My head jostles against a muscled chest.
I open my eyes into darkness. I'm walking down a hallway, passing doors and brass doorknobs. No, not walking. My legs dangle. I'm cradled in someone's arms. Someone who smells yummy: like grass, sweat, freshly chopped wood.
Someone with a firm-footed gait.
"Where's Sohee?" I stir, panicked. I have a vague memory of pulsing lights, writhing with Kang ...
"Hey. It's me. Take it easy."
I groan. My head pounds like dragon drums. I become aware of the regular pulse of his heart against my cheek.
"I can walk myself." I struggle, push against his muscular chest.
But when my feet touch ground, the world spins. Joohyuk's arm goes under my knees again and he lifts me as if I weigh no more than a feather pillow. The warmth of his bare skin heats my cheek. Where's his shirt?
He chuckles, his voice soft and furry in the darkness. "If you're going to drink, you need to set limits. Didn't anyone ever tell you?"
"Nobody's told me anything about anything," I say, belligerent, then another wave of shadows crashes down.
ʕु-̫͡-ʔुྉ*ᴸᵒᵛᵉᵇᵒᵃᵗ✲ﾟⁱⁿ*。⋆ 서울。⋆ *
I wake in my bed. Moonlight slants through my double-paneled window.
Joohyuk's face appears beside me, leaning in from a chair. I hadn't noticed before how full his lips are.
"I found your key in your pockets."
A sudden suspicion dawns and I glance down. I'm wearing his yellow polo shirt over my dress. The coarse fabric slides over my torso as Joohyuk pulls my blanket to my chin.
"Don't worry. Sohee took care of you at the club."
I blush, mortified he read me so easily. A paper cup of water presses into my hand. "Here, drink this."
"Did you carry me home?" No way could he have carried me over the catwalk. He must have come in the front gate.
"It was either that or drive around in the cab until you woke up."
Like a drunk date, when I wasn't even his date. I moan.
He grips my shoulder. "Are you hurt?"
"I've sprained my dignity."
His grip loosens. Then he laughs, so long I grow suspicious he's more drunk than I am. He's so weird, yo-yoing mood and all. Is something wrong?
Finally, he says, "Where the hell did you learn to dance like that?"
"Like you belong on a stage."
"So you were watching my moves?" I imagine Joohyuk's eyes following my body through the pulsing lights. It gives me a curl of pleasure.
"And here I thought you were just a big brain," he teases.
"Who's the brainiac?" I mumble. My big brain's floating in fog. My scalp hurts.
He takes me cup back. "You hair's twisted under you."
His fingers brush my cheek. They slide into my hair, pulling a lock free, relieving some of the tension. I should pull away, but I can't remember why, and so I let myself enjoy this unfamiliar intimacy of his fingers in my hair, tugging a second bundle free.
"Doesn't it get tiring, being so perfect?"
He laughs, but this time, there's no smile in his voice. "I'm far from perfect." Oh, yeah? Did he once earn an A-minus? Or—gasp—a B?
"Tell that to my parents," I mutter, low so he can't hear me.
"World Journal?" He heard me.
"I wrote you a letter when I was eleven. My parents made me do it. To get homework advice."
"Did I reply?"
"Is that why you hate my guts? Well, let me guess. You figured out your homework problem on your own."
"They wanted me to get a general advice. Start a correspondence."
"I am sort of every immigrant Korean parent's dream guy."
"I burned your photo in effigy after." My eyelids are mudslides; I can't keep them open.
"Good thing I already have a girlfriend."
"Yes, the poor girl. You're probably the tree that up all the nutrients from the soil. Nothing else can grow around you." A yawn nearly swallows the last of my words.
But through the growing darkness, I feel him shrink away. I've struck a chord.
Sorry, didn't mean it, I want to say. But the effort feels titanic.
And then the darkness claims me.
ʕु-̫͡-ʔुྉ*ᴸᵒᵛᵉᵇᵒᵃᵗ✲ﾟⁱⁿ*。⋆ 서울。⋆ *
"Wake up, Suzy! Wake up! We overslept!"
Curtains screech on their rails. Sohee's voice along with blinding rays of sunshine pierce my fragmented dreams. I'm lying on my stomach on my bed, sheets tangled in my legs, arm numb from dangling over the edge. My head throbs as if all my arteries have migrated into my skull.
"How did I get here?" I mumble.
