Chapter 44: The Leader Is Helpful and the Free Spirit Is There
Rhett waited in the car for Kannei to come from her club’s meeting. He had promised to drive her to the super market to pick up some groceries. This gesture was supposed to redeem a fairly old, two slaps from her list. He also wanted to buy some vegetables, fruits, and meat for Jaejoong to cook. Jaejoong had been complaining about how poorly stocked the boys were in terms of food and how he never had the chance to shop for groceries due to his long hours of work. No one really paid attention to Jaejoong’s complaints, except for Rhett, who felt somewhat guilty for eating midnight snacks with Changmin.

During his wait, he did nothing but watch people. He was waiting at one of her university’s parking lots and to his surprise, there were many couples walking in this area, too many for him to bear. How could he tell that they were couples? He understood from the way the girls clung to their boyfriends and from their simple reactions to whatever their boyfriends were saying. The couples in love were smiling and enjoying every second they had together. He only noted one couple that was fighting. The girlfriend was walking much faster than her boyfriend, while he chased after her, probably begging her not to leave.
As Rhett watched, he couldn’t help feeling envious of the couples. His current relationship was certainly unlike theirs. Was it even a relationship? He now realized that Kannei never looked at him with admiration and instead mostly with frustration. Moreover, after answering his uncle’s call, Rhett wasn’t sure what to do. Somehow, he wanted to consult her before he made any hasty decisions. Even if Kannei did love him, and he probably had feelings for her, then what next? Would they even survive as a couple? After answering his uncle’s phone call, he couldn’t tell her how he felt. He wasn’t even sure where to begin. His story was too long, and complicated; work over love was not what women would want.
Suddenly, there was the sound of knocking on the car window, which made Yunho shudder and almost curse. As he slid the window down, he noticed Kannei and another girl beside her.
“Yunho, unlock the door!” Kannei ordered. Taking a minute to respond, he pressed the button to unlock all of the car doors. “By the way, could you be nice enough to send my friend, Hana, home?” Kannei altered her tone to a softer one.
Rhett jutted his head to see Kannei’s friend, and fate had to have liked to play pranks. There was Hana, who also like him, was bewildered with their encounter. Still, she took a seat in the back beside Kannei while Rhett felt his heart skip a few extra beats.
“Rhett . . . stop making such an ugly face,” Kannei grumbled. “You’re being rude.”
Unsure of what to say, Rhett bit his lip. Hana, instead, jumped in to defend, “Kannei, it’s not his fault.”
Then, Hana and Rhett’s eyes had met, and the two nodded in agreement. It was as if they had an unspoken deal that they would not reveal what they knew about each other. So, throughout the car ride, he just listened to the two girls chattering.
It was only after Hana had been dropped off did Kannei declare, “Rhett, if you were hoping to chase after her, then you’re too late. Hana already likes someone else. In fact, that someone else is probably way better than you.”
Feeling a bit irked about Kannei’s comments, he played along and asked, “Oh? Who is he then?”
“Well, I don’t know his name, but apparently he’s her boss at work.” He almost stepped on the brakes too suddenly, causing Kannei to almost fly to the front. “Whoa! What was that for?” she roared
“Sorry, I just . . .”
Rhett couldn’t believe that he was right. He was never good at reading females, yet somehow, he had been right. If Hana liked him, then what would happen next? How would he even face her? Wouldn’t that follow his uncle’s expectations completely? Sure, he might have had a back-up plan, but . . . Why was he even thinking that way? He shouldn’t have even been . . .
“Yunho . . . it’s a green light,” Kannei mumbled.
“Oh, right. Sorry about that,” he sighed.
“Geez, what’s wrong with you today?” she demanded. “First, you were bad-mannered. Then, you were really quiet, and now you’re not even—“
“Kannei . . .”
“What? What did you interrupt me for?”
Taking a large gulp, he asked what he had been pondering these days, “I need to ask you something really important.”
“Okay?”
Just when Rhett was about to open his mouth, his phone had begun to ring. If it were someone else, he would have ignored whoever it was, but because it was Yoochun, he still answered, “What’s up?”
“Can you lend me a hand here?” Yoochun begged. “I have to go to an urgent meeting, but I’m supposed to babysit a friend’s kid. I was wondering if you could look after the kid for the night.”
Tonight . . . Rhett was supposed to be at his uncle’s dinner. He was going to see what would play out before he made his final decision. Although he wanted to reject Yoochun’s offer, he knew that Yoochun would never ask for help unless it was truly needed. Rhett still remembered that time when Yoochun had run away from home.
