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Red Strings

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Seong-Gi looked dully at the rising sun as the alarm on his phone sounded, laying still for a bit instead of immediately getting up as usual. It was during these silent, secluded moments that he could stop smiling, stop pretending that everything was going to be alright. The alarm continued blaring as he redirected his unblinking gaze to the ceiling of his bedroom instead.


He finally grasped the device with his fingers, hitting the "stop" button as his expression turned to one of surprise. It was Soushi calling him.


"Hey." Seong-Gi tried to sound somewhat upbeat as he stretched himself to a sitting position.


"Was I your wake up call?" The man on the other end said playfully, openly snickering. The redhead chose to ignore that. "Anyways, wanna go to the amusement park with me today? Dieter and Shin-Ae are gonna be there too. They said to invite you."


Seong-Gi furrowed his eyebrows. Were they on a date or something? Why would they invite him and Soushi as well then? "Are you crashing their date?" He finally asked teasingly, hopping out of bed and leisurely walking to the bathroom. He didn't plan on going either way, but was planning on giving Soushi an earful for crashing the two's plans.


"You're gonna crash our double date if you don't come!" Soushi joked, "But nah, it's not like that. Dieter passed out when she asked at first, but she just said she wanted to do something relaxing and probably didn't choose the best set of words." He paused. "I don't blame her. She's been looking really tired lately." Even Soushi had a hint of concern in his voice. "But hey! Maybe this is a date -we can spy on them and get them to go on the ferris wheel together!"


Seong-Gi smiled. Some people never changed, "Thanks for the offer man, but -," He pursed his lips as his phone vibrated with a text message, "Give me a sec." He pulled his phone away from his face, his eyebrows furrowed as he skimmed the message. It was from Kousuke, informing him of another family dinner. "You know what, I'll come with. Should be fun, right?"


 


Shin-Ae kicked a loose rock with her boots as she stuffed her hands in her pockets, squeezing the hand warmer inside. She had worn more than sufficient layers today, but the cold wind still froze her to the core. It wasn't as if she could wrap her scarf over her face, either...or could she?


"Shin-Ae!" A navy haired girl ran up from the distance, waving an arm in the air. A look of confusion flitted across her features as she surveyed the younger girl. "What are you doing with your scarf?" She asked. It was wrapped inconspicuously above her neck, mummifying the bottom half of her face. "Are you that cold?"


Shin-Ae nodded.


"Well, I hope you weren't waiting here for long...we can stand over there in the sheltered area if it helps?" The brunette followed her friend obediently as Rika continued to speak, "I have to help Maya with the bakery so I gotta leave early today," She quickly glanced up before adding, "She was gonna ask you too, but her mom said one person would be more than enough and we both thought you could use a break! You know, in case your dad needs you."


"That's fine. I appreciate it." Shin-Ae said tersely, her voice muffled by fabric.


"We'll still have the party -I mean, get together in December." Rika reminded her, "We all hope you'll come. It's been a while since it's just been the three of us!" The two shuffled around some more in the cold, Shin-Ae taking out the warmer in her pocket to stick inside her scarf. A lot better now.


"That's dangerous," Rika said, frowning at her actions, "What if that explodes all over your face? There's some reactive chemicals inside there."


"You're bluffing." Shin-Ae said confidently, "Besides, I'm willing to take that change. My face is freezing." They shared a smile with each other.


"I guess the melted face look would be better than Rudolph."


"Whose face is melting?" Soushi ran up to the two, peering into their faces. A smile spread across his face as his eyes settled upon Shin-Ae's chattering teeth. "You know who would be able to keep you warm? My man, Dieter here -," He dramatically threw his hands behind him, welcoming the two remaining members of their group.


Shin-Ae and Rika looked at him unconvincingly. Dieter appeared to be the coldest of the bunch. He shivered under a good five layers, the downy jackets apparently doing little to keep out the cold.


"Um, are you alright?" Shin-Ae asked, an eyebrow raised. Surely it was colder in Germany than Korea? She thought exchange students from colder areas were normally supposed to be resistant against the temperatures. If she recalled correctly, there was a girl from Canada during her freshman year who wore skirts year round.


Dieter nodded vigorously, plastering a smile to his face and holding his thumb up. Yeong-Gi and Soushi exchanged a glance with each other. Dieter had informed them that he had a small cold when they went to pick him up earlier, but was clearly in much worse shape without the warmth of the heater in his home and car. He had insisted that he did not want to miss this hang out though, in order ton further strengthen his acquaintanceship with Shin-Ae. She did invite him primarily, after all.


"If you say so." Shin-Ae said unsurely. Yeong-Gi waved brightly at her as she glanced at him. "We should get going. Maybe it'll be warmer inside with all the people around." The group quickly purchased their tickets, scrambling inside. There were less people than expected considering it was the weekend, but it was still a decent crowd. Although they came rather early in the day, the food stalls had already been opened. Shin-Ae looked longingly at them.


