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Where He Went

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Jeonghan is right there. In the middle of the room, stacking books on shelves placed previously from a cart. I think to myself, did I actually find him? Even though I wasn’t really looking. It was just by happenstance that I am standing in a room with him again. And I can’t even remember why.

He finally turns around and he spots me. He’s now also stunned by the person in front of him. But who wouldn’t be? Almost three years of no contact and all of a sudden you’re right in front of each other as if nothing happened. 

We both stay silent for just a few more seconds, seemingly getting a firm grasp of the moment, trying to find out which one of us should have the first word. 

“Hi.” He speaks first, breaking the awkward silence.

“Hey,” I say back at him, a little bit too cheery. “How are you?”

“What are you doing here?” His eyes look genuinely confused. And mine are no longer look at his, but at the hardwood floor, attempting to gain some recollection as to what I am actually doing there at that moment.

“I’m, uh,” I mutter, still trying to gather my thoughts. “I’m just taking a break from a really long drive, and I was wondering if I could use your restroom?”

I try my best to sound convincing because after all it is true. I didn’t know this store was his nor was it my intention to stop over this exact town. However, I do know that he lives here, so maybe there was a slight thought inside me that hoped I’d see him here. Just a little thought.

“If you walk straight to the back then make a left, you can’t miss it.” He says as he goes back to stacking the books. I can feel the tension in his voice. I can also feel how unwelcoming he is of my presence. As I continue to walk to the back he adds, “It’s really not for customers, so I’m sorry if it’s a bit messy.”

“It’s fine!” I say, again sounding too cheery. “I’ll be quick.”

---

Seungcheol is here. In my restroom.

Three years and somehow he’s never gone. I rush to the pantry and pour myself a glass of water. All those times I said to myself how I’m fine now and that I’m over it all, and yet here he is, but somehow I can’t pull myself together. As frustrating as it is, I have to pull it together. 

I walk back to my cart and pile up the books I have for shelving. I mind my work and forget the fact that the person I fell in love with is doing his business in my shop’s restroom. 

I hear the toilet flush. But I don’t hear the faucet running. Three years and he’s still a slob. He unlocks the door and walks out of the restroom.

I breathe in and out, relaxing myself for another encounter. Should I ask him how he found me? This can’t be just a coincidence? Or maybe it is. My frustration boils further. He reappears from the back and walks back to where he was before he left to use the toilet. 

“So,” He’s looking at me with hopeful eyes. And I hate it. I hate that he’s here, right in front of me after all those years. “I almost didn’t recognize you.”

I stare blankly at him. I don’t want to give him a response that would please him or make him feel like I’m welcoming his presence in my shop. In my hometown. He begins to walk around, looking around, skimming through the decorations and books.

“This is yours?” He asks. He takes a turn to a corner where I can’t see him. I keep up with him - a bit nervous as to what he might see. Although, I really don’t have much to hide here.

“Yes,” I say back to him. 

“I like this book.” He’s holding an astronomy book by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I recommended him that book years ago. I never thought he’d actually read it. Sucks that I still remember these stuff about us. “So, this is where you’ve been for the past two and a half years?”

I just stare at him. I’m trying to keep my emotions at bay and not give him the luxury of seeing me fall apart. The last thing I want is to give him a reason to believe that I’m not okay - that for the past two years or so all I’ve been doing is convince myself that I deserve better and I was moving on. Even though it’s true. All of it is true. 

“I like it,” He seems to be developing a feeling of unease from my silence.

“Thanks,” I look away from him and walk to the counter. He follows soon after. He rests his hand on the counter top while I attempt to keep myself busy long enough until he figures out that I don’t want him here and that he needs to go.

“How are you?” He asks. He’s persistent. It’s as if no amount of mono-syllabic answers and death stares I do will make him get it. I don’t want him here.

“I’m fine.” I answer, determined not to give him any hint of emotion. 

“That’s cool.” He taps his fingers on the counter top. And from that moment on, I feel like I’m about to burst. 

