Sincheon Boarding House
July 7, 2000
“Hello?” Hearing nothing from the other end of the line, I thought there was something wrong with the phone. I took it off my ear and looked at it before speaking again. “Hello?” I heard a click in response. Putting the phone down, I mused that prank callers are really getting more persistent. It used to be that they would wait until night time but now they do it in the afternoon, too. And a weekday at that. Shaking my head, I watched as Samcheonpo came downstairs with a box.
“Is Yoon Jin still packing up?” I asked him. He nodded and placed the box by the front door along with the other boxes already there. I went up the stairs and knocked on Yoon Jin’s door. I can’t believe that tonight will be the last night they will spend here. For one second I felt sad, but then I realized they can’t stay here as a married couple forever.
Since the wedding Haitai has been sleeping in Yoon Jin’s room to let the newlyweds have some privacy at home. Though Yoon Jin offered him the room, Haitai refused, saying all his stuff was already set up in his and that he planned to move back to his room when they got their apartment in a month. Samcheonpo wasn’t allowed any time off from work in May or June, so they were forced to wait until July to take their honeymoon. Which means that today they are moving out and in a week they will be flying to America for their delayed vacation.
I heard Yoon Jin say come in and entered her old room. She was sitting down on the floor and looking through her old things with a wistful smile on her face. “Yah, Na Jeong-ah… I was really crazy about Seo Taiji Oppa right? I just found this box.” She held up a small white box reverently. “This box holds the corn snacks that he gave me. I can’t believe I still have it.”
I was about to tease her about it when I realized that I sleep with a letter, a pair of gloves, a cap and my phone next to me every night. I really should be the last one to judge. Plopping myself next to her, I started folding some of her clothes.
“Is this everything Yoon Jin-ah? You haven’t forgotten anything?”
She shook her head no. “We have to leave early to visit my parents this weekend so we won’t be here for breakfast. Please let Omma and Ahbojji know how thankful we are to them for everything…” Her voice drifting off, I looked up to see her tearing up.
“Yah,” I said, pushing her playfully. “Are you dying? These are happy times. Omma and Appa knew that there will come a time when you two will move out. What… Were you planning on having your babies here?” I asked jokingly before giving her a quick squeeze. Picking up her box of clothes, I asked, “Anything else you need me to bring down?” When she said no I carefully made my way downstairs. Feeling a pinch on my back, I made a mental note to wear my brace later.
I had just put the box down when Appa came careening through the front door. “Aigoo, what time is it? Yeobo… Why didn’t you shop faster?” he said to Omma who was standing behind him.
Omma glared at him before responding. “Yah… You were the one who kept getting lost. If you hadn’t, we would have been home two hours ago. ”
Looking at them both so frantic, I wondered why it was that they needed to be home so urgently. Drama? Nah, it can’t be that. “What’s wrong? Did something happen?”
Appa just walked past me without answering before looking at the clock on the wall. “Yeobo… it’s already 2.30pm. We just missed him.” With a disappointed sigh he sat down on the couch.
“Who did you just miss? Is anyone going to fill me in?”
Omma sat down next to Appa and gave him a reassuring pat. As if noticing me for the first time since they arrived, she turned to me. “Na Jeong-ah, are Yoon Jin and Samcheonpo done packing?” Distracted by her question for a minute, I was about to answer when I remembered neither of them have answered my question.
“Who did you just miss? Nobody came when you were gone.”
“Na Jeong-ah, we just missed Chilbong’s phone call,” Appa said while grabbing the remote control and turning on the television.
“Why would Joon be calling?” In my chest, my heart felt like it’s been kickstarted back to life. “How did you know he was going to call?”
“He calls every Friday. 1.30pm. That’s our phone date,” Appa answered dismissively. Not even looking at me, he started flipping channels.
I stayed silent for a few minutes, attempting to digest the information. I felt my temper rising so I tried to keep my voice neutral when I spoke again. “When did he start doing that? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
Appa turned to me for the first time since they arrived. “Why would we need to tell you that? How many times do I have to remind you?” He pointed to himself and Omma. “Parents.” He then pointed at me. “Daughter… Aigoo, this girl… Should I tell you whenever the mailman comes too?”
At his remark, I had to consciously hold myself back from stomping my feet in frustration. Omma stood up and stopped in front of me on her way to the kitchen. “It’s not a big deal Na Jeong-ah… He’s been calling every Friday since the end of February.” Looking at me closely she continued. “We never told you because… Well, because Chilbong told us that he just wanted to talk to us. Don’t you all kept in touch with him through emails anyways?”
Since February… He’s been calling every Friday since February. He calls in the middle of the day, knowing I would be at work. He doesn’t want to talk to me… So that call, an hour ago, was Joon?
Suddenly incensed, I started walking upstairs, where Yoon Jin, Samcheonpo, Haitai and Binggrae were all sitting looking at wedding pictures. On my way up I could hear them laughing and talking.
“But Yoon Jin-ah, why are there some duplicates of some and not of others? Were you planning on making another album?” I heard Binggrae ask.
“Ahh,” Yoon Jin said. “I liked some pictures a lot so I just asked for copies.”
Arriving at the landing I saw her gather up some pictures before putting them in an envelope. They all looked up when they realized I was there. Trying to stay cool, calm and collected, I finally spoke.
“Yah… Did any of you know that Joon calls here every Friday?” I asked. Scanning their faces, I noticed that no one was looking at me except for Yoon Jin.
“I didn’t,” Yoon Jin answered. “You know I would have told you if I did.”
“I knew.” Samcheonpo said, raising his hand. “Omma and Ahbojji mentioned it a few months ago when I was trying to figure out how much it would cost to call Korea from abroad.” Yoon Jin gave him a little smack upside the head.
“We just got married and you’re keeping secrets from me already?” She asked him, glaring.
“Why would you need to know when he calls?” Samcheonpo asked her, genuinely puzzled.
I saw Haitai and Binggrae trying to sneak off to their rooms when I looked at them. “What about you two?”
“I…” Haitai hesitated. “… knew. But only because I accidentally picked up the phone once when I came home for lunch. Yeah, I knew he called but I didn’t know it was every Friday, I swear!”
My gaze finally landing on Binggrae, he shrugged his shoulders before responding. “Na Jeong-ah, I’m his cousin… He tells me almost everything.”
Taking a deep breath, I watched as they all braced themselves against what they probably thought was going to be a horrendous tantrum. To throw them off balance, I pasted a smile on my face. Calmly, I said, “That’s good then. Have you guys been keeping in touch with him?”
I pointedly looked at all of them one by one and awaited their answers.
“Yoon Jin and I email him every Monday,” Samcheonpo said. Yoon Jin elbowed him hard on his side before giving me a sheepish smile.
“I write to him every Wednesday,” Haitai said. “Only because that’s when I catch up on the news and it usually involves him.”
“Na Jeong-ah, he’s my cousin. I email him a lot,” At my stare, he looked down to the floor.
All this time… Were they my friends or his? All this time… What else have they been hiding? Never mind… It’s not like I ever asked them to tell me if they kept in touch with him.
I was about to launch into a speech about how I’m perfectly okay about the situation and not to worry because I don’t even really think about him anymore when I spotted Haitai trying to push what looks like a food container behind his back.
“What’s that?” I asked, trying to see over his shoulder. All I needed was a glimpse of the telltale red rice cakes to realize that they had been eating ddukbokki. After I had implicitly asked them, no told them, that I will not be tolerating them eating ddukbokki in the house. Suddenly feeling betrayed by them, I looked at all of them in disbelief.
“I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU ALL HAVE BEEN EATING DDUKBOKKI BEHIND MY BACK! HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON? YOU ALL MUST KNOW HOW MUCH I LOVE DDUKBOKKI!” I yelled. Feeling my breath catch, I had to take pause before continuing. “Do you even know how much I miss hi… Eating ddukbokki? You think you’re the only ones who want to have it in your lives? Ddukbokki… Means a lot to me. I think about it all the time! I would be so happy if I could eat it everyday.” By the end of my last sentence my voice cracked and I had to look away.
As my eyes filled up with embarrassed tears, I saw Binggrae reach behind Haitai for the box of ddukbokki.
“Na Jeong-ah, no need to get all worked up about it,” he said, hesitantly offering it to me. “You can have it. We wanted to tell you about it but there just… It just never seemed like the right time.”
“No, it doesn’t want me,” I said, shaking my head. “It doesn’t want any part of me, and I don’t blame it. It will never look at me the same way again. I’ve made so many mistakes!” They all looked at each other in confusion.
“Are we still talking about ddukbokki?” Samcheonpo whispered to Yoon Jin. “Because I think she’s talking about Chil…” Yoon Jin clapped a hand over his mouth and awkwardly smiled at me.
I turned around and started making my way down the stairs when I heard Haitai’s voice.
“Na Jeong-ah, about Chilbong… It’s okay right? We can keep emailing him, right? It’s not as if we ever talk about you anyway. If it makes you feel better, he doesn’t even ask about you, or mention your name, or…” He seemingly realized what he was saying by the expression on my face and he dialed his voice down to an almost whisper before finishing his sentence. “… anything.”
Unwilling to humiliate myself more than I already have, I answered with a dismissive tone. “Why wouldn’t that be okay?” I asked. “It’s not like we got divorced and you’re all children who are forced to take sides. Don’t mind me and just keep doing what you’re doing.”
Wanting to get away, I quickly ran down the stairs and went into my room. Once I sat down on my bed, I thought back on what I’ve been doing since the wedding. Which is, basically, what I’m doing now. I go over what happened in my head until I’m tired of it. I try to say his name so often to myself with the hope that even I will get sick of hearing it. I imagine and fantasize about what I would say or do if he just happened to come back to Korea and we met in the street or something. I always knew I had a bit of the the ridiculous in me, but me in love is really really… Pathetic? Hopeless? … Unbalanced. I feel like my world has been tipped off its axis and I struggle every day to stay standing.
In light of my new situation, I have come to accept the following facts:
1) I am in love with Joon.
2) He left me.
3) I can’t do anything about either.
Before I get labeled as someone who has given up, I would like to say, in my defense, that I don’t really know what I can do. It’s almost impossible to tell him how I feel or find out how he feels when he’s nowhere to be found. For all I knew he can’t stand me anymore. Or, even worse, he’s indifferent towards me. That renders me like nothing more than a long forgotten memory.
My heart stopped when I considered this possibility. I stood up and started pacing back and forth in my room. What if he has completely moved on? What if… He doesn’t see me as the woman he loves anymore and I am just a woman he loved once?
If he could just see me and hear my voice, maybe he would realize that he made a mistake and maybe want to be with me again, or maybe even just consider going out on a date. No, I thought to myself, it’s definitely not Joon’s way to move on so quickly.
You mean the old Joon? The little voice inside my head asked, coming back full force. Would the old Joon have left you?
What makes you think he’s reverted back to the old him?
Joon is not like that. Old, new, he wouldn’t just leave and forget that quickly.
Are you sure?
Shut up! You saw the way he kissed me! Even if he forgot everything else, surely… Surely he’ll remember the kisses. Right? A man doesn’t just kiss any woman the way he kissed me.
Unless he’s a player.
Omo. Joon is not a player.
Uhm, do you know what a great catch he is?
Yes, I know. I sighed to myself. I love Joon.
He could totally be a player. He’s handsome, successful, charming and has a great personality. Women would pay him to become a player.
You’re right. I nodded to myself. I HATE JOON!
Strongly disliking the idea that there might be a chance that I am now just in love on my own, I plopped myself down in bed. I’ve done this unrequited love before. I know how difficult and painful it can be. But this unrequited love may just be worse. What do you call having unrequited love for someone who once had unrequited love for you who you were actually in a sort of relationship with where you were both in love and didn’t know it? Serendipity?
No, serendipity is when it makes you laugh. Maybe the better term is irony. Poetic justice. Or… I know, I know! Karmic payback.
Will you stop? You’re crazy and such a smart ass.
I’m you… So if I’m crazy then you’re crazy. And who are you pointing fingers at when you’re the one who’s having a full on conversation with yourself?
Realizing the truth in my thoughts’ words, I buried my head in one of my pillows and stifled a scream. How did I become this way? I spotted my puppy looking at me concerned.
Hey, the little voice insisted.
I’m not listening to you anymore.
One last thing before I shut up today. I was gonna point this out earlier but you had me distracted with the let’s name this situation game we were playing. For something you don’t care for… Do you go out of your way to avoid it when it’s around? Like… If it’s somewhere do you make a beeline for the exit to get away from it?
No because it doesn’t matter. Why would I care where it is or how often I see it? It’s not even worth the effort. And I don’t see where you’re going with this.
Yah… Don’t be obtuse. You’re already in this predicament because you didn’t want to acknowledge something you knew in your heart to be true. Why would Joon avoid you if he doesn’t care? Why would he make an effort not to speak about you or mention your name? Think about it.
I looked out my windows and attempted to come to a reasonable conclusion. The biggest smile forming on my face, I got out of my room and ran back upstairs. The gang was still where I left them just a few minutes before.
“Yah… Haitai…” I said and looked at me. “I need confirmation. Joon doesn’t ever talk about me or ask about me, right?” He nodded. “He never says my name?” He shook his head no.
“Na Jeong-ah, I’m sorry,” he started. “I should never have said anything about that. Sometimes I forget…”
I silenced him with a hug. “I’m so happy! He doesn’t talk about me AT ALL! This is the best news EVER!”
Haitai peeled my arms off from his neck and looked at me strangely. “Are you… Okay?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Planting a loud smack on Yoon Jin’s cheek, I practically left the landing skipping as I was so giddy. I ran downstairs and hugged Omma and Appa before going back to my room. I was about to close my door when I heard Appa’s voice.
“Yeobo… I think that there’s something wrong with our daughter.”
The next morning…
My hand poised to knock on Haitai’s door, I thought about the game plan I set for myself yesterday.
After Samcheonpo and Yoon Jin’s last dinner at the house last night, I tried to subtly ask my parents if they had Joon’s number. Appa glared at me and asked why they would need it when he calls all the time. My first avenue was gone.
An hour later I invited Binggrae and Haitai to have drinks with me upstairs. I hoped that they might reveal Joon’s number when they were drunk, but noooo… They both just fell asleep instead. My second avenue was gone.
Reflecting on my lack of success at the moment I sighed and knocked on Haitai’s door. Now that Yoon Jin and Samcheonpo have moved out, he wasted no time in reclaiming his room back. He said to enter and I went in. He sat in front of the computer reading an email. From Joon? I thought excitedly. Trying to hold back on my excitement, I pretended to look around.
“This room looks so different now that Yoon Jin has been staying in here. You have a bed now, too,” I said as I tried to conspicuously look over his shoulder. It’s too far, I thought. I can’t read anything. Realizing this I made my way closer to him. Just as I was about to ask him what he was doing, like a gift from God, his phone rang. Without bothering to close his screen he stood up and took the call.
“Ae Jung-ah?” Haitai said. “Wait a minute I can’t hear you…” I watched as he tried one corner of the room and unsuccessful, went to another part of the room. “Jagi-ya, hang on. The reception in my room is bad… Let me go outside so I can hear you properly.” He left his room and I found myself right by his computer, with his email opened right in front of me.
Not believing my luck, for one second I debated whether I should do this. It’s illegal right? But what can I do? I am a woman in love. Joon is worth going to jail for. With this thought in my head, I sat down and scanned his emails, looking for Joon’s address. An email in the middle of the screen caught my eye. I got it!
Furtively looking over my shoulder, I quickly searched for a piece of paper and pen. Finding them I wrote his address down and closed the email. I slipped the piece of paper in my pocket and had just placed the pen back where I found it when Haitai returned. Standing up now I tried to mask my guilty look with a smile.
“Na Jeong-ah… Why are you still here? Did you want to tell me something?” he asked.
“Ahhh, no…” I stammered. “No. Omma wanted you down for breakfast.”
“Yeah she told me when I took the call. I’ll be down in a minute.”
“Okay.” I ran out of his room with my hand in my pocket. Jackpot! I suddenly felt like laughing. I can’t believe how easy that was. I went to my room and placed his address on my table. Walking to breakfast I was filled with hope and happiness. Kim Jae Joon, I thought, you better be ready. Because I’m coming for you.
