034

DERANGER
your sister never mentioned anything again related to that talk you had. she acted like it never happened, and you should be happy she did.
 
still, you barely sleep a wink that night.
 
it may have something to do with how jihye handled herself, how calm she approached you and acknowledged the situation, stating her thoughts in a matter-of-fact tone. it stole away your grit, that sense of pride from finally able to stand up for yourself.
 
and it feels like you're back to square one.
 
---
 
the next day marks your last day at the retreat centre.
 
you had breakfast around six-thirty and was called immediately for the last session that day--which ended around nine in the morning.
 
you never get the chance to talk to seulgi. you can't even bring yourself to approach your girlfriend, not wanting to stir any more suspicions. seulgi seemed to have caught on and spent more time with her new acquaintances instead.
 
all the attendees were at the lobby area, waiting for the coasters to arrive, when eunwoo starts playing guitar. he and his group of friends, which now includes seulgi, are singing along.
 
having fun watching the youngsters, one of the facilitators hands over another guitar, which seulgi willingly accepted. her addition to the music brought a lively vibe, pulling the crowd to participate.
 
you are smiling from where you're standing, feeling proud of your girlfriend. seulgi is emitting this irresistible charisma whenever she's performing. makes you wonder what her life could be if she had chosen to be an idol.
 
as the melody changes into something funky, people begin to dance. this time, it's not only the young ones but the oldies too.
 
you clap your hands and sing with everyone. you see your mum and dad dancing, enjoying themselves too.
 
but catching the image of your sister, who's happily singing along, causes this certain heavy feeling to rush back inside of you, snatching away all the excitement. you didn't even notice a figure is already approaching you.
 
"may i have this dance?" you jump at the voice suddenly pulling you out of your thoughts.
 
and before you can even process what is happening--why jin is suddenly next to you, offering his hand--a loud teasing erupts from the crowd.
 
now, all eyes are on you.
 
you unconsciously glance seulgi's way, seeing her still gleefully strumming the guitar. she gives you a subtle nod, saying it's okay. you meet eyes with your sister and sees her approving look.
 
you swallow before you let jin take you into the makeshift dancefloor. the music continues. you can feel everyone's eyes on you as jin dances to the beat, swaying his arms here and there, not minding if he looks crazy. you dance along hesitantly, stepping side to side.
 
jin continues with his weird steps, careful not to invade your space nor touch you anywhere inappropriate. it didn't take long before you see the coasters arriving--signalling the end of the show.
 
and boy, you're glad this is finally over.
 
"hold up, everyone!" jin raises his hands, startling you again. "thank you, eunwoo and seulgi, for that wonderful show. this has been fun, don't you think?"
 
everyone cheers.
 
"before we leave and ride our separate coasters back home, i would like to take this opportunity to ask one question to this beautiful lady here."
 
he looks at you, and suddenly there's this overpowering intensity building inside you.
 
this familiar feeling that you had when donghae proposed to you before.
 
you hope--really hope--jin wouldn't do what you think he would do.
 
jin bends down on one knee and looks up at you. "miss bae irene, would you do me the honour of taking you out to dinner tonight?"
 
some birds fly when the screams from the lodge echo through the woods.
 
---
 
"miss bae irene, would you do me the honour of taking you out to dinner tonight?"
 
you stare down at jin, gape-jawed. it was so sudden your brain hasn't gotten over the shock yet.
 
your eyes roam around, catching the supportive nods coming from your sister, mum, and dad.
 
eunwoo and seulgi are both looking at you with worried expressions.
 
"say, yes! say, yes!" jihye starts, and everyone joins her.
 
well, not everyone. because eunwoo is still standing there observing you, while seulgi looks away scratching her nape.
 
you swallow.
 
you won't allow this to happen.
 
no. not to her. she doesn't deserve this.
 
you look back down at jin and pull him up.
 
"is that a yes?" he asks, smiling.
 
you take in a deep breath and exhale through your mouth. then you shake your head, not looking at him. "i'm sorry... i... i can't..."
 
he blinks at you. "w-what?"
 
"i-i can't." you shake your head again, backpedalling this time. that's when the crowd stops cheering.
 
"b-but why?"
 
"i... can't... i'm... i like you, but not in that way..." you look at him and see the life getting drained from his eyes. "i'm sorry."
 
you turn away to pick your bag, heading to the coaster the next second.
 
