The bookstore was small and out of the way, and the job didn’t pay much; but still, it was the closest thing to a home Meijeong Chen had these days. Since she had moved to this part of town after graduating, she hadn’t had much time to socialize or make friends beyond her coworkers and the regular customers… or at least, that was the excuse she made for herself. It had been over eight months now, since she left home after finally managing to graduate. The late summer sun was sweltering hot as she walked to work, and she was grateful that she was able to wear shorts and a short-sleeve blouse at the bookshop. The area was quiet enough that the bookstore could afford to be friendly and casual. She didn’t have to deal with swarms of customers, but work was still steady. The owner Mr. Park was the uncle of an old friend she still had from school and a kind older gentleman who was looking to cut back on the hours he was working. Meijeong had spent time volunteering at the library before… well, she had the experience, and because her grades had dropped severely and she had taken extra time to graduate, there were no office jobs waiting for her after school was finished.
Before she had checked herself into the hospital, Meijeong’s life had been heading in a very different direction. It wasn’t her fault- at least, that’s what the doctors and therapists had told her. But the fact remained that she had gone from a student with perfect grades, who spent all her free time volunteering at the animal shelter and library, the oldest child who excelled at everything she tried, friendly and charismatic and destined to do great things… to now… Honestly, there was a small part of her that was relieved to be free of all that pressure. But things at home had been awkward for a while now, with her parents attention focused on her much more successful younger sisters, and she jumped at the chance to take a quiet job in a different town. It was a fresh start, and she was grateful for it, but… well, she would be lying if she said she didn’t feel a little unfulfilled.
Meijeong checked her phone for the time. She had purposefully left early for work, not wanting to rush in this heat, but now she would be there too early. There was a coffee shop that made her favorite blended tea across the street up ahead, so she decided to detour there. It was always busy in the summer, but there was plenty of time to get something cool and sweet before her shift.
Sure enough, there was a line, but it seemed to be moving quickly enough. Meijeong took out her phone and checked social media while she waited. Some of her old friends from school had gone to the beach over the weekend… her youngest sister’s summer internship had come to an end and she was moving back home… someone had gotten a new puppy…
Meijeong was so busy looking through the photos that she didn’t notice the group of teenage girls whispering about her at first. But eventually, she saw them sitting around a table just near the line and pretending not to stare, trying to slyly point at her forearm and the scars that ran helter-skelter from the inside of her elbow down to her wrist. Meijeong just sighed and ignored them. It never bothered her as much as she thought it would when people noticed. She told herself that but… the customer in front of her finished paying for their order. She was enough of a regular at this point that the barista knew her order (matcha, milk, and honey blended with ice). By the time her drink was ready, the group of girls had left and she was able to walk out without any more staring.
The cold drink made the walk in the heat so much more enjoyable, and Meijeong still made it to work a bit early. She smiled as she walked up to the shop- Mr. Park’s cat, a ginger tabby named Aslan, was sprawled lazily in the front window, enjoying the sun shining across the top of the short bookshelves. He barely moved when she opened the door, only a small flick of his eyes to see who was entering his domain.
“Don’t let me disturb your nap,” she said with a smile. At the register, the shop’s other employee, a part-timer named Sun-mi, was also sprawled out, fanning herself lazily.
“Meeeeiiiiii…” she said with a groan, “I’m so glad you’re here. It’s too hot for this.”
Meijeong laughed. “I let you take the morning shift because it was going to be cooler, but you’re still complaining.” Sun-mi sighed loudly, pouting. She several years younger than Meijeong, and it often showed. But even though Sun-mi had a flare for dramatics, she was an incredibly sweet girl with a big heart. Meijeong slid behind her and grabbed the plain green apron that served as their uniform from the drawers below the counter.
“I have a date tonight…!” Sun-mi said, “How am I supposed to go on a date when I’m all sweaty and gross from working in this hot shop all day? Even Aslan is miserable.”
The cat’s tail twitched, and Meijeong laughed. “Aslan is the God of this store,” she teased, “If he wanted it to be cooler, it would be. Besides, you leave in an hour. You’ll have plenty of time to clean up before you date.”
“Uuuughh,” Sun-mi sighed, “You’re so cold-hearted, Mei.” She stood up and took Meijeong’s hands, pulled her close, and pressed her face to her chest, “Mmm… feels so nice and cool.”
