R94: A MOMENT’S CHOICE EIGHTH INNING

Eighth Inning

February 7, 2001
10:30 p.m.
Na Jeong

I sat down on my bed and waited for Joon to call. It’s been almost two weeks since he left. The first few days were miserable… It felt like I was walking in a daze.

He called as soon as he landed, sounding tired from the long travel but okay. He emailed me a copy of his schedule and I have it marked in my own calendar. We spoke on the phone until he fell asleep. I spent the whole day cleaning up my room and putting our pictures up. I put his jersey in my closet and helped Omma with chores. I helped Sook Sook, who kept talking about Joon Hyung this, Joon Hyung that, with his homework.

Yoon Jin is approaching her sixth month and is finally showing. I went shopping with her for some baby stuff and discussed redecorating one of their spare rooms as a nursery. I had gone out to lunch with Oppa and his girlfriend. They looked like they were getting serious and I was happy for him. He asked about Joon and I told him that he’d left. Oppa then asked what our plans were and I shrugged my shoulders. I know what I want to happen but I don’t want to jinx it.

I hadn’t realized how much of the last two months revolved around Joon until he was gone and saw how many people and things I’ve neglected while he was here. It was an eye opening realization, but it felt like I was transitioning back into life. Life with Joon to life without Joon.

How long will we have to do this? I ask myself that a lot. Though we have never spoken about our long term plans, I am pretty positive about where we are heading. It doesn’t even matter if it’s marriage or whatever, as long as I’m with him.

My phone buzzed next to me, and picking it up, I still felt giddy seeing My Love pop up on the screen as the caller. I’m a goner.

“Hi jagiya,” I answered.

“Hey,” he responded. “How was your day?”

“It was okay… Work was busy and my boss made me mad again. Did you sleep well?” I asked as I laid down in bed.

“It was okay. The apartment here feels lonely. What’s up with your boss?”

“I told him that if I have more responsibilities, I need to be paid more or at least have extra vacation time. He said he’ll think about it… And that someone is starting next week to help out. But I swear… Anyway, I don’t want to stress out over it.” I sighed into the phone. “How’s training going?”

He took a deep breath and I heard the bubbling of a coffee machine running. “It’s good. Tiring, but good. It keeps my mind off how much I miss you.”

“I miss you a lot, too. Sook Sook keeps asking about you. And Appa said you’re dreaming if by having me as a girlfriend you get to not call him every Friday,” I paused as I heard him chuckle. “Yah… Don’t take him seriously. If you’re busy you don’t have to.”

“I like talking to your parents. It’s preferable to talking to mine.” I heard him take a sip of something.

“Coffee?” He answered with a ‘mmm’ and I asked, “Have you told Omonim and Abonim that you’ve gone back?”

“Not yet.”

“Joon-ah,” I said carefully. “You said you would do that last week.”

“Jagiya… I’ll do it. Just because you get yourself all worked up over it,” he conceded. “What was up with all the emails about news articles?”

“Thanks to your little declaration on TV, all the papers are trying to figure out who your girlfriend is. I don’t know what’s gotten into you.” I tried to sound stern on the phone, but I know my voice sounded pleased. Ugh… I am ridiculous. Even at sounding mad at him. “Do you know they even mentioned it on television? How Kim Jae Joon is off the market?”

I heard him laughing and I couldn’t help but smile. “Don’t worry about it. It’ll be old news soon… They’ll find other things to talk about the longer I’m here.” At the mention of this, my smile disappeared.

“Can’t you do something else? Something that doesn’t require you to be out of the country?” I asked hopefully. Joon laughed before responding.

“Yah… How can you even say that? This is for us. For us. One day…” He paused before proceeding. “One day you’ll be thankful that this is what I do. One day…” It sounded like he was about to say something else when I heard his manager’s voice calling for him. “Jagiya, I have to go. I’ll call after practice, okay?”

“Okay… Tell your hyung to take it easy on you. Oh… And you need new socks. The ones you had when you were here were getting worn out.”

“I’ll get some new ones soon. You worry too much. Hyung’s giving me dirty looks so I have to go,” he whispered. “Do it.”

Though I knew what he was talking about, I pretended not to. “Yah… Kim Jae Joon… Are we teenagers or something? Why do you insist I do this every single time?”

“Na Jeong-ah… I kiss your scarf every night. You think that doesn’t make me feel silly?” I smiled when I remembered him discovering my scarf that I had surreptitiously hidden in his suitcase.

“Fine fine…” I placed a kiss on my phone. “Happy now?”

“Yeah. Sung Na Jeong… You make me happy. I love you jagiya… Sleep well okay? I’ll call in the morning before you go to work.”

“About that… I’m leaving early tomorrow so can you call at 7:30 a.m. instead of 8 a.m.?”

“Yes. I’ll call half an hour early.” I heard him telling his manager he is going. “Jagiya…”

“Go,” I said. “I love you.”

“I love you more,” he said before I heard him kiss the phone. “You hang up first.” I stayed quiet to pretend I’ve hung up. “Jagiya I can hear you breathing,” he said, laughing.

“Fine. I’m really going.” I took the phone off my ear and pushed the end button before I could continue with this nonsense. I put the phone down and looked at the framed picture of us on my table. Taken by a random stranger that we asked, it was me and Joon before we actually posed for the shot. I was wearing a dress with boots and he was wearing jeans and a plaid shirt. We were facing each other, his hand on my hair, my hand over his heart, staring at each other with goofy grins on our faces. I picked the frame up and kissed his side of the frame, then sighed at myself. This is going to get easier, I told myself. This has to get easier right?

I hope that work approves my vacation request for May. I really would like to spend my birthday with Joon. I laid down on my bed after marking today’s date with an ‘X’ just like I did before he came back. I pulled out the book he gave me, now marked with pen marks and pages folded and continued to read through and plan my trip to San Francisco.

*****

LG Tower
Seoul, Korea
February 14, 2001
Na Jeong

After lunch, I opened my email at work and saw one from Joon. Clicking on it, I almost had a heart attack when an e-card opened and music started playing. I should have definitely lowered the sound on my computer, looking around self consciously. Reading the card, a smile came over my face.

Jagiya,

Happy Valentine’s Day! I know I’m not supposed to send you anything until White Day next month, but it’s different here and I didn’t want you to feel left out. By the way, I got your chocolates yesterday. Thanks for the socks too. How did you know I would forget to buy them?

I’ll call you later when I wake up. I love you.

Your Joon

I was just about to type a response when I saw my boss leaving his office with a young woman in tow. I quickly closed the email and placed a polite smile on my face as they approached my desk.

“Sung Na Jeong-ssi,” he said as I stood up. “This is Park Soo Hyun-ssi. She’s just starting today. Please show her around.”

I extended my hand for a handshake and she took it shyly. Our boss bowed to us then went back to his office.

“Welcome to the team,” I said warmly. I showed her the break room, and the copy room. I also showed her where the restrooms were before walking to her assigned desk. On the way, I asked, “I hope this isn’t rude, but how old are you? That way I know how to address you.”

She turned around and smiled at me before answering. “I’ll be turning 26 in a few months.”

“Here’s your desk and your computer. The login information for the system should be in your mailbox.” I waited until she sat down on her chair before I spoke again. “Park Soo Hyun-ssi… I am also turning 26 this year. That means we’re dong gap.” I smiled at her before I walked towards the direction of my desk before turning back around. “Please feel free to ask me any questions if you need help… I know how hard it is to start new somewhere.” She gave me an acknowledging smile and I walked back to my desk to finish my work.

Opening my email back up, I penned a quick email to Joon.

Jagiya,

Thank you for the card. You really ought to warn me before opening one of these at work though. The new person just started and I think we’ll be friends as we’re the same age. Park Soo Hyun.

I have a lot to do before the end of the day, so I hope you’re sleeping well. Will talk to you when you get up.

I love you always.

Your Na Jeong

P.S. Are you still wearing your ring?

After hitting send, I closed my email and went back to work. At the end of the day, I straightened up my desk and put Joon’s picture back in my drawer. I gathered my things and went home.

Today was much the same as yesterday, and I’m pretty sure it will be tomorrow too. The days I spend without Joon are still long, but I hardly go to sleep in tears anymore. Safe and secure in his love for me, I worry about him, but not about us. I trust him and he trusts me. Even just almost three weeks, my faith in him is strengthened by our daily efforts. This time will be different. Because Joon is Joon and I am me. Physically together or apart, we are connected.

*****

March 14, 2001
Na Jeong

As I passed the streets littered with lovers I had to avert my eyes. Everywhere I looked, there were couples holding hands and kissing. Today is White Day in Korea, a day for lovers. It has to be my luck that I finally have the love of my life but he just happened to be a few thousand miles away. 5607 miles to be exact, give or take. I would know… I looked it up online.

It’s been almost seven weeks since he left. We talk twice a day, and that doesn’t include the emails almost daily. He texts occasionally with a picture of something he’d seen that reminded him of me and I do the same.

Loving Joon from this far away was difficult, especially because it’s preseason training and there are no news of him yet on television. That’s the hardest part… Not being able to see his smile or feel his touch. I think maybe that’s the hardest part of all… I can’t be around him. When I want to be. Or when I need to be.

Today I walked into work to a desk full of gifts. There were flowers, chocolates and another silk scarf, meant to replace the one I sent with him. He also pre-recorded a video, which I was too scared to watch at work though I was dying to. What if he’d been naked? Surprisingly, this thought was something that I found appealing.

I made my way home after work, passing by a couple passionately kissing behind an alley. I know I shouldn’t be watching, but I couldn’t help myself. For a minute I wondered if that’s how we looked when we were doing the same thing. I stood there watching them but not watching them because I was really imagining me and Joon together, our bodies so close together there had been no space to breathe between us as he nipped on my earlobe and I tried to get my hands on his skin.

The woman being kissed suddenly realized I was watching and embarrassed, I practically ran home. I ate dinner quietly and watched television, where for some reason no matter what channel I watched there were people in love or people kissing. Deciding I’ve had enough and unable to quell the restlessness inside me, I took a long bath hoping it would help.

I watched his video when I went back to my room, and I am almost embarrassed to admit that just seeing him on screen affected me so much. I watched his face as he spoke about missing me and wanting to kiss me for hours. He said he would give anything to sleep next to me again, to which I giggled because I don’t recall sleeping that much. Apparently he realized this as well because he blushed almost instantly after he said it. He licked his lips and I felt an almost overwhelming urge to jump into the screen and do the same to his. He was wearing a sweater that hugged his shoulders perfectly and a pair of jeans but he looked so good, almost edible in fact. I placed a calming hand to my chest, feeling my heart racing. I’ve become spoiled.

By the time I finished the video it was only 9 p.m., which is only 5 a.m. where Joon is. Way too early to be waking him up, so I decided to read a book instead. Even when reading, I was unable to concentrate. I found myself stuck on the same page, going over and over the same words and in the end I just gave up and put the book down.

Laying back on my bed I closed my eyes and thought of Joon. His fingers touching my face. His lips on my neck and tracing the length of my spine. His strong hands following the curves and valleys of my body. Heart pounding and body feeling flushed, I tried to figure out what I can do to make this feeling go away. Joon has only been gone for a little over a month. It hasn’t been that long. We have, I stopped and counted in my head, less than eight months of sporadic contact left. I am still waiting to hear about my vacation request in May. How will I survive that long?

I remembered suddenly Yoon Jin telling me that to keep a relationship exciting we need to keep the sparks alive. A light bulb turned on in my head. As soon as the idea registered, I quickly shot it down. Joon wouldn’t be into that sort of thing… Would he? Even if he was, surely he didn’t expect me to start? Joon was a gentleman in every aspect of his life and every aspect of our relationship… Well, except for that. Recalling the way he covered my mouth with his hand to muffle my noises and the way he took me on his birthday, I am very happy to say that my man knows when being a gentleman is overrated. At the memories my heart jumped wildly in my chest and my cheeks reddened in response.

You are an independent woman, Na Jeong-ah. You don’t need Joon to start anything. Why do you… When you can start it yourself. Suddenly fixated on the idea, I stood up and grabbed a dictionary from the shelf. I opened my laptop and searched for anything that other people might deem sexy. I took out a pen and paper to write down words that I think may be appropriate and made a list. I went to my mirror and applied a bit of gloss, knowing that my Joon liked my lips looking shiny and inviting. Why does it matter that he can’t see me? This is for my own self confidence.

Once I was convinced I was ready, I picked up my handphone and pressed ‘1’ on my speed dial. After the third ring, he answered, his voice groggy with sleep.

“Na Jeong-ah?” He asked. “What’s wrong? Why are you calling at this time? Did something happen?”

Remembering the tone of voice women used on television when they’re trying to be seductive, I cleared my throat and lowered my voice two octaves before answering. “Joon-ah… No, I’m okay… It’s just that I was thinking about the last time you…” I looked down at my list “… Ravished me. Do you remember? You took me in your…” I looked down again “… Impressive arms and took me to… Salvation.” I paused for effect and spoke again. “I was really, uhmm, my stocks rose exponentially. Do you miss our… Intermezzo too? Your… Amenities were just so perfect for me.” Hold on, is that right? That doesn’t sound sexy to me, but someone had said that it was so I went along with it. When he didn’t respond, I panicked. “Hello? Hello? Joon-ah?”

“Na Jeong-ah, I’m still here.” There was a break in the conversation. “But, are you okay? Are you practicing a speech or something? Or doing some weird crossword game? You’re using words I’ve never heard you say before. Something about financial terms… Are you learning to invest money? And we’ve never been to a concert so I’m not sure about the inter… Mezzo? And what did you say about amenities?”

“Ahh… I was just trying to expand my vocabulary… And it’s never too late to start investing!” I said, cringing. “And now that you mention it, we really should expand our dates to musical events and hotels, too, for their amenities.”

“Jagiya, are you sure you’re okay? Your voice sounds weird… You didn’t catch a cold?” His concern should have touched me, but instead I felt mortified.

“YAH… I’M FINE!” Except that I’ve dug myself into a hole and I can’t seem to get myself back out.

“Why are you getting upset? What happened?”

“Joon-ah… Nothing happened. I was trying to be sexy… Obviously I was doing it wrong.” I heard a low chuckle from his end. “You know what, this is your fault. Why do you have to be such a great kisser? Why are you so good at… EVERYTHING? Now I’m here and you’re there and I need you and you can’t be here.” Getting more and more upset by the second I said, “Forget it. I’m no good at this. I’ll talk to you later.”

“I lo…” I hung up on him before he can even finish speaking.

Trying to tamp down on my embarrassment, I had just laid back down when I heard my phone ring. Looking at the caller ID, I saw that it was Joon. For a minute I considered not answering, but unable to help myself, I picked up the call.

“Jagiya… Why are you hanging up the phone on me?”

“I don’t feel like talking to you now. You hurt my feelings. I was trying to be proactive!”

“Ahh I did? I’m sorry if your feelings were hurt.” He paused, as if thinking. “How about I make it up to you now?”

“What… What do you mean?” I stammered, suddenly nervous.

“Na Jeong-ah… What are you wearing?”

“WHAT?” Realizing I’ve raised my voice, I lowered it again before responding. “Joon-ah, what are you doing right now?”

“I’m just continuing what you started.” He chuckled again, his voice getting huskier. “Jagiya, lock your door and turn off the light. Unless, of course you want the lights on.”

Omo… Omo… Omo… How do I respond? “Okay,” I said hesitantly. I quickly locked my door, turned my lamp off and went under the covers.

“Na Jeong-ah, just so you know. I’ve never ever made a phone call like this so don’t use it against me later, ok?”

“Fine,” I answered. I was about to bring up the weather when he proceeded.

“Do you remember the first time I really kissed you? It was New Year’s Eve 2000. The first time I went back to the boarding house from Japan.”

“Yeah…” I blushed at the memory.

“Do you know how crazy I was that night over you? You looked so beautiful, with your defiant eyes and those pretty lips. You tasted like heaven.”

I cleared my throat before responding. “I thought you looked deli… Good too,” I responded nervously.

“You never answered my question though,” he said in a low voice. “What ARE you wearing?”

I looked down under the covers and noted his jersey and my white socks. Not very sexy. “I’m wearing your jersey and a pair of socks,” I responded, embarrassed.

“Do you know that I find you sexy wearing my stuff? You look irresistible,” Joon said with a low laugh. “In fact, I’m imagining you in them right now.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really… Na Jeong-ah… Do you want to take them off?” I heard a rustle of the sheets like he was changing positions in bed.

“What? Joon-ah,” I said uneasily. “I might get cold.”

“Stay under the covers…” He paused. “And if it helps any, I took all my clothes off too.”

My throat went dry imagining Joon naked. I closed my eyes and visualized his handsome face and his strong hands. I imagined the texture of his skin under my fingers and feeling his lips on mine. I remembered his broad shoulders and his long legs. I saw in my mind all of Joon, from top to bottom and everything in between. Should I take my clothes off? I’ve never done this before.

“Jagiya… Are you still there?” I heard him ask from the phone. “You got quiet on me.”

“Yeah I’m still here…” I replied.

“I know it’s awkward right?” He asked, amused. “But just imagine that I’m there and I’m the one slipping it off you. You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“NO! I WANT TO!” I said. “I’m taking my clothes off… Right now! Hold on…”

Quickly I lifted the jersey off my head and took my socks off. I trembled as a cold breeze washed over my body before I could get back under the covers. I debated whether I should take my underwear off too then remembered that Joon was already naked. Why not? I lifted my hips and took my last remaining piece of clothing off. I swallowed before I picked up the phone again.

“Joon-ah… Everything’s off.”

“So now we’re both naked. I like it.” He was silent for a minute and I was about to comment on how anti climactic this is when I heard him clear his throat. “It helps to relax if you close your eyes. I’m closing my eyes, too.” Per his suggestion I closed my eyes and imagined us back at his apartment. “What are you thinking about?” He asked.

“Uhmm… You, me… All those times we made love… I can’t think of any time in particular since we did it so much, but I liked all of it!” I said quickly.

I heard a low chuckle before he continued. “Yeah, me too… Na Jeong-ah… Run your fingers through your hair, just like I used to do.” Silently I complied. Funny I never noticed how silky my hair was. “Now run your fingers down your beautiful face and touch your lips.” I did as he asked and stopped when my fingers touched my lips. “I remember how soft your lips are. I can kiss you forever.”

“Me too. I love your lips,” I responded. Even to my own ears my breathy voice didn’t sound like my own. “And your shoulders too. I love everything. You’re beautiful, Joon-ah.”

“You’re beautiful,” he said quietly. “You get even more so with your heart and your mind. The whole package of you… Pleases me.” I heard him take a deep breath. “Na Jeong-ah, where are your fingers?”

I was taken aback by his question and even more surprised when I felt my fingers already on my chest, grazing lightly over my left breast. I could feel myself flushing in embarrassment but I soldiered on. If Joon can do this, I can do this too. We may have just been intimate for a couple of months, but surely after all those times I can be a more sexually confident person. Bravely now, I said, “I’m touching myself,” even as I’m sure I reddened. I heard a whoosh of breath and emboldened by his reaction, I continued speaking. “My fingers are on my breast… Well, of one hand. The other hand is holding the phone.”

