“I said I’ll pay boarding,” Namjoo reminded. “I have money.”
Considering Sehun wasn’t a bad guy her stay could be prolonged. That would be much cheaper than paying for nightly stays at some hotel. Compared to high end service she could trust Sehun’s home was clean.
Besides, she could deal with the storage room. It wasn’t too stuffy despite the stacks of boxes and lack of natural lighting. Namjoo had planned to fix that sooner or later after her shower last night.
Yes, she was planning everything out one by one.
“I think you’ve mistaken something,” Sehun began.
She could read between the lines, expect what he might say next.
Namjoo countered, “So, you’re going to kick me out just like that?”
“Well…” he kind of stumbled for words at the tone of guilt she was implementing. “There are hotels…and bed and breakfast spots…”
“That’s not what we talked about last night. I thought we were friends.” Namjoo insisted, even lifted her hand to remind him they’d shaken on it.
She watched his mouth part flustered.
“So,” she continued exuberantly, “we’re good?”
Tossing his head back Sehun could only groan. Running a hand up through his fringe he glanced back at the quad townhouse. Some strange building that consisted of four units – two on the lower level, two on the upper level – housing different people. Like that guy that lived below him. Sehun didn’t know his other two neighbors, but he’d seen them around here and there. Older people who worked menial jobs like him day to day. They’d raise hands in greeting, but never shared a conversation.
The door nearest the VIP salon next door was his apartment. Once again, he hadn’t been able to interject anything into the conversation this morning.
What the hell was he doing keeping a girl at his place?
How long was she going to stay?
He was dead meat if his family found out.
in a breath, he hurried down the road. He needed to go to work. Everything else would have to come after. In the meantime, he’d think of something to say to this Kim Namjoo.
“Sehun!” Deoksu lifted an arm to call out when he walked through the door. Behind the counter big Duck was turning the machines on. “You’re late!”
Slightly twisting, Sehun peered at the clock on the wall.
He was not.
Cunningly grinning, Deoksu said, “Why don’t you get cleaning, Sehun? I’ve got it all under control here.”
Deoksu thought he was the powerhouse around here, but little did he know everyone gossiped behind his back. Making no comment Sehun located a rag and the spray bottle and went right into the lobby. Several minutes later Gwak Duho, the new manager, burst in through the door. A man of tiny stature. He was a little smaller than Wieun, but his vibe aired a confidence level that no one here possessed. Except Deoksu. Everything Deoksu did intentionally Duho interpreted as a joke.
“You out here again?” Duho smacked his arm in a friendly manner as he passed. “We open in half an hour. Deoksu what have you been doing back here?”
“Getting things running, what do you think I’m doing?” The big man asked, tone irate.
“Good morning to you, too.” Duho cocked a grin. Tying an apron around his waist he glanced toward Sehun, “You good out there?”
“Dust and dirt free,” Sehun called out.
Morning customers started flocking in even before opening. There was the regular first shifts. Then students on their way to school. Later in the day they’d stop by again before heading to their late evening academy for extra lessons. In between would be random customers. Friends on dates, couples, singles. New faces.
“I can help who’s next,” Sehun called out, assigned to counter duty while Deoksu left to make an order. Duho was currently in the kitchen restocking pastries.
No answer, so he glanced up to see Namjoo in one of her expensive frilly off-shoulder dresses.
“Hi!” she chirped.
Sehun stiffened. He hadn’t expected her.
“When are you done?” Namjoo probed.
“Order fifty-two!” Deoksu’s deep throated voice called out. Pausing when he noticed Namjoo, his brows rose, “Oh?”
Sehun nearly toppled over when Deoksu nudged his thick elbow into his arm.
“Now, who’s this? What can I get for you today?”
She shot Deoksu a smile then to him Namjoo repeated, “Do you get off soon?”
Making a choking noise Deoksu asked in disbelief, “You’re with him?”
Jutting a thumb at dumbfounded Sehun Namjoo happily explained, “We’re friends.”
Duho frowned distastefully. Namjoo continued blinking, grinning innocently. How was she not reading the air here?
“I’m not done till two hours.” Sehun told. Great, now she’d put him on the spot. More reason for big Duck to push him around.
“Then I’ll wait for you.” Spinning away Namjoo hopped over to a seat, making herself comfortable like she was at home.
She couldn’t seriously wait for him at home? Or go somewhere else? Plus, in that dress-up people were bound to ogle at her. It took no to know right away that dress cost an arm and a leg. It was not a simple article of clothing one might find in a window store.
A customer saved the day by coming up. Finally occupied with something to do Sehun walked away to make the order. Deoksu followed him.
“Girlfriend?” Deoksu poked his shoe into his foot.
The machine hissed as it began brewing a fresh batch. Sehun focused hard in order not to look at the man hovering next to him.
“It’s not like that.” Sehun denied.
