Hee Soo ssi, may I ask you a personal question?" Min Gi asked.
It was the day after finding out about Ji Tae's problem so I'd made an unexpected visit to Mr. Oh. As one would expect of a CEO of any major corporation, his day had been packed so we'd been told to return around closing time.
Unfortunately, because I'd spent most of the day worrying about the meeting, I hoped that my absentmindedness at work hadn't gotten me closer to getting a pink slip from my boss.
"What do you want to know?" I asked, turning my head to him.
"Are you the girl Ji Tae ran into on the day we signed our contract?"
I nodded. "Yeah." I scrunched my nose as I remembered that day. "It wasn't that long ago, was it?"
He shook his head. "It was only last June but it feels so much longer because after spending so much time working on this sh.it, even though that was mainly Ji Tae and Chan Ho, and all that time trying to find a distributor willing to work with a small start-up like us… then for it to fall apart so quickly?" He sighed. "It feels so long."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"How sad is this? I teach business courses to undergraduate students but apparently, I can't even run a successful business. Maybe my next class should be "How Not To Run A Business."
I looked at him sympathetically but kept my mouth shut. Apparently, he was a PhD student in Business Administration who planned on going into consulting after he was finished with his thesis. But the shock of the difference between academia and the real world was making him rethink his whole existence.
"You know that if this works out, we're going to have to tell Ji Tae about it?" As of 5pm that day, Min Gi was the only partner who knew about our visit.
I nodded. "Not necessarily. He doesn't need to know that you got connected through me."
"But you already know that we approached SGH Industries and they rejected us."
"I know. But maybe it will be okay then. I guess my thing is that if nothing comes out of it, he doesn't really need to know that I tried. I just get this feeling that he'll get mad."
Before he could say anything else, the secretary told us that Mr. Oh was ready to see us.
I took a deep breath in as I stepped into the office. As usual, Mr. Oh stood up from his chair to welcome me.
I bowed to him, introduced Min Gi and thanked him for seeing us.
After sitting back down, he studied us from behind his desk.
I could imagine that hundreds of different scenarios were running through his head, after all, it wasn't everyday that I asked to speak to him.
"Why don't you sit down?"
I'd prepared myself to stand and give him my spiel but I did as I was told.
"Sir," I started, "please forgive me for using our personal relationship for business purposes."
He shook his head. "It's okay. I've always encouraged you to talk to me if you needed any help regardless of what it might be."
"Thank you, sir."
"Am I right in assuming that he," Mr. Oh said, pointing at Min Gi, "will be more directly affected by the outcome of this meeting than you?"
I nodded. "Yes, sir. He's a co-owner of Jiminch Entertainment."
"I see. What's your relationship with him? Is he your boyfriend?" he asked plainly.
The unexpected question didn't help my nerves in any way. I shook my head. "No, sir. He's a friend of mine but I strongly believe in his product. I will admit that I'm not a big fan of video games but my brother, Jin Soo, was given the PG version of the game and instantly became addicted. I believe this is a video game that has the potential to revolutionize the current gaming industry but unfortunately, it hasn't been given the chance to do so. I'll let Mr. Cha Min Gi get into more details since he's far better equipped to do so."
A few minutes later, Mr. Oh was holding one of the copies that Min Gi had given to him. "Is this a demo?"
"Unfortunately, it's not. That's a copy of the final product," Min Gi replied.
"I see," he said before falling into silence.
I glanced at Min Gi. I couldn't read anything from the CEO's face so I was unable to tell if he was going to pass on it or not. If he did, I knew that there were a few old classmates I could contact but as it stood, he was our best option. I made a quick prayer to God promising him to be good if he softened the CEO's heart towards our plight just this once.
"I can see why you're having a problem," he finally said. "The problem was only with your distributor?"
"The company presented themselves as a 'One Stop Shop' for start-up businesses. So even though they found them while looking for distribution, the company also provided manufacturing and promotional services through their subsidiaries," I explained.
Mr. Cho rubbed his chin as he looked at us. "Well, the main thing is we can't take an already finished product, an already released product and just slap our name on it. That would be both unwise and unethical especially as it doesn't look like you're interested in selling your company." He took a deep breath in. "I assume you're having trouble finding a distributor because no company wants to pick a product that already has a history of poor sales."
"Our eBay and other online sales have been good considering we are a brand new business so we do feel that we have got a real chance at expanding our audience with the right marketing and distribution," Min Gi replied.
