Ji Hoo’s POV
Halfway through the semester I was as stressed as I could be. There were papers, expositions, exams, hospital visits—and besides all that, I was trying to follow up on the diagnosis for Ju Mi’s brother and figure out Jan Di’s behavior.
Ju Mi’s sister-in-law had come personally to thank grandfather and me for putting her in contact with such a great doctor for her husband. It turned out that the cardiologist we recommended thought her husband had a good chance of recovery with a transplant, which was an extreme approach the other doctors hadn’t dared to bring up due to the high risk and her husband’s frail condition. But after so many years of fighting, they were both willing to try anything to save him; Ju Mi had been in charge of keeping me up to date on everything concerning her brother, and I was glad to be able to help a friend of Jan Di’s.
Jan Di, on the other hand, had been acting strangely for the past few weeks: being distant, going to bed early, doing her homework at the library… Something had happened to her, but for some reason she didn’t want to tell me what it was.
I knew Jan Di well enough to know that it was useless to try to force her to say anything. When she was ready, she would tell me, but this behavior had gone on long enough, and I was starting to worry.
This afternoon, I had planned to see her in our usual place, but after waiting for an hour I finally got up and rode home. It was dark by the time I arrived, and I found her doing her homework at the kitchen table, an empty cup at her elbow.
“You didn’t come to the staircase,” I said. She jerked as if I had startled her.
“Oh! Mmm… I’m sorry, sunbae. I had to go to Jung seonsaengnim to check my conclusions on ectopic pregnancies and time flew by. I’m sorry I didn’t call you.” She looked sheepish, and I decided to let it go.
“How was it?” I asked.
“Good. That’s one less paper to worry about,” she said, stretching and pulling out the pins that held her hair, letting it hang down her back. It had grown a lot, and when she took it out of her customary bun, it took on a wavy effect that I loved. I stepped closer and reached out a hand to feel the raven locks.
“It’s gotten long.”
“Yes! And it keeps me warm in winter,” she replied with a smile. Less than a minute ago she had been weird, and now all was back to normal.
“Will you trim it soon?”
“As soon as my personal stylist gets a space in his busy schedule,” she said, cocking her eyebrow at me. Since the first day I had cut her hair, no one else had. Now I was the only one allowed to do it. This was one of the many tacit agreements we had.
“You know I always have time for you.”
“Lately we’ve both been drowning in papers and class assignments. I’ve started to feel bad about asking for your help with my homework when I know you have your own.”
“But you only ask when you need help with something really difficult. You know more than you think. You’ve advanced steadily in the last couple years. Grandfather is even talking about having you learn French, Japanese, or Chinese soon.”
“What!?” She let out a mortified groan. Jan Di had finally finished her English studies, and I could see that the idea of learning a new language so soon worried her. “Grandpa wasn’t kidding when he said he was strict. I just finished my homework, but that doesn’t exempt me from presenting the reports of the last board meeting.”
She looked at me and pouted.
“Would you like some help with that?” The pout always worked.
“You’re an angel! Would you like some tea while we check the documents?”
She got up and set the kettle on the stove. I always enjoyed watching Jan Di flutter around the kitchen. It was such a natural thing for her. Her small, familiar gestures were a delight to me, and I had to remind myself not to stare.
Jan Di put the cup she had used in the sink and took out two matching mugs we had bought together. When it was ready, she poured the hot water into a smaller tea kettle, arranged the rest of the tray, and carried it toward the table.
It all happened in a split second. It was as if I was watching Jan Di in slow motion as she slipped and lost her balance, everything she was carrying falling on top of her.
Her scream struck fear through me.
I was at her side immediately, quickly gathering up the broken porcelain so it wouldn’t cut her. When I looked her over, I saw with dismay that the hot water had splashed directly on her abdomen. Without thinking twice, I carried her to the bathroom adjacent to my room. I sat her down in the bathtub, stepped in after her, and turned on the cold water as high as it would go. She clenched her eyes shut, trying to stifle another scream.
“I know it hurts, but it’s necessary so that-“
“-we can minimize tissue damage and scarring. I know, but it really hurts.”
