theme: o21. Park benches.
Dedicated to Hokum who made me love this story more than I first did; and to Erin who gave me the chance to rewrite this story and to make it better than it was.
That day was nothing special. It was a day that had nothing that could be titled special attached to it. It was a day of shifting into lower gears, a day of ordinary routine, ordinary weather and yet, what came out of that day was anything but ordinary.
That day was a cool, autumn day and I had decided to go for a walk through the park. Ever since I started University two years ago, it had been a long time since I was able to just relax and set aside time for myself. I had worked the previous night like a fiend, accomplishing readings and tasks and assignments head of time just to have this Friday to myself.
Friday was supposed to be the transition day. Friday was when the week met the weekend and everyone prepared themselves to unload after five days of stress and labour. So, on that Friday afternoon while others were out enjoying themselves, I opted out for taking a walk in the park. In order for it to truly be relaxing, I decided - for once - to leave my cellular phone at home. The day was sunny but the wind was crisp. After an hour of circling the park, my body - which was too accustomed to sitting at a desk pouring over homework - was crying for a rest. I approached the nearest bench which was occupied by one other person. Just one.
“Excuse me, is it okay if I sit down?” I asked the young man.
He must have been in some sort of reverie, because he jumped slightly at the sound of my voice. He had been hunched over a notebook that lay in his lap. He looked up, “Eh? Oh yes, of course, of course…” He replied distractedly. He slid down to one side of the bench to make room for me.
I sat down, hearing an audible breath leave my lips as I relaxed against the bench. Stuffing my hands into my blazer pockets as a crisp wind blew past, I just sat there. I sat there and while I was trying to escape all of the trials of my normal life, I found my mind racing of things I had to do when I returned to my apartment. Sure, I had finished all my work for that week, but I still had six assignments to finish for next week, not to mention the three tests I had awaiting me in the next few days to come. Shaking my head, I forced these thoughts out of my head, trying to focus on my surroundings which were supposed to be soothing. No matter what I did, whether it was walking leisurely in the park or sitting still on a park bench, I couldn’t calm my mind down. The stresses of daily life had become too much a part of me.
I tried looking for something else to occupy my mind, anything really. For the first time since I sat on that park bench, I remembered my companion. I furtively glanced at him. He was pale, wore faded, blue jeans and a simple, long-sleeved shirt. He wore thick, black-framed glasses and black hair stuck out from a white beanie on his head. He sat there, one knee crossed over the other and his notebook - which turned out to be a drawing book of some kind - was propped on his thighs as his hand guided a pencil in smooth strokes. I wanted to be discreet, trying to only look from the corner of my eyes which, naturally, made it almost impossible to figure out what the guy was drawing.
“A leaf on the ground,” his voice was calm and clear. Suddenly, I found myself looking at his face directly, “It’s okay… I can feel it when others watch me draw.” I could feel the heat creeping up my neck from being caught but, before I could excuse myself and leave, he moved his arm and tilted the sketchbook. Offering me a clear view of his drawing, he asked tentatively, “What do you think?”
I blinked. Could I really put my thoughts into words? His lines were both sharp and soft at the same time, his shading bringing unbelievable depth to his drawing, “It’s good - really good!” I commented, still unable to shake the shock from my tone. His drawing was incredibly realistic and he couldn’t be older than a high school student.
“Eh? You think?” He looked at his own drawing as a small, peculiar smile tugged at his lips. After a moment of appraising his own work, he added, “Thank you.”
I wasn’t sure what came over me at that moment, but I suddenly asked, “Can I see more of your drawings?” I wasn’t rash or bold. I was organized and a meticulous planner, but something about this guy made me feel at ease, as if I didn’t have to be that way. He made me forget about those stresses that constantly beat at my door; that awaited me away from this park bench.
“Eh… I never let other people see my drawings…” He admitted. I tried to conceal the disappointment I felt in that instant - that was why I was never spontaneous, wasn’t it? Then, he added, “But there’s a first for everything.” And with that, he handed over his sketchbook.
