Ui Bong isn't close to JB—he's merely acquainted with the other boy, more now than ever since the boy started lingering around Haesung. But that doesn't stop him from thinking he understands the other the best, because truth be told, he's known him the longest. He's known JB even before his first fans and he's seen all the moments behind brightly lit stages and flashing cameras. So he should be the one to understand how much work was put in to turn Jang Woo Jae into JB. He should be the one to empathize with him—both young souls who held dance close to their hearts. Both of them spent endless hours dancing their souls out upon wooden floors, matching steps to drum beats.
It wasn't always like this though, and Ui Bong vaguely remembers the days when I:dn was still nonexistent. When Woo Jae would trip over his own feet during lessons, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly with a sheepish grin as he stood back up. Ui Bong doesn't exactly remember when the shy grins turned into confident smiles, but somewhere in the midst of late night practices, Jang Woo Jae became JB. And Ui Bong morphed into the shadows of the stage, following the same aged male closely in the limelight.
He likes those days better, where he could still feel the thrill of the stage while staying anonymous. It's nothing like now where the entire contest and its participants are over promoted. Yoojin couldn't even go out to buy a hamburger without being swarmed. He always wondered how the boy that liked to sit alone at the corner of the ddeok-guk restaurant adjusted to being suffocated by popularity. Because although he's sure JB enjoyed the attention, he still doubts it when he spots his fellow classmate sitting at the back of the room—unfocused eyes gazing out the window. All the world's suddenly quiet and Ui Bong wants to write mid tempo ballads.
Haesung beats him to it though, and Ui Bong shakes off the odd feeling in his chest when he accidentally runs into JB arranging Haesung's song. He also swallows back his thoughts of how the two just don't match, convincing himself that it's because Yoojin would suit Haesung more. But he knows it's not that, and he falls asleep at four in the morning thinking how Jang Woo Jae and Jung Ui Bong should be best friends. He tries not to think too much about how he should have fallen the other way during their makeshift dance battle—crashing, body and lips, onto the blonde vocalist.
It's a ridiculous thought, because he's in Class B—living the B Grade lifestyle. Ui Bong is all shadows despite the foolish smiles he sticks on his face. He’s noir and kohl and all sorts of black. He’s living the B Grade lifestyle and all its abnormalities—he doesn’t want to be like this though. He wants to be normal and conventional, where he doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb and he doesn’t have to be hammered back in. It’s not the 1800s but Ui Bong still feels like he’ll be stoned to death. Unrequited love doesn’t seem so beautiful when it’s laced with poison and taboo.
He's a shadow and JB is so bright that Ui Bong vanishes in his presence. (He can’t sully someone so bright—so proper.) JB always been bright, and his futile romance bothers Ui Bong to the point that he throws darts at his photograph alongside Yoojin. He salvages the photo from the trashcan that night and ends up stuffing it in the back of his drawer. "No, I have to hate this guy." He states, reminding himself of the A class, B class rivalry.
You can’t love him.
He won’t love you.
He ultimately fails though, because the students from Class A all disappear and JB opts to follow Haesung like a lost child. It distracts him and Ui Bong wonders why JB couldn't disappear as well. That way, he wouldn't have to see him sending megawatt smiles to Haesung. That way, he wouldn't have to stop himself from punching walls when Yoojin puts his hands all over the blonde male. He ends up punching the wall anyways (the one outside his dorm room) and Yoojin is utterly clueless why Ui Bong doesn't talk to him for a week.
The bruise on his knuckles never does fade away and it stings a bit too much when JB walks onstage, rose in hand. He’s pretty sure the blood is surging past his platelets when the other male kneels down in front of audience members and live cameras. Ui Bong doesn’t think he’s ever hated Shin Haesung more in his life, because there you go—you’ve ruined it all. You’ve thrown JB into the depths of the ocean.
