TITLE: Remember Me
LENGTH: 1/3; 2/3; 3/3
WORD COUNT: 2,114; 1,677; 1,158
SUMMARY: When two old friends meet after seven years of being apart.
“Hey, Jongupie, do you remember him?” Usually, in that moment Jongup would crinkle his nose at the sound of his mom calling him that way, but the boy on their doormat just totally distracted him from that thought.
For a good few moments, Jongup just stared at the boy not really recalling his name, but the face sure being familiar.
“Don’t you remember Junhong?” His mom’s face almost turned sad at the sight of his son’s total lack of response.
‘Junhong…’ Jongup remembered now… but he couldn’t believe it. He hasn’t seen Junhong in what seemed like forever – for a ten year old, seven years could easily feel like that.
“Hey, Jongupie.” Junhong waved shyly, the nervousness of their first meeting after seven years still there. Jongup would never get mad when Junhong called him that – he couldn’t forget that. It was the same voice Jongup could recall from seven years ago. It was a tad bit softer and less pitched, but it was mainly the same.
And his face…
… his face sure stayed the same, even though Jongup kind of had to look up to see it; and that was the moment when he spotted the height difference.
“You grew a lot…” Those were the first words that came out of Jongup’s mouth. At first, Junhong was surprised, not expecting that as being Jongup’s greeting, but then he just broke into a smile.
“Can I have a hug?” Junhong said in a sweet voice, just like he used to when he was a kid. Jongup just nodded dumbly.
He remembered that when they were younger – before Junhong’s leave – Jongup used to be the taller one between the two, hugging the younger one to his chest. But apparently their positions changed.
This time, Junhong wrapped his slender arms around Jongup while Jongup wrapped them around his waist. It was a warm hug, not too tight, not too loose. It was just enough to tell Jongup that his friend – best friend – was back.
“I missed you, Jongupie.” Jongup felt the hug slightly tightening around him, Junhong nuzzling his shoulder before he loosened up the hold and let go.
“I missed you too, Junhong.” Jongup smiled. It was a strange feeling to have Junhong in front of him after so many years they lost contact. It seemed almost like he was meeting a stranger – almost a stranger.
Jongup’s mother left long ago to prepare some lemonade for the guest, so the two of them were left alone in the hallway.
“Let’s go to my room. Do you still remember where it is?” Jongup chuckled, ushering Junhong upstairs where his room always has been.
“The second one after the bathroom, am I right?” Junhong chuckled. He was right; he knew he was right.
After they entered Jongup’s room and got comfortable, Jongup’s mother came in and left the glasses of lemonade on the table. “I’ll leave now, boys. I am sure you’ve got some catching up to do.” And with that, the door closed behind her.
Jongup looked over at Junhong with a sigh. “So how’ve you been?”
“Been good, but yeah… you know… getting used to another country, city, school, neighborhood and different people… It took a while.” Junhong scratched his nape. “And what about you? Any girlfriend or…?”
“Nah…” Jongup laughed nervously. “… not really.”
“Why?” Junhong’s eyes grew big. “I mean, how come?” He reiterated. When they were kids, Junhong reminisced the times when girls used to run after Jongup during breaks ever since kindergarten.
That question took Jongup aback. He really didn’t know how to reply to that. He never even thought about it actually. He never thought about getting a girlfriend too soon; for him it was always a very mysterious, as if untouchable subject.
Junhong smiled, not wanting to invade Jongup’s private thoughts. “It’s ok if you don’t want to tell me. It must be strange for me to just come up out of nowhere after so long and start asking questions like that.” He laughed awkwardly. Junhong didn’t even know whether Jongup still considered him his best friend after all those years or he just became a stranger he already, most probably forgot.
“No, no, it’s just… I don’t know either. I mean… I never thought of it like that.” Jongup said a bit embarrassed.
“It’s ok. I am sure you’ll find one soon.” Junhong patted the boy’s shoulder. “You are good looking and a very nice person.” He smiled warmly.
