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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

23

Chapter 23

13

Soo-young walked down the hallway, her lips cracked. Just yesterday, she had found a note in Dongju’s room and had bitten her lip until it bled.

 

The reason I can’t see you anymore is because I like you, Woogi.

 

She had read the note once, then quickly pushed it aside, unable to face the words again. Though penned in Dongju’s hand, each line seemed etched deeply in her memory, resonating in his voice.

 

Soo-young had never realized the depth of Dongju’s feelings. Despite spending every moment together, she had never experienced even a fraction of such intensity from him. The sentiments on the paper felt foreign, and it was unsettling to discover these hidden depths in him.

 

“The new security guard did it.”

 

Her heart skipped a beat as she opened the office door, stopping abruptly at the mention of a new guard. Peering through the gap, she saw Dongju’s profile as he spoke.

 

“Hey, um…”

 

“Yes?”

 

“…”

 

“What?”

 

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

 

“Oh, I heard she quit.”

 

“…”

 

At that moment, nothing else mattered to Soo-young but Dongju’s face—his trembling eyes, stiff expression, and contemplative look. She turned and walked briskly down the hallway, her pace quickening until she was practically skipping two, three steps at a time. Exiting the Humanities building, she sprinted toward the security office while passersby watched curiously. The security office still seemed miles away, no matter how fast she ran.

 

When she finally arrived, panting heavily, the guard inside looked up in surprise. “Did something happen? What’s wrong?”

 

Trying to catch her breath, Soo-young gasped, “Ah… Ah… Um… Did… did the female guard quit?”

 

“Yes, she quit yesterday.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I don’t know. She just said she couldn’t come from tomorrow, apologized, and that was it.”

 

“That’s… it?”

 

“Yes, there’s definitely something going on… I was surprised too,” the guard said, recalling the day Woogi resigned. “She just lowered her head and stayed silent, tears as big as pearls in her eyes. Her face was all pale. It was obvious something heavy was on her mind…”

 

He tilted his head, his expression clouded with uncertainty.

 

“She was packing her stuff in a bag, not even looking at what she was putting in it. Her hands were trembling. I felt sorry for her, but she wouldn’t say what was wrong.”

 

By then, Soo-young’s breathing had slowed, and she murmured thoughtfully, “I see…”

 

She wondered what Dongju would do next. Would he try to uncover what had happened to Woogi? It seemed clear that something had gone wrong. Although Dongju was physically present, his thoughts were always on that girl…

 

The image of Dongju lost in thought haunted Soo-young. She bit the spot on her lip where it had just healed, her mind racing to the worst scenarios. What if Dongju said he had to go to Woogi? What if something terrible had happened to her, compelling him to go? Should Soo-young let him? Did she even have a say?

 

No, Dongju wouldn’t just leave her. He owed her. He felt guilty…

 

Soo-young knew Dongju stayed by her side not out of love but obligation. Although she had always known this, each time it crossed her mind, it stung like a new wound.

 

She envied Woogi’s sad picture: the bowed head, sealed lips, tearful eyes, a face so pale it was almost blue… If all that had been hers, maybe Dongju would have looked at her with more pity, thinking he couldn’t leave her. But that image was very much Woogi’s.

 

Soo-young imagined Dongju telling her, “Soo-young, I think I need to go to Woogi…”

 

Just the thought made her chest tighten, feeling like his departure was inevitable. If Dongju didn’t know about Woogi’s situation, maybe she could prevent him from leaving. So far, only the guard knew, so if she was careful, she might keep it from reaching Dongju. But…

 

Soo-young’s steps slowed. Was it right to keep Dongju by deceiving him? To cling to someone who didn’t have feelings for her?

 

“Soo-young.”

 

“…”

 

“Soo-young.”

 

“Huh?”

 

But right now, Dongju was standing in front of her.

 

“What’s up with you? You didn’t hear me calling you?”

 

“Uh…”

 

“Aren’t you going to class?”

 

“I should…”

 

They walked into the lecture hall. Soo-young sat down and stole a glance at Dongju. His expression was as calm as always.

 

Woogi resigned, and Dongju seems unfazed. Is he pretending? Have they been in touch? Does he even know what happened?

 

Trying to sound casual, Soo-young asked, “Did you hear about Woogi?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Why did she quit?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“Didn’t she contact you?”

 

“No.”

 

“That’s weird. Not even a single call?”

 

“I guess it is weird.”

 

“Don’t you think you should reach out to her?”

 

“Why should I?”

 

“You were close.”

 

“There’s no reason to see her now.”

 

Soo-young read between the lines. It wasn’t just not wanting to see Woogi; it was a deliberate choice not to. Not out of disinterest, but a conscious decision to not indulge that curiosity.

 

The reason I can’t see you anymore is because I like you, Woogi.

 

Caught up in the letter, Soo-young was slow to realize something—Dongju was choosing to distance himself from Woogi. That was typical of him, a man who prioritized responsibilities over personal feelings, who felt apologetic when things went wrong, a person who couldn’t bear to live with debts.

 

That’s why Dongju wouldn’t visit Woogi. He would make sure of it, more decisively than Soo-young ever could.

