Jan Di’s POV
The next day that the clinic offered free checkups, I got a text from Jae Kyung. It said, “Please come see me at Jun Pyo’s house.” I found that strange. I didn’t want to, but as usual I couldn’t say no. I dressed up and headed over there.
When I got in, I tried to go unnoticed, but butler Lee saw me almost immediately.
“Please, Miss Geum. You’re expected.”
He took me to a room full of dresses. They were beautiful, almost overwhelming. From an adjoining room, Jae Kyung emerged dressed in white.
She looked beautiful. I’d never seen a more lovely wedding dress. When she saw me, she went to the mirror and turned around, showing me each part of her gown. Reality hit me like a ton of bricks when I realized how close we were to the wedding.
“Jan Di, how do I look?”
“Beautiful, absolutely beautiful.”
“Jun Pyo’s mother gave this to me. She said it is more than twenty years old, but it’s as beautiful as it was the first day, don’t you think? I’m going to wear it on my wedding day. And look!” She went for some jewels and showed me the ones she was going to wear with the dress. “She says she won’t give me the pearl necklace yet; that will be for when our first child is born. Can you imagine? A little boy who looks like Jun Pyo and me?”
I thought about it for a minute and I could visualize them with a child. One with Jun Pyo’s smile… and temper.
I laughed softly. “He’ll probably be a little walking earthquake.”
“Jan Di, don’t you think is about time you and I have a talk?”
“Jan Di, you are very pretty…”
“I know the truth, Jan Di. I already know that you and Jun Pyo were a couple.”
I was frozen in place. I had never told her a thing about it, and although I couldn’t be sure whether the idiot had told her, it seemed improbable. Jun Pyo wouldn’t hurt her like that.
“Jae Kyung, I-“
“But I was your friend before I was Jun Pyo’s fiancée, right? I would have loved it if you had talked to me about it.”
“I’m sorry, unnie. Please don’t misinterpret our relationship. We are no longer…”
“It’s fine, Jan Di. I won’t. But I’ll tell you something: I swear to you that I won’t give Jun Pyo up. No, from this point onwards I’m gonna give it my all. I will do everything I can so he will stay with me. I’ll do my best so in the end I won’t have any regrets. I just… wanted to tell you, Jan Di.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. If I told her I didn’t feel anything for him anymore, it would be a lie. Jun Pyo no longer caused me sleepless nights or days filled with thoughts of him, but it still hurt to know he was going to get married to someone else.
“One more thing. I need to ask you something,” Jae Kyung told me.
“What do you need?”
“First promise me you will do it.”
“I promise.” Wrong answer.
“I want you to be my maid of honor.” Now that was the last straw. “I don’t want anyone else, Jan Di. It has to be you. I want you by my side that day.”
Ji Hoo’s POV
The day after the clinic’s free checkups, I decided to go fishing.
Before I left, my grandfather saw me preparing my tackle and pole. After examining my equipment, he offered me a winter fishing rod. I asked him if he’d like to come along.
It wasn’t uncomfortable to sit and wait quietly for the fish to bite, and my grandfather was still the expert in baiting the hooks. After a couple of hours, he finally broke the silence.
“Your mother was really good at making fish stew. It was truly delicious.”
I didn’t answer.
“Today is… your parent’s wedding anniversary,” he told me, handing me a shiny and polished wooden box. A strange lump was visible against the velvet, and inside of it was a ring. “I remember how she looked. How she smiled while your father put your grandmother’s ring on her finger. I asked her what was so great about receiving an old ring and she answered ‘It’s one of a kind; why wouldn’t it be great?'”
The tears began to flow freely from my eyes, triggered by remembering my parents and having something of my mother’s with me.
“Son, forgive me,” Grandfather said, his eyes glistening with emotion. “I took your mother away from you. It was because of my stubbornness, I called them that day to ask them to cancel their trip and bring you home with me. If I hadn’t done that, if only they had gone to the airport…”
“I covered… I covered father’s eyes while playing… It was because of that, Grandfather. That was the reason they died.” All the guilt I had stored up over the years pushed the words out of me.
Grandfather shook his head. “No, the fault lies with the drunk driver who lost control. Your father couldn’t have done anything. It’s not your fault. It’s not. And also, I need to ask your forgiveness for leaving you alone all those years, Ji Hoo. I just, I was thinking only of my pain and how I hurt you. I thought that if I stayed by your side I would only make you remember the ones we lost too soon. Please, grandson, forgive me.”
I didn’t know if what my grandfather was telling me was true or was just a story to comfort me, but I let his hands give me light pats on my back while we both cried for our lost family.
Jan Di’s POV
I said yes to Jae Kyung’s petition to be her bridesmaid, but the unreality of the situation left me walking around like a zombie. Did I really have to stand next to my ex-boyfriend while he married my friend? That sounded like a soap opera. I wasn’t even concentrating on my job the next morning, and my mood went from bad to worse when I got a call from my parents telling me that they were only eating what they could fish out of the sea. I asked them to take care of their health and Kang San’s as well.