“A little bit of cold water is nothing for my otter, right?”
I got her to smile but it didn’t last long. She was tightly grasping my shirt sleeve to try to bear the pain.
“Young master!? Are you alright?” came a concerned voice from outside the door.
“Yes, Secretary Park. Please tell Mrs. Shin to clean up the kitchen. There was a small accident, but it wasn’t too serious, thankfully.”
“Of course. Please tell me if you need anything else and I’ll bring it.”
My household staff was more attentive than ever since I had made an effort to get to know each and every one of them. Thanks to Jan Di.
“I-I’m f-free-zing,” she stuttered.
I turned off the valve, unclenched her fingers, and lifted up her shirt to check the burn site. Jan Di flinched.
“The skin is a red and irritated, but it doesn’t seem to be badly burned. Still, it would be best to apply a cold band. Dry off, and I’ll bring your pajamas.”
Jan Di nodded, and I discarded my slippers and rolled up my pants before leaving her in the bath. I went to her room to get her clothes, and, although I knew a complete change was needed, I still blushed a little when I had to rifle through her drawers for her underwear. After bringing Jan Di her pajamas, I went back to her room to change into mine, since doors of my bedroom were still an open grid.
After I finished, I gathered the first-aid kit and waited for her to come out.
“Sit down,” I instructed her when she opened the door. “Lift up your shirt so I can apply the cream and the cold band.”
I was relieved to see that her pink skin wasn’t blistering. At most, it would be a little bit tender for the next few days.
However, while I was working I couldn’t help but be aware of how close we were sitting. I tried to be as professional as possible, but that didn’t prevent my mind and body from reacting to the nearness of this woman who had rendered me a love-struck fool for so many years.
Jan Di had grown. At nineteen years old, her body had left behind its childish charm to embrace the curves and strength of womanhood. Her legs were still lean and muscled from her old jobs, but now they were shapelier due to the constant exercise of going up and down the stairs. Her waist had narrowed, accentuating the soft swell of her hips. Her belly was gently curved and, to my eyes, perfect, made more so by the alluring dimple of her navel. Her breasts had stayed the same, but I had to make an effort to avert my eyes when she wore any garment with even a slight hint of cleavage.
That was me, a twenty-one year old man spreading cream on the skin beneath the ribs of the girl he loved, trying to control his body’s natural responses.
If Jan Di could see inside my head she would hate me.
I finished promptly with the cream and applied the cold band delicately. I finally breathed again when I took my hands off her body.
“I think that will be all. I’ll check you again tomorrow and-” my words tapered off when I saw her face. Flushed red and avoiding my eyes. Had I done something inappropriate? Had I lost myself too much in my thoughts while brushing my fingers against her skin? “What’s wrong?”
“It’s nothing. Thank you. I’ll go to bed now. Good night.” She stood up so hastily that I knew I had definitely done something wrong.
“Wait.” I took her hand and forced her to look at me. “What happened?”
Jan Di was close to me now due to the tug I gave her, but even up close I couldn’t decipher the look on her face. The eyes I knew so well were staring at me in a different way. I’d never been bothered by the silence between us because we had always been able to understand each other. But this silence was not the same; it was heavy, charged. I didn’t know what was happening. Jan Di’s gaze lingered on me, and my heart raced. I saw that she was agitated as well, her chest rising and falling with each breath.
“Jan Di?” I raised my hand to her face, a gesture I did almost daily, but now it felt totally different. Her eyelids fluttered closed at my touch, and when she opened her eyes again, the look she gave me wiped my mind clean of everything except the desire to kiss her.
I swallowed and leaned in.
She didn’t move.
The front door swung shut. “I’m home! It was a good day at the clinic.”
We both flinched and jumped back. Jan Di ran to meet Grandfather.
“Haraboji! How are you?” she asked in a high pitched voice.
“Good, good. How are you my dear? Are you alright? Your face is flushed.”
“Jan Di had a little accident with boiled water. I already flushed the area with cold water and then applied cream and a cold-band,” I told him, stepping out of my room.
