I was in my room enjoying a lazy Saturday afternoon when my father opened my bedroom door and rolled two of my suitcases in.
I sat up in my bed. "Appa, what's wrong?"
He stood up, folded his arms and leaned against the doorframe. "It's time for you to go back to your apartment," he said plainly.
"Look, it's nice that you moved back in but there was a reason you moved out in the first place so let's just stick to that plan."
"Appa." What was the old man on about?
"I just think that if you keep staying here, you might get so comfortable with this life of going to work and coming to a full house, that you'll forget that you have your own life to live."
I frowned. "Appa, I don't just go to work and come back home. I do have a life and there's no reason for me to leave," I protested.
"Hee Soo yah, just because I don't say much doesn't mean I can't see what's going on here. You know that I'm not going to contact a matchmaker or try to introduce you to someone but if you keep staying here and get comfortable, you might end up being lonely. If you're worried about Jin Soo, I can take care of him. Your mother wouldn't have wanted you to drop everything for her so go back to your apartment."
"I didn't drop ever—"
"I know," he interrupted. "But I never wanted you to move in here and try to take the place of your mother. I appreciate everything you've done but it's time to move out, okay?"
Wow. He was really heartlessly kicking me out, wasn't he?
He smiled. "Jin Soo and I will manage so pack your things this weekend."
"What's going on here?" I asked my father as soon as I saw him with Jin Soo.
He looked at me in confusion. "You're here too? Why?"
How many reasons could there be for my being at my brother's school right after it closed? "I'm here to pick Jin Soo up." It was his first day back at school and even though I'd been kicked out of the house, I was still scheduled to pick him up and drop him off at home.
Sheepishly, my father looked at Ji Tae and me. "There must have been some kind of mix up…" he started to say.
A few minutes later, he and Jin Soo drove away while Ji Tae and I stood by the school gates, looking like idiots.
I growled. What the hell was wrong with my father? I turned away from the school gate and started walking towards the parking lot across the street. Soon after, I heard what I assumed were Ji Tae's footsteps behind me and after about a minute, I glanced back at him. There was no need to act like strangers and walk in silence especially as I was perfectly aware that he was behind me. "How have you been doing?" I asked.
He jogged a few steps to catch up with me. "I've been fine. You?"
"Great. How's Tae Hee doing?"
He shrugged. "You seem obsessed with her. Why don't you ask her?"
Ugh. "Sorry for asking. I should have known better." My father had already pissed me enough for one day and I certainly didn't need him adding to it.
"Did you get my text?" he asked out of the blue.
"The one wishing you a Happy New Year," he reminded me.
I stopped walking and turned to him. "Don't tell me you were waiting for a response."
"Yes," he said as he kept walking. He pointed ahead of him. "Is that your car?"
I nodded as I picked up my feet and started walking again. He was walking so quickly that I practically had to skip to catch up with him. "Why were you waiting for a response?"
He glanced at me. "Didn't you say you scolded people for sending generic text messages?"
Oh. "Yes. Or I ignore them."
"Well, you shouldn't have ignored mine. Besides, I only sent it to you. Or you think that I send mass texts at midnight on New Year's Day? You should have called me."
Midnight on that day wasn't meant for sending texts but for kissing the one you love. I tried not to think about the implications of that as I pulled my car keys out and hit the button to unlock my car.
"Hey, don't get in," he said as I reached for the door handle. "We're having a conversation here."
I turned around and leaned against my car. I rolled my eyes."What do you want to talk about?"
He rubbed the back of his neck and looked away.
Without turning around, I reached for the door handle. "If you don't have anything to say, I have somewhere I can be."
He slowly turned his head to me and lifted an inquisitive brow. "Aren't you tired of this?"
I looked at him from the corner of my eye. I could already tell that we were about to get into a heavy conversation so with reluctance, I said, "What?"
"Going around in circles like this, playing stupid games. Don't you ever get tired of this bullsh,it?"
"What are you talking about?"
