"Hey," Michelle called as I walked past her desk. "I thought you were sick?"
I gave her a quick wave and practically ran to my office. I didn't even remember the drive to work because it felt like one minute I was watching Ji Tae walk away and the next minute I was standing in front of my office building. But when Michelle spoke to me, I felt my lips quiver and knew that if I attempted to say anything, I'd burst into tears.
I walked into my office, shut the door behind me, leaned against it and waited for the tears to come. But they didn't. It was like even my body was so against me, it wouldn't even comply and give me the relief of tears. I walked to my desk and sat on my chair.
Rejection sucked. REJECTION SUCKED. ARGHHHHHHH!
It was damn near the worst feeling in the world. It was almost as bad as losing my mother although it hurt in a different way. I could barely collect my thoughts or begin to dissect how it felt but all I knew was that it was awful.
"When did I say that I loved you?" played over and over in my head like a scratch CD. He was right. He'd never said that he loved me but somewhere along the way, I'd assumed that he did. Silly me. It wasn't like I'd expected him to gather me in his arms and sing Kumbaya but wow. It was weird that unlike other people might have, I'd never even focused on the fact that he never said that word nor did it matter to me – after all, I'd never said it to him either. But it had been something that I'd assumed when I was younger and something that I thought he felt now. But apparently, I was wrong.
It was weird that sitting at my desk and recounting everything, I didn't really feel like my heart was broken… at least, not completely. It was something much worse because instead of feeling instant devastation, it was a slowly building hurt that intensified with each passing minute, because as what he'd said slowly dawned on me, my heart was being torn sliver, by sliver. So he didn't want me? And never had? So what the fu.ck had been going on? Was it some kind of sick game he'd concocted just for kicks?
"Ouch," I said as I felt the sting of my slap – I hadn't meant for my teeth to clamp on my cheek when I hit it. All I wanted to do was slap myself for not knowing better. Of course he'd never really wanted to be with me, otherwise, after returning to Korea, he'd have looked me up instead of just waiting till we met by coincidence. What a fool I'd been. I shook my head. I really should have listened to my mom's advice.
I heard a knock at my door.
"It's Michelle," she said as she opened it. "Are you okay? Why did you come back if you were sick?"
"I'm fine." I planted a smile on my face and was glad that I hadn't broken into tears. "What's up?"
"Well," she said, rubbing her hands together, "have you found a date for your party?"
I groaned. "How many times will I tell you that it's not a party – just some friends meeting up for karaoke and food."
She moved her head from side to side. "Whatever, I get it. But answer my question: have you found a date?"
I shook my head slowly. "Why?"
She moved her eyebrows cheekily. "I think I have just the right guy for you."
I sighed. "Michelle, I'm not interested in meeting anyone now – least of all a man. If you must bring someone, make sure it's a woman. I think it might be time for me to try this lesbian thing."
Yun Ah emptied the bottle of rum into my glass then added a splash of orange juice to it. I thanked her then took a huge gulp of it. Even though it was a weekday, Eun Jung had come over so that we could have a girls' night in of drinking and lamenting.
"But I still think that you can forgive him," Eun Jung said as she stumbled across to pick the ice bucket.
"Whatever." Yun Ah said into her glass. She was sprawled over the couch and if she didn't steady herself, she was going to leave a huge stain. "Has a guy ever called another woman's name while you were having sex? And worst of all, his wife's?" she cried.
Eun Jung sat back on the carpet and nodded. "Well, I don't date married men but yep. It happens all the time."
Yun Ah scrunched her nose. "Tell me another lie."
"No," Eun Jung said, wagging her finger. "I am dead serious. I've heard 'God,' 'Jesus,' 'Baby,' 'Ajumma,' 'Just like that,'" she said in what she must have thought was a sultry voice.
"You watch too much porn." Yun Ah laughed and threw a pillow at her. "Silly virgin."
"Pfft," she said with the pillow on her head. "You wish. But you can't break up with him. I forbid you! I can't be the only person in a relationship here – I'll be too lonely. Or maybe this dummy," she said, slapping me on my thigh, "will join me?"
I rubbed my leg and rolled my eyes. I hadn't told them anything about my confrontation with Ji Tae and even though Yun Ah and I had never admitted to Eun Jung that it had been Ji Tae we'd mistaken Ki Won for, I suspected she figured it out but was too kind to say anything.
