Credits to goldly01!

The day of the funeral has arrived. How do I know? I feel like I have been counting down. Rather than counting down for New Years, here I am, counting for his day: December 30th. I don’t want to give it much thought. I don’t want to have anything to do with it. Sadly, I don’t think I’m brave enough to confront my own fears. I haven’t left the house in days, and even sent gifts by delivery this year. I’m in no mood to celebrate with my friends or even with family. I’m checking my voice mail, my text messages, Facebook private messages, and answering machine. It’s a habit I can’t seem to avoid. I’m bombarded by people’s words. They’re telling me to cheer up. They’re telling me to let go. They’re telling me to attend the funeral. They’re telling me to stop avoiding my problems.
But . . . I don’t know. I don’t want to think anymore. I just want to be alone. I even wish that he and I never met. For some reason, I find myself staring out the window. It’s too far away for me to people watch, but it’s too close for me to disregard people’s movements. Everyone seems to know where they are going or what they have to do. Here I am: lost and muddied. What’s right and what’s wrong doesn’t feel clear to me anymore. What I want to do, I’m not so sure either. I have never been a good decision maker. I need that push. 

I can’t help but think of Taeyang. I want to consult him once more. I have to remind myself over and over again that he’s gone. This time, he’s gone for sure, and there’s no sense in waiting for his response. He can’t do all the things I want him to do. He’d never do them anyway being Taeyang.

Don’t expect too much from me.

I want to tell him not to expect too much from me as well, but I’m not like him. I’m better than that. I’m swayed to attend the funeral now just to prove to him that I am faring better than him. Of course I am. I am still living. 

In my hand, I’ve been holding onto that letter for a while. I decide to finally give this another look. There’s the typical message of remorse, but I’m shocked to find that there’s someone else’s writing. It’s a woman’s.
Please attend the funeral. I know Taeyang would have wanted you there.

I have never seen her writing, but I’m no fool. I can guess who wrote this message. What does she know about Taeyang? I have known him longer. He would not even care whether or not I showed up. I know it, yet I know too that the more Taeyang says he doesn’t care, the more he means that he does. That has been my guess for years, and I don’t think I’m wrong. Taeyang just doesn’t want to be disappointed, so he uses those three words as a shield. Somehow, I don’t want to break that shield. I don’t even want to know that he has been hiding behind a block of steel. I just want to cut through with my sword, pierce him and let him feel how much pain I’ve endured. However, I know better. I know I can’t cut through unless I rid that shield of his.

Placing the invitation back into its envelope, I wander to my room and open that drawer. I never do that because I know whenever I do, I end up feeling weaker than before. Still, I reach in and easily find that one card. It’s the one, and only card I received from Taeyang. He has addressed the card properly on the envelope with my old address from university. Now, I see the cover of the card. There’s that quotation that took me a week to understand.

There are friends, family, and acquaintances, but . . .

I flip open and see . . .

You’re in a league of your own.

I remember a few tears dripping down my cheeks when I understood what he meant. Now, I’m not sure if he feels the same way. I’ll never be sure. Then, I read on.

Dear Jikyung,

I know that first year in university is tough, but you’ll get through. Just smile more, and you’ll make more friends too. 

(I’m bad at writing, so don’t expect too much.)

Good luck!

Sincerely,

Taeyang

I recall thinking to myself. How can I not expect something if he surprises me like that? When I least expect something, he manages to make me begin to have expectations again. When I’m disappointed in him, he then hands me that phrase. Was this his defense mechanism? I’ll never know now. I can only guess from what he has done what he actually meant. Maybe, I’m overthinking. It’s not that hard. Men claim that they’re easier to understand than women, but I think most guys haven’t met Taeyang. I’m sure no one really knows what he’s thinking. He’s a puzzle to himself. Even he has admitted that he doesn’t know about his feelings, and when I try to help him solve his emotional issues, he gives up. He says he’s tired, and that he wants to sleep. Another excuse.