“Want to know where my hand is?” He asked.

“No,” I answered. I do want to know where his hand is. “Yes,” I amended. What’s the point in lying?

“I’m touching myself too,” he said slowly. “Na Jeong-ah… I’m really turned on. So, I’m going to hang up because I got something to take care of and I don’t know how comfortable you are with this.”

“Okay,” I said even as I got more comfortable and was now touching my abdomen. Then his words sunk in and I sat up in bed. “Hold on… Wait! What? You’re going? Kim Jae Joon… What kind of bullshit is this?”

“Na Jeong-ah…”

“Joon-ah,” I said warningly. “I’m lying on my bed naked as the day I was born and touching myself. And you’re just going to leave me hanging? I’m turned on too and you need to do something!”

“Is that right?” He asked. “Alright jagiya. I’m sorry… If we’re going to continue though I’m going to get a lot more graphic than this and I want you to stop me if you get uncomfortable.” When I didn’t respond right away, he asked, “You heard me right?”

“Yeah, yeah… I heard you. Promises, promises… I’m going to lie back down and you better give me my money’s worth. All this fuss when my clothes are already off…” Lying back down I was about to ask him to continue when I heard his voice.

“Jagiya, touch your breasts for me. The right one first.” I closed my eyes and my hand traveled to my right breast. “Cup it for me… Just like my hand would. Rub your nipple… Just like my fingers would… Are you doing it?”

“Yes…” I sighed. His voice was hypnotizing and I was prepared to do whatever Joon asked.

“Now imagine my tongue on your nipple, licking it… And my mouth wrapping over it and sucking on you,” he said. “Can you imagine it?”

“Yes… I can see you doing that. I watched you do it enough times,” I teased. I pictured Joon on top of me doing what he just described. Desire bloomed inside me and my heart started racing.

“Now touch your left breast the same way,” he whispered. My hand traveled to my left breast and did the same. Still imagining that it was Joon doing it, I moaned as pleasure lanced over me.

“Joon-ah… What are you doing?”

“I’m touching myself, just like you,” he responded.

“Are you hard?” I asked. Picturing him aroused made me even more excited and I had to remind myself to breathe.

“I’ve been hard since I figured out what you wanted.”

“Good… Good… Continue. Please.”

“I want your hand to touch your abdomen and then travel down to your calves. Take the path that my lips always took,” he said, his voice husky.

I lifted my hand from my breast and trailed my fingers lightly down my abdomen and then down to my calves, imagining Joon’s rough hands and soft lips doing the same thing. I bit my lower lip even as a moan escaped. Restless now, I waited for his next request.

“Now… Touch your inner thighs. Lightly. The way I would touch you there… The way I would kiss you there.” He paused and I heard his breathing got heavier. “Your skin there is so soft, jagiya. I always have to force myself to slow down and take my time. I want to lick you there.”

My thighs were trembling just from his words when I finally touched them. Keeping my eyes closed, it was so easy to picture Joon doing what he’s saying. Except it’s not a fantasy. It’s a memory. Even better.

“Put your fingers where you want me,” he asked. “And tell me how it feels.”

At first I hesitated, not sure about what I was about to do. But I know where I wanted him. And he knows that I know where that was. I felt the dampness between my legs even before I touched myself. Curious now I placed delicate finger on myself and was surprised to see how aroused I was.

“Joon-ah… I’m wet. And warm,” I said softly. “I’m ready for you, if you were here.”

I heard him groan even as I explored myself. The sensation was foreign, but not unpleasant. I thought of Joon as I continued touching. Imagined his hands on me… His weight on me. I imagined his lips where my fingers are, and moaned when I thought of his length sliding into me.

“Na Jeong-ah, tell me what you’re doing.”

“I’m imagining you inside me… What else would I be doing? My fingers are right where I know you want to be.”

*****

Chilbong

The minute I heard her say that she was touching herself, I hardened despite my best intentions. Her voice was husky, like she was thinking of things that I would give an arm to know about. This is a dangerous game, considering how new we both are at this. I wasn’t sure how to proceed, not knowing whether Na Jeong is comfortable enough to do this, even if I knew it was what she wanted. After she gave her consent, I knew I was going to follow through until the end. Even if it killed me. I wanted to hear her say my name… In passion, just like she did whenever we were together.

“Joon-ah… I’m wet. And warm,” she said, her voice just barely above a whisper. “I’m ready for you, if you were here.”

I couldn’t suppress a groan when I heard her say that. I imagined her delicate hands exactly where I wanted to be. Imagined my tongue and my hands where she’s touching. I stroked my hard length slowly, unable to control where my thoughts were going.

“Na Jeong-ah, tell me what you’re doing,” I asked hoarsely.

“I’m imagining you inside me… What else would I be doing? My fingers are right where I know you want to be.” My eyes closed it was so easy to picture her with her legs open, so beautiful and so tempting, only for me. My throat dry, I trailed my hand up and down my length, the sensation nothing like any part of Na Jeong, but it will do. I want her wetness, her warmth and her tightness around me. My thoughts went out of control, I couldn’t even think of anything to say when Na Jeong continued. “I wish I could see you do this. I think you’ll be really sexy… With your arms, and your stomach and your chest… Your face so focused on pleasing me.”

“Jagiya…” I said, my breath catching. “Will you put your fingers inside you? For me?” Afraid I asked for too much, I almost berated myself for my greed. I was about to apologize for asking her such a thing when I heard an appreciative moan. I know that moan. “Does it feel good?”

“Yes,” she sighed. “I want you inside me so badly. I want to feel you deep inside me. Do you remember how good it felt?”

“Yeah… How can I forget. It’s where I need to be right now,” I answered. Imagining us moving together… My mind was blurred from images of us on the bed, against the fridge, in the bathroom, on the couch. I was on top of her, with her on top, with me behind, with her eyes always looking at me in love,  and  in surrender.

Her moans became louder and I knew she was moving her fingers inside her. My hand sped up to match her moans and my breathing became shallow. She said my name… Once, twice as she reached her peak and when I heard her release, I remembered the way she felt contracting around me and the pleasure that overtook me was so intense I felt like I was going to pass out. I said her name and I let myself go, spurting heat all over my abdomen. My eyes were closed tight from my climax even as I heard Na Jeong’s breathing slow down.

“Joon-ah…” She said, her voice shy all of a sudden. “I liked that.”

I started chuckling at her words. “Yeah, me too… That was incredible. Not a substitute, but amazing nevertheless.” I closed my eyes and listened to her soft laugh. A smile came over my face and I shook my head in sudden embarrassment. The things we do for the people we love.

“Jagiya… It’s so cold here tonight. I really really miss you on days like today.”

“Just today?” I asked.

“Everyday… But more today. Do you know how many couples I passed on my way home from work? I swear… I thought the world was conspiring against me.”

“It’s hard, right… Being apart?” I picked up our framed picture from my side table and looked at her face, brushing my thumb against the glass tenderly. Looking at the picture of us, so happy, made my heart ache. I feel like I’m missing a part of me. I talk to her every day but I really miss her talking animatedly and I was just beginning to understand her metaphors.

“Yeah… It’s really hard. But I love being able to talk to you every day. It makes me feel like I am still with you daily. I love hearing about your day, however mundane it might have been.” I listened to her voice as she spoke, and it almost felt like she was just in front of me. I wondered if I was with her right now if she would be biting her lip while looking up at me.

“I love hearing your voice every day too,” I took a deep breath. “To be honest, I kind of like that we’re forced to just be a regular couple. I get to know you without being confused all the time because when you’re around me, I can’t focus… This is like falling in love with you all over again.” I looked to my left over the sun that just started rising over San Francisco. “I do like the thought that though there are times when we share the same night and the same day. It doesn’t feel like you’re so far away then. Jagiya, did they approve your vacation time yet?”

She sighed in exasperation. “No… But no matter what, I’m coming in May. I don’t care. Yah… You’ll be in season though right?”

“Yeah but I am free once the game is done. And I usually have a day off between all the games and the traveling. We’ll have time to do everything… Explore San Francisco, go places to eat… We’ll do it at night if we have to. As soon as you know the dates let me know so I can book your tickets. You don’t have to come to my games though. I know you’re more of a basketball fan.” My heart paused for a minute, torn between begging her to come and forcing myself to be okay if she chose not to.

“Yah! Kim Jae Joon! You better make sure I have tickets to those games. As close to you as possible. I don’t want box seats a hundred miles away. Or, are you scared I will run into another one of your exes? Are you?” I had to grin when I heard the suspicious tone in her voice.

“Na Jeong-ah… How many times do I have to tell you? I didn’t have girlfriends. I just went on dates! Dates!” I said defensively. This woman… She’s so fixated on other women when I only talked about her on those dates! Still, I can’t help the pleasure I felt in knowing that she gets jealous still. Of the women I never loved, of the women I never even saw… Because all my memories were just of her. “Yah… Sung Na Jeong… Are you mad?”

“No,” she said, still sounding a bit irritated. “You’re mine. Always mine. You said so yourself… And you’re no liar.”

“That’s true,” I conceded teasingly. “But you know… I’m kind of flattered that you think women just fall at my feet.”

“Kim Jae Joon… Do you want to die?” She whispered a little too crossly. My heart felt so light I wanted to laugh out loud. I wanted to run out to my balcony and scream how happy I am. I just adore this woman so damn much.

“Na Jeong-ah, I’m just playing with you… You’re so cute when you’re mad.” I can imagine her shooting daggers with her lovely eyes, her hands clenched in fists. She is definitely my match. She will never take my bullshit. “My beautiful, brave Na Jeong-ie, how lucky I am to be loved by you.”

“Joon-ah… I’m the lucky one,” she said, her voice soft.

“No, I am…” I insisted, knowing what she would say next.

“Yah… Joon-ah…”

“Fine, fine… We’re both lucky. We’re both extremely lucky to have found each other. Some people spend their whole lives looking for their other half… And it only took us six years.” As painful as it had been, I would have done it all over again for this.

“I needed six years to grow up,” she said. “Six years to get ready for your love. I’m sorry it took so long.”

“Na Jeong-ah… The wait was worth it. You are so worth it,” I was about to say something else when my alarm clock buzzed. “Jagiya… I have to get up and get ready. Uhm… I got to clean up too,” I cringed as I said the words, even as I heard her laughing. “Do you think this is funny? I made a mess because of you.”

“Yeah, I think it’s funny,” she answered. She started laughing in earnest and I couldn’t help but laugh too. Shaking my head, I pictured her mouth turned up, her slim shoulders shaking in mirth, just like that time we made out and talked all night.

“It kind of is funny,” I said. Looking at the clock, I realized that I only had thirty minutes to get ready. “Jagiya, I have to go… Call me when you get up.”

“Okay,” she replied. She took a long pause and I was about to ask her if she had something else to say when she cleared her throat. “Joon-ah… Do you think that sometimes we can talk at this time? So that we can… Uhmm… You know…”

“Have an encore? Yeah I can do that. Jagiya, I know you’re organized, but please don’t give me a schedule. Let me surprise you sometimes.”

“I don’t like surprises,” she declared.

“You’ll like mine.” I rose from the bed and started making my way to the bathroom. “Na Jeong-ah… I love you. Sleep well tonight. We’ll speak in the morning.”

“I love you more,” she answered. “Have a good day, okay? I can’t wait to hear about it when we speak tomorrow.”

“Hang up first.”

“Okay… I love you,” she said again and I smiled. Hearing her say those words will never stop pleasing me. I heard her press a soft kiss on the phone and I did the same before she ended the call.

Feeling full of energy, I turned the shower on as I gathered my gear for training. I put out the socks that Na Jeong got me before taking off my ring and putting it on its chain. I slipped it over my head and stepped in the shower.

I can never shower anymore without thinking of Na Jeong. Whistling the whole time, I realized that I must look like the biggest fool right now. I felt the goofy grin on my face and my mouth widened into a full blown smile. Oh well. I could do worse than being a fool in love.

*****

April 19, 2001
8:30 p.m.
Chilbong

Walking out of the stadium, I felt my phone buzz. Opening it, I saw a message from Na Jeong.

Jagiya, I have some good news! Will tell you about it tonight when I get home! I love you!

It should be 1:30 p.m. in Seoul, so she would have finished lunch. Hmm… What good news does she have? I wondered as I carefully put my phone back in my pocket. I had just opened my trunk to put my training gear in when I heard some voices behind me.

“JJ!” I turned around to see my teammates surround me. “We’re going out for drinks tonight! You want to come?”

“Ahh… No thanks,” I started, shutting the trunk closed.

“Yo… You guys know he doesn’t go out like that. He’s always waiting to talk to his missus…” My catcher, Scott, said.

“What missus?” Another teammate asked. “I didn’t know you were married, Kim.”

“I’m not,” I responded, a smile on my face. “Not yet anyway.”

My teammates catcalled, whistled and patted my back. Self conscious but not embarrassed, I watched them as they walked away towards the bar around the corner from the stadium. I went into the driver’s seat and drove home.

John, my building doorman, greeted me as I came in. I smiled at him as he asked me how my day was.

“It was good,” I responded. “How’s your day been?”

“Yeah… Yeah… Same old same old,” he said with a shrug. But then he brightened. “My son… Patrick, remember I got your autograph for him?” I nodded. “His wife gave birth two days ago, so I’m a proud grandfather to a baby girl now.”

“Congratulations,” I said, offering my hand for a shake. He smiled and shook my hand warmly. He reached into his inner pocket and opened it to show me a small picture of a baby, wrapped in a pink blanket. The baby had her eyes closed and her little lips puckered. Somewhere inside me, my heart clamped. I hope that one day I could create such a life with Na Jeong. “She’s perfect.”

John beamed at the compliment. “She looks a little like me, right? Her nose is like mine, right?” He asked hopefully. I nodded and handed him back his wallet. “How’s it going with your girl?”

I blushed before I responded. “It’s good. Really good. Her name is Na Jeong… and she’s amazing.” I pulled my phone out and showed him our picture. I softened every time I saw the way she looked at me.

“She’s gorgeous,” he said before looking at me. “Remember this, my friend. The love of a woman is a gift. But the love of a good woman is priceless. I’ve been married for fifty four years and marrying my wife is still easily the best decision I’ve ever made. Seeing this, it looks like she thinks you’re amazing too.” He patted my back as he walked off to greet another guest and I thought back on his words as I walked to the elevator.

I know that I’ve found the one I wanted to spend my life with. But marriage? The only functional marriage I knew of was Na Jeong’s parents’. One day, when I know I can provide for her and for us, when I know for sure that I can give her the life she deserves… I will think about it and talk about it with her.

I walked into my apartment and closed the door quietly. I looked around and though my eyes appreciated the sheer beauty of it, from its gleaming hardwood floors and the expansive floor to ceiling windows, I felt no warmth coming from it. This is a beautiful place, but it is not mine. It is not home. Whenever I come back here, I’m reminded of how alone I really am. I have nothing here. Nothing but baseball, reliant on the kindness of strangers. Accepting of any goodwill shown my way. I have some fans, but they don’t know me. They admire what I can do and celebrate my triumphs, but once I stop playing, I will soon be forgotten. Just another name. I can remember a time that the coldness from my apartment and this city was comforting and familiar, having had that same feeling my whole life everywhere I was. But since Na Jeong came into my life, the coldness has become bitter, biting even. Loneliness knocks on my door quite often and it’s a struggle to not let it in, just for the company.

I thought back on my apartment in Seoul and my heart warmed up. Na Jeong has taken to bringing flowers home with her every week, and the aroma of home cooked food is always in the air. I could smell her shampoo in the shower, coupled with mine, and can visualize her toothbrush standing in the cup alongside mine. My doorway held our slippers, my closet had some of her clothes on one side and mine on the other. She was as much as a part of me now as I am myself.

I passed the corkboard in the living room and stopped to look at the pictures I’ve posted on there. All the places that means something to us. Maybe to some people too, but these places together are ours alone. I looked at the picture of her asleep that I took when she didn’t know and touched her face tenderly. I closed my eyes as the feeling of missing her took over me for one minute. I allow myself this once in a while. I allow myself to feel the full extent of what it meant to be apart from the person you love the most.

I put my gear down, and went to the kitchen, where I opened the fridge. Na Jeong just sent me some more radish kimchi and not even bothering with the rice or showering first, I started eating it standing up. This taste has become my most favorite in the world. The kimchi that my Na Jeong-ie makes for me. She says that I am the only one she makes it for. And I believe her.

Exhausted, I took a quick shower and then went straight to bed. After setting my alarm clock to 6 a.m. for the first of our daily calls, I touched her silk scarf, now in my drawer, to feel like I am close to her again. I looked outside my windows, to the city that is still so alien to me, with its pretty twinkling lights and foggy skies. I imagined her in my arms, her breathing soft and steady as she fell asleep, and my eyes soon followed.

*****

April 21, 2001
5:00 a.m.
Chilbong

My phone went off and like clockwork, I reached to take it, knowing who it would be. Confused, I opened one eye and saw that it was only 5 in the morning. Concerned that something was wrong, I opened my phone to look at the message.

Jagiya, I’m going out to celebrate Park Soo Hyun-ssi’s birthday. Can we delay our talk by two hours? I have good news and I want to be able to speak to you properly about it. I love you. Sorry if I woke you.

I reset my alarm clock to 8 a.m. and laid back down. Park Soo Hyun? Who is that? The name sounded familiar, and I realized that she’s mentioned this person several times since they started working at her office. In my head I pictured a well dressed, educated man. Someone who earns his living by using his brain. Prickles of jealousy came over me, and I had to tamp the feeling down. Of course I would be jealous, I told myself. Na Jeong is a beautiful woman, and he gets to see her every day. Except the weekends. Until today. It’s already Friday night in Korea and now she’s going out with him in the weekend too? Isn’t an eight hour workday enough?

I hid my face in my pillow in frustration. I really should go back to sleep as I have another two hours before I can call her. Instead, I drove myself crazy thinking of her sharing that tinkling laugh with this faceless person and smiling at him like she smiles at me. Frankly I’m surprised that Na Jeong doesn’t get kissed everywhere she goes, because she is just that damn adorable. Will she bring her long hair to the side, exposing her graceful neck? Will he notice how long her lashes are when she closes her eyes, or stare at her soft lips while she spoke? Will he get intoxicated like me by her smell?

This is stupid. This is crazy. I know I’m doing this to myself. I trust Na Jeong. She loves me. I know this, but sometimes I still can’t help but wish that she wasn’t so pretty. I shook my head at my own pettiness… I resent that I am so immature about this. I was still wondering how I can convince her not to laugh so loud or not to smile so widely when I fell asleep again.

When my alarm sounded again two hours later, I grabbed my phone and pressed speed dial 1. I heard some voices in the background before I heard her voice.

“Jagiya… I’m still out and about,” she said slowly. I narrowed my eyes at the phone and wondered if she was drunk. “The birthday celebrations are running a little long. I might not be home until a little later.”

A little later? It’s 1 a.m. now… How much later will she be out?

“Joon-ah…” She said.

