Chapter Nine - Jongin’s Soul
GETTING BACK UP on my feet was hard, as when I stood up I didn’t just have to get back to school. Now I had so much more to deal with. I had to get a job, which I found at a convenience store down the street, I had to help take care of my mother, and try to get on my feet in school.
Mom was doing better, the chemotherapy was doing wonders on her cancer but wearing out her body. The cancer’s growth had stopped, which meant that soon the doctors would go in and try to remove it. It was music to my ears and I think Ha Kyung cried. We still had to work to pay for the hospital bills that were i us dry. I didn’t earn much at the convenience store but I did my best to help.
It was still hard to get out of bed every day. It was hard to get dressed. It was hard to remember to brush my teeth, eat breakfast, put on my shoes before I left the house. One day, Ha Kyung pulled me aside to talk to me about my dropping grades but her words went in one ear and out the other. I said something about trying harder and went into my room to stare at my school books. What was I supposed to do without Mom? What was I supposed to do without Do Hyun? What... what in the world was I supposed to do without Jongin?
Every day I wondered if he was okay, if he had eaten, if he missed me at all. Do Hyun was at school with his new girlfriend and she tried to rub it in my face but all I could do was stare blankly. Losing Do Hyun was nothing compared to Jongin. Some days I found myself staring at his desk, which grew awkward when the transfer student sat in that seat. Somehow, I expected Jongin to still be sitting there trying to get my attention.
“You stare at me in class.” The transfer student kept an easy pace with me, “Is it because you can feel me staring at you?”
“What?” The words slowly registered in my head, “Oh. No, I-”
“Do you... like me?” I didn’t know how to tell him no. “Do I... like you?”
“No.” I met his eyes for the first time since he arrived at school. “I don’t like you. Someone I love used to sit where you sit, I know nothing about you.”
“Date me. We can learn about each other.” he offered.
“No. I love someone else.” Had I ever said it outloud? Had I always been painfully, obviously in love with Kim Jongin? Everything was blurred together and I wasn’t quite sure. “I love Kim Jongin.”
He scoffed then and my eyes widened slightly at his action. “You’re one of those girls, I see.” he sneered, “In love with the people they can’t have, always living in a fantasy. It’s not love, it’s obsession.”
“What do you-”
“How can you be in love with someone you’ve never met?”
“I don’t...” He wasted no more of his time on me. With an eye roll and a scoff, he was off towards the bus stop leaving me on the stairs of the school with something bubbling up inside my heart.
I watched the transfer student stalk away, pulling his Gucci backpack off of his shoulders to drag at his side. A group of girls walked past him and he watched them, turning to watch them walk away, his hungry eyes ripping off their skirts. He followed them and promptly asked one of them out on a date. Had he ever looked at me that way? Like I was a helpless animal who was practically asking to be attacked? I cringed at the thought. The girl he asked out said yes and he smiled brightly as they exchanged numbers but when she walked away he was back to looking at her like a piece of meat.
My blood boiled, my heart raced, my fists clenched so tightly that my knuckles turned white. There was one emotion left in my veins, one emotion left to take up my energy. Hatred.
I MADE IT half a block before I stopped dead in my tracks and Jongin practically ran into me. I wasn’t done being angry, there were tendrils of it squeezing me so hard I thought I would stop breathing. I turned sharply on my heel to stare him down. He was like a deer in the headlights, wide eyes and fidgety, as if he would flinch away if I made a move that was too sudden.
“Why did you leave?” I snapped. Suddenly, his shoes were really interesting.
“You chose him. It was hard for me.” His voice was barely above a whisper.
“Jongin-ssi, he had already made his decision. He asked Hwa Eun out less than a month later. They both forgot about us.” I sighed.
“You know I never cared for Hwa Eun. It was all her, I want you to know that. She was the one all over me. But, Seo Kyung, you were the one I loved.” Jongin’s sparkling eyes met mine and I almost stepped back. I had forgotten how much his eyes sparkled.
“So why did you leave?” There was a pause. “Don’t say it’s because I chose him. My sisters all told yours that he left me, there’s no way you hadn’t heard.”
“There were many reasons, Seo Kyung-ah. Can we sit down somewhere to talk?” Jongin pleaded, “We have a lot to talk about.”
“Okay, but-” I gasped when Jongin took hold of my wrist and pulled me along.
“Come on, let’s go.”
I thought that wrist-grabbing only ever happened in the dramas but I supposed I was wrong. Now that I was being pulled along by the wrist I realized that dramas could be loosely based on real life. Or was it real life that could have aspects of dramas? Either way, Jongin pulled me across the street and into a park. This park couldn’t have been more than six blocks from home and it was a place Jongin and I frequented as children. He didn’t let go until we were standing in front of the old swing set. He turned to me and grinned and the childish glint in his eyes was enough to make me join him on the swings.
It had been almost ten years since I’d been on this swing set and it was beginning to rust and squeak. The color on the metal used to be as vibrant and bright as the sky but now it was a faded gray with spots of orange rust here and there. It was sad, almost, to see how drastically the swing set had changed in just a few years. After all of these years it had been used, loved, broken and repaired more than once. When Jongin began to swing a little the chains groaned and complained, practically resisting him with every move.
“We used to come here as kids, do you remember?” Jongin shot me a smile and I gave him a weak one in return. Had our parting not affected him like it did me? It had been seven years since we fought, seven years since we’d seen each other, and he was smiling and playing like it had never even happened. His eyes were smiling with nostalgia and excitement, exactly the way he used to before the fight. It was if he was picking up right where we left off, like we had never fought, like we’d just seen each other yesterday.
