Ga Eul’s POV
I was a little worried about letting Jan Di leave with Ji Hoo sunbae’s grandfather, but if there was anyone who could understand and help my friend, it was Ji Hoo.
It was hard not to laugh at the look on President Kang’s face after Jan Di left, blinking like she just couldn’t believe what she’d just witnessed. I admit that it was pretty satisfying to see her get a little comeuppance at last. She deserved it, after everything she made Jan Di suffer.
“Would you like something to eat, gentlemen?” I asked in my most syrupy voice, not bothering to hide the giant grin on my face while I offered them the menu. The bodyguards looked at Madame Kang, but she only said, “Impertinent brat. Let’s go!”
They all fell into line behind her as she stomped out, but the last bodyguard turned around at the door and silently gave me a thumbs-up. I returned the gesture.
“Ga Eul, who were all those people?” the boss came out to ask me.
“They got the wrong place, boss. Don’t worry about it,” I said, not wanting to get into the details of the confrontation.
“Ga Eul, promise me you won’t leave me alone.”
“Why would I do that?”
The ringing of the doorbell announced a new customer, and when I turned around, I saw Woo Bin sunbae.
“Hey!” he greeted me, a mysterious smile on his face.
“Sunbae, welcome. What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to talk to you. Should we go?”
Before I could respond, or even tell the boss I was leaving, Woo Bin had hustled me out the door and into his car. We drove away quickly, on our way to God knows where.
“Sunbae! I can’t leave the store just like that!”
“Don’t worry, Ga Eul. I already arranged the purchase of all the merchandise for the rest of the week.”
After knowing the F4 for so long, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised at that, but I was. Woo Bin was the Don Juan of the F4, the one whose taste leaned to women who were older than him, and preferably married. However, according to Jan Di’s description, he was the lynchpin that held the group together, and from what I could gather the day we went to buy the things we needed to remodel Jan Di’s apartment, he was also a good person.
Woo Bin pulled the car up in front of a fancy restaurant, and I was instantly self-conscious about wearing my work uniform, but he didn’t seem to notice. The restaurant staff seemed to recognize Woo Bin and we were seated mere seconds after walking through the door. The mystery was killing me. Why was I here? Woo Bin ordered us both something to eat, and then turned his attention to me at last.
“Ga Eul, I’m asking you once again just to be sure. What you told me that day in the market, was it true?”
He had asked me the same question the night we played “Truth or Dare”, although I would have preferred he didn’t.
Woo Bin and I were walking through the market, him trailing along behind me while I searched for cute but useful things for Jan Di’s apartment. I had turned my head to look at a booth selling patterned rugs when I suddenly collided with Yi Jung. What was he doing here?
“I’m sorry,” he said.
I didn’t answer.
After the humiliating exhibition he made me go through in front of his father, I couldn’t just forgive him as simply as that. It was true that I liked him, a lot, but I had a strong sense of self-worth and I wasn’t going to let him –or anyone else for that matter– treat me that way.
I could feel Yi Jung’s eyes on my back as we walked away.
Several minutes later, Woo Bin’s hand on my arm pulled me to a stop.
“Yes, Woo Bin sunbae?”
“Has something happened between you and Yi Jung?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Because this is the first time I’ve ever seen you act coldly towards him.” I couldn’t answer. I didn’t realize someone else had noticed. “If you want my opinion, it’s obvious that you like Yi Jung, but are you really willing to fight for him? I’m asking you this because he’s my brother. I know we weren’t born to the same mother, but to hell with that. We’ve been through everything together, and we’re brothers in every way that matters.”
“Woo Bin sunbae…”
“You haven’t answered me, Ga Eul-ssi. Are you willing to fight for him?”
“Yes, of course I’m willing.”
“Yes, sunbae. What I told you that day at the market is true. You dragged me here just to ask me that?”
“It’s not that, Ga Eul-ssi. I know Yi Jung better than anyone. It’s not for nothing we have been friends since childhood. I’m sure that if a girl like you is truly determined to stand by his side, he will finally realize he has a right to fall in love again.”
“Are you so worried about him that it’s necessary for you to come talk to me?”
“In a drunken stupor last night, he told me something about Eun Jae. I know how difficult it has been for him to live with the guilt of not doing everything he could to keep her at his side. But now,” he stared intently at me, “now this sweet, amazing girl who doesn’t care about his past appears and sees him for what he truly is.”
“Yah! Who are you calling a sweet girl?”
“You, Ga Eul-ssi. I can tell you without hesitation that you’re completely different from any other girls we have gone out with before.”
“Oh, yeah? Then allow me to disabuse you of your mistaken notions, Woo Bin sunbae. You may see me as a sweet girl, but the truth is that neither Yi Jung nor you truly know me.”
“Please, Ga Eul, I’m not trying to underestimate you, but Yi Jung told me how he found you that day after your boyfriend dumped you…”
“That’s true. So what? Am I not allowed to cry for a guy I cared for? For you, girls might be things that come and go, but for me it’s different. You want to know if I like Yi Jung? Yes, I like him. I like him a lot, but I won’t be his nanny or wait for him to grow up and realize that life is unfair. Don’t worry. I will fight for what I feel for him so I won’t have regrets tomorrow. And you know what’s worse? I know it’s going to be a useless fight, but in the end…” I had to take a steadying breath so my voice wouldn’t crack. “In the end I’ll reach my goal, sunbae. Just wait, and you’ll see that this girl has grown up and changed a lot.”
I could see the surprise in Woo Bin’s eyes. It was true. Everything I had told him was true. I had always been the weaker one with Jan Di by my side to protect me, but I couldn’t go on like that; and after watching my friend fight so bravely against her feelings and face the man she loved as he married someone else, I felt ashamed of how often I still believed I lived in a fairytale world.
