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27 July 2010 @ 07:35 am
Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? [Yi Jung x Ga Eul]  
Title: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
Pairing: Yi Jung-centric, Yi Jung x Ga Eul
Fandom: Hana Yori Dango (Boys Before Flowers), KOREAN version
Genre: Angst, Introspective
Rating: PG
Word Count: 5,815

 

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

 

 

The wolf thought to himself, ‘Now there is a tasty bite for me...’

 

Prolegomena

 

[FILOSOF So Yi Jung highlights the basis behind the F4 group dynamics through a formal analysis of reciprocity.]

 

The first misconception the general public made was that they were all irrefutably loyal friends—a tragic mistake. In truth, they cared for themselves foremost. Altruism was a logical fallacy guided by the premium paradigm of paradoxical theory.

 

When they were five, they saw mutual sympathy, a selfish propinquity, in each other. And that laid the foundation for years to come. At ten, they learned the factual meaning of co-dependency (equal manipulation and exploitation, simple as that). Fifteen briefly came and passed, and they had long mastered the legendary knack for pretence. Twenty entered with a furious sound, swept up chaos, and dished out vengeance. Twenty was the year their customs and habits decayed into rusted oblivion. By then, their comfortable arrangement wasn’t so convenient anymore, and they began to feel imminent threats against self-preservation.

 

Jan Di was a pestilence wearing Snow White’s stolen face. She united them (causation of their strife and grief), which was cruel enough. But she continued on and jarred them disastrously awake from their individually packaged, designer-sewn cocoons. And now, the feigned acts of friendship metamorphosed into a perverse reality. They were so good at this charade that even they sometimes forgot what was false.

 

By the time they were in university, the newly sown and honed ability of honesty was ingrained too deep and bitter in the root for them to oppose. They were the source and inception of obligatory friends, anchored to each other entirely. No more possibility of jettisoning the other person sans self-harm along the way. Not that they hadn’t tried, just for fun, a scientific compulsion.

 

As usual, Ji Hoo discovered this phenomenon first, and as per his disposition, kept it quiet and passively labelled it as sound and valid. Ironically, Woo Bin was the next victim to fall, which was incredible considering how ridiculous he normally reacted toward anything intellectual.

 

Jun Pyo was third runner-up and shocked everyone by supporting the idea. He audaciously acted like things had been like this from the start, that they had always been buddies, comrades, soulmates, and resplendent brothers. (Ji Hoo eyed Jun Pyo curiously when he passionately declared the last part and casually mentioned that it should be “transcendent” instead.)

 

Slowly, the three of them grew attached to the foreign concept of friendship. They demanded for it to be pure and selfless, an intruder deemed a marvellous invention. An innovation that would’ve stood supreme, save for one.

 

Yi Jung wasn’t convinced. He liked familiarity better than vainglorious attempts to substantiate glorified vanities. He believed in friendship to an extent. Never mind that he certainly upheld an unconventional view. It couldn’t be helped; he had to cover his weak spots before the hurt swivelled back.

 

Things had been perfectly fine in their group, didn’t need to change. He couldn’t understand why the others had to screw up harmony, throw over tantivy, topsy-turvy the natural order. Or why everyone called him the bad boy. Playboy, he mentally amended.

 

Groundwork

 

[LOGIKER So Yi Jung argues why he was the least compatible and beneficial choice through an examination of individual ethics.]

 

The second misdiagnosis Yi Jung liked to rectify was that they were not essentially fungible. They truly and verily had different temperaments and were—astounding—different persons. Through the progression of gratitude to guilt to grasping epistemological truths, Yi Jung clarified the distinctive quirks in their personalities.

 

Jun Pyo as the antipathetic antagonist, Ji Hoo was vehemently apathetic, Woo Bin (under the spell of a voodoo priestess) marched on grievously optimistic, and Yi Jung liked to keep the world blissfully pessimistic. Watch how jealous and backward-bent they guarded their positions. It’s unique, it’s chic, because there were four black goats in their explosive clique. But (this was when he got slurry from the sherry) they had their crowning moments to—together, in synchronised unison, commence—crow.

