Chapter Fourteen - The Real Questions
“PASSION? DREAM? IS that food?” Seo Kyung joked over lunch with her department seniors. She had been in college for two months, just enough time to realize that she should have gone ages ago, if it wasn’t for her mother’s cancer. Since there wasn’t much she actually wanted to do with her life, she decided that she would study Communications until she finally figured out what she wanted.
“You don’t have a passion?” one of her sunbae’s asked, his eyes widening. “Hobbies, what about those?”
“Well... I like reading and listening to music. Do those count?” Seo Kyung shrugged. “Is it really a big deal?”
“What kind of music?” Another sunbae inquired. “Or what kind of books do you read?”
“I... I don’t know.” Seo Kyung shrugged and her sunbaes sighed. “A little bit of everything, I guess.”
“Does that mean you’ve heard of Exo?” One of the older girls was wearing a “Chanyeol” sweater.
“Sure, I’ve heard of them, but I don’t really listen to them. I guess I just haven’t had time to really find myself and my interests since I’ve always been taking care of my mom.” Seo Kyung shrugged again and the other girl’s smile fell.
“Well, no matter what we’re going to help you figure out what you like, okay? I mean, everything likes something so why don’t you take this semester to figure it out?”
So she did. Seo Kyung’s classmates were more than happy to take her to campus expos to find clubs she could try out. She tried playing softball but she couldn’t hit the ball to save her life. Seo Kyung tried out a dance club but after she watched the dancers, she thought of Jongin and how he used to dance like that and decided not to join after all.
One of her sunbae’s, Ahn Yoon Taek, convinced her to go to his club for a couple of days just to see how she felt about it and he even promised to lend her some equipment. Seo Kyung wasn’t convinced until he said there would be free cookies. She showed up right on time for the club and the people there greeted her like family. She was welcomed in as if they had known her for years.
Seo Kyung found it. For a while she wasn’t entirely sure what she’d found but the second a camera found its way into her hands, Seo Kyung knew what she wanted to do.
“YOU DIDN’T ANSWER my question.” Jongin’s amused voice flowed over the table as easily as melted chocolate. I could only stare at my empty plate and regret almost every decision that led to this point. If I would have known that he was going to ask such a ridiculous question, I would have at least figured out how to change the subject without making it awkward.
“That’s because you wouldn’t like my answer.” I looked up, determined to play his game.
“Would it upset me?”
“Something like that. I just don’t think a question like that needs to be answered on the first da-a-a-a...” I trailed off before I could finish the word and Jongin’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “Shut up.”
“What were you going to say?” Jongin’s smirk sent fire through my veins. I made a move to stand up so I could go scold myself in the bathroom, but Jongin grabbed my hand and pushed me back into my chair. “No, please stay, I’m interested.”
“Aish...” I muttered. My hands flew up to cup my warm cheeks and I turned away from Jongin’s gaze. “I just can’t say anything right.”
“Well?” Jongin raised his eyebrows and leaned forward in anticipation. Out of the corner of my eye, a flicker of movement caught my eye and I almost hugged our waiter as he walked passed.
“Can we see the dessert menu?” I inquired, turning my focus completely onto the other man.
“Of course. Just a moment, I’ll go get it.” The waiter, who couldn’t have been older than 19, bowed and headed off in search of a menu.
“You want dessert here? I thought we would stop by a convenience store on the way to the river and get ice cream.” Jongin suggested, his playful smirk leaving his face. He never stopped looking at me with a familiar fondness that I supposed had always been there.
“That does sound like a good idea.” I admitted. “On one condition, though.”
“What’s that?” Jongin’s head tilted slightly, his eyes twinkling with affection.
“You forget about... that question and everything I just said.” I pleaded with him, clasping my hands together.
When the waiter returned with the dessert menu, Jongin apologized, saying that we wouldn’t need it after all but we would like the check instead. The waiter pretended not to be annoyed as he headed off to retrieve the check for Jongin. I took another drink of water and Jongin watched the glass as I raised it to my lips and took a sip. I set the glass down slowly and stuck my tongue out slightly to catch the drop that had stayed on my bottom lip. When I looked up at Jongin, he was looking at my face as if there was something on it again.
“Did I get sauce on my mouth?” I lifted my hand to cover my mouth and Jongin jumped. “Ah, how embarrassing.”
“No, you didn’t, I just... I zoned out briefly and I was accidentally looking there, I’m sorry.” Jongin waved his hands at me and he leaned over the table to pull my hands away from my mouth. “I’m sorry.”
“Excuse me, sir.” The waiter materialized next to the table and Jongin jumped like a startled puppy. I loud laugh fell from my mouth without my permission. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Ah... It’s okay...” Jongin shook his head, trying to recover from the shock as he reached in his suit jacket for his wallet. I continued to giggle uncontrollably. He handed the waiter his card and the waiter walked away after a brisk bow.
“Still easily startled, I see.” I spoke through my hand which somewhat muffled my laughter.
“Yah.” Jongin raised a fist quickly before dropping it back into his lip, a dark red rising into his cheeks. “It’s not funny.”
