As Donghae is wiping one of the tables, the bell of the front door chimes—a customer.
He stops what he’s doing to greet her. “Welcome to the East Strawberry Café!” He is stunned to find that an incredibly gorgeous woman has entered the shop and, even more startling, he has seen her face many times before.
“Jihyo?” he asks, almost certain of her name.
The woman looks at him and smiles brightly. Her lips are a beautiful coral pink. “It’s been a while, Donghae,” They meet halfway to give each other a friendly embrace. “How are you doing?”
“I’m great,” answers Donghae, happiness coating his voice. “Please, have a seat. What would you like to have?”
“Let’s see…” Jihyo looks at the small menu already placed on the table but opts not to refer to it. “Just give me what you think will make me come back for more and possibly recommend to my sweet-toothed bosses.”
Donghae nods once. “Challenge accepted!” He goes to the back of the counter and tells one of the employees on standby to serve the new customer a generous slice of the red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, and a mango coconut muffin. He then heads to the kitchen to concoct a dark mocha frappe, one of their best-selling beverages. Once everything has been prepared and placed before Jihyo, Donghae sits across from her to watch her reaction.
Jihyo takes a bite of the cake, drinks the coffee, tries the muffin, and drinks for the second time. There is a satisfied grin on her face afterwards. “You’ve definitely outdone yourself, Donghae. The ones you made in college were delightful but these are just unbelievable.”
Donghae’s cheeks redden slightly. “Thanks, Jihyo. Every three months it’s policy here to try and improve the products so I’m glad to know that the practice has paid off.”
“It most certainly has,” Jihyo has another bite of the cake and swallows it before speaking. “I’m currently on a business trip and I’ll be here for a couple of weeks. I just arrived today but already I couldn’t wait to come here, especially after Hyukjae told me about it.”
“Oh, you’ve met up with Hyukjae?”
“Yes, about an hour ago. Really, no matter how many women he sleeps with every year, he unfalteringly talks about you more than anyone he’s ever met.”
“That’s the second time someone has told me that sort of thing. Should I be worried?” asks Donghae, laughing a little. “Or is it for the sake of making his life seem balanced with unlimited women on one side and a normal friend like me on the other?”
For a brief moment there’s a look of surprise on Jihyo’s features but it quickly disappears and is replaced by amusement. “You understand me far too well, Donghae. I swear I don’t know how he can juggle women and still maintain a lovely relationship with a person such as yourself. I mean how can he be loyal to you but not to them? It’s absurd. Are you not, oh I don’t know, tired of his immaturity? He should learn how to stick to one woman if he’s looking to have a family in the future!”
“He’s not the type to consider marriage, I think,” says Donghae. “Or if he ever does it, it will be at a much later time. He doesn’t even like the idea of me losing my bachelor status.”
“That’s only because he’s a selfish prick,” says Jihyo, making the café owner laugh. “You can’t blame him, though. He’s had you all to himself for so long and now you’re pulling someone else into the picture. The worst part is that he has no right to have his say in the matter.”
“We’re still gonna be friend after I get married, though,” argues Donghae. “So there’s no need for him to feel about it. I mean how do I push through with something that important when my own best friend doesn’t approve of it?” He remembers what he had said to Hyukjae during their fight and realizes that he should’ve never said them because he had not really meant them. He regrets them now more than ever.
There’s a mysterious note in Jihyo’s eyes, perhaps a still shrouded secret, but maybe Donghae is just seeing things because her words are beginning to intrigue him just a tad bit. “Just…don’t be too hard on him,” She finally says, careful with her words. “That man may not look like it but he’s sentimental as hell. It’s one of his worst nightmares to see things changing before his eyes, especially when you’re involved.”
Several customers go inside the shop. Because there are only three other members of the staff, he excuses himself to help them prepared the orders. As he’s arranging cupcakes on a plate he can’t help but look over to where Jihyo is and ponder on what she has just told him. He doesn’t understand, not really, but there’s that persistent feeling in his chest again telling him that something is not right. Although he smiles at the customer as he hands her what she’d ordered, inside he feels confusion very slowly growing with every breath he takes.
