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The Act of Persuasion

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The words on his book silhouetted as bright headlights passed over the wide window pane glossing over the dimly lit room. The comforting whirling oscillation of the heater and the hesitant rain trickling outside became background as he zoned into the sound of a running engine. He sighed marking his page with the ribbon bookmark, then closed the book with a clap; it was just getting to the good part. Harsh and rapid knocking drummed at the door before he even had time to stretch his limbs. He yelled from his recliner setting his circle glasses and book down on the side table, “I’m coming, I’m coming!”

He rubbed his palms over his tired eyes before he bent down slightly with one eye shut to look through the peep hole revealing the restless, tall figure pacing on the other side. The figure raised his hand again, ready to knock another radical pattern, “Jin, please open up!” Jin swung open one of the wooden, double doors to open to the drenched cadet. The glossy, doe look in the buck’s eyes barely peeked from under his shagging brown hair told him that, in fact, everything wasn’t alright.

Jungkook pulled back the hood of his hoodie and two, long hare ears popped out poised forward at attention. “Jungkook, what’s going on? Why are you here so late?” Jin peered behind Jungkook towards the street where the streetlight shimmered speckles of golden light because of the rainfall. The borrowed police vehicle still humming life was haphazardly parked in his driveway.

Jungkook rubbed the back of his neck, biting his lip, as he followed Jin’s line of sight. “Jin…I couldn’t do that to them. I just…they’re—,” for the first time since he’s met the rabbit hybrid he could hear anxiety in his voice.

Jin’s protective instincts kicked in, so he stepped towards Jungkook holding him steady, “What couldn’t you do? Who are they?”

Jungkook sighed heavily as if he was preparing for his last breath, “Jin, I need to ask a favor. You’re the only one I could think of or-or could do this.” Jungkook caught his breath, ”Tonight, I was on a ride along for training with my commanding officer, but he bailed last minute. He left me to file the reports and deal with the aftermath. God—he’s such a—ughhh. Jin…when I saw where they were supposed to be sent, I-I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take them there!”

Jungkook spoke without break, his ears twitched with each anxious inflection of his voice. “Jun-Jung-Jungkook, slow down! Who are you talking about Jungkook? Who?” Jungkook knew Jin was a rational, recluse and structured man. Jin had a nine to five job at his parent’s business, even got this house as gift from them. He lived by the books like a diligent son. He was a safe choice.

Jungkook knew what he was about to ask Jin was going to be a something out his normal patterns. Jungkook held up his hands, “Just, just…give me a minute. I’ll be right back.” Jungkook pulled up his hoodie and ran back towards his car.

Jin leaned up against the doorframe as he studied the shadowed image of Jungkook opening the backdoor of the vehicle. Jungkook draped a blanket over himself first before the being under the blanket began rummaging in the back. The single lump changed into a two, then three like a pitchfork. Jungkook kicked the door shut before running back towards the house. Jin’s eyes grew as the once singular being now carried luggage. “Jungkook! What are you doing! Did you kidnap these children?”

Jungkook wiggled the blanket off and over their heads revealing two little ones in each arm. The two didn’t seem to be any older than two or three years old. One peeked out from Jungkook’s neck cheekily towards Jin and its small, black bat like ear stood out against his dirty blonde hair. Its long, fluffy tail made of the same two tones was securely wrapped around its waist. He was softly crabbing as his eyes searched around his new environment.

The other seemed to be happily lost in sleep tucking into the buck’s warmth. In a whisper, “No, these kids were from a home that was less than conditional. My officer wanted me to send them to a shelter. You know those places are… it’s no different there than what I saw in that house. I can’t send them there!”

He did know. Jin knew of the rumors about the shelters or glorified orphanages and their horrible conditions. Jin couldn’t help but stare at the one who stared right back at him. His dark eyes were watery, and his small hands clutched at Jungkook’s shirt while still crabbing softly. God, they were precious, and the little distressed sound was breaking his heart. Jin kept his senses at bay in favor of reason, “And what do you expect me to do?”

Jungkook readjusted the twins on his waist, “Can you watch over them? Just for a few days? I promise it won’t be longer than that. I just need to find a new shelter for them. I can’t live with myself if I know I put them somewhere that’s not safe.”

Jin ran a hand through his hair catching onto his rounded ears, breaking eye contact with the small glider, “Jungkook…I can’t.” His voice couldn’t convey the reject stably.

The one sleeping woke up blinking its eyes lazily to-and-fro beginning to crab softly like his sibling. He was shivering from the cold until his eyes settled on Jin. “He-he, Mr. Teddy!” His little pudgy hand reached out in a groping manner towards Jin. Jin’s heart squeezed in his chest, so he turned around hand holding onto the door handle. He had a job to go to, he couldn’t take care of children. This would throw his whole routine off schedule. Yes, he did like children, no adored them, but what would his parents think?

Jungkook knew that look in his hyung’s eye, “Okay, hyung, I get it… I’ll just take them to a shelter. If that’s what you truly want and believe is best.” Jungkook turned slowly on his heels and whispered to the twins, but loud enough for Jin to hear, “I hope they treat you guys well.”

The click of Jungkook’s shoes trailed down the pavement again, but this time the sounds were deafening on Jin’s ears. They were the same sound every horror movie played when the villain was approaching, but this time the horror lied in the guilt of disappearing. The footsteps faded out, replaced by the pelting sound of rain. The nausea building in his stomach crept up his throat screaming regret and an unsettling anxiety. In that moment his decision hit him tenfold, he imagined the twins at a shelter, but no one was there to tuck them in at night, to promise them they’ll become something great one day, or even as simple to say they did a good job.

He whipped around gawking at the empty doorstep. The car was still in the driveway, “Jungkook! Jungkook wait, I’ll—I’ll take the kids!”

From an indent in the wall out popped the rabbit, an ear peeking out of the hoodie, “I knew you wouldn’t refuse!” The biggest grin was on the buck’s face. Jin stood there with his mouth agape, he wanted to smack the guy, but the twins looked at him with this look that put him right back under their spell.

Jin pinched the bridge of his nose and ushered Jungkook to pass over the sugar gliders. He took the more conscious one first. When he was in Jin’s arms he pushed away at Jin’s chest to closer inspect Jin’s face. The other sleepy one settled into Jin’s embrace easily, nuzzling into the nape of his neck and subconsciously reaching out for Jin’s ears.

Jin was so busy situating and cooing at them he didn’t realize Jungkook went back to the car and came back with a diaper bag. “Here this should get you through the night. I’ll contact you soon when I find a shelter. Thanks a million, hyung.” Jungkook set the bag inside as Jin stepped inside with the twin then Jungkook closed the door for him. Jin stood in place, staring at the closed door wondering just exactly how he got himself in this situation.

“Mr. Teddy?” He looked down to both boys, finding himself responding to the nickname. Jin found it odd that they’ve already taken to him so rapidly since he was a bear hybrid, having even wrapped their tail around his arms securely. There was a tingling sensation in him stomach, but he pushed the feeling back down, this was only a few days after all.

“Hmm?” He moved towards the couch, placing them on the soft cushions gently. The sleepier one clung to him and only when he rubbed the little one’s back did he relax enough to set him on the couch with coos that it’ll be alright. Their big eyes searched around the room trying to figure out their new environment. He crouched down in front of them to be at eye level with them. His plump lips pulled out into a gentle smile, “Hi, what’s your name?” They looked at the other questioningly as if they were learning or hearing that word for the first time. The sleepy one crawled towards Jin to lean against Jin chest, reaching out for his bear ears again. If it brought comfort to him then he could allow it.

The realization hit him when they remained quiet on the matter, “You don’t have names?” They both shook their heads in sync. He bit his tongue, furious at the people they were with before. He set the emotion aside, as for right now he needed a way to distinguish them. He looked back and forth between the two tykes, their windows peek was the same, the length of their tails, even the size of their ears was similar.

This shouldn’t be his decision, he was bad at naming things. “Okay…well I’m Seokjin, but call me Jin, okay?” A giggle left the one still resting against the couch as he came up to cuddle up against Jin’s chest like his brother. The glider leaned his head over Jin’s heart. Jin bit back a strong aww, worried the sudden noise would scare them, instead he brought a hand up and carded it through the little one’s hair. Each passing moment he found himself becoming putty to these guys.

Names, he needed names. “Well then you can be—?” He looked around his eyes rested on the coffee table where leftovers snacks were left that he picked up from a street stand. “You are Odeng…,” he spoke directly to the one massaging his ears then booping his nose receiving a giggle. He brought his hand back down to boop the others nose, “And you are Eomuk.”

That seemed to bring a level of content to them as Odeng stopped messing his ears and wrapped his small arms around Jin’s neck rubbing his forehead on Jin’s temple. “You guys like the name?” Odeng and Eomuk nodded and their ears flapped about. Jin let out his distinct windshield wiper laugh ruffling Eomuk’s hair. They copied his laugh, yet instead of feeling mocked he found it endearing.

Jin finally felt how cold and wet they were when he felt his shirt sticking to him. They weren’t much talkers, nor did they display any notion that they were uncomfortable, he figured (hoped) they must be shy. “Hey guys, let’s get you a hot bath and then let’s go to sleep okay?” Eomuk already seemed to be skipping step one and falling sleep. He wrapped his arms carefully around them standing up carefully and made his way to the bathroom. He knew the next few days he was going to have his hands full.

As he predicted he did indeed have his work cut out for him. The only kids he’s been around were his friends or when his parent’s friends brought their kids over. Those were only brief encounters, a few hours at most so he felt like a fish out of water with what to do. He was trying his best. He let them have the guest bedroom, but they refused to sleep on their own and crawled their way into his bed. He always had either Eomuk or Odeng hanging off him. They were toddlers, but they had enough energy to outlast a marathon runner easy. He took them along when he went to the grocery store and he’s never felt more ogled at. Yes, he would “humbly brag” that he was a handsome man, but apparently middle age women were absolute suckers for the cute kids. Odeng and Eomuk soaked up the attention, soaking up all the praise like dying house plants finally being watered. He choked on his laughter because for a moment he thought, “They’re just like me.” He willed the thought away before it buried a permanent spot. They weren’t his to keep.

From bubble baths, baking cookies, watching movies, to bed time stories the weekend went by in the blink of an eye. Being active the whole time really sped up time and Monday came bright and early. Jin adjusted to abrupt routine change quicker than he anticipated. Changing diapers, becoming a jungle gym, and easing a tantrum became instinctual for him.

Jin changed their diapers (training still in session), then set them down on the couch to watch sesame street until he finished making breakfast. From the kitchen he would sing along with them as they hummed to the tunes that the puppets sang. The songs were so easy memorize, he’d step into the living occasionally and get excited along with the little dances his—the boys did. When breakfast was ready he set them down at the table in their booster seats with a bowl of oatmeal and a fruit and veggie smoothie. Their faces lit up in excitement, ears twitched in delight and tails swished from the opening in the chairs. He placed a few of his old college textbooks under them so they could eat level with the table. They wiggle around in their seats as the delicious flavors hit their tongues. He propped his arm on the table and rested his chin on his palm as he stared at the boys eating happily. He felt full just watching them.

The doorbell rang as he wiped away oatmeal from Odeng’s fleshy cheek with thumb. With a smack of his lips cleaning his thumb, “Odeng, Eomuk, don’t move okay. I’ll be gone for only a second.” He pointed two fingers to his eyes then at them making sure they knew he was still watching. They tried copying, but their coordination was still lacking.

He giggled as he jogged over to the door swinging it open without looking through the peephole. Jungkook stood at his doorstep in uniform, “Morning!”

