Chapter 25: A Delightful Congregation and the Leader’s Ideal Date Version 1.1
Junsu again had arrived fifteen minutes before the class ended to pick up Naomi. There was already someone at the classroom’s door, a student with pigtails. When Junsu was about to open the door, she stopped him by shouting, “Don’t! Nishio sensei is busy. S-she told me not to disturb her until after school.”
“I . . . suppose I’ll just wait here then.” He stood opposite to her, leaning his shoulder on the wall.
“Y-yeah,” she muttered while holding tightly onto a yellow folder.
Junsu felt impatient today as if he were about to implode. Seconds seemed like minutes and minutes resembled hours. So, he wasted his time by examining the student ahead of him. She appeared to be extremely shy, reminding him of Changmin in elementary school.
“Changmin! Changmin!” Junsu shouted, dashing towards Changmin, who was reading a thick novel. “Let’s go play soccer together!”
Changmin shook his head, and with his eyes still focused on his page, said, “No. I want to finish this book.”
Sticking his head to the side to see the title, Junsu moped, “Oh come on! What’s fun with this . . . The Sword in the Stone?”
As he started to pull the novel away from Changmin, Changmin bookmarked the page and glared at him. Then, he harked, “What’s so fun with playing soccer?”
Junsu shrugged his shoulders, and went off to find Jaejoong, who agreed only if he didn’t have to run. That game happened to be the worst that Junsu had ever played. When he deliberated with his teammates, he realized from the corner of his eye that there was Changmin, watching them from under a tree. “Changmin!” Junsu sprinted in that direction. “I thought you didn’t like soccer.”
Changmin again shot him a glare. “I don’t have to play to like soccer.”
“Well, play then.” Junsu pulled on Changmin’s arm. “Jaejoong sucks so much that we’re losing because of him.”
“Of course . . . what did you think from someone that only thinks about clothes?” Changmin chuckled.
“Come on,” Junsu urged, “help us out.”
Still, Changmin refuted, “No. I don’t want to play. I just want to watch.”
“Why?” Junsu’s eyebrows curved downwards. “You’re good at soccer and at other sports. Why won’t you play?”
Changmin at last explained in a whisper, “I don’t want to play with strangers.”
Strangers? The team was filled with their classmates. How could they have been strangers?
Luckily, Jaejoong had walked towards them to rest, and had overheard their conversation. “Changmin, don’t be so scared of other people!” Jaejoong ordered, tossing a yellow shirt towards Changmin. “I’m so tired! I quit! Changmin, sub for me!”
 Changmin held onto the shirt with shaky hands and his eyes were dodging back and forth.
He was overcome with anxiety, just like how she was prone to nervousness; he could tell by the way she gripped that folder, pressured and pressed close to her chest. “How long have you been waiting here?” Junsu decided to ask.
“About 15 minutes now,” she checked her Casio watch before she responded.
“I see,” he mumbled. “So . . . how’s school?”
She stammered, “Ugh . . . it’s fine. I m-mean, there’s homework, but I’m f-fine with that.”
“What about your friends?” Junsu pressed on.
He had expected high school students these days to be hanging out with their friends and joking around. At least that’s how he spent high school. She, however, just shyly smiled. Poor girl, he instantly thought. She was that type: a loner. That meant some stereotypes in high school stayed true.
“I’m sure you’ll make some friends soon,” he settled on saying. “You just have to talk more, you know, lighten up.”
She, however, just repeated that smile. He knew now that he had spoken the wrong words. He was never an expert at therapy; he was only an expert at comedy.
“You know, when I was your age, I was always known as the goof-ball,” he said. “No one really took me seriously. Heck, even the girls just laughed at my jokes.”
“Well, you have Nishio sensei, now.” She oddly became the one to offer encouragement and showed that generic smile. Junsu wanted her to stop smiling. It was hard seeing her forced expression for it reminded him of Naomi’s disappointed look.
He too politely grinned. “Yes, I’m lucky to have her.”
Then, the bell rang and he opened the door, holding it for the student. Inside the classroom, Junsu and the girl saw the two, Changmin and Naomi. This situation would not have been awkward if Naomi were not in tears and Changmin were not smiling.
