Title: Day Late Friend
Genre: Drama, slight!angst
"Let me tell you how I met her.
It was a usual day in November and there was nothing special in the air.
I cannot remember the exact time nor can I remember the date. I only remember the month. But it was enough.
This is a friendship story. This is a story about cowardice, giving up, and regret. Perhaps it is also a story about courage, sacrifice, and loyalty. This is not a love story but it is a story about the one I love.
Her name is Sooyoung. Choi Sooyoung. Tall, slender, cheerful, lively.
I don't remember anything from the first six months I've known her. We were not friends. We just pass by each other on school and not even remember it afterwards.
On the day of our graduation, she walked up to me and said her congratulations. That was my most vivid memory of her in college. It was the last day of university but it was the first page of our book.
We became friends after that. I forgot who took the other's number first but all I remember is that we were sending each other messages already. She was funny, witty, and a bit crazy.
She made me smile.
She has a knack of sending messages at 2 in the morning. And most of those messages aren't even the usual messages you would expect to read. Once, I woke up around 4 and I opened my inbox to see five messages from her. All of which asking me about my opinion on soy sauce.
I do not like soy sauce.
I told her that and she laughed. She laughed at me for five minutes. I like hearing her laugh. It was pleasant. Before I knew it, I was laughing with her laughing at me.
It was four in the morning.
I am not supposed to be awake at four in the morning. But there I was talking to her in a hushed voice from under the sheets.
It went for years. Those four-hour long phonecalls and random exchanges of messages. She filled up a part of my life without me knowing. Without us even meeting each other.
She listened to my stories. I do not tell stories. But the stories simply flow when I talk to her. She was the one to talk. But she lent me her ear.
Sometimes, she'd laugh and say it's alright and that I make mountains out of molehills. Sometimes, she'd stay quiet and just listen. And I'll hear her soft breathing through the line. She'll let me finish and then she'll say what's on her mind.
She was never judgmental. But she will call me an asshole if I'm being one.
I never thought about it then but I found myself a good friend in her.
She had problems of her own too. About her family, her job, her money. But she wouldn't want us to talk about it. Sometimes, I thought that maybe she doesn't trust me that much. But then, I also thought that perhaps, she was caught up with her role of being the one who cheers people up instead of the other way around.
Most of the times, she would rant. About the weather, about her boss, about reckless drivers or impatient customers.
It was a funny friendship. We were on two different cities, one-hour plane ride away from each other. But it didn't matter. Not when she was just one phone call away.
I didn't know it then, but I think I already loved her. Talking to her always makes me feel better. Like a warm cup of coffee on a cold Saturday.
But young hearts are confused hearts. Young as I was, I do not know the difference.
I fell in love.
I fell in love with another girl.
Her name was Victoria. She was beautiful, mysterious, and captivating. I was head over heels for her.
Sooyoung was the first one I called the night I realized I was in love. I was a bit unsure. Or maybe I wasn't. But I called her.
It took some time, two hours at least, before I got to the point.
I think I'm in love with Victoria, I told her.
There was a two-second pause, I remember it clearly. I was counting. Two-second pause before she lets out a happy squeal and my chest started to hurt. She went on talking---cheerfully. And I was there, listening to her voice from the confines of my room.
She kept on talking. Until the clock struck thirteen and we have to call it a night. She congratulated me again and I said thanks. She said I should do my best to win the girl and I said yes.
She said goodbye and I waited for her to put down the phone. I didn't tell her that I heard her sniff and I can hear the muffled sobs she tried so hard to hide while I talked about Vic.
I didn't tell her that I cried, too. Because it hurts hearing her cry silently. It hurts listening to her lies. And it hurts knowing that she had let me go that easily.
The night I realized I was in love was the same night I got my heart broken.
My relationship with Vic was not smooth-sailing. But I have always managed to make it better. No, Sooyoung always managed to make it better.
Don't give up on this, she said. You chose this so stand up for it, she said. And I did.
Four years after the last day we saw each other back in college, we met again. It was the week a storm hit Seoul. All the streets were flooded and nobody was in the mood to smile.
She said she was coming and that I should give her a ride. I said she went on a wrong time. And she laughed. She said the rain will stop the day she arrives.
She wasn't lying.
