Love for Love's Sake - Chapter 26
After disembarking at the bus stop in front of Hwaseong’s sports complex, I saw a sight filled with old commercial buildings and apartments beyond the wide lanes. Behind the bridge was a stretch of undeveloped greenery.
I had been to Hwaseong before.
At that time, it was a much more crowded tourist destination than this place. I looked around and crossed the street. My injured foot was sore with every step.
As I entered the supplementary stadium, a grassy field and an athletics track surrounded by the stands came into view.
Banners hanging between the stands were fluttering in the wind. In addition to the hosts in blue caps, there were already a few people in the stands. Most of them seemed to be officials of the event or family members of the participants. Occasionally there were locals who seemed to have come to watch.
My priority now was to find a seat that was a reasonable distance from Cha Yeowoon.
There was some distance between the stands and the track, so it shouldn’t be too difficult. And just in case he would recognize me, I had come prepared with a mask and a baseball cap.
[ 100m to Love Supremacy Zone. ]
Furthermore, I had a great early warning detector. If I ever felt like I was too close to danger, I could quickly leave the stadium.
It wasn’t easy to cheer. I wondered what I was doing here without letting Cha Yeowoon know.
Maybe later, would he appreciate it a little? Maybe? I thought he would.
If someone had come to support me on the day I had reapplied for the college entrance exam, I would have been happy. Even if I wasn’t aware of it, it would have been comforting to believe that someone was cheering for me. But back then, there was no one for me.
It was my first time watching a track and field event in person. Numbers cones were assigned to the eight lanes.
The high schools and athletes’ names were announced through the speakers. In the 200m final, Cha Yeowoon was in lane 7.
Feeling anxious, I clenched my cap tighter. As the athletes took their positions in the lanes, I became increasingly anxious.
I was already like this, so I couldn’t imagine how Cha Chawoon must be feeling.
[Ahn Sia] : Big brother
[Ahn Sia] : Are you watching the competition?
I became momentarily distracted as I checked the consecutive messages. Ahn Sia’s name filled my recent messages, with requests for photos and updates.
The problem was that Cha Yeowoon hadn’t replied for several days.
I stopped replying to Ahn Sia and looked ahead again. There was still no signal announcing the start of the competition.
Cha Yeowoon seemed strange.
While the other athletes had already positioned their feet on the starting blocks and were ready to run, he still hadn’t acted.
Could he be disqualified for this? Although I didn’t know much about track and field, I at least knew that much when it came to rules.
And sure enough, the host whistled and gave a warning.
It seemed like a disqualification was imminent.
Despite the danger, I was already rushing forward.
[ 20m to Love Supremacy Zone. ]
As I leaped down, the ankle that was supposed to be stabilized throbbed with a sharp, stabbing pain. My cap kept falling backward, so I took it off completely.
[ 10m to Love Supremacy Zone. ]
The closer I got, the cloudier and darker Cha Yeowoon’s surroundings seemed. Blinking didn’t change a thing.
What was clear were his bright blue shoes.
He was wearing the track and field shoes I had given him.
I clung to the iron railing as if I was about to leap and shouted at the top of my lungs.
Our eyes met.
Just like the moment when we first met.
His distant gaze anchored onto me.
[ Calculating Cha Yeowoon’s favorability. ]
It was like golden sand swirling underwater.
The moment when the world turned upside down like an hourglass…
Cha Yeowoon lowered his body, touched the ground with his hands, and stepped on the starting block.
[ Entering Love Supremacy Zone. ]
I hadn’t moved a single step. Yet, the message claimed I was getting closer to Cha Yeowoon.
A small explosion resounded.
Once the starting signal was given, Cha Yeowoon sprinted.
I saw a multicolored band spreading from his feet. The circle that surrounded him shimmered in a brilliant rainbow.
The ripples spread like waves towards me.
[ Favorability: -99 ]
[ Calculating Cha Yeowoon’s favorability. ]
The messages and the colorful waves didn’t stop.
[ Favorability: -79 ]
The numbers changed in real-time.
[ Favorability: -52 ]
[ Favorability: -30 ]
With each stride Cha Yeowoon took, the numbers rebounded.
The deep negative score was rising. Cha Yeowoon seemed to be running as if he could shake off his own shadow.
It was truly, sincerely, impressive.
My hands that were clinging to the railing heated. Before I knew it, I was shaking.
The 200m came to an end in no time. Cha Yeowoon seemed to fly towards the finish line. In my vision there was only Cha Yeowoon. It was also the brightest spot.
[ Favorability: 0 ]
And the moment he stood in the sun and looked at me.
[ Favorability: 1 ]
A simple but definite number gripped my heart that was beating wildly.
Cha Yeowoon, who was gasping and heaving his shoulders, stepped off the ground again. He wasn’t looking anywhere else.
He was coming towards me.
* * *
[ Calculating favorability. ]
Cha Yeowoon was standing still.
“Cha Yeowoon! Run!”
Until that shout reached him.
His field of vision lowered significantly. His leg muscles tensed. He took a ready stance and kicked off the ground.
When the ready signal sounded, his feet, which had no intention of moving as if they were attached to the ground, finally moved. He felt like he was on a mudflat rather than a running track.
Throughout the day he had felt extremely tired. Every step he took, he felt as though shadows were entwining around his ankles.
He was going to lose today.
