Chapter IV:Shattering Hearts
Kami stood with a tight heart as she accompanied her guest to the small carriage she had prepared for her.
The young woman had lent her one pale blue dress that was too big for herself but fitted nicely on her taller frame.
"Thank you for today...and tonight." Smiled the woman.
Kami hated it, she hated the fact that it might be the last time she ever saw her and her smile.
She hated how she would leave without ever learning her name.
She hated that they had met under such circumstances and yet she was thankful to the heavens to have met her at all.
Kami grabbed her wrist as she was about to climb into the carriage, pushed by a kind of despair she had never felt before.
"...Will I ever see you again?"
The woman hesitated, eyeing Kami's small hand on her wrist before taking her hand and interlacing their fingers.
She doubted that she would ever get to go out again the way she had the previous night but it was a thing she would not tell her.
"...Let's meet again Kami." She said vaguely before lightly laughing in a voice as clear as chimes in a cool summer breeze " I still have to give you back your dress after all."
"Not...Not because of the dress." Courageously corrected Kami " I want you to come back...But as a friend."
The stranger's eyes lit up.
"...As a friend?"
Kami nodded and watched as a faint blush of joy came upon her guest's cheeks.
"To hear you call me so...I don't really have friends you see."
"Well...I don't have a lot of friends either."
The two women exchanged a stare before laughing in coordination.
" See you soon Kami." She said before leaning in and giving her a friendly kiss on the cheek "Take care."
Kami froze and blushed as she watched her get into the carriage that soon left, turning around the corner of the street.
The blonde woman walked back to her house, speechless and sat on the stairs, a hand on her burning cheek.
She realized why people usually said that kisses burned- she would always remember it and came to wonder how strongly she would have reacted if it had been on her lips, a thought that turned her already blushing cheeks into a scarlet mess.
"...I am doomed." She whispered to herself, realizing for the first time that it wasn't only men she was interested in.
"Are you sure that I can come with you?" Asked Minhyun as he walked next to Mina, holding her hand on their way back to her home.
"Yes...Minhee told us that we could bring someone along...But you don't have to if you don't want to-"
Minhyun stopped walking as they finally reached her doorstep.
"I'll be there, seven o'clock right?"
"Yes,don't be late." She smiled, wrapping her hands around his waist, glad that her cloak was hiding who she was at that moment.
He laughed and cupped her face with his hand.
"I am never late Miss."
"We'll see." She smirked.
Mina replaced his hair behind his ear.
"...I do have to warn you."
"The man Minhee is meeting...I am wary of him...I don't trust him and his intentions…." She said " But it might be because I was there when he broke her heart...So I want you to see him from an outside point of view and tell me what you truly see."
Minhyun's face grew serious before he finally nodded.
" I'll pay attention." He said before kissing her hand and fingers, a simple act that took a breath away from Mina.
"...Come closer." She asked and he obeyed, leaning in.
Mina stood on the tip of her toes and kissed his cheek.
"Thank you for tonight, this is my gift to you." She whispered in his ear before quickly running into her house, blushing.
Minhyun stood there, blinking before finally coming back to his senses- touching the tingling spot on which she had kissed him.
He smiled to himself before walking away, hoping that the evening would come faster that day without knowing that a heart was breaking near him.
"...ah.." finally sighed the blonde man that had hidden himself behind a large and white column as soon as he had seen the pair coming.
The man sat on the ground, staring at the branch of cherry blossoms he had brought for the dark haired woman, remembering that they used to be her favourite- but just like the blossoms that withered as soon as they bloomed, her memories of him had also seemed to have disappeared.
He ran a hand in his long hair, bitterly smiling as he realized that he might have to face the fact that he was the only one that remembered how close they used to be.
Kami sat in front of Woohyun who had been silently drinking a cup of tea in a small rustic cafe located in a narrow and quiet avenue, seemingly in a different dimension as the rest of busy London.
The woman crossed her legs and arms across her chest and stared at him who was eyeing her with the deepest confusion there was.
"...Come eat dinner with me and my friends tonight." She said out of the blue after some time.
"...Are we not going to address the fact that you somehow...found me here?" He asked, a tiny bit scared at how easily she had found him in this unusual place.
"I just asked Myungsoo's friends, they all told me that you would be here."
This cafe was Woohyun's secret place, or at least it used to be until Myungsoo told all of their friends.
It was where he would write his novels and where he found peace for himself.
It wasn't that he didn't want Kami to be here, he was glad that she had looked for him in the first place - but he wondered how he was going to hide his new manuscript from her without her noticing.
Woohyun had yet to confess that his book and heroine had always been about her.
They had met the previous year,during one party where she had a little too much to drink because of her wild friend.
Kami had told him all about the misery of her life and gender, crying on his costume,making him uncomfortable at first but eventually pushing him to see the world differently.
He had written his stories hoping to inspire young girls like her that were afraid to dream.
He then began to see her in the library they both frequented, soon realizing that she came to look for his novels and that she also did not remember him at all.
"So? Will you come?" She asked again, poking at his hand.
Woohyun had recently begun to write stories that were closer to home. He was writing about how a man confessed to the blonde heroine with blue flowers as deep as her ocean eyes in his latest story- it was meant to be a type of confession to her that his books were about her, something she was supposed to find out in the newspaper and not in front of him.
"...Did you like the flowers..?" He asked, hoping that it would keep her attention away as he hid the manuscript under the table.
Kami scratched her head, she hadn't forgotten about the stunning and rare flowers but how could she tell him what had happened?
She felt bad and slightly nodded her head before smiling.
"...I did." She said "They were lovely, thank you."
She couldn't tell him that she had crushed them with all of her weight and that she had been unable to save them, but still she had loved them for however short her time with them was.
Woohyun sighed a sigh of relief and smiled.
" When should we meet up?" He asked.
"For the dinner."
Kami blinked, she hadn't expected him to accept so easily even though she had asked him out of the blue.
She had prepared a few strategies which included bribing him with the idea of a date or blackmailing him into coming since she knew that he was the writer of her favourite book and that his identity was supposed to remain a secret (the latter option being something she would have rather preferred to avoid, she wasn't a fan of threatening people.)
"Alright...Should I dress in a certain way?"
Kami smirked,leaning onto her hand.
"Yes...Look as dazzling as you can, I need you to show someone how unfitting they are."
Woohyun wondered if he should ask her what this was all about but kept his mouth shut.
He could see her scheming in her pretty sapphire like eyes.
"...Don't I already look amazing?" He asked in a playful tone.
Kami rolled her eyes before laughing.
"Are you nervous?" Asked Gongyoo, sitting at ease on one of Minhee's living room padded chairs.
"How are YOU not nervous?" She replied, walking back and forth, checking if everything was in order.
It was almost time and soon Mina would arrive, she just knew it.
The younger girl was always on time to a fault, even when Minhee wanted her to be late.
And that day she wanted her to be late.
"I already told you that I have no reasons to be worried. I believe in myself and they are all kids."
"Kids? We are basically all the same age! Don't say that." Minhee sighed.
Gongyoo patted his lap, inviting her to sit on it and she did, reluctantly at first.
"Look at me." He said and she obeyed once more.
He kissed her, bringing her closer to him, gently biting at her lower lip as he did so.
"You're different...You're special and this is why I am with you…" he said in between their kisses " I don't care about what they think about me...You're the only thing that matters." He whispered like a spell in her ears.
Minhee smiled at his words and kissed him once again before standing up as she heard the bell ring downstairs.
Maybe things wouldn't go so badly.
"Will you welcome them with me?"
He sighed and stood up, taking her hand.
"...If it makes you happy."
Minhyun looked stunning in his black tailored outfit and his face was filled with curiosity and then joy as he noticed Woohyun come with Kami at his arm.
"Woohyun...?!" He called out.
"Minhyun???" Replied the older man with a smile on his face as he noticed him.
The two of them shared a hug in front of a confused Mina and Kami.
"It has been so long since we last saw one another!" Smiled Minhyun "How have you been?"
Woohyun laughed and patted his hair, just like he used to do when they studied under the same tutor along with Myungsoo.
The trio used to be inseparable before they came of age.
"Well...I did see you at your party but you were too occupied to notice me it seemed.." he said smiling at Mina who smiled back at him.
Mina knew Woohyun, he was her brother's closest friend after all and had almost lived with them at one point back in their family estate.
He was like a second brother to her,one that had a dear place in her heart.
"That and maybe the fact that you left quite early." Commented Kami.
"...This too yes." He laughed at the girl's remark.
"But still...You should have said hello." Reprimanded Minhyun.
"Should I have done so...Your Grace?" Teased Woohyun who hadn't talked to Minhyun since he had inherited the title of his father.
"Oh stop it-"
"You two will have plenty of time to catch up later, should we go in?"
Kami sighed as Mina grabbed her arm, knowing perfectly well what she was going to say.
"And you'll have to tell me what is up with you and Woohyun." She whispered in her ear.
"Nothing!!!" She whispered back to an unconvinced Mina.
Minhyun rang the bell and waited.
"So...What should we expect?" Asked the man, crossing his arms.
"A jerk." Said Kami.
"A terrible man." Added Mina.
"...Oh." replied Woohyun who had only managed to hear the basic story from Kami a few minutes ago.
The door opened and all of a sudden Kami and Mina were smiling at their friend, until they noticed the man that stood by her, an arm around her waist.
The sight left a bitter taste in their mouth.
"Good evening!" Said Minhee with a bright but nervous smile as she welcomed her friends and their dates.
Gongyoo stayed silent, eyeing the group before him and Kami raised an eyebrow.
Minhee not calling them and Minhyun by their respective titles was alright because she was their friend, but he wasn't and had no title to her memory.
Even Woohyun that was a Marquis and of slightly lesser rank than the rest of them should have been greeted properly and yet- no words came out of his mouth.
The group didn't really care for etiquettes but it was still something that mattered in their society, especially for a first meeting.
Woohyun and Minhyun quickly seemed to catch on it.
"So...You are?" Asked Woohyun with a smile and insinuation of his rudeness dripping from his words "I would hate to address you in a wrong way."
"...Gongyoo" he said and the man seemed to understand what Minhee had meant by the fact that they probably would spend the whole evening scrutinizing him.
"We heard a lot about you." Said Mina with a cold smile.
Minhee swallowed her saliva,she knew too well when her friends were angry and she could tell that it was a miracle that they still hadn't ripped his head off- maybe the dinner had been a bad idea.
"Let's go inside! Would you like something to drink?" She said, trying to break the tension.
Kami took her cloak off and sighed.
"You know what? I will have one...Or maybe a few."
Silence was king in the living room they were all staying in,no one had spoken a word for the past ten minutes or so.
"Hmmm...So...Woohyun right..?" Asked Minhee to the writer who she barely remembered ever talking to at previous parties.
His sentences were short to avoid letting himself slip.
Saying that Woohyun was annoyed would have been an understatement, he couldn't bear the stare of the older man who watched all of them with disdain when he was the one in the wrong.
Woohyun had planned on staying out of the conflict at first, it wasn't his place to interfere after all- but failed when the man went ahead and ignored the present that Kami had (though unwillingly) brought for them, a small charm that meant to start again on good terms.
"So...what do you do in life?" Minhee asked him.
Woohyun sighed, trying to relax on his chair.
"I write books and stories." He said, throwing a small smile at Kami who he knew might have been thinking about using this truth to play around with him.
Kami was thankful for his presence,she wasn't sure that she would be as collected if he hadn't been there with them and so was Woohyun.
Her presence was what kept him from grabbing his collar and yet- the small smirk on the older man's lips didn't escape Woohyun's eyes as he frowned.
"What?" He asked him.
Woohyun wished his stare could kill and Gongyoo acknowledged him with another one of his annoying smirks.
"I am just glad that some of us get to live a life of leisure. I am bound to my duties as a merchant you see...I unfortunately don't have the time to do what I would like to…"
Woohyun clenched his fists, ready to stand up when Kami discreetly grabbed his hand, hoping to calm him down.
Minhyun who until then had been quietly observing the situation, leaning against the wall put down his glass of wine on the fireplace next to him.
"...A merchant you said? What do you sell?"
"Spices. I bring spices that come through the world trade to the french market." He explained.
Minhyun's eyes wandered on his familiar outfit, he remembered seeing the man at his party, standing out quite a bit as one of the oldest bachelor present that night.
His memory had always been good and he remembered him wearing the same tailored coat with the same silver pin on it.
A smile appeared on his lips, not one of judgement, but one because he finally understood his animosity towards them.
"Really? What a coincidence...My family also works in the trade, we bring goods from all over the world here and there is a high probability that you buy yours from us."
"...You work in that field too?"
Minhyun walked over to the couch and sat next to Mina who had been eyeing him with a brow arched up, she didn't remember hearing his family working in the trade of spices.
"Why not? Nobles also have to make a living."
"You have your lands."
"Our lands cost us more than what we earn through them, things have changed since the middle ages sir."
Gongyoo turned away his head, clenching Minhee's hand who had been silently listening to her friend.