Taeyang hasn’t changed then. He’s still full of excuses, and full of surprises. He really did surprise me with this one. Pranks were always his forte. He never dared to play one on me though; I am too serious to be disturbed.

My eyes now wander to my clock ticking away. It’s noon. I think that there’s still time. If there’s still time, then what am I doing here? What will I regret more? Not saying good-bye or purposely avoiding this farewell?

I open my closet and search for all the black clothing I own. It’s not too hard. It’s not too hard at all, I say to myself.

----- 

I don’t see anyone here that I want to greet. There are a few familiar faces: Taeyang’s best friend from high school, No Minwoo, Hyomin, and another close high school friend of Taeyang’s, Park Hara. I avoid these three completely. I’m not here for a high school reunion. I’m over that.

Holding onto my invitation tighter, I take a seat close to the aisle. As everyone gathers, the funeral begins. I blank out from the MC’s words. I can’t seem to take my eyes off of Taeyang’s portrait. He looks tired with a couple of wrinkles marking his tanned face, but besides that, he looks the same. That’s Taeyang. He really is gone.

I try my best not to blink. If I have a staring contest with him, I’ll be okay. He’ll win for sure. He can’t blink anymore when he has become just a photograph. Just a snippet of a sheet of paper coloured to match his facial features. That’s all.

 Looking away, I see Daeun biting onto her lower lip. She’s clearly trying not to cry. There’s a legend that if you cry, the deceased’s soul will linger on earth. He or she won’t be freed and can’t be reborn. Taeyang cannot have the desire to stay. He has to leave, but I’m sure he’ll be okay. It’s Taeyang. He’ll always be fine with anything.

“Are you Jikyung?”

I shift my gaze at a woman’s voice. It’s Daeun, and I realize the funeral has ended. Everyone else other than family is gone, except for me. I’m pretty sure she knows how I feel by the way she’s staring at me. Still, she opens her purse, and places several cards on my lap. I look down, and recognize my own handwriting. I don’t understand the meaning of this. I’m tempted to question her, but then, she utters in a shaky tone, “H-h-he loved to collect cards people sent him. I just . . . happened to find a few of yours. I know he doesn’t share a lot of his feelings, but I thought you were probably someone important for him.”

So, Daeun doesn’t want his memories. She doesn’t want me to be part of his past either. She’s getting rid of me as well. I can relate to her feelings. I feel the same towards her. I let out a short breath, hold onto the cards, and finally ask, “How did he . . .”

She murmurs, “He was actually suffering from depression, but we never—“

“So he . . .”

I close my eyes, and I can vividly see the images clearly. How he chose to die. What his expression was like. Where he would die. Taeyang, why were you so stupid? Why were you so keen on not living past forty? How can you just leave your wife here? Why can you never keep promises?

“Yes,” Daeun confirms my suspicions.

Before she can explain further, a little boy tugs on her sleeve, moaning, “Mommy, I’m thirsty.”

“Taemin, just wait, okay?” Daeun looks down at the child with watery eyes. “There’s a guest right now.”

“But Mommy –“

“How about I take him for a drink?” I suddenly stand up and suggest to Daeun. “You’re probably really busy with the reception.”

“Really? You’d do that?” Daeun’s eyes brighten with a sense of relief. “Thank you.”

“No problem,” I mutter, and then take Taemin by the hand. By the way he’s resisting me, I know he doesn’t want to listen to me, but I insist. I clasp his little hand harder, bend my knees more to match his height, and lead him to a safer place.

There’s a traditional building with the typical slanted roofs, and heightened ledges that extend from each room. It feels like a temple, but I’m not really sure what this place is for. I don’t really care either; it feels like a sanctuary and good enough for me. I plop my bottom at the ledge of the wooden floor, and let my legs hang. Pulling Taemin up to join me, I introduce myself, “I’m Jikyung, and I was a friend of your father’s.”
“You mean, you are a friend of my father’s,” he immediately corrects my grammar.

I force a smile from my lips, and answer, “Yes, you’re right. I am a friend of your father’s.”

“Really?” he looks at me as if I am the one that stole his cookie. “How come my dad never talked about you?”

