“You like him—that man, what’s his name, um, Kim Jong-kook?”
Believe it or not, the first person to ask that question was her then fiancé, or by that time boyfriend because he was yet to propose, Hee-geun. They were sitting in her living room, eating apples that she sliced off earlier, when that question popped out of his mouth, causing her to stop whatever she was doing then and stared at him.
“What are you talking abo—“
“No—it’s just—we’ve been talking about him for more than 30 minutes now—“ he shrugged, trying to look brazen, but she heard hint of jealousy in his voice. “It’s a little weird, that’s all.”
Were they? She didn’t even notice.
She was just telling Hee-geun about her activities while he’s away—her cycling along the riverside, her spending some times in the gym, her went tanning, went karaoke-ing, went to the beach because it was summer— oh, she saw it now. Almost all of those things she mentioned, she did it with him, or involving him.
She did went to the gym with him, but it wasn’t for the right intention. When she told him she missed the wind blowing on her face while cycling, he said he knew just the right place to go and promised to take her there. Excited, she followed him. He took her to a gym instead and before she could even process what was happening, he then pointed to an Assault AirBike, an indoor bike with wind resistance fan system.
“Doesn’t it make you feel like you’re cycling outside?” He grinned mischievously at her when she tried it on. “The wind is blowing on your face, Ji-hyo! Like directly to your face—Are you happy now?”
She extended her right arm after letting go of the handle to grab his hair. He yelled at her in response, wiggling to free himself and after she let him go, he took a step back and started laughing.
“Having fun?” He asked and even though she rolled her eyes, she was actually kinda having fun with it and that irked her. She hated it when he’s right. She hated it when he deceived her but she enjoyed it and after another session of him spotting her during bench pressing, he really took her cycling along the riverside that evening.
They went karaoke-ing together too, but it wasn’t just the two of them, it’s the whole squad. She knew he had an amazing voice —just sweet enough to leave everyone wondering, how could someone as scary as him, someone that could make Suk-jin oppa, 10 years his senior to be afraid of him, had that kind of voice? Did it came with the muscle? Was there someone else inside with a good voice that he swallowed, that’s why his muscle was the size of two man and he could sing? —but it always amazed her (how could he hit a note that high?!) that she kept gushing about it.
He was there went they went to beach too, teaching all of them to play flying disc. It’s the simplest game, but because Kwang-soo was such a cheater, and Dong-hoon wasn’t any less troublesome, it turned to fights real quick. She even joined in the fun, fighting over the disc after tackling down Dong-hoon to the ground and had a hair-pulling contest with Kwang-soo for the same reason, that sent him roaring with laughter. He even let out tears—
“Isn’t it weird that you went tanning with him?” Hee-geun’s voice interrupted her train of thoughts.
Was it? Was it weird? She went with him several times that it didn’t feel like anything, anymore.
“Can’t you just go with me?” Hee-geun added, saltily.
“But you weren’t into tanning and you’re naturally tanned—“
“Does it matter? If you wanna go with me, then of course I’ll go.” She opened to counter, but Hee-geun won’t let him. “Isn’t he naturally tanned too, in the first place— yah! Song Ji-hyo, do you really like him?”
If Hee-geun asked her this question several years ago, the first few months she transferred here, she would’ve said he’s an attractive man, but the way he grilled someone for making few slight mistakes made her scared. His glare made her wanted to run away. She wanted to not be in the same room as him when he’s mad.
If Hee-geun asked her two years after that, though, she would’ve said the same thing, that he’s attractive and scary, but she would’ve said it softly, probably with a chuckle, and with a better understanding.
Sure, he looked like he would beat you up, and in Kwang-soo’s case, he really did beat him up sometimes, but it’s not like he wasn’t charming either. Sure, he would nag at you endlessly for just one mistake, but that only motivated his team members to do a task perfectly or at least try their hardest to.
