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as if the years didn't pass at all

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Park Kyungmi would still go quiet when she wasn't actively seeking out attention, Nemesio realized as he watched her sip her milkshake as she gazed out at the sea in front of them. There was no tension in her shoulders and she didn't seem poised to attack at any second. It seemed as if the years didn't pass at all.

 

"I didn't know you could shut the fuck up," he remarked jokingly, biting off his milkshake's cracker topping. "I thought you only knew how to piss people off 'till they reach their wits' end."

 

She snickered derisively. "And I didn't know you could actually pay attention to me."

 

Nemesio had to admit that she hit home with that statement. Momentarily silenced, he shrugged and focused on finishing his milkshake.

 

Then, it occurred to him. "Hey, that was your idea. It's not my fault it didn't work out the way you wanted it to."

 

Kyungmi turned to him then, her dark eyes filled with a strange combination of fondness and sadness that Nemesio couldn't quite decipher. "I could never compete with Rebeka, I know, but it was worth a shot, wasn't it?"

 

Nemesio didn't want to go back in time at that moment, but it was inevitable. He remembered bumping into Kyungmi as he was waiting for Chesa in Luneta, more a year ago, and the first thing she said was he was being an idiot for sending Rebeka gifts but not having the guts to actually confess.

 

"It was another game you wanted to win," he pointed out after a few moments of silence. "It was nothing serious." His own words felt hollow to him, as deep inside him Nemesio knew that there could have been something serious, but he was obsessed with pushing his affections away and Kyungmi wanted to reel him so suffocatingly close to her.

 

"Was it now?" He couldn't hear any smidge of hurt in her tone, and he was surprised to realize that he was relieved. "I could have liked you for real then, Nemo, but you didn't let me."

 

Kyungmi was silent again after that, letting Nemesio's thoughts wander to territories they've been previously barred from entering. Seeing the people around him falling in love and him wondering how that felt like; seeing Rebeka Ariadne and thinking that if he would fall in love with someone, it would be with a person as perfect as her. Sending her random gifts and sweets—making himself known but not owning up to it as he didn't know how he would deal with a relationship, honestly—

 

"Stop spacing out on me, Nemo." Kyungmi was glaring at him now. She might have started talking when his thoughts drifted off; Nemesio didn't hear if she said anything.

 

"Sorry," he muttered. "Were you saying something?"

 

"No, but I know you're not with me right now, not really." She grabbed him by the arm and forced him to walk along the beach. "I used to resent you because of that, but I think I get it now."

 

He tried not to struggle as he kept up with her pace. His cold milkshake was starting to make the hand holding it feel numb. "Really?" was all Nemesio could say.

 

"Yeah," Kyungmi replied simply. "It took me some time, but I understand now. You can't force someone to feel something, whatever." Nemesio wasn't sure, but he could sense that she wasn't just saying that to him.

 

"Don't tell me you actually fell for me," he joked, chuckling softly. "That would mean you lost the bet."

 

Kyungmi let his arm go and abruptly stopped walking, making Nemesio stop as well. "As if, 'no," she said, sounding so disgusted it made him laugh again. "I forced myself to like you, yes, and I was frustrated when it didn't work. It made me feel like there was something wrong with me."

 

Nemesio waited for her to elaborate.

 

“See, Daeyeon Oppa was always in love with someone. Sometimes it was a short-lived crush on a guy he saw at a coffee shop or something kind of serious. It doesn’t matter, really, but my point is that he finds it easy to fall for a person. I can’t relate to that. Not with guys or even girls, no.” Kyungmi lightly kicked at the sand with a foot, seeming to gather her thoughts. “I thought that a competition would force me to feel something, and when I found out that you were kind of pursuing Rebeka, I chose you as my target.”

 

“You said you wanted to help me forget her,” he replied rather dumbly. To be honest, Nemesio didn’t know how to feel about Kyungmi’s confession; a part of him considered that she was just bored at that time and wanted to torment him by asking him out on dates nearly every weekend—

 

“So you can focus on me instead, yeah,” she replied with a shrug. “It’s like hitting two birds with one stone, wasn’t it? You would stop going after someone who would never give you the light of day, and I’ll finally understand what it means to fall in love with someone. It was a very ideal situation, but we can’t have it all, unfortunately.”

 

Kyungmi finally started walking again, and Nemesio let her put a bit of distance between them before he followed suit. She didn’t seem to mind, as when she looked back at him over her shoulder, she playfully winked at him.

 

“I stopped sending Rebeka gifts after we stopped seeing each other.” Nemesio wasn’t entirely sure what compelled him to tell her that, but he figured that she should know. It was the unspoken part of the deal, as what they only agreed on was that the first person to fall in love for real was the loser.

 

“I won, then?” she asked, as he expected.

 

“No, why would you?” he asked back, toying with her.

 

Kyungmi turned around and frowned at him. “Because, apparently, I was successful in taking your attention away from Rebeka, that’s why.”

 

Half of Nemesio wanted to throw the rest of his milkshake at her, but as Kyungmi started laughing and walking away again, he realized that she may be right. Being stuck in an endless loop of unreturned affections for someone who would never look at him the same way would frustrate him and even distract him from reaching his goals—

 

“Come on, Finding Nemo! Let’s celebrate my victory by getting ice cream!”

 

Nemesio sighed. He would tell Kyungmi about Chiara next time.

 

Probably in a few years, once he processed what the fuck  that  was.