“What’s she doing here?” Kyung Min asked angrily.
Yep, that’s right: Kyung Min asked angrily. For the first time in God-knows-how-long, he expressed an emotion towards someone who wasn’t Yun Ah and it just happened to be anger towards me. How great.
“Yun Ah, what’s she doing here?” he asked again.
“Don’t we normally meet here at lunchtime?” she replied innocently.
I looked away from them and to Ki Won who was standing a few feet behind his friend, growling at me. He wasn’t actually making any sounds but the look on his face could have scared a rabid rottweiler dead.
I shook my head when I realized that I’d been far too naïve. I’d thought that after a good night’s rest, Ki Won would see that I’d made the right decision for us. I hadn’t expected for us to be chummy on Monday morning but I hadn’t expected what was unfolding in front of me.
“Yun Ah, let’s go to lunch,” Kyung Min said, taking her hand. “I’m hungry so let the three of us leave now.”
Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. Why did some people like to pump themselves full of ibuprofen for someone else’s headache? “Kyun--”
He raised his hand to cut me off. “Don’t even talk to me,” he said.
I know he didn’t just give me ‘the hand’. What the hell? “You know what, Yun Ah? I’ll catch up with you later.”
“Hey, isn’t that Ji Tae’s friend?”
I turned in the direction of the voice and saw Ji Tae and his usual lunch crew. Seeing him instantly brought a smile to my face. We'd spent the entire previous day on the phone and each time we hung up had been bittersweet because although I felt sad that we were ending the conversation, I was glad to have spoken to someone who made me feel so happy.
After leaving Kyung Moron, I wandered about my campus for a few minutes, wondering if I should go to my usual lunch spot alone or brave our school cafeteria thereby taking a chance at eating someone’s pet Siamese cat.
“Have you had lunch?” Ji Tae asked, walking up to me. He attempted to put his arm around me but I moved away.
Our thing was still very new and I hadn’t gotten my head around it long enough for public displays of affection. It’s one thing to kiss him when no one was around and another to put on a show with all his friends watching. In addition, even though I wasn’t popular, a lot of people knew that I was ‘the girl that Ki Won liked’. Was I now ready to publicly declare that I’d ditched Ki Won for another guy?
“Are you okay?” Ji Tae whispered. Luckily, he’d taken the hint so there was no second attempt at wrapping his arms around me.
I nodded and smiled at him. “Yes, Oppa. So,” I said in a louder voice, “where are we going for lunch?”
“See you later,” I said to Ji Tae’s co-workers as we walked out of the building. He’d called me shortly after school ended and asked me to meet him at the library at the end of his shift.
I zipped my winter coat up while I walked down the steps then walked through the door Ji Tae was holding open for me. It was funny how suddenly, seeing him once a day wasn't enough.
Once we were outside, I tied my scarf around my neck.
“Warm enough?” he teased.
“Shut up,” I said, chuckling. The top of his wool hat was wonky so I reached across and adjusted it.
We walked down the road till we reached the pelican crossing and pressed the button to change the walk signal.
“Didn’t you hear me? She’s been torturing me with those Kwon Sang Woo photos!” I said, continuing our conversation.
“And that’s enough reason for me to hack into her computer?”
“Duh! You’re the reason I missed out on meeting my Oppa in the first place! Hey, let’s cross,” I said, after assessing the oncoming traffic. “Come on, let’s go." I grabbed him and pulled him as I ran across the road. A car zoomed past us a few seconds after we made it to the other end. There was something about near-death that turned me into a Valley Girl so I started giggling.
“So now you want to hold me?” he said half-seriously. As usual, his sci-fi eyes revealed his true feelings even though his face was covered in a huge grin.
I looked down at my hand and saw that our fingers were entwined. It was funny that I hadn’t noticed that I was still holding on to him. I looked up. “Have you got a problem with it?”
He shook his head. “No, but you seemed to have a problem with it at school.”
As we walked home, I explained to him the difference between being two random people on the street and becoming ‘Ji Tae and Hee Soo,’ in school. “I don’t want to be part of one of those couples,” I finished. I guess I didn’t really mind being linked to Ki Won because it wasn’t really true but there was something about this relationship that I wanted to protect.
“But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be ourselves. Besides, I’m about to graduate- why should I care about what random people say?”
“Well, I still have one more year,” I reminded him.
“So what? You worry too much. Are you saying that if I want to take you by the waist,” he said, doing just that, “and pull you close to me, I shouldn’t do it? Especially when I know I won’t be able to do it for that much longer?”
I groaned. Why did he have to bring that sh.it up again?
“So, Ji Tae ssi, what does your father do?” Appa asked him. Ji Tae was sitting next to my father while I was sitting next to my sister and across from them. His mother was sitting next to mine.
The entire room growled while, with downturned eyebrows, my father looked at the sheet of paper in front of him.