They needed some meat in their diet, but knowing how stingy they were, I wasn’t sure if they would buy it even if they got the money. I was feeling drained when I got a call from Grandfather asking me to meet him in a park.
There weren’t many customers, so the boss let me go.
When I got there, I headed for the bridge where Grandfather had said he would meet me. My hurried footsteps carried me right into the path of someone else, and we collided.
“Oh, I’m so sorry…” I started to apologize, but stopped when I looked up to see my sunbae’s face looking back at me.
“What are you doing here?” he asked me, equally surprised.
“I was about to ask you the same, sunbae.”
“My grandfather told me…”
“Grandfather called me too…”
We both spoke at once, realizing at the same time that we had been set up. We couldn’t help but laugh. Not wanting to waste the day, we decided to go along with Grandfather’s not-so-subtle plan and take a stroll around the park.
While we chatted about everything and nothing, I saw a couple of newlyweds having their portrait taken in a photography session, and the memory of Jae Kyung in her white dress popped into my head. I had to get used to the idea. Their wedding was going to happen no matter what.
We kept on walking and found lots of people gathered around. It seemed that they were all dressed up as newlyweds. When we asked about it, we were told it was a couples contest; you had to take pictures as if you were going to get married and the best picture would get the first prize. The word “prize” caught my attention, and I looked around to see what they were giving away. Finally I spotted a chart: first prize was a trip to Jeju Island, which didn’t interest me so much, but second prize was a big box full of prime quality beef! I was reminded of my conversation with my parents. I gazed wistfully at the package, wishing I could send it to them.
“Since we don’t have any plans, why don’t we do it?” Ji Hoo asked me.
He took me to a tent in which the female participants were getting dressed in their finery.
“I’ll take care of the registration, so go change!”
How did I end up here? I didn’t know, but I thought about it and decided to go with it. I didn’t have anything to lose. Maybe I would get lucky and win second place.
“This dress will suit you nicely,” a lady told me.
“Yes, thank you.”
“Your boyfriend is so handsome. I’m sure the suits with fit him just fine.”
Before I could correct the lady’s assumption, she went out of the tent and two other women came in to help me get dressed.
Is that how we look to everyone? I wondered.
I really couldn’t explain why we were so often perceived as a couple. Maybe it was because I always felt so at ease with him.
After ten minutes I found out just how complicated it could be to put on a wedding dress, but when I finally looked at myself in the mirror, I knew it had been worth it. I stood there watching my dream of dressing in white come true, even if the dress was a soft pink. I had never imagined I would someday wear something that pretty. Even if I did one day get married, I didn’t allow myself to expect something so fancy, knowing how my family lived day by day. But for just a moment, standing before that big mirror. I let myself fantasize a bit, spinning around to see the dress from all angles.
“Miss, are you ready?” came a voice from outside.
“Eh? Yes, sure.”
I saw the tent open and went out. Wolf whistles and gasps rang out, but I wasn’t sure they were for me. I looked up and found Ji Hoo looking more handsome than I had ever seen him. A white suit with elegant black trim made him look as if he was really on his way to the altar.
I watched his expression as he took me in from head to toes, blushing a little, but after a few seconds a smile appeared on his lips leaving me more at ease. I could tell from the approving light in his eyes that I looked all right.
“It suits you very well,” he told me.
“You’re not so bad yourself, sunbae,” I replied with a smile.
We walked to where the pictures were being taken, and I could hear the girls behind me whispering the usual “It’s an F4!” comments back and forth to each other. Where was my sunbae not recognized? It made me laugh.
“Next couple, please,” called out the photographer.
Ji Hoo’s POV
After the emotional drain of reconciling with my grandfather, I had spent the whole morning at home, studying my mother’s ring. I didn’t want to leave my house, but an afternoon call from my grandfather asking me to meet him in a park made me get up. Maybe like that, step by step, we would get closer, even if it was a little awkward.
Of course I got a huge surprise when I ran into Jan Di, and I immediately suspected that my grandfather had set us up on a date—not that I was complaining. So we decided to have a stroll on the park and have a good time.
While we were walking, I noticed Jan Di had stopped in awe to watch a couple of newlyweds taking some pictures. I couldn’t help but think of Jun Pyo and Jae Kyung’s wedding getting closer, and how I might have to see her suffer… that was the last thing I wanted.
When we stumbled across the couples photo contest and its prizes, I didn’t think they were all that much, but Jan Di’s eyes were set on one of them, so I offered to participate. After all, I thought it would be fun.
I dressed quickly in a white and black suit and stood outside the tent in which she was dressing. When I saw her coming out I couldn’t believe my eyes. Jan Di didn’t have the typical beauty of TV spots or a runway model, but if anyone took a second to watch her face and her eyes, he would see how gorgeous she really was. My heart squeezed in my chest at the sight of her. A delicate soft pink dress gently skimmed the curves of her chest and waist, falling down in a princess cut skirt ending at her thighs. Jan Di looked somewhat embarrassed and a bit flushed. My eyes roamed over her frame admiring how beautiful she looked, and I knew I wasn’t the only one. More than one guy behind me was commenting about ‘the girl who just came out’. The words ‘pretty’, ‘beautiful’, and ‘is she alone?’ floated through the air, and I couldn’t help but smile. Although she was not my real bride, for this contest we were a couple, and I felt proud to be linked with her.
