“I guess it should be obvious.” Yi Jeong managed to say after sometime. Keeping his voice steady was proving to be a challenge in itself, after what she told him. He never wanted to cry so much in his life but he would have done it over his dead body. Ga Eul yang couldn’t see him cry like a heart-broken child.
And still her words were twisting inside, showing him that world he tried to ignore so much.
“But I don’t get it. You’re not attracted by my social status and what comes with it, so why do you even like me?”
He really was a masochist. He kept asking her questions that would only hurt him, but he needed to know.
That feeling, the warmth… it hurt. It was like showing him an impossible future: he knew he had to reject it if he didn’t want to suffer like he had with Eun Jae, like Jun Pyo was suffering now, and still he couldn’t bring himself to stop wanting more.
Ga Eul smiled again and for the first time, she averted her gaze. A light pink colour was rising on her cheeks again, and he knew it was out of shyness. He was startled finding himself thinking she was absolutely adorable when she was so shy. The bold Ga Eul was driving him crazy, but the shy Ga Eul was the most tender and loving thing he ever saw.
“I like it when you’re gentle and caring.” she answered, but her voice was low, even dreamy. Like she was telling a fairytale. “I like it when you help me, even when you scold me. I like your loyalty, the way you got angry when you found out of Jan Di and Ji Hoo sunbae. I like that even if you were so angry, you still tried to talk him out of driving that race, because you were afraid for him. I like that even if your group of friends have always been closed to others, you still let Jan Di in and you defended her when Jun Pyo sunbae left her in Macau. Woo Bin sunbae told me what happened. I like it when you smile and when you laugh, like you did on our dinner. I like the gentle look in your eyes. I like the firm and yet delicate grip of your hands on mine when we were on the ice rink. I like it when you do pottery because you seem in peace with everything. When I watched you work that time, it was the first time I saw your soul flight high, free and beautiful.”
“That’s the key word, Ga Eul yang. Free.” He had to stop her. She was killing him with every word, seeing himself through her eyes was more than he could stand. It was easier when he dazzled people with his money, or his name. It was safe, no feelings involved, just fun.
Yi Jeong always tried to stay away from Ga Eul because he istinctively knew she was dangerous. She wasn’t a girl he could dazzle; she had made it clear that first time, when she stormed out of his workshop.
She wasn’t a girl he could deceive either. She always saw through the mask, like she knew him since forever. And the pain he felt in his heart every time she looked at him with those trustful eyes, wasn’t bearable anymore. He had to get rid of it, of her, before it was too late.
“I’m not free. I will never be free. My life is already settled before me and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“You mean there’s nothing you want to do about it.” she dared to reply, and when his gaze suddenly flashed in anger, she just arched her eyebrow. “No lies, remember?”
Ga Eul saw the hardening of his features and suppressed a shiver, waiting for the already familiar outburst.
But she had to laid the cards out in the open. She knew she was walking on a thin line, she knew that one wrong word would have condemned her, but she had to try nonetheless.
With a remarkable effort, Yi Jeong managed to control himself, admiring her courage. She certainly knew it would take only a little sparkle to make the fire burst and still she was pressing her luck, betting everything on his self control.
“All right. Let’s say I don’t want to change anything. Why should I? I have luxuries, I have money, I have entertainment, I have the museum. Why should I throw it all away?”
“Have you happiness too, sunbae?”
Yi Jeong rolled his eyes, annoyed. “Don’t even start with that, Ga Eul yang. I know all about the “money don’t give you happiness” stuff.”
“Just look at me.” she insisted, this time more firmly. “I’m not rich. My family works hard everyday and me too. And yet, when we have dinner every evening, I feel happy. I have my family, I have my friends, I have my life in my hands and I’m ready to build it, brick after brick. I’m free. Can you say the same?”
“And what do you want me to do then?” his bitter laughter was painful to hear. “Leave everything behind? Forget my heirloom and my duty and just abandon my family like my brother did?”
“Your brother?” that surprised her, she never knew Yi Jeong had a brother.
“Yes, my brother. My older brother, the first heir of the So family. He just left us when he realised I was a better potter than him, and he was disinherited. Nobody is allowed to even think about him! Do you want that kind of future for me too?”
“I’m sorry, sunbae.” She quietly said. “I didn’t know about it. How is your brother now?”
“I don’t know.” Yi Jeong clenched his fists. Thinking about him was as painful as ever. He wondered if the pain was bounded to stay there forever. “He had some savings of his own, so he managed to survive and to open a cafeteria. Some friends helped him too.”
“And you never heard about him again?”
“Very rarely. I told you, we’re not allowed to.”
“And who ordered this?” her voice was full of outrage. How could a family cast out a member just like that?
Oh. That grandfather Woo Bin talked about. Seemed like he was the real ruler of the So family, and after seeing Yi Jeong’s father, Ga Eul could understand the reason.
“This must be very sad for you. Sunbae, were you close to your brother?”
Yi Jeong stood up from that damn couch and went to the window, looking the dark neighborhood around.
It was past midnight and nobody was on the streets anymore.
Ga Eul quietly waited on her armchair, until he found the voice and the control to answer her.
“My brother was… gentle. I never heard him raise his voice, or say a harsh word to anybody. Our staff loved him because he always smiled to them. My father taught pottery to both of us, but when it became clear I was the most talented one, Il Hyun was set aside and ignored. My grandfather decided he could have still been useful to the So family and started planning his wedding. That was the only time I ever saw Il Hyun loose control. They had a fight and my brother decided to leave us. He was disinherited short after and we were told to forget he ever existed.”
He didn’t tell her about the ache in being left alone, the pain in knowing that their mother responsibility was now only his, the pressure in becoming the So heir. His life until that moment had been relatively free, he was just a second son, and all of a sudden he had become the heir. Like in a royal family. And just like that, a full load of responsability had been handed to him, together with the feeling his life belonged to the family from that moment on.
“And you just did it?” There wasn’t any judgement in Ga Eul’s voice, and for that he was grateful.
“You don’t know my grandfather. I pray you never will.”
“Worse than Madam Kang?”
“Like her, more or less. They are used to get what they want, no matter what.”
Silence fell again, but Ga Eul had a last question to ask, something he needed to hear, something he needed to stop running from.
“Yi Jeong sunbae. Is your brother happy now?”
Yi Jeong closed his eyes, his heart now full of a bitter feeling. Yes, his brother was happy now. He had seen him in his shop, and he never saw him more relaxed than then. It was unfair. Il Hyun had no right to be happy, he had abandoned him. How could he dare to smile so much while Yi Jeong’s life was so miserable?
Now that his hand and therefore his talent was gone forever, all that was left for him was follow in his brother’s footsteps and wait to be married off. He wasn’t useful anymore. Like Il Hyun had been. But unlike his brother, Yi Jeong couldn’t run away, there was nobody else. He couldn’t do anything about it.
Ga Eul yang was wrong. She could think that people had the right to choose their own path because she was a commoner and she had no responsabilities, except taking care of herself. He had been right from the start, she was showing him something impossible, something that could have never been.
How he wished that dream could become true.
But as the realisation it was nothing but a fantasy rose again in his heart, Yi Jeong felt the bitter taste of frustration in his mouth and turned to glare at her with a dark look.
She was torturing him. He couldn’t take it anymore, it hurt too much.
And his defense kicked in again.
When he turned around, Ga Eul istantly knew she had pushed too hard.
Yi Jeong looked at her with an icy glare and bent forward, leaning against the back of the couch.
“The game is over, Ga Eul yang.”