 

Contradictory to their core attributes and shrewd instincts, they always helped each other when things got hot and bad. This was how things were, a result of allowing unconditional friendship free reign. This was also when the big obstacles swallowed them whole.

 

Gratitude was another fickle thing Yi Jung didn’t deal with voluntarily. It repeatedly got itself tangled in dismal situations and nonsensical existential manifestos. Gratitude paved the path for duty, and duty without freedom was an objective immorality.  

 

Jun Pyo, their fearless leader who cried too much in the womb of night, considered gratitude as a credit system. One good deed instigated another in return. Ji Hoo was the self-sacrifice on the altar of nobility, which suited him (them) well since no one else was willing to go suicide anyway. Woo Bin was more lenient than Jun Pyo and sterner than Ji Hoo; he interpreted gratitude only a loan shark could (reasoned with “it runs in the family”). Woo Bin made a solid middle ground, an aggravating trait.

 

As for him, Yi Jung determined that gratitude will not exist in his world. And that was the end of that.

 

Following such a stream of conscious thought, guilt took over and made him madder (shudder the bare thought). Steeped in volcanic, sulphurous fumes and fission pits, he was like Vulcan restless in contemplation, rivalling Dante in pose and Rodin in poise. 

 

He owed too much and gave nothing back, and karmic fury was picking up speed. To bribe off damnation in hell, he packed off the girls and turned monkish in puritanical pursuits. This went splendidly until he was tired of spinach and bored of Cartesian restraints (typically occurred an hour later).

 

Ideally, the final step of guilt-propelled redemption focused on a lesson learned, but Yi Jung was not an idealist anymore. He once was, maybe, perhaps, hard to tell after spending the majority of his life worshipping hedonism.

 

Gratitude was annoying, predictable, and easily dispelled. Guilt was ruthless, but even that he could counter with a witty argument or trenchant observation on relativity. Toss some Kafkaesque nihilism into the pot, and godsend approval, they were sold. Pointless to dwell on parables and fables.

 

Yi Jung concluded with: he was never going to change. He’s the wolf of their flock, the devil at the door; he’s got the adorable dimples and innocent face for a flawless, seamless disguise. Lured in the girls like cakewalk on lollipop lane.      

 

He wasn’t a nice guy, and he had no intention of becoming one. It was more fun and characteristic (safer) to be the cool guy. She’s better off with any other F4 member because they were all so innately good, excluding him. And good girls deserved good guys. She’d be wasting her time and mind waiting around for him. Opportunity knocked only once. He’s telling her so.  

 

“No hard feelings, Ga Eul?”

 

Treatise

 

If it is true that true love exists, then true love will happen. If it is true that true love does not exist, then true love will not happen. Therefore, true love either exists or does not exist. QED

 

[VETENSKAPSMAN So Yi Jung demonstrates his scientific proof on the catastrophes of a fatal attraction.]

 

I.

 

He had three paramount rules when it came to dating and girls. First, no fooling around with nice girls, second, no fooling around with naive girls, and third, no fooling around with girls associated with friends. Direct and sovereign, these were the rules he adhered to piously. He had neither patience nor stamina for venturing beyond those lines.

 

Which was why it became increasingly alarming that he hadn’t cut contact with Ga Eul yet. During all the years he spent in Sweden, perpetually seven hours behind her, he’d answered her calls and inquiries. Often later than sooner, but he didn’t let escape an email without typing a reply.

 

It began as a game for him, to see how long he could keep up the new “nice guy” persona he concocted, how long it took for her to figure him out and leave. He’d been waiting for that second glass of water dripping down his head for some time now.

 

She didn’t budge, not even when he virtually introduced her to his Swedish babes. Frida, Hilda, Tilda, and Viola. Ga Eul wrote them polite greetings and excused herself for not being as interesting. He knew it was a sleazy move, but it was the only tactic he could think of momentarily. That was the irritating part.

 

And so, he tried again. This time, with Italians.

 

. . .