A lady came over and led us to where we would take the picture. When it was finally our turn, we both stood a little awkwardly in place before the camera. We weren’t exactly sure what to do or where to put our hands. We took pictures with Jan Di holding her veil, with our hands forming a heart, whatever the photographer asked.
“Get a little bit closer please; I want a more natural feeling,” were his new instructions, so I offered her my arm and she laced hers through mine. I let out a big mouthful of air, surprised at how nervous I was. It was strange; my heart was beating a mile a minute. “That’s it, now smile, smile… Miss, perhaps a kiss for your boyfriend?”
The last request really took us by surprise and I looked down to see how she reacted. Obviously, her cheeks were red. I gained back some confidence and decided to play a prank on her. I leaned in, offering her my cheek to kiss. I was sure she wouldn’t dare to do it, and that I would get to tease her about it later.
But it seemed like Jan Di was becoming an expert in surprising me lately. She turned her face, closed her eyes, and leaned towards me. I felt, more clearly than I could ever imagined, the sensation of her lips on my cheek, a cheek that was now redder than hers.
“Thaaaat’s it! Stay there, stay there…”
This guy was enjoying this more than necessary, and Jan Di obeyed him! She stood there at least ten seconds, seconds that seemed like hours for me. The public was divided between the ones who were happy with our performance and the others who wanted a different type of kiss. When Jan Di leaned her head back to look at me, I stared at her.
“What? Thought I couldn’t do it?” she said in a teasing tone. She had guessed that I wanted to play with her and had given me a taste of my own medicine. I was about to answer her when the crowd watching erupted in one huge yell of ‘Kiss!’ that rang across the park.
Well, she had turned the tables, but that didn’t mean I had entirely lost.
“Geum Jan Di,” I looked her dead in the eye, “Do you trust me?”
“Of course I do,” she automatically answered.
“Then close your eyes.”
Doing exactly the opposite, her eyes opened as big as saucers after hearing my request. Nevertheless, a couple of seconds later she did as I asked. I took her shoulders with my hands and made her turn so that we were facing each other. I softly put my left hand under her chin and tilted her face up toward mine.
I felt a shiver run through her. Taking a step forward, I allowed myself to be dazzled for an instant by the sight before me. The audience had gone silent, or at least that’s how I perceived it, because I couldn’t hear or see anything but Jan Di. I started to lean in, telling myself as we inched closer that it was for the picture, but when I found her lips so close to my own, I let myself be a little selfish.
I lowered the hand I had under her chin and slowly caressed her arm till I reached her waist, where I tightened my hold and pulled her closer to me. She rested her hand on my arm, and finally, I put my forehead on hers and closed my eyes.
I could feel my nose touching hers, her warm and rapid breathing mingling with my own, and I knew that our lips were just a heartbeat away. I would have given anything to see Jan Di’s expression at that moment, but I just had a scarce second to enjoy the closeness we were sharing.
What I would have given to be able to kiss her right then. I still kept the memory of the lips I had tasted in New Caledonia; warm, soft, trembling. It had been a quick kiss, filled with sadness and mixed with tears. If only I hadn’t been so blind, if only I had noticed my feelings sooner…
“Very good! You can really feel the love in these pictures. Thank you. Next, please!”
The photographer’s voice intruded on my fantasy, and I quickly let go of Jan Di.
Is she mad? I wondered.
Her gaze was fixed on the ground and the blush covering her skin was not a fierce red, but a tender pink that spread down to her shoulders.
“I’ll go change,” she squeaked and sprinted to the tent.
I sighed. Heavily.
Even I was surprised by the feelings I had let show during those few seconds.
Jan Di’s POV
I dashed into the tent as fast as I could and stood in the middle of it, my mind replaying what had just happened.
When Ji Hoo had offered me his cheek for the kiss the photographer asked for, I knew from his expression that he wanted to joke with me, so I returned the favor. However, when he had asked me to close my eyes, I didn’t know what he had in mind. Feeling his hand under my chin made me shiver, but the next thing I felt… I was definitely not ready for that.
How close can you be to another person?
My heart was still beating furiously when I remembered how close our faces had been. Our noses touched, for God’s sake! I clearly felt his arm around my waist, the hardness of his bicep, and his breath on my skin. The soothing scent that could calm me even in the worse scenarios seemed to have increased tenfold.
I touched my chest and noticed it had started to hurt.
I didn’t even try to stop him!
The truth was, in that moment, my mind clouded by sensation, I was lost in the feeling of it all. Even though I didn’t want to admit it, the memory of that night on the beach came to me.
What’s wrong with you Jan Di? Ji Hoo sunbae was doing all of that to win a prize. That’s all. Don’t be delusional.