His leadership could be seen through and through, with him always being the one who figured out the best way to satisfy their client. He was the one who made the visualisation came through, and he didn’t just order his teammates to do it, he did it with them. He fussed over little errors but after that, even with crude words, he taught them the right way to handle it. He was rude and mean and too harsh sometimes, but he fiercely defended his team if someone came for them.
She wasn’t lying when she said that he’s the best team leader that she ever had.
The way he talked to the elders was an astounding example for her. He’s polite and respectful but wasn’t shy to correct them too if they were mistaken. He was firm on his ground, not easily moved by the opinions of others, even if the others were his superior. He listened to people younger or newer, never considered them to be any less of him. He believed in himself and when he made mistakes, he owned them and improved to better.
She didn’t have to tell everyone how he treat women. The way he talked to women, the way his eyes never linger for unnecessary amount of times like some men would do, coming to the rescue if they were in trouble but wasn’t expecting any payback in any form, the asking for consent every time he felt like he needed to, and being the only woman in the team, she was definitely being treated better than anyone else.
Sure, he’s mean to her sometimes too. Sure, he a lot, but it was never over the line, it was never couldn’t be settled over an apology and a treat of meal after work. Sure, his antics sometimes made her go crazy, but it’s never something that she couldn’t handle. Being a woman in an industry almost dominated by men, she must be able to handle almost everything and him being there, it almost felt like a treat.
She gotta admit that he’s attractive and she remembered thinking, “oh, the woman who wins his heart is gonna be so lucky” so maybe, just maybe, she was attracted to him at some point, at some particular time, somewhere in between they spending times together.
But Hee-geun’s question—it reminded her of that one time she overheard Dong-hoon and him talking about finding him a date now that he’s in his late 30s. Dong-hoon mentioned her name, which made her almost revealing herself to the men and punched Dong-hoon right on his throat for making her looking like she could be one of the choices if he’s desperate enough, saying that she’s in her 30s too and she’s probably looking for a man, anyway, which was true, but it was embarrassing still.
Sure, she was looking, but she wasn’t desperate. Seriously, the only one pushing her by that time was her mother and she knew her mother would love her unconditionally anyway if she failed to, so it wasn’t her top priority. Still, she was curious of his answer so she kept listening. She heard his answer loud and clear and she still remembered his answer distinctly, even though it’s been more than a year now and she always forgets about a lot of things.
“She’s family. I don’t date my family.”
She even remembered walking away quickly because she didn’t want to hear anything else. She remembered her heart pounded, responding to his firm answer. She remembered feeling dejected and how confused she was for feeling like that, because it’s not like there’s ever anything between them, it’s not like he even hinted anything to her, it’s not like she herself meant for them to be in that kind of relationship. Hell, she wasn’t even thinking about it, if Dong-hoon didn’t bring it up.
It’s just Jong-kook oppa. He’s your brother. He’s a family. She remembered scolding her silently weeping heart that night as she drank down a few cans of beer.
“But I don’t really see him as my brother, though—“ she debated herself, slurring as she said it.
Well, start seeing him like that! That’s the way he sees you, anyway! A sister! A part of the family! Not as a woman!
She didn’t remember whether she cried to sleep that night— no, she wouldn’t cry for him! Actually, it’s good that she couldn’t remember because she’s gonna be so disappointed in herself if she really did— but what she did remember was her shifting her point of view, then.
She really started seeing him as part of the family, as her older brother, as a leader, as a colleague, as an inspiration for how quickly he climbed on that ladder of promotions, as a punk when he got under her skin and when he’s annoying, as a rival, but most often, as a friend who had always offered a helping hand when she needed it, whom she always extended a helping hand to, too.
She inched herself closer to him comfortably, now that she knew where they stood, now that she knew how far her limit to him gonna be, and he welcomed her. They became close. The undeniable chemistry sometimes got to her, made her wonder if there was something that could’ve been more between them, but she ignored it and repeated what he said in her head countless times to remind herself of her place.
