After the concert Taek couldn’t fall asleep. This time it wasn’t because thoughts of baduk – though he did have another match lined up the next day. It wasn’t also because of the familiar ache of longing and regret; for the first time since the past five years he actually felt free of those. In fact, Taek couldn’t sleep because he kept on replaying the night with Deoksun.
Deoksun watching the performance, and him watching Deoksun. Deoksun’s slow smile when she caught what’s going on even without looking at Taek. Her soft question, unheard in the loud performance in front of them: “What?” And Taek’s reply: a grin, a shake of head and another soundless answer; “Nothing”.
He once confessed to Sunwoo he thought he would die without Deoksun. He wasn’t wrong, but he didn’t expect how alive she could make him feel either. Like this, like his ribcage was not enough to contain all the senses and emotions running on high.
Taek placed a hand on his heart. Thump thump thump. Was his heart beating faster than usual? He frowned. Was he getting a heart attack? Can a person’s body actually sustain extended elation without it being harmful? Taek didn’t know. Ahjumma and Sunwoo were always telling him to exercise more, maybe he was finally paying the price of too much coffee and too little sun.
Forming a half thought to wake up earlier and collect the milk, his mind went back to the taxi ride home he shared with Deoksun.
“How was the concert Taek-ah? Did you like it?”
Taek nodded. “I like it.”
“Eyyy, Choi Taek 9-dan. Tell the truth, did you really like it?” Deoksun narrowed her eyes at him, part teasing part serious.
“I did, I do.” Taek turned to fully face Deoksun. “Why do you think I come all the way to the stadium?”
Deoksun blinked her eyes. Pause, and finally letting out a small laugh she said: “Good. I know what to give for your next birthday then.”
They grinned at each other.
Taek grinned in his sleep.
Taek fidgeted next to the base’s entrance. He contemplated lighting a cigarette while waiting but quickly decided against it, considering the time and place.
Despite Dongryong’s consistent teasing otherwise, Deoksun was very attractive. She was caring, friendly, smart and sweetly beautiful. Any guy would be lucky to be with her. Every time Taek heard Deoksun was meeting someone new, he couldn’t help feeling a sense of despair. What if this was the one to get Deoksun’s heart?
Taek could read the outcome of a baduk match hours before it ended. He could predict his opponents’ next move before they took it. In his mind he had played all possible moves and all possible consequences from the moves. Even before the turn returned to him, mentally he has played his next 2, 3 moves.
Deoksun was harder to read. Like an equally ranked opponent opposite the baduk board Deoksun hid her emotions with the same casual proficiency as Taek.
A flash with her encounter with the Burberry man: Deoksun impressively dismissing the man and Taek’s surprise as she cried afterwards.
Deoksun had many layers but Taek probably had a fighting chance of reading her out. She had been after all, at the top of his thoughts for years.
Taek was fairly sure Deoksun had no romantic feelings to the guy her senior introduced her to; she was willing to cancel her concert date to catch a movie with the rest of the guys. Taek also knew that Deoksun cared of him like no one else ever did. She anticipated his every needs and prepared for situations beyond Taek’s reckonings. Deoksun’s feelings for him though? Taek was not very sure.
But in this he was absolutely certain: Deoksun was his happiness, and if he wanted to take that chance he needed to make his move.
“Ya Choi Taek! What is this? What are you doing all the way here?”
Taek straightened and smiled at the sight of Junghwan approaching. He waved.
Deoksun was lovely, even when she was mad after being teased otherwise. In their neighbourhood there was another who thought the same, and there was a question asked a long time ago needing an honest answer.
“Did you look inside my wallet?”
Years ago Taek chose friendship over love. He was in love with Deoksun but he loved his friends as much too. He didn’t want anything to affect the friendship between the five of them; he wanted their relationship to remain the same.
But Taek was naïve in thinking he alone decided that. Distance and commitments took over and soon they found themselves seeing less and less of each other. He had chosen friendship over love, but in reality Deoksun was first and foremost his closest friend. The ache of unfulfilled love and regret drove him to drown his heartbreak with hard work, keeping himself busy that being able to see his friends became a rare occurrence.
In hindsight he should have been honest with Junghwan.
And he was trying this time. Taek was never good with words but this was even more difficult than usual —
“Stop creating such a pain for everyone and just go after Deoksun.”
Stunned, touched, and grateful, Taek knew he couldn’t possibly thank Junghwan enough with his words.
So he didn’t try.
Flashes of camera followed Choi Taek even after he had finished giving out his statement. Taek kept his face expressionless until they reached the elevator but the minute the doors closed in front of him, Taek slumped against its wall. No matter how many times he had done this, tournaments always seem to deplete the life out of his body. Right now he felt the only thing he was capable of doing was to go to his room, take his pills and sleep. Probably in the clothes he was wearing.
