Ji Hoo’s POV
Putting aside our recent argument and my anger, I picked up my stuff from the floor, called Secretary Park—who arrived in minutes with an SUV, and took Jan Di home.
“Sunbae? What has happened? How is it that Ga Eul..?” Jan Di was crying nonstop.
“I don’t know yet, Jan Di. I haven’t been able to communicate with Woo Bin, but I will as soon as I drop you off at home.”
“I want to go with you.”
“No. Woo Bin told me clearly in his message that you needed to be safe. He isn’t completely certain who did this, and until he is, our main concern is to keep you and Ga Eul safe. It’s widely known that the best way to attack a person and sorely wound them is not to attack the body…” I looked intently at her. “It’s to attack the heart.”
I could see Woo Bin cared for Ga Eul. I didn’t know how deep his feelings ran, but I was sure he was immensely worried for her. I knew that if something like this happened to Jan Di, I’d be lost.
“We’re here.” I helped her out of the car and then leaned down to look into her eyes. “Jan Di, don’t you dare leave the house. Do you hear me?”
I saw her agitation and knew that sitting at home was the last thing she wanted to do, but she nodded, understanding the severity of the situation. Giving me a hug, she ran inside. I could already see several men dressed in black stationed around my house, their eyes constantly scanning their surroundings. Surveillance from the Song family, no doubt.
“Secretary Park, tell Mrs. Min to give Jan Di a sedative. Have her mix it into her tea or something. Jan Di won’t be able to calm down knowing what’s happening right now. Send Mr. Choi to wait for my grandfather until he finishes his shift in the clinic, and I’ll need you to get me a coat and ensure that my papers are secured.”
“Yes, young master.”
If, God forbid, anything happened to me, I needed to have all my documents in order. Secretary Park would take care of it.
We had to move quickly. Concern was buzzing in my ears. Since Jan Di had become my reason for living, Ga Eul had turned into a great friend and ally. She was one of us—not the F4, just ‘us’. If something happened to our little pack, the rest of us would stand up and defend it.
I arrived at Woo Bin’s house to find it buzzing with activity, the security guards flocking all over the place in their black suits and ear pieces, seeming edgy and angered.
I looked around for my friend, and Woo Bin’s second-in-command of security led me to the living room.
He was putting on a pair of black gloves, but at the sound of my voice, he raised his eyes to look at me.
I had only seen that look one other time, on Jun Pyo, during the darkest days of his life when he didn’t care who he hurt or why. But these eyes were colder and more soulless.
“What did you find out?” I asked him.
“Lee Chul Moo, son of Lee Dong Yul, chief of the northern territories.” His voice was hoarse and monotone.
“It was him?”
“The son of a bitch sent me a message.”
Woo Bin showed me his cellphone.
Dear Prince Song, it is not my wish to hurt your young girlfriend, so I anticipate your cooperation in obtaining domain over the southern territories. I expect a positive answer from your father. Remember: she will pay the price for any delay or false movement.
“They got to Ga Eul when she left campus with a sick man act. When she lowered her guard, they tried to force her into a car. My bodyguards went to help her, but it was an ambush. There were three of them for each one of our men. They tell me Ga Eul fought with all her might, and that’s what worries me… These people are not playing.”
“What are you waiting for?”
“For my techs to triangulate the exact location of her GPS chip. The one in the bracelet I gave Ga Eul for her birthday is at her home, but if we’re lucky, the one in her backpack will tell us where she is, and then…”
I watched him crack his fingers before forming fists.
Both Woo Bin and I had placed GPS devices in Ga Eul and Jan Di’s belongings, a simple precaution we had hoped never to need.
“What can I do?”
“I need you as my conscience, because right now the only thing I want to do is kill him.” He turned to look at me “I’m not kidding, Ji Hoo. I want to kill him, plunge my fists into his guts and twist them while I watch him moan in pain… I need him to suffer for everything he is making her go through. And I would enjoy it. I’m sure I would enjoy it; watching his blood spilling and hearing his screams—”
“I’ll be with you,” I cut him off. I knew this wasn’t who Woo Bin really was, and it wasn’t healthy for his mind to be harboring such dark thoughts.
“Jan Di?” he asked.
“At home, safe. Your men are there.”
“Young master, we have located Miss Chu’s device. It’s in a paper factory outside of town. Our investigation shows it has been closed for the last five years; it’s abandoned. Our best chance is to go and verify she’s there.”
“Have everything ready; we’ll leave immediately.”
“Says who?” a stern voice asked.
“Father…” Woo Bin looked up to see Kwan Suk appearing from the garden.
“Well, Woo Bin? Are you thinking of going there and starting a shootout to rescue Ga Eul?”
“I wish to very much, but I won’t. I was actually about to ask you to come with me. Trust me, father, the pride of the Song Family is constantly in my mind, but please understand that so is Ga Eul’s welfare.”
His father looked at him for several second before granting his petition.
In less than two minutes we were on our way.
Woo Bin’s POV
With every moment that passed, the only thing I could think of was Ga Eul… hurt, unconscious, dead. The mere idea made me tremble all over and feel sick to my stomach.
I knew the reason this fucker was doing this. Chul Moo’s father was sick and planning on making him the successor to the power of the Lee Family, and because my father and I had refused the way they wanted to use us to take the territory, Chul Moo had opted to take the matter into his own hands by directly threatening me. My only advantage? The fact that the asshole didn’t know I had a lead on where he was, the element of surprise…
I had to thank Ji Hoo for being with me. I knew that if anything happened to Ga Eul, not even my father would be able to stop me. But I knew Ji Hoo could.
“We’ve arrived. Boss, we did some recon. There’s no doubt that they’re here,” one of the men said to my father.
“Good. But I’m stepping back. Woo Bin will be leading you this time.” He turned and looked at me.
“Yes, father. Ji Hoo?”
“Right behind you,” he assured me.
I took a deep breath and tried to exert some control over myself. Then I addressed the men.