“Hmm?”

“Joon-ah…” She repeated, her voice dropping to a whisper. “I really really love youuu…You know that, right? I really REALLY really REALLY love you. You’re the best. JJANG!” I heard her giggling and I smiled despite of myself. “I wanted to tell you… I wanted to tell you… YAH, PARK SOO HYUN-SSI, I WANT TO SIT NEXT TO YOU!” I held my phone away from my ear as she screamed, then glared at it when her words registered.

“Na Jeong-ah, how much have you had to drink?” I asked softly. When she didn’t respond right away I was tempted to ask again, but then I heard her place a loud kiss on the phone.

“Jagiya… I’m coming in May! Next month! I’m coming to see you, my most favoritest person in the world! Hehe… You’re happy right? Right? RIGHT!” She asked. Before I could ask any more questions, she continued speaking. “Yah, Kim Jae Joon… I’m so happy that we’ll see each other soon. But now I have to go… Park Soo Hyun-ssi is about to sing… I promised I’d dance with the song.”

“Jagiya, make sure you take a cab home and…” I started to say.

“Joon-ah, I gotta go. Iloveyoubye.”

“I love…” I heard the phone click before I could even finish my sentence. Aish… This girl. “Yah, Sung Na Jeong,” I said while looking at my phone. “You better take a cab home before you start winking at people and biting them. I would be really mad except you’re finally going to be here soon.”

Jealousy forgotten momentarily, I got up out of bed with spring in my step. Na Jeong is coming!

She’s coming! It’s going to be a wonderful day. And a wonderful week. I picked up my travel book and put it in my bag. Now I have some planning to do to make sure she enjoys her vacation. Some people may say it’s dorky, but I want us to enjoy our time together. However brief it may be. Making a mental note to ask the exact dates of her vacation so I can book her flight, I e-mailed her my game schedule again before I showered and ate breakfast. Feeling happier than I can remember feeling in months, I didn’t even care that my teammates looked at me like I was crazy when I walked into the locker room and greeted everyone by name. If it wasn’t so weird I would have hugged them too. I think they’ll really believe I’d gone insane then.

*****

Pacific Bell Park

San Francisco, USA
May 24, 2001
9:00 a.m.
Chilbong

Prepping myself for the game, I felt my hands getting unnaturally sweaty. I felt the familiar thrum of excitement and anxiety… But these nerves aren’t from that. After four months apart, Na Jeong is arriving from Seoul today. She will be in San Francisco in a few hours time. As soon as I thought of her face, my heart started racing in anticipation. Adrenaline rushed through me, and I had to remind myself to slow down. I still need to pace myself for this game.

I might not even see her until after the game. I had given Hyung her ticket for the game but she’s been traveling for 12 hours, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I came back to the apartment to find her asleep on the couch. She’s a basketball girl, not a baseball girl. I’m okay with that. I knew that when I met her and it was part of the reason why I fell in love with her. She keeps me grounded, with my ego held in check.

I’ve spent whatever spare moment I’ve had in the last month researching places we could go and where I could take her out to eat. I have a list of restaurants that serves any type of cuisine she could possibly want and made reservations to most of them. I carried my travel book with me wherever I go. I swear I don’t think I’ve ever studied so hard for anything in my life. I hope that everything goes to plan. Else I would never plan anything again. Na Jeong is the organizer between us. I would happily allow her to plan out my life.

My thoughts were interrupted when Coach came out of his office. Seeing that he was about to go into our pre-game huddle, I sent a quick message to my manager.

Hyung, Na Jeong’s plane is landing at 11:15 a.m. Make sure you carry her luggage. And ask about her back.

I pressed the send button and was surprised to get a quick response.

I got it. Focus on your game.

Realizing I’ve forgotten to tell him something else, I typed a quick response.

Hyung, ask her if she’s hungry. Don’t forget to stop at the apartment and pick up what I left on the counter. My Jeong-ie loves it and airplane food is terrible.

Almost instantaneously I received another response.

Yah! Kim Jae Joon! Calm yourself down. You’re embarrassing yourself. Focus on your game. Remember that? Your game. I’ll make sure YOUR JEONG-IE comes to you back pain free, not hungry and in one piece.

I wanted to send another message but coach called us over before we were due to file out onto the field. I closed my eyes and saw her face, asleep next to me. I took a few calming breaths and emptied my mind. Too much anxiety and excitement can affect my pitching, and like a switch I’ve learned to turn those emotions off. I will forever be Na Jeong’s. But for the next few hours, baseball will own me.

*****

San Francisco International Airport
San Francisco, USA
May 24, 2001
11:30 a.m.
Na Jeong

I scanned the arrivals hall for Joon’s manager. Tucking my neck and back pillow under my arm, I shifted the weight of my luggage on my other arm and carried the box Omma sent with me awkwardly. Aish… I told her that he didn’t need all this food. Omma insisted it’s to make sure Joon still had some left after I’d gone. I’m pretty sure she’s implying that I eat a lot, but no matter. I’m here now!

Joon is minutes away from me now. My fingers itched to touch him and I can’t wait to kiss him. He and I indulge in our very special phone calls at least twice a week but it didn’t feel the same. Not to say they weren’t exciting… Just different. I want to see his face as he speaks and hear him laugh. I want to watch him as he sleeps. I want to be the one he comes home to after his training or his games. I can’t wait to cook with him and finally share a meal again. We’re almost halfway there… After this four and a half more months, and we are in the clear.

I was surprised when his manager waved at me from the gate. Wearing a suit with the top button undone on his white shirt, I watched in amusement as appreciative looks were sent his way by women around him and as curious glares went sent my way. I hope they don’t think I’m his girlfriend. Lee Jung Jin-ssi was a very handsome man, but he’s not my Joon. No one cuts a suit quite like my man. I watched as he approached me, his strides confident and a warm smile on his face.

“Sung Na Jeong-ssi!” He greeted. “Welcome to San Francisco.” He took my luggage and the box I was carrying as I said a quick thank you. I followed him as he expertly made his way out of the airport and towards the parking deck. “How was your flight?”

“It was good… But the seats are way too small,” I said, suppressing a yawn. I straightened my T-shirt and tried to smooth out the creases on my jeans. My hair was in a long braid down my back, covered by Joon’s baseball cap.

“Joon should have warned you the flight was long,” he commented.

“I already knew. I was here last year,” I responded and he turned a surprised gaze on me. “I went to Joon’s Western Division Championship game. He didn’t know…” I smiled at him. “That’s how I knew to bring my own pillows on the plane. I have herniated discs on my back.”

“Ahh… Well at least you knew what to expect.”

“Lee Jung Jin-ssi… Joon is already at his game, right?”

“Please, Na Jeong-ssi… I am the closest thing to a family that Joon has here, so call me Oppa,” he said with a wink. I couldn’t help but smile back, grateful that Joon had him here. “And yeah, he’s already at his game.”

“Is that right?” I asked and he started laughing. “What? What did I say that’s so funny?”

“Na Jeong-ssi, you know I never believed it until now, but people in relationships do become quite alike, no?” He stopped laughing enough to take a deep breath. “Do you know that Joon says ‘is that right’ now too? I’ve managed him for four years and he’s said it before, but not as often as he does now. He’s a Seoul boy and speaking in that dialect… I thought it was just one of his things, but I just realized why.”

He opened the trunk on the car and placed my luggage in. He then opened the passenger door and I sat down. As I waited for him to pull out of the garage, I couldn’t help the excitement that flowed through me. I am very happy to be here. I am very happy to be seeing the man I love. Jin-ie Oppa drove quietly for a few minutes before he spoke.

“Na Jeong-ssi, your back is not hurting, right?” He inquired politely.

“No… I’m good. I was better prepared this time and please call me Na Jeong,” I responded, taking in the views outside the window.

“Are you hungry?” He asked. I looked at him, surprised by his thoughtfulness. “A little, but I can wait.”

“If you’re hungry, there’s a container in the back with ddukbokki. There’s a fork in the bag, too.”

Wow, this man is a genius. How did he know I love ddukbokki? Handsome and perceptive? Who said all the good men were taken? “But… But Joon said there were no places here that sell it like it tastes in Korea. How did you get it?”

“Yah… Do you know how many times I went with Joon to the store? He’s been learning to make it, for you. He started trying out recipes as soon as he booked your flight. He really drove me mad, calling in the middle of the night asking crazy questions. I would have yelled at him except he’s so pathetic…” he chuckled. “But Hyung… Na Jeong loves ddukbokki… He would say.”

I shook my head as I laughed with him. Seeing the signs to Pacific Bell Park, I was puzzled when he turned a different way. I thought at first he was just taking a different route to the stadium but as the signs disappeared, I became concerned.

“Jin-ie Oppa… I thought you said that Joon was at his game?” He turned to me once and nodded. “Then why are we going the opposite way?”

“Joon thought you’d be tired so he wanted me to take you straight to his apartment, so you can rest before dinner.”

“That boy… No I’m fine. Please go to the stadium,” I asked. “I want to see him play.” He gave me an approving smile before getting into the U-Turn lane. I looked in my wallet and realized that in my haste to get out of the airport I had forgotten to get my currency exchanged. “Jin-ie Oppa… This is a little embarrassing, but do you have any cash on you? I don’t have any dollars on me and I’ll need to buy a ticket to get in, right?”

He didn’t respond until we had already parked at the stadium parking. “Na Jeong, did you think that Joon would have let you pay for your own ticket?” He fished out two tickets from his suit pocket. “We have special club seats… The best view in the stadium.” I breathed a sigh of relief as I exited the car. Feeling energized again, I stretched before following him into the stadium, where the game was already underway.

THIS… Is such a different experience than the last time I was here. With his VIP passes, we were ushered into a different part of the stadium, where there were no crowds. Someone showed us to our seats and I was disappointed to see that the opposing team was pitching. I sat back on my seat, which was so much bigger than the last one I had when I was last here.

I wondered if Joon was icing his shoulder or if he was just watching the game. The memory of icing brought back to mind the first time I ever saw him in a baseball field. I had worked a part time job at a burger place when I was in university and Joon ordered burgers and drinks for his team. When I arrived, there he was, shirtless, icing his shoulder. I can’t help the blush that came over my face now as I thought back on how I unashamedly studied him. Yah, Sung Na Jeong… Why so bashful? You’ve seen that chest a million times now. In fact, you’ve seen everything. Even as I nodded to myself, my cheeks just kept getting redder.

Finally there was a strikeout, and the team changed sides. I craned my neck to see if Joon was pitching. The outfielders came out first and then the catcher, with his mask and his body vest on. Finally, I saw him. My breath hitched in my throat and my heart pounded inside me. A small smile formed in my face as I watched him as he tipped his hat three times, then powdered his hand and grasped the ball twice. He reached into his jersey and pulled something out. I recognize it… I gave it to him. He grasped the ring hanging from the chain and brought it to his lips as his eyes closed. Tucking it tenderly back inside his jersey, he looked up, his expression focused only on what he’s about to do. My eyes unexpectedly filled with tears and I had to wipe them off before they fell. I had grasped my ring instinctively… The ring I haven’t taken off my hand since he placed it there and was surprised when some tissue was offered to me by Jung Jin Oppa.

“He does that every game,” he whispered. “He may have left Korea, but his heart was always with you. I’m glad to see the feeling’s mutual.” He leaned back and I did too. I watched with bated breath as he flexed his neck and took his position. Bringing his long leg up to prepare for his pitch, I watched as the ball zoomed from his hand and straight into his catcher’s mitt. I clapped in spite of myself, so proud of him. His pitches were consistent, and he allowed only one hit. By the end of the seventh inning, the score was still at 0-0.

When the teams changed sides again, I was just leaning down to grab my ddukbokki and start eating when I heard conversation behind me.

“Hampton’s gonna kick Kim’s ass,” someone said with a chuckle. “The Giants will regret paying over 2 million for him.” I heard a group of voices join him in laughing and indignant, I turned around and fixed a glare on them. Admiring glances were sent my way and I straightened my shoulders before I spoke to them in English.

“Actually…” I started. “Kim is going to kick Hampton’s ass.” When they gave me disbelieving stares, I know what they saw. They probably just saw a girl and thought I was just pretending to know about baseball. “I’ve seen Mike Hampton’s stats from last season, and it’s nowhere near Kim Jae Joon’s. His win to loss figures are 14 to 13 with only a winning percentage of 0.519. His ERA was also only 5.41. Kim Jae Joon, on the other hand, has a win to loss figure of 16 to 11, with a winning percentage of 0.593. His ERA is also only 4.17. They got him at a bargain at two million… He’s easily worth five times as much.” I narrowed my gaze at them as they stared slack jawed at me. I was about to turn back around to watch the game when one of them decided to be a smart ass.

“What are you? His fan club president or something?” Asked a pimply faced man with glasses.

“So what if I am?” I asked. Finally noting that they were wearing the same jersey as the opposing team, I decided to be petty too. “And oh yeah… One more thing to add… Kim Jae Joon is much better looking too. He is in People’s Most Beautiful list. Beat that.”

I turned back on my seat before they can say anything else. Though I heard them whispering behind my back, no one else dared vocalize any criticism. I felt someone’s eyes on me and looked to my left to see Jung Jin Oppa giving me an impressed smile.

“Na Jeong, I thought Joon said that basketball was your favorite. I didn’t realize that you knew so much about baseball.”

“My father is a baseball coach and though I love basketball as a sport, Joon is my favorite subject to study and no one gets to criticize my Joon,” I said, my eyes fixed on the game. “Except for me.”

The game started its eighth inning and I watched as Joon kept his pitching steady. Though the game was tight, a last minute two person run enabled his team to win the game 2-1. I looked at my watch and saw that it was only a little past 2 p.m. Jung Jin Oppa led me back to the VIP lounge to use the restroom before leading me out the stadium. Once seated in the car, he turned to speak to me.

“Na Jeong, Joon has to give some interviews and go through an after game meeting with his team before he can go. So the plan is that I take you to the apartment so you can rest a little before dinner. He made reservations already. He’ll pick you up at around 5 p.m.”

I nodded at him and continued to watch outside the car window as he drove to the apartment. We stopped at a luxurious apartment building and he parked the car effortlessly.

“We’re here,” he said. I got out of the car and watched as he took my luggage out of the trunk and the box that I had brought as well. I tried to take the box at least, but he declined. At the door, the doorman greeted Jung Jin Oppa.

“Mr. Lee, good to see you again. I saw Mr. Kim’s game on television and he played great,” he said. He turned his eyes on me and I saw recognition light through them. He took a closer look and a wide welcoming smile came over his kind face. “Ms. Sung… You finally made it!” He exclaimed.

Surprised at the familiarity in his greeting, I put a polite smile on my face before responding. “I’m sorry… But I didn’t realize I knew you,” I said in a friendly tone.

He shook his head no before responding. “No, no… We’ve never met. But Mr. Kim… JJ… He talks about you all the time. I’ve seen your pictures too. That’s why I recognized your face. He’s right though… The pictures don’t do you justice.”

A shy smile overcame my face and I offered my hand for a shake. He took my hand in both of his, before enclosing it in his warm grasp.

“My name is John and I’m the the afternoon to night doorman here. So we’ll be seeing each other a lot. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“You too.” I said, as Jung Jin Oppa patted his back and led me to the elevators. Even the elevator looked fancy, I thought. This whole place looked fancy. From the high ceilings to the marble foyer, it screamed luxury from each of its corners.

“Joon actually didn’t want to live somewhere like this,” Jung Jin Oppa explained as we walked out of the elevator, as if reading my mind. “But I insisted. Not necessarily because of the size or the exclusivity. More for security. Baseball is a lot more popular here, and athletes are an easy target.” He stopped by a door and inserted a key before opening it for me.

I hesitantly walked in and had to consciously keep my mouth closed when I entered the apartment. The entryway was covered in whiskey colored hardwood floors. The walls were all in cream had a patterned texture. I walked slowly and my eyes ate up everything it saw. I walked straight to the living room and I was speechless. The whole exterior wall facing outwards the apartment was covered in glass, floor to ceiling windows. The city can be seen just outside his balcony.

“Can I step out?” I asked Jung Jin Oppa.

“Why are you asking me?” He asked with a smile. He put my luggage by the living room and set my box on the kitchen. He unlocked the balcony door and opened it for me. I stepped outside the moon shaped balcony and couldn’t believe my eyes. This view was breathtaking. I can’t believe that Joon lives here. After I got my fill of the views and breathed in the San Francisco air, I went back into the apartment just in time to watch Jung Jin Oppa make his way towards the door.

“Are you leaving?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “There are two bathrooms but Joon said he’s having some work done in the master bedroom so make sure you don’t go in there. It might be paint fumes or something. There’s another bathroom just here,” he said, pointing to his right. There’s another bedroom here as well if you want to rest. I think I spotted a note for you on the kitchen counter. Remember… Joon is picking you up around 5 p.m.”

“I got it. Thank you, Jin-ie Oppa.” He smiled at me and left the apartment. Running my fingers down the marble counters in the kitchen, I whistled admiringly at the furnishings and state of the art appliances. I set the kettle to boil after making sure that Joon had the supplies needed to make coffee. While waiting for the water to boil, I started unpacking the box I brought with me. Carefully unwrapping the big jars of kimchi and the side dishes Omma made, I placed them all in the fridge in organized rows. Joon barely had any food here, and I shook my head when I opened his cupboards and discovered just another small bag of rice and packets of ramyun and instant curry. I saw the note on the counter and took it with my cup of coffee to the living room. Slipping my sneakers off, I curled my feet underneath me and sat down. Taking a sip from the cup, I carefully placed it down on a coaster on the table and opened my note. Joon’s masculine handwriting greeted me and I read the note slowly.

Jagiya,

I hope your flight wasn’t terrible. I didn’t have enough time to go food shopping before you came. I’m sorry. We can shop together while you’re here. I made a reservation at an upscale restaurant tonight. I hope you remembered to bring a formal dress. No casual wear! I brought my suit with me so I’ll get you at 5:30 p.m. after I’m done at the stadium. I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOU!

I love you.

Your Joon

I brought his note to my chest and held it close. I looked up and looked for a clock, and when I couldn’t find one, I stood up and looked around. I spotted a corkboard in the living room and softened at the sight. Joon had pinned every single one of the pictures that we had taken his last days in Korea on it. I smiled while touching the pictures and saw a framed one of me at his entryway. Above it was the clock and I was alarmed when I saw that it was already 4 p.m. I quickly went back to my luggage and unpacked the dress I brought with me and my toiletries. I set out a pair of pointy pumps and put my makeup kit on the table.

Shower first. I walked in the direction of the bathroom and opened the door. Even the guest bathroom was spacious, the size of a bedroom in Korea. The floor was marbled and there was a full sized tub at the end, with a glass enclosed shower next to it. Deciding between a shower and a bath, I opted for the shower since I’m pressed for time. Turning the water on, I was surprised to see it was already at the right temperature in minutes. I opened the cabinet under the sink and found that Joon already put a hair dryer under it. The closet had a few sets of fluffy towels and I picked one out to use for my hair and one to wrap around me.