But there was a fighter inside me. I found her that night when Yi Jung practically gave me away to his father. The moment I threw that water in his face was the moment I knew I was stronger than I had believed.
I wasn’t planning on allowing anyone else to humiliate me… ever.
“I gotta say, you amaze me, Ga Eul-ssi.”
“See? You don’t know me at all,” I told him, biting into a piece of the meat the waiter had just set on the table.
“I’m asking you, Ga Eul, to take care of my brother.” I knew from the concern in his eyes that his intentions were completely sincere.
Suddenly I found it odd that a guy like Woo Bin, tied to the mafia world, with women flocking around him and an empire to inherit, had such a soft spot in his heart for his friends.
“I’ll try, sunbae.”
Ji Hoo’s POV
Two weeks had passed since the night Jan Di cried until she fell asleep. Because we hadn’t arranged a bed for her, I had to carry her to my bedroom that night instead. I’m not complaining about it. I liked keeping watch over her while she slept. It reminded me of the first time I’d put her to bed in my room, when she had been ill and worn down by her sadness. I hoped that if I ever found myself looking down at her sleeping face again, it would be for the sheer joy of seeing her at peace, not because something was causing her pain.
When she woke up that day, her eyes were swollen and her throat was hurting. I still remember what she told me.
“Sunbae, I’m ready to move on. I need to.”
“You will. We are all here to help you.”
“Thank you, again. And I’m sorry for all this mess… again.”
“There’s no need for thanks or apologies. Grandfather is happy to have you here, and so am I. Jan Di, let me help you. I promised you that together we could find a new dream for you. Now that you’ve found it, allow me to watch you achieve it… Stay.”
Jan Di did stay, mostly because she didn’t have anywhere else to go and she didn’t want to bother Ga Eul or her family. That night, she showed me the papers she had found in the wreckage of her demolished apartment building, and when my eyes fell on the logo of Shinhwa Corporation, my suspicions were confirmed. That woman really was capable of anything. We decided not to tell Grandpa anything about it, because it was all over now, and President Kang had at last managed to marry her son off for the sake of her bloody merger. There was nothing to do now but get on with living.
Jan Di’s voice echoed through the house, drawing me out of my reverie. “I’m home!”
I usually wasn’t home when Jan Di returned from school, but my appointment at the Art Center had finished early. I was about to call out to her to let her know, but before I could, Secretary Park was there to greet her.
“Welcome, Miss Geum.”
“Secretary Park! I didn’t know you were here. Have I not asked you to call me Jan Di?”
“It’s just… difficult for me to be that informal, Miss Geum.”
I watched her think it over.
“Then, instead of Geum, can you at least call me Jan Di?”
“Miss Jan Di.”
“Much better,” she said with a smile, and I decided to make my presence known.
“You’re here, sunbae!”
“All good today?”
“Yes, classes haven’t been too hard, and I can check out all the medicine books I want from the library. I hate to admit it, but you rich people keep all the best. You can’t get this kind of material in the public library.”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
The past two weeks had been a bit chaotic. It was surprising and touching to see Secretary Park shed tears when he saw Grandfather standing in front of him. He hugged him as if he was hugging his own father. Grandfather hadn’t wanted to reveal his presence until he caught up with how things had been going with business and the company. He had in mind lots of dreams for future projects, and I was looking forward to working side by side with him. Then Jan Di moved in. We helped her purchase some new clothes and supplies, with her fighting us every step of the way. I had seen more of my staff in the last ten days than in the last ten years.
As far as business went, for several days, Grandfather and I had been discussing the possibility of holding a fundraising event and inviting the art world’s biggest names to contribute to the construction of an art school, one that would open its doors to children whose families suffered from economic hardship.
Grandfather, Secretary Park, and I sat at the dining table, checking over paperwork while Jan Di cooked dinner. She had flat out refused to let the staff do it or to go out to eat. She insisted that cooking and cleaning was the least she could do to thank us for letting her stay.
It was useless to argue with her, I was learning.
We were in the middle of dinner, discussing the expenses, when Jan Di, for the first time, interrupted us.
“I don’t understand why you’re making such a fuss.”
“What do you mean?” Grandfather asked her.
“You have the place, the Art center; you have the RSVP of all these people,” she indicated a list on the table, “because obviously the name Yoon still holds a lot of power in the artistic world; however, you’re still making plans and more plans about a presentation when it’s so simple.”
“Simple?” I asked her.
“Of course it is.” She looked again among the papers scattered on the table, then picked up the two she wanted. “This is the list of the children who have applied for a scholarship in an art institution, and this other one is the list of the children who have proved to have artistic talent but haven’t even tried to search for a school like that. Gather the best ones among all of them and let the kids give the presentation.”
The three of us went mute.
“What? It’s not such a big deal.” She kept going. “Take the oldest ones and let them perform under the tutelage of some of those great philharmonic directors you have. Then take the younger ones and display their work and let them attend the party—only at the beginning, of course. And you don’t need to worry about the food! You’re charging two thousand dollars a plate! Take some of that money right now as a fund for those kids! You have five hundred RSVPs. For a fifth part of that money, I can assure you the mothers of those kids will be able to prepare a delicious meal. And it would be a nice change of pace from all that caviar and lobster. The rental fees for the cutlery and plates don’t have to be this outrageous, either. Is anyone really going to check the brand of the porcelain? There’s really good porcelain out there for less than half the price you have in budgeted. I doubt there’s anyone out there who has a true appreciation for art and doesn’t have a good heart to go with it. If there is, then at the party you’ll be able to identify them and leave them out of the future plans of the company.”
