Although Donghae’s body clock tells him he should already be opening his eyes, he feels so cozy and warm that he ignores the mental prodding and sleeps for a while longer. That is until last night’s events all come back to him and he shoots up from the bed as though he’d been electrocuted and realizes that Hyukjae’s arm is encircling his waist. When he steps out of bed, Hyukjae’s arm lands on the sheets. He heads straight for the bathroom, locks the door, and gets in the shower after placing his clothes in the hamper. The warm water helps calm his nerves. He’s supposed to make up with Hyukjae today yet he doesn’t know what to do, what to say. They’ve never had a disagreement in the past that had required either of them to apologize whatsoever. Ridiculous but very true.
How does one say sorry to someone for the first time in nine years?
For the sake of delaying, Donghae spends time in the shower much longer than necessary. He shampoos his hair and uses conditioner afterwards; he scrubs his body with a loofah until most of his skin turns red; he brushes his teeth twice, gargles with a mouthwash, and even flosses; finally, he shaves very slowly.
While he’s drying his face in front of the mirror he thinks he’s being silly for wanting to come out of the bathroom as late as possible; however, it’s not as though he can help it. Hyukjae had been so upset that night that now Donghae isn’t sure if there are words he should avoid saying so as not to aggravate the situation. With the towel wrapped around his hips, he takes a couple of deep breaths before turning around and putting his hand on the doorknob. Under his breath, he wishes that Hyukjae were still in bed, knocked out from the absinthe, oblivious to the stress Donghae is feeling.
He turns the knob and pulls.
No genie hears his wish.
“You took so long I was ready to go home,” says Hyukjae in a sleepy voice, standing a foot away from Donghae with his left forearm raised and against the doorframe. His hair is messy and his clothes have a lot of creases. “What were you up to in there?”
“…I was…” Donghae feels his heart in his throat. Why is Hyukjae talking to him as though nothing had happened? Had they made up in their dreams? Is this the official end of their fight? He opens his mouth to try to say something but nothing comes out—his vocal chords don’t seem to be working. Therefore, he goes for the alternative: he embraces Hyukjae.
Neither of them says anything. Donghae’s arms go around Hyukjae’s shoulders to which Hyukjae responds by wrapping his arms around Donghae’s waist. They’ve shared countless of hugs before but this is different. It feels different. It’s as though Donghae has resurfaced from being underwater for a long time and is finally able to breathe again. He tightens his hold, hiding his face in the crook of Hyukjae’s neck. Three days of separation have caused this much pain to build up inside him without him being aware of it—what more could a longer period have done? It seems that while Hyukjae’s dependency on Donghae is something that manifests outward, Donghae’s dependency on Hyukjae is more internally isolated. Perhaps Donghae has been more dependent on Hyukjae all along; for in their reconciliation he finds himself whole again, something he doesn’t feel with anyone else, not even Mihyeon. It scares him a little to think of it, of how much he needs this man to be complete as a person. However, he decides to ignore the questions in his head and simply rejoice in the fact that he and Hyukjae are alright again.
“Your hair smells really good, Hae,” says Hyukjae. “New brand?”
Donghae nods vigorously. All of a sudden, a sob racks his body and he’s crying. He doesn’t know what it is about Hyukjae’s voice that had triggered the reaction but here it is and he can’t stop it. Even when they separate and Hyukjae asks him what’s wrong, he fails to answer through the tears and the sniffling. He hears Hyukjae laughing at him, causing him to cry even harder.
I’ve missed you, he wants to say but can’t. I’ve missed you terribly.
“You look like you just got laid,” Kyuhyun owes it to years of practice when he is able to dodge the pen thrown in his direction. He then sits down on one of the chairs in front of Hyukjae’s desk. “No hangover or did someone cure it?”
“I honestly don’t know how you were able to converse with Donghae without saying anything that would make me want to hire a gunman.”
“Oh you know me: I can quit the comments anytime but I do so selectively.”
Hyukjae rolls his eyes and goes back to finishing the work he had refused to accomplish during the silent treatment between him and Donghae. When he’d entered the office in the morning, he’d gone to the interns’ department and had apologized to them, promising them all lunch that same day. He’d also talked to the CEO he had gotten angry at. The amount of negativity he’d released for three days seems to have been converted to positivity, all because he has made up with Donghae.
