I want to slit my throat.
My head is spinning, my stomach is churning, my limbs are aching. I've been slugging through the school halls like this for almost a week and my body has revolted against me — fainting, collapsing, releasing all it's contents.
Yet I never gave myself a break.
But today. Today, I can't take it anymore.
Cram school, these ridiculous extra classes students take to further continue their studies after school, starts in just a few more minutes, but instead of waiting until hell begins again, my feet are taking me home. As if it doesn't recognise that my 'home' is just another detention centre.
My bag rests heavily on my back, its weight pulling on the slumped shoulders of my malnourished body, the constant disregard of myself clearly showing. When I finally reach the door, I can see a reflection of myself on its little window. My eyes... they no longer hold the vigour I once had. By this point, I don’t even know if I’m just horribly ill, or if my brain itself had completely shut down and convinced the rest of my body that it simply was no longer able to function.
There is a soft creaking of the wood as I step in, the smell of soup stewing wafting throughout the open space. I hear a quick drop of a spoon and my mother emerges from the kitchen, her expression a hopeful look.
When she recognises who I am, a bitter resentment settles on her face. "Why are you here?" she bites out. She was probably expecting her one of her weekly boyfriends.
Already, my heart is jumping over itself, my mother's glare removing all sense from my brain. "I... I'm quite sick, so I thought—"
"What, you thought you could skip your lessons?"
"Don't you understand how expensive those are? You're telling me you're going to waste my money?"
"M-mother, I've been extremely sick for the past few days. Please—please understand," I say.
"I've spent a fortune on those classes, and here you are, being the unappreciative brat you always were," she spits, throwing her apron to the floor.
"I'll—I'll work harder for school, I p-promise,” I beg, stumbling over my words as the walks over to where I stand. "I-it'll just be for today. I'll be in my room and I'll study there. I won't—"
I am cut off by a harsh slap on my cheek.
“Kang Yuri! Who do you think you are?" she yells. "I am your mother. You do as you're told, you insolent child! I have spent all my life, trying to grow you into a successful daughter, and what do I get in return?"
But I can't hear her as the ringing in my ears continue to sound.
It reminds me of the times when I would cry at night, just to simply drown out the sounds of my parents arguing. The sounds of chairs being thrown and tables being flipped and pots crashing against the walls.
The sound of my father slamming the door shut as he leaves me alone with a monster.
Another slap is thrown my way, much harder than the first.
"Hey! Didn't you hear what I said?" Her hand is on my ear, pulling hard on the sensitive skin. "You're supposed to be the one working hard now. Earn back the money I spent on you, you freaking leech!"
She pushes me to the walls, my shoulder hitting getting full impact from the blow. Tears are running down my face as everything begins to ache and the feeling of bile runs up my throat.
"Just how much nerve do you have?" she continues. Her hair is flying as she brushes her fingers through, frustration seeping through the pores of her skin. "All you ever do is spend, spend, spend. Am I some sort of credit card? Go get a stupid job and start paying me back!"
"Hey, stop shouting down there!" a voice comes from above, our neighbour on the second floor stomping on the ceiling.
My mother releases an angry sigh. Then she looks at me. "Get your act together, you worthless wench. If you don't get a scholarship, you are never setting foot on this place again. I am not going to fund some charity case. Do some actual work."
Moments pass as she continues to breathe down on me, as hot tears fall from my eyes, as the hammering of blood in my veins continue to pump. Rage bubbles through the pit of my stomach, because how dare she.
"And what have you been doing?" I let out softly, yet the venom in my voice stands out prominently.
"Excuse me?" is her baffled response.
"You have done nothing but spend the remains of our savings," I say, rising to my feet. She doesn't give me more space as I stand, so I simply step forward, invading her space. "You are selfishly taking — no, stealing all the money father has sent me. You don't even pay the bills anymore. All the fees you say you pay — they’re all done by dad, not you. You have done nothing but torment me, putting unnecessary pressure as I try to keep up with everything. You have done nothing but make my life a living hell. "
She's seething now. “How could you—"
"No, how couldyou! All you ever tell me to do is focus on school, just so you can have the house to yourself and screw all these men. All you ever do is waste all the moneywe have on your own selfish needs. You have done nothing for me." I'm crying again as I say these hidden thoughts, anger overriding my system.
"Get out," she says.
"Get the hell out. And don't you ever come back."
No. No, no, no, no. I don't have a place to go. This little excuse of a house is all I have left.
"I said, get out!"
She pulls me out the door and throws me to the yard.
"I don't ever want to see your face until you take responsibility of your actions!"