I opened it to the beginning and began to silently peruse through the drawings. I felt my eyes sweep over each drawing, taking in every single detail as if it were a complicated math problem, or as if it were a biology textbook with its complicated images. Every minute detail of each drawing increased in realism the further into the sketchbook I got. Lines got softer until they were nothing more than shades of the objects. Shading increased in skill as depths and dimension was formed.
“These are amazing,” I heard myself breath the words with awe, “It feels like I’m seeing a photograph rather than a drawing… No, like I’m seeing it in real life. You’ve got real talent!” I looked up at him and felt a smile on my lips, “I’m Yesung, by the way.”
His cheeps pinked from my words as he stretched out a hand, “I’m Kyuhyun. Thank you.”
That day was nothing special, but I learned that Kyuhyun was.
That first meeting began our make-shift friendship. After that day, every Friday after I was done classes, I would leave my apartment and head over to the park. After the second - or perhaps the third - Friday, it had become almost a routine with Kyuhyun. It was the first and only routine in my life that I didn’t seem to mind. I bet Kyuhyun could time to the second the moment I would approach the bench where we always at. Without even having to look up, Kyuhyun would slide down so I could sit and we would just sit. The silence was always companionable and comfortable and lasted until one of us decided to talk.
Sometimes I would begin talking. I would talk of school, of homework, of teachers. When it was Kyuhyun - which was rare - he would talk of the curve in a particular detail he couldn’t get right, or of losing inspiration. I realized we were completely different from these talks. I seemed to talk more while Kyuhyun seemed to listen more. I seemed to always talk about myself while Kyuhyun always talked about the world. We were different and yet, somehow, we always managed to find common ground between one another. Always.
One Friday, I was dropping my things off in my apartment. I was just straightening the blazer I wore as a jacket when my phone rang. I knew it couldn’t have been my cellular phone, because I always deposited that first on Fridays before leaving for the park. My cellular was my connection to everything in my world that I tried to escape. It had no place near the park bench or Kyuhyun.
I diligently walked over to my apartment phone and picked it up, “Hello?”
“Hello, Yesung? It’s been so long since I last heard your voice!” My mother’s voice rang strong and true through the line.
“Yeah, I’ve been real busy with school,” I replied as my eyes kept jumping between the clock on the wall and the time on my wristwatch,
“It doesn’t take that long to pick up the phone and call your mom,” I heard the light scold in her voice.
Honestly, what could I have told her? That it does take long? Already I was staying up late at night and waking up early to review and study. Those five minutes I could take to call home were five minutes I truly couldn’t spare, not if I wanted to remain in good standing at school. So what could I have said to my mom, really? Do I tell her that I’ll just email her because that takes less time? Do I tell her that school occupies almost every aspect of my life? Or, do I tell her the painful truth that at some point between leaving home and coming to university, her importance had shifted and I could no longer spare her a thought?
“Look mom, you know I love you,” I stated as I opted out for the easy way out. It wasn’t messy or complicated. It kept everyone happy and placed the least amount of stress on myself, “I’ll phone you as soon as midterms let up,” I insisted, “I really have to go now, though. I’m late for an important meeting.”
“Oh, okay Yesung,” I could hear her try to steady her voice, but it doesn’t work. Her voice was quiet and tight and I felt my heart feel the same way.
Somehow, I pushed the pain from my mind as I muttered a goodbye and hung-up before she could say more, before I could hear more, before the pain became so great that I could no longer push it away. When I left my apartment that day, I ran. I ran until I could feel my calves and feet and lungs burning. I ran until I broke away from the city’s noise and entered the stillness and calmness of the park. I ran until I caught sight of Kyuhyun and our park bench.
I practically collapsed onto the bench and before I even looked at him, I knew Kyuhyun was concerned. As I was catching my breath, he asked,
“Are you okay?” I heard him closing his notebook and setting it aside on the bench. He never stopped drawing whenever we spoke.
“Yeah… just had a conversation with my mom,” I replied. Could I even call it a conversation?
“Oh… is everything okay?” He asked hesitantly. I knew why he was cautious. We talked often and comfortably, but we hadn’t crossed the boundary when it was okay to ask about each other’s personal lives. He was crossing it today and I was thankful, because if he didn’t, I was going to bombard that invisible wall.