His question stabs at my heart, but I know it’s inevitable for Taeyang to never reminisce. Daeun probably would not have liked hearing about his stories about me. If I were her, I would have hated me as well.

“That’s because he and I met in high school,” I try to clarify.

“But my dad still talks about Uncle Minwoo,” Taemin debates. “Uncle Minwoo also visits us once a year from Australia.”

I don’t really want to go through my story. I don’t feel like sharing it with a little kid who’s probably only six years old. So, I find myself sitting there, and looking at the sky. He doesn’t go on questioning me. I end up giggling, thinking that Daeun has taught him well to respect his elders. 

“Friends . . .” I finally reply. “Friends don’t always have to see each other.”

“I don’t get what you’re saying.” Taemin scratches his head in complete confusion.

Stretching out my arms, I lie on my back now and retort, “If you have the thought of your friend in your heart, then that’s good enough to still be friends.”

“But how would the other person know that you’re still his or her friend if you don’t say anything?” Taemin argues with an extremely stern face that reminds me of Taeyang. Taeyang used to look at me like that whenever he felt I was rambling. Like father like son, I laugh. Taeyang, though, would never be so blunt about his ponderings. Definitely unlike his father in this case.

I grin from cheek to cheek, and reply, “You’re right. The other person would never know, but sometimes . . . it’s better that way.”

“Why? Why would you lie?”

“Some things,” I croak, “are better left unsaid.”

Then, I shut my eyes. I know what I’m about to do, and I don’t want a young boy seeing me react like this. I’m swallowing down a heavy, wad of pain. I’m regretting not doing some things. I should have told Taeyang how I felt about him. I should have been rejected directly. I should have properly moved on with my life, yet I’m still here, dwindling, and brainwashing myself that I will. I understand that the first step to recovering is to believe in oneself, but do I even . . .

There’s more darkness added to my eyes, and some fabric covering my whole face, and some of my chest. I’m about to push the material away when I hear his voice, “You can hide here.”

I release a whimper, and then, I drown in my tears. I’m getting choked, but I still ask, “Did you ever know that he was depressed, Junghoon? I mean, you were his best friend.”

I can hear Junghoon settling beside me, and I can feel his arm against mine. “Nah,” Junghoon tells me, “Taeyang was sneaky, and too nice to ever show how he really felt. He’s not like you, purposely causing drama by refusing to tell people about your feelings.”



So, Junghoon knew. Of course, he knew. He wasn’t stupid. He and I had been together for a bit as well. If he knew, then, I guess it’d be okay to ask him, “D-d-do you think he ever . . . felt anything for me?”
There’s a long pause before he answers, “To be honest, I think he did. I actually think he loved you a lot , but he didn’t even want to admit it. I still remember how pissed he was when he found out I was cheating on you. He literally came up to me and threw a punch at me.”

“Really?” I sit up, and push his blazer from my face. “Was that how you came back one day beaten up?” I inquire and look to my right to find him lying his head against his palms.

“Well, I beat him up too, but while we were fighting, he kept saying how I could have treated you like that, how I was acting like your dad. I asked him why won’t you date her then? He said, I can’t. I don’t date close friends.”

“Why not?”
 
“He said that he didn’t want to break a friendship.”

“Sounds like him,” I scoff.

“Even if he didn’t love you that way, you were really important to him.” Junghoon does a sit-up, and loosens his tie around his neck. He gives me a hefty stare before announcing, “I was actually always jealous of you being with him. I was happy that you two broke off when we met. You still remember how we met right?”
“Yeah, you approached me, saying ‘you love him right?’”

“Good, at least you remember some good memories of us.”

“Good memories?” I cast a questioning glance at him.

“You know,” Junghoon declares out of the blue, “I knew about you before I even met you?”

“How?” I ask with a puzzling frown.

“He’d always be texting this girl, and all of us would wonder who it was,” Junghoon elucidates. “It happened to be you.”

“Wow, I never knew guys gossiped so much.”

“Well, now you know.” Junghoon flashes a cheeky, all-knowing grin. 