“A burn! Are you alright, Jan Di?”
“Yes, Grandpa. It was more a scare than anything else, but sunbae acted so quickly I don’t think any permanent damage was done.”
“You must be more careful. I wouldn’t want to see my pupil get hurt.”
“Thank you, Grandpa.”
“Mr. Yoon, welcome. Shall I serve dinner?”
“Yes please, Mrs. Min. Jan Di, would you join this old man to eat?”
“Of course!” Jan Di answered, “Besides, I still haven’t finished checking the documents of the last board meeting.”
She kept conversing with Grandfather as they moved to the dining table, and I went back to my room to clean up the first-aid kit.
That was dangerous.
I finally gave up and sat down heavily my bed.
What had happened?
Jan Di’s POV
Last night had been close. Too close… I still couldn’t understand how I had let myself get lost in the moment like that when I had tried for weeks to avoid contact with Ji Hoo. I gripped the edge of my desk and tried to master my runaway emotions. The memory of his warm hands on my skin flooded my mind, and I closed my eyes against the rush of longing and lust that went through me. Had I imagined that almost-kiss? I fought to banish thoughts of Ji Hoo from my mind.
It wasn’t that I wanted to avoid him, but now that I had realized my feelings for him, I just couldn’t return to our easy rapport, somehow. It was painful to keep sharing the same level of intimacy that we had always enjoyed, not knowing how he felt about me. And frankly, I didn’t have the courage to ask him.
So I ended up hiding in an empty classroom on the third floor.
“Jan Di? What are you doing here? Is everything okay?” I turned around to see who it was.
Jung Kyung Mi was my Research Projects teacher. He was the youngest teacher I’d ever had, and he was really handsome. He was always surrounded by co-eds waiting for him to forget ethics and dive into a student/teacher relationship. What they didn’t know was that his heart already belonged to another.
It had been an afternoon at the beginning of the fourth semester when I entered what I assumed was an empty classroom. I was stunned to see teacher Jung hugging someone who seemed to be a student. I tried to step back without making any noise, but naturally, me being me, I had tripped on a trash can with a loud crash. I quickly hid in the next classroom. Quick steps receded as someone ran away down the hall. Seconds later the door opened and Kyung Mi found me.
For some strange reason, we ended up talking, and he confessed to me his feelings for a junior student and how, for several reasons, it was impossible for them to be together. We ended up developing a strange camaraderie, and it was relaxing to have someone else to talk to.
“You look weird.” He told me, sitting down in front of me.
“I feel weird,” I answered.
“Well, if you think about it, you’ve always been weird,” he teased.
“Yeah, you’re right.”
He was surprised at my lack of response. We usually bantered amicably, but today I didn’t feel like it.
“Now I know something is going on.”
“Yes, what’s going on is that now I understand what you’re going through.”
“What I’m going through… Are you talking about Ji Hoo?”
“Bingo.” I wasn’t even shocked he figured it out so soon. Apparently everyone but me knew about my feelings.
“Well, it was only a matter of time before you noticed.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Would it have changed something?”
“I don’t think so.”
“How did it happen?”
I spent the next ten minutes explaining the whole story. Until then, I hadn’t told anyone.
Telling it to Ga Eul would have meant enduring her ‘I told you so’ and her pressure on me to confess as soon as possible. Who was left?
Woo Bin? No way.
Ju Mi? Yeah, right.
Ji Hoo? I’d die first.
“Are you sure you don’t want to tell him how you feel?” Kyung Mi asked.
“I wouldn’t know how… I don’t know whether he feels the same.”
“I would be inclined to say he does.”
“Everyone thinks that, but we’ve always been friends. He’s always taken care of me, he made it possible for me to get back with my ex-boyfriend, and he has protected me these past few years. What if he only feels a friend’s love? What if it’s a brother’s love?” I shuddered at the idea. Burying my head in my hands, I let out a small groan of defeat. I felt dejected and completely lacking in confidence.
“Jan Di,” he said, putting a hand on my head, “I do know what you’re feeling, but my advice is to tell him how you feel. Who’s to say he doesn’t reciprocate?”
