“Stay in your life? Why the hell would I want to be in your life? What’s so special about you? Fcuk you!” I screamed at his back.
I really couldn’t believe what he'd said to me. If he really felt like that, why did he want a truce in the first place? Why couldn’t we just have carried on as we always had? But then again, he really wouldn’t have had the opportunity to tell me all that he’d really felt. Bastard. And yet, I was the manipulator? Whatever. But knowing that wasn’t salve on my wound – it still stung just as much.
“Park Ji Tae, how can you say that you me?” I squeaked to his disappearing figure then turned around and walked over to my building. Really, how could you? After all that we’d been through? I couldn’t explain it but my heart suddenly felt heavy and the additional weight was taking its toll on my suddenly weak legs. Every single step seemed so difficult. I opened the door and stepped into the building.
“You have to know I care about you,” I replayed in my mind. But how come it sounded so natural? Almost like it was the most obvious thing in the world? Was I really so self-involved that I’d never realized it? Or did I always know it? Park Ji Tae cared about Kim Hee Soo? But then again, he also said that he cared about Kim Mi Soo…
I ran my hand through the ends of my ponytail and remembered something else he’d admitted. He actually thinks I’m beautiful? I thought as I walked down the hallway. I wasn’t exactly ugly and I did have my share of admirers but the word beautiful was reserved for people like Kim Ji Young, our local queenka. I shook my head and grimaced. Maybe it was high time Ji Tae got reeducated on the meaning of the word.
I peeked into my class to see where the teacher was. She was walking in between two rows, explaining something about Kinetic Energy. I still hadn’t decided on my future career but I knew that there was no way Kinetic and Potential Energy would factor into it.
I waited till she was writing on the chalkboard before running to an empty seat.
“Miss Kim, welcome to the class,” she said without turning back.
A hand shot in between the closing elevator doors. I hit the ‘open door’ button to help the would-be rider in.
“Thanks,” Ji Tae said. It had been about sixteen days since he’d said a word to me which I’d guessed was probably the longest stretch we’d ever had without exchanging a word to one another.
He walked to the other end of the elevator and hit the ‘close door’ button.
I leaned against the wall and waited for the lift to start moving. My mother’s car was on holiday again and Ki Won had somehow managed to squeeze in dropping me off on his way to work. ‘Squeezing me in,’ was a feature of our new relationship.
The elevator started moving and a few seconds later, stopped at the second floor. A male teenage neighbor I’d seen around but didn’t know stepped it.
“Hyung, what’s up?” he said as he hit Ji Tae and did their male bonding thing. I am yet to understand why a simple ‘hello’ isn’t sufficient. At least, women hug and show affection in a painless manner. But with guys, it was a whole bunch of slapping, punching and hitting that was somehow supposed to express warmth. It was a bit surprising to me that more men weren’t into massage therapy.
“Jason, what’s going on?” Ji Tae inquired.
I glanced at them and waited for the next elevator ding.
“Eww… what’s the awful smell?” Ji Tae said. From the corner of my eye, I could see him covering his nose.
“I’m going to the gym,” Jason explained.
From what I’d heard, we had a pretty good gym on the 9th floor and visiting it was one of my New Year’s resolutions and since December was a long way ahead, I figured that I still had a lot of time.
The ding indicating we’d reached the fourth floor sounded.
“… but how does that explain what you smell like now?” Ji Tae wondered.
“Whatever, Hyung. Besides, I played basketball at school.”
I heard the sound of Ji Tae’s laughter followed by the sound of someone being slapped on their back.
“Just take a shower every now and then, okay?” Ji Tae said, laughing.
A few moments later, we both stepped out of the elevator and walked towards our apartments in silence. It wasn’t as if he was avoiding or ignoring me. No. It was more like he didn’t even see me. Like I didn’t exist.
Watching him walk into his house reminded me, once again, of how much I missed our screaming matches.
Being that the new episode of Lost had yet to be uploaded, Ki Won, who was also a fan, had agreed to watch Heroes with me. We both had a free period so we were spending it together in the Computer Lab.
“Who’s this guy?” he asked.
“That’s Peter’s brother. I think that he and his brother can fly. I’m not quite sure what’s going on but his brother is like the biggest bastard on the planet and apparently, the whole family has issues because his father committed suicide,” I explained.
Ki Won squinted at the screen. Since the video wasn’t clear, I’d had to resize the Youtube clip to the smallest size. “So what’s going on now?”
“I don’t know but it looks like they are about to have sex.” A man and a woman alone in a bedroom kissing and tearing their clothes off. How many things could it be? They sure as hell weren’t selling stocks.
“But why?” he asked. “Didn’t she just turn around and leave? Or is she the alter ego? And what did she say when she came back?”
