Chapter 26

Chapter 25

Eun Jae.
Eun Jae.
Cha Eun Jae.
I found her, I finally found her.

Yi Jeong’s mind was completely blank, unable to form a coherent thought and his body was acting on pure reflexes.
He ran out of the pottery studio and jumped in his car just in time to see Ga Eul running after him. This time though, there was no closed door to stop his escape and his Lotus roared into life even before Ga Eul could reach him.
Away, away, I have to go away, was all he could think of, completely shocked by the sudden appearance of his first love. Ga Eul became a distant dot on the street as his car drove away, but his mind barely registered it.

Eun Jae.
Eun Jae.
Cha Eun Jae.
I found her, I finally found her.

Somehow he knew where to go, even if his cerebral activities were reduced to a flat line. So, when he turned down his Lotus and he realised where he was, he thanked his lucky star he had made that far alive even in his shocked status and he rang the bell of the house.
A surprised Ji Hoo opened the door, immediately sensing trouble in the air. Usually Yi Jeong relied on Woo Bin, but he always came to him when he needed someone to listen to him and Yi Jeong’s eyes, so confused and close to tears, were already crying something bad happened. To Ga Eul? Could it be possible? So early? They were dating since barely two days, but she was the only reason that could come to his mind capable to shock Yi Jeong so much.
“Come in.” He greeted Yi Jeong, his voice already worried. “What happened?”
The potter looked at him helplessly and opened his mouth several times, feeling the tears stinging his eyes.
Finally he managed to let out a strangled whisper, barely audible. “Eun Jae. I met her. I found her.”
Oh no, Ji Hoo thought letting his friend in. Now that was some serious trouble.

***

“He’s gone.” Ga Eul sadly announced, back in the pottery studio. She fell on the bench and hid her face in her hands for a minute, not even knowing what to think.
“I never knew Yi Jeong sunbae had a first love. I was so stupid.” She sighed, looking at Eun Jae who was slowly regaining her composure. “He had it written all over him and still I couldn’t understand.”
And what a love that should have been. Eun Jae was so beautiful. Ga Eul suddenly felt out of place, like she intruded in some private place, dirtying it with her muddy shoes.
“I would have never imagined to see him again. Not so abruptly anyway.” Her teacher removed the little jigsaw piece she was toying with earlier from her bag and kept it in her hands, caressing it absentmindedly.
“I’m sorry Ga Eul-ssi. I didn’t mean to cause any distress to you.”
“It’s not your fault.” Ga Eul fidgeted on the bench for a while, then she stood up grabbing her purse not even daring to look at Eun Jae. “I should go now.”
Slightly bowing, she turned meaning to walk away as fast as possible, but her teacher’s voice froze her on the spot.
“Don’t you want to know about Yi Jeong and I?”

***

Yi Jeong was sitting down in Ji Hoo’s couch, slowly sipping a cup of tea. The shaking of his hands was gradually fading and his breathing was becoming more regular. Ji Hoo still had to utter a word, knowing his friend needed some time to collect his ideas in peace. He was glad Yi Jeong came to him, he felt safer knowing he was under his roof and not in some club, drinking himself into oblivion. God knew he had done enough of that when he found out Eun Jae had disappeared without a word.
“Thank you, Ji Hoo. I don’t even know how I drove here, I just found myself at your door.” Yi Jeong’s voice was full of weariness, his eyes fixed on the cup of tea. “I ran away so fast when I saw her with Ga Eul yang that I’m surprised I didn’t get involved into a car crash.”
“Ga Eul yang was with Eun Jae?” Ji Hoo asked, surprised. “How?”
“She started taking pottery lessons some time ago. To know me better, she said. Eun Jae is her pottery teacher.” Yi Jeong bitterly smiled, clenching the tea cup. “Can you imagine an oddest coincidence?”
Ji Hoo didn’t answer, but took out his phone and started tapping the keys.
“What are you doing?”
“Texting Ga Eul yang, telling her you’re here with me.” He explained, still tapping. “You don’t want her to worry all night about where you are, do you?”
Yi Jeong sighed, leaning against the couch. “I feel horrible. I ran away without a word, but my throat was refusing to utter anything. I could just look at them. I felt I was suffocating.”
“Done.” Ji Hoo put his phone away and resumed sipping his tea. “Are you feeling a little better now?”
“Not really, brother. Not really.”

