Their first dinner together after meeting again is…slightly awkward.
Oh, the conversation flows easily enough. They learn new things about each other. Her volunteer work teaching sign language, his new company and position as CEO. They tell stories of the past year. It’s the probably most they’ve ever said to each other. And yet for all the things they say, there’s a great plenty still left unsaid.
Their second outing involves less talking, much like before she left for Busan.
Somehow, it’s more comfortable this way. He watches as she chugs a pint without breaking a sweat and laughs as she’s left with a foam mustache. She wipes it off with a tissue but there’s still some left on the corner of her lips. He reaches out and wipes it off before he can stop himself. Neither of them follows up on it.
Their third get-together is postponed due to inclement weather. They make up for it on their fourth meeting where he takes her for dinner and a walk by the riverside.
Their fifth meeting is somehow crashed by the Hugye-dong bar babies. Not that she minds. She’s missed them, though she could have done without some of the teasing. Park Dong Hoon merely smiles boyishly, and banters back, always ready to defend her honour.
Five becomes six, and soon seven and eight.
Soon enough, they lose count.
Out of nowhere, of course, come the matchmaking offers - for both him and for her.
He squashes any attempts by the members of Team 3 that joined his company to pair their boss with someone suitable. It was easy. He was CEO, they were employees with too much free time on their hands. End of.
But for her? Much as she loves her work colleagues, they get overwhelming at times. She tries her best to ignore them when they get too overzealous in trying to set her up on blind dates.
She tries her best. And mostly, she's successful.
Sometimes, she's curious. She wonders about herself and Park Dong Hoon. What are they, really? Are they officially "unofficially" dating? She's not sure.
There's just so much between them that they can't possibly remain friends. She knows that for sure. She's seen his longing glances.
And while she considers herself to be rather fearless, something inside is holding her back from making a move.
Whatever they have is both familiar and yet, very new. She worries that maybe he really was happy without her. Happier.
The thought of it causes a sinking feeling in her stomach.
Like her world would tilt on its axis permanently, knowing that he was better off without Lee Ji An.
A short chapter. I have lots of stuff written for this story in advance but I needed something to set things up.
Chapter 2: More questions (than answers)
Doubt is contagious.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Her thoughts follow her into their next drinking session.
It’s obvious to him right from the start. Something is bothering her. Her responses are non-committal, she’s barely touched her drink and she’s staring at the glass of beer like it’s wronged her somehow.
Her introspection leads him to wander through his own thoughts.
It feels like that slight sense of unease after their reunion.
He’d built a new life without her. And she without him.
He's definitely in a better place than he was merely a year or so ago. So why did it feel like some huge piece was missing after meeting her again?
Was it fate that they were to meet again so soon? He’d had fantasies of what could happen ten, twenty years from when they parted. It would’ve been amicable. Friendly. Time would have given them space enough for that.
Perhaps she feels burdened by his renewed presence in her life. She’s young, after all. She has much to offer the world, without being held back. The thought of being a burden to her in any way makes him feel sick.
They leave the bar without saying a word. He insists on walking her home and she leads him to her new place not far from Hugye-dong. They stop at a railroad crossing. He notes that the railroad that cuts through his neighbourhood also crosses hers.
While they’re waiting for the train to past, a woman’s laughter breaks through the quiet and he looks to his left. There’s a young couple, clearly loved up in a world of their own.
Dong Hoon looks to his right and sees that Ji An is watching them, her gaze unreadable.
He walks her home and sees her to her door. He makes a weak joke about the evening weather forecast and rain, and leaves.
When he gets home, he closes the door behind him and just stands in the entryway. The automatic light switches off from sensing lack of movement and he looks emptily in the dark at the contents of his home.
He doesn't know what to make of this night, but it feels oddly like she’s slipping away from him.
Oh, Dong Hoon. Another short chapter. I'm still trying to get into the swing of writing but I feel this length is just right for now.