Prologue

Time and distance typically had the effect of severing relationships, but bonds could be stronger due to such obstacles. It all depended on the people involved in such relationships. Did they want to exert more effort to maintain liaisons? Was it necessary to keep in touch? Sometimes, all it took was one look, one phone call or one email to rekindle relationships. Perhaps, it would be more appropriate to say that separations were inevitable, but good-byes were not because there was a chance of saying hello again. It just depended on whether or not people wanted to take that initiative.

Chapter 1: The Hidden Devil Questions the Nerdy Girl and the Leader Remembers
A pleasant surprise was what Changmin would have described the start of his New Years. It was a pleasant surprise to open the door to find a familiar face in this foreign town. It was a pleasant surprise to find her at his doorstep.

“Shiori,” he now harked. “What are you doing here?”
She gently stomped her boots on the place mat, keeping her head down and her hair drooping across her face. Changmin noticed that there were sprinkles of snow scattered along her long hair, her black polka-dotted scarf, and on the shoulders of her beige trench coat. She had been walking for a while and that . . . that made his chest shrivel a tad.
“Is it all right for me t-to come in?” Shiori stammered in an overly anxious, yet overly proverbial manner.
“Yeah, hurry in.”
Changmin helped brush off the snow on her shoulders and tugged her forward. As she slipped off her boots, he dropped a pair of slippers in front of her feet and then walked past the raised wooden platform to the kitchen to pour both of them some water. He now took a seat at the end of the rectangular cedar table.
“So, why are you here?” Changmin asked.
Making her way to the seat across from Changmin, Shiori simply answered, “It seemed like the only place for comfort.”
 “You must be shitting me.” He even started to scoff, “Comfort? You expect me to comfort you?”
“No,” she placed her jacket over the chair before sitting down to answer, “I-I just . . . never expected you to ask anything. I just . . . expected silence. That . . . to me is comfort.”
She had come to the right place then, if she were seeking silence. This town was too silent, so silent that Changmin felt that after living here for a few weeks, he was already starting to converse with himself. He could not deny, however, how peaceful it was at times to purely watch the snow fall while sipping on a warm cup of black coffee.
He passed her the other mug and pointed to his left, “There’s a guest room at the end of the hall. You can put your things there.”
“Thank you, Mr. Mizushima,” she took a gulp of the warm water.
“Sure, sure.”
He rolled his eyes while leaning backwards in his chair. As she scurried to the room, he reared his head, staring at the ceiling and wondering what he had just done.
“Since when did you get so soft hearted, Changmin?” he quietly asked himself.
He shook his head before washing their mugs. He was becoming silly here, he kept brainwashing himself. This was utter silliness. Her coming here was . . .
She suddenly appeared from behind him and attempted to snatch the cups from him. Shiori had felt rather guilty for coercing Changmin to accept her arrival. Truthfully, she had expected him to reject her. She had already researched the location of a local, run-down motel, just in case the likely result was to occur. She was too amazed by his willingness and now too grateful of his unexpected kindness. 
“Here, sensei,” she uttered. “Let me wash those.”
Her hands had unintentionally grabbed onto his, causing Changmin to stammer, “I-it’s fine.”
“No, it’s not.”
“I told you it’s—“
She reached for his hands again in hopes of stealing the mugs from him. She had tugged with so much force on the opposite end that the mugs were thrown in the air. Realizing what was about to occur, Changmin leapt to follow the flying cups. Amazingly, he succeeded but in the process, he had tackled Shiori and landed on top of her with a cup in each hand.
“Oh thank god,” he breathed a sigh of relief.
“S-s-s-s-sensei,” her voice was so muffled that Changmin’s chin fell to his chest. Shiori was right underneath him, suffocating from Changmin’s abdomen.
Before he could react, however, the door had opened and an old lady along with a little girl entered, “I’m so sorry to disturb you, Mizushima sensei, but it seems that—“
“Grandma! What are those two doing?”
Changmin’s jaw fell open once he recognized that it was little Shiori and her Grandma. The position that Shiori and he were in was nothing, but suggestive, maybe even notorious.
“No, it’s not what you think,” Changmin urgently blurted.
Little Shiori persisted to question while tugging on her grandma’s sleeve, “Grandma, tell me what’s going on! I want to know!”
“Shiori, don’t look,” she placed her palm over the innocent girl. “It’s rude to watch.”
“No, no, this is a misunder—“
“We’ll come back another time, Mizushima sensei,” the Grandma, whose cheeks were carrot red, bowed and dragged her granddaughter away. “Good evening to you and your wife.”