I pondered Jan Di’s words, slowly turning them over in my brain. It wasn’t a bad idea. In fact, it was brilliant. For each concern she had presented a contingency plan. And Jan Di was right; if anyone there had a problem relating to other people just because of their social status, then we weren’t interested in partnering with them.
“I… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be meddlesome,” Jan Di said after none of us said anything.
Grandfather cleared his throat. “Well, young lady, you have a habit of sticking your nose into matters that don’t concern you,” he said severely. Jan Di paled, but then his face broke into a smile. “However, it’s also true that when you do, things end up working out pretty well. I like this plan. Secretary Park, I want a meeting with the teachers tomorrow so we can discuss some ideas. Ji Hoo, you will work with Jan Di. As for you,” he pinned Jan Di with a thoughtful look, “from now on you work for me in this project, and make certain that it’s a success.”
Jan Di looked shocked, but my grandfather left no room for argument, so we ate the rest of our meal while making plans based on Jan Di’s approach. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to us before. We all came from affluent circumstances, surrounded nearly from birth by material riches. It was a blessing, but it limited our point of view. If we were trying to provide resources for people in economic hardship, then we needed to see this from their point of view. Who better to show us that perspective than Jan Di?
By the end of the night we were exhausted.
“I never would have imagined that office stuff was so tiring,” Jan Di said, stretching out her cramped muscles in the back garden.
“But you did really well, Jan Di. Your ideas are fresh and original. This could work.”
“Thank you, sunbae.”
Suddenly, we heard a noise, and a woman appeared who I’d never seen before.
“Miss Jan Di, young master. I’m sorry to have interrupted.”
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Shin. I didn’t know you stayed so late. Didn’t you have to pick up your son?” Jan Di asked her as if she were an old friend.
“Oh, my daughter already took care of it after her classes. I needed a few extra hours, you know? His birthday is coming.”
“I see. Well, I hope you have a great time.”
“Thank you Miss. With your permission, I’ll leave now.”
I stood there watching the woman as she left through the back door, with Jan Di waving good-bye.
“Who is she?” I asked her.
“What do you mean ‘who is she’, sunbae? That’s Mrs. Shin! She has taken care of the gardens of this house for years! Or did you think the flowers took care of themselves?”
“I’ve never seen her before.”
“That’s because your staff all try to come when you’re not here. But these last few days you’ve spent more time at home, right?”
She was right.
“They all have this impression that you are a cold and distant young master. You should show them that’s not the case. Your staff is very efficient and kind.”
“How is it that you know my house staff after merely two weeks, while I’ve lived here all my life and don’t even know their names?”
“Because you’ve never cared to, but you should. Did you know Mrs. Shin’s son takes violin classes? He’s only nine, but he’s really good. He’s on the list of kids we’re trying to help. She’s the reason I got so interested in it.”
“So that was it…”
“Not that I didn’t think it was a good idea, but I have to be honest with you. All that bureaucracy is boring.”
She stretched again as I stood there watching. I was fascinated by the way she moved, like a cat tensing and relaxing her muscles to work out the stiffness.
She turned to go back inside, but stopped before she got to the door and turned to speak to me. “Can you lend me your laptop, sunbae? I want to check my mail.”
“You know you don’t have to ask, Jan Di. You can use it whenever you want.” Then a thought stopped me. “Since when do you check your email so often?”
“Since Jae Kyung unnie wrote me in the morning and I forgot to answer her.”
I stood there frozen. I didn’t know Jae Kyung was still communicating with Jan Di, and I began to fear that the contents of her email would bring fresh pain. Jan Di had been really strong after that night of crying, and after a couple of days I had watched her trying to heal little by little. The last thing I wanted was for Jae Kyung to hinder the process with a thoughtless comment.
“Don’t worry,” she said, as if she could read my mind. “Unnie told me she was in Miami last week but now she’s going to Paris, although it doesn’t sound like Jun Pyo much enjoys the guided tours.”
“Is this okay? You’re not upset hearing her talk about everything they’re doing on their honeymoon?” Damn it. That came out harsher than I planned.
“No, it’s not okay. But it helps me to move on a bit more each time. It lets me think of Jun Pyo as a friend, and that’s what I hope he’ll be in the future. My feelings won’t disappear overnight, but as I told you before, I need to move on, sunbae. I hope to remain a friend to the F4 for a long time, and that means that I’m going to have to see him again someday; when that moment comes, I expect to do it with calmness in my heart.”
Her reasons were logical, but I would have liked to be of more help to her.
She flashed me a smile before heading towards the house. At that moment, Grandfather came out of the door.
“What if we go fishing tomorrow?” he asked Jan Di. “It’s the weekend, and I have a craving for some fish stew.”
“Why not? What do you say, sunbae?”
I looked at the two people that now shared a home with me and smiled.
“Count me in.”
Jan Di’s POV
Planning and organizing the event was exhausting. If this was what Ji Hoo did when he missed classes, I would never again think of him as lazy.
Two weeks after my intervention at dinner, I found myself dressing up in the dress grandfather had insisted on purchasing for me to wear to the event. Truthfully, I had hoped to just help from ‘behind the scenes’. I hadn’t imagined I would have to be an active and visible participant in the presentation.
That afternoon I had finished answering another mail from Jae Kyung. We had stayed in contact after the wedding. I could still remember how her first mail had been short and full of shyness, as if she wasn’t sure if she was allowed to write me. I thought I would feel uncomfortable, like I did when she asked me for ‘help’ with Jun Pyo, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared. Even though I felt pain, it wasn’t the same as before; it was dull, like the pain of a slowly disappearing bruise, and I knew that I was already on my way to getting over him for good. I decided writing Jae Kyung was a good way to start forgetting. I loved her, and I obviously loved Jun Pyo, so it wasn’t lying when I told Ji Hoo about my intentions of meeting them again with honest feelings of friendship.
