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Part 3 On Valentines Day, following Japanese and South Korean tradition of girls gifting boys with chocolates and

other presents, I told Jaewoong Id take him out to a Godiva store where he can choose a chocolate of his choice. But he turned my offer down and told me hed rather stay home and watch me make him homemade honmei-choko because he was so sure it would taste better than any store-bought chocolate (hes such a suck-up sometimes). Since Youngwoo was out of town and Jaewoong had their apartment all to himself, I agreed to do it. The chocolates didnt turn out as I wished they would, but it wasnt a total disaster either if you consider chocolate-turned-bitter-taffy concoction not a total disaster. I had no idea how that came to be when I did everything by the book, but I promised to make it up to Jaewoong by making him dinner instead. Dinner turned out a lot better than my attempt at chocolate-making. Well, it was just ramyun and tofu and some dumplings, a concoction that didnt leave me a lot of room to mess up. Jaewoong set up the table, singing along a trot song softly playing from his MP3 deck in the living room. I thought the lyrics which was about a fisherman who couldnt catch a fish one day but ended up catching the most beautiful woman in the world sounded funny and cheesy, and the way Jaewoong was trying to interpret the song with hand gestures and dance moves that were part ictal and part ritualistic, was even funnier. I was laughing when I took the brimming pot from the oven top to the table, almost losing my balance. Luckily, no major disasters happened. Moments later, Jaewoong and I finally sat down to have dinner. I watched Jaewoong with apprehension as he took a spoonful of my concoction. He looked up just as his lips touched the spoon and saw that I was keeping my eyes on him. He slurped the content and then made a face as though he just sampled the weirdest-tasting food in the world. I quailed. Is it that bad? I asked, reaching over to the bowl to take a spoonful. Did you even taste it? Jaewoong asked, making a face at me and then at my poor, poor soup. I didnt reply. Instead, I took a sip from my spoon. Was there something wrong with my taste buds? Because I thought it tasted alright. Actually, I thought it tasted more than alright. It tasted pretty damn good as a matter of fact. It wasnt too salty and the spiciness was just enough to cling on your tongue without burning. I looked at Jaewoong, confused. Then he started laughing, and I got even more confused. Im just playing with you, Bug. It actually tastes pretty good, he said, reaching for the steaming pot to fill his bowl Are you sure? Youre just saying that It wasnt often that I get compliments for my cooking, so you cant really blame me for fishing for more. Really. Im telling the truth. Youve redeemed yourself from the chocolate disaster earlier. Jaewoong dipped a spoonful of rice into the soup, letting the broth soak the grains. I guess I wont have to worry about what to eat when we get married. He said it in a playful way, but it sort of created an asphyxiating soup bubble in my throat that almost got me choked. I kept a calm exterior, though, and pretended I didnt hear that part of the conversation. Hearing him talk about marriage and our future was still something I needed to get used to. Our relationship was still new, so talking about marriage and the future would still struck an awkward chord in my body. It wasnt because I didnt want to be with him in the future. Of course, I did. But theres a time and place for those kinds of conversations, and I felt that now wasnt that time yet especially when there were still so many issues to resolve, like Chaerim and our families.

Im gonna go get something to drink, I said. Jaewoong forgot to prepare drinks earlier, thank goodness. It gave me an excuse to distance myself even for a few seconds, lest hed continue talking about marriage and the whole shebang. What would you like, Jae? I asked as I made my way to the kitchen. Ill have some tomato juice, please, he said. Good, that did the trick. I also poured myself a glass of tomato juice, slowly to let some time pass, hoping Jaewoongs thoughts about marriage would evaporate into oblivion before I brought the drinks to the table. Jaewoong was already on his second helping when I rejoined him at the table. As I sat down, his phone, which he placed on the other end of the table next to mine, rang. The ringtone was custom-made, something I had not heard before. It said, Oppa! Oppa! Its me. Answer please? A shrill voice of what might have been a prepubescent girl that was nothing if not annoying. Whos that? I asked, feeling a little jealous and very much irritated. Its Chaerim, he replied. Even though he coupled that reply with a nonchalant shrug, the jealousy and irritation I felt didnt wear off. Well, arent you going to answer it? I asked even though I was hoping he wouldnt. I reached for a dumpling in the bowl without raising my eyes to look at him. Are you sure? he asked. Am I sure? Am I freakin sure? Of course not. But I couldnt really say that, could I? I didnt want to come off as a psycho/ jealous/ possessive girlfriend, the kind that usually ends up on the evening news. But I couldnt answer his question either, and I guess Jaewoong sensed something through my non-reply. Jaewoong didnt answer the phone call but some damage had already been done by that are-you-sure question. Although I didnt want to show my change in mood, my jealousy seemed to have taken my voice away, making me taciturn for the rest of the meal. Jaewoong definitely had sensed the sudden shift in the atmosphere. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him eyeing me with apprehension, the air growing stiller by the second. Bug Hmm? I replied, still without raising my eyes to look at him. Instead, I kept my head low and stirred the ramyun around and around the bowl, each turn harder than the previous one. Youre not jealous, are you? he continued. I scoffed. No, I said, briefly looking at him. Good, he said and let out a very audible relieved sigh. Hey, I got you a homemade peach ice cream from that new place by the mall, he continued, obviously trying to change the topic and make me feel better, which worked. Youve always wanted to try their ice cream, right? Sunny and Skys? I asked, looking at him longer this time. He nodded and flashed me a smile. There was a grain of pepper stuck between his incisors and it made me laugh, pushing aside the beginnings of a bad mood that took form just a few minutes ago. I needed to get a grip on myself and stop getting jealous over Chaerim because really, there was nothing to be jealous about. I knew for a fact that Jaewoong did not love her, and I believed that sooner or later, he would break their engagement. So I tried to push the green-eyed monster away and enjoy the rest of our dinner. The atmosphere at the dining table quickly went back to casual and lighthearted. We talked about pretty much everything in the worldfrom his familys internal troubles to the recent news, from Yisung and Irene to the more recent threat North Koreans had made to the South Koreans.