A bag — my school bag — gets thrown directly at me, the heavy load hitting me straight on my face. My nose is smashed as I fall to the ground, and the doorshuts close with a loud slam.
Immediately, a wave of regret washes over my limp body, because,what am I going to do now? I have no where to go, I have absolutely no money, and once again, I feel alone. There’s no one to turn to. No one to help. Just what am I going to do?
Tears begin to roll once more and I can feel my very being fall apart. I had barely kept myself together when I forced myself each morning to rise to go to school, my body a broken doll that institutes wanted to fill with mismatched words and letters.
Now, I am a broken doll without a home.
"Hey, are you okay?"
I didn't realise I was screaming until I hear the raspy sound of my voice, saying, "I-I'm fine.” Get a hold of yourself, my mind tells me. This is nothing. You’ve faced worse.
"No, actually that was stupid of me. Of course you're not okay." At that, I look up to see kind eyes and ruffled hair. A familiar boy not far from my age looks at me with concern.
I clear my voice, my throat aching in response. “Really, I’m fine.”
He bends down to where I lie on the ground, his soft brown hair bouncing as he does so. His hand reaches out my me, and I flinch, his hand stopping just millimetres from my face. Then he smiles slightly, saying, “So, you’re telling me this isn’t blood?”
My eyes widen and a hand touches my nose. Blood. Scarlet red blood. I blush.
“Here,” he says, taking out a piece of cloth from his satchel. “Use this.”
“A… a handkerchief?” I ask incredulously.
“I know. A little old fashioned, but it works.” He shrugs.
I wipe the blood from my face, my nose throbbing and head aching throughout the whole process. And he stares at me. He’s still staring. Why is he staring?
“You’ve got a little… um… grass on your hair. And everywhere,” he mumbles. My face goes even redder than before and he begins to pick off the little bits of green from my head.
This could not have been a worse first impression.
“Well,” I break the moment, standing up. My headache’s gone. How is it gone? Why do I feel lighter now? “I should go. Thank you. For the… handkerchief. I would give it back, but it’s… it’s, um—“
“Yeah. So, I’ll be on my way. I’ll return it to you if I ever see you again,” I finish awkwardly.
“Of course you’ll see me again. I live right next door.” He points to his house right next to mine — what used to be mine.
So that’s how I know his face. “Right. Of course.”
He frowns. “Is there something wrong? Why did you end up outside your house like… this?”
“It’s complicated,” is my immediate response.
“Meaning, I’m never going to see you again.”
He figured it out that fast? “I wouldn’t say that.”
“You’re running away?” he questions.
“N-no.” More like kicked out.
He opens his mouth to say something, then shuts it back closed. He turns to stare at my mother’s house, then to me, then to the house again, then back to me once more. The corners of his lips tilt up mischievously, as if he knows a secret that I don’t. “What’s your name?”
“Your name. I can’t keep calling you ‘pretty girl with grass hair’ in my head all the time.”
I realise that he has a melodic, entangling voice. The way that the letters fold together to make these words that somehow entwine beautifully to sentences — I could listen to him all day and not get bored.
“Uh, pretty girl with grass hair?” he cuts off my train of thought, a little laugh blending into his smooth voice.
Immediately, I flush and my hand unconsciously goes to my hair to brush off whatever grass remained. This is so embarrassing.
His hand shoots out to stop me. “N-no, I’m kidding. It’s gone.” His brown eyes stare at mine, his fingers still wrapping itself around my hand. I think he’s about to let go, but he grazes my cheek ever so lightly.
“Yuri,” I immediately say and move away. I almost forgot about the sting of the slap.
His eyes search mine and settles my slightly swollen cheek. Then he dismisses it, like he knows how uncomfortable I am with the way I look. Like he knows just how bothered I am that he can read me so easily. But he also looks… like he just found the answer to an endless puzzle he’s been trying to solve. “Yuri… that’s a pretty name.” He begins to readjust the large black guitar case on his back that I just noticed. “Well, Yuri, I, Jihoon, have a proposal for you. I’ll help you run away.”
My eyes widen and my jaw drops. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me,” he says and takes my hand in his. “I’m taking you away on an adventure.”
“No, w-wait!” I stutter, completely and utterly baffled. This was not what I was expecting. “What are you talking about? I-I’m not running away. And I don’t even know you!”
“Just trust me on this.”
Trust. What a strong, fragile word he casually throws around. “No, I-I can’t. I… I’m not going anywhere.”
Jihoon’s eyebrows crinkle. “You’re not?”
“No, I… if I am, then what?”
