R94: A MOMENT’S CHOICE SEVENTH INNING

Seventh Inning

December 9, 2000

Chilbong

Na Jeong in the shower. What a memory. Barely an hour has passed since we were there and my mind couldn’t help but wander back again. We sat at the kitchen table, facing each other with our legs intertwined. There was a small pot of ramyun between us, just like we’ve shared so many times before.

Her hair was wrapped in a towel and she’s wearing one of my old jerseys. Her toes were bare and she lifted her feet, her toes brushing my calves all the way up, to rest on my lap under the table. Her eyes were joyful and her cheeks were glowing. She looked like a well-loved woman.

I couldn’t even stop myself from feeling giddy I was so happy. I served some ramyun in the bowl and put it in front of her. She took a deep appreciative whiff before taking a bite. When she closed her eyes I was captivated again. She had that same look of undiluted pleasure as she did when I was inside her. “Good?” I asked.

“Delicious,” she said, eyes fixed on mine. Her gaze traveled to my lips and she licked her own. “I want it every single day.”

I cleared my throat. “Ramyun’s not healthy for you. It’s high in sodium and…”

“I wasn’t talking about ramyun.” She cheekily grinned at me and I couldn’t help but smile back. I watched her get up and reach for some glasses and I watched transfixed as my jersey lifted up over her buttocks. She was still naked underneath. Those calves were just around my waist an hour ago.

I get up slowly so I can be around her. My body responding to her every move, I placed a kiss on the back of her neck.

“Joon-ah,” she whispered. Glasses in her hands, she turned around to face me. I lowered my lips to hers just as she was about to speak.

She smelled like a combination of myself and her own unique scent. Possessiveness ran through my veins so quickly even I was startled by it. All mine, I thought as I kissed her mouth. Her hands ran through my hair and my hands went straight to her hips. She was trembling by the time I was finished kissing her.

I walked back to the table as she stayed standing, one hand on her lips and the other holding onto the counter behind her. Within a few minutes she was sitting back at the table with a frown on her face.

“You’re a tease,” she complained. “You can’t just kiss me like that and then stop.”

“Yah… I know my Na Jeong-ie.” I calmly looked at her. “You need to eat first before doing anything else. I promised your parents I’d take good care of you.”

The corner of her mouth turned up for a reluctant smile. “I love you,” she said, eyes looking into mine.

“I love you more,” I responded, eating some ramyun.

“Why can’t I win, just once?” Her tone was of annoyance but her eyes were teasing. I grinned at her.

“You win all the time,” I answered. “You won four times last night and once this morning. Is that not enough?”

“You’re right.” I felt her foot curling against mine under the table. She took another bite of ramyun before she spoke again. “Jagiya, about my crazy talk last night…”

“Hmm?” I set down the glass of water I was drinking to look at her.

“I didn’t mean to call Amanda a bitch… Well, I kind of did. And I wasn’t being horrible to Jeon Ji Hyun-ssi either, even though I was. I’m sure she’s a perfectly nice girl.” Her cheeks colored and she looked away.

“Don’t forget about Misoo,” I reminded her. I shook my head as I continued eating. “Why were you so fixated on her anyway?”

“I don’t know…” She said, thinking. “I saw her text and when you weren’t at dinner I freaked out.”

“You could have just asked me,” I said gently. I looked at her as she bit her lower lip. The texture of those lips are imprinted in my memory, and I wanted to bite them too. “You could have come with me. They like you.”

“Really?” She asked smiling. “How can they like me when they don’t know me?”

“Well… Your name kept popping up when I was on my date with Amanda. So I told her about you. Ji Hyun-ssi saw your picture in my bag. So I told her about you too.” I looked at my ramyun bowl, a little embarrassed. “And Misoo already knew of you…”

“How?” I heard her ask.

“Your picture was in my baseball cap in Yonsei… you know that.” I explained, finally meeting her eyes, now shining with tears. “You were my lucky charm since then… You still are.”

“Joon-ah…” she said, touched.

“Don’t go all soft on me,” I teased. “I like it when you curse.”

“Aish…” Na Jeong finished her bowl and put her chopsticks down. I finished mine quickly and set my bowl down on the table as well. “Joon-ah,” she started. “That cow and milk conversation…”

“I must say… I’ve never seen anyone get so emotional about cows and dairy products.” I started chuckling at the memory.

“But… But I’m not the cow that gives the milk for free, right?” She asked, her tone worried, insistent. “Like the cow is not less valuable now that you’ve sampled the milk, right?”

“I love the milk,” I responded. Oh yeah, I love the milk. “But the cow… I love the cow no matter what. Milk or not, that would never change.”

“Never is a long time,” she said suspiciously. “What if you get tired of the cow?”

“Jagiya… Forever is a long time too, but that’s what I’m planning to do.” I thought about her next question. “And the cow,” this cracked me up so much I started laughing. “We have to stop talking in cow and milk terms. Please stop talking in code,” I requested. I finally stopped laughing long enough to take a breath. “People might think we’re into strange things.”

At this she started laughing too, and the sound of her laughter made me start again until I was holding my abdomen I was laughing so hard. I looked over at her and when she met my gaze, all amusement went out of her eyes and was now replaced by a quiet intensity. I leaned back on the chair as she fiddled with the utensils on the table. Awareness sparked in my stomach and I clenched my jaw. My heart racing in my chest, I took her face in quietly. “Do you feel better now?” She nodded at me and smiled.

“What about you?” She asked as she was getting up to put the pot in the sink.

“Not quite.” I walked to where she stood and put my arms around her as I tucked my head into her neck. I took the towel off her hair and watched it fall halfway down her back. Placing a kiss on her shoulder, I turned her to face me. Her eyes were watching me for my next move, all too aware of my desire for her. She ran her fingers down my face gently and I leaned into her touch.

When I kissed her lips, she was already in the process of taking my shirt off. She threw it onto the floor as I savored her taste in my mouth. Her lips still connected with mine I led her to the nearest surface I could find. Table… This will do. When her back hit the table she grimaced but didn’t take her lips from mine. I lifted her onto the table until she was flat on her back.

“Ouch,” she said, her head hitting a bowl. I cleared the table with my arm and she started giggling when table items hit the floor with a thud. “Jagiya…”

“Hmm?” My mouth was already on her neck, kissing the sensitive spot. I could see her breasts from the opened collar of my jersey and was about to touch them when she spoke.

“There’s something digging into my shoulder.” I felt the table under her and fished a chopstick out. She sighed my name when my mouth was finally on her breasts again. I unbutton the jersey as I kissed my way down her stomach. Legs trembling, she continued to watch but didn’t stop me.

My fingers found her core before my mouth did. I kissed her inner thighs even as my hands grabbed her waist. I gave her a little lick and I heard her moan. Her hands were on my shoulders, holding on even as I sucked on her. I will never get tired of this, I thought, savoring the taste of her desire. All mine, I thought greedily as I lapped at her and flexed my fingers inside her. She moved restlessly on the table, her hips dancing a primal rhythm. If she moaned any louder, the neighbors would hear us and I would be finished before I was even inside her.

I stood up and was about to go the bedroom when I heard her speak.

“The chair, Joon-ah… There’s a condom on the chair.” Her voice was breathy, husky from passion. I looked at her seat and sure enough, there was one sitting there.

“Who brings a condom to eat breakfast?” I laughingly asked even as my hand was rolling it on.

Her face serious, she responded, “I wanted to be prepared, just in case.”

“Such a thoughtful woman, uri Na Jeong-ie,” I whispered. Detecting that she was about to ascertain whether I was being sarcastic or not, I brought my weight back down onto hers and watched as her eyes closed as I slid into her.

“Jagiya… You feel so good,” she said. She moved her hips even as I stayed still, enjoying how tight she felt around me. When I finally started moving, her pretty lips opened and I watched as she writhed to get even more of me.

Pleasure spread all over my body as I watched her. She looked like a siren and I was powerless to deny her anything. Though a little roughly, I picked her up from the table and wrapped her legs around my hips. I was determined to make it to the bed, but as soon as she started kissing my neck, I knew that the bedroom was too far away.

I pressed her back against the fridge, and unsure if this was hurting her, stopped kissing her long enough to ask. She didn’t reply but kissed my mouth instead, her lips and tongue insistent. I flexed my hips against her wetness and was gifted with an answering moan. I continued to thrust in an even pace, until her moans got louder and her nails dug into me. Feeling that her release was near, I sped up faster and felt the tightening on my stomach.

“Shhh jagiya…” I said as I continued to support her weight with one arm and put my other hand to gently cover her mouth. “I have to live here and it’s the weekend. The neighbors might report us to the police.”

She blushed so prettily but nodded anyway. She pulled my hand off her mouth and started sucking on my fingers instead, bringing up memories of her doing the same to another part of my anatomy earlier today. As she continued to suck and lick, I slid deeper and deeper into her, lost in sensation. She said my name as she came, her eyes opening to look into mine. As I felt her tighten around me, the tension on my spine exploded and I felt like I was going to pass out as I reached my climax. We took a few minutes looking at each other after and catching our breaths. Suddenly, my arms felt like jelly and I watched as a blissful smile broke out on her face. She bonelessly slid her feet down to the floor, and I put my a steadying hand on her hips lest she fell. I understand the feeling all too well… My knees felt close to buckling too.

Looking like she was steady, I watched as she carefully walked in the kitchen, picking up the fallen items on the table and putting them in the sink. She turned to me with her hands on her hips and eyes twinkling. “We’re going to have to sanitize everything,” she mock complained.

“Yeah,” I said with a grin. “I’m just going to the bathroom to clean up.” I walked towards the direction of the bathroom, shaking my head at how such a thing just happened in my kitchen.

“Okay,” she said.

When I walked back out, the dishes have been washed and are now drying on the rack. She was dressed and was sitting on the living room couch and rifling through her purse, her brows drawn.

“Did you lose something?” I asked, looking around the living room.

“I thought I put it in here.” She continued searching and then sighed as she started disentangling her hair with her fingers. “Jagiya… If I’m going to be staying over here a lot, you’re going to need to install a full length mirror in the bedroom. I have to look decent coming into work.”

“Ah, that reminds me,” I walked back to the bedroom and pulled out a medium box. Setting it carefully on the coffee table, she looked up at me.

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing at the box.

“Uhmm,” I began, not quite knowing where to start. I hope this will not freak her out. “I bought the mirror for you, when I went to the store to get candles the night we went out with Dong Joon and Jin Yi noona… It’s in my closet. I just have to install it. And I got these too,” I said as I opened the box.

“Joon-ah…” She whispered as she started pulling out all the items until the box was empty. There was lotion, face cream, makeup remover sheets, a hairbrush, a bottle of shampoo and conditioner, and a toothbrush. There was also a tube of her lipgloss on the table.

“Are you freaked out? I still have the receipts if you don’t want them,” I babbled on. I was getting up to put them all back in the box when she took my hand and kissed it.

“Thank you,” she said, her eyes filling up with tears. “This was so thoughtful. I love them. But, how did you know? These are the brands that I use.”

“I called Yoon Jin and asked,” I responded. “I already have a hair dryer, but it’s not fancy. We can get another one if you want. And Yoon Jin couldn’t remember the brand of lip gloss you used, so I just guessed.” Well, not guessed per se… I had to sample all the lip glosses on the makeup counter to find one that replicated hers in color and taste, much to the amusement of the sales people and to my chagrin.

“So that night of the dinner, you really were planning on having our first night together?”

“Yeah…” I said, feeling a little embarrassed. She pulled me back down to sit next to her and pressed a gentle kiss on my lips.

“I love you,” she whispered. “You didn’t have to do this. I was just going to bring some of my stuff over and keep them here once I got your approval. ”

“I’m just putting the pieces in place.” She sent me a questioning glance. “I want you to remember this if I make you mad one day.”

She smiled at me and then picked up the hairbrush. “Should I cut my hair?” She asked. “It’s so long now and sometimes I’m just too tired from work to brush it out.”

“I like your hair long,” I said, prying her hand loose from the brush. “But I liked it short too. You’re beautiful either way.” I started brushing her hair as she turned around to look out the windows. I leaned myself back on one arm of the couch sideways and pulled her to the space between my legs. I marveled at her long hair, enjoying the feel of it in my hands. Delicate, yet strong, her hair was just like her. One day, when we have a daughter… Wait. Where did that thought just come from? I shook my head at my fast forward thinking and I was still pondering this question when I heard her speak.

“Joon-ah… Have you ever gone to an amusement park?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “My parents were always busy when I was young. And when I was old enough to go on my own, baseball took up all of my time.”

“We should go, one day. I think you’ll really like it.”

“Okay.”

“What’s your favorite color?” she asked.

“It’s blue,” I responded. “My first jersey was blue and I associated it with good things. Although recently I’ve been more partial to red.”

She sat quietly as I finished up brushing her hair. After I put the hairbrush down, she took my hand and intertwined her fingers into it. “I feel like there’s so much I still need to find out about you, but I can’t think of anything right now.”

“That’s okay,” I said, pulling her into my arms. “We have time.”

I felt her nod under my chin. “Yeah,” she said, her voice gentle and contented. “We have time.”

*****

January 1, 2001

7:00 a.m.

Na Jeong

I woke up to Joon’s arms around my waist, his eyes deep in slumber. Enjoying the feel of his arm on me, I snuggled more tightly under the sheets and smiled as he whispered my name. He placed a kiss on my shoulder and promptly fell back asleep.

As I watched him sleeping, I thought back on the past month. It feels like we are caught up in a dream and sometimes I still find myself pinching my cheeks to make sure that it’s real. I have never been so happy in my life, and it scared me.

