Here tells the story of two sisters on the cusp of womanhood, So Dam and Hye Ji. Born in a middle-class family, So Dam is the oldest daughter and known to be defiant, while Hye Ji is two years younger and known for her vanity. The sisters grow up with personalities that differ like sea and land. In here they find themselves to be more similar than they think.
It begins with their mother, Park Sol Mi. Growing up in poverty, Park Sol Mi has the ambition to climb up the ladder. Although she marries into the middle class, she persists her dream to be a part of the high society with the wealthy and fortunate ones. And in order to be a part of that, she attends several social events for the glamourous rich wives. This party that she is attending happens to celebrate the birthday of hospital director’s wife. Never is she the one to waste an opportunity, Sol Mi seizes every chance she gets to meet the women behind the powerful men. In your regular discussion between rich wives, Sol Mi, however, receives the lesser attention.
“Did you hear about Sun Young’s daughter? Poor thing just gave birth to a baby girl without getting married,” says Shin Eun Kyung, the star of the birthday party and wife of the hospital director.
“That’s terrible.” Yoon Joo Hee, second generation of the fast food restaurant conglomerate, shakes her head. “This is why parenting is a such important stage for children. Children model after their parents.”
“How embarrassing to have a daughter with baby out of wedlock. It’s tarnishing their good family name.” The leader of the rich wives’ circle, Kim Sung Ryung, turns to Sol Mi. “Isn’t that right, Sol Mi?”
“Yes, it’s pitiful.” Sol Mi nods with a polite smile. In her years of adapting into the circle, Sol Mi learns that Kim Sung Ryung holds the whip and lash from her worshipping cohorts, a fact that she finds unsurprising since Kim Sung Ryung comes from generational wealth. She reeks of old money, the type who is not ostentatious with her background but is always in control of everyone else through her mere words. With that in mind, Sol Mi knows not to cross the leader.
Seemingly accepting Sol Mi’s words as it is, Kim Sung Ryung continues, “I can see why Sun Young hasn’t come here often. Quite a shame.”
“I heard her daughter has a big dating history before having that baby,” Eun Kyung says behind the rim of her wine glass.
“Probably true. It’s always the ones with vivid dating life. I’m just lucky that my daughter is too busy with schoolwork in SNU*.” Joo Hee turns to ask Sol Mi, “Aren’t your daughters attending SNU too?”
The question dangles like a bait. Sol Mi senses the trap in the question and seeks to pivot the topic. “Yes. SNU is a great university, and their classes are going well.”
“It really is. My daughter Ye Bin tells me about how hard the classes are, and she is so thankful for your daughter Hye Ji’s help with her project.” There is a sneer on Joo Hee’s face. “It’s amazing how Hye Ji is able to keep up with her classes and being so popular among the classmates, especially the male classmates.”
A trace of shame sparks through Sol Mi. She steadies her countenance and voice to hide her discomfort and says, “Hye Ji is always happy to help whenever she can.”
“That’s very good to hear. You teach your daughters well.”
“Absolutely.” Sol Mi takes a gulp of the red wine that she swipes from the waiter, hoping the conversation is the end of it. Luckily for her, Sung Ryung changes the topic to the latest fashion trend, and everyone quickly forgets about the previous conversation.
The wives' chatter lasts for hours and the party ends by ten o'clock. By the time Sol Mi comes back from the party, the first thing she announces as the law of the family is Hye Ji cannot date anyone during her years in SNU. To which, Hye Ji asks loudly, “Why?”
“Because you need to graduate and get a job.”
“I can do that while dating!" Presently Hye Ji is in the middle of deciding the type of outfits she is going to wear for school festival pre-planning event, that is until her mother decidedly sours her plan for the weekend.
"My house, my rule."
"But you don't even make the same rule for So Dam." Hye Ji jabs her finger toward the direction of So Dam who is sitting on the bed, reading the webtoon Sweet Home on her iPad.
"Because So Dam doesn't even date." Sol Mi puts her hands on her hips, standing straight in her full height while glowering at Hye Ji.
Hye Ji refuses to back down, folding her arms across the chest. "You can't do this to me, Mom."
"I can and I will."