“Listen up. I need you to neutralize all the external security as quietly as you can. Try not to kill them, but do whatever you need to do in order to subdue them. After that, we will enter. Since he doesn’t know we’ve found him, chances are his inside security is a little lax. This has to be quick, men.”
Within moments my staff had taken down the guards outside with ruthless efficiency, and the so-called security the fucker had on the inside couldn’t even begin to measure up to my own. We picked out the one who seemed the weakest and broke him in a blink. He let us know that Chul Moo only had three men with him.
“Ji Hoo, try to stay in the back until we know we’ve neutralized all of them. I don’t want something to happen to you, too.” He nodded. “Moo Kyul, Jung In.”
“Sir,” both my personal bodyguards replied as one.
We entered quickly but quietly. The factory was huge, and every slight sound produced an echo. We decided to start in the obvious place: the basement. For holding someone hostage, it was the ideal place.
We went through the first sublevel and heard nothing, but as soon as we descended to the second one, we picked up the echoing sounds of soft music and chatter. As we approached a heavy door set into the wall, the sound got louder.
“Deal with it,” I ordered tersely.
It was more than enough. My men went through the doors, and the sounds of screaming and fighting ended abruptly after just a few seconds. It was Moo Kyul who came out to make the announcement.
“Sir, everything is ready.”
I entered the space, my eyes scanning the room for Ga Eul. It looked like a big storehouse with several other rooms leading off of it. There was a table, two chairs, a TV, a radio, and on the ground, Chul Moo, his nose gushing blood thanks to one of my men. His other two minions were unconscious in a corner, but when I saw Jung In dragging a half-dressed man out of one of the rooms, I began to tremble with fury.
“Sir… I think it would be better if you check in here first. She might need… medical attention,” Jung In said.
“Ji Hoo!” I called.
“I’m here. Want me to go with you?”
I nodded and entered the room.
Nothing will ever erase that image from my head.
Ga Eul was lying on a bed, unconscious, handcuffs securing each of her wrists to a metal headboard, her lips split and bloody, her blouse open, and her jeans on the floor…
Fear gripped my heart and squeezed.
“Ga Eul, Ga Eul wake up!”
Ji Hoo approached the bed and covered Ga Eul’s exposed body with a sheet, then focused on trying to elicit a reaction from her. Jung In came back in with the handcuff key and set about releasing her chafed and bleeding wrists from their bonds. I simply hadn’t reacted yet. My brain was still reeling from the shock of seeing her like that. I had to make an effort to speak.
“Jung In, follow the plan and bring my father here.” He acquiesced and left. For the first time, I approached the bed. “Ji Hoo, tell me she… please tell me they didn’t…”
“No, I don’t think so. It seems that we got here just in time, but she has been drugged.” He showed me the pills on the floor. “She won’t react for now, but I can tell you she fought tooth and nail, literally; her wrists are cut from struggling with the cuffs, she was beaten in the face and ribs, the scratches in her legs tell me she didn’t let her jeans come off easily, and the same goes for her blouse—several buttons are missing.”
The next few seconds happened too quickly and at the same time seemed to take place in slow-motion. Rage filled me, erasing everything from my mind except the horrifying image of Ga Eul’s battered body. I didn’t hesitate for an instant before pulling the gun from my belt, sliding back the lock, and walking to put a bullet between the eyes of the fucker who’d dared to hurt her. However, before I could walk two steps, a force came from the side and knocked me to the ground. I’d never seen Ji Hoo move so fast, or tackle so hard; living up to the teachings of the F4. The fact that Ji Hoo didn’t like to dirty his hands didn’t mean he didn’t know how to use them.
“Snap out of it! You can get revenge later, but we need to take her to a hospital, now!” he yelled at me.
He’s right. This can’t end hastily for them, not if it’s in my hand. I need to cool down and think about it calmly… I am Song Woo Bin, and I will make them remember that fact for the rest of their miserable lives.
“We will take her to my house. The family doctor will prepare a room if necessary. I don’t want her to deal with any more stress.” I finally said. I also didn’t want her out of my sight, but I didn’t mention that.
“Young master,” Jung In was back. “Your father is here, as well as Mr. Lee.”
I’d instructed them to call Dong Yul when we arrived. I thought I would feel compelled to spare Chul Moo’s life if his father was there. I straightened up and returned to the storehouse just in time to see Dong Yul throw a hard right hook to his son’s face. It was just one, but more than enough to put him on the ground again. My father stood a few steps behind him with an inscrutable expression.
“Mr. Lee,” I greeted him coldly.
“…Young master Song.” His voice quivered.
“I don’t think I need to explain the reason why I asked them to bring you. I apologize if it was a bit brusque.”
“It couldn’t have been any other way.” He was seething. “I never thought you were this stupid!” he berated Chul Moo, kicking him hard in the side.
“Calm down, please. I won’t do anything against your son. However, I have to tell you that I was not the person most affected by this attack. Ji Hoo?” I called back toward the room and he emerged with Ga Eul in his arms. “She…” I pointed at her and allowed cold fury to fill my eyes, “had nothing to do with this matter. Nothing.”
Mr. Lee paled as he finally understood the true gravity of his son’s mistake. Chul Moo had not only tried to bribe the son of the mafia Chief in Korea, he had tried to harm his ‘girlfriend’. For the first time, Dong Yul looked worried.
Ji Hoo went on ahead of me so he could begin to treat Ga Eul immediately. I put a few men on them to ensure their safety. Then I turned to Dong Yul again.
“It’s fortunate for you that this matter didn’t go any further than it did. We can leave it here. Nonetheless, Mr. Lee, I wish to hear no more about the seizing of the southern territories.”
He had to accept this condition. It was mandatory and he knew it, but it wasn’t an easy pill to swallow. He had been a step away from reaching an agreement with my father, and now his own flesh and blood had ruined it for him.
“It will all remain as it was…” he said through clenched teeth.
“Good. I have no intentions to stretch this meeting out any longer. Chul Moo,” I crouched at his side, watching as he tried to contain the blood hemorrhaging from his nose. He looked at me with pure hatred in his eyes. “Today was just a warning. Mess with my woman again and I will literally rip your insides out through your nose. I swear it.” I felt too little satisfaction when I saw him shiver in fear.
