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    When I woke up, it was pitch dark. The curtains were drawn, and the lights I had left on were all off. Only the ambient light from the mood lamp under the bed faintly glowed.

    When I wake up at dawn, my first thought is always the same: where am I today? Once I realize that, I decide whether to go back to sleep. I was in Rome with Han Jae-yi, and yesterday we kissed.

    I turned my head and saw Han Jae-yi sleeping, sound asleep after being awake for over 24 hours. His head was turned toward me and he was propping himself up with an arm pillow, while one hand on my shoulder.

    He was a very light sleeper. I knew that if I moved or made a sound, he would open his eyes immediately. I didn’t want to wake him up, so I very slowly pushed his hand on my shoulder. But of course, Han Jae-yi immediately opened his eyes and kept his grip on my hand.

    “Why are you awake. Get more sleep.”

    It was the very thing I wanted to say to him.

    “Can you see what time it is?”

    He let go of my hand and reached for his phone.

    “It’s just before 5.”

    His face, reflected in the light of his cell phone just before it went off, looked very tired. Without realizing it, I touched his nose and cheeks. He just stared at me blankly, taking in what I was doing. I spoke in a concerned tone.

    “You look tired.”

    Han Jae-yi smiled faintly and nodded.

    “It was the most intense few days of my life.”

    I ran my hand up his cheek to his forehead, touching his bushy eyebrows, which I love.

    “Was it that difficult?”

    “Yeah.”

    He brought my hand to his lips and gave it a quick kiss.

    “I had to be careful because I could have lost you.”

    I really liked that answer. I knew what it meant for Han Jae-yi to say he had thought things over carefully. I was very relieved he hadn’t asked a rash question like, “Do you like me?” out of mere curiosity.

    “When did it start for you?”

    I was also glad that I could now give him a clear answer to his question.

    “On April 24th, around 3 PM, when you called to tell me you were getting married while I was driving near Karlsruhe.”

    Han Jae-yi frowned slightly at my answer.

    “Then I must be the dumbest guy on the planet.”

    I couldn’t help but laugh. Suddenly, I wondered if this was reality. Lying in bed with him and having these conversations happened often, and there were times when I couldn’t tell if I was dreaming or awake. So, I decided to try going back to sleep. If the same situation was still there when I woke up again, I would truly believe it. Believe that he was with me.

    “Good night.”

    I said as I unilaterally closed my eyes. Han Jae-yi let go of the hand he was holding. The last thing I heard before sleep pulled me in was his low breathing and goodnight greeting. It spread through my body like a sleeping pill, and I fell asleep again.

    Then it was dark. I wandered in my dreams for a long time. If not for the midday sun creeping through the curtains, I might have slept all day. The noise from outside and the footsteps in the hotel hallway woke me up. I was still in bed with my clothes on, and Han Jae-yi’s hair was still wet from his shower.

    “Coffee?”

    He looked down at me and held out a disposable cup that looked like it came from a hotel cafe. The rich smell of beans wafted over the bed. I reached out and grabbed the coffee, pushing myself up.

    “Did I sleep too much…?”

    “It’s around 1 PM now. I checked out of my room and came up here.”

    He has to go back to Germany for work tomorrow, and I’m a little sad to see our brief reunion come to an end.

    “How about we go out for some fresh air?”

    Han Jae-yi sat beside me and suggested.

    “You could leave now and still arrive at dawn.”

    “An extra hour or two won’t make a difference. We never got to see the sea like we planned.”

    Considering his condition, I should have refused, but I decided to be a little selfish. The beach was only a 40-minute drive from downtown Rome. An hour or two wouldn’t hurt, would it? I nodded and handed him my coffee. I went straight to the bathroom to wash my face. There wasn’t enough time for a shower.

    Han Jae-yi grabbed his rumpled suit and car keys and walked out of the hotel. The sunlight was so bright that we both took out our sunglasses simultaneously. With the sound of the hotel door closing behind us, we headed straight to the Santa Marinella beach in the Porsche. As I watched the hotel fade into the distance, it felt like a small miracle that what had happened inside was continuing outside.

    Han Jae-yi was silent throughout the drive. We spent the time processing the situation individually. Yesterday, he and I had crossed a line and it had made things a little awkward.

    It didn’t matter how friendly our previous relationship had been. The tension I felt under his gaze, his cautiousness when his fingers touched mine, watching my reactions, all made my heart flutter. I even found myself breathing faster when we were alone in such a tightly closed space.

    On Sunday, the Santa Marinella beach was relatively empty. Under the blazing sun, we rolled up our sleeves and pants, walking barefoot along the shore. The calm Mediterranean sparkled under the sunlight. A group of children playing with a beach ball ran past us at high speed.

