A thunderstorm rages throughout Seoul, sending showers down. Thursday evening, on my way back to the dorms, a gust of rain-spattered wind blows me through the lobby doors of Yonsei. It tugs at the bag of paper lanterns I picked up for Sohee's weekend, which starts tomorrow afternoon. She's been oddly close-lipped about her status with Kang, but plans are still full speed ahead.
The lobby is full of kids playing UNO and Janggi. Jihyo's face glows as she plays a toe-tapping pop song on Sungwoon's laptop, swaying in her seat, on a mission to converting as many students as possible to her collection.
"Ariraannnng." She sang in Korean, slim hands gesturing.
"It's not bad." Sungwoon says. "Not bad."
As I shake water from my hair, a wisp of a courier in an orange reflective vest wheels his bicycle in beside me, hitching a brown-paper package higher under his arm.
"Sillyehabnida, miseu, Nam Joohyuk-eul chajgo iss-eoyo."
"I'll take it to him." I accept the box, which is heavier than it looks. Cute doggy stickers along the top and bottom, and in between Joohyuk's name and address are scripted in copperplate English and Korean, along with its sender's.
The box slips. I catch it by its strings before it hits the floor and explodes. Wrapping it my arms, I hurry toward the dining hall.
He'll be thrilled. Of course he will be. How nice to hear from his girlfriend, even at a summer program across the ocean.
At a table by the windows, Joohyuk, along with Dohyun, Subin, and Sohee—no Kang—are digging into the daily feast. Steam rises from a tower of round bamboo baskets full of mandu, a universal favorite. If Sohee is upset, she doesn't show it: she has everyone snorting into their cups with an elaborate story of revenge she took on a guy unlucky enough to have jilted her. I discreetly tuck the bag of paper lanterns under her seat.
"Joohyuk, this came for you." I drop the box into his lap like a five-hundred-pound weight, then take the seat two down, but Subin, and pour myself a cup of tea.
Joohyuk's eyes flicker from the package to me. "Oh—cool." He seems pleased, though not as pleased as I expected—and I really need to stop overanalyzing him.
I spoon steamed bass onto my plate, keeping my nosy eyes to myself as he tears the brown paper. Maybe I'm just always obsessed with the guy who isn't available, so I don't ever put myself on the line. Maybe that's all that's happening with Joohyuk, and why I keep revisiting that moment I took his arm at the bar.
"Sweet," Subin says, and I glance up.
Joohyuk unties the ribbons from a white box to reveal trays of chocolates shaped animals—homemade, but the looks of them. Silver confetti spill onto his lap as he lifts them out of the loveliest care package I've ever seen. I envision Rosie with her soft black hair in a braid, pouring melted chocolate into molds, sprinkling confetti. She's even included dry ice to keep it from melting—no wonder the express delivery.
"Wow, wish someone would send me one of those," Subin says.
"She must have spent hours on these," Sohee says.
"Not hours,"Joohyuk says. "She's really efficient. She likes making things like this." He's so protective. He offers the chocolates around. I take an bunny, which turns out to have a perfect raspberry dot in its center.
"It's yum." I stab my chopsticks into my porkchop, trying to tear off a piece. I'm happy for Joohyuk that he's so well loved. I glare at my chop—why is it so tough tonight?"
Sohee decapitates a bird with her teeth. "How much food can she sent you before she has to pay export tax?" So this isn't the first care package.
"Shut. Up. Sohee." Joohyuk scowls. "She misses me. That's all."
He tucks a thick letter into his backpack, passes the last tray of chocolates to a table of grateful counselors, then reaches for the steamed bass.
ʕु-̫͡-ʔुྉ*ᴸᵒᵛᵉᵇᵒᵃᵗ✲ﾟⁱⁿ*。⋆ 서울。⋆ *
The sun is high in the sky the next day when the wrench of our stubborn door opening wakes me. Sohee enters, draped in Kang's black shirt. I sit up in bed. Last night, she'd left Club Electra arm in arm with him. Her hair is tousled, lips swollen. Kneeling between our beds, she unfurls a red silk rug. A web of intricate vines and white flowers unfold across the plush silk.
"Wow, he got you that?" I rub my eyes, as stunned by her state as the extravagant present.
"He left it outside the door for me." She removes a gold safety pin that I imagine held a steamy love note.
"It's gorgeous. He has such good taste." Is it his way of making up for their fight? It's really a nice gift, the nicest one yet, even more so because she didn't ask him to buy it.
"It must've cost a fortune." She brushes the pile so it lies even. "I mean, he could buy the entire market, but still."
"So you guys patched things up? How?"
"My feminine charms." She wiggles her arms and hips in a little dance, smiling mysteriously, then flops back on her bed. "Omo, Suzy—I seriously would bear him a dozen babies." Sitting up, she waves the menu for tonight's dinner. "And everything's going to the next level tonight. Silver or gold settings?"