“Jan Di, are you ready?” Ji Hoo’s voice came from the other side of the door.
“Yes, be right out!”
The heels were a little bit tall, but manageable. The only thing I felt sorry about was not having the right jewelry for the dress: red, knee length, and open to the middle of my back, held up by graceful spaghetti straps. Grandfather had sent me to a beauty parlor a few hours before, and they had arranged my hair and makeup for the occasion. I felt like a modern princess. I couldn’t deny the pleasure I took in examining my transformation in the mirror.
As I entered the living room, Ji Hoo turned around to look at me. He was dressed in one of his typical white suits, but I never got tired of the way he looked in it. White was definitely his color. His gaze took me in from head to toe, and the appreciative look in his eyes me blush a little.
“You look beautiful,” he murmured with a smile that threatened to light my face on fire.
“You don’t look so bad yourself, sunbae.”
“Well, well, I see we are all ready to go.” Grandfather walked into the room looking dashing in a black tuxedo. He grinned paternally when he saw me. “Oh, Jan Di, you look lovely.”
“Thank you for this wonderful dress, grandfather.”
“But I see you’re not wearing any accessories.”
“Oh. Well, no. I do have some earrings, but I don’t think they would match a dress like this.”
“Worry not. I have a present for you.” Grandfather pulled a red lined box from behind his back and gestured for me to open it. Inside was the most beautiful jewelry set I had ever laid eyes on. Earrings, a necklace, and a bracelet twinkled from their satin bed.
“Grandfather, I can’t…”
“You can and you will. Without your input for this project, we wouldn’t have been able to complete it. Consider it a token of appreciation from this old man.”
I looked at Ji Hoo and he nodded at me. I sighed dreamily, took up the earrings, and put them on. When I tried to reach for the bracelet, grandfather stepped up and fastened it around my wrist. Then Ji Hoo approached me. I shivered as he gently moved my hair aside and clasped the delicate chain around my neck.
“Now I think we are all ready. Shall we go?” Grandfather asked.
Both he and Ji Hoo offered me their arms, and I took them, laughing. The three of us left for the main event at Su-Am Art Centre.
When we arrived, the place was packed.
The ceremony was scheduled to begin with the reinstatement of grandfather as the president of Yoon Group. After that, he was going to introduce the project for children in need. I really felt proud when I saw everything set up just as we had planned. The guests looked a little bit baffled by the food, but none of them complained about the flavor and lots of them came back for seconds; I felt as if I’d scored a point in my favor. As Grandfather reached the middle of the presentation, I had the eerie sensation that someone was watching me. When I turned to check, I was surprised to see President Kang, her eyes narrowed at me with surprise and dislike.
“Everything okay?” I felt a familiar sensation of security wash over me whenever I heard that calm voice, because it meant he was with me.
“Yes,” I answered Ji Hoo. “I just didn’t know she would be here.”
“Neither did I, until now. Secretary Park and my grandfather were responsible for the guest list, and, whether we like it or not, Shinhwa is Korea.”
“…and now, ladies and gentlemen,” grandfather’s voice cut into our conversation, “allow me to introduce to you some of the brilliant children who will attend this institution.”
A round of applause sounded as the curtains opened to reveal a group of fifty children and teenagers, all holding instruments. Under the leading of an orchestra director, they perfectly performed an interpretation of Bach’s “Tocatta & Fugue”, but in Vanessa Mae’s style. It was really impressive. I could feel the chills running through my body while the music filled the room. Judging by the rapt expressions on faces around the room, I wasn’t the only one.
When they finished, the applause went on for so long that for a moment it seemed it would never stop.
“Did you see that, sunbae?” I turned to look at him, but he wasn’t by my side anymore.
Where did he go? I wondered.
“Ladies and gentlemen…” I turned at once when I heard Ji Hoo’s voice. He stood confidently at the podium, a warm smile on his face as he addressed the crowd. “We are more than pleased to see you have enjoyed this little presentation. Based on the excellence of the music, you may be surprised to hear that the children had little time to prepare. I think that speaks to their talent and potential.” A new round of applause was heard while the children bowed down in thanks to the crowd and left the stage. Ji Hoo continued, “Something more that you should know about this foundation is this: Each of you will have the opportunity, if you choose it, to mentor a child and look out for his or her well-being. Consider it a unique experience to be able to nurture such an amazing talent and see it flourish. As the child grows, you can say with pride that you helped significantly in changing a life. Allow me to introduce you to the child who will be my protégé from today onwards: Shin Jun Su.”
If it were physically possible, my jaw would have touched the floor. The boy now entering the stage was Mrs. Shin’s son! I turned around, looking for her face among the crowd, knowing she was one of the mothers in charge of the food. When I found her, I saw a reflection of my own surprise on her face.
When I looked back to the stage, I saw sunbae standing next to little Jun Su, both of them with a violin in their hands. Then, suddenly… a storm hit.
“Storm” from “Four Seasons” of Vivaldi echoed through the Art Centre with an unstoppable force, filling the ears of all the attendees and leaving us breathless. It was amazing to see the joy in Jun Su’s face while he played with everything his hands could give. My heartbeat sped up to a fast staccato. I ran to Mrs. Shin and took her hand, getting there just in time as the poor woman was hardly able to keep her feet. Her face was stained with happy and proud tears at watching her little boy up there, all the confidence in the world pouring out of his fingers.
If I’d thought the previous applause had been amazing, this one was deafening. No other noise could be heard over the ocean of people standing up and cheering for Jun Su, who stood there with flushed cheeks and a broad smile, thanking and waving vigorously to a mother who couldn’t help but mirror her son’s happiness.