“So, you were more curious about me, and therefore asked me out?”

“That,” he adds, “and he actually stole the girl I liked.”

“Wh-what?” I almost fall to his side, and shout. “He never told me that part!”

Junghoon rolls his eyes and even cocks his head to the side, revealing, “I’m sure he omits a ton of stuff to you, and I’m sure you tell him everything.”

Then, there’s that weird gap in between our conversation. I do what I’m best at doing: change topics. I throw him a question. “So . . . when are you leaving to New York again?”

“Didn’t I say that I wasn’t leaving?”

“I thought you were lying to me so you wouldn’t have to—“

“I’m honestly back for you.”

“Well, that’s stupid.”

“What? Why is that stupid?”

“I’m over you.” I inform him again. “You gave up your job. You don’t even know if I’m staying here permanently, and you will cheat.”

“You really do jump to the craziest conclusions, just like Taeyang said.”

“What? Since when did he—“

“We had a talk after that fight,” Junghoon notes. “He was telling me how you were like, and how to actually treat you.”

“And?”

“I just gave him another punch, saying he knew nothing, but I knew he knew more than me.”

“I did . . . know him longer.”
 
“But I think I know you better than he did now.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I know what you really want.”

“Which is?”

Junghoon proudly lists, “Someone to tell you that everything will be okay, give you a shoulder to lean on when you’re too stubborn to admit you need support, someone to listen to your complaints, someone to . . .”

“If you know me then,” I test, “what do I want to do right now?”

“Hide in your room and cry in your pillow, but I won’t let you do that.”

I laugh, and ask, “Why not?”

“Because you can cry in front of me, act weak, and rely on me,” he says. “And you have to get over him.”
“You know that we’re not going to work out?”

“Why not?”

“Raewon never cheated on me, and we didn’t last either.”

“There must have been something wrong with the relationship to begin with. Why’d you even date him? I heard from Jina that he was so clueless all the time.”

“I liked that about him.” I hold my knees to my chest, and continue to tell him, “He was really innocent, hardworking, and cheerful.”

“More like stupid,” Junghoon corrects me.

“I guess,” I let out a breath that melds with the cold, winter air, “he just couldn’t fall for who I actually was.”

“Meaning?”

“He never bothered to understand why I had trouble being serious with him.”

“Or you never wanted to tell him,” Junghoon, being a typical jerk, adjusts my statement. “You only really told Taeyang, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“I heard about your dad from Jina.”

“She told you all that? Boy does she trust you.”

“There’s nothing to be ashamed about, Jikyung.” Junghoon gently strokes my arm and admits, “He wasn’t a good father. Heck, he’s probably the worst I’ve met, and I thought my dad was bad.”

“What’d your dad do?”

“He’d beat us up whenever we did something wrong. He cheated on my mom with younger girls, but he still provided us with everything we needed financially. He’d also still remember my birthdays, and tried to make up to my brother and me.”

“You never told me—“

“You never asked or bothered to look deeper into my life.”

I am about to open my mouth to rip apart his argument, yet I find my lips closing. He’s right. I only know the basics of him, and some peculiar habits of his. I know what he might say or how he will try to hide a lie. I might have an idea as to what he likes to do, but I have no idea what ever happened to him when he was young, what he was like before, or why he behaves in certain ways.

Why him, Jikyung? Are you just looking for someone to play your boyfriend?

Why can’t you be happy for me, Taeyang? I thought you were a good friend!

You don’t even know Junghoon though.

You said you get to know people as you date.

But that’s me. That’s not you. Didn’t you say before that you had to know someone very well before you’d actually fall for that person?

I look at Junghoon who is just sitting beside me and staring ahead at the sun setting. His hands are clasped together, and the wind blows past his spiked hair. He hears me chuckling and finally gazes at me once more with that curious smirk of his.

“Your hair is so gelled up that the wind can’t even flatten it,” I explain before he even gets a chance to ask me anything.

“Hey!” 

