Fandom(s): brown eyed girls/after school ; ga-in/uee
Final Wordcount: 12,560
Summary: in a world controlled by the large company called the capitale, a world where everything from who you'll marry to when you die, yujin is matched up with a boy named son insu, and soon realizes the deep secret that lies underneath.
“You’re almost seventeen, right?” Jinah asks, fingers drumming my thigh as we head to school. I nod, looking out into the spring air. April had just begun, and soon, I would be crowned a seventeen-year-old, which, to some, was the most important time of anyone’s life.
I smile, biting down on her lip, sucking the very life out of it, as I try to keep my vision ahead. Jinah was already seventeen, the ring on her finger was enough—she was already married to a nice guy named Seungho, and they seemed to be enjoying their lives together. She would be finishing school in June, and then they’d be off to the ‘selection ceremony’, which chose your job for you.
We lived a life without choice. Everything these days was about procreation and population. Pairs were paired up to make sure that their children would grow up to be strong and healthy, regardless of whether or not the two people knew each other in real life—or if they liked each other. You could choose to be alone, of course, or they would force you to be alone in some cases, but no one wanted to be alone.
Not in the world where the most important days of your life was on your seventeenth year, when the couples were chosen, and the eighteenth year, when you job was chosen. And everything flowed like that until you were eighty years old, where you were killed silently around your family.
I looked out the window of the bus we rode on each day, trying to keep my attention from the meddlesome thoughts that rose and fell in my head like crashing waves. I was excited to find out who was her future lover, of course—but at the same time, I half-wished that I could have been chosen to be single. But I was strong, like my parents, and I would be having pretty and healthy children.
“He’ll be so handsome,” Jinah comments, taking my hand into her own, “Each year; the boys seem to become more handsome than the last. And for someone as beautiful as you, they need to choose someone hot.” I break out in a smile, and the almost-silent bus erupts in our laughter.
Jinah and I have lived on the same street for our whole lives, and maybe that’s the reason why we are so close. She lived across the street, and when my family were moved here, she was the first person to really introduce me to everything and help me settle in and find a good group of friends. Since we’ve taken the same bus to school for at least seven years of their lives, we have grown very close. I find it a relief, because Jinah has already experienced all the things I have to go through.
“Unnie,” I say, dragging out the syllable, “What if my husband is really ugly?” Of course, that isn’t the main point of it—I have learned from the stories of the Old Society that looks are nothing, and beauty and looks can result to obsessions, murder, and people actually following their idols.
Jinah shrugs, pressing the button that signals the bus driver to stop at the next stop. The bus lurches to a stop, and we get off the bus. She turns around, blond hair flying as she does so, and smiles, signaling for me to come quickly. I do, and smile as Jinah drapes an arm over my shoulder.
“You’ll do fine, Yujin-ah,” Jinah says, looking up at the sky and admiring its cloudless face. “There has always been luck on your side, fair one.” I cringe at the word ‘luck’—it’s the word of the foolish, a word that was only really used in the Old Society times, where people actually believed more in feelings in their intestines than statistics and logic, which in the end, might have resulted in their emotion-driven attitudes at life.
“You speak too quickly, Jinah-unnie,” I advise as we walk up the steps to our school, and Jinah shrugs, parting and heading for the fourth year classrooms whilst I take slow steps to my own class.
“You’re beautiful,” Cheolyong admits, looking over me, with my purple dress. We have been next-door neighbours since forever, and our parents have been friends since the beginning, so even if I hate it sometimes, I have seen him a lot more often than I would have maybe liked. We sit awkwardly on the plastic chairs of the train, as it brings us closer and closer to City Hall, where we will enjoy the Match banquet, and the end, find out who we will end up being with for the rest of their lives.
I shiver as the air conditioning is bumped up even more, and I rub my sleeveless arms. All the dresses didn’t come with shawls or sleeves and I want to ask who designed them like this, especially in June, when everyone would be using the air conditioning to the maximum. The warming of the Old Society had dropped down significantly since the new rule, but still, it was still way too hot for many people without some kind of fan.
“And you’re very handsome.” It’s Cheolyong’s time to roll his eyes as he lays back into the chair, playing with the cuffs on his suit. Unlike the girls, who got to pick out the colour that they would wear for the night, he wears plain black and white, and I’m reminded of those old-fashion films that I had seen back with my grandmother.
“I wasn’t kidding, though,” he admits, reaching out and touching the soft silk of my dress, “You really do look beautiful. I’m envious for the man that shows up on your screen tonight.” I roll my eyes and return to looking out the window. I hear Cheolyong sigh, and without looking, I reach down and link our fingers together.
Just like I had done when we were younger, and he had been afraid of going into the pool. He kept on jumping from foot to foot, looking at the chlorine blue water and biting down on his lip. “Come on, it will be fun!” Cheolyong shook his head back and forth.
“How can something like that be fun?” I had rolled my eyes, crossing my arms sternly against my chest.
