Jonghyun clenches his fists and stuffs them into the pockets of his jacket. He stares at her hunched form as she clutches onto Kibum’s shirt, eyes pleading like a lost child. Kibum pats her head, comforting words never stops flowing out of his mouth.
“Jonghyun is my best friend,” Kibum says, but it doesn’t look like she is assured. “I have to go with Grandpa. Jonghyun will look after you, don’t worry.”
She shakes her head, barely, and tears swell in her eyes. She does not throw tantrums, but her silent tears bother Jonghyun just the same. How is he supposed to look after her? Kibum had shown up at his apartment yesterday, looking desperate and troubled.
Then he uttered: “You have look after my sister.”
Jonghyun took a few minutes before he could close his mouth. Kibum almost never talks about his sister; it took two years before he even told them he had a sister. “She is a bit shy” is what Kibum said when Taemin asked why he never introduced her to them one day.
But now Jonghyun knows why – she is afraid of people. Just the sight of him when he stepped into the room two minutes ago was enough to make her look miserable. He caught the panicked look in her eyes the moment she saw him, looking like a prey backed into a corner.
Kibum tried to explain her case as a difficult child that is slow to adjust, but “she will open up to you, eventually.” Jonghyun isn’t so sure.
“Kyunghee will be good, right?” Kibum says, still patting her head. “Grandpa and I will be back soon.”
She opens her mouth as if to speak, then stops as she glances at Jonghyun’s direction.
Kibum smiles down at her, “It’s Mom and Dad’s anniversary. We have to go clean out their tombstones.”
She opens her mouth again.
“I’d love to take you,” He nods, “But Grandpa has some business in Seoul. We can’t take you with us to Seoul.”
She nods her understanding. Jonghyun sees the frustration behind her eyes and he wonders briefly if she likes being treated like glass.
“I’m really sorry, Jonghyun,” Kibum begins once they were out of Kyunghee’s room. He closes the door behind him. “If I had another choice…but you don’t have to do much, just make sure she eats and is safe.”
Jonghyun says nothing.
Kibum grabs his suitcase by the door and sighs, “I have to go pick up Grandpa and head to the airport. Thank you, again. Kyunghee…means a lot to me.”
Once his friend leaves, Jonghyun lets out the breath he had been holding. Fidgety and unsure, he rubs his damp palms on his jeans and looks around Kibum’s living room. Where should he even start?
Jonghyun digs around for a piece of scrap paper and pen. He scribbles his note and slides the paper through the crack at the bottom of Kyunghee’s floor.
Hi, my name is Kim Jonghyun. Nice to meet you. Bet Kibum never told you anything good about me…but I am a good guy! Anyway, I’m heading out to grab dinner, I’ll be back. If you hear someone knock twice on your door, that’ll me with food. I’ll leave it outside.
- Kim Jonghyun
She crawls over to the door, and sits near it.
With the note still in her hand, Kyunghee starts looking for a pen.
Jonghyun closes the door against the chilly winter air, bags in hands. He removes his jacket and scarf, brings the bags into the kitchen and starts plating the food. His mind is a chaotic mess of thoughts that are packed together so tightly he can't seem to sort them out. Worries deepen his frown as he stares at the two plates of food before him, sighing his resignation because he already agreed to this and Kibum is already gone.
He almost has a heart attack when he turns around and finds Kyunghee standing near the kitchen's entrance. She has a big white teddy bear in front of her like a shield, and she isn't actually looking at him but he thinks of all the effort it must have taken for her to approach him, so he tries his best to smile.
But his voice startles her and she folds into herself, appearing even smaller.
"Uh. Food is ready," He says, more softly this time. "I...can bring it to your room, if you want?"
She shakes her head.
Jonghyun can only stare at her hand, smile still in place, "Hm. Okay. Well. Uh."
She thrusts out a note at him, her eyes steadfast on his feet.
"Thanks," He sets the plates down on the table and stretches out his arm to take it, making sure to grab the corner of the paper. Jonghyun isn't sure why he is so careful but something in her makes him feel like one wrong move will break her. Now he understands why Kibum threats her like something precious and fragile. "Would you like to eat with me?"
