Your first thought about her is, “God this woman is ugly.”
Your latest thought about her is, “God I’m gonna marry this woman.”
Of course, as far as love stories go, yours is terrible and beautiful and all in between.
One day she asks you, “Do you ever wonder what would have happened if I liked you first instead of Al?”
You shrug and say, “What’s the point in wondering about it?”
She pouts. “Come on, humor me. Suppose I fell for you first…”
You sigh, cross your arms, and give in to her demands - like you always do. “I guess… you wouldn’t have shown me who you truly are, would you?”
“Of course not! I would have wanted to impress you. I might have… let’s see. Dressed up nicely, acted nicely, ate a little less in front of you–” She chuckles and says, “Ah! Maybe you would have fallen in love with me a lot sooner than you really did?”
You scoff and say, “I doubt that. I dislike girls who only show me their good sides. Superficial ones and ones who try hard to impress me turn me off very quickly.”
She thinks about it and says, “Well it’s not like I could have kept it up long. Sooner or later I would have shown you my true self.”
“Your slovenly, crude, old-woman-ways self, you mean?”
Her eyes flare up and she hits you on the arm. “Ya! That’s–”
You rub the sore spot before bending to steal a kiss from her mouth. “I suppose only when you do would I have started to like you.”
You don’t know the exact moment you started to like her.
You don’t know the exact moment your heart started stirring like mad when she comes by.
You don’t know the exact moment you realized her presence brightens your day like no other.
But when you do, you find yourself wondering how you’ve lived your life without her by your side.
“Get anything you like,” you offer, handing her the menu as you often do. “It’s my treat.”
“You also said that yesterday,” she says, grinning as she takes it. “Keep this up and I’ll bankrupt you within a year, mark my words.”
You chuckle and lean back on your chair. “I’d like to see you try.”
Your first days together weren’t exactly romantic or ideal, by any standards.
You were rude. Incessantly so. You picked on her appearance, you picked on her mannerisms, you picked on her personality because you found it fun to see how gamely she rose up to your teasing.
You were a bully. Obscenely so.
And then you had the audacity to wonder why she didn’t like you first.
“You talk like you’re so great,” she had scoffed, regarding you like scum beneath her feet. “I told you already - stop calling me ‘old lady’. I’m not old!”
“I’ll stop calling you 'old lady’ once you stop dressing like my grandmother,” you said, sneering.
You saw her ball her fists at her side. “God you’re so rude. I bet you were born without knowing how to say a single nice thing to anyone, weren’t you?”
“My mouth tells the truth the way I see it,” you told her proudly. “Why bother mince words when you can say what’s on your mind? So when I call you 'old lady’–”
“I know, I know. I remind you of your grandmother. But if I were your grandmother, I’d hit you so hard you won’t be able to sit down. For weeks.” She grinned devilishly.
The mental image it evoked from you was so unusual it broke you out of your stiff and cold demeanor. Simply put, you laughed. “Ya. Are you saying you want to spank me?”
Instead of dignifying you with an answer, she turned on her heel and left.
She is dirty and unkempt and rough and unrefined.
She is anathema to all the young girls in the world who titter and giggle and bat their fake eyelashes at you.
She remains oblivious to your affections, unmoved, unswayed.
And yet you remain a moth to her flame - despite your attempts not to be one.
“Has anyone ever told you you’re kind of weird?”
You try not to be offended at such an offhand comment. “Why would they?”
“Have you seen yourself lately?” she asks, eyes wide behind her glasses. “You’re just– you’re too– you’re so–”
“Handsome? Good looking? Distinguished?”
“Good to know you have such a wide vocabulary when describing yourself,” she says, rolling her eyes.
“Why? Don’t you think so?” you ask her, now feeling the stings of resentment. You try your best to look good everyday and yet–
She sighs and says, “Of course I do. You’re probably the best looking person on the entire planet. Anyone with eyes will agree with me.”
Something warm blossoms on your chest and you tell her, “As long as one of those eyes is yours, I’m content.” You take her hand to kiss the back of it.
She looks at your mouth on her skin and sighs again. “Weirdo.”
