"You what?" Sejun looked up from his phone, no longer distracted. He sat up straight, and raised his brows, prompting his manager to repeat what she just said.
“We signed that contract for you,” his manager, tiny, spectacled Jeon Yeonji looked sheepish, taking in his tone. “The one you told us to look over again?”
“The one where I have to come back home for a month?”
She pouted. It wasn’t gonna work on him this time. Yes, she looked like a lost Pomeranian and he sees her like the baby sister he never had but this wasn’t going to cut it this time. “I thought you wanted us to review it one last time before we could sign it.” She squeaked.
“I wanted you to read it again so you could realize that it was the last program I wanted to do,” he put his phone down in resignation. If the company had signed the contract, there was no getting him out of it.
“But the company thought it would be perfect,” Yeonji explained. “You have an extended rest period, we all thought it was nice for you to have some sponsored rest.”
“ I know, ” he huffed in frustration. “I have no problem going back to Jeonju, I just—I’ve seen that show, they… Yeonji. ” What frustrated him more was the fact that she should have known. Yeonji knew about his reservations, she knew about the things he wants to avoid the most. The people he wanted to avoid the most.
“I could...meet him there again.”
“Who, Byungchan?” He flinched at the mention of the younger's name. “I thought you met him in college. You went to college here in Seoul, right?”
“We met in middle school, in Jeonju. We dated and we both decided to attend college here in Seoul.”
Yeonji’s mouth hung open, confused, as she tried to piece the timeline together. “Oh,” he scratched her forehead sheepishly. “You broke up ages ago, that was like… what 8 years ago? Haven’t you moved on from that?”
“That’s not the point,” he took another deep breath. “The show interviews people you know and knew, what if they get to Byungchan? What if he bad mouths me?” Deep inside him, Sejun didn’t believe Byungchan would be capable of something like that. But it has been eight years, and all Sejun left him after packing his things and completely leaving was a lame-ass letter. He could still be angry about that. Byungchan could’ve changed a lot since then.
“You mean what if he tells the world how you just up and left him in the middle of the night without even properly breaking up with him, and how you haven’t even attempted to apologize to him since?”
Sejun swallowed uncomfortably, the lump of guilt coming up through his throat. “Don’t say it like that.”
“What?” she demanded. “Did I lie?”
He looked at his fingers, suddenly interested in them. “I didn’t know what else to do.”
“You could have told him.”
“I know but he would have put up a fight. He wouldn’t let me, and I’d either, one,” he held up a finger. “Fought with him about it and it could have ended up messily, or two,” he held up another one. “Gave into him like the weak bitch that I am and I never would have been here.”
“Or three,” Yeonji held up three fingers. “He could have loved you so much he would have never stopped you from achieving your dreams and let you go anyway.”
“You don’t know Byungchan,” Sejun muttered, his last attempt at defending himself. “He’s clingy.”
Yeonji shrugged. “I might not have known him personally, but I know him from your stories. And there's one thing I know: that boy loved you. A lot. If he's as horrible and clingy as you paint him to be, why did he never go after you? Why did he never bug you into getting back together? He still had your number, right? And you told me you even put which company cast you in the letter. But no one ever heard from him."
"Maybe he didn't care."
She chuckled, reaching for a glass of water. "You can think whatever you want, Lim Sejun. It's your life. But if you're really scared of Byungchan, I can talk to him. And if I think he might slip up and ruin things for you, I can just tell the company to talk to the producers for us and make sure they don’t approach him. Happy now?” Sejun knew that it was the only thing the company could do for him now, but he still wasn’t completely happy. It’s not like he would ever be ready to face Byungchan again. But it’s not like they’re gonna meet again, right?
“Can I run this by my parents first?” He asks the staff of the show. “If there’s gonna be tens of people showing up and taking videos I think I’d have to tell them beforehand.”
“Ah, there’s no need,” the Production Director, Go PD assured him through a firm shake of the head. “You won’t be staying at your original house, although we may visit from time to time. Staying there can become a security risk since I’m sure some of your fans already know where it is, and it would be bothersome for your parents if we filmed for an entire month. We’ve arranged a hotel for you, and for a while, we’ll stay in a Hanok house.”
