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Always By Your Side

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15 August 2017.

This time, it was our 5th anniversary and it was something that we looked forward to every single year. In retrospect, it was like our very own version of Christmas; spending time by the Hangang River after work cuddled up with a sky blue fluffy blanket with hot chocolate in our hands just to admire the night lights of the city skyline or a simple candlelit picnic of fried chicken and beer when either of us had to work overtime for a little bit and had no time for a romantic dinner in a proper restaurant.

However, what we looked forward to the most was not the gifts, not the food, but the simple act of spending quality time with one another. It was hard really, I was just a kickboxing coach for toddlers while Taeyang still remained as a barista for the cafe he used to work in. For me, it was easy to commit to a 9-5pm job, or even earlier, but for Taeyang, that was not the case. He was a full-timer now and that meant 9.30am-7pm days, or even all the way till its closing time at 10pm. Sure, we lived in the same home and being men of few words, we did not really need loads of affectionate action to know that we still loved each other. Then again, sometimes, change was what we needed.

Hence, the both of us made the effort to plan out the day on our anniversary and marking them on the shared whiteboard in our kitchen, before putting together a solid To-Do list. After that, we would head down to the busy streets of Gangnam, Myeongdong or Dongdaemun to find each other a personalised gift (it didn’t need to be expensive really) and exchange it on our anniversary itself. Simple and calm, but meaningful, and that was how I appreciated the relationship to be.

Those were the good old days.

It was a typical Monday morning, really, but it was still special, and here I was, lying on our shared bed. I was already long awake before him and even managed to watch the sun rise at exactly 7.12am. However, Taeyang did not need to wake up till 8am, so that was how I decided to spend the morning simply lying by my boyfriend’s side.

He was still as good looking as I remembered him to be; huge and almond-shaped eyes, sharp lips and straight brows, which brought out his confident aura a lot more. Oh, and not to mention his well defined and high cheekbones too. Sure, he did not give the best first impression to a lot of people, but give him a chance, and one would realise what kind of a friendly and pure person he is.

15 minutes later and the familiar alarm rang; Xiah Junsu’s “Tarantallegra”. It was not his favourite song from the artiste, but he did mention that it was the best song to get him energised for the day. With his love for dance, it was not hard to see why.

Hyung, it’s time to wake up or you’ll be late for work.

True enough, Taeyang got up slowly with half-opened eyes and fumbled around for his phone to turn off the alarm. Looking at the screen, he smiled a soft one and stretched his arms and back to get ready for the day.

“Good morning, Hwiyoung-ah.” He said in a soft morning voice, before finally getting out of the blankets and soft pillows that surrounded him to freshen up for another work day ahead.

Morning hyung!

****

“Taeyang-ah, I have great news for you!!” a familiar voice announced from the entrance just behind Taeyang and I.

I guess this was one of the days where Taeyang just felt like some Earl Grey tea to start his day and a plain croissant from the cafe that he worked in. The owner did not mind, of course, because he knew that Taeyang would do his job right and would even go the extra mile sometimes. Back then, there were days when Taeyang would come back home with fresh tarts and pastries, courtesy of the owner of the cafe.

“Inseong hyung!” Taeyang responded back and let out a big grin, “What brings you today?”

Ah yes, this was Kim Inseong, the owner of this soon-to-be cafe franchise, or better known as my senior who took the same major as I did back in the prestigious Korea University. He never changed one bit; still as happy and positive as he ever was.

“Congratulations!! You’ve been promoted to become the head barista of this Gangnam branch! From today, you will be in charge of training the new ones, and don’t worry about your working hours, they will remain the same. Also, the pay is doubled as well!”

Receiving the badge, Taeyang could not help but to wear a proud smile on his face, but there was still a tinge of sadness in his eyes, like a sense of regret almost.

“T-thanks hyung, I don’t think I’m deserving of this title though…”

“Of course you are!” Inseong interrupted in a chirpy tone once again, “You’ve been here for a straight 5 years now and I guess it’s time for you to move onto the next phase. The workers have spoken highly of you, and based on my observation, you are more than capable to take on the role.”

“Thank you again hyung. This… really means a lot to me, especially when it was mentioned to me today.”