“Miss? Do you need help changing?” The voice of one of the assistants pulled me out of my reverie, and I changed back into my own clothes at full speed. I checked my face in the mirror, and although it was still a little bit flushed, it looked deceptively calm, not hinting at the emotions roiling beneath the surface.
Don’t think too much. It was just for the picture, just for the picture.
But still my heart wouldn’t calm.
When I went out, I saw we had been the next to the last couple, and the pictures had already been posted. When I got close enough to see ours, I froze.
We were close, too close. But that wasn’t what caught my eye. Rather, it was the atmosphere, the intimate mood of the photo. I don’t know if I was the only one who saw it, but it was as if we were in our own bubble, away from the rest of the world. My face and body looked completely relaxed, and Ji Hoo seemed to have the ghost of a smile dancing on his lips.
“It came out well, don’t you think?”
His closeness almost made me jump.
“Ummm, yeah… I think so.”
I looked at him. Ji Hoo seemed calm, as if everything that had happened minutes ago hadn’t been a big deal. He even smiled at me, asking if I wanted something to drink.
The only one acting weird was me. If my sunbae was acting normal, then so would I.
Finally the results came and, much to my surprise, we won the first prize. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. I had wanted to win the meat. Ji Hoo must have noticed my reaction, because once again, he swept in to save the day, approaching the second place couple and arranging to swap prizes. They seemed happy to get the trip to Jeju Island.
“Here,” he told me, offering me the big package like it was no big deal. I was so happy that I did something totally unexpected.
“Sunbae!” I threw my arms around his neck and remained there. Ji Hoo couldn’t possibly know how much it meant to me to be able to send that meat to my family.
He went with me to the post office and we sent it that same afternoon, packed carefully in ice and with a little note from me tucked inside of it. I still couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face, although not everything was a walk in the park –no pun intended. I struggled a great deal with Ji Hoo so he wouldn’t take me to the home I no longer had. I finally managed to convince him that I would be fine, got on a bus, and disembarked at the clinic. Though I was tired, it took me a long time to go to sleep; my mind was full. Instead, I lay down on the bed and let my thoughts drift, remembering the beautiful afternoon I’d enjoyed with Ji Hoo.
Ji Hoo’s POV
When I got home later that night, I saw with glee that my mailbox was full. While Jan Di had gone to change out of her dress, I had asked the photographer to send me all the pictures he had taken of us. I got to sit quietly in front of my desk and look at each picture in detail. I could still feel my heart skip a beat at our ‘almost’ kiss in the last shot. I knew everyone there thought we were a couple. Several people had complimented me on the beauty of my ‘girlfriend’.
That thought made me remember my mother’s ring, and I went to a drawer to take it out. Would there ever come a day when I could ask Jan Di to wear it?
First you would have to tell her how you feel, idiot.
It was truly a challenge to talk normally with Jan Di after the contest. I still felt excited, but I tried, for both our sakes, to behave as usual, as the sunbae she trusted. I wanted to get closer to her, but even though our afternoon had gone well, despite all the unexpected activities, I couldn’t push her. I knew I had a place in her heart, even if it was as her sunbae, her friend, or her firefighter. I couldn’t bring myself to risk losing that position. It still wasn’t the time to tell her how I felt.
Besides, soon all the happiness I had witnessed that afternoon would disappear in a flash. In just two days, we would be on our way to Jeju Island to witness Jun Pyo’s marriage.
As I predicted, the time flew by. The day before the wedding, I spoke to Jan Di to tell her I would pick her up on my way to the airport; she told me she’d rather meet me at my place. The whole trip she was mute, and none of us, including Yi Jung, Woo Bin, and Ga Eul, knew what to say to her.
When we arrived, the hotel clerk let us know that Jun Pyo was waiting for the F4 in his room. We left the girls at their suite and went to see him. We found him out in the balcony.
“I can’t believe you’re getting married,” said Yi Jung.
“I don’t know what’s worse—that the monkey asked Jan Di to be her maid of honor, or that Jan Di accepted,” Jun Pyo fired back.
The revelation shocked me. Jan Di hadn’t told me anything about it.
“At this moment, who do you think is having the hardest time?” I asked him directly. Jun Pyo opened his mouth to answer me, but the wedding organizer interrupted us to explain what we were supposed to do the next day.
And what was I supposed to do? Help them again to realize their feelings? Or remain silent and selfishly await my chance?
Jan Di’s POV
Surreal. That was the word. Surreal is how I felt at the realization that Jun Pyo’s wedding was here at last. It felt as if I wasn’t inside my body, as if my soul had somehow left and I was watching myself from above. My phone beeped. A text.
Can we meet? ~Jae Kyung~
I figured I would have to talk to her at some point. After all, I was the maid of honor.
When I reached the hotel doors, Jae Kyung’s bodyguard led me to her. As soon as she caught a glimpse of me, she hugged me.
“Jan Di… Jan Di, I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you so much for coming!”
We sat down on a bench overlooking the beach in front of the hotel.
