she did it; how she was able to place the recording tape inside; even so, it was so awesome and made the replica so much better than the official one.

               That prodigy, really.

               Never would’ve thought her music could put my chaotic mind at ease.

               Endeavoring to formulate a plan became much easier.

               Now, I know what I must do.

               Baby steps.

               Apologize first and foremost.




 

               It was around noon when I arrived at the school.

               The second day of the festival had already kicked in and the crowd appeared to be larger than the previous day. Probably because it was a rest day for every club member in order to be at the pinnacle of their ability for the big event tomorrow.

               Aeri was nowhere to be seen nor did she message me earlier this morning regarding on what she was planning to do today. My guess was she was probably hanging out with Yizhuo Ning somewhere on the campus and was trying to impress her by showing off her ‘skills’.

               This was their first and last school festival together in highschool; might as well leave them be and allow them to enjoy the day without any interruptions.

               Besides...

               “Have you been waiting for long?”

               I turned around and was met with the most adorable grin I’d ever seen. I didn’t realize I was staring until a clearing of throat pulled me out of my reverie.

               “Ah, no.” I avoided her gaze, embarrassed. “I just got here myself.”

               The effect of her appearance on me wouldn’t easily go away, it seemed.

               “Really? The beads of sweat on your forehead is implying otherwise.” She chuckled, rubbing her nape. “I knew should’ve just picked you up.”

               Yesterday, I told Ryujin that she doesn’t need e to drive me to and from school anymore. Aside from it being inconvenient for her because the location of our house was out of the way, I don’t Winter to think that there was something going on between us.

               I mean, sure we could still be easily mistaken as a couple the more we spend time together, but if the scenario of me getting off her car every start and end of the class continues, that was just basically confirming it.

               “It’s fine, Ryujin,” I said softly. “It’s not something you should be worrying yourself about.”

               She smiled coyly. “If you say so.”

               “So...” I looked around, grimacing at the large throng of people talking loudly not far away from where we were standing. “Should we eat first?”

               “Sure. I know a good place,” she said. “It’s within walking distance from here.”

               We made our way outside the campus talking about every subject under the sun. I do not feel any awkwardness around her anymore unlike before. It now felt as if I was spending time with a long-time friend.

               A good sign, I suppose.

               Surprisingly, the dance club to which she belonged wouldn’t be performing at the festival tomorrow because apparently, they wanted to focus more on the dance competition that would be held two days after.

               It makes sense since that was far more important than anything else.

               Five minutes later, Ryujin stopped in front of a very familiar restaurant, looking all enthusiastic for some reason.

               What an odd coincidence.

               “I’m sure you guys will nail it.”

               Ryujin held the door open for me. “I really hope so. It is a huge opportunity for us since some big names in the industry will be watching.”

               “Oh?” I blurted. “The pressure must be insane then.”

               “That’s an understatement.”

               The staff led us to a corner table for two; then Ryujin pulled the chair for me. “You will do well just like how you always do.”

               Ryujin threw me a grateful smile before turning away to face the waiter who was taking our orders.

               Much like the last time I dined here with them, the majority of the customers were working adults; there were barely any students from our school.

               It was probably because the price of the food here wasn’t something a highschool student could normally afford. If it wasn’t for Ryujin insisting to pay for both of us, I wouldn’t set a foot in here again.

               “How about you?” she said, earning my attention. “Excited for your performance tomorrow?”

               “Very.” I grinned sheepishly. “It will be the most memorable performance for us in the music club.”

               “Yeah, the main event, alright.”

               I furrowed my brows. “Main event?”

               “It is what the student body regards the music club as,” she replied, a playful smile etched on her lips. “You didn’t know?”

               “Oh...” I trailed off. “Well, I was never the sociable type, after all.”

               She laughed. “I agree though. While the members are amazing on their own, it is your solo performance that always leaves the audience in awe. It is you who they are always looking forward to watching.”

               I could feel my face heating up from the compliment.

               Oh, god.

               What’s with her?

               “You didn’t know that...”

               “But I do,” she countered. “You are a well-known pianist among our generation, Jimin. It’s not rocket science.”

               Another round of compliments undeserved was showered on me, painting my face and neck even redder than the tomato.

               More than five minutes were spent with Ryujin insisting that I was a prodigy just like her sister; that I was the best pianist she had ever known, and myself strongly denying the allegation.