When I got to the table, Omma and Haitai were already eating. Appa was reading the newspaper and Binggrae was nowhere to be found. Not noticing that I was still smiling like a fool, I bid them all good morning. Omma smiled at me, Appa kept reading the papers and Haitai just gave me a funny look.
“Where’s Bing?” I asked, helping myself to some kimchi.
“He said he had to be at the hospital,” Omma responded. “He left the same time as Yoon Jin and Samcheonpo.”
“Ahhh…” I said. I wanted to have everyone here, but I guess this will have to do. Clearing my throat, I stood up. “Omma, Appa, chinggu… I have an announcement to make. I have made a decision. I’m going to marry Kim Jae Joon.”
Across the table Haitai started choking on his rice. From the corner of my eye, I saw Appa put his paper down and look at me incredulously. Omma clapped her hands and stood up, wrapping her arms around me in a tight embrace. Haitai was still coughing when I looked over at him.
“Na Jeong-ah, congratulations!” Omma said. “I didn’t even know you two were dating. But it’s Chilbong… he’s practically part of the family already! I’m so happy for you both.”
“What the hell is this?” Appa said. His voice was raised, but I detected a current of glee in there as well. Looking at him I thought I saw him trying to hide a smile. “That Chilbong. He never said anything about this when we spoke on the phone. I’m gonna have to yell at him when we talk again. He should have spoken to me first, but,” he signed dramatically and said, as if resignedly, “if it’s already been decided, I guess I can’t very well refuse.”
“Yeobo, I need to make a list of what we will need for the wedding. We need to meet Chilbong’s parents, and figure out a dowry. Oh there’s so much to do!” Omma turned to me with a questioning look on her face. “Na Jeong-ah, when will Chilbong come home? Has he told his parents yet?” At these questions I felt everyone’s eyes boring into me.
“Ahhh, that’s the thing…” I sat back down and looked at my plate. “Hedoesn’tknowityet.” Afraid to look at them, I took a mouthful of rice.
“What?” Appa demanded. “Yah… Speak clearly so we understand.”
“Uhm,” I paused, not knowing how to proceed without making myself look insane. “I made this decision last night, and he doesn’t know it yet. But I’ll definitely marry him! I swear I will!”
Everyone stared at me for a few minutes, as if trying to think of what to say.
“Are you two dating?” Omma asked. I shook my head no.
“Aigoo,” Appa said, still shocked. “Our daughter has gone crazy.” He folded up his newspaper and for a second I was afraid that he was about to beat me back into sanity with it. Instead he just looked at me with pity in his eyes. “I think you need to take a vacation or something. All the stress has obviously gotten to you.” He paused, as if choosing his next words very carefully. “Na Jeong-ah… Chilbong. Is. In. America.” He said the last sentence so slowly, like I was a child being told that the sky is blue. I cringed despite of myself and carried on eating. Omma sat back down next to me and kept patting my back, as if trying to make me feel better. I look over at Haitai and saw that the reason he’s been quiet is because his mouth was hidden behind his hands. His shoulders shaking with mirth, there were tears running down his eyes from laughing. I glared at him and finally, he attempted to stop before breaking out into laughter again.
“I don’t care if you all think I’m delusional,” I said. “I’m definitely marrying him. I have a game plan and everything!”
Omma just kept shaking her head sadly at me. Appa coughed and spoke again. “Na Jeong-ah… It’s okay. You’ll get over this… Crush? You said the same thing about Lee Sang Min, and you got over that too.”
“This is not the same thing at all!” I protested, upset. “It’s nowhere near the same thing!” Picking up my plate, I stood up. “And I really don’t appreciate how unsupportive you all are being right now. If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll finish my breakfast in my room, where no one will judge me.” Turning around, I walked to my room and sat down on my bed. Fuming, I finished my food. You’ll all see, I said to myself. I will marry him for sure.
September 27, 2000
I sighed as I closed my laptop. Still no response. It’s been 86 days since I started emailing Joon and still no response. I’ve written him an email a day for the past 3 months, and no word back from him. For a minute I wondered if I had misread the whole situation, but then I shook that thought away. Do NOT waver, I told myself. It’s the middle of the season. Of course he doesn’t have time to respond. Comforted by that, I opened my laptop again and opened my email.
Pressing the compose button, I started my message to Joon for the day.
DATE: September 27, 2000
TIME: 7:30 p.m.
I passed some kids playing baseball on my way home earlier. I asked them why they played baseball, and one of the kids told me it was because he wanted to be like you. I told them I knew you and they didn’t believe me. Won’t you come home to help me prove them wrong?
Feeling like I have accomplished my daily goal, I marked today’s date on the calendar with an X. I put my laptop away and went out of my room.
Everyone was sitting in the living room. Appa was sitting on the couch, with Haitai and Ae Jung in front of them. To the side were now engaged Binggrae and Jin Yi. Omma came into the living room with an enormous tray of food. She set it down on in the middle of all of us and sat herself next to Appa.
“Why are we all here anyway?” I asked, looking around.
“Chilbong is going to be on television, ” Binggrae said. Feeling my heart race at the mention of Joon’s name, I stayed quiet for a moment.
“Yah, how did you know about it Binggrae? Did you see a commercial for it?” Haitai asked, popping a grape in his mouth.
“Joon emailed me earlier in the week and told me.” At the mention of his emailing everyone else back but me, I felt my stomach do a somersault. I bit back my tongue from making a remark and helped myself to some of the fruit in front of me. All conversation stopped when the program started.
“Thank you for watching tonight’s special. Next week, Kim Jae Joon will be playing in the Western Division Championship in the United States. We will be televising that game live as it’s happening next weekend.
Kim Jae Joon-ssi has been quickly making the ranks in Major League Baseball. Tonight we will explore how his career began and see some interviews from his coaches and old teammates.”
I watched raptly as they showed a footage of Joon from his Yonsei University days. They then showed a video of him playing in Japan and then finished up with some footage from his games this season. Even through a television screen I can’t help but feel the intensity in his gaze as he played baseball. I’ve seen it firsthand a few times, but I will never stop being thrilled by it.
They followed up with his coaches from when he played as a child to his last Japanese coach. They all lauded his best qualities: his persistence, his strength, his ability to adapt. Well, I thought, those are some of the things that I love about him too. They featured an interview with In Sung, his Yonsei University catcher, who said that Joon was the best pitcher he’s ever worked with. He described him as hardworking, dedicated and fearless. Yes, yes… I know this too. Smiling, I congratulated myself silently on my taste in men. Or my taste for this particular man anyway. I pick well…
For the last segment, they showed an interview they did with Joon five years ago. It had been after a game, when he was asked about his philosophy in baseball. Looking straight into the camera, his gaze focused and his expression determined, he spoke.
“It is said that in order to achieve success in one field, ten thousand hours are required. The ten-thousand-hour rule. You have to work hard and try and suffer till the very end. Like Yogi Berra once said, ‘It ain’t over ’til it’s over.’ ”
Having never heard Joon ever speak this way, I couldn’t help the warmth that washed over me as I listened to him say those words. What great timing that I heard it from his mouth that he wouldn’t give up either. Even though it was recorded five years ago, it felt like he was encouraging me now. More convinced now more than ever that I am on the right path, I am even more adamant about following my course of action.
That night, as I tossed and turned in bed, I kept thinking about what I needed to do to prove to Joon that I am ready for him now and to convince him to give me another chance. Unable to keep my eyes open, I was just about to fall asleep when the idea came to me. Sitting back up, I smiled to myself. This is gonna be interesting.
October 4, 2000
I woke up to the sight of billowing clouds outside my window. For only the third time in my life, I was on a plane on my way to an unknown destination, both literally and figuratively. With Bing getting married next month and an almost definite meeting at that time, I needed to see Joon before he comes back to Korea. I am not in the mood to have a nervous breakdown at his cousin’s wedding.
I hope that even though Joon feels no need to answer my emails that he checks and reads them every day. I sent my last one from the PC room in the airport, asking him for some time after his game so that we could speak, attaching to it the name of a restaurant. I researched the restaurants in San Francisco and made a reservation in one that had a fixed price menu. My English is good, but I don’t feel comfortable ordering food when I’m not entirely sure what it is or how it’s been cooked. I really really hope he saw the email. Due to the short notice I was only allowed Friday and the following Monday off from work, and with the almost 12 hours flight time to and from Seoul, I barely have a day in San Francisco. I’m not sure if it will give me enough opportunity to change his mind, but at least it will drop me back into his radar again. I really think that he will see me and memories of loving me will come back naturally to him. Or at least, that’s what I’m hoping.
I checked my watch and forced myself to relax. I should have taken the offer for wine earlier. It definitely would have helped with these nerves. Having nothing else to do I pulled out a package of kimbap given to me by Omma. Taking a bite I thought back on our conversation before I left.
Two days before…
I saw Omma cooking in the kitchen when I approached her. “Omma, can I talk to you for a minute?”
She turned around and looked at me. “Na Jeong-ah, is everything okay?” I nodded as I led her to the table. Once we were sitting down, I spoke again.
“Omma, I debated whether or not to tell you this, but I thought I should in case something happened. I’m going to San Francisco tomorrow.”
“Why so soon? Why San Francisco?”
” Joon has a championship game on Saturday. I need to be there. Please understand.”
“Na Jeong-ah you know we are always supportive of whatever you want to do. This is just like how you were with Lee Sang Min. I just want to know that you know what you’re doing. You’re going…”
“Omma,” I said, taking her hand. “I love him.”
“Of course you do. You were friends for a long time. It’s natural to feel…”
“No, Omma. I LOVE him. I’m in love with him.”
She looked at me then, understanding dawning on her face. She gave my hand a squeeze and said “Okay.”
“Omma, I know this might be unreasonable to ask, but can you not tell Appa about this? I’m not sure how Joon will react and I’d rather that no one else knows.”
She nodded. “Okay, I won’t tell Appa.”
Smiling at the memory, I felt so lucky to have my parents. The fatigue of travelling getting to me, I fell back asleep against the window.
The ding of the “Fasten Your Seatbelt” sign coming on woke me up. I took a sip from my water bottle and tried to read a magazine. I looked at my watch impatiently as I put my drink away. Shifting myself on the seat, I noted my tense back and wondered how people could ride this all the time. I tried to tamp down my anxiety by looking out the window but I kept checking my watch, nervous that I won’t make it on time. I haven’t even arrived at my destination yet and I was already dreading the trip back. I was about to get up when I heard an announcement over the PA system.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve already started our descent procedure into San Francisco International Airport. We expect to land at 1:30 pm. We will be arriving about 12 minutes before our scheduled time.”
I listened vaguely to the the announcement as I excused myself to go to the ladies room. With the game starting at 4:30 pm I won’t have any time at all to freshen up before before going. I grabbed my makeup bag and a change of clothes from my carry-on bag and went to the bathroom. Once there, I quickly rinsed my face and changed my clothes. I reapplied my makeup and brushed my teeth. By the time I returned to my seat we were about 15 minutes to landing.
Once the plane had safely descended and parked at the arrival bay, I stood up and gathered my belongings. I prepared myself mentally for my seeing Joon for the first time in nine months as I waited for the people to clear the aisle. Finally cleared, I reached up to the luggage compartment and grabbed my bag. I was walking towards the exit when I heard a voice behind me.
“Hey, you,” someone called out in English. Unsure whether he was referring to me, I didn’t turn around. “Hey, lady with the Yonsei University shirt on, you dropped something.”
I turned around to see a middle aged American man holding up my charm. I looked at my phone, surprised at not having realized that I dropped it. I gratefully took it from him, said my thanks and fastened it back on my phone. I was about to walk away when his voice stopped me again.
“Hey… Your shirt. Is the Kim on the back for Kim Jae Joon? I noticed the number 77,” he explained. “My son is also a big fan of his.”
Suddenly self conscious, I nodded in response. Turning around, I placed Joon’s cap on my head and made my way out the plane.
Pacific Bell Park
October 4, 2000
My phone beeped a message as I was slipping into my long sleeved shirt and black and orange jersey. Checking it with one hand, I saw a message from Binggrae.
We’re all at the boarding house waiting for your game. Omma sends her love and Coach-nim says he is proud of you. Haitai, Samcheonpo and Yoon Jin say hi.
Dong Joon and Jin Yi
I held back a chuckle but allowed myself a small smile. Ever since he had gotten engaged, Bing had been signing everything with his and his fiancee’s name. Though I never met her, I already approved. Since being with her, my cousin was happier and more confident. Plus it never hurts to add another member to our small family. I looked at the clock. Thirty minutes to game time.
Trying to calm my mind, I did my stretches and meditated. Adrenaline pumped in my veins as I waited for the Coach to do his pre-game huddle. Looking around me, I saw all my teammates also involved in their own routines. There was silence in the locker room, all of us caught up in our own thoughts. Some people call this the calm before the storm, with the air so thick with tension I can cut a knife through it. The Coach exited his office and called us all for a few words before the game.
Once he had finished speaking to all of us, my heart started a familiar intense rhythm. Every game it’s the same feeling, although never more strongly as now. I felt the tension on my shoulders as I silenced my surroundings. As had become my pre-game ritual, I tipped my hat three times and tightened my hand around the ball twice. I closed my eyes and saw Na Jeong’s face as she watched me kiss her in the snow. This is the only time I ever allow myself the luxury of thinking about her. Two minutes. Only two minutes on game day. The memory of the woman I love looking at me like she might love me back. These are the things that I do before a game. I took a deep breath, filed in line with the rest of my team, and waited for my name to be called. It’s time for me to do what I was meant to do.
Pacific Bell Park
October 4, 2000
Standing in the bleachers, the crowd began its deafening noise as the players started getting called into the stadium. My heart responded, the pounding echoing the excitement in the air. Around me, people were dressed in various shades of orange, gold, cream and black, the signature colors of the Giants, as well as sedona red, black and sand, the colors of the Arizona Diamondbacks, their opposing team. Everywhere I looked there were banners for Joon’s team and their rivals’. For one moment I was overwhelmed by the sheer size and capacity of this baseball stadium. We are definitely far far away from Yonsei University.
My heart in my throat, I listened to the announcer as he finished calling all the Diamondbacks players to the field. The home crowd knew that it’s their players’ turn and started screaming their words of encouragement. A cheer erupted after each name and I waited to hear their reaction when Joon’s name was called out.
“… And now #9 Scott Servais, #33 Doug Mirabelli…”
I watched as the catchers ran onto the mound, craning my neck to see if I can tell who will be coming next.
“Let’s give a round of applause for #61 Livan Hernandez and your opening pitcher, #77 Kim… Jae… Joon!”
Everyone around me stood up, the crowd roaring in excitement. I heard people chanting his name, and as I scanned the crowd I spotted several Koreans who have come to support him. From my seat I can see his face clearly, and I was relieved that I splurged on the ticket to get one as close as I can get to the field. I took out my camera so I can take pictures.
The players scattered and someone sang the American anthem to mark the start of the game. As the game went underway, the crowd began singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”. Though I wasn’t familiar with the words, the energy was infectious and I found myself joining in. Finally the game was starting, and my breath caught as I watched Joon took his place in the center of the field. I noted the tension in his body, his face holding only an expression of focus and resolve. I watched as he powdered his hands and grasped the ball. The big screen monitor focusing on him, he tipped his cap. The crowd silenced and waited for his throw. He took his position, and with perfect execution borne out of thousands of hours of practice, threw the ball to the batter.
The screen posted 95mph as his speed and the crowd cheered appreciatively. He threw ball after ball of perfect pitches, striking out the first hitter. I continued to watch him as he went through the first inning with ease, my heart feeling like it stops every time the ball flew from his arm, his strength and power evident with each throw. By the end of the inning the score was 0-0, and I settled in for the long game ahead.
As we were waiting for the fifth inning, I grabbed a bag of popcorn from the concession stand. When I returned to my seat, I observed the people around me as they chatted and laughed. Wow, I thought, Joon’s really in the big leagues now. With nothing to do as I munched on my popcorn, I eavesdropped on the conversation going on in front of me.
“Hey, did JJ call you again?” The voice belonged to a woman who had brown hair, sat directly on the seat in front of mine.
