“What’s wrong with you?” Ki Won asked, following me to my locker. We’d just come back from lunch and Yun Ah and Kyung Min had gone in a different direction.
“What do you mean?” I turned the combination on the lock and opened the door.
He moved from behind the locker door. “Why are you acting like this? Why were you so rude to Hye Jin? What did she ever do to you?”
“Oh, fcuk off!” Awww… wasn’t that cute? The knight was protecting his damsel in distress. Excuse me while I barf. I rolled my eyes. “Is she a princess or something? I can say whatever I like to her.”
Frustrated, he paced around. “If you have a problem with her, let’s fix it. Okay?”
I scoffed. “Why am I not surprised? You’ll do anything to make your precious Hye Jin happy, wouldn’t you?”
He squeezed his face quizzically. “My precious who?”
“You heard me. You don’t have time for your friends anymore. It’s always Hye Jin-this and Hye Jin-that." I mimicked his voice. “Why don’t you just transfer to her school so you can be with her all the time?”
“Me?” He pointed to himself. “What about you and your neighbor? Every single thing is about him to the extent that you even talk to him about me. What the fcuk is that all about?”
I hissed. “You’re not still mad about the Manchester United thing, are you?”
“I just don’t understand why you were even talking to him about me. I don’t even know him. And now it seems like you tell him everything about us but we know nothing about him. Why? What are you hiding? What’s going on with you two?” He’d moved so close that I was almost trapped between him and the wall.
I looked up at him and tried to do the Ji Tae pierced-eye thing to rattle him. “I’ve told you time and time again that we’re just friends.” I narrowed my eyes for extra effect.
“No, Hye Jin and I are just friends. You and him are something else,” he said, completely unaffected by the Ji Tae eye-thing remix.
I shook my head. “That’s just bull. But you know what? I’m sick of you… besides,” I looked him up and down, “I know that you’re probably itching to go and talk to her or something.” I slammed my locker door shut. “See you later, Ki Won.”
“Come back here,” he said, pulling me back.
He did it with so much ease that I felt like a rag doll.
I saw the expression on his face and just knew that we were about to have one of those conversations. The same conversation we had every few months.
He backed away from me then ran his hand through his hair in frustration. “Hee Soo, you know there’s nothing between Hye Jin and I but just say the word and I’ll stop seeing her.”
“Yeah, right,” I said, looking away. But I knew he meant every word. I’d never actually had to ask him to get rid of any of his annoying girls because he usually gave them their marching papers before they started to get to me.
He moved closer to me. “You know I’m dead serious. You know how I feel about you. Everyone knows how I feel about you. I’ll stop seeing her only if you feel like you’re ready to take a chance on us.”
I laughed without humor. “Is this some kind of bribe? You'll stop seeing her if I agree to date you?”
“It’s not a bribe. As a friend, you don’t have any right to tell me who I can or cannot be friends with… especially when you’re the one having a problem with her. But as a girlfriend…” His voice trailed off as he waited expectantly. “So Kim Hee Soo, do you want me to stop seeing her?”
I looked at his beautiful face and drank in the thick eyebrows that covered small eyes over a proud straight nose and heart shaped lips that had probably kissed far too many bimbos. Was I finally ready to do this? I’d only half-meant it when I said I’d date him when I was ready because I secretly hoped he’d find someone else and forget about me. I thought about Hye Jin and finally understood what be careful what you wish for meant.
“Hee Soo, should I?”
I tried to read his face but I couldn’t. I was in a generous mood. If he was secretly hoping for me to refuse, I wanted him to tell me somehow.
“Answer me, Hee Soo,” he said in a louder voice. “Should I stop seeing Lee Hye Jin?”
I averted my eyes. “Yes,” I said quietly.
“Could you hurry up?” Yun Ah urged. “I want to get back to school.”
We were finally back to our more comfortable and oh-so-reasonable lunch party of four but something was off. Maybe it was because instead of being a group of four friends, we were two sets of couples… did I actually call Ki Won and I a couple?
Feeling a little lightheaded from that thought, I took my hand from underneath Ki Won’s and tried to cover it up by picking up my glass. It certainly wasn’t the first time he’d touched me nor, I was sure, would it be the last but for most of the time his hand had been on mine, all I could think about was what I should do with it. Should I keep still or turn my palm around so that our fingers were entwined?
I took another sip of my drink and looked away from our table.
“Why do you keep glancing at the doorway? Are you expecting someone?” Yun Ah asked.
