Chapter 26: Winter Wonderland 

I know I'm supposed to break the news to Sohee as soon as possible, yet when I see her greeting me happily at the wedding store, my mouth goes dry. It's even worse that she keeps blabbing about how excited she is for me and how she spent so much time finding the right dress for me. She also tells me that she can't wait for me to get married with Yeonjun, which really . . . makes me choke. She asks over the course of trying on gowns if I'm okay, and I keep saying that I'm fine. However, when I'm about to change into the final dress, I hear my phone vibrating. There's a message from Sehun, asking me what time I'll be done with Sohee and if we will be grabbing lunch together. 

To clarify why Sehun is being so protective these days, it's because he believes that it's not safe for me to be by myself after the Suho incident. He and I agreed a few nights ago that he'd take me to work and pick me up from there. He would also try to be with me whenever I need to travel around the city by myself. At first, I thought Sehun was being too clingy, but after seeing how serious he was and remembering what had almost happened that night with Suho, I agreed with Sehun's suggestions. I don't want to put myself in danger when that could have been prevented. 

Now, seeing Sehun actually keeping his promise, I find the courage to step out of the changing room in my normal clothes. Immediately, Sohee wonders, "Wait. What happened? Did the size not work out? Should I ask the lady to grab--"

"No," I interrupt her. "It's just that . . . I can't be your bridesmaid anymore."

"What? Why? Why can't you--"

"Listen," I utter. "Yeonjun and I . . . we aren't dating or anything. I'm not pregnant either, and we're really just good friends. I'm really sorry that we lied to you. I hope you can forgive us."

"W-w-w-wait . . . what's going on?" 

Sohee and I end up talking at a coffee shop nearby. I first text Sehun where I am and what time I think I'll end. Then, I proceed with telling Sohee the whole story. Sohee is almost in disbelief, nearly spilling her drink all over herself. "I . . . I can't believe it." She constantly has that phrase slipping out from her mouth.   

I, on the other hand, have to keep apologizing, "Yes. I'm really sorry."

When I finally finish the story with the part about Suho threatening me, Sohee looks me in the eye and notes, "I'm sorry to hear what happened to you. I wouldn't have expected Suho to do that type of thing. I mean, I knew he was similar to Yeonjun oppa, but . . ."

"I know what you mean," I agree. "I really thought Suho was a nice guy, you know?"

"Mm . . . He really was, but then . . ."

"But then?"

"Well . . . I believe that after his breakup with Haneul, he sort of changed."

"He dated her?" My eyes widen like a goldfish's.

"Yeah . . . I think this was . . . like in middle school, but then . . ."

"Yeah?"

Sohee uneasily sits in her chair and pouts her lips. "I think it was that Haneul dumped him for Minjun oppa."

"But I thought Haneul was engaged to Yeonjun?"

"Oh, that. That came a lot later," Sohee clarifies. "You see, Minjun oppa and Haneul were dating throughout high school until Haneul cheated on him with Yeonjun oppa."

"What?" My cup slams onto the table, causing a tiny puddle of coffee beside me. "But why? Why in the world would Haneul cheat on Minjun?"

Sohee shrugs her shoulders, acknowledging, "I don't know, but I do know that Yeonjun always secretly had feelings for Haneul. The three of them were childhood friends, and when I started to live with the family formally, it was easy to tell that Yeonjun loved Haneul. My guess is that Haneul seduced him or something. I doubt it was Yeonjun's intention to hurt Minjun even though they don't get along all that well."

"Still . . . that's really unfair to Minjun. Is that also why they aren't on good terms?" 

"Mm . . . they were always sort of fighting, but I think that incident made it worse. Plus, I think Minjun still loves Haneul. Yeonjun, on the other hand . . ."

"Yeah?"

