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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

25

Chapter 25

18

Jin-han inhaled sharply through his teeth and let out a long sigh, his brow furrowed. He clicked his tongue as his mind whirred.

 

“Would you like to get dinner?”

 

Those words—Would you like to get dinner?—echoed in his mind, over and over. Jin-han replayed Woogi’s expression and the look in her eyes as she spoke, searching for some hidden meaning or nuance. Deep down, he hoped to find even the smallest hint that she might have feelings for him.

 

Yet, Jin-han didn’t want to distort the truth. Objectively, it was clear there was some inclination of Woogi’s heart toward him, maybe about three degrees. But finding concrete evidence to claim this was tricky. Currently, Woogi was in a state of gratitude and apology toward him, and the dinner invitation might simply have been an expression of that.

 

“Thank you for all your help.”

 

It seemed that was the sole purpose of the dinner. But then… it was unusual for Woogi to ask to eat together, especially under the circumstances. It meant she was extremely grateful and very sorry. These strong feelings might indicate that he considered Jin-han somewhat special, not necessarily in a romantic way but perhaps a step or two before that…

 

“Ah… no, that’s not it,” Jin-han muttered.

 

He took a moment to compose himself, pushing aside his tendency to overanalyze. He was careful not to pressure Woogi. Unsure of how she might react, Jin-han feared she might refuse his help, something he wanted to avoid. He reasoned it would be best to remain by her side, offering support quietly rather than speaking too much.

 

Jin-han cracked his knuckles, lost in thought. Maybe he should just stay quiet. They had started talking a bit and had meals together, but what if something he said reminded her of the past? What if she started avoiding him or became even more reclusive?

 

Above all, Jin-han struggled with whether it was appropriate to approach Woogi in her current state. He knew better than anyone that she was barely managing. With this in mind, he was cautious not to agitate or burden her further. He felt compelled to refrain from any intrusive actions.

 

But maybe if he got closer to her, he could offer help that seemed out of reach as an outsider. Woogi might find it easier to accept assistance that she normally considered burdensome. Lost in thoughts of growing closer to Woogi, Jin-han found himself momentarily captivated.

 

“You mentioned it before.”

 

“I did? When?”

 

“About six months ago.”

 

Was it common to recall a detail from six months ago? Maybe for someone with a good memory. But if it was just a passing remark… Yet, given Woogi’s limited interactions, she probably didn’t have many things to remember. Still, even if recalling information wasn’t particularly remarkable, the act of going to a restaurant could mean a lot to someone like Woogi…

 

If that was the case…

 

“Phew…”

 

Jin-han abruptly stood up and exhaled. The ‘what ifs’ began to swirl in his mind.

 

He tried to stay calm. He couldn’t be sure about Woogi’s feelings right now. Nor could he afford to do anything too obvious—it would be embarrassing and, more importantly, a severe inconvenience to Woogi.

 

Jin-han stood, deep in thought.

 

***

 

Knock, knock, knock.

 

The door opened.

 

“How are you?”

 

Jin-han entered, taking off his shoes. He dropped his bag beside the coffee table, brought the fan closer, plugged it in, and adjusted it to face him. He then took a pen and a folder out of his bag. Woogi sat across the table and opened her laptop.

 

Jin-han pulled out a stack of papers from the folder, placing one pile in front of himself and another in front of Woogi. He also retrieved two bottles of juice from his bag, opened one, and set it in front of Woogi.

 

Jin-han shuffled through the papers and said, “I need to get to Gangnam by six today, so I’ll have to leave by five.”

 

Woogi nodded.

 

“I might not finish everything we need to discuss,” he added. “Just to let you know.”

 

Woogi nodded again.

 

Jin-han continued, “I’ll update you on how the succession appeal is progressing.”

 

He went over the documents with Woogi, occasionally glancing at his wristwatch to keep track of the time. After flipping through the last page, he checked the wall clock and remarked, “Ah, it’s only 4:30. We finished earlier than I thought. I won’t be late for my appointment.”

 

He methodically packed the papers and pen back into his bag. Woogi cleared away the empty juice bottles. Jin-han stood, slung his bag over his shoulder, turned off the fan, and struggled briefly to unplug the cord before setting the fan back in its original place.

 

He walked to the front door. Today he’d worn lace-up sneakers, which he usually found too bothersome. Sitting at the entrance, Jin-han began slowly tying his laces. He finished the left side faster than expected. Now, on to the right…

 

“Um…”

 

His hands froze at Woogi’s voice as if it were a signal.

 

“If you leave now, won’t you have to wait around?” Woogi said.

 

Jin-han clenched his teeth before responding. “Yeah, but only half an hour.”

 

He resumed tying his shoelaces, adjusting them carefully. His hands pressed against the floor, preparing to rise.

 

“Then…”

 

“…”

 

“Maybe you should stay until five…” Woogi suggested, her voice trailing off.

 

Jin-han paused, considering for a moment, then replied without emotion, “Maybe I should.”

 

He slowly untied his shoelaces and took off his sneakers.

 

Returning to the living room, he said, “I’ll look over some documents I need to work on here. Thank you.”

 

***

 

-Woogi, I have something at 3 tomorrow. Can I come by at noon?

 

-Yes, that’s fine.

