“Let me think about something before throwing yourself in the lions’ den.”
Yi Jeong glared at his best friend, his eyes almost murderous. “Which part did you miss, Woo Bin? The -I won’t-, the -let anybody- or the -touch her again-?”
“Why do you want to force me to lock you up?” If possible, Woo Bin stare was as cold as Yi Jeong’s.
“Try it. I swear I’ll make you regret it if you try to get in my way.”
“I don’t want to! I just want to protect you, to organize things so that we can take the girl away with no risks!”
“Ok.” Yi Jeong snapped again. “You think. Do all the thinking you want. But I’ll go to that damn club tonight and I’ll buy Ga Eul yang. I’ll keep buying her until you come up with a better plan. But nobody will touch her again! Did you hear me?”
“A girl bought by the same customer over and over? They will be suspicious.” The mafia prince was loosing his patience. He could understand Yi Jeong’s pain, but getting himself killed wasn’t going to help that girl at all.
But then Yi Jeong raised his gaze, his black eyes hard as onyx and he hissed the words that forced Woo Bin to capitulate. “What if it was Monkey? Would you still be all this cautious?”
And it had been over, just like Yi Jeong knew it would. Woo Bin had muttered something about “dirty tricks” and “the clay replaced your brain” but then he had promised him that he would have talked with his father again and he had started working out a plan for him to be safe that evening and all the evenings that would come.
But it was worth it, Yi Jeong thought while laying in the bed, holding a quietly breathing Ga Eul near him.
It was worth every bit of it. He never even kissed her yet just wishing she could quietly sleep in his arms, knowing she was safe from her horrible life, for the first time in six years.
So she was forced to stay at Seventh Heaven because they were threatening her sister. Yi Jeong remembered her, a little girl all eyes and smiles with long straight hair that she always tied in a ponytail.
The last time he saw her, Kyoung Mi was twelve but now she was at least nineteen. He wondered what kind of girl she had become and if she knew she was the reason her sister was selling herself.
Ga Eul softly sighed and raised their intertwined hands to kiss his fingers, thanking heavens she was not forced to wear revealing outfits anymore. Her customers seemed to appreciate her better if she dressed like a normal girl her age would and for that she was grateful because she would have died of embarassement if Yi Jeong had ever saw her in the dresses she was forced to wear at the beginning. “I missed you. If our memories were jewels they would be sparkling from all the polishing now, because I thought about you every day, every night, every minute. You and Kyoung Mi are the only people that prevented me from going mad.”
“What happened Ga Eul yang?” He whispered, sweetly kissing her forehead. It was time to know the truth, he needed every bit of information if he wanted to save her.
“My father.” She replied, shifting closer to him, leaning her head over his shoulder. After her confession, she had tried to go away, but he had just dragged her back in the bed with him, keeping her head on his chest. The loud sound of his heart had almost covered his whispered “stay with me” but she was won all the same. She had longed for those arms for six years. Dreaming for one night couldn’t be so bad.
“He was a good man, but he had the bad habit of betting on horses races. He ended up borrowing money, probably not knowing it was from the Gong family. Six years ago, he was involved in a car crash and he died on the spot. Two days later some men knocked at my door, demanding the money back and they brought me and my sister to Gong Su Pyo. That was the first time I met him.”
He was a good looking guy, around her age and with a sly smile that had warned her immediately.
Although he was young, he was not someone to mess with. He had walked around her like she was a horse on the market and then nodded still smiling.
“He told me not to worry. If I couldn’t give him back the money, I could work for him. He would have provided food and shelter, my sister would have kept going to school and as soon as I repayed my father’s debt, we were free.”
“Why didn’t you call me? I could have helped you. Didn’t you trust me enough?” Yi Jeong was deeply hurt. Even if they never openly talked about their feelings, there was no way she could not know she could rely on him.
“I was ashamed.” Ga Eul confessed. “The first time I saw Seventh Heaven and they told me I had to be a waitress in there, I almost died from shame. There was no way I could tell you how low I had fallen. I was afraid too. I was dealing with the most powerful mafia family in Busan and I had my sister to care for. Then the pressure kept building up and when Su Pyo asked me if I wanted to dance on the stage, I knew it wasn’t a request at all. I couldn’t decline. They started selling me seven days later.”
She closed her eyes and disentangled from his embrace, sitting on the bed. Her time was running out and she knew it. Time to wake up, Ga Eul. “You must never come again, sunbae. I’ll treasure our times together in my heart and this last night with you will be my most precious memory, but you must forget about me.”
“You’re asking for something impossible, Ga Eul yang.” Yi Jeong didn’t move, his eyes shifting to her back. “I never forgot about you. In these past six years, you never left my mind or my heart. You know that the day you last called me, I flied to Busan right away? I didn’t want to let you go. But I was too late. Now that I found you, I won’t loose you again. Never.”
How I wish that could be true, my love, she thought trying not to cry again. But it wasn’t possible. He had to understand it, to understand she could never be free. Too much was at stake, she couldn’t risk.