“No… Not yet. I hope he calls though. I thought he was fantastic,” her companion, a woman with blonde hair, responded.
Aww, I thought. Women have men problems everywhere. It’s good to know I’m not alone. Smiling, I took a sip of my drink before what I heard next snapped me back to attention.
“…You do know my husband can get us access to box seats right? I don’t know why you insist on sitting here instead,” the brown haired woman continued.
The blonde woman chuckled before responding. “Hey… Why wouldn’t I be here? I can see Jae Joon better from this seat. A face and a body like that? It needs to be enjoyed up close.” They shared a laugh and I sat dumbfounded.
I can honestly say that I never considered the possibility that he may have started dating again. Hearing about it firsthand felt like a stake through my heart. Though I can’t see their faces, the way they were dressed implied sophistication and class. They were both wearing real jewelry and their hair were both elegantly coiffed. I suddenly felt self conscious about my own, wondering if my long hair, which I had styled in soft waves before I left Korea, was now frizzy. I patted my shirt smooth, and stared at my sneakers. Suddenly feeling insecure, I patted the gloves in my bag and held my charm for a few minutes to make myself feel better. Once my feelings of inadequacy had passed, irritation took over.
Jae Joon? What! That’s MY Joon she’s talking about… That face and that body? HA! Mine, too. AND I’m his first love! I bet you don’t even know anything about him. Like a sullen teenager, I sulked in my seat, not able to believe that he’s now got himself a yellow haired girlfriend. Has he kissed her? He better not have… Suddenly picturing his lips pressing against this… Bitch’s lips, I had to fight the urge to pull her hair. Is this why you didn’t answer my emails? I shook my head in annoyance. Feeling childish, I ‘accidentally’ dropped my popcorn onto that yellow head. Oopsie. Gasping, she turned around and glared at me.
“What did you just do?” she asked. Her friend stood next to her, also with a look of anger on her face.
“Uhm,” I answered. “I no speak English.” This is one of those times when I am more than happy to pretend I can’t speak or understand English. For a brief minute I wondered if I was going to get in a fight. Looking at her stilettos, I was glad to see I was the one with the appropriate footwear for a physical confrontation. That’s alright, I thought. I can take you both.
However, she just fixed me one last irritated look as she started picking popcorn off her hair. Now distracted, I followed her gaze as she watched the players resume their positions. I relaxed back in my seat with a smug smile and continued to watch the game.
Still miffed about the conversation I heard from the yellow haired woman, I tried to put it out of my mind. By the time the final inning started, the Giants were leading 5-2. The game is so close, and with baseball there’s no telling when the tables will turn. Joon took back the pitching mound after 2 innings off, and he struck out more than half the players. Appa would be glad to know he’s gotten significantly better. The strikeout happened quickly and the teams changed sides. One Giants batter hit a homerun and pushed the man on third base home as well. The game ended on a high as Joon’s team won 7-2.
The fans rooting for the home team started cheering as the players were hugging in the field. Despite my earlier irritation, I felt a smile on my face as I watched Joon being lifted by his teammates. Just like he did six years ago, he lifted the winning ball in the air and he looked around the stadium to all his fans with a smile on his beautiful face. But unlike six years ago, this time, he didn’t look for me. Taken aback by the memory, I felt my heart clench and a lump form in my throat. Don’t cry, I told myself. Even if he doesn’t know, I felt blessed to have shared this moment with him.
Soon thereafter, the crowd started dispersing and I found myself wandering the stadium in search of the locker rooms. Finally I saw a sign and tried to follow it before a big burly guy wearing a shirt saying Security spotted me. Acknowledging that I must look strange walking around my carry-on luggage, I asked for Kim Jae Joon. He laughed at me in response.
“Lady,” he said, “Everyone is looking for Kim. You need to get out of here. Fans aren’t allowed in this area.”
“I’m not a fan,” I insisted. “I’m a friend.”
“Lady, if I had a dollar every time I heard that, I would be a rich man.” Gently he led me back to the exit.
Feeling dejected, I took a cab to the hotel I had booked. This is not going the way I imagined. Call me naive but I really thought I could just saunter casually to where he is, he’ll see my face and fall back in love instantly with me again and then he and I will walk hand in hand to the restaurant and maybe spend the night exploring the city together. This new development has just ruined the first of my plans. Oh well, I thought, chin up. There’s still the restaurant. Arriving in my hotel room I just had enough time to change from the shirt and jeans I was wearing into a simple black sheath dress. Putting my feet into black pumps, I left my hair down and put on red lipstick. I grabbed my jacket, put on Joon’s gloves, took my purse and left my room.
At the hotel entrance, the concierge led me to a cab and I directed him to the restaurant. As I arrived in front of Chapeau five minutes ahead of my reservation, I felt giddy with excitement. On a whim, I bought a single red rose from the man selling them outside. As I sniffed its petals, I thought that If I’m going to romance Joon, a rose wouldn’t be a bad place to start. Not having had a lot of experience dating, I’ve been reading magazines to get ideas, and one thing is for sure: Roses are supposedly romantic. And anything French too, so what better place for romance than here?
The maitre d’ welcomed me as soon as I entered the restaurant.
“May I help you?” he courteously asked.
“Yes. I have a reservation for 8:30 pm. My last name is Sung,” I replied.
“Ah,” he said, looking at the computer. “I see you made a reservation for two. Would you prefer to wait here until the rest of your party arrives or in the dining room?”
“The dining room…. Actually I’m not sure if he’ll come since we haven’t spoken in almost ten months, but I’m hoping he will because I’ve missed him a lot…” I stopped speaking as soon as I realized I was babbling, but he merely looked at me with amusement behind his kind brown eyes.
“Ah, for romance then,” he replied. “Follow me then Madam. I will give you a table that’s suitable for your purpose.” I followed him to a seat in the corner. It was a table set for two, with a candle in the center of the table. It was private, cozy and perfect. Thanking him I took my jacket off and sat myself down.
When the waitress came for my drink order, I hesitated at first, wanting to wait for Joon, but ended up asking for a glass of wine anyway. My hands were shaking so badly that I spilled a few drops on myself even as I took my first sip. I placed the rose on the table. First on his side. Then on mine. Then between us. As I waited, I started munching the bread they brought me, hoping the food will calm the butterflies in my stomach.
At 8:45 pm the waitress came back and asked if I wanted to order. I shook my head no. Looking at the mirror behind me, I checked my teeth to make sure they were clean. At 9:00 pm she came back and asked again. Again I said no. I wanted to wait until Joon was here. By 9:15 pm I was growing impatient and I had to go to the ladies room to compose myself. After giving myself a little pep talk in the bathroom, I went back to my seat and continued waiting. I looked at my watch and saw that it was now 9:35 pm. With nothing else to do I watched as people came into the restaurant. Friends, couples… It seemed as if they were all here tonight. By 9:45 pm the waitress came back again. I was about to say no again when she spoke.
“Ma’am, the kitchen will stop sending food out in fifteen minutes,” she informed me, her tone sympathetic. “You’ve been waiting a long time, and I would hate to see you leave without eating.”
I gave her a small smile and nodded. I opened the menu and picked out the first item on each category. As if understanding that I was only placating her, she took my order down quietly and disappeared back into the kitchen. It’s fine, I told myself. You knew there was a chance he wouldn’t be here. Still I kept my eyes peeled on the door, hoping against all hopes that he would miraculously appear.
When my food arrived, I ate my salad quickly. I’m not really hungry but Joon said to make sure I eat well. I was picking on my entree when the door opened. My heart in my throat I attempted to put a welcoming smile on my face before I looked up. Excitement turned to disappointment when I realized that it was just two men showing up for their reservation. They were seated in the table next to mine and I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation.
“What a great game, huh?” The man asked. “The Giants are having a great season. I wonder how far they’ll make it…”
“I don’t know, but with Kim pitching I’m sure they’ll do well. They got him for over 2 mil, did you know that?” his companion replied.
“Man… Can you imagine the party they must be having right now? Those players are high rollers.”
My heart deflated upon hearing that. So that’s why he’s not here. Of course he would want to celebrate with his team. That’s normal. He’s not coming. It’s fine. I’m fine. It was too much to expect really. He wouldn’t just drop whatever he’s doing to meet me.
Feeling tears burning behind my eyes, I finished my entrée. I called over the server to ask for my check and despite her telling me that I still had dessert to go, I counted out the cash and left a generous tip. Wanting to preserve what little dignity I had left, I stood up and left the restaurant. I hailed a cab and asked to be brought back to the hotel. Feelings of hurt and rejection threatened to overwhelm me but I tampened them down until I can get back to my room.
Closing the door behind me I saw a light blinking on the phone. I slipped out of my shoes and pressed the button, wondering if it was Joon telling me he can’t make it and he’s sorry. My heart stopped as I waited for the message. A few seconds later I heard Omma’s voice.
“Na Jeong-ah, it’s Omma. Did you arrive safely? Also, do you need someone to pick you up at the airport? Appa may be able to pick you up. Please call me back and let me know.”
Not really wanting to speak to anyone but knowing that Omma will worry, I grudgingly picked up the phone and dialed home. At the third ring, Omma picked up.
“Omma, it’s me.”
“Na Jeong-ah, was your flight okay?” she asked, a little breathless, like she ran to the phone.
“Yeah, Omma the flight was fine. What did you tell Appa?”
“I told him you had to go on a business trip.” She hesitated before she spoke again. “Na Jeong-ah, did you… Did you see Chilbong?”
“Yes Omma, I saw him… They won their game. He did great.” Not wanting to elaborate, I didn’t say any more.
“Na Jeong-ah…” Feeling as if she was about to ask more questions I interrupted her.
“Omma, I’m really tired now. I have to sleep some since I’m flying back out tomorrow. I’ll call you from the airport and yeah, please tell Appa I need to be picked up Monday morning at the airport. I’ll call you with the details in the morning. Bye.” I quickly hung up the phone.
Exhausted now, I prepared myself for bed. Changing out of my dress to the shirt I was wearing before and a pair of shorts, I sat down in front of the vanity mirror to remove my makeup. I had dabbed my lipstick off and was rummaging in my bag for my face cleanser when I spotted my reflection. My hair hung limply around my face, and I am wearing a Yonsei University shirt with his name on my back. How stupid. How pathetic. Did I think buying a shirt with his name on it would make him love me again? Tears threatening to spill, I frantically emptied the contents of my bag onto the table. When I still couldn’t find what I needed, I felt my emotions finally taking over.
“Where is it? Where the hell is it? I’m sure I had it… Why would I forget to pack it?” With tears flowing freely I started throwing all my things back into my bag. This is ridiculous, I thought, today was supposed to be a magical day, but it’s been nothing but a nightmare. All day I’ve held it in and it took a face cleanser to break me down. If I wasn’t so miserable I would laugh at the absurdity of it all.
I looked at myself in the mirror again, my makeup smudged and tears wet on my cheeks.
Are you throwing in the towel at the first sign of difficulty Na Jeong? Is this all you’re made of? The little voice inside my head asked. Are you giving him up?
Then wipe your tears. He had to do this for six years.
Finding the strength to stop crying, I quickly dried my tears away. One unfulfilled meeting is a small price to pay if it means I get to be with Joon forever. Standing up, I turned the lamp off. I went under the covers, and watched the city lights from my window. I wondered whether he’s looking at them right now too, just like me, and comforted myself with the thought that even though he’s not with me, we are both sleeping under the same sky.
“Good night Joon-ah,” I whispered as my eyes succumbed to fatigue and I fell asleep.
November 4, 2000
“Yah… Are you sure you want to be singing at the reception?” Misoo asked, tugging on my sleeve. Not wanting to disrupt the ceremony, I leaned my head down to hear her better. “There’s a reason you’re a professional baseball player, Chilbong.”
I gave a low chuckle before addressing her. “Apparently it’s Jin Yi noona’s favorite song and I’m Binggrae’s only cousin, so… I hope I don’t mess the song up. Thanks for reminding me. Now I feel nervous.” Remembering something, I turned to face her. “In Sung will definitely come, right? Why isn’t he here again?”
“He had something to do for Omma. He will definitely be here for the reception,” she answered.
“No… Mine.” I watched as her eyes took on a dreamy expression. “Chilbong-ah, he’s such a great guy. I wish I dated him in college now.”
“Pshhh… Aren’t you getting married next year? Well now you can date him forever.” She gave my arm a playful smack and I turned back to the front to watch the proceedings.
I can’t believe Dong Joon is getting married today. It seemed just like yesterday that he just moved to Seoul and was so uncertain about his future. And now, he is vowing his life to someone else. It suddenly felt like everyone around me are now married or are about to get married. Time has flown by so fast I didn’t know where it went. I was still shaking my head in amazement when I felt someone looking at me.
I scanned the guests around me and they were all focused on the proceedings. I looked at the people across the aisle and there was Na Jeong, her beautiful eyes focused on me. She was in a dress the color of merlot, her hair, shoulder length the last time I saw her in Yoon Jin’s wedding pictures, now long and cascading around her face. She was flanked on one side by Yoon Jin and the other side by Jung Gook. He whispered something in her ear and she gave him an irritated frown. Feeling like the wind has been knocked out of me, I quickly looked away. All of a sudden feeling out of sorts, I swallowed a few times to control my nerves. How does she do it? I thought, frustrated. How is it that with one look she is able to reduce me back to who I was six years ago? Jaw clenched and distracted by my thoughts, I was pulled back into the moment when the wedding officiant spoke.
“Kim Dong Joon and Jin Yi, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss your bride.” Dong Joon looked shyly at Jin Yi before placing a gentle peck on her lips. Ever the aggressor, she pulled him in for a deeper kiss as he was pulling away. Everyone started applauding and whistling. Dong Joon took Jin Yi’s hand, a little embarrassed, and exited down the aisle with her.
While waiting for our meal to start, I felt like there was a hole being drilled into my head. I didn’t need to look up to know who was doing it. I had a feeling she would be mad, but this was ridiculous. Her gaze was direct and intense, like she’s trying to get into my mind. With her just staring at me, I felt my hands get clammy in response. I’m embarrassed at how quickly she gets under my skin. This is why I asked to be seated at a different table. If I am like this from a distance, there’s no telling how I would be up close. Still though, I couldn’t help but sneak discrete peeks at her. If it was possible she even looks more beautiful now than I remembered. Don’t remember that, remember the pain instead, a voice in my head said. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.
I felt a hand on my back and turned around to see In Sung. Though we have stayed in touch through phone calls and emails, this is the first time I’ve seen him in almost four years. I stood up and he hugged me tight.
“Chilbong-ah, I missed you, you pretty boy,” he said affectionately. “Good to see you’re not too good to be hanging out with us.” With that he winked at Misoo, who blushed, before sitting himself down on my right side.
“Yah… What is that supposed to mean?” I asked.
He laughed and said, “I’m just playing with you, Major Leaguer. I saw your last game though, is your shoulder okay? You looked a little stiff by the last inning.”
“Yeah, I’m good. You know my shoulder still acts up, wife.”
Misoo balked at that. “You’re gonna have to stop calling him that, Chilbong-ah. He’ll have another title soon.” I watched as they exchanged googly eyes at each other. This is why I hate weddings sometimes. It just reminds me of how alone I am. I heard Na Jeong’s laugh across the way, and not being able to help myself, I found myself looking her way. As if feeling my gaze, her laugh drifted off until she just had a shadow of a smile on her face. A current of electricity passed through me and my heart started racing. Sighing, I was still trying to get a handle on my feelings when Dong Joon appeared at my side.
“Joon-ah, are you ready? It’s time for you to sing…” He looked at Misoo and In Sung. “Hey you two… Glad to see you both made it. Thanks for coming.” He shook In Sung’s hand and touched Misoo’s shoulder before walking back to his new wife.
“That’s my cue,” I said to Misoo and In Sung, and walked to the front of the reception hall, feeling all eyes on my back, but one pair in particular. Why did I agree to do this? I am already regretting my decision to sing. I went to the side and waited for Jin Yi’s university friend Choi Yoon to introduce me.
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to celebrate this very special day with Dong Joon and Jin Yi. We have a treat for you today, something you might not be expecting. Please welcome the groom’s cousin for a very special performance.”
