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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

22

Chapter 22

7

Dongju and Soo-young walked down the hallway side by side. Soo-young was scrolling through the curriculum on her phone from the lecture they’d just left.

 

“There definitely wasn’t supposed to be a group project in this class,” she said.

 

“…”

 

“I must have misunderstood and dragged you into this by mistake.”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Dongju replied, his eyes still on his phone. His ‘It doesn’t matter’ wasn’t a polite dismissal or an expression of gratitude. He genuinely didn’t care—about the project, the assignments, or the class schedule. Dongju was indifferent to everything.

 

Soo-young chose not to comment on his attitude explicitly. Instead, she decided to close the conversation gracefully.

 

“Thanks for understanding.”

 

They left the Humanities building and headed toward the main gate.

 

“Soo-young! Dongju!” a voice called from behind them.

 

Soo-young turned around, and Dongju stopped too, following her lead.

 

Their classmate Sehoon was approaching from the square, waving lazily. Stopping in front of them, he asked, “Are you two back together?”

 

Stepping in front of Dongju, Soo-young said, “Hey, we haven’t seen each other since the semester started, and that’s your first question?”

 

“What happened over the break?” Sehoon prodded.

 

Dongju stood silently, his expression blank as if he were an outsider to the conversation.

 

Soo-young deflected Sehoon’s prying with a firm, “Just take it as it is and move on. No need to dig deeper.”

 

Sehoon looked between Soo-young and Dongju, still trying to make sense of things. “Right. You two must have had some issues… Ah! You should join us for drinks today. Every time we go out, we’re never sure whether to invite you or him, and we end up inviting neither.”

 

“Ahaha… Really?” Soo-young forced a smile.

 

School naturally brought about plans involving drinks. But Dongju, who was sober for now, made these invitations tricky. If they went, he’d have to sit quietly to the side by himself.

 

So whenever someone suggested drinks, Soo-young would either say they had other plans or mention her evening classes. She was cautious about making decisions without Dongju, though. Despite it seeming trivial, she wanted to discuss and decide together, at least giving the appearance of a normal couple.

 

Nervous, Soo-young hesitated before asking, “What do you think…? Should we go?”

 

“We have a date tonight, don’t we?” Dongju replied, not looking up from his phone.

 

“…Oh right, I forgot about that.”

 

Soo-young went along with the lie, noticing Sehoon’s puzzled gaze shifting to Dongju. His abrupt answers and lack of greeting seemed to perplex Sehoon.

 

“Well, you two have a nice catch-up, then,” Sehoon said finally.

 

“Yeah, we’ll definitely come next time,” Soo-young answered for both of them.

 

Sehoon nodded and headed toward the Liberal Arts building. Soo-young breathed a sigh of relief as he left without further comments.

 

As they continued toward the main gate, Soo-young stole a glance at Dongju. His expression was unreadable. She wondered about his abrupt mention of their date. Was it just to stop Sehoon’s questions, or did he actually care about the rumors that might start? Could it be a tactic to show off, or did he simply not think about the implications?

 

Unable to come to a conclusion, Soo-young felt an unexplained flutter in her heart. Soon, they arrived at a cafe near the school and settled down.

 

“This place has gotten popular. I remember when it was just the two of us.”

 

“True,” Dongju replied.

 

“It looks like they don’t sell schizandra berry ade anymore. That was always your order here.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“If we leave around 3:30, it should be just in time for the hospital.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Dongju’s responses were automatic, almost like he was a programmed doll. He seemed to have resigned himself to just following along without making any real decisions.

 

Despite knowing these replies lacked genuine sentiment, Soo-young found comfort in them. Maintaining the facade was enough for her. If she asked, “Is it good?” and Dongju said, “Yeah,” she could pretend to be satisfied. If she asked, “Is it okay?” and he replied, “Yeah,” she could convince herself it was fine. Soo-young held on to that semblance of normalcy.

 

She asked cautiously, “How does it feel now that you’ve started treatment? Do you think it’s getting better?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Good. It’s better now that you’ve quit drinking, right?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Going to the hospital with me is good too, isn’t it?”

 

“…”

 

Dongju, usually quick with the nonchalant replies, fell silent. Soo-young watched him closely.

 

With a blank look, Dongju finally asked, “Even that?”

 

“What?”

 

“Do I have to do these things just because you like them?”

 

“…”

 

Soo-young avoided Dongju’s gaze, her insides churning. After ensuring Dongju was engrossed in his textbook again, she bit her lip, her face flushed with embarrassment.

 

She sipped her iced Americano, trying to calm her racing heart as she stared at her notebook.

 

She knew Dongju didn’t have feelings for her. There was no reason to feel hurt, no need to rush anything with him. There was plenty of time.

 

But there was one thing she felt compelled to clarify. In an offhand manner, she said, “The new person at the department office will be picking up the packages instead of you now.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Does that bother you?”

 

“What does?”

 

“Anything, really. You won’t be working at the department office much longer.”

 

“Right.”

 

Dongju’s expression didn’t change. It was unclear whether he truly didn’t care or was hiding his disappointment. He rarely showed much reaction to anything.

 

Deciding to be more direct, Soo-young ventured, “Woogi seems okay.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

The tip of her pen rested on her notebook.

 

Dongju paused, the silence stretching.

 

Ink from her pen began to bleed into the paper, creating a dark spot like water filling a well.

