Chapter 21

The night air was cold. Dojin walked out of his home with a thick hoodie and a basketball in hand.

[You want to play basketball?]

Daemyung sounded very conservative with his request.

“Want to? Why couldn’t he be upfront and tell me he wanted to play basketball?”

Dojin thought Daemyung could get much more confident as a person. The guy was alright, but awkward expressing a lot of his opinions.

It was a week ago, for example. He, Maru, and Daemyung were trying to decide what to eat for dinner after school. Maru wanted soup, and Dojin wanted noodles. Daemyung just answered with a ‘I’ll have whatever of the two’ at the time.

Dojin was not a fan of the way Daemyung spoke. He wanted to tell the boy to be a bit brave, but Maru just kept stopping him. In any case, he made his way to the park as he lightly dribbled the ball between his hands.

It was cold, but not freezing. He could see plenty of other people in the park exercising. Some were playing badminton, and others were running or doing jump rope. Thankfully, the basketball court was empty.

“Here!”

He could see Daemyung wave at him from afar. The two of them lived surprisingly close to each other. Dojin lived in Sangdong Apartments, at house number 201. Daemyung lived right across the street, at Hanra Apartments, 403. Not even ten minutes apart.

“What’s up with wanting to play basketball and all?”

It was just supposed to be an opener for the conversation, but Daemyung took it in the worst way possible.

“R-right? Sorry. I called you for nothing. It’s too late, isn’t it? I shouldn’t have called. Sorry.”

Daemyung’s voice crawled back nervously. Dojin threw his ball into the other boy’s chest. He was feeling something hot rise up in his chest.

“Ouch,” Daemyung stepped back. He picked up the ball with a scared look.

“What’s wrong, Dojin?”

“Hey.”

“Yeah?”

“Did I say something to you? Like, I can’t play basketball, or something? Or was I complaining to you?”

“......”

“Dude, what the hell are you sorry for? I was just surprised that you were out playing basketball. Did I sound like I was picking a fight?”

“N-no.”

“Why are you being like this, then? I didn’t hit you or anything either.”

“......”

“Jesus.”

Dojin was frustrated. Weren’t they friends? Why the hell was he acting like this, then? Daemyung looked down at the floor nervously, which ended up pissing his friend off even more. He walked forward and straightened the other boy’s shoulders.

Their eyes met for a split second. Daemyung looked away immediately.

“Hey,” Dojin said.

“Yeah?”

“Are you uncomfortable around me?”

“No, it’s not that.”

“Did you do something wrong, then? Why are you so apologetic? Why do you keep trying to act pitiful?”

“...Sor...”

Daemyung stopped himself there and looked at Dojin worriedly. There it was again.

“Is something going on?”

“No.”

“You’re lying and you know it. Dude, I’ve only known you for a month, but even I know better than that. You’re a lot better than this. What’s going on?”

That must’ve been it. Daemyung dribbled the ball a little bit with a little sigh. The ball eventually escaped his grasp with how lightly he was dribbling it. The ball rolled away, and Daemyung sighed a little deeper.

“I was just thinking of old times. I used to be bullied.”

He smiled, trying to make light of the word ‘bullied’.

“...What?”

Dojin became confused. Bullying? Out of nowhere? It also made his blood run cold a little bit. Bullying… was a word that had a lot of meaning to Dojin as well.

* * *

Dowook opened the door to his home with his bike. He lived in a 2 floor single home surrounded by a tall fence. Even now, he didn’t feel very used to living in a home like this. A little dog ran over to greet him with an excited look.

The dog’s name was Little. The only thing in the house he’s gotten used to living with. Dowook had no idea what breed the dog was. He just knew it’s been five years since he picked it up from the old lady on the street.

At least it was growing healthily.

He pet the dog a little bit as he parked the bike on the wall next to him.

Dowook walked up the three stairs up to his front door. A warm air greeted him upon his first step inside. He didn’t bother saying his greetings, since he knew there was no one was home. He slipped into his slippers and walked over to the kitchen.

More cold food again for him to reheat.

He warmed up the rice and soup in the microwave. He watched the plate inside spin for a few seconds before walking out with some dog food. The dog greeted him with its wavy tail.

Good boy.

“What were you doing all this time?”

Dowook asked, pushing the food bowl towards it. It didn’t answer. Obviously. Dowook pet its head before walking back into the kitchen. The microwave beeped from inside to let him know the food was done. He started eating his food.

There was a sticky note under the bowl of rice had originally been, he noticed. It was a message from his mom, he had no need to read. It was probably the same thing as always anyway. He finished eating and turned on the TV. It was pretty cold in the living room, so he turned on the heater as well.

