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Loveboat in μ„œμšΈ

Private's Letter


I try to call Wendy from the lobby phones, but she doesn't pick up. She's probably out with Nick, or still traveling with her parents. I hide in the fifth-floor lounge the rest of the day, skipping classes and avoiding Kang. But there are four weeks left in the program, two more weeks of class before the Touch Korea Tour. I'll have to face him eventually.

Hunger finally drives me to dinner in the dining hall, where I seek out Sulli and Krystal at a table near the back and hide myself among them. Across from me, Minnie shoots to her feet, tossing her hair contemptuously over her shoulder.

"." She storms to the next table, where she puts her head together with girls from the second floor. All of them shoots me scathing looks.

My eyes prickle with tears, but Krystal squeezes my arm. "You were soΒ brave. You told those guys."

"That was such a ty thing Sohee did." Sulli spoons tofu soup onto my bowl. She know it's my favorite and I digΒ  in hungrily, grateful to have someone looking out for me.

"WeΒ hate you, you know?" Krystal laughs. "I meanβ€”if I had your bod, I'd pass my photos out myself." She hands me a napkin-wrapped package. "We collected six. How many are left?"

They're standing by me. I choke down a mouthful of spicy tofu.

"I don't know," I whisper. "I need to find out. The photographer knows, but I'm not allowed off campus. I can't speak enough Korean to even call."

"We'll ask for you," Sulli promises. "We'll find them."

"Thank you," I say. But short of fishing in every pocket, notebook, and drawer in campus, the only way I'll get all of them back is if someone hands them to me.

I head to me room after dinner, hoping to avoid Sohee by going to bed early. In the lounge, Jihyo lies stretched out on the off-white couch, head propped on the red and blue pillow stitched by her grandmother. Over the top of her novel, she meets me gaze and her face reddens, then she hides behind its pages.

So. My babysitter. Who, I'm sure, had never done something as stupid as ... well, any of the things I've done these weeks.

I sweep by without a word.

"Sooji. Mueos-eul dowa deulikkayo?"

Her tone is timid, not judgemental. I pause, my back to her. "My name is Suzy."

"Suzy. My other name is Juhaek."

I look at her. She's sat up and set down her novel. She tugs an earphone from her ear and I hear a song. "Your tribal name?"

She nods. "I always forget you don't understand Korean."

"Which name do you prefer?"

"I like them both."

"Is that what you're supposed to say?" It comes out more belligerent than I mean.

"No, I do like them both. I'm anΒ ethnically Yemaek, but I'm also Korean."

She's me in reverse. A minority in Korea, like I am in the States. Somehow, she's making all her identities work: she wears clothes that reflect her heritage, and brought her grandma's pillow, and tries to convert people to her favorite music, and yet she goes by a Korean name and reads an English book.

I tap her phone. "What song is this?" It feels strange to use English, in this longest conversation we've had yet.

"Ideungbyeong-ui pyeonji (μ΄λ“±λ³‘μ˜ νŽΈμ§€)." She tugs her earphone free of the phone, and a guy's voice sings out the song she was playing in the Dragon's office. Her favorite. "It's an old Korean folk song. 'Private's Letter.'"

My toes twitch to the beat. "I like it."

"You do?" She seems surprised, like I feel when the twelve members of my dance squad love my routines. And has she grappled with the same insecurities, the same fears of being accepted as someone outside the main culture? Have I given off a snobby vibe of my own? I find myself wanting to reassure her.

"I really do like them. Your songs have a way of sticking in my head."

"My parents played this one when I was growing up."

"I can't imagine sharing music with my parents."

Her brow rises. "Why not?"

"We just like different things."

"I miss my parents so much." She says it truthfully and without embarrassment. I envy her.

"They don't live in Seoul?"

"We live on the northeastern shore, in a small village. Several hours away.

"Why did you take this job? Not to spend your summer chasing delinquents."