Junhong was always like that. He would always look up at his friend, knowing he was older therefore he was smarter, stronger, braver than him. He always admired his friend and always supported him in whatever idiocy he wanted to do. Junhong would shove some confidence into Jongup ever since the first time he learned to ride a bike, the first day he went to school and he was ready to give him all his support even on his first date if he had to.
They spent the afternoon laughing and looking at old photos Jongup’s mom gathered and just killed time inside like they used to when one of them were grounded at home.
“Junhong, do you remember the time I got chicken pox?” Jongup showed him a photo of himself all painted in red spots, sitting grumpily on his bed.
“Yeah, of course I do.” Junhong chuckled then picked out a photo of them wearing the same red spots, sitting next to each other on the bed, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, grinning at the camera. “I sneaked into your room and got it from you.”
They were happy in the photo. They were together.
“And our mothers got so mad that they grounded us for two weeks after the spots disappeared.” Jongup laughed.
“Yeah, and two months later we moved away.” Junhong sighed, looking at the pictures sadly. The chicken pox picture was the last one they had together before Junhong’s parents decided to leave and move definitively to another country. At that time, Junhong was eight and Jongup was ten.
“I remember I cried for two or three weeks and didn’t even want to get out of my room until you came back, but then mom told me that you might not come back at all.” Jongup’s eyes got blurry, but with a couple of blinks he forced the tears to stay in their sockets.
“I am so sorry, Jongupie.” Junhong felt bad that he had to leave back in the days. He sure missed Jongup too, but he didn’t mention that he cried for a whole month because of that… cause it would’ve sounded a bit too childish. Instead he pulled Jongup into another embrace, his hand brushing Jongup’s back soothingly. “And I am sorry that this time I won’t stay long either…” He bit his lip after saying those words aloud. “I am only here for a week.” He sighed as he pulled away to look at Jongup. The boy’s face was confused and almost waiting for Junhong to say he was joking.
“Let’s at least make the best of it.” Jongup showed a sad smiled. He tried hard to make it look like a genuine one... too hard. “A week means plenty of fun, doesn’t it?” Jongup laughed – at least forced himself to.
“Yes it is, hyung.” Junhong smiled excitedly. He waited so long to spend some time with his friend again.
That week they watched movies together again. They bought tons of popcorn, chips, sweets and anything that was junk food and nestled into Jongup’s bed to watch the movies they’ve rented.
Sometime near the end of the third movie, Junhong fell asleep with his head on Jongup’s lap. Jongup smiled. Junhong was just as adorable as always; there was definitely something of the old Junhong there – the cuteness, innocence and the childish sparkle in his eyes when he was happy about something. Jongup was glad that Junhong stayed the same; just like he remembered him.
He gently moved from under Junhong, placing a pillow under his head before cuddling behind him, wrapping an arm around the boy’s waist. Jongup couldn’t explain why the closeness felt so comfortable, but he didn’t even try cause the wave of sleep washed over him as well.
In the morning, the two of them woke up late, but each on different sides of the bed. Junhong crawled over slowly, trying not to wake up the other. He held back a chuckle as he tickled the little mole on the boy’s nose with a picked feather. Jongup squirmed slightly, crinkling his nose, but didn’t mind waking up just yet. Junhong frowned like the kid he still was before gently walking his fingers over the side of Jongup’s neck in attempt of tickling him. This time Jongup moved a little bit more, his eyes cracking open.
“Oh, morning.” Jongup rubbed his eyes.
“I see that the old tickling method still works.” Junhong smiled.
“I remember it being more aggressive though.” Jongup raised one brow. “Something similar to boring through my ribcage.”
“Oh, well times and methods change I guess.” Junhong shrugged, suddenly blushing.
“Boys! Breakfast is ready!” There was the voice of Jongup’s mother coming from downstairs.
“The last one at the table is a rotten egg.” Junhong hit Jongup with a pillow before rushing out the hallway.
Well, maybe not everything changed.
During Junhong’s stay, they did all the things that reminded them of old times, like biking on the middle of the road at two in the morning, water fighting, the chubby-bunny game, playing cards for candies, walking someone else’s dog, making wishes on a street well and going to sleep only when their parents would wake up.