Then he grins like a Cheshire cat. “Let me at least take you around. You’re a student, right?” I nod. “Then you must’ve been stuck in a building all day for the last few years. Let me help you breathe for a while.”
It’s my turn to frown. “You don’t go to school?”
He looks away as his tongue slightly sticks out. “You could say that.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Look, maybe the stars wrote this down for us. Maybe this is what was meant to happen. Me, meeting you during a hardship. Me, helping you out to be… well, the next part is for you to find out. But only if you come with me.”
I process his words. If there’s one thing I just learned about him, it’s that he’s insane. Adorable, but insane.
“Come on, what have you got to lose?” He holds my hand tighter now, looking at me so intensely, I’m sure he can see the broken remnants of my soul.
“Why are you doing this?” is the first thing I ask.
The corner of his pretty lips quirks up. “I see something in you. I don’t know what, I don’t know why, but—I do know that my gut feeling is never wrong.”
I don’t know how to respond to what he has just said. To anything. This person has just asked me to follow him, to see something more. This stranger, who could very well be a serial killer, is asking me to… believe in the stars?
“Okay?” He sounds surprised.
“Yeah, I’ll go with you,” I say.
A muscle in his jaw twitches. “You’re serious?”
“Hurry, before I change my mind,” I joke.
Jihoon breaks out into another bright smile, and it’s so contagious that I unconsciously do the same. “You should smile more often. It’s pretty.”
I can feel my face warm and my lips press against each other.
“Let’s go,” he says, taking my hand once more, and pulls me into the world.
“It’s fresh, open, inspiring. Why not?” he responds with his own question.
“I didn’t think this would be what an adventure would look like,” I say honestly.
“Sometimes an adventure is what you make of it. Sometimes it could be simply discovering something about yourself.”
“And I’m here to discover myself?” I ask.
“Aren’t we all?”
Those words hit the spot. Am I in this world to discover myself? Because it honestly feels like I’m just walking on an empty space of nothingness. Like I am that nothingness. What am I here for?
“Have you ever thought of… performing in front of a live audience before?” he suddenly asks.
“You know, like singing,” he continues. “Or dancing.”
“Jihoon, I hope you know, I’m a student, not some K-Pop idol,” I deadpan.
He laughs, and I didn’t know I could fall in love with a laugh until now. Wait. No. Okay, think straight, Yuri. Think straight. It’s just a laugh.
“Oh, come on,” he says with a lazy smile, dragging the words along his sentence. Jihoon starts to walk backwards—just to face me while talking. “Haven’t you ever thought about it? At least once?”
I blush. “Well… hasn’t everyone?”
“There we go!” he says excitedly, clapping his hands together. “Good thing you said that, because that’s exactly what we’re doing today.”
“What?” I stop in my tracks in complete disbelief.
“You heard me,” he replies with another boyish grin.
“No, no, no, I can’t do that,” I go on. “I can’t sing.” It would just bring back memories of a happier time, and make the horrible feeling of the present tenfold.
“Everyone can sing.”
“But not well. I fall into that bad category,” I continue, my words falling out in a rush.
He pulls me in closer with his hands, bending his knees slightly so he can look directly into my eyes. “We won’t know that until we find out.”
We—somehow that word makes me feel slightly more comfortable. It makes it seem as though I am less alone in this situation. We… it has a nice ring to it. Still, anxiety ripples through my veins, and I think it shows in my eyes.
“You’ll be fine,” he says, his caramel soft voice comforting. “I believe in you.”
I haven’t heard those words in the longest time, so much so that I’m surprised by the sincerity in his tone. It’s always been a dog-eat-dog world to me, especially with the competitiveness of my environment, and to have someone encourage me like this—it’s a feeling I’ve almost forgotten.
“I’m fine,” I assure absentmindedly.
He shakes me lightly, searching my face for something wrong. The brown of his eyes completely enraptures me and all I can see is him. Him… why does he look so familiar? It’s not just because he lives next door, that I know for sure. It’s something else. What is it?
“Yuri,” he repeats, worry drenching over those four letters.
I snap back into reality. “I’m fine. Really, I am.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am. It’s just…” Trust. He said this like he hadn’t been hurt by this double-edged sword. But… maybe it’s supposed to be simpler than a series of betrayal and deep-rooted stigmas from my childhood. Maybe it’s just the faith that one can have in another person, that little feeling in your heart that’s saying to believe in someone else, to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he won’t hurt me the way my parents have, because not everyone is the same. “I’m scared, Jihoon.”
His entire demeanour softens when I say this, and he pulls me aside to sit on a bench. “What’s wrong?”
