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CHAPTER IX:


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∞⇢

TWO MONTHS, IF I HAD COUNTED IT CORRECTLY.

Two months since that trip, that one chaotic night ruined it all. Two months when the best friend I had known for almost two decades had distanced himself from me and the rest of our friends.

Yes, I hated him for most of the trip. But I don’t think that I hate him that much now. Not when every single day that passed that I see him around the campus he’d act like I didn’t exist. Was it his right to despise me too?

Truth be told, I did not expect him to behave this way at all. And I dislike how he seemed to throw our friendship with me and Namindae under the bus because of what happened. Not only that, it was as if he had completely turned into a whole different person. He started hanging out with a different group of friends. And of all people, he chose to be with the ones with not not-so-good reputations.

Sometimes, I lay awake at night and thought if I was to blame for what happened to him. But the rational part of my being argued that he’s old enough to be responsible for his actions.

I tried so hard, so bad, to let him be.

If he needed me to be out of his sight…I’d probably just have to dismiss any form of feelings that I have had acknowledged for him. I couldn’t help but think that if he loved these years, why is he acting this way? But then again, he’s not that accessible for any answer right now.

 

∞⇢

It was a Saturday afternoon, I went out to go to the nearby convenience store in the neighborhood to buy ingredients for dinner. I just got out of the store, a plastic bag in my hand when I thought that I heard his voice.

I checked the alleyway next to the store where I was sure his voice was coming from. I saw a group of three males who were having a smoke session. The other two I recognized to be in the same department with him. Baekhyun was facing the other guys on the opposite side. He was wearing a black shirt, jeans, sneakers, and a black cap. To my utter surprise, he was smoking with them.

I racked my brain and thought of any memory of him smoking. Nada. He didn’t smoke. He hated it but why was he doing it so comfortable right now.

My forehead creased as I continued to just stare at them at first. Then his two mates who were facing my direction caught me watching from afar and had surely told him about my presence. Because the next thing, he turned around and exchanged looks with me.

He didn’t even bat an eye, brought the cigarette to his mouth, and later on puffed the smoke out accompanied by a scorn look. WHAT THE HELL?

Before I could even be rational, I was taking hurried steps towards him. For a second, I didn’t care if we weren’t talking anymore. How had he come to this?

The whole time that I was walking towards him, he continued to smoke like he’s some expert. It made my blood boil even more.

“Oh looks like someone forgot that they’re not close anymore,” Yoonjun spoke with a mocking smirk.

“Shut up.” I snapped at one of the guys. “Can we talk?”

I saw how he exchanged looks with his mates who later on left us. I didn’t expect him to agree to talk to me for some reason and now that I had been left alone with him again after such a long time, I suddenly had a hard time forming my words.

I stood there as I watched him continue to welcome sickness in his body by smoking. He didn’t pay attention to me for even a second the whole time I was there until the smoke almost made me choke. He threw me a glance but nonetheless took the cigarette to his mouth once again.

Annoyed, I grabbed the cigarette from him, drop it on the ground before I stepped on it to put off the fire. I heard him scoff as soon as I did it.

“You didn’t have to do that.” He remarked with a displeased smirk.

“What has gotten to you?” I asked, ignoring the sarcastic curve on his lips. “I thought you hate smoking?”

“Yeah, I thought so too.” He shrugged, sounding nonchalant. “But it’s not that bad after all.”

“Have you completely lost your mind?” My forehead creased.

“Try guessing.” He answered bluntly.

I exhaled loudly. I couldn’t’ believe that we only interacted to fight again.

“Just go,” He suggested. “You don’t have to talk to me.” He added as he casually took his cap off to fix his hair before putting it back on.

I watched him, stared at his face because I had never seen him this close since the trip. Something has definitely changed. There wasn’t any gentleness in his facial expressions now. He looked pretty serious, unlike the Baekhyun we all knew who never let a day passes without a crazy smile crossing his face.

