Chapter 21

The night air was cold. Dojin walked out of his home with a thick hoodie and a basketball in hand.

[You want to play basketball?]

Daemyung sounded very conservative with his request.

“Want to? Why couldnt he be upfront and tell me he wanted to play basketball?”

Dojin thought Daemyung could get much more confident as a person. The guy was alright, but awkward expressing a lot of his opinions.

It was a week ago, for example. He, Maru, and Daemyung were trying to decide what to eat for dinner after school. Maru wanted soup, and Dojin wanted noodles. Daemyung just answered with aIll have whatever of the two at the time.

Dojin was not a fan of the way Daemyung spoke. He wanted to tell the boy to be a bit brave, but Maru just kept stopping him. In any case, he made his way to the park as he lightly dribbled the ball between his hands.

It was cold, but not freezing. He could see plenty of other people in the park exercising. Some were playing badminton, and others were running or doing jump rope. Thankfully, the basketball court was empty.

“Here!”

He could see Daemyung wave at him from afar. The two of them lived surprisingly close to each other. Dojin lived in Sangdong Apartments, at house number 201. Daemyung lived right across the street, at Hanra Apartments, 403. Not even ten minutes apart.

“Whats up with wanting to play basketball and all?”

It was just supposed to be an opener for the conversation, but Daemyung took it in the worst way possible.

“R-right? Sorry. I called you for nothing. Its too late, isnt it? I shouldnt have called. Sorry.”

Daemyungs voice crawled back nervously. Dojin threw his ball into the other boys chest. He was feeling something hot rise up in his chest.

“Ouch,” Daemyung stepped back. He picked up the ball with a scared look.

“Whats wrong, Dojin?”

“Hey.”

“Yeah?”

“Did I say something to you? Like, I cant play basketball, or something? Or was I complaining to you?”

“……”

“Dude, what the hell are you sorry for? I was just surprised that you were out playing basketball. Did I sound like I was picking a fight?”

“N-no.”

“Why are you being like this, then? I didnt hit you or anything either.”

“……”

“Jesus.”

Dojin was frustrated. Werent they friends? Why the hell was he acting like this, then? Daemyung looked down at the floor nervously, which ended up pissing his friend off even more. He walked forward and straightened the other boys shoulders.

Their eyes met for a split second. Daemyung looked away immediately.

“Hey,” Dojin said.

“Yeah?”

“Are you uncomfortable around me?”

“No, its not that.”

“Did you do something wrong, then? Why are you so apologetic? Why do you keep trying to act pitiful?”

“…Sor…”

Daemyung stopped himself there and looked at Dojin worriedly. There it was again.

“Is something going on?”

“No.”

“Youre lying and you know it. Dude, Ive only known you for a month, but even I know better than that. Youre a lot better than this. Whats going on?”

That mustve been it. Daemyung dribbled the ball a little bit with a little sigh. The ball eventually escaped his grasp with how lightly he was dribbling it. The ball rolled away, and Daemyung sighed a little deeper.

“I was just thinking of old times. I used to be bullied.”

He smiled, trying to make light of the wordbullied.

“…What?”

Dojin became confused. Bullying? Out of nowhere? It also made his blood run cold a little bit. Bullying… was a word that had a lot of meaning to Dojin as well.

* * *

Dowook opened the door to his home with his bike. He lived in a 2 floor single home surrounded by a tall fence. Even now, he didnt feel very used to living in a home like this. A little dog ran over to greet him with an excited look.

The dogs name was Little. The only thing in the house hes gotten used to living with. Dowook had no idea what breed the dog was. He just knew its been five years since he picked it up from the old lady on the street.

At least it was growing healthily.

He pet the dog a little bit as he parked the bike on the wall next to him.

Dowook walked up the three stairs up to his front door. A warm air greeted him upon his first step inside. He didnt bother saying his greetings, since he knew there was no one home. He slipped into his slippers and walked over to the kitchen.

More cold food again for him to reheat.

He warmed up the rice and soup in the microwave. He watched the plate inside spin for a few seconds before walking out with some dog food. The dog greeted him with its wavy tail.

Good boy.

“What were you doing all this time?”

Dowook asked, pushing the food bowl towards it. It didnt answer. Obviously. Dowook pet its head before walking back into the kitchen. The microwave beeped from inside to let him know the food was done. He started eating his food.

There was a sticky note under the bowl of rice had originally been, he noticed. It was a message from his mom, he had no need to read. It was probably the same thing as always anyway. He finished eating and turned on the TV. It was pretty cold in the living room, so he turned on the heater as well.