The dynamic between them was what made them the ace couple, as Dong-hoon called it. The lion and tiger combo, bulldozing everything thrown their way, scaring off competitors but very, very promising to the clients. Manager Yoo even admitted that they were the pride of company one time, and even though they were also each other’s number 1 enemy, they themselves couldn’t deny the indestructible force they had when they’re in the same team together.
And, it would always just that. It was always that, between them. It was what it was. It’s how it was supposed to be and how she intended it to be between them.
So, to answer Hee-geun’s question earlier, she had to say no. Not like that, at least. Not anymore. No.
“Omo, oppa, are you jealous?” She reflected his question, poking Hee-geun at his shoulder several times, smiling cutely at him as she knew that it would definitely made his heart turn into a puddle.
“Of course!” Hee-geun admitted shamelessly, holding back a smile, clearly smitten by her. “My pretty girlfriend, of course, I’m jealous!”
“One tanning session couldn’t compare to how many times we’ve slept together, though! Right, oppa?” She raised her eyebrows a few times, pushing her hair behind her shoulder to show that man his favourite part of her —her long neck, making him blushed as she went on to full seducing mode.
“You went tanning several times—“
“How many times have we slept together?!”
Hee-geun let out a laugh, sighing at the end. “Yah! You can’t just use that card to get out of this kind of situation!”
“Can’t blame me, since it works every time!” She joked. Hee-geun was about to say something, but she talked first. “I know, I know, that’s borderline manipulative. And I’m sorry! I really am sorry! If you’re really uncomfortable with it, then I won’t go with him anymore. I promise!” She raised her right hand, really swearing to him.
Hee-geun sighed again, this time in satisfaction as he took her hand and brought it to his lips to kiss it. “You know I love you, right?”
Smiling softly, she replied, “of course I do. I love you too.”
“And if you really do want go tanning, I’ll go with you. I won’t probably do it, but I’ll wait outside.”
His statement made she laugh this time. “Even it takes hours?”
“Does it? Well, let’s not do that then—“ he suggested jokingly, earning himself a soft slap on the cheek from her. “—of course I’ll wait, baby.”
“You’ll do that for me?”
“You know I’ll do anything for you.”
Hee-geun’s words was enough for her to feel warm inside. That man’s promise that time was enough for her to get on his lap and start showering him with kisses.
“I’ll make you the happiest woman in the world. I’ll make this life is the happiest life you’d ever lived.” Hee-geun promised again, between their kisses.
And, she believed him, for that moment. She really believed him, because Hee-geun sounded genuine. He sounded sure with himself. He sounded like he was speaking the truth. She really did believe, then, because she was a fool.
Because, that man—that bastard, instead of making her life “the best life she had ever lived”, he went on and ruined it.
She patted his shoulder. “Congratulations on your promotion!”
“You can’t have two good things in a year. You’re getting married this year, let me have this one okay?”
She got dangerously close to bursting into tears when he said that, but she didn’t want to ruin his happy day, so she looked away for a while, it all up, and turned to him, smiling. He looked shy when she told him she’s proud of him and after shooing him away from the pantry, urging him to tell everyone the good news, she almost stopped him as he walked away to say, “oppa—save me” but she knew it’ll be ridiculous.
What’s the point of dragging him into this?
So, she stumbled to her table, shutting everything down and took her handbag to get out of this office, before anyone else realised she was shaking, before she broke down to the floor, before she herself turned to dust, ceased to exist.
Kwang-soo did stop her on the way, having the need to ask something when he saw how white her face as she walked by. She couldn’t meet him in the eyes. She couldn’t even say anything except for the truth. Her voice was shaking as she whispered it.
“My wedding is cancelled.”
She didn’t even wait for him to start reacting to the news because she was in a hurry. She didn’t want to be in the office when she lost her footings.
She cried for days after she got home. She cried and cried and cried until there were no more tears left in her eyes. She lost her voice after two days for sobbing too much, risking to lose her sight too if she kept on crying but the things she lost the most was probably her sanity.