“I assure you this won’t go unpunished, young master Song. Of course it won’t. And I trust that this dispute won’t injure the bond between the Lee family and your own.” His words came out edged with humiliation. A man like Lee Dong Yul wasn’t use to groveling to anyone.
“Father,” I said, pointedly ignoring Dong Yul. Let him suffer for a bit worrying about the family relationships. “I think we’re done here.”
“This is your party, Woo Bin,” my father reminded me.
“Then… Mr. Lee, can I ask you a favor?”
“Name it, young master Song.”
“This guy—” I pointed to the man Jung In had hauled from the room where Ga Eul had been imprisoned, his pants fly still open. “Can you lend him to me for a few hours?”
Dong Yul glanced at the man, and understood instantly what his role had been in his son’s plan.
“No one is indispensable.” Translation? He didn’t care if I killed his minion.
“Well then,” I made my best effort to smile and extended my hand, “I’m sure that what happened today won’t ever be repeated in the future, right?”
“You can be certain of it.” Dong Yul shook my hand, lowering his head. Then he tentatively approached my father. “Kwan Suk-ssi, I must apologize for my son’s ineptitude. I’ll personally see to his punishment.” He offered his hand, but my father didn’t acknowledge the gesture.
“Don’t expect me to be as generous as my son, Dong Yul. You know how this would’ve ended in our time. Go, take your son, and be thankful for what has been granted to you today.”
Dong Yul turned red and ordered two of his men to retrieve the unconscious ones, then he seized his son by the arm, took a deep bow (forcing Chul Moo to do the same), and finally left.
“Father,” I said, taking off my gloves and walking toward the bastard who was now trying to scurry away like a frightened rat, “I might take a while.” I popped my neck, shoulders, and fingers to get a bit more comfortable. I was so going to enjoy this.
“I’ll stay, in case you get tired,” he said with a knowing grin.
I returned the gesture and lifted my fist for the first blow.
Jan Di’s POV
I got up without knowing exactly when I had fallen asleep. The clock said 7:00, which meant Ji Hoo had left at least four hours ago. I checked my cellphone and saw a new message.
We rescued Ga Eul. She’s going to be alright. For now, she’s unconscious. Don’t worry, she’s being tended. I’m going to stay with Woo Bin today. Tell grandfather.
I let out a heavy breath I didn’t even know I was holding, glad to know that she was safe.
I knew Woo Bin would save her.
I wanted to call but then decided against it, not wanting to interrupt their focus on Ga Eul’s recovery. I would call sunbae before going to sleep tonight.
I got out of bed and stretched, thinking it would be good to eat something. On the way to the kitchen, I glimpsed someone in Ji Hoo’s room and stopped to investigate. At this hour, it wouldn’t be staff. They’d finished cleaning hours ago. I quietly crept closer and saw none other than Ju Mi standing in Ji Hoo’s closet holding what seemed to be a… shoe box?
At the sound of my voice, she jumped like a scalded cat and dropped the box.
“Ja-Ja-Jan Di! W-What are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here?”
“I came to… to… to leave your stuff! You left in a hurry, and when I tried to catch up with you two, I saw you running to the parking lot. When I finally got there, you were gone. And since I don’t know where you live… I…”
“Yes, well, thank you. There was a problem with a friend of ours and… Wait, you still haven’t answered my question. What are you doing here? In Ji Hoo’s room?”
Guilt was written across her face.
“Jan Di, please… Please don’t say anything. When I got here there was an army of guards! They only let me through because I had your stuff and… if I have to be honest, I thought it would be a perfect excuse to see sunbae—you know, spend some time with him… But there was no one here, and they left me waiting in the living room, and, well… I got curious.” She truly looked embarrassed, but that was no excuse. What if she discovered that I was living here? “I swear I haven’t stolen anything! I just wanted to learn something about him, and you see…”
“Ju Mi, would you like if someone went to your house, snuck into your room, and went through your stuff? Even if you like a person very much, that doesn’t give you the right to invade his privacy!”
“I swear I didn’t have any ill intentions. Please, please Jan Di, don’t tell sunbae. Look, this is the only thing I took; it was in the lower part of his closet.” She pointed to the box on the floor, and for the first time I focused all my attention. Was that…?
“Okay, I won’t say anything, but you need to leave, Ju Mi. Grandfather won’t arrive until 9, and sunbae won’t come… today.” I had almost slipped and said he wouldn’t come ‘home’.
“Of course! Yes… So then…” She picked up the box. She hadn’t even looked inside, she assured me. The lid had just popped off when she got scared and dropped it. At least that’s what she told me.
Two minutes later, Ju Mi was gone.
I had half a mind to reprimand her further for her snooping, but the box had caught my attention. I went back to Ji Hoo’s room, opened his closet, and saw that I had been right. I would recognize that box anywhere. It had contained the shoes he gave me in Macao.
It was odd, nonetheless. All of Ji Hoo’s shoes were perfectly aligned, one pair next to the other, without a box. Curiosity filled me. Sheesh, I thought, I’m no better than Ju Mi.
“Why do you still have this?” I pondered aloud.
I wrestled with myself for several minutes before finally deciding to take the box out.
It was kind of heavy. I shook it and could hear things inside. I felt I was doing something forbidden, so I sprinted to my room with it and then sat and argued with myself for several minutes more about opening it.
Finally, I gave up and lifted the lid. What I found surprised me beyond words.
Everything in there was… mine, or at least had something to do with me. There was the umbrella I had left on Ji Hoo’s violin that snowy day at Shinhwa as well as the handkerchief I used to tend to his wounded finger. I found a pair of gloves I thought I had lost several years ago, and then I remembered that I had left them on the sofa after Ji Hoo and I finished our ‘date’. What surprised me the most was the stack of pictures we had taken that day on the park, the pretend ‘wedding’ pictures. How had he gotten those? I blushed when I saw them again. We had been so close… I stared at them one by one, slowly remembering that day.