"Alright," he finally said after a few moments of contemplation. He turned to his computer and after a few clicks of his mouse said, "Why don't you come back and see me next Thursday at around 2:15? We do have a software department here and have been looking into expanding into other fields so bring all your partners here to see us. I'm not promising anything but we might be able to reach some kind of arrangement." He smiled at me. "Hee Soo yah, does that sound fair?"
I nodded and thanked him. I just hoped that I didn't have to return the favor by providing him with little M.C. Hee Soos and M. C. Jun Hyuks.
"Cheers," I said, clinking glasses with Min Gi. "I think that went well."
"Yes," he said, taking a sip of his soju.
I grinned at him. "Phew!" I released what must have been the hundredth sigh of relief in the last ten minutes. "I really feel so much better about this."
He raised his brow. "You feel so good about something that doesn't really concern you?"
I shrugged. "But it concerns Ji Tae, right?"
"But Ji Tae doesn't mean anything to you so why should it matter?"
I looked at him from the corner of my eye. "What's your point?"
"You know how he is – he likes to keep everything to himself but he always gets a certain way when something happens with both of you. And he's been that way this entire week. Funny thing is for a while, even though I'd never met you, I definitely disliked you," he said, gulping down the rest of the contents of his glass.
How interesting. How come he wasn't acting so high and mighty when we were waiting outside the CEO's office?
"You're definitely a businessman, aren't you? You know how to keep your business and personal life separate. With the way you feel about me, I'm surprised that you even agreed to accept my help."
He poured himself another glass of soju. "I said that I disliked you before we met. I'm not saying I dislike you now. Thanks for giving us this opportunity," he said with what I was sure was fake humility.
I really couldn't care less about what he thought about me because at that moment, it was quite immaterial. I looked at my half empty glass of wine. "About SGH, it's not going to be easy so you guys are really going to have to convince them. The game is not too violent, I hope?" I'd once tried to play it but after about a few minutes, I'd turned it off because the entire thing was too confusing.
He raised his brow. "I thought you said your brother was an addict."
I hissed. "I made that sh.it up."
He laughed. "I was wondering when we'd created a PG version of the game. As it is, our target demographic is 12-65."
I burst out laughing. "Sixty-five year olds?"
He nodded. "You'd be surprised."
"Okay," I said, still chuckling. "Well, we have a lot of work to do. I'll come over tonight to get some copies from you guys. Maybe Yun Ah can ask some of her fellow colleagues to distribute them to their older students so that we can use them as our test audience. I'll design a survey sheet tonight and send it to you for approval to make sure that I'm asking the right questions. We also have to show SGH the financials so we need graphics, charts whatever to show what the monthly sales have been like since the first release."
"We need to know the cost price for each unit, your estimated cost of distribution and all that great stuff. We need to know how many units remain unsold. We need to talk about the success rate of this kind of venture, what the competition is like and if any similar games have come on the market since you guys released yours. If you already have a demo, mark-up, plans etc of the next version, they'd want to see that too so they can see how creative you guys really are and where you want to take your company to. We need to…." I continued as I rattled off all the things we had to accomplish by the following week. And boy did we have our work cut out for us.
It was two days till the presentation so I'd asked Jiminch to gather some of their friends so that we could be their test audience for that part of the project. Other than their friends which were mainly some of the building's other tenants, I'd also brought Eun Jung, Han Bi and my coworker, Ah Ran, with me
"So what do you guys think?" Min Gi said as soon as he was done. Since Chan Ho was a programmer and Ji Tae was the graphic artist, everyone had agreed that the business teacher would be the best person to handle the bulk of the presentation. He'd already had a lot of experience in the past year when they were searching for a distributor and he really looked like he was born for the role. If all failed, he could probably excel in a career of motivational speaking.
"I don't know if the joke is really necessary," someone I didn't know said.
"Yeah, I always get annoyed when people just start their speeches with random jokes. It's like, dude, I'm already taking time out of surfing the net, so please can you just speak and go?" Chan Ho contributed.
Min Gi rolled his eyes. "How come you didn't say any of this when I went over it with you yesterday? You're so annoying."
The room fell into silence as they both engaged in a frowning match.
"Well," Han Bi cleared his throat and said, "the joke isn't that bad since you'll be speaking to a room of software developers and it's catered to them."
"Yeah," Eun Jung agreed. "And at least it's not one of those, 'How many software developers do you need to screw in a light bulb type of jokes'."
Everyone laughed. I knew I could always count on Eun Jung to lift the mood.
"It isn't the joke I'm worried about," Ji Tae said from behind in an obviously worried voice. "I hope they don't get turned off by all the red on the financial charts. Min Gi yah, I know you disagree with me but I really think we should change the color. We can leave the green for profit but change the losses to yellow. Why should we stick to convention if it works against us?"