***

Eun Jae stirred two spoonfuls of sugar into her coffee, watching Ga Eul slowly drinking hers. They were in a small cafeteria, almost empty and quiet and she was grateful she had some time to think about what happened. Seeing Yi Jeong again had been a fierce blow and she was still trying to calm down her heart, but seeing the miserable girl she was with, filled her with a tenderness and a pity that confirmed what she already knew about her feelings. The poor Ga Eul had been relieved when she received the message from
Ji Hoo, at least she knew Yi Jeong was safe, but she couldn’t stop thinking about his escape, so sudden and resolute: he hadn’t stopped, not even seeing she was running after him. And even if she knew she shouldn’t be surprised, it still hurt a lot.
“I think I told you Yi Jeong and I were playmates.” Eun Jae broke the silence, knowing she had to start somewhere. Ga Eul was such a nice girl she didn’t want her to suffer this way. “We were a pretty large group. The F4, Jun Hee unni and Seo Hyun unni, we know each other since we were children, we grew up together at Shinhwa. Well, Jun Hee unni was like our older sister and Seo Hyun unni was pretty busy trying to help Ji Hoo after the death of his parents, so that was leaving me with the boys. Yi Jeong and Ji Hoo were my favourites because they were pretty quiet and since Ji Hoo spent all his time with Seo Hyun unni, I grew attached to Yi Jeong. The other children were playing with cars or dolls, but his father initiated him and his brother to play with clay. And he taught me too, when I asked him to.”
Eun Jae stopped, eyeing her attentively. “How much do you know about his family?”
“Enough to know they are responsible for his fear of commitment.” Ga Eul answered, terribly uneasy. It was really weird talking about Yi Jeong with another person, and most of all with someone who clearly meant so much to him. Someone who knew him probably much better than her. “His mother, his brother, his father… I guess he didn’t tell me all of it, but he told me enough.”
“We grew closer when he understood that the reason his mother sometimes disappeared was that she had attempted suicide. We were eight or nine years old, I think.” Eun Jae’s eyes saddened and she put down the cup. “Like Seo Hyun was doing with Ji Hoo, I decided I would have helped Yi Jeong. I didn’t want him to cry or to be alone, I always knew where to find him when he was hiding from the world. I realised I was in love with him the first time I saw him with another girl. I was so jealous I could barely breathe, but when I saw that the other girls were coming and going and I was a constant in his life, I told myself that I had a chance.”
Ga Eul swallowed her last gulps of coffee and looked at her, uncertainly. “And then?”

***

“How was she?” Ji Hoo asked after a long silence. “It’s been three years since I last saw her, is she fine?”
“She’s prettier.” Yi Jeong closed his eyes, talking very slowly, as choosing the words one by one. He knew Ji Hoo would have waited for him quietly, he knew he could take his time in trying to explain the complexity he was feeling. “Her eyes were sparkling in the studio’s light and her hair was tied up, unlike she did when she was with us. It suits her, I think. She’s not anymore the girl we knew. She grew up and became a beautiful woman.”
“How did she react seeing you?”
“Much like me. It was like time was frozen. In that single instant a thousands of images flashed my mind, how she always knew where to find me, the way she was cheering me up, her smile, our time in the workshop, everything. I was overwhelmed and so was her, I could read it in her eyes.”
Ji Hoo nodded, his gaze fixed on his friend. “It’s only natural, I think. You haven’t seen each other since three years, it must have been quite the shock. Do you plan to see her again, now that you know where you can find her?”
Yi Jeong ran a hand in his hair, his eyes full of confusion. “I really don’t know. I suppose I should. I still have to explain her what happened three years ago and she still has to tell me where she hid and why she disappeared.”
“I think you know why she disappeared, brother.” Ji Hoo looked at him so intensively that Yi Jeong averted his gaze, with a sigh. “And what about Ga Eul yang?”
“The worst thing is that she was there. She witnessed the entire exchange. I’m sure she asked Eun Jae what happened, if we knew each other. Either Eun Jae will tell her everything, or she will send her to me so that I have to do the talking. I don’t know which one is the worst.”
“What if Eun Jae still loves you? What if nothing changed for her?” Ji Hoo asked, his quiet voice low but firm.
Yi Jeong didn’t answer.

