Chapter Eight - When The World Ends
MY BEDROOM WAS cold and the sun streaming into my room was doing nothing to warm me. I was wrapped in a cocoon of blankets that were doing nothing to raise my body heat. My tangled hair was sprawled out on my tear-stained pillow and I was surrounded by wads of damp tissue. My eyes were heavy and swollen but sleep was not coming.
12 months had passed since I’d last seen Jongin and I wasn’t sure how to live without him. 3 months had passed since Mom was officially diagnosed with cancer and was now spending all of her time in the hospital. It was Eun Kyung’s turn at the hospital, Ha Kyung’s turn at home and Ae Kyung’s turn to work. I, however, wasn’t doing much to help out.
When Mom went into the hospital Eun Kyung stopped speaking to me entirely. When I went to bed at night, Eun Kyung would wait until she thought I’d fallen asleep to talk to my sisters about how unhelpful I was being. “Mom is sick and she needs our help. Seo Kyung needs to pull her weight. I don’t care if she just lost Jongin, we need her help. What do you mean she didn’t go to school yesterday?” Late nights, screaming matches, long days sitting in the hospital room with our mother who was barely conscious most of the time, working at every available moment. My other two sisters didn’t want that for me right now, they knew that it was hard on me, too, not just them.
“Seo Kyung-ah.” Ha Kyung’s soft voice came from outside the door. “Are you awake? Are you going to school today? If not, I can call the principal and tell her you’re sick again.”
“Okay.” I whispered, wincing at the ache in my throat.
“I will. Are you hungry? I made soup. You didn’t eat at dinner yesterday... or lunch for that matter. Please, eat something.”
“Okay.” I whispered again and my bedroom door cracked open.
“Can I come in?” Ha Kyung waited to see my slight nod of approval before advancing into the room, sitting on my bed, and balancing a tray on her knees. “Come on, sit up. Mom kept down her breakfast this morning, so I’m not letting you off, okay?”
“I’m sorry, Unni.”
“It’s okay, Seo Kyung. We all handle grief differently and I suppose this is what you do. There’s no shame in that.” Ha Kyung helped me take careful sips of the soup. “I’m here for you, okay?”
“UH, EXCUSE ME.” Jongin’s voice sent shivers down my spine, and I wasn’t sure whether or not to be scared or not. His familiar, soft brown eyes met mine and a smile was playing at his plump lips that I’d always loved. “I just, um, I’m sorry for snapping at you earlier. I didn’t mean to. It’s been a long day and I’m tired and-”
“It’s okay.” I threw myself into a bow, a full 90 degrees that nearly had me tumbling down the stars in these heels.
“Oh!” Jongin jumped up a stair to catch me, but I was upright before he could touch me.
“I hope you had a good time this evening. It was lovely to meet you all.” I lowered into another, smaller bow before turning and heading up the stairs to the kitchen. Once I was safely in the kitchen, I pressed my back against the wall and searched for Manager Cha Hyun. “Can I go now?”
“Of course. Didn’t Suho tell you?” Cha Hyun chuckled as he passed me into the room.
“I just wanted to check with you, sir.”
“Are you okay?” Cha Hyun moved to the sink and filled a glass with water and offered it to me.
“Of course.” I grinned, taking the glass from him and downing it all in a single drink, “He just has no idea who I am.”
“That’s odd, I told him that someone from our school would be in there. I’m surprised he didn’t recognize you. Especially... you.”
“It’s okay.” I shrugged, setting my glass in the sink, “It’s all over anyway. I’m going to head home, okay?”
“If you say so. I’ll see you on Sunday, then.” Cha Hyun’s doubtful eyes followed me until I was out of the room. My knees were having a hard time supporting the rest of my body and when I got to the employee locker room, I fell into a chair to make sure my knees had time to recover.
If there was one thing I knew for sure, it was that there was no way that Jongin didn’t recognize me. I was his first love, I was pretty sure he was mine. We spent every single day for twelve years together, there wasn’t a day we didn’t talk. So, how was it that when he looked at me he didn’t have a shred of recognition in his eyes. It was one thing if he saw me as a different person after the fight, after I chose someone else over him, but it was another to not even see me as a person he knew in any way shape or form. What Jongin and I had was over and today only strengthened the distance between us.
Despite the heaviness in my legs, I rose to my feet and moved to my locker to get my makeup remover. Standing in front of the mirror after a shift was always an experience. After every shift, I got to see the difference between perfect makeup and night-out makeup. My eyeshadow was smudged, my eyeliner was smeared, my lipstick was coming off and my hair had been pulled out of its style by movement and Baekhyun’s wandering hands.
