Chapter 164: Chapter 164
"Oh, not a problem. I'm gonna say this to you ahead and call you later personally to repeat it."
Dropping his gaze at her, Woo Jooin continued with joy. His voice even sounded rhythmical. As she recognized what he was talking about at the very next moment, Choi Yuri felt shivers down her spine.
"I'm sorry... for disclosing the fact that you've been hiding well. Though you did something wrong, it's my bad to talk about it out loud in front of others. Those who know your true colors and feel betrayed might curse you. It's quite painful, huh?"
"What about transferring to another school? You're not famous, just a run-of-the-mill girl, so you'd get along with others who don't know about you. I'm telling you this because I truly care about you. Although you did something wrong, it's also my fault to make others blame you, so once you transfer, I'll get rid of all additional rumors spreading out."
'That is...' Choi Yuri thought as she swallowed a burst of a scream that would come out of her mouth, 'what I just said to Ham Donnie... Did he remember all that?' Woo Jooin's unbelievable memory made her shudder. She considered how smart he was; however, his true colors were more demonic than she had thought.
Woo Jooin tapped her back, then pointed his fingers up. As she raised her eyes in wonder to look at the ceiling, Choi Yuri soon stayed silent for a moment. On top of the lightless, dark rooftop door, a security camera was quietly pointing at their direction. Woo Jooin continued his words with a bright smile.
"How's that? Isn't it a good thing that Jiho showed up earlier?"
"Oh, don't get me wrong. I managed to look at the security camera inside the principal's office before. That's how I know where they are located at the school. Anyway, don't get cute with me ever again..."
When Woo Jooin pushed Choi Yuri's shoulder slightly, she stepped back unwittingly. It seemed as if her consciousness had plunged deep into the void deep within her head.
Woon Jooin's hand felt like it was made only of water as it reached her shoulder. Through the dreamy and dim sight, Woo Jooin's hand slowly separated from her. He then vanished beneath the darkness of the stairway at a slow pace. The last words he left scattered around her ears.
"See you tomorrow in school then. I'll be looking forward to what you have to say."
* * *
It was such a hot summer day, but walking on a darkened street as the sun set on the horizon made it hard for me to distinguish what season it indeed was. Eun Jiho wrapped his arm around me so casually until I almost rolled down the stairs. He then released me immediately as if his hand had burned when I groaned because of the heaviness of his arms.
When we left the building, the glow of the setting sun had filled everything until the school entrance flecked with an orange hue. It made the whole space look like it was ablaze.
We walked side by side on the street wherein long stretches of students' shadows hung. A slow breeze passed between us. Until that moment, Eun Jiho didn't look at me in the eye at all. When we finally reached halfway through the school entrance, he stretched out his hand towards me and grabbed mine.
It was such an unreserved touch as if he knew where my hand was the whole time. I felt like he could defend me from every pain the world could offer as I looked at his slim, pale hand, which had unusually thick knuckles and protuberant bones on the back, as it modestly yet firmly grabbed mine.
I knew that I shouldn't be feeling something from this. I was the one who wasn't strong enough to protect myself from harm and eventually relied on him. At any critical moment, we should always protect ourselves on our own. Although I had that thought in mind... I still couldn't help myself from closing my eyes.
On the tree-lined street in front of the school, the green leaves that were barely seen at other times overshadowed the space, which darkened its immediate vicinity. A purple light permeated through the leaves and flickered above my eyes.
On our way back home, strangely, I couldn't see any people around us. The only thing accompanying us was the loud noise of the cicadas. I grabbed Eun Jiho's hand more tightly. As if he was the single lamplight remaining in the world, I would latch on to him like my life depended on it.
It seemed like he felt the tightening grip on his hand; that was when Eun Jiho opened his mouth at last. The voice that resonated out of him sounded unfamiliar somehow.
"Are you okay?"
He only said those three words. His short question sank massively amid my heart like a thousand-pound anchor. I responded with a nod.
Eun Jiho didn't say anything for quite a while. I rubbed my nose with the back of my hand before glancing at his face from the side.
He was casting his gaze toward the buildings from far away. Gently holding his head up high, he fixed his stare at the far distance. The leaves shed their shadows upon his face. He then asked again while pouting.
"You aren't fine, are you?"
"No," I replied immediately this time too.
His words sank in my heart once more, which was wedged with the three words he asked earlier. 'Are you okay? You aren't fine...' Those two questions alone were enough to knock me down.
At the next moment, I choked up like it was about damn time for it to happen. It wasn't just an impulsive or a gentle cry. Instead, what came out was a burst of tears rising deep within my heart. It felt like a rock that blocked my path the whole time had finally ceased into nothing; thus, my tears gushed from deep within.
When I break into a wail in the middle of the street, Eun Jiho heaved a short sigh; however, thankfully, he kept on his steps. If he stopped me right there or tried to further speak to me, I could not have endured the embarrassment. Instead, he pulled my hand and sheltered me beneath his arms. We then continued to walk.
I kept wiping my tears with my sleeves while his white school uniform shirt shimmered before me. Our clasped hands were hot compared to the usual warmth of his touch as if it carried the summer heat.
Covering my eyes with my sleeve, I spoke, only moving my lips.
"I... I wasn't... okay..."
He could have said something more, but that single word was the lone thing he uttered. He didn't even turn back to look at me at all. It made me even more relieved to the point that I stammered the words out of my mouth.
"A person... a stranger... asked me why I am still alive..."
"Her gaze was too... it made me feel like everything's my fault... I know that it's not true... but..."
Without responding, Eun Jiho just grasped my hands tighter. The summer heat was scorching our clasped hands again. 'Yoo Chun Young's hands were always cold...' I thought.
"But if I showed her how much I am struggling, then she would only get what she wanted... so I said, I'm fine..." I continued.
"I... I'm not fine... at all. I had a very... very hard time throughout this entire week..."
"If I really trusted myself, I might have felt better, but I wasn't... Choi Yuri... that girl..."
What that girl said felt so real. She provoked my inferiority-complex toward Ban Yeo Ryung, which wounded at some point. I always hid my weak self-esteem buried inside me, but Choi Yuri dragged it out and tarnished my pride.
When I stood beside Ban Yeo Ryung, I often heard people saying, 'Oh, she is jealous of Ban Yeo Ryung because... look, there's nothing special about her.'
Those words engraved a wound onto me, which I barely covered as I allowed it to linger within me; that girl, however, unraveled and berated it with nothing but mere words. She didn't know anything about us, but what she said made me question the truth that I held dear.
These thoughts, again, reduced me to tears so much so that I became at a loss of words. I looked straight ahead while suppressing my feelings as much as I could. My footsteps were now approaching my apartment elevator. There I smell something similar to that of cold metal.
Eun Jiho pressed the button mechanically before gazing at me at long last. Perhaps this was the first time we both looked at each other at the same time. I glanced up toward the floor sign above the elevator involuntarily. It would only take a few seconds for the number to descend from seven to one.