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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

15

Chapter 15

23

Hmm… What’s the time?

 

I fumbled around my bedside for my phone.

 

5:24.

 

I was up thirty minutes early.

 

Setting my phone down, I pulled the blanket up and turned on my side. The room was cloaked in a blue darkness. I blinked and tossed around, trying to find a comfortable position.

 

For some reason, my mind was unusually clear. Laying back straight, I sighed.

 

Looks like I won’t be able to sleep anymore. Maybe I should just get up.

 

I picked up my phone, switched off the 6 a.m. alarm, and got out of bed. As I entered the living room, I could hear Mom busy in the kitchen. I brushed my teeth and came back out.

 

Mom glanced over. “You’re up already?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Got to go in early today?”

 

“No.”

 

“Then sleep some more. You have time.”

 

“I’m up now.”

 

“That’s not like you.”

 

“I know.”

 

I went back into the bathroom to rinse my mouth and wash my hair. After toweling off, I came out to the living room, now filled with the scent of something delicious cooking.

 

Mom, standing by the stove, said, “It’s not ready yet. You’ll have to wait.”

 

“Okay.”

 

I settled onto the sofa, my mind still sharp.

 

Why do I feel so awake? Did I go to bed early yesterday? No, I slept the same amount.

 

My gaze wandered around the living room, eventually landing on a mirror on the table. Picking it up, I inspected my face from different angles.

 

Are those just freckles under my eyes? When did I get so many? Were they always there?

 

I covered them with my hand, thinking how much clearer my face would look without them. Holding the mirror farther back, I scrutinized my entire face.

 

My hair length seems awkward. Should I cut it? Or let it grow out? Maybe it looks bushy because I didn’t use conditioner. Should I tie it up…?

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“Mom, when did I last cut my hair?”

 

“About two months ago? Maybe not even that long. Why?”

 

“It just feels a bit off.”

 

“Off? Where? It’s not time for a cut yet.”

 

“Is it not the hair, then? Is it my face?”

 

I looked into the mirror closely again.

 

“Woogi Kim.”

 

“Huh?”

 

I turned away from the mirror to see Mom standing there with a ladle in her hand. She had that look on her face, the one she wore when she was about to tease me, barely holding back a laugh.

 

“Why are you up so early today checking yourself out in the mirror?”

 

“What?”

 

“You used to complain about having to cut your hair every three months, so why do you suddenly think there’s something wrong with it?”

 

“I just happened to see the mirror on the table.”

 

I put the mirror down, and Mom gave me a ‘look at you’ expression before turning back to her cooking. She didn’t take her eyes off the frying pan as she said, “Come set the table.”

 

I got up from the sofa and went to the kitchen. I placed the spoons and brought some water to the table.

 

Mom sat down across from me, a smile playing on her lips. “How’s work these days?”

 

“Same as usual.”

 

“How about the people? Are they okay to be around?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Any nice people?”

 

“Everyone’s fine.”

 

“No, I mean, any nice guys?”

 

“What are you talking about?” I mumbled, shoving an entire rolled omelet into my mouth.

 

I touched my ear. It wasn’t as hot as yesterday.

 

The moment I saw Dongju heading toward the security office, I couldn’t even lift my head.

 

Working wouldn’t be entirely boring.

 

Thinking about him possibly having read my note made something inside me swell, like bread in an oven. As Dongju got closer, my ears warmed up. But as they cooled, another memory forced its way in—the look of disappointment on his face as he turned away without a response from me.

 

That look of emptiness… it made my heart shudder. If only I had spoken up then, he wouldn’t have looked so dejected. What if that expression came back? Could it happen at any moment?

 

Haa…

 

“What’s with the sigh?”

 

“Mom.”

 

“What?”

 

“Talking isn’t a big deal, right?”

 

Mom looked at me with slightly widened eyes.

 

“I talk just fine with you,” I continued. “It’s not that hard.”

 

“Is something wrong?”

 

“No, just…”

 

I swallowed the words, ‘I wonder what things would be like if I spoke.’

 

***

 

Dongju approached from a distance.

 

I looked at my watch; he usually would be in the department office by now. He was dressed in just a hoodie, seemingly unfazed by the cold. His slightly wavy hair danced in the wind, tangling and then smoothing out again. Dongju’s stride was long, his hands buried in his pockets.

 

As I shifted my gaze from his feet to his face, our eyes met.

 

A look of bewilderment flashed across his features, making him pause as if disoriented—like a malfunctioning robot vacuum struggling to find its way. Then, abruptly, he turned and headed back toward the Humanities building.

 

Moments later, he reappeared, marching back toward the office with a determined look, his eyes seemingly fixed on something beyond it. Maybe the roof or the trees behind. His steps were quick and deliberate, his expression solemn.

 

He stopped in front of a window. From below, I looked up at his face.

 

“Is there a package for Professor Hwang?” he asked, eyes not meeting mine but fixed on the window frame.

 

I bowed my head to check the mail records. No package for Professor Hwang.

 

I looked up again, meeting his gaze just as he looked away. I shook my head.

 

“It’s urgent,” Dongju said, looking into the distance.

 

His jaw was sharply angular like it was drawn with a ruler. His nose was straight, and his eyebrows were dense like a dark oak forest at dusk. His eyes were monolidded.

 

Dongju glanced down in my direction. Unintentionally, I avoided his gaze.

 

He coughed and said, “I guess it hasn’t arrived.”

 

He tapped the window ledge a few times before turning around and heading back to the Humanities building. I watched as he slightly dragged his heels.

 

An hour later, Dongju returned to the security office.

 

“Has the parcel for Professor Hwang arrived yet?”

 

I shook my head.

 

“I guess I’ll wait here for it,” he said, leaning an arm on the window ledge.

