"Gosh, how annoying is it that we have to come over and inspect this place all the time? We are not contractors for God's sake!"
I laughed. Ah Ran and I joined the company at the same time had become friends back then. There was something about our shared experience that made us connect and want to support one another when we could. Fast forward to a few years later and despite the fact that I'd been promoted ahead of her, we still maintained a friendly relationship at work.
She rubbed her tummy. "Do you want to ditch? Why should we even stress about this? Just copy and paste last month's report."
I rolled my eyes. "I didn't write last month's report."
"But you sent us pages and pages of notes and trust me, even though you didn't technically write the report, it was pretty much a copy and paste job on our part." She looked around and assessed the construction. "From what I see, not much has changed –the same pile of bricks, same workers, same design, same everything. Why am I even here?" she whined.
I laughed. "We'll copy and paste next time. They'll soon be taking a break for the holidays so I'm sure there won't be much to write about next month." After taking notes for about 10 minutes, we waved goodbye to the construction workers and got off the site.
"So where do you want to go for lunch?" she asked as we walked towards her car. It was way past noon but the furthest thing from my mind was hunger. That wasn't because I'd had a huge breakfast, which I had, but because I was standing only a few meters from Park Ji Tae's office building.
I twisted the brown door's doorknob and walked in. "Hi," I shouted to get the attention of the guy working on a desktop. It was a small office with a few computers and a good number of cartons piled up against a wall.
"Hello," a short guy with low cropped hair said as he stood up to receive me. "May I help you with something?" From the confused expression on his face, it was pretty clear that they rarely received any visitors which was made even more obvious by their lack of any real décor.
"Is this Park Ji Tae's office?" I asked him.
Armed with that information, I took another look around the room. So this was where he worked everyday. I couldn't quite remember what I'd imagined but this wasn't it. "Is he here?"
The short guy looked up to glance at the wall clock. "Do you have an appointment?"
"Oh," I said, instantly embarrassed. It was his workplace, after all. "I'm just a friend. I was in the neighborhood and just wanted to drop by and say hello. I guess this a personal call."
"Gosh. Is this guy better-looking than I think? How come he's the only one women ever come looking for?" asked the baffled other room occupant, who from what I could see was quite scrawny. Even though he had his baseball cap pushed so far onto his face that it was almost covering all his features, I could still tell that he wasn't cute, which made sense because a cute guy would know better than to make such a daft comment in front of a stranger.
I looked away from the uncute guy then smiled at the short one.
"Please, ignore him," he said. "He really doesn't know how to act in public. I'm Cha Min Gi, by the way. And that idiot is Chan Ho."
I bowed slightly. "I'm Kim Hee Soo. It's nice—" Before I finished my sentence, I heard the sound of the door opening behind me. I stepped aside and turned around, expecting to see Ji Tae walk in but instead, I found myself staring at Ms. Roger Rabbit.
"Two woman-friends on one day," the prick sitting behind me commented.
"Unnie! What are you doing here?" Tae Hee asked as she walked further into the room and dropped the pizza box she was holding on Min Gi's desk. "I brought lunch for you guys," she told them. "I hope pepperoni is okay."
Chan Ho quickly got up and ran to the box. "Yeah, pepperoni is good," he said a second later with a half stuffed mouth.
"So, Unnie," she said, standing with one fist on her hip, "what are you doing here?"
"Work." I told her about the building we were working on.
She knitted her eyebrows. "I thought you were an architect. Are you also helping to build it? Haven't you already finished the design?"
"Yeah, but we still have to make sure that everything's being done according to our plans and also make any necessary changes to our existing design."
"Sounds like fun," she said in a bored tone. Then she turned to Min Gi. "Oppa, how are you doing? Is Ji Tae Oppa around?"
"He's in the restroom. He should be back in any minute," he said before sitting back down. He shut the pizza box then lifted it and felt under it. "Tae Hee yah, you're learning. This one is still warm."
How often did she stop by his office? Didn't she know that men didn't like to be smoldered?
"Whatever. Hey, do you guys want to know how Oppa knows Unnie?" she asked them as she pointed at me. "They were neighbors and she ended up dumping the hottest guy in school for him. Isn't that so cute?"
Min Gi immediately looked at me then mouthed an 'O.'