"Let's grab something to eat first. I'm starving." Yeong-Gi suggested.


"Don't eat too much, or you'll be emptying your stomach out again after the first ride." Soushi said, already eagerly searching the stands. They settled on getting cheese corn dogs as they leisurely walked around, gazing upon the different arcade games that were available.


"Ooh, look at that!" Rika cooed, pointing to a gigantic stuffed bear, "Let's stop here. I wanna try to win that." She quickly grabbed her wallet out, handing the vendor the proper money. It was one of those games where you had to knock milk bottles off a stand. Pretty much impossible to win, since all games were rigged.


Shin-Ae continued looking on in disinterest as Rika bent close to the ground, closing one eye with her tongue sticking out of her mouth. She really wanted that bear.


"Oh!" The brunette's eyes lit up as she spotted a small, cat key chain. It reminded her of Lil Buddy. Surely, it was some sort of consolation prize. Perhaps she would try it out next...she looked at the entry cost. $2 for three balls? She was better off using that money for food. Or saving it for cram classes.


"Dang it!" Rika wailed, throwing her hands up after a brief few minutes, "That's $10 down the drain. I give up."


"I'll try my luck." Yeong-Gi offered, "Can't be that hard, right?"




"Yeong-Gi ah...please just stop." Soushi placed a hand on his shoulder. "You can probably buy that off Wamazon for $60..." He said. Dieter nodded from beside him, pushing him away from the stall.


Shin-Ae stifled a laugh. Who spends $50 on an arcade game? Everyone knew that was a rip off.


"Were you trying to win that for Alyssa?" Soushi teased, "And tell her that your love for her was this big?" Yeong-Gi laughed, pushing him away.


"Well, looks like today's not my day. Let's go on some rides now, I feel like we've waited long enough."


Shin-Ae shrugged, leading the group over to the ride section of the park. Rika was smiling a bit, surely feeling better about her loss after seeing Yeong-Gi's destruction. There was nothing more comforting about getting ripped off than witnessing someone else get ripped off even more, after all.


"Sir!" The vendor called from behind them, "Sir, you forgot your consolation prize!" He waved Yeong-Gi down.


"I'll be right back!" The redhead jogged away back to the stall, exchanging some words with the man as he nodded and pointed to something hanging on the wall.


"Are any of you guys bad with heights or something? We'll avoid those rides." Dieter said kindly, pulling a map and sharpie out from his pocket. "I've circled some of the most popular rides, the ones that are deemed dangerous or have had accidents in the past...the ones on maintenance..." He continued on, ignoring the bewildered looks the group shot him. As expected, he was overly prepared.


"Let's go to the haunted house!" Soushi suddenly exclaimed. It would be the perfect opportunity -the five would be walking together at first, but then as the hallways get more narrow, they'd have to go into smaller groups...Shin-Ae and Dieter could be walking together, and something scary jumps out at her -


"That one? It's not very scary, you know." Shin-Ae said, "If you really wanna get scared, let's go on the Screaming Tornado." She said with a wry grin, pointing to one of the rides that had been marked "dangerous" by Dieter. "It's one of those rides where your feet get to dangle and you go upside down for a long time."


Soushi's face paled as he side eyed Rika. Perhaps she would be against it, she looked more like the sort of person who enjoyed leisure rides, like the calm boat ones. The dark haired girl clapped her hands together, "I'd like to go on there too! I was always too scared when I was a child, but I think I'd be able to take it now." She said excitedly, "It would be cool to see if I've built some sort of tolerance."


"Then it's settled!" Shin-Ae said excitedly. "Whoever screams has to buy us all food." She continued deviously. Although she did not have many opportunities to go to amusement parks in the past, she had a good tolerance for speed and heights. She was confident that she would outlast anyone in this group, or at least Soushi. The poor guy looked so scared she was sure he'd pass out any minute.


"What'd I miss?" Yeong-Gi asked, jogging back over.


"We're going on the Screaming Tornado." Dieter said, surprisingly nonchalant. Perhaps he had only prepared the map in case the others in the group had specific fears. It would not have been unusual, he tended to be the most broadly attentive out of the bunch.


"Sure, sounds cool. I haven't been here before so I'm down for anything." Yeong-Gi said with a smile. His classmates had invited him numerously in the past, but he had always turned them down since he knew what their true intentions were. As for his family...there was no way he'd ever go to one with them, and Alyssa was far too busy to ever go anywhere with him if his direct family wasn't involved. It would be a fun experience for the books, and perhaps a good distractor for later tonight. None of his family members could blame him if he became sick in the middle of the dinner -after all, it wasn't a publicized event, and it wasn't as though he hadn't obeyed Kousuke's orders like he said he would. It was a win-win situation.




