Chapter 160

“Let’s clean up first.”

There was one thing she needed to do before catching the perpetrator. When Miso rolled up her sleeves and walked into the auditorium, Mintae had just managed to rev up the high-pressure washer.

“Let’s clean off the burnt bits and soot first. We can scrape off the parts that don’t get washed off afterwards. I think we just need to wax the floor as well, given the damage.”

“What a professional.”

“There was a fire at a theater I used to work at. I learned a lot. And there were also the seniors I followed around for theater construction.”

“You’re really reliable, you know that?”

Miso poked Mintae’s hips.

“It might splash a bit, so please step aside. Daemyung, use that squeegee to take the water into the bathroom.”

“Got it.”

The motor rumbled loudly as the machine started shooting water.

* * *

Yurim sighed as she got back up from her bed. It was 2am, and her neck was covered with sweat. She’s been lying down for 3 hours, completely unable to go to sleep. She was fine until yesterday when they went to visit Maru, the sight of him in the morning with his injuries and cast had kept her awake. According to Dojin, Maru could’ve easily fallen into the fire if things went wrong.

“...But he didn’t get hurt. So it’s ok.”

She tried to console herself as she closed her eyes again. Looking back on it now, she had to wonder how she even mustered the courage to start the fire, to begin with. She hesitated to the very end, but she got the perfect chance to do it. It was almost as if the world was telling her to do it. All of the club members were gone and the auditorium was completely empty. The second years were cleaning up on the fourth floor as well.

A light went off in her head, she hurried back up in the middle of walking down with everyone else. She tried to put the clothes on fire with the lighter, but it wasn’t easy. She ended up squirting the glue on the clothes and the floor before setting fire to it. The fire greedily licked the glue trail and set it ablaze. The clothes were on fire in an instant and Yurim knocked on the fourth floor clubroom as if nothing had happened.

Inside, the seniors were organizing the last bits of the props. Yurim tried to calm her stomach as she helped them. They finished quickly and they came down to the first floor together. It was perfect all the way up to then. If everyone went back home, the props would’ve burnt to ashes.

But Maru decided to go inside. He saved the props, and the play went on without him. Geunseok was the one to perfectly filled up Maru’s empty spot. Rather than making the boy desperate as she intended, she bolstered his confidence instead. Everyone praised him, and even the seniors looked a lot more trusting of him. As a result, Geunseok became even stronger. That small glimpse of weakness she saw before was completely gone.

That’s when she realized he didn’t need her anymore. She approached him after the play ended, She told him that he did well. She wanted him to grab her hand as always, telling her that it was all thanks to her.

‘...I got nothing.’

That day, Geunseok nodded as if he was told something obvious. No more, no less. She felt incredibly distanced from him. The cowardly chick from a few months ago grew into an eagle that flew away from her arms.

That feeling of loss… That realization that Geunseok didn’t need her anymore. Yurim wanted to faint. This wasn’t possible. She needed to console Geunseok after shaking him to the core. What was the point of even starting the fire otherwise? She only did this, to begin with, because she believed she could get close to him again.

‘What do I do now?’

On the way back home, she noticed him talking in a very loving tone with someone over the phone. She could tell he was talking to Suyeon. What were they talking about? How could he have such a happy face on him? Why wouldn’t he smile at her like that?

Geunseok was cold to her, he was scary. It felt like he would never even talk to her again and that made her afraid. Yurim approached him inside the bus, she tried to talk to him like they usually did.

- Why are you being so annoying?

What she saw then was definitely irritation. She didn’t want anything special, just a simple conversation. Even that was denied to her. And today… she wasn’t even able to get a word in with him on the bus. Soyeon kept trying to talk to her, she couldn’t hear it. She had stopped talking with Geunseok completely for two straight days. Her hands were sweaty and her lips were drying out. He was completely ignoring her.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock. The clock on the wall was so incredibly loud. Was it always that loud? She blocked her ears with a pillow. The noise seemed to have gone away for a second, but the ticking noise managed to pierce through the layers of cloth into her ears. She bit her lips and curled up on her bed. Ignore it. Ignore it. The sound of the clock only got sharper over time.

“Shut up!”

She threw the pillow at the clock. Crack. The clock broke upon falling onto the floor. She stared at it dumbly before realizing what she’s done, she stood up to clean up the mess before yelping in pain.

“Ugh.”

A sharp piece of plastic dug into her feet, it hurt too much. She sat down on the floor in pain. All she could see was plastic, blood, and a cut.

“What’s wrong?”

Her mom entered the room. Yurim mumbled for a bit before squeezing out a response.

“...It fell while I was sleeping.”

Mom turned on the lights in surprise. Drops of blood were falling on the floor.

“My gosh.”

Mom quickly brought over some bandages.

“I’ll do it, you should go back to sleep.”

Yurim pushed her mom back out before dropping down onto the floor. She felt awful. Pathetic. She buried her face into her knees. She was afraid. Annoyed. Scared. Angry. She wanted to ask for forgiveness. It was all because of him.

All sorts of thoughts and emotions danced inside her. Her feet hurt. How did this happen? She was happy for the first time in high school. She wasn’t scared of alleyways anymore. So why?

