“OOF! OW!” you cried, jostled awake as your body hit the concrete floor. You blinked slowly, blearily taking in your surroundings as you tugged an arm free from the tangled blanket encasing you. It didn’t take long for you to realize where you were. If the stark lighting and the concrete floor wasn’t enough to clue you in, the sight of the metal toilet a few feet away from you, its base decorated with remnant chunks of vomit, certainly did.
You rubbed your face, squeezing your eyes shut as you tried your best to remember the events from the night before that had led you here. But apart from your killer headache and the vomit evidence, nothing was coming back to you. It’d been a long time since you’d gotten so wasted that you’d blacked out. What could you possibly have done to land yourself here sometime in the middle of the night?
“Oh, good!” a female voice suddenly sounded behind you. “You’re awake. I’ll call Sheriff Jeon and let him know.”
You tugged at the blanket still tangled around your legs. “Why does he have to know I’m awake?” you grumbled.
“He has to be the one to release you. He went home for a few hours though and hasn’t come back. I think he probably fell asleep.” You finally freed your legs, tossing the thin blanket back onto the concrete slab you’d been sleeping on earlier. “Lord knows he could use the rest,” the woman continued, an unmistakable dreamy look capturing her features. “He works so hard.”
You huffed, slowly dragging your body back up onto the concrete slab, your head slightly swimming from the effort. “Yeah, it must be so hard running a tiny town like this,” you smarted back. “It’s a real challenge to make sure that none of the teenagers loiter in front of the laundromat for too long.”
She stiffened. “I’ll let Sheriff Jeon know you’re awake,” she repeated flatly, turning on her heel to head back to the office.
You sighed, slumping against the wall and closing your eyes against the harsh lights. You couldn’t even remember what day it was but there was a 90% chance you were already missing work. You whispered a curse beneath your breath, sending a threat to “Sheriff Jeon” to hurry the fuck up before you lost a full days’ wages. It didn’t seem to help much because said police officer showed up at least two hours later if the numbness in your ass was anything to measure it by. You scowled as Sheriff Jeon unlocked the door to your cell, balancing a tray in his other hand. He closed the door behind him, locking himself inside with you.
“Well it definitely took you long enough,” you shot before he could even turn around.
Jungkook kept his eyes on the tray, placing it gingerly onto your concrete slab bed before he took the mug from it. You eyed the small arrangement of eggs, toast, and bacon, completed by the glass of orange juice settled beside the plate.
Jungkook sat beside you, as far as he possibly could, hunching over so that his elbows were balanced on his thighs. “Sorry, did I inconvenience you?” he asked, tone sarcastic. He took a sip from his mug.
You rolled your eyes, drawing your knees up to your chest and wrapping your arms around your legs. “You know that I’m probably missing a work shift right now.”
Jungkook’s expression was flat, almost bored as he finally turned to look at you. “Are you?” he asked. “I don’t keep up with your personal life.”
“Jungkook,” you gritted his name. “Don’t act like you don’t see me at the fucking grocery store at least once a week. I have to ring up your thirty-four packets of seaweed every time and pretend it’s not bizarre that you buy that much every single week.” His only reply was to sip a bit more of the steaming liquid inside his cup. You sighed. “Since when do you drink coffee anyway?”
“It’s hot cocoa,” he corrected you softly.
The quiet explanation sparked a memory in you, making you feel stupid for even asking about the drink. How had you forgotten the countless times Jungkook had insisted in getting some hot chocolate no matter the chaotic circumstances during your teen escapades? You wondered idly if he still drank it even during the stifling summer months.
“Anyway,” you started, shoving the memories away, “you gonna let me out or what?”
Jungkook licked some of the chocolate from his lips. He nudged the tray a bit closer to you. “Eat some food first.”
You eyed the tray again. You’d assumed Jungkook had brought his own breakfast in with him considering he’d taken the mug from the tray but the capsules of aspirin that peeked out from the toast showed that it was meant for you.
