10 Hours in Seoul by Mitta

Emma squinted. The glare of the morning sun blinded her as she tried to peek out the small window of the Airbus 380. She had finally landed in Seoul after a grueling eleven hour flight from Vancouver. It was a ten hour layover, and she was determined to make the most of her time here.
10 Hours in Seoul
10 Hours in Seoul by Mitta
Growing up in Malaysia Emma was swept up in the Korean wave and enjoyed watching K-dramas and listening to K-pop music. Seoul and Jeju Island topped her list of must visit destinations. The past four years of intense High School course load left no time for multi-episode drama indulgent but Korean music was still her favorite. Armed with her pocket dictionary and four years of introductory Korean, she was more than ready to put her language skills to good use. Emma sat back, waiting for the chaos around her to subside. She had no reason to hurry. There were many families on this flight presuming returning to South Korea for visits after the end of the school year. They might be rushing to make further connections or anxious to meet loved ones waiting at the arrival hall. She had no such concerns. All she needed to retrieve was a small backpack where she carried only her essentials. Her expectations were simple: stroll the famous Dongdaemun Market, pay a royal visit to the Gyeongbokgung Palace and sample authentic kimchi and mung bean pancakes. Dad had messaged her yesterday that a business partner would be picking her up at the airport. Emma was grateful but the offer was not a welcome one. She could have navigated her own way around the city. After all, Seoul was a modern, safe metropolis with a world class transportation system. And, she was seventeen going on eighteen. She didn’t need a chaperone. Emma disembarked and walked at a brisk but unhurried pace to the arrival hall after clearing customs. She was not sure who to look for. She imagined an elderly looking Korean man carrying a placard with her name on it. She saw none. Twenty minutes had gone by and still no signs of someone looking for her. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding or NCC had decided not to send a rep. Not a big deal. She pulled out her map. She could easily find her own way to the city. * * * Ji Wook was furious. He slammed his hand phone close and yelled in frustration. Playing tour guide to a teenage girl was not exactly what he had in mind for that day. Even though he had finished all final exams at Seoul National University where he was an Engineering major, he still had one last paper to submit before Friday’s deadline. Ji Wook’s dad, Tae Yeon, had sent him on this errand at the last minute. Mr. Kim, his assistant, had apparently come down with a stomach ailment and needed to be relieved of the duty. He glanced at his watch and looked up the flight arrival information on his computer. He was going to be late. The flight was on time and he was at least thirty minutes away from Incheon International Airport. He quickened his pace as he was now running almost twenty five minutes behind. He had promised his dad that he would take care of this chore, albeit unwillingly. Mr. Lam, Emma’s father, was NCC’s most important lumber supplier in Southeast Asia. He spotted her right away as the crowd had already dissipated. She was one of few remaining visitors still hanging around the arrival hall. Emma was slender and taller than he thought. She was pretty in her own ways but not remarkable. She wore no makeup. Her hair was shoulder length tied high up in a ponytail. She had on dark blue jeans of an obscure brand, a short sleeve scoop neck top and a comfortable pair of sneakers. Dangled from her Maple Leaf backpack were key chain size Yoshi and Pikachu plush toys. Emma was looking intently at her map and did not see Ji Wook approaching. "Excuse me, are you Emma Lam?" Emma startled and looked up from her map. Facing her was a dashing young Korean man and he was addressing her. He appeared to be in his early twenties, at least six foot tall, decked in designer jeans with white v-shaped t-shirt underneath a navy blue blazer. He looked impatient. “Yes, I am and you are…?” she replied in a daze. “I am Lee Ji Wook from NCC Construction. My father has asked me to pick you up today.” “Oh I see. I’d expected an older gentleman. My father mentioned some Ajusshi by the name of Mr. Kim.” Ji Wook did not bother to explain. He asked if she had any other belongings. She nodded no. He pointed towards the exit and started walking. Emma hurried along. Ji Wook’s car was parked nearby and he opened the passenger door for her. She slipped into her seat, fastened the seat belt and snuck a look at Ji Wook. His countenance had not changed. He still looked somewhat annoyed. Emma was normally a confident person and prided herself in her ability to converse easily with strangers but Ji Wook’s stately presence was making her unsure of herself. It didn’t help that he appeared to be aloof and remote and had not made any attempts at conversations. They drove in silence for the next five minutes. “Mr. Lee, may I ask where are we going?” “To my house to pick up my sister. She is your age and will keep you company today.” “Oh, I see. And what is her name?” “Her name is Cho Hee and she is fifteen.” “I thank you for your hospitality but I certainly do not wish to intrude on your family. I am turning eighteen in September. I am more than capable of touring Seoul on my own. You can drop me off at the nearest subway,” she replied anxiously. Again, Ji Wook did not reply. He merely stared forward, stepped on the gas pedal and drove ahead. Her proposition was certainly tempting, but he had enough good sense to know that his father would never forgive him for such impertinence. * * * Ji Wook’s family was wealthy by South Korea standards. Ji Wook’s dad, Tae Yeon, started NCC Construction fifteen years ago supplying wood products for single and multi-family houses. He began with a small factory in Incheon and it had now grown into a multi-million dollar company with three factories. NCC endured large losses and layoffs during the Asian financial crisis in the late 90s, but Tae Yeon’s leadership and business acumen were instrumental in keeping the company afloat and eventually turned it around into one of South Korea top twenty companies. Recent shortages of timber worldwide and surging demands in China and India had jacked up the price of lumber. As such, it was vital that NCC secure their supply chain and sustain these relationships as much as possible. Ji Wook understood this all too well. He had interned at his father’s company the past two summers and as expected in Korean society, he was to inherit NCC upon Tae Yeon’s retirement. Smart and astute, Ji Wook had all the qualities expected to lead NCC. Running a business was never his first passion, but being the only son, he was groomed from a young age to succeed his father. He did not detest the prospect; he understood his responsibilities and would be ready for the challenge when the time came. But, he had made it clear to Tae Yeon that he was in no rush to join NCC. He’d planned to spend some time volunteering with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) upon graduation and also complete his mandatory military service before joining NCC full time. * * * Ji Wook pulled up to his family home in Pyeongchang-dong. The two-story tiered wooden house was modern and stylish but unpretentious; large glass walls faced the front and sides; boulders curved the stairs leading up to the front entrance. The house was perfectly situated away from the main road surrounded by mountains with a scenic view of the city. Emma was briefly enchanted; the tranquility was interrupted when a young girl ran out of the house and waved to them. She was of average height, fair skinned with long, shiny hair and bangs framing her pear-shaped face. She must be Cho Hee. She was beautiful in an aristocratic sense; the resemblance to the young man in the driver seat was quite unmistakable. Emma stepped out of the car and offered a slight bow. “An nyeong ha se yo,” Emma greeted the girl. “An nyeong ha se yo,” Cho Hee responded with a huge grin. Ji Wook stood to the side with his hands in his jeans pockets. His expression was one of fascination though he tried to hide his amusement. After formal introductions, Emma was ushered into the family room and was kindly greeted by the family maid who had prepared naengmyeon for lunch. Ji Wook declined to join them excusing himself to his study. Emma was oddly deflated but also felt a tinge of relief. His presence was somewhat troubling. The girls ate while chatting comfortably with each other in both Korean and English. The camaraderie was one of ease and respect. “Do you have any special place you want to visit today?” Cho Hee asked in Korean. “Maybe a trip to Dongdaemun Market. I would like to pick up a few gifts for my family. If time permits, I wouldn’t mind a visit to the famous Gyeongbokgung Palace. I have read so much about it,” Emma answered. "Of course, let’s get going! I love to shop!" Cho Hee exclaimed in excitement. Cho Hee ran off seemingly to go look for Ji Wook. Emma took a few moments to admire the interior of the house. It was conservative but also modern; mostly white washed walls, hardwood floor and simple leather sofas and armchairs with a nice touch of lively plants placed strategically in various nooks. Minutes later, Cho Hee returned with Ji Wook. He had agreed to drive them but wanted no part in the shopping expedition. An arrangement was struck to drop the girls off at Section One of Dongdaemun Market and to pick them up two hours later close to Doosan Tower. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 2 Emma was raised in a conservative household with a staunch Buddhist upbringing. The town she grew up in was rich in timberland located on the beautiful tropical island of Borneo in Malaysia. Her father was the general manager for one of the largest timber producers in the state and was responsible for exports to South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. When Emma turned fourteen, she left Malaysia to live with her aunt in suburban Vancouver to attend high school in Canada. Her aunt had married a Canadian and emigrated two decades ago, and Emma was her only niece. A good and hardworking student, she excelled in the Arts and Languages. Upon graduation, she had received full entrance scholarship to the University of British Columbia (UBC) to major in Asian Languages and Culture. Her goal was to pursue a career as an international interpreter for the United Nations (UN). This was her first trip home to visit her family since moving to Canada four years ago. * * * The drive to Dongdaemun Market was filled with Cho Hee’s excited chatter of the latest fashion, which stalls to visit and where to find the best bargains. Emma participated in earnest to the conversations, not because she allowed herself to indulge much in the latest footwear or accessories; she was thankful for the hospitality and did not want the girl to feel her efforts went unappreciated. Ji Wook, on the other hand, hardly ever spoke. Emma stole occasional glances at him and caught him looking at her through his rearview mirror. She could not make out what he was thinking. He wasn’t being rude; he responded accordingly when questioned or nudged by his sister but showed no interest in Emma or her life. His disposition was one of non-participation and indifference. As expected, Cho Hee was the perfect hostess. Emma could not have asked for a better companion. They strolled through hundreds of shops selling all kinds of goods ranging from clothing, to toys, cosmetics, electronics, shoes, fabric and many, many more. Emma was overwhelmed by the crowd, the noise and the vibrant atmosphere. She did manage to find a wallet for her dad, silk fabric for mom, and earrings for her older sister, Lisa. This was turning out to be a memorable trip for Emma and she wanted to savor these moments. Without further delays, she produced her compact Canon Power Shot camera from her backpack. This was the only luxury item she carried on this trip. She snapped pictures of merchants hawking their wares, children prancing in the streets, shoppers negotiating for bargains, lovers holding hands, and smiling poses of Cho Hee. If her trip ended here, she would be contented. It already surpassed her expectations. Ji Wook was already waiting for them when Emma and Cho Hee reached Doosan Tower. He was checking his phone for messages and muttered something to himself. Cho Hee ran up to her brother and gave him a bear hug. That seemed to soften his expression. He obviously adored his sister. Emma trailed a few steps behind. On impulse, she privately snapped a few pictures of Ji Wook to capture that wry smile as he frowned at his sister. The image was endearing and unforgettable; one that made Emma’s heart skip a beat or two. He was born to be handsome; there was no doubt about it. “Let’s take Emma to eat some bindaetteok and kimchi. It is one of her favorites. She must have some before she leaves!” Cho Hee exclaimed to her brother. “Cho Hee, thank you but I’m still very full from the delicious lunch Ajumma prepared for us,” Emma replied in alarm, not wanting Ji Wook to feel obliged. Cho Hee was not taking no for an answer. Ji Wook had no choice but to follow his sister as she dragged him along the busy avenue towards the food court. They settled for one of the less busy stalls specializing in bindaetteok. Cho Hee proceeded to order a serving each of bindaetteok, ddukbokki and fried dumplings. Emma sat next to Cho Hee, directly opposite Ji Wook. She felt exposed and a tad self-conscious as he now had full command of her face and expressions. Emma was never a good actor. She might just betray her emotions more than she cared to. She felt agitated. Cho Hee, bless her heart, was oblivious to the underlying sensibilities between Emma and her own brother. Emma remarked on the diversity of Korean cuisine and its exciting flavors while Cho Hee chose to engage towards a more personal line of discussion. “Emma, do you have a boyfriend?” Cho Hee asked innocently while chomping away at her food. “No, not yet. Haven’t had time for one,” Emma replied nonchalantly. “Do you believe in love at first sight?” Emma blushed; she lowered her gaze and slowly eyed Ji Wook before replying, “It