I tried my best not to roll my eyes but failed. Why did the Rabi.tch even think that was necessary information to share? Was that what I had to deal with every time I saw her? I wanted to say something but I held it in because I'd made a promise to her blind boyfriend. But if she kept it up....
"So you mean to say that Hyung has been this way since high school? Tae Hee yah, what do you women see in him? Because he's really not that special to me."
Before she could tell him, Ji Tae walked in through the door. "Tae Hee, what are you doing…" he started to say before he noticed me. "Hee Soo?"
I ignored Chan Ho's laughter and waved feebly at him. "Hi. I was in the neighborhood…."
There was a weird expression on his face but I couldn't quite place it. I wasn't sure if he was confused or just surprised by my unexpected visit. "How's construction going?" he asked like it was the only thing he could think of saying.
"Great…" I tried my best not to blush from embarrassment which was so hard to do with four pairs of eyes boring into me.
After standing in silence for a few moments and not knowing what to do or say next, I turned to smile at Min Gi.
"Well," Tae Hee said, walking to Ji Tae. "I came to get him for lunch so Oppa, whenever you're ready...."
He looked at her then at me. "Uhm…."
I laughed nervously. "I was only stopping by…."
"Yeah, but it's lunchtime," Tae Hee said in an unexpectedly sweet voice. "If you wish, you can stay and eat some pizza if Chan Ho Oppa doesn't eat it all," she said, looking at him affectionately, "or you can come and hang out with us. We'll love the company."
Stay and eat lunch with two strangers or have lunch with a couple that included Ji Tae? If starving was the only other option, I would have gladly accepted it. "Thanks, Tae Hee, but I should head back to work. Ji Tae, I'll see you later," I said as I turned around and walked out of the office. It sure did serve me right for not really believing it when he told me that hanging out with Jin Soo had nothing to do with me. Now he'd moved on, he'd obviously forgotten about me so why couldn't I forget him?
In the past, most of our Christmas days began with us waking up early to open presents then going back to bed. A few hours later, we'd later arise from our beds to a home filled with the smell of Christmas cooking and the sound of my mother's favorite Christmas album. But this year was different. This year, all four of us woke up and went to the living room to open presents. Jin Soo was the only one who received any real presents and it was weird that although we hadn't made any verbal agreements, none of the three of us had really put any effort into our Christmas shopping as I received two bottles of perfume, my father received two ties and Mi Soo received a mug and a diary.
The second different thing was that after opening presents, instead of going back to bed, we all got ready for church. Church! For some reason, on this Christmas day, we'd all silently agreed to go to the place that had been a source of arguments during our childhood before disappearing from our weekly routine.
The ride to church was somber despite our attempts to appear cheerful for Jin Soo, and singing carols in church didn't help much because while we were supposedly celebrating the life of Jesus, all I could think about was how I'd grudgingly agreed to fly home to spend the holidays with my family the previous year and how hindsight was 20/20 because I'd have definitely cherished it more if I'd realized that it would be my last with my mother.
The third different thing was that instead of staying home and enjoying our huge Christmas dinner, we were going to spend the day with a stranger. I couldn't be sure if it had purposely been done but I was grateful that at least for that year, I didn't have to prepare the celebratory dinner because there was no point pretending I was someone that I couldn't be. Nevertheless, the entire morning boiled down to one simple fact: I missed my mom.
"Yes, after getting my MBA from Harvard, I started working at the company," Jun Hyuk, Mr. Oh's fourth oldest grandson said to me.
"Cool," I said, hoping that my voice sounded as bored as I felt. When his grandfather had initially introduced us, even though I really wasn't interested in getting hooked up, I was intrigued by his cute face. But five minutes into spending time with him, I couldn't help but wonder why that cute face couldn't have been given to someone with a matching personality. Jeez. What a waste. Why couldn't more guys be like Ji Tae?
"You know Harvard University in the United States of America, don't you?"
I sighed. I nodded. Yes, I knew Harvard University. Yes, I knew about Beverly Hills. Yes, I'd heard of Armani.
"Harvard is in Boston. It's a very prestigious school."
I rolled my eyes. "Do you want to give me a prospectus?"
He laughed. "You're funny. So you must know how difficult it is to get in."
Yeah, I knew that too. But from what I could see, donating a few million dollars to their endowment fund had to be the reason he'd been let onto the campus.
"Anyway, I spent two years there. It was good but I also got to do what I love most," he said enthusiastically.