I walked over to him and took the microphone as the guests applauded. I took a deep breath and spoke onto the mic, trying not to look at anyone in particular.
“Hello, my name is Kim Jae Joon, and as Choi Yoon mentioned, I’m Dong Joon’s cousin. He asked me to sing this song for his new wife, and I had no choice but oblige,” I paused and everybody laughed. “Jin Yi noona, Dong Joon loves you a lot, and I wish you two a very happy and prosperous future.”
As I stood there, I waited for the opening strain of “To My Bride” to begin. As the song started, I closed my eyes and involuntarily my thoughts turned to Na Jeong. When I opened my eyes I instinctively looked for her. When our eyes met, my voice cracked and for a minute I imagined that I was singing this just for her. She was looking at me so deeply I felt like my wounds were on the surface and everyone could see. I struggled to finish the rest of the song, but finally it was done and I could breathe again. Jin Yi blew me a kiss and then hugged Dong Joon. Feeling raw and vulnerable, I tried to regain my composure as I walked back to my seat while everyone applauded.
By the time I was seated, I had regained some semblance of control. I kept myself busy by speaking to In Sung and Misoo. The rest of the reception passed by fairly calmly, and I dared not look at Na Jeong again.
After the reception, people started leaving one by one. I was in the middle of sending Misoo and In Sung off when from the corner of my eye, I saw Na Jeong purposefully walking towards me. As she got closer, my heart started hammering in my chest and I looked around for some other place I could be.
“Chilbong-ah, are you even listening?” Misoo asked, looking at me strangely.
“Ahh, yes… I’m good. I heard…” I didn’t even get to finish by sentence when I felt a strong grip on my arm.
“Hi, sorry to interrupt, I’m sure you both remember me. I’m Sung Na Jeong… I went to university with you guys too.” She smiled warmly at the two of them while keeping a strong vice on my arm. Turning to me, she glared and whispered, “You and I need to talk.” When I didn’t respond, she added, “NOW. You can follow me or I can drag you. Your choice.” Again, she put a smile back on her face and turned again towards In Sung and Misoo. “So good to see both of you.” Narrowing her eyes at me one more time, she lifted her chin and walked off.
When I looked back at them, Misoo had raised her eyebrows and In Sung was laughing. I could do nothing but shrug my shoulders in response.
“I have to go,” I said. I started walking in the direction Na Jeong went.
“It appears that way,” Misoo responded. “Call us when you have time, we’ll go out.”
I waved back at them as I exited the room and almost bumped into Na Jeong, who was waiting by the door. Wordlessly she walked into the bridal suite, where there was no one in sight. I was about to ask her what we’re doing here when she turned to me and spoke.
“What the hell was that? You were flirting with Misoo the whole wedding!” I heard the anger in her voice and took a step back.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but I don’t know how you came to that conclusion.” I don’t know why I even had to explain this. Shaking my head, I can’t believe that she sees me for the first time in ten months and those are the first words she chose to say to me.
“You had your head all close to hers and her head was all close to you and she said something and you laughed like it was the funniest thing in the world…” She kept shooting daggers from her eyes, and I realized that have never seen her this mad before.
“Why are we here?” When she merely pinkened in response, I turned around and was about to open the double door out of the suite when she ran and blocked the door. Arms splayed on both sides, she stopped me from even taking another step towards the door. “We have nothing to talk about,” I said.
“Oh no, Joon-ah, I think you and I have plenty to talk about. We have so much to talk about we’re not leaving this room until everything has been discussed.”
My heart skipped at her use of my name. I looked at her directly and said, “Fine… Talk.”
“Why… Why did you leave like that?” She asked. Her voice, shaking in anger just a few minutes ago, was now soft, as if she was hesitant to hear the answer. She was still so close I can smell her all around me. I can feel her breath on my neck as she spoke and my heart thumping loudly in my chest, I took two steps away from her in an attempt to calm myself down. She dropped her arms from the door and crossed them in front of her. For the first time I saw the shadows under her eyes. When I didn’t answer, she continued. “Because I keep thinking about it over and over and I don’t understand. I thought you loved spending time with me. I thought we were happy together. I know… I know I’ve hurt you before. It was never intentional, and I thought we were past that.”
I didn’t let her finish before I responded. “You didn’t just hurt me… You broke my heart,” I said quietly. Her face took on an expression of surprise and she looked like she was thinking before she spoke again.
“You mean, five years ago?” She asked, genuine confusion on her face.
“No, ten months ago AND five years ago. You broke my heart twice.” Even to my ears my reasoning sounded lame. I don’t know why I’m even having this discussion. Didn’t I explain all this in my letter?
“Well, technically, I had nothing to do with the second one. You broke your own heart that time,” she responded. I watched her as she took off her shoes and started pacing the room. “Humor me one minute while I try to make sense of this in my head. So I broke your heart once.” As if sensing that I was about to protest, she modified her statement. “FINE, twice to you. Although for the record, I object to that tally. Just for arguments’ sake… I did something to you that broke your heart once and you did something to me that broke my heart once. So that kind of makes us even.” She was silent for a few minutes. Then she nodded her head once and looked at me. “Joon-ah, let’s try again.”
“Na Jeong-ah… I don’t really think it’s a good idea… We have too much his… Hold on, what? I broke your heart?” Confused now, I tried to go through in my head when I could have possibly broken her heart. “Wait a minute…”
“Yeah… Okay fine, I broke your heart twice. But you hurt me too! And you don’t see me holding that against you.”
I’m still stuck on my supposedly breaking her heart, and I really could have used a minute to think when she started speaking again.
“If you’re gonna be petty, I’m actually rating higher on the heartbreak meter right now. Because even if it was true that I broke your heart twice, you’ve broken my heart a lot more than the once. You broke my heart every day since you’ve been gone, which totals to 289 days! So that’s gotta count for a lot more points.”
Unable to wrap my head around this conversation, I just went along with what she was saying as she was saying it. “You broke my heart so badly that I had to leave!”
“That’s another thing… You don’t get points for that… If anything, that subtracts points from you. You got to leave!”
“How do you figure that? My leaving should count for a thousand points!” Although unsure of why I am even continuing this argument, I still felt the need to defend myself.
“I disagree. You were going to leave anyway. And once you did… You were surrounded by new things and new people and new places. But I… I had to stay here and see everything that reminded me of you. I couldn’t walk the streets without thinking ‘oh that’s where Joon and I ate ddukbokki’… or ‘that’s where Joon and I played in the snow’. I couldn’t get away from you, even in my own house. I saw you everywhere, in everyone, and in everything I touched! And the worst part? The worst part is that you planned it that way! You wanted me to remember you!” Her voice shaking in anger, it was almost as if she surprised herself with what she said. She took a deep breath and paused before proceeding.
“But you… You left… You CHOSE to leave and move on… You chose to be some other place where you didn’t have to deal with the memories that continued to follow me. You did that by choice. YOU DIDN’T EVEN WANT TO REMEMBER ME!” When her voice broke at the last sentence, I looked at her and saw that her eyes shone with unshed tears. My heart clenched somewhere inside my chest, and I had to take a few minutes before I responded.
“Na Jeong-ah… Maybe it’s true that I wanted to forget. Maybe you’re right about everything. Whatever the case may be, I think you just proved why we can’t try again.” I focused on the floor, unable to look at her.
“Why? Because we’ve hurt each other before? It doesn’t matter to me how much you’ve hurt me but obviously it matters to you. I’m not standing here gloating that I’m in pain. To me it’s all relative. Pain is pain, no matter how much or how little. But you’ve forgotten something. Love is also love. Just because you fell in love with me twice and I fell in love with you just once doesn’t mean I love you less.”
My head snapped back up. She was looking out the window with a thoughtful look on her face. “You’re… In love with me?” I croaked. I cleared my throat and attempted to speak but no words would come out. Na Jeong… Loves me? She’s in love with me? My brain not quite believing my ears, my heart struggled to comprehend what she just said.
“You know I actually thought that the first time I tell you I love you that it was going to be a romantic moment.” She turned to me with a smile on her face. “Joon-ah, we should start over… I haven’t given up on you.”
The way I’m feeling now just confirmed to me why I should stay the hell away from her. I am normally a calm, logical and sensible human being, but she makes me feel like the rug has been pulled underneath me ALL THE TIME. Around her, I become illogical and confused, running on emotions alone and not thinking anything through. Hardening my resolve I stood up and looked her in the eyes. “But I’ve given up on you. Feelings change. Mine have.”
Na Jeong met my gaze directly but didn’t back down. “Funny… Your mouth is saying one thing but your eyes are saying something else. But for now I will accept your answer.” She walked towards the door, picking up her shoes along the way, then turned around again. “I’ll give you this round, but we’re nowhere near done. Wasn’t it you who said ‘it ain’t over ’til it’s over’? And this, whatever it is, is not over. I’ve seen the way you look at me… And we are definitely far from over.” She gave me a resolute smile and walked out, closing the door gently behind her.
I ran my hand through my hair and sat back down. I feel like I’ve just been run over by a train and now I’ve been left for dead. Na Jeong has always been outspoken, but this… This is crazy. I don’t know what happened since I’ve been gone, but this Na Jeong is a completely different species of woman. My head pounding, I stayed sitting by myself in that room even after everyone has left the wedding reception, still wondering what in the world just took place.
The next day…
I woke up the next morning with a smile on my face. Good morning, Joon-ah, I said in my mind, just as I have for the last three and a half months. I stretched on my bed for a minute before I grabbed my laptop and prepared to send Joon my daily email message. Thinking of what to say, I thought back on yesterday.
Joon… was even more handsome than I remembered. When I first spotted him, he was standing in the reception room speaking to Haitai and Ae Jung. I hid behind one of the flower arrangements just so he didn’t see me and I could look at him to my heart’s content. Looking like he’s gained some muscle, he filled out his tuxedo the way any man should. Wide shoulders led to long arms, broad chest tapering to lean hips and those long long legs. Secretly looking at him made me felt like a sixteen year old girl with my first crush, except I know what those lips feel like on mine, how those arms feel wrapped around me and how his chest feels pressed against my chest. I watched with a mixture of pride and envy as he spoke animatedly with them.
When I found out he wasn’t sitting at my table but at the one opposite, I felt deflated for one second. But ever the optimist, I felt giddy that I had a chance to stare at him subtly. I was perfectly happy just looking at him… At least until Misoo came. I remembered her from his university days as the tomboyish manager of his team. This Misoo looked nothing like a tomboy. Her hair up, she wore a dress the color of the sea. When he hugged her welcomingly I almost choked on my drink. Yah, I thought, is someone dying? Why does he have to hug her so tightly? Whenever I saw his head come close to hers I resisted the instinct to walk over to them and break them apart. I felt myself getting upset every time I saw him laugh at something she said, until I was just flat out angry. Don’t smile at her like that, I wanted to yell. That smile is just meant for me! I hadn’t even realized that I was glaring until Oppa pointed it out. He told me to stop trying to kill Joon and Misoo with my eyes. Thank goodness In Sung came. At least someone else was there and the two of them didn’t look quite as cozy.
There were times though when I caught him looking at me when he thought I wasn’t looking… And I couldn’t help but react in awareness. He always knew how to reduce me to a puddle of goo. And whenever our eyes met, my heart started beating so fast I thought I was going to pass out. Especially when he was singing. Liar, I thought, I clearly remember that you said you can’t sing. His voice clear and strong, he sang with so much emotion it brought tears to my eyes. And when he opened his eyes and looked at me, for a brief second I felt like he was singing it to me. But then the song ended, and the moment was gone. He went back to his seat and didn’t look at me the rest of the reception.
Seeing him again, just being in the same room as him, made me feel like I was on a high. I was perfectly fine to leave the situation the way it was until I saw the three of them talking in the main foyer and Misoo casually had her hand on Joon’s arm. The whole time. Well, maybe not the whole time but it certainly looked like it. I had to compose myself before even approaching him. My feelings were all in a jumble, and I didn’t want to scare him. I wanted to appear cool and confident. The look on his face was absolutely priceless… He looked like a deer caught in the headlights. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but standing there. He looked panicked. That’s definitely something I can work with.
I certainly never thought that the next time we would find ourselves alone together it would be under these circumstances. When I asked him to try again and he didn’t answer right away, I kind of realized that this was going to be more difficult than I initially thought. Joon looked the same, but he was harder, more in control of his feelings. The transparency of emotion on his face was gone. I couldn’t gauge what he was feeling whenever I looked at him. I would rather that he raised his voice. I would have preferred if he started tearing up. But he did neither. He sat there all calm and composed, as if he was bored with the conversation. Even while telling me something serious like my supposedly breaking his heart twice his expression stayed the same, like he was just stating a fact or a statistic. The calmer he stayed, the more agitated I became. Still, I was convinced that the second I told him I loved him that all his bravado will crumble and we would be able to sit and talk it out. However, seemingly after his initial shock, he just carried on with his conversation like I didn’t just tell him the most important thing. I admit that I might have come on a little strong, but can anyone blame me? I felt like I had to overcompensate for his lack of emotion by running full speed with mine. Judging from the way the whole conversation had gone, I already knew he was going to stay adamant about not wanting to try again. It’s not over til it’s over, indeed.
Not wanting to forget my email, I looked back to my laptop and quickly typed my message.
DATE: November 5, 2000
TIME: 7:30 p.m.
The weather forecast said it will be cold today. I still have your gloves. Don’t you think you need them? I think you should come over and get them.
I don’t really feel like giving up his gloves, but I’ve come to expect that he won’t respond to my email. He never has. And judging from last night, he might never will. He’s made no mention of the emails and I thought it best not to ask. Not yet anyway. He’s home now and I have plenty of time. I’m not giving up. He’s got another thing coming if he even thought for one minute that I would just agree to whatever he decides and happily move on like he had. If anything he just made me feel more determined in getting to the bottom of this and finally winning his heart. I’m ready to do whatever it takes, but as I sat here thinking I realized that I might need some help. The good thing is that I knew just where to get it.
I picked up my phone and quickly dialed a number. I heard his voice on the other line, and nervous, I took a deep breath before speaking.
“Hi Binggrae? It’s Na Jeong. I didn’t wake you, right?” I listened to his response before I proceeded. “Are you busy tomorrow?… Why?… I think it’s time for you and I to have our talk.”
Incheon International Airport
November 10, 2000
I pulled my cap low on my face as my manager led me out through the arrivals gate. Thankfully, there was only a handful of reporters and I was able to get to the car without much trouble.
Finally seated, I stretched my legs in front of me and stifled a yawn. I had stayed busy since I came home after our season had ended. Between press conferences, filming of CFs and invitations for interviews it felt like I haven’t had any time for myself. I haven’t even had time to think since Bing’s wedding. Bing’s wedding… What a disaster. Suddenly I remembered Na Jeong standing in front of me telling me the words that I would have given an arm and leg to hear five years, even ten months ago. She spoke of me breaking her heart and being in love… With me. Even five days later, I still can’t wrap my mind around it. I know she believes it, I heard it in her voice. But I have a hard time believing that all this has happened just since I left. My heart pounded hopefully inside my chest and not knowing how to handle that situation right now, I tried to push her out of my head.
I turned my phone back on to see several text messages from my mother. I was out of the country for ten months with barely any word from her… Now I’ve only been out of Seoul for four days and she goes crazy with the texts. Shaking my head I quickly scanned them but didn’t read completely. From what little I did read, I was able to gather that some fans has been harassing her again. I sighed to myself. This has been happening since Japan so I don’t even know what the big deal is anymore. No doubt the rest of the messages are to encourage me to find another profession. I’m sure that she is still holding out hope that I will change my mind and decide to become a doctor or a lawyer. It seemed that no matter how successful I became, in my mother’s eyes I am still just playing a little boy’s game. No matter how hard I work or how good I become, she is the one person that keeps telling me that my glory days are numbered and that my success, along with the other things that came with it, will fade once I can no longer play baseball. I was tempted to turn my phone off again and avoid her messages when it beeped in my hand. Irritated, I hesitated to read the message until I saw Samcheonpo’s name as the sender. Pleasantly surprised, I opened the text.
Chilbong-ah, are you busy tonight? Come have dinner at our place. Yoon Jin is cooking. Samcheonpo.