“Actually, it is.” I snickered.
“Seo Kyung-ah.” Jongin whined. “Why do you always do this to me?”
“Because it’s cute.” I admitted with a grin.
The waiter returned and Jongin paid, urging the young man to hurry. As soon as the waiter came back with the receipt Jongin quickly signed and left him a considerable tip. Jongin stood and slipped on his suit jacket as slowly as possible. Before I could lift a finger, Jongin was at my side offering me his hand. The soft smile that rarely left his mouth when we were together was on his lips again and a twinkle reached his eyes. There was no way for me to refuse his hand. As soon as I was standing, I moved to drop his hand but Jongin’s grip held tight.
“Let’s go.” He flashed me a toothy smile and still didn’t drop my hand. Jongin practically dragged me out of the restaurant by my hand, which I was trying to pull out of his but with no luck. Jongin’s iron grip kept me by his side as we left the golden warmth of the rich restaurant and into the blue summer evening.
The sun was setting, shedding it’s last few golden corpuscular rays across the sky. A harsh golden streak lined the sky, turning cooler as the sky gradually turned a rich purple. Warm shadows fell on the ground, stretching longer and longer as the sun descended over the horizon. Jongin and I walked towards the light almost as if we were chasing it, but Jongin’s stride was slow and even. It was almost as if he was treasuring every single moment left in the golden evening light.
“I’m so glad to be out of there. It was getting stuffy, don’t you think?” Jongin looked down at me and then at our hands which were still together. I had given up trying to release my hand from his, resorting to letting him hold it but without reciprocating much at all. “I like it better out here, away from the crabby old rich ladies and in the openness.”
“Me, too.” The words were barely spoken, but they were heard by Jongin who smiled at me, meeting my cautious eyes with his smiling ones. I wished I had a camera to capture his face in that moment.
“There’s a convenience store up a few blocks from here. Let’s get our ice cream there and then head to the river.” Jongin squeezed my hand.
“Jongin-ah.” I slowed to a stop and this startled Jongin enough to where I could pull my hand away from his.
“Mm?” Jongin’s fingers closed into a fist and I could see that he was itching to take my hand again.
“Why do you keep acting like nothing happened?” My question took him off guard and he stepped back a bit.
“Seven years ago you gave me so many hickeys and bites and kisses and...” Warmth pooled in my stomach and rose to my cheeks at the thought of his lips on my skin. “And then we basically didn’t see each other until the other day after you refused to contact me. Am I just supposed to pretend like that never happened? Are we going to ignore the fact that I cheated and it tore me up inside? Are you going to take responsibility? Did you even think about me at all? Don’t you regret... that day? Don’t you regret anything at all?”
“I don’t know about you, but I don’t regret it. That day, I mean.” Jongin pointed at his neck for maybe half a second, insinuating. “I only regret the fact that it made you so incredibly unhappy. When I realized that, it was hard for me to live with myself. I was thinking about myself too much and I guess I lost control. Seo Kyung-ah, I have no excuses for what happened. I had wanted to touch you like that for only God knows how long and even now, just to...” Jongin trailed off, looking down at his shoes for only a moment. “Seo Kyung, I left because I thought you wouldn’t want to see me again and that’s why I stayed away, too. The truth is... I always wanted to see you. Every minute of every day, but the one time I came home for Christmas, you said-”
“You came home for Christmas?” I cut him off, working hard to keep my voice sounding normal.
“A few times, yes.” Jongin shuffled his feet but didn’t look down at them. “I went to your place the first time. I heard you say right out of your own mouth that it was my fault our friendship ended and we didn’t want to see each other anymore. I wanted to see you every day. I thought about you every day. I know it was a mistake to leave like that.”
“Oh...” I trailed off, remembering.
I had been close to tears already that Christmas. Mom had just gone to the hospital for an overnight stay for a cancer screening and I hadn’t seen Jongin in ages. My sisters and I spent that Christmas with each other, exchanging a few presents each. They started talking about Jongin and I thought my heart would stop beating. I wanted Jongin there in my arms instead of the bear that Ae Kyung gave me. He didn’t want to see me, I thought. He was the one who left, so of course I decided that I didn’t want to see him in return if that’s what would make him the happiest. I suppose neither of us wanted our separation to be permanent. We were never supposed to separate.
“Seo Kyung, with me you never have to pretend that something didn’t happen. I’m ready to acknowledge and take responsibility for anything.” Jongin’s gaze softened.
“Who were you saving your first kiss for?” I blurted and immediately regretted saying anything.
“What?” Jongin’s smile faltered. “How did you...”
“I saw your first kiss. I... I didn't mean to and it was really uncomfortable. You said you were saving your first kiss for someone.” The zipper on my bag was suddenly more interesting.
“You, of course.” Jongin muttered with a shrug almost as if it should have been common knowledge. As if it was painfully obvious. “I wanted all of my firsts with you. It didn’t exactly turn out that way.” A nervous laugh fell from his lips and I could look at him again.
“Your other questions... It seems like I have a lot of explaining to do.”