 

Her letters and emails came less frequently as time passed. When he first arrived, they piled in once a week as short, terse notes or a cute rhyme she composed. Gradually, they dwindled to once a month. But she still called him on the weekends like a periodic memento.

 

During his second year, he experienced several dramatic changes. He won a prestigious award in the European art community and was invited to represent the ceramic division at an upcoming exhibition. His face and name were plastered across international newspapers. The phone rang nonstop day and night, requesting him for interviews and quotes, begging for a photo shoot, how about Friday?

 

He was thinking about unplugging the phone, just for a while so he could catch some goddamn, desperately missed sleep, when her voice pierced the machine. He grabbed for the receiver, got tangled in the process, and by the time he said hello, she’d already clicked goodbye.

 

Hers was the first call he answered and the last he heard.

 

. . .

 

His mother died the autumn of his third year abroad. Yi Jung learned the news from his brother.

 

His father was a total mess by then and collapsed daily waist-deep in alcoholic seas, sobbing over the “only woman he ever loved.” At the exact instant of her death, his father was in bed with another woman. It was almost poetically beautiful how hideous that scene must’ve looked.

 

The next morning, Yi Jung tossed a letter from Ga Eul into the trash. He wasn’t in the mood for her pity or condolences or the reminder that he turned out a replica of his father. His self-hate and faithful stupidity narrowed in to hibernate, and this time, he didn’t care.

 

. . .

 

Right before he was due to return home, he decided to tour Europe like the old masters did. On his grand tour trekking from Rome to St. Petersburg, he saw enough wonders and monuments to last him eternity. (Incidentally, stumbling upon his own work in the Louvre’s contemporary artists section was more disturbing than flattering.)

 

Stopping by Prague to see its famous spring, he was suddenly hit with a realization. Ga Eul hadn’t written or called him in months now. She was the only one from his select circle of friends he hasn’t seen in person since four years ago. Ji Hoo managed to persuade Jan Di into a Parisian visit last autumn.  

 

One night, an old family acquaintance invited him to a performance of Don Giovanni, which he accepted because it was the cordial thing to do and seemed reasonable. And being a favourite of his, the opportunity was hard to decline. He and the title character shared sordid and sundry qualities in common.

 

It’ll be fun, he thought. It’ll be like treading into his eponymous clan after traversing strange lands for eons.

 

He didn’t expect or appreciate the change in finale. Elvira chose Leporello over the convent, and Don Giovanni was righteously forgotten. He knew it was a comedic twist but wasn’t pleased. Through that single, defiant act, his last night in Prague (and Mozart’s greatest masterpiece) was ruined.  

 

. . .

 

In Madrid, he met up with Jun Pyo. Both were staying there for a day, resting in between incessant flights and layovers. Mixed and muddled, crucified under streetlights, by the north facade of Almudena, they crossed roads.

 

Yi Jung suggested they go inside and sit for a while, but Jun Pyo eyed suspiciously the towering rectangular dome and winced. With spires lit and a dim weathervane, the cathedral soared unparalleled. Instead, they walked to a bar. Nothing helped old friends catch up better than ethanol clemency. 

 

“Anger is warm and addictive like a high grade Spanish wine. The more you drink, the more you want,” Yi Jung paused to order drinks, finishing his soliloquy, “The thing is, I didn’t even want it, but I still can’t stop.”

 

“You’re going back to Seoul next week.”

 

It wasn’t a question. It was a dull, uncompromising truth.  

 

“Yeah. When are you returning?”

 

“Maybe a week after you. I still have to wrap up some business in Barcelona.”

 

“Don’t work yourself to death, Ahjussi. Jan Di doesn’t seem like the type who likes wrinkles and white hair.”

 

Jun Pyo smiled at the taunt. “It’s hard to think that we’ve been gone for four years now. Everything’s changed.”

 

And nothing felt right.

 

. . .

 

He told his driver to take the next left. The car swerved and nearly collided with opposing traffic (screams and curses filtered through the tinted windows) but they made it through alive. The plane had landed early in the afternoon, which meant classes were in session, which meant he had a promise to complete, a favour to repay.

