“So how’s school?” My suddenly sweet mother asked Ji Tae.
Can someone explain to me how “How’s school?” is an interesting question? Every single adult I met always asked me that question –it was like they' all learned it at some parenting class. But the thing was that regardless of the time of the day, the day of the week or the week of the year, my answer remained the same: “Fine.” Never once did I go into any discussions about how I was flunking Physics or how much I liked the new English teacher or how the school curriculum wasn’t up to my liking. Yet, they all asked it. E.V.E.R.Y.T.I.M.E.
“Fine,” he predictably said, smiling back at her.
I glanced at my sister who was looking up at him like he was Kwon Sang Woo. Girl, get a grip.
“How are your classes going?” was my father’s mundane contribution to the conversation.
I had to hold my head up to keep myself from dozing off. If Ji Tae hadn’t been with us, we’d have had our usual dinner with my parents talking about work and my sister getting on my nerves. Twenty minutes later, we’d have cleared the table and gone to our rooms to study. But because we had His Highness with us, we were having a conversation that could cure insomnia.
The uninspiring conversation inspired me to shove all my food down in about five minutes but when I got up to leave, Umma gave me Look Number 6, which was the one that meant, “Sit your butt down!” But hey, we had a guest, right? I could pretend I didn’t see it and leave anyway. So I started to do just that.
“Hee Soo. Don’t you know it’s rude to leave the dinner table while everyone else is still eating?”
“But I’ve finished eating,” I replied my mother in the sweetest of voices.
“So what? Why were you rushing in the first place? I hope you haven’t made yourself sick. Alright, sit down. You can get up when everybody is done.”
I obeyed her but pouted the whole time. I tried my best not to look but from what I could see, it appeared that Ji Tae had turned into the funniest comedian on earth with Mi Soo as his biggest fan. My sister was giggling so much that I wanted to reach across and tap her head just to ensure that it wasn’t hollow. I shut my eyes and prayed that she’d outgrow this phase and not grow up to become a reality show star.
After a few more pain-filled minutes, everyone was done with their meal so I finally got up to clear the table. My father often said that we were too young for others to be picking up after us so as usual, I picked up all the adults’ dishes as well as all the general ones. When it became clear that I wasn’t picking up Ji Tae’s dishes, my mother asked me about it.
I smiled at her and proudly reminded her of my father’s policy.
“Well, he’s only 1 year older than me,” I pointed out.
“And what does that have to do with anything?”
“Isn’t he still young enough to pick up after himself?”
My mother wasn't buying it. “Does he live here?”
With the amount of food he’d been eating, he might as well have. Not that I relayed that thought to my mother. Instead I shook my head.
“So why should he enter our kitchen?”
I glanced at him and caught him hiding a smile that was begging me to punch his teeth into his throat. Since I didn’t have any reasonable answer for my mother, I gave in and began to pick up his plates.
The chair screeched against the floor as my mother stood up. “Instead of just doing that in the first place, you decided to be naughty. I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.”
“So what are you having?” Kyung Min asked me.
“What does she usually have?” Yun Ah interjected.
He shrugged. “Anything is possible… she could have changed her mind today.”
“Babe, in the 2 years you’ve known her, has she ordered anything other than noodles before? And I’m not talking about when we all order galbi.”
“She ordered gimpap that one time,” Ki Won reminded her.
I stuck my tongue out at her. “There you go.”
“Yeah, one time she didn’t order noodles. Let’s clap for her,” she said before proceeding to actually clap.
I frowned and sent her a threatening look.
“No, not just once. She’s ordered dumplings before,” Ki Won added, coming to my rescue once again.
I smiled at my knight in shining armor then back at Yun Ah who was now rolling her eyes. It was the world’s worst kept secret that Ki Won was in love with me. In fact, it wasn’t a secret at all. According to folklore, he instantly fell in love with me the moment I walked into Drama Club, which was the reason he and Kyung Min (who was supposedly his wingman) had spoken to us in the first place. I always found it odd that I was the reason they'd approached us because while Yun Ah was petite with big eyes and a nose that I never could believe wasn't surgically altered, I was pretty tall with a flat chest and skin that tended to break out at the worst times. Anyway, the boys had become our friends and two years later, while Yun Ah now referred to Kyung Min as her “First Husband,” Ki Won and I were just friends.
Not that I didn’t like him or anything, in fact, next to Yun Ah, he was my bestfriend in the whole world. And not that he was bad to look at… okay, so maybe he hadn't been so hot on that first day they spoke to us but halfway though year 10, he’d grown about 7 inches and instantly become a Kingka. And he did have a bit of je ne sais quoi. And even though he was one of the scholarship kids at our school, being one of the top strikers on the soccer team with a hot bod to match kind of overshadowed his lack of finances. Not that anyone at my school really cared about family wealth. Okay, let me rephrase that. The kids at my school were heirs to the wealthiest fortunes in Korea that so many of them were so used to it that they couldn't be bothered to think about money. I mean, there were some losers who snubbed him but the fact that he was hot, smart and athletic, made the horny girls forget that he couldn’t buy them a Mercedes at the mere thought of it.
