Jan Di’s POV
I was in a meadow full of flowers; the breeze was fresh and the sun warm and comforting. I was dressed in a white dress, barefoot. Suddenly I felt someone hugging me from behind. He ran his hands along my waist and begun humming a beautiful song in my ear. I wasn’t sure of the words, but I’d heard the melody before. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew who he was. It could only be him… it could only be…
I woke up with a start, disoriented and scared. Looking around groggily, I finally discovered the source of the noise: the alarm clock on the bedside table. I turned it off and tried to remember how I had gotten to my room. The last thing I remembered was sunbae singing a song to me.
I turned my face to look at the clock and found it was still early—eight o’clock, to be exact. I knew I had dreamed something nice, but I couldn’t exactly remember what.
I decided to get up to shower and change; after all, I was still dressed in the clothes I’d worn the night before. When I was done, I made my bed. I knew that the hotel employed housekeepers who would come and do it for you, but it was my habit. Finally, I checked my appearance one last time in the mirror and opened the door.
I was truly surprised when I found Ji Hoo with his fist held high as if he were just about to knock.
“Good morning,” he greeted me with a smile.
“Morning… Um, would you mind telling me how I got here?”
“I told you it was no problem if you fell asleep.”
“You…brought me here?”
Involuntarily, a slight blush spread across my cheeks. It wasn’t the first time he had carried me, but still…
“I’m sorry to have been a bother.”
“On the contrary,” he said, “you should fall asleep more often.”
“Huh?” I didn’t catch the last part of his sentence.
“Nothing. Would you like to get some breakfast?”
“Yes, please! I’m starving!”
Jae Kyung’s POV
I hadn’t slept all night, and I had choked down a whole gallon of strawberry ice cream. I felt terrible.
Jun Pyo had been the one to ask me to go out officially, and now he was telling me there was someone else? I wasn’t stupid; I just hadn’t wanted to listen. I knew before he said it that the name on his lips would be ‘Jan Di’.
The day before, I had watched him walking behind her after saving her from drowning, and yet I clearly remembered that in a conversation with his mother she had told me that Jun Pyo had a phobia of the water and had never been able to learn how to swim. So then… how was it possible that he had jumped without a second thought after Jan Di?
I felt relieved when Ji Hoo took her away, carrying her possessively in his arms, but still the feeling of restlessness wouldn’t go away. What’s more, that necklace, ‘J&J’… it had the same initials as the rings I had planned to give Jun.
Does it stand for ‘Jun Pyo and Jan Di’? No, it wouldn’t be that, right? It must be something like ‘Ji Hoo and Jan Di’. Obviously, I should return something so precious to her, but… what if it’s not from Ji Hoo? What if it really stands for Jun and Jan Di? I can’t help but notice the looks he gives her sometimes, and Jan Di is always uncomfortable when Jun is near… God, what am I supposed to do?
“Unnie, good morning.” It was Jan Di’s voice pulling me out of my reverie.
“Oh! Good morning!” I greeted her brightly, turning my head slightly to include Ji Hoo, who stood next to her.
Jan Di glanced around as if looking for someone, while Ji Hoo approached the table to take out a chair for her.
“How did you sleep, unnie?”
Something made me want to lash out at her. “I couldn’t catch a wink of sleep,” I said with a sly grin. “Yesterday was a memorable night for the two of us. Jun Pyo left a little bit earlier because he had some business matters to take care of, but I can say he was way more exhausted than me.”
Jan Di dropped the fork she was holding and I saw a tiny light in her eyes go out. Ji Hoo gave her his fork and stared at her.
Why had I said something like that? I didn’t know myself. It was a spur of the moment thing. I just wanted to watch Jan Di’s reaction at my hinting that Jun Pyo and I had sex, even if it wasn’t true.
“Yesterday things looked good between you two, as well. It was a good idea to come here right?”
Jan Di looked up tremulously and arranged her face into a smile. “Yes, it was. This is a lovely place, unnie. Thank you very much for inviting me, and I’m sorry about yesterday. I spoiled all the night’s fun.”
I felt my heart being tightly squeezed.
“Rubbish! I had a great time. Well, the thread must follow the needle, so I guess I’m leaving, too. You stay and have fun, okay? Ji Hoo, you better make sure Jan Di enjoys herself, all right?”
I received a slight nod from him.
“Take care, unnie. And thank you again for bringing me here.”
I smiled at Jan Di, stood up, and left feeling like the worst scumbag in the whole world.
I couldn’t stand myself in that moment. Why had I told such a terrible lie? Was I jealous? Was that what being jealous felt like? I didn’t have any concrete proof, but my instincts told me that somehow Jun Pyo and Jan Di loved each other…
What can I do? I don’t want to lose him, but I also don’t want to lose Jan Di! She’s my first friend. I really love her.
Jan Di’s POV
“I couldn’t catch a wink of sleep. Yesterday was a memorable night for the two of us. Jun Pyo left a little bit earlier because he had some business matters to take care of, but I can say he was way more exhausted than me.”
Hearing those words knocked the breath out of me. The strength went out of my arm, and the fork I was holding fell to the ground. Ji Hoo immediately gave me his own while I worked on schooling my reaction. Why was I so surprised? I mean, didn’t it make sense that couples would do things like that? And Jae Kyung was used to being more open after living outside of Korea for so long. Jun Pyo probably hadn’t been an angel either, being constantly surrounded by F4’s Casanova and Don Juan. It was just… I hadn’t thought of what Jae Kyung and Jun Pyo being a couple would really mean. What could I do? Nothing. There was nothing to do. Jun Pyo and I were over, had been over for a while. This revelation had nothing to do with me anymore.