He put his hands in his pockets. "I'm talking about us," he said in an even tone.
"What 'us?'" I scoffed. "The only 'us' that exists is you and your girlfriend."
"I don't have a girlfriend," he said, pulling his hands out and inching closer to me.
I should have moved away but I didn't. I was still trying to process the information he'd just given me. He didn't have a girlfriend? I looked up at his moving face. "Since when?"
"Since last year."
"This year isn't even two weeks long. When last year? After Christmas?"
He shook his head and twisted his mouth. "You want specifics? Before Jin Soo's birthday. After she came to your apartment but before Jin Soo's birthday party."
Way back then? After defending her so much? I could feel the uneasiness creeping into my chest. "But you loved her," I croaked.
"I was never in love with her," he said definitively.
"B-But, But what about seeing her at your office and everything else? There's no way you guys weren't together then."
"She wanted to remain friends and you saw what you wanted to see… and I guess I went along with it."
As he inched closer to me, I could already see that I was slowly becoming trapped between his body and my car but I didn't have it in me to move away.
"It was obvious that she made you crazy so I let it." He lifted his right cheek in a smile. "You forget that I know you, Kim Hee Soo.," he said as his finger traced my chin.
His skin on mine felt cold but I was too transfixed in his gaze to do anything about it. Part of me wanted to push him away but most of me wanted to see what was going to happen next so I stood there and let him touch me.
"I know that you like to be chased," he whispered, "and that you like to be adored and that you get jealous. I know this."
He was so close to me that I was sure that he could hear my thumping heartbeats.
"You're trembling. Stop trembling," he urged. "It's only me."
I looked over his shoulder and I could see that we were giving the other drivers in the parking lot a show but I couldn't stop it. His proximity had rendered me senseless and even if my brain wanted to stop it, I knew my body wouldn't comply.
"You want me," he whispered before kissing me softly.
What the fu.ck!?!?! Before I couldn't even come up with a coherent thought, his lips were moving so slowly and deftly against mine that I couldn't help but melt into them. God, why was he such a good kisser? As he ran his tongue against my lip, our shared memories started rushing me. All of them, from the very beginning to the bitter end. Reacting like I'd suddenly been hit by a bolt of lightning, I moved my head back to break away from the kiss. I looked into his eyes and frowned so that he could see that play time was over.
He took a few steps back and frowned at me. "Now what?"
"If you reject me again, it'll be the last time," he said with the utmost certainty. The look in his eyes verified the words he'd spoken from his lips so I knew that he was very serious. He placed his hands on my shoulder and moved close to me again. "Be with me. I know how you feel about me, you know how you feel about me and heck, the whole world knows how you feel about me so just be with me."
He moved his head closer to mine and kissed me again. And once again, I kissed him back. I just couldn't freaking help it. My brain and body seemed to be at odds at all times except when they both agreed to turn to mush at his kiss.
A few moments later, he laughed against my mouth. "See? You absolutely want me."
"I know you enjoy being chased but as I said, this is the last time," he warned.
God. When I left work earlier that afternoon, all I'd planned to do was pick my brother up and spend some time with him. I hadn't signed up for all this! No girlfriend, wanting to be with me, my feelings… they were all too much to take at one go.
"Hee Soo, just be with me," he repeated.
I looked back into his eyes. My head was too cloudy for me to say anything sensible. "Give me some time to think about this."
"What's there to think about? Are you going to pretend that you don't feel anything for me?"
After kissing him like an idiot, there was no way I could even deny it. "I'm just asking for some time."
He shook his head. "No."
Okay, that wasn't what I'd expected to hear. "Pardon?"
He took his hands off my shoulders, walked a few steps backwards and folded his arms. "I said no."
Was he freaking kidding me? "All I'm asking for is some time."
He shook his head. "I've already given you too much time. If I give you time to think about this, you're going to go home and talk yourself out of it. For once in your life, just make a decision."
"I make decisions all the time," I snarled. Everyone I worked with knew that about me.