"Merchants are truly the ones in power. The world is more active than ever and all its riches flow back here, to this city...It's too good of a thing not to take part in it." Finished Minhyun "But of course, this is your area of expertise and you know that, right?"
Woohyun threw a thankful glance at Minhyun who had always been talented in the art of conversation, more so than even Myungsoo.
The pair had always been ahead of him in every academic discipline there was under the sun except for creative writing and music at which he excelled.
More than once had the young man come to his rescue, sparing him sanctions from their teachers with a careful play of words.
Silence fell down again upon the room, this time heavier than before.
"...Maybe we should just address the elephant in the room." said Kami, finishing up her drink and putting her empty glass down on the low table, fed up with the whole act.
"...That would be better indeed." Added Mina, crossing her arms across her chest.
"Please don't…" sighed Minhee who had seen them pile up their anger.
"Why? Do you think that everything will just go away if we just ignore it?" Asked Mina to her friend who was lowering her head.
Gongyoo looked at the small blonde woman- he had seen some like her before,feisty little things.
"Explain yourself." She almost ordered him.
"Why should I explain myself to you? It's something between her and me, you have nothing to do with it."
"Oh really? It became our problem too the moment you left her without a care in the world." Commented Mina
"I still don't see why I should apologize to the two brats that you are, she forgave me and that's all that matters-"
The word stung Minhyun and Woohyun who immediately stood up, ready to interfere if he dared use such a word again.
"We can't forgive you and I don't care if you think that you don't owe us one. You destroyed her to pieces-"
"Stop it!" Shouted Minhee, tears to her eyes, a sight that surprised her friends who weren't used to seeing her cry.
The voices died down as she stood up.
"You two, may I have a word with you?" She said to the pair who nodded before following her out of the room.
The three men sat in silence for a while.
It took all Woohyun had not to drag the man outside.
"Let's be clear…" he began ." I don't buy any part of your story. Nothing explains why you wouldn't send her a letter for a full year, even during wars letters go through." Minhyun said.
He looked at the man, eyes cold.
"...However this is an issue between the two of you indeed so I won't meddle in it...But if you ever were to hurt her, Mina or Kami I will make sure to make your life a living hell."
" And how would you do this kid?"
"Kid?" He scoffed "We might be younger than you are but it doesn't mean that we are clueless either, actually, you're the one not fully understanding the situation you are in."
Minhyun walked to Gongyoo, looking down at him who was still sitting down.
"We have nothing to lose and you...well...You could lose everything."
"...Bold of you to assume that I have anything to begin with."
"So Minhee is nothing to you? Or maybe you are not sure that she is fully yours yet? Maybe she is still hesitating." Said Woohyun walking to Minhyun's side "Or maybe you just don't care for her as much as you pretend to."
"You better keep up a better act or change." Advised Minhyun "Like I said, the odds are against you..."
Minhee slammed the door behind her as she eyed with anger and sadness her two friends.
"...Couldn't you just be nice to him?"
"Did you not see how he was back there???" Asked Mina.
Minhee wasn't blind, she had seen it all and had been shocked by it.
She had never seen that aspect of him, cold, judging and almost arrogant.
It was as if the loving and caring man she knew had disappeared for an instant only to be replaced by one she didn't know.
But she knew Gongyoo, he was kind and this was the man she loved.
"...He has his flaws. We all do."
"We all have flaws but we don't have one big enough to push us to abandon our loved ones." Coldly spoke Kami.
"It was because of his work…-"
"Come on! For Christ's sake you are more clever than that!" Shouted the blonde woman.
"...Are you insinuating that I am being stupid for loving the one man that cared for me wgen others wouldn't?"
"Hell yes I am!" Replied Kami.
Tears flowed down her cheeks.
"How can the two of you be like this with me? You know how hard it has been for me!"
"It's because we know how hard you struggled that we can't let you fall into his trap again! Please understand us-" begged Mina.
"Ha! Because you tried for me maybe?" She said " You hated him from the very second you saw him, you did not give him a chance!"
"The fact that we came here tonight was a chance on its own." Said Kami " A chance he saw and threw away without a care."
"...It's not like you tried your best either." Bitterly mumbled Minhee.
"Then what? You expected us to embrace him? To welcome him with open arms???"
"Yes! Yes that's what I wanted and what I hoped you would do!" She cried " Was it so wrong of me to want to be with all the people I love for one single happy moment??? To hope to have your blessings???"
"Yes.... Yes it was wrong of you to expect this. This is a lack of respect to yourself and to us. Do you realize what you are asking of us?" whispered Mina, shocked to see her friend unravel so fast.
Minhee took a deep breath and calmed down.
"I am just asking you two to act as my friends."
"...Then your meaning of friendship is off, just go find actors to act as your friends if this is what you need. You obviously hate it when we truly care about you." Said Kami
"You just need comfort,no matter how fake or filled with bad intentions it is, you don't need us."
Minhee clenched her hands.
"...If you are going to make me choose...Then get out and never come back. I don't care anymore." Coldly said Minhee.
Kami froze for an instant, pain written on her face.
How could she say those words so easily? How could she when they had known each other for so long?
Was it all their friendship was? Something to be broken by a man who wasn't even worth it?
"...You're not serious."
Minhee swallowed her saliva.
They couldn't understand.
She felt alive with him, she felt alive under his touch no matter how much he had hurt her.
She felt alive every time he looked at her and her only.
She didn't know how to live without him.
"....Fine. Let's go Mina."
The brunette looked with teary eyes at their friend.
"You too. Get out." Said Minhee with a shaking voice.
She watched them leave before falling to her knees, already regretting her words and yet not strong enough to call them back to her.
Minhyun and Woohyun froze as they saw Mina and Kami come into the room with teary eyes.
"Hey!" Said Woohyun rushing to the blonde "What happened?"
"We are leaving.There is nothing left for us here." She said, biting her lower lip as tears rolled down her cheeks.
Minhyun swore that a faint smile appeared on Gongyoo's lips, a smile of victory that made his blood boil.
His eyes wandered back to Mina who was sobbing in her hands, heartbroken beyond relief.
"...I'll give you a piece of advice."
"Get away from this country as soon as you can and never come back." He threw him a cold stare "Because if you are here when I get my hands on something that proves that you are indeed a con artist and I hand it to Mina's older brother...You might not make it out alive." He warned.
Minhyun clenched his fists.
"...And if you do make it alive then I'll make sure you pay myself."
Chapter III: In the shadow of Night
It was late in the evening when a knock came upon Mina's door.
Her mother had gone to bed and one of the servants came looking for her as she was about to also go to sleep, taking the last of her jewelry in front of her vanity table.
"What is it?" Smiled Mina to the young maid.
"Sorry to bother you but…There's someone at the door looking for you."
"I am not sure...But it's a handsome young man."
A smile crept onto Mina's lips as she finished brushing her hair.
"Thank you, could you please keep this a secret from my parents..?"
"As you wish...You can trust me." Smiled the maid.
" I know...Have a good night and grab a piece of cake from the kitchen if you want to,you did a great job today."
The woman curtsied before leaving- Mina carefully listening to her fading steps before rushing to her window that gave view to the empty street.
She quickly opened the window and leaned over the railing to see her visitor, her night black hair flowing along the fresh evening breeze of a spring that promised an even hotter summer.
She could see Minhyun from up there, still handsome as ever.
"Good evening sir." She said, the silent night delicately carrying her words to him.
He raised his head to her and smiled as their eyes met.
"Will you come down to see me?" He asked
Mina was resisting the urge to run to him.
She didn't want him to fully see how happy she was to see him, showing him that she was head over heels for his smiles meant losing their game.
Mina had never loved before, but she knew that Minhyun was used to women fawning over him, she wanted to be different, she wanted him not to see her as one of his groupies- and so she fought herself and her feelings only furthered by the flame of her young age.
He nodded and so she stepped away from the window before leaving her room (making sure to check her face in the mirror before heading out).
The large city mansion was silent and quite empty for the men of the house were out of town and the servants all asleep by then.
Mina went down the stairs, careful not to make a sound until she reached the door which she slightly opened after taking a deep breath.
He was there, leaning on the frame with a small smile on his lips as their eyes met again, making his face glow a little more.
He wasn't as dressed up as he had been at the party, Minhyun was only wearing a light white blouse tucked into his black trouser and the young woman worried that he would catch a cold.
"Aren't you cold?" She asked,wanting to take his hand to warm him up.
"I needed the fresh air, I have been working all day." He said, smiling.
Mina was still half hidden behind the door ,suddenly conscious of her light outfit that could almost count as see-through to some people.
She hoped that he wouldn't see her blush.
"What are you doing here…?" Mina inquired.
"Your brother asked me to look after you and your mother while he is away but I couldn't come any sooner because of work so here I am now..."
Mina was a little disappointed, she had hoped that he was there because of her.
She had hoped that he stood before her because he had missed seeing her face and feeling her presence.
She had hoped for more.
Minhyun seemed to catch onto the young woman's feelings and gently took her hand before kissing it politely- and yet not without affection.
She could feel it by how his lips grazed her skin and how they kissed the back of her hand for a second longer than what was considered appropriate for a man to do.
"I wanted to see you." He declared "Did you receive my roses?"
A smile appeared on her lips as she nodded.
"They were splendid and I love them very much, thank you." she said, her fingers hesitating as she wanted to interlock them with his.
They grew silent for a moment, appreciating how their hands touched.
Minhyun rested the side of his head against the wooden door frame, eyeing the young woman.
"Can you come out a little more?" He asked.
"Because the door's shadow is hiding your face…" he began " And because I missed seeing you."
Mina hesitated but gave in as she met his eyes once again- eyes that were soft and caring as they glanced upon her.
The young woman covered herself with her arms, self-conscious and slightly chilled by the cold breeze of the night.
"Here." Said Minhyun, giving her a cloak with a pair of shoes that he had been carrying with his other hand that had been out of her sight until then.
"What is this…?"
"I wanted to take you out on a midnight walk." He smiled "Although it is way past midnight already…"
Mina blinked a few times.
"What about...A young woman not staying alone with a man and especially at night?"
"We already broke that rule once...Why not another time?"
She clenched his hand slightly tighter, she had never left the house without her parents' consent or without her brother or friends- and even less at night.
"You don't have to say yes...And I won't take it in a wrong way if you refuse." He smiled, feeling her concern " I just want to show you something that can't really be seen during the day."
"What is it?" Asked Mina.
"Well...It's supposed to be a surprise-" he laughed.
Minhyun raised an eyebrow.
"Let's go out." She smiled, taking the cloak and wrapping it around her shoulders before slipping her feet out of her slippers and into the shoes he brought for her.
Minhyun held onto her arm as she did so that she wouldn't fall.
His eyes were on her long eyelashes and the red of her cheeks, and on her pretty irises as she looked up to him with a smile that could light up the darkness around them.
"Do they fit?"
"Perfectly." She smiled before stepping out of her house.
Minhyun offered her his arm which she gladly grabbed before looking at the large door behind them.
It was her first time taking a step out of her golden prison, out of her precious bird cage on her own (more or so).
It was like she was leaving on an adventure.
Kami wasn't really sure as to how it had all happened.
The beautiful stranger had fallen onto her, ripping her dress in the process and she had somehow decided that bringing her home was the best thing to do.
Kami had just been supposed to give her a change of clothes and yet there she was, way past midnight talking to her in her room.
The stranger was quite peculiar- she had first asked Kami to show her her house, inquiring about all the furniture and objects there were.
She asked her about her family and Kami told her that she had an older brother- leading her to learn that the stranger also had brothers before she even got to hear what her name was.
They dined together, Kami learning that her mysterious guest had an appetite bigger than most people's.
She had eyed her with surprise as she ate half of a cake on her own.
"So...you like books?" Asked the pretty woman with sparkly eyes as she brought the cup of chamomile Kami had offered her to her pink lips.
"Y...Yes I do…" she replied, stuttering as she came out of her thoughts.
"What kind?" She smiled.
Kami couldn't seem to take her eyes off of her.
It was the kind of situation the blonde woman usually disliked,she enjoyed her peace and unexpectedly hated things that went against her daily routine but not when it came to her.
She was amazed at her freedom, at how she did not care to act like a proper lady when every single part of her appearance pointed to her being perfect.
She was like a tornado that had waltzed into her life.
"I like all kinds of books but...I prefer books about women." Kami told her, lowering her head to avoid her bright smile that was too blinding.
"Really? Me too!"
Kami was playing with her fingers, quite unsure as to how she was supposed to act with the woman- a funny thing since she mostly only stayed with women everyday.
There was a nervousness that grew inside of her every time she caught her staring back at her gaze.
She wondered how she looked, she wondered what she was thinking about her.
"Am I making you uncomfortable…?" Asked her guest, taking notes of her nervous hostess.
Kami straightened her back, surprised.
She felt a lot of things but lack of comfort wasn't one of these.
"No no no! I..hmm...I just am not used to having guests over apart from my best friends…" she confessed " I am glad that you are here…"
The beautiful lady smiled, gracing her once again with her pearl white teeth.