Joon is the best boyfriend ever. Considerate, thoughtful, passionate and loving… I am amazed by him every day. He is so focused on everything without neglecting any other part of his life. He’s devoted to spending as much time with me as possible while keeping up with his training and managing all of his other professional obligations. His ability to multi task never ceases to amaze me. He really was something else.

I’ve started riding the bike during the weekends so I can accompany him as he ran. Though we didn’t speak much, it felt good just to be around him. We get to enjoy the beautiful days together and sometimes the not so beautiful days. I remembered one weekend as he got ready to run even as it was raining, I put my raincoat on too and he tried to stop me.

“You need to stay here,” he said. “You’re going to get sick.”

“No,” I insisted. “If you’re in the rain, I’ll be in the rain too.”

Seeing as he was about to insist on me staying at home, I just kissed him until he gave in. We ended up going out an hour and a half later and by then the rain had already stopped. Needless to say he has since then tried to say no to me purposefully several times, and I’m convinced that he just did it so I can ‘persuade’ him. Not that I minded anyways…

Joon was also an amazing lover. Curious, generous and unabashedly in love, he was unafraid to try anything and everything. He delighted in every sensation and reciprocated every movement. Even now I feel flushed thinking of all the positions we’ve tried, some unsuccessfully. His good humor made it so easy to be shameless with him. I have never laughed so much. And I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve had to clean parts of the apartment. I think we’ve just about conquered every flat surface here.

We played outside when the first snow came, bringing back memories of us doing the same not even a year before. We spent Christmas at home with my family, and spent last night with the gang. It was nice to see everyone gathered together with their partners. And with Yoon Jin pregnant with her first child, it felt like we’d all finally grown up. When the clock struck midnight, I did a countdown for Joon, whispered the numbers as they went down, and pressed my lips to his for all to see. We shared our New Year’s wishes between kisses, and planned to make all of them come true.

Looking out at the snow falling outside, I thought about how curious it was that time went by so slowly when he was gone, but now it seems to be speeding up too quickly. His impending departure next month weighed heavily on me, but I tried not to show it. Joon seemed unconcerned about it, but I was. He’s never been in a long distance relationship before, but I have. I know how easily it can break even what appeared to be a strong relationship.

I looked over at Joon and brushed a stray of hair from his handsome face. How can I be this so in love with this man? Little by little, I am getting to know him better, storing each piece I discover in my heart and in my mind. My Joon file… One that I planned on filling up with everything I learn about him as we share our lives together.

Speaking of which, Joon’s birthday is coming up soon. I looked over at the calendar and was disappointed to see that his birthday is on a Wednesday. Though he said it wasn’t a big deal, to me it is a very big deal. How can I not celebrate the day this beautiful man was born?

I thought about what we can do to make that day memorable for him, and a bright idea came to my head. I chuckled to myself at his impending reaction before I curled back up against him in bed. I watched the snow even as my eyes succumbed to sleep.

*****

January 17, 2001

8 a.m.

Chilbong

I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel as I waited for Na Jeong to come out of the house. She had insisted that I sleep in for my birthday, but I found that I don’t sleep as well at the apartment when she’s not there with me.

I don’t know what the big deal is about birthdays anyway. To me it was just another day. Growing up I was lucky if my parents managed to be home in time to have dinner with me. And luckier if they made it through the meal without barbed words and accusations. Eventually I stopped wishing for all of us to be together. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders when they finally divorced. At last I had some semblance of peace in my life.

I’ve never known true happiness. I’ve never even known that such a thing existed. To me that was like a mythical idea… Lovely to think about, but unrealistic to materialize. And I was okay with it. Until now. For someone like me who is unused to extremes of emotion outside baseball, it’s not always a comfortable feeling. Worrying about someone else, taking care of someone else, trying to understand how someone else’s mind works… Those were all alien concepts for me. But Na Jeong changed all that.

She asks me every day how my day went and listens raptly even though all the days were much the same as the ones before. She worries about what I eat and how much I sleep. She sends me cute messages throughout the day to tell me she’s thinking about me, while she’s at work and even if she was just in the next room. I had to laugh last night when she called me at exactly 12:01 am to sing happy birthday to me. She sounded half asleep, like she set her alarm clock just to be the first person to greet me. I listened, wanting to laugh in joy but as I listened to her sweet voice, my eyes filled up with tears of happiness instead. Even after we hung up and I was trying to get a handle on my emotions, my phone vibrated with a message.

It may be your birthday but it’s a special day for me too. It’s the day the world brought you to me. I can’t wait to celebrate it with you. I love you more than more.

I’ll miss her so much when I go back to San Francisco. She doesn’t talk about it, but I know she’s worried about my leaving in a month. I see the uneasiness in her eyes whenever I mention San Francisco. To be perfectly honest, I’m not worried at all. My commitment to her and our relationship exceeds borders and national lines. It exceeds time and space. I am in this for life. We really need to talk about it… I know that, but we always seem to find, ahem, other interesting things to do together instead.

My thoughts were interrupted when I saw her walking awkwardly down the path. Her face broke out in a smile when she spotted my car. I got out of the car and she came running into my arms. Bundled in her coat and my gloves, she wrapped her arms around me. She stood on tiptoes and gave me a kiss. I held her close for a few minutes before walking to her side of the car to open her door. She placed her purse and a shopping bag on the foot well as I made sure she was safely in the car before I closed the door.

We held hands as I drove her to work. I watched as she turned the radio on and sang along with the song playing. She rested her head on my shoulder as I thought about what I had to do today. I parked in front of her building and waited for her to open the door as she usually does. Instead she stayed sitting and with a shy smile, handed me the shopping bag. I looked at it curiously. It looked like it was from a clothing store but I didn’t recognize the name. Agent Provocateur? What’s that? She knows I’m horrible with French names. I still laugh remembering the time when she finally told me how to say Ttous Les Jours properly.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Your birthday gift,” she said. “Well… Only one of them. The other you can’t have until tonight.” She leaned over and kissed me, then got out of the car. “Jagiya, don’t forget about dinner, okay?” She winked at me from the window and I watched as she walked slower than usual into her building. I wondered briefly if her back was bothering her again but then I realized that her back hadn’t stopped her from performing extracurricular activities.

I looked at the pink shopping bag and for a moment I was going to opt to opening it when I got home. Curious, though, I decided to see what it was now. Pulling out crumpled sheets of black tissue from the top, I reached in and lifted a wisp of fabric in blue so dark it was almost black. The material was as soft as silk in my hands, with delicate lace as straps and the same lace covering the top half of the bodice. Is it a dress? I was briefly puzzled and thought that maybe she had given me the wrong bag.

I lifted it up to take a closer look. The neckline is a little too low… What is she going to cover up with that? The material is too thin… She’s going to freeze her butt off. This slit… This slit is too high! Is she showing the world her hips or what? This is way too short to be a dress and I think they forgot to finish it or they ran out of material, because the back is… Totally non existent. It’s not that I am a controlling boyfriend but I really don’t think Na Jeong would wear this out. It’s just not practical at all. I then spotted a contraption on the bottom of the bag and pulled out a weird looking belt with straps and buckles hanging from it. Wait… I’ve seen this before… In some of the videos for research. Did Na Jeong get me lingerie for my birthday? I spied a small card that I had accidentally discarded with the tissue. Reading her handwriting, I grinned from ear to ear.

Jagiya… Surely you didn’t think I’d expect you to wear it? Imagine me in this tonight… Can’t wait to see your face. Love you.

Putting it back carefully in the bag, I reached for my hand phone and sent her a text.

You tease. Now I’ll be thinking about you in and out of it the entire day. I love you more.

Within seconds I received my response and it made me laugh.

I knew you would open it in the parking lot. Remember that patience is a virtue. ;p
XOXOXO Love you way beyond more.

Feeling like the luckiest man on earth, I drove to the gym. I think I finally understand a little why people love birthdays. With Na Jeong by my side, I think I’ll start loving them too.

*****

January 17, 2001

5:00 p.m.

Na Jeong

I shut my computer monitor off and prepared to leave work for the day. I had planned on taking the day off but decided to take a long weekend instead. As I waited for the elevator, I spotted some people coming out of the gym in the building and had to hide the smile that came on my face thinking of Joon’s message from earlier.

Thanks to your little present, I had to work out another extra hour just to keep my mind preoccupied. Best be prepared, Jeong-ah. I might not be so gentle tonight.

When am I ever not prepared? HE best be prepared. My heart started hammering in my chest… Not from nerves but excitement. This is the first birthday where we both knew where we stood. Being in love together was wonderful.

I’ve been in love before, but not like this. The world is in vivid colors again and I have hope for our future. If only he didn’t have to go back. Don’t think about it that now, I scolded myself. Today’s a day for celebrating, not worrying.

By the time the elevator arrived on the ground floor, all thoughts of Joon leaving have been replaced by our plans for tonight. Joon said he liked Japanese food, so I made reservations for all of us at Asosan nearby, then we’d all go to a noraebang. We were all just together for New Year’s Eve, but we all don’t spend as much time together anymore. I even invited Oppa and his new girlfriend along, but seeing that he and Joon haven’t spoken in almost six years, he declined, saying that it might be awkward. Joon still gets a little funny when I mention Oppa. I could understand where they’re both coming from but this situation will need to be rectified at some point. I don’t like having to walk on eggshells around this issue, with either one of them.

As I exited my office building, I spotted Joon’s car parked right along the curb. As soon as he saw me, he got out of the car, as he usually does. When I saw him, I had to hold myself back from whistling. I looked him up and down appreciatively. His hair was slicked back, and he wore a white dress shirt with the top unbuttoned and slacks that sat low on his hips. His shoulders appeared even broader than usual, his chest wider than usual. His pants fit him perfectly, emphasizing his lean hips and taut buttocks. And those long long legs. He wore no other accessory but his watch, which he now tapped jokingly when I finally met his eyes. I love Joon’s body, but his face… His face is my most favorite part of him. Laughing, frowning, lost in confusion, lost in me, I devoured all of his expressions. Like a little boy sometimes, but always a man. My Joon is a study in contradictions, and I’ve enjoyed peeling back layer upon layer of what made him, well, him.

I sped up towards him and he met me halfway, taking my purse from my arm and taking my hand in his. Aware that there were people around us and that he might be recognized, I tried to pull away. Instead he just held on even tighter and intertwined our fingers together.

“It’s my birthday,” he said. “And I want to hold Sung Na Jeong’s hand.” He led me towards his car, his strides confident. “How was work?”

“It was busy, but good,” I responded as I looked at his face. “How was your day?”

“It’s been good. I went to the gym and worked out,” he answered as he opened my door. I sat down on the passenger seat and watched as he walked around the car to his door. Once seated, he leaned over and gave me a thorough kiss. “Do we have time before dinner? It’s been days since we’ve… You know… And it’s all I can think about all day.”

I was still recovering from his kiss when his words registered in my brain. Opening my eyes, I said, “Aigoo… Wasn’t it just a week ago that you said we might be doing it too much? Make up your mind, won’t you?”

He brushed his thumb over my cheek, and fixed his eyes on my lips before responding. “And didn’t you say just that same day that we were only just doing it enough?” He smiled at me. “Can’t we move the reservation to a couple of hours later?”

I playfully pushed him away and answered. “No… We already told everybody what time they needed to be there. Also, everyone has work in the morning and Yoon Jin is pregnant.”

He sighed and turned the key in the ignition. As we made our way to Cheongdamdong, I wondered how he would react to his other birthday present. I giggled silently to myself but straightened my face when he looked over at me.

“Jagiya… Did Omonim and Abonim call you today?” I asked.

He shook his head no. When I frowned at him, he said, “Yah… Didn’t I tell you birthdays aren’t a big deal? How many times do I have to tell you my family is not like yours? Omma texted, but Ahbojji is busy.” He stayed silent again as he guided the car into the parking space. Once safely parked, he turned to see me still with my eyebrows drawn. Smoothing the line with his finger, he said, “Jagiya, it’s fine. I’m okay… You worry too much.”

He does this every single time the topic of his parents come up. We can talk and discuss everything under the sun, but whenever talk his family comes up, he just puts a wall up. He can’t seriously expect me to believe that this doesn’t bother him. I know him well enough now that I know avoiding talking about it is just his way of self defense. I was about to point this out when he spoke.

“I see Samcheonpo and Yoon Jin waiting outside the restaurant. Let’s go… We can’t starve a pregnant woman.”

I opened the car door and stepped out. I waited for him to lock the car then took his hand in mine. We walked together towards the couple and broke apart when Samcheonpo greeted Joon with a hug.

“Chilbong-ah, happy birthday!” He said. Grabbing Joon’s arm into the restaurant, I heard him speak again. “Everyone’s here already.”

Yoon Jin and I followed them both inside. Her arms interlocked with mine, I whispered, “Did you tell the restaurant it’s his birthday?”

“Yeah,” she whispered back. “And I already gave them the cake for dessert.”

“Thanks…. You feeling any better?”

She nodded then looked at me more closely. “Did, you know, really hurt?”

I cupped my hands to her ear before responding. “They said it would hurt just a little. But it hurt A LOT… Didn’t you notice that I’m still walking funny?”

“Yeah, I thought that you looked a little strange.”

We started giggling together and Samcheonpo and Joon looked at both of us curiously. I spotted everyone at the table and was glad to see that they all made it. Binggrae and Jin Yi Unnie, Haitai and Ae Jung… Everyone’s made an effort to be here and looking at Joon’s expression I know that he appreciated it. I watched as Haitai and Binggrae got up to greet Joon and as their partners hugged him as well. Joon held out his hand to me and I walked over to him as he pulled a chair out for me.

