“You know, I will give you everything,” my cell phone blasted for the third time since it had woken me up.
“Grr.” I covered my ear with my pillow as I tried to drown the sound out. I’d been deep into sleep and was all prepared to start a dream I hoped would star Kwon Sang Woo but the stupid as.shole on the phone wouldn’t even let me have that. What the hell?
“You know, I will…” the stupid cell phone chirped again. I looked over at the alarm clock on my nightstand and saw that it was a few minutes after midnight. After midnight! Wasn’t the number one rule in the cell phone etiquette manual something about not calling people after midnight? I cursed myself for not turning my phone off and channeled all that energy into jumping off my bed and hitting my light switch. I instinctively shielded my eyes from the bright lights and began to search for my phone.
“Argh!” I screamed a few seconds before finding it hidden under the jeans I’d worn the previous day. I promised to punch Yun Ah for talking me into purchasing such a tiny phone before flipping it open and screaming into it. “What?”
“Hey,” a familiar voice said.
I cursed under my breath and wiped my eyes before looking at the caller-id to confirm that I wasn’t hearing things and the person at the other end of the line was who I actually thought it was.
“Hello? Do you know what time it is? I’m sleeping… what the hell?”
“Rela--” Ji Tae started to say.
WHAT THE HELL?!?!? “I have school tomorrow!” I said before hanging the phone up.
“What’s so important that it can’t wait?” Yun Ah asked. Her hands were folded and from her stance, it was quite obvious that any response I had would be refuted.
“Just go ahead, okay? I’ll meet you guys there,” I said as I jogged away from my lunch gang.
“You don’t have an internet boyfriend, do you?” Her voice got fainter as I walked into the building.
I certainly didn’t have an internet boyfriend but I did want to check my email. On my way to school that morning, I checked my text messages, and apparently, shortly after I hung up the phone, Ji Tae had sent a message that simply read, “Check your email.” So throughout Math and Physics class, even though I tried not to, I kept getting curious and more curious about what it was and what that had to do with him calling me so damn late at night.
I logged onto my email and clicked on the untitled email he’d sent. The email was bare; only containing a URL that had my name as part of the address. Filled with both intrigue and impatience-induced annoyance that the email didn’t answer any questions, crossing my fingers and hoping he hadn’t sent me a virus, I quadruple-clicked on the link and waited for the page to load.
“It’s going to be a groovy night,” boomed through the speakers. I quickly turned the volume off before the computer room attendant could scold me. I connected my headphones to the computer so that I, and only I, could hear the Clazziquai song. I looked up at the screen and was shocked to find my face staring back at me.
“What the hell?” I whispered in confusion. Not knowing what to do, I clicked on my picture and soon after, was taken to another page. My birth date appeared on the screen in huge black letters before a voice started, “On this day….”
A lump developed in my throat and I could feel my mouth drying up. With widened eyes, I watched the presentation and wondered how he even knew it was my birthday. The presentation started off by mentioning supposedly interesting things that had happened on my birth date and then went on to other things that had happened on that day every year since. For example, I didn’t know that H.O.T. debuted the second single off their second album on my birthday in some year. Even though I was quite certain he was feeding me useless information, it was still interesting to learn about the things that had occurred on the days I was celebrating my birthday over the years. When the presentation ended, there was a little interactive game he’d created using images and text from my blog, which I guess he must have found in the signature of my email.
When I won the game (i.e. I beat a shark in a swim race – don’t ask), it ended with the Happy Birthday song in what I presumed was an Eastern European language. The entire thing was so silly that I couldn’t help but be both amazed and weirded out. There was also quite a bit of giggling on my part which I attributed to having had inadequate sleep.
“Why don’t you just give me the money?” I said to my mother as we stepped into the elevator. Just like my last three birthdays, we’d picked up a cake on our way home and The Suckers were to hurry up with our homework and get dressed so that we could all go out for a family celebration. Needless to say, the entire routine was old and tired and as much as I was pleased that my family wanted to celebrate my birthday, it always ended up being just like our dinners at home with my parents having a boring conversation and my sister bugging me.
“If I give you the money, what would we do for dinner?” my mother asked as the elevator took us up.
I shrugged. “I could make something for us to eat at home.”
My mom looked at me and raised her brow. “You’re volunteering to cook on your birthday?” She moved closer and peered into my face. “What’s that about?”