“I’m not hungry,” you protested.
“Then you’re not leaving.”
You sniffed in annoyance. “Why am I even in here?” you demanded next. “It’s not like you haven’t seen me drunk before.” In fact, Jungkook had seen you in many states in the past. Just as you’d seen him before he’d suddenly decided to clean himself up and somehow became the town sheriff. To say that Jungkook was the requisite bad boy of your high school was an understatement. He was wild. The poster child for bad choices. Constantly in trouble at school and eventually with the law.
Jungkook had been the perfect blend of intriguing and intimidating back then. His grungy black clothing, long messy hair, and brooding look in his eyes had had plenty of girls weak in the knees. But his wild behavior, ranging from simply skipping classes to landing himself in juvenile hall, had held many back from attempting a full relationship with him. That is, until your best friend set her sights on him and decided that she had a taste for the wild side of life as well. You’d quickly gone from routinely ignoring Jungkook to sitting in the backseat of his car when he started to collect more speeding tickets than the amount of months he’d even had his license. You’d been there when he’d mouthed off to a police officer and got slammed into the hood of said car, a bruise appearing near his eye by the time he’d gotten out of the detention center. And you’d been there when everything fell apart between him and your best friend senior year, holding her as she sobbed her heart out over so much loss. That was the day you swore you’d never speak to him again.
Your promise had been broken a few years later when you’d landed the job at the grocery store. After being lectured so heavily by your boss for your silent responses to Jungkook’s attempt at small talk as you rang his items, you’d been forced to at least grunt a reply. By that point, Jungkook had been elected Town Sheriff and your boss was far from willing to listen to your pleas not to service the revered member of society now.
To say you’d been shocked when Jungkook was elected sheriff was an understatement. In a town as small as yours, there were few secrets that were kept. Jungkook’s rough start in life wasn’t one of them. Everyone knew the story of his father. That he’d landed himself in prison when Jungkook was only eight years old. There were multiple versions of the story of what he had done, ranging from underhanded dealings in the drug trade to that he’d made it a hobby to knock Jungkook’s mother around. Jungkook had never confirmed anything himself, not even to you who was perhaps one of the only people he’d ever allowed close to him. But the fact remained that Jungkook’s father was a cop who was now behind bars. A cop who still had enough influence that his court case was never publicized and his file sealed so the mystery remained.
Jungkook had often gone on about his father the few times he’d managed to swipe a few bottles of vodka from the nearest gas station. He’d never said what he’d done but he often went on about how he was never going to be like his father, something you’d thought ironic considering Jungkook’s history of engaging in illegal activity as well. So it was even more surprising to you when a few years later, Jungkook became a police officer. Even more shocking when he ran for sheriff. And most astonishing when he’d won. Apparently the townspeople felt his sincerity in his promises to keep the town clean, believing his statement that he knew how to find those who did wrong because he’d done bad things himself. He’d run unattested for six years straight now and you didn’t see it changing. You knew firsthand how charming Jungkook could be when he wanted to be. Or how intimidating he could be when needed. Jungkook had always been able to see through people so easily. Which was probably why, despite your utter astonishment, Jungkook was so good at his job. You half expected a town holiday to be named for him soon with the way the town utterly adored him, a thought that made the residual acid left in your stomach start to burn again.
“You threatened me,” Jungkook’s voice broke into your thoughts.
You blinked, momentarily speechless at what he had said. “What?” you questioned.
“You threatened me and other people heard it. I couldn’t let you off this time.”
You snorted. “What could I have possibly threatened you with? You’re the fucking sheriff.”
You didn’t miss the way his lips twitched, curling up a bit at the ends in spite of himself, adding the slightest hint of warmth to his features. “I was standing on the other side of the street. I’d stopped a driver who had a taillight out and happened to look over at you as you left the bar. You yelled across the blacktop for me to stay on that side of the street or you’d knock me out.”