“Dear guests,” this time, Grandfather was standing behind the podium, “you have seen with your own eyes the worth of investing in the future of these children. But please, I beg you, do not see it just as a worthy investment. Instead, consider it a way of spreading the message Yoon group and my late son and daughter-in-law always tried to teach: Heal the world with art and music. The cause we invite you to join is a noble one. Thank you very much.”
New applause rose from the guests, and a low murmur swelled through the room as they got down to the business of fundraising. In this, thank God, I was permitted to stand aside. I understood nothing about how these negotiations worked.
Soon little Jun Su was running into his mother’s open arms. She caught him up in a hug with the same excitement.
“Omma, omma! Did you see me? Did you see me playing next to hyung?”
“Of course I saw you, my little sunshine. We all did!” Mrs. Shin was still crying, and I saw a hand reach out to offer her a handkerchief. It was Ji Hoo.
“Please, Mrs. Shin, dry your tears and rest assured that your son’s talent will not go to waste. What I said was true. From today onwards I will be Jun Su’s mentor if you will allow me to.”
“Oh… Oh! Young master! How could I ever thank you?”
“Thank this little miss here, who made me pay more attention to those around me,” he said, coming up behind me and placing his warm hands on my shoulders.
“Miss Jan Di, thank you! Thank you so very much! Say thank you, Shin!”
“Noona, thank you!”
“What do you mean ‘noona’? Call her ‘Miss Jan Di’!”
“Oh, no, please. Noona is perfect.” I leaned in conspiratorially. “Shin, you must promise me to study hard with Ji Hoo hyung, alright?”
“Yes! I will!”
After chatting a few more minutes, we parted ways with a smile. Ji Hoo put his hand on my back and started leading me toward the bar.
“You surprised me, sunbae,” I said. He looked down at me and smiled, about to say something when he was interrupted by a snide voice dripping with sarcasm.
“The surprised one should be me, Ji Hoo-ssi.”
“President Kang.” We both turned to face her, but Ji Hoo was the one who spoke. “It is good to see you could come, taking into account your busy schedule.”
“Business is business, but it seems like this project turned out to be nothing but a crude attempt at allowing people with no education to mingle with ones of good class.” She directed the withering scorn of her last words at me.
Ji Hoo remained calm, but I could tell by the tensing of his hand at my back that her comment had angered him. “If that is how you see it, you are cordially invited to not participate. We’re looking only for those interested in investing in the future.”
“This is not investing in the future. This is indulging in altruistic dreams that won’t bring any benefit in the long term. I’m surprised Yoon Group has fallen so low as to depend on the ideas of a low-born pretender. All of this just reeks of you, Miss Geum.”
“If that is your point of view, Hee Soo, then, as my grandson just told you, you are welcome to leave this event.” Grandfather had approached us without us noticing. President Kang once again remained silent in his presence. “You seem very comfortable talking like that to a pair of young people, but when someone of your stature is present, you’re not so bold, are you? I see the years have changed you for the worse; I no longer recognize that girl of humble origins, filled with hopes to get an administrative position in a big company and help her family. What did you do with your dreams, Hee Soo?”
That kind of information astounded me, and apparently, Ji Hoo as well. He was wearing the same flabbergasted expression I was. President Kang had once been a commoner?
That must have been more than she could take. With a final low bow to grandfather, she walked away without another word.
“Well, at least we got rid of one person who brings nothing to the table to help the future. Now you two, go mingle with the rest! Go, go… the night is young!”
Ji Hoo’s POV
Weeks went by.
Grandfather, Jan Di, and I watched with satisfaction as the construction and implementation of “Yoon Art Centre for Children and Teenagers” entered the final planning stages, thanks to all the kind donations that poured in after the event. More than one child already had a mentor to support them, and we were already planning a second event to allow potential mentors and students to meet.
I had returned to classes while Jan Di had stayed behind to update her scholarship papers for the medical faculty at Shinhwa. It was good to see her dreams coming to fruition. Her intelligence was made clear in her work with Yoon Group; the ideas for other company projects and her input on management decisions had helped us immensely.
It was still early in the afternoon that day when I came home from classes to find the house quiet and empty. I was looking forward to dinner with Grandfather and Jan Di. As I walked towards my room to put my things away, I stopped for a moment, suddenly noticing the subtle changes in the house that had taken place since Jan Di’s arrival.
There were flowers in a vase on the foyer table, and a pair of her pink slippers stood neatly by the door. Before, she had always used the ones for guests. In the center of the living room, there was now a 42″ plasma TV, because many of the documentaries Jan Di wanted to watch were only available on cable; she used to watch them on YouTube. I told her I had bought it because I wanted to watch the concerts I like in a higher quality, so obviously I also had to buy a home theatre, and a surround sound system, and a new couch. The kitchen cupboards and the refrigerator were now stocked with everything she needed for cooking.
I went to her room and gave it a quick once over, happy to see how, little by little, there were more things in it. Each change was a sign that she was growing comfortable, making herself at home in the house, in her house, if she ever wanted it to be.
However, the greatest change, the one that I definitely enjoyed the most, was the piece of furniture dividing the living room from the dining room. It used to hold only photos of my family and Seo Hyun, but now only one of the previous pictures remained. The rest of the space was filled with pictures that we had taken since Grandfather and Jan Di came to live here. There was a photo of one of our fishing trips, a picture of grandfather and her, one of her and me, and one of the three of us together. There were pictures of the Art Centre gala and one of Jan Di in the clinic holding a baby she had helped bring into the world… It seemed so strange to realize how naturally and effortlessly Jan Di had fallen into my life.