And Jonghyun smiles, an honest one this time.
Hi. Kibum oppa says a lot about you. I cannot eat in my room. Food must be eaten in the kitchen, Kibum oppa says. Thank you for looking after me.
- Kim Kyunghee
Dinner is a silent affair. Jonghyun hears himself chew – the sound reverberates in his head, and though he knows that she can’t hear him – he tries to chew more quietly anyways. Kyunghee pushes the food around on her plate. She would occasionally nibble on it, but she isn’t exactly eating. He wants to ask if the food isn’t to her liking, but he doesn’t. Would she even answer him? Probably not.
He wonders if there is any way to move things along because he isn’t sure how much of the quietness he can take. Jonghyun was born into a loud family with a nosy sister. It is never quiet at his house, not even when he moved out and started to live alone. Jonghyun is followed by noises and sounds wherever he goes; if there isn’t any, he will sing; he will create his own noise. He doesn’t know what it is like to be scare, to be hypersensitive to the world around him – he can’t relate to the way Kyunghee hunches over in her seat, or the way her eyes shifts so that she isn’t looking directly at him. Because he doesn’t understand, he doesn’t know where to start.
Jonghyun’s phone vibrates inside his pocket and he is secretly glad for the interruption.
“Hey,” He mumbles as he balances it between his head and shoulder.
Kyunghee’s gaze flickers towards his ear (where the phone is pressed against) but she quickly looks back down.
“It’s not Kibum,” Jonghyun tells her. “But we can call your brother after dinner.”
Jonghyun finishes up his conversation with Taemin in a hushed voice – no, he isn’t out causing trouble and yes, he will go buy milk when he gets back home. He dials Kibum’s number and slides the phone across the table.
“Oppa,” Kyunghee says quietly as she picks up the phone. Jonghyun doesn’t hear what Kibum says, but he doesn’t have to. “Yeah. Jonghyun oppa’s. Okay.”
It takes him several seconds to register her voice, after he gets over the initial shock of hearing her talk. She sounds like a bird – words come out of her in soft chirps.
While she is distracted by Kibum’s one-sided conversation, he takes both of their plates and washes it in the sink. Somewhere behind him, he hears her say his name one more time.
Then she laughs.
He doesn’t turn around but the plate almost slips out of his grip.
Kyunghee goes back into her room, dragging the bear behind her. And Jonghyun paces the living room. Is he supposed to stay here overnight?
“Stupid Kibum can’t even buy a comfortable couch,” He mumbles as he pokes at the sleek white couch. It looks nice, better than his own battered brown one at home, but it isn’t as inviting.
Jonghyun looks up, startled. “Oh. Hey.”
She quickly pulls the bear up in front of her face. “Uh. Kibum oppa’s room…is better.”
He can’t hear her words over his own breathing. So he asks, “Huh?”
“You can sleep in Kibum oppa’s room,” Kyunghee says, louder this time.
She nods. Or rather, the white bear nods at him.
From Kibum’s room, he can hear voices through the thin wall that connects this room and Kyunghee’s room. He recognizes the drama that is currently playing. He wonders briefly before sleep lulls him in if this is the only world she knows – one that was created by someone else’s imagination.
“WHAT?” Jonghyun practically shouts into the phone.
“I’m sorry.” Kibum repeats on the other line. “Look, I know I said it’d be two days tops. But something came up and we can’t make it back until next week. I’m really sorry.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Whatever you’ve been doing,” Kibum replies, his voice matter-of-fact.
Jonghyun takes a deep breath, “I…can’t just live here for a week.”
“Live? Who says you have to live there? Kyunghee manages fine on her own, just check in on her.”
"FINE!? You call locking herself away like that is fine?"
There is a long pause. "The only reason she sticks to her room is because you are there."
"What I mean is," Kibum sighs, "She just has a harder time adjusting to you than...let's say, the average kid."
