Jan Di’s POV
The rest of the afternoon passed in a blur of family chaos.
My father outright refused Grandfather’s offer to pay off all of his debts, despite my mother’s constant pleas. She was meddling so much that we decided to leave the two men alone to discuss an agreement. After two hours of intense conversation, my father still hadn’t changed his mind, and my mother almost cried.
“Jan Di, you have to make sure to marry the grandson then. That’s how we’ll ensure our future,” my mother begged.
I just rolled my eyes.
My brother seemed to have grown fond of Ji Hoo since that time when they helped us with the apartment. When I finally disentangled myself from conversation with my mother, I saw them outside talking about something. Ji Hoo ruffled his hair and Kang San laughed out loud. I smiled fondly at them both. I knew my brother was avoiding asking me about Jun Pyo after I dropped the bomb that he was married, and I loved him for it. It was strange how different we were, considering we were raised by the same two parents.
We didn’t stay long. We had work to do at home, but Grandfather told me I could come back next weekend and stay overnight if I wanted. When I went to say goodbye to my father, he pulled me aside and made a confession.
“Jan Di, I… I took Seok Young-ssi’s offer.”
“What?” I asked.
“He insisted so strongly and the offer was so good that even with all the embarrassment I was feeling, I couldn’t decline. However, your mother knows nothing about this, and she doesn’t need to. I told Seok Young-ssi I would accept his help only under that condition. The last thing you need is for us to return to the city and distract you.”
“But dad… Kang San, the school…”
“There are good schools here. We’ll stay for at least another year so you can get used to your new life. Okay?”
“Listen to me. Never take for granted this opportunity. Seize it to the max. But never, ever forget where you come from, my daughter. That’s what defines you.”
With tears in my eyes, I gave him one last hug before saying my last goodbyes and getting into the car.
“Grandfather, you should have told me what you were planning.” I pouted at him from the rearview mirror, sulky but not angry.
“Miss Jan Di,” Secretary Park intervened, “the president was busy all week figuring out everything he needed to do to enroll you in the university. He even thought of registering you when President Kang leaves on a trip to visit her son and daughter-in-law in three weeks, just so you wouldn’t have any trouble.”
“I don’t want to risk Hee Soo coming back to put her claws into my businesses. If you really want to be a doctor, young lady, trust me. It won’t be easy, but if your resolution is firm, I’ll help you in whatever way I can.”
“Grandpa!” I moved to hug him from behind his seat and he finally smiled.
After a while, Grandfather and Secretary Park start talking business while sunbae and I enjoyed the view from the back seat.
“After all of this excitement, I’m no longer sleepy,” he told me.
“Think you’re the only one? Even if I were in my bed right now, I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep.”
“So, will you let me cut your fringe?” he suddenly asked, reaching out to touch my hair. I had almost forgotten his request.
“Yes, of course. But why that suggestion about leaving it long?”
“I think it will suit you. Besides, it would be a change: new life, new hair… Don’t women do that?”
“But…I’ve never had long hair.”
He smiled that crooked smile that always made my heart skip a beat.
“I still remember a young girl, barefoot, dressed in her school uniform outside Jun Pyo’s mansion. Your hair was in a low bun, and you looked really good.”
I was surprised he remembered that. We hadn’t known each other long, but the mere thought of Ji Hoo had been enough to make my heart nearly beat out of my chest. He was like a fairytale prince straight out of a book. “You’re right, I’d forgotten.”
“If you looked like that with hair extensions, I can imagine you would be even lovelier when it is your own hair.”
“You think?” I asked him, a little embarrassed. “Well, you are right about something. It would be a change. After all, from now on I’m walking towards my dream, and I won’t stop until I’ve reached it.”
Ji Hoo’s POV
When we got home, it only took me minutes to set out what I needed in order to cut Jan Di’s hair. I ushered her into a chair in the front courtyard and got started.
I took my time with the project and seized the occasion to really admire Jan Di’s familiar locks. Her hair was black, straight, and soft, with a white hair visible here and there, but definitely beautiful.