"What's your name?" She inquired, swirling her teaspoon in her tea " I just realized I am yet to ask you."
"Kami…." She repeated.
Kami blushed at how her name sounded on her lips.
She had never particularly liked her name before then, but she considered changing her mind.
"That's a pretty name…" she stated.
She stopped moving for an instant, her gaze lost somewhere before giggling.
Kami would have given everything to be able to read her mind right then.
She nodded before taking her hand in hers.
"If people were to find out that I am here...I would be scolded." She said " So please...Keep the fact that I was here to yourself..?"
"Are you a criminal?" Asked Kami while arching a brow, amused by the mysterious woman.
Kami liked mysteries ,problems to solve and the stranger seemed to know it by the way she couldn't keep her smile off of face.
"In a way…? Since I broke the curfew that was imposed on me?"
"How brave of you." Laughed Kami.
The woman crossed her arms across her chest and pouted.
"It was brave of me to do so! It's my first time escaping…I wouldn't be able to, back home."
Her guest hesitated, considering if she should let her new friend know about that part of her.
"...I am not from here." She finally said with a smile.
"Really…? I couldn't tell at all! You don't have an accent!"
She laughed before finishing her tea, her index circling the edge of her cup.
"Well I might live abroad but I have family here, I used to reside in England as a child." She explained.
Kami eyed her discreetly, admiring her long eyelashes that draped her jewel-like eyes only enhanced by her porcelain skin that had no flaw.
She truly was stunning and everything about her intrigued her.
Kami's heart skipped a beat when their gaze met and she gently smiled as if able to read her thoughts.
"H...How long are you staying in England?" Kami asked.
The woman laid back on her chair, eyeing the small candles that lit the room, they had melted quite a bit already.
"..I don't know...A few months at least."
Kami nodded and watched as the girl's face grew pale and cold for the first time.
Her shoulders were tensed, her brows furrowed.
"Are you ok…?"
"Hmm?" She replied, founding her smile back as soon as Kami spoke "Ah yes...I am alright don't worry." She answered " I just….I think I should head back before it gets too late."
She had said something wrong and it was making her run away.
"...It is already past midnight." Remarked Kami, worried.
"...Before the sun comes up then…?" She laughed and corrected
Kami was scared that she would never see her again if she let her go.
"...Or you could stay here a little longer and I'll send you back on a carriage before sunrise…?"
The woman nodded with a smile.
"That is fine with me too."
Minhee struggled to take her breath as she laid naked on the sheets of her lover's hotel room's bed- sweat dripping along her back as he let herself down next to her.
She had lied to her parents, telling them that she was sleeping over at Kami's house knowing that they would never bother to check with her parents.
She soon felt his rough hands roam her body before he pulled her back to him, burying his face into the crook of her neck.
"How was it?" He asked as he always did afterwards.
A tired smile appeared on her lips.
"Good." She said, wanting to sleep.
"Just good…?" He inquired again.
Minhee rolled over so that she would be able to face him.
She loved the sweat on his skin, the way the drops would roll against the edge of his jaw.
She loved the way his eyelids were heavier after it- and yet she was nervous.
It all seemed too perfect for her.
Him here by her side as if nothing had ever happened, as if he hadn't left her for a full year, as if her pain had been but a bad dream which she knew had been all but fake.
She could still feel the lingering feeling of her heart being ripped apart.
She had even wanted to die at one point.
She had wanted to take her own life when she finally understood that nothing had happened to him and that he had just left her without a second thought- It was the most hurtful part of it all, his treason.
"I am tired." Minhee just answered, wanting to keep these thoughts out of her mind.
She still resented him for it.
She resented him for holding her like he hadn't broken her heart, a heart that wasn't healed and still bled.
His touch came at the right time, stroking her sides before slowly moving to her lower belly.
It was a casual gesture and yet one full of meaning, she eyed him with teary eyes as he continued.
"...One day." He said and it was enough for her.
The promise of a future was all that she needed and she believed that time would eventually make things alright.
"One day…" she replied with a smile.
He kissed her shoulders before relaxing and Minhee closed her eyes for a while before speaking again.
"...I told Kami and Mina that they can bring someone with them tomorrow as their date." She said out of the blue.
"Because after a second thought...they might attack you if there isn't someone else with them."
A laugh escaped Gongyoo's lips.
"It's not like they can hurt me and I am old enough to defend myself on my own darling."
"That's where you are wrong…" she began " When boys were running around playing soccer, Mina's brother was teaching them how to use guns to defend themselves."
"...I see...But they wouldn't try to kill me wouldn't they?"
Minhee just smiled before closing her eyes to sleep.
"Up you go young lady!" Said Minhyun helping Mina up the ladder.
"...Close your eyes." She asked, her cheeks red.
"Well...you can see up my dress if you keep them open."
Minhyun blinked a few times before slightly blushing.
"..Oh?...A..Ah yes you're right, excuse me-" he apologized before closing his eyes and covering them with both of his hands.
Mina giggled at the sight of him embarrassed before reaching the rooftop, Minhyun soon following her.
The pair stood on top of Minhyun's mansion, the whole city spread out before them in a concert of lights and lit fireplaces that gave out faint clouds of smoke that headed towards the starry night sky.
"It's beautiful…" Mina whispered as she eyed the few buildings she could recognize in the horizon, dark silhouettes of stone giants.
She felt Minhyun behind her, lowering himself so that his eye level would be at the same as hers and pointed at a house in the horizon.
"That's your house." He said.
"How do you know? I didn't even recognize it!"
He ran a hand in his dark hair with a pretty grin on his lips.
"...Me and your brother...We used to do fire signals on top of our roofs." He laughed " We read about it in our history books and thought it appropriate to try it out."
"And what would you tell one another?" She asked, amused by the small stories he and her brother shared.
"Well..It was a true failure so really... nothing."
Minhyun laid his coat on the ground and invited her to sit down which she gladly did.
" It amazes me that you two were this close and yet...That we never got to meet." Mina said as he joined her
"Are you sad about it?" He asked her
Minhyun looked at the sky that was slowly lighting up, the stars slowly going to sleep and the moon drowsing away.
"...I am not."
Mina barely managed to hide her surprise and confusion.
She didn't understand him.
"...I see." She replied, biting her lips.
Minhyun gently took her hand.
"Not for the reasons that you think…" he began "Not because I didn't want to know you earlier…"
He paused, hesitating before intertwining their fingers.
"...I know how it plays out." He said "You would have become more of a member of my family and I probably wouldn't have been able to look at you the way I do today."
"...And in which way do you look at me?" She whispered " As your friend's little sister?"
He slowly shook his head.
"...At first I intended to do so." Minhyun admitted " I promised Myungsoo that I would care for you as if you were part of my family but…"
He stopped, staring at her with a small smile.
It was tender, caring and yet filled with a tinge of self-disappointment at himself for being unable to keep his word.
The man valued promises and it was his first time breaking one.
"As soon as I saw you, as soon as we ended up alone...I just…"
Minhyun wasn't good with words, or at least those meant to express what he felt - the young man was an expert at social interactions that required him to be perfect but he had never learned the type of language that brought people together.
And so he carefully brought her hands to his lips, as if scared that she would pull them away from him and kissed them, hoping that she would understand.
"...I am just the same as you are. You fascinate me as much as I fascinate you." He confessed after taking a deep breath " My heart races all the same when I see you." He smiled.
Mina couldn't believe the words that were leaving his mouth, she was scared that it was all but a cruel joke.
"H...How did you know that I….Liked you?"
"Well for one...The constant blush on your cheeks and then...The way I feel your heart beat ever so quickly whenever I take your hand…"
Mina turned scarlet and tried to hide her face, cursing at herself for being so obvious.
"It's unfair...You always look the same, you never look flustered at all! I struggle to believe you."
"Then check it for yourself."
Minhyun put her hand on his chest right above his heart that was racing too.
There was no way his body could lie and joy filled the young woman's heart as she felt each heartbeats through her whole body.
It was true, all of it was.
He gently smiled before letting go of her hand that lingered, amazed at the sensation before moving up to cup his cheek with hesitation.
"...Do you really...Care for me in that way?"
He nodded slowly.
"Of course I do...Do you think that I would have sent you the roses if I didn't feel something? Do you think that I would have walked the gardens with you if you hadn't caught my interest...?"
"I…I thought that it might have been something casual for you…All of it."
"Nothing about this is casual for me...These things aren't something I would usually do..."
One of his hands covered the one she had on his face.
"I struggle to believe you…" she repeated in a daze.
His ears turned red as he thought about his past experiences with love or what could count as passion.
"..I...I did go to love hotels a few times before if I have to be truthful ...Your brother dragged me there-"
Mina gently smiled to reassure him that she didn't mind it but mentally made notes to strangle her brother later on.
"But courting...Actually taking my time with someone I care for...It's a first." He confessed "And so I want to do things properly, I want to get to know you more and for you to do so too." He smiled.
He laughed, watching her hands.
"...It's quite scary." He said
"The way we both are attracted to one another so intensely when we basically met a few days ago, I am scared that we are going too fast and that it means that it will all end quickly…Or that worse...It is all fake."
"Then let's take our time…" smiled the young woman.
"I don't want this to just be…Passion. I want more for us."
Mina's cheeks burned at the word.
Mina knew nothing of it but what her friend had told her.
It was a burning sensation that overwhelmed all of the senses, it was fire in the deepest parts of one's self, it was overflowing desire that stained one's body.
She would have been lying if she had told herself that she had never thought about it after meeting him- she had and had been ashamed of the thought ever since.
Mina had wondered what it would feel like to feel his fingers roam her skin, she had wondered how her name would sound on his lips, she had wondered if his skin would get tainted by her scent or hers by his.
"I want to one day be able to say that my heart is yours and that yours is mine." He whispered, putting an end to the woman's unholy thoughts.
"Is this a proposal?" She laughed
"It's not...But...I want you to know that I am sincere and serious about us."
He looked at the sky.
"...I know that some women are ruined by men, I know that it breaks them forever and I won't let it happen to you."
Minhyun slowly leaned towards her, cupping her face and bringing it to his.
She could feel her whole world stop as she felt his breath onto hers only for him to kiss her forehead as the sun finally appeared on the horizon.
"...This is a promise." He said and Mina finally breathed again.
She had thought for an instant that he had been about to kiss her.
A thought that deepened the colour of her cheeks.
" ...What promise?"
" A promise on the rising sun that I won't break your heart." He smiled as the sky turned into a painting of thousand colours of dawn.
Mina couldn't take her eyes off of him and the way his hair and skin were bathed in the first light of the day.
She knew just then that what she felt and was going to feel in the future for him wouldn't be a fling.
"Now look." He laughed, noticing that she spared no stare for the beautiful scenery that unfolded before them.
Mina reluctantly turned her head away from him and both watched the horizon- one more amazed than the other.
"...It's my first time seeing the sun rise outside of my window." She confessed.
"How is it?" He asked.
She couldn't think of a better first date than this and even less, better company.
He was glowing as he closed one of his eyes, sun rays hitting his handsome face once more.
Minhyun turned back to Mina and smiled, a shiver going up her back as he came closer to her.
She wanted to kiss him now that she had caught a glimpse of what it would be like in her mind, she wanted to have his lips for herself.
Minhee had gone on and on about how good it felt to kiss someone you truly loved and Mina had dreamt about her first kiss for as long as she could remember - she knew that she wanted him to have it.
"Are you cold?" He asked, rubbing her shoulders to provide some warmth to her body.
She clenched his warm hand and kissed it- this would have to do for the moment.
"I am not.."
His free hand swiped away the hair that was obstructing his view of her face and noticed a scar hidden in her dark waves that slightly peeked out of her temples.
His fingers traced it, sending shivers down her spine.
"What happened..?" He asked after a moment.
"Oh this? I fell and hit my head as a child." She laughed "I scared my parents to death and it left a scar but that's it."she explained, before hiding her scar back behind her hair.
"Why are you hiding it?" He inquired.
"Because...Well...I don't know…? Scars are not pretty to see."
Minhyun smiled and swiped back her hair.
"...Well...I don't mind it at all." He confessed " You don't have to be or look perfect, you are amazing enough the way you are."
"You don't have to be perfect too Minhyun."
"You don't have to pretend that you are a perfect gentleman with me...You don't have to force yourself to smile...Just be yourself, it is more than enough." She smiled "I like the Minhyun that breaks the rules and appreciates life."
Minhyun froze for a second, taking in the view of the young woman by his side and how beautiful she looked in that moment, reminded of words he had long forgotten about.
<<You don't have to be perfect Minhyun, although I like both sides of yourself - I can't help but feel your distress everytime you force a smile...You shine the most when you are yourself.>>
Minhyun embraced her, burying his face in her neck, breathing in the scent of her skin that faintly smelt like flowers.
Chapter II: Flowers for you.
Kami was sitting, arms crossed as she stared at her two friends who tried their best to avoid her gaze, their eyes focused on their porcelain cups of black tea instead.
