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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

14

Chapter 14

8

The hardest part is when the anger, tears, or sincerity first starts to break through. They seep out like a speeding object gaining momentum, hard to stop because of all the pent-up pressure inside. Even knowing it will end in a mess, it feels impossible to halt.

Dongju felt this acutely. The hardest part was turning to face Woogi, but once he did, it was like a force kept pushing him forward.

“Woogi… What was that look for?”

Woogi seemed to snap back to reality at Dongju’s voice. The expression she had worn earlier had vanished, tucked away out of sight. Now her face was blank.

To Dongju, Woogi looked like she was lying, trying to hide something. Anger bubbled up inside him.

Really? Acting like nothing’s wrong? You wait for me just to give me that note with that look on your face? Making me have all these thoughts? And now you’re pretending you don’t know anything about it.

Dongju was determined to break Woogi’s indifference. He didn’t care if the reaction was shock, disbelief, or sadness—he just wanted to shake her up, the more the better. He aimed to make it impossible for her to hide.

Dongju locked eyes with Woogi and said, “What if it’s because I felt embarrassed? And what if it’s because of you that I decide to return? How would you feel then?”

As he stared, Woogi’s eyes gradually widened. Her gaze flicked back and forth as if weighing her answer. Dongju felt a slight sense of relief; she didn’t look dismissive or indifferent. His questions had clearly put her in a tough spot, and oddly, that made him almost happy.

Woogi’s eyes darted around like they were on a swing. Dongju could see the thoughts swirling in her mind, and not knowing exactly what she was thinking made him tense.

He swallowed hard.

Each movement of Woogi’s eyes seemed to pulse through his heart faster. The silence stretched, and Dongju felt a growing anxiety. It seemed like Woogi might just stay silent.

This time, Dongju hoped for an answer, anything other than silence. He knew it was selfish, but he couldn’t suppress his need. He prepared to ask another question, something simpler, easier—something that might get a nod or a shake of the head in response.

Should I ask if she feels curious or disappointed if I don’t go? That’s too direct. Maybe if she thinks of me differently from others? That’s what I want to hear anyway.

Do you care about me?

Each question Dongju considered was heavily laden with his own hopes. In his mind, he wrote and erased each one.

“Hey, Dongju!” Professor Hwang’s voice rang out. “Come in and help me grade these East Asian philosophy quizzes.”

Dongju grimaced.

Why now, of all times?

Professor Hwang’s voice felt like an intrusion, the jarring noise of reality piercing a dream. It signaled that time was running out, that Dongju had to snap out of it. He felt an urgent need to hear Woogi’s response before the moment slipped away like a pumpkin carriage at midnight.

Just then, Woogi’s lips parted slightly. Dongju’s gaze flickered between her eyes and mouth, but she soon closed her lips again. A frown creased her brow; she clearly had something to say, yet it remained locked behind a barrier, unspoken.

Dongju wanted to coax it out, to help her find her voice, but his growing anxiety clouded his thoughts on how to proceed. The two of them stood awkwardly in the hallway, each caught in their own bubble of urgency and uncertainty.

“Dongju, come inside already. What are you doing?” Professor Hwang called again.

Woogi’s eyes darted between Professor Hwang and Dongju, her own tension palpable.

Dongju clung to a sliver of hope, thinking that perhaps under the pressure, Woogi might blurt out something. He remained rooted to the spot, holding onto that hope.

“Hey, did you hear me?” Professor Hwang said louder.

Dongju looked at Woogi.

“…”

“…”

Woogi’s gaze dropped to the floor.

Dongju felt a sinking sensation as well. The disturbance that had flickered across Woogi’s face faded, leaving her expression as calm as before.

It seemed she had decided to remain silent after all. Dongju had almost grasped a seashell from the ocean depths, but it slipped from his fingers before he could peer inside.

Is this really it?

He continued to stare at Woogi, his expression filled with lingering regret. Then, footsteps approached from behind.

“You’re really not listening to me, are you?”

This was the first time Professor Hwang had sounded so irritated. Dongju struggled to contain his anger.

What he really wanted was to pull Woogi aside and demand, “Why are you hiding? What’s so hard about being honest? Tell me everything that’s on your mind, without leaving anything out.”
But even the thought of doing that felt awkward, especially since Woogi had already regained her composure. A wave of emptiness washed over him.

Dongju tore his gaze from her.

“What are you two even talking about…”

Before Professor Hwang could finish, Dongju turned around and walked past him into the department office.

***

“Wasn’t that Woogi Kim, the guard, in the hallway earlier?”

“Yeah.”