Was I in love with him then? I asked myself this with every article I found. There were my hospital papers from when my shoulder was diagnosed and they told me I wouldn’t be able to swim professionally again; I still remembered Ji Hoo’s thumbs wiping away my tears. The flying tickets from Macau to Seoul, the receipt for the shoes… his voice and smile echoed in my mind.
“I’ve always wanted to buy you something with the first money I earned.”
When did he find the time to buy the shoes?
The picture we took with the living statue eating ice cream was there, also the ones with Yi Jung and Woo Bin—all four of us wearing masks, my graduation pictures, and others from many different occasions throughout the last two years. There was also the Van Gogh postcard on which I had drawn his face. I couldn’t believe he had saved all of these things.
The last thing in the box was a small USB drive.
I’ve already come this far, I told myself after turning on my laptop and plugging in the USB.
When I opened it, I found three folders: Pictures, Videos, and Songs.
The first one was filled with hundreds of photos from even before I came to live with Ji Hoo. I couldn’t remember most of them, but there they were. In some I was with Ga Eul, in others with the F3, with grandfather, in college… In several of them I was sleeping. There were also many photos of Ji Hoo and I together. Those were my favorite.
The second folder had videos of outings we’ve taken with grandfather: to the park, the zoo, clinic days, college expositions and projects, birthdays, Christmases, New Years… each clip carefully labeled.
My heart was already beating furiously, no longer in fear of being caught in the act of going through Ji Hoo’s things, but in wonder at discovering he had saved so many mementos of me, of us. I wasn’t sure what to think. Hope flared to life within me, but I cautioned myself. I didn’t want to assume anything or mistake Ji Hoo’s feelings when it had only been a few weeks since I’d admitted my true feelings for him to myself.
I tried to calm down and clicked to open the last folder, Songs. There were several files. Some were digital music sheets from a special software Ji Hoo had on his computer; he liked composing digitally because he could make changes if he got something wrong and not waste paper. There were several MP3 files as well, but what really caught my eye was a sub-file named “For her”. I opened it, and the file names leapt out at me: Waiting, Because I’m stupid, Here I am, But you’ll never know it… and many more.
I double clicked the first one and heard the same guitar melody I’d heard one night in Macau, the song I had asked Ji Hoo to sing to me the day I almost drowned in Jae Kyung’s hotel. It was the first time I really listened to the lyrics:
If your heart calls for me,
Don’t hesitate to come back to my arms
I’ll hug you like the old times.
He told me he had composed that one, and it was truly beautiful. Maybe he had written it for Seo Hyun. Since it was in a folder called “For her”, that was the first thing that came to my mind. I quickly clicked to listen to the next one.
I’m really very foolish
I know of no one other than you
You’re looking at someone else
Yet you have no idea how I feel about you
I won’t be in your days
I won’t be in your memories either, however
Only at you, I can look only at you
And the tears keep coming.
It was only a guitar and his voice. The song was a sad one. I saw that he had composed this one, too; the sheet music said so. In fact, I realized as I looked through them, every sheet of music in the folder had his signature.
Was he thinking about me?
I was appalled to be so presumptuous, but… it felt that way. Were these songs about me, or did I just want them to be? My first instinct had been to think of Seo Hyun, of course. She was his first love. But the rest of the box contained only things related to me or us. Why couldn’t these songs be for me as well? After listening to ‘Waiting’ again, I was convinced that the ‘her’ in the song was me. I rushed to listen to the third song.
Here I am
Opening up my heart for you,
Filling up your lack of love,
Standing guard against the pain.
I’ll take care of you, don’t be afraid,
You just have to say yes…
The sincere words and haunting melody brought tears to my eyes. Could it be? Could it really be? Was there a chance that Ji Hoo had the same feelings for me that I had for him?
Maybe these things are from before, old things. After all, he did kiss me once, so he must have liked me, at least a little. But everything was over quickly and it didn’t happen again… don’t get your hopes up, don’t get your hopes up…
Even as I was repeating the last phrase in my head like a mantra, I opened one more song in the folder.
But you’ll never know my love,
Will never suspect it my love,
You’ll have me in a corner babe,
Masking all of my pain.
And you will be with him
You will be kissing him
And you will never guess about my love for you.
I was finally crying… Was this what he had felt all this time? Had he suffered through my relationship with Jun Pyo? Could it be that Ji Hoo was also in love with me?
And if he was, since when? How had I not noticed? I had to look at this objectively. There was the possibility that he had kept all these things just because he liked me at some point… but what about the recent pictures?
Maybe I had a chance to bring back whatever he had felt for me when he kept those things. Recently I had told Kyung Mi the reason why I didn’t want to confess to Ji Hoo: I didn’t want to see our special relationship ruined if he didn’t feel the same. But now, sitting in my bed surrounded by all these items, I wondered if it was time to let go of my fear. Each and every photo and memento was an important memory for me, an important memory with Ji Hoo. We had a bond, a history. Nothing was going to destroy that.
I sighed… Once again I wanted to smack myself for not noticing my feelings earlier.
It wouldn’t have made any difference, though. I wouldn’t have been sure whether he loved me back or not. The only thing that has changed now is that I know I have a special place in his heart, maybe more than I thought. Or could I be wrong? What do I do now? Ji Hoo, I love you… Do you feel the same?
Woo Bin’s POV
It was just after 8 o’clock. I was kneeling on the floor next to the bed, waiting for Ga Eul to open her eyes. Ji Hoo was sleeping in a chair next to the door. Ga Eul was still unconscious, but she was breathing evenly now. A needle in her arm dripped serum into her bloodstream from a bag suspended on a pole near her head. Her eyelids had fluttered open at some point in the afternoon, but she had seen the doctor looming over her while he was doing his examination and had screamed in terror. Ga Eul had beat wildly at him with her arms and legs, forcing him to retreat a few steps. She only calmed down when she saw that I was in the room too. The doctor had started a sedative for her so she could rest. The only thing I could wish was for the disappearance of the frown on her face that showed she was having a nightmare.
