Du-sik parks his truck in front of the furniture store just south of town and takes a deep, steadying breath.
Normally, he’d just run this errand in Gongjin. Actually, normally he wouldn’t be running this errand at all. His house is furnished with hand-me-downs from people in town, and things he or his grandfather built themselves. Never in his thirty-four years has Du-sik actually purchased furniture.
Unfortunately, building what he currently needs is beyond his abilities. And asking a neighbor for an extra one they might have lying around…
Du-sik takes another deep breath, and hopes he’s far enough away from the center of Gongjin that no one will recognize him.
He nods encouragingly at himself in the rearview mirror, and reminds himself he can do difficult things.
“May I help you?”
The shopkeeper is older than him, but not by much. Owlish glasses perch on the end of her nose, making her look inquisitive in a way that rattles him.
The last thing Du-sik wants right now is nosy questions.
Fortunately, he doesn’t recognize her. She doesn’t seem to recognize him, either. That’s good, at least.
“I… need a new bed,” he explains, trying to sound like it’s no big deal, rather than the earth-shattering, paradigm-shift of a situation it actually is.
He tries hard not to think about why he needs a new bed, but doesn’t even come close to managing it.
Hye-jin is always at the very front of his mind these days.
She’d looked like something out of a daydream last night, dressed in nothing but his t-shirt and her sensible white cotton panties. His shirt had risen halfway up her midriff in her sleep, exposing a wide strip of pale stomach that kept him awake with longing most of the night. Her lips were parted, and plump from the hours he’d just spent kissing her breathless. Her long, beautiful hair was tousled from his roaming hands.
She was fast asleep in his bed.
He, unfortunately, was camped out beside her on his bedroom floor, his legs bent at an awkward angle and his neck a collection of cramps. He cursed himself as he gazed up at her, wishing he wasn’t forced by logistics and by the fact that he’s had the same damn bed since he was six years old to sleep down there.
His bed--which has been his since his grandfather took him in nearly thirty years ago--is technically big enough for both him and Hye-jin to sleep on it. But only if they both lie on their sides, and he carefully curls his body around hers like a large nesting spoon.
It’s not ideal.
Because while Du-sik would happily spend the rest of his days--and nights--as physically close to Hye-jin as she’d allow him to be, spending the entire night wrapped tightly around her slender body inevitably sends his mind into dangerous territory he and Hye-jin have yet to negotiate.
It sends certain traitorous parts of his anatomy into dangerous territory, too. He suspects Hye-jin knows it’s happening, even if she’s never said anything about it. The way she sometimes brushes up against him as she settles in and tries to get comfortable—a touch here; a lingering pass of her hand there…
Sometimes it seems too deliberate to be accidental.
But it doesn’t matter. The problem is not that Hye-jin probably knows he gets an erection when he’s in bed with her. That’s something he hopes to be able to do something about—with her, ideally—very soon. No; the problem is that actually sleeping next to Hye-jin in his ridiculously old and tiny bed is turning out to be nearly impossible.
Sleeping at her apartment, in Hye-jin’s larger bed, is out of the question, because Mi-seon is there. And spending the night on the floor beside his bed--the next best alternative, and what he’s been finding himself doing more and more--just plain sucks.
When Hye-jin left his house this morning to go into the clinic, he made a decision.
Hye-jin deserves romance. And adult-appropriate bedroom furniture. What if she gets tired of his terrible bed and decides to stop sleeping at his house altogether? Going back to those lonely nights when he woke up alone, panicking, without Hye-jin by his side…
Just the idea of going back to that life makes his chest ache.
He would do literally anything to keep Hye-jin with him, in his bed, every night. Including risking the town finding out that Gongjan’s most unrepentant bachelor and notorious cheapskate is suddenly buying a brand new bed big enough for two.
Fortunately, if the saleswoman notices Du-sik’s train of thought she shows no signs of it. She simply nods at him, as though she regularly sells beds to anxious men wanting to entice their girlfriends into continuing to sleep with them.
Then again, maybe she does.
She motions for Du-sik to follow her to the back of the store, where mattresses are arranged in a row.
“What kind of bed are you looking for?”
Du-sik stands a little straighter, pleased he’s been asked a question he can answer. He researched mattresses last night, after all. Specifically--he researched what kinds of mattresses are good for people with neck problems. Hye-jin, he learned, needs a mattress that’s firm, but not too firm. If it comes with a pillow-top cover, even better--though that, he also learned last night, can be purchased separately.
“A firm mattress,” he answers confidently. “But not too firm. And…” He swallows, gathers his courage for the next part. “The most important thing is that it’s... big.”
“Big?” The woman cocks her head one side. “How big?”
Du-sik leans in a little closer, dropping his voice. “Big enough for me and… and for a person who’s a bit smaller than me.” He pauses. “We’ll both be sleeping on it at the same time.”
The woman nods, biting her lip. It occurs to Du-sik that she might be trying not to laugh at him. His face burns.