Your mouth dropped open, unsure of whether you should scoff at the idea of such a blatant threat being thrown by you…or to believe him. Because despite the cool, unbothered exterior you’d always greeted Jungkook with, he did in fact repeatedly manage to find his way under your skin. So the idea of a deeply inebriated you taking a chance at threatening the man who’d ruined your best friend’s chances at happiness wasn’t exactly as farfetched as it should’ve been. Even if he was the sheriff and had the power to put your ass in jail just as he’d done.
“In fact,” Jungkook continued, “I think your exact quote was ‘You better stay on that side of the street, motherfucker. I’ll knock you out.’” You could feel your face starting to heat up in spite of yourself. He glanced at you. “Any idea why you wanted to punch me in the face so badly?”
You smirked. “I could think of a few ideas,” you muttered.
Jungkook leaned back against the wall, a bit more relaxed now. “I pulled some security footage of it. It was impressive to see how much you stumbled around while threatening me.” Your face warmed even more. “Nice touch shaking your fist at me old-woman-style.”
“I get it, okay?” you broke in, hating the look of humor dancing in his eyes at your expense. “Now when are you going to let me go?”
“I told you. After you eat something. I need to make sure the alcohol is out of your system.”
“And I told you I’m not hungry,” you argued. “It’s out of my system. I need to get home. My mother—”
“Your mother is fine,” Jungkook interrupted. “I took care of it.”
You scoffed. “What is that supposed to mean? ‘You took care of it,’” you quoted.
“It means I took care of it,” he repeated dryly.
You stared at him. "That means nothing, Jungkook.”
“It means you have to trust me when I say I took care of it. She’s fine.”
You rolled your eyes, letting your feet drop to the ground again. “Well that’s comforting,” you replied sarcastically.
"Yep,” he agreed. He nudged the plate a bit closer to you. “Eat something and I’ll let you go,” he promised. “Nina made the food for me. Don’t let it go to waste.”
His overly nonchalant look spawned you to ask, “Who’s Nina? She that girl who gets heart eyes when she talks about you?”
You realized you’d struck a nerve when Jungkook’s cheeks immediately flushed. “She’s one of the secretaries,” he answered, keeping his tone even. “She lectured me one day about not eating breakfast and there’s been food waiting on my desk every morning ever since.”
“Touching,” you commented flatly.
He took the last sip from his mug before standing. “Eat some of it and I’ll let you go. It’s Monday. Where are you supposed to be?”
“The department store,” you muttered, naming the second job you’d been forced to take on as your mother’s medical bills started to stack up.
Jungkook nodded. “I’ll have Nina call and say you’re gonna be late today.”
You squeezed your eyes shut, already feeling the ache in your body from the lack of sleep paired with your attempt to give yourself blood alcohol poisoning the night before. But you knew no matter how shitty you felt, you couldn’t afford to miss a single shift. Just missing a few hours already was going to make a difference.
Jungkook paused as he reached the door to your cell. “Don’t make me do this again, Y/N,” he said softly over his shoulder.
You frowned, venom leaking into your voice as you shot back, “You didn’t have to do it to start with!”
Jungkook’s expression was unreadable as he stepped from your cell, closing the door and locking it back. His dark eyes studied you for a moment, and you had to fight the urge to shrink back beneath his scrutiny. But all he did was sigh, his hand dropping from where it’d been wrapped around one of the bars. “Take care of yourself, Y/N,” he said.
You closed your eyes, taking a deep breath before reaching for the door handle, afraid of what you might see behind the closed door. It was getting increasingly difficult to find good nurses, even more difficult to find some who were willing to stay such long hours with your ailing mother. The cost of her care alone was getting harder and harder to bear but you had learned long ago to rely only on yourself. Besides, there was no one left to help you. Your father had passed when you were only an infant. And after things had ended between Jungkook and your best friend….You couldn’t say you faulted her for the choice she made to leave your small town. But you also couldn’t say it didn’t hurt terribly for her to cut you out of her life in her endeavor to make a fresh start. It’d been years now since you’d heard from Hanna. You wondered if it’d been that long for Jungkook as well. You could only assume it had been. You hadn’t heard her name pass his lips since the day she left.