“Haha,” said Meijeong, used to Sun-mi’s antics by now. She extracted the girl from her and began flipping through the order slips and paperwork on the desk. “Did you stock the deliveries?”
“Yeah,” Sun-Mi replied, “But I didn’t get the books together for the special orders yet. The one woman who called seemed like one of your customers anyway.”
‘One of her customers’ usually meant someone who was asking for books on a subject, but didn’t quite know which ones they wanted. Sun-mi and Mr. Park had realized quickly that Meijeong not only enjoyed talking through decision-making with confused customers, but also excelled at it. Sometimes it was students, sometimes it was an older customer looking for something new, sometimes it was a mother in a book club. Meijeong enjoyed them all. There was something just so… she tried to find the right word… she supposed ‘fulfilling’ came the closest… about learning new things about a stranger, figuring out what they needed before they even knew it themselves. It wasn't saving the world or anything, but least she helped people in tiny ways.
“I’ll take a look at it,” she replied, and then added “It doesn’t look like we’re going to get too many people today. If the delivery is all put away, I think I can probably manage by myself if you want to leave early.”
Sun-mi immediately switched from lazy and melting to giddy and energetic. “Meeeiiiii!!” she exclaimed, “You’re the best!” She skipped in place and took off her apron. “I promise I’ll show up early some time for you. Mwah!” She bounced and kissed Meijeong cheek. The noise was enough to finally make Aslan lift his head, looking perturbed at having his nap interrupted. Sun-mi skipped over to him as well, and gave him a kiss on the top of his head.
“Now I’ll have plenty of time to get ready for my date!” she said happily, “Thank you thank you thank you Mei!”
“It’s fine,” Meijeong replied, laughing and shaking her head, “Go on, get out of here before I change my mind!" The young girl curtsied in mock-seriousness, making Meijeong laugh again, before heading out the door. Aslan, having decided that his nap was thoroughly ruined, jumped down from his perch and slinked behind the counter to the backroom, where his water and food bowls were.
Alone now, Meijeong sorted through the stack of orders and notes to find the special order Sun-mi had mentioned. She knew it as soon as she read it- a Miss Kim had requested an interesting mix – several children’s books and photography collection. She wasn’t quite sure if it was ‘one of hers’ after all. The children’s books would be easy, fairly common fairy tales and short stories that she knew they had several copies of. The photography book though…
Meijeong went to the art section, and found the book in question. The image on the front was a gorgeous landscape, full of cherry trees just before they bloomed. She didn’t know much about photography, but she could tell it was exquisite. Meijeong flipped through the rest of the book as she walked back to the front of the store and wondered about the person who was looking for this book.
The day passed faster than she thought it would. There weren’t many customers, and those that did come in were regulars who knew exactly what they wanted already, or students who needed to pick up a textbook order. In between customers, she flipped through the photographs. Occasionally, Aslan interrupted her to demand more food or treats or just simple worship, and she happily obliged him. She was scratching his favorite spot on his chin when a young woman, willowy and blonde, entered. Aslan bounded off the counter and gave the woman a careful sniff before rubbing against her legs and darting away again.
“Sorry,” Meijeong said, “He thinks everything that comes into the store is his. How may I help you today?”
It turned out to be the Miss Kim, who was soft-spoken and polite, and quite difficult to read. One thing Meijeong had noticed, however, was that the children’s books she had requested also had several different illustrated versions and after looking through the photography book, she thought that those might be something this woman would appreciate.
“Are these books for you, or are they gifts?” she asked politely.
“They’re for me,” said the woman, with a small smile, “I know it’s silly to be reading those stories at my age, but…“
“I don’t think it’s silly at all,” said Meijeong, smiling brightly, “Those stories stay around for a reason. They help us remember that sometimes looking the world in from the simple view of child makes complicated, adult problems easier to understand and deal with. They can bring us peace when we’re confused by reminding us of things that fill us with wonder.” Miss Kim seemed pleasantly surprised with her answer, and even more pleasantly surprised when Meijeong brought up one the illustrated versions of the books. It was nice, helping her find even more than what she was expecting.
Going to the back to grab the rest of the books, Meijeong thought for a moment about the woman’s smile. The photographs all had the feeling of waiting for something, but patiently waiting, for something you knew would happen eventually, and the woman’s smile felt similar somehow. The shop’s doorbell chimed brightly, disrupting her thoughts.