They were in Kami's house, inside her greenhouse-like veranda that was filled with plants that thrived in the strong sunlight that bounced back on the white beam that held the place together.
It should have been a calming sight, a place of peace and yet- the tension was palpable.
"Well...Who's first?" Asked the blonde woman.
"...You have to tell me what I did wrong first for me to tell you something-" began Mina, making herself as small as she could.
"You went ahead and fell in love with a stranger-" started Minhee.
Kami let down her right hand on the table in a loud noise that made the pair jump back on their chairs.
"You...Your speaking rights are revoked until we are done with the baby here." Stated Kami pointing a finger at Minhee.
"Mina." Called the smallest but most fierce of the three.
"You can't love someone you don't know."
"It's not love!"
"Then what is it?"
Mina laid back into her chair, nervously playing with the knots of her dress.
"It isn't love but I do like him...He...He is nice…"
"And he helped me…"
"...He is good looking."
Kami massaged her forehead, expecting some wrinkles to appear by the end of their conversation.
" You don't have to worry Kami...He is someone safe, he is my brother's friend…"
"I know but still...You can't go around opening your heart to everyone."
"I know..I will be careful ,I swear."
Kami eyed the brunette.
Mina might have been clueless to their world but she was cautious by nature, she knew that she wouldn't be reckless no matter how hard she might fall for him.
"Alright then…."she turned to Minhee "Now you...Do you mind telling Mina what happened last night?"
Minhee eyed Mina with worry before opening her mouth.
"Hmmm….So do you remember Yoo..?"
"Gong Yoo? The bastard who broke your heart? Of course I do ,how could I forget?" Sighed Mina, frowning.
Minhee played with her cup.
"Well hmmm...He is back."
"...He is? Where? Do you want us to go and kill him for you? Do you want me to call Myungsoo too?"
"Wait! No no no!" Said Minhee, grabbing the arm of Mina who was already standing up to go write to her brother "Please listen calmly ok…?"
Mina threw a glance at Kami who had just been sighing.
"We met at the party and...We rekindled...What we used to have."
"...You what?" Asked Mina, her face growing cold "Are you insane?"
"I know...I know how it might look to the both of you but..He came back for me, he really did."
"And? He left you once already,what makes you think that he won't again?" Asked Kami
"He said that he wants to marry me."
"Jesus Christ." Swore Mina, standing up and walking to the window to breathe some fresh air " You better be joking and even then, it's not funny."
Kami finished her tea.
"She isn't joking, she was with him last night, I saw them."
"I don't understand….How? How could you forget the hell he put you through…?" Whimpered Mina who remembered the nights she had spent caring for her heartbroken friend.
" I haven't forgotten….But I want to give him another chance...This might be my last chance at happiness."
"...You might be ready to give him another chance but we aren't."
"You've never even met him! Please...If you are indeed my friends, please at least meet him once before making up your minds…?"
Minhee knew that she was asking a lot, especially when the three of them had made a pact to kill him if he ever came back to the capital, and there she was asking them to embrace him.
"...Is he that important to you?" Asked Mina.
"..He is" replied Minhee.
The youngest hesitated and mumbled to herself.
"...I will meet him if it makes you happy but...Don't expect me to like him." She sighed.
"I will be there but that's it."
Mina went back to her house, already exhausted before it even was lunch time.
She wasn't sure about what was going in her friend's head.
"Darling? Will you come here?" Called her mom from the main living room.
The young woman walked to her, sighing as she tried to remember the date they had set for the dinner she would have otherwise avoided with all her soul and body.
She wasn't sure as to how she would keep her hands away from Gong Yoo's throat when they eventually met, or worse, how Kami would refrain herself from stabbing him with her butterknife.
"What is it?" Mina asked, her head popping through the door
"Flowers! For you."
"I don't know,come check the card."
Mina trotted to her, a smile on her lips as she smelled the red roses.
<<Thank you for making last night memorable for me.
See you soon.>>
Mina blushed and brought the message to her face under the confused stare of her mother who wasn't used to seeing her daughter this red.
"...Do you have something to tell me?"
"Nothing." She smiled, wanted to keep her and her new friend's meeting a secret from her parents for a little longer.
She knew how grown ups reacted to two people showing signs of affection or love, they rushed things and always hurried them to marry- she didn't want that.
Mina wanted to take her time to get to know him, to appreciate his discreet smiles for a little longer.
"If you say so darling…"said her mother before taking her purse " We'll chat later, I have somewhere to run off to!"
"Will you be home late?"
"I'll be back by dinner." She told her daughter before running off.
Mina eyed the bouquet and took a flower out of it, she remembered reading somewhere that you could grow them from cuttings.
It would be a nice surprise for Minhyun too later on, if he were to see that she had kept his present in such a way and she hoped that their friendship would last long enough for her to show them to him.
The young woman walked to their small back garden and looked for an appropriate spot.
She finally found it in a sunny corner and knelt before digging at the soil with a hand shovel that had been laying on the grass.
Mina didn't really care if dirt got on her dress, she used to roll around the fields all day long when she was younger and had always liked the feeling of the fresh earth between her fingers.
She cut the flower off, putting it behind her ear before planting the cutting in the hole she had made.
She heard steps but didn't pay attention to them, it must have been one of the maids.
"Hmm excuse me-" said a masculine voice behind her.
"Ah!" Screamed Mina, surprised and ready to break the intruder's skull with her shovel.
"Wait- Ouch! No don't-" whimpered the man as she hit him with it "I'm not a burglar!" He shouted as Mina finally opened her eyes.
The man's long blonde hair was messy, his cheeks red from their "fight" and his shirt clearly wrinkled and now stained with dirt.
Mina sighed and took a look at his pretty brown eyes, filled with confusion and fear.
"...What are you doing here?" She asked, keeping him at an arm's distance with her small weapon that would have scared even the thoughest warriors.
"I was invited."
"Nonsense. We aren't having guests over today."
"I...I received a letter-"
He quickly took a piece of paper out of his pocket and gave it to her which she took while holding onto her weapon, one could never be too safe.
<<As I promised last time, here's our city house address, please visit us when you come into town!>>
Mina recognized her brother's handwriting that was nicer than most people's.
The man didn't seem to be lying.
"Do you believe me now?"
"Will you let go of this then…?" Pleaded the man,pointing at the shovel.
"I don't know...You still crept up behind me."
"I thought you knew I was here, I have been calling you."
"Calling me? How? I didn't hear you."
"By your name…"
He timid smiled, slowly making her lower the shovel with his right hand.
There was something familiar to his smile, it was like rays of sunshine under a tree- bright, warm and comforting.
She could read a shy hesitation on his lips as he spoke.
The young woman frowned.
"...How do you know my name?" She asked, confused.
He smiled once more, this one looking a little sadder than the previous one.
"How do you not know mine..?" He asked, his fingers grazing hers as he grabbed his letter back.
"I don't know you." She stated, stepping back.
Mina sighed, running a hand through her hair.
First Minhyun and then this mysterious man, the young woman would have to talk to her brother about his habit of secretly talking about her to strangers (although the first one was more than welcomed to get to know her).
" Myungsoo must have told you about me I guess…? He isn't here at the moment,you shall come back later if you hope to meet him."
"In a week, for the royal party."
"I see…I'll see you two then."
"You are coming?"
A smirk appeared on his lips.
"Maybe?" He said before turning his back on her and walking away.
The man turned around once again before leaving.
"By the way…" he said, coughing to clear his throat "It wasn't just for Minhyun that I came here."
"I came mostly to see you."
Minhee sat in the grass of the public park, waiting for her date that was rather late.
"Minhee-" she heard him call behind her back "Sorry, I had some businesses to tend to-"
"It's alright.." she quietly smiled.
Minhee's mind was perplexed,her friends' words had been lingering on her mind, words that weren't new to her since she had thought about them too before they had even left their mouths.
She knew that going back to a man that had already left her once was less than ideal but she wasn't in a place to complain- she knew that she had used up most of her chances by then with the previous year's scandal.
Minhee might have joked that she didn't mind never getting married but she had lied, she had always dreamt of walking down the aisle at the arm of a man she loved and with whom she would have a family.
It was one of the few things women could hope to have for there was nothing else for them in that world.
"How have you been darling?" Asked the man, sitting next to her and cupping her cheek.
Minhee didn't flutter as much under his touch as she did during the party, maybe because she was sober and had tons of questions that needed answering.
She gently took his hand off her face.
"...Will you tell me why you left without a word?"
He parted his lips, surprised at the sudden question.
"Maybe we should talk about this later…? Look at how nice the weather is-"
"No. I want to talk about it now."
The older man sighed, running a hand through his hair and Minhee almost cursed at the sight- there was a reason why she had fallen as hard as she had for him.
"...I didn't think I would ever come back
...My home isn't here, it's back in France." He confessed " I thought that not telling you would make things easier for you, that you would forget me in a heartbeat."
A tear rolled down Minhee's cheek.
His answer was reassuring, he hadn't left her for someone else, but it still made her blood boil.
" It didn't make things easier at all! I thought...At first I thought something had happened to you...I thought that maybe you were dead-" she sobbed "And then I heard that you had left the country...It hasn't been easy at all you jerk!"
"Calm down…" he whispered in her ear before gently rubbing her side, it worked.
" I still hate you for that…" she said in a weak voice as she swallowed her tears.
" I know…" he replied before offering her a bouquet of daisies he had been carrying " But I will try to make it up to you so that you see how much you mean to me...And hopefully one day...We'll be able to go back to who we used to be."
Minhee took the flowers and brought them closer to her- she knew that these weren't a token to show his love, these were rather flowers to mark his apology.
It was as if he had known that she would get mad at him.
"...Thank you." She said.
"You're welcome darling…" He smiled before stealing a kiss from her lips, one that startled her.
But soon she leaned into it, appreciating his warm hands that held her face closer to his.
She could forgive everything when he had her like this.
"I love you…" she whispered against his hot breath.
"I know love, I know."
Minhee took his hands and kissed them, she liked the slight roughness of them.
"Will you…Will you please meet my friends?"
"Which friends…?" He asked, kissing her jaw, leaning onto her frame.
Minhee let go of his hands and clenched the grass after having checked that there was no one near them.
She was glad to have chosen a spot hidden in the forest of Hyde park, no one could see them there.
"M..Mina and Kami…" she sighed as his fingers traveled down her cleavage and as his kisses blessed her neck.
Minhee gasped as he suddenly grabbed her waist to bring her closer to him.
"Can we talk about this...later?" He asked with a slight urgence in his voice.
Minhee shook her head.
"Please...Please this is important...They are family to me and if...if we are to be married one day I want them to meet you first."
There was hesitation and perplexion on his face that was more mature than the one of boys her age.
"...Alright then." He finally said as he slowly untied the bow that held together Minhee's cleavage, pulling at one end of it, watching carefully as it loosened.
He smiled against her rosy lips.
"Now...What were we up to?"
"Tell me darling?"
"Well…I think that you were kissing me…"
"Just that?" He asked as he made her lay down, climbing on top of her, towering her slim figure with his strong body.
"...That and much more…"
"And what do you want to happen next?" He inquired.
Minhee kissed him.
"Everything, I want everything."
Kami was strolling the old bookstore's aisles when she bumped into someone, her head hitting a quite hard chest.
"Ah-" she whimpered as she rubbed her sore forehead.
"Well miss…You should look where you are going." Scoffed the man.
"What-" said Kami, ready to fight the stranger before recognizing the witty eyes of Woohyun "....Oh."
Kami blushed, remembering how she had scolded him for not liking the book when he had been the one that had written it in the first place - she was embarrassed and wanted to hide somewhere far away from him.
"W..What are you doing here…?" She asked in a little voice
"What would I be doing in a bookstore, I wonder…" he teased her as he had noticed the red hue on her cheeks
The hallways of this shop were narrow, so narrow that only one person could walk through them but it had never been an issue for Kami, the shop was empty most of the time she visited it.
The young woman discreetly eyed the small gap between his shoulders and the high shelves that reached the ceiling- she was small but not enough to slip past him.
" What are you doing here?" He asked her this time, still smiling.
Kami considered telling him that she knew he had written the book but stopped once she noticed his grin- it would be more fun to tease him too since he so seemed to enjoy himself and it would make her happy to take the annoying expression out of his face.
"...Do you remember the author from last time…?" She said " I was hoping to find more books from her..." she taunted him.
"Her…? The name on the cover is a man's name…?"
" Hayden is a gender neutral name sir…It could be a woman too...And the way the story was written was too good for it to have been written by a man."
Woohyun seemed flustered and almost annoyed, it was Kami's turn to grin.
"Why...Can it not be written by a man? Men can write good stories about women too…"
" They don't care about us enough to write us well." She said and he sadly frowned.
"That's not true some men do care…"
She could tell that he did by the way he had written his story, but this she would never tell him directly.
The women in the story weren't just trophies that had to look perfect all the time- they were true human beings with dreams, fears and a heart that went beyond just loving a man.