Ui Bong isn’t dumb, having tiptoed his way around the industry for a good three years, and he knows just exactly what their principal was thinking the moment the Super Idol Contest was announced. He doesn’t confide in Yoojin about it though, doesn’t bear to let him realize how manipulative everything was. And he sits back and watches for the most part; watches how the ‘rivalry’ between JB and Yoojin unfolds. Watches how JB seems to glow even on the darkest nights.
But this—proposing to Haesung over Rian—wasn’t part of the script nor the plan. And Ui Bong catches the anger that momentarily glazes over the president’s eyes. This was not how things are supposed to be and Ui Bong sees Woo Jae murdering JB in the name of ‘love’. He sees JB for the last time the day he's eliminated from the contest, and he shines so bright—smiling more than ever as he revolves around Shin Haesung. Like she's the sun, the star that pulls the universe together. Like she's the one with the blinding glow.
JB falters into nothing, melted by Rian's staged tears and Yoojin's fight for equality. What equality? He thinks. If anyone's disadvantaged, it's JB who never held onto his own decisions. JB who's worked harder than ever. It's not Jin Yoojin who's never even wanted to become an idol. All he’s ever gotten out of the contest was positive—fame and recognition. What happened to the undying rock spirit? Why was he suddenly so fixated on winning? And he knows, that it’s not the contest—it’s Shin Haesung.
It makes Ui Bong hate. He hates the contest and its fixed rules; he hates Haesung and her obliviousness, hates Yoojin and his spite, hates Rian and her pettiness. It even makes him hate JB, who doesn't seem to glow anymore. Not because he's lost it, but because he goes around covering himself in soot. Ui Bong catches the way he takes care not to stand out, catches him intentionally ruining his image, and catches him dancing in the depths of the night. The bruise on his knuckles is gone, replaced by gashes of red—blood staining the white wall. Jang Woo Jae's gone now too, lost under layers of painted façades. Ui Bong loses sleep that week trying not to think of Mr. Yang's words.
"Even if you're plain, this is too plain."
Plain—isn't a word to describe Jang Woo Jae whose passion and determination soared into the sky. Whose smile made Ui Bong miss the same dance step over and over again. It is never the word to describe JB who radiated confidence with the skills to back it up. Plain is a word for someone like himself, who spends most of his time contemplating which set menu to eat for lunch. And when he finally decides on the donkatsu ramen, he loses his appetite by the time he walks back to the table. JB is sitting next to Haesung at their usual table, gulfing down food in matching utensils. He's smiling that smile again, the one that he remembers from years ago. His wound is hurting again and it makes him want to shout, "No, you don't belong here." You should never be here, living the B-Grade lifestyle. But JB smiles like Shin Haesung is his everything and it makes Ui Bong want to cry.
He does later, in the middle of watching Haesung watch JB. How great it is, he thinks, to have so many people head over heels in love with you. How cruel it is, he thinks, because JB doesn't seem to see past Shin Haesung. And even if he does, he'll be looking at Rian not Jung Ui Bong. It takes the life out of him and Soon Dong is convinced that he's possessed. Hong Joo and Yoojin are on a mission to resolve his negative emotions and Ui Bong does all he can to avoid them—he doesn't need anyone prying into his heart. He doesn’t need them to abandon him for who he was.
Seul takes him in with a pat on the back, and he isn't surprised how she seems to know. She's always been observant and blunt, so when she lets out a; "I don't think they match either." Ui Bong is slightly relieved. "Which one?" He asks exasperatedly, running his hand through his hair. "Rian nor Haesung," she answers in her signature, unemotional, tone. "Thanks," Ui Bong replies, wrapping his arms around the other. She doesn't push him off like usual and he speaks again, "You and Ailee match too."
He gets pushed off this time and Ui Bong sticks out his tongue. "I'm just returning the favour since you're always upset over how close she is with Nana."
"Like you don't do the same when Yoojin molests JB." She retorts.
"This is my room, you know."
"I don't care." He says, ignoring the other's glare as he stumbled onto the bed, pulling the covers around him. Seul pulls the JB doll from Haesung's bed and throws it at his head to remind him that the doll wasn’t his and neither was JB.
