Chapter Thirteen - One Answer
“I HOPE THAT you’re not on a strict schedule, miss.” The cab driver spoke over the incessant honking and cries of young girls. “I don’t think this traffic is letting up anytime soon.”
“Ah, really? You think?” I sighed, checking my phone for the time. 12:45. I had forty five minutes to get six blocks away for a job interview that I simply couldn’t botch. These days my mobile was simply a means of telling time and emergency calls, as the phone bill hadn’t been paid this month.
“I could still take you but we might be late.” The driver offered.
“No, no.” I reached for my wallet. “Thank you but I think I’ll get off here. What do you think is causing the holdup?”
“Oh, there’s some concert or meet and greet with some band. My daughters are going and they’re so excited. Oh... who are they going to see? B.A.P... EXO... BTS... it’s some acronym.” the driver explained.
“Ah... One of my friends said she was going to see Exo today. Maybe it’s them.” I handed my card to the driver. I peered out the window at the girls with their headbands with wings on them, lightsticks and posters. Groups of them passed by the car all giggling and some who were walking in the opposite direction were crying and almost hyperventilating.
“Probably.” He handed me the receipt and my card and I signed quickly. I thanked him quietly and slipped out of the cab before he could see that I didn’t give him much of a tip. I already had no money as it was and I wasn’t in a place to be overly generous, though I wished that I could have given him more.
I started down the block and did my best to navigate the crowd of teenage girls. I managed to accidentally bump into a few girls along the way and they always had something rude to say about it. I just mumbled an apology and continued on my way, even though it was getting harder and harder to move through the girls all wearing something EXO themed. I was right, it was EXO. That explained the deafening screaming.
“Maybe I’ll catch a glance of Sung Ah.” my mind wandered as I pushed through the crowd.
“Seo Kyung-ssi?” A voice nearby spoke ever-so-quietly and at first I didn’t hear fully until someone grabbed my arm and I turned around, ready to physically fight whoever was standing behind me. “Kang Seo Kyung! I was right?”
“Cha Hyun? Han Cha Hyun?” I exclaimed, doing my best to talk over the loud screaming of the girls around us. My old classmate stood in front of me looking no different than he did all those years ago. Sharp, angular face and eyes that could see right through anyone.
“It’s so good to see you!” he shouted. “Here to see Kai, I assume?”
“I have no idea who that is.” I called back. “Do you want to go someplace quieter to talk?”
“I... hold on a second.” Cha Hyun looked around for a moment and he turned around to whisper something to one of the girls in the crowd. “Yeah, let’s go.”
“Do you mind walking with me a little? I have a job interview not far from here.” I explained once the sound had become a dull roar in the background.
“No, I don’t mind. I’ve gotta get back soon, though, Da Mi is waiting for me.” Cha Hyun grinned his wide, knowing smile and we moved fairly quickly along the street. “Did you say you were going to a job interview?”
“Yeah, I’d rather not be late. I haven’t had a job in a while and I need to get out of the house.” I explained, trying not to tell him too much about my situation right off the bat.
“How are you? How’s the family? I haven’t seen you since you left school.”
I laughed nervously. “We’re all really good. Busy, really. We’re all kind of in job-search mode at the moment. Mom is in the hospital and we can’t afford it.”
“If you’re desperate for a job I think I might have one for you.” Cha Hyun grinned and my ears perked up at the thought of an easy job offer.
“Well, not to brag or anything, but I’m the manager of a noraebang not too far from here and we have a few positions open.”
“What would I be doing?” I inquired slowly.
“Probably waitressing mostly. Maybe a little bit of entertaining. Honestly I feel a little weird about offering this particular job to you since we just met, but since you’re my old classmate. Well, and you sounded desperate.” Cha Hyun spoke quietly and I had to strain to hear him.
“It’s okay. I’m willing to do almost anything at this point.” My brain fogged at the thought of money. Maybe I could finally get my phone paid for along with the hospital bill. “How much do you think I’ll be paid. They’re offering about 2000 won above minimum wage.”
“I’ll double that.” Cha Hyun decided firmly. “With tips of course and raises if you do well.”
“Are you serious? We’ve been in each others company less than half an hour and you’re already offering me a job. How can I believe you?” The offer was certainly tempting.