I was grateful and happy, but at the same time fearful that it couldn’t last forever…
I was lost in my thoughts when she suddenly burst in, furious, her face flushed red, and with what looked like tears filling her eyes.
She looked up and saw me, but instead of stopping, she ran and locked herself in her bedroom.
I knocked on the door, concerned. “Jan Di! What’s wrong!?”
“What’s going on, son?” Grandfather’s eyebrows were drawn down in worry. “I saw Jan Di running towards the house. I called out to her, but couldn’t get her attention.”
“I don’t know, but she seemed upset.”
A creak sounded as Jan Di opened her bedroom door and emerged, her eyes puffy from crying.
“I’m s-sorry. Forgive me, sunbae. I didn’t mean to react like that. It’s just that-“
“Come here, child,” Grandfather said, reaching out. “Sit down and drink something warm while you tell us what happened, okay?”
Grandfather made tea for us while we sat down at the dining room table. After a few sips, Jan Di began telling us her story.
“This afternoon I went to the administrative offices to check that my scholarship papers for my entrance next year were complete and in order. I just had to turn in my grades report to update the file and leave but… they told me the headmistress was waiting for me because mine was a ‘special case’.”
“President Kang talked to you?” I asked. This couldn’t be good.
“Yes. I was on high alert, because it seemed weird that she wanted to see me. At first I thought it was just an excuse to tell me something about Jun Pyo or Jae Kyung, but it wasn’t like that.”
“What happened, child?”
“When she saw me, she told me she was impressed by my results that year, that she never thought I would come so far after all the wreck I caused because of the boy I saved. She said: ‘Did you know the only reason we opened the possibility of a scholarship was to shut up the people who wouldn’t stop talking about you and the school? Well, that hardly matters now. You have come because of your scholarship, correct? The agreement clearly established that if you maintain a rank within the first three places during this year you will continue to receive your scholarship for any course of study you choose at Shinhwa University.'”
“Yes, that’s true. But I don’t understand why she told you that. You’ve worked hard and managed to remain ranked in the top three; we all know that.”
“I know, sunbae. But then she said the board of directors had decided that a college like Shinhwa couldn’t accept mediocre students, and that now the scholarship will be open only to those who managed to get the first place throughout all their high school years. Based on that criteria, my scholarship offer is now void.”
“I was astonished, too. I told her that it wasn’t in my agreement, and that if I had known I needed to come in first every time, I would have put in much more effort. But she said that even if I had tried harder, I would never be on the same level as the people studying in her university, and that I should consider this a wakeup call to reality. ‘People like you should never mix with people like us.’ Those were her final words.” Jan Di looked defeated.
“She can’t do that!” I objected.
“Of course she can,” Jan Di said dully. “Even if she wasn’t the school headmistress, she’s the president of Shinhwa group. Her decision is absolute and it is law. That evil bit- I’m sorry, Grandpa.” Jan Di cut off her words when she realized what she was about to say in front of Grandfather, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“No, you’re right, that woman has become an evil witch,” he agreed with a wink.
“I know I shouldn’t be like this. I can go to any other university with a graduation certificate from Shinhwa School. It’s just that I also know that as a Shinhwa student, I would’ve had the best education out there. Even if all those rich kids don’t appreciate it like I do, it doesn’t matter. Getting a degree from Shinhwa’s school of medicine would have assured my future. I could have done so much, helped so many people who couldn’t get treatments just because they couldn’t afford it… Just like you do it, Grandpa…”
Jan Di blushed, and I knew that this was the first time she had dared to say out loud how big her goals and dreams of being a doctor were. I could actually imagine her perfectly in a moderately large clinic, offering services to everyone, not taking into account their ability to pay.
Being happy just signing medical charts and making easy money? Not her style.
“Don’t worry, Jan Di. Somehow we will appeal your case in front of Hee Soo. That woman will have to listen to me.”
“No! Don’t do it, Grandpa, I beg you. The last thing I want is for that woman to keep messing with my life… I’ve lost count of how many times she’s tried to remove me from her way. And I, stubborn weed that I am, kept appearing before her. This time I’ll give her what she wants. I’ll disappear from her life. Maybe that way she’ll leave me alone, and I can fulfill my dreams without worrying that she is waiting just around the corner to break them.”
“I’ll be fine, sunbae. I just needed to tell you both. You’ll see! I’ll be fine. This weekend I’ll start looking for other universities. No one will stop me from becoming a doctor. Well… maybe my brain, haha…”
Jan Di drank the rest of her tea and excused herself, telling us she had some studying to do. Grandfather and I could only watch as she retired to her room.
“I cannot believe she did something like that!” I spat with indignation. “What else does she want!? She broke up Jan Di and Jun Pyo, had Jan Di’s house demolished, she got her son married with the heiress of JK group, and got her fucking merger. Why does she need to keep tormenting Jan Di!?”
My grandfather looked baffled at my outburst. It was only then I realized I had cursed, out loud, and mentioned Jan Di’s home demolition, which he knew nothing about.
“Grandfather, forgive me…I-“
“Calm down, Ji Hoo. This isn’t over.” I had rarely seen my grandfather so serious. He got up and went to his room.
“If you’re planning on talking with that woman, it will only make her pest Jan Di further,” I warned him as I followed.
“There’s more than one way to fix this matter. I didn’t think I would have to use this method so soon, but apparently now is the time. Ji Hoo, you just take care that Jan Di gets her spirit back.”
He left me intrigued by his words, but he was right. Jan Di needed someone in her corner, and if that someone could be me, I would gladly do it.
Easier said than done, though. Lately it was more difficult to spend time with her thanks to my increasingly tedious college classes; it was making me wonder if I had chosen the right course of study. Maybe the World Business career wasn’t for me, after all. I had more fun studying medicine books with Jan Di or, sometimes, helping out in grandfather’s clinic.
