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    Loves Error

    Chapter 5

    He glanced at Jhi Yeonwoo with his deep brown eyes and slowly moved to open the way towards the counter. After each settled their bills, Choi Muhyuk and Jhi Yeonwoo came out of the convenience store and sat down at a table in between. Considering the cold weather, they probably couldn’t sit for long, but Choi Muhyuk spoke first.

    “Mr. Jhi Yeonwoo, you seem to have been quite busy.”

    “Pardon?”

    Jhi Yeonwoo, who had been shaking his legs to ward off the cold, stopped abruptly and looked up. Choi Muhyuk, dressed in a suit without a coat, sat on the chair without showing any sign of coldness, looking at Jhi Yeonwoo.

    “You didn’t answer your phone.”

    His heart sank as if he were a guilty person. Was his number the one that showed up as missed calls? He couldn’t tell which parts of what he said were true or false. It might have been a bluff, but there was no way to confirm. He regretted not saving the number even if he didn’t answer it.

    “Ah, the phone.”

    He knew he had to act as naturally as possible. However, his actions and words felt awkwardly stiff and unnatural compared to his thoughts.

    “Well, I checked the phone call late, so I wasn’t able to contact you.”

    “You checked late. I waited without even knowing that.”

    “Um, did you have urgent business?”

    With his hands in his pants pockets, Choi Muhyuk stared at Jhi Yeonwoo silently. Before their eyes could meet, Jhi Yeonwoo’s eyes looked left and right, avoiding them naturally, and lowered his gaze to the floor. He was afraid that if they made eye contact, his lie might be exposed.

    “Well, there wasn’t anything urgent, just… uh? Wait a moment. Where’s my phone?”

    Jhi Yeonwoo, who was fidgeting with his hands, looked up with wide eyes.

    Choi Muhyuk stood up and searched through his jacket and pants. A bewildered expression appeared on his face, which Jhi Yeonwoo hadn’t seen before.

    “Perhaps you left it at the convenience store?”

    “If so, they would have informed us. The part-timer has been watching us sitting here.”

    Turning his head towards the convenience store as he spoke, they noticed the part-timer hastily averted his gaze in another direction.

    Walking to the car parked nearby, he opened the passenger door and searched but turned back with a puzzled expression.

    “Seems like I left it at the office. It rarely happens.”

    Choi Muhyuk’s smiling expression turned awkward. He awkwardly asked for a favor, 

    “Sorry, could I make a call?”

    As a businessperson, Jhi Yeonwoo knew how important a phone could be, so he did not hesitate to refuse. Thinking it was just one call, he unlocked his phone and handed it to him.

    “Here you go.”

    “Thank you.”

    Finally relaxed, Choi Muhyuk dialed the number and brought the phone to his ear. He turned towards the car, grabbing his waist with one hand. Somewhere, a phone notification sound rang.

    Jhi Yeonwoo turned to where the sound came from. He took out the phone from the neatly folded coat on the passenger seat.

    “Oh, it was here.”

    Choi Muhyuk, holding both phones, walked back with an embarrassed smile.

    “Thank you.”

    “It was in the passenger seat?”

    “Yes. I didn’t see it because it was in the coat.”

    Thinking, “Oh, in the coat…” he opened the phone. Indeed, there was a missed call from the number Choi Muhyuk had just dialed,

    “It’s my personal number, so save it.”

    Jhi Yeonwoo, who had been flipping through his recent call history, turned towards the direction of his voice. Suddenly, he found himself standing by the driver’s side door.

    “Uh…”

    As if he had something to say, Jhi Yeonwoo reached out towards him and stood up from his seat.

    “If I call again, I hope you’ll answer next time.”

    Choi Muhyuk gently shook his phone towards Jhi Yeonwoo, who stiffened again at his words.

    Was he emphasizing it wasn’t the number written on the business card? But all his actions seemed natural as if water flowed smoothly… There was something uncomfortable about it, and as Jhi Yeonwoo grinned awkwardly, a thought suddenly crossed his mind.

    ‘Could he have known where the phone was from the beginning?’

    The natural doubts that started to arise continued to nag at him.