And then the phone rang again. This time the ringtone was a cute Japanese girls voice (speaking in Japanese) asking the owner of the phone to answer the call. Who the hell is that? I asked. Does he know any cute Japanese girl other than me (damn straight, Im cute) that he had to assign this cute ringtone for her? Irritation was evident in the way I raised my voice and my not-so-pleased choice of words. Chillax, Doodlebug. Its Wonhee, he said. My jealousy immediately subsided. I bet I had the same cute Japanese girl ringtone, if not cuter, I thought. Should I answer it? he asked me. Sure, I said. She must have come back early from her field trip and must have wondered where I was since I had not been answering phone calls since this morning. Jaewoong pressed a finger against his lips, a signal for me to stay quiet. Although Wonhee was aware that Jaewoong and I had a secret relationship, she didnt know that we had been seeing each other often. And she sure as hell didnt know that I was at Jaewoongs apartment right now. O, Wonhee-yah. Whats up? Jaewoong said, putting his phone on speaker. Jaewoong-ssi, do you know where Sunmi is? Wonhee asked. I was right. She was wondering where I was. I shook my head at Jaewoong. Uh not really. Isnt she at home? Jaewoong said, his hidden acting talent coming out all of a sudden. Uhm I dont know. I havent gone back to the house yet. Are you gonna see her anytime soon? She mentioned that she was going to the mall And m-maybe well hang out later with Jungho and Hyunki. What the heck, Jaewoong! I thought. The number one rule when lying to someone is to avoid namedropping, or the lie would become complicated. But I couldnt blame him. I had been guilty of this crime so many times before. Can you tell her that I might not come home tonight? I already sent her a text, but let her know still. Sure Sure. No problem. There was a pause. Someone was talking to Wonhee. Their voices were muffled, as though Wonhee was covering the mouthpiece. Anything else, Wonhee-ssi? Jaewoong asked. Uhm Where are you right now? Her voice was now clear again. Huh? Jaewoong raised an eyebrow and looked at me. I was just wondering. Are you just spending your Valentines night at home? Uh Yeah, I am but, like I said, I might hang out with Sunmi later, Jaewoong said and quickly added, and Jungho and Hyunki as though he was compelled to.

Oh I see, she said and paused again. Okay, Jaewoong-ssi. Enjoy the rest of your night. Okay. Thanks, Wonhee-ssi. Jaewoong stared at his phone after he hung up, his expression showed that he felt something was strange about that phone call. I, too, thought Wonhee sounded kind of strange, like she had to know our exact whereabouts. First off, who was that person she was talking to? And why cover the mouthpiece? And why would that person want to know where Jaewoong was? Something wasnt right. Yah, why did you lie about hanging out with Jungho and Hyunki later? I asked Jaewoong. I wouldnt be surprised if Wonhee thought there was something strange in the way Jaewoong answered her questions. He wasnt the most eloquent liar around, thats for sure. Obviously, I didnt wanna tell her that were hanging out by ourselves, he said with a no-duh look on his face. Why? Coz He frowned at me. Didnt you want to keep this relationship a secret for now? He had a point. I did beg him not to reveal the true nature of our relationship to anyone for fear of waking antagonistic forces that could and would break us up. I could not wait until Jaewoong breaks his engagement so we could freely breathe and finally spend our days without having to worry about being seen together and without me feeling bad about stealing someone elses fianc. After dinner, Jaewoong and I shared the homemade peach ice cream from Sunny and Sky, eating it out of the plastic container while watching TV. Ever since we shared a box of ice cream in Hokkaido, it had become our dessert tradition to eat ice cream out of the box whenever we hung out together. I was curious what my ringtone on Jaewoongs phone now that we were in this kind of relationship. He had assigned me that irritating mosquito buzz before, claiming it was a perfect ringtone for someone who was as pesky as a bug like me. I wondered if he had changed it to something cute now. Hed better or else Im going to wreak havoc. So I dialed his number, hopeful that the ringtone was cuter than the ones he had assigned Chaerim and Wonhee. His phone rang. He did change the ringtone, but it was not cute at all. Actually, it was freakya full-blast warning tone complete with a siren blaring in the background. Warning! Warning! Its a bug! Its a bug! Save yourseeeeelf! YAH! I yelled at Jaewoong, kicking his leg. Wonhee and Chaerim get cute ringtones, and I get this? Jaewoong chuckled and I glared at him. He immediately clamped his lips to check his laughter, which still managed to escape in non-continuous nasal noises. Im not amused, Lee Jaewoong! I crossed my arms and scowled at him. He placed the ice cream container on the table and then reached for my arm to pull me closer. You get a special ringtone, Doodlebug coz youre very special to me. Special my foot! I wiggled myself out of his embrace and stood up and walked to the kitchen with my feet stomping like a child on the verge of a tantrum. Jaewoong was still laughing in the background, and I was getting more peeved by the second. He thought I was just pretending to be annoyed, but the thing was, I was actually serious. I didnt know why I was so vulnerable tonight. The playfulness of the ringtone was something Id expect from Jaewoong; he was just naturally ludic especially when it came to me, and both of us always got a bang out of being playful toward each other, so I didnt know why I was making

