Jan Di’s POV
And there I was again, stupidly dressed in party clothes, just to stand before Jun Pyo and give my heart a new opportunity to realize that everything was over. I still wasn’t sure why I was doing it. Even though my brain understood it and told me that what I was about to do was completely irrational, my body was going against my wishes and I was running, as always, to my destruction.
What had happened to me since I met Jun Pyo? I wasn’t completely sure, but what I did know was that I wasn’t me anymore. This depressed person, this sad and tired-of-fighting person wasn’t me. The Jan Di I now saw every morning in the mirror was but a whisper of who I used to be.
However, today I had my excuse ready: it was his birthday.
I had received an invitation and Yi Jung sunbae had prepared a dress not only for me but for Ga Eul as well.
“Come on, Jan Di, stay. If you leave now, you’ll leave poor Ga Eul alone,” he reminded me.
I knew that even if I wanted to return it was already too late, and even though I tried to tell myself “no”, one truth had become perfectly clear: I still loved Jun Pyo. Even if he had just played with me and considered me a stain in his life, I still loved him. I couldn’t hide it from myself, just as I hadn’t been able to hide it from Jun Hee noona when I ended up in tears on her shoulder. She had asked me to give her brother another chance, but it didn’t appear that he wanted one.
As all these thoughts tossed around in my head, I noticed that Ji Hoo sunbae had moved to stand beside me and was gallantly offering me his arm. All the girls around the F3 where squealing, sighing and gushing their envy, and why not? Each and every one of the three men surrounding me lived up to the meaning of the name “more beautiful than a flower”.
At this moment, though, I was most thankful for Ji Hoo: my first love, my friend, my honorary firefighter, and the one who was always by my side when all I wanted to do was to close my eyes in sleep and stop thinking. He had managed to distract me with his warm character, a trait that, at first glance, no one would notice in him. Yoon Ji Hoo was a gallant, noble, kind, and tender young man, and I was so grateful to have him by my side, even if it bothered me that I could never seem to adequately repay his kindness.
We arrived at the table, where I blindly sat down before suddenly noticing that everyone was clapping. Jun Pyo had stood up to blow out the candles of his gigantic birthday cake. Our eyes met for a long second, but when he noticed I was there, he simply looked away.
“Are you okay?” Ji Hoo asked me.
“I think it was a mistake to come,” I told him before an unwelcome voice interrupted us.
Jun Pyo’s mother, her face wreathed in a phony smile and her eyes glinting with mockery, had come to greet us. It was she who sent me the invitation for his son’s birthday, and now she was publicly requesting that I come onstage and play the piano for all the guests. Is she crazy or what? I wondered, bewildered.
Ji Hoo jumped in to deflect her. “Actually we-“
“I’ll do it,” I said abruptly. “You invited me and the least I could do is earn my dinner.” Ji Hoo had been about to tell her we were leaving, but I wasn’t going to allow it. She wanted to humiliate me? She didn’t know how wrong she was.
“Wonderful,” she said, derision dripping from her voice.
I could see the concern in my friends’ faces, but that wouldn’t make me back down. I walked to the stage piano while President Kang presented me and the audience murmured to each other in hushed whispers.
If this is the only way, so be it, Jun Pyo.
The song was one I had sometimes played as I sat next to Ji Hoo sunbae in the practice hall. I fought hard to keep my voice from cracking, but I didn’t entirely succeed. Each word of the song seemed painfully perfect for the circumstances before me, before us. I wasn’t sure if Jun Pyo was looking or not because my back was to him, but I put all of my feelings into my singing. I wanted to finish it, but I wasn’t going to be able to do it without crying, so I improvised a hasty finale.
I rose to hear the entire room full of guests applauding, and caught an excited yell from Woo Bin sunbae. I had forgotten that neither he nor Yi Jung sunbae knew I possessed this little piano talent. But none of that mattered then, as I noticed Jun Pyo looking at me with a distraught expression before he went back to pretending I didn’t exist.
How much more will you hurt me? How much more until you’re satisfied? I asked myself.
Another voice inside me answered. Why are you blaming him? He made it perfectly clear in Macao that there is nothing left between you, didn’t he? It is you who is coming back to him without invitation, you who needs to hold on to the idea that it was a lie and that he still loves you. You know that is not the case. Give up, Jan Di.
I descended the stairs, careful not to trip as I bowed beneath the weight of the conflicting voices in my head. I was so focused on the realization that there wasn’t anything I could do to get back what Jun Pyo and I had that I almost missed hearing the mocking words of President Kang insulting my playing, words that made me want to go back on the stage and throw the mic at her.
But even though my head was winning the battle against my heart, I was still doubting, still holding on to hope; I could feel it.
I didn’t know how much longer this uncertainty could remain inside but, as always, President Kang was happy to ruthlessly shred whatever dream I had.
The room erupted in clapping again as her next words made my heart plummet to my feet. Jun Pyo, my Jun Pyo, the heir of Shinhwa, was engaged. A richly dressed girl was being literally dragged by bodyguards to the room. I recognized her immediately as the girl who had saved me in Macao: Jae Kyung. Ji Hoo looked shocked as I gulped down a whole glass of champagne, hoping to ease the pain stabbing me through the heart.
“Let’s go,” I heard him telling me, leading me away gently by the elbow as he signaled to the others that he was going to take me outside.
Once in the hall, we met President Kang again.
“Do you understand now?” she taunted me, a smirk of triumph on her face. “The wife of the next heir of Shinhwa must be someone of at least this level.”
It was then that Jun Pyo approached his mother, lashing out at her for her last actions in the room and then turning on me, asking why I had come. In truth, I had been asking myself the same thing since I sat down at that table; I didn’t need him to remind me. Before I could say anything, though, a surprised Jae Kyung interrupted us, asking the president if everything had been just a bad joke. She was surprised again when the president told Jae Kyung she had been talking with her parents and both sides had agreed with the union of their children.