Once we were all seated, everyone ordered drinks except for Yoon Jin, who just ordered orange juice. I heard the flow of conversation around me as I perused the menu. Thinking about what I wanted to eat, I heard Joon whisper in my ear.

“Do you think it would be rude if I asked everyone to just order one item?”

I elbowed him before I said yes. I shook my head at him but I still felt like laughing. I’ve never seen him so lighthearted and I enjoyed seeing him so content. I brushed his hair with my fingers. “What did I tell you earlier? Patience is…”

“… A virtue. Yeah… But it’s a virtue I could do without tonight.” Our eyes met and he kept his gaze on my lips. I don’t know how long we sat staring at each other, but I heard a couple of people clear their throats before I heard Haitai’s voice.

“These two… Yah… We’re all right here,” he bristled. I heard the women laugh and he continued. “There’s a young lady here waiting for us to order while you two are making googly eyes at each other.” I tore my eyes away from Joon to see Haitai turn to our server. “You have to excuse them… They haven’t been together long,” he explained apologetically.

We placed our orders and thankfully Joon didn’t protest much when people ordered multiple items. I spent the time waiting for food catching up with the women while Joon spoke to the men. It wasn’t long until the food came and I was getting ready to tuck in when I heard Binggrae speak.

“Joon-ah… You have to leave again next month, right? Let me know the date so I can drive you to the airport,” he said as his wife fed him a piece of sushi.

My stomach dropped at this reminder and I pushed my spoon around in my bowl. I felt Joon’s eyes on me and felt his hand squeeze mine.

“Yeah… I’ll let you know what the exact date is. Hyung is still waiting for the schedule from management,” he answered. “You might not need to drive me though. I’m hoping for Na Jeong to see me off.” He turned to look at me. “You will see me off, right?”

I tried to put a smile on my face as I nodded. I forced myself to eat the noodles I ordered and tried to calm the nerves in my stomach. Joon kept his arm around my chair as everyone ate. I was just finishing up my food when I saw a group of servers approach the table with a lit birthday cake. I heard them singing and put my chopsticks down to look at Joon. Though he looked a little embarrassed, he was smiling widely as the gang joined in.

Once the cake was placed in front of him, I reminded him to make a wish before blowing the candles out. He smiled at me and whispered that he already had his wish but closed his eyes anyway before blowing them out. Everyone clapped and I handed him a knife so he can start cutting the cake for everyone to have a piece. Once he was done, I had the server pack up the rest of the cake for us to take home. Joon took out his wallet when the bill came only for Haitai to stop him.

“It’s our treat,” he said. “All of us have already pooled money together for your birthday.” He turned to everyone and asked, “Are we all ready? The noraebang is near here so we can all just walk over.”

“I didn’t know there was a plan for that too,” Joon whispered in my ear as he helped me into my coat.

“Jagiya… It’s your birthday. And we don’t have to stay long,” I whispered back as I wrapped a scarf around his neck. “Don’t be such a crybaby.”

“What?” He said. “We are short on time. We only have a couple of hours before you have to go home. Plus you have work in the morning too.”

I shook my head. “No… Actually I took two days off work.” Pressing a soft kiss on his lips, I whispered, “You have me all night… And tomorrow. And Friday too.”

“Really?” He asked incredulously before breaking into a big smile and I nodded.

“So put on your big boy pants and suck it up, huh?”

I watched as the others exited the restaurant hand in hand and we followed along. I was putting my gloves on when I noticed Joon putting a familiar pair on as well.

“Jagiya… Where did you get those gloves?” I asked after Joon put the cake box in the car. We were walking right behind Binggrae and Jin Yi Unnie and I moved closer to Joon to stay warm.

“Omma sent it to me when they sent me a package in San Francisco,” he replied. “You really didn’t know? That they kept in touch with me?”

“No…” I said. “Or I would have just shown up at your door.” I chuckled. “Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t know. I wasn’t ready for you then.”

“What happened when I was gone?” He asked. “You never did tell me.”

“Not much… I just found myself, that’s all.” Looking up I found that we’ve arrived at the noraebang and soon we were all filing into a room. Samcheonpo and Yoon Jin were looking at the book for a song to sing when I looked at Joon taking his coat back off. I admired the way his back muscles flexed under his shirt and he caught me looking at him licking my lips.

“Yah…” He said. “You need to stop looking at me like that.”

“Like what?” I asked innocently. “I was just enjoying the view. You’re an extremely good looking man.”

We sat down together and I couldn’t help but notice that he’s already hiding his groin. I was going to tease him about it but he was staring intently at Haitai who was now singing, as if willing him to sing faster. I shook my head at his impatience, and as the song closed, was surprised when he grabbed our coats and scarves.

“We have to go,” he said. “I just realized that Na Jeong and I have to be somewhere else.”

“We do?” I asked. He put my coat around me and wrapped my silk scarf around my neck.

“Yes, we do. You don’t remember?” He answered and looked at me pointedly. I blinked at him as it dawned on me that he can’t wait any longer. Excitement ran through my veins and I started putting my gloves on quickly.

Everyone was still looking at us even as we made our way out the door. Both silent, we practically ran to where we parked the car. Once inside the car, Joon smoothly pulled out of the space and drove to the apartment. He looked focused and I didn’t want to distract him, but he just looked so delicious that I couldn’t help but press a kiss on his neck as he drove. My hand automatically went to the button on his shirt and I started undoing it even as he shifted gears. His skin was so warm, I thought. I debated about touching his arousal for about ten seconds before I decided why not.

*****

Chilbong

When I felt Na Jeong’s fingers on my groin, I was convinced we were going to get into an accident. My foot slipped off the brakes and I really thought we were going to collide into the vehicle in front of us. That would certainly have made the evening news.

“Jagiya… What are you doing?” I asked.

“What does it look like I’m doing?” She asked, not looking at me, her eyes focused on where her hands were. “I’m staking my claim.”

“Weren’t you the one that kept insisting that patience is a virtue?” I really should stop her, but whatever she’s doing with her hand feels too good.

“That was for you, not me,” she replied.

My heart started jackhammering inside my chest when I saw her adjusting the way she sat. Nervous now about what she’s about to do, and even more nervous that I wouldn’t be able to focus on anything, I breathed a sigh of relief when the apartment entrance came into view. I parked the car before she got any more ideas in her head.

She and I got out of the car and went into the elevator. She stayed standing in front of me and I was thankful for it. When her behind pressed against my arousal, I thought I was going to go crazy and take her right here.

We exited the elevator and walked briskly to the apartment hand in hand. I entered the code and as soon as we stepped into the door, I turned to Na Jeong and kissed her. Her response was instantaneous and she opened her mouth as soon as my lips touched hers. With her tongue in my mouth, I struggled to unbutton her coat. She slipped her arms off and resumed sucking on my tongue. Her hand was already unbuttoning my pants but she pushed my hand away when I lifted her skirt.

“Not yet,” she whispered, her mouth moving on to my neck. She unbuttoned my shirt with her fingers and blew on my nipple before taking it in her mouth. I felt her mouth on my stomach as she continued to caress my arousal through my pants. “Jagiya… Sit down on the couch.”

I would have done anything she asked at this moment in time. She led me to the couch as she grabbed her scarf from the floor. I was about to ask why she would need her scarf when she spoke again.

“Where did you put the present I handed you earlier?” She asked.

“Bedroom. Closet.” I was afraid I’m unable to form a coherent sentence right now.

She sat me down on the couch and asked me to close my eyes. I felt her straddle my lap before feeling her place something silky over my eyes.

“Jeong-ah, what… What are you doing?” I asked, nervous but excited too.

“It’s a surprise,” she whispered and I felt her nibble on my lower lip. I don’t really like surprises but I trust Na Jeong. “Wait just a minute. No peeking!”

I slipped off my shirt in the meantime and stayed seated just wearing my pants. I really really hope that there aren’t a group of people hiding in the bedroom or something for a surprise party. I am in no condition at all to be around people at this time. I heard some shuffling going on in somewhere and I wondered if I should be laying down. That would be too obvious. I heard the fridge door open and figured that she must be putting the cake in. Finally I heard a whisper of footsteps in front of me.

“Can I take the blindfold off now?” I asked.

“Not yet,” she whispered. “I kind of like you helpless, like this.” I felt her nip on my earlobe before she giggled.

“Why?”

“Because… Don’t you know? This how I feel the moment you touch me. I stop thinking and seeing and I just feel you.” I heard her voice but also felt her mouth on my neck and on my bare chest. I hardened even more when I felt her drag a nail over my stomach.

“Na Jeong-ah…”

“Shhh,” I felt her hands back on the waistband of my pants. “Lift your hips,” she ordered as I complied. I felt her slip them down to my ankles. I don’t know what Na Jeong was planning but this is crazy. My heart was beating so fast in anticipation.

When I felt her mouth on my stomach I felt blindly for her. I need to feel her skin.

“Uh uh uh,” she said. “No touching yet. This one’s just for you.”

What does that mean? What does she mean this is just for me? My mind was still full of questions when I felt her mouth on me. Insistent, and so warm I felt her tongue lick up and down my length before I felt her lips wrap around the top. Her hands wrapped around the base as she moved her lips up and down, licking and sucking with the motion.

Not being able to touch anything or see anything is driving me crazy. I am usually the one calling the shots, but now I feel absolutely out of control. My senses are all heightened and I felt her fingers on my inner thighs even as her mouth continued to kiss the most sensitive part of me. She grazed my arousal with her teeth and I gritted my own in response. I felt her hands take over as she caressed my sac and kissed my abdomen. When I thought I couldn’t take more, I tried to lift her up, but she resisted. My hands clenched to my sides and clutching the couch, I couldn’t help my hips rising with each movement of her mouth. I felt my release building up, and when she flicked her tongue and wrapped her mouth around me one more time, I couldn’t help my release. My shoulders started shaking from the effort of not touching, and I’m pretty sure the couch will have two imprints of where I was holding on. Pleasure exploded and she continued to suck… I felt like she was draining me of every drop.

“Na Jeong-ah… Can I take this off now?” Not waiting for her response I took off the blindfold to see her with her head bowed down. “Jagiya… I’m sorry… I tried to warn you. It’ll never happen again.” For a minute I thought she was upset with me, but when she lifted her head, her eyes were twinkling and she was licking her lips.

“I was just making sure we didn’t make a mess,” she said with a smirk. “And what do you mean it won’t happen again? It better. I loved tasting you… Well… Do you like your birthday gift?”

“I love it. You’re amazing,” I responded. Seeing that she was wearing the stuff from the bag from earlier, I thought she looked breathtaking. The dress didn’t even go down to her mid thigh, exposing her long slim legs. It hugged all of her curves. The neckline went all the way down from her breastbone to about mid stomach and when she turned around her whole back was exposed. The lace on the straps and over her chest allowed creamy skin to peek through and the straps that held her stockings up made me itch to travel the length of her legs all the way to her thighs with my fingers.

“You didn’t even see everything yet,” she complained. There’s more? I thought. I’m not really sure I can handle any more. She lifted her dress slowly, as if offering me a peek. What I saw next made me ready again, even after just finishing minutes ago. Na Jeong was bare. Like, completely hairless. Mmmm…

I was on my feet so quickly I even surprised myself. She started laughing even as I leaned down to kiss her mouth. Her arms wrapped around my neck and she pushed her body against mine until I felt all her curves pressed up against me. In my haste to get to her breasts I grabbed what she was wearing and heard a loud rip. I tore my mouth away from hers and surveyed the damage I’d done. She looked down too, then at me, then down again.

“Joon-ah…” I started laughing. She frowned at me but then she started laughing too. “Aish… All this effort is wasted on you. Do you know how expensive this was?”

“Jagiya… I’m sorry,” I said as I pulled her to me. “Come on, let’s lie down for a minute and I can still enjoy it even if it’s ripped.” She narrowed her eyes at me but allowed me to lead her to the couch anyway. Lying naked on my side, she laid down facing me. Her ripped nightie allowed her breasts to show through, and I kissed them through the silky fabric. I put my mouth on her nipple and she ran her fingers through my hair.

“You’re not getting away with destroying this,” she warned me even as she moaned in pleasure. I took my lips off her breast long enough to respond.

“I’ll buy you ten more,” I reassured her. “Maybe the whole store… But I can’t guarantee they’ll all remain intact, though.” I cupped her breasts and my hands traveled down her body through the fabric. The feel of the material was no match for her skin. I lifted her dress up to feel the smoothness and softness underneath and though she still seemed annoyed, she opened her legs slightly to allow me greater access. So wet, my Na Jeong-ie… So ready for me.

“What’s the use of having ten more if you’re going to rip them all?” She asked. She put her lips to mine even as my fingers found her core and my fingers rubbed between her legs.

“Yah… Should I remind you that you ripped off one of my shirts too?” I teased. “Now we’re even.” I kissed my way down to her stomach. My lips were inching lower on her body but she turned onto her stomach in indignation.

“Yah… Kim Jae Joon… What did I tell you about letting me win once in a while?” She said, her voice muffled by the couch.

“I’ll make it up to you. I promise,” I whispered as I shifted my weight on top of her. “What do you want? Massage?” I placed my hands on her shoulders and started kneading gently. I lifted her hair and placed a kiss on her neck, then both of her shoulders. My fingers continued kneading her back even as my mouth placed kisses down her spine and I felt her tremble underneath me. “You still mad?” I asked.

“A little less,” she responded. I slipped my hand under her and stroked her between her thighs.

“How about now?”

“Just a tiny bit…” She pressed her buttocks against my arousal and I groaned from the contact. “Joon-ah…” I heard the plea in her voice and I know what my woman wanted.