And it had been surprisingly easy to pretend to be okay. Some way, somehow, I'd managed to adopt this zombie persona where I just pretended that everything around me didn't exist and just focused all energy into one thing. It had been working for me in the past week and the only price I had to pay was not feeling anything at all. Which was fine because it wasn't like I was missing out on any great emotions or anything.
I groaned. "You'd better work on that one." I pointed at Yun Ah. "Because you just might die waiting for me to join your club," I said honestly. And as it stood, I really didn't want to join their club because apparently, I knew nothing about love or relationships.
"I didn't know you were going to come," I said, hugging Min Gi and Chan Ho. "So have you heard from SGH yet or you're waiting till tomorrow?"
Min Gi beamed. "Yeah, we heard from them yesterday and today and it's looking good. We hired a lawyer to help us with the negotiation so we might be able to finalize a deal next week. Thanks so much for your help."
I laughed. "No need to thank me, I'm so happy for you guys. Does this also include the unsold units of version 1.0?"
He shook his head. "No. But we're already talking to the retailer. From what we can see, we might not be able to sell them for much higher than cost price but at least we'll be able to recoup a lot of the manufacturing costs. And," he said, rolling his eyes, "we still have to refund some of it to our previous distributors. But such is life."
"Yeah. But I'm glad to see that you don't have to teach your "How Not To…' class," I joked.
"Happy Birthday," Ji Tae said as he approached me.
"Thanks." It was over an hour into our little party so we'd already gone past the eating part and were smack dab in the drinking phase of our evening. Our large group had broken into little groups and Yun Ah had just left my side to go to the restroom. I looked up at him.
"Do you mind if I sit down here?" he asked, pointing at Yun Ah's seat.
I shook my head. "Feel free." I was an adult and could handle it. Yes.
It had been weird seeing him walk in alone a few minutes after I'd spoken to his business partners. It was the first time I'd seen him in a week although it felt like a minute. He didn't look great but he did look better than he'd looked the previous week. Regardless, he definitely looked much better than I felt after seeing him. Funny how Ms. Zombie couldn't come out to play when I needed her most. I tried my best to put a friendly smile on my face. "I must say that I'm surprised that you came. I don't even remember telling you about it." I wished the smile could have gone deeper than the surface because it was so difficult speaking to him. Seeing him so close that I could almost smell him.... Fu.ck. Why?
He sat down and nodded. "Yeah, Min Gi mentioned it so we all decided to come."
"I see." So it was more like a business call.
"I hope it's okay," he said.
I looked away. "The more the merrier."
After a few moments of awkward silence he asked me how I was.
How exactly did a person feel shortly after having their heart stomped on? "Miserable," I replied honestly. It wasn't like I really had anything to lose. Everyone at my party could already see the huge 'L' tattooed on my forehead so it was only fair that I played the part. I hoped it was my imagination but it felt like once in a while, I'd catch someone giving me a pitying look. I smiled tightly. "It's my birthday, everyone has come to celebrate me yet I feel so lonely. And to top it off, my friends think I'm so pathetic that they decided to hook me up with blind dates on my birthday. I can't believe that Michelle Unnie actually brought her nineteen year-old nephew for me. She did mention she was bringing someone but a nineteen year old? Has it come to that?"
He chuckled but didn't say anything.
I asked him how he was and he told me that he was fine.
"I also had another reason for coming," he said. "I'll like to apologize to you."
My heartbeats slowly picked up pace. Could I hope? I looked down and played with my fingers. "About?" I asked tentatively.
"About how I acted last week. I don't know if you know this but SGH passed on us late last year – in fact, they didn't really listen to us. They just said that if they were interested in entering the gaming industry, they'd hire their own developers. So I know their change of mind had everything to do with you."
I shrugged. "It's okay. I really didn't do much – all I did was talk to Mr. Oh about you guys. If they didn't like your work, they wouldn't be interested in working with you. It's not like they'd get involved in something that wasn't lucrative for them."
"I know that. But it's because of you that they agreed to see us. I just don't want you to think that I'm not grateful for your help. I might not have acted like it but we are truly grateful and we all feel indebted to you."
We? I looked up at him. "But you know I didn't do it for them, right?"
He nodded. "I know," he whispered.
"I mean, you know I did it for you, right?"
He chuckled. "Yes, I get that."
