“You can’t make it? But Yoona…That’s fine…yeah, goodbye.”
Aerin ended her phone call with Yoona and placed her cell phone down on the night table at her bedside. She brought her knees up to her chest and hugged them; it was probably the fifth time this week that somebody cancelled plans with her…and it was only Wednesday. The only person who seemed to never get tired of Aerin’s presence was Yongguk—and he was wearing out his welcome.
Aerin glanced at the calendar tacked on the wall over her small television screen. Over a month had passed since she initiated a relationship with Yongguk using Sunggyu’s notebook. In that time, his mannerisms became worse. It started with him “suggesting” a peach toned lip gloss when Aerin obviously wanted a bold red lip gloss. He trailed her into clothing stores and commented on the length and sheerness of some of the dresses and skirts she really liked. He expressed his dislike of high heels. On the first month anniversary of the relationship, Aerin introduced Yongguk to her parents and even let him into her room. He went through all of her clothing, underwear included. The argument that ensued after his fashion makeover still rattled Aerin. She could hear the wrath that made his voice tremble echo in her ears…
Looking away from the calendar, Aerin turned her head to the right towards her mirror. What was once a flawless glass lens to scrutinize herself now had a large crack in the middle. Three large rings surrounded the center of the crack and thin vines running through the glass distorted the reflection of anyone who stood in front of it. That happened in the middle of her first full month with Yongguk. He had thrown some of her sheer shirts and her denim shorts out, deeming them too “revealing” for his girlfriend. Aerin retorted with her usual condescending retorts, saying that if Yongguk were a true man, he wouldn’t have to police her wardrobe. Aerin’s mirror suffered as a result. Aerin hadn’t physically been with Yongguk since then; they’ve only talked on the phone.
The television was muted although Aerin put Pocahontas in to watch while she ate her dinner. She didn’t eat with her parents. She often used the excuse that she had to study to escape from doing things like that. She would usually eat dinner with Sunggyu sitting beside her, his wings outstretched and shadowing her as he chattered on and on about absolutely nothing at all. Aerin used to never watch television because Sunggyu was all the entertainment she needed. He kept her happy and distracted from...everything. She even forgot her ever-present acerbity in his presence. Now that he was gone…Aerin felt empty. She hated everything and everyone beyond her socially acceptable façade. Most of all, though, she couldn’t stand herself.
She had sent Sunggyu away; who else did she have to blame but herself for her misfortune? She told Sunggyu to take his notebook and leave and he did. The two had their share of good times, but Aerin contributed to making most of the time she spent with Sunggyu hell. She never even paused to consider the Cupid’s feelings on her behavior. He was an Angel of Love; of course he would find her self-serving and cold nature repulsive.
Aerin jumped when her phone vibrated against her night table. She made a move to grab for it, but her hand hovered over the device ever so slightly. On the third ring, she answered, “Hello? You said you would call me at six; it’s nine o’clock, now.”
“I know…I was helping Jessica move some of her things out of my dorm room.”
Aerin grinned and lay down on her bed. The silk comforters seemed to hug her, congratulating her on her good work. Despite Aerin’s loneliness, she had retrieved her most precious person from Jessica’s clutches. Donghae began talking to her again around the time when Yongguk’s reprehensible treatment began. The two only talked on the phone, but Aerin felt like she was in high school all over again. Donghae tried to flirt with her and make her laugh with his lame jokes. Aerin would blush and giggle and twirl her hair around one finger, answering him coolly while still seeming genuine and loving. Aerin learned her lesson from last time; this time, she kept her voice somewhat affectionate to please Donghae. Even though Aerin herself couldn’t stomach exaggerated sentiments on a daily basis, she swallowed her repugnance and did it. She wouldn’t lose Donghae again. She wouldn’t lose him to Jessica or to anyone else. Man, woman, child, angel, demon, animal; it didn’t matter to Aerin. If they tried to steal Donghae from her, they would pay. The malevolent sentiment lingered in her heart even when she blew Donghae kisses through the phone.
“So, I was wondering, Aerin…are you busy next Friday night?” Aerin glanced at the calendar; next Friday would be
“Hmm…I was planning on going somewhere with Yongguk.”