"Joohyuk took you home." Sohee flies about the room in various state of undress. "Good thing, too! Park Minyoung-eonnie was rolling around like a drunken walrus in the parking lot. Her so-called friends considered leaving her there! Omo, Suzy, I have so much to tell you but we're late!"
I sit up, rubbing sleep from my eyes. Sunlight gleams of Sohee's bare stomach as she snaps on her black lace bra. My black cardigan hand from the back of my chair, wrinkled from a wash and squeeze.
A vague horror closes off my throat as my night rushes back. Joohyuk witnessing messes that should never be witnessed by any living breathing creature, let alone him. His shirt I will launder-twice—before returning it, if he even wants it back. And ... right here, had I said things I shouldn't have? So you were watching my moves . . . You're probably a tree . . . I need to find him and explain. Apologize. Except that I can never face him again.
"Did Joohyuk say—"
"Move it!" Sohee flings my green dress with white flowers onto my stomach and shrugs into a periwinkle tank top. "The Dragon's making rounds. If she finds us here, we're stuck, and Nana's booked solid the rest of the summer. We won't get another chance with her."
"Nana? Who's Nana?"
Once again, Sohee's urgency's contagious. I shrug out of Joohyuk's shirt.
"Our photographer! For our glamour shots! Didn't I tell you last night? Nana's the best. All the slots were taken but I got us in on a cancellation—we'll just have to skip Hangul."
"If you told me, I can't remember," I groan. My head is splitting into four pieces—the morning of my first hangover is not the day I'd have picked for glamour shots. How is Sohee flitting around like a moth on crack?
"Well, it's your lucky day! Once the boys start leafing through your album, no guy here will be able to resist you!"
I start to laugh, but it hurts my head. "No one's looking at my photos, least of all guys-who-von't-be-able-to-ree-zeest-me." Though posing for y glamour shots might be the perfect way to quit dressing like a nun, since that's all I seem capable of. I yank off my crumpled dress. As if in protest, a napkin flutters to the floor, flashing like the cream-and-blue wings of a butterfly.
There's a drawing on one side.
"What's this?" Mystified, I lean over to retrieve it.
A pastel sketch.
Of me. Dancing.
A side shot, my head tilting over my shoulder, my tied hair has fallen down my back, eyes flutters close. Left shoulder raised slightly toward my chin. I remember that song, that move—in a few , the mysterious artist has captured the tension and energy in the lines of my body. And tucked it into my pocket.
"What's that?" Sohee draws her brush through her damp strands of hair and comes over, then gasps. "It's amazing!"
"I have no idea who drew it."
"You have a secret admirer!"
"Maybe." I blush. That would be a first. Is Wonder Boy also a Michelangelo? The thought surprises me—just because he took me home doesn't make him an admirer. Quite the opposite.
"More than an admirer." Sohee points to the lips, my lips, delicate and sensual. The artist has even captured the precise contours of my back and bottoms and shadowed the spaces around my legs, the trapezoid in between, in royal purple. "This guy wants you, Suzy."
Who? I can't deny how the drawing makes me feel.
A rap in the hallways, a fist on wood, makes me jump. Sohee presses her ear to our door, while I hide the sketch in my purse.
"The Dragon," she hisses. "She's next door. Quick. Let's get out of here."
ʕु-̫͡-ʔुྉ*ᴸᵒᵛᵉᵇᵒᵃᵗ✲ﾟⁱⁿ*。⋆ 서울。⋆ *
The moment the Dragon steps into our neighbor's room, Sohee and yank open our door together, shoot down the hallway, and take the stairs two at a time. We sweep past a blue flyer advertising the talent show, then under the demerit board, with its new smattering of check marks. Three red marks followed my name. My stomach tightens.
I tiptoe on Sohee's heels past the narrow door windows revealing classrooms already full of students—clubbers now ready to study, avoiding demerits. "If the Dragon's on the fence about calling my parents, skipping class might seal my fate," I whisper.
"If we don't do the glamour shots now, we'll never get to do them."
I heave a breath. I'm in this far already. "Fine." I peek through the classroom window. Anyone else sleeping in, braving the Dragon's wrath?
Only one seat besides ours is empty—Song Kang.
My face burns and I hurry down the hallway after Sohee. Last night, dancing with Kang had seemed like a brilliant idea, but now I want to crawl back under my covers and hide. I'll have to see him in class every single day, knowing I gave him a , and him knowing I know.