She laughs, a soft, soothing sounds. "I wanted to meet kids from other countries, and help them learn about mine." She smiles and touches her phone. "Private's Letter" has ended. "If I can make evenΒ oneΒ person loveΒ oneΒ song of mine, I will have succeeded. Also"β€”her voice grows wistfulβ€”"my family needs the money. I have two younger sisters. My eomma just had a baby."

I imagine Sihyeon. Jihyo is a big sister, like me. And wasn't I just like her at the start of summer? Steady and responsible? Barely able toΒ imagineΒ trouble, let along get myself into it?

"Do you ... want to talk?" she asks hesitantly.

I meet you gaze. She bites her lip, as uncomfortable as I am. I'm glad we talked. Got to know each other a little bit more.

But no matter how friendly or sensitive Jihyo is, she's still the Dragon's eyes and ears.

"Thanks, but I'm good," I say. "Thanks for sharing your song."

And with that, I slip away.

Κ•ΰ₯-Μ«Ν‘-Κ”ΰ₯ΰΎ‰*α΄Έα΅’α΅›α΅‰α΅‡α΅’α΅ƒα΅—βœ²οΎŸβ±βΏ*γ€‚β‹†Β μ„œμšΈγ€‚β‹†Β *

In my room, the closet stands open and emptied of clothes and hangers. My dresses lie in crumpled heaps, as though Sohee had kicked around. My black lace dress has soaked up a can of stale beer. Her dirty laundry still remains in her hamper, but she seems to have moved out. It's a small reprieve.

I mop and sort into the night, trying to put some order back into my life. I find my lilac Guess T-shirt and jeans that I wore on the flight here, scrunched under my bed. I've come so far from that girl who showed up on Loveboat. I walk to my dresser, where I dig out the list of Bae Rules.Β Drinking, wasting money, boys, . I've devoted all my energies to doing what myΒ parentsΒ don't want, instead of whatΒ IΒ want.

And I've been impulsive, stupid. And selfish.

"Jebal, yaegi jomhaeya gesseo." It's Kang, outside in the hallway.

Jihyo answers in Korean. Her voice rises, then a knock sounds on my door.

"Suzy, it's me," Kang says.

I grip my shorts in my lap. My body still remembers. Everything. I can't face him. Not now. Maybe not ever.

"Please don't push me away."

He's afraid. His fear tugs a chord in my heart.

But he's the one whoΒ isn'tΒ supposed to get hurt. The Player who deserves anything. Why must he be so vulnerable?

Jihyo is scolding him, back in full-fledged counselor mode. I picture her tiny, determined frame, yanking him down the hallway, proof that size has nothing to do with power, and I almsot want to go out there to spare her and him the awkwardness.

"I'm sorry, I just can't talk tonight," I finally say, but they're gone.

I email Sihyeon to check she hasn't been scorched by the conflagration back home, then pour my heart out to Wendy in a three-page email.

Finally, I delete the entire note and replace it:

Miss you SO much. Hope you and Nick are having a blast.

Κ•ΰ₯-Μ«Ν‘-Κ”ΰ₯ΰΎ‰*α΄Έα΅’α΅›α΅‰α΅‡α΅’α΅ƒα΅—βœ²οΎŸβ±βΏ*γ€‚β‹†Β μ„œμšΈγ€‚β‹†Β *

In the morning, I wake from fading dream of a white feather tutu. I cling to its threads as they slip from me: Joohyuk's laugh, Kang's paint-smeared fingers. Why was I dreaming of them both? The light through the window is grey. No one's awake yet, the silence unnatural.

I study my list of Bae Rules. A new list runs through my headβ€”instead of Straight As: work on projects I love. Instead of curfews and no drinking and dress like a nun: everything in moderation.

But those rules are reactions. Which means that list still belongs to my parents.

Not to me.

I crumple the Bae Rules into a ball and toss it at the trash can. Score. Outside my window, down the courtyard, Dohyun and his Angry Asian Men are wading calf-deep through flood waters. My eyes fall on Joohyuk's blue socks, folded together, on the edge of my desk. I pull their sooly softness over my hands and clap softly, feeling an odd, hollow sense of loss. Like I've misplaced something.