“Look,” I finally drop the act of nonchalance and set him straight. “I don’t know what to tell you, okay? How did you even find this place?”

---

I don’t know how to describe Jeonghan’s face. I could never describe it. Even before the lost years, I could never figure out what he’s trying to say. His head is a maze and I can’t ever navigate my way around it no matter how much I claim to know who he is. Now, he’s in front of me, asking me a question about what I’m doing here. I want to know if that question is out of curiosity or a rhetorical one, meaning he just wants to know so he can send me on my way.

“As I said,” I shake myself back to normalcy. “I was driving and this was the most convenient place for me to stop since my bladder wasn’t taking it all in much longer.”

“Okay,” He mutters. He walks out of the counter and back to the cart of books he left to follow me. “But, what are you still doing here?”

“I just,” I say. “I don’t know actually…”

Jeonghan stops his book stacking again. I hate to be the one to bring him distress again after all these years. Finally, for the first time since I stepped into his bookstore, I can sense something from him. Distrust.

“I thought maybe we could talk?”

“Why would we do that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, you should have thought it through.”

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“I don’t know.”

“Jesus Christ, Seungcheol!”

The atmosphere is tense. And I can sense his frustration. He doesn’t want me here. But, I don’t want to meddle with fate’s intervention. If this is somehow life’s bidding, then I must find a way to reconcile with him at least.

“Look,” I say calmly to him, taking a step forward cautiously and trying my best not to alarm him. “Let’s just talk. I passed by a diner, if you meet me there after you close up, then maybe we’d get some…” I drift off, not wanting to say the words.

“What?” He says. “Closure? That’s rich coming from you.” He walks away again back to the counter where it seems he feels the safest.

“Please, Jeonghan.” I say his name for the first time in a very long time. I know it’s a shitty move for me to do - to appeal on his emotions through the sound of his name on my lips, but this is a once and a lifetime opportunity. I can’t let it slip by me. “Just talk to me.”

Jeonghan has his eyes set on the computer screen on the counter. He falls his head and closes his eyes sharply as if he’s trying to think too hard about it. I look at him. At his hair, the way it’s neatly tucked behind his ears and kept at a length enough to emphasize his facial structure. And his furrowed forehead seems to be doing all the work. I have never seen him this distressed before, and I’m the reason for it. I just know it. 

“Alright.” Jeonghan says. I couldn’t help but smile, but I suppress it as soon as I felt it there. I don’t want to give him the wrong impression. “I’ll be out by 6 o’clock. Can you wait till then?”

“Yes,” I answer back right away. I will wait for him until then. “I’ll see you there or if you want I can pick you up and I can drive you--”

“No.” He stops me before I can even finish. His facial expression makes it obvious that being alone with me in a car isn’t something he wants. “I can walk. I’ll just see you there around that time, and we’ll talk.”

“Alright,” I tap my fingers on the counter one last time. “Sure. I’ll see you there.”

I hear the bells of the front door ring, and two teenagers walk in. I take a step back from the counter, taking one last look at Jeonghan before I step out.

---

“So, I’m going to head out first,” I hear him say. 

I smile forcibly, making it known that I’m not interested in hearing about his plans before we meet up in the diner. I make it appear like I’m busy with something on the computer. 

“Hey,” He says, standing a few meters away from the counter that separates us completely. “I’m actually happy to see you again.”

He turns around before I could even say something which is good because I don’t have anything to reply. For so long, I have built my life knowing I won’t ever have to see him again. And now that I did. I don’t know if I’m sad, angry, or even happy. All I know is there are tears flooding the creases of my eyes, and I’ll be damned if I let them fall for him again. I wipe it away before it even drops to my cheeks.

Chapter Text

I sit anxiously in the diner’s booth. I choose the one close to the door so Jeonghan won’t have a hard time looking for where I’m sitting. Also so I can have a good look at who enters the door, if it’s him or just another teenager meeting friends at the booth by the end of the aisle. It’s seven minutes past 6 o’clock and I’m beginning to wonder if he’s actually coming, but then again I thought closing a bookstore isn’t that fast so I give him more time. The least I can do now is wait for him. 