You swung the door open, your body going stiff with alarm as smoke immediately assaulted your nostrils. “Mom?!” you called, dropping your few belongings to the floor in your rush to find the origin of the scent. “Mom?!” you screamed louder, racing down the hallway that led to the kitchen. Smoke alarms were screaming inside your house, deafening you and drowning your voice out. You spotted a tea kettle settled on one of the burners, the fire turned up as high as it could go while the kettle seemed to be empty, the water inside it long evaporated.
You quickly pulled it from the stove, hissing at the warmth of the handle even wrapped in its protective casing. You dropped it into the sink, flicking the tap on and watching the metal start to steam in response to the cool water. You left it running, turning to flip the fire off.
“Mother?!” you tried again, picking up an abandoned hand towel to start to fan the smoke in the air. “Where are you?!”
You jogged from the kitchen, peeking into the living room. The sight of a folded pair of sheets as well as a blanket made you pause. It was kind of the evening nurse to stay over, especially without you specially requesting it which usually had to be placed in advance, but the nurse usually used your one spare bedroom in the house rather than sleeping on the couch. You shoved the thought aside as the smell of smoke recaptured your attention, sending you racing upstairs next.
Uneasiness started to mix with the panic in your stomach as you called for your mother again. She couldn’t be left alone for virtually any amount of time. You’d learned that the hard way after you made a quick trip to the convenience store in your desperation for tampons only to find your mother had overflowed the bathtub and flooded the floor in your absence, forgetting she’d even turned the tap on. You had no idea how long it had been between the nurse leaving and your return home and you desperately hoped that the tea kettle was the only casualty of your irresponsible absence.
Your mother had been diagnosed with dementia three years ago. It hadn’t been too difficult to manage at first. The terrible disease was slow but steady. But after so many months of taking care of her alone, you’d finally had to reach out to paid nurses. And hiring paid nurses meant you had to take on a second job. And sometimes even a third when the medical bills got beyond any attempts for you to push the payments back any longer. You weren’t sure if there was anything worse in the world than to see your own mother suffer.
“Mom!” you called again, quickly padding down the hallway to her room. You swung her door open, not even bothering to knock which normally would upset her, especially with how far her disease had progressed now. But, much to your surprise, your mother was asleep. Clearly, she had been awake only an hour or so earlier. She was fully dressed, her hair combed and tucked neatly behind the pins she loved so much. But at some point in her endeavor to make tea, she’d found her way upstairs and back to bed.
You let out a relieved sigh, thankful that she hadn’t made it out of the house at least. The last thing you needed was to have to call Jungkook and tell him you’d lost your mother in the time he’d kept you in jail. It’d been humiliating enough the single time she had managed to make it out of the house without you noticing and you’d had to call to report her missing. Jungkook himself had found her in fact and you’d been shocked to see the tenderness in the way that he'd held her hand, gently guiding her back to you. Your mother had fussed a bit at letting Jungkook go, apparently already attached to him in whatever state of mind she was in. But Jungkook’s gentleness had finally assured her enough to go with you. You were thankful he’d never brought the incident up again and rarely mentioned her condition beyond asking after her the few stunted conversations you’d had at the grocery store.
You closed her door back, scrubbing at your face in exhaustion as you wandered back down the hallway. You opened a few of the windows before heading back downstairs, wanting to make sure none of the smoke would affect her. All you wanted to do was sleep. The combination of working back to back shifts as well as taking care of your mother when the nurses fell through or were unavailable was starting to take its toll on you, both physically and emotionally. Every time you thought that you couldn’t get any more tired than you already were, you somehow fell into an even deeper exhaustion. But you could never let yourself think about it for too long, knowing that if you ever paused to consider how poor your circumstances truly were that you might never begin again. There was no room in your life for you to feel sorry for yourself.