He shouldn’t have felt his stomach drop. He shouldn’t have felt seeing his friends face yank his heart strings right out and inevitably collapsing the very organ. He knew this was coming. He knew. He shouldn’t have gotten attached. He put on a forced smile and hugged his friend, “Hey, Jungkook! Come in.” He ushered him inside.

Jungkook looked around the normally spotless house and found things disheveled. Books and puzzles were scattered on the coffee table and Sesame Street was still playing on the TV. Jungkook eyed Jin, “Running a daycare now?”

Jin neck sliced Jungkook jutting his own neck out, “Who do you think started all this?”

The rabbit couldn’t hold back his buck teeth smile, “I know…that’s why I’m here to pick them up. I found a shelter, a good one, that could take them.”

Jin focused his expression into neutral again, practice from working as a business man. This was a transaction…a favor, nothing more; any reasoning to make it easier.

The twins eyed Jungkook, their swinging feet dulled to a swing then stopped completely. “Teddy-Jin,” Eomuk voice rose an octave as he questioned Jungkook’s presence. Jin saw the nervousness, the shaking of their pupils as they retreated further into their boosters. It wasn’t like them to abandon their food.

Jungkook raised his hands up in defense, “Hey, it’s okay guys! It’s okay. It’s me Jungkook, remember the policeman?”

Jin stepped in between the two chairs crouching down to their level. He stared at the fruit bowl at the center of the table then placed his hand on each of their backs. “Hey, finish your breakfast, okay? You need to eat.” He took a deep breath, “then…Jungkook is going to take you,” he began rubbing their backs, ”so you can find…a home.” He treaded carefully around his word choice, however, he settled on honesty in the end.

Odeng grabbed at Jin’s ears and Eomuk hopped down from his booster and into Jin’s lap. Jin turned to the boys surprised at their confused expression. Eomuk grabbed onto Jin’s shirt looking up at him, “H-home?” Eomuk turned to Jungkook then back to Jin, “But Teddy-Jin…I’m home.”

Jin looked away for a moment taking a deep breath in to come back with a smile. “No…I’m just…temporary Eomuk. Someone else will be your family.”

Odeng let go of Jin’s ears, his lower lip was wiggling as his jaw trembled as raw, fat tears rolled down his cheeks. “No! No! No! I don’t go! I won’t leave Teddy-Jin!”

Jin stood up holding Eomuk in his arms, who began crying with his brother. Jin’s throat was straining, “Odeng, Eomuk, you stop that now. Behave.”

What had he done to deserve this. What had he done.

He crouched down once more wiping the stray tears from their faces, “You will find a good home.”

Jungkook stepped in, “Jin, I’m sorry but we gotta go. I’m on break and I don’t have much time.”

Jin looked up to Jungkook, “Let me take them to the car.”

Jungkook nodded, “Let me get their bag.”

Jin outstretched out his arms and beckoned them to latch on, “Come on boys.” Odeng refused to come into his arms but with a bit of coaxing he slumped into his right side. They mourned into his neck, crabbing low in their throats along with the sobs. They mourned the loss of “forever” and “unconditional” yet again. Their tears stained the collar of his white button up. Jungkook came out of the guest room with their bag and opened the front door for them all. Jin spoke softly to the two boys, holding them tight. “Hey, do you think Big Bird would be happy if he saw you two crying?”

They clutched onto him tighter shaking their head, but their sobbing still continued.

The morning air was crisp so Jin held the two closer to him as he walked towards the car. Jungkook opened the backseat door for him and carefully Jin was able to put them each in a car seat. Jin kissed their forehead and told them to be good boys. He couldn’t bear to say anymore because he wasn’t sure he would be able to keep it together. Jungkook closed the door and the two tried unbuckling their car seat belts as soon as the door closed. Jungkook patted Jin’s shoulder, “Thank you…for everything.”

They were fussing with the seat belt, but when Odeng truly felt hopeless he looked at the window directly at Jin. He screamed, “Papa, don’t leave me! Papa!”

Jin froze in place as he was about to turn away. Odeng screamed continuously, “Papa! Papa!”

Jungkook was about to slip into the driver’s seat then Jin grabs his arm. “Don’t take them, please. Please, I’ll keep them, I’ll….take them.”

Jungkook angled to look at him, “Are you sure? You’re not saying this out of guilt, right?”

Jin gripped on tighter, “I’m sure. I don’t want to let them go. They’re my kids.”

Jungkook’s smile returned and he nodded. Jin let go and ripped the backseat door open and unbuckled their seat belts. They both jumped at him and he crashed down onto the floor with them latched on for dear life. He hugged them close, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m never letting you guys go. This is your home.” The cried hard into his neck and trembled.

Never again, never again would he let them go.

It didn’t take long for Jin to make it down to city hall and officially adopt the kids. His parents were surprised finding out afterwards, angry even and against the adoption, they even threatening to disown him. However, eventually they fell in love with the kids when they realized how much they meant to Jin.

 

“Cheers!” The small bar in the nook of an alleyway barely had enough space for ten people, so the group of six minus one took up the whole shop. It was the monthly gathering that the group made mandatory when Jin and Yoongi had graduated to keep the group together.

Jin pushed open the shop door and raised his hands up dramatically, “Starting without me already! I said I’ll be fifteen minutes late not an hour.” The group laughed cheering again, greeting him in their own unique ways. Namjoon, the unofficial leader of this misfit pack, ordered a pint for him as Jin sat down at the table. He took his normal spot at the table and stole the beer from Taehyung and finished it off. “Hey, I was drinking that!”

Taehyung normally never finished his drinks and always left them to Jin anyways. “Yeah—mhmmm, I’m saving you a taxi bill home okay. Aren’t you the DD anyways? You know Hobi and Jimin are a light weight. Look at Hobi already.” The group turned to a reddening man, already his normally hype attitude was simmering.

Taehyung began sipping on his water, “Touché.” Jin couldn’t drink much tonight either, he had to go back home to alleviate his mom of babysitting duties. Even though his parents were spending the night, he still wanted to spend time with his kids.

Taehyung whined but questioned Jin, “Why are you late anyways?”

Jin sighed sinking into his chair, “ The kids have been sick with a bug, so I had to work late at the office this whole week to make up for the time I took off.”

Hoseok chimed in, “Wow, to think we’d be sitting around the table one day and say something like that.”

Jin laughed, “You gotta be ready for anything that’s thrown at you.” He playfully pretended to box the air, dodging life literally and throwing punches back at the metaphor. The table laughed at his antics. The dragon at the center of the table was grilling the meat dutifully, as the familiar hums of conversation pick back up.

Jin pointed at Taehyung, “How have you been Tae?” Taehyung took a deep breath and told everyone about how his boss has been piling on the cases lately. It was the first legit law firm that was taking him seriously. He’s been working his butt off to prove himself in the world of law.

The rest of the group chimed in after about how they’ve been. Namjoon was stressed because his dad was giving him to more responsibility in the pack. He was slowly moving away from minor in music to focusing on political science. Yoongi didn’t complain, he was excited about upcoming things. He was turning his girlfriend’s parent’s record store into an entertainment company. “Joon, you know you’ll always have a studio right.” Namjoon eyes widen and he sets down his pint. Yoongi continued, “You don’t have to give anything up. There will always be a place for you in music.” Namjoon’s face lit up and he cheered his pint with Yoongi and thanked him.

Jimin elbowed Yoongi asking him about his relationship. Yoongi began to “complain” that he was drowning in affection and showed off some pictures they took recently on their short trip. He smirked sarcastically as the group cheered nearly in unison, “Kitty got you whipped!” Yoongi’s throat lit up and he spat a bit of fire their way. He was all bark.

Jin shouted, his food was on the line, “Yah! You singed the meat you idiot!” Laughter busted through the air and poured out into the alleyway. Maybe everyone was tipsier than it seemed, but they were happy.

The tomato, Hobi, asked as Jimin and Yoongi were busy salvaging the meat, “Jungkook, how’s it going on your end?”

Jungkook was nearly quite the whole time, hoodie fully up and his legs spread eagle as he reclined in his seat. He took a long sip of his drink before he spoke, “They’re been a huge increase in strays in the area. They’ve been popping up like daisies. It’s mostly young ones too.”

He filled up his glass once more and took another drink, “I just hate…I hate sending them to the shelters knowing that they’re shitholes. It keeps me up at night.” The mood around the table dropped as Taehyung nodded in understanding. Since Taehyung worked in a hybrid law firm it meant that he saw the ugly side of hybrid law and how hybrids were treated too.

Jungkook stroked the rim of his glass as he leaned into the table, “Jin why don’t you start a shelter? I mean…your family is wealthy, and you can do it as a tax write off. I think you should do it because you’re a good person and I think it would really change things. I mean…there was some more kids I picked up and I wanted to bring them to you, but I couldn’t do that to you. I can’t keep dropping them off at your place…so you should open up a shelter hyung.” Jungkook hiccupped in his throat as he rested his hand on his palm. He lazily looked to Jin then shrugged his shoulder, “Just a thought.”

Jungkook’s words felt heavy and found weight on his chest, his heart. There were more—many more? Jin nodded then shrugged back when Jungkook finished. Jin sat back in his seat, suddenly the lamp above felt like a heat lamp. Him? Starting a shelter? Him?

The chatter continued, Jungkook poured himself another glass for himself. Jin looked around the table and everyone had things going for them. Things they actual wanted to do or work towards. His friends decided to do things in their life because they wanted it; a table of hybrids none the less, who would’ve thought?

Jin took a sip of his beer. He was born with a golden spoon in his mouth, from a famous lineage of bears that were on top of the food chain in the business industry. He’s expected to take over the company, but he…doesn’t want to take over the business. He’s never wanted to inherit it, that was something solely his older brother wanted. But not him, he didn’t want the burden of carrying the weight of a conglomerate on his back with his brother.

He pushed away his drink, he didn’t want to drink anymore. Who was he? What did he want?

He helped some of the guys into a taxi, more specifically Jimin; cats process things faster so one drink hit him hard. Jin paid the driver to get them home safely. He waved the sober one’s goodbye and made way to his car. He hadn’t drank enough so he was coherent to take himself home. The drive home alone gave him time to think. When he came home the TV was still running in the living room and his mother was watching her soaps. He kissed her forehead and thanked her for taking care of the twins. He told her to go join Dad and sleep.

As he watched her walk away, his heart felt heavy, but he turned off the TV and went to his own room. He dropped off his stuff in his room and went into the twin’s room. He cracked open the door avoiding the handmade sign of their names from clanking. He peeked into the room and the twins were sprawled out on their beds fast asleep. He smiled and stepped inside the room cautiously. The Big Bird night light helped Jin carefully make his way through the cluttered floor and kissed Odeng’s, the top bunk resident, forehead. Jin leaned down and did the same to the bottom bunker and Eomuk began whining softly as he stirred awake from the gesture. Jin fully crouched down and hushed the little glider and smoothed down his bed hair. Eomuk smacked his lips and went back to sleep.

He couldn’t help but hear Jungkook’s words, they haunted him as he stares at the kids. “You should open a shelter…I’ve picked up more kids.” The words hummed in his ears as if angels or devils on his shoulders were whispering in his ears. It brought back the memories of just a year earlier when the joeys were brought to his doorstep. The anonymous faces of countless other orphaned children not having a bed to call their own, enough food in their stomachs, or a place to feel safe pained him. Tears welded up in his eyes and he whispered to himself, “But what can I do?”

He scooted over Eomuk and climbed into bed with him. He cradled Eomuk in his arms. Eomuk snuggled in close to the warmth. Jin fell asleep holding his boy tight, he was sure if he slept alone that night he wouldn’t have fallen asleep.

