Cha Eun Jae walked slowly to Kim Sabu’s office, buying herself some time to think what might be the reason she was suddenly called. She never received a scolding from her beloved mentor, except for last year when of course she fell flat in her face because of those pills she took in desperation to cure her nausea in the OR.
But since then, her mentor had nothing but praise for her. Scrubbing in her own operations, guiding and teaching her well, parading her in front of the whole staff every time she does something well.
What could it be this time? As she walked in the hallway, her thoughts seemed to have a mind of their own—did she make a mistake in last night’s surgery? Is she being called back to Geodae again? Did Professor Oh call? Did someone die? Oh no, the more her thoughts piled up, the more she worried.
She knocked softly and peeked inside. Kim Sabu was listening to a Madonna cassette tape as he gestured for her to come in and take a seat.
He lowered the volume down, just enough for the ambient music to stay in the room.
“Take a look at this and tell me if you want to proceed.” he said, sliding a folder with San Diego Medical Center’s name on it. She took it and scanned the pages inside as Kim Sabu explained the reason why she was called.
“It’s a research assignment that will take you to San Diego for two years.” he mentioned. “One of the senior doctors here left a year ago and Doldam has been given the opportunity to send another doctor for the grant.” Dr. Kim spoke softly, highlighting the importance of this project for Eun Jae and for the hospital.
When she didn’t say anything, he continued. “You’re the best candidate for this, Eun Jae. Doldam will benefit a lot from your skills and the experience this will bring. And you, you will grow and learn so much more from this. You’ve always been interested in research, right? Prof. Oh told me your papers are even better than the professors in Geodae.” he smiled.
Her eyes landed on the details of the assignment—where she’ll stay, the deliverables of the posting, and her estimated monthly pay. But all of that didn’t matter as she fixed her eyes on part where it stated the duration of this assignment—two years.
Call her madly in love, but the first person that came to her mind was her Woo Jin. That would mean two years of not seeing him in the flesh. Two years of not hearing his deep voice which only becomes soft if he’s talking to her. Two years of not being able to hug him, or kiss him, or make love to him. Her heart sank at the thought of it.
“Eun Jae?” she was snapped back to reality when Kim Sabu called her.
“Thank you, Sabunim.” she replied. “I’m... I’m deeply honored.”
“You don’t have to give me an answer now. But to be transparent, I have submitted your application and I’m sure you’ve been accepted already as we speak.”
She lowered her eyes to her palms, now sweating a little as she didn’t know what to do. “When do you need me to decide?”
“I can give you a week, but this will be mentioned in our meeting too. The whole staff needs to know I have chosen you for this posting.”
“Thank you, Sabunim. I’m very grateful for this opportunity.” she bowed her head a little but her mentor knew her heart was somewhere else.
“Talk to Woo Jin, he’ll understand.” he said as a piece of advice.
At home, Woo Jin saw right through her just by observing her throughout the night.
“Something’s bothering you.” he pointed out. His arm was wrapped around her shoulder, books placed on both of their laps while his thumb caressed the fabric that clothed her shoulders.
“Hmm?” she turned to him. Lost in her own thoughts, she couldn’t follow what he said.
“You barely ate. You’ve been staring at the same page for five minutes now. Is there something wrong?”
Eun Jae bit her lower lip, unsure how he would take the news. She’s not even sure if she should tell him already.
He closed his book and placed it on the bedside table, so he could focus his sole attention on her.
“Tell me babe.” he urged.
She promised she’ll tell him tomorrow. She needed more time to think which path she will take first.
“I guess I’m just tired.” she smiled a little and hugged him, placing her hand on his tummy, the other one on his back.
As she snuggled herself beside him, she felt a pang of nostalgia rush within her. She’s gonna miss this. The quiet nights. The passionate nights. Just every moment with him.
“You can tell me everything.” he said, trying one last time for her to open up.
“It’s nothing, really. Shall we go to sleep?”
Resolved, he kissed her forehead and turned off the lights, receiving her embrace as they drifted off to sleep.
The next day, it was all she could think of. She allowed herself some time to run the thought in her head when she’s not in surgery. This was the only time she could afford to think about it.
Kim Sabu was discussing the specifics of the hospital expansion, the areas that would be under construction, where the doctors would sleep for now since the sleeping quarters will be renovated too.