    ‘Maybe he knew I hadn’t saved the number…’

    He recalled how awkwardly he had responded to the question of why he hadn’t answered the phone.

    Jhi Yeonwoo watched Choi Muhyuk’s car, which had already moved quite far away, and murmured to himself, “Is this what they mean by getting caught red-handed?”

    Smiling, Jhi Yeonwoo breathed out softly and turned towards home.

    A week has passed since then.

    Everything was as usual.

    The flower shop Flower Fiance, where quiet classical music played, was filled with the scent of flowers, and various kinds of flowers were in full bloom.

    The only difference was that Jhi Yeonwoo’s gaze constantly shifted to his phone.

    For Jhi Yeonwoo, the phone was only for making calls and checking the time. Even then, he often forgot where he put it and had to search for it. It wasn’t common for Jhi Yeonwoo to keep checking his phone next to him.

    Wearing a white angora knit sweater, jeans, and a brown apron, Jhi Yeonwoo sat on a stool in front of the counter, gazing out through the glass window. It was already dark outside.

    “…Right, then.”

    When they met in front of the convenience store, he kept thinking about Choi Muhyuk’s words asking him to answer if he called again. It wasn’t even a personal meeting, and he had thought he would answer if he called again.

    Since that day, Choi Muhyuk hadn’t contacted him, nor had he visited Flower Pianese.

    It didn’t particularly bother him. A high-ranking person from a good company wouldn’t take interest in such a small flower shop. It might have just been a polite remark made out of pleasant surprise at seeing each other again.

    If he thought of it as just being one of the passing customers, there was no need to pay much attention to it. After all, the encounters in this space were just fleeting connections.

    But why did he feel so deflated?

    Just when he was about to shower someone with all sorts of exciting words, they suddenly disappeared for a week. It made him feel like he was played with for no reason.

    Jhi Yeonwoo turned his gaze away from the glass window and slumped his shoulders.

    *Ding.*

    Jhi Yeonwoo, who had been sitting absentmindedly, blinked his eyes.

    “….!”

    His gaze reflexively turned towards the door that had opened.

    “What’s wrong? Why are you so startled?”

    It was his friend Seo Eungyeom. Eungyeom was dressed in a neat suit, as if he had just finished work. Jhi Yeonwoo, who had been staring at Eungyeom with a bewildered expression, quickly turned his gaze to the clock on the wall. It was earlier than Eungyeom’s usual time to get off work.

    “Why are you here at this hour?”

    “I finished work early. I’ve been working overtime all the time, but today they told us to leave early,” Eungyeom casually placed his briefcase next to Jhi Yeonwoo.

    “Who’s coming?”

    “Huh?”

    “Ah, it’s nothing. It’s just that you look disappointed, like you’re waiting for someone,” 

    “What… . No, something like that.”

    Jhi Yeonwoo quickly responded, trying to dismiss Eungyeom’s observation.

    With one eye narrowed, Eungyeom leaned closer to Jhi Yeonwoo’s face. Jhi Yeonwoo pursed his lips, then closed them shut.

    “Who is it? The person you were talking about on the phone? Right?”

    Eungyeom was like a ghost. Jhi Yeonwoo felt like if he said one more word, his feelings and pitiful state would be exposed in front of Eungyeom.

    “Hey, I’m hungry. Haven’t eaten yet, right? Let’s go, what do you want to eat?” 

    Jhi Yeonwoo decided to change the subject and took off his apron, placing it on the counter.

    “Already? There’s still plenty of time until closing.”

    “It’s been a while since you, my friend, visited, how can I just sit here? Let’s go. How about pork belly and soju?”

    Before Eungyeom could respond, Jhi Yeonwoo was already preparing to leave. He tidied up the desk, pressed the screen of the POS machine, and began the day’s settlement with busy hands. Eungyeom silently watched Jhi Yeonwoo’s actions without saying a word.

    The pork belly restaurant they went to was both a regular eatery and a place where Jhi Yeonwoo laughed and cried over drinks when he got married and divorced.