“Yes,” I answered. It was the automatic response - everyone’s response - to that question. Whether it was true or not didn’t matter, because when someone asked that question, even if someone wanted to spill their life’s story - as I did at that moment - we all still answer ‘yes’. Why? Because it’s easy. Because it’s safe. It’s only after a moment’s thought after that ‘yes’ do we start to tell the truth. We’ll follow it with an ‘actually, no’ or an obvious silence to prompt the other person to ask us again until we tell the truth.
I entered the latter, the obvious silence. I wanted him to ask again, probe deeper until he forced me to answer, but he didn’t. He sat there, watching me patiently as if he knew the game I played. I wanted him to make me say the truth and at the same time, I didn’t want to tell him the truth because the truth involved admitting to myself that everything wasn’t okay.
“How come you never draw a full picture?” I asked abruptly, my voice quick and hot.
He looked confused for a moment, understandable since it seemed as if I switched topics on him. He looked at me quizzically, silently asking me to elaborate. Ever since our first meeting, I was never permitted to see his drawings again. I never inquired as to why, just accepting it as Kyuhyun’s wishes. It never truly bothered me, but from what I could see, Kyuhyun was always just drawing bits and pieces of things, never completing a drawing.
“Well, the first time we met, you drew just the tip of a leaf,” I explained before elaborating more, his drawings still clear in my mind; “The other drawings in your book: the eye of an old woman, the stitching of a baseball, the wing of a duck. And the other week you were just drawing a nose - sorry, I caught a glance when I sat down.” I took a moment to try to calm myself down. My hands were clenched and I could feel them perspire from the effort; “You always draw parts of things, never the whole being.”
Kyuhyun thought a moment before answering. He pulled his book back onto his lap, “I guess it’s because I prefer to concentrate on the smaller things in life. It’s easier, less stressful.”
That didn’t sound right. Wouldn’t concentrating on the smaller pieces bring about more stress? “But if you don’t look at the big picture, you might not end up where you want,” I argued, trying to keep my voice level, trying to keep my true intentions for this interrogation hidden.
“I never said I don’t look at the big picture, I said I prefer to concentrate on the smaller details. It’s the smaller - less significant things that make the big picture. Who knows where I’ll end up, but at least I’ll enjoy the way there,” Kyuhyun commented lightly.
“Aren’t you ever scared of getting lost?” I questioned, more desperately than I had intended. I heard the slight tremble in my voice and silently cursed myself for showing myself.
“Of course, who isn’t? But getting lost is inevitable, so why try avoiding it?” Kyuhyun countered as he looked at me peculiarly, “Life is full of small things that make bigger things. I prefer to concentrate on the smaller things and you prefer to look at the bigger things - but in the end, we’re the same. We’re both trying to live our lives as best and as enjoyable as we can,” He ended with a smile as bright as the autumn sun before opening his book and drawing once more.
Were we the same? Was I truly enjoying life? It was true I was trying to live my life the best I could, but at the same time I found myself in the centre of chaos of school. That’s why I had to plan everything, keep everything organized. I had to look at the bigger picture because if I didn’t, I’d forget why I was doing this all for.
I watched as Kyuhyun began drawing again. But perhaps that’s what he meant. He found his purpose in life by concentrating on the smaller details. I found my purpose in life by seeing the bigger picture. Even though he was no longer looking at me, I finally nodded at his wisdom. All my life, I had always felt that it should be the dongsaengs to learn from the hyungs. Yet here I was: a university student sitting on a park bench, learning about life from a boy still in high school.
It was a few Fridays after and I found myself heavily craving the reprieve of the park bench. It was just after lunch and I still had two classes to go. However, that week had been particularly eventful with two essays due, three reading assignments and two online quizzes to complete. I grabbed a bite to eat with the only person I talked to at university: my best friend from high school. We spoke of common place things, of school and of our hometown. Not once did I mention Kyuhyun. Not because I was embarrassed of our friendship, but because keeping it secret kept it more private, kept it separate from the rest of the world.
After lunch, I went home to drop of my things and decided to cut to the park early, how surprised would Kyuhyun be if I was there before him? Closing my blazer as the wind hit me on the way to the park, I shoved my hands into my pockets and - despite the busy week - I felt lighter than I had since entering university.