At that, my breathing relaxes for a moment because he—he cares. “Where do I go, now? I’m mindlessly walking around, as if that would solve this problem. I just got kicked out of my own home, my father is gone, my mother stole all the money I ever received, school is just another prison cell, and-and—I’m all alone, now.”
I didn’t realise I was crying until Jihoon wipes away my fallen tears. Then he pulls me into an embrace as I continue crying, the warmth of him radiating through his body, protective and tender and kind. He holds me as he says, “You’re not alone, Yuri. You have me. And I’ll help you through. We’ll figure this out.”
Again. He said ‘we’. He’s right. I’m not alone in this, and even if I was, I’ll figure it out. It’s not the end of the world. There are solutions to everything; I just have to look carefully.
He releases his hold on me when I relax my arms, as if he was waiting to for me to feel ready to let go. “Thank you,” I say honestly. “This must’ve been really weird for you.”
“Not at all,” he says nonchalantly. He brushes away the remnants of my tears and stands up, saying, “Come on. We’ll go to my favourite spot, and I’ll play something for you.”
He starts leading me to the eye of the park. I forget about the people walking past because all I can see are rich green trees and all I can feel is this enigmatic boy’s hand in mine. When we reach a fountain, he lets go of my hand for the first time since my breakdown and opens his black guitar case, pulling out the instrument. Setting down the bag, he keeps it open for any cash a passerby might drop off.
Then he says, “Yuri, do you remember when you were in sixth grade? With your pigtails and awkward teeth?”
Immediately, my lips press against each other.
He smiles. “And you would always do that whenever you were embarrassed.”
How does he know that?
“Do you remember that when the teachers asked what you wanted to be when you grew up,” he continues, “you always said that you wanted to sing.”
“How do you know that?” I voice my thoughts.
“Because I was the one who listened to you, when no one else would,” he answers vaguely. “You were alone in the Music Room, pressing the keys of the piano, and you were singing this song.”
Then he begins strumming his guitar.
Familiar notes float to my ears, the lost melodies rekindling old memories. The sounds remind me of a forgotten passion, a love I had managed to suppress in order to focus on numbers and textbooks. My love of music.
Jihoon begins singing a well-worn song from when I was but a child. I remember always singing this, to the point where I had memorised all its words and chords and notes. I had asked my teacher if I could perform this song in a school event, but he had told me that someone already took up the last slot. I remember I was so devastated and disappointed, and I can see myself, standing in front of a piano, pressing the keys to the tune of a song. I remember a young boy, a classmate, who I’ve never talked to before, watching me. Completely mesmerised by what I was doing. I remember deciding to give him one performance, just so that I could feel what it would be like to give the gift of music to someone—just once. Since then, singing has always just been a chapter of the past, that part of the book done and flipped over.
But with this beautiful, tender boy of my memories playing this song with his mellow voice, the love I had felt before comes back to me at full force. I suddenly feel more alive than I’ve felt in years, a youthful glow coming back into the images I see. He looks at me as he sings, like this song was meant for me, and only me to hear. I forget about everything—my struggles, the heavy pressure, the loss of both my parents, the lack of freedom—and I get lost in a sea of sounds and melodies.
Because this… this feeling is what made people live. This is the feeling people lived for.
Then I start to sing along. My throat is raw from the screaming and crying and shouting of today, but it was still the voice that sang this song over a thousand times. My tongue rolls over the words of the lyrics smoothly, glad to be able to feel and taste a forgotten warmth. I am so enraptured in this poetically heartbreaking duet, because our lost voices had finally found each other in this song and they are so in love in the way they dance between the lines of the lyrics.
I cannot take my eyes off Jihoon, because now we are connected, and I can remember the little child in him, before he put on a mask, before the poison of this world touched him, before the bleakness of our lives had corrupted his eyes. Because now, I can finally see the soul of a prince, pure and unyielding, who has finally found his princess.
The song is over and the world begins to shatter in on me, but I still cannot look away from the boy who has brought me back to life with a simple song.
Suddenly, the sound of clapping finally breaks my eyes away from his, and I am surprised by the large crowd that had gathered. They are all staring at me and Jihoon, utterly and completely in awe. I see a few with teary eyes and many with bright smiles.
This was what I had dreamed of.
To make people feel.
I turn back to Jihoon and give him a genuine, true smile, one full of the heartbreak and pain and love I had felt over the years of my life. And I think he knows what it means.
Then his eyes turn to a point in the crowd. I follow his eyes and notice a woman in a smart suit, her eyes catching onto mine. They twinkle with excitement.