 

I turned back to my laptop, minimizing and then maximizing the window on the screen, scrolling aimlessly. Stealing a glance outside, I noticed Dongju’s hand still resting on the ledge.

 

It’s so white.

 

I swallowed unconsciously, my eyes fixated on his hand as though seeing it for the first time.

 

Dongju’s fingers were long, the knuckles pronounced, with a stark white crescent clearly visible on his thumbnail. Veins stretched across the back of his pale hand like branches against a winter sky.

 

I watched quietly, absorbed in the serene details like it was a peaceful landscape.

 

Then, suddenly, Dongju withdrew his hand. I quickly looked away. He pulled out his phone, checked the screen, and answered a call.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Where are you?” the voice on the other end echoed from the phone.

 

“I’m at the security office.”

 

“Why do you keep going there so often? There’s no parcel coming. You better hurry back.”

 

Beep.

 

“…”

 

“…”

 

“…”

 

“…”

 

“…I’m gonna go.”

 

Dongju turned around and walked briskly back to the Humanities building.

 

I touched my ear, my hand lingering there as I watched him shrink to a speck in the distance.

 

***

 

The laptop made a whirring sound, then fell silent.

 

“…”

 

“…”

 

The sound of his breath was the only noise filling the air.

 

Then, silence enveloped the room.

 

Today, the security office was unusually quiet. Even the usual faint noises from outside were missing. I breathed lightly, feeling as though the sound of my own swallowing might carry across the quiet space.

 

It seemed like the perfect moment to strike up a conversation. Just something casual to break the silence. Then it wouldn’t feel so awkward.

 

I glanced at Dongju.

 

Should I try speaking for once? It’s daunting at first, but maybe once I start, it might get easier.

 

I shifted slightly in my seat. Dongju looked at me as if to ask what was wrong.

 

“…”

 

I faced forward again.

 

The silence felt even heavier, making the idea of speaking up even more daunting.

 

I’ll have to next time. Really, I will…

 

Deciding to go with the usual routine, I opened the streaming app and hit play on a random song. Music filled the room.

 

“Love comes silently, makes my heart quiver.”

 

The lyrics… Well, it was typical love song stuff.

 

“Although I have nothing—I will give you happiness.”

 

I felt oddly anxious. My eyes darted around. The words seemed to pierce the quiet more sharply than usual.

 

Was the volume too high? Or was it just because it was so quiet?

 

It felt like someone was singing right into my ear.

 

“Today I’ll confess to you—”

 

Just ignore the lyrics… It’s just a song, nothing more…

 

“I love you—I’ll tell the world.”

 

I bit my lip, feeling my skin prickle with heat as I imagined Dongju hearing the same words. Warmth spread from my neck to my forehead.

 

“Only you are enough for me…”

 

Beep.

 

Without thinking, I skipped the song. An instrumental track started, and I felt a bit calmer.

 

But had my reaction made it too obvious that I was conscious of the lyrics? A pang of regret hit me.

 

He must have heard them too. Ugh, I should have just acted like I didn’t notice.

 

To cover my tracks, I clicked back to the previous song as though I had skipped it by accident.

 

“Love comes silently, makes my heart quiver.”

 

Oh no, I have to listen to this again…

 

I could barely stand it. A sheen of sweat formed on my back.

 

I could just say this song isn’t me. That’s believable.

 

I skipped to the next song again. Another instrumental track started playing.

 

The sweat on my back gradually cooled.

 

I felt a bit dizzy. So much had happened in a flash.

 

Dongju might be looking at me weirdly…

 

I strained my ears. No sound came from behind me.

 

He might not have been paying much attention. Maybe it was just me making a scene. If there was no sound, maybe he was asleep…

 

I slowly turned my head.

 

“…”

 

“…”

 

I quickly looked forward again.

 

Ah, our eyes met.

 

I squeezed my eyes shut.

 

Shouldn’t have looked back.

 

How great would it be to casually say something at such a moment? Like, ‘My phone sometimes does this,’ or ‘That song’s not really my thing.’ If only I could just throw out such comments. Should I try speaking this time? What did I have to lose? I should just try…

 

“…”

 

Or not. Maybe it was better to just stay quiet.

 

No, that was just an excuse.

 

“…”

 

Ugh… I can’t do it.

 

Even when I felt like I could speak, when it came to actually forming the words, my mouth never cooperated. That was why I couldn’t say anything, even during crucial moments.

 

Then Dongju made a sound and came to stand beside me. I busied myself, pretending to be engrossed in my phone. He picked up something from the desk and walked away.

 

I stopped moving my fingers.

 

I’d been all over the place for a while now—anxious, then embarrassed, gathering courage, then giving up… It was a rollercoaster. Suddenly, I felt drained. I looked out the window, feeling a bit dazed.

 

How much time had passed?

 

Dongju rustled about and stood up behind me.

 

I checked the clock; it was nearly 4 p.m.

 

Tap tap.

 

Dongju came over and lightly tapped the desk beside me.

 

I looked down to where he indicated. There was a note there.

 

He had left it without saying a word and walked out of the security office.

 

I stared at the note.

 

What was it? Why would he write it down on paper?

 

I clasped my fingers and picked up the edge of the note with my left hand. I slowly unfolded it.

 

I’ll enjoy the almonds. When I read your note, I thought you had nice handwriting, so I thought I’d try writing one as well.

 

His handwriting looked like someone who typically writes poorly tried their best to make it neat.

 

I read it several times over. Why did he sometimes do this? Why did it seem like he knew what I was thinking?

 

I felt embarrassed that Dongju might have noticed all my hesitations and anxieties. But on the other hand…

 

I pressed the paper with my palm to smooth out the creases.

 

It didn’t seem so bad that he saw me.

 

I read the note again, gently running my finger over the words.

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