You collapsed into one of the chairs at the cheap kitchen table you’d managed to snag for a bargain at the department store you’d took on as a second job. It had only been minimally damaged and easily big enough for you and your mother, even with its missing chair. You knew you needed to get moving. Said department store wasn’t going to take well to your being late and the longer you sat here, wallowing in the scent of lingering alcohol and vomit still clinging to your skin instead of showering, the worse the consequences would be. But you were just so tired.
Your eyes fell to some of the pamphlets peeking out beneath the vase you’d shoved them under on the counter. You stood from the table, your bones cracking slightly in protest from such a rough night of sleeping on the concrete slab of the jail cell. You lifted the vase, tugging the pamphlets out gently before returning to the table. You could barely look at them, already feeling guilt eating away at your heart for even picking the brochures up. The brightly colored pages littered with smiling elderly faces grinned up at you encouragingly, promising the best, most up to date care at this facility or that facility. But even with the happy promises, you knew nothing was ever as cut and dry as the brochures claimed. Perhaps the most expensive facilities did keep their promises of quality care. But even working three jobs, you could barely even think to afford the lowest priced one. Besides that, none of them would take a single patient without health insurance. And neither you nor your mother had any to speak of.
You tangled your fingers into your hair, bowing your head and squeezing your eyes tight in an effort to fight back the tears. Six months ago, after seeing how poor your own health had become from the stress of caring for your mother, her doctor had pressed the pamphlets into your hand, gently urging you to consider one of them. With how rapidly her condition was worsening, her doctor was beyond concerned in making certain your mother received the level of care she needed. And although you understood what she’d meant, that even with all of yours and the nurses’ efforts, your mother needed better care than you could provide yourself, you couldn’t manage to tug one of the brochures out without wanting to throw up. But after last night, you were starting to realize how dire things had become.
You needed help. Desperately needed it whether you wanted to admit it or not. And there was only one option, one desperate chance, at getting what you needed for your mother. You hoped that chance was home this evening when your shift ended.
You bit your lip, rocking your weight nervously between your toes and your heels as your fist hovered above the wooden door. You took a final, steadying breath, hating the way your heart was absolutely hammering in your chest. You couldn’t appear nervous when you did this. It was a business proposition. There was no reason to be nervous about a business proposition. You forced yourself to knock on the door, fighting the urge to take a step back as you shoved your hands into the pockets of your coat as you waited for a response.
You heard footsteps on the other side of the door, and then a moment later the door swung open. Jungkook stared at you, his brows drawing together slightly at the sight of you on his front porch. It was clear you were the last person he expected to see. You shuffled uneasily, dropping your eyes in sudden shyness. It’d been so long since you’d seen Jungkook out of uniform. It was almost unnerving to see him dressed in the black sweatpants and hoodie.
“Y/N?” Jungkook finally said when it was clear you weren’t going to speak first. “Are you okay? Did something happen?” he immediately launched into sheriff mode. “Your mother—”
“My mother is fine,” you interrupted him. You were surprised to see the relief that flooded Jungkook’s gaze. “But I need to ask you something.”
You could see his guard return in his eyes and he pushed his hands into his pockets. “All right,” he agreed.
“I need to get my mom into a facility,” you spat the words out as quickly as you could. “Pineview specifically. Do you know it?”
Jungkook leaned against his door frame. “Yeah, I know it,” he said. “It’s a great facility.”
“Well, to get her in there, I have to have insurance.”
“Okay,” he said, clearly not catching where you were going yet.
"So…I need insurance,” you said slowly. “You have insurance. So I thought maybe you could marry me.”
It was almost as if Jungkook had had a glitch in his system as he stared at you, body entirely frozen. He swallowed. “What?” he finally managed.
“Well it’s not like you’re doing anything else,” you threw out.
Jungkook straightened, head cocking slightly as he said, “You want me…to help you commit insurance fraud?”
You frowned. “Well when you put it that way.”