Once the door slammed, so did Changmin’s patience. He stood up, placed the objects onto the counter, and grimaced. Shiori was still lying on the ground, in too much pain to stand up.
“I’m . . . sorry,” she too sported a red face. “I-I just thought . . .”
Scratching the back of his head hastily, he sighed, “Don’t sweat it. It wasn’t your fault anyways.”
“I-I-I’ll explain to them everything.”
She tried her best to lift her body from the ground, but winced in the course. Changmin exhaled rather loudly and hauled her hand forward, forcing her to stand straight.
“T-thanks,” she bit her lip.
“You have bad bones,” Changmin grumbled and then marched off to his room. He returned with an ointment for bruises and tossed it at her. “Rub that on where it hurts,” he instructed. “I’m going to sleep now, so if you need anything, just look around or wait till the morning to ask me.”
Stretching out his arms, he proceeded to his bedroom. He really needed to rest. Today was too dramatic and he wasn’t used to dealing with drama. What guy would endure drama? He rolled his eyes, shaking his head. Better not think too much or else my brain cells are going to die at this rate, he thought.
“Thanks,” Shiori called from behind. “Thanks for letting me stay.”
Her coming here . . . might not have been a mistake, well, a perpetual mistake.
------
The New Years was when Rhett returned home to celebrate with his family. His Christmas might have been accompanied with friends or now, Hana, but he vowed that New Years would always be time left for his family. Who knew though that traffic would be so heavy? He had to blame work for delaying him. He had worked overtime again despite how adamantly he had sworn that this time, he would be on time.  He had phoned though on his way and judging from his mother’s tone, they were disappointed in him.
“You should have called earlier, Yunho,” she sighed. “Your father was so happy this time.”
“Sorry, umma.” He gripped onto his steering wheel tighter, answering, “There was work.”
“Even your father has let go of work these days,” she mumbled.
His father had been a workaholic, but now that he had retired a few years ago, he had more time to himself and to the family. At the start of his retirement, however, he could not rest. He wanted to work and visited the office often to scan the department store. Worrying that Rhett would have difficulty handling the amount of work now that he had retired, he used to question Rhett about the daily operations. Rhett would constantly reassure him that everything was fine even though he had retired. It was an enduring, yet valuable lesson that was bound to repeat itself one day. Even if an employee were to leave, no matter how high or low of a status that person held, the company would survive. A new batch of workers would replenish the old. A new era would commence, and people would forget about those in the past for they only cared about the present or the future. Would he be engulfed in this tide one day? Was he becoming like his father with a tarnished, old soul?
There was a loud honk that blasted from behind him, awakening him from his thoughts. Rhett sighed while stepping on the brakes. He had almost caused a crash accident if the car behind him had not warned him of the changing light.
 “Fuck,” he cursed.
“Honey? I heard something loud,” his mother anxiously uttered. “Is everything all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” he responded. “I’ll call you once I’m close to home. I need to focus on my driving right now.”
 “All right. Be safe, okay?”
“I know, I know,” he murmured.
He pressed a button on his steering wheel to end the conversation. Then, he switched the radio on, hoping to hear a song that would ease his mind. All the songs being played were hyper, lively ones to welcome the start of a new year. They were the sort that people enjoyed dancing to at a club. He found himself pressing the tuning button over and over again for the perfect song. His song couldn’t be too fast nor could it be too slow. It had to have a tad of sadness, yet it could not be to the extent of a heart break. He didn’t want a distraction of lyrics, but rather of a simple melody.
He first heard the strumming of an acoustic guitar and the gliding of a violin, and then a woman’s enchanting voice followed by the continuous beats of an electric drum. He had no idea what she was singing. Was it English? Was it French? Was it even a language? Nevertheless, he listened to the whole song and he suddenly thought of her. There was no reason to think of her, but for some reason, he felt the need to share with her his finding.
Reaching his phone, he quickly texted in between the long waits: “Happy New Year. I almost forgot about it.” Then, a minute later, he sent another one: “I think I found a good song for the New Year.”
He hadn’t expected her to text back. In fact, they hadn’t been texting for a while now. She wrote, “Oh, what is it?”
He laughed, typing, “I don’t know what it’s called.”
“Find it then,” she had answered along with an emoticon expressing her frustration with his attitude.
“I don’t even understand the language,” he typed back.
“Hum it on this program online.”
“No computer right now, and it’s okay,” he added. “It’s one of those songs that you hear once and it’s enough.”
Even through a text message, Rhett knew that she was making some face at him. He could practically hear her voice reprimanding him. Instead, he received this: “You let go of things too easily.”
