032

DERANGER
it was dinnertime when the door to the dining area opens. heads turn to the newcomer--a fair-looking man, whose both hands are holding the strap of his bag.
 
"guess who's joining you guys late..." he says, and almost everyone in the dining room cheered.
 
you bite the inside of your cheek as you look at the said man. kim seokjin, that's his name--or jin, as what he prefers to be called. like every other church member in that room, you know of him and his family. in fact, you were also in the same choir group when you were teens.
 
"jin, over here!" his mum waves from the corner of the room. jin smiles.
 
on way his way to their table, your mum calls him.
 
"oh. hey, jin. how have you been?"
 
"hello, mrs. bae." he bows. "i have been fine. thank you. i came from an urgent work that's why i arrived late today."
 
"i didn't know you're done with your military service," your dad says. "has two years flown that fast?"
 
"ah. yes. i came back two weeks ago."
 
"ahh. time flies," jihye says. "the last time i saw jin, he was this skinny teenager with a cracking voice. look at him now. a certified man!"
 
jin laughs. "hello, noona!"
 
"by the way, irene's here." jihye points a thumb your way. you give him a little wave. "and this nice-looking person over there is our guest, seulgi. she was irene's previous student in the university."
 
"it's nice to meet you, seulgi." jin makes his way to shake hands with her. "i hope you're having a great time here."
 
"i am," seulgi says quickly. "people are nice. the food is nice. the view outside is nice too."
 
"cool. cool." jin pulls his straps, turning to look at you. "it's nice to see you again, irene."
 
seulgi tilts her head to look at you. you press your lips together, knowing she already sensed it.
 
"it's nice to see you too, jin," you say. "maybe you should get some dinner first. your mum is waiting for you."
 
he turns to the area where his family is located and turns back to you. "yeah. i should get some. i'll catch you all later."
 
your mum turns to you with a huge smile after jin leaves. "that kid has grown handsome, hasn't he?"
 
you only nod as you chew your food.
 
"he's still single, isn't he?" your dad asks.
 
"he's very much single. and i heard from his mum that he's been crushing on irene here since they were young. he couldn't make a move because of donghae."
 
seulgi coughs. she picks a tissue to wipe .
 
"mum, those are just rumours," you say. "and i don't like him."
 
"how could you not like him, dear? and it's not just a rumour. he confirmed that himself with his mother before he left for the military."
 
you bite your lower lip, feeling unsettled. you're used to conversations like this when you're with your family. and your usual response is to play along or shrug it off.
 
but sitting beside your girlfriend and hearing your family talk about your possible future with another person makes you want to disappear from the surface of the earth.
 
it's not helping that you can feel seulgi's eyes on you.
 
"what do you think, seulgi? they would make a great couple, won't they?" your dad asks.
 
seulgi smiles at them. "i think it's only her who can answer that." she eyes you.
 
you gulp.
 
"i agree with seulgi," eunwoo says this time. "i think we should let noona decided on that matter herself."
 
your dad shrugs. "just saying."
 
---
 
there is another session that night after dinner.
 
and you think it's the worst session of the day.
 
first, it seems the entire population of the attendees is aware of the rumour about jin having a crush on you. it doesn't help that none of donghae's family members are around, making everyone feel it's safe to tease you two.
 
even the facilitators themselves use you and jin as samples whenever they create imaginary scenarios of lovers or married couples. jin is happily joining in the joke.
 
second, the session required seulgi to be away from you as she's grouped with people closer to her age. you're happy to see her making friends and adjusting quickly to the environment. but you hate the idea that she might be enjoying herself more with these new people than with you--especially around this one particular lady.
 
despite being shy and silent, tzuyu is always getting teased by her friends. and she's so pretty you're sure it would affect seulgi in certain ways.
 
third, and the one you hated the most, is the ice-breaker game where the facilitators asked two participants from each group and feed each other blindfolded--with a cake.
 
of course, you were paired with jin. since there are no male members in seulgi's group, she was paired with tzuyu, as insisted by her group of friends.
 
the game was fun, seeing how the cake was smudged all over jin's mouth and chin. you apologised to him, and he happily wiped it and the icing.
 
but what changed your mood is when you see tzuyu and seulgi remove their blindfolds and start laughing at each other. seulgi hands tzuyu a napkin while she wipes her face. she says something that made tzuyu laugh again.
 
you are starting to regret bringing seulgi there.
 
