Chapter 29: The Hidden Devil Comforts the Nerdy Girl and the Free Spirit Meets the Little Boy
Although never a fan of sports, Changmin still excelled at them. He was thankful for that because his running was of use this time. He had managed to find Shiori, who had ventured to the forest where they first met. She was just sitting there, staring ahead when Changmin noticed her figure from behind. Once he took a few steps to confront her, he saw what she was truly doing: crying. She was just sitting there with a lunch bag on her lap crying. She didn’t even touch her face to wipe away her tears. She didn’t even make a noise. She just let her emotion develop naturally. Sadness at its purest.
Changmin sat beside her silently. He was never articulate with words; his words were more like weapons. Sometimes, it was better not to say anything and let the quietness persist. Who would want someone to probe at the problem? That only emphasized or even dramatized the trouble and halted the process of finding a solution. He found the question of asking whether or not someone was okay futile and perhaps, archaic. If someone were crying, then the answer was clear. That person was not okay. He was certainly not all right when he cried. 
He used to cry often, alone in his room, where he felt most at home. After a laborious day of high school, he felt that certain emotion. He felt like letting go of all dignity and losing to his image at school. That was when he cried. He never really knew why he cried. Maybe it was because he felt lonely, not able to belong to any group at his school, or maybe it was because he was tired of his mundane life. Even now, he just knew when he had to cry.
“D-do you want to know something amusing, sensei?” Shiori finally spoke.
He still couldn’t resist saying, “Sure, humour me.”
“Have you ever done something that you know shouldn’t be done, but did it anyways?” she asked.
“Of course. You saw one of them already.”
“Then, have you ever loved someone that you know you couldn’t love?” she continued.
“No, I don’t believe in love,” he corrected. “You know, it’s really not a matter of loving, but a matter of tolerating.”
Shiori couldn’t acknowledge his belief, so she argued, “It was a matter of loving for me. I never hated him from the start.”
“But you first accepted him,” Changmin warily noted.
“Don’t you have to accept to love?”
“No, you accept because you tolerate,” he clarified. “After you start learning how to stand that person, you realize that you’ve grown fond of that person’s appearance. It’s just a habit.”
She readily shook her head. “It didn’t happen that way to me. It wasn’t really love at first sight either, but I knew that I would fall for him and I knew that it was wrong. I couldn’t, however, stop myself from loving him. Even now . . .”
“It’s just an addiction. You just need rehab,” Changmin wholeheartedly laughed. “It’s too bad you can’t leave your liver to do all the work. Your brain needs to be the one helping you too.”
“It’s not that easy,” Shiori explained.
Clearly, sensei had never been in love, she thought. His ruthless words were simple to decipher his experience with falling in love. Zero. He, on the other hand, felt she should be able to recover soon, so he added, “When has breaking away from a habit that simple? You just need determination.”
“It’s hard . . . when I see him every day.”
She held onto the lunch bag tightly, cradling it as a mother would to her infant. Then, Changmin knew. Changmin knew who she fancied and the connection between her and him.
“Transfer schools,” he rapidly advised.
She refuted, “This is one of the best high schools in Tokyo. I don’t want to jeopardize my future.”
“So, you’re not so stupid to do everything for the guy,” he delightfully applauded. “Congratulations, I have some hope in you for a steady recovery.”
With a startled face, she blurted, “You expected me to commit suicide?”
“You never know,” he enlightened.
“It’s funny because I used to think that maybe if I were sick, he’d be by my side. If I make this . . .” She lifted the lunch bag that was now dangling in the air. “Then, he’d start to love me. He’d grow to love me over time, but nothing really turns out the way you want it, right?”
“He just never learned to tolerate you.” Changmin tried to ease her pain. “There are some people that you’ll never accept and they’ve probably done nothing wrong. You just can’t stand them.”
She lightly giggled. “He accepts me, but . . . not in the way that I want him to.”
“Can you really picture yourself with him, in that way?” She didn’t answer. She didn’t even shake her head, and so Changmin revealed the answer, “Then, you’ve never really accepted him in another way.”
She at last admitted, “I-I-I’m not sure. I mean I knew it would never work out, but I still wanted to try.”
He stuck out his finger and listed, “One of the seven deadliest sins: greed.”
“So, I guess I have to learn how not, in your terms, to tolerate him.” She breathed a sigh.
“No, you don’t have to hate him,” he inculcated. “That’s just immature and foolish. Just focus on other parts of your life and slowly, you won’t care about him. One day, you’ll probably meet another ‘him’.”
