“Hey,” she said as soon as she answered her phone. She moved closer to the wall so as not to block any of the other shoppers. “What’s up?”
“I finally catch you, huh? After what? Like two weeks of phone tag?” the deep voice as the other end asked.
She chuckled. “Yeah, I know right?” She normally didn’t exchange personal information with people she met on the plane but he was a welcome distraction on a long flight and she quite enjoyed his company. So when he asked for her number, she’d only hesitated a little.
“So how about this weekend? Think you can fit me in?” he asked flirtatiously.
“Hmm….” They’d only been out together a few times but since he was putting in an effort so maybe they could go out again? In addition to being tall, handsome and successful, from what she could tell, he was also very sweet… although in her experience, men often turned out to be exactly the opposite of who she thought they were. But what the hell? She’d pulled about 80 hours weeks twice in a row so surely she deserved a night out.
“Maybe Saturday? I’d have to look in my--”
“Come on,” he interrupted jovially, “you don’t have to look anywhere. Just say yes now and I’ll come and pick you up around 8.”
He put his wallet in his jacket as he walked out of the store. One of the worst things about having a birthday was returning all the crappy gifts the next week. He was heading towards the exit sign when he practically skidded to a stop at the sight in front of him. She was leaning against the wall with her phone to her ear, talking and laughing. Even though the blunt haircut, crème pant suit and high heels were alien, the body, posture and aura were absolutely familiar. Without realizing it, he moved closer for a better look and when he just happened to catch a glimpse of her smile, his heart stopped.
It would be untrue to say that he’d had a crush on her for years but he’d definitely thought of her more fondly that he’d let on. If anything, he’d enjoyed torturing her. Seeing her frown every time she ran into him constantly amused him. But that smile…
He was still staring at her when she turned around and met his eyes. In addition to her mouth falling open, her eyes widened when her brain made the connection.
She quickly hung up the phone and cautiously walked closer to him. “Oppa?”
At the sound of her voice, all the feelings he’d suppressed came rushing back.
Was that really him? As in him. As in Park Ji Tae Him? It had to be because those eyes were unmistakably his. He must have grown at least a few more inches and added around twenty pounds – the good kind, of course. He’d left her a boy-man but eight years later, with the cropped hair, moustache (moustache!), loose jeans and t-shirt, he was all man.
“Park Ji Tae?” she asked again. Even though she'd often thought them, it had been a while since she'd said those three words together.
“Kim Hee Soo?” He slowly walked towards her. “Kim Hee Soo?”
They both kept walking till they were standing about a foot apart. They grinned awkwardly at one another, neither knowing what to do. Do we hug? Do we shake hands? Anyone passing by would have thought they were walking by some kind of mime performance.
Hee Soo finally put her hands on her waist. After all, they were as good a place as any. She grinned widely at him. Was she seeing things? Was he really there? “What are you doing here?”
He pointed at a bench and when she nodded, led the way to it. When they were both seated, he said, “I live here now.”
“Oh,” she said, raising her brow. “Since when?”
“Almost a year and a half.”
“Almost a year and a half?” she repeated incredulously.
He laughed. “Yeah. So I’m quite surprised that I haven’t run into you yet.” Even though he wouldn’t admit it, he’d been hoping to run into her the second he’d stepped on Korean soil.
She angled her head and nodded. “Yeah, I was in Australia for a year – I only got back like… 6 weeks ago.”
Oh. “What did you do there?”
“Cool. So I guess you don’t need any help translating Lost anymore,” he teased.
She giggled. “Don’t worry, you’re off the hook... although my English isn’t that great. But wait a minute…,” she frowned. “You’ve been here for a year and a half and you never called me?”
“Is your number the same?” Not that he’d tried it. For the first month after he left Korea, he’d called her consistently. But the daily calls turned to weekly conversations and in less than six months, they stopped altogether. It wasn’t that he hadn’t wanted to talk to her but the entire thing seemed so pointless... so fruitless and just plain painful. He’d been the one to stop calling so when he returned, he didn’t even know if he had the right to call her again.