“I understand,” Inseong replied, a little more serious now and was ready to take his leave, but spoke again, “Oh, aren’t you seeing him today?” and Taeyang nodded slowly at the question.

“Sure, you’re free to leave early today and do take a lemon tart as well! I remembered that he loved those, even when he came here just to study for his examinations or when he wanted to simply take a chill pill. Also, here’s an extra badge for you, just in case.

And with that, Inseong gave a final wave to Taeyang, before taking his leave in his brand new and chic BMW, while Taeyang took his brand new badge and replaced his very first one that he had kept for the past 5 years. Most would have probably threw it away once they got a promotion, but Taeyang was not like that; he liked to keep things that were meaningful to him, and this job definitely did.

“Taeyanggie!! Congratulations on your promotion!!” Another familiar voice called and I turned around, only to see Rowoon with a bright smile and holding onto Taeyang’s apron at the same time.

Kim Rowoon was the pastry chef that I got to make friends with on the days when Taeyang was not around. In fact, he was one of those that made this place warm and friendly with his signature box smile. It was not hard to see why this cafe was packed, especially after school and during lunch and after-dinner hours. He was a little bit more of a flirt though, driving girls dizzy with his honey-like voice and doing special decorations for them whenever they ordered his pastries.

Surprisingly, he did have a girlfriend, but then again, the public might be better off not knowing who she is.

Taeyang let out a little laugh, before putting on his apron and tying the knot with ease, without even looking at it. I could never do that and Taeyang was always the one who helped when I simply wanted to make some pancakes for breakfast as a random surprise whenever I felt like it.

Sadly, it never really worked with Taeyang’s keen sense of smell and his tendency to wake up relatively early (or at least early enough to see me struggling with the apron).

“Thanks hyung, I’m not sure how I got it though—"

“Oh please, don’t need to be so humble! And besides, today’s a great day!!"

“I know the weather’s good and it’s a brand new day,” Taeyang replied in a matter-of-fact tone, walking over to the door to flip the signage signalling that the cafe was open for business, “Anything new?”

“I’m going to be making soufflé pancakes today as a special autumn welcoming treat, together with maple syrup, and I have also prepared some special pumpkin spiced treats as well. I’ve made some extras for you too because you know, he loves autumn.”

At that note, I saw Taeyang’s lips curve up into a smile, although it was not exactly a happy one, before replying, “Yeah… He does. Thanks hyung.”

“And what time do you need to leave today?”

“Hmm… I just have to see him before the sun sets I guess. He loved to watch the sunrise, which I never got the chance to because it was always way too early for me, but that doesn’t mean he did not love the sunset.”

“Sounds good, so I’ll keep your pastries in the fridge and I will heat it up for you once you’re ready to go. Also, maybe it’s best we get to our stations soon. Don’t forget, it is a weekend and the customers are coming.”

With that, they broke out into a laugh and enveloped each other in a brotherly embrace, before making their way to their respective stations with arms on each other’s shoulders (or as far as Taeyang could reach).

Hwaiting! And don’t stress hyung, you will do well. I’m sure of it.

****

I had simply watched the day go by at the cafe, looking out the window of the booth seat at everyone who walked past, the cars and the clouds in the sky that drifted slowly with the wind. Indeed, the weather was actually pretty good today; not too hot and still perfect for a day to lie on the green grass at the serene Hangang Park with earphones and indie music.

As expected, the cafe was packed with people and the doorbell constantly went on throughout the entire day. Customers came and went, each with their own favourite drinks, while some chose to sit down and enjoy one of Rowoon’s new treats that he had specially prepared for the upcoming season. Based on the satisfied looks on their faces, it was clear that Rowoon had done well yet again and it was now well justified why he was one of Inseong’s lead pastry chefs of the entire upcoming franchise.

Sometimes, when Taeyang did have some time on his hands off the coffee machine, he was then found cleaning the tables of any leftovers or dirty dishes that the customers left. For most, they were more than happy to return the cutlery and plates to the counter, just so that they could see Taeyang’s face up close one last time (because Rowoon was found in the kitchen) before they took their leave.

Unfortunately, not all of them were like that.

