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    “Mr. Co-pilot, if you’ll excuse me, may I ask why you got divorced?”

    I asked as politely as I could, and with just enough nuance for him to say no. The Co-pilot smiled broadly.

    “You’re finally asking! I was getting a little tired of waiting.”

    It was quite the answer. He downed the shot of water-filled soju glass, saying it was customary to have a drink and talk about it. Then, in a voice barely audible to our companions sitting across from us, he whispered to me.

    “My girlfriend broke up with me a week before the wedding. I was dumped.”

    “For what reason…”

    “She accidentally found a photo of me with my ex.”

    “Was that a problem?”

    “Yes. It was a problematic photo. Because my ex… Well, let’s stop here for today!”

    He interrupted, raising his head from whispering quietly.

    “We’ll talk more next time we meet outside. Curious, aren’t you?”

    I stared at him in disbelief. Seriously… He clinked his glass with a cheeky grin. It was undoubtedly because of his absurd personality, not the photo, that led to the breakup.

    I picked up my chopsticks in despair and emptied my plate.

    Given the early hour, the table was cleared before 7pm. We exchanged pleasantries and headed to our respective destinations. Since I was traveling in Co-pilot Cho Min-woo’s car, we shared a ride home. It was nice when your colleague was also your ride. We didn’t have to force conversations; we could talk about industry-related matters, and time flew by. My plan to make friends was halfway successful.

    “Wanna smoke before you go?”

    He parked the car in front of the villa and looked at me. I nodded without any reason to refuse and stepped outside. The sun had already set, leaving a reddish trace in the sky. Kids were running around, making noise. With the wind taking away my lighter, I borrowed his hand to light the cigarette.

    “Can I ask you a question too?”

    He suddenly asked me out of the blue. Without even waiting for my permission, he continued with a question.

    “When was the last time you were in a relationship?”

    He was throwing out such a difficult question out of nowhere. I furrowed my brows slightly, trying to recall. What exactly counts as a relationship? If it’s about physical intimacy, it would be about two years ago. But if it’s about emotional connection, did I ever really have a relationship? After puffing on the cigarette once more, I calmly answered.

    “I don’t know, I think the last time was about two years ago.”

    “It seems like you had a vague relationship. Kind of, but also not.”

    “Yes. So I reflect.”

    We were exclusive to each other, but I wouldn’t even call her a girlfriend. I wasn’t interested in having sex with her, and the relationship ended soon after.

    I didn’t see anyone after that. I wasn’t the type to suffer from sexual frustration or feel lonely, so two years must have passed without much resistance. If I had known Han Jae-yi was getting married, I should have tried harder. Even if I wasn’t going to get married, having someone by my side could have made this situation easier. I regretted it every moment.

    “Take the lighter. I have plenty at home.”

    “Thank you.”

    “You must be tired. I’ll go now. Rest well.”

    He put out his cigarette and waved goodbye. I watched his car drive away and climbed the stairs. When he opened the living room door, the light was on. Apparently, there was an unwelcome visitor.

    “When did you arrive? You should’ve called.”

    “Just now.”

    Han Jae-yi closed the balcony door and leaned against the wall.

    “You seem close.”

    He must have seen us smoking from the balcony. It would be nice to get closer. We live close by, work at the same place, and both seem single, with similar hobbies. When I casually replied, Han Jae-yi smiled somewhat disappointedly.

    “Yeah. Sounds like it.”

    Although his mouth was smiling, he didn’t seem to be in a good mood. I was both happy and pained to see him.

    Han Jae-yi didn’t answer the question of why he came, still leaning against the door and staring at me. The conversation never took off. I kept turning away from him and his gaze followed me. I started moving around, doing something I usually didn’t bother with, like tidying up the living room table. I felt like I needed to do something.

    “What did I do wrong again?”

    I glanced at him while tidying up the scattered books, unable to find an easy answer this time. If I had found that answer, our relationship would have already ended. His face was filled with frustration and agony. Once again, I felt like I needed to do something.

    “We need to talk.”

    I lightly gripped his shoulder and opened the balcony door behind him. It seemed difficult for me to cut back on smoking for a while. The lighter that Cho Min-woo gave was handy. If it weren’t for that, I might have had to go to the convenience store in this awkward situation.