I thought about my empty refrigerator at home and all the takeout meals I have been having recently and with no hesitation, texted back that I will be over around 7 pm. I barely saw either of them at Bing’s wedding that I am looking forward to catching up. Thinking about dinner I felt my stomach rumble. The flight from Jeju had been so short they only served us drinks. With nothing to eat at home, I asked my manager to take me somewhere to eat.
“What do you want? Ddukbokki?” he asked, not looking back at me.
“No, Hyung… Anything but that.”
“I thought you loved it?” he said, sounding genuinely puzzled. “You talked about it so much when you were in America and now that you’re home you don’t want it.”
“Hyung, it’s okay. I’ll just pick something up later.”
At the mention of ddukbokki, my thoughts automatically turned to Na Jeong. She was right to accuse me of running away from our memories. Unfortunately for me, I may not have wanted to remember her, but my heart rebelled against that on a daily basis. Every day I fought not to remember. Even now I still fight not to.
The car stopping, I looked around and saw that we have stopped in front of my apartment building. Turning to me, Hyung spoke.
“Don’t forget… You promised KBS an interview as soon as you settled back home. I asked them to send you their schedule. Let me know what day is good for you,” he reminded me.
“Yeah, I got it.” Gathering my belongings I said my goodbyes and exited the car. I took the elevator and walked straight to my apartment, where I quickly showered and attempted to watch television. Yawning again, I realized that I’ve barely gotten any sleep since I saw Na Jeong again. I made my way to the bedroom and laid down to take a nap before dinner.
November 10, 2000
I was helping Yoon Jin with the dishes while Samcheonpo was watching television when she turned to look at me.
“I can’t believe you invited yourself to dinner. Have you made any progress?” she asked.
I shook my head sadly. “No… And the problem is.. She won’t even see me! Every day for the past five days, I’ve waited outside her class and she hasn’t even spared me a glance.”
“But… Na Jeong-ah, how do you even know that it’s her? You’ve never met her or seen a picture right?”
“No, but Binggrae brought me there the first day.”
“Well, thats something at least. But how do you know that he brought you to the right place? Things haven’t been the same with you two since Chilbong left.”
“Yah,” I started, bumping my shoulder with hers. “We finally talked about it. Everything’s okay.”
Six days before…
“Na Jeong-ah, why are you here?” Binggrae asked, looking at me closely.
“Omma wanted me to bring you lunch… And I wanted to talk to you.”
“Didn’t we decide to meet up after I got back from our trip?”
“Yeah… But I don’t have much time. I needed to speak to you as soon as possible.”
Sighing, he asked, “About what, Na Jeong-ah?”
“I was afraid of that.” He sat down on the bench outside the hospital.
“I need your help… I want him back.” I sat down next to him.
“Na Jeong-ah… it’s not that simple.” He looked as if he didn’t know if he should say any more. “You have to understand something. My cousin… is someone who takes his time thinking things through when making a decision, but once it’s been made, it would take nearly a miracle to make him waver. Because he’s not only someone who makes a choice in one moment… He’s someone who bases all his actions thereafter with the purpose of making the choice he made the right one, even if it’s not. I mean, he decided to be a baseball player when he was still young. Even when people kept telling him he’ll never make it as a professional, he just pushed and pushed no matter what. He did everything in his power, to make it happen. It was annoying as a kid… Having a cousin like that.” At the memory he chuckled. “But my point is this. Chilbong may still love you, but the difference is that now, he doesn’t want to… And everything he’s going to do from this day forward will be for the purpose of making sure that one day, he won’t love you anymore.”
“I deserve another chance,” I answered. “If he would just let me… I can show him how much I love him. But I would need to be close enough to him to do that.”
He didn’t meet my eyes as he spoke again. “Listen… I have no doubt that you love him. I saw you after he left. I don’t have to be a genius to know that if losing something hurts that much that it can’t be anything but love. And I know you well enough to know that you’ll try really hard. You’re not the type to go halfway,” he paused, hesitant to say what he’s about to next. “Na Jeong-ah, you’re my friend and I do care about you. But a big part of me wishes you would just leave him alone.”
Shocked, I backed away farther from him on the bench. “Dong Joon-ah…”
“I’m not trying to hurt your feelings. Like I said, I know you’ve had it hard too. But, I watched him at your door, listening to you as you cried. He doesn’t even know this, but I saw his face when you called for Jung Gook Hyung. I was the one who took him to the airport. Chilbong, who never showed any pain no matter how much it hurt, who always cried behind closed doors… I had to watch him cry as we drove away from the house. I listened to him sobbing, unable to do anything to comfort him except keep my hand on his shoulder. As much as I hate to say this, if you two don’t work out, I can’t be friends with you anymore. You’re lucky… You have a great family and great friends who will always be there. I also have a good family and a little brother too. But Chilbong… He only has me.”
“Dong Joon-ah… You know I don’t make promises lightly. But I promise you… That I will love Joon for the rest of my life. I can’t guarantee that I won’t hurt him sometimes, but I can assure you that it will never be intentionally and that I will stay and love him through that too.You will never have to be the only one watching his back anymore.”
For a few minutes he didn’t say a word. When he looked at me, he said, “I think I’ll let Chilbong make his own decision, but I won’t stand in your way.” After clearing his throat, he asked, “Now, what do you need help with?”
The next day, Binggrae and I found ourselves standing in front of a university.
“Na Jeong-ah… are you sure about this?” When I nodded, he continued. “Well if you’re sure about it, good luck then.”
“Yah… I know Joon and I don’t need luck. I can handle him.”
“I wasn’t talking about Joon. I was talking about his mother.”
The doorbell ringing snapped me out of my reverie. As Joon’s face showed up on the monitor, I tried to assume as casual a pose as I can think of on the sofa. Yoon Jin walked to the door to let him in and Samcheonpo looked at me with a frown on his face.
“Na Jeong-ah… It’s only Chilbong. Why are you sitting like that?” I was about to get up and smack him when I heard Joon enter the apartment.
After what seemed like forever, Yoon Jin went straight to the kitchen as Joon followed her to the living room. Wearing a white dress shirt and black slacks, his coat slung over his arm, he stopped where he stood as soon as he saw me.
“Oh yeah, Chilbong-ah, we forgot to mention that Na Jeong was coming too.” Yoon Jin said from the kitchen.
Fixing a smile on my face, I looked at him and said, “Hello, Kim Jae Joon.”
November 10, 2000
Her eyes looked like dew kissed leaves. This was the first thought in my head as she stood in front of me and met my eyes confidently. She was wearing a green floaty blouse, tucked casually into a pair of jeans that hugged her hips like skin. Her hair was pulled halfway up, exposing the long column of her neck. Unadorned except for a pair of earrings, she has never looked better.
“Oh yeah, Chilbong-ah, we forgot to mention that Na Jeong was coming too.” I heard Yoon Jin call out from the kitchen.
“Hello, Kim Jae Joon,” Na Jeong finally said. Her mouth broke into a smile and afraid Samcheonpo and Yoon Jin were watching, I gave her an uneasy smile in return.
“Yah, no need for formalities here, we’re all friends,” Samcheonpo said as he stood up and greeted me. “You both don’t need to be standing there like you’re about to have a shootout… This is not the Wild West. Sit down, sit down…” He took me by the arm as he led me to one end of the couch and Na Jeong followed and sat herself down at the other end. Even with about two feet between us, I still felt like she was way too close and I moved myself to the absolute end of the sofa. As if seeing what I was doing, she merely watched me with amusement in her eyes.
“Joon-ah…” she said. I looked at her and she looked like she was about to start laughing. “Why are you sitting all the way over there? I won’t bite you.” She scooted towards me and then put her hand to her mouth as if whispering. “Not unless you want me to.”
I felt my face blush. Thankfully Yoon Jin called us to the table before I could respond. Na Jeong makes me nervous. I never know what’s going to come out of her mouth. I hate that part of me is still so weak when it came to her. She’s always been a mystery to me, but with her newfound confidence she’s even more of a puzzle.
I had dreaded the possible awkwardness of dinner, but fortunately, Samcheonpo and Yoon Jin kept the topics neutral enough that there were no uncomfortable silences. Taking a bite of rice I watched with concern as Na Jeong took another shot of soju. Sitting next to her, I couldn’t help but react to her presence. I only hope that she doesn’t notice that I kept looking over at her all throughout our meal. I felt her eyes on me a few times, listening as I spoke or watching me eat. I felt prickles of awareness when her gaze looked me over and I had to concentrate to keep myself from staring right back.
After dinner we all sat around the living room, talking about their wedding and honeymoon. Suddenly Yoon Jin stood up and grabbed a videotape from the shelf.
“Chilbong-ah, should we watch? Binggrae recorded it for us.” I smiled and nodded. I hated that I missed one of the most important moments of my friends’ lives. “We haven’t seen this yet either. He just dropped it off yesterday.”
Sitting back down next to Na Jeong, she pressed the play button on the remote control. The first scene is the same as was in the pictures that she had given me. Yoon Jin stood in the middle of the room, a shy smile on her face, looking at herself in the mirror with tears in her eyes. Na Jeong stood behind her fixing her veil. I heard Bing’s voice in the background asking Na Jeong for some words before the wedding. She turned to the camera and gave a big smile.
“Yah Binggrae you can erase this part if I make a mistake right? Anyway, Yoon Jin-ah, you still have time to change your mind. I’ll take you away from here if you want… I’m just teasing you. Seriously now, Yoon Jin-ah, I am so happy for you. You didn’t get to marry Seo Taiji Oppa, but you’re marrying someone even better. You’re marrying a man who loves you so much he would do anything for you. Dreams don’t always come true the way we imagined right?”
I looked over at Yoon Jin and saw that she was tearing up, and Na Jeong affectionately put her arm around her. I know they have always been close, but now they seemed more like sisters than best friends. I watched as Na Jeong warmly patted Yoon Jin’s back and didn’t realize that Samcheonpo was looking at me. I turned my gaze self consciously and continued watching the video.
I watched as Yoon Jin walked down the aisle with the biggest smile on her face and had to chuckle when Samcheonpo started crying as he watched her. I listened as they said their vows and they were finally pronounced as married. Next to me Samcheonpo was looking at his wife lovingly, and I looked up to see Na Jeong staring at me. My heart suddenly racing, I excused myself to go to the restroom just to get away. In the bathroom I told myself to get a grip. I took my time in getting my composure back. You’re not 19 years old anymore and it’s not 1994. You’ve come a very long way. Sung Na Jeong may still make your heart race, but it doesn’t mean you need to freak out every time you’re around her. You share the same friends, so you’ll have to figure out how to make this work. I took a deep breath and washed my face.
When I came back out, Samcheonpo was gone. “Yoon Jin-ah… Where did Samcheonpo go?” She and Na Jeong were in the kitchen putting dishes away.
“Oh… I just realized that we didn’t have any more trash bags so he ran out to the store and get some,” she said. “I didn’t know if you wanted something else to drink but I put a cup of coffee on the table… Help yourself to some milk and sugar over here if you need it. Feel free to turn off the video if you want. The remote control is also on the table.”
I made my way back to the couch and sat down. I was just reaching for the remote control when I heard Haitai speak.
“HELLO…” Haitai said. “YOU ALL… Ahem, You all saw me earlier at the wedding, but in case we haven’t been introduced, my name is Son Ho Jun. I have been Sung Kyun’s roommate and best friend for the past five… No, six years. You might want to knock off a few months off that number though because we couldn’t stand each other when we first met,” He looked at Samcheonpo and gave him the ‘V’ sign. I heard everyone laugh.“Anyway, I’ve known Yoon Jin for just as long. I was there when they first fell in love and to see them getting married now just reminds me how old we are getting.” He cleared his throat. “We have another close friend from Yonsei University, who unfortunately today couldn’t be here due to professional reasons, but he did however send a special message to the groom and his bride. Can someone dim the lights, please?”
I remained standing and watched as my image came onto the screen behind Haitai.
“Yah… I bet you never expected to see me like this, right? I don’t really feel comfortable wearing this either, but since I can’t be there in person, I’m trying to be there in spirit instead. So I decided to dress up just for you. Oh I forgot… I’m not supposed to start a formal wedding speech like that, right? Hyung, can we start over?” Hyung said no and I heard the audience laugh. “No? Ahhh… okay…” I had to shake my head at my own speech. Thank God that of all of us, only Haitai still needed to get married, and I hope he doesn’t ask me to speak or sing at his wedding. I am so uncomfortable doing anything else in front of a crowd besides baseball.
Not really wanting to watch me make a fool of myself even more, I was about to press the stop button when the camera panned over to the table where everyone was sitting. It scanned the faces on the table and I grinned when I saw Ae Jung smile and Jin Yi noona hold her hands to make a heart to the camera. Finally it turned to Na Jeong. She didn’t even realize that the camera was on her she was too focused on the screen.
I looked quickly at the two of them in the kitchen and saw that they were both talking quietly while they did the dishes. My eyes brought me back to the television screen and I could hear my voice delivering my speech, but the camera stayed on Na Jeong. She had a small smile on her face, and I was taken aback by the look of tenderness in her eyes. The whole time I spoke, she never took her eyes off me. By the time I was done with my speech and the lights turned back on, the camera still stayed on her. Her beautiful face frozen with grief, she had tears running down her eyes. While the audience applauded and people raised their glasses for a toast, I watched her shakily stand up. Looking like she might fall down, she supported herself with one hand on the table. She looked unfocused and bewildered as she practically ran to the door with her hand over her mouth.The camera panned back to Yoon Jin and Samcheonpo happily sitting together at their table, and soon the footage was over.
I took a step back and had to sit down. Shock is a serious understatement to describe how I’m feeling right now. When I left, I thought only of myself and really didn’t believe she would be that affected. I thought for sure that she might be upset for a couple of days, but that she would get over it quickly enough. Seeing her fall apart during the wedding, my heart ached. I looked over to where she stood and watched as she dried the dishes by the table, wishing I was brave enough to sweep away the lock of hair that has fallen over her face. Yoon Jin said something to her and she laughed, her happy expression a far cry from what I just witnessed. Was this what she meant when she said I broke her heart? Wanting nothing more than to put my arms around her and beg for forgiveness, I resolutely kept my arms to my side and tried to keep my emotions in check.
Feeling like I was being suffocated, I stood up and was about to tell Yoon Jin that I had to go when Samcheonpo walked back into the apartment.
“Yeobo, I have the stuff you asked for,” he said, handing Yoon Jin a bag. He turned to me and noting my coat in my hands, asked, “Chilbong-ah, are you about to leave?”
“Yeah… I was thinking about it. I still have to train in the morning and it’s almost midnight now,” I replied.
“Oh,” Yoon Jin said. “Good, Na Jeong can use the ride home.” I looked at Na Jeong who was studiously looking at everywhere else but me. “It’s really late now, and surely we can’t send her home alone on a bus when you have your car?” Yoon Jin pointedly asked me.
“Na Jeong-ah, don’t you have your license?” Samcheonpo asked.
“Yeobo, you know she doesn’t drive alone.” Yoon Jin answered.
I would love nothing more than to bolt from that apartment as quickly as possible, but I know I would never forgive myself if something happened to Na Jeong because I can’t handle a twenty minute car ride with her. Knowing that I might live to regret this decision, I looked at Na Jeong.
“Are you ready to go?” I asked her.
She quickly grabbed her coat and walked over to me. “Yoon Jin-ah, I’ll call you tomorrow. Samcheonpo, thanks for dinner. We’re leaving.” She grabbed my arm and pushed me out the door.
Once out of the apartment, we walked more slowly to the parking lot. She stayed quiet, and lost in my own thoughts, I had nothing to say either. I opened the car door for her and she sat inside and said her thanks. I made my way to the driver’s seat and pushed my key into the ignition. I was slowly pulling out of the parking space when she spoke.
“Joon-ah… Do you remember the last time you drove me somewhere?” she asked.
Of course I do… That was the night you saw Jung Gook again. “Barely,” I answered.
“You did a great job singing at Bing’s wedding. The guests couldn’t stop talking about it. I was going to tell them you’re good at a lot of things, but I didn’t think you’d want them to know all those things about you.” She paused, her eyes looking out the window. “You were a really good dancer too.”