“Welcome, please let me know if there is anything I can help you find,” said Meijeong cheerfully, setting the books for the Miss Kim on the counter. They were actually quite heavy all together. Looking up, she saw that a familiar, heavy-set older woman with a flowing floral shawl draped around her shoulders had come in- Mrs. Lee, a frequent customer and a particular favorite of Meijeong’s.
“I’m back again,” Mrs. Lee said, “So glad you’re the one working today Meijeong. You were right, that book was wonderful. Romance, drama, heartbreak, oh! Exactly what I was looking for! But now I need more suggestions, and you’re the only one who hasn’t let me down yet.” Mrs. Lee was a wealthy widower who was in at least once a month to find suggestions for her book club, and Meijeong always liked finding something that would both surprise and entertain her.
“I’ll be with you in just a moment, m’am,” Meijeong said, setting the pile of books in her arms down on the counter carefully in front the blonde. Meijeong showed Miss Kim the books, and she smiled gratefully and nodded before digging out her wallet. Mrs. Lee wandered the store, talking loudly, picking up books and setting them down again in the wrong place. It drove Sun-mi crazy when Mrs. Lee did that, but Meijeong didn’t mind.
“Now, I know we’ve been on a bit of a period romance kick lately, but the ladies and I just saw this science fiction movie about reincarnation…”
“Here you go, miss,” said Meijeong handing the heavy bag of books to the other customer. The girl was tiny. Would she even be able to carry it on her own? Meijeong thought she better get the door for her, just in case. “I know which one you mean, m’am. I think I might have an idea for you.”
“Of course you do! You always do, my dear!”
The doorbell jingled as Meijeong held it open for the customer. Despite how hot the day had been, the evening air was starting to get almost chilly- was it that time of year already? She was distracted for a moment by the thought of fall, when suddenly the young woman gasped and dropped her bag. Meijeong was about to ask what was wrong, but then heard a child shouting. Across the street, a little boy was chasing his dog. The dog, off of its leash, ran away from the boy into the street.
Without stopping to think, Meijeong ran out, yelling and waving for cars to stop.
“HEY!” she shouted. Brakes squealed and the dog froze in place. Meijeong managed to tackle it and pull it back off the road safely. Her heart was pounding in her brain, and the dog squirmed happily in her grip, completely unbothered by how close he came to death.
“Where’s your leash, huh?” she said, panting almost as hard as the dog. Thank God this isn’t a busy street. She gripped the collar tightly, looking around for the boy.
“Po doesn’t like it when I put the leash on him,” said the little boy, running up to the disheveled pair, “He always bites at it and pulls, so I thought it would be more fun if we played without it.”
“He’s a dog!” Meijeong snapped, “Of course he doesn’t like the leash! If you care for him, sometimes you have to force him to learn to like things he doesn’t want because it’s for his own good. That’s your job as his owner!” The little boy was startled by her harsh tone, and it looked like he was going to start crying. The dog squirmed harder, moving closer to lick his hands. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I shouldn’t have yelled, but you both scared me very much.”
The boy nodded solemnly. He sniffed, wiping his face with one hand and petting the dog, Po, with the other. Meijeong dusted herself off, grimacing at the dirt and scrapes. “Come on,” she said, “Let’s go find something to help you walk Po safely. What’s your name?”
“Tae Hyun,” he mumbled, grabbing tight on Po’s collar.
“My name is Meijeong,” she said, cheerfully, “I work in this bookshop here, and I bet we have some old rope in the back that you can use to walk Po home.” Tae Hyun mumbled something that might have been “Thank you,” and Meijeong sighed. At the door of the bookshop, the young woman with all the heavy books had left, but Mrs. Lee was still waiting anxiously. She held the door open for the odd threesome, tittering and muttering a lot of ‘oh my’s’ and ‘my dear’ and some definite ‘for shames’ in the boy and dog’s direction.
“It’s alright Mrs. Lee,” Meijeong said, “We’re all fine. I’m just sorry you had to see all that.”
“It’s fine, dear, it’s fine. I’m just glad you’re safe.”
Meijeong gave the boy some old plastic rope that had been wrapped around some boxes in storage and sent him on his way. It took another 45 minutes to reassure Mrs. Lee- Yes, she was fine. Of course it was no problem to help her find a book after all that. No, she wasn’t traumatized. Yes, she did think that Cloud Atlas might be a nice way to mix up book club a bit. No, she didn’t need a ride home. Yes, she could walk fine even with the scraped knee.
