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“Let’s clean up first . ”
There was one thing she needed to do before catching the perpetrator . When Miso rolled up her sleeves and walked into the auditorium, Mintae had just managed to rev up the high-pressure washer .
“Let’s clean off the burnt bits and soot first . We can scrape off the parts that don’t get washed off afterwards . I think we just need to wax the floor as well, given the damage . ”
“What a professional . ”
“There was a fire at a theater I used to work at . I learned a lot . And there were also the seniors I followed around for theater construction . ”
“You’re really reliable, you know that?”
Miso poked Mintae’s hips .
“It might splash a bit, so please step aside . Daemyung, use that squeegee to take the water into the bathroom . ”
“Got it . ”
The motor rumbled loudly as the machine started shooting water .
* * *
Yurim sighed as she got back up from her bed . It was 2am, and her neck was covered with sweat . She’s been lying down for 3 hours, completely unable to go to sleep . She was fine until yesterday when they went to visit Maru, the sight of him in the morning with his injuries and cast had kept her awake . According to Dojin, Maru could’ve easily fallen into the fire if things went wrong .
“ . . . But he didn’t get hurt . So it’s ok . ”
She tried to console herself as she closed her eyes again . Looking back on it now, she had to wonder how she even mustered the courage to start the fire, to begin with . She hesitated to the very end, but she got the perfect chance to do it . It was almost as if the world was telling her to do it . All of the club members were gone and the auditorium was completely empty . The second years were cleaning up on the fourth floor as well .
A light went off in her head, she hurried back up in the middle of walking down with everyone else . She tried to put the clothes on fire with the lighter, but it wasn’t easy . She ended up squirting the glue on the clothes and the floor before setting fire to it . The fire greedily licked the glue trail and set it ablaze . The clothes were on fire in an instant and Yurim knocked on the fourth floor clubroom as if nothing had happened .
Inside, the seniors were organizing the last bits of the props . Yurim tried to calm her stomach as she helped them . They finished quickly and they came down to the first floor together . It was perfect all the way up to then . If everyone went back home, the props would’ve burnt to ashes .
But Maru decided to go inside . He saved the props, and the play went on without him . Geunseok was the one to perfectly filled up Maru’s empty spot . Rather than making the boy desperate as she intended, she bolstered his confidence instead . Everyone praised him, and even the seniors looked a lot more trusting of him . As a result, Geunseok became even stronger . That small glimpse of weakness she saw before was completely gone .
That’s when she realized he didn’t need her anymore . She approached him after the play ended, She told him that he did well . She wanted him to grab her hand as always, telling her that it was all thanks to her .
‘ . . . I got nothing . ’
That day, Geunseok nodded as if he was told something obvious . No more, no less . She felt incredibly distanced from him . The cowardly chick from a few months ago grew into an eagle that flew away from her arms .
That feeling of loss… That realization that Geunseok didn’t need her anymore . Yurim wanted to faint . This wasn’t possible . She needed to console Geunseok after shaking him to the core . What was the point of even starting the fire otherwise? She only did this, to begin with, because she believed she could get close to him again .
‘What do I do now?’
On the way back home, she noticed him talking in a very loving tone with someone over the phone . She could tell he was talking to Suyeon . What were they talking about? How could he have such a happy face on him? Why wouldn’t he smile at her like that?
Geunseok was cold to her, he was scary . It felt like he would never even talk to her again and that made her afraid . Yurim approached him inside the bus, she tried to talk to him like they usually did .
- Why are you being so annoying?
What she saw then was definitely irritation . She didn’t want anything special, just a simple conversation . Even that was denied to her . And today… she wasn’t even able to get a word in with him on the bus . Soyeon kept trying to talk to her, she couldn’t hear it . She had stopped talking with Geunseok completely for two straight days . Her hands were sweaty and her lips were drying out . He was completely ignoring her .
Tick, tock . Tick, tock . The clock on the wall was so incredibly loud . Was it always that loud? She blocked her ears with a pillow . The noise seemed to have gone away for a second, but the ticking noise managed to pierce through the layers of cloth into her ears . She bit her lips and curled up on her bed . Ignore it . Ignore it . The sound of the clock only got sharper over time .
She threw the pillow at the clock . Crack . The clock broke upon falling onto the floor . She stared at it dumbly before realizing what she’s done, she stood up to clean up the mess before yelping in pain .
“Ugh . ”
A sharp piece of plastic dug into her feet, it hurt too much . She sat down on the floor in pain . All she could see was plastic, blood, and a cut .
Her mom entered the room . Yurim mumbled for a bit before squeezing out a response .
“ . . . It fell while I was sleeping . ”
Mom turned on the lights in surprise . Drops of blood were falling on the floor .
“My gosh . ”
Mom quickly brought over some bandages .
“I’ll do it, you should go back to sleep . ”
Yurim pushed her mom back out before dropping down onto the floor . She felt awful . Pathetic . She buried her face into her knees . She was afraid . Annoyed . Scared . Angry . She wanted to ask for forgiveness . It was all because of him .
All sorts of thoughts and emotions danced inside her . Her feet hurt . How did this happen? She was happy for the first time in high school . She wasn’t scared of alleyways anymore . So why?