“I know you’re being reasonable, but . . . I think I’ll still care for him.” She stretched her arms out to reach her legs. “I will though try to pay more attention on schoolwork.”
Changmin corrected, “I think you should make some friends as well.”
“It’s a little too late for friendship.” She heaved another sigh.
He used his fist to slam her head. “No, friends are easy to make. You just have to try. Start by greeting your classmates. Speaking of classmates, did you ever find any other people to help with the booth?” She shook her head. “Well, you better start. You’re not going to be doing things by yourself throughout your life.”
“I know, but—“
“No buts. Just do your job,” he cut in.
She grinned at Changmin as she nodded. He was the teacher and she was the student. Students followed the instructions of teachers. Yes, Changmin was finally committing to his job. For once, he was being the sort of teacher his mother would have liked him to become. For once, he cared.
“J-Junghwa,” Yoochun called out in bewilderment.
She first knelt down and gently told the little boy, “Sanghyun, why don’t you go ahead and play on the swings? Mommy will be speaking to this man, here, to help him. If it’s five and Mommy is still not there to find you, then come find Mommy here, okay?”
“Okay!” Sanghyun bowed to the stranger before bouncing off to the playground.  
Yoochun, too boggled with this encounter, felt compelled to stay still. He wasn’t sure how to begin. What would he ask first? Was that child hers? Of course, the child’s eyes said so. How did she even have a child? Of course, there needed to be a man. He wanted to smack himself in the head. None of the questions seemed appropriate to ask.  
Thankfully, Junghwa, dressed in a blue knee-length dress, initiated the conversation, “You must be wondering who that boy is and I’m sure you can tell that he’s my son. It’s his eyes, people say.”
“Yes, his eyes did remind me of you,” Yoochun answered. He found it awkward how they could just stand here and talk under the sun, but it probably would have been weirder if he was the one who returned to the bench for a seat.
She then continued, “I’m sure you’re surprised by this. Even I’m surprised sometimes that I got married, had a kid, and then got divorced.”
“Wait . . .” he needed some time to process that short sentence in his head. “Hold on. You got married?”
She explained, “About several months after you and my sister broke up.”
“And you got divorced?” Yoochun couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Who would have expected that many events to have happened during a few years?
She nodded. “Technically, he left my new-born son and me.”
“Why?” Yoochun asked.
He needed to know. He could not understand why someone would abandon a family, a perfect family. Then, he remembered his own father, who had left his mother, his younger brother, and him in Virginia. His father wanted to become more prominent as a conductor in Europe, whereas his mother, who used to be an acclaimed violinist, only sought after a tranquil familial life. There wasn’t much to work with when dealing with conflicting views from two equally stubborn people. So, his ideal family disintegrated, never the same again. When he decided to be a composer, her mother and father thoroughly opposed for different reasons. His father wanted his son to be classically renowned, while his mother wanted her son to have a career unrelated to music. Nevertheless, they both agreed that this career was not meant for him. Yoochun, however, disagreed and pursued his dream. In effect, he abandoned his family. He never meant to depart though; he always thought of his family in his heart.
“Does it matter why he left?” she grimly protested.
He dipped his head. “Yes, it does. There might be some reason to explain his departure.”
Junghwa, with a look of consternation, insisted, “There are reasons for some things, but for these type of things there is no goddamn reason that can atone for his disappearance. Now that you know everything, please excuse me. I have to bring my son home before work.”
“Wait,” he shouted before she walked away.
“What do you want Yoochun?” she muttered in exasperation.  
He was skeptical of his own intentions. What did he want from her? He could reflect on what she had just said. Perhaps, he wanted to disprove her statement. He wanted people to understand that he had to leave. He had a reason to leave. He wasn’t like them. Was that what he wanted to do? To prove his innocence? To be relieved of the aftermath of his decision?     
Sanghyun rushed to his mother, announcing, “Mommy, it’s 5!” He tugged at his mother’s arm for her attention.
She lifted him up in the air before hugging him. She then told Yoochun before she left, “I have to go now. Like I said before, I have to bring him home and then get to work.”
Yoochun suddenly asked, “Is he going to be home alone?”
“Yes,” she coldly responded.
“Isn’t that dangerous?” Yoochun continued to ask.
 “I can’t afford a babysitter.”
          Incapable of placing a child in danger, he, out of the blue, suggested, “I could be his babysitter. I can stay at your place until you’re done work.”