Chapter Ten - Disbelief
“CHA HYUN-AH!” JONGIN called to his old school friend. The manager turned and grinned at the young performer. They met in a firm hug and Jongin could have sworn that he caught a whiff of his childhood. Cha Hyun considered himself clever, to say the least. Jongin wasn’t smelling his school days, he was smelling the perfume Seo Kyung used to wear. The manager had asked her sisters what she used to wear, telling them and promising that he could get Kim Jongin back into Seo Kyung’s life.
Jongin smelled her apartment, the way she smelled when he held her close, the whiff he got from her hair as his tongue massaged the sweet spot on her neck. Whenever he thought of her, all he could see was the look on her face just before she left. Her eyebrows were furrowed, her lips slightly parted and her cheeks burning with anger. Her narrow eyes showed angry creases in her beautiful face. He could see the moment she chose Do Hyun. It was like she had physically reached into his chest, pulled out his heart and dropped the bloody organ on the ground on her way out.
“Jongin-ssi, good to see you.” Cha Hyun released his old friend and shot him a smile.
“Actually, I’m Kai now.” Jongin smirked.
“Alright, Kai-ssi, good to see you.” Cha Hyun laughed. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“No, I’m okay. I’m glad you got a hold of me before my comeback. I’m really glad I got to see you again.” Jongin admitted.
“Oh of course. But you know, you’re a hard man to find. I had to look everywhere for you.” Cha Hyun feigned exhaustion, dropping his voice and letting his neck go slack for a moment.
“You said there was someone else from our class working here, but I didn’t see anyone.” Jongin mused, trying to look back on his long night.
“Really?” Cha Hyun’s eyebrows raised. “I sent her to your room. I’m sure she went into your room. She didn’t say anything to you?”
“No...” Jongin trailed off. “None of the girls really spoke to me. Are you sure she was in there?”
“She should have been. She was wearing turquoise and black.” Cha Hyun offered Jongin a description.
The young dancer had to think about it for a minute. He remembered the girl in the tight red dress who was hanging off of Xiumin and the girl in the sparkly black dress who was all over Sehun. If he thought about it hard enough, through the haze of alcohol and sweat he remembered a turquoise dress. The more he thought about it, he remembered Baekhyun touching her at all times, kissing her sloppily at any moment she’d let him. Jongin remembered meeting her in the hall and asking her where the bathroom was. Though, admittedly he never really looked at her face. He knew what he would see; Makeup caked on, making her look fake and dolled up for her job. He was sure she was pretty.
“Yeah, I remember, why?” Jongin turned to Cha Hyun. “I don’t remember her face.”
“You mean you don’t remember her at all?” Cha Hyun checked the clock, wondering if Seo Kyung was finishing up with her makeup removal.
“No.” Jongin shook his head, as clueless as ever.
Cha Hyun, however was determined. He was going to get them together again if his life depended on it. Ever since he saw Seo Kyung’s White Day chocolate to Jongin, he knew that they were supposed to be together forever. Even if it was only friendship for the rest of their lives, they should never be apart. He, among other people, were flabbergasted when he heard that the pair had fought. It was even weirder when they never made up. They were the closest friends Cha Hyun had ever seen in high school.
“Yah, Jongin-ah!” Seo Kyung called across the field. Cha Hyun looked up from his push-up exercise to see the vibrant young girl running across the dirt field towards where the boys were in the middle of PE.
“Mm, Seo Kyung-ah.” Jongin grunted next to him, obviously struggling to keep up with the intense workout.
“Jongin-ah, I have something to tell you. Hurry, hurry!” the girl yelled.
“Yah, haksaeng!” the Coach yelled, “What are you doing out of class?”
“I have a note.” she skidded to a stop in front of the teacher, “I have one for Jongin, too.”
“What?” Seo Kyung shoved two pieces of paper into his hand and waited until he inspected them before dashing towards her best friend.