"Nice." How annoying was it that I didn't really know anyone else at the party? The rest of my family was talking to the CEO and his wife so I knew that I couldn't excuse myself to join them without fielding questions about the moron in front of me.
"Yeah, hip hop is my life," he continued. "It's really about the soul, you know?"
"That's the problem with our society, because I was born into this family, I am expected to act a certain way and do certain things and in the course of being who I am supposed to be, my creativity gets stifled. If your father is a musician, do you have to become one too?"
I took a sip of my Long Island Iced Tea and tried to find an interesting painting to stare at. When I realized that he was waiting for a reply, I shook my head.
"Exactly. But it's not like that with business. If your father owns a company, you're expected to work there. Life can be so unfair. So it's good that I could find an outlet for my creativity. Do you know that I released an album?"
"Really?" I stifled a real yawn and tried to find someone standing alone to run to but everyone seemed to be engaged in what looked like riveting conversations.
He went on and on about rap music and how the kpop artists were all fakers and I stood there and listened to it all but when he asked if he could perform one of his songs for me, I suddenly remembered that I needed to find the restroom.
I walked out of their ballroom and down the hall. The house was gigantic with marble floors and stone pillars everywhere. If the architect had worked on commission, there was no way he could have walked out of the deal with anything less than 1 billion Won.
The restroom was another exercise in opulence with more marble, Hermès hand towels and what, if I didn't know better, I would have guessed was real gold soap. I looked through the medicine cabinets and after sampling all their luxury toiletries, I opened the door.
The second I walked out, I spotted Jun Hyuk looking for someone I assumed was me so I quickly popped back into the restroom and locked the door.
Since it was obvious that I'd be spending a little more time in the wonderfully scented bathroom, I decided to make all my Christmas calls. I'd called quite a few people in my phonebook when I got to Ji Tae's name.
I cleared my nose. Should I skip or call him? But why wouldn't I call him, though? I was just wishing everyone on my list a Merry Christmas. It would be no different calling him… even though, I'd spent far too many minutes talking myself out of calling him the previous day. And the day before. A friend is not a stalker so why did I think about calling him all the time? Plus it didn't help that he never sounded that excited to hear my voice. I took another deep breath in and dialed the number.
"Merry Christmas!" That was normal. That sounded normal, right?
"Merry Christmas to you too," he said in an unusually cheerful voice.
I exhaled. He didn't sound bothered by my call. Yep, I'd done the right thing. "Thanks. I was just doing my rounds and calling everyone in my phone book to wish them a Merry Christmas."
"That makes me feel so special."
I giggled. Argh. Why did I giggle? Why did I insist on sounding like an airhead?
"But at least you didn't send out one of those mass text messages," he finished.
"Yeah. Eun Jung Unnie sent one of those. I had to call to scold her. How has your day been so far?"
Was it just me or did his voice get more masculine overnight?"
"We're just relaxing with my dad and his family. I'd forgotten how hilarious my grandfather can be. It's definitely good to get out of the city once in a while."
He'd gone away with some other people? "We?"
"Who is 'we'?"
He paused for a few moments. "Does it matter?" he finally asked.
Wouldn't that depend on who 'we' was? "So who did you take with you?"
He laughed. "Why are you so curious about this? It's none of your business. Forget about it."
I groaned. Why was he being so annoying? "Are you honestly not going to tell me?"
"Why should I?"
I knocked my head a few times in frustration. "Forget it, then."
He laughed for much longer the second time around. "Moving on… how has your day been?"
"It's going well but I didn't think I'd miss Umma so much today. I just wish I could hold her and wish her a Merry Christmas."
"But I'm sure you can still tell her."
I chuckled. Was he telling me the same thing I'd told Jin Soo? It was funny how there were billions of people on our planet with many of them being geniuses but no one had quite figured out with complete certainty what happened once we died… and death was the only thing every single human was sure they'd experience.
"How's the rest of the family? Abonim, Mi Soo, Jin Soo?"
"Great. Appa got Jin Soo like a million video games so he's pretty much been on cloud nine the whole day."
We talked about Jin Soo's tendency to seem happy one moment then sad the next. Then he asked me about Mr. Oh's place. After describing the sheer vastness, I said, "I'm glad he invited us over but I wonder if it had anything to do with our family tragedy." I really didn't want anyone pitying me because of my mother's death.