Tell him Namjoo had fallen asleep till closing time, followed him home, slept at his apartment, and had followed him again? It sounded so strange even to Sehun himself.
Ignoring Deoksu, Sehun completed the order and returned to the counter. A glance into the lobby and he saw Namjoo at a booth playing on her phone. She was a strange one.
What the hell was even happening?
Namjoo had changed. Laid around the house. Tried out the saggy couch that was more comfortable than it looked. Switched on the small monitor and flipped through the channels. Sehun didn’t have cable or internal channels. Bored, Namjoo went into the storage closet and rearranged the boxes. Fearing she’d broken items inside when one landed with a hard thump on the floor. Hiding it to the side in case Sehun discovered it, Namjoo hightailed it out of the house.
She curiously observed the salon-slash-café next door. Intrigued by the randomly shaped granite rocks molded together to form one structure. Namjoo hopped over the deep jagged crack in the sidewalk and continued along. The rest of the surrounding homes were apartments. None she’d find in her neighborhood.
In fact, she hardly had a neighborhood. The homes were so sparsely spaced apart she never saw a house next door. On a 60,000 acre land her home came with all necessities. A backyard 6ft deep pool, a sports field, a manmade lake, a specific ground for twelve dogs, an expanse of a green yard dotted with wild spruces and flowers. There was a stone angel statue shooting water out of its mouth in the center of their driveway. Iron rod gates marked their property from the house many forests away.
Home was so fancy this was a breath of fresh air. The scenery of homes scattered around her was a bliss she could only feel, not describe. It was cute, she thought, how people could be satisfied with such modest lives. She envied them for being so simple.
She’d had to learn about the ten different utensils. Don’t walk like that, it’s improper. Chin up, back straight. Stop frowning, wrinkles will form. Change your outfit it’s afternoon now. Wear a dress for dinner. Don’t play in the mud. The rain will make you sick, stay out of it. No, you can’t play with them. Yoga in the evenings. Archery on the weekends. Swimming classes in the summer. Piano lessons in the spring. There was always something set in stone on her schedule.
This is for the best of you.
We’re only thinking of you…
We’re only thinking of you…
We’re only thinking of you…
Namjoo had been homeschooled when her parents decided outside education could no longer be trusted. That was somewhere around middle school when she began befriending wider circles of children her age. Her mom was wary, but the woman was barely around. Concerns had been raised, so she was plucked out of the education system into the home system.
All decisions had been made in her best interest, but now Namjoo was taking reign. She was going to be normal. She wasn’t going to rely on anyone.
Skipping across the street she searched for the familiar route she’d walked with Sehun last night. Turning a corner, she continued straight ahead until that familiar coffeeshop sign popped out in the distance.
Oh Sehun, her first friend, was right at the counter. A giant smile lit up her face as she walked in. Then waited out the hour by playing games on her phone. No one had checked in on her yet. Assuming she was still on the plane mommy and daddy would not worry. Yet.
Until the school realized she had not made it for the first day admission. Summer was quickly ending. Colors of fall were littering the earth in shades of orange, yellow, and brown. News would get out she was missing, had never boarded her flight. Then…
“Have something.” Dew raced down onto the table when Sehun placed a strawberry smoothie onto the table.
“Are you done?” Namjoo stretched forward.
“Yea, I can leave.” Sehun replied.
Grabbing the cup, she hopped out after him. He immediately started on the road home. Namjoo wrapped a hand around his arm.
“Take me somewhere.” When their eyes met, she boasted a wide toothed smile. “I want to go shopping.”
“Shopping?” The deep frown burrowed over his eyes, as if he’d never heard of it before.
“Mmm!” Namjoo nodded. “I want normal clothes, you see.”
His gaze swept over her dress. She saw the questions in his irises.
“What exactly is normal to you?”
Namjoo observed the dull of his white shirt. His jeans. The basic tennis shoes useful for all kinds of daily activities.
Pinching a partial area of his shirt, she said, “This.”
Pink roused in his cheeks and he pulled away. “Don’t…don’t do that.”
Namjoo giggled at his reaction. “You’re funny.”
Patting his shirt to straighten out any wrinkle she made Sehun darted his eyes around. The road was clogged more with pedestrians than cars. This was a more popular district for walking than driving since the roads were narrow. Long legs, thin legs, short legs carried people across the street; from the street; coming their way direction, but no one paid them heed. Sehun still felt like all eyes were on him, because Namjoo was not a person from around her.
Her frilly dress said so.
Loudly clearing his throat, he said, “Wh…where do you want to go?”
“Where do you go?”
He was unnerved. He thought about home, his bed, the tv, relaxing. Those very large brown eyes him in, and he couldn’t say no.
They walked down to the corner of the street to wait for the bus. A slight breeze hushed the noise of chatter momentarily. Sehun glanced at her to see her hair flying in the wind very gently. Namjoo’s humongous eyes were absorbing the lower end of the city; the tattered buildings that had been in business for over 40 years, the littered streets, the slight cracks that the city had been collecting funds to correct, but never been initiated.
