Apologies for the long delay!
The following day, Haerim sat in the foyer of Dating by Numbers, humming to herself. Her eyes roved happily over the golden-framed artwork, the fresh flowers on every surface, the discreetly frosted glass walls, the thick white carpet that must be a to keep clean.
With many online businesses run from home offices these days, instead the dating site took up the top floor of a beautiful old building in the quieter part of the city. It seems there was a lot of money to be made in facilitating the search for true love. And in random hook-ups, one night stands, invites to friends of friends’ weddings…
“Haerim? Jung Hani,” said a tall, elegant woman with a slick dark bob. She could have been aged anywhere from mid-thirties to mid-forties.
Haerim pulled herself from the overly soft couch and shook the woman’s hands, before following her through padded velvet doors into a discreetly elegant office beyond, where on a tidy desk sparkled two big glass bowls—one filled with packets of chocolate, the other with condoms.
“So you joined the site?” Hani asked as they sat, her long red nails wrapped around the handle of an old-fashioned china coffeepot as she poured without asking how Haerim liked it.
Haerim reached into her bag for her yellow legal pad. “I did. A few weeks back.”
“And what did you think?”
“It’s very thorough. As a researcher, I like thorough.”
Hani’s smile didn’t reach her eyes. “And you’ve found someone?”
“Excuse me?” Haerim said, wondering if it was written all over her face that she’d been on the receiving end of some very hot and thorough loving only a couple hours before, when Baekhyun had turned up at her door before work for a breakfast special.
“You mentioned a case study in your email?”
“Oh. Yes. Well, studying him, getting the man’s perspective, has been most helpful.”
“I see.” Hani clearly saw plenty, as that time the smile did reach her eyes. “Then my job here is done.”
“No,” Haerim said, her cheeks threatening to ripen like a tomato. “It’s not like that. We’re not…romantically involved.” Financially, ually, mutually helpingly, at times frustratingly, but not romantically.
After he’d left that first night she’d found the dossier. Her heart had fluttered as she’d opened it, her stomach tumbling as she’d giddily imagined what he’d revealed to her only to find a few random titbits such as his favourite soccer players, how he liked his coffee, the phone number of the best dry cleaner in Gangnam. She’d thought he’d turned a corner. Instead he’d given a lollipop to quieten a noisy toddler.
And while Baekhyun might be charming, hot as the sun and could make her melt with a whisper of breath, the touch of his lips, the slide of a hand, even after he’d given her the most exquisite if her life, she didn’t feel any closer to breaking down that door.
“So, honey,” said Hani, gently breaking into her reverie, “what do you need from me?”
“Well, okay,” Haerim said, pulling herself together. “I have the preliminaries down. Stats nearly done. The who, how old, how many—the dry substance. But it always helps to have a hook. A cheeky bite to get people talking over the water cooler. I had a crazy idea for a formula—“
She shook her head. It wasn’t going to happen. Not right now anyway. Maybe one day. Maybe she’d have to rely on her own experience to nail that one.
“Now I’m thinking about the lies people tell in the search for The One.”
“Age, weight, interests, experiences. From what I saw, people lie about everything. But how will they ever be able to find someone who loves them just the way they are if they’re not being honest about who they are?”
“You’re a romantic.”
Hani’s laughter twinkled with just the right quality. Haerim shot her eyes to the glass bowls, afraid they might shatter.
“We discourage it, of course, in our welcome pack—lying about oneself, not romance—but you can’t stop people from morphing the truth. It’s human nature. I blow-dry my hair, put on make-up, wear high heels. I’ve laughed at jokes told by men wh