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Stray Romance

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A full moon was hidden behind the clouds.

Cha Eunwoo walked down a sidewalk lit by yellow streetlamps, and watched the sky. The clouds were heavy, but were not threatening rain— not yet. He adjusted the fringe of his dark hair, pulled his light coat snug around him. Autumn was definitely heavy in the air, evident in the coldness that was too strong for a summer night. It would soon be time for soft sweaters and hot chocolate, very inviting after a long day.

Eunwoo crossed things off his mental checklist as he walked. He’d done his morning classes, one of which included a quiz he’d studied very hard for and hopefully aced. According to the detailed probable lesson plan he had made at the start of the semester, the next class—his only class the following day—would be a review class on the quiz material. After that, Eunwoo could get some catch-up done on one of his other subjects, before grabbing lunch and then heading out for the afternoon shift at the cafe.

According to Park Jinwoo, Eunwoo’s senior and self-proclaimed expert on university life, there were only two kinds of students who cared about classes: freshly-hatched freshmen and fourth-years working desperately in a last-ditch effort to increase their CGPA. Even among the freshmen there was a divide: those that were interested in the parties and booze, and those that were interested in actually learning something and being successful in life. Eunwoo fell firmly in the second category. He hadn’t studied his butt off in high-school to get into a top university just to get drunk and throw up on random people.

He had a plan. And currently, that plan consisted of studying hard, waiting tables in the afternoon, and watching romantic dramas at night.

As Eunwoo made his way down towards his tiny, one-bedroom apartment, a golden glow ahead caught his eye. He hastened his steps and was soon close enough to see that the source of the light was a deokbokki stand. It was tiny, hardly more than two feet across, lit by a single sodium lamp. The yellow light made the thick, bright red soup look even more tempting.

A bowl of deokbokki was not on the plan, but how much could it change?

There were a couple of high-school girls eating beside it, probably catching a snack after extra prep classes. One of them glanced at Eunwoo, and he smiled back politely and bowed his head a little. She almost combusted on the spot. Eunwoo had to hide his grin with a polite smile at the stallkeeper as he ordered. He knew he was good-looking. He had pure black hair he kept down, with bangs that tended to get in his eyes, and a face that touched the border of pretty and handsome. Eunwoo was flattered by the attention he got, of course, but most of the time he found it kind of tiring.

He accepted his small paper plate with a smile and a thank you, and then walked off in search of a place to sit. There was a small bench nearby, already covered in dew, but Eunwoo dropped onto it gratefully. He started eating, thinking about whether he'd watch Lee Hyun Woo or Yoo Seung Ho when he got home, when he suddenly realized he was being watched.

A pair of glowing eyes regarded Eunwoo and his snack with care. Eunwoo stared, fascinated, as the eyes came closer, and he was greeted with a soft meow.

A cat. Its body was black mostly, with little patches of white fur. It was not a kitten, but there was something youthful about its movement, and the second meow it gave was higher, keener.

“Hello, feline,” Eunwoo said with a gentle smile. He looked down at his deokbokki, and then back at the cat. “I guess you’re here for a snack?”

The cat meowed again, and Eunwoo couldn’t help but be charmed. It was like it had understood exactly what he’d said. There was something intelligent in those glowing eyes as they fixed on the paper plate.

Eunwoo smiled to himself as he took out a tissue, put a few balls on it and then placed it on the wooden bench beside him. The cat padded over immediately and started eating. When it finished everything on the tissue it looked back up at Eunwoo and meowed again.

“Hungry, aren’t you?” Eunwoo said with a grin. This time he put down his plate for the cat. He wasn’t that hungry anyway, and it seemed the cat enjoyed it more than he did. Eunwoo reached out to stroke its head, and since it didn’t respond with a swipe of claws, he scratched it a little behind the ears, encouraged. It didn’t have a collar, but its fur was smooth and clean, and it seemed quite friendly. “Do you have an owner?” Eunwoo asked aloud.