After six days of gloomy skies and even gloomier spirits, the sun shone down on our battered city. She smiled really wide when she saw me. I noticed the hints of uncertainty in her eyes but it disappeared when I held her hand.
I do not know why I did it. I just did. I was nervous. I was panicky. I felt like I was about to cry.
It felt like the night I first kissed Vic. But it was different. It was like losing and finding your favorite blanket; running late but arriving just in time. It was like coming home after many, many years.
I don't remember what happened next, where we went or what we ate. But I remember the feeling.
Was it fifty years since then? I still remember it clearly as if it was yesterday.
It was a long time since I saw her again. But it didn't feel like it.
We were always apart but it seemed like we never were. She was the first one who knew when I bought my own house, when I fractured a rib, when I lost my mother.
We were rarely seen together but she was with me all along.
I was there with her, too. No matter how far she might be. I listened to her stories thirteen timezones away when she went to work in New York. I listened to her complaints on why there is no rice, why taxi drivers are nosy, and why everything is expensive.
There were stories about men too. About some Kris and Marcus.
Those were the stories I liked listening the least.
I miss her, you know. Even though it's been a long time.
It was always the other people who notices it first.
Changmin, do you like Sooyoung?
The question was asked ten times too many. And I will always give the same answer.
She would too. Until that university reunion where the priers were a bit more adamant.
Changmin, do you see Sooyoung as a woman?
I was startled. She knew I was. Because she looked at the person who threw the question and answered casually.
Are we going through this again? Changmin already has a girlfriend.
But some people are simply stubborn.
Changmin, if you were single, would you date Sooyoung?
She turned around, about to answer. But I have already prepared my piece.
Maybe in the next life.
She looked at me with her big, brown eyes and I knew. We both have the same answer.
Victoria and I broke up after three years. And then I met your grandmother. She was beautiful and after a while of knowing her, I knew she is the one that was meant for me.
Yoona and Sooyoung got along very well. You would have thought it was them who were the actual friends for a long time.
It was Yoona who cried the hardest when... when Sooyoung... when Sooyoung passed away.
She was twenty-nine.
She was taken from us too soon. But not soon enough to leave me whole.
Maybe... Maybe that's why we never happened. Maybe that's why we were made that way... Maybe...
Maybe she knew it all along.
If I see her again, I will ask her. If she did know, I will tell her she's selfish and that she's a coward. Because she didn't fight for me.
Or, maybe I won't.
Because I can already imagine her laughing and telling me I am no different. That I am an idiot and a chicken. Because I didn't choose her.
I love Yoona and she is the one who understands me the most after her. She never said it but I know she heard me sobbing in the bathroom. I know she saw me burning the unsent letters in the backyard. She saw the life move out of me and the hanging emptiness in my smile.
Despite it all, she brought me back.
Yoona once asked me if I love Sooyoung. I said yes.
She never asked me again.
Whenever somebody asks me if I love her, I always say yes. Because I do.
I knew I loved her even before I knew that I can never love someone just as much. And now... even though time has passed... I love her still...
Maybe in the next life..."
Sehun blinked back the tears as his grandfather finished his story. Changmin has that faraway look in his misty eyes but the warm smile on his face told about acceptance.
The warm summer breeze shook the branches of a nearby tree, sending a rain of leaves above them. A few landed on the aged epitaph bearing the name of a person Sehun was now familiar with.
February 10 1990-September 22 2019
Changmin swept the leaves with his wrinkly hand and proceeded to lay a boquet of white tulips on the grave. He traced the contours of her name with his finger and spoke softly.
"Syoongie, now you have met my grandson, Sehun. Do you remember your godchild, YoungA? This nosy young man here is hers."
He smiled once more. Silence fell around them as Changmin got lost in his thoughts again.
After a while, he looked at the tomb again and gave out a weary sigh.
"We have to go now, Syoong. I'll see you next time."
He stood up rather shakily and extended his hands to the young boy.
"Alright, Sehunnie. Let's go back to your grandma now."
The wind blew warmly over them as they passed by a few epitaphs until finally reaching a marble-carved tombstone. Changmin moved the flowers they have brought earlier and knelt in front of his wife's grave.
Sehun looked at his grandfather, worn out by the years of his life, and then back at the lone tomb where a boquet of white tulips lay peacefully. He pursed his lips and breathed a silent prayer.
"Hope you and grandpa find each other in the next life, Aunt Sooyoung."