I hadn’t planned on revealing my new relationship to my parents, but since I had to explain why I was disappearing to the library every evening and also get out of attending the shareholders’ party scheduled for the next day, which fell on Ji Tae and I’s first Friday night together i.e. the chosen day for our first official date, I had to tell them.
On hearing this, my father had insisted that we invite Ji Tae and his mother to dinner for a formal introduction. I tried to explain to him that we weren’t getting married so the formalities were unnecessary as they were friends of the family but my father wasn’t having it and insisted that there were “certain ways we do these things.”
“My father’s a plastic surgeon,” Ji Tae replied. He signaled to me that everything was okay.
But it wasn’t. It was bad enough that my father was asking silly questions, but did Ji Tae have to reply? “Appa, why are you asking questions you already know the answers to?”
He sighed. “Good point.” He skimmed his list a bit more then cleared his throat then said, “Young man, what are your intentions with my daughter?”
“Keep quiet, Hee Soo. This is the first time you’ve brought a boy home and I’m only asking very simple, standard questions.”
“Dad, you asked him about his future plans, what his father does and now what his intentions are. You are treating him like a stranger,” I protested.
“Stranger or not, these are the questions you ask so stop interrupting. I downloaded them from the internet so I am sure there’s nothing wrong with them.”
Mi Soo giggled, then Mrs. Park and before I could say anything, the rest of the room joined them.
“What’s so funny? Aren’t these normal questions? Aren’t fathers supposed to give their daughters’ boyfriends a hard time?” he said, laughing.
We laughed a bit more before the surprisingly unjealous Mi Soo asked, “So Appa, is this what Harbuji did when you first met him?”
“Yes,” I interjected, “Halmoni said that you used to hang at Umma’s house a lot. I heard that your Appa and Umma’s Appa were close friends.”
My father rubbed his chin. “Close friends? Not really. Back when my father still owned the farm, he was one of your grandfather’s suppliers so they had a good business relationship.”
“Really? Then how did you meet Umma?” I asked, pleased that the attention had been deflected from Ji Tae and me.
“Our parents ran into one another at one of those PTA meetings. What were they called back then?” my father asked with a faraway look.
“I think it was PCC,” Ji Tae’s mother offered.
My father nodded. “Yes, I think that’s it. So it was one of those rare times that my father had time to come to my school so after the meeting, your grandfather formally introduced me to your mother and asked me to take care of her.”
“But your father didn’t realize that it was just a joke and took it literally,” my mother teased.
“Are you sure about this?” I asked, looking at my reflection in the mirror. The black dress was hugging my body so tightly that if I ate a pea, everyone could watch it slowly travel down my body.
“Yes. It’s your first official date with your first real boyfriend. Don’t you want to wow him?” Yun Ah asked rhetorically.
I rested my weight on my left foot and stared at my wonderbra-created cleavage. “But isn’t the neckline too low?”
She rolled her eyes. “You can wear a shawl if you’re feeling self conscious but it looks great,” she said as she walked behind and stared at my reflection. "You look really pretty,” she said, hugging me from behind.
I smiled even though I wasn’t quite sure about it. I did look ‘hot’ if I said so myself but it still looked a little wrong. But on the other hand, if I was going to try to make Ji Tae stay, I had to at least give him a good reason to.
I took her arms off me then turned around and thanked her.
“You’re welcome. But I, too, would like to wear a dress like that for my boyfriend.”
I scowled. Kyung Moron had asked her to choose between me and him and she’d chosen me. I was touched by her gesture but I couldn’t exactly get back with Ki Won for their sake. “What can I do?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know but you have to fix it because I’m not quite ready to divorce my First Husband. I know he’s an idiot; indirectly picking Ki Won over me then asking me to pick him over you, but still…,” she said, moping.
I pursed my lips. “Don’t worry, I’ll come up with something.”
I brushed non-existent lint off my dress, inhaled then walked into the living room. My toes cursed me and, I in turn, cursed myself for allowing Yun Ah to talk me into buying such high heeled, pinching shoes. I had barely walked two feet and I was already thinking of taking painkillers along with me. At this rate, Ji Tae would probably have to carry me in and out of the car. Oh… wait. Was that the point?
Ji Tae’s jaw dropped the instant I walked into the room. He looked older and handsome in the black sports coat and slacks he was wearing. I smiled when I realized that even though we hadn’t planned it, we matched. How cute.
I spun around. “So what do you think?”
With his mouth still ajar, he looked me over. “Is that what you’re wearing?”
“Are you serious?”
“Uhm… yeah.” How about a different reaction?
He sighed then sat on the couch. “You need to go and change. We might be late for our reservations but go and change,” he said, looking at me and scratching his head.
“Sorry?” I was sure that I was hearing things.
“Hurry up and go and change.”
Is this what a relationship was? A man ordering a woman around? I took a deep breath in and tried to stay calm. “Oppa, why should I change?”
“Have you ever worn anything like that before?”
I shook my head. “So?”
“So why do you have to start now? Please change.”