"Silver." I reach for one of the silk goody bags we're stuffing, and pour a handful of hard candies inside. My job is to play supportive friend as she impresses Kang with her family, then occupy them to give her space to slip him away for a seductive Saturday night on her aunt's private rooftop garden. I'm determined to help make her weekend perfect.
"Fish or steak? Or both?"
"Both? Surf and turf?" I tie a satin bow, add the goody bag to the growing mountain on Sohee's desk, and reach for another bag. She is really a combination of Sihyeon-like cute and Wendy-manic energy, although there's no one like Han Sohee. "Don't think it'll matter."
"Suzy, what would I do without you?" She hands me a stack of cute stationary. "I found these yesterday. Take some," she urges, more of her daily generosity. "You know, if Kang was coming by himself, it would be too much pressure. You know how Asian families get about meeting the significant other. Especially my uncle. He really admires the Song family."
"My parents would definitely freak out if I brought a guy to meet the family."
"So that's why this is just friends from the program coming over. I mean, of course they know he's my boyfriend. But with you and Joohyuk there, it's balanced. Perfectly."
I flip through the stack as Sohee moves to her mirror, a cyclone of nervous energy. She's barely eaten in days. And the silver, the elaborate menus, the goody bags—does she really know what she wants out of this weekend?
"Hey, what's this?" Sohee swoops down at the door, then a waves a square of origami paper at me. "Suzy! Secret admirer strikes again."
"What? No way." I slide off my bed. A new sketch. Blotches of color—blues, rust, and greens—that, when held at arm's length, form ... me. Balancing on the brick ledge in the courtyard yesterday, my arms out, one leg tipped out, my turquoise dress swaying to one side with a breeze. "It's brilliant." And by whom? Joohyuk, Dohyun, and a bunch of guys had been playing a scrimmage game of football with an audience—anyone could have sketched this.
"Wish someone would draw me like that! Fourth one, isn't it?
"Yeah." I turn it over, looking for some clue, some hint to the artist. "I should feel creeped out, shouldn't I?"
"This guy isn't a creeper. He's romantic. Maybe it's Dohyun—he totally likes you."
"Dohyun's not into me that way." And he feels like a brother, way more than Joohyuk. "Besides, it might be someone I haven't met yet."
Or Joohyuk ... what if he's pretending to help me find the guy, but it is him. My parents—I can imagine how happy that would make them—a fresh surge of anger floods through me. No way would I ever give them that satisfaction.
"Well, whoever he is"—Sohee yanks on our door, which has swollen even more with recent storms—"he can't"—yank—"keep this talent under wraps forever!"
Grabbing my towel and toothbrush, I follow Sohee toward the bathroom, past Park Minyoung and Kim Seonho passed out like a pair of cats on the lounge couch. Seonho, as it turns out, does have a temper, holding red-faced screaming matches with Minyoung up and down the hallway that usually ended with something broken—a bulletin board, a lamp, his toe—but they've made up again, clearly.
Inside the bathroom, Krystal glances up from the sink, where she's hunched over in her floral shorts and white tank top. her bedsheets are bunched in her arms as she scrubs at a period stain. As we enter, her face flushes beet red.
"Those ." I say. At the same time, Sohee says, "Sungwoon should wash those."
Krystal's face deepens to an alarming eggplant purple. Her eyes slide from mine to Sohee's. "Oh, no, I wouldn't make him do this."
Not period stains.
My own face flushes as Sohee's eyes meet mine in the mirror. I really am a baby.
"Just be careful." Sohee runs her toothbrush under the faucet. "A girl went home pregnant a few years ago—"
"Sooji? Eodiya?" Someone knocks on the door, calling my name.
", it's Jihyo." Krystal snatches her dripping sheets to her chest and backs into a stall, trailing water everywhere. No one since Kang and Minnie has been busted for violating the no-boys-and-girls-in-the-same-room rule, but no one wants to become the next object lesson either.
"Um, just a minute!" I grab a paper towel and dry the floor, then step in front of Krystal's stall as Sohee opens the door. Jihyo pokes her head in, running a nervous hand down her side braid. She bites her lips, looking as though she wished she were anywhere but here, and looks at me.
"Neo apeuni? Are you sick?"
"No, I'm good." I shut off the third faucet, then curse myself for drawing attention to it.
"You missed classes all week." She's using English—I'm in trouble. "We switched electives Monday and you haven't been to a single Calligraphy class." Jihyo fidgets with the ribbon on her braid. My heart sinks. Sohee's missed classes, too. Not as many as me, but still, no one's tracked her down. "Choi Saengnim is getting ready to call your parents."
"Oh!" The Dragon strikes again. "No need." I push past her into the hallway, leading her away from Krystal. "I was just heading to Calligraphy."