"It's not fair!"
So Dam looks up from her iPad, watching them having glaring contest in bored amusement. Almost as if she accepts her defeat, Sol Mi speaks up in a low voice, "Fine" -- Hye Ji grins gleefully but loses the grin as soon as she hears her mother finishes -- "you can date when So Dam dates."
"What?" say by the sisters in unison.
"You want it fair," says her mother. "So now it's fair. You cannot date until So Dam dates."
The last thing Sol Mi hears before she shuts the door is the loud argh from the sisters.
Hye Ji is the special one, or at least that's what everyone tells her. She deserves nothing more than success, and along with it, the love and appreciation from everyone else. Hence, it is why she maintains her status quo in the university. Her appearance must be kempt and pretty, her shoes and bag in big name brands. Yet there is all but one thing missing in her life -- her Prince Charming. Every princess has their prince, and so does Hye Ji upon a man named Hwang In Yeop. Known for his handsome looks and warm personality, Hwang In Yeop becomes the figurative title of a prince.
Just a month ago, she receives the attention from In Yeop. They do not have the same classes, for Hye Ji studies business administration while In Yeop studies law, but Hye Ji always remembers In Yeop ever since her first year. During her freshman year at SNU, she nearly stumbles from the stair due to the broken heel, and In Yeop saves her from the fall. Since then she never forgets the gentle smile from In Yeop. So you can imagine her surprise when In Yeop asks for her phone number during the meeting for the Mid-Autumn Festival. The thought of Hwang In Yeop remembering her fills her heart full; she can finally be with her Prince.
But then the rule happens.
So Hye Ji creates a plan: have someone to date So Dam. The plan sounds easier said than done. She has to find someone willing to date So Dam, and that is the biggest challenge she faces.
Not to say So Dam has less appealing appearance, it's quite the opposite. So Dam has sharp cat like eyes, straight nose and small heart-shaped face that sums up to a dainty but youthful look. Unlike her face, her personality is anything but delicate. So Dam exhibits strong and assertive stances in the conversations, and her stubbornness has fended off more men than anyone else.
No man try So Dam and no man does so.
Anyone would assume that Hye Ji will give up on the plan and move on, but she finds the solution in a man named Yang Se Jong. Yang Se Jong, who recently discharges from military enlistment and back to school, defines himself as pragmatist. Hye Ji, on the other hand, calls him a penny-pincher because Se Jong never spends without earning back the money twice fold. He can and will do anything for money as long as it does not break the law. This leads to the current situation of Hye Ji negotiating with Se Jong in the school yard on Thursday afternoon.
"Let's put it that way. You want me to date your sister, right?" Se Jong receives the nod from Hye Ji. "So for a date, that should be about 60000₩, considering the cost of dinner or lunch and the trip charge."
"But you don't even drive," Hye Ji says exasperatedly, splaying her arms. "It shouldn't include trip charge at all."
"I still have to pay the bus tickets."
"And that doesn't cost anything more than 2000₩."
Se Jong considers the argument. "Okay, it's gonna be 58000₩. The choice is yours."
"55000₩, and then it's a deal." Hye Ji extends her hand out, and Se Jong shakes her hand.
"Fine, I give you first time discount. 55000₩**." Then Se Jong looks confused. "So which one is your sister?"
Very rarely do students gather in the library at nine o'clock on Friday morning. Most people tend to take classes from Monday through Thursday, and by Friday, they will be resting at home doing whatever they usually do. So Dam is not most people, for she prefers to spend her time in moment of calm and silence. Since the library is not too far away from home, she often spends her time reading books.
Wearing button up blue shirt and regular jean, a man in early twenties with short chestnut brown hair pulls up the chair next to So Dam, scaping its metallic heels against the floor in a low screech. So Dam trains her eyes to the pages of the book and ignores the man next to her. The silence feels heavy, and So Dam senses the hesitation from the man. Still, the man only takes brief seconds to gather his thoughts and says, "This book is great. The story is so fascinating and deep."
Sodam lifts her eyes from the book, meeting a pair of curious dark eyes. "Really? What's the ending?"
"I think you'll be surprised about it once you finish."