“What is it?” Jongin collapsed, glad to be done with exercise, but he didn’t have time to rest before Seo Kyung pulled him to his feet and dragged him away.
“Don’t forget your school bag.” Coach called, but he hadn’t even finished his sentence before Seo Kyung was calling back to him.
“I already have it!” Seo Kyung giggled and smiled at Jongin.
Cha Hyun looked up to see them go and saw something in Jongin’s eyes. She was smiling at him and he was smiling back. Her eyes were sparkling and filled with excitement as she told Jongin why they were leaving school. He gazed back at her with adoration sparkling in his eyes. He spoke excitedly with her when he heard what his best friend had to say and they both took off running. Cha Hyun scoffed and averted his eyes back to the ground. It was not for him to see. Any idiot could see they were in love but somehow they were the only two who didn’t see it.
Cha Hyun the manager never thought he would find his soulmate, the world was too big for that and the chance was too small. Those two, however, got lucky. They found each other right away and for them to be apart for even a moment longer would practically destroy the universe. The manager looked upon the performer and sighed. Did he really not see it? Even after all of these years?
“You .” Cha Hyun sighed and Jongin’s eyes widened.
“Are you seriously trying to tell me that you didn’t recognize her?” Cha Hyun looked at Jongin just in time to see Seo Kyung pass outside the door behind him.
“Recognize who? I don’t understand.”
“It’s her Jongin. The only girl you’ve ever cared about.”
“You mean...” Jongin trailed off, thinking for only a moment before it hit him. “You mean to tell me that the girl with the turquoise dress was Seo Kyung? My first love? My best friend?”
“Yes!” Cha Hyun exclaimed, throwing up his arms. “Took you long enough.”
“But that doesn’t make sense. Why would she work here? No offence. Why would she be here? Why would she let Baekhyun kiss her like that? Did she recognize me? Why would she want to see me?” Jongin rambled.
“Of course she recognized you.” Cha Hyun sighed dramatically. “She went into that room because she loved you. Maybe she still does.”
“I... I missed her, didn’t I?” Jongin sat down hard in a chair that he suspected Cha Hyun had placed there at some point.
“Well...” The manager mused, sitting in a chair across from the dancer. “I’m not supposed to give out the personal information of my employees but...” the dancer leaned forwards eagerly. “I think if you leave this place and make a right, you’ll catch up to her.”
“Cha Hyun-ah, I-” Jongin rose to his unsteady feet. He was going to see her again.
“Don’t thank me. What are you still doing here?”
Cha Hyun hated romantic comedies. He hated watching the boy and the girl fall in love and kiss in inconvenient places. He hated when they lost each other somehow due to illness, time or distance. However, the worst part was when they realized they couldn’t live without each other and ran, just like Jongin was doing. He hated romantic comedies, but for some reason he didn’t hate this.
JONGIN LISTENED quietly to my story about Mom’s cancer, although I was sure some of it was unintelligible from the sobbing. The whole time, he just held me close and listened, asking questions if I forgot any details.
I told him about Mom’s first bout of cancer, right after he and Do Hyun left and I thought I was going to die. I told him about how I couldn’t get out of bed and my sisters hated me for being so incredibly useless when it came to the hospital bills. I told him how I still wasn’t better when I stood up and got a job at the corner store, but was fired for being too sad. I explained Mom’s first surgery to remove the cancer and her continuous cancer screenings that were coming up negative. We went back to school and work and we were living our lives until Mom got sick again. We all quit school and focused on work and that was it. We’ve been living like this for almost two years, struggling just to stay on top of the hospital bills.
Jongin held me close, my head resting on his chest and his arms holding me tightly. Whenever I let out a particularly loud sob his grip on me would tighten for a few seconds, just to make sure I was okay. Somehow, he still smelled like Jongin. He still smelled the same as he did seven years ago, like something that was only ever Jongin. I wasn’t sure what his smell was actually like but all I knew was that it was him and he was here.