“Stop pretending to care.” He went on, breaking my train of thought.

“I’m not pretending Baekhyun,” I answered automatically.

“Oh…” He bobbed his head. “You’re not. Hm. Then just stop. Stop caring.”

He gazed at me accompanied by a slight eyebrow raise. That look conveyed finality somehow. Then I see him about to leave.

“Is this what you want?” I could not help but ask, stopping him by the arm.

His attention fell to my hand before he let exhaled.

“Well, I’m doing you and the other guys a favor by staying out of your sight.” He told me in a matter-of-fact tone. “So why don’t we try not to get in each other’s business. Hm?” He took my hand off him.

“Baekhyun. We’re best friends.” I stated, tightening my hold on his arm, refusing to let go.

As if what I just said bothered him, he faced me once more.

“We were. Yes.” He agreed briefly. “But look where it got me.”

I sighed once more, knowing full well what he was talking about.

“It’s been months.” I pointed out. “Let’s just talk this over…”

“No.” He shook his head. “No. You don’t get to break my heart that way,” His gaze was piercing, a tinge of hurt in his voice.  “And still get to keep me as your best friend. That’s just selfish, don’t you think?”

I gaped at him. Did he just tell me that I was being selfish just because I wanted to fix things? I felt him remove my hands off him once more and I didn’t protest.

“Don’t remind me of how pathetic I was.” His tone was firm. “And just pretend that I don’t exist anymore.” He stated like he meant every word.

What he said made me mentally wince. That hurt.

Then started to leave while I try to process his statement.

“Gramps has been asking about you, I don’t know what to tell him anymore.” I turned around, my voice loud to catch his attention.

“Easy.” He stopped on his feet as he turned around to me once more. “Tell him the truth.” He paused to shrug. “Tell him I’ve become an . The you guys have been talking about.”

This was just not about me, I knew that. This was about Namindae too. I had always known that but hearing this from him now made me exhale loudly. I realize how that trip ruined our friendship.

It was too late for me to say anything anymore. From afar, I watched him join his new set of friends.

I bit my lower lip. My hands balled into fists.

 

∞⇢

That night while I was eating dinner with Gramps, he asked me about Baekhyun once more.

“You haven’t made up with Baekhyun yet?” He asked casually but with evident curiosity.

“Gramps…” I trailed off as I put my spoon down.

I was honestly becoming tired of this conversation.

“It’s been months, I miss the boy already.” He suggested. “I miss his jokes in this house. I know he doesn’t live here but it gets lonely not having him over for this long.”

It made me sad how he openly said that he missed Baekhyun. They’re quite close.

“Did you ever try to talk to him?” There was evident concern in the way he looked at me right now. “Sometimes, you just have to set your pride aside if you want to keep close the people you want in your life.”

I suddenly fell quiet, recalling what Baekhyun told me to say to Gramps.

“He’s an Gramps,” I answered. “You should stop asking me about him.”

“Who made him an ?”

“What?” I did not expect his follow-up question.

“I mean who or what triggered him to be an ? I know your generation is way too different from mine and there are things I don’t and won’t understand ever but…” He looked confused but invested. “Knowing him, he’s a lot of things but he’s never an .”

I swallowed. Not wanting to discuss the details with him. I should spare him from all the mess.

“Well, I see what this is about.” He remarked, catching my attention. “Friendships like yours don’t get ruined by just about anything.”

I knew what he meant.

“I bet he finally came clean and told you about his feelings.” He murmured but I was still able to make out of what he said. “And by the looks of it, it didn’t go well.”

“You knew about it too?” I asked, sighing.

“The boy is too obvious. His eyes scream of affection whenever he looks at you.” He said in a matter-of-fact tone. “What I don’t understand is you not noticing it all along.”

This was stressing me out. It almost seemed like everyone knew except me.

I didn’t reply anymore, praying silently that he’d stop asking me.