I thanked Jae Kyung for inviting me to her hotel, and my gratitude was truly honest. She said she was leaving to follow Jun Pyo and said good bye.
“Jan Di.” Ji Hoo tried to catch my attention.
“Would you like to go out and explore the town? It’s a little boring to stay indoors all day, even in a place as pretty as this.”
“Of course.” And before I could say anything else, my stomach growled loudly… as usual.
“I think, little otter, you should feed first. Go on, eat.”
Ji Hoo talked to me as I ate, and my appetite returned. I filled up on delicious food while I listened, and my mind didn’t once go back to my conversation with Jae Kyung. The hurt in my heart subsided so much that I hardly noticed it anymore. I still wasn’t sure if it was because I was finally accepting my separation from Jun Pyo, or because I had a firefighter beside me.
Ji Hoo’s POV
Jae Kyung surprised me when she brazenly boasted to Jan Di about her night with Jun Pyo. Even more because I knew it was completely false. I had received a text from Jun Pyo saying he was leaving shortly after the pool incident. I could imagine Jae Kyung’s possible motives, but what I couldn’t completely grasp was the reason she had decided to lie now. Had she noticed something? Had Jun Pyo told her about his feelings for Jan Di?
I saw how at first the news shocked Jan Di, but then she seemed to compose herself quickly. She looked sincere when thanking Jae Kyung for the invitation, and even more animated once she got some food into her.
I could have told her, could have assured her that everything was a lie so she would feel no pain, but if that lie made it possible for her to forget more quickly about Jun Pyo, I was willing to be disgustingly selfish.
What have I become?
“Okay, I’m ready… Where are we going?” Jan Di’s face radiated with expectation as she stepped up beside me.
“There’s a temple nearby. Let’s go visit.”
The temple was even more peaceful and lovely than it had looked in the tourist guide. We wandered around the place, marveling at its size and the incredible details of its ancient architecture. We prayed together and looked into all the rooms we were allowed to see. Jan Di had her eyes open in wonder and couldn’t stop exclaiming over the sights.
“I will never cease to be amazed by all the beauty in the world, sunbae,” she breathed out reverently.
To me, it was only another temple among so many others I had visited, but having her next to me made the visit to this one extra special.
In one corner of the temple’s large courtyard, we came across a monk who invited us to write a wish on a tile. It wasn’t the sort of thing I would usually have done, but with Jan Di there, I suddenly found myself wanting to write something. After sitting there for a moment, though, I still had no idea what to write.
“I have never known what to wish for,” I honestly told her.
“Then let’s do it like this, sunbae: you wish something for me and I’ll wish something for you. How about that?”
The idea sounded good to me, so I accepted and we both went for a white marker. When I really thought about it, I surprised myself. Before, when I had tried to write a wish for myself, nothing had come to mind; but now that I had to write something for her, my mind overflowed with ideas. When I turned to look at her, I could see she had already begun writing, so I decided on a wish I knew was within her reach.
‘Geum Jan Di: Praying for your college entrance.’
“Oh, I like that! Thank you, sunbae.”
“What did you wish for me?”
“The usual one,” she replied with a knowing smile, and my heart skipped a beat when I read her tile:
‘Yoon Ji Hoo: Praying for your constant happiness.’
When I turned to ask her about her ‘usual wish’, I saw she had already moved on to look at something else.
Geum Jan Di, you always make me feel new things.
We walked to a small fountain whose water was known for its purity and great healing powers. A woman standing nearby even told us it would fulfill the heart’s deepest desire, even if it was unknown. We were curious, so we decided to try. I filled a small bowl and offered it to her.
“If you drink this, you’ll get into college.”
She laughed and drank the water; I did the same. We were about to go when we saw a monk approaching us. He stopped beside us and we greeted him with a small bow. Jan Di immediately served him some water, and the monk drank it gratefully. After another bow, Jan Di went looking for something new to see. I was about to follow her when I heard the words that are branded into me to this day.
“That young lady’s face is a lotus flower that can make muddy waters clear. Cherish her.”
“That girl… she is going to give you a family.”
He offered me a smile and a bow, and then left. I turned to look for Jan Di and saw that she was making signs at me, beckoning me to join her. I thought over the monk’s words. It was true that my mind had entertained the thought of being with her for the rest of my life. I had even fantasized about asking her to be my wife. Nothing would have made me happier. But the idea of a family of my own had never crossed my mind…
Having children with Jan Di…
I felt pterodactyls in my belly…
Jan Di’s POV
A sense of calm reined in me for the rest of the day. From time to time I felt sad, but my brain kept reminding me that I was no longer the girl next to Jun Pyo and that I should get used to it. Besides, having Ji Hoo next to me helped a lot. I was able to smile naturally and breathe without pain.
At nighttime, Ji Hoo left me again at my doorstep. I said goodbye to him and to Secretary Park who had picked us up at the hotel. When I entered my house, I was brought up short by the sight of my family sitting around the table with suitcases ready.
“Mom? What is all this? Are we at war?”
“Jan Di. Sit down, please,” said my father. “My daughter, I’m afraid I have to give you some bad news.”