Arranged marriages for business purposes…What kind of parents are these? But then I remembered the reason my mother had enrolled me in Shinhwa and bit my tongue.
“I have something to tell you, so don’t argue and follow me,” Jun Pyo said. I thought he was talking to me, but when he stepped up and reached out, it was Jae Kyung he grabbed by the wrist and dragged out behind him.
“I hope now you realize that it’s time to give up your futile hopes and fantasies,” Jun Pyo’s mother said smugly in one final stab at me.
The ride home was silent. I knew Ji Hoo wouldn’t comment. He never pushed. Instead, he would just be there, ready whenever I wanted to say or do something. Looking at my reflection in the window, I finally understood that I was fighting for nothing. It was true than Jun Pyo had forced me to be with him since the beginning, but I couldn’t deny that down the road I fell in love with him… Now he wasn’t in love with me anymore, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I had already waited for months and even had gone to a foreign country to find out if he was all right and to say ‘I miss you‘… But it hadn’t worked out, and in the end I wasn’t even sure how I got myself to that day, to that moment.
I shifted my gaze to look at the second reflection in the window: Yoon Ji Hoo, standing at my side, as always. If it wasn’t for him, where would I be?
“Are you shocked?” He asked me.
“It doesn’t matter if he is engaged or not…” I said, and it was true. It didn’t matter. What could I do about it?
Ji Hoo set to work defending Jun Pyo. “The most likely possibility is that he didn’t know about the engagement until that moment.” But Jae Kyung was in Macao, the little voice reminded me. Maybe they already knew each other.
That wasn’t the most important thing in this moment, I realized. The important thing was that I was still thinking about all I had been through in Macao, including all that Ji Hoo had done for me without me even having to ask.
The car started to slow down and I recognized that we were on the streets that led to my house. I had to do something to say thank you. The words seemed insufficient to express everything I was feeling. The car pulled up in front of my house before I could say anything. Like a coward, I was about to open the door and flee, but before I could, he spoke.
“Jan Di, about—”
“Sunbae!” I knew I had cut him off, but if I didn’t do it then, I never would.
“Well…I…just wanted…” what? I wanted to say thank you, but that wasn’t enough! However, remaining silent after interrupting him was worse than saying the wrong thing. It was then that I did something that surprised even myself. Maybe it was the glass of champagne, or the night’s events, or the fact that my mind was replaying a montage of each and every time his smile had saved me from drowning in sadness, his hands wiping my tears away. Before I had a chance to think twice, I threw myself into his arms and hugged him. I don’t know how long we held each other, but it seemed as if the calm that always radiated from Ji Hoo was stronger now that I had him so close. It made me want to cry.
I let him go before he could react to my impulsive act and jumped out of the car without looking at his face because I knew mine was beet red. I tried to enter my house quickly, but as soon as I noticed the car was still there I got flustered and went to hide behind a rack of clothes. I was really hoping he didn’t take it in a bad way.
When the car disappeared and I finally entered my house, I realized I had forgotten Jun Pyo’s gift in my sunbae’s car.
Ji Hoo’s POV
She had hugged me… on her own. She had approached me and hugged me. It had been so sudden that I didn’t even have time to react. I just felt her arms around my neck and her breath on my skin when she whispered ‘Gomawo, sunbae’. I noticed her face was burning when she literally ran out of the car, and I was in a similar state.
“Yoon Ji Hoo… what the hell are you doing?” I asked myself. I had been about to tell her that everything I said to Jun Pyo in Macao’s airport was true, that I wasn’t planning on giving in when it came to her, that I had stayed away only because she was my best friend’s girl…
…but after watching the way he had treated her, I wasn’t going to do nothing.
I was in love with Geum Jan Di.
“Young master, we have arrived.”
I didn’t notice we were at my house until the driver told me. Before I got out I noticed a white bag where Jan Di had been sitting. It had some sort of fuchsia plush toy inside. It must have been her birthday gift for Jun Pyo. I took it inside with me.
While I changed clothes I couldn’t help but think of her, of everything she had gone through and everything she would have to go through from this point on due to Jun Pyo’s “engagement”. I knew she was still in love with Jun Pyo, no matter how much he –whether it was his mother’s fault or no- had hurt her. I sat down in the living room and looked more closely at the plush toy… It had curly hair like Jun Pyo.
I decided to call him then; what did I gain by keeping his gift? I dialed his number and waited. Strangely, I heard a ringtone coming from outside the house. I opened the front door and was surprised to find Jun Pyo standing there. As I stepped back so he could enter, no one said a word.
The silence persisted as I made and served some tea, but after Jun Pyo took a long sip of his, he finally gave in.
“The only reason I’m here is because your house is the closest. I can’t hang out with Ji Yung since our fight in Macao and Woo Bin’s house is always full of nosy girls.”
“And what about when you punched me? What are you going to do about that?”
“Uh… alright, then you can hit me. It will all be fixed if I let you hit me. Go on, hit me.”
He will never change, I thought sadly. He’d rather get punched in the face than ask for forgiveness. All other things aside, though, he was still my brother—even if this fact didn’t erase the pain I felt inside because of my feelings for Jan Di, or my annoyance at his past actions.
“What will happen with the marriage?” I asked him.
He grimaced. “I don’t know. How can I understand the schemes of that old witch? Engagement my ass! Out of all the girls in the world, where did she find one like her?” he huffed. Suddenly, his tone changed to one of studied nonchalance. “Did you…um… Did you return safely?”
“If you’re worried about Jan Di, then yes, she arrived home safely.”
“Did I say I was worried? Yah! It’s your friend’s birthday and you still haven’t given me a gift! Hurry up and give it to me!”
I sighed and took out the white bag next to the couch, handed it to him, and went to the kitchen; I needed a dose of the pancakes that always seemed to calm me. After a few minutes I had one on my plate and was drizzling honey over it when, unbidden, the memory of Jan Di hugging me rose up in my mind. She had been close, so close… maybe the last time I had felt her like that was in New Caledonia when we—
“Hey, you gonna eat all that honey?”