 

∞⇢

Retiring to my room that night, I checked my phone and found a message from Aunt Mijoo who got married and resided in Spain. She asked about my papers.

These past two months, there were a couple of things that had been taking over the spot in my head. Baekhyun and Spain.

Not that this whole moving to Spain thing was sudden. I had always known that I was going to leave. My dad and Gramps knew and approved of it saying Spain will broaden my knowledge and experience in Architecture.

Even Baekhyun knew about my family’s plan of sending me there to pursue my Master’s degree and we have discussed it a few times in the past. As my best friend, he seemed supportive of the idea.

It wasn’t even a secret to him that I had already been processing my visa and papers for the last twelve months. What he didn’t know though was that Aunt Mijoo got me a great program where I get to fly there at the end of this semester which is about over a month from now.

She contacted and told me about this program about a week after the trip. We discussed it with dad and Gramps and they instantly thought that it was a great thing for me and my career in the future. Upon checking the curriculum of the university, I’d only have to take a few more subjects during their summer break to qualify for senior year.

However, they left the final decision to me. They said that it would only happen if I wanted to go. They didn’t talk me out of it or something. So, after a couple of weeks of thinking about it, I told them I’d go. I had no one else to confide it with anyway.

Of course, there were times I thought of confiding to Baekhyun. We had always talked about things that mattered to both of us but the past two months had been an entirely different circumstance. I was busy dealing with all the decision-making on my own while he was busy pretending I did not exist.

After replying to my Aunt that I was set to complete my papers next week, I sat in front of my desk. Placing my phone down on the table, I remembered that day I found out what Baekhyun’s security pin and wallpaper on his phone were. I wondered if they were still the same. Does he still have my birthdate as a pin and our photo as the home screen? That idiot.

Ugh. Why do I keep thinking about this?

Spacing out, I thought how I had been too harsh on him during that trip. Maybe I had been too focused on my own paid overlooked the fact that he got hurt over and over again in the past. I recalled the many times he convinced me that Jinseo was no good for me. The countless times I caught him openly staring at me.

Gramps was not completely right when he said I didn’t notice. Maybe I did. Maybe I thought of it somehow but the previous heartbreak he caused me had blinded me of the fact that Baekhyun could ever like me.

However, what he did wasn’t justifiable. It just wasn’t. It was foolish. I still can’t believe he did something like that. He was still an for putting on a show with Luna. And I still have every right to despise him. I could have despised him until now if I wasn’t too busy missing him.

I now knew full well that my feelings for him had always been there but under the surface. Too subtle for me to notice this whole time until I saw him and Luna together again.

Closing my eyes, I saw the memory of us kissing in the flower fields. Shaking my head, I stood and threw my body on the bed. I inhaled and exhaled loudly.

“You’re leaving Kang Seolhee,” I reminded myself. “It’s better for you to just shut down any feelings you have for him,” I added, closing my eyes.

After a split second, it was still Baekhyun who ruled my thoughts. I recalled how he sounded talking to me earlier.

“He didn’t even say my name once.”

Maybe it was childish but I found myself sulking at the thought.

I knew he was hurt, thinking I’d never be able to forgive him and that I’d never liked him in this lifetime. He got into a fight with Minseok and Jongdae because of his recklessness and probably thought that he ruined it all.

Well, he did. I still believe that he ed everything up. He did. But then sometimes, I couldn’t help but acknowledge the fact that I miss him. I miss talking to him, hearing his antics, drinking with him while we both say and do crazy stuff together. I miss him and I knew in my heart that missing him isn’t the only reason why I’m like this.

But I’m leaving so, I’d better pretend that it didn’t exist.

 

∞⇢

The next day, Namindae and I were hanging out at The New Leaf. Jongdae was talking about how he happened to see Baekhyun earlier.

“He seemed like a different person now. I tried joking but he didn’t even laugh at me anymore.” Jongdae told us. “It was almost like that time he distanced himself away from us after Luna left.”