 

⊳ 2022 [Present]

Odeng busted open the door to his office weaving himself under the cubby of his desk meant for his legs. Odeng held up a finger up to his lips in a shushing gesture, eyes wide with mischief. Jin adjusted his circular glasses on the bridge of his nose and carried on with paperwork. What was his boys up to now? Eomuk came in not too long afterwards, creeping along cautiously trying to find any spot his brother could have crept into. Eomuk asked, “Papa Teddy, have you seen Odeng anywhere?”

Jin continued typing without looking away from his screen, “No, I haven’t seen him since this morning.”

The glider seemed unconvinced because his twin instincts was telling him that his other half wasn’t far away. The tail behind him twitched as his senses worked overtime, “Okay…let me know if you see him Papa Teddy.” Eomuk left the office and Jin chanced a glance under his desk and Odeng was covering his mouth about to to burst at the seams. He went back to work as the glider found his way out from under the desk when the coast was clear long enough.

The door suddenly slammed open, the handle nearly created a hole in the wall. Eomuk had a mischievous glint in his eye, instincts confirmed, “Caught you Deng!” Eomuk jumped onto his brother’s back and they moved so in a blur of gliders in a playful fight.

“Boys! What did I tell you about playing in my office!” The inner bear in Jin awoke, ears pinned back in warning.

They froze like statues in their odd positions, their ears laid flat against their head. “Dad, you’ve been working all day. We miss you! Won’t you play with us?”

That was a half-truth. Jin had been working in his office all morning and almost halfway through the afternoon, but he had an important event and guest coming soon. The press was covering this too, so he had to make sure everything was in check.

Jin sighed, “Boy’s I told you I have to get this done. Didn’t I promise that we can get frozen yogurt before we go home if you guys behave?” He gave them an incredulous look full of sarcasm, ”Do you not want to get that today? I mean, I know you probably don’t want it…I understand.”

The boys eyes widened as if he dared take away that privilege. “No Papa, no! We promise to behave!” The two came up to him and snuggled into each of his arms rubbing their chins on him pleading for forgiveness.

He laughed and ruffled their hair, “Okay, go on now. Your recess is ending soon, get back to class.” They pouted but they obeyed none the less. Six-year-olds had so much energy.

He went back to working. As soon as the twins closed the door behind them he ran a hand through his hair. He heaved a heavy sigh, he had to make sure this event would go smoothly. Many people counted on it.

 

The green neon sign’s illuminance flooded onto the splitting wooden floor of my lonely apartment. The wicked green casted the lonely dinner plates in sickly shadows. I sat at the dinner table alone. The ticking of the clock was loud in my ear and with each second passing the temperature within was rising. I clutched the neck of my empty wine glass swirling air, wishing I hadn’t finished the whole bottle to myself. It was our anniversary.

My phone vibrated on the table against the white canvas table cloth that I fished out of the back of the storage cabinet. It was something my fiancé and I had picked out together for the wedding, but we’ve had to delay that by another year. The name read an unknown number…a solicitor was calling. A hot tear rolled down my cheek staring from the inner corner of my eye taking a brave dive off my chin. I continued to stare blurrily until the caller hung up. The home screen glowed when the call ended displaying the picture of me hugging…him.

I knew why he was coming home late, why he slept farther away from me, why he pulled away quickly after sharing a brief kiss.

I knew why.

I squeezed my eyes shut, clutching onto the wine glass tighter until my knuckles turned white. It hurt. A contained whine squealed through my pursed lips as I tasted the salty tears. The cry turned into a nasty sob. I couldn’t hold it—nothing—in anymore. I stood up knocking the chair over that was my only support, just like the way he threw me aside. The wine glass left my fingers like a bullet, shattering against the green tinted wall. I was broken and done for like the pieces of glass. I collapsed to the floor joining the glass. The crystals falling from my eyes joined the ones on the floor.

I was broken.

“CUT!” The buzzer sounded as the director called the scene. My personal staff came on set to help me off my sore knees from doing the same intense scene for five different camera angles. I thanked my stylists and assistants as they wiped off the tears running down my cheeks and shards of sugar glass. “Alright, that’s a wrap! Good job today everyone!” The director swung around his script in a physically wrap it up motion. The set began to collapse, and cameras were taken off their mounts.

I called out as well to the staff and bowed to everyone, “Good job today! Thank you for your hard work.”

My manager jogged up to me checking his watch, “Okay, hurry up and change. We have your next schedule to go to in an hour.” Despite the intensity, the sweat beading on my forehead wasn’t an effect from the exhilarating scene. I was running on a half a muffin and a full day and a half of no sleep. I was barely keeping it together. However, the wheels must keep turning. The show must go on.

I nodded and we walked off set as my manger kept telling me about my next schedule as I changed. He leaned up against the wall and I slipped into the changing room. “This is a charity event put on by KBB Corps, it’s for a hybrid shelter to promote adoption and hybrid awareness. What you’re going to do is some press, then work with kids, catch some good pictures and that’s it. Easy enough.” I reached my hand through the curtain and he passed me the tablet. I fiddled with my outfit for a moment then flung the curtain open fully dressed in my best Sunday wear as my stylist would call. Family friendly, but still chic. My Manager pushed off the wall and I had to jog slipping on my heels as I hopped into the van.

My stylist sat next to me working on my hair and makeup as I read off the schedule he just paraphrased. Why was helping kids such a trivial matter? I always enjoyed doing charity events. The shelter’s name was Bearfoot Housing. I copied and pasted the name into google to do a bit of research before the press bombarded me with questions. I could admit that being an actress wasn’t all glitz and glamour, but I truly did enjoy doing volunteer work.

Because I was sponsored by KBB Corp, a national bank, and as one of their models I was required by contract to show up to this event. There wasn’t a picture of the shelter, or owner on the web…or much information besides it was a new facility. On their yelp page there were claims that the owner was a handsome man according to the visitors/adopters and that he had a heart just as big as his shoulders. I smiled at the last comment it was precious how fooled those people were by an external persona. I knew from experience that rumors or stories, especially those posted online, doesn’t mean it’s true. People often put a front for the public. Especially the rumors I’ve heard of shelters…just how horrible they were, so I wasn’t going to hold any high hopes that this was going to be a great experience.

My manager looked in the rear-view mirror, “Look, Y/N. I know you’ve been pushing yourself, but after this you get to home. Just hang in ‘till then okay?”

I nodded working my best tired smile onto my face, “I know. Let’s just get this done safely so we can all go home.”

The van stopped, and I knew we had arrived without even looking up. My makeup artists and stylist did one last check as I stepped out the vans doors and into a swarm of paparazzi. “Y/N! Tell us—Y/N! Y/N!” I paid them no comment and just smiled and waved to them. My manager stepped up behind me, his hand hovering over the small of my back leading me through the crowd towards the front of what seemed to be a house. The shelter wasn’t the normal institutionalized business complex, but a home? A very large one with a parking lot. This was…unusual.

I was lead through different arrangements, taking photos with executives from KBB and big checks, then I sat down with a few news sources to do short interviews. When that was done I was finally led away from the main public event and towards the actual shelter. My feet were killing me in these heels, but I kept a smile on my face.

The shelter didn’t want any of the hybrids to be overwhelmed by the attention, so they kept it as an exterior event. Only a select few hybrids were allowed to mingle with the press to promote the shelter. I realized that after meeting all those people whose names I wouldn’t remember I’ve yet to meet the owner of the shelter. I was about to ask my manager about it but a staff member from the shelter came up to me all smiles cutting off my thought process. My manager dismissed himself to wrap up any other presswork and sign paperwork with the press. She handed me a cutesy apron to wear over my clothes and a name tag with my name already written on a sticker. She introduced herself as Judy then directed me to the playroom where I was to interact with the kids. We walked through the grand front doors and it was equally as amazing inside. The place for sure was a home at some point and it felt odd walking through the halls. This place wasn’t anything like other orphanages I remembered them to be like. The walls weren’t the hospital white, but they were a warm inviting color. They had frames on the walls of previous adopted hybrids with their adoptive families and pictures of the different events they’ve hosted. The floors weren’t mass produced linoleum, but real wood! It even smelled like a home with hints of clean citrus.

The hallway was relatively quiet, no one was lingering around. I kept following Judy and hadn’t realized we’ve reached the education sector of the building until I saw child appealing posters with the golden rule, a paper tree with the student’s portraits on each branch, and colorful banners around. Judy turned around hand on the door handle, “The kids can be a bit overwhelming at first but know they’re just happy to see you.”

I nodded and signed okay at her, “Oh, no worries. I love kids.”

Judy wasn’t kidding. As soon as she opened up the door it was like the jungle. Hybrids of all breeds, species, a whole world of variety played to their hearts content. The staff already inside seemed to be in harmony with the chaos. A few kids turned to me tilting their head to sniff the air for any sign of threat. “Kids!” Judy clapped a few times to receive a rhythmic pattern response clapback and the room fell silent. “We have a special guest, Ms. Y/N, here today to play with you guys. Treat her nicely, okay?”

The look of curiosity never left their face, but they shouted in unison, “Yes, Ms. Judy.” A few courageous kittens and puppies broke away from the crowd and came up to me circling around like a swarm of bees. The excited look in their eyes told me they were excited to make a new friend. I reciprocated their adoration and waved excitedly at them. They took me in as friend not foe and lead me to a small table where they were drawing and doing other table activities. Eventually I fell into rhythm with the tykes laughing, chatting and encouraging them.

Judy clapped again and the kids repeated, “Okay, it’s nap time. Single file at the door everyone.” The small kitten in my lap whined already halfway there to dreamland but I pet her head softly and whispered to her, “Go to sleep on your bed, it’ll be more comfortable.” She pouted, “No, you’re warm and you smell good, I want to stay.” I wanted to whine because my heart was about to burst, but I prompted her to follow orders eventually. She got up and gave me a hug then followed the rest of her preschool class.

When that bunch was filed out the second bunch of students that were just a bit older came into the room. The newcomers trailed into the room in single file line, but like a reverse funnel they found their favorite spot around the room. It seems that their teacher had already told them about me as some of them waved my way greeting me. The twin sugar gliders amongst the lot eyes lit up, and zig zagging their way through the room towards the new lady. One of them tapped on my shoulder, “Hi! Who are you?”

I gave them my best smile and held out my hand to shake, “Hi there, I’m Ms. Y/N and who are you?” His dark brown ears stuck out from his dirty blonde hair as they twitched at the sound of my voice tail shaking with excitement. He looked like a he seemed like an outgoing, little booger. “I’m Eomuk and I’m a sugar glider hybrid. I’m six years old! And he,” Eomuk dragged his brother closer, “this is my brother Odeng! We’re twins!”

I smiled and held out my hand to the shier one of the duo, “Hi Odeng, it’s nice to meet you too.” That seemed to be all it took for Odeng to ease into my presence. They easily both sat on each side of me and began asking questions about me and I happily obliged. More children came around the table and fell into conversation. Their interest was so genuine and thoughtful as they took everything I said into consideration. Odeng cuddled up into my side, simply content with hanging out lazily instead of drawing or doing an activity. Eomuk was a bit more outgoing and lead his group of friends in a game of tag.

My head was beginning to throb and my eyes were twitching in agitation. I tapped Odeng on the shoulder, “Hey buddy, I’m going to be right back okay?”

Odeng crabbed for a second and sat up and began leaning on the table. “You’re not leaving are you? You’re coming back, right?”