She pushes through the crowd to where I stand, and she asks, “Are you a high school student?”
“Y-yes, I am,” I say, slightly unsure of what was going on.
“I’m Kim Luna, and I work for an agency that produces performing artists,” she introduces.
I look to Jihoon, but all he has is a bright smile on his lips. “I see.”
“I don’t think you understand the situation.” I turn to her, confusion clear on my face. “I’m casting you to audition. I think you will be a great addition to our team.”
“I… what?” What in the world is going on?
“All you have to do is visit our office to get a registration form to audition for our agency,” she continues. “But, based on your little performance with one of our trainees here, I think you’ll be able to pass, especially with the little video I took.”
My eyes widened. “You took a video of us?”
“I hope you don’t mind,” she says sheepishly. “I’ll delete it right away if you’re uninterested, but I do believe this is a great opportunity for an aspiring singer like yourself. Or am I reading the situation incorrectly?”
I open my mouth to say something but nothing comes out, because how—what—how did this happen? I look to Jihoon once more and he is still beaming with excitement.
“You know what,” the lady, Kim Luna, speaks again. “Here’s my business card,” she says as she passes me a white card with her contact information on it. In the corner is the logo of a moderately famous agency. “If you’re interested, give me a call by the end of this week. If not, we’ll never see each other again. I hope to get a favourable response. And, Jihoon,” she turns to the boy in question, “thank you for telling me to come here today. I hope you convince her to come. She’s got some real talent right there.”
And with that, she walks away.
So… Jihoon is a trainee at this agency. That’s why he doesn’t go to regular schools anymore. He’s training to professionally become a performing artist. And Luna Kim knows him. He knew she was looking for people to cast in the streets. He was trying to get me casted today.
My eyes are still wide with uncertainty. “What just happened?”
“You just got casted,” Jihoon replies smoothly. He takes a hold of my hand and pulls me out of my reverie. “This is your chance, Yuri. This is your chance to reach out to your dream. Aren’t you happy?”
His words settle over me, the meaning washing over my brain. “Oh my goodness. This is… this is it.” I look up at him. “This is it, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” he affirms, grinning again. “Are you going to take this chance? Because I’m not going to lie to you, Yuri, there’s a possibility you might not make it. But if you do, you get to feel what you just felt when we sang. And, I might be wrong on this, but you seemed to enjoy that.”
“I did,” I say. “I… do you think I’ll make it?”
“It doesn’t matter what I think. What matters is you. Do you think you’ll make it? Do you want to do this?” he asks me seriously.
“I do,” I respond immediately. That was something I’ve always wanted, something I’ve always known I wanted. If I was going to start something new with my life and fix what had broken apart, I should at least do something I’ll be happy in.
“You’re serious?” He seems almost surprised.
“Hurry, before I change my mind,” I repeat what I had said earlier in the day, before I had quickly become comfortable with the unremembered boy of my past. “Yes, I’m serious. But I have one question.”
“What is it?”
“How did you know I’d be in my yard today? How did you know that I’d come here to sing with you?” I ask, genuinely confused and surprised.
“Like I said, maybe it was written in the stars,” he says. “I just had this feeling that, maybe, something interesting would happen today.”
“I don’t believe you,” I say frankly.
“You don’t have to, but it’s the truth.”
“And what you said about us figuring things out—together?”
“I keep my word. I’ll help you find your dad. I know he left you, but he left his contact number with my parents, in case something happened to you,” he explains.
“He wanted to leave, but he was always so worried about you,” he goes on. “You have to understand, he didn’t want to leave you. Your mother forced him out.”
There is a spinning whirlwind of thoughts and emotions from what I just learned—my father still wants me.
“Does he miss me?”
“All the time.” My heart shatters for the millionth time.
“Do you know how to get to him?”
“No, but you can ask.”
I take a sharp breath. “Things are going to work out, aren’t they?”
“Of course they will. You just have to stick around long enough to watch it happen.” The corners of his lips quirk up.
“And you believed this would happen?” I ask, baffled at his unwavering trust and confidence.
“Of course, I do,” he says. “Without faith and hope, where would I go?”
I laugh. “You’re amazing, you know that?”
“And you’re extraordinary.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are,” he pushes. “Maybe you’ll learn this later, but what I see is a strong, beautiful woman who has been broken down by the struggles of life, yet still managed to… believe in the stars, follow her passion, even through all the pain.”
“It was all thanks to you,” I mumble, red spreading through my face.
“No, you were the one who made that choice. It’s all thanks to you.”
I smile. “You’re right. Maybe I am extraordinary.”