depends.” “How so? Tell me!” Cho Hee pressed on. One might say Ji Wook was equally curious but cleverly disguised his interest. “I believe in fate and in destiny. When you meet that special someone in your life who is destined to be your soulmate, even if it is your first encounter, it will feel like love at first sight,” Emma explained; “it is certainly not based on physical appearances but strong instincts that you have a connection with that person,” she finished in a lower than usual tone. “Hmm…” responded Cho Hee with a puzzled expression; “what if the feeling is not mutual?” Emma paused and then continued, “I believe it could very well be that one party is slower in realizing his or her instincts but if they are destined for each other, the time will surely come when their paths will cross again.” “That is so true,” Cho Hee replied, nodding her head. “What about you? Have you met your soulmate yet?” Cho Hee continued to probe. Emma was quite uncomfortable with this question. She took a quick sip of her tea and inadvertently choked on it and started to cough. Cho Hee instinctively jumped up and left the table to ask for some tissues. Ji Wook was clearly diverted; the look in his eyes was one of amusement as if he was secretly laughing at her. He did politely ask if she was alright. Upon Cho Hee’s return, she turned to her brother and asked, “Oppa, what about you? Do you believe in love at first sight?” Ji Wook was not keen on answering such a frivolous question, but he remained cool and collected when he answered, “No. I do not believe in love at first sight. It is a notion only for the hopelessly romantic. Two people need time to get to know each other before they can truly comprehend if love exists between them.” Emma blushed upon hearing Ji Wook’s declaration but common sense prevailed and she resolved to compose herself before replying. “But have you never been mistaken when it comes to the matter of the heart, Mr. Lee? Have you never been in love? Or are you such a pragmatist that perhaps you harbor prejudice against the romantics?” Ji Wook fixed his eyes on Emma. “Yes and no,” he replied with civility. “Yes, I have loved but once and no, I do not believe myself to be prejudiced against the romantics. I am merely stating the facts.” “But it is also a fact that some of the greatest love stories in history were love at first sight.” “As you pointed out. Stories. Not real life.” “Marie and Pierre Curie’s love story was one of them.” “I doubt it was truly love at first sight. It might have been driven more by mutual respect and values.” Emma contemplated a response but thought it better to quit as the conversation was heading into dangerous territory. She couldn’t help but be astonished with his reply. His expression was one of sorrowful regret. He confessed to have loved once; did that mean he was left with a broken heart? That might explain why he was such a realist on the subject of love, Emma pondered. Cho Hee also had enough of the above conversation. It was getting far too philosophical to her liking and she proceeded to ask Emma if she knew of such and such Korean celebrities and if she thought they were pretty or handsome. Emma was diplomatic in her responses but was not shy in declaring whom she thought was handsome or pretty in her opinion. Ji Wook merely smirked at some of Emma’s answers as he pretended to check out messages on his phone. Emma focused her attention on the delicacies before her: the kimchi was peppery and savory, the ddukbokki melted in her mouth, and the bindaetteok was certainly authentic and flavorful, but she hardly ate. Her thoughts were preoccupied. She was mad at herself for being so affected. Ji Wook was just another good looking guy. She had known many such attractive guys in high school. Why was this so different? The impromptu Korean feast and tête-à-tête left no time for a proper visit to the Royal Palace as it was now heading into rush hour in Seoul. She was only mildly disappointed. There would be a next time, she assured herself. Ji Wook went to settle the bill and upon his return, Cho Hee persuaded her brother to stop over at Namsan Tower en route to the airport. It would be a chance for Emma to see Seoul light up as evening approach and there was enough time for this detour. It was unfortunate that Cho Hee could not accompany Emma on this last leg of the journey. She was catching a movie that evening with a few school friends. They embraced and parted with promises to keep in touch. Emma’s cover was now gone. She needed to find something else to distract and compose herself in front of Ji Wook. After climbing into his car, she busied herself organizing her backpack, pulled out her itinerary and pretended to read. Ji Wook also found himself awkwardly alone with Emma. His only thought was to dispatch her to the airport, relieve himself of this obligation and dismiss her from his presence as quickly as possible. She attracted him more than he liked. He recollected himself, put the car in reverse and started pulling out from the parking lot with business like efficiencies. He was annoyed that he could not come up with an excuse when Cho Hee proposed the Namsan Tower idea. It was a short drive to the Namsan Cable Car station. There was no line up at the ticketing booth as it was early evening on a weekday, and peak tourist season had yet to begin. Ji Wook purchased return tickets for both. There was only one other older European couple in the same cable car. Emma was thankful to Cho Hee. The beautiful scenery surrounding her at the moment made her forget how ill at ease she was earlier on. Unlike some other cities, it was not just a concrete jungle out there; the ample greenery made it so much more beautiful. She quickly produced her camera and started taking shots after shots of the breathtaking early evening view of the city below her. She was unaware that Ji Wook was quietly observing her. Her eyes were glowing with happy expressions; her smiles captivating and he finally admitted to himself Emma was uncommonly beautiful. The European couple was very friendly. They enquired about Emma’s trip and, upon learning that Ji Wook was a local, asked him for recommendations on good restaurants and bars in Seoul. They presumed Emma and Ji Wook were lovers and offered to take a picture of them together. “No— no— no, there is no need but thank you. We’re merely acquaintances,” Emma stammered. “But you must,” the gentleman insisted, “here— why don’t you give me your camera,” and nodded to Ji Wook to move over to where Emma was standing. Ji Wook hesitated but complied with the request. He walked over to her side. “Now— that won’t do. Put your arms around her,” insisted the man. Ji Wook did not resist much. He circled his left arm around Emma’s shoulders and pulled her close to him and signaled to the man, “Good?” Emma was taken aback; she was confused by his actions. Her heart beat so loudly she was afraid he might hear its pounding. Even at five foot seven she felt dwarfed by him. He was not only tall, he was also muscular and manly. Upon alighting from the cable car, they headed straight to the observation deck of Namsan Tower. The panoramic view of the city was spectacular and as evening fell, it was even more dramatic. By this time, Emma and Ji Wook were conversing easily with each other. He helped her scout out points of interest in the city and offered to take her pictures. Through her camera lens Ji Wook was afforded a discrete opportunity to fix his eyes on Emma’s natural beauty. On the terrace fences surrounding the tower were myriads of love locks. Ji Wook explained that lovers leave a lock professing their love and throw away the key ensuring that their love would endure forever. He snickered at his own explanation, obviously not subscribing to that theory. Emma thought it all very romantic and started checking out the messages on the locks. Most were in Korean, but she spotted one in English. “Come here! Check this one out,” Emma motioned to Ji Wook. “Famous quote by an unknown author. How profound!” The message read, “Meeting you was fate, becoming your friend was a choice, but falling in love with you was beyond my control.” Emma was so touched. She took a picture of that particular lock and thought to herself how appropriate it was. She turned her face to look up at Ji Wook with a soulful expression. He was silent but he nodded and gave her a tender smile. That gesture made her day. It was to be the most memorable moment of her young life. Alas, it was time to go. She had a plane to catch. Emma sighed with a sinking heart that she would never see this man again. She felt something tugging at her heart. It was beating furiously. She hardly knew this man and yet the feeling of longing, longing for the clock to stand still, for the drive to the airport to last forever, for Ji Wook to reciprocate her feelings, for the fairy godmother to deliver her from this misery; but it was not to be; those miracles only materialized in dramas and fairy tales. Mostly they drove in silence. He asked to confirm her airline and departure terminal and she responded with the affirmative. Upon arrival at Incheon International Airport, Emma fully expected Ji Wook to depart after unloading her at the curb. He surprised her by walking her into the terminal. The huge departure sign inside the entrance indicated that flight MH0608 to Kuala Lumpur was on time. She turned around to face Ji Wook, extended her right hand, expressed her heartfelt thanks, and painfully bid him good bye. Mustering all her strength, she composed herself to sound neutral and unaffected. With reluctance, Ji Wook grabbed hold of her right hand, and squeezed it tight. He feared he would care more than he should. Her hand was small and soft. He found it hard to let go. As her eyes fell on him, he held her gaze. Thousands of unspoken feelings overwhelmed both during those precious few seconds. And it was soon over. Ji Wook let go of her hand, bowed, murmured something in reply, turned around, and left. Emma watched his silhouette disappear into the evening night. She stood still for some moments until reality hit her; finally, with a heavy heart she proceeded to the gate, looking back now and then for that slim possibility that he might just turn back. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 3 Ji Wook drove aimlessly around Seoul after he dropped off Emma. He was in a state of confusion. He had thought Emma ordinary when he first saw her this morning. She began the day as a nuisance, a chore to be completed like doing one’s homework or cleaning the toilet. Midway through the day he began to take an interest. It was in her demeanor, the way she carried herself. She was both vulnerable and confident. She made him laugh with her witty comments in unpolished Korean, but most of all, her innocence and appreciation for all the little things added to her charms. The time they spent together on Namsan Tower made him forget about Hee Jin. He truly enjoyed her company; something touched a place in his heart that had long been sealed. After one hour of aimless driving, he finally reached home. Cho Hee was surprised he got in so late. “Oppa, where have you been? Did you not drop Emma off a few hours ago?” “Oh— there was a lot of traffic,” he replied, scarcely hearing her to the end. “Did you take her to Namsan Tower like you promised?” “Yes, I did,” he responded but did not elaborate. “I missed her already. She was very nice, don’t you think?” “Hmm— yes.” Ji Wook was deep in thoughts and was not thrilled with all the questions. “You were not mad at Emma, were you?” Cho Hee asked, pressing on. “Why would I be mad?” he responded with a raised eyebrow. “When she asked about you having been in love before. I know how heartbroken you were when Hee Jin left for America. I should have known better than to start that conversation.” “That’s alright, Cho Hee. I’m fine, you don’t have to worry about me,” he answered, his voice faint and distant. At that moment, Tae Yeon and Eun Mi stepped into the living room after having just returned from a dinner engagement. “Abeoji, Eomeoni, please excuse me. I’m exhausted. I’d like go to bed first,” Ji Wook announced, and without waiting for a reply, bowed and headed to his room. Tae Yeon and Eun Mi thought Ji Wook’s behavior a bit odd but chalked it up to fatigue after a week of final exams. Cho Hee proceeded to describe to their parents the visitor from Canada and the events of the day. Tae Yeon was pleased that his son did follow through with his orders to take care of Mr. Lam’s daughter. To Tae Yeon, showing hospitality to Emma Lam was merely a business transaction and gave it no further thought. Ji Wook lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling. The spell was over. Regardless of what his feelings were, he had to erase today’s events from his mind and focus on his goals and responsibilities. He was a pragmatic person after all; he himself had declared so to Emma. He turned off the lights and tried to sleep it off. * * * Hee Jin was Ji Wook’s first love. She attended the same high school and they were inseparable for four years. A gifted musician, she aspired to be a concert violinist and play Carnegie Hall one day. Ji Wook first saw her when she performed at the school concert. Her beautiful rendition of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata mesmerized him. Hee Jin’s family was of average means and income. Her mother passed away when she was only ten years old. Her father worked as a civil servant and struggled to provide for Hee Jin and her brother. Hee Jin’s talent for music was discovered early on by her elementary school teacher, and through her kindness had given her protégé free violin lessons until she earned full scholarships to pursue advanced music studies in high school. The hardships Hee Jin endured growing up made her very determined to succeed. Dedicated to her profession, she worked tirelessly to achieve her ambitions at all cost. It was Hee Jin who first approached Ji Wook. She was organizing a fundraiser for a school music trip and wanted to ask for sponsorship. Ji Wook was more than eager to help and they struck up a friendship from that day on which gradually led to affection. Ji Wook was very much in love with Hee Jin. He stood by her, and protected her interests despite outright disapprovals from his family. He understood her need to overcome her humble beginning, and thus, supported her in all her undertaking, even at his personal expense. Upon graduation from high school, Hee Jin received scholarship to study in America. She was also offered equal or better opportunities to pursue her musical aspirations in South Korea but America was her dream. Ji Wook understood, and did not try to stop her. He knew if he had asked, she would have stayed, but then, he would be responsible for her destiny. Loving Hee Jin meant he was willing to trade his happiness for her dream to come true. Hee Jin was hurt Ji Wook never begged her to stay, and therefore left without a word. Ji Wook was deeply saddened after Hee Jin moved to America; however, he never regretted his decision to let her go but was unable to forget her either; since that day he had not entered into a relationship with another woman. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 4 Eight years ago Emma stood at this exact spot. Some of the decor had changed, and noticeable improvements had been made to the visitor arrival area but the resemblance remained. A wave of nostalgia swept over her as she recalled fondly the moment she laid eyes on Ji Wook. She wondered wistfully how he was doing, and if he was happily married. Overcome with emotion, briny tears welled up in her eyes. These were not tears of sadness but tears of gratitude for the memories; even if she never loved again, at least, she loved deeply once. She still had in her possession her picture with Ji Wook in the Namsan cable car. She always kept it close by, tucked away in an album on her smartphone. They say time heals all wounds but for her, time lessened the pain but the longing for Ji Wook never went away. Sadly, Emma had lost touch with Cho Hee. They corresponded faithfully for many months after her return to Canada. During that time Emma wanted so badly to receive news of the brother but had to exercise restraint with her enquiries. She often wondered if he had asked about her and was disappointed when none came. All she learned during that brief period was that Ji Wook had graduated from his post-graduate degree, and soon after, had left Seoul for some rural African nation with EWB and upon his return to South Korea had enlisted for military service. All correspondences between the two girls had now ceased; each moving on with her own life. This was Emma’s first trip back to Seoul since that fateful morning. She had accepted a position as an Interpreter with the UNIDO office in Seoul. It was a one year assignment. She was to start work on the following Monday. After collecting her luggage, she flagged down a taxi to take her to the Marriott hotel. Her office had made arrangements for her to stay there for a week while her studio flat was being prepared. Emma paused for a few moments to take in the fresh morning air before settling into the taxi awaiting her at the designated loading area. The kind looking Ajusshi had already deposited her single luggage into the trunk of his car. * * * This was a new beginning for Emma. After graduating from UBC, she applied and was accepted to Columbia University to pursue her Master’s degree in East Asian Studies. She thrived during her four years in the Big Apple. It was a time she came into her own as a woman, became financially independent of her parents, secured her first real job, entered into a relationship, and learned life lessons. Jeremy had long been irrelevant in her life. She met him through a mutual friend during her internship at the UN headquarters. He was a fellow Canadian and had just completed his Political Science degree at Cornell and was also interning at the UN. He pursued Emma from the very beginning. It was love at hello according to him. She did not feel the same but his persistence won her over. She was flattered and was grateful for his attention. He pampered and cared for her. The courtship lasted over a year. When the UNIDO opportunity came up, Jeremy could not understand why she needed to venture so far away. He had hoped to propose the following Christmas and to invite her to meet his parents in Montreal. Having just accepted a promising job as a political advisor at the World Bank New York office, their lives were mapped out nicely, and he could not understand why Emma had to spoil it. Emma reflected on the night when she broke the news. They were celebrating his new job at a posh Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side. It was during coffee and desserts when Jeremy brought up the subject of living together. She knew right then she could not put it off any longer. She informed him, to his great surprise, she had accepted the UNIDO assignment to go to Seoul. Jeremy was devastated. She would only be gone for a year; they could continue their relationship long distance, said she. But Jeremy could not comprehend her reason for wanting to be apart. He questioned her love for him. She, in turn, questioned her own motives. Deep down she knew she could never love Jeremy as much as he loved her. She adored him but she was not in love with him. There was also this hopeless longing to return to the land of her first love. The parting was mutual. Three months later, she learned from acquaintances that Jeremy had gotten engaged to the daughter of a prospective Wall Street banker. Surprisingly, her heart did not ache; instead she sincerely wished the couple well. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 5 Hee Jin showed no hesitation as she ascended the curved stairways leading up to Ji Wook’s family home. She had not heard from him. He was supposed to have returned from Nagoya two days ago. If Ji Wook was not going to call her, she would come to him. She paused briefly by the front door, pulled out her shiny compact mirror and checked her makeup for one last time. There were no smudges from her vintage pink lipstick and her waterproof mascara had withstand the early summer heat. She felt gorgeous, desirable, and confident. Fame and fortune had afforded her the freedom to improve her appearances where she felt were lacking. She stepped forward and pressed the doorbell. The four note chime was loud but musical. She waited patiently. Thirty seconds passed by and it was still silent. She pressed it again, twice. This time she heard rushed footsteps approaching and prepared herself mentally for Ji Wook. It was Sunday afternoon and she had an inkling he would be at home. She had made enquiries and learned that Ji Wook was still single; except for a few blind dates arranged by his dear mother, had not engaged much in the business of dating. * * * Hee Jin was now a successful concert violinist. After graduating from Oberlin Conservatory she had won many awards and performed with major orchestras worldwide. She also achieved her dream of playing not once but twice at Carnegie Hall. Her life had gone according to her master plan. The only missing puzzle was a partner to share her successes with. She’d had her share of admirers and dated seriously a few times but the relationships never lasted. She wanted Ji Wook. Two months before her twenty ninth birthday she relocated back to Seoul. An opportunity presented itself for Hee Jin to play with the Seoul Philharmonic and she grabbed it. Determined to rekindle her love affair with Ji Wook, she sold her Manhattan apartment. For the first time in her life, she was putting her love life ahead of her esteemed career. * * * It had been an uneventful weekend filled with mostly mundane paperwork for Ji Wook. He was presently engrossed in reviewing the presentation for next Tuesday's Sustainable Conference in Jeju. His parents were away for the weekend and were not expected home until late afternoon; even the family maid had gone home to her village for a much deserved visit. He heard the sudden chime of the doorbell and remembered he was home alone. He chose to ignore it at first, hoping the intruder might decide to leave. The doorbell chimed again, twice, in rapid succession; it appeared he was not going to be spared. Groaning out loud, he made sure he saved his work on his laptop before rushing downstairs. With haste, he flung the door opened and was not prepared for the visitor on the other side. His astonishment was beyond expression. “Hello, Ji Wook,” Hee Jin greeted him with the most alluring smile. Model-like stunning, she was a picture of female perfection. High cheekbones, liquid eyes and full lips framed her oval face. Long, curly hair, colored in a rich shade of mahogany flowed freely, sending loose strands resting on her pale shoulders. She had on a sexy strapless sun dress done in a halter neckline showing a hint of cleavage and long slender legs. Ji Wook was briefly hypnotized. He had seen pictures of her in news magazines but she looked much more striking in person. He stepped aside and let her in. He had yet to utter a response. She was his first love but he had long given up any hope of a reunion. She stepped into the spacious living room, set her Gucci shoulder bag down on the coffee table, and gracefully crossed her legs as she sank into the Italian leather sofa. “You never returned my call so I have come to you instead.” “I’ve been busy,” he replied brusquely. He had seen the note left by Mrs. Jae upon his return from Nagoya but had chosen to ignore it. He remained standing across the room leaning against the built in bookshelves, arms crossed. Hee Jin was not discouraged by Ji Wook’s curt reply. “I hear that you’re still single,” she continued cheerfully. After a short pause, she added, “Are you seeing anyone at the moment?” Ji Wook did not favor her with a response. Reserved and uncommunicative, he narrowed his eyes and looked away. “You look well, much handsomer than I remembered,” she continued with the one sided conversation. “When did you return to Seoul?” he finally asked. “A week ago.” “How long are you staying?” “That will depend on you,” she replied, unabashed to let him know of her intent. He cocked his eyebrows, stared at her and asked, “What do you want from me?” “I want us to get back together. I still love you and I believe you feel the same.” After moments of silent reflection, he replied, “We went our separate ways nine years ago. You left without a word remember?” he said, matter-of-factly, and added, “We were both very young then. I have since moved on,” he finished, rather unconvincingly. “Have you?” Hee Jin responded, not quite believing him. He avoided her gaze and paced towards the back sliding doors and stared out at the city view below. “I’m sorry I hurt you,” she continued, “I was hurt too when you never even persuaded me to stay. But it is all in the past. We can start over.” She walked towards him, wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned her face against his back. Surprised by her bold move, his emotions were mixed. He recalled their powerful love and he still cared for her but seeing her again after all these years had brought back painful memories, and he needed time to absorb all this. He calmly untangled her arms, turned around to face her and replied in a controlled tone, “I need time to think this through.” Hee Jin was not easily discouraged. He had loved her fiercely nine years ago. Such deep attachment could not fade that easily. She was confident of a renewal of his love. As Hee Jin was about to leave, Eun Mi opened the door and stepped into the living room. She was pleasantly surprised to see Hee Jin. She stole a glance towards her son. Her observation confirmed her suspicions. He still had feelings for Hee Jin. Eun Mi was convinced she had found the perfect answer to both their problems. She had long wanted to see Ji Wook settle down. After all, he was now thirty one and despite her numerous attempts at matchmaking, he had shown zero interests in the ladies presented. Although Tae Yeon disapproved of their relationship years ago due to Hee Jin's unfortunate upbringing, her situation had completely turned around. She was now an accomplished musician; successful, beautiful and elegant. She was Ji Wook’s equal and this would be a match made in heaven. She extended an invitation to Hee Jin to join the family for dinner next Saturday evening. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 6 Six weeks had flown by swiftly since Emma arrived in Seoul. She had moved in to the Hannam Foreigner Apartment building in Yongsan-gu within walking distance to the UNIDO office. Her lovely studio apartment was well equipped with the basic necessities: a small kitchen stove, a futon that doubled as a sofa, a wood veneer coffee table, an ergonomic space saving computer desk and a block shelf. All the pieces were versatile and practical for short term simple living. Emma added her own touch. She purchased a couple of house plants to give the space a green and breezy look and an Oriental rug from Namdaemun Market; the latter Emma had to work hard to bargain with the crafty Ajumma to fit within her budget. Her work at the Interpretation and Translation Services department at UNIDO was gratifying but kept her very busy. She sometimes had to travel to out of town conferences and often worked long hours to prepare for such events. She specialized in simultaneous interpreting rendering speeches from Korean into English. The work was exhausting as it required a high level of concentration. The majority of her assignments involved working behind the scenes in soundproof booths with microphones and headsets but back at the office she was also responsible for translating technical journals from Korean into English. Occasionally Emma also get called upon to interpret for foreign officers and delegates at less formal settings. Emma was paired up with another expat from Australia. Born in Melbourne to a Korean mother and an Australian father, Paul’s mother moved the family back to South Korea when his father passed away when he was fifteen years old. He was one of the senior interpreters assigned to the Seoul office and had worked there for the past three years. Paul had taken Emma under his wing, helped her settle into her apartment, showed her the latest expat hangouts in town and introduced her to new friends and acquaintances. Emma was grateful for his friendship and society although being alone in a strange new place was no longer foreign to her, having lived in two big cities since she left home at fourteen. * * * They had arrived at Jeju ahead of the two day