“Hey,” says Kyuhyun. Hoping that it won’t be another annoying comment, Hyukjae looks at him. “Have you thought about your dad’s wedding yet?”
“I have nine days left, including today, to decide.”
“Right, so what’s it gonna be?”
“I said I—,” Hyukjae stops when his phone buzzes. Kyuhyun sees his eyes widen as he’s reading the message.
“Is it a greasy message from a certain café owner?”
“Not quite,” Hyukjae puts his cellphone in his pocket and gets up from his chair. “I might not be back in time for lunch but…” He takes his wallet out, gets one of his platinum credit cards, and chucks it at Kyuhyun. “…I’ve already booked that restaurant we ate in last week so take all the interns there and get them whatever they want.”
“Where’re you going?” asks Kyuhyun when Hyukjae passes by him.
Hyukjae smiles and answers, “Meeting the perfect excuse for not attending a wedding.”
I’ll be in Seoul for two weeks. I’m at my usual hotel right now. Are you busy?
I’m never too busy for you.
Hyukjae pays the driver and gets out of the taxi. He may have brought his car to work but sometimes he finds that using public transportation is better especially when he knows that he has to respond to phone messages while heading for his destination. He looks up at the skyscraper before him, a place he remembers all too well. Once inside, he goes to the front desk and says a name. The receptionist types something in the computer, makes a phone call, and tells Hyukjae that the room he’s looking for is 3031. Hyukjae thanks her and takes the elevator.
It doesn’t take long for the door to be opened by a woman just a couple of inches shorter than Hyukjae. Her face is petite, bearing big, beautiful eyes with long eyelashes, a dainty nose, and thin lips curved up in a smile. What had once been long, straight hair going halfway down her back is now in a pixie haircut.
“You got here fast so does that mean you miss me?”
Hyukjae grins. He has always loved her voice. “If I answer your question, am I sure you won’t tell anyone else?”
“You know well I won’t,” She opens the door wider and takes Hyukjae in an embrace. “Oh my. You certainly have been going to the gym, haven’t you, Hyukjae? These muscles weren’t here the last time we met.”
“And you seem to have already gotten pregnant.” Hyukjae laughs when he gets hit twice on the arm. “I’m kidding, Jihyo,” He enters the room and locks the door behind him. “But really? Still no kids with that lawyer husband of yours?”
“We’re still enjoying our time as newlyweds, thank you very much,” says Jihyo. She sits on the couch and starts pouring tea for Hyukjae. “Besides, work is killing us both. We don’t have time for kids. Not yet.”
Hyukjae sits half a foot away from her. “You’re not afraid he’s going to cheat on you while you’re away?”
Jihyo takes the white porcelain cup and hands it on a saucer to Hyukjae. “I’ve gotten used to it from dating Mr. Almost Perfect for a year.” She says, looking at Hyukjae with her head resting on her left hand after she places her elbow on her thigh. “His excuse had been the most unbelievable, most depressing thing I’ve ever had to know even until now, and I’ve heard that he still hasn’t stopped with his ridiculous ways of making sense of things.”
“Yes, well, he has yet to have his problem solved, that’s why,” says Hyukjae.
“Hasn’t it occurred to him that perhaps his approach to the problem is a little bit…off, hmm?”
“The only other solution might do damage to both parties.”
“He won’t know ‘till he tries,” Jihyo's brows crease slightly into a frown. “Does he really think hurting the both of them is worse than shouldering all the pain on his own?”
Hyukjae looks down at his tea, the golden color beautiful against the porcelain. At Donghae’s apartment and at his own condominium, he drinks tea in dark-colored mugs so he misses the opportunity to admire it in any way. He wonders if he should buy new cups later. “It’s much worse because he’ll see the other get hurt. He’ll do what it takes not for that to happen.”
“I understand what he’s doing but…” Jihyo places both of her hands on Hyukjae’s.”…his efforts don’t seem to be going anywhere. What he’s doing now is self-destruction, and even though he doesn’t want his special someone to get hurt, I don’t want him to hurt more than he already does.”
