"Ajusshi, have you been to France?" Jin Soo suddenly asked Ji Tae.
I glanced over at Jin Soo who was sitting at the other end of the room waiting patiently for a response. The three of us had been sitting in the study working silently. I'd discovered that I could avoid being scolded by my boss for working during my vacation if I simply downloaded the necessary files from my work server to my laptop and just worked from there.
Ji Tae looked up from his computer. "Yes, I've been to France. Why are you asking?"
"I have to write a report about France. I know Noona hasn't been to France…"
"But I can speak French," I interrupted. "Je m'appelle Kim Hee Soo. Comment t'allez vous? Bien merci. Si tu quelque chose, blah, blah, blah, quelque chose, blah," I said, showing off two years' worth of college-level French.
Ji Tae nodded exaggeratedly. "Yeah, that really sounded like French. Jin Soo, it looks like your noona might know more about France than I do. I only spent a few days in Paris when I was in Europe."
I saved what I was working on and turned to him. "You backpacked across Europe?" Backpacking across Europe had been a college fantasy I had that my parents never allowed to come true. In fact, after a while, the word 'backpack' had become so blacklisted in my house that an actual backpack had to be referred to as 'that thing.' "So what was it like?" I asked with a voice dripping with envy.
He shook his head. "I didn't really backpack. I just went to UCL for a semester on the study abroad program so while I was in London, I visited other countries in Europe."
"Really?" I hissed. It really was amazing how little I knew about his life outside of Korea. "Where else did you go?"
He took his hand off his mouse and turned to me. "Well, I also went to Germany but just for the weekend. We went to Milan and Rome during the Easter break and we were supposed to go to the South of France but we couldn't make it but we managed to go to Spain which was great since we still got to have the whole coastal beach experience."
We? Who the hell was 'we'?
"I've been to the beach too!" Jin Soo exclaimed.
Ji Tae turned to him. "Really? When?"
"We went to Jeju on a family trip a few years ago," I answered for him.
Still looking at him, Ji Tae said, "Great. Did you like it?"
Jin Soo nodded then stood up and walked out of the room.
"So," I said, getting Ji Tae to turn back to me. I wasn't yet done with The Great Adventures of Park Ji Tae. "Where in Spain did you go? I'm surprised you weren't used in a bullfight," I teased. "Did you run when they raised their little red cloth thing?"
"Very funny. Spain was great. We didn't go to the big cities like Madrid or Barcelona but to this place on the shore called Malaga. Then from there, we took a 2-hour ship to Morocco."
My mouth flung open. What the fuc.k? How was that fair? "Please, please tell me you didn't go to Casablanca."
He laughed. "I could tell you that but that wouldn't make it true."
I frowned. "Was it as magical as I am sure it is?"
"It was nice, but it's really just like any big city. If you want to have a more authentic Moroccan feel of a big city, I'd say you should go to Marrakech."
I had to bite my lip to keep from cracking up. For some reason, the image of a turbaned Ji Tae riding a horse like a character in one of the Mummy movies popped into my head. I had to take a few seconds to settle myself so that I could speak again. "Eh, so did you get to ride a camel?"
He was still talking when Jin Soo walked over to him and dropped an open album on his lap. "Ajusshi, look at me on the beach."
I sighed. There was no way our little Jeju trip could compare to sun tanning with tourist Spaniards in Tangiers so I let the boys have their little bonding moment and went back to my work.
"Is that your Noona?" Ji Tae exclaimed a few minutes later. "What's wrong with her hair?"
What the hell? I quickly scooted over so that I could see the picture in question. I rolled my eyes. "Hello? Can't you see that it was windy? Why didn't you ask what was wrong with my t-shirt?"
He chuckled. "But that doesn't change the fact that you look like a madwoman, does it?"
I wanted to say something snarky but I couldn't help but chuckle because I really did look like I'd just broken out of a maximum security asylum. So instead, I turned my nose up and said, "Don't be a hater, Ji Tae. It was the in look that year. You need to read Cosmo more often."
When we were through with that album, we moved on to others. And in doing that, we relocated from the study to the living room with me sitting on a couch and Ji Tae and Jin Soo sitting on the carpet with numerous albums littered around them.
It's funny how you don't realize how happy your family really looks till you share your memories with an outsider. It was great seeing how Mi Soo had evolved over the years from an annoying flat chested girl to a beautiful young woman. And even though my father's hair seemed to acquire more and more white hair with every photo, the lines in his face had barely deepened in the last ten years. He really did take after City Halmoni in that respect.
But my mother smiling, frowning, surprised, angry or whatever emotion was captured on her face at various moments nearly brought tears to my eyes. In fact, I had to fight to keep myself from getting choked up because I didn't want to dampen the bright mood. But I couldn't deny that I missed her tremendously. I even stole the candid photo that had been taken of her while she was making kimchi. In it, she had one gloved hand on her forehead wiping sweat off and an expression that showed that she'd murder who ever was behind the camera lens. She looked so mad in the photo but obviously really wasn't because she'd put the photo in the album. I could never get over how every single thing she did expressed her love for us.
So instead of studying and doing our work, Jin Soo and I shared our memories with Ji Tae who seemed very glad to go on our journey with us.
We were looking at my college graduation photos when Ji Tae commented on how I looked.
I rolled my eyes. "What's so great about a cap and gown? You can't see any shape or anything."
He looked up at me. "It's not about your figure. It's about how happy and satisfied you look. Like you're proud of your accomplishments."