Without Sohee's mini-speakers playing music, the room feels stiflingly still. I adjust my radio alarm clock until I find a Korean pop song with a toe-twitching backbeat. It's followed by another pop song.

Almost against my will, the music takes hold of my shoulders, then my hips, then my feet. Slowly, my stocking arms draw curves through the air, picking up speed as the music deepens. My fingers pulse against the stretchy knit, wrists flex parallel movements to the rhythm. I begin to dance. One song. Another, another, my feet beating out the rhythm on the floor. I whirl into the space between the dressers, my long-armed shadow stag leaps over the walls, until. deep in my body, I understand what I will never have words for.

As the fifth song fades, I spin a slow circle. My blue hands sketch a cylinder around my body, slimming to the song's last note. There's a pulsing deep inside me as my blood storms the chambers of my heart. Maybe it took hitting bottom this weekend to give me the wake-up call I needed.

I open my notebook, and write a new list. Neither in obedience to my parents, nor against them:

1. Sort things out with Kang
2. Help him with reading.
3. Learn some Korean (would be nice to understand what my parents say in code)
4. Choreograph an original dance for the talent show, even if I can't be in it.
5. Dance my heart out until med school

I stack Joohyuk's sock neatly and set them on the desk. Smooth out the tiny dancing figurines.

After a moment, I put my pen to the page again:

6. Wait for love next time

I write a new title at the top:

The SuzyΒ BaeΒ Plan

Κ•ΰ₯-Μ«Ν‘-Κ”ΰ₯ΰΎ‰*α΄Έα΅’α΅›α΅‰α΅‡α΅’α΅ƒα΅—βœ²οΎŸβ±βΏ*γ€‚β‹†Β μ„œμšΈγ€‚β‹†Β *

Opening my door takes four yanks that threaten to pop both arms from their sockets. Oh for heaven's sake, Sohee's voice echoes in my head, and I feel a pang.

I head down the stairs to the landing, where the blue flyer still hangs by a piece of tape.

Do you sing? Play an instrument? Juggle?

Sign up for the Talent Show today!

I tear it from the wall and find Sulli and Krystal in the second-floor lounge, sprawled on red yoga mats, working out to Taylor Swift. I roll the flyer into a tube, more nervous than if I were approaching a guy for a first date.

"Hey, Suzy." Sulli finishes a set of leg lifts, and unstick her butterfly-printed shirt from her sternum.

"What's up?" Krystal rolls her mat into a tube of her own.

I show the flyers to my fellow clubbers. "I was wondering if you girls might be up for working with me on a dance routine." The talent show needs to be Yonsei-themed, but that's not a limitation so much as a chance to take some risks. "I've got a dance based on something I put together for a friend and me back home. I can incorporate ribbons and fans from your electives. Music-wise, I'm thinking of a mix of American and Korean folk songs."

"Cool," Sulli says.

"Not too weird?"

"No, I'm in," Krystal says. "I bet Min would join us. She's a pro."

"We can practice in the B building," Sulli says.

"I have a confession," I say. "I'm technically not allowed in the talent show."

"The photos?" Sulli scowls.

"Yeah." A dig in my stomach. "We can't let the Dragon know I'm involved. I won't be in the show. I'll just teach you the dance. Besides, after my photos, it's for the best that I'm not onstage." With all those eyes on my body.

"Bull," Sulli says, but I press on before I lose my nerve.

"We can start tomorrow after electives."

"Tomorrow's N Seoul Tower. Thursday's Gyeongbokgung Palace," Krystal reminds me. "Friday's the Changdeokgung Palace."

So many obstacles already, with our schedule filling up as the weeks roll on. Funny how when you let yourself want, the fear of not getting it ratchets up.

But inch by inch, I'm on my way with the Suzy Bae Plan.

"Saturday then," I say.