Jonghyun grunts. Very well. Dandy. “Kibum, she can’t just stay in her bedroom for a week, And I am not leaving her at home all by herself.”
“She likes the park,” Kibum says, not at all unhelpful - but not exactly helpful, either.
So Jonghyun slips a piece of paper under Kyunghee’s door and asks if she wants to go to the park with him.
The walk to the park isn’t that far. By the time they reach the entrance, Kyunghee moves a bit closer to him. There aren’t many people out, but there are some kids playing soccer and a few aunties doing stretches.
“Let’s walk around the pond,” Jonghyun suggests.
Kyunghee nods, her eyes darting between persons to persons. He catches a bit of wistfulness in her expression as she watches the kids run around.
“It must suck,” He says aloud. Her head whips up to look at him, surprised written all over her face. “You know, being so scares all the time.”
Her expression is somewhere between utter disbelief and agreement. It is as if no one has ever told her that her situation just plain…sucks. Jonghyun thinks of Kibum: blunt and straightforward; and he marvels at the fact that his friend has never said this to her. How many people try to cover up the situation with pretty little words? ‘She is just shy’ – Kibum’s words rings in his ears.
No. Taemin is shy; but Taemin doesn’t cower from people.
Jonghyun never appreciates the phrase ‘speaking of the devil…’ until right at that moment when his thoughts turn to Taemin, and suddenly, he sees the lanky teenager waving at him.
“Hyung!” Taemin calls out.
There is no point pretending to not have seen him, so Jonghyun sighs and calls back. “Hey.”
Kyunghee moves closer to him as Taemin chatters on about something. At the end of his rant (something about Minho being a cheater at basketball?), Taemin turns his attention on her and introduces himself.
She doesn’t move from where she is plastered to Jonghyun’s side. But she sort of nods.
“Taemin knows Kibum, too,” Jonghyun offers to help ease the awkwardness.
Taemin blinks, “This is Kibum-hyung's sister?”
Kyunghee tries for a smile but it falters when Minho comes to join their little group.
“Hey hyung,” Minho says; he glances at Kyunghee but doesn’t make a move to talk to her. After a few minutes of strained conversation, Minho drags Taemin away (for more basketball).
“That was Minho,” Jonghyun says after they leave.
She nods, “I know.”
Kibum must talk a lot about all of them.
“Don’t you…want friends?”
She looks at him then, her eyes stuck somewhere between sad and confused. “I don’t know.” Jonghyun guesses you can't know what you are missing if you've never had it.
They sit in a secluded area in the park, shaded by the big tree above. The weather is odd, Jonghyun thinks, not quite hot or cold. He is reminded of the dramas she watches. This is nothing like the nice cinematography on screen. The grass is a dull shade of brown, and the sky is a weird mixture of grey and white. Instead of soft piano background, they hear kids shrieking and dogs barking away in the background.
“What is it like?” Because he is curious.
“Even mean people aren’t that scary.”
“Kind people can be scary, too.”
He says nothing as he contemplates that.
Jonghyun supposes anyone can be scary; especially to someone who is so fragile. He remembers the way she moved closer to him when Taemin and Minho joined them. He thinks back on when she clung to Kibum when he stepped into the room. “Scary” to her is something different than what he thought – she isn’t scare of bullies or harsh words. It’s because she relies on people more than others, because she feels more than others; “scary” to her is when someone leaves - scary is when she lets someone inside her little world.
It’s quite a paradox; to be scare to get close to someone but to also need people.
In a world that isn’t scripted, that is made up of random events interconnected together…how “scary” that must be for someone who is so sensitive to every change. He remembers Kibum’s words again: she is slow to adjust.
Jonghyun somehow thinks he understands her better.
So randomly, he sings. On an overcast day, sitting in the middle of a field of dying grass with loud kids for accompaniment, Jonghyun sings.
In a loud and chaotic world, everyone needs something to help them stay rooted. It might not be the perfect drama setup, but for a few moments, at least she can pretend. Maybe even relate to the world a bit better.
Beside him, Kyunghee silently cries.
But he pretends not to notice.