“How the hell would I know? I don’t understand English!”
I groaned. It was just not the same.
“May I see them?”
Ji Tae put the box on the table and started laying its contents on it. Since Mrs. Park didn’t really have any relatives around with most of them in the United States and the others in North Korea, she’d planned to sell everything she wasn’t shipping or donating.
The antiques dealer picked up a greenish porcelain vase with a landscape showing trees, rivers and birds painted on it. He ran his finger over the mouth and sides then turned it over to look under it. “This is a really nice piece from the Chosun period.” He looked up at Mrs. Park. “Are you sure you want to part with it?” He looked at it carefully with a little magnifying glass. “This is really nice.”
She shrugged. “It was an anniversary present,” she said like it was sufficient explanation.
Not for the first time that day, I felt I was intruding on her private moments. When my mother told me that she’d be spending the day with Ji Tae and her mother, I’d begged to come along because I hadn’t realized that outside of his relationship with my family, he’d somehow become part of my life. And that part had now become empty and I sometimes felt slightly lacking. I really hated that.
I’d tried to get his attention in school but he always pretended not to see me so I figured that he wouldn’t be able to ignore me in front of both of our parents. All I wanted was a chance to clear the air like we’d always done. But if I’d realized that spending time with him and his mother would be so intrusive, I might have stayed home. But on the other hand, it gave me a window to what Ji Tae might have been experiencing at home. And that only made me feel bad about not being a shoulder he could lean on. But then again, I hadn’t even known that I could be a shoulder. Or that he needed one.
“They come in a set,” Ji Tae’s mother said, pointing at the two pieces that were at the other end of the table.
Ji Tae immediately stretched out to get them but since he was a little far away, I picked them up and handed them to him. Even though our fingers touched, he didn’t seem to notice but he thanked me courteously.
When we’d sold that set and two teapots, we stepped out of the shop.
“I think our 2:15 appointment is only about four blocks from here. We can leave the car over here and just walk over there. Sweetie,” Mrs. Park said to her son, “will you be able to manage or should we take the car?”
“Umma, it’s fine,” he said, readjusting the weight of the box. “It’s not too heavy.”
A few moments later, we were walking down the street with the parents walking together in front and us walking behind them.
“It’s not as cold as I expected,” I said, smiling at him. Weather was the safest topic on the planet and my starting point.
“Yeah, it’s fine,” he said dismissively without even as a much as a glance at me.
My heart sank. The dismissal was so definite that I knew better than to try to talk to him again. He’d barely done anything but I felt like one of those creepy older men that just had to talk to you at the checkout lane… you know, the ones that make you get out of the express lane even though you only have a box of tampons in your hand.
We walked in silence as we all turned the corner and started going down the next lane. I suddenly remembered the day we’d gotten lost and how much walking we’d done to find a bus to take us to the nearest subway station. And even though I’d been pissed as hell, I’d still spoken to him. Didn’t I deserve the same courtesy?
I chuckled regrettably at how much time I’d spent being pissed at him, not that he hadn’t deserved a lot of it. But right there, walking next to him, I would have loved to be given the opportunity to apologize for the times he hadn’t.
Maybe if I’d know that it would come to this I would have been nicer?
The guy walking next to me wasn’t the Ji Tae I had come to know. What the hell had happened to him?
The silence was killing me and it reached the point that I could hear my pulse if I tried hard enough. It was almost as if all the sounds of our mothers’ voices and the passing cars had been blocked.
Say something, I implored silently. Please, say something.
“Umma, do you know if there’s a restroom around that store?” he asked.
Hmm… how about something else?
“Unnie, are you busy?” Mi Soo said at my door.
I shook my head as she walked into my room and shut the door behind her. She was holding one of her school books.
“I’m having a little problem with this question,” she said, moving up to me and pointing at an open page. “I think I got it right but I’m not sure.”
“Why don’t you ask your tutor?”
“He’s not going to be here till Saturday and I’ve got my test on Thursday.”
“Okay,” I said, taking hold of her notebook, “let me see.” I pointed at my computer chair and asked her to bring it closer to my bed so that she could sit and watch me.
I took a quick look at the problem and carefully explained it to her. “Do you understand?”
“Oh…. I see. If you cross those other two out, you’re just left with these numbers,” she said, pointing at what I’d just written.
I nodded. “Exactly. You get it now?”
“Yes. Thanks, Unnie. But,” she started, looking at me suspiciously, “are you okay?”
I raised my brow. “Why?”
“You’re acting differently. I mean, you didn’t even scream at me.”
I laughed. “It’s the new me. I’m trying not to be the biggest bi.tch in town,” I said, shrugging.