But in all reality, JB wasn’t anyone’s to own. He doesn’t belong to the company nor did he belong to Haesung. So Ui Bong doesn’t really understand why he followed along to all that their principal dictated. Doesn’t really understand why he’s breaking himself to fit into Shin Haesung’s mould. It’s painful to watch, and JB is throwing himself away for the one girl that isn’t worth it all—none of them were worth it if it meant having to be someone he wasn’t. But it isn’t Jung Ui Bong’s place to decide if it was worth it or not. (Ironic even, since Jang Woo Jae makes Ui Bong mutilate himself.)
And neither is it Jin Yoojin’s place, though the other male had a hard time staying out of other’s business. And Ui Bong turns his head one day during break to catch the guitarist trying to provoke spirit into JB. It kindles fire in his heart because just for a moment, Ui Bong wants to be the one to drape his arm around the vocalist—whispering in his ear. But he can’t (doesn’t want to) be his friend. He doesn’t want to imagine being so close to what he wants and never being able to reach it. Seul throws him a knowing look and he attempts to hide the green behind his eyes. He fails and closes them instead, dropping his head onto Seul’s shoulder. The other female simply patted his head in comfort.
Ui Bong’s sick of this unrequited love, and he feels like the lead in some sappy romance drama—except he’s not. Shin Haesung has that role now, and he isn’t even qualified for the third wheel—Rian has that role. And to make it worst, Yoojin and Siwoo take up all the place there is for best friends. He’s some useless character, deviant from society, that doesn’t even deserve to have a role. It tires him from the inside out and he doesn’t even find strength to refute Soon Dong’s claim that he’s dating Seul. Because truthfully, he’d much rather be in love with Seul. Everything is much more conventional that way, and he’s sure the other reciprocated his thoughts. Birds of a feather flock together after all—both falling in anonymous, condemned and unrequited love.
It’s some ill-fated luck, he thinks, that he seems to walk into every private conversation that takes place within Kirin High School. The first time he walks into JB and Haesung, the next time it’s JB and Yoojin. This time, it’s Haesung and Rian. He hides behind the corner of the hall and listens in to their conversation, anticipating what drama-esque dialogue will befall upon his ears. Rian ends up speaking everything on his mind, every single rotten black-hearted word that he’s been thinking. “You don’t deserve him,” “You ruined his career,” “This entire contest is a scheme,” and “He lost the moment he chose you.” It relieves the breath he doesn’t realize he’s been holding and he leans back onto the wall, body sliding down the cold plaster. He sits there long after his deed of eavesdropping and feels disgusting all over. Because, he’s supposed to be a friend—of Haesung, not JB—and he should be rooting for his friend’s happiness. And all JB wants is Haesung to reciprocate his love, so he should be selfless for the sake of love. But he isn’t, and being Yoojin’s friend isn’t enough of a reason for him to step all over their bliss.
He’s a black-hearted soul, and all Ui Bong really wants is to be the sole object of Jang Woo Jae’s desire. He’s tired of being a shadow, he’s a moon without a sun.
He really shouldn’t, but he follows Haesung the next day—inconspicuously making his way behind the two and hiding out at the last row of the theatre. He has front row seats and he watches Haesung trample all over JB’s façade. “I don’t like the you now, I like the you who’s onstage,” she says. It’s absurd, he thinks, how she’s trying to salvage the corpse that she threw over the cliff herself. Absurd and stupidly frustrating, because she’s the cause of everything and this isn’t even much of a solution. Not when Woo Jae is looking so crumbled, so fallen apart as he cries until his voice breaks. He’s begging her to stay, promises of “I’ll be whoever you want me to be” and questions of “What did I do wrong?”
“Nothing.” He whispers.
“Everything.” He screams.
You shouldn’t have come here to Kirin High School, shouldn’t have fallen out of love with Lee Jikyung, and shouldn’t have fallen in love with Shin Haesung. Is it even love?, Ui Bong wonders. Or is it just the idea of meeting someone so plain, so normal, so different from your everyday life. If so, then why isn’t it me?