---
 
everyone seems tired and sleepy on the coaster ride.
 
you're still sitting beside seulgi, thankful your parents are decent enough not to nag you in front of other people.
 
but you know, and you can feel it, that they are displeased with what you've done.
 
seulgi's glancing at you from time to time. you neither talk nor look at her. you can't even manage to because you can feel your sister's eyes on you from the back.
 
so, you just sit there with her, not talking, the back of your hands almost touching.
 
your head aches badly now due to the lack of sleep. but knowing what's waiting for you once you get home adds to the tension inside your brain.
 
you let out a loud sigh.
 
seulgi looks at you once again, then out the window. her hand moves to reach for your pinky finger. you don't pull back.
 
instead, you held her back, feeling calmer by the second.
 
one of your mum's friends stands up to transfer seats. seulgi was about to pull her hand away, but you grip her tight.
 
she gets the message. you two stay like that. silent. pinkies attached.
 
---
 
you know the moment of reckoning is near when seulgi's car leaves your house.
 
she doesn't want to go without you. but you tell her you have to talk to your parents about what happened earlier. doing otherwise will aggravate the situation.
 
seulgi still looks worried, but she respects your decision. so, she drives away, not without reminding you to call her immediately after.
 
you give her an assuring smile and a wave. but deep inside, you know this confrontation might not only involve the jin-situation.
 
you are hoping you can get out of this alive and still sane.
 
---
 
as you've expected, your mum and dad are waiting in the living room, watching as you close the door behind you.
 
you brace yourself.
 
---
 
you've been familiar with this kind of talk.
 
usually, it would start with your mum or dad enumerating the mistakes you've made, the parts you missed, or the things you didn't follow. then it would end up with you agreeing to everything, apologising, and assuring them you'll do better next time.
 
you'll leave the dialog in silence, with your parents feeling good about themselves, while your self-confidence is tarnished once again.
 
however, this time, you feel different. it might be due to your aching head, or the lack of sleep, or the fact that you're already missing seulgi and badly wants to be with her tonight.
 
whatever it is, you feel somewhat more confident tonight.
 
as your parents make their point on how you should have considered the embarrassment you'll put jin into before turning him down in front of everybody, there's only one thing running on your mind.
 
enough.
 
that's enough.
 
you didn't voice your thoughts out and continued listening instead. your parents' voices are going in one ear and going out the other.
 
they might have noticed your calmness and lack of response as they ask you to explain yourself.
 
you tell them you're sorry, but you don't like jin, and you think there's no point saying yes to him only because everyone is watching. you also add how it's not right to put all the blame on you when you've only turned him down once, yet he managed to put you in an uncomfortable situation the entire retreat.
 
your dad finds your reasoning absurd and says something about you being the reason you're living the life you're living now--being a petty teacher and a petty cook--because you never follow their advice.
 
enough.
 
your brain says once again. but you keep your mouth shut because you don't want to disrespect them.
 
your dad goes on, saying how you could have been in a better situation if you studied harder, worked harder--if you've done things as your sister did.
 
if you didn't break up with donghae.
 
and as he keeps talking, you can feel something inside you churning, consuming every bit of you, ready to collapse anytime.
 
but you keep your calm. no. you should control yourself as you've always done.
 
however, your dad says one thing that hits you right in the heart.
 
those words that finally pulled the trigger.
 
you're a disappointment.
 
a disappointment in the family.
 
you've always known that's how they see you. but hearing the words coming out of your dad's mouth hits you differently.
 
it resonates inside you, shaking every fibre of your being.
 
a lone tear fell down your left cheek. your dad stops talking when he sees you wiping it away.
 
you tell him you're sorry for being a disappointment. you're tired of disappointing them, too--obeying their every whim only to fail to reach their standards. it's an endless cycle. a never-ending process of trying to please them and disappointing them.
 
if he's tired of it, then you are too.
 
you can only take so much.
 
that seems to have caught your parents off-guard. you see that little window there, the opportunity to liberate yourself from this prison finally.
 
it could be due to the lack of sleep or just getting fed up all at once, but you are finally talking.
 
for the first time in your life, you tell them what you think, how you feel. despite how your heart is hammering and how your mouth feel parched, every word flow out naturally like they've been waiting all these years to be voiced out.
 
you tell them how you're so tired of this place and tired of trying to fit into this family--whose only standard of normalcy and acceptance is your sister.
 
you tell them you're not her, you're not like her, and will never be her.
 
you tell them how you love them so much, but you never felt you belong because you need to pretend to be someone you're not to get their approval.
 
like entering the law school.
 
like dating donghae.
 
you tell them about this identity you've been hiding since then--that little monster inside you. the true you. the secret you couldn't tell anyone, not even them because you're too afraid to be stigmatised.
 
you tell them how you found a family in your cousin and her wife's company instead and how you're thankful that they are always there for you.
 
you tell them how you fell in love with an amazing person who made you realise there's nothing wrong with being ordinary and broken.
 
that unlike them, who always wanted you at your best, this person accepted the the worst in you with no judgements.
 
and you are willing to leave everything behind, to fight against all odds, just to be with her.
 
yes. her.
 
and her name is kang seulgi.
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