As I neared the park, I felt my pace quicken. I needed the rest and relaxation that I only found when I was sitting with Kyuhyun. It was odd, really, that I found such solace with Kyuhyun. He was three years my junior, not to mention male… but I found peace with him, the kind one was supposed to find with a significant other, the kind one couldn’t feel around friends or family. Despite all reasoning, Kyuhyun held a place in my heart that I couldn’t define. So, I decided to leave it all abstract, just like how Kyuhyun seemed to live his life: free and calm while still paying attention to every detail.
I got closer and felt my feet stop, felt my body go cold and my heart struggle to beat. Sitting there on the park bench was Kyuhyun already. However, he was not alone. Beside him sat a girl, perhaps a bit younger than Kyuhyun. She sat immediately beside him, one arm adjusting the ever-present beanie on his head, the other was holding Kyuhyun’s sketchbook against her body. Their heads were leaned close as they spoke quietly. Kyuhyun tilted his head to her and smiled weakly at her before raising a hand and patting her head.
That all didn’t matter to me - not that much. What did matter to me was that she was on our park bench. Our park bench.
My feet soon moved of their own accord and I felt my hands clench inside their pockets as I neared the pair. “Is this what you do before I come here every Friday?” I demanded. I don’t know how it happened, but I was being rash and bold again; something I had becoming more often since I first met Kyuhyun.
“Yesung!” He looked up, alarmed. I saw it then. Our gazes locked and I saw the embarrassment in his eyes. His cheeks pinked slightly and he dropped his hand from the girl’s head. He stood up, explicitly stepping away from her.
“Why are you here so early?” I asked hotly, feeling tears sting behind my eyes, “Shouldn’t you be in school? You’re a senior, that’s the most important year!”
“I… I never go to school on Friday,” He admitted, glancing at the girl once before looking at me again,
“Why? Are you so care-free that you don’t even care about school?” I demanded, “Damn it, I don’t understand you Kyuhyun! You’re always so calm and collected as if you have no worries! It seems that the most you worry about is your stupid sketchbook!”
“That’s not true!” He exclaimed, taking a step towards me.
“Then what is true?” I questioned as I took a step closer to him, my eyes narrowed dangerously, “What am I supposed to think when I come upon you here - during school hours? When you admit you never go to school on Fridays? What am I supposed to think when I find you sitting with someone else on our - I mean, the park bench?”
“I… I better leave,” the girl muttered as she stood up, placing the sketchbook on the bench,
“No, it’s fine,” I practically spat, “I’ll leave!”
I turned to leave but a hand wrapped around my wrist, “Please, Yesung,” Kyuhyun pleaded quietly, “Stay.”
“Then tell me what’s going on!” I spun around to face him, yanking my wrist from his weak grip,
“I… I can’t,” He lowered his gaze as he said the words and that action hurts more than his answer.
I can feel my blood pounding in my ears, my heart beating painfully as I demanded, “So, what? She’s allowed to know what the hell is going on and I can’t? I know we only meet once a week, but I had thought that we had - at least - come to be friends, Kyuhyun!”
“We are!” He looked up at me then, his eyes dark and wide behind his thick-framed glasses.
“THEN TELL ME!” I exclaimed, my fists clenched so tightly it almost hurt. I didn’t care who was around us then, nor that the girl was still there.
He held my gaze for a few moments. He blinked twice and I saw his hold waver. Finally, he lowered his head and remained silent. I want to reach out and shake him, make him tell me. I wanted to ask him over and over again until he answered, but I had a feeling this was not the ‘obvious silence’. This was not some ploy, after all, this was Kyuhyun. He was simple and calm. If he was silent it was because he would remain to be as such.
So, I took this as my cue. I turned on my heel and left.
The next Friday, I felt hesitant. I had even asked my best friend, Shiwon, to do something with me that evening, but he was going back to our hometown for the weekend. I stood by the entrance to the park for at least half an hour before taking a deep, steadying breath and walking in. I wanted to talk to Kyuhyun, to clear the air. After I had left him the previous Friday, I found myself at odds at home. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I found myself on a constant edge the days following the past Friday. I wasn’t given the reprieve of Kyuhyun’s company or time on the bench. All my stresses were building up again, but this time, they were accompanied by an even greater stress which outweighed them all: the thought that I had lost Kyuhyun.