Those things used to be a few of their favorites.
“I had a lot of fun, Jongupie.” Junhong hooked his arm with the boy’s. Again, there came that feeling Jongup got when they fell asleep during the movie. It was only friendly closeness, but it was special for Jongup. Maybe only because it was their last day together and he was about to lose his friend again. Maybe. Maybe because he felt like even if exchanging phone numbers and email addresses it still won’t be the same. They won’t be able to go biking together, or pillow fight or anything of that kind. It won’t be the same.
“Yeah, me too.” Jongup said with rather sad eyes.
They were sitting on the stairs in front of Jongup’s house, looking up at the starry sky. It was a nice parting place.
“Tomorrow at six I’ll be leaving.” Junhong said with a sigh. He turned his head towards Jongup and smiled. “We’ll keep in touch; don’t give me that long face.” He nudged the boy, trying to cheer him up, but on the inside he was just as sad.
Jongup nodded. “Sure.” He tried feigning a smile and making it look sincere at the same time.
Junhong stood up with a sigh. “I guess this is our ‘see you later’.” Jongup stood up as well.
It was around 12 AM, the street was empty, only the street lamp giving the slightest of light somewhere far away from the two. For a few moments they were silent. Neither of them was good at this kind of ‘goodbye’. Well, they skipped it last time.
Jongup realized that he was looking down at his feet only when Junhong took him by the chin and raised his eyes to look at him.
“Hyung, can I give you a parting gift?” Junhong’s voice was a tad bit lower than initially, as if trying not to wake the neighbors up. “But promise not to give it away?”
Jongup was a little bit confused, but he just nodded mechanically, mentally really not there to start asking questions.
At that moment, a spark of glee, of hope just lit up inside Junhong. He didn’t add anything else, just leaned in to make their lips meet into a soft, unhurried kiss. Jongup was just standing there like a statue, stupefied. Junhong lingered a little, just to take in the moment, let it engrave into his brain forever – cause at that moment, after that ‘gift’ he expected Jongup not wanting to see him ever again.
When he pulled away, he saw confusion in Jongup’s eyes. It was the face of a child that found out that Santa doesn’t exist – something like that.
“Bye, Jongupie.” Junhong made a short hand motion, something like a wave, before walking away with hurried steps.
Before Jongup could react in any kind of way, Junhong was already gone.
He was never good with ‘goodbye’s.
It’s been ten years since Junhong left again, not being able to be reached in any way. Jongup tried everything, his phone, his email address, but more than that he didn’t know. He didn’t know where Junhong nor his parents lived anymore.
After the first two years he gave up. Junhong left – this time for good. Jongup never got to find out about what was behind that kiss.
He was already 27 now, and thinking about stuff he did in his teen days was pointless – nothing was about to change, nor be suddenly revealed.
Jongup had a girlfriend at the age of 27. He liked her a lot – he couldn’t say he experienced what ‘love’ truly was until then so he couldn’t say whether he loved her or not, but he liked her a lot indeed. They met a few times, went on a few dates, they eventually got along well, but Jongup couldn’t say that they had any kind of natural attraction that was meant to get them together.
They broke up after Jongup’s 28th birthday.
It wasn’t a surprise. Jongup wasn’t sad at all. He understood the way their relationship evolved and at some point stagnated until it just didn’t go anywhere but downhill.
There was the doorbell ringing and Jongup couldn’t imagine who could’ve been. His mother left for a week to get some therapy and treatments at a spa and as for Jongup, he moved out of his mother’s house years ago so no one could possibly go there looking for him.
“I’m coming.” Jongup was upstairs; arranging some stuff he brought from his place to store in his old room.
When the door opened, it revealed a tall, young man in suit pants and a perfectly ironed shirt. He had smooth, almost child-like features, but there was something mature about him that betrayed his age – maybe a couple of years younger than him, but not more.