Putting the cup down and placing his remaining hand on top of Jihyo’s, Hyukjae says with a reassuring smile, “Don’t worry because he’ll have a very good reason to stop all this in the near future.”
“What do you mean?”
“Donghae…he…” Out of nowhere, there’s pressure building up in Hyukjae’s chest. The words don’t come out easily—he ends up forcing them out. “…he’s found the one. He’s never mentioned marriage before with other girlfriends but this one, he—.” He finds himself cut off when Jihyo embraces him. During the first few seconds he doesn’t react, doesn’t know why she’d done it, but he becomes aware of what he’d said and that’s when it strikes him: Donghae will go to someone else, and quite possibly for good. The years he has wasted trying to convince himself that Donghae is nothing more than a passing fancy come back to him, and when he realizes that all of it will go to nothing, the first tear falls. Then another. And another.
How ironic for it to end because of a girl when it had begun with a girl.
Nine years ago, 15th of September.
“This is too much effort for a girlfriend of four months, don’t you think?” asks Yunho, a tall boy with spiky hair and a handsome face who is tying the last of the knots. “Couldn’t you have waited a year or so before deciding to do this?”
“That would just spoil the idea,” says Donghae, making sure that the multi-colored candles on the cake are all perfectly upright. “Besides, the whole thing came to me only this week and today happens to be her birthday and I love her and—.”
“You did not just say that.”
Donghae turns to Yunho. “What? That I love her?”
“And of course you repeated it,” Yunho gets up from the floor and walks up to his friend. “For you Dahee is a goddess who has blessed your miserable life by actually dating you and even going so far as to agree for you to be her boyfriend, but that’s not love you’re experiencing, alright? I’m not saying it’s because of the time frame but because from what I can see, you’re simply obsessed with her.”
“…What’s wrong with being obsessed?”
“…After this I’m not gonna help you with anything related to her, you got it?”
Donghae gives Yunho a big hug while bouncing on his heels like a preschooler. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
“Okay. Geez. Get off me, man,” When Yunho gently pushes Donghae away, they both hear Donghae’s ringtone.
Digging into his pockets, Donghae answers the phone. His eyes turn into saucers and he immediately ends the call to shake Yunho’s shoulders. “One of our classmates saw Dahee’s car take the turn to this street!”
“Oh crap,” Yunho goes back to his original kneeling position behind the railing of the school building’s rooftop. Donghae does the same, getting ready to untie the knot in front of him. He looks beyond the railing to try and spot Dahee. The front schoolyard is only five floors down so it is not difficult to differentiate one person from another. In addition, Dahee’s waist-length hair is strikingly ginger, a color she has maintained for nearly two months; finding her will be a piece of cake.
“There she is!” exclaims Yunho, pointing to an orange-haired girl who has just come out of a black sedan. “Do we put it down now?”
“Let her come closer,” answers Donghae, his heart seemingly about to race up his throat. “I want her to be able to read it clearly.”
“This thing is huge—how can she not read it clearly?” Yunho reaches over to untie the middle knot. Dahee continues to walk towards the building without noticing anything different. A few of her friends, also unaware, approach her and they all chat with one another while walking. They are halfway across the yard when Donghae says that he’s going to count up to three and on three they’re going to untie the remaining two knots at the same time. Yunho nods in understanding.
It takes just one pull for Donghae and Yunho to undo the knots, sending the huge vertical banner cascading down the building. Donghae stands up and sees Dahee and everyone else look up in shock. Dahee’s friends start giggling but she continues to look at Donghae and then back at the huge piece of canvas tarp.
My princess, my wife, my everything, happy 15th birthday! Thank you for existing and completing me in every way! I love you so much! (Come to the classroom so I can give you your gift!)
Hurriedly, Dahee enters the school building which Donghae takes as a signal to grab the cake, tell Yunho to get his guitar, and carefully descend the stairs with an extremely wide smile on his face. Their classroom is on the third floor. Donghae and Yunho arrive there before Dahee so as planned they wait for her in front of one of the two classroom doors. Donghae takes out a Zippo and lights the candles. When his girlfriend appears a minute later, Donghae uses his free hand to open the door. All of their classmates, each holding a purple balloon (since it’s Dahee’s favorite color), rush out and surround Dahee, Donghae, and Yunho. Someone hands Dahee a balloon of her own. An unreadable expression on her face, she takes a few steps towards Donghae until she’s close enough to blow out the candles. To her further surprise, all the lights are turned off. Yunho starts playing a familiar tune; Donghae clears his throat and sings.