***

“Then I tried to make him understand how I was feeling.” Eun Jae looked at Ga Eul in the eyes, while talking. The girl was pale, but she was calm, she wanted to know what happened. Poor her. She knew very well how So Yi Jeong could tear your heart apart, she knew the sensation of being completely helpless with him. And still, Ga Eul told her Yi Jeong had accepted her feelings. Maybe something changed for him, maybe now he was finally ready to give his heart to someone.
“I tried countless times but I think I can safely say we were both aware something was changing between us. I embraced the change happily, willing to move to the next stage, willing to trust him. Yi Jeong stayed still, frozen in fear. It was frustrating, because I knew he loved me too, he was just afraid to admit it. I knew he would have run away if he thought I wanted to talk about that with him, so I guessed I had to show him my feelings. I figured out it was a pretty strong way and that he would have been forced to admit he loved me.”
Eun Jae sadly smiled and Ga Eul felt her heart painfully twisting in her chest, wanting to know and yet afraid of it.
“I left him a message, something he couldn’t misunderstand. But he never showed up to receive it. That was when I decided to give up. If he wasn’t ready to face changing, our relationship would have died before even starting. I cried that night, I cried till I had no more tears and each one of them was a goodbye to him. I was so angry that he was choosing his fears over me, it was frustrating and maddening, but there was nothing I could do about it, I couldn’t force him. So I left.”
“You left?” Ga Eul repeated, her hands gripping her skirt.
“I left Shinhwa, I asked a transfer to another school and I left Korea too. I came back a year later, feeling I was ready, but I was wrong. News of the Korean F4 were already spreading as well as Yi Jeong’s adventures with women, and I couldn’t stand it. So, instead of contacting my old friends, I stayed quietly in my corner, completing my studies in anonymity and decided to run my life apart from that world. I felt it was no longer mine. I couldn’t approve what I was hearing about F4, Jun Hee unni was already married and Seo Hyun unni was in France. I was alone. And I stayed alone.”
Ga Eul slowly nodded, carefully thinking about all her teacher told her. Her heart was shattering piece by piece, broken by confusion, uncertainty and uneasiness. Could she really compete with Yi Jeong’s first love? Was she only a second choice? And what would Yi Jeong do now that Eun Jae appeared again?
Should she just return him and let him go? Would he be happier with Eun Jae?
Ga Eul deeply breathed in, shutting down the voices in her mind that were just torturing her and raised her gaze to her teacher. “What now that you saw him again? What are you going to do when he comes looking for you? I suppose you two will have to talk.”
Eun Jae nodded. “You’re right. He’ll probably contact me again, there are some explanations we own each other.”
“Do you… do you still love him?” Ga Eul finally asked, her voice strangled with fear.

***

Ji Hoo sighed and looked at Yi Jeong, pitying him. He knew how much painful it had been for him to live after Eun Jae had left him and just when he was trying to be happy again with Ga Eul yang, his first love had reappeared, completely confusing him. There was just a question Yi Jeong had to answer and it was not an easy one. He didn’t expect he would have been able to answer it at all, not right now. And yet, Ji Hoo had to ask, to make him think. For him, for Eun Jae and for Ga Eul yang too.
“Yi Jeong, do you still love Eun Jae?”

***

Eun Jae’s gaze was filled with simpathy and her smile was sweet when she answered, with no hesitation in her voice. “No. I don’t love him anymore.”

***

“Perhaps, Ji Hoo. Perhaps. I don’t know.” Yi Jeong hid his face in his hands, closing his eyes and feeling his heart beat again for something he thought he had forgotten long ago. Then a whisper came out from his hands, a whisper that was almost a prayer.
“Yes.”

Chapter 27

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