I smoothed the hair out of his eye and nodded, “I’ll be back in a blink of an eye, you’ll think I’m superwoman.” That seemed to tickle his fancy as he giggled and gave me a thumbs up.

I got up and went up to another staff member to let them know I was going to the restroom. She nodded, all be it her face was a bit strained as she saw right through the deflated look on my face. I thanked her concealing myself once again and got out of there before anyone else started asking questions.

Big smiles, big smiles, big smiles.

I made my way out to the hallway and away from the classrooms. I don’t know where I ended up but as long as I was away from everyone I could breath again. My ears started ringing and it was getting harder and harder to keep my eyes open. My hands felt jittery and clammy. As soon as the coast was clear, I leaned up against the wall for some support. I felt damp from the sweat, I knew my body was shutting down. I reached my limit; the muffin was burned off hours ago so I was officially empty.

I heard footsteps coming from behind me and I whined wishing it was just my imagination. I wanted a few more moments to myself. I didn’t want to put up a front anymore. I pushed off the wall brushing the stray wet strands of my hair out of my face. I put on the same old smile and turned towards the owner of the footsteps. I nearly gasped out loud when I turned. Working in the industry you see beautiful people all the time, but this guy was definition beautiful. He must be another celebrity that’s helping promote the shelter. Was he an up and coming model?

He looked up after flipping a page of his packet he was intently reading. His thick lips pulled into a polite smile bowing as a greeting. I tried bowing back, but I wasn’t able to come back up. My knees gave out when I felt an intense pain surge through my head all the way down my spine, then my vision began spotting. He dropped his packet and rushed over to me, “Miss? Miss! Are you alright?” His touch was cold compared to my hot body. I was going down. I couldn’t feel my body anymore and without knowing my body slumped into his. His voice faded in and out and eventually the warm painted celling was replaced by the welcoming arms of blackness.

I blinked lazily once then twice trying to find my grip on life after embracing my demise. The focus of the white celling took anchor when it was taken away by shadows. I squinted trying to focus on the four sets of big, brown worried eyes stared directly into mine. I sunk back further into the sofa in shock. Where was I?

“Hey, don’t crowd around her boys! Give her some space to breath.” The two gliders pulled away, “You’ve protected her enough, she’s going to be okay. Go back to the playroom, everything going to be okay?”

I struggled to sit up, as the two familiar gliders pouted. Odeng took my hand for his own comforting sake, “Are you really okay? You didn’t come back, I was worried.”

I nodded but they didn’t seem fully convinced. I patted his hand, “I’m sorry Odeng. I am okay, superwoman is still alive.” Once they got an answer they cracked a smile and obliged, but not without hugging me. I felt dizzy, and I felt heavier because the back of my shirt stuck to my back like a wet blanket.

“Whoa, easy, easy there.” He came up to my side helping me right myself in the chair. I looked up finally to the voice finding the handsome stranger from earlier. I squinted my eyes thinking they were playing tricks on me, but no he wasn’t an angel. As he turned I noticed through a tailored slit in the back of his slacks a brown, fuzzy nub of a tail sticking out. My eyes trailed up the expanse of his broad shoulders to trace through his dark brown hair to find the same textured and color…animalistic round ears. Based on his tail and all clues given I assumed he was a bear hybrid—bear angel. He turned around and I looked away before he caught me staring, but I had a feeling I wasn’t being dubious.

“Here drink this, you’ll feel a lot better.” I took the water from him with a husky thank you. I should be nervous, scared even, to be alone with a stranger, however, this man made me feel at ease, more so than I’ve ever been with anyone. There’s something about the way he walked with ease, spoke like there’s no need to rush, everything was genuine. “Are you feeling better? This is my office, so you don’t have to worry.”

I nodded after taking a greedy gulp, “Thank you. I’m so sorry for bothering. I don’t know what came over me.”

He chuckled leaning against his desk, “No, no, it made me feel like a prince carrying you into the office. If anything, I’m the unbearable one.” He couldn’t contain his squeaky laughter…his own pun was cracking him up. The sad part about it I laughed too. It just kept coming I had to even cover my mouth with my hand. He smiled, biting his lip stifling his windshield wiper laugh.

It finally started to sink in, this was his office? He reached out to shake my hand, “I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself, it was kind of hard to earlier. I’m Kim Seokjin.”

My jaw fell slack, the dots connecting, he’s the owner of this shelter? A hybrid who owned a shelter? There was nothing but surprises here. The name sounded familiar from my earlier research. Kim Seokjin…and I fainted in front of him and now I was in his office, laying on his couch! God, I couldn’t have made a worst first impression. I fixed myself the best I could, but I had a solid feeling that my ideal first impression was already out the window. I wiped my clammy hand on my clothes discreetly before I shook Jin’s hand, “Hello I’m Y/N Y/L/N.”

His eyes lit up with recognition, “Oh! The actress, right? I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you sooner. I don’t keep up with media and TV for that matter, but I remember seeing that name on the guest list.”

I smiled, “I don’t blame you. I’m sure you have a lot on your plate with here.” I decided to throw in a tease myself, “Those sugar gliders have enough energy to power this facility alone.”

He smoothed back his soft hair, a shy gesture at the truth. His smile never died. “Yeah, my sons, they should be called energizer joeys.” Again, he caught me off guard. He looked so young to be a father, but then again nothing was always as it seemed. It warmed my heart that despite his age he was mature beyond his years and had nothing but love for his kids.

“Are you okay? Are you on any medications that you need? I should’ve taken you to the medical facility here instead. I can take you over there to make sure everything checks out.”

My eyes widened, oh, imagine if the press heard that I was here for a charity even and I end up becoming the charity case that they need to take care of. I couldn’t. I stood up shakily, “No, I’m fine thank you, I’m grateful you brought me here instead. Just a weird moment there earlier.”

I tried changing the subject, “This is your shelter?”

He narrowed his eyes, but he didn’t want to push it. “Yes, I opened Bearfoot Housing four years ago. It’s a bit of a long story, but in short, I noticed there was a need for a shelter like this. One that gave hybrids a fighting chance in life and a foundation. Hybrids may be part animal, but we shouldn’t be treated like one.”

I nodded in understanding, “I think this place is great from what I’ve seen so far. When I first came I as worried because of all the rumors, but when I was in the playroom earlier I knew this place was different. The children are amazing. They’re so smart and well behaved.”

He smiled, carefully watching the look on my face as I described his kids made his heart swell. Despite being slightly disheveled, I still looked just as pretty as the moment he set eyes on me. When he first looked up from his packet in the hall, his breath caught in his throat when he saw me. There was this aura about me that pulled him in, not love at first sight (maybe) but something deeper like a heart string connection. When I went down he felt this need to protect me and maybe that’s why his instincts brought me to his office instead of the infirmary.

“It’s all powered by great people like you Ms. Y/L/N. We give them a basic education, provide mental health services and medical resources until they’re adopted. This place greatly relies on its staff and the people that work for it.” He continued, “The staff aren’t just employees, they’re family. This place is meant to be a home. Like you said, I know the places that some of these people have been and its not pretty. I want to give them a place where they feel like ‘I can be myself’ and grow. I want this place to feel the same so when they’re adopted out there won’t be a huge difference from the general population. That’s why we’re very picky here about our adopters.”

The way he spoke held so much depth and truth. I couldn’t help but fall into his diction. I believed every word and motive. The yelp reviews weren’t’ wrong. He was a good person (with great shoulders).

I smiled, a knock at the door interrupted our conversation. Jin’s secretary came in the room, “Mr. Kim, …oh I’m sorry I didn’t know you had a guest, but its important.” She looked at her sticky note, “Ms. Y/L/N manager is looking for her and we can’t find her.”

I stood up cautiously and answered, “That’s me, I’m sorry for the inconvenience.” I smoothed my skirt and held out my hand towards Jin’s, “It was a pleasure to meet you Mr. Kim.”

He returned my shake and our hands held eachother for a moment longer than necessary, “Likewise, Ms. Y/L/N.”

I looked over my shoulder back to him as I walked out of the office. He was leaning against his desk as he waved and smiled. I burned that image into memory in case it was the last time I saw him.

I walked back to the lobby and found my staff with frantic looks on their face, “Where have you been?”

I smile and nodded, “I needed to use the bathroom for a moment.” My stylist fixed up my outfit complaining about how wrinkled it looked. They took off my apron and handed it back to Judy for me. I disregarded their comments, I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t pay mind to their faux concerned questions, realistically they acted like they cared, but I knew we had to follow schedule. I looked at my manager hoping that we were done for the day, “Let’s go home.”

He checked his watch and nodded. “We can go.”

As I climbed into the van I couldn’t resist I had to turn back to look at the shelter. The bear hybrid reached down to take one of his sons into his arms. I caught a glimpse as the little one at his feet waved goodbye at me. I felt warmth boil in my stomach melting my heart, I waved back looking up catching the beautiful smile gracing Mr.Kim. I’ve never known a place where I’ve felt more welcome or at home, but if this is what it was supposed to be like I never wanted to leave.

As soon as the van door shut, I was in my own little world again. The inside of the van felt lonelier than it had ever before despite everyone around me. The van pulled away and I watched the trees cascade by. My phone vibrated in my purse and I pulled it out and picked up. “Hello?”

The squeaky voice of my Mother answered, “Daaaarrrrling! Come home tonight, I miss you!” I knew when she said she missed me it really translated as there’s something I need to tell you. I sighed heavily and kept up small talk for manners and hung up.

I put my phone back in my purse and looked out the window, “Please, drop me off at my parent’s home please.” The earlier happiness had simmered out of my system reduced to a burnt caramel. I closed my eyes and rested my head against the cool window. I wanted to go home.

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The grandfather clock ticked back and forth, the pendulum reflecting gold onto the large oak desk whenever it passed through rays of light. “Y/N. I’m not going to beat around the bush, I’ve talk to the president of KBB Corps and he’s willing to further the negotiation. He likes your clean image and what you mean to the public. Besides, it’ll be great to merge the company names together.” I sat before my Father in his regal office that was fit for a president. My hearing weaved in and out only picking up bits and pieces as my father…well adoptive father spoke.

The door opened the clicking of heels sounded lightly, very practiced against the polished marble tile. The woman’s fingers grazed against the back of my chair to grasp lightly at the ends of my hair. I only shifted my eyes monetarily to find my overtly botched adoptive mother. She rounded about me, letting my hair fall off her finger tips to sit at the edge of the desk.

They never hid it from me that I was adopted. I’m their second child, after their oldest and only son. Twenty-five years ago my adoptive mother gave birth to a daughter, but their daughter passed hours after birth. Being public figures and the media already knew about the pregnancy, they someone how managed to adopt me to cover up the loss. I was never told how, or where I came from, but since birth I’ve been playing this character Y/N Y/L/N, the daughter of Y/L/N Incorporated and that’s all I was allowed to ask. I was raised by the maids, yet they were the two puppeteers of my life. I’ve been told from the beginning my path was set and all I had to do was follow it. If I so decided to taint their names there would be consequences. I’ve been obedient ever since I took on the title, that mask eventually molded into my flesh becoming who I am. One of the reasons why I picked up acting was because I was so good at it in my daily life. Living through characters was also the only place where I could feel different emotions freely. It was the only thing my adoptive parents let me have, even if it did benefit them that I was a public figure…just like the rest of my family.

“Dar~~ling, you say you’re not beating around the bush but get to the good part.” Mother scratched his chin cooing at him.

My father cleared his throat wrapping his arm around his wife. “KBB Corp and us, we, have decided, years ago in fact, that we will be martially intertwining our families.”