Or maybe, it is love. At least, that’s what it feel like at the moment where Ui Bong can see JB’s heart break into glass shards. It drops all over the carpeted floor and the tears that flow down the male’s cheek lingers on the glass surface. “Don’t leave me,” he cries but Shin Haesung leaves without even turning back.
By the time Ui Bong makes it out of the cinema, all he sees is red—red all over his sun, his star, his soul—and it takes everything he has and doesn’t have to stop himself from pushing Haesung into the passing cars. He pushes her onto the jagged asphalt instead, screaming at the top of his lungs. People are staring but he doesn’t care, not when JB is lying lithe—dead—in front of him. “Why do you have to ruin everything?!” He shouts. “Why do you have to break everything you have?! Everything that you don’t deserve?!”
Useless, she’s useless. He hates her, loathes her, despises her. Shin Haesung is the plague upon Earth and Ui Bong wants to burn her at stake.
But he doesn’t.
Because he knows that, unconscious and broken, JB still loves Shin Haesung until the end of time.
So he lets the paramedics take them all into the ambulance, and lets her hold JB’s hand on the way to the hospital. He lets her cry as if she’s the victim here—she’s not. But it all snaps when she cries into Yoojin’s arms, and all the rage that he’s been suppressing comes back. He pulls her back and pushes Yoojin away with a force that even surprises him. “Don’t fucking act like you’re the one wronged,” He grits through his teeth. “You caused everything,” He reminds her.
“You too.” He says to Rian.
“All of you.” He spits out as he walks out of the corridor, slamming his body past Yoojin.
Seul holds him that night and he cries all his tears out, until he feels like a desert—empty and dying. He’s sick and tired of all his emotions and he only wants to be the happy and optimistic Ui Bong he was before JB crashed into his life like meteors upon Earth.
“Seul-ah”, he cracks.
“I want to give up.”
“On your one sided love?”
Ui Bong visits JB every other day, but he never makes it past the ward door. He doesn’t need his company, Ui Bong reconfirms, as he sees the same image for the second week in a row. It’s either Rian or Haesung who falls asleep at the bedside, fingers entangled with the unconscious boy.
Stupid, he thinks, they’re messing up the intravenous needle.
Stupid, he thinks, you’re not supposed to care anymore.
And with that, he leaves without looking back, walking back down the empty corridor. He tries not to come back the next day.
He does anyways, and he’s there watching through the glass window when JB wakes up. He’s dazed, thoughts discombobulated as he makes his way up to a sitting position. Ui Bong catches the way the other’s hands fall onto his leg and the suffocating hands are back around his heart. It hurts all over again and when JB turns to meet eyes with him, Ui Bong sprints down the hallway.
He’s running away.
He hasn’t a reason to stay.
He doesn’t visit JB again after his last escape, but attentive as always, he catches Haesung preparing lunchboxes in the communal kitchen during the wee hours of the day. He walks past her and reaches for the fridge handle, hands trembling. He doesn’t talk to them anymore—the only one he ever confides in is Seul and she keeps all of his secrets for him. None of the others will ever understand, and he still despises them; Haesung, Rian, and Yoojin altogether.
He shouldn’t though.
But the blood in his veins are black, and his soul is green.
With envy, with hate.
He doesn’t think he’s ever wanted to leave Kirin High School this much before. Seul helps him later that night as they’re both preparing transfer documents. She has to go to London and Ui Bong thinks he wants to go back home—where the only worries in the countryside was the next day’s weather. (It was important though, the harvest depended on it.)
He hands in his documents the next week, coming out of the staff room to see Haesung and JB—hand in hand. It pokes at old wounds but Ui Bong shrugs it off, walking around them to go back to his dorm room. He hides under his covers and doesn’t come out for dinner. The suffocating feeling never really goes away and Ui Bong feels out of breath always.