I'm about to take another sip of my coffee when Sohee abruptly reveals: "I'm pretty sure that Yeonjun doesn't love Haneul anymore. I think the one that Yeonjun loves now is you, or rather, he has loved you for several years now." Out of instinct, I spit out what I was about to swallow into my cup. I wipe my mouth with a napkin and apologize to Sohee for my rudeness. Sohee still maintains her composure, stressing, "I mean, sometimes I see him smiling foolishly while reading something on his phone, and then when I met you, it all clicked . . . he was probably smiling at one of your texts. Then . . . just seeing how he looks at you, I just . . . know?"

I'm suddenly reminded of that time when he said that we could date but he would never marry me. Taking a deep breath, I wonder aloud, "Then . . . why can't he break up with Haneul then if he actually has feelings for me? You know, he can't be so selfish. He can't expect me to be some affair."

"I know. I know," she mutters. Twirling her long, curly hair with her fingers, she comments, "It's . . . just . . . better for the business you know? Haneul . . . I'm not saying that you're bad or anything. I really like you, but Haneul's family background and given that Yeonjun really wants to please our father . . ."

"I understand what you're saying," I reply.

Of course Yeonjun won't pick me. I have known that all along given the circumstances, yet I still want someone to confirm my theory. I'm so pitiful. Argh. I just want to hit my head on the table over and over again.  

"I'm sorry," Sohee apologizes for Yeonjun. "It's just Yeonjun oppa isn't exactly . . . you know . . ."

"I know. I know."

"I . . ." Sohee's voice almost cracks. "I hope you can still come to my wedding? As my friend this time . . . would you please still be my bridesmaid?"

Because of the way she is staring at me, I give in. I'm hopeless. I'm hopeless for anyone who reminds me of a cute puppy. Why am I so softhearted? Arg. "All right," I agree. "I'll do it." 

"Thank you so much!" She reaches over to hold onto my hands. "I'll send you more info next time! I think I know the right dress for you anyways." Then, she picks up the bill from our table and offers to pay. "Sorry," she adds. "I have to go now, so I'll see you later. Bye!"

I finish up my coffee, and I see Sehun's text. He says he'll be here in three minutes. Perfect timing. Really, Sehun does have great timing. I can't let this opportunity go, meaning that I can't let Sohee's words sway me. Sure, Yeonjun's feelings for me might be real, but if he can't leave Haneul, then there isn't much we can do about that. I don't want to sink to that level, where I'm constantly the second lady in line. I have my own happiness to capture. I'm not that young girl anymore that is waiting for Mr. Right, especially when who I thought was Prince Charming transformed into the Boogie Man. I also can't afford to wait it out for the one to realize that I'm also the one for him. That's just not how life works.

As I make my commitment towards a relationship with Sehun, I look at the window and notice that it is lightly snowing. There are a few couples holding hands together. I see a young one sharing a pair of gloves, and frankly, I am slightly jealous. However, once I hear the bell that rings when the door of the coffee shop opens, I notice Sehun searching for me. I'm about to wave and shout to him, but he spots me among the crowd. As he gives me a cute smile along with a wave, he accidentally crashes into one of the waiters. I burst out laughing at his foolishness while he apologizes with reddened cheeks. 

"You ready to go?" Sehun asks upon reaching my table.

"Yup!" I answer.

We walk out of the coffee shop rather hastily. After all, I'm sure Sehun is humiliated by his mistake. As I try to keep up with his pace, he turns around and reaches his hand out. One glimpse and I realize that it is shaking. I'm sure part of the reason is that it's very cold out side, but the other part must be that he is nervous. He is scared that I will reject him. He steps out of his comfort zone to do this. He keeps trying and trying, whereas I'm . . . not doing much at all. I try not to feel guilty. I shouldn't be like that when we're already dating. I can't keep accepting his kindness out of pity or guilt. I really need to open my heart to him, and so I take his hand.

I know that Sehun is afraid to press too tightly, so I give his hand a little squeeze. He looks down at me, wondering what's wrong. I just smile at him and say, "I'm glad you're here for me. I'm really happy."