“It’s okay, jagiya, I’ll make it better,” I whispered as I rolled the condom on and slipped myself inside her. “Better?”

“Joon-ah,” she moaned. The sound of my name on her lips, along with her tightness around me had me feeling like I’d conquered the world. I flexed my hips and slid deeper into her. I pulled myself halfway out before slipping myself in again. I watched as her back bowed to get more and helped her until she was on all fours in front of me. I sucked on her shoulder and she turned her face around so she can kiss me while I’m stoking the fire inside her.

“I love you,” I whispered. “So damn much.” My hips flexed as I thrusted deeper and deeper still. This position gave me greater access and I rubbed the swollen bud between her legs. She whispered my name, once, twice and as I felt her release near, I grasped both of her shoulders for leverage.

When I felt her convulse around me, I allowed myself to let go inside her. My knees gave way underneath me, and I collapsed on top of her.

“Jagiya…” I started, needing to look at her face. “That wasn’t too rough, right?” When she didn’t answer I got worried. “Jeong-ah?” I messed up… I’m convinced. I should have asked her first if she was comfortable in that position.

Na Jeong turned around to face me and I saw a pleased smile on her face. “You must really love your presents, huh?” She laughed against my mouth. “I’ve never seen this side of you… And I must say I love it.” She put her arms around me and I laid my head on her chest. “You don’t need to worry about me. I’m stronger than I look… And I can handle everything you can give me. I love you, Kim Jae Joon.”

I could do nothing but look at the beautiful, passionate, and generous woman by my side. I wasn’t sure if it was the phone call from last night or my thinking back on the past month and a half all day today that made my heart crack just a little bit at this moment. But all of a sudden I felt vulnerable, like a little boy again. I closed my eyes and felt her heart beating under my head. I know the truth in her words. I am loved. For the first time in twenty six years, I finally know what it meant to be loved.

*****

Na Jeong

Joon can’t possibly be comfortable laying down like this. I almost giggled when I saw his legs almost half off the opposite end of the couch. He was still laying on my chest quietly. Has he fallen asleep? I run my fingers through his hair and held him close with my free arm.

“Jagiya… You still awake?” I ask softly, in case he was already asleep.

“Hmm?” I heard him say back. I could have sworn he was sniffling but it passed so quickly I was convinced it was in my head.

“Joon-ah… I think we need a new couch,” I said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to entertain anyone here without thinking of what we just did.”

Joon looked up at me. “We can’t go buying new furniture all the time because of that or we’ll have to replace everything here.” His expression was so serious I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Well… How about the fact that you don’t even fit your own couch?” I insisted. “Are you comfortable?”

“Yeah, I’m comfortable. But are you? Wanna move to the bed?” He asked.

“No, I want to see the city lights from here…” I tapped his shoulder. “Don’t you have to go clean up anyway? Bring some pillows and blankets back and we’ll have a sleepover.”

“Okay,” I watched as he lifted his body off of me. My eyes were definitely pleased by the sight. That broad chest tapering down to his hips, where the v of his pelvis shows. That flat stomach and tight buttocks. And my man was genetically blessed in the male anatomy department. A perfect specimen of male beauty.

I had closed my eyes for one second when I heard Joon come back, still naked, carrying a bundle of blankets and pillows. First he put a cover down over the hardwood floor then put two pillows then beckoned for me to get up. When I stood up, he unsnapped the garter belt I was wearing and took my stockings off. He laid down on his back on one of the pillows and opened his arms for me. I laid down next to him before he enfolded me in his arms and pulled the other cover tightly over us.

I looked at his face as he looked outside the windows. The sky was clear tonight, but the city lights rivaled the stars. I wondered for a minute what he was thinking about, and decided to share my thoughts instead.

“I did the same thing, when I was in San Francisco,” I said. “I could see the sky from the hotel and thought to myself that at least maybe you were looking at the same sky. Even if I wasn’t with you… That made me feel closer to you.”

“Did you like San Francisco?”

“To be honest, the only place I saw of it was the stadium, the hotel and restaurant. To me it was just another city… I would have gone wherever you were.”

“If it makes you feel better, I don’t know much more of it than you do. Maybe we can explore it together one day.” I nodded under his chin.

“Did you enjoy your birthday, jagiya?”

“Yeah,” he replied, thinking. “I can’t remember enjoying a birthday more since I was a kid. And even then, I was never this happy.”

I propped my elbows on his chest so I could look at him as he spoke. “Why?” He looked like he didn’t want to share too much, so I thought about telling him it’s okay if he didn’t want to talk about it when he cleared his throat and spoke.

“My parents… Were very competitive. Not only with each other, but with me too. I always had to be smarter… But when they realized I had no real academic aptitude, then at least I had to be faster, stronger and just, better. I dreaded every time we were all together. Including my birthdays. Because even then, it wasn’t about me but about them.” I could do nothing but look at him as he spoke, his experience with his parents so different from mine. He met my eyes and chuckled. “You’d think a kid would love getting two sets of gifts, right? I didn’t… Not when the gifts weren’t even what I wanted… Just the two of them one upping each other again. I… Hated it. And I hated them both for a long time too.”

“And now?”

“I’ve learned to accept that it is what it is. They don’t like what I do for a living, but they don’t refuse the recognition that comes with it. I’m okay with that. Baseball did that for me.”

“You never told me why you loved baseball so much.”

Joon smiled at me. “I don’t know if it’s so much that I love baseball but more like it loved me. Like a father, it disciplines me, telling me to work harder and strive higher. Like a mother, it took me into its arms and allowed me to grow. Being good at baseball… Made me into someone acceptable, someone respectable. It gave me a place to belong.” He took a deep breath. “When it came into my life, it allowed me to dream farther than the four walls of my room and think of a brighter future.” When I stayed quiet, he nudged me. “All of this must be strange to you, huh? You’re very lucky, Sung Na Jeong… To have been born into your family.”

“Yeah I know,” I conceded. “Omma didn’t even blink at me twice when I told her I was in love with you, before I left for the U.S. It was almost as if she knew all along, and was just waiting for me to tell her.” Thinking about what a childhood Joon must have had made me think about my own. There had been someone else that knew me better than I knew myself. “My brother… My late brother Hoon had been like that too.”

Saying Hoon Oppa’s name for the first time in years brought unexpected tears to my eyes and I hid my face on Joon’s chest to stop them from falling. Joon had his fingers on my hair and I closed my eyes at the tender way he was touching me.

“Are you okay talking about him?” He asked quietly. “Omma and Appa doesn’t speak of him much and I would like to know him a little.”

Without lifting my head, I continued to speak. “Hoon Oppa was very funny, quick to a laugh. He was so bossy too, bossier than me if you can imagine it, like a little general. He hated when I would tag along with him and his friends, but then he felt so bad about it that he’d endure playing with me and my dolls for hours afterwards. He even let me put Omma’s make up on him once.” I laughed softly at the memory. “And every time he saw me sad, he would sing the butterfly song. Do you know it?” I looked at Joon and he nodded. I swallowed before speaking again, afraid my emotions would get the better of me. “I loved my Oppa… I idolized him. He was… A beautiful little boy. I knew it even then that he was too good for this world.”

I took a long silence before proceeding. Joon stayed quiet, as if waiting for me to continue. He intertwined his fingers with mine until our hands were clasped together. “One day Oppa woke up crying, and he told Omma his head hurt. Appa yelled at him, and thought he was trying to get out of going to school. Even in pain, Hoon Oppa said all seriously, ‘Appa it’s a Saturday.’ Appa got so mad I thought his neck vein would pop. But Omma knew that Oppa wasn’t a big cryer, and insisted that we all go to the hospital. I remember it clearly because Omma let me sit in the passenger seat, when she always said before that that was her special seat. I was still in my pajamas and I brought my seal doll with me. Omma held my brother in the back, and I could still hear him crying. It scared me, hearing him like that. Then all of a sudden, there was silence. Even as young as I was, I knew, that my brother was gone. He had just been there one minute, but now he’s gone. Two words… That’s all it took to erase him from my life… Arteriovenous malformation. I suppose I should be relieved that it had an official sounding name.” Tears now falling fully from my eyes, I felt the same familiar grief wash over me. “Jung Gook Oppa was his best friend,” I paused and waited for a reaction. Joon tensed up but didn’t stop me from speaking. “He grew up with us in Masan. I think that’s part of why I leaned towards him. It hurts to talk about my brother, and I didn’t have to, with him. He shared every memory I had of Hoon Oppa. He was my last remaining link to my brother.”

I looked at Joon, his eyes fixed on me. I cupped his face with my hand and gave him a soft kiss. He tenderly brushed my tears from my eyes and tucked me more closely towards him. “My brother liked baseball too,” I said. “He would have loved you.”

“Not if he knew I was dating you,” Joon said easily. “He might want to kill me then… Now I’m even more determined to make Sook Sook love me.” I laughed at his words even as I shook my head at him.

“Sook Sook already loves you. When are you going to stop with the monthly delivery of ice cream?”

“When he has his own job and can buy his own. And no, I meant love me more,” he insisted. He looked me in the eyes. “Thank you for telling me about Hoon Hyung… And for my birthday.”

I playfully punch his shoulder. “Thank you for telling me about baseball… And your parents.” I smiled at him and he smiled back at me. If it was possible to fall even more in love with him, that could possibly be what I’m feeling now. “I’m still kind of mad at you, though…”

“Why?” He asked, confused.

“I made plans at a noraebang deliberately so that I could hear you sing again, but we left before you could sing… ” I looked at him and frowned. “I love your voice.”

“Is that right?” He said, in dialect. “Should I sing for you now, then?” I nodded and he pulled my body closer until every part of me was touching every part of him, then held my head gently, tucking it into the space between his shoulder and his neck. Soon he started singing and my heart clenched at the song he decided to sing for me. I heard the familiar lyrics and wondered how I could be so fortunate to be loved so much by Kim Jae Joon.

Butterfly~ butterfly~,
Come fly here,
Yellow butterfly, white butterfly,
Come to me dancing.
Even the petals in the spring wind,
Smile happily.
Even the sparrows chirp chirp chirp
And sing while dancing.

I closed my eyes and with the blanket of city lights and stars around me, I fell asleep to the sound of the man I love singing to me, his arms wrapped around me, making me feel safer than I can remember feeling in a very long time. I’d like to think that somewhere in the universe, my brother was smiling down on us, even if he did want to beat Joon up.

*****

January 18, 2000

11:30 a.m.

Chilbong

When we woke up, the sun was already shining high outside. Well the second time we woke up. Na Jeong woke me up in the middle of the night by climbing on top of me. I thought it was the perfect way to wake up except it wasn’t even morning yet. She fell back asleep after and so did I, cocooned on the floor, just the two of us.

I listened to her steady breathing and knew exactly when she came into consciousness. I know she likes to pretend to be asleep sometimes just so she can sneak peeks at me while I gazed at her sleeping. I know that she observes me while I’m getting up. I can feel those beautiful eyes on me, watching my every move. I laid with her a few more minutes, thinking of what to say to get her out of bed. Or in this case, off the floor.

“Jagiya… Do you want breakfast?” I counted to three in my head and started chuckling as her eyes snapped open when I almost got to three.

“Breakfast?” She asked, grinning at me. I smoothed her hair down and placed a kiss on her forehead before responding.

“Yeah… But I have nothing here. We finished the last of what Omma sent over last week. I have some rice, but that’s about it. Tell me what you want and I’ll go get it from the store.” I watched as she furrowed her brows as if thinking. “Ramyun?” She shook her head no. “Ddukbokki?” She repeated the motion again.

“We have something,” she said with a smile. “Perfect breakfast food.”

A few minutes later we stood in front of the counter with a half eaten cake in front of us. Na Jeong was dressed in a fluffy robe and her puppy slippers, her hair in a loose braid over one shoulder. I wore my sweatpants which rode low on my hips.

“Yah, Sung Na Jeong… I thought you said we had the perfect breakfast food.”

“Jagiya,” she turned to me, her eyes wide as saucers. “This IS perfect breakfast food. We have carbohydrates, sugar, dairy and eggs… The perfect way to start a morning, no?” She stuck her fork into the cake and took a big bite. “You should try it.. it’s delicious,” she said with her mouth full of cake. I looked at her while shaking my head and was surprised when she took an icing covered finger to my nose. “Oops,” she laughingly said. “I was just giving you a taste but you lifted your head too fast.”

“Na Jeong-ah,” I said, a warning in my voice. “You better start running… I’ll even give you a ten second head start.” I took a fistful of cake and looked at her. “Eight… Seven… Six… Five…” I saw her eyes widen as she realized I really was counting down and started darting her eyes around the apartment, as if wondering where she should go. By the time I got to one, she’d already fled the kitchen and had gone into the laundry room.

I chased after her, laughing as she tried to evade me time and time again. Through the living room we went, then back to the kitchen and the guest bedroom. She weaved her way around the couch and I finally caught her in the bedroom. Holding her by her waist, I pressed the cake gently on her face.

“Yah, KIM JAE JOON!!! I only put a little bit of icing on your nose,” she sputtered indignantly. “This sugar can’t be good on my skin,” she complained. I thought she was pulling it off so she can get washed up when she turned back around to me and put some cake on my face too.

“Na Jeong-ah…”

“I’m sorry but it was a lot of cake,” she said, her hands up in surrender. “But Joon-ah… Don’t get too upset… You look even more delicious with cake on.” She wiggled her eyebrows suggestively and I pulled her close to me. She kissed my mouth, and she’s right. The cake was indeed delicious. The icing wasn’t too sweet and the cake part was light. I gave her cheek a little lick. Maybe there is something to this cake business after all. I wonder how she’ll respond if I did this… I pulled a bit of icing from her face and untied her robe. I saw her eyes darken before she slipped off her robe altogether.