It was clear that Taeyang’s frequent back aches had started to return. Indeed, being in the service line was not an easy feat, especially when one worked long hours standing up doing the same old routine over and over again. If I were him, I would have been bored out of my wits, but I suppose it differed from person to person.

Hyung, I’ve already told you, don’t overwork yourself. Inseong hyung already knows that you have done enough for the cafe. Did you bring your salonpas with you?

“Tae, you alright?” Rowoon asked with knitted eyebrows and a concerned tone in his voice, “I guess your back’s starting to ache again, huh? Did you bring your salonpas with you?”

“I did,” Taeyang replied, straightening his back and wincing at the pain slightly, but continued anyway, “But don’t worry about me.”

This time, Rowoon did not let it slide, knowing that Taeyang was already tired out, both physically and psychologically. In fact, the lunch hour had just ended, and he still had a 4 gruelling hours to hang in there before his shift ended and he was free to go. He still needed the last few bits of energy from within if he wanted to continue anyway.

“I’ll take over,” Rowoon said after a while in a firm manner, taking the cloth that was in Taeyang’s already wrinkly hands with a strong tug and Taeyang knew that there was  no use fighting back. Rowoon was strongly opinionated and firm, and Taeyang knew that he would lose the protest if he actually did so.

“Meanwhile, go to the bathroom for a bit and put on your salonpas. I don’t think he would like to see you in such a state later anyway.”

Taeyang only sighed and nodded, before going to the staff’s restricted area while holding onto his back with gritted teeth to retrieve his salonpas and heading to the bathroom immediately after that.

“Sometimes, I wish that boy would take care of himself more.” Rowoon muttered as he continued to stack the dishes and cups skillfully, before moving onto clean the table of any residue and crumbs.

Same here hyung, but what can we do? He’s always working hard and putting in his best efforts. If he can do it, he will do it. That’s Yoo Taeyang for you.

“Rowoon hyung!!!” A young, but low voice, called and hugged Rowoon from behind.

“Chani-ah, it’s nice to see you today! How was kickboxing class today? Was it fun? Did you learn anything new?” Rowoon responded in a fatherly tone, immediately dropping his cloth just so that he could give his 7-year-old nephew a warm hug.

“Of course! I learned the different types of kicks today! I can show them to you right now!”

“Not here Chani, this is a cafe. There are many people around and it might be dangerous. Why don’t you show it another time when we are in a more spacious environment?” Rowoon explained, and Chani resorted to a cute pout, only to get his hair ruffled by his towering uncle.

“Mr Sunshine hyung!!!” Another 2 voices shouted and I turned around, only to be met with children that I finally knew and recognised, and their names were Lee Jaeyoon and Lee Dawon, followed with Dawon's uncle, Youngbin.

By now, Taeyang had already stepped out of the bathroom after having some time to possibly clear his system and apply his salonpas where it needed to be and I remembered how much these kids loved Taeyang. Most kids feared him, but they did not. In fact, they were the ones who were all over him the first time I brought them into the cafe for a treat. They peppered him cutely with the strangest questions 4-year-olds could utter at that point such as the reasons for the sky being blue or the grass being green. They had no sense of shame either, blatantly telling Taeyang what they liked and did not like about him.

“Hyung, why do you look so angry all the time?”

“Your eyebrows are cool. They look like seagulls!”

Nevertheless, Taeyang continued to entertain them anyway and he was the one who ended up treating them to their favourite iced chocolate and chocolate cake. There were days when I had to stop him from treating them too much, just in case he was spoiling them by accident, but knowing his cheeky ways, he did not seem to mind.

“Aigooo… You kids have grown up so fast.” Taeyang said in awe but with pride laced in his voice, as if he was their biological older brother, “Have the two of you been studying well?”

“Of course hyung! Also, the both of us have successfully been promoted to the next difficulty level before we move onto take on the challenge for all the other hyungs and noonas.”

“As expected from his students,” Taeyang said after snapping out of his mild reverie, “I’m sure he’ll be so proud of you. Come, let me take a picture of the 2 of you.”

“Oh! Are you going to see him today??” Dawon exclaimed excitedly and Taeyang had to quieten him down as usual. True enough, Dawon was still the playful, loud and bold child that I knew and Jaeyoon was still the calm in the storm. To me, I guess some things just don’t change very much.

