Jin Soo walked through the door and hugged me.
"Hey, Sweetie, how was school?" I asked him.
He shrugged but kept holding on to me. I looked over at Ji Tae who was shutting the door for answers but he just shrugged his shoulders.
"Jin Soo," I said, tapping his back softly, "why don't you go and change out of your school uniform? When you come back, I'll have a snack waiting for you."
He held onto me for a few more seconds before obeying.
When he was gone, Ji Tae moved closer to me and whispered, "I think he might just be missing your mom. I had to coax him to enter my car this afternoon – he kept saying that he didn't like it."
I sighed. It was still so soon after my mother's death that anything he did would still be considered normal. "I'm sorry about that."
He ignored my apology and went on, "I know it might be weird but do you think I should use your mother's car next time?"
Was he crazy? "Of course not. No one is ever going to use that car again. I'll even be scared to donate it to charity. Don't worry about Jin Soo - he just has his moments. I'm sure he'll be different tomorrow."
"Cool," he said, even though he didn't look convinced. "Alright, then." He put his hands in his pockets and looked around the room. "You must have been busy today – I see you haven't yet had time to tidy up."
I scowled. "It's been tidied." What the hell? Stupid as.shole. Neat Freaks were so annoying.
"Oh, it has?" he asked exaggeratedly, looking around the room in disbelief. Then he chuckled and looked at me. "My mistake."
I didn't say anything to that and neither did he make any follow-up comments so we both stood in silence. And the longer the silence lasted, the more pronounced the awkwardness got. It seemed that we'd fallen into some sort of pattern. I told myself that I needed to stop thinking of him as the guy who'd dumped me eight years earlier and only as my former neighbor. If I thought of him that way, they was no reason our interractions would be unpleasant. But that didn't keep my mind from wandering to what had happened the previous night. I didn't know if I was supposed to turn around and make a grand exit or stand around and talk to him. The swellings around my eyes had reduced a lot and I felt better in general so was I supposed to make any comments in reference to them? What exactly did you say or do when you stood face-to-face with the person who'd witnessed your meltdown? What did one say when they felt a little embarrassed about being so pathetic? I looked over at him and sighed. "So…," I said, scratching my head. I decided to go with a very classic line. "How was work?"
"It was fine."
"Great. And the weather? How is it out there?"
The look of uncertainty that had previously occupied his face turned into an amused one. "The weather's nice. Pretty nice for autumn. The leaves are turning brown," he said before quickly turning his face.
"Cool." Why did he look like he'd been struggling to keep a straight face? What was so amusing about weather questions? From the way he was acting, you'd think that the weather forecast was a comedy skit. I scratched my palm as I tried to think of another question to keep our exhilarating conversation alive. "Uhm… , yeah Ji Tae, I know you said that you normally babysat my brother till my father returned. Do you still want to do that even though I'm here?"
He spun his head back to me. The unsure look was back on his face. "Yes, that's exactly what I've been wondering about. There's really no need for me to stay here since he has an adult with him. But on the other hand, going home this early makes me feel like such a slacker while returning to the office will be stupid since I'd have to leave shortly after."
"Oh, I see." But slacking off didn't exactly sound like the worst idea on the planet. In fact, it had worked for me throughout my freshman year of college.
"But, you know what? I think I should just go home. It makes--"
"Noona," Jin Soo interrupted.
I turned around. I noticed that he was still in his uniform. "What?"
He held a carton of chocolate milk out to me. "Noona," he said, shaking its contents, "it's almost finished."
"Okay. Write it on that list," I said, pointing at a sheet of paper on the dinning table. "I'll get some when I go grocery shopping tomorrow."
He shook his head. "No. I always drink a glass of chocolate milk on Fridays. I'm supposed to have a glass of chocolate milk on Fridays."
How come it was the first time I was ever hearing of it? And wasn't chocolate milk fattening? It didn't sound like something my mother would support. "Why don't you just drink what's left?"
He shook it vigorously so that I could hear the liquid swishing inside the carton. "It's not enough. I need a full glass."