At the mention of the word, I was transported back to the night before I left. I’ve replayed that day so many times in my head it’s imprinted into my memory. Waking Na Jeong up with kisses, playing with her in the snow, making ramyun together, slow dancing in the dark, kissing her while the snow drifted all around us… I see those scenes all the time in my head. My still bruised heart beat painfully in my chest, and I had to clear my throat before speaking. “Na Jeong-ah…”
“You know that when I asked you to try again with me, I already knew you didn’t love me anymore?” she asked with a sad smile on her face.
“What? What do you mean by that?”
“Joon-ah, I am a fairly level headed person even though at times my emotions get the better of me. I wrote down all the things you’ve done or in this case, hadn’t done since you left, just so I could come to a sensible conclusion about how you felt for me.” She paused before proceeding. “You never called.”
“I was busy…” I stammered.
“So busy that you were able to call my parents every Friday while I was at work?” I stopped at the stoplight and looked at her. She was still looking out the window.
“Ahhh… About that…”
“You never ask about me from our friends…”
“Saying your name brought back memories.”
“You never visited the house since you’ve been back.”
“I just got home a week ago and I have had a lot of appointments.”
“I understand,” she said resignedly. “So yeah, I know you don’t love me anymore. But… You fell in love with me twice before, and there’s no reason why you can’t fall in love with me again.” I was just pulling up in front of the boarding house when I heard her words and I stepped my foot onto the brakes in surprise.
“Hold on a minute…” I started, feeling defensive but not knowing why. Turning to her I said, “How can you say I don’t love you? I laid everything out for you on my letter. I told you every…”
“Joon-ah, why are you getting so upset?” she interrupted. “I didn’t say you never loved me, just that you don’t anymore. It’s really quite obvious… You haven’t done anything that would show me since you came back that you still had any feelings for me. I completely understand. I don’t even…”
Pushed by frustration and repressed anger, I leaned over and pressed a hard kiss onto her mouth. I only meant to shut her up and to make her stop listing reasons of how she came to the very reasonable conclusion that I couldn’t possibly love her anymore. I meant to teach her a lesson, to not push me, because I have been a mess since I’ve been home and it’s all because of her. Her lips stayed unyielding, even as I felt her heart race against my chest.
November 11, 2000
I felt the anger and frustration practically seeping off Joon. His mouth pressed insistently on mine, I refused to take part in this joke of a kiss. I know he’s upset, and I might have goaded him a little too hard, but I am not going to apologize for verbalizing the things that need to be said. God knows he wouldn’t do it. I knew he was going to kiss me when I saw the glint in his eyes. He knew that I loved it when he kissed me. Maybe he thought I would lose my head. Na Jeong from ten months ago might have, but not me. He’s using my weakness against me and I don’t like it. I pushed him away and he refused to look at me. We stayed like that for a few minutes, me looking at him and him not meeting my eyes. I was reaching for the door handle when he finally spoke.
“Don’t misunderstand,” he said. “I was just trying to shut you up.”
“Joon-ah… You’re the one who misunderstood. So let me make it clear… I love you, but I’m not gonna take your shit.” Hearing this, he finally turned to look at me. “You may not love me, but I love you. Don’t be pressing anything of yours against me and then ask me not to misunderstand. My brain may comprehend, but my heart won’t.”
“Stop saying that. You can’t love me. I don’t love you anymore,” he said, as if by saying it he might miraculously make my love for him go away.
I had to stop myself from laughing bitterly and told myself to calm down before speaking again. “You seem to be under the impression that I’m asking for your permission to love you. I hate to tell you this, but I need no one’s permission, not even yours. I’ve known that I loved you months ago.. I’ve been doing it on my own without your knowledge or your consent.” I looked out the window. “It’s my heart, to do with as I please. I can give it and take it back. I can even break it myself if I so choose, just like you did. Why are you so worried? It’s not like you still love me, right?” When he didn’t speak again, I picked up my bag and prepared to exit the car. I took one more look at him, his handsome face expressionless. I would think that he remained unaffected, but the way he gripped the steering wheel in his hands said otherwise. “Joon-ah…” I said, a little more gently this time, “Don’t ever use your lips against me in anger again. I love you too much to have that as a memory.” I opened the car door and stepped out. Before closing the door I addressed him one more time. “I hope you’re not avoiding seeing Omma and Appa because you don’t want to see me. You know when I work… I’m sure they would love to see you. They’ve really missed you. Just like I… We all have.”
Thankfully everyone was already asleep by the time I got home. I went straight to my room and changed my clothes. I cleaned my face and brushed my teeth. Just before I went to bed, I looked out the window. My heart thumped painfully inside me when I saw that Joon’s car was still in front of the house.
Seoul National University
November 15, 2000
As I have done the last week, I walked the halls of Seoul National University on my lunch hour from work. I stopped outside of a classroom and looked at the clock. 11:30 a.m. I got here just in time. For the past seven days, I made the mistake of coming here after her class ended. As soon as I mentioned Joon’s name she just looked me up and down and walked away. So after a little reconnaissance, I found out that she stays in the classroom during breaks. In five minutes, her students will disperse and I can definitely catch her then.
I waited patiently behind the door. I haven’t seen Joon or heard from him at all since Yoon Jin and Samcheonpo’s dinner. Maybe he and I both need time to regroup. I don’t know anymore. Sometimes I question the logic of my plan and whether he is worth it, but then I remember the way we were and I realize the answer will always the same. Yes, always, yes.
The doors opened and students started filing out. I waited until they had all walked off until I peeked into the small window to make sure the room was empty but for her. I took a deep breath and walked through the door. I quietly made my way towards her until I was standing right in front of her desk. I waited until she realized I was there, but she didn’t so much as look up.
Feeling incredibly nervous, I cleared my throat. “He… Hello Professor Park, my name is Sung Na Jeong and I’m a friend of Jae Joon’s. I wondered if I could speak to you for a minute.”
She stayed silent for so long that I wondered for a minute if she had heard me. I was about to repeat myself when she lifted her eyes to me. I had to consciously stop my mouth from opening. Joon’s mother is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life. Her dark brown hair was up in a classy chignon, emphasizing her high cheekbones and smooth skin. She looked like a female version of Joon, except when I looked into her eyes, which were almost identical to his, I detected no warmth at all and her lips were set in a stiff line, with none of his easy humor coming through. She narrowed her gaze at me and I suddenly felt like I was being dissected from the inside out. I nervously smoothed my long hair and straightened my posture. It felt unnerving being studied this way.
“What did you say your name was again?” she finally asked.
“Sung Na Jeong, Professor… I went to Yonsei University with Joo…Jae Joon.”
“That’s funny. Because my son has never mentioned your name.” I could swear she was trying to scare me but I won’t be intimidated.
“Irregardless of whether Jae Joon has mentioned me, I’ve known him for six years. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have a favor to ask of you.”
She raised one of her eyebrows at that. “Is that right? Tell me, Ms.Sung, what can I do for you? Now, before you answer, let me remind you that I am the mother of a son who lives in the public eye. Do you know how many women have come to talk to me to get to my son? I stopped counting at 100. Do you know how many mothers have showed up here trying to get a matchmaking date with Jae Joon? Just as many. So if you’re here to ask for his autograph, his phone number or his address, or even his email address, I’m afraid I can’t help you.” She looked back down to her notes.
At her patronizing tone I felt my temper flaring. Calm down, I told myself silently. Trying to adopt what could possibly have been the most neutral look on my face that I can muster, I had to take a breath before I spoke again. “Actually no. I know he’s come back, in fact I’ve seen him. But with him just having returned from America, I thought it might be nice for him to have something to eat that he loves. I seem to recall him saying in the past that your radish kimchi was his favorite. So I’m here to see if there was any possibility in you sharing your recipe… With me.” I watched as surprise flitted over her face. But just as quickly it was there, it was gone and she again wore the look of bored detachment.
“Well… That’s different. I have to give you credit for that. I’m not sure how you found out what my son’s favorite food is, but I suppose with the prevalence of the Internet, you can find out anything about anyone. People are so dedicated these days,” she paused and looked away, as if hesitant to continue. “To be perfectly honest, Joon being in the limelight feels like an affront to me. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked him to reconsider his profession. I keep telling him to enjoy this now and figure out a plan B because this is not going to last, but he’s stubborn to a fault. And really, I don’t think that he’ll have much luck doing anything else, because though both his parents are intellectuals, he’s always been more brawn than brain. His desire to always please people has made him soft, and it will bite him in the end.”
Fully angry now, I spoke up before I could even think about what I’m saying. “With all due respect, Jae Joon may not be book smart, but he’s smart in life. He understands people. He’s funny, and he’s hardworking and, he’s incredible. He lives his life with integrity and perseveres through all his hardships. His kind heart may well be his greatest asset, not his weakness as you so obviously implied. Joon… Your son… Is the best man I know.” My hands balled into fists at my sides and I felt myself almost shaking I was so mad. “I changed my mind, Professor. I don’t need your recipe after all. I’ll just make my own. Thank you for your time.”
I turned and started making my way back to the door. My eyes burned with angry tears, and I was afraid I’d lose my cool and say something else before I could leave. For one brief moment I wondered if she was going to call security on me when I heard her call my name.
“Ms. Sung.” I was about to turn the door handle and her voice stopped me. I fixed a calm expression on my face and turned around to see her writing on a piece of paper. Once she was done writing, she offered it to me. “Here’s my home address and the ingredients you’ll need. I only have a couple of hours this Friday to spare, so please be prompt and be there by 5 pm.”
Speechless, I nodded and took the piece of paper. “Thank you,” I finally said, meeting her eyes, and I could have sworn she looked at me with what looked like amusement. I walked out of the university in a daze and went back to the office to finish my day.
Sincheon Boarding House
November 16, 2000
I looked at my watch as I walked up the stairs to Sincheon Boarding House. I had planned on being here earlier, but the CF filming took a little longer than I expected.
As I knocked on the door, I thought about how strange it felt when I used to live here before. The last time I was here there was still snow on the ground, and now I can feel the winter chill again. That memory seemed like a lifetime ago… Samcheonpo, Yoon Jin, and Dong Joon have all moved out, and only Haitai and Na Jeong remained.
I lifted my gloved hand to knock again when I saw Omma come to the door. As soon as she saw me, her face broke out into a wide smile and opened the door wide to let me in.
“Omo… Chilbong-ah!” she exclaimed as she embraced me tightly. “You’re here! I can’t believe you’re finally home! Come in, come in…” She ushered me into the house and I followed her to the living room. “Why did you knock? Do you not have your key anymore?”
“Omma, no. I didn’t want to lose it so I left it with Binggrae when I left.” Looking around the room, I observed that everything still looked exactly the same. The only difference I could spot was that among the frames that littered the shelves, there were now new ones. I bent down to examine them more closely and saw one from Yoon Jin and Samcheonpo’s wedding, and another one from Dong Joon and Jin Yi noona’s wedding.
“Bong-ah, do you want something to drink?” I heard Omma call from the kitchen.
“Ah, Omma… Just tea for me, thank you,” I answered. I was about to walk over to the couch to sit down when I saw some pictures laying flat on the shelf. Lifting it, my hands began to tremble.
It was a picture of me, holding a baseball in my hand. Underneath it was another picture of me, holding a baseball up in the air while my teammates were caught celebrating in the background. I have seen pictures like these before from my university days. I have also seen pictures like these from my days playing in Japan, but I was wearing my Giants uniform in both of them. Most of the pictures of me that I have seen circulated were professional shots usually taken during practice, but the graininess of these implied that they were from a personal camera and I could see the blur of the crowd a distance away from where I stood. For a second I wondered if my manager had sent them these when I heard Omma come up behind me. Before I could put them down, she was looking over my shoulder and smiling at me.
“I still need to buy new frames for your pictures,” she explained. “They turned out quite well, don’t you think?”
“Yeah…Omma, they did,” I answered. Hesitant to ask but knowing it will drive me crazy if I didn’t, I turned towards her. “But Omma… How did you get these? When were these from?”
“I think it’s been over a month ago?” She paused, as if trying to think. “Ahh, I remember now. They were from your division championship game. Na Jeong…” A noise at the door interrupted her and before I could ask her to elaborate, she whispered to me. “Na Jeong’s Appa doesn’t know so we’ll talk more later.”
“Yeobo!” Coach called out. “Did you know there’s a car parked up front?” He was speaking as he was walking but as soon as he saw me he froze up and just stared. “Chilbong-ah!!!” Leading me by the arm towards the couch he turned to Omma. “Yeobo, why didn’t you call me and tell me Chilbong was here?”
“Coach-nim, I only just got here a few minutes ago.” I said. He looked at me with affection and I smiled back absently. I was dying for Omma to finish her sentence. Na Jeong did what?
“How is your shoulder? You said it was bothering you the last time we spoke. You should get it looked at while you’re home.”
“Yeah, Coach-nim. I already made an appointment with my doctor. It’s okay right now, but it gets stiff more often nowadays.” I chuckled. “Maybe I’m just getting older.”
Omma came back from the kitchen then with a tray holding cups of tea. She served me first, then Coach, then herself before sitting herself down next to him. Coach looked at her and brushed her cheek with his hand. She blushed and patted his hand away and I couldn’t help but smile at them.
Being here, being with them, makes me feel like I am part of another world. A better world, where love meant forever, and where the word family actually means something. This boarding house has been the grounding force in my life all these years. Once upon a time I believed that I could really be a part of this world, but lately I’ve been realizing that I was just a visitor. Coach’s voice interrupted my thoughts.
“Chilbong-ah, what is America like?” he asked.
“It’s big… Really big. Everyone drives, even in the city. There are a lot of stores and restaurants everywhere, just like here, and people are really into baseball.” I always find it hard to describe my experience in America without making it sound so simplistic. The truth is that all I know of it is seen either from my apartment, the window of a plane or a bus, or a hotel room. “I like it… But there’s no place like home. Even the food at a korean restaurant doesn’t taste like it does here.”
“Bong-ah… Do you think they’ll renew your contract? You have a year left, right?” Omma asked, watching me a little too closely.
“My coach asked me about it before I flew back home. I think if I continue playing the way I’ve been playing there’s a big possibility they might.”
They both stayed silent at my response. Coach looked like he was about to ask something else when the phone started ringing. Omma stood up and answered the call.
“Hello? Na Jeong-ah… What happened? Calm down and tell me clearly why you’re crying…” As if by instinct I stood up. I fought the urge to grab the phone and speak to her myself. “Aigoo, this girl. Are you crying because of that?” Covering the receiver with one hand and said, “Can you go into Na Jeong’s room and check if her gloves are on the table?”
I nodded and walked to Na Jeong’s room. As soon as I opened the door I was brought back to the last time I was here. I could still see her on the bed sleeping peacefully that morning. My heart in my throat I struggled to remember what I was here for. Gloves. Right. I scanned the room saw a pair of gloves on the table. But they weren’t her gloves. They were mine. I was about to ask Omma if this was what she had been referring to when I spotted my cap sitting there. It was the cap I put on Na Jeong’s head the night before I left for Japan. That time feels like so long ago now. Another lifetime.
Under the cap, there was a boarding pass stub, and when I picked it up my heart literally stopped. My eyes tried to focus on finding the date. And there it was. October 3, 2000. The day before my championship game. Destination? San Francisco. Passenger name? Sung Na Jeong.
I shakily placed the stub back down. Stunned I walked back to the living room with the gloves. Omma smiled at me when she saw them in my hands then she noticed the expression on my face. “Na Jeong-ah, they’re here. It’s okay… No, I won’t take a picture of it for you. You’ll be home soon anyway. Appa? No, you can’t speak to Appa, he’s in the bathroom. I have to go now.” Taking my hands in hers, she looked at me with concerned eyes. “Chilbong-ah, are you okay?”
I couldn’t focus for a minute. Na Jeong was in San Francisco? Why would she go there? Why didn’t anyone tell me? “Omma,” I stammered. “Did… Did Na Jeong go to San Francisco?” Looking momentarily puzzled, she thought for a minute before she answered.