I came back to the present when I heard Jun Pyo’s voice, only to see that I had poured almost the whole jar of honey on my only pancake. Jun Pyo was pulling on his coat.
“You’re leaving?” I asked him.
“Yeah, it’s best if I go home before the old witch sends an army squad to find me… Thanks for the gift.”
And so he left, leaving me with diabetes on a pancake.
Jan Di’s POV
It all had seemed like a bad dream, but I knew better. The next day the whole school was talking about Jun Pyo’s engagement. Obviously the self-proclaimed queens of the school sought me out especially to torment me, and I couldn’t deny that each and every one of their comments was widening the painful hole in my chest.
I thanked the heavens when the day ended, because I couldn’t stand school for one more minute. I walked slowly to the exit, taking a longer route than normal to avoid bumping into anyone who could bother me, but apparently that wasn’t enough.
“Hey you! Hey…wallet girl!”
I stopped when I recognized the voice. Turning around, I saw Jae Kyung, my Macao savior.
“Ahhh! It is you, the girl I met in Macao!” she said with a triumphant grin.
She took my face in her hands excitedly, gushing that she was happy to see me. She asked me my name and then declared, in a voice that left no room for refusal, that I would be a younger sister to her. She had arrived on campus to look for Jun Pyo and to find out the registration process for Shinhwa University. I was really uncomfortable and was hoping to leave soon, but again, my choice of route proved to have been the worst when I saw the F4 appear behind Jae Kyung.
“Ah, I found him!” Jae Kyung said and went running to Jun Pyo. He didn’t greet her kindly and she just proceed to strangle him by the neck, chastising him. “That’s no way to speak to your fiancée!” What she said after that, I didn’t hear, but even as I was aching to go, my eyes remained glued to them. Woo Bin was the one who approached me.
“From now on, Jun Pyo will be studying with us at Shinhwa University”
Of course he was, I reasoned. That was why Jae Kyung wanted to enroll, too. I thanked Woo Bin and turned to go. I needed a distraction, something else to think about, and working was the simplest way to achieve that.
“Are you okay?” Ga Eul asked me as we worked side by side that afternoon. I tried to shrug it off, but her concern was relentless. She wanted to know if Jae Kyung bothered me, and if I was jealous that she was with Jun Pyo all day and not me.
“What does that have to do with me? Besides she’s my unnie…”
“She seems like a good person… No, she is a good person.”
“Who? Who is a good person?”
At that moment, Jae Kyung appeared in the flesh. She flounced into the shop and introduced herself to Ga Eul, asking if we worked there. Before we could answer, she said she had always wanted to work in a place like that. Of course, the chief came out immediately to offer her a job, but she smoothly deflected him with a request to borrow us for the rest of the day. Ga Eul and I couldn’t object and were consequently dragged to a beauty salon to get a manicure. We went to eat afterward and discovered that Jae Kyung could eat for 3 people.
“Since I was a kid, I have traveled to many countries,” she confessed to us, “but I never stayed long enough in one place to make friends. So tell me Jan Di, what kind of women does Jun Pyo like?”
In that moment my mouth was full, but that wasn’t the only reason I couldn’t answer. What was I supposed to say? Luckily, Jae Kyung didn’t push me and kept eating and asking for more dishes. When we finally got out, we thought that would be all, but Jae Kyung surprised us again, taking us to an exclusive clothing store so expensive that we were afraid of being charged just for the air we were breathing.
I was watching bags with Ga Eul while Jae Kyung held up different outfits, asking what kind of style Jun Pyo liked more. Without thinking, I blurted out that, honestly, he didn’t care what a woman was wearing.
“I think I like that idiot even more now,” she mused with a smile. “I like brusque and direct men. Tell me more about it, Jan Di dongsaeng.”
And once again, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.
“He is haughty and arrogant; he would be pissed to find there was someone more conceited than him. He thinks he knows everything… but he is actually really innocent. Besides, if he likes something, he will ignore the world’s opinion and will try to get it no matter the cost. He destroys everything in his path. When he is angry, he is really scary, but when he likes you, he is quite affectionate.”
It was then that I realized what I was saying and saw the strange looks I was getting from Ga Eul and Jae Kyung. I tried to laugh it off.
“Either way, what I mean is that he is a childish demon, immature and irresponsible. Think of it like that.”
I was really hoping that comment would cover the fact that I’d been more honest than I wanted to be.
“Jan Di, I can tell you know Jun Pyo very well. That would really help me. I’ll ask you officially. Be my date trainer! Please? Say yes!”
Just what I always wanted.
Ji Hoo’s POV
I was reading a magazine in the F4 playroom as Jun Pyo paced up and down like he was waiting for something to happen. Yi Jung and Woo Bin kept bugging him, more now than they had heard about Jae Kyung biting his ear. “We knew this was Jun Pyo’s sensitive point!” they crowed, howling with laughter.
They kept on like that for a while until Yi Jung made a sobering observation. “She wasn’t like the girls we usually meet; she was interesting. We haven’t met anyone like that since Jan Di.”
“And you call yourself my friends? Aish…” Jun Pyo went to the exit, kicking my foot in the process. “Make way!”
Of course, I didn’t move an inch and he almost fell on his face. He went out fuming.
“But, seriously speaking, we have to do something. Jun Pyo is really trapped,” Yi Jung said.
“Having an arranged married is hard, but what if she really feels something for him?” said Woo Bin thoughtfully.
“Remember, she is the heiress of JK Group. If Jun Pyo doesn’t do something and quick, they will end up married.”
His words stuck in my head. I was thinking the same thing. Yes, it bothered me that Jun Pyo had done so much to hurt Jan Di, but despite that, he wasn’t going to stop being my brother. The last thing I wished for him was an arranged marriage.
“Won’t you take care of that?” I asked Yi Jung and Woo Bin. “Aren’t you the Don Juan and the Casanova of the F4?”