*****

Na Jeong

I am a bad, bad woman. Who makes an athlete eat cake for breakfast? I pondered this as I watched Joon’s eyes travel up and down my body. It’s very difficult to look sexy with cake on my face. I tried to wipe some of it off, but where to put it? My robe is on the floor and he’s not wearing a shirt. How can he look so fine even with cake on? With my very best come hither look, I tried to blink away the piece that was hanging over my left eye. This is not working, I thought to myself, and was about to make my way into the bathroom for a quick cleanup when Joon started traveling his finger down my neck, to my collarbone, and then to both of my nipples, smearing icing the whole way down.

It was kind of uncomfortable and sticky, but I’m game. I can’t possibly say no… Not when I saw the hunger in his eyes. But wait… Is it hunger hunger, or hunger for me? It didn’t really matter when I felt his lips on mine, his hands tenderly brushing the cake off my face.

His mouth followed the path that his finger had just taken. I felt him nibble on my neck, then lick his way down to my collarbone. He sucked on one nipple and then the other, and I watched as his eyes closed in bliss. I was struggling staying upright when the visual of him is so tempting. I had grabbed his hand to lead him to the bed when I heard the phone in his apartment ring. I was determined to ignore it until I realized that he’d been waiting for his manager to call about the KBS interview. I’m a supportive girlfriend. My needs don’t trump his obligations… I kept reminding myself as I reluctantly tapped his shoulder to make him aware.

“Jagiya…” I said softly. When he didn’t lift his mouth from my stomach, I called him a little louder, “JAGIYA!” He opened his eyes and looked at me enquiringly. “The phone is ringing. It might be your manager. ”

Joon looked over his shoulder, and then back at me. It looked as if he was conflicted for a moment before he placed a kiss on my abdomen as he got up to take the call. Putting my robe back on, I followed him to the living room after grabbing a towel from the bathroom. He was standing by the answering machine and I wrapped my arms around him from behind. When he didn’t say anything, I peeked my head around to look at his face. He looked a little surprised and dazed. I worried that it may have been a phone call from his parents… Or my parents… Or one of our friends. Everyone pretty much knew that I practically lived in his apartment on my days off.

“Jagiya,” I heard him say.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. He didn’t need to tell me that something was wrong for me to know it. With him unable to meet my eyes, I pressed the PLAY button on his machine. I heard his manager clear his voice before speaking.

Hello? Hello Jae Joon-ah… Its Hyung. How many times do I have to tell you to keep your phone on you at all times? I’ve left you five messages, no six messages on your handphone yesterday since you said you were going to be busy all day. Good news and bad news. Good news first… You’ve been selected for People’s Most Beautiful list in the States. Bad news is that Giants management wants you back to the training camp next weekend. We have to leave on Thursday. As in, in seven days. Because of you leaving so soon, I already called KBS and rescheduled your interview to today at 3 p.m. As in three hours. Please wear something that a sponsor had given you.

I’ve already booked the flights, and will let you know once the boarding passes have been issued. Oh yeah, happy birthday… You would have gotten that message yesterday too… If you had just picked up your phone. Call me when you’re on your way to the studio.

I looked at Joon as my heart beat anxiously in my chest. Unsure of the appropriate thing to say, I looked away even as I saw his eyes watching me in concern. I needed to think, and didn’t even realize that I was pulling away from him as he was reaching for me until I caught the stricken look in his eyes.

“Na Jeong-ah…” He said.

“I have to get washed up,” I interrupted and made a beeline for the bathroom. Once there, I locked the door and washed my face as panicked tears fell unwittingly. I thought we had another month… Not another week! We haven’t even discussed this yet. I don’t even think I’m ready to talk about it yet. I can’t believe I have to do this again.

This is my fault. Joon was right… I don’t think anything through. I just went along my merry way ignoring the reality that I’d known all along. He’s tried to prepare me, but I had chosen to ignore it. I turned the shower so that he wouldn’t hear me cry.

What will he want to do? Will he want to break up? Take a break? Sustaining a long distance relationship is difficult even for the most devoted and the most faithful. I should know… I have one failed long distance relationship under my belt.

Not really knowing how to handle my feelings right now, or even what my feelings are, not about Joon, but about this situation, I showered quickly and got dressed. When I went out of the bathroom, Joon was right outside the door, as if waiting for me the whole time.

“Are you going somewhere?” He asked, as I went to the living room to grab my purse and phone. “Jagiya…”

“Yeah. I forgot I was supposed to go somewhere with Yoon Jin today.”

“Yoon Jin didn’t know you took today off work.”

“Yes, she did.”

“No, she didn’t. They were already outside when you said that.” He narrowed his eyes at me. “Na Jeong-ah, why are you lying right now?”

“I’m sorry for lying. But I need to think about this, and I can’t think when you’re near me. So I just need a little bit of space so I can actually figure out how I feel about you leaving so soon.” I said my words hurriedly, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to say them at all unless I said it all in one go. “Just… Give me some space. Please.” I put my shoes on and made my way out the door. I looked behind me to see Joon just staring at me, cake still on his face. Not able to resist, I kissed him one more time. “I love you. Don’t forget.”

“I love you more,” I heard him call out as I closed the door behind me.

*****

January 20, 2000

8:30 a.m.

Chilbong

She hasn’t come around in two days. I thought for sure that when I came back to the apartment from my interview that she would be here. With me leaving in less than five days, I can’t believe she actually stayed away that long. I stared at my phone in annoyance and the picture of us taken on New Years Eve greeted me as my wallpaper. I was looking at the camera, thinking that’s what she was doing too, but when the picture came out, she was staring at my face the whole time, a loving look in her eyes. I sighed to myself. I should be thankful that she was at least answering my text messages. Even if she won’t talk on the phone.

I miss her voice. I miss her laughter. I just… Miss her so much. I don’t want to spend my last five days here without her. I know where she’s coming from. I understand what her fears are. If she would just speak to me about them, we can address all of those things together, one by one, until her fears have all subsided. I don’t know a lot of things, and I know I have no experience with this, but if we managed to stay faithful even to just each other’s memory, how much harder could it possibly be to stay faithful to each other?

I got out of bed and started pacing in the bedroom. Na Jeong’s nervous habits are starting to rub off on me. I thought and thought about what I could possibly do to convince her of my dedication and commitment to making us work.

Without even thinking it through, I sent her a short message.

Don’t freeze me out. Please have dinner with me tonight. I’m cooking. I miss you. And I love you always. Be here at 7. Or I’ll come find you and carry you here myself.

There, that was assertive enough. Or was it too assertive? I put my phone down on the bedside table farthest from the door and walked out to the living room to stop myself from sending her another text message. But just in case, I put my notification on the highest sound setting. Just in case. I don’t want to miss her reply.

I never know how to handle Na Jeong. She might come out with another of her crazy metaphors. And then I’ll be in big trouble because I’m not very good with those. I heard my phone buzz from the bedroom and ran in. I dived over my bed to grab it and smiled when I saw her response.

Yah, Kim Jae Joon… Have you forgotten who your girlfriend is? Don’t threaten me. I’ll be there. I have to talk to you. I love and miss you more.

Feeling a whole lot better about the situation, I grabbed a pen and notepad from my bedside table drawer. I saw Na Jeong’s picture underneath and impulsively placed a loud kiss on it. I started making a list of everything I’d need for tonight.

Heading out the door, I whistled happily to myself. Na Jeong and I will be just fine. We will be just fine.

*****

January 20, 2000

6:00 p.m.

Na Jeong

I looked around my room and grabbed the silk scarf that was sitting on the back of my chair. I picked up my notebook and consulted my notes. I really really hope that Joon is receptive to my approach. I didn’t want to be the crazy girlfriend again that talks in riddles. This is a real life problem and we are grown people. Surely we can have a logical, sensible and honest discussion about this.

I’ve spent the last two days doing nothing but pretending that Joon is not here anymore. For practice. To see if I could handle it, which I could. I didn’t say I could handle it very well. I just said I could handle it. I’ve only cried nine times. Maybe ten. Maybe eleven… But that was just a quick five minute cry.

I read an article in a magazine once that said I should allow myself five minutes a day to cry if I needed to. Or was that about babies? Whichever… It sounded reasonable to me. So if I absolutely must cry, I will just do it for five minutes. And I will only allow myself to think about him fifteen, maybe thirty minutes in one day. Continuously. If he pops out in my mind, that doesn’t count if he doesn’t stay more than thirty seconds. See? I’m dealing with this possible problem in a practical way. I’m not 19 years old and this is not my first relationship. I am almost 26… And it’s only nine months right?

I’ll stay busy anyway… Sook Sook has school and as his noona, I must make sure he is ready for it. Yoon Jin will have a baby, and I’m sure I’ll shop with her a lot, and maybe even babysit sometimes. I have my job, and Lee Sang Min Oppa’s games to attend. Yes. I’ll be really busy. Joon will be happy to hear that I’ll be really really pressed for time.

I will not be a clingy girlfriend. I will not be one of those girls that depend completely on the presence of their boyfriends for validation. I will be independent and self assured. Joon will never need to worry about me.

I put on my power suit. Underwear that made me feel beautiful. A long white blouse made of luxurious fabric with a high collar and buttoned cuffs. A pair of pinstriped trousers that sat low on my hips. Rather than my usual girl next door makeup, I opted for power make-up as well. I quickly put my primer on, then my foundation. I put on my smoky eyeshadow and mascara. And just to be taken seriously, I kept my lips nude but for a thin sheen of lip gloss. I don’t want him fixated on my lips. I pulled my hair back tight against my scalp and put it in a long ponytail, with no hair accessories but for a simple black elastic.

I got up and fished the pièce de résistance from my closet. I lifted the box from the bottom of the closet and unwrapped a new pair of blood red pumps. I grabbed my purse from my table and shrugged into my pinstriped blazer. Picking up my shoes to wear at the front door, I made my way out of my room to see Haitai, Ae Jung, Omma, Appa and Sook Sook sitting in front of the television eating fruit.

They all turned to look at me and I nodded at all of them. Haitai and Ae Jung looked at me slackjawed while Omma just glanced at me for one minute before turning her attention back on the television. Appa did a double take and then frowned.

“Na Jeong-ah, I thought you were seeing Chilbong tonight?” Omma asked.

“I am. Yes, I will be seeing Joon.”

“Why are you dressed like that then?” Appa said. “You look like you’re about to go for a business meeting.”

“Appa… He needs to take me seriously! And I feel confident wearing this,” I replied.

I saw him look at Omma and mouth, ‘She’s your daughter,’ before shaking his head.

“Noona… Are those your shoes?” Sook Sook said, approaching my hands hesitantly. “They look scary.” I was still thinking of the right response for him when I heard Ae Jung’s voice.

“You look nice, Na Jeong-ah,” Ae Jung said. “You look powerful… Strong.”

“Thank you Ae Jung-ah,” I responded, smiling at her. “It’s so nice to have another woman’s opinion in this house.” Next to her, Haitai was just shaking his head.

“What?” I yelled at Haitai. “Why are you shaking your head?”

“Chinggu…” He responded chuckling. “Are you going on a date with Chilbong or scaring him into submission? ”

“Both,” I responded as I put my shoes on and walked out the door. “Don’t wait up.”

Even as I walked down the path leading to the street the shoes already began pinching my toes. I was tempted to change into something more comfortable but it wouldn’t go with my outfit. I can endure this. I will endure this!

Hobbling to the road, I quickly hailed a cab. I checked my watch and saw that it was only 6:30. Perfect. I’ll arrive promptly. I checked that I had everything in my purse. Scarf? Check. Box? Check. I looked at what sat next to me and noted with satisfaction that I had my binder and my notebook.

As the cab pulled into the front of Joon’s apartment building, I checked a small mirror to make sure my makeup was still intact and that not a hair was out of place. Seeing that I still looked appropriate, I paid my fare and exited the cab.

I noted with satisfaction the way my heels echoed on the marble foyer in the front entryway of the building. My body thrummed from nerves and anxiety as I practiced what I was going to say when I arrive, tucking my binder and notebook closer to me.

Walking towards his door, I took a deep breath for composure. I was about to enter his code when I realized that I should ring the bell instead. Lifting my finger to the small button, I pressed and waited for Joon to answer the door.

*****

January 20, 2000

7 pm

Chilbong

I was straightening the candles on the table when the ding of the doorbell jolted me. I looked at my watch and saw that it was exactly 7pm. I’m only expecting Na Jeong and she knows my house code, so who else could it be? I looked at the monitor and I was struck by how different she looked. Walking towards the door slowly, I gave myself a little pep talk, expecting her anger. Stay calm, I reminded myself. You have to stay calm for the both of you.

I opened the door and had to consciously keep my mouth closed when I saw her. Na Jeong was in a suit. Her hair was pulled back from her face to a sleek ponytail down her back. She wore a white blouse with a collar that covered her neck, and a blazer and pant set that hugged her figure perfectly. Her eyes were smoky, a bit more hazel today than green and her lips were shiny, like she knew I liked them. I looked down at her feet and swallowed. She was wearing high HIGH heels… With heels so thin I wondered how she could possibly walk in them. She looks like a woman who means business.

She merely raised her eyebrow at me as I continued to study her. “Well, can I come in?” she asked.

I frowned at her before opening the door. I followed her to the entryway and expecting her to change into her puppy slippers, was surprised when she kept her shoes on in the apartment. I pulled her to me to greet her with a kiss, but she turned her head away.

“No. None of that yet. We have business to discuss.”

Business? What business? I thought we were just going to have a nice dinner and then I get to calm her down long enough to listen to my plan.