“And if he doesn’t? I would ruin what we have right now.”
“Isn’t that a risk you’re willing to take?”
“I don’t know. I’m scared.”
I heard him sigh, but he didn’t say anything else, and I was thankful for that. The last thing I needed was someone else telling me the things I already knew, but at the same time I didn’t want to be alone.
The sound of the door opening startled us both.
“Oh, I… was looking for Jan Di.”
Ju Mi had come in; I had forgotten I was supposed to meet her to finish a report.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t notice the time,” I said, picking up my books. Before turning to leave, I whispered to Kyung Mi, “Thanks for listening.”
“Anytime. Take care, Jan Di.” He smiled.
I walked beside Ju Mi to the library. She kept glancing over at me, a strange look on her face.
“Do you want to tell me something?” I asked her.
“Well, yes…” She grinned. “How do you do it, Jan Di? Always surrounded by intelligent and handsome men!”
“Oh, don’t play dumb! I’m talking about Jung seonsaengnim. I interrupted you, didn’t I? I’m so sorry, I didn’t know that you guys…” She left the phrase hanging.
“That we what? Ju Mi, I think you’re confused.”
“Oh, come on, it’s me!” She winked at me. “I promise I won’t tell.”
“Ju Mi, this is a huge misunderstanding. Jung seonsaengnim and I were just talking.”
“Of course! I totally get it.”
I was too drained to keep arguing with her. In the end, it didn’t matter what I told her. She insisted on believing I had some sort of tragic, forbidden romance with our teacher. I didn’t think it was important, but only because I didn’t know then that it would lead to a gigantic mess.
Jun Pyo’s POV
I woke up well rested, an unusual feat for me. I usually started the day stressed and in a bad mood, but I was getting better. In the last two years my body had gotten used to my lack of sleep, and it was no longer necessary to send a terrorized servant to wake me up. It wasn’t that the job was easy; I had simply changed.
I looked over at Jae Kyung, still asleep next to me, and I sighed.
She didn’t deserve this kind of marriage. I tried to do everything in my power to improve the situation, but it wasn’t easy when part of your heart belonged to someone else who was forever out of your reach.
After an hour, Jae Kyung got up and we both got dressed to go down to breakfast with my mother. She had notified us a week ago that she wanted to speak to us about a new project she had in mind.
“Do you have an idea what this is about?” Jae Kyung asked me.
“No, but you know how the old witch is. Surely it’s one of those works which will further exalt the name of the Shinhwa Group.”
We arrived at the dining room and the table was already set, with my mother sitting at the head of it.
“Good morning, mother.”
“Good morning, Jae Kyung darling. Jun Pyo, won’t you greet your mother?”
“Good morning,” I said gruffly.
“Unfortunately, I can’t spare as much time as I would like, and I won’t be able to stay long, so I’ll go straight to the point. I want to open an art school here in Macao.”
“An art school? There are plenty of those out there already.” I found the idea strange and not innovative at all.
“Yes, I know. But the difference is that this school will be only for highly privileged children who show genius in the areas of painting, music, and dancer. Of course, we’ll only take the cream of the crop.”
“It seems like a great idea, mother. How did you come up with it?” Jae Kyung asked her when she saw I wasn’t going to support my mother.
“Actually, I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. I just haven’t had time to plan it all out. A couple of years ago the Yoon Group had a similar idea. However, the concept came from a… questionable source, and I decided not to take part in the investment of a poorly planned project.”
“Yoon Group? You mean Ji Hoo?” I asked.
“Yes. I have heard that his “Yoon Art Centre for Kids and Teens” has garnered a good response, despite its weaknesses, growing beyond initial expectations; so I don’t see why my idea, which is better planned and directed to the right people, wouldn’t be even more successful.
“I will be happy to help you with your idea, mother.”
“Thank you very much, Jae Kyung. Occasions like this reaffirm that you are the best woman my Jun could have taken as a wife.”
Tension filled the room, but no one responded to her comment.
“Speaking of that, Jun Pyo, when are you planning to give me grandchildren?”
“Excuse me?” Was she serious?
