Ten

Chapter Ten

I returned inside, welcomed by a woman who seemed to be in her sixties. Wrinkles lined in her forehead and cheeks. She wore a white shirt partnered with an overly long skirt. “Who might you be?” she inquired, the irises behind her thick glasses sternly observing me from head to toe.

“I’m Ian, I’m−“

“Ah,” she interrupted, her mouth slightly parted; her head nodding a few times. “So you were the new roommate Yeren was talking about. Wait for a second…” She left through the door beside the staircase and returned with a key in her hand.

“I heard about you,” she paused, giving me an odd look as she handed the key over to me. “But I was told that you’d come later this afternoon.”

“Sorry.” I bit the back of my lower lip. “Dad decided to come earlier than planned.”

“That’s okay but…” She smiled, revealing more wrinkles on her cheeks. “Where is your dad?”

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“He just left, he has a business meeting this evening,” I answered, and saw the immediate awareness lit her eyes.

She nodded. “Too bad, I was hoping to see another good-looking man. He must be as fine as you were when he was young,” she said and laughed to herself. I feigned a smile, wondering if she was trying to make up about how she welcomed me. I did my best not to avert my eyes but the effort was futile. Everything seemed out of place.

“Ian!” I breathed out in relief when Yeren descended from the stairs as he called out to me. She turned to him. They grinned at each other. He rushed to me and picked up two of the bags beside my legs.

I grabbed the last one with my right hand. “I can manage,” I said, trying to catch another from his hand. He veered away, passing the bag onto his other hand. Then, he held my right hand, causing me to lose my grip. He caught the last one before it fell on the ground.

“No, I can manage,” he laughingly said. He took a glance at the woman who had a puzzled look on her face. “Sorry, tita Felly but if you’ll excuse us,” he said and dashed to the stairs.

I bowed my head a bit to her before hurrying after Yeren. I didn’t know what she was thinking but I heard her cussed as I left. That said a lot about her, about the joke she cracked earlier. It was presumptuous of me but I honestly hoped not to mingle with her too much.

Yeren was waiting when I reached the second floor. “You’re so slow,” he said as he dashed into another floor. There was no urgency to follow. I slowly ascended through the stairs, repeatedly reading the number attached to the key.

“401,” I whispered to myself as I slipped it in my pocket. When it dawned on me that it was the room we’d share, my chest began to clatter, like a drumroll. I took successive deep breaths but it was hyperventilating.

Yeren met me before I reached the third floor. “What’s taking you so long? I already dropped your things in our room.” His words hung for a moment before they finally registered. The warmness on my cheeks held me in place.

“Don’t tell me you’re being shy,” he said.

I didn’t answer but I didn’t know how he took it as an answer.

“C’mon…” He grabbed my hand and pulled me as he walked on. “I never thought that you were this anxious,” he added, which made me realize the trembling of my hands.

“Yeren,” I called and pressed my grip on his hand. He stopped and looked back at me. I took a deep breath. “Sure, I’m anxious but I’m also quite excited about it.” I wasn’t sure how I looked when I tried to smile. But a sigh of relief left my mouth when he returned it and continued to drag me on.

We stopped at a door with a few boxes in front of it. I looked above and saw the same number on the key. Yeren let go of my hand and unlocked the door. He opened it and peeked at me. “Come in.”

I couldn’t be more excited as I stepped inside.

The walls were painted in a light-bluish hue with a clock ticking in the eastern wall, and a large window in the northern wall, opposite to the door. One of the two beds in the upper right corner of the room had two mattresses while the other was filled with scraps of paper, books, and other different things. Adjacent to it were two wooden closets. I turned my gaze to the other side of the room. There was a small kitchen and a circular table with four chairs in the lower corner; and another door northwest of the room.

Yeren started to pick up thick piles of papers, books, and magazines to a box he carried from the kitchen table. “I didn’t have any roommate for about an entire year. This bed remained unused so I removed the mattress and put all my things here.” He paused and glanced at me. “I wanted to clean this before you arrived but you came earlier than the time you told me.” He smiled before picking his things again. “And since you’re here, it would be great if you help out.”

“Sure.” I hurried to him but my body almost fell when I tripped in one of my bags.

“You alright?”

A burning sensation streamed to my cheeks. I looked away, took another box from the table, and sat on the floor on the other side of the bed. I couldn’t think of anything as I mindlessly put anything I grabbed onto the box. I bit the lower back of my lips, remembering what happened a few minutes ago.

“Ian,” Yeren called out.