“Is Cha Hyun-ssi the only one who hired you when Eommonie got sick again?” Jongin whispered his question.
“Yes.” Was all I could manage before letting out a few heavy sobs.
“Seo Kyung-ah, I’m so sorry. If I would have known-”
“Don’t.” I pulled out of his embrace. “No, you wouldn’t have. You and I both know that.”
“I would have tried.”
“Jongin-ssi, I have to go home.” I gathered my bag, jacket and shoes in my arms. Jongin helped me stand, though my knees still shook.
“No, you need water. There’s no way you’ll make it like this. Let’s get you a drink, okay?” Jongin helped me slip on my jacket. “Is that convenience store with the dog still half a block away?”
“Yeah.” Jongin helped me put on my jacket, “It’s still here. Dong Ha died a couple of years ago, though.”
“Dong Ha died?” Jongin gasped, holding me steady so I could put my shoes on.
“Yeah. He got cancer, too. He had to be put down. Mr. Oh got a puppy a couple of months ago, though, it was too much to be without him.” I explained as we started walking.
“The little guy was really cute.” Jongin mused, “What’s the new puppy’s name?”
“Eun Dong.” We were silent for a long minute before Jongin spoke again.
“Seo Kyung-ssi, will you ever forgive me for not recognizing you right way? I’m so sorry.”
“We were best friends for ten years and the second I actually put some makeup on my face you don’t know who I am.” I looked up at him. Damn it, I forgot how tall he is.
“I know, I’m the worst friend ever.” Jongin muttered, “I don’t deserve your-”
“It’s kind of funny if you think about it.” I cut him off. “I mean, I’m not thrilled that you left me in the dust seven years ago and then forgot what I looked like, but-”
“I never forgot what you looked like.” It was Jongin’s turn to cut me off. “Look.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He unlocked it and handed it to me, swiping away a few screens so I could see his background pictured. It was us, almost eight years ago before we fell apart. We were at a concert, one that we got to skip school to go to. Both of us were wearing SMTown t-shirts and bright smiles on our faces. We were looking at the camera with glowing faces, which was probably the sweat. The original picture had Super Junior performing in the background, but Jongin must have cropped them out so it was just our faces. The pair of us were grinning and Jongin’s smile was like the sun, just like it always.
“It’s us.” I stated the obvious and Jongin grinned and took his phone from me.
“There’s more where that came from. Every once in awhile, I’ll change it to a different picture of us, but this is my favorite one.” Jongin gazed down at his phone for a long moment before locking the device and turning his gaze onto me. The real me. “See, I never really forgot what you looked like. I suppose I just didn’t really look at you.”
“You never saw anyone else?” I marveled.
“If that’s what you want to take away from that.” Jongin shrugged and we paused at a stoplight to wait to cross the street.
“So you didn’t?” Admittedly, I was more pleased than I should have been that I was the only one.
“No.” he sighed in defeat. “You were the only one.”
The light changed and we ventured across the street and a little ways down to the convenience store. Jongin pulled out one of the plastic chairs at one of the outside tables for me to sit down. At soon as I was seated, Jongin went inside the store to get drinks. I watched as he walked around, pulling things off of shelves and peering into the refrigerators for something to drink. He was gone all of ten minutes, returning with two bowls of ramyun, a bottle of water and two beers. Jongin set our ramyun in front of us, opened my water and my can of beer.
“Why the alcohol?” I inquired, peeking into the ramyun to see if it was done.
“Well, I figured that we never got to drink with each other when we came of age and I don’t know when or if we’ll be seeing each other again. I wanted to drink with you once.” Jongin explained, opening his beer.
“Okay.” I lifted the can and held it up. “Cheers?”
“Cheers.” Jongin smiled that beautiful smile and held his drink up.
“Cheers.” A smile played at my lips and we clinked cans together before taking a swing of the bitter golden liquid. I washed the bitterness down with a long drink of water.
