I pushed Ji Tae away from the dishwasher. “I don’t know how many times I have to tell you that I don’t need your help. There’s a method to my madness and whenever you help me clear the table, you mess it all up,” I said as I loaded the machine with more dishes.
He hissed. “Other people would be grateful,” he pointed out. He leaned against the kitchen counter.
“Then go and help ‘other people,’” I said, shooing him away.
Country Halmoni (Umma’s mother who lived in a mansion near my grandfather’s ancestral home) was on her annual visit and as usual, City Halmoni (Appa’s mother who lived with my uncle in Seoul) took the opportunity to visit us too. From what I could gather, they’d barely spoken to each other while my grandfather was alive because he didn’t approve of my parents’ marriage but once he died, they'd become fast friends.
“Are you sure you don’t need help? I’m sure that there are twice as many dishes today,” Ji Tae said, glancing back at the dinning room.
“Yeah,” I said, grimacing at the rapidly filling dishwasher. “I don’t know why Umma always tries to impress Halmoni whenever she comes around. She ends up cooking enough for fifteen weddings.” I looked at all the pots in the kitchen. “I’m going to have two loads.”
“Looks it,” he agreed. “But since you don’t need any help, I’ll be leaving.”
“Oh?” I said, raising my head to look at him. He was leaving already? We’d barely had any time to speak. “Okay, okay, you can stay and help.” I slumped my shoulders in mock-surrender.
He chuckled. “Do you really need help or are you just saying it?”
“Aissh. I really need help. You can help me bring all the dishes to the kitchen.” I gestured for him to return to the dinning room.
When we were done loading the dishwasher with the first batch, he announced that he was leaving.
“Why?” And why was he acting like he had ants in his pants? “I know you’re done with tutoring Mi Soo but you haven’t finished translating the third episode of Heroes,” I reminded him. I pulled out a kitchen stool. “You can wait for me there. Let me rinse off these dishes in the sink then we can go to my room. I’m dying to know what’s happening with the blonde chick and her split personality.”
He made no move to sit down. “Sorry,” he said, rubbing his hands together regretfully. “I have to leave now so maybe next time?”
I groaned. Since I couldn’t do anything about it, I pouted and followed him out of the kitchen.
Shortly after he left, Country Halmoni said, “He’s such a nice boy. It’s a shame about his parents.”
I nodded sympathetically with the rest of adults. “But maybe they’ll get back together. Isn’t it supposed to be a trial separation?” I said hopefully.
“Didn’t Ji Tae tell you? His father has already sent the divorce papers. His mother received them last night,” my mother said.
I was offloading the dishwasher when Country Halmoni walked into the kitchen. “Sometimes, I look at you and think I’m looking at your mother.”
My poor grandma and her cataracts. I stood up and frowned. “Halmoni, do I really look that old?”
She laughed. “No, dummy. I mean that you are so much like she was when she was your age.”
Why did I find that hard to believe? “There’s no way Umma was as cool as I am.”
My grandmother laughed again. “Well, she had the same sharp mouth and she wasn’t really into make up… not until after she met your father.”
Was the old woman already getting senile? Other than a little eyeliner and lipstick, my mother hardly wore make up.
“And,” she continued, “she wasn’t much older than you when she, too, fell for a boy with a misfit father.”
According to folklore, my dad’s father had been a pretty successful farmer and when land became really valuable, had made a killing selling his to developers. All that would have been fine and dandy if Gambling Anonymous had intervened before he lost almost all that money in a year. And since news of the land sale made the news, so did his fall from grace. From what I understood, Rich Grandpa refused to let his daughter marry the son of a disgraced gambler... even though he was a former friend.
“Back then, your father used to hang around us just the way Ji Tae hangs around now,” Country Grandma finished.
I tried to see if the analogy really worked. “But Ji Tae’s father is hardly a misfit. Just because you’re getting a divorce….” my voiced trailed off the second I realized what I was actually saying. Why the fcuk was I focusing on that part of the sentence? “I’ve not fallen for anyone, Halmoni.”
She shook her head. “Even though my eyes are old, they are also experienced. I know what I see.”
“You’re wrong, Halmoni,” I said, hoping she wasn’t going around repeating that shi.t all around town.
“How many tickets?” Ji Tae asked, echoing the cashier. He turned to our huge group and started counting.
“Just get two,” Country Halmoni ordered. “If you can’t let us buy your tickets, we won’t let you buy ours,” she said, pretending to be mad at him.
“Halmoni…,” he protested as he waited for the cashier to hand him his tickets. When he received them, he stepped out of the line to make way for Country Halmoni. Since she was treating us, she counted the rest of us to determine the number of tickets she’d need.
“6 tickets for… wait a minute. Doesn’t that say ‘PG 13?’”
City Halmoni read the poster. “Yes, it does.”
