"Jinyoung-ah! Your mother--"
A boy of a tall build stood lifeless in front of a closed sliding door of a room, with a signage displaying "Surgery Room" on top of it, lit up in a shade of red, signifying an on-going operation inside the facility.
He was nowhere near to calming down, his thoughts were completely incoherent, and his hands were both trembling and sweating in fear of things going even worse.
"Sit down for a while, I'll get something to drink." A woman, perhaps in her 40s, gently led him to the nearest chair in front of the room, and signaled him to sit down, to which the boy absent-mindedly obeyed as he stared to the wall across from his position.
Not long after the woman was gone, he clasped his hands together, as he prayed for his mother to get through the surgery, alive. She had been caught in a bus accident earlier that morning, on the way to work while he was on the way to his school, but wasn't able to walk pass through the school gate for he received a phone call from the woman earlier who is actually his aunt, just before then, about the situation his mother fell into. And by the time he arrived at the hospital, the surgery had already started for about ten minutes. While his aunt was waiting at the same place he is currently in.
The boy heard faint footsteps from the opposite direction of the closed door, but he was too messed up to care whether it was his aunt with a few drinks in her hand, or someone else. The only sound he wanted to hear at the moment was his mother's voice, assuring him that she's fine.
Suddenly, a strip of paper, folded into two, placed on top of a person's palm slid into his line of eyesight, startling him for a bit, but still, he took the paper, and opened it as the giver retrieved his or her hand.
He scanned through what was neatly written on the piece of white paper the stranger gave him, in his mind, and did not notice a smile of disbelief mixed with relief creep up to his lips, as he looked up to the owner of the sheet of paper. And as he did so, the stranger noticed the other's nameplate. Bae Jinyoung, it displayed.
" I'm Lee Daehwi who's all smile-y daily! And I hope, the smile cupid would shoot you so you can smile, too. Cheer up! ^^ " the black-inked words on the note said.
It was childish but it was enough to reassure Jinyoung of some strength and hope he can cling onto while seconds run as his mother remain unconscious inside the surgery room.
In addition to the note, the frail-looking boy also bid him an encouraging smile conveying that he shouldn't give up, and believe good things would happen soon.
Jinyoung smiled back at Daehwi, thanking the boy for his sincerity towards a troubled stranger whom he could've just ignored, especially seeing how Daehwi was wearing a hospital gown, and that he must be an in-patient in this hospital.
Their silent conversation was interrupted by the opening sound of the sliding door, from which a man wearing a clean purple surgery clothes, with his mask pushed down to his chin, came out, whom Jinyoung assumed was the doctor of his mother. So, he immediately stood up to talk to the doctor, and unintentionally forgot Daehwi who stood in front of him, earlier.
The doctor said his mother is still unconscious, and that it might take a few days for her to wake up, but nonetheless, she's in a safe condition, now. However, he also told him that his mother might not be able to leave the hospital immediately after she wakes up, and since her legs were badly injured, a therapy might be necessary for her to recover fast. But for now, they'll just wait for her to wake up before advancing to other possible medications.
Jinyoung thanked the doctor, and soon the wheeled bed carrying his mother, came out with a few nurses, wheeling the patient to her respective room, so Jinyoung just followed them, but abruptly stopped to look back to where he met Daehwi. It was just then that he realized Daehwi left already, and he didn't even notice.
In the end, he just shrugged it off, and followed the trail of the nurses.
His mother woke up a few days after, and to his surprise, she was already quite strong enough, making Jinyoung doubt that she was really caught in an accident.
Jinyoung was busy writing a book chapter review due the next day, sitting on the couch, placed beside the wall across the bed, with the open book on top of a notebook placed on his lap, and a pen on his right hand, when she mentioned a boy of around his age, or perhaps, younger than he was, a few centimeters shorter than him, and with a similar to what you may call a bowl cut hair style colored with a tinge of light brown.
