Hae-kyung walked into her apartment and dropped her purse on the floor as soon as she walked in. She was tired but it wasn’t late enough for her to go to bed. She decided to take a bath and ran the tap while she took off her clothes. When the tub was full, she climbed into it and closed her eyes. The water was warm and she felt the fatigue wash off her slowly. The room was quiet except for the drip drip dripping of the tap.
“I’m getting married.” Hye-soo’s voice said in her head and she sighed.
“You are jealous.” She sighed again and sunk her head under the water.
“Why are you so frigid?”
“You’re such a tease. What’s wrong with you?”
“I thought you said you loved me. Don’t be like that.”
All the voices swirled around in her head as she held her breath under the water.
Her eyes flew open as the smell of his body filled her nostrils, the face attacked her and she saw that sick smile. It felt like the clammy hands were reaching around her neck, “Appa, appa! Save me! It hurts so much, please save me!!”
She pushed herself out and began to cough violently. The voice echoing in her head, “Appa chebal, guhae juseyo!!!” Tears filled her eyes and she dropped her head to her knees. She tried not to cry but the tears spilled out and she sobbed silently.
Hwan-gun finished up at work that day and was preparing to leave. He had so much to do and he still needed to hire a secretary. He picked up his suit and was about to walk out of the office when his cellphone rang.
“Eo.” He answered as he pushed the elevator button.
“I’m headed to your house, what do you want for dinner?” Ah-reum asked.
“Whatever’s good. I’m just stepping out of the building now so I may be a little late.”
“Alright, I’ll see you later then.” She said and hung up.
He started the car and drove out of the parking lot. As he drove, he thought about Hae-kyung and wondered if she was okay. She looked like she had been trying to hold back tears when they were at lunch.
“Why am I thinking about that?” He sighed to himself. He couldn’t help himself though, so even as he pulled into the driveway next to Ah-reum’s car, Hae-kyung’s bowed head was the image on his mind.
“Wasseo?” Ah-reum said and smiled at him as he entered.
“You didn’t have to do this.” He said and smiled in return.
“Eyy, you just got came from America yesterday and went straight to work today. Aren’t you tired?” She asked watching him with arms akimbo.
“Now that you mentioned it, I am a little tired.” He said, setting aside his bag and jacket. “What did you make?”
“Just some soup, you know I’m not a very good cook.” She said as they sat down to dinner.
Hwan-gun smiled. “How’s your father?” He asked.
“He’s fine. He wants to know when the wedding is.” She said, lifting a spoonful of soup to her mouth.
“When do you want it to be?” He asked.
She shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter.”
He looked up at her from his plate, “It doesn’t matter?”
“Not really, you’re the one who asked me to marry you after all.” She said swallowing another spoonful.
“Why did you agree if you weren’t interested?” Hwan-gun asked.
“If it wasn’t you, my father would have chosen someone else and I really don’t want to be married to someone I don’t know very well.”
He placed his chin in his hand and stared at her. “Are you hearing yourself right now?”
“Gunah, we’ve been friends for over fifteen years and we promised to get married to each other if we’re still single when we turn thirty so our parents don’t force us to marry strangers. I’m just keeping up my end of the promise, did something change?”
Hae-kyung’s question from earlier popped into his head, “You don’t love each other?” “Do you love me?” He asked suddenly making her burst into laughter.
“Oh, you’re serious. Gunah, you’re my best friend and I do love you but not like that. I’d rather be married to my friend than a complete stranger. That kind of love can always develop later.”
“What if it doesn’t?” He asked. He wasn’t sure why he was feeling apprehensive suddenly. He was the one who suggested they get married if they were still single at thirty and he was the one who proposed to her, all Ah-reum did was go along with it. So what was wrong with him? “You don’t love each other?” The question kept playing in his head, it had almost sounded like she felt sorry for him.
“Gunah, I guess the jetlag is finally getting to you. I’ll leave you alone to rest, don’t even think of going to work tomorrow.” She said and cleared her dishes away from the table before she left his apartment.
Ah-reum closed the door behind her and wondered what happened with Hwan-gun suddenly. She was just starting to leave when the door of the apartment opposite Hwan-gun’s flung open and a man walked out followed by the shouts of a crying woman.
“You stinking, rotten bastard! How dare you leave me?!” The woman screamed from inside and the man just sighed.
“This is why women are troublesome.” He said before catching Ah-reum looking at him. “May I help you?” He asked, raising an eyebrow.
Ah-reum adjusted the strap of her bag and continued on her way to the elevator. The woman flew out of the apartment as they reached the elevator and grabbed the man by his arm, tears streaming down her face. “Oppa, please I’m sorry. I’ll be better.”
