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    Later on, if Shin ever looked at me that way, I felt I would be more sad than scared. “Hey, what’s there to be sad about?” I thought, brushing away my random thoughts along with packing my bag to head home. It was the only time when announcements were made over the speakers in the quiet library.

    [Thank you for using XX Library today. Our library is open until 10 PM…]

    As the announcement played along with some music, the few people who had stayed until the end began to pack their bags. An impatient janitor had already entered to open the windows and prepare for cleaning, hurrying us to leave. But some of the people packing their bags stopped and looked out the window.

    I did the same as them. I heard the sound of rain. It wasn’t much yet, but it was raining. That’s right, they did say it would rain. When I went down to the first-floor lobby, sure enough, many people were standing scattered under the wide roof of the library, unable to go outside.

    By the time the rain, which had started as light drops on the fourth floor, reached the first floor, it had turned into a heavy shower.

    Shin and I also stood at the edge of the roof. Shin didn’t even think about taking out an umbrella, probably because he didn’t have one. I had an umbrella in my bag, but I hesitated to take it out. My younger sibling’s three-fold umbrella was quite small, wasn’t it? In this pouring rain, it wouldn’t be enough even for one person.

    “It’s a rain shower.”

    “Yeah, they said it would rain in the morning.” While I was still fumbling with the thought of whether to take out my umbrella or not, a question came.

    “About that friend of your younger sibling earlier.”

    I tensed up slightly. Was he going to ask why I said that friend was trustworthy? But the question was different.

    “Will they come again?”

    Yura’s friend had said, “See you next time, Yeonwoo hyung,” and left, but I felt like I shouldn’t tell him that.

    “Well, I don’t know.”

    “Do you study well here?”

    “Yeah, it’s better than at home. Don’t you?”

    I waited nervously for his answer. Was he saying this because he didn’t want to come anymore?

    “I do well. But sometimes I think it might be better to change places. What do you think?”

    I hadn’t really thought about it, so I just blinked. Was he talking about a study cafe? I liked it here because it was free. While I hesitated to answer, he suggested in a lower voice. Despite the loud rain, I heard it clearly.

    “Let’s study at my place.”

    It felt like the rain stopped. My breath stopped for a moment too.

    “No. Home is perfect for sleeping instead of studying.”

    I spoke firmly and avoided his gaze. Fortunately, he just looked at me blankly for a moment and then turned his head sharply to the side. We both stared at different places for a while, just listening to the rain.

    I was grateful for the loud rain. I was really grateful that the dark night hid the heat on my face. After a long time, I heard a mix of laughter and muttering next to me.

    “It’s perfect for sleeping, indeed.”

    Yeah. Studying should definitely be in the library. So that I can stand next to him like this while avoiding the rain. The rain had reached its peak, pouring down like a turned-on faucet. The splashing rainwater reached where I was standing. Shin grabbed my wrist and pulled me back.

    “You’ll get wet.”

    The shower stopped after 10 minutes, and we weren’t late going home. However, even though I clearly walked home on my own, I couldn’t remember how I got there. Even though I had to wash up as soon as I got home, I just sat there like a person out of their mind. I couldn’t get one thought out of my head.

    He probably did it out of habit, without thinking, but I couldn’t forget it. My heart kept pounding, and I wondered if I was sick.

    My face kept heating up. I was definitely alone in this house, but I couldn’t lift my head, sitting on the floor. I just kept remembering. It felt like I kept hearing the sound of the shower in my ears.

    It was when the rain was pouring down under the library’s roof, and he pulled me by my wrist. His thumb gently rubbed the inside of my wrist.

    It was a brief moment. But my mind was filled with that sensation. It was such a short touch, yet it felt like a shiver, like an electric shock, spreading through my body.

    I somehow managed to get home, but I couldn’t move because of that sensation and my pounding heart. I forgot about all the routine things I had to do. That night, I couldn’t close my eyes until 4 AM. What am I going to do? I’m in big trouble.

    SUV

    ‘I have something to do today, so I can’t come.’

    After reading the short text message from Shin, I felt a bit disappointed, but mostly relieved. I had slept very little and was tired when I arrived at the library, but the thought of facing Shin and trying to act nonchalant kept me awake.

    Maybe it was because I felt relieved by the text, but I only started to feel sleepy once I arrived at the library. Even though I didn’t have much time to study before heading to my part-time job in the afternoon, I immediately laid my head down on the desk.

    Usually, even if I was sleepy, I wouldn’t lie down for more than 30 minutes, but that day, I must have slept deeply. The vibration of my phone abruptly brightened the darkness in my mind.