such a big deal out of it and why I was just so inexplicably sensitive. Maybe it was PMS? I took a deep breath and told myself there wasnt really anything to be mad about. I poured myself a glass of water and chugged it, hoping the coolness of the water would help chill my head down. When I thought I felt better, I went back to the living room and sat next to Jaewoong again. Are you okay? Jaewoong asked, now sounding concerned. Im sorry. I dont know why Im like this. I must be PMSing. Come here, Jaewoong said, reaching his arm around me, pulling me to him. I didnt resist and let my head rest on his chest, his hand stroking my arm endearingly. Its okay, Bug. I will still love you even if you have PMS every single day. I looked up and met his gaze, touched by his words. Really? No, not really, he quickly said, flashing me a wide grin. Not daily PMS. That will probably drive me nuts. Eventually. He chuckled and kissed me on my forehead, squeezing me tight. But even if I go nuts, I will still love you. Ill be crazy and in love. I smiled, reveling in his cheesy words. I huddled myself with him, savoring that tingly feeling that one feels when in love. I was so lucky to have felt it again and was even luckier that I felt it for a guy like Lee Jaewoong. Do you want to watch a movie or go walk in the park and perhaps cool down that hot head of yours? he said, pointing a forefinger between my eyes. We can just stay in and watch a movie, I said. I looked up at him and puckered my lips, asking for a kiss. Okay. Sounds good to me, he said and then fish-kissed me before he leaned frontward to get the remote control from the coffee table. At that moment, his phone rang again. The ringtone this time was, May I have your attention please? Somebody important is trying to call you. Please answer your phone immediately. Jaewoong looked bothered, and took a closer look at his phone, which was lying next to the other remote controls on the table. Who is it? I asked. Its he looked at me, his expression a mixture of surprise and disquieted. Your grandfather? I asked before he could finish. Its S-SuAnna, he stammered, his voice was coated with heavy concern. What?! He turned to look at his phone again and gestured to pick it up. Really Jae? Youre really going to answer that? I asked, my voice shrill, my ears burning from the increasing heat of my jealousy. I knew no harm would ensue if he answered that call, but there I was again on the verge of being a psycho-jealous girlfriend. I wanted so much to control myself, but for some reason, I was helpless against the green-eyed monster. I wasnt normally like this, and if I had the power over it, I wouldnt want to be like this. I swear it was hormonal. She hasnt called me since she left It must be something important he reasoned, almost like begging me to understand.

