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Please Don't Talk to Me by bbangduksi. A shy woman is hiding behind a tipsy man holding a bottle of soju.

Please Don't Talk to Me

12

Chapter 12

8

Dongju walked into the security office with a sense of dread. It was like stepping into a cage with a wild animal. Sure, Woogi’s actions were usually predictable. The real issue was Dongju’s own reactions to her.

 

He mentally prepared himself: No unnecessary remarks, keep the friendliness in check, don’t give her any reasons to worry. He couldn’t afford another mishap like last time. If it happened again, he’d have to avoid coming here altogether.

 

With a tense hand, Dongju opened the door, took off his slippers neatly, and walked in. He chose a corner seat, his gaze catching Woogi’s back. Dongju shifted his chair to face the wall and pulled a soju glass from his pocket.

 

He felt like a cautious herbivore, sidestepping potential dangers one by one. This way, he thought, nothing should go wrong, and he might actually get through this peacefully.

 

Then Woogi moved, rustling something. Dongju’s head whipped around.

 

What was she up to now? Dongju watched her like a hawk, his body tensed.

 

Crunch, crunch.

 

A series of small, hard crunching sounds came from Woogi.

 

She was eating almonds.

 

The tension momentarily whooshed out of Dongju like air from a taut balloon. Woogi was just snacking.

 

But the relief twisted into something—a deflated, odd feeling. Dongju puzzled over this unexpected flicker of emotion.

 

Crunch, crunch.

 

She’s really enjoying them, Dongju thought, annoyance creeping in. How could Woogi eat those almonds so nonchalantly? They weren’t just any almonds; they were his almonds. How could she just pick them up and pop them in her mouth? Had she given any thought to who they belonged to, what had happened with him last time, or what he had said?

 

Dongju stared, half-expecting the crunching to stop, for Woogi to pause, to show some sign of acknowledgment.

 

Crunch, crunch.

 

But nothing changed. Woogi was as indifferent as ever. It seemed impossible for her to remain so unchanged.

 

Dongju’s confusion grew. Whether it was Professor Hwang or the guard, they showed concern even at the faintest whiff of alcohol on him. Did Woogi not care at all, even though she had seen him defeated, drinking and crying?

 

Dongju spun a lie so naturally that he almost believed it himself. Deep down, he didn’t truly view the warnings against drinking as expressions of concern. Yet, to question Woogi’s apparent indifference, he framed it differently in his mind—making it seem as though she was the outlier who didn’t worry about him like everyone else did.

 

The nagging question, “Why doesn’t she care?” circled in his head.

 

Did his tears mean nothing to her? Was he just another face in the crowd to her, just another person who drank too much and then left?

 

Disturbed by these thoughts, Dongju turned his back to block Woogi from his view. He took a swig of soju, trying to drown the troublesome question.

 

He reassured himself, Actually, it’d be weirder if she openly showed that she cared. Normally, you’re supposed to act like you didn’t see anything, like nothing ever happened. That’s probably what she’s doing—keeping her distance and not letting on.

 

In truth, there was little reason to think this way. But then again, why not? Dongju’s usually rational mind strayed down a winding path.

 

***

 

The office ceiling looked hazy as Dongju slowly woke from his sleep. Laying his arm across his forehead, he turned his head toward the window where Woogi was quietly typing away.

 

This moment always got to him—the ‘why’ moment. Why would she bother to type so quietly next to someone who had drunkenly passed out? Seeing Woogi like this, so unguarded, filled him with regret.

 

Dongju placed his hand on his chest and lay there for a while, his gaze fixed on Woogi’s back. It felt like he was still in a dream as he watched her.

 

Woogi didn’t look back. She seemed to know whether he was asleep or awake without having to look. She must hear the rustling, he thought, but such a sound was easy to miss unless one was really listening. If Woogi noticed such soft noises, did that mean part of her was always tuned in to him? His heartbeat thumped against the palm on his chest.

 

Dongju felt his body and thoughts spiraling out of control. How far would this go? Fear washed over him like a wave crashing from his chest to his throat.

 

He sat up abruptly.

 

A sudden thought dispelled the remnants of sleep: Would Woogi act the same way with anyone else? Was it only because he was the one here, in this office, that she showed any concern? If he left and someone else took his place, would she treat them the same?

 

His gaze fell.

 

Something inside was withering. Dongju chastised himself for feeling so weak and pathetic. Why did it matter? It was only natural to be treated like everyone else. Why should Woogi treat him any differently? Why did such an obvious thing make his mood plummet?

 

Dongju tried to shake off the discomfort by dismissing the emotions swirling within him. As before, if he just ignored these feelings, they would eventually stop affecting him.

