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    Han Jae-yi left it at that and chewed his food. Meanwhile, I took a sip of the drink. It was tea with a hint of corn flavor. Setting aside the responsibility to eat a lot, I leaned back in my chair. It seemed I had succeeded in drawing out some of his inner thoughts. Showing a willingness to listen more, Han Jae-yi slowly passed the food and wiped his mouth with a napkin. Then he spoke again.

    “I told you, friendship is the only thing that lasts. I thought it would be possible with you. You’re practically family to me, so my priorities wouldn’t change just because I got married. But I guess I was being careless. When you started acting reserved around me, I felt flustered. And I realized it. Ah, we’re starting to live our own lives like this. I was really sad because I felt like you were pulling away from me. Why aren’t you eating? You have to finish this.”

    Unable to resist his urging, I picked up the chopsticks again. There was no way around it. Still, the food continued to be placed on the table. Finally, the fresh noodles were placed in the center, and the server left. We ordered quite a lot. There were still many dishes untouched. Quietly, I pushed some of the dishes aside, hoping he wouldn’t notice.

    “You said you felt like you were falling behind. That makes sense. I’ve felt that way too. Remember when you were studying for your captain promotion exam? You were really busy. You didn’t respond when I visited or when I suggested going out. So, I changed jobs and got busy too.”

    “Yeah, we started contacting each other less around then.”

    “Do you know why?”

    “You said you’ve been busy.”

    “Yeah, when I got busy, I contacted you less. You never contacted me first. I always had to initiate.”

    “What are you talking about? I’ve contacted you first many times.”

    “Well… Once or twice a year? In 15 years, you’ve never suggested doing something first. Isn’t that right?”

    As if he didn’t know any better, Han Jae-yi glanced at me before lifting his chopsticks. This time, I brought out all the data I had gathered over the years. Countless memories and trips flooded out. I sifted through them, wondering if everything truly stemmed from Han Jae-yi. Still, there must have been at least one suggestion from me first. Surely, there were tiny instances I couldn’t recall.

    I questioned him calmly, as if it were nothing.

    “Not really. We each have our roles. The crazy stuff always starts with me, but you’ve taken on the role of listening to me. That’s why I like being with you. I was stressed before coming to Korea, but staying at your place helped me regain my peace of mind.”

    “Why were you stressed?”

    “I don’t know the cause. Let’s just say I knew how to fix it without knowing the cause. It’s been like this for a while. Oh, I’m in a bad mood, so I just come to you without warning. Is it some kind of addiction? But why aren’t you eating? Seriously.”

    Noticing the food I’d pushed aside, Han Jae-yi rearranged the plates. He stopped talking and watched me with his arms crossed, as if waiting for me to eat. There was no way out.

    I took my chopsticks to a plate of acorn jelly. I tried to pick up the jelly, but my chopsticks were clumsy and I crushed it all over. He handed me a spoon. Feeling a slight annoyance, I put down the spoon and continued to make a salad with the jelly bowl.

    “Stop being stubborn and choose the easy way. Why is your personality like this?”

    I ignored him and tasted a little of the shredded jelly with my chopsticks. I moved on to another plate, showing that I was dutifully fulfilling my obligation. Of course, there was still plenty of rice in the bowl. Again, I must reiterate, there was no way I could possibly enjoy this meal.

    “Come to think of it, Gisella doesn’t have a ring on her hand.”

    I decided to change the subject. He hadn’t formally proposed, so of course there would be no ring. I wondered what excuse he would come up with if he didn’t realize I knew that.

    “The ring, um… said I could have just one wedding ring.”

    “You know that’s really inappropriate, right?”

    “Yeah. I apologized, but she didn’t mind. That’s why I like it. Unlike my previous girlfriends, she’s cool about things and doesn’t start petty fights over trivial matters. So, about getting married…”

    “So, you think getting married wouldn’t be so bad?”

