Seok Young’s POV
“But are you sure they’re completely alright!?”
“Yes, President. Everything happened so suddenly that I’m not sure I related the events in order, but you can be totally sure that both the young master and miss Jan Di are safe and sound.”
“I finally have a good heart, and these kids are already trying to destroy it.”
“I don’t think that’s their wish, President,” Chae Yun replied with a smile.
“I’ll close early today.”
“It won’t be necessary. They have exams today and will finish late. Both sent text messages saying they’ll arrive home together.”
I sat down heavily in front of my desk and felt a pang ripple through my heart. It wasn’t a physical pain. No. It was completely emotional. Thanks to Geum Jan Di, my grandson had come back into my life. Now every day was filled with the wild happiness of waking up from a tortuous dream to find that it wasn’t real. And just when I thought I couldn’t be any happier, the girl herself had joined our family. That noisy and meddlesome girl with a heart of gold: Geum Jan Di. Realizing how close I’d come to losing her filled me with anguish.
“Tell me, Chae Yun. Am I being presumptuous by doing all of this? I’ve never asked her and I don’t want to make her feel indebted to us in any way.”
“Mr. President, just as you consider her as your granddaughter, I’m sure miss Jan Di considers you her grandfather. Fear not. Use the same strategy as when you offered to pay for her schooling and mentor her in her career. It’s not coercion; it’s a gift. I’m sure she’ll take it as such.”
“I hope so, Chae Yun. I certainly hope so. By the way, is all the paperwork ready?”
“Yes, it took longer than we expected, but it’s all in order now. All that remains now is for her to accept.”
“Well then, better sooner than later. Tonight I’ll speak to them both.”
Ji Hoo’s POV
The kiss I had given Jan Di in New Caledonia had been impulsive. When I had seen her crying for me, telling me I had to be happy, in that moment she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I had to kiss her; I simply had to. I didn’t think about Jun Pyo. I didn’t think about Seo Hyun. My only thought was that I wished I had fallen for someone as sweet and compassionate as she clearly was.
Maybe I’d already started falling in love with her, even then.
Now here I was on our staircase, kissing her again, but this kiss was so different from the one we’d shared that long ago night on the beach. Jan Di seemed as taken by surprise as I was, but that only made me want to kiss her more. Tentatively, I moved my hand to her waist, relaxing when I felt her lean against me, her fingers splayed against my chest for balance. I was sure she could feel the racing of my heart, but I didn’t care. All I could focus on was the softness of her lips moving in sync with mine, the heat of her body spreading through me like sunlight.
A breathy moan escaped her, and my answering shiver shook me from head to toes. I pressed her closer in response, deepening our kiss…
Suddenly someone opened the staircase door with a bang, making us jump in surprise. I didn’t know the girl, who was carrying a cigarette box in one hand. Shock spread over her features when she recognized us.
“I-I’m sorry!” she said before hurrying back the way she had come.
Disappointed at the abrupt interruption, I turned to Jan Di to find her blushing beautifully and smiling at me.
“Are you okay?” I asked her.
“Yes. Definitely yes.”
“Um…” The moment we’d just shared had been amazing, but it had happened too fast for me to process it. There was so much I wanted to ask her, so much we need to talk about.
“I also want to talk to you,” she told me, reading my mind, “but maybe it would be best if we go somewhere else, don’t you think?”
“Yes, you’re right.”
“I’ll go ask Jung seonsaengnim for my clothes back. He was kind enough to lend me this hoodie when I appeared for his exam drenched to the skin.”
Jung seonsaengnim. I had totally forgotten about him. I colored remembering the terrible misunderstanding my jealousy had caused. I had come perilously close to ruining my own happiness, and I’d been unforgivably rude to a teacher.
“I’ll go with you… I’d like to apologize to him for the way I treated him last time we met.” She seemed to want to say something, but instead she nodded her head, took my hand, and led me to the classroom where he was preparing for his next class.
She did it in such a natural way, as if we held hands everyday…. and somehow we used to, before all this mess. But as I walked down the hall, feeling her fingers entwined with mine, I knew it was different now.