“A… queen-sized bed, then,” she says, her voice strange. She bites her lip again and… yes, she’s definitely trying not to laugh. Damn it . “Do you want to try some out?”
He nods, too flustered now to speak.
She motions to two beds near the back of the store. One is about the size of his current mattress; the other looks to be exactly the size he’d had in mind for a new bed.
“These are both relatively firm. Why don’t you lie down on the queen and see what you think?”
Du-sik is just about to do exactly that when the bell over the store’s front door jangles loudly, announcing another customer.
The shopkeeper looks towards the front door, then shoots an apologetic look back at him. “I’m so sorry. I’ll be right back. My cousin’s here.”
Du-sik smiles at her. “Of course.” He makes to lie down on what just might be his new bed--no; his and Hye-jin’s new bed--when...
“Is that Chief Hong’s truck out there?”
Du-sik freezes. He knows that voice. He’d have to be dead not to know that voice. He looks up, against his better judgment....
His stomach sinks into his shoes.
Cho Nam-sook is here.
He closes his eyes, cursing himself for not going to Seoul for this.
“Good to see you, cousin!” the saleswoman says. “Well, I assume that’s my customer’s truck. Chief Hong, you say? I’m not sure if that’s him, he didn’t say his name. Just that he wants to buy a new queen-sized bed.”
The moment Nam-sook makes eye contact with him, Du-sik knows it’s over. In ten minutes’ time, everyone he has ever known will know that he is buying a big bed today. From that it will take them less than five seconds to guess that he and Hye-jin are sleeping together.
The town gossip gapes at him, eyes darting between his face and the queen-sized mattress he’d just been about to test out.
And then she beams at him like he’s a gift she’s been waiting for all year.
“Chief Hong!” she says, sounding happier than he’s ever heard her. Her phone is already out of her purse and in her hands. Du-sik grinds his teeth. “What a surprise!”
“If you forget you saw me here I’ll do any repairs your restaurant needs free of charge for a month,” he mutters. If there’s one thing Nam-sook likes more than gossip it’s a bargain. Du-sik hopes that calculus holds true today as well.
Her smile widens. “Three months.”
He scowls at her. It’s extortion, and she knows it. Her restaurant is in one of Gongjin’s older buildings; in a typical month he’s there at least twice, fixing something or other.
But then he thinks of Hye-jin, and how mortified she’d be if the town found out just how close they’ve grown before she’s ready for people to know.
And Gam-ri— well, as supportive as she’s been of him pursuing his heart, Du-sik would like to tell her about the nature of his new relationship with Hye-jin on his own terms.
“Fine,” Du-sik sighs, throwing up his hands. “Three months. We have a deal. Now leave me alone.”
By the time Du-sik has finished washing his face and dressing for bed, Hye-jin is already lying on the new bed, the covers pulled up to her chin.
“This is wonderful,” she breathes. She rolls over onto her side so she can face him. His t-shirt is huge on her and gapes open at the top, exposing her neck and her delicate collarbones.
His heart swells at the sight of his beautiful Hye-jin, happy with something he’s done for her. He doesn’t know what he’s done to deserve such unexpected joy. But since meeting Hye-jin, he’s learned not to question his luck.
“Do you like it, then?” he asks, grinning.
She nods. “It’s so big and comfortable.” She bites her lip. “It’s… so much better than your other bed.”
He hums his agreement.
“Did you get this for me?” she asks.
I got it for us, he thinks. For us, as we begin what I hope will be the rest of our lives together.
“I got it for me,” he teases. “Your feet are dirty. I don’t want them touching me in the night anymore.”
Hye-jin rolls her eyes and grins at him, flashing those dimples of hers that leave him speechless and a little dizzy, every time.
“My feet are not dirty.”
“They’re filthy.” He pulls down the covers and climbs into bed beside her. He’d splurged a little, and bought new sheets that have what the saleswoman assured him is a high thread count. They feel like silk, smooth and soft between his fingers.
He closes his eyes and sighs, smiling when he feels the mattress dip as Hye-jin scoots closer to him.
“Do we have to use all this extra space, though?” she whispers, her voice tickling his ear. She presses a gentle kiss to his cheek, and another to the underside of his jaw, before moving down to the sensitive pulse point where his neck meets his shoulder. As he feels the sweet, gentle pressure of her tongue as it darts out to taste him there, her small hands slip beneath the fabric of his sleep shirt to splay across his stomach.
His hands clutch at the new bedsheets as all the blood in his body rushes south.
He opens his mouth to answer her, but then her hands move up, up, tugging until his shirt is up and over his head. Words fail him. She’s never been this bold. She tosses his shirt off to the side. It lands on the floor in a heap, in the exact spot where he slept last night.
“We…” He pauses, tries hard to focus on the question she’d just asked him, but now she’s taking off her shirt, and-- “We... don’t have to use all the extra space. If you don’t want to.”
Later, it occurs to him that spending the night with Hye-jin might always be incompatible with a good night’s sleep.
(He decides he doesn’t mind.)