"And not because I wanted you to be grateful to me or anything but just because I want you to be happy. We've known each other for a long time and I want you to be happy."
I took a deep breath in and just let my mouth run. "When you said you didn't love me… I guess I didn't expect that, you know. And the way you said it… I never realized that you could be so cruel. Or maybe you were just being honest and well, the truth hurts." I looked at him from the corner of my eye expecting him to get up and leave but he remained sitting with his chin on his balled up fist.
I reached across and grabbed a half empty glass of what I hoped was water and took a sip of what turned out to be unadulterated vodka. I coughed for a few seconds then dropped the glass back down.
I took another quick glance at him and noticed that he was just staring into thin air. Anyone looking at us would probably have thought that we'd just heard some terrible news. I spun my head away wishing that I could ask him if he was rejecting me as some sort of revenge and if he was, I wanted him to know that he could throw a parade because he'd succeeded. I wanted him to know that if he was just trying to teach me a lesson, that I'd learned it because I'd never felt so small in my life. But I didn't say anything because that would just have been taking 'pathetic' to a new low.
After a few more moments of silence, I spoke up again. "It's so funny but with everything, I never really thought that you didn't love me. Even when you hurt me so many years ago, I didn't think it was because you didn't love me at all. Yes, I felt you didn't love me enough, but I thought that you at least loved me a little. Or at least deep like or something." I knew I was rambling like a fool but I couldn't shut up. "But now that I know that you don't love me at all, I feel so off. Like completely incomplete if that makes any sense. Like everything I believed was just part of some huge conspiracy, I'm not who I thought I was and you're just a figment of my imagination." I chuckled. "I guess you wouldn't know that feeling."
When I glanced over at him, I noticed that his eyes were shut. Dang, was I really that boring? But what the hell, I kept talking.
"I'm officially 26 years old and I've never ever told anyone but my family and friends that I love them but when I found out that you didn't love me, it stung so much. I never realized that I expected something that I wasn't ready to give… and now, it's too late."
I looked up and watched Michelle and her husband sing a silly Cher song together. I smiled as I remembered the day before he left for America and how much fun we'd had at karaoke. I remembered sitting on his lap and the way he looked at me like he wouldn't have minded dying at that very moment. Had that just been wishful thinking?
"Or," I said in a firmer voice, "is it that you did love me at some point but I hurt you so much that you stopped loving me? If that's the case, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I made you stop."
"Why are you saying all this?" he barely audibly asked in a voice that was either thick with emotion or boredom.
When I got over the shock of hearing him, I said, "I don't know. I guess I just want to get this off my chest and well, this might be my only opportunity to do so. When next will I see you? And you always said that you knew how I felt but how could you have when I wasn't even sure how I felt? And at the back of my mind, I thought I knew how you felt but I was obviously wrong so I guess I don't want you to be wrong about me." I looked over at him and had to fight the urge to run my hand through his hair. Even though he was wearing his usual mask of nothingness, I could still see that he was feeling something even though I didn't know what it was. "I can stop if you want. I wouldn't be offended if you got up now and left. You don't have to stay here just to be kind to the birthday girl," I said with fake cheerfulness.
I waited for him to leave but the only things that moved were his fingers as he snapped them.
My mouth felt dry and I needed something to drink but I didn't want to get up so I moved my tongue around my mouth to wet it. I exhaled. "Just for old times' sake, will you please tell me why you never told me about your company's problems?" I played with my hair as I hoped for a response.
He took his time in speaking but he eventually said, "I don't know. Besides, it's not like running a failing business is something to be proud of."
"But it's hardly a thing to be ashamed of, either. Even if you didn't want to tell me, you could have at least spoken to my father about it – I'm sure he'd have done his best to help you."
After a few moments, he simply said, "I'm sorry."
Argh. Just go ahead and break my heart. "Please, don't say that." I wasn't looking for an apology nor had it been my intention to make him feel guilty. I just wanted an answer but perhaps I just had to get over it. "I'm sorry that I'm not the kind of person you thought you could share your problems with, or the kind of person you want in your life." Maybe it really was time to give Mr. Oh's grandson a chance. I was sure that a first date at a music studio could be quite enjoyable. I smiled at the image of myself rapping but when I remembered where I was, the smile disappeared. I looked at his solemn face and said, "Oppa, I'm sorry about everything."