I sprang up to my feet. The sense of security I felt moments ago went down the drain, and the warm, fuzzy feeling all gone as if someone had just poured cold water on me. Where are you going? he asked as I walked away. Im leaving. You might need some precious time with your first love. I had no idea where those words came from. Perhaps from the deep and dangerous cave of the green-eyed monster. I must be really going crazy tonight. Oh, come on! You know theres nothing going on between me and SuAnna! Youve known that for a long time now. I wasnt facing him but I could see from the shadows on the wall that he was throwing his hands in the air from frustration. Do I Jae? I turned to face him now. Do I really? Yes, I know theres nothing going on between you two physically, but how do I know whats really going on in your heart? Sunmi, come on! He was now standing up, his voice was louder than normal, calm but bordering on quaking. Do you even know how you looked like when you found out that it was SuAnnas call? Huh? I saw it! God, that look of concern on his face broke my heart into pieces. Tears threatened to spill out of my eyes. Saw what??? He looked bewildered by my accusation. I saw I said, my voice shaking, barely coming out, how much you cared. My tears brimmed over now. Dont you deny it. You still care about her. Of course I still care about her, Jaewoong said, his voice softer, as though he was silently begging for me to understand. I blinked at him, not knowing if I should cry some more after hearing him say that he still cared about her, or if I should be glad that he was being honest about his feelings. These fluctuating hormones made me all confused about my own feelings. I care about her, but not in the way you think. Shes a friend of mine, Sunmi. A good friend. I care about her the way I care about Wonhee or Minjoonoona or Euntae But not like the way I care about you. I eased myself down to the floor, too overwhelmed with unwanted angry emotions. This time, I was crying full blast, shoulders heaving and all. Why were there moments when I tried to push him to a place where I find excuses not to trust him? Was this a displacement of my insecurity? I was so insecure about this relationship, not knowing if it will even last a month. I was scared that I was not strong enough to stay beside him, to stand our ground and protect our relationship, to ward off antipathetic powers that would surely try to separate us. Maybe, unconsciously, I wanted to push him away like I had pushed him away back then. I knew I shouldnt be doing this to him. Why should I hurt him when all hes given me was joy? Bug, come on. Why are you acting this way? I dont know! I kept crying. Jaewoong sat next to me, placing his arm around me, keeping his silence, knowing too well that I just needed to let out some of my emotions. When I felt like I could finally talk again, I tried to explain my ridiculous behavior. Its just that, I feel like Im competing against a lot of people, you know. Chaerim, your family, my family, and SuAnna. Im fighting against all of them just to have you. Instantly, this honesty was making me feel better, a needle that deflated this ballooning insecurity. You dont need to fight them, Bug. You already have me, Jaewoong assured. I have you, yeah. But I dont know if I can keep you forever, I said and started wiping my tears. And Im constantly in fear. I fear that your grandparents are going to take you away from me. I fear that my family is going to take me away from you. Im scared of everyone tearing us apart. I cant even be with you

without worrying what might happen tomorrow, next week, next month. Why cant we just have something normal? There, I had plucked a lot of thorns out of my heart. What we have is normal, Bug. Why cant we have something like in the movies? What they have in the movies isnt normal or realistic, Jaewoong pointed out. Its fantasy. Okay, maybe not in the movies. Maybe in real life people do have uncomplicated relationships in real life, right? People do have perfect relationships. People can have an ideal love. Bug, he called. I turned my head to the side so that now our eyes met. Our love may not be perfect and ideal, but it doesnt mean its not real. This thing we have you and me its better because its real. I may have brought a lot of problems into this relationship, but it doesnt mean I dont love you just as much as the guys in the movies love their better halves. He raised his hand and caressed the side of my face, sliding it softly so that now he was cradling my jaw. He inched his face forward and in no time, his lips kissed mine in a soft brush. All these issues we are facing right now will all be gone in time, I promise. Ill have my happy-ever-after? I asked, feeling a lot like a child at the moment. Not just a happy-ever-after, Bug, but all the happiness in the world, he said, pinching my cheek. Letting out all the things pent up in me and his promise to give me my happy-ever-after both made me feel better. But the truth was, the truth that I was constantly aware of, I knew that this ameliorated feeling wouldnt last forever. Does that even exist? A happy-ever-after? Do you believe in it? I asked. However hard I tried to think positively, there was always that nefarious tiny voice in me that always tried to warn me that fairytale endings were just thata fairy tale. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesnt, Jaewoong said. But theres one thing Im sure ofa happy-fornow. I know it does not equal to a happy-ever-after, but if we live our lives with a daily dose of happy-for-nows, they will eventually add up to a happy-ever-after. So, we should just take it one day at a time, focus on making happy-for-now moments that will define our life together and not the happy-ever-after that will conclude it in the end. I was convinced enough to let him clasp his hand over mine and trust his words.

*************************** Jaewoong had to leave all of a sudden to Hong Kong for a ten-day to take Youngwoos place on a business trip. And as I said goodbye to him at the house the day before he left, I felt the beginnings of a panic attack once again. I was scared it was going to be the last time Id be with him. But he assured me that he would come back and that there was nothing to worry about. Three days had passed and the torture of not seeing Jaewoong seemed to bore deeper into me. He would call me every day, twiceonce during the day and once in the evening, which always made me feel better and less paranoid despite the temporary distance. With Wonhee perpetually busy and travelling nowadays, I always found myself in the company of boredom, even at work. Hyunki and Jungho had gone to Japan for a project as well. Yisung was busy with his family. So I was basically left with office workers who were mostly taken up with their own busy lives.