“Thirsty much?” Jongin marveled at the near-empty bottle of water. He peeled off the cover on his ramyun before doing the same for me, just like he always had. It was a bit of a habit now, I supposed. A habit that hadn’t been broken even though we hadn’t seen each other in years.
“Maybe a little.” I gasped for air after chugging my water. “It’s not like I was just crying my eyes out.”
“I’m sorry, Seo Kyung-ah.” Jongin’s bright eyes darkened briefly, “I wish I’d have known.”
“It’s okay.” I shrugged, moving my chopsticks through the noodles. “I figured it out somehow. I’m still figuring it out.”
“I wish I had been there.”
“Well, you weren’t.” I snapped. Jongin’s eyes widened as if I’d just hit a puppy. “I... I’m sorry.”
“Seo Kyung-ah, it’s okay. This is all my fault.”
For the next ten minutes the only noises between us was the slurping of ramyun and careful sips of beer. Jongin’s silence weighed down on my shoulders, leaving his words hanging in the air. I reached for my beer the same time he reached for his and our cans clinked together. Our eyes met for a moment and, as always, his eyes twinkled even though he wasn’t smiling. Before I could make a move to smile, Jongin’s eyes were back on his ramyun.
“Is... Is your mother okay now, though?” Jongin ventured slowly when he finally gathered the courage to speak.
“She’s stable if that’s what you mean. The cancer hasn’t grown.” I shrugged before shoving a mouthful of noodle in my mouth.
“How are you doing with everything?”
“Well you see where I’m working.” I muttered.
“That was good of Cha Hyun, wasn’t it?”
“Of course, I just wish he would pay me a little more.” I joked, winking in Jongin’s general direction. A comment about the hospital was on Jongin’s tongue but he choked it down with his next drink of beer.
“I’m sure he’d give you a raise if you asked.” Jongin chose not to go along with the joke.
“Jongin-ah, I have a question.” I set down my chopsticks for a moment, staring into the steaming ramyun as the question that had been at the back of my mind crept along my tongue.
“Mm?” He hummed, looking up at me with his wide, innocent eyes.
“Did you really love me?”
“Who said I ever stopped?” Jongin spoke as if he was talking about dancing. Who said I ever stopped dancing? Whoever said I stopped missing my mother? Who ever said I stopped loving you? “You were my first love, Seo Kyung-ah. You never really forget your first love, do you?”
“No... I suppose not.” I trailed off. Was the fluttering in my heart from drinking too fast or Jongin’s hand, that was dangerously close to my own.
“Have you forgotten Do Hyun yet? You’ll always have him in your heart even though-”
“He wasn’t my first love.” I cut him off and immediately regretted opening my mouth. Jongin eyed me curiously, daring me to tell him. “Um... He just wasn’t my first love. He just thinks he was because I was his.”
“You know what I’m going to ask you next, right?”
“Yes. Whatever you’re thinking, yes.” I muttered, going to take a large bite of ramyun.
“I’m sorry.” Jongin’s lips curved into a smirk. “I didn’t hear you.”
“You... You were my first love.” I sighed. “Happy?”
“Of course.” Jongin’s face broke into a huge smile that crinkled up his eyes and blinded me with his pearly whites. “So you loved me?”
“I...” I shook my head refusing to give him the same answer he gave me, even though it tugged at my tongue. “Of course I did. How could I not?
“I was just so irresistible.” Jongin praised himself triumphantly. I let out a loud, obnoxious laugh and Jongin’s smile appeared again. Embarrassed, I covered my mouth with my hand to continue laughing but Jongin reached out to move my hand away. “I always loved your laugh.”
Instead of being able to answer properly, I turned my gaze back on my ramyun. Fire rose into my cheeks and I pretended that it was from the heat and from the alcohol. It had been years since Jongin had made me blush like this. Jongin went back to his food with a satisfied smirk plastered on his perfect face. I lifted my hands to my cheeks to see if I could cool them but to no avail. Whenever Jongin’s gaze lifted to look at me, my cheeks only got redder as a result.