“Is not that I’m anxious to be called ‘grandmother’, but it would be nice to know that the next heir of Shinhwa group is on his way. I dare not think that Jae Kyung doesn’t want the same thing.”
“Shut up! We will decide that for ourselves! Isn’t it enough that you-?” I had to bite my tongue against the words that rose up in my mind: ‘that you pressured me to marry against my will?’ While those were my true feelings, I didn’t want to hurt Jae Kyung more than I had already.
“That I what, Jun Pyo? I don’t think I have wronged you in any way at any time. All I have ever done was out of concern for your happiness.”
“You don’t know the real meaning of that word.”
“Stop it, Jun Pyo. I will not allow you to talk to me in that manner. It is completely expected that I worry about your future and that of the Shinwa Group.”
“Just because my sister has managed to break free from your claws thanks to her husband being intelligent enough to keep you out of their lives doesn’t mean you can keep making decisions about mine. I’ve lost enough thanks to your concern for my happiness.”
And that was it. I knew I had fucked up big time. Jae Kyung excused herself with a tight, hurt smile on her face, and I hated myself for it.
“Get out of my house,” I snapped at my mother before going after Jae.
Jae Kyung’s POV
After Jun Pyo’s outburst, I fled to the balcony in my study. It was where I always went when I wanted to be alone.
After a couple of minutes, I heard him come in behind me.
“I’m sorry,” he said, but I didn’t turn around. “You know that I—”
“I know you didn’t say it with ill intentions, Jun. Don’t worry about me.”
“Of course I worry about you,” he sighed and hugged me from behind. “You’re my wife.”
Bitter laughter rose up in me at those words. Our marriage was something… nonexistent. We had managed to become friends and improve our relationship over the past two years, but what we had wasn’t a marriage. Not really.
I clearly remembered our first time together. We were both a little tipsy after one of those tedious parties his mother organized, and we were having a great time laughing and mocking all the supercilious stuffed shirts who had bowed and scraped before her. When we arrived home, I had dared to kiss him, something he usually tried to do as little as possible, but that day he didn’t reject me. A kiss led to a caress, a caress led to taking off our clothes, and the trail of clothes led to our bed. It was the first time for both of us, and the alcohol was making us clumsy, so there was no romance, no candles, no hushed and tender words, just the trial-and-error fumbling of a couple of novices.
I had been happy that he had made me his at last. I felt like our relationship was finally beginning, but it all crumbled when, after we finished, Jun Pyo started to tremble and retreated to the bathroom. I thought it was because of what we had just done, and that maybe he was feeling a bit shy, so I decided to go and propose to him that we take a bath together. But the bathroom door was locked, and from within I heard his muffled sobs. I just stood there, frozen.
My husband had cried after making love with me for the first time. Was there anything more humiliating than that?
After that night, we’d had sex many times, but that was all it was: sex. Need and passion. I knew Jun tried really hard to love me, but I also knew the truth he refused to acknowledge, the words that had burst out of him at breakfast with his mother.
“It’s just that my mother unnerves me.” He continued.
“I know, I know.” I turned in his arms and took his face to give him a kiss. “What about having dinner together?”
“Yes, of course. I’ll finish early today.”
“Besides, we should start researching what we can about this art school your mother wants. If she’s basing it on a project by Yoon Group, perhaps we could call Ji Hoo and ask him.”
“No, we must do it as she wants, or she will gouge our eyes out.”
“But it’s been a while since you talked with Ji Hoo. He’s your best friend.”
“I know, but he knows I’m busy. Besides, I called him for Christmas and his birthday. It’s not as if we don’t talk at all.”
“I have to go now, but I’ll see you at dinner, okay?” He kissed me again and left.
I was sure Jun Pyo didn’t want to know more than he needed to about Ji Hoo because Ji Hoo was the one taking care of Jan Di.
I sighed heavily and forbid myself to cry. It would’ve been ridiculous and cruel. Day after day I encouraged myself to believe that with a little bit more effort, I could make Jun Pyo love me, that soon we would be a real couple, because that’s what I had promised myself since the day we married. There had been changes between us, and that’s what gave me hope.