He tries to dance it off, but it doesn’t work and he’s losing breath during routines he’s perfected years ago. He stops dancing twenty minutes in and sits in the middle of the dance room instead, closing his eyes and listening to the beat of the music. JB’s voice is resonating around the room, bringing back old memories of dance practice and live performances. It’s the same arrhythmic beat as the palpitations of his heart and it reminds him how out of synch he was, how his heart was still healing. Ui Bong thinks he’d like it if his heart would stop beating for a while.
It does; skips a beat when someone shuts the music. And Ui Bong’s eyes jolt open to find JB staring at him—black eyes gazing into his soul. Ui Bong tries to run away again, legs failing him as he stumbled to his feet. JB catches him by his wrist and Ui Bong doesn’t find the strength to push him away.
“I’m done with the practice room.” He finally lets out when he finds the little wisp of air left in his lungs.
“I don’t mind if you stay,” the other male replies and he gives off the same sheepish grin that first caught Ui Bong’s attention. It reminds him of too many one-sided reminiscences and Ui Bong only nods, moving to the bench at the back of the room. He pulls the hood of his sweater over his head and the sleeves over his hands. Sinking back into the wall, Ui Bong watches JB dance through his bangs. He’s a shadow again, staring at the sun.
The music changes in genres and Ui Bong notices how JB still moves fluidly on one foot—controlled movements flowing into one another. But it’s dangerous and his heart still clenches when he notices the small grimaces on the other’s face. “Stop it.” He lets out. JB does stop, looking back at him in surprise. “You’re not supposed to be dancing.” He continues and JB frowns. “I have to be ready for the revival round.” The singer retorts.
It makes Ui Bong want to laugh, and he wants to yell back, “You wouldn’t be like this if you didn’t settle on Shin Haesung.” But he doesn’t and bites back his words till he’s pretty sure there’s blood on his tongue.
JB doesn’t resume dancing despite his words though and he settles next to Ui Bong on the bench. “You were our back dancer once.” He starts and Ui Bong nods idly, “I was fired because of you.”
“Don’t be. They wanted to fire me before that too.”
“Oh.” JB says, hand habitually rubbing the nape of his neck. Ui Bong lowers the hood over his eyes and rests his head on the wall. “I first met you three years ago, you know.” He says in Kyungsangdo accented Korean, intonations going up and down. He continues without letting JB reply. “You were the kid that caught everyone’s eyes—filled with passion and potential.”
“Did I catch your eye?” JB asks with a chuckle.
Ui Bong nods.
“You were all I saw for three years,” JB stops chuckling and he continues. “I don’t want to see you anymore.”
“I want to see myself.”
It’s a confession and a farewell all at once, so subtle that Ui Bong knows JB won’t be quick enough to catch his meaning. And when he leaves the practice room, the gears in JB’s mind still haven’t turned. They crank painfully slow, oxidized metal yet to be oiled, and Ui Bong spends all his time on the school roof now.
Ui Bong focuses on his performance with Seul, filling up all his idle time—she’s still insistent on singing ‘Dirty Cash’ even though he’s sure all it’ll result in is a heart attack. And he’s not that amused to be meeting her father for the first time in such a state. Seul only rolls her eyes when he asks for the third time, “Should we have paramedics here just in case?” She ends up changing the song in the end, when he’s finally convinced himself of their initial choice. He’s not that enthused for going back on words but when he finds that it’s not his first meeting with her dad, he’s more than glad that their principal isn’t in a state of cardiac arrest. He receives the balloon with a rigid smile and Seul runs back onstage, singing of childhood memories. Ui Bong tries to think of his happiest memories as well, but he keeps going back to caramel eyes and soft smiles. The two marks on his eyelid seem like stars in the night sky. His balloon is lost in space and deflates.
Seul still has to leave though. She’s promised her mother after all.
And with everyone fussing over Haesung’s farewell, Ui Bong doesn’t see the need to announce his own. Seul doesn’t expose his secret either and they spend the days packing their luggage.