    Just as I was lighting the fire, Han Jae-yi stepped out onto the balcony and closed the door. I erased the fervor and pain in my gaze at him. The friend who had tarnished our friendship was now starting to lie.

    “Stop coming to my house. What are you doing leaving the person you’re going to marry alone? We had a good time for three weeks, didn’t we? We did a lot of reminiscing. It’s like a month-long bachelorette party. We even had those bachelor parties for a month each. Just go. You’re annoying me.”

    I was just babbling nonsense.

    “Since we’re living in different countries now, I’m going to make some friends here too. Or maybe I’ll start dating as you suggested. You’re making a turning point in your life by getting married, but I feel restless staying the same. It’s irritating. Do you understand what I mean?”

    He might have never heard such words like being annoying before. Han Jae-yi leaned against the balcony railing, staring at me. I wasn’t sure what I was blabbering about, but there was no change in her expression. The play that failed to captivate the audience’s hearts needed to come to an end, but foolish lingering regrets kept flowing out of my mouth.

    “And are you really getting fired from the company? No matter how good a lawyer you are, a job is still a job. Just hurry up and go back to Germany…”

    “The return flight is in two days.”

    He interrupted my words and spoke in a subdued voice. There’s a flight in two days. It meant that we only had tomorrow left between us.

    “It’s embarrassing that you keep asking me why I’m leaving the woman I’m going to marry alone. To me, you are someone who doesn’t need to worry about such things, so I didn’t think about it at all. You’ve been looking a little unhappy for a few days now, and it’s been bothering me. I’m sorry.”

    I felt my face flush like someone who had been scolded. I know I’m not the kind of person who should have to worry about such things, and after hearing him say he was sorry, I couldn’t do it anymore. In my haste to save face, I said something I didn’t mean to say.

    “What’s wrong with my expression. Don’t overreact. I won’t be able to see you off since I have a flight. So, I’ll see you on the day of the wedding then. If you’re okay with it, let’s have dinner together tomorrow evening, the three of us.”

    “You don’t have to see me off if it’s uncomfortable for you. Don’t force it.”

    “Why would it be uncomfortable for me? There’s nothing like that. I’ll leave for the hotel around 7.”

    Han Jae-yi’s expression was hard to read from earlier. I wondered if I was pitying myself too much if I thought he was looking at me.

    The unsmoked cigarette turned into ash. I flicked it off with my hand, extinguishing the ember, and threw it into a milk carton filled with stubs. The cigarette butt, still not completely extinguished, emitted its last puff of smoke. I forced a smile on my face like a clown and lightly tapped Han Jae-yi’s shoulder.

    “Let’s go in.”

    I opened the balcony door and stepped into the living room first. I could smell his cologne as he followed me in. I went to the kitchen alone and got a glass of water. I offered it to him, but he said he didn’t need it. I put my hands on my hips and stared at Han Jae-yi across the table. Now that I couldn’t tell him to leave, I had to give him a choice.

    He silently moved towards the front door. He’s leaving. In order to see him off, I followed him awkwardly. I reminded him to drive safely as he put on his shoes. A faint smile, a wish to rest, and a promise to see each other tomorrow were exchanged.

    “Seo-jin-ah.”

    Han Jae-yi turned abruptly and called out to me.

    “Did my marriage mean that much to you?”

    “What?”

    I stood there, dumbfounded by his unexpected question, and shook my head. I swallowed dryly. Now I could read Han Jae-yi’s expression, and I realized it was a question that omitted the premise, ‘I’ve been thinking about this since earlier.’ Perhaps my acting had been truly amateurish..

    For a moment, I thought about acting crazy and confessing everything, but it was simply because I was exhausted. It’s been hard to pretend to be something I’m not these past few weeks. But then I just smiled meaninglessly again.

    “Well. It means a lot to you, so it means a lot to me. Ask the obvious.”

    I cleared my throat, then opened the front door and held it for him.

    “I didn’t mean to say that, but… Anyway, rest up.”

    Muttering to himself that he didn’t need to ask more questions, Han Jae-yi descended the stairs. As I closed the door behind him and turned around, I saw a fan-shaped groove in one corner of the living room wall that led to the foyer. It looked like the wood was only used on this side to accommodate a display case on the other side.

    The love that came late was indeed intense. Perhaps one of the two who entered this house had realized that intensity.

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