I neared our park bench and stopped the moment I saw it. The bench was not empty, but it wasn’t Kyuhyun. Instead, that girl was there again, but she was on her own. She sat there, was a book and rose in her arms. I had noticed it the previous week, but this time it hit me once again. She looked familiar. She was too young to be in his class and he would know if she came from his home town. She looked expectant as if she were waiting for someone. I didn’t want to dwell on the fact that the someone was probably who I was looking for, so I decided to keep on walking and wait until Kyuhyun showed up.
I circled the park for almost an hour before I let out a frustrated sigh. Kyuhyun still hadn’t shown up and he was never late. Considering he didn’t go to school on Fridays, I finally understood why he was never late. Finally, I approached the bench, my fists in my pockets to stop myself from crossing my arms intimidating. If Kyuhyun was late, this girl would surely know why.
I slowly approached, “Are you waiting for Kyuhyun?” I asked, trying to control my voice, trying to not be too hostile.
“I’m not,” she replied.
Suddenly, I felt more put-off by this girl. Her presence, once more, at our bench was enough to bother me. However, her familiarity in appearance was bothering me even more and now, that I heard her voice more clearly, I was annoyed. When she spoke before, it was soft, barely comprehendible to me. Now, I heard her words clearly and when I did, I felt a tug on my heart. Who the hell was this girl? I tried to pick out any resemblances on her face that would give her identity away.
“I’m… I’m waiting for you,” She stammered.
That wasn’t what I was expecting. I blinked as I stared at her for a moment. Her voice was drawing me in as her words were slamming into me. My heart was racing and my mind was spinning. She was affecting my heart and my memory with reasons I couldn’t understand.
“Kim Yesung, right?” She asked tentatively and I felt myself nod, “We met last week, but your picture only confirmed it.”
“My picture?” I cocked my head in confusion. What was she talking about?
She nodded before handing over the book and rose to me, “I was charged to give this to you, Kim-sshi,” She explained. Her voice trembled and I could see her dark eyes glass over. She rose and made to leave.
“Wait!” I called out as my eyes swept over the name on the front of the familiar book, “What are you to Kyuhyun? Why are you giving me his sketchbook?”
She didn’t turn around, but she answered, her voice still shaky, “He asked me to give it to you… I… I can’t speak for him so please… Please, just… just open the book,” she insisted before she broke out into a mad dash, disappearing before I could ask more.
If my reactions to her voice and face didn’t confuse me already, I looked down at the book in my lap. Kyuhyun never let me see the contents of his sketchbook again since that first meeting, so why was I being given it now? Not to mention that girl. Why her? Why couldn’t he give it himself? Had I broken things between us that much? That he couldn’t face me himself? I’d have to apologize profusely the next time I saw him.
I didn’t know what to do, so, placing the rose on the bench beside me, I opened the front cover of the book, startled to find an inscription there. Written in his neat print, I read Kyuhyun’s words:
My dear Yesung,
I must begin by apologizing for not being completely honest with you, when you have been nothing but honest with me. I had always come to this park to find a peace I could not find at home. Ever since I was diagnosed with cancer this past summer, my home life became hectic and stressful. So, I came to the park to escape. It was in this park that I met you, my friend.
I never had expectations of becoming friends with you, nor never expected to become as close to you as we have become. It is with a heavy heart and conscience that I say my final goodbyes to you through this letter. As cowardly as this seems, I did not want you to see me as I am now. I want you to remember me as you knew me during our time together. The doctors don’t give me longer than a week more, so I sent my little sister to give you my sketchbook - the olive branch that began our friendship.
It is at the end that I wish to say things I’ve wanted to say since the beginning but never did. You are a great friend, although you may not realize it, you brought a solace to my life that I could not find with my other friends, nor even my family. You cleared my head of all other shadows in my life and kept me in the light. I know you always thought my way of thinking, of living seemed too abstract, too unstable; what I never told you was that I never thought or lived like that outside of this park, away from this park bench, far from you. The organized way you lived your school life - despite how much stress it gave you - brought an odd sort of organization to my own life. I was able to sort through demons I didn’t dare face prior to meeting you; and because of that, I was able to think and live freer than I have ever been.
