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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

13

Chapter 13

25

Did I mess up somehow? Where did it go wrong? Just yesterday, he thanked me and everything seemed fine. Does he regret what he said? Maybe he’s worried I’m reading too much into something he said while drunk. If that’s not it, then what else could it be? Why isn’t he talking to me? Does he just not want to?

 

I kept speculating about why Dongju was acting so differently. My thoughts would break off, only to pick up again with another round of questions.

 

I kept swinging back and forth between “Could it be this?” and “No, it can’t be.”

 

One thing was clear: Dongju Choi wanted to keep his distance. He acted as if that day never happened.

 

“I couldn’t have cried in front of anyone else. But with you, Woogi…”

 

If I’d known he’d be like this, I wouldn’t have let those words affect me so deeply. I placed my hand on my chest and gently rubbed where his words had struck me.

 

One day went by, then two, then three…

 

When Dongju visited the security office, he drank silently. He still chased away the male students who came by, shared kimbap and almonds with me, and we both took turns playing music, but…

 

That was it.

 

He stopped joking around and didn’t say the silly things he used to. Realizing he was intentionally distancing himself felt like a sandstorm was raging in my heart, the grains leaving countless tiny scratches on my soul.

 

I tried to adapt to his cold demeanor. Honestly, I didn’t see any other option.

 

If Dongju pretended not to notice, I did the same. I stepped back as much as he did, even becoming a bit cold myself.

 

But yesterday…

 

A loud bang startled me from behind.

 

I flinched. What was that noise? What broke? Did someone get hurt? I hesitated to turn around, worried that Dongju might think I was meddling or interfering unnecessarily.

 

Then, he spoke.

 

“Woogi… should I stop drinking?”

 

It felt like the walls themselves were asking me, and I hesitated, unsure of how to respond. A flood of thoughts overwhelmed me.

 

Why is he asking this now? Does it mean he won’t come to the security office anymore? Is he indirectly asking if he should stop coming altogether? No, I don’t want him to stop coming…

 

I wasn’t sure if I had understood his intentions correctly or if my response was appropriate. But I didn’t want to just let the moment slip away when Dongju spoke to me.

 

I hesitated briefly, then shook my head.

 

Caught in another whirl of thoughts, I wondered why he would suddenly ask such a question. Did he think I didn’t want him at the security office anymore? Or was he genuinely questioning his drinking habits? What had prompted him to ask me that?

 

It felt like piecing together a puzzle as I considered various possibilities. And here I thought Dongju didn’t want to talk to me. But maybe that wasn’t the case. So why had he been so distant all this time, acting as if that day hadn’t happened?

 

If he was trying to pretend nothing had occurred, did he regret something about that day? An incident flashed through my mind—the crying. Was his awkwardness around me because of that? Not making eye contact, not speaking—could that really be the reason? Was his question about stopping drinking actually him asking if he should quit to avoid a repeat of that day’s emotions? Had I responded correctly by saying no?

 

“Excuse me, Ma’am.”

 

“…”

 

“Ms. Woogi Kim.”

 

“…Huh?”

 

“What are you thinking so deeply at the dinner table?”

 

“Oh… nothing.” I withdrew my spoon from the soup, set it down, and turned to my mom. “Mom.”

 

“Yes, my dear?”

 

“Have you ever cried in front of someone?”

 

“In front of someone? Hmm… yes.”

 

“How was it when you saw them again?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I mean, wasn’t it a bit… embarrassing?”

 

“Well… not really if it was someone close.”

 

“What if it wasn’t someone that close?”

 

“If it wasn’t… well, there probably wouldn’t be a reason to cry in front of them in the first place, but yes, it might be a bit awkward.”

 

I nodded. “Right.”

 

Of course. Anyone would be embarrassed to cry in front of someone.

 

“What do you usually do if something’s embarrassing?” I asked.

 

“I just laugh it off. Or I might avoid them because it’s awkward.”

 

“Hmm.” I slowly nodded.

 

Yes, you might avoid seeing that person again if you were embarrassed.

 

I thought back to how Dongju had been over the past few days. It didn’t seem like he was doing it because he disliked me… Although he did avoid eye contact…

 

“Why do you ask?”

 

“Oh. Just curious.”

 

***

 

Let’s reflect on how Dongju Choi responded when I felt embarrassed.

 

“They owe you their lives.”

 

“The guys who used to visit the security office. They’re still around because you stayed silent.”

 

That day, after receiving so many misunderstandings from Professor Kang without defending myself, Dongju said those words to me. Although I was embarrassed to face him, what he had said made me feel a lot better.

 

“That friend of yours really appreciates it. That’s no small thing.”