Days went by, and Jan Di’s mood seemed to improve in the time since the interview with the dragon lady. When the weekend came along, grandfather surprised us both by waking us up on Saturday before the sun even came up.
“Come on! We need to leave soon; I want to get there early.”
“Grandpa… where do you want to go so early?” Jan Di mumbled with her eyes closed. I had been dragged from my room to hers in an attempt to spur me to wakefulness.
“Don’t be so nosy! Both of you, get dressed!”
I followed his instructions in autopilot, following him to the car, where Secretary Park waited behind the wheel. My grandfather sat next to him, and Jan Di and I took the back seat.
“Sunbae,” she whispered in my ear, “do you have any idea of what is happening?”
“None at all.”
She whined a little in protest, and pursed her lips in a pout.
God, that pout.
“I want to sleep,” she grumbled. She looked like a five year old.
“Try to rest then, and I’ll wake you up when we arrive at… wherever it is that grandfather is taking us.”
Whether she did it consciously or unconsciously, I’m not sure, but she rested her head on my shoulder; mere seconds later, I heard her softly snoring. A smile touched my lips and I remembered the night we spent at Jae Kyung’s hotel. I leaned my head gently against hers and instantly lost my battle against sleep.
“Hey!” Grandfather’s voice woke us up. “You planning on sleeping all day? We’re here!”
We both rubbed our eyes, clumsily disentangling ourselves from each other. Somehow, we had ended up with me against the door and her almost on top of me, her arms around my waist and mine around her shoulders. I thought Jan Di would feel uncomfortable at this, but she seemed oddly calm, so I followed her lead.
We got out of the car and looked around, taking in our surroundings. A quick glance at my watch told me that we’d been driving for three hours. I could see the sea before me, but couldn’t place where I was standing. Soon, though, understanding seemed to dawn on Jan Di’s features.
“Grandfather, what are we doing here?” she asked him, and her voice sounded scared.
Jan Di’s POV
As we drew closer to our destination, I felt my feet turning into lead. What could Grandfather possibly be thinking coming to the town my parents were in? I told Ji Hoo that we used to come to this part of the country to visit my uncle, but even though he looked calmer at knowing where we were, he still didn’t understand grandfather’s reasons.
When we finally got to the house where my parents lived, all we could see was a hostile crowd clamoring to be heard.
“Didn’t you say your daughter was engaged to a rich man?”
“The heir of the Shinhwa group, she said!”
“Ha! As if we would ever believe that lie!”
“Pay what you owe us, or we will take it by force!”
I wasn’t sure if the word ’embarrassment’ could wholly embrace all the feelings I got inside the moment I saw how my mother, my father, and my brother were fighting to get their things back: a fan, a vanity table, chairs…
“Stop this!” Ji Hoo took a step forward and everyone fell silent. “Whatever this family owes you, I’ll pay it.”
Every ajhumma stood there star-struck, as if they couldn’t believe a man like that was standing before them in real life. My parents and brother were aghast when they finally saw me standing behind him, and I couldn’t do anything to stop Ji Hoo from opening his wallet to pay their debts.
We were all soon inside the house, sitting around a table with some tea before us.
My mother seemed hardly able to contain her excitement.
Grandfather smiled at my parents and addressed them. “We are sorry to have come unannounced, but I need to speak to you. My name is Yoon Seok Young, president of Yoon group. I don’t know if you’ve met my grandson, Yoon Ji Hoo.” Sunbae bowed his head in greeting. “And this gentleman is Park Chae Yun, my secretary and right hand.”
“Ah, yes… it’s a pleasure to meet you,” my father said, “My name is Geum Il Bong, this is my wife, Na Gong Joo, and this is my son, Kang San. Of course, you already know Jan Di.”
“Naturally, naturally. The reason I’ve come here is to discuss something that relates to her.”
“Jan Di, where’s Jun Pyo?” my mother asked me in a poor attempt at a whisper. “Shouldn’t he be here? Don’t tell me you didn’t snatch him back!?”
“Please, mother. I beg you, don’t say anything.”
“You have to forgive me, sir,” now she spoke directly to Grandfather, “but this seems to be something so formal that I wouldn’t feel comfortable not having my future son-in-“
“Future nothing, omma!” I slapped my hand on the table. “If you must all know, Jun Pyo and I broke up. Remember, he got engaged? Well… he got married!”
My blood boiled when I saw my mom’s disappointment. For her, the goose of the golden eggs had flown out of the window. However, my brother’s look made me sad. I knew he liked Jun Pyo for himself.
Grandfather cleared his throat. “Madam, if you’ll allow me, I’ve come to talk to you, Jan Di’s family, about a delicate issue.”
Every eye in the room fell upon Grandfather.
“As you know, Jan Di and her brother suffered a tough situation when they found the place they lived in demolished overnight. She is now under my care and living in my house.” My family turned to me inquisitively, and I nodded. “Jan Di will finish high school this year, and her dream is to become a doctor. She wishes to study medicine. However, due to an administrative… ‘hole’, her agreement for a scholarship has been declared void.”
“How did that happen, Jan Di? What are you going to do now?” my father asked.
“Please, let me finish,” Grandfather went on. “As I said, it’s an administrative failure and nothing can be done about it. Nevertheless, I have a solution for Jan Di that also concerns you. I’ve come to ask you to leave Jan Di under my guidance throughout all her college years. I will cover all the expenses of her career in the medical program at Shinhwa.”
“Grandfather!” I protested.
“Quiet, child. Can’t you see I’m talking? It is no trouble for me and I have not come to demand some kind of payment for her living expenses. All I ask is that you let her keep living with me, because besides being her sponsor, I’ll be her mentor.”