Aerin giggled when Donghae whined, “Aw, really? I want us to catch a movie!”
“What movie? I don’t real—I mean,” Aerin didn’t like movies, but if Donghae wanted to take her to one, she would oblige, “I mean, I don’t really know if catching a movie beats dinner and a movie.”
“You want dinner, too? I get paid next Friday; it won’t be a problem!”
“Jessica isn’t too sore about everything, is she?” Aerin didn’t care. She just liked the fact that Jessica and Donghae were a thing of the past. Finished. Destroyed. Never to be together again. A puzzle with too many pieces missing. Just the thought of Jessica sitting alone in her room...
Only she’s not alone.
Aerin tuned Donghae out completely and began to stew over the fact that the last time Aerin saw Sunggyu, he was sitting beside Jessica. When Aerin tuned back into her conversation with Donghae, he was asking, “—do you want to go? I’ll pay for everything; you don’t need to worry about a thing! Just catch a movie with me and I’ll treat you to dinner afterwards! You’ve been quiet for a while…”
“O-oh…yeah, let’s do that next Friday.”
Satisfied with Aerin’s answer, Donghae told her he would pick her up at seven and then ended the call. The thought of Sunggyu being with Jessica, sitting with Jessica, entertaining that made Aerin’s blood boil. Her emotions overcame her; the façade of The Icicle was broken a second time as Aerin flung her phone at her mirror. The device hit the mirror directly in the middle of the crack Yongguk made, causing shards of glass to rain across the hard wood flooring. Aerin changed out of her pajamas and tossed on a loose pair of black sweat pants and a large white hoodie. She had no mirror to check and see if her hair looked alright, so she smoothed any stray locks down as best as she could with her hands and then put a white beanie on. She figured that everything was working in her favor; Donghae expressed interest in her once more and she had no further need for Yongguk. Instead of riding the relationship out until it began to unravel on its own, Aerin would sever the chord between her and Yongguk immediately. The back of Aerin’s phone had a large crack running diagonally across it. She called Yongguk and told him to meet her at her house; she missed him and wanted to hear his voice. The blonde needed no other incentive.
After ending the call with Yongguk, Aerin pocketed her cell phone and exited her room. She would sweep up the glass later before she retired to bed. She walked down the long corridor that held the guest bathroom and bedroom, eventually making it to the top of the staircase. “I’m stepping out,” she called out to her parents, “Don’t wait up.” Aerin walked into the foyer, bypassing the kitchen and the living room. She slid on a pair of basic white sneakers and then left the house.
Aerin wondered if Sunggyu would look upon her actions favorably. She recalled him saying two months ago that he got sick because of her actions. He was disappointed in her. As a result of her selfish actions, Sunggyu found refuge in Jessica’s company. Aerin felt emptier without the Angel of Love shadowing her every step. Her days were notably lackluster and devoid of witty banter and legitimately funny jokes. Sunggyu wasn’t around to tell her stories of his time in Heaven nor was he available for her to embrace when she felt the full weight of her emotional stress bear down on her. Before people began to distance themselves from her, Aerin had plenty of friends to act as that pillar of support she desperately needed. However, none of them could quite understand her heart as well as Sunggyu did. If she followed her heart now and spared Yongguk the pain of discovering her clandestine affair with Donghae, then maybe Sunggyu would see that she wasn’t all that bad. Maybe he would return to her.
Fifteen minutes passed before Yongguk’s Chevy Impala pulled up in the cul-de-sac where Aerin lived with her family. Yongguk pulled the Impala into the Lee’s driveway before stepping out and enveloping Aerin in a bone crushing hug. His letterman jacket felt downy and warm and his black jeans fit his hips like a glove. Not wanting her parents to hear the one-sided, overly emotional reunion, Aerin hugged Yongguk’s arm to her chest and told him she wanted to take a walk. He complied and the two walked out of the cul-de-sac and followed the street signs that led them to Yangjaecheon Park.