The giant green machine pulled up with a gasp. Namjoo boarded the steps excited into the smell of worn plastic seats.
“I hear you have to pay; how much is it?” Namjoo turned to him.
Pulling out his transportation card he scanned it at the monitor twice. When she stared questionably, he explained, “It just makes it easier.”
She nodded with a bit of a frown, but went ahead in search of a seat. Pointing to the fifth row she exclaim, “Can I get the window seat?”
He had expected to sit separately, but Namjoo glided into her seat and stared up at him. Sinking down beside her listened to the bus heave as it drove off. A gust of air blast into his face and saw that Namjoo had opened the window. Wander lit her eyes happily as she stuck her face into the wind. Sehun inched away as the strands of her hair flew into his eyes, but doing so gave him a generous view of her.
In his life he’d not met a girl like her before. Bouncy, energetic, fearless. Women held their head up, remained cautious and wary around men, too absorbed with themselves, or too mature in their outlook of life.
It was really a wonder Kim Namjoo was daughter of some man who ran a huge conglomerate. Sehun had maybe been curious about the high life before, but not intensely. Different classes were different classes and hardly mingled with the lesser. Societal standards built a brick wall to keep them from associating.
But Namjoo…had no walls.
She had approached him, followed him believing he had no ill bone. Placing an absurd amount of trust in him that he would not hurt her in the middle of the night.
Sehun didn’t get it. He didn’t understand her. Were high-so girls normally like this? Taught to act like they walked on the clouds limitlessly? They could go and do as they pleased?
“It’s my first time on the bus.” Her entire expression gleamed purely.
Sehun stared at her. Some kind of doubt seeped to the fore before he pushed the judgement aside. He needn’t make assumptions about her. He shouldn’t be critical. Who was he? What kind of high chair was he sitting on that he was so great?
“Then, I hope you’re enjoying it.”
“I am.” Her smile grew. “It’s nicer with a friend.”
Sehun scanned the innocence of her face. Looking away in the coming second because the stars were shining too brightly in her eyes.
They got off new the women’s university. An area around the campus was well-known for fashionable and affordable clothes, especially for women. It was popular with the youth. Along the winding streets anyone could find restaurants, designer shops, salons, boutiques, and shopping malls. The most important fact was that one could bargain for buys.
The street shopping area was combusting with life. A cluster of buildings flanked the road. High above on wires were thousands of colorful umbrellas swinging in the air. A gigantic human-sized bear mannequin welcomed them at the beginning of the street.
Tugging on his sleeve, Namjoo remarked in a girly shrill, “Oh my gosh! Look! It’s so cute!”
Her neck craned back, mouth widely opening in awe as she mulled over the hanging umbrellas. He pulled her aside to make way for an oncoming group of youth. Envy growing in him when he spotted their baseball jackets embroidered with their university name.
Once, he thought, once upon a time he’d been them.
When he turned around Namjoo was missing from his side. Panic flurried through him in sleets. Spinning around his sight landed on a couple of friends with bags dangling off their arms. A long-haired girl wearing heavy makeup clinging onto her macho boyfriend’s arm. A group of five giggling as they shared a basket of waffle fries. Some girls who seemed to have skipped school.
Sehun swung back around searching harder, seeing, finally, through the gap of the group sharing fries a frilly dress. Pushing through a group of three who yelled at him he hurried toward Namjoo busy staring at a display of jewelry.
“What are you doing?” he scolded unintentionally.
On second thought, why did he care? If she got lost, he no longer had to deal with her. Everything could be normal again. Wasn’t like she was a child or some alien creature he had to babysit.
Except…he was a good human with a kind conscience.
The vendor gawked at him for overreacting.
“Give me your hand.” Unbothered Namjoo grabbed his wrist without waiting.
His mouth drew open to speak as she slipped something onto his wrist. A black cotton woven bracelet. A tiny quarter of it consisted of the colors of the rainbow.
Proudly showing off her own wrist, she exclaimed, “Friendship bracelets. Because you’re my friend.”
After paying they continued venturing down the street. Exploring side shops. Namjoo purchased several t-shirts similar to his. Childishly grinning when she peeked at him, as if for approval. She was so damn cute he always tried not to meet eyes too long.
Heading straight down the crowded venue he said, “How about we grab something to eat? I’m a bit hungry. We can snack along the way.”
He glanced behind him expecting Namjoo to be right on his tail. She’d been following him around, inquiring about shops, casual fashion, if something was comfortable.
Faces blurred past. Someone brushed his shoulder. Sehun took several steps the way they’d come seeking a familiar face, a familiar dress.
His search shot faster over the numerous heads coming and going, the voices growing eerily louder, the conversations constant and echoing in his head.
She was gone.
He’d lost her.
***she keeps calling him her friend