Their voices. The moment I step foot into the lobby, I can hear their voices. There are more of them now. Five or six. There's a single face that I can't help but stare at. My heart drops as reality sets in. I know them. I've known them all this entire time.
They're the ones who sing me to sleep. The ones who can put a smile on my face when I'm at my weakest. They're the only ones I can turn to when I feel like giving up. I close my eyes tightly and take a shaky breath. I shouldn't be around them. I should just do my best to avoid them. I don't want to start anything.
"Hey, Ari!" HyunJin chirps as he waves happily from beside the elevator.
There's no avoiding them. They're standing exactly where I need to be. Besides, he's drawn all of their attention to me now. I have no way out.
I lower my head, but take small steps toward them. I chew on my lip as I fight the urge to frantically hit my thighs. I can't look like a freak around them. I have to put my mask back on despite not wanting it to control me anymore.
"You made it back safe and sound. You didn't fall, right?" HyunJin asks playfully as he smiles brightly at me.
"No, I didn't." I can feel my hands tremble at my sides. I curl my fingers up around my sleeves.
"This is Ari, JiSung ran into her when we were walking." HyunJin nudges JiSung and chuckles.
JiSung's face is filled with terror. He's uncomfortable, almost as uncomfortable as I am. He tries to casually move himself as far from me as possible. Honestly, I don't blame him. If I could get away from myself, I would, too. It's not that easy though. I'm stuck with the mess that I am.
"I hope he didn't cause too much trouble." Chan wraps his arm around JiSung's shoulders.
"No, I'm fine." I rub at my arm and glance toward the elevator.
"Your knee." MinHo takes a step toward me, his eyes glued to my legs.
"Hm?" I mumble as I glance down to see a tear in my pants and blood.
"Stay here, I'll run up to the dorm and get something to clean you up." MinHo quickly makes his way toward the stairs. He starts up them, taking them two at a time.
"I'm fine." I try to catch him before he's too far gone, but my anxiety stops me from speaking before it's too late.
Truthfully, I hadn't noticed the pain at all. I've grown so used to my knees hurting that it just seemed normal. I would never have imagined I was actually hurt.
"He'll be back in a second." Chan reassures me as I look toward the elevator once again.
"Why don't we just take her up to the dorm? Less people will be watching then. It won't give anyone a chance to take pictures either." Felix suggests as he hits the elevator button.
"I guess it can't hurt. Do you want to wait here or do you want to go up with us?" Chan gives me an opportunity to bail, but not in the way I was hoping.
Felix isn't wrong. If people see us, they could take pictures and post them online. It'd cause more problems for me than going up to their dorm to get a bandaid would. Do I want to be alone in a small apartment with them? No. I prefer to watch them from the safety of my bedroom. I prefer hiding my existence from them, but right now I have no choice.
"Okay." I lower my head and take a step toward the elevator. I just hope it doesn't take long.
The elevator doors open and Chan motions me inside. I step inside and duck into the furthest corner. The others file in and the tiny room grows smaller and smaller. My chest grows tight and my head begins to spin, but I can't be weak in front of them. I take a shaky breath and try to keep myself grounded.
It doesn't do much. I'm tired and weak right now. I haven't slept in days. How am I supposed to appear strong and let my mask control me if I can't focus? I can feel my legs grow weak. My knees on the verge of giving out. What would they think of me if they do? Would they think I'm a freak? Would they laugh? No. No, they wouldn't. They'd try and pick me up. They aren't like other people. They're kind hearted.
"Are you okay?" The first words to fall from JiSung's mouth since I found out who he was. They're soft and quiet. So quiet that I'm not sure if I actually heard them or not.
I glance toward him. My eyes filled with fear. I can feel tears beginning to threaten my sanity. Not here. Not now.
The moment the doors creep open, a huge weight is lifted off my shoulders. The tiny cramped elevator begins to feel spacious as they all file out. Surprisingly, JiSung doesn't leave. He watches me closely—almost as if he knows something the others don't.
He hesitantly holds his arm out for me. I glance at him and take my lip between my teeth. I grab ahold of him and allow him to support me. He leads me out of the elevator just moments before the doors shut again. The others are too busy chitchatting to even notice we fell behind.
"You can go home if you want. I'll tell them someone called or something." JiSung offers me an out. He seems to know exactly how I feel.
I want to accept it. I want to take the opportunity to run away, but my legs won't let me. They're far too weak for me to go anywhere on my own right now.
"I can't." I mumble as I stare down at my feet. The pain I hadn't been feeling is finally beginning to set in. When you add in the weakness my anxiety brought about, you're left with a baby who can barely support themselves while holding onto something.
"Where do you live? I can take you if you want." JiSung questions as he looks away. He can't meet my eyes, but that's okay, I can't meet his either.
How can someone like me look the person they practically worship in the eyes when I can't even look my family in the eyes?
"What's taking you so long?" Felix asks as he stands at the door. He impatiently holds it open for us while the others mess around inside.
JiSung hesitates. He awkwardly moves beside me. He wants to let go, but he knows I need him. I use every bit of strength I have left to free him from me. I hobble into the apartment as my heart races uncontrollably.
"Here." Chan grabs my arm and guides me toward the kitchen table. He helps me into the nearest chair before kneeling down in front of me.
"Here's the first aid kit." MinHo sets the box down on the table.
"Someone go grab her some sweatpants to change into." Chan instructs as he glances over his shoulder at the others.
"Question. Who is she and why is she here?" SeungMin asks as he and JeongIn get up from the couch. They hadn't been downstairs. In their eyes, I'm a strange intruder who could be here to cause problems.
"JiSung ran into her by accident and she scraped her knee up pretty good." HyunJin steps up to explain. He glances at me then at JiSung.
"Here." JiSung places a lot of sweatpants on Chan's shoulder before turning away and slipping into a room off of the kitchen.
"Let me help you to the bathroom so you can change. I want to make sure it's not too deep of a cut." Chan explains as he helps me back onto my feet.
I don't have the right to wear JiSung's sweatpants. I don't have the right to be standing in their dorm. I should be at home. I shouldn't have left the house earlier.
Chan hands me the sweatpants and closes the door for me. I swallow hard and glance around the small bathroom. For housing eight guys, it's fairly clean. There's four of us and a baby in my house and the main bathroom rarely looks this good. I unbutton my jeans and carefully pull them down over my knee. I fold them and delicately set them on the counter before staring at JiSung's sweatpants.