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West District

“We need to meet tonight,” Min stated, sliding into the empty seat across from Jung-hee.

Jung-hee blinked. He stared at Min like a deer in headlights.

“What?”, he said after a few moments had passed.

“For our project,” Min reminded him. Jung-hee only shrugged. Min tossed her hands in the air. “It’s due in two weeks.”

One of Jung-hee’s friends, Ishaan, waved a hand in dismissal. “That’s a problem for two weeks from now.”

“Hey Min,” Elijah nodded, “is Jade still mad at me?”

Min ignored Elijah and looked back at Jung-hee. “We’re meeting tonight.”

Jung-hee shifted around uncomfortably. “Tonight doesn’t work for me.”

“Tonight is the only night that works for me,” Min said.

Her hands were crossed on the circular, white lunch table. She could hear her friends– several tables away— giggling at the situation. The fluorescent, high school lights shone on them as Min tapped her feet on the red and white floors. The conversations around them ranged from today’s homework to heated debates on the best brand of chocolate milk.

But Min was focused on Jung-hee. And Jung-hee was trying to hide inside his hoodie.

Min raised a brow. “Why doesn’t tonight work for you?”

“I need to get a haircut.”

“It’s gonna take the entire night?”

Jung-hee paused.

“I have a lot of hair.”

Ishaan pointed at Jung-hee’s fluffy, black hair. It covered his forehead, eyebrows, and most of his ears.

“You have a gorgeous head of hair. Never cut it.”

“Agreed!” Min exclaimed. “Never cut it.”

Jung-hee gulped. “My mom really wants me to.”

“I’m sure your mom also wants you to get an A on your project.”

Jung-hee stared at Min.

Min stared at Jung-hee.

“Fine,” Jung-hee said, sighing. “What time?”

“Seven-thirty at the library.” Min smiled. “Bring your textbook, laptop, and highlighters.”

“I don’t have highlighters.”

“That’s fine. You can use mine.” Min stood up and wiped her hands. “See you later.”

“Looking forward to it,” Jung-hee muttered, and Min rolled her eyes and spun around.

She walked back to her table, sat down, and huffed. “Ten years are taken away from my life everytime I talk to those guys.”

“I still think Mrs. Nishimura paired you with Jung-hee as a practical joke,” Jade laughed. She glanced at their table, and her smile faded. “Like mine and Elijah’s relationship,” she said, stabbing her bowtie pasta.

“Jade, just go talk to him,” Min urged.


“Aiguo punched him first, Jade,” Phoebe said. “You can’t blame him for fighting back.”

“Yeah, but he got mad at me for getting mad at him! What am I supposed to do when my boyfriend fights someone? Rejoice? Cheer him on?” Jade stuffed her lunch inside her backpack, threw it over her shoulder, and stood. “I need to reapply my lip gloss.”

Samira pointed at Jade. “I’m gonna go check on her.”

Phoebe and Min nodded in agreement.

After Samira walked away, Phoebe turned to Min. Her hands were crossed under her chin and she scooted closed. “Is it just me, or have things been more weird than usual?”

Min sighed. “It’s not just you.”

Mr. Li’s death in May marked the start of everything.

Mr. Li came from one of West District’s Founding Families. He was a pillar in the community, often called the town’s father. But, after he passed away and that pillar crumbled, West District had begun to collapse on itself. The town council held fewer meetings, men in suits began appearing and examining the buildings, and Mr. Li’s youngest son, Aiguo, picked fights nearly everyday.

And in July, a guy with superhuman powers appeared. He could lift cars, run at superspeed, and even had retractable claws. He dressed in white, orange, and black and called himself “The Siberian Tiger” – a crime-fighting hero that helped keep West District safe. He stopped numerous robbery attempts and home invasions, but mainly helped the elders cross the streets.

West District had a superhero. Because, apparently, superheroes were real.

Min would get a headache if she kept thinking about this.

“Are you going to the elder’s center after school today?” Min asked Phoebe. “They’re playing mahjong.”

Phoebe side-eyed Min. “As if I would ever miss mahjong. My grandma always ends up trying to fight Elijah’s.”

Min shrugged. “Well, Elijah’s grandma does always cheat.”

“And she does a terrible job at hiding it,” Phoebe replied.

Min laughed. “The elder’s center deserves its own reality show.”

Phoebe opened her mouth to say something, but the lunch bell rang. Students rose to throw out their trash and zip up their backpacks. Friends shook friends awake from naps and other students pondered if they could sneak out the back exit without getting caught.

The students doing the latter were Jung-hee and his friend group.

“I don’t get them,” Min said as she left the cafeteria. “They hate school but they’re always at the children’s center.”

“School doesn’t matter to them,” Phoebe said. “But West District does. Isn’t that why you go to the elder’s center? And help out around town? They care – just not about school.”

“Yeah. Priorities, I guess,” Min said.

Phoebe patted Min’s back. “Just be glad that Jung-hee agreed to work on the project.”

Min rolled her eyes. “He tried convincing me that he had to get a haircut.”

“Yeah, well, I never said that he was smart,” Phoebe remarked.

Min chuckled and hooked her arm around Phoebe’s. As they rounded the hallway corner, a body knocked into theirs.

Min and Phoebe stumbled back, nearly tumbling into the people behind them. They regained their balance in time to see the figure in front of them.

He sported a black eye and busted lip.

“Watch where you’re going,” Aiguo hissed, then pushed past them.

“Hey-” Min shouted, but Phoebe pulled her back.

“Leave him alone,” Phoebe muttered. “There’s no use in picking a fight.”

Min shook her head and kept walking.

If West District was crumbling after Mr. Li’s death, Aiguo was disintegrating.


“I’m serious, she almost hit her!” Min’s grandmother said about Phoebe and Elijah’s grandmothers. “They cause so much trouble.”

“Auntie Yang is just getting tired of Auntie Dù’s cheating,” Min replied. “You can’t blame her.”

Min’s grandmother made a -tsk sound. “They are both a piece of work. Are you sure you have to go? You should stay. You can’t leave me alone with them.”

“I have to go to the library for a project. And you should go home. Mom and Dad don’t like it when you’re out late.”

“Your mother and father are too worried for their own good.”

“That’s because they care.”

“But I have the Siberian Tiger now,” she winked. “He walks me home.”

“He walked you home once,” Min said.

Min’s grandma shrugged. “More than some people in this town. He’s a superhero, Min. Maybe he’ll save us from those suited men who keep coming here.”

“They came back today?” Min shouted and flung her arms in the air. “That’s the fourth time this month! Why do they want our buildings?”

“I don’t know, but Mr. Li was so good at getting rid of them,” Min’s grandma said. “It’s okay. The town will figure something out. Now, if you aren’t going to work on your project then come back inside.”

Min chuckled. Her shoulders relaxed and she shook her head. “I have to go.”

Min’s grandmother eyed her. “You sound like your parents. That’s why you’re going to the library instead of staying for karaoke.”

“I have homework!” Min defended. “It’s due soon.”

“Okay, if you insist.” Min’s grandmother pulled her in for a hug. “I’ll see at home. I love you.”

“I love you too,” Min said. “Be safe.”

“You too, Minnie.”