“Deoksun asked me to let her know when the match is finished.” Taek perked up and looked at the department head. Mr. Lee smiled at him, “Can you help me do that instead?”
The elevator reached his floor and dinged open. “I will do that. Thank you for letting me know.” He bowed at the man and stepped out. Taek made his way to his room, unlocking the door and heading straight to the phone. He dialled the number to Deoksun’s room and grinned at the barrage of questions from the other end.
“It is me, Taekkie.”
Dinner plan made, Taek looked at the clothes he was wearing. He hurriedly got up to change.
If Choi Taek was the type to pout, he would have done so. He had waited for a chance to be alone together with Deoksun again since the night of the concert. Taek planned to reveal his feelings; five years was a very long time to be in a one-sided love and he was keen to let Deoksun in on it.
Deoksun had looked absolutely beautiful too. She was dressed up and her hair was in a ponytail, Taek couldn’t help affectionately putting his hand on her. Everything had seemed aligned, until they bumped into their friends.
The dinner turned awkward afterwards. Taek lost his appetite, and Deoksun had to leave before him to check up on her roommate.
After the dinner was finished and Taek had paid for the meal, he went outside to light up a cigarette. Something caused him to look up and he saw Deoksun sitting at the lobby, looking at him. He slowly hid the stick. It had been years since he was an underage smoker but he always felt like one whenever someone caught him.
Taek awkwardly walked to Deoksun and discovered the reason of her being there: She was locked out of her room.
Taek weighted the options. He knew it was unseemly but he couldn’t bear to leave Deoksun waiting at the cold lobby too. He remembered Deoksun sleeping in his room after he accidentally made her nose bleed. Years before that Deoksun also slept in his room after she accidentally made his head bleed. Would he be inviting wound by asking her now?
“Sleep in my room.”
Deoksun was hesitant, silent for a few seconds before finally nodding.
Taek went to the bed, bundling up his blanket and pillow. He brought the bundle to the living room where Deoksun was waiting. Though he was tired, he felt good. Just being together with her has always brought out a deep set happiness from within him. He felt unguarded, free which was why he teased her:
“Make sure you lock your doors tonight. Who knows what I will do once I take the pills”
“Why? Are you going to kiss me again?”
Shock. Taek was stunned silent. His heart felt like it just stopped. His mouth felt dry and he forced himself to swallow.
“So… it was not a dream?” He slowly turned to face Deoksun. “Why… did you lie?”
Deoksun avoided his eyes as she answered, “I was scared.” Then she glanced at him, “We are friends… what if it got awkward?”
Taek looked away from her. Despite thinking that this too could happen, he was not prepared for how painful the reality was. He bled, hurt deeply. He felt a sense of anguish stronger than anything he has ever felt before.
Again, Taek thought, he wasn’t able to confess.
However, what if?
Taek had once chosen friendship over love. What he managed to do instead was hurt those he wanted to protect. Now, Taek was ready to choose love.
Deoksun had always given him whatever he needed, Taek willed for her to do it one more time. He looked carefully at Deoksun, “What about now?”
“It is awkward too now… But –”
Taek swooped in for a kiss. He could feel Deoksun’s surprise but the second Taek thought he should retreat, Deoksun responded. It was like offering water to a thirsty man; Taek leaned in more and deepened his kiss.
He poured all his feelings and longings into the kiss. It was a hello, a regretful goodbye and a reunion. The kiss conveyed his desperation, all that he felt about Deoksun that he didn’t manage to say, his yearnings and how deeply he has missed her all these years. Taek brought a hand to cradle Deoksun’s face, fingers caressing her cheek and hair, lips still locked. He brought his other hand to her face, wanting to touch and affirm himself that this was real and not another feverish dream brought by too many pills.
Oh, that was not a dream too.
Feeling extremely blessed, Taek gentled his kiss, kissing the side of Deoksun’s lips, and feeling the curve of her mouth turning upwards underneath his lips. He returned his hands to the chair’s armrest and rested his forehead against Deoksun’s, breathing the same air she was. His heart was beating rapidly in his ribcage, Taek thought it may never beat the same again. But it didn’t matter, his heart was not his anyway. Not since the day it belonged to Deoksun.
Deoksun opened her eyes. “Hm…?”
“You said but. But what?”
“Ya Choi Taek, do you expect me to still remember that after you...”
“After I what?”
Deoksun pinched him.
Pain administered, teasing stopped.
“I like you.”
“I like you, too.”
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?