"So what's stopping you now? As I said, the whole world can see how you feel about me. Why do you think Tae Hee was so jealous? There's nothing to think about."
I turned around and opened my car door. "I'm not going to let you pressure me."
In a matter of seconds, he shut the door and turned me around. "What's stopping you? Why do you insist on trying to make me regret how I feel about you? Why must you make everything more difficult than it needs to be? What's stopping you?"
I turned my face away. "I don't know," I whispered.
He let go of me and yelled in frustration. "Does that even make sense to you?"
"It's just that, sometimes… sometimes, when I'm with you, I'm not sure why I feel the way I do. Is it because of something that happened when I was a kid?"
"So what if it is? That's when it started. It's the same for me as well. Now is happening because of what happened then."
"But how do I know that's not all it is? Sometimes I feel like we're taking a long walk down memory lane but at some point, we're going to get to the end. What happens when we turn the corner?"
He burst out laughing. "Unbelievable. Did you read that in a book?"
It was no time to make light of anything. "I just don't want to hold on to the past. At some point, I'm going to have to live in the present."
"And what do you think this is?" he asked, taking my hand. "What do you think you're feeling right now?"
I didn't say anything – I couldn't because I didn't have an answer. I was a huge ball of emotions. I felt happy, sad, reluctant, uncertain, scared, expectant, weary, tired, angry, caged and pretty much every other emotion I'd ever had in all the time I'd ever spent with him.
As he waited for a response, a thought occurred to me. "When you saw my mother last year, what did she say to you?"
He dropped my hand like he'd only just realized that I was a skunk. "Is this going to be your new excuse? I'll tell you what your mother said, she told me to leave you alone because I wasn't right for you."
I looked down and stubbed my toe against a pebble.
"Why aren't you saying anything, Hee Soo? Make a comment about that. Isn't that what you were hoping to hear? Or are you racking your brain for some more excuses?"
I slowly looked up at him. "I'm not looking for any excuses, Ji Tae," I said as my chest welled up in sadness. "The God honest truth is that I'm scared. That's pretty much it." I'd said it and it was out in the universe. I could feel a tear tugging at my eye and I tried to wipe it off before it fell down my cheek.
"What are you scared of?" he asked softly.
I looked directly into his eyes. "You. I don't think I can let myself trust you."
He put his hand over his mouth and glared at me. "I don't know what to say. You can't possibly think I'd ever cheat on you."
"That's not it." I leaned against my car and folded my arms. For some reason, letting it all out was already making me feel better. "I just can't forget the way our relationship ended. I sometimes think that I fell harder for you than you fell for me which made it so easy for you to toss me aside. If I get into a relationship with you again, I'm at risk of getting my heart broken like that again and I just can't risk that."
"Wow," he said in utter disbelief.
From the expression on his face, I could tell that he'd been offended by my words. "I'm not trying to hurt you or anything but I'm just trying to protect my heart."
"From me," he said, completing the sentence.
I bit my lip and silently pleaded for him to understand where I was coming from.
"I see," he said, nodding. "Well, I guess that's it, then. I can't apologize enough times for what happened before… but if you think you have to protect yourself from me…." His voice trailed off like he was trying his best to come up with the right words to say and was failing miserably. "All this while, I thought that you at least knew me but I guess I was wrong. I thought that you knew that I'd never hurt you but…." He shrugged in surrender. "I can't keep doing this to myself," he said to himself. "Bye." He turned around and walked away.
Every single word he'd just spoken had chipped away at my heart bit by bit and I could already feel a sense of loss as he walked away. And it hurt like hell. I wanted to run after him but even if I caught up with him and he agreed to talk to me, what would I say? My heart was still at risk of being shattered again. It was a fact that I couldn't ignore. Back in school, he'd just left for America without fighting for us. He'd always said that money was the reason he couldn't come back to visit me but apparently his dad had been paying his tuition. His education was definitely more important than I was but he'd never even put any effort into fighting for us so I couldn't trust that if something ever came up again, that he'd finally fight. Then how would I live with getting so ruthlessly discarded? I knew myself enough to know that I couldn't survive another heartbreak.
