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    After a bit of struggle, I finally gained my freedom. I shook my wrist lightly and picked up the spoon again, but my hair kept getting in the way of my vision. I really need to cut it. Sweeping my bothersome bangs to the side, I took a big spoonful of porridge.

    The unfamiliar sensation of constantly wanting to eat more isn’t unpleasant. I licked my lips and was about to take another bite when a shadow followed my falling hair.

    As if to prevent me from being startled, he tapped under my chin, gently scratching like a tickle, and then neatly gathered my messy hair. The sensation of his fingers scratching my scalp felt strangely nice. A shiver ran down my back, making it hard to keep my expression steady. I even became overly aware of the atmosphere in the air. Though I felt self-conscious, wondering if I was the only one overanalyzing, the awkwardness made my face flush. He was probably just trying to help.

    I decided to put some distance between us and twisted my body away.

    “Uh, ouch.”

    As I opened my mouth, I grabbed my neck, which was throbbing in terrible pain. My fingers caught on something. A bandage. Feeling them, I squeezed my eyes shut tightly. Even though swallowing felt like gulping down razorblades, breathing like knives scraping my throat, and eating extremely painful, I could honestly endure it. But this…

    I took a deep breath carefully. I couldn’t say anything. It was not just my voice – it felt like the skin of my throat was being torn off. No, how could a slight fever make my throat hurt this much? As I pondered with doubt, a fallen strand of hair got stuck in my ear. The moment I rolled my eyes, my gaze met the man who had followed my movements and leaned in.

    “Eat and take your medicine. It should help a bit then.”

    “…”

    His defined features looked exceptionally handsome. And with that expression—such deep affection and worry mixed with a slightly dangerous yet genuine look—it made my heart fluttered. Ah, so this is what it feels like to be entranced. My heart started beating rapidly. The loud sound echoed in my ears, causing me to hold my breath. I tried to calm my erratic feelings and thought seriously. Do I like it? Yes. Is it love? No. After a cold assessment, I let out the breath I was holding.

    I wasn’t sure if I should feel relieved that I wasn’t swayed by someone who wasn’t my lover, but I was glad my heart didn’t waver. Even if it’s something invisible, you can’t share emotions with it. That would be unfaithful. Pretending to brush my bangs aside, I covered my eyes and peeked at his state through parted fingers. But he was too close for me to gauge properly, so I quickly averted my gaze.

    I awkwardly stretched out my hand, signaling for him to back off. Tae Seong-je looked at my hand curiously before suddenly placing his palm on mine. What. What was he doing? Flustered, I tried to withdraw but he followed my movements. Realizing backing away was futile, I tried to pull my hand back, but he twisted and intertwined our fingers, so I couldn’t move.

    Huh? Whoa, whoa…look at this guy…

    It felt like my hair was standing on end from sheer embarrassment – I was sweating, my heart pounding, unable to even focus properly. Does he think I’ll fall for this? Objectively, it seems like I would. Before that could happen, I needed to break free quickly, so I shook my hand vigorously with the intent to slip away, but he stubbornly slipped his fingers between mine instead. Caught off guard that he would actually lace our fingers together, I froze. His thick fingers softly wrapped around mine, tickling the back of my hand.

    Ah, really. I told him not to do stuff like this. Why did he keep…? The overpowering embarrassment made me want to hang my head as heat rushed through my body. Despite my lack of resistance, his refusal to let go felt like he was saying “I like you so much, don’t run away.” But I already have someone I like that much. As that thought crossed my mind, the fluttering in my heart immediately settled

    It was clear I couldn’t like two people at the same time. I pushed him away with our clasped hands. Despite pushing him, he only leaned in closer. Ah, geez. If I push, shouldn’t he be pushed away?

    “Why? Is it hurting?”

    “…”

    “Why? Does it hurt a lot? Let hyung take a look.”

    “…”

    I just bowed and silently shook my head. An ambiguous silence lingered. There wasn’t even a clock in the room, making the silence feel long and the discomfort obvious. My palm, or rather the hand that was held, started to sweat.

    Unable to even control my expressions, I kept looking at the floor, figuring it would be even harder to manage my gaze. Thanks to that, I discovered the dense bouquets packed under the bed. So that’s where the floral scent was coming from while I slept. Realizing it so quickly, I became entranced by the astonishing amount of flowers.

    The unusual combinations and soft colors, every vibrant bloom captivated my eyes. Not a single flower seemed wilted; each bouquet was lush and vibrant.