Suddenly, Ji Hoo stood up from his chair, startled.
“Hey, are you alright?” Concern clouded his eyes and he pressed a hand to his chest as if to still his racing heart.
“Yeah, I think so. It’s just that…”
“Forget it, I don’t know if you would take me seriously.”
He sighed before answering, but didn’t look me in the eye. “It’s Jan Di.”
“What about her?”
“That’s the thing. I don’t know how to explain it. I think she’s restless or worried.”
“Are you trying to tell me that you woke up because you had a feeling about Jan Di’s… feelings?”
“Yeah,” He replied in a soft voice, clearly embarrassed.
I remained quiet for a few seconds, pondering the possibilities.
“Why don’t you call her?” I asked him.
“You don’t think I’m crazy?” Ji Hoo finally looked at me.
“No. Maybe you can feel her. If twins can do it, why not two people that care for each other? You and Jan Di share a strange bond. It’s weird, but you really get each other.”
Ji Hoo smiled. He knew I would never judge his feelings for Jan Di. Actually, after all the time he’d spent loving her, who would? He had been her protector for years, but he still didn’t dare to confess his feelings for her.
“I’ll call her. If she’s awake, she must be anxious for news about Ga Eul.” He stretched a bit. “I’ll be in the next room. If you need anything, just let me know.”
Ji Hoo had offered to stay with me to keep close tabs on Ga Eul’s treatment and recovery. He also thought a familiar face would scare her less than a strange doctor. He didn’t know how much it meant to me for him to be next to me at that moment. Ji Hoo and I had grown closer since Jun Pyo and Yi Jung’s departure. Maybe it was because our brothers were far away and we needed a way to fill the void, but maybe it was just that he and I were also brothers deep down.
I was tired, but I was too worried to sleep. I waited and wondered if Ga Eul would wake up wearing her usual smile, blinking those lively eyes, and showing her special personality that had changed so much with the years. Getting to know her more these past few months had been a delightful surprise.
The words I had said to Chul Moo had been true: if he ever touched her again I would kill him. But I had also called Ga Eul “my woman”. I hadn’t realized how much I wanted this to be true until the words left my mouth. I had stopped seeing any other women. Through all those private classes with Ga Eul, the ice cream dates, the calls, the texts… she had wrapped me up in her charms before I knew it was happening. Her presence had drawn me in completely, and I could no longer deny it, didn’t want to deny it: I had fallen in love with Ga Eul.
“Mmm…” she gave a distinct moan of pain.
“Ga Eul? Can you hear me? How do you feel?”
Abruptly her eyes snapped open and she backed away, scrambling to the furthest corner of the bed and causing pain to herself as the needle taped to the inside her elbow dug deeper.
“Ga Eul! It’s okay. It’s all good. I’m here… see?” I slowly approached her, showing her my hands so she wouldn’t fear me. She stared at me for a couple of seconds, blinking back the fog of sleep, and I watched as recognition filled her eyes.
“Woo… Woo Bin? How is it that-?”
“Yeah, I’m here. Just relax… everything’s alright…”
Her eyes filled with tears before she launched herself into my arms. She crushed her slender body against me, and wrapped my arms around her, pulling her more tightly into my embrace. I was overwhelmed by the feeling that washed over me. I wanted to keep her there always, close to me, safe…
“Woo Bin!” she sobbed, her tears dropping onto my shirt. I caressed her back, soothing her and calming her with murmured words of comfort.
“It’s okay now, Ga Eul. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I let something like that happen to you.” I pulled away slightly and cradled her crying face with my hands. “I swear to you that you’ll never be in danger again because of me… Ever.”
And suddenly we were kissing.
It was a desperate kiss, breathless and intense. Her emotion and mine flooded through us both, and our efforts to gain control were swept away as the kiss grew more urgent. Her lips were warm, softer than I’d imagined, and as my tongue found hers, I tasted the salt of her tears, imploring me to hold her tighter. My hands ran over her shoulders, her neck, her back, roaming over her body as if seeking proof that she was whole and unharmed. Through a haze of desire, I realized that I had slowly crept into the bed with Ga Eul, kneeling in front of her, locked in a kiss that seemed endless… until she made a sound of pain.
I pulled back to look into her eyes. “Are you alright?” I was panting.
Our frantic caresses had dislodged the needle, and now Ga Eul was bleeding. I climbed off of the bed and went to the door.
“Wait here; I’ll call Ji Hoo.”
I turned around to face her and took in her eyes filled with questions, her accelerated breath, and her beautifully flushed pink cheeks. Suddenly I was unsure of what to say. The most probable thing was that Ga Eul had let herself go with the flow of the moment and I didn’t wanted to dump my feelings onto her like that… I was sure she didn’t feel the same.
“Rest. I’ll be back shortly.”
And with that, I left the room.
Ga Eul’s POV
When several men had grabbed me and forced me into the black SUV, my terror was only rivaled by my confusion. They’d put a hood over my head as we traveled, so I had no idea where they were taking me. The first thing I saw when they removed it was that we were in some kind of warehouse. The guy who I’d seen at Woo Bin’s house a few weeks ago was there. He told me everything was going to be alright, that he only wanted my “boyfriend” to do him a favor, and that I should behave if I didn’t want something bad to happen to me.
There were three other guys with him. I thought if I managed to get my hands free, I could defend myself. I remembered the classes I’d had with Jung In and focused on trying to release myself. Miraculously and after much effort, I did it, but it turned out to be a mistake. One of the three guys had been watching me and slapped me, grabbing me roughly by the hair.
“Did you think I didn’t notice what you were trying to do? What were you planning, girl? Gonna run away?”
I kicked him in the shin, and when he cried out in pain, his other two friends came to help him. It was time to find out if the teachings of Jung In and Woo Bin had borne fruit. I could hardly believe it when I was able to take on all three of them, but despite my efforts, I knew I couldn’t hold out for long. Suddenly, a gunshot rang out, freezing me on the spot.