“Yes I am. He’ll be so proud of the both of you. I remembered how you boys were at your very first session and some other subsequent ones after that but look at you now!!” Taeyang exclaimed in proud surprise once again, even while taking the picture of the 2 boys posing as best as they could to show off their achievements to me later.

“So… Are you boys hungry?”

“Yes!! Hyung, I heard they have souff— sou— pancakes today. What are those?” Dawon asked, curiosity and excitement clear in his tone of voice.

“Ahh… Soufflé pancakes? That is Rowoon hyung’s speciality. If you want to try some, I will get them for you, as well as 2 hot chocolates. Is that it?”

“And one here too!!” Rowoon announced, still with Chani clinging onto his side like a koala bear to a eucalyptus tree.

Taeyang smiled and ruffled the boys’ hair before going back to his station to prepare the drinks and truthfully, it brought back  so much memories on how we first met, or how we even got together in the first place.

It all started 5 years ago when we were Korea University students trying to find our respective places in this huge, vast world of ours. I was a student majoring in Physical Education while he was a student majoring in the Modern Arts. With that, it was clear why we never met in the campus. Apart from the fact that it was already huge, it was almost impossible, especially when the Science departments and Humanities departments were on opposite ends of the campus.

Then finals came along and all I needed was a change in scenery to my studying environment, hence, I ended up settling for a quaint little café just 10 minutes away from the campus. Back then, they still did have quite a bit of customers, even though most of them simply looked like they were just sitting for the sake of it, rather than actually eating, drinking or doing anything productive for that matter and little did I know that it was all because of the barista, Yoo Taeyang.

I always ordered the same thing; cold brewed coffee with vanilla sweet creme as well as a lemon tart if I felt like it and after a while, when I arrived at the cafe, my drink and food would be there ready to be consumed. Furthermore, it was always there shortly before I arrived and it did not occur to me how it would have gotten there anyway. All I did was to come here, find my peace of mind and study in a relatively conducive environment. With food and drinks, why would one find a reason to be suspicious anyway?

Later, whenever I took my study breaks, I would find their signature soft baked chocolate chip cookies right next to my already diluted coffee with encouraging words drawn neatly with a chocolate pen.

“You’re one day closer to your goal.”

“Be a warrior, not a worrier.”

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you fall, you'll land amongst the stars.”

At first, this “secret admirer” had been successful with all his attempts because no matter how much I eyeballed the staff behind the counter, none of them raised my suspicions at all, until I was quick enough one day to turn around the moment the cookie was left on my table, only to catch a glimpse of a navy blue haired boy. I never had the chance to look at his face or know his name, but he did take my order once and I paid attention to their names this time around.

Yoo Taeyang.

Indeed, with the bright smile that he wore all the time when greeting customers and taking their orders, he sure did live up to the meaning of his name. In fact, one could not help but to smile when they looked at him, and perhaps even a blind man could see his smile. To me, he looked strangely familiar, but I shrugged it off, thinking that navy blue was the in-thing for hair colours now. What’s new?

Months passed and it was that one day when I had decided to focus on my work for real this time. After the intense past few weeks of participating in both regional and international taekwondo competitions, there was a whole load of content knowledge that I had missed out. Sure, it was not too much of a problem for me, but I preferred to stay on the top of my game.

Only God would know how much time had passed and I was pretty sure the last time I looked out the window was when the sun was still high in the sky and now, it was replaced with the pale yellow moon and the twinkling stars in the dark of night. I looked around, realising that there was no one else left in the cafe apart from Taeyang and I. Taeyang was still at the coffee machine, practicing on his latte art in utmost concentration and that was when I spoke, “Taeyang-sshi, I’m sorry, but has the café closed for the day?”

“Actually, it has, but you were so concentrated on your work and I know it’s recess week so I did not want to disturb you either,” He replied politely, “Oh, and here’s a cup of hot chocolate for you. I was pretty bored and it would be such a waste to throw this away so you can have it.”

“Oh dear. Alright, once I’m done with this, I’ll take my leave. I’m sorry for all the trouble.”

At this point, I was obviously flustered beyond measure, but Taeyang did not seem to mind and placed the cup of steaming hot chocolate gently in front of me. However, he was not there to stay and headed back to the coffee machine to clean everything before he closed the café for real this time.