“Changmin.” Junsu rushed towards the teary Naomi. “What did you do?”
“Oh, Junsu.” Naomi leapt to bury herself in his arms.
“Oh,” Changmin imitated her tone, “cut out the act.”
Junsu, with beady eyes, addressed, “I know you don’t get along with her, but why are you like this, man?”
Naomi quickly placed her hand on Junsu’s chest to alleviate his anger. “Babe, it’s fine if he doesn’t approve of me. The important thing is that . . . I have you.”
Junsu then grasped onto her weak hand, feeling the urge to protect her at all costs. “Are you sure it’s all right?” She timidly nodded, revealing her childlike eyes. “All right, then,” he threatened. “Changmin, if you ever make her cry again, I’ll . . . give you a hell of a beating.”
Cocking his head, Changmin provoked, “Go ahead, do yourself a favour and get over with it now.”
“You haven’t grown up, you know that?” Junsu shook his head in disappointment. Then again, what was there to expect for Changmin? Sometimes, he thought, their expectations were too high for Changmin. Changmin never liked pressure, goals, or standards. He always had certain scales for himself, the sorts that no one could ever understand.
“I’m glad you finally noticed, Junsu,” Changmin heckled.
Even Junsu had boundaries and Changmin happened to have crossed those boundaries. Sometimes, even peaceful people resorted to violence, and so Junsu threw a punch at Changmin. Luckily, Naomi intercepted and stretched her arms out to protect Changmin.
“Don’t!” she shrieked. “Don’t hit him!”
When Junsu saw the startled look in her eyes, his fist instantly softened its grip and withered to his side. “If that’s what you want . .  .” His voice was draining and fading to despair. “Then, I’ll give you what you want.”
He knew that this was an order. From the tone of her voice, he was sure. He glanced at her once more and then commenced to walk away. He always thought that he was on her side and that she would support his, yet he already had inkling that, maybe, she could not stand by him at all times. At a time like this, she chose to defend his friend. She didn’t even call out his name. Frustrated with how this relationship was acting, he sped up his footsteps and by the time, she shifted her attention towards him, he was already out the door.
He was leaving her. Naomi felt that message and her tears began to fall again. Then, she chased after him, hoping that he would receive her message. She wanted him to stay. He had to stay.
Once the couple disappeared, Changmin noticed her, Shiori, staring at him in disbelief. “How could you?” Shiori harshly asked.
She had seen everything then.
“You don’t know anything,” Changmin rebutted. “So, don’t you go spread rumours because if you do, I will spread one of yours.”
“What of mine?” she muttered.
“You’re Ken’s step sister,” he declared. If Ken had never informed him of this, then this must have been a devastating secret. Ken was never the type to keep secrets; he was the sort to share them with others.
Shiori chuckled before saying, “Sensei, go ahead and tell people about this. It’s not as if I’m the one that’s doing something wrong here.”
“Like I said.” He inched towards her, staring down at her with much authority. “You . . . don’t know anything.”
She then laughed again. “You don’t know anything either, sensei. I was never going to tell anyone this. I wouldn’t want to hurt your friend.”
Changmin sighed, lowering his head. “I wouldn’t want to hurt him either.”   
--------
After much preparation, which included putting on sunscreen, adjusting Rhett’s cap, and fixing her jacket, Kannei stepped out of the car and strolled towards Rhett. He had been sitting on the sand, watching the waves wash in and out. Seeing his vulnerable state, she thought this was her chance to surprise him. She made sure that the sound of her footsteps was masked by the waves’ crashes and slowly approached him from behind. As she imagined the soundtrack of Jaws playing while advancing towards her prey, she couldn’t resist a silent chuckle. She even had to cover her mouth and hold onto her stomach until the right moment.
Then, she pounced. “Boo!” she roared and threw her arms around his neck.
“Holy crap!” he yelled and turned to identify the culprit. “Geez, don’t scare me like that!”