He gave women hope in his writing, hope that their life could be about more than marriage and raising children.
"...I do." He sincerely answered, taking a newspaper out of his coat's pocket and giving it to her.
"What is this…?"
" You won't like the author's previous works...They are darker and sinister compared to this one but he has begun writing short stories for a journal, you will like them."
What Woohyun ignored is that by telling her not to read his other books, she only wanted them more.
She made a note in her mind reminding herself to buy all of them just to spite him.
"What are they about…?"
"The short stories? They are about the same girl from your book, they tell more of her adventures."
" I see...Thank you."
"You're welcome." He said before turning away from her.
Kami tried to grab his wrist but bumped into his back again.
"It's becoming a habit of yours to bump into me…" He laughed, turning around, checking that she was alright.
"You're already leaving…?" She asked.
Kami didn't feel herself pout, but she did.
The young woman enjoyed the man's company regardless of his annoying attitude and wanted to ask him so many things and yet he always seemed to leave her in such a hurry.
"I...I have things to tend to." He said a bit surprised " I am a busy man…"
"I see…" she sighed, lowering her head, nervously touching the newspaper.
"...Are you sad that I am leaving…?"
Kami blushed and hit his shoulder a little harder than what she had wanted to but he didn't budge nor flinched.
" No I am not! It's...It's just rude. You always leave like this." She said
"Is that it?"
" I hoped that you said this because you enjoyed my company…" he shared with her.
"W..Well you are mistaken."
His smile withered.
"...I see….Then farewell I guess?"
Kami raised her head with confusion, she wasn't ready to say goodbye to him forever.
She barely knew him!
"Well I respect people...If you don't like talking to me then I won't bother you any longer…"
"Ah….Who is the rude one now?"
Kami sighed and rested her back against one of the shelves, not minding the dust that would fall onto her shoulders.
"Do you really think that I would talk about books with you if I disliked you?"
"I don't know...You're weird."
"...You're back to being rude too."
He raised an eyebrow.
"Weird isn't a bad thing, it's good...Better than being just normal."
"Ah...You're weird too then."
They both smiled and he offered her his hand.
"...What are you doing?"
"Well...I still have to go but I would like a handshake before that."
Handshakes were for men, ladies usually curtsied and had their hands kissed by gentlemen.
It was just how things were, women had to be treated as delicate creatures that could not join the world of men.
"Handshakes...Are for men." Replied a confused Kami.
Woohyun lowered himself so that their eyes would meet and he gently smiled.
"...Do you know where handshakes come from?"
Kami shook her head.
"It was a symbol of peace, a way of showing that the two people weren't carrying weapons, it was also something equals did."
"Well...I want you to feel safe. This is my way of showing you that I won't hurt you and that we are equals."
"Because I can tell that you don't appreciate people of my gender but...I still want to be friends with you."
An embarrassed laugh mixed with sadness escaped her lips.
Kami had always been a tomboy as a child, more interested in tales of war and adventures rather than those of princesses and that's why she was close with Mina and Minhee, the two used to be the same.
But while the two of them had accepted their fates and tried to settle into the role society made for them, Kami couldn't.
She wanted more and it was a greed that could never be satisfied- so instead she read to fulfill the emptiness,to dream about a different version of her that was free.
This alone was enough for her to be thankful towards the man.
She knew that Woohyun would bring interesting things into her life and yet she couldn't seem to let him in yet.
He still was a stranger and she knew better.
"...Can I save that handshake then?"
"...For later, when we know each other more than this?"
He smiled and took his hand back.
"Deal, see you next time then."
" At the royal palace."
Kami smiled, maybe she had things to look forward to at that party in the end.
"See you then…"
"Take care Kami."
Kami watched him leave in a hurry before returning back to her shopping, her mind half lost on thoughts about him as a faint smile grace her lips.
The young woman hurried to the counter after a while, a pile of books in her hands.
"...All of them Kami?" Asked the old woman that kept the shop and that had known Kami since she was a child.
"All of them." She smiled,looking at Woohyun's books.
The old woman nodded before wrapping her purchases into a stack secured with a thin rope to help her carry them.
"How will you carry all of these and the flowers…" whispered the woman to herself.
"Flowers…?" Asked Kami confused.
"I didn't tell you? Sorry, my old mind is playing tricks on me these days…"
The shop owner took a bouquet of himalayan blue poppies out of her desk and handed them to Kami who took them, confused.
" A young man left them for you some time ago...These are expensive flowers my dear."
"They are rare...He must like you a lot."
She could only think about one man that would offer her flowers.
"Was there a card…?"
"It's in the bouquet."
Kami found the small piece of paper and opened it.
<< Hope you'll like these flowers as much as you enjoyed my book dear Kami.
Myungsoo told me that you knew about me and told me that I would find you here.
Kami giggled as she remembered how Woohyun had left the shop without buying a book, he was a true idiot.
That's why he had been there, to deliver the flowers himself she realized.
"Thank you." Said Kami to the old woman before carrying the books and bouquet the best she could.
She walked to the exit, thinking about how confused Woohyun must have been when she had called him a woman and unknowingly opened the door as her fate came through it.
"Be careful-" tried to warn Kami as another customer hurriedly entered the shop.
The stranger bumped into her, making her drop the bouquet and held onto her clothes as they fell onto the flowers that were scattered on the ground.
Kami felt dizzy and when she finally gathered her mind her eyes met the one of a beautiful young lady whose raven locks fell onto her face.
Kami forgot all about her books then, she forgot all about the flowers that had fallen from her hands and only focused on the stranger before her that smelled like violets and aged paper.
She could only see the pair of eyes that shined like black diamonds under the hood of the pretty stranger's cloak and yet her heart raced.
Kami swore deep inside of her mind, she was no better than Mina when it came to falling for strangers.
CHAPTER I: Men are disappointing.
"That's it." Said Minhee throwing herself onto the nearest couch under the confused stares of her two closest friends that were having a sleepover at her then empty house. "I'm never getting married." She declared in a dramatical tone the pair was too used to.
She loosened her corset and took a deep breath, blood rushing to her cheeks.
It was late at night and the sun had long disappeared into the horizon leaving them with nothing but the darkness of winter sighing its cold air for the last time before spring came.
" I have decided to stay celibate until the day I die."
"...You're what? Why?" Asked Mina, running to her side, worried, almost tripping on her cream coloured nightgown "Did something happen...again?"
Minhee chuckled while staring at the painted ceilings of her own room- cherubs and happy couples playing in a blooming garden almost as if to make fun of the pitiful reality that was her life.
She sincerely despised them.
"Let her be, she'll change her mind again in a few weeks." Laughed Kami as she read a novel, her knees to her chest.
"I won't this time. I swear."
Kami lowered her book, a book she had been obsessed with for the past few weeks.
Kami had also been supposed to attend the ball but in her usual way, had decided not to- she had always found the parties to be boring and of no interest to her.
The blonde girl with sapphire eyes preferred staying with her friends at home,in a calm environment,chatting the night away.
"On what?" She smirked.
Minhee sat up to think, the tall girl looked almost tiny under the layers and layers of apple green fabric that made her violet red locks shine the more.
"...On...On…." She began to say " Well what would you want from me anyway?"
"You have that one book in your library…With a golden cover…"
"...No this is a present from-"
"The man that broke your engagement , yes this one please." Finished Kami with another trademark smirk of hers "...Or maybe you think that you will lose our bet...And that's why you are hesitating."
"You know that's not why she is hesitating, she truly liked him…"
Minhee hugged the dark haired girl, her face disappearing into her green sleeves.
"See? That's why she is my favorite."
"Fine,fine….Then what about the hourglass in your room?" Said Kami, rolling her eyes.
Mina tugged at Minhee's sleeve for her to let go so that she could take a breath.
"...Wasn't it a present from the man that was recently courting you?" She said, putting a strand of hair behind her ear after having taken a deep gasp of air.
Minhee laid down on the couch again with a sigh, all of her dramatics gone- sadness was written all over her face.
"Well…I caught him kissing another girl…"
"...Ouch." whispered Kami, now fully focused on the story."Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not really...It's just what it is...A man being a man again."
"...Well surely they can't be all bad right?" Whispered a maybe too innocent Mina.
A silence and a meaningful exchange of stares between the two girls followed by chuckles that confused the young woman.
"How was the ball apart from that?" Asked Kami to change the subject of conversation.
Minhee tried to remember her evening spent mostly near the bar and in an empty room where she cried her heart out, something that she didn't want her friends to know.
The last thing she desired was to make them worry about her.
"Well...Boring." she explained, still struggling with the knots in the back of her dress. " It isn't the ball season yet so there was but few people and the music was...tasteless as was the food…But the cocktails..."
Mina helped her friend take off her dress,something no one would expect the daughter of a duke to do but Mina was at ease with the two women, they were her second family.
"Speaking of ball season...When does it start? Mina is of age now and she is to unfortunately join us this year." Asked Kami.
Kami and Minhee were a year older than their friend and had adventured first in the wild jungle that was the marriage scene.
Both of their parents were astounded as to why they still hadn't made a match, they had been the best "catches" of the previous year.
The three of them were the richest, most noble, well educated and beautiful girls of their generation in their social class - and so it had been a shock to all to see the two eldest go unwed for as long as they had.
Minhee was the sole heir to her rich parents, her father being a marquess with no nephews to inherit his rank upon his death.
She had to marry in order to continue their line and carry his title, she was a brilliant prospect for any family and yet none seemed willing to love her as much as she expected her future husband to.
The candidates had all been more than disappointing so far, a few of them cheating on her before they even were engaged, one being overly possessive and toxic while another ended up preferring the company of men.
Kami ,on the other hand, had taken things slowly from the very beginning, her intellect and interest for what was considered "unnatural" for a woman to like making most of the interested men run away.
One day she just stopped attending balls altogether and that was the last thing most people heard of her.
She might have been the daughter of a duke but people had quickly forgotten about her and her quiet aura, something she was quite happy about.
"In two weeks." Replied Minhee, finally free of her dress and quickly slipping into her light pink nightgown.
"Then we should get her a dress." Said Kami
"No way, I am not letting her go to these...these parties festering with sharks."
"But you are going too right?" Asked Kami.
"...The food...the music…" started saying Minhee "...The men…" she whispered in a smaller voice.
"...You might as well give me the hourglass right now then."
"Hey! I might be going but...but I am not changing my mind! I am just going to have fun with them."
This time it was Mina's turn to laugh.
"...Nevermind, I hate the both of you." Stated Minhee before dragging her two friends to her large bed,wrapping them in her covers.
"I am never marrying." Said Kami,her cheeks flushed with rage as she sat in a free sit between her two friends at a busy cafe filled with flowers.
Minhee almost choked on her afternoon tea cakes as she eyed her in confusion while Mina just froze.
It wasn't new to them that marriage wasn't a thing Kami appreciated but still, she never was the one to first talk about it.
"Is it a trend these days…?" Asked Mina wondering if she should also pledge her celibacy.
"To what? Be disappointed in men? Oh no women have always been disappointed in them-" quickly managed to say Minhee between two coughs " But why…?"
Kami was boiling as she took her navy blue gloves off, violently stirring a cube of sugar in her lukewarm violet tea.
"Do you remember the man I met a few months ago and that I really appreciated as a FRIEND?"
"He tried to kiss me! The man tried to kiss me!!!"
"...That's not the worst of it."
Kami rubbed her temples as she saw the still unsatisfied gaze of her two best friends that wanted to know what could be worse than that.
"...He turns 79 this year."
"...Jesus Christ-" Swore Minhee too loudly, making heads turn their way.
Dumbfounded and outrageous looks aimed at the young lady with violet hair.
"...Our Lord and savior, may you bless this afternoon tea." She finished, hiding her blushing face of shame.
All the customers went back to their respective conversations and so did Kami.
"...When I told him that I wasn't interested in him he called me a wench and a sorceress that had bewitched him!" told the blonde woman before finishing her cup of tea "...I ran away to come here."
"Ran away?" Asked Minhee
"Yes, from the bookstore."
The two friends turned their heads to the busy outside street that separated them from one bookstore, Kami's favourite.
"....This one?" Inquired Minhee.
"Precisely this one, yes."
A laugh escaped Mina's lips.
"I wouldn't call this running away…"
Kami crossed her arms.
"This is a large street and I am short therefore I have short legs." She began " It felt like it took years for me to get here!"
"I am sure it did." Laughed Minhee
"You wouldn't get it, you both are too tall for your own good."
Mina handed biscuits to Kami, she didn't want to have a grumpy woman on her hands.
"...Why didn't you tell us about...his age?" Asked Mina
"You would've judged me."
"No-" began Minhee
Mina threw her a stare and so did Kami.
"...Well yes maybe but still! You should have mentioned it."
"It doesn't matter anyway, I am done with men, they disgust me."
Mina came home and sat next to her living room's fireplace, eyeing her parents lovingly talking to one another while holding hands.
The young girl had grown up surrounded by what could be considered a perfect family.