 

-What about lunch?

 

-I’ll eat early.

 

That’s not what I meant, Jin-han thought.

 

His fingers flew over his phone’s keyboard, then hesitated, and then resumed rapidly.

 

-I usually have lunch around then too. Maybe we could eat together and talk?

 

There was no response for a moment.

 

Jin-han tapped his phone screen every thirty seconds.

 

He interlaced his fingers and placed them behind his neck, looking more serious than usual. Was he getting too worked up after having been allowed to stay an extra half hour?

 

Jin-han’s mind had swirled with thoughts as he approached Woogi’s house. Would she be open to him staying longer once their business concluded? Would she be comfortable with his presence in her personal space longer than planned? Would she even notice if he arrived a bit early?

 

And then, Woogi had told Jin-han to stay longer. He interpreted this as a sign she cared. So maybe they could have lunch together too. But was he being too hasty?

 

“Hmm…”

 

Vrrrm.

 

Jin-han quickly unfolded his fingers and grabbed his phone.

 

-Sure.

 

Jin-han bit his lip, his cheeks slowly lifting. He tried to maintain his composure by staring at the monitor and adopting a serious expression, but his lips curved upward as if being tugged by invisible strings.

 

He tapped the screen again.

 

-Sure.

 

Woogi’s message still floated in the notification window. Jin-han struggled to contain a big smile. He took a deep breath, but laughter burst out anyway.

 

Swoosh.

 

The door to the studio swung open, and Dongju walked in. Jin-han spun his chair around to face him.

 

“Hi.”

 

“What is it?” Dongju replied.

 

“What’s what?”

 

“Your face.”

 

“What about my face?”

 

Dongju looked at Jin-han incredulously.

 

Jin-han didn’t bother hiding his grin. “Jealous?”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

Dongju sat down and opened his laptop.

 

Jin-han rolled his chair next to Dongju. “Hey now,” he said.

 

“Ah, go away.”

 

“Aren’t you going to ask?”

 

“Ask what?”

 

“Why I’m in such a good mood, if something good happened, that kind of thing.”

 

“Go away.”

 

“I will if you ask.”

 

“Is it an editor’s job to torment the writer?” quipped Dongju.

 

Jin-han let out a chuckle.

 

Ignoring Dongju, Jin-han said, “So actually, there’s someone I’m kind of interested in. Well, maybe not exactly, more like wanting the best for her? Of course, there’s some interest involved too… Anyway.”

 

Dongju shuffled papers on his desk, only half-listening.

 

“And, well, I thought she wasn’t interested in me at all, to the point where it would be embarrassing for me to admit my feelings.”

 

“But it turns out she’s not completely uninterested?” Dongju guessed, barely looking up.

 

“Ha ha!” Jin-han’s laughter filled the room, as if the mere suggestion made him happy.

 

Dongju shook his head, clearly thinking Jin-han was being overly dramatic.

 

Regaining his composure, Jin-han added, “No, actually, I don’t even know. I can’t say for sure. Shouldn’t count my chickens before they hatch.”

 

“Congratulations. Now go,” Dongju said, eyes still glued to his monitor.

 

Jin-han’s expression turned somber. “But there’s a problem.”

 

Dongju didn’t respond.

 

“That person, well, she’s quiet—no, actually, extremely reserved. Usually prefers to be alone and is a bit shy. But I haven’t really met anyone like her before. So figuring out how to approach her is a constant struggle for me.”

 

“That must be the most painful part,” Dongju remarked, still not pulling his gaze away from the monitor.

 

Jin-han studied Dongju’s focused expression. “What is?”

 

“It’s obvious you’re worried. She probably knows already that you’re concerned about her, that you’re wondering how to act.”

 

“You think so?”

 

“Is she an idiot? Why wouldn’t she know?”

 

“Ah, I must have looked really pathetic.”

 

“How would you feel if someone was constantly anxious and watching your every move?”

 

“I’d be comfortable…”

 

“Uncomfortable and probably feeling guilty, too. You might think, ‘It’d be easier if I weren’t here.’ You wouldn’t say it, but you’d think it.”

 

Jin-han’s face turned grave. “So, what should I do?”

 

“What can you do? Just stop being so cautious. Do you watch my every move when you talk to me?”

 

“Um…”

 

“How long have you known this person?”

 

“About a year?”

 

“You’ve been like this for a year?”

 

Dongju frowned as he looked at Jin-han.

 

Jin-han awkwardly avoided eye contact. “I’m being careful because I like her.”

 

“Break it off.”

 

“We’re not even dating.”

 

“That’s too bad.”

 

Dongju turned his gaze back to the monitor.

 

Jin-han sighed deeply. “This isn’t easy,” he muttered to himself, then suddenly asked Dongju, “How do you know so much about this stuff?”

 

“I just…”

 

Jin-han waited for Dongju to continue, but he remained silent.

 

“You just what?” Jin-han prompted.

 

“…Hey.”

 

“What?”

 

“You should go now.” Dongju’s tone had changed.

 

Jin-han sensed a subtle shift in Dongju’s mood to something heavier. Wondering if he’d annoyed him somehow, Jin-han quietly returned to his seat.

 

Dongju sat staring at the blinking cursor on his screen.

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