I cusp my two hands on the mug of my coffee, feeling the warmth it radiates. I look outside and see try to wonder what is it about this small town that helps Jeonghan feel safe. 

The door rings again and finally Jeonghan walks in. He greets the waiter as he enters, giving him a polite conversation. He sees me in my booth then walks towards me as he bids his farewell to the waiter. I think of all the times he walked these streets and entered this diner alone. At some point, even though he’s smiling, was he really happy?

“Hi,” A quick smile marked his face, which lasted for a millisecond. He slides on the seat in front of me, quietly slamming his hands on the table.

“Hi,” I try to stand up and greet him but I quickly sat back again when I figured he doesn’t require the false formalities. “I’m glad you could make it.”

“Sure,” He says looking at me, then the window, then the table. “I want to make this quick. So go ahead.”

“Oh,” I say. I call on the waitress quickly. “Don’t you want to eat first, though? Or at least have some coffee?”

“I really don’t think that’s the best--” He is abruptly stopped by the waitress he was conversing earlier who now wants to take his order.

“What are you having, Jeonghan?” He asks with a bright smile and nice tone.

“No, um,” Jeonghan looks a bit disoriented, not wanting to sound rude as he attempts to dismiss her without his order. “I’m not actually hungry, Seungkwan. I’ll be out quick so it’s fine.”

“Now, that doesn’t sound like you at all?” He places his hands on his hips. “Tell you what, I’ll order your usual and add in a free milkshake. Alright? I won’t say no for an answer.”

“Seungkwan, it’s fine really. Just--”

“Got it. How about you, sir?” I give him my order and he immediately walks away before Jeonghan can even say a word. “I’ll be right back with your orders okay?”

“Oh, Seungkwan, wait.” Jeonghan attempts to call the waiter back, but fails as he already called in his order.

“Well,” I give him a warm smile. “Someone’s popular.”

He doesn’t look at all pleased with my observation. He has this look set on me that doesn’t look at all pleased with my existence in this particular place. And I can understand that. At least I try to.

“So,” I say, breaking the silence he set forth after he refused to respond earlier. “That bookstore. It’s really nice.”

He gives another quick smile. “Thanks.”

“Really,” I say with much enthusiasm and sincerity. “It looks like a place I would visit regularly. I love the decors and the furniture. Just wow.”

“Yeah?” He smiles again, but this time it lasted more than a millisecond. “It took me a while to finish it. It’s not done, I still have yet to add some other stuff to make it feel homey, but it’s getting there.”

I can sense the passion in him. I can hear the love in his voice for the first time since I spoke to him. I can finally hear Jeonghan. But his smile fades again. He remembers why he’s here, and why I’m here - why we’re both here. 

“It took me quite a while to build it.” He says. “I had to sacrifice a lot. I had to pretend it’s all going to be fine before it even was.”

He looks at me with a death stare. I’m no longer sure if he is talking about the bookstore or… something else.

“I had to come up with so many ways to make it. Luckily, I did it. But to get there was tough. Now, it’s holding on to a very thin line just because someone decided to walk through its doors and reappear.” He’s not talking about the bookstore. He shakes it off quickly to get back to the real topic at hand. “I mean I had to make a loan at the bank, and every time these sharks walk in all they ever want to hear about is the money. I get it, but it’s still frustrating.”

I grin and lean forward. Inviting him to continue.

“I rarely get to talk about my bookstore with my family because I don’t want to worry about how much I owe the bank because of it. But, when I’m in there alone or otherwise. I take time to admire it. Take it all in. This is what I built, and I’m so proud of it.”

“I love that.” I mutter.

“I’m sorry?”

“I mean,” I sit back up. “I love hearing that. It sounds like you have things in check.”

“Well. That shop is my baby, and I worked too hard to give it up now.”

“I’m so glad to hear that.” I smile sincerely. He smiles back. I hold on to his stare for as long as I can. I let him know I’m here for a good reason, and I hope it translates well through my eyes.

