Jiseok, who was gazing out through the window within a large convenience store just outside of Suwon station abruptly stood up from his seat. He put down his still unfinished coffee cup and ran outside.
Geunseok got off the bus with very slow steps and slowly turned around towards him. At that moment, Jiseok frowned. He felt that something changed about Geunseok. That strange feeling made Jiseok approach Geunseok faster. His head was filled with the thought to check up on him as soon as possible.
“Hey, why are you so stiff?”
Just like what happened the day before, Jiseok was about to tap Geunseok’s shoulders. The normal reaction would be that Geunseok would swear back at him, but the reaction he showed was outside of Jiseok’s imagination. Geunseok raised both of his hands to cover his face. His eyes were filled with fear.
Jiseok’s hand stopped midair. Geunseok looked at the tip of Jiseok’s hand with shaking eyes before putting down his arms. Those stiff actions made Jiseok speechless. He instinctively realized that just asking what was wrong would be too rude of him.
“...It’s hot, but I guess you need something warm. Wait a minute.”
Jiseok returned to the convenience store and bought a warm bottle of chocolate coffee. When he carefully handed it over to Geunseok, he grabbed the plastic bottle. Even Jiseok felt stifled by Geunseok’s nervous actions. Just what happened during the past day?
“Let’s walk a little.”
Usually, it was Jiseok that listened to Geunseok whenever they talked. That was their normal conversation. However, Geunseok did not speak a word today. He only followed what Jiseok was doing. His shoulders were drooping towards the ground, his eyes were fixed on the floor, and whenever a car passed by while pressing its horn, he was scared like a guy who just witnessed a thunderbolt striking right in front of him. Due to that, the coffee inside the bottle spilled on his hands, but Geunseok kept staring at the car that passed by.
“Uh, oh. That’s hot.”
His reaction was clearly a bit late. Even though his hands had turned red, Geunseok didn’t seem to mind. It was as though he was caught up with something else and that an injury of this level was nothing compared to it.
They went around the red light district near Suwon station and went to the alleyway where they could see many pojang macha. Jiseok looked for the store that he and Geunseok frequented during middle school, but unfortunately, it was no longer there. Instead, they entered an orange-colored one with the banner that said ‘Udon’ on it. Geunseok had yet to say something proper from the moment they departed Suwon station to the moment they sat down inside the pojang macha and started ordering.
“Ma’am, please give us some good food.”
“Yes, yes. I’ll cook you up a good one. I give a lot of freebies to students so you should come by more often.”
He replied with a smile out of habit, but his smile didn’t last long. Jiseok held out a pair of chopsticks towards Geunseok and asked.
“Did something happen?”
“...No. Nothing happened.”
“You were limping. Are you hurt anywhere?”
“Really now?” Jiseok nodded his head with a bitter smile. This silence, this emptiness that stemmed from Geunseok’s lie. The person that he could talk to without restraint had built a wall of lies around him once again. The fact that he said ‘nothing happened’ implied that he didn’t want anyone to know about it. It would have been better if he clearly told Jiseok that it was none of his business.
“Are you sure nothing happened?”
“I said nothing happened.”
The lady put down two bowls of udon in front of them. Jiseok gave the one with a bigger portion towards Geunseok. Geunseok quietly split the wooden disposable chopsticks and started eating it. Jiseok watched as Geunseok started eating when he discovered a hint of blue on Geunseok’s skin. There were clear bruises on Geunseok’s left shoulder which he could see under Geunseok’s clothes. Seeing the serious wound, Jiseok almost unintentionally tried to touch Geunseok’s shoulder.
At that moment, Geunseok fell backwards with a loud crash. His feet were caught up in the legs of the table, shaking the table in the process which ended up tipping the udon bowl over. The hot soup and noodles hit the ground.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I tripped.”
“Oh, you should’ve been careful. Did you not get hurt?”
“We’re fine. I’ll clean up here. Please give me a mop.”
“Leave it. I’ll do it later.”
Jiseok apologized to the lady who seemed cool about the incident. In that short moment, Geunseok stood up without a change in his expression and left the pojang macha. Jiseok paid the lady before following Geunseok. Geunseok suddenly swayed around as though he was about to fall over. Jiseok tried to get to him and tried to support him up, but Geunseok rejected him.
“Forget it. I’ll do it. I have to be the one to do it.”
It was as though he was saying that he could not accept help.
Geunseok was not telling Jiseok anything. Despite that though, Jiseok smiled and walked by his side. Although their relationship started off on lies, Geunseok was the only one that stuck with him until the end. He did not know what was going on, but he wanted to console him. It was disappointing to him that Geunseok was using lies to avoid this moment, but Jiseok believed that their relationship would soon recover.
Jiseok thought that he should wait until his friend opened up his heart again. Just as they were walking, his phone started ringing. He took out his phone from his pocket and answered the call.
“Hello? Oh, Maru.”
Maru had called him for the read-through on Saturday. It was the day when all the actors, the director, and the author gathered to do a read-through in front of the press. After that event, the shooting would begin the week after. From what he heard, it seemed that they were going to finish the shoot by August and start editing from then.
“Yoojin wanted us three to go there together? I’m good with that. Okay, alright. But Maru, I feel good to have you call me first. You should call me more frequently.”
His new friend was someone with a stiff expression. This guy was an amazing one whose tone didn’t change even when facing famous superstars. However, from his experience, Jiseok was aware that he wasn’t a cold person on the inside.
He just took another step forward while thinking about this new event that would occur next week. He saw that Geunseok, who was walking by his side, had suddenly stopped. Geunseok’s eyes were still fixated on the floor. Jiseok followed his gaze to see if he had dropped anything on the floor, but nothing entered his eyes.
“What is it?”
“You… you know, Han Maru?”
“Oh! You know Maru as well? Well, I guess that isn’t a surprise. Maru told me he’s in the acting club so you might have met each other in a competition or something. Oh yeah, Maru apparently goes to a high school in Suwon as well. Don’t tell me that you actually go to the same school? No wait, it would be awesome if you actually do.”
Jiseok felt happy now that they got a common topic of conversation. Jiseok approached Geunseok with a smile. He was expecting that they could have a good conversation about Maru.
“Son of a bitch.”
He stopped mid-step. Jiseok had no choice but to stop in his steps. Geunseok had raised his head and was glaring at him with very unfamiliar emotions. The gaze made him shiver. The street lamp located above Geunseok’s head suddenly switched on. That streetlight replaced the sunlight of the setting sun and lengthened out Geunseok’s shadow. Jiseok couldn’t feel more uneasy looking at that shadow. It was as though the shadow was about to rise and attack him at any moment. This was the first time Jiseok felt that a person could become so hostile.
“Son of a bitch, get out of my sight.”
“Hey, Hong Geunseok.”
He frowned and called out to Geunseok, but Geunseok just walked right past him. He didn’t know what was going on. With a complicated mind, he followed Geunseok. At that moment, Geunseok suddenly swung his arms violently. Jiseok was unable to dodge that arm.
With a loud punching sound, he felt a dizzying shock from his cheekbones. For a brief moment, his vision darkened. Feeling dizzy, he kneeled down and grabbed the ground.
“...Geunseok,” he called out to no avail. Geunseok was walking away without the slightest bit of hesitation. When the pain had subsided a little, Geunseok had long since disappeared. Jiseok looked up at the darkened skies.
After a long time, he took out his phone, his fingers were heading for the call button.
* * *
“What brings you all the way here?” Maru asked as he took off his hood. Jiseok had called him and asked where he lived all of a sudden. Maru had told him the bus stop near his home and got a reply that Jiseok would soon be here. Although Maru tried to get him to talk over the phone, Jiseok kept saying that they needed to talk in person. Maru felt confused since Jiseok’s voice had changed in such a short period of time and came out to meet him.
“I came to see a friend, and I suddenly had a reason to see you.”
Jiseok’s smile within the darkness felt as though it was about to snap off at any moment. Maru led him to a playground right behind the bus stop. They sat down on the bench as the creak of the empty swing could be heard.
“What is it?”