“Behave, would you?” Chul Moo had fired into the ceiling to warn me and was now holding his gun, pointing it at me. “The last thing I want is trouble. Do you really think your ridiculous attacks can help you against my men? Think again.”
I had known fighting my way out was a long shot, but it was satisfying to realize that Chul Moo had been forced to intervene because he saw I was doing serious damage with my blows. Unfortunately, he also knew I wouldn’t stand in front of a gun. I wasn’t stupid.
“Hey, boss… can’t I take her? After all, no one will know. I promise I won’t leave marks,” the one who hit me asked Chul Moo. He seemed to think about it for a second while his gaze roamed over me.
“Okay, but don’t make a ruckus, you hear me? And be careful, I don’t want a repeat of last time.”
“That wasn’t intentional, boss.”
“It wasn’t an accident that you left that girl’s face like pulp, you asshole! If Prince Song’s girlfriend returns in that condition, we are as good as dead.”
“I understand, I’ll try to be nice.“
At gunpoint I was dragged to some kind of service room inside the warehouse. The guy was a total brute. Fear coursed through me like acid as he tossed me onto the bed and handcuffed me to the headboard.
“Don’t worry, you’ll enjoy it,” he winked at me.
I screamed my lungs out, kicked, twisted; I did everything I could to keep him off me.
When one of my kicks hit him square in the stomach, he slapped me again, harder this time, a string of filthy profanity spewing from his mouth. Then he got up. I thought he was going to leave me alone when I saw him exiting the room, but soon he was back with some pills in one hand and a bottle of water in the other.
Covering my nose and face, he forced me to swallow a handful of the pills and left me alone again.
I didn’t know what the hell I had taken, but I could guess what it was for. I tried to vomit, but I couldn’t; I tried to slip my wrist through the handcuffs, but it was useless. I kept screaming, but no one came. Clearly we were well out of range of anyone who might overhear my cries.
I couldn’t tell how much time had passed before the scumbag returned, but I was already feeling dizzy. I remembered him smiling down at me, confident there was no fight left in me, but I surprised him. When he tried to take off my jeans, I fought him tooth and nail, although not as strongly as before. When my pants lay in a crumpled heap on the floor, he moved on to my blouse, straddling my waist on the bed to hold me down. Just as he grasped the filmy material, I managed to bring my knee up and connect to his jewels. His girly scream was music to my ears, but my bravery would cost me several strong and heavy blows to the mouth, stomach, and ribs. This guy clearly didn’t have any scruples about hitting women.
“You’re still fighting me, but soon you’ll be panting and asking me to give it to you, bitch…”
I felt him tearing away the remaining buttons of my blouse and saw him unbuckle his belt. My vision started to blur even more and the dizziness clouded my thoughts. Tears sprung to my eyes when I realized I was about to be raped.
Why like this? Why? If I could’ve chosen someone to have my first time with, it would’ve been…
A weak throb of surprise flashed through my head as the last shreds of my consciousness conjured up a face: Woo Bin. After that, everything went black.
And now, I was kneeling on a bed with a bleeding arm and a racing heartbeat, trying to catch my breath after being kissed by the very man I’d thought about before passing out. How had it happened? I didn’t know, but it had been amazing—comforting and wild at the same time. The last thing I should’ve wanted was for any man to come near me, but as I was learning, Woo Bin wasn’t just any man.
All the attraction I’ve felt for months…
When had my initial fascination turned into such a strong emotional bond?
It scared me. Here I was thinking about Song Woo Bin, Casanova of the F4, one of the most beautiful men in Korea and heir to the mafia family that controlled the whole country! It was true that we’d become closer in recent years. Could that closeness have grown into… I didn’t dare name the feeling, even to myself.
What would our future hold if Woo Bin found out what I felt for him?
“Ga Eul?” His voice startled me.
He reentered the room, this time with Ji Hoo.
“Ga Eul, it’s good to see you awake,” Ji Hoo said. “Let me check that arm before you injure yourself further.”
I let Ji Hoo do what he needed to, only half hearing him when he told me all traces of the drug had left my body. My gaze was focused on Woo Bin, but his was focused on Ji Hoo.
Maybe for him, that kiss was just the impulse of the moment. The rescue, the worry… What did that kiss mean to you, Woo Bin?
Ji Hoo’s POV
I had stayed all night with Woo Bin and Ga Eul.
She told us what she could remember of her ordeal, and we told her about how we managed to rescue her. She was clearly touched by the account of how Woo Bin had fought to save her; the bandages on his knuckles said more than his words could. At least the idiot in the hospital was going to survive. True, his face would never be the same, and he would need several months of recovery plus reconstructive surgery, but he would live…
And neither Woo Bin nor I felt even a twinge of guilt.
When I got home, I took a shower. Jan Di wasn’t there. She must have gone to class already.
Relaxing under the hot water, I finally had a chance to mull over the events of the day before: Jung seonsaegnim, Jan Di, her smile, the ring… How is it that I didn’t notice before that she liked him? Jan Di never said a word, and I had never noticed anything special between the two of them. Or maybe Ju Mi was right, and they wanted to keep it a secret because he was a teacher and it wouldn’t be considered appropriate, especially at a college like Shinhwa.
I banged my fist against the ceramic tiles.
What was I supposed to do? Since I had promised myself to shelter her, I had. I had tried to show her my love throughout the years we had lived together. We had developed a deeper trust and a stronger bond than many real couples had… Did all of that mean nothing to her? Had I been stupid not to tell her about my feelings? Now that she was in love with someone else, did I stand a chance?
Don’t fool yourself, Ji Hoo. You had a chance and you blew it. Then you had a second one and did it again.
I didn’t want to see her right now, but it was necessary. I needed to tell her how Ga Eul was doing. The night before when I had called her, she quickly hung up, telling me she wasn’t feeling well. Even though I was angry at her, at myself, and at the world, I was still worried, so I told her to go to bed early and take an aspirin or something.
Secretary Park had left my bike in my parking lot, so I hopped on and was at the university in no time.