    Jhi Yeonwoo and Eungyeom ordered their usual menu and talked about their daily lives. Eungyeom’s topics mostly revolved around gossip about their superiors at work, and Jhi Yeonwoo listened. Sometimes when Eungyeom mentioned the person he was meeting, Jhi Yeonwoo struggled with how to respond, but he desperately avoided bringing up Choi Muhyuk.

    A week passed with no contact, no visits. Maybe it meant their connection ended here. So Jhi Yeonwoo didn’t want to attach unnecessary meaning to trivial words like “Let’s have a meal,” “Let’s have a drink,” or “I’ll contact you.”

    Perhaps it was the alcohol, which he wasn’t used to drinking well. His reactions were exaggerated, and his voice became louder. Despite the noisy atmosphere of the pork belly restaurant, their voices didn’t stand out, but Jhi Yeonwoo knew he was getting drunk.

    Drinking the alcohol continuously, despite not being able to handle it well, seemed to be the problem. Sitting in front of him, Eungyeom seemed to have split into two, like a doppelgänger. It was time to stop drinking.

    *Bzz.*

    Jhi Yeonwoo’s phone vibrated on the table. Absently, Jhi Yeonwoo’s eyes widened as he looked at the phone screen.

    [Director Choi Muhyuk: Are you off today?]

    It felt like a bucket of cold water was poured over his head. He sobered up from the alcohol-induced daze. Could he have come to the shop? It was approaching 7:30 PM now. Since closing time was 8 PM, it was a normal time for him to be at the shop.

    Jhi Yeonwoo quickly grabbed his phone as the preview screen went dark. He opened the messaging app and tapped the screen rapidly with his thumb.

    – No, it’s not my day off, but I’m not at the shop right now. Did you come?

    [Director Choi Muhyuk: Yes. The lights are off.]

    – I’m sorry. A friend visited after a long time.

    [Director Choi Muhyuk: Ah, I see.]

    The conversation quickly came to a halt. Jhi Yeonwoo held his phone with both hands and stared at the darkened screen. For some reason, his hands were sweating. Then, with a sudden *ping*, a new message appeared.

    [Director Choi Muhyuk: Are you having dinner?]

    – Yes.

    [Director Choi Muhyuk: I see.]

    After that, Choi Muhyuk didn’t say anything. One minute, two minutes. As time passed in silence, Jhi Yeonwoo inexplicably grew anxious. Regrets flooded in. He should have just stayed at the shop. Although he didn’t blame Eungyeom for coming after a long time, he didn’t want to let go of a good feeling about a connection. The moment he thought that, his fingers moved on their own.

    – Would it be okay if I call you when I get home?

    As soon as the message was sent, Jhi Yeonwoo took a shallow breath without realizing it. His vision turned white, and his fingers felt stiff.

    ‘You’re crazy, Jhi Yeonwoo. What have you done?’

    Jhi Yeonwoo once again looked at the silent message window with trembling eyes.

    This is bad. Alcohol is the culprit. They say alcohol makes you brave, but why did he say something he can’t even make up for?

    The number 1 disappeared from Jhi Yeonwoo’s last message on the screen, but there was no reply. Sweat slowly formed in the hand holding the phone. Just as his anxiety was about to reach its limit, a new message from Director Choi Muhyuk popped up.

    Jhi Yeonwoo blankly stared at the message lingering at the bottom of the message window.

    [Director Choi Muhyuk: I’ll wait.]

    “…!”

    Choi Muhyuk had a talent for surprising Jhi Yeonwoo with unexpected words every time. But that feeling wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Today, it was because excitement mixed with confusion.

    Jhi Yeonwoo couldn’t recall how he managed to finish the remaining pork belly and soju, or what conversations he had with Eungyeom. All his attention was focused on his phone and home.

    As soon as a call came from Eungyeom’s uncle, the atmosphere naturally shifted to one of departure. Not long after, he came to pick up Eungyeom. Jhi Yeonwoo took a taxi home as soon as he saw Eungyeom leave.

    Jhi Yeonwoo rushed into the house and sat down on the sofa without even thinking about washing up. He took a shallow breath. A faint scent of alcohol lingered in the air. He repeated deep breaths, waiting for his breath to calm down.

    He didn’t want to seem like someone who rushed home. He didn’t want to seem like someone who was eagerly waiting to call Choi Muhyuk.