I backed away from her. “Nothing,” I said as I watched the elevator doors open. I just didn’t feel like getting dressed and going out to do something we did at home every single night. “After dinner, we can just have cake and go to sleep,” I grumbled.
“Umma, if you give her money, don’t give her cake,” Mi Soo said as we walked down the hallway.
I rolled my eyes and waited for my mother to open the door.
“Surprise!” a chorus of people screamed the second I stepped into the apartment.
“Yo shorty, it’s your birthday,” my friends sang to me. I danced and listened to them bastardize 50cent’s song. I was impressed at how well my friends and family had kept my party a secret. The room was packed with most of my friends and friends-of-friends and everyone had come with a gift; Ki Won gave me a nice silver necklace that I was certain he’d spent far too much money on; Han Bi Oppa gave me a gift card to a trendy shoe store; Yun Ah gave me what she claimed was one of her mother’s one-of-a-kind dresses (her mother's a fashion designer) which I was sure was more like one-of-a-thousand because it didn’t look like it was worth 20 million Won; and Kyung Min gave me a nice designer purse that was identical to one Yun Ah had pointed to at the mall a week earlier.
“I’m going to get a drink,” I told the crowd. Their attempts at rapping had turned into chaos and I was beginning to develop a headache. As I walked away, I looked at all the faces and was pleased that very few people I couldn’t stand had shown up. Most of those who did were in my year so I wasn’t surprised to see that Ji Tae had spent most of the evening hanging out with my family or some of the drama club members as they were probably the only people he knew.
“Hey,” he whispered into my ear as if he’d sensed that I was thinking about him at that moment.
I turned around and smiled at him. I didn’t really know what to think about his present or the fact that he’d called me so late at night so since I hadn’t yet come up with an explanation, seeing him caused me a little uneasiness. Did his present deserve a hug? Or not? And even if it did, did we have the kind of friendship that warranted a hug? Or not?
“What’s wrong with you?” he asked suspiciously.
I frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You’re smiling far too much. Is everything alright?” he asked without a trace of sarcasm.
I rolled my eyes. “So I can’t smile if I want to?”
“Anyway, I guess this,” I said, referring to the party, “is how you found out about my birthday. I mean, how else would you know?” I laughed a little too loudly. “And thanks for the present. It was really nice and different.” I realized that I was speaking at rapid-fire speed so I inhaled and slowed down. “It was really nice but you didn’t have to wake me up in the middle of the night to give to me, you know.”
He shrugged. “Shoot me. Most people stay up late so that they can be awake for the first minute of their birthday – I should have realized that you’d be different.”
I laughed even though his joke, or whatever it was, was far from funny. “Yeah, whatever. Thanks, but you know, next time you can wait till the morning.”
He shook his head and said something else I didn’t really hear because I was too busy studying him. He acted the way he’d always acted around me… well, ever since our truce. So surely, I was reading too much into the little thing he’d made for me. He was a Graphics Artist so it probably didn’t take much of his time. I nodded and laughed at whatever he was saying hoping that it was meant to be funny and got back into the conversation.
When the party was winding down and I was saying my goodbyes to everyone, Yun Ah dragged me aside.
“Spill,” she said, looking at me expectantly.
I looked at her curiously. “About what?” I whispered.
She moved closer to me. “What’s going on between you and Park Ji Tae?”
I hissed. “Nothing! Why?”
“He called me last week to find out if we’d planned anything for your birthday.”
My heart skipped a beat. “What? Why didn’t you tell me?”
She rolled her eyes. “Do I look stupid to you? Ki Won and I had already planned the party so why would I spoil the surprise?”
“So you mean he already knew about my birthday? You didn’t tell him?”
She looked at me incredulously. “Of course I didn’t tell him. Why would I? So, anyway, what did he get you?”
I looked away from her. I knew that if I told her about the webpage, she’d figure out why I’d stayed behind at lunch and would end up making a whole lot of something out of nothing. “He didn’t get me anything.”
“Really?” she asked in disbelief. “He sounded a bit disappointed that we’d already made plans so I was sure he’d get you something really good,” she said, moving her eyebrows teasingly.
About 30 minutes later, when all the guests had left, I walked into my bedroom and found a wrapped gift on the bed. I picked up the card that had been taped to it and saw that it was from Ji Tae.
