I stood still; my legs immovable, my arms lying lifelessly against my body as I stared at his shut eyes and felt his lips move against mine. I should have transformed into one of those innocent heroines in a drama and uhm… dramatically pushed him away and run to cry under a tree. But I couldn’t even manage that. I just stood there and let him kiss me. I didn’t react, but I didn’t not react. Maybe it was because that morning, I couldn’t have fathomed ending the evening with a kiss from him… or maybe it was because his lips were so soft and there was something raspberry flavored about the way he tasted, as if he’d either started wearing raspberry lip-gloss or he’d had some candy. Even though I hoped it was the latter, either way, I had to admit that he was sweet.
Seeing that I was quite hungry, I parted my lips to get a bit more raspberry when he stopped. I stood there stupidly and watched as, without taking his eyes off me, he let go of me then took a few steps back. We stared at one another for a few silent seconds before a drop of rain fell on my face and brought me back to earth.
“Oh, it looks like it’s going to rain,” I quickly said. Recounting what had just gone down, I held the necklace up and swung it around. “Thank you so much for this, Oppa. It’s really nice. But I’d better hurry up if I don’t want to get rained on.” I ended it with a giggle that I was sure made me seem insipid.
With my lips still burning, I turned away and started walking briskly home. For his part, he didn’t actually say anything. I could hear him walking behind me as I looked up to the sky and couldn't find a single cloud. What the freaking hell? I was certain I’d felt some water on my face. Or was it bird pee? I quickly attempted to wipe whatever it was off my face when my finger encountered a huge zit. What the hell? Did that mean that Ji Tae had felt it too?
“You’d better not come late,” Yun Ah warned as I stepped out of her car.
I rolled my eyes. “I’d better not come late?” The girl who was probably in the Guinness Book of World Records for her late-coming was talking to me? “Just know that if I don’t see you there, I’m going in,” I reminded her.
It was Kwon Sang Woo day so we’d spent the entire morning shopping for clothes to wear to the taping. I’d opted for Seven jeans with a long sleeved t-shirt and a short-sleeved deep v-necked sweater to achieve the whole, I’m-cute-but-I’m-not-trying-to-impress-you look, while Yun Ah had picked a dress that had no business being on a teenage body. Of course I tried to prevent her from deflecting any attention from me, after all, KSW was my man, but she claimed that he wouldn’t be interested in either of us since he’s not a pedophile. Like I was going to fall for that. If she’s not trying to get his attention, what’s with the 1 million won-a-night hooker get up?
I walked past some movers hauling furniture as I walked to the elevators and when I finally got to my floor, I saw even more carrying a table out of Ji Tae’s house.
What the fcuk? It couldn’t be. My heart started beating at a mile a minute as I ran into my house.
“Appa, what’s going on? Are the Parks moving out?”
My Dad looked up from behind the couch and said, “No, Ji Tae’s father has sent for his things.”
The divorce was really final? Without thinking, I dropped my bags on the couch and ran over to Ji Tae’s apartment. Since the door was ajar, I walked in.
“Good afternoon, Ummuni,” I greeted Ji Tae’s mother. She was standing with her arms folded across her chest, directing the movers.
She looked up at me and smiled. “Ah, Hee Soo ssi, how are you?”
Even though she was doing a good job, I could still tell that the smile was merely on the surface. “Ummuni, I’m fine. What about you?”
“You’re here to see Ji Tae?” she said, ignoring my question and rushing her words. “He’s in his room.”
“Where is it?”
She looked at me curiously. “You’ve never been to his room?”
I shook my head. It was funny how she expected me to have been in his room when I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d been in their home. It definitely had a different look and it looked like Ji Tae’s father was taking quite a few things because almost half of everything was labeled with a yellow sticky with his name on it.
A few minutes later, I was standing at Ji Tae’s bedroom door. I stood there for a few moments, trying to muster the energy to knock it. It hadn’t even been 24 hours since he’d held me in his hands and kissed me and the memory was causing my cheeks to burn. I took in a deep breath and decided to be a woman and face him. If I could live through excruciating pain 12 times a year, I sure as hell could speak to the guy with the softest lips I’d ever felt. I knocked at his door several times but to no response. I wasn’t even sure he was in there because I couldn’t hear any sounds coming from inside. Curious, I turned the doorknob and pushed the door in.
I smiled and shook my head because there he was, sprawled over his bed with headphones covering his ears. I didn’t know what song he was listening to, but I sure could hear it. I tsked and pitied his eardrums because from the sounds of it, he’d been visiting an otolaryngologist in the not-too-distant future.
I took the time to take in the sight of the room. It was what I suspected a typical boy’s room would look like with posters of soccer and basketball stars on it. Well, posters of athletes and BoA? BoA? I thought, shaking my head. I would have pegged him for more of a Lee Hyori fan.