“Yes… Don’t you remember? She came for your game. Your division championship game. She couldn’t take too much time off work because they wouldn’t let her, so she flew in for the day and came back on Monday.” She paused as if remembering something. “But, shouldn’t you know all this? She told me she saw you. And you’ve seen the pictures… She took them at your game.”
“But… But the flight is twelve hours long… How could she have…”
“Bong-ah… I told her that too. But she wouldn’t listen, said she had to be there. Aigoo, she was in so much pain from her back from being in a plane for so long.”
She turned towards the bathroom as we heard a flush. I sat back on the couch and Coach came back from the bathroom and sat beside me while Omma made her way to the kitchen. He spoke about a few more things, but I was distracted… My mind was still reeling from what I just found out.
It felt like the room was closing itself around me, and I needed to get out. Before I could say anything though I heard Omma call my name out from the kitchen.
“Joon-ah, you’ll stay for dinner right? There’s plenty of food and I’ve already set a plate out for you.”
I didn’t really want to be here when Na Jeong came home but I couldn’t say no. Coach had just gone to help Omma in the kitchen when I heard the front door open and Haitai and Na Jeong came into view.
It was a conscious effort to keep my expression neutral. Because all I can think about in this moment is that I can’t do this… I can’t be in this house, with her questions, her declarations and her feelings. I can’t do this. For the first time since I left, I felt myself losing control.
Na Jeong’s magnificent eyes widened as she realized that I was there with her parents. She gave me a hesitant smile as Haitai passed right by her to say hello to me. Not caring that anyone could have been watching, I could do nothing but look at her. She gazed back at me with her guileless eyes, her expression that of a woman who had nothing to hide. I felt my heart beat the slow steady rhythm of her name, and knew for sure I had to finish this situation tonight. She met my stare with one of her own… her brave, expressive eyes not backing down.
Haitai cleared his throat between us. “You guys, dial down on the intensity. You look like you’re about to kill each other… Or do something else. Hurry, before Omma and Appa come back.” He gave us both a pointed look before making the three of us sit down on the couch. He placed her on his right, and me on his left. Na Jeong pretended to watch television while Haitai kept on talking and I just stayed silent.
When we were called to eat, I was forced to sit in my old seat, right next to her. I wondered for a second if it would have been preferable to be across from her, but then I realized that had I been opposite her I might have stared at her the whole time. I was dying to ask her so many questions, but this is so not the right time, or the right place or the right audience. She remained quiet through the meal, never looking at me, and only answering her parents’ questions as minimally as possible. As if sensing that there was a disconnect between myself and Na Jeong, everyone at the table were quiet.
“Na Jeong-ah, did you see the gloves by the phone?” Na Jeong looked up as Omma continued. “Chilbong found them on your table. I can’t believe you were crying over a pair of gloves. I don’t even remember when you got them… They look a little big for your hands.”
“They were given to me,” she said quietly. “By someone I love.” Na Jeong didn’t turn my way. I couldn’t even stop the way my heart jumped to hear her say that.
“Chilbong-ah,” I heard Haitai say. “I know there’s only a remote possibility that you might not get renewed, but what happens if you don’t?”
“Ah…” I started. “I become a free agent until another team makes me an offer.”
“How will that work if you’re back in Korea after your contract expires? Your name will not be as exposed in America,” Coach asked.
“I wasn’t planning on coming back to Korea for a while after my contract, whether or not I get renewed,” I cleared my throat. “I was thinking of settling there permanently.”
Around me everyone stayed silent. Awkwardly Haitai smiled and said, “Wow… that’s great.”
Slowly, Na Jeong lifted her head and turned her head towards me, looking so hurt and so stricken that I could feel her pain all the way to my bones.
I swallowed a lump in my throat. I hadn’t meant to say that. I didn’t even know that that option had been at the forefront of my mind. Until now. It was really only one way that I will be okay with living my life without her. Because this… Sharing of friends and family is not going to work. Meeting all the time, sharing meals… None of this will make it easier for me not to love her.
By the time the meal was finished, I was exhausted. I was hoping that I could make a quick exit, but Omma and Appa looked at me so hopefully that I ended up staying another hour, pretending go watch television. Na Jeong sat on the floor in front of me, not even sparing me a glance. Good, I thought, even as my traitorous heart begged to see her face, it’s better this way.
When it was finally time to say goodbye, I stood at the front door, not feeling quite ready to say my farewell. I watched as Na Jeong stood to the side as her parents spoke to me.
“Bong-ah… Omma and Coach are sorry that we weren’t supportive about you telling us you might be moving to America. We’re happy for you… It’s just that we’ll miss you a lot.” She took me in her arms and hugged me. As I was pulling away, I heard her speak. “Get plenty of rest while you’re home, okay? Make sure to eat well.” Omma said, looking at me gently. Her love and warmth washed over me, and I felt tears spring to my eyes.
“I will,” I responded, trying to swallow the lump in my throat. “Omma… thank you for everything.” She gave my hand a squeeze before I turned to Coach.
“Chilbong-ah… Try to visit us one more time before you have to leave again… Because it sounds like after that we might not see you for a long time. But even if you don’t, that’s okay too. Once you’re back in America you’ll still keep in touch right?”
“Yes, Coach-nim… I’ll be sure to visit you again.” Even as I answered, the words rang empty in my ears. Coach looked like he knew it too but he said no more and just looked at me fondly. He shook my hand and gave me a smile.
I heard Na Jeong before I saw her appear at my side. Smiling a little too brightly, she told her parents that she’ll walk me out. She grabbed her coat and gloves and waited until I was ready before she followed me out. Once outside her smile disappeared and a look of sadness replaced it. We walked in silence, and my mind brought me back every memory of us walking side by side this way, our hands locked together. My heart clamped painfully inside me, and I was relieved when my car came into view. Just when I thought that I was able to leave, I heard her speak.
“Joon-ah… Do you think for one second we can pretend that you and I don’t have the history that we have? Can we pretend that we are back to us being friends?” She paused. “It’s just… I just want to have an adult conversation with you without you clamming up and without me going… well, insane. Do you think we can do that?”
Feeling as if I owed her this much, quietly I said, “Okay…. ” I waited for her to start as we walked side by side but seeing that she looked like she was still thinking, I decided to begin. “Na Jeong-ah… I’m sorry about the other night. I shouldn’t have kissed you.”
“Is that all you’re sorry for?” she asked, not looking at me. “How about sorry I left without a word? Since we’re being honest, I think you need to apologize for that as well… I’m sorry too. I’m sorry I didn’t see your heart all those years.” I watched as she tried to put a hopeful smile on her face and as she nervously wrung her hands. “Have you thought anymore about what I asked you? About starting over?”
“Na Jeong-ah… I’ve thought about what you’ve said. I think I should tell you that I don’t think we can start over. ”
“Is it that you don’t think we can… Or you don’t think you can?” When I didn’t answer, she turned to look at me. “Is it because you don’t love me anymore?”
“That hardly matters when I’m making the choice not to,” I said. I kept my hands in my pockets, afraid they would betray me.
“It matters to me.” She looked at me calmly. “Is that the only reason?”
“I… I didn’t grow up with a family like yours. Until I met all of you I’ve never known what it was like to have people who actually, really cared.” I stopped and took a deep breath. “If things don’t work out between us, I won’t just be losing you… I’ll be losing them too. I can’t risk that.”
“So whats your solution?” she asked, the tone in her voice flat.
“Get over you. Get over this. I will spend my whole life doing that if I have to. I’ll move to America and keep playing baseball.”
“And me… What about me?”
“You’ll find someone else. You’ll get married and have children. You’ll be happy.” Even as I said those words out loud, my heart cracked with every mention of a life I will never have with her.
She raised her eyebrow. “So…You’re okay with the idea of me falling in love with someone else… Marrying someone else, having children with someone else.”
“You got to speak, it’s my turn now. Thanks for planning my whole life without you out for me… But I’m not okay with that. I don’t want anyone else but you… I’m in love with YOU. And you may have convinced yourself that you are perfectly fine living only half a life but I’m not okay with it. Because half a life is exactly what it will be. I should know… I’ve been living it for months. Feeling safe, but not fulfilled. Content, but not happy. Existing but not living. I don’t want that for me and I sure as hell don’t want that for you either.”
“Na Jeong-ah… It’s the only way I know how to live. Don’t you understand? I’m not… I’m not like you. I’m not the type of person who goes into anything without weighing pros and cons. Mainly cons. But when I’m with you, I become impulsive, reckless… And I can’t keep doing it. It’s taken me a long time to know how to protect myself from feeling anything… But with one smile and one kiss… You decimate any progress I’ve made. The wall I’ve built is back up now. I’m strong again… I like it that way. Please, don’t make me waver.” I stopped and thought about whether I should say what I’m about to say next. “Doesn’t it hurt you… Doing this?”
“Joon-ah, do you think this is easy for me? You think me telling you I love you makes me weak? Because I don’t think so. It was my choice to tell you. Trying to get you back… Yeah it hurts, but not more than loving you without you knowing does.” Na Jeong looked at me directly, her eyes shining with tears.
“You can deny it all you want, but I know you still love me. And you’re wrong. Turning away from the woman you love… Refusing her heart when she is freely giving it to you… That doesn’t make you strong. That makes you stupid.” She shook her head then looked at me beseechingly. “Please take a chance on me. Please take a chance with me.”
“Then I’ll wait. I’ll wait until you can. You’re worth it.” Her determined eyes met mine and her mouth in a firm line, she added, “People may change Joon-ah, but hearts don’t. I’d rather wait than live a life without you.”
I turned away from her and walked towards my car. Once I was inside I drove off quickly. When I looked at my windscreen mirror, Na Jeong still stood where I left her, her arms wrapped around herself.
November 16, 2000
The insistent ringing of the doorbell woke me up. I stood up too fast and felt like my head was about to explode. I slowly walked to the monitor to see who was bothering me at this time of the day and Dong Joon’s face appeared. I walked to the door and let him in, aware that he’s probably going to give me a lecture.
“Chilbong, you reek of alcohol. Have you been drinking?” He asked as he put a cloth wrapped package on my kitchen counter.
“Yah… Do you have to speak so loudly?” I answered, holding my head in pain. “What’s that?”
“I was at the boarding house earlier to pack up the rest of my stuff and Omma wanted me to bring this to you. She said she forgot that she had packed it up.” His back turned to me, he started putting the food in the refrigerator. “She sent over some kimchi and some other side dishes. Have you visited them yet?”
“Yes… I was there last night. ”
Binggrae walked from the kitchen to the living room and sat down across from me. He looked me up and down and shook his head. “You look like death.”
“I feel like it too,” I said.
“How much did you drink last night?” he asked.
“Enough to make me forget,” I muttered under my breath. Suddenly I remembered driving around for a few hours after I left the boarding house.
“I know you’ve seen Na Jeong. Has she told you about Jung Gook Hyung?”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “What about him? I saw them sitting at your wedding. That’s all I know.”
“Since you don’t care, then they’ve gotten back together…”
“Yeah… I thought so. They haven’t… I was just testing you. They didn’t try again, even after you left, just in case you were curious. Na Jeong even returned her ring.” He paused for a moment, as if waiting for a reaction. When he didn’t get one, he continued. “Are you okay? What am I asking… Of course you’re not okay. I mean look at you.”
“Dong Joon-ah, now is not the time to talk about this. I’m not in the mood.”
“Now is as good a time as any. And you’re never in the mood, so let’s talk about it. You can’t hold everything in forever.”
I looked at him and saw the concern in his eyes. My cousin… The only one who ever worried about me all my life. “Yeah… I’ve seen Na Jeong. She said she loves me… She said that she’s in love with me.
“And?” he prodded, looking at me questioningly.
“And nothing. It doesn’t make a difference.” I felt so tired all of a sudden and leaned back on the couch.
“I find that hard to believe. You’ve loved her for so long, waited for so long, and now that she loves you too it doesn’t make a difference?” he asked, shaking in his head. “This coming from the guy who cried all the way to the airport… What happened to you?”
I met his eyes and said, “I grew up, that’s what happened. Dong Joon-ah, I grew up. I realized that love may feel good at times, but it hurts like a bitch almost all other times. My heart is not built for it, and I’d prefer not to feel it. And you know what? I’m okay with that. I’m okay with it.”
“Are you trying to convince me or yourself? Wouldn’t it make more sense to try and see if this time it might be different? While you were growing up, Na Jeong was, too.”
“What Na Jeong is feeling can’t be real,” I said resolutely. “I don’t know if it’s infatuation, or maybe it’s a crush. Maybe I hurt her pride when I left. She was the same with Lee Sang Min Hyung.. the same with Jung Gook sunbae.”
“I never saw Na Jeong react to losing anyone the way she reacted when she lost you. Do you know how many times I caught her asleep in your bed? She should just have moved into your room she was there so often. You have no idea what that girl’s gone through to try to get to you. You’re doing her and yourself a disservice by not even considering that she may really love you.” He paused for a few minutes before continuing. “I should probably tell you that Na Jeong asked for my help… To get you back. I know you don’t need my advice, but I’m giving it anyway… I think you should give her another chance.”
“What’s the point, Dong Joon-ah?” I asked, sitting back up. “Let’s say she and I try this out, who’s to say it’s going to last? Even if it did, for how long? In my world, people don’t stay together forever. In my world, people just stay together long enough until they discover that they’re with an imperfect person and then get the hell out before the ink is even dry… Or stay together to torture each other by withholding happiness from the other. That’s the world I know.”
“Maybe not the words you should be saying to a man that just got married,” Dong Joon said jokingly.
Looking straight into his eyes, I spoke again. “Na Jeong said it herself… People change their minds. Am I expected to put everything I have in someone who changes their mind all the time? In her head, I am still the Chilbong from six years ago. But I’m not him anymore. Right now she sees me as the one that got away, but reality will rear its ugly head at some point. What will happen when she realizes that I’m not perfect? She’ll be disappointed and then she’ll leave. Because everybody does.” I closed my eyes and wished the pounding in my head would disappear.
“Joon-ah… Na Jeong is not your mother.” He said it so softly I barely heard him. He turned to me and looked me in the eyes. “She’s not. And you’re nothing like your father. History doesn’t have to repeat itself. You can control that.”
“I can’t. I can’t control it. I love her too much.”I shook my head. “My whole life I always kept a smile on my face but a wall around my heart. But she, somehow, found a hole in my wall and wiggled her way into my affections without my knowing it. My heart finally started to open, but when she didn’t choose me, she didn’t just break my heart. She broke me.” I could feel tears building up behind my eyes and shook my head. “I barely survived walking away from her. I can’t risk my heart again. I have to protect myself, the way I’ve always done. And she… She will find a better man. They’ll get married and have a simple happy life.” Looking away from him, I continued. “I have three months before I have to go back to America. I’ll stay here as long as possible and then leave. That’s what I’m going to do.”
“It’s not your place to make that choice for her.. But you’ll find that out soon enough,” he said. “Joon-ah, I know you’ve had to work hard for everything. I know you’ve spent so much of your life trying to prove people wrong about you. You always take the most difficult and perilous way, thinking that if you didn’t do it that way, you don’t deserve what you have.” Not seeing why he’s pointing things about myself that I already knew, I opened my eyes and looked at him. “Joon-ah… sometimes the hardest way is not always the best way, or the way that will lead to happiness. Sometimes, life gives you a gift, and it can be that easy.”
“It’s not. That. Simple.”
“Why? Why can’t it be that simple? Even if you don’t like it, you love her, and she loves you. Sounds like the simplest thing to me.” He looked me straight in the eyes. “You’re my cousin and I will always look out for you. Don’t push away happiness because you’re afraid of what might or might not happen. You CAN have it all. Everything you want… It’s right in front of you now. Joon-ah… You’re one word away from the life that you dream of and the love that you deserve. Three letters. One word. All you have to do is say yes.” He looked at his watch and stood up. “I have to go. I have to be at the hospital early today because we’re leaving for our honeymoon tomorrow.” He gave my shoulder one last reassuring squeeze before he made his way out the door.
Exhausted and worn out. I put myself back to bed and fell asleep still thinking about what he said.
November 17, 2000
When I woke up, it was already dark. Looking at the clock, I realized that I had slept for more than ten hours. For a minute I was tempted to go back to sleep, but my body unwilling, I dragged myself out of bed and into the shower. As I was getting dressed I heard my stomach rumbling. Realizing that I haven’t eaten anything since last night, I padded to the kitchen to see what Omma sent for me.