Donghae closes the café at nine in the evening. He’d allowed his young employees to go on before him just as he does every night. This time, though, he is carrying with one hand the café’s white cake box with a teal cover and a white ribbon around it. Before locking up the place he’d made a chocolate covered strawberry cake, one of Hyukjae’s favorites. Though he still has no idea what Jihyo wants him to do exactly, one thing’s for sure: he has to apologize to Hyukjae again, and he can’t do it empty-handed. He may not be the type who needs material objects to serve as symbols in his life but he figures that he can change just for this one time. The guilt is eating at him and he wants it gone. Fast.
Although Hyukjae is always invading Donghae’s apartment, it’s not the same the other way around. The only time Donghae goes to Hyukjae’s condominium is when Hyukjae asks him to come over (he doesn’t stay that long, however) or when Hyukjae has forgotten something and Donghae has to get it for him. The East Strawberry Café is only three blocks away from the condominium so it’s not inconvenient for Donghae to go there, but unlike Hyukjae, he prefers to be at his own place.
The condominium tower is a much grander place compared to Donghae’s apartment building; it could almost be a hotel. If he’d had more money Donghae would definitely move to a place much like it. He has always wondered, then, why Hyukjae doesn’t sleep there more often when it’s more comfortable.
Hyukjae’s unit is on the 35th floor. Donghae rides the elevator with three other people, a man and two women. He looks at the fine tailoring of the man’s suit and the women’s creaseless short dresses and stares down at his blue-and-white checkered polo, grey wifebeater, and washed out jeans. Perhaps it isn’t such a good idea for him to already think about looking at condominiums like this that’s filled with a lot of Seoul’s wealthiest. If only they were all as down-to-earth as Hyukjae…
Donghae quickly alights when the elevator stops at the right floor. The hallway is bright, lit by alternating small chandeliers and flat light panels. The walls are a golden yellow color while the floor is entirely covered by a burgundy carpet with a wide strip of floral design right in the middle. Donghae cannot help but be stunned every time he’s there during the nighttime—it feels as though he has stepped onto another country. He shakes his head slightly to rid himself of awe and goes to the right where Hyukjae’s place is.
All the doors in the condominium have number pad locks so all Donghae does is press 1-5-0-9 and Hyukjae’s front door opens. The lights are on which means his guess that Hyukjae might already be home is right. After he removes his sneakers, he goes straight to the dining room to put the cake box on the glass table. He’s deciding whether or not to cut Hyukjae a piece so he can taste it right away when he hears something. It’s too faint for him to be able to figure out what it is so he leaves the dining room and starts walking around.
“Hyukjae?” he asks in a soft voice. He checks the bathroom—it’s empty. He goes inside Hyukjae’s home office—also empty. He hears the sound again when he’s several meters away from the master bedroom. He comes closer and is about to turn the knob when the sound registers more clearly, allowing him to recognize it.
It’s someone’s moan.
Donghae’s heart starts drumming like mad inside his chest. His curiosity getting the best of him, he very carefully leans forward to press his ear to the wooden door. What he hears and makes his eyes widen takes him back years ago.
It’s a cocktail of the sound of Hyukjae’s skin harshly slapping against the girl’s, his hoarse grunts, her gasps that come out in sharp pinches, and the mattress threatening to pulverize the springs below it.
Donghae retreats quick. He walks away in the fastest pace he has walked in a long time, wanting nothing more than to be outside of the condominium. He barely makes it to the elevator, having had to put his hand out to stop it from closing before going inside all flustered, causing the only other person there with him to raise one of her eyebrows. The soft elevator music cuts through the silence but all Donghae hears is Hyukjae and the woman, whoever she may be, having what sounds to be incredibly straightforward sex.
Hyukjae scrunches his nose. “Making love? That’s what you call it?” He takes a long puff of his cigarette and blows out the smoke in a straight line that spreads out at the tip. “Well, no matter how you choose to address it, it’s still sex and it’s for pleasure. Even when you do it for the sake of creating a family, the underlying purpose remains the same. I don’t think love should have anything to do with it—I mean you can have sex with a stranger and be more satisfied with it than the one you just had with your girlfriend. No, love is not a necessary condition for sex. At times it’s a sufficient condition but never necessary. Never. Neither is the other person’s pleasure. Sex is selfish. Sure, as you’re growing up you learn that sex should be good for all the parties involved, but if you think about it, something like that isn’t even a proposition; it’s simply society expressing its disapproval of the matter—no more, no less,” He drops his cigarette on the snow-covered ground, crushes it with his boot, and looks at Donghae. “You know this, right? According to the emotive theory of ethics, there are no moral truths. If you want to have sex for your own pleasure, that’s fine. If you want your partner to feel good as well, that’s fine, too. As for me, I take the first option all the time because for some reason, the second one follows no matter what I do…”
Donghae gently slaps a thin notebook on Hyukjae’s left cheek. “Cocky bastard,” He says with a pretend frown. “ I regret ever advising you to take that Philosophy subject, especially since your libido is skyrocketing.”