I was about to refute her statement till I realized that at that moment, I was actually facing the doorway. I put on a smile and turned to her. “It feels so weird not having Hye Jin around. So I guess I almost feel like she’s going to walk in at any minute,” I lied.
Ki Won groaned. “It’s been almost a week. Forget about it."
I sent him a smile that I hoped didn’t look as fake as it felt and downed the rest of my drink. Who was I trying to kid? For whatever reason, Ji Tae was doing his silent treatment thing yet again and it was really pissing me off. I noticed that his usual gang of friends had come into the restaurant shortly after we had and I wondered where he was. The last time I’d seen him was two days earlier when we passed him walking into the restaurant as we were leaving.
From the corner of my eye, I could see his friends leaving their table. “Yeah, we’d better be going now.” I glanced at my watch and hurriedly packed up my bag. I had science the next period and Mr. Hwang didn’t hesitate to punish us for coming a fraction of a second late to his class.
“Why don’t I come and ask your Mom?” Ki Won asked as we walked to Mr. Hwang's class.
Since it was Valentine’s Day and we hadn’t had time to make any plans, he’d suggested that we crash Yun Ah and her first husband’s dinner and have a double date.
“No,” I said a little too sharply. I noticed his confused reaction so I softened the expression on my face. “You know my mom. If you come over, she’d only get angry because I tried to get you to change her mind.” And I was sure she’d definitely blow her top if she discovered that I was lying and using her as an excuse to get out of a date she knew nothing about.
“But how is this fair?” he whined. “We’re not even going to be out all night.”
I sighed regretfully. “Yeah, I know it sucks. But what can I do?”
He put his arm over my shoulder. “That’s okay, I guess,” he said as he fell in step with me.
I smiled and tried to act like his arm around me was as natural as breathing. Besides, he'd done it a thousand times before.
“I’ll just get to work a little late so that we can spend a little time together after school," he continued. "Your Mom is going to pick you up at the usual time, right?”
I nodded, wishing I’d lied instead. I’d spent the previous night studying for the English test we’d had that morning and frankly speaking, the only thing I wanted to do was climb into bed and sleep.
“I’m here to pick my book up,” I declared, handing the librarian my card.
She scanned it and looked at the screen. “I’m sorry, but it’s not ready yet. When it is, we’ll call you,” she said, giving the line I was sure was reserved for overly enthusiastic patrons.
I frowned. “But I received a call today.” I’d heard the automated message shortly after I got home from my Valentine’s Afternoon hang out with Ki Won. I’d planned to pick it up the next day but since I was having no luck with falling asleep, I decided to get it before dinner.
She moved the monitor towards me and pointed at a line on the screen. “Kim Hee Soo? Is that you?”
“And that’s your address?” She pointed at another line. “And the phone number?
I nodded again. Everything was correct.
She looked puzzled. “I don’t know what happened but as you can see, your book hasn’t arrived yet.”
Since I wasn’t quite ready to brave the cold so shortly after getting out of it, I decided to take a quick walk around the library. I was on my second tour of the library when I spotted Ji Tae at a table, seemingly hard at work. He certainly hadn’t been there five minutes earlier when I’d previously passed that area so I figured that he must have been in the bathroom or something. But seeing him kind of brightened my mood.
“O-Oppa,” I called hesitantly. Several of the patrons looked up and gave me evil looks while the librarian put her finger on her lips, gesturing for me to be quiet. I moved closer to the table and called him again.
He didn’t look surprised to see me but I could read a trace of disappointment on his face when he looked up at me. Not that he was actually looking at me… it was more like he was looking through me. And that made me feel like sh.it. My heart started beating rapidly but instead of feeling angry, I felt a little nervous. I pulled out the chair from across him and sat on it.
“Oppa, I got a message saying that my book was ready but when I got here, they said that they don’t have it. What kind of establishment are you running?” I joked stupidly.
He’d obviously left his humor in the restroom because there wasn’t even a hint of a smile on his face. He turned back to his paper and continued writing.
What the hell? “But Oppa, don’t you think that’s not fair? They made me come over here for nothing,” I said, stressing the punch line of my ‘joke.’
“I’m sorry to hear that, Hee Soo, but I have to finish this up tonight,” he said, not even bothering to look up from his work.
I slowly got off the seat. Even the dumbest person could understand “Get Lost” in Ji Tae-speak. Okay, so don’t talk to me you fcuking bastard who keeps blowing hot and cold. See if I care! I unintentionally scraped the leg of the chair against the floor and it made a very loud, obnoxious sound. But from the lack of life on his shoulders, it might as well have been the sound of a feather hitting the ground. If he was mad at me, why couldn’t he say it? And why couldn’t he tell me? Didn’t I deserve that much? I was so irritated that I just had to ask him.