I nodded along, my brother wasn’t married yet, but honestly, I could care less about him getting married. The guy never paid me one bit of mind. “Well, I hope brother will be happy in his marriage.”

Mother shook her head, “No, no, no Love, you, you’re getting married.”

My stomach dropped to my feet, “I’m sorry, what?”

She jumped off the table clapping her hands, “Oh, Honey! I can see it now! You’re going to look gorgeous in a wedding dress. The venue has to be perfect! And…the money! Oh, just imagine all the more money were going to have.” Her face contorted to one of genuine happiness to that of a feral demon at her last comment. The mention of money made her face contort so much that her Botox couldn’t hold the mask together. Her perfect white teeth glimmered when the pendulum passed again and rung out the next hour.

I-I was getting married.

The rest of the meeting I sat there like a zombie. I was to be married in years’ time. They wanted to marriage naturally come to light when they announce it to the public. I wouldn’t get to meet him until before the wedding because there was so much “lawyer work” to be done. I knew it was more for the sake that they wanted to be sure they were going to get money out of this deal.

I walked out of my father’s office feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders fall, dragging me into the trenches of hell. I figured they’d give me that one liberty to find love on my own, but even that was dictated.

 

It was one of those rare days when I didn’t have anything planned for schedule. I sat at my dining table munching on something most may not qualifying as enough for breakfast. I didn’t have much of an appetite…at least not lately. As I brought up another bite of a breakfast bar to my lips I opened my phone to browse through the web for recent events. I scrolled past boring stories, particularly the ones that covered my family’s more than perfect life.

I nearly scrolled past an interesting article and had to scroll back up. I clicked out of curiosity and read the title, “KBB Group donates $150,000 to a local hybrid shelter, Bearfoot Housing.” I kept scrolling past the short paragraph for sure hyping up the sponsoring company instead of the charity and I found PR of myself amongst the many photos taken from the event. I kept moving past the boring pictures until I saw him in the background of a photo. Mr. Kim was out of focus, but I can still tell its him, he was smiling brightly while speaking to one of those names I couldn’t remember. It was that same smile that had been running through my mind for two weeks straight. I found myself longing to go back.

I continued to stare at the photograph and it hit me…I realized he never put up a face for anyone, he was always genuinely himself. This empty feeling surfaced again, a longing for home, for someone to look at me that way. It was a sudden sickness that only could partially be satisfied by the word lonely.

I ate the rest of my food fast and hurried to my closet to slip on a shirt, hoodie, jeans, a baseball cap and a mask. I grabbed all my essentials and sped off to the front door. I slipped on my favorite pair of sneakers carefully since the blisters from my heels were still heeling.

I needed to see them again.

The parking lot wasn’t packed only a few cars that must’ve belonged to the staff. Gone were the tents, gone were the paparazzi, and gone was the sense of obligation. I stepped out of my car and walked towards the shelter with heavy steps. My fingers reached for the door handles on the front door, but suddenly I felt nervous. Was this too much coming back here? Was I being a werido coming back? My feet were shuffling in my spot as I was hesitating. I was about to back track go back in my car and drive home and forget this all happened, but a friendly head opened the adjacent door and popped out the door. “Can I help you Miss?”

I nearly tripped over my own two feet. “Uhm—I—uh.”

She opened the door up further, “No need to be nervous! Come in!” I nodded bashfully. I should’ve thought about my outfit a bit more, someone standing outside their door with a mask and baseball cap on would look suspicious, but she didn’t treat me like a thief. I walked in passing her with a thank you. If I bolted now, now that, that would be suspicious.

Giggling children ran by pretending to be airplanes, while a teen hybrid leaned up against the wall rolling her eyes at the kids. She eyed me up and down then looked towards the staff, “Who’s this lady?”

The staff turned to me realizing she hadn’t asked, “Miss, what’s your name?” I looked between them, not even sure I should still be here.

“I’m—I’m,” I fiddled with my hands and the end of my sleeve. If I told them my name would they recognize me and then I’d have to leave.

“Mrs. Romero, have you sent those adoption registrations to the hybrid social security office?” Jin crossed in front of us not even bothering to look up too focused on another packet. I held my breath as he walked in front of me, my eyes nearly budged as I felt like he did it in slow motion. When there wasn’t a response he looked up from his packet, “ Mrs. Rom—?” His face was stoic before all business, but a soft glow of a smirk appeared on his face when he saw there was a guest, “Ms. Y/L/N, it’s great to see you again. How can I help you?”

I looked around, panic in my eyes, was I that recognizable? I felt like I was stepping in territory that wasn’t my own. “Umm…I’m here—.”

He could see the panic in my eyes, so with quick thinking a gentle smile caressed his face. He rolled up his packet and smacked his other hand with it like a director would, “Ah—Yes! How could I forget! I’m sorry If I’m late for the appointment, please, come to my office.”

“Yeah…it’s no big deal.” The receptionist looked dumbfounded but the look Jin gave her assured her everything was all right. He pointed towards his office and I followed alongside him. I was grateful that I was rescued.

He let me enter his office first as I found a seat in one of his chairs in front of his desk. He walked around his desk and dropped the packet he was going through onto another towering pile. He looked as handsome as the first day I saw him, however, he was dressed more relax this time. The sleeves of his button up were rolled up to his elbow and his hair wasn’t smoothed back.

“Your welcome.” He chuckled to himself as he sat down.

I blushed like a madwoman and found a seat at his desk. Again, he rescued me.

“What can I do for you Ms. Y/L/N?”

I pulled off my mask and bit my bottom lip, “I didn’t have anything scheduled for today and I was…bored. I was, I was hoping,” I pulled on the sleeves of my sweater feeling anxious for asking anything of someone, “I was hoping I could help out some more.” I whispered the last part, but the smile on his face lit up and I knew he had heard me.

He questioned, “You want to volunteer?”

I nodded, “I liked knowing I was doing something. I think the kids here are great, this place is a good place.” And I wanted to see you, of course, I thought that to myself only.

He picked up his phone and dialed someone without a second thought, “Judy—yeah—yeah, I know you’re busy. I have someone I need you to help set up, she’s going to be volunteering with us today. Mhmmm—I’ll see you soon.”

He hung up, “Judy always starts off any conversation complaining about something before she lets me get two cents in.”

I didn’t know if I should have laughed, but I did anyways, Judy was a sweetheart. He chuckled as well and a few moments later he leaned back in his chair, “I’m sorry that I can’t show you the ropes myself, I still have to get through all this paper work, but I will join you as soon as possible.”

I was about to respond, but Judy knocked on the door and peeked her head through the door, “Oh—Ms. Y/L/N you’re back! Its so good to see you! Some of the kids have been asking about you since your last visit.”

I lit up seeing the familiar face, greeting her equally as excited. Judy had this motherly vibe about her that could make anyone comfortable. It was a surprise to me though, they asked about me? Jin stood up, “Ms. Y/L/N is our volunteer can you show her around and what she could help you with today?”

She nodded more than excited to show me around again. I turned to look at Jin with a smile and a small polite bow before I was dragged away by Judy ranting to me like a best friend would. I was handed an apron and Judy made me a new sticker to wear. She explained to me that I would help out the teachers for the day. The teens tended to entertain themselves.

She took me down the halls to another set of big doors that lead to outside where the kids were on recess. As I walked through the doors I finally got a look at the yard. The huge green field was at least half a football field in size, with vibrant green grass and trees lining the property reaching into the blue sky. It had a small garden, then a playground was equipped with slides, monkey bars, and climbing obstacles. Despite the amenities there was still a large field for the kids to freely run around. I can only imagine how big it looked from a kid’s perspective.

Judy walked beside me towards the staff, I heard a shout of my name. I turned towards the sound and saw the twins running towards me. I didn’t have much time before I let out a husky huff as they both crashed into me. Judy scolded them, but I waved it off, “Hi guys.”

Odeng was clutching at me and looked up at me with the saddest puppy eyes, “You left last time and didn’t say goodbye.”

My heart broke into a million and one pieces. I didn’t think they liked me that much. I was only here once and for a few hours at most and they liked me that much? Eomuk squeezed tighter, “Yeah, I thought you got sick again.” A million and two pieces.

I booped the furrow in Odeng’s brows easing his frown instantly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t want to leave without a goodbye, but I’m back right? I just had to save the world then come back.” Odeng smiled and nodded, his ears flapped with his movements.

His brother tugged on my apron, “Come play with us Ms. Y/N!”

I nodded and before I knew it I was brought into the parachute game with the other children.

Once recess was over and I was worn out, but the kids still had kick in them we moved into a classroom. I helped with simple things and helped the teacher organize for her lesson.

Jin peeked in through the door his eyes immediately connected to me. The light pouring in from the windows, highlighted my profile in a warm glow. The way my hair was falling messily, yet still perfectly collected was mesmerizing. He wouldn’t admit it out loud, but ever since we’ve met he found himself checking the new sites in the morning so maybe he’d catch a glimpse of me. He’s never even checked the news before. He casually asked his secretary if there were any other sponsored events by KBB happening in the near future. He was sadly informed that there wasn’t any by Mrs. Romero, so he’d find himself casually walking away with a neutral face of, “Oh, no reason.”

The bear within grunted out of instinct. The noise caught the attention of a few, mine as well. He coughed to cover up his sound and waved. He came into the room and spoke to the teacher and took an apron off the rack. The twins bolted up from my side and went to greet their dad. He was dragged over to the table by his twins and he lowly spoke out, “Hello.” He cleared his throat and tried it again in a normal voice, “Hello Ms. Y/L/N, how’s it going so far?”

I wanted to laugh at his awkwardness, I’ve never seen him like this. I smiled, “Wonderful.” He was wonderful.

The other kids ambushed him pulling him away and his two gliders hung off him to another table. He looked at me with this wide-eyed expression before he succumbed to the wave of kids. I laughed and mouthed good luck to him tauntingly. It was no surprise that he was really popular amongst the children.

I’d stare at him occasionally and we’d cross eachother and when he’d catch me I’d look away. Why did I feel like such a high school girl who had a crush for the first time?

A twin caught me staring in his direction, Odeng, and ran up to me, “Look, look Ms. Y/L/N, I got a 90% on my spelling quiz!”

I crouched down and smiled at him my eyes sparkled at him, “Wow! You did such a good job!” He did a little running dance in his spot. He suddenly jumped and hugged me like he hung onto his father, overzealous that I praised him. Every muscle froze before a grin spread on my face and I hugged him back, “You did a good job.”

Jin stopped what he was doing, he’s never seen the twins hanging off of anyone besides him (or Jungkook). He was afraid something happened, but when I wrapped my arms around Odeng his tension eased. I was such an enigma, unlike anything he’s ever met before.

The room was full of warmth, but the smile on my face was the brightest thing in the room.

The sun was beginning to set and all the hybrids were being escorted back to their living quarters. I was in the playroom cleaning up and Jin knocked on the door and entered. He stepped up to me, “Exhausted? Kids can be a handful.”

I laughed, yes, the kids were a lot of work, but I was happy doing it. I didn’t feel alone, I didn’t feel like I had to think before I did something. I was just myself and everyone here accepted me. I united the back strings, pulled the neck loop over my head, then I compacted the apron the best I could as I handed it back to Jin. The back of my neck felt empty and I felt like a child parting with their favorite stuffed animal. I bit my pouting lip and whispered out, “Can I come back?” His eyes widened. I clasped my hands then released them not sure what to do with them. I felt clammy expressing my wants, “I really like it here, I was wondering if I could…come back and volunteer again.”