“Ah, this won’t do,” she said, shaking her head vigorously. “Mi Soo is too young to watch this movie.”
How in the world is a silly story about a high school girl who wakes up from a coma with superpowers too mature for a preteen? “Halmoni, PG means ‘Parental Guidance,’ so are far are you’re there, it’s okay for her to watch it,” I explained.
But she wasn’t buying it. “Why does she need a parent with her in the first place? If the movie is not bad, why does she need a parent with her?”
“It’s no big deal. Let’s just get the ticket.” The people standing behind her had begun to grumble so I tried to speed things up. “We can cover her eyes at the bad parts.”
She smirked. “So instead of enjoying the movie we should be watching out for the bad parts?” She pointed at another poster. “What about that one?”
A cartoon about singing penguins?
“Yeah, let’s see that one!” Mi Soo exclaimed.
I turned to her and gave her the deadliest look I could manage. Who asked for her opinion? Plus I’d already downloaded the DVD Screener for that movie onto my computer so I didn’t really want to see it in the theatre. “Can’t we see that another time? We’ve already made Oppa and his mother get those other tickets so let’s just see that.”
“We could try to exchange them,” his mother offered.
“No, no,” City Halmoni quickly said.
I suddenly felt strong hands on my back pushing me towards Ji Tae and his mother. “Why don’t you go and watch that movie while,” she pulled his mom away, “we go and watch this other film? We can all meet back here in two hours.”
What the fcuk? How did “a trip to cheer Ji Tae ssi and his mother up” turn into this? I tried to walk away from his side but City Halmoni pushed me back next to him. In the meanwhile, Country Halmoni bought the tickets and stepped out of the line.
I watched all of it in so much awe that I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. Whenever I tried to move away, City Halmoni would push me back. Knowing that I couldn’t exactly use a lot of force to resist my grandma, I tried another approach. “There’s no need for us to split up - I can watch Happy Feet with the rest of you.”
“No,” Country Halmoni said sternly. “A minute ago, you were fighting to see this movie. Why the sudden change?”
Why? Because I know a set up when I see one. I sighed dramatically. “Umma,” I said, pleading for assistance with my eyes.
But as she always was when Country Halmoni came around, my mother didn’t say much. Instead, she just shrugged and looked completely disinterested. I normally loved seeing my mother reduced to a mime whenever her mother was around but apparently, it had come back to bite me in the ass.
“Oppa, you don’t really want to see this movie, do you?” I asked, silently pleading for him to back me up.
“Not particularly,” he said, looking even less interested than my mother.
I smiled triumphantly. “See? Let’s all go and see Happy Feet,” I said, walking to the back to the line. “I heard it’s the best movie of the century! I’ll just buy two tic--”
I felt City Halmoni’s strong hands on me before I could finish my sentence. “Don’t be stubborn. Go and see that other movie and meet us back here in 2 hours.”
Why does this feel like a date? Other than the couple that had just walked in, the movie theatre was empty. And it didn’t help that the lights were also very low and there was nothing on the movie screen – not even those annoying factoids that they often displayed before the movie started. Did you know that Walt Disney only attended one year of high school? Who gives a sh.it?
“Why are you asking me?”
“Asking you what?” I glanced over at Ji Tae. The light had cast a weird shadow over his face so he sort of looked like Darth Vader. I looked around for his light saber.
“Why it feels like a date.”
What was he talking about? I repeated his words in my head and let them sink in. Huh? What the fcuk? Was I back to thinking aloud? I sat up straight suddenly feeling self conscious. “Who said that it feels like a date?”
He arched his brow and moved his face closer to mine. “You just did.”
“No, I didn’t.” I said, shrinking away from him. Freaking eyes! Before he could say anything else, I picked up my phone, turned away from him and dialed Yun Ah’s number. The second she answered, I begged her to join us. Three was certainly a crowd and crowds rocked!
“Don’t you think this is a bit last minute?” Yun Ah grumbled from the other end of the line.
“Would I be doing this if I had other options?” I whispered. I glanced at Ji Tae who was playing a game on his cell phone.
“What’s the big deal? Just watch the movie and be done with it. I already have plans.”
“But you can bring Kyung Min with you.”
“But it’s cold out… I don’t feel like stepping outside till I have to go home, okay? It won’t kill you. Try to have fun and call me later, okay?” she said, rushing me off the phone.
I groaned. “How’s this fair?” Because of the Halmonis, we’d arrived at the theatre far too early so we had at least twenty minutes to kill before the trailers even came on.
“I don’t know why you’re making a big deal out of it. Take a nap or something.”
I ignored Ji Tae’s comment and searched through my phone for Ki Won’s number. “Hey you,” I said in my sweetest voice. If I was going to entice him to rush to join me and his Chelsea rival, I knew I had to practically coo my words.
