“This is the dude who has been doing the hi-and-run thing on me,” says Yoona after Taeng tells them about Seo asking him for advice on speaking to girls.
Everyone stares first at Yoona, then at Seo. “Him?”
Yoona gives Taeng a piercing look. “You knew who it was the entire time but didn’t tell us.”
“I couldn’t. I promised not to.”
The stare dissolves into a grin. “Cos he told you not to?”
Steph grins as she throws her arm around Taeng. “Taeng’s a loyal friend.”
Yoona turns to Seo. “What’s with the hi-and-run?”
Seo blushes from his neck to the tip of his ears and makes to run away again but Sooyoung is leaning on the door. “Not again, dude. No more running away. You owe Yoona an explanation.”
“I . . .”
Taeng goes to Seo and pats his back. “Tell her. This is your chance. Come on, Seo.”
With a deep inhale that has his shoulders heaving, Seo turns to face Yoona. His eyes are on the floor, drilling holes between them.
Yoona takes a few steps forward, closing the distance between them. “So, your name is Seo?”
Seo goes from pink to apple red. “Y-Yes.”
“And why have you been running away from me?”
The apple red turns wine red. “B-Because . . .”
“Because you like me?”
Seo gasps and looks up with eyes wide open. “H-How did you know?”
Yoona smiles. “Lucky guess?”
“Lucky . . .”
There is a low sigh as the sound of a chair screeching against the floor grabs their attention. Everyone stares as the girl in a black hoodie pulls a cap over her golden blonde hair and pulls the hoodie over it. The girl is half way to the door before Taeng remembers what they’re here for.
The girl stops, two steps away from the door, and looks up into Taeng’s eyes. “What’s up?”
“We heard that you’re really good at hacking—”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about, dude.”
Taeng finds himself pushed up against the wall, a small fierce face within an inch of his.
“Who told you my name?”
Taeng’s collar is released and he breathes a sigh of relief as Sunny turns on Sooyoung instead. Fortunately, Sooyoung is prepared after seeing her attack on Taeng and stops her with a finger on her forehead.
“Let go!” she yells.
“Soolkyu . . .?”
Fury is replaced by surprise. “What? H-How?”
“Oh my God, Soolkyu. It really is you.”
“Who are you? How did you know about Soolkyu?”
“Dooyoung?” Sunny eyes Sooyoung in a different light. “You know Dooyoung?”
Sooyoung grins and sticks his hands in his pockets. “Girl, I am Dooyoung.”
Everybody else sees only question marks hovering each other’s heads. Nobody knows what Sooyoung and Sunny are talking about.
“You are Dooyoung?”
Sooyoung nods. “How else could I know you’re Soolkyu?”
“But how did you—”
Sooyoung bends and points at her nametag on her blouse. “You said your real name is similar to your in-game nick. And you’re really short. And gaming all the time. Everything is exactly as you described.”
A smile is forming on Sunny’s lips. “Very tall . . . you weren’t lying. And your in-game nick is similar to your real name too. But as for the ‘as handsome as an idol’ part . . .”
Sooyoung draws to his full height and poses like a model. “I didn’t lie about a single thing, Soolkyu.”
Steph clears her throat. “This is all very sweet and cute but either of you mind telling us what this is all about?”
Sooyoung turns to his friends with a wide grin. “Soolkyu, I mean, Sunny is my in-game wife.”
“Wife?” everyone gasps in shock.
Yoona reaches out and gives him a shove. “You have a wife and you never told me?”
“An in-game wife.”
Taeng blinks as he tries to understand what Sooyoung is saying. “Like a wife in a game?”
Sooyoung nods. “We’re married in the game we both play. It’s a proper marriage though. I was in a suit and she had her wedding gown and we got married in church.”
“In the game,” Taeng clarifies.
“Yeah. In-game. It was really cool.”
“If she’s your in-game wife, will she help us?” Yoona asks.
Sunny looks around at them. “What kind of help are we talking?”
