He doesn’t reply. He just continues to walk ahead of you, hands deep in his pockets and head ducked low. It’s so dark that you can’t make out his expression.
You had said something careless at dinner. You hadn’t meant to, of course, you were just being playful (and a little bit glib). Yet the moment you saw his eyes fall away from you, expression darkening, you knew you shouldn’t have said anything at all. It was stupid of you — mean, almost.
“Junhong-ah, I’m really sorry," you say, trying to keep up with him. He’s taking slow, long strides, but it’s enough that you have to work to stay astride. "Please, it was insensitive of me.”
“But it’s true, isn’t it?" Junhong says quietly, still not looking at you. "I couldn’t even pay for dinner… You had to.”
You click your tongue. “I don’t care about that—”
“I do," he says. "I do.”
He comes to a rest outside a woodland. The trees are whispering in the wind. The sound of traffic is muted by them, greenery creating a thick wall of privacy between them and you. Just one more turn around the corner and you’ll be back in the chaos.
“I was just joking," you explain, averting your gaze. "I wasn’t trying to hurt you, Junhong.”
“I know, I just…" He breaks off, taking a deep breath instead. Junhong looks up at the sky, stars barely visible through the smog of the city.
You stand next to him patiently, wondering what on earth you can possibly say that will fix this. You tend to forget that he’s still quite young; you tend to forget that he’s not as mature as he seems to be; and you tend to forget that, at the end of the day, it’s in his nature to be innocent. Junhong is the type of boyfriend that blushes when you kiss, can’t look you in the eye if your top is too low cut, and gets rather fidgety if you guys are alone in a room together. You can see right through him: every thought that skitters across his mind and every emotion coursing through his body. He’s transparent.
“Why do you even want to be with me?" he murmurs suddenly. Junhong still isn’t making eye contact with you. “I’m still a rookie — still a nobody.”
You laugh a little. “A nobody? After winning so many awards? After having half of South Korea follow you around?”
“It’s not half of South Korea," he corrects.
“Well, it’s still a whole damn lot," you say. "You’re not nobody, Junhong.”
“So we’re dating because I’m kind of somebody?”
“I don’t care what you are," you say, taking a step forward. "We’re dating because I like you.”
He softens a little. You see it in his demeanour, the way he steals a glance at you like a shy schoolboy.
“Even though I can’t pay for dinner yet?”
“Even if you can never, ever pay for dinner.”
Junhong lets out a laugh, back of his hand covering his mouth. He always laughs like that: cutely. It makes you want to kiss him at once. You feel relived upon hearing it, knowing that he’s forgiven you.
“I’m sorry," you say anyway, needing to clarify it. "Please don’t be hurt by my insensitivity, Junhong-ah.”
“It wasn’t you," he says, eyes snapping back to the pavement.
He shakes his head at the cement. “It was that… it’s true.”
“It is, though." Junhong sighs loudly. Someone calls out in the distance. The both of you pause to listen. When it passes, he speaks. "For now, I can’t buy you pretty things or take you out to eat or even go on normal dates with you.”
“That’s okay," you console. "It’s fine, I don’t need that.”
“But I want to be able to do those things," he says. "And, one day, I will be.”
He looks directly at you for the first time, his eyes earnest. You see a kind of determination written across his face, his jaw set firmly. Junhong, as young as he is, often isn’t that young after all.
“I’ll be a really great boyfriend," he says resolutely. "If you wait for me… I promise I will be.”
Your heart constricts, tight with emotions. His grave expression, his words, his posture — this is a side of Junhong you only see once in a while. You enjoy the fact that he’s bashful and sweet. You’ve only ever seen him serious when he’s working. With you, he’s forever carefree and you’re glad of that.
Even though you really, really shouldn’t, you kiss him. A chaste, soft kiss. You have to brace yourself with your hand on his hip, leaning up so you can reach him. He is surprised at first, which makes him unreactive, but you feel him ease against you moments later. You can feel his heart fluttering beneath your chest, beating as light and rapid as the wings of a butterfly.
When you pull away, he is flushed pink. This is the Junhong you know to be yours. You smile.
“You already are a great boyfriend," you say.
And even though you really, really shouldn’t, you kiss again.