“Here.” Cha Hyun stopped and waved to a coffee shop across the street. “Want to sit down and talk about it? I can convince you that I’m telling the truth.”
“Don’t you have a girlfriend to get back to or whatever?”
“Who, Da Mi?” Cha Hyun laughed. “No, that’s my sister. She wants me to introduce her to Kai. She thinks that maybe now she’ll have a chance now that we’re out of high school.”
“Does she think you know him or something?” He guided me towards the cafe. “Isn’t he in one of the biggest idol groups of our time?”
“You’re kidding...” Cha Hyun paused once we were on the other side of the street. “You’re telling me that you don’t know Kai? I thought we both knew him.”
“I don’t know anybody by that name.” I shrugged. “Shall we go in and talk?”
I pushed open the door of the cafe, my interview forgotten. I turned when I realized Cha Hyun wasn’t following me. He stood there, staring at me with his lips slightly parted in surprise. He mumbled something under his breath like “How can she not know who he is?” before following me into the cafe.
Over tea and coffee, Cha Hyun gave me a job before running off to Da Mi to make sure everything happened the way she wanted it to. I suppose that was when his plan really started.
JONGIN SAT ON her couch and stared at her movie cabinet. Seo Kyung was in the kitchen doing the dishes and supposedly making snacks but she was taking forever to do so. She told Jongin to pick a movie but she had a limited stash. No matter what he picked, it’s not like he really paid attention to the movie anyway.
He looked over to see where Seo Kyung was in the process and he was pleased to see that she was almost done with the dishes. She was scrubbing the rice cooker with a hard vigor, as if the rice inside had no plans on leaving their desired resting place. Her hair was up in a messy bun that’s only purpose was to keep hair out of her face, which it was doing poorly. Strands of wavy hair fell along her cheek and in her face. She kept trying to blow them out of the way but with no luck.
A smile crept onto Jongin’s lips as he watched her scrub and pick at the rice stuck in the pot. Her hair was in her face, which wasn’t helping her growing annoyance. turned up in a scowl and her eyes hardened. This rice was going to come off by whatever means necessary. Jongin knew he was screwed. She looked stunning even while doing the dishes, effortlessly beautiful, and Jongin knew that if that was the case she would look beautiful doing anything.
Jongin rose to his feet and crept into the kitchen as quietly as possible. He moved to stand behind her, which he suspected she knew since she moved closer to the sink to let him by. Instead of moving past, Jongin reached forwards slowly. Gently, his fingers guided her stray hair behind her ears and his hands rested on her shoulders, his lips grazing her hair as he spoke.
“Do you need any help?” he asked, taking his time breathing in so he could smell her fruity shampoo.
“No, thank you.” Seo Kyung shoved him off using just her shoulders and Jongin backed off. “Go pick a movie like you’re supposed to.”
“Jagiya.” Jongin started in his head, but decided not to address her like that. “Boil a bit of dish soap, vinegar and water in there. The rice will come right out.”
“I’ve got this under control.” Seo Kyung muttered.
Jongin chuckled and went back to his spot on the couch to watch. Seo Kyung continued her scrubbing and scraping for a good five minutes before she turned to scowl at Jongin, who pretended he hadn’t been watching her. She gathered dish soap, vinegar and water together and did just as Jongin told her. The smell of boiling vinegar filled the house in no time, which Seo Kyung decided to cover with the smell of microwaved popcorn.
As she shuffled around the kitchen in her sweatpants, wrinkled school t-shirt, and messy hair, Jongin decided that he had never seen anyone more gorgeous than her. Jongin had seen her in a dress, a dress that hugged her body in all the right places and made all of her movements beyond graceful. He had seen her in her wrinkled school uniform after three hours of sleep and still longed to touch her. He had seen her when she was in the middle of flus and colds and even a pretty bad case of appendicitis and all he stuck by her side through everything. There was no one else in the world who Jongin wanted to be next to. Seo Kyung was it. The end of the line. The only one he could imagine the rest of his life with.
The popcorn had finished popping ages ago, but Seo Kyung was still working on cleaning the pot. Her hair fell in front of her hair even more and Jongin had to fight getting up again to brush it out of her face. After a little more scrubbing, Seo Kyung tossed the scrub brush in the water with an agitated “Aissh!” and went to find a bowl for the popcorn. Jongin watched as the annoyed girl shuffled around the kitchen preparing a bowl of popcorn for the two to share. She found a bowl large enough for three bowling balls and eventually decided to make another package of popcorn, without asking Jongin of course. Not that he minded.