Nevertheless, I did not take my time (and in fact, I should not) and drank the hot chocolate as fast as I possibly could before going to the sink where Taeyang was still cleaning up the machine and the used cups meticulously. Seriously though, he actually did look good concentrated on something. It was clear that he had a passion for the whole appreciation of coffee and like they always say, one always looked good if they had a love for whatever they did as a profession.

“You didn’t have to, Hwiyoung-ah. Also, thank you for being such a regular customer! All the best for your examinations too and have a great night ahead!”

His eyes motioned to the door, giving me a sign that I was free to leave, but I did not heed any of it, only choosing to pack my things and sit by the booth again. It was no longer being a customer anymore, it was simply manners at this point.

“I’m sorry I made you wait for so long so let me treat you to a late night snack at least. I know a place not too far from here and one could simply take away since it’s so late.” I replied in a matter-of-fact tone.

“I-it’s okay. I’m… not too hungry. And besides, I’m sure you’re familiar with college life by now. There’s always the lifetime supply of instant noodles back at home.”

“But it’s not always good to eat instant noodles. They have a whole load of wax that could possibly mess up with your digestive system and are high in both sodium and MSG!”

Okay Hwiyoung, but who the hell are you to dictate someone’s choice of lifestyle?

“I can see you are not going to let this go, so okay, I will take your offer then.” He chuckled, wiping the remaining cups before putting them back into the glass shelves above, “Apart from the fact that your name is Hwiyoung, what else?”

I hesitated for a bit, before choosing to give the most basic of information, “My real name is Kim Youngkyun, but I prefer to be called Hwiyoung, and I’m a sophomore in Physical Education at Korea University and my minor is Food Science.”

Was that too much?

“Ah…” Taeyang acknowledged, as if he had heard of the profile before, “You are just like Inseong hyung, so I suppose you are his junior then?”

I nodded at the question and he smiled knowingly, before telling me more about himself too, “My name is Yoo Taeyang and I’m a senior at Korea University majoring in Modern Arts and my minor is Culinary Arts. Funny, our world sure is small, huh? Then again, I would not have seen you anyway since our schools are so far apart.”

Comfortable silence followed after that, before Taeyang himself went to retrieve his things from the staff’s room and said in a happy manner, “Okay, the café’s done and dusted so shall we make a move?”

And hence, from that day onwards, Taeyang and I had become quick friends, especially after the fact that I had treated him to supper, we found ourselves walking in the same direction, meaning that we were heading towards the same bus stop and eventually took the same bus. I knew “coincidence” existed, but wasn’t this a little too coincidental?

After that, we realised that we started spending time with one another more often, from having study sessions in school despite our different majors, having lunch and also spending time with each other at the café. Whenever Taeyang was on a break before he began his next shift, he would sit opposite me as I revised my notes or typed my essays, keeping me company or simply talking about anything under the sun. Contrary to popular belief, Taeyang sure was a talker, despite his seemingly quiet and calm front while I simply preferred to listen. Nevertheless, he still managed to bring a smile to my face anyway.

Eventually, that was how we realised that the both of us were ready to move onto the next phase. Sure, we might have been young, especially when our futures were not certain. We were still trying to find our place in society, wondering of all the possible options we could go with the majors that we took, but one thing was sure. We loved each other, and in that moment, nothing else mattered to the both of us. Like they always say, when life gives you an opportunity, just take it or spend your life regretting the loss.

We were so happy back then, and even we knew that our love story was like a fairytale come true. There were no disputes or rough times for us, because somehow everything just worked together perfectly, as if we were made for each other. Taeyang was an actual sunshine (as if he wasn’t already before), and while I was less expressive of my emotions, I could definitely feel the positive impact he had on me.

Then again, all good things don’t last forever, do they?

****

“Busy day today huh?” Rowoon spoke, fatigue evident in his voice, but there was still a sense of pride in his work, especially knowing that his soufflé pancakes had been a big hit for the customers of the day.

Here they sat in the booth seat together with me, sipping on their iced cafe lattés before starting the next shift half an hour later. Taeyang was close to dozing off then and there, especially with the fact that he had made a couple of dozens of the highly raved pumpkin spiced lattes and many more of the café’s typical drinks. For most of the time, it was always the hot drinks that the customers liked since Taeyang’s latte art was “to die for” in their language.