Now I've found you,
There's no more emptiness inside.
When we're hungry, love will keep us alive.
I would die for you,
Climb the highest mountain.
Baby, there's nothing I wouldn't do.
“Happy birthday, Dahee,” says Donghae afterwards, raising the cake a little higher. “You like that song, don’t you? I hope you found my pronunciation okay.”
“Donghae, why did you this?” asks Dahee. “You know I don’t like surprises.”
“I know but…it’s your birthday so I couldn’t not do anything special.” Donghae’s smile widens. “Make a wish, princess.”
Dahee appears as though she has something else to say but she puts it off to bends down a little and in one breath makes the candlelight go away. Everyone save for Donghae claps and the lights are turned on again. Their classmates continue cheering and greeting Dahee as they go back inside the classroom. Yunho, too, leaves them after taking the cake from Donghae so as not for it to get in the way.
It’s just the two of them in the hallway. Donghae had gone so far as to tell everyone his plan so all the students are inside their rooms. There are no teachers in sight because the bell hasn’t rung.
Donghae takes a step, the tips of his shoes touching Dahee’s. From his pocket, he takes out a small velvet box and opens it. There is a necklace inside with a cute, shiny robot for a pendant. “I wasn’t able to buy this for you last month since I couldn’t afford it yet, but I ate off of Yunho’s lunchbox everyday and was able to save up for all this,” He gently strokes Dahee’s left cheek. “Why are you so quiet, princess? Are you still surprised?”
“You really shouldn’t have done this…” says Dahee in a hushed voice. All of a sudden, she closes the box and looks at Donghae straight in the eye. “I know this must be the worst thing for me to say today but this can’t go on any longer. Donghae…I’m breaking up with you.”
Donghae’s smile immediately disappears. He doesn’t know if he’d really heard what he’d heard but the coldness in his veins confirms it. He lowers his left hand, the one holding the box, and asks in a slightly hoarse voice, “Why?”
“There’s someone else,” answers Dahee straightly. “You’re perfect, Donghae: you’re kind, romantic, spontaneous, caring…”
“...I like this person so much more. It’s that simple.”
“Not so simple to me.” Donghae walks away, his hasty footsteps bouncing off the walls. His walk turns into a slow jog down the stairs and becomes a full sprint once he’s outside. He runs to the back of the gymnasium and stops behind a tree near the outdoor washing area, wheezing a bit as he catches his breath. He then sits down on the grass with his back leaning against the wide trunk.
When he looks at the box in his hand, he remembers how much he’d had to do just to buy it along with the cake, the balloons, and the banner. He suddenly feels so stupid for having thought that he and Dahee would last forever if he just remains as sweet as possible; apparently, that’s not how it works with all girls. As much as he hates Dahee for doing this to him, he can’t bring himself to hate her as a person because if he’s being frank, he still likes her very much. For years she has been his ideal girl, someone he could admire from afar but can never touch. It had been quite lucky for him when a common friend of theirs introduced them to one another, and it had been when Dahee was single, too. Donghae had felt as though he’d won all the lotteries ever held in every country when Dahee responded positively to his confession, but now that he thinks about it, had she even been sincere in her decision or had she seen him as nothing more than a pit stop before getting a boyfriend she truly wants?
“I’m such a loser,” says Donghae to himself, folding his legs and burying his face in arms crossed over his knees. “I should’ve never even thought about going on a date with her. She must’ve just been pitying me all this time…” The thought brings tears to his eyes although he wipes them away before they can roll down his cheeks. He’d been dumped before but not by someone like Dahee. No one can possibly compare to Dahee.
“It’s not the end of the world,” comes a voice Donghae has never heard before. Looking up, he sees a fellow student standing a couple of yards away from him. The boy’s hair, which has been dyed a dark brown, is short with bangs slightly swept to the side and is over his entire forehead. His skin is milky white, even fairer than Dahee’s, and he looks as though he has a leaner physique as well. “There are much prettier girls in other places, and a lot of them will treat you with more respect than Dahee did a while ago.”