His mind no longer read the book at the mention of the details of the said boy his mother met in the hospital's church room, because perhaps, it was the boy he met before, too.
"Is his name... Daehwi?" He asked his mother, as he gently closed the book, with his pen inside to serve as a bookmark, and set it beside him, on the couch.
Jinyoung's mother got cut off as she heard her son's questions which confused her as to why he knew, so she gave him a frown, and Jinyoung only replied by lying down on the couch, kicking his books off, not caring on whatever state they would land on.
"How did you know him?" His mother asked after her son settled down on the couch, with his eyes closed.
"He was there when you were under surgery." He said, eyes still closed as the frail figure of the boy they were talking about resurfaced in his mind. Although the picture was vivid, he remembered how his fingers looked so pretty, even if his fingernails were longer than how they should be. And along with his fingers was the note,
I'm Lee Daehwi who's all smile-y daily! And I hope, the smile cupid would shoot you so you can smile, too. Cheer up! ^^
Jinyoung's eyelids slowly opened, followed by a few dragged blinking as he woke up from his nap, and found a back view of a petite figure (which was obviously not his mother's) standing by the window, perhaps gaping upon what was outside of the room. He quietly pulled up himself from the couch, so he won't catch the attention of the unknown person, but then the person might've just been born with extra sensitive ears that, he immediately turned around as soon as Jinyoung pushed his hand down the couch.
It was Daehwi, with slightly apart lips due to the unexpected staring contest with Jinyoung.
Jinyoung saw him fumble with his hands for a bit, maybe due to the awkwardness filling the room. So, he decided to speak first, but then the moment he opened his mouth, Daehwi made a run for it, although his run was noticeably strained and dragged.
Jinyoung was left inside the room, staring at the door with a raised eyebrow, replaying Daehwi's running scene in his mind, but was soon disturbed by the arrival of his mother on a wheelchair, assisted by a female nurse, who was pushing the wheelchair from behind.
His mother threw him the same raised eyebrow look he had not long ago, for she had noticed an unfamiliar blanket wrapped around Jinyoung.
"Whose blanket is that?" She asked him, making Jinyoung realize he was under a blanket he didn't own nor did his mother. Where did this come from?
"Oh? Isn't that from Daehwi's room?" The nurse said, which made the other two turn their heads to the nurse, then back to each other.
Jinyoung lifted his fist, with the palm side facing himself, near the door across the one from his mother's. He's been standing there for about half an hour, contemplating how he'll approach him, in case of some awkwardness after the scene earlier.
Finally, he knocked on the door, three times, and carefully turned the doorknob, and pushed it open. Though, only silence welcomed his entrance. Daehwi was nowhere to be found, even his bed, and the room looked like there wasn't anyone occupying it.
The flowers in the vase on top of a table, perhaps around where his bed originally settled at, seemed like they were withering soon, and there were no traces left of anyone visiting him. Even the trash bin he nearly knocked over, was spotless.
Just then, nurses with one doctor, came in, wheeling a bed with a sleeping (or unconscious?) Daehwi on it. They walked past him, and settled Daehwi's bed beside the table with the vase. Jinyoung just stood there, mouth shut, mind confused.
It seemed to Jinyoung that one nurse thought he was a relative of the sleeping boy, as he noticed the nurse getting disappointed when he told her, that he had no relations with him. In return, she just escorted him out of the room, for further inspection of Daehwi's condition.
Jinyoung stood there, a week after, at the same room, but this time, Daehwi was there, whom he could refer to a leaf. A leaf that flies away with just one blow of the wind.
"You got thinner." Jinyoung remarked without much sense, to which Daehwi only smiled back. "Here's your blanket. Thanks, anyway." He was about to give the blanket to Daehwi himself, but Daehwi pointed at the empty couch, so Jinyoung just left if there, neatly folded. He stood there for a few minutes, examining the room once again. The flowers have now withered, but left unreplaced.
