Fourteen

Small Universes Around Us
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Hongdae —— 2005

The repeated knocking on her door forced Haeun up and out of bed long before she wanted to. It was 1pm and honestly speaking, she should’ve been up by now but it was the weekend. She deserved this.

What she didn’t deserve was stumbling out of bed and swinging her front door open to stop the banging on her door. 

“What.” She hissed, with a glare. 

Her neighbour, Lee Taeyong blinked at her, glancing at her rumpled pajamas and messy hair before holding up a box, “Your package was delivered to my place.”

She glanced down at it before staring up at him, aghast, “And you had to wake me up for it? You could’ve just left it by my door.”

“I woke you up…at 1pm? Really? What is your life?” He asked. 

She growled and snatched the box from him before slamming the door shut. 

To most people, she would describe Taeyong as her next-door neighbour. In her head, she’d describe him as her mortal enemy. 

Okay, maybe that was a bit dramatic, but that wasn’t her fault. 

She was an adult, but sometimes being an adult was hard and taxing. Sometimes she liked waking up in the middle of the day, eating greasy takeout as meals, and binging trash tv. 

Taeyong was a lot different. 

When she was up at noon, he had been up since dawn (a discovery she made when she had a flight early and was in her car, half-awake just as he left his place in his jogging clothes). 

When she opened her door to get her delivery food, she’d see him carrying fresh groceries from the nearby organic market. 

And when they had to make awkward small talk in front of their yards, he’d be talking about some pretentious foreign film while she was watching life hack videos on her phone. 

And he was insanely attractive. 

There was no way his face was real.

They were not the same and rarely interacted but there was something about him and the way he spoke to her that made her feel like he thought he was better than her. 

She was a freelance writer and he was a fancy tech developer. There wasn’t a lot of crossover and although their sparse conversations were very generic, she had built him into her enemy in her head. 

He seemed like he had his life together, she often felt like she did not. 

Go to hell, Taeyong.

The rest of the week was exactly like this, every time she did something a bit clumsy or uncouth, he’d be in the vicinity to bear witness to her while he was doing something productive, healthy and intellectual. 

It was particularly embarrassing when he was watering his plants (because apparently he has time to garden) and he watched her go through a cycle of emotions when she realized that she had lost her house keys. She could tell he was staring at her, probably waiting to see if she was going to chuck a brick through her window but she had just spun on her heel and drove off to the plaza around the corner until the locksmith came. 

But of course, she loved outdoing herself, like the other day when he was walking his dog and watched, from the other side of the sidewalk, as she chased after the bus, her jacket half on and her purse hanging off her elbow. Her hair was still wet and just as the bus drove away, the coffee in her travel mug spilled over her mis-buttoned shirt. All because she forgot to fill her car up with gas and accidentally set her alarm to PM instead of AM.

She collapsed on the bus bench, tired and out of breath when she noticed him staring. Embarrassed, she pulled her phone out and dialed the editor that she was working with to tell her that she was going to be late. Haeun glanced at Taeyong from the corner of her eye. Her editor picked up and she relayed the message while seeing Taeyong look over at her one more time before his dog started to pull on his leash.

A ty, ty day.

But when she was finally home, she was able to stretch out and relax for the first time that day. She took her time showering, changing into something warm and heating up some leftover takeout. She had her tv playing and felt her eyes growing heavy as the night went on when someone rang her doorbell. 

She froze, her parents never came over without calling first and the same went for Mark and her friends. Standing, she crept towards her door, picking up an umbrella and peeked through the window. Her umbrella dropped before she opened the door out of pure shock. 

“What the hell happened to you?”

It was a sight to behold, she almost wanted to get her phone and take a picture. 

Taeyong was standing in front of her, drenched from head to toe despite the skies being clear. His shirt was muddied and half-untucked and his hair was sticking out at all angles with pieces of leaves stuck to him. His arms were scratched up and he was shivering. 

“Ruby ran out through my backyard and escaped to yours. I tried to climb the fence but I didn’t see the tree on the other side. I got stuck in there for like 15 minutes and when I got free, your sprinklers .” He grumbled, his hair dripping onto his face. 

Haeun’s teeth were digging so hard into her lip that she was sure she was going to bite it straight off. The entire thing was hilarious, she had forgotten to turn off the automatic timer on her sprinklers. She couldn’t believe that he was climbing and running around her backyard and she hadn’t heard a single thing. 

“Just laugh and get it over with.” He muttered. 

God, he was almost cute. 

Her heart was doing backflips out of joy, she had never seen him so rattled and out of sorts. It was like the universe finally gave her a reward.

“Why didn’t you just knock on my door?” She said, muffling laughter. 

He kept his eyes averted, “I thought I could get her back faster this way.”

“And did you?” She mused.

He frowned at her but just looked like a cat that just took a bath, “I wouldn’t be standing here if I did.”

She finally grinned and stepped back, “Come in, try not to drip on anything.”

Taeyong walked in and she led him to her backyard, “Do you know if she’s still out there?”

“Yeah, I saw her hiding under your patio furniture. You should really get covers for those, by the way.” 

Haeun shot him a look before pointing up to her stairs, “My bathroom is on the left, go dry off, I’ll try to bring her in.”

Taeyong didn’t argue and Haeun slid the back door open and scanned her furniture until she spotted a tiny ball of fur staring at her from under the chair. The dog was shivering, drenched in the same water that soaked Taeyong through. 

