It took the whole afternoon for Yi Jeong to gain enough courage to cover the distance to Eun Jae’s studio.
In the end it was the awareness he would have soon gone crazy if he kept avoiding the issue, to persuade him to wait for her at the end of her lesson after checking Ga Eul wouldn’t have been there too.
There he was, at the kiln beside the clay house. It was like meeting an old friend again, Yi Jeong thought touching it affectionately. How many times when he was a child he had waited anxiously with his brother and Eun Jae for their pieces to come out? Of course now he had his personal kiln, but he never forgot the first one. Funny how we try to never forget the first time we do something, he silently mused; is the first time really so important? He couldn’t remember the first girl he ever kissed, but he perfectly remembered his first kiss with Ga Eul. He couldn’t remember the first girl he slept with, but his night with his little
country bumpkin was forever impressed in his heart. And his love for Eun Jae, his first love, was still burning him, demanding for a closure.
The door opened and closed and Yi Jeong straightened up, seeing the delicate frame of the girl he was waiting for. She was on the phone and his smile died on his lips when he heard her voice tenderly talk, her eyes sparkling in joy. Who was she talking to? Could it be she had a boyfriend now? Had someone else succeeded in stealing her heart? The sudden bite of jealousy surprised him and he had to firmly remind himself that Eun Jae had never been his to begin with. Not to mention that he had moved on too, falling in
love with Ga Eul.
Careful not to be seen, he jumped in his car, following her silver one. He had to know what was happening, where was she heading, who was she meeting. If it was a guy, if it really was a boyfriend, he didn’t know what he would have done. Had he really the right to interfere with her? Maybe he should just go away while she was still not aware of him. But first he had to know. He could just watch, verify his suspicions and then go away and talk to her another day. Or not talk to her at all.
Not even knowing how, Yi Jeong followed Eun Jae for almost twenty minutes, until she finally parked and a cold feeling started closing around his heart. He knew what that place was. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t.
And when he saw his brother warmly embracing the girl he still loved, his heart stopped beating.
His brother. With Eun Jae. Offering her cake, laughing with her, teasing her. That piece of cake on her nose, he remembered it, only that it was clay when he had done the same thing with her. And now she was with Il Hyun, in his arms, looking at him like she used to look at Yi Jeong.
Anger built inside him as he kept watching them. How dared his brother? First he abandoned the family, he left him alone to deal with their parents, and now he was stealing Eun Jae as well? How could he had the audacity to be so happy? How could he betray him like that?
Before even thinking about it, Yi Jeong stormed out of the car, pale with rage, and marched toward the cafeteria, suddenly opening the door.
“So this is it, hyung?” He hissed, shutting the door behind him. “You and Eun Jae? And you never bothered to tell me she was back?”
The couple froze, astonishingly looking at him.
“Yi Jeong?” Il Hyun started, taking a step towards him, but the potter raised a hand, like a warning.
“You knew I loved her!” Yi Jeong shouted, his eyes as dark as onyx. “You knew how crazy I went when she disappeared! And you knew she was back? And you made her fall for you? How could you do this to me!”
“Stop that!” It was Eun Jae and the anger in her voice was unmistakable. Yi Jeong closed his mouth watching the girl walking towards him, a stern look on her face.
“Do you really think you have the right to come here and shout after your brother that way? He didn’t do anything. I left because of you, and you know that!”
Facing her now, glowing with anger, her bright eyes glaring at him, Yi Jeong fully felt the blow of her words and lowered his gaze. It was true, he was the one who made her leave. Not his brother.
Eun Jae took another step and when she talked, her voice was calmer. “Now come and have a seat, Yi Jeong. I think we all need to talk.”
The coffee was good, although nobody really tasted it. There were sat down at a round table, a tense silence among them. Yi Jeong’s mind was so confused that he could barely think, much less talk. His brother and Eun Jae, together. That was very clear just looking at them even in that awkward situation. He knew he should have felt relieved, that was the answer to all his questions: Eun Jae didn’t love him anymore, she moved on. But it hurt. It burned. His male pride was wounded and it demanded satisfaction.
“So… How long?” Yi Jeong gestured at both of them.
“It’s been five months.” Il Hyun answered. “But I met her almost a year ago.”
“A year?” The potter didn’t even try to hid the disdain in his voice.
“It was me, Yi Jeong. I asked him not to tell you.” Eun Jae firmly stated. “I didn’t want anybody to know I was back.”
“Why? I can understand about me, but the guys? Jun Hee noona?”
“They would have told you.” The girl sighed. “I came back a year after going away and I asked my parents not to tell anyone. I met oppa by chance, I didn’t know this was the place he had opened up. I just wanted a cup a coffee.”
She smiled at Il Hyun and he squeezed her hand. Yi Jeong fought a sudden lump in his throat, willing himself not to break down before them.
“So…” He cleared his voice. “You two seem happy. I’m glad about it. I’ll leave then.”
He stood up but Eun Jae stopped him. “Please, don’t. Don’t you think we have to talk?”
“About what?” He bitterly smiled. “It’s all settled. You’re back and you’re in love with my brother. What else is there to say?”
“I want to know about you. How you’ve been.”