---

He looks at me as if I forgot why we’re here. The real reason why we’re in this situation. I hate his eyes. I hate his smile. I hate him. But I do like having someone who listens for a change, so I let him sit there and listen to me with a smile. I’m still a bit concerned about how this day would end, but having him on the other end of this booth gives me a bit of comfort like how his presence used to make me feel before it went downhill. 

“So,” I break the silence and stare we’ve been holding on to each other by looking down on my cup. “Are you finally going to tell me what you’re doing here?”

“Oh, I…” He shakes himself and sits up again, unwrinkling his suit and adjusting his tie. “I’m on my way to a conference nearby. I took a stop because I had to pee.”

“You mean a journalist conference?” I ask little enthusiasm in my voice.

“Yes.” He says. He looks at me with hopeful eyes, seeming to look for a hint of pride on my side. I am proud, but I don’t think it’s proper to show it.

“That’s great. I’m happy for you…” I let the silence linger for a few moments before I ask a follow up question. “So, are you attending or speaking?”

“Just attending. Too soon to be speaking you know. I barely have it together at my work to be a journalist who’s actually qualified enough to speak at a conference.” He smiles. “But, I’m happy to just be attending.”

“That’s good.” With that, we sit in silence again. The feeling of confusion rises back in my mind. I look at him and I feel a surge of emotions. I’m angry and sad and longing. I look at how he holds his coffee mug and remember how he used to cup his hands on my face… in a friendly gesture. I’m so lost in this moment that if I could choose not to be polite I’d walk out on him and run away. As far away from him as possible. Luckily, Seungkwan walks in at the right moment to bring our order.

“Here you go.” Seungkwan drops our order on the table. “If you need anything else just holler. Enjoy your food.”

“Thank you.” We both say at the same time as Seungkwan walks away. 

We sit there in silence immersed in our food. We consume it without interruption from one another. We wait until we’re both finished before we start talking again. Like how we used to back then.

“How’s your food?” He asks. I noticed him struggling to keep the conversation afloat. He makes an awkward question just so we can avoid the cardinal topic, so I humor him. But not for long. 

“It’s  okay. Not any different. It’s food.” 

I look at him as he smiles. I didn’t ask him back because what’s the point. I’m not interested at all. I just want this to be over. 

“So, what now? You asked me here. I don’t think you just wanted to eat and talk about work. I assume you have something else important to say?”

“Jeonghan…” He says my name with so much weight and regret.

“No. Don’t say it like that. Just please, let’s get this over with.” I say, looking intently at his eyes this time. “Let’s not beat around the bush. I remember how things ended between us. How you decided to end things between us. If you want to apologize please go ahead, but don’t expect a proper response from me.”

“Okay,” He says calmly. “I really don’t know what to say, Jeonghan.”

“Then what’s the point of this.” I attempt to gather my bag and phone, but he stops me quickly.”

“No, just… Please let me…” I stay and put my things back. “This is really hard for me. I kept thinking of what I would do if I ever see you again, knowing how much you probably hate me for what I did. You don’t know how much I wanted to go to you. But… I didn’t know what to do. There’s no excuse to how shitty it was of me to expect that you’ll forgive me once again and still be there for me the next day.”

“Yes, it was.” I say. “Let’s just lay it out all on the table, Seungcheol. Okay?” I say with so much passive anger in my voice. I am aware we are in a diner so I try my best to keep things civil. “I was clear about how I felt for you. I never gave you any room to misinterpret it. I was your best friend for so many years, and I stood by you through it all. I told you I loved you, and I didn’t ask for anything in return. I was okay that you didn’t feel the same way. For so long, I pretended I was okay with everything, but I couldn’t anymore. The day I asked you to attend the launch of my poetry collection was the day I told myself, enough. If you couldn’t be bothered to be there for me as a friend, then I shouldn’t be bothered to be there for you at all.”

“Jeonghan, you have to understand.” He tries to reach for my hand, but I hid it under the table immediately. “It was never my intention to hurt you. I just didn’t think it was okay for us to be like how you want us to be.” 

