Her junior asked her with round eyes that were like a rabbit. Chaerim felt like the shrimp she just ate came back to life and was jumping inside her throat. She coughed once before looking at her.
“What… do you mean?”
“Just saying. Perhaps it’s intuition? The way you avoided looking at me in the parking lot, and the way you looked at me in the practice room before made me think that. Of course, I might be mistaken. If I’m wrong, then just say no.”
Chaerim couldn’t say anything. She wasn’t in a situation where she could reply yes or no. It might have been better if she became angry, but she didn’t do that either. The continuation of strange silence made her suffocate.
The one who broke the silence was her junior. She was smiling. It wasn’t a satisfied smile. Her lips were trembling slightly.
“I thought you hated me, seonbae. That’s why I was worried as well. But it looks like I was wrong. That’s fortunate.”
Her junior picked up her chopsticks and started eating again. Chaerim kept watching her as she did so. The president of the acting club, who was her friend, talked about this junior from time to time. That she was a feeble girl despite how bold she looked. She was the type of person who would cry endlessly once she started to the point that it was worrying. However, the junior in front of her eyes right now was slightly different from how her friend portrayed her to be. Although her smile looked a little unstable, she didn’t look feeble. In the first place, there was no way ‘feeble’ suited her when she could ask such bold questions to other people’s faces.
“...You two are dating, right?”
She had decided to switch the topic, but what came out of her mouth was the complete opposite. Chaerim gulped.
“Then why are you saying that it’s fortunate? How do you know what I’m thinking?”
“Oh, you’re right. Perhaps it’s not that fortunate after all.”
Her junior started mixing the jeyuk-bokkeum with her chopsticks. The tips of her lips softened a little.
“Then do you really like Maru, seonbae?”
“I don’t know yet, but I definitely don’t hate him,” she replied honestly.
She didn’t want to lie for some reason. Although she had lied numerous times today, she wanted to avoid doing so for this very moment. For some strange reason, she welled up with confidence. It was strange. She was like this even though she knew that what she was saying was wrong.
“You wanted to tell me not to approach him?”
When she said that, her junior raised both of her hands and waved them in denial.
“No, it’s not like that.”
“Then I can become close with Maru?”
“Uhm… that’s not it either. Haha.”
Chaerim did not say anything until the laughter dissipated. Her junior was still mixing the jeyuk-bokkeum with her chopsticks.
Chaerim ate some rice. She wondered what she was doing. Despite that, she didn’t want to end this conversation here. She was feeling embarrassed to the point that she wanted to leave this instant, but the desire to continue with this conversation made her stay.
They kept eating their meal quietly like that until her junior spoke first.
“Maru told me once before that liking something can’t be helped. There’s nothing right or wrong with that.”
“I never said I liked him.”
“Oh that’s right, I forgot.”
Her junior smiled faintly and sipped her drink. Chaerim also drank a sip from the green plum drink. This conversation made her feel very thirsty.
“I like Maru,” her junior spoke as she put down the chopsticks on the lunchbox.
Chaerim felt her grip on the chopsticks tightening.
“At first, I thought he was a strange kid. We came across each other on the streets and he acted as though he knew me. He was really strange. Back then, I never realized that I would become so close to him,” her junior chuckled as she spoke.
“Seonbae, I’ll be honest. I was actually jealous. When you dusted off Maru’s head, and when you avoided my gaze, I was even a little angry as well. Is she doing that knowing everything? If so, then why? When I thought about it, the answer was simple. You were interested in him. Haa, I honestly don’t get it. On one hand, I want to get angry at you and tell you that he’s my boyfriend and then tell you to stop, but on the other hand, I wondered if that was really necessary. Liking someone is not a sin after all.”
“I’ll say this again, but don’t conclude that I like him.”
“But you do have good feelings towards him, right? You said so yourself.”
Chaerim looked at her junior. Unlike her clear speech, she had a shy face on. She looked like she was about to cry if she told her any harsh words.
At that moment, a shadow enveloped the two. It was Maru, who came back from getting another lunchbox.
“It’s rather hot today.”
Maru fanned himself as he sat next down to her junior. Chaerim started rummaging through the side dishes in the box with her chopsticks like her junior was doing just now. She didn’t know where to look. She couldn’t look at the empty school field, nor look at the skies that were clear. She also couldn’t imagine looking at her right where Maru and her junior were. In the end, her only option was to fix her eyes on the lunchbox and eat.
She tried to think about something else as she counted the number of rice grains, but the more she did so, the more vivid the conversation she had with her junior became. Why did she bring that conversation up? Was it her way of warning her after all? Was she expressing that they shouldn’t make the situation more complex than it is now?
“Please excuse me for a little.”
Her junior stood up after half-finishing her lunchbox. She looked very complex on the surface.
She didn’t know what she was doing. They could’ve just started eating without saying anything. She could’ve just firmly said no. There was no reason to admit to anything, she could’ve just lied like she did usually, but everything went wrong because she mentioned the truth. She thought that she should’ve just lied like usual and be done with it.
Maru, who was sitting next to her, was just eating the lunchbox without any expression. He was eating lunch like it was a task he had to fulfill.
“Aren’t you going to eat?”
Chaerim was startled and shook her head. Maru found out that she was staring at him.
She ate a piece of kimchi. She was hungry, yet she didn’t have any appetite. She chewed a piece of sour kimchi for a long time.
Meanwhile, Maru emptied a whole lunchbox. He stood up with a satisfied expression and started drinking. The long shadow cast by Maru’s figure covered Chaerim’s face.
“Good luck then.”
“Uh, okay. You leaving?”