 

Soo-young maintained a cheerful tone. “I heard good things about her. People at the department office were saying a lot of positives.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“They mentioned she doesn’t talk much. Is that true?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I see. I guess that’s her choice. Were you okay with it?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Right. Let’s go to the security office together later.”

 

“Why?”

 

“…”

 

There was a brief moment of silence.

 

Soo-young clenched her teeth. Dongju spoke as if oblivious to the tension.

 

“We should tell her we can’t go to the security office anymore.”

 

“We don’t need to do that.”

 

Soo-young forced a cheerful reply. “Alright.”

 

She decided not to ask any more questions.

 

***

 

Dongju merged with the throng of students exiting the lecture hall. Soo-young was waiting by the vending machine. She handed him a drink as he approached. Dongju accepted it.

 

“Are we going to grab lunch?” she asked.

 

“Yeah.”

 

Dongju checked his calendar on his phone.

 

After putting his phone away, he said, “I should call my mom to join us.”

 

“Oh… Should I call her?”

 

“I’ll do it.”

 

Dongju’s life had become a series of meticulously scheduled tasks: Lunch with his mom every two weeks, twice daily calls to discuss daily plans over breakfast, respond to messages within ten minutes, send updates via message about class times, meals, and arrivals at home, dine at home, accompany his mom wherever she wanted on weekends.

 

These routines had become central to his life.

 

Dongju and Soo-young entered a restaurant near their house where Kyung-hee was already waiting.

 

“Have you been waiting long?” Dongju asked as they sat down.

 

“No, I just got here,” his mom replied, clearly pleased to be having lunch with them.

 

“What did you do this morning?”

 

“Some cleaning, some laundry… Oh, and I repotted the lily in the living room because it’s grown so much. It’s blooming beautifully.”

 

“That’s great. Did you have breakfast?”

 

“Of course. I made fried rice with the leftover pork from yesterday.”

 

“That’s good.”

 

Dongju nodded, attentively listening to Kyung-hee’s stories and responding appropriately.

 

Kyung-hee turned to Soo-young. “How’s your TOEFL prep going?”

 

“It’s mostly fine, but my speaking score isn’t improving. I think I’ll need another month or two,” Soo-young replied with a hint of frustration.

 

“You really need to sign up for a specialized class for speaking. It’s not something you can cram at the last minute. Why don’t you sign up for a three-month course?”

 

“I think I will,” Soo-young agreed.

 

“What are you doing this afternoon?”

 

“Remember Junghee, the one who went abroad to study? She’s Dongju’s classmate. She’s back, so I’m planning to meet up with her.”

 

“Oh really? Is Dongju not going with you?” Kyung-hee turned to Dongju.

 

“Should I go too?” Dongju asked.

 

“It would be nice since she’s back after a long time,” Kyung-hee replied.

 

“I’ll go, then.”

 

“Good. And let’s all have dinner at home tomorrow.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“I’m making Mille-Feuille Nabe. Soo-young’s favorite.”

 

Soo-young responded playfully, “We can eat something either you or Dongju likes.”

 

“Dongju likes it too. I do as well. Right?” Kyung-hee said, looking at Dongju.

 

“Yeah.”

 

Dongju felt like he was slipping into the routine of a well-trained pet. Eating whatever was served, playing with the toys bought for him, moving just enough, resting just enough, showing up just enough…

 

To an outsider, Dongju’s life would seem problem-free, healthier, and even enviable compared to his past. But voicing any dissatisfaction would likely end with him being scolded for being ungrateful.

 

He had settled into that pattern until now.

 

“Dongju.”

 

“…”

 

“Dongju?”

 

“Oh, sorry. What did you say?”

 

“Are you free this weekend?”

 

“Yes. Is there somewhere you want to go?”

 

“I was thinking of going to an art gallery. There’s a Matisse exhibition at the Art Center.”

 

“…”

 

Becoming a pet might be simpler than facing the memories that haunted him. Memories that, though seemingly harmless, could suddenly stab like a knife.

 

“Do you want to go together?” Soo-young asked.

 

“…Yes, I’d like that.”

 

Dongju’s expression softened to match his polite response.

 

***

 

“Here, this is for you.” A young male student handed Dongju a package. “It looks like the X-banner for the department event.”

 

Dongju took the box.

 

Professor Hwang came out of the meeting room, his tone light and teasing. “Ah, Dongju Choi has finally got a successor. Just when he started to behave himself and not drink, it’s already time for him to graduate.”

 

Professor Hwang stretched and walked to his desk. Dongju didn’t react to the professor’s comment and began checking the contents of the package.

 

The student leaned in. “It’s the X-banner, right?”

 

Dongju was silent, his focus on one side of the box.

 

“Is there a problem?” the student asked.

 

Dongju’s eyes were fixed on a blue sticker on the box.

 

“That’s just to mark the packages that come to the Humanities department,” the student explained. “They’ve put different colored stickers for different buildings.”

 

“Why?”

 

“There are so many packages, they started sorting them like that. The new security guard did it.”

 

Dongju momentarily stiffened.

 

The student gathered his things from the table. “I have to run an errand for Professor Seong now.”

 

“Hey, um…”

 

“Yes?” said the student, looking at Dongju.

 

Dongju went to speak, but he couldn’t find the words.

 

“What?” the student said, looking puzzled.

 

“What happened to the old security guard?” Dongju said finally.

 

The student looked like he was processing Dongju’s question for a moment as if he had expected something else.

 

“Oh, I heard she quit.”

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