    Oh no, how long did I sleep? In a daze, I grabbed my phone and checked the large clock on the wall as I walked out. It was already 11 o’clock. This is crazy. How many hours did I sleep?

    Shaking my head, I left the study room and washed my face. Strangely, despite not having slept at all until dawn because of the anxiety and excitement from Shin’s touch, now I had slept well and was feeling hungry. Even funnier was that I felt refreshed from the deep sleep.

    Maybe it was because Shin wasn’t in front of me that I felt I could hide my feelings well now. Or maybe, from now on, I could just get along well with him as an acquaintance.

    Shin is really cool, so it’s natural to feel a flutter. It’s the same as feeling excited when you see a celebrity. It’s not like I’m really falling for him, right? But just as I was feeling more at ease and stepping out of the bathroom, I faced a test.

    “Excuse me.”

    Two women who looked like they were in their mid-20s were standing in the hallway and called out to me. They called out as if they had been waiting for me, and I recognized neither of them.

    “Yes? What is it?”

    The two women seemed shy and didn’t immediately start talking, just smiling awkwardly.

    “Is your tall friend who studies with you not coming today?”

    Just hearing this question made my heart sink with a foreboding feeling. “No, he’s not coming.” Even as I answered, the feeling didn’t go away easily.

    “Will he come tomorrow then?”

    The woman who had asked nudged her companion as if to say, “No, that’s not right,” while glancing at me and whispering, “He doesn’t come on Sundays.” Was that so? I didn’t know that.

    “I’m not sure. I haven’t heard. I won’t be here tomorrow, but he might come.”

    They didn’t ask more, thanked me, and disappeared like sparrows. They were cute and pretty, but their interest in Shin didn’t feel pleasant.

    Admitting that this feeling was jealousy was even more unpleasant, so I forced myself to swallow it down and ignore it. But the confidence I had just a minute ago had already shrunk.

    I had work today and tomorrow and finished late, so I wouldn’t come to the library on Sunday. I had to regain my composure over the next two days. But my shriveled confidence remained.

    To fill the void, I went down to the basement cafeteria. Yes, over the next two days, I would train myself to be indifferent to Shin. As if testing my resolve, a second trial appeared.

    “Oh? Hello.”

    A middle school student placing a cup of ramen beside me suddenly greeted me. I recognized him this time.

    “I caught the thief.”

    He was the middle schooler who had his iPad stolen. Shin’s nephew. I tensed up slightly thinking of Shin but felt okay.

    “Yeah, I heard. That’s good.”

    I replied and went back to eating, but the boy suddenly stood up and bowed his head to thank me.

    “Thank you for helping me back then.”

    Surprised by his proper manners, I just nodded, “Yes, yes.” Then the boy, sitting back down, made a request.

    “Please tell my uncle I said thank you.”

    “Ah, your uncle.”

    “You know my uncle, right? He also comes to this library.”

    It’s good, and it’s difficult, and I feel sorry. I nodded roughly and focused back on my meal. But I couldn’t stop hearing about Shin from next to me.

    “The detective uncle who caught the thief?”

    “Yeah. But he’s not a detective anymore. He quit. No, he tried to quit, but he couldn’t.”

    What are they talking about? I couldn’t help but listen in.

    “His dad is a really high-ranking police officer. They changed it to a leave of absence. So his uncle found out and went ballistic. I overheard my mom talking on the phone this morning.”

    Oh, so that’s what it was. I felt strange. So he hasn’t actually quit. He might go back to work. Just a moment ago, I had hoped that after not seeing him for two days, I would be able to face him normally again, but now I might not see him at all. The disappointment spreading in my chest was cold as ice.

    “Isn’t your uncle’s dad your grandfather?” a friend of the nephew asked.

    “No, he’s my great-uncle. My uncle is my mom’s cousin, but I just call him uncle.”

    “Man, your uncle is so cool. He should just stay a detective.”

    “I don’t know. When he gets mad, he’s super scary, so no one can say anything to him. He doesn’t get along with my great-uncle, so this time, they had a really intense fight.”

    Despite the serious topic, the nephew kept slurping his ramen. Meanwhile, I couldn’t eat any more and closed my lunchbox. I felt silly for not knowing about such a big issue and just being caught up in my own thoughts. His figure, standing with his backpack in front of the library, was still vivid in my mind.

    He had said he wanted to study here, that it was something he wanted so badly he quit his job to focus on it, against his father’s opposition. And here I was, feeling happy just to see him smile, without knowing any of this. As I stood up, a realistic question from his friend caught my attention.

    “If he quits his job, won’t he have no money?”

    Yeah, if he’s on leave, he wouldn’t get severance pay either.

