Ga Eul looked at her watch and discovered to her surprise it was already lunch time; it seemed to her that she just walked into her class and it was already time to go and run to the porridge shop.
Saying that she was distracted during class would be an understatement, she actually didn’t hear a single word of what the teacher was saying, completely lost in her own private world.
The previous evening, Yi Jeong had called her by phone and they had spent hours talking and laughing, acutely missing each other. She was glad that his friends were happy about their relationship and he was relieved that Geum Jan Di still hadn’t knocked at the door of his workshop to kill him. They had hung up only when they both started yawning so much that they couldn’t keep talking anymore but sleeping had been of little comfort because she had dreamt about him the whole night, waking up with the loud sound of her heart in her ears and the burning desire to hold him again. No wonder her classmate were looking at
her in a weird way that morning, she kept blushing everytime a new detail of the wonderful night they had spent together, came to her mind.
It was a new feeling for her, that constant warmth, the accelerated heartbeat, the sudden appearance of images she never thought of and in which she was now the protagonist. But most of all the sounds: she could have sworn she heard Yi Jeong’s voice a hundred time that morning and he was whispering her the most unthinkable things. Or moaning just for her to hear.
Ga Eul knew she should feel embarassed about what she did. She was a good girl and she just broke the most powerful taboo, sleeping with a man before getting married but she couldn’t bring herself to regret it.
How could she? Everytime she thought about them together, she could feel a shiver down her spine, not of shame but of happiness. Sleeping with him, she felt something clicking inside her, like a long lost jigsaw piece that finally found its place. She was complete now and she wanted to cling to that feeling as long as possible.
“Hello!” She greeted her boss, entering the shop. “I’ll go in the back to change and then I’m ready.”
“Take your time.” He grinned, preparing some ingredients. “We have no customers now.”
Humming under her breath, she entered the back of the shop and put her bag on the nearby shelf, closing the door behind her.
A warm hand suddenly grabbed her neck and another one circled her waist making her turn around.
Before she could let out an alarmed cry, her lips were sealed with a searing kiss that swallowed up all her protests and after a startled moment, Ga Eul closed her eyes opening her mouth with a soft moan. The arms hugging her tightened their grip and they ended up against the wall, wildly kissing.
“I missed you.” Yi Jeong breathed on her lips, before kissing her again barely refraining from tearing her clothes apart and taking her, there and then.
She couldn’t have enough. His mouth, his arms, his body pressed on hers, she wanted more, she wanted to melt with him and never separate again.
“I missed you too.” She whispered when he released her again. She buried her face in his shoulder, just enjoying his presence.
A sudden thought froze her and she lifted her gaze to him. “But what about the Master? Does he know?”
“To tell you the truth, I haven’t the faintest idea sweetheart.” Yi Jeong chuckled and Ga Eul smiled at what he called her, feeling her heart skipping a beat. “When I came in earlier, he just pointed me to the back saying you would have come in ten minutes or so. He said he had a dream.”
She chuckled along with him and closed her eyes, in sheer joy. She really missed him, all the time.
“I dreamt too, you know. About you, all night.” He was gently stroking her hair but even in the tenderness of his gestures, she could feel the desire burning in him, so similar to her own. “I couldn’t wait this evening to see you again.”
“I can’t stay out for long tonight, I have my pottery class to attend after the shift here. Today is Jan Di’s free day, so I have to stay until dinner.”
“Pottery class?” he looked at her quizzically. “Since when are you interested in pottery?”
Ga Eul blushed, looking away. “I thought it was a good way to understand you better. And I actually like it, now that I started. It’s relaxing.”
He released her and turned to face the wall, suddenly silent and as soon as she understood what she had said, she cursed herself. “Sunbae, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
Yi Jeong shook his head, slipping his hands in his pockets. “Just because I can’t do it anymore, it doesn’t mean everybody else has to stop too.”
“But Woo Bin sunbae said your hand is healed!” It sure wasn’t how she had envisioned that conversation, in the back of the porridge shop, but now that the topic was out she couldn’t loose that chance. “Your muscles and tendons are fine now, all you have to do is a little rehabilitation and you can start doing pottery again!”
“I don’t want to talk about this.” He replied, still looking at the wall.
“Yi Jeong sunbae…”
“Not now Ga Eul yang.” Yi Jeong interrupted her, his hands clenched into fists inside his pockets.
A thick silence filled the small room as Ga Eul was trying to decide whether to press on or let it go for this time. She couldn’t stand to see Yi Jeong give up on his greatest passion like that, she knew how much pottery was important to him. If his hand was healed, then he had a psychological block, he probably was afraid to never be as good as he was before. For a promise like he was, it sure was a hard blow. But he couldn’t just give up out of fear, when there was the concrete hope he could start again!
And yet he could, she realised. Just like he was going to give up their relationship before even trying, because he was afraid of getting hurt in the process. It seemed like Yi Jeong’s life was ruled by fear and bound to be filled by regrets. Ga Eul hardened her features, feeling the anger rise in her but as she was about to tell him exactly what she was thinking about him and his cowardice, Yi Jeong lowered his head and a faint whisper reached her. “Please.”
All her anger disappeared in thin air as she heard his plea. It was very rare to hear him begging like that and she just couldn’t ignore it. She didn’t want him to hurt anymore than he was doing. Not now.
Ga Eul sighed, leaning against his broad back and hugging him from behind. “As you wish. But we’re going to have this conversation sooner or later.”
Yes, he knew that. The country bumpkin was one of the most stubborn women he ever met, and she wasn’t going to leave him alone, but the wound was still deeply bleeding inside of him and he just didn’t have the strenght to face it right now.