               It was a good thing our food had conveniently arrived to interrupt our conversation because any more compliment might just make me explode out of embarrassment.

               “Enjoy your food!” the waiter said cheerily before leaving.

               I found myself frowning when I looked down to see the dish they served because of the ridiculousness of them all.

               Really?

               Out of all the food?

               It had to be a bowl of crab in oyster sauce.

               And to top it all off, Ryujin also ordered a plate of oysters.

               I laughed inwardly.

               Everything reminds me of her, huh?

               This was probably my punishment.

               I picked up the utensils, ready to dig in; only to stop when I realized something.

               “What’s the matter?” Ryujin quipped in before stuffing a spoonful of fried rice inside .

               “Oh, um, n-nothing.”

               I couldn’t just say outright that I despise shredding the meat of the crab from its shell, could I? Because that would also mean as if I am asking her to do it for me.

               .

               If only Winter was here...

               She would take my plate and do it herself even without me saying anything.

               Because she knows.

               And Ryujin doesn’t.

               Ha...

               I was really making a big mistake all this time.

               A vibration inside my pocket indicating a text message broke the chain of my thoughts.

               I muttered an excuse to Ryujin before checking my phone, eyes widening upon seeing the contact name I hadn’t seen on the notification for weeks.

 

               1 Message: Cruella de Vil

 

               What...

               After 84 years, she finally remembered my existence?

               With my heart pumping loudly against my chest, I opened her message.

 

Cruella de Vil:     You are with her again.

 

               I inhaled sharply.

               H-How did she...

 

Jimin:     How did you know?

Cruella de Vil:     I have my ways, Karina.

 

               I bit down on my lower lip hard.

               God, I knew I should be angry.

               I knew I should be ranting about her indifferent attitude towards me these past few weeks.

               But I wasn’t.

               I couldn’t.

               When just a mere mention of the nickname she gave me was enough to send the butterflies in my stomach into mayhem.

 

Jimin:     We are just friends.

 

               She didn’t reply.

               I roamed my eyes around the restaurant, looking at each of the customer’s faces just in case she was here, but alas, she was nowhere to be found.

 

Jimin:     Can we talk?
                   Please?

Cruella de Vil:     5pm. Rooftop.

 

               .

               I almost flipped the table upon reading her reply.

               Oh my god.

               After a couple of weeks of ignoring me, she was finally willing to talk to me again...

               ...the world was healing.

               AHH!

               Could the time fly faster?

               The butterflies couldn’t wait to be finally near her again.

               “Are you okay?” I glanced over at Ryujin who was looking at me curiously. “You’ve been biting on your lip for a while now; I’m afraid it would bleed.”

               “Ah, yes.” I nodded, my lip unconsciously. “Don’t mind me. I’m just...”

               “Happy?” she supplied.

               “Wha—”

               “You aren’t exactly subtle, Jimin.” She smirked; a certain kind of smile that I had grown to associate with her. “I’m guessing it was Mj who messaged you?”

               I lowered my head.

               Was I that obvious?

               “Y-Yes, it was her.” I peered over her. “She finally agreed to talk to me, you see.”

               She hummed, taking the tiny fork to move the oyster around the shell before slurping it down. “I see. So, she has finally come around. Took her long enough.”

               I refrained myself from smiling like a fool. 

               I couldn’t believe I was this happy at the thought of us talking again.

               How stupidly dumb.

               “Apparently...”

               “That’s great,” she noted; then went back to finish the remaining oysters. “It’s about time you two made up.”

               I stared up at her face, deep in thought for a few seconds.

               That look in her eyes...

               It’s quite familiar.

               She wasn’t good at hiding her emotions, unlike her sister.

               It’s time.

               “Ryujin, can I ask you something?”

               She swallowed. “Sure, go ahead.”

               “I’ve been meaning to ask you this.” I gulped. “Why didn’t you do anything when you found out that I like you?”

               Silence.

               She placed the utensils down, grabbing the paper napkin to wipe before propping her elbows on the table.

               “I thought you have it already figured out by now.” She sighed, clasping her hands together. “It’s because Mj likes you.”

               I blinked.

               Oh.

               Does that mean...

               “You’re saying you gave way for her?”

