Seongyeom doesn’t need Mijoo to leave him to know he’ll hate being away from her. He doesn’t hate many things. He disagrees and disapproves, judges quietly and doesn’t join in. To hate something takes so much effort. It means he’ll have to address it somehow, name it, know why he hates it, and work against it. He doesn’t even want to think of being without Mijoo, let alone say the thing out loud, risk the bone and marrow realness of it.
She’s spoken words to him that stroke a soft and secret part of him, a place that wants to be wanted. “Don’t go,” she’s said, and “What if I lose sight of you?” His name in her mouth, in her voice with its low pitch, is made more than a designation. Similar words from him will be plaintive. He doesn’t want to whine. Instead he lets himself be hopeful with her, and tells her where she is, he wants to be.
Mijoo does leave him, though, though she corrects him when he says it.
“What do you mean, ‘leave’? I’m not leaving you. I’m going on set for just a few weeks.”
“You’re going to New York for a month.” He doesn’t add ‘without me.’
Mijoo pauses in her packing. They’re in her bedroom, with the door open. Her room is what one of the cooks who used to work at his family home would call “well-lived.” Her walls are covered with movie posters and polaroids of herself and other crew members from sets she’s been on and sticky notes she’s put up with reminders for herself; her desk has two large monitors, stacks of screenplays in both Korean and English, her water bottle, her glasses, case nowhere to be seen, and an ergonomic keyboard; and she’s made shelves of every available surface, packed them crooked with novels and plays and dictionaries and books on translation theory. He’s looked closely at the spines, even flipped through some of them, and Seongyeom thinks she’s kept with her books she’s had even from her childhood.
On the floor is an open suitcase, while her bed is covered with clothes, toiletries, her laptop. Looking at her room it’d seem that Mijoo owns a lot, but Seongyeom knows this room holds almost all she has. He owns much more than she does, even before his inheritance of buildings and land and stocks; and yet every room Seongyeom’s ever had—the one in his family home, and the one in Jeju, and the different rooms he’s stayed in at his grandfather’s hotels—have been bare of any trace of him. It made coming and going easy. No trace made, no trace left.
Even with a room full of her life, Mijoo is an efficient packer, rolling her clothes up and arranging her travel-sized makeup just so. That’s something they have in common, knowing how to take with them only what they need. If he told Yeonghwa how attracted to her seeing her organize her suitcase made him, Yeonghwa’d tell him he was weirder than he looked. It made Seongyeom even more upset, that she was packing to leave and all he could think was to kiss her.
“You know, I never thought of you like this.”
“Like the kind of man who stands in the way of his woman’s work.”
She’s teasing. Seongyeom can tell from the warmth of her gaze and how she calls herself “his woman,” a term she would never apply to herself with any measure of seriousness. Still, he says, “Don’t be unfair.”
He pushes off from his seat on the edge of her desk and sits back on his heels beside her chair. He reaches over, slips her laptop in its case, tucks it safely into the protected compartment in her suitcase. “Can I drive you and Heejin-sshi to the airport tomorrow?”
“Can you? Don’t you have to meet Wooshik?”
“Not until later in the afternoon.” Mijoo will be up in the air by the time he and Wooshik meet with Danah to review the terms of his contract.
“Then yes, we’d love a ride.” She grins as she sends a quick text to Heejin.
Together he and Mijoo pack the rest of her things. Shoes, jeans, and jackets at the bottom, makeup and toiletry bags at the top, and—“These are the most important,” she stresses—her favorite branded snacks she won’t find in NYC shops. He zips her suitcase closed easily when they’re done.
“I’m going to miss you.”
Mijoo looks at him the way she does whenever he’s honest in this way with her. They’ve been together over a year, and still she gets quiet and a little shy when he lets her know he loves her. She turns her chair so that she’s facing him and reaches over to brush the ends of his bangs over his eyebrows. Seongyeom reaches up to clasp the back of her hand, the tips of his fingers peeking through hers, and presses a kiss to the inside of her wrist. “Can you close the door?” she asks. Seongyeom does so, then returns to his position in front of her.
Mijoo brushes her knuckles over his cheek, eyes roaming his face, before cupping it in her hands and bringing hers close for a kiss. It’s one of his favorite things to do, kissing Mijoo, and Seongyeom rises to his knees to meet her. Her own knees get in the way. He pushes them apart and places himself between them. This way she’s just a bit taller than him. She tilts his head back to deepen her kiss, and Seongyeom pushes her long skirt up her legs and pulls her closer to him by her waist so her thighs widen and she’s flush against him and only just perched on her chair. They stay tangled in each other like this for a long time, kissing and holding on to each other, Mijoo with her hands in his hair and Seongyeom running his hands up her thighs and round to cup and squeeze her ass, then stroking up her sides and over her breasts to make her belly clench and her body shiver.