Tears began flowing down from her face as she picked up the broken pieces of plastic . Why was she the only one to suffer like this? She lay back down on her bed . It was 3am, she still couldn’t sleep . Even though the noise from the clock was gone now . In the darkness, she started flipping through pictures on her phone . In the beginning, there were a lot of pictures she took with Soyeon . At the karaoke, at a restaurant, at a bingsoo place .
“Traitor . ”
Did Soyeon forget about all of the fun times they had together? Why was the girl hanging out with other people instead of her? She hated Soyeon . She hated her . She tried to erase the pictures on the phone, but her finger wouldn’t move . In the end, she just moved onto the next page . After that came all the pictures she took with Geunseok .
She flipped through all the fond memories she had had from August to December, a smile appeared on her face just looking at the pictures . She could feel her chest warm up, but time passed, the smile on Geunseok’s face gradually stiffened . By the end, the boy’s eyes weren’t smiling at all . They were cold .
Yurim’s expression stiffened as well, something was very wrong here . Her heart was getting filled with fear and loneliness . She needed to catch him, she couldn’t let him distance himself from her like this . She didn’t want things to go back to the way they were .
Yurim stroked Geunseok’s smiling face on the phone, they needed to go back . As long as there was a proper fire, they could’ve gone back to that time .
‘He’s the bad one . It’s all his fault . ’
The reason why the noise of the clock was so loud . The reason why her feet got hurt . The reason why Geunseok became cold towards her . It was all ‘his’ fault .
‘If only he didn’t go into the auditorium . ’
No, if only he got really hurt in there instead…
Yurim flinched . Did she really think of such a horrible thing? She closed her phone hurriedly . That wasn’t her intent at all, but a corner of her mind kept whispering to her . What if he got hurt? Wouldn’t the play have stopped then?
‘ . . . It probably would’ve . ’
So in the end, he was the issue . He shouldn’t have jumped into the fire, he should’ve run away . It’s all his fault things went wrong, he messed up all of her plans .
Yurim clenched her eyes shut . Somewhere outside, she could hear the noise of a black pickup truck driving .
* * *
She woke up with terribly heavy eyes . It was vacation so she could’ve just overslept, but when she checked the clock, it was 7am . Yurim sighed and looked at the empty wall . Right, she broke her clock yesterday .
She told her mom that she was fine and ate her meal by herself at home . By the time she finished eating and watched some TV, it was already 9 . She got a message, it was from instructor Miso .
[We have to organize the auditorium and have to practice, so come to school by 11am . ]
Her stomach hurt when she read the word ‘auditorium’ . She didn’t want to go, she really didn’t want to go . Sadly, it is the week before the nationals, she had to go . If she skipped here, Geunseok would judge her . She washed her head in the bathroom . By the time she finished styling her hair, it was already past 10am . She put on the shirt Geunseok liked and walked outside .
The outside was draped with snow, the scene made her forget about her worries briefly . She stepped into the snow, her shoes got slightly wet, but it didn’t matter . Her astonishment and happiness didn’t last long, thinking about having to see the burn mark rekindled her nervousness .
‘Will there be cops?’
She was getting worried about all sorts of things . The school didn’t have CCTV, they wouldn’t know who started the fire for sure . She just needed to be careful . She smiled awkwardly . If she gets caught, everything would be ruined . She got on the bus . She immediately realized why criminals always got caught in movies, her legs were trembling and the same went for her arms . How many times had she swallowed nervously? A boy in front of her was staring at her oddly . Did she look suspicious?
All sorts of imagination flew around in her head . Yurim shook her head, this wasn’t good at all, she needed to get calm . In the end, she decided to try to act out ‘Yurim’ . A girl who speaks little and smiles occasionally, a girl who can only act confident next to Geunseok .
‘Just be normal . Don’t be scared . No one’s being suspicious of me . I’m safe . ’
She was at school before she even realized it . The school seemed even more desolate than normal today . Why?
A voice came from behind her . Soyeon . The girl seemed to have lost weight . Yurim did recall hearing that the girl started exercising since she started dating Taejoon . She ignored her and stepped up, Soyeon followed her up and greeted her again . What was this traitor thinking?
“Did something bad happen?”
She felt a little nervous inside, she ignored it . Soyeon kept following her silently before quietly muttering out a question .
“Yurim, we’re still friends, right?”
Yurim stopped for a second and turned to look at Soyeon .
“Why did you ignore me and go to Iseul’s restaurant that time?”
“I didn’t ignore you . I called you . But you . . . ”
She could somewhat remember it, she definitely got a call . She ignored it because she was with Geunseok, her facial muscles twitched . She knew Soyeon wasn’t at fault at all, but her pride wouldn’t accept it .
“You would’ve insisted me to come if you were a real friend . ”
“Yurim . ”
“Stop it . Don’t try to act so friendly all of a sudden . ”
Yurim turned around, biting her tongue . It felt like something snapped inside her . At the same time, she realized she couldn’t lose Geunseok more than ever now . She rolled up her fists and walked up to the auditorium . Now, it was time to act .