There wasn’t much to Yangjaecheon Park. There was a small pond filled with koi in the smack-dab middle of the park. A cobblestone pathway weaved in between the thickets of trees with hanging branches. There were a few weeping willows scattered about the park for “aesthetic purposes,” but Aerin found nothing beautiful about a tree that looked like it was going to fall over at any moment. Wayward teenagers always came to the park and caused a ruckus that could be heard from blocks away. They would let off bang snaps, crack open beers, and smoke cigarettes until the spoor of cheap tobacco lingered on the air in the morning. Crows also frequented the park, giving it a very foreboding atmosphere. Aerin despised Yangjaecheon Park but it was the only place in her neighborhood where she could blow off steam. Bringing Yongguk to the park seemed like the best idea…at the time.
Aerin led Yongguk to the middle of the park so that she could stare at the fish instead of staring at Yongguk’s face as she ended their relationship. The two of them knelt down at the bank of the pond and sat in silence, watching the koi flit about in the murky water. Before Aerin could even open to speak, Yongguk grabbed her hand and tightly held it.
“I’m sorry for the ty way I treated you, Rin. I shouldn’t have gotten so angry with you over a few dresses. Besides, we threw them away, so there is no real reason to focus on that anymore, right?” Aerin suppressed her urge to scowl and kept her gaze fixated onto the pond. “Oppa is really sorry. I love you. I love you so much. You aren’t too mad at me, right? I was only looking out for you.”
“That’s…what I wanted to talk about with you. Well, it’s not even relating to that incident with the clothes. I just…don’t think we should see each other anymore.”
The grating caw of a crow echoed through the area. The sound of a jostled tree branch and a crow taking to flight broke the stressed silence. “Wh-what?”
Aerin had lost all affection for Yongguk, yet he sounded so defeated…it made the young woman pity him. I can’t stop now. This is for Donghae...this is for Sunggyu. This is for who I want to return to me the most! “I don’t want to see you anymore,” Aerin repeated in her iciest tone. Yongguk looked flabbergasted.
“B-but why? What else have I done wrong?”
“You’re overbearing and annoying. There’s no joy to be had with a person like that.”
The cries of two more crows carried on the wind just as Yongguk’s grip on her hand tightened exponentially. “You have to be lying…who put you up to this; your parents? Your friends?”
Aerin leaned in until she could feel Yongguk’s staccato breath on her lips. “Nobody put me up to it; I’m tired of you. You’ve overstepped your boundaries too many times and it’s unacceptable.”
“What boundaries,” Yongguk snarled with vehemence. “You never marked them. I’m only performing my duty as a good boyfriend. I love you!”
“You could have fooled me.”
For a moment, Yongguk had an expression of resignation on his face. There was no irate curl to his lips or any hint of resistance in his jaw. It went better than Aerin initially thought. That should have been her warning sign. A large hand closed over and forced her backside-down into the koi pond. The fish scattered underneath Aerin’s writhing body as she wrestled to keep her head above the water. Yongguk straddled her hips and kept a non-lethal but solid grip over Aerin’s windpipe. He could have snapped her neck but he exercised enough self-control not to. He loved her enough not to do so no matter how obstinate and condescending she became towards him. Aerin gripped Yongguk’s wrist and glared up at him through the water-laden bangs that fell over her wide eyes. Even though her eyes and gaping maw communicated her bewilderment and rage, she was afraid. The hand around her neck twitched, just waiting for any excuse to…snap.
“You have no good reasons for rejecting me. I’ve done nothing but love you. You are my queen and my queen you shall remain. Do you hear me? I don’t want to have this conversation again. The next time you call me, I expect everything to be all smiles.”
Yongguk helped a sopping wet Aerin out of the pond and smoothed her wet hair away from her forehead. Aerin glared contemptuously at Yongguk; if she weren’t scared stiff, she would have spit in his face. The male took off his letterman jacket and draped it over Aerin’s shoulders, delivering a loving kiss to her left temple. The duo slowly walked back to the Lee household, the female slightly hunched and tenderly her neck while the male peppered her cheek and temple with reassuring kisses, his strong grip on her shoulder assuring her that everything will be alright.