               “More or less.” The smile she gave me was small and bitter. “She liked you first. It’s an unspoken rule between us that we will never fight over a girl.”

               I mulled over what she had just said.

               Basically, it was some sort of a bro code.

               Winter liked me first...

               “When did you start liking me then?”

               She leaned forward and stared at me, intently.

               “For a long time now.”

               I gawked at her open-eyed, unable to believe my ears.

               “What..?”

               “And Mj knew even before your deal began.”





 

               I was having trouble processing what Ryujin had said. The food on my plate was hardly touched as our conversation had me losing my appetite. Even as we were leaving the restaurant on the way back to school, the only thing I could think of was that Ryujin somehow did reciprocate my feelings even before Winter managed to steal me away.

               I couldn’t ask her about it again.

               Because I already knew what she was going to say.

               Winter manipulated me into thinking that the deal was made in my favor when the only person who would benefit from it was her and her alone.

               There was no need for her to help me with Ryujin since our feelings were mutual at that time, and she knew about it but pretended as if she didn’t.

               Despicable.

               I knew it wasn’t her story to tell.

               However, if she really was in love with me; if she really cared for me, she could have encouraged Ryujin to pursue me. Because that’s what love was all about, right? You would always choose their happiness even if you weren’t the reason.

               But no.

               She took advantage of Ryujin’s kindness and chose to be selfish instead.

               Really...

               I don’t know if I should even be mad.

               I’ve always had an inkling that she had the upper hand in her offer.

               I was just... disappointed.

               “I wasn’t planning to tell her,” she said, breaking the silence between us. “That was why I was so bewildered when she told me just recently that she knew all along. I guess I could never hide anything from her.”

               I pursed my lips, opting to just listen to everything she had to say.

               “I was scared that she’d get mad, but no. She only said that she understood me because it wasn’t hard to like you.”

               “And that’s why you decided to finally confess to me?”

               “Ah, no, not at all.” She gently shook her head. “It was Mj who pushed me to confess.”

               My eyes widened in disbelief.

               Ryujin chuckled upon seeing my reaction.

               “Surprising, I know, but it seemed to me that she was finally giving you up that time. She was also the one who urged me to take her place—including driving you to and from school, paying for our lunch, and giving you your favorite drink every morning. I did all of that out of my own will, but if it wasn’t for her, I doubt I would have the courage to talk to you.”

               I felt my chest tighten.

               It was as if she really did give up on me...

               Was I too late...?

               “She was just hurt, Jimin,” Ryujin followed when I stayed unresponsive. “I don’t think she would give you up just like that.”

               I let out a dry laugh.

               “I hope you are right, Ryujin.”

              No one spoke anymore after that as we were already inside the premises of the school.

               The crowd had noticeably gotten smaller, and only those who were probably unavailable yesterday remained. Assuming from the color of their neckties, the majority were seniors, seemingly making the most out of their last highschool festival.

               Right.

               Might as well, do the same.
             
               I forced myself to disregard my worries even just for a while to enjoy the festival to my heart’s content. Though, it was proving to be an impossible task since Ryujin reminds me so much of Winter in many ways.

               Her habit of running a hand through her hair every once in a while; the smug expression she would wear whenever she would beat me in a game; that dimple that would appear along with her toothy grin; their similar interests; and her manner of speaking. Surely, the result of them growing up together.

               I would’ve found it cute, but that was really not what I needed right now.

               This must be the universe’s way of making me miss her even more as if I don’t already.

               “It’s my win again,” said Ryujin after a round of pop a balloon. “Keep up, Jimin.”

               I rolled my eyes jokingly.

               If she knew that she only won because I was heavily distracted, she’d probably be disappointed.

               “Whatever, Ryujin.”

               She laughed breathily; then squinted her eyes behind me.

               “Hey, isn’t that Aeri?”

               I craned my neck to where she was looking, and what I saw made me want to throw up.

               “...and she’s with the council’s secretary?”

               There on the nearby bench were Aeri and Yizhuo having a world of their own, looking at each other like fools in love while my best friend was feeding Yizhuo her cotton candy.

               “Let’s approach them,” I said, already making my way toward the two lovebirds who have yet to notice our presence.

               “Are they together?” Ryujin whispered. “I’ve never seen Aeri act that way before.”

               Of course.

               That girl used to be only interested in video games and nothing else.