Mom always told me to dab at my face with the makeup remover but tonight all I cared about was getting home from work. I cared not for my skin, so I rubbed the makeup remover at my face desperately. By the time my makeup was off my face was red and raw but I was already onto my next task. I worked on untangling the bobby pins and hair tie from my hair. After night after night of untangling my hair I was considering just cutting it all off and getting it over with. I wasn’t sure how much more of this I could take. After almost twenty minutes of tearing at my hair, I got it into a somewhat manable ponytail that I could worry about at home.
I didn’t have the energy to change back into my jeans and t-shirt, so instead I dropped all of my jewelry into my bag and pulled on my jacket. Even though the walk was several blocks, I decided that my feet couldn’t hurt more than my pride so I wasn’t going to worry about it. With nothing left to take care of, I slung my bag over my shoulder and headed up and out of the norebang.
I walked on pins and needles, the sharp sting of pain from my shoes shooting up my legs. With several blocks to go, I put my head down and started my long trek home. I walked away from him, from Jongin, from my childhood. That was over the minute I came home and my best friend was gone. He had walked right out of my life and I would never forgive myself.
When I look back on my time with Jongin, I see that my feelings for him had never really gone away. How could they? You never really stop loving your first love and I knew that’s what had happened to me. I wasn’t so sure about Jongin. If he couldn’t even recognize him then what good was love? If he loved me, even for a second, there was no way he would have-
“Seo Kyung-ah.” The sound of my name cut through the air and I stopped in my tracks. “Seo Kyung-ah, I’m sorry. I’m too late, aren’t I?”
The naive heart in my chest thumped heavily, telling me to turn around and look my first love in the eyes. My feet and my head told me to keep moving, don’t look back, just forget it. He had missed his chance anyway. I was less than two blocks away from work, so wasn’t there still a window? I took a step forwards but suddenly my shoes had become lead weights on my feet. I tried to take another one, but the weight was too heavy.
My fingers were turning white from gripping the strap on my bag a little too tightly and my feet were sinking into the ground. No. I managed to take another step, but from the soft clicking behind me Jongin took a step with me.
“I have nothing to say to you.” I pushed the words through my teeth and my feet unlocked. I strode away, moving quicker than normal. Desperate to get away from him, I moved quickly but the sound of his footsteps were filling my ears. A gasp fell from my lips when a warm hand found home on my shoulder, pulling me to a stop.
“Please, Seo Kyung-ah. If you don’t have anything to say then you can just listen. I have so much to say to you.”
“I... I need to get home.” I tried to pull away, but his grip was too strong.
“Why won’t you look at me? Look, I know I messed up. Can’t we talk about this-”
“Talk about what?” I pushed his hand off of my shoulder. “About how you left without saying a word. About how you walked out of my life and into one I had no idea about? About how the first year after you were gone I nearly died because I almost forgot how to swallow? About how you’re doing so well and I’m scrounging for scraps? Any cent I can get my hands on? About how you were apparently in love with me for twelve years but after only a few years of separation you can’t even recognize my face? Sure, Jongin-ssi, let’s talk.”
I turned to him when my explosion was over and I really saw him. His hair was a mess, his face was caked in makeup that made his already flawless face even more perfect, he was fashionably dressed, he was as thin as a stick but his eyes were gazing down at me with the look of a forlorn puppy. The look that always turned me into putty in his hands.
“I have so much to apologize for, Seo Kyung-ah.” Jongin’s puppy eyes took me in. My face, my hair, my cheeks, my dress. His fingers lifted to brush a strand of hair out of my face just like he’d only been gone a day.
“You can start by leaving me alone, just like you did seven years ago.” I swatted his hand away and moved the strand of hair myself.
“There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t regret what I did.” Jongin’s sincere eyes met my angry ones and he tried to get me to soften. “There isn’t a day where I don’t want to find you and apologize and hug you again.”
“You should have thought of that before you left.” I snapped and Jongin took a step back. It was as if I’d hit a puppy, with the way his eyes gazed at me sadly.
“I’m so sorry, Seo Kyung-ah, I didn’t realize-” he didn’t finish his sentence and instead stood there taking in my hurt expression.
“I know.” I sighed, all of my muscles releasing the tension. I didn’t have the energy to be angry, the day had taken it all out of me.
“Are you still angry?”
“Well I’m certainly not happy.” Jongin reached out to touch me again, but I backed away. “I know you’re sorry, Jongin but it’s done. We’re not friends anymore.”
“Can’t we pretend that we are? Friends, I mean. Just for a while.” Jongin pleaded.
“I have to get home, Jongin. My sisters are waiting.” I turned and started home but Jongin kept a steady pace with me.
“I’ll walk you home, Seo Kyung-ah.” Jongin spoke quietly.
I didn’t say no and allowed him to walk next to me. A smile appeared on his lips when he realized I was allowing him to come along. After all these years he was going to take what he could get I supposed. I knew he had disappointed me and I supposed he wanted to redeem himself a little. At least make me not hate him, but there was something he didn’t know.
I could never hate Kim Jongin.