Chapter Seventeen - Cutting It Short
AFTER BEGGING MY mother for several weeks, she finally let me go to the institute with Jongin. The two of us were fairly certain that Mom only let me go so I would stop annoying her, so we wasted no time in heading to the institute right after school the next day.
As usual, we met at the bus stop right after class. Jongin knew exactly which bus to get on and how long we were supposed to stay on. The two of us sat down in the very back of the bus and we soon as we were sitting, Jongin was unloading his backpack. He pulled out a plastic lunchbox his mother no doubt packed and some light, cotton clothes to change into. Almost as if he’d done it a million times, Jongin discreetly changed into his loose dancewear with no one noticing or scolding him. Once he had carelessly stuffed his school uniform into his bag, he took the lunch box and opened it up.
“Mm, kimbap.” Jongin hummed. “Look there are two pairs of chopsticks. Hungry?”
Jongin handed me a pair of chopsticks and dug in. He wasted no time in shoving a couple of pieces of kimbap into his mouth. To me, he looked like a chipmunk with loads of acorns and nuts in his cheeks. I giggled and Jongin show me a look. The next roll of kimbap he picked up, instead of stuffing it into his already full mouth, he shoved it into mine. The rice and vegetables muffled my giggles enough for him to eat in peace.
Jongin basically inhaled the rest of the kimbap, barely leaving any for me. I was lucky to get five rolls. Of course, most of what I ate was Jongin shoving pieces into my mouth while asking why I wasn’t eating. My mouth was always too full to say “Because you won’t let me take a piece.” I settled for what he let me have but I had to wonder if I still had that protein bar in my backpack. I decided to save that for later.
“Do you have a dance class today or are you going to practice?” I inquired once all the food was gone.
Jongin swallowed the last bit of rice before answering. “Practice. I have a show in a couple of weeks and I need to pick a song. Remember?”
“Ah, that’s right. I’m looking forward to seeing you dance.” I shot him a grin.
“You’ve seen me dance a million times before.”
“I know and I could watch you dance a million more times and not get tired of it.” I shifted closer to Jongin and set my head on his shoulder.
“Of course!” I sat back up, almost offended that he would even think of doubting me. “I wish I could dance like you. Somehow, you bring so much... emotion, even to the simplest step. When you dance, I feel what you feel. I wish I could elicit emotions from people the way you do with your dance.”
“You don’t have something like that?” I shook my head. “We can share, then. Should I teach you how to dance?”
“We could try.” I shrugged, looking down at my lap. “I don’t have the same skills you do.”
“You don’t have to. All you need is the willingness to do it and the emotions.”
The bus came to a stop outside the institute and Jongin grabbed my hand. He shot me his signature grin before pulling me off the bus and into the building, which I had very little time to admire. He pulled me through busy hallways and passed active practice rooms, each with a different activity being practiced. There was everything from oil painting to martial arts to flutes. Anything that could be considered an art was being practiced.
My favorite room was the one filled with ballerinas, all in their pointe shoes and pale pink tutus, rehearsing for their performance of Sleeping Beauty next month. The rows and rows of tall, lanky women twirled around the room to the music, me into their story. I only caught maybe thirty seconds of the routine, but I knew who was who and that they were doing in the story. I could have watched longer, but Jongin tugged at my hand and pulled me away effortlessly.
“We should go see Sleeping Beauty.”
“I don’t feel like it.” Jongin paused. “But I’ll go if you want to.”
When we finally happened upon an empty practice room Jongin slipped inside, pulling me along with him, and carefully closed the door behind us. He wasted no time in dumping his stuff by the door and pulling his iPod and radio out of his bag. Jongin moved over to the mirror that covered the entire back wall and sat down. For a couple of minutes, he sat there with his electronic, hooking everything up just right to play his music. Moments later, a slow melody filled the air and Jongin climbed to his feet.
“Care to join me for stretching?” Jongin finally turned to me, standing in the closed doorway waiting for some kind of direction.
With a shrug, I dropped my bag and uniform jacket by the door. I joined Jongin by the mirror where he was already raising his arms above his head. I followed his motions as he moved slowly from side to side, forward and back. Somehow, even his stretches looked like dancing and I found myself staring at him rather than following his movements. His already long, lanky body seemed even longer as he stretched. He was a dancer, even a stranger on the street could tell that much. His long body was made to move like those ballerinas. He was made to dance under the lights, to have all eyes on him, to be loved by the entire world. When his stretching song ended, he turned to me with a grin.