“It’s nice and cool in the water, not hot like it is out here,” I explain, “And you feel like you’re flying once you go underwater!” Cheolyong took a step back, and I brushed some hair from my eyes, grabbing his hand and pulling him closer. “If you go in, I’ll give you a kiss.”
Cheolyong’s eyes light up with unanswered questions, and without any more questioning, he jumps in with me. I had hated kissing him, but it was a small peck, right before Cheolyong’s parents came out from my house and told him that it was time for him to go home, but he would be back the next day.
Cheolyong seems to remember this memory, too, because his eyes soften. Like when I had coaxed him and made him feel at ease when they were younger, he does the same now, relieving any of the stress and nervousness that comes out that night, as they ride closer and closer to their fates.
Cheolyong held my hand tight as we walked up the marble steps to the City Hall. It was a flurry of blacks, whites, purples, pinks, yellows, blues and greens as the teenagers of our city rushed up, eager to find out who would be their Match. It wasn’t much; they only got a silver box that told them their personal information and a picture, but it was still enough to have so many hearts fluttering. The group divided at the fork in the road—the boys going one way, and the girls went one way, and we stood their awkwardly.
“I’ll see you on the other side,” he promised, “And then we have to squeal about our matches on our way home.” He winks, like that’s supposed to help me, and joins the crowd of black and white tuxedos and suits, and in time, I join my line too.
I sit down in a table with a few girls with my same last name. In this city, there are only a few last names. We don’t all come from the same families, of course, but according to the studies by the Capitale, if people have the same last name, they are able to connect easier. There are about four Kim tables filled with girls and their families, and I sit down beside my mother and another girl. My mother’s hand feels nice and warm and clutch to it as much as I can.
“Welcome, everyone, to the 76th official Matching Ceremony! This year, we hope only the best for everyone, and that everyone is happy. Strong, long and lasting lives for all!” The emcee says, and everyone repeats the last line. It was issued by the Capitale years ago, and it has just stuck. That is what the Capitale does for us. They give us strong and long lasting lives in exchange for silence and loyalty.
She smiles down at us, her pink lip gloss shining underneath the lights. She must be someone from the Capitale, I think—no one in our city is that glamorous. She wears a coat that looks like ice or maybe diamonds and I spend minutes just looking at it instead of listening to the rules and regulations. It doesn’t matter—I read over them before I left.
The names get read off, and someone appears on the screen. There is cheering and a man in black walks over to one of the guys that stands up in the room and hands him his box, containing all he will ever need to know about his match. He smiles, there is another round of applause, before another name is read off, and the matching continues.
“Kim Yujin,” she calls, and I stand up. I look at the screen bravely. I don’t know who will appear on the screen, they may be from someplace completely different to where I am standing right now, but my complete body is shivering. I’m dying to know who I will be spending the rest of my life with. I’m tempted to bite my nails, but my mother is standing right behind me, and I need to be ladylike to impress the man that will appear on my screen.
“Son Insu from the sixth province,” she says, and his face flies up onto the screen.
I have never seen a man more beautiful than the one that stood before me. He had short, uneven black hair, small eyes, and a small frame. He looked a little short but maybe I was just really tall. His tuxedo showed off his strong, reliable muscles and I wished that I could see the ripple in his arms.
We stared at each other for a while, before Insu smiled, cocking his head to the side and waving. “Hello, Yujin-ah~” he chirped. The crowd erupted in gasps—no matches really talked to each other—but I somehow ended up waving back to him. He seemed to smile even more, before the screen faded to black, and I was forced to sit back down.
I hold the silver box in my hands, itching to open it. My mom smiles, touching my forearm, and I smile back.
“Good job, honey,” she says, and I smile.
I can’t wait to see Insu.
Saturday rolls in and I spend my free time with my friends at the games room. Anyone and everyone is chattering about their matches, squealing about how perfect they are or their hobbies, or anything else they have found that makes them a match made in heaven.
Cheolyong’s partner, a girl named Jiyeon from the faming outlands of the province, wasn’t on his lips, though. He listened as everyone talked about their couples with a small smile on his face. When I had seen him stand up last night, his face was filled with something that I had never seen before. He still had that look on his face, still, after a full night. Was he truly in love with her already?
I just could only hope the best for both of them.
“What is your partner like, Cheolyong-ah?” Jinah asked. Even if she had been working all day, in and out and in and out as a nurse for the main hospital downtown, she seemed as bright as ever. She had received the work position a few days ago, and soon, she would be stopping school. It was almost depressing; I wanted her to stay just a little bit longer.
“She’s perfect,” Cheolyong replies, setting his chin on his hand, “Jiyeon is just the life that I have been looking for. It’s nice to see someone that is so close to me. When I saw her on the screen, I knew that the Matching Committee had done well. They knew me well enough to pair me up with someone as gorgeous as her.”
The rest of the group giggles, and I smile, grabbing onto his hand. “How about we play a game, together? Strategy, perhaps?” Cheolyong laughs—both he and I know that he sucks at these kinds of games but he will always humor me—and tightens the grip in my hand, pulling me towards the tables and sitting me down at the table.
I look at the pieces on the board and smirk. Long ago, with the Old People, they used to play a game called ‘chess’, in which the players tried to overtake and conquer someone else’s side of the board and eventually kill their king. The Capitale had decided that this game was too violent for us to play, but they agreed that the strategic plays in the game would help in choosing our careers. It was a softened version of chess, but still difficult to a new player.
I move my first piece. This one is worth less and so therefore, I am fine with him killing it off with his piece that is worth the same value. I don’t enjoy killing off my pieces, but my Grandmother, when she taught this game to me when I was younger, told me that if you go through just a little bit of sacrifice, you can get what you really want in the end.
Cheolyong looked up as I had lost my player of five points. It was a strategic move, though, but he is way too flabbergasted by my loss to even look down on the board and realize how powerful I am now, even if I had just lost a player of importance. With a matching smirk, I lift my most powerful player, who the Old People called the queen, and moves her right in front of the ‘king’, knocking him down.
“Wha-” Cheolyong mumbles, looking up to watch me. His expression is adorable, so I hit his cheek and smile just a little, standing up from the table and extending my hand. He pouts, just a little, and I wish that I could just wipe that little pout from his lips.
“Yujin,” Cheolyong says as we walk home from the games room, his hands in his work clothes, watching the sky. Before, according to my Grandmother, there was so much artificial light that people couldn’t even see the stars at night because of how they overpowered the beautiful stars. I always thought that that was stupid—the stars were bright and majestic, compared to the blindness of light bulbs.
“Yeah?” I reply. The informal language is not supported by the Capitale, but we are so close these days that it feels wrong to use it when we’re alone, together like this. Plus, he had a nasty habit of squeaking his voice when he says miss, so I have eventually gotten past the informal speech just so that I won’t have to deal with his squeaky voice.
I turn to him. His eyes twinkle like the stars, and I realize that this was the thing I loved the most about him. You could figure out his whole life story just by looking into his eyes. He showed everything he felt in them, and that was surprisingly appreciated. Everyone, like the Officials that marched through the town with their guns and sticks, demanding personal information and complete loyalty, were serious and iron cold. Cheolyong was open and free.
“What would it have been like, if, you know, we weren’t matched up? Do you think, that you and I, could have been together or something?” His words are slow, as if he is trying to make sure that the words are perfect. I laugh at his awkwardness, and how he holds his hands, like when he was doing oral presentations in front of the class back when we were younger.
I stop in my tracks and watch him. He is handsome. I had always thought that he would become a handsome man when he got older, but his boyish charm still exists in his protective gaze. Even if I like to think that I was protecting him, that I was the stronger one, the way that he looks at me now makes me doubt my earlier thoughts.
“Like, if we could have dated? Married?” I ask.
Everyone was allowed to have crushes and admirations. Kids were allowed to give innocent kisses like it wasn’t important, because eventually, we would be paired up with someone. We would be given someone that, according to your statistics, was perfect for you. You could play around, sure, but any crushes or foolish dreams should be swept away immediately, because they could just lead to heartbreak or disappointment.
Cheolyong nods and I watch as he bites down on his lip. “I’ve liked you for a very long time, Yujin. I didn’t want to really say anything because I knew that it was impossible. But when I was matched with Jiyeon, I realized why I liked her so much. She’s just like you, just a little bit more outspoken. They matched me up with someone like you because they knew that we would have been perfect for each other personality wise.”
But Insu isn’t like Cheolyong at all. I want to say this. But I keep my mouth shut because I know that Cheolyong is going through a lot at this moment. I scan my eyes across his body. If we hadn’t been matched, could we have been a couple? I could see the unfairness in his eyes as he looked at me, before he broke out into a smile.
“Could you, perhaps, humour me by giving me just a short kiss?” He’s twisting the bottom of his shirt now, like a little child, and I’m tempted to slap his hands away, because the action is slowly driving me insane.
I lean in and give him a small peck on his lips. He wants to do more, I can feel it in the eagerness of his hands, but the siren sounds, signalling for us to get home. His eyes are wide with want but all I can do is mouth a sorry and run back home, my lips burning with intensity.
Work is work.
Sunday is spent on working, so I make sure that I take the earliest train to get there on time. I’m usually not late, but there is always something that might happen—there is always room for error. I sit down on my chair beside thousands of other people, absent-mindedly watching everything that happens around me whilst my computer starts up here.
To some, we are called the back-up. Because that is our job, to make sure that everything is working extremely well. If the computers shut down, we are still working, making sure that everything is working. We are still here. And that is why we are so important. We sort codes and find patterns, and keep the patterns that are important.
I sign into the computer and smile when they greet me, welcoming me back to work. The only sounds are the clicks of mice and the tapping on the keyboard. Everyone is caring about what they are doing, and not what is around them. I like this feeling. You could maybe run down the hallways, but no one would notice you, because they are working hard. This is a nice environment, compared to the living hell that Jinah must go through.
I breathe out a sigh and start the sorting program. I must start finding the patterns and the signs early, or all will fall apart. I push everything from my mind and start sorting, weaving my way through the codes and picking out the bad ones. I wipe everything my mind and just work.
“I’m sure that you’re going to be in some sort of matching when you get picked,” a girl from work, Jooyeon, comments. I give her a small smile and she nods, heading off to a different train stop. I wait patiently for mine to arrive. The sun is setting behind me, and hopefully my food won’t arrive before I get home. I like my food hot and recently, it’s been the perfect temperature.
“Hey! Yujin-ah!” I turn around and find Jinah waving at me, rushing to the train stop. I grab her hand when she arrives. Her hands feel sickly and cold, so I hope that by holding them, I’m able to heat them up. She smiles, thanking me for heating them up, and we watch the sunset together as we wait.
“How was work today, miss?” I ask. Working at the hospital seems to tire her out pretty quickly, mainly because she’s at the bottom and she has to work a lot to get to the top. She has heard rumors that Seungho, her match, will be coming to work as an Official in the town, which is amazing for the both of them, which also adds to the stress.
“Tiresome, as usual. Doctor Cho keeps on pointing out my mistakes! If he wasn’t so hunky I would have punched his face by now,” Jinah replies, pouting adorably. I remember, back when she was at school, when she would unintentionally get many of the boys in her class and the younger classes to fall in love with her—even if she had always flirted with the seniors, and sometimes the teachers. She was an interesting girl, to say the least.
“Do you know when Seungho is coming?” I ask, trying my best to lighten the mood. When she had been matched up, she couldn’t stop talking about him. It made me ten times more excited to learn who would be my partner. And Insu had lived up to expectations. He was perfect.
“Yeah, on Tuesday. He sent me an airmail yesterday telling me everything about it. He’s been chosen as an Official, and we’ll be getting a house closer to the downtown, now, because of it. I don’t know when, but the Capitale has asked me to start packing just in case,” she answers, and I can hear the sadness in her voice.
“I don’t want you to leave, miss,” I say, “I don’t want you to move away… We have been together for so long already; I don’t want you to have to go someplace else simply because the Capitale thinks that it will be better for you. You’re still eighteen! Does this mean that you will be having kids soon or something?” My eyes swell up and I feel like crying, but Jinah pats my back, soothing me.
“That makes two of us.”
The train arrives.
School comes way too quickly and I wonder where my weekend went. The train feels empty without my riding buddy, so I sit beside a girl named Jiyoung, a senior who used to go to the same school as us, before getting picked as a helper at the music stage further downtown because of her passion for music. She’s beautiful, and her husband, Yoochun, is a perfect fit for her, it seems, the way they present themselves is very similar for the both of them.
I have to get off first because she’s headed further in, so I wave goodbye before stepping off the train stop. It’s a bit early to be going to class, some kids are still doing their recreation hours but mine were completed in the winter, so I’m lucky to have fewer things to do in the morning. My clock wakes me up at a certain time, just to make sure that I get to school at an appropriate time, but the things that I do between those hours are completely up to me.
I settle down in the cafeteria, which is empty around this time, and open up my scribe. There are assignments from the age of four to now—things that I have gotten good marks at, and things that I have needed to work on. I open up a new document and title it ‘private’, before starting to type up.
I write exactly what I know about Insu. I’m nervously excited for tonight, when he will send me airmail. And then, I, in turn, will reply to him with a great letter expressing my utter delight to be paired up, to be matched, with someone as talented as he is. At first, I wondered if they had such devices in the sixth province, but I reminded myself that the Capitale would do anything to keep a strong Match.
I know that he is from the sixth province. He has three best friends—all girls, weirdly enough—two named Hyojin and one named Mihye, and he has a rough life and has a dark personality. Insu hates swimming but loves sprinting and jumping. He takes risks. To anyone, this would sound like someone that comes from the sixth province, but to me, he is a completely different person, and he is completely different from everyone else. I smile, doodling him a little knowing that I can never do him justice.
I hope his eyes are pretty.
“Your airmail arrived today,” my mother says as I return from school. I smile proudly, thanking her and walking into the living room. I wish that I could close the door, so that I could have all my secrets here and I wouldn’t have the chance of my mother seeing it. Anyone seeing it. I knew that being selfish was the last thing anyone wanted me to do, but even the mentioning of Insu’s name made my heart flutter just a tad.
“Open,” I order. The letter opens and I read it quickly. It’s just a sentence, just a simple sentence, and I have to read it over again and again, making sure that there are no secret codes or anything. Where are the lovey-dovey words? Where are the comments that I am the only one for him, or that he’s super excited, as am I? I have nothing to reply back to this, except maybe ‘ok’, and I stare blankly at it for a second.
Was this just it?
We need to talk, it reads, and with every word, my heart breaks just a little. We need to talk, seriously? Why couldn’t we talk by airmail? It was safe—the Capitale made sure that it was safe and that there were no viruses or others reading it. Did he want to meet me face-to-face? Even if that made me a little excited, I wanted more of an explanation than just that.
I pull out a chair and start typing back. I don’t care if this was supposed to be secretive or whatever the hell he was trying to keep ‘a secret’, I’m angry. This is our first words together since the hellos, and I want to know more about him, by his own words, not just by the words that the Capitale gives me. He’s an interesting character, a puzzle, and we are supposed to fit together.
If you mean that we must talk face-to-face, I have no way to transport to the sixth province, therefore you must come here to meet me and have this chat. I’m sorry if this is an inconvenience for you, but I have things to do, I am a busy person, and I don’t have time for this secretive stuff that you are trying to pull off. I want to be your Match; we are Matched, so we should lose the secrets and the lies as soon as possible, which is understandable, yes?
I close the screen and lie back into my chair. Something that was supposed to be happy and heartfelt has now turned to acid. I pull myself up from my seat and walk into the kitchen, my head as low as my aspirations.
“You should go outside,” my mother suggests, “Or go find Jinah. Today is her last day, supposedly, in the borough.”
“I don’t want to,” I bite back, walking down the stairs into the basement. I find my exercise clothes, and find the treadmill, slipping on my running shoes and standing on the exercising machine, watching the dials. I attach the devices that track my heart rate and breathing rate, breathing in slowly and then back out, before starting the machine and starting to run my heart out.
Maybe that will make me forget my expectations, I think, as my feet hit the treadmill again and again, my arms swinging back and forth as I punch the air, wishing that it was that sentence. We need to talk.
I meet him eventually, and unfortunately, he’s exactly what I would have wanted in a man. His jet black hair shone underneath the lamp lights as he stepped off of the train and walked over to me, who hugging myself, having chosen a terrible choice of clothing just to create a good first impression. Dumbly, I had followed Jinah’s advice and had chosen something skimpy when the forecast had called for rain. I looked stupid under Insu’s eyes.
“You look beautiful,” he says, running his warm hands up my arms. His smile is warm and it feels good to be at the receiving end of it. It feels like some type of dream, him being right here, warming me up as I turn into some sort of mess in front of him. Insu looks ten times better than on a screen, flashing all his likes. I should know everything about him, just like he should know everything about me, but no words seem to come to my lips.
So all I do is giggle. “I’m not, I’m foolish. Can we try to get out of the rain as soon as possible?” I ask and Insu nods. He laces our fingers together and I shiver—his hands are small, feminine, and feel oddly fragile. My hands feel brutish compared to his, and I wish to draw back, but his fingernails seem to dig into the back of my hand. It doesn’t hurt, no, it feels oddly calming, but the sensation is new compared to the softness and kindness I had dealt with all through my life.
“How was your trip? It is a very long way from here. I bet you’re pretty tired,” I say to start up conversation. I’m usually not surrounded by people that don’t talk much—Cheolyong is chatty whenever we aren’t alone, and Jinah has a mouth for the both of us. It feels awkward. Sure, there is that wonderful, undeniable attraction that probably had us paired up in the first place. But what if we don’t actually ‘click’? What if we can’t talk for hours, like my parents can?
Insu shakes his head, “I’ve gone on longer trips. I slept most of the way, of course. There were a lot of officers here, though. They kept on looking at me. I presume you know about the people from my province.” I nod, gripping his hand tighter.
The sixth province is known for being brutish and filled with outlaws. Because they are closest to the border with the Winternorth countries, they are filled with illegal immigrants, just like the Summersouth countries of the south. Unfortunately, the Winternorth immigrants have a tendency to steal whatever they need from us, and then disappear back to their country. With all this theft, a lot of money is spent to try to create better division systems between the two countries, but it hasn’t worked out that well.
I look at Insu, cocking my head to the side. He does have that paled skin that I remember seeing in the textbooks, with pictures of tribal men wearing fur and the caption, ‘Winternorth men.’ That is realistically the only thing that defines a Winternorth’s outer appearance, because of the multiculturalism that used to thrive before the downfall of the structure. His eyes seem different, too, but they are certainly not the kind that I would see on a Winternorth.
I don’t ask because really, I don’t want to know.
“I doubt that they would care about someone native to the province, right? It’s only the thieves that they should be caring about. If you were on the Matching list, then you should be.” Insu smiles, moving his hand from my hands to my shoulder, bringing me into his chest.
I pat his arm that drapes over my arm. I know that one the code of conduct that public displays of affection are ok, just if they’re done in moderation, but the imprint he leaves is so foreign. Jinah’s arm is heavy and Cheolyong doesn’t like touching that much—Insu’s arm is light, like an angel’s wing. “I’m sorry that we have to take the bus home. My mother had wanted to pick us up, but she was very busy this afternoon.”
Insu smiles, “That’s totally fine. That means I’ll be close to you.” I blush by habit. The compliments seem to just run off his tongue, and I’m envious. I wish I could just say whatever came to mind—and there were a lot of things that came to mind—but I was afraid that it would just end up like a string of syllables that wouldn’t work well together.
“Things are so much better here,” Insu whispered, watching in awe as the buildings melted past us as we rode past on the crowded bus. Everyone could see that he wasn’t from around here; no one had really shown any interest in the flat geography of our little province. I touched his thigh, bringing him out of his daze, surprised by the firmness of the muscle. He had looked strong when my eyes had first laid eyes on him, and his bio had outlined all of the sports he had done when he was younger, but I couldn’t help but blush.
“I would like to go to your province one day, too,” I admit, wondering how the sixth province could be so much different from our own. I wanted to see snow, too, something that had been restricted from me seeing as I was on the coast, and I was further south. I stared in awe at movies that showed snow, wishing to cup it into my hands.
Insu smiles, patting my hand with his feminine ones, “Maybe you’ll come over to my place, next time.” I cannot deny the fact that that would please me very much.
“If your family is willing to accept me for a couple of days, of course,” I reply. Insu nods, turning back to the window.
I soon realize that his family is a very touchy subject indeed. For someone who could seem so warm, he turns cold when he sees my father. My father is a naturally tall and protective man, who has worked hard since the beginning to get to where he is now. Naturally, my mother is the same way, but my father’s prejudices have been burned into his head. He’s old, now, but was born just two years after the take-over, the change, the Capitale.
Supposedly, according to my history teacher, the people that were born around this era were naturally more prejudice, because the government had still not controlled the problem of the sixth province (and many people still believed that they hadn’t just yet), and called any people that had moved from the sixth province ‘vampires’, because of their characteristically paler skin.
I could see that same look in my father’s eyes when Insu walked through the door and shook hands with him. “Son Insu, if I remember correctly. So you’re the one that is going to be stealing my daughter away from me, huh?”
“We shouldn’t be scaring him that quickly,” I counter, grabbing onto Insu’s arm, marveling the muscles that tense underneath my grip, “And he isn’t stealing me if the Capitale wants it, is it?” My father sighs and smiles, and agrees that that is probably the truth.
The boys are awkward, but I guessed that I should have expected something like that between them. I smile, watching as my mother fusses over him, like she usually does. Before we walk into the living room to settle down, my father grabs my elbow and turns me so that I’m staring at him with curiosity.
He sighs, and I can see the wrinkles in his face and the stress from the past couple of months. The government chooses your job, so there shouldn’t be any chance of someone losing their jobs, but cuts need to be made, and my father knows this. The trips to different places around the country, to many different provinces, and everyone wondered if this was some type of test, to see if he was going to lose his job soon if he didn’t match up with code.
“Some match you have there,” he comments, “You know, I probably could put in a word to get you a new one, if this one turns out to be as weird as he seems.” I roll my eyes and hit his arm. “I’m serious, Yujin-ah, I’ll do it if you ask.” I knew he would say something like that, though.
“It’s fine, dad,” I answer, “Let’s just try to open him into our family with welcoming arms, okay?”
He sighs. “Fine.”
Insu stays for the weekend before he has to leave back for the sixth province.
The dinner at home is awkward with my father’s intense glare and my mother’s soft worrying over him. I try to make up for it by taking him out on a walk before curfew, and we walk, hand in hand, down the street and back. His pale skin glimmers under the streetlights, and I blush whenever he turns down and smiles at me. Something with his eyes makes me feel like he’s only looking at me and my heart skips. My health monitor asks if something is wrong and he laughs into the air when I grow redder.
“Yujin-ah, you’re so adorable,” he says, wrapping his arm around my own. I squirm self-consciously, so he adds, “And I really like that.”
The sun has set by now, and nighttime covers us with its cold blanket. Time moves slowly, but summer is coming up soon, and that means more time off, more time with Insu, and I imagine spending weeks on end at his place if parents allow it, or spending days doing summery activities in the third province, where there are mountains and we could go hiking. My hands shake with anticipation.
“You said we needed to talk,” I remind him. I know that it was a bit early to be bringing up such things, but I was curious. My family had noticed how angered I was the night of the letter. At the time, I had thought that I had the right to. I still, in the back of my mind somewhere, believed that.
“You’re in an athletic high school, correct?”
“Pardon?” I ask, completely startled by the question itself. He repeats himself, a small smirk on his lips. I slowly realize how much of a melting pot that smile can be.
“Yeah,” I respond, my eyes wide with curiosity. He digs his hands into his jean pockets and smiles.
“Are you a fast runner, then?” Insu asks, brushing his short, black hair from his piercing eyes. I nod. He smiles to himself, like he’s thinking of a joke between him and someone else, and I watch as he takes a step towards me. He pokes my sides, his girly fingers digging into my sides, before running away as fast as he can.
“Yah!” I scream, pumping my fists as fast as I possibly can, trying my best to catch him. He ends up tripping up in the road, and I grab onto his arm, flipping him around to catch a wide smile on his face. He pulls me into a hug, and I accept willingly, the aftershocks leaving my body through my fingertips. We’re laughing until the curfew bell rings and we’re forced to walk back home.
“I hope that my father isn’t that bad,” I mumble, heading up the porch steps, “I hope you don’t feel like leaving or whatever because of his domineering presence.”
Insu shrugs, “I’ve dealt with worse, I can promise you that.” I don’t ask him about the full truth on that statement.
I grab onto the doorknob, ready to walk through the door, when Insu grabs my wrist and pulls me around again.
“Where’s my goodnight kiss?” he asks, and before I can reply, he presses his lips against mine.
They’re so soft.
The second day he’s here, I bring him to the only big green space in town, the middle of our little brook where families like to sit a chat, or kids like to run around and dare to scoop pennies and dimes out from the fountains that decorate the gray and white pathways. It’s peaceful, very peaceful, with the sounds of nature, from the grass crackling underneath footsteps to the soft trickling of water.
“Why did you bring me here?” Insu asks. His pale skin shines in the summer’s light, his dark hair shining underneath the sun that leaks between the trees. He looks uncomfortable, out in the open like this, covered only by the trees, his eyes darting around to see if anyone is watching. I wish to reach out to him, to grab his hand and promise that everything will be alright; but it isn’t nighttime and people can see.
I shrug, the corners of my lips turning up a little. “I just thought that you would prefer it here than stuffed up with my father. You’re leaving tomorrow, right? I wanted to show you as much of our town as possible before you had to leave… I’m sorry, we can go back if you really want to…”
I start to turn back around when he grabs onto my wrist and flips me back around, a bright smile on his lips. I hadn’t noticed how pretty his teeth were until this moment, when I see the bright contrast, and I wonder, yet again, if there is anything at all that makes him imperfect. From what I have seen, it doesn’t seem to be like it.
“No, Yujin-ah, I really like it here,” he says, sliding his fingers down from my wrist to my hand, and we hold them together, my lips pulling into a wider smile. I feel foolish suddenly and keep my head down, my cheeks turning a tint of red. “Yujin-ah?” he asks.
I don’t look up, but soon, I feel the softness of his fingers brushing against my chin, and he pulls my head up. The memory of last night’s kiss runs past my eyes like a movie; it was spectacular, that was the truth. Insu leans in, so close that I’m sure that our noses are brushing in, and turns his head just a little bit, so that our lips can mesh beautifully. My free hand rises up and goes to his neck, my fingernails barely scraping the skin, before I put my hand down flat onto his neck.
He pecks me on the cheek before we pull away, and I wish that he didn’t have to leave for tomorrow. He swings back on his heels, his hands finding home in his pockets. Insu raises his eyebrow and cocks his head to the side, and we continue our walk through the park. Sometimes, when we’re walking, my hand brushes his arms, and I blush. I know he’s noticing because each time this happens, a small chuckle leaves his lips.
The next morning I stand on the platform with my father and Insu, waiting for the train to come and whisk him away, back to the sixth province. We all look a bit stupid, but at least I am not wearing something skimpy—the clothing is appropriate and I’m thankful for the second day of sunshine that has been brought upon us. He still wears a coat, though, ready for the harsh winter that will meet him when he steps out of the train, back home.
I stand way too close to him, and my father keeps his distance, thank god. I smile awkwardly, leaning back and forth on my toes. My curiosity has never been one of my pros, and I think of this fact now. This whole weekend, I had been wondering, waiting for when Insu would eventually tell me what it was exactly that he was so desperate to tell me at first, and then so casual to talk about, now. There were many occasions that I had almost shaken it out of him, before remembering normal interactions between matches. Matches didn’t fight.
“So,” I say, pulling the word apart and letting it roll of my tongue. His smile appears again, and I seriously wish that I could wipe that grin off of his face—but I love it way too much to really hit him that hard for it. He cocks his head to the side and I roll my eyes, pushing his shoulder just a little bit, to prove some sort of point (that point, I’m still not that sure about, of course). “Come on, just tell me!” I pout, and that seems to work.
He looks up, to see that the train has appeared, fading into view from the distance. He grabs my wrist, kisses my cheek, and puts his lips right next to my ear. “I’m a girl. Son Ga-in.”
My eyes widen and my world breaks in two. Before I can do anything, that smirk has mounted the train and is about to disappear to better places. And unfortunately, I don’t have a ticket.
My match was a girl. I had a trouble believing that that was the truth, to be honest. The Capitale made sure that everyone was paired up accordingly, and that nature supported it. Why did they pair me up with a girl, then? Insu. Ga-in. Boy. Girl. There was such a big difference, but why was I the only one that really knew the difference between Son Insu and Son Ga-in, now. Ga-in made a pretty believable boy. She looked, acted, and even felt like a boy. I didn’t get it.
Suddenly the fact jumped to my head. Her hands were far too small, far too feminine to ever belong to a man. That had jumped to my attention when we first held hands, and then every time afterwards. I had always, always, considered them as a red flag, but had quickly pushed it aside. This was the Capitale. The Capitale was supposed to be right—they were always right.
So what was wrong with this scene, then? Why did it end up being like this? Why was a matched up with a girl? This wasn’t natural. Sure, Ga-in could pass as a pretty good boy… Had the Capitale forced her to be a guy? So that she could be matched up with me, a girl, too? Was the scales tipped?
“The sixth province,” I breathed. Did it have something to do with the Winternorth people? Was something bad going on over there, something that I didn’t have the slightest clue about? Was Ga-in a Winternorth, smuggled into here by some spy or something, and forced with a male identity not to get caught?
I pressed my face down into the mattress, forcing myself to let go of all the questions that flocked around my head like birds. I just needed some rest, I told myself. When I woke up in the morning, I could easily send a letter to Insu before I went to school, just asking for some clarification. To be perfectly honest, it could have just been a little game, a joke that he was playing to make fun of me or something. I tried to laugh but nothing came out but the worry that was clogging up in my throat.
I just wanted to sleep, I told myself. I had spent all day worrying, and in the process worrying my family, who kept on giving me odd looks when I huffed all around the house, not sure how to spend the rest of my Sunday. They suggested going for a walk, or calling up with Jinah, all suggestions that I politely turned down.
I didn’t want to leave the house; I wanted to call Insu and get to the bottom of this. That, unfortunately, did not seem possible. He was probably on the train, minding his own business, maybe reading a book or listening to some music, squished between others on the train. Calls weren’t possible on trains, they moved that fast.
I finally went downstairs on the training machine and started running until I felt like my lungs would explode. I closed my eyes and pretended that I was running towards the truth—but every time that I had thought that I had reached the end, there was just another corner, and I would be running for another few minutes. The machine eventually stopped and told me to go to bed.
I tried to drift off to sleep, my eyes dreaming of Insu’s (or Ga-in’s) dazzling face and features. What would it be like between us now? Would it really be the same? Would it be ok? I had a trouble believing it; even that Insu was a girl. But his hands, I told myself.
I fell asleep smiling.
“So, how was your first encounter with the third kind?” Cheolyong asks me when we’re spending our free time next Saturday playing games, mainly card games that don’t require that much attention or skill. We’ve both decided that we don’t’ feel like thinking tonight; our minds fogged with afternoons spent with our other-halves.
I had tried working over the course of the week, to keep my school marks up, but I had been unable to concentrate because of Ga-in/Insu, and so, spent most of my time wishing that Jinah was in my class, and not in who-knows-where, now. And Cheolyong had gone off to the outlands of the province to meet Jiyeon, his match, and had been approved a week to spend with her. That meant that I was left without my two best friends for the course of the week.
I laugh, “He was fine, thank you very much. It wasn’t like he was some type of mutant or anything.” He rolls his eyes, that same look I remember seeing on his face when we were younger pasted onto his lips. “I got airmail from him recently, actually. Two weeks from now, and I will be going to the sixth province, to meet him.” I wink, throwing some of my brown hair over my shoulder. Cheolyong laughs. “How was yours?”
Cheolyong sighs. “She’s fine, very fine. But she’s very self-conscious. She kept on making sure that she looked ok. I doubt I’ll ever be as comfortable with her as I am with you, Yujin.” I look down at my hand, placing a card down above the pile—beating his next card. He sets another down, as do I, before I finally speak up.
“But you’re a very comforting person, Cheolyong, I’m sure that’s why you were matched with her. I’m sure that you’ll eventually make her turn over and show her more confident side. I promise. Opposites attract, right?” I smile to try to comfort him, and he smiles back.
We finish the game, grab our coats, and walk home together.
“We are pretty comfortable together, aren’t we?” I ask, a small smirk placed upon my lips, my hands in my pockets and my eyes watching the sky above us.
“It’s to be expected from a group of kids that have been together since they were very young,” Cheolyong answers, his steps in tune with mine, and I know that he is watching the sky with me. Silence falls like the sun and we’re comforted only by each other’s footsteps.
“Jiyeon is coming next week. I would love it if you met up with her,” Cheolyong says, and I look up from the heavens to turn him and I smile whole-heartedly. I had only heard little things about Jiyeon, and had seen her face on the screen during the Matching ceremony, but she was very pretty, and everything that I had heard about her from Cheolyong, which, unfortunately, wasn’t that much, seemed to be positive.
I nodded. “Of course, I would love to meet her, too!” I draped my arm around his shoulders and punched his ribcage. “I need to know who’s stealing my Cheolyong away from me.” We laugh.
“You sound so much like your father right now, Yujin,” he points out, and I hit his side once more, until he pretends to double over in pain, and I pretend to be calling for help, until Cheolyong shushes me with his hand and we run out of the streetlights until the only sounds are our footsteps and the curfew bell.