He appeared to be a bit of neat freak because every book and piece of clothing was neatly in place except for the tan jacket I guess he’d worn earlier in the day which he neatly placed over his computer chair.
“What are you doing here?” he said, interrupting my visual tour of his room.
I smiled. “What’s up?”
He sighed. “You’re just like spyware, aren’t you? Just when I think you’re gone, you show up again.”
I rolled my eyes. Spyware? I could already feel the goose bumps forming all over my body. It had been barely a year since the freaking eZula sypware attacked my computer. Every single time I’d thought I’d gotten rid of it, it would reappear and hijack my browser. And when I tried to ignore it, it invaded all of my Office programs so whenever I tried to write anything in Word, it would take over my keyboard- capitalizing and randomly inserting characters into my document. In the end, we had to get it professionally removed. It was definitely my worst computer horror story to date. And that was what he was comparing me to? What an ass.
But I wasn’t in the mood to argue the unfair comparison. Locking yourself in your room with loud music was definitely a cry for help. “Ji Tae,” I said, gesturing for him to stand up, “come on, let’s go.” I moved closer to him and pulled him.
Still sitting, he looked at me suspiciously. “To where?”
“Out of here.” I hadn’t yet decided where.
“Because I know you don’t want to be here.”
“So what do you think of these jeans?” I said, walking out of the dressing room. I tried to discretely cover the ring of fat that had formed around my waist. It has a half price sale but because they didn’t have my size, I’d tried a pair that was one size smaller. “Yes, they are tight,” I thought, as I looked at my reflection in the mirror. But it was nothing a diet wouldn’t fix. “So Oppa, what do you think of them?”
“What do you think?” he asked incredulously.
I ran one hand over my thigh. “I love the color and this little detail,” I said, pointing at the decorative studs around the pocket, “and they are on sale. Hmm… I think I’ll get them.”
He rolled his eyes. “It’s your money.”
I smiled at myself in the mirror. Yeah, if I ate only fruit for one week, I was sure that I’d be able to fit into them.
“So can we leave now?”
I turned around and smiled at him. “In a minute. I only have four more pairs to try on.”
“So what are we doing here?” Ji Tae asked me shortly after I pulled him into a men’s store.
“Since you’re here, you might as well help me pick something out for Appa. Every year, I get him something and every year he hates it.” I walked over to a tie rack. “What do you think of this one?” I picked out a red and black striped tie.
He took it from me and looked at it. “When’s his birthday?”
“August?” he repeated. “It’s only February,” he pointed out.
“Yeah, but I can’t exactly tell them to hold off on their sale till August, can I?”
When we were done picking out a tie (we settled on a navy Armani tie), I walked over to the saleslady. “Where can I find cufflinks?”
She led me to a locked glass case filled with cufflinks of every design and color. “Are you looking for anything specifically?”
I nodded. “Garnet,” I said confidently. For the life of me, I never quite understood the point of cufflinks. Don’t guys’ shirts normally come with buttons? What purpose did they serve? But whatever. Since men liked wearing them, women had no choice but to indulge those big babies and get them for them.
Unsatisfied with the selection in that case, the lady led us to another side of the store.
“You want to get him something else?” Ji Tae asked as we followed her.
I shook my head. “It’s not for him.”
“Then who is it for?” It would have been near impossible to miss the hardness his voice had suddenly acquired.
I glanced at him. “It doesn’t make any sense to me, but if I’m going to wear your birthstone, you might as well wear mine. I googled it and it could be either garnet or rose quartz. I figured a guy wouldn’t want to wear something that had ‘rose’ in its name so I picked garnet.”
He stopped walking. “Y-you’re getting me something?”
I turned around. “Jeez. Don’t look so shocked.”
“You don’t have to,” he said, shaking his head.
The lady was opening another case so we resumed walking.
“Shut up and be graceful when someone wants to buy something for you,” I whispered as we approached the saleslady.
We waited as she picked out a few pairs for us to choose from. I pointed at a diamond shaped pair. “How much are those?”
5-5-500 what? “And those?” I asked, pointing at the one with the smallest stone.
“These are 870,000 Won.”
What the Hades, Purgatory, Boys' Restroom?
“Hee Soo, don’t worry about it – I already have enough cufflinks as it is.”
I rolled my eyes. Could he be any more boastful? “Lookie here: If I have to wear your birthstone, you have to wear mine.”
“But you’re not even wearing it,” he countered.
I looked up to challenge him but all I saw were pink-hued lips. Lips that brought back memories I wasn’t ready to deal with. I quickly turned away. “But I’ll wear it one day,” I said in a huff. I opened my wallet and pulled out my emergency-only credit card. “Could you give me the cheapest, non-ugly garnet pair of cufflinks you have?”