I went back for another bite of noodles, but a warm, wet muscle pressing itself against my heel made me jump and hit my knee on the table. Jongin jumped at my reaction to this new sensation and he initially looked worried but his face lit up when he saw the cause of my sudden fright. I looked down at my feet and was met with the enthusiastic eyes of a young labrador retriever as she attempted to jump into my lap. Apparently, my lap was too high for the poor puppy because her paws kept hitting the side of my leg, but never higher.
“Eun Dong-ah!” I laughed, leaning down to pull the puppy into my lap. “Did you miss me, Puppy?”
“This is Eun Dong?” Jongin’s eyes were bright with enthusiasm. He reached over the table to offer his hand to the puppy to smell. He smiled widely as Eun Dong smelled his hand for about fifteen seconds before accepting him and his hand. Jongin let out a delighted laugh, pulling his hand away to let Eun Dong greet me.
“Mm. Isn’t she cute?” I moved my face from side to side to avoid Eun Dong’s frantic kisses. Jongin moved my drinks and my nearly empty bowl of ramyun away so Eun Dong’s wiggling wouldn’t knock anything over. I rubbed Eun Dong’s black and brown fur while trying to calm her down, without much success.
“She’s excited to see you.” Jongin chuckled, leaning back in his chair to watch the spectacle before him.
“I pass by this way on my way to work every day.” I held Eun Dong back to look at her darling puppy face that was starting to mature a little more. “I always make time to stop and pet her and give her a treat.” I mouthed the last word dramatically and Jongin grinned widely.
“Seems like you’ve made friends with her. I think you would really like my dogs. You would get along famously.” Jongin commented.
“Oh really? Tell me about them.” I held Eun Dong against me and she started to settle down, nestling closer and resting her head in the crook of my arm.
“Monggu, Jjanggu, and Jjangah.” Jongin started, reaching for his beer. “They’re all quite sweet.”
Jongin rambled on and on about his dogs and how much he loved them. It was hard to pay attention with Eun Dong beginning to snore in my arms and Jongin’s face glowing the way it used to when we were young. He was smiling and laughing, telling stories about his beloved dogs. He used to get this way when he was telling me about dancing or our sisters about what the two of us did that day. It was like Jongin was filled to the brim with pure love and there was no way for him to contain it any longer. His love was bubbling over and he was practically throwing it up with his words and his smile and his sparkling eyes.
He kept talking about his puppies with a blinding smile plastered on his face. All I had to do was listen and he was perfectly content. Every once in awhile, he would pause to watch me holding the dog before launching into a new story about his dogs. Sometimes the members of his band were mentioned but I only recognized two or three of the names, and most of the time I couldn’t even remember their face even though I had just met them all.
My first love laughed and talked, mostly to himself, about his dogs and his band members. His friends sounded interesting and fun and I laughed when necessary, but I wasn’t really listening. I watched his as lips moved, forming the words I couldn’t hear. I watched his eyes as they twinkled and met mine with such enthusiasm. My eyes moved over his face, taking in every dip, curve, and strong edge. His jawline had sharpened since the last time I saw him and I had to admit that it was pleasing to look at. Jongin as a whole was pleasing to look at and I decided I didn’t want to go without looking at him anymore.
“Jongin-ah.” I spoke for the first time in several minutes and Jongin quieted.
“Yes, Seo Kyung-ah?” I watched his lips as they formed my name.
“Don’t leave me again.” I met his eyes, which widened as soon as he processed my words. “Don’t go. Stay in my life and don’t leave. I missed you. I need you to be in my life.”
“Seo Kyung-ah.” Jongin smiled softly as he reached for my hand. I took a hand off of Eun Dong, who had settled in my lap, and Jongin took it. “I would never dream of leaving. I’m here to stay. Forever.”