“I know,” she said. “I know you and Jun Pyo loved each other dearly.”
Till that moment we hadn’t said a thing about our feelings. Jae Kyung only knew we had dated for a while.
“No. I know that you two will probably keep that bond for life. I apologize for acting as if I didn’t know. I’m usually not like this. I was a coward, and I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s not your fault. It’s because I couldn’t be honest with you and tell you up front about us.”
“It’s true. It’s not because you didn’t want to. It’s because you couldn’t. And even if you had told me, I don’t think it would have changed anything. I don’t… have the strength to let Jun Pyo go.” She took my hands in hers. “You know what, Jan Di? I love you very much. If someone asked me to choose the two most important people to me, it would be Goo Jun Pyo and Geum Jan Di.”
“That’s why I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for breaking your heart. I know I will pay greatly for this. Jan Di, please forgive me.” She was crying.
I hugged her.
“Unnie, it’s true that Jun Pyo and I dated, but he wouldn’t be marrying you if he didn’t want to. He wouldn’t go so far just for his mother’s whim. He must have feelings for you, even if he hasn’t realized it yet. And as for me, I’m fine. My feelings for him have been diminishing for a while. Don’t worry about me, unnie. Be happy.”
“Jan Di… Jan Di…” she cried, relief making her voice ragged.
I remained there, comforting Jae Kyung and catching her tears on my shoulder. I hadn’t lied to her. I still loved Jun Pyo, but my feelings had lessened bit by bit. Saying I wasn’t hurt at all would have been a lie, but she didn’t need to know that. It was good enough for me to know that she would try to make him happy.
After a while we said goodbye and agreed to meet that night so I could pick a dress. She left and I stayed there, staring out at the ocean, for a long while after. When the wind started to pick up, I walked across the hotel grounds until I found myself in a field full of flowers.
It was Ji Hoo. He matched his steps to mine, not speaking, just remaining by my side while I strolled around. With him, I didn’t have to worry about saying something to break the tension, because between us there was no need for chatter. Our silence was comfortable and relaxed.
After a long time, he put his hand on my arm. “It’s getting cold. We should go in.”
He led me to the hotel restaurant so I could eat something, but I didn’t have much of an appetite. I picked at my food while Ji Hoo paced back and forth in front of the window, his eyes showing that he was locked in some internal debate. Then suddenly he stopped and looked at me, decision etched in his eyes.
“Today is your last chance to get him back. If you want to go to him, we have no time to lose,” Ji Hoo said.
My fork stopped midway to my mouth in surprise.
He leaned down to look into my eyes. “Since I’ve known you, I have wished for only one thing: that you would be happy. I don’t want you to have any more reasons to cry. I think I have told you this once before, but I can’t stand seeing you sad.” He stood up and turned his face away, as if to hide the emotions running across it. “I remember the first time I saw you, on the stairs. You were smiling with satisfaction at your rant about the infamous F4. I’m scared… I’m scared that tomorrow will come and you won’t smile like before.”
I stood up and went to him, standing close so he would hear my quiet words. “Don’t worry. I can still smile. I will smile, and all because you’ll be there, looking at me.”
Ji Hoo pulled me into a soft embrace and I had to fight the tears back. The last thing I wanted was to cry in front of him again. I was getting too used to him drying my eyes.
The sound of a text on my phone startled both of us. It was Jae Kyung was telling me which room to come to so I could try on the dress. I was about to tell Ji Hoo when he also got a text.
“I gotta go. Will you be okay?” he asked me.
“Yes. I also have to go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Rest well, Jan Di.”
Jun Pyo’s POV
Throughout the long day, things went from bad to worse: wedding details, seating arrangements, dinner with Jae Kyung’s parents and the old witch. My sister had finally told me her story, leaving me bewildered when she confessed that she had also loved someone and was forced by our mother to leave him for the ‘benefit of the Shinhwa group’. My head was on overload, and the only thought that was constant in it was Jan Di. However, whenever I thought about her, I inevitably thought of another person: Yoon Ji Hoo.
I got up and sent him a text telling him I needed to see him by the pool. I hoped he would come. I needed to talk to him, desperate to take a little bit of weight off my shoulders.
I went quickly to our meeting point, and five minutes later he appeared.
“Ji Hoo…” I started.
“Just say it.” His eyes glinted like steel. I understood where the animosity was coming from, but it wasn’t making this conversation any easier.
“Since we were kids, you have been like a brother to me, and in the future, I hope it will always be that way between us. Sometimes I think that you could live without me, but what would I do without you?”
“Surely, you’re not asking me to help you escape the ceremony tomorrow, right?”
No, that’s not what I’m asking. Okay, here goes nothing.
“Punch me once,” I said to him.
“What?” He was clearly shocked.
“I’m not kidding. I need to be punched by you.”
He hesitated. I could see in his eyes that he really didn’t want to do it, but a second later, determination seemed to fill him and I watched him lift his fist.
I didn’t evade it.