"Oppa," I said as soon as I walked into my apartment. I kicked my shoes off and jumped on the couch. "Oh God! What a long day."
Han Bi waved at me from the dinning table. "Hey. I hope you get paid for overtime."
I rolled my eyes. He knew very well that I was a salaried sucker so even if I spent twenty four hours at work, I was still getting paid the same amount.
"Hee Soo if you're hungry, we've got some food here," Yun Ah said.
"No, thanks." I stretched and yawned noisily. Even though I hadn't had any dinner, I was just too tired to eat. I'd noticed a mistake on one of the plans someone had given to a client while I was vacation and had spent the better part of the day trying to rectify it. Although it was frustrating, it was busy work that kept me from feeling the sense of loss that had been consuming my body for the past week. "Where's Eun Hye?" I got off the couch and picked my shoes up. I slung my bag over my shoulder and walked towards my room.
"She's sleeping in Yun Ah's room," Han Bi said. "Hey, Hee Soo, do you know if Ji Tae has found a distributor yet?"
I stopped in my tracks. "A distributor? Doesn't he already have one?"
He wrinkled his forehead. "Oh, you didn't know? They had to drop their old distributor a while ago and have been looking for a new one. I gave him a few contacts but I don't know if anything's come out of it yet."
After hearing what Han Bi had said, I went to my room and tried to sleep but after getting over the initial anger about the fact that in all the time we'd been hanging out, Ji Tae had never even bothered to mention his problem to me, I felt so sad about the hell he must have been going through. He'd put so much of his time and energy into his company and there was no way he wasn't having a crisis about it. But why the fu.ck didn't he tell me about it? How can you talk about wanting to be with someone you can't share your problems with?
I couldn't even remember how and why I'd acquired his address but I definitely felt pathetic typing it into Yahoo Maps. After about 15 minutes of driving through the emptying streets, I rang his doorbell. I knew that after what had happened a few days earlier, I had no right to be there so I braced myself for an icy welcome.
"Hello?" Ji Tae's short friend asked as soon as he opened the door.
"Hi, you're also Ji Tae's roommate?" I asked stupidly.
He nodded. "Kim Hee Soo, right?" he asked smiling.
I nodded. I couldn't for the life of me remember his name so I didn't say anything else.
"Will you like to come in?" he asked politely.
Shortly after I walked in, he shut the door behind me. I looked around the apartment. Other than the big screen television that took over what looked like ninety percent of the living room, the place was pretty tastefully decorated in dark brown Ikea-type functional and simple furniture.
"Would you like something to drink?"
I shook my head. Why was this guy so damn polite? I pushed my hair behind my ear. "Is Ji Tae around?"
He shook his head. "He's at his father's."
"Oh, I see…." I walked further into the room and sat on the arm of the loveseat. It was probably better that he wasn't around. I smiled at the guy watching me closely. "I know it's not my place to ask and you don't have to answer me but can you please tell me what's going on with your company? A friend just told me that you lost your distributor and you're having a hard time finding a new one. Is that what all those boxes I saw in your office were about?"
About ten minutes later, I had the full story. Apparently, the distributor they'd signed with had turned out to be less reputable than all their research had suggested. After providing below minimal marketing to promote the product, and after recouping part of their manufacturing cost, they'd pulled out of the deal and left Ji Tae's company with boxes upon boxes of unsold copies of their video game. Since then, it had been a mad dash to try to move the units because the longer they remained unsold, the staler they became because in the game world, timing, innovation and reinvention were of the utmost important. If they couldn't sell the current version of the game, how would they be able to release any updates or add-ons?
As I walked down the stairs of Ji Tae's apartment building, I knew there was no way I could just sit around and watch his beloved company go down in flames. Something had to be done and if I played my cards right, I knew just the right person to help me do it.