“What’s up? I called you last night. How come you didn’t return my call?”
Oh. I’d meant to call him back but had fallen asleep watching music videos. “I’m calling you back now.”
“Yeah, right. You obviously want something. Anyway, how’s it going?”
“It’s going okay. Hey,” I said, changing my tone, “what are you doing now?”
“Nothing much. Why?” he said in a voice that sounded a tad faraway.
“Could you quickly come down to the AMC theatre near the Samsung building?”
“Why?” He paused. “What’s going on there?”
“It’s a long story. Just come now, okay?” I decided that it was probably better for me not to mention that we wouldn’t be alone.
“Eh…,” he said hesitantly. “Let me ask Hye Jin if she wants to come.”
What? “Why do you have to ask her?” She’d already joined us for lunch on three days of the past week and I knew that I just couldn’t stomach seeing her on a Saturday. The thought of her was already giving me an ulcer. “Ki Won, why do you have to ask her?” I repeated.
“Uhmm… actu… well,” he said, suddenly getting tongue tied.
What the bloody blazes? I could feel my heart pumping blood at an unreasonably high rate. “Is she there with you?”
“Yes,” was all he said.
“Okay, fine. See you whenever.” I slammed my phone shut.
“ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I screamed.
The two other idiots staring at the blank screen looked back at me then shook their heads in disgust the way adults did when they saw gothic teens playing with bags of blood.
“Why does the world suck?” I asked myself. I flipped open my phone and looked through the phonebook. “Who should I try next? Who loves…?”
Ji Tae took the phone from my hand and put it at the other side of him.
“What the hell are you doing?” I reached over his body and tried to get it back but he turned around and used his back as a shield.
“No one is coming. Just sit quietly and wait for the movie,” he scolded. “Oh and don’t forget that you owe me.” He laughed. "I just thought I'd throw that in there."
I stopped and glared at him. “Why do you keep saying that shi.t? I don’t owe you jack! I'm not giving you my phone if that's what you want. Give it back!" I yelled as I resumed my attempts at retrieving my phone.
He pushed me off him but held on to my phone. “If you promise to stop calling, I’ll give it back to you. You should know by now that none of your friends are going to join us.”
I sat back in my chair and sulked. Well, it wasn’t like he was lying. I knew that if the shoe were on the other foot, I wouldn’t have shown up for any of my friends, so why should I expect anything different from them? It was very short notice, after all.
But something else was nagging the hell out of me. “Do you think Hye Jin is pretty?”
“Who?” Ji Tae asked with popcorn in his mouth.
“Lee Hye Jin – Ki Won’s friend. You must have seen her around.”
He sipped his Coke noisily. “Oh, the girl who always wears a red band on her left wrist?”
I rolled my eyes. “Forget it.” Fcuk. I could already feel the depression setting it. He even noticed her never-washed band? Why? She wasn’t even that pretty. Boys sucked. “But even if she’s pretty, is that enough reason for him to just ditch me like that? After two years of being my best friend, he just ditches me because some dumb bit.ch smiles at him?”
“Oh, so he’s now your best friend?”
“Of course he is. We are like this,” I said, showing him my crossed fingers. “We’ve always been there for each other but today he just ditches me for her!”
“Get over it. He already had plans so he couldn’t make it.” He looked at this watch. “The movie is going to start in like 10 minutes so just be patient.”
He was right. The theatre had already begun to fill up but that didn’t change the fact that Ki Won had ditched me so I didn’t feel the need to stop talking about it.
“You’re giving me a headache!” he shouted about five minutes later, interrupting me mid-sentence.
“Hey,” I said, slightly shocked. He was more frazzled than I’d seen him in recent times. The vein in his head was in danger of popping. “You don’t have to shout.”
“Whatever, Hee Soo. I’m sick of hearing about this. Go and be jealous somewhere else.”
“What are you talking about? I’m not jealous.” I was known for not being the jealous type. Furthermore, green didn’t look too great on me. “I’m just disappoint--”
“Shut up! If you like him, then like him, okay? I don’t need to hear about it.”
Something slowly clicked in my head. It was almost like time stopped for a brief moment. “You think I like him?” I said slowly. Was this how it felt when realization set in?
“How the hell am I supposed to know?”
Was this what liking someone was really about? Ji Tae had had a girlfriend so he’d probably know the signs. I’d never had a boyfriend so I wasn’t quite sure what it was like to like like someone. A crush was one thing; liking a guy was another. Was it as simple as me hating that he picked some bit.ch over me? It certainly was a first for me… so did it mean I was ready to be with Ki Won? So liking someone wasn’t about butterflies, a racing heart, a dry mouth, wobbly knees and all that bullshit that got written about in romance novels? It was simply about not wanting some whore to take him away from you?
I turned to Ji Tae. “I think you’re right, Oppa. I think I like Yong Ki Won.”