He smiled and stopped my jittery hands and handed me back the apron, “Keep this. You’ll need it when you come back.” His hands lingered on mine for a moment before they fell back to his side.

I took the apron back, the rough canvas material felt comforting in my hands. It was like a ticket to wonderland and I was given an unlimited pass. I clutched it to me and thanked him, over and over again, I don’t think he knows just how much this means to me.

 

The twins clamor up to him, but their too big to both be in his arms anymore. “Dad, when is Ms. Y/N coming back?”

Jin chuckled, “Soon, soon I’m sure.” The kids look crescent fallen, but they smiled knowing that there would be a next time. It didn’t stop flustering him, he’s never seen them warm up to anyone this fast…the last time was himself. He ruffled Eomuk’s hair, “Let’s go home guys.”

As a small family they made their way home for the day. Jin tucked them in their beds and read them a bed time story. It was their favorite, a story about a crab named Tony. The crab lived in a small hole in the reef and he had all sorts of friends on the reef. Everyday he would have a new adventure and teach lessons in an unconventional way. Jin sat on the ladder leading to the top bunk, “Tony pinched at the shark, ‘Mr. Shark! Fish are friends, not food!’ Tony and his friends all repeated after him—.” Jin looked over the bunk and at the bottom and the two gliders were out like a light. He got up quietly and kissed their foreheads, “Love you guys.”

His phone vibrated in his pocket so he tipped toed out of the room and closed the door behind him. He jogged to the living room and finally picked up. The voice on the other line only passed a greeting and he responded with, “It’s time isn’t it?“

 

I ended up coming back every weekend…and when I could I squeezed in an hour in during the weekday. Basically, I found myself there nearly all the time despite my manager telling me I probably couldn’t fit it in. I’d sometimes bring gifts with me that I prepared the night before. I secretly donated to the shelter as well and saw the funds directly to benefit the children. It was a verbal clause that I volunteered here in secret; I didn’t want the public ambushing this place for the wrong reasons. Jin kept to himself and kept this place as a sanctuary for the hybrids, it wasn’t a circus or spectacle for the paparazzi. I wanted to respect that, and he respected my wishes of keeping me on the low.

The morning blue sky didn’t seem so daunting anymore, instead it reminded me of Jin’s apron. It’s the kind of blue that if you were to look in the ocean it would incite fear, but if it were in the sky, oh, if it was in the sky, it would remind you of nothing but tranquility. The kind of comfort that the soft, high noon clouds bring to a napper in a park, or the comfort of watching the sunset. That’s what he was…the color blue.

The staff there, especially Judy, would always tease me about whenever I came in that I would positively glow, especially after Jin would come out for a moment to say hello. They joked—spilled that often he never came out of his “cave” before, but now it was common to see him roaming the halls when I came around. I would brush them off, gossip was for the tabloids not the dinner table. However, that little tidbit of information would make me stupidly blush. Jin came out for me?

Again, I was so happy that even though they all knew who I was but they never treated me any different from anyone else. Of course, initially they asked for my signature, but I was still a friend to them. They even invited me out for dinner with them and even when everyone in the office got a coffee I was given one too. I was a part of something.

I often was one of the last few staff members working; all the others had gone home, or the night staff was monitoring the living quarters around this time. Jin walked down the hall with his briefcase that often carried the twin’s toys rather than paperwork. He purposefully had his office in the back so when he would go home he’d have to check the building before he went home. He passed various doors, but one caught his eyes since it was odd for the lights in this sector to be on. He backpedaled a few steps and looked in the slit window into the playroom and noticed a figure still moving about dancing side to side.

I wiped the sweat off my brow as I stood up straight, spine cracking as I stood up. I finally finished mopping the three playrooms. The door cracked open and I turned around and saw a curious bear peeking through. God, why did he have to show up when I looked like a wreck. I fixed my hair quickly and commented as casually as possible, “Going home?”

He nodded, “Why you here so late still?”

I choked on my own saliva, what did he mean late? I looked out the window and realized the sun wasn’t out anymore. “Oh,” I had lost track of time.

He chuckled and opened the door further and leaned on the doorframe. He checked his watched, “It’s pretty late, have you eaten?” I didn’t need to answer him because my stomach was more than willing to pledge for me. Jin obviously heard it as the tears on top of his head twitched slightly. “Want to join me and the twins for dinner?”

I hesitated for a moment squeezing my hands around the pole of the mop. “Oh, don’t worry about me. I don’t want to be a burden, enjoy your meal with Odeng and Eomuk.”

He laughed, “You’re never a burden Y/n, I think the twins wouldn’t mind. I wouldn’t mind either.” I felt a blush climbing up my throat, he called me by my name. It’s been so formal up until now. “I’m afraid that all the fancy restaurants are closed at this time, so I can’t take you to one.”

I used the mop as support as I nearly doubled over laughing. I figured what would be the harm in joining him for dinner? “Do you know how ridiculous it is to pay $200 for a slice of potato with an inedible garnish? Please, let’s go somewhere casual, being at those restaurants make me uncomfortable.”

He laughed mockingly, “An actress uncomfortable at a fine dining restaurant?”

I smirked, “The characters I play in movies are elegant and graceful, but me—maybe not so much.”

He sassed, raising a brow, “I’ve noticed over the past five months.”

My eyes bulged I pointed a finger at him squinting my eyes, “Hey—Hey! You’re not supposed to agree!”

He sighed and relaxed considerably chuckling to himself. The twins peeked through the door and ran up next to him, Odeng automatically clung to him. When Jin told them the news that I’d be joining them they lit up and went to gather their stuff in a split second. I put the remaining things away and got ready to leave myself. My manager had dropped me off earlier, so I traveled with them in Jin’s Grand Cherokee. The kids climbed into the back and we went to their favorite dinner. The kids were so excited they played rock paper scissors within themselves to decided who got to sit next to who. The twins really attached to me, literally, Jin was the primary oak but I was becoming their pine. I leaned down, “How about halfway through we switch so you both get a chance to sit next to your Dad and me.” They lit up and agreed instantly, finding the deal better than their democracy.

They both climbed into the red booth and we followed along. The kids picked up something simple from the menu and Jin told me to pick out anything it’s his treat. I tried to politely decline, but he insisted. I thanked him and ordered something simple. The waitress came around and took our orders and left some coloring pages with crayons for the kids to entertain themselves with.

Odeng leaned up against me while he colored in the free coloring page, “Mama, what color is a dinosaur?” I blushed and my hand going for my water stuttering in its reach. Did I hear Odeng right?

It hit me that I’ve never asked Jin about his wife, or the children’s mother. I had been crushing on a married man. Just because I hadn’t seen her didn’t mean she didn’t exist. No, no, no, this was platonic, we were having dinner as good friends.

Jin equally blushed like crazy, unsure of how to assess the situation.

I set down my water and reached over the table to pick a color. I smiled and picked up the crayon he needed, “Any color you want, but I think green would be a good choice. What do you think?”

Odeng blushed realizing his mistake, his tail and ears flattening in embarrassment. He apologized, “I’m sorry Ms. Y/L/N.”

I wanted to correct him, tell him its fine he can call me whatever he wants but…Mom. I wasn’t his Mom. I didn’t have the right or place to tell him that he could call me that…because I wasn’t. I suppressed the oddly sad feeling rising from my heart. I pet his head and scratched behind his ears, “It’s okay Deng, you can call me whatever you like.”

That seemed to sooth him and his eyes lit right back up and he looked at his brother. His brother seemed excited about the idea too of coming up with a nickname. They went back and forth and debated upon a possible nickname.

Jin was about to speak up but I cut him off, “Can you keep a secret Jin?”

He smiled, “Tell me the secret first then I’ll tell you if I can keep it.”

My lips pulled to my ears in a smile. I tapped the front of my shoe on the floor as I looked away from the kids, “I’m adopted, and as far as I know I’m an orphan. My adoptive parents took me in at such a young age, so I don’t know life before them.” I tapped my foot one last time, “I guess that’s why I relate to the kids at the shelter so much, but they’re very lucky. They’re very lucky to be able to have such a wonderful place and person looking over them. Not all of us are lucky.”

He was quiet for a moment letting the words sink in. This was a heavy secret, but it didn’t change anything, or how he thought of me. It made sense, he could see why you had such an affinity towards the shelter and the children. Exactly why you were so inclined towards making the lives of these children better. He knew I had donated, he knew all about the stuff I had done. He was about to reach over the table and take my hand, but he stopped himself. He instead clasped them together in front of himself. A smirk bloomed on his face, “Hmm…I don’t know if I can keep it, can I tell my grandma at least?”

I huffed a laugh, not expecting that response at all, “Jin!”

He chuckled going for a more thoughtful response, “I don’t think I’m lucky, or we’re lucky, because it was meant to be. Us meeting, it wasn’t luck or a coincidence, it was—.”

I felt a blush creeping up my throat. The boys suddenly called cutting off their Dad, “Ms. Y/L/N, we got it! I think your nickname should be—.”

Jin felt something curling in his stomach, but the emotion didn’t get to bubble as the waitress came around with our meals. The rest of the night conversations led on, I’ve never laughed so much that my cheeks hurt, but I’d have to credit it to how much I was smiling. The small table felt so homey, maybe it was because of the warm lighting, or the bustling atmosphere, possibly the music, even thought it was a dinner and we were technically strangers.

Jin couldn’t help staring at me every now and then. The sparkle in my eye and how I let the children naturally move about me. The way he began to move about me and caught himself longing for my presence just as much. He…felt something he hasn’t felt before.

Jin dropped me off in the parking garage to prevent any cameras catching us. He dropped me off in front of the elevators. The twins had fallen asleep during the ride back. He looked over to me, “Thank you.”

I looked over at him curiously, “I think I should be the one saying that. Thank you for the meal, it was the best thing I’ve ate in a while.” Compared to the gas station random lunch stops I always make, that was fine dining.

He smiled and paused before he spoke, “Thank you for not rejecting him so strongly earlier.”

I smoothed my hair out of my face, “I think it was cute, but I’m sorry if it made you uncomfortable. I know I’m…not their mother. I’m sure your wife wouldn’t enjoy hearing that they called me that.”

He laughed softly, “I don’t have a wife.”

My mind stopped for a moment, he wasn’t married. I mean I knew he didn’t wear a ring, but not many people wear rings anymore. Jin was single.

He leaned back in his seat one hand on the steering wheel, “The twins aren’t my biological children, but its weird to say that because they feel like they are. I adopted them.” He looked at them through the rear-view mirror and smiled a father’s smile, then to me with the same smile.

The twins were really just like me. I couldn’t help my mouth hanging open in adoration and a bit of shock. I couldn’t find better words after a heavy pause, “You’re a great Dad, Jin, any woman who gets the chance to be your wife or their Mom is going to be a very lucky woman.”

He stared at me for a long moment, and I couldn’t make myself break the contact. I felt pulled into his gravity. That same gravity that gave me a sense of belonging. Yet, I wasn’t meant to stand next to him. The accident earlier will always just be an accident. This crush will always just be a crush. I clutched on the strap of my purse and pursed my lips for a moment. “Thank you…for everything Jin. I’ll see you soon.” I offered him a smile as I got out of the car and closed the door. He was still staring at me as I stood in the elevator. As the doors were closing his eyes were still glued on me. I could only see him as the doors closed.

He gripped on tight on the steering wheel sighing as he closed his eyes. He knew he should’ve said something, but he couldn’t. What was there to say when I wasn’t his, or ever to be his. He looked back to the closed elevator door and watched the floors go up, despite his rational, gravity kept him coming back to the idea of me.