Ji Hoo’s punches were heavy and he didn’t throw them just for the sake of it. That, plus his peaceful character, was why no one thought he was capable of defending himself. In truth, he was one of the strongest among us.
He knocked me on my ass immediately.
“Jan Di… is the love of my life.” I needed to say it. “There was a point when I thought she would be better off with you because of how things got complicated each time she and I were together. I didn’t want to imagine it, but if I have to do it… if it couldn’t be me… the only person that I would want to be next to her is you, Ji Hoo.”
“Goo Jun Pyo!”
“Even so, I can’t do it. I can’t stomach the feeling of knowing someone else is going to be with-“
“I won’t listen anymore.” Ji Hoo cut me off. “I can’t and I won’t. Do you realize what you’re saying? You’re speaking as if you’re giving me permission to be with Jan Di, when the only person who has the right to decide that is her!”
“Ji Hoo, I-“
“No!” He was yelling. He never yelled. “Jun Pyo, the only reason I hit you was because you had that punch coming. Not for me—for her. For everything you’ve made her suffer since you went to Macau, for how you treated her on that bridge, and for how even now you can’t do anything but blindly follow your mother’s orders, hurting her at every turn! Yes, you are like a brother to me. That will never change. But I will no longer stand by and watch you hurt her. You know how I feel, and if you don’t remember, I’m telling you again: I love Jan Di, and because I love her, I know she still loves you. The only one who can do something about it is you, because she already done everything she can, given everything she has to give. If someday she accepts me, I will ask for nothing more from life, but if that happens, I’ll remain by her side not because you’re telling me to, but because she wants it that way!”
Without another word, Ji Hoo turned around and left. I dropped to the ground, then lay in the grass and laughed helplessly.
In the midst of my laughter, tears escaped my eyes. I could finally see clearly all the hurt I was causing—not only to the one woman I ever loved, but also to my soul brother.
Ji Hoo’s POV
The day had arrived. I was dressed and ready, waiting with Yi Jung and Woo Bin in the living room of Jun Pyo’s suite for him to come out. I was still thinking about what had happened the night before.
I can’t do any more, I told myself. This is the last thing I can offer him; the ball’s in his court now. If he doesn’t do something this time, it’s over forever.
Right then Jun Pyo appeared. The look on his face instantly swept me back to our days in high school. His eyes were cold and his expression was impenetrable.
“Let’s go,” was all he said, and we followed him to the chapel.
At the entrance stood Jan Di and Ga Eul, dressed in pink and holding bouquets in their hands. I could see Ga Eul trying to distract Jan Di, but Jan Di was all smiles, saying everything was fine. I felt us all tense up when Jun Pyo and Jan Di stood next to each other, but no one said a thing.
We’d already been instructed on the order of the processional. The F3 led the way, and the groom followed. We took our places behind him. We didn’t have to wait long for the priest to announce the entrance of the bride. Ga Eul and Jan Di then walked down the aisle until they got to the altar. I could see how Jun Pyo kept his eyes glued to her. That didn’t seem to sit well with his mother.
The girls took their places and Jae Kyung entered in an ornate white dress. She looked pretty, and happy. I winced, knowing that whether or not Jun Pyo gathered the courage to stop the wedding, someone would be hurt.
The ceremony passed by quickly, and soon we reached the crucial part.
“If anyone here opposes this marriage, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”
Except for the sound of shuffling feet and a muffled cough, all was silent. No one objected to the union that was about to take place.
“Then it’s time for the vows. Ha Jae Kyung, do you take Goo Jun Pyo as your lawfully wedded husband and promise to be true to him in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?”
The officiant turned to Jun Pyo.
“Goo Jun Pyo, do you take Ha Jae Kyung as your lawfully wedded wife and promise to be true to her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?”
Once again the chapel fell silent. Jun Pyo wasn’t answering, and murmurs began to rise. Then, he looked up straight at Jan Di.
She quickly averted her gaze and said nothing.
“Goo Jun Pyo?” The priest called to him.
“I’m sorry.” This is it! Now we needed to run to- “Yes… I do,” he said slowly.
My thoughts stuttered to a halt. I could not believe it.
“Then, by the power invested in me by the church, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride!”
Jae Kyung closed her eyes and leaned toward Jun Pyo. I saw his eyes flicker toward Jan Di before a look of resignation swept over his features. He swooped down and placed the shortest peck ever upon Jae Kyung’s upturned lips. Her eyes snapped open in surprise, and for a moment she continued to lean awkwardly toward him, clearly having been prepared for something a little less perfunctory. She swiftly covered up her disappointment and forced a smile onto her face, but I could see the first tremor of uncertainty in her eyes.
I knew their road wouldn’t be easy, but my concern was for Jan Di. She was also wearing a pasted on smile, but there was a telltale shine in her eyes that spoke of unshed tears. I vowed silently do what I could to help her get through this day.
The guests rose and applauded loudly, shouting congratulations to the couple. We applauded as well, but I noticed I wasn’t the only one with my mouth agape.