He’s reaching out to pinch my nose, but I dodge his attack, and pounce into his arms. I realize that I have never hugged him like this before. He always had to hug me from behind. There’s that light, feathery scent of fresh laundry. Is this what Junghoon smells like? What did he smell like before?

Hugging him tighter, I mutter, “I don’t blame you that much for what you did before. Those girls probably actually loved you.”

“I hate to admit, but I was lonely. You were there, but your heart wasn’t. No matter how hard I tried, you’d always . . .”
 
“I think . . .”

I roll to my side, and look to my right. His eyes are angled in a funny way from my perspective. They remind me of a frog’s eyes, and I laugh again. His hand finally gets the opportunity to pinch my cheeks. I laugh even more, and there’s his sweet smile.

“I love you,” he blurts out too easily, and lies beside me. I feel his fingers pushing my hair behind my ear. I still remember how he used to tell me that I had a beautiful forehead, and that I should show it off. Those were his hints that I should part my hair in the middle. I never listened. 

Looking into his eyes, I wonder what I’d look like like that. There’s a blurry view of myself in his pupils. I grab some of my hair and push them towards the centre. His eyebrows furrow together; I know he is wondering what I’m doing.

Instead, I ask, “How do I look?”

Pursing his lips together, he hands me another one of his arrogant smiles. “You look . . . horrible—“

“Hey!”

“Now, but if you really do part your hair like that, you’d look better than before,” he explains. “I’ve always thought you had a cute forehead.”

Then, I feel him grab onto my head and gently place his lips onto my forehead. He stays there for almost too long as I feel my cheeks reddening. He’s probably trying to act genuine, I remind myself. This is Junghoon, the cheater, the liar . . .

But when I sense his large hand encircle mine, I believe I’m safe. I know what he’ll do will not hurt me. I know he’ll take responsibility if any accidents were to happen. He has always been dedicated to work; that’s how he’s the head surgeon at such a young age. I hold onto his hand tighter, causing him to glance at me again. 

“If this doesn’t work out, what are you going to do to compensate me?” I playfully ask.

“I’ll set you up with someone just as good or even better than me,” he jokes, “but I don’t think that’ll ever happen. That, I’m willing to promise.”

Can you promise me , at least, that you’ll try to live past forty?

Taeyang never answered that question of mine. Why? Because I asked him to promise. He never promises. Even at his wedding, I heard that he stuttered before “I do”. Here, I have someone willing to make a promise, willing to take a chance. Maybe, this time, I should actually step out of my comfort zone, and fully accept him. So, I cling onto Junghoon’s arm now as we head towards the gates of the entrance. There’s a sense of lightness brushing off my shoulders. No more burdens. No more worries. No more pondering.

Step.

I’m out of there. I let go of Junghoon, and he’s already heading to his car by himself. That’s it, I think. That’s all there is . . .

I feel a few droplets of snow falling again. It’s the end of December. Not unusual, but it’s supposed to be clear, and sunny today. 

My goal for the New Year is not to spend it alone this year.

That’s so shallow, Taeyang.

What? I’m a lonely person.

“Junghoon!” I suddenly call out.

“Mhm?” He turns around to ask.

I’m running towards him now. I’m not sure if I’m making the right decision. Maybe, I’m being shallow like Taeyang, yet somehow, I feel like he’d actually approve of my choice. It’s up to you, he’ll say. Why do you even care about what I think, he’ll purposely add. Because you’re important to me, I’ll answer this time. Because you’re my best friend, and my first love.

“Junghoon, I think I . . .“

He’s embracing me with all his might, lifting me in the air. I know I’m short, yet we’re seeing each other eye to eye. We’re too close that our lips almost touch, but before they do, Junghoon whispers, “You don’t have to say anything. I know.”

My eyes close.

Thank you, Taeyang, and good-bye.

You’ve made your choice, and I’m making mine now.

And then our lips don’t touch, but I gaze straight into Junghoon’s eyes. With my best smile, I ask, “So, Junghoon, what’d you get me for that gift of yours?”

Previous Snippet                                                                                                     To Traces of Love

Reactions: