Haesoo found himself in front of the entrance of the exhibition hall almost without even knowing how he got there, his own picture staring back at him. It was the picture Taekyung had chosen as a poster for the exhibition that he had already seen countless times at the studio.
He didn’t know what to think about this, but it made him slightly uncomfortable to see his own pictures printed on a big scale and hung on the walls. Being someone who had spent almost half of his life wary of what people around him thought, as well as a person who valued his own privacy more than anything else, this had been a huge step out of his comfort zone.
The past week had been extremely harsh on him, and he actually hadn’t been able to sleep well in what seemed ages.
He had spent most of the week gobbled up in his apartment, lost in his thoughts and turning down Taekyung requests to see him because after what happened he just needed some alone time.
Truth was, he couldn’t forget the brief but somehow eye-opening encounter with Joowon back at his agency. It had been both a shock and a pleasant surprise to see him like that. He had seemed different, he could tell he had lost weight and he seemed tired. But the change wasn’t just physical: it was as if he had left behind the childish side of himself, the selfish part. Not that he could say he was any different; in the mess that had been their relationship, both of them had their faults.
The moment he had heard those words, his eyes had impossibly widened and he was left breathless. He wondered why he was apologizing, and when the other had said that it was because he didn’t want him to get dragged into the scandal, he felt like in his reply there were so many unsaid words. Words that he wished he could hear.
“I was afraid. I wanted to do what I could before your name was brought up.”
It was rare for him to be that honest about his feelings, and even more to admit that he was scared of something, so once again he had been taken off guard. Because he could feel it, from the intensity of his voice and his eyes, the desire to protect him.
“It wasn’t your fault.”
At that, he wasn’t sure how he was able to keep his composure, because he was sure he had felt his heart jumping in his throat; because no matter what Joowon was saying to make him feel better, he knew that incident was partly his fault too.
He just couldn’t stop thinking about it, and he had almost collapsed on that damn elevator after the doors closed, hiding Joowon from his sight. His feelings and his mind were a mess, even more than usual. Because he couldn’t deny the way his heart had beaten oh so fast when he saw that sincere smile gracing his beautiful face while reminiscing about their amusement park date; he couldn’t deny the lump on his throat when the other told him to forget about everything the CEO had said because he didn’t want him to be involved; he couldn’t deny the urge he felt to hug him and press their bodies together. And most of all, he couldn’t wash away the guilt that was crashing on him for wishing the other would make a small misstep so that he could be right there to catch up to him. Right now, in the middle of a scandal that could jeopardize his career and everything he had worked so hard for, he could have used him to soften the blow but he didn’t want to. He was going to shoulder everything by himself. And that made his heart ache.
Once he had let himself fall upon his bed that evening, he had realized that he had purposely forgotten so many things about what they went through together. He had forgotten that it had been Joowon the first person to believe in him, when he had said his dream was to be a writer. He had encouraged him not to give up on his dream when he thought it was something unattainable and childish. How many other things he had forgotten? How many parts of himself he had forcefully put down in order to protect himself from another heartbreak?
“No hard feelings.”
Those had been his own words, but why did they hurt so badly when Joowon had said them? Was it possible for someone to change like that in such a short time? Had he actually moved on already?
As he was going up the stairs he heard two women in the background saying something about the exhibition, but he couldn’t focus on their words. He had been trying so hard to hold it together, but knowing himself, he knew he was going to break sooner or later.
He was startled out of his thoughts when a loud voice called him, and he turned around to see Mina, Taekyung’s friend. She led him towards the center of the room, taking his arm and insisting for him to look at the pictures and not taking a “no” as an answer.
In the moment his eyes fell on the picture right in front of him, he felt something inside of him shifting, like a wave hitting him with full force. His mind wandered to the time he was posing for those pictures, the night he had put an end to the relationship that had been consuming him.
“You’re in an empty room. And you’re imagining yourself having sex with someone you love... but what if you could never see that person again?”
When Taekyung had said those words, his mind had immediately wandered towards the last, rough kiss he shared with Joowon. When he had felt the other’s desperate fear of losing him. He had been set on putting an end to it, to the relationship everyone deemed wrong. With their parents impending marriage, it had been the right thing to do. Anyway, it had been nothing more than a purely sexual relationship, didn’t it?
But as he looked at himself in that picture, he felt his heart throbbing inside his chest. He was completely naked, bare. And he didn’t mean just his body: the feeling of loss, of longing; the pain he had been feeling at that moment. They were all there, for everyone to see. There was no mistake in it. It was like an out of body experience, to look at himself from that perspective. He guessed he had to acknowledge Taekyung’s talent for capturing those emotions he didn’t even know he was carrying inside of him.
And as much as he wished he could deny it forever, he could see it painfully clearly now. It never was something purely sexual. He had been so busy drowning his own feelings and looking for something that could help him to get over the pain, that he had been also unable to see anything else around him. He had always known the answer, but he had always been too scared to admit it to himself too.
They had been dancing around each other for so long, too busy playing at who cared less, too busy hurting each other in a fight that, in the end, revealed to have no winners whatsoever. He had put up wall after wall, an armor around his mind and his heart that had made him numb to everything else. He ripped out so much of himself, that everytime he started something with someone else, he didn’t have anything to offer. And this made him forget every beautiful moment he had spent with Joowon too, because the thought that he had been the only one to have those kinds of feelings, that he had dreamt all the affectionate and loving moments between them, had threatened to kill him from the inside. So he had shut everything out. He had realized that when they had talked about the amusement park, with no hard feelings but a longing he couldn’t deny.
He had been blind to his feelings and to Joowon’s feelings as well. Would things be any different now, if the two of them had been honest with each other at least once?
He loved Joowon. He had always loved him.
And what he was doing to Taekyung wasn’t fair, but he saw so much of himself in him that he hadn’t been able to deny him the request to try to date for one month.
And he didn’t want to be left alone. He was scared, he had needed someone to hold him together. But in the end, there was only one person able to do that.
Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder and Haesoo saw Taekyung next to him, eyes widening in shock. As soon as he felt a wetness on his own cheek and reached it to touch it with his fingertips, he knew the reason why.
He was crying.
He was crying for the first time in such a long time that the feeling seemed foreign to him.
He felt vulnerable and he wanted to run away. But before he could even reach for his scarf to wipe away the tears, the sound of another voice calling for him made his heart skip a beat, leaving him almost frozen in place. He turned around slowly and he saw him.
Joowon was right in front of him.