“I should go,” he murmured, still unmoving. “You have to work and I can’t be here for too much long.”
The sadness in his voice was like a knife turning in her stomach and knowing it was all her fault, she suppressed a sob, letting him go and stepping back. “I’m sorry. I ruined it all again.”
Yi Jeong turned towards her, finding her eyes bright with tears and an absolutely mortified expression on her face. He hugged her istinctively, breathing in the sweet cherry perfume of her hair and fought down the lump suddenly strangling him. Why seeing her crying always affected him so much? He couldn’t stand it, everytime he saw that sad face he felt the strong urge to hug her, kiss her, hide her, shield her from the world.
“I’m not ready to talk about it yet.” He whispered. “It hurts. Just let the pain subside, ok? I can’t think about it now.”
Ga Eul nodded, her arms wrapped on his back, fighting the tears and Yi Jeong kissed her forehead still murmuring. “I just want to do this now.”
Then he kissed her cheek, while Ga Eul closed her eyes, shivering in anticipation. “And this.”
His lips trailed down her chin, soft and light. “And this.”
“But most of all, I want to do this.” She felt him breathing on her mouth before capturing it in the sweetest kiss they ever shared. It was tenderness and sadness and yearning and love and he caressed her hair while she laced her arms around his neck.
“I’ll see you tonight? I’ll pick you up after your class?” he softly asked, kissing her forehead again.
“I’ll send you the address.” She nodded, lightly caressing his cheek. Their eyes locked together and the world disappeared around them, like it always did when Yi Jeong was looking at her with those dark eyes.
Then he slowly disentangle from their embrace and stepped back to the door.
“I’ll miss you.” she abruptly told him when his hand was already on the doorknob.
He flashed her his smile and quickly bent down to give her a quick peck on the lips. “I’ll miss you too.”
Then he was gone.
“You’re smiling since when you came in. I guess you confessed then?”
Ga Eul raised her gaze on her teacher and smiled once more, nodding. Eun Jae sat next to her, sincerely happy, and looked at her with curiosity.
“So? Did he accept your feelings?”
“He did.” Ga Eul softly replied, with a tender smile. “And I still can’t believe it.”
“That’s what you get when you’re brave. I’m so happy for you!”
“It’s all thanks to you.” Ga Eul was taking off her apron. “You gave me the strenght I needed.”
“It was already in you. You just needed to realise it.” Eun Jae stood up, removing her apron as well and washing her hands. “Now you will have no regrets, you can live your relationship to its fullest.”
“I hope so. It’s a little complicated.” She couldn’t avoid a sigh escaping her lips and her teacher turned to look at her again.
“Why is that?”
“Well.” Ga Eul washed her hands as well, drying them up accurately. “We’re so different, like day and night. Our worlds seem impossible to merge and he’s so scared of being hurt that he often runs away as soon as any hardship arises. It’s like he’s afraid of love, both to give it and to receive it.”
Eun Jae sat down again, playing with a little jigsaw piece that was hanging from her handbag. “Such guys aren’t as rare as you could think. Do you remember my playmate? He was exactly like that and that was the reason why in the end I couldn’t be with him the way he wanted me to.”
Her eyes lost their focus, her voice echoing with memories treasured in her heart for years. “He wanted to live in an everlasting limbo, never telling each other what we actually felt but I wanted more. I needed more. I knew he loved me as much as I loved him but I wanted him to overcome his fears and confess to me. It turned out to be a mistake. He wasn’t ready and I lost him forever.”
“I’m sorry. It must have been painful.”
“Not really.” Eun Jae smiled and her eyes shone in the warm light of the studio. “I tried my best. I couldn’t do anything else, so I gave up. The moment I let him go in my heart, I felt relieved, like a huge burden was lifted from my shoulders. He was my first love and I’ll never forget him, but I couldn’t spend my life waiting for him. It would have destroyed me.”
“I think I understand.” Ga Eul nodded. “I was lucky that my…”
She blushed, and looked away, leaving her sentence hanging.
“Your boyfriend?” Eun Jae came to her rescue but the soft shade of pink on Ga Eul’s cheeks just turned into a deep red.
“We never referred to each other like that. It’s funny, I don’t even know how to call him.”
Right that moment, they heard the outer door open and then close and Ga Eul turned to her teacher smiling.
“Oh, it must be him! He told me he was going to pick me up. I’m happy he has a chance to meet you.”
A smiling So Yi Jeong walked into the studio, searching for Ga Eul and registering only at the last moment that she wasn’t alone.
The greeting died in his throat as he saw the woman beside his country bumpkin and so did his smile, while his eyes opened wide.
Ga Eul witnessed as all the colour drained from both their faces and they just stared at each other in sheer disbelief.
“Sunbae?” she tentatively tried, but he never averted his gaze from the other woman, breathing so quietly she almost couldn’t see his chest raising.
“Yi Jeong…” Eun Jae finally whispered, breaking the silence.
The answer never came. So Yi Jeong groaned under his breath and quickly walked away, leaving the two women alone.
Ga Eul didn’t move, just looking at the closing door and her teacher, who was slowly sitting down.
“Is he your boyfriend?” The question came as a whisper and she barely heard it, but she nodded in answer.
“I can’t believe it.” Eun Jae couldn’t stop looking at the spot where Yi Jeong had been just some seconds ago, but when she shifted her gaze to Ga Eul, her eyes were bright with tears.
“He’s the boy I was talking about. He’s my first love.”