My father, as usual, had gotten into some financial trouble, and he and my mother had decided to move in with some relatives of ours in the south and dedicate themselves to the fishing business. Living there would cost next to nothing, but that meant that Kang San and I would have to live alone. It was a harsh return to reality to come from thermal waters, luxury hotels, and hot chocolate cups to the news that our family was destitute and losing our home. I sighed heavily.
The next day, Ga Eul tried to help me search the newspaper to find a new place to live, somewhere cheap, but we had no luck. Discouraged, I told her that we could keep looking later and left to the clinic without knowing my luck was about to get a little bit better.
Jun Pyo’s POV
Jae Kyung had been in my house since early in this morning. It was barely a day ago that I left the hotel without her, and here she was again, bothering me. Somehow I had to convince her that I couldn’t go on with the marriage, but she didn’t seem very keen on listening. I couldn’t deny that her gestures moved me. In some aspects we were similar, and that made it impossible for me to hate her… but I couldn’t love her. I already loved someone: Geum Jan Di.
Jae Kyung even tried to give me couple rings. I was totally against it, and even more so after seeing the engraving in them: ‘J&J’. Could there be anything more ironic than that? I couldn’t stay with her anymore and left, knowing she was hurt at my refusal to put the ring on her finger.
I decided to go visit Yi Jung after learning from Woo Bin that he had broken his hand. When I got to his home, I found him in a sad state and I couldn’t understand why. He was even talking about quitting.
“A swimmer quits because of a shoulder injury, and now a potter quits for a hand injury. Seems like stories for a documentary, don’t you think?”
“What do you mean? Are you talking about Jan Di?”
“Do we know any other swimmer besides Jan Di?”
I remembered that Yi Jung had tried to tell me something like that in Macao, and also that Jan Di had said she quit swimming. But she had never told me the reason, and Yi Jung only kept talking in circles.
“Just tell me clearly what you’re talking about!”
“Do you remember when she got hit by that chair while she was protecting you? They told her she will never be able to swim again. You should have seen how much Jan Di cried when she found out. She was destroyed…”
“Is that true?”
“It doesn’t matter how much we try. Guys like you and me, we always end up hurting the women we love.”
I left his house stunned, unable to believe what I’d heard. Jan Di would never be able to swim professionally… because of me?
I wandered until I found myself at the school swimming pool, remembering the night I saved her from the thermal waters. It hadn’t been just a cramp, after all. Her shoulder injury had caused her to flounder.
I’m not sure how long I stayed there, but when I got home the only thing I could do was sleep, tightly holding that plush fuchsia toy Jan Di had given me.
I woke up later to find myself looking at some surprising photos.
Jan Di’s POV
It was not a big apartment, but it was enough. A nice lady from the clinic saw that I was looking for a place to live and offered me one that her son had not used in months and wasn’t planning on coming back to anytime soon. It was a stroke of luck. That same night, Ga Eul helped Kang San and me to move our stuff. The place was just a bit further away than my original house. We spent the night cleaning up as well as we could. The next day was a holiday, which gave me time to work, to finish cleaning, and to complete homework I didn’t get done on the weekend because we went with Jae Kyung to the hotel.
When my brother and I finished delivering newspapers and milk, we went back home. It was a shock to find a Jun Pyo himself waiting outside our door, happily announcing that he had bought the apartment across from ours and that we would be neighbors from than point onwards.
After that weird introduction, he insisted in going into our apartment. I tried to refuse, physically pushing him back towards the stairs leading down to the street, but he wouldn’t budge until we opened the door to him. He walked in like he belonged there and began explaining that he was trying to be more independent, to live a ‘Spartan’ type of life so he could grow more mature. I really didn’t get him. Why does he have to do this!? I was so irritated that he was trying to get back in my life just when I was learning to accept that he didn’t belong there anymore.
First he treats me as if I’m invisible, and then he goes and moves in next door to me. Why else would he have voluntarily moved to a place like this? This part of town doesn’t exactly meet his usual standard.
I had to go to work later (holiday or not, work was always available and I was grateful for that) and when I got back home, half my place was filled with paper towel boxes, toilet paper, and a lot of other useless stuff—great quantities of it. I barely had time to react before the one who was obviously responsible for the ridiculous display entered right behind me, smiling and clearly proud of his actions. Jun Pyo told me he had so much he had decided to throw what was left in my apartment.
He was infuriating.
I tried to calm down. Ignoring him, I turned my attention to cooking some food for my brother and me.
Jun Pyo had not eaten at all that day—God knows why—and ended up eating almost the whole pot of ramyun, leaving me and my brother with just a mouthful.
“Get out!” I yelled. I pushed him bodily out of the door, closed it, locked it, and prayed for the day to end.
A few hours later, Kang San was sleeping while I stayed up doing some homework. I had calmed down considerably, sure that all the idiocy was over, but I was wrong. A loud scream for help in the middle of the night made me leave my studies and go running into Jun Pyo’s apartment, thinking something bad had happened to him.
The cause for all the screaming? A bug.
Sadly, the little thing bore the brunt of my rage and was pulverized into nothing.
“What is wrong with you, Jun Pyo? I was studying! I don’t have time for your nonsense anymore. You’re an annoyance to this neighborhood, and if you do anything like this again, I will call the police!” I started to storm out, but then Jun Pyo called to me.
“Hey…Geum Jan Di.”
I whirled on him. “What? Now what?”
“Can’t you stay? For a bit?”
“Why would I?”
“Eh… um… what if one of those things comes out again?”