By now the feline had finished eating, even licking up bits of soup with a small, pink tongue. It pushed the plate away and settled down comfortably. Eunwoo continued petting it, enjoying the feel of the soft black fur against his fingers. He looked around for the cat’s owner, half-expecting someone to come jogging up and apologizing for letting their cat get away. But there was no one, no one except the owner of the deokbokki stand a few feet away, minding his own business.

Chances were high the cat was a stray, even with its clean, soft fur. It didn’t have a collar, and it was way too good at begging for food from unsuspecting university students. It also didn’t seem to be in any hurry to go anywhere, lying contentedly on the bench after its meal. But what if it did have an owner? Eunwoo couldn’t just scoop it away. That was kidnapping of a cat. Catnapping.

Not only that, but pets weren’t in Eunwoo’s plan. Pets were messy, and they needed food, toys, all sorts of things. Also, if this cat was a stray, it needed to be house-trained. And what about diseases? A million diseases could be hiding under that nice shiny fur, a billion different types of germs.

If Eunwoo knew what was good for him, he’d leave this adorable mass of fur on this wooden bench, and go home and binge-watch Yoo Seung Ho being cute with a cat for the thousandth time. He had his life set and planned out for the foreseeable future. No reason to disrupt it by picking up a random stray from the streets, no matter how clever or sweet it was. Eunwoo would be firm.

The cat started purring, and then it was all over.

“Okay, feline, you're coming with me,” Eunwoo said, scooping the cat up. It didn't scratch or hiss at him, which was a good sign. “I’ll take you home, and you'll get some real food.”

The animal craned its head up to look at him, and then rubbed its nose against his arm. Like it was telling Eunwoo he had made the right choice.

“You’re way too clever for a regular cat,” Eunwoo said with a smile, and then continued his journey home.

 

Some time later and Eunwoo was sitting in bed, laptop in front of him and his newly-adopted cat in his lap. It was purring, pleased, as Eunwoo absentmindedly scratched it behind the ears. He'd done a quick online search for what was best for cats to eat, and then cobbled something together from what he had in his cupboards. The cat had gobbled it up quickly, and then lazed around on the sofa while Eunwoo ate and washed up. He had had a quick shower after, and picked up his new friend, gotten comfortable in bed, and then taken out his laptop.

People liked to say Eunwoo was a very thorough young man, and Eunwoo agreed. With his one hand in silky black fur, he searched up tips and advice on taking care of cats. There was a lot of info online, articles and posts and entire blogs, and Eunwoo read through a few, bookmarked some others, and then finally decided it was enough for a night. He had his own writing to work on.

Eunwoo opened up the article he'd started writing the night before, added a few lines, pored through it to edit mistakes. He knew at least one typo would sneak in—one always did—but he was and always would be a very thorough young man, even if it was just a post on his own blog.

He'd started the blog when he'd started university a few months ago. Eunwoo thought it was a good idea to keep track of his freshman thoughts, since he'd probably get nostalgic when he got old. It was Myungjun who'd convinced him to share his entries online. In two weeks the blog had exploded. Minhyuk insisted it was because of Eunwoo’s writing (“You write like Mozart,” were his exact words—not really accurate, but still sweet) but Eunwoo didn’t think it was a coincidence his views started increasing when he started posting selcas with his words, or that the majority of his readers were girls in high and middle school.

Still, he liked it. It had become part of his routine, and it kept his writing skills sharp. And also, a lot of his readers were intelligent and wrote pretty thoughtful comments.

Eunwoo was about to post, when he suddenly decided to add a little more. He turned on his webcam, lifted the cat up so their faces were side by side, and took a few quick snaps. They all turned out cute, which surprised Eunwoo, but he finally settled on the third one, where it almost seemed like the cat was posing for the camera. It was weird, but it was almost like it was smiling. But that was stupid. Cats didn't smile, did they? And they definitely didn't pose for photos.

A little more research seemed necessary. But that was for later, Eunwoo decided. He added the picture to his post, and below it a short paragraph on how you could find unexpected friends everywhere. Another read-through for mistakes, and then Eunwoo hit post.

He took out his phone, scrolled through some old messages, when it suddenly dinged with a notification. He had a message. In the group chat.

