Jooin remained silent. I placed my hand back to my forehead and mumbled,
“Sorry for what I’ve just said… it was really bullshit.”
We had been friends for 3 years now and here I am asking him to treat each other as strangers in high school. Under what circumstances should I push myself through to persuade him?
How could I better articulate that it was not because I hated them? Instead, they had been so precious to me that it was the only way for me to sustain myself.
No one, nobody… could ever understand me. Unless they could understand the surreal things that I had gone through.
While Woo Jooin dropped his gaze at me as his eyes lost its light, I buried my face on my hands.
He would never understand although I said he was a precious friend to me and, at the same time, I wanted to be away from him for a while. The words I said instead made me reclusive.
I closed my eyes tightly. It was at that moment, when Woo Jooin, unbelievably, responded with a clear voice.
“Let’s do that.”
“If mommy says so, I’m in.”
What? My eyes were wide-opened as I stared at him.
He then hesitated for a second but soon wrapped his arms around my neck.
Though he was normally taller than me, Jooin, throwing both arms around my neck, was loading his heavyweight on my waist. His hug, however, felt like he was my elder brother.
He again looked hesitant but quickly walked past me by leaving a few notes. The words he left sent me in a daze for a moment.
“That day, I called you for six hours.”
I stood there blankly, sweeping my frizzy hair with both my hands and looked at the traces of his steps.
The park was now drowning in the dark as the sun completely descended down the mountains. The tree leaves rustled through the breeze, and my dad looked up at the sky, rubbing the back of his neck as if it was stiff. Darkened clouds were hovering beneath the purplish sky.
I turned myself back and stared at the group of people where Ban Yeo Ryung just joined. Eun Jiho then found me and waved his hands for me to come over. It startled me.
I was hesitant as I stood still on the spot for quite a while but then I decided to take a step toward them diffidently.
As soon as I approached them, Eun Jiho said with a triumphant look.
“Dude, how would you evaluate this highness who brought this Grade 1 A++ Korean beef in a flash?”
Oh, he brought it. Now that I had come to think about it, Eun Hyung had a long phone call with Jiho. I guess he told Jiho to bring the food.
The proudly laughing Eun Jiho looked hilarious to me, so I responded, “Games do ruin people.”
“Oh, come one!”
Jiho raised his hand and smashed my head with a frown. What the… I glared at him fiercely then turned my head to Jooin.
He was laughing at Eun Jiho, but his smile soon faded as our eyes met. I stopped staring at him as I moved my head back to its original position and gazed in front of me. It did not take long for me to grasp what Jooin’s words meant.
What he said about ‘that day’ was the day they found me in front of his house. It was the very day the world flipped over the second time in my whole life.
How? From the moment I woke up at home to when I finally slouched in front of Jooin’s house, nobody texted me for the entirety of the 6 hours I was running about. Not even a single phone call. Jooin, however, told me that he called me continuously.
Since their numbers did not exist or belonged to someone else, my number would have also been the same to Jooin, not in service. Above all, the fact that I received no calls from anyone was proof of this.
The other four guys did not seem to be aware of my disappearance at all; however, it was only Woo Jooin who called me. He rang the bell even though the number did not exist. He did so over and over.
Maybe it was because his memory was beyond that of a normal human being; he might have perceived something strange and kept on calling me.
I shoved my hands into my pocket. Then I shook my head and diverted my gaze on Yeo Ryung, Eun Hyung, and Yoo Chun Young. I slowly detached my lips.
“Hey, do you remember what happened a year ago?”
As if he did not read the heaviness of the mood, Eun Jiho asked me back with his bright expression. However, when he saw my face looking like a wet weekend, he just shut his mouth. The seriousness of it all also smeared onto his eyes.
Ban Yeo Ryung questioned from aside, “Donnie, why? Why… about a year ago?”
Her voice was unusually serious as well. I took a deep breath again and pulled out the subject.
* * *
When the sun finally went down, the weather became chillier. The cold air swept over the ash green grass in the dark.
My parents and Yeo Ryung’s father kept passing the shots back and forth, but after a while, they almost laid down on the bench as if they were all passed out. Next to them sat Yeo Dan oppa, politely sipping the drink my mom was pouring to his shot glass.
Oh, mom, please. He was still underage. I covered my face in embarrassment and slowly lifted my eyes to look at those who were standing next to me.
2 hours had passed since I told them what’s going on with my life, but they all still looked quiet and still. It made sense anyway.
Only the dark and heavy silence surrounded us for minutes. Eun Jiho and Ban Yeo Ryung, who heard this story for the first time looked so pale; however, You Chun Young looked surprisingly unfazed, so was Woo Jooin. Their attitudes seemed to indicate that the story was familiar to them.
Eun Hyung would not have been surprised, too, since he heard the same story from me in the morning. As if he felt a bit awkward for a moment, he looked around others’ faces and shrugged with a grin when our eyes met. I had no choice but to follow his smile as well.
Geez… I thought. I should have just kept those words to myself. However, telling my qualms to them proved to be inevitable in order for me to open-up my situation before asking them to act like strangers in high school.
However, as I confessed what I went through, I realized that it was indeed a story that would appear in the TV show, ‘How is that Possible.’ A lame fiction that held no concrete evidence to back it up. My eyes dropped with that in my mind. When I felt that the breeze touching my skin was colder than before, I opened my phone.
The time on the screen was 9:07 pm. It’s already late in the evening. I raised my head and said, “Um… the….”
My words began meaninglessly but everyone’s eyes were all on me out of the blue. Under the orange streetlights, their outline seemed piercing and frightening that all I could do was to look at them with a smile.
I then handed out my phone in front of them and said, “It’s already over 9 in the evening, and as you could see, my parents don’t look too well right now. Yeo Ryung’s mother would come over when she gets off her work, but it would be around 10. So why don’t we start wrapping up now?”
“… Still, there are still about 2 hours left until the last train.”
Yoo Chun Young responded and looked at Eun Hyung who stood next to him. I was quite baffled at his remark as I looked up at them. Not even me, but also Yeo Ryung and Eun Jiho seemed shaken up.
Our reactions seemed uncontrollable since Yoo Chun Young wanted to indicate that he would stay here until the metro closes.
Eun Hyung’s response to Yoo Chun Young was also confusing. With his usual tender smile, he said, “It’s a little cold here outside, and it wouldn’t be comfortable to talk in such cold weather, so why don’t we go inside somewhere warm?”
My stare locked on Eun Jiho’s face as I got even more confused than ever. What were they talking about? He also shrugged his shoulders in wonder.
However, since it was Eun Jiho who liked to hang outside, he soon shoved his hands inside his pocket and said with a bright grin.
“Hey, tomorrow is our opening ceremony. We’ll be exhausted.”
“No, I stayed up all night yesterday and now I feel more alive. This is who I am. Hey, Yoo Chun Young, how about you?”
With his cheerful response, I, at last, figured out who was with Yoo Chun Young when he pulled an all-nighter. Oh, it sounded a bit awkward, but anyway, the person whom he spent the entirety of the night together while playing an online game was none other than Eun Jiho.