“Buy an insecticide and do what everyone else does.”
I turned around and left. I was so mad that I couldn’t stand to be near him for one more second. I knew Jun Pyo wasn’t a bad person, but it was impossible that we were neighbors! I needed time to be alone and forget him. He wasn’t allowing me that.
Another one of the reasons I was so bothered by him living here was waiting for me in my apartment: Jae Kyung.
Somehow, she had learned about my parents’ situation and how I had to move because of it. I would bet everything I had that Jun Pyo hadn’t told her about the purchase of the apartment next door, and I wasn’t going to be the one to tell her either. The last thing I needed was to have a problem with Jae Kyung. She and I ended the night with an impromptu tea party. Finally, exhausted, I went straight to sleep after Jae Kyung left.
The next day I woke up early enough to not clash with Jun Pyo and went to school. For the rest of the day I didn’t see him or hear about him.
Actually, I haven’t heard about any of the F4… I realized. Where would my sunbae be? I hadn’t been able to call him because I had given my cell phone to my parents.
I was thinking about all of this while looking for an art book in the library to research for a report I had not finished. Glancing around on my way out, I noticed a foot sticking out from behind the end of the bookcase. I usually would have turned around to leave, but for some reason I felt curiosity. I approached the foot and saw it belonged to the person I was thinking of just minutes before. Ji Hoo was leaning against a column with an open book on his legs, asleep.
I couldn’t help the smile the crept up to my face. He really was capable of sleeping anywhere. I slowly waved my hand in front of his eyes but didn’t get a reaction, so I approached him slowly and crouched in front of him to be on the same eye-level. I stared at him for a few seconds.
So this is what an angel must look like while sleeping.
I didn’t often get a chance to really study Ji Hoo like this. I took time to notice the shape of his individual features and the way they combined to form the familiar and well-loved planes of his face. His overall appearance was gentle and clear, his nose looked like the profile of a Greek statue, and his lips were correctly proportioned. If one had to say it, he was the member of the F4 who carried best the title of “more beautiful that a flower”.
Suddenly, I watched his eyelids flutter as he awoke and became aware of my presence. His brown eyes seemed surprised to see me there.
“You dare interrupt my nap?”
I smiled and nodded. “Want to go out and drink something?”
Without even discussing it, we headed to our usual staircase. On our way there, Ji Hoo bought refreshments.
“I never knew you were interested in art,” he said after he observed how I concentrated on the illustrations from the book I’d taken out.
“Oh, this? I have to write a report about an art exhibition, but I haven’t finished. The tickets for it are too expensive. I couldn’t possibly pay them. So I figured I could read some books instead.”
“When is your deadline?”
“Your report, when do you have to present it?”
Ji Hoo’s POV
I was waiting for Jan Di to arrive at the museum. Her homework was due in two days and that gave me enough time. The museum was closed, but thanks to my connections, I managed to arrange for the two of us to have access to the exhibit Jan Di was interested in. As I waited, I thought about the way her face had looked when I opened my eyes after my nap in the library. It was really comforting that she was the first thing I got to see after waking up, but I knew she still had no idea of how I felt.
I saw her arrive through the third floor window and went down to welcome her. She was really surprised I was getting out from inside the museum, opening the door to let her in.
“Sunbae, don’t tell me you paid so they would close the exhibition for today.”
“Do you believe me capable of something like that?” She didn’t answer but gave a look that said it all. “Okay, you’re right,” I admitted. I would have done that if necessary, “but no, today they’re closed. This museum belongs to the network of artistic establishments Yoon Group owns… I can come in here freely and, obviously, I can bring with me whoever I wish.”
“And there’s only me?”
“There’s only you.”
She beamed a megawatt smile and pulled my arm to enter.
We began looking at the paintings, and while Jan Di wasn’t a great expert, she knew how to express her points of view and defend them. I found it really gratifying to talk with her about one of my passions. For me, art and music could never be boring.
An hour later, we reached the gift shop. There were many things to see, and Jan Di picked up a postcard with the motive of “Sunflowers” by van Gogh while I scanned some books. When she caught my eye some time later, I saw she was holding a ceramic lotus flower. Inside of it, there was an aromatic candle.
“Do you like that one?” I asked her.
“What? No, no… I’m good. Um, sunbae…”
“Do you know the answer to this riddle: ‘Why does the lotus flower bloom in the mud?'”
“What?” I was totally confused by the question.
“It’s nothing, forget about it.” She put the ceramic flower down and left to the doors.
I stood there thinking about what she had asked me, and the words the monk told me came back to my mind: “That young lady’s face is a lotus flower that can make muddy waters clear. Cherish her.”
I made an excuse about a book I had left inside and went back into the museum to find what I was looking for. I couldn’t agree more with the words the old monk had said: Lotus flowers, without taking into account how much dirt was around them, grew fresh, fragrant, and clean blooms, purifying everything within its radius. It was so Jan Di.
Not much later, we finish our tour and decided to rest on a bench bathed by the sun. We remained comfortably silent, enjoying the breeze and the warmth around us. Being next to her was easy for me; I could even say it had become natural, so much so that my body automatically lowered its defenses and led me to dream.
When I came back to myself, I noticed Jan Di was watching me intently; even with my eyes closed I could feel her gaze. I tried to peek at what she was doing and saw that she was drawing me. So I let her do what she wanted and stayed still with my eyes closed for a few more minutes.
“Now you’re using me as a model without my permission?”