    As calmly as possible, as if he hadn’t rushed home, and as if he wasn’t waiting to call him.

    Placing one hand on his chest, Jhi Yeonwoo found “Director Choi Muhyuk” in his contacts and dialed the number. As the screen turned black, the words “Director Choi Muhyuk” appeared, and the dial tone rang.

    [This is Choi Muhyuk.]

    Soon, a familiar voice came from the other end of the phone. Was it his mood? The voice sounded stiff and business-like. Jhi Yeonwoo was at a loss for words.

    As Jhi Yeonwoo hesitated, Choi Muhyuk’s voice came from the other end of the phone.

    [Did you get home safely?]

    It was a much softer voice. Just hearing his languid voice made Jhi Yeonwoo’s face flush with heat.

    “Yes. I just got home.”

    [Do you have your car?]

    “No. I took a taxi.”

    [Then, you should’ve gotten warmed up and called. It’s cold outside.]

    “It’s okay. I don’t get cold easily.”

    As Jhi Yeonwoo spoke, he realized he hadn’t even taken off his jacket. No wonder it felt hot. He thought he was feeling flushed from the alcohol, but perhaps it was because he hadn’t taken off his clothes. Finally noticing, he began to take off his jacket, starting with the arm opposite to where he held his phone between his shoulder and ear.

    The rustling sound of the jacket seemed unusually loud in the quiet surroundings. Carefully removing his arm from the jacket, afraid of making noise, Jhi Yeonwoo heard Choi Muhyuk’s voice from the other end of the phone, where silence had prevailed.

    [Anyways, we’re finally talking.]

    “…!”

    [How have you been?]

    At just a simple greeting, Jhi Yeonwoo shook like a reed in the wind. The uncomfortable feelings that had been building up inside him were suddenly released at the words “How have you been?”

    The sluggish voice scratching his ear was pleasant to hear. This is too much, it’s cheating. Jhi Yeonwoo, who had been standing still, wiped his face with one hand. The earlobe that peeked out from his hair turned red.

    “Yes. I’ve been well. How about you, Director?”

    [I’ve been a bit busy.]

    “Was it because of work?”

    [Work… Yes, that was part of it, but there were also personal matters.]

    “Ah, I see.”  

    Jhi Yeonwoo found himself feeling relieved as he repeated what Choi Muhyuk said.

    Until he received the call, Jhi Yeonwoo had been making his own conclusions about why Choi Muhyuk didn’t show up. He thought the behavior and words he showed on the day he was buying flowers were out of simple curiosity, not genuine interest, and that Jhi Yeonwoo had naturally been forgotten with time. But the moment he heard the explanation that there were circumstances preventing him from coming, he felt relieved.

    He had said he wasn’t waiting for Choi Muhyuk’s contact, but he knew better than anyone that it was a lie. Just as his friend Seo Eungyeom said, he had actually been waiting a lot, his gaze automatically turning every time a door opened or his phone rang.

    As if sensing his state of mind, Choi Muhyuk calmly explained the situation.

    [I had to go somewhere for a bit. I made someone angry.]  

    “Ah, I see, you went somewhere.”

    Hearing this, Jhi Yeonwoo couldn’t help feeling unjustly wronged. 

    ‘Even so, didn’t he have time to send one message? He went out of his way to call and leave his number, so couldn’t he have at least done that much?’

    Perhaps sending that one message wasn’t very important to Choi Muhyuk. Considering their relationship hasn’t really started properly yet, Jhi Yeonwoo could understand.

    Was it because of the alcohol? A wave of disappointment surged behind that thought.

    “Seems you went quite far, with no contact at all.”

    The alcohol slightly affecting him combined with his sullen feelings caused him to let out a complaint-like remark.

    A small laugh could be heard from the other end of the phone.

    [Were you waiting for me?]

    Jhi Yeonwoo stood up abruptly from his seat before the laughter even finished in Choi Muhyuk’s voice. In the dimly lit living room, the face of Jhi Yeonwoo standing there was full of embarrassment.

    “Ah, no?”

    [Your voice sounded disappointed.]

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