“No.” Minseok protested. “This is worse.” He exchanged looks with me. “Way longer and I don’t think he’d go back hanging out with us any time soon.”

“I don’t know but this is just messed up Hyung,” Jongdae whined. “It’s Baekhyun, we’re practically used to doing things together. Now I see him hanging out with those prick Yoonjun and Hangyeol. I just don’t feel good about it. Shouldn’t we at least do something?”

“He needs to grow up,” Minseok replied. “Let him learn things on his own. If he doesn’t think that this friendship is important to him…then we should not either.”

“Hyung,” Jongdae uttered in protest. “You mean, we’re not gonna do anything? We’ll just leave him be? He dropped out of Hapkido and the swimming team when he’s good at them. Who knows what he’ll drop out of if we don’t…”

“Yes, and he dropped out of this friendship too. He’ll come around when he’s regained his senses.” Minseok was determined.

Naeun and I exchanged looks, not knowing what to say. It was obvious to us that Minseok was still mad at Baekhyun. I recalled how he openly told us that Baekhyun should own up to his mistakes and not run away from them like a coward.

Then Naeun sighed, catching all our attentions.

“I’m sorry.” She apologized when we were all looking at her. “I mean I get it but…maybe we have been too harsh on him. That night, it was as if no one was on his side and none of us even checked on him after.”

“That’s because he did something wrong Naeun,” Minseok argued.

“I know but…” She took a deep breath. “All I’m saying is that if I were him, I’d probably don’t want to show my face to you guys too. I’d think that you guys don’t wanna hang out with me again…”

Everyone was silent.

“And again because none of us reached out to him right away after what happened, he probably thought that we all despised him and didn’t wanna have anything to do with him anymore.” She added, sounding sad. “I shouldn’t have insisted on going to that trip if I knew this was going to happen.”

“It’s not your fault Naeun.” I was quick to tell her. “If there’s someone to blame, that would be me.”

“Seol…” Jongdae called. “C’mon…it’s not your fault either.”

“I was the one who had been the most harsh to him,” I added. “I realize now how badly I treated him.”

“That’s only because you got hurt too, Seol.” Minseok reminded. “What he did was still unjustifiable. You have all the reasons to get mad at him after what he and Luna did.”

I cleared my throat, feeling a bit sad.

“I happen to talk to him last Saturday,” I told them.

“What happened?” Naeun’s eyes grew wide, eager to hear my reply.

“I saw him smoking with Yoonjun and Hangyeol.”

“.” Jongdae hissed. “This is what I’m talking about.”

“I wasn’t going to do anything at first but I just could not stand there and watch him. Yes, I’m still a bit mad at what he did but I just…” I shook my head before taking a deep breath. “So, even if we weren’t on speaking terms, I went to him and confronted him.” I paused, recalling what happened exactly. “Dae’s right. He looks and sounds like an entirely different person now.”

“He said he loves you, did he miraculously forget about it?” Minseok smirked. “You should have asked him if he did.”

“Hyung.” Jongdae intercepted. “We both know that he’s in love with Seolhee. We saw how he endured it all these years.”

“Well, we also saw how he treats her like a stranger now.” Minseok retorted. “And all of us too.”

“I guess he’s just too heartbroken right now.” Dae reasoned out. 

Naeun and Jongdae exchanged looks as they leaned back to their chair. I, on the other hand, remained quiet for the next minutes. Minseok is right. I know full well that he is right.

 

∞⇢

Naeun and I were walking out of the campus together to the bus station. We both saw Baekhyun from afar. He was on his motorcycle but stopped to one side and was talking to Hangyeol and Jieun.

“So, they hang out with Jieun now.” Naeun noticed. “She must be over the moon now that she thinks you’re out of the picture. That .” She hissed. “I swear if I saw her riding Baekhyun’s motorcycle someday, I’ll push her off.”

“Please you didn’t even do that to Luna.” I joked, trying to dismiss any form of jealousy in my head.