For a while, my lack of attraction to him really bothered me. There was a hot, awesome guy who wanted me and I felt absolutely nothing but brotherly love towards him. Was it because I was a lesbian? But then I thought about all the fleeting crushes I'd had and my never ending one on Kwon Sang Woo and decided (with Yun Ah) that I just wasn’t mentally ready for a relationship and that when I was, he’d be my first choice.
“Oppa,” a skinny, pretty girl with far too long hair called from the doorway. Whenever I saw her, I wondered if she was growing her hair just so that she could donate it to wig makers.
“Oh s.hit,” Yun Ah said underneath her breath.
I kicked her from under the table then turned around and waved the girl to our table. Soo Young was none other than Ki Won’s girl of the month. A kingka had his fair share of girls and my dear friend was no exception.
Soo Young didn’t return my smile. Instead, she ignored me and ran over and planted a big kiss on her man's cheek. After making sure that everyone around had seen her mark her territory, she sat next to him and rested her head on his shoulder. As usual, Ki Won looked uncomfortable and as usual, I squeezed his arm to reassure him that we didn’t mind the PDA. Did I fail to mention that every single girlfriend of his hated me? He made it clear to them that he was waiting for me to be ‘mentally ready for a relationship’ and although they all claimed to be alright with it at the start of their relationship, they detested me by the end of it. I was sure it had something to do with girls always thinking that they could change boys. Sadly, I was well aware of the fact that there was a growing group of girls that hated me so whenever I slipped or hurt myself in any way, Yun Ah joked that it was because those girls were playing with the voodoo doll they’d made in my likeness.
I was trying my best not to notice Soo Young running her hand through Ki Won’s hair when Yun Ah coughed and said, “Hey, your best friend just walked in.”
I looked at the doorway to see Ji Tae and his friends walk into the restaurant. Even with all the money that went into our school, our cafeteria food still sucked so practically no one stayed on campus for lunch.
Ki Won had suggested this hole in the wall because, other than the fact that the food was good, it was also cheap and well within his budget. And mine. So the first time Ji Tae walked into the place, it really pissed me off that an idiot who got chauffer-driven to school had the gall to walk into a place like it.
So on that day, as usual, I scowled at the sight of him. The four of us had only been hanging out for about a month by that time so the boys had yet to witness any of my run-ins with Him.
So there he was, acting all high and mighty and haggling with the poor ajumma who was just trying to make a living selling food to anyone, including spoilt brats with ridiculous trust funds.
He was arguing with the woman to get a discount for his large group of friends that I couldn’t keep my fury in any longer. “Look, if you think it’s too expensive, find another place,” I yelled.
From the side of my eye, I could see Ki Won shocked to see the sweet little girl he was crushing on screaming at some random twerp.
“Was I talking to you?” he asked calmly.
I stood up. “Dude, who aren’t you talking to? You’re screaming so loudly that you’re talking to everyone within a 1km radius!”
“Just sit down and mind your business,” he said, waving me off.
His dismissiveness only served to further piss me off. “Who the fcuk do you think you are?” I saw Ki Won’s eyes grow at the sound of the curse word escaping my lips. If I’d paid attention, I would probably have stopped to keep him from getting a concussion from opening his eyes so wide. But right then, I couldn't care less about what was going around me. What gave Him the audacity to try to trespass on our turf? It was bad enough that I sometimes ran into him at home and school but now I had to deal with him while I ate?
“Look, I wasn’t talking to you, okay?” he said.
“It doesn’t matter. She already told you how much everything costs. If you can’t pay, just get the hell out and leave the rest of us in peace! Get the fcuk out of here!” I screamed.
Something in my last sentence must have gotten to him because he screamed back and before we knew it, we were all standing outside the place with the ajumma waving a spoon and threatening to send us six feet under if we dared set our feet in her place again. Of course, we later apologized and became regular customers.
Since shouting matches were now banned, I couldn’t say anything to him even if I wanted to. He hadn’t been to our place in the past few weeks so everything had gone back to normal i.e. pretending the other didn’t exist. After all, a few dinners did not a friend make.
“So no comments today?” Yun Ah asked, looking at me thoughtfully. She was rubbing her fingers on her chin like a television detective.
I glanced at her. “About what?”
She pushed her head in his direction. “About him. You usually have something scathing to say whenever we run into him but you haven't said anything the last few times.”
I rolled my eyes. “What’s your point?” Why was she always trying to start something? I turned away from her and smiled at Ki Won who'd been watching our exchange with a bit too much interest. “Have you placed my order?”