When they break apart, Mijoo has her arms about his shoulders. Her lips are swollen and her pupils blown wide. “I’m going to miss you, too,” she says quietly, “so much. You have to promise to call me every night.” Seongyeom nods. He kisses her again, sweetly as he tugs her underwear off. He leaves it dangling around one ankle, caresses her calves before bringing her leg up over his shoulder. He kisses up the insides of her thighs as Mijoo gets more comfortable in the chair. He eats her out the way they both like, mouthing and sucking at her lips, strokes firm against her folds and just taps of his tongue against her clit, so that her first orgasms come up on her as little rushes that leave her panting. He keeps his eyes closed so he can sink into the sounds she makes as she moves against him, whimpers and moans, and the heady feel of her against his nose and mouth and chin. This one comes on more slowly, like it’s being pulled from deep in her. Mijoo starts pleading. Her voice is tight with wanting. He grips her by the waist and suckles at her clit, curls two fingers inside her. He loves this part, the way her voice goes high with it, the way her body trembles with it.
After she comes down Mijoo slips from the chair and into his lap, straddling him where he’s sitting on the floor. Seongyeom brings his arms round to hold her. Her face is flushed and she’s so pretty. He reaches up and tucks her hair behind her ear. She cups his face and presses kisses all over it, against his forehead and his cheeks and the corners of his eyes and on his nose, which makes him laugh, but she cuts it off with a kiss to his mouth. She starts rocking and grinding against him as she kisses him. He’s already so hard from having his face between her legs and he moans into her mouth.
She’s got quick, clever fingers. She pulls her sweater off over her head, tugs his shirt from his pants and unbuttons it. She’s tugging it off his shoulders and down his arms when Seongyeom brings his mouth to her breast. She holds his head there, bites down on her lip and closes her eyes from the pleasure of it. He wants to move to her other breast, kiss and suck there, too, but Mijoo doesn’t let him. She tugs his shirt the rest of the way off and pushes his back down to the floor by his shoulders. She lays on her side next to him, brings one leg up between his, props her head up by her cheek on one hand. She touches him with the other. She keeps her eyes on his face as she does. She likes watching what she does to him, likes watching him come, too. He’d asked her once what she liked so much about it. She’d said, “You’re pretty,” and then, “I like seeing when you stop trying to control it.”
For him her gaze is as much a caress as her hands. The weight of it, full of love and desire, touches him. She strokes her fingers over his abdomen, up over his chest, against his neck, and back down to palm him through his pants. Each time she stops to circle a finger around his nipples. Her eyes stay steady on him throughout, and he drinks her gaze in. When his lids are dipped low and he’s breathing heavy and trembling, she unzips his pants, takes him in her hand and pumps him once, twice. He’s been on edge so long and his tip is wet with precum. She brings her hand up to his mouth and taps a finger against his bottom lip. Seongyeom opens up and sucks hard on each finger she slips in there in turn, then swipes his tongue flat across her palm. She grips him hard and rough the way he likes, and he fucks up into the circle of her fist until he comes all over her hand. He curls into her afterward, seeking her softness and warmth, breathing hard, pressing his forehead against her chest.
When his heartbeat slows down, Seongyeom gets up for a towel and a bottle of water. He presses it to her lips for her to drink from before he does the same, and then pours the rest on the towel. Mijoo shivers and stretches like a cat sitting in a patch of sunlight when he passes it over her skin, presses it between her fingers.
They’re too lazy to move much. “We can’t just stay on the floor all night,” he says, and Mijoo laughs against him, shrugs. She always gets like this after they fuck, all loose-limbed and dopey-happy. “Just take that,” she says, and gestures to her bed. She makes grabby hands at it. She’s so cute and charming he thinks for a rash moment about buying a plane ticket just so he can keep seeing her every day. Instead he reaches past her, grabs the end of the comforter on her bed, and drags it down to where they are. It would have been quicker and easier to climb into her bed, but it’s more fun to play-wrestle as they get the comforter under and around them. Mijoo rests her head on his shoulder, her palm against his chest, slips her leg between his. She fingers the thin chain he wears. “Can I keep this with me?” she asks, “Just while I’m overseas?” He slips it off easily, lays it across her clavicle and clasps it behind her neck. Seongyeom holds Mijoo in his arms. They fall asleep to the sound of each others’ breaths.
He still doesn’t like movies. He never will. For so much of his life they’ve only been what kept his mother from him, and even when he’s able to put that from his mind he’s never able to get lost in them, be invested. He is always Gi Seongyeom watching, and on the screen instead of a character and a story he sees an actor, a script, a cut to another scene.
Because of Mijoo he now appreciates not the thing itself, but the experience of it. When he was a professional, his races were defined by time and space—so too with film. The darkness of a theater emphasizes the singular space he shares with a number of other people, all strangers, all who’ve come together at a specified time and place to expose themselves to—or share in—a subjectivity not their own.
A romantic comedy runs 90 minutes, a melodrama 120, maybe slightly more. The average Tsai Ming-liang film runs 115 minutes, the average Kore-eda 125. And when the lights lift and they all file out, he will have had the same experience, particularized by the events of his own life, as every other stranger he shared that dark room with. He understands the safety Mijoo finds in that. The comfort, the wonder. In a theater, you are equal to every other audience member. Orphanhood disappears, along with the sorrows and burdens you carry. The borders between the private self and public other blur. You’re given an opportunity to be outside yourself, even when a film manages to touch you deeply. He’s glad for every movie his mother made that brought Mijoo these things.
While she’s away Seongyeom misses her so much it’s an ache he feels in his fingers and at the base of his throat. To blunt it he watches her favorite movies, ones he’s already seen with her. The Dark Knight, which animated so much of her teenage years and gave her the inspiration and strength to become a translator. Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, which she credits with helping her realize she can choose for herself what has meaning and value. The Matrix, starring her favorite American actor. The Shape of Water because she identifies with Elisa and wants a tub just like hers, and she’s secretly a romantic. Agassi, because of her crush on Kim Taeri and because its romance celebrates liberation. With each film he feels Mijoo’s warmth, which is so uniquely hers, the love she has for them and which she’s shared with him, and the ache of her absence ebbs.
She’s listed as the translator for over a hundred films. Seongyeom’s amazed by the number. How many films does she translate in a year, he wonders, and her interpreting jobs, too. He counts in his head the projects she’s taken on since they’ve been together—over fifteen. One of the first films she worked on is a domestic indie that made a few rounds at festivals but was never picked up for international distribution. Looking at the year it was released in Seoul, he thinks she must have done it straight out of college. It isn’t streaming anywhere online and he can’t find a copy of it at the library, so he reaches out to May to ask if she knows about it. She has a copy in her office. She has whole shelves lined up with DVDs of the films Mijoo has worked on. Seongyeom stares at them for a solid seven minutes, hands in pockets and head cocked to the side, before deciding he’ll watch them all. He wants to know her like this, too, through her work. What she chooses to work on, how she takes something foreign and makes it understandable, how she takes something familiar and makes it knowable for others.
He feels a strange sense of fascination and pride watching Mijoo’s movie. That’s what it is for him, not the writer’s or the director’s, because he’s watching it for her, and he’s watching it with her English subtitles on. He only catches some of the sentences, but they’re enough for him to see the connection between the Korean he hears and the words Mijoo chose to translate it. There’s a delicacy to her work. He can tell her translations aren’t exactly literal, but neither are they wholly representative. Her translation is more about communicating meaning than it is about each utterance. Some things she gives to the reader and others she makes them reach for—he remembers her telling him this, that she always tries her best to stick close to specific titles and honorifics when she translates Korean films, because she just doesn’t think there’s any other way to explain the gradations of seniority and naming that are second nature to them, but not necessarily so to a foreign audience.
He feels nostalgic, too. He’d been just at the start of his running career when Mijoo worked on this film. He hadn’t known her yet, hadn’t known a person as generous and funny like she is, who could like him and want him and tell him to be good to himself, existed in the world, and that he could be hers. He’d started running with just a finish line and a time to beat, not knowing he had her with all her cheek and charm and joy ahead of him.
Seongyeom learns how to be away from her. All this wanting is still new for him, and he finds the pleasures in it. He has her voice in his ear on the phone whenever she gets a chance to call him, the sounds of New York behind her becoming familiar. He has the selfies she sends him every day, and the photos of the friends she’s making on set, and of the food she’s eating without him, and of every dog she stops to pet. He has their email chains, rich with the details of her days, which are long and meandering because they’re never able to speak on the phone for as long as they’d like. He has the texts he gets sometimes when it’s late at night for her, but only the afternoon for him. ‘I want to see you,’ and ‘I want to hold your hand,’ and ‘I miss your kisses.’ It’s selfish of him, but it feels so good knowing she misses him like he does her.
And he has waiting for her. He has now what he didn’t have when he ran out that cold and lonely hospital room all those years ago—the knowledge that soon he’ll be with Mijoo again. He isn’t surprised by the intensity of his longing for her, but he is surprised when he realizes he isn’t made miserable by it. He likes wanting her. He likes being in love with her. It multiplies, the love, builds up on itself, like when he’s walking at night under one glowing streetlight and then another, and his shadow splits, overlaps, refracts, circles round him like a halo. Or like when he runs an old path he hasn’t taken in a while, but his muscles remember instinctively how to angle themselves around a curve or up a slope and afterwards, heart beating and breath coming hard, his body burns and pulses with pleasure at the memory of it.
Mijoo’s too busy on set to focus on how much she misses him, but when she has some time to wander around the city, she remembers how much fun she has with him and wishes he were there with her. He's unintentionally funny, and she’s addicted to how he lets her talk without interrupting her, so much so that when other men cut her off she has to talk herself down from cursing at them and walking away. And he doesn't bore her. She likes especially how he seems to shore things up, keep an observation to himself for a long time, and then share it with her like he's revealing a treasure. She likes being the person he shares those things with.
They finish filming early one Wednesday afternoon, inexplicably. Heejin’s been flirting with a girl on Bumble, and she takes the opportunity to go out with her for drinks, leaving Mijoo on her own. She takes out her phone to check how much she needs to visit the MoMA, but gets distracted by an email notification. She clicks it open and gasps. It’s a newsletter from the Museum of the Moving Image advertising a movie they’re showing for one last day—a Korean film Mijoo translated. There must be some kind of fate at work. Mijoo has just enough time to jump on the R into Queens. There aren’t many people in the theater, but Mijoo sits in a row with two men who seem to be a couple and another lone woman like her. The lights dim, the characters she’s so familiar with speak, and her translations appear on the screen. She cheats while the movie plays; she sneaks looks at the other moviegoers, even turns around in her seat to see their faces.
She’s giddy with the wonder of it, seeing her translation at work. It’s a transcendent moment. Here she is, halfway across the world, and it’s her words allowing these strangers to understand the story they’ve come to see. When she was young she wondered who it was that allowed such an exchange, and now she’s here, witnessing herself as that person. She is who she wants to be.
She wishes someone she loves were sitting next to her so she could share it with them, May or Heejin or Seongyeom. Especially him. He’d watch the film with a look of total indifference on his face, but he’d still hold her hand throughout, wait with her until the very end of the credits as the theater empties out, and grin along with her as her name appears onscreen.
Mijoo goes running in the mornings. She doesn’t put her headphones in because she’s not as familiar with the parks and streets in Manhattan as she is with those in Seoul. She remembers what Seongyeom taught her and tries her best to apply them—shoulders low, arms bent and relaxed at her side, breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. And most importantly, keep a steady pace so she doesn’t tire out, so she can reach the end of her route.
She feels good every time she finishes a run, like she’s accomplished something, but she wouldn’t say running is something she enjoys. That’s not why she sticks to it, signs up for a race every few months.
No one's ever taught her anything. What she knows she's taught herself. She's watched other people and mimicked them, looked around her to see what is normal, what others do and what others have in order to understand what is expected of her and what she should do and have, too. So much of her wanting comes from a place of lack. Sometimes she doesn’t even realize what she wants until she sees someone who’s had it their entire life, and she wonders if it’s something she should have grown up with, like a nutrient she’s deficient in. But running is something Seongyeom gave to her freely, not to make up for anything she’s missing, but because he wanted to share a part of himself with her.
It scares her, being with him, because she can’t fall back on any of the things she’s used before to protect herself from how much she cares for him. Not her wit, or her sense of humor, or her knowledge of herself, or the hard work of her two hands. She she loves him, and that means he can hurt her. It was a hard lesson for her to learn, to stay away from what can cause pain, but Seongyeom makes her want to risk it. He makes her want to be self-indulgent, for once. Mijoo can’t believe she’s allowed to have him. He is exactly what she wants. No compromises, no qualifications. Not something similar, not a fake. He’s soft spoken and attentive. He reaches for her hand without her having to ask for it. He doesn’t make her expose herself to the kind of vulnerability that leaves her feeling weak and helpless, but instead lets her reach for the simple honesty of what she wants. He’s like a dream she’s had and thinks she loses when she wakes, only to find it standing before her when she opens her eyes. She doesn’t tell him this, though, because she knows what he’ll say. Straight-faced, earnest to the point of being blunt—“I’m not a dream, I’m Gi Seongyeom.”
The scariest part of loving him is that he makes her confront herself. She can’t only act confident and deserving of respect and consideration and hope people fall for it. She has to believe those things. She has to believe in her own goodness. It’s hard for her to understand, even for herself. Sometimes, less so now, she knows, she knows, she is bad, that she’s always been bad. And she hates thinking of her younger self, how alone and unprotected she was, how little she knew. How every decision she made before she met May was made without help or guidance, with only a sense of clawing urgency that she had to get out and save herself, a sense that she needed to escape. She always felt so out of breath.
She told him once what she knew. She’d said, almost off-hand, “I wasn’t a good kid.” And the look he gave her wasn’t pity, and it wasn’t sorrow, and it wasn’t confusion. He looked at her with so much tenderness that Mijoo realized what she said. In her head she was just stating a fact. But with Seongyeom beside her and those words hanging between them she saw she was hurting herself. She had to find some kindness and gift it to her younger self. She is learning something new—that it is okay for her to have wanted a mother and to have called out for one. That her fear had been okay, and her loneliness had been okay, and even her despair had been okay. And that it’s okay if the regimen of strict self-denial she used for her escape is no longer enough.
And so, when Seongyeom kisses her, it’s easier now for her to believe it’s not despite her having no family and growing up crooked. She takes his kisses for what they are, expressions of his love for her, just as she is. He treats her with such gentleness, as if she’s precious and should only ever receive care. He makes her feel safe. He makes her feel delicate, like morning dew seen from a bedroom window. He makes it easier for her to love herself.
The first thing they do together when she returns is go for a meal. Mijoo’s missed this. She only realizes how much when they sit down across from each other at their little table, the sound of other patrons talking a low hum in the air, their knees touching under the table, his attention wholly on her. She orders for them both, food she’s wanted since she’s been away, and Seongyeom pours her a drink.
Their reunion for her is like coming home, familiar and comforting. He asks her the name of the movie she translated and watched with foreigners reading her work, and she tells him. Seongyeom asks her how her trip was, how the filming went, what she did when she wasn’t working, and he listens. He knows most of it already from her emails and texts and their long talks on the phone, but it’s different to say it out loud in front of him, to see how intently he looks at her while she speaks, and the emotions that flicker over his face as he takes her in. She grows warm and loose under that gaze. When the food is ready, Seongyeom ladles it in her bowl for her and straightens out her utensils. Her whole month on set she didn’t have anyone taking care of her like this, so his doing so touches her more than it usually does.
When they finish their meal, Mijoo’s had three or four drinks, and Seongyeom’s had just half of his one. He’s leaning forward in his chair and smiling. He always looks good to her but when he smiles like this, wide, uninhibited, shining through with happiness, she feels like she’s falling for him all over again.
“And you?” she teases him, “What did you do besides miss me?”
“I helped Soobin choose the schools with the best athletics programs to apply to.”
“Really? That’s great!” Mijoo knows she must be tipsy because she actually claps. But she’s so excited for Soobin. She’s excited for Seongyeom, too, for how well he’s settling into his new work and how he’s learning to love sports in new ways.
“She wants to keep running in college?”
Seongyeom nods. “She’s very good.”
He pauses, twists his shot glass on the table with his delicate fingers, and Mijoo waits for him to continue. “I came to running like I was being chased,” he says. “And I think I stuck with it because it was the first thing I was able to choose for myself.” He speaks carefully, like it’s something he’s been thinking to himself for a while, but is only speaking aloud for the first time, and so needs to find the right words with which to state it, so he can be understood. “When I run, I get to be with myself with no censure. I run and I offend no one. Soobin-ie, she’s more like Youngil. She’s drawn to it because she finds it fun. Her joy in it comes from a different place.”
“She could be national athlete, I think, if she has the right support.” Seongyeom looks up at her. “If that’s what she wants, I’ll make sure she has a long career.” And then he smiles so wide he gets crinkles on the sides of his eyes and even his bottom crooked teeth show. It’s brilliant. A rush of something seizes Mijoo at the sight of it, some kind of joy, some kind of thrill, something she doesn’t yet know how to translate. She’s so glad he’s found work that suits him, protecting others and their dreams. She’d wished she’d had someone like herself looking out for her when she’d been a teen, and it makes her happy that Soobin has Seongyeom.
“I should go see her and Coach Bang and the rest of the team soon, it’s been so long since I visited a practice.” She pouts and bounces her feet under the table and Seongyeom scrunches his nose at her.
“I saw Sanda.”
“Sanda?” Mijoo parrots. “What’s that?”
“Alive,” he repeats, “Your movie.”
“My movie? I don’t have a—” and Mijoo gasps. She hits his arm playfully across the table and he grins at her.
“That’s from—” she counts quickly in her head, “6, 7 years ago? How do you even know about that?”
“I asked May. She had a copy in her office.”
Mijoo makes a face. “That betrayer.” She shakes her head and says, “I was only just out of school when I translated that. You can’t base your judgement of my work on it. I’ve matured.”
“But I’ve seen your other work.”
Mijoo gives him a leveling look.
“And Sanda was just as good,” he continues. “I usually don’t enjoy movies—”
“And you enjoyed this one?”
“No. It was tiresome. But if someone else had translated it it would have been either too opaque or its meaning would have been lessened.”
Mijoo smiles. It really isn’t her best work, and if she ever gets a chance to re-translate it she will, but it warms her up that even her earliest work has in it what she prides herself on—delivering the tone and signification of the story itself, and not only translating word for word what each character says.
She likes translation for the control it allows her, and for the exchange of communication she’s responsible for. But she loves it because it's like she's giving something to the world. She doesn’t think there’s much she has to offer; so much of her life has been simply trying to survive. But with translation the gift she received when she was at her very lowest, wretched and crying alone in a dark theater, she can now return to the world again and again.
She’s suddenly shy, but she reaches for the best in herself. “I’m glad you’re still here,” she says.
“I was afraid I’d come back and you’d disappear.”
Seongyeom is quiet for a moment, considering her. He shakes his head. “No, I’m still here.”
And then, “Mijoo-sshi.” He reaches across the table for her hand, holds it between both his own. He rubs his thumb back and forth over her knuckles. “Whenever you feel that way, you can just reach out and hold on to me, like this.” He places her hand on his wrist and Mijoo curls her fingers around it. “I’ll be here, so don’t let me go.”
Outside the restaurant Mijoo says, “Kiss me.” She angles her face up towards his.
Seongyeom laughs, and Mijoo soaks the sound of it up. “Right now? Right here in the street?”
Mijoo nods. The night breeze is cold on her face and it whips her hair over her shoulder. “Ah, you shouldn’t have had that last drink.” But Seongyeom holds her face in his hands and presses a kiss to her forehead for a heartbeat, two, three.
He loops his arm with hers. Mijoo leans on him and reaches past his coat to poke at his side and make him laugh again. They walk a few blocks before heading back to his car, Seongyeom matching his pace to hers and Mijoo leaning her head against his shoulder.
He likes grocery shopping for her. He’ll be in the store, paying for both his and Yeonghwa’s full baskets, and half of his will be milk and cereal and frozen corndogs and vitamins, because she still downs those sometimes when she's too tired to cook and she and May are running low on the side dishes May’s mom sends them. He buys her soju, too, because he knows she's probably low on her stash. He preps meals for her, makes sure there’s enough for her to share with May. Cooking used to be a lonely act, something he learned living so long by himself. He savors that now he gets to do it for her.
“Has your mom had your cooking?” Mijoo asks him one day.
His mother lives in one of his grandfather's hotels. She eats five-star dinners—one meal a day to maintain her movie star figure.
“No,” he answers simply.
“You should invite her for a meal,” Mijoo says. “Cook for her.”
Mijoo and his mother aren’t friends, exactly. But Mijoo smiles whenever she mentions her, and he knows his mother likes her a lot. She’ll ask after her when he runs into her at their gym, or when Eunbi chides him into calling her. Would he call them a star and her fan? Or his mother and his girlfriend? The first seems to fit them better. It’s hard for him to think of his mother as a mother. Maybe a star and his girlfriend, her fan.
Seongyeom does as Mijoo suggests. He invites both his mother and Eunbi over. His mother looks around the apartment he and Yeonghwa moved into after Yeonghwa graduated with wide eyes and Eunbi says, “Relax, Mom, no one’s going to rob you. This is how normal people live. It’s supposed to only have three rooms.” Their mother rolls her eyes.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I know how normal people live, I play them all the time.” She places her designer purse on a kitchen chair and sits in front of it. “I’m perfectly comfortable here. It’s just that I thought we were meeting at a restaurant.”
“No,” Seongyeom says. “Today I’m cooking for you.”
“You can cook?”
He can’t tell if his mother sounds shocked or disturbed. Eunbi’s flopped down on their couch, and she pops her head over its back to say mischievously, “What? Are you feeling guilty that we’ve never had our mother’s cooking?”
“Not at all,” their mother says. “You both are lucky you’ve never had my cooking. I cooked for your father once and he asked me if I was trying to poison him.”
“Ha!” Eunbi cackles with outright delight and their mother joins in. They continue their fond bickering as Seongyeom fries the fish, steams the rice, simmers the stew, and arranges the side dishes on the table.
“Very traditional,” his mother says when he’s done.
“I hope you enjoy it.”
She takes a spoonful of the stew. There’s something sad in her gaze when she looks at him. “You really did have to grow up on your own, didn’t you?” she asks.
Seongyeom doesn’t know how to answer, so he just takes a bit of fish and seasoned spinach and places it on top of her rice. “Eat well,” he says.
“Aren’t you going to do the same for me?” Eunbi asks, “Or am I interrupting your touching moment?”
“You’re interrupting,” their mother says, just as Seongyeom says, “This isn’t touching.” His mother shoots him a look, and Eunbi shoots her a look, and Seongyeom takes a huge spoonful of rice. And they all get a fit of the giggles.
“Wait a minute,” their mother perks up when they’re almost done eating. “Does this mean you know how to cook, too?”
Eunbi shakes her head. “I was too busy being the best to learn to cook.” It’s not a comment on Seongyeom’s sports career, and he doesn’t take it as one. His sister’s grown up a child in their family the same as him, same selfish mother, same controlling, violent father. He has scars on his body to serve as evidence of how he’s been hurt, but Eunbi doesn’t have even that. They don’t say the same things, but they speak the same language, and he understands her. When he listens closely, he understands his mother, too.
Together they finish everything on the table. Seongyeom walks them to Eunbi’s car where she’s parked. Eunbi gives him a long, firm hug. His mother reaches out for his hand and squeezes it. “Thank you for this,” she says. “It’s been a long time since anyone’s cooked for me, and even longer since I’ve eaten till I’m full.”
After they leave Seongyeom realizes he's smiling. They love each other, his little family, though they go about it awkwardly, fumbling, trying to overcome their own desires, trying to love themselves enough to love each other well.
That night he texts Mijoo.
He doesn’t have to wait long for her answer.
He doesn't know how to tell her. It'll seem normal to her, inviting someone over for dinner, but he’s never once willingly brought his family together for time with one another, and if Mijoo hadn’t suggested it he still wouldn't have. People are drawn to her in a way they’ve never been to him. She’s somehow become Danah’s best friend, when before he’d met her, he and Danah, who he’s known almost his entire life, had only ever seen each other when their families attended the same social gatherings or when they met for business regarding his career. She texts him again before he can answer.
Is it because I'm so pretty?
Three selfies quickly follow. She's in sweats in her bed, with her hair up in a lopsided bun. He wants to be next to her, wrap his arms around her from behind, kiss the back of her neck, and slip his hand under her sweatshirt to lay his palm against the skin of her belly. He means to text ‘Yes, because you're pretty,’ but instead he texts I want to see you.
Wanting her is so easy. He thinks if he hadn’t met Mijoo and fallen for her, he’d still only know discipline and self-denial.
May is heading to Berlin for a festival. She'll be gone all weekend. Spend it with me?
This Seongyeom doesn’t have to think about.
Mijoo texts him back a silly emoji of a smiling face covered with hearts. He rarely ever uses them himself, but this one he doesn’t have to try to decipher. It's exactly how he feels nights like these, texting Mijoo when what he really wants is to hold her, the light of his phone illuminating him in the dark and a smile on his face wide and unbridled because Mijoo's attention is all on him—like he's covered all over with her love.
Mijoo knows how to pack, but she’s not as great at unpacking. She’s got an apron on and her hair is in a half bun on top her head. She’s talking to him from the kitchen about a trip she wants to go on, and Seongyeom’s in her room, staring at her suitcase where it lays open with her clothes spilling out of it.
“Mijoo-sshi,” he calls from inside her room.
She turns to him from her place at the counter, knife in one hand, eyebrows raised. “Why do you sound so serious all of a sudden?” she asks.
“I’m sorry,” Seongyeom says. “I’ll try not to sound serious. Can I unpack your suitcase?”
She blinks. “My suitcase?”
“It’s been over a week.”
“Okay,” she says, and turns back to her cooking. She mutters, “Why do I feel like I just got scolded?” to herself, then keeps talking to him from across her apartment.
Seongyeom separates her clothes by color and folds them before placing them in her hamper. He makes a note to run a few loads during his stay. He arranges her makeup on her vanity and places the signed copy of her script on her desk. He’s just about to zip the suitcase closed when he realizes there’s still something in one of the pockets. He reaches in and pulls out a purple pouch. He looks inside. His stomach swoops and he smiles.
This time when he says her name Mijoo just glances his way, her attention only half on him. He holds up a medium sized dildo with a flared base. “Is this for me?” he asks.
Mijoo whips around. Her mouth falls open, then snaps shut. Color creeps up her neck into her cheeks. “Yes,” she says.
Seongyeom nods slowly. He disappears into her room for just a moment, then reappears in the doorframe. “And what about this?” he says. He holds up a purple vibrator, only slightly larger than the dildo, smooth and curved. “It looks new, too.”
“That’s for both of us,” Mijoo says. She bites her lip, then lays her knife down and makes her way over to Seongyeom. When she reaches him, she holds her hand out. There’s a playful smile on her face. She’s still flushed, and it makes her even prettier. Seongyeom shakes his head. Mijoo steps closer and presses a kiss to the side of his mouth.
“Can I have it now?” she says. Seongyeom shakes his head again and hides his hand behind his back. Mijoo presses a kiss to the other side of his mouth. She brushes her nose along his and then kisses him, slow and luscious, tongue along the seam of his mouth to make him open up, one hand on his shoulder and the other on the back of his neck. “And now?” she asks, pulling away so their lips just touch.
Seongyeom doesn’t answer. He thinks about her buying toys on her trip to use with him and he wants to push her back and take her up against the wall while sucking her breast into his mouth. Instead, vibrator still in hand, he reaches around her and undoes the straps of her apron, pulls it off her. He presses soft kisses on her neck and tugs her hair out its bun so it falls across her back. He turns the vibrator on low. He presses it between Mijoo’s legs so that it hums against the heat of her there, and when she takes a shaky breath he kisses her.
He could get drunk just on her mouth. He’s done it before, kissed and kissed and kissed her, and forgotten that he’s ever been hurt. Now he kisses her and walks her back into her room, grips her ass and swallows down the little wanting sounds she makes. When they get to her bed, Mijoo and Seongyeom both shed their clothes. He sits on her bed and Mijoo climbs over him, facing him and spreading her thighs as she lowers herself into his lap. He brings the vibrator to her perfect mouth, but she just looks him in the eye the way she does when she sucks him off and doesn’t open up. Seongyeom smiles and does it instead, slides it up his tongue until the tip hits the back of his throat. It comes out slick with his saliva, and when he puts it to her mouth again she parts her lips and he pushes it past them. She closes her eyes when his fingers touch her lips, and she hollows her cheeks as he pulls it back out, grins at him when it makes a pop. This is why he likes this so much with her. She makes it all honey, fun and sweet, hot and good.
He turns the setting up higher and brings just the tip to her breast. She shivers. He circles her nipple with it, watches as it peaks, then takes it into his mouth. Mijoo starts rocking on him then. Seongyeom trails the vibrator over her skin. Under her plump breast, down her ribcage, over the softness of her belly. She’s wet between her legs and he rubs the vibrator against her back and forth and in slight circles, massaging her, spreading her lips, teasing her opening, coating both the vibrator and his fingers in her wetness. When she starts to whine with need, Seongyeom grips her thigh and kicks the setting up. He’s watched her do this to herself before, so he knows how she likes it. He pushes the vibrator in her, slow so she can luxuriate in the way it makes her stretch, angles it toward her belly button. Her whining turns into a long moan, and Mijoo reaches down with her own hand to find her clit and circle it roughly. Her voice is low and demanding when she chants, “Yes yes yes yes,” and it kicks his heart rate up high so he feels it thudding in his chest. He holds the vibrator hard against her so she can ride it. With her other hand Mijoo grips her breast hard the way she likes doing, and she cries out as she fucks herself on the vibrator, drenching his hand.
He licks into her mouth filthily after she comes, needy and greedy. His neck is arched and bared to meet their kiss. Seongyeom eases the vibrator out of her and she lets out a little gasp. He sucks the taste of her off two of his fingers as she clambers off him, a little clumsy cause she’s in that dopey-happy place after her first orgasm, and lays back against her pillows.
She’s damp with her sweat and Seongyeom wants to lick up her body so he does, sucking kisses up her thigh. He loses himself in that sweet spot where her thigh meets her hip, the way sucking there makes her buck up against him, and Mijoo says, “Come here,” her hands in his hair. He crawls between her open legs. She’s all wet and warm and so inviting. She wraps her hand around the base of his shaft and he pushes inside her slow and nice to fill her up the way she likes. Her lids droop with the pleasure of it and her pleasure heightens his pleasure, like it’s just one loop they’re sharing between them. He nuzzles into her neck, eyes half-closed, smiling against her skin, and reaches down to grip her ass. Mijoo brings her knees up so he feels her calves along his backside, crosses her legs behind him, one arm clutching at his back and shoulder and the other in the hair at the back of his head, and this is his favorite place to be, wrapped up in her. She sucks on his tongue and he’d be fucking giddy if he weren’t heady drunk on her skin and her scent and the sounds coming out her mouth that are somehow sweet and luscious and demanding all at once. She says his name and it’s like she’s feeding that pleading place in him that wants and wants and only her. She says his name and makes him feel precious. He fucks her slow and steady so she knows how much he wants her, and when she comes around him, tight, with a cry right in his ear, he can’t keep himself from cursing—the only time he ever curses—and he comes too.
Later, when they’ve got the covers pulled up and they’re holding each other, Mijoo asks, “Were you being serious?”
“When you said you want to go on a trip with me. Remember? I was telling you about being alone in Italy and you said you want to be there together with me.”
Seongyeom does remember. He makes little circles with his finger against her back and nods.
“Do you still want to?” Mijoo asks.
“Not this time. Marseille.”
Seongyeom’s so happy he forgets to actually answer her. He’s smiling wide, though.
Mijoo laughs and taps her finger against his mouth. “Is this your way of saying yes?”
Seongyeom nips at her finger, then gives her a sweet kiss. “Yes.”
They wait at the gate together, though Seongyeom has access to the lounge. Mijoo’s on a seat next to him with her laptop out and her headphones on. Seongyeom watches the activity on the ramp outside, planes maneuvering slowly round each other, airport personnel loading and unloading them. After a while he pulls out his diary. It’s his third notebook, and he thinks he’s gotten better at keeping one, though Mijoo assures him there’s no wrong or right way to do it. He still just notes the events of his days and how they make him feel, but it comes more easily to him now; he doesn’t hide from himself and then have to return and be more truthful.
I’m going on a trip with Mijoo. I’m glad.
I want her to enjoy her time with me as much as she enjoys her trips when she’s alone. She says I should try traveling alone, too. I’ve been alone so long, though. Still, I think I will. Maybe now I care about myself, being alone will feel different.
Marseille is known for bouillabaisse. I want to see how it’s made so when we get back home I can make it for Mijoo and feed it to her.
He reads his words over. He underlines the words ‘back home.’ They don’t seem wrong to him, and he lets that settle in.
After they board the plane and take their seats, Mijoo says, “You know what this reminds me of?”
“When Diane Court and Lloyd Dobler go off to England together.”
“We’re going to France.”
Mijoo looks at him. “You don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
“No,” he says, and she laughs, as if he’s said something to please her.
The plane door closes. Flight attendants walk up and down the aisles, closing overhead compartments and asking passengers to take their seats. Seongyeom reaches over for Mijoo’s hand, and the no smoking sign dings.