| Chapter 1 |
“…His door was open, but I sort of knocked on it anyway, just to be polite and all. I could see where he was sitting. He was sitting in a big leather chair, all wrapped up in that blanket I just told you about. He looked over at me when I knocked. “Who’s that?” he yelled. “Caulfield? Come in, boy.” He was always yelling, outside class. It got on your nerves sometimes.”
Keen eyes looking straight at you as you read through the passages of Salinger’s book from the front of the class.
A rare sight that you wouldn’t normally find on a Friday, especially when it comes to presenting a book which would be a part of their upcoming essay assignment. It pleases you to have your students giving you their rapt attention while staying on their best behaviour instead of looking like they are wishing to have been somewhere else but here, enough to have your words flowing nicely as you continue on,
“…I don’t much like to see old guys in their pajamas and bathrobes anyway. Their bumpy old chests are always showing. And their legs. Old guys’ legs, at beaches and places, always look so white and unhairy…”
You almost cringe in the middle of reading. You remember hating the nights you spent working an essay on this book many years ago. But looking at the various expressions your students are giving you now, you can already picture how exciting it would be to read their thoughts on this book or to have them talk about them on next week’s group discussion.
Except that the more you read through the bitter dialogues between the passages, pointing up some parts that you want your students to focus on in their essay, a face appears in your head to act as the main character. The familiar face that always looks daunting as he stares at you with so much disdain in his eyes it always put you in the corner, not completely sure just what to make of it. The face that welcomes you each morning when you arrive at school, and the one who is somehow always there despite the efforts you have made to avoid him.
Just then, the bell that announces the time for lunch break starts ringing through the hallways, cutting you off right before you could even finish reading through the rest of the paragraph and erasing the face in your mind to bring you back to the faces looking up at you in class. A collective sound of sighs and overly dramatic groans rumble through the classroom, distracting you from the shudder you have felt while reading with some form of normalcy. You know that your students do this just to fool around with you and you don’t even bother to hide it as you roll your eyes at your students.
“Oh, boo-hoo—I know you’re half asleep while I was reading anyway. Remember that you are still going to have to read and finish this book all weekend. Write everything you know about Holden and his ’glorious’ adventure and your personal thoughts about the book and the whole story. I expect you to drop those papers on my desk next Tuesday before class starts. No cheating. No copying from any random thesis you can find online.” This time, your students actually mean it when they let out another collective groan in a form of protest, making you shake your head and laugh at them.
“Don’t make me change the dateline to Monday morning. Now get out of here,” you chastise them with a sly smile, making at least half of them perk up and start moving faster to leave their seats.
One by one, your students begin to clear up the classroom, some of them taking their time greeting you as they pass by your desk with a simple, “See you Monday, Miss _____,” before joining their classmates outside and start running out through the hallway.
“Have a great weekend, guys,” you call back at the last group of female students walking out the door.
At times, a few students would take a moment lingering by your desk, playfully asking about what your weekend plans would be, and you are not surprised to find that today wouldn’t be any different when the troublemaker trio from the back of the class stop by at your desk on their way out. These three boys from the basketball team have always been the ones who are the loudest and the most active ones to ask you questions during class. More often than not, Jay, the outspoken and who is most probably the flirtiest one between them, would even lean over the desk just to get a bit closer to you as he chats you up.
Just like what he is doing now as he is trying to sneakily invite you to some sort of a senior class party happening this Saturday night. “Come on, Miss _______. It’s going to be fun,” he says, waggling his eyebrows while his buddies are chuckling behind him. “We can go together. I just got a new car so I can come and pick you up. What do you say?”
If this had happened many years ago, when you were much younger and long before you had become a high school teacher, you would have felt your cheeks flushing for catching the attention of one of the popular guys at school. Just like those girls you have seen blushing and flustering each time he throws a smile at them while passing them in the hallways. But this cute boy does nothing on you today, not when you can see through his cocky bad boy act and see him for the curious teenage boy that he is. Though he stills succeeds in drawing out your cheeky side to play along with him. “Mhmm—or perhaps I should put you into detention for flirting with your teacher?”
“Maybe I don’t mind it, as long as you’re the one watching over me at the detention room, Miss _______,” Jay teases you back with a wide smile, right before one of the boys smacks him on the head and pulls him away from your desk.
“Ignore this brat, Miss _____. I think he got knocked over too many times during practice,” says his friend, Jake, as he and Heesung start pulling Jay towards the door.
Shaking your head, you merely wave at them while laughing. “Have a great weekend, boys. Don’t party too hard.”
At this point, Jay is still struggling against his friends’ strong pull at the door, shouting back at you, “I’ll be missing you the whole weekend!” before he is finally dragged away, gone from your sight, leaving you shaking your head and chuckling on your own as you are left all alone in the empty classroom.