I stepped into the shower after undoing my braid and washed quickly. I laughed at myself when I nicked myself shaving my legs I was rushing so much. My nerves were a wreck, which is crazy. This is not our first date! I’ve seen everything! Multiple times! No amount of this reasoning is slowing my heartbeat down though. I feel anxious, excited… It’s the first time I’m seeing Joon in four months! I quickly washed my hair and conditioned it. I patted my back for having the foresight to get my hair deep conditioned and trimmed before leaving. Finally done, I stepped out of the shower, my hair and my body wrapped in a towel.

It’s 4:45 p.m… I have forty five minutes left to get ready. I went to the living room and slapped some lotion on my skin. I brushed my hair out and dried it with the hairdryer. By the time I had it styled in soft waves down my back, I only had fifteen minutes left to do my makeup and get dressed. I applied my makeup efficiently, going for a softer shadow to bring out my eyes and a nude lipstick. I carefully lifted my dress from its wrapping and lay it flat on the sofa. Finally ready I lifted it over my head and sighed as it molded to my body. Joon better like this, I thought. This dress cost a fortune. Zipping myself up was tricky but I got it done. I slipped my feet into the shoes, thankful that I’ve been practicing walking in them for weeks.

I unpacked my clutch from my suitcase and threw in a tube of lip gloss and some money. I know they don’t use Korean money here, but it never hurts to have it, right?

I made my way out of his apartment at 5:25 p.m., trying to walk steadily to the elevator. I’m so nervous I feel like I’m going to pass out. When I exited the elevators, some people turned to look at me. I wondered for a moment if I had something on my face. Oh well. Too late now. John, the doorman, opened the door for me and I took a deep breath as I stepped out.

And then I saw him, leaning on his car, looking at his watch. My heart stopped as he stood up and looked at me. He was wearing a perfectly tailored suit, the white shirt undone at the top two buttons. His hair was still wet, and slicked back. His feet were covered in loafers. My throat dried up as I drank in the sight of him. His handsome face brightening, his lips turned up into a sexy grin and I had to stop myself from melting onto the pavement. Breathe, Na Jeong. Breathe. I felt a smile form on my face in response and I delicately shrugged my shoulders, as if to say, you got me here… Now what?

*****

May 24, 2001
5:28 p.m.
Chilbong

The traffic in this city is horrible sometimes. After all the post game stuff I had to do, I quickly showered and changed into the suit that hyung had brought for me. What should have been a fifteen minute drive turned into almost a half hour and I made it just in time.

I took off my sunglasses and placed them in a case in the glove compartment. I got out of the car and leaned against it. Wondering why Na Jeong wasn’t outside yet, I debated whether to go upstairs and pick her up from my apartment. Don’t be so eager, Jae Joon. Keep it cool.

The thought of seeing her again makes me dizzy. Distance hasn’t cooled any of my flames down… Has it hers? Sure she sounded as affectionate as ever whenever we spoke… But what if she doesn’t find me attractive anymore? It doesn’t matter. She loves you.

I was just looking at my watch again when from the corner of my eye I saw the entrance open. A vision in black and gold caught my attention and I turned around. Seeing her for the first time, here with me, here for me, almost brought me to my knees. It didn’t help that she looked amazing. My breath caught in my throat and the butterflies in my stomach went into a frenzy.

Na Jeong was wearing a long black gown, threads of gold woven into the fabric of the dress in an intricate pattern. The dress was strapless, exposing creamy shoulders and just a hint of her chest. Tightly bodiced with a tailored fit, it shouldn’t have looked sensual but it did. The dress wrapped her small waist perfectly before flaring out into a full length skirt. But the side had a slit halfway up her thigh, showing a line of long leg. Her shoes were encased in simple black high stiletto heels. She left her even longer hair, parted in the middle, loose behind her, in soft waves down her back. She looked like a goddess. Save for a pair of earrings, the only jewelry she wore was her ring on her right hand, the match to the one I now wore back on my hand.

Her eyes met mine and my mouth watered. The gold in her dress brought out the gold flecks in her eyes. Her lids were muted except for a precise line, highlighting those lovely almond shaped eyes. Her face held no blemish and her lips held a sheer gloss. Not knowing what to do and with my heart frantically beating out of my chest, I gave her a hesitant grin. She gave me a small smile in response before shrugging her shoulders. She took a step forward and I met her strides with my own.

It took only a nanosecond and my arms went around her waist as she wrapped her arms around my neck. She’s real. She’s here. I breathed her in, her smell that purely of herself, but a hint of me too. I tucked my head on her neck before allowing myself to look at her.

She had a sweet smile on her face as she looked at me. She ran her fingers through my hair and I closed my eyes to the sheer pleasure of feeling her hands on me again. I pressed my forehead to hers and looked into her eyes.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hi back.” She pressed a soft kiss on my lips before taking my hand. She intertwined our ringed hands together and looked at them in wonder. “Can you believe we’ve been apart for four months?” As soon as her lips had touched mine, my body reacted instinctively. This is going to be a problem.

No… Yes… I don’t know how to answer her question. I’m a little distracted. ”Has it been that long already?” I asked. “It went by so quickly I didn’t notice.” Autumn sky is void and vast, high and cloudless, the bright moon is our heart, undivided and true. Three thousand Li of splendid rivers and mountains, filled with Roses of Sharon; Great Korean People, stay true to the Great Korean way.

“Liar.” She nudged me on my side as she pulled away. I am so hopeless I savored even that. “This better be good. I got dolled up for you, and for this.” She started walking away as I watched her.

“Na Jeong-ah,” I called out. She turned around and looked at me questioningly. “You look beautiful…” Embarrassed, I looked down. “Ahh, I just wanted to let you know that.” This is not your first date. You’ve been together for more than half a year.

“Joon-ah, you look beautiful too. A sight for my very sore eyes.” She walked back to me and took my hand as we walked to the car together. I opened the passenger door and waited until she was safely in until I closed the door. Still feeling surreal, I went to the driver’s side quickly and turned the ignition on.

As soon as we pulled out of the lot and onto traffic, she took my hand in hers.

“Jagiya,” she said. “How have you been?”

“Good,” I said curtly. Her skin looked amazing and her neck. So lickable. I can see her long leg peeking out of that slit and I swallowed. If I reach over, how far does the slit go? Control yourself, Kim Jae Joon, I told myself silently.

I can feel her studying me and I started sweating. Na Jeong’s presence permeated the car and I can smell her perfume. Why does she smell so delicious? And her eyes… They look so big today. Those eyes are staring at me. Don’t look. Don’t look. You planned tonight. You have to wait.

“Joon-ah,” she said, my name coming out of her mouth so beautifully. “Do you not like my dress?”

I cleared my throat and forced myself to keep my gaze directed on the road. “I like it.” At my response, I can feel her eyes narrow at me. Don’t look at her. She’ll tempt you with her lips and her eyes and her neck… HER EVERYTHING. You must control yourself. You have to. Women like romance. You are not an animal… You can handle this.

“Then why won’t you look at me?” She asked plaintively, biting her lower lip. Those lips… I want those lips on mine. I want to kiss her so badly my hands are shaking. I want to kiss her like it’s the first time I’m kissing her.

“Jagiya, I can’t look at you because if I did, I’d be turning back around to the apartment and your dress will be ripped off of you.”

“Oh,” she said, a pleased smile in her voice. “But we can’t do that, right? You’re all dressed up and I’m all dressed up.” I nodded as a response. That makes sense. We’re not teenagers. I breathed a sigh of relief when we arrived at the restaurant. Thank God, we’re here. I was just pulling into the restaurant driveway towards the valet parking when I heard her voice. “But then again, on second thoughts, maybe we should go back?” The hope in her voice startled me and I pressed my foot on the brakes a little too hard. We lurched to a stop and I looked at her. I was actually thinking of turning right back to the apartment when the valet opened her door. She was still looking at me, her eyes lit by desire and her mouth partially opened, with her tongue peeking out to lick her lips. Her gaze dropped to my lips and my stomach dropped.

You need to eat. She needs to eat. But… But we can eat after. NO… The reservation has been made. The valet cleared his throat and said a hesitant greeting. His voice broke through my reverie and Na Jeong blushed before gathering her skirt to one side and carefully stepping out of the car. I took a few minutes to try to control my erection. Humming the Korean anthem again, I stepped out of the car and straightened my jacket and took Na Jeong’s hand before handing him my key.

We walked into the restaurant together and Na Jeong stayed close to me. I can feel the warmth of her fingers through my jacket and I had to keep a straight face as I approached the maitre d’ to let him know that we’ve arrived for our reservation.

“Mr. Kim, Ms. Sung, “ he said with a warm smile. “Welcome to Benu. Your seats are ready for you. Please follow me.” He started walking off into the direction of the main dining room and stopped at a corner table for two. I watched as her hips swayed temptingly from side to side as she followed him. And I… I would have followed wherever those hips were going.

Our table was set up against a banquette with an additional chair opposite, but as Na Jeong sat down on the bench, I sat down next to her. I’ve been without her for too long, and we only have six days. And six nights. She suddenly looked at me like she knew what was on my mind, and we stayed looking at each other before the server came. After placing our drink orders, I noticed how close she was sitting next to me, and the way she crossed her legs, her thigh was close enough for me to touch. My fingers itched to see if her skin was as soft as it looked and to control myself, I decided to speak instead. Our faces barely a foot apart, I whispered, “You hungry?”

Her eyes never leaving mine, she responded. “Ravenous.” I know she wasn’t talking about food. Her breathing was shallow and I can see her pulse beating on her neck. Just one taste, I told myself. Just one. My head leaned down towards hers and met her lips even as my hand wrapped tenderly on one side of her neck.

When I felt her lips against mine, desire pounded through my veins and I forced myself to take my time. Rose petal soft lips, a hint of the strawberry that I know and love… And I was lost. My thumb grazed her cheek, so so silky soft, and goosebumps spread over my arm as her hair brushed over it.

“Joon-ah,” she whispered, and as her lips opened with the second syllable my mouth claimed hers again. Our tongues met surely, instinctively and I can taste her anticipation and excitement. I sucked on her tongue as her fingers grasped my shoulders. Licking her lips, I heard her sigh. Her heart pounding against my chest, I struggled to keep my wits about me. Her teeth grazed my lower lip as I pulled my mouth away, seeing the server coming with our drinks from the corner of my eye.

She picked up her drink to take a sip and I could’ve sworn that her hands were trembling. The color was on her cheeks and her hand came over her chest, as if willing it to slow down. A surge of male satisfaction went through me, seeing that she is as affected as I was and emboldened, my hand rested on the skin peeking out of her dress. Though she stiffened in surprise, she didn’t push my hand away.She relaxed within minutes, and we sat in silence looking at each other while we waited for our food.

“Jagiya… How come they didn’t give us a menu?” She asked softly.

“They only serve a tasting menu here. They will bring whatever the chef had prepared for tonight.” I ran a finger down her nose and kissed her forehead, my hand still resting on her thigh.

“How many courses are there?”

“I know you can eat,” I answered teasingly, and chuckled softly. “There are ten courses. You won’t be hungry after,” I reassured her.

“Ten courses?” She asked worriedly. “That’s a lot of courses… How long will it take to finish that?” I heard the impatience in her voice and had to suppress a laugh.

“Yah… I’m trying to romance you. I didn’t get to, last time. We ran out of time.”

“Well… Can’t you romance me… At your place?” I shook my head at her, and smoothed the frown on her brow.

“I can romance you everywhere… But I wanted to see you all dressed up,” I whispered as I kissed her lips. “That way I can enjoy undressing you.”

She glared at me in response. “You’re not allowed to talk to me like that while we’re out in public. It’s not fair.”

“I’m sorry. What am I allowed to do?” I asked in her ear before I gave her earlobe a little nip. I heard her moan her satisfaction softly. “Am I allowed to do this?” I asked, moving to her neck. She nodded and put a hand on my neck. I gave her neck a little lick and her hold on me tightened. “Am I allowed to do this?” My hand on her thigh started traveling upwards between her legs. Her skin felt so soft I was tempted to keep going to see how far up she would let me go.

But the servers came out with our first course, a dish with oyster, pork belly and kimchi. I watched as she took her first bite and her eyes closed in pleasure. I haven’t seen that on her face in too long. I ate my dish and was impressed. My teammates weren’t lying when they said that the food here was amazing.

After the plates were cleared to prepare for the second course, I felt Na Jeong’s hand on my thigh. I didn’t object as I thought she was just going to keep it there, but her fingers started exploring and I started getting nervous. My arousal pressed painfully against my trousers and I gritted my teeth as her hand grasped me more firmly. She stroked through the fabric, and I took her mouth for another kiss. Not so gentle, not so tender, I kissed her thoroughly until I felt her hands restlessly on my chest. This is torture. She’s torturing me.

I tugged my mouth away from hers and motioned for the server. Within seconds, our server was back at our table and I asked him hoarsely for our check. He looked confused, but nodded anyway. As I was waiting to pay the bill, Na Jeong started kissing my neck, her head tucked in my shoulder.

“Jagiya… Ask them to pack up the food,” she requested. “You’ll need it later.”

I pulled her away from me, unable to think, when I saw the restaurant manager approaching our table.

“Mr. Kim… Is there a problem with your meal?” He asked politely. “You’ve only had the first course and you’re asking for your check.”

I tried to put a neutral expression on my face, though I’m sure it looked more like I was angry or in pain. “No, just get me the check. We need to leave.”

Next to me, Na Jeong flushed and I thought about how funny it was that she’s so daring but gets embarrassed so easily. She motioned for the General Manager to come closer and asked sweetly. “Is there any way that you can ask the chef to pack up the rest of the courses? We’ll tell everyone what an incredible experience we had here.”

He nodded in understanding and I watched as he briskly made his way behind the double doors that led to the kitchen. Na Jeong’s fingers didn’t leave my thigh, and I started sweating. She’s relentless. Persistent. I don’t know how we’re going to make it back to my place alive. Thankfully within minutes, some carryout containers in a white paper bag appeared on our table, along with our check. I placed my card in the guest check holder and waited for the receipt. Once it came, I signed it quickly and dragged Na Jeong out of the restaurant.

As we were waiting for the valet to come back with the car, she stayed standing in front of me and I took that time to admire her neck and the smooth expanse of skin on her upper back. I traced my fingers on her shoulders and she turned back to gift me with a smile. I don’t even think she knows how beautiful she is. That’s part of her allure. I still can’t believe she’s here. I don’t know when it will hit me that she is, but I hope it’s soon. Because I’m looking like a fool right now just staring at her and smelling her hair.

Finally our car arrived and we were on our way back to the apartment. She tapped her hand on the door handle impatiently and I tried to concentrate on driving, aware that if I should just turn around and look at her I’ll be pulling over and we will never make it out of the car.

Na Jeong, however, had no such reservations. She stared at me the whole time. It felt like she was undressing me with her eyes. When we stopped at the stoplight, she took my hand and unable to stop myself, I looked at her.

“Joon-ah…” I raised my eyebrows enquiringly. “Hurry.”

That was all the encouragement I needed to put my foot down on the accelerator and speed all the way home. I wasn’t even sure how many almost red lights I ran through. Na Jeong didn’t say anything and just stayed focused on the road, her hand still holding mine. When we got back to the apartment building, I parked the car quickly and she exited just as quickly as I did. We practically sprinted into the apartment when John looked at both of us curiously.

“Mr. Kim, Ms. Sung you’re back early!” he greeted jovially.

Na Jeong smiled at him and said, “Yes. I don’t feel so well… I think I may still have jet lag or something. I need to lie down.” I almost choked on her blunt lie. John looked like he didn’t believe us but I ushered her towards the elevators before she could get herself in any more trouble.

While waiting for the elevator, I whispered, “Yah… Why do you lie so easily?’

“What was I supposed to tell him? That we abandoned our meal so we can come back here because we have no self-control?” She asked.

“You’re right.”

We entered the elevator hand in hand, but seeing the dangerous situation we were in, I went to one corner of the elevator and she went on another. I knew that the elevators had cameras… That’s part of the reason why I moved here. There were eyes everywhere. Dammit.

I looked at her as she stared at the buttons on the elevator. My abdomen tightened, and I felt my arousal get even harder, if that was possible. We stood in silence for a few minutes until music came on in the elevator. I don’t usually notice this, but I suppose in the absence of other ambient noises and the fact that there was so much tension in this one elevator, it seemed to be even more obvious. The strains of ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head’ cut through the silence and I startled laughing… Who picks these songs? Na Jeong looked at me too with a frown first but started laughing as well. This is so weird. But it felt good to be able to laugh with her again. I’ve missed the sound of her laughter.

When we got to my floor, I took her hand and we walked to my apartment. Opening the door, she turned to me and asked, “Jagiya… Did you forget the food in the car?”

Damn. In my haste to get back to the apartment, I completely forgot. “Yes, I did.” I was tempted to tell her not to worry about the food, but she loves food and hates wasting money, so she might actually smack me. “Just wait a minute. I’ll be right back.”

She gave me a quick peck on the lips before entering the apartment. I took the elevator back downstairs and thankfully John was speaking to another resident. Grabbing the food container from the back, I remembered that it’s a good thing that I forgot it actually. I opened the glove compartment and grabbed the box of condoms I had Hyung purchase earlier. I really hated to do that, but my face is pretty well known around my neighborhood, and I haven’t needed it since I left Korea, so that would have been a problem. Safety first.

I went back to the apartment as quickly as possible and opened the door. Stopping at the kitchen to put the food in the fridge, I saw Na Jeong standing by my window and I found myself staring again. Her face was in profile, looking out at the city. Even just her presence here has changed the way my apartment looked in my eyes. All of a sudden it was home. That dress on her really does look incredible. It hugged her slim waist and gently flaring hips and accentuated her chest. It made her skin glow and her eyes twinkle. It…Needs to come off.

With my heart in my throat, I walked over to where she stood and gently shifted the weight of her long hair over one shoulder and I placed my mouth at the skin I exposed. She extended her neck back and grabbed my head closer to her neck. She turned around and looked at me.

“Did you grab the food?”

“Yes, I did,” I was about to lean down and kiss her fully when she looked at my hand.

“I see you grabbed something else as well,” she said, smiling. “A whole box, Joon? Seriously?”

“Ahh… It’s just in case,” I stammered. “We don’t have to use it all.”

“Joon-ah… One box may not be enough,” she responded, her tone teasing. “It doesn’t matter anyways…” She motioned for me to come closer so she can whisper something in my ear. I felt her warm breath over me as I got closer to her. “We don’t have to use it anymore. I’m on the pill.”

*****
Na Jeong

I don’t know what’s taking Joon so long to come back, I thought, as I waited for him to grab the food container from the car. I traced a finger over the glass, as if I can catch any of the twinkling lights in the city like a butterfly. That would have been a great dinner… But this is even better.

I knew as soon as I saw Joon that I didn’t feel like going out anymore. I would have been perfectly happy to just stay home and get undressed again. But he looked so dashing and was being such a gentleman. He looked really proud to have planned something as well, so I didn’t want to disappoint him. But we only have six days. And not even six whole days. With his season in full swing, I have to wait until he gets back before we can do anything. Small sacrifices for a lifetime with Joon.