"As long as you're happy that I'm there, I'll stay," he answers.

Thanks, Sehun. You're really a sweet guy. I hope I can be just as sweet as you because right now, I really think you can deserve someone better than me.
 
------
 
What I like about the holidays are a few things: my two weeks of break from horrible work, time that I get with my family and friends which equates to some heavy partying and loads of gifts, and the seasonal goodies that I get to munch on. Yum, yum, and yum! Obviously, I need to watch out for my weight. I can't overeat now, can I?

But the temptation to crunch on gingersnap cookies and buche de noel while munching on slices of apple or pumpkin pie is hard to resist. Not to mention, there's the upcoming stuffed turkey drizzled in cranberry sauce with garlic mashed potatoes as a side. Ah! Thinking about these dishes already makes my mouth water.

Drip.

"Leia? Are you . . . really . . . umm . . ." Sehun turns around to give me a confused stare. He is actually hanging some Christmas decorations around the apartment as we're expecting the guys to come to our place on Christmas for dinner. We have agreed to celebrate the 23rd with his family and the 24th with mine. Then, Christmas is reserved for the boys, and Boxing Day is for us to shop. There's nothing in store for us on New Year's so far. We'll see where we go with the holiday adventures.

Now, slurping in my saliva, I mutter, "Err . . . I'm just  . . . very hungry you know?" I'm sitting in the living room watching the Food Network do some Christmas dishes, so yes, of course, I'm going to salivate. I'm supposed to help Sehun by sticking some mistle toes and holly throughout the public space, but I manage to snap off several of the plants' leaves. As a result, Sehun says that he can focus on the decorating and I'll be in charge of researching recipes that we can use to make our Christmas meals. 

"Why don't we go grab some cake then before we head out for Christmas shopping?" Sehun suggests.

"Honestly?" I peer at him dubiously.

"Yeah. Why not?" he answers as he hangs a few ornaments on our fake Christmas tree. Sehun wanted a real one, but then, after a spider popped out of one of the Christmas trees we were checking out and landed on his shoulder, he decided otherwise. 

"I'm on a diet?" I mutter.

"We'll keep working out to burn off the fat?" he answers. "Plus, it is Christmas time . . . so .  . ."

"You're right. You're right." I finally succumb to temptation. "Let's screw it all and eat all we want!"

Because of my decision, we head out to a cake store close to the mall. Unfortunately, we end up bumping into Jessica. "Leia?" she calls out. "What a surprise!"

I'm not really sure how to respond to her. I mean, I'm not even certain if we're friends now. She did warn me about Suho, so I have that to thank her for. She didn't have to say anything, yet she still did, so . . . she's not that, that bad. 

"Yes," I answer. "What a surprise."

"And . . . this is?" she questions, blinking a few too many times in front of Sehun.

Sehun introduces himself without any hesitation, "I'm Sehun, Leia's boyfriend. Nice to meet you."

"Oh! Nice to meet you!" Jessica's devious grin grows wider. "I haven't heard about you at all. I guess Leia likes to keep the good guys to herself secretly. Huh?" She nudges my arm, which is probably going to cause some sort of bruise to form within a day or so.

"Aha," I murmur.

"Really," Jessica continues to blabber, "you are quite handsome! And your eyes! They're light amber! That's so special. Are you mixed?"

"Yes," he answers. "I'm half British, a quarter Japanese, and a quarter Korean."

"Oh wow . . . that's pretty cool!" Jessica exclaims. "And you speak Korean so well!"

"I came here when I was six," he utters.

"Where were you from originally then?"

"I was born in the States." 

"I see. So can you speak English or even Japanese?"

"Yes to both," Sehun remarks as if he's on some formal interview for a job. "My mom taught me Japanese as that is her native language. She lived in Tokyo for all her life despite having some Korean roots."

"That's impressive! How'd she ever meet your father then?"

"Oh . . . they were university classmates."