I looked over at Ji Tae. "Did he say this last week?"
He shrugged. "I still get the days mixed up. I think Monday might be orange juice, another day is milk…. There's actually a menu behind the kitchen door," he said, pointing to it.
And surely enough, there in my mother's handwriting was a schedule that indicated that he did get to drink a glass of chocolate milk on Fridays. I frowned. How come Mi Soo and I never got such luxuries?
I walked out from behind the door and over to my brother. I placed my hands on his shoulders and bent down so that our faces were at the same level. "I'm going grocery shopping tomorrow so I'll get some more chocolate milk then. Why don't you drink some juice instead?"
He looked back into my eyes with defiance. "No. Umma said that I must have chocolate milk on Fridays so I need to have chocolate milk today."
I stood up straight and nodded - I finally got it. It wasn't really about the drink itself but the fact that my mother had set that rule. My little man was acting his age again. I playfully pinched his cheek. "I'll get it for you, okay? Don't worry about it." I looked over at Ji Tae and smiled at him sheepishly. "Will you mind staying here for a few minutes while I quickly run to the store?"
He shook his head. "It won't be a problem. I can even get it for you," he offered.
"Thank you but I'll get it myself." I sighed. "I need to get some air anyway." I walked over to the hallway to grab my keys. After slipping my feet into my flip flops, I walked back to the kitchen to make sure there wasn't anything else I needed to get.
"Jin Soo, is any chocolate milk fine or must it be a specific brand?"
He held the almost empty carton up again. "Only this one. Umma only gets this one."
I noted the name down and headed out.
From my search, I deduced that it was either that that particular brand of chocolate milk had magical ingredients so everyone bought it or it sucked so bad that the company was going out of business because I had to go through the refrigerators of four grocery stores before finding it and in the end, I couldn't even grab more than one because that particular stock was expiring in about two weeks. Plus seeing that it was full of sugar and fat, there was no way I was going to drink some just to keep it from going bad.
Almost an hour later, I walked into what appeared to be an empty apartment. A few minutes later, I stepped into the study to see Jin Soo quietly doing his homework while Ji Tae worked on his laptop.
I couldn't help but smile because the image took me back to the days Ji Tae tutored Mi Soo.
"Chocolate Milk boy," I yelled to get their attention, "your milk is in the kitchen."
Jin Soo looked up and when the information registered in his brain, quickly ran out of the room.
Ji Tae looked at me and shook his head. "You couldn't even bring a glass here for him?"
"Let him get it for himself. I doubt my mom would have poured it out for him."
"Okay," he said then turned back to his work.
I figured that that was my cue to scram but I was curious. I walked over to where he was and peered over his shoulder. "What are you doing?"
"Work," he said as he moved his mouse around.
"Duh." I noticed that he used the same design software I used but obviously in a different way. Who knew AutoCAD had all these functions? He appeared to be working on some kind of weird-looking logo. "Is that for your company?"
He shook his head. "I do a lot of freelance work for small companies that don't have their own Graphic Design departments. So like cable access shows, start-ups, internet companies…. People like that."
"This one is for a new art gallery opening downtown. They want the S to look like a palette. I think it's a very cheesy idea but they're paying the bills."
I'd watched him work on it for about a minute when Jin Soo returned with his glass. "Ajusshi, do you want some chocolate milk?" he asked as he walked back to his chair. "There's plenty left. Should I get you some?"
"Jin Soo, don't worry about that." I interjected. And how come he didn't offer me any? The kid had me running all around town for it but the second there's 'plenty left,' he offers it to someone else. "Look, just do your homework, okay? If he wants anything, I'll get it for him."
I turned my attention back on Ji Tae. "Well, I have to go and tidy the living room up again. If you want to drink chocolate milk, you know where the kitchen is."
Ji Tae laughed as I walked away. What was so damn funny?
"Hee Soo yah!" Eun Jung Unnie said as she came out from behind the other end of the table. "What are you doing here?" She hugged me.