When we found Jung seonsaengnim and he saw us holding hands, his eyes lit up in glee, surprising me. He smiled widely and raised his arms to the ceiling, exclaiming ‘Finally! Congratulations, Jan Di!”
She huffed in mock indignation. “It hasn’t been easy.”
Jung seonsaengnim looked at her quizzically. Briefly, she related what I had been thinking the last few weeks and I jumped in with an explanation of how I had reached my ridiculous conclusion.
He burst out laughing.
My face flushed in embarrassment as Kyung Mi – he had asked me to call him that – doubled over with laughter.
“That I…” He chuckled. “That I was…” He guffawed. “That I was going out…with Jan Di!?” I thought he was going to hyperventilate, he was laughing so hard.
“I’m sorry. That’s what I was led to believe.”
Jan Di and I waited patiently a couple of more minutes for his amusement to die down. Her eyes were crinkled up in suppressed laughter, but I was still too embarrassed at my own immaturity to join in.
“Wow, I haven’t laughed so much in a while,” Kyung Mi said, wiping the tears from his eyes and straightening up. “I’m sorry, Ji Hoo, but Jan Di is not my type. No offense,” he quickly added.
“None taken,” she replied with a smile.
“Although you’re really very pretty, you have an impossible character.”
“Look who’s talking!” she retorted with a grin.
I listened, amazed, to their friendly banter and found that my previous jealousy was gone.
“Well, the main thing here is that you’re together, and you’re happy.”
“Yes,” she agreed emphatically, resting her head on my shoulder. Even that small gesture filled me with amazement and gratitude.
“Well, I’m glad things turned out okay. I’m sure the rest of your friends will join me in saying: it was about damn time!” Kyung Mi’s words, his smile, and his clear happiness for us made me feel really grateful. “We should celebrate!” he went on. “How about some ice cream? My treat.”
“Thank you, Kyung Mi, but I really need a shower. Besides, we still have a lot to talk about,” she said, giving my hand a soft squeeze.
“Oh, right, I get it. Well, either way, my offer still stands for some other day. And Ji Hoo,” he approached me and offered his hand, “be sure to treasure her.”
“Thank you. I will,” I assured him, shaking on it. “Once again, I’m really sorry about the way I treated you.”
“Forget it. I totally understand why you did it. Now go!” He ushered us out of his office. “But don’t forget that it’s exams week!” he called after us as we ran down the hallway.
Me, running in a college hallway.
“We won’t!” we yelled back.
Once again, me, yelling. If the guys could see me now…
Actually, I was too happy to care.
When we reached the motorcycle, I stowed our stuff then handed Jan Di her helmet. The ride home was like something from one of my dreams. The entire way, I basked in the feeling of her arms wrapped tightly around my waist, and when we stopped for a red light, I reached down to caress her hands where they were clasped together. She leaned into me, resting her head against my back, and I smiled to myself.
When we arrived, we could see Woo Bin’s surveillance had diminished somewhat, but not disappeared.
“Would you like to go out?” I asked her.
“I’d love to.” She beamed at me.
“Go freshen up. I’ll see you in… half an hour?”
She disappeared behind the closed door of her room and I went to take a quick shower myself. I still had too many questions in my head, but they didn’t seem to matter that much, because I could feel that Jan Di’s words were true. She was in love with me.
I looked at myself in the mirror. A foolish grin wreathed my face, and I couldn’t seem to wipe it away. I had a feeling it was more or less permanent.
Dressing quickly, I went to the living room to wait for Jan Di, only to find her already sitting down, a worried expression on her face. Next to her, Grandfather was also sitting down. Standing behind him, as always, was Secretary Park.
“Ji Hoo, you’re finally here. Come with me. I need to have a serious talk with both of you.”
I looked questioningly at Jan Di, but her face showed the same confusion I felt.
Grandfather took us to the dining room table, which meant this was a serious matter. We all sat down except for Secretary Park, who kept showing Grandfather several documents and laying them in order in front of him. After a minute, Grandfather spoke.
“I hear you were involved in an accident today. Is this true?”
