"I'm glad that you're back," Mr. Oh said as soon as I was seated in his office. "How's your family doing?"
"We are doing well, Sir. Thank you for asking." We'd just finished our biweekly meeting at SGH Industries and just as I was about to leave, one of his employees informed me that I'd been summoned by the CEO.
"We are still pleased with the work your company is doing so that is not what this meeting is about."
"Okay," I said, nodding. Even though he was nice to me, I still hadn't managed to feel comfortable during our one-on-one meetings.
He pulled out one of his desk drawers and retrieved an envelope. "My family has an annual Christmas party and I'd love to have your family celebrate the holidays with us this year."
I took the large maroon envelope he handed to me. I wasn't quite sure if etiquette demanded that I accept his invitation or not. Plus I didn't even know if my father would want to attend the party because even though he claimed to be friends with both of my grandfathers, he was still a stranger to us.
As if he was reading my mind, he said, "This is the formal invitation and you'll need it to enter the compound but I shall call your father later this week to invite him personally."
After a few moments of silence passed, I assumed that our meeting had ended. "Thank you, Sir," I said, standing up.
"Hee Soo, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
Personal questions were never a good idea at work, especially when there were only two people in the room. "Uhm…."
"Right now, I ask this question not as a client but a friend of your grandfathers. I'm going to ask it as a grandfather. Is that alright with you?"
I took a deep breath in. "Okay."
"Are you single?"
"Er…," I hesitated. Either answer would invite further questions but did I really want to talk about my relationship status with an old man?
"Don't lie," he warned.
When in doubt, tell the truth. "Yes."
He shook his head in disbelief. "A beautiful girl like you shouldn't be single at your age."
I smiled. But was that an insult or a compliment? Did he soften the blow of calling me an old maid by calling me beautiful?
He rocked in his chair and looked directly at me. "You have to make sure you attend our party, okay? There are some people I'd like to introduce you to."
Great. Now I had to look forward to getting fixed up on Christmas day.
"Am I seeing things or are you leaving early?" Michelle asked as I walked past the reception desk.
I sighed. "The weather forecast says the rain is only going to get worse so I'm leaving now."
"Really? I didn't hear that. Well, lucky you. I have to stay here till 5:30."
"Sorry," I said sympathetically in a baby voice.
She laughed. "Stop rubbing it in. Drive safely," she said, waving me away.
I waved back at her then headed for the elevators. Yes, it was pouring outside and the weatherman had said that it could worsen but if I really wanted to be honest with myself, the real reason I was leaving early was because I wanted to catch Ji Tae before he left my house.
No, it wasn't because I had anything specific to say to him but it was already Friday and in the past week, every time I got home, instead of finding him typing away on his laptop, I found my father sitting on the couch, reading the evening paper. So tonight, I planned on catching him and asking him to stay for dinner.
Of course, what I'd feared had materialized – I'd gotten used to him. At least, when I got home, I got to see Jin Soo so I was able to readjust to seeing him less but with Ji Tae, it was like one minute he was there and the next minute he was gone. And the worst part was it had even begun to affect me physically. I noticed that my heartbeats seemed irregular when I got home to see what felt like an emptier house and for the first minute in the house, I was constantly trying to adjust my breathing. That wasn't normal, was it?
Twenty minutes later, I got out of my car and ran under the near-useless umbrella I'd received at a conference. I was walking towards the building and cursing myself for not throwing the umbrella away when I recognized the man running past me.
"Hey, Ji Tae," I yelled as I did a quick U-turn and followed him. I should have been ashamed at how much I felt my face light up when I realized that the man had been him but I wasn't.
He turned around. "Hey, how are you doing?" he yelled over the sounds of the rain and lighting.
I couldn't keep the grin off my face. He looked sort of cute with the rain beating him. "I'm fine." My heartbeats had never felt calmer. "What about you? Long time, no see."
He pointed to the sky and frowned. "I'm getting soaked here – let's talk later."
My heartbeats were no longer so regular but I hoped my smile masked my disappointment well. "Alright. I'll see you on Monday."
He shook his head. "Sorry. I already spoke to your father about this but I won't be able to come over next week. I better run before I drown. See you, Hee Soo."