Sustainable Conference to check out the location and to ensure that the equipment at their station was operating properly and they had a good view of the speaker. It was standard operating procedures. Emma sat down at her booth and methodically went about testing the microphone and headsets. Following through her normal routines, she doubled checked her notes and looked for last minute updates to the conference agenda. Ji Wook hadn’t planned to be at Jeju at all. Having just returned from a business trip to Nagoya a few days ago, he was fed up with traveling. In the last three months he had practically been living out of his suitcase. Since getting appointed as the Director of Engineering at Sanhwa International (SI), his schedule had been a hectic one. He was the youngest director ever appointed at Sanhwa which was originally NCC Construction. Through mergers and acquisitions the company was rebranded and assumed the new name of Sanhwa International. The majority shareholder was still Ji Wook’s father whom held the position of CEO and President. Ji Wook unpacked his travel bag and decided to take a quick shower before the evening reception with business acquaintances and conference organizers. As a last minute replacement for Director Kang who was invited to present the “Green Project” at this conference, he was less prepared than he would have liked. Director Kang was suddenly called away due to a family emergency and since Ji Wook had worked closely with him on the project, he was best suited to take over the presentation duties. Not wanting to waste this precious opportunity to sight-see the famous Jeju Island, Emma decided to skip the pre-conference reception. Paul had obligation to fulfil and could not be spared. Left to her own device, she rented a bicycle from a nearby store and rode on. She had romanticized about this place ever since she first saw it on many of her favorite Korean dramas. As it was still an early summer evening, there was plenty of daylight left. The cool sea breeze was refreshingly calm and inviting. Emma was enthralled by the breathtaking natural beauty along the coast as she cycled at a leisurely pace, stopping only whenever she found a picturesque spot; pulled out her digital camera and snapped away. After attending the obligatory evening reception, Ji Wook excused himself and went for a drive in his rented convertible. He needed to be alone and despite being tired of the constant travelling, Jeju Island was one of those magical places that always captivated and revitalized him. Today he needed some quiet time to dwell on a particular matter. The sudden appearance of Hee Jin into his life deserved his attention. He drove mindlessly along the coast towards the twin lighthouses. A few kilometers into his drive, he came across a young lady perched on a large boulder looking out at the sunset a few feet off the main road. She appeared to have ridden there on a bicycle. Her shoulder length hair was tied in a side ponytail and it was blowing lightly in the evening breeze. She was above average height: slim, and she had on a pair of dark colored jeans and long sleeve tee shirt. Around her neck was a camera which she was aiming intently towards some carefree wildlife in the horizon. Ji Wook could barely make out her silhouette against the setting sun; she and the background blended seamlessly like a Monet painting fresh off the artist canvas. The backdrop looked uncannily familiar. The setting reminded him of Emma Lam on Namsan Tower eight years ago. He slowed down. He thought to stop. He hesitated. After a few seconds of bittersweet contemplation, he shrugged it off and drove on. Emma Lam was but a distant memory. Emma saw the tail lights of a red convertible turn the bend and drove away. The driver was alone. She gave it no further thought and happily cycled on. Ji Wook returned to his hotel room more restless than before. Somehow, he was still bothered by the image of the girl on the rock. Just as he was about to retire for the night, there was a knock on his door. He opened it and for the second time that week, there stood Hee Jin. "What are you doing here?" "Your mother told me you had come to Jeju so I took it upon myself to join you. I hope you are pleased to see me." She gave him a devilish sexy smile and continued. "Won't you let me in?" "It is late. I have a presentation to deliver in the morning and I still have work to do. We can talk tomorrow night," he replied with guarded emotion. "Yes, of course, my darling. Most certainly! I will wait for your call. I’m in room 756 or you can reach me on my hand phone." She reached up and gave him a peck on his cheek, smiled seductively and sashayed towards the elevator. Ji Wook’s mind was in turmoil. Sleep escaped him all night and he awoke with a splitting headache. * * * Emma woke up early the next morning to get ready for a full day of conference interpreting. She and Paul were responsible for interpreting three sessions today; each person would be rendering messages for twenty minute intervals. She glanced at her work plan and arranged her notes in an orderly fashion. “Sustainable Biofuels”, presented by Mr. Gu Jong Kyu, Professor, Kookmin University “Fuel Cell Policy”, presented by Mr. Han Yong Chul, Program Director, Korean Institute of Energy Technology “The Green Project”, presented by Mr. Kang Joon Ho, Director of Sustainable Products, Sanhwa International It was now midafternoon and Emma’s last assignment for the day. She reviewed the “Green Project” presentation script for a final time to make sure she had not missed any details in her previous scans. The session host approached the microphone, welcomed all the guests and proceeded to introduce the next speaker. “I hereby welcome Mr. Lee Ji Wook, Director of Engineering at Sanhwa International to deliver our next presentation.” Stunned and rendered paralyzed upon hearing Ji Wook’s name, Emma dropped the bottle of water she was holding and it spilled onto her station. Her gaze followed the figure advancing towards the podium. There he was, no more a figment of her imagination but alive and in person, still imposing but more handsome than she remembered him. Heavens! The Gods must be toying with her fragile heart. Here was the man she had been dreaming of and aching for over the past eight years. He was the reason her heart never left Seoul; the reason she turned down Jeremy; the reason she had returned. Her heart raced like a runaway train and she could barely breathe. She had to get out and clear her head. Still in a daze, she stood up in an abrupt manner and left the room. Paul, who was in the next booth noticed the disruption. He deftly mitigated the situation; switched over the microphones to transmit from his station and proceeded with interpreting Ji Wook’s presentation. Ji Wook heard the thud of the dropped water bottle and sub-consciously glanced up and saw the back view of a female leaving the room. He paused for a few seconds to regroup but felt strangely odd about the incident. Emma stumbled her way into the ladies washroom. She splashed cold water onto her face, stared at herself in the mirror and reflected at what just happened. She looked pale. She was still in shock and disbelief. She couldn’t think straight, let alone go back and resume her duties. After getting a grip of herself, she went to the front desk, asked for a piece of paper, scribbled something and requested for it to be delivered to Paul. She returned to her room to recollect herself. Paul let out a sigh of relief. He was exhausted after having to interpret the two hour session all by himself. He had received Emma’s note and prayed she had not fallen ill but his sixth sense told him it was an emotional matter rather than a physical ailment. Since Emma joined the team at Seoul, she had been nothing short of professional and truly enjoyed her work. This must be something serious. He quickly packed up and went to check on her. Paul found Emma on the beach pathway away from their hotel. She was in deep thoughts and looked emotionally spent. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked after catching up to her. She hung her head and answered hesitatingly, "Perhaps later." “I won’t pry but you know I’m here for you, right?” he replied with a touch of concern. “Sorry I abandoned you today. Can you forgive me?” She looked at him with an apologetic smile. It melted his heart. “Of course— don’t be silly. Good thing there was a bathroom break in between.” He gave a laugh. They walked on in comfortable silence for the next kilometer and eventually stopped at a seafood restaurant known for its grilled hair tail fish. The waitress showed Emma and Paul to a table overlooking the beach. The ambience was quiet as the evening crowd had not yet arrived. It was a small but elegant restaurant with traditional Korean decor. After seating themselves, Paul proceeded to order cold soju and the most scrumptious grilled fish the island had to offer. He was no stranger to the island and knew his way around all the culinary finds Jeju was famous for. The door opened and in walked a gentleman in business suit with a striking looking female companion. * * * Ji Wook had delivered his presentation to an engaged audience. A natural speaker, he elicited attention easily with his charisma and authority, and had lingered behind to respond to a number of inquiries from interested parties. After finally wrapping up his obligations, he returned to his room, freshened up and dialed Hee Jin's hand phone. They agreed to meet for dinner. The waitress flashed a big smile towards the handsome couple and greeted them in a friendly tone. She walked them to the empty table next to Emma and Paul. Ji Wook was within a few feet of Emma when their eyes instantly met. Both parties were startled. Ji Wook was rendered momentarily motionless from surprise; upon recovering himself he proceeded to sit down at his table; pretended nothing had happened and continued the conversation with his dinner companion. Emma was dismayed and deeply hurt. Perhaps he did not recognize or remember her, she second guessed herself. Her heart churned in turmoil. Was she expecting too much from a short encounter eight years ago? And who was that stunning lady at his side, she wondered. She could scarcely swallow the next mouthful before tears were threatening to come to her eyes. And she had completely lost her appetite. She felt a sharp pain crushed her chest and was ashamed of herself as her heart and temples started to ache. Paul observed that Emma had suddenly gone pale and tactfully asked for the check. Ji Wook followed the retreating figure of Emma as she made her way out of the restaurant. Her gentleman friend had his arms around her and was gently guiding her along. She paused for a moment at the door to glance back at him. Her expression was one of dejection and disbelief. Ji Wook was distressed. He’d recognized Emma but chose to deliberately ignore her. He must have caused her pain. He sensed her regard for him eight years ago but she was barely eighteen then; time and space, and the beauty of youth should have made her forget. He was beyond shocked to run into her and knew not how to react; his instinct was to pretend she meant nothing to him; he did not wish to give her hope, or so he thought. He recalled their parting at Incheon International Airport. The sadness in her eyes looking right at him left a mark to this day. Emma had touched him in a way no other woman had since Hee Jin. But, they lived separate lives and remained oceans apart. Moreover, Hee Jin left him scars that had barely healed; and she had now returned to his side; two women unbeknownst to each other, but whose fates seemed entwined with his. Shortly after Emma left the restaurant, Ji Wook also ended his dinner prematurely, excused himself and drove them back to the hotel. Hee Jin noticed a change in Ji Wook's countenance but the exchange between him and Emma had escaped her. He was mostly silent on the return journey. She attributed his behavior to fatigue and gently coaxed him to allow her to pamper him with a body massage and red wine. He rejected her offer and instead bid her good night. Inside the sanctity of his room, Ji Wook reproached himself for his ungentlemanly behavior. The least he could have done was acknowledge her as an acquaintance. He did not wish to admit his insecurities; the same insecurities he had eight long years ago; that he would care too much if he got to know her better. She had changed; that school girl had now matured into a beautiful, lovely woman. The memories of Namsan Tower tugged at his heartstrings. She was ‘the’ girl on the rock looking out at the sunset yesterday. He made some calls to the conference organizer and learned that Emma was with UNIDO and was working as an interpreter. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 7 The ensuing week passed by most eventfully at the Lee house. To Eun Mi this was her great chance of precipitating a wedding date for her first born. Great efforts were made to hurry the matter. In the course of one week, Hee Jin was invited to dine three times. To Ji Wook, it brought very different feelings. He and Hee Jin were officially back together. Hee Jin’s art of persuasion and beguiling seduction were paying off. Eun Mi had insisted her son give Hee Jin another chance. She had practically issued an ultimatum to him; set an engagement date by the end of the year or yield to an arranged marriage. Tae Yeon had also consented to bless the couple. He was equally charmed by Hee Jin’s beauty, stature and position in society. Ji Wook himself was less sure. He needed more time to sort his feelings out. He went along to keep peace and to get his mother off his back. Curiously, this time he was not head over heels in love. Hee Jin was certainly trophy wife material but, she was no longer the same woman he had so passionately loved nine years ago. * * * What jubilation and excitement exuded at the Lees were contrasted by the bleakness and despondency felt by one person at UNIDO. After the humiliation of that encounter at Jeju, Emma was resolved to forget Ji Wook. Her memories of him were every way painful and vivid but she still could not get herself to erase the last remnants of him from her consciousness. The “LJW” photo album on her smartphone thus remained intact. The days following, she poured herself into her work and accepted all invitations by friends and colleagues to socialize. She learned to drown her sorrows in soju and sang her heart out in marathon karaoke sessions. A fortnight after such follies she wised up and knew the pain was not diminishing; she was simply deluding herself. She had to accept the impossible and move on. * * * Mrs. Park pressed the intercom to Ji Wook’s office. “You have to leave now if you don’t want to be late for your lunch appointment with the Malaysian delegation,” Mrs. Park reminded him, and added, “you know how important this meeting is. Director Kang said he will meet you there. He has arranged to bring Mrs. Ga along to interpret.” “Thank you Mrs. Park. What will I do without you?” Ji Wook answered appreciatively as he quickly finished up his memo and quit the word processing application on his computer. The restaurant was not too far from Sanhwa head office. He was confident he could get there in plenty of time. He decided to take the shorter but busier route through Yongsan. Emma glanced at her watch and sighed. She needed to run some errands during her lunch break but time was furiously ticking away. She had better hurry if she intend to get to the bank and also grab a quick lunch at the same time. There was a long line waiting for the elevators and each appeared to be stopping on every other floor, chewing up precious time. When she reached the street crossing adjacent to her building, the light was beginning to turn from yellow to red. She gave a quick look to the right and reasoned she had enough time to make it across. The sun was high and the indirect glare reflecting off the tower glass nearby briefly blinded her. She never saw the red sports sedan approach as she stepped off the curb. Ji Wook jammed on his brakes as hard as he could when a female pedestrian suddenly lurched in front of his car. He cursed and swerved his steering wheel to avoid hitting her. With instinctive reflex, Emma leaped out of the way and let out a frightened scream. Trembling from shock, she stood frozen, her hands covering her mouth. Ji Wook rushed out of his car and to his stunned amazement realized that the young lady he almost ran over was Emma. She was equally perplexed. All she could do was fix her unblinking eyes on him. His anxiety lessened upon seeing her safe and unhurt but his anger had not subsided. He crossed over to her side, grabbed her wrist and dragged her to his car and shoved her into the passenger seat. The crowd which had gathered around Emma looked confused, shook their heads and went on their merry ways. Ji Wook navigated his car carefully out of the clogged zone and placed a call to Mrs. Park from his hands free phone. “Please inform Director Kang I will not be able to make it to the lunch meeting. Something urgent just came up,” he stated. “Are you sure you should be missing such an important meeting?” Mrs. Park asked most curiously. “Please just do as I say,” he replied and hung up impatiently. Ji Wook drove to a trendy cafe nearby. “What were you thinking just now? Are you out of your mind? Do you realize that you could have been killed?” he cried out angrily after they were seated. He gestured to the waitress to bring two orders of iced cold lemonade without bothering to ask Emma for her preference. “I’m very sorry. I thought I’d enough time to make it across. I was in a rush,” she replied apologetically. She had now recovered from her ordeal. This was not what she had imagined as her reunion meeting with the man of her dreams. Ironically, the manner in which he apprehended her showed a touch of concern for her well-being. “Are you always this careless?” Ji Wook continued, still fuming. “I did not see your car coming. I was blinded by the sun,” she tried to explain, her stomach churning with so many different emotions. She could see that he was still bent out of shape with the incident. She wanted to make amends. “I appreciate your concern. I’m truly very sorry that you have to miss an important meeting because of my carelessness,” she added. He sat silently watching her, his eyes narrowing as if trying to figure her out. His demeanor had now changed to one of civility and controlled composure. Seeing that he was much calmed down, she thought to lighten up the atmosphere. She teased him with a hint of censure, “I see that you finally recognized me. Perhaps this was the only way to get your attention,” referring to his snub of her at the restaurant in Jeju. She meant for the remark to be playful and flirtatious. He sat back against his chair, folded his arms and scrutinized her face with amused interest. Her shoulder length hair with auburn highlights was held back in a primly ponytail allowing a clear view of her pretty face. A few loose strands fell across her cheeks. She was more beautiful than he remembered. She was now a woman and no longer the school girl of yester-years. Her complexion, slightly flushed with anxiety, glowed, giving radiance to her large dark brown eyes. He could not help but stare at her. Privately, he admired her audacity. He did not apologize for his behavior at Jeju nor did he attempt to explain. After taking another mouthful of his iced cold lemonade, he responded with, “So you want my attention that badly huh?” his tone dripping with sarcasm. “Well— seeing that you chose to ignore me at Jeju, no matter how much you seem to want to avoid it, perhaps we are truly destined to meet again, don’t you think?” she smirked. “You really think so? Are you implying that we are destined to be soul mates?" he chuckled, referring to their conversation over bindaeduk years ago. Emma was unfazed but was surprised he remembered that conversation. She pushed herself back in her seat and replied calmly, “Just in case you haven't noticed, neither you nor I planned these chance encounters. Despite your reluctance to acknowledge that there is such a thing as fate and destiny, don’t you agree that this is rather odd? If this isn’t fate itself then what do you call it?” “Pure coincidence,” he responded, keeping his face expressionless. “Perhaps, but if I may ask,” she continued in a more serious tone, “I’m curious why you pretended not to know me in Jeju,” as she eyed him closely. His body stiffened and he paused for a while to gather his thoughts. Instead of answering her directly, he skirted the question and said, “Why do you care, we were barely acquaintances the first time we met.” And to protect his facade, he decided to taunt her, “Why? Do you have a crush on me? Is that why you want my attention?" She was not prepared for this and was caught off guard by this particular question. It was too late to back down. While her courage was still high, she fought to gain control of her emotion. She immediately replied, “Yes, I confess to have liked you. I wish I could lie and say I no longer care. But clearly my affection is misguided and misplaced.” Her voice quivered slightly as she added with a sinking feeling rising within her, “But you have nothing to fear from me. I will not bother you any longer. Forgive me for having taken up your time. I wish you well. Goodbye.” She stood up, offered a small bow and left hastily. She was mortified. She ran out of the cafe and stopped when she was out of view; took a couple of deep breaths and swept aside teardrops falling on her flushed cheeks. Ji Wook was torn. He wanted to go after her but his sensible side told him otherwise. There was no future for him and Emma especially now that Hee Jin was back in the picture. Nevertheless, this was not how he had envisioned the conversation unfolding. He never thought he would see Emma again after they said their goodbyes at Incheon International Airport. When he saw her at Jeju, he was initially in shock and needed time to figure out what that meant and how to respond. To complicate matters, Hee Jin's return had added unnecessary spice to his love life. His quiet, mundane bachelorhood had abruptly come to a quick halt. His future happiness hung in balance. Running into Emma again today was most unexpected. She was turning his life upside down, adding chaos to madness, and it was driving him insane. When they first got to the cafe, he was planning to redeem himself and apologize for his impertinence at Jeju but it was too late now. He was bitterly regretful with the turn of events and was mad at himself. He sat there for a while longer thinking about this woman who was causing such disruption to his orderly life. * * * Back at the office, Mrs. Park informed him that the lunch meeting with the Malaysians had gone unexpectedly well despite his absence. The Malaysians would like to start negotiation meetings to be held at their headquarters in Penang, Malaysia as soon as possible. An emergency meeting was scheduled that afternoon to discuss strategy. Four hours of meeting followed. It was an important contract for Sanhwa and much effort was invested to secure a deal with the Malaysians. It would be Sanhwa’s first factory outside of South Korea and a gateway into a growing Southeast Asian market. Production and distribution costs would also be lower. It was decided that Director Kang and Ji Wook would lead the team to Malaysia to negotiate the deal. Tae Yeon insisted Ji Wook bring an interpreter along. Even though Director Kang and Ji Wook were both proficient in the English instruction, nothing was to be left to chance. Unfortunately, Mrs. Ga, who was six months pregnant would not be able to make the trip. They had to find a replacement. * * * Emma awoke the next morning to the same agitated state. She had not recovered completely from the disappointment of what happened and was still quite affected by the unfortunate event from yesterday. Her third encounter with Ji Wook, albeit under most abnormal circumstances, was doomed from the start. She had confessed she cared for him but the feeling was not mutual. How ironic, she thought. Cho Hee had posed this exact question to her eight years ago. The next few days passed by uneventfully. A welcome change, sighed Emma. “Mr. Seo asked to see you this morning,” Paul informed Emma as soon as she arrived at the office. “Do you know what it is about?” she asked, her brow wrinkled. Mr. Seo was the senior director of the division and seldom asked to speak to them individually. “Not sure, but probably nothing to be concerned about. Most likely it is something to do with the upcoming regional conference to be held here in a couple of months.” Emma knocked on the door to Mr. Seo’s office. The room was small, but functional and effective. He motioned to her to sit down on the guest chair across from him. “Emma Lam, correct?” Mr. Seo confirmed as he flipped through her personnel file placed in front of him. She nodded, feeling slightly anxious. Her mind started to wander as to the nature of this interview. “Do you know why you would be requested by Sanhwa International to act as their interpreter for a trade mission to Malaysia?” Emma was dumbfounded. “I— I have no idea. I was interpreting at the Sustainable Conference in Jeju where one of their directors was presenting—” and added, “unless they had learned of my background and thought that might be useful?” alluding to the fact that she was born and raised in Malaysia. “Hmm… maybe,” Mr. Seo muttered and continued, “We normally do not allow this. It is a most unusual request. They would pay for your services and expenses in full and in addition also offered to support us fully in our Outreach programs which are badly in need of funding. Apparently their resident interpreter is in her second trimester of pregnancy and unable to travel and this is an important deal to close.” After a few more clarifications from Mr. Seo, she returned to her desk, still in a daze. She wondered if Ji Wook had asked for her services. She quietly wished he had recommended her but quickly dismissed the thought. After the way they parted last, there was nothing to suggest any such inclination on his part. She continued to be puzzled. She was to depart in three days. Their destination was Penang, a beautiful island state in Malaysia. Emma had never been to Penang and was very excited at the prospect of visiting the famous island well known for its hawker food, rich heritage and sandy beaches. It was one of the prime tourist destinations in Malaysia. The following morning she received a courier from Sanhwa with her air tickets and a detailed itinerary for her trip. She was to meet the Sanhwa team at the KAL VIP Lounge at Incheon International Airport on departure day. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 8 Emma's apprehension reached its peak when she arrived at the KAL VIP lounge. After showing her special pass to the receptionist, she was directed to the lounge area where the Sanhwa party had congregated. She discreetly scanned the room hoping to find Ji Wook among the crowd but much to her disappointment, he was nowhere to be seen. Upon Emma's approach, Mrs. Hong stepped forward and introduced herself. Mrs. Hong was an elderly lady in her early fifties with a comely demeanor and a sense of propriety. She had served as executive secretary for fifteen years and was very much respected by everyone. She greeted Emma warmly and introduced her to the rest of the party. The nice looking middle aged gentleman next to her was Director Kang Joon Ho, Head of Sustainable Products. Following closely behind him was Mr. Kim Jae San, Sanhwa's Corporate Solicitor and Mr. Song Soon Joo, Director of Finance. Both looked to be in their sixties with receding hairlines and sporting a pair of bifocals. Each took turns to greet Emma and thanked her for joining them on such short notice. She was informed that a fifth member of their delegation would be joining them in Penang. Mrs. Hong did not elaborate as to the identity of that person. * * * The flights into Kuala Lumpur and Penang were uneventful. Emma used the opportunity to read up on the subject matter as she would be required to interpret technical details over the next few days. Mrs. Hong had prepared an overview of the proposed deal and the profile of the key players from Berjaya Conglomerate. The Sanhwa team would be lodging at the Shangri La Rasa Sayang Resort Hotel at Batu Ferringhi, about a half hour drive from the capital city, George Town. All negotiation meetings were to be held at the resort conference center. The team arrived at the beach resort late morning. Emma was glad to learn that nothing official was scheduled for the remainder of the day. She was free to spend the afternoon resting or sightseeing. She chose the latter. Mrs. Hong had booked an appointment at the resort spa for an afternoon of relaxation and pampering. The men had agreed to meet up for a drink later in the day but needed to catch up on some preparatory work. They all parted ways at the lobby with plans to meet for breakfast in the morning. Emma's deluxe room on the fifth floor came with a private balcony and a breathtaking view of the sea. The stunning room was luxuriously styled in traditional Malaysian decor with timber wood flooring, marble shower, decorative wood carvings and rich curtains dressed in songket designed fabric. She walked out to the balcony to check out the view and surroundings. She was grateful for the opportunity to return to her homeland, the place she was born and raised. Her last sojourn home was four years ago after she graduated from UBC before moving to New York City to pursue postgraduate studies. She recalled the familiar heat and humidity of the tropics which was soon soothed by the breezy winds brought about by the shimmering waves of Batu Ferringhi. Not wanting to waste too many precious moments, she quickly unpacked her bags and toiletries. She hung up her Ann Taylor dress suits and her favorite black chiffon knee length cocktail dress in the closet. She had decided to pack an evening attire just in case the occasion required a formal wear. After all the unpacking was done, she changed into a flared sleeveless skater dress, re-applied some of her makeup and put her hair up in a chic ponytail. For comfort, she slipped on a pair of trendy metallic sandals with a slight wedge heel. On the way out she grabbed her multi-purpose shoulder bag, designer sunglasses, and straw hat and headed down the hall towards the elevators with childlike excitement. As she passed through the endless corridors to the hotel lobby Emma took the time to admire the interior of the sparse resort. The halls were lofty and handsome. The furniture was mostly of traditional Malay and Peranakan designs. She admired its splendor and elegance; it was neither gaudy nor overdone. She looked forward to exploring its grounds over the next few days. A stop by the concierge desk for a tourist brochure and city map was the next order of business. She kindly asked the valet to hail her a taxi into George Town. She enquired after the driver of the best Asam Laksa in the city. The sour, fish based rice noodle soup was one of Penang's specialty. Unfortunately the Encik told her the best one was in Balik Pulau on the west side of the island, an hour drive away. Emma was disappointed but rather than wasting precious time on the road, she asked to be dropped off at Penang Street. She spotted a stall selling rojak and decided on the heavenly concoction of fruit and crunchy vegetables topped with prawn crisps and a sweet, molasses like dressing. She finished it off with a delicious frothy cup of teh tarik. As a kid she had taken these experiences for granted; now she appreciated them more as she sat on the pastel blue plastic stool sipping her tea, quietly observing the hustle bustle around her. After a most satisfying meal she took to the streets of Penang to experience its unique charms and sights of colonial past. She explored its famed architecture and colorful history. Its diversity and cultural heritage dates back to the days under the British reign. Many of these colonial buildings and street names remain in Penang today. She must have covered at least a couple of kilometers in the last few hours. Her next stop was Penang Hill, a must for all tourists to this island paradise. There was a small lineup at the ticketing booth as it was reaching sun down, the favorite time for many to visit Penang Hill. She waited patiently in the queue and spent the time reading up on the attractions. It was finally her turn; almost fifteen minutes had passed since she got here. She walked up to the ticketing window and asked to purchase a single return ticket on the funicular. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, she felt the presence of someone encroaching on her; an arm extended over her right shoulder to reach the window opening. “Two return tickets please,” Ji Wook said to the cashier as he handed over his credit card. Emma was left completely speechless; her expression showing the depth of her surprise. Ji Wook flashed his million dollar smile at the young lady who promptly issued him the purchase. He retrieved the tickets and his card, and nodded to Emma, “Are you coming?” She was still in awe trying to make sense of the moment so he grabbed hold of her wrist and pulled her forward with him towards the line on the platform. "Do you always like to drag people like this?” "Only when it is necessary," he replied casually. “What are you doing here anyways?” she looked up at him with a curious expression. “Same reason you’re here,” he remarked and added, “sightseeing.” “Weren't you supposed to arrive tomorrow?” she continued, noting that he must be the fifth member of the Sanhwa team. “Yes, but I concluded my business early and flew in last night.” Ji Wook had left for Singapore two days ago and finished a business meeting with a supplier earlier than scheduled. “So, did you recommend me for this assignment?” Emma asked when they were finally seated on the train. “Yes, I did,” he replied, leaving out further details. “Why?” “We needed an interpreter and you fit that job description.” “Is that all?” she continued, feeling rather deflated with his response. “Why, should there be more?” he replied with a straight face. She gave him a suspicious glance but did not probe any further. Unbeknownst to Emma it would have been easier for Ji Wook to hire an interpreter from an outside agency. Instead, he had gone to great lengths and had to pull some strings at UNIDO to get Emma released for this assignment. The steep ride up to the summit of Penang Hill was a short one. They stole uncomfortable glances at each other as each reflected to that fateful day on a similar adventure which changed both their lives eight years ago. The spectacular view at the top made both momentarily forget their awkwardness; instead they commented on the magnificent panoramic view of George Town, the Penang Bridge and the Straits of Malacca. They stood there in companionable silence enjoying the serenity as they watched the sun disappear behind the horizon while the city lighted up. By the time they descended the Hill, it was dark and into dinner hours. "Do you have plans for dinner?" Ji Wook asked. "Why, are you asking me out?" Emma responded cynically. "Of course you would like that, huh?" She blushed but replied unperturbed, "As I had told you last time, whatever girly crush I had for you is now totally over," she lied and added, "I’m going to check out the famous hawker foods on Gurney Drive. You’re welcome to ride along if you wish." "Alright then, if you insist," he replied with a cheeky smile and added, "are you quite sure you are over me?" Emma rolled her eyes at him but was secretly pleased. It was a short twenty minute ride by taxi to Gurney Drive, a hotspot for famous street foods in the region. Apart from hawker stalls, there were also plenty of stylish and elegant restaurants and cafes in the area. The atmosphere was electrifying and the aromas intoxicating. No wonder it was known as a haven for food lovers. The center was crowded and bustling with tourists and locals alike. It was a classic reflection of Malaysian life. She had a hard time choosing between Hokkien Mee and Char Kway Teow. Ji Wook settled for the familiar looking Wonton Noodle soup. As they had no fixed agenda and the night was still young, they strolled along the seaside esplanade to enjoy the cool sea breeze after their sumptuous meal. They walked side by side, mostly in silence. Loving couples, young and old alike, strolled past them seemingly in grateful bliss. Unspoken words lingered between Emma and Ji Wook, words that begged to be said, at times almost whispered, but in the end remained unsaid, dispersed into the night. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 9 The next three days were spent in lengthy business meetings with Berjaya representatives. The working sessions were long and taxing. Emma was physically and mentally exhausted by the time she stepped into her room to retire for the night in the wee hours of the morning. Midway through the morning on the fourth day of negotiations, a deal was finally struck between Sanhwa and Berjaya. The delegates from both sides shook hands, cheered and let out sighs of relief. It was a monumental deal for both companies. Emma prided herself in the small part she played to help bring about this business merger. Despite being merely the interpreter, her Malaysian background actually played a key role in imparting trust from the Berjaya team. At that one moment, she wished she could share her excitement with none other than the man responsible for bringing her here. She glanced towards where he had congregated with the top executives from Berjaya. She caught him stealing an earnest look at her despite being engaged. He acknowledged her with a grateful expression, whispered his thanks with a small nod and smiled briefly at her as he continued with his conversations. Overcome with happiness, her stomach did somersaults sending her heartbeat into frenzy as she returned the gesture. Her peaceful daydreaming was suddenly shattered by a voice calling her name. Mr. Tan Boon Hong, Vice President of Business Development from Berjaya had taken a keen interest in Emma and wanted to extend a personal invitation to dine with him the next evening. A good looking man in his mid-thirties, graduate from the London School of Economics and a CEO potential, many would consider him a great catch. Emma was flattered but declined his invitation with a diplomatic response, hoping the slight would not cause a problem for Sanhwa. She sensed his purpose and did not wish to encourage him any further. The chemistry was missing and her heart was not easily touched; there was no room for anyone else but the one elusive guy across the room. A lavish dinner and dance had been planned for that night and it was to be a semi-formal affair. Everyone dispersed for the rest of the day and was to return at 7 pm that evening for the celebratory gala. All Berjaya executives and guests were to be in attendance. Emma returned to her room feeling weary but excited. She took extra time to relax in the opulent marble bathtub, washed her thick silky hair and manicured her nails. She also took utmost care dressing that night. She wanted to look good for Ji Wook. She hoped he would be proud of her and notice her as the woman she had become. She was especially glad to have brought her elegant black chiffon dress on this trip. She had received many compliments wearing it. She did her makeup a touch more than usual but still kept it light and natural. She combed her hair into a high bun leaving a few loose strands curled along her face. After giving it a final spray she slipped into a pair of high heels with sultry ankle straps and gold trims. With a last peek at the mirror, she made her way into the ballroom. Ji Wook was with company when he heard whispers in the general direction of the entrance. Along with those gathered around him, he was equally mesmerized when Emma stepped into the room. She was dazzling: sexy and desirable yet not provocative; her smiles captivating, giving a glow which people responded to warmly. He had come to realize her beauty a long time ago but tonight she was transformed. The swan had emerged from her slumber. Instead of the girl next door, she could easily pass as a high fashion cover girl. Unlike Hee Jin with the classical beauty and untouchable model-esque aura, Emma possessed the innocent look which he found so appealing. His eyes were transfixed on her as she worked her way past the fringes of the ballroom to where Mrs. Hong had gathered and shook hands with those around her. Before Ji Wook could respond, Mr. Tan had already stepped forward and claimed her. He offered to take her arms and escorted her to the bar to fetch her a fruity drink. He also took the liberty to introduce her to other Berjaya executives and their spouses. Emma hesitated but complied with grace. She turned and looked back at Ji Wook. He was staring at her with a blank expression. At the start of the dinner reception, Mr. Tan guided Emma to the beautifully decorated oval glass table reserved for VIPs. In the center of the table was a spray of pink and burgundy roses spilling out of a designer vase with sprinkles of baby's breath tucked in between. There were name cards assigned to each seat and she noticed hers was next to Mr. Tan, whom had taken particular care of the seating arrangements. And for the entire night he engaged her in endless conversations. Since the start of the negotiations, she’d not had a moment alone with Ji Wook. He was presently seated across from her next to the President of Berjaya to his left and Director Kang to his right. As he took his seat, he briefly eyed her. He didn't smile; he merely stared at her, his dark eyes penetrating deep into her soul. Frustrated that he hadn’t made an attempt to seek her out, she started to doubt herself and wondered if she read his signals wrong. She thought they had made a connection these last few days in Penang. Emma was miserable and wished the dinner to end quickly. During desserts she finally excused herself to the powder room, sat there for an extended break before returning to the ballroom. The tables had now been cleared; the lights had been dimmed and the band had begun to play. A few couples started to dance. Emma returned to her place at the VIP table hoping to slip in unnoticed. Alas, but Mr. Tan had been waiting impatiently for her return. He did not waste any precious moment and requested her hand for the next number. The music stopped and before Emma could utter a reply, he’d already stood up and led her to the center of the hardwood floor. He was a decent partner and they conversed politely as they waltzed across the dance floor. He enquired about her family and her work, and why she moved to Seoul. She chose her words carefully but kept her innermost thoughts to herself. Three long minutes went by before