Jungkook stepped forward, coming dangerously close to your face and you felt your heart spike in its rhythm. His voice went deathly quiet as he said, “I’m a publicly elected official, Y/N. I can’t help you break the law.”
You stared at him. “I mean,” you said slowly, fighting the urge to step back and put some distance between you. You couldn’t appear to be intimidated by him, especially when you were trying to persuade him to break the law for you. “You kind of already do.“
Jungkook’s face went blank. "Excuse me?”
You shrugged. “I’m drunk and disorderly all the time. You normally let me get away with it. You even said the only reason you threw me in jail last night was that other people heard me yelling at you. If they hadn’t, you probably wouldn’t have bothered.”
The way Jungkook instantly stiffened told you that you were right. “It’s not the same thing and you know it,” he said a bit forcefully.
You sighed. "Look, I’ll let you fuck me, okay?” you appealed to him. “I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Just please help me, Jungkook.”
Jungkook looked as if you had slapped him in the face the moment you promised him sex, almost as if he was offended at the offer. “Yeah, no, I’m not going to marry you,” he said, an edge of finality to his voice.
The rejection, even without any feelings attached to it, still hurt you for some reason. “Jungkook—”
“No, Y/N,” he said firmly.
“I have no one else to ask,” you said, trying your best to keep your voice from whining. “I’m desperate, Jungkook. Please.”
Anger filled your body. “It’s not that you can’t, it’s that you won’t,” you snapped.
Jungkook’s own anger finally broke the cool, collected composure you were so used to seeing him with the past few years. "Do you have any idea what you’re asking me for?” he asked harshly. “I could lose my job, Y/N. Lose the benefits you’re so desperate to get. Not to mention how most insurance companies won’t even cover parents—”
“I looked into it already,” you cut him off, snagging at any chance to change his mind. “Because of my mother’s condition, she qualifies as a dependent. Any insurance would cover her.” You widened your eyes, letting your lower lip jut out subtly, doing your best to appear needy and innocent. Jungkook was your only chance at making this work. He had to agree.
Jungkook sighed. “I can’t do it, Y/N,” he said. He reached for his doorknob. “You need to leave.”
“Fine,” you spat, letting every bit of your irritation fill your voice. You turned on your heel, calling back tauntingly over your shoulder, “I’ll find someone else.”
“You find someone else and I’ll arrest you on suspicion of insurance fraud.”
You gasped, spinning around so quickly, you almost lost your balance. “You wouldn’t,” you said, the tremor in your voice betraying your astonishment at his threat.
“I would,” he promised, his eyes hard.
You fought back the urge to cry, so many emotions running through you that you were nearly overwhelmed. “Fuck you, Sheriff Jeon,” you hissed.
If Jungkook responded, his reply was lost to the angry white noise inside your head.
After sobbing yourself to sleep that night as quietly as you could so that you wouldn’t wake your mother, your phone buzzing on your bedside table awoke you. You blinked blearily at your clock, reading the numbers back to yourself. 2:11 AM. Who the fuck was calling you at this hour? Your eyes went wide when you saw the caller ID and you almost pinched yourself to make sure that you were actually awake. Your finger trembled as you slid the answer key, drawing the phone slowly to your ear.
"Hello?” you said hesitantly.
“I’ll do it.”
The words caused you to gasp, making you choke on your own spit and sending you into a coughing fit before you could respond. “Really?” you finally managed. “Are you sure?”
“Don’t make me change my mind,” Jungkook said stiffly. “I made an appointment at the courthouse for the day after tomorrow. Does that work for you?”
“I’ll make it work,” you answered immediately. “What time?”
“I’ll be there.”
An awkward silence hung between you for a few moments. “Me too I guess,” he finally said.
You pressed your lips together, feeling tears prick at your eyes for what felt like the tenth time that day. You never thought three words could fill you with such relief. “Thank you, Jungkook,” you murmured.
He took so long to reply that you thought he’d hung up on you. “You’re welcome, Y/N,” he said softly.