“Were you awake?”
“If I had known that’s how things were going to be, I would have hired an accountant.”
“An accountant? For what?”
“To charge you for everything you owe me Jan Di: transportation, lots of coffees, museum tickets and now, model fees… You owe me quite a lot.” We both laughed.
“Well then, for now, this might cover the modeling fees,” she said while handing me the postcard on which she had been sketching me.
I was really surprised. It was a very good portrait, and I’d never known Jan Di had so much talent in drawing. I wanted to make a joke about it, but it was really well done!
“You’ve drawn it so well, I should be paying you!” It was the perfect excuse as I reached down next to me to get a package. “Here.”
Jan Di opened it and found the lotus flower she had seen at the gift shop.
“The lotus flower,” I told her, “blooms anywhere, purifying and freshening even the dirtiest of waters.”
“Its name is cute and so are its actions,” she said with a smile.
“It’s just like you, Jan Di.”
“Oh, hey! That’s it! My homework is done!”
I wasn’t sure what she was referring to.
“I happily accept this gift. Thank you very much, sunbae.”
“What do you mean homework?”
“Once, someone told me that when he saw my face I reminded him of a lotus flower. I didn’t know why and he left me to find out, telling me it was homework. Do you really think I’m like that, sunbae?”
“Of course you are. Without noticing, you have a great effect on the people around you, Geum Jan Di. Your name may mean ‘weed’, but it seems to me the weed has grown into a beautiful flower.”
I could clearly see the blush creeping up to her ears and that made me smile. Jan Di was not used to receiving such a direct compliment.
“Come on, I’ll take you home.”
“Well… Actually, can you take me to the clinic?”
Jan Di’s POV
I still didn’t want to tell Ji Hoo about my moving. The place wasn’t nearly as clean as I wanted it to be yet, and if I was going to tell him, I at least wanted him to find everything in order, with a couple of chairs maybe. But still, I wanted to go to the clinic because I knew grandfather didn’t know how to clean well and I hadn’t been there the day before.
On Ji Hoo’s bike we arrived in no time.
“I received a lot of favors from you today,” I said.
“Don’t worry,” he told me, patting his chest where he had tucked away my drawing in his inner jacket pocket. “I received my payment.”
I invited him in for tea. When I saw him hesitating, I assured him grandfather must have left already. We both entered and I went straight to the kitchen to boil some water. While taking out the cups I started to think… What should I do so that this pair can reconcile? I was sure grandfather had a lot to explain, but there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that he loved his grandson; if he didn’t, he wouldn’t care so much. I turned the problem over in my mind, lulled by the sound of rain starting up outside.
The kettle whistle jarred me from my contemplation. I filled a small teapot, put it next to the cups on a platter, and went out looking for my sunbae.
I reached the waiting room just in time to see Ji Hoo hastily leaving the office. When I looked in, I saw grandfather. He was struggling to hold himself upright as his knees weakened beneath him. An expression of pain crossed his face, and I set the tea tray aside hurriedly as I rushed to him.
“I’m fine…fine. Him, don’t let him leave… go!”
I ran out the door after Ji Hoo, only to be drenched within seconds by the pounding rain.
“Sunbae! Ji Hoo sunbae!”
His motorcycle was still parked in the same place, but he was nowhere to be seen. What could have happened for him to react like that? I kept calling him, but I didn’t get any answer, so I went back in.
“Grandfather, are you alright?”
“I’m good, fine. I took my pills…”
“Grandfather, you can’t keep going on like this. You’re sick!”
“I’m telling you I’m fine!”
He stormed out of the clinic.
Now what do I do?
I cleaned up quickly and locked the door behind me. With effort, I was able to move Ji Hoo’s bike, so I took it to a public parking lot and left it there. After that, I searched the area around the clinic for Ji Hoo, but there was no trace of him. Finally, I decided to go to his house and wait.
Ji Hoo’s POV
For fifteen years I had waited to hear the words my grandfa— no, that man had said to me a few minutes ago. The right words, but years after I had given up on hearing them. He couldn’t expect that after so much time, everything would go back to how it used to be just like that.
I heard Jan Di come out to look for me, heard her voice calling me, but I fought my instincts and didn’t answer her. I felt so pathetic. I was afraid of her seeing me like that. Depressed. Miserable. I roamed the streets with no destination in mind until I noticed the rain had stopped. I had no bike and no cash, and I was nowhere near an ATM.
I kept walking until I reached home. I opened the gate, went to the door, and was surprised to find Jan Di waiting there on the threshold. She was as wet as I was, if not more. How did she get here? Walking? I was having trouble focusing through the fuzziness of my thoughts. My head hurt and a constant buzz had lodged in my ears. Jan Di approached me slowly until she was just two steps away.
Jan Di… Help me.
Before I knew what I was doing, I found myself hugging her tightly against me, but before I could let her go and apologize for my ungentlemanly behavior, I was surprised for a second time when I felt her hugging me back. I’m not sure of how long we stood there, saying nothing, but before I knew what was happening, I was in my house and Jan Di was fluttering around the place like a mother hen.
“Sunbae, where are your pajamas? Don’t you have a dehumidifier? Or fever pills? You have to take off those wet clothes first, though…”
“Jan Di, I’m fine,” I slurred. I was sitting on the edge of my bed, watching her try to find things in my drawers and dressers. “I just want to sleep.”
I got a little scared when I saw her sprint to my side. She laid the back of her hand against my forehead.