Woo Jin sat beside her, making sure he could hold her hand under the table. He’s been always like this with her. While they agreed to keep the PDA at a minimum, she couldn’t deny her boyfriend was a little cheeky and she didn’t mind at all that he intertwined his hand with hers during staff meetings. His warmth makes up for it.
“Lastly, there is a letter from San Diego Medical Center.” Kim Sabu announced.
Suddenly, everyone was interested and Dr. Jung couldn’t help but ask.
“Why, is Yoon Seo Jung coming back?”
Kim Sabu quickly answered him. “No, she still has another year to complete the posting. They have requested us to send another doctor.”
“Oh...” there were gasps from the members of the room. Eun Jae suddenly felt tense she shifted a little on her seat. She forgot about the meeting. It slipped her mind Kim Sabu will tell the whole staff about the San Diego thing. Woo Jin noticed it and glanced at her.
“Cha Eun Jae has been accepted for this assignment.” their mentor declared.
“Woop! Congratulations, Dr. Cha!” soon, the room was filled with giggles and cheers from the group.
Eun Jae returned their well-wishes with little nods and her smiles, but she’s not sure if she could be glad because she felt Woo Jin let go of her hand.
When the meeting was over, the male doctors quickly gathered around Woo Jin, and from a distance, she could hear their conversation.
“Stay strong, man. Two years is not a joke.” Dr. Jung said, tapping his shoulder.
“You’re very brave to let her do this. She deserves it.” Bae Mun Jung cheered.
Nurse Uhm passed by and told them, “Farewell party at On Your Way. We’ll see you there, doctors!”
She felt so helpless as he walked outside of the room, avoiding her.
He was nowhere to be seen when her break time came. She was hoping to eat dinner with him. It seemed he went home early.
At their apartment, she saw him settled on their bed, reading a book while waiting for her.
She was just as tired as well so as soon as she got out of the shower, she took her space on their bed, turning her back on him. She didn’t have the energy to argue with him. Maybe a little silence would not hurt.
She was surprised when she felt his arm above her, spooning her from behind.
“I thought you’re upset.” she said.
“You’re hugging me.”
“I am. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love you anymore.” he buried his face in her hair, inhaling the familiar scent of her shampoo.
“You didn’t tell me.” he whispered, voice heavy with sleepiness.
“I haven’t said yes.” she countered.
“So you’re considering it.”
“The pay is good. We can save up for the house in just a couple of months.”
“I can work harder to buy that house for you.” he boasted.
“You’re sweet even you’re sulking.” she took his hand and placed a soft kiss on it.
“Thank you. Now please can you let me cuddle my girlfriend? My nights are scarce.”
“I love you.”
“I love you so much, Cha Eun Jae.”
Few more days passed and they still haven’t done an official talk about this whole San Diego thing.
It’s not that they didn’t want to talk about it. They both knew they need to have the talk. It’s just that with the twist of fate, their schedules didn’t seem to meet.
He was up before her. She would come home to him sleeping, or at least, him pretending to be. In the few hours they were at home, they were both quiet as they ate or did the household chores. In the hospital, they don’t seem to interact that much like they usually did.
Nobody invited the other for a quick coffee break. She didn’t bring him his usual cup of coffee or refill his water bottle. He didn’t leave her a snack on her table, something he normally did when he buys food for both of them.
Maybe they both didn’t want to confront themselves with this difficult impasse in their relationship?
But one way or another, they both knew she had to decide. Until that day came.
“I knew you’d be here.” Bae Mun Jung said, fixing his round eyeglasses. Woo Jin didn’t even knock, but quickly barged into his office, getting a few aggressive pumps from the sanitizer dispenser.
“I don’t know what to do. She has to decide now and we still haven’t talked about it.” he said pacing inside Dr. Bae’s office while palming the sanitizer in his hands.
“See, it’s impossible for you to be okay with this.”
“Am I that obvious?”
“You always keep a straight face about everything but when it comes to Eun Jae, you just can’t hide what you’re feeling.” Mun Jung smirked. His junior kept walking inside his office, bothered paces here and there as he couldn’t decide what to do.
“I’m just—she should have told me right? I felt cornered when I heard it in the meeting. She could have just told me... It’s not like I’ll ask her to stay... should I?”
He kept blabbering to his senior, while Mun Jung listened intently as Woo Jin poured his heart out.
“It’s even difficult now that we’re ignoring each other. I don’t want to let her go, but I don’t want to get in the way too.”
There was a deep sigh from his end when he finished, and Dr. Bae had a clear flashback this was what exactly happened a year ago. He could only as him one question.
“What if she wants you to get in the way?”
“Tell me, Ah Reum. What should I do?” she asked helplessly in the staff lounge. Her junior was nursing a lollipop, a habit which she said to Eun Jae usually helped her when she needs to think.
“For a moment, I wanted to punch him for letting you go, sunbae.” she tried to say as polite as possible. “When I noticed you two ignoring each other, I felt a little relieved, if I could say that.”
“Relieved? Why?” she shifted in the couch, now all ears to what she’ll say.
“Because it’s obvious he doesn’t want you to go. No sane man would do that, sunbae.”
“Yeah but... what about the grant? Don’t you think I’m wasting such a huge opportunity? What will people say? You know how they see women who choose love over career nowadays.” she blurted out.
“I think you’re past the phase where you still care about what other people say, sunbae.”
Ah Reum’s right. Gone were the days she gave a dime what people said about her and her life. Her mum could whine all day about her dating Woo Jin, or force her to go to blind dates to find a more suitable match for her, but she just didn’t care anymore.
Being in a place of people who truly believed in her, being with Woo Jin, who made her days brighter as possible, who filled her with love, everything else was just noise.
“Tell me sunbae, what do you want?”
She wrinkled her nose a bit. “At this point? I don’t know. I only know I don’t want to lose him.”
“There’s your answer.” Ah Reum smiled. “You know exactly what to do, sunbae.”
Woo Jin was waiting outside Kim Sabu’s office for her. When he couldn’t find her after his last surgery for the day ended, he asked Ah Reum where his girlfriend went. That’s how he ended up outside of their mentor’s office. Sitting in one of the benches in the hallway, waiting for her to come out.
“Woo Jin.” he looked up to see her to have just emerged from Kim Sabu’s office. As beautiful as ever.
She has changed into her casual work clothes, long pants and a knit top inside a brown designer coat. Her hair fell gloriously a couple of inches below her shoulders, and her bangs framed her small face prettily.
“I was waiting for you.” he said as a greeting. He stood up as she walked towards him.
“You’ve decided then?”
“What did Kim Sabu say?”
“He’s... pretty pleased with my decision.” she bit her lower lip and looked deep into his eyes.
“Let’s talk, hmm?” he suggested.
“I’ll go get my stuff.”
They took a short drive down to the lakeside near Doldam. Tourists usually flocked there in the morning and afternoon, but now that it’s nearing midnight, they had the whole place for themselves.
They walked side by side towards the lakeside, where the stars and the sky perfectly reflected in the still waters.
“Okay—“ they both said at the same time, wanting to let out all the thoughts inside of their heads.
Eun Jae parted her lips and inhaled deeply, “You go first.”
He mirrored her laborious breaths, put his hands on the inside of his pocket and somehow Eun Jae felt her boyfriend who used to be quiet would be so talkative tonight.
“We’re not breaking up. Ever.” he declared. There was this definitivetone in his voice that said no one could change his mind.
“No, let me say this first. I’ve thought about this day and night. Ending us... It’s not an option. Never for me. We can do this. I can wait for you. I will wait for you.” he continued. Eun Jae just looked at him as her heart pounded loudly, his words making their way right through her heart. She didn’t know it was possible for her to love a person this much.
He let out his palms, putting it on his hips—that one habit she became used to seeing from him when they had small fights or silly arguments.
“You can go, that’s what I’m saying. Go and I’ll wait for you.” he finished, grabbing one of her hands to lace it with his. The last words he said hesitatingly, like he was freeing the most important part of his life, but he was never selfish. Even if he wanted to be for her.
She smiled and tightened her hold in his hand. “We’re not breaking up.” she said.
“Yeah, we’re not.” he repeated.
“Because I’m not going.”
“You heard me. I’m staying here. I’m not going anywhere. Not without you.”
“Eun Jae, don’t—“ he replied, letting go of her hand, lingering a look on her eyes and down to his shoes, a bittersweet smile forming on his lips, “don’t change your life for me.”
“I’m not, okay?” she reasoned. “I’m just living it the way I want to. And I don’t want to live a life without you.”
He felt his heart exploding as she said her piece carefully. He was hesitant to let her go. He wanted to be a supportive boyfriend for her because she deserved it. He had seen her become a great doctor Doldam could be proud of.
“But what about your dreams? This is what you want.” he replied.
She laced her hand back to his, giving it an assuring squeeze. “It used to be, but now, I have everything I need right in front of me.”
“Don’t you want me to stay?” she cut him off. “Are you really okay to let me go, Woo Jin? Because I’m not.” she sounded hurt and he could see it in her eyes. They have been in this situation before. But that was different.
He gave her a resigned sigh. “God Eun Jae, I do. To the point that I hate myself for wanting to keep you by my side. But this is your dream and I don’t want to stop you from doing something for yourself.” she noticed his face turn into a sulky expression, his lips suddenly became pouty as he spoke she couldn’t help but press her lips onto his.
As she kissed him, he felt his insides unclench, his whole body electrified, and his hands snaking on her waist to keep her close to him, not wanting to break their passionate lip locking. He responded to her kisses and sucked her tongue gently as she plunged it in his mouth. He felt her hands travel upward, one attached to his nape and the other palming his chest. When they both stopped for much needed oxygen, he couldn’t stop staring into her eyes. She felt so small and fragile in his arms, and at that very moment, all he wanted to do was to love and protect her.
She maintained their distance, their noses touching each other.
“So keep me.” she whispered. Almost an order.
Her thumb traced his lower lip, stroking it with her gentle touches. “You can be selfish for once. For me.” she said. “Because I don’t want to let you go too. I never will.” she finished.
“Are you sure about this? What if you regret this decision?” He topped her nose with a soft kiss, his hands circled around the small of her back.
She smiled, knowing fully well how to answer this type of question. “Then I’ll do that thing you taught me.”
This time, it was him who answered for her. Looking once again at her lips, he lowered his head and whispered, “Reset.”
They kissed again, this time more eager and hotter than earlier, his hands tightening on her waist, caressing her sides, sometimes touching her chest. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her body closer to feel him. It was a good thing it was already close to midnight, they were the only people there, the stars and the sky witnessing their promise of never leaving each other’s side.
When they paused, she noticed him smiling, his eyes glistening with happiness. She pressed a quick kiss on his lips and felt the back of his index finger wiping the tears she only noticed right then falling down to her cheeks.
“Why are you crying?” he asked, a little concerned, cupping her cheeks while his thumb touched the part wet with her tears.
“Because... I thought you didn’t love me enough just to let me go like that.” her nose reddened because of the cold, and tears continued streaming down her face. Cradling her in his arms, he peppered her with his soft kisses, not wanting to let go ever.
His heart swell at her words. How was it possible to fall harder for her each day?
“I love you, okay? I love you, Cha Eun Jae.” he whispered, placing a kiss on her forehead, on her nose, and opening his mouth to capture her lips and take her breath away.
“We really need to go home, my love.” she mumbled under his kisses. “Somebody might see us, and I’m not so sure I can still hold myself back from peeling your clothes off.” she smirked.
“We can go home or stay in your car, what do you think?” his eyebrows perked up, hinting seductively of all the things he wanted to do to her tonight. The several days that passed between them without their usual intimacy drove them both to the peak of their longing for each other.
“Let’s do both.” she replied.
They made love that night, this time much more passionate and frenzied, a little desperate to get a hold of one another. Maybe it was the possibility of losing each other that made them both realise they didn’t want to be apart. Or maybe it’s just because they are madly in love with each other.
He rested his head on her chest, sometimes planting soft kisses on her lips as she cradled him. His soft curls teased her breasts, his lips brushed her skin.
This is the feeling she loved the most. In his arms—safe, protected, loved. She wanted to be with him and keep him forever.
“Marry me.” he said in absolute certainty. His eyes were filled with sincerity as he looked up at her, leaving a kiss on her cleavage.
She ran her fingers through his hair and cupped his face. She couldn’t fathom what she did in her past life to get a chance at happiness. A life with him.
When she told Woo Jin she’s not changing her life for him, she was telling the truth. Because she always meant for him to be a part of it.
For her, it wasn’t a question of if, it was a question of when.
She leaned down to meet his lips and there came her response that needed no second thoughts.
“Yes.” she answered.