Ui Bong gifts most of his stuff to his (friends?) roommates—dumping them into their respective drawers. He doesn’t exactly want to take anything along with him. All it’ll do is remind him of everything he’s trying to forget on lonely nights. He stuffs the songs he’s written over the past three years (songs no one else even knew existed) through the slot under JB’s door when he isn’t there.
He knows JB won’t look at them though. The, now, brunette was still hung over the song Haesung wrote for him. The one he sang with Rian—the one about “being” and “having.” All of Ui Bong’s songs are about “maybe” and “perhaps.”
They don’t really exist.
He doesn’t know though, that JB returns from the dance room to find the compositions spread across his dorm floor. Open window letting in the spring breeze, the compositions flutter like flower petals. Ui Bong doesn’t hear how JB spends the night strumming the melodies on his guitar. He doesn’t know that JB knows the songs aren’t from Haesung or Rian. But even if he does, Ui Bong likes to think he won’t care.
He’s given up, remember?
It’s okay, Ui Bong forgets sometimes too.
He returns to his room to see Seul on his bunk bed, headphones on and staring at the ceiling. Hong Joo’s huddled on his bed, eyeing her as if she’s a panther ready to attack. Ridiculous, he thinks and climbs in next to her. If anything, she’s a stray cat—feed her some fish and she’s all docile. He hears her music past her headphones (she must be going deaf by now) and bobs along to HershE’s ballad. The refrain fades into Ailee’s solo and Ui Bong thinks Seul is just as miserable as he is—if not more. She’s not even a shadow, they’re not in the same orbit. He throws her a comforting smile that she doesn’t return. Hong Joo still looks like he thinks she’ll bite and Yoojin has the same frozen expression when he walks through the doors to see Ui Bong resting his head on Seul’s shoulder.
Scandalous, he thinks.
He could care less.
When no one can find JB the day of the last round, Ui Bong isn’t that surprised. It’s Haesung’s departure day, after all. Perhaps, he’s in front of her right now—begging her not to leave again, the same tears that he saw in the cinema running down his face. A part of him doesn’t want Haesung to leave, because she’d be stepping all over the fragments of JB’s heart. She should turn back, hold him in her arms and let the tears drop onto the fabric of her shirt. They shouldn’t crash to the cement ground. Another part of him wants him back onstage, performing what he’s been practicing for the past few weeks. He deserves this, and with Shin Haesung gone—the pacemaker, Jin Yoojin, back in his role—JB should finally find his deserved role of a Super Idol.
Ui Bong realizes how wrong he is when JB actually appears at the doorframe, and he notices how the other was trying to catch his breath. Notices how the other’s forehead crinkles together in hidden worry. He’s been staring at Jang Woo Jae long enough to string together bits and pieces into a coherent thought. It makes Ui Bong want to cry all over again.
The tears flow without stopping, silent sobs starting in the middle of nowhere, as he watches JB through the glass monitor. Don’t do it, he cries. Sing instead, why won’t he sing instead? And the lump in his throat solidifies permanently when JB crashes onto the wooden stage, face contorting and leg bleeding. Rian runs out of the room and Yoojin follows. Ui Bong doesn’t—he doesn’t have the qualifications to.
He’s still a shadow, flickering in candlelight as he slides down the doorframe listening in to a conversation that wasn’t his. JB’s gone—nonexistent—and Jang Woo Jae is thanking Lee Jikyung for everything’s she done. That it’s not her fault he ended up like this—but it is—and the black in Ui Bong’s soul settles along the crevices. He doesn’t want him to forgive her, doesn’t want him to smile like nothing’s happened—as if all these years of dreams and effort didn’t go down the drain.
And it makes him see why JB would never be in love with Jung Ui Bong—he’s horrid, selfish, and terrible. Haesung returned him to the stage, Jikyung gives him the reason to be grateful, and all Ui Bong does is hate, hate, hate. He’s a speck of dust in Jang Woo Jae’s world and all he does is produce useless detestation.
He hates unreciprocated love.
He hates the world.
He hates himself.
Little boy in a big, big world.
Little boy with the black heart.
Ui Bong leaves before the black consumes him from the inside.
Seul’s on an airplane to London by the time he’s back home, staring out the bus window at the countryside sky. It’s so empty, void of tall buildings and bustling city life. The calm is good, he assumes. If only his mind would blank out as well. He’s thinking in white noise—all the faces are filled with static as sleep overcomes him and his eyelids fall over. He dreams in black and white that day.
The bus jolts to a stop and Ui Bong slowly opens his eyes, mind still dazed with slumber as he jumps off the bus, luggage in tow. It’s late night already and he hopes he doesn’t give his grandma a heart attack when she finds him in the morning. The wheels on his suitcase drag along the uneven road and Ui Bong finds his way back home. The countryside silence deafens him and he doesn’t hear the wooden doors creak as he pushes them aside.
It’s unchanged—that’s the first thought, still the same cosily put together shack. It’s under renovated, with roofs that leak during storms and he’s pretty sure half of the floorboards are cracked. But it’s home and the tension in Ui Bong’s shoulders dissipates when he surrounds himself in the long-missed sense of ‘belonging.’ Picking up his suitcase, he tries to make it to his room with minimal noise. (His grandma was a light sleeper. All the elderly were.) And when he does, he throws himself upon his mattress, sinking into his blankets. It smells like the rose scented softener they sell at the village convenience store and Ui Bong fills his lungs with it. Little buds bloom at the end of his alveoli and he doesn’t mind the thorns that prick into his bronchioles.
It’s a comforting pain, numbing at most, and Ui Bong feels like he can breathe again. The air is cleaner here too, devoid of all the pollution that inhabited Seoul air. Fresh oxygen is good for the soul—white thoughts, white thoughts. It’s probably good for his heart too—it’ll heal faster. Counting his breath instead of sheep, Ui Bong falls asleep without thinking for the first time in six months.
He wakes up to the high pitched scream of his grandmother and he wants to throw the blankets over his head—but he’s too fatigued to move, so he settles on a “Grandma, I’m moving back” instead. It stops her yelling and she doesn’t ask anymore (she’s always understanding) and proceeds back out the door. It’s not long before he smells the fragrance of food and hears the clinking of pots. And when he appears at the dining table half an hour later, the only thing she says is, “Go wash up first.”
Her acceptance reminds him of Seul (or maybe Seul reminds him of his grandma) and he hopes the other was having a good time in London. But most likely not, since she doesn’t have the fresh air and rose scented blankets that he has. He should send some over when he finishes unpacking, a small vial of oxygen and a snippet of fabric. “I’ve found the hidden remedy for recuperation!” He’ll write in his letter. Knowing Seul though, she’ll probably ship him a box of polluted London fog and a towel that reeks of the hotel she stays in.
She doesn’t fail to meet his expectations.
His grandma finds it endearing and hilarious, and speaks to Seul over the phone the whole afternoon. They make fun of him half of the time and Ui Bong thinks it’s horrible. He has two Lee Seul’s in his life to remind him of his faults. He hopes she has another Jung Ui Bong to tease the life out of her. And also to hold her hand and tell her, “it’s okay, we’re both broken.”
Time is the remedy for everything, and Ui Bong watches sand slip through hourglasses. It’s too slow, he frowns, and the black is still there in his heart. He thinks of JB when it’s too quiet at night and he’s suddenly writing songs onto his bedroom wall. He thinks of him in the morning too, it’s the first thought he wakes up to when the rain leaks through the roof. There are raindrops falling on his face and Ui Bong thinks he’s crying in his dreams.
“It’s unrequited love,” he tells the neighbourhood kitten. “He barely knows I exist,” he says while petting the spotted feline. He meows in response and he picks up another piece of tuna to feed him; “We never even really talked.”