Κ•ΰ₯-Μ«Ν‘-Κ”ΰ₯ΰΎ‰*α΄Έα΅’α΅›α΅‰α΅‡α΅’α΅ƒα΅—βœ²οΎŸβ±βΏ*γ€‚β‹†Β μ„œμšΈγ€‚β‹†Β *

I owe Kang an explanation. An apology and a talk. But I'm relieved not to spot him in the dining hall; he's never been an early riser. I move through the buffet line and place a pork-stuffed dumpling onto my tray as Dohyun passes by the double doors. He's dressed for running in track shorts and a sleeveless jersey.

"Dohyun," I call. Setting down my tray, I dart toward the door, only to slam into the Dragon. Her stout arms are filled with a stack of readers. Her heavy perfume wafts over me.

"Sooji." Her measuring eyes sweep the length of my skirt and her lips tighten.

But before she can pronounce some judgement, I dart past her.

"Dohyun!"

Halfway down the hallway, he turns. His hair, parted down the middle, falls in its usual chocolate milk streaks to his cheeks. His eyes light up and he swings a long, brown-paper-wrapped package from under his arm.

"Hey, Suzy. I was looking for youβ€”"

"Did Joohyuk go to Busan to meet Rosie?"

Dohyun's eyes shift as I catch up to him. "It was an emergency."

"What happened?"

"It'sβ€”complicated."

"Is someone hurt? Rosie's dad?"

Hr the paper package into my hand. "He asked me to give you this."

"What is it?" I unwrap the paper to an elegant bo staff: light-weight rattan marked with carved lettersΒ λ°°μˆ˜μ§€.

"We were in the market waiting for Jungwoo to drive him to the airport, and he bought it and got the guy to carve your name."

"What for?"

"Stick fighting."

I flush. "Obviously." I run my hand down its polished surface. It's flawlessβ€”no splinters for me from this pole. I twirl it a full revolution. I would have admired its balance if I wasn't so off-balance myself. Is he saying he remembers the almsot-kiss? I love it too much already, and I can't afford that.

"Tell him thanks," I say stiffly.

"He said to tell you sorry and that he'd talk to you when he gets back in a few days."

"Sorry for what?" For the kiss? The whole messed-up weekend? Maybe he's trying to make up for Aunty Yumi hating me.

Dohyun shrugs. "I figured you'd know."

I don't. And I can't read into his kindness, when most likely, that's all this is.

"I hope no one's hurt," I say. Tucking the staff under my arm, I start to head back to breakfast, then turn back.

"Who started the fight?"

"Joohyuk." Dohyun bites his lip. "But they've kind of been at it since the beginning."

"But ... why? I haven'tβ€”"

"Sorry, Suzy. Not sure how much he'd want me to sya." Dohyun balls up the paper, his expression pained. "He'll be back soon. Talk to him then."

Κ•ΰ₯-Μ«Ν‘-Κ”ΰ₯ΰΎ‰*α΄Έα΅’α΅›α΅‰α΅‡α΅’α΅ƒα΅—βœ²οΎŸβ±βΏ*γ€‚β‹†Β μ„œμšΈγ€‚β‹†Β *

I avoid Kang in Hangul by switching seats to the front by Sulli and Krystal, dashing out as soon as we're dismissed. The next dyas pass in a blur: homework in an empty classroom under Jihyo's supervision, who rewards my efforts by eliminating a demerit. I chat with her a bit more about music and her family, while all of Yonsei launches sky lanterns from the balconies of the Lotte Hotel. No sneaking out clubbing for me eitherβ€”but I don't care. "Maybe I got the whole clubbing thing out of my system," I tell Wendy, when I finally catch her from the pay phone downstairs. "Or maybe everything else that's happened has overshadowed it."

"Or maybe you're just finally doing more of whatΒ youΒ want to do," she says wisely.