In the car, I wanted to slap myself when I mentioned the time I saw her with long hair outside Jun Pyo’s mansion, but I noticed she hadn’t reacted when she heard his name. Even when Secretary Park talked about President Kang going to visit her son and daughter-in-law, Jan Di seemed to take it in stride as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Was she perhaps healing? Was the pain in her heart subsiding at last?
“Okay, I’m done. Here, a mirror,” I said, handing it to her as I brushed stray hairs off of her neck.
“Thank you,” she said, then lifted the mirror for a thorough examination. I waited for a bit and then… “SUNBAE!”
“My fringe wasn’t like this!”
“I told you, it’s about change.” Actually I hadn’t done anything extraordinary. I simply cut her fringe in a diagonal way instead of the straight cut she used to have. I loved it.
“I look weird,” she pouted.
You look beautiful.
“You look fine. It’s almost the same as it was before, Jan Di.”
She scrunched her face a bit in contemplation, but then a smile lit her features and I knew I was forgiven.
“Jan Di-ah! Ji Hoo! I want to talk to you!”
At Grandfather’s call, we hurried to put everything in order. Going into the house, we found him already waiting for us at the dining table. The expression on his face told us it was serious.
We sat down next to each other, and he started talking.
“Jan Di, just as I told you this morning, I’m planning on taking you under my wing and being your mentor. Do you have a problem with that?”
“No, Grandfather,” she answered without hesitation.
“Good. Now, about the company, Ji Hoo will teach you how things run and walk you through the decision making process. Above all, I want you to continue to be involved in the company’s newest projects. Your input on the charity event was invaluable, and I hope you will keep on contributing the same thoughtful and insightful ideas when the chance arises.”
Jan Di and I nodded in compliance.
“Of course, your education won’t be complete without some other practical skills. Tell me, how’s your English?”
“Ehh… Well, I can read it at an intermediate level, but speaking it is really difficult for me.”
“What about if someone talks to you? For example, a native North American.”
“I get stuck in trying to understand the accent.”
“That is another thing that will change starting today. I will hire a private teacher to tutor you until you are ready for the TOEFL exam. Nowadays, the world is ruled by English. It’s the most basic requirement you must fulfill to live up to the standard of Yoon group.”
Jan Di started to look scared.
“Now, have you thought about why you want to study medicine? You told me your goals the other night, but I want to know what field you’d like to go into.”
“Well, I’ve been thinking about obstetrics or pediatrics. What I enjoy the most is working with children, and it was thanks to a birth that I realized this was what I wanted to do.”
“Then from now on at the clinic, you will be in charge of examinations for pregnant women and children, including the newborns. I will help you, and the experience will be of great use when you are asked to decide on a specialty in your fifth year. Besides, patient care is one of the qualities that has been forgotten over time, and something you must learn to value. Finally, about your job at the restaurant…” Grandfather softened his voice a bit, “I know you’ve worked there for a long time and that your friend Ga Eul has, too, but I’m not trying to be mean when I tell you that it would be best if you quit. With all the classes you’ll be taking, your practice in the clinic, and the work you’ll be doing at the company, I can assure you you’ll have little to no time for anything else. The little free times you’ll get will most likely be given over to rest or additional studying. That’s the life of someone who has chosen a medical career. Look at me, child.”
Jan Di held his gaze.
“After everything I have told you about what your life will be like for the next seven years, do you still wish to follow this plan I’m offering you? Think it over carefully. I can give you time to-“
“No time is necessary,” Jan Di said firmly, her hands clenched in tight fists on her knees under the table. Without grandfather noticing, I put my hand gently over one of her fists. If Jan Di noticed my touch, she didn’t show it. “I’m sure of the path I’m following, and I’m more than grateful to you, Grandfather. Please, treat me kindly in the oncoming years.” Jan Di bowed her head before him.
“Let’s say no more then. We’ll begin your registration process as soon as Hee Soo leaves the country. The English teacher will come in two weeks, and Ji Hoo will start training you right now for working in the company. Make the most of these two weeks. Relax and be free, because after this… the good stuff begins.”