“Of course I remember.” I dropped my purse next to one of the supports and I shed my jacket and shoes, refusing to feel any discomfort for a moment longer before I sat carefully on the swing next to my ex-best friend. “Jongin, cut the crap and talk to me.”
“We are talk-” He began. My hands gripped the chained and my knuckles began to turn white.
“Jongin, I swear if you say another word.” I closed my eyes and breathed heavily a few times, seeing if that would calm me down. “Okay, I’m sorry. I just have questions that need answering.”
“Okay, I’ll tell you.” he stopped swinging and the sparkle in his eyes faded. Jongin stared at me with darkened eyes and a set mouth. I’d only seen that expression once before; On the day he left.
“Why did you leave?” I asked, but I caught myself. “No, I know why you left. What I want to know is why you stayed away. Why you never came back. Why you dropped me like an old shoe and never bothered to talk to me again.”
“Are we really close enough to speak informally to each other?”
“Seo Kyung-ssi.” he closed his eyes as if it physically pained him to be slightly more formal with me. “I stayed away at first because I was dying. Not physically, but emotionally. I thought that maybe, just maybe, you would have some ounce of love for me in your heart. However, you chose him and I thought I wouldn’t be able to face you.”
“You know he didn’t take me back, right?”
“No. I wasn’t in school or talking to my friends much. The only way I could distract myself was to go to the company and train. I danced and sang until I thought I would die. I was always at the company and when they told me I was going to be in Exo, I worked even harder.” Jongin explained.
“When did they tell you that you were going to be in Exo?”
“I’m not sure. The months between the announcement of Exo and the debut of Exo were all a blur. One day I was dancing by myself, the next I was into a new group and I was learning a song with eleven other guys. But... I still couldn’t forget you.” Jongin’s heavy gaze was weighing my heart down and I couldn’t look him in the eye anymore.
“You made it.” I said to the light above our heads.
“What do you mean?” Jongin’s voice was barely a whisper.
“I mean you made it. You dance for a living, right? You dance and sing with your best friends. You have fans who love you. It must be nice.”
“It is. I love it. I just wish you were there, too.” my ex-best friend admitted with a smile, “Seo Kyung-ssi, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have left like that. I shouldn’t have left you.”
“Did you regret it?”
“Why didn’t you call or come visit me on your breaks?” I asked the million dollar question and Jongin lowered his gaze.
“I... I have no excuse, Seo Kyung-ssi. I did knock on your door one day one Christmas but you weren’t home I suppose.” Jongin’s hands clenched into fists and his eyes fell on his hands, watching the muscles move under his skin.
“None of us have really been home these past couple of years.” I admitted, “We’ve been busy.”
“You’ve been at the noraebang, I assume.” Jongin ventured slowly, raising his gaze.
“They’re the only place that hired me. That’s Cha Hyun’s doing.” a smile crept onto my lips.
“I haven’t seen that for a long time.” Jongin’s mouth curved up and his teeth poked out nearly blinding me with their whiteness.
He smiled at me with sparkling eyes and teeth. My favorite part of Jongin had always been his smile and his laughter. I loved the way his eyes lit up and had a literal sparkle in them. What was even better was when his smile was directed at me. Somehow, when he smiled at me he never failed to make my heart flutter. Even after all this time, Jongin was still beautiful. If it was possible, he was even more beautiful than he was all those years ago. Of course, that could be the makeup that was caked on his face. Since I was up close to him, I could tell his makeup was starting to rub off and smear. I supposed that even heavy duty makeup rubbed off after hours of profuse sweating. Jongin’s eyes searched my face, keeping the smile on my face. I wasn’t happy with him. I wasn’t happy with the situation. Somehow, I was still smiling. Somehow, even though I hadn’t seen him in seven years he could still make me smile.
Jongin carefully lifted a hand and I winced away slightly and he paused. He waited for a moment before reaching up, letting his fingers gently touch my cheek. He smiled softly, moving his fingers behind my ear slowly as if to move hair away from my face. I was beyond grateful that I was sitting down, for if I hadn’t been my rubbery knees would have given out.
Jongin gazed at me with a softness I had forgotten was possible. He knew I was upset and I might not forgive him any time soon but that didn’t stop him from thinking of me fondly. His palm flattened against my hair and he ran his fingers through it slowly, repeating this action a few times before resting his hand on the side of my head, under my ear. It took remarkable self control not to lean into his reassuring touch and kiss his hand, his wrist, his lips. Not even out of romance, but out of relief. He was okay and he wasn’t upset with me ever though he had every right to be.
Then, came the waterfall. .
At first, it was a single tear that I didn’t notice had escaped until Jongin pushed it away with his thumb. A tear came from the other eye and he jumped to catch that one with his fingers. They came and flowed as if a rainstorm had unleashed after days of gray tension. “Don’t cry, don’t cry.” Jongin whispered, moving off of his swing to kneel in front of me. “I hate it when you cry.”
“Jongin-ah.” I dropped into his arms, wrapping my arms around him tightly. “I missed you so much.”
“Me too, Seo Kyung.” Jongin took me in his arms as I sobbed, his hand running down my hair in an attempt to soothe me.
“I missed you. Where were you when I needed you the most?” I sobbed into his shoulder, drying my eyes on his jacket.
“Did something happen?” Jongin whispered into my hair. “It’s okay to tell me.”
“Mom...” I trailed off. I pulled away to look into his eyes. “Mom has cancer.”