The two of them sat there in silence for a bit before Rowoon exclaimed in shock, as if he had just remembered something, “Taeyang-ah, aren’t you supposed to be on your way to see him now? It’s already 4.50pm and you still need to change and I need to get all the pastries ready.”

With that, the latter’s eyes flew open immediately and took out his apron in a hurried manner before throwing it blatantly at Rowoon.

“Oh my god, I’m going to be late! And I have not even bought my flowers?” He spoke, speaking a mile a minute and way too fast for anyone to comprehend.

“Okay, I did not mean to get you into panic mode, but calm down, will you? There’s a florist just a few steps away on your left. They just opened and yes, I got flowers for my girlfriend the other day. Just go get changed to your suit and tie and I will be ready with your tarts in no time.” Rowoon replied, still as calm as ever, before taking his hands of Taeyang’s shoulders in the attempt to calm him down.

“Geez, he really worries too much.” Rowoon muttered once again.

He never really changed after all these years.

15 minutes had passed in the blink of an eye and there Taeyang was, all ready for wherever he needed to go. It was the same every year; he would dress in a fitted suit but it was not your typical monochrome colours of black and white. Those were too dapper for me. He knew I liked it when he dressed in cobalt blue and I could not help but swoon again at the sight.

“Wow, still as good looking as ever, Yoo Taeyang!!” Rowoon teased, holding out a nicely wrapped box filled with pastries, including the special autumn treats and my favourite lemon tart.

“Oh please, you’ve seen this every year. Anyway, I need to go so see you tomorrow hyung!!” Taeyang said, not looking back at Rowoon with his haversack slung on one shoulder and the tarts in his free hand. Knowing how Taeyang was when he panicked, Rowoon had made sure that the tarts are safe and secure in the box.

And as fast as his legs could carry him, Taeyang headed in the direction that Rowoon told him to and he was huffing and puffing by the time he reached, surprising the two young female florists.

“Hi sir, how might we help you today?”

In between pants, Taeyang spoke, “Could you get me a bouquet of pink roses, lavender and baby’s breath?”

At the question, the florists only looked at him with questionable looks, probably wondering what kind of combination that was. It was pretty when you thought about it hard enough, but also unusual enough to receive judgemental looks from those who were professionals in the trade. No matter which florist Taeyang went to, the looks he received were the same.

“It was his favourite flowers.” He spoke once again, breaking the awkward silence, and somehow the florists understood, telling him to have a seat and wait while his bouquet got ready.

Now, Taeyang looked at his watch with a sense of urgency and his legs tapped a little faster than the seconds passing on the clock. He also fumbled with his fingers, which clearly indicated how nervous he was, and I walked over to hold his hands together in mine. I hoped to give him some warmth and comfort, but I knew better, so there he was, still looking as nervous as ever while taking deep breaths to calm his nerves.

The time seemed to pass by at a snail’s pace, but the flowers were soon bundled up nicely and wrapped, before it was given to the ever anxious Taeyang.

“Sir, here is your bouquet. How do you like it?” The florist asked, a little nervous at her work, but to me, it was the most beautiful that I had ever seen. Taeyang would know; for all the florists that he had visited, most of them would have given him the simplest bouquet with no hint of sophistication, but in this case, it was unlike everything that I had ever seen.

“I-It’s beautiful,” Taeyang stammered, surprised that a florist would entertain his request for once with a serious heart, “Thank you so much. How much would it be?”

“25,000 won, sir.” The florist smiled with a tinge of relief in her eyes, glad that the combination worked with the customer, despite it being his request in the first place.

With that, Taeyang handed them the exact change required, waving goodbye in a grateful manner and thanked them profusely for their hard work, before wishing them all the best for their new business. As usual, lady luck was by his side once again, and he was able to flag for a taxi this time around.

“Good evening sir, where would you like to go?” The taxi driver asked politely.

“Seoul National Cemetery please.” Taeyang replied in the same fashion, visibly relaxing at the fact that all he needed to do was to make it to the destination with everything in tow; flowers, lemon tarts, his new promotional badge and most importantly, he himself.