I heard the door open but still distracted by my thoughts, I didn’t turn around. I heard some vague activity in the kitchen but I wanted to see if Joon would come to me. I counted to ten in my head and waited. I didn’t even get to three when I felt his callused hand on my neck, sweeping my hair to one side. I know my Joon. I felt his lips follow where his fingers were and I closed my eyes. Running my fingers through his hair, I felt him breathe me in. I turned around and looked at his face. His eyes were focused entirely on me. I saw everything all at once… Desire, passion and love. Feelings of tenderness came over me so quickly I felt tears forming in my eyes. To keep them in check, I spoke instead. “Did you grab the food?”

“Yes, I did,” he responded. He was leaning down towards me when I noticed the box of condoms in his hand.

“I see you grabbed something else as well,” I said, a smile on my face. “A whole box, Joon? Seriously?”

“Ahh… It’s just in case.” He looked nervous now, and I almost feel bad for teasing him. “We don’t have to use it all.”

“Joon-ah… One box may not be enough,” I said, my voice amused. “It doesn’t matter anyways…” I motioned for him to come closer and when he did I cupped a hand over his ear. “We don’t have to use it anymore. I’m on the pill,” I whispered.

He backed away, a shocked expression on his face. I was still trying to decipher the look on his face, unsure whether I had moved too fast, when he was everywhere all of a sudden. His mouth was on mine… Urgent, insistent, desperate. I felt his tongue met mine in a frenzy. His hands were in my hair and on my neck. Even as his tongue mated with mine, I felt his fingers on the back of my thighs, lifting one up to wrap around his waist, to bring his hardness closer to my core, as he pressed me up against the cold glass, I nipped on his lip and heard an answering moan. So sexy… I love the sounds that Joon makes. My fingers scrambled to get him out of his clothes. I pushed his jacket off his shoulders as his mouth traveled down my neck, licking and sucking. He gave the side of my neck a little nibble and I couldn’t help the sigh that escaped my lips. One hand on his head, I tugged on his shirt, trying to get it open. His mouth took mine again, and then I heard his voice, husky with wanting.

“Jagiya… Are you going to tear off another one of my shirts?” He asked, his lips less than an inch away from mine. I impatiently sucked on his lower lip even as he was pulling away. His eyes never leaving mine, I watched as he slowly unbuttoned his shirt. Ohmygod. Is this what he does when we have our late night/early morning conversations? I watched with my throat dry as he casually shrugged off his shirt, revealing his broad chest, that tight abdomen… Those strong shoulders. I think I might actually be panting while watching him. Now just covered with his pants on, his arousal was evident, I walked towards him and put my mouth on his neck, then traveled down to his chest. My hands went straight to his pants and he pulled them away. He chuckled in my ear.

“Na Jeong-ah… Patience. Let me enjoy you first.” He brought his chest to mine and I almost cried because I couldn’t get close enough to feel his skin.

“Joon-ah… Please,” I whispered as he planted kisses on my shoulders and down my arms.

“Please, what?” He asked, his mouth kissing my body over my dress.

“Please undress me. I need to feel you…” I met his eyes as he was kissing down my leg. “I want to feel you.”

He rose to his feet and kissed me. My lips felt tingly, all too aware of how long it’s been since I’ve been with him this way. His mouth was on mine, nipping, licking, sucking… Like a man who’s never been kissed. Like a man who will never kiss again. He devoured my mouth, and I met his tongue with mine, knowing how much he loves kissing me. Even as Joon was in front of me, I can hear his voice, hoarse with passion, whispering all those words to me over the phone all these months. “I love kissing you. I could kiss you forever.” The memory, coupled with Joon’s mouth on me, leaves me breathless, overwhelmed. You’ve gone crazy Na Jeong… You’re fantasizing about your man while you’re with your man. When his lips left mine, my lips felt bruised and tender. I felt strong hands on my back, before I felt sure fingers tugging on the zipper of my dress. Finally… Finally… Finally… I felt his mouth connect with every inch of skin he’s exposing, and I almost cried gratefully when the dress loosened and the corseted bodice fell open over my breasts. Joon’s hands cupped them reverently before his mouth took over. He licked my right nipple, his tongue moving leisurely, like he’s a man who had all the time in the world. His other hand squeezed my breast gently, before he rolled my nipple between his fingers. My back arched to get closer, as he tended to my other breast in the same exacting, measured way. This feels too good, I thought. Too good.

He continued with his exploration with his mouth when I felt his hand reach into the slit of the dress to the warmth between my legs. I felt him pull my underwear down and I lifted my legs to let him. Even as his lips were placing kisses on my abdomen, his hands were caressing my core tenderly. Unable to reach far enough with his hands, I heard a loud rip as he widened the slit of the dress. Uncaring, I had my hands on his hair as his mouth found me. I felt him licking at me, his fingers entering me in one swift stroke. I would have been uncomfortable with the intrusion if not for the fact that all his teasing had me ready. I knew I was ready.

His fingers were confident, sure inside me as his lips sucked on the most sensitive part of me. I moved my hips to the rhythm of his fingers as he licked and sucked. I can feel my climax building up and I wanted him inside me. But Joon… Joon was relentless. With confidence he continued to stroke and caress, until I couldn’t control it anymore. My peak came in a crashing wave, leaving my legs weakened and my breath coming in short gasps. Even as I was still riding the crest of my release, he pulled his fingers out and stood up. He unbuttoned his pants and let it and his underwear drop to the floor. I watched as he stepped out of his clothes confidently, and following his lead, our eyes locked together, I shimmied out of my dress. With anyone else, I would have been self conscious, embarrassed. But the way Joon looks at me makes me feel beautiful and adored. As soon as my dress was off and I finally slipped my heels off, he stalked to me and took me in his arms.

His hands on my waist, he lifted me and entered me in one smooth thrust and I moaned from the sensation. Nothing separated us now, and the feel of him, raw inside me, drove my need higher. My back was pressed against the glass behind me, but I didn’t care. He supported my weight with his as I wrapped my legs around his waist. He held my arms over my head, our fingers interlocked. His hips moved in an even pace, his beautiful eyes watching my face for my reaction. I closed my eyes and imagined how we must look right now… Our bodies connected, his length sliding deeper and deeper inside me. The image in my head, coupled with the reality of Joon here, with me, pushed me over the edge and as if knowing this, he sped up and the focus in his eyes intensified. When I reached my climax, I opened my eyes and looked into his. His name passed through my lips and he kissed me as I came. I wrapped my arms around his neck and held on as he stiffened for a moment and groaned out my name. I could feel the pounding of his heart against my chest and my calves stayed locked around his hips even as he trembled in my arms. Even as our breathing evened and he’s pulled himself out of me, I held him in my arms and he kept his head on my shoulder. I feel so giddy right now I was lightheaded. When he lifted his head, I pressed a kiss on his forehead.

“Joon-ah… If this is what happens after we’ve been apart, then I don’t mind it so much,” I whispered, chuckling. “And you owe me another dress.” When I didn’t hear the chuckle expected, I looked at him only to see him studying me.

“I love you,” he said slowly. “I really love you… Do you know that?”

“Yeah, I know,” I responded quietly. So serious, my Joon. I smoothed his hair, now mussed from my fingers, down. “I love you. You know that, right?” His face broke into a smile and I sighed. “Joon-ah… I’ve missed you.”

“I miss you more.” He took my hand and kissed it. “It’s not the same anywhere without you.”

“Home, too.” I looked at his face before I brushed the back of my hand against his cheek. “Nothing is the same without you.” Realizing that I was still by the windows naked, I cringed and pulled away from his hand. I walked to my suitcase and grabbed his jersey and slipped it on as he watched me.

“Yah… Sung Na Jeong… Why bother when that’s coming off again?” He asked and I grinned at him. I looked him up and down and had to stop myself from staring. He really was a beautiful man. He reluctantly picked up his boxers and put them on. It was only then that I realized he still had his socks on. Before I could even stop myself, I started giggling. He grinned at me without asking what I found so amusing. I walked over to the fridge and took out the box that we brought home from the restaurant and carefully placed it on the counter.

“Joon-ah… Where are your utensils and plates?” I asked. When I didn’t hear a response, I started opening cupboards but then felt his presence behind me as he reached over above my head to grab a plate. He opened the drawer next to the stove and pulled out two sets of chopsticks. He put the box in the microwave and set it for a small amount of time. When it was done, we placed the food on one plate then walked over to the couch.

He turned the television on and I was surprised to see that he had it on something called The Discovery Channel. I would have expected him to watch the sports channel or something, but it seems that he’s not that interested in watching sports at home. It makes sense, I suppose. I wouldn’t watch anything about my job at home either. When we opened the box, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the restaurant had labelled everything so we knew what we were eating. I watched television cuddled next to him as we picked food from the plate.

“You have to try this,” he said, turning to me. “Say ahh…”

I opened my mouth and he placed a piece of food in my mouth. Flavors exploded in my mouth as I tried to figure out what I just ate. I recognized abalone, but that’s about it. I took a second piece and placed it in my mouth. My eyes closed as I savored the bite. Now, that is delicious. Beggar’s purse of treasure from the oak? I read the name of the dish, and I’ll be damned if I knew what that was. I was still trying to figure out if it was a riddle of sorts when I looked up to see Joon’s eyes focused on me. “What?” I asked self consciously, wondering if I had something on my teeth.

“Nothing… Nothing… You’re just so cute.” He leaned over and gave me a soft kiss.

My feet felt cold, I got up to get a pair of socks from my suitcase, but when I searched for a clean pair I couldn’t find one. How could I forget to pack socks? Rummaging through what I had, I shook my head. I knew I had forgotten something,

“Joon-ah… Can I borrow a pair of your socks? I only have one pair with me, and I have to wash it,” I asked.

Distracted by the television, he didn’t even look at me as he answered. “Yeah… Just look in the drawer of the master bedroom.”

The master bedroom? Which one is that? Oh yeah, it’s the door Jin-ie Oppa told me not to open because of paint fumes or something. Well it’s been a few hours now, so it should be okay. I padded my way to the bedroom and was then surprised when I heard Joon running from behind me to block the door.

“Jagiya… Don’t go in here.”

“It’s okay… I think it’s safe now. A little paint fume won’t kill me,” I said, as I tried to push him out of the way. When he didn’t budge, I narrowed my eyes at him to see him looking nervous. Like he had something to hide. “Yah, Kim Jae Joon… What’s wrong? Why are you just standing there?” I tried to push him away and he leaned down to kiss me. I turned my face away and took the time that he’s distracted to push my way through the door. I swear to God, I will kill him if I find something in this room that belongs to another woman. He wouldn’t do that, would he?

That was my first condition! I can’t believe he’s hiding shit from me now! I’ll make you regret it… I was still stewing in annoyance when I finally made my way into the door. I looked for any sign of work done and when I didn’t, I spoke up.

“There was no painting being done here. Joon-ah, why would you lie? I can’t belie…” My voice trailed off as I noticed that his master bedroom was covered in rows and rows and vases and vases of roses. Covering every surface I looked, there were roses in every color. My mouth opened in shock even as the thought occurred to me that all this could be from his fans.The explosion of roses took me by surprise and as hard as I tried to get words out of my mouth, it just opened and closed ineffectively.

“Na Jeong-ah,” I heard his voice say from behind me. “Do you like it?”

Why would I like it? My boyfriend sleeps with flowers that he received from his fans. He could have spread it out more all over the apartment. Who does things like this? And why would he hide it from me?

He walked into the bedroom until he was standing in front of me. Looking at the floor, he took a deep breath before speaking. “Uhm, I know this looks weird, but… But I bought one for every time I thought of you, and this was the only way I could think of to show you how much I missed you.”

I was about to ask him if he was crazy and yell at him for even thinking I needed anything like this but softened as I looked at him still unable to look at me. Normally so confident, he looked vulnerable as he stood there waiting for my reaction. He looked so nervous I was curious for one minute if he was about to propose. Nah… It’s too soon for that. Wanting to make him feel more at ease and to show him how much I appreciated it, I did the only thing I could. I slipped his jersey off my head and dragged him to bed.

*****
Chilbong

By the time I caught up to Na Jeong, she already had her hand on the doorknob of the master bedroom. I only belatedly remembered what I had prepared after I already told her where to get socks. Berating myself, I looked at everywhere but her as she fixed those hazel eyes on me. I saw her gaze narrow and I started sweating bullets.

I don’t know why I ever thought this was a good idea. Roses are romantic, that magazine said. I need to stop reading those magazines, but since Na Jeong loved them I bought one to put in the apartment for her, and out of boredom I read it a couple of nights before she arrived. I thought I could use some tips. This relationship is so new, and I don’t always know what to do. Sometimes I still feel like we moved so fast that I didn’t get a chance to woo her. Six years ago, I was a college student, and was unable to. Now I can, so I want to.

I woke up early this morning and passed by a flower stall on my run. I only thought to buy her one rose, but next thing I knew, I had gone back to the apartment and looked at my notebook to count how many times I’ve thought of her in the last four months. I drove around for hours before my game, and I’m pretty convinced that I’ve bought out all the roses in San Francisco. That’s what it took to obtain 279 roses.

Looking at the way she was glaring at me, I can only imagine what’s going in her head. She probably thinks that I’m hiding a woman in here, or any evidence of sexual escapades. What woman? There’s only one woman for me. Else she’ll probably think that they were all from fans and blow it out of proportion. I didn’t want to argue about a nonexistent issue, so I thought to soften her up a little bit. I leaned down to kiss her and maybe carry her to the bedroom so she can adjust slowly, but she turned her cheek before I could even make contact. By the time I realized what happened, she had already opened the door and was standing by the door in the bedroom.

“There was no painting being done here. Joon-ah, why would you lie? I can’t belie…” her voice stopped mid-sentence and I hesitated following her.

“Na Jeong-ah,” I asked her hesitantly. “Do you like it?” When she didn’t respond, I told myself to man up. I walked to the middle of the room and turned around to see her face in shock. Her mouth kept opening and closing, but no words were coming out. Looking at the floor, I cleared my throat. “Uhm, I know this looks weird, but… But I bought one for every time I thought of you, and this was the only way I could think of to show you how much I missed you.”

Great, she’ll probably yell at me and ask me if I’m crazy. Or say that she doesn’t need it. But isn’t that the point? Just because she doesn’t need it doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve it. I will not apologize for this. It’s my relationship too and I should be able to romance her if that’s what I want to do. I was about to tell her as much when I looked up just in time for her pulling my jersey off her body. She smiled at me and took my hand as she pulled me towards the bed.

She laid down on the bed, her eyes watching my next move. I sat between her legs and enjoyed the view. I wondered if she even knows how beautiful she is. Like a temptress… Her hair a mass of ink on my pillows, her breasts proud, her nipples erect and her core so perfect. She looked at me with mixture of tenderness and desire. She appeared to be thinking of something and I was about to ask her, but then she spoke.

“Joon-ah… Will you show me? Will you show me what you do when we’re apart, when you’re on the phone with me…” She said the words courageously, but then looked away and I swear I saw a blush cover her from head to toe.

I know which phone calls she’s talking about. Grinning, I told her, “I’ll show you if you show me.”

Her eyes widened, and I can almost see the wheels turning in her head. She took a deep breath, as if having made her mind up. I saw her tentatively bring her hands to her neck, then down her chest. She cupped her breasts with both of her hands and rubbed her thumbs over her nipples. Her back arched as a low moan escaped her throat. My hand went to my chest, trying to calm my racing heart. This was not a good idea… I’m going to lose this game, but I don’t care. Who cares about winning when my prize was already before me?

My arousal twitched and I fought the urge to just climb over her and savor her smell and her taste. I put my hand down to touch myself and stroked as she opened her eyes to watch me. When she saw what I was doing, her gaze darkened and her hands became braver.Her fingers swiftly moved to go between her legs and I felt myself trembling as I watched her fingers go where I wanted to be. I stroked myself up and down, slowly, even as I pulled a rose out of the vase next to the bed.

Drifting it over her nipples, I watched with satisfaction as her eyes closed slowly and a sigh came from her lips. She whispered my name as she continued with her fingers. I watched my hand as it trailed the rose over her chest and her neck and down her abdomen. When it reached her core, some petals fell and I stared at it, drinking in the sight of this beautiful woman, her beauty covered in rose petals. My hand moved on my erection slowly, the feeling so familiar, having done this so many times before, and so strange, never having done it with anyone watching me. Her lovely eyes watched what I was doing, but kept going back to my face, meeting my eyes. When I saw her insert a finger inside her, all control slipped and I was done.

I took her nipple in my mouth and sucked as my fingers guided hers into herself. She was so wet, and I couldn’t wait to get inside her. But I have to pace myself… I have to make sure she enjoys this as much as I do. She lifted herself off the bed and kissed my abdomen. Her fingers wrapped around my length as she took me in her mouth. I could feel her tongue, insistent on my erection and I heard myself growl. Like I did seemingly long ago, she lifted one of my hands long enough to place it on her head. With her hands and her lips on me, I laid myself down and she followed, never breaking contact. I felt her fingers caressing my inner thighs and I lifted her off of me to kiss her.

Her body firmly on mine, I kissed her mouth as I stroked her core, then lifted my hips to enter her. No barrier in between us, I felt our skin connect, the pleasure immeasurable. My hands on her waist, I watched as her hair fell over in front of her, staying alluringly over her breasts. She had both her hands on my chest as I guided her pace. At first it was a slow rhythm, and I closed my eyes to the sensation. Her tightness around me, I was tempted to let go it felt so good. Then as her climax neared she sped up, her hips rotating as she continued to ride me. She cried my name out over and over as she peaked. When I felt her shaking in my arms, I shifted positions so that I was on top with her long legs over my shoulders. I placed a tender kiss on her calf and continued to thrust inside her. Her eyes stayed open on mine, and I couldn’t stop myself from watching as every sensation flitted over her face. When I felt her tighten against me a second time, I lowered her legs and kissed her mouth as she chanted my name. Pulling my lips just enough so I can say her name as I came, I felt my release take over. Her eyes on mine, I felt the intensity all the way to my toes. She kept her arms firmly around me, her nails digging into my shoulders. She held me close as I recovered, her heart beating the same beat as mine.

I ran my hands down her hair and looked at her as she smiled. She planted kisses all over my face. Without realizing it, I was smiling back at her. We stayed connected like that for a few minutes, enjoying the silence. There’s silence that’s uncomfortable and tense. This wasn’t one of them. I felt like the stars aligned at this moment in time, and my world was complete again..

“I love you,” I said hoarsely.

“I know,” she said, satisfied. “Joon-ah… You have a really big tub. Should we have a bath? I always wanted to do that… I’ve seen people do it in movies and stuff… But the bathrooms in Korea are really small, and… “

“Yes. Let’s take a bath..”

Minutes later, we found ourselves in the huge master tub, surrounded by foam. Na Jeong sat at the opposite end, her feet flinging bubbles to my face. She’d put her hair up in a loose bun on the top of her head and she looked happy as we took a bath. I closed my eyes to avoid the soapy water but laughed when her foot drifted to my waist to tickle me. Just when I thought I couldn’t be any happier, I manage to get surprised every time. By the time her foot stopped and I was done laughing, I looked at her only to see her watching me, a look of contentment on her face.