 

The following visits to the shelter were different. I saw Jin more often in the classrooms. If I ever needed anything he would be there to help me, even something as simple as reaching for something on a high shelf. The feeling of his broad chest on my back was enough to make me boil. When he passed me sometimes our fingers would graze eachothers for a second longer than necessary. The twins would follow me around more than they did their father. I got the courage to invite him and the kids to dinner and paid for the meal. He insisted that now he was indebted to me and he’d have to return the favor. We ended up eating dinner together every other day, even if I didn’t show up to the shelter we’d meet up for dinner regardless. It became a ritual, a platonic ritual. At least that’s what I had convinced myself it was.

Good things…never last though. The blue turned on its horizon and I was looking down again when the person on the other side of the line hung up leaving me speechless. I leaned against the wall and shoved my phone back into my pocket. I was watching the group of hybrids through the window of the backdoors. I didn’t have the energy to go back out with the other teachers.

I heard footsteps coming from the other end of the hall and Jin leaned against the opposite wall across from me staring out the window as well. “Sometimes watching them run so free makes me wish I was out there too.”

I nodded in understanding. “I wish…I was free too.”

He squinted as if he was blinded for a moment, “What do you mean? You’re the actress of the year and—.”

I looked away feeling tears brim in my eyes, “You wouldn’t understand.”

He laughed sarcastically, “I do, I gave up a lot—to be here.”

I put my head down in shame, of course, I knew he understood. I was just being a bit snarky because of the phone call I just had with my mother. My mood was spoiled at her wonderful news that my marriage was to be announced publicly today. Her voice still echoed in my ear, the dinging of reality calling me back from…this facade.

I mumbled out, “Sorry.”

I turned to him and his eyes looked back to mine sincerely, soft and rounded, “I understand.” He stepped forward and caged me against the wall. His warmth was welcomed as I didn’t move away. He lifted up my chin so I looked him in the eyes ,“And I’d do it all over again.” His eyes followed my lips. He leaned in and moved his head closer to mine. I could count the lashes, the connective tissues that made up his iris, and the canyon that split his lower lip.

He threw out all reason to the wind. Forget platonic! He kissed my cold lips, warming them up with his plump lips. We pulled apart for a shaky short breath, but we couldn’t hold back any longer. Our lips met again and his arm holding himself up against the wall came to latch onto my waist. I clutched at his shoulders for support as his lips chased mine in passion. Our lips were full of wonder, curiosity and longing for one another. He pulled me impossibly closer until I could feel his rapid heartbeat in his chest.

The drumming against my own chest reminded me of how real this moment was. I wasn’t dreaming, Jin was really kissing me. My own heartbeat rang in my ears and each beat woke me from my all too real dream. I had a fiancé I couldn’t do this. My marriage was going to be announced to the public today for Christ sake! I pushed at his shoulders lightly, but he pulled away without argument.

I couldn’t look him in the eyes as the guilt weighed heavy on my mind. I slipped his hands away from my waist and I undid my apron I held it in my hands for a second then placed it in his.

The salacious moment tainted with sweet chocolate was ruined with mint. “I’m sorry Jin. I-I-I can’t do this.” I didn’t look up to see the look on his face, I began jogging away from him through the hallway to get away. I ran away and I didn’t look back. I had to run away…from home.

 

I found myself watching the morning sky brim over the horizon out my bedroom window. I sat up in my bed wrapping my comforter around me, missing the presence of two little ones climbing over me. The weight of my blanket could never compare. I felt like a tree with its roots slipping from the soil. I let go of the bamboo shoot that was holding me up. My branches were unable to bear the weight of its fruit that it was never meant to bear. Tears paved their trenches on my cheeks and each new one followed their fellow’s pathway. A stream grew into a river and flourished into a lake and before I knew it, I was drowning in an ocean. With each passing moment the want for home grew as the bed that I took refuge on was only a ship on this ocean of tears.

I haven’t seen him in a month since I had left. He had called and texted. He didn’t give up as the weeks went on and he found my managers phone number and called him. My strict manager gave me a sympathetic look, but I told him to tell Jin I was unavailable.

One night I had gotten ready to go to dinner with Jin out of habit, but as I was looking in the mirror putting on lipstick I realized I wouldn’t—no couldn’t go. Loneliness held my heart in a vice grip as I took a makeup wipe and began wiping my lipstick off. I clicked off my vanity lights and kept wiping away at my lips even though I had removed all my lipstick. Moments like these made me realize how much Jin had changed my routine. How much I had looked forward to seeing him. How, in the subtle ways, my life had centered around…them. My life prior to meeting Jin had been lonely, but I was fine before. However, now knowing the possibilities of life and the warmth of Jin, this was purgatory, a deeper level of loneliness that I didn’t think existed.

In the darkness, while the dirty makeup wipe was still in my hand, like he had heard me my phone lit up with a phone call from Jin. I watched the screen and after a minute it all stopped. The phone didn’t light up again, and then the calls stopped. Tears flowed down my streaky cheeks and into the palm of my hand.

I had put the unfitting mask back on as soon as I ran away from him, and it was itching to be removed, yet I still kept it on. It wasn’t me, but it was me. I was to never know his warmth, never to know those possibilities. I had footsteps to follow, I don’t think I could do that injustice to the people who adopted me, even if I…loved him.

I was publicly known as an engaged woman, my fate was sealed. I dived back into scripts, asking my manager to find me new projects, anything to take my mind off things. My mother let me know that the other family accepted the deal and were already halfway through preparing the wedding.

Six months were left until the wedding.

As much as I wanted to wallow up in my bed, I had to go to my parent’s house for some formalities on the engagement. I picked myself up and showered and looked presentable. It was customary to look presentable even in home.

I drove to my parent’s house and was greeting by the familiar maid staff. I enjoyed their company more than my own family because they were the ones who actually raised me. “Where is the Head Mistress?” I asked the young girl who held open the door, she seemed to be the newest addition to the staff.

She bowed, “I’m sorry Miss, I don’t know.” I patted her on the shoulder. It was always customary that I saw her before I saw anyone else in this house. She was the woman who raised me after all, and I called her Mom when no one else was around. I didn’t let my smile fall and I made my way up the grand staircase to my father’s study. I’d find her after I spoke to Father.

I stood outside the castle like door with my fist raised to knock. As I was about to knock I heard voices coming form the inside and I leaned in to hear, maybe it was my fiancé-to-be.

“I know we have compensated you.” I heard the muffled voice of my father speaking to someone. A female voice curtly replied, but I couldn’t make out their words.

Wait? Wasn’t that the voice of a maid? Head Mistress? I leaned in closer. My father spoke again, “You did the right thing by giving her to us all those years ago. You couldn’t have given her all the things we gave her, you made the right choice.” My heart stopped. Wait, what? What! “I know you’re probably wondering about the wedding and if you can attend being her mother and all. I’m sorry to say I can’t let you be in the audience. I need you to work.”

I backed away from the door…I hit the other wall and slid down it. What? My nanny, the Head Mistress…the woman who raised me she was my mother? My-my-my biological mother! I scrambled up to my feet and ran out of the hall. I found my way through the house and ended up in my favorite spot, the servant quarters. I collapsed against the side of a familiar bed as the tension in my body gave out. I curled up against the side of the bed trembling.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and searched for the only contact I had saved in my phone, Jin’s. My thumb hovered over the dial button, tears from my eyes fell onto the screen distorting the number. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t press call. Jin, I need you, but I can’t. I can’t. I can’t! I clutched my phone and threw it across the room with a scream that seeped through my broken mask.

How much of my life was lies? Who am I?

The door cracked open with a gasp at the creature at her bed, “Pumpkin, what are you doing here?”

I looked up and finally put things together, how could I have not recognized the same nose, the same eyes and…everything. I sobbed out, “Mom?”

Her eyes widened for a split second and she dropped to her feet, but she covered it simply by smiling, “Starting with that nickname again? Why are you crying, love?”

I shook my head, “No, you,” I swallowed hard, “you’re my Mom. My real mom. Is it true? Is what I just heard Father saying that you are my mom? Why? Why! Why did you keep this from me?” Towards the end of my sentence it just became a pitched sob.

She sighed, cupping my face and wiped the tears away. She was holding herself together very well, “I knew this day would eventually come. Will you listen to me until the end?”

I nodded and she cooed me enough to stop crying. She brought me into a hug and let me rest my head on her shoulder like I used to always do as a kid.

She spoke at my temple, “Twenty-five years ago, when I was just twenty I had you with a boyfriend that already had a wife. He didn’t tell me he was married, and I was already pregnant with you when I found out. He broke up with me when his wife found out about us. She was furious after she found out and she took all her anger out on me. I lost my scholarship in college and I couldn’t go to school anymore. She contacted every possible business, even the convenience stores, and told them not to hire me.

I hadn’t realized the man I was in love with was someone of such power. We met at a bar next to my college, I thought he was student too. Oh, how I was wrong, he lied to me about everything, his age, his name, his mother’s name even. I was being punished for loving someone who didn’t love me.”

She continued to smooth down my hair as I hiccupped in between sniffles, “I found myself living on the streets after my parents found out. They were afraid that they would become targets as well. I was homeless and alone with a week-old child.” She booped my nose, the same smile I’ve always known on her face radiating through the heartbreak, “I could barely afford to feed you, but I did my best to put you first.”

She sighed heavily and rested her head on mine and rocked us back and forth, “The former Head Maid was running an errand and saw me on the street. She looked at me with an infant in my arms and gave me a deal. That they would give me a roof over my head, food in your belly, and safety just as long as I gave you up to be adopted by them.”

Mom remained silent for a moment, I could tell by the thinning of her voice it had been hard on her, “I had to give you up. I gave you up to give you a better life than I ever could. I was told not to tell you who I am because you were no longer mine. As much as it kills me inside, I hope this is something you keep a secret. You weren’t supposed to know. You are a Y/L/N, not the daughter of a maid.”

I wanted to protest, her being a maid changed nothing, but she shushed me, “I am happy. I am happy that I got to see you become the beautiful woman that you’ve grown up to be. You’re so smart and kind, and I’m glad you’ve grown up so well.

I’m sorry I can’t be there on your wedding day, but that doesn’t change the fact that I love you. I need you to do this for me, do this for me. Repay this family by getting married. I did this for you and I want your best interest, love.” She began softly crying, letting twenty-five years of guilt break through. I hugged her back, the guilt of the past eating away at me. We both cried in eachothers arms. The weight of her decision that led up to what my life is felt like a heavy burden.

The truth is a heavy burden.

She mumbled out kissing my forehead, “Please, do this for me.”

I let the truth settle in my stomach and I nodded, but my voice wasn’t my own anymore. “I will.”

My phone in the corner of the room was still lit up, but the screen was cracked. Jin’s contact was still displayed.

 

A few weeks had passed, and despite finding an important puzzle piece of the jigsaw that was myself, it didn’t change the empty feeling inside. The truth was unsatisfying.

It was beginning to feel like just another morning as I sat at my dining table shoving around the food on my plate rather than eating it. I was randomly scrolling through my phone and I decided to clean up my internet history. I opened up the settings and the first thing on the search was: are sugar gliders allergic to anything? Followed by, do bear hybrids hibernate like real bears? The list went on about things I forgot I was curious about. At the bottom of the list was the article I opened all those months ago that changed everything. I reopened the tab and the pictures from the day I did the press popped up. I scrolled through and stopped at the picture with Jin in it. I missed them so much. There was no break up, but I felt like I was going through one. I missed him so much. I realized after being gone for a month that I loved Jin and I loved the twins dearly. I didn’t want to get engaged to this stranger, but…what other choice did I have? I made a promise with my Mom, and so many others that I would do this. I couldn’t let them down.