So, it is with what I learned from you, that I now give you advice. It is fine to be organized in life; to have stresses; to look at the big picture. However, as you go on in life, never forget to live spontaneously; to relax; to pay attention to detail. I understand now, what that conversation meant when you asked about my incomplete drawings. It’s okay sometimes to not have a plan, to not know where you’re going. Sometimes, it’s best to live life as it happens, to not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will always come, but today will be gone before you realized it.
Lastly, I ask you this one last thing - no, I beg of you this final request: never forget me.
May you have a happy and easy life Yesung. I love you in more ways than one, in some ways that others may deem wrong, but all the same, I love you. Thank you for everything you have brought to my life, that you have done for my life. Because of you, I can leave this world with a heart full of love and a smile on my face.
Your eternal, loving dongsaeng;
By the time I read his name at the bottom of the inside cover, it was through a veil of tears. My eyes burned, but my heart burned even more painfully. Suddenly, everything made sense. That girl had been Kyuhyun’s little sister. She looked like him, sounded like him. How did my heart realize this, recognize her, before I did? Then, it was as if something was moving my hands of its own accord. I was flipping the pages of the sketchbook, blazing through half-drawn images I’d seen before.
What was Kyuhyun’s last drawing? What was the last thing that caught his attention? Sparked his inspiration? What was the last thing that made him thing ‘this is worthwhile’? I reached the last page and felt the last bit of my already weakened heart break. I found myself looking at a drawing of my own face. In the neatest script I had ever seen, on the bottom right corner was a small message:
I wanted it to be a surprise.
Suddenly, I didn’t care about time or place. The cries I had been swallowing were now choking and I let them go. They ripped through my body as I felt my tears cascading endlessly down my face. I sat on that park bench for hours, his letter repeating itself in my mind, my ears hearing him say those words. I never loosened my hold of his sketchbook which I held against my heart.
After that Friday, I continued to visit that park every Friday, after getting off the phone with my mother. Without any justification or reason, I still expected to see Kyuhyun sitting on the bench. I would remember him most when I first saw him: dressed in faded, blue jeans and a white long-sleeved shirt with a beanie on his head; one knee crossed over the other, his sketchbook propped on his thigh as he bent over the book, concentrating on his latest drawing.
It didn’t matter that I now knew that his beanie hid his thinning hair from the chemotherapy, or that the sketchbook was now in my possession, its place on my bedside table. It didn’t even matter that I now knew that his presence at the park on Fridays was because it was on his way home from the hospital. All that mattered was that every Friday, I still expected to see him. And every Friday, my heart would break at the realization that he wasn’t there.
Despite the familiar sadness and ache that would come to me every time I reached the familiar spot, I would always sit down on the bench. Not in the centre, but off to the side so that, just in case Kyuhyun did miraculously appear, he would have a space to sit. Always.
On those Fridays following when I received Kyuhyun’s sketchbook, I fell into a routine. The second routine in my life that I didn’t mind. I would relax against the bench as I always did, my hands stuffed into my blazer pockets as a crisp wind engulfed me. Finished with that week’s work, I would sit there in quiet calmness, not allowing myself to think of the next week’s stresses. Instead, my mind was full of thoughts and memories of the companion I once shared that bench with, those previous Fridays so long ago. Regardless of being alone, I would sit there and refused others the spot that was so clearly vacant. I would sit there and think. And remember. And love.
All the while, sitting on our park bench.
(Forever Theirs, original)
(One Last Kiss, original sequel)
A/N: I rewrote this story because I had always wanted to. The original is 3 scenes, not that very long. Also, Hokum always loved this story and I never understood why because it was so short. I wanted to make it longer, make it worth it. Erin approached me with a proposal, and I took it as my chance to do this story right. I hadn't planned it, but when I started rewriting it, I decided to do it in first-person from Yesung's point of view. I felt that to truly convey his feelings, I would need to do so from his eyes.