“Sometimes I really wonder why I fell in love at all,” he mutters as Mijoon (he thinks it’s a good name for a cat) nuzzles into his hand. It’s probably his smile—the stupid grin that he sees reflected in the dance mirror that day. The one where his eyes disappear and Ui Bong can see all of his perfectly straight, white teeth. It makes flowers bloom on his skin and butterflies flutter somewhere in his stomach. Or maybe it’s his eyes, caramel stars that seem to look straight back into his when they both stare into the large mirrored wall. But whatever it is, Ui Bong should forget about it since he’ll never be seeing any smiles or eyes anywhere else but his dreams.
It’s also the way he strives and strives for his dreams, but that’s gone now too. Picking up Mijoon, Ui Bong walks back towards the store, petting the kitten to sleep.
He’s out delivering orders when he hears the sound of guitar strings. It surprises him enough that he jams the breaks of his bicycle and nearly falls onto the gravel pathway. It disrupts his equilibrium and Ui Bong feels his lungs deflating—because in a town of elderly (all the youths left once they had the chance to), there should be nothing but silence. There’s no music, no dreams, no clamour—there’s only silence and rhythmic life. The sun rises and falls, the days go on—we all work and work.
But there’s the sound of the guitar again, strumming in A-minor (not G-minor that Yoojin was ridiculously obsessed with) and three quarter beats. It throws him off balance and he thinks someone must have opened that box of fog in the back of his closet. He senses the black in his cardiac muscle—the stains that hide and never go away—and it brings him back to memories he’s already severed.
He remembers dancing and singing, and B-grade lifestyles when he hears a voice accompany the guitar. One that he last heard broken and lifeless, thanking Rian for giving him everything.
This is his song.
This isn’t right.
And off he goes, Ui Bong pedals harder than he’s ever done and dashes back to the store. His boss throws him a weird glance that dismisses itself later because all the deliveries are done, and Ui Bong runs for the storage closet. He barricades himself in and listens to the sound proof walls—he only hears himself—breath shortening and heart drumming. No more music.
He focuses on his breath on his way home from work, and avoids his thoughts all the way through. He closes his ears and strays away from auditory hallucinations—inhale, exhale. White thoughts, white mind, white noise, white heart.
“He won’t love you,” he whispers.
Fall out, he reminds himself. Don’t fall into anything. You’d crash and die on hard asphalt. He’s seen JB on asphalt before—inhale. He’s seen JB crash under limelight—exhale. White thoughts, he mumbles meekly into the night air. But the black is growing and his mind is thinking again. He refuses, walking faster to reach his rose scented blanket. To which he opens the door with trembling hands and punctured lungs. He runs to his room and dives for his blankets—
He’s met with flesh and bones, and it’s not rose scented nor made of feathers. It smells like Seoul and it terrifies Ui Bong, attempting to clamber out this endless pit. A voice sings in his ears, the same notes he wrote four and a half years ago, and the hold around his waist tightens.
Life is a joke and all the black eats him alive.
“I’m Jang Woo Jae, and you are?”
“Jung Ui Bong.”
JB is dead—by homicide. Woo Jae doesn’t blame anyone for it because he’s the one who murdered him. He’s the soul who made all the decisions.
“I think about you a lot.”
“Me too, but mostly on rainy nights.”
“I knew you were always around the corner.”
“I just never figured out why.”
The gears in his head set in place the day Ui Bong disappears and all he’s left with is a room full of scattered music sheets. There’s an odd feeling in his chest and he remembers the boy that stood to the left of him during their dance routines.
“I memorized all the songs you wrote.”
“I’ll memorize the ones on your wall too.”
“Am I too late?”
Ui Bong cries with the falling rain, and Woo Jae tries to ignore the throbbing pain in his knees. He wants to fall in love, properly, this time. He doesn’t want to let go like he did with Jikyung or Haesung.
“I can’t love you.”
“You only make me hate.”
“It’s okay, I’ll wait until you love.”
Woo Jae waits; six years and fourteen weeks until Jung Ui Bong learns to love himself (and others) before he lets himself love Jang Woo Jae.