“I tried to escape once, when I understood they were going to start selling me. I ran away with Kyoung Mi, hoping I could come to you somehow.” Ga Eul run a hand in her hair, and Yi Jeong recalled that hair wasn’t that long when they first met. Nor that curly. “Even before I could reach a phone to call you, Su Pyo’s men found us and they dragged us back to Seventh Heaven.”
She paused and stared right ahead of her, her voice flat, her hands gripping her skirt. “Su Pyo was sitting at his table and didn’t even raise his gaze. He just told me that I had been really stupid and that I needed to learn my first lesson yet: obedience. One man grabbed me, forcing me to stay still and the other two kicked my sister. Kyoung Mi was only thirteen at the time.”
Yi Jeong suddenly stood up on the bed, his eyes wide in horror and his heart filling with pain. Ga Eul was still looking at the wall, but her eyes were full of tears now.
“They kept beating her up until she fainted. They had broken her left arm and some ribs as well. For the whole time, I kept trying to break free, crying and shouting, demanding they would hit me and leave my sister alone. Su Pyo finally looked at me and he was even smiling when he told me I couldn’t be hurt. I couldn’t be sold well if I was covered with bruises. I needed to be perfect. He told me it was my fault Kyoung Mi was in pain now. That she was the one who would have payed everytime I did something he didn’t like. The first thing I had to learn was to never weep in his presence, because he hated tears.”
Yi Jeong tenderly drew her in his embrace and Ga Eul leaned against his chest but she never looked at him. “From that moment on, I was his slave. He ordered me to severe all my ties with the outer world. Friends, relatives… I had to disappear. He didn’t want anybody to come looking for me. All in my best interest of course, because if somebody ever came, he would have killed that person. That was when I called you. A wedding was the only thing I could think of to make you give up on me. I knew you would have come to Busan right away, but I knew you would have stopped searching after a while, if you thought I was happily married. And so you did.”
“I’m sorry.” Yi Jeong murmured, his arms around her. “I thought I was going to go mad when I couldn’t find you. I looked everywhere, I asked everyone, but they kept telling me you really left with your family. And you were in Busan all this time.”
“I couldn’t risk you too.” Ga Eul’s voice cracked again and she deeply breathed to avoid weeping. Why couldn’t she run out of tears? Didn’t she cried enough already? “If Su Pyo ever found out I loved you, he would have used you too to bind me to him even more. You would have been in danger.”
She turned raising her hand to stroke his cheek. “That’s why you have to forget about me. You must live your life free, at least you. I’ll be happy knowing you lived to the fullest. You’ll live for me too.”
Yi Jeong gently grabbed her hand, pressing it on his cheek for a second, then he brought it to his lips, lightly kissing every finger. “It wouldn’t be a life worth living. Not without you.”
Ga Eul averted her gaze, she couldn’t stand the loving look in his eyes. It was too much. “Please, don’t talk like this.”
His hand went under her chin, slowly raising her face and he leaned his forehead against hers. “I was a coward. I know. I should have told you how I felt a long time ago and maybe you would have been spared this hell. But I can make up for that now, and I will. I won’t waste another second without telling you I love you. I always had. I always will.”
With a muffled cry, Ga Eul suddenly rose up running to the door but two strong arms closed on her, dragging her back to Yi Jeong’s chest. “I don’t care if you don’t love me anymore. It’s been so long and you’ve gone through too much. But I’ll save you. I’ll find a way. You will have your life back.”
“Stop please.” She managed to whisper, her voice strangled. “Don’t give me hope. There’s nothing you can do.”
“Nobody will touch you anymore.” He murmured in her ear. His arms around her were gentle, his voice soothing. “Nothing will harm you again. I promise you. Just trust me.”
“Don’t play with my heart.” She begged. “I’m so tired. I can’t stand it no more.”
“Listen to me.” Yi Jeong kept going, resolute in his decision. “I’ll keep buying you, night after night so that nobody can touch you. In the meanwhile I’ll figure out a plan with my friends. They will help me. You don’t know how much power the four of us can display if we’re together and we will use it all to save you and your sister. I swear Gong Su Pyo will pay for what he did to you and Kyoung Mi. I swear you will be free, Ga Eul yang. I don’t know how much time it will take, but you have to trust me because I’m not letting you go. Ever.”
He turned her in his arms and when her red eyes met his, his heart filled with so much love and pain he wanted to cry. He hugged her fiercely, burying his face in her neck, feeling her soft body against his own and for the first time that night Ga Eul’s arms raised to cling on him too, weakly.
“You’re not alone.” He repeated over and over, closing his eyes. “You’ll never be alone again, my love. I’ll always be with you.”
If he was lucky, they were already arrived. Well, luck had little to do with it, considering that Yi Jeong had told everyone to meet at the lounge at ten o’clock that morning and he was thirty minutes late. He just wasn’t in the mood to be asked the -what happened- question over and over until they were all there.