“Do you want to dance with me, or just watch?” He raised an eyebrow.
“I’ll just watch. If you don’t mind, I have to finish reading a chapter for English Lit, too.” I moved towards my backpack.
“You came to watch me dance and you’re going to do homework?” Jongin scoffed, following me to where our bags were carelessly thrown on the floor for his bottle of water.
“I have to write a report on this story by Friday. I promise I’ll be quick.” I shot him a grin and he rolled his eyes as he poured water into his mouth.
The first song Jongin danced to was a beautiful melody on piano with choruses of violins in the background. I tried desperately to get my reading done, but Jongin’s movements kept pulling me out of the book and into the room. Just like I thought, when Jongin danced, one couldn’t help but to watch. There was something about him that commanded all attention and if one could distract oneself, props to them since it was simply impossible for me to do it.
When Jongin danced, it was like he was possessed. As soon as his body was in motion, something took over and he turned into someone I didn’t know. He told a story with his body and his facial expressions changed constantly as he moved. Jongin was no longer Jongin, he was... someone else. I had always wanted to give Jongin’s dancing self another name, something ier that I could call him while he was in this state. As soon as the music played, Jongin’s name no longer fit him and I wondered if he would ever change it.
“Enjoying the view?” Jongin shot me a grin between songs.
“Never stop dancing, okay?” I rose to my feet and Jongin’s eyebrows raised.
“Where is this coming from?”
“You don’t realize how lucky you are, for knowing what you want to do so early and you’re so damn good at it.” I sighed.
“I look good while doing it, right?” Jongin did a quick spin, sending me the eyes, you know the ones, but those only ever made me laugh.
“You bet.” I managed between giggles.
Jongin held his hand out to me and I took it. Jongin tugged lightly, pulling me closer but lifting his arm so I could do a spin along the way. He pulled me against him and placed one of my hands on his shoulder while gently holding my other hand in his. His free hand found the small of my back and my lips parted as soon as he touched me. In all the love stories I had ever read, the girls fell apart in their leading man’s arms as soon as his fingers grazed the small of their back. Until this moment, I never understood what that kind of touch could do to the human body. My heart sped up and color flushed in my cheeks. My knees trembled and my eyes desperately searched his for something, anything, other than the stupid smirk he was giving me. In a matter of seconds, I was putty in his hands and I knew exactly how all of the leading ladies felt. There was something intimate, addicting, to the touch of the lower back. Especially when it was accompanied by dancing.
“Dance with me.” Jongin whispered in my ear and the hand that was on his shoulder slid down his arm and back up. “Let me show you what it’s like.”
“What are you waiting for?”
I DUG AROUND in my purse, desperately trying to find any spare change but all I could find was a couple of bent paper clips and old receipts. My wallet had a couple of coins, but not nearly enough for the payphone. If we’d gotten enough money to pay the phone bill this month, I wouldn't have had that problem, but there I was with no phone, no change and no way home. I sat down on a bench next to the payphone and let my head fall into my hands. Of course, today of all days I had to be stranded. Today, when I had to get away from someone was the day I was completely broke. Granted, I was broke all the time but I usually had at least enough for a bus ride home or to work, my sisters made sure of that.
With my bus card empty, I couldn’t take the bus to get home. With no change, I had no way to call my sisters in order to get money on my bus card to get home. I didn’t want to ask passersby for change for the phone, I had some dignity left, but it was beginning to look like my only option. I knew no one would give me any change, no matter how much I begged so was it really worth it? There was always the option of calling the police and asking them to give me a lift home, my sisters often did it if they didn’t feel safe walking home at night, or if they thought it was too far to walk.
His words echoed in my head. All those years, I had assumed that he and I were the only ones to share that kind of promise. At least, it was only Jongin who gave them out. It was only Jongin who could keep them, after all. I had no idea if he made promises like that with his other friends, and honestly I didn’t mind if he did. However, when he was Kai, did he really have to go throwing around promises like that? When it came to Jongin and I, it was no game when a promise was made.