“Give me another one,” I said, reaching out for another of Ji Tae’s fries.
He groaned. “How many times did I ask you to order some for yourself? If you had just done that, you wouldn’t be eating all of mine.”
“But I’m on a protein diet,” I said stuffing my mouth with more fries. “How am I going to lose weight if I eat all those carbs?”
He shook his head and held the box out to me. After a few hours of shopping, we were both exhausted and tired and since all the benches were taken, we were resting against one of the railings.
“A little chee--”
“Kim Hee Soo!”
The sound of Ki Won calling my name caught me off guard. I looked in the direction of his voice and found him glaring at me with so much anger I was scared that fire was about to bolt of out of his eyes and burn me alive.
Shaking, he looked at Ji Tae then at me. Then he stopped at my shoulder.
That was when I realized that I was leaning into Ji Tae in a far too familiar way. In that space-invading way that couples did to show the world that they presented a united front and that if you messed with one, you messed with the other… you know, in that conjoined-twin kind of way. The way I was supposed to lean into Ki Won.
Embarrassed, and unsure of how I’d gotten into that position in the first place, I quickly stood up straight and created some distance between Ji Tae and I.
“Is this how you watch Yah Shim Man Man?”
Yah Shim…? Ah sh.it. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was almost four hours since I was supposed to be at the studio. I held on to the railing to steady myself because I could feel some chest palpitations coming on. Kwon Sang Woo…. Ah fcuk. Fcuk, fcukity, fcuk.
“Hee Soo ah,” my father called as he drove me to school. He’d already dropped my sister off so there were only a few minutes left in our trip.
“Do you know Ji Tae’s friends?”
I nodded. “Some of them.”
“Good. If it’s possible, try to discreetly get their addresses and other people that know him and his mother.”
Say what? “Why?”
“I know they aren’t leaving till after the school year but your mother wants to start planning their party now – you know how she is.”
I ran out of class the minute the 10 o’clock buzzer went off. It was time for our 15 minute morning break and I’d already wasted the first two hours of class replaying the latter part of my early morning conversation in my head.
“Ji Tae and his mother are going to America.”
“For their holidays?”
“No, Hee Soo. Forever.”
It was only a minute’s walk but I covered the distance in 30 seconds flat. I turned the corner towards his class to find him leaning against the wall with Han Yong Sil by the side. Okay, so it wasn’t like they were making out or anything but they look friendly… a little too friendly. I stood there with my feet rooted to the ground, disgusted by how wrong the entire picture was when he looked up and caught my eye.
I quickly did a 180 and walked away.
“What do you want?” he asked about a minute later from behind me.
I picked up my pace. “Nothing.” So he was actually planning to spend his last days in Seoul with Yong Sil? That was his choice? Wouldn’t swallowing a bottle of pills and sleeping through the entire time be more interesting? At least then, there’d be the possibility of meeting some dwarfs.
“You came over here for nothing?” He put his hand on my shoulder to stop me.
I pushed his hand off and kept walking. “Forget it. Just go back to Han Yong Sil. She probably needs you to hand out some fliers for her current “Save The Baby Sea Monkeys” campaign.”
The sound of boisterous laughter kept me from walking on. I was only a few feet from my building but I stopped because I just had to know what was so funny. I turned around to see him laughing dryly.
“You really are something else.”
I regarded him solemnly. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“What do you think it means?”
“ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.” I bent my forehead into my palms and tried to retain my sanity. I put my hands down and looked up at him. “For once, Oppa, for once, could you just say what you mean?”
He arched his brow. “Meaning?”
“I’m sick of you making snide little comments and whenever I ask you to clarify, you say something like, ‘Forget it,’ ‘Ask yourself,’ ‘What do you think?’ and of course my favorite, ‘Figure it out’." I inhaled sharply. “If you have something to say, just say it for goodness sake!”
He was quiet for a moment. “Do you really want to know what I think?”
“Bring it on,” I said, bending my knees and gesturing for him to… well, bring it on like American Football players often did.
“You honestly want to know what I think?” he asked slowly.
“Yes,” I said hesitantly. The way he enunciated his words sent shivers down my spine. But what could he possibly say?
“You think you can handle it?”
I sighed. “Just say it.”
He nodded. “All right then,” he tilted his head and gave me a sidelong glance, “I think you’re selfish.”
I let out a sigh of relief. Selfish? That wasn’t a big deal. What was wrong with caring about yourself? If Oprah didn’t care about herself, would she be rich? If Moses didn’t…
“Inconsiderate.” He’d begun to count them off his fingers. “Bitchy. Manipulative…”
“Aren’t you going a little too far?”
