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Bruised and Sweet

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“I’ll see you later.” Mark replies, waving Jeno off. He almost wishes there was basketball practice this afterternoon to avoid studying for his AP Bio test tomorrow, but alas, the library is calling.

It’s pretty busy at 3:05 on a Monday, but Mark bipasses the buzz and heads to his favorite corner on the second floor.

As a freshman — shy, friendless, and most definitely dreading basketball tryouts — he’d spent an unhealthy amount of time here. And the sole benefit of this awkward period (not his perfect grades, sorry Doyoung) was the discovery of the single study cubicles hidden away behind the shelves of ancient anthro and sociopolitics textbooks that no one ever uses except Mrs. Lawson, the History department head. It’s quiet and isolated and the perfect place to kill time before actually going home.

He’s a few feet away when suddenly a wave of dizziness hits him and he stumbles, clutching at the nearest bookshelf. He forces some deep breaths in and out; Even with his eyes shut, the vertigo sends him for a loop.

“Are you ok…?” A voice asks and Mark feels a hand steady him.
Instinctively, he wrenches his arm away.

Forcing his eyes open, it takes him a second to recognizes the boy in front of him as Donghyuck, Renjun’s best friend. And by the affronted look on his face, Mark realizes he’s been staring instead of apologizing.

“Sorry.” He answers gruffly, readjusting his backpack. “I’m fine.” And before the boy can reply, Mark walks off to another part of the library, without looking back.

 

---

Duckie ❣️[3:23 pm]:
What the fuck is up Mark Lee’s ass?

Junnie ⭐[3:25 pm]:
???
What do you mean?

Duckie ❣️[3:26 pm]:
so I’m in the library
minding my own business
and I see Mark looking like he’s about to faint
so I do what any fucking decent human being would
I ask him if he’s ok
and he literally JUMPS away from me
as if he’s been shocked by lightning or some shit
Like
RuDE

Junnie ⭐[3:28 pm]:
is he ok???
do I need to get Jeno????

Duckie ❣️[3:30 pm]:
seems fucking dandy to me
he stormed off to god knows where

Junnie ⭐[3:31 pm]:
ok...
I’ll ask Jaemin to check up on him later
sorry hyuck
he’s not usually like this
he probably didn’t mean it

Duckie ❣️[3:30 pm]:
whatever
ttyl jun

---

Junnie ⭐[3:44 pm]:
have either of you seen mark today???

Nana ♡ [3:45 pm]:
Not me
NoNo?

Je-No Jams Whatsoever [3:46 pm]:
yeah
b4 he wnt 2 th library
y?

Junnie ⭐[3:47 pm]:
According to Hyuck he almost fainted
I think something’s happened…
should we tell Doyoung???

Je-No Jams Whatsoever [3:46 pm]:
NO
he jst started staying wknds on campus
mark wld freak iff he knew
he hsnt said nything bt u no he feels gulty abt
Doyoung cming home all th time

Junnie ⭐[3:50 pm]:
I know but…
What if it’s serious??

Nana ♡ [3:51 pm]:
don’t worry yet junnie
I’ll bring it up at practice tomorrow
subtly
let’s give him a chance to explain before we
call in the cavalry

Junnie ⭐[3:52 pm]:
ok... you’re right Minnie
sigh
what are we going to do with that boy

Nana ♡ [3:54 pm]:
take care of him cause he can’t take care of himself???

Je-No Jams Whatsoever [3:55 pm]:
lol u rite
♥♥♥

Nana ♡ [3:56 pm]:
♡♡♡

Je-No Jams Whatsoever [3:58 pm]:
♡❤♡❤♡

Nana ♡ [3:59 pm]:
♥♡❣♡❤

Junnie ⭐[4:01 pm]:
Um excuse me…

Je-No Jams Whatsoever [4:01 pm]:
♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡

Nana ♡ [4:02 pm]:
love you ♡♡♡

Junnie ⭐[4:03 pm]:
Thank you ♡

---

A little after 7, Mark decides he can’t avoid going home any longer.
He walks slowly, enjoying the setting sun, but as he rounds the corner, the car sitting in the driveway immediately puts him on edge.

If he’s lucky, he can escape to his room for the night.
He takes a deep breath.

It’s just his luck that the lock on the front door clicks softer than usual and the hinges don’t groan as he pushes the door open slowly. He pauses. No sounds comes from inside the house, which he hopes is a good sign. Next, Mark shuffles toward the stairs and prays the stairs don’t creak. But even luck, it seems, has limits.

“Where the fuck have you been?”

Mark flinches, pausing on the third step.
He turns to see his father lounging on the sofa with a beer bottle in hand.

“I was at the library.”

Mr. Lee scoffs and tips the drink precariously in his direction. “Of course you were.” Another sip is followed by a disgusted cackle. “Getting a fucking education as if it’ll amount to anything.” He slurs. “What a waste.” His head lulls heavily to one side and Mark can see the flush of anger deepen the drunken ruddiness of his face. “What fucking good are you? Get out of my fucking sight.”

Bolting upstairs, Mark barely dodges the beer bottle thrown in his direction. He goes straight to his room for his wallet and a hoodie before sprinting back down and out the front door. He lets his adrenaline take over as he jogs a few blocks; He immediately represses the string of insults hurled at his back.

Another night of wandering around… It suddenly feels like the chill in the air has seeped into his bones, leaving him stiff and sluggish.

His feet autopilot to the neighborhood park and go right to the swing set, where he immediately collapses and groans, cradling his head in his hands. He really should’ve grabbed tylenol on his way out. The headache he’s been nursing all day is worse, pulsing behind his eyes and at the base of his skull.

Even after sitting for a few minutes, the pounding doesn’t recede and suddenly Mark feels helpless.

In a perfect world, he’d call Doyoung and whine about how much it hurts until his brother took the hint to come pick him up. But Doyoung is an hour away, and Doyoung has no fucking idea what’s been going on at home in his absence, and even if Doyoung hasn’t said anything, Mark knows that school has him a lot more stressed than he lets on.

So Mark ignores the tears of desperation and panic that well up and then spill down his cheeks onto his hoodie. He ignores the nauseous ache in his stomach and the chill that nips at his cheeks. He just leans his head against the swing’s chain and rests his eyes for a while.