“Figures.” I say as I search my bag for money to leave for the diner. I stand up and walk out of the diner before Seungcheol could say another word. I wasn’t about to let him break me all over again. It’s just too much.

“Jeonghan, wait. Please.”

I keep walking. I push the door on my way out, and I didn’t hear him chase after me at all. But, I receive a text.

Seungcheol: It can’t end like this. I’ll give you a few minutes, but please let me know if you’re okay and let’s try again.

Chapter Text

Jeonghan didn’t get too far and decided to just sit by a park bench to collect himself. I take it as a good sign that he’s willing to end our night on a lighter note. I wait a few meters away from where he is making sure he doesn’t see me, but at the same time close enough to run to him when someone decides to attack him. I’m not sure how safe the town is at this time of night, but there’s nothing wrong with being cautious.

I look at him and see how frustrated he is as he scrolls through his phone. It seems as if he is looking for something. I want to say I admire him at this lighting, but that would seem inappropriate given that he just exposed me for the conceited ass that I am. I hate that it has come to this. I’m more than desperate to fix it. 

My phone buzz and it’s a text from Jeonghan.

Jeonghan: Where do we go from here?

His message caught me off guard. It wasn’t because he was not enough. He was more than enough, and I’m not sure what to tell him. I text him back

Seungcheol: Let me sit next to you and let’s figure it out together.

I walk out of the hiding to a spot where he’ll definitely see me. And he did. I stand a little bit closer and waved. He nods at me, inviting me to approach him and sit. And I did. 

I dust off the other side of the park bench before sitting down. I lay still for a while and breathed to gather myself. I am about to explain but then Jeonghan said something. 

“Do you remember,” He says. I cast him a glance and he is looking at something far, far away. “Our class with Professor Kim.” 

He is wearing a smile that seems to be reminiscing something good between us. I like that. 

“We were so behind his class that he had to give us extra credit to pass his class.” 

“We even attended his class drunk just because we didn’t feel like going.”

“He was so pissed at us that day that he asked us not to attend his class anymore.”

“Of course, you were the bad influence. I wanted to attend his class.”

“You, ass! You didn’t want to attend Philosophy. I practically had to beg for you to take that class with me.”

We were both laughing at that point. As if we were friends again. I forget that he hates me and I hope he has forgotten it too.

“There’s this one discussion Professor Kim had about The Myth of Sisyphus and Albert Camus.” Jeonghan says now back to his relaxed and reserved demeanor. “‘One must imagine Sisyphus is happy.’”

I still look at him as he stares at nothing. It gives goosebumps just hearing his voice this hollow and empty. No. Not empty - sad. Again. 

“At first I thought, what kind of happiness is pushing a rock up a hill over and over and over again. ” Jeonghan continues. “But then again, I realized I was in a similar situation -  everyone is. Life is absurd as Camus said, and one can only find happiness after achieving a petty goal, like how Sisyphus brings the boulder up the hill even if it rolls down every time. Mine is not a special case, but at some point I think I’ve embraced this persona of being a friend, and only a friend to the boy I loved so much. And regardless of how much he denies me that love, I keep pushing rocks up hills to make him happy even if he kicks it back down every time. It’s unfair. I was thinking, maybe you imagined I was happy, too. Except I wasn’t.”

---

“That’s an unfair analogy.” Seungcheol says. It snaps me back into the moment and I finally look at him. He has tears in his eyes and he is looking at me intently. “I wasn’t kicking the rock down. It wasn’t me. As far as I know, I did my best to push that rock at the top with you.”

I look away from him because I was fighting the tears forming in my eyes, and I didn’t want him to see it.

“Okay, maybe I was a jerk at some point.” He admits. “Especially, in our last moments. But, you can’t say I’ve always been like that.”

I’m still fighting the tears. 

“I’ve been there for you. I still am, Han. At that last moment I didn’t imagine you were happy. I knew it was going to crush you. I was young and I didn’t know what I was doing.”

“Stop.” 

“Jeonghan.”