After laughing at a random reality show for 30 minutes or so, he went to use the restroom. A laugh track was playing the moment he stepped outside. The timing got on his nerves, for some reason. He pressed the power button on the remote to no avail. He tried again. Still nothing. Again. Finally. He walked up to his room on the second floor where he could hear the dog barking outside after finishing its meal.

He decided to ignore it. He turned on his computer and opened up messenger after a bit of hesitation. 13 friends were currently online. They were all his middle school friends. None of them responded to his messages. Then again, they werent really great friends to begin with.

Dowook turned to look at his phone. He scrolled through his contacts, trying to find a friend that he could call. His face turned stiffer with each scroll upon each realization that there wasnt anyone he could really call.

“Fuck.”

He closed his phone. Why was he feeling so nervous right now? Trying to call his friends wasnt anything to be embarrassed about so why was he hesitating?

Then again, what would he even say to them?

What was the name of the kid up front again? Ah, Jichul, right. Why was he thinking of that guy now? The guy always stayed alone by himself because of how quiet he was. Dowook could remember Jichuls troubled expression lingering as he looked around every time there was group work.

“…Hah.”

Crap. Dowook was just like that guy right now. That was what made him feel nervous. It was even worse, actually. At least Jichul had people who occasionally talked to him. He recalled everything he said at school in the previous week.

“…Theres nothing.”

Just conversations with the teacher was all. Hes never talked to the other students. No, hecouldnt talk with the other students. Was this what being bullied was like? For some reason, the faces of his previous victims started popping up in his head clearly.

Please, he didnt want to remember. Crap. Their faces wouldnt leave his mind. About how they could only ever say “Im sorry” and “please forgive me” in school.

“Fuck.”

Dowook turned on a song at full volume. A quiet ballad shook his room like a heavy metal song. Hopefully the noise will drown out some of his feelings.

“…Crap.”

The voices of his victims still wouldnt go away.

* * *

“Come out?”

– Yeah. I need your help. Youre better at this kind of stuff than me.

“What stuff?”

– Daemyung.

Daemyung? At 11 at night? Why? Hed have to bike for 20 minutes to get there.

“Damn it, fine.”

People dont change that easily. Maru didnt want to ignore someone when they needed his help. Especially friends.

“Ill be out for a bit, mom.”

“Where are you going?”

“Friends.”

“What?”

“Dont worry mom, Ill be fine.”

“……”

Mom hesitated before telling him to come back quickly. That reminded him, hes always thought of raising a kid freely when he grew up. Like his parents. Thats exactly what he did with his daughter. Shes hurt him occasionally, but she did grow to become a fine lady.

Helicopter parenting is no good.

Maru peeked into the fridge as he stepped out of his parents bedroom. Talking with friends, huh… Well, that meant he would need a certain things with him, then. He pulled out a can of beer and put it in his pocket before walking outside.

* * *

There werent many people outside when Maru arrived. They all probably went home. He spotted a few couples in the park before turning to go further inside.

“Oh, youre here.”

“Ugh, so cold.”

Maru grinned, looking at his two friends sitting close to each other for warmth.

“Why not go to a PC bang if youre so cold?”

“Were poor, dude. Besides, we came out for that,” Daemyungs shivering finger pointed at the basketball.

His fault for coming out in gym clothes, Maru thought.

“Lets go to a convenience store for some instant noodles,” Maru suggested.

“Oh, youre paying?”

Dojins face instantly bloomed with excitement, whereas Daemyungs expression brightened briefly before shaking his head glumly.

“Im good.”

“What, you trying to lose weight?”

There was no other reason why the boy would call Dojin out for basketball otherwise.

“……”

“Just one, man. Youre going to get sick if you dont have something warm. Lets go.”

Maru walked into the convenience store nearby with his bike. It was a big store, so there were quite a number of people inside still. Maru bought three cups of noodles and walked over to the hot water station.

“Lets eat first, men,” Maru said, splitting the chopsticks in his hand.

The others nodded and dug into the noodles. They smiled as they slurped in the hot soup.

“God, I feel so much more alive now.”

“Me too.”

They licked every inch of their bowls clean before walking back to the park. It was still bright out, thanks to all the lights.

“So, what did you want to talk about?” Maru asked, sitting on a bench nearby.

“You tell him,” Dojin said.

Daemyung sighed. He didnt look like he could get it out of him.

“Come on, man,” Dojin urged. It didnt really work.

Maru nodded. This was probably really important to Daemyung. But he couldnt go back without hearing anything. He pulled a can of beer out of his pocket, earning a surprised look from the other two. Maru grinned.

“A medicine to make you start talking, buddy.”

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