“Yah Seol,” Naeun whined. “I’m still sorry about the whole Luna situation, you know that.”

I chuckled seeing her affected by what I said.

“I’m just kidding,” I told her, smiling. “Let’s just go.”

In a matter of minutes, we were out of the campus and on our way to the bus stop.

“You must miss him though,” Naeun said out of nowhere. “Baekhyun.” She added when I shot her a confused look.

I kept quiet. I didn’t wanna lie, she would know if I was anyway.

“You don’t have to say it Seol.” There was something comforting with the way she said it.

I still did not say anything.

“If things had only turned out differently, you guys would be the best couple the face of the planet has ever seen.”

I laughed at her remark.

“Shut up Naeun,” I told her. “We’re not even speaking to each other and I bet the face of the planet just laughed when you said that.”

The bus came and we got it and sat next to each other.

“Well, you’re not together now.” She went on. “But it doesn’t mean you won’t have the chance in the future anymore.”

If she only knew that I was leaving soon, she’d probably change her narrative.

 

 

∞⇢


4:03 PM THURSDAY.

There was a football match between our University and a foreign team. As expected the game attracted so many students. I was with Namindae of course. I just came from the library and hurriedly walked towards their spot. They all looked giddy and excited waiting for the game to start. A few minutes later we saw Baekhyun walking alone and he seemed to be nearing our direction.

He wasn’t making any eye contact but I was sure I wasn’t the only one anticipating. Then I just heard Jongdae let out a sigh when he turned to another’s spot on a lower spot.

“Of course, he’s with Yoonjun,” Jongdae said, unable to hide his frustration. “What were we expecting?”

Minseok clicked his tongue, giving Dae a look.

“It’s been months Dae, shouldn’t you have moved on by now?”

“Hyung!” He whined. “I don’t wanna move on from this ever. Baekhyun is too precious to me.”

“Suit yourself then,” Minseok replied with a scoff before ignoring Jongdae.

Darting my attention to him, I noticed that Jieun was with them too. She was originally seated next to Yoonjun but she stood and transferred next to Baekhyun. I watched how she stole glances at him before she leaned closer and told him something that made him chuckle.

“Stop me Seol,” Naeun suggested in a suppressed volume. “You have to stop me from pulling that girl’s hair.”

“Stop,” I said. “He’s obviously liking her company, look at the way he smiles at her,” I added quietly not wanting Mindae to hear our conversation. “Makes me wanna break every bone in his body.” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.

Naeun almost choked at my remark. I scolded her for being too obvious that we were gossiping.

The game started and the audience started cheering. While they did this, my eyes bore at the back of Baekhyun’s head. I caught the few times Jieun brushed her shoulders against his and he seemed unbothered by it.

I’ve been ing in love with you Seol. I recalled his exact words that day before I scoffed. In love my foot.

The game progressed and I lost count of how many times I wished for the ball to hit Jieun’s forehead until the game came to an end.

 

∞⇢

We stayed in the bleachers about thirty minutes after the game. I decided to tell them that I was leaving for Spain by the end of the semester. Given that the semester is ending in about five weeks. It came as a surprise to them.

“Isn’t it so sudden Seol?” Naeun gasped. “Oh my god, you’re leaving us already?” She sounded sad right away.

“Well, my gramps and dad both agreed that this is a great opportunity for me if I wanted to do well in the future.”

“Seol.” Jongdae caught my attention.

I turned to face him.

“Does Baekhyun know?” Jongdae was quick to ask.

“He would have if…” I trailed off. “He wasn’t busy avoiding me these past two months,” I said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Well, you all know that it’s the plan all along. So, he basically had an idea I guess.”

“But you were supposed to go after you graduate, right?” Minseok intercepted.

“Yeah, but it turns out my Aunt’s husband who is a professor at one of the best Universities in Architecture found a perfect program for me,” I explained. “There’s stuff I have to do to catch up but the programs look promising.”

“Did you already check this out with the dean?” Minseok went on.