The short, yet playful interaction you had shared with Jay had you smiling and getting your mood boosted a bit more that you decided to stay a bit longer in your classroom and get some work done. You have been feeling exhausted from the back to back classes since morning, but there are still essays and quizzes to grade and lessons to plan.
It also helps that you have a free period after the lunch break that there is no need for you to worry about missing out on lunch and not having time to rest before going through the rest of the day. Though it is not until a few minutes away from the start of the next period when you finally leave the classroom and start heading out to enjoy some free, quiet time in the break room.
Most of the students are either in the middle of heading back from the lunchroom or already packing up their books from their lockers to find their next class, crowding the halls as you walk past them, while you could only guess that most of the teachers would have already gone back to their classrooms to prepare for their next lessons by now. Which would be a pity, since you have always enjoyed those moments shared with your co-workers between your tight schedule to trade in gossips and stories while having lunch and drinking coffee. Something that you would definitely need to be able to refresh your mind a little before the next lesson starts.
This had been a long week and you have yet to be done with it. Five days in a week can feel like ten when you have so many students to teach, with piles of assignments and essays to read and grade at the end of each day. But you have been doing everything with no complaints because you love every second of it. You have kept your workflow going well ever since day one, filling your lessons with interesting reading materials and exciting discussions to prevent any students from getting bored with your class.
But things had never been this easy for you at the beginning of your journey. Despite only been a couple of years off college, it had taken you a while before finding out what you wanted to do and what to do to get them. You had gotten lost in your path during the first year out of college, when you were too focused on pleasing others and living other people’s dreams instead of chasing your own. It took you failing at being a writer, then losing a corporate job, and failing in a relationship with a man who was hard to please, before you finally knew what you wanted to do. You had always wanted to become a teacher ever since you started college and it took you getting bruised and burned to finally remember what your dream had been.
You had never believed in fate before, but there has to be a reason why the opportunity came to you at the perfect time in your life, when your best friends had called you on one faithful day to let you know that there was a job opening in the town they have been working at.
Perhaps it is just as they all said, that good things happen when you least expect them.
It didn’t take a lot of convincing on their part before you left everything behind right away. It was not easy to start over, but you managed with the support of your close friends. The six months you spent adjusting with your new life as a teacher and adjusting to living in this new town had seemed to pass by faster than you realised it would.
These past months of teaching in the local high school had been quite a blast. For the first time after a long while, you feel elated that you are doing something good, something that you love doing and had spent all those years learning, that the time you had spent here no longer matter. You had initially thought you would be teaching younger students at some point, before you realised that this is where you belong. Having the opportunity to teach in this school has been a blessing, helping you to move on from the awful things you had left behind before coming here. It had also helped when you had immediately bonded with the other teachers, making new friends right on the spot when they all had been nothing but welcoming ever since you got here.
Well, all except for one.
Still, the fact that you have developed some sort of friendship with your peers have been helpful. Especially since, even though you have your best friends living in the same town, neither of them are working at the same place as you are that you could barely find the perfect time to hang out with them each month. But that is going to change tonight, as your friends have arranged for a night out after each and one of you had been dealing with an equally busy week.
The thought of finally having some time for yourself this weekend has your mood lifted further that you nearly hop all the way to the break room. While you would miss chatting with your new bestie, Mina, the sweet and bubbly Biology teacher who had befriended you since day one, you are determined to take all the free time you could to have a bit of reprieve to get through the day and before preparing yourself to spend your Friday night with your girls.
Yet, the moment you finally arrive at the break room, something unexpected has you stopping on your tracks before you could enter. You had been expecting to find the room unattended as the next period is about to start. Obviously, you were wrong. As you are standing in the doorway, you can see another teacher at the center of the room, busying himself on the coffee machine and has yet to notice you there.
You would have welcomed his presence there excitedly if it had been any one of your friendly peers who you had been spending a lot of time with. But right there in front of your eyes is Kim Seokjin, the Math teacher, the only person who you wouldn’t be able to include in the aforementioned group of new friends. And sadly, the one who suddenly came to mind earlier to have you nearly losing focus while reading to your class.
You cannot exactly sure how it even happened.
If there is anyone in the entire school that hasn’t been quite open to welcoming you, it would be him. So obviously, it makes no sense for you to even think about him at all.
There is not much on Kim Seokjin that you have come to know about, aside from all the things that people had told you about and all the things that you have noticed on your own during your previous encounters.
Kim Seokjin is mostly known as a strict teacher at school. Stern and stoic. A bit uncompromising whether he is dealing with other teachers or his students. It has been a rare sight for you to see him laughing and being playful with others the way you or Mina would normally do with the other teachers or students at the school.