So Dam can read a lie when she sees it. "Right," she says simply.
Then the silence falls between them again as So Dam turns back to her book.
"I'm Yang Se Jong, by the way. From third year." Se Jong flashes a smile that he thinks charmingly enough.
"Nice to meet you then."
"Did you eat your breakfast already? If not, maybe I can buy you a breakfast." His words come out in cheery and blithe tone like they are discussing weather. If So Dam has zero experience with pick up lines, she may take the offer.
"No," says So Dam.
"Maybe you can rethink about it. It's early in the morning, who wouldn't want--" Se Jong doesn't have a chance to finish before So Dam gets up and leaves. It takes him a minute to catch up to So Dam, blocking her path to the door. "Wait, hold on."
So Dam stands still, crossing her arms over her chest. "Okay, I'll let you finish."
"If you have any time today or tomorrow whatever, I would like to take you out."
Maintaining her cold gaze on Se Jong, So Dam feigns a smile and then says, "The answer is still no. Now, move."
Se Jong doesn't stop her again when So Dam walks past him. Outside the library, Hye Ji watches the scene through the window and slaps a hand to her face.
The pair huddles in the secluded school garden, sitting on the dingy concrete benches between the grass beds while contemplating the plan of wooing So Dam.
"When I said you need to act charming," says Hye Ji, one hand running through her hair and the other nursing her temple, with an expression that vacillates between frustration and embarrassment, "this is not what I mean."
"I didn't know she'll be that difficult." Se Jong raises his arms in defense. "Usually, it works with a smile."
"Instead of doing the usual charm and flirt, maybe you should learn her hobbies and interest," says by a tall man who plops next to Se Jong.
Hye Ji looks at the man, perplex by his sudden appearance. "Who are you? Why are you here?"
"I'm Ahn Hyo Seop." Hyo Seop waves his finger between him and Se Jong. "We're friends."
"Well, Hyo Seop, you're right." Hye Ji directs her gaze on Se Jong. "You're going to get close to So Dam through her hobbies and interest."
"That will take forever."
"Won't be forever," says Hye Ji, grinning. "If you do what I'm telling you to do."
And so Hye Ji lists out the hobbies and usual whereabouts of So Dam. Following that Se Jong signs up for volunteering and goes to the Community Center For Children and Women. According to Hye Ji, the volunteering poses an opportunity for Se Jong to woo So Dam.
The community center locates about ten miles away from the college, standing tall behind a shabby convenience store that have students bustling in and out. The modern building constructs in gray masonry with broad windows at each side, stretching itself vertically down the noisy street. Inside the building, the design is minimalist, cherry wood book shelves lining the gray wall, leading up the wooden stairs that opens wide into the spacious hall. It smells of book and tea -- a scent that feels pleasing for newcomers like Se Jong.
Se Jong, glancing around the interior, walks to the front desk and greets the old lady with a benign smile. "I called you this morning about volunteering."
The lady ponders for a good second or two, and then clasps her hands in realization once she remembers the conversation. "Ah, right. The name is Yang Se Jong, correct?"
"Follow me." The lady leads him to a piano room, where the children from age five through seven watching So Dam playing the piano. "So Dam," the lady calls to So Dam who looks at smiling Se Jong in a mild shock. "Se Jong is the new volunteer today. Help him out, please."
So Dam blinks off her surprise and nods in return. "Yes, Mrs. Kim." After Mrs. Kim leaves the room, So Dam asks him pointedly, "Se Jong-ssi, today's tasks are teaching the children playing piano and chess. I am teaching them how to play the piano, so I assume you're here for chess?"
Aw shit, I'm not good at chess, Se Jong thinks. "I am."
The children, shuffling amongst themselves, delegate two boys with age no more than seven to play chess with Se Jong, while remaining children -- a girl and boy -- to be with So Dam. Within minutes Se Jong and the boys sit to a table at the back corner of the room, opening the chess board and setting up the pieces. On the other side sits So Dam and the children on piano bench, sheet music spreading readily against the frame.
While So Dam teaches the piano lessons smoothly, Se Jong struggles to play chess correctly, and it doesn't take long for the boys to realize that Se Jong isn't good at chess at all. The taller boy, after watching Se Jong fumbling with the chess pieces for long minute, glares at him with annoyance. "Do you know how to play?"