“All right then, let us start with this prodigious art school project.”
Ji Hoo’s POV
Things were going moderately well. Why moderately? Because the company, clinic, and university affairs were all running perfectly, but Jan Di was still behaving strangely toward me. When I confronted her about it, her only answer had been ‘It’s all good, sunbae. The weird one is you.’
Still, we didn’t see each other as often as we used to in the staircase, we spent less time doing homework together, and now, with her new Japanese classes, I saw her even less. I was at a dead end.
“Sunbae… Sunbae, are you listening?”
“Huh? I’m sorry, Ju Mi. I have been too distracted today. Forgive me.”
“That’s okay, I get it. It must be complicated to be the heir of one of the major financial groups of Korea, and on top of that, you are studying to become a doctor.”
“Yes, but either way, I’m sorry. You’re talking about your brother’s condition and I—”
“I already told you it’s not a big deal. We are still waiting for a match, but he’s very high on the transplant list, so it’s just a matter of time.”
“I’m glad everything is going well.”
“I owe it all to you, sunbae. Thanks to all of this, I have managed to discover how amazing you are.”
I wasn’t a fool. I knew Ju Mi liked me, but it wouldn’t be easy to tell her I couldn’t respond to her feelings when the time came. First because she was Jan Di’s friend, and second because even after rejecting her I would have to follow up on her brother’s case. Nevertheless, that didn’t mean I couldn’t dampen her constant advances.
“The amazing one is my grandfather. He’s the one who got you that contact. By the way, Jan Di’s late.”
“Mmm, she might take a little while longer.” I saw her grinning.
“Why do you say that?” I asked, intrigued.
“Well, I promised Jan Di I wouldn’t say anything, but I think that because it’s you she won’t mind. You’re her friend and sunbae. Besides, I think you and I can help her.”
“Help her in what?”
“I think Jan Di’s in love!” She squealed.
It was as if the earth had shattered in two. I was sure I heard an ominous noise inside my head.
“She is actually denying it because all this is a little bit complicated, you know?” Ju Mi kept going. “But I’m sure she’s just being brave and is trying to give her all until she graduates.”
“Why until she graduates?”
“Come with me; we may find them.”
Ju Mi was thrilled as we walked the college corridors, but I felt I was moving on automatic pilot, my sole purpose to find out the truth. It wasn’t impossible for Jan Di to be in love. Of course, it wasn’t, but in my head there was only one question.
Why not me?
Hadn’t I given her everything I was for all of these years? I had sheltered her, comforted her, cared for her. I was her friend, her rock, her sunbae, her firefighter, her counselor, her playmate… I had been everything for Jan Di. Was it selfish to want something in return? Had it been foolish of me to have hope that her feelings would match mine someday?
“They’re not in the classroom. Then… the library!”
I walked along after Ju Mi while my brain kept drawing pictures of the happy ending for Jan Di and me that I had dreamed of since the first day she had come live with us. All I had kept hidden for years started to surface. My desire to be with Jan Di was all-encompassing, deeper and more profound than any normal 21 year old man felt for the girl he loved. My life simply wouldn’t be complete if Jan Di wasn’t in it. To hell with ‘If she’s happy I’m happy’. If she wasn’t by my side, I wouldn’t be able to go on…
“Yes! There they are. Can you see them, sunbae?”
Through the open doors of the library I watched a beaming Jan Di chatting with Jung seonsaengnim. I had taken classes with him and always thought he was a great person, but in that moment he was my mortal enemy.
“Now you understand the whole graduation thing? Certainly neither of them wants any trouble, so the best thing we can do is to support them and help them get through this remaining time. Don’t you think?”
I knew Ju Mi was saying something, but I wasn’t paying any attention. All my senses were fixated on the two of them. He seemed to be excited about something, and she just smiled and looked excited as well. I hadn’t see her smile like that in weeks. A strong emotion washed over me, and I recognized it immediately. I had lived with it throughout all the time Jan Di had been Jun Pyo’s girlfriend.