“Regret coming after action. Typical, typical.”Hyukjae puts up his legs on the bench and puts his head on one of Donghae’s thighs. He then uses his black cap to cover his face. “Wake me up in half an hour. I have a girl to meet.”
“And what if I don’t?”
“Then you’ll have to take her place, princess.”
As soon as the elevator reaches the first floor and the doors open, Donghae exits the condominium in a hasty manner and hails for a cab as he wants to get home as soon as possible. There is unexpected traffic so after paying the driver, he gets out and walks the rest of the way. The city is still very much alive but Donghae can’t be bothered by anything else.
He arrives at the apartment in record time. He drops onto the couch like a rock in water, his strength gone in a whiff. The thermostat is on so the temperature is not too hot nor too cold and yet gooseflesh goes up Donghae’s arms when he thinks about what he had heard. It’s one thing for Hyukjae to talk about one of his sexual adventures and another for Donghae to witness it in actuality. This isn’t the first time it has happened, though, and he’d thought that there wouldn’t be a second. Or rather, he’d hoped that it wouldn’t occur again because…because…
The memory he most regrets having comes back to haunt him, the details strikingly vivid.
Winter of 2004.
An hour has passed since the sun set and it is only then that Donghae emerges from the university library with three hardbound books under one arm and a stack of papers in the other. He’d spent the last four hours researching for and writing a paper each in two different major classes and now he can go have some fun. Somewhat. His definition of fun can mean studying all night for a long exam, which is what he plans to do when he gets back to the dormitory. If asked to describe himself he might not choose the word ‘diligent’ but he’ll definitely go for ‘workaholic.’ Studying and being busy takes his mind off things, such as the fact that he has recently broken up with a girl and her friends have threatened to make his life miserable. The threats are empty, he knows, but Donghae is just not comfortable when someone is upset with him. He has the need to please everyone as much as possible. The truth is, he’d delayed the breakup by about three months because he can’t stand seeing a girl cry, but it had to be done. She’d been extremely jealous of everyone Donghae knows, including Hyukjae. She’d gone too far by telling Donghae not to hang out with Hyukjae anymore because they’re far too close to one another, and it was then Donghae decided that the relationship really had to be cut.
As the saying goes, bros before hoes, although Donghae doesn’t like referring to girls that way.
“Donghae!” Donghae turns around on the sidewalk and sees one of the residential assistants in their dormitory, Park Jungsoo, walking towards him. “Hyukjae was looking for you a while ago. You were supposed to go somewhere together, he says?”
“I had to cancel,” answers Donghae. “Didn’t he receive my text message?”
“Apparently not. He looked pissed.”
Donghae chuckles. “Oh don’t worry about him. He can be pissed about something as trivial as a hole in one of his socks. He’ll get over it eventually.”
“I hope so,” says Leeteuk, patting Donghae on the shoulder. “Go find him. He might be causing chaos somewhere because of you. See you two tomorrow in class.” He walks on and crosses the road.
All the school dormitories are located not far from the library although it is quite a distance off from the university’s main entrance. There are seven dormitory buildings in total: three dormitories for boys only, another three for girls, and the smallest one for visitors to the school or anyone who simply wishes to stay there for a small fee. The boys’ and girls’ dormitories are on separate lots which are separated by a two-lane road. One has to cross either one of the two footbridges available to get from one lot to the other. The dormitory-slash-hotel is on the same lot as the boys’ dormitories. Two-thirds of the registered students live in the dormitories.
Because the lot of the boys’ dormitories is already at the edge of the school’s property, people have to pass by the girls’ dormitories before getting there. Clutching his books tighter, he walks around the lot and hopes that none of his ex-girlfriend’s friends are anywhere near. Five of them had cornered him before on the footbridge and he doesn’t want any more trouble. Luckily, he is able to get to the other side with no interference.