She experienced break ups before but it was never like this. It was never this severe. It was never this painful. It was never like someone actually died and that someone was her.
It should’ve been, she guessed, because this was more than being dumped. This was more than just a mere break-up. This was an engagement. This was leading to a marriage. This was an almost union of two families becoming one. This was a promise to start anew, and it was broken.
She was excited for this. She was excited to be a wife. She was excited to be his wife, and if she’s lucky, if the lady of luck smiled upon her, maybe she’ll become a mother. A mother of two, she always imagined, not because one wouldn’t be enough, but because she didn’t want her children to be lonely. Maybe a son and a daughter, doesn’t matter who’s first, and they’ll be just like Seung-moon and her.
The wedding too was supposed to be amazing. An early autumn wedding, where they’ll have pre-wedding shoot with red and orange leaves at the background just like she always pictured it to be. It won’t be blazing hot like in the summer, but it won’t be too cold like winter. The food served would be perfect because it would be their absolute choice. The flowers that would be arranged in the reception hall and her flower bouquet that she’s gonna hold and throw and her dress—oh, her dress, it’s everything she wanted it to be.
It’s her wedding and she planned it to the tiniest details by herself wholeheartedly. It’s gonna be perfect, just like in her dream.
So for all of it to be ripped off like that, without any warning, without any telling, it didn’t just take away her happiness, it took away her dreams, her hope for the future, her wish to become a wife and a mother, herself, everything. It took away almost all of her, and the only thing left was emptiness. A void.
She was removing one last box from her old house when Hee-geun suddenly came, claiming that he’s there to take his stuffs away. That man—he couldn’t look her in the eyes and that’s good because she couldn’t even look at him, anywhere. The stuffs he talked about, she threw it away. He looked mad for a second, but he knew it was bound to happen.
“I know that sorry couldn’t change anything, but, Ji-hyo, I’m—“ he held out his hand, maybe reaching for her, maybe asking her to reach for him, “—sorry.” His hand fell to his side as she said nothing. She just stood there and stared at something far.
He’s right. It didn’t change anything. Not the pain, nor her anger.
“You didn’t have to move out, you know—“
“Should I stay, then?” She exhaled loudly, cutting him off. His voice was making her skin crawl and her blood boiled. “Should you stay too, then? Should she come along too, the woman you ed behind my back? And when the baby comes, we’ll sleep together in the same bed, all four of us? Sounds ing dope to me.”
She knew her jabs hurt him. She knew and she was happy with it but it’s nothing compared to the hurt he caused her.
“What I meant was, you didn’t have to move. Just let me be the only one who get out and find somewhere new, since I’m the one who messed up.” Words came slowly from him, not sure if because he didn’t want her to be more angry at him or because he was holding his own anger. “I’m—I don’t love her, Ji-hyo, but she’s carrying my baby and I—I have to—I gotta be responsible for it.”
She’s tired. Looking at him, hearing him, sensing his presence, made her exhausted. “Just go already.”
“I hope you’ll be happy.”
It was a short and sweet farewell, except that she could hear it now, the lies within his words. She could hear it clearly now, the lack of sincerity, the lack of love in it. It reminded her of his betrayal and the suffering that she had gone through, that her family had to go through.
It reminded her of the dread she had to went through the cancel all her bookings —the reception hall, the venue, the catering, the flowers, the dress— and it was honestly a relief that she didn’t break down every time she had to explain to them that the wedding was cancelled.
It reminded her of the humility she had to endure, informing to her extended family and friends about the cancellation, and it was too much for her, but the humiliation of her parents, her brother was even more torturing. She was grieving to begin with, but seeing her parents in despair was a torment and let’s just say that, at that point, dying seemed to be an easier option.
It reminded her of the devastation it caused her, to her life, to her whole being, to her whole existence and it made her almost puked.