“What?” I asked. “What’s with the smile?”

“Nothing. ” She shook her head. “Nothing… Just that it feels like we’ve never been apart. I wish you didn’t have to be so far all the time. I love spending every day with you, or at least seeing you every day… Yah… You sure you want to be a Major League Baseball player?”

“Don’t jinx me,” I warned her and flung some bubbles her way.

She wiped it off her pretty face, but didn’t say anything. Still looking like she’s thinking, she said, “Joon-ah… I wish you could have been there to calm Samcheonpo down when Yoon Jin had the baby. You should have seen him, crying and carrying him.” She laughed at the memory. “You saw the pictures? He’s cute, right?” I nodded and she continued talking. “Have they said anything about your contract yet?”

“Nah… They usually wait til mid to end season to decide. I think my chances are good if I continue playing the way I am.” I looked at her for a reaction. I thought I saw disappointment in her eyes, but then the expression was gone. “We’re doing alright, though, aren’t we?”

“Yeah…” A small smile came over her face. “It’s so different from my last long distance relationship.” She paused, as if hesitant to tell me something. “Jagiya… Oppa… Jung Gook Oppa asked about you.” At the mention of his name, I looked at her. I didn’t know what I expected to see, but still I was surprised when she didn’t appear to be emotional about it.

“I didn’t realize that you two still saw each other,” I said.

“He’s a part of my life. Not like you are, but he’s a part of my life. He’s my brother.”

I narrowed my eyes at her use of the word, and wondered briefly if she’s told him about me. As if she read my mind, she said, “He knows we’re together. He has a new girlfriend now, too.” Though she said the words, I still find it so unbelievable that only three years ago, they were supposed to marry and now they’re back to being siblings. Unable to control the direction of my thoughts, I questioned in my head whether Jung Gook was hanging around to wait for me to mess up. “He’s almost done with his residency and will be a full fledged doctor soon.”

“Is that right?’ I asked. I couldn’t help the wave of insecurity that washed over me. Na Jeong could have been a doctor’s wife. Had my mother had her way, I would have been one too. I looked at my hands, calloused from playing baseball for so many years, and wondered if she preferred softer hands.

“What’s wrong?” She asked, looking at me closely. I was still trying to figure out what to say when she repeated herself. “Joon-ah, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t know…” I responded. “It’s dumb. My hands are too rough.” I looked up at her and saw her shaking her head at me.

“Come here,” she said. She motioned for me to come closer and when I did, she turned me around so I was leaning back on her. She flung her arms over my shoulder as she had me relax against her. She took my hands in both of hers and touched them gently. “I love your hands,” she whispered in my ear and I closed my eyes. “They’re a little rough around the edges, not perfectly smooth, but they’re beautiful hands. They have character. They have history. They’re strong… And steady… Just like you. Yours are the hands that I want to hold when I’m happy, or when I’m sad. Your hands are the ones that I want to hold through all my life. I would change nothing about them, or about you.”

My heart squeezed in my chest at her words. I don’t really know what I did to deserve such faith, but I’ll take it. We stayed silent in the bath together for an hour. The silence was comfortable and comforting. It felt natural, and made me feel as if we weren’t going to part again in a few days… Like we had all the time in our hands to just enjoy each other. The water now tepid, I was about to ask Na Jeong if she was ready to get out when I heard a soft snore by my ear. I looked at her and saw that she’s fallen asleep with her neck drifting back and forth. I put a hand behind her neck to support it as I tried to shake her awake. She opened one eye and gave me a lopsided smile when she saw it was me.

“Joon-ah… Not a dream right?” She asked, her voice sleepy.

“Nope, not a dream. I’m real.” I got out of the tub and went to get towels from the cupboard. I placed her arms around my neck and lifted her off the tub. Setting her feet down carefully on the marbled floor, I asked her to stay awake long enough so I can dry her off. I took the towel and patted her dry before wrapping her in it and carrying her to bed. Once she was tucked in, I went back to the bathroom and dried myself off before draining the tub. I went back to the bedroom and set my alarm for 7 a.m. Then I realized that I can sleep a little later because she’s here with me now. Resetting the clock for 8 a.m., I was about to turn the lamp off when I looked at her face. She looked at peace, and I couldn’t help but brush my fingers on her cheeks.

“Joon-ah,” she whispered, and I smiled. I laid down on the bed and her arms automatically went around my waist, her head landing on my chest. I took off the rubber band that held her hair up, knowing that she’ll end up with a headache in the morning if she forgot to, and closed my eyes. I can’t remember ever falling asleep so quickly.

*****

May 25, 2001
Na Jeong

When I woke up, Joon was already out of bed. I felt his side of the bed, still warm, and figured that he had gotten up not too long before and was tempted to go back to sleep when I heard conversation in the living room. Rising slowly from the bed, I looked at the view outside the windows appreciatively. The bedroom had the same floor to ceiling windows as the living room. The living room… Reminded of what Joon and I had done against those particular set of windows, and I felt my face flush. I walked carefully around the room and smiled looking at all my roses. Their sweet smell permeated the air and just smelling them reminded me of Joon in bed with that rose. I need to stop thinking about this… We have company. Shit… All my clothes are in the living room. I was about to open Joon’s closet to find something suitable to wear when I saw that he had already placed my jeans and a T-shirt on the side of the bed. I put my clothes on quickly and walked out to the kitchen, where Joon was sitting with his manager.

Joon turned to me as soon as I was within sight, as if he knew the exact moment I woke up. Our eyes met and he smiled at me. I felt a wide smile come on to my face and walked slowly towards him. He stayed sitting, and I pressed a kiss on the top of his head.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Morning jagiya,” he said, his face blushing. “Did you sleep well?”

I nodded my head in response and turned to Jung Jin Oppa. “Jin-ie Oppa, you’re here early.” Waiting for his response, I went to the pot of coffee already brewed and helped myself to a cup. I was looking in the fridge for some milk when I heard Joon’s voice.

“What… What did you just call him?” he asked.

“Jin-ie Oppa,” I responded. Joon’s eyes narrowed at his manager then at me. “Joon-ah… He’s older than me, and he’s practically family. What else was I supposed to call him?”

“AHJUSSI!!!!” Joon yelled, and my mouth opened in surprise. Jung Jin Oppa looked like he was about to start laughing. I blinked at Joon and wondered what the hell got under his skin.

“But Joon-ah, he’s your Hyung. I should call him Oppa,” I said gently.

“Then call me Oppa too.” He crossed his arms over his chest.

*****
Chilbong

“Jin-ie Oppa,” I heard Na Jeong answer as she was looking for something in the fridge. She turned around with the milk in her hands and she put it down on the counter. “Joon-ah… He’s older than me, and he’s practically family. What else was I supposed to call him?”

“AHJUSSI!!!!” Unable to control my temper, my answer came out a little more loudly than I intended. I glared at Hyung, who only looked at me with amused detachment.
“But Joon-ah, he’s your Hyung. I should call him Oppa,” Na Jeong said softly. I know she’s trying to diffuse the situation, but it’s not working. All I can hear is her sweet voice saying ‘Jin-ie Oppa’ and my gaze darkened. I found myself looking at my manager and examining him. Is he better than me? He IS handsome, I had to give him that. And he’s a good dresser too… He helps me pick out my suits. What the hell is wrong with me? Why am I looking at him qualitatively now? Na Jeong can’t call him Oppa.

I crossed my arms over my chest. I felt like a child, but it couldn’t be helped. “Then call me Oppa too.”

Na Jeong opened her mouth in shock. “We’re the same age!”

“I’m older by a few months,” I declared. “Try it… You might like it. Jae Joon Oppa or Joon-ie Oppa.” She started laughing at me in disbelief and I only got more annoyed. “Why would you want to call him Oppa anyway?” I asked, pointing at my manager. “He talks with his mouth full… And he forgot his Omma’s birthday!” Hyung shook his head at me and looked like he was trying to hold back a laugh. “You did!” I said to him. “Are you going to deny it?”

“Yah, Joon… Why are you using that against me? I don’t even know what the point of this argument is. I told her to call me Oppa… Because it’s polite.” He blinked at me innocently, and I got the feeling that he knew exactly what was going to happen as soon as I heard Na Jeong call him that.

Speaking of Na Jeong, she had finished fixing her coffee and was now sitting at the table with us. She was still frowning at me over her cup of coffee.

“Joon-ah… Why are you being so rude? Don’t talk to Jin-ie Oppa like that!”

Hearing her defending him, I stood up. “He has a belly!” I know I am being petty now, but I don’t care. Hyung looked like he was about to say something so I added, “You do! I’ve seen you with your shirt off!”

“Is that right?” He asked, mocking me. He shrugged out of his jacket and had his fingers on his shirt and said, “Should I take my shirt off then? So Na Jeong can compare?”

“HYUNG, NOOOOO!!!”

His shoulders started shaking as he started laughing, revealing a row of perfect straight teeth. He can’t be smiling like that… That’s usually when women start flirting with him. I looked over to Na Jeong, who raised her head from the magazine she was reading to look at me.

“Yah, Kim Jae Joon… Are you done now?” She asked, shaking her head at me. I saw her watch Hyung as he put his jacket back on with a neutral look on her face.

“Joon… I’ll see you at the game,” he said, picking up his sunglasses from the table. He turned to Na Jeong and smiled at her, “Jeong-ah… Have a good day.” He confidently made his way out of the apartment and closed the door quietly. As soon as the door was closed, I sat back down at the table.

Na Jeong continued to watch me silently. “Joon-ah…” She said. “Are you… Jealous?”

“No… Maybe,” I admitted. “Am I not allowed?”

“You can do whatever you want, jagiya,” she responded. “What time is your game done?”

“Ahh, I only have the game today. Huddle won’t be for a few more days. I should be back by 3:30 p.m. at the latest.”

“Should we go out when you get home?” She asked, and pulled out her copy of the travel book. “I did my homework.” I nodded at her and she smiled. “Jagiya… When are you leaving for the game?”

I looked at my watch before responding. “I have to leave in 45 minutes.” She stood up and walked towards me.

“Do you know how sexy you look when you’re jealous?” She asked, lifting my shirt up and I took it off over my head. “We have 45 minutes… Does sex before a game hurt you?”

I coughed and then cleared my throat. “Nope… In fact, studies have shown that sex before a game actually helps clear the mind and relax the body.” I swallowed as she traced her fingers down my chest.

“Well… I AM a supportive girlfriend. So I should do my bit.” She pressed her lips on my stomach and I lifted her as she giggled.

“You’re right,” I whispered. I lifted her over my shoulder as she shrieked and laughed and went to the bedroom, where we definitely used the 45 minutes to get me sufficiently ready for the game.

*****

May 29, 2001
8:00 a.m.
Na Jeong

I can’t believe that I have to leave today. I folded my clothes, just a few minutes ago in Joon’s drawers, back into my suitcase. I don’t want him to see me packing, so I’m doing it while he’s out on his run. He doesn’t admit to it, but I know he’s stressed about me going back home. All the time we were apart, I thought he was over here living it up, but now that I’ve been here with him, I’ve realized that it must be lonely here for him. I would know… Having lived in Australia those two years without my friends and family, it was difficult for me, too. Joon doesn’t show it, but I know it has to be hard.

I opened the bag that held the souvenirs for the gang and started wrapping them up in clothes to make sure the fragile ones don’t break. I counted them to make sure that everyone’s was there. Once that was verified, I sat back and laughed at how Joon reacted when I was insistent on buying a present for my friend Soo Hyun. Who knew Joon was so jealous? Even of a girl friend? If I wasn’t so jealous myself I would be mad. Alas, both of us are at least equally ridiculous.

I looked over all the pictures we took while I was here. We had gone on a ferry to see Alcatraz when he came home the afternoon on the 25th after his game. It had been a beautiful day, though Joon wondered why I wanted to visit a prison. The book said it offered a fantastic view of San Francisco and it was right. Afterwards we went to eat dinner at McDonald’s. We didn’t have anything to cook and I really wanted a burger.

We got up early the next day to go to see a restored carousel then went to a farmer’s market. We bought vegetables so I can cook dinner that night while Joon played at his game. I insisted on coming but he said it will just distract him so I just ‘helped’ to get him ready. I swear, if his body could be more ‘relaxed’, he could probably pass for a limp noodle. He came home about 1 a.m. and we ate a late dinner and went straight to bed.

He woke me up the next morning singing happy birthday. He served me seaweed soup, claimed he learned to make it years ago. We went to a couple of museums not far from the apartment and he took me on a private tour of San Francisco on one of the trolley cars. We held hands and enjoyed the city together. We went to a food fair of sorts afterwards not far from the apartment and ate from about twelve food trucks only because I was already full or I would have sampled them all. Every cuisine from every part of the world was there and it amazed me how different all the flavors were. America really was such a diverse place. I asked Joon what his favorite was and he still said my radish kimchi.He knows just the right words to make me happy.

Yesterday he finally had a day off and we took a two hour drive in a chauffeured car to Napa Valley. We took some tours of the vineyards and I felt like I was in a different country altogether… Separate from America. The day was lovely… Warm and just slightly breezy. We held hands the whole time and were given privacy by all the vineyard staff and visitors. We ate dinner at Bistro Don Giovanni and filled our bellies full of carpaccio and a salad of beets and haricot verts. He had steak frites and I had saltimbocca. To be honest, I felt like we were on our honeymoon. Despite his protests I got to drink as much as I wanted. I don’t know why he complains anyway. The only person I winked at and bit was him. He didn’t mind it so much when I was biting him in the car. He was doing his own share of biting, to be fair.

He always makes fun of me for wanting to do the simplest things. Dating someone like him was new for me too. I respect that he’s a public figure, but to me, he was always just Joon. The man I love. He took so much care in planning everything and I love him for that… But he really cracks me up when things don’t go to plan and he’s left scrambling and stewing about it. How can I tell him that I would have gone anywhere with him? Does he not realize how much I loved us just being a regular couple? I want to have a semblance of normalcy in our lives. Even if we both have to wear baseball caps wherever we go.

We made love every morning and every night. Sometimes teasing, sometimes playful… Until we remember that we will be separating again soon, and then it becomes poignant and tender. Joon knew how to touch me in a way that I felt… Cherished. His fingers wandered over me like I was something delicate, someone fragile. The tenderness in his touch puts tears to my eyes.

It’s been an amazing trip, and I was loathed to leave. I know I have to go back… My life is in Korea, but I wish my life with Joon and my life in Korea would finally meld. I feel like I’m starting from scratch every time we reunite. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s unsettling.

I quickly placed the last of my stuff in my suitcase when I heard him open the door. Walking out to greet him, I was surprised when he walked right past me and straight to the bedroom. I followed him, trying to figure out if anything was wrong, but when I got to the bedroom, he was just closing a drawer.

“Joon-ah… Are you okay?” He nodded and smiled. “How was your run?”

“It was good,” he replied. “Really good.”

I saw his eyes dart to my suitcase in the corner and his jaw clenched. My heart thumped painfully inside me and I struggled to find the words to say. Silent, he walked over to me and took me in his arms. I felt his heartbeat, strong and sure, and rested my head on his chest.

“You ready to go back?” He asked, his voice thick with some unnamed emotion.

“No… But I have to.” I buried my face closer to his chest, inhaling the scent of him. He smelled of happiness, if happiness had a smell. I wanted to fold him up and take him with me if I could.

“Hyung has to take you to the airport, since I have to leave in half an hour,” he said. He walked to his closet and retrieved a small box. Sitting me down on the bed, he crouched on the floor and gave it to me.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Your birthday gift,” he said. “Don’t open it until you get home. I’ll be embarrassed.” He put his fingers on my hair, and I wrapped my arms around his neck after setting it down next to me. He pressed his forehead to mine and spoke. “Four and a half months, jagiya… We just have to make it through that time. Then we can figure out what we’ll do from there.” He sat down next to me on the bed and held my hand. “I’m proud of you, Sung Na Jeong, for taking this on.”

“I love you.” Tears burned my eyes, and I fought to rein them in. Keeping our fingers interlocked, I looked into his eyes.

“I love you.”

“I don’t want to leave you…“

“You’re not leaving me… You’re leaving here. There’s a difference. I am only as far as your heart will allow me to be. You know that now, right?” I turned and looked at him, his expression resolute. I traced my fingers over his face and he met my gaze. He gave me a grin, then said, “You want to make out for half an hour?”

I laughed and nodded. We laid down in bed, our bodies touching, facing each other, both fully clothed. I looped my legs with his and looked at his face as he looked at me. I ran my fingers through his hair and then smoothed his brows. I felt his hand on my face, doing the same thing, then down to my neck. I felt overcome with love and I closed my eyes. When I felt his lips touch mine, I looked at him, still looking at me. Our hands intertwined, I kept my eyes open the whole time… To drink the sight of him in, and to show him myself, to show him my heart. He kept his eyes on me also, his gaze never wavering.

We kissed and talked, our tones quiet, for the rest of the time we had. When he left the apartment, I sat on the living room couch and looked at the sight he sees every day. I left him notes everywhere, reminding him to eat, reminding him to rest, reminding him to take care. I closed my eyes and sent all my good wishes his way. It’s all I can do at this moment in time, and I hope it’s enough.

Walking through the airport an hour later on my own, I realized some things. Goodbyes are always hard, and that there was just no way to prepare for it. Even if you think you’re ready, you never really are. You can get yourself ready, and brace yourself for it, but the moment of separation will never stop hurting. But then love is also a bit that way. You can never prepare yourself so much that the sensation of falling becomes not so scary. But I do it and Joon does it, because our future is just around the corner. Willing us closer, cheering us on. If we can just make it through this, we can make it through anything.

*****

May 29, 2001
8:00 p.m.
Chilbong

I spent an extra two hours at the gym after the game running. Still not wanting to go back to an empty apartment, I drove around for another hour to kill some time. Na Jeong won’t be waiting for me when I get home. There will be no smell of food cooking, no sound from the television. I won’t see her with her feet curled up under her as she spoke on the phone, or see her brows drawn as she read a magazine. The place will be empty, just like I feel. When I finally gathered up the courage to go back, it was already dark and I was exhausted.

I walked into my apartment building slowly and was surprised when John approached me.

“Mr. Kim!” He greeted. “You’re home. Welcome back.”

“Hi John, yeah, I’m back,” I responded. “How many times do I have to tell you to call me JJ?” I forced a smile on my face.

“Ahh, you must be tired… I hope you have a good rest. Good night.” I nodded and was walking towards the elevator when his voice speak again. “Mr. K… JJ, please thank Ms. Sung for me… I came into work today and I was given this by the day doorman.” I watched as he took a small package from his pocket. “She gave me a pair of little socks for my granddaughter, along with a note congratulating us. My wife’s gonna love it.” I nodded and gave him a small smile. “She also thanked me for watching out for you and asked that I continue to do so.” When I didn’t say anything, he gave me a knowing look. I bid him good night quietly and went into the elevator.