“Thank you Mrs. Lee,” Meijeong said, “I hope to see you soon.” The rest of her day was thankfully uneventful. Mr. Park arrived later in the evening to check in on her and help close the shop before going to his apartment above the shop.
The hot day had turned into cool night, hinting that fall was just around the corner. Meijeong was grateful that she had thought to leave a sweater at work. It made the night air perfect. She checked her phone absentmindedly, deleting a few spam emails and…
She paused for a moment. The hairs on the back of her neck were standing up and she looked around. The street was empty, but... she felt like she was being watched. She started walking, a little bit most hurried than before. The area was safe, and the walk back from her apartment wasn’t long, but when it was dark, Meijeong was always more careful. Tonight was the first time that she felt this nervous though… like a pair of eyes was following her in the dark. Walking a little faster, she started singing quietly to herself under her breath, an old habit from when she was a kid and afraid of monsters in the dark.
Her singing voice wasn’t great, but it must have been enough, because no monsters appeared. Once she was back in the apartment, the anxious feeling was gone, replaced with frustration over the state in which her roommate had left the place. The fridge was empty, and the sink was full of unwashed dishes. Clothes were strewn all across their living room.
“I am not dealing with this tonight,” she muttered to herself. Thank God the lease was almost up. Her job was stable enough for her to afford a cheaper single apartment now… Sure, her roommate paid her share of the rent on time, but between the messes she left, the loud friends (and boyfriends, Meijeong discovered early on just how thin the walls were), and the fridge always being emptied… well, she was really, really glad that she’d finally be getting a place by herself soon.
Fall was there, well and truly, but it had been a slow day at work. Usually, weekends after school had started up were busy, and so both Meijeong and Sun-mi were at the shop, but instead, both found themselves with very little to do. There was only a few customers in the shop, a group of high school age boys that Sun-mi had apparently found cute and insisted on helping them find their books. Meijeong stood at the register, absentmindedly flipping through a new edition of The Fellowship of the Ring that the shop had recently received. The Hobbit movies had publishers reprinting every thing related to Tolkien now.
Meijeong set down the book and checked her phone. Normally, she didn’t keep it on her during her shifts, but she was waiting for an email from the landlord of the apartment she was hoping to move into at the end of the month. Instead, there was an OS update. Great… she thought, more useless apps that I can’t delete taking up space on my phone. It’s not like she could afford to buy a new one right now. She scrolled through, seeing what changes were made. Huh. Just one new app, some kind of messenger program. Or was it a game? She made a mental look to open it later, and see if she could delete it after all. Meijeong checked her email. Spam. Spam. Weird spam. Coupons. More spam. Nothing from the landlord yet, but it was still early in the day.
Sun-mi soon came back to the register, having not succeeded in making a sale, but in getting a phone number.
“Didn’t you just have that date with…? I don’t remember which one was most recent, guitar guy?” Meijeong said, rolling her eyes but still smiling as Sun-mi gushed over the boy who had just left the store.
“Mhmm,” Sun-mi said, giggling, “Don’t be jealous! Besides, I had to break up with him. He wasn’t that good at playing and his band was going nowhere fast.”
“I thought he was your true love,” teased Meijeong, turning back to her book, “They just don’t make romance like they used too.” She added, gesturing to her book in mock seriousness.
“He was my true love- last week,” said Sun-mi, sighing dramatically. She had pulled out her phone, with a pink case covered in stickers and charms and began frantically typing. “And don’t be ridiculous. No one reads The Lord of the Rings for the romance.”
Meijeong laughed. “Fair point.”
“If you dated at all, you’d understand,” Sun-mi said, “But you only read about romance. Seriously, my friend has an older brother. I’ll introduce you. I love you too much to let you be forever alone.”
“I’m fine, really,” said Meijeong, “I’ve tried dating, and just had enough bad luck to be done with the whole thing for a long time.”
“I knoowww… but still-“ Sun-mi said.
“Besides,” Meijeong interrupted, “What man could ever live up to Aragorn, Son of Arathorn, Elessar, the One True King of Gondor?”
“Uuugh, you’re such a nerd,” said Sun-mi, “At least fall for cute fictional characters.”
“I told you, I’m fine.”