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“Hmm…” I reluctantly replied.

“I hope you don’t mind.”

“Yeah.”

He didn’t answer and silence enveloped the room. After a while, I heard him call my name again, “Ian!”

“Hmm…”

“Nothing… I just wanna hear your voice.”

There was no way for me to see the facial expression he wore when those words escaped his mouth. I wanted to see him. His voice sounded serious enough for a joke but it seemed too nonchalant for me to take them seriously. Still, I couldn’t deny how my cheeks burned, or how my chest drum rolled. Within the quietness that pressed on us again, each tick of the clock almost sounded like a repeated scream.

“Ian,” he called again but my mind froze.

“Ian,” he repeated. My heart ached like it wanted to say something but couldn’t let it out. Words wouldn’t come out, my throat was dry.

I heard some movements from the other side. “Ian,” Yeren repeated, his voice coming from above. I lifted my gaze, he was leaning over, his hands pressed in the box he put above the bed. I raised my brows and gave him a ‘what?’ look. He grinned and I gasped. “Just wanna see you,” he said and carried the box out of the room.

I closed the box after quickly filling it up, left it, and dashed to the toilet. I stared at myself in the mirror, putting a hand on my chest. My cheeks were colored deep red, my heart pounding again. I splashed water on my face but every feeling was stronger than before. My body refused to settle down. I repeated it a few more times, convincing myself to have self-control and a counterattack. I imagined myself and planned the words but my cheeks would start to blush again before I could even say anything. I practiced some more and finally got out.

Much to my surprise, all his stuff on the bed was already gone. He stepped inside, “I finished moving them since you took so long…” He grinned mischievously. “I was wondering if you were already doing a miracle in the bathroom.”

‘Get a hold of yourself, Ian!’ my mind shouted at myself. The counterattack… The counterattack…

“Perhaps, you should realize you are such a very good fantasy material.” The words came out before I realized the weight behind them. He looked away but I couldn’t. I stared at him, his face was painted in deep red but his lips were curved into his ears. A warm feeling descended upon me, holding me where I stood. His reaction made me understand why he loved to flutter me. I loved how he tried to look away when I captured his eyes. He was revealing a part of me I never thought existed. Greed. Insatiable greed. I wanted to see all the facial expressions he could make, the things he liked and disliked, his childhood, and so much more. I wanted to know everything about him.

After a while, he grinned. Looking at it made me glow inside. He grabbed me by the hand, pulled and clasped me in his arms. He took a deep breath, sending goosebumps from my neck down to my spine. “You should also realize how charming you are. Every time I see you, I just wanna eat you up.”

“I’m not a food, you know,” I joked, trying to calm the thumping of our chests. He laughed, velvet soft. I found it very alluring.

“Hungry? I have ice cream in the fridge,” he said after letting me go.

“Sure.”

He got two cones from the fridge and threw one at me. I barely caught it with my hands. I removed the cover and peeled the paper from the top. It was strawberry flavored, with small bits of chocolate toppings. I ate… but tasted nothing. I was too distracted by the way he looked at me, how he looked as we ate and how wonderful the sparkles in his eyes were. He captured my gaze and wouldn’t let go.

After throwing the ice cream wrapper to the garbage bin beside the sink, Yeren washed his hands and put the mattress that looked relatively new in the bed. He removed the plastic sheet wrapping the mattress. I offered some help but he shook his head as he covered it with a sheet he got from the closet. He looked back, “Suit yourself.”

I nodded and unpacked my stuff, dumping all the clothes in bed. I sheepishly grinned at him and borrowed a small magazine. He agreed, a bit confused, and took one outside. My lips parted to a smile, he had a perfect size which I used to fold my clothes neatly. Of course, I felt out of place as he watched me from the other bed.

“I’ll take a stroll. Feel at home.” He slipped an umbrella beneath his bed. I heard the door open and close shortly after.

I breathed in relief. It was nice to be alone. I didn’t have to mind anyone as I folded my shirts, sorting them in colors, separating sleeveless from sleeved ones. If I found any creases, I had the chance to redo them. Slow progress yet there was fullness building inside my chest.

There was a sticky note with my name hanging in one of the dressers. After putting my clothes inside, I took a small bag of hygiene necessities to the bathroom. I stared in the mirror and it dawned on me that I was still wearing the clothes I had yesterday. I sniffed myself, wondering how I would smell when Yeren embraced me. A sigh escaped my mouth. It wasn’t bad but could be so much better.