“You’re burning up; I noticed a while ago. Your temperature is too high, sunbae. We have to bring that fever down, but first you need to dry up and then—”
“No. I just want to rest. Please, Jan Di…”
And then it came, the third surprise of the night. I felt her unzipping my jacket and sliding it off my shoulders so she could take it off of me.
“What do you think you’re doing!?” I asked her.
“I’m taking off your clothes so you can get dry. Your choice, the easy way or the hard way, but those wet clothes are coming off.”
“Stop speaking nonsense—”
“It’s not nonsense! Do you know how long I was looking for you?” Jan Di was about to cry. “Do you know how much I walked and still couldn’t find you? Do you have the least idea of how worried I’ve been for you? If you don’t plan on doing what’s best for you, I’ll do it! Either way I’m going to be a doctor one day, and undressing someone is not… a big… deal…”
Tears were streaming down her face while she kept on struggling to take my clothes off. Inside, I couldn’t help but laugh. More than once, I had daydreamed a scene like this, except I wasn’t running a fever and she wasn’t upset. When I felt her fingers on my shirt buttons I stopped her.
“I’m sorry,” I told her, brushing the tears from her cheeks, “I’ll do it. I promise to behave. Don’t cry anymore…”
“Who’s crying? This is the rain falling out of my wet hair.”
She was right. In the fuss over my wet clothes, I had forgotten about hers. Jan Di was drenched.
“Let’s make a deal. I’ll dry off and change clothes if you do it too.”
“I don’t want you to get a cold.”
I gave her back the pajamas she used the time she passed out, then I went into the bathroom in my bedroom while she used the guest bathroom. When I came out, I found her already changed and waiting on a chair next to my bed; she had water, ice, towels… When did she gather all this?
She asked me to lay down, so I did. She covered me with only a sheet, telling me it wasn’t good for a person with a fever to cover up too much. The tenderness in her hands as she placed wet cloths on my forehead soothed me. Knowing she was taking care of me, I fell asleep.
Jan Di’s POV
I felt calmer when I noticed he was sleeping. I left his side for a bit to check his bathroom and saw his clothes scattered on the floor. I thought about putting them in the dryer next to mine but noticed they were quite dirty, so I folded them and left them on a hamper that I assumed was for dirty clothes; after all, in Ji Hoo’s house was impossible to find something dirty.
After checking my own clothes, I went back to him and saw he was restless, shaking. It disturbed me to see him suffering like that. I changed his cloth for a new one. Without stopping to think about it, I raised my hand to caress his cheek. I jumped when he reached up to grab my hand in his and pulled it to his chest.
“Omma… appa… I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…” He was rambling.
“I’m here, sunbae.” I kept talking to him, trying to drive away those sad dreams. “It will all be okay, sunbae, you’ll see…”
“Stay with me.”
He said those words so clearly that for a second I thought he had woken up, but he was still sleeping.
“I won’t leave your side.”
He was probably dreaming about his parents again, but I meant what I said. I stayed by his side, holding his hand. I wanted to stay by his side.
Jun Pyo’s POV
It was late, and it had been a crazy day.
First, Jae Kyung dragged me to buy a whole lot of food, and when she finally told me her reasons, I found out she knew about Jan Di’s moving. I couldn’t tell her I had bought the apartment next door, so as soon as we reached Jan Di’s apartment, I warned Kang San to keep his mouth shut about it. We ate ramen again, or I should say Jae Kyung did. She devoured the whole pot and left us hungry. We made more while waiting for Jan Di, but she didn’t arrive.
Kang San told us Jan Di didn’t have her cellphone because she had gave it to their parents. After hearing this, the monkey dragged me out into the streets again, but this time to get Jan Di a new cellphone. It was a hassle to get rid of her and return alone to the apartment complex. When I got there I saw the lights off, but I didn’t care; I knocked for a while before a sleepy Kang San came to the door to tell me, “Sis isn’t home yet.”
It was eleven at night. Where the hell is she?
“I don’t think anything bad has happened to her. Besides, I saw her in the afternoon,” he told me while rubbing his eyes.
“In the afternoon?” I asked.
“Yeah, she came home from school, changed her clothes, and then told me she was going out, and not to worry if she came home late.”
“Where did she go?”
“I don’t know,” he yawned. “Don’t worry Jun Pyo hyung-nim; she knows how to take care of herself.”
I couldn’t get any more information from Kang San even if I had wanted to, because he really didn’t know anything about Jan Di’s whereabouts. I went back to my apartment and stayed up waiting to see the lights go on in hers, but the hours kept ticking by. By 1am Jan Di still hadn’t come home.
I took out my cellphone and was about to call Ji Hoo but I stopped a second before I could dial his number. I hated, absolutely hated, having to resort to him each time something happened to Jan Di. What made it even more unbearable was that every time, somehow, he managed to know where she was, to find her, to help her.
It’s ridiculous to call at this hour. Bad news always travels faster than good. I’m sure Jan Di will be back soon.
Jan Di’s POV
My right shoulder was numb and starting to hurt. Even if I wanted to keep on sleeping, I couldn’t take it anymore. I opened my eyes and stretched, or at least tried to. My right arm had fallen asleep, and I realized I had been laying on it.
Nothing a bit of movement and circulation can’t fix.
It was then that I noticed I was laying on a bed that wasn’t my own, wearing pajamas that also weren’t mine. Suddenly, turning my face, I saw I was next to someone! I muffled my scream and ‘gracefully’ fell out of bed.