 

Soo-young bit her tongue, deciding not to say anything that might inadvertently remind him of Woogi and shake his resolve. Like a tower in Jenga teetering on the brink of collapse, she chose to leave everything as it was, untouched.

 

***

 

Beep, beep, beep, beep.

 

Click.

 

Dongju entered his house, switching from shoes to slippers. He usually came home at 7 p.m. every evening.

 

In the living room, his mom was watering an orchid, but Dongju bypassed her without a glance and headed straight to his room. Her eyes lingered on him as he disappeared inside.

 

Slouched in his chair, Dongju could hear the familiar sounds of dinner preparations from the kitchen: the snap of a side dish container, the clink of a glass bowl on the table, the clatter of metal chopsticks. These were the sounds of routine, echoing through over a year of evenings.

 

Beep, beep, beep, beep.

 

Click.

 

“Hi, Mrs. Choi.”

 

“Oh, you’re back. Is it very hot outside?”

 

“Yes, it’s quite hot.”

 

The ladle clanged against the pot. Soo-young must have joined in with the meal prep. The sound of the rice cooker shutting, a chair being pulled out, and slippers sliding across the floor filled the air. The slippers paused for a brief three seconds in front of Dongju’s room.

 

Knock, knock.

 

“Dongju, let’s eat.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Dongju came out of his room and went to the kitchen. He sat at the table, his gaze on Soo-young and his surroundings equally distant and unfocused. Picking up his chopsticks, he began to eat; his mom and Soo-young did the same. Silence enveloped the table as they ate.

 

“…”

 

“…”

 

“…”

 

“…”

 

“Mrs. Choi, how do you like your swimming lessons?”

 

“Oh, it’s only been a few days. I’m just learning the basics. It’s mostly housewives who have free time in the morning.”

 

Soo-young nodded and smiled.

 

“…”

 

“…”

 

“…”

 

“…”

 

“Do you have time this weekend?” Dongju’s mom asked.

 

“No special plans for this weekend. How come?” said Soo-young.

 

“Someone gave me tickets to a performance. If you’re free, we could go together.”

 

“Oh, that sounds good. Is it on Saturday?”

 

“Yes. Saturday at four.”

 

“Sounds good.”

 

“…”

 

“…”

 

“…”

 

“Did you have a nice day today, Dongju?” Dongju’s mom asked him.

 

Dongju glanced at Soo-young, then at his mom. “Yes.”

 

He got up from this seat, taking his empty plate to the sink to wash it. Soo-young and Kyung-hee also finished their meals and joined him in clearing the table. Kyung-hee sorted the leftovers, putting some in the food waste processor and others into containers.

 

Soo-young carried her dishes to the sink, where Dongju took over. After helping, Soo-young moved to the living room sofa while Kyung-hee fetched a pear from the fridge.

 

“I’ll cut it,” offered Soo-young.

 

“No, it’s alright.”

 

The only sounds were the gentle rush of water from the sink and the soft peeling of the pear. Soo-young turned on the TV, but her attention seemed elsewhere.

 

Dongju finished the dishes and wiped his hands, but instead of joining the others, he headed straight to his room.

 

His mom sliced the pear and arranged the pieces neatly on a plate.

 

In his room, Dongju looked over an unfinished manuscript.

 

Knock, knock.

 

His brow furrowed slightly. “Yes?”

 

Soo-young peeked in as Dongju opened the door.

 

“Are you writing?” she asked.

 

“Yeah.”

 

Soo-young quietly entered the room. “Is it going well?”

 

“It’s okay.”

 

She sat on the bed. Even though she’d been here many times before, she still scanned the room as if seeing it for the first time. A heavy silence fell between them.

 

“You heard what your mom said earlier, right?”

 

“What?”

 

“About going to see a show this weekend.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Do you have time?”

 

“I think so.”

 

“Then, do you want to go together?”

 

“Sure.”

 

“I’ll come pick you up.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Dongju kept his eyes fixed on his laptop. Soo-young fiddled with the edge of the blanket.

 

“Are you free that evening, too?” she asked.

 

“Yeah. I don’t have any plans.”

 

“Do you want to have dinner after the show? We’ll probably be hungry by then… There’s a good sushi place nearby. How about we check it out?”

 

“Sure.”

 

Soo-young sat on the bed in silence for a moment.

 

Dongju glanced at her once, then quickly turned his attention back to his laptop. “Do you have anything else to say?”

 

“No, not really.”

 

Soo-young got up. Dongju’s eyes never left his laptop as she took one last look at his profile and quietly left the room.

 

***

 

“You’re here.”

 

“Yeah. You’re here early,” Dongju remarked.

 

His editor, Jin-han, had arrived at the studio before him.

 

Dongju sat down and opened his laptop while Jin-han pulled a chair closer.

 

“Can you not delete what you wrote yesterday?” Jin-han pleaded.

 

Dongju stared silently at the monitor, his expression unreadable.

 

Jin-han leaned in, his face inches from Dongju’s. “Please.”

 

“Ah, get out of my face.”

 

Jin-han sighed. “If you’re going to delete it, stop writing good stuff. Why do you always torment me by deleting potential hits?”

 

“…”

 

“This kind of writing deserves to be seen by the world.”

 

Instead of responding, Dongju clicked on a file and pressed the ‘Delete’ button.

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