"Whooo! First in line!" Shin-Ae cheered loudly, shocking the attendant. Soushi looked even more sick as he looked at all the people on the other rides. Clearly, they were purposefully avoiding this specific one. "I wanna be on the first one!" She said excitedly, lining up at the gate directly at the front.


"I'll be behind you. The front might be too much for me." Rika said apologetically. Dieter nodded, lining beside her.


Soushi walked all the way to the very back, "I'm sitting here, where it's safe." He said dramatically, "Haven't you guys seen Final Station?! A group of high schoolers die on the roller coaster."


"Everyone died on the roller coaster, regardless of where they were sitting." Shin-Ae deadpanned, strapping herself into the seat.


"Sir, I assure you everything is perfectly safe." The attendant said, concern across her features, "Just make sure you stay strapped in and don't stick your head or any limbs outside of the ride."


"How can I when my legs are dangling like this?!" Soushi yelled.


Yeong-Gi walked towards him, climbing over to take the seat beside him, "Don't worry bud, I'll keep you company -,"


"Stay away from me! What if you punch me while we're on the ride? That'll kill me for sure!" He screamed. Plus, there was a chance he was going to puke, and if he was...no one would know if no one saw it.


Yeong-Gi backed off with his hands held in the air, "Suit yourself. I'll join you, friend!" He said brightly as he slid into the seat beside Shin-Ae.


"Just don't deafen me with your screams. Whoever yells has to treat us all to lunch." She informed him, a smirk on her face. She considered not telling him at first, since he looked like the type who would yell just for the fun of it, but she did feel bad for him after he wasted all that money on those arcade games.


"Wait what?!"


"Have a safe ride and enjoy your journey on the Screaming Typho -wait, Tornado." The attendant said flatly, pulling the lever down as soon as they made sure everyone was strapped in properly.


Soushi started screaming immediately, and Rika let out little yells of exhilaration. Dieter was surprisingly quiet. Shin-Ae turned to look at her companion; Yeong-Gi's face was blank, his mouth pursed in a tight line as he made high pitched whining noises. The sound reminded her of a puppy with abandonment issues. He turned mechanically towards her as he noticed her staring. He definitely looked a little bloated. And was that the lighting of the trees or was he turning green?


"Hey. Hey! Don't you dare throw up on me!" Shin-Ae yelled, using her left arm to push his face away. "I swear to God, I will commit murder...!"


"Haha, Shin-Ae's yelling!" Rika cheered over Soushi's deafening screams.


"You're all yelling!" Dieter commented gripping the padded bar across his chest with all his strength. "Except Yeong-gi!"


"That's because he's about to puke on me!" Shin-Ae shrieked, "I'm wearing all my clothes today, don't you dare! I'll have nothing to wear if you get these dirty!"



"Welcome back, and I hope you enjoyed your trip on the Screaming Tycoon." The attendant said flatly as they returned, getting the name wrong once again, "I've truly never heard a group so small yell so loudly."


Shin-Ae scrambled out of her seat as soon as the restrictions were released, running on the platform to distance herself from Yeong-Gi.


"How did you like the ride, Shin-Ae ah?" He said, grinning brightly and all traces of nausea now gone. The brunette furrowed her eyebrows at him. He paused, scratching his chin, "Well, it was the only way I could think of to get you to scream..."


Shin-Ae's mouth dropped in horror as she punched him in the gut.


"Oh my!" Rika gasped as Yeong-Gi fell to the floor dramatically.


He got back up quickly, "Just kidding, I'm okay. We should help Soushi out of his seat though."




Shin-Ae smiled to herself as the group went back towards the entrance of the amusement park together, well after dark. Rika had left earlier, an hour after lunch. Dieter had been kind enough to pay, feeling bad for Soushi and using the excuse that it was because they were all here since Shin-Ae had invited them. They had gone on a few more rides after that, but none held a candle to how thrilling the first one had been.


"Are you sure you don't need a ride, Shin-Ae?" Dieter asked again, gesturing outside, "It's getting really dark. And cold."


"Nah, I'm good. Thanks, though. I had fun." She smiled gently at him. Dieter turned red before grabbing Soushi and running off, muttering a quick "I had fun too". Shin-Ae checked her watch. Thirty minutes until the bus. She still had time to kill. She scrolled through her phone, grinning to herself at the photos they took. They also hit the photobooth at some point; although she wished Maya could have been there, she would treasure it and put it somewhere special.


"You're taking the bus?" Yeong-Gi asked her curiously.


"What are you still doing here?" Shin-Ae asked, surprised. She hadn't noticed his presence and assumed he left with the other two. They arrived in Soushi's car, after all.