Sooyoung explains the situation briefly and Sunny’s eyes widen at the rate of baby rabbits on steroids.
“Oh my God,” Sunny gasps after the story is told. “How would you like me to help?”
After Sunny agrees to help them, everyone goes separate ways to head home. Taeng and Steph are walking to the bus stop together, Taeng stops Steph mid-way, much to her surprise.
“What are you doing, Taeng?”
“Nothing. I just wanna tell you that no matter what happens, I will always stand on your side and support you.”
A beautiful smile appears on Steph’s face and she surprises Taeng by giving him a tight hug. “You’re a really nice guy. I’m so lucky to have a friend like you.”
Taeng shakes his head. “Steph?”
“I . . .”
“What is it?”
“I would like to ask you out on a date.”
“A date. Like dinner and a movie.”
“Taeng . . .”
“I know you think I’m inexperienced and don’t know what a crush is. But Seo told me but a crush feels like and my feelings match what he said exactly.”
A car honks at them, interrupting Steph in the middle of her speech. The door opens and out steps Ha Min and Ri Chae, smirking like they know what’s coming tomorrow. Steph grabs Taeng’s hand and turns to walk away but halts when Ha Min calls her a slut.
Taeng puts his arm around Steph and puts a foot forward to shield her from the principal’s daughter. “Don’t be rude to your classmate, Ha Min.”
Ha Min merely laughs. “Don’t be rude? What a joke. Why do I need to be polite to a slut when she treats herself like trash?”
“Ha Min, why can’t you just leave me alone?” Steph asks, her tone betraying her restrain by wavering.
Ri Chae points at Steph. “Cos she has to save Taeng from becoming trash like you. Don’t think we don’t know what you’re up to. You plan to seduce Taeng just like you seduced Yunjae, and Hanjin and Taeman.”
“I did not seduce them!”
Ha Min rolls her eyes. “Of course you’re gonna deny it with Taeng here with you. Wouldn’t want him to know what a slut you are in reality, right?”
“Yeah, you’re a slut,” Ri Chae chips in. “A slut who sells her body to the rich boys in school.”
“I. Am. Not. A. Slut.”
“If you’re not, why did you strip for Yunjae, Hanjin and Taeman? That poor boyfriend of yours quit school and left the country because you broke his heart,” Ha Min spits with venom.
“I did no such thing.”
“That’s what you say. But we have the pictures to prove it,” Ri Chae says with sickening glee. “And once Taeng sees the pictures, you can say bye-bye to your precious king.”
Steph rolls her eyes. “What king? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Ri Chae snorts with derision. “Liar. You obviously know who Taeng really is. Why else would you bother with him?”
Taeng stiffens with worry as Steph draws to her full height and says, “You’ve both gone crazy. Taeng is Taeng. He is a nice guy and a good friend. That is all.”
Ha Min nudges Ri Chae and pulls her back. “Whatever you say, slut. We’ll see what you have to say once the pictures come out.” Turning to Ri Chae, she whispers something Taeng and Steph can’t hear as they get back in their car.
Taeng is standing stiff as a totem as the car drives away. He is literally rooted to the ground in worry. How did Ha Min and Ri Chae know he is a king? Did someone tell them? Has his identify been exposed? Will he be forced to leave this school and Steph?
Steph’s yell snaps Taeng out of his thoughts. “Yes?”
“Do you know what they were talking about?”
“What is this thing about you being a king?”
“Hold up, hold up. Why are you looking at me like that? Why aren’t you answering me?”
Taeng holds his breath. What can he say? How can he get out of this situation?
“Taeng? Were they speaking the truth? Are you really a king?”
The truth will have to come out sooner or later. He would have to tell her one day. And if he wants to pursue his crush, how can he lie about his identity?
Steph’s gasp is louder than his heart pounding in his ears. “Is this a joke?”
“You’re a king.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Seriously. You’re a king?”
Taeng nods. “I am King of Jebudo. My island is very small with an even smaller population. But we have a town and a port that is fairly busy. It’s quite a nice place. Would you like to come visit?”