That night when he had been forced to let Ga Eul go, he had gone back to his workshop and he had started screaming and breaking everything on sight until he had collapsed on the floor, in the middle of a carpet of porcelain shards. His bloodshoot eyes were the proof he didn’t sleep a single minute because everytime he tried to, he ended up staring at the ceiling with Ga Eul’s desperate eyes dancing before him.
Preparing to confront his friends, Yi Jeong stepped out of his orange Lotus and walked to the lounge, exhaling in relief when he recognized the cars of his friends. The light sound of the chatting inside shut down as soon as he opened the door and the five people inside turned to stare at him, someone curious, someone alarmed, someone angry.
“Yi Jeong sunbae!” Jan Di walked to him a worried look in her eyes. “What happened? You look horrible!”
Trust the laundry girl to always speak the truth, he thought waving his hand. “I’m fine. I just didn’t sleep tonight, but I’m alright.”
“Why her too?”
Yi Jeong turned to face Woo Bin’s furious glare and stared him out. “Because she’s a friend. She’s one of us. And she’s the heir of the Ha Empire. I’m not going to discard any possibility.”
“Of course I should be here, if you all are!” Jae Kyung reached him and between her and Jan Di, he was brought to the couch and forced to sit down.
“You look like you’re ready to collapse.” Ji Hoo was examining him with a critical eye. “I’ll get you some coffee.”
Jun Pyo sat beside him clearly worried. “Come on, start talking Yi Jeong. What happened? Why you summoned all of us with such haste?”
“I keep thinking that Jan Di and Monkey shouldn’t be here.” Woo Bin stated, his voice barely under control. “Do you realise what you’re doing?”
He was putting them in danger, that’s what he was doing. And Woo Bin would have gladly strangled his best friend for being so careless and selfish.
“Jan Di is Jun Pyo’s fiancee, bro, and Jae Kyung is hanging out with us since we were twenty. Like it or not, they are linked with us and keeping them out isn’t going to do them any good. It could be actually worse. I’m sorry, but that’s how it is.”
Ji Hoo came back with a hot cup of coffee which Yi Jeong took with gratitude. He really needed to be awake now.
“Can you stop talking nonsense and just tell us what’s going on?” Jun Pyo’s voice was a warning in itself, the Gu heir was loosing his patience.
Yi Jeong deeply breathed in and looked at everyone of them, his eyes slowly melting in a mute plea. “I need your help to save the woman I love. Please, help me.”
He didn’t leave out anything, even if Jae Kyung and Jan Di were clearly crying when he reported what the Gong family had done to Kyoung Mi. He needed them to know everything because only the crude, cruel reality would have persuaded them to help Ga Eul and her sister. By the end of it, Woo Bin seemed ready to kill Gong Su Pyo with his bare hands.
“That filthy bastard.” He hissed, his eyes on flame. “How dare he! Beating up a thirteen years old girl? He’s a beast!”
“Ga Eul yang told me her sister is still in Busan, living at Seventh Heaven too. She’s allowed to go to school and to have some hobbies, but she’s guarded and she’s forced to work as a waitress in the club at night.” Yi Jeong’s eyes were stinging in sheer exhaustion and now that he told his friends about Ga Eul he was starting to really feel the need to sleep.
“We will help you.” Ji Hoo patted his shoulder, his face wriggled in disgust. “That guy will know the wrath of F4.”
“And mine.” Jan Di added, a cold flame in her eyes.
“And mine too.” Jae Kyung replied, no trace of the usual cheerfulness in her voice.
“You girls keep your nose out of it.” Jun Pyo stood up, so furious he was barely able to control himself.
“It’s not something you can deal with.”
“I agree with Jun Pyo.” Woo Bin said, slightly relieved. “We’re talking about the mafia here. It will be dangerous.”
“If Gu Jun Pyo goes, I’ll go with him. I don’t advise you to try to stop me.”
The Gu heir was about to reply to his fiancee, when Jae Kyung interrupted him.
“And as Yi Jeong pointed out at the beginning, I’m the heir of the Ha empire. I can be of some help.” Jae Kyung turned to Woo Bin, her hands firmly planted on her waist. “And if you believe I’ll let you out of my sight, my dear Mafia Prince, think again because I’m going to stay by your side until it’s all over.”
A tense silence filled the room as the two girls faced the F4, resolution clearly painted in their faces. Then a soft snore came from the couch and they all turned to see Yi Jeong asleep, his expression still pained and twisted.
“He needs us all.” Jan Di whispered, looking at him with new tears in her eyes. “I can’t just stay safe and pampered while he’s so desperate. He’s my friend.”
Jun Pyo, Ji Hoo and Woo Bin exchanged some glances and in the end the mafia prince sighed, shaking his head.
“Let’s teach that bastard a lesson he will never forget.” He declared, stretching his arm with his fist closed. Ji Hoo first and Jun Pyo after him, they both joined, their fists touching each other. Jan Di and Jae Kyung followed suit, nodding.