“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
Those words kept dancing in Yi Jeong’s mind, along with the sound of her crying and the image of her shoulders shaken with sobs.
He didn’t know what to think, what to say, but somehow he perfectly knew what to do.
His arms moved on its own, suddenly hugging her and his hand buried in her hair, keeping her against him.
“Ga Eul yang…” he murmured, completely shocked. “What… How…”
The door burst open and two massive men, dressed in black, entered the living room, followed by a frightened Choi Ja Hoon.
“I said you can’t go in! The girl isn’t in any danger, she’s with…”
One of them grabbed the young man by the throat and almost lifted him up in the air. “If you want to survive and get married tomorrow, get out of our way.”
Then he threw him aside, marching with his companion towards the weeping girl.
Yi Jeong stood up shielding Ga Eul, but the two men didn’t seem to care.
“Move.” They ordered without even flinching.
“And if I don’t?” Yi Jeong answered, ready to fight, but then he felt Woo Bin’s hand on his shoulder, pulling him away.
“What?” The potter shook off the hand but then Woo Bin grabbed his arm with an iron grip, keeping Yi Jeong near him, his face neutral.
“You have a smart friend”, the first man said, pulling Ga Eul up without any kindness. “Remember to thank him later.”
The girl didn’t look at any of them, her eyes fixed on the floor and she just put the mask back in place before being dragged away by the two men.
The speechless Ja Hoon followed them too, cursing his stupid friends and the whole tradition of having a bachelor party before getting married. To hell with that, it was the worst evening of his life! And two of the F4 were involved. He had been so honoured when they arrived at the party, but now he wished they never had. Cursing fate, heavens and hell all together, he proceeded to throw out of his house his drunken friends, aware that two of the four Princes of Korea were still in his living room. He could just hope they would go away soon and forget his name. Otherwise he was completely ruined.
“Let go of me!” Yi Jeong angrily shouted at Woo Bin, shaking his arm when the door closed hiding Ga Eul from his sight.
“Not until I know for sure that you aren’t going after them.”
“Of course I’m going after them! They can’t take her away like that!”
“You can’t.” Woo Bin repeated, still holding him. “You’ll get yourself killed.”
“You don’t understand!” Yi Jeong was trying to break free, but the mafia prince knew how to keep him in place.
“You are the one who doesn’t understand, bro. Those men were her guardians. And they had guns, didn’t you see them? Go after them, and they will shoot you.”
No, Yi Jeong hadn’t seen the guns but at that moment he couldn’t care less. The girl was Ga Eul yang, his precious Ga Eul yang, and he could be damned if he would leave her for another second in that hell of a life.
“Listen to me, listen!” Woo Bin stopped his attempts to free himself, shouting. “There’s nothing you can do now. We know where to find her and they won’t harm your friend, she’s too much important. But you can’t help her if you get killed now!”
His eyes were looking at Yi Jeong with such intensity that the potter stopped fighting and collapsed on the couch, his gaze fixed on nothingness.
“This can’t be.” He whispered. “It’s impossible.”
“Let’s go back to the lounge now.” Woo Bin put his hand on Yi Jeong’s shoulder. “And you can tell me who the girl is, so we can figure out how to help her.”
Who the girl is. He wanted to know who Ga Eul was. How could he explain it?
“A summer fling.” The words escaped his lips, but he smiled at that. “She’s just a summer fling.”
“Hey you! Come with me now!”
It all started like this, Yi Jeong recalled. A summer night, a club, a cute dancing girl and her.
“I was in Busan that year, I was seventeen.” Sat down in the lounge, a glass of whiskey in his hand, his eyes couldn’t see the expensive furniture of their hang out place. They were lost in a club of nine years ago, still seeing its lights and hearing the loud music.
“It had been a fun evening so far. I recall that I missed you guys, but I didn’t mind being by myself for a while. I think it was the first summer I spent away from you all. As much as I love you guys, sometimes a man needs some time alone.” he winked but his quip was forced and Woo Bin knew it. The mafia prince motioned his friend to go on, actually curious. It wasn’t a frequent thing that Yi Jeong remembered a girl and he was talking about someone he knew nine years ago.
“The club wasn’t that big, nor it had a vip room or anything like we are used here… and of course the people in there recognized me. That wasn’t a big deal, because I already spotted the girl I wanted for the evening. She was cute with that red ribbon on her hair, but she was moving like a tigress on the dancing floor. Definitely hot.”
Yi Jeong smiled, swallowing a gulp of liquor. “Well, you know me. I started talking with that girl and since she knew who I was, she was more than willing to. Everytime I tried to touch her, though, I could feel she was hesitating. I thought she was the shy type and decided to give her some minutes more to melt down, before choosing another girl.”
“Typical Casanova.” Woo Bin chuckled. “And then?”
“And then I felt someone grabbing my arm and turned around to look who it was.” Yi Jeong put the glass down on the table, staring at the wall. “She was a nice girl but not particularly beautiful. She had long hair and wide eyes and she was clearly angry with me. She brought me to the bar, offered me a drink and then proceeded to lecture me about her friend.”
“It’s not a tree you can climb, so leave her alone. She will never get involved with a rich playboy who will leave her pregnant by tomorrow morning, going back to Seoul.”
“That girl has guts.” Woo Bin nodded, approvingly. “What did you answer?”
“What could I tell her? It was fun being addressed that way, but at the same time I couldn’t let her get away with that. So I told her that even if she had a cute little face, I wasn’t compelled to listen to her, and that I was going to pretend I didn’t hear anything. I swallowed the rest of my drink and left the bar, but that girl preceeded me, grabbed her friend, smirked at me and lead her away. I think the worst thing was that the girl I wanted didn’t even fight with her, to stay with me.”