When I got there, I checked my cellphone to see what class Jan Di would be in right now: classroom 608. I took the elevator; the last thing I wanted right now was to climb stairs.
My time was impeccable; her classes would end in just a few minutes. I glanced through the window of the classroom door and saw that the teacher was Jung seonsaengnim.
Fuck my luck… if I have any left.
Less than five minutes later, the bell rang, the students spilled out of the door, and I waited at a prudent distance for Jan Di to emerge… but she never came out. Instead, that third-rate teacher stepped out and closed the door behind him.
“Oh, Yoon Ji Hoo,” he exclaimed when he saw me approaching.
“Jung seonsaengnim,” I greeted him in forced politeness.
“If you’re looking for Jan Di, she’s in the infirmary.”
“I could tell she was tired, so I sent her there. Come, I’ll walk with you. I have to see some senior students.”
I couldn’t refuse without a good reason, and besides, he seemed to know why Jan Di was in the infirmary. While we walked, I wondered if Woo Bin would be willing to return the favor from the previous day and fill one more bed in the hospital.
“Jan Di came on time to class, but I noticed she was acting strange. After fifteen minutes, she was turning pale, so I told her to go rest in the infirmary,” he explained. “Before she left, she told me some kind of accident had occurred to a friend of hers and she was very worried; she hasn’t slept enough. Maybe that’s why she was like that. Is it all okay now? Her friend –Ga Eul I think she said her name was– is she okay now?”
“More than okay, thanks for asking.” I was clenching my teeth trying to stay quiet but I lost the fight. “I see Jan Di confides in you, Jung seonsaengnim.”
“It’s weird to share those kind of things with a teacher, huh?” He laughed. “But Jan Di is a good girl.”
“It’s even weirder for a teacher to go out with a student.”
He froze on the spot and looked at me. I hadn’t planned to say anything like that, but my blood was boiling, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if steam was coming out of my pores.
He signaled me to a deserted hallway and I followed.
“Jan Di told you?” he asked, astonished.
“Not exactly…” It had been Ju Mi, actually.
“Well, of course not. She promised not to tell. It’s true. It is weird for a teacher to go out with a student, but believe me, it was something I couldn’t help—”
“Couldn’t help!?” I raised my voice, forgetting that we were in a public place. “You are not even supposed to be looking at the students that way!” I hissed.
“I understand your reaction. Any person of good judgment would think as you do,” he sighed, “but the heart doesn’t always choose. Sometimes love simply happens. Have you ever been in love?”
Oh, this guy was begging for it, and I was more than willing to give it to him, but first I wanted to hear him out. If he had even the tiniest ill intention towards Jan Di, I would make him regret it.
“Of course I’ve been in love,” I finally answered.
“Then you understand this was something I didn’t plan! Even if she’s a student, I love her with all my soul, and I’m willing to wait until her graduation to start going out with her formally. The last thing I want is for her to have any kind of trouble with her family or the college. Ji Hoo, I fought with all I had in me to stay silent and kill what I feel… but it was impossible.”
While he talked, his eyes filled with light and a smile crept across his face. There was no doubt about it, I had worn that same face until one day ago. Everything he was saying was true, but that didn’t make him less detestable in my eyes or lessen my anger.
“I understand.” I breathed deeply before I asked him something I didn’t want to. “Will you protect her?”
He met my gaze and his demeanor changed.
“With my life,” was his final answer.
This man was profoundly and completely in love with Jan Di. I could see it. It wouldn’t be easy to let her go. I wasn’t even sure that I was capable of something like that, but it wasn’t as if I could take away her freedom and lock her in a box so no one else but me could care for her.
“It’s good to know… that you love her like that.” A sense of loss squeezed my heart with icy fingers.
“Jan Di was right. You’re a great man, Ji Hoo. I don’t feel uncomfortable talking to you.”
“The feeling is not mutual,” I snapped.
“Don’t worry.” We started walking again. “I know what you must think of me, but even so, I’m not ashamed of how I feel.” He smiled and patted my shoulder before approaching a group of students waiting for him at the end of the hall.
I entered the infirmary and, after greeting the doctor, went to the bed Jan Di was resting on. More than once I had spent my time watching her sleep, contemplating her long lashes, her pink lips, her soft breathing… I didn’t know how much longer I’d be able to steal those moments.
“Jan Di, wake up… Hey, Jan Di,” I said gently.
“Mmm? Oh, Ji Hoo sunbae!”
I was surprised when she sat up, smiled widely at me, and threw her arms around me in a tight embrace.
“Hi, there! What is the hug for?”
“Because I was also worried about you. How’s Ga Eul?”
“Safe. We were with her almost all night, and I imagine she’s still at Woo Bin’s, since we don’t want to alarm her family. She has a couple of big bruises on her face, so she won’t go home until they fade. If someone asks, Ga Eul is staying with you.”
“Okay. When can I call her?”
“Right now if you want.”
She immediately went for her cellphone and called Woo Bin. I stayed with her while she talked with Ga Eul, her voice on the verge of tears, telling her she was a fool for getting kidnapped, that she loved her, and to never make her worry like that.
After a few more minutes, we gathered her stuff and fell back into our usual routine, but with a small difference: Jan Di was herself again.
It seemed as if our roles had been reversed; Now I was the one avoiding her. Maybe Ju Mi had told her I already knew about the teacher and her and that’s why she was calmer? Did she think our relationship could go back to what it was before?
Maybe it was that easy for her, but not for me.
Jan Di’s POV
I had tried to put everything back in the box in the same order I had found it before placing it back in the closet where it belonged.
After that night of discoveries, I had tried to go back to my usual routine with Ji Hoo, but now he was acting strange. Did it have something to do with Ju Mi? For her part, Ju Mi was so happy I hadn’t told Ji Hoo about her snooping that she grew more confident each day about her confession, which she planned to make in a week.
“The exams start tomorrow,” I lamented to Kyung Mi as the day approached.
“Yes, and I can’t believe you still haven’t told him anything.”