I exited out of the tab and cleaned up my history. Erasing the curiosity with logic, but I still had this urge. If I—If I just visit there one more time, just to see them one more time, I think then…I’ll be okay.

My hands were trembling the whole time I drove myself to the shelter. I peeked through the front door and no one was at the receptionist desk. I tiptoed down the familiar hall to the playroom where the kids should be at this time. I could get a glimpse at the twins, then leave. I stood outside the door and looked through the slit window to see if anyone was inside. I stopped breathing when I saw Jin sitting on a bean bag with the two twins under each arm. He wrapped his arms around them holding a book up as he read to them. The smile on his face was radiant as it contoured as he read out different sets of dialogue to the kids. They giggled and even though I wasn’t in the room I could hear the rustling of the stuffing of the bean bag. I could hear the sound of their high pitch laughs that sounded like their father’s.

I hadn’t realized tears were rolling down my face until I choked back on a sob and it caused me to hiccup. My eyes opened wide as I knew they probably heard me. I covered my mouth with my hand and I ran down the hall to avoid him finding out I was here. I propped myself against the adjacent hallway and I heard the door to the room open seconds later.

Jin’s bear ears were full on alert his papa bear instincts, he called out, “Is someone there?” He sniffed the air and stopped all motion. He knew the faint scent that lingered near the door. He called out with confidence, “Y/N?”

I stayed still, my heart was beating erratically in my chest. I was praying he hear my heart. I heard the door close and he was following his nose. The sound of his footsteps rang loudly in my ears as he was getting closer. Why did I do this? Why did I come here? I knew I shouldn’t have come back. He was getting closer and closer and I could hear him sniffing the air. “Y/N, are you here?”

I then heard a second pair of fast feet, “Mr. Kim! Mr. Kim! Your mother is calling from your office phone, she says it’s important!” Mrs. Romero called out to Jin in a panting breath, I could tell she had run from one side of the building to the other.

He felt immobile in his spot, he wanted to follow his instincts. He knew that sweet scent anywhere, but what if he was just imagining it? His shoulders dropped, and he obliged following , “Thanks Mrs. Romero.”

The footsteps distanced themselves and I dropped my head onto my knees finally breathing. This was a bad idea. I only missed them more now.

 

Two months—it’s been two months since I saw them and I’ve worked myself to no end. In the total of three months of not “seeing” them I found myself coming to terms with some idea of forgetting them, and by the fourth month I had to face the man I was to marry. Time had flown by, and it was officially two months until the wedding.

I sat at a dinner table in an isolated VIP room. My chin rested on my palm as I looked past the red table linen, unscented burning candle and hanging chandelier out to the bay from the thirtieth floor. I wanted to fidget in my tight dress, that I would argue was too formal for this type of event, but I had no room to argue in wearing it. Mother knew best. I sat there waiting on my husband-to-be, resisting the urge to check my phone for the time or any messages. I took off my schedule this afternoon to sit around and wait? However, I neglected against my manners when impatience took over. I checked the time and pushed it back into my clutch with a sigh. The man was forty-five minutes late and I was beginning to feel like a fool. What if he bailed and realized he didn’t want to get married either?

I reached for my water drinking the rest in a few gulps. I found myself watching the traffic below again, wondering where those people were going. Did they have a family to bring home groceries to? Was there a mom or dad who worked all day long to come home to their kids who would jump into his arms? Was there someone crying after listening to a reminiscent song on the radio?

How I wished I was going somewhere too… anywhere but here right now.

I played with a dinner fork when the door finally opened with a waiter holding the door open for the guest to step in. The man was tall, he was fixing the buttons on his blue suit as he walked in with his head down almost grumbling. I wanted to laugh, but because of how long I’ve waited the humor fell out of the situation. I’ve been waiting months, ten months, nearly a year, for this moment and this is how I was being treated?

I sat back in my chair observing the still disheveled man with a scowl shaping my lips. He plopped down onto his chair with a heavy sigh and finally looked up. My eyes grew ten times their original size and my scowl dropped immediately. The person across from me had fluffy, brown ears that peeked out of his slightly disheveled hair. His eyes were equally as wide as our eyes met, but his pillow lips moved despite the shock, “Y-Y/N?”

I blinked twice before I called back to him, “Jin? What—What are you doing here?”

“I’m—I was told to show up at this restaurant to meet my wife.”

I nearly spat back up the water I downed, “You’re the son of the KBB group?” My mind was working double time. I furrowed my brows, “Did you know it was me this whole time?”

He shook his head, “No, I didn’t know. I didn’t know it was you.” He explained his side, “Years ago I made a deal with my parents. I didn’t want to take over the company, I wanted to follow my own dreams, so they came up with a compromise. If I gave up my position taking over the company with my brother, then I’d have to marry whomever they choose. You know how much I love the shelter, how much I believed in that dream, so I agreed all those years ago.”

I looked down away from his hopeful eyes, and he spoke again, “I wanted to meet my wife-to-be earlier, but your parents refused. They said that it wouldn’t be necessary to meet until the wedding. I kept fighting to see—you, even before the wedding was announced. I wanted to build a relationship, but your parents were stern about us not meeting.”

I nearly choked up. Of course, my parents wanted to be sure that the money was guaranteed that’s why they waited on this meeting. It all came crashing down and the reality of the situation clicked. Jin, the son of KBB Corps, was to be my husband.

I avoided the obvious questions and instead twisted the napkin I had latched onto at some point, “I miss you.” I choked on a sob, “It was torture not seeing you and the twins.”

He rounded the table and crouched down next to my seat, “The past few months have been tough for me too. The twins were constantly asking about you.”

He shifted on his feet so he could turn me to face him properly, “When you ran away, I couldn’t chase you. I had a million thoughts running through my mind after we kissed, and I didn’t want to hurt you. I couldn’t give up on you though. I kept calling you because I wanted to work it out because I like you so much. I was willing to chase you and break the promise I had with my parents if it meant I got to be with you. I was determined to convince them to let me marry you instead.

Then you kept turning me away and I thought you didn’t like me back, that I had misinterpreting everything. Fate is a funny thing though, I know us meeting wasn’t a coincidence because we meet again. It was you all along.”

His hand reached up and he swiped away a stray tear from my cheek. “ I don’t want you to ever be missing from the dinner table again. I don’t want you to wake up alone. I don’t want to feel like you’re not within arm’s of me reach ever again.”

He squeezed my hand reassuringly, “I knew from the moment I caught you that day that I never wanted to let go.”

He adjusted his position and kneeled. “ I know our parents wanted this for us, but I’m sure about this. I’m sure I want this with you and I want you.” He dug into his pocket and pulled out a ring, “Will you marry me Y/N?”

Tears were streaming down my cheeks, all the pent-up stress, insecurity, and anxiety coming out in a single relief of happiness, “Yes.” I knew I wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with him and the twins. I never felt more capable of anything than in his presence. He was my home. I grabbed his cheeks between my hands and brought his face closer to mine. He was already meeting me halfway. The kiss was electric, it felt like walking through the front door after a long day. It was short, but I felt complete. It felt like I hadn’t turned around and ran away that day, everything just fell into place with him.

I held out my hand and he slipped on the ring. We both giggled as he laced his left hand with mine. He met my lips again with another kiss, but it was longer this time. It was full of love and tenderness that conveyed just how much we missed one another.

I was sure of one thing, I was never going to let go of him.

 

⊳ Few years Later….

I hum as I flipped through some files while I leaned against the front desk. I was chatting with Judy about the newest addition to the staff. A young, cat hybrid ,who was Jungkook’s significant other, she had proved to be amazing with the hybrid children and I was trying to figure out a plan so all of us could grab dinner. I wanted her to feel as welcomed to Bearfoot Housing as much as possible.

The front door chimed open and Jungkook peeked through the door. He took of his captain’s hat and his bunny ears sprung forth, “Afternoon ladies.”

I stood up straighter tucking my hands into my apron, “Captain Jeon, to what honor do we have by being graced with your presence today?”

Jungkook snickered at the sarcasm, “My lady! I’ve brought you a present. I don’t show up to my friends place without bearing gifts.”

I raised a brow and seeing my skepticism he opened the door further and ushered in a small child. My eyes followed the boy’s shy clutching to Jungkook’s leg as they moved inside. The child was no older than four years old. I leaned to the side to catch a better glimpse at the kid. He was a white-haired sugar glider, who had an adorable case of shyness. I bent crouched down and held out my hand cautiously towards the hybrid, “Hi, I’m Y/N, and what’s your name?”

The little guy fidgeted with the rim of his shirt and cautiously stepped towards me. I kept my smile and kept my hand outstretched until he took it. He looked at me through his lashes as he squeezed my hand and shook his head. I flatted out my lips, “You don’t have a name?” He shook his head again and I looked up to Jungkook who also shook his head.

Jin came down the hallway with the twins buzzing around him. As they came to the lobby their hyper buzzing halted as they caught eyes of the newest visitor. Jungkook and Jin greeted one another and Jungkook handed over the paperwork on the details of the newest guest.

The twins booked it towards the hybrid, “Hi! I’m Eomuk and that’s my brother Odeng! What’s your name?”

The little guy eyes widened impossibly larger as he stepped closer to me nearly sitting in my lap. He held onto my sleeve and began crabbing softly. Their energy was overwhelming him. “Guys, guys, too much energy.” I smiled and rubbed the guys back, “It’s okay, they’re just excited to meet you, they don’t mean any harm, okay?” The little guy looked back and forth between me and the twins.

Odeng asked me, “Mom, who’s this?”

I told them, “This is our newest friend, he doesn’t have a name.”

That seemed to spark interest in them, they turned towards their dad, “Papa, you should give him a name too! Just like you did us!” They were so excited about the newest guest, they’ve yet to meet another sugar glider hybrid.

I stood up and the glider held onto the front of my apron instead of my sleeve. I pet his ears, “Would you like a name?” The little guy nodded rapidly, his once ridged tail swished back and forth in anticipation.

Jin handed off the paperwork to Judy then came towards us. He wrapped a hand around my waist, “Hi buddy, I’m Jin. I hear that you don’t have a name?” He nodded and began sucking on his thumb, which seemed to be another habit.

Jin tapped his chin and thought of a name for a moment. “Hmm…how about…,” it was as if a light bulb went off on his head, “Gukmul, how about that name?”

I smacked Jin’s chest, “Jin!” How could he call a kid: soup!

Gukmul seemed to light up and softly repeated the name, “Gukmul.” The twins were already invested in the name and they chanted the name with excitement. All I could do was roll my eyes and Jin squeezed me tighter to his side. He kissed my temple in a semblance of an apology.

Eomuk announced, “You’re a sugar glider too, so you’re our brother too!”

I nearly stuttered at their declaration. Gukmul seemed to ease up to the twins instantly after they called his new name. He let go of my apron and approached the twins. They tangled around one another feeling eachother out. The twins turned around to us with the cutest puppy eyes possible, “Can he be our brother Mama and Papa! Please, please, please!”

Jin was cheeky and shrugged looking at me, “What’s another right?”

I didn’t have it in me to protest. How could I argue with the way the three of them seemed to instantly click. I couldn’t bare to watch his face fall if I said no. I sighed heavily, but I smiled and looked towards Gukmul, “Would you like that Gukmul? Would you want us to adopt you?”

The little guy had tears in his eyes and nodded rapidly. The twins lit up and hugged him tightly and he huffed as they crashed into him. I laughed, their love for him was already overwhelming.

Jin let go of my waist to wrap our left hands together, “One big family.”