Soon after, he realized that Daehwi was watching him, resulting to a sudden surge of consciousness. He rubbed the back of his neck as he said, "Uh, I'll go now, I guess. Bye." to which Daehwi just answered with a farewell wave, along with a small grin.
The third time he had met Daehwi, again, Jinyoung felt like he was going to die from concern, soon, as he panicked about seeing Daehwi faint right front of him.
He carried him to the nearest nurse station, and thankfully, the nurses came to assist immediately, and wheeled him away on a stretcher.
Jinyoung ran a hand through his hair, out of nervousness, as he sat on a chair, just like how he was, just before Daehwi from weeks ago handed the note, that until now, hasn't left his mind.
Isn't it your turn to smile, now?
"I'll come, again, tomorrow?" Jinyoung said, in an asking tone, but he meant that as he would surely visit, again, the next day -- something he had been doing for around 2 weeks or so. Visiting Daehwi, that is.
Daehwi, initially rejected the idea of him visiting him, because he was afraid that he takes up much of Jinyoung's time just for checking up on the younger boy.
However, Jinyoung assured him that Daehwi doesn't waste his time, and that he's fine visiting Daehwi as often as possible, after Jinyoung found out that no one visits Daehwi, ever since his grandmother moved abroad. (He had no other relative, and he was just kept in the hospital, solely because a foundation was taking care of half of his hospital bills, while the other half was covered by his grandmother, and other relatives.)
So, in the end, Daehwi gave in, and expected for Jinyoung to come almost every day, even if it was only for an hour or so. They had little conversations, learning about each other little by little, and building up precious memories, block by block.
They bid each other a small grin, and Jinyoung then, snatched his cardigan from the couch, and left. But not before looking back once more to the younger's direction, and seeing him clutching tightly on his blankets, to endure the pain he was feeling.
He stood there, in front of the door of his room, across his mother's room. The idea of confidentiality hindered him from asking the boy about his illness.
Daehwi made sure Jinyoung never noticed a glimpse of pain, a millisecond of grimace, nor a soft groan from him. He wanted Jinyoung to never see that side of him.
Because he didn't want pity. He didn't want any more pity. He didn't want Jinyoung to come out of pity.
And mostly, he didn't want to leave him. He didn't want them to be attached to each other, because it would hurt more. And Daehwi doesn't even want to imagine the pain Jinyoung would feel because of him.
He didn't want himself to expect to see Jinyoung once more, for another day, another minute, until whenever.
Jinyoung knew. Jinyoung knew all of these, but he chose this. He chose to enter the sick boy's life. Solely because he wanted to see his smile. He wanted that smile Daehwi has, to shine even more. He wanted to at least take away the pain. Even the tiniest amount would do.
In the few weeks they've known each other, Jinyoung felt protective with him. He wanted the boy to feel safe with him. He wanted to catch him in an embrace, rubbing his back as he says, "I'm here for you. Please smile for me". He felt like a brother to him.
Or perhaps, was he falling, already?
Jinyoung's eyes stared at the door across him, as they turn gloomier and darker, at the sudden thought of his feelings for the other boy.
"Oh, you're looking for Daehwi? He just went to the room, across." The nurse assigned to Daehwi remarked with a smile, while changing the bed sheet of Daehwi's bed, as she was fond of seeing Jinyoung, because that would mean Daehwi would have a companion to spend the remaining hours with. Jinyoung nodded with a soft thanks, before visiting the room across.
His mother had been discharged for about a week, already, and no one occupied it after her. So, Daehwi did not stop visiting the room, because he wanted to keep looking through the window, while longing to see everything up close.
The sight beyond the window was a scenery to Daehwi, but Jinyoung thought otherwise. Daehwi was the scenery itself. Jinyoung did not see the beauty of the tall buildings, and asphalt roads filled with varied colors and sizes of vehicles. But he did see the beauty Daehwi radiated -- the beauty Jinyoung did not want to see, and the beauty Jinyoung has been denying ever since who knows when.