He had to read the message twice. It wasn’t what he had expected. He felt his heart pound with a bit more force, nervous about what she had to say. He blinked hard once and then stared at the screen again before responding, “Like what?”
 “I was just saying that in a general sense. Sheesh,” she remarked, to which he chuckled. “Anyhow, even if you don’t find the song, it might come to you one day. Like one time, I tried so hard to find this song, but didn’t until a year later. Out of the blue, I found it.”
“So, you’re saying I should let it go?”
She corrected, “You should try at least to find it. If you can’t, then let it go and let everything fall naturally.”
“Where have you been then?”
He didn’t know why he had typed that. Once he had hit the sent button, he already regretted asking the question. He received no response from her. As expected, she was indeterminable like that song. Too far away now, he thought. He reread what she had written.
You should try at least to find it. If you can’t, then let it go and let everything fall naturally.
Did he even try to find her? Did a few text messages count as finding someone?
“I’m home,” he finally announced as he rang the door bell.
“Oppa!” Julie, who wore a Happy New Year head band, jumped up to embrace her own brother. Dragging him along, she urged, “It’s about time you’re here! We’re just about to count down to the New Year! Oh, but first, there’s a package for you!”
“A package for me?” he stared at her.
“Yeah, it’s from your lover,” Julie giggled. “W-what?”
Julie rolled her eyes after seeing his glare. Then, she dumped a yellow, standard-sized envelope into his hands.
“Open it,” Julie chirped and tugged at his sleeve.
“No, I’m opening it by myself,” he grumbled.
Then, he walked upstairs to his room to drop his belongings. After he changed into a set of comfortable clothes, he held onto the package to see who had sent it to him. It was from Kannei.
There was a sheet of lined paper folded in the shape of a card with nothing on the cover, except for the word Merry Christmas. When he flipped inside, she wrote, “Yes, I decided to save my money on this. I also had finals before this by the way. I do hope that you have a Merry Christmas and that my plan worked. I am rather smart, so it should work. Right? Ahaha. Just kidding. Best of luck to you, Kannei.”
His hand quivered as it reached into the envelope for the other gift. It was a small notebook or rather, it was an agenda with Hello Kitty’s trademark. He chuckled at the fact that it wasn’t even wrapped. So Kannei, he thought. He opened the first page and read the note that she left.
You’re always forgetting things. I thought it was time you started to write things down. Plus, with a Hello Kitty cover, you’re bound to remember to bring this around.
                                                                                                --Kannei
He tried imagining carrying around a Hello Kitty agenda to the office or even showing it in public. Now, another label would be pasted on him: girly. Yuck.
Julie hopped onto his bed, reached for the little agenda, and pondered, “What’s that? Wow! It’s so cute! Oppa, where did you find this? This is a limited edition Hello Kitty 10th anniversary agenda!”
“It is?”
Julie frowned, rambling, “Yeah! You’re such a dimwit! Anyhow, you probably wouldn’t need this, so why don’t you give it to me? Okay?” Before he could even answer, she announced, “Okay, deal! I’m taking—“
“Hey! That’s mine!”
He chased after her and ripped it away from her hands. She stuck her tongue out and rolled her eyes.
“Meanie! Always hogging things! Wait till I tell Jaejoong oppa and Changmin oppa about this! They’ll laugh their heads off!”
“Oh you wouldn’t dare!” Rhett countered. “I’ll tell Jaejoong that you like him! Oh and also how ‘hot’ and ‘sexy’ you think he is.”
Julie’s face turned apple red while storming off downstairs, “Oppa! You’re such a nincompoop! I still don’t get how Kannei can stand you.” 
Was that why Kannei hadn’t returned his replies? She couldn’t bear him anymore? If she couldn’t tolerate him, then why did she reply just a few hours ago? He felt his cell phone vibrate in his pocket and then he saw what she had written this time.
I forgot to say Happy New Year and . . . I’ve been doing some thinking lately. I just think . . . it’s better if we don’t remain in contact anymore. I thought . . . since it’s the New Year, it would be a good time to say good-bye, and well, welcome the New Year. Thank you.
He carelessly tossed his cell phone, letting all of the pieces and gadgets shatter onto the ground naturally. Facing what was left of his destruction, he bent down now to retrieve the bits of what remained of his cell phone. He heard the cheers of his family, “Happy New Year! Whoot!”
He clenched a fist and then pounded it onto the ground. Good-bye? Thank you? He didn’t understand her anymore and then he thought he heard the chords of that song again. He recalled how incomprehensible the songstress was. He had enjoyed the melody, but now he wished that he could grasp what she was saying. Because then . . . he could find it, no, her again.
Reactions: