10 |eight|

The world seems to stop as a pair of unfamiliar arms snake themselves around me. I can't hold back my sobs anymore. There's no point in trying. I'm lifted up and cradled in someone's arms. I can't look. If I know who's seeing me like this, my life will fall apart even more than it already has.

I hear the quiet sound of a key pad and know I'm being taken back into the worst possible situation I could ever be in. The moment I'm carried into the apartment, everything stops and all eyes fall on me. Here it is. The moment my life ends.

"What's wrong? Did she fall again?" Chan is the first to speak up. He can't be the one carrying me.

I feel whoever is carrying me shake their head. I tremble in the arms of my unknown captor. I can't open my eyes. This is a dream—a nightmare—it has to be.

"She clearly has anxiety. She was super hesitant to come over. We probably scared her." SeungMin mumbles.

"I think it's more than that." JiSung whispers as he  places me back on the couch.

It was him. He was the one who came to check on me. Of all people, I would've never imagined it would be him. He was so hesitant to touch my leg. He seemed scared he was going to hurt me again.

I do my best to shut them out. I need to calm myself down. I need to make my mind work again. I pull my knees to my chest, ensuring Taro is as close to me as he can possibly be.

Someone places their hands on my knees and begins singing softly. It's a voice I could never misplace. JiSung sings one of my favorite songs in the softest, sweetest voice possible. I can feel him tighten his grip on me as I rock back and forth. I can't breathe. Why can't I breathe?

They must be terrified. They have no idea what's going on. They probably think I'm insane. I'm mentally unstable. They wouldn't be wrong.

As time passes, my anxiety lets up and all I'm left with is regret. I just embarrassed myself in front of my favorite idol group. There is no way I'm going to be able to forgive myself for this.

Once I've composed myself enough to regain the strength in my legs, I finally attempt my escape once again. I manage to make it into the hall without any objections. I immediately begin typing the code to the apartment in before my anxiety can hit again.

I slam the door behind me and rush passed MinJi, careful to avoid stepping on MinSung. I close my bedroom door and fall down on my bed. I roll onto my back and stare up at my ceiling. What's wrong with me? Why do I have to be like this? It isn't fair.

Just once I want to have a normal day. I want to have friends and spend time with them. I want to be able to have a relationship and not have to worry about what the people around me think.

I bury my face in my pillow and wonder how I can get myself out of this mess. My mind wanders back to the pills lined up in my bathroom. They help me survive each day if I take the right dose, but if I take too many, they could end my suffering. I wouldn't have to worry about being perfect or trying to make up for my mistakes.

My phone goes off and I suddenly feel like the world around me is ending. It has to be him. It's JiSung. He's checking on me. Why? Why is he checking up on me? I don't matter. He shouldn't be wasting his time checking on me.

I hesitantly grab my phone and let out a weak sigh of relief. It's him, but not directly to me. He's in the group chat. It's probably about me, but it's less stressful when there's a good chance what I say gets lost in the dozens of other messages.

JiSung: it's hard, isn't it?

JiSung: sometimes I get nervous standing in front of you.

JiSung: it's scary.

JiSung: but it's okay, you're worth it.

I stare down at my phone. His words hit so close to home, but they aren't exactly right. Anxiety is one thing, but there's more to me than just that. I have an endless list of problems.

Me: I wish it were that simple.

Me: it's a lot harder than it looks.

I know he's watching his phone closely. He's waiting for a response because he knows I'll answer. He knows that I can't stay away despite how much I want to.

JiSung: Stays, do you remember when I took a break?

JiSung: it was really hard. I missed you.

JiSung: I learned a lot about myself though.

JiSung: I'm glad to be back. 💕

My heart drops. I remember how worried I was when he took a break. I knew what he was going through and I wanted to take all his pain and suffering away from him. I wanted to take it all for myself. I wanted him to be happy. I still want him to be happy, but it's a lot harder now that I've actually met him in person.

Me: I'm sorry.

Me: there's a lot you don't know.

I unconsciously offer up more information than I've ever done before. My arthritis is something I'm not hesitant to share about, but the things that go deeper—I tend to keep them to myself. I tend to try and lock them away and only let them out when I have no choice. However, for some reason, around them I feel a little less vulnerable. I feel safe despite my anxiety screaming for me to leave.

JiSung: I want to know more about Stay.

JiSung: let's meet again soon.

A smile crosses my face as I read his message. I know there's a chance it really has nothing to do with me, but part of me wants to believe it's meant just for me. I want him to be interested in me. No one ever is. I'm always the weird girl who talks too much about music no one cares about.

I jump as my phone goes off again, this time it's not JiSung's group chat. It's a Kakao message from the one and only—JiSung. I swallow hard as I unlock my phone and click on his message.

JiSung: I'm really sorry about earlier. I shouldn't have taken you back to the dorm, but there really wasn't anywhere else I could've taken you.

JiSung: please forgive me.

JiSung: are you doing better? Are you alright?

JiSung: you don't have to answer. I know it's stressful.

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I can't help but feel my heart sink. He acts like I don't like him. Did he really not see my phone screen? Did Chan not tell him about the photo card? Did he not notice how unbothered I was by his touch? Is everything I do around him a signal to him that I don't like him? Do I have to put my mask back on just for him to see the truth?

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