For the first time in almost seven years, Küllo hasn’t prioritized Lucija. The thought hit him rather late—the four of them were already sprawled out on his thickly carpeted living room, with mugs of Gregory’s tea amid them, Katrín leaning against Lucija as the latter rubbed circles on the blonde girl’s back. He watched them silently, wondering how quickly they had gone from arguing in the group chat, to barely acknowledging each other in his car, to hugging as if they were in junior year high school all over again.
“She was a fucking freshman,” Katrín said, sounding haunted. “And I ruined her life, what the fuck.”
Her cheeks shone with tear streaks and Küllo wanted to go and wipe them for her, but he couldn’t move from his spot on the floor. Küllo could barely remember how he had driven to get both Lucija and Katrín to his house; there was something in how Katrín immediately agreed to come over that propelled him to move so quickly—she was as confused as he was when they both realized that he had picked her up first.
“No, you did not ruin anyone’s lives,” Gregory said. He sounded serious, too, and the graveness of it all nearly made Küllo laugh. The Wonder Four was never serious. They were practical jokes on each other and the silliest jabs one could come up with. They didn’t talk about overdosing on alcohol or leaving the country abruptly due to guilt.
“I did,” Katrín insisted hotly. She disentangled herself from Lucija’s embrace to glare at Gregory. “Her older cousin said so. He sent me a message, and that was the first thing I read once I landed in Reykjavik and turned my phone on.”
“Daeyeon?” Lucija asked, her brows furrowing together.
Katrín snickered as she wiped a hand across her cheeks. “Does Kyungmi have another cousin?”
That—that was the Wonder Four. Ill-timed, sarcastic jokes as a means to cope. Unable to help himself, Küllo finally broke out into strained chuckling. His companions were silent at first, but eventually, they all followed suit. Lucija’s laughter has always sounded musical to Küllo’s ears, but this time he was more focused on Katrín’s.
Once they all stopped laughing, Gregory spoke again. “Something Lucija has mentioned piqued my curiosity, Katrín. If it is alright to ask, why did you avoid us after disappearing? You never reached out to any of us.” There was an awkward pause before he continued; as if it physically hurt him to push his words out. “Did you hate us, Katrín?”
Ah, one of the million-dollar questions.
Küllo fixed his gaze on Katrín, who in turn focused hers on the mugs in the middle of their small circle. He watched as he picked hers up and ran a finger lightly along its rim. “I think I hated myself more than anything, Gregory,” she began, sounding a tiny bit hesitant. “What Daeyeon said stayed with me for a long time. I know he probably said that in the heat of the moment—he found his cousin half-dead or something, and I was mostly responsible for it, so I understand. However, I also started hearing it everywhere. I could only kick a fucking ball but not manage our family business? Damn, I’m tearing the family apart. We lose a game once? Oh, shit, it’s Katrín ruining fucking everything.
“I know, I shouldn’t think that way.” She paused and seemed to consider what to say next. “Lukas, one of my cousins, helped me book sessions with a therapist. I eventually stopped attending the sessions, because I felt it was pointless. I was just wasting everyone’s time.” There was a collective silence after that, but Katrín didn’t open her mouth to speak again.
Küllo leaned against the couch’s leg behind him. “That’s fucked up,” he said, once he was able to speak.
Katrín looked back at him and chuckled. “Yeah, I know,” she replied. “It kind of feels better to be able to say it, though. I mean, Chesa already knows, and it took me a long fucking time before I was able to tell her, but now…” She flashed Küllo a tiny smile, and it sent him down a memory lane full of nights like this: of the Wonder Four somewhere in his large house, and the fact that the laughter of his friends always drowned out the hollow emptiness it held.
An hour before midnight, Katrín and Gregory have migrated onto the couch. They shared Gregory’s phone between them, watching a British series in which Gregory had starred. Katrín was snickering at his acting and offering constructive criticism, which Gregory paid attention to so devotedly.
Küllo stayed seated on the foot of the couch, while Lucija was beside him, hunched over herself, hugging her knees to her chest and staring at him as if she was unraveling the past years they were apart just through her gaze. It used to make him feel uncomfortable, but now Küllo was used to it—yearned for it, even, when they were apart.
He waited for her to speak.
Lucija didn’t fail him. “She was crying,” she said in the hushed tone they had perfected for one another, for whenever they had to communicate in a crowded room. Her dark eyes flicked toward Katrín and Gregory, then back to Küllo. “Well, she always cries whenever she doesn’t get what she wants, but I was surprised that she cried, then.”
Küllo blinked at her, confused. “Kat-Kat went through a pretty fucked up situation, Lucija. I think she deserved to cry after that.”
“Oh, fucking hell.” Lucija rolled her eyes at him. “I wasn’t talking about Katrín. I was talking about—” He realized it as she was saying it, and Küllo stopped her with a dismissive wave of his hand.
Aryang . Just the thought of her filled him with a combination of affection and hatred, and Küllo hated how she was able to manipulate his emotions like that. Aryang was his first friend, and even if he was the one who rescued her at that company party all those years ago, it eventually felt as if she saved him from loneliness every time she flashed him an infectious grin and told him funny stories about her siblings.
He hated to admit it, but he missed his best friend so much.
However, looking at the wonderful woman in front of her banished those feelings of longing right away—here was the only person he had unwaveringly loved for a good part of his life, and he almost had a chance with her, but Aryang ruined everything. Lucija was his past, his present, and would have been his future, and even though he still loved Aryang like a long-lost sister, he couldn’t help but hate her for taking away a future he would’ve been unconditionally happy in.
Still, he went ahead and asked the question Lucija was probably waiting for. “Why was she crying?”
Lucija blinked at him slowly, the same way Oatmeal did whenever he expressed his love in the most cattish way possible, and Küllo had to tell himself repeatedly that she was just probably sleepy, not falling in love with him at that moment. “She admitted that she sent you away when you came to Liepaja for midsummer many years ago.”
His breath caught. “And?”
She closed her eyes as she spoke. “She told me that you asked her, then, if she would let you court me.”
Küllo ignored how it hurt, as if an old, nearly healed wound was opened anew. He sighed and turned his gaze away from Lucija.
“ Ate ‘Beka denied your request, of course,” she continued. “But, you know what bugs me, Küllo? It’s that I keep on exploring the possibilities. What if I had the guts to stand up to her and actually insist on having my way of things? Where would we be right now?” Lucija’s chuckle sounded bitter and forced, and when Küllo finally returned his gaze to her, she was still staring at him.
“Happier together, probably,” he muttered.
“Probably. That’s the word.” She sighed. There was silence, then Lucija was crawling into his personal space. She never cried when she was in distress, but she craved human contact. So, despite his rapidly increasing heartbeat, Küllo let her wrap her arms around him and bury her face into his shoulder. “I’m sorry for being a selfish fucking coward, Küllo. But, I don’t want you to keep on doing this. Once I fly away to Latvia, you should stop waiting for me.”
Küllo leaned his head against hers before nodding silently.
“Thank you,” Lucija whispered, then she was quiet.
She has always had difficulty sleeping, but when she was around him, it came more naturally. Küllo was surprised to learn that such was still the case after a very long time.
If he whispered that he loved her in his native tongue as she drifted away, then Lucija probably wouldn't have heard it. And, for Küllo, that was alright. He could stay in love with her as she slept today, and start moving on once she woke up.