 

The centre of their world, he thought. Surrounded by a crowd of children inside a tiny classroom, she gently moulded a piece of clay. A little boy whispered something into her ear and made her laugh. She still got that goofy grin.

 

He opened the door.

 

Ga Eul looked up in disbelief.

 

“Yi Jung-sunbae.”

 

II.

 

In his peculiar way, he had asked her to wait for him. He said it as an awkward, declarative hesitation, but the significance was clear. As usual, he left the final decision for her to make.

 

Yi Jung’s words were always replete with ifs. He intentionally set out the contingencies as preparation for uncertainties. He couldn’t tolerate not knowing what to do under any circumstance. He imagined all possible scenarios and found escapes for every case.

 

If she met her “soulmate” by the time he came back, then he would maintain his belief that good girls ended up with good guys. If she didn’t meet her “soulmate,” then he would clarify what he said before as honouring a promise.    

 

Either way, Yi Jung couldn’t lose. And Ga Eul knew this too. She’d seen plenty of his decoys and mirrors to accurately predict his moves. 

 

Decrypting Eun Jae’s message for him was something she had to do because he meant a lot to her, because he taught her things, because it was her silent farewell to him. Until that point, she wanted to think of him as someone special, to be cherished, the once and only. But after watching him break down and cry, she realized she didn’t like fate.

 

In his arrogant opinion, fate was absolute. What will happen, will happen, and it was stupid to think otherwise. He took on the days with a cynical approach, limited himself to familiars, rejected the notion of restitution or reprisal, and swung the pendulum of avoidance in motion.

 

Things happened because of prophecy. And he was the one who self-fulfilled them all.

 

. . .

 

At the airport, everyone was solemn and hushed. They sent off two that day, and the epic F4 suddenly became F2 (or F1 since Ji Hoo was busy in medical school or maybe F0 if Woo Bin entered the family business early). Jun Pyo for Beijing then Tokyo and Yi Jung headed for Gothenburg.

 

Jan Di cried.  Ga Eul only felt numb. There were a million things she wanted to yell but couldn’t gather into coherent, audible speech.

 

She told him explicitly that she was done with chasing him, that she was giving him what he needed: a rest with the distance of four thousand nine hundred and ninety-eight miles separating them. They’ll remain friends, she assured him. She’ll diligently call and write him letters.

 

It’s okay, it’s justified. 

 

“Don’t forget, sunbae, I’m the first person you have to see when you come back,” she said

 

—not seriously, it’s a harmless joke.  

 

. . .

 

Jan Di was worried about her initially. Ga Eul firmly told her not to bother. She was romantic (no need denying the obvious) but she was also resilient. And resilient people didn’t succumb to frostbite even after ten thousand winters’ worth of elemental exposures.

 

She might not have been as strong as Jan Di, or as inflexible as Jun Pyo, or as perceptive as Ji Hoo, or as kind-hearted as Woo Bin, but she had her own blessing. She emerged from adversities intact and smiling. It was a rare talent nowadays.

 

And her intuition was urging her to forget about him because it was the honourable course to choose. She was the one who severed things, told him she wouldn’t pursue him anymore. But then he made that outrageous promise. For someone like him (Casanova he called himself), it was equivalent to splitting open innards and tearing off chunky, pulsing flesh. Yi Jung, she recalled, didn’t like to complicate matters. 

 

Whatever irrationality rampaging through her head didn’t defeat the detail that four years was a very long time.

 

. . .

 

After graduation, she quit her job at the porridge shop and enrolled in university. Her parents wanted her to study law or business (any career that poured in money), but she wanted to practise art though she wasn’t very gifted.

 

In the end, she settled on education. Her parents were annoyed, she was content. Watching Jan Di painfully struggle with her anatomy classes was a more powerful encouragement than any threats her parents issued. It was a smart solution. She wasn’t academic, but she had a good heart and determination. Besides, she was good with children and that’s a crucial prerequisite.

 

She wrote Yi Jung a letter chronicling her first day in university. Laconic and barely half a page, it was the maximum she permitted herself.

 

. . .