The wink he sent those girl was beyond flirtatious. It was something I thought was only reserved for the girl Jongin desired more than air itself. Instead, the things that I thought Jongin kept close to his heart were being spread around like free candy at a parade. Was I really as special as he made me out to be? From what I gathered from that little display, to him I was the same as a fan. Not to be ignored, but not to be given more than his little act that he put on with such ease. I never realized just how good of an actor he was. I’d always known he was good, but not quite to this extent.
How much of tonight was acting? How much of everything he put on the table was real and how much was just him having fun? Was this whole thing just a game to him?
Out of the corner of my eye something shiny drew my attention from my sorrow to something just short of relief. Near the corner of the payphone was a coin someone must have dropped. That coin, plus the spare change in my wallet was just enough to make a call to my sister. I lunged for the coin, snatching it up and slipping into the phone booth. I inserted my coins and dialed her number.
“Hello?” I breathed a sigh of relief when she spoke.
“Unni? Did I wake you?”
“Seo Kyung? No, your sisters and I are watching TV... Aren’t you with Jongin?”
“Uh, no...” I trailed off. “Listen, I don’t have a lot of time with this payphone, so I’ll get to the point. The night has been, well, cut short and I don’t have a way home. My bus card is empty, so would you mind-”
“How much do you need?”
“Well, I’m along the Han River somewhere, so...” I trailed off, peering around to see if Jongin was anywhere in sight.
“I’ll figure it out. I’ll give you enough for work this week, too, okay?” My eyes widened when the tall figure of Jongin appeared, running down the path. Tears threatened to fall and my throat tightened.
“Great, thank you. I have to go.”
“You’re welcome, but what happened with-” I gave her no time to ask her question before I hung up. Without thinking, I hurried around the payphone to hide behind it, hoping that Jongin would pass by without seeing me.
Why are you hiding from him?
“Seo Kyung-ah?” He called and I clamped my hand over my mouth, the first tear escaping from my eyes. “Kang Seo Kyung! Where are you? My god, Kang Seo Kyung!”
How could I explain to him what was making me upset without sounding childish? It was only a pinky swear, the kind that children do, but I thought... I thought it was something he reserved only for me. It was almost as if young Jongin had come back and our friendship was continuing like nothing had happened. I had forgiven him, he had forgiven me, we were back to being the way we had always been. However, in less than a minute he had rendered me powerless and insignificant in front of him with only a couple of well-placed words. Suddenly, I was nothing to him, merely a fan to be swept to the side as soon as he was done with me.
“Seo Kyung-ah.” He spoke again, louder this time. “I know you’re around here somewhere. Your phone doesn’t work. Are you upset with me? I’m sorry, just let me explain.”
I’d already cried in front of Jongin once in the past couple of days and the thought of doing it again turned my cheeks red. We both knew that he hated it when I cried and I had no desire to show him that I was doing it again. Besides, why would he want to see his pathetic friend crying over something as stupid as this. There was no way to stop the tears, no matter how I tried to stop them. I breathed deeply into my hand, desperately trying to stop the tears.
“Seo Kyung?” He’d noticed me. I held my breath to stop the noises and pushed the tears off of my cheeks. “Seo Kyung-ah, I know you’re hiding back there. Please come out and talk to me.”
“Who would I be talking to?” I managed through heavy breaths. “Jongin-ssi or Kai-ssi?”
“Jongin, of course.” He laughed through the words, but stopped himself. “Wait a minute. Are you crying?”
“No. Where did Kai go?”
“I don’t... Seo Kyung-ah, please come out so we can talk.” Jongin pleaded. “Or should I come back there?”
“Jongin, I’m going home.” I stepped out from behind the phone booth just long enough to speak before turning on my heal and starting towards the bus stop.
“Seo Kyung-ah.” Jongin lunged forwards and grabbed my wrist, pulling me to a stop. “Quit being so childish and tell me what you’re upset about.”
“What I’m upset about is even more childish than my behavior.” I admitted, pulling my hand from his firm grasp.
For a long minute, he stared at me with his lips parted and his eyebrows scrunched in concern. He searched my face, his eyes scanning every inch. His fingers twitched the moment a stray tear fell from my eye, but as soon as he lifted his hand I backed away. He sighed, turning his eyes onto his feet for a minute before his eyes widened with a sudden realization. He stepped towards me and held my shoulders, forcing me to look at him.