I berated myself as thoughts of that night came crashing back to me. No matter how much I try, I can’t erase the memory of Na Jeong’s face looking at me. Whatever her mood was… Anger, disappointment, frustration… She still always looked at me with love in her eyes. Banishing the thought away, I scanned the contents of my refrigerator. There was so much food that I didn’t know what to eat. A large container in the bottom shelf caught my attention. I knew what it was before I even tasted it. Radish kimchi. Omma has sent me this when I was in Japan and America, but she’s never sent me such a big portion. Despite my headache, I smiled at the thought that she may have made this in preparation for my visit.
I helped myself to a bowl of rice and grabbed the container on my way to the table. I was just about to eat when I spotted the light blinking on my answering machine. I placed some kimchi over my rice and walked over to the answering machine. Pressing the play button I sat back on the couch as the machine came on and I heard my manager’s voice..
“Friday, November 17, 9:30 a.m. Chilbong-ah… Did you get the schedule from KBS? We need to give them an answer soon. Call me.”
Schedule? I didn’t get a schedule from them… Wondering if I had missed it on my email, I powered up my laptop and signed in.
“Friday, November 17, 1:30 p.m. Chilbong-ah… How many times do I have to tell you to keep your phone turned on? Why aren’t you answering? Did you go on a trip and didn’t tell me? CALL ME.”
I shook my head. Go on a trip? Where exactly was I supposed to go?
“Friday, November 17, 4:30 p.m. Chilbong-ah… It’s Hyung again… Aaah… Are you checking your messages? I spoke to KBS and they sent the schedule to the wrong email. They sent it to your old email address, the one you used when you were in Japan. You still have that password, right? Call me.”
Deciding that I’ll call him after I ate and checked my e-mail, I clicked on my old email icon and typed “NAJEONG” as my password. While waiting for my inbox to load, I took a spoonful of rice and kimchi. My tongue registering the taste, I looked at the kimchi curiously. This doesn’t taste like Omma’s kimchi… This tastes like my Omma’s, except a little different. Wondering if Dong Joon brought it over along with the rest of the food, I walked over to the refrigerator. Though the containers were of different sizes, they all looked like they all came from the same set. But how? My Omma is so protective of this recipe she once told me that she’ll only share it with my future wife, then joked that she only said that because she didn’t think I would ever get married. I took another bite, thinking I may have been mistaken. No, I thought, this is definitely my mother’s kimchi. Confused, I stood up and dialed her number. Hoping she was home, I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard her answer after the fourth ring. “Omma?”
“Ahh… So my only child decides to finally call his mother. To what do I owe this honor?” she said. “Jae Joon-ah, have you been getting my messages? You never responded. What if it had been an emergency or something?”
“Omma, yeah I got your messages. I’m gonna apologize for my fans, like I have every other time this happened. And if there had been an emergency, I know that you know how to reach me other ways… But I need to ask you a question.”
“Ahh, those messages. No, I was wrong about that. Turned out that the person who came to see me wasn’t a fan. It was…”
“Omma, I know. It was probably a reporter or something. But I need to ask you a question,” I said, my voice rising in frustration.
“No need to get upset, Joon-ah.” She paused. “Well, are you going to ask me the question?”
“Omma… Did you make me some radish kimchi recently? Like a big container of it? Dong Joon was just here and he brought some over. I thought at first it was from the boarding house but it definitely tastes like your kimchi. Except maybe, a little bit better. Did you change the recipe?”
“Aigoo, that girl… I told her she didn’t need ginger. That must be why it tastes different.” I heard her sigh from the other end of the line. “Well if that’s all you wanted to know, I’m gonna hang up.”
“Oh okay… It must be the ginger,” I said, nodding. It took me another minute to register what she just said. “Omma, wait a minute. Just… Wait. What girl?”
“You’re a liar, Kim Jae Joon… You said you read your messages. If you really did, then you should know that I met Ms. Sung.” When I stayed quiet, she chuckled. “Sung Na Jeong… You didn’t know she came to see me? I was surprised at first, I must admit… That she was everything like you said. She went to my class and asked me if I could give her my recipe. I guess she did follow my suggestions almost religiously if it tastes anything like mine.”
“You… You met Na Jeongie?” I asked, feeling my throat go dry.
“Yes. I met your Na Jeongie. She’s very beautiful, just like you said. But she’s a little… passionate, no? She’s very…” She stopped abruptly, as if thinking of the right word. “… interesting.”
“I can hear that you’re about to bite my head off just like she did when she thought I was criticizing you, so I’m going to hang up.” I heard her take a deep breath before speaking again. “Oh, and Joon-ah… This may not matter, but I don’t… Disapprove of her. She’s ballsy, that girl.” She hung up the call before I could say any more.
Reeling, I shakily sat down. Putting my bowl on the table, I sat back. Na Jeong met my mother? Was this what Dong Joon was talking about? Suddenly, I heard Na Jeong’s Omma’s voice in my head. “Don’t you remember? She came for your game. Your division championship game.” In my mind, I saw my gloves and my cap on her table. Unable to process what is going on, I glanced at my laptop. Expecting one new message, I was surprised to see that there were 134 messages. I spotted the one from KBS eighth on the list. The rest were from an email address I didn’t recognize. Hands shaking, I scrolled down to the first of the messages, dated July 27, 2000.
DATE: July 27, 2000
TIME: 11:30 a.m.
Not really sure if a fan had gotten hold of my email address, I still didn’t know who the sender was and clicked on the second.
DATE: July 28, 2000
TIME: 07:30 a.m.
Aish… I just realized I didn’t put who the sender was yesterday. It’s me, Na Jeong. I have the right email, right? You never responded so…
Frantic now, I continued to open all the emails, as it dawned on me that she had been sending me one a day since July.
DATE: August 10, 2000
TIME: 10:00 am
Yah… it’s rude not to respond to emails. It’s been almost three weeks. Don’t tell me you’re still mad at me?
DATE: August 15, 2000
TIME: 7:30 p.m.
I just saw the news on you and they played one of your practice videos. You look tired. Are you sleeping well? Please take care of your health. I’m really worried. Please respond.
DATE: August 20, 2000
TIME: 7:00 a.m.
I dreamt about you again last night. I dreamt of us slow dancing upstairs. Do you remember? I miss you so much right now I feel like I’m going to die.
DATE: September 4, 2000
TIME: 5:30 p.m.
I had a bad day at work. Things are not going well. I wish you were here to cheer me up.
I miss your hugs. They made me feel so safe and protected.
DATE: September 18, 2000
TIME: 12:30 p.m.
Stupid Olympics! All the sports news are all related to it! There is so little news about you on TV! I can only rely on English articles online, but the pictures are not updated! I cannot wait for it to be over… Then I can see you on TV again…
It was mentioned in the article that you will pitching for the next few games. Will your shoulder be fine? Please don’t overtax yourself.
DATE: October 3, 2000
TIME: 1:00 p.m.
I’m waiting at the airport for my flight to San Francisco, so I really hope you’re reading your email. I’m landing at 12:30 p.m tomorrow in the U.S. I’m not asking you to pick me up… I know you’ll be getting ready for your game. But please, if you have time, can you meet me after?
I’ve made a reservation for 8pm at Chapeau. Do you know of it? If you need directions, you can probably call them for it. I’ll be staying at The Westin St. Francis, but I only have the weekend off from work so I won’t be there long.
Please come. I’ll be waiting.
DATE: October 6, 2000
TIME: 6:00 a.m..
I’m sad that I didn’t get to speak to you, but it’s okay. I know you probably need time. You probably won’t be able to handle how pretty I am now anyway. ;p
You were amazing at the game. I took some pictures. Remind me to show them to you when you come home. You will be coming home right?
Still disbelieving that she’s been doing this for months and didn’t tell me, I reached the date of Dong Joon’s wedding.
DATE: November 4, 2000
TIME: 11:47 p.m.
Yah, is Misoo better than me? Scratch that… It doesn’t matter. But is she? Once we’re together you can’t be friends with her anymore. I’m just kidding… But not really.
It’s great to see you again.
I miss you.
It seemed like my going home didn’t slow her down, judging from the number of emails remaining totalling the number of days I’ve been home. Clicking on one just a week ago, I read. Which day is this? Oh, yeah, I remember… It’s the night we were at Yoon JIn and Samcheonpo’s for dinner.
DATE: November 11, 2000
TIME: 11:14 p.m.
YA! KIM JAE JOON!
You really made me mad tonight. I don’t like you very much right now.
I clicked on the one from two nights ago, after I ate dinner at the boarding house.
DATE: November 15, 2000
TIME: 10:23 p.m..
I LOVE KIM JAE JOON.
My heart in my throat, I clicked on the last one, dated today, sent three hours ago.
DATE: November 17, 2000
TIME: 5:00 p.m..
I know you won’t be expecting this, but you won. I’m giving up…
Not even bothering to read the rest of the email, I sprung to my feet and ran out the door. Waiting for the elevators, I dialed the boarding house and heard Haitai answer the phone.
“Haitai, where’s Na Jeong?” I asked
“Chilbong-ah?” he asked. “Na Jeong is working late. She’s not home yet.”
“Where does she work?” I asked, pressing the elevator button a few more times.
“She works in… ahh, the LG Tower. Not far from you actually. She called….”
“Thanks, Haitai. I gotta go,” I interrupted. I hung up the call and realizing the elevators were taking too long, ran down the stairs as fast as I could. Uncaring that it was pouring with rain outside, I ran out of my apartment building.
November 17, 2000
“Have a good night,” I called out, getting up from my desk and gathering my coat and purse. “I’ll see you guys on Monday.” I gave the rest of my co-workers a wave before making my way to the elevators. What a day, I thought. I’ve been at the office since this morning, and there’s still so much to do. I finally had to leave when the words on my monitor started blurring.
I found myself dozing off in the elevator and was startled when the voice announced I was on the ground floor. Even this far from the front door, I could see that the rain which was drizzling a few hours ago was now pouring out of the sky. After flipping up the collar of my waterproof coat, I pulled out my umbrella and was about to open it when I saw Joon outside my office building.
He stood on the opposite side of the path, staring at the entrance. He was drenched from head to toe, and I noted with concern that he was shivering. He looked dazed, unfocused and so, so alone. Wanting nothing more than to run to him and hold him close, I stopped myself, remembering our last conversation. I opened my umbrella and walked out without acknowledging him.
“SUNG NA JEONG!” I heard him yell out. I took a deep breath before turning around.
“What now?” I asked, exhausted.
“Did you go to San Francisco?” When I didn’t answer, he repeated his question. “Did you go to San Francisco?”
“So what if I did? Am I not allowed to go to San Francisco now?” I felt so tired I could just cry. I had to calm myself down before continuing. “I can’t go to San Francisco… I can’t love you… Tell me, Joon-ah, what the hell can I do? Oh yeah, I CAN get lost, right? And I CAN meet someone else, get married and have their babies.” I took a deep breath before continuing. “You know what… I’ve had a shitty day. I’m way too tired to argue now.” I started walking away from him.
“Na Jeong-ah…” I heard him say from behind me. His voice strained, I turned to look at him. “I’ve loved you for six years. Why couldn’t you just stay away? I was doing fine without you.” Unsure of how to respond, I stayed quiet. “You’re killing me, Na Jeong-ah…You’re killing me.”
I took two steps towards him when I heard him speak again. “You need to know that I’m not perfect. Before you give me your heart, you need to know that. There are gonna be days when you might hate me. I can’t have you changing your mind about me. This time I won’t survive it.” His voice broke and my heart cried for him. Closer now, I can see that he was crying. For the first time since I’ve known him, Joon looked lost. Seeing him so vulnerable, seeing him so scared, I almost regretted not listening to his requests to leave him alone.
Feeling hope flare in my heart, I took another step closer and said, “I’m not perfect.. so why would I expect you to be? Perfection is overrated, and it’s not as if you’ve been acting like Prince Charming since you came back. I know what your flaws are… And I can list them for you if you’d like. But I love you more with your imperfections. That’s what makes you MY Joon.” He was looking at me so deeply I thought I was drowning in his eyes. “I can’t guarantee anything, but I can tell you this. If anyone’s mind will change, it going to be yours. I’ve already made my choice in this lifetime, and it’s you. And just to be safe… I made the choice for my next one too, so that even if we don’t end up together in this lifetime, I can find you and love you all over again in my next life. I really hope you want me though… because if you don’t…” I tried to smile even as tears started falling from my eyes. “If you don’t, I’m pretty much screwed.”
We were only separated now by about four feet. I hesitantly tried to take a step forward when I heard his voice. “Na Jeong-ah… If you take another step, everything will change. We can never go back.”
I smiled at him before I closed our distance and threw my arms around his neck. My umbrella forgotten, I didn’t even notice that I was now getting wet right along with him. I looked into his eyes, and though still a little guarded, he looked at me with a new light. My Joon is back. Just like he did for me so many months ago, I kissed his beautiful eyes as they flitted closed. I kissed the tip of his nose. I kissed his right cheek and then his left cheek.
I felt his thumb my brush my face before he kissed me. His lips felt soft, his kiss as gentle as a feather. I felt his cheeks, wet with rain and tears, brush against mine. Heart pounding, I ran my fingers through his hair and felt him shudder in my arms. His arms tightened around me and before I could deepen the kiss, he tore his mouth away.
“Yah…” I whispered. “You haven’t kissed me in forever. Was that it?”
“No,” he said, a small smile on his lips. “I have something to ask, though.” When I continued pouting at him, he said, “What’s with your email from today? What happened to ‘I’ll wait’?”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Aigoo… You didn’t even read the full email did you? I said I’m giving up… Today. Just TODAY! I can’t believe you didn’t…”
His mouth was on mine before I could say anything else. When I felt his tongue on my lips, I opened mine willingly. I have never felt anything so right than being here, like this, with him. I felt one of his hands on my neck and one on my back supporting me. His touch was strong and secure. His tongue met mine and all I could think of was, finally. He tasted of me, of rain, and of love. I closed my eyes and savored the feel of his racing heart against my chest, my heart echoing the same beat. I felt his hand on my back pulling me closer and closer until I could feel the full length of his body against mine. He sucked on my lower lip as he pulled away. I pulled him in for another kiss, sucking on his tongue as I urged him to continue. I almost cried when he pulled away again. When I opened my eyes, he was looking at me with the tenderest of gazes, one that I have not seen in his eyes since he came back. It felt like I was looking into a window to his soul. Overwhelmed with emotions, I brushed the pad of my thumbs across his cheek.
“I love you,” I blurted out. “I know you’ve heard it already and I probably should have waited for you to actually say it, but I felt it so I had to say it. I love you so much.” Embarrassed, I looked down at our feet, both soaked with rain. He lifted my chin up so he could look into my eyes. “I can stop saying it if it makes…”
“I love you more.” Simply said, with no need for elaboration. He said it as a tear fell from his eye, and the expression on his face took my breath away.
“Joon-ah…” I brushed away at his tear. “That’s not possible. Because I love you a whole lot more than more.”
“Yah…” he said, a frown on his face. “Why are you so competitive?”
I smiled in response and put my lips on his one more time. I could feel both of us smiling as we kissed. Still holding me close, he tucked his head into the crook of my neck, and it was then that I noticed that he was shaking. Realizing that he’s not wearing a coat and it’s the middle of November, I playfully slapped his arm and asked, “Joon-ah… Do you think we’re in a drama or something? What were you doing out here, in the rain with no coat on! You’re shivering and your lips are turning blue! You’re going to get sick!”
He brought his mouth back to hover mine and whispered, “I had to find you.”
I gave him one last peck before locking my hands with his. Picking up my fallen umbrella on the sidewalk, I ineffectively held it up over both us until he pointed out that we were both already wet, albeit him more than me. I nodded my head but still held it up anyway.
“Joon-ah…” I shyly started. “Let’s go home.”
He looked confused for a minute before he proceeded. “You mean your home?” When I didn’t respond he continued. “Okay, I think I can borrow a change of clothes from…”
“Not my home,” I responded, shaking my head at him before I smiled. “Your home.”