Jan Di put her free hand on the one I had on her fist and gently squeezed before standing up, rounding the table to where my grandfather was, and hugging him tightly.
The happiness flowing from both of them was undeniable. Even Secretary Park had a huge smile on his face.
Me? I couldn’t say I was happy, exactly. That word didn’t begin to describe all the feelings clashing inside of me.
I was ecstatic, excited, overwhelmed, and even frightened to contemplate what my life would be like from that point on.
Jae Kyung’s POV
“Jun, you coming?”
“I have to finish this. You can go on to bed.”
“But it’s not necessary that you finish all of this for tomorrow; your mother said so at the meeting.”
“Even so, I prefer to finish it early. You know how more work can come up at any time.” This time he turned around and looked at me. “Go rest. As soon as I’m done here, I’ll be up.”
He said it calmly, but I noticed the heavy sigh in his last phrase.
I gave up. This was starting to be routine. Two months had passed since the wedding, and at the beginning it had been really difficult. Jun Pyo didn’t say a word the first day, absolutely nothing. When we got to the hotel where we were supposed to spend the night before going to the airport for our honeymoon, he went into the suite’s bathroom, took the longest shower imaginable, sat down in front of a window, and didn’t move until I woke up the next day.
On our honeymoon he was his usual self, arrogant and irritated; but still we laughed sometimes. I knew how much he and Jan Di must have been suffering, but I had decided to make Jun Pyo happy, decided to make this marriage successful. However, when we returned to settle down as a married couple in our new flat in Macao, where the offices of Shinhwa/JK group were, Jun had turned scared of nights.
From that day to this, we had only slept next to each other. Jun Pyo hadn’t touched me once.
At the beginning I told myself that it was logical to wait. After all, we had dated for only a short time before the wedding, and we needed to get used to each other. Besides, all the surrounding circumstances made things understandably awkward… But now, after two months, I was starting to feel lonely.
I had tried, in vain, to get close to Jun Pyo whenever I felt him lay down beside me. I rested my head on his chest and wrapped my arm across his waist, but he would just sigh and pat my arm, or worse, turn his back to me and go to sleep. I knew this night would be the same; he would find excuses to work late and come to bed only when he thought I was already asleep.
I sat in front of my laptop and checked for email from Jan Di. At the beginning, I thought it would be cruel to talk to her about my life, but I also told myself that I owed it to her, that despite it all, she was my friend. I got really excited when Jan Di started to write back. At first it was me who wrote almost daily, but now, with the stress in my new marriage, I couldn’t do it with the same sincerity. Surprisingly, it was Jan Di who really seemed changed. Although her letters were only about her newfound path to a medical career and her excitement about the opportunities she was experiencing, her words were no longer masking sadness and melancholy like they had before; now she sounded content and recovered, as if time was really helping her heal.
Just what I need, I thought, to be jealous of my friend’s happiness. Isn’t it me who got to keep her great love? Isn’t it me who has more than anyone could desire?
I closed the laptop with a frustrated click and risked a glance to Jun Pyo’s back one last time before taking off my robe and going to bed.
Woo Bin’s POV
“…and then she told me ‘I won’t look for you anymore. Don’t worry, sunbae.'” Yi Jung finished.
I could tell that he was still troubled by his encounter with Ga Eul the previous afternoon. She hadn’t let him say anything before interrupting to speak her piece. And then she just walked away, her last words telling him clearly that before anything could start between them, it had already ended.
“And she said nothing else, bro?” I asked him.
“No. After that she went down the stairs and left.”
I had gone to his house to ask how things had turned out between them. Yi Jung had already told me what Ga Eul had done for him by finding the building to which Eun Jae had asked him to go before they parted. I could only react by commenting, “She must have had to check a lot of buildings to find the right one.” Yi Jung knew it too well.
“Will you talk to her again?” I asked.
“I don’t think so… She seemed pretty resolute in what she said.”
“But you like her.”
“I think I’m interested, but I don’t like her yet, and that’s good. If I ever were to get involved with Ga Eul and something went wrong, I would have to face Jan Di’s fury.”