"I'm being picked up by. I have...family matters to attend to tonight." He said, a tight expression on his features.


"Oh." A silence fell between the two. Shin-Ae felt immensely awkward now -she knew he hated talking about his family, and although she was insanely curious, she learned to hold her tongue. It was probably hard enough trying to have a good time all day, knowing what would come afterwards, after all.


"Is that a ferris wheel!?" Yeong-Gi suddenly exclaimed, pointing to the large spherical ride nearby. Now that it was nighttime, it was brightly lit and easily stood out from the rest of the exhibits.


"Yeah. Have you never seen one or something?"


Yeong-Gi shook his head, "This was my first time at an amusement park. I've only seen these in pictures or like, you know, the distance. I've never realized how gigantic they were." He stared at it in awe, his eyes practically sparkling as the strung lights reflected in his eyes. "Wanna go on it?"


"Um..." Shin-Ae glanced at the entrance. "Isn't that something couples normally do?" Did he forget he had a girlfriend again? And it was Alyssa, nonetheless.


"Is it? I wouldn't know." Yeong-Gi shrugged, turning back around. He clearly looked disappointed although he tried to hide it.


"Alright, fine." Shin-Ae sighed, "One ride since I'm feeling particularly generous tonight."


"You're the best!" Yeong-Gi cheered, his eyes lighting up as he grabbed her wrist and sprinted to the line. He bobbed up and down on his heels excitedly. Shin-Ae had to admit, his happiness was a little contagious. She found herself smiling a little by the time they boarded the ride. Now that she thought about it, it was a little unstable. Would this thing actually hold two people? She had never been on one either, but mostly because it didn't seem very thrilling at all.


Roller coasters were fast enough so that she never had to worry about falling off or anything -it was over by the time she even had time to think about that. But ferris wheels? They went much higher and dangled in the air for much longer. Plus, there were no seat belts or anything. She looked out the windows with an uneasy feeling as they slowly lifted higher.


"Wow!" Yeong-Gi cheered as he looked below them, "I can see everything beneath me!"


"Of course, it's a ferris...wheel..." Shin-Ae paled as looked down to their feet. The floors were freaking glass panels?! Since when was this a thing?!


"I've only seen pictures of these in magazines of Japanese amusement parks, I didn't know we had them here too!" Yeong-Gi exclaimed. Shin-Ae quickly brought her knees up to her body, hugging them tightly. "Hey, are you okay?" The redhead questioned. He got up and sat beside her when she didn't reply.


"Don't throw off the balance...!" Shin-Ae hissed, pressing herself tighter against the corner of the compartment.


"It doesn't work like that. Besides, you're so smoll there's no way our weights would balance each other out." He teased. "Oh yeah, I got something for you." He reached into his pocket, pulling out a little keychain. "You were looking at this, right?"


Shin-Ae's eyes glimmered, but she refused to take it, "It's alright. It's yours." She didn't like accepting gifts from others for no reason. It made her feel like she owed them something.


"Aw, so I wasted $50 for nothing?" Yeong-Gi whined, dangling it enticingly in front of her. "I know you don't like talking about your problems much, but I really do want to be friends." He said seriously, "You've been under a lot of stress lately, so I'm glad you're taking today off to have some fun and relax. You deserve it. And this is for you."


Shin-Ae looked at him skeptically before letting out the breath she had been holding, "Alright, fine. Thank you." She accepted the trinket, squeezing the head of the cat experimentally. It was soft.  


The ferris wheel lurched to a stop. "Oh, we must be at the top now!" Yeong-Gi peered over, "Look at everything! It's all so small!" He tugged at Shin-Ae's shoulder. "If you don't look now you'll regret it later." The brunette reluctantly peered over the edge, subconsciously wrapping hand around her companion's upper arm for some sort of support.


"Everyone looks like ants." She remarked, "Hey look, there's that shooting game where I beat Soushi's ass!"


"Cause he was on the verge of puking." Yeong-Gi chuckled, "Alright, I get it. I'll treat you to a meal some time."


"Not WacDonalds." She wrinkled her nose, he would probably just sit there and order a bunch of chicken tenders in slow intervals again. Although she had to admit, his actions did make her work just a little bit better that day. "Thanks again, for being so nice." She mumbled, bringing her arms to the top of her knees as she rested her head there. She needed to constantly remind herself to be more grateful for his presence. She wanted to be a better friend too.


Yeong-Gi smiled, "No problem. We're friends after all. I'm gonna have more friend points than everyone else." He boasted.


"As if," Shin-Ae tsked, "But probably since you're the only one keeping track." She yawned tiredly. Did she have a hamburger earlier? She was awfully sleepy, and it wasn't that late, despite how dark it was. Her eyes fluttered open as she felt warm fingers brush her hair aside.