Every time Eunwoo opened the group chat he grinned. It was a group of seemingly random guys who'd somehow all managed to become friends with each other, regardless of age. It might've had a proper name once, but they ended up changing it every three minutes anyway, so it was just known as the group chat.

The new message was Jinwoo’s, who'd changed his ID name to what he called himself when he got drunk (God knows why):

Jinjin:
eunwoo why did you pick up a stray
i thought we agreed you wouldn't do that anymore

MJ:
yea remember the last one you picked up??
now sanha won't move out of my house

Eunwoo chuckled. He was about to type a reply, but others were already filling up the screen.

Sanha♥:
thats too mean myungjun hyung :((
after i did your laundry today too :[
there were things gROWING in there
and i think you were lying to me :/ i dont think white shirts can turn green like that naturally :/

Eunwoo:
Relax, I'm not going to adopt the whole animal shelter

Rocky:
huh?? what's going on??

MJ:
come on minhyuk keep up
its on eunwoo’s blog. go read it

Eunwoo:
Do you guys seriously camp on my blog, waiting for me to update?
Because that's kind of weird

MJ:
don't be ridiculous

Jinjin:
you always post at the same time anyway

MJ:
we just camp at night

Eunwoo:
Weird.

Rocky:
Oh eunwoo hyung got a cat
it's nice

Sanha♥:
its kinda creepy D:
why is it smiling???

Eunwoo looked down at the cat sitting in his lap, feeling kind of insulted. His cat wasn't creepy. There was only one word for it, and that was adorable. Or cute. Or intelligent. Okay, there were a lot of words, but creepy wasn't one of them.

Eunwoo:
It's not creepy
It's actually highly intelligent
I met it while I was eating, and it asked for food from me

Sanha♥:
it TALKS?? :O

Rocky:
even creepier

That actually made Eunwoo sigh aloud. The two youngest members of the chat were so difficult to talk to sometimes. You never knew if they were being serious or not.

Eunwoo:
No it doesn't talk
It just begged for food like a smart cat

MJ:
so it's a beggar

Jinjin:
it's a concat
get it
like a conman
but a cat

MJ:
we got it
no one laughed cos it wasn't funny

Rocky:
I thought it was okay

Jinjin:
thanks minhyuk

Sanha♥:
did you name it yet hyung?

Sanha’s message made Eunwoo stop and think. He'd never thought about what he was actually going to name it. It lay on its back in his lap, watching him with intelligent eyes, and Eunwoo tried to think of a name to go with that stare.

Eunwoo:
Not yet
I can't think of a good one

Rocky:
Rocky's a good name
I personally think

MJ:
if we're throwing around suggestions
mj
is short
and suits boy or girl
reminds you of sunshine
and is a v good choice

Jinjin:
i think jinjin’s alright

MJ:
you spent that long typing THAT?
go to sleep gramps

Jinjin:
youre older than me

MJ:
but no one can tell
because you act like a billion years old

Jinjin:
you’re still older

MJ:
listen here old man

Rocky:
it’s starting

A ridiculous argument spawned, the millionth variation of the same one, which Eunwoo patiently let unfold. Finally he decided it was enough and cut in.

Eunwoo:
This was great and all to read
But I'm going to sleep now

MJ:
you acknowledge park jinwoo looks older than me
right eunwoo??

Eunwoo:
Good night
I'm muting this chat

MJ:
you're not even going to sleep you're just going to watch your dramas

He was right, but that didn't mean Eunwoo had to reply. He put away his phone and took out his laptop again. His newly-adopted cat lay in his lap, and Eunwoo gave him a gentle scratch as he decided to check his blog one last time. There were a few comments, including one Eunwoo was sure was Myungjun pretending to be an ahjumma fan. He skimmed them a bit, until he read the most recent one.

Did you think of a name yet? It's a full moon tonight, I think Moon is a nice name

Eunwoo looked down at the cat stretched out on him. Moon. Somehow it fit.

“Hey,” he said. “How’s the name Moon?”

The cat looked up at him and meowed, and made it official.