“You actually believe that?”
“Yes, I do. Besides, I have another project in mind. As soon as I confirm it’s something for sure, you’ll be the first to know.” We sat in silence for a while, and then Yi Jung abruptly leapt up from the sofa. “Well! I have a date pretty soon. Wanna come? I’m sure she can find you a friend.”
“No, I’m fine. I’ve… got things to do.”
“Yeah, but I’ll be done soon.” I got up and went to the door, “I’ll call you. We can meet up later, okay?”
“Sure. See ya.”
I left Yi Jung’s house without knowing exactly why I hadn’t immediately taken him up on his invitation. I wasn’t even sure where I was heading when I started up my car’s engine. I only knew that I felt totally baffled when I found myself, minutes later, in front of the restaurant where Ga Eul and Jan Di worked.
Maybe I felt guilty somehow. After all, I had asked Ga Eul to take care of Yi Jung because I knew how difficult it was for him to trust in someone and to open his heart to a woman.
Now she had closed his path, and I couldn’t understand why. Just the fact that she had found that damn building showed that Ga Eul cared.
I was startled from my thoughts by a knock on the windshield, and even more when I saw that Ga Eul was the one doing the knocking.
“Woo Bin sunbae?” she said.
I lowered my window.
“Um, hey, Ga Eul!” Smooth.
“Hey, were you looking for Jan Di?”
“Yes! I was. I was looking for Jan Di.”
“Well, she left early today. Apparently, there was a woman who was going to have her baby and she ran out of here as soon as grandfather called her.”
I still couldn’t believe that Jan Di was being ‘trained’ by Ji Hoo’s grandfather, or that she was living under the same roof as Ji Hoo. I remember when he came to give the news to me and Yi Jung and we just froze in shock. Ji Hoo told us that the whole idea had been his grandfather’s, but it was clear he was more than okay with how things had worked out.
We were no fools. We knew Ji Hoo felt something for Jan Di, but when he explained the reasons why she was going to live with him, we couldn’t argue with them. I found it disgusting that Jun Pyo’s mother still wanted to torment her after she had secured her company’s merger.
“I’ll be able to see her dream come true,” Ji Hoo had confided in me when it was just the two of us. I could only pat him on the back and hope that everything went well.
“Huh? What? Oh, yeah! Jan Di is not here.”
“Yes, I’ll tell her that you came looking for her. Um, I guess I’d better go.” She straightened up and turned away.
“Would you like to have some coffee?” I blurted before I realized what I was saying.
Ga Eul turned to look at me, surprised, but then a look of understanding crossed her face as she realized what I probably wanted to talk about.
“I would love to, sunbae, but I have cram school.”
“I’ll take you there if you like. I bet it’ll be faster in my car, and that will give us time for a coffee.”
She thought about it again and then hopped in.
On the way there, our conversation revolved around Jan Di, obviously. Ga Eul was excited that her friend was studying for her dream career in medicine. She had been as shocked as I was to hear that Jan Di was going to start living with Ji Hoo, but wisely said that if anyone was capable of helping Jan Di, it was our friend.
Ga Eul also provided the perfect cover for Jan Di’s unorthodox living situation. All college documents would be directed to her house to prevent anyone from knowing Jan Di’s new address. The last thing we wanted was for rumors to arise. Being familiar with the staff and students of Shinhwa College, I knew the information would just give them cause to bully her.
It was a good thing that everyone knew Jan Di had F4 backup.
“What better for a Shinhwa student than to have Prince Song in her corner?” Ga Eul said when I made the backup comment. Hearing her call me a prince brought warmth to my face.
I parked my car at a quiet restaurant close to Ga Eul’s academy. We both ordered coffee, and Ga Eul ordered dessert to go with it. After the server brought it to the table, Ga Eul rested her chin on her clasped hands and leaned towards me intently.
“So, sunbae… all of this is because of what happened with Yi Jung yesterday, right?”
“I see you cut right to the chase.”
“I see no other reason why you would invite me for coffee.”
Now that’s awkward. I’ve never invited you to anything, mostly because of Yi Jung.
