Jeonghan is right there. In the middle of the room, stacking books on shelves placed previously from a cart. I think to myself, did I actually find him? Even though I wasn’t really looking. It was just by happenstance that I am standing in a room with him again. And I can’t even remember why.
He finally turns around and he spots me. He’s now also stunned by the person in front of him. But who wouldn’t be? Almost three years of no contact and all of a sudden you’re right in front of each other as if nothing happened.
We both stay silent for just a few more seconds, seemingly getting a firm grasp of the moment, trying to find out which one of us should have the first word.
“Hi.” He speaks first, breaking the awkward silence.
“Hey,” I say back at him, a little bit too cheery. “How are you?”
“What are you doing here?” His eyes look genuinely confused. And mine are no longer look at his, but at the hardwood floor, attempting to gain some recollection as to what I am actually doing there at that moment.
“I’m, uh,” I mutter, still trying to gather my thoughts. “I’m just taking a break from a really long drive, and I was wondering if I could use your restroom?”
I try my best to sound convincing because after all it is true. I didn’t know this store was his nor was it my intention to stop over this exact town. However, I do know that he lives here, so maybe there was a slight thought inside me that hoped I’d see him here. Just a little thought.
“If you walk straight to the back then make a left, you can’t miss it.” He says as he goes back to stacking the books. I can feel the tension in his voice. I can also feel how unwelcoming he is of my presence. As I continue to walk to the back he adds, “It’s really not for customers, so I’m sorry if it’s a bit messy.”
“It’s fine!” I say, again sounding too cheery. “I’ll be quick.”
Seungcheol is here. In my restroom.
Three years and somehow he’s never gone. I rush to the pantry and pour myself a glass of water. All those times I said to myself how I’m fine now and that I’m over it all, and yet here he is, but somehow I can’t pull myself together. As frustrating as it is, I have to pull it together.
I walk back to my cart and pile up the books I have for shelving. I mind my work and forget the fact that the person I fell in love with is doing his business in my shop’s restroom.
I hear the toilet flush. But I don’t hear the faucet running. Three years and he’s still a slob. He unlocks the door and walks out of the restroom.
I breathe in and out, relaxing myself for another encounter. Should I ask him how he found me? This can’t be just a coincidence? Or maybe it is. My frustration boils further. He reappears from the back and walks back to where he was before he left to use the toilet.
“So,” He’s looking at me with hopeful eyes. And I hate it. I hate that he’s here, right in front of me after all those years. “I almost didn’t recognize you.”
I stare blankly at him. I don’t want to give him a response that would please him or make him feel like I’m welcoming his presence in my shop. In my hometown. He begins to walk around, looking around, skimming through the decorations and books.
“This is yours?” He asks. He takes a turn to a corner where I can’t see him. I keep up with him - a bit nervous as to what he might see. Although, I really don’t have much to hide here.
“Yes,” I say back to him.
“I like this book.” He’s holding an astronomy book by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I recommended him that book years ago. I never thought he’d actually read it. Sucks that I still remember these stuff about us. “So, this is where you’ve been for the past two and a half years?”
I just stare at him. I’m trying to keep my emotions at bay and not give him the luxury of seeing me fall apart. The last thing I want is to give him a reason to believe that I’m not okay - that for the past two years or so all I’ve been doing is convince myself that I deserve better and I was moving on. Even though it’s true. All of it is true.
“I like it,” He seems to be developing a feeling of unease from my silence.
“Thanks,” I look away from him and walk to the counter. He follows soon after. He rests his hand on the counter top while I attempt to keep myself busy long enough until he figures out that I don’t want him here and that he needs to go.
“How are you?” He asks. He’s persistent. It’s as if no amount of mono-syllabic answers and death stares I do will make him get it. I don’t want him here.
“I’m fine.” I answer, determined not to give him any hint of emotion.
“That’s cool.” He taps his fingers on the counter top. And from that moment on, I feel like I’m about to burst.
“Look,” I finally drop the act of nonchalance and set him straight. “I don’t know what to tell you, okay? How did you even find this place?”
I don’t know how to describe Jeonghan’s face. I could never describe it. Even before the lost years, I could never figure out what he’s trying to say. His head is a maze and I can’t ever navigate my way around it no matter how much I claim to know who he is. Now, he’s in front of me, asking me a question about what I’m doing here. I want to know if that question is out of curiosity or a rhetorical one, meaning he just wants to know so he can send me on my way.
“As I said,” I shake myself back to normalcy. “I was driving and this was the most convenient place for me to stop since my bladder wasn’t taking it all in much longer.”
“Okay,” He mutters. He walks out of the counter and back to the cart of books he left to follow me. “But, what are you still doing here?”
“I just,” I say. “I don’t know actually…”
Jeonghan stops his book stacking again. I hate to be the one to bring him distress again after all these years. Finally, for the first time since I stepped into his bookstore, I can sense something from him. Distrust.
“I thought maybe we could talk?”
“Why would we do that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, you should have thought it through.”
“I don’t know.”
“Jesus Christ, Seungcheol!”
The atmosphere is tense. And I can sense his frustration. He doesn’t want me here. But, I don’t want to meddle with fate’s intervention. If this is somehow life’s bidding, then I must find a way to reconcile with him at least.
“Look,” I say calmly to him, taking a step forward cautiously and trying my best not to alarm him. “Let’s just talk. I passed by a diner, if you meet me there after you close up, then maybe we’d get some…” I drift off, not wanting to say the words.
“What?” He says. “Closure? That’s rich coming from you.” He walks away again back to the counter where it seems he feels the safest.
“Please, Jeonghan.” I say his name for the first time in a very long time. I know it’s a shitty move for me to do - to appeal on his emotions through the sound of his name on my lips, but this is a once and a lifetime opportunity. I can’t let it slip by me. “Just talk to me.”
Jeonghan has his eyes set on the computer screen on the counter. He falls his head and closes his eyes sharply as if he’s trying to think too hard about it. I look at him. At his hair, the way it’s neatly tucked behind his ears and kept at a length enough to emphasize his facial structure. And his furrowed forehead seems to be doing all the work. I have never seen him this distressed before, and I’m the reason for it. I just know it.
“Alright.” Jeonghan says. I couldn’t help but smile, but I suppress it as soon as I felt it there. I don’t want to give him the wrong impression. “I’ll be out by 6 o’clock. Can you wait till then?”
“Yes,” I answer back right away. I will wait for him until then. “I’ll see you there or if you want I can pick you up and I can drive you--”
“No.” He stops me before I can even finish. His facial expression makes it obvious that being alone with me in a car isn’t something he wants. “I can walk. I’ll just see you there around that time, and we’ll talk.”
“Alright,” I tap my fingers on the counter one last time. “Sure. I’ll see you there.”
I hear the bells of the front door ring, and two teenagers walk in. I take a step back from the counter, taking one last look at Jeonghan before I step out.
“So, I’m going to head out first,” I hear him say.
I smile forcibly, making it known that I’m not interested in hearing about his plans before we meet up in the diner. I make it appear like I’m busy with something on the computer.
“Hey,” He says, standing a few meters away from the counter that separates us completely. “I’m actually happy to see you again.”
He turns around before I could even say something which is good because I don’t have anything to reply. For so long, I have built my life knowing I won’t ever have to see him again. And now that I did. I don’t know if I’m sad, angry, or even happy. All I know is there are tears flooding the creases of my eyes, and I’ll be damned if I let them fall for him again. I wipe it away before it even drops to my cheeks.