When I reached my floor, I walked to my door with heavy steps. I went into my apartment and heard the sound of the television playing. I don’t remember keeping it on. Walking towards it, I saw a note posted on it.

I used to keep the television on when I was in Australia… So that it didn’t feel like I was going home to an empty place. It helps.

Shaking my head, I looked around the apartment and saw that she’s placed all the roses that were in the bedroom all over the rooms. I went to the kitchen to grab a beer when I saw the note she left on the fridge.

There’s a plate in the microwave and food in the fridge for you. There’s plenty of rice for breakfast. Make sure you eat well and keep your strength up! I plan on living a long long life with you. P.S. Drink water after your game, not beer.

I opened the fridge door and saw that it’s full of ready made food, all labeled neatly and organized as to which side dishes go with what. Instead of reaching for a beer, I grabbed a water bottle instead. Realizing that I had forgotten to take my shoes off when I came in, I went back to the entryway and had my hand on the entry table to see another note peeking under the bowl where I leave my keys.

Jagiya, welcome home!

A small smile came over my face. I walked back to the kitchen and heated up the food that she’d already plated and placed in the microwave. I ate on the couch, the smell of roses in the air, and enjoyed the food that Na Jeong made for me. Afterwards I walked to the bathroom to see another note taped to the mirror.

One day, we’ll have a bathroom like this right? I really love taking baths with you. And the shower… You know I love showers just as much as you.

I took a quick shower and went to bed. I laid on my side of the bed for a long time, staring at her side of the bed, the pillow still in the shape of her head. I imagined her face like it was this morning, looking at me, her eyes shining with tears that she won’t allow to fall. I was about to close my eyes, my heart in my throat, when I spotted another note on the pillow.

This is the hardest part, I know. I do the same. Not long now. Good night, Joon-ah. I love you.

The tears fell as I clutched the note in my fist, I laid my head on her pillow and racking sobs came over me when I smelled her scent, still so fresh on it. The mask I’ve worn all day melted off and all I was left was the overwhelming feeling of her absence.

*****

Pacific Bell Park
San Francisco, USA
July 20, 2001
Chilbong

It was the beginning of the tenth inning. My team was leading 1-0 and I only needed to make it through one more round of pitching then I can be done. I’m not scheduled to pitch for a couple of days so I have time to relax my shoulder. The schedule in the Major Leagues was tough and relentless. We’re all either training or traveling or playing all the time. Sometimes I think it’s a miracle that a lot of baseball players are married. But in some ways it also makes sense. Home becomes more important when you never feel like you have one. The roar of the crowd was deafening and I had to concentrate. I closed my eyes and forced the world to quiet down. I thought of Na Jeong, her lips pressed against mine.

My shoulder has been feeling stiffer lately. Rotating it a few times before my actual throw, I thought it felt no more sore and stiff that it usually does. I went into my throwing position, my leg lifted towards my chest to maximize my velocity and speed. The batter ready, I released the ball in my hand. It landed in my catcher’s mitt. Two more throws. Almost done. Finish this, Kim Jae Joon.

It was on my second throw that I felt it. A sharp pain radiating from the ball of my shoulder down my arm. I kept my expression neutral even as I felt the pain persisting. Second batter. Do it. Keep your eye on the mitt waiting to receive the ball. The bat standing in between you and that mitt doesn’t matter. The batter is inconsequential. Nodding my head once, I threw the second pitch. Strike. One more. Just one more. You can do this.

My shoulder protested even the preparation of my throw. Forcing my eyes to stay focused, I finally threw the last ball. This game is over. Finally. My teammates crowded around me as we all congratulated one another. I managed to make it through our handshakes with our opposing team. I know some of those guys now, and though in this arena we were competitors we all respected one another and the lifestyle we lead. I pasted a smile on my face and then searched for Hyung’s face in the crowd. When his eyes met mine, his narrowed in concern.

While my teammates continued celebrating our win on the field with our fans, as we usually did, I made my way to the locker rooms on my own. Clutching my shoulder, I walked quickly, needing to figure out what’s going on. I’ve had aches and pains over the last few months but nothing so significant. The team trainer suggested non steroidal anti inflammatory pills and injections and they’ve been doing the job. But this, I thought as I sat down on the bench, this is different. Something’s wrong. My shoulder feels dead. It felt like if I let go, my arm will fall off. I gritted my teeth as the pain worsened, bringing tears to my eyes. I vaguely realized that the doors opened and that Hyung is now crouched down in front of me. My vision blurred from the pain as I struggled to focus on what he was saying.

“Joon-ah, are you okay?”

“Hyung… My shoulder. Something’s wrong… Something’s wrong.” I felt tears fall from my eyes unconsciously.

“We’ll figure it out.” He was calm but I saw the worry in his eyes. “Let’s get you to the doctor’s office. It’ll be okay. ”

I felt him help me up even as I held back a scream. My knees felt weak, and the world was spinning.

“Joon-ah, hold on just a little bit longer. We’re almost there.”

I tried to focus on his voice. Calm and soothing, it should have comforted me. But it was a deathly calm and even in pain I was uneasy. Na Jeong’s face flashed in front of me and that stilled the panic inside me for a few brief moments. Until the pain sharpened even more and I bit my lip to keep from crying out.

And then the world turned black.

*****

UCSF Medical Center
San Francisco, USA
July 21, 2011
Chilbong

When I opened my eyes, Hyung was standing by the window speaking quietly on the phone. As if he felt me watching him, he quietly said, “He’s awake. I have to go. Yeah I’ll call you later.” He walked over to my bed and sat down.

“Joon-ah, how are you feeling?”

“I feel a little loopy and I’m nauseous.” My mind felt spaced out, and I can’t remember a lot. Instinctively my hands went to my neck and I breathed a sigh of relief to feel the chain still on my neck, Na Jeong’s ring still on it. “What happened?”

“You blacked out and they gave you Morphine.” He was speaking to me but wasn’t meeting my eyes.

“What’s going on with my shoulder?” I asked. When he didn’t respond right away, I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and had to keep my voice calm as I repeated myself. “What’s going on with my shoulder?”

“Joon-ah… Maybe I should have the doctor explain it to you,” Hyung said. He pressed the nurse call light button and stayed silent. I continued to watch his face as he avoided my eyes.

A pretty nurse walked into my room with a warm smile. “Your call light was on. Did you need some help?”

Hyung flashed her his megawatt smile and answered smoothly in English. “He’s awake. Is it possible to speak to his physician? ”

“I’ll page him and let him know,” she replied before turning to me. “Are you in pain?” I shook my head no. “Are you nauseous?” I nodded my head. “Are you hungry or thirsty?” Again I shook my head yes. “Let me go page him. I’ll come back with some medication for the nausea and some crackers and soup. You have nothing in your belly and you probably shouldn’t eat too fast.” She grabbed the water pitcher from my side table before making her way out of my room.

Hyung and I waited in silence, not really knowing what to say. He looked like he was deep in thought and I didn’t know what to think. After a few minutes, my nurse came back with a medication cart. She put my pitcher down on my bed side table along with crackers and a bowl of soup. Then she drew up some medication into a syringe and approached me.

“I’m giving you some zofran for your nausea. It should help within a few minutes. I’d wait until then to start eating… You’re still getting fluids through the vein so hopefully you won’t be dehydrated.” She gently took the plastic line that connected me to a machine with a bag of what looked like water and pushed the contents of the syringe into the port closest to me. When she was done, she straightened her back and was getting ready to leave when I spoke, my voice hoarse.

“Thank you,” I said in English.

“You’re welcome,” she responded, a smile on her face. “The doctor is outside… He’s just reviewing your chart and the radiology reports, and he’ll be right in.” She addressed both me and Hyung, who was staring at her. She gave him a curious look before she turned her attention back to me. “Please call if you need anything. It’s the red button on that thing right there,” she said, pointing to a remote control looking thing on the bed. She left the room and Hyung was still looking at her. I shook my head and leaned back on the bed and waited.

It felt like the longest five minutes of my life. When the door finally opened, I looked up to see a doctor that didn’t look like a doctor approach me. He’s American, with warm blue eyes and a football player’s built. I looked at Hyung, and wondered if he was a student. He looked too young to be a doctor.

“Mr. Kim… We haven’t met yet. My name is Dr. Marc Stevens, I’m head of Orthopedic Surgery in this hospital,” he said, offering his hand to me.

I shook his hand then pointed to Hyung. “This is Mr. Jung Jin Lee. He’s my manager.” He shook hyung’s hand and then pulled a chair next to my bed.

“How’s your shoulder feeling?” He asked.

“I was told I was given medication so it feels okay right now… When can I go back to the field? My team is away now and I have to pitch in the next two games.”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible, Mr. Kim. You have a pretty significant superior labrum anterior and posterior tear. Let me show you what I’m talking about so you understand.” He brought out a picture of shoulder anatomy. “The head of your upper arm bone fits into a rounded socket in your shoulder blade. This socket is called the glenoid,” he said, pointing to a round looking object in the picture. “Surrounding the outside edge of the glenoid is a rim of fibrous tissue called the labrum.It deepens the socket and stabilizes the shoulder joint. It also attaches many of the ligaments of the shoulder, as well as one of the tendons from the biceps muscle in your arm. Are you two still with me?” I nodded as Hyung did as well. “The tear that you have is on the labrum. On the top part,” he said pointing at the picture, “both in the front and back.”

“What does that mean for me?”

“This tear is usually not serious enough to require surgery, but you also have a rotator cuff tear. Basically you have a tear in both the socket that’s holding your arm to your shoulder and the muscles that stabilize your arm and shoulder.”

“What… What are his options?” Hyung said and I was grateful. I was still trying to process the information that was just given to me.

“You can try non surgical therapies, but that would mean taking medications and injections regularly and you may not be able to play like you did before,” he answered. He paused for a few minutes, as if not wanting to tell me any more, “The other option is surgery. You can get total repair for both.”

“Will the surgery bring his pitching arm back?” Hyung asked.

“The chance of his playing again at his pre-injury level is higher than if he chooses not to have the surgery, but there are no guarantees. It depends on intensive physical therapy and his postoperative period. Surgery also means cutting him open, which means longer recovery time, risk for infection, risks from anesthesia, etc, and he can also have a re-tear.”

“But if I have surgery, I’ll be able to play again?” I asked.

“More than likely, yes. But… Not for between 8 months to a year from when surgery is done. Again…”

When I heard the figure, my stomach dropped. Even as he continued to speak, all I could focus on, were the numbers he gave me. 8 months to one year? A season is only 6 months. If I don’t have the surgery, I’ll never be able to play again like I did. If I have the surgery, it will take me at least a year and a half to even get on a professional team again.

“… all I’m saying is that this is a big decision and you should probably take some time thinking about it. You should probably speak to your family or…”

“His family is in Korea,” Hyung said as I sat in stunned silence.

“Well, speak to whomever is in your life. With either option, there will be changes and it will affect all of you. So I recommend talking it over with someone before making a choice.” Dr. Stevens stood up and shook my hand. “You’ll be discharged tomorrow with some oral pain medications. I can provide you with the name of another specialist if you would like a second opinion. And let your nurse know before discharge if you want a copy of your MRI reports… It’ll save you some time as opposed to getting them from Medical Records. I’ll be going as I have surgery in half an hour. If you have any more questions please have your nurse page me and I’ll send one of my residents to speak to you if I’m still in surgery.” He walked out of my room.

“Hyung,” I said softly. He looked at me with a determined look on his face.

“We’ll get a second opinion,” he said decisively. “We’ll get a second opinion. I’ll figure out what the top Orthopedic hospital is and we’ll speak to the surgeon there.” I stayed quiet, looking at the untouched crackers and soup. My heart was beating erratically in my chest and I tried to slow it down.

This is the life that athletes choose, I reminded myself. This is a danger when your chosen profession is completely dependent on your body being healthy and intact. I swallowed the lump that formed in my throat and told myself to calm down. We’ll get a second opinion. This is not the end.

“You should probably call Na Jeong,” Hyung said gently. He was looking at me with his eyebrows narrowed in concern.

“I’ll do it when I know more,” I said.

“She knows you’re in the hospital,” he said, and I looked up to glare at him. “What? You’re the one who gave her my number, and told her to bother me if she can’t get a hold of you. She knows what’s going on… But I still think you should tell her yourself.”

“I’ll do it when I know more,” I repeated.

Hyung looked like he was about to say something else when my nurse knocked then walked back into the room with another bag of water. She gave me a small smile and proceeded to do her job efficiently. Spotting the soup and crackers still, she gave me a look of understanding.

“Hospital food sucks. I know. The crackers are okay, though. It’ll help if you eat something. It’ll lessen the dizziness you’re feeling.”

I nodded and attempted to eat something. She finished up what she was doing and left the room. Hyung stood up and made his way out of the door.

“I’ll be right back. I have to call the Giants and let them know what’s going on. I’ll also ask the nurse for your medical records for tomorrow.”

Hyung left the room and I stared out the windows. I thought of Na Jeong and felt a twinge in my shoulder and my heart. I know I should call her, but she will worry. I need to gather all the facts before discussing it with her.

We’ve gone on in the last two months wonderfully. We’ve stuck to our two phone calls per day and e-mail almost four times a week. I thought for sure we were in the clear. I was certain that after this test I can finally move our relationship forward. Life, however, seemed to have other plans for me.

May 26, 2001
11:30 p.m.

“Good Morning, Mr. Kim.” The manager of the store greeted me with a handshake. I smiled and walked into the office.

“Thank you for letting me come in after business hours. I pass here a lot during my runs, but I’ve never been here. It’s a beautiful store,” I said.

“Thank you… We take pride in that. Mr. Lee called yesterday and said you had something specific in mind.”

“Yes… Uhmm, yes. I am looking for an engagement ring,” I said hesitantly. “I’m thinking of proposing to my girlfriend.”

“Did you have a setting in mind?”

“Not really,” I responded then cleared my throat. I am so nervous. “I’m not really good at picking out jewelry.”

“And your budget?”

“That is no issue.”

“Can you tell me about your girlfriend?” the manager asked, his eyes kind. “You’re not the first man to come here not really knowing what they want. If you describe her to me I might be able to give you some recommendations.”

“She’s beautiful, but very unique. She’s not really very flashy. She’s funny and kind. She’s the best woman I know,” I answered, feeling a lump form in my throat, I pulled out my phone and showed him a picture.

He nodded at me and pulled out a book. He flipped to a page and described it to me.”This is design is called The Legacy. It’s modern enough for a woman nowadays, but different enough that it won’t look like everyone else’s. I think this would be perfect for her elegant hands. Have you thought about carat weight?”

“Probably nothing too big. She works with computers. But… Is there a way that some stones can be added on either side of the main stone?”

“Yes, Mr. Kim… We can certainly do that,” he said, nodding. “We will stick to a 1.5 carat, color F, cushion set diamond.The modification you requested will take three days to complete, so… Would you happen to have her ring size?”

” Ahh, no… This was kind of an unexpected thing, but we can always get it resized, right?” When he nodded, I added, “That’s fine. I’ll come back and pick it up then.” We walked over to the counter where I paid the bill and he handed me a business card with a date.

“Here’s your appointment card, Mr. Kim. I have you down to pick up the ring on May 29 at 7:30 a.m. If no one is at the door when you come, just ring the bell as the weekend manager will be here.”

“Thank you for your help,” I said and shook his hand.

“Thank you for coming to Tiffany and Co, Mr. Kim. We really appreciate your business.”

I already picked up her ring before she even left but got so nervous going home that as soon as I saw her moving around in the apartment, I ran straight to the bedroom to hide the ring away. Maybe it’s a good thing that I didn’t ask. Because I know she would accept, and this problem that I have now will be hers as well.

I will call her when I know more.

*****

The Hotel Lucerne
New York City, USA
July 24, 2001
6:00 a.m.
Chilbong

I held my breath as I called Na Jeong. I’m not even sure if she has returned back from work yet. Since my injury, our phone calls have not been as regular… Instead of speaking twice a day, we speak every other day. The pain medications I have been prescribed makes me groggy all the time, and I can’t seem to keep straight what time of the day it is.

One night I woke up, and must have thought I was in Korea or something… I wasn’t sure because all my blinds were drawn in the apartment and I called her at 10:30 a.m… Not realizing that it was only 2:30 a.m. where she was. To her credit, she sounded up, her voice cheerful and happy to speak to me. As she always does. When I told her I can’t call as often as I used to, she said okay. When I told her I can’t e-mail as much as I used to, she also said okay. Whereas I used to get her freaking out or getting angry, since I have been injured she’s been more understanding and more sympathetic.

She answered after the first ring. Her voice was breathless, as if she rushed to take my call.

“Jagiya, how are you?” She asked. “I was just thinking about you. How come you’re calling so early?”

“Na Jeong-ah, I’m… Okay.” I answered. “Hyung and I have to see the specialist in two hours. I’m in New York City.”

“How was your flight there? Did your shoulder hurt a lot?” She asked, concerned. She didn’t say it out loud, but I can feel her worries permeating through the phone line and I felt choked, suffocated by it.

“Yeah, I’m fine, like I said.”

“Did you and Jin-ie Oppa speak to the management team… About your contract?” She asked gently, as if I was a fragile piece of glass.

“WE didn’t have to speak to them. They spoke to us.” I said, choking on my voice. “The Coach said that they have to wait for a second opinion to decide what they will do,” my voice broke and I took a deep breath. “Na Jeong-ah, those were the words on the paper they faxed Hyung. I can do nothing but get a second opinion, so that is what I’m doing.”

“Joon-ah… You should have let me come back,” she said.

“Why? This second opinion could be totally different and then you would have wasted your money for nothing. Let us handle this. I’ll let you know what they say.” She didn’t say anything else, and before she could, I haltingly said, “I have to go now Na Jeong-ah. I have to take a shower.”

“Okay,” she said. My new hated word. “I love you.”

“I love you too. I’ll call later.”

I hung up the call before she could mention anything else. Na Jeong liked definites. She offered to come back to America to be here at my consultations with me, but I know how she is. She’ll ask a lot of questions, and I’m not even sure if I have any answers to any of them. I know as much as she does.

I took a shower and quickly got dressed. I was already waiting for Hyung at the lobby when he came down. We took a cab to the Hospital for Special Surgery and was quickly ushered through to a private waiting room. I looked around me and realized that it is in this small beige hospital room that my fate could be decided. I took a few slow breaths to calm myself down, and told my heart to be prepared for whatever news I receive.

*****
Seoul, Korea
July 26, 2001
9:30 a.m.
Chilbong

“Joon-ah,” I heard Hyung’s voice waking me up. “We’re about half an hour from landing.”

“Okay.”

“You’ve been asleep for most of the flight. Are the painkillers still making you sleepy?” When I nodded, he looked at me closely. “Maybe you should stop taking them.”

“Hyung, what’s my alternative? If I don’t take them I wouldn’t be able to do anything. I wouldn’t even be able to dress myself. Tell it to me straight. It’s over, right? My baseball career?” I took a swallow from my water bottle and kept my head down.