"Hello, Oppa," I said as soon as I opened the door. I stepped aside so that Han Bi and his daughter could walk in.
He handed me a bag. "Here are her things. We'll be back to get her sometime in the evening."
I reached down and played with Eun Hye's hair. "You can leave her for as long as you like."
"You're a life saver," he said, squeezing my shoulder.
As I walked to the living room, I said, "Meeting the 'rents, huh? I hope you're very nervous."
"Thanks for that."
I turned around to find him frowning furiously at me. I pointed at him and laughed then he broke into a smile.
"Where's Yun Ah? Are you going to pick her up now?" I asked.
No, she didn't. "You mean she chose to wait in the car instead of coming up?"
He shrugged. "Why are you looking at me like that? You're the one in a fight with her."
Yun Ah looked up at me when she heard the knock on the car window. I gestured for her to wind down the window and she did.
I smirked at her. "You didn't come up?"
She rolled her eyes then looked away. "Why should I?"
"Come into the building." I hit the top of the car. "It's freezing out here."
She shook her head. "I have the heater on."
"So what? Do you want to kill his batteries? Just come up."
After getting into a staring match with me and losing, she reluctantly got out of the car and walked behind me.
I turned around when I stopped hearing her footsteps. She was standing near the entrance of the building. "Aren't you coming up?"
She shook her head. "Why should I? I haven't heard from you in like a month so why should I go to your house?" she challenged.
"Did you forget that you came over last week for Jin Soo's birthday?"
"That was different. Besides, you ignored me." She folded her arms and looked away dramatically.
"Like you ignored me when you started dating Han Bi Oppa?" I asked as I walked to her. "And I didn't ignore you. I said hello and you treated me like a stranger."
She spun her head around. "You walked out of my house without any notice. And I was letting you stay for free!"
"I paid the gas bill," I said feebly. She was right. Her mother had purchased a two bedroom apartment and when I needed a place to stay, she let me move into the other room.
She frowned. "Okay, you walked out and left me with the gas bill. Is that better?"
I pouted. "I'm sorry. I just needed to move in with my family – I think it was a good idea."
She unfolded her arms and let them fall. "Then you should have just told me instead of leaving after a fight."
"I know, but I guess I was just so tired of you acting all know-it-all on me. It was like you thought you were Yoda because you were in a mature relationship. And I almost never saw you alone because you were always with Han Bi." I sat on the red couch in front of the leasing office and she did the same and sat next to me.
"Well," she said in a low voice, "it might excite you to know that things aren't going that well with us."
I immediately turned to her. "What? And why would that excite me?"
"Because you were a little jealous?" she said matter-of-factly.
Jealous of her? Had she started hitting the pipe? "Why would I be jealous?"
"I just get that feeling… and you know how you have the whole 'Wanting What You Can't Have' syndrome--"
"No, I don't."
She shrugged. "Well, you have it sometimes. When a guy is interested in you, you lose interest but once he's no longer interested, you regret losing him. Isn't that what happened with Ki Won and Ji Tae?
I hissed. "That was high school. And after what happened with Ki Won did you forget the vow I made never to interfere with anyone's relationship? If a guy has a girlfriend, I back off. Or have you forgotten?"
Even though Ki Won said he'd forgiven me, he pretty much believed that he'd lost all chances with that girl because I'd interfered. And even though I barely remembered her these days, I always acknowledged that I could have been a much better friend in that situation and if I hadn't interfered, they might have ended up together. And even though they did date for a short while after we broke up, it was still obvious that my relationship with him hadn't helped matters. And what made it worse was that he'd lost that relationship to be in a pointless relationship with me and in the end, I found happiness with someone else while he was left alone. It was certainly the one thing I really regretted about our friendship and what I felt was the main reason we drifted apart in later years. It was definitely one of the things I didn't like to think about too often.
"And you know what, Yun Ah? I'm offended that you're bringing that crap up again. What about Seung Ri and Il Woo? And I even dated Il Woo for 2 years – nothing like that happened in our relationship."
She shrugged. "Okay, okay, sorry."
"Look, Han Bi is just an oppa, and even though I like him a lot, it's never really been anything but friendship between us. And when he got married, did you see me all upset?" I inhaled to stop my emotions from escalating. "The more I think about it, the angrier I get that you thought I was jealous of your happiness when that wasn't it at all. I just didn't like your attitude and the way our friendship changed."