With a sense of impending defeat, he boarded the bus. He gripped the handrail and swayed as the bus was in motion. There was no place left to escape.
In the sports bag he had brought were brand new track and field shoes he had never worn.
Wearing new, untreated spikes to a competition was a mistake not even amateurs would make. But he had done just that.
Shoes that had never been worn stepped onto the tracks for the first time. And he ran.
The scenery changed rapidly. He could see the backs of those ahead of him. The air became the wind.
He took a deep breath as he rounded the bend.
His feet, which had been like glue, now moved as if it had no weight. There were no hunger or thirst pangs scratching at his stomach.
Hot blood rushed to his fingertips. He felt like he could draw the path of the breath circulating his respiratory tract.
The finish line was incredibly clear. A thin shudder ran down his spine as he crossed the line.
Right now, that person was watching this very moment.
As he wiped away his sweat, he approached the stands as if in a trance. Other participants who had finished were also coming down to their families, but there was only one place he was heading.
Tae Myeongha, who had noticed him approaching, stood up from his seat with a surprised expression.
Cha Yeowoon’s steps quickened.
“Don’t come closer.”
He recalled what Tae Myeongha had said in the hallway.
It seemed like his senior might leave immediately.
But Tae Myeongha ran down the stairs.
He stepped onto the ground and tightly held Cha Yeowoon’s hands.
“You ran well.”
Sweaty palms came into close contact with one another. Their damp flesh seemed to be sticking to each other as the body heat became vivid. Heartbeats pulsed between their hands.
The world swayed.
Balance shifted like a boat. Light poured in one direction.
Cha Yeowoon’s feet were throbbing in the unfamiliar shoes. They felt hot and sore.
“I only got third place.”
“What do you mean only? You did well.”
The strange senior smiled without care. His entire face was adorned with sharp features that seemed to dance pleasantly enough to appear radiant.
What had weighed heavily on Cha Yeowoon’s chest flew away in an instant.
“You did really well, Yeowoon.”
Cha Yeowoon could feel Tae Myeongha resting his chin atop his head. His sweaty hair was messy and all over the place.
Although he swayed from the hand rubbing his head, he didn’t avoid it. Now, he couldn’t escape it.
His heart, which had been beating wildly, seemed to expand and engulf his whole body.
“Cha Yeowoon, you’re not crying, are you? What’s there to cry about?”
Tae Myeongha’s voice was mixed with confusion. Cha Yeowoon blinked rapidly, brushing away the moisture clinging to his eyelashes.
“Why is senior so nice to me?”
However, it pooled faster than it was shaken off.
It would be easier if there was a reason for this. If Tae Myeongha wanted something. Cha Yeowoon couldn’t understand.
“Why are you doing this?”
Tae Myeongha had appeared without warning. On that day where they had met, Cha Yeowoon had thought it would be okay to die. It would have been fine.
Because it was too heavy.
He hadn’t intended to jump, but as he looked down, he found himself doing just that. Gravity grabbed at his feet and pulled him down.
Tears felt heavy as they tried to fall. He rubbed his eyelids roughly. Shimmering iridescent dots flickered before his eyes.
“Stop it. You’ll hurt yourself.”
Tae Myeongha gently rubbed the corner of Cha Yeowoon’s eyes. Tears finally fell and wet Tae Myeongha’s fingers.
What if this person left?
What if he disappeared? Whatever he wanted, Cha Yeowoon had nothing to give.
In that case, he hoped that he would turn away as soon as possible and not hesitate. However, he didn’t go anywhere. He worried about him even as he burst into tears like a child.
“Why is senior like this? Doing this will only cause misunderstandings…”
The pounding noises in his ears became loud. The stinging sunlight, the heat that made even the soles of his feet throb, the sensation of the wind brushing against his damp skin–everything was so vivid that it hurt.
“What the hell am I to you?”
Cha Yeowoon leaned his cheek against Tae Myeongha’s hand and asked the question he had been most eager to ask. It didn’t matter who Tae Myeongha was now.
Rather, he wanted to know who he was to his senior.
It was painful because he couldn’t contain this immense presence within his young heart. His heart pounded as if it would tear apart.
Tae Myeongha, after saying so as if he was going to answer, simply wiped Cha Yeowoon’s tears away. Just when Cha Yeowoon was wondering what Tae Myeongha would say next and was about to ask, someone called out to him from behind.
“They’re calling you. Go ahead.”
“I’ll wait. Let’s have a meal together after this.”
Tae Myeongha cheerfully suggested before Cha Yeowoon could ask.
Only after hearing those words was Cha Yeowoon able to return to where the other athletes were, as if he had been freed from a spell.
He had finished third and his record was far from his personal best. The teacher who had accompanied him seemed dissatisfied, but he was satisfied.
“You did really well, Yeowoon.”
Tae Myeongha was satisfied, so he was satisfied.
Around the time he left the competition, the first person he sought out was Tae Myeongha. His chest felt stuffy. Maybe even more so than before. What should he do? He murmured to herself.
Suppressing his chest with his palm, he approached Tae Myeongha. Strangely, the closer he got, the more his feet moved as if drawn.
“You’re here, Cha Yeowoon.”
Tae Myeongha, who had been waiting, waved. Cha Yeowoon didn’t hate it.
It was painful.
But now, there was no escaping.