No one in the group dared to question where Yoochun lived. Yoochun had just said that he moved out, and that was all. Rhett knew though that there was more to a simple move out. Judging from Yoochun’s greasy hair, soiled clothes, and luggage that he carried to school every day, Rhett had his suspicions. However, no one felt like saying anything; Yoochun never liked anyone worrying about him.
They were all eating outside after playing a round of basketball. Jaejoong had sniffled a few times during lunch break. He asked, “Yoochun . . . what’s that smell?”
“Wh-wh-what do you mean?” Yoochun shrugged his shoulders.
Changmin used his hands to waft whatever odour there was in the air towards him. “Dude, you smell awful,” he stated. “I think . . . it’s your feet.”
Junsu even bent down to examine Yoochun’s shoes. “Yoochun! I think it’s your socks! You’ve got to do something about your socks! I’ve never smelled anything this bad before!”
Rhett nudged Junsu in the ribs and lied, “Oh that smell. It’s probably because of that ex of yours. She got mad at you for dumping her, so she tossed some garbage in your locker. I bet some of that rotten banana juice must have spilled on your shoes and into your socks this morning. Remember how we cleaned it up together?”
“R-right,” Yoochun stammered. “It took us so long.”
“Oh, so that’s why,” Jaejoong blurted. “I thought it was because you hadn’t bathed and that you hadn’t washed your clothes in ages. Almost freaked me out there.”
They all laughed, but Rhett could tell that Yoochun’s chuckles were forced. Whatever Jaejoong had said had to have been the truth. So, only when the two shared English class together did Rhett confront Yoochun.
“Yoochun, I know you don’t say much, but I just wanted to say that you can ask us for help whenever you need it.”
Yoochun let out a relaxed grin before patting Rhett’s shoulders a few times. “Thanks, man. I . . . thought I could do this alone, but . . .” Yoochun’s eyes narrowed, closing to form an exasperated smile. “Who knew . . . rent, food, electricity, transportation . . . would be so expensive?”
“Yoochun,” Rhett suggested, “I’ll ask my dad if you can stay at my place—“
“But your dad hates me.”
“True, but it’s just till the end of high school,” Rhett countered. “We’ve already said that the five of us would move out in university, and get a house together when we make enough.”
“Rhett, I owe you one.”
Rhett laughed, beaming from cheek to cheek. “Yoochun, you’re being stupid. You don’t owe me anything. We’re friends. We help out whenever we can.”
Yes, because they were friends, Rhett shouldn’t have even considered saying no. So, he agreed, “Sure, I’ll be there in fifteen. Where do I babysit him?”
“He’s at our place,” Yoochun responded. “I’ll see you soon then. Thanks.”
“No problem.”
Kannei questioned, “So if you’re going back to your place in 15 minutes, then what about my groceries?”
“I’ll get Jaejoong to buy some for you,” Rhett answered. “You can have dinner at our place too.”
Crossing her arms, she unwillingly complied, “Fine, but . . . wait. Does that, does that mean that I have to babysit with you?” Just when Rhett nodded, she moaned in misery, “Ahh no! Why? Why did I say yes?”
Rhett returned the smirk she gave a while ago and thought that this was her punishment for laughing at him.           
Kannei was never particularly fond of children nor did she ever hate them. She just found them tolerable. Her tolerance rate, however, varied depending on the child’s looks and behaviour. A cute child could be naughty, but still lovable. An annoying-looking child had to be obedient. Perhaps, one could say that she was unfair and even discriminatory, but she didn’t mind. She admitted she had favourites, and luckily, Sanghyun landed on her list of acceptable children. Thus, she made an effort to play with him. Even Rhett was astonished by her attitude.
“I never knew you liked children,” he blurted.
She chuckled, handing Rhett the PS3 controller. “I don’t hate them. I just like cute kids.”
“So I’m a cute kid?” Sanghyun grimly asked.
“Is it that bad for a guy to be called cute?” Kannei rolled her eyes.
Rhett angrily pressed buttons as he argued, “Yeah, who wants to be associated with Hello Kitty?”
Even Sanghyun nodded his head in complete conformity, which left Kannei to feel bullied and somewhat embarrassed for her assumption. “W-W-well, it’s still a compliment,” Kannei claimed.
“Right.”
Rhett glanced at her with a rather condescending look as if he were telling her to admit that she was wrong. Kannei craved to slap him, but there was a child present. Violence shouldn’t be promoted, so she clenched her fist wrathfully.
To exacerbate the situation, Sanghyun reminded, “Kannei-san, don’t be mad at your boyfriend.”