Woo Bin started laughing and Yi Jeong soon followed him. The memory in itself was embarassing, but it was fun too.
“So much for being a Casanova, bro!”
“Well, I managed to get another girl for the night, anyway.” he grinned, still laughing.
And still the memory of that unknown girl kept bugging him. Everywhere he went, everything he was doing, those wide, sparkling eyes never left his mind, to the point that two nights later, he went to that club again.
“Now that I think about it, I realise she recalled me of Eun Jae. She wasn’t afraid of me, of my status or my name, she always spoke her mind around me. Maybe that’s what fascinated me so much.”
“Like Jun Pyo with Jan Di. After all he fell in love with her after she kicked him at school.” Ah, that was a fun period for them. School. Sometimes Woo Bin wished he could be in school again, without responsibilities and problems. And without Jae Kyung as well. That woman was literally killing him.
“She was in the club again, with a different friend this time.” Yi Jeong resumed his story. “I went directly to her as soon as I spotted her but when she saw me, she made a face so annoyed that it pissed me off. I just grabbed her, offered her a drink despite her protests and introduced myself. That forced her to introduce herself too: her name was Chu Ga Eul.”
“And you met her again after that second night?” Woo Bin asked.
Oh yes, he had met her everyday. She lived there in Busan and they would meet to eat ice cream, walk on the seashore, watch movies and just enjoy their time together. It had been one of the best summer of his life, even if a chaste one, because she absolutely refused to sleep with him. And, oddly enough, after meeting her he didn’t go looking for another girl to share his nights with.
When it was time to go back to Seoul they had met one last time and just when he was about to give her the speech he prepared, she had surprised him.
“It’s just a summer fling, sunbae. What happens in the summer, stays in the summer. Let’s not ruin our good time together, ok?”
And somehow, hearing her calling their time together “just a summer fling” had hurt him.
“But I remember you went back to Busan the next summer. Actually you went there for two summers more.”
“We had a strange relationship.” Yi Jeong sighed and swallowed another gulp of his drink. “We started calling each other during the rest of the year. We never talked about visiting each other, we were happy like that. I guess she was like me in a way… a distant friendship was safe. Talking with her was nice, even if she was always mad when I told her about my women. She always insisted that she wasn’t jealous, that she was only worried for me, but of course I always thought she was lying.”
For the next two summers he had returned to Busan and everytime they met it was like they were never apart. Busan was their own little world and for three months in a year, Yi Jeong could leave all his pretences behind and just be himself. And still, each time the summer was over, they returned to their own lives, repeating the same mantra over and over.
It was just a summer fling.
“Sounds like love to me, bro.” Woo Bin commented, keeping neutral. “Why did you two act that way?”
“I don’t know if we were in love with each other. We shared friendship, we laughed, we got mad at each other sometimes but we never told the three magic words. Until six years ago.”
Yi Jeong stood up, leaving the glass on the table and took some steps, running his fingers in his hair.
“Six years ago she called me for the last time. She said she was going to get married in a few hours. She said she couldn’t keep contact with me because she was going overseas with her husband. That was our goodbye call.”
And hearing those words, Yi Jeong’s world had crushed down on him. She was getting married. No more phonecalls, no more summers in Busan, no more Chu Ga Eul. No amount of shouting had made her change her mind, nor could he get her to explain why she never talked about this mysterious fiance before. Even after six years he still remembered her last words.
“I know I’m hurting you. I know you love me, even though you will never tell me. I love you too. But I’ll marry him. We always knew it sunbae. It was just a summer fling. Our summer is over now.”
He had gone to Busan of course. That same day his private jet had landed there and he had run to her as fast as he could. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake he did with Eun Jae, he wasn’t going to let her go.
Her house was empty, nobody on sight, her cellphone was turned down and no amount of researches had worked. Ga Eul had disappeared in thin air, just like Eun Jae years before.
“I guess we can assume she lied to you.” Woo Bin stood up as well, pacing back and forth, like he always did when he was thinking. “My report says the Butterfly Queen started working at Seventh Heaven six years ago, which is when your Ga Eul disappeared. Something must have happened. What can you tell me about her family?”
“Her mother died when she was a child and she has a sister six years younger than her, named Kyoung Mi. I never met her father, but I know they lived all together.”
“Ok bro. We’ll start from here. Now that I know her name, it will be easier to do some research and find out what happened.”
“I don’t care what happened!” Yi Jeong snapped. “She can be married, divorced and with four children for all I care, but I want her out of that club! I won’t leave her there for another second!”
“You really want to die young, do you?” Woo Bin sighed, reaching him and completely ignoring the fact that just some hours before he was the one with the crazy plan. “Something must have happened if your girl suddenly broke up with you and disappeared. I already told you that, when a girl becomes a prostitute, she never has a choice. If we discover what happened, we can help her better.”
Yi Jeong swallowed, but nodded. “I know. You’re right. I’m sorry. I just can’t stand the thought of her in that situation, I can’t stand the idea of her being sold every night and if I think about how many men touched her during all this time, I feel I’m going crazy.”
“We never did it, Woo Bin.” he turned to his best friend, his voice cracking. “We never made love and I know for sure she never did it with anyone else. Her first time must have been with one of her customers. I can’t even imagine how much she suffered all this time. And I wasn’t there with her. She was all alone.”
Woo Bin gently clapped him on the back. “She’s not alone anymore. You have found her again, and she knows it.”
“Help me please.” Yi Jeong whispered. “I can’t leave her there. Help me saving Ga Eul yang.”
“I will.” he promised. “We will find a way. I won’t rest until Chu Ga Eul is back with you and that Seventh Heaven burnt up to ashes.”