“What were you two doing? She doesn’t talk much, does she?”

“She said the men’s toilets are often clogged.”

“Oh, good she brought that up.”

Dongju mechanically graded the tests while responding.

Professor Hwang took the graded tests from him, asking casually, “Are you two close?”

“No,” Dongju replied, his tone flat.

He drew a heavy, rigid circle on the test paper, his mind replaying the earlier encounter.

Why did I just stand there like a fool? What was keeping me from speaking up? I could have just asked something simpler, less direct… Woogi was definitely about to say something. If I’d just given her a little nudge, she would’ve talked. But I blew it… My question was all wrong. What was I thinking, asking so carelessly?

The more Dongju thought about it, the hotter his frustration burned. What was going through Woogi’s mind? Did she find it too burdensome? Troublesome? Was that why she hesitated? Or…

Dongju’s hand paused over the test paper, then resumed moving.

I should have listened. I should have found out what she was thinking. But now, I’ll probably never get the chance. This won’t happen again. I’m not going to the security office anymore, so it’ll be hard to even see her. Woogi won’t come looking for me either. So, this might be the last time we talk.

“Hey, hey. Did those papers do something to you? Be gentle.”

Dongju looked down at the test paper marked with red ink. His grip on the pen loosened. The thought of only exchanging passing greetings with Woogi filled his chest with a heavy, cement-like weight.

Reluctantly, Dongju resumed grading the tests.

Maybe it’s for the best if this is the last time we see each other. There’s no reason to keep this going. Knowing Woogi’s heart won’t change anything. I should just cover this up, not dig any deeper. It’s time to stop thinking about it. Just bury it and move on.

Like someone examining a photo before setting it on fire, the more Dongju told himself, “Forget it, let it go, move on,” the more vividly Woogi’s face appeared in his mind’s eye. He forced the image back, like closing a box that was about to burst open.

“Goodness. My eyes are going to fall out at this rate. Let’s take a ten-minute break. Just bring these finished ones to my desk,” Professor Hwang said, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes.

Dongju picked up the stack of tests and left the conference room, placing the tests on the professor’s desk.

Just as he was about to head back, Ahn called out to him.

“Dongju.”

Dongju turned to see Ahn pointing toward his seat. “I think you should check this out.”

Walking over to his desk, Dongju saw a folded piece of paper. He picked it up and heard Ahn say, “That female guard wrote it. She spent a while on it. Stayed for about thirty minutes.”

Hearing “that female guard,” Dongju paused with the paper in hand. Woogi wrote something and left after thirty minutes…?

A pulse throbbed at the tip of his fingers holding the paper. He unfolded it slowly as if someone else’s hands were doing it. His eyes narrowed as he read.

There were signs of erased writing all over, but one sentence had survived:

Working wouldn’t be entirely boring.

Dongju stared intently at the sentence.

“What if it’s because I felt embarrassed? And what if it’s because of you that I decide to return? How would you feel then?”

A slight smile curled one corner of Dongju’s mouth. He quickly flipped the paper over, hiding the sentence from view. He suppressed his smile, lifting his head to stare at a corner of the office. The sentence lingered in his mind, painting a picture of Woogi deliberating over those words for half an hour.

Before he knew it, both corners of his mouth had risen. He forced them down, biting his cheek to stop smiling.

Dongju felt Ahn glancing at him. Turning his back, he chuckled again, staring into space.

“What’s with you?” Professor Hwang had stepped out of the conference room and was looking at Dongju.

He made a puzzled face and remarked, “That’s an expression I’ve never seen before. I almost got the creeps.”

From his desk, Ahn added, “He’s been like that after reading the note left by the guard. It’s the first time I’ve seen him smile.”

Dongju forced his face to go blank before saying, “She said she’d unclog the toilet.”

Pocketing the paper, Dongju returned to the conference room.

***

As Dongju crossed the lawn, he bit his lip several times, determined not to show Woogi his smiling face. He wanted to appear as if he had come solely because she had asked him to, nothing more.

Arriving in front of the security office, he paused, his hand on the doorknob. He couldn’t linger too long; Woogi might have seen him approaching. Taking a deep breath, Dongju opened the door and stepped inside.

Woogi was glancing between her laptop screen and a chart, scribbling something before focusing intently back on the screen. For a moment, Dongju thought she was so engrossed in her work that she hadn’t noticed his arrival. Again, he bit his lip, suppressing a laugh as he had done in the grass earlier.

Trying to act nonchalant, Dongju pulled out some alcohol from the fridge and settled into a corner. Even after he sat down, he noticed Woogi’s ears remained red for a long time.

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