I'm getting to the point where I think that I should break the conversation. I mean, Jessica is hounding him like crazy, and I feel pretty bad for Sehun. However, I'm actually learning more about Sehun's family, which is rather interesting. I guess it's important to know about your boyfriend's family, especially when you're about to visit them in a few days. Yikes. I'm not even sure how to behave or what to wear. We're supposed to prepare a dish or two for them too, and Sehun is a cooking disaster. It really is, then, up to me to seal the deal and impress their pants off.   

"That's so sweet and adorable!" Jessica squeals like a severe fan girl. "I'm sure you have a great family with . . . how many siblings?"

"Oh," Sehun answers. "I have two older sisters and a younger one."

"Wow! So you're the only son in the family! You must be loved," she proclaims. "Though I bet that your sisters used to torment you, probably dressed you up like a girl huh?"

"Haha. Yes," he admits, "but the good thing is that it helps me with my work."

"Oh. What do you do now?"

"I used to be a dance choreographer, but now I'm focusing on producing songs and creating concepts for groups. There's a bit of management involved as well."

"Oo! What sort of artists do you get to work with? What agency are you also--"

"Oh!" I pretend to point at some imaginary clock. "Will you look at the time? Sorry to cut our conversation short, but we really have to go meet his family. Haha. I'm sure we can chat another time?" 

"Sorry about that," Sehun plays along and apologizes. "Hope you have a nice day!"

"Oh no! I should be the one apologizing! Have a good one!" Jessica waves at us and then leaves.

My mood to snack on sweets has completely faded away. In fact, I pull Sehun out of the shop and back to the streets where we head to the mall. "You sure you aren't hungry?" he confirms.

"Yeah," I grumble. "After all her questioning . . . of course I wouldn't be hungry."

"Well, it was okay?"

"Really?" I shoot him a glare.

"All right," he confesses. "It was . . . kind of annoying, but you know, some people are just curious."

"Too curious for their own good," I huff and cross my arms together.

Sehun ruffles my hair, stating, "It was really okay. Let's just forget about all this and find something for my family? Yeah?"

"Yes! Except . . . I have no idea how to approach this problem. I mean, I don't even know your parents at all, and it was only today that I learned that you had sisters!" I exclaim. I see Sehun's slight disappointment, so I add, "Well, I'm willing to learn, so let's shop away!"

Over this time, I learn that Sehun's parents are very modern and quirky. They are extremely open minded and liberal. They like odd gadgets and inventions, so we find this magazine stand that is in the shape of a house and wrap it with world puzzle paper so they can highlight words that they see. 

The eldest sister, Sara, is a dedicated housewife with three boys: Gongyun, Hongki, and Jaesun. For her, we went to the floor with all the cooking devices and decided to get her this new blender. According to Sehun, Sara is also a health freak who only buys organic food and won't even use anything that has been tested by animals. 

Then, there is Subin, who is into the latest fashion trends and fads. She is materialistic and will only settle for the best. In fact, that is why she hasn't married yet since her standards are so high. Sehun also says that she has a fascination with older men, preferring to date those that are already taken. She is also the creative director for this popular, local clothing brand that is often featured in magazines. Actually, I'm sure I've seen her picture somewhere on a magazine. For Subin, then, we head off to the women's floor and grab her a dress that is supposedly very in.

Finally, there is the youngest one of the family, Suzume. She lives a double life as an avid manga fanatic and a well-known model turned actress. According to Sehun, Suzume and Myungsoo have been mortal enemies ever since middle school. This was because Myungsoo dissed Suzume's favourite manga character and claimed that she had poor taste in her preferences. What made matters worse was when Myungsoo bought the last limited edition album of Suzume's favourite seiyuu. He actually snatched it out of her hands and laughed in her face. Sehun explains that one of Suzume's life goals is now to beat Myungsoo in every way that she can, so she'll be the happiest if we can find her something that proves that Myungsoo is worse off than her.    