"I know how to play," Se Jong says defensively. "I'm just little bit off right now."
But then the shorter boy suggests a brilliant idea that Se Jong is immensely thankful for, "Why don't you just watch us play instead?" To which Se Jong agrees in readiness.
At there Se Jong sits and watches them play chess in the backdrop of the canorous music. Then something steals his attention -- the sight of So Dam smiling with the little girl besides her, her slender fingers dancing on the piano keys, long strawberry blonde hair glimmering in the sunlight. In this moment he forgets that he is holding his breath until the shorter boy calls for him.
"Hyung, aren't you supposed to watch us play?"
Se Jong quickly turns his gaze to the boys, stuttering out the excuses that the boys immediately rejects. So Dam, hearing the noises in the back, turns to face Se Jong and the boys. "Are you guys okay over there?"
"No, Hyung doesn't --"
Se Jong clamps his hand over the taller boy's mouth before the boy can say further. "No problem there. They just need complete focus." Then he sends a pointed glare at the boys.
Although So Dam doesn't look convinced by the excuse, she doesn't disagree with Se Jong. Instead she nods and continues the lesson. At the corner of her periphery, she spots Se Jong bickering with the boys and smiles to herself.
As soon as the clock turns five, the parents come and pick the children one by one up. After cleaning up the piano room, So Dam tells Mrs. Kim, who is also packing up the items, a quick goodbye and goes out the door. Behind her, Se Jong quickly nods at Mrs. Kim and hastens his steps for catching up.
"So Dam-ssi," Se Jong calls out.
So Dam stops in her track and turns around. "Yes?"
"I want to thank you for your help today."
So Dam looks at him quizzically, musing over his words. "For what? I don't think I did much help today."
"You helped me to clean the room," says Se Jong.
"Ah," says So Dam, nodding. "That's part of the volunteering work. I did what I had to do."
"You did, and I want to thank you for that either way." Se Jong continues, "To be honest, I didn't know you're the type to volunteer."
"What do you mean?"
Presently Se Jong paces his steps besides So Dam, shoulder against shoulder. "No offense, your sister seems like a stuck up rich person, so I assume you are like that too."
"Well, my sister and I are different. Also, we're not rich. Those bags she carry are fake."
Se Jong chuckles at that. "So what brings you to volunteering then?"
There is a pause. Then he hears So Dam says, "Because I think it's only right to help people after receiving so much help from others. You?"
"Same here. Wanting to help people." Se Jong knows it to be a lie, but he cannot tell her the truth.
"The center helps a lot of people. Women and children." So Dam hesitates for a moment, mulling over whether she should say or not to say, but then she decides to continue. "There are few single mothers who went through domestic abuse and now living alone, and the center tries to help them as much as they can, with food and economic needs."
Se Jong stares at her and remains quiet.
"Sometimes, I wonder what goes wrong with the world." So Dam lowers her head, hiding her bitter smile. "Women can work from day to night, doing the same workload as anyone else, but the respect is never within expectation."
The solemn words strike deep into Se Jong. He recalls the memories from his childhood, the days when his mother has worked from seven to ten to keep the home afloat. As a single mother, she comes home every night with weary face and heavy sweat. No matter how tired she has been, she has helped him with schoolwork and taught him to be a good man in this society. Throughout his life, he questions if he fits his mother's definition of a good man. Even now he wonders if everything he has done is right.
"You're right, So Dam-ssi." His words obviously surprise So Dam, because her expression blatantly displays on her face. "Which is why I want to apologize about what happen this morning. I should've took your no as no."
So Dam studies him for a long minute, so long that Se Jong starts to worry if he says it in a wrong way. But then she laughs, to his relief. "You're the first man I've ever met who agrees with me about this."
"So you forgive me?" Se Jong raises a brow.
"I accept your apology." So Dam smiles at him. "You're good now."
He forces down the giddiness, and instead he says calmly, "So I guess I see you next week Friday."
"Right," says So Dam with a grin. "I'll see you later, Se Jong-ssi."