               “That’s what we’re about to find out.”

               Once we were near enough, I called out Aeri’s full name louder than normal, startling the both of them that Yizhuo nearly fell off.

               I held back from laughing because Aeri was giving me the stinky eye, obviously annoyed that we interrupted whatever moment they were having.

               “What the hell, Yooji?”

               Aeri glanced over Yizhuo who was looking everywhere but us, trying to hide her reddened face, but the tip of her ears gave it away.

               “You were being disgusting,” I remarked. “I just had to make you stop.”

               She frowned. “Is this what being Minjeong-deprived does to you?”

               That shut me up real quick.

               My plan backfired terribly, I’m afraid.

               I heard Ryujin snicker beside me.

               “Silence means yes,” the menace to the society named Aeri dared to follow, her tone brimming with smugness.   

               “We...!” I grabbed Ryujin’s arm. “We’re leaving!”

               Aeri’s annoying guffaw was all I could hear as we were walking away from them. If Yizhuo wasn’t there, I would’ve smacked the living daylights out of her.

               Ugh.

               That wasn’t what was supposed to happen!

               What I had in mind was Aeri being either a stuttering mess or a flushed fish opening and closing in an attempt to defend herself only to fail miserably in front of Yizhuo.

               I completely forgot the part where she was a Kim by blood who spent years in the presence of Winter.           

               “She got you good,” Ryujin commented through her laughter.

               “Shut up, Ryujin,” I hissed, causing her laugh to go louder.

               God.

               How embarrassing.

               It was never my plan to stay longer anyway since I didn’t want to intrude on their time together, but having to leave as a laughing stock wasn’t it either.

               “You’re going to talk to Mj later, yeah?” Ryujin said. “You can get back at Aeri afterward.”

               I scoffed. “If it's going to go well, that is.”

               She shrugged. “I’m sure it will.”

               We continued going to different booths, even riding a few rides here and there, and purchasing various snacks along the way.

               Ryujin was fun to be with.

               She knew how to ride on my shenanigans, wouldn’t stop me from doing anything remotely dangerous, and would always make sure that I am comfortable.

               If this happened a year ago, I would surely be the happiest person in this school right now. But alas, the butterflies were no longer responding to her presence.

               Being with her felt similar to how I was when I was with Aeri—minus the constant blabber about video games.

               It was purely platonic.

               It was a wonder how spending one month with Winter made the feelings that I had been harboring for years disappear as if I have never had them in the first place.

               Definitely some kind of black magic.

               It was quarter to five when we decided to call it a day with Ryujin heading off to the parking to go home while I was making my way toward the main building up to the rooftop for the moment of judgment.

               I was a nervous wreck.

               Too many thoughts were running wild in my mind at the moment—all that which wasn’t helping in my current predicament.

               In times like this, I’ve taught myself to always expect the worst outcome. However, I couldn’t help but be hopeful this time around. Because... because I wouldn’t know what to do if she chooses to cut me out of her life permanently.

               Once I opened the door to the rooftop, it was the sight of her with her back on that welcomed me.

               “You’re late,” she said in her usual toneless voice, eyes fixated on the view of the school’s football field before her.

               I gulped.

               God, just being near her was enough to make me weak in the knees.

               “I-I’m sorry...”

               She spun around to face me, her dark lackluster eyes staring straight into mine; the same pair of orbs that I haven’t had the pleasure of admiring for weeks.

               “What is it that you want to tell me?”

               A round of silence had passed.

               Honestly, my mind was blank right now.

               The speech that I had been practicing day and night just for this one single opportunity was long forgotten.

               It seemed to me...

               ...that I would have to let my heart do the talking.

               I drew in a deep breath. It rattled in my chest. “I can’t take it anymore...” I said, hoarsely. “T-This situation that we are both in, I hate it. Ever since you ended our deal, my everyday life doesn’t feel the same anymore. It is as if I am missing something—someone. I am empty without you...”

               Her expression remained neutral, adding to the anxiety that was beginning to spread over my chest.

               She was silent for a long time, and when she spoke, her voice was filled with bitterness. “But isn’t that you wanted?”

               “No, it is not!” I denied, firmly. “It is not what I want, Winter! , if it is, then I wouldn’t be here right now!” My outburst must’ve sounded too loud because Winter visibly flinched, eyes wide in surprise. “I’ve been trying to talk to you, and you know it. But you kept on pretending as if I am a stranger to you.”