After laughing at a random reality show for 30 minutes or so, he went to use the restroom. A laugh track was playing the moment he stepped outside. The timing got on his nerves, for some reason. He pressed the power button on the remote to no avail. He tried again. Still nothing. Again. Finally. He walked up to his room on the second floor where he could hear the dog barking outside after finishing its meal.

He decided to ignore it. He turned on his computer and opened up messenger after a bit of hesitation. 13 friends were currently online. They were all his middle school friends. None of them responded to his messages. Then again, they weren’t really great friends to begin with.

Dowook turned to look at his phone. He scrolled through his contacts, trying to find a friend that he could call. His face turned stiffer with each scroll upon each realization that there wasn’t anyone he could really call.

“Fuck.”

He closed his phone. Why was he feeling so nervous right now? Trying to call his friends wasn’t anything to be embarrassed about so why was he hesitating?

Then again, what would he even say to them?

What was the name of the kid up front again? Ah, Jichul, right. Why was he thinking of that guy now? The guy always stayed alone by himself because of how quiet he was. Dowook could remember Jichul’s troubled expression lingering as he looked around every time there was group work.

“...Hah.”

Crap. Dowook was just like that guy right now. That was what made him feel nervous. It was even worse, actually. At least Jichul had people who occasionally talked to him. He recalled everything he said at school in the previous week.

“...There’s nothing.”

Just conversations with the teacher was all. He’s never talked to the other students. No, he ‘couldn’t’ talk with the other students. Was this what being bullied was like? For some reason, the faces of his previous victims started popping up in his head clearly.

Please, he didn’t want to remember. Crap. Their faces wouldn’t leave his mind. About how they could only ever say “I’m sorry” and “please forgive me” in school.

“Fuck.”

Dowook turned on a song at full volume. A quiet ballad shook his room like a heavy metal song. Hopefully the noise will drown out some of his feelings.

“...Crap.”

The voices of his victims still wouldn’t go away.

* * *

“Come out?”

- Yeah. I need your help. You’re better at this kind of stuff than me.

“What stuff?”

- Daemyung.

Daemyung? At 11 at night? Why? He’d have to bike for 20 minutes to get there.

“Damn it, fine.”

People don’t change that easily. Maru didn’t want to ignore someone when they needed his help. Especially friends.

“I’ll be out for a bit, mom.”

“Where are you going?”

“Friends.”

“What?”

“Don’t worry mom, I’ll be fine.”

“......”

Mom hesitated before telling him to come back quickly. That reminded him, he’s always thought of raising a kid freely when he grew up. Like his parents. That’s exactly what he did with his daughter. She’s hurt him occasionally, but she did grow to become a fine lady.

‘Helicopter parenting is no good.’

Maru peeked into the fridge as he stepped out of his parent’s bedroom. Talking with friends, huh… Well, that meant he would need a certain things with him, then. He pulled out a can of beer and put it in his pocket before walking outside.

* * *

There weren’t many people outside when Maru arrived. They all probably went home. He spotted a few couples in the park before turning to go further inside.

“Oh, you’re here.”

“Ugh, so cold.”

Maru grinned, looking at his two friends sitting close to each other for warmth.

“Why not go to a PC bang if you’re so cold?”

“We’re poor, dude. Besides, we came out for that,” Daemyung’s shivering finger pointed at the basketball.

His fault for coming out in gym clothes, Maru thought.

“Let’s go to a convenience store for some instant noodles,” Maru suggested.

“Oh, you’re paying?”

Dojin’s face instantly bloomed with excitement, whereas Daemyung’s expression brightened briefly before shaking his head glumly.

“I’m good.”

“What, you trying to lose weight?”

There was no other reason why the boy would call Dojin out for basketball otherwise.

“......”

“Just one, man. You’re going to get sick if you don’t have something warm. Let’s go.”

Maru walked into the convenience store nearby with his bike. It was a big store, so there were quite a number of people inside still. Maru bought three cups of noodles and walked over to the hot water station.

“Let’s eat first, men,” Maru said, splitting the chopsticks in his hand.

The others nodded and dug into the noodles. They smiled as they slurped in the hot soup.

“God, I feel so much more alive now.”

“Me too.”

They licked every inch of their bowls clean before walking back to the park. It was still bright out, thanks to all the lights.

“So, what did you want to talk about?” Maru asked, sitting on a bench nearby.

“You tell him,” Dojin said.

Daemyung sighed. He didn’t look like he could get it out of him.

“Come on, man,” Dojin urged. It didn’t really work.

Maru nodded. This was probably really important to Daemyung. But he couldn’t go back without hearing anything. He pulled a can of beer out of his pocket, earning a surprised look from the other two. Maru grinned.

“A medicine to make you start talking, buddy.”

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