 

Mom was right. Dongju quickly grasped my feelings and thoughts, caring in his own subtle way. I always figured it out too late.

 

I sensed that I might have embarrassed him. But yesterday, he spoke to me first. Despite the awkwardness, he had mustered the courage…

 

I twirled the drawstrings of my hoodie. Was there anything I could do to ease the awkwardness when he arrived later?

 

I looked up at the clock. It was past two. No sign of him yet.

 

Why wasn’t he coming? Usually, he would have arrived by one at the latest. Was he not coming today?

 

I swiveled the chair to glance at the spot where Dongju usually sat.

 

I got up and crouched in front of the fridge. When I opened it, there was half a bottle of soju.

 

I closed the fridge door and looked around the security office. The almond box caught my eye. Peeking inside, I saw that it was almost empty.

 

I closed the box.

 

In the end, Dongju didn’t show up. When my shift ended, I left the office and scanned the lawn and the Humanities building. I carefully observed the people passing by, but I didn’t see Dongju. I turned around and headed toward the main gate.

 

***

 

Knock, knock.

 

“I’m here for the parcel that arrived for Professor Hwang in the Philosophy Department, Humanities building?”

 

I lifted my head at the mention of the Philosophy Department.

 

…It wasn’t Dongju.

 

Why isn’t it Dongju?

 

“What’s the matter?” asked the stranger.

 

Feeling embarrassed, I bowed my head. I fumbled for the parcel, my head spinning.

 

Why did someone else come instead of Dongju? This had never happened before.

 

I handed out the parcel through the window and watched the back of the person taking it. A chilling sense of foreboding ran down my back.

 

Dongju hadn’t shown up yesterday or today. He hadn’t even come to pick up his package.

 

The idea that this was all just coincidence was fading fast. If Dongju was deliberately staying away… why? Was he avoiding me so much that he wouldn’t even come to the office for work?

 

But he’d spoken to me just the other day…

 

“Woogi… should I stop drinking?”

 

I had shaken my head in answer. There was no need to stop drinking. That meant crying was okay. Wasn’t that the question?

 

Should I have nodded instead? Brushed it off? Did I take it too seriously? Maybe he interpreted it in a totally different way…

 

I nervously picked at my nails. The thought of Dongju not coming to the security office—not tomorrow, not the day after, not ever—raced through my mind. If he was being serious…

 

I couldn’t finish the thought.

 

I looked down. The box of almonds I bought this morning was there.

 

My eyes felt sore. It felt like shards of glass were lodged in my heart.

 

I pressed my hands around the top of my chest. I didn’t want to keep this feeling inside me.

 

Wouldn’t he come to the office if it wasn’t awkward? If I told him there was no need to feel embarrassed, maybe he’d come back. Like the time he confided in me, couldn’t I do the same for him?

 

I looked out the window toward the Humanities building. Maybe this time, I could say it more clearly, ensuring he knew exactly what I meant. Maybe I could even write him a letter…

 

I imagined myself delivering a letter to him. Going to the Humanities building… entering the department office… Well, entering might be a bit much. It would look strange. Maybe I’d wait at the end of the hallway until he came out, and thenI’d give him the letter.

 

Imagining myself delivering the letter made my heart beat a little faster, as if I truly was about to meet him. But what if he didn’t like it? What if he asked why I came? What if it was awkward?

 

For a moment, I thought that maybe it would be better not to go.

 

I fiddled with my pen.

 

No, Dongju wouldn’t do that. Even if he did, I could just listen and leave. No big deal. Better than doing nothing, right?

 

I placed my hand over my heart and reassured myself.

 

I can do this. It’s not hard. Maybe Dongju will open up. All I have to do is hand it to him and leave.

 

I took out paper and a pen.

 

***

 

Dongju walked out of the department office and down the hallway. He felt a numbness in his hands. Since coming to work, he hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol. Repeatedly, he clenched and unclenched his fists.

 

Two thoughts circled continuously in his mind. Both were things he wished would disappear, yet at the same time, he also hoped they would linger.

 

Dongju splashed water on his face. He didn’t want to eat or move. His body felt heavy, like water-soaked cotton. It felt like it was protesting. There was somewhere he wanted to go, something he wanted to see, but why was he stuck here?

 

He felt increasingly damp and clammy.

 

He let out a long, deep sigh.

 

Since earlier, a sound had been approaching and receding behind him—the sound of footsteps. Someone seemed to be following him.

 

What the…?

 

As Dongju was about to turn around, he felt a tapping on his elbow. Instantly, a memory of Woogi grabbing his elbow flashed through his mind. It had happened right around here, too…

 

Dongju turned around.

