Chapter Three - Best Friends
IT WAS NO secret that Jongin and I were best friends by the time fourth grade rolled around. Even the teachers knew that putting us in different classes would be worse than separating us into different ones. We continued to spend every waking moment together both at school and at home.
Hwa Eun became a rather curiously questioned part of the group, as she only ever spent time with Jongin rather than me. Whenever it was all three of us, she always found a way to be alone with Jongin. Neither of us really liked her, but we had no choice but to spend time with her since we were in the same class. I disliked her for a different reason than Jongin, probably, and that’s because I went and I did what no girl with a guy best friend should do.
I liked him. A lot. I often found myself wondering what it would be like to kiss him and to have him hold me close and whisper sweet nothings into my ear. I had literally no reason not to like him. He was funny, sweet, charming, cute, and most importantly... he liked me. I knew better than anyone that his feelings for me were anything but romantic. We were best friends. Everyone knew that.
Even when we weren’t together, we were texting each other or on the phone with each other at all times. Most of the time, it wasn’t even talking, we just sent smiley faces or other various emojis just for the comfort of knowing that the other one was on the other side of the phone. When he was with Hwa Eun, however, the texting and the talking stopped and I could only imagine that the kissing had started.
I thought it was obvious that Hwa Eun and Jongin were dating, but no one else seemed to see it. Hwa Eun spent so much time with Jongin, I was afraid that he would replace me. Whenever they were together, he stopped talking to me entirely. All of my friends in class always tried to convince me that he didn’t like her. That she wasn’t even his type. I begged to differ.
There was one day not too long ago when class let out a little early. I stood, gathering my books and wishing my friends goodbye. I looked around for Jongin so we could walk home together, but he was nowhere to be seen. I shrugged and pulled on my backpack starting the walk to the bus stop. I pulled my phone from my pocket to ask where he was, but there was no response. I ventured into the park which cut the usual ten minute walk to the stop in half. I texted Jongin once more, still with no response.
I paused with a heavy sigh and pressed the call button, bringing the phone to my ear. Nearby, my favorite song cut through the air, one of Shinhwa’s new songs and I turned my head in that direction, searching for the source of the song. I followed the sound, following it into the park but when I found it, I stopped in my tracks. On the ground next to a tree was Jongin’s school uniform jacket with his phone resting on top with my name flashing on the screen with a rather flattering picture of me smiling and Shinhwa playing out of the speakers. My head whipped around, looking for my best friend, but I didn’t have to look too long.
Against a nearby tree, Jongin was standing with Hwa Eun, with her back against the tree. His hands were in his pockets, casual and nonchalant. He didn’t seem to hear his phone ringing. I lowered mine from my ear, ending the call and putting it back in my pocket. I wasn’t surprised that they were together, but a sinking disappointment filled my heart and I turned away to avoid the scene. I started to walk away, but the sound of my name stopped me in my tracks.
“Listen, Hwa Eun-ah, but you know that Seo Kyung-”
“Is your best friend, I know.” the girls sighed exasperatedly and I ducked behind the nearest tree.
“I know you don’t like her, but that isn’t going to stop me from hanging out with her, you know that, so why do you keep-”
“Why do you think?” Hwa Eun cut him off.
“Listen, Hwa Eun, my feelings for you and for her are-”
“Different. I’ve heard all of this before, so why won’t you just do it?” she was getting progressively more annoyed.
“Because, I feel like it would be-”
This time, she cut him off with her lips. She reached up and pressed a kiss to his lips. Even from a weird angle, I could tell his eyes widened. My heart lept with jealousy and my fists clenched. He lifted his hands and set them on her shoulders to push her away, but her fingers curled in his shirt to tug him back to her. For a nine year old, she seemed to know what she was doing when it came to kissing, but she’s probably been imagining kissing Jongin for ages. Hwa Eun pulled away from the kiss, looking directly over Jongin’s shoulder at me and I let out a quiet gasp. She looked back up at Jongin who was still looking at her in shock.
“You...” Jongin stuttered.
“I know, you were saving it. Your first kiss... you wanted it with her, but now she’ll never want anything to do with you.”
I was already backing away, done with listening to the conversation. So, Jongin didn’t like her, he liked someone else. Who she is was none of my business, despite really wanting to know. How could I not when my feelings for him were getting stronger by the day. I guess if he liked someone else, then I would simply sit back and hope he finds the happiness he desired.
“Seo Kyung-ah!” I heard Jongin’s voice coming from the park, “Seo Kyung-ah, where did you go?”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to see him. Not now. Not after that. I reached the bus stop just as my bus pulled up. I looked down the street to see Jongin bust out of the park, running at full speed towards the bus. When he saw me, his face lit up and he ran harder. He’d just had his first kiss and I’d watched and I didn’t exactly want to see him quite yet. I got on the bus, tapping my pass on the scanner and it let me on. I found a seat by myself on the bus and watched as it pulled away, Jongin reaching it just as it drove off. I pretend to notice him right then and I reached for my phone just as he called.