Haeun crouched down and held her hand out, making little kissy sounds, “Hey baby, your dad’s been looking for you. C’mere sweetie.”

Ruby perked up and took a few tentative steps towards her, eyeing her cautiously before scurrying into her lap, “Aww, that’s a good girl.”

She scratched Ruby’s ears and hugged her before standing and bringing her into back into her house. Taeyong had a towel around his shoulders and had another one in his hands, outstretched to take Ruby from her. Just as he reached for her, the puppy barked and snuggled into Haeun. 

Haeun chuckled, “Looks like someone is pissed. What’d you do to her?”

“Nothing! She’s just being fussy.” He grumbled. 

Haeun bent down and set Ruby on the floor but she stayed near Haeun’s feet and just stared up at Taeyong indignantly. “I think she’s trying to make you jealous.”

He glared at his pup, “I’ll leave you here, missy. I don’t care. Try me.”

“You’re so cute.”

Taeyong jerked his head up and gaped at Haeun. Colour drained from her face before she looked down at the dog, “Ruby. I was talking about Ruby.”

“O-oh right…” 

“Did you want like tea or something? To warm up?” She asked awkwardly. “Might give her some time to stop being angry at you.”

He stared at her, his brows furrowing before he let out a sigh, “No, it’s okay. I’ll just take Ruby and head back.”

“Of course you would.” She muttered while turning away. 

He blinked at her, “Excuse me?”

“Look, it’s not like I took your dog or anything. You’re the one who came over to get my help, you don’t have to act like being around me is somehow beneath you.” She snapped. 

Ruby’s footsteps and the clinking of her collar were the only sounds in her house as Taeyong stared at her, bewildered by her outburst. He spent a full 5 minutes just staring at her before the shock morphed into confusion, “Wait, what are you talking about?”

“I get it. I’m a mess, but would it kill you to at least have some tea?”

He tilted his head at her, “I don’t think you’re a mess.”

“Oh please, you’ve seen me at the bus stop, at my front door, in the middle of the day. And I've heard your little judgy snipes when you try and give me advice. I know I scream I don’t have my life together.” She said while looking away, his gaze was too heavy. 

He scoffed, “Is that what you think? I’ve never thought you were a mess. I’ve never judged you.”

“You literally stop and stare like I’m a walking car accident. Plus you literally said what is your life, to me.” She spat.

He looked stunned, “Yeah, because I was genuinely curious. You don’t have a regular work schedule because you’re always out at odd times so I wanted to know what you did for a living. And I stare because you’re really ing pretty and no matter what situation you’re in, you refuse to ask for help, even if I’m right here waiting for you to ask.”

“Wait.” Her eyes were wide and was dry, “Hang on. Hang on. Wait. What?”

He let out a huffed breath and to her shock, a blush started to grow, “Ever since I moved in I’ve noticed you. You’re so beautiful and when you get embarrassed or shy you’re like the cutest thing on this planet but I never know how to talk to you. I thought maybe you just like to keep to yourself. I didn’t want to bother you. I just…I’m just not great at talking to you. I end up boring you. I thought maybe when you locked yourself out or missed your bus that you might ask me for help and that would be my chance to get to know you but you never would.”

“I—oh. All this time I thought you hated me because of how lazy and disorganized I must seem compared to you.” She mumbled. All this information was making her dizzy. He thought she was beautiful? This entire time she thought he was being pretentious and snotty but he just wanted to get to know her. “You always seemed so together and I’m…well not.”

Because he liked her.

His eyes were wide, “No! I always thought that you were cool. You did what you want, how you want. You never pretend to be anything for anyone. I admired you. I’m sorry if I—wait, does this mean that you hated me?”

“Only a little!” She said quickly, “I just hated seeing you being perfect, and on top of your . You know, like a normal adult.”

“You think I’m perfect?” He asked with a grin. 

She glared, “That’s not what I mean.”

“Can we start over? And actually have a cup of tea together?” He asked. 

It was hard, part of her wanted to keep holding onto her petty grudge but when he smiled, slow and coyly, something inside her flooded, “I’d like that.”

It happened the next morning. Her eyes shot open at 9 AM, earlier than she’d ever been awake and sat straight up. She wasn’t sure what triggered it this time but all she could think was that the man living next to her, the man she had built a mini one-sided rivalry with, the man whose dog was always escaping to her backyard, the man who had a crush on her for months was her soulmate.

He was the man that she fell in love with over and over again, without doubt, wholeheartedly. 

Leaping out of bed, she ran down the stairs, nearly rolling her ankle before swinging the door open. 

And speak of the devil. 

Taeyong was panting, still dressed in his jogging clothes with his finger suspended over her doorbell. 

They stared into each other’s and she was home. 

“I took longer because I was half a mile into my run and had to run all the way back to you. To find you.” He said, out of breath. “Even before I knew who you were I was whipped.”

In this life, they were 31 when they met.

She felt tears well up, “I love you.”

He laughed in disbelief before sliding his fingers into her hair and guiding her to him, “I love you too, sunflower. Always will.”

Incheon —— 1980

“Oh…hi.”

Taeyong looked up from his book, glasses perched on his nose. Haeun looked uncomfortable as she entered the room with a steaming mug and a book tucked under her arm. 

The two of them had been married for about 6 months and it was still as uncomfortable as their wedding day. Their entire relationship which started at lunch with both their families when th

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