“Well, it wasn’t exactly like that, Grandfather.” Jan Di gradually recounted what had happened, so I got to hear all the details for the first time. I thanked the heavens that she had gotten out of that cab. “I don’t know if my medical assistance was any help, but I was really nervous. I hope I did everything right, Grandpa… I followed all the steps you showed me.” A couple of wayward tears had sprung to Jan Di’s eyes as she related her tale.
“Miss Jan Di,” Secretary Park interjected, “rest assured that your intervention was appropriate and timely. I took the liberty of contacting the hospital, and thanks to your help, that young lady was saved. If they had moved her as she was, she might not have survived. You saved her life.”
Jan Di burst into happy tears. Secretary Park went to her and offered her his handkerchief with a smile.
“Well done, Jan Di. I am sure it must have been stressful, but despite your nerves, you kept control of the situation and acted swiftly. That’s what being a true doctor is about. Congratulations.” Grandfather’s words sounded sincere and proud, but they were also tinged with another sentiment I couldn’t identify. “That said, I want you to accept what I am about to offer you, Jan Di-ah.”
She took the papers Grandfather handed her and started reading. After a few seconds, her face went pale with alarm.
“Haraboji! You can’t do something like this!”
“Of course I can. It has already been done.”
“Miss Jan Di,” Secretary Park explained, “from now on you are a shareholder of Yoon group, owner of 20% of the shares and also a member of the board of Directors.”
“The board now comprises the young master, with 70% of the shares; the President, with 10%; and you, with 20%.”
“But… I… haraboji, why?” Jan Di seemed truly lost for words. “I’m happy working in the company just as I’ve been doing until now, and I hope I haven’t done anything to make you believe I want something in return.”
“Of course not, my dear, of course not… But you, just like Ji Hoo, are family now. Hearing that I almost lost you today,” his voice quivered, “tore me apart. I don’t know if I could stand it if you were gone. Besides, this isn’t something I just decided today. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a long time. Moreover, the transfer of shares is only part of what I need to tell you.”
“Miss Jan Di,” once again, Secretary Park spoke up, “given that the President can’t legally adopt you because your parents have guardianship over you, he decided to include you in his will. I can assure you that the President has made certain that you and the young master will want for nothing if anything should happen to him.”
“Haraboji! This is too much! Why do you think something’s going to happen to you?”
“Because I’m an old fogey with a bad heart, dear one. In my life I made many mistakes that I’ll never be able to completely amend, but at the very least I want the two of you, who have given me more happiness than I could have ever imagined, to be provided for. Jan Di, I… I consider you to be my own granddaughter, and you have no idea how terrible I felt worrying that something would happen to me and you would be left with nothing.”
“Nothing? Nothing!? Grandfather, the roof over my head, my job at the clinic and the company, my college studies… You think all of that is nothing?” Jan Di was flabbergasted.
Grandfather had managed to keep calm all through his explanation, but when Jan Di went to hug him, he couldn’t contain his tears anymore. “It’s the only way I know how to protect you,” he said.
The news had also taken me completely by surprise. But not in a bad way. Jan Di did so much work for the company that I knew Grandfather would have offered her an official position when she finished college; and as for the will, well, I had imagined something like that would happen sooner or later. He just loved her too much not to want to provide for her.
“Haraboji, I can’t accept all of this…” Jan Di protested.
“You will…” he said. “Of course you will. For me and for Ji Hoo, and also for my late son and daughter-in-law. They’d be so happy to know their legacy rests in the hands of both their son and an extraordinary young lady like yourself. Please accept, granddaughter…”
“Accept, Jan Di,” I said, adding my voice to Grandfather’s. “There’s no way you can reject something like this.” I stood up and put my hand on Grandfather’s shoulder. “And you, haraboji—don’t even think about cashing in your chips just yet. We still have lots of things to do together.”
Grandfather and Jan Di were all hugs and tears. I asked secretary Park when the old man had found the time to prepare this surprise without anyone noticing.
“It wasn’t easy, young master, but he finally did it,” he explained.
“He sure did.”
“Your Grandfather, he was hoping…” his voice trailed off uncertainly.
“What?” I asked.
“No, nothing… It’s not my place to discuss such things. Forgive me.”
“Chae Yun-ssi, I’ve known you all my life, so please tell me what Grandfather is planning on doing now before he really has a heart attack.”