It was a deliberate punch to their pride, and as I watched them exchanging glances and smiles, I knew I had made the right call.
Jan Di’s POV
I spent my walk home thinking about the night’s events. Jae Kyung had wanted to drive us home, but we had thanked her and refused. When she said goodbye, she handed Ga Eul and me each a bag from the boutique we had visited. Jae Kyung told us that from that point on we were her best friends. Looking again inside the bag she gave me, I had to agree with Ga Eul: Jae Kyung had the weirdest character, but she was impossible to hate.
I made haste to get home because of the cold. When I entered, my mother, father and brother were wearing such expressions of sorrow that I started to worry. Obviously, they’d found out that Jun Pyo was engaged, but they were acting as if someone had died. Somehow I felt sorry to see that my mother and Jun Pyo’s were so alike; both of them wanted to marry their children to the best bidder, consequences be damned. But at least I knew deep down that my mother loved me.
Suddenly, the weeping was interrupted by the doorbell. I opened the door, and was stunned to see Jun Pyo’s fiancée waiting on our doorstep. My parents, no less surprised, hastily invited her in and accepted her immediately after seeing the lavish gifts she had brought.
“I know you don’t know me, but Jan Di and I are already like sisters, so please take care of me,” she said with an eager smile.
My mother thanked her and invited her to come over whenever she wanted.
“Then… can I sleep over today?” Jae Kyung asked without preamble.
Next thing I knew, Jae Kyung was my curled up on my bed while I lay on a futon next to it.
“This is like a slumber party!” she gushed excitedly. “I’ve always wanted to do something like this… and your room is so cozy.”
“Really?” I had to admit that she didn’t seem like the typical rich girl. At least she had not made comparisons with her own home out loud. I was sure her room must have been five times the size of mine.
“It really is a miracle!” I heard her say.
“To have met you and Jun Pyo in Macao! It’s like it has been written in our destinies.”
“So you met Jun Pyo in Macao?” I had been right.
“I think I liked him since the first time I saw him… Before, when my parents mentioned the word ‘engagement’, I always ran for the hills! But when I see Jun Pyo’s face, my heart starts to burn. Hey, Jan Di, have you ever felt that? I mean, do you like someone? Something like, a first love?”
As soon as I heard those words leave her mouth, the image of Ji Hoo came to my head and I blushed. Jae Kyung noticed.
“So there is someone! What is he like?”
I took a couple of seconds to answer. I couldn’t help but see his face when I closed my eyes, over and over again in different situations—usually getting into or out of trouble with me.
“He is…an absorbing person…” I said, casting around for a way to describe Ji Hoo.
“When you’re with him, everything else just fades away. He’s that kind of person.” Maybe my choice of word wasn’t the exact one.
“Oh, I get it. He’s a person with whom you felt good.”
“He’s a person with whom I feel good,” I said, trying to express to her Ji Hoo’s importance, and the way he kept saving me.
“Jun Pyo is like wine to me,” she countered.
“Yes. Like a very strong and aromatic wine. When you drink it your blood boils, and you feel dazed… Do you think he likes someone? Well, it doesn’t really matter; all I have to think about is making sure he notices me. You know, it’s strange. It’s been a long time since I wanted something so strongly.”
I smiled at her comment despite myself. Jae Kyung really looked like a person who could have anything she wanted with a snap of her fingers, but here she was, willing to fight for something she wanted without caring who or what got in her way. I knew that feeling. I had done the exact same thing, but I had lost.
I turned on my side and closed my eyes, trying to fall sleep. It was weird, but even though we’d been talking about Jun Pyo, I kept seeing my sunbae’s face in my mind. Even stranger, somehow the thought of him calmed me and allowed me to sleep peacefully.
I thanked heaven that Jae Kyung had left early and I was able to go to school alone. The day went by faster and more quietly, and even if there were still rumors about the engagement, they were no longer directed at me. Still, I couldn’t say that I was completely unaffected…
I went by my usual route this time, the one that passed by the entrance to the pool. I liked the pillars in this place, and it was also a way to be near one of the things I loved. Almost halfway to the exit I thought I saw… but no, it couldn’t be. I turned around expecting to see nothing, but luck was not with me that day: standing there with his arms crossed and an indecipherable look on his face was Jun Pyo.
For a few seconds, silence stretched out between us. I didn’t know whether to say something or not. What was left to say?
My pride won the battle and I turned around without a word. The sound of footsteps told me that Jun Pyo was following.
I whirled on him. “What? You have something to say?”
“Why aren’t you swimming anymore?” And of course, his question would be the most painful one.
“What kind of swimmer quits swimming?” he asked.
“None of your business. Did you follow me to ask me that?”
He flinched a little at that. “I hate to be misunderstood; I wanted to clarify this situation.”
“The engagement or whatever… that doesn’t have anything to do with me.”
“Or me,” I snorted. “Jun Pyo, you’ve become generous these days. Now you’re giving explanations to the stain you want to erase.”
I said it with all the malice I could muster. It wasn’t fair that he had discarded me and now was trying to be the good guy.
My peripheral view allowed me to catch Jae Kyung coming down by the stairs. She saw me and waved at me.
“Look, your fiancée is here.”
He rolled his eyes. “What is that monkey doing here again?”
I had nothing else to say, so I walked away. But Jun Pyo continued to follow me. Now what? Needing rescue, I looked around wildly, and there he was. Of course. Somehow he always responded to the alarm in my heart: Ji Hoo. He was on his bike, and looked up just as I ran over to him.
“Sunbae! Can you take me?”
Ji Hoo’s POV
There was only one person who called me sunbae in that tone. I turned around and saw Jan Di. Her face was worried and she was begging me to take her on a ride. I looked behind her and saw Jun Pyo and Miss Ha following her. For a moment I wondered whether or not it was okay to get involved, but then I realized that I wanted to be.
I offered her my helmet–thought it was more like her helmet by this point—silently agreeing to her plea. She was about to put it on when the entourage arrived.