Really, that is a tough present to get, so Sehun and I decide to split up and meet each other in two hours. I'm browsing the stores, but I can't find anything that'll be good. As I go down the escalators to the floor with tons of technological equipment, I spot a cool digital alarm that can also charge a phone. Immediately, I think this will be a wonderful gift for Sehun, and as I'm paying for this, I notice a pair of suave head phones that I know Eunhyuk will like. I'm tempted to get this for him, but after his prank Christmas gift that he gave me, I'm going to give him the Life of Pi, 50 Shades of Grey, and something related to cooking.  

As I giggle away, I notice this projector out of the corner of my eye. The person working here asks, "Would you like to see that too, Miss?"

I remember Yeonjun saying how he wanted to be able to watch movies like at a theatre. Obviously, I'm not going to buy him a TV, but this projector . . . is something that I might be able to purchase. When I ask for the price though, my heart almost shatters. It's 300 dollars! Am I going to buy him something so much? I mean . . . he isn't even my boyfriend, but . . . when I start thinking about how long we've known each other and how he has been by my side most of the time, I . . . let that MasterCard go through. Uh . . . I'm going to be so poor now!

I let out a sigh as I leave this floor and go down to another one. I'm thinking if there is anything that I know about Myungsoo that can possibly be his weakness. Then, I remember that Myungsoo has a huge, huge crush on this manga character. He thinks she is the most adorable girl ever. In fact, he collects posters of her and even has little figurines of her. A light bulb turns on in my head, and I know what the perfect gift for Suzume would be. Sehun and I can get her a cosplay outfit of that manga character, and then Myungsoo will listen to any of her commands.

Immediately, I text Sehun my idea and agree to meet him in ten minutes on the ninth floor. We'll have to shop for Suzume's gift next time in another area. As I'm heading back up and climbing the escalators, I happen to bump into Haneul. I kind of want to ignore her, yet she spots me first and waves.

"What a pleasant surprise," she remarks before glancing at my shopping bags. "Doing some Christmas shopping?"

"Yes, and you?" I ask.

"I don't plan on celebrating this Christmas," she mutters.

"Why is that?" I question. "Aren't you going to celebrate with Yeonjun?"

Haneul laughs at me as if I've made a silly remark, and maybe I have. "You really like Yeonjun huh?" she retorts. Since I don't answer her, she continues to add, "That's good. He'll be in good hands then. I have nothing to worry about now." Unexpectedly, she inches close to me and places her hand on my shoulder. Giving me a few soft pats, she instructs, "Take care of him, okay? Can you promise me that?" 

"But why are you . . ." My question halts once I see her sentimental, yet sad smile. I can't seem to stand watching her be upset, so I agree without thinking, "Okay. I promise you."

"Thank you," she gently notes before exhaling a breath. "You've really taken the weight off of my shoulders."

"But . . . don't you love Yeonjun, and aren't you marrying him, so why are you even asking me to--"

"Yeonjun . . . is . . . indeed . . . very dear to me," she explains. "That's why I'm doing him a favour and setting him free." 

Before I can ask her anything, she excuses herself, saying that she needs to meet with someone for dinner. As I watch her leave, I can't help but wonder why she wants me to look after Yeonjun. It just doesn't make sense to me at all. If Yeonjun means so much to her, then why is she even setting him free? Why is that even a favour?

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

"Hello?" I pick up my phone to answer.

"Leia. Where are you? I can't seem to find you on this floor . . ." Sehun says.

"Oh. Oh my gosh! I'm so sorry," I utter. "I bumped into a . . . friend, so we sort of chatted."

"Oh so what floor are you on right now? I can come down or go up."

"I'll just go up instead."

"All right."

When I hang up the phone, I just can't shrug what Haneul said to me off of my mind. 

Take care of him, okay? Can you promise me that?

I get this bad feeling all of a sudden. I'm starting to think that this holiday season might not be so jolly after all.
 
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