"Hey, it's pretty exciting stuff," I said to Ji Tae. Since all the pizza they'd provided was finished, everyone had already begun to leave. As the room cleared, I purposely lingered behind just so I could exchange a few words with him.
He nodded. "Yeah, we haven't been able to get this close to a company of this caliber yet. Most of my dad's friends are doctors and none of my connections…." He looked up at me as his voice trailed off. "Thank you," he said graciously.
"I really didn't do anything. You guys are going to have to prove yourselves in there so it's really nothing to do with me." I smiled. I was just happy that he hadn't been angered by my involvement.
He shrugged. "If you say so."
"Oppa, how have you been doing?" I asked softly. I looked at his face and couldn't help but notice that he looked so stressed out and tired.
"I'm doing fine. I have a meeting with a client in…," he said, looking at his watch, "in about forty-five minutes. I did some work for them last month so they want me to work on another project."
"That's great news. Congratulations."
"How's everything else?" I pointed at his face. "It looks like you're growing a beard," I said, smiling nervously.
He shook his head. "No. I just haven't shaved in a few days. Really busy. I'll definitely clean up by Thursday if that's what you're worried about."
I shook my head. "That's not what I'm worried about." I'm just worried about you, Ji Tae. I would never have guessed that I'd have sleepless nights on his behalf. "I still can't believe you kept this whole thing from me, you know. I'm kind of hurt that you didn't think it was something you could share with me." It was odd that Han Bi even knew about it since they weren't exactly friends but I'd rationalized that he'd just been exhausting all his contacts… all his contacts but me.
He smiled tightly. "Kim Hee Soo ssi…."
I winced at the sound of that. It felt like someone had just pricked me with a huge needle. Kim Hee Soo ssi, huh?
"… let's forget about all that. It's all in the past."
So how come it didn't feel that way? Why did I still worry and want to care for him if it was all in the past? Standing there in front of me, I just wanted to jump across, hug him and tell him that everything would turn out great. I wanted to say that we were going to fight to the end but even if their company ceased to exist, they still had options and they could still come out of if all triumphantly. I wanted to say all this to him but I knew that it wasn't my place. He'd wanted it to be my place but I'd chosen otherwise. I couldn't be mad at anyone but myself because my bed was exactly as I'd made it.
It was the night before Jiminch had their presentation and I'd been a huge bag of nerves the whole day. I'd hoped that drinking coffee, wine, soju or whatever would calm me but nothing was working. I had half a mind to go to the closest subway station to find one of those 'Call me for drugs' messages that were usually scribbled on the walls.
I muted my television, reached for my phone and dialed a number.
"Hello?" said the voice from the other end.
"Min Gi ssi? This is Kim Hee Soo."
"Hi. How are you doing?"
"I'm fine. Are you ready for the big day?" I asked cheerfully.
He sighed. "As ready as I'll ever be. I'm just getting ready to sleep."
"Oh. I'm so sorry for disturbing you."
He chuckled. "No, you didn't disturb me. It's a good thing you called – I needed a distraction. I keep going over my presentation every five minutes."
"Ah. And how's your roommate doing?" I asked, getting into the real reason for my call. "I called him but he didn't answer his phone."
"I believe he's fine. Same as me… you know, just preparing for tomorrow."
"Oh. Good. When I called—"
"Are you trying to get back with him? Is that what all this is about?" he asked, interrupting me.
I was slightly taken aback by his bluntness but I chose to ignore it. "No."
"Are you sure? Tae Hee used to come around a lot but after they broke up, she started coming over almost everyday. As for you, I'd never even seen your face until a few weeks ago but today, you're calling me at 9:30 at night."
Did I have energy for this? I shut my eyes and tried to think of rainbows and cotton candy. A few moments later, I opened my eyes and said, "I didn't mean to offend you. I was worried and am just trying to lend my support to you guys, that's all."
"Well, thank you. But I'm not going to play the middleman here. If you want to talk to Ji Tae, then talk to him."
"Okay," was the only response I could give.
"I'm sorry to be so blunt but if you're so worried about him, then worry about him. If you want to talk to him, then talk to him and not me. If you want to be with him, then be with him."
I watched as another 200 Won coin fell to my feet. My team's meeting with SGH had ended almost an hour earlier but I was waiting by the steps for Jiminch to walk out as they'd been scheduled to meet with Mr. Oh fifteen minutes after our meeting had concluded.
I picked up the coin and put it in my pocket.