Now I tap a rhythm on my thigh under my desk, plotting out my new dance as the Dragon teaches us radicals, the components of characters: three tick marks for water, a five-pointed explosion for fire, a bleeding heart for heart. I recite lines of poetry and sing literacy songs, and listen to a talk by Jihyo on the tribes who make up 2.3 percentβ€”a bit over 400, 000 peopleβ€”of this island's population, all the while feeling Kang's eyes on the back of my head.

Joohyuk's been gone three days. I hate that I'm counting.

At night in my room, I twirl his bo staff. A flagless staff has so much potential and I experiment with sweeps, lunges, jabs at invisible enemies. The staff hisses through the air and I remember slamming Joohyuk's knuckles. I hadn't expected his absence to dominate my thoughts and even my dancing. Back at home, he was the hated Wonder Boy. And here ...?

I don't know what this means. Or if it means anything at all.

Κ•ΰ₯-Μ«Ν‘-Κ”ΰ₯ΰΎ‰*α΄Έα΅’α΅›α΅‰α΅‡α΅’α΅ƒα΅—βœ²οΎŸβ±βΏ*γ€‚β‹†Β μ„œμšΈγ€‚β‹†Β *

Thursday, Krystal and I climb the steps to theΒ Gyeongbokgung Palace, a building with remarkableΒ  curved blue-green roof. Inside, a two-story statue of a man who looks like my uncle Jinyoung, sits on a carved stone chair. He's flanked by Korean flags in red, blue, and white.

"He was a doctor before becoming a revolutionary," Krystal says.

"Way to overachieve."

"Right? It reminds me of the Lincoln Memorial."

"Me, too. Or is it the other way around? Maybe tourists from Korean look at Lincoln and think, cool, just likeΒ Admiral Yi Sun-sin's, too bad they don't have sentries standing by to show some respect.

Krystal laughs.

Friday afternoon, we board luxury boxes for theΒ Gyeongbokgung Palace. Warm rain sheets down as we arrive at a stunning gate of red arches topped by sea-green roofs. Krystal and I open our umbrellas and fight the rain as we walk up s broad avenue of flagstones flanked by thick-leaved trees. The palace itself, a sprawling, stone palance, is nestled at the base of an enormous leafy mountain. Five matching sea-green-and-orange pagodas rise at its center, and on either side.

Halfway there, we run into Dean and Sungwoon getting down on hands and knees, black hair dripping with rain. Garam and Dohyun climb on top to form a human pyramid while a fifth guy snaps photos on his phone.

"What are you doing?" I ask. I decide to pretend I don't remember Sungwoon had one of my pictures.

"We're taking back our stereotypes," Dohyun says.

I'm confused. "Is this for an elective?"

"No, it's our statement. To the world. The Gang of Four Namjas."

I laugh. They're an odd bunch: Muscular Dean, wiry Sungwoon with his mustache, soft-skinned Garam, and cutie Dohyun. "So what stereotype is this?"

"Haven't you noticed? The Asian dad in movies snapping a million photos?"

"I thought you were calling yourselves the Angry Asian Men?" Krystal says.

"Gang ofΒ Four Namjas' better," says the aspiring journalist. "They were the badass officials who led the Cultural Revolution and were charged with treason by the new government. Not that I'm on their side, but they have a great name."

Krystal hands me her phone. "Take my photo with them, will you?"

As I snap a shot, my purse is knocked from my shoulder. Sohee sweeps by in a flutter of red silk, arm in arm with Kangjoon. Last I heard, she was dating Bohyun, full speed ahead to find her man. Kangjoon throws a panicked, Bambi-eyed gaze over his shoulder.

"She's not just boy crazy," Krystal says. "She's insane."

"It's her family." Why am I trying to explain?Β She wants a husband, not a hookup. Krystal raises her brows like I'm speaking pig Latin. With many of the girls refusing to associate with Sohee, I've won the battle in a way. But instead of vindicated, I feel strangely responsible, as if her unhappiness now is myΒ  doing. What she did was wrong, but I've wronged her, too, and I can't see how either of us will ever recover.