"hey. you've got another one in here." jin quickly wipes a lone icing on your chin.
 
the gesture elicits a collective squeal from the crowd. you hide your blushing face behind your palms while jin happily joined in the joke.
 
your sister playfully pushes you to tease you.
 
an upset-looking seulgi, who's scratching the side of her neck, greets you when you turn to look her way.
 
---
 
"if you're not sleepy yet, meet me at the terrace at twelve."
 
those are seulgi's words before she walks to her designated room after the last session that night.
 
unfortunately, the network signal is weak in that part of the mountain--which means messaging seulgi would be impossible. also, the absence of wifi in the area is the facilitators' way of encouraging everyone to reflect on themselves while on retreat.
 
you haven't even confirmed with seulgi if you'll be there or not as she walked past you to her room right after.
 
but knowing seulgi, you are sure she'll be there. there's a lot that has happened today, and all you want is some alone time with her.
 
so, you wait for your sister to fall asleep before you step out of the room. it is dark in the hallway, yet you muster all the courage to walk silently towards the meeting place.
 
your heart sinks when you reach the terrace and sees no one's standing there waiting for you. you leaned over, catching nothing but pure darkness and the woods.
 
you jump in shock when you turn around, seeing seulgi sitting on the floor. she's at the secluded area of the terrace, obscured beside the wooden wall.
 
"gosh! you scared me!" you say.
 
she chuckles. "and i thought you are already sleeping."
 
"i waited for my sister to snore before i step out," you say as you make your way to her.
 
"aren't you tired?"
 
"i am. but i want to see you."
 
she smirks. "you sure you went out to see me, and not pretty boy?"
 
you knit your brows, knowing whom she's referring to. "why would i want to see him?"
 
she shrugs. "you seem to enjoy the game earlier."
 
"i should be the one saying that."
 
she looks up at you, not getting it yet.
 
"tzuyu," you say.
 
"ah. her."
 
"you think she's pretty?"
 
"well. yeah. and she's hot too. aw!" she pulls her foot away when you stomp on it. "what? i am merely answering a question!"
 
"and you still dare to tell me that, right in front of my face?" you point at yourself.
 
she laughs this time. you look away, hissing in annoyance.
 
seulgi taps the space beside her. "come here."
 
you only stare at her, arms folded.
 
"i promise i won't do anything inappropriate," she says, knowing what's on your mind. "i only want to feel you next to me."
 
thinking no one would find it fishy if they see you two in that situation, you give in. she shifts away as you sit, making sure none of your body parts are touching.
 
"you don't really have to do that." you pull her by her sleeve. "come back here."
 
"but i don't want to--"
 
"it's okay, seulgi. i missed you."
 
she shifts back next to you, your arms touching. "i missed you too. it's weird to be next to you and not be able to touch you."
 
you smile. "regretting coming here with us?"
 
"no. i love it here. and i love seeing your other side, even the way you're flirting with that jin."
 
"no, i'm not!" you elbow her. "i am not attracted to him, okay? besides, i am very much satisfied with my current relationship."
 
she raises an eyebrow. "oh. you are? even if that partner of yours is rooming with a hot chick?"
 
"yeah. and i know that she likes you too." you pout.
 
seulgi scoffs, shaking her head. "have you forgotten she's religious?"
 
"so? i am religious too, have you forgotten?"
 
she shrugs. "fine. fair point. but to make it clear, i do not have any ideas towards her, okay? this might be hard to believe... but i'm all about you."
 
you stare at her, feeling soft.
 
"it's just you every day and every night," she continues, eyes far away at the woods. "doesn't matter where i go or whom i am with. it's just you. it's only you. nothing makes sense anymore when it's not you or not with you."
 
it might be the ambiance in the area: the sound of the night crickets, the cool-soothing wind, or seulgi's words, but you find yourself leaning in to kiss her cheek.
 
she looks at you, confused. you then tuck your arm under her and rest your head on her shoulder.
 
"you sure this is okay?" she asks.
 
you hum as you close your eyes, inhaling her scent.
 
she leans her head against yours.
 
you feel like you could fall asleep like that.
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