“It’s nothing to be alarmed about, young master. It’s just that…” he hesitated again, but I held his gaze and he finally relented. “It’s just that your Grandfather has held out hope of seeing you and miss Jan Di together. I mean, he chose her as the woman he would wish to be at your side forever. That was one of his purposes when he brought her here, but he didn’t wish to force her feelings, or yours. Either way, he says that even if that didn’t happen, he’s glad he still got a granddaughter.”
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. Grandfather and Jan Di turned to me to ask if I was okay.
“Yes, everything is fine. Haraboji, if you’re done with all you had to tell us,” I went to Jan Di’s side and laced my fingers through hers, enjoying the astonished faces of both secretary Park and Grandfather, “we need to go. We have a date, right?”
“But, Ji Hoo,” Jan Di started to protest, not noticing their reactions, “after all of this I think we could at least—”
“Oh no! Please, go,” Grandfather said, a satisfied grin spreading across his face. “The papers are already signed and filed, my dear. I just wanted to make it more official by letting you know.”
“I still think this is way too much, Grandfather,” she countered.
“Shush! Weren’t you told not to reject the favor of your elders? Now go, go… But don’t come back too late. You have exams tomorrow.”
And with those words, one last hug from both of us to Grandfather, and a kiss on the cheek from Jan Di to secretary Park, we left on my bike to search for a quiet place.
Woo Bin’s POV
“Son, do you know where Ga Eul is? I sent for her, but she’s not in her room.”
I’d been waiting for Ga Eul to wake up, but after an hour, she was showing no signs of doing so. I decided to go down and get something to eat and drink, planning to be back before she awoke, but I hadn’t realized how close it was to lunchtime. I didn’t notice when my parents walked into the kitchen behind me, but I almost choked on my water at my mother’s question, secretly hoping no one had thought about looking in my room for her.
“S-She wasn’t feeling so well, mother. Ga Eul came earlier to talk to me and… well, you know, the experience was a traumatic one and she started crying again while she was telling me about it. Finally, she ended up so tired she fell asleep, so I didn’t want to wake her.”
“Poor thing. What she must have gone through.”
“Do not remind me, my dear,” my father said in a low growl. “Just thinking of it makes my blood boil. I don’t think I could have kept a cool head like our son did. I’m really proud of you, Woo Bin, but I want you to know that I wouldn’t have been angry at you at all if you had taken serious action in the matter.”
“Thank you, father.”
It was widely known that my father, in his younger years, had killed a man who aspired to be chief of one of the districts. The man had taken some liberties with my mother when my parents were barely starting their teenage affair. No one disputed my father’s right to collect in blood the honor of the woman who was going to be his future wife. My father had been seventeen at that time, four years younger than me.
“Mother, could I ask you to order Ga Eul’s food and my own to be served in my room today?”
“Of course you can. I’ll make them take it up in a few minutes. It’s probably best not to leave her alone right now.”
“Thank you. Please excuse me.”
I quickly went back to my room and checked the hallway outside my room for staff. All clear. At least that made me feel calmer.
I didn’t think my parents would have been too happy at the image that greeted me when I entered my room.
A jumble of sheets only half covered Ga Eul’s body where she lay on her side in my bed; the soft skin of her naked back was exposed to the faint sunlight glowing through the sheer curtains on my windows. Her wild and loose hair fell haphazardly across the mattress. Her face rested on a white pillow, under which her hands were buried, and her clasped arms hid her breasts. She was still sleeping soundly.
She looked so calm, relaxed, and happy. At least I hoped she was happy. I was glowing with the memory of the last hours, but my satisfaction was tarnished somewhat by my doubts about her feelings. I lost track of time gazing at her, but soon remembered I needed to take a shower. I washed and dressed before returning quickly to her side, realizing with a shock that I could easily watch her sleep for another hour without getting bored.
I had just stretched out my hand to smooth a lock of hair back from Ga Eul’s face when a quiet sound at the door almost made me jump; it was the food. As I took it and placed it on the table, I heard the rustle of sheets that told me she was awake at last.
“Ga Eul?” I said as I approached her.