Jun Pyo’s mother was as radiant as ever, her eyes firing daggers at Jan Di even as she smiled and applauded along with everyone else. Jan Di and Ga Eul followed behind the entourage to accompany the newlyweds to the reception room.
Everything was done in traditional wedding style. I didn’t let Jan Di out of my sight, but even though I watched her for signs of distress, it seemed as if someone had put a happy mask on her face.
Because she didn’t know many people, Jae Kyung was the one who introduced Jan Di to friends and family—even her own parents, an association which President Kang clearly hated. I don’t think she had realized until now how close Jae Kyung and Jan Di were.
The waltz was danced, pictures were taken, and the couple was greeted, but there was no speech from the new husband. Instead, his mother took the role and thanked everyone for coming to witness the new ‘union’ formed that day before the eyes of God.
Such a hypocrite.
Finally, the moment came for the newlyweds to leave on their honeymoon. In this case, it wasn’t in a car but in a yacht that was waiting by the beach. Jae Kyung had changed her wedding dress for a more comfortable and casual one. Before going up, she hugged Jan Di tightly and a few tears rolled down her cheeks. Jan Di kept smiling and telling her things I couldn’t quite catch.
“Well, it’s time to go,” Jae Kyung announced, “but first…” She turned around to throw the bouquet. All the single ladies behind her jostled each other in an effort to catch it in hopes that it would deliver on the superstition that the victor would become the next bride. “One…two…three!” The bouquet went flying through the air and landed smack in the hands of…
Jae Kyung was beaming, and Ga Eul hugged Jan Di. If this wasn’t an example of pure irony, I didn’t know what was. Jan Di hadn’t even tried to catch the bouquet; she had just stood there in the back.
Jun Pyo went to say goodbye to his in-laws and his mother before turning, lastly, to us.
“Bye bro, take care” said Woo Bin, bumping fists with Jun Pyo.
“You too, Woo Bin. I’ll see you soon.” Jun Pyo hugged him.
“Everything will be alright, Jun Pyo,” assured Yi Jung.
“Of course it will. Who do you think you’re talking to?” He flashed the first smile I had seen on his face since morning.
Now it was my turn.
“Listen, about yesterday…”
“Forget it. Nothing you said was a lie, and I have always been grateful for your honesty with me. I stand by what I said yesterday. I still can’t let her go. If it’s you who ends up by her side, take care of her for both of us, and if it’s not you… take care of her anyway. I love you, brother.”
“And I you.”
We hugged, and then realized that Jan Di had approached to say goodbye.
“Geum Jan Di…” it seemed like it pained Jun Pyo to say her name.
“Don’t you dare make my unnie cry, okay?” she said, and hugged him, lightly patting his back. “Be happy, Jun Pyo.”
He hugged her back fiercely, crushing her against him one last time, but as soon as it had started, it ended.
He let her go.
“I’m going to miss you,” he said before quickly turning away and going up to the yacht.
Minutes later they were gone.
“Are you alright?” I asked Jan Di.
“Uh? What? Oh, yeah… of course I am. I’m just tired, sunbae, so I’m going to rest for a bit before we go. We leave tonight, right?”
“Then I’ll see you later, sunbae.”
Jan Di had been avoiding me all day. Before, I thought it was because of the flurry of wedding activity and the size of the crowd, but now I was convinced that it wasn’t that at all.
And it hurt.
Jan Di’s POV
That night when we got back, I asked Ga Eul if I could stay at her home. She didn’t question me, agreeing immediately because she thought I was sad about Jun Pyo. Truthfully, I just didn’t want Ji Hoo to offer me a ride home.
I rode with Yi Jung and Ga Eul so I wouldn’t have to face that problem. I just wanted to avoid being near Ji Hoo right then.
The next day, Ga Eul and I went to work. I thought I would now be able to get the time and space to slowly forget, but an unpleasant surprise arrived at the establishment that made it difficult.
“Welc-!” my greeting got stuck in my throat when I saw Jun Pyo’s mother stepping into the shop. I watched her observe the place as if she found it disgusting to even put a foot in. “Can I offer you something?” I asked.
“I don’t have any interest in having anything to do with you, but after seeing you yesterday I’ve come to make some things clear,” she told me.
“The fact that from now on you’ll be staying completely away from the Shinhwa/JK group. I don’t know how you managed to ingratiate yourself with Miss Jae Kyung, but the last thing I need is you keeping in touch with her or with my son. Do you understand?”
“Excuse me,” Ga Eul intervened, “but why are you treating Jan Di like this? She didn’t do anything wrong! On the contrary, she helped things go smoothly between those two.” I was surprised to see her standing up to evil itself.
“Those who don’t know what they’re talking about shouldn’t meddle. I see your friends share your same lack of culture and manners. So once again, I’m telling you, stay away from my family or I’ll make you pay.”
“That is enough! You’ve gone too far in your treatment of this girl,” came a gruff voice from the open door of the shop.
“Grandfather!” He had entered unobserved and, by the look of it, had heard the last thing the president said to me.
She looked as if she had seen a ghost.