 

Life without him was proceeding more easily than she thought. It was difficult in the beginning (she thought she would die, the histrionics) when the memories were still fresh. But nostalgia was a transient craving, and soon, she was free. 

 

He’d been away for a year now, and she only thought about him twice a day (waking up and drifting to sleep). Any lingering stings were scrupulously erased upon excavation.


Ga Eul brushed back her long hair and slipped into her heels. Tonight was Jan Di’s birthday party, and she was playing hostess. Ji Hoo was arriving any minute with Woo Bin promptly following suit. Jun Pyo had sent his presents days before—an absurdly lavish necklace and fifty bouquets of imported flowers. Ga Eul was dizzy just trying to guess the cost (in pounds, the letter came from London).

 

The oven timer sounded her alert. She rushed to the kitchen to pull out the cake, praying that it didn’t burn. She exhaled in relief and placed it on the counter to cool. Sitting down on a stool, Ga Eul waited for the others. It was supposed to be a surprise, which meant Woo Bin had already slipped it out accidentally.

 

Nine minutes and counting, they were late.

 

. . .

 

The second year was the toughest for her.

 

Her father retired (for real) and constantly grumbled about idleness. Her mother dismissed her hints of wanting to move out (she was an adult for god’s sake). Ga Eul fought tooth and nail and wore them down.

 

As reward for winning the gruelling battle for independence, Woo Bin found her a mysteriously cheap and lovely apartment. She had her suspicions but didn’t inquire further. For her housewarming party, they repainted the interior peachy and bright, an inside joke.

 

Yi Jung sent her a candy dish, his latest creation. Perched fat and proud, it winked at her every morning before she left for school. She was touched.

 

. . .

 

His mother was dead, and his father was prescribing the brilliant self-remedy of alcohol poisoning. She wanted to comfort him, except she didn’t know what to say. Lost for words, she wrote him two lines and mailed it—fast before she changed her mind.

 

He wasn’t going to read this letter (assuming he read the others). Oddly, she was glad for that.

 

. . .

 

Ga Eul had a dilemma devouring her hard-earned peace. A colleague at the kindergarten asked her out.

 

Soliciting Jan Di was risky. With no one else around, Ga Eul turned to Jae Kyung. Globe-trotting, whirlwind heiress, beauty, and Herculean hero in one, Jae Kyung embodied the source of infinite wisdom regarding these problems. And she was back temporarily for some prestigious event.

 

And thus, Ga Eul borrowed courage and invited Jae Kyung for dinner. The other was pleasantly startled but agreed. Over postprandial tea and cake, she confessed in a hurry, shifting uncomfortably as the words tumbled out.

 

“You haven’t mentioned So Yi Jung once tonight.”

 

Ga Eul poured them more tea. Green was her favourite. Oolong was too harsh, caustic, and overwhelmingly fragrant. And white was bland, no excitement (she’s sick of that). Moderation was key, no more with extremes. “I guess I hadn’t noticed.”

 

“I think the answer is clear. If you really, really want something, nothing can stop you. You just have to know what you want.”

 

“Did it,” she gave a fortifying cough, “Did it take you a long time to forget about Jun Pyo-sunbae?”

 

“Not particularly, but that’s just who I am. I never let the past or missed chances control me. I think you’re like that too. And you’ll be okay, better than okay. You’ll be fabulous.”

 

Her throat constricted and blocked off air. Ga Eul breathed in sharply to force oxygen in, not daring to liberate it. In a guilty gulp, she went down neck-out. Ha Jae Kyung was the nicest person she knew. The tears crept in, sneaky and cunning, and snaked down her cheeks.

 

The next day, Ga Eul shopped for a dress to wear on her date.

 

. . .

 

Mild day in spring, on a whim, Ga Eul brought out the toy-clay and showed her students the rudimentary techniques. They giggled and squealed in delight as their little hands pounded and stretched the slippery stuff. Absentmindedly, she recited for them the differences between gray argil, kaolin, and loess.

 

“It’s a grape, look!”

 

Ga Eul inspected the lumpy tribute and chuckled. It was originally a strawberry, but a grape was just as wonderful a fruit. She wiped off a streak of clay on the boy’s cheek and added his grape to their harvest basket.