Obviously realizing that this was not how this was going to go, I merely nodded my head.

I pulled the chair out for her at the table and watched as she primly put a binder down. Still unsure about what’s going on, I sat myself down and leaned back on the chair with my arms crossed in front of me. “So,” I said. “You said we had business to discuss. Ladies first.”

She cleared her throat before speaking. “I’ve come to negotiate the terms of our long distance relationship.” She opened her binder and pulled out a sheet of paper. “I have some conditions that we need to discuss.”

“Well… Since you mentioned it, I have terms and conditions too.” I stood up from the table and went to the bedroom to grab a poster board, like one that some old Coaches have used pre-game. I put it on the counter on an easel that I especially bought for this occasion. I watched as her eyes widened for one second before she put her neutral expression on her face again. “But Na Jeong-ah… Can we eat while talking business? I’ve been cooking.” I walked over to the stove and started dishing out the food. I placed a plate in front of her and had to hide my smile when she looked at it hungrily before resuming her proper pose. “It’s crab linguine. I remembered you loved crab… I made a salad too, since I know you like your food groups balanced and everything.” I brought the salad and a bottle of dressing to the table and set it down carefully.

I watched as her expression softened for one minute before it disappeared again. She looked at the food in front of her one more time but she held her ground.

“We’ll eat after the negotiations. Do not use food as a tactic. We have some things to settle.” She looked down at her paper before she spoke.

“Number 1. We are not in an open relationship. Neither parties will be seeing other people while apart. Neither…”

“Agreed. Next,” I interrupted her. She frowned at me then looked at her notebook. “Na Jeong-ah… Did you by chance prepare an agenda?”

She blinked those beautiful eyes at me before responding. “Yes. Is that a problem?”

“No. I was just curious.”

“Number 2. On the topic of phone calls. Either party must call the other once a day.” She turned her eyes to meet my gaze. “Thoughts?”

“Yes. I object,” I shook my head. “Once a day… That’s it?” I stood up to my poster board. “If you look at the calendar I’ve made, you will see that I put twice a day. AT LEAST twice a day. Once in the morning and one at night. AT LEAST.”

She was shaking her head at me before I even finished speaking. “Joon-ah… I have to work. How can I call in the middle of the night? I have to sleep too, you know.”

“We will be in different time zones. Twice a day, Na Jeong-ah… I’m not budging on this.” This is insane, I thought. How can she be so calm?

“Fine. Twice a day,” she made a notation on her sheet.

“AT LEAST… I want that notated.”

“Fine. I got it,” she looked at me and smirked. “AT LEAST twice a day.” She tapped her pen on the table and her eyes went down the list. “Number 3. On the subject of emails. Either party must email the other once a week.”

“I don’t like that one either,” I said. My voice was rising and I couldn’t even stop myself. I pointed behind me and said, “My terms say you email me whenever you want. You did it every day before! You can do it again! It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t even have to be important, because whatever you say is important to me!” I narrowed my eyes at her. “Change that one Sung Na Jeong! I will never agree to that.”

Unsure of how long she is planning on discussing this and how many terms left, I sat myself back down. “We should eat. I have a feeling that we’ll need to have some sustenance for the rest of this negotiation.” This is harder than both my baseball contracts and we are only at number 3, I thought. Na Jeong is just so stingy with her terms.

I started shoveling food in my mouth and watched as she pushed food around in her plate. Trying to remain calm, I decided to make some small talk. “Na Jeong-ah… What have you been doing in the two days I haven’t seen you?”

She didn’t look at me. “I’ve been practicing.”

Practicing? What is there to practice? I thought. “Practicing what?”

Na Jeong finally met my gaze. “I’ve been practicing being without you.”

At this I found myself on my feet again. I started pacing back and forth in a combination of nerves and anxiety.

“Joon-ah, please stop with the pacing. You’re giving me a headache.” I looked at her face but her eyes stayed looking at her plate. Angry now, I couldn’t even help myself from yelling at her in frustration.

“Why would you need to practice being without me? I don’t want you to get used to being without me… I want you to miss me every second of the day! Because I will miss you just as much! Even just the last two days… Even just that little amount of time, I thought I was going crazy! ”

“WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?” She stayed sitting down even as her voice escalated. “Why are you making this so difficult for me?” She finally lifted her eyes to me and I saw that her lower lip was trembling and her impossibly long lashes were wet with unshed tears. “Am I supposed to order you not to leave? Am I supposed to beg and plead for you to remember me? You have to leave. And I have to stay. Those things haven’t changed.”

“How can you just say that so calmly? How can you just sit there and be okay with this?” I bent down and took both of her hands in mine.

“Joon-ah… Do you know what happened the last time you left?” She asked, looking at me. “I couldn’t leave my bed for two days… I couldn’t keep any food down in my stomach for a week,” she paused and gave me a sad smile, even as tears fell from her eyes. “I missed you so much that it felt like I couldn’t breathe.”

“I’m sorry, Jagiya.” What else am I supposed to say?

“I’m not telling you this so you can be sorry. The reason why you and I are together now is because of the journey that we’ve both had to go through, together and alone. I’m just telling you this so that you understand why I’m trying to be strong. Because I don’t want you to worry that I’m going to fall apart when you’re gone.”

“Na Jeong-ah… I’m going to worry anyways, whether you want me to or not. Not because I don’t think you’re perfectly capable of taking care of yourself, but because I love you.” I lifted her off the chair as she continued to cry silently. I tucked her head onto my chest and she started sobbing more forcefully.

She lifted her head up to look at me for one second. She looked so upset I didn’t want to laugh but she looked so adorable that I just rested my chin on her head. “Jagiya… Doesn’t this feel a little better?” I was referring to us finally talking about the issue at hand.

“No,” she said. I was going to ask her why when she spoke again. “My feet are killing me. My hair is up too tight and my head hurts too,” she complained.

“Really?” Finally glad to have something I can do something about, I sat her back on her seat and bent down to take her shoes off. It’s no wonder she was in so much pain. Her feet are blistered. I went to the bathroom and grabbed a couple of plasters from the cupboard. I lifted her feet to my lap and applied them carefully. “Good?”

She nodded her head. Putting her feet back down, I went behind her and slowly pulled off the elastic that was holding her hair up, letting her hair fall down her back. I pulled her up off the chair and put her on my lap, running my fingers down her back comfortingly.

“Have you eaten anything today?” I asked her.

Na Jeong shook her head at me. “Yah… What did I tell you about missing meals? That’s probably why you have a headache. You really need…”

“Joon-ah, do I look like a panda?” I blinked at her, not knowing if this was a rhetorical question. I suddenly broke out into a nervous sweat not really knowing if we are about to launch into another argument about animals.

“Jagiya… A panda?”

“Yeah, with my smudged black eyeshadow from the tears… I must look like a panda… And… and I ruined another one of your shirts!” At this she started crying again. I shook my head above her, unsure whether to feel relief that the tears have come or concern that the anger has not.

“It’s okay… I have a lot of white shirts.” I lifted her face to look at her. “And I like pandas… It’s fine.” Seeing her like this made my heart clench uncomfortably inside my chest. But for once, I didn’t shy away from the emotion. This is what love does to people. I held her a little closer and she finally, finally, put her arms around my neck as she sat on my lap. Wanting to see a smile on her face, I said, “Yah… Sung Na Jeong… You may look like a panda, but you look like a really hot panda.”

I breathed a sigh of relief when she looked up at me with a small smile on her face as she playfully nudged me on my chest. “That’s not funny…”

“But it is… And true.”

“Joon-ah… Did you make that calendar thing?” she asked, pointing to the poster board.

“Yeah… I thought you would respond better to visual cues.”

“But you like drew arrows and you colored and everything!” She turned to me, eyes in wonder. “When did you do this?”

“Earlier today, when I went shopping for food, I started wondering what I should do to show you that I am fully prepared to do this with you. And this was the only thing that came to my mind.” Well this and other things as well. “Why are you so worried anyway? You’ve been through a long distance relationship before.”

“That’s why I’m so worried. I’ve failed at this before.”

“Na Jeong-ah… You’re not the same girl that you were years ago.” I took a deep breath. “And I’m not him.” Holding her more tightly, I said, “We are going to make it through this. After all we’ve been through to get here… I won’t let us fail.” I pressed my lips on her forehead.

“What if our feelings change?” She asked, hesitantly. I focused my gaze on her before responding.

*****

Na Jeong

I was sitting on Joon’s lap, savoring the feel of his arms holding me protectively. I felt drained. I haven’t cried like that in months. I have a headache and I was hungry. I eyed the food in front of me and debated whether it’s worth getting off Joon’s lap for. Lost in my thoughts, Joon’s voice brought me back to reality.

“Na Jeong-ah… You’re not the same girl that you were years ago.” He took a deep breath before proceeding. “And I’m not him.” He held me tighter and said, “We are going to make it through this. After all we’ve been through to get here… I won’t let us fail.” He pressed a tender kiss on my forehead.

“What if our feelings change?” I asked, hesitantly. What I really meant was… What if YOUR feelings change? He focused his gaze on me before responding.

“It won’t happen,” he said, a decisive tone in his voice. “If you forget how much I love you, I’ll remind you. And if you forget how much you love me, I’ll remind you of that, too.”

I was about to say something else when my stomach rumbled. This seems to be my trademark now. He laughed as I blushed and got up from his lap. I placed a soft kiss on his lips then sat myself down on the chair opposite his. I started scarfing down the food before he even had the chance to offer to heat it up. He looked at me with his beautiful worried eyes but then started eating too. I was wondering when is the most appropriate time to bring up the rest of my terms when Joon cleared his throat.

“Yah… Why are you so stingy with your terms?” He asked, brows drawn. “You should be generous with me. I’m your Joon!”

“I didn’t want to set the bar too high… I thought if the number was lower, then it’s more realistic to meet, and neither of us would be disappointed if we don’t exceed it.” I said, taking a sip of water.

“Sung Na Jeong… I want that bar raised as high as possible. I want to be disappointed if we don’t speak AT LEAST twice a day.” He was so passionate about this that I couldn’t help but soften. I was about to tell him I understood when Joon proceeded. “But, since you are being very official about this, I have to tell you that I have some things to help facilitate our mutual goals.”

I watched as he put his fork down and went into the bedroom. When he came back, he had two boxes with him. He put them both down between us. I looked on curiously as he opened one and stood up next to my seat.

He pulled out a brand new handphone and he powered it on.

“Do you know what this is?” He asked.

I nodded and waited. Of course I know what it is. “Uhmm, a handphone?”

He shook his head at me and smiled. “Ahh, but it’s not just an ordinary handphone. This is a very special handphone. This is the handphone that will bring you to me every single time.” I was about to laugh at his cheesiness when he opened the phone and a picture of us was already on the wallpaper of the phone. It was us taken on New Year’s Eve, from Joon’s phone. He was playing around with his camera and I remembered the one taken before this, the one that is in his phone now, the one where he thought where I was looking straight at the camera but overwhelmed with love and happiness I looked at him instead. I didn’t realize he had kept this one… My face was caught mid laugh at something he said, and he was nuzzling my neck, his expression that of pure joy.

He tapped on the buttons to the ‘Contacts’ screen. “I already pre-programmed it for you,” he explained. “Speed dial ‘1’ is my handphone in San Francisco, speed dial ‘2’ is my apartment phone number. Speed dial ‘3’ is my manager’s handphone number. If I don’t answer the phone, it’s because I am training or at my games, so…” He gave me a grin. “You can bother Hyung as much as you want. Under my name is my new e-mail address and my mailing address too. So you have no excuse for sending to the wrong email.”

“Jagiya, you didn’t have to do this,” I said. “I can pay my own phone bills… You don’t have to pay for me to be able to call you.”

“Hey… This is not for you but for me. I want to be able to talk to you as often and as long as I want.” He opened the larger box and pulled out a Polaroid camera. As if embarrassed, he looked away before telling me what it’s for. “I just realized that we had no pictures of us. I really want one, at least of us, that I can put in my cap when I play.” He cleared his throat again and I thought he might have been nervous. “So… Can we spend some time in the next few days just taking pictures of places and things that mean something to us?”

“Okay,” I said. “Can we discuss the rest of the terms now?” He looked like he was going to say no so I added, “Please.” I cleared my throat and looked at my notebook.

“Number 4. Visits are acceptable but not expected. Neither party should obligate…”

“YAH! SUNG NA JEONG! Are you telling me right now you won’t visit me?” Joon glared at me over his glass.

“It took me six months to save up for that trip. Even if I were to start saving up now, it will take me another six months to get money for the fare alone, much less the hotel.” I don’t even know why I have to explain this to him. He knows that I don’t earn as much as I probably should.

“Just tell me when you have time off and I’ll buy your ticket. And why would you need a hotel if I have an apartment?”

“But Joon-ah…”

“No. That matter is settled. You change that on your paper. You will come visit as soon as work grants you leave. Didn’t we say we’ll explore San Francisco together?”

“Yes, but…”

“No buts. In fact,” he got up and went to the living room and picked up two books. “I got us these. I’m giving you some homework…” He placed a small book in my hands and I read the title: Lonely Planet San Francisco. “Read and mark everything you want to do or see on there, and I’ll do the same. When you come to visit, we’ll try to do everything and see everything. Together.”

I placed the book down beside my binder and read the last term written on my sheet. With shaky hands I reached into my purse to retrieve a small box. “Joon-ah… I have one more term to discuss. You don’t have to do it but I will. Feel free to disagree with it, okay?” Nervous now, I placed the box on his side of the table. I cleared my throat, a little embarrassed that I’m so nervous and he waited for me to speak.

