I wake up in a bed that’s not my own, wearing clothes that are not my own. My first thought is that I’m going to be late for work, and I can’t afford a paycheck cut. I try to get up, but it’s harder than I expect.
My whole body is aching.
Seungkwan sticks his head through the front door.
“Saerom, you’re up,” he says. “How are you feeling?”
“Like ,” I mumble.
It was then that the memory of the previous night came onto me like an avalanche. My home. Flooded. Everything I own, ruined.
I turn to Seungkwan, hoping dearly that he would tell me that it was all just a terrible nightmare…
Seungkwan breaks eye contact, and that’s how I know.
“,” I mutter. I want to cry, but I swallow my tears. I can’t cry in front of him; I don’t need any more of his pity. “What about Seoyeon? Is she okay?”
“She’s in the living room,” Seungkwan says. “She didn’t get hurt, so that’s good news.”
“Good news?” I say, feeling unreasonably angry at that. “Yeah, Seungkwan, it’s great news! Thank you for delivering such amazing news to me! We should celebrate! How about a cake? My treat, since, you know, I have a lot of money to spare now that I don’t have to pay rent!”
Seungkwan pauses, startled by my outburst. “You and your sister can stay here for as long as you need,” he then says, as if that makes me feel any better. As if I need any more reason to owe him.
“I’m not staying here,” I say. It takes all the strength in the world to pull myself up from the bed.
“Come on, Sae,” Seungkwan says, trying to hold me back. “You need to rest.”
“I’ll find my own place to stay,” I mutter, “but as for my sister, my hands are tied. I will pay you back for her boarding when I can afford to -”
“You know what your problem is, Saerom? You have too much pride to accept any help, and you put more stress on yourself than you need to! I don’t want you to pay me back! I just want to help.”
“That’s just the way I am, okay!?” I snap back at him. “You’re not my family, so stop acting like you are!”
“Fine then, let’s change that,” he says, looking me straight into my eyes with an intensity that makes me want to back away from him.
I shoot him an incredulous look.
“Look, Saerom. You and I have known each other since we were kids. We get along well, and I think you’re a very good person. So let’s just get married.”
“What!?” I say so loud, the thin walls of Seungkwan’s apartment begin to rumble. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Think about it,” he says - obviously not kidding. “You can live here with me. You don’t have to work so hard to make money all the time. I’ll let you focus on your studies. I’ll take care of all the expenses. My job doesn’t pay much, but I might get promoted in the future. And we can start a family and be happy. I promise I’ll take care of both you and Seoyeon with everything I have.”
I shake my head in disbelief. Words get clogged up in my throat at the sheer preposterousness of what he’s proposing. My first instinct is to yell at him for even suggesting it, but I hold my tongue. I know he means well; he thinks it’s doing me a favor, but instead it feels like I’m being driven into a corner.
I owe him, and he knows it. Asking me to marry him is coercive, because how can I possibly refuse? After everything he’s done for me, how can I reject him?
And it’s no small thing he’s asking me to give up. Marriage isn’t just a one-time payment; it’s a lifelong commitment to him. It means I can kiss any idea of romance goodbye, because there’s no way there could be anything like that between him and I.
We’ve known each other for so long, and there has never been even an ounce of a spark between us. The thought of throwing away my chance at an attraction- and love-based relationship makes me feel empty and dead inside.
I’m not a romantic person. I don’t dream of finding “true love,” and my head isn’t in the clouds about amorous entanglements. But I still care about that part of the human experience, and I’m not ready to just give it up.
But what’s the alternative? The more I think about it, the more I feel like I have no choice. I have to accept him. I have to repay him, and if marriage is what he wants, how can I say no after everything he’s offering? Financial stability in exchange for the rest of my life, my body, my heart, my chance at love?
“You can think about it,” Seungkwan says. He reaches out to hold my hand, but I flinch and pull my hand back. “There’s no rush, Saerom.” He offers me a small, reassuring smile.
“Do you really want this?” I snap at him. I hate talking to him like that, but I am irritated by his kindness and how he so readily throws away everything for my family’s sake. “Don’t you want to marry someone you actually love?!”
“I do love you.”
“I do, Saerom. You’ve been like a sister to me, and…”
“Why would you want to marry your sister?”
That silences him for a moment. “Okay,” he concedes. “Fair enough. But we can still get there, Sae. We haven’t even tried. There’s no other girl I can imagine myself with besides you. I think we make sense. Don’t you? A marriage of convenience. We’ll find love somewhere along the way. I promise you, I’m all in if you are.”
I don’t reply. He tries to take my hand again, and this time I let him. He brings them to his lips and kisses them gently.
I wish I could say I was flustered, but I wasn’t. On the contrary, I felt the need to wipe the kiss away on the covers.
“Think about it,” he says one last time before releasing my hand and heading for the door. “I’ll wait for your answer.”
And he leaves.
It’s only when he leaves that I let myself cry at everything that has happened. My home is flooded. All my belongings are ruined. I’m homeless and stranded, forced to accept help from an irritatingly nice neighbor. And now I feel forced into marriage.
I’m tired of being poor. Tired of working myself to exhaustion just to be able to afford medicine. Tired of always being stressed, always being burned out, always hungry because I don’t have time to eat, always in pain because I can’t afford dental care.
And now, in exchange for financial stability, I have to get married.
My phone vibrates from the counter next to me. I glance at the screen and see Mingyu’s name. He’s texting me because I’m late for my shift. I pick up my phone to reply, but when I unlock the phone, I see the last thing I was looking at: the application page to Wed Game.
It’s calling to me.
I decided I wouldn’t apply before all this, but now that I’m already considering getting married, I might as well shoot higher. Why settle for lower-middle class life in Seungkwan’s rickety old apartment over living in mansions and skyscrapers as the wife of the heir to Hong Pharmaceuticals?
Sure the heir would be insufferable, and I’d take scrawny, too-nice-for-his-own-good Seungkwan over narcissistic egomaniac Hong Joshua any day, but at the end of the day, it’s not the guy I care about. It’s the life that this guy will offer me.
I don’t care about finding love and romance anymore. I’ve already ceded my right to that. I’ll pay up the rest of my life as a servile wife in exchange for a break from a life of constant work and suffering. And it just so happens that Joshua Hong has the better offer.
I take a deep breath, then begin filling out the application.