On Saturday, nine days after Jaewoong left, while out shopping with Soonyoung, I got a call from a private number. I answered it with a smile, thinking it was Jaewoong using another phone to surprise me. But it was a womans voice on the other end of the line. Hello. Is this Sunmi? Y-Yeah? Hi! Its Chaerim. It wasnt Jaewoong trying to surprise me but that call sure did surprise me. No, shock would be a more appropriate term. Chaerim? Calling me? A sticky feeling in my throat started to lump up. Oh hi, I said, swallowing hard over the chunk in my throat. When did she come back to Korea? Did she find out about me and Jaewoong? I knew she was bound to find out about it sooner or later, but how? When? Why? Was she calling to personally tell me that I was now officially a relationship saboteur who was going to burn in hell, granted that hell did exist? I was just wondering if you can meet up with me somewhere? If youre not busy? she asked. There was no sarcastic edge to her voice, no signs that should alarm me, but still, a face-to-face meeting with Chaerim was something I would rather shirk. Uhm I thought of an excuse, but she interrupted my thoughts. Its really important. I believe you would want to hear what I have to say. She made it sound urgent and important that I finally agreed to meet her. Soonyoung and I parted at the Galleria just before two oclock in the afternoon, and I headed to the top of Lotus International Hotel, where I agreed to meet Chaerim at the Italian restaurant for some coffee and cake. An usherette with an elaborately coiffed hair and a very tight penciled dress ushered me to the table where Chaerim was waiting for me. She looked different today. She was dressed down, only wearing a simple black turtleneck shirt over skinny jeans. Her hair was tied in a high ponytail, no make-up except for a coat of mascara on her long lashes. She had faint circles around her eyes, but she still looked gorgeous. She looked up as I neared the table and smiled. Unnie! she greeted, stood up and bowed. I couldnt exactly recall if she had called me Unnie before. She didnt when she made the phone call, but she might have felt comfortable enough with me to address me with the honorific. Hi, I said and sat down opposite her. With everything that happened between me and Jaewoong, I couldnt deny the fact that I did Chaerim wrong. I was the other woman, and because of that, I felt so small in front of her, guilt trying to eat up most of me. She was calling me Unnie when I knew I didnt deserve it. We did small talks before our dishes arrived. She said she came back a couple of days ago due to some family issues. She asked me a lot of questions, and because of my remorse for the wrongdoing I did behind her back, my answers were reduced to mostly monosyllabic replies. Yes no no yes with occasional maybes thrown in once in a while for variation. When our dishes arrived, we spent the next few minutes praising the beautiful presentation of the cakes and the art on our coffee foam. Then, just as I was about to finally shove a forkful of tiramisu into my mouth, I heard Chaerim sniffle. I looked up. Her head was bowed down, her shoulders slumped, her chest heaving. Shit. I am the cause of this, I thought. I was hurting her because I stole Jaewoongs heart. No matter how much I tried to just walk around the situation in my head, to justify things with the name of love, there was no denying that I was to blame. I swallowed the tiramisu cake after just a couple of chew, feeling the bolus rolling down my esophagus, but still leaving the lump of guilt in my throat, and when my mouth was empty, I took a deep breath, resolved to apologize.

But before my thoughts could form into words, Chaerim looked up, and I was staring right into her moist eyes. My parents are getting divorced, she said, her voice soft, her eyes dark with pain. I was momentarily confused by this. Not just because she did not mentioned Jaewoong and my inappropriate relationship with him, but because she was confiding this personal private matter with me. Me the bitch whos trying to steal her fianc. So, in my confusion, I was rendered speechless and ended up just staring at her even more. She picked up the black napkin on her lap and dabbed her eyes with it. She sniffled some more and I finally was able to formulate some words, the standard sympathy note. Im sorry to hear that, Chaerim. She shook her head, and I wondered if I should have said something better. I shouldnt feel sad. I already knew this was coming, she said. They had always been incompatible at home. In public, they seem like a perfect couple, but at home they fight like theres no tomorrow. My dad had a lot of mistresses, still has, and he and my mom always fought because of this ever since I could remember. And now, I think my mom just had enough. She looked up and tried to smile at me, a smile so faint yet so clearly troubled. I dont want to end up like them. There was a pause, and I thought, maybe it was time for me to say something, but I couldnt. So instead, I kept my silence and waited for her to continue. They never loved each other in the first place. They got married because their parents wanted them to. She placed the napkin on the table top and stared at her mocha cake for a moment. Unnie, you know what Im trying to say, right? Maybe. Maybe not. To be safe, I shook my head. What Im trying to say is that if I marry Jaewoong-oppa, we might end up like my parents, she said. I didnt make a comment. I just blinked at her in silence, hoping shed elaborate more on this. I didnt want to fill in the blanks with my own assumptions. I really like Jaewoong-oppa, Unnie She said it as if there was a but trailing. And there was. But honestly, when I agreed to marry him, I did it because I was mad at my ex-boyfriend for dumping me. I thought, maybe if my ex-boyfriend would see me get engaged to someone else, someone as awesome as Jaewoong-oppa, hed take me back, but he didnt. And then I realized it wouldnt be too bad if I ended up with Jaewoong-oppa. And I thought maybe it was a blessing in disguise that I was getting engaged to him. She paused and looked down at her fork, picking it up then putting it down, letting time pass as though she really contemplated on the next words she was about to say. But then I saw the way Jaewoong-oppa looked at you. And I knew then that he loved you, that youre the one he wants to be with, not me. She looked up at me, giving me that sad smile once again. Hes always so nice to me, you know. He would do things that a fianc would do. Hed take me to fancy dinners, to their familys functions, to friends parties. But even when he was there with me physically, I knew his mind was always somewhere else. I knew there was no place for me in his heart. And seeing how my parents ended up, I couldnt allow myself to end up in that kind of marriage, too. I at least owe that to myself, to have a happy married life And I know it wouldnt be with Jaewoong-oppa. I was stunned by this turn of events. Chaerim was pretty much handing Jaewoong over to me, like a throne handed from one monarch to another, so seemingly simple yet clouded with the endless possibilities of complications. And yet, I was there, ready to accept whatever she was rejecting, and just about close to pinching myself for I had this feeling that I was in a dream. I know why Jaewoong-oppa agreed to our marriage. I know its because Grandfather Lee made his biological dads family hostage and that they told Jaewoong that if he didnt agree to marry me, theyd cut medical treatments for his cousin and his grandfather. Y-Yeah he said something about that, I said. I couldnt say something for the longest time, and now that I did, it surprised me, my voice almost seemed foreign.