“Watching you together, it looks like it was planned! Jan Di and Jun Pyo are very close, right?” Jae Kyung said happily while the rest of us remained silent. She focused her gaze on me and gasped. “Oh…this person…”
“He is Ji Hoo sunbae,” Jan Di said by way of introduction.
“Why are you presenting my friend?” Jun Pyo objected, clearly peeved at finding Jan Di and I about to leave together. “Hey, monkey, this is my friend Yoon Ji Hoo.”
She smiled and I bowed slightly. I still couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable near strange people.
“You like him? At least you have good taste,” Jun Pyo continued.
“I get it now,” Jae Kyung said.
“What?” asked Jun Pyo, confused.
“It’s him, right?” Jae Kyung wasn’t talking to Jun Pyo now, but to Jan Di.
“Eh? What?” She looked dumbfounded.
“Jan Di, this is the guy you like. Right?”
I couldn’t help but react to that comment. Where did this girl get that idea?
“He was the one you were talking about yesterday! I can’t be wrong!”
Yesterday? Jan Di was talking about me? I didn’t understand a thing, but when I turned to look at Jan Di, I noticed her cheeks were flushed and she was moving her hands a lot, something she did when she was nervous.
“Ah…unnie! Please, don’t… say anything…” She was talking quietly and I almost couldn’t hear the excuses she was giving.
“This is great!” Jae Kyung plowed on obliviously. “Let’s go out together, the four of us, okay?”
“No!” was the unanimous response to Jae Kyung’s request.
“Why not?” she asked sadly.
It was Jan Di who answered. “Well… I have things to do, so I have to go. Unnie, you two have fun together. Sunbae, let’s go, please.”
She put her helmet on and hopped on the bike.
We pulled away, and I relaxed into the ride. This was something I really liked to do, riding with her. True, I couldn’t see her face, but I could feel the closeness of her body to mine. Jan Di was warm, and I reveled in the sensation of her against me. Sometimes she would even rest her head on my back, and when we went fast or took a tight curve, she would tighten her grip on my waist. I was sure she did it unconsciously, but I couldn’t deny that I loved those small gestures. Those were moments I shared only with her. No one else had ever ridden on the back of my bike, not even Seo Hyun; she didn’t like it. That space and that helmet belonged to Jan Di, and the time it took me to get her to wherever she wanted to go belonged to me.
Jan Di’s POV
Why did Jae Kyung make that comment? And in front of Ji Hoo! I mean, I know I said he was my first love but I didn’t say I still liked him… Not that I don’t like him. I like Ji Hoo sunbae. I mean, he is someone really important to me and… and… I like him as a friend! Yes! He’s a good friend!
As I tried to straighten out my feelings, I thought about what Jae Kyung had said. I hoped Ji Hoo wasn’t upset. I didn’t think he was. After all, he hadn’t said anything about it—but then again, that was Ji Hoo. He was not a pusher.
I loved riding on his bike like this, with the wind blowing so fast against my ears that I couldn’t hear a thing and every bad thought somehow flying away with the breeze. And my sunbae’s back was warm and comforting. Somehow I felt like I was taking advantage during these moments… but I just couldn’t help it.
Ji Hoo’s POV
As we rode, Jan Di directed me to a clinic instead of the restaurant where I usually dropped her off for work.
“You got a job here?” I asked.
“It’s not a job, exactly. I volunteer here. I just clean, do some errands. When I’m here I feel really relaxed and I can concentrate in my studies.”
“How is it that you put so much effort into everything you do?” I always wondered that whenever I thought about her. I had felt so ashamed when I saw how a girl who had nothing somehow always gave her best effort in every little thing in her life. She smiled, acknowledging the compliment.
We were so different in that way. I had received everything just by asking, but I had never worked for anything. That’s why I thanked her in Macao for making me experience things I never imagined; that’s why I bought her those shoes. It was a desire I’d had almost from the moment I first realized I loved her: to buy her something with the first money I earned with my own two hands.
“It’s not that difficult, sunbae.” She handed back my helmet and squeezed my arm in goodbye. “I have to go. Thanks for bringing me. Drive carefully.”
As she walked toward the entrance, a great idea hit me.
“Jan Di.” She turned to look at me. “I’m also good at cleaning.”
She looked puzzled for a moment, but then understood. Her smile was warm as beckoned me to join her.
“Come in then, and quickly, because I’m already late.”
I followed her inside, looking around with interest. The clinic was small and modest, but it had what it needed to serve the people of the neighborhood. As soon as Jan Di entered, she was greeted by all the patients. Even the children were calling out to her and asking for a piggy back ride or to play with her. It was amazing. Just by showing up she had brought the place to life, much the same way she did it to me.
Jan Di’s expression had also changed. She was happy and comfortable here, just as she had said earlier. I kept observing the place and caught a glimpse of the doctor in charge as he finished examining a patient. Somehow he made me remember my grandfather. He had grey hair and was somewhat old.
That’s what he must be like right now.
“Your pressure is fine; come back in two weeks.”
“Thank you very much, doctor.”
Both of them stood up, and this time I could see his face clearly.
It couldn’t be… right? It was impossible.
I was petrified and didn’t know what to do. Running looked like a pretty good choice.
He had seen me. He had said my name… Those eyes, those glasses…
This person was my grandfather.
I ran away.
Jan Di’s POV
I head grandfather scream my sunbae’s name and I came running out of the little kitchen to see what was happening. I didn’t see Ji Hoo anywhere, and the rest of the patients looked as confused as I was. When I entered the consulting room with grandfather, I noticed he had tears in his eyes.
“Ji Hoo…Ji hoo…” he was lamenting.
“Grandfather, what is it? Do you by any chance know Ji Hoo sunbae?”
“He… that boy… that young man is my Ji Hoo. He is my grandson…”
I knew the story about the death of Ji Hoo’s parents, but I never knew Ji Hoo had a grandfather. I never even thought to ask.