    “Is your tomorrow’s flight at dawn again?”

    “No, it’s at noon, so I can leave at a reasonable time.”

    “That’s a relief. Rest up after I leave. Where’s your next destination?”

    “I don’t know. I can’t remember. I think it’s a short-haul flight.”

    I felt utterly drained. From the moment I received Han Jae-yi’s call in Tokyo, my thoughts had been solely focused on one thing. It was as if I didn’t care about life after today, not even remembering my flight schedule.

    The day had come, and we had made our choices. So, what happens next? Han Jae-yi answered my unspoken question quietly.

    “I’ll move back to Korea.”

    I turned my head to look at his face as we walked. Han Jae-yi glanced at me, then returned his gaze to the road ahead.

    “It’s going to take me a while to get everything organized, but I need to do it now if I don’t want to be the biggest idiot on the planet again.”

    He still had a lot of things to deal with in Germany: an engagement that broke down just before the wedding, his parents, and his job. We must pay the price for our choices for our future lives. Han Jae-yi would have to fight alone in Germany to transition to the life he had chosen.

    “Will you be okay?”

    “Well, my parents are going to be a little upset, but… will have to deal with it.”

    He smiled at me. Knowing his father’s temperament, I sighed.

    “What will you do without a job in Korea?”

    “I have money in Korea. I might start a business or something.”

    The idea of Han Jae-yi starting a business was laughable. It would probably go under in less than a year. He couldn’t practice law in Korea, so moving there would mean throwing away his entire career. It felt like a waste of all the effort and studies he had put in so far.

    “I’m currently a contract worker with the airline. It’s a three-year contract. After that, I don’t know what will happen.”

    “I know, but we can’t stay apart for three years.”

    I stopped walking and looked at him. Han Jae-yi straightened his back with his hands in his pockets and stared at me. Then he spoke to me in a clear tone.

    “I’m not going to ask you to take responsbility. Don’t try to kick me out like last time.”

    He seemed sincere. Rationally, I knew it was best to dissuade him, but emotionally, I was swayed by his words. I was standing on the boundary of choices that should be made from the standpoint of a friend and a lover. Since he wasn’t a child, I decided to respect his decision for now. We started walking again.

    “I took a couple of weeks off for your wedding, so I’m going to travel alone. I’ll be coming into Germany anyway, because I have to attend Grandma Elsa’s birthday party.”

    “Is she still doing well?”

    “Uh Yeah. She still bakes cookies and cakes by herself.”

    “So, you’ll be going to the house in Winnenden then.”

    “Yeah, I should. She’s insistent that I stay at least one night. I’ll arrive the day before the party, so let’s meet briefly then.”

    “Where are you traveling?”

    “I’m not telling you. I’m afraid you’ll follow me.”

    Han Jae-yi laughed. He nodded, as if to say, ‘You know me well.’ I thought to myself, he knows me too well—it’s almost painful.

    The sweet hour was coming to an end and it was time to really let him go. I dusted off the sandy mud from the soles of my feet and made my way back to the car.

    “Since I’ll be taking the highway anyway, I’ll drop you off at the hotel.”

    “Okay.”

    I buckled my seatbelt without hesitation.

    Perhaps because of our talk at the beach, the atmosphere between us had softened a bit. We resumed our usual conversations, making jokes and laughing as we entered the bustling city of Rome, mingling with other cars. From a distance, I could see the hotel where I was staying. I set aside my feelings of regret and composed my expression.

    The Porsche slowly entered the hotel lobby, and the engine turned off automatically. A hotel staff member approached to open the passenger door, but Han Jae-yi raised his hand to stop him, signaling him to wait.

    “Get some rest. You still look sleepy.”

    “Okay. Drive safely. Don’t forget to take breaks.”

    “Alright, I’ll call you.”

    “I’m going now.”

    “Seo-jin-ah.”

    As I opened the door to leave, Han Jae-yi pulled my arm and kissed me. It was a little softer and more relaxed than yesterday. I reached out and ran my fingers through his hair. I didn’t want to part. Each time that thought crossed my mind, we sought each other’s lips and tongues hungrily. Memories from long ago surfaced.

    “What’s your name? I’m Han Jae-yi.”

    When we were fifteen and first shared our names,

    “I’m Woo Seo-jin.”

    The days when we were best friends and stood next to each other.

    We said a final goodbye to the time until yesterday when we had crossed the boundaries we had set for each other. We said goodbye to our 15 years of friendship and to my long unrequited love.

    Youth, Auf Wiedersehen.

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