I thought it over. Had I ever wanted to invite Ga Eul out?
“You’re too harsh, Ga Eul. I consider both you and Jan Di my friends.”
“I’m sorry, sunbae. I know we’re friends. Anyway, you came here to talk about Yi Jung.”
“To be honest, I was surprised to hear you rejected him before even listening to what he had to say.”
“And what could he have told me? Yi Jung has been hurt many times, and I think anything he said would have been out of obligation. I just don’t believe that Yi Jung feels something for me. He’s just gotten used to me. I’ve been so close, so involved in his affairs, that he no longer feels uncomfortable about it.”
“You can’t know that for sure,” I countered.
“True. I can’t. But I’ve decided to stay away. My involvement with Yi Jung has wounded me enough. I don’t regret it, but I can’t be next to someone who is always afraid. Besides, sunbae, if you really loved someone, would you let a few words of rejection deter you? It took me a long time to walk down those stairs, and he didn’t even try to stop me.
I could see that Ga Eul’s cheeks were growing pink and her eyes were glassy.
I see now. She only wanted confirmation, but my stupid friend simply couldn’t take the rejection and left.
“No, I wouldn’t let one rejection deter me,” I answered her. “I’m sorry about all of this. It is partly my fault for asking you to take care of him.”
“No, it’s not like that. You and Eun Jae sunbae gave me the chance to give my best effort for the love I felt, and I’m really grateful for that. Who knows? Maybe in the future I’ll have another chance.” A small, wistful smile passed across her face.
“You’ve changed, Ga Eul.”
It was true. She had changed. More centered, maybe? Here was the girl who believed in fairy tales and soulmates, but her serene countenance and thoughtful words seemed more mature.
“Yes, I do. I hope you know that if you ever need anything, Ga Eul, you can call on me.”
“Thank you, sunbae. I’m sure I will,” she replied with a big smile.
I stood up and put my jacket back on. “Well, I don’t want to detain you any further. I know you’ve got class. By the way, what is it that you’re going to study, Ga Eul?”
“I want to be a teacher. A kindergarten teacher, if possible. I’ve always loved children.”
Even in that the two best friends were alike. But it was true, Ga Eul surrounded by children was a scenario that I could easily picture in my mind. It fit her personality perfectly.
“You’ll be great at it.”
Ji Hoo’s POV
After brewing a pot of tea in the clinic’s small kitchenette, I put it on a tray with some cups and carried it into the lobby where Jan Di was sitting on a narrow bench.
Her head was tipped back against the wall and fat tears were running down her cheeks. She was still dressed in blood-smeared scrubs, and her hands lay limply on her lap.
The woman who had come to give birth had so little money that she’d never gone to a check-up or taken a single vitamin. She had clearly been suffering from malnutrition all through her pregnancy. Grandfather had called Jan Di immediately so she could assist him, but the birth presented complications. The baby had presented shoulder first and gotten stuck in the birth canal. Grandfather rushed to perform an emergency C-section, but the child was in acute distress before the procedure even started.
He had died.
They had been forced to heavily sedate the mother in order to finish the surgery. Grandfather asked one of the nurses call me because Jan Di had broken down and wasn’t able to keep going.
“Here, drink this. It will calm you down.” I offered her a cup. Jan Di didn’t answer, didn’t acknowledge my presence at all. “There was nothing you could’ve done, Jan Di. She and the baby were weak from poor nutrition. They were going to struggle no matter what. I know it must have been hard for you.”
We heard a door opening up and my grandfather and two nurses came out of the operating room. One of the girls held a small bundle of clothes against her chest. An expression of barely concealed horror filled Jan Di’s face.
“It went well,” Grandfather said. “She’s resting, but we will have to be alert for when she wakes up. It’s a real pity something like this happened.”
“Doctor…” Jan Di always called my grandfather ‘doctor’ when they were working. She said it wasn’t good to mix personal life with the professional atmosphere of the clinic. “What are we going to do now?”
“Tend to the mother as well as we can. I hope she has someone to look after her for the post-op appointment. It will be hard without her son, but she has to do it.”