“Rest assured, madam. As I said before, this also concerns you. I have come to an agreement with certain institutions to pay off all of your debts completely. Should you wish to do so, you will be able to return to your former life in your home in the city. I’m just asking that you leave Jan Di with me.”
“What about me? Don’t I get a say in this? Don’t I have a right to choose!?” I objected.
“Grandfather, maybe you should’ve discussed this with Jan Di first,” My sunbae told him, trying to get me to calm down.
“I’ve said what I came to say. Take it or leave it.”
I couldn’t take it anymore and sprinted out of there.
“Jan Di!” I heard my father’s voice running after me “Jan Di, come here…” When he caught up to me, he hugged me, and I allowed myself to be drawn into his arms. “My daughter, all your life you have had to carry the responsibility of a useless father like me…”
“Shush, it’s true. I always knew you had a great talent for many things. I never want to see you chained up, removed from your passions. I think this is your shot. I don’t care if that man pays our debts, because that’s something I need to work for, but you, my daughter… do you really wish to be a doctor?” I nodded with tears in my eyes “Then accept that man’s offer. God knows you deserve an opportunity like this. Don’t worry about us if this is what you truly want. Go for it, and don’t doubt it. I will be there to support you even if it’s a little.”
“You have always supported me, dad.”
“Then come, dry those tears, and let’s go tell that gentleman you’ll accept.”
Ji Hoo’s POV
As Jan Di ran away from the table, I understood how she must have been feeling. Grandfather had done nothing but surprise us since we woke up that morning.
“Well, sir, you are an angel. Of course we accept. Jan Di also accepts. When will she ever find an opportunity like this again? Besides-“
“Gong Joo, do not say another word,” Jan Di’s father shut his wife up with a stern look. That was a new one. “If you’ll excuse me, sir, I would like to discuss this proposal with my daughter.”
“Of course.” Il Bong ran after Jan Di. “I would love some more tea,” Grandfather said hopefully.
“I’ll bring some more for you, of course!” Jan Di’s mother went to the kitchen.
“Ji Hoo hyung, is it true that noona wants to be a doctor?”
“Yes, Kang San, she wishes it very much.” I could see he was thinking deeply about something before he addressed my grandfather directly.
“Mister Grandfather,” he said, and then did something that would have made Jan Di cry. He knelt on the floor and bowed down. “Please, please, take care of Jan Di. If it’s necessary that we pay back her university expenses, I promise you I’ll grow up and pay you every cent. Please let my noona’s dream come true!”
My grandfather looked at him, surprised at his temerity, but then gave a hearty laugh and rushed to lift him from the floor.
“Young man, your words are payment enough. Your sister is very fortunate to have you at her side. When you grow up, remember to give her back all the kindness she had bestowed on you.”
“Yes, mister Grandfather.”
“Well said, well said. Now, Ji Hoo, come with me, we must find that stubborn girl.”
We walked a bit before we found Jan Di drying her tears and talking to her father.
“Then come, dry those tears, let’s go tell that gentleman you’ll accept.”
“It would be foolish on your part not to do it, child,” Grandfather chimed in.
“If you think that I’m offering you all of this for free and out of the goodness of my heart, you’re wrong! From the moment you accept, you must know that I’m a stern mentor. You will have to learn lots of things, because you won’t be paying for your studies with money, but with hard work.”
“I… I don’t understand,” Jan Di said.
Frankly, neither did I.
“You will keep contributing ideas to the company, but you’ll do it as an informal employee. From now on you will have to learn not only medicine, but the wisdom necessary to provide good judgment and advice for the management of Yoon group. I will teach you many things, and you will have to rise to the occasion every time. Ji Hoo will help you with that. Besides, you will have to resign to your job at the restaurant; trust me when I say you won’t have enough time for two jobs when you start college. However, you’ll still go to the clinic and learn about patient care; that will help you afterward in your intern years.”
“Grandfather… why are you doing all of this for me?”
I could see a smile blooming on my grandfather’s lips, but he conquered it. He seemed reluctant to reveal his true intentions.
“Inquisitive girl! This is a one-in-a-million opportunity. You should accept and be grateful! Mr. Geum, I think it would be best if we go back inside and discuss your situation now.”
“Huh? Yes, of course…”
Jan Di and I watched both of them going away, but then she let out a yell.
My grandfather turned around, made a dismissive wave with his hand, and kept walking.
“I still can’t believe this is happening. Please tell me you didn’t know about this,” Jan Di asked me.
“Of course not. I’m as surprised as you are, although if my grandfather had let me know in advance, I would have participated.”
“I don’t deserve all of this…”
“Of course you do.” I gripped her by her shoulders and turned her to face me. “Of course you deserve it, Geum Jan Di, and I’m happy to know that from now on I will be able to watch from up close as you become an amazing doctor.”
“You really think so, sunbae?”
“When have I lied to you?”
Jan Di hugged me, and I hugged her back. It was short, but I knew she was saying thank you.
As we walked slowly back to her parents’ house, I didn’t know what was going through Jan Di’s head, but I could see into mine pretty clearly. I savored the sweet realization that from now on I would get to live with Jan Di. Had my grandfather said all her college years? That gave us at least ten years. My smile grew wider.
“Aish, I have to get home to trim my hair,” she suddenly said.
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked. I quite liked her hair.
“My fringe has grown too much and sometimes gets into my eyes.”
“I can cut it for you.”
She looked at me for a second with a surprised expression.
“Is there anything you don’t know how to do, sunbae?”
Stop thinking about you.
“I don’t know. But I can cut your hair. Don’t worry; I will only trim your fringe.”
“Eh? What about the rest?”
“Why don’t you leave your hair long, Jan Di?”