I had fallen asleep next to Ji Hoo! Of course! Now everything was coming back to me. I had sat down on the bed instead of the chair when he took my hand, and then, then… obviously, I had made myself comfortable resting next to him.
I stood up and checked him up close. He was peacefully sleeping. I put my hand on his forehead and let out a breath of relief when I found his temperature was back to normal. I was truly thanking all the deities above that Ji Hoo hadn’t noticed my sleeping next to him. I was embarrassed enough without him finding out. I retrieved the cloth that had fallen off of him while sleeping and picked up everything I had gathered the night before.
I washed my face and changed clothes, thinking how amazing it was that the servants knew exactly at what time to appear. I imagined they had to be called by Ji Hoo to let them know he wasn’t going to be around. He still didn’t like being surrounded by too many people.
A couple of hours later…
I yawned while climbing up the stairs to my apartment, it had been good fortune that I got up so early. That had given me time to leave a really nutritious and restoring breakfast for my sunbae after a night of fever. Thank God there was a 24 hour minimarket close to his house. The man seemed to live exclusively on pancakes and tea.
“What kind of woman spends the whole night out!?”
An irritated voice stopped me before I went in. It was Jun Pyo.
“Um…well, it’s just that—” Wait a hot second! Why do I have to give him any explanations? I have done nothing wrong. Besides, who is he to get mad at me? “That’s my business. Don’t you know what privacy is?”
“Hey, Jan Di, if you’re going to talk, learn to use your words. Pr-i-d-e is the correct pronunciation.”
“What are you-!?” Before the confrontation heated up, I thought better of it and closed my mouth. After all, I didn’t have to tell Jun Pyo what I did or didn’t do. I went for my door again but he interrupted me.
“Hey you! Where do you think you’re going while someone is still talking to you?”
“Privacy or pride, I don’t know about them. That’s why I’m going to school! So they can teach me!” and with that, I entered my apartment and loudly close the door.
“Hey!” I could hear from outside. “Aren’t you going to tell me what you were doing?”
“None of your business!” I shouted back.
Ji Hoo’s POV
I slowly opened my eyes and sat up. I remembered the events of the night before, first with anger and then with a smile. If it hadn’t been for Jan Di, I would still be wallowing in self-pity and a bad mood.
I saw that the strips of cloth, the bowl of water, and the ice were no longer next to my bed. As always, Jan Di had cleaned everything up before she left. The only thing bothering me was not knowing when she had left my house, and how she had gotten home. I hope she had enough for a taxi.
When I entered my bathroom I noticed two things: first, my clothes had been carefully folded into the normally empty hamper, and second, I was parched.
After taking care of morning business, I went to the kitchen, but halfway there, I noticed something on the living room table. I went there instead and found a bottle of mineral water and a glass next to it; and next to them, there was a fabric cover. I first drank some water to wet my dry throat, and then I removed the cover.
Lots of people might say that the feeling arising in me when I saw the still warm homemade meal was ridiculous, but I was truly and completely moved. I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I’d eaten a homemade breakfast. Usually I went out or didn’t eat breakfast at all.
On one of the bowls, I found a note.
Are you feeling better? I hope so. Please eat everything, and you’ll see how much it will help. I’m not much of a cook, but I assure you the taste is not bad. Your bike is in a parking lot near the clinic. I’m leaving the claim ticket with this note. ~Jan Di~’
Jan Di was always saying how I did her so many favors, and I even joked with her about the repayment of them; but she definitely didn’t realize how many favors she granted me. It must have been hard to move the bike from where I left it. It must have been hard to get up early, go to the store, and make breakfast. Undoubtedly she had gone out; in my house there was nothing more than flour and tea.
I looked at the time and saw that classes were about to begin. I wouldn’t go to school, but I would definitely go to see her that afternoon.
I was on my way to the address Ga Eul had given me. I was surprised when I drove to Geum’s laundry shop and found it closed, and even more when I went to the restaurant and Ga Eul told me the circumstances under which Jan Di’s move had happened.
I rode my bike as fast as I could, and as soon as I reached the place, I heard screaming and saw several men trying to take Jun Pyo with them. What is Jun Pyo doing here? Well, if he was there, that was a sign that Jan Di was there, too. We locked gazes and I saw him signal with his head to the upper floor.
Before I went up, I decided to call in some reinforcements.
Jan Di’s POV
(Knock, knock, knock)
It was the third time someone was knocking. I had fallen asleep while doing homework and Kang San had drifted off, too.
They knocked again.
“All right, I’m coming!” I opened the door and stood there dumbfounded when I saw it was Ji Hoo. “Sunbae!”
Even more surprising, Yi Jung and Woo Bin were right behind him.
“What are you all doing here?” I asked.
“We came for the housewarming party at Jan Di’s new home,” Woo Bin said while ruffling my brother’s hair.
“I would have to plan one first so I could invite you.”
“Are you really living here?” Yi Jung said, taking in his surroundings.
“It’s pretty good actually, and pretty cheap.”
Suddenly, another knock sounded on the door. How had all these people found me when I hadn’t even given out my address to anyone? I was hoping it wasn’t Jae Kyung, or worse—Jun Pyo, but I would have welcomed any of them instead of who I found standing outside my door: President Kang, Jun Pyo’s mother. And with a whole entourage of bodyguards.
I stepped outside to greet her. The boys followed me out.
“What are you doing here?” Woo Bin asked her.