Sohee swears under her breath. We've reached the lobby. At a table with Jungwoo and two other counselor, Jihyo slams down three circular tiles. They're playing Janggi—Korean board chess. Their dialects remind me again of my parents. Except my parents don't play games, they go to work, come home exhausted, bad-tempered. Jihyo flexes tiny arms and does a sassy dance in her chair. Jungwoo drinks from a cup of coffee, and says something that makes Jihyo punch his shoulder. She's Korean-Saram, it turns out; her parents from the Korean Soviet tribes, part of the indigenous peoples who've lived on this peninsula forever. Strange how she isn't much older than us, but she's our counselor.
"We'll have to go around them," Sohee says.
Then Minnie steps out of the phone booth, still clad in rumpled pink pajamas. Since catching her with Kang the first day and her booting me off the computer terminal the next, I haven't seen much fo her. She knots her greasy hair into a ponytail and rubs eyes red-rimmed from crying. Her splotchy face looks scrubbed raw.
Her gaze falls on us and tears sprang from her eyes. "!" she cries, and pelts up the stairs and out of sight.
Flooded with guilt, I stand rooted to the floor. I've always been on the other side of pinning after guys, never in this position.
But I'm not after Kang. I was just—dancing.
The counselors are glancing up from their game. Sohee hustles me out a side door into the courtyard, still damp from a morning storm.
"Sohee, maybe I should talk to her—"
"It's not you, it's me," she whispers. "You're just guilty by association. Come on. Hurry." Not until we've jogged past the lily pond, does Sohee lean into me and whisper, "Kang and I hooked up. Last night."
I stop dead in my tracks. "Hooked up? As in—?"
"We did it."
"And this morning!"
She links arms with me, prattling on with far more detail than I need or want: how they'd made out the whole cab ride home, fumbled down the darkened hallway, tumbled into a spare bedroom on the first floor.
"And omo omo, Suzy! Now I know why all those girls were after him."
I hadn't noticed before, but Sohee's lips were puffier, a darker shade, even without lipstick. A pink, quarter-sized hickey graces her neck. I can't imagine sleeping with a guy after knowing him only a week. Eomma's judgements, of girls who spread their legs for boys, echo in my head. But none of her words apply to Sohee, who glows as though she's swallowed the sun.
"You're not mad, too?" Sohee asks. "I mean, I know you were dancing with him ..."
"No. Of course not." Even if a rebellious part of me wishes I'd gotten grazed, I've dodged a bullet. Dancing with Kang was one thing—hooking up something else.
"You barely know him!" I say.
"Are you kidding? Every day here's like a week." Sohee waves. "It's Loveboat, and Kang's a keeper—in my book, at least," she amends, as though half the Yonsei girls aren't drooling enough to drown him. "You wouldn't believe the stories my aunt's told me about his family. The Songs practically own half the peninsula, they've built an electronics empire—they own Gangwha!"
"Gangwha? Wow." We'd dropped by the twelve-floor department store on our hunt for clothes, but it was light-years beyond my budget—crystal chandeliers, endless escalators, Hermès, Dior, Celine, Chanel. Look-but-don't-touch.
So Kang is an heir to an empire.
And Sohee knew that before coming into the program. But she'd kept the information to herself, after sharing a classified report's worth of intel all week: Dohyun's dad owns a laundromat in Los Angeles and he wants to be a starving journalist—too bad because he's adorable. Kwon Jiyong's headed to France to become a Chanel ambassador and comes from decent money.
I'm most surprised by the competitive streak she's revealed. Kang means more to her than she's let on.
"But what about Minnie? Doesn't it bother you—?"
Sohee rolls her head along with her eyes. "Look, all guys play the field—at least the non-nerds. She's the girl who slept with him once. I'm the girl he found afterward. And all those codes about dating—honestly, the only one that makes sense is 'All's fair in love and war'. Even if they were betrothed from the cradle, it's not over until they tie the knot."
I frown. I don't know about codes, but I've always assumed a guy with a girlfriend is off limits. Like Nick and Wendy. Joohyuk and Rosie.
"Do you trust him?"
"Why do I have to?" Sohee smiles. "'Go in with your eyes wide open,' that's what Aunty Yumi told me. Besides, I know his type. He needs a girl strong enough to meet him head-on. Look." She pulls back her hair to reveal Kang's opal stud, gleaming on her earlobe—a slap on my mommy-like wrist. Who am I to judge when I have the experience of a junior nun.
"Just—be careful, okay?" I say, then start forward again, with no idea where I'm headed next.