I felt like the biggest idiot on the planet. There I was, permanently disfiguring my feet to please him and there he was, sitting there and being unappreciative. “Oppa, I’m also wearing this shawl,” I said, showing it to him and putting on. It was made of grey silk and was on loan from my mother.
He barely even looked at it. “Hee Soo, please hurry up and change.”
After over two hours of hair and make up he wanted me to mess it all up? I shook my head. “No.”
“Hee Soo, please go and change or we’ll lose our reservations.”
“Ji Tae, if we leave now, we’ll make our reservations.”
He sighed. “I can’t go out with you looking like that,” he said with the definitiveness of an executioner.
“Then go by yourself,” I replied in a small voice. He was not the boss of me.
“You heard me,” I said, looking directly into his eyes. “If I can’t go looking like this, then I’m not going at all.”
He stood up. “Are you crazy? Go back to your room and change!”
“No! Are you deaf?” I countered. “I can’t believe you! We’re not even dating five minutes and you already think you can boss me around? I am old enough to wear what I want to wear and you have no right to tell me what to wear!”
I climbed into Yun Ah’s car. “What?” I yelled. It was almost 11pm and I’d had to sneak out of my house in my pajamas when she’d sent me an SOS and begged me to come down and meet her.
“Okay, we can go now,” she said to her driver.
“What’s going on?” I screamed as the car sped off. It was one thing to risk leaving my bedroom for 5 minutes and another to leave it for a joyride.
“Since I’m partly to blame for this, I guess I need to fix this. Mr. Bae,” she said, raising her voice and turning to the driver’s seat, “don’t forget to take a left at the next light.”
“Yun Ah, what’s going on?”
“Your boyfriend called me.”
“Sit,” Ji Tae ordered.
In a million years, I wouldn’t have imagined being at our lunch restaurant at night but there we were, just the two of us, in the dimly lit room.
The table was set with two empty bowls and all the bibimbap ingredients including rice, beef and vegetables. Instead of turning on the light, he was using an oil lantern to light the room.
I sat down and watched him sit across from me then hand me a bowl and a spoon. I took them from him and waited.
He filled his bowl with everything then mashed them all up. After the preliminary taste, he added more sesame oil then stirred it in. “Aren’t you eating?”
I wasn’t even hungry. Shortly after he left, I’d made myself some noodles and over half of it was still sitting in my fridge. Even though we hadn’t officially been together for up to a week, we’d spent a lot of time together and I found myself increasingly getting attached to him. So the little episode we’d had earlier in the evening hadn’t sat well with me. “Oppa, what is this?"
He smiled grimly. “We couldn’t let our first date end like that, could we?” he said before he filled his mouth with food.
I waited for him to swallow the contents of his mouth before I said anything. “Whose fault was that?”
He dropped his spoon in his bowl and reached across the table and took my hand. “Why did you dress like that?”
Because I wanted to look hot for you? I tried my best not to blush but it was a battle I couldn’t win. “Didn’t you like it?”
He looked away. “I must admit that it certainly had its appeal…”
I stifled a giggle.
“… but it wasn’t you. I like you and not who ever that was.”
I rinsed the last bowl and put it in the basin with all the other clean tableware. Over dinner, Ji Tae claimed that since he’d prepared all the dishes (lies) and persuaded the Ajumma to lend him her restaurant after closing, solely because she really liked him (more lies) even though she didn’t know me (pants on fire), I had to do all the washing and cleaning up. I did give him credit for finding a way to fix our first date so I decided to do my part. I took it as my first lesson in ‘making a relationship work’.
I was walking to the lantern when I felt his palm over my eyes. Considering how dark it was, it was a good thing that I could already recognize his smell otherwise, he’d have been lying in the hospital with permanent groin damage. Instead, I reached behind me and tickled him in the belly.
“Stop that,” he said, doubling over. But I didn’t and he ended up falling backwards in the grass. I stood over him, laughing and pointing, but not for long because he pulled me down and tickled me in my armpits. We rolled on the grass, tickling and laughing till we were worn out.
He propped himself up with his elbow and looked down at my face. He rubbed my cheek and his lips broke into a lazy smile. “Do you know how pretty you look right now?”
“How pretty?” I could feel dirt and grass on my forehead.
He bent his head down and kissed me softly. I kissed him back as I softly caressed the hand that was resting on my cheek. Even though it was technically cold, his lips were keeping me warm.
“I’m glad you did this,” I said shortly after we got off the ground. I knew it wasn't a first date that I'd forget anytime soon.
He nodded as he locked the door to the restaurant. “Me too. But it’s your turn the next time we fight.”
I laughed till I realized that if he had his way, we wouldn’t even have enough time to have many fights. As we walked to his car, I took mental pictures of him, sad that ours was one of those relationships with a predeterminded ending. And since this relationship thing was new for me, I knew I still had a lot to learn. Why couldn't he stay behind and teach me? How could he just leave me like that? Hmm.... I'd already toyed with the idea but maybe, just maybe I could stop him from leaving Korea.