I had a shower, washed with lemon-flavored soap. I loved the sweet citrus scent on my skin that I chose the same flavor for my shampoo. The cold stream of water pouring on my face invigorated me, my hands brushing my hair upward.

When I got out, my eyes darted to the clock that was face to face with me. Its hands read, 4:28 pm. Yeren had been out for more than three hours. I took a deep breath and dressed as fast as I could, then my back fell on his bed. I tilted sideways, pulled a pillow, and clutched it against my chest. I pulled another and pinned it between my legs. His scent lingered, holding me in place. I listened to the quiet, the ticks of the clock, and my slow breathing as I stared behind the darkness.

I heard a frying sound. It was barely perceptible but enough for me to open my eyes, and see Yeren’s back as he cooked something in the kitchen. I groggily got up, finding a blanket that fell on the floor. I picked it up and sat in a chair behind him. “What are you cooking?”

He glanced back, his arms raised, holding a spatula. “Chicken cutlet… We should celebrate since we’ll be roommates from now on.” He turned to the stove again. “Look at the fridge.”

“I don’t drink,” I blurted out after seeing a couple of beers inside.

“No worries. Lower your eyes.” My gaze laid in a few cans of soda. I took one out and drank from it.

“Hey, save that for later,” he complained, pouting.

“C’mon. Just one wouldn’t hurt.” I laughingly said, pretending to hand over the soda. “I’ll even let you have a sip.”

Everything seemed to happen in slow motion when he enthusiastically grabbed it with his free hand. My throat went dry and there was no way for me to take it back. Large droplets of sweat rolled down in my back as he raised his hand to his mouth. Then he slipped from the can…

And it was like our first kiss.

No word of any language could describe how lost I was. Even the fanciest movie effects wouldn’t be enough to recreate the photographic image of that moment that would forever be burned in my retrospection.

Yeren smiled and sipped a few more times before returning the can to me. He grabbed the strainer in the cupboard above the stove and moved out the cutlets from the pan when they turned brown. I sat again and watched his back as he fried more cutlets. As much as I wanted to offer some help, there was nothing I could do.

When he turned the fire off, the soda on my hand had cooled, the moisture had dried on my hand. I gulped it all down, straight to my throat.

We had a late dinner by eight o’clock. It was a quiet event. We were happy but neither of us attempted a conversation. I volunteered to wash the dishes as he took some beer and soda to the table.

“Are you serious about it?” I asked, wiping my hands.

He nodded laughingly. “Do I look like I’m joking?”

I stared at him with a doubtful look.

“Don’t worry. I can hold my liquor. Besides…” He grabbed a beer and offered me a soda. “I don’t plan on being drunk.”

He stared at me with a hopeful look, “Cheers?”

I grasped it and grinned, “Cheers.”

A can of soda was enough for me but three beers weren’t enough to make him drunk. I watched him as he opened another. I slowly stretched my hand to one of the beers on the table and hesitantly grabbed it. Yeren gave me a querying look.

“Trying one wouldn’t hurt,” I said, staring blankly at the opening of the can. My eyes looked at it for so long that I couldn’t even remember. When it made its way to my mouth, I found myself gulping for more. There was a bitter aftertaste but I loved the bubbly feeling in my mouth. Before I knew it, I had already emptied four cans on the table.

I was about to grab another can when Yeren seized my wrist, “That’s enough.”

I pouted, “Just one more, okay?”

He shook his head and answered a resounding no. He picked up all the remaining drinks from the table and returned them to the fridge.

“Okay,” I stomped out of the kitchen like a kid and leaped to his bed.

“C’mon,” I heard him approaching from behind and tapped my back. “Get up. Sleep on your bed.”

“No!” I stretched my arms and legs like a starfish. “This is my bed now.”

His laugh echoed in my ears, and I felt a heavy weight against my back, realizing that he was lying on me. “Get off of me,” I struggled, taking every breath I could possibly have. Still, he wouldn’t budge.

“Fine, fine, I’ll go,” I cried out.

It was such a relief when he got off. I stood up and stared on my bed, thinking of something. I had never felt so bold in my life at the time. I didn’t even have to breathe deeply nor did I have to muster all my courage. For some reason, I was dauntless tonight. I rushed to the other side of my bed and pushed it beside Yeren’s bed. He seemed surprised by the gesture.

“Now, it’s our bed,” I said as I laughingly leaped to him.

He shook his head, grinning sheepishly. “I shouldn’t have let you drink that much.”

My lips parted into a smile as I wrapped my arms around his waist. “Well, you just did,” I said before sinking into the quietness of that night.


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