She had caring, rich, clever and good looking parents that had always been there for her along with her elder brother, two years older than her and the perfect gentleman to everyone including herself.
She therefore struggled to understand why her two friends so despised men, surely they were just unlucky...?
" Can you believe it darling...Our daughter might get married this year." Whispered her mother as her brother pretended to read a newspaper on another couch as he spied on the conversation.
"...Maybe we should keep her here and out of sight for another year-" Whispered the father.
"...Is marriage that great?" Mina suddenly asked, causing even her brother to raise his head.
"Well...Can't you tell?" Smiled her mother
"You two are...special."
"In what way?"
"You married for love…Not many people do."
"Are you worried Mina?" Asked the eldest child of the Han family
She didn't reply and laid back into her chair.
"It's just...My friends have only known heartbreak since they came of age...They have given up on marrying for love already."
Her mother smiled.
"Minhee, Kami and you are too young to give up on it."
"But you can't deny that not many people do find love in marriage like you two did."
"Well, not everyone is the daughter of a duke and dutchess." Said her father " You will live a prosperous life whether you marry or not."
"You have all the time you want to make a choice, we won't pressure you darling...Just have fun alright? The parties are amazing, I am sure you will enjoy them and maybe...Just maybe you'll find the one there."
"But what if I don't…?"
"You'll be fine either way, don't worry."
"This is one ugly dress." Said Kami, holding the same book in front of her face as Minhee helped Mina pick a gown.
Minhee turned around with a vexed look on her pretty rosy face, she had picked the dress herself and wasn't going to let Kami destroy her plan of having Mina wear it at her first ball.
"You aren't even looking!"
"If it is already ugly in my peripheral vision, I can't imagine how ugly it really must be." She stated
"What do you even know about fashion?"
"Nothing, but I might have more taste than you." She said ,eyeing the puffy pink and sparkly dress on Mina " This is…just not it."
Minhee rolled her eyes.
"..Or maybe I could choose my own dress…?" Said Mina in an hesitant voice, she hadn't dared interrupt Minhee while she made her try all sorts of dresses present in the shop.
"...We could do that." Compromised Minhee "What colour do you want?"
The two older friends eyed one another.
"...White like...Wedding white? Like Matrimonial white..Like I am walking down the aisle kind of white???" Asked Minhee
"Why not? I like white. It could be off-white too."
"I am against it. White, the colour of chastity will only attract the monsters of the other gender." Added Kami
"It would be like…"
"Like she was a lamb thrown into a pack of wolves." Finished Kami
"Or a little bird hunted by hungry vultures..."
"...Will you let me finish?" Asked Minhee
"...I might have lost my train of thought."
Kami smirked as Mina began taking the dress off.
"It's just not the one." She said " I need something pretty but more...plain?"
"Relax, you are not choosing a wedding dress…"
"She might as well, that's what men imagine when they see us at parties, they try to visualize if we would make good wives." Joked Kami " That or our naked bodies-"
"You're not helping Kami-"
"...Is it so wrong to want a white dress…?" Mina asked as an assistant brought them a white ball gown with long sleeves.
"Not at all, we are just worried..."
Mina tried on the white dress, a smile soon appearing on her lips as she saw her reflection.
"...Well, seems like this is the one." Smiled Minhee
"Don't worry about me." Said the young woman "I can take care of myself."
"The first rule of balls is that a young unmarried lady should never be alone somewhere with a man, it would ruin her reputation." Said the older brother in the crowded carriage "The second one is that you have to keep your guards up at all times , even when you are having fun."
"This I might have to disagree with-" interfered Minhee
"And how has it been working for you so far?"
"Hey! That's mean!"
"No need to get nervous Myungsoo, she'll be fine we'll make sure of it." Added Kami to calm the heir of the Han family "Will you stay?" She asked.
Myungsoo nodded before taking a look out of the window, the paved streets were lit up by the dim streetlights and only the sound of the horses hooves on the stone could be heard in the dark night.
The weather had gotten warmer, warm enough for the ladies to be able to go outside with only a light cape covering them and their gowns.
"I will stay with Mina first and then I'll have to find my friends among the crowd. I'll count on you two then."
"Your friends?You have friends?" Asked Mina, joking.
The man rolled his eyes.
"..You would like one of them, he is a writer." He said to Kami who still was reading the same book she had religiously been carrying.
"I doubt that. I am done with men."
Myungsoo eyed the young woman and blinked a few times.
"...It's a long story." Mina told him.
"People won't like this…" smiled Myungsoo " And yet I know that you three don't care."
"I might have to argue that it is our main charm." Said Minhee as the trio smiled.
"I might have to agree." Answered Myungsoo.
The estate in front of them was immense, larger than the Han's town mansion which was not to be compared to their ancestral home in Norfolk. It was the house of a new duke that had just inherited the title from his recently deceased father, the duke of Clarence.
It was the first ball of the season and also the very first party he had ever hosted.
"What if I am not able to recognize some people? Or remember their name?" Asked an anxious Mina who had been brought up away from the parties of the capital.
"We will help you and they will mostly introduce themselves to you first so don't worry." Said Minhee with a smile on her lips painted with a slight touch of colour.
Myungsoo gave her his arm that she grabbed a little too tightly even for him.
He escorted her to the limestone stairs and then the main entrance that towered over the small group.
The man keeping the door bowed to the small party before coughing to clear his old throat.
Mina tightened her grip on her brother's arm, she had heard so many bad things about these parties and yet so few good things- she was nervous and didn't know what to expect but still the excitement was unbearable, she had waited for years for this moment.
She was now an adult and ready to fly away.
"Are you ready?" He whispered.
"...I am." She said back.
"Lord of Norfolk accompanied by his sister the Lady Mina as well as the Lady Kami and the Lady Minhee!" Announced the man before opening the door.
The crowd went silent as soon as it saw the group and all of the guests bowed.
Most of them were rich but without titles or were from what was considered lower nobility.
Dukes ranked the highest after royalty, followed by Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts and finally Barons.
"..Right I remember why I hated parties, this is awkward." Whispered Kami to her friends as she felt the heavy stares on them.
"Everything will be alright as long as you smile." murmured Minhee to the brunette who had slightly fallen back to them.
"You should take your cloaks off ladies." Smiled Myungsoo, reaching a hand out to receive them.
Mina hesitantly pulled back her white hood to admire the large and slightly dim hallway that led to a bright and glowing ballroom.
Minhee and Kami had carefully prepared her, knowing how important of a day it was for her.
The young woman shivered as she felt suddenly uncovered, nervously touching the choker made of white pearls that reflected the warm light of the chandeliers on her neck's soft skin.
It had been a present from her mother to wish her luck, and luck was what she needed the most.
The fireplaces were lit and tables covered with exquisitely presented dishes served in crystal plates assorted with a pyramid of champagne glasses.
The walls were beautifully molded and covered in gold leaves just in the right places, the coat of arms of the duke of Clarence could be seen embedded in the ceilings above the newly polished wooden parquets that smelled like varnish.
Whispers soon filled the room, it was the first time most of them were seeing the young woman that had been kept away by her parents as if she was part of the crown's jewels.
"It's so beautiful!" She whispered to her brother who had been eyeing her reaction as she gave him her cloak.
Mina might have been worried but so was Myungsoo who knew too well what kind of people filled that crowd.
He had always taken it upon himself to protect and shelter her from the world outside and to make sure that she would always smile.
Mina had been a weak child, always sick and he could remember it getting so bad that their parents had been scared for her life at one point. He still hadn't forgotten the fear he had felt back then and had sworn upon his life that he would die before letting something ever happen to her.
"Is it?" He asked with a reassuring smile maybe for her or himself.
Myungsoo knew that it was time.
He knew that as soon as he would let go of her hand she would enter a new phase of her life, a phase where she would grow apart from him and their family and it felt all too soon for him- especially as he knew how little time they actually had left together.
He knew that she wasn't the same little girl that used to ask him to read her stories at night or that would try to follow him when he left to ride with his friends.
He had to let her go.
Some women rushed to curtsy before him, almost drowning under the layers and layers of tulle fabric - if the three girls were the best catches there were then Myungsoo was the ultimate prize at that party and he wasn't about to forget it.
"Your Grace~ We missed you!" They whined and Mina could swear that she saw her friends roll their eyes and her brother swallow his saliva out of discomfort.
Myungsoo reluctantly let go of his sister's arm.
"I'm sorry, go ahead will you?"
She pouted and mouthed a word to him that caused him to smile.
Her free arms were soon grabbed by the two women by her side.
"Did you think you could escape us young lady?" Joked Minhee.
"I wouldn't dare-" laughed Mina
"Now, let's make a good evening out of this miserae party." Kami smiled.
Myungsoo sadly watched as his little sister disappeared into the crowd, knowing too well that he would have to get used to the view of her back facing him.
There were so many new faces for the young woman to remember and among them piercing stares that made her feel uncomfortable.
"...They are staring." She said in a discreet and low voice to her friends.
"Who?" Asked Kami
"The men stare because well...You are stunning and of the highest rank there is...And also because they are men and therefore disgusting by nature."
"And the girls...?"
"Jealousy. Your family has always been the favourite of the royal family and you are their godchild, you are richer than they are and more beautiful than they could ever be so they know that if you marry, you will marry the best man there is here therefore taking away their chance at social climbing." Explained Kami.
"I just have to avoid the best catches then and I will be fine right?"
"It will be hard, one of them is the host of tonight's party." She said "You'll see him eventually."
"Don't worry, he is a gentleman,you should be safe."
"Who?" Said a masculine voice.
A man walked to the trio and bowed.
"Your Graces, My Lady." He said, respectively addressing Mina and Kami before smiling as he laid his eyes on Minhee.
Minhee's face grew dark and her fist white as she clenched them.
She wanted to punch his teeth back into his skull.
"You left so quickly last time Lady Minhee,I was looking everywhere for you."
A scoff escaped her lips, a scoff that made her friends raise an eyebrow.
"Oh were you? You were rather busy with some other woman that night so I decided to leave early."
The man's face grew pale.
"Every second of it."
"Oh so he is the jerk-" began Mina, frowning as Kami was about to strangle the man.
"No one, don't bother wasting your time on him." Coldly said Minhee.
The man left in a rush once he realized that he had lost Minhee's affection, embarrassed beyond repair.
"...He looked like a donkey Minhee." Whispered Mina with a disgusted expression on her face.
"Don't mention it, alcohol must have clouded my judgement at the previous parties." She sighed before lightly laughing.
"...A donkey kicked in the face by another donkey." Corrected Kami.
"I must have been mad!"
"See? This is why you should not drink Mina." Said Kami. "Alcohol makes you think strange things."
"On this I strongly disagree, and now that you mentioned it I might go grab a drink."
"It's never too early for a drink my dear." She said before leaving for the bar.
The two friends watched as their friend dressed in a lovely dusty pink dress disappeared in the crowd.
"-And I inherited two pretty horses from my grandparents that I intend to breed, do you have any interest in breeding horses my ladies?" Asked a gentleman that had been talking about horses for the past fifteen minutes to the bored pair that had instead been focused on how asymmetric his eyes were and how his nose occupied most of his face.
It might have been shallow and rude to judge people on their appearance but then again, it wasn't as if they had a lot to go on.
Most praised them for their noble lineage and others talked about their issues as if in hope that the two of them would grant them favors.
Conversations were boring and led to nothing.
Kami hid her laugh behind her open book as Mina looked at her for help.
"Uh...No but I am sure that it is an interesting...activity…?" She coughed.
"You should watch them go at it...They are magnificent beasts."
It became harder for the pair not to laugh.
"You and I could be…" he leaned and whispered in the brunette ears not quietly enough so that Kami wouldn't hear"...Like a stallion and a mare together, beautiful."
Kami lost it and broke into a laugh while Mina cringed the most she had ever done in her whole life time.
"What's wrong?" Asked the man both worried and obfuscated " What's so funny?"
"I think that you did enough for tonight sir." Said a stranger behind him.
"Who are you-"
He turned around only to come face to face with a man taller than he was and gasped.
"...My Lord, I am sorry." He apologized before running away.
Kami lowered her book to eye the newcomer with her ocean blue eyes.
He wasn't that tall, the previous man had just been extremely short but then again, she wasn't the one to judge someone on their height.
He had blue black hair that was half swept back to allow people to take a closer look at his face that was, in her eyes, quite handsome.
He was quite the specimen.
" I couldn't listen to him any longer, I apologize. It was pure torture." He smirked
"What? You didn't appreciate the talk about horses?" Joked Kami
Mina was still cringing.
" Not at all- It was the most awful conversation I ever had."
"You will hear worse at these parties I promise you." He laughed.
Kami hadn't stopped staring at him and the wittiness in his brown eyes.
She liked them.
"It sounds like you do not enjoy them?"
"The parties? I don't, but so do you right?"
Kami was intrigued.
"How would you know?"
"No one brings a book to such a party, especially this book." He said
Kami blinked, it wasn't a well known book, a book written mostly for women and in which the main character was a woman, something quite rare at the time.