 

“You’re applying too much pressure in the wrist again,” said a voice by the door.

 

Her head shot up, heart pounding, and couldn’t believe—

 

 It was him.

 

“Yi Jung-sunbae.”

 

III.

 

Boyfriend. Her student had asked if he were her boyfriend. Evidently, something was misconstrued, and Ga Eul was too embarrassed to correct the girl.

 

“It’s a minor confusion. I shouldn’t have let her to continue thinking we’re...dating. I’m sorry. She asked me so suddenly, and I didn’t have time to react so I blurted out a random name,” Ga Eul hastily explained.

 

“Don’t worry about it.” He was shaking from amusement. She was the same, honest to a fault and blunt to insult.

 

She muttered another apology and sipped her water. “How was Sweden?”

 

“Educating. I’ve learned more about art these past four years than I care to know. Who knew international wars were actually fought over ceramics?”

 

“Well, that’s definitely...something. But for a prodigy like you, it comes naturally. I read about your exhibition and couldn’t quite decide what was more impressive, your pots or fans,” she teased.

 

“It’s not easy keeping my adoring audience at bay. A look, a touch, a kiss, and they’re smitten.”

 

“Casanova hasn’t lost his charm.”

 

He wondered if she meant it as a compliment.

 

. . .

 

What am I doing here?

 

He sat across from her beaming like a helioid magnet, emitting mesmerising, sharp, plasma-scorched waves. The artistic illusion, the Continental flair, he had an everlasting supply of tricks ready to use. Coming to see her at the kindergarten was startling enough, but now, they were actually on a date. More or less (less), give or take (take), she was putting things in perspective euphemistically.

 

They were just old friends catching up. Gauche and tentative, naturally, since they haven’t been in contact for months. Anyway, she was sorta-kinda seeing someone (strictly platonically). Regardless, he was simply being polite. With the whole—you know—getting reacquainted notion.

 

They bypassed the common amenities, accelerated through enquiries relating to the past four years (the prickliest part), and were irremovably trapped on the present tense. She couldn’t think of anything more, and he refused to help, preferring to smirk instead. Ahead, she visualised a grim, lipid-limp tête-à-tête vis-à-vis.

 

With nowhere to hide (checked the vicinity), she licked her lips and resolved to say something articulate.

 

“Ga Eul, don’t you think it’s time to talk about us?”

 

Her heart plummeted.

 

. . .

 

Familiarity breeds contempt while distance eliminates negativities. He’d never given that concept much weight before, but it was frequently on his mind these days.

 

Seeing his old friends had been a daunting experience. He was accustomed to flitting, fleeting flirtations. Reigniting close friendships was a terrifying hurdle he had to leap, and he half expected them to outright ignore him. But Woo Bin greeted him enthusiastically, burying him under jokes and rounds of beer. Jun Pyo slugged him in the arm and began lecturing on not emailing more often. Ji Hoo merely nodded, which channelled mountains and oceans in itself.

                                                              

He was relieved. They hadn’t forgotten him; they still cared about him. Cork the sentimentality before it stained his suit.

 

Yi Jung adjusted his tie and gestured for some girls to come over. Tonight was a party, and the sole purpose was fun and play. The girl on the right (miniskirt) giggled and slid next to him. Her friend (halter top) barricaded his left. He was safe, satisfied, and signalled for drinks.

 

“Who’s the girl in violet?” one of them said.

 

He zoned in to whisper, inhaling the acrid rise of her perfume, and shrugged. “My baby sister. Isn’t she cute? She’s a kindergarten teacher.”

 

On the other side of the table, Jan Di glared savagely in his direction. Ga Eul wasn’t fazed.  

 

He’ll buy her flowers. African violets.

 

. . .

 

She ran into him everywhere. A magician’s black thread, he appeared from thin air. Walking home from work, she spotted him in the corner—leaning, sleek with feline grace, against a lamppost. Buying groceries at the corner deli, he waited in line behind her at the checkout stand. Parks, avenues, theatres, and after pottery classes (she had that one coming). She would’ve screamed stalker, but he seemed truly amazed too. 