Some guys are approaching from behind. "Korea wantsΒ freedom." Subin's talking politics as usual. "The entire country has a history of oppressionβ€”first by the North Koreans, then the Japanese occupation. And is the US coming to their aid if China comes after them?"

"If it works for them," Kang answers.

"Hurry, Krystal." Panicked, I dart ahead before they can catch up to us. "I'm soaked. Let's get inside."

Κ•ΰ₯-Μ«Ν‘-Κ”ΰ₯ΰΎ‰*α΄Έα΅’α΅›α΅‰α΅‡α΅’α΅ƒα΅—βœ²οΎŸβ±βΏ*γ€‚β‹†Β μ„œμšΈγ€‚β‹†Β *

A red-carpeted staircase leads to galleries of incredible things: carved ivory globes nested one inside another; nuts and olive stones carved into animals, boats, demon masks. A jade statue of a boy and bear embracing makes me think of Joohyuk. Maybe Rosie got wind our of fake relationship and is breaking up with him? Maybe her dad's involved. Or maybe IΒ wantΒ something to be wrong, when Joohyuk's actually strolling hand in hand with Rosie through the night markets of Busan, Suzy Bae a distant memory.

I try to immerse myself in these treasures of Korea, liberated/stolen by the other countries, depending on which side of history you sit. I skirt Kang's group by a Mongolian yurt and line up with Krystal and a few girls to view a famous cabbage chiseled from a single cut of white-and-green jade. We get a lesson on how to distinguish jade from rocksΒ  by shining a light through it.

At lunch, I find the source of things I'd chalked up to quirks of my parents: freshly pulped watermelon juice, passion fruit halves served with tiny plastic spoons. I even run across Eomma's favoriteβ€”a purple dragon fruit dripping with dark juices, instead of the white, desiccated ones imported by the Phoenix Korean grocery. The heft of it in my hand makes me uneasy and I set it back on its tray and move on.

After lunch, I find myself wandering alone into a large salon where a crowd fights its way toward a glass case. Sweat-laced bodies pile up behind me, and I'm inched forward like toothpaste in a tube, until I'm squeezed out against the case. Fighting for breath, I brace a hand on the glass and peer at a cinnamon-brown slice of pork belly on a gold platter. Light glistens off a layer of fat and striations of fleshy meat. It looks good enough to sink a pair of chopsticks into and devourβ€”and wonders of wonders, it's made of jasper.

"That stone is the one thing you absolutely had to see in Seoul," a voice teases behind me. "And now you have."

My heart jolts as Kang maneuvers in beside me. His gold chain glints beneath the collar of his tailored shirt. He takes my lebow, protecting me from the crowd as we make our way out. His nose is still bruised: a patch of dark yellow over its bridge.

His touch, his scent, stirs my body with the memory of his kisses, our bodies interlocked.

"Hi," I say dumbly.

"Did it mean anything to you?" His low voice runs under the crowd's rumblings.

"The stone meat?" I swallow hard. "Funny how much our ancestors worshiped food."

His smile doesn't reach his eyes. "They had a lot of appetite we don't give them credit for."

I blush, fixating on a five-colored vase ahead, decorated with immortals, a hundred deer, fruits, fauna, auspicious blue clouds.

"You're avoiding me," Kang says.

"I didn't know what to say," I admit.

His posture is easygoing, but his hands tense on the rail separating us from the vase. "It wasn't a random hookup for me."

I moisten my dry lips. "I don't want to regretβ€”"

"Then don't." His hand brushes the back of my hair. "You're holding out for someone who's made his choice."

A new stab of anxiousness. Kang's seen all the phone calls. All the postcards. But the bo staff ... I wish I couldΒ callΒ Joohyuk but I've never needed his phone number and don't have it.

"Why were you fighting with him?"

Kang's eyes shift. "He was pissed about the kiss at his aunt's. It wasn't his business."

I hate Joohyuk for knowing.

But heΒ madeΒ it his business.

"Maybe he hasn't made his choice," I blurt.