She seemed so peaceful that it was maddening. How could she be so quiet? After three years, they met again, she was with her brother and she had the nerve to ask him if he was fine? How could he be after such a betrayal? Did she think he was made of stone? His old defence walls, the one Ga Eul so laboriously
tried to destroy, built again and Yi Jeong let his anger take control.
“You want to know how I’ve been. Fine.” He said through clenched teeth. “Let’s see.”
He bent down on the table, leaning on it and cruelly smiled. “After you left I spent some months mindlessly drinking. At the end my friends forced me to stop, afraid I could end up in hospital; I can’t blame them, seeing your friend dead drunk one night after the other can indeed scare you.”
Eun Jae’s face was still neutral, so Yi Jeong pushed it a little more. He wanted to break her quiet mask, he wanted to see her suffer like he had every day since she disappeared. “After alcohol, I started with women. I was already on the good path before you left, but after that it became a sort of art. I can’t even count how many of them I slept with. It was less dangerous than getting drunk, I must admit that. The media labeled me as the Korean Casanova and I liked the nickname so much I tried to do my best to live up to it. It was a good fun. Of course all the girls always ended up crying, but I didn’t mind. Their problem,
Il Hyun was starting to give him warning looks and that amused him. Time for his share too. “Oh, of course I kept doing my mother’s errands. She ended up in hospital once every two or three months and my father was with a different woman each time. But I’m sure you knew about that, hyung. It’s your mother too, after all.”
He pretended to think, in a thick silence, then he smiled again. “I was almost forgetting! I broke my right hand. I’ll never do pottery again. Hyung you can come back in the family and be the heir again, you’ll be the best now. Your competitor gave up.”
“So.” He ended almost spitting venom. “Are you satisfied with how I’ve been? I’ve been drunk, I’ve been broken, I’ve been lonely, I’ve been sad and bitter. And you? As far as I know my brother has been happily opening up this cafeteria, leaving me alone dealing with our parents problems, forgetting he ever had a family. As for my best friend, she almost led me to madness disappearing in thin air, and apparently forgetting I ever existed since now she’s in love with my dear, dear brother. Excuse me if I’m not exactly jumping in joy at seeing you two again. Thank you for your support through these three years, thank you for always caring so much about me and my well being. And now goodbye.”
He flashed them another smile and turned to leave, his whole body shaking in shock, itching from the urge to scream, to destroy something, to ease his pain somehow.
He almost made it to the door when he felt a hand turning him around by the shoulder and then grabbing his collar. For the second time in his life, he faced his brother’s eyes, flaming with anger.
“You think it was easy, don’t you?” He shouted at Yi Jeong. “Leaving the family, leaving mother, leaving you! You think it was because I was jealous? Because you were a better potter?”
“I don’t need to think about it, you were the one who told me!” Yi Jeong shouted back. It was relieving to finally let out his anger.
“I left because I didn’t want to see you suffer, you idiot!” Il Hyun screamed again, shaking him. “I left because grandfather was arranging my wedding and Eun Jae was the bride!”
Yi Jeong’s eyes widened and his voice died in his throat. “What?”
His brother let him go and moved away some steps, his features hard with fury. “I vowed to never tell you, but I can’t let you insult Eun Jae like that. You crossed the line.”
As soon as Yi Jeong turned his head to look at Eun Jae, deep remorse filled him. She was frozen in the middle of the cafeteria, her cheeks stained with tears. Yi Jeong’s words had hit her hard and although she knew she absolutely had to leave back then, she couldn’t help but to think about his suffering, his frailty, all alone like that.
“I didn’t know about that.” She said, her voice cracking with tears. “Oppa told me just some time ago.”
“But she was too young! She was a minor!” Yi Jeong protested, incredolous.
“The wedding was to take place in a year or two.” His brother explained. “I refused the engagement because I knew you were in love with her. But you know what little brother?”
Il Hyun glared at him, a dark look in his eyes. Yi Jeong recognised it, it was like looking in a mirror. His brother and him were different on many aspects, but when they were angry they were equally dangerous.
“I loved her too, since she was just a child. Do you know how tempted I was? She could have been mine, just like that. But I would have broken your heart. I even told grandfather about it, but he didn’t care. I had no choice but to leave. For you.”
Yi Jeong could barely breathe. He leaned against the door, feeling his heart was about to stop beating, his legs trembling.
“I was cast out of the family, I was stripped of my inheritance and thrown out like I was a criminal.” Il Hyun was still talking, low and menacing. “Most of the people I knew stopped talking to me when they discovered I wasn’t the So heir anymore. Do you think that was easy? Pleasant? It was a damn hell. All because I refused to marry the girl I loved to protect my stupid brother!”
“Oppa, please stop it.” Eun Jae begged him through the tears, pointing at Yi Jeong. The potter had slowly slipped on the ground, his face twisted in pain, slow tears rolling down his eyes.
Il Hyun looked at him for some moments before deeply breathing in and kneeling beside him. “I’m sorry Yi Jeong. I didn’t mean to. I never told you because I didn’t want you to feel responsible.”
His eyes were gentle now and that was the last blow. As his brother embraced him for the first time in three years, Yi Jeong bursted into tears feeling a piece of his heart coming back to him after being lost for a long time. It was warm and homely and he hoped he never had to let it go again.