The man gently removed her hand from his arm and said, “It’s not you, it’s me. I’m afraid you’re too good for me. You deserve better, you really do. I’m sorry it can’t be me.”
Ah-reum was trying to contain the urge to roll her eyes, ‘he sounds like a player’, she thought to herself. The elevator arrived and she got on. The doors were about to close when the man from before got on and let out a long-suffering sigh. He ran his hand through his hair before pulling out his phone and dialing a number.
“Where are you? I’m in the mood for a drink.”
The elevator came to a stop on the ground floor and they got off. The man waited outside for a ride, and Ah-reum got into her car and drove home.
Ki-joon got into his friend’s car when it pulled up next to him.
“What’s the matter with you?” Joon asked when Ki-joon fastened his seatbelt.
“I broke up with Ma-ri.”
“What? I thought you were going to marry her.”
“I was, but that was before I realized how unmatched we are. It’s my fault, I can’t deal with such a strong personality in a woman.” He replied and looked out the window as his friend drove. Suddenly his phone buzzed. “Yeobseyo?”
“What are you doing?” Hae-kyung asked.
“Going to have a drink with Joon.” He replied.
“Wanna have a drink with me instead?” She asked.
“Are you okay?” He’d known her all his life and he could sense when something was wrong with her just from her voice.
“I just want to see you.” She replied.
“Okay, I’ll drop by your house. You’re at home, right?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Okay, I’ll see you soon.” He hung up and turned to his friend, “I’m sorry for calling you out and ditching you. I have to go see Hae-kyung.”
Joon waved his friend’s worry away, “It’s fine, I know how important she is to you. I’ll see you at work tomorrow.” He pulled over to the side of the road and watched Ki-joon hail a taxi and get in before driving away.
Hae-kyung grabbed a wine out of the fridge and some glasses when her doorbell rang. She opened it and Ki-joon wrapped her in a hug.
“I’m here.” He said quietly and all the tears she had been fighting burst free. They stood at the doorway like that for a while as Hae-kyung cried every last tear in her heart. When she was done, they sat on the floor in the living room and drank their wine.
“Why did you cry?” Ki-joon finally asked.
Hae-kyung ran a hand through her hair, sighed deeply and said “Hye-soo’s getting married.”
Ki-joon held her shoulders and looked at her, “It’s going to be alright.”
Hae-kyung felt her eyes well up with tears again. “I want to get married too, I want to be with someone too. But why? Why is it so hard?”
Ki-joon rubbed his hand up and down her shoulders. “It’s going to be alright, it’s not your fault.”
Hae-kyung wiped her tears. “I’m being selfish. I called you all this way and didn’t even ask what was wrong with you. I only unloaded my problems on you.”
Ki-joon dropped his hands and gazed into the red liquid in his glass. He picked the glass up, swirled it around a bit and said “I broke up with Ma-ri.” Before taking a long gulp.
“What, I thought you loved her? Why?!”
Ki-joon rolled back the sleeve of the shirt he was wearing and revealed healing wounds on his arm that looked like a knife had cut him. “This is why. This is the final straw that broke the camel’s back. I couldn’t take it anymore.”
“She did this to you?” Hae-kyung asked, anger slowly rising in her head. “How dare she?!”
“It’s always something with her. She’s overly-suspicious and every time we have an argument, she hits me and throws things at me. A few days ago, I went over to visit her and while I was in the bathroom she went through my phone. She saw some messages from you and she thought I was cheating on her. I tried to explain that it was just you but she didn’t believe me, she threw a vase at me and before I knew it she came at me with a knife threatening to kill me for two-timing. I had to raise my arm to defend myself or she would have sliced my face open.” Ki-joon explained.
Anger burned in her heart as she listened to him, “I’m going to kill her.”
“It’s fine. I just never want to have anything to do with her again.”
“You’re not even going to report her to the police?” Hae-kyung asked incredulously.
“Noona please, just let it go.” He replied quietly.
Hae-kyung looked at him for a while before wrapping him in a hug. He rarely ever called her ‘noona’ and when he did, it usually meant he was hurting deeply. “It’s going to be alright, it’s not your fault.” She echoed his words back to him.
Ki-joon rarely received comfort from his elder sister, they’ve both been through a lot but he had always tried to always be the one comforting her. He felt his heart grow light as she embraced him and tears welled up in his eyes. He couldn’t put into words how much he had loved Ma-ri and the fact that even when she abused him and treated him badly, he still wanted to be with her made him feel worse. He sighed as tears rolled down his cheeks and Hae-kyung hugged him tighter, willing that her baby brother’s pain would go away.