 

He took a deep breath and steadied his mind.

 

Just like before… nonchalantly…

 

Dongju picked up his phone and disconnected it from the speaker.

 

As the song stopped, Woogi reached for her phone.

 

A beep echoed from the speaker, followed by the intro of a new song.

 

“…”

 

Dongju’s eyes flickered.

 

The song was “Flower Dance.”

 

It was a favorite of his that he’d played several times. He double-checked his phone—it was definitely disconnected. Turning his gaze to Woogi, he realized the music was coming from her phone.

 

His eyes locked on her. Did she know this song and choose to play it? Did she remember it was his favorite, that he had played it before? Or was it merely a coincidence? Did she really not know its significance?

 

The thoughts Dongju had just managed to calm roiled within him again. It almost felt like she was toying with him. His heart, parched for signs of connection, soaked up “Flower Dance” completely. His once-subdued thoughts now surged uncontrollably.

 

Would she do this for anyone else? Would she remember and play their favorite songs? Was this a generic gesture of kindness she offered universally?

 

Dongju was inclined to think it wasn’t. Music reflects personal taste, which is inherently intimate. One would have to be familiar with someone to engage with their musical preferences, which meant having at least some interest in them.

 

As he stared at Woogi’s back, a question came to mind.

 

Am I different from you? Do you wonder about my reasons for drinking, what happened that day? Are you concerned but just pretending not to be?

 

Dongju watched her until the song ended.

 

***

 

His pocket vibrated.

 

Dongju took out his phone. The screen showed an unknown number. He hesitated before answering.

 

“Hello?”

 

“…”

 

“Who is this?”

 

“…”

 

No response came from the other end.

 

Human intuition works in strange ways. Sometimes, a certain conviction rushes in for no reason.

 

Dongju felt a chilling certainty about who was on the line.

 

As the silence lingered, Dongju’s face hardened. Enough time had passed that, under normal circumstances, he would have hung up, assuming it was a wrong number.

 

Then, a familiar voice finally broke the silence.

 

“Dongju…”

 

The moment he heard those words, Dongju knew his intuition was correct.

 

Without hesitation, he hung up the phone.

 

His jaw tightened, and his hand shook as he clenched the phone. The tremor spread from his hand throughout his body. Dongju stood in the middle of the lawn, waiting for the shaking to subside.

 

After a moment, he walked back to the office. He took a deep breath before entering, then pulled a bottle of soju from the fridge and settled into a corner. Setting the glass and bottle on the floor, he pulled out his phone again, the caller’s voice still echoing in his mind.

 

Dongju stared at the soju glass and bottle. The caller had changed their number just to reach him, knowing he would otherwise ignore the call. They always seemed to call around this time, he realized. Perhaps he had known it was them even before he answered. Or maybe he had pretended not to know.

 

Maybe that was it.

 

Dongju poured himself a glass of soju and drank it in one go.

 

What did they want? Were they checking if he was okay, sharing their grief, or just making excuses? Or could they simply not let go? Dongju wanted no part of it. They should live their lives separately, each bearing their own burdens, sharing nothing.

 

Then, a whisper like the sound of metal echoed in his mind.

 

Can we ever go back?

 

Bang!

 

Dongju’s eyes turned intensely red. His vacant gaze sharpened, focusing on something in the distance. He felt a tremble in his left hand and looked down. The soju glass he was holding was cracked, and beneath it, his phone’s screen was also shattered.

 

Dongju looked up at Woogi, his eyes searching for any hint of concern. She continued typing, seemingly oblivious to the noise. A surge of emotion gripped him. She must have heard the crash—how could she not? Didn’t she wonder if he was hurt? His frustration grew; even a stranger would have turned around.

 

Glaring at Woogi’s back, Dongju felt an impulse to shake her, to force some acknowledgment from her.

 

Don’t you care? Not even a little?

 

Impulsively, he blurted out, “Woogi… Should I stop drinking?”

 

“…”

 

Woogi didn’t react.

 

Dongju swallowed. Surely, she must care as much as anyone else would. He clung to the hope of being at least somewhat significant to her. That response, any response, would give him something to hold onto, something he could interpret as he wished.

 

Then, finally, Woogi’s head moved.

 

Dongju watched her without blinking.

 

Woogi slowly shook her head.

 

“…”

 

Dongju’s heart sank. It felt like something inside him was collapsing, revealing harsh truths he had avoided. The realization that all the moments of apparent care from Woogi held no special significance. To her, he was just another person.

 

All the facts he had always known but refused to see laid bare…

 

Dongju nodded.

 

Got it. I understand now.

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