               I saw her jaw clenched, both hands were trembling. The wind was picking up its pace, blowing her hair harshly to hide the façade she was wearing that was starting to crumble.

               “It was necessary,” she mumbled shakily. “I couldn’t be around you anymore.”

               I felt myself freeze.

               “What...?”

               Her gaze flickered from me to the sky, and then back to me. There was something in the way she smiled at me that made my heart ache.

               “It’s torture to have you near me, and knowing I could never reach you.” She chuckled, humorlessly. “Besides, you already have Rj. You have no need of me anymore. You already have gotten what you wanted.”

               My eyebrows twitched.

               Was she implying that I used her?

               ...the ing nerve.

               “That’s rich coming from someone who knows about her sister’s feelings for me, but pretended that she didn’t and even had the face to spout nonsensical claims such as Ryujin doesn’t feel the same way when she, in fact, does.”

               She looked away, anger plastered on her face. Suddenly, my original purpose of why I was here, to begin with, had now become a distant memory.

               “Why aren’t you saying anything?” I mocked. “It’s true then? You used our choice to keep our feelings unsaid to your own benefit.”

               “It is not my fault that she’s a coward.” The nervousness that I thought was gone had immediately come back as she moved closer to me. “It is not my fault that she chose to be a ing saint and gave way than to pursue you.”

               I glared at her.

               “She’s not a coward!”

               “She merely thought of you as someone who was not worth risking her relationship with her older sister for. That’s how shallow her feelings are for you.”  

               “You could’ve helped her!”

               “And then watch you two be happy with each other?” She scoffed. “I am not a martyr, Jimin. You are only allowed to be happy with me, not with someone else.”

               I laughed, but it doesn’t sound angry; if anything, just in disbelief.

               “You are so selfish,” I said, shaking my head. “Ryujin—”

               “Ryujin this, Ryujin that!” she spat out, cutting me off. “If you like her so much then why are you with me and not with her? Why did you choose to go out of your way to meet me here instead of spending the remaining time of this day with her?”

               I looked down on my feet, choosing not to answer.

               Her stare felt so heavy.

               I’d never felt so... intimidated.

               “It’s because I now matter more than her, isn’t it?”

               Goosebumps erupted all over my body.

               I already accepted it to myself, but having to hear my change of heart coming from her own lips was an entirely different story.

               , when did the air up here get so thin?

               It was a struggle to breathe properly.          

               “This time, it was me who you chose.”

               I swallowed thickly, ignoring the rapid beating of my heart.

               There was silence.

               We stood there, just staring at each other.

               Her face softened when I stayed unresponsive.

               “I admit that it was an underhanded move.” She heaved a sigh, her eyes lambent. “But baby... I’m not sorry for what I did,” she rasped. “Hell, not even a little bit.”

               “I knew you weren’t,” I sneered. “You are too heartless to feel remorse.”

               She crossed the distance between us; then leaned to rest her forehead on my shoulder. 

               “If it wasn’t for that, you wouldn’t be here staring at me as if you are in love with me.”

               My breath hitched.

               ...what?

               “Take me back, Karina...” she whispered, almost inaudible. “I’ll be better.”

               I stilled.

               God.

               How did it come to this?

               I was supposed to be the one asking her to take me back...

               “No, Winter.” I lifted my arms, wrapping them loosely around her neck. “I will be better.”

               She raised her head, throwing me a questioning gaze.

               “I put you through so much pain numerous times. Yet, you are still here, willing to gamble again.” I took a deep breath. “Am I still deserving of you?”

               She frowned. “It doesn’t matter. I am in love with you. If it’s not you, I don’t want no one.”

               God, the temptation to just confess right then and there and kiss her senseless was too strong to ignore.

               But no.

               This isn’t the right time yet.

               I had to be better.

               I had to make it up to her.

               To prove to myself that I am worthy of her.

               To silence the voice inside my head mocking me that I don’t deserve her.

               “Give me time, Win.”

               And once everything was settled, I would come crawling back to her...

               ...like she once warned me before.

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taglamig
This will be updated soon. I'm just caught up w/ work rn so I don't have time to write anything. See y'all soonest.
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