“Please. I don’t think I can do this. I’m sorry, Cheol. I’m trying so hard, but talking to you just rips off the bandaid then pouring salt in an open wound. It’s just too much.”

“No, okay.” Cheol holds my hand and tries to look at my eyes as I hold it down. “Then talk to me about something else. I just really need to have this conversation with you.”

I look at him and I could’ve sworn I see him as this guy I loved. He still has those eyes that so soft even when he’s frustrated and mad. The dimples he often try to hide are still obvious. He still looks like my best friend.

“What?” I realize I’ve been looking at him for too long.

“Okay.” I tell him and leaned back, avoiding his gaze again.

“Okay? Okay! Thank you, Jeonghan.”

“Do you mind if we walk back to the bookstore? I just need to grab a few stuff. I can make tea if you like.”

“That would be nice actually.”

He stands up and invites me to walk with him. I slowly breathe, and let things slide. I purposefully forget that this man in front of me is the jerk who broke my heart three years ago. I forget he’s the reason for my pain and misery. Instead, I remember him as the man who I fell in love with, hoping it wouldn’t cost me another heartbreak. 

“Come on then.” Seungcheol says. I stand up and we begin walking side by side. 

“I have to admit,” I break the silence only filled by our footsteps. “Now that I think about it, it’s a bit refreshing to see you again.”

“I’m going to ask again, and I really hope I get a real answer this time. How are you?”

“My life is normal. Everything is presumably normal. Except for the issue with my loan with the bank, everything is very much okay. How about you?”

“My life has been hell.” Seungcheol says. I stop my footsteps. I spent the earlier years of our fall out wishing he lives with pain and suffering. But, hearing it now feels all too much to handle. He looks back to see me still standing, so I continue walking. 

“Why?” I ask. Genuinely concerned.

“Well, for the most part, I felt bad for what I did to you. It somehow affected me. Ever since then I’ve lived a mediocre life. I don’t blame you at all. I blame myself because of how much I let things go. I got a job with a newspaper nobody respects and all my past relationships immediately turns sour.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“No you’re not” He’s smiling. And he thinks he’s right. “Maybe you are now, but three years ago, if you heard about how my life is crashing down in a heartbeat you would’ve thought I deserved it.”

I probably would. Or not. I’ll never know. The good thing about moving here is that I get as little news about him and other people as possible. I couldn’t handle it all.

“You know,” He says. “I tried to find another person to settle down with. I thought I could find someone who will take care of me, look after me, love me. I wanted to be romantic with someone. Give my best because it’s what they deserve. At first it works. I am romantic, but then things happen and I get sad. I get frustrated. I think that I don’t deserve this kind of love from someone. Eventually, they’ll pull themselves away from me because I turned into this difficult person. I couldn’t find someone who can put up with me. Not anymore.”

“We’re here.” I say without giving too much thought to what he said. I guess it’s all too painful to reminisce now. I stop just a few inches away from him and we just stand there not even facing each other, but facing the bookstore. 

“I think something changed,” He continues. “I don’t completely understand it, but I really think I missed an opportunity. If there’s any turning back, if I can just change things - I would.”

I can’t think of what to say. This kind of confession caught me off-guard, although I don’t really know exactly what he’s trying to say. But at the same time, I do.

“It’s getting cold. Let’s get inside and warm ourselves up with tea.” I finally say.

Chapter Text

At this point, I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I invited the person who stood me up three years ago for a cup of tea back in my bookstore. The one who I swore I won’t even give the benefit of seeing how I am now. Just a few hours ago he was dead to me, and now here we are having a decent conversation about ourselves.

“Jeonghan,” he calls for my attention, “the water’s boiling.”

I grab the pot, but forgot that I’m not wearing mittens. I feel a burn on my hand and I couldn’t help but yelp. Part in surprise, but overall because of the pain. Not even a minute has passed and Seungcheol is already holding my hand and pulling me towards the sink. He turns on the faucet then let the running cold water soothe my burnt hand. He stands there for a few seconds, until he remembers that we’re not on good terms, so he lets go. I’m not sure I wanted him to.