Meijeong’s phone went off again. Another update? That new messenger app might have been glitchy or maybe the last update didn’t go through correctly and something needed removed… She checked the phone. The app was still there… On a whim she opened it. Immediately, the app asked for a user name. Meijeong hated coming up with those.
“What’s that? A messenger?” said Sun-mi, peering over Meijeong’s shoulder for a closer look. “It’s not a new dating app, is it?” Meijeong laughed.
“I don’t know. The app came with the update. I don’t know what it is, but it wants a user name.”
“Weird,” said Sun-mi, “You should do something cute, like… PinkBunnyMeiXOXO”
“Haha, no,” said Meijeong, “It might be a professional related thing, I’m not risking that being my user name that I contact future employers with.”
She typed in her initials, MC, wondering if there was a character length requirement. Apparently not, because the name was accepted. The app opened to a messenger board, but it was completely blank. No names, no conversations, not even a profile to edit. Weird. Maybe the app was still buggy. It would explain the frequent updates.
Meijeong put the phone away and got back to reading. The shop seemed to pick up as the day went on. By the time her shift was over that afternoon and Mr. Park had come in to relieve her, she had completely forgotten about the weird app. That was until her phone went off again on her walk home.
Opening the app, Meijeong was surprised to see that an actual message had come through this time, from a user named “Unknown”.
Unknown: … Hello…?
Unknown sounded flustered. Apparently, they had a found a lost phone, and had been trying to reach someone, anyone, via the only program on it- this weird messenger. Meijeong rolled her eyes. Someone probably was having as much trouble with the OS updates as she was. But Unknown, whoever they were, wanted help finding the phone’s owner, and she was a little confused as to why they thought she would be of any help?
Who asks a random stranger to find the owner of another random stranger’s phone via text messages? Unknown was really insistent thought. She debated just ignoring him but well the address was actually really close by, in a pretty safe and busy part of town. Meijeong actually had looked at the apartments there, but they were out of her price range for sure.
Unknown was definitely… overly friendly about everything, whoever they were. Maybe they really were just some overly zealous but well-meaning religious type who felt the need to solve every problem themselves, even if no one asked them to do anything. Meijeong had certainly met people like that before.
The apartment had the nicest security lock she had ever seen, and Meijeong definitely felt… uncomfortable, entering the code to open the door. Again, there was that over-zealousness that Unknown had, wanting her to practically break in without even ringing the doorbell. But... just leaving a quick note wasn’t going to hurt anything, right?
The inside of the apartment was impressively organized, and, immediately, she regretted going in. There were several large filing cabinets that looked like they had locks similar to the on the door. Clearly, whoever owned this place valued their privacy, and she had just gone and barged in on a stranger’s request. Speaking of… wait… what?
Unknown’s messages had all completely disappeared. In their place, there was a rapid-paced conversation between a group of people whose names she did not recognize. Oh, I have a bad feeling about this…Meijeong thought, reading through the messages quickly, glancing occasionally at the door to make sure some stranger wasn’t about to show up and… well, she didn’t know what might happen next.
The conversation actually seemed fairly normal to Meijeong, some discussion about jobs and internships and such. Until, suddenly, the group realized she was there, and started yelling about hackers. Apparently, the chat was supposed to be private, and Meijeong’s sudden appearance was causing a panic amongst the members. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say to all of them when she was just as confused as they were.
She pieced together who the people were as best she could through all the chaos… The apartment belonged to someone named Rika, who didn’t seem to be in the chat room… Yoosung, whoever that was, seemed younger than the rest… Username Zen was apparently a somewhat famous actor… Jaehee Kang was Jumin Han’s assistant, which seemed strange to her in a group where everyone else seemed so informal… 707 was a hacker, who was… apparently tracking her location. Shit. Meijeong was starting to wonder just terrible a mistake “helping” this Unknown person would turn out to be.
Taking a deep breath, she decided just staying quiet was not going to help matters, and introduced herself to the group. To her surprise, they began telling her about themselves as well. Or at least, she assumed it was about themselves. Anything could have been a lie at this point… She couldn’t quite tell how serious the situation actually was. The chat room bounced back and forth between deadly serious and jokes about cats.
Apparently, the app was only meant to be for the use of members of a charity fundraising organization, one that dealt with people who were rich and powerful enough to warrant special security measures to prevent information leaks. Its sudden appearance on her phone was apparently quite alarming.
