Life, Once Again! - After Story 8
After Story 8
She met the boy in front of the cinema. He was wearing a dress shirt and had tidy hair just like always. She once told him that he looked good in a dress shirt, and ever since then, he would wear a dress shirt often on their dates.
“Should we watch the movie first?” he said. The previous Haneul would have stayed silent and followed him. She might even have asked him which movie he wanted to watch, and what they should eat.
However, the person standing here was no longer the Han Haneul of the past. Her appearance might be the same, but her composition basically was that of another person.
“No, we said we should talk, so let’s talk.”
He licked his lips before smiling. She could see that his hands, which he awkwardly pulled back, had movie tickets in them. This was to be expected. After all, she always just followed him like his shadow. Sometimes, she would say what she wanted, but that very rarely happened. It was always the boy leading her and making decisions.
“Shall we go over there?” She pointed at the café on the second floor.
He replied ‘yes’ with a very confused expression.
Whatever the outcome, they were still lovers. They had gotten to know each other for the past six months, and he must have realized how passive she was. It was natural for him to be flustered because of the sudden change in her personality.
She looked behind her before she climbed the stairs. Maru was standing in the makeshift plaza between the high-rise buildings. He waved at her as soon as they made eye contact, as though to tell her that she shouldn’t be worried no matter what happens.
They went into the café. It was the boy who always led her inside, but today, she was at the front. She walked up to the counter and had a look at the menu. The boy usually liked to drink cappuccino.
“You’re okay with a cappuccino, right?”
“One cappuccino and one black coffee, please. Both cold.” She gave the employee her card to pay. At that moment, she could see the boy hurriedly opening his wallet behind her.
As they were a couple who were always cautious around each other, they always paid for their own food, even if it was something cheap.
“I’ll buy it this time,” she said.
He did not put back the money inside his wallet. He could probably guess what it meant for the unspoken rule to break, which would also explain his stubbornness.
“You don’t have to pay me. We’re no longer in that relationship. This is coffee I’m buying you as a friend.” She got the card back from the employee and sat down right in front of the counter.
The boy looked flustered. From the time they met till now, everything was so different, which probably made him uneasy. She neither talked to him nor showed interest in him. She just waited for him to sit down. Eventually, he squeezed the bills in his hand like used tissues and placed them on the table. He roughly pulled the chair back and sat down. He was emotional. She could feel that from every single one of his gestures. He was feeling urgent now since the well-fitted cogwheel-like relationship was suddenly creaking.
Like what she told Maru, this boy was very cautious. He had the tendency to go along with whatever others were going with, within the limits of his tolerance. However, the moment someone went outside of that tolerance, he would start acting prickly. Whether that was a method to defend himself or a mechanism to poke others, she had not found out fully yet. After all, the past her did not date her partner while minding things like that.
“I believe we were doing pretty well together,” he broke the silence.
“It might have just looked like that from the surface. Didn’t you feel it as well? Neither of us is willing to go past the fences that the other has put up. We do not try to see what’s beyond the wall around the other’s heart. We know that it would lead to being hurt.”
“That’s not a bad thing though.”
“You’re right. Some may think that, but I think differently. We prioritized our own pains rather than the pains of our partners, didn’t we? We didn’t want to get hurt, so we distanced ourselves from each other. We acted for the sake of ourselves, and not our partners. If that was just a form of consideration for strangers, then there would be no problem. No, in fact, that kind of attitude is the right one. However, I don’t think it’s the right one in the case of lovers.”
“We never talked about this before. We never quarreled and we enjoyed ourselves together.”f𝗿𝙚e𝙬𝗲𝑏𝒏𝑜ѵ𝑒𝗹. 𝒄𝑜𝘮
“Quarreling ultimately is just a fight for territory. That’s why we never needed to fight in the first place. We never tried to get into each other’s comfort zones. We were overly cautious. There might be lovers out there who continue that kind of relationship, but I don’t think it’s the right one for me. To be exact, I hate it. I want to understand my partner’s pains. I want to go deep inside their comfort zones and see what’s in there.”
“That’ll make both parties tired. You understood that, didn’t you? You said that it was the right thing to do.”
She saw that he had clenched his hand. His excitement could be seen on his cheeks, and his upper body was leaning forward more than before. He looked akin to a beast that went on a hunt.
She saw Maru, who was sitting on the other side, move his feet out from beneath the table. He seemed to be preparing to act at a moment’s notice.
She signaled Maru: it’s okay, this boy isn’t that foolish.
There was a reason she met him despite knowing that he was impulsive and had a tenacious part about him. She could talk to him at least. If he was a thug who would swing his fist the moment he gets angry, she wouldn’t even have come here. Nay, she would have reported him the moment she regained her memories.
The reason she didn’t do that was that while he might raise his voice and use violent words, she still had faith that she could reason with him.
“There’s nothing better than some cold coffee to cool your anger.” She went to the counter and received the coffee.
Having lost the right timing to snap out, he just stared at her with his lips firmly sealed.