Im going to do some arrangements for them so that even if Oppa and I are not going to get married, they would still get their treatments. Im going to break the engagement so Oppa wont have to face the consequences. She paused and gave me another faint smile, which made me feel a little less happy about the fact that I could finally date Jaewoong without guilt eating up at me. Chaerim was not the kind of girl you want to be rivals with. She was very kind, and I almost wished she was a bitch like Masami so I wouldnt be sorry for taking Jaewoong away from her. But she was nice, and right now, all I could do was to wish she would find someone better than Jaewoong, someone whod love her back. He loves you, you know, and I know you love him, too. So you should be together. At least one of us should have a happy ending. She stated this as though life was as simple as one plus one equals two. I was still stunned and couldnt say much for a few moments. But then, I finally managed a heartfelt Im sure you will have your happy ending, too. She smiled. I will tell him tonight that Im breaking off our engagement. But I cant really announce it in public until my parents divorce gets settled. Is that okay with you? Uh what do you mean? You and Oppa can have a relationship, but Id rather you not mention it to anyone just yet. I want to handle things at home first. She paused and then blinked once without diverting her gaze. I nodded. Our meeting ended without me saying much. This whole handover thing wouldnt change how Jaewoong and I would date in public, because, really, we still couldnt, but I was happy nonetheless. It liberated my heart from the guilt that filled the space that was supposedly and only meant for Jaewoong. It made me free to love him even more.

****************************** Early the next day, I got a call from Jaewoong, and I knew what it was going to be about even before he could say Hello. He was still in Japan but would be back in Korea later that afternoon. Chaerim broke our engagement, he said immediately after the mandatory greetings. I could hear the excitement in his voice, the kind of light and happy I also felt in my heart. He sure didnt waste time. What? I pretended to be surprised, making that question a little shriek-like, because Chaerim said not to tell him that she talked to me first. She called me a few minutes ago. What happened? I asked, now giving my voice a tinge of incredulity, but inside, I couldnt help but be ecstatic with him. He told me what I had already known. The stars and the heavens were not against me and Jaewoong after all. I got free of Ken, and now he got free of Chaerim. I was happy but honestly, I couldnt shake off this sense of foreboding that was escalated with every good news I heard. I had a flash of me last night just staring at the ceiling, one moment smiling, the next moment freaking out. I wasnt able to get some sleep until the early hours of the morning, when street traffic started to drone from afar and the waking sun grayed the dark sky. Everything seemed too good to be true. It was strange. Just a month ago, it seemed impossible for us to be together, and now, all of a sudden, the stars aligned for us. And just like that, we had all the chances in the world. Although I was happy that Jaewoong and I were finally free to love each other, I still had this hovering fear that a happy-ever-after wasnt really waiting for us somewhere in the future. I shook my head, trying to empty it from negative thoughts. All those fear and sadness I felt in the past months had lingered in my head, preventing me from truly rejoicing at the good fortune that befell upon us.

Happy for now Happy for now I repeated in my head. An infinity of happy-for-nows will equal to one happy-ever-after. As soon as Jaewoong got back to Seoul, he texted me, a continuation of our earlier conversation, constantly reasserting our unexpected fortune. Birdface: I know its too soon to say this, but I cant wait to tell everybody about us. Me: Tell them about us? What about us? Birdface: That you and I are together. Me: Wait, are we together? Birdface: Ha ha, funny. No, not physically right now. But you know, that we are dating. Me: Wait, we are? Birdface: Bug, stop playing around. Me: Im serious, I didnt know. I dont remember you asking me to be your girlfriend. Birdface: I thought it was already understood. Me: Understood? Like I understood why the sky is blue? What planet do you come from? Birdface: So you normally kiss a boy thats not your boyfriend? And MAKE-OUT with a boy thats not your boyfriend? BURN! So he one-upped me. I bit my lip in embarrassment as I punched in my reply. Me: Girls nowadays do that all the time. Me: But I still want you to ask me to be your girlfriend and I have to say yes before you can call me your girlfriend. A few minutes ticked by, slowly and agonizingly as I waited for his reply. I worried that Jaewoong didnt like the idea of traditional courting and that he would forthright give up. Then I got another text from him.

Birdface: Bae Sunmi-ssi, will you be my girlfriend?

I felt so giddy inside as I read this, like I was back in high school and I just got an affirmation that my crush liked me too. This was too cute and funny, I thought.