 

Eerie, that’s what. Scary, that’s no doubt. Coincidence, she repeated. She had nothing to fear. Seoul was a small city on the global scale. They were bound to meet occasionally.

 

And so, rationally, she had no reason to stay home from Jun Pyo’s welcome party. Jan Di wanted her to come, and the others were fiendishly persuasive as well. Furthermore (the list grew) it was at a club Woo Bin’s family owned, and (staggering tall) it’s close to her house, therefore she ought to go. To make sure Jun Pyo didn’t try anything funny, to stop Jan Di’s pleading. Yes, she will go. No, she shouldn’t. Yes, no, yes—yes.

 

By eleven, she was done.

 

Scattered light and drunken, metronomic flow, time ticked and slugged along. It was humid and steamy in the club. Her dress stuck to her skin like industrial glue to paper, and she felt a severe headache coming on. Thirty seconds more and she’ll be gone.

 

“You’re leaving?”

 

She smiled apologetically at Jan Di. “I have to wake up early tomorrow. It’s a field-trip day.”

 

“Wait, I’ll drive you home,” Woo Bin offered.

 

“That’s okay. I don’t live far.”

 

“It’s late. I can’t let a lady walk home by herself.”

 

“But sunbae.”

 

“C’mon.”

 

Ga Eul relented. She was tired, and besides, it’d be rude to refuse.

 

. . .

 

He didn’t know why he asked her to meet him. He could’ve just sent the flowers, a regretful note, and leave the incident behind as a distasteful memory. On a reckless impulse, he called her and set up a time. Prime hour, lofty, flaming hellish, noonish atmosphere—he changed his shirt twice. Black slacks and a white jacket, mixed metaphor, he was prepared.

 

One o’clock dashed past, and she wasn’t here yet. He paced around. The flowers started to wilt.

 

Two o’clock and twenty (hypothetical) calls later, he nearly gave up and was about to leave.

 

“Sunbae, I’m a little late, right?” Understatement of the century.

 

Quick, endearing, and wicked sweet, his defences returned immediately. “Ga Eul, will you be my eternal flower?”

 

She laughed.

 

He blinked.

 

“Sunbae, that’s the silliest line I’ve ever heard, like something from a bad translation or poorly written drama episode. They are very beautiful though. Thank you.”

 

“Let’s go for a ride. I want to show you something.”

 

. . .

 

He dropped her off that evening and left her completely bewildered. They’d driven by the park with the ice rink and sat on a stone bench to talk. With enough space for a galaxy between them, they gazed off into the horizon.

 

He invited her to dinner. She was too slow in saying no. So somehow, she ended up tangled in another date with him. She could feel it, the pattern repeating, gears churning, intensified perpetual motion. Cyclic rewind.

 

Halt. Someone’s at the door. She dropped the red herring onto the ground, there went dinner.

 

“Ji Hoo-sunbae?”

 

“Ga Eul.”

 

“Are you looking for Jan Di?”

 

“No. I’m looking for you.”

 

. . .

 

She was reluctant to date him. He was fine with that, was equipped for that.

 

Hooked on girls and gin (no tonic, please, not tonight; there’s no medicine for life) he could barely discern her words. Soon, he began to speculate her sincerity in presence. They’d been on ten dates, including this, and he still couldn’t puzzle her out. Ga Eul had a mask permanently attached, fixed on watch and water.

 

He tried harder, brought her to expensive restaurants, and wormed a vile tunnel into her life. Yi Jung didn’t yield (neither did she).

 

Then, on the thirteenth date—fed up with her excuses and indecision—he confronted her, a first for him. He elected for the passive-aggressive attack.

 

“Ga Eul, have you found your soulmate yet?”

 

Her fork froze. So much for subtlety. “Soulmate?”

 

“Don’t tell me you gave up already.”

 

“Of course not. I’m still waiting for him to show up, and when he does, I’m going to scold him for being so late.”

 

“What if he’s already here?”

 

“I think I’d realize it if he were.” She glanced away and laughed.

