Love for Love's Sake - Chapter 21
“I can run that much.”
“Sangwon, if you’re not going to run, just shut up and watch.”
I said sharply, but there was no sign of Cheon Sangwon being discouraged. Instead, he let out a faint laugh as if he wanted me to hear it.
The coach, who was measuring the results, called out to Cha Yeowoon. Judging by the atmosphere, it didn’t seem like a positive conversation.
I felt like a parent wanting to be there for their child when they were sick. My legs trembled with impatience.
“Won’t he get dropped from the starting position?”
“What do you mean?”
“Brother say you’re a fan of Cha Yeowoon, but you didn’t know? I was curious how good he is, so I asked the guys who were practicing today. They said he hasn’t been practicing properly the past few months and his results have been declining.”
I wanted to retort that it was because of his grandmother’s illness and the funeral, but at the same time, I didn’t want to bring it up carelessly. Especially in front of this guy.
“He’s competing in place of Tak Jungyeong next Monday. I heard if he doesn’t perform, he might not be selected for the national competition.”
“I guess you think that’s funny.”
“It’s not funny at all, but it’ll be fun to change brother’s impression of Cha Yeowoon whenever you talk about him.”
“If you want to die, keep it up, Sangwon.”
In the face of my threat, Cheon Sangwon smiled while showing his teeth as if he found it amusing. Seriously, this guy.
“Go watch your friends.”
Tired of dealing with Cheon Sangwon, I relocated to a spot farther away. Cha Yeowoon, who was trudging back on the track, suddenly looked up in the direction of the stands.
As if on cue, we locked eyes.
Cha Yeowoon’s pale yellow eyes flickered as he looked at me.
Despite our distance, his eyes were clearly visible.
His light-colored irises, shining in the sunlight, appeared even paler. In them were only me.
The corners of his eyes twitched. For a moment, there was an illusion as if his pupils were shimmering with moisture.
I felt like I had done something wrong. I had only come to cheer, but that was how it felt.
Cha Yeowoon never regained his composure even as practice ended.
Although he had clearly seen me waiting for him, he receded as if he was running away. I spotted him across the schoolyard and managed to catch up with him.
Cha Yeowoon briskly walked away without even looking at me.
It was my turn to run this time.
“Why have you been running away since this morning?”
He finally stopped when I grabbed his arm.
“Did you see everything?”
“Don’t come to practice.”
Cha Yeowoon’s words were sharp and clear.
“You are sick. You had a hard time. There are times when things don’t work out.”
“I don’t want to show you.”
Cha Yeowoon turned his head to one side as if he didn’t want to see me. The thin side of his face turned red. It was similar to the face I had seen when there was only a candle lit between us.
“I don’t want to show senior my shortcomings.”
Cha Yeoowon looked downcast as if confessing a shameful fact. Not knowing how to soothe him, I pulled his arm tightly.
I brought him in front of me as his feet scraped across the schoolyard. His red-stained face was now fully visible.
“I don’t care if you’re good or bad.”
Being closer, I could distinctly see the changes in Cha Yeowoon’s expression. Heavy eyebrows, cramps above the cheekbones, etc…
“No, I don’t mean anything bad.”
Cha Yeowoon exhaled a short breath.
The conversation stopped there, and both Cha Yeowoon and I fell silent.
He abruptly withdrew his arm, his mouth tightly sealed, and once again, he left me behind.
[ Calculating Cha Yeowoon’s favorability. ]
I was wondering if something like what had happened this morning would happen again, but it was as expected. This time, there was no message of recalculation or current favorability. The phrase came to mind and disappeared, and that was the end.
It was unnecessary to think what it would be this time. Rather, I felt an urgency not to lose Cha Yeowoon who kept moving forward.
“Let’s go home together today.”
“I don’t want to be with senior.”
I tried to follow and talk to Cha Yeowoon, but his response was resolute. The cold-hearted guy didn’t even bother to look back at me.
As I was busily chasing after Cha Yeowoon at some distance, an intruder intervened in front of me.
“On the way to catch the bus? Want to go together?”
Cheon Sangwon, who appeared out of nowhere, stood strategically in front of Cha Yeowoon. When I tilted my head to the side to try and look ahead, he did the same thing and blocked my view.
Even when I tried to push him away and move forward. He hindered my path by stepping backwards.
“Not answering and even telling me to move aside…”
[ 10m to Love Supremacy Zone. ]
Looking at the notification, I realized that Cha Yeowoon was already quite a distance away.
“Ah! He ran away because of you!”
I resisted the urge to grab Cheon Sangwon by the collar and shake him. Not only did I not want to hit him, but I also had a feeling that he might like it.
Instead, I muttered a complaint that only I could understand. I had wondered what would replace the debuff, but it turned out to be just as unhelpful.
“Debuff? Brother said you don’t play games. By the way, did you just call me a debuff? That’s rude. You’re going too far.”
“I wish it was all just a game. Go away. Go home.”
I waved my hand as if shooing away a fly and headed in the direction where Cha Yeowoon had gone. Rather than try to chase the fly away, I was more focused on finding Cha Yeowoon.
[ 5m to Love Supremacy Zone. ]
I walked briskly, peering at the students from school as they passed by. Cha Yeowoon couldn’t be seen and the distance shown in the notification continued to fluctuate.
If this was a game, the difficulty balance was way off.
I had barely achieved a 0 favorability, and now it seemed like I had become the one chasing Cha Yeowoon.
* * *
[ Calculating favorability. ]
Cha Yeowoon was out of breath.
After running for a while, he sat down on the ground and caught his breath.
He stood up, wiping his sweaty palms on his knees. As was often the case after a long run, he was out of breath and his chest felt sore.
Glancing behind him, he noticed it was close to the bus stop. Students leaving all wore similar uniforms, making them look almost identical at first glance.
Whenever a tall male student with short hair passed by, his lips would part slightly. He took deep breaths, expanding his lungs.
Tae Myeongha wasn’t in sight.
Despite having run away to avoid him, he continued to turn around as if waiting.
His feet stopped.
As if he believed Tae Myeongha would appear if he waited long enough.
This must be what a trapped insect on a sticky paper felt, he thought. A feeling of helplessness as if he couldn’t escape. His chest ached as if he had been stabbed deeply with a sharp needle.
“Why are you looking for that child? Two buses have already left. Why don’t you ride on my motorcycle?”
“Noisy. I told you to go home.”
Cha Yeowoon retreated into a narrow alley when he heard such voices, not knowing why he was hiding. He hid in the shadows, waiting for Tae Myeongha to pass.
Tae Myeongha was walking alongside Cheon Sangwon. Their shoulders were close, and they brushed against each other awkwardly. A shallow crack appeared between Cha Yeowoon’s eyebrows as he watched.
The narrow alley between the path leading to the bus stop was cramped and dirty. Garbage bags rolled under the telephone pole that stood tall between the walls.
Leaning against the gray cement wall, he couldn’t stop peeking out of the alley. A tree towering above the front wall cast shadows upon his head.
“Where the hell is he?”
The voice returned. A long beam of sunlight split between the tree branches covered one of Cha Yeowoon’s eyes.
Instead of passing by, Tae Myeongha turned back and continued to look around. It was as if he expected him to be nearby, as if he knew for certain.
Tae Myeongha had always been like that.
Strangely, he seemed to be able to find him no matter where he was.
Except for when he was running, he felt like he was trapped in the gloomiest corner.
“You didn’t go home and were here? Cha Yeowoon.”
Cha Yeowoon had been found.
Tae Myeongha, who stepped into the alley, stood opposite Cha Yeowoon.
The path was narrow enough for one person to barely pass, so the distance was close even when standing against the wall on the other side. It seemed as if the tip of their sneakers would touch at any moment.
Tae Myeongha’s sleek features were seen very closely. The pitch-black eyes were in front of Cha Yeowoon.
Cha Yeowoon’s heart was racing uncomfortably. It jumped up like a frog and caught his throat.
Sticky sweat trickled down his back. His summer uniform clung unpleasantly.
“Let’s go home together.”
Tae Myeongha reached out his hand.
He grabbed Cha Yeowoon’s hand and pulled it outside.
Although he hadn’t grabbed it with that much force, Cha Yeowoon stumbled as he helplessly followed.
Cha Yeowoon wanted to run away.
It was strange. The thirst and dizziness that he had felt right before he fell unconscious in the living room suddenly struck him.
The sunlight was so bright that his vision faded white for a moment. It was as if a camera’s aperture had been adjusted incorrectly, increasing the overall brightness.
It seems as if a different filter had been applied by sliding one’s finger across the screen. He closed his eyes tightly to suppress the unrelenting heartbeat.
He suddenly recalled when he had heard about his mother’s obituary. It was only four stops away by bus. He had run non-stop to the front of his mother’s house one weekend.
It had only taken 36 minutes of diligently running. Less than an hour.
Despite being so close, his mother never came to see him.
Standing in front of the building where his mother had lived, sweat flowed like rain and his legs cramped. The liquid that fell under him, who had collapsed, stained the uneven surface of the asphalt.
People often said they would die for their children, so why did his mother do what she did? He didn’t have the answer. Perhaps he wasn’t the kind of child worthy of love.
One day, everything would leave him. He would be disappointed.
“The bus is late.”
Tae Myeongha, who was looking around at the bus stop, pushed Cha Yeowoon toward the innermost spot. It was a shaded area where the sunlight wasn’t too hot.
Cha Yeowoon pressed his chest tightly with his palm. His heart swelled and contracted as if it had a mind of its own.
Next to him, Tae Myeongha, appearing unconcerned, stopped looking at the electronic display and glanced at the other side of the road. The light that shone through his beautifully carved features was enchanting.
Cha Yeowoon disliked Tae Myeongha.
“What do you want to eat when we get home?”
“What is anything? Can’t you answer properly?”
“I’ll eat whatever you give me.”
“I want to give you something you like. Hurry up. Meat? What?”
Cha Yeowoon clamped his lips shut harder. A strong hunger arose. To the point where his molars grinded together tightly.
He mulled it over. He really disliked his senior.