After a long debate, some explanations, and an apparent hack of her personal information, Meijeong found herself invited to join the organization- Rika’s Fundraising Association. Maybe… Meijeong looked around the apartment. Helping people, talking to them, connecting them with them to find the things they needed… that’s the work she enjoyed most. And if… for some reason… fate had given her the opportunity to do that, not just for people looking to buy books, but for people who were going to make real, impactful changes to make the world a better place… she bit her lip, thinking hard. These days, she didn’t really believe in fate, but…
Meijeong sat down on the edge of couch, reading the RFA members messages. They all seemed so excited to have the opportunity to continue their charity work, and so sure that, somehow, she had been brought here to help them do it. Brushing her hair out of her face, she sighed. There had been that emptiness in her life since… for a while now. Meijeong had tried to ignore it, but maybe this was her chance to change that. To do something that mattered.
Maybe she was just overwhelmed by everything happening. Maybe she was just desperate for change. Either way, when they officially asked her to live in Rika’s apartment and work for the RFA, Meijeong immediately said yes.
Things seemed to move quickly after that. By the end of the day, she had moved her belongings over to the apartment and made some phone calls to her landlord and work notifying them. The members had been quick to message her privately and welcome her, and she felt strangely comfortable with it all. She had done a bit of “background check” of her own after leaving the group chat- apparently, Jumin Han and Jaehee Kang worked for C&R and there was a few news articles documenting their involvement with the RFA, so at least she knew it wasn’t all just made up. Zen had an impressive fan base and was apparently well known in the theater scene. Everyone else was a bit more of a mystery. As she unpacked her things, she wondered what kind of person Rika had been. It was Rika that Meijeong was most curious about, but…
The apartment left no clues about who Rika might have been, except that she was private. Or perhaps it was simply the nature of her work. Still, Meijeong had expected to find some kind of personal belonging, especially since it seemed from the discussions in the messenger that no one else had been here. The cabinets were bare, there was no art or photographs or any kind of decorations. Everything was brand new and except for the filing cabinets and security system, the apartment could have passed for a display model.
The whole thing was strange. But the RFA was easy to talk to, at least. Zen was a narcissist and flirt, but very sweet and caring nonetheless. Yoosung seemed very young to her, but he was clearly hurting badly over the death of Rika, and harboring a lot of resentment towards V because of it. Jumin… well, Jumin had a cat and not a whole lot of empathy for others, but she wasn’t sure if that was just because he was so formal. Jaehee clearly had a lot to deal with working for him, and even though she was cautious, she cared and was the most helpful in figuring out what exactly was expected of Meijeong in this position. 707 (Or was it Luciel? Or just Seven?) was the most intriguing to her? He made her laugh, and was lighthearted and fun, but didn’t seem to want to talk about anything serious unless absolutely necessary. Meijeong wanted to ask what he had found when doing his background check on her, but… she wasn’t sure she was ready to know how much he knew about her. 707 seemed content to not mention any of her personal details, so that made her feel a little more comfortable.
There were things about her life she didn’t want to share with a group of complete strangers.
Meijeong’s phone alerted her to a new message and she laughed, wondering which member wanted to chat now. But when she opened her phone, her smile fell.
Unknown: It’ll be really fun from now on. Enjoy your time with everyone. I’ll come get you soon.
She shivered without meaning to. Something about that message sent a cold chill down her spine, gave her that feeling that she was being watched, even alone in an empty room. Should she say something to the RFA? Not yet, Meijeong thought, not until I know there’s actually something to be worried about. I’m probably just over thinking everything after today.
If what V said was true, then Unknown probably wasn’t dangerous. Maybe his talk about helping people and belief systems was genuine; an awkward way of explaining what Rika wanted her to do.
That night, Meijeong couldn’t sleep. Being in a strange place always made it harder to fall asleep, and after everything that happened that day, her mind was racing. The same seemed true the other members of the RFA. She spent most of the night chatting with them. So the next day, work came far too early.
“Ugh…” she groaned as she walked through the front door, holding a thermos of tea. Aslan trotted up and immediately began rubbing himself around her legs. “Yeah, yeah,” said Meijeong, reaching down to scratch the ginger tabby cat between the ears, “I know you were already fed.”
Meijeong snapped a quick photo of him, planning to share it with the RFA. But when she opened the messenger, there wasn’t a way for her to upload photos. 707 was there, so she asked him about it over her lunch break
MC entered the chatroom
MC: Hey Seven
MC: I was trying to upload pic of the cat at my job
MC: But my app doesn’t have that option >.<
MC: Did I mess it up somehow? Is it broken?