I quickly unwrapped it to find one of those cheap t-shirts that one made by taking a photograph and a t-shirt to some store and asking them to superimpose the photo on it. With Kwon Sang Woo’s face staring back at me, I jokingly cursed Ji Tae as I threw it on my bed. To my surprise, some pieces of paper fell out so I picked them up and saw that there were two tickets to a Yah Shim Man Man show taping for about four weeks later. There was also a backstage pass for that particular date. Intrigued, I went online and after doing some digging, discovered that Sang Woo Oppa was scheduled to be a guest on that show.
“What’s he doing?” Ki Won said before he bent his head and covered his face in shame.
“Just chill,” I said behind a yawn. Like had become our tradition during soccer season, we were attending his little brother’s game but it was our first time sitting in the back. When it came to soccer, Ki Won lost his mind and turned into a crazy person so the coach had finally banned him from standing close to the field. Even worse, we’d been forced to sit at the back. Even though I couldn’t prove it, I truly believed that the coach had done that as a favor to Ki Won’s little brother… not that I could blame him. It was quite embarrassing to watch Ki Won’s veins pop at a 9-year old’s soccer match that I generally tried to find excuses to miss the games.
With his hands still on his face, Ki Won raised his head and peeked at the field through his fingers. “So who has the ball? Does Si Won have it? Where is he? Hee Soo, why aren’t you watching? Tell me what’s going on!”
“No. Why don’t you just look yourself?” I said as I pulled his hands off his face. We were play-struggling with me pulling at his hands and him fighting to keep them on when I heard someone call my name. I turned around and saw Ji Tae sitting about two seats away from us.
I immediately let go of Ki Won’s hands. It had been three days since my birthday and we’d barely spoken. He’d started his new job so he didn’t come over to my house as often as he previously did. “Hey,” I said, waving hesitantly at him. “I've never seen you here before." I’d emailed him to thank him for the gift because I couldn’t come up with anything sensible to say.
"That's because you never come back here," he pointed out.
"Yeah... so what are you doing here?"
“Mr. Kim’s son plays on this team,” he said, pointing at a lanky little boy who looked nothing like his father. “His wife is sick so Umma and I usually come to support him. She’s at work today so I came alone,” he explained.
I nodded. “I see. So where’s Mr. Kim?”
“He’s at the hospital.”
“Ah,” I said. Ki Won coughed to remind me of his presence so I tapped his arm. “Ki Won ah, this is Park Ji Tae. He’s my neighbor,” I said, introducing them as if they hadn’t known of each other for years.
They nodded at each other before Ji Tae said, “Man U?”
Ki Won scrunched his thick eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“You’re the Man U fan, right?’
Ki Won pursed his lips at me then said, “Yeah… but how do--?”
“I told him,” I interrupted.
“Oh….” Ki Won said although it sounded like he had a lot more questions to ask me.
“He’s a Chelsea fan,” I said. I could foresee an interrogation in my future so I decided to volunteer all the information I had on hand.
The mention of the other team transformed Inquisitive Ki Won into Soccer Fanatic Ki Won. He eyed Ji Tae and nodded knowingly. “Of course he is,” he said before both of them began the age old custom of ‘comparing dicks’. Ji Tae started off by mentioning how many League Cups Chelsea had won then Ki Won countered with the number of Football League Cups Manchester United had won. They spent the next minute going on and on about how their team was better than the other till I started to hear the ticking countdown to a bomb exploding in my head.
“Arsenal is the best,” I announced.
“W-w-what did you say?” Ki Won stammered.
His shocked expression was so hilarious that I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. He’d been trying to get me into soccer for as long as he’d known me and seeing that I’d been as receptive as a brick wall, it only made sense that he was shocked to hear me claim to have a favorite team.
I inhaled then put on an air of superiority. “Yes, you heard me. Arsenal has been in the UEFA championships three times – the most of any English team. It’s also…,” I continued as I cited everything I’d read on Wikipedia.
“How typical…,” Ji Tae snorted before the field erupted in applause.
“WHO SCORED?” Ki Won screamed. He jumped off his seat and ran to the field.
Laughing, I watched the coach send Ki Won back to his seat and when for an inexplicable reason, I stole a glance back at Ji Tae, our eyes met so I quickly averted my gaze away from him and back to Ki Won.