She exploded in laughter and placed her hands to her hips, “I love surprising people! Don’t be freaked out if I suddenly call out your name one day. I tend to do that to my dog.”
“Your poor dog,” he relieved a sigh and then stood up. “Well, now that you’re ready, let’s try out my ideas!”
“Fine.”
He frowned once he heard her unpleasant tone and saw her dreary look. “Don’t pout your lips like that. I had to put up with the translations, so let’s go to the waters.”
Her eyes widened. “You’ve got to be kidding me! Did you not understand what I meant when I said I was wearing a Changmini dress?”
“It’s okay to get a little wet,” he argued. “You said you’d follow my plans.”
He too was pouting his lips, hoping to garner her sympathy. Witnessing his childish act, she again unwillingly agreed, “All right, all right. Don’t give me that look ever again. It makes you look like a prick, not that you aren’t already.”
She stuck out her tongue and commenced her walk to the sea. She could already picture the aftermath of dipping her toes in the ocean: saltiness and stickiness. She was so close to touching the water before she suddenly realized and turned to ask, “Where do I put my shoes?” She lifted her leg up to show him her coveted piece.
“I put mine over there.” He pointed to the dark speck in the sand. “You can put them next to mine.”
“What if someone steals them?”
He took a deep breath before listing, “First of all, there’s no one here, except for us, and two, I doubt people will wear your size.”
“I have a perfectly normal size,” she chirped. “Size six!”
He sighed, “Can we not worry about thieves?”
“Oh! You never know when you’ll meet a shoe-napper!” Her feet firmly planted in the sand.
“A shoe what?”
“A shoe-napper. A shoe kidnapper,” she enlightened. Then, he bent down and proceeded to unzip the zipper to her gladiators. “What are you doing, you pervert?”
 “I’m just making my job easier.”
“Ugh, fine. I’ll take them off myself.”
He turned his head and smirked, making sure she did not see his expression. Who knew what would happen if she saw his triumphant look? Sadly, she had caught him.
“Wipe that ugly smile off of your face!” she hollered. “Just because I took off my shoes doesn’t mean that you’ve won! Now, I owe you a slap.”
“What?”
“You know, I should create a slap list. Whenever you do something I absolutely hate, you’ll get a slap.” she proudly explained.
His eyebrows furrowed. “And why should I let you do that?”
“Because you owe me big time. I could always call your parents and tell them that—“
 “All right, all right.”
“Good. Now, where do I put these shoes again?”
“Over there.” He pointed to his set.
When Kannei came back, shoeless, Rhett felt that he could commence his plans. He began with a splash, a disastrous one. He splashed at her, thinking that she would good-humoredly splash back with little spatters of water. Instead, she first looked down at her soaked dress before shrieking, “Ah!”
Then, she tackled him, pushing him down into the ocean. He fell in backwards, caught by surprise. Rhett almost choked on sea water before pulling himself out. “What was that for?” he spat the remaining liquid lodged in his throat.
“W-well,” she stuttered, “you ruined my dress.”
It was too late to feel guilty. What had been done had been done. Folding his arms and walking towards the car, he comforted himself, “At least, I have a pair of sweats and a jacket in the trunk.”
“I-I’m sorry,” she managed to utter once they reached the car. “I j-just get really protective over my clothing.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” he scoffed while glaring at her, “and I now know that nature does not work with you.” Then, he took off his shirt, causing Kannei to shield her eyes. He laughed at her reaction, and quickly zipped up the jacket. “Hey, I suggest you turn around now. I doubt you want to see me take off my pants,” he teased. She obeyed at once and he laughed at her sudden submission; she had never been so cooperative. When he switched into his sweats, he told her, “You can turn around now.”
She was still standing with her eyes closed, but she had quickly opened her eyes and smiled for she had never been so pleased to find him clothed. “So, what do you want to do next?” She adjusted her tone to a softer one.
“Why don’t we watch the sunset?” he requested after seeing the sun starting to set. He marched to the area where they had placed their shoes and plotted his bottom on the sand. “Sit here.” He patted the sand, beckoning her to follow.
She did listen to him, yet once she reached her shoes, she still stood there, muttering, “I-I can’t.”