• • • • •
Seoul National Heart released its students for their two-month long winter recess the following Friday; the last day of November. Coincidentally, the first snow of the winter season fell that Friday. College kids ran the streets and tossed snowballs at each other like they were school children. Aerin got beaned in the head more times than she could count. Although she hated the immaturity that came with the first snow of the season, she loved winter recess. It gave her an excuse to just sit around her house, read a thick book, and drink honey-sweetened tea alone. She wouldn’t have to deal with anyone if she didn’t have to; she could use the inclement weather as an excuse. She did hope that the weather would clear before next Friday, though. Her date with Donghae still stood and she would brave a blizzard to be able to see him.
The weekend and the subsequent week seemed to pass by quickly. Friday came and lingered, the hours until Aerin’s date with Donghae plodding by. Yongguk called Aerin nonstop but she took to simply silencing her phone and ignoring him. After what happened that Wednesday, she didn’t want anything to do with him. She wasn’t able to end it; she didn’t want to put Donghae in danger. Yongguk had the capacity to become violent and she wouldn’t subject Donghae to that kind of treatment. Yongguk wanted everything to be all smiles the next time he spoke to Aerin, but the young woman figured that Yongguk’s absence would make her heart grow fonder of not having him around. Besides, the lack of contact with Yongguk would probably drive her message home harder than any words could.
Aerin’s Friday carried on as usual; turning her phone off so that she wouldn’t be hassled by Yongguk, going to the COEX Mall to buy a warm yet fashionable outfit for her date with Donghae, and returning home to drink tea and read until seven o’clock loomed only a half an hour away. She curled her hair and pinned it up into a side ponytail and put on her date outfit: opaque black leggings, knee high brown lace-up boots, and a loose white sweater-dress. Aerin used her cell phone screen as a mirror so that she could apply her make-up. She patted some blush onto her cheeks, lined her eyes with brown eyeliner, and coated her lashes with brown mascara. She smeared tinted lip balm onto her lips for the finishing touch. Donghae liked those innocent girls that looked like they bathed in sugar and ate candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Of course, Aerin only exaggerated because she didn’t like having to doll up. Being Yongguk’s girlfriend had some perks, one being not having to put on make-up every day to feel acceptable next to him.
Donghae pulled into Aerin’s driveway at seven o’clock on the dot, driving his mother’s Lexus. Aerin always wondered how she could afford such a car with a café owner’s salary, but the comfort of the pleather interior made her forget about any complaints. Sitting beside Donghae was the best feeling in the world to Aerin; she felt right when he placed his hand on her shoulder and smiled at her. She felt right when Donghae told her she was beautiful and that they would have a fun night. Aerin looked out of the window as Donghae pulled out of the driveway and exited the cul-de-sac. The weather had broken in the middle of the week and the December night sky showcased a sheet of glimmering stars despite the chill in the air.
The drive to the movie theater only took twenty-five minutes and that was only because of the traffic. Donghae parked the Lexus and gave Aerin a light winter jacket upon noticing she didn’t bother to bring one. Donghae purchased the tickets to their show and the two skipped the concessions stand and ran straight into the movie theater. They missed the previews (which was their joint favorite part), but the main feature had just started when they walked in. The two took seats in the back of the theater where they could see the movie clearly while still having a degree of privacy. Aerin and Donghae smiled fondly at each other before settling in to watch the film.
Aerin knew thirty minutes into the romcom film that she was going to loathe it. The female lead was a ditzy but pure and faultless little angel, the male lead was a wealthy, shallow idiot, and the remaining members of the main cast were tools. Aerin took the opportunity to scan the movie theater with her eyes. The movie had been released for three weeks, so the theater was empty for the most part. There was the usual couple sharing a large drink and a group of five friends fighting over a tub of popcorn. At least she only had an hour more of torture to go. To alleviate her boredom, she asked Donghae if she could go get some popcorn.
“Oh, I was just getting hungry! Want a drink or some candy?”
“Butterfinger Minis,” Aerin cooed. Donghae kissed her cheek and then ran down the stairs with his wallet in tow to get food from the concession stand.