“Joon-ah… The Giants will not be renewing your contract. They said you have been an asset but an unstable investment right now. The second opinion confirmed that those are our options. ”

“I figured as much.”

“You know even if this was the end of your life with baseball it’s not the end of your life. You can do other things. You can be other things.”

“What?” I asked. “My whole life has been spent preparing for baseball and baseball alone. I didn’t even have any favorite subjects at school. I thought my path was set. I was going to play baseball for the rest of my life. That was the plan. And now… I see it disappearing every day.”

“When we get to Korea, you’ll have Na Jeong and it might change your perspective. It’ll get a little easier with her by your side,” he reassured me.

“Na Jeong isn’t my wife. She’s not legally obligated to do anything.”

“You’ll be surprised what people are capable of doing for the ones they love,” he said.

“It’s not fair for me to ask anything of her. She has a life of her own.”

“I don’t really see how you can make that choice for her. If she wants to help you, then let her.”

“Until when? Until she gets tired of it? Until whatever she feels for me turns to resentment? Until she looks at her life, then at me and starts hating it and me?” I looked at him for an answer and he couldn’t give me one. “People don’t stick around when things get tough. They’re weak like that. I’ve accepted that.”

“Joon-ah…” Hyung said.

“It’s the story of my life, ” I interrupted. I looked out of the windows, lost in my thoughts. I’m not bitter but I know who I am. I grew up knowing how to make my own food… Learning to make ramyun from the packet, from the convenience store, from wherever. I learned to make my own rice and wash and fold my own laundry. I learned to set my clothes for school by myself and to not depend on anyone else to take me there. I tried to make myself as small as possible. To make my presence easier. To make myself unnoticeable. I learned to cry behind closed doors and to carry the pain on my little shoulders on my own. Because no one will comfort me. Because even if I had asked, no one would have comforted me.

Some children grow up knowing they were wanted and loved. Every single day of their lives. I wasn’t one of them. In the absence of my parents, in the absence of family, I turned to baseball. It was the only place where my existence had any meaning. Other people grow up having the freedom to choose to be anything they want, safe in the knowledge that whatever they choose they will still be accepted. Not me. Baseball chose me. When my parents rejected me, baseball chose me. And just like a nightmare, I was losing it.

Will I be losing Na Jeong too? Once I have nothing to my name and my future, will I lose her next? Will it happen quickly, like a hurricane that just passes through, destroying everything in its wake, but still leaving pieces of the past that you can identify? Or will it happen slowly, like a dying fire, leaving only ashes behind? I closed my eyes at the possibility and tried to tamp down on the panic inside my chest.

The plane landed and I was back on Korean soil. Hyung ushered me out of the airport quietly. For the first time in years, there were no reporters greeting me, no pictures being taken, no fanfare. It was the first time since I became a professional that I felt like an unknown. This was no hero’s welcome.

I put my cap lower on my face and kept walking until I saw a familiar face, frantically searching the crowds. Her face was worried as concern and love etched into her features. She started walking towards me with hesitant steps, then she started running. I dropped my bag on the floor and ran until I felt her arms around me. I breathed her in, and felt the tremble in her body as she clutched me close to her. She clasped my face as if I was someone precious. Someone worthy. Someone loved. Afraid of tears falling, I closed my eyes. I may lose her one day, and it may be soon, but it’s not today. Not today.

*****
August 11, 2001
9:30 a.m.
Chilbong

“Appa, how can I force him to come over for dinner if he doesn’t want to? Joon is his own person… You can’t order him around like he was a kid,” I heard Na Jeong furiously whisper on her phone. She was in the kitchen making breakfast and I had just come out of the shower. “Appa… How many times do I have to tell you not to just show up here?” There was silence for a few minutes before I heard her voice again. I stayed standing just behind the wall.

“Omma, I have to stay here. How can I leave him like this? He’s in pain most of the time, or his head is somewhere else from the medication. You can’t possibly expect that I will just leave. No, he doesn’t know that I have changed jobs now… Why should I tell him? He has enough going on.” She paused, as if listening. “Omma, the shower’s off, I have to go.”

I strolled casually around the corner and went to the kitchen. She looked at my face and put a too bright smile on hers. “Morning, jagiya,” she said. I nodded and sat myself down at the kitchen table. She placed a bowl of rice in front of me, before bringing the stew onto the table. I waited until she sat down before I spoke.

“Na Jeong-ah, who were you talking to?” I asked.

“It was just Omma and Appa… You know they’re worried about you. They want to see you,” she said, looking at her plate.

“Are they worried about me or worried about someone like me being with you?”

“What is that supposed to mean?” She asked, defensively. “You had a relationship with my parents before you even had a relationship with me. Of course they’re concerned.”

“Okay,” I said.

I don’t feel like arguing. It seems like all we do nowadays is argue or play nice. I’m always pushing for a reaction and she’s always walking on eggshells. For the week that I’ve been home, I’ve waited for her to ask me what’s going on, to insist on my honesty. But she’s said nothing.

We ate breakfast in silence and she walked over to the living room to turn the television on, just so we didn’t have to deal with the silence. As soon as she sat down, I was about to eat a spoonful of rice when I heard the newscasters voice.

“It has been confirmed that Kim Jae Joon-ssi has been dropped by the Giants for next year’s roster due to his midseason injury. We have yet to receive word officially from his management team, but will definitely let you know as soon as we have information.”

Having lost my appetite, I put my spoon down slowly and lean back on the chair. Na Jeong turned the television off and sat back at the table, pretending not to just have heard the news. She looked at me and she stayed silent. I see her eyes, prying, trying figure me out, and I put the detached mask on my face.

“Joon-ah, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Why didn’t you tell me you changed your job?” I spat back. I looked at her face and noted the shadows under her eyes.

She comes over here every night, not staying every night, to make me dinner or to clean up. Like she was my fucking maid. Or my mother. Increasingly I get the feeling that Na Jeong is here to be one of those women. One of the good women that stuck by their men through the hard times, all the while resenting them so that when they do leave, they can forever pat themselves on the back that they did right by their men. I would know, I was born by one such woman.

She hasn’t let me touch her in days. And I didn’t want to kiss her for fear that she will reject me. It’s like we’ve gone back to our friendship of old, the one that didn’t really exist. She got a new job for what, exactly? Didn’t she like her old one?

“Joon-ah,” she said resignedly. “I changed my job so I can save up some more money. I put my application in long before you even came back, right after I visited you. I thought it would keep me distracted, and I can save up quicker so you don’t have to pay all the time.”

“Why can’t I do that?”

She stayed quiet and I knew why. Because she didn’t want to say what I know she was going to say. You have no prospects. You have no job. You have no options. Your money is going to run out, just like your fame, just like your baseball ability. And I can’t count on you anymore.

I watched her as she avoided my eyes, and I felt like something was eating me up from the inside out. I felt like I was going to implode, so I pushed my chair back to leave the kitchen.

“Joon-ah… Are you coming to the baby’s 100 day celebration later?” She said quietly. “Samcheonpo and Yoon Jin are expecting you.”

“I can’t go. Apologize to them for me.” I said curtly.

“They’re your friends too.”

“Given the choice between me and you, they will always choose you over me. I would never have become a part of your gang had I not insisted on living at the boarding house.”

She kept her head down, tracing her chopstick over her bowl. She met my eyes over the table and said that one word, “Okay.”

As I walked off to the bedroom, I realized that she had no more fight left in her. She didn’t think this was worth fighting for anymore. She has already given up on me.

*****

August 17, 2001
4:30 p.m.
Chilbong

I heard the insistent beeping of the doorbell, and I struggled to get out of bed. Blinds drawn in the apartment, I almost stumbled over an unknown something before I could even get to the monitor. When I saw that it was Jung Jin Hyung, I opened the door and let him in. Entering the apartment, he took one look at me and shook his head. I sense the disappointment coming from him, but that’s nothing unfamiliar to me in the recent days. I hear it in my parents’ voice when they give me a friendly reminder that I need to figure out my life. I see it in my cousin’s eyes whenever he looks at me. I feel it everytime Na Jeong touches me. You’re a disappointment, the voices kept whispering.

I looked at him closely and though there were shadows under his eyes, he still looked fine. Still wearing a suit. Still able to laugh and function like a regular human being. I bet he’s not thinking about not being able to get married or not having a future. His future is stable, secure. Whatever happens to my career, Hyung will land on his feet and recover. I am glad for that, at the very least.

“Joon… About your CF contracts,” he started, a hesitant tone in his voice. “A few of the sports companies will not be renewing them.” His gaze met mine directly and I nodded. “I told them that this is a tricky time and that there’s a big possibility that you’ll recover, but you know that for those companies it’s all about what’s hot now and what the bottom line is.” I didn’t say anything.

“I get it,” I said, my voice hoarse. “That’s understandable Hyung.”

“Have you made a decision on what you’re going to do yet?” He asked, his eyes fixed on my face.

“About what?”

“About everything. Your shoulder. Your apartment in San Francisco.”

“No,” I said. “I don’t know what I am going to do. Either way, I’m screwed. Let’s call it like it is. Like the surgeon said… If I don’t have surgery I will never play again… Not the way that I’ve played since university. If I get the surgery, maybe I can play that well again, someday. There still aren’t any guarantees are there?”

“There aren’t any guarantees in anything, Joon,” he said carefully. “What do your parents say? And Na Jeong?”

“My parents are probably happy to be right and are just waiting for the perfect opportunity to throw it in my face. And Na Jeong… Na Jeong’s future shouldn’t be dependent on me.”

“Joon-ah… It’s okay to depend on other people sometimes.”

“Not when you’ve never had anyone to depend on. Then you learn to do it on your own,” I responded stubbornly.

“You can’t always do everything on your own.” He stood up and made his way to the door. “Let me know what you want me to tell your landlord in San Francisco… We can’t keep shelling out $10,500 a month on renting a place you’re not living in or are not going back to.”

Even after he left, I sat on the couch by myself, plagued by my thoughts, haunted by memories. I closed my eyes just for one minute, hoping that for once, the nightmare of remembering will stop. I keep hoping, but it never does. Seemingly knowing when it can prey on my already broken and doubting mind, it started again as soon as I fell into unconsciousness. They start out as memories, my nightmares, tempting me with thinking that I could have changed anything.

I heard a voice from the closet as I was playing by myself. It was Omma’s voice. My Omma. The most beautiful woman in my world. She had an angel’s face. Her voice was angry, disappointed. I scooted farther inside the closet I was hiding in.

“What kind of man gets married and has a kid and can’t provide? You promised me when we got married that we’ll have a wonderful life… You promised me this. But I’m working two jobs for what? To support your dreams? What about my dreams?”

“Just give me some time. Just a little bit of time. I’ll definitely make it and become successful. I still love you. You’re the mother of my child.”

“What the hell is the purpose of love if you can’t give me anything I need? I’m tired of this life. I’m tired of being a mother. I never wanted this. I’m done.”

“What happens to Joon?”

“You take him. You’re the one who wanted a kid. You’re the one who thought that having a kid would solve everything. And the stupid me actually believed you! It solved nothing! Having a kid just chained me to this sham of a marriage. So you take Joon.”

“I didn’t want a kid either. But you got pregnant, so what was I supposed to do? You’re so selfish… “

“You made me into this. I wanted a life. I wanted a career. I wanted to travel. If I hadn’t married you… If I wasn’t a mother, I could have become a good woman. Hell I could have been a great woman. Now I’m nothing. NOTHING! You chained me with that child. You think I wouldn’t leave? Watch me.”

The world was closing in on me and I felt the sensation of panic in my throat. I woke up to Na Jeong yelling at me. “JAGIYA, WAKE UP! Wake up!”

“I’m okay… It’s nothing…” I mumbled my reply to Na Jeong when she placed her hands on mine and asked me about my nightmare. She didn’t push for an answer but hugged me tightly before heading to the kitchen to prepare our dinner.

I stared at her retreating back. I was dreaming while I was awake. Is this dreaming now or remembering again? I don’t really know, my nightmares were reality from a distant past. But Na Jeong walking away from me, always walking away from me is also a familiar picture.

I leaned back on the couch, attempting to understand why this dream appears more than any others. My mind is too muddled to even try to make sense of it now. Because it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters anymore. Not to me. Not now.

Eventually my father’s dreams came true. And so did my mother’s. But it came with a price. That price was me.

The price was my childhood and my worth. To them, it hadn’t been a price worth paying, so I paid it. For the love that couldn’t be repaired. For the sacrifices they made. For the dreams they lost. For the sin of being born… And for the sin of existing. I paid it.

The ringing coming from Na Jeong’s purse roused me back to the present. I waited for her to answer it only to realize that she’d gone to the bathroom. I dragged myself off the couch and walked to the counter where her bag sat.

“Joon-ah, answer that for me, will you?” I heard her call out from the bathroom.

I went to her purse and saw her phone on the top. I had just picked it up when I saw what it had been lying on. I picked the box up and read what it is. I was still staring at it when Na Jeong came rushing out of the bathroom.

“Forget it, Joon-ah… I will answer…” Her voice trailed off as she saw what I was holding.

“What is this?” I asked, my voice soft. She looked stricken, panicked, but she didn’t say another word. “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?”

“Jagiya,” she said, her voice calm. “You’ve looked at it. What do you think it is?”

“Answer my fucking question, Na Jeong.” My voice sounded different even to my ears.

“I’m late.” She held her chin up. “Three weeks late.”

“Are you joking?” I asked her, incredulous. “You’ve gotta be kidding.”

“Does it look like I’m joking?”

“I thought you were on the pill.”

“I am on the pill. But I’ve been sick… Not that you’ve even noticed. You’ve been stuck in your own world for the past month. Antibiotics mess up birth control pills all the time.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “Nothing is 100% Joon-ah.” Her voice became smaller. “Would it really be so bad if you and I have a child together?” She asked, her voice shaky. “We talked about this before you left… You don’t remember?”

January 24, 2001

“Ahjussi, can you take our picture?” Na Jeong asked, approaching a man taking a walk in the park. He smiled at her and she handed him her camera. “You just have to press this button, but let us know first okay? Count to three then take it please.”

She walked towards me, a vision in a red dress and knee high boots. Her hair in a braid down her back. She stopped when she reached me and smiled.

“Na Jeong-ah, how many children should we have?” I whispered.

She looked surprised for a minute before actually thinking it through. “Hmm, maybe five? Enough for a starting basketball team.”

“Yah… I’m a baseball player. Why basketball?” I pinched her nose. “We need nine at least. For a starting baseball team.”

“How are you going to support all those kids?”

“Have you forgotten who I am? I’m a Major League Player. We will never have any problems supporting our family.” I kissed her forehead. “Let’s settle for seven then. My magic number.”

She nodded and smiled as she put her hand over my heart and I ran my fingers down her hair. I heard the faint click of the camera before Na Jeong spoke.

“Ahjussi… You didn’t warn us!!!”

The memory ended as quickly as it started. Angry at myself, angry at the world, I looked at her. “Times have changed. I no longer have a profession or a career. Don’t pretend you don’t know. What the hell kind of a father do you think I’d make? How can I have a child when my own life is falling apart? Na Jeong, wake up! Love alone will not feed you. It won’t buy you a house or provide anything else for you… It doesn’t set you free. I know the outcome of this story. I am the living example. I AM the outcome of this story.”

“That’s not true,” she insisted. “Love makes up for a lot. If this is about baseball…”

“That’s easy for you to say,” I responded with a sneer. “You grew up surrounded with love. You grew up in a family where everyone loved you and you knew it.” I looked at her, my jaw clenched. “Sung Na Jeong… The pearl on her Appa’s palms, the apple of her Hoon Oppa’s and Jung Gook Oppa’s eyes, and now I am twirled around your little finger…”

“And don’t you even dare to mention baseball to me… Aren’t you the one who always said I should be doing something else? Didn’t you always say you wish I never left? You wanted THIS and now you have it.” I watched coldly as she put her hand against the counter, as if for support. When she didn’t respond, I continued, unable to control the words coming from my mouth. She looked at me, her hands shaking, and her eyes filled with tears. “Do you even know what it’s like to not get everything you want? To wait for so long, to work so hard… To be willing to practically do anything to get it?”

“Joon-ah… Why are you doing this? Why are you saying this stuff?” She tried to touch my hands but I backed away from her.

“I suppose not. You wanted Jung Gook and you got him. You wanted me and you got me too. I wonder though, if I would have been half as attractive to you, had I still been that pathetic Chilbong from years ago. Probably not…”

Her hand met my cheek before I could even finished speaking. I felt the stinging pain where her hand landed but I continued on.

“I touched on the truth, right? That’s why you slapped me. Because it hurts to hear the truth. Believe me, that’s how I felt. Every. Single. Fucking. Time. When. YOU. Rejected. Me.”

She was shaking her head at me, tears falling freely from her eyes. “You don’t mean what you say. You’re just angry and hurt. You don’t mean it,” her voice broke at the last syllable and still, even in anger, my heart clenched. “WHO ARE YOU? WHERE’S MY JOON? I WANT MY JOON BACK!” She brought her fists to my chest, and I had to stop myself from reaching out and holding her.

I swallowed the weakness that I felt. “Didn’t you know? This was the person inside me the whole time.” I watched as she straightened her shoulders and picked up her purse. “Where are you going?”

“Kim Jae Joon-ssi… You’re a hypocrite and a coward. You ask me to be myself with you when the whole time you hide yourself from me. Are you scared that I won’t love you if I found out who you really are, or that I would? You keep hiding and you keep running from who? From me? I’ll save you the trouble. I’ll leave before you say anything else that you won’t be able to take back.”

Even as my heart wanted to beg her to stay, I hardened my resolve. No one understands. Not even her. “Of course you would be the first to leave.”

She looked at me, her eyes now dry and angry. “I may be leaving now, but you abandoned me long before this. Remember that. Make no mistake Kim Jae Joon-ssi. I love you, but I love me too. How long did you think I was going to let you talk to me like shit? You obviously don’t want me here, so I will give you what you want. And if I am pregnant, don’t worry… I won’t be needing any Major Leaguer money to support my child.”

I watched her walk away from me as quickly as she came into my life. She walked out without a second glance and I felt like I was punched in the stomach, except I knew it was because of me. There is something inherently wrong with me. I’ve become unglued and I wasn’t sure if I can be put together back again. I feel scared and tired… My body is in so much pain and 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 bright 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. I destroy everything I touch.

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. You’ve just proven why.

I lifted the vase on my table and threw it to the wall. My arm was protesting and I didn’t listen or care. I picked up a framed photo of us and threw it to the ground. I went to the kitchen and broke all the plates all the glasses and everything I could get my hands on. Even with my shoulder killing me, it didn’t compare to the pain threatening to annihilate me from within. I want proof. I want this place to reflect how I feel. On and on I continued, getting sick pleasure from the destruction all around me. When I was finally done, my eyes looked blankly around the apartment, the place where so many of my memories were made with Na Jeong. So this is it, I thought… How a life looks when it’s destroyed. I stood in the midst of it all, uncaring about the broken glass now cutting my feet. This is what I deserve… the rubble that now remained in my house and in my life is what seems befitting for someone broken like me.

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