“Mister President! How is it that you are here?” she asked him, aghast.
“It has been a long time, Hee Soo… or should I call you President Kang?”
It was the first time I had ever seen that woman lower her head in front of someone. Her bow was quite low, and she didn’t answer grandpa’s question.
“You’ve changed much, but we can talk about that later. Let’s talk about her first,” Grandpa said, gesturing at me.
“How is it that you know this girl?” President Kang asked.
“She is going to be my granddaughter-in-law.”
Everyone, including me, was speechless at that statement.
“W-What do you mean?”
“She is the woman I have chosen for my Ji Hoo.”
“Are you serious!?”
“Until now I’ve only watched her, but now she has become a part of my family. I would appreciate it if you didn’t address her in this manner in the future.”
The expression of disbelief on the witch’s face was priceless, and I would have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t wearing the same one on my own.
“Jan Di, what are you doing?” Grandfather was talking to me. “Follow me at once.”
“Has something happened, Grandfather?”
“Stop asking so many questions and let’s go!”
I followed him immediately, leaving behind a deeply confused President Kang.
Outside, grandfather was waiting inside of a cab. When I got in, I asked him what was going on, but he didn’t tell me anything until I realized we were going to sunbae’s house.
“Grandfather, has something happened to Ji Hoo? Why do we need to come here?”
“It just so happens that I discovered a lodger living secretly in my clinic! Do you think it’s a hotel, young lady?”
“Come on; follow me.” He got out of the cab and took out my luggage from the trunk. “From now on you’ll stay here.”
Ji Hoo’s POV
Jan Di had curtly refused my offer to take her home when we returned from Jeju Island, so I didn’t push. She must have wanted some time away from everything and everyone after the wedding, and I knew it was best to give her space.
But it seemed like destiny didn’t agree with my decision.
I heard grandfather’s steps and got up to greet him, but I stopped dead when I saw Jan Di behind him… with a trolley bag.
“Hello, sunbae,” she said sheepishly.
“Oh, Ji Hoo. From now on, Jan Di will be living with us,” Grandfather said, smiling.
Wait a hot minute…
“Why are you still standing there? Come on! Show her to her room.” He pushed me towards her. “As for me, I’m feeling rather tired, so I bid you both good night.”
And then I understood everything.
When I had gotten home, I had realized that my grandfather had moved his things to a room in the back of the house. It was much smaller, but he seemed to be comfortable there.
Without a word, I led Jan Di to the room she had previously led my grandfather into.
We stood there in silence. For once, it was an uncomfortable one.
“Why are you here?” I had to ask.
“There was an accident in my apartment. But don’t worry, sunbae. I came here only because Grandfather dragged me here. I’ll be out as soon as I can.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Jan Di. I’m not bothered in the least that you are here, but I’m surprised to know you are homeless. I thought you were going to tell me things like that.”
Okay, maybe that came out a bit rude.
“Jan Di…” I called her name, walking towards her, but she cut me off.
“Ask me if I’m okay.”
I said nothing, just stood there looking at her.
It seemed to me that she was debating between looking into my eyes and keeping her gaze down. Once again I thought it would be best to leave her alone. Sometimes one needed that. I understood that better than anyone.
So I turned around to leave, but then I heard her voice.
“I’m not fine… Why is it that you always…? How do you…?” She released a ragged breath. “That’s why I wanted to stay away from you. Somehow, it seems like I’m incapable of hiding anything from you, sunbae.”
And then the tears came, flowing freely and with abandon down Jan Di’s face while she leaned, sobbing, on her trolley’s handle.
I quickly closed the door and took her in my arms.
“All this… How could I possibly be alright with all of this? But I love Jae Kyung unnie, you know? And I know she will make Jun Pyo happy… and I know Jun Pyo will be happy with her. But I can’t help that even after knowing all that and after having given up on him, my heart hurts, sunbae…”
Jan Di was crumbling in my arms and I could do nothing to help her.
This is what I feared.
I hated this. I couldn’t stand it, seeing her so sad, so depressed, so broken… I hated that tears had taken the place of her beautiful smile.
“I’m here, Jan Di. And you don’t need to stay away from me. If you need a place to vent your sorrows, never hesitate to come to me.”
I held her close to my chest and remembered that night at the clinic.
Once again we ended up on the floor, in the same position as we did back then, clutching at each other.
Why was it always like this? I hadn’t lied when I had told her to come to me to vent her sorrows, but I didn’t want it to be necessary. I wanted her to always be happy.
“Shhh, cry all you want. I’ll stay here. Do you want me to sing for you? Would that make you feel better?”
Between sobs, she nodded.
I didn’t realize, until I reached the chorus of the song, that I was singing ‘If I Was the One’ by Ruff Endz. Damn it if that song didn’t say everything I was feeling. I silently thanked God that Jan Di didn’t know English.
I poured my heart out to her as I sang.
And so, with her lying on my chest and my arms around her, I sang again and again to calm her agony, promising myself once again that I would do anything within my reach to make her happy.