She identified as the character, a blonde girl like her that went on adventures and traveled the world in her stead.
"You have read it?"
He only smiled and bowed.
"My ladies…" he formally murmured before going away.
Kami closed her book and raised her eyebrow.
"He just left like that…?" Asked Mina confused.
"....What a jerk."
"....Men are weird."
"You haven't seen the worst of it yet."
Mina was left alone as Kami had gone somewhere else without her, probably to the bathroom.
She was soon surrounded by curious faces that wanted to exchange words with her.
She was trying to smile but felt overwhelmed quite quickly and found herself unable to reply to their never ending questions.
"Maybe you could let my guest have some space so that she can breath?" Asked a kind voice behind the crowd that soon split into two "Maybe then she would be able to answer your questions."
Mina raised her eyes to see a tall man in the familiar tailored outfit that only dukes could wear. She eyed the medals hanging on top of the black and red fabric and soon recognized the symbol of the house of Clarence.
He was younger than what she had expected and more handsome - handsome with his black locks and dark eyes shaped like those of a feline or maybe a fox.
It was the kind of face one would find in a museum, a face sculpted by masterful hands.
She finally took a breath, grateful for his sudden apparition and acknowledged him.
He leaned and whispered in her ear, shivers traveling her skin.
"Are you alright? Do you need my help?"
A shiver went down her spine again and she quickly stepped aside, suddenly self aware of the heat in her cheeks.
He stepped closer again and whispered, gently offering her his arm.
"Don't be so tense, they are analyzing every single movement that you make, you have to appear strong or else they will think you are weak and will take advantage of you."
She nodded before whispering back into his ear.
"...Thank you." She said, taking his arm.
"Should I bring you to your brother-"
"Mina!" She heard Myungsoo call as he went through the crowd.
She shyly smiled, her face maybe too close to his.
"You won't have to, he is here." She said before stepping back.
The crowd dispersed, they could deal with two high ranking nobles but not with another one, they felt like they were intruding on a conversation they weren't meant to hear.
"Are you alright?" Asked Myungsoo, checking on his sister. " I am sorry they rushed towards me and I couldn't really dismiss them-"
"I am fine thanks to his Grace-"
"Oh please, just call me Minhyun." He smiled "I am a friend of you brother Mina."
The young woman blinked.
"You know my name?"
"How could I not? He told me a lot about you."
"Oh did he?" She asked, eyeing the mentioned man who just coughed.
"...Well I do need someone to take care of you if something ever happens to me-"
Mina rolled her eyes.
"Oh stop saying that ,nothing is going to happen to you !"
Minhyun chuckled, staring at the two siblings.
"..But still...How did you recognize me?" She asked, confused
He smiled and leaned in.
"Hmm...Let me see…" he took a strand of her hair" The long and beautiful black hair that runs in your family, the lovely beauty mark under your pretty dark eyes and your lovely smile…?"
Blood rushed to the young woman's cheeks once more.
"Stop flirting with my sister when I am here or I'll have to kick you."
A melodic laugh escaped the duke's lips who stepped back.
"It was nice finally meeting you Mina, I hope you'll have a nice time at my party."
Minhee was disappointed, what kind of party only had Champagne?
Champagne was good but not good enough for the mood she was in.
She wanted to drink until her brain erased the annoying face of the man that had, more or so, cheated on her.
She sat on a couch, a little farther away from the heart of the party, she needed some calm.
She needed some time away from the judging stares and all the gossiping.
Minhee knew that she had to go back to Mina, she had promised her after all that she would be there for her first ball, but she had underestimated how bad she would feel seeing her surrounded by all the curious and amazed faces.
She had once been in her place, she used to gather all the gazes and compliments, all until one night, a single night that changed her reputation forever.
A mistake in the night that she was soon reminded of by the man that stood in front of her.
"...It's been a long time Minhee." Whispered the man that was a decade or more older than she was.
She wasn't drunk enough to deal with this, not drunk enough to ignore his soft eyes and his little forehead wrinkle that she had always found so attractive.
She wanted to ask him what he was doing there and why but wasn't able to.
"...Go away." She simply told him, her throat tightening.
"Are you mad at me?"
She stood up, grabbed his arm and dragged him into an empty and dark room before anyone saw them together.
She knew how bad things would get if they did.
The room they were in was rather small and was only lit by the moonlight, a moonlight that was bright enough for her to see that he hadn't changed at all.
"...What are you doing here? When did you come back? Why?"
"...I came back for you." He whispered, caressing her cheek with his hand.
She bit her lips, unable to push him back.
He had a strange spell on her, maybe it was in the way his hands were so caring and made her feel special when she felt like she had only disappointed people for most of her life.
The man was good looking but not as much as Myungsoo or some of her other lovers were- he had a palpable charisma, an aura around him that was surpassed by no one in her young eyes.
"...Stop it." She begged "...Do you know how hard things have been for me because of you?"
There were tears in her eyes.
She remembered the rumors, the constant chattering that followed her everywhere she went, she remembered the disappointment in her parents gaze as they looked at her.
She had wanted to tell them that she hadn't given herself to him out of a whim and that she had loved him and thought that their love would lead to marriage eventually.
Only Mina and Kami had been there for her then, never judging her and embracing her until her tears all dried.
But Minhee had never told them the truth, the fact that she had hoped she would meet him again at the parties and that it was truly why she went to them so often ,even when she hated the people there.
She had hoped to meet him again.
"...I heard and I am sorry, it never was my intention I-"
She had thought about what she would tell him once she met him again.
She had thought about hitting him, maybe killing him….
But now that he was in front of her all of her strength was gone and all she could do was admire him like she used to.
"... I worked so hard for people to think that our...mistake...What we did together was just a rumor and not the truth." She whispered.
He stayed silent, his eyes unable to meet hers.
"...You ruined me, my chances of marriage and my life on that day and you left me."
" I had business to deal with in France I-"
"Months! I waited for months for you to come back and not a single letter…"
She sat on a couch and took her face in her hands, she heard him come closer.
She should have pushed him away and she knew it but she let him come closer.
" I am sorry about that...I wasn't playing with you back then, I was serious, I wanted to marry you." He said, taking her hands "...I still want to."
She looked up to his face, surprised as he kissed her fingers.
She had fallen for him during her first ball, just a year prior to that one, on a quite warm spring night.
She had fallen for his maturity, how clever and composed he was compared to boys her age- and that's what they were to her, young boys that were rough and unrefined.
He was sophisticated, kind and polite and one thing led to another.
She gave in to his sweet words and soft touch.
He had been her first love.
"...Do you mean it?"
Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe she had just missed him or maybe she still loved him.
She was tired of men chasing her and her chasing them, she wanted to rest, she wanted to give in to him.
She missed his caring touch, the kisses he would give her.
He made her feel cared for and that's what she needed, affection.
"Will you give me another chance?" He asked, his fingers tracing her waist.
She felt herself waver.
Kami had been quietly spying on the mysterious stranger that had saved her and Mina from the horse-loving man.
He was alone by the fireplace, reading a book from one of the shelves near him, almost like a model posing for a painting.
The young woman got closer, step by step and rested her back against the wall- still watching him.
"Are you done staring at me?" He inquired with a smile.
"....Someone once told me that reading a book at a party meant that that person isn't enjoying the said party." She said, taking a glance at the book he was reading, a classic.
"I wonder who it was that told you such a thing, I am having the time of my life, can't you tell?" He smirked.
"Why are you following me?" He asked crossing his arms across his chest
"Your eyes have been for quite some time…."
"And so were yours every time I pretended to look away."
Kami showed him her book again.
"So have you read it? You didn't answer my question earlier."
"I have, why?"
"Well...It's not the type of book men usually read?"
"And what type of book is it that men usually read?"
The stranger carefully took Kami's book and went through its pages.
"Women are half of this world, if I only read books about men then I am not seeing the other half of the world I live in."
The man also rested against the wall, slightly closer to her.
"What did you think about it?"
"...Do I have to be honest?"
"Badly written, it lacks a lot of elements and the story is quite basic in itself."
Kami took her book back ,pouting.
"Well then you know nothing about literature sir…?"
"Ah...The name of a man that lacks tastes."
"...May I say something in my defense?"
"It might be lacking but I like the main character, she's interesting and brilliant."
"...I may forgive you then."
"Thank you my Lady."
"Kami, my name is Kami."
He smirked and politely kissed her hand.
Kami watched as the man left again, another smirk on his face, she wanted to kick him.
Myungsoo was talking again with other people as Minhyun also entertained his guests.
Mina was trying to make conversation ,or rather had to listen to the constant babbling of two men that hadn't left her side for the past thirty minutes, she missed her friends that seemed to have forgotten all about her and their promise to spend a good time together.
Her monotone evening came to a halt when a perhaps drunk woman spilled her champagne glass on her dress.
"Oh- I'm so sorry-" she said, malice in her eyes, showing Mina that it wasn't an accident and that she was far from drunk.
"You shouldn't be standing here your Grace, you were in the way." She provocatively smiled.
Mina clenched her fist, remembering how Kami (after reading a book about martial arts) had taught her how to punch someone in the right spot to make them drop to the ground.
However, just as she was about to commit murder,Minhyun walked to them smiling in his radiant beauty.
He didn't have to say a word, his presence and stare were enough to denounce her action.
"...Where is the nearest bathroom?" Asked Mina, sighing as he joined them.
"You have to go upstairs, should I show you the way?"
"No I'm fine." Said the young woman before hurriedly leaving, she just wanted to get out of there.
Minhyun watched her leave and leaned in closer to the drunk woman's ear.
She blushed and brought a hand to her mouth, expecting him to ask her if she was alright with his sweet voice.
"Your Grace I-"
"How ungraceful, should I tell your husband that you have been spilling drinks on young women while lurking around young men all evening long?"
Minhyun coldly smiled before stepping back.
"Now if you'll excuse me…"
The corridors were seemingly endless but quite narrow in some part of the second floor.
Mina had passed by rooms and rooms without finding a bathroom and finally sat down on the floor, she was alone anyway no one was there to judge her, she could drop the ladylike act.
The guests were all on the lower grounds and were too drunk to notice that she was gone, it was her time to stop and breath.
She considered staying there for the rest of the evening, parties were not what she had imagined.
Formalities and greed filled people, fake laughs and smiles- cold people everywhere in a beautiful, almost fairy tale like mansion.
She just wanted to make new friends, to see the world and yet still felt like she was trapped in a bird cage.
She just wasn't enjoying herself and regretted coming at all to begin with.
"See? I told you that I should have shown you the way." Smiled Minhyun, sitting against the wall across from hers.
His legs were long and the tip of his shoes touched the tip of hers.
"It's a true labyrinth." She lightly laughed, running a hand in her hair.
He eyed her, a sad sigh escaping his lips.
"...You are not having a good time are you?"
"...Can I be truthful?"
"Why wouldn't you be?'
"Well...You are the host of the party, I wouldn't want to offend you." She said
"You won't...It's my first time hosting one and I am quite sure that it isn't great, I am in dire need of feedback."
Mina hesitated for an instant ,but then again, he was her brother's friend, he wouldn't take it to heart and even if he did, she would probably never see him again- she was done with parties.
"...It is awfully boring so far." She confessed, biting her lip to conceal her smile.
He laughed and ruffled his hair, looking younger and less burdened suddenly.
She could imagine that it wasn't easy for him to carry such a heavy title at such a young age.
"I guess it is, I am not having a good time so far either."
"For the same reasons as yours I guess?"
"I doubt that people look at you as if they are about to eat you…."
"Well...you kind of did."
"But then again so did I as I looked at you." He smiled.
Mina blushed as he leaned in and delicately grabbed the end of her dress that was wet, she became redder as he brought the fabric closer to his face to find out which liquid it was.
She could see the soft silk threads graze the tip of his pretty nose and then graze his lips.
"...Champagne...It should wash off pretty easily without leaving a stain later on." He innocently smiled against the white chiffon layered with ivory organza.
Mina wasn't breathing as she stared at his pretty and hypnotic smile, feeling bad for imagining that he might have other intentions behind his movements.
Feeling even more bad for hoping that he truly had followed her for something more than just an extended form of loyalty towards her brother.
It was the first meaningful meeting she had made during that all night.
"...I...I am lucky that it wasn't red wine." She whispered before slowly pulling the fabric back towards her.
"Do I make you feel uncomfortable…? If I do then I can leave-"
Mina leaned in and grabbed his hand as he was about to stand up.
"No- no you don't…" she coughed, feeling her cheeks get redder by the second before letting go of him "...It's just that I am already breaking the first rule by staying with you like this…"
He raised an eyebrow.
"...An unmarried lady should never be seen alone with a man..?"
"...Did your brother tell you that?" He laughed
"Yes, how did you know?"
"Well because that is typical of him…?" Minhyun said "He is just being protective, don't worry. There's no such things as party rules."
"But still you never know what some men might do so be careful ok?"
He nodded in approval.