“You look so different,” he observed. “Great, but different.” He noticed that her cheekbones were slightly more pronounced.
Hee Soo self-consciously ran her hand through her hair. “And you look exactly the same,” she deadpanned.
He laughed. “Yeah? Even with the facial hair?”
She nodded. “Especially with the facial hair.”
They were both smiling foolishly but every time he caught her eye, she’d look away and laugh. Even though she was sitting in front of him with perfectly applied make-up, he was glad to see that she hadn’t lost that adorable charm of hers. A lot of it was due to the fact that she seemed perfectly unaware of how attractive she was and back then, that only made him adore her even more.
After some more smiling and laughing, he asked after her parents.
She was sitting comfortably on the bench which her arm flung behind him. “They are great. Yours?”
“My mother is still in the States. She’s quite happy running her language school.”
“Cool. And your father?”
“He’s doing great.” Even though it had been a very long and slow process, since he’d returned to Seoul, they'd tried to mend their relationship. “What about your friends? How is Yun Ah doing?”
She rolled her eyes. “Why do you think I am here? I could go back to the office but I don’t want to go all the way over there and have to come back here. That girl can be so annoying sometimes,” she said, shaking her head in frustration.
“Sorry?” he asked, obviously confused. The whole office conversation was weirding him out. Hee Soo had an office? Was eight years really that long? “What did Yun Ah do?”
She sighed. “I’m supposed to meet her at a restaurant so that she can introduce me to her new boyfriend but she's late.”
“New boyfriend? What happened to her First Husband?”
“’First’ doesn’t mean ‘last’, right? Kyung Min turned out to be a jackass. Anyway, he’s doing his military service right now. And I guess she--”
The sound of her ringing phone interrupted her mid-sentence. She looked at her caller-id and smiled. “Speak of the devil,” she said, before flipping it open.
“Congratulations! I’m sure your video game will do well."
They were out of the mall and walking on the street.
“Yes. After a year of all that work, it’s great to finally find a distributor who believes in us.”
On their way out of the mall, he'd told her about the company he’d started with two of his friends. Earlier that day, they’d signed a contract with a company that was going to produce and distribute their first video game.
“Well, this is it,” Hee Soo said as she stopped in front of a building. Years earlier, she’d run through a million scenarios of what it’ll be like if she ever saw Ji Tae again but now that it was finally happening, it felt so surreal. She exhaled and smiled at him. “I guess I’ll see you sometime. I’m sure we’ll run into each other some other time.”
He nodded. “Definitely.”
“Okay then,” she said, reaching for the door handle.
“Wait!” Was he crazy? We’ll run into each other some time? Lady luck only rang your bell once. There was no way he was going to leave it to chance a second time. He took his phone out of his pocket. “Let’s exchange numbers.”
“Who was that?” Yun Ah asked as she approached them. She was sitting at the bar in such a way that she could still see the door.
“No one,” Hee Soo said, walking towards her. She knew that if she told her, it would be the sole conversation of the entire night. But this meeting wasn’t about her – it was about meeting her friend’s most recent conquest.
A tall man with soft blue eyes and a head of dark curly hair stood up to greet her. “Hi,” he said, grinning and revealing slightly crooked teeth. “I’m Philip Coles. It’s really nice to meet you.”
Hee Soo smiled. Yun Ah and her expats, she thought as she shook his hand. Her relationships with them rarely lasted for longer than a month so Hee Soo wondered why she even bothered.
Shortly after the bartender brought their drinks, they moved over to a table.
They were still perusing the menu when a shocked Yun Ah screamed.
“What?” Hee Soo and Philip yelled in unison.
“Look!” Yun Ah said, pointing behind her best friend.
Hee Soo turned around to see a smiling Ji Tae walking towards them. She reached for her stomach because it seemed like the old butterflies were back. What was he doing here?
“May I join you?” he asked and without waiting for a response, he pulled the fourth chair out and sat down.
Hee Soo looked at him inquisitively. “Your friends didn’t show?”
He shook his head. “No, they did. But I'll celebrate with them tomorrow.”