the music slowed to a halt. The next title was about to begin but Mr. Tan was still reluctant to let her go. This time, Ji Wook could bear it no more; with graceful aplomb he cut in and politely asked for his turn with the belle of the ball. The band started playing the Rod Stewart classic, "Have I Told You Lately". At first Emma could scarcely hear the music nor the words; her heart was pounding too loudly and uncontrollably when Ji Wook took over. Sparks flew as their fingers touched. His left arm circled her small waist and he folded her into his arms. Slowly she lifted her eyes to scan his face as the lyrics continued “...have I told you there’s no one else above you...” They spent a long minute searching each other’s gazes while they swayed to the music. He felt a shiver of desire for her. She felt the same for him. The magic of that moment was not lost on either. As the music flowed, she laid her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes for a brief moment to enjoy the passion filled tension between them. It felt like home, a place she could belong. She did not wish to open her eyes, lest the moment would be lost; her dread mixing in with longing, reminiscing of their parting eight years ago at Incheon International Airport. At the end of the song he unexpectedly let go of her hands, stepped away from her and promptly escorted her back to her seat; bowed and left the ballroom. Emma was confused. She thought they had reached an unspoken understanding of the hearts. Disappointed, she also took her leave and returned to her room. * * * Sleep eluded both that night. She did not know what to think. Their passion was unmistakable but his behavior said otherwise. He had given her no indication that he wanted to pursue their relationship in the manner that she had hoped. As for him, he could not deny his strong attraction to Emma but he had no right. What could he offer her? His family’s objection would be insurmountable and would finally tear them apart. He was heir to a Chaebol family and she was a foreigner. He tossed and turned; finally he ventured out onto the balcony facing the coastal landscapes and stared at the stars. The night air was cool and a gentle wind was blowing. He could hear the spilling breaker waves hitting the shores. His gaze fell upon a blurry figure walking the beach. It was a female and as he focused his eyes intently on her, he knew it was Emma. She was all alone. He half ran out the door and decided not to wait for the elevators. Skipping two steps at a time, he reached the lobby in record time, and dashed to the beach. Thankfully, she was still there. He stopped running, not wanting to appear desperate. He slowed his pace, tucked his hands into his denims and started to approach her. She was gazing into the sea oblivious that she had company. “Emma,” Ji Wook called out softly when he was within hearing distance. She turned around and stared at the figure of Ji Wook. She was quite surprised to see him there. She just kept staring feeling jubilant mixed in with relief tucked away beneath the serene calmness of her poised exterior. “Hey there, having trouble sleeping?" she tried to sound casual. "Did you come to look for me?” she followed up apprehensively. “I am sorry. Please forgive me, we haven’t had time to mingle and talk privately these last few days and I want to thank you properly.” She nodded and gave him a begrudging smile. “So please allow me to thank you on behalf of Sanhwa the efforts you have put in to help us seal the deal with Berjaya.” “The credit goes to everyone. I’m very glad to be part of it.” Emma was content. He had come to her after all. They conversed casually and he asked about her work at UNIDO. They strolled along the beach towards a bench nearby. She enquired about Cho Hee and learned that she was now married to the second heir of a shipping conglomerate headquartered in Busan and was expecting her first child. "So— are you married?" she finally gathered enough courage to ask, albeit sheepishly. He turned to look her in the eye and quietly replied, "No, I’m not married." Emma was overjoyed and deliriously happy. She tried to conceal her delight but he read her mind. She obviously liked him a lot. It was now past midnight. The air was getting chilly and Emma was scheduled to depart early in the morning for Seoul with Mr. Song and Mr. Kim. Ji Wook, Mrs. Hong and Director Kang were slated to detour to Shanghai for another client meeting. They walked in silence but with deliberate steps back to the hotel. They stopped at the elevator. Both hesitated. With much anticipation, Emma braved herself to ask "Will I see you again?" After a long pause, he replied, "Perhaps." They shook hands and got off on their respective floors. No promises were made. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 10 Emma googled Sanhwa International. She pointed the mouse to the first search result, clicked through to the contact information and jotted down the head office address and phone number. The Sanhwa head office was located right in the heart of the affluent Gangnam district. Information in hand, she nervously picked up the phone but wavered, and eventually placed it back in its cradle. She feared she might be an unwelcome distraction in Ji Wook's life. Was she being too presumptuous? * * * “May I speak to Director Lee Ji Wook?” Emma asked, after summoning enough courage to initiate the call. "Just a moment," the receptionist replied. She braced herself and waited for the transfer to go through. "Sorry Ma’am. Director Lee is in a meeting right now. May I know who is calling?” Mrs. Park asked the caller. "This is Emma Lam, an acquaintance of Director Lee." "Would you like to leave a message?” Emma considered for a brief moment and responded, "No, but thank you. I will call back at a later time. When will he be available?” “Probably not until late evening.” “Oh, I see," Emma replied, feeling dejected but followed up with a quick thank you to Mrs. Park. * * * Emma sighed and glanced at her watch. It was now six thirty in the evening. Most of her coworkers had already left. Paul had invited her out to dinner but she had politely declined. She was not up for it as her heart weighed heavy on the disappointment of yet another day gone by without news from Ji Wook. Every day for the past two weeks she had anxiously awaited for that special call but it had not come. She flashed back to that last night in Penang. He had come in search for her. That grand gesture meant he cared, but how much? When they were alone together, the attraction was mutual and the chemistry undeniable; felt by both parties but never spoken of. The memories of their dance haunted her. She swiped to her photo album and flipped through her treasured pictures of him from eight years ago. She smiled and remembered vividly every precious moment with fondness and yearning. After several minutes of indecisive contemplation, she made up her mind to take charge of her own destiny; the choice was hers to make; no more should’ve, could've and regrets; she would surprise him instead. With quick and deliberate moves, she shut down her computer, cleared her desk, washed her coffee mug, and locked up the files. She stopped by the washroom to freshen up, re-applied her makeup and combed out her hair. She was never one to indulge excessively on her looks, but she wanted to be sure she was presentable. Her natural beauty and fine skin required but the minimal makeup. She was also fortunate to be born with thick, silky hair; all she had to do was brush it out; the recent layered cut complemented her heart-shaped face nicely. * * * The journey to the heart of the Gangnam district was an easy one. After alighting from the subway, the last kilometer was a pleasant walk through sidewalk cafes, bakeries and retail outlets. The sun was starting to set but the skies were clear that summer evening. A small flower shop caught Emma’s attention. She stopped in to browse. She was especially partial to evergreen plants and flowers. Magnolia and hibiscus were her favorites. At the back corner of the shop stood a variety of mini potted echeveria plants on display. These were commonly presented as gifts or party favors. The artistically decorated pots were adorned with inspirational quotes. Her eyes caught one that simply read, “Treasured Moments” which was quite appropriate and symbolic of the times she shared with Ji Wook, albeit few. She picked it up, paid the cashier and thanked her. Gift in tow, she strolled with an air of confidence about her towards her intended destination. Emma looked up Sanhwa International on the lobby information board upon arrival at the mega office complex. Clutching the potted plant with both hands, she stepped off the elevator on the twenty fifth floor and walked towards the reception. Office hours were now over but the front door was still unlocked. She stepped inside and was greeted by a friendly receptionist. She explained her purpose and was informed that Ji Wook was still held up in a meeting. The girl asked if she wished to wait and Emma nodded and was led towards the south side of the building in a waiting area next to Ji Wook’s office. Emma thanked her and proceeded to sit down on the grey leather loveseat reserved for guests. From her vantage point she could glimpse into Ji Wook’s corner office. It was posh and modern. She imagined him sitting there looking very presidential. One hour went by and still no signs of Ji Wook. The receptionist returned moments later and informed Emma that she had to lock up the office. She confirmed that Ji Wook was still held up and it was best for her not to wait. Disappointment written all over her face, she handed over the potted plant and asked for it to be delivered to Ji Wook. She quickly scribbled a note which read, “Thank You for Penang,” and signed her name. Having skipped dinner on her way over, Emma was both hungry and thirsty. Located inside the huge lobby was a small cafe and she decided to grab a take out. She ordered a kimbap roll and a bottle of juice. As she was leaving the cafe, her eyes fell upon a gentleman and his female companion stepping out of the nearest elevator. On closer inspection revealed the gentleman to be none other than Ji Wook. She almost ran up to him until she noticed that his lady friend had her arms locked with his. It was the same woman that had accompanied him at Jeju. She was gorgeous and sophisticated, resembling a movie star. Ji Wook was laughing at something she had just said. They appeared to know each other quite well; they were certainly more than mere acquaintances. Emma stopped on her tracks and was unable to advance another step. A sharp pain cut through her chest. Ji Wook led Hee Jin out the front entrance. A car pulled up. He held the passenger door for her and she slid in gracefully. He walked over to the driver side, hopped in and drove off. Emma stood there frozen, with eyes cast down as droplets of tears continue to fall. She wiped them off with the back of her hands and slowly walked out to the streets feeling drained and defeated. She hailed a taxi to take her home. Her kimbap roll was left uneaten. All she could muster was a change out of her work clothes, washed up and finished her sorrows in bed. Hee Jin had dropped by the office that night just as Emma was leaving. They missed each other by mere minutes. Employing her womanly charms, she had waltzed into Ji Wook’s meeting and succeeded in getting it adjourned; thus allowing her to steal her lover away. She had planned a romantic dinner to be followed by a nightcap back at her penthouse apartment, hoping to entice Ji Wook to spend the night. But he had no such intentions; he was not ready for any intimacy with Hee Jin. He needed more time and space. After the dinner which he barely touched, he declared himself exhausted from the long day of meetings, dropped her off at her apartment and headed home. * * * Mrs. Park was sorting through the morning mail when Shin Hye, the new receptionist stopped by with the potted plant. "Mrs. Park, a young woman dropped this off for Director Lee last night." "Really? Who was it?" "I don't remember her name. It was not Korean, some western name," Shin Hye replied as she went on to describe the visitor. She had forgotten about the note Emma left for Ji Wook. In her haste to leave last night she had inadvertently misplaced it. Mrs. Park checked the gift before her with a confused expression. She shook her head and took it into Ji Wook's office and left it on his desk. She was no stranger to women leaving gifts for her handsome boss. * * * "Mrs. Park, who left this here?" Ji Wook asked after he settled into his office that morning. "Shin Hye said a lovely young foreigner lady dropped it off last night. Apparently she waited for you for over an hour." "Did she leave a note?” he followed up with an inquisitive look. "I don't believe so." “You get gifts from your female acquaintances all the time. Another secret admirer?” Mrs. Park added, poking fun at her boss and continued, “Usually it is something glamorous and expensive like a silk tie, or designer shirt but never a potted plant. This one is most interesting.” He picked up the pretty echeveria plant in fascination and read the quote on it. He was briefly puzzled. At that moment, Shin Hye came running in, her breathing hard, and with an apologetic nod, delivered the note left by Emma. His consciousness was suddenly transformed to that night on the beach in Penang and the memories of his passionate dance with Emma. He recalled her smiles, her innocent expressions, the progress of her feelings and her anxiety when she asked if he was married; and if she would get to see him again. He was touched and was struck by how much the thoughts of her affected him. He silently thanked her. He wished he had been here when she came by. * * * Emma had wept in her sleep and awoke with a migraine and puffy eyes. She willed herself into work. Fortunately no one gave her much attention except for Paul. He had started to fall for her and was especially concerned for her well-being. He noticed her pale complexion and sorrowful expression. He questioned her to which she denied any misgivings and was unwilling to share her troubles. He made her a hot cocoa drink and nudged her to sip it. She turned to thank him but wished he would not be so kind. She had just started on a new assignment when