“Where are your mittens?” He asks, stepping back to give us some space.

“Over there.” I point towards the counter behind me. He prepares the tea for the both of us. I turn off the faucet and grab a towel to wipe off the water from my hand. I walk to the table, and he soon followed holding a tray with two hot tea. He sets them on the table.

“Thanks.”

“I remember you take yours with honey, right?” He asks. I’m quite surprised he still knows that about me. At the same time, I knew he would. He’s the only person who actually knows me - whether it’s intentional or not. So, I couldn’t be blamed if I really thought he would actually like me, too.

“Yes,” I smile at him. 

He smiles back. And I feel this warm feeling in my stomach. The one I used to feel when he does something stupid. He smiles like he’s trying to shine brighter than the sun. I love how he’s never afraid to show how happy he is. His dimples are pure evidence of how beautiful he can smile even on rough days.

“Jeonghan?”

“What?” I ask him. I’m still looking at him, but we’re no longer smiling. Our happy facade was immediately replaced by blistering sadness. 

“Say we go back three years ago,” He begins to say. “Would you have forgiven me if I called you the next day and told you why I wasn’t there at your launch?”

Without hesitation I answer him, “Yes.”

“But, why?” His question has an obvious answer, and him wanting to hear it out loud is obnoxious.

“Seriously, Seungcheol?” I say. “You want me to say it?”

He was silent. I guess he realized it was a stupid question.

"You weren’t there, Cheol. And you would think that’s enough reason for me to drop you.”

“Yes, it is. And I would’ve understood if you did.”

“But, I didn’t. I felt like I was the only one you had left so I wasn’t going to hate you for not attending a stupid poetry launch. I kept calling you, Cheol. But you weren’t answering me. I went to your apartment, your work, every possible place I thought you’d be, but it was as if you intentionally didn’t want to see me. I didn’t know what I did to deserve that, but you could’ve at least told me something. Just a simple reason for what made you suddenly want to ignore me.”

“I don’t know what to say, Jeonghan. It was unlike me, and I thought I was doing the right thing by you.”

“I even saw you once - in the street. I don’t know if you saw me, but I could’ve sworn you did. I yelled out to you, but then you just looked the other way. I never saw you again.”

He’s not looking at me, but staring directly at the cup. At this moment, I have the upperhand. I am not about to cry, but I will explain how I feel. I’m not angry, not upset - I just want to let him know what I feel.

“A week before that, I decided to move out of town. I was preparing to move, and I wanted to tell you, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t even know if you still cared. After that time I saw you, I stopped trying, and just let you be. I spent so much time thinking about what I did wrong to get that kind of treatment, and then I realized maybe it wasn’t me. I came to terms with it. I resented you, but I started treating myself right.”

“I’m sorry.” I hear a crack in his voice. And it broke my heart.

---

I look up at Jeonghan, not afraid of him seeing how broken I am at this moment. Trying to hold it in will only hurt me much more, so I let it out. I’m crying in front of the person I shattered to pieces because I was so selfish. I hear Jeonghan get up, and even though I don’t deserve it, he pulls me in for a hug. I rest my head on his stomach while he wraps his hand around my shoulder and caresses my hair. I cry even harder.

“I really didn’t mean to do that to you,” I say to him. “The last thing I wanted was to hurt you. I’m really sorry, Jeonghan.”

He continues to hug me and say, “Stop talking.”

His voice sounds like he’s also holding back tears. I didn’t want it to go like this. I didn’t want him to feel guilty and forgive me because I cried in front of him. I just wanted to let him know how sad I have been ever since we parted ways. 

It took a few minutes, but I finally find strength to gain composure. After what happened, I don’t know where I’m getting the nerve to sit in front of Jeonghan like this. Like the last three minutes, no - the last three years, happened. We just hold the silence for now without looking at each other. 

“Seungcheol, what happened?” The silence is broken by his question and a ringing in my ears. I find a way to look at him without breaking into tears again. I succeeded. I hold his gaze with mine, and he is showing so much concern towards me. Even after all these years he still cares. 