“I almost doubt my eyes, seeing all of you here in the middle of the night,” she said.
“Jun Pyo is not here,” Ji Hoo told her.
“I’m not worried about that. I know where my son is and what he is doing.”
“Then to what do I owe this visit?” I tried.
“Even a person with scarce resources should know that when an adult comes for visit, the first thing she should do is greet the visitor and invite them inside. That’s why a good education is so important.”
I couldn’t deny that she was right.
“I’m sorry. Ma’am, would you like to come in?”
“Forget it. I’d rather stand out here than go inside that kind of house.”
I couldn’t understand what the hell was that woman doing in front of my house, but all the rage I felt from the slap she gave me before was combining with my anger at this current insult. I was nearly shaking with it.
“I knew you were no ordinary girl, but you really have a talent for seducing men,” he snarled.
“President Kang,” Woo bin protested, “it’s not like that.”
“Really? If you think this is a misunderstanding, then why am I not getting an explanation?”
“I’m not doing anything wrong, that I should have to hear these kind of accusations or give you explanations.” I told her.
“There!” she said while pointing the apartment Jun Pyo had bought. “What happened in that room completely contradicts what you just said, young lady! After inviting an engaged man to live next to you, you still think you’re doing nothing wrong?”
I tried to take a deep breath and count to ten before I answered.
“First of all, I didn’t ask him to come. It was Jun Pyo’s idea to—”
“Ha! Of course. That’s the kind of excuse girls like you use. The girl did nothing. The boy did everything! What is one to do?”
The woman was pushing me to my limit. What had I done to deserve that kind of treatment?
“I’ve come today to ask you a favor. Even if my son comes looking for you, don’t see him anymore… You shouldn’t—”
“Why should I?”
“Why should I do any favors for you after everything you’ve done to me?”
I remembered the time she went to offer money to my parents, how my mom went to humiliate herself in front of her, all the bad things she had done to take me out of the way, and above all how she separated Jun Pyo and me.
“Do you know who you’re talking to?”
“Of course I do. I’m talking to a woman that doesn’t have the least education in how to talk to people. I’m talking to a woman who thinks that if someone doesn’t have money, then they also don’t have pride or dignity. A woman whose treatment of others seems to have no humanity, but worse than that, a woman who thinks she’s here fulfilling a mother’s role! When in fact, you know nothing about motherhood… You don’t love your son. The only thing you care about is that your precious merger is not ruined. Isn’t that right, madam president?”
I could feel the astonishment of the others gathered around me. I couldn’t believe it myself in that moment, but I wasn’t willing to take any more abuse from that woman.
“Let me tell you something else. I consider your son and all of them,” I waved at the rest of the F4, “my dear friends. Don’t you dare insult them, because you don’t know them! I will never turn my back on them if they need me! And rest assured, I’m not planning on interfering with Jun Pyo’s marriage. Your son and I ended our relationship long ago; but that doesn’t mean I’m about to cast him aside just because you come here and tell me to!”
“You spoiled shrew! You’re nothing more than a tramp!”
I saw her coming at me with her hand up, ready to slap me again. But this time, I was prepared and caught her arm without thinking twice.
“Be careful, president Kang. Those words and that behavior are not supposed to be worthy of a woman of your class. What a shame it would be if the press heard about this.” She snatched her arm back and I could see all the hate she had for me reflected in her eyes and face. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have homework to do. I’m asking you to leave. You’re on private property, and, cheap or not, I pay for the rent of this place with money I earn working. Good night.”
Not wanting to waste another minute with her I went into my apartment. From inside I could hear her calling her secretary and the footsteps of several people leaving. When the rest of the guys and my brother came in, they found me on the floor, my legs having given out from the strain.
“I’m alright, sunbae. I just think that… I’m not sure what happened out there.”
“Jan Di, I always knew you weren’t like any other girl. I must say, you’re extraordinary.”
“Yi Jung sunbae!”
“Hell, yeah! Jan Di, you’re the man!”*
“You’re amazing, Jan Di! I don’t think the president has ever known someone willing to stand up to her. You have earned my admiration and respect.”
“Woo Bin sunbae…”
“Is all true, Jan Di,” Ji Hoo said. “However, we can’t let our guards down; I don’t think the president is going to stay calm after being treated like that. We will protect you. We won’t let anything bad happen to you.”
“Ji Hoo sunbae”
“Noona, you rock!”
I could only laugh at everything I had done and admire myself for the bravery that had escaped my lips. I had let myself be put down too many times, but no more. Just like the weed that I was, I was going to keep on growing no matter how much anyone wanted to bring me down.
Ji Hoo’s POV
“I still cannot believe it!”
“Did you see her face?”
“Who didn’t? Even her own bodyguards seemed to be on Jan Di’s side at that moment.”
I was listening at Woo Bin and Yi Jung rehashing the events of the night after we dropped Jan Di off at home. To commemorate her heroic behavior, we had taken her and Kang San out to eat.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t deny I was still worried. The three of us knew that we would have to be careful of the president’s actions from that point onwards.
“Ah… I feel so great. As if I told her those words myself.”
“Jan Di really moved me when she said we were her dear friends.”
“Aw man, I still think engulfing her in that hug was not enough.”
“Then,” I interrupted them, “why don’t we give her a big gift?”
“What are you thinking, Ji Hoo? A car? A house?”
“No, Jan Di would never accept anything like that. I’ve thought of something better.”