Eunwoo closed the browser tab, and looked up something to watch. He usually picked dramas that were light on plot and heavy on fluff as a way to unwind on weeknights, but he felt like something different right then. After some deliberation, he decided on a sageuk: The Night Watchman.

Moon sat up in attention, and Eunwoo smiled. He'd made the right choice.

 

The buzz of an alarm clock cut through the quiet beauty of a calm autumn morning. Eunwoo groaned, stretched, and then reached over and turned the alarm off.

He rubbed his eyes and looked over at the left side of the bed, the side against the wall. Moon slept peacefully, his sleek black body rising and falling gently. After a few episodes of the drama Eunwoo had been too sleepy to get a separate bed made up for the cat, and just let it sleep next to him. Something told him this wasn't a good idea, since he hadn't even given Moon a bath, but he could deal with the laundry later.

Eunwoo climbed out of bed and made his way to the bathroom, where he washed up. He then went to the kitchen to start on breakfast. With the water on the stove for his tea, Eunwoo went back to his room to ready his bag.

As soon as Eunwoo entered he knew something was wrong. What was it? Had he left the window wide open last night? No, it was open just a crack, like how Eunwoo liked it. Or maybe he'd thrown his bag onto the floor carelessly. Or his laptop was still on.

Or maybe it was the guy sleeping in his bed.

Eunwoo froze. There was someone in his bed. Someone he was pretty sure hadn't been there just half an hour ago, because Eunwoo had been there. He rubbed his eyes, and the figure was still there. He pinched himself, and it still didn't disappear. He slapped his cheeks, and the person went on sleeping peacefully.

He was a stranger, someone Eunwoo had never seen before. He was young, and handsome, with angled eyes and pretty lips that were slightly parted as he slept. Tall too, with clean, long limbs spread out over the bed, and a smooth muscled chest that moved in rhythm with his breathing. He was attractive.

He was also very, very naked.

Eunwoo screamed. The boy in his bed jerked awake, saw him, and screamed back. And then he realized the main reason for Eunwoo’s scream, and scrambled to cover himself with the blanket.

The sight of the attractive stranger grabbing his blanket somehow brought Eunwoo halfway back to his senses. “Who are you?” he yelled. “How did you get in here?”

“There’s an explanation,” the boy said, and his voice was nice, slightly nasal.

“Get out of my apartment,” Eunwoo said, deciding on the spot that he didn't need an explanation, he just needed this intruder gone. “Right now. Get out of my bed.”

The boy held the blanket closer around himself. “You want me to go out like this?”

There was something about the way he said it that made Eunwoo stop for a moment. The boy really was handsome, and now that he was awake Eunwoo could see that his features were sharp and cute, almost feline.

He wavered for a moment, and then rallied. “It’s your fault anyway,” he said. “Who told you to sneak into people’s houses and sleep naked in their beds?”

“I’m not a pervert,” the boy said indignantly. “I didn't sneak into your house.”

“Then how the hell did you even get in here?” Eunwoo suddenly wished he had a weapon of some kind. They seemed to be around the same height, but the intruder looked fit and strong.

“I can explain,” the boy said, but he looked hesitant. “Just… okay, maybe it's hard to explain, but if you'll give me some time—”

“What?” Eunwoo was stunned. “Give you some time? When I don't know you and you broke into my house—”

“I told you, I didn't break in!” The blanket slipped down his chest a bit, and the stranger quickly pulled it up again.

“Then what?” Eunwoo demanded, but at that moment he suddenly felt like something was wrong. Something was missing. This guy had broken in, so he might have stolen something, but that didn't seem like it…

And then Eunwoo got it. “Where’s Moon?”

The boy suddenly looked panicked. “What?”

“Where’s Moon?” Eunwoo repeated, getting closer. “Where is my cat?”

“Well… about your cat…” The boy glanced around like he was looking for an escape, but Eunwoo wasn't letting him go.

“Where is Moon?” he demanded. “What did you do to my cat?”

“I didn't do anything to your cat,” the boy said quickly, and then stopped. He sighed resignedly, and then looked up and right into Eunwoo’s eyes.

Eunwoo waited, not knowing what to expect.

The boy took a deep breath. “I am your cat.”