“Can’t we help her? Maybe take her in until she’s fully recovered? She’s weak and has no money, and-“
Grandfather interrupted her. “Jan Di-ah, are you planning to take care of all the impoverished women who suffer a bad birth? What if the baby survived? Were you going to take care of the feeding, clothing, and education expenses?” Jan Di shut up at once. “It’s sad and unfair; you think I don’t know that? But this is life! You’ll see many cases like this in your career, and you need to be ready for them. A doctor can’t start crying in the middle of a procedure! She must act! Or else not only one life will be lost, but two! Or did you forget about the mother?”
Jan Di looked shocked by grandfather’s words. She leapt up, grabbed her jacket, and ran out of the clinic.
“Ji Hoo, stay with her today. It’s necessary that she learns how difficult this calling can be if she wants to keep learning. I’m sorry to be this harsh with her, but it’s the only way.”
I went out and, after walking a couple of blocks, found her staring, unseeing, into a shop window.
“Are you alright?” I asked her.
“I’m an idiot. It’s obvious that things like this happen sometimes. Grandfather was only telling me the truth.” She turned around and looked at me. “But it’s hard, sunbae. It’s so hard to watch a baby I couldn’t save die in my arms. Would it have been better if she had gone to an actual clinic? Just because she doesn’t have enough money, does that mean she has no right to the best care they can offer?”
“If she had gone to a clinic maybe they wouldn’t have taken her in. And if they had, now that woman would be deep in debt. Today a life was saved, Jan Di…”
“But not because of me,” she choked out through her tears. “If grandfather and the nurses hadn’t been there, I would have killed that poor woman with my incompetence. I couldn’t even stay and watch…”
Then Jan Di lifted her hands and slapped herself hard in both cheeks.
“What are you doing!?”
“Waking up. This won’t be the last time I cry, but I promise it will be the last time I think first about me instead of the patient. Come along, sunbae, I need to apologize to the doctor and stay on guard for that woman. It’s the least I can do.”
I saw the determination shining in her eyes while she tried to clean her face and I felt it again. Jan Di hadn’t even started college, and while she had read a library’s worth of medical books, watched and assisted in births, and taken care of the exams for children under my grandfather’s strict gaze, tonight had been the first time she witnessed something so traumatic. The strength and perseverance in her look told me she was going to make it.
“Jan Di, can I tell you something?” I offered her my handkerchief.
“Sure, what is it?” she asked me, accepting it.
“Is just that… I’ve decided to change my career.”
Over the last few months I had studied with her, read about medicine, learned in the clinic, and even helped grandfather from time to time. It wasn’t just the pull to continue the family legacy or the thought of staying as close as I could to Jan Di—although that was a part of the reason. Somehow I had come to like the practice of medicine, and the thought of moving in a new direction was exhilarating.
It was an odd feeling for me, because I couldn’t remember the last time I was this passionate about anything but playing the violin or the piano.
“Jan Di, I’ve decided to keep being your ‘sunbae’ for a little while longer…”
Jan Di’s POV
The day was finally here.
I couldn’t believe time had passed so quickly! As I looked down at the Shinhwa High School diploma in my hands, the last four years seemed like a blur.
My father had sent me a letter congratulating me and explaining that they wouldn’t be attending my graduation for fear my mother would make some kind of scene. Besides, Kang San was also having a small closing ceremony and they had to support him. I was so proud of my younger brother.
I looked around at my classmates as we all stood in line together outside the Great Hall, waiting for the doors to open for the graduation dance. Having spent all my time with Ga Eul and the F4, I didn’t know many of them well, but I felt a kinship with them today as we all stepped out into the next phase of our lives. And we weren’t the only ones forging new paths. I couldn’t help but smile at the memory of Grandfather’s surprise when Ji Hoo shared his decision to change course and begin a medical career. Grandfather had actually locked the two of them into the study together for an hour before finally accepting.
At the same time I was in the process of enrolling into Shinhwa college, Ji Hoo was in the process of changing careers. He would take an exam to determine which cycle he would be put in. I had no doubts he would end up in the second or third one, but was still happy because we would be in the same program.