Jongup almost had a heart failure, his breath stopping for what felt like forever, his knees almost dropping to the floor. He expected the mailman or some girls selling cookies, but not this…
“Jongupie, do you remember me?”
Of course he remembered. How could he possibly forget?
For a few moments he was lost in the realization, just skimming the man’s features, making sure he wasn’t seeing things. For a good while, time seemed to have paralyzed.
Jongup almost burst into tears, but instead he took the boy’s face into his hands, crushing their lips together, the two bodies forcefully meeting in between. It didn’t quite matter anymore. Jongup was almost sure that was a dream and the situation was totally not plausible in real life.
Junhong was startled, but the act and its surprising nature made him smile into Jongup’s kiss, his arms wrapping tightly around his waist. The kiss was a little bit messy, frantic at the beginning, but with a soothing hand caressing his back, Jongup relaxed into it, letting Junhong’s lips brush against his ever so gently. The warmth pulled him into a comfortable haze that only fueled the conviction that whatever was happening was just a fruit of his imagination.
Junhong walked them inside the house, pushing the door closed behind himself, giving them some intimacy from the neighbors.
When they broke the kiss and pulled away, Junhong could see a couple of shiny strings dragged along Jongup’s cheeks. He did drop a couple of tears… Not because he was happy, but because he was sad. He expected that beautiful image to disappear right after the kiss, just dissolve into thin air and for him to lose it again.
With a smile, Junhong wiped them off, though they kind of awakened a different kind of sadness inside him as well. His eyes lingered onto Jongup a little bit longer, refreshing the image of the face he hasn’t seen in all those years.
“Why are you crying, Moon Jongup?” – Junhong last seen Jongup cry when he was 7, and rode his bike straight into the neighbor’s car.
“Because you’re not real…” Jongup sobbed out with a forced laugh.
Junhong really did laugh. “How am I not real?” He chuckled lightly. “You can feel my hand on your skin, can’t you?” He said that as he caressed Jongup’s cheek softly. “You felt that kiss, didn’t you?” His voice was almost alluring, low and soft, nearly inviting. “And you can feel this too, can’t you?” Junhong let their foreheads touch as his hands traveled up Jongup’s back slowly, tenderly pulling his body closer against Junhong’s before their lips met into another kiss. This time the kiss was nothing hurried or frantic, but lazy and placid. Jongup’s chest heaved a slight bit, taking in a long breath that was meant to shove some oxygen into his nearly numb brain. He felt a rush of something he hasn’t felt before; it was something that made his insides toss and turn.
He pressed himself closer against Junhong’s body, looking for that intimate closeness he longed for. Junhong just smiled into the kiss and rolled his hips back against Jongup’s, to make sure what he wanted. He was rewarded with a shy moan from Jongup’s side and another wanton roll of hips as a reply.
Jongup was new – very new – to that kind of thing so he was kind of lost in what to do next. He looked up at Junhong with the eyes of a pup, waiting for the other to take over. Junhong smiled again, endearingly at his adorable hyung before starting to kiss down his neck with slightly moist lips, his breath tickling the wet path on the way. Jongup’s eyes closed, his chest slowly rising and falling as his mind fogged.
Junhong was gentle, unhurried and almost cautious in what he was doing. He handled Jongup with care, not wanting to scare him away with anything he was doing.
Junhong pushed the boy towards the sofa, sitting him down before crawling onto his lap. For a few moments Jongup panicked. “I-I don’t know how this works…” he bit his lip, looking at Junhong with utter embarrassment.
Junhong soothed Jongup with a hand gently passing through his hair locks and a smile still on his face. “It’s ok.” He almost chuckled at the thought that Jongup never did anything with a guy before – except him. “Just do as you feel like. I’ll do the rest.” he pressed a sweet kiss against Jongup’s lips while his hand rested on his hips, slowly wandering up his back.
Jongup just slightly flinched, his body jutting forward, away from the touch. It was indeed new for him, but he was willing to learn whatever if that meant he would get a little bit more time with Junhong.