"But he already introduced himself when you first started working with his company. And that was before your mom's passing."
"I know. But still... everyone else here is either related to him by marriage or blood. Do we really have any business being here?"
He heaved a sigh. "You really need to get over thinking that the only reason anyone's kind to you is because you lost your mom. You're acting like it's your first experience with kindness. You suspected that other guy and now you're suspecting Mr. Oh."
"Yeah, but it's not entirely unfounded. The only reason you're in my life is because my mother passed."
I stopped listening when I heard the sound of someone knocking at the bathroom door.
"Who is it?"
"Unnie, is that you?" Mi Soo asked.
"Everyone is wondering where you are. Get off the phone and come out. You can just hide in the restroom. It's your fault that we're all here in the first place."
She could hear me? Instead of spending so much money on designer towels, shouldn't they have invested a bit more in soundproofing the place?
"Oppa, it looks like I have to get off the phone now."
He sounded like he wouldn't care either way and that stung a little. When had he become so blasé about me?
"Oppa, I think we should get together sometime and really talk."
I shrugged. "About anything. Sometimes I feel that you don't really share yourself with me. I will never forget what you told me about not being there for you during your parents' divorce and you're so involved in my family that it seems unfair for us to not reciprocate. I really want to know more about you and what's going on in your life."
"Don't just say that. I don't know, over the time you spent at my house, I guess I feel that we really developed a friendship and I don't want it to end just because you're busy, you know? We should at least keep in touch. It certainly doesn't help that all I hear from Jin Soo is 'Ajusshi this' and 'Ajusshi that.' It's gotten really annoying and old."
He laughed. "So what are you saying?"
"I'm saying that we should retain our friendship. I know you're involved with Tae Hee and I'm happy for you but I think we should still be friends. Or you disagree?" When he didn't say anything, I continued. "How can I see you for several hours for almost everyday and then forget you because you're gone? That kind of thing is hard on a girl," I joked.
ARGH! What was with all the one word, unemotional responses? "Well, what I'm saying is that you shouldn't be a stranger. Let's keep in touch and share our lives. We have history and I think we can't just throw all that away."
"You've said a lot without saying what you really want to say. What exactly are you saying?"
"I'm saying…."… That I think about you way too much. And that I miss having you around. Like crazy. "…that we should become friends. Like real friends."
"Okay, okay, look at the guy that just walked in," Eun Jung Unnie said.
Yun Ah and I turned our heads to do as we'd been ordered. The man in question looked around our age and was dressed in a corporate suit. I couldn't really tell what his body was like because suits had this way of hiding even the worst flaws. But he did have broad shoulders and a cute face. I wished he could turn around so that I could try to assess his behind but he didn't oblige me.
"Hee Soo yah, let me introduce you," she said.
I rolled my eyes. The three of us had decided to have a girls' night out and after over twenty minutes of arguing, we'd ended up at a club. "Unnie, I'm not interested."
"How can you not be interested? Can't you see how hot that guy is? Are you some kind of female eunuch or something?" she asked, tapping my hand furiously.
"Ouch, that hurts," I said, retrieving my arm. "If you like him so much, why don't you go and introduce yourself?"
"Because I have a man I luuurve, thank you very much. All I can do is look while you can go and sample the goods, then wait for you to come back and tell us all about it. If you don't have enough common sense to get into a relationship with Hyun Su, you have to get it on with as many hot guys as you can so that Yun Ah and I can live vicariously through you."
I scowled at her. "Oh, I see. While I'm out there getting a reputation, the both of you will be getting rings on your fingers, right?"
She nodded. "Yeah, it sounds about fair."
I rolled my eyes.
When she was done laughing, she said, "Speaking of marriage, guess who will be tying the knot soon?
"Who?" Yun Ah and I asked in unison.
"Your ex boyfriend!" she said gleefully.
"Hyun Su?" I asked, taking a sip of my drink.
She frowned. "Not him. I'm talking about high school love here," she said, moving her eyebrows up and down impishly.
My sip of my Bailey's went down the wrong pipe so I had to hit my chest repeatedly and keep coughing, while Yun Ah hit my back to help me out. When I was back to normal, I muttered the only word I could manage. "What?" Married?
"Are you sure you're okay?" Unnie asked worriedly.