Me: Really, Jae? Really? Youre asking me over text?

Birdface: HOMG.

In a few seconds, my phone rang. You know, for a small girl like you, you demand too much, Jaewoong said before I could say hello. What kind of guy asks a girl to be his girlfriend over text? I reasoned. Guys nowadays do it all the time, he said, clearly copying my reason for kissing and making out with a boy whos not my boyfriend. But because I am your slave, and your wish is my command, I have to do what you want me to do. Then there was a pause, the silence long enough for me to hear the drumming of my heart. Jaewoong really was going to ask me. Bae Sunmi-ssi, will you be my girlfriend? he asked. My skin prickled at the sound of his words, and I was thrown into a woozy state that only Jaewoong could ever do. I leaned on to my bedroom wall and bit my lips to stop myself from wobbling in giddiness. Really, Jae? Over the phone? I asked, pretending I was not moved at all. No. Oh, come on! What do you want? I could tell he was exasperated by my old-fashioned demands. You have to ask me in person, I said, pressing my lips together to suppress my laughter. It was so much fun to play with him. Okay, meet me this afternoon. Ill pick you up at five. It was a demand I couldnt say no to. He picked me up at 5 oclock sharp, as demanded. He was dressed in a V-neck dark blue cashmere sweater and a black coat that brought out the winter paleness of his skin. He had his periodic subdued demeanor today, appearing as though he was about to take a civil service exam or something. So, will you be my girlfriend, Sunmi-yah? he asked as soon as we drove out of the neighborhood, smiling, playing nice, clearly aiming for my good side. He sure didnt like wasting time. Oh my God, not right now! I said. Not while youre driving. But Im asking you in person already! Yeah, I know. But youre not even looking at me! He turned his head toward me when he stopped for a red light. Sunmi-yah will you be Jae, not here, please. But he wouldnt let me stop him from this mission to make me his official girlfriend here in the middle of the road. Sunmi-yah will you be-- Jae, I said, pointing a finger forward. Its green. Huh? I jutted my lips frontward to the traffic light. The light is green, I said. He didnt react until the car behind us honked the horn. He heaved a frustrated sigh, rolling his eyes to the side, and resumed driving.

He drove us to a winter-dead garden near the Han River. If it were spring and the trees were adorned with countless Cherry Blossoms, this place would be a great backdrop for a romantic proposal. But with all the barren trees and bland bushes around, this wasnt exactly the right place Id want him to ask the question. We walked around for a little bit before he asked me the question again. We were on a walkway, standing on the side to give the park joggers room to go past us, when he reached for my arm and turned me to the side to face him. Sunmi, will you be my girlfriend? he asked. His eyes were serious and anticipating. Uh I looked around. Even though he was now asking me in personone of the requirements, it still wasnt quite right. I wanted him to ask me over a candlelit dinner or something. Can you be a little more romantic than this? He threw his head back in frustration. You are officially driving me nuts! Can we go get something to eat? I asked. Maybe hell get the hint. Candlelit dinner, hello? Romantic. I am literally going nuts, and all you can think of is food? What? Im hungry! So no answer? Jae! I want it to be romantic! Sunmi, Im only asking you to be my girlfriend. Im not asking you to marry me. I know! I said, feeling a little embarrassed. Its just that Akira asked me in a very romantic way And I want you to top what he did, you know. I thought it was very smart of me to bring Akira into the equation. I saw Jaewoongs jaw twitch. He was competitive and I knew he didnt want to be second best to Akira. I smiled to myself. Score! He stared at me for a moment, his lips pursed. I felt like I was suddenly throttled in a stare-down contest. So how did that moron ask you? he finally asked, his tone blas, as though he could care less. It was during the Festival of Lights. We were in a Ferris wheel. I couldnt deny the fact that how Akira asked me to be his girlfriend was romantic and unforgettable, and the reason why I wanted Jaewoong to be romantic was because I wanted to officially start our relationship in a more moving way than how my relationship with Akira started. Tsch! Jaewoong scoffed and placed his hands in his coat pockets. How cheesy. No it was romantic! Then go ask him to ask you out again, he said, kicking a pebble in his path as we made our way out of the park. Are you jealous? I asked in a teasing tone, leaning on him with my arm linked in his. No he said looking at me as though I had just uttered something ridiculous. Why would I get jealous over cheesy stuff? Whats with your face then? I asked, still teasing him with a smile. What face? Your jealous face. I dont have a jealous face.