ʕु-̫͡-ʔुྉ*ᴸᵒᵛᵉᵇᵒᵃᵗ✲ﾟⁱⁿ*。⋆ 서울。⋆ *
I grab a sesame bun from the dining hall, then head outside into the back courtyard, where a stone carp the size of a baby beluga sports water into a basin. The afternoon sun beats down on my hair, but the air is muggy with the promise of rain. As I round a corner toward the gym, the swing of a long stick nearly takes off my head. I duck as the wind of it tugs at my hair, stumbling back against the wall.
"Oh, sorry, Suzy." Joohyuk helps me by my arm to my feet, flashing a lopsided smile. A tiger-striped bo staff is in his hand. He yells and ducks himself as another staff comes swinging. He swings back at a guy I don't recognize, shoulders surging under his blue shirt. Dropping into a fighter's crouch, he charges his partner. All through the side yard, the cracks of rattan bo staffs punctuate the air as pairs of fighters battle it out while Jungwoo calls instructions.
I've walked into the stick-fighting elective. I watch, envious, mesmerized by the action.
Spin, turn, jab.
Joohyuk blocks another blow.
"You're up early," he says. —it's just past one.
"Too early." I give him the finger, low, earning a startled exclamation from his partner. Then I duck around them and head into the gym, Joohyuk's chuckle ghosting behind.
ʕु-̫͡-ʔुྉ*ᴸᵒᵛᵉᵇᵒᵃᵗ✲ﾟⁱⁿ*。⋆ 서울。⋆ *
Calligraphy occupies four tables across the gym, by the bleachers. On my way there, I pass the ribbon-dancing elective: Sulli and other girls undulate silk ribbons attached to sticks, drawing blue, red, and white spirals and curlicues in the air. Their graceful instructor demonstrates a basic dance and I find myself improving on it: If they moved in two counter revolutions. If they widened the arcs of the ribbons ...
Some of the girls have great form and rhythm. I should be dancing with them, but Madame Yoo, Swan Lake—I'm finding my own way.
The calligraphy tables are divided into individual stations: stacks of large sheets of rice paper, black inkstones, bamboo jars of long-handled brushes. I take a seat. A few easels by the bleachers display samples of calligraphy. To my surprise, they're nothing like the soul- character of Hangul school. They're works of art.
"Suzy Bae." The familiar low voice draws my name into a song. Kang pulls out the chair beside me. With a jerk of his head, he flicks his hair from his eyes, His arm brushes mine and my face heats. He's sitting too close.
"Your dad must have picked your electives, too." I scooch a few inches away. I need to be friendly, but distant. We haven't been together without Sohee since they got together.
"Something like that." His dark eyes sweep mine with a challenge, looking at me like he did that first day. Mayday. Mayday. I look around for support, but I don't know the kids in this class well.
"So," he says. "We're headed to Joohyuk and Sohee's aunt's this afternoon."
"Yeah," I say, "should be nice." Then I turn my back and flip through my book of fancy characters.
ʕु-̫͡-ʔुྉ*ᴸᵒᵛᵉᵇᵒᵃᵗ✲ﾟⁱⁿ*。⋆ 서울。⋆ *
There's a knack to holding a pil—a calligraphy brush with a soft head of rabbit, goat, or wolf hair. Lefties are encouraged to switch to right or the ends don't come out right, but our teacher is a lefty herself, and lets me slide. We practice slow versus fast . I get a mini-lesson on grinding ink, which I do the rhythm of the ribbon-dancing songs. I wish my Korean school teacher back home has let us use brushes and ink stones instead of copying characters by the hundreds. Maybe I would have lasted longer.
In the courtyard, the stick-fighting elective is going strong—the thwacks of bo staffs audible through the glass doors. My fingers itch to spin a staff—but I'm stuck with paint brushes. Still, lulled by the ribbon-dancing music, I find myself sinking into the character work, focused on getting the right.
"Kang, this is very nice, but the assignment is to copy the poem." The teacher's voice is strained. They've had this conversation before.
Kang's page holds just a two characters: 태양. The work sun. He's mocked it, too: childish rays blast from it.
He shrugs, making no move to pick up his brush. His demerit list is easily the longest, thanks to his refusal to turn in a single assignment, in Hangul or Korean Medicine. "Aren't we all bored to death being treated like babies?" Sohee defended him, when the subject came up one night.
Now, our calligraphy teacher laughs helplessly, and turns to another student.
Before I can look away, Kang gives me a lazy smile that reminds me of his kiss on my knuckles.
Then he dips his pil into his inkwell and begins to paint on a fresh sheet of rice paper. By the roundness of his , I can tell he's not drawing characters.
"You'll get in trouble again," I whisper. Not that he cares.
Sure enough, he shrugs. I find myself inching closer, but he hides it with his arm.
"What are you painting?" I finally ask.
His teasing grin crinkles his eyes. "Show you in a minute."
He makes me wait another five. But at last, he hands the paper to me.
I feel a lightning bolt of shock. Familiar blocks of color form this gymnasium setting. The pil hang like a row of cattails on their drying racks. Ribbon dancers swirl in the margins.
And in the center of it all is painted, in a style I'd recognize anywhere ... a girl.