If only she could hear it before, she would end them right there and then so she won’t have to have to live through all this.
“And you—“ she smiled when she turned to him, but her smile was venomous, “you can go yourself.”
Hee-gun raised his hands up, accepting defeat and backed away. As soon as he’s gone, her knees gave up. Tears streamed down her face, but as she wiped them away, she made a promise to herself, that this would be the last time she ever cried for him again.
Why was today such a bad day?
She sighed, rereading texts from her brother as she waited for the coffee to be ready. Drinking coffee while anxious might not be a good thing, but she couldn’t sip on beer now, could she? If coffee would make her heartbeat faster, so be it, might as well get a and die today, so that no one would care about her status anymore.
She wanted to call her mother this morning, telling her about the confirmation of her leaving to Japan in a month, a new she received earlier. Even though her name hadn’t been officially accepted by HQ in Japan, but since Manager Yoo chose her, the only thing left was for Manager Yoo to submit her name and working record here and she’ll be set to go, which his boss promised to do it today, so she figured she could give her mother a head’s up.
The weird thing was, her mother didn’t pick up the phone. She texted her, but there was no reply. She figured her mother was busy, so she waited, but her mother hadn’t call her back even during lunch, so she contacted Seong-moon.
Her brother replied almost instantly, but she got a surprise visit from Hee-geun’s mother during lunch time with him, even asking her for an evening tea today. She was occupied by their argument whether she should go, which she clearly think she should, as she missed her and it’s rather impolite for her to reject that woman since she travelled so far from here, but he thought differently.
The arguments continued until they reached office and she doubted that it’ll ever stop, if it weren’t for Kwang-soo interrupting them. And, for all these reasons combined, she could only read the texts once she reached her table, putting her in the state of shock and madness after she did.
Seong-moon told her that their mother’s okay, only upset because she had a fight with her sister, and that’s why she wasn’t answering her phone. She didn’t have to ask why her mother fought, because the second text was a lengthy explanation from his brother.
Surprise, surprise, it’s because of her.
Her aunt came to pay her mother’s a visit but somehow got into talking about her and her cancelled wedding. Her sister’s words must’ve upset her, because she started cursing her sister and got cursed back, according to her brother.
Apparently, her aunt said that she should got married now that she’s approaching 40 very soon, or else she wouldn’t be able to have a baby because her reproductive organ would become dusty and she would be childless, forever.
Her mother tried to say something along the lines with technology nowadays would’ve help her or something, but her aunt scoffed mockingly, as her brother put it, and blurted out that Hee-geun left because she was a difficult woman and if she continued to be difficult and career-driven, she would be alone for the rest of her life.
Honestly, if not too much for her to be hoping for this, she hoped that her mother smacked the hell out of her sister.
And honestly, if she was there, she would be the one who would be throwing punches because how dare she talked like that to her mother? Never mind her aunt said that she’s gonna be childless, and difficult, and would probably never got married, but how could her aunt said that in front of her mother of all people?
Her mother, who had been worried sick about her this whole time, about the whole cancelled marriage thing, about her without any companion at this age, about who’s gonna take care of her when her parents were both gone, about whether she was okay or she’s lonely—even though she never told her— and her sister dared to throw them all to her face, making her mother got so upset that she wouldn’t talk to her.
Her mother—she must’ve been so sad. Oh, her poor soul!
Maybe Seung-moon talked to her mother, or her mother was less upset now, because she received a call from her mother then, so she walked to the toilet and answered inside a cubicle, leaving her steaming coffee in the pantry.
Her mother even sounded sad on the phone, even though she tried to cover it with an excuse of coughing. She didn’t mean to whine to her mother, she didn’t really want to upset her further, but the childish side of her jumped out as she heard her mother’s comforting voice.
“Eoma, is it a sin if I don’t get married? Is it wrong if I stay single forever? Will I become a burden to you if I stay single, eoma?! Will I become a burden to the society?!” She lashed out.