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A Hand to Hold

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Lee Eun Bi stared at Han Yi Ahn’s contorted face, tears streaming down from her eyes. Her shoulders, held in a death grip by the tall boy before her, hurt as much as her rapidly beating heart.

I’m sorry.

"Why are you doing this to me? How can you not be Go Eun-byul?” he said urgently, desperately. She could not bear to see his face so she bowed her head. The grip on her shoulders tightened and he started to shake her slightly. “So, has it all been lies this whole time? Why didn't you say anything sooner? Who are you?!"

Tears continued to stream down her face. I’m really sorry.

The grip on her left shoulder was suddenly gone and she looked up to see Gong Tae Kwang. The blonde boy – the boy who knew her secret, the boy who vowed to help her – gripped her arm.

“Let’s go,” he said and started dragging her away. She followed, for what else could she do? She did not know how to face the confusion and grief and anger of her dead sister’s childhood friend. No matter how much she tried to calm herself, her mind was a mess and could only draw a blank.

She had only taken few steps away from Yi Ahn when she heard footsteps followed by another hand gripping her free arm. She looked back to see him glaring at Tae Kwang.

“Gong Tae Kwang, let go of that hand.”

Tae Kwang paused and then stared at Yi Ahn, as if challenging him.

“Let go of that hand,” Yi Ahn said firmly and then drew her closer to him as if to drive the point home. She was momentarily filled with something akin to panic and shot her eyes at Tae Kwang to see him looking at her – always looking at her… out for her – before he met Yi Ahn’s smoldering gaze.

Silence hung heavy in the air as the boys continued to size each other up with their gazes. Her mind was screaming at her to do something, anything… because she knew that if she would not do anything, there would be tears and heartache. Again.

This is what you get for deceiving people, Lee Eun Bi, a voice that sounded like Kang So Young taunted inside her head. You’ve always been like this. Hurting people.

“Stop!” she shouted and then shook off the boys’ hands. She eyed them both, willing them to understand. I’m sorry.

“Gong Tae Kwang, I need to talk to Han Yi Ahn,” she said firmly despite of the state she was in. The blonde boy’s face was interesting to watch as surprise and hurt danced across it before settling for an unreadable expression. He shrugged before he turned around and started to walk away. She did not know why but looking at his slowly retreating back, she felt something inside her break. It reminded her of a time – a time which felt like a lifetime ago – when she was walking in a corridor swarmed with students in red uniform, staring at her, pointing at her, laughing at her.

His back, she realized, looked lonely.

She took one small step, then another, and another, and before she knew it, she was jogging up to him. She heard Yi Ahn shout behind her but she did not turn back. With shaky fingers, she gripped his right arm.

“I need to talk to him,” she said tremulously, willing him to look at her. He still looked straight ahead and so she tugged. Please.

Slowly, he turned, his face still unreadable. “So?”

“So… I didn’t tell you to leave,” she whispered harshly. Tears started to fill her eyes, blurring her vision, and she clutched desperately at his arm. “Can’t you stay?”

Help me.

She heard him sigh. “Alright, alright.”

And before she could drag him back to where the swimmer was standing, Tae Kwang rubbed his sleeve on her eyes. “So stop crying.”

-O-

The three of them were soon seated on one of the benches in the park. Yi Ahn, who was seated on her right, was staring intensely at her while Tae Kwang, who was seated on her left, was staring at a bush opposite their bench. The only indication that he was listening was that his eyes would briefly wander to her direction before he would stare at the bush again.

She took a deep breath and started to tell the two of them everything – how she was living in an orphanage in Tongyeong, how she received gifts from time to time from a person named Song Mi Kyung, how she was bullied because she stood up for someone, how she decided to end her life after she was accused of something she had not done and got expelled, how she woke up in a hospital with no memory of who she was, how she came to live as Go Eun Byul, how she regained her memories and knew of her twin’s identity, how she found out about what happened to her, how Eun Byul’s foster mother begged her to live as her dead daughter.

Her tale was long but she persevered. The entire time, she was gripping on both boys’ arms; Yi Ahn’s, begging for his understanding and forgiveness, and Tae Kwang’s, for support.

“Han Yi Ahn,” she spoke brokenly after a long stretch of silence that followed her confession, “what happened to my unnie… it was my entire fault. I’m really, really sorry.”

Yi Ahn gave no indication that he heard her; in the middle of her confession, he was already staring off in space. Her heart thudded painfully inside her rib cage. I’m sorry.

“Yah,” Tae Kwang said softly as he poked the hand gripping his arm, “how is it your fault? You did not ask your twin to save you.”

She shook her head. “Even so–“

“I’m sorry,” Yi Ahn interjected. He stood up and the hand on his arm loosened. “I still have to wake up early tomorrow. I have to go home now.”

Without even waiting for them to say a peep, he ran away. Eun Bi also stood up to follow but Tae Kwang held her back.

“Let him be,” he said. “He won’t listen to reason yet. Let him mourn.”

She nodded slowly and then sat back down. Tears formed and spilled on her face again. He shifted and turned to her, his gaze sharp on her face. “Do you like him that much?”

Her eyes widened as she stared at him. “What… what do you mean?”

He was silent for a long time as he studied her face and she wanted nothing more than to shrink from his gaze. “You’re crying again. Do you like him that much?”

Did she like Han Yi Ahn? Memories of the days she spent happily with the tall swimmer flashed inside her mind. When she was with him, she was happy and felt loved… but it was not reality. It was not her reality. “I don’t know… I got too caught up in my lies. I have forgotten that I was only living someone else’s life.”

She buried her face in her hands as she tried not to sob. How could I forget? I’m sorry, Han Yi Ahn. I’m sorry, unnie.

A hand awkwardly patted her back and all the dam broke loose. That night, in the park, seating on the bench, she mourned for what had happened and for what could have been. The two of them stayed there for a long time until she could not cry anymore. After a while, Gong Tae Kwang gently prodded her shoulder.

“Come on. I’ll walk you home.”

-O-

Eun Bi didn’t feel like going to school the next day. She did not know how to face Yi Ahn or her classmates (who may or may not have known her true identity by now) but she didn’t want her mother – her twin’s mother – to worry. Besides, she could not give up yet. She still had to pay back her sister for giving up her life for her. She still had to bring Kang So Young down. With a heavy heart, she bade her mother goodbye.

The walk to the bus stop was (unsurprisingly) absent of Han Yi Ahn. Even the bus she boarded was filled with faces she did not know (and didn’t care to know). With a heavy sigh, she plopped on the window seat at the back, plugged her earphones in her ear, and stared blankly at the scenery outside.

A few minutes and stops later, she felt something heavy rest on her left shoulder. She turned and her eyes were met with a riotous mass of blonde hair.

“Yah, Gong Tae Kwang,” she scolded playfully. She did not know why but she felt something heavy roll out of her chest when she saw him.

“What?” the blonde said lazily. “I’m sleepy.”

Despite the worries that she had minutes ago, she found herself chuckling. “When are you even not sleepy?”

He briefly lifted his head and smirked at her before laying his head back on her shoulder.

For the rest of the way, she was unconsciously playing with the hand of the boy seated beside her, a soft smile gracing her lips.

And all was alright in the world… for now.