“Yes, I’m here.” She yawned widely and then stretched, pushing those beautiful breasts up; but she stopped in the middle of the movement with a whimper of pain. “Are you alright?” I asked her, worried.
“Yes, fine. I’m just…”
“Sore?” I watched as her eyes widened with memory, her hurried hands looking for something to cover her exposed chest while her cheeks flamed scarlet.
“I’m sorry, sunbae. I shouldn’t have fallen asleep.”
“It’s okay. I just want to know if you’re alright, if you feel any kind of pain.” She remained quiet. “Ga Eul, I’m not asking this to make you feel uncomfortable; I just want to know so I can give you what you need. A pill, something to drink, to eat…”
“Actually, I am really thirsty.”
I passed her the glass of juice they had brought for her. I also set my own down on the bedside table just in case she wanted more.
I was still looking at her, waiting for an answer, and after she finished the first glass of juice, she gave me one.
“M-My legs hurt and my… my hips. It’s not the kind of pain you get from a bruise. More like… I ran for a long time.”
“Yes, I understand,” I breathed, more relaxed. “You’re fine, then.”
“It would be best if you eat something.”
“Could you give me my robe, please?”
Wanting her to be comfortable, I turned my back while pretending to fix the meal for her. After all, that had been her first time. I knew she probably felt self-conscious, and there I was, not knowing what to say to her. I had only been with virgin girls twice before, and both times had been so disastrous and complicated I had decided never to do it again. But Ga Eul wasn’t just a ‘virgin girl’. She was the girl I was in love with, and my biggest problem was that I didn’t know how to make her feel the same.
We ate in silence; the fact was that, beyond ascertaining that she wasn’t hurt, I didn’t know how to talk to her about what had happened between us. To ask her ‘Did it feel good?’ seemed so wrong and egocentric that I shuddered to even imagine saying the words. Ga Eul felt awkward, too; I could tell from the way she blushed from time to time, not knowing where to look. It wasn’t until she moved around a bit to get more comfortable that she saw the dark red smear of blood on the sheets beneath her and gasped in alarm.
“This… I, I’m sorry… I—”
“You don’t have to apologize for anything at all. That is normal, Ga Eul. You know that, right?”
“Yes, I know, but to know it and experience it are two completely different things.”
“And how was it for you?” Fuck! I bit my tongue and internally chastised myself. That was exactly what I didn’t plan to say! Before the humiliation could kick in, though, she answered.
“Better than I could’ve imagined. Just… perfect.” A slow, shy smile spread across her face and I had to breathe deeply and swallow to prevent myself from taking her all over again right there.
“And now?” I asked.
“All that stuff about taking risks, and not worrying about consequences… Is that really what you want, Ga Eul?”
“Oh, that, yes… Well, could we… do it again?” Say what!? “You know, this is all new for me and I would like to keep trying stuff…”
God above, help me.
“Are you sure?”
“Only until that ‘special person’ arrives,” she made the quotes in the air. “If you’re okay with it, of course.”
Then I was definitely only being used as a guinea pig.
Disappointment filled me. So this was what they felt like, those girls who wanted more from me than a good time.
I took a deep breath. I had decided to make Ga Eul fall in love with me, and if for now that was the only way I could be close to her, I’d do it…
“Alright. Only until that ‘special person’ comes around then.”
Jan Di’s POV
Clinging to Ji Hoo’s back while we navigated the streets on his bike, I still couldn’t wrap my mind around everything that had just happened. Me, a dry cleaner’s daughter, a board member of Yoon group? It was the largest, most recognized, and most prestigious group in all Korea, if not the world. All of this—the position, the inheritance—seemed like a dream. Accepting such a lavish gift made me feel uncomfortable, but I really couldn’t see any way out of it without hurting or offending Grandfather.
We soon slowed down and I realized we were in front of a fast food store.
“Here?” I asked, puzzled.
“Would you rather go back to the French restaurant from the last time?” Ji Hoo teased, grinning.
“No, no, not at all! I’m totally okay with this. It’s just that this is not the kind of thing you usually go for.”
“Today I want to enjoy the things you enjoy. Let’s order some takeout and then go to the river. Does that sound good, little otter?”