The drive was silent for the most part, as Taeyang looked out the window admiring the view passing by him in a flash. When deep in thought, that was what he liked to do. Strangely enough, it brought him a sense of calm whenever he looked out the window and admired the views of the city. Until now, I still did not know why. If anything, I would have headed to somewhere as far as Jeju Island to collect my thoughts if I needed to.

“Going to see a loved one?” The taxi driver asked, breaking the pin-drop silence that fell over the vehicle since it left the florist.

“Y-yes.” Taeyang stammered as he snapped out of his little bubble and the taxi driver nodded along.

“I came to that conclusion based on the many things you have in your hands. Has it been long?”

“Uh… It has been about 3 months since I’ve visited him. I guess you could say that it has been long.”

“I see,” The taxi driver acknowledged, “but whatever the case, I’m sure he or she will be happy to see you. I know how it feels like, young man, but don’t worry too much. Even if you don’t visit them for a solid year, they’ll still be thankful you came to see them, even if it was for a mere 5 seconds.”

“How would you know that, ahjusshi?”

“I know this sounds pretty cliché, but you can feel it. Their presence, their happiness, their gratefulness that you are there for them. They will forgive you, I’m sure of it. You are a nice man after all, so what’s there to hate, am I right?”

At that encouragement, Taeyang could not help but to feel his lips curl up into a small and grateful smile. He always felt bad whenever he needed to visit, especially since he is constantly caught up with work, and for most times, I wished that he did not have to think that way. Even if he did not go for years, I know deep down that he would show up one day, even when he was old and grey. And besides, I had the freedom to be by his side whenever I wanted to.

I just wished that he could see that.

****

Once he arrived at the entrance of the field of gravestones, Taeyang took a deep breath and closed his eyes, taking in the spring-cum-summer breeze that caressed his face. Now, he was truly relaxed; I could see it in his eyes, his shoulders and his posture.

As he walked, I remained by his side in silence, but tears were starting to well up in my eyes. I was not sure why, but I could tell how much Taeyang was trying his best not to crumble and hold himself together. It hurt to see him like that, especially after all these years. I wished that he could be truly happy, but I suppose it was easier said than done. I blinked my tears away, but I could still feel that they were threatening to spill anyway.

And that was when we knew that we had reached.

In loving memory of

KIM YOUNGKYUN

(HWIYOUNG)

11 May 1999 - 15 August 2015

I had taken my seat first by the stone and leaned against it, waiting for Taeyang to make his move. He spent a few minutes staring at the words on the stone in silence, holding back the tears, before taking a seat right opposite me.

“Hey Hwiyoung.” He began, his voice still sounding strong, “It’s been long since I’ve seen you. Has it been 2 months? 3 months? Maybe more? Whatever the case, I’m sorry it took so long. As we all know, the café’s gotten more and more crowded, especially when Rowoon decided that bringing in bingsoo inspired dishes would be a fantastic idea. You know how much the ladies love him right?”

Pfft, the ladies love you too.

“I… brought your favourite flowers; light pink roses, lavender and baby’s breath. Once again, I got judged for your weird combination, but this is truly the nicest I have ever seen. They put so much heart and effort into their work; I wish you were there to see it. I remember how much you loved the idea of flower arrangement and how we were supposed to go for the class together after I brought you to all the pottery and baking classes. We were supposed to decorate our flowerpot remember and remember how cheesy we wanted it to be; putting a fake rose in the middle of the bouquet to show how our love was undying. Seriously, Hwiyoung-ah, I still get goosebumps thinking about it.”

I observed how his tone of voice had gone from happy to solemn, and it was definitely evident how much he tried to keep his emotions from showing. He tried to remain strong for my sake, but I knew that if he went on a little more, he would break once again.

Stay strong hyung. I want you to, so try your best… please. It hurts to see you go through all this pain when I know I cannot be there to hold you in my arms and assure you that everything would be alright.

“I have great news for you too though,” He began again after attempting to collect himself, “I got promoted to become the head barista of the Gangnam branch and Inseong hyung made an extra badge for me just so that I could show it to you,” and that was when he placed it on the foot of the stone with a plastered proud, but sad smile.