But the one thing about him that has been bothering you the most is the way he acts around you. Even on your first day, when Principal Min had introduced you to the other teachers, he was the only one who barely gave you a proper welcome while the others had been curiously trying to get to know you better. He didn’t even give you a friendly smile when you met his eyes. You have grown apprehensive around him for how hard you have found it to simply start a conversation with the man, and how you would find him looking at you despite acting cold whenever you are around. He would always watch you closely with that straight up intense look he normally gives you, making you feel vulnerable under his gaze. As if he could easily see right through you.
Perhaps it would have been easier for you to despise him or even ignore his existence if only he had looked way less attractive than he actually is. Because the man is impossibly attractive, much too good looking for his own good that you cannot help yourself but turn to look his way whenever he is around. Your eyes had never had any trouble finding him easily through the crowd most of the times that avoiding him has been quite impossible to do.
And he seems to be doing the same to you whenever you are in the close proximity. Finding you through the crowd as if he has his own radar to find you, just so he could intimidate you with his lingering gaze.
Moments continue to pass by and you suddenly realise just how ridiculous you might seem to others, standing there right outside the teachers’ break room with your jaw dropping and not being able to move. So when he still shows no sign of noticing you there, you clear your throat and muster all the courage you could find to greet him first before invading his space.
“G-good afternoon, Teacher Kim.”
Your voice draws his attention and he turns to you. You are quite surprised to find that the usual stony look that he always wears is not there when he looks at you, which confirms that he didn’t notice you coming until you finally spoke. His beautiful eyes are the ones that betray him, opening wide and failing to hide his surprise when his gaze lands on you.
Within a blink of an eye, Seokjin gathers his composure once more, instantly wearing the cool look on his face when he greets you. “Afternoon, Miss _____. A bit late for a lunch break, isn’t it?”
You give him a smile, hoping that it wouldn’t look too forced, and walk around him to get over to the coffee machine. “I have a free hour after lunch so I used my time to grade some essays while my mind was still fresh.”
He barely reacts to your answer, or to the way you are avoiding his gaze when you step aside from him. He shows no change in his expression except for giving you the usual impassive look in his eyes and his lips turning into a flat line as he hums in response. “Hmm.”
The lack of response he is giving you nearly turns you off, but only before you remember that he is not exactly a man with many words in the first place. You had rarely seen him conversing in public that much with other teachers, and when he does, he would only do it briefly when necessary. The only time you managed to strike a conversation with him, he had ended up criticising the way you have been teaching your classes, commenting on how your students are taking you and your classes too lightly because you have been too laid back on handling them.
It had put you off into multiple accounts of insecurities, before you finally found out that you were not the only one he brought down with his comments. His offhand comments had often led students confiding in you on how hard he treats them, since a couple of his classes are scheduled right before yours. With the lack of positive interactions you have had with Seokjin, you have no other choice but to see him with a lot of aversion on your side, which had later caused you to keep your distance from him even more.
“I didn’t expect to still see you here at this time,” the words suddenly come out of you before you could stop it, your mouth betraying you by voicing out your thoughts to the last person you should be saying them to.
Thankfully, Seokjin says nothing to respond to your blunder, yet he keeps his eyes on you as he raises his mug, calmly taking his drink. His gaze feels so intense that it makes you feel small when you are near him like this. Even the ivory-rimmed glasses that he is wearing could not reduce the fierceness burning from his eyes. The air in the room suddenly feels so heavy with tension as he continues to drag on this silence. And it is making you even more self-conscious as he starts running his eyes down your body.
It makes you feel uneasy that standing there feels wrong somehow. The heat of his gaze makes you shiver, your skin growing goosebumps at a few spots. You resist the urge to look down on yourself and start checking on your clothes or the way you look, just because you refuse to let him win and overpower you with his cold attitude even further. Seokjin licks his lips, dragging his tongue slowly while he takes in the sight of you wordlessly, as if deliberately perusing you with his gaze without hiding it.
“Then may I ask—” he begins to speak, while using a low tone of voice and slowly dragging his words. “What were you expecting to find?”
Just when you turn to him again, you find him towering over you. You have no idea what it is—if it is the close proximity or the way he speaks, or the way he is looking at you—but your throat suddenly feels constricted that both your voice and the words you want to give him only fail you. The only thing you can say to him is—
A smirk slowly grows on his lips, while you feel your skin blanching with dread. You hate feeling powerless, and you hate knowing that he can easily pull one on you without you knowing it. The tension lingers for a few more seconds, as he finishes his drinks without looking away. Then the sound of the bell ringing through the hallways is heard, breaking the moment you are sharing with him, and he takes a few steps back, moving away from you.
“Enjoy your break, Miss _______,” he says, as he calmly walks out of the room, the sly smirk still plastered on his face as he leaves you behind in the break room, shaking as the chilling tension continues to run down your spine.