“Yes. Also, when she comes back, tell her to finish her meal. She didn’t even have breakfast, so it would be bad for someone her age to skip lunch as well.”
“You’re quite considerate of her.”
“Of course I am. She might look healthy, but she gets ill a lot.”
Maru’s expression as he talked about her junior was very warm. It was a dramatic contrast to his expressionless face during shoots. That twisted Chaerim’s emotions in a weird way.
“Are you two dating?”
“Yes,” he replied without a single shred of hesitation.
There was no ‘haha’ or ‘why do you ask’ or something like that. He said it very firmly as though he was stating a fact. At that moment, Chaerim was at a loss for words. She almost loathed herself for asking such a stupid question. She decided to change the topic.
“Thanks for last time.”
“What do you mean?”
He was putting on a face as though he didn’t know what she was talking about. Chaerim said ‘nothing’ and shook her head. Perhaps it was a coincidence that he distracted her junior away from her. Of course, it was just as possible that that wasn’t the case. What was important was that Maru didn’t think anything of it. It was him being considerate. Chaerim made a faint smile and sighed. She wasn’t this conscious of this matter until this morning. However, her feelings towards Maru expanded the moment she became conscious of her junior’s gaze. Perhaps it was her that became jealous.
‘I’m like a little kid.’
Maru’s actions definitely instilled goodwill in her. She was definitely attracted to him due to how he was frank about his emotions. However, strictly speaking, was the emotion she was feeling now love? Or was it just appreciation towards someone who she felt thankful towards? It was complex. She couldn’t decide if it was one or the other. Chaerim didn’t like that hesitation.
She never felt this way before. She was always clear about whether she liked or disliked someone. However, right now, she wasn’t. It felt like she wouldn’t be able to sleep at night because of frustration if she kept feeling like this.
Chaerim raised her head. She wanted to stop being shy like an idiot. She was able to smile and act cute in front of tens of thousands of people. She could solve this small trouble like nothing.
“I think I’m interested in you.”
She remembered Gangha’s advice. It wasn’t like they were dating with the intention of marriage, so she could be light-hearted about it. She wanted to relieve this frustration in her heart. She felt a lot better once she uttered those words. She felt like her face was heating up, but it didn’t matter. It was much better to be embarrassed than to have a lump in her heart.
“...Okay, well. Thanks.”
Chaerim stood up and faced Maru in the eyes. Now that she started it off, she had no more hesitation.
“Yes. When else would I receive so much interest from an idol? I’m thankful.”
“What do you think about me?”
“Can I be honest about it?”
Those words were even scarier than just ‘I hate you.’ Chaerim felt her neck stiffening up. I am interested in you, and this is how you react? Obstinacy surged within her.
“Looks like I put it the wrong way. I’m not interested in you. I like you. Now then, how about now?”
Hearing that question, Maru scratched his eyebrows.
“What kind of answer do you want?”
“You asked that with a certain intent. What do you want as an answer?”
“Haa, shall we sit for a moment?”
Maru sat down on the spot. Chaerim also bit her lips and sat down.
“I really don’t do romantic consultations like this. I mean, there’s no ‘winning’ when I get involved with another person’s love. But you seem to be mistaken so I’ll tell you a few things. First, dating is done between two people. Second, you should differentiate between goodwill and affection. Third, the one in front of you is a cocky dude, so let’s not think about him.”
“What do you mean?”
“There was an error in your emotions. When you’re at the emotional age, there are times where brushing past someone else feels like fate. If my actions caused a misunderstanding in you, then I will never take such actions again.”
“How would you know? Who are you to say that you know how I feel?”
She ended up raising her voice a little. She was disappointed that he didn’t give her any chance at all.
“It’s fine even if you’re not mistaken. I told you, didn’t I? That dating is something done between two people. I will tell you this upfront. You are the senior of my girlfriend, and that’s all you amount to in my heart. You know what happens if you like someone like me, right?”
He refused yet again. At this point, it upset her. Chaerim had the confidence. She had the confidence that she would do well with Maru. That was why she felt sorry towards her junior. She may end up hurting her after all. However, the more she talked with Maru, the more she felt that there was no gap between the two of them that she could exploit.
“Do you like her?”
“Yes, I like her a lot.”
Maru also replied without hesitation. The two were very alike in that regard.
Chaerim clenched her fist.
At that moment, Maru looked around for a moment and walked up to her before grabbing her shoulders. Then, he closed up on her face with a cold expression. Chaerim saw that his lips were infinitely nearing hers. She felt like her heart froze up, and at the same time, she felt a chill behind her back. She screamed and tried to push Maru away. At that moment, Maru let go of her and took a step back.
“Wh-what are you doing! Are you crazy?”
Chaerim faltered backward. Her heart was beating in a disturbing rhythm. She felt like she was sweating cold sweat.
“It feels unpleasant, doesn’t it? That’s what one-directional love gets you. Of course, this can also be a method of dating. However, that only works if the other party doesn’t have a lover. You’re free to like anyone you want, but if you touch someone that already has a partner, that’s a sin.”
Maru spoke with a firm expression.
“We can be good friends, but any more than that is not happening.”
For some reason, Maru looked upset. Chaerim couldn’t say anything.
“Let’s stop here before we truly embarrass ourselves.”
She had nothing to retort. She was aware that what she was doing was wrong. Despite that, she was upset that Maru so clearly drew the line. It frustrated her. Another part of her was already persuading her that the reason she was startled just now was because it was so sudden.
“But you wouldn’t know for sure, right? You might end up liking me.”
“No, that will definitely not happen.”
“Seonbae. Do you think people can live while holding their breath?”
Maru made a faint smile as he replied.
“To me, she is that very breath.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Good thing I like cheese...