Tears began flowing down from her face as she picked up the broken pieces of plastic. Why was she the only one to suffer like this? She lay back down on her bed. It was 3am, she still couldn’t sleep. Even though the noise from the clock was gone now. In the darkness, she started flipping through pictures on her phone. In the beginning, there were a lot of pictures she took with Soyeon. At the karaoke, at a restaurant, at a bingsoo place.

“Traitor.”

Did Soyeon forget about all of the fun times they had together? Why was the girl hanging out with other people instead of her? She hated Soyeon. She hated her. She tried to erase the pictures on the phone, but her finger wouldn’t move. In the end, she just moved onto the next page. After that came all the pictures she took with Geunseok.

She flipped through all the fond memories she had had from August to December, a smile appeared on her face just looking at the pictures. She could feel her chest warm up, but time passed, the smile on Geunseok’s face gradually stiffened. By the end, the boy’s eyes weren’t smiling at all. They were cold.

Yurim’s expression stiffened as well, something was very wrong here. Her heart was getting filled with fear and loneliness. She needed to catch him, she couldn’t let him distance himself from her like this. She didn’t want things to go back to the way they were.

Yurim stroked Geunseok’s smiling face on the phone, they needed to go back. As long as there was a proper fire, they could’ve gone back to that time.

‘He’s the bad one. It’s all his fault.’

The reason why the noise of the clock was so loud. The reason why her feet got hurt. The reason why Geunseok became cold towards her. It was all ‘his’ fault.

‘If only he didn’t go into the auditorium.’

No, if only he got really hurt in there instead…

Yurim flinched. Did she really think of such a horrible thing? She closed her phone hurriedly. That wasn’t her intent at all, but a corner of her mind kept whispering to her. What if he got hurt? Wouldn’t the play have stopped then?

‘...It probably would’ve.’

So in the end, he was the issue. He shouldn’t have jumped into the fire, he should’ve run away. It’s all his fault things went wrong, he messed up all of her plans.

Yurim clenched her eyes shut. Somewhere outside, she could hear the noise of a black pickup truck driving.

* * *

She woke up with terribly heavy eyes. It was vacation so she could’ve just overslept, but when she checked the clock, it was 7am. Yurim sighed and looked at the empty wall. Right, she broke her clock yesterday.

She told her mom that she was fine and ate her meal by herself at home. By the time she finished eating and watched some TV, it was already 9. She got a message, it was from instructor Miso.

[We have to organize the auditorium and have to practice, so come to school by 11am.]

Her stomach hurt when she read the word ‘auditorium’. She didn’t want to go, she really didn’t want to go. Sadly, it is the week before the nationals, she had to go. If she skipped here, Geunseok would judge her. She washed her head in the bathroom. By the time she finished styling her hair, it was already past 10am. She put on the shirt Geunseok liked and walked outside.

The outside was draped with snow, the scene made her forget about her worries briefly. She stepped into the snow, her shoes got slightly wet, but it didn’t matter. Her astonishment and happiness didn’t last long, thinking about having to see the burn mark rekindled her nervousness.

‘Will there be cops?’

She was getting worried about all sorts of things. The school didn’t have CCTV, they wouldn’t know who started the fire for sure. She just needed to be careful. She smiled awkwardly. If she gets caught, everything would be ruined. She got on the bus. She immediately realized why criminals always got caught in movies, her legs were trembling and the same went for her arms. How many times had she swallowed nervously? A boy in front of her was staring at her oddly. Did she look suspicious?

All sorts of imagination flew around in her head. Yurim shook her head, this wasn’t good at all, she needed to get calm. In the end, she decided to try to act out ‘Yurim’. A girl who speaks little and smiles occasionally, a girl who can only act confident next to Geunseok.

‘Just be normal. Don’t be scared. No one’s being suspicious of me. I’m safe.’

She was at school before she even realized it. The school seemed even more desolate than normal today. Why?

“You’re here?”

A voice came from behind her. Soyeon. The girl seemed to have lost weight. Yurim did recall hearing that the girl started exercising since she started dating Taejoon. She ignored her and stepped up, Soyeon followed her up and greeted her again. What was this traitor thinking?

“Did something bad happen?”

She felt a little nervous inside, she ignored it. Soyeon kept following her silently before quietly muttering out a question.

“Yurim, we’re still friends, right?”

Yurim stopped for a second and turned to look at Soyeon.

“Why did you ignore me and go to Iseul’s restaurant that time?”

“I didn’t ignore you. I called you. But you...”

She could somewhat remember it, she definitely got a call. She ignored it because she was with Geunseok, her facial muscles twitched. She knew Soyeon wasn’t at fault at all, but her pride wouldn’t accept it.

“You would’ve insisted me to come if you were a real friend.”

“Yurim.”

“Stop it. Don’t try to act so friendly all of a sudden.”

Yurim turned around, biting her tongue. It felt like something snapped inside her. At the same time, she realized she couldn’t lose Geunseok more than ever now. She rolled up her fists and walked up to the auditorium. Now, it was time to act.

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