The entire atmosphere was intense to overwhelming. Jongup was following Junhong’s lead like a good pupil. It was a strange change of roles after a lifetime when Junhong was the one to learn from Jongup, the one to look up at Jongup. This time it was different.
Jongup was mesmerized by each and every single one of Junhong’s acts. Every touch seemed artistic in ways Jongup couldn’t explain, so graceful in the way he delivered each caress, each kiss. Every wrinkle on his face as his expression changed, every breath he took was something that Jongup completely and utterly fell into admiration for. Maybe it was a little bit more than admiration and more like awe and divinization.
Maybe that was love… That latent flame that awaited just a little spark so that it could burst into a wild fire – and even after such a long time.
His entire body felt like in blaze. Jongup was being devoured from the inside by a sensation that he tried to entrap and engrave into his memory from that moment until forever.
It was their first night. It was a special night. Jongup didn’t remember the last time he fell asleep in someone’s arms. It felt fresh and at the same time it felt as if they’ve done it before. Jongup didn’t remember when he fell asleep, only that the last image he captured in his mind was Junhong’s lashes fluttering closed.
The following morning was like a pitch of black eating up a perfect blue sky. It was nearly devastating – as far as the thoughts in Jongup’s mind would exaggerate it.
He woke up alone again. He expected it to have been a dream. But it wasn’t. He was lying naked on the sofa, clothes scattered around and a note left on the table. It wasn’t actually written on a piece of paper; sign that it might not have been planned beforehand, it was rushed, only last moment decision.
Jongup picked up the tissue that was almost pierced through from the way the letters were pressed into it. There were a few words written on it, such as ‘I am happy I could see you again.’ and an ending sentence that almost ripped Jongup’s existence to shreds ‘I am sorry for what happened.’ . Those words hit him fully in the face and left him hanging there without any explanation, without telling him what he did wrong.
Jongup looked at the last letters scribbled on the corner of the square tissue and read ‘Junhong’. He was sure it wasn’t a dream anymore. That boy has really been there.
Of course, neither of them were boys anymore, but Jongup could only associate what Junhong did with a negligent, rather childish act. He didn’t think about what they did as an act of that kind, but rather the leave itself. Jongup thought they finally opened up to each other and cleared things up between them, but apparently Junhong thought elsewise. He thought of Jongup as a mistake.
Jongup crumpled the tissue and threw in the trashcan. A part of him might have just appreciated the events happening that way, getting consumed so quickly, so suddenly, and disappearing so unannounced. He wouldn’t have been able to make a decent parting anyway – he knew that, and maybe Junhong knew that too.
He was never good with ‘goodbye’s.
It’s been ten years since Junhong left Jongup hanging again. He acted on the impulse of the moment. There were too many ‘what if’s and ‘what if not’s to think about in the morning and they just didn’t let him stay there. He couldn’t face rejection; he couldn’t face an answer other than the one he expected. Junhong didn’t think he was able to cope with it at that time. He was a coward – just like he’s always been.
As he looked at himself in the mirror, he saw the image of a worn out 37 year old – Jongup must have been 38 or 39 already –, nothing like the youth he once was. Years of drugs and alcohol took their toll on him. Junhong looked at the old picture of him and his friend when they were little – the one he kept on his nightstand – then gazed back at the man in the mirror.
‘Who the fuck are you?’ he spat with disgust. He could barely recognize himself.
Junhong looked at his jaw bone and sharp chin, unshaved for a couple or maybe more days; protruding cheekbones crowned by two deep, black circles right under his once glistening eyes. He felt like he could use the word ‘once’ for whatever he would say about himself and not exaggerate the slightest bit. Everything seemed so lost in time, so surreal. Photos weren’t enough to prove what he used to be. Junhong was just a shadow.
A shadow, just like those people that lost everything and it was way too late to start over. Some people would say that ‘It is never too late’, but apothegms like that were way overrated and Junhong was nothing like an emotionally – or in any way – balanced person, nor was his mind Zen or would ever be. He was in a state he couldn’t get out of.