He thought that maybe some beer was suited to this situation. At that moment, an unexpected name came out of Jiseok’s mouth.
“Do you know Geunseok?”
Maru shut his mouth and stared at Jiseok. He had a complicated expression. This guy came looking for answers. Maru replied that he knew.
“Can I ask what happened?”
“Before that, the friend you were talking about before, is that Hong Geunseok?”
“Your friend in Suwon that you told me last time was him?”
“Are you two close?”
Maru felt a bitter taste in his mouth. Yes, trash had their own friends. Wasn’t that obvious? Even a cruel criminal might be a warm member of someone’s family.
The fact that he came all the way here at this hour meant that the two were pretty close. Maru organized his thoughts for a minute before speaking. He calmly told Jiseok the whole story without any exaggeration.
After listening to the whole story, Jiseok was unable to say anything. He just tapped on his knees with his fingers and just kept looking ahead of him. The number of people around them dwindled as time went by, and it was about time for the stationery store to close. As the moths made ticking noises and fell down from the street light, Jiseok started speaking again.
“He’s a… a bad guy, if what you say is true. He wasn’t that bad during middle school. In fact, everyone remembers him as the polite and good kid in class. However, I found out. I found out that wasn’t the real him. Geunseok is, yes, someone who lives on his ego. However, it wasn’t to the point where he harmed others for it. He was just… a dishonest kid.”
Jiseok clenched and relaxed his fist several times. The bitterness in his mouth could be felt over his voice. Maru was able to know that Jiseok treated Geunseok as a precious friend.
“In my head, I know that you did the right thing. But… it still hurts a little. Couldn’t you have solved it in another way?”
“I could get him to talk to me, try to persuade him, and do other things like that until he changes his mind. However, that takes a long time. Moreover, I had no reason to be so considerate of him. There is a short and clear cut path, so there’s no need for me to go that far. Though, it does leave a bad aftertaste in my mouth.”
“Looks like I was wrong about you. I thought you wouldn’t be so cold hearted.”
“Isn’t it funny that you’re trying to understand me after just two or three meetings? I don’t know what kind of a person I am inside your mind, but you’re probably wrong about me for most of the things that you think I am. Even I… took an extremely long time to find out who I am.”
“Yes. Now that you tell me, you’re right. You’re really good with your words. I can feel that every time I talk with you. You have a depth that I don’t possess. But precisely because of that… I find it a pity.”
Jiseok smiled pitifully. Maru understood where Jiseok was coming from since Jiseok must have seen that Geunseok was standing on the top of a cliff.
“Han Maru. You’re a good friend.”
“I’m not sure about that.”
“No, you’re a good friend, and you’re a good kid. I felt this from the beginning. I realized that I wasn’t wrong while taking the audition together, and it was at that moment that I thought. I thought that it would be really fun to do acting with this guy; that we could climb to the top together if we did our best. But now, I changed my mind. I’m going to do better than you. I don’t want to climb to the top with you. I’m going to be ahead of you.”
Jiseok stood up from the bench as he continued,
“This is a small revenge on my part. Geunseok, a friend of mine, hates you. That’s why I must do at least this much for him. But you’re a good friend of mine as well. So please understand me.”
“Do whatever you want.”
“I’m going then. Sorry for calling you out so late.”
Jiseok smiled brightly at the last bit. Maru decided to talk about something unnecessary when he saw that smile.
“If it’s about Geunseok, you don’t need to be so worried. I told the most trustworthy person for the job. He’ll probably do just fine.”
“Really? That’s fortunate. I knew it… you aren’t that cold hearted. You’re a little cold, though. I’ll treat you to some hot chocolate some time. Perhaps that will make you become a little warmer.”
“Hey, you’re really something to say those cheeky lines without a second thought.”
“You think so?”
Jiseok walked away while waving his hand. Maru watched as he left and eventually waved back at him.
 What the heck is a chocolate coffee…? It’s probably cafe mocha, but I’m not entirely sure… maybe that’s what it was called in 2004.
 Street stall restaurant. It’s in the glossary.
Oof, I can practically hear the bad comments you'll make about Jiseok.
Sorry about that. Messed up the post time...