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“Jan Di, after all the proof you found in that box, do you have any doubt that he loves you!?”
“What if those things are just evidence of past feelings, Kyung Mi? Maybe he doesn’t feel that way anymore.”
“You’ll never know if you stay silent! Jan Di, put yourself out of your misery already. The whole college has the ‘wrong idea’ about you two. Don’t you think that’s for a reason? There’s truth there. You belong together.”
“But Ji Hoo has been acting odd towards me all this past week.”
“Your name means ‘weed’, but I don’t see you doing anything to live up to it.”
Kyung Mi was right. I had to tell him, but I wasn’t sure how, and I was scared shitless imagining Ji Hoo rejecting me. The thought that Ji Hoo could end up with Ju Mi made me feel so wretched with jealousy that I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of him with someone else… and then I started to punish myself for being so selfish.
That day I got home late and dined with grandfather. Ji Hoo had gone to bed early, leaving me no chance to talk to him. It had been days now, and I couldn’t find my opportunity.
Okay Jan Di, now is the time to tell Ji Hoo the things that really matter. Have faith. Everything will be all right. Tomorrow, after the first exam, you’ll look for him, take him to the emergency staircase, and… tell him how you feel.
I spent that night trying unsuccessfully to concentrate on studying while possible confession scenarios ran through my head. I wasn’t getting much schoolwork done, but I felt happy realizing that love had come into my life again. It felt familiar, but also different. I had been in love with Jun Pyo, but the feeling blooming in my heart right now was so unlike my previous infatuation that I couldn’t even begin to compare it, and I didn’t want to. The love I had inside of me was so big I couldn’t contain it.
“Okay, enough mooning around! Stop daydreaming and study, Jan Di. Hwaiting!”
I hit the books until nearly two in the morning, then selected the clothes I would wear the next day—plus a really important accessory I hoped would give me the courage I was still lacking.
Ji Hoo’s POV
Thursday morning I awoke early. I had to attend a business meeting at the office and then sit for two exams at the university. I came out of my room already dressed only to bump into Jan Di emerging from her own.
“Good morning,” I greeted her.
“Good morning!” She beamed at me.
We sat down to eat some breakfast, an unusual energy permeating the atmosphere. Since the day I talked with Jung seonsaengnim, I had begun avoiding her. I stopped doing homework with her, drinking tea with her, watching TV with her, and dining with her. If I had to let Jan Di go when college was over, it was better to end my constant contact with her now. I had even wondered if grandfather would be upset if I moved out under the pretext of becoming more independent.
“Will I see you at the college today?” Jan Di asked me.
“I have two exams this afternoon.”
“Can I see you then? When you finish.”
I found her request disquieting. The last thing I wanted was for her to come forward about her feelings for Jung seonsaengnim.
“I’m not sure if I can.”
“It would be quick! I promise.”
That pout still made my brain turn into putty, so, even knowing I would regret it later, I accepted.
She smiled broadly as she finished her breakfast and started getting her things together. Chae Yun popped her head into the dining room to tell Jan Di that the taxi was near.
“Won’t you ask Secretary Park to take you?” I asked her.
“No, he already hired a taxi service for me. It’s not as if I couldn’t go by bus, too, you know?”
“Don’t even think about it,” I warned her. We weren’t taking any safety risks so soon after Ga Eul’s incident. “What about Mr. Choi?” That was our other driver.
“He caught the flu and is on sick leave for a couple of days. Don’t worry. It’s best if you go with Chae Yun-ssi, he knows the business.” She winked at me.
“Miss Jan Di, the taxi is waiting.”
“Thank you very much Chae Yun-ssi. Well then, I’m leaving.”
Jan Di fixed her blouse neckline when she put on her blue jacket, and it was then that I noticed her necklace: it was the lotus flower one I had given her for graduation. I hadn’t seen it in a while. She said she didn’t put it on for fear of losing it, but now there it was, in full view of everyone.
She noticed I was staring, but she just smiled.
“I’ll wait for you this afternoon.”
“Yeah… sure.” I replied reluctantly. I knew I couldn’t go on pining for her, but I wasn’t sure how to let go of something I’d held onto for so many years.
“Young master, all is ready.” Secretary Park interrupted my thoughts.
“Good. Let’s go.”
It was raining. Inside the car I started to review some meeting documents in an attempt to distract my mind. We had been driving for five minutes or so when I felt Secretary Park slowing down and stopping the car. When I looked up, I saw a big commotion in the road ahead.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Apparently there’s been a car crash, a pretty big one. There’s a smashed car over there. I don’t think we’ll be able to get through here.”
“Well, try to go back or find another route, please.”
“Yes, of course, I just need to— Oh, my God…”
His last words came out so slowly that I was startled by the quickness with which he left the car, running toward the collision site. Seconds later, he came back, totally drenched.
“What is wrong with you?” I asked him.
“Young master, that car out there, smashed in the road… the plate matches the taxi Miss Jan Di was in.”
My body reacted before my brain, and I sprinted to the car. A group of policemen were blocking the passage of curious onlookers so the paramedics had room to work.
“Let me through,” I told one of them.
“Please, stand back!”
“Let. Me. Through!” I yelled, wild with fear.
“Don’t you see they’re working over there? Young man, please, stand—”
“LET ME THROUGH!” I pushed him with all my might.
“Young master!” Secretary Park came to hold me back, preventing a fight between the officer and me.
“Let me go! Jan Di could be in there! Jan Di! Geum Jan Di! JAN DI-AH!”
My screams were lost amid the noise of the crowd, and I could only remember the last thing I saw of her this morning: her smile, her invitation, her neck graced with the necklace I had spent weeks choosing for her. Regret sliced through me as I thought of the way I’d treated her for the last few days. How could I have been so cold? I hadn’t even told her goodbye as she left for school.
I fought against Chae Yun, my cheeks wet with mingled rain and tears. Finally, I dropped to my knees, cursing ineffectually at fate and shouting my rage at the dark sky.
I’d already lost my parents. Was I destined to lose her, too?