The only thing that he still had hope in and still wondered whether it would ever be possible to complete, was mending himself, apologizing to one person. He wasn’t going to ever apologize for his own self, but he just wanted to know if Jongup was going to or… maybe if he already apologized for what he had done to him.
He didn’t have time to think it over, or to even think twice about it. Junhong wanted to know. He just wanted to make sure. But now, while he was standing in front of the old Moon household, his knees started acting funny. Junhong wasn’t even sure whether Jongup was still living there. He didn’t know anything about him anymore, and he was sure that the only explanation for finding him last time was that he happened to be lucky.
Junhong took a deep breath then held it in. He rang the bell halfheartedly and waited.
Not more than a few seconds passed, but they seemed agonizingly long. Saying to himself that ‘he might not be home’, he almost turned around to leave, but right then the door cracked open and a small person peeked from behind it. Junhong raised his brows and forced a smile – just not to seem too stupefied by the moment.
“Who are you, mister?” The thin, childish voice rang against Junhong’s eardrums. Junhong still couldn’t let that breath out. “Mommy!” The child called. “There’s this man at the door.” And in a few moments the ‘mother’ was there in the doorframe. Junhong forced his smile a little more.
“Hello.” He finally exhaled, but didn’t take another breath just yet.
“Hello. How can I help you?” The woman seemed kind. It was as if Junhong was looking at Jongup’s mother in her youth.
“Is this still the Moon household?” Junhong asked before biting down his bottom lip nervously. He just realized how much emphasis he put on the word ‘still’.
“Uhm, yes. Why?” The woman must have been confused. Junhong didn’t blame her – he was too.
“Is there a Moon Jongup still living here?” Junhong almost slapped his self for that.
The woman nodded. “Yes. He is.” She nodded again. “Jongup is my husband.” There was a smile on her face as she said that – he must have made a good husband… and father – and Junhong’s heart sank.
“Oh.” That was the only thing he could articulate. Junhong nodded and forced another lame smile.
“If you want to meet him, he will be home from work soon. It’s almost 6 o’clock.” She was too kind.
“No, no, no. Thank you, thank you.” Junhong made a hand motion to dismiss the idea. “I am sorry to bother anyway.” He smiled as he walked down the stairs, still trying hard to reciprocate the woman’s politeness. “You have a beautiful daughter.” And with that he turned around and dropped the fake smile off his face.
Junhong’s muscles suddenly clenched.
“Oh, hi baby.” Junhong could hear that happy smile in her voice. He always hated happy families, moreover those that showed it off in front of everybody. He never had one. His parents divorced right before he had to leave the town. That was the reason they left; that was the reason why he had to do this right now. “This gentleman was looking for you earlier…” Junhong could almost swear she was pointing at him. He kept walking.
But then he heard steps behind his back. “Hey, excuse me sir. Uhm, can I help you with something?” Jongup’s hand softly landed on his shoulder to stop him in place.
Junhong did turn around, but tried to keep his eyes away from Jongup’s. He almost felt like crying. “No. I must have made a mistake.” Junhong curled his lips only for a second, to seem casual.
“But you look familiar…” Jongup searched for his gaze. “Are you sure we haven’t met before?”
Junhong looked up just a mere moment, to capture one last glance of that man. He matured a lot as well. His childish features disappeared. Jongup was a man now. He had a family. He was a dad for God’s sake. Junhong didn’t belong there anymore. It would’ve been an atrocity to force himself back into Jongup’s life once he already fixed himself up and was doing just fine without him around; more than fine, perfectly even.
“I am sure.” Junhong nodded shortly, before turning away to leave. And he left. Jongup didn’t stop him. Maybe he didn’t even remember him anymore. Maybe it was better that way.
Someone once told him – or maybe he read it somewhere – that you only forgive someone when you forget the reason why they hurt you, only when you forget everything about the incident – when, with whom, why. Only that is true forgiveness.
Junhong was now sure Jongup forgave him.
Or maybe he recognized him, and he remembered, but maybe even after the third time, he just didn’t find a suitable way to say ‘goodbye’.
Junhong didn’t blame him. He was never good with ‘goodbye’s either.