“Jongin-ah!” I exclaimed, “I’m sorry. If I would have noticed you I would have stalled the bus.”
“It’s okay, Seo Kyung.” he was breathing heavily, “I’ll just call Mom to pick me up.”
“I didn’t see Hwa Eun with you.” I stated, not really asking a question much at all.
“No, why?” he inquired.
“I just thought she’d want to tag along, that’s all. Don’t we need to study for our history exam next week?”
“Ah, that’s right.” he sighed, “I’m sure she’ll come over after school tomorrow.”
“Looking forward to it.” I rolled my eyes, “I think we’re having scallops for dinner, did you want to join us, I know you like them.”
“I was already planning on it regardless.” Jongin’s breathing was finally less laboured.
“Good to know. I guess I’ll see you this evening?”
“Sure thing.” if he would have been right in front of me, he would have winked, but instead he muttered a goodbye and I hung up.
I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the window. Sure, Jongin and I were best friends but I didn’t want to spend every waking moment with him. Especially not after that. The feelings that were churning in my heart made it ache and it only got worse when I saw him. Jongin would never have feelings for me, he’s seen too much of me. He knows what I was like when I was angry, sad, dirty, embarrassed, and everything in between. He always said that he liked someone pure, and I was anything but pure.
I WAS ANYTHING but pure, that was for sure. This job did things to you, made you see and hear things that escalated far beyond filthy language. I’ve said and done some things that I’m not exactly proud of but I haven’t had to deal with the consequences yet, so what’s the big deal?
The girls hadn’t been sent into the VIP room yet, so I had some time to contemplate the people I had just seen. Each man had a face sculpted by the gods and a smirk to slay even the strongest of Amazon warrior princesses. It had only taken them walking past for them to take me out and I always thought I did pretty well in the face of attractive men, but all of that was nothing compared to this. If I remembered correctly, one of them had met my eyes when he passed and his smirk went from playful to cocky and he slightly jerked his head up in a flirtatious sort of way, as if he was challenging me.
Since there were so many of them, I had to wonder if they had to wear t-shirts with their names on them so people could tell them apart. Surely they had trouble learning each others names when they first met and they probably had to deal with it all the time in their daily lives anyway. I didn’t want to annoy them by not knowing their names, but at the same time I supposed that it could be relaxing for them to have someone who’s not really familiar with them. Min Ah returned from her little trip and found a seat next to me.
“You saw them, didn’t you?” she inquired, not even having to look at my face.
“Yeah, I did.” I stumbled over the words, “One of them smirked at me.”
“Lucky.” Min Ah sighed, “Has the manager told us to go in, yet?”
“No, not yet.” I matched her sigh, leaning back in the chair, “I don’t know if I can be in the room with those people.”
“Well,” the manager’s, Cha Hyun, voice came from the door, so Min Ah and I jumped to attention, standing quickly, “You’re going to have to. The other girls are waiting for you outside the door.”
“Right away.” I bowed at the same time as Min Ah and she started out the door. I went to follow her but Cha Hyun, my manager-slash-classmate stopped me with a hand to my inner elbow.
“Seo Kyung-ah,” he spoke in a low voice, “One of our old friends is in that room. He’s in Exo and he’s here right now.”
“Who?” My eyes widened and I turned to him.
“I promise that you’ll recognize him right away. He remembered me, so there is no doubt in my mind he’ll remember you.” Cha Hyun was being vague, but he was always vague. Even about what he wanted to eat and the employees secretly thought it was annoying.
“I’ll take your word for it.” I tried to pull from his grasp, but he stopped me.
“I know this is the last thing you want to hear, but Jongin is in there.” he whispered and my heart stopped, “If you don’t want to go in, you don’t have to and I can send you home. It’s no big deal.
“No... I’ll do it.” I spoke slowly, “My mom needs this more than I do. I can put the past behind me for one night.”
Cha Hyun didn’t seem convinced, but he let go and I ventured downstairs. I only made it halfway before I lost my footing and I sat down on the stairs. My foot slipped out from under me and I landed with a hard thud. Jongin was here? How did he even know about this place? Why here? Why now? After all this time he was just going to show up and make me remember why I was like this in the first place. All of those years where we were inseparable and that promise to always stick together was thrown out the door in seconds.
Jongin had brought me down in less than a minute and I was supposed to go into that room and serve him alcohol. I had my opportunity to back down, but I refused. Mom was in the hospital and needed this money. I was doing this for Mom, not for Jongin, but for Mom.
So, with shaky hands and a face like iron, I rose to my feet and started down the stairs.