I'd initially waited in the lobby but after watching the security guards watch my every move like they suspected I was a suicide bomber, I'd chosen to sit on the steps. But even though I was professionally dressed, in the forty or so minutes I'd been sitting in the cold, by my last count, I'd already made about 3,250 Won from confused pedestrians. I knew I had bloodshot eyes from the lack of sleep but surely my winter coat didn't look like something picked up from a trash can! Or maybe it was because I'd spent the better part of my time bent over praying hard for the meeting to go well, so they mistook that for begging. Regardless, for whatever reason, people kept dropping coins for me. I'd even gotten a 1,000 Won note from a way too smiley old man. From my little experience, I'd decided that if my career in architecture didn't work out, I just might consider the far less stressful, albeit colder career of sitting idly in front of SGH industries.
"Kim Hee Soo," I heard someone call from behind me.
I turned around to see Min Gi and his partners walking down the steps.
On seeing them, my nerves decided to have a party. I fanned myself so that I could calm down. Dang, the time of reckoning had finally arrived. "How did it go?" I asked cautiously.
"Well," he said, shrugging slowly, "it looks good."
I screamed and jumped up and down like someone of my age and profession should never be caught doing.
Min Gi and Chan Ho laughed while Ji Tae merely smiled.
When I calmed down, I fought the urge to hug them and instead, said, "So they are going to take over distribution?"
Min Gi shook his head. "Not really. And," he said, glancing at his partners, "we already expected that. We are still going to have to sell the first edition as a solo Jiminch product but they said they might be able to give us direct contact with a retailer then we'd only have to worry about shipping. As for the next phase… well, they are going to talk it over amongst themselves but we're optimist. They were really pleased with the game and they also agree that it has potential. So we're just keeping our fingers crossed."
I smiled in relief. It wasn't the best news in the world but it was something. If they could at least secure a reliable deal for their subsequent releases, they might be able to recoup any losses from the first disaster. "So when are you going to hear back from them?"
"Mr. Oh personally promised that they'd call sometime next week so hopefully we won't have to wait till Friday," Chan Ho said. "Personally, I think it's in the bag. The programming guys were pretty impressed with my work. They also want to see some of the code behind it." He looked as me uncertainly. "I just hope they aren't going to steal it."
Min Gi rolled his eyes.
I laughed. "Well, I'm so happy for you guys." I looked over at the very quiet Ji Tae. "Oppa, I'm glad they weren't turned off by the financials."
He nodded. "Me too."
"Hee Soo ssi, we're heading out for some drinks," Min Gi said, rubbing his hands together. "Would you like to join us?"
I shook my head. "Thanks but I have already spent too much time away from work." I was sure my colleagues didn't really believe me when I suddenly felt sick after our meeting. "Congratulations again and take care."
I felt on top of the world, everything was right with the world again. I wanted to jump up and scream. Again. Ji Tae's company had a fighting chance and I was over the moon. My happiness wasn't even about the fact that I'd helped them out but simply because he didn't have to go through the pain of watching something he'd worked so hard for go down the drain. He was happy so I was happy. He was happy so I was happy. WTF? Park Ji Tae was happy and so was Kim Hee Soo. For real?
I hadn't realized that I'd stopped walking till the person walking behind bumped into me. I apologized to the old woman and stepped aside. I leaned against a wall and went through that again. I was happy because Ji Tae was alright. When I'd found out about his company, I'd been devastated. Why? Because apparently, when Ji Tae was sad, so was I? Wow. It was like my last few dormant brain cells had been awoken and everything finally clicked in my head. After everything dawned on me, I suddenly panicked. Sh.it! What the fu.ck had I done? I immediately turned around and ran in the direction I came from. Hopefully, if my feet were fast enough and old age had begun to creep up on them, I'd be able to catch up with Ji Tae and his friends.
"Oppa! Oppa!" I yelled when I saw three figures turning a corner. "PARK JI TAE!" I ran down the street and made a left just like they had. "Min Gi ssi, Chan Ho ssi, Park Ji Tae!"
The three of them turned around ay the same time then walked towards me as I ran to them. Well, Min Gi jogged to me, Chan Ho walked while Ji Tae crawled.
"What's going on?" Min Gi asked as he got closer to me. "Did something happen?"
I stopped running then doubled over to catch my breath. I placed one hand on my chest and the other on the nearby wall to try to steady myself. Should a girl of my age really be so damn unfit?
I breathed heavily and looked up at them. I tried to smile but my chest was still thumping out of control.
"Are you okay?" Chan Ho asked.
I nodded. "I just wanted to talk to Oppa," I said pointing at Ji Tae. "Can I talk to him for a minute?"