“Thoughtless,” he continued, “Irrational. Stubborn…”
What the hell? “Look, I don’t have to listen to this,” I said, turning around.
“No, not so fast.” He grabbed my arm and spun me back around. “You said you really wanted to know, so I’m telling you,” he said without emotion. “Don’t be a chicken. You always like to act like tough so here's your chance to prove it.”
“Whatever. I have things to do. And it’s not like you’re not just making stuff up.” Waking up on the wrong side of the bed was no reason to insult me.
He chuckled spitefully. “Really? So let’s think about this… for example, with what’s been going on with my parents, how many times have you even asked me how I am? This is nothing special, you know. It’s simply common courtesy from neighbor to neighbor. How many times have you even tried to express sympathy? Huh?”
“Why would I ask you when I see you all the time?” Plus I wouldn’t have even known what to say.
“Hee Soo, think about it. My parents are going through a divorce; don’t you think it might affect me?”
I shrugged. “But you always acted like you were handling it.”
“Exactly. Acted. My family's falling apart but you never seemed to care. You were always going on and on about something else but you never asked me how I felt. Or even how I was. That’s an example of you being selfish.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’m a selfish bit.ch. Now I get it. I think I’d better get back to class.” And it’s not like I didn’t care or anything but since he seemed to be handling it, why would I bring it up? Why would I want to bring up something I was sure was a sore topic? But I didn’t bother explaining that to him since he seemed determined to be angry at me. I rolled my eyes and attempted to go to my building.
But he immediately jumped in front of me and blocked my path. Any direction I moved in, he did too, thus preventing me from leaving. The 10:15 bell went off indicating that it was time to go back to our classes. As we did our little left-left, right-right dance, other students marched back to their classes with some of them staring at us curiously.
“Ji Tae, let me go.” I stopped moving thus ending our performance.
He shook his head. “Why? Are you scared of the truth?”
“If all you’re going to do is insult me, I don’t need to hear it.” And to think that I was probably going to get grounded once my parents saw my emergency credit card bill. “I’m already sick of this.”
“You’re sick of this. You’re sick of this? How about this? I’m sick of not being able to say what I feel because I don’t want to scare you away. Remember that dance? You were wearing a red dress with no sleeves, you’d finally let your hair down…”
I instinctively ran my fingers through my ponytail.
“… and I thought you looked so beautiful.”
Beautiful? He thought I was beautiful? I could feel the color flowing up to my cheeks.
“But I couldn’t tell you,” he continued. “Why? Because you’re just too immature to handle it.”
“And the whole night I had to watch you laughing and smiling with that college guy. How do you think that made me feel?”
“Feel? Why would you feel anything?”
He ignored my comment and just went on. “Do you think the DJ spontaneously decided to play ‘I will give you everything’? I asked him to because I knew that was the only way I could talk to you.”
What? The butterflies in my stomach had begun to beg for food.
“Don’t look so shocked. You have to know that I care about you. There’s no way you’re that stupid,” he said spitefully. “But I think I’m wrong though… I don’t really care about you. I care about your family and maybe on some level, I thought you came with the package, but,” he said, shaking his head, “no… I don’t need that stress. There’s no reason I should care about someone like you.”
“Someone like me?” My voice had suddenly gotten all choked up.
“Yes, someone like you. Someone who gets her self worth from controlling guys. Yeah, everyone knows about you and Ki Won, but do you even like him? Think about it. Do you like him? As a person. If I asked you to name five things you liked about him, could you?”
I rolled my eyes. Hell yeah. For one, he wasn’t a bastard.
“Do you like him or do you just love the fact that he’s pathetic enough to wear his heart on a string so that you can be an oh-so-powerful puppeteer?” he said, moving his fingers like one. “You get off on that, don’t you? It makes you feel strong and important, doesn’t it?” He put his fists on his waist and paced around. “But you’re not going to do that with me. I mean what the fcuk was that? I kissed you and you pretended it was raining.”
“I really did feel rain on my face,” I said calmly.
“Give me a break. Do I look like an idiot?”
Right there, with smoke blowing out of his ears, he kinda/sorta did. But I didn’t say anything.
“Even if you think I am stupid, even if you don’t respect me, just know that I’m not Ki Won or any of the other guys you’ve tried this bullsh.it with. I’m not going to wait around for you like some idiot waiting for the queen to grace him with her attention. You don’t like me? Fine. I’ll get over it. It’s not like I don’t deserve better. But I’m warning you, Hee Soo, don’t try any more bullsh.it with me. Don’t call me up, don’t take me to the mall and act like you’ve committed a crime when you run into your boy… your boy…,” he paused. “Anyway, I don’t know if you know this or not, but I’m leaving Seoul in a few months and I’d really like to enjoy the little time I have left here so I’d appreciate it if you just stayed out of my life.”