“Yeah,” I answered. “My papers are all set.”

“Wow,” Jongdae remarked. “You’ll be a big-time Architect in the future for sure Seol.” He teased.

“Take note,” Naeun exclaimed. “I’d like to emphasize that it should be Spanish-speaking Architect Kang Seolhee!”

“Will you be okay on your own, Seol?” Minseok sounded serious.

“Yeah Spain is too far.” Jongdae agreed. “You can’t just give Baekhyun a call and ask him to come over when you’re having a hard time you’ll…” He trailed off when he noticed that we were all giving him a look.

“It doesn’t have to be him,” I told Jongdae. “I heard there are so many hot guys in Spain,” I added in my attempt to joke.

“Yeah but none of them is Baekhyun,” Jongdae stated, sounding wistful in a way. 

“Yes,” I answered. “But Baekhyun doesn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore. Let’s just let that jerk be.”

“Do you want me to kidnap him?” Jongdae suggested. “Then I can tell him that you’re is leaving, who knows maybe he’ll come back to his senses.”

“Stop with your nonsense Kim Jongdae.” Minseok scolded as he stood up, getting ready to leave.

 

∞⇢

7:06 PM FRIDAY

I was standing in front of the fridge in the convenience store. Since I don’t have morning classes the next day, I thought it would not hurt to grab some beer tonight in my room. I was debating whether to get the one with low alcohol content or the moderate one. I probably had been so focused on my thoughts that I didn’t notice someone coming.

Baekhyun.

My brain recognizing him, I watched as he pulled the cover of the fridge open and grabbed four bottles of the moderate ones. It was impossible for him not to see me there yet he acted like he didn’t. He was getting so good at it, I thought.

As soon as he turned around, I leaned and got two of the strongest ones.

I know, I just know it would be better for me not to mind him but when I glanced outside I saw Yoonjun and Jieun waiting at the table. They must be together. And the immediate sight of Jieun awakened my angry cells.

“Has it expired?” I asked while I trailed behind him in the aisle going to the cashier.

“What?” He asked as soon as he turned around. “Ah, this?” He added, cockily as he referred to the beer in his hands. “No.”

“Your feelings for me,” I added firmly, unblinking.

The cocky look on his face disappeared as he fell silent and looked back at me seriously.

“Has it expired?”

He scoffed at me before leaving his spot.

I followed him until we got to the cashier. He placed the beer on the counter.

“It probably has, right?” I kept talking. “Because there’s no way you’re still in love with me and then avoid me as I have Covid.”

He turned to me. In fact, the cashier also stared at me, hearing what I just said. I was aware that I probably sounded annoying and pathetic to him and anyone listening right now. But then I could just not control my temper and the craziness I feel behind my chest.

“You’re doing it again.” He said in an emotionless manner.

“Doing what?”

“Reminding me of how pathetic I was.” He answered with a look of sarcasm in his eyes. “You see this is why I avoid you. Cuz you have this way of reminding me of stuff I want to forget.”

“So you want to forget it, huh?” I interrogated.

“Whatever you’re referring to,” He paused as he took money out of his wallet to pay. “Yes.” He added, not evening paying me a glance.

“It’s stupid of me to ask when you’re enjoying Na Jieun’s flirting.”

The cashier observed us awkwardly.

“Don’t do that.” Baekhyun scoffed before turning to me again.

“Do what?”

“Acting like you’re jealous when you’re really not.” He replied. “You’re just mad at the thought of someone stealing your friend from you.” He paused, his eyes boring into mine. “Because apparently, that’s the only version of me that matters to you. And apart from that, you don’t want me.”

He said it and I fell absolutely silent. I bit the inside of my lower lip as I took a deep breath. It felt so unfair that he created a whole idea of me in his head wanting him only as a friend.

Then I remember how long I had convinced myself that he would never like me as well since high school.

“Baekhyun!”

I heard that ’s voice as she

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