All three boys’ dormitories are around a large, circular courtyard where there is a fountain at the center. They are exact copies of one another. There are eleven floors in every building: the first one is where the dormitory offices, lounge room, and study rooms are located; the second up to the eleventh floor is where the residential rooms are, with each floor having four wings and each wing having four bedrooms. Two students share one bedroom. Every wing has its own laundry room, a washroom with two cubicles and two sinks, and a shower room with two stalls. Donghae and Hyukjae are roommates in the third wing on the sixth floor of Building B.
Without talking to or greeting anyone, Donghae heads for his room. Upon checking his watch which reads six thirty-five, he expects the wing to be almost empty because majority of the students are having dinner at this time. He is not surprised to find only Hyukjae’s shoes at the entrance—he skips dinner sometimes for one reason or another. Donghae noiselessly enters the wing and starts walking to his and Hyukjae’s bedroom which is the last one along the narrow hallway. He’s by the second bedroom door when he becomes aware of a sound., or rather, several sounds all at once. His brow creases as he takes more steps, wondering what’s going on. He swallows air before taking a peek into his bedroom as he finds that the door is slightly ajar. His hands shoot up automatically to his own mouth before he can gasp out loud the moment he figures everything out.
The sound. It’s a cocktail of the sound of Hyukjae’s skin harshly slapping against the girl’s, his hoarse grunts, her gasps that come out in sharp pinches, and the mattress threatening to pulverize the springs below it. It’s not far from what erotic videos serve and Donghae is no fan of the stuff at the very least but for some reason, at this very moment, he puts the glass to his lips and tilts his head back as far as he can go without arching his body, allowing the liquid fire to slither down his throat and destroy his senses. He knows he should be looking away instead of noticing how beautifully powerful Hyukjae’s thrusts are and how perfect his face is—calm, smug, with the right amount of evident lust diluted in the expression—but his body, especially his eyes, will just not move away.
“Ah…ah…Hyukjae…” whimpers the girl who is lying on her back and whose fingers are raking against the sheets. “I think I’m…I’m about to…”
“Dammit,” says Hyukjae under his breath before pulling all the way out, flipping the girl over, and holding her by the waist so her ass is raised higher than the rest of her body. He then takes his fully erect cock to guide himself between the girl’s legs. The girl moans when Hyukjae starts moving slowly, drawing out to just before the head and then ramming the entire length inside the next. When Donghae looks at the girl, her eyes are shut and her mouth open in ecstasy; he can only imagine the pleasure she’s receiving. After several more slow movements, Hyukjae’s thrusts become shallower and more urgent. The girl starts breathing heavily, whimper after shameless whimper escaping her lips.
“Fuck,” says Hyukjae, the word resembling a groan.
That’s when Donghae comes back to his senses and leaves. He’s not sure where he’s going but he doesn’t stop walking, taking the stairs instead of the elevator because he feels that it will be a bad thing for him to stop. Soon he’s at the football field which is roughly a ten-minute walk from the dormitories. He thinks of staying there first but the nearest bar catches his eye. In this part of the university grounds, the boundary between school and public property is marked by an invisible line that lies where the road leading to the main road and the gentle slope right next to the football field meet. The entire university is built on a hill so if one encounters an angled slope longer than the few within the university, the area at the bottom is bound to be public property.
The area Donghae is looking at is a row of three bars, several small restaurants, and a convenience store. He goes to the very first bar, the one he is most familiar with and where he has been to the most number of times. On instinct he orders a pint of beer with the basic drinking snacks. After taking several big gulps of the cold, sweet liquid, he sets the glass mug down to think.
He shouldn’t have felt the way he did watching Hyukjae fuck a girl Donghae didn’t even know, but the more he ponders on it, the more he realizes how much of a turn on it had been for him. At some point, he’d gone so far as to want to be in the girl’s place, a thought that he tries to drown with more swigs. In high school, he’d watched several pornographic videos with Hyukjae that had left him weak in the knees, but the intensity of what he had felt while watching Hyukjae’s computer screen cannot be compared to the sensations he had experienced standing outside his own bedroom door minutes ago. Is it because it had been live and in-his-face? Perhaps—porn is highly exaggerated, including the characters’ expressions, while Hyukjae and the girl had not been acting—but Donghae remembers how in their last year of high school, he’d also caught Yunho heatedly making out with a girl in the locker room and he had not been able to stand it for more than two seconds.
The more he tries to make sense of the matter, the more he becomes confused, so he finishes his beer to the last drop and asks for a bottle of soju. No, make that two bottles. It’s going to take a lot more alcohol to rid himself of the inappropriate lust staining his insides.
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