A staff member appeared and announced that it was time to go in. The hum of conversations grew quieter as girls touched up their makeup and boys straightened their ties in preparation for our grand entrance. Truth be told, I hadn’t wanted to come, but everyone had insisted: The F4, Ga Eul, Grandfather, and even my own parents.
Thanks once again to my mentor, I was wearing a stunning long green dress that was fitted to the waist and floated diaphanously around my ankles. I also had on the jewelry Grandfather had gifted me for the Art Centre event party because I had forbidden him to spend more on another set. Actually, I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself, standing around all elegant and polished in a hall full of people who, frankly, had avoided me by all possible means throughout high school. However, when I finally entered the Great Hall I saw I had nothing to worry about. Woo Bin, Ga Eul, Yi Jung and Ji Hoo were waiting there for me amidst the rest of the students and invitees.
“See all you would have missed out on if you hadn’t come, Jan Di?” Yi Jung asked me.
“If you weren’t here, I would be already planning my escape, sunbae,” I told him.
“You look so beautiful, Jan Di!” Ga Eul came and hugged me.
“You too, Ga Eul!”
“Of course! It’s only right for the people who love you most to be with you on such an important day,” said Ji Hoo, stepping up beside me and looking down into my eyes in a way I found very distracting.
“Ji Hoo, sunbae…”
“Didn’t you know, Jan Di? The F4 has been waiting all day to dance with you.” He grinned.
“And that being the case…” Woo Bin took a step forward, cleared his throat, and gallantly held out his hand. “Miss Geum Jan Di, will you do me the honor of this dance?”
I laughed as I laid my fingers over his and he led me to the dance floor.
Thank God Ji Hoo had taught me how to waltz. I had found the skill very practical. Almost all of these fancy events involved the same kind of formal music.
“You look really good, Jan Di. Long hair suits you,” Woo Bin complimented me. My hair had grown down past my shoulders already.
“Thank you, sunbae. You’re a good friend. Did you know that I’ve always seen you as the true anchor of the F4? You’re the one holding these guys together. They’re lucky to have you.”
“You’ll make me blush, Jan Di,” he teased, but then his face turned serious. “Thank you.” At that moment the song ended, and Woo Bin softly kissed my right cheek. “Never change.” I was saved from having to respond by someone clearing his voice behind me.
“It’s my turn now, don’t you think?” Yi Jung asked with a smirk. Woo Bin bowed good-naturedly and handed me off, switching places with Yi Jung.
While we spun around the dance floor, I felt a pang of sadness at remembering that he would soon be leaving for Sweden to study. A couple of weeks ago he had told us all the news, and I had immediately worried about Ga Eul, but she seemed to have taken it fairly well.
“Yi Jung, sunbae, I hope you find your soulmate.”
“You also believe in that, Jan Di?” He laughed. “I’m a man who enjoys his freedom too much to tie myself down in that way.”
“You can say that, but I know the truth. Your heart is one of the purest I’ve ever known, sunbae. You can’t fool me.” For a moment, his lighthearted expression faltered, but it was soon replaced by that flirtatious smirk of his, the one that made most girls swoon. Yi Jung also kissed my right cheek as the song came to an end.
“Thanks for everything, Jan Di. Turn into the best doctor ever! Don’t forget, I’ll be coming back in five years to check on you.”
The rest of my night was lovely. As always, there was a group of girls standing behind my sunbaes, waiting for a chance to dance with them, but I was quite surprised when they told me they weren’t planning on dancing with anyone else but Ga Eul and me.
“Youngsters, the night will soon come to an end. This is the last song of the night, so enjoy it! Once again, congratulations, graduates!”
Soft notes began to fill the hall, and Woo Bin took Ga Eul to the dance floor. I noticed Yi Jung approaching me for another spin, but Ji Hoo was faster in taking my hand.
“Oh, come on, Ji Hoo! You were serious about having her first and last dance in high school?”