“Stop looking at me.” she mumbled.
“What?” Jongin tore his gaze away and turned it onto her movie cabinet. “I wasn’t...”
“Just pick a damn movie.” Seo Kyung sighed. She sighed again, this time with relief, when the popcorn was done and she emptied the package into the bowl.
Jongin picked a random movie from the shelf- it’s not like he was going to pay attention anyway- and stuck it into the DVD player. He plopped down on the couch and flipped the TV on with the remote on the coffee table. When Jongin looked up, Seo Kyung was heading his way with the bowl of popcorn and he grinned. He took the bowl from her and set it on the table in front of him before he laced his fingers with hers and tugged. Almost without thinking, Seo Kyung let herself be pulled down onto the couch and she rested her head on Jongin’s lap. She pulled the large bowl of popcorn into her arms, letting it find a comfortable spot where her body bent. Jongin draped his arm over her body, partly pretending that it was so he could have better access to the popcorn.
Seo Kyung pressed play on the movie, not bothering to ask about Jongin’s choice. She stopped worrying about Jongin’s random choice of movies years ago. She figured that he just didn’t care what they watched on their movie nights, it was really just an excuse to sit and eat junk food and talk about how bad a movie was for two and a half hours. Seo Kyung had stopped caring about the movie choices ages ago herself. It was entirely up to Jongin.
Jongin lost track of the plot of the movie ages ago. Jongin was more focussed on the unbearably salty popcorn Seo Kyung decided to shove into his mouth from time to time. He never really had to move his hand from its spot on her waist since she did all the hard work for him. Instead, he took to playing with the hem of her shirt, the pads of his fingers occasionally grazing her skin. She either didn’t notice or didn’t care because she made no move to move away from his touch or get him to stop.
The movie this time was an English rom-com that Jongin especially had no interest in. Romance wasn’t his style, he stuck to action and some various melodramas. Romantic comedies weren’t his style. However, since he knew that Seo Kyung liked them he kept watching. Near the end of the movie, Seo Kyung’s whole body tensed when one of the actors spoke and tears welled up in her eyes.
“What?” Jongin snapped out of his haze when he realized something was wrong. “Did one of them say something?”
Seo Kyung turned over to lay on her back and she looked up at her best friend. Jongin’s hand reached out and caught the popcorn bowl before it fell of the couch. He looked down at her for a long moment before the words left her lips.
“How long have you been in love with me?”
“WHAT DOES HE want me to say to that?” I exclaimed in the bathroom mirror, clearly startling the pair of ladies leaving behind me. “How long have you been in love with me? I haven’t seen him in seven years and that’s what he wants to know?”
Talking to myself in the mirror clearly wasn’t going to answer any of my questions, but that was what I was set on trying to do. After ten minutes of questioning myself in a similar manner, there was still only one answer. How the hell was I supposed to answer that? After seven years had the love really gone away? Could I even pinpoint the moments when I could feel myself falling in and out of love with my best friend? Of course not, there were far too many to count. My heart had fluttered more than once for Kim Jongin and who’s to say that it hadn’t in the past day or so? What kind of question was that?
Who was to say that I didn’t fall in love when Jongin reached over and took my hand on the way to school when we were in first grade. Or maybe it was when he came over to my apartment with his new puppy, his wide grin still beautiful despite the fact that he’d lost several teeth. Or maybe it had been that time after his dance recital and his parents and I waited out in the lobby for him and when Jongin came out he ran across the lobby as fast as his twig-like legs could carry him and his entire body slammed into mine. Jongin’s body completely engulfed mine and his face rested in the crook of my neck. Only moments later, he pulled away to wrap his arms around my waist and lift me into the air, eliciting a cry of surprise from my lips.
There was also when I saw his first kiss, the one that ripped my heart out even though I wasn’t entirely sure why. At the time I liked him, of course, and my heart was like lead whenever I thought of him with Hwa Eun. On multiple occasions, my heart would race for him and all I wanted was to be with him. Other times he couldn’t make my heart flutter even if he tried.
So, perhaps even though I wasn’t going to say it to his face, there really was only one answer I could give. An answer that Jongin probably already knew.