“What do you think?” he said with his head still bent over his work.
“I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking.”
“Why don’t you figure it out?”
I stomped my foot and turned around.
“Are you walking home?”
I stopped my foot mid air and looked around to see if there was anyone else in the vicinity. “Are you talking to me?”
He frowned. “Who else would I be talking to?”
I shrugged. You couldn’t exactly blame me for not being sure. “Yeah, I’m walking back home.”
He glanced at his paper. “Give me about 10 minutes and I’ll join you.”
I nodded and quickly turned around to hide my smile. I knew there was no way he could stay mad at me.
Other than telling me that he'd be spending the evening with the oh-so-boring Han Yong Sil, we’d barely said anything for the five or so minutes we’d been walking.
He tapped my arm with a wrapped box.
I looked at him inquisitively.
“I know I'm being stupid but take this anyway.” He shrugged. “It’s been in my bag for some days now so you might as well have it,” he said, holding it out to me. “It’s not like I’m going to return it.”
I made no move to take it from him. “What is it?”
“It’s a necklace,” he said, flinging it around. “I’m quite certain that you’re not going to take that one off,” he said, looking at my birthday present from Ki Won, “but… you know what? Forget it. It’s a dumb idea.”
I quickly grabbed the box before he could put it back into his bag. “It’s not dumb, let me have it.” A present? I was intrigued.
He shook his head and tried to pry my fingers off it. When he got one hand off, I quickly replaced it with the another. “Hey, let go! Forget I ever said anything.”
Yeah, like it’s that easy to forget. I struggled for the box with more zeal.
“Oppa,” I begged after about a minute. I was already getting out of breath. “Just let me have it, okay? You said you can't return it anyway.”
He let go of it and I immediately tore the wrapping off. I pulled the top of the box and looked inside; it had a platinum chain with several pinkish stones at the nape of the necklace. I picked it up and rolled one of the stones in between my fingers. “This isn’t a diamond, is it?”
He slanted his head and gave me one of those are-you-kidding-me looks. “Of course not.”
I scrunched my face and brought it closer to my eyes. “Then what is it?” Since it was night time and we were walking through an artificially lit street, we didn’t exactly have great lighting but I could still tell that it was beautiful.
“Alex-what?” I didn’t realize he bought bootleg jewelry.
“It’s my birthstone.”
“Ah…” I chuckled. “Your birthstone? Why would you give me your birthstone? You’re supposed to give me my birthstone.” Boys were weird.
“I know, silly me,” he said sarcastically, reaching for it.
I stepped back to prevent him from getting it but somehow tripped over foot and when I tried to regain my balance, my foot landed on some slippery ice. Ji Tae caught me before I could land on the ground and split my head open.
“Thank you,” I said breathlessly as I tried to regain my balance on a non-icy surface. Ji Tae’s arms were still around me, helping me up. Somehow, they traveled from my back and an arm to my waist because when I looked up and saw him looking down at me, his hands were firmly on my waist. He turned my body so that we were face-to-face.
“Thank you,” I said, trying to move away from him but his arms were clamped around me. What was going on? I suddenly felt nervous and I could feel the sounds of my heart beats getting louder.
I looked down at his collarbone. “Park Ji Tae ssi…”
My formal tone didn’t seem to have any impact on him because he seemed to be lost in his own world. He took one of his hands off my waist and ran his finger along the side of my face. His hand was cold so I flinched at his touch but let him run it down my cheek. Even though I knew that I should take the opportunity to get away from him, to move as far away from whatever the hell was happening, I stood there like an idiot. Maybe I was curious. Or maybe...
The cold must have been messing with my mind because I somehow found myself studying his face from his heavily lashed dark eyes down to his somewhat wide nose and let my eyes travel from his full lips to his narrow chin. At that moment, I couldn't tell if he was cute or ugly - all I could see was Park Ji Tae.
I noticed his lips part and I suddenly felt the need to clear my throat so I swallowed whatever was causing the obstruction.
His lips broke into a lazy smile as he inched towards me. I reflexively inched away, thereby maintaining the distance between us. My mind was racing with everything and nothing and I couldn’t come up with a coherent thought. I looked into his eyes. “Oppa,” I said softly, “what are you doing?”
He moved closer to me. “I know I’m going to regret this,” he murmured right before he placed his lips on mine.