“Grandpa, what happened between you two? Why are you acting like this? Look at how you are…”
“Leave me alone!” he implored through tears. “I don’t want to talk about it… just leave me, please!”
There was no way to calm him, so I left the office, closing the door behind me. I tried calling Ji Hoo, but his cellphone was not connecting. The whole situation felt so strange.
“Is everything okay, Jan Di?” one of the ladies waiting for the doctor asked me.
“Eh? Yeah! Everything is perfect. Doctor is feeling a little bit tired, so I’ll finish up with the examinations today. Is that okay?”
I quickly checked to make sure no patient needed emergency treatment and was relieved to find all the cases were simple ones. I took notes on blood pressure and checked temperatures before handing out over the counter meds to those who needed them. Thanks to grandfather, I was learning how to address common maladies. The least I could do was to try and attend everyone as quickly as possible so that he could rest.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Ji Hoo sunbae and grandfather all day long. I told Ga Eul about what had happened, and she was really surprised at finding out that the cranky old man who always came asking for food we didn’t serve was actually President Yoon Seok Young. What neither of us could understand was why a grandson and his grandfather hadn’t talked in so much time.
“It’s not that they don’t want to talk to each other; it’s that they’re not able to,” Boss interrupted us.
“Boss, how do you know that? Do you know them?” Ga Eul asked.
“Jan Di, please help them,” Boss asked me without answering Ga Eul.
I knew he was right. I had to do something to bring them back together. Ji Hoo sunbae had been alone for a long time, it was imperative that he be reunited with his grandfather.
“Boss, I’m leaving early,” I called over my shoulder on the way out the door.
I went to the clinic without knowing the big disaster I was leaving behind at the restaurant.
When I arrived, there were no patients, just grandfather in his office, standing still and looking at a family portrait.
“Hello grandfather! I’m early today! Do you want to drink something?”
He didn’t answer, so I went to make some tea. Who knew if he had eaten anything in that state? After serving it and leaving the tray on his desk, I turned around to go, but then he spoke.
“I killed them… I’m the one responsible for making that kid an orphan. It’s all my fault.”
I stayed the rest of the afternoon and part of the night. He told me what had happened and how he felt about having left behind his only family, and also of the regret he had lodged in his heart for so many years. It was in that moment that I noticed the picture behind his desk; it was the same one that Ji Hoo had at his house, a photo of him and his parents, his grandfather, and two assistants.
How did I miss seeing this?
“Grandpa, it will be alright, you’ll see. You just need to talk…”
It hurt me to know that Ji Hoo thought his grandfather hated him for ‘killing’ his only son, when in actuality grandfather was blaming himself…
I was still thinking of what grandfather had told me that night as I made a feeble attempt at my homework the next day. It was hard to concentrate while my mind was busy trying to find a way to help grandfather and my sunbae. I was still pondering it when my cellphone rang. It was Ga Eul giving me the worse news I’ve ever heard: she was going on a date with Yi Jung.
“Are you insane?”
“Of course not! Yi Jung says he will pick me up really early, so I have to go home to prepare what I’ll be wearing. I just know I won’t be able to sleep! Bye, Jan Di!”
She disconnected before I could reply. Oh, no! Not Ga Eul! It was like putting a lamb tied to a pole in front of a hungry wolf!
I dialed the only number that came to my head in that moment.
“Sunbae, please answer…” but his cellphone only rang without response. I was getting worried. I had not seen him in school today, and hadn’t talked to him since he ran out of the clinic last night.
What am I supposed to do now!? I wondered.
Ji Hoo’s POV
The day after the encounter in the clinic, I didn’t go to school. I couldn’t. It wasn’t as if I needed to, anyway. The truth was that I was still in shock… How is it that he was fine and alive here, so close, and hadn’t tried to come see me even once? The only explanation I found was that he still hated me. Of course. I had been his son’s murderer, so the hate made sense. I felt gutted, like I was walking around with a hole in my chest that was almost too much to bear. I wasn’t sure what to do until I thought of my parents… I had to go see them. It was really late, but I didn’t care. I prepared quickly and called the chauffer. It couldn’t wait another moment.
On the drive to my parents’ graves, I realized that I didn’t have my cellphone, but it didn’t matter. The only ones who ever called me were the F4, and they knew that there were days when I disappeared. I just wanted to go to the place where my mother and father were resting, after seeing my… grandfather–it was still taking work to say it. I needed to ask for forgiveness once again.
Confusing questions and dark memories crowded my mind… but Jan Di was still present in my thoughts.
We arrived too late and I couldn’t get in to see them, so I decided to stay in the cottage I owned in the area. It was clear right away that I wasn’t going to be able to sleep, so I settled down to play the piano… all night long.
Jan Di’s POV
I wasn’t sure how I had found myself in this crazy situation, but there I was. I needed Jun Pyo’s help. My Ga Eul was going on a date with Yi Jung, and after hearing Woo Bin describe Yi Jung’s “Death in Five Seconds” seduction technique, I was more than set on rescuing my innocent friend from the paws of the wolf. And in order to do that, I had to ally myself with the last person I wanted to spend time with. He was the only one I could ask for help to follow our friends around without being detected.
I dragged Jun Pyo throughout the whole date, spying on the couple and making sure that Ga Eul’s virtue remained safely intact. Yi Jung took her to clothes boutiques and perfumeries; he even bought her a lipstick! That was too much.
“Aish, why is Yi Jung doing this?” I groused, not expecting an answer.
“I already told you that he likes another kind of woman. Ga Eul’s not his type at all. Your friend is safe,” Jun Pyo reassured me as we sat inside his car.
“If it was like that, he wouldn’t have asked her out, you idiot!” I exploded.
“Who are you calling an idiot!?” His eyes lit up with anger.
“You! Because you understand nothing! You know nothing!”
“Oh, yeah? I know I’m going to leave you here, and then you can figure out on your own how to get home, because this is my car!”