Yes, you do, and Im looking at it right now. He waved me away. Whatever. We ended up eating at a place in Galleria in Gangnam, a dimly-lit restaurant with candles on the tables and a menu that could burn holes in your wallet. I had a feeling that mentioning Akira earlier had brought out the competitive side of Jaewoong, like he was compelled to shell out some serious dough so he could eclipse Akiras memorable proposal. The restaurant, although too fancy for my taste, had no doubt a romantic atmosphere. It wouldnt be too shabby to get proposed here. We had appetizers and then the main menu, but Jaewoong had not said anything about love or relationship or being in it or anything remotely close to the topic I wanted to discuss. So I thought maybe he would ask during dessert. But he didnt. So, are you gonna ask me now? I asked. I figured he was playing hard to get and that maybe he wanted me to throw the bait. Ask you what? His expression didnt give anything. Ask me if I want to be your girlfriend. Nah, he said. I think Im okay with us just being friends. What? I said, sounding rather too shocked. What the eff? Did I just ruin everything? Friends. I made a face at him. He turned his head aside, pretending to look for something, or for someone, the waiter maybe, but I caught a glimpse of a smile, and I knew he was playing with me. So I thought, maybe for the dinners grand finale, hed do something romantic and ask me. But then the server came back to our table with the receipts. Jaewoong signed one and placed the other in his wallet, no sign of him recanting his words. He was freakin serious. He really wasnt going to ask me anymore. Okay, lets go. I need to get something for my friends daughters birthday. Can you help me find something at the mall? We went to three different stores before we found a cute shoulder bag. We walked around the mall afterward, with me silently cursing myself for losing my opportunity to have an official boyfriend. Now he was just freakin okay with us being friends. I had definitely lost my chance to go to third base with him. Oh, my poor SPOd self. Sunmi, can you wait here for minute? I just need to go to the bathroom, he said just as we passed by a sports store. Okay. Just sit over there, Jaewoong said, pointing to a bench near the escalators and the directory just a few feet away. I walked over to the bench and sat there to wait for Jaewoong. I spent the next few minutes envying young couples that walked past me, holding hands, kissing, cuddling, PDAing like theres no tomorrow. I thought, what if I asked him? It wouldnt be how I imagined the official beginning of our relationship, but if he wasnt going to do it, I sure wouldnt just let it go without me giving it a try.

More minutes passed and Jaewoong was still not back. I wondered what took him so long. Did he leave me here? He couldnt have! I dialed his number, but it went straight to voicemail. He must have turned it off. Shit! As I frantically looked around, wondering if this was Jaewoongs way of making me pay back for the embarrassment I caused him after turning him down four times in one day, a dingdong sound from the PA system overhead echoed in the mall. And then the low, soothing voice of a woman said, May I have your attention please? We have an important announcement The people around me stopped walking and looked above us as though the woman talking on the PA system was going to descend from the heavens above. Go ahead, I heard the woman whisper on the PA system. Somebody cleared his throat. Such a familiar sound. Oh my God. Bug, its me, Birdface. Another throat-clearing, as if he was prepping himself for a Korean Idol audition or something. I have asked you four times already if you want to be my girlfriend, and you said no, but Im not gonna stop until you say yes because I want to be your boyfriend.. so bad. He chuckled in embarrassment, the roots of my hair singeing into my scalp. Girls around me were awing and sighing as though they were watching a romantic movie while I was burning up in embarrassment. Maybe fifth time is a charm, so Im asking you again, he continued. Doodlebug, will you be my girlfriend? People around me started clapping their hands, as if Jaewoong had just said something awe-inspiring. Then their applause became rhythmic as they chanted Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! I wanted to shrink and crawl under the bench. A few minutes later, Jaewoong appeared in my sight, beaming with a proud smile on his face, like he had just won a contest, a contest that wasI had no doubtbetween him and Akira. He conceitedly ran his fingers through his hair as he approached me. What the hell did you just do? I asked him even before he could sit down next to me. He sat close to me, his arm resting on my shoulder. Was that romantic enough for you? Yes! But I didnt want you to announce your feelings to the whole entire world, Jae! So whats your answer? he asked, ignoring what I had just said. Can we go somewhere else and discuss this? I motioned to stand up. No, you have to answer me now or I will tell all these people that you are Bug and Im Birdface, he demanded, standing his ground. I stared at him incredulously. What? Whats your answer? Yes! Okay? Yes, I will be your girlfriend, I whisper-screamed at him, hoping that nobody around us would suspect that we were Birdface and Doodlebug. Now can we get out of here? Jaewoong smiled in victory. Okay But wait. I need to call someone.

After Jaewoong hung up the phone, the PA system made an announcement again. Ladies and gentlemen, Doodlebug finally said yes. Shes now Birdfaces girlfriend. The crowd broke into a loud applause, and even though I knew they didnt know it was us, I still felt chagrin bugs crawling under my skin. Oh my God! That was so romantic, I heard teenage girls around me say. I know! I dont think that was real though. What do you mean? I think they were shooting a movie or a drama. Youre right. Nobody in real life would do that kind of thing. Yeah, but still. You cant help but want to be proposed to like that. I could see such joy in Jaewoongs face, but I wasnt sure if it was because I finally said yes to him or because he had just accomplished something that not a lot of people would or could do. He took my hand and interlaced his fingers with mine with a silent command that made me too powerless to protest. We walked hand in hand the whole time as we headed to the parking lot, his hand gripping tighter whenever I loosened my grip.

NOTE: Almost Lover 26 has 3 more parts that will be posted here in the next few weeks. I may or may not announce when, so just check this website every now and then for future uploads.

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