“Furthermore, here’s the lemon tart that you always liked and I’m so glad Rowoon hyung was smart enough to know how I am when I rush and panic. For once, it’s still in one piece. Also, there are some that were meant for the upcoming autumn season and he thought you might like them, so… eat to your heart’s content… I hope?”

And that was when the dam finally broke. Tears were streaming down his face and his fists were balled until his knuckles turned white, giving his all to suppress his emotions in front of me. He knew I would not have wanted to see him like this, and he was right. Soon enough, my tears had started to fall little by little, and I was glad that he could not see me for once. It was time that he worried for himself, not for someone else.

“I’m sorry Hwiyoung-ah,” He said in between sobs, “I tried to be strong and I tried to move on. I know you would have wanted that, even if it would eat me alive knowing that I will leave your side. Over these past 3 years, I’ve gotten to know so many people all thanks to people like Zuho, but it pained me when none of them could give me the same effect you did when you were still here with me.”

“When you left this world for good, I remembered how much I worried for you, especially when we settled for a home cooked meal for once of your favourite spaghetti and meatballs. I tried to call you but you never answered so I thought that your phone probably died on me. I remembered the excitement when I heard the doorbell ring, but I was greeted by a policeman instead, telling me that you had been hit by a drunk driver just 5 minutes away from our apartment.”

He was sobbing now, and I moved by his side, patting his shoulder and rubbing small circles into it, even though I knew that he would feel nothing.

“I finally knew what it was like to lose all form of happiness, joy and just the comfort and security of having the one you loved by your side. For so many nights, I prayed to God that he would let me see you again for just a minute to reassure me that you were alright. Was it too much to ask? Sometimes, I saw you in my dreams, but all of them ended in gore and nightmare. I despised the drunk driver, wishing that your places had been switched, but I knew that you would be disappointed if I thought that, and settled with the fact that his license was suspended and he was to be jailed for the next 6 months.”

Soon, his emotions took over him and he clearly had no energy left to speak. He cried even more and I held him in my arms, trying my best to channel the fact that I was okay and that I had listened to everything he had just said. My heart ached, so I could imagine how much worse it was for Taeyang.

“Nevertheless,” He continued, after wiping his tears with the sleeves of his cobalt blue blazer, “I’m glad that I got to meet you, Hwiyoung-ah. Thank you for all the memories, the fun times, the laughter… You really gave me the best 5 years of my life, even when you suffered a rough patch yourself. Maybe it was for the better, knowing that you had suffered enough on this world, but I wished that you could have stayed by my side longer.”

I wished that too. And even when I suffered as a young boy under the care of my ever alcoholic father, I would give anything to be with you again.

“Oh look,” He said, pointing at the white flowers that had started to grow by the corner of my stone, “The flowers are blooming. Does that mean you are okay Hwiyoung-ah? I guess it’s safe to say that you are truly in a better place now, especially since you liked flowers so much.”

And that was when the familiar smile was present on his face again, despite the fact that it was tear-stained, but at least he was trying to smile again, even when there was a hole left in his heart.

“I’m glad you are happier, Hwiyoung-ah. And if fate allows, perhaps I’ll see you again. In the next world, or in the next life. However, I know how much you would have wanted me to enjoy life as much as possible without any regrets and now, I figured that I will live for the both of us now. That way, I know I would have done my best before I come to see you again.”

With that, he stood up, bending down to give a kiss to the gravestone (but also the place where I so happened to be at), and that was when I felt the shiver down my spine at the warmth he provided, even in death.

“Goodbye Hwiyoung-ah. I promise to come visit again when I can, and also, happy anniversary love.”

And that was when he turned around, seeing the sunset on the horizon beyond the hill. The sky was a bright orange now, and little by little, the sun started to say goodbye, making way for the moon to take her place.

Throughout the entire time, I looked at him at the corner of my eye, relieved to see that he was slowly finding his happiness again, but it was for that split second before all daylight disappeared that he actually looked in my direction and smiled; one that was full of hope.

“Hey there,” He said, loud enough for me to hear, “Happy anniversary once again and… just remember that I’ll always love you till the end.”

Happy anniversary to you too, hyung, and… I love you too. Don’t forget that I will always be by your side until the day we see each other once again.