 

“Yes, I suppose you would.”    

 

He didn’t want to show how hard her words hit home, slamming gut, heart, and lungs into smouldering cinders. Coarse and bleak, they coagulated into a glutinous gunk in the bottom ditch. Pieces of irony (justice) clawed and burrowed into the slimy, slick-lined walls of his belly, up, up, up

 

He forced himself to smile, look content, relaxed, and impassive. Resist the urge to take her hand and kiss her, tasting if she were real or not. Hallucinations were his habitual stigmata.    

 

. . .

 

Ga Eul had a crawling idea of what he was doing. Like a cockroach with fluorescent light shining on its exoskeletal, skittering armour, the temptation was indestructible and elusive.

 

She wanted to convey her appreciation for everything he did (inadvertently taught), be candid and exact, and cease this masquerading crusade. She valued his friendship, more than he knew, but dating was a disproportional exaggeration neither of them needed. The tension was always there, thick and pressing and cancerously laced. It entombed them both leagues head-over, far too late.

 

She left delicate clues that he shouldn’t feel compelled to keep asking her. She wasn’t eighteen anymore, haplessly gullible and wandering along a rainbow in wonderland. Or nineteen and wounded fresh, or twenty and materializing from snow banks with one wing torn, or even twenty-one and finally learning happiness.

 

At twenty-two, Ga Eul stopped dreaming so much and kept her idealism quiet in slumber.

 

“Yi Jung-sunbae,” she began, “I’m sorry for burdening you before. I’m fine now, really. You don’t have to go on ‘dates’ with me anymore. You kept your promise and came to see me. We can stop pretending and just act as friends.”

 

They reached the top of the familiar stairs.

 

She continued, “I was serious about what I said. I’m not going to chase after you anymore. Please don’t feel obligated to be that nice to me.”

 

“Ga Eul. I told you, I’m not a nice guy.”

 

“Decent, then. You might not be nice, but you are a decent guy. I think we’ll both find our soulmates one day, someday, and we’ll both be happy forever. Until then,” she nodded farewell, “we’ll have to keep on searching.”

 

She started down the stairs.

 

He grabbed her wrist and clutched it tight. It’s gonna be a bumpy, impossible ride. To hell with once-in-a-life-time, to hell with saving face and self-control.    

 

“You’re running away. You’re doing precisely what you told me not to do. You’re afraid of your own feelings, of what might—could—happen.”

 

“If I were afraid, I wouldn’t have persisted until now, would I? You told me that opportunity only comes once. When it leaves, it’s gone.”

 

“Ga Eul. I’m human, I make mistakes. Don’t I deserve a second chance?”

 

She stared him curiously in the eye, inspecting him carefully for any ruse or ploy. Finding none, she calmly shook her head and said, “Sunbae, not everything comes with a second chance.”

 

And that was fact.

 

He released her arm as if cursed.

 

IV.

 

A wolf was knocking at the door. He’s mad, bad, and dangerous to know, but he’s all she got for tonight.

 

Ga Eul shouted for him to come in, spritzing on a splash of perfume. He stepped inside and placed the bouquet neatly on a nearby table.

 

“Sunbae! You’re early.”

 

“No, you’re late.”

 

She verified the time. That liar, it was only six.  “It’s their one-year anniversary. I want to look special.”

 

“You always do to me.”

 

That’s the silliest line I’ve ever heard. Watch it now or I’m telling Woo Bin.”

 

Yi Jung gave her a friendly kiss on the cheek and held out her red coat.

 

 
 
 
chunnyidajj on July 28th, 2010 08:21 am (UTC)
oh how brillianltly done. chu ga eul the red riding hood and so yi jeong the bad wolf. i love it. beautiful connotations and metaphors - what, with the red coat and yi jeong's nature too.

brilliant. detached but yet, the story goes on well.
i like it, very much.
Y U no auto-translate?lye_tea on July 28th, 2010 08:31 am (UTC)
Thanks, glad you liked. :)
.: 003corposant on July 28th, 2010 06:52 pm (UTC)
Brilliant! I love this.