“You seem to be getting along with Hee Bong very well,” you had said, hoping to heaven you didn’t sound overly invested in the sentiment.
“She’s very cute and fun to be with,” Al replied easily. “It’s comfortable, being around her.”
“Is that so?” you said, looking down at the cup you’ve bought for her.
All the while fighting the delicious urge to hurl it on his head.
“You look tired,” she says, looking concerned.
You sigh and say, “I am. Without Al around I’m shorthanded around the coffee shop. And with our new product coming out--”
“I can help,” she volunteers earnestly. “I'll do anything to make your workload lighter.”
Already you can feel your spirits lifting. “Are you sure? You’re also working overtime at the beauty clinic, aren’t you?”
"I'm strong, aren't I? I can do it. Besides--" She takes your cold hands and warms them with her own before saying, somewhat shyly, “I’d rather work overtime around you.”
“I’m not teasing,” you had told her, and your heart failed to beat as you admitted it. “I meant it when I said I like you.”
She stared at your face for what seemed like an eternity before running off like mad - like she had the devil right on her very heels.
This time, you chose not to go after her, despite every fiber of your being telling you to.
“You’re dating Teacher Yeol?”
You straighten your spine at the incredulity in your friend’s voice. “Yes. For several months now.”
He blinks repeatedly at you before placing a hand at your forehead. “Ya. Are you sick? Have you seen her?”
You slap his hand away, less because of the germs he might have imparted upon you and more because of the weight of his words. “Yes I have, and I’m disgusted everyone else doesn’t seem to.”
“Why would we?” he asks, and you begin to wonder how you’re ever friends with him. “Ya. She’s dirty and unkempt and crude and–”
“She’s more beautiful than anyone have a right to be,” you tell him, and you’re nearly quivering with anger this time. “I’m finally happy - and it’s all because of her.”
Your friend mutters some haphazard sort of apology before leaving, and you turn to watch him go - only to see her there, looking a wee bit dazed.
So you ask her, while alarm bells resound in your head, “How long have you been standing there?”
“You–” She steps into your orbit and asks, “You told Teacher Park about us?”
You cross your arms and say, “I did.”
Her eyes widen as she whispers, “Why did you do that?”
“Why shouldn’t I?” you ask her back. “Isn’t it about time someone knows the truth about us?”
She gestures at the door and says, “Look at how he reacted when you told him. Do you want everyone to think you’ve gone crazy by dating me?”
“I don’t care,” you tell her, and it’s the hardest truth you’ve ever told anyone. You pause and blink as realization hits you. “But it seems like you do.”
“Of course I do!” she admits, and there’s an unhinged look on her face that should scare you - but doesn’t. “We’re like heaven and earth, you and I. By admitting you like someone like me - it’s like admitting you’re insane and stupid and–”
“Stop it!” you say, and she does. “Ya. Do you really doubt yourself that much, Yeol Hee Bong?”
“Only when I’m with you,” she says brokenly, and it’s with heavy footsteps that she turns to go.
“All the boys fight just to dance with me,” she had said, puffing out her chest. “And back in high school, all the teachers say they want to protect me!”
“Who asked you?” you told her, before leaving without another word.
You find her a few steps away from home. You don’t touch her; instead, you fall into step beside her, fighting the urge to be closer than you already are.
And she says, “They’ll think I’m a witch.” She chuckles and adds, rather self-deprecatingly, “I already look like one.”
“Well,” you say casually, “since you certainly put a spell on me, I can’t really deny it.”
Then you take her hand in yours and pull her to a stop.
“I meant it when I said it,” you tell her, looking into her eyes as you do. “You make me happy. And I want the whole world to know it.”
She blinks repeatedly behind her glasses and says, quietly, reverently, “What did I ever do to deserve you?”
You drag a finger down her cheek. “You were born Yeol Hee Bong. You were you.
And I love every part of you.”
“Teacher Cha!” her father had said, moving forward to take your hand in his. “Perhaps you know a good man you can introduce my daughter to?”
“Dad!” she shrieked, looking highly embarrassed and chagrined.
For a tiny second, your eyes met with hers and you fought the urge to scoff.
What kind of man would even want to meet someone like her?