Min Gi and Chan Ho nodded and a few moments later, I was left leaning against the wall while Ji Tae stood a few feet away from me.
"Do you need something?" he asked in the most uninterested voice I'd ever heard from him.
I let out one last sigh and walked to him. "It's funny that we're always having these conversations outside. At least it's not a parking lot or bus stop this time, huh?" I joked.
When I saw that not a single muscle on his face moved, I realized that I really should have taken the advice of not starting a speech with a joke.
I shut my eyes for a quick second and tried to calm my nerves. I could do it. I just had to do it. "So," I started, hoping that the smile I'd planted on my face at least looked pleasant. "I was thinking about what I said last week."
I chuckled. "About my heart and all that?" I looked down at my feet as I inched closer to him. I looked back up at him. "I was trying to protect my heart but it's too late," I blurted out.
He rolled his eyes like I was telling him the last thing he wanted to hear.
He had his hands in his pockets so I placed my hand on his arm. He didn't react so I took it as a positive sign and felt my courage build up. "These past weeks, I've felt this intense sense of loss," I said, placing my other hand on my chest, "and it only really began last Monday after we spoke. And the thing is, I've stayed busy and tried to make it go away but the sh.it just won't leave me alone. From time to time, I try to forget it and I do, but when I remember, it's like a thousand times more intense."
"Really? Maybe you should see a doctor." The bored expression on his face was seemingly there to stay.
I laughed even though I knew it wasn't meant to be funny. When I moved closer and touched his face, he moved away from me.
His rejection hurt but it had felt good to feel his skin against my palm even if it was only for a split second.
"I also realized something today. I mean, you said you knew how I felt and all that but when I found out about your company, I felt so bad because of how I knew you'd be feeling and now that there's a good chance it might be saved, I feel good about how I think you're feeling." I giggled nervously. "How weird is that? It's not even about your company but about you. I cared about Jiminch not because it was a company I believed in but because it's one you believe in."
He shrugged. "Thanks," he said in a monotone.
His response almost made to stop but I shook that thought out of my mind. "What I'm saying is that if I want to protect my heart, it's already too late. My heart is already at risk whether I like it or not, so you don't even have to hurt me for me to feel hurt. If you're hurt, I'm hurt. So how in the world do I protect my heart from things that hurt you? It makes no sense. I can only be there for you, you know?" I let out some more nervous giggles. "What do you think?" I asked expectantly.
"I'm happy that you've had an epiphany," he said sarcastically.
"No, don't say that. I'm saying that you and I are already in something whether I like it or not and if I compare how I felt when I discovered that you hadn't confided in me and how it felt to be able to help you, they are worlds apart. I want to be involved in your life. It feels great to be involved in your life."
He nodded. "I'm sure since it's always about how you feel."
Sh.it. "No, that's not what I'm saying." When did I become so inarticulate? How come everything I was saying wasn't coming out the way I wanted? "I'm just saying that I was wrong last week and you were right." Simplicity was key, right?
He shook his head. "No, you were right. You had the right approach – you should protect your heart. I was the idiot for not protecting mine. But it's all over now. No more stress, no more anger, nothing. We can just go on with our lives and not worry about all this. We should both protect our hearts from each other, okay?"
I'd never realized that my heart could sink so fast. "Oppa…," was all I could mutter.
"Let's not drag this on for longer than it needs to be. I did hear everything you said last week and when I went home and thought about it, I completely understood it all. I did an unforgivable thing that makes me untrustworthy to you. I apologized and explained but that can't change a thing. But on the other hand, there's absolutely nothing I can do about it since I can't time travel. And today, with everything you've said, you never once mentioned being able to trust me or you thinking that I wouldn't hurt you. It's all about hurt this, hurt that, blah blah blah bullsh.it. You still think I can hurt you so you should protect yourself. It might shock you but I get hurt too and I don't need to deal with that either so let's just both protect our hearts, okay?"
"Oppa, you're taking it the wrong way. I might have worded it wrongly but all I'm saying is that I'm ready to take a chance on us. That's it." Why wasn't he hearing me?
He grinned grimly. "Well, as you said before, there's no 'us'." He glanced behind him. "I'm sure my friends are waiting for me and I really want to attend this celebratory drink. Jiminch is really appreciative of all your help, Miss Kim Hee Soo. Take care and see you later."
What was he saying? I grabbed his shirt to keep him from walking away.
He turned around and gave me a look that immediately made me take my hand off him.
I could feel my breathing getting shallower. "So what are you saying, Oppa? Are you saying that you don't love me anymore?"
He looked me up and down. "When did I say that I loved you?"