“Number 5. On the subject of couple rings. Either party should wear their rings at all times, save for circumstances that will force them not to. And during those times, the said couple ring may be worn on a chain.” I darted my eyes to his and saw that he was already opening the box. I know what he would see. Matching simple white gold bands, with his a little wider than mine. I bit my lip as he took out the smaller band, plain but for a single row of blue stones. The matching one had one red stone on the inside, fairly embedded so it doesn’t dig into his hand. When he continued to say nothing I got nervous. This was way too soon. I was suddenly afraid that he’ll think I’m trying to tie him down so I got up and grabbed the box and tried to pry his fingers away from the ring he was holding.

“Unless you’re taking the ring off me to put it on my finger, you can’t have it back,” he said. “I was just thinking to myself about why I didn’t come up with this instead.” He held out his hand for mine and when I didn’t give it right away, he grabbed my hand and placed the ring on my right ring finger. He placed the bigger band on my palm and held his hand out for me to place it on. Sliding the ring onto his ring finger, I wondered if he read what I had engraved on the inner part of the band. As if reading my mind, he slipped it off again to look at it more closely.

*****

Chilbong

I listened as Na Jeong spoke about her last condition.

“Number five. On the subject of couple rings. Either party should wear their rings at all times, save for circumstances that will force them not to.” Couple rings? Damn, why didn’t I think of that? I opened the box and saw a pair of rings, one bigger and one smaller. The smaller band has a row of light blue stones. Na Jeong stayed sitting in front of me, biting her lips. When I lifted the other ring out and looked at it, she got up and tried to take it away from me.

“Unless you’re taking the ring off me to put it on my finger, you can’t have it back,” I said. “I was just thinking to myself about why I didn’t come up with this instead.” I should have known that jewelry was important to women. I have so much to learn about this relationship business. Picking up the smaller ring I held out my hand for hers. With her taking her sweet time, I got very impatient and grabbed her hand. As I slipped the ring onto her finger, I had to swallow due to my nervousness. I hope she doesn’t notice the shaking of my hands. I feel like I’m getting married. The thought surprisingly doesn’t make me panic. Once the ring was on, my hand grazed hers for a second longer before I gave her the ring that was meant for me. As she slipped it on, I thought I saw an engraving on the inside of the ring. Taking it off again to take a closer look, I saw that not only were some words engraved on it but there was also a singular red stone on the inside of the band. Reading the words, my heart stopped.

Yours. Always.

I looked at her and saw her watching me for my reaction. I took her face in my hands and pressed a kiss on her lips. I felt her face, still wet with tears, and I brushed them off with my fingers. I tasted her sorrow and her fear, and I wished I could make them vanish with my touch.

“Na Jeong-ah…” I whispered. “This is not the end.”

She opened her eyes and met my gaze. “Just tell me you’ll come back.”

I nodded and pulled her close to me. I would have her stay in my arms forever if I could. Putting my lips on her forehead, I whispered, “Jagiya… You have my word… Where, when and how… Those things don’t matter. I will always find you. I will always come back to you.”

She nodded even as her tears fell. Watching her lovely eyes, so full of fear, I led her to the couch where I continued to hold her. I don’t know how long we laid there just holding each other, trying to make the moments slow down and willing for time to pause. Her arms were wrapped around me tightly, and I willed myself to remember this, the feel of her weight on me.

She is my home. She is my gravity. She will always guide me back. The beat of her heart is the call that my heart will always answer. Everything I am… Everything I want to be. I see it in her eyes, a vision of the man that she loves. It made me want to become an even better person, to become the man that she sees in me.

I took her hands in mine and watched as our rings touched. She traced my fingers with hers, as if memorizing each detail. She moved up to look at my face, her fingers going through my hair, then down the side of my face.

“There are so many things that we haven’t done yet,” she said softly. “I hate that we pushed all those things aside, thinking we had all the time in the world.”

“Time is relative, Na Jeong-ah. Any moment can change, and any moment can last as long as we want it to. It takes us six years to be together… We can wait another nine months.” I put my hand to her face. “And all those things we haven’t done… We can always do them now. We’ll do as much as we can in the next few days. We’ll appreciate each moment we have together. And then we will do this, and get through it, and then we have the rest of our lives to do everything else.” I gave her a little smile. “I bet you have a list of things you want us to do too, right? Go get it, and I will do my best to make it happen.”

She gave me an embarrassed smile before getting up. She shrugged out of her blazer on her way to the kitchen and I watched as she pushed her hair to one side as she picked up her notebook. She came back with it in her hands and laid back down with it. She flipped it to a page and handed me the notebook.

I looked at her handwriting, and noted that she had written everything so neatly. Some items have been checked off and some have not. Wondering how long she’s had this list, I asked, “Na Jeong-ah, when did you make this list?”

“I… I think I started when you left last year? When I realized I was in love with you, I thought I should write a list of everything I want us to do when you come back… If you come back to me.” She tried to pry the notebook away from me, and I swatted her hand away. Curious to see how many pages she’s written, I flipped the page to see how long the list was. The list spanned two full pages, but I continued to turn the pages and came across several more lists, with very interesting information. One said, red vs blue, then another page contained a graph with three columns with soju, makgulli and sake on it, and descriptive words underneath. I saw the list that said ‘Does Joon still love me?’ and reasons underneath that support or negate the question. When I flipped to the last page, I saw that she had doodled Kim Jae Joon all over the whole back cover. Shaking my head, I looked at her teasingly.

“Na Jeong-ah, you love me a lot, right?” She glared at me but I just smiled. “I have the evidence right here… You can’t even deny it now.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” she replied. “You were only supposed to read the list.”

“I love you that much too, you know,” I nudged her side. “I don’t have a notebook, but I keep all of them right here,” I said, pointing to my head. “And here,” pointing to my heart. Looking back at her list, I spotted the first one on the list and I almost laughed. “You want to make out and talk all night with me?”

“Yes.”

Closing the notebook, I nodded and said, “Okay. I can do that.”

“Really?” She asked.

“Yes, really,” I said easily. “If that’s what my Na Jeong-ie wants, then it’s what I will do.” I switched positions so she could be on her back and I leaned my weight on one elbow before I bent down to kiss her lips.

I kissed her softly, like the first time I ever kissed her, on a night she probably doesn’t even remember. I felt her lips, gentle in her surrender, and her hands pull my face closer. I breathed her in and savored the steady beating of her heart against my chest. She kept her eyes closed, and I closed mine as well.

We spent the night kissing, and laughing, and talking until the wee hours of the morning. She asked me random questions, and asked some of my own. In the end I realized that there was still so much of this beautiful woman that I have yet to discover… That I just cracked the first layer on what makes her who she is. I vowed to myself that I will uncover her piece by piece, like a gift sent from heaven, just for me. We fell asleep on the couch, both fully dressed, yet feeling like we have never been closer.

*****

January 24, 2000

5:00 p.m.

Chilbong

We spent the last four days ticking more things off her to do list. On Sunday, we went to the amusement park, where we played like children and laughed until our bellies hurt. We ate cotton candy and all the junk food we wanted. I have never laughed so hard in my life seeing Na Jeong’s face as we rode the roller coaster. She made me win her another stuffed animal, saying her puppy needed a friend. I personally think she is using my pitching arm to get her way, but I was more than happy to comply.

On Monday we visited Ttous les Jours, and she sent me in to get her a dinosaur set. Again. I’m guessing that she hasn’t realized that the dinosaur set I got last time was especially made just for her and that they now offer the set for purchase because I promised to do a CF with them. She smiled at me when I handed it to her and said that it was her favorite. We went to watch a film, the plot to which I can’t remember as Na Jeong insisted on kissing for most part of it.

On Tuesday we watched Sang Min Hyung play. I had to endure her fangirling while she screamed and cheered for him, after which I took her to dinner at another crab restaurant. We took a walk in the path we took the last time to her house and held hands on the swing.

I had to shake my head at the simplicity of her requests. This woman, who could have asked me for anything, only wanted to spend time with me… Doing things that people do every day with their loved ones and take for granted.

Tonight is my last night here for a while. I straightened my apartment up and packed my suitcase. I made sure all the pictures we had taken were safely in my carry on. Na Jeong had her own set, already up in her room at the boarding house. I told her that she was more than welcome to stay here on nights when she is too tired to go home, but she declined and said it will be too difficult to be here without me.

I took out one of my jerseys for her to take home… Something that she can remember me by. I made sure all the cupboards were empty and that the fridge was empty too, save for the stuff that Na Jeong asked me to get for tonight. For the first time in years it bothered me that I lived like a nomad.

I want to settle down somewhere. I want a home and a family I could love and protect. I want to build a life with Na Jeong.

I looked at the clock and saw that she would just be getting out of work now. In exactly 23 minutes she will walk through my door. She will hide the shadows under her eyes and smile so brightly at me till my heart clenches. This apartment will be filled with her. And without her, it will again transform into just another space where I lay my head down.

I sat down and ran my fingers through my hair. Stay strong, I reminded myself. You have to stay strong enough for both of you. I leaned back on the couch and closed my eyes. It will only be nine months, and yet it feels like it will be forever.

*****

January 25, 2000

5:23 p.m.

Na Jeong

I took a deep breath as I entered the code to Joon’s apartment. I fixed a smile on my face and tried to look as happy as I can be under the circumstances. He’s worried about me. I know he is. He doesn’t need to be. I’ll make sure of it.

“Jagiya, I’m here,” I called out as I entered the apartment. Wondering if he stepped out, I looked around the living room to see him laying down on the couch with his eyes closed. I debated waking him up… He has a long day ahead tomorrow… But I pressed a kiss to his cheek anyways. I waited to see if he would wake up, but when he didn’t, I made my way to the kitchen to start preparing dinner.

He’s cleaned the whole apartment, I noted. All of the pots and pans and plates were all away. Carefully I took out all I needed from the cupboard and fridge so as not to wake him up. I measured and prepared what was left of the rice and set out to make doenjang jigae.

I was just rinsing the vegetables under the tap when I felt a pair of strong arms wrapped around me. I felt Joon’s mouth on my neck before I heard him speak.

“Why didn’t you wake me up when you came in?” He said gently. “You need help?” Before waiting for my answer he was already taking the drained vegetables from the sink and putting them on a cutting board. He looked at them and asked, “Hmmm, doenjang jigae for dinner then?”

I nodded and turned around to him. “I could do this by myself. You should go rest some more.”

He grinned at me but shook his head. “I like cooking with you. Plus I’ll get to rest on the plane.” At the mention of this, I just nodded. “Samcheonpo texted… He said everyone will be at the boarding house in the morning to see me off, including Dong Joon, so we should get up early to have breakfast there.”

“Yeah, Omma said she has a ton of stuff for you to take with you. You know she worries that you don’t eat enough.” I measured out the doenjang paste into the pot of water. “I don’t really want to be around everyone when you leave… Can’t we just stay here by ourselves?”

Joon looked at me and lifted my chin so he can see my eyes. “I don’t want you to be alone when I leave. Will you do this for me?”

“Okay,” I said. I added the vegetables into the pot and was surprised when he leaned down and took my lips for a slow and gentle kiss.

In some ways, farewells are funny. You would think that with his departure looming so close that everything we shared would be urgent and impatient. But his leaving actually had the opposite effect. We found ourselves slowing everything down and savoring every interaction. Every touch lingered and passion gave way to tenderness, as if knowing what we needed at what time.

As his lips moved over mine, I looked into his eyes, and saw that he was looking at me too. Even as his tongue met mine, our eyes never wavered from each other’s. I took in the focus in his eyes, and the determination. Afraid my eyes would expose the pain that I feel inside, I closed them tightly, afraid he would see. When I felt his teeth on my lower lip, I couldn’t help but moan. My fragile heart started beating erratically in my chest, and so suddenly, I was desperate to hold on to him. I clutched onto his shoulder tightly, wanting him, willing him to become a part of me. He lifted me up and carried me to bed, his mouth never lifting from mine.

I breathed his scent in and ran my fingers through his thick hair. He smelled like every beautiful day I have ever had, and tasted like the best memories I can remember. His mouth left mine to kiss the sensitive spot on my neck and I grabbed at his shirt, desperate for contact, desperate for him. I watched as he slipped his shirt off his head, my mouth wanting to kiss every inch of skin that is exposed. He unbuttoned my blouse, and set it gently off the bed. His mouth traveling down my neck, he kissed a trail down my collarbone, and took off the bra that was still in his way.

Gently he took a nipple in his mouth, his tongue rolling over around it before he sucked. His dark head bent to my chest, I started trembling as I watched his mouth and his tongue over me again and again. My fingers traced his skin, so warm and so smooth under my hands. I felt his heart beating under my palm as his mouth traveled down to my abdomen. My fingers found the button on his jeans and slowly pulled them down from his hips. His hands were still cupping my breasts, his mouth on the skin just over my slacks. Lifting my hips I allowed him to take everything off, until the only thing covering me was him.

His fingers and mouth were everywhere, tasting, savoring, exploring. It felt like he was everywhere… My body was so aware of him. He kissed my elbows, the back of my knees, all these places on my body that I never even knew could be pleasurable. He took so much time teasing me that by the time he entered me I was sobbing his name. He kissed my lips, his tongue entering my mouth as he slipped himself inside me. His hands on my head, my breasts against his chest, his length sliding deeper and deeper in me… I almost didn’t know where he started and I began. He flexed his hips in slow measured thrusts even as I sucked on his tongue and dug my nails down his back.When I felt my climax approaching, I opened my eyes and looked at him, only to see him watching me in return, so much love coming from his eyes I felt my eyes fill with tears. My release was intense, with Joon still deep inside me, and I felt myself shaking even as he continued to move.