Ji Hoo was smiling from ear to ear in an expression that was almost goofy. It was definitely cute, though, and his obvious happiness made me smile, too.
“That sounds great.”
We ordered a couple of hamburgers and rode to the river, to a spot where Ji Hoo had often brought me back when I was still sad about Jun Pyo.
I was surprised to see that he was already prepared with a picnic blanket. We spread it over the grass and settled ourselves on it to eat our food.
“What an afternoon,” he said after a while.
“Tell me about it. I still think there must be a way to undo all that Grandfather did.”
“Forget it, there’s no way. He’s not the president of the company for nothing. You’ll have to accept your destiny.” His wink told me how much he was enjoying this.
“Is not like I’m complaining,” I began.
“Sure sounds like it,” he said with a smile.
“It’s just that… it’s too much. I… I haven’t done—”
“—anything to deserve this,” he finished for me. “Right? You always say that.” He sighed. “You underestimate yourself. You don’t know your own worth, Geum Jan Di.”
I didn’t want to argue anymore, so I took a big bite out of my hamburger. We didn’t say anything else for a long while, a companionable silence blanketing us as we watched the sun dip toward the horizon and spread out in orange fingers across the sky.
Finally, Ji Hoo shifted closer to me, talking my hands in his.
“How did this happen?” he asked, pointing my heart.
“How did I fall in love with you?”
“I’m still afraid to believe this is all real. Everything I thought I knew has changed so fast.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. I should’ve realized it sooner. But even after I knew my own feelings, I never imagined that you could love me that way, after everything. I felt like I’d lost my chance forever.”
“But that’s what I thought.”
“And when did you change your mind?”
“When I thought you might be interested in Ju Mi.”
“In Ju Mi?”
“When she started coming to the house to give you her brother’s reports, or when she looked for you and you started spending time together at school, I didn’t like it. I was shocked to realize that I was jealous. In my head the only thing I could think about was that someone was stealing my best friend, my firefighter, my sunbae… Even Ga Eul mentioned how unusually close our friendship was: long silences without feeling uncomfortable, hugging each other freely, falling asleep together and not finding it odd. She said we have basically been doing everything a couple does, besides…” Jan Di turned pink. “Anyway, she never said anything because she didn’t want talking about love to remind me of Jun Pyo.” Ji Hoo’s hands tensed in mine at the sound of Jun Pyo’s name.
“That was something I also wanted to ask you. What about what you felt for Jun Pyo? You were so… broken. I couldn’t stand watching you like that.”
“I know. It was a difficult time; you know that better than anyone. But maybe there’s a way I can easily explain it to you. Ji Hoo, do you love Seo Hyun unnie?”
“Um…well, I… of course I do. But don’t misunderstand me. I love Seo Hyun as a sister and a great friend. Because of all the things we lived through together, she will never stop being an important person for me.”
“I know, and that’s how I feel about Jun Pyo. He was my first boyfriend and a great love, but a painful one. However, that doesn’t mean I’m going to forget him. I love Jun Pyo, but not like two years ago. He will always be important to me, but I’m no longer in love with him.” There was a trace of doubt in his eyes as he looked at me, and I couldn’t blame him. Ji Hoo had held a front row seat to all my angst over Jun Pyo. I wanted more than anything to assure him of the certainty of my feelings. “Trust me, Ji Hoo. I have never been more sure of what my heart feels than I am right now.”
“And… what does it feel?”
Instead of answering, I leaned in and kissed him.
It was the first time I had initiated a kiss, but I tried to put into it all that I felt for him. It wasn’t long before Ji Hoo let my hands go so he could cradle my face, tenderly kissing me back.
I slid my arms around his waist, holding him, and tried to imitate the movement of his lips while kissing him. I have never been an expert, but I knew he was more than willing to teach me. When he opened his mouth, I did the same. His warm breath against my skin gave me goosebumps, and I relaxed into the kiss, thinking that it couldn’t get any more blissful. When I felt his tongue skim across my lower lip, I leapt back, startled.
“I… I’m sorry, Jan Di. I didn’t mean to—” Ji Hoo looked scared.