“Jeonghan,” I say. I intend to let him know now - he deserves it. “I was depressed.”

He didn’t react to what I said. He didn’t know how to.

“I didn’t know when it started, but it got worse as time went on. I was so full of self-doubt and I kept questioning my worth all because I didn’t know what I wanted in life.” I gulp, trying not to choke while talking. “When you told me you like me, I didn’t respond because I wouldn’t know how to tell you what I was going through. You deserve so much more than someone who is such a mess. It wasn’t because I didn’t like you back.”

I hear Jeonghan sigh. He looks away from me as if to hold back his tears.

“After that, I wasn’t functioning properly. I kept ignoring people. I didn't know what to get out of bed. I couldn’t tell you what I was going through because I was afraid you’d blame yourself. It’s what you do. You blame yourself for the bad things that happen around you. And I didn’t want you to feel like my depression was caused by your confession... And I was at your poetry launch.” I confess. 

He looks back at me again with complete shock.

“You didn’t see me, but I was there. I even took a photo of you when you were speaking.”

I pull out my phone to show him the photo I took of him on the day of his launch.

“You looked so happy.” I smile at him with tears in my eyes, but I hold it back in. I didn’t want him to see me breaking down again. “Looking at you there with all that people. I didn’t want to be a blackhole; I knew at some point I was sucking out all the happiness from you. That moment was about you, and I didn’t want to take that away from you. The last thing I want is for you to be with a dysfunctional man who didn’t know how to love himself, let alone you. It wasn’t a rash decision to isolate myself and ignore the people I love, especially you. I was filled with so much dark thoughts about myself and my life. I thought I’d be doing you a favor if I steer clear from your path.”

He wipes a tear off his cheeks he didn’t realize was forming in his eye. 

“I thought I was helping you at the time. I only realized recently that I was only helping myself. I’m so sorry.”

I stare at his eyes, and he does the same. He puts his hand on the table as if he’s asking if it’s alright to hold mine. So I let him. We hold hands and he frequently squeezes it. The silence is reassuring. He didn’t outright say that he forgives me, but I can feel it from his touch. Regardless, I know he understands. At least he’s trying to. 

“Remember earlier when I told you how I attempted to make my relationships work after I screwed things up with you. I think it’s because I felt guilty about everything. I know I couldn’t love anyone else because of how I felt things for you, but let it go too soon. It’s not entirely a coincidence that I happened to be here, Jeonghan. I knew you were here. I asked our friends, and they told me. I volunteered to go to the conference because I know I’ll be driving through here. I knew I might have at least the slightest chance to see you again. And I did. This is me trying to turn back the clock and hoping that you’ll let me.”

He looks at me intently. As if pondering over the last bits of information I shared with him.

---

“What time do you have to leave tomorrow?” I ask him. It surprised him because he was in the middle of bearing his soul.

“What?” He asks unsure of what he just heard me say.

“What time?” I say without clarifying further to see if he actually got what I said.

“The conference starts at 11 AM.”

“I think you have to leave here by 9 if you want to be there on time.” I check my phone to see what time it is. It’s 10:38. “Which gives us less than 11 hours to make up for our lost time.”

“Jeonghan…” He says my name. He is surprised by this decision I made, and I am as well. 

“Let’s forget the last three years ever happened, and take the next 10 hours re-igniting something we’ve lost. I spent so much time despising you, Seungcheol, and I’ve gotten tired of it.”

He looks at me with so much hope, and he’s near smiling.

“I was hurt. But, I know now that we both were. I can’t blame you for what you went through. Make it up to me by being here. Now.”

“I will, Jeonghan. I am here.”

“I want to take you somewhere.” I grab my coat and the keys off the rack near the counter. “Come on.”

He walks towards me and we both head out of the store. I’m surprised how easy it took for me to forgive him, but I can’t hold a grudge against a friend who was in as much pain as I was. I love Seungcheol, and I proved today that this love I have for him didn’t go away and it won’t any time soon.