Even after I had peaked, we continued to touch one another. Our fingers tracing paths all over each other, paths that will lead us back together… As if trying to immortalize what it meant to be here… What it meant to be together and what it meant to be us. He changed his position so that he could be sitting up but with me on top, directing the pace. I put my hands on his shoulders as I moved slowly. I could feel his lips on my neck and his mouth on my breasts as I moved against him. His hand rubbed between my legs as I climbed towards another release, and he took my mouth again before I heard him whisper my name over and over again. He stiffened in my arms and his hips were moved to be more firmly inside me as he climaxed. Our eyes were locked together even as I felt tears running down my eyes. He kissed my tears away and tucked my head into his chest.

There had been a shift in our relationship and in this aftermath, I knew that what we had just shared trascended even love. It felt like my soul had connected with his even for one brief moment, and I will never be the same again.

Then he laid down on his back, and held me close quietly, as if afraid to break the moment that we had just shared, as if understanding for the very first time what it meant to be in love together. There is a difference between knowing you’re in love with someone, and making the choice to truly love someone, without hiding or shying away from the possible pain. Joon seemed to be reflecting too, what it meant now to choose each other. He stayed quiet for a few minutes, one hand on my back and the other on the back of my neck, but then he finally spoke.

“Jagiya… Are you hungry?” I looked at him in surprise, and I couldn’t help the smile that came onto my face. I shook my head no. He frowned at me then said, “Yeah, me neither.”

I looked at the clock on the table. 9:00 p.m. “What do you want to do now?”

“It doesn’t matter. As long as I’m with you.” I followed his eyes to the table next to his bed, and thinking that he forgot his jersey, pointed it out to him. He kissed my forehead and said, “It’s for you. I’m leaving that for you. ”

“I love that. Thank you.”

“Do you want to go out?” he asked.

I shook my head. “I just want to look at you… just let me look at you for as long as possible. It will be a while before I see my Joon this close. Can I just do that?”

“Yeah Na Jeong-ah,” Joon responded. “You know I’ll let you do whatever you want.”

*****

January 26, 2001

7:30 a.m.

Chilbong

My eyes opened as soon the alarm clock rang. Checking to see if Na Jeong was still asleep, I leaned over and kissed the top of her head. Her eyes stayed closed, and I quietly rose from the bed. I took a quick shower and as I was getting dressed, I checked that to make sure that I had my passport and my itinerary. Settling on a simple pair of black slacks and a sweater, I finished getting ready before waking her up.

“Jagiya…” I whispered. “It’s time for us to go to the boarding house.”

Her eyes opened so quickly it was almost as if she hadn’t been sleeping at all. She nodded and got up out of bed. I heard the shower running and minutes later, she was dressed in my jersey and jeans. Though her hair was still damp, it was already on top of her head in a bun and she had no make-up on. She watched me do all my last minute packing wordlessly. When it was time to go, I took her hand with my right and my suitcase in the other. We went into the elevator and made our way out of the building.

“Are we taking the cab to the boarding house?” She asked, voice strained.

“Yeah… We have to. Hyung will pick me up in an hour and a half.” I hailed a cab and opened the door for her. Once she was seated, I put my suitcase in the trunk and sat next to her. In mine, her hands felt cold, and I was going to scold her for not wearing her gloves when I saw her staring blankly out of the window. My heart tightened inside me, and I stayed silent.

When we got to the boarding house, everyone was already there. Dong Joon and Jin Yi Noona, Samcheonpo and Yoon Jin, Haitai and Au Jung. Omma and Appa had outdone thelmselves with the food… one would think there two dozen of us here instead of just twelve. Though everyone was trying really hard to be cheerful, the atmosphere was strained. Na Jeong stayed silent as conversation continued to flow around me. Appa looked worriedly at her, then at me, and I tried to send him a reassuring smile. I don’t think I have ever seen Na Jeong so quiet. Not in all the years I’ve known her.

My phone buzzed with a text message as I was finishing up breakfast. It was my manager, telling me that he was outside waiting for me. I got up and looked out the window and sure enough, there he was. “Jagiya, it’s time,” I whispered to Na Jeong and she closed her eyes, but rose anyway.

Before walking outside, Omma gave me a box full of food to take back with me, while Appa was giving me advice on taking care of my shoulder. The two of them embraced me, just like real parents would, and told me to take care of myself. I asked them to watch Na Jeong for me, and told them that I will definitely return. They passed me a card that Sook Sook drew for me, as he was in school and could not be here. Below his drawing of me and him eating ice cream, Sook Sook wrote,

Joon Hyung! Come home soon! And bring ice cream back! I will take care of Noona!

Dong Joon and Jin Yi Noona gave me reminders to stay in touch, as did Haitai. Samcheonpo and Yoon Jin reminded me that by the time I return that they will already have their first child. I chuckled before joking that I’ll bring the baby an American citizenship. Na Jeong stood on the side, still silent.

When at last I turned to her, she avoided my eyes. I saw her bite her lower lip before wrapping her arms around my waist.

“Yah… Kim Jae Joon…” She started, “Make sure you eat well, okay? Make sure you have enough rest and drink a lot of water. Don’t get drunk while you’re over there.” Her voice broke as her shoulders shook. I felt her tears before I saw her face. “Drive carefully and… And…” Her voice was muffled, as if she was trying to tell me everything.

“Yeah.” Her arms were still wrapped around me, her fingers clutching at my back. “Na Jeong-ah… Listen to me. Try not to quarrel too much with Omma or give Appa too much of a hard time okay?” I felt her nod on my chest. “It will be fast. We will talk every day, and soon you’ll come over for a visit. And then I’ll be back and it will seem like I was never gone.”

Though she made no noise, I felt her crying on my chest as her family and our friends walked away to give us some space alone. “Remember to do your homework, okay? When you come to San Francisco, I want a list of everything you want to do. This parting is only temporary… Think of it like a test. We will pass with flying colors, right?” I lifted her chin and met her eyes, still weeping, and she didn’t answer. The beautiful eyes that once looked at me merely in concern, now looked at me like I was the center of her world. My heart thumped painfully inside me, and I struggled to get my words out. “Of course we will. Because you’re Sung Na Jeong, and I’m Kim Jae Joon.”

She placed her lips over mine, and then whispered, “I’m sorry I’m crying, but I can’t help it. I’m sorry… I was trying not to worry you…”

“Na Jeong-ah… Don’t ever apologize for feeling anything at all. I want to know how you feel. If you’re sad, then tell me you’re sad. If you’re angry, then that’s okay too. If something happy happens, I want to know about that too.” I tucked her head onto the crook of my neck. “You don’t have to hide anything from me. Don’t pretend to be strong. You don’t have to pretend to be anything. Know why?” I felt her shake her head no. “Because I love my Na Jeong-ie just the way she is.”

I saw my manager gesturing to his watch from the corner of my eye, and reluctantly, I started pulling away from her. She took a deep breath and turned away from me. “I can’t watch you leave so I’m not gonna look. By the time I count to ten, I hope you’re gone. One… Two… Three….”

I wrapped my arms around her waist one more time before I whispered, “I love you, Sung Na Jeong. I’m coming back for you.” Smoothing her hair one more time, I picked up the box that Omma gave me and my suitcase. I was nearly at the car when I heard her voice.

“Yah! KIM JAE JOON!” I had just put the suitcase and box down in the trunk when she launched herself into my arms as I turned around. “I love you so much. I love you so much more than I could have ever thought I would love anyone.”

“Joon-ah, we have to go…” I heard my manager say from behind me.

“Yeah, okay…” I responded before turning back to Na Jeong. “Jagiya…”

“Joon-ah,” my manager said again.

“I HEARD YOU,” I yelled at him. “JUST GIVE ME A MINUTE. JUST ONE DAMN MINUTE.” I took Na Jeong’s lips for one more kiss, and as she pulled away, she smoothed my brows.

“Always mine?” She asked. I brought her hand to my lips and kissed her ring.

“Always yours.” I intertwined our fingers together. “Always mine?” I asked back. She did the same to my hand.

“Always yours.”

“I have to go. Or I won’t be able to at all. Ever.” She nodded and loosened her hold on me. I turned away and got in the car before I changed my mind. This is for our future, I reminded myself. Our future.

Hyung closed the trunk of the car and got into the driver’s seat. I looked back at Na Jeong as she stood alone, watching the car that would take me away from her. He turned on the ignition and looked like he was about to ask me something else when I spoke.

“Go,” I said. “Go.”

As we pulled off, I continued to look at her reflection on the mirror. She stayed where I left her, clutching her ring. And I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw Yoon Jin approach her and take her in her arms.

It wasn’t until I knew that the car was out of sight that I let my own tears fall. I realized now that that’s the most difficult thing about finding the love of your life… You want to get started on your life together as soon as possible, and letting go, even for a second, becomes an almost impossible option.

*****

January 31, 2001

Na Jeong

I sat on the living room floor in between Haitai and Ae Jung and Binggrae and Jin Yi. Samcheonpo and Yoon Jin sat on chairs around Omma and Appa. Sook Sook was even allowed to stay up late for tonight.

Putting my brave face on, I wondered as everyone looked at me whether they’re all expecting me to have a breakdown. I won’t. I can’t. It’s only been a few days since he left, and we have a lot more left to go.

Thinking back on the last two months I realized something. Joon and I were happy. We were so happy… Convinced that we could stay in our little world for a little longer, just the two of us. We were so happy we never saw reality coming… Until we’ve crashed back to the ground. And I’m left holding the pieces on my own.

He was gone, and I was here. The same way we were before. I thought for sure it couldn’t possibly get even harder than when I wasn’t sure that he loved me, but it turned out I was wrong. Being apart while being in love was even worse. There is not one day that I wake up not thinking of him or worrying about him. I worry about the stupidest things, like what if he was sick, or if he got into an accident… Who will be there with him? I touched the ring on my finger as Sook Sook exclaimed. “Noona, it’s starting! We can see Joon Hyung again!”

“Tonight we will have a special feature on Major League Baseball San Francisco Giants player Kim Jae Joon. Kim Jae Joon-ssi recently came back from the United States after ten months away, and granted us an exclusive interview. Due to extenuating circumstances, by the time this interview airs tonight, he will already be back in United States.”

I waited for the interview reel to play, and when I saw his handsome face on screen, my breath caught in my throat. The reporter shook his hand and he sat down across from him.

“Good afternoon, Kim Jae Joon-ssi,” the reporter said.

“Good afternoon.” Joon bowed and gave one of his devastating smiles to the reporter and towards the audience as they clapped.

“We know you’re pressed on time as we just found out that you’re leaving again next week, so we will try to keep short and sweet. First of all thank you for making the time to come to our studio.”

“Thanks for having me.”

“Now you’re making quite a name for yourself in America playing for the Giants. We watched the live broadcast of your Western Division Championship game back in October, and all the commentators who have followed you for years kept saying that you have never looked better. What are the chances of your contract being renewed?”

“It’s pretty good,” he replied. “But I have to know all my options before making a decision.”

“You know you have fans who have followed you since your Yonsei days, and when we asked your fans for some questions they would like to ask you, the response was overwhelming. Would you mind answering some of your fans’ questions?”

“No, not at all. Please go ahead.”

“If you could be doing something else, what would you do?”

“Ahh… To be honest, I never really thought about it. I always knew I was going to play baseball for the rest of my life. Or at least, until I am too old to play competitively. I haven’t had to think about it because until recently, nothing else has interested me quite like baseball has.”

“Kim Jae Joon-ssi, are you blushing? You said until recently I guess that leads me to the next question that your fans want answered… Do you have someone special in your life? Do you have someone you like?”

No, I don’t have someone I like,” Joon said, “I have someone I love.” He cleared his throat and chuckled. “In fact, is there any way that I can tell her a message now?” The reporter laughed but said yes. Joon looked straight at the camera and smiled. “Jagiya… you’re watching right? I love you. A lot. I’m saying it to the world. That makes you happy, right? I’m really proud to be your man.”

Around me everyone laughed as I glared at all of them. I had just gotten up to text Joon and ask him what in the world got into him when Omma came into my room with the house phone. I gave her a questioning glance and she smiled as she handed me the phone.

“It’s Joon,” she responded. “Kim Jae Joon.”

I picked up the phone and looked at the clock. It’s 9 p.m. Time for our second phone call of the day.

We weren’t completely happy yet… But we were biding our time until our dreams together will stop being dreams and becomes reality. Even though he left, we are still together and closer than ever. Even though it is hard to pick up the pieces, Joon is always there supporting me. Even though I am alone, I am not really alone. Joon is, and will always be with me.

*****

Seven months later…

Seoul, Korea

Chilbong

I was dreaming while I was awake. Is this dreaming or remembering? I don’t really know, and my mind is too muddled to even try to make sense of it now. Because it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters anymore. I struggled to hold back the tears that threatened to fall.

“Real men don’t cry,” I heard my father say. “It’s a sign of weakness… That’s your problem Jae Joon-ah. You’ve always been too soft.”

The pain of the memory lashed into me as I closed my eyes. Bile rose in my throat and I ran to the bathroom to empty my stomach. I collapsed on the cold bathroom floor, the light flashing so brightly into my eyes I thought they would blind me.

I was a fool, I thought. A fool to believe that I can have it all. A fool to believe that I deserved it all.

Somehow I managed to stagger back to the bedroom, where memories of Na Jeong were still so alive I could see her smiling and whispering words of love in my ear. I could still see us moving, in perfect harmony, our bodies connecting, in passion, in sorrow and in love. I shut my eyes closed to the memory. Those days are over, a little voice inside my head said. You will never be the man that Sung Na Jeong loves. It can never be you. It will never be you.

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