 

Although he did have a feeling it might be Woogi…

 

“What… are you doing here?” he asked.

 

He really hadn’t expected it. He had been overthinking so much that it felt like she had popped right out of his head and materialized in front of him.

 

Dongju swallowed hard, trying to remember the expression he had just made. He hoped it was just a surprised face, nothing more. Woogi was looking up at him, holding something in her hand.

 

Dongju spoke as calmly as he could. “Why did you come?”

 

Woogi held something out to him.

 

It was a can of coffee and a piece of paper.

 

Dongju received the items as if they were dangerous goods. “What’s this?”

 

He studied Woogi’s expression.

 

She seemed to be doing the same, glancing at Dongju’s left and right eyes one at a time. Her face was slightly stiff, clearly nervous about how he would react.

 

Dongju looked down at the paper. It was folded twice. He unfolded it once. What could be written on it? Despite thinking it would be blank, he hoped there was something. If there was, it shouldn’t be anything regrettable, yet he feared it could be.

 

Dongju unfolded the paper again.

 

There, in neat handwriting:

 

Don’t feel embarrassed about that day you got drunk and blacked out. I hope that’s not the reason you stopped coming to the security office.

 

A laugh escaped Dongju as if the air had been let out of him. Woogi assumed he was just a little embarrassed. If that’s what she thought, it was a relief. A clear relief, but…

 

Dongju felt something inside him being swept away, like the receding tide. He raised the sheet of paper to shield his face from Woogi’s gaze and clenched his teeth.

 

He wanted to say it was more than just embarrassment. He had desperately hoped Woogi would understand that feeling. Even if Dongju hid it behind an expressionless face, retreated, or fled, he had hoped Woogi would recognize it.

 

Dongju felt childish and pathetic for hoping so. He suppressed the feeling rising from his chest to his throat.

 

This is the right thing.

 

He put on an indifferent expression and lowered the paper.

 

It was becoming increasingly difficult to act nonchalant toward Woogi. He felt his best bet would be to give her a polite response and send her off.

 

With strained calmness, Dongju said, “Did you come all the way here just to tell me not to be embarrassed?”

 

Woogi nodded.

 

Seeing her expression, which seemed to know nothing, a tightness filled Dongju’s chest.

 

Without realizing it, his tone turned cold. “It’s not that. I haven’t been coming to the security office because I’ve been busy lately.”

 

“…”

 

“Thanks for the coffee.”

 

“…”

 

“I’m going to go now.”

 

Dongju thought he had handled it well. It was the right thing to do.

 

Now I really have no reason to see her.

 

He turned around and started walking.

 

But…

 

After a few steps, he felt strangely off.

 

What’s this feeling?

 

A tingling sensation rose in his chest.

 

What did I just see?

 

A residual image lingered in Dongju’s mind. He tried to recall what that image was.

 

It was…

 

Woogi’s eyes.

 

The moment she heard the words “It’s not that,” her eyes had trembled slightly.

 

After blinking a few times, she gradually lowered her gaze. It seemed like she had momentarily fallen into deep thought, and her expression cooled.

 

In that brief moment, Woogi’s face shifted through a range of emotions, like a leaf transitioning to fallen foliage.

 

Dongju thought rapidly.

 

What did that expression mean? Why would she look like that when he said he wasn’t embarrassed? It was almost like she was disappointed, as if she was hoping that he’d feel embarrassed…

 

Dongju felt something was off. Why would Woogi come all this way just to tell him this? Was that something people normally did? Waiting for him to come out of the department office? Or… if not that, then what?

 

A thought popped into Dongju’s mind, but he couldn’t tell if it was a rational guess or just wishful thinking.

 

Was it because she wanted him to keep coming to the security office?

 

He worried he might be overthinking again. But the expression on Woogi’s face that he caught for a moment, the lingering feeling it left behind—it wasn’t just his imagination. Could that look really mean what Dongju thought it did? If not, how else could you explain this situation? Could this really be just another form of consideration?

 

But if it wasn’t just kindness, if Woogi had some intention, then what should Dongju do? Should he pretend to be oblivious to her intentions?

 

However, contrary to such thoughts, Dongju’s steps slowed. He genuinely wanted to know if Woogi’s expression meant what he thought it did. Did she see Dongju slightly differently from everyone else? Even a little? Did she feel curious or disappointed when he wasn’t around, or was it that she wanted to see him again?

 

He stopped walking to plead with himself. Can’t I just confirm it? I just want to know. Nothing more…

 

Dongju turned around. Woogi was still standing there as if frozen in place.

 

Seeing that, Dongju lost the last of his patience.

 

“Woogi… What was that look for?”

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