Ji Hoo’s POV
In the morning, I left early for the graveyard. I went alone and on foot; I didn’t want any company. I took white daisies, my mom’s favorites. When I reach the peak, I could see that the tombstones were dusty and the flowers were dry. I didn’t remember the last time I had visited. I was an ungrateful son.
“Grandfather… he probably still hates me right? None of the people I have loved had stayed beside me. I have tried to live thinking I don’t need anybody… but I’m beginning to act selfish. What should I do?” I asked.
What should I do… Jan Di?
Jan Di’s POV
“…and besides, you were the one who brought me here. I told you to leave things as they were!”
I was about to retort when suddenly I felt like someone was calling me. As if someone had mentioned my name and that person needed me… desperately.
“Hey…what’s wrong with you?” Jun Pyo asked
“Nothing,” I answered. “It’s just that, I think—I feel as if someone is calling me and, I don’t know…”
Jun Pyo stared at me as if I was crazy, and I punched him just to make him stop. We had to keep following Ga Eul.
Stop thinking silly things. I told myself.
After eating, going to an arcade, and visiting an ice cream shop, Yi Jung took Ga Eul to an open ice rink. Through the binoculars I could see that they were holding hands while skating, and then Yi Jung took off his coat and draped it over Ga Eul’s shoulders.
“It can’t be! He’s a full-on Casanova!” I claimed.
“So you would rather your friend froze?” Jun Pyo asked.
“Well, no…” I admitted.
“Your lips are turning blue. You’ll die freezing while trying to save Ga Eul. Come here,” he said, pulling me roughly towards him.
“H-Hey, what are you doing?” I stuttered as Jun Pyo wrapped his jacket around me.
“I will not!” Where I got the will to push him, I’m not sure, but I knew that I couldn’t allow myself to be so close to him like before. That would just hurt me more. “I’ll be fine, thanks,” I said, trying to soften the harshness of my previous reaction.
Jun Pyo said nothing, but stared across the park at the ice rink. Yi Jung had lifted his arm and, almost instantly, fireworks bathed the night sky.
“Why is it the F4 use fireworks as confetti?” I wondered aloud.
“What are you talking about? It’s a great move, and he stole my idea. Tell me something: when I did this for you… did you like it?”
He was staring hard at me, and I looked into his eyes. New Caledonia held good and bad memories for me, but that one was definitely a good one.
“Of course I liked it; what girl wouldn’t?” I saw him smile, so I went on, not wanting to give him the wrong impression. “But that was a long time ago. Things are different now.”
The smile vanished, but before I could say anything else, I was suddenly aware that Yi Jung and Ga Eul were moving.
“Hey, hey, where is he taking her? Where is he going?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Jun Pyo asked.
“Should we go up too?”
“Go up where?” I was beginning to get impatient, but then I followed Jun Pyo’s gaze and saw a gigantic hotel.
Jun Pyo paid for a room right next to the one Yi Jung had booked. As soon as we got in, I started trying to hear what was happening through the wall, but Jun Pyo told me that in a five star hotel like this one, I would never hear a thing. Instead, he suggested I guard the door. When I stepped into the hallway, I saw a bellboy with a trolley of food and candies, flowers and candles about to go into Ga Eul’s and Yi Jung’s room. I forced Jun Pyo to stop him and made him take all of that into our room. Yi Jung was trying to seduce Ga Eul, but I was going to do everything I could not to let that happen.
I was so focused on what was possibly happening in the other room that I hadn’t noticed that the bell boy had set the table in our room, lighting the candles and arranging the food. The romantic sight jarred me. It was in that second that I realized I was in a hotel room, alone, with Goo Jun Pyo.
“Congratulations,” I told him.
“Thanks,” he answered, but he looked confused, so I spoke again.
“Even if it’s late, happy birthday.”
“Even if it’s late, thanks for the gift,” he replied.
“How did you find out about my gift?” I asked. The last thing I remembered was leaving it in Ji Hoo’s car.
“It was the cheapest thing I received, but I accept it because it’s the thought that counts,” he said magnanimously.
I wanted to laugh, but then I remembered another thing.
“Even if it’s late, congratulations… on your… engagement.” The words were vinegar in my mouth, and he looked as upset as I was.
“I told you to forget about that.”
“Unnie is a nice person,” I said.
“She, um, she really likes you.”
“I see you still don’t know how not to meddle into other people business. It’s fine though. You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t make me mad. So? Now that it has happened, are you happy that I’m going to marry? Would that make you feel better?”
His question took me by surprise. It was obvious that I wouldn’t be happy about him marrying someone else, but on the other hand, it made a kind of sense. Jae Kyung belonged to his world, and she knew how it worked; she was also an heiress from a financial group. Me? I was just the heiress to a laundry shop. Besides, even though Jun Pyo was being nice today, agreeing to accompany me on this fool’s errand, what guarantee was there that he wouldn’t shut me out again tomorrow? He always blew hot and cold. Could I really trust him again?
No answer came to me, so I deflected the question. “Ah…what is taking Ga Eul so long? I’ll go check.”
I was truly worried about Ga Eul. I stood outside room 2012 trying to listen, but I couldn’t hear a thing.
Surely they’re not…
I turned around to see who had caught me with my ear against a bedroom door. I was sure I was going to get kicked out by hotel security, but when I saw who it was, I would rather have faced the devil himself than the person standing in front of me: Jun Pyo’s mother.
“H-Hello,” I croaked.
“You are a girl I cannot stand even if I try to. Now you’re showing your true colors! That’s why I’m so careful, so that trashy people like you and your family don’t mess with my son!” She was yelling.
“I…I think that’s a bit too much. Believe me, ma’am, this is a misunderstanding.”
“Ha! Tell me then, missy, if a girl brings a boy to a hotel, what kind of woman is she? And you still have the nerve to tell me this is a misunderstanding?”
Jun Pyo chose that moment to burst out of the hotel room. “Hey Jan Di, what happened with-?” And then he saw his mother in the hallway.