    I couldn’t help but mock his words. Han Jae-yi slightly tilted his head to the right and looked at me. He stopped talking and clenched his jaw. His expression indicated that if I had something to say, I should say it. The dice had been cast. Now, I also had to say my piece.

    “Do you remember what you said on Jeju Island? That you regretted it every moment.”

    “Yes.”

    “Do you regret deciding to get married?”

    He was silent for a moment. As we stared at each other for a long time, I began to do some complicated calculations of my own. “I don’t know,” Han Jae-yi said, pressing his cheekbone with the hand that was resting on his chin. Then he casually walked away.

    “I can’t really answer such a question, even if it’s you who’s asking.”

    In an instant, he drew a line and pushed me out. He had even made a proposal he hadn’t made, so I understood and respected his consideration for his fiancée. Still, I knew one thing: most people would easily answer such a question with a “no.”

    “Yeah, I’m sorry.”

    We focused on the meal for a while: the clinking of bowls, the swallowing of food, the manager coming in to check on the cooking. I eagerly shoveled food into my mouth. I crumpled another spoonful, forgetting that I was already chewing on the same dish. I wasn’t interested in eating. When I glanced over, Han Jae-yi had already finished his portion and was rinsing his mouth with water.

    “Now that you mention it, do you have something you find difficult to talk to me about?”

    It was self-inflicted. I thought quickly about how to get out of it. I tried to match the tone of my voice with my facial expression. I shook my head as if I was thinking as deeply as I could, but couldn’t come up with anything.

    “What could I possibly have to share?”

    Then, we exchanged trivial stories for a while. Stories about our parents, about Chris. We even discussed the local election results, which were featured in this week’s Spiegel special article.

    I tried my best to meet his expectations and ate the food diligently, but eventually surrendered and put down my utensils.

    “I really can’t eat anymore. It’s all yours since you ordered it.”

    “Do you want me to pack it for you? What time is your flight tomorrow? It’s good to go after breakfast.”

    “Do you think I’m going to eat Korean food for breakfast?”

    “Fair enough. Let’s just leave it then.”

    Less than half the food was gone, and it was getting cold. It was all on Han Jae-yi. I looked at my watch as I drank the crystal fruit for dessert. Nine o’clock in the evening. Our last dinner was coming to an end. I looked into his face and asked myself: What will happen to us now?

    When thinking about the difference between love and friendship, I had always believed it stemmed from possessiveness. If there’s no desire to possess, you can stay by each other’s side as friends for a lifetime; but once possessiveness starts boiling, it’s easier to leave.

    Tormented by possessiveness, I fled to this place, and Han Jae-yi kept chasing after me to keep me company. Our reasons were different, but one thing was certain. We were both selfish.

    “Seo-jin-ah.”

    “Yeah.”

    “Do you think I’m going to get frustrated if you stare at me for ten minutes with a look like you have something to say or not?”

    I couldn’t help but laugh. It must have been frustrating. All the while, I was slowly coming to a conclusion.

    “Let’s get up.”

    He asked me if I wanted to go for a smoke. No, I wouldn’t. I had a decision to make without alcohol and cigarettes. I remembered Gisella’s words again.

    ‘Last chance, Maxie. Don’t regret it later.’

    The word ‘last chance’ was funny. Was it a chance to make Han Jae-yi like me? I wondered if I needed that.

    At this point, it became clear why I hadn’t confessed in the first place. There was something more important than preserving my friendship with him. I was probably trying to protect my pride. It was a petty pride that hoped if his feelings towards me were anything more than friendship, he would realize it himself. My confession also meant that I didn’t need any friendship considerations from him.

    “Drive carefully.”

    “Go up.”

    We hugged briefly in the lobby. His way of wrapping his arms around my shoulders and patting me gently. The last hug with my soulmate-like friend had come to an end.

    Gisella Weber wanted the truth. I chose my pride, and now it was Han Jae-yi’s turn to answer.

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