Sejun tried his best not to roll his eyes. Hanok house. Predictable. As if there wasn’t anything else to do in Jeonju.
“But the main goal of the variety is to get to know you, ” Sejun stiffened. “Although, of course, we’ll do it while we explore Jeonju as that's still the main goal. We’ll visit your old schools, talk to your teachers, maybe talk to some classmates, your family, et cetera.” He shuffled some papers in front of him as if he was looking for something. “We currently have a shortlist of people who could come with us in some of the episodes, they’re all suggested by your parents. Like…” he looked through his papers once again, but when he couldn’t find what he was looking for, he eventually gave up. “Based on what I remember there’s the high school classmate, Do Hanse,” Sejun smiled. At least they inquired beforehand so they had the best candidates. Hanse is effortlessly funny and remains to be one of Sejun’s closest friends. “Or the cousin, Jung Subin.”
“ Oh, Subin is wonderful, ” Yeonji exclaimed excitedly before Sejun could even comment on the choice.
“Of course, you’d think so,” he scoffed, albeit lightheartedly, as they were just bantering around. There hasn’t been anyone in this world who was immune to Jung Subin. Yeonji continuously doted on his younger cousin whenever they came to Seoul to visit him.
“There were others but I couldn’t remember their names,” he continued. “Long story short, we’ve contacted all of them, and we’ll post a poll online so the people can decide who they want to see with you. We’ll tell you about the rest during our next meeting which will most probably be in Jeonju.”
Sejun straightened up and sighed, then finally standing up to bow to the staff who were taking their leave. “We’ll see you, then.”
“See you, too, Sejun. And make sure to have fun, you should relax, it’s a vacation, after all.”
Sejun looked out at the Jeonju skyline, bright and twinkling in the night, but it was much less imposing than Seoul’s polluted night sky. Literally a breath of fresh air. Ever since he moved to Seoul for college and ran into the night to start training to become an actor, he has never returned home. He did buy his parents a house in Seoul so they could comfortably come and visit him at any time. He didn’t want to go back to Jeonju, he was too much of a coward to do so. Everyone he knew probably knows what he did to Byungchan and sees him differently, maybe even his parents. Fortunately, they didn’t mention anything about it.
A sudden urgent knock shook him out of his reverie and made him jump in his place. Clutching his chest and suddenly imagining how his body would have ended up broken and splattered on the ground below if he had accidentally jumped off in his surprise, he sighed and walked across the room to open the door.
“Sejun!” Yeonji’s voice came muffled from the other side, urgent, and nervous.
“Wait,” he called back right before opening the door. “What?”
“I am so sorry,” she apologized right away, hands fidgeting. “They didn’t tell me anything, and I trusted their list since your parents gave them that list anyway.”
“What do you mean?” he demanded, more confused than angry.
“Here,” she took a step into his room and unlocked her phone, showing him the contents of the screen. It was the poll the production staff posted online for the fans to vote for a sort of guide with Sejun. They were gonna pick three, the third placer was to come with Sejun for a hotel and home tour, the second placer was supposed to also be on the hotel and house tour plus a middle school tour, and the first place was supposed to be on the high school tour, food tour, and the variety tour, to make sure Sejun wasn’t alone in any of it. The list looked fine, it was a list of school friends that he still maintains contact with. Their profiles were even pretty and elaborate, complete with descriptions of how they were related to him.
High school friend and soccer captain. Maintains an athletic rivalry but also a tight friendship with Sejun.
High school friend and seatmate. He used to help him out with his academics and was with him through their choir days.
Middle school friend and a fellow Seoulite, Sejun has maintained the most contact with him throughout the years.
Middle school best friend. Funny and outgoing, Hanse is Sejun’s favorite comedian.
Sejun’s youngest cousin. Charming and cute, Subin keeps in contact with Sejun through visiting him in his Seoul apartment.
“It looks fine, what’s the problem?” he turned to Yeonji. Subin was winning so far and he feels like the boy is going to outshine him but other than that, there was nothing wrong.
“Scroll down, there’s one more.”
Sejun scrolled down, and immediately froze up.
One of Sejun’s closest friends throughout the years, they met in middle school and stayed inseparable until the last of their college years before Sejun left school to train as an actor. Byungchan continued to support Sejun’s dreams despite not having seen each other in 8 years.
“ Look at that description,” Yeonji gaped. “And oh shit, that gap.”
Oh, shit, indeed. That’s why the percentages looked weird. Even with Subin leading, he only had around 17% of the votes. Byungchan hogged a staggering 49% of the votes, “How did this happen?” It couldn’t sink in quite yet. All he can think of at that moment was the picture of Byungchan, smiling up at him on the screen. Ever since he looked at his face and kissed his cheek before running away, Sejun hadn’t seen him. Eight years. He hadn’t seen Choi Byungchan, even in pictures, in eight whole years. He could think of nothing else.
“Apparently he was on your parents’ list, that’s where they got the description, they approached him and they said he’d agreed to be a part of this.”
“What?” At that point, everything out of Yeonji’s mouth sounded muffled, as if he was underwater. “He agreed to this?” As if he wasn’t already overwhelmed enough, another knock came through the door. Yeonji reached behind her to open it while Sejun stood still.
He was, not in any way, ready to see Byungchan on the other side. Taller than he was when he last saw him, and a lot thinner, Byungchan still pretty much looked the same. As if on cue, he could feel his throat constricting, feeling out of breath. All these years he thought seeing him again would only cause his guilt to resurface, but all he can think of is how much he wanted to reach out and touch him again. He tried to suppress those emotions as Byungchan stretched his lips into a tiny smile that didn’t reach his eyes.
“Hi, Mr. Lim,” he couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable with the formal address. “May I come in?”
“Uhh,” he hesitated. “Yeah, sure.” He stepped out of the way and Yeonji, did, too. It was only then that he realized that Byungchan was wearing the hotel staff uniform. A clean, crisp, black suit with his name pinned on his chest. Choi Byungchan.
“You work here?” He cursed himself from sounding too shaky. Yeonji must have heard the tremor in his voice since she stepped forward. “I can’t really leave him alone with someone I don’t know so I’m just gonna step out into the balcony to give you some privacy,” she muttered before walking away so fast, he could hear roadrunner sounds when she did.
“I’m the Assistant Manager here,” he said, to answer Sejun’s question before they were interrupted.
“Right,” he nodded, trying to expel the awkward air around them. “You were studying management.”
“Byungchan, I,” the words got stuck in his throat. For years, hell, right when he stepped out of their shared apartment, he felt sorry for leaving him behind, but why can’t he just get the damn words out of his throat? “Why did you accept? You know we haven’t talked in years.”
“I am aware,” he agreed stiffly. “But we shouldn’t be awkward, everyone thinks we’re okay and that we’re still friends.”
Sejun stopped in his confusion. “What? What do you mean? How do they not know? I didn’t graduate with you, we were broken up when you came back here.”
“I told everyone that we agreed on breaking up, mutually, and that there were no hard feelings between us. Everyone believed me, it was fine, but then Chan came back from Seoul and apparently, you told him what happened and now the rest of the boys know. But that’s it. No one else does.”
All these years, the only reason Sejun managed to cope with the guilt of leaving Byungchan behind was the thought that he might have a horrible reputation back home for doing something that horrible to his boyfriend and continuously thinking that he might have been badmouthing him this entire time. That maybe some of the hate comments he gets online were from him. But he should have known. He should have known that Byungchan was too kind to do anything like that.
“Why?” Because he’s kind, that’s why, a voice from the back of his brain insisted.
“I wasn’t dumb, Sejun,” he scoffed. “You were on your way to chasing a dream within the entertainment industry. That was taxing and draining enough as it is, I didn’t want to ruin your chances at becoming a superstar just because you broke my heart.” Everything was well before he added that last statement.