“You? The biggest bi.tch in town?”
“Watch your mouth!” I cautioned, hitting her on the shoulder.
She laughed. “But Unnie, I know you’re not really a bi.tch – it’s just your thing. It’s not like you really mean it,” she said, rolling her eyes.
I laughed a bit more and thanked her. Now, only if someone else could see it that way too.
“This is like the most boring game ever!” Yun Ah screamed as she got off the platform.
My mother’s car was still on the blink and after much coercion, I’d agreed to go to the arcade with her and Kyung Min after she promised to drop me at home. She’d been complaining that ever since I'd started 'dating' Ki Won, I hadn’t had time for her. But the truth was, I hadn’t been spending that much time with Ki Won – hardly more than we’d spent before. It was just that I wasn’t really in the mood to hang out with anyone.
But the funniest thing about Ki Won and I was that our relationship hadn't really changed. Other than labelling our relationship and trying to do couply things, it was the same. And sometimes, I wondered if Ki Won was into it at all... he sometimes seemed more distant with me than he'd been with his previous girlfriends. Definitely more distant than he'd been with me a few months earlier.
“Do you want to leave now?” I asked hopefully, walking towards my bag.
“You’d love that, wouldn’t you?”
I looked at my watch. “We should probably be going now…”
She grabbed me by my shoulders and shook me. “Hee Soo ah, what is wrong with you? Wake up!
I pushed her off me and just as I was about to shout at her, someone walked past her. My eyes followed him and even though I was now staring at his back, I couldn’t deny that he looked just like Ji Tae – even down to the brown baseball cap he sometimes wore.
“What the fcuk are you looking at?” Yun Ah yelled, turning around to follow my gaze.
Like almost everyone in our vicinity, the boy turned at the sound of Yun Ah’s shrill voice but his thin lips were enough evidence that I’d been wrong. My heart sunk but even more so because I realized that I was spending far too much time thinking about he-who-should-not-be-named.
Yun Ah studied my face then tilted her head. “Kyung Min, could you please get me a Coke? I’m kind of thirsty.”
Soon after he left, she pulled me into a corner. “Hee Soo, is this about Park Ji Tae?”
I looked at her skeptically. “What?” Surely, she hadn’t recognized the cap too.
“This! This depression. I almost feel like swiping some of my mother’s pills so I don’t have to watch you mope around.”
I hissed. “Don’t worry about it.” All I had to do was train my mind to wander onto more relevant things. Things like gardening. I sighed. “Are you ready to leave?”
“What exactly is your problem? I remember you saying that you didn’t give a sh.it about this. That it would just be like it was before his parents got divorced. So what is this? Tell me. What is this?” she asked sincerely. She was looking at me expectantly.
Something about her tone broke my resolve. “Yu-yun Ah, I-I-I….” I couldn’t even get the words out because they were yet to form in my head.
“Do you like him?” she asked, looking directly in my eyes.
I moved away from her and looked at my feet.
“Hee Soo ah, answer me. Do you like him?”
I sighed and looked back at her.
She chuckled. “That much, huh?”
I hadn’t even admitted it to myself. Something about it was just so... scary. Did I like Park Ji Tae? I looked away and nodded. “I guess so.” Wasn’t a weight supposed to get lifted off my shoulders? Now that I finally admitted it, wasn’t I supposed to break into song and skip around some ice covered mountains? So why did it still suck?
“And you and Ki Won?”
I looked away. “I’ve always liked Ki Won. You know he's always been on my side.”
Yun Ah laughed. “My friend, the player,” she joked.
“I’m being serious.”
“Me too. What about Ji Tae? Why don’t you tell him?”
I shook my head. “I already told you that he pretty much told me to fcuk off.”
“He completely ignores me when I see him so there’s absolutely not hope there.” I told her about our antiques-selling trip. “The whole thing just sucks. You should have heard the things he said to me so there’s no way he wants to hear anything like this. In fact, it’ll probably piss him off more.”
“Poor you,” she sympathized.
“I know, right? It just sucks.” No weight had been lifted but it felt good talking to Yun Ah about it.
“Well, you’re just going to have to get over it. There are far too many hot guys out there for you spend you days pining over one that doesn’t want you. Wasn’t that guy at the mall hitting on you the other day?”
I rolled my eyes. “That guy must have been at least 30!” And looked like he was 40.
“I’m just saying that you have options. And it’s not like you guys dated or anything so it’s not a break up. It’s a crush so it’s no big deal. Just move on. If he’s ignoring you, then it’s his loss. Just get over it.”
Sure. And I didn’t have the energy to point out that it was much easier said than done.
“Just forget him. And in the meantime… Do you remember that saying?” she continued.
“If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”