Aerin leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. The voice of the female lead pissed her off with its high-pitched whine, so she found it difficult to fall asleep. After a few moments, she slowly opened her eyes and made a cursory sweep over the theater with her eyes. Who she saw near the front made her heart grow dormant in her chest in fear that he would hear her. Yongguk was returning to his seat with a large drink in his hand, eager to resume his seat and continue watching the film. Aerin sank into her seat and prayed to God that Yongguk wouldn’t see her. She even tried muffling the sound of her breathing by burying her nose and mouth into the sleeve of her sweater. A cold sweat broke out over her skin when Yongguk scanned over the theater and—eye contact. ing hell, I prayed to you, God, Aerin mentally raved.
“Honey! I didn’t know you were here! Are you here alone?” Aerin could hear the sound of Yongguk’s posse groan as he hopped over rows of chairs to get to her seat. “You could have called me; I would have gone with you. Do you want me to join you?”
“No; go away,” Aerin hissed while making a shooing motion with her hand.
“Don’t ditch us for her again,” Aerin heard Daehyun growl.
“She’s my girlfriend and her happiness comes first, you guys!” Yongguk grabbed Aerin’s hand and leaned towards her until the tip of his nose touched hers. “I thought I said I wanted everything to be all smiles.”
“Everything was all smiles until you came up here! Leave me alone, Yongguk; go enjoy the movie.”
“Then why did you come?!”
“…I-I don’t know! Youngjae wanted to see the movie.”
“Don’t drag me into this,” Youngjae protested.
“Let’s go home, Aerin. Our two month anniversary is only a few days away; let’s prepare to celebrate!”
“No; there’s no anniversary celebration!” Yongguk tugged harshly on Aerin’s wrist, the force behind the gesture bringing the girl to her feet. “Get off of me now.”
“Yah! Leave her alone!”
Aerin was sure that all of the color drained from her face upon hearing Donghae’s protest from the bottom row. The brunette nonchalantly took a sip of his soda and started walking up the narrow stairs to get back to his row. He stopped at the end of the row and maintained eye contact with a glowering Yongguk. Donghae held up a box of Butterfinger Minis and glanced at Aerin before extending the arm with the box out towards her. What was he trying to do? Donghae eventually shoved past Youngguk and audaciously placed the box of candy in Aerin’s free hand. Even though Donghae was shorter than Yongguk, he slid the straw of his drink out of his mouth and held it up mockingly to Yongguk’s face.
“Who are you to hold Aerin’s wrist like that?”
“I’m Aerin’s boyfriend, shrimp. And you’re the bastard that embarrassed her in front of the entirety of our graduating class, right? Lee Donghae.” Without waiting for an answer, Yongguk threatened, “Back off; she doesn’t want you.”
Donghae hummed contemplatively and raised his eyebrows before taking another long swig of his drink. He his lips and retorted, “Well, I didn’t have to grab Aerin’s wrist to take her to the movies. She and I had a pleasant car ride together; I even kissed her cheek and she didn’t complain one bit. You say she doesn’t want me; I say that the two of us already share the same last name, so we should have each other.”
Yongguk pushed Aerin back down into her chair and swung at Donghae. The brunette’s head snapped to the right as Yongguk’s fist connected with his left cheek. Donghae staggered back and hit the wall, slightly losing his footing and sliding down. Satisfied with seeing Donghae on his knees, Yongguk seized Aerin’s wrist once again and forcefully yanked her up to her feet once more. He began to pull her along down the stairs and towards the exit. Before Yongguk and Aerin reached the bottom of the staircase, Donghae tackled the former’s lower legs and sent the duo crashing onto the ground. Everything else began to happen too fast for Aerin to comprehend. Yongguk’s friends moved in to break up the scuffle between the stronger Yongguk and the fiercely determined Donghae. Daehyun and Himchan held an irate Yongguk as Zelo, Jongup, and Youngjae restrained Donghae. The latter got a final kick to Yongguk’s jaw in before theater security and two police men stepped in. As Aerin and the boys were escorted out of the theater—Donghae and Yongguk in handcuffs—Aerin gnawed at her lower lip and kept her gaze focused on her feet.
More than anything, she really wanted Sunggyu to tell her everything would be okay…