    Compared to the graduation bouquets I recently saw being sold outside the school gates, these were incomparably beautiful. But why so many flowers? I wondered if someone had come to visit me, but there were just too many. As I was admiring the flowers, a large hand gently encircled my neck.

    “…!”

    I have no excuse, having let my guard down foolishly. But still, he’s being excessively shameless, grabbing my hand earlier and now my neck too.

    His thumb lightly rubbing my neck felt like a cat’s rough tongue, an unsettling yet gentle caress. Since my neck was quite sore and tingling, the soothing gesture wasn’t entirely unpleasant. Though reluctant to push him away, thinking of my senior, I firmly pushed him back again.

    Pretending to drink water, I naturally freed my hand and put some distance between us. He must have felt hurt. Just as I was thinking he might actually be upset this time, a flower fell from the edge of the tray. It was a tiny bouquet, so small it barely qualified as one. I blinked a few times and turned towards Tae Seong-je.

    He was rummaging through the abundant bouquet as there were flowers by my bedside as well. I stared blankly at Tae Seong-je, who was silently trimming a few flowers. For a moment, my mind went blank. From bewilderment? Surprise? Because it was…cute? Yeah, his actions seemed really cute…

    Does he like flowers? It was unexpected since he didn’t seem the type. If he bought them for his own enjoyment, it must be a hobby. But it looks like he got them for me. As I hesitated, he parted his lips a few times as if about to speak, before finally saying slowly:

    “If you’re not feeling well even after waking up… it’ll be harder. So, I wanted to cheer you up a bit.”

    “…”

    “Didn’t it feel like you woke up in a flower field? No?”

    He said it casually in passing and slid his hand under my palm. I thought he was going to interlace our fingers again, but his hand movements were so earnest that I paused. The blue and yellow flowers wrapped around my ring finger were quite cute. He acted nonchalant as if he hadn’t done something cheesy.

    Looking closer, the shape of the scars on our ring fingers seemed similar. Suddenly finding even our scars adorable, my finger twitched involuntarily, making the dainty buds sway.

    “Pick a few you like. I’ll keep those and clear out the rest.”

    “…”

    It really doesn’t suit him at all – the over-the-top bouquets, the flower ring, the gentle kindness, the words of affection, anything resembling a lover. Meeting the gaze of the man watching me so attentively, I scrunched my face. Oh no. I’m going to end up liking this person.

    If there was a reason my feelings wavered, it was not because my emotions for my senior were light or shallow. It’s just because this person is who he is.

    Thinking that I could become someone great if I were like him, and with him treating me so well, who wouldn’t fall for that? It’s obvious even without seeing it. It’s only a matter of time. Even if I never once considered him in that way, I would have still wavered.

    My heart was pounding happily, but I was disappointed. Of course, I would – the person I had loved, or still love, was ultimately being pushed aside. With incomplete memories, I had certainty about love, yet felt uneasy, an unease that would gradually dissipate. Because those memories will permanently disappear…

    “…!”

    As I was lost in thought, suddenly my chin was grabbed. Before I could even react, a soft cloth gently pressed against my nose with moderate pressure. Ah, another nosebleed it seems. The person who tried to stop it let out a weary sigh. I wondered if there would come a day when I’d find joy in the simple fact that no blood stained my clothes or bedsheets.

    Seeing him relieved that the nosebleed stopped so quickly pricked my conscience. There was no boss as demanding as me, making him read my mind and unable to even express gratitude with words. What sin did this person commit in a past life to have to endure a lover in such a state?

    Rolling my eyes, I noticed the flower on the tray. I picked out the prettiest one and handed it to him. …Wait, doesn’t this look like I’m giving back something he gave me? That didn’t seem right. I awkwardly clenched my fist around the hastily tied flower ring and looked at him.

    “So the day has finally come when I receive flowers from you.”

    “…”

    “You must be hungry, finish eating.”

    The deep agony caused by various issues was starting to tire me out, so I was grateful he tactfully changed the subject, even bluntly, as my desires were slowly being overtaken by hunger. Having skipped breakfast and eaten hurriedly, my hunger seemed to be fading fast. At this timing, I nearly asked what kind of food it was, before inevitably taking a spoonful of the beef porridge.

    He had said to eat Korean beef. And here I am, actually eating beef. Somehow, it made me feel even more exhausted. At the same time, I felt his hands tying my hair back up. Though it made eating easier, I still struggled to focus on the meal. I didn’t think I could eat much, yet the empty ceramic bowls piled up one by one.

    After completely finishing even the soft tofu stew, it suddenly struck me that for someone with a sore throat, I was eating too well. Embarrassed, I left behind just a bit of broth and set the bowl down.

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