I smirked. What was so special about a degree? These days you could even buy one online. "So it's not even about how I look physically but some mental thing?" Boo-to-the-triple-Hoo.
He chuckled. "No, it's also about how you look. You look pretty."
Who needed a pity compliment? "Whatever," I said.
"Jin Soo, doesn't your sister look pretty?"
He nodded. "Yes. Noona looks pretty. Noona always looks pretty."
Ji Tae looked directly at me from the corner of his eye. "See? You always look pretty." He looked back at the album. "But why do you need to hear us say that? There's no way you don't know that I think you're pretty."
Just as the blood started rushing to my cheeks, I heard my cell phone ring.
"Hey, Hyun Su ssi," I said into the phone receiver. "What's up?" I jumped on my bed and stretched out.
"Hi. What are you doing?"
Blushing. My cheeks were still hot. What was wrong with me? It wasn't the first time a guy had told me that I was pretty so why was I acting like I'd just swallowed a nuclear reactor? "I'm just at home relaxing."
He moaned. "I'm so jealous. Enjoy it because in about two weeks, you'll be joining the rest of us working drones."
I groaned. "Yeah, I know. Don't remind me. I wasn't exactly pleased about being forced to stay home but now I kind of like it. I wonder if they'll let me work from home or something."
He chuckled. "Dream on."
We fell into silence for a few moments before he asked me what I was doing that weekend.
"The usual nothing. What about you?"
"Well, I was thinking about having a low-key weekend so maybe we can just rent some movies and stay in?"
"That would have been a good idea if I wasn't living at home. But do you really want to come over and watch a movie with Jin Soo and my father?"
"You could always come over to my place. Besides, what's so wrong with watching a movie with your father?"
I didn't really have a response for that. It wasn't that my father didn't like him but the first impression had been made on that fateful day at the hospital so although my father didn't really have any negative feelings towards him, it still wasn't great although he was glad that I'd had his shoulder to lean in the past weeks. And even though Hyun Su had spoken to him at the funeral and they'd been courteous, it was obvious that a more pleasant atmosphere would have been created if I'd had the opportunity to introduce them under better circumstances, instead of my father meeting him as the random guy I'd been having 'fun' with. But he wasn't really supposed to be random, right?
"Hyun Su, I've been wondering something," I said as I rolled over to my side. Even though my door was shut, I lowered my voice. "What exactly are we?"
"What do you mean?"
"Are we friends, are we dating, are we a couple?" I enjoyed hanging out with him but I wasn't even sure there was anything between us. If my mother hadn't died, would we still be hanging out? He didn't say anything and the silence got more and more pregnant with every ticking second. "Hyun Su ssi, are you still there?"
"I'm here." He sighed. "Hee Soo yah, I guess I thought it was clear that we were dating so I really don't know how to answer you. Are you dating other guys?"
"No." I just knew he'd misunderstand me because I'd have done the same in his shoes. "The truth is, I'm not even sure I'm really dating anyone right now. I feel like we were dating before my mother's passing but now I'm not sure. I do feel guilty that just because we were dating, you had to be there for me in a way that our relationship didn't really warrant. Do you understand what I mean?"
"Not really. You didn't want me around?"
I sighed. "No, that's not what I'm saying. I just feel that circumstances pushed us together and we had no choice but to go with the flow. So now I'm not quite sure what our relationship is." Plus I wasn't even sure we were friends. We hung out together. We smiled and joked and were very nice to one another. But were we really friends? What did I really know about him? And what did he really know about me?
"Hee Soo, I just thought that we should take things slow because of what happened in your life but was I mistaken?"
After a long pause he said, "Are you saying that you want to end things?"
I coughed even though there was nothing in my throat. "I'm saying that I'm not even sure that there's really anything to end."
"I'm getting a little annoyed here," he said as an edge developed in his voice. "Was there some kind of miscommunication? I thought we were dating but apparently I was wrong. I thought I was waiting for you but…." Instead of completing his sentence, he ended it with a sigh.
"I don't mean to offend you but it's just that I don't want you to waste your time with me. You've been waiting for me but what if there's nothing to wait for? Maybe you should date other people as well – not just me."
There was no way I wouldn't feel even guiltier if it turned out that my mother's death was the only reason we still hung out.
"Are you saying all this because you've met someone else?"
ARGH! The fact that I couldn't really blame him for this line of thinking didn't make it any less frustrating. "No. Why do you keep saying that? I just don't want you to put your life on hold for me."
He sighed. "I feel like we are going around in circles here. I like you and I think that if not for the tragedy in your life, we'd be much closer now. I thought we were doing well beforehand, so I'm willing to wait. But if you want to stop seeing me, just say that instead of making excuses."
I sighed. "I'm really not making excuses."
After another long pause he said, "Well, I guess my own question is: do you want to keep seeing me? Since you seem to be so unsure about everything."
Did I want to keep seeing him? What if I was about to let go of a nice guy just because I felt guilty about forcing him to be in a relationship with me? If he was okay with it, then why should I have a problem with it? Besides, it wasn't like I'd met anyone better. I hit my forehead. What was wrong with me? It was a simple question: did I want to keep seeing him or not? I really missed the days of just dating a guy and slowly falling for him. Why did my life have to get so damn complicated?
"Hee Soo, are you still there?" he asked softly.
"Yes, I'm here."
"So what do you say?"
I hit my head some more, hoping to wake my brain up but no such luck. I took a deep breath in. "Hyun Su ssi, please, don't be mad but could you give me some time to think about it?"