Kang turns toward me, spreading an exasperated hand. "Then why's he with Rosie in Busan?"

"How did you even know that?"

"I overheard his call at the clinic, okay? She was moving her flight from Seoul. He was arranging to pick her up at the airport."

"Seoul?" I stammer. "She was coming to Seoul? I didn't know." Why didn't he tell me? For all I know, Joohyuk's finally manned and planned to force his family to accept her.

I'm such a fool.

The years of unrequited pining crash down on me with aching loneliness. After Nick, I haven't learned anything. Obsessing over a guy in love with another girl. A guy who's made clear over and over that he thinks of me as a sister.

My chest constricts. I move into the next room, where the taps of a chisel on stone echo from a guest-artist carving chops at a corner table. A panorama on a silk scroll dominates the rest of the room, a range called Bukhan Mountain, with craggy peaks and evergreens, with blues so deep and rich I can taste them.

As Kang comes up behind me, I start to move away, but his hand covers mine on the railing.

"Is this ... would I have a better chance with you if I could read?" he asks quietly.

My head snaps up. "That has nothing to do with anything! How could you even think that?"

He looks away. His hair has grown longer since the first day, and he's tucked it behind his ears, making him look younger. I look back on my behaviorβ€”running off the morning after, avoiding him because I've been too mortified to own my choiceβ€”I haven't been kind ... at all.

"Does your dad not want you to paint?" I ask.

He gives me a quick glance. A short laugh. "My dad will buy art if it's a good investment. But no stupid son is wasting time mucking around in it."

"Well, he's not here. So, go do it. Paint your heart out the rest of this trip."

He runs his hand along the railing, still not looking at me. The he pulls his notebook from the back of his shorts and s it into my hand. It's warm from his body. Unwillingly, I flip through. There's a tentativeness to these drawing I didn't see in minem as if he sketched them with one eye peering over his shoulder, waiting for a lash to fall.

A temple's stone pillars, carved with scaly dragons and gold-embossed characters. An artist in a paint-flecked smock raises his brush to an easel. A marbled tea egg lies on its own shadow. No girls, when I'd half expected them. Just more of me.Β  Fishin the last thread of shark fin from my soup at Aunty Yumi's. Me at the breakfast bar this morning, scooping scrambled eggs onto my plate. My profile at the front of the classroom, facing Sulli for a paired exercise.

The back of my head on his pillow, the curve of a bare shoulder, folded sheets pulled to my elbow.

I nearly drop the notebook. His drawings have changed. They're deeper. Fervid. Feverish.

I press his notebook back into his hands with shaking hands of my own. I move to the chop-carving table, where the artist is etching the triple characters of Korean names into soapstones the size of a rectangular lipstick tubes. Seals. To imprint the read stamps on paintings in this palace and at Aunty Yumi's.

I buy a pale blue chop, swirling with darker blue veins.

"Ileum-eun mueos-ibnikka?" The stonecutter is asking for the name to carve into, but I shake my head and hand the stone to Kang.

"You should carve your own," I say. "Choi Seonsaengnim says most artists do. Kind of like a ballerina sewing her own ribbons on her pointe shoesβ€”sorry"β€”I pull a deep breath and exhale through my mouthβ€”"but you can't draw me anymore."

"Why not?"

"You know why."

"No. I don't." He flips the chop, rubs his thumb along its edge.

"Don't make this so hard."

"I'm not the one making it hard."

"Stop." I turn to go, but his arm wraps around my waist, holding me in place.

His next words are half-buried in my hair. "Suzy, all I want is a chance."

I took advantage of a crush and fanned it into flame.

All the phone calls. All the postcards.

I find myself leaning into him. I rest my forehead on his shoulder as his arms go around me and I'm so afraid I'm going to hurt him.

But I no longer have the strength to push him away.

"Maybe we could read together some." My voice is muffled by his shirt. "I'll help you with English, you help me with Korean?"

His arms tighten. He rests his chin on my hair. "I'd like that."


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