I diverted my eyes back onto Jooin. Still, he didn’t say anything with downcast eyes. I gave him a gentle squeeze on his hand.
‘If he was about to react like this, I should have told him about it earlier,’ with that thought in mind, I opened my lips.
“I think you are truly a nice guy no matter how good and bad you are.”
My words moved the corners of his lips slightly. He then lifted his eyes to look at me with a subtle smile on his lips.
I raised his hand and waved it in the air as I usually did when playing tricks with him. Jooin then grinned a little more. I smiled and continued.
“Um, and… oh, you know people often say that even if we eat the same menu at the same restaurant, it’s totally different depending on who you eat with. Eating with an uncomfortable boss and a friend we like tastes completely different.”
Jooin nodded again with a face that seemed to hold back his laughter. I smiled back at him with a loud voice.
“You know what? Although our meals and the cafeteria were much the same, every time I had lunch with you, it was such a blast. That’s who you are to me.”
What I just said smeared a deeper smile on Jooin’s lips. He was now giggling with his other hand, which was not holding mine, on the desk. I laughed again too.
A gleam of moonlight streamed through us with a dazzle. I wondered for a moment whether he could see me blushed to the roots of my hair; however, I soon decided to remove such a thought. It was a little embarrassing, but I wanted to tell him more, the words he could trust.
Jooin was now looking at me with a clear smile. His deeply twinkling brown eyes seemed to be waiting for the next words to come out of my mouth. As soon as I caught that gaze, I came across what to say after. I opened my mouth again.
“And… there is this saying…”
I tried not to be aware of it, but my voice seemed to subside into silence while I was speaking. A faint gleam of wonder smeared in Jooin’s eyes. Trying not to be conscious of it, I tried to avoid his gaze and spoke in a trembling voice.
“It may not sound great, but no relationship is perfect. Thus, in the end, the only thing we can choose is from whom we’ll get hurt… that’s all.”
“Do you know what first came across my head after hearing that?”
As if it were carved under the moonlight with a blade, the look on Jooin’s face, staring at me, was too sharp and vivid that I felt somehow afraid to see him. Raising my hand to cover my eyes, I kept on talking.
“I thought that it’s inevitable to get hurt by you guys in the end. One day, if you all disappear from this world and I never get to see you again… and do you know what I also had in mind at the same time?”
“Maybe it’s a good thing that you guys don’t remember me. That’s because you all won’t remember me; therefore, you guys won’t get hurt…”
With that said, I closed my eyes tightly at last. My superhuman-like effort to swallow the tears went fine; however, for that reason, my throat felt as hot as if I had swallowed lava.
Only when I finally had the assurance that I wouldn’t cry, I breathed heavily and removed my hand around my eyes. Then I slowly turned my head.
Jooin was looking at me with a strange face as if he had seen me for the first time in his life. I grinned.
“Jooin, the fact that I’ve decided to be your friend means I was getting ready to get hurt from you anyway, so please… please don’t worry too much about yourself hurting me.”
“I’ll be fine if you hurt me a bit or so. I chose you as the one who could hurt me.”
Jooin kept his silence for a while. I stood still quietly while dropping my gaze at the floor too. How long had it been? He slowly moved his arms to give a hug.
Among the Four Heavenly Kings, it was none other than Jooin who took me into his arms the most. He similarly hugged other girls too, but there wasn’t any chemistry of love or that kind of tension embodied in the act, which always felt so natural, therefore.
Didn’t Jooin also embrace me before when I was the only one assigned to Class 1-8 during the entrance ceremony? Recalling that memory, I slightly smiled, but at the same time, I breathed in through my nose. The tips of my eyes were a little sour.
Jooin disconcerted me this way sometimes. When it happened to be in this kind of situation, I suddenly felt him as a very big, grown-up man, which perplexed me. Although he was always taller than me, Jooin had this child-like vibe.
I hesitated for a second then buried my face onto his shoulder. Jooin remained still. Putting my arms around his back, I thought, ‘Jooin seems to be my big brother at this moment, so why not lean on him to cry as much as I can?’
It was then when I had those thoughts in mind while shoving my face onto his shoulder. I could feel Jooin opening his lips from his movement. His voice rang above my head.
“You know, this is what Jiho also admitted.”
‘Yeah,’ I said with a nod. What came after from his mouth made me giggle.
“I’m super smart, right? If Eun Jiho admits it, it’s really something.”
“So, no matter how hard someone tries to get you out of my head, I will never ever forget you.”
Opening my eyes wide, I could hardly believe what he just said. As if I was hit in the back of my head, I was in a daze, and at the same time, I felt as if my feet were floating in the air. Both of us seemed to sink to the bottom of a lake.
I lifted my eyes.
When our eyes met, Jooin bent his brown eyes and smiled at a slow pace. His signature lovely smile made me laugh again as I thought it was the first time to see that grin today. At the same time, my tears burst.
Smiling and crying simultaneously, I held Jooin’s back for quite a while. He then spoke again.
“I promise that I won’t let you be alone in that world.”
“As I did before, I can call your number, that didn’t exist, for six hours. I won’t forget anything about what happened among us and where you were. I’ll tell the rest of the kids for us to remember everything about you and to find you no matter where you are. I will, mama. You have my word.”
With that said, Jooin grabbed my shoulders with both hands affectionately and locked his eyes with me; however, I couldn’t say a word from bursting into tears.
Blinking my eyes a couple of times, I opened my tearful lips, but again, I was at a loss of words. Jooin remained silent for a while as he saw me sobbing with my face buried into my hands.
It wasn’t long before I finally caught my breath and opened my lips.
“That lady is such nonsense…”
I heard Jooin tossing the question to me in perplexity.
My face was still full of tears, so I just continued speaking without even thinking to remove my hands from my face.
“That lady who said that you’re weird and creepy… it’s truly unbelievable. There’s nothing wrong with you… you’re such a good person…”
Jooin spoke with a tender smile as if he felt ludicrous. It was such a refreshing grin like a sunny day after the rain. Keeping the smile, Jooin dropped the last sentence.
“I’m just… returning what I got.”
* * *
While I watched Jooin holding my hands together in anxiety, he stuck his head out to the hallway and checked around.
He then said to me, “The man we saw earlier isn’t here as I expected. As long as we don’t stay for quite a while with the lights opened, it seems fine.”
“This time, let’s just check if the light goes on and then turn it off ASAP.”
I replied with a nod and grabbed Jooin’s hand hesitantly. Holding each other’s hand, we exchanged looks of relief and giggled.