    “No way. My uncle is super, super ri—”

    The nephew repeated “super” several times before trailing off. He glanced at me, so I quickly stood up. As I left, he resumed speaking. I hurried my steps, not wanting to overhear more about someone else’s private life.

    “His real mom… was a chaebol… when he was young…”

    Carrying my bag full of books and my laptop, I reached the neighborhood where I worked. The thought of Shin stayed with me the whole way. It was only when I heard the announcement for my stop that I realized I hadn’t been listening to music as usual.

    The commute, which usually felt long even with music, felt short that day. As I exited the subway station, the humid heat hit me hard.

    The rain that was supposed to wash away the heat had only left humidity behind. It was crowded in the city, with people fanning themselves or using handheld fans. The oppressive heat made it impossible to keep worrying about Shin.

    Instead, I focused on getting to my cool part-time job location. Following the main road and crossing the intersection into the alley, I found even more people. Cars were also inching along the narrow road, forcing people to hug the sides. Among them was an SUV. Shin’s words suddenly came to mind.

    “I only drive SUVs.”

    He had said that regular cars made his legs numb on long drives, even with the seat pushed back. He preferred the higher stance of SUVs. Shin must drive something bigger than this, I thought as I glanced at the passing SUV.

    I found myself scrutinizing every SUV, wondering if it was good enough, suitable for Shin. Then I realized how absurd I was being. I wasn’t the one buying him a car.

    Trying to push thoughts of Shin out of my mind, I steeled myself. But my bad luck continued that day. My phone rang just before I entered the store. It was my younger sister.

    [Oppa, are you into a pyramid scheme?]

    Yura asked out of the blue. I ran my hand through my hair, baffled by the question.

    “What are you talking about?”

    [I met Kwak Sunggil at the library. He was saying weird stuff, like you might be involved with some shady person.]

    Firefighter Kwak Sunggil must have an overactive imagination. I should have known when he tried to pass off half a cup of water as soup.

    “No, he’s just misunderstanding things.”

    [It’s not a pyramid scheme or a cult, right? Who was that person you were with? He said you claimed they were trustworthy.]

    “Yes.”

    [Oppa] 

    Yura called me, letting out a sigh.

    [The world is so dangerous nowadays. You have to be careful with people. You could lose everything, even your organs, without anyone knowing.]

    She was right. Trusting the wrong people can lead to losing not only money but also other grave consequences.

    “The person I’m talking about is trustworthy. You can trust him.”

    [And how do you know that?]

    “He’s a police officer.”

    [Well, that’s reassuring.]

    Receiving Yura’s encouragement to study hard, I entered the store, where the head chef shouted.

    “Yeonwoo, the frozen delivery truck has arrived. Go unload it quickly!”

    After the busy prep work was done, we had a brief break when there were still few customers. During these breaks, the sous chef would sometimes make a quick meal for us. Today, even Gijun, who worked in the hall, joined us.

    “Wow, you eat this alone every day? Why don’t you call me too?”

    Gijun grumbled quietly, and the sous chef shot him a stern look. Despite his gruff and curt demeanor, he was a good person once you got to know him.

    “Do you think this is your personal dining room?”

    “But Yeonwoo hyung gets to eat.”

    That’s right. I often got food from him. The sous chef glared at Gijun but then turned away when our eyes met. Despite his rough exterior, he seemed shy and avoided eye contact. However, Gijun boldly stared back, cursing.

    “Fuck off, quickly.”

    At that moment, there was a gasp from the door leading to the hall. When I looked, the owner was standing there, looking hurt.

    “Are you telling me to fuck off?”

    “I wasn’t talking to you, boss. I was talking to that idiot.”

    The sous chef grumbled, turning away, and the owner sighed in relief, entering the kitchen.

    “For a moment, I thought you were telling me to leave. Wait, why am I scared? I’m the owner here.”

    He must have felt intimidated. But despite his timid appearance, I had heard he had excellent business skills. He seemed to have a purpose as he approached me, suddenly smiling brightly.

    “How’s your studying going these days?”

    “It’s pretty much the same.”

    “The same? You’re going to the library, right? Hasn’t anything changed?”

    For a moment, Shin popped into my head, but I quickly pushed the thought away. Why do I keep thinking about him all the time? I shook my head firmly.

    “Nothing.”

    “I see…”

    The owner muttered, looking disappointed. Then, as if he remembered something, he brightened up and asked excitedly.

    “Do you want to know how to study better?”

    “I’m already doing well.”

    “I mean, even better.”

    Although it was bothersome, he was still the boss. All bosses have their personal theories, and as an employee, it’s our fate to listen to them at least once.