After what felt like hours of silence between us, I heard my name and looked up to see Han Bi smiling and crooking his finger at me. I rubbed my barely moist eyes with the back of my hand and stood up. "Well," I said in what I hoped was a cheerful voice, "it's time for me to fulfill my birthday girl duties. I guess I'll be seeing you around. Thanks for listening."
"So," Han Bi said as I walked towards him, "a few years ago, this girl," he said, pulling me to him and hugging me, "was positively in love with this song but she got old and boring and ended up outgrowing it. So now, I want to sing it to her to remind her why she loved it so much." He touched my cheek. "Come on, smile!" he said far too cheerfully.
I rolled my eyes. What an as.shole. Was he honestly about to use me to make Yun Ah jealous?
He handed me a microphone then hit the play button. "Go ahead sing!"
I was still rolling my eyes when the words started scrolling across the screen. "…is filling in the air. I see, I will give you everything," I sang. "This moment we're together is like a dream come true." I looked at Han Bi and sang to the melody, using every ounce of my willpower to keep me from turning away and looking at someone else. Why did he have to pick this song? I'd heard it a million times but it was quite ironic that right there singing it, it was the first time it held a completely different meaning for me. The realization set in. Wanting to give someone everything didn't mean they had any interest in taking it from you. Now, ain't that a bi.itch?
But as I read the lyrics and sang, I knew that it would be impossible to ever hate the song. Instead of refusing to listen to it like I'd done in the past few years, maybe it was time to think of it and love it in a different way. Maybe it was time to enjoy it as applied to my 26 year old, more experienced self.
Even though Han Bi was trying his best to quietly wait for his part, he kept sending wistful glances at Yun Ah who frowned at him in response. I giggled then pointed and sang directly at her. What a stupid couple. Yes, it would be hard to get over him calling his wife's name at an intimate moment but it made even less sense for them not to be together.
I looked away from her and moved the microphone closer to my lips. "Although we are not together, I will keep your heart and dream."
Since I was floating in and out of sleep, it didn't take more than one ring of my phone to wake me up. Without looking at the time, I pushed my duvet off me and tried to walk towards it. The alcohol in my system made it that much harder to get to my bag but I managed to reach my phone before the caller hung up.
"What?" I yelled.
"Open the door," a male voice said.
"Who the hell is this?" If it was a wrong number, I was going to make sure that I retaliated by calling that number every midnight for the next month.
"Just open the damn door," he said gruffly. "I don't want to hit the buzzer because I don't want to wake Yun Ah up. Just come out and let me in. It's freezing out here."
What the hell? Was that a command or a request? By this point, I didn't even have to look at my caller-id to tell that it was Ji Tae. "What do you want? You know—"
"LET ME IN NOW OR I'LL HIT THE BUZZER!" he yelled before hanging up.
Like an android, I walked over to the door, hit the buzzer and waited. What could he possibly want? About a minute later, I heard the sound of someone running down the hallway before hearing a sharp knock at my door.
I opened it to see a slightly out of breath Ji Tae standing there.
"What," was all I could say before he grabbed my face and crushed my lips with his. I was frozen in shock as he moved us in and kicked the door shut before pushing me against the wall and kissing me forcefully. If his kiss didn't do it, the pain of my back slamming into the wall definitely woke me up.
I couldn't even think but all I knew what that I could taste the alcohol in his mouth. Even if I wanted to return the kiss, he wasn't giving me the chance to because all he was doing was roughly exploring every single part of my mouth with his lips and tongue.
His hands traveled from my face down and while one hand traveled down the curve of my body, I sucked in air as his other hand slowly cupped my breast. Suddenly, his kisses became less forceful as he inched away from my mouth and softly created a trail from my lips down my neck.
My breathing steadied and my brain cells uncrossed as I enjoyed the wetness of his mouth.
What the hell was going on? Okay, I knew what was about to go on but what the hell? Could it…. "Oppa, does this mean that you still want me?" I managed to ask as I enjoyed the sensation of his slowly warming fingers underneath my pajama top.
"Duh," he said from against my collarbone.
Why? What? Huh? It wasn't so long ago that he told me to take a hike. "Uhm, don't you think we should about talk about this?" I said before letting out a low moan. Oh. Did he just slide his hand…?
"No more talking," he said before lifting me up and taking me first towards Yun Ah's bedroom then to mine.