He didn’t answer, but looked daggers at Yi Jung as he slipped an arm around my waist and led me out to the middle of the floor. I was puzzled for a moment about what Yi Jung had said. First and last dance?
“Oh! I just realized!” I exclaimed to Ji Hoo.
“What?” he asked me.
“The first time I danced with a boy was with you, sunbae. That time when they tricked me into believing Seo Hyun’s party was a costume party, so I went dressed up as Wonder Woman. That was my first dance in high school.”
“And now it’s your last dance, and I’m claiming it, too. I’m sorry to be so selfish.” He didn’t look sorry.
“On the contrary, I had a great teacher. I no longer have to stand on your feet, see?”
“That is true,” he said, leading me into a turn. We laughed as we danced.
The song playing in the background was in English, and I found that I could understand most of the words. It talked about dreams and waiting, being close and at the same time being far away. It was beautiful, and I was truly happy to be dancing to it with Ji Hoo.
When it all ended, we joined the rest of the room in applauding. As I began to walk back towards our friends, I felt Ji Hoo lay his hand on my arm, pulling me aside.
“Come with me.”
I found it odd, but followed him nonetheless.
We left the Great Hall and made our way into a little waiting room, one of many alcoves branching off from the main hall. He made me sit down on a pretty black sofa, and he sat down facing me on a matching love-seat.
“I’ve been thinking for a while of what I should give you for your graduation,” He began saying.
“Sunbae, you didn’t have to. I mean, you’ve given me plenty and besides-” He raised a hand to stop me in midsentence.
“I couldn’t come up with anything because I know you like simple, meaningful gifts, and my usual extravagance wouldn’t do. You’re a complicated girl to give a gift to, you know?”
I warmed myself in the light from his smile as he took a small black box out of his pocket. He opened it before me, and there on the black velvet lay a filigreed silver chain, from which hung a lotus flower pendant made of silver and something that looked like inlaid diamonds.
“Will you let me?”
I said nothing, but he was already behind me, laying my hair over one shoulder and unclasping grandfather’s necklace so he could put on the one he had just given me. His fingers at my neck sent a shiver through me, and then he was done. He sat back and looked at me intently.
“Jan Di, I hope that this lotus flower helps you remember how special you are. Just as a lotus can make muddy waters clear, you have the gift of bringing peace and joy to any bad situation that comes your way. As I said before, wonders are your thing, and I wish nothing more than happiness for you from now on in this new chapter of your life, your college life.”
My hand automatically went to the pendant laying on my chest, gently feeling its delicate shape. Unbidden, tears of emotion pooled in my eyes and escaped down my cheek.
Were there enough words in the world to say thank you for all the happiness I had been given since I started to live with Grandfather and Ji Hoo? What could I ever do in return for such generosity and gallantry?
“Gomawo, Ji Hoo sunbae.”
“Don’t cry. What would we do if the flower drowned?”
“Silly…” I laughed through my tears.
“Congratulations, Jan Di,” he said softly. Raising a hand to cup my face and wiping away a lingering tear with his thumb, he leaned towards me. I closed my eyes as his soft, warm lips brushed my left cheek with a kiss. When we separated, I opened my eyes to find Ji Hoo smiling one of his angelic smiles.
My heart skipped a beat, and a strange feeling washed over me, heating my cheeks with an uncharacteristic blush. What was happening? Before I could consider the answer to that question, Ji Hoo stood up and offered me his hand. Banishing all other concerns, I looked up at him, smiled widely, and took it, following him back to the place where our friends were waiting for us.
Jun Pyo’s POV
My eyes snapped open and I bolted upright in bed, soaked with sweat. I wasn’t sure what it was, but a bad feeling had suddenly come over me.
“Jun? Are you alright?” Jae Kyung asked me groggily. “It’s the middle of the night.”
“It’s all good; go back to sleep. I just wanted some water.”
I kissed her cheek, got up, and left the room.
I didn’t want water. I wanted to get rid of the knot of tension that had lodged in my chest.
I poured myself a glass of scotch, sat down on one of the sofas, and stared out the window, thinking about nothing but feeling immensely desperate.
What are you up to right now, Jan Di?