Her anger frittered away and adjusted to bafflement. Rhett too was stupefied by Sanghyun’s remark, but he was able to adapt to the circumstances. Not wanting to complicate the situation and perhaps explain to Sanghyun the meaning of love, which he himself wasn’t even sure what that meant, Rhett ruffled Sanghyun’s hair and said, “You silly boy! Boys and girls can also be friends.”
Kannei dourly smiled. “Yeah, aha, Y-Yunho and I are just good friends.”
When she found herself unable to readily utter this statement, she knew that she was simply lying to herself. Lies were hard for her to tell. In fact, she hated lying to anyone, particularly to herself. Although she hadn’t given much thought to Rhett’s status in her life, she now recognized what she felt. She felt that they were more than friends; she had completely shown him all the parts to her personality, which was unusual for her to do. She could say or do anything. She could truly be herself, Lee Jamie Kannei, and she realized that regardless of what happened, he could accept or deal with her. He made her feel normal and even encouraged her to maintain her absurdity. She appreciated that part of him. Actually, she valued his presence. Rhett was becoming more and more important in her life that it never occurred to her to even define their relationship.
Perhaps, it was time. There was a time for every moment. This time, it was for Kannei to ask, “Yunho . . . were you going to say something important to me . . . in the car ride or . . . that night?”
“About that . . .”
“Is someone there?” Sanghyun was the first to respond to the opening of the front door.
Kannei chased after him and once she saw who it was, she at once pounced at him, screaming, “Jaejoong-Jaejoong!”
Her attack was so powerful that Jaejoong almost stumbled. She didn’t mean to be so aggressive. This was the only way to distract and to ease herself.
“W-What?” Jaejoong laughed. “You make me seem like you’re mourning for my death.”
Rhett, who had followed the other two, noticed how close Kannei and Jaejoong were. Her gesture had reminded him of that night where Jaejoong was making ramen with her. Jaejoong certainly was being more intimate than usual that time. This time, it was Kannei, who seemed to be demonstrating her affection towards Jaejoong. Rhett unexpectedly had a thought, one that wondered how nice it would be if those two became a couple. They would definitely behave like one. Sensing aches to his stomach, he finally professed that he was experiencing the dreaded emotion of jealousy. He was jealous of their computability to the point where he questioned why she never treated him that way. All she mostly did was complain to him.   
“No way!” She backed away, revealing a little boy behind her. “I was showing how happy I was to see you!”
Jaejoong looked down and wondered, “W-w-whose kid is this? Kannei, is that your kid?”
“For heaven’s sake, no!” she shrieked. “Do I seem like the type that would get pregnant at like what . . . fifteen or sixteen?”
He shrugged. “Who knows? Kids these days are insane. So . . . tell me why we have a kid here.”
Rhett noted, “We’re just babysitting the kid for Yoochun.”
“What? So this is Yoochun’s kid?” Jaejoong’s left eye twitched.
“Who knows?” Kannei reiterated Jaejoong’s question.
There was only one method to substantiate this claim and that was to have a confrontation.
Yoochun lied. There was no last minute meeting. He left Sanghyun with Yunho and Kannei not for reasons related to work, but for someone desperately in need of help, Junghwa. He had received an anonymous call to his cell phone.
“Hello, is this Mr. Park?” a soft voiced lady wondered.  
“Yes?”
The lady continued to explain, “I’m Gina and I’m a friend of Junghwa. She’s still in surgery right now, and she only has your number in her cell phone. I thought I had to let a family member know about this.”
“What happened to her?” Yoochun asked.
“Just come to Seoul Hospital. Her room is on the seventh floor.”
Time had never travelled any slower. Actually, it was at a constant rate. It was only Yoochun who had never been so restless. He was truly worried for Junghwa, especially after hearing from Gina what had supposedly happened. Gina told him that Junghwa was with one of her regulars and that everything had been fine until the end of her shift. Junghwa was found naked. Her body spread out on the ground with a pool of blood spilling from her abdomen. No one knew how long she had remained that way.
“She w-was c-covered in blood and all I could do was call 911. I-I mean, I should have known this would happen.” Gina sobbed as her hands covered her teary face.
“What do you mean by that?” Yoochun furrowed his eyebrows.
“H-he was coming for her.”
“Who is he?”
 “Who else? Her husband!”
That didn’t seem right, Yoochun thought. Her husband had left Sanghyun and her. Why was he looking for her now? Yoochun wanted to question Gina further, but it seemed pointless to be asking an outsider. He needed to interrogate the one involved, Junghwa. So, he waited. Even Gina did not stay since she had to go back to work.
Before she left, she told Yoochun, “Whatever happens, don’t let him get her, all right?”
He just nodded for the time being. Before he could agree to anything, he had to understand everything.    
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