"Well...Since we broke the first rule imposed by your brother anyway...What about a walk by ourselves in the gardens?" He asked, reaching his hand out to her.
"This sounds like something I shouldn't accept…"
"...But I'll let you lead the way this time."
The gardens were blooming under the moonlight, roses and baby-breaths intertwined along the white walls of the mansion.
"It's lovely." Mina whispered, walking a feet away from him.
"Our garden here is...small. I miss the one we have back in our castle." She said.
"Do you miss living there?"
"Sometimes…? I miss how calm it is...Do you miss yours?"
He shook his head.
"I am an only child, my family castle always felt too empty and big for me, it was always cold."
"That's why I am grateful for your brother, he often came to visit me there even when he was busy."
"How come we have never met then?"
"You were kept away and sick most of the time, I never got the chance to."
Minhyun stopped to watch a scarlet rose and so did Mina.
"...Well...Not really, I did see you once." He said.
The young woman blinked and raised an eyebrow.
"...I am sure that I would've remembered you if I had."
"Why?" He asked
Mina turned around to look at the moon, but really to hide her red cheeks, she never had the opportunity to stay this close to a man apart from her brother before.
It was as if she was walking along a magical being, a rare creature she was seeing for the first time.
She was tall but so was he, his hands were larger than hers, making her fingers look almost fragile.
He was her opposite and the difference between the two of them made her heart race.
"W..Well you have a face that isn't easy to forget I guess…?"
He took her hand and made her turn around so that she would face him again.
"Hmmm….Because it isn't to your taste or the opposite?" He asked with the most teasing smile there was.
Mina found the fact that he played with her shyness annoying, annoyingly attractive that is.
She was tired of being swaddled in a blanket of security by her family and friends, all that she wanted was to feel the rush of life and its ups and downs.
He was giving her glimpses of it.
"Well...Objectively speaking…You aren't unpleasant to look at..." she replied, scarlet.
"...You were playing the piano in your music room when I first saw you, but you were too busy to notice me or your brother I guess." He told her "We left without interrupting you."
"So that's how you recognized me…"
"...That and because of the constant mumbling from the men telling one another how beautiful you are tonight?"
"Oh stop it!" She laughed to hide her embarrassment
"I am not joking…" he seriously said before bringing her hand to his lips "You shined like a diamond tonight and as one might be entranced by such jewels, all men were."
Mina wanted to ask him what he had thought of her when she first came through that door, glowing and smiling at this new world that was opening to her, she wanted to know if she had taken his breath away too, if she had caught his sight even for a second before they exchanged their first words.
What the lady ignored is that he had been the first one to notice her as he stood at the top of the stairs, coming down to greet guests he had no interest in.
She had been there, carelessly giving away smiles that he considered to be too precious to be witnessed by the greedy vultures that wouldn't hesitate to seize the golden prize that she was.
She was beautiful, rich and of noble blood, but most of all she was young- too young in fact for most of the men that were there to look for a bride.
Minhyun had seen himself in her in a way, he had been ignorant too at one point and wanted to spare her the brutal downfall that was reality.
And so he had waited for an opportunity to whisk her away to a calm place, hoping that he would be able to keep her a little more the way she was until the night ended.
He had promised her brother that he would take care of her after all.
Minhyun kissed the back of her hand, his gaze not leaving hers, he could feel her heart flutter under his touch.
"I wouldn't dare lie to you."
Mina knew that it was all but a formal kiss and yet she couldn't forget the feeling of his lips on her skin.
She couldn't help but wonder if this is why Minhee loved being in men's company no matter how much she loathed them the next morning.
"I…I should go back inside, my brother and my friends must be looking for me." She whispered, holding her hand to her heart.
"Let me take you back."
"People will see us-"
"And I will tell them that you felt unwell and needed some fresh air." He smiled "You'll be fine ,I promise."
He offered her his arm this time and she took it as they both walked back into the party.
Eyes were locked on their arms, some already up to gossip about the pair.
Some even going as far as to suspect that the duke might have found his duchess.
"I see that you've met Woohyun." Said Myungsoo, joining Kami as they both watched the man leave through the main entrance. "He was the writer friend I told you about."
"Is he? Then I am afraid to tell you that his tastes when it comes to literature are great but that his opinion when it comes to the actual content of the books is rather disappointing."
"Oh really? How come?"
Kami showed him her book.
"He wasn't able to recognize what a masterpiece this is!"
Myungsoo took a look at the author's name and smirked.
"What? What's this smile?" She asked.
"Well…" he laughed " He has good reasons to be critical of it, he is the one who wrote it."
Kami froze and eyed her friend's brother with large eyes.
"...But the pen name…"
" A fake one, he wouldn't be able to publish such stories under his true name, his family would forbid it."
"...No way...I...I have to talk to him..I have so many questions to ask about the book!"
Myungsoo grabbed her arm.
"Another day, there will be plenty of parties for you to come to and see him."
Kami cringed, Myungsoo was a sneaky man and she knew that it was his way of making sure that even if he wasn't there, Kami would be keeping an eye on his little sister instead.
"Do you really see me going to another party…? You do know how much I hate dresses and wearing this much jewelry right?" She said pointing at her pale blue dress and heavy jewelry.
He raised his shoulders and let them down again.
"You won't really have a choice, the next party is a royal one."
A loud sigh escaped her lips.
Royal parties were painfully boring, more than the regular parties that sometimes could turn out to be entertaining (especially when mysterious writers were involved)- but these were all about formality and displays of wealth, Kami disapproved of them and yet could not escape them, her parents would throw her in a carriage before she had the time to say no.
"Would you help me find your friends? It's getting late, we should get back."
"You won't have to search for them Cinderella,look, Minhee is already here-"
Kami wasn't really sure as to what angered her the most as she froze, the fact that this man was back and dared walk by Minhee's side or that her friend was lightly, but still smiling,holding onto his arm.
"...This has to be a joke." Whispered Myungsoo to her who had helped the trio deal with the aftermath of the scandal "Did she lose her mind…???"
"This can't be happening."
The man stopped in his tracks as he met the eyes of the pair, most definitely willing to end his life on the spot and whispered some words before leaving Minhee's side.
The young woman hurried to her friend.
"...How was your evening..?" Asked Minhee,uncomfortable under their heavy stares.
"Are you out of your mind..???" Whispered Myungsoo
"Not here Myungsoo, people are listening...But you better explain this later Minhee." Said Kami " We are leaving as soon as we find Mina."
Minhee sighed, lowering her head as the crowd grew louder.
Kami eyed them to see what agitated them and froze once more as she saw a glowing Mina hanging onto Minhyun's arm.
Kami could recognize the familiar red flush on Mina's cheek, the way her body leaned towards him and the way her sparkling eyes looked for his.
Her evening was taking a turn for the worst, how was she going to deal with her friends?
"Mina!" Myungsoo called rushing to her and his old friend "I've been looking for you!"
Mina's and Minhyun's complice smiles did not escape the glance of Kami.
"Sorry, I needed some fresh air." She lied.
Myungsoo whispered a few words to his sister, sending her to the duo.
"Go outside first, I'll join you in an instant." He said.
Kami grabbed her friends' arms and dragged them outside without letting them a moment to breathe.
"What's wrong?" Asked Mina, confused and suddenly out of her daze-like state "Are we already leaving?"
"Oh yes we are!"
Kami stopped before the carriage.
"...You both have some explaining to do." She said "...Especially you Minhee but we are dealing with everything tomorrow, I don't have enough energy to hear whatever excuse you have for this." Finished Kami, looking at Minhee.
The blonde woman then focused on their cadet.
"...What's happening with you and Minhyun?"
Mina blushed and that time, Minhee saw it too.
"I think...I think I might like him."
"....Jesus Christ." Swore Minhee.
"...Just kill me already." Sighed Kami.
"Junho…." called out Yujin to a still annoyed Junho
Nothing but the growlings and distant screams.
Her friend stayed quiet.
"We are in a freaking apocalypse...Are you really going to be mad at me?"asked the girl, crossing her arms across her chest."What if I die? You'll regret it."
"Yes. And I thought that you were ready to die?"
Junho was stubborn, he always was.
"Why are you angry?"
"Because you are so dumb that my brain is hurting."
"Oh? You have one?-" started Yujin before seeing that he wasn't in a mood to joke.
Junho sighed again, running a hand in his hair.
Yujin was feeling especially strange and uncomfortable in a way in that moment.
Junho looked cool and she wasn't used to it.
Junho was supposed to be the one relying on her and not the contrary.
Junho was supposed to be shy with others and playful with her but he wasn't.
He was serious and this new look looked good on him.
"I do but not you. Have you even thought about what your parents would feel if you died?"
"Well...Who's the one without a brain then?"
Her parents...She liked them, they had always been good to her,had always cared for her and she was thankful for everything they had ever provided for her.
But she was alone apart from them, she had no siblings or cousins, no uncles or aunts and grandparents left alive. She was the sole recipient of her parent's overbearing and suffocating love.
Yujin thought of herself as a low-maintenance daughter, she liked simple things, she liked to be free.
Her parents struggled to get her and her way of life, always seeking to change her into the ideal daughter they had hoped to have, a girl just like Minju.
A rose without a thorn, a perfect doll they could leave in their "perfect" home.
But Yujin wasn't like that at all, and only Junho understood her.
Maybe it was why she had fallen for Minju ,because she was a perfect girl that finally illustrated the dream that her parents had always imposed onto her.
She was the long-sought image that had previously been a simple shadow in her mind.
Maybe it had been the Yujin, always respectful and filial to her parents that had loved the pink-haired high schooler.
Not the real her.
It made sense, she knew nothing about her after all and her heart didn't hurt her anymore.
She was alright.
"Are you ok?" asked Junho who had gotten closer without her even noticing.
Yujin shook her head.
Junho had been right, it had been nothing but a unrequited fling, a crush that had lasted less than a cherry blossom's petal's life.
She had been a kid in love for a short time.
Could she even call it love?
"...You are right Junho, maybe I am an idiot indeed." admitted Yujin, wiping away a tear from her cheek.
"Uh…? S..Sorry I was just joking…You aren't an idiot.." panicked Junho
She had nothing, no one to hang on, her parents were probably dead and Minju was away with someone that she loved.
It was funny to think that for all this time she had gotten mad at Junho for not making new friends when he was surrounded by more people than her.
She was lost and full of regrets.
She should have told her parents that she loved them, she should have confessed to Minju, she should have opened herself to more people.
"...I'm scared Junho."confessed Yujin, lightly tugging at his shirt. "I don't want to die…" cried the girl in a broken voice.
"...I won't let you die." swore the once so little Junho, taking her hand in his.
"Aren't you scared?"
"I am. I am scared to death." confessed Junho " But it's normal.We need to be scared to survive."
"I want to be stronger." whispered Yujin
Junho lightly laughed and wiped her tears away.
"You already are, do you remember all the bruises you gave me?"
"I was not speaking of that kind of strength…"
Junho intertwined their fingers.
"...You don't have to."
Junho smiled, rubbing the back of her hand with his thumb.
"Because no matter how tall we get and how we act…." started the boy "...We still are kids."
They were two kids locked in a storage room waiting to be saved, hand in hand, shivering.
Yujin finally noticed how much Junho's fingers were shaking.
He was trying his best not to scare her.
A roar, a visceral scream.
"Hush…" smiled Junho slightly tensing up as someone, something started banging against the locked door. "Look at me and don't listen to them." asked Junho before covering her ears with his hands.
The room was dark, only lighted by the rare moonlight rays coming from the small window at the top of the wall behind them.
Junho gently leaned towards her, resting her forehead against hers.
His hands were warm and so were his eyes filled with fear and worries.
Yujin noticed how he was now towering over her with his height and large shoulders, how he was slowly losing his baby-like features.
She wondered if he appeared different to her that night because they were maybe contaminated and slowly turning into one of them, because they were maybe going to die in there without ever being found, because it felt like there was only the two of them left alone in the world.
Yujin slowly caressed the hands covering her ears and felt Junho shiver at the cold touch of her skin.
Everything was silent and calm, she could have almost fallen asleep if not for the climbing and visible tension in his neck.
She could tell from his reaction, even though not able to hear it, that the banging was growing louder with each hit.
She could feel the powerful hits through the wall she was resting against.
"Junho…"called out Yujin, as her friend nervously looked over his shoulder at the shaking door that would soon break open.
If they were going to die, she wanted it to be while looking at his eyes.
<<Yes..?>> managed to read the girl on his lips
This was a sad end, not the one she had expected for the both of them.
But she wasn't mad or annoyed by it.
Because thanks to it she had realized that she hadn't been alone for a long time, that her friend had always been by her side when she had needed a shoulder to cry on, from the beginning until the end.
He was her one and only friend, he was her family.
Yujin's eyes got teary once again, she was happy even though the fear was slowly eating at her stomach.
"Thank you for being my friend." thanked Yujin.
<<Can you hear me…?>> read the girl on his lips.
Yujin didn't reply.
Junho deeply breathed in.
<<I love you.>>
The door broke open.