"Hyun Su wanted me to meet his friends."
"I didn't know you were coming. I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm really sorry," she said as she hugged me tighter.
I smiled and returned her hug.
Still holding me, she moved her head back and looked into my eyes. "How are you doing? Are you okay?"
I nodded. "I'm okay."
She hugged me again. "I'm so sorry."
A few minutes later and after the initial introductions, we were all seated.
"So how do you guys know each other?" The crowd was a little larger than I'd expected. I thought we'd be hanging out with another couple but it looked like I had stumbled upon a reunion of sorts as our table had at least ten people.
"Well," Eun Jung said, "everyone but Yuri over there went to my university." She pointed at the guy sitting next to her. "He was my brother's roommate," she started as she spent a few minutes pointing everyone out and describing their relationships to the other members of our party. After providing me with so much information that it didn't even bother to go into one ear so it could come out of the other, she ended it with, "as you can see, I'm the youngest. I'm only here because my brother is in Japan and wants me to come here and get all the gossip for him."
After we laughed at her joke, someone asked how Hyun Su and I met.
Eun Jung coughed loudly.
I laughed and pointed at her. "She introduced us."
She raised her hands up like a champion. "Do I have a talent or what? I mean, I just knew that they'd be good together. I mean, look at them."
I rolled my eyes. It was too bad that I wasn't gracious enough to blush.
"Don't you guys think that I should start my own matchmaking agency?"
While the others threw their napkins at her, I glanced at Hyun Su. It was weird that it was my first time of noticing the he had a very slight dimple on his left cheek. I looked back at the table and sighed. I just couldn't wait till the guilty feeling I had about our relationship dissipated.
As soon as they took the dessert menus away, Eun Jung and I stood up to make a quick run to the restroom.
"I'm almost 30 years old and I still haven't figured out why women always go to the restroom in pairs," a guy called Jae Hyuk or Kye Sang said. "Is there something you guys do there that you can't do alone?"
The rest of the members of our party laughed.
"Well, why don't you let your imagination run wild?" Eun Jung said before pulling me with her.
In the restroom, after we were done with our business and reapplying our make-up, she said, "If you guys get married, you need to get me a present."
I took the lip gloss brush off my lower lip and looked at her reflection in the mirror. "Unnie, it's not even been two months. There's no need to jump the gun."
"But you're already meeting his friends – that must mean something."
I shook my head and smacked my lips to keep the gloss in place. "They are just friends. It's not like I'm meeting his parents."
"Well," she said, moving closer to the mirror to flick something off her eyelashes, "I haven't seen him dating anyone else so…"
"We haven't even had 'the talk' yet so Unnie, please stop!"
She turned around and leaned against the sink. "Okay, don't bite my head off. Oh," she said, moving her eyebrows up and down, "I've got some juicy gossip for you. I've been meaning to tell you but I keep forgetting. Guess who your boyfriend is dating?"
I frowned. "My boyfriend is dating someone?" What the hell?
She laughed. "No," she said waving her hand from emphasis, "I mean your ex-boyfriend. Guess who?"
I folded my arms and tilted my head to one side. "Who exactly are you talking about?"
She laughed. "I know it was a long time ago but didn't you date Park Ji Tae? Like just before I graduated?"
"Well, he's dating my cousin."
Wow. I laughed. "You mean that Ms. Rab—I mean, Tae Hee is your cousin?"
I mouth fell open. "How do you know her?"
I giggled because the expression on her face was just too hilarious. What was so special about knowing her? "I don't really know her - I only met her once. Remember that Ji Tae was my neighbor? I met her through him."
"Oh, you guys are still in touch?" She rolled her eyes. "Thanks for popping my little balloon. And there I was thinking I had some gossip for you. I always get so excited whenever I hear anything about anyone from our high school. I really should get a life."
I laughed again.
"But it's a small world, isn't it? You didn't know she was my cousin, did you?"
I shook my head. "She seems nice, though."
"Yeah, when she's not being annoying. Anyway, listening to her talk, it looks like things are going really well with them."