I was turning to leave when I saw something that made me freeze in place. Jun seonsaengnim took out a small box from his backpack and offered it to Jan Di. She opened it and found a ring.
I smashed my fist against the door.
Jan Di’s POV
I hadn’t been able to get up the courage to talk to Ji Hoo, but I didn’t have much time to think about it. College classes, Japanese lessons, and the company kept me busy, and I used them as an excuse to avoid Ji Hoo, although they had never stopped me before.
I was with Jung seonsaengnim in the library because he told me he had great news to share with me.
“All right, spill it! What is this great news of yours? I’m already late to see Ji Hoo and Ju Mi.”
“Oh, well, if you’re going to be so sweet about it, I just wanted to tell you she agreed to be my girlfriend. That’s all, you may go.”
“What!? How come? Tell me everything! Oh my God, congratulations!” I was truly happy for him.
“I know right? I can’t believe it myself.”
He started to tell me the whole story. It turned out the greatest obstacle had been her father because he didn’t looked with favor on a teacher who went after a student, but after her mother’s intervention and a long discussion in which Kyung Mi had said everything he had wanted without letting anyone intimidate him, her father acknowledge that only a honorable man was willing to give everything for the woman he loved. Thus, he accepted their relationship.
“Straight from a novel. Wow!” I exclaimed.
“Tell me about it. If I’m honest, all the time I was proclaiming my thoughts and feelings I struggled to not get weak knees. Her father is a man raised in the old ways, and he told me ‘You remind me of myself when I first asked my father-in-law permission to court my wife.'”
“Aw, that’s so romantic. I’m so happy for you. Now, what’s the plan?”
“Well, we are together and have a relationship, but we planned to wait until her graduation next semester to make it official before the university. We want to avoid any kind of trouble. Actually, though, I don’t think I can make it that long without doing something.”
I saw him search for something in his backpack and he took out a small box. Every girl in the world knew what came in a box like that. He handed it to me and asked for my opinion. When I opened it, I found a magnificent engagement ring with a single lovely diamond in the middle.
“This is… it’s beautiful, Kyung Mi. I can assure you she will accept without thinking it twice. Besides—”
A loud sound interrupted us, and we both turned to find Ji Hoo and Ju Mi at the doors.
“Sunbae…” I said. Ji Hoo turned and walked swiftly away. “I have to go,” I told Kyung Mi, returning his box.
“Ju Mi, what happened?” I asked her when I met her at the door. She looked scared.
“I-I don’t know. We just came looking for you because you were late.”
“Pick up my stuff, please!” I ran after Ji Hoo and finally caught up with him on a back patio.
“Sunbae! Please, wait! What’s going on?”
“Everything! Everything is going on, Jan Di. Tell Grandfather I won’t be at the clinic today.”
“What’s wrong with you!?”
“Didn’t you hear me!?” He suddenly spun around and dropped his books, grabbing me forcefully by the arms. “Everything is wrong with me, so I want to be alone. The last thing I want is to think.”
I had never seen Ji Hoo raise his voice or lose his temper like that. For the first time in my life, I was scared of him.
“You’re… hurting me.”
“Wouldn’t that be a nice change?” he said cryptically, and then brusquely let me go.
“And what is that supposed to mean!?”
“I DON’T KNOW! I don’t know anything anymore, Jan Di! All this is ridiculous! I would prefer if you just stay away from me so I can…” he scoffed. “I don’t even know what is it I want to do, but whatever it is, do not follow me.”
“Sunbae…” I was worried. “Please, wait!” Suddenly, Ji Hoo pulled me into his arms, holding me so tightly against his chest that I could barely draw breath.
“Why is it that you? How is it that you-?”
A sound coming out of his cellphone distracted him. He let me go, more softly this time, and checked the message.
I was utterly confused. What was happening to my sunbae? How could I fix it?
“Jan Di, we need to go,” he said urgently.
“No. First I need to know what’s going on with you.”
“Jan Di, listen to me. I need you to remain calm.” His whole demeanor had changed. The anger was gone. Now he just looked worried.
“That text was from Woo Bin. Ga Eul has been kidnapped.”