She put her hands up in surrender. "Alright. I get it. And as I already said, my attitude might be changing back to what it used to be."
From her tone, I gathered that she wanted to tell me something so I decided to place the jealousy issue on the backburner. I shifted my body so that I was facing her directly. "Why will your attitude be changing?"
She tilted her head to one side and looked upwards. "I'm sick of playing mom. Everything about us has to include Eun Hye and I'm just sick of it."
I frowned. I just knew this sh.it would happen. "Didn't I warn you not to play games with him? You can't just go around fu.cking him up. You always knew he had a kid!"
"Relax," she whispered. "And I know that but that doesn't really change how I feel."
I shook my head in disgust. "You feel this way, yet he's going to meet your parents?"
She frowned. "Do you think this was my idea? My mother wants to meet him so they shall meet."
"And this playing mom thing is the only reason you don't want to be with him?"
She sighed. "I think we rushed into a serious relationship too quickly. Because he is a widower, I definitely tried to approach it from a different angle but I'll like to go on a date where I don't have to listen to babies cry or have to watch random kids running around."
I could see the frustration on her face. I rubbed her shoulder to show my support. "You're constantly babysitting? He never takes you anywhere alone?"
"Like for the first month but since then, I've been playing mom. I'm sick of this."
"Who was that?" I said as I walked into the living room. I'd heard the doorbell ring and as far as I knew, we weren't expecting anyone.
"Hey," Ji Tae said, looking up at me. He was sitting down on the couch closest to the door.
My settled heart became slightly unsettled. "What are you doing here? Isn't today Saturday?"
"Ajusshi is here to see me," Jin Soo informed me before sitting next to him with a big grin on his face.
"To see you?"
"Since I won't be able to hang out with Jin Soo anymore, we're hanging out today," he said as he placed his arm around him.
"Me too! Me too!" Eun Hye screamed as she stood up from her spot on the carpet and jumped up and down.
"But what do you mean you won't be able to hang out anymore? Aren't you coming back next year? When school resumes? I thought you just couldn't finish this school year? Appa said that you have a lot of work piled up but will it still be piled up next year?" I asked at rapid pace. I was surprised that I hadn't tripped over any of my words.
He shrugged. "I don't know. Jin Soo," he said, tapping his knee, "go and get your coat so that we can go out. You, too, Eun Hye."
My unsettled heart started picked up its pace. "You're already leaving?" How could he leave so soon? Were Appa and I chopped liver?
He arched his brow. "Yeah…."
"You're going out?" I croaked. My quick heartbeats had begun to affect my throat.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
I nodded as I fanned myself with my hand. "I'm fine. Why?" There was no way I didn't look like a complete idiot.
And he obviously agreed because he said, "You're acting like you lost a few brain cells or something."
"Ajusshi, I'm ready!" the great Jin Soo said, thus saving me from having to respond.
"Sweetie, Noona is going to be all alone. Do you really want to go and leave me here?"
He turned around and nodded.
Jeez. Why couldn't the kid take a hint?
"Eun Hye, are you ready?" Ji Tae asked as he got off the couch.
I could see her struggling with her huge jacket so I walked over and helped her put it on. It was obvious that the poor girl really needed a mother in her life because only a father could buy such an ugly coat.
"So what do you guys want to do?" Ji Tae asked the two kids holding his hands.
"I want ice cream!" Jin Soo said.
"Me too!" yelled Eun Hye.
"It's cold outside, Jin Soo. Why would you want ice cream? Get something else," I advised.
Ji Tae glanced at me then at them. "Your noona needs to stop interfering. Since we're celebrating, you can have whatever you want, Jin Soo. We don't do this everyday."
He turned around and I watched them walk through the door and shut it behind them.
"Wait for me!" I yelled a few seconds later as I pulled my jacket off the coat rack. Where the hell were my shoes?
"If you were going to get low fat frozen vanilla yogurt, why did you even bother? You should just have asked for a cone of ice."
"You are so hilarious," I said dryly. "If you must know, I weighed myself this morning and I've gained almost two pounds since last month. All that sitting around the house doing nothing was obviously not a good idea. I should have gone to the gym. All these years we've been living in that building and I still haven't been to the ninth floor," I mused.