“What? Now that Jun Pyo Is engaged, you think you can lure him here for the night and seduce him!? You’re nothing more than a wh-!”
I saw her approach me with her hand held high ready to slap me. Her secretary moved, but then stopped. Jun Pyo tried to reach us, but his mother got there first. The blow made my left cheek burn.
“Leave her alone!” Jun Pyo grasped his mother’s arm. “Please, don’t touch her.”
She didn’t listen to his request, but slapped him too.
“Jun Pyo must not be here,” she said imperiously, and the bodyguards behind her instantly grasped Jun Pyo’s arms and dragged him away. With a sneer, she followed.
Me? I was still standing there like an idiot. I didn’t defend myself. I hadn’t even been able to speak up. I leaned against one of the walls and slid down to the floor, trying to calm the sadness and anger I felt on the inside.
What did I do wrong?
Ji Hoo’s POV
I had been sitting against my parent’s graves almost the whole day. When it started to get dark, I headed home, but I wasn’t there very long. I didn’t feel like staying in the place grandfather had chosen not to return to.
I changed my clothes, took my cellphone, and went for a ride on my bike. That would calm me.
I had been riding for an hour when I felt my cellphone vibrate. It was a text from Jun Pyo asking me to call Jan Di, and that could only mean trouble. When I closed the text, I noticed Jan Di’s missed calls from the night before and that alarmed me further.
I called her immediately.
“Hello, sunbae.” Her voice was listless.
“Where are you?”
“I saw your missed calls. Nothing bad has happened, right?”
“No, nothing has happened.”
“Then have a good rest tonight.”
“I will. Thank you. Bye.”
It was obvious that something had happened. How was I so foolish as to not check if I had any messages on the cellphone as soon as I got home? Jan Di had called three times, and I had been away. She had needed me, and I hadn’t been close. I felt my motorcycle groaning with effort as I sped up more and more. Jan Di had said she was home, but some intuition told me that was not the truth. Changing my route, I drove instead to the clinic and sighed heavily when I saw I was right: the lights were on although the clinic had closed long ago.
I parked and entered without making any sound. I slid aside the door that was the entrance to the lobby and there she was, mopping the floor. Saying nothing, I entered and stood in front of her.
“Sunbae,” she murmured.
“This place has become the home of Geum Jan Di,” I observed, trying to bring a smile to her face.
“I… I couldn’t study. I thought I’d get some fresh air before trying again.”
Her voice showed that she was hurt, and she was keeping her eyes glued to the floor rather than look at me.
In a clear attempt to cut off conversation, she resumed her mopping but I stood in her way again. She stepped around me and tried to continue. One time, two times, three times… I couldn’t take it anymore. I took her hand, stopping her movement with the mop. Jan Di finally looked at me, and I finally saw her wet eyes, her bruising cheek…
I let the mop fall to the floor with a clatter and pulled her to me, holding her in my arms. Jan Di buried her face in my chest and started crying, great heaving sobs that showed all the hurt she’d been hiding inside. She clung to me as she wept.
I’m an idiot. How could I let this happen? How could I let her get hurt?
“Sunbae… oh, sunbae, what did I do wrong?”
“Nothing at all. Jan Di did nothing wrong. Shhh, calm down. I’m here now. You’re safe with me,” I murmured, hugging her more tightly because I couldn’t think of something else to do.
“I…I tried to call you, because I knew you would help me, sunbae, but… but I couldn’t find you…” She told me between sobs.
“I know. Forgive me.” I took her face in my hands and caressed her cheek, gazing into her eyes while I wiped away her tears. “Never again will something like this happen,” I promised. “I will always be there for you, Jan Di. You just need to call me and I’ll be by your side as soon as possible. I’m so sorry…”
We ended up sitting on the floor, Jan Di cradled in my arms as I tried to make her feel safe. I swore I would never let her go through something like that again. From this point onwards, I vowed to myself, I would fight for her with all my strength.
I’m sorry, Jun Pyo, but I love her too.
“Are you better?” I asked her after some time had passed and her wails had subsided into quiet sniffles.
“Yes. And I’m sorry, sunbae, for all of….this. It’s not like you have to be there when I call you.”
“But I will be, for as long as you want me to. As long as you’ll let me.”
She looked at me, and I smiled.
“You won’t ask me what happened?”
“No. But when you want to tell me, I’ll listen.”
She smiled back weakly and took a deep breath. “I want to tell you now, sunbae.”
As Jan Di poured out the distressing account of what had happened, I felt anger growing in me. Jun Pyo’s mother… I never liked that woman, but now I was really starting to hate her.
“Does it hurt?” I asked, touching her face again.
“Nah, I will be fine by tomorrow.”
“Well then, I think it’s time for you to go home. Your other home—the one that has a bed,” I teased.
“Yeah, you’re right. I’ll just tidy up quickly.” She made a quick survey of the clinic, straightening up cluttered magazines and setting out supplies for the next day.
“I’ll wait for you outside,” I said.
When she was finished, Jan Di locked the clinic doors, then reached out to me for the helmet. I helped her buckle it under her chin, then steadied the bike as she threw one leg over it and pulled herself onto the seat. Her arms encircled my waist completely as she adjusted her position on the backseat of the bike. That was strange, though; she usually just grasped my jacket on either side, careful not to encroach on my personal space. However, I wasn’t going to complain. Not at all.
“Hold on tight!” was the last thing I said.
Jan Di’s POV
Ji Hoo was like an angel, arriving at the precise moment when I needed him most. All my pain was wiped away by his jacket and shirt, and although I tried to apologize and pay for the laundry bill, he flat out refused.
When I stepped out of the clinic, the sight of him hit me almost like it had the first time. There he was on his white motorcycle, his arm outstretched to offer me a helmet of the same color. I hopped on, and instead of grasping onto his clothes, I slid my arms around him, silently enjoying the feeling of closeness I always felt when I was with this man.
Thank you my honorary firefighter, Yoon Ji Hoo.