“No, don’t apologize,” I stammered. “I was just… a bit surprised, that’s all.”
He smiled, but his cheeks were the same shade of red as mine.
“Well, we have more than enough time to practice.” He winked at me, diffusing the tension.
“Yoon Ji Hoo!” I smacked him lightly on the back, which was all I could reach, because he hadn’t totally released me. Instead, he had placed his arms around my shoulders and hugged me to his chest, letting me rest my head in that space between his shoulder and his neck, where I fit perfectly.
“You know I wasn’t kidding today in the staircase, right?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” This time he let me go and got up, offering me his hand so I could do the same. He took my hands in his again and look intently at me.
“I love you, Geum Jan Di, and I want to spend the rest of my days with you. Maybe this is not the time to ask you to marry me, but I want you to know that someday, I will.”
“Will you say yes?”
“Of course I will. I wasn’t lying either when I told you I wanted the same thing as you. I know it took me too long to notice, but I love you more than you can imagine.”
“Then, for now… will you be my girlfriend?” he asked sheepishly.
I threw myself into his arms without thinking twice, the word “yes” on my lips and tears in my eyes. An old lady passing by had witnessed the whole scene and approached us with a flower for me, wishing us all the happiness in the world. We both blushed at realizing we had been seen, but it didn’t really matter. The only thing we cared about was that our feelings were mutual and we were never going to be parted from each other again.
Ji Hoo’s POV
We took our time going back home. I was a bit pissed at myself for not having thought of taking a cab just so I could walk back holding her hand, but the feeling of her riding behind me on my bike was something I had missed, too.
We arrived a little after dinnertime, and Grandfather was there to reprimand us like a couple of young children.
“I’m glad you’re back on good terms, but that’s no excuse to arrive late on a weekday—and even less during exams week!”
“On good terms?” Jan Di repeated, tidying up some reference books so we could study a bit before the next day.
“Anyone who didn’t notice you two were acting weird with each other is blind. I don’t mean to meddle,” he added quickly. “I’m just glad that whatever was happening with you is over.”
“I think you might be wrong on that score, Grandfather,” I interrupted. “What was happening between us is far from over…”
Grandfather looked at me blankly, clearly not understanding my meaning. Jan Di rose from her seat and stood next to me. I took her hand.
“Grandfather, Jan Di and I are a couple now.”
“Haraboji?” Jan Di asked when we were met with silence.
A couple of seconds passed by in silence before dawning comprehension filled Grandfather’s face.
“WHAT!? But how did this—?”
“Before you even begin to entertain the idea that this happened after what you told us this afternoon, and that this is some sort of strange way from Jan Di to repay our kindness, allow me to correct you… it started today at school.”
A muffled sound came from behind me, but I didn’t turn to look, more entertained by Grandfather’s face at that moment.
“Jan Di? Is this true?” He asked her.
“Yes, Grandfather. Since today we are… together.” Jan Di couldn’t help the blush that tinted her cheeks.
“But this is… then you… you two…” Grandfather was stuttering. This was fun.
“I’ll date her seriously, Grandfather. I even have marriage in mind. Please, congratulate us.”
Again came a sound from behind me, but now I could hear it for what it was: the barely suppressed excitement of the other members of the household. Mrs. Shin and Mrs. Min came barreling over to catch Jan Di up in a group hug, while Chae Yun’s face beamed with a happy but knowing smile.
“Didn’t I tell you? I told you something had happened!”
“Oh, Jan Di! You and young master are finally together!”
Jan Di could only laugh, shyly accepting the congratulations of both women, who, somehow, had also noticed my feelings.
“How is it that the whole house knew about this and I didn’t?” Grandfather exclaimed.
“I’m sorry, sir, but Jan Di has been asking things only a girl in love asks,” Mrs. Min said.
“That’s right. Besides, over the last few days she’s spent most of her time sighing and waiting for young master to arrive home,” elaborated Mrs. Shin.
“And what about you, Chae Yun?” asked Grandfather.
“Well, after witnessing a certain occurrence this morning, I imagined something like this would happen. Although I didn’t expect it this soon,” he chuckled.
“And you didn’t think about letting me know, you old fox?”