“Listen, I’m sorry I had to be Kai for a while. I’m sorry that I had to pretend not to know you, but-”
“It won’t be the last time, will it?” I cut him off. “This was just the first time you’ve passed me off as a brainless fan, but who knows when the second time will come. Then the third time, the fourth and the fifth soon after. Maybe soon I won’t be a fan, but a stylist or someone from SM running an errand. But that’s the problem with dating an idol, isn’t it? Even if it’s just a friendship with someone of the opposite , it can never be acknowledged. We can never be acknowledged. Who would want that?”
“We... we can find a way. Next time I can introduce you as my friend when they ask, how’s that?” Jongin’s voice shook with desperation, tears glistened in his eyes.
“It’s sweet of you to suggest that, but you know what they’ll do to me. Those girls... They’ll tear me apart limb from limb regardless of our relationship. Just because I’m a woman. I... I wasn’t scared of them until now. Now... now they have faces. Now I’ve heard their voices and listened to their jealousy. I get why idols can’t date while they’re in the public eye. It’s out of concern for the idol and the one they’re with.” I tugged out of his grasp again and this time he let me go. “Jongin, I can’t live like that. I can’t live in a world that is always watching me and criticizing every move I make.”
“What... what are you saying?” Jongin tried to blink away his tears, but instead they spilled over and cascaded down his cheeks. “Please, don’t say you don’t want this.”
“Whether I want it or not is irrelevant. I can’t do this, Jongin. I can’t be with you like this. I can’t be with you if you go around making stupid promises all the time.”
“What is that supposed to-” He paused. “You heard that?”
“We promise, Oppa!” I imitated the obnoxious screams of the girls. “Do you promise, Oppa? Promise us, Oppa! Promise, promise, promise!”
“Seo Kyung-ah, don’t misunderstand-”
“Misunderstand what? That all promises aren’t made to be kept? You can’t give them a concert in six months. I don’t know a lot about music, but I know you can’t make an entire concert from the ground up in six months, it’s impossible.”
“How did you-”
“What other promises have you made that you can’t keep? Do you make a lot of those these days? You’ll be by my side forever? You’ll help me pursue photography? What reason do I have to believe you now?”
“No, Seo Kyung-ah, please. I didn’t mean to... Honestly, we don’t know how long it will take to do this. We don’t know how long it’ll take to do this concert, especially with our next comeback in a couple of months. We don’t know. I estimate six months, but that doesn’t mean that’s what it’ll be.” He paused and took a deep breath before continuing. “I can handle those girls thinking I lied to them. I don’t mind if they hate me when six months is up, I don’t care. What I do care about is if you think I’ve lied to you.”
It was my turn to make an attempt at blinking back tears, but just like Jongin before me, I failed. Hot tears spilled down my cheeks and I tried to wipe them away, but it only made my hands wet and sticky and my face cold as the breeze from the river hit my cheeks. What in the world was I supposed to believe? How did Jongin always know exactly what to say to make me waver? How long was I going to let myself stay under his spell?
“I may not be able to keep my promise to them.” Jongin continued. “However, I know I can keep the ones I have made to you. Of all the promises in the world that I can make, the ones I make to you are the most important. Full priority. After twenty years, don’t you think I’ve made that fairly obvious?”
“How am I supposed to know? It’s been almost eight years since we’ve seen each other. How am I supposed to know how much you’ve changed? Kai is new, isn’t he? Where did he come from and who is he? There is so much we don’t know about each other and I’m worried that I won’t be able to trust the Jongin... or Kai... that you’ve become.” I started to turn away from him again, but Jongin stubbornly grabbed my wrist again. This time, however, instead of just pulling me to face him he pulled me towards the main road. “Where are we going? Let me go!”
Jongin said nothing as he hurried up and down the block, keeping his eye on the road. His dark eyebrows were furrowed and his jaw was set. His grip on me was strong and I was forced to follow him close behind to keep my wrist from bruising. He had never been this rough with me before. Despite my protests, he gave me no hints about what he was doing until he managed to hail a taxi. A harsh “Get in” was all I needed to follow his command. He was close behind me. He told the driver an address and we set off into the night. Just when I thought that he wasn’t going to tell me anything about what he where he was taking me, he spoke. He grabbed my shoulders and pulled me to look at him, his dark eyes burning with something I’d never seen before.
“You can trust me or Kai? You don’t even know who Kai is, so I’ll have to show you.”