With much perplexity, he asked, “Why not?”
“B-because it’ll ruin my dress even more,” she tentatively replied, knowing that he would probably roll his eyes at her. She still couldn’t lie though; that would be against her principles.
Rhett honestly did not know how to respond. He had never met someone who most likely cared more about her clothes than about people. He lifted his head upwards to read her expression. So, she still had a conscience, he thought after seeing her faintly flustered cheeks.
“Here.” He began to unzip his jacket. “Sit on my jacket then.”
“No,” she blurted.
He thought this was the best resolution, yet she was still unsatisfied. “Now what?” he edgily said.
“I can’t hurt your jacket,” she quickly answered.
“Well, what do you want to do? Sit on me?” he, out of the blue, recommended.
“Ew, no!” she accidentally exclaimed. Seeing Rhett’s disappointment, she apologized, “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way. It’s just . . . Ah, I don’t know what I’m saying anymore.” For a moment, they were both quiet and only the waves’ hurtles resonated. Kannei, at last, chimed, “I-I’ll sit right here then.” Her finger pointed to his thigh, and once he nodded, she gathered her dress and gently took a spot on his thighs.
“Ah,” he taunted, “you’re heavier than you look!”
She had tried to put as little weight on him as possible, so she claimed, “But, I recently lost a pound! Look! My shoulder blade is more prominent!”
“Don’t worry,” he continued to say. “I’ll train you! We’ll go for runs.”
“Are you serious?” She bit her lip while displaying a frown.
He loudly chuckled. “No, I’m kidding.”
“That’s another slap for you,” she grumbled and refused to make eye contact with him.
“Oh, come on,” he moped. “It was just a joke!”
“Didn’t I tell you that jokes were supposed to be funny? Where’s my ‘haha’ then?” she folded her arms in disgruntlement.
“Okay, I’m sorry,” he scratched his head and sighed.
“Sorry doesn’t cut it when you’ve made the same mistake twice now,” she persisted with her argument. He hauled her arm towards him, catching her in his arms and eventually hugging her. She, on the other hand, roared, “Who said you could hug me? Get off of—“
“I’ve mistaken.”
Rhett had no idea why he somehow always seemed to end up comforting her in his arms. Was this becoming a habit now? Was he starting to change for her? He did not know, but he did not mind. Although this date was not what he had in mind, he thought that everything had in some way turned out fine. It was nice like this, relaxing for his tired soul. 
As for Kannei, she had no idea why she somehow always seemed to let him comfort her in his arms. Truth be told, she was afraid, afraid that one day, she would become too accustomed to this tendency. Then, she would never change. She didn’t think too much and then wrapped her arms around his back as she mumbled, “You’re forgiven.”
It was then she knew that she was growing fond of his particular action, his embrace.
This had to stop.
So, she backed away, stood up, and stretched her arms in the air. “I think we missed the sunset,” she noted after seeing the darkened sky. “You know, I’m kind of hungry.”
“D-did you happen to make . . . food?” He gazed upwards to hopefully disintegrate his worries. He thought he had specifically told her to prepare a picnic for them. No, he was sure that he had.
Shaking her head, she murmured, “No. I thought . . .y-you said you’d take care of it? I mean, you asked, are you prepared for dinner?”
“I meant it as in, are you prepared for dinner,” he adjusted his tone. “As in, did you make dinner?”
“Oh.”
Rhett shrugged while pushing himself off of the ground. “It’s not a big deal. We’ll just go to a restaurant.”
Kannei could tell from the way he walked away from her that it did matter to him. She knew that she had disappointed him and that she had made the mistake now.
“Hey Yunho!” She called out and dashed to his side. “Let’s go back to your place. I’ll make dinner!”
He almost tripped on a pebble. “W-whoah, whoah, say that again.”
She repeated, “I said, I’ll make dinner. Don’t expect anything fancy though. I only know how to make noodles, instant noodles.”
“Fair enough,” he agreed with a grin.
Perhaps, sometimes, all Rhett needed was a compromise and all it took was for her to try.     

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