    “What is it?”

    “Start dating. Your grades will improve drastically.”

    “…”

    “I’m serious. Date someone.”

    “You weren’t good at studying, were you?”

    “!”

    The shocked owner was suddenly berated by the sous chef.

    “Cut the crap. Why are you spouting nonsense to a kid who’s trying to study hard? When it’s time to study, you should focus only on studying. How can you expect to concentrate on your studies while dating? Speak sensibly.”

    The boss, hit by a double whammy, turned to Gijun and me for reassurance.

    “Aren’t I the boss here?”

    “Yes, you are.” I patted his arm to comfort him, but even I couldn’t escape the sous chef’s scolding.

    “Yeonwoo, you too, get your head straight. If you want to get into college at your age, every day counts. What’s with this dating nonsense? You can date all you want after your college entrance exams are over, so don’t let that kind of talk distract you and just focus on studying.”

    The boss frowned, clearly displeased, but I agreed wholeheartedly. Right, I should just focus on studying. This isn’t the time for me to be falling for anyone. However, despite my resolve, I found myself thinking of Shin every time I saw an SUV on my way home.

    The next day, the boss called me aside. He sat down with a serious demeanor and asked again.

    “Does dating interfere with studying?”

    “Yes.”

    “But you haven’t even tried it?”

    I still knew. Even just thinking about Shin distracted me entirely.

    “Why are you asking?”

    “Oh, nothing really…”

    The boss trailed off, glancing around nervously. Then he asked seriously,

    “Do you want to go on a blind date?”

    “No, I’m fine.”

    “Wait, hear me out. The person you’ll meet could help you study better.”

    “A top-tier college entrance exam tutor?”

    He hesitated, then replied with less confidence.

    “…Just someone who studies at the library.”

    But he quickly added,

    “But he’s tall, handsome, and rich.”

    Why would someone like that want to meet me? Suspicion crept in as I remembered my conversation with Yura about organ harvesting.

    “I’m fine. I just want to focus on studying.”

    I firmly declined and started to get up, but the boss hurriedly reached out.

    “Wait, just meet them once. I’m only suggesting this because I’m concerned about you.”

    It was surprising. I didn’t expect him to care so much about his employees. Maybe he thought it wasn’t good for someone my age to be solely focused on studying. At that moment, Gijun, who had been loitering nearby, chimed in.

    “If Yeonwoo doesn’t want to, can I go instead? Is it that tall and handsome guy who came to see you before, boss?”

    “No, you can’t.”

    “Why not? There’s no difference between me and Yeonwoo.”

    “Get lost.”

    The boss’s voice was filled with annoyance, so I quickly stood up to leave.

    “Yeonwoo.”

    “Yes?” I turned back, seeing he had something more to say, but he sighed and shook his head.

    “Never mind, go back to work.”

    Then he stood up too, pulling out his phone. He muttered to himself as he held it to his ear, preparing to make a call.

    “…First love, huh? This won’t be easy.”

    2 AM. After work, the once bustling streets were now lined with neatly laid paving stones stretching far into the distance, having endured a day of heavy foot traffic. At times like this, the empty streets felt like they were just for me, making the tiring walk home quite pleasant.

    In most other places, the roads would be empty at this hour, but this was the city’s nightlife district, so there were still plenty of cars. I needed to hurry to catch the night bus, but seeing a car parked by the roadside made me slow my pace instead.

    It was a large SUV. Unlike the usual ones, this one was long and big, making me think of Shin out of habit. Wow, that’s really huge. That car must be comfortable to ride. As I was lost in thought, the car door opened and someone got out.

    Feeling like I was prying into someone else’s business, I quickly tried to look away but then, “Huh?” I turned back again, this time the sound escaping my lips.

    “Huh?”

    With wide eyes, I watched him come around the front of the car and approach me. It was Shin.

    “Finished work?”

    I couldn’t respond, just stood there with my mouth open. The calm composure I had built over the past two days crumbled in just one second upon seeing him. My heart pounded. Thanks to his patience, waiting calmly for my answer, I finally managed to speak.

    “How did you get here?”

    “You mentioned you work here part-time. Is this the place?”

    My heart sank for another reason. This area was known for being frequented by LGBTQ+ people. Feeling guilty for no reason, I avoided his gaze and answered.

    “Yeah, this is the place. But how did you get here?”

    “I know the place.”

    “Are you here for a crackdown?”

    This isn’t a bad place. The boss carefully selects customers for the upscale bar. Surprised by my reaction, Shin gave a slight smile.

    “No.”

    But the smile quickly faded. He held my gaze and said,

    “I’m gay.”

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