Daehwi heard Jinyoung's footsteps, from behind, as the older boy walked towards him. He turned around and met with Jinyoung's eyes. They were soft yet dark, worried yet distant, shining yet confused.
Daehwi felt Jinyoung was in a dilemma, but he didn't pry into it further. Rather, he can't.
"Why are you out here, again? Without a companion, too." Jinyoung sighed, as he halted directly in front of him. Daehwi only replied with a smile. Daehwi was always like that. Jinyoung says something, he smiles in return.
Both did not mind, though. It was fine that way. They felt each other, that way -- communicating through silence, that is.
Daehwi pointed a finger towards the ceiling, as a sign that he wanted to go to the upper floor where an open garden was located on one end of the hospital. It was much like a sanctuary to Daehwi. A place where he feels like he's free from the chains of his weakness.
"You know you can't, right?" Jinyoung said to him, as his eyes examined Daehwi's figure, in general. The last time he went there, he fainted, right in front of Jinyoung, once again. Since then, the doctor warned him to prevent the younger boy from doing things that would exhaust his body, even if Daehwi wanted to do so.
Daehwi smiled bitterly. It was ironic how he was keeping himself safe by avoiding things he genuinely wanted in the dull life of his. He couldn't run. He couldn't walk for a long time. He couldn't stroll around the city. He couldn't wear sneakers. He couldn't wear school uniforms, nor clothes aside from the hospital gown he'd been wearing for a long time.
Moreover, he couldn't laugh to his heart's content. He couldn't say every word he wanted to say. He couldn't scream whether it was due to pain or happiness. He couldn't call out Jinyoung's name.
All because he couldn't speak. All because his vocal cords couldn't produce a sound, not even a squeak. All because he was mute, in addition to his illness.
"Let's go some other time, alright?" Jinyoung assured him, as he gently stroked Daehwi's frizzy hair. It wasn't soft, but Jinyoung liked the way his hair was. It made him realer in the older boy's point of view. It made Jinyoung feel safe that Daehwi was still there. And that he was still waiting for him to come. That he was not a dream nor an illusion. Yet, perhaps.
"Daehwi-yah, you haven't eaten your dinner?" the nurse said, as she slowly approached Daehwi's bed, to retrieve the utensils Daehwi used, but then she found the food left untouched, on the bed table, while Daehwi just sat there, motionless. She looked at the couch, and said, "Jinyoung didn't come, again?" to which Daehwi slowly nodded, with a smile, as he looked down on his food.
He didn't have the appetite, to eat alone. He was used to Jinyoung's presence. Jinyoung was always there whenever he had dinner, and he would always tell him how his day went by, what he ate in the morning, which classmate annoyed him, and which teacher gave a hard exam.
He didn't want to get attached, but Daehwi has already fallen too deep. To him, Jinyoung was a brother he can rely on, a father who takes care of him, and a friend who is always there for him. He only had Jinyoung. But where was he, now?
It has been a week since Jinyoung stopped coming.
Daehwi felt Jinyoung's distance, worry, and confusion. But despite knowing them all, he didn't know why. He didn't ask. He was scared. That maybe, he was the reason why he's bothered. That maybe Jinyoung was too tired of going out of his way to visit Daehwi. That maybe Jinyoung didn't want to get attached to him. That maybe he never played a part in Jinyoung's life. That maybe he didn't really matter to Jinyoung. That he was just a Lee Daehwi whom he visits in the hospital out of pity.
"Daehwi-yah. Visiting hours is over, I'll go, okay? See you tomorrow." Jinyoung said, with a smile. It was a genuine smile, despite the emotions consuming him whole. It was a genuine smile Daehwi wanted to see from Jinyoung, just like how Jinyoung wanted him to smile, too.
Daehwi knew Jinyoung didn't understand sign language, and that he always replied to him by jotting down on his notebook, but he still did the gestures for the words he wanted Jinyoung to know.