As he watches So Dam disappearing around the street corner, he pumps his fist in the air and texts Hye Ji, for he now has a chance with So Dam.
So Dam is a rebel, or at least that's what her family calls her. She stands against everything that Hye Ji likes, namely status quo. She defies the common norms and acts against the injustice. Instead of the fancy bags or brand name clothes, her style is simple blouse and jean. Unlike Hye Ji, So Dam sees no value in romance nor Prince Charming, because she prefers being a heroine than a princess. Her best friend, Ye Won, often chaffs that she is Joan of Arc reincarnate.
But then she meets Yang Se Jong. Yang Se Jong seems different in a way that he recognizes his wrong behavior and corrects it. Although he sometime acts bold, but he never goes beyond the boundary. During the volunteering, Se Jong seems genuine and enjoys tutoring the children. And in the time she spends with him, he is respectful and kind. Looking at Se Jong, So Dam cannot help but compares him to the man from her past, thinking the what if situation. If it is the other man, he'll probably --
So Dam immediately cuts off this thought, but the memories -- the yelling and taunting from the classmates, the picture in the text message, the desk that covers with various scribbles of the word slut -- flood back like tidal waves. Along with it, the shame and disgust surge to her throat like a bile that cannot be swallowed.
After the shame and disgust fade with time, the uncertainty and doubts linger. Though Se Jong seems different, she cannot be certain that he is different. So when Se Jong gives her the ticket of Monte Cristo musical in the school hallway, she becomes indecisive.
Upon seeing her hesitation, Se Jong quickly says, "It's your tickets. You can go with anyone, even your sister."
"But you paid for the tickets. I shouldn't accept them."
"I didn't pay the tickets." Se Jong raises his hand in promise. "I swear. I got the tickets for free, and I couldn't go to the musical, but then I remember you like musical."
So Dam glances from Se Jong's sincere eyes to the tickets in his hands. Sighing, she takes the tickets. "Fine. I feel like I owe you one though."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"Keep that in mind?" So Dam frowns at Se Jong's playful grin. "You're not pulling pranks on me, right?"
Se Jong shakes his head and says, "No pranks."
"Okay then." So Dam returns a smile.
As Se Jong begins about upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival, So Dam spots a blushing Hye Ji with Hwang In Yeop among the crowd, hearing occasional laughter from Hwang in Yeop and his cohorts. The sudden apprehension fills her, so So Dam takes a step forward, tempting to walk toward Hye Ji but stops at the sound of Se Jong's voice.
So Dam returns her attention back to Se Jong. "Yes?"
"Yeah," says So Dam, stabilizing her voice to hide her worry. "I'm good. You were mentioning about Mid-Autumn Festival, right?"
"Right, so you want to volunteer with me for festival planning this Saturday at three?" Se Jong asks with hope in his voice.
"Sure, I'll see you there." So Dam waves a goodbye to Se Jong blithely and heads toward the opposite direction without another word, leaving a confused looking Se Jong at the spot.
By the time So Dam returns home from school, she sees Hye Ji sitting on the couch in the living room, texting on the phone with a smile. Seeing the smile on Hye Ji's face makes So Dam's stomach turns, and then the image of In Yeop hanging out with Hye Ji flickers in her mind.
A mixture of worry and fear bubbles inside of So Dam, threatening to spill open like boiling water. In attempt to compose herself, So Dam strides over the kitchen and opens the can of Chilsung cider that she takes out from the refrigerator. "I didn't know you are friendly with Hwang In Yeop."
"I'm spending time with him," says Hye Ji, looking up from her phone. "What's wrong with that?"
"Hwang In Yeop is not what you think he is. That's the problem."
"How do you know that? You don't know him."
"I know him enough!" So Dam slams down the soda can so hard that the table trembles under the impact. "He's not--"
Hye Ji cuts in, "I don't care what you think or know about him! I like him, and he likes me."
"But he doesn't! Can't you see he is using you?" As soon as the words escape, So Dam immediately regrets it once she sees the shock on Hye Ji's face. Uncomfortable silence falls between So Dam and Hye Ji, tension simmering in the background that waits to erupt.
Hye Ji is the first one who breaks the silence by speaking up, "What I do with Hwang In Yeop is none of your business. Don't ever cross the line."
So Dam doesn't have a chance to respond (nor have the courage to say), because Hye Ji leaves the living room without a look back. Now alone in the living room, she stands on her own, bearing the weight of broken sibling ties between her and Hye Ji.
Their relationship hasn't always been cold and distant. Prior to the coming of Hwang In Yeop in their lives, Hye Ji has respected So Dam for her rebellious nature. After the meeting between Hye Ji and Hwang In Yeop, Hye Ji's respect for So Dam deteriorates, and So Dam finds herself in a difficult position to reach Hye Ji.
After their argument, neither of them share any conversations, so the days pass between them through silence. When the Saturday comes, So Dam goes to the volunteering event at the campus. Even though she feels awkward knowing her sister being in same event, she promises Se Jong that she will volunteer with him. So she goes.
Unlike other quiet Saturday afternoon, the campus bustles with students, energizing the otherwise dead hallways. Throngs of people fill up the volunteering event: the well experienced seniors like Hwang In Yeop who know and dictate the usual planning, sophomores like Hye Ji whose primary motive is socializing with her friends, then the juniors like So Dam who are dragged into this event.
Standing by the door outside the classroom, So Dam glances between the volunteers, feeling the regret for her decision. While Hye Ji blends in the social circle with her faux popularity, So Dam stands out among the crowds like a sore thumb. She never blends in the crowd, and she never tries to do so.
Should've dragged Ye Won to the event with me, So Dam thinks, at least I won't be bored.
"A penny for your thought?"
At the sound of Se Jong's voice, So Dam turns around and sees Se Jong holding packets of ginseng drinks in his hands. "Took you long enough."
"Here," says Se Jong, handing a packet to So Dam who stares at it owlishly. "You're gonna need this."
So Dam blinks, standing there speechless, and then bursts into a giggle. "Am I that bad?"
"Not you, but the event is gonna be rough." Se Jong points at the leader of the volunteering event, Hwang In Yeop, who stands on the stage with a mic in his hand.
The room hush into silence as everyone watches Hwang In Yeop, waiting for his direction like congregation holding onto the words from a pastor. Hwang In Yeop smiles into the mic, then he taps the mic once and twice. "Before I start our activities, I thank everyone for coming to help and your work is deeply appreciated. The work we do is to make sure people enjoys Mid-Autumn Festival, which is a big deal. Our teammate, Hye Ji, will assign the work and get everyone started then."
Hye Ji then proceeds to go around the volunteers and assigns each group with duties. When she reaches to So Dam and Se Jong, she gives brief instruction to Se Jong with the assignment and ignores So Dam during the process.
Fine by me, thinks So Dam.
"What is the assignment?"
"Making and setting up the lanterns. Simple enough," says Se Jong.
But it turns out that setting up lanterns isn't as easy as Se Jong thinks. He intends to make lotus lanterns, but his art skills fail him, so his lanterns look more like flailing paper cup than a lantern. Beside him So Dam chuckles, at which Se Jong glares at So Dam.
"S-sorry," says So Dam, biting down her bottom lip to stifle her giggling. "It looks good enough."
"You don't need to lie," Se Jong says, glancing at So Dam's works -- paper lanterns that have red and pink paper petals wrapping around it into a shape of lotus. "I know it's shit."
So Dam takes a minute to compose herself, pointing a stack of colored papers on the table. "You have plenty papers to make a lantern. Besides, not everyone can be an artist like me at a first try."
Se Jong looks at her grin and crinkles his nose. "How narcissistic."
"You call it narcissistic, I call it real."
They share a look with each other and then break into laughter. Once their laughter dies down, So Dam nudges at Se Jong's side and says, "You just need to have patience. You are on the right path, but just doing it in a wrong way."
"See this." When in concentration, So Dam focuses her utmost attention to the task in front of her -- sharp eyes to the cup, nimble fingers around the paper. Her demonstration starts in streamline manner. Se Jong watches her fingers at work, folding the paper and gluing it to the paper cup. In one particular moment, strands of her hair slips away from the red hair band, falling loosely around her face. Instinctively, Se Jong reaches out and tucks the loose strands behind her ear, earning the look of surprise from So Dam.
Realizing his action, Se Jong quickly looks away, stuttering out: "I-it's like folding origami type of thing. Just cut the paper, twisting the ends, and gluing it to the cup."
So Dam looks at him with inexplicable expression, then turning her gaze to the lantern in her hands. "Right. Like that."
"I got the gist of it then." Se Jong nods at So Dam who smiles awkwardly.
Currently, they proceed to make the lanterns in quiet stillness, hearing nothing but the thumping of their hearts. Se Jong makes about ten lanterns in repetitive sequence of cutting the paper, twisting the ends, gluing the paper petals to the cup. As soon as they finish with making the lanterns, they begin to hang the lanterns up in the ceiling of the auditorium. While Se Jong goes up the ladder to hang the lanterns, So Dam passes him the lanterns one at a time. It doesn't take them long before they finish hanging the lanterns up.
Inside the spacious auditorium, the ceiling is now dangling with lanterns, casting the burning lights against the shade. Se Jong chuckles in blithe amusement as he catches So Dam staring at the lanterns in bewilderment.
"Can't blame you for staring, my lanterns are pretty impressive."
"Not really. Mine's better."
"My lanterns are definitely better than yours."
"Nope, you're wrong."
"I know you know I'm right."
So Dam turns to Se Jong, an exasperated but playful expression on her face. "Are we really gonna do this?"
A mischievous grin appears on Se Jong's face. "Maybe." When he sees the eye roll from So Dam, he continues, "Or maybe you can dance with me."
"Dancing with you?" So Dam rounds her eyes. "Here?"
"Because we're here to volunteer, not to dance."
"Come on, we're done with the work," says Se Jong, extending his hand out to So Dam. "Let's have some fun while no one is here."
So Dam stares at his hand, pondering on the decision of should or should not. Finally So Dam sighs, accepting his hand. "Fine."
In a instant, Se Jong pulls So Dam flushed against him. Even under the dimmed light, the blush on So Dam's face is visible for anyone to see. Se Jong cannot help but laughs at So Dam's rigid posture. "You're too stiff. You should put your hand on my shoulder."
So Dam, following his instruction, puts her hand on Se Jong's shoulder and the other with Se Jong's hand. With one hand around So Dam's back, Se Jong guides her in a waltz, with So Dam fumbling behind his lead.
With mild surprise at Se Jong's unexpected skill, So Dam says, "Looks like you have alot of experience."
"Nah, I just watch alot of dancing videos on Youtube."
"I should watch these videos like you."
"But it's better if you learn it in person."
So Dam smiles at Se Jong who smiles back. "Maybe."
In the quiet auditorium, they dance in a slow rhythm. No music and nothing else but comforting silence and coruscating lanterns. Light in her mind and on her feet, So Dam allows herself to succumb into the sense of security and warmth that Se Jong provides her. When the dance reaches to the end, So Dam feels a pang of reluctance to stop, but she does it anyway.
Once So Dam gets her tongue, she says, "You're a good dancer."
"Because I have a great partner." Then Se Jong stares at her for a longing minute, pausing to find the proper words before he continues, "I would like to do that again, next time with you."
In Se Jong's eyes, So Dam sees so many words that Se Jong never says it out loud. His emotion becomes so open and revealing that So Dam finds herself drowning in it, leaning into Se Jong as her heart drums loudly in her ear like she jogs for a mile.
But Se Jong turns away before So Dam can do more. In embarrassment, So Dam looks down and says, "Sorry about that."
"Don't be. I shouldn't done it." I shouldn't take advantage of you, Se Jong thinks.
A faint of hurt appears on So Dam's face at Se Jong's words, but it quickly fades away before Se Jong can notice it. "Right." She turns around and looks about to leave. "Now that the work is done, I think we can go now."
"Do you need me to take you home?"
"No," So Dam says with a sad smile, "I'll be fine. See you."
Se Jong wants to stop So Dam from leaving, but he doesn't and instead watches her walking out the door. Regret and guilt well up in his heart. He hasn't felt such a way since his first love in high school.
Then he thinks, fuck.