I nodded. But who gave a sh.it about what was going on in my windpipes when my heart had pretty much stopped? There was no way Ji Tae was getting married. No way. That just didn't sound right. Ji Tae wasn't getting married. He couldn't be getting married. No. Non. Nien. Nehi.
Yun Ah glanced at me then looked back at Eun Jung. "Are you sure he's getting married?"
She ran her fingers over her the rim of her glass. "I'm pretty sure."
Of course she was sure. Tae Hee was her cousin. I tried to calm myself but my heart had suddenly begun to beat of out control. I could even feel moisture forming in my eyes. What the hell was wrong with me? Why was I suddenly acting like a crazed woman? Sh.it. What the fu.ck was wrong with the world? Why did it suddenly feel like the earth was spinning out of control?
"But they've only be dating for a short while," Yun Ah protested. "I think you're wrong. There's no way he can be getting married so soon!" She hit the table with her fist.
"Yun Ah, chill. And what are you on about? They've been together for years."
I bent my head over and tried to think. Ji Tae was getting married? What the fu.ck? I was so confused that I just couldn't think straight. It was impossible.
"Hey, Hee Soo yah, are you okay?" Eun Jung touched my arm tenderly.
I looked up at her and from the look on her face, it was clear that she regretted sharing the news. I scratched my head. "They've been together for years?"
She nodded slowly. "That's what I read online."
For the first time in a few minutes, I sat up straight. "Online? Do you mean MSN?"
She shut her eyes and shook her head. "I feel like at least one of us is speaking Greek. Not on MSN. I read it on a board. It mentioned that some actress was getting married to an engineer named Yong Ki Won. Maybe it's a different Ki Won."
Yun Ah let out an audible sigh of relief. "Is that what you call news? They've been engaged for months. We attended their engagement party a few months ago."
I sighed and allowed myself to enjoy the calm that was washing over me. "Unnie, I am sure I even told you about it." Holy cow! What gave her the right to scare us like that?
"No, you didn't tell me! And why didn't you invite me to their party? Why do you keep hiding things from me? Gosh! Why am I always so late on all the gossip?" Then she squinted her eyes and looked at us suspiciously. "Wait a second. Who did you guys think I was talking about?"
Peter Piper: Hey
Seeing that, I instantly regretted logging on to my Instant Messenger instead of just lying in bed and watching television. Not because I didn't want to talk to him because I really did but I wasn't quite sure what I was going to say. I couldn't pretend I wasn't aware of how I'd reacted when I thought he was getting married and that scared me stiff. I still hadn't made sense of why I'd even felt so distraught about the news. Was that just me being my former selfish, jealous self and not wanting my ex to be with someone else? After all, he'd have been my first real ex to get married. Or was that me just reverting to 17 year old self and acting on my residual feelings from high school? He'd been my first love so it only made sense that I'd always feel someone for him. Or was that me being completely stupid and wanting a guy I knew had the potential to break my heart like he'd once unceremoniously done? What was wrong with me? I reluctantly placed my fingers on the keyboard.
So Bored: What's up?
Peter Piper: Nothing much, just getting ready to sleep. You?
So Bored: Nothing. I'm just bored.
Peter Piper: So I gather.
So Bored: Why are you Peter Piper?
Pickled Pepper: Do you prefer this name?
I smiled. He sure could be silly at times.
So Bored: lol. How about just PP? That way it can mean so many different things.
Pickled Pepper: But say it aloud. What does it sound like?
So Bored: lol… it sounds befitting.
Pickled Pepper: Very funny.
So Bored: So… are you going to be at the Final Curtain New Year's Eve party?
Every year, one of the local radio stations held a New Year's Eve party that was usually attended by the city's young professionals. It was usually filled with gold diggers hoping to nab a rich guy but it was also an opportunity to catch up with old friends. Yun Ah and I had felt so out of place when we'd attended it our first year out of college but now that we were a few years older with real jobs and more confidence, I already anticipated having a blast.
Pickled Pepper: Probably. Chan Ho and Min Gi are dragging me with them. You?
So Bored: Maybe.
Pickled Pepper: Don't say maybe. Say yes. Come so that we can hang out, okay?
Hmm, so why did I immediately start smiling like a fool? It wasn't the first time he'd ever asked me to hang out with him so why was I suddenly feeling like some pathetic schoolgirl who was about to run out of the house and skip through the meadow? Argh, sh.it. This bastard will be the death of me.