her desk phone rang. With robotic motion, she picked it up and muttered, “Hello, this is Emma Lam speaking.” “Hello Emma,” Ji Wook replied. Caught unawares, she recognized the distinct voice of Ji Wook and was vexed to find herself speechless. “Hello, are you there?” “Yes,” she replied faintly. “I received your gift and wish to express my thanks.” “Oh— you’re welcome. I shouldn’t have dropped by without an invitation,” she continued, suddenly overcome with embarrassment. Good thing no one was about to see her cheeks turning a pinkish hue. “Are you available for lunch today?” She was secretly overjoyed. In spite of herself she could not help smiling and responded much too eagerly. “Yes, of course. Where do you want to meet?” It was settled that Ji Wook would pick her up at noon. They exchanged hand phone numbers just in case there was a change in plans. Emma was beside herself with happiness. She could not hide her joyful state. She quickly added his number to her favorites on her smartphone. Paul stopped by and was curious as to the turn of events. He prodded but to no avail. To his disappointment, she left him guessing. Emma was pre occupied the entire morning, caught between anticipation and nervousness, glancing at her watch one too many times over the course of the next couple of hours. She was especially anxious that she might miss the lunch date. Ten minutes before the appointed time, she was already waiting downstairs and was on the lookout for his luxurious red sedan. Ji Wook took Emma to a classy western style restaurant by the Han River with a breathtaking view of the Banpo Bridge. The restaurant was busy with lunchtime patrons, but Mrs. Park had called ahead and reserved a table for them in a secluded corner which afforded them some privacy and discretion. “I heard you waited for me for over an hour last night.” Emma blushed and replied, “Yes, I was hoping to deliver the gift in person and officially thank you for the opportunity to interpret for Sanhwa in Penang.” She thought to ask about the lady friend but decided best to refrain from it lest she betray her own emotion too much. “Thank you for the thoughtful gift but why a plant?” "Because it is a living thing. It is strong and hardy but its beauty and survival will depend on how much you nurture it," she replied coolly alluding to the relationship between them. "Hmm— very insightful. You don’t expect me to water and feed it, do you? I’m not known to have a green thumb, you know,” he joked. “Yes, it is a very hardy plant but you must still promise to keep it alive,” she insisted. Ji Wook smiled at her wide eyed innocence and admired her frankness. “Well then,” he replied, his mouth tipping into a lazy grin and continued, “I must then bribe Mrs. Park to care for it and to never let it die.” Emma was also amused but it was the feeling of contentment that engulfed her at that precise moment. She was happy whenever she looked at him. The waiter came and took their orders pausing the conversation for a few moments. She ordered a light seafood salad with generous servings of prawns and scallops. He went for a pasta selection. Likewise, Ji Wook was enjoying himself. There were no heavy expectations and he was free to express himself with her. They talked mostly about his work. He shared with her the outcome of the partnership with Berjaya and the events that followed the conclusion of that deal, each time carefully steering the conversations away from his personal life. A month ago, his life was borderline boring and uneventful; it had since complicated itself after his fateful encounter with Emma and the return of Hee Jin. The lunch was soon over; short but pleasant. The air was melancholy as the wishes of both parties were that it would last longer. They lingered as long as they could and then walked out together, shoulders touching and stealing glances at each other. Hee Jin had just met up with her agent and was leaving the building complex when she caught sight of Ji Wook. Her heart stopped when she spotted him with another woman. Their closeness was not to her liking. The young lady was pretty enough to give her concerns and cause for her to be envious. She hurried towards the couple. “Ji Wook honey!” Hee Jin exclaimed out loud, rushing to his side and grabbing his arm possessively and giving Emma the look; it was the look that declared him as her man. “What a coincidence to see you here! Are you having a business lunch?” Emma and Ji Wook were caught off guard; having no time to prepare themselves, both were clearly uncomfortable with the chance meeting. Emma recognized the stunning brunette from last night. She did not possess in her the power of disguise as she was suddenly seized with emotions. Hee Jin observed Emma’s countenance with keen interest and suspected that this was not just a casual business meeting. Her jealousy was heightened and she proclaimed to Emma, “Hello, my name is Kang Hee Jin. I am Ji Wook’s fiancée.” If the chance encounter wasn’t abrupt enough, this latest declaration from Hee Jin was akin to a fighter throwing a power jab when his opponent’s position was already compromised. Emma had to steady herself from stumbling backwards. Ji Wook was equally shocked and furious upon hearing Hee Jin’s outburst but he controlled his temper. Emma was humiliated and did not wish to embarrass herself any longer. She just needed to get away. She turned to look directly at Ji Wook. “Congratulations Director Lee on your engagement. And thank you for the lunch today.” She bowed and took her leave. Ji Wook started to go after her but was pulled back by Hee Jin holding on to his arms possessively. He turned around and glared at her. “What are you doing? We’re not engaged!” he cried out in frustration. "We’re as good as engaged!” Hee Jin burst out in return. “What is she to you? Why are you doing this to me?” she continued with her protest. Ji Wook was too angry to argue with Hee Jin in public. He pulled away from her. “We can talk about this later,” he said to her in a grave tone and headed out the revolving doors. He looked around for Emma but she was long gone. He felt horrid. His mind was weary from the incident and he worried about her. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 11 Emma rode the subway back to the UNIDO office. She replayed the event over and over again in her head. What a sad conclusion to a beautiful morning. Why hadn’t he told her about his engagement? He had said in Penang that he was not married but she realized, of course, that did not mean he was not engaged and about to be married. He hadn’t lied to her but, he should have informed her of his engagement before she made a fool of herself. He certainly had plenty of opportunities to warn her. The fifteen minute ride gave her ample time to compose and recollect herself before reaching the office. She was not looking forward to enquiries from her coworkers especially from Paul and Lin, her two closest friends at UNIDO. Paul was already suspicious and this latest incident would certainly have induced even more anxiety on his part. She stayed longer in the office that evening to finish up the translations as she was gone for an extended lunch. She didn’t mind as she needed the busyness to keep her from thinking of that breaking news. Paul had offered to walk her home but she politely declined his offer. “Thank you Paul but I still need to finish up the Biofuels translation before I leave today. I promise to call you when I reach home tonight.” She smiled at him. It was a sad, courageous smile. * * * It was past nine o’clock when Emma finally packed up to leave. She had never felt this lonely in her young life. She had practically grew up on her own and was used to being alone, but this was a different kind of loneliness; it was almost a sense of loss and despair. She needed relief. She walked to the neighborhood bar frequented by expats and UNIDO staff. She had been here a couple of times with her co-workers. Although she was not a good drinker, she needed something strong tonight to help her forget her misery. It was a slow night and she was glad she was not required to be social. Jung, the bartender had seen it all. People came here for two reasons; to celebrate or to forget. The moment she sat down by his bar and asked for something strong, he understood she had come for the solace and the illusion of comfort. Relationship problem, he guessed. She did not look like a seasoned drinker as she winced and had a hard time gulping down the second glass. She asked for another one; he eyed her suspiciously and validated her request; she insisted and he obliged. She turned on her smartphone and browsed to the "LJW" album and looked up the pictures of Ji Wook. She muttered to herself as she swiped through his handsome shots. She reached the last one of herself and Ji Wook taken in the cable car. Tears welled up. She reached out for one last glass; drank it in one gulp and subsequently passed out. Jung shook his head; another one that could not hold her liquor and he was left to deal with the problem. He was no stranger to female patrons passing out on him. He stretched over the counter to grab her phone; looked up her contacts and proceeded to dial the first one on her favorites. “He— hello?” Ji Wook answered tentatively, seeing that the call came from Emma’s number. Considering the event of that day, he was unsure what to expect. Jung explained the situation and Ji Wook did not even hesitate. Grabbing his car keys, he raced out the door. Emma was still passed out when Ji Wook arrived at the bar. Her head was propped up against her right arm across the bar counter. Her hair fell across her face and her long lashes were wet with tears. His heart ached for her. She looked like an angel who had lost her wings. He gathered her purse and with the help of Jung assisted Emma into his waiting car. He knew where she lived as they had talked about it on the stroll along the beach that night in Penang. Ji Wook had no choice but to piggyback Emma into her third floor apartment. As it happened, he was fit and strong and she was slim and light. He fumbled inside her purse for her house keys and opened the front door. He was pleasantly surprised to find a small but cozy studio apartment. He smiled to himself as it was exactly what he had imagined. The flat was a true reflection of Emma’s personality and character. The space was neat and dotted with lovely house plants and cut flowers. A row of small potted herbs graced the window sill. He laid her down gently onto her futon bed, removed her shoes and placed the covers over her. The prudent in him said he should leave right away but instead, he sat next to her on the bed and looked at her longingly. His back fingers trailed her face along her jawline. He straightened her hair and tucked the loose ends behind her ears. Her lips looked inviting and he had a sudden urge to kiss her but he held back. He had no right to complicate her life. Her phone rang and interrupted his serenity. It was coming from her hand phone. Instinctively, he picked it up. The screen said it was from a “Paul”. “Hello, who is this?” Paul asked hesitatingly, not expecting to hear a male voice. “A friend of Emma's.” “May I speak to her?” “I’m sorry but she is sleeping.” Paul felt betrayed to learn that Emma had invited a male friend to her apartment. He had waited by his phone all night and she hadn’t called. And now some man was in her apartment while she slept. He imagined the worst; said nothing further and hung up in disgust. After the call ended, Ji Wook noticed on Emma’s smartphone a photo album titled “LJW” which piqued his interest; could this be his initials? He clicked the folder to open it and inside that folder were pictures of him taken eight years ago. There were shots of him at Doosan and Namsan Towers; raw moments and expressions captured on lens. And then there was the one singular photo of the two of them together; the shot taken by the European tourist inside the Namsan cable car. He recalled that moment and a nostalgic smile formed on his face. He remembered how uneasy he had been. She had kept these pictures of him all these years. He suddenly realized how deep her feelings for him must have been; it wasn't just puppy love. The realization distressed Ji Wook even more than before. He knew she was hurt upon hearing Hee Jin’s false declaration of their supposed engagement. If she had loved him all these years, she would be decidedly heartbroken. The possibility of a union between the two of them was slim to none. His family would never approve of her. First and foremost, Emma was not Korean. Despite speaking the language fluently, her heritage and background, and position in society would not be considered his equal. After all, he was the heir to Sanhwa International. At that moment, he knew not himself; he hated his family and he hated what they stood for. It was with disquiet reluctance that he finally despaired to leave. With a final parting look at Emma, Ji Wook closed the door and left her apartment. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 12 Hee Jin was not leaving anything to chance. She was angry. Her resentment of Emma was so ungenerous and selfish that it prompted her to take to the offensive. She was not going to lose Ji Wook. Not to that foreigner girl. She called Eun Mi and arranged to meet under the pretense of an urgent family matter. The conversation went like this. “Eomeonim, what do you think if Ji Wook and I got engaged as soon as possible?” Eun Mi was not surprised at the request but was curious as to the sudden urgency. “Of course I would like to see you two engaged but why the sudden rush?” Eun Mi asked in a voice of authority. “Oh— it is like this Eomeonim,” Hee Jin replied sweetly, “I believe Ji Wook is in danger of getting seduced by an unscrupulous foreigner.” Eun Mi almost jumped out of her seat. Over the past decade Ji Wook had not shown much interest in any women. To learn that he was now possibly falling for a foreigner was seriously disturbing. “This can’t be true. You must be mistaken,” she cried. “I’m sorry you have to hear this from me but I have seen her with my own eyes. They met and had lunch together this morning. Her behavior towards him was quite shocking!” Hee Jin exaggerated and added, “Shin Hye also informed me she was at his office late last night and bought him gifts,” leaving out some crucