“You what?” Jimin yelled to be heard over the sound of The Stage’s house band who’d just started up a grunge version of ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.’
“I kissed him,” Haerim said, the words no easier to spit out the second time around. Stupid, stupid, stupid, she sang inside her head along with the chorus.
“I thought you already had. By the cab. And at his office.”
“I kissed him again.”
“At his family home. In his childhood bedroom, with sailing ships and baseball mitts watching over us.
“It’s worse. My hand was on his…you know…when his mum walked in on us.”
Jimin clutched her stomach and fell to the couch they had staked out at The Stage a couple of hours earlier.
“We barely spoke on the way home after,” Haerim said, “Then he walked me to the door, kissed me on the cheek and went home.”
Between clutches at breath Jimin managed to get out, “You tell me I crave dysfunctional relationships—but, honey, you take the cake.”
“It’s not dysfunctional. We’re merely…renegotiating the terms of our mutuality beneficial agreement.”
“Until one day I come to work and find a tie hanging on the door handle.”
“No,” Haerim said. Then, “I don’t think so anyway. We haven’t discussed it yet.”
“You haven’t discussed ? Sweetie, I saw his photo. You don’t discuss sleeping with that. You just hold on tight and enjoy the ride.”
Haerim swallowed. Not that it helped. The lump in at the thought of holding on to Byun Baekhyun, enjoying Byun Baekhyun, riding Byun Baekhyun was immovable. Much like the guy himself. From the second he’d come knocking on her email he’d loomed larger than life.
“It was right that we stopped,” Haerim said, straightening.
“Why on earth?” Jimin asked, eyes large with astonishment.
“It’s really not. You take your clothes off, kiss a bit, he puts his—“
“It’s temporary!” Haerim nearly shouted to stop Jimin from putting in any more images inside her hear. Baekhyun was in there now, as it was, his hot-as-a-furnace skin all glistening with sweat.
“The majority of love affairs are temporary, hon. But that doesn’t diminish the possibility the next one might become something more.”
“Baekhyun’s not a possibility, Jimin. He’s like the door of a bank safe— all big and hard and shiny and tempting, but impossible to get through.”
“Knock harder. There’s treasure behind that door.”
“Maybe,” Haerim said, frowning.
“Oh, sweetie,” Jimin said, dragging herself upright to hold Haerim by both cheeks. “You should see the mope you have on right now. You like the guy. For real. He might be pretending, but you’re not.”
Haerim shook her head—hopelessly, as it turned out, because Jimin had caught the arm of a waiter and was flirting him into getting free drinks for them. Leaving Haerim to think it out on her own.
She liked kissing him. The man had skill.
She liked pretending to like him. It was great fun. A caper.
She liked Baekhyun too. How could she not? Every layer she managed to laboriously shave away only revealed more to like beneath. And more to make her certain that despite the perfect appearance, Baekhyun was a true fixer-upper.
But…But what if she found the combination to unlock that door and discovered that his odds at finding and keeping love were as dim as the rest of the poor saps out there? What hope did she have then?
“Good God,” Jimin uttered. “No wonder you felt him up all over.”
Haerim blinked and turned to Jimin who was staring at some point over Haerim’s shoulder.
“Here’s a love formula for you: those eyes plus that mouth plus, oh my word, what beautiful fingers equals…”
Right as the band hit a crescendo of onerous drums, screeching sax and groaning bass guitar, Haerim turned and found herself looking at Byun Baekhyun. He was making his way through the crowded bar, smiling at anyone who caught his eye, and unless it was a coincidence of the highest degree he was looking for her.
“What’s he doing here?” Jimin asked.
“I have no idea. I mean, I might have mentioned I’d be here tonight, but not in an invitation sort of way.”
“Well, he’s here—and he’s not alone.”
Haerim dragged her eyes away long enough to see Baekhyun had an entourage: a collection of shiny gorgeous things behind him looking around The Stage, taking in the mismatched chairs, the shabby old couches covered in faded velvet, the bad acoustics, the scratched and dented vintage signage.
Her hearth thundered against her ribs as her hand went to her hair, which had long since gone to curl. Her skinny jeans, ballet flats and layered tanks were good only for dancing, which meant the likelihood was that her mascara had long since turned to panda eyes.
Finally Baekhyun’s eyes found hers. Dark, intense, mysterious. She lifted a hand and his mouth cocked into a half smile which was different from the one he bestowed upon strangers. Gentler, warmer—just for her.
I know this man, she thought in a moment of wonder. I’ve kissed this man. I’d really like to kiss him again.
Jimin was right, she th