“Drink,” she said as she put the cups down.
He didn’t even look at the coffee. He only seemed to be thinking about righting this conversation that had gone very differently from his expectations.
Let’s continue our conversation — he seemed to say with his eyes.
“I said drink,” she said again. If she was telling him nicely the first time, then she said it like she was sick and tired the second time.
His eyes lost their aim. The rage that he should have been released was probably hitting the ceiling of his mouth, and his head was probably busy processing this situation. With nothing going the way he expected, confusion must be piling on top of the rage.
She took her eyes off him and drank the coffee. He, who looked at her in vain, eventually grabbed the cup. His torso, which was leaning forward as though to attack, was now hunched like a new company recruit being dragged in front of his superiors. His energetic eyes had loosened up, making him look dull.
She could predict to an extent what he must be thinking inside: this isn’t right, this isn’t right.
“We were definitely in a romantic relationship. The biggest reason such a relationship could be achieved was that you and I were similar. If it’s her, she wouldn’t hurt me, if it’s him, he wouldn’t cross the fence around my heart. What bound us together was the false belief that our relationship would continue and that we would never meet each other like we are walking in parallel.
“…Why are you doing this all of a sudden?”
She leaned back against the chair. It was an obvious question, and also something hard to answer. Would he even believe her if she told him the truth? She thought about it for a moment, but the answer was already set in stone. “It’s because I changed. That’s all.”
“What do you mean? What changed? I don’t understand. We weren’t like this before.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m not expecting you to understand. I’m just explaining my own situation.”
He let out a breath over his shoulder. His agitation, which had waned off a little, was being reignited.
“I don’t accept this. We can’t break up like this. This can’t happen.”
“Why?” She took out the word she had been saving up. It was the simplest, yet the most powerful word.
It wasn’t that she was trying to make fun of him. She just needed an answer in order to dissolve this relationship. Not an answer that others gave him, but one he came up with himself.
“That’s….” He hesitated. He was probably at a loss. Stating a reason why they could not break up was as difficult as solving a difficult math equation.
“You might feel like something is wrong and you might not understand, but I gave you a reason why we can’t continue to be together. Of course, you don’t need to answer me. Whatever you say, I don’t plan to take back our breakup.”
“I’ll do better.”
“No, don’t do that. It’s not your fault that we’re breaking up. I don’t really like to say this but… just think that we broke up because I’m a bad girl. It’s true to a certain extent too. It’s me who pulled the trigger.”
“Can’t we just stay like before? Without you, I….”
She raised her finger to stop him from talking. “You must know what those words mean. Even if you don’t, you would know what kind of response you’re expecting from me. It’s a threat that looks calm on the surface. We are similar, and we both know that we’re afraid of being hurt and abandoned.” She drank some coffee and continued, “Before, I wasn’t able to reject you if you used those words. In fact, I welcomed it. Oh, he needs me. I’m very important to this person. But was I really? You can’t easily say that you can’t live without someone else. The current me knows how cruel and terrifying the meaning of those words are.”
He was not able to say anything. His eyes were becoming red, just like how he cried yesterday. If he was a little more violent, he might not have won against his anger and used his hand. His shy personality and his strong self-defense psychology were restraining him from acting.
“You would huff your anger like that, and I would pretend that I didn’t see it. Do you remember? On the day you tried to kiss me out of the blue, I inadvertently stepped back due to surprise, and you were dazed because you felt rejected and snapped out. Seeing that, I smiled like I made a mistake, afraid that I might be abandoned, while you just laughed it off as an accident. That meant that we were over. From that moment onwards, we were worse off than strangers. It’s entirely my fault that I dragged that pitiful relationship until now.” She looked him straight in the eyes and spoke, “I’m saying what I should have said that day. I believe you have understood that now.”
It wasn’t like any more conversation would improve things. She stood up and left the store. He hurriedly followed her. He grabbed Haneul’s shoulder and stopped her.
“Stop. I don’t have anything more to tell you. Even if I do, I would be repeating myself again.”
“Let’s start over. I’ll do what you say.”
“You didn’t understand a single thing I said, did you?”
Just as she was about to walk away after taking his hand off, he snatched her wrist. He was puffing and his eyes were bloodshot.
Did his sense of restraint finally reach its limit? Or was this because there weren’t many eyes around?
She didn’t think for long. She twisted his wrist backwards and pushed him away before pulling his shin with her foot. He fell down sideways, without being able to keep his balance.
In that instant, all blood drained from his face. Having been met with strong resistance, he seemed to have lost his spirit. She looked at the boy who was looking up at her from the ground. The sense of shame and anger was very faint. Instead, he was filled with the desire to grab her, like a child throwing a tantrum in front of his mother after she took away food from right in front of his eyes.
“You really are a kid, huh.”
She crouched down to meet him at eye level.
“Our first love is over. We might not have been in a good relationship, but I’m sure you have learned something from it. So if you ever start again, do better next time.”
She smiled and straightened his shirt collar. She then went down the stairs.