Little did Jinyoung know what the gesture meant, he just assumed it was Daehwi's usual "Take care, and come, again!" but in sign language. So, he replied with the usual, "I'll be back, soon."
Jinyoung stopped coming since then, without a word, only a bouquet of flower from the last day he came.
The flowers have now withered, but left unreplaced.
"Mom? Do you know someone who can teach me sign language?"
Jinyoung just got out of the fifth session of his sign language lessons, and remembered to visit Daehwi before the week ends. He hasn't been able to visit because he was busy with his exams, and his lessons took up his time, that he didn't have any left to go to the hospital.
As the automatic glass door entrance of the hospital opened upon Jinyoung's arrival, he was practicing the sign languages he had learned for the past few days, to show them to Daehwi when he finally sees him, again. He looked stupid for he was smiling by himself, every time he predicts how Daehwi's face would react due to the signs he would show him later.
Or maybe never.
Jinyoung felt his world crumble as he overheard the conversation of Daehwi's doctor, and someone unfamiliar to him, who were both standing in front of the door of Daehwi's room.
No. He thought. No, he was just mishearing things. No, it isn't real.
His balled his fingers into a fist, so tight that they were shaking uncontrollably.
He walked past them, and opened Daehwi's room door abruptly, causing a loud thud as the door hit the wall.
There, he saw Daehwi looking even more lifeless, lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. It took a while before he shifted his gaze from the ceiling to the door, that Jinyoung was already beside him the moment Daehwi shifted his gaze.
Jinyoung saw how Daehwi's eyes lit up in joy, but he saw how the corner of his lips turned into an exhausted smile. Perhaps, because Daehwi knew, too. He knew for a long time, already. But he left Jinyoung out of that fact. It was just then that Jinyoung realized that in those happiness, and smiles floating around them, he forgot one thing. One thing the both of them feared in silence.
He forgot that Daehwi was sick. He forgot that Daehwi didn't have a lot of time left. He forgot that he was going to lose Daehwi soon. That soon, Daehwi won't be there, anymore.
"Is it painful for you to smile?" Jinyoung asked, his voice on the verge of cracking, as he stifled back his tears.
Daehwi slowly nodded, still wearing a tired smile on his face. It has never been painless for Daehwi. Every day, pain was his companion. The companion which never left him, even for a second. Every breath, every smile, was painful for him. Every stroke of a pencil on his notebook drained every ounce of his energy.
But despite of all the pain, he chose to smile. Because smiling was the only thing he knew how to do, and one thing which makes Jinyoung happy, too.
"Daehwi-yah. Why didn't you tell me?" Jinyoung's voice shook badly, that the tears he struggled to keep fell down his face. His tears were unstoppable, that he cannot even speak a few words after that. He just cried, in front of Daehwi, who was there, watching him, but unable to do anything. It was painful for him to cry, too. Everything is painful.
It took a lot of effort for Daehwi to grab a hold of his notebook, and scribble on it, but he still did so,
Jinyoung was struck for a while, realizing that the gesture he did before, might've meant something else. It wasn't Take care. It wasn't Be back, soon. It wasn't any of the words he thought about.
It was ' Don't worry, you won't have to come here, anymore, soon. '
He was too late.
Daehwi struggled to sit up, on his bed, to meet with Jinyoung's crying eyes. But nonetheless, he still smiled.
Jinyoung just stood there, crying like an idiot, unable to do anything. Unable to lift Daehwi's pain. Unable to speak coherent words. Unable to look Daehwi in the eye.
In a few hours, Daehwi would be gone. In a few hours, Jinyoung has no one to visit in the hospital, anymore. In a few hours, Daehwi would be leaving him. In a few hours, it wouldn't be Jinyoung and Daehwi, anymore.
It would just be Jinyoung, alone.
Please smile for me, for the last time. Jinyoung hyung.