707: Ahhhh!! CATS
707: I’m sorry T_T
707: I, the great God Seven, designed and built this app and all its features
707: But I must obey V
707: And he asked me to disable your photo uploads to protect the location of Rika’s apartment, until we know everything is safe and I’ve finished hunting down the hacker
MC: Ah okay ;;
MC: I understand, but that’s a shame
MC: Aslan is a very cute kitty meow
707: <3 <3 <3
707: You’re a cute kitty meow!
Zen entered the chatroom
707: Also Aslan!? <3
707: God Kitty!
Zen: Ugh… cats again?
MC: God Seven, God Kitty, now I have to share the pic
Zen: Oh, MC is sharing pictures?
Zen: I’d rather see pictures of you than of -ats
MC: No, sorry Zen
MC: V says I can’t until the hacker thing is cleared up;;
Zen: Seven has probably seen all kinds of pictures of you
707: Yep yep
707: She’s super cute <3 <3 <3
MC: Thanks ^^
Zen: Jealous ~
Zen: I want to see MC too
MC: I hope this is allowed
MC: but it’s kind of awkward to have you all call me MC
MC: Is it okay if I just tell you my first name?
Zen: I mean
Zen: I want to know
Zen: a lot~
707: I already know it ~
Zen: Don’t brag -.-
Zen: You think it’s okay, Seven?
707: i think it’s okay
MC: Meijeong ^^
707: Yep~ that’s CORRECT!
Zen: Meijeong… that’s a nice name
Zen: You’re definitely a cutie <3 <3
707: A cute kitty~
Zen: don’t go comparing beautiful women to furballs
MC: My lunch break is over. I have to get back to work
MC: I’ll talk to you guys later
MC left the chatroom
Meijeong laughed as she closed the messenger. These were nice people. Silly and eccentric, but kind. Maybe it was too soon for her to say that, especially about people she only knew via the internet that she was introduced to through a supposed hacker, but still…
“What are you smiling about?” said Sun-Mi as Meijeong walked back out into the store, “Looks like somebody found a boyfriend after all.” Sun-Mi giggled.
“Nooo…” said Meijeong, grinning and mussing up Sun-mi hair as she walked by, “Not a boyfriend. But I think I might start doing charity work again.”
Sun-mi laughed and called her a square, and the two of them got back to work. As she sorted books and worked the register, Meijeong made sure to snap more pictures of Aslan to save for Seven and the rest of the RFA to see someday. She even took a selfie with him, but deleted it right after. The dark circles from a long night and messy hair pulled back into a ponytail weren’t exactly flattering.
“Another time, Aslan,” she said, giving him a quick kiss on the nose. Tucking a lose strand of hair behind her ear, Meijeong picked up a stack of books and got back to work shelving them. She hummed as she working, a bit of a soundtrack from some movie or another that was stuck in her head.
When Mr. Park came in that night, Meijeong made sure to update him about her sudden address change.
“Make sure you can still get here safely,” he said, pushing back his glasses and squinting as he entered the apartment’s address into the ancient, bulky desktop computer where he did all his business. The computer was so old it wasn't even collected to the internet, Mr. Park just used it because he got it for free, “I know you like to walk but if it’s too far then I’ll help you figure out something safe. A woman on her own…” he trailed off as he finished typing.
“Thank you, Mr. Park,” Meijeong said, “You know I’m always careful.” He nodded slowly and tottered off to the front of the store to lock up, Aslan following at his heels. “Mr. Park!” Meijeong called after him, grabbing the keys, “You forgot!”
“Bring them with you,” he yelled back, “And then head home. I’ll lock up behind you and take care of tomorrow’s orders.” Meijeong did as he asked, grateful to be able to get out a bit early.
The fall air was cold and crisp. Even though it was dark, the grocery store was still open, and she wanted to grab some things for the apartment on the way home. Even if no one from the RFA could visit her yet, she wanted to be prepared. It probably wouldn’t take too long for everything to get sorted out.
More messages. Jaehee wanted to make sure she understood everything so far. Meijeong smiled and called Jaehee to clarify a few things as she walked to the store. Even though much of it was new to her, with the help she was getting from the members Meijeong wasn’t worried. After all, this was just a fundraising organization. She could figure it out.