“I didn’t want to get ahead of the facts, President.” Smiling, he turned to us to shake my hand and hug Jan Di. I had been right when I thought he had seen our kiss in the rain, and, of course, he had subtly made the comment about Grandfather choosing Jan Di for me to spur me on.
Grandfather’s booming voice put a halt to all the conversations.
“Haraboji?” Jan Di’s face filled with worry and I felt my heart fall to my feet. Silence reigned in the living room for several seconds.
“I refuse to let my granddaughter be with someone so boring. No, no, I won’t have it. No one is good enough for my Jan Di. Ji Hoo, take it back.”
“Haraboji!” Jan Di smiled at his joke and went to hug him. The rest of us let out a sigh of relief. “You know I also love you lots, right?” she grinned.
“Mmmm… well… yes…” He answered in a grumble, but I knew he would crack soon.
“Come on, haraboji…”
“Bah! Who am I kidding? I couldn’t be happier!”
Grandfather hugged us both, exclaiming that seeing his grandchildren grow up like this made him feel old. Mrs. Min and Mrs. Shin dragged Jan Di to a corner to interrogate her about the declaration and other details I imagined were important to women. The night ended in an improvised meal that everyone participated in. All who were present laughed, ate, and remembered how they fell in love with their husbands and wives. It goes without saying that we didn’t study a thing, but Grandfather let it slide, knowing that occasions like these called for celebration.
Later, before bed, Jan Di hovered outside the door of my room, worried.
“What ails you?” I asked her, pulling her into the living room to sit next to me on the sofa. She found a new place between my arms and took my hand.
“There’s something I feel really bad about, and I won’t stop feeling like that until I fix it.”
“There’s something I haven’t told you.” At first I thought it was going to be something about us, so I was surprised when Jan Di confessed to me that Ju Mi had been planning to tell me her feelings at the end of the week. She told me she was really worried because she didn’t want Ju Mi to feel deceived somehow. “I want to tell her directly how all of this happened. I want to make it right. She asked me so many times if we were just friends, and at the time we were, Ji Hoo. She won’t forgive me.”
“Listen to me… Even if Ju Mi had told me her feelings, I would have ended up rejecting her. Politely, of course. It wouldn’t have mattered, and you know it.”
“Still, I knew how she felt about you. Maybe I should’ve talked with her first.”
“It would be the same.” Her expression didn’t change. “But that’s not enough for you, is it?”
“I don’t want her to feel as if I betrayed her or something. I mean, without her it would have taken me God knows how long to figure out my feelings for you…”
“I owe her a life debt then,” I tried to joke, but it didn’t work. “If it makes you feel better, go and talk to her first thing tomorrow morning. Don’t you have the parasitology exam together?”
“It will all be alright. You’ll see.” I kissed the top of her head and she hugged me tighter. I would have been more than okay falling asleep right there with her, but Grandfather would never allow such a breach of propriety, so we stood up, said good night, and went to bed. For the first time in a long time, I slept peacefully, without nightmares.
As soon as Jan Di and I arrived on campus, we noticed something was amiss. There were murmurs everywhere we went, and it was hard to escape the strange sense that it had something to do with us, but we didn’t know why.
“Could it be because of yesterday’s accident?” she asked me.
“It could be, I guess…”
Several girls looked at us and then steered away, talking in hushed and hurried voices.
We both turned around to see Ju Mi approaching us quickly.
“Ju Mi… it’s good to see a familiar face. Do you know what’s going on?” Jan Di asked.
“Is it true about you two? That you were kissing in the staircase?”
And then everything clicked.
The girl who had seen us the previous day had told someone, and they must have told someone, and so on. From that point onwards, it must have spread like a fire in a dry woodpile.
Jan Di gasped, and Ju Mi looked close to tears.
“Ju Mi…” Jan Di started to say, but Ju Mi cut her off.
“I asked you! I asked you time and time again, and you lied to me?”
“I… it’s not what you think…”
“And you call yourself my friend? I told you everything I felt…”
“Please, let me expl—”
“Stay away from me. Just stay away.”
And Ju Mi left, leaving Jan Di standing there, a stricken look on her face.