"Not true. I'm sure you've been there at least once."
I groaned. "I was exaggerating. Can you please let me rant about gaining weight?"
He shook his head. "No."
"It doesn't show. And it's kind of annoying to hear you talk about your weight – it's like you're not you when you do it."
I scoffed. "I thought you'd long since realized that I'm not the girl you used to know. When people get older, their metabolism slows…. Hey, Jin Soo," I yelled as I ran a few feet ahead to catch up with him. "That's not the way. The store is on the next street so keep going this way," I said, pointing ahead.
Jin Soo looked down and took his friend's hand. "Eun Hye yah, it's this way," he said as he led the way.
I smiled and kept smiling till Ji Tae caught up with me. "Didn't I tell you that they were the cutest thing?" I twisted my face as I considered the situation. "But I don't want them to get too close though."
"Why not?" he asked even though it was obvious he really wasn't that interested in the topic.
"Because I don't want her to be the dongseng that stalks her oppa even though he only ever thinks of her as a sister. There needs to be some tension to keep things interesting. Hmm," I said as I tapped my lip in thought, "maybe I shouldn't let them spend so much time together. How will he ever find her beautiful if he gets so used to her looks?"
"So you believe that tension is required to make a relationship work?"
He shook his head. "Well, that's rubbish. Besides, do you realize you're talking about an 8 and 5 year old?"
"My point is that you're getting ahead of yourself and you shouldn't be getting involved in a 5 year-old's romantic life."
I really shouldn't have mentioned it to him. "You have no imagination."
He chuckled then I looked over at him and did the same. I'd only been with him for a few hours and I already felt like my old self again. Regardless of how much I wanted to pretend, I couldn't deny that he had an effect on me. How did it make sense to only feel most comfortable when you were with a specific person? It was darn right sick.
As we walked in silence, I couldn't help but think that it was a good thing that he had a girlfriend and was off limits. It meant that I couldn't see him much so I'd have to condition myself to feeling great even when he wasn't around. And it also meant that he'd stop having such an effect on me because the person that made you feel great also had the power to make you feel awful and there was no way my heart could survive getting broken again. Not that I'd every put myself in that position again. So yeah, it was a good thing. It just had to be.
"Are you okay?" he asked when we were about to enter the store.
I nodded. "I think so." It was no big deal. A week apart after four weeks together. The mourning period of our 'relationship' wasn't up yet so it only made sense that I'd yet to get over the loss.
"Hee Soo?" a voice I barely recognized wondered.
We were at a departmental store watching the kids try on clothes.
I turned in the direction of the sound. "Sang Woo ssi?" I stood up and smiled at him.
He looked me over and beamed.
I smiled back at him. Why did this guy always look so damn good?
"Long time," he said after a few seconds. He looked at Ji Tae and the kids. "Your husband?"
I laughed out loud. "Yes, in a few months, I got married and had these two grown kids. This is Ji Tae, my friend, and that's Jin Soo, my brother, and Eun Hye, my almost niece," I said as I pointed everyone out to him.
After we were through with the introductions, we made the usual small talk about the weather and some Australian news.
"So we should get together some time and catch up," he suggested when we'd run out of things to say.
"Yeah, that sounds good."
He nodded enthusiastically. "Great. Is it the same number?"
"Good. So I'll call you soon."
"Great. I'll be waiting." The constant smiling was beginning to hurt my cheeks.
"'You'll be waiting?'" Ji Tae repeated when Sang Woo was no longer within earshot.
"Jin Soo, try this on," I said, handing him a pair of pants. "I just said that to be polite," I replied Ji Tae. After Jin Soo had taken the pants from me, I turned to Ji Tae. "Since he hasn't called in such a long time, I doubt he'd be calling now. So don't worry," I said, smirking.
"Don't worry? Why would I worry? Shouldn't you tell that to the guy taking pity on you?"
"Very funny… but didn't I tell you? He's no longer taking pity on me," I said slowly. I tried not to look but I was a little interested in seeing his reaction.
"Meaning?" he said, looking away to brush something invisible off his knee.
"Meaning that we broke it off –not that there was ever anything to break."