Donghae frowns, not knowing if he should be talking to this person or not. However, seeing that it won’t do him any harm, he says, “Were you listening to our conversation?”
“How else would I know about it, you idiot?” The boy starts to approach him, his slender legs taking short strides. “I didn’t mean to, if you want to know. When Dahee first saw me today, she told me to follow her up the third floor. I’m pretty sure she wanted me to hear everything.”
“W-why would she want that?”
“Probably because she wants me to know she’s totally free,” answers the boy. He sits down in front of Donghae. “I’m Lee Hyukjae. I’m the one who stole Dahee from you.”
Donghae’s eyes flare up both in alarm and anger. Without warning, he lunges towards Hyukjae and tackles him to the ground. “You bastard!” He shouts with his hands around the other’s neck, very much ready to strangle him. “How could you!”
Amazingly, Hyukjae is able to maintain his composure. “Did you even listen to what I said? If there’s anyone you should be attacking, it’s Dahee and not me.”
“Shut up!” When Hyukjae sees tears form in Donghae’s eyes, he knows just how possessed the boy is with Dahee. “You ruined everything! If it wasn’t for you she wouldn’t have…she wouldn’t have broken up…with…with me…” Donghae’s grip loosens as his emotions overwhelm his limbs and senses, and Hyukjae uses the opportunity to push Donghae off of him, switching their positions so that Donghae is on the grass and Hyukjae is straddling him. Hyukjae holds him down by the wrist, rendering him immobile.
“Stop being lovestruck for a minute and listen to me: I didn’t know she had a boyfriend, alright? She approached me in a party we both attended and she showed no signs of being in a relationship or anything remotely close to it. I was bored so I went out with her and though I’m sure she mentioned you several times, she failed to say what your relation to her was. I assumed you were her close friend or something by the way she talked about you.”
“B-best friend?” Donghae has had enough. He’d done all he could in those four months and yet the relationship has still failed. He breaks down into sobs, feeling so embarrassed and stupid for having allowed Dahee to throw him away just like that. Hyukjae raises an eyebrow. He wants to punch some sense into Donghae but instead he says a few words.
“I’ll finish things with her later.”
Donghae stops wailing and blinks up at Hyukjae. “What did you say?”
“Don’t make me repeat myself, you crybaby.”
“I happen to value loyalty and clearly that girl doesn’t have much of it,” Hyukjae lets go of Donghae and stands up. He puts out his hand and, reluctantly, Donghae grabs it and gets up as well.
“I don’t believe you,” says Donghae, a shallow pout on his lips. “I’ll see the two of you making out in the cafeteria later or something for sure.” Up close, Donghae can see why Dahee is smitten with this fellow: he is one hell of a looker. His single-lidded eyes have a sharp character about them and his jaw line is beyond defined. Donghae likes his own face, too, but he likes Hyukjae’s a bit more.
Not that he’s going to openly declare it anytime soon.
“Just wait. I always keep my word, you know.” Hyukjae turns around and walks in the other direction. Donghae follows him with his eyes and doesn’t say anything else. He sees him take out a handkerchief to wipe the back of his neck with it. It then occurs to Donghae:
Hyukjae had run after him.
At lunchtime, there’s a shrill shriek in the cafeteria. Everyone turns to the source. Donghae watches on as Dahee storms out in tears while her girlfriends trail behind while trying to comfort her. Donghae’s eyes go back to the table where Hyukjae has resumed eating peacefully. When everyone else calms down and starts minding their own business again, Donghae slowly makes his way to Hyukjae. He stands a couple of feet away until Hyukjae notices his presence.
“Whatever,” says Hyukjae, his mouth half-full. “Either sit down or go away; you look pathetic over there with your milk and cookies.”
Donghae blushes at the way Hyukjae makes fun of his lunch. He quickly sits beside him around the circular table. Because the speed of a rumor is greater than that of light’s, students around them look at them in curiosity. Dahee’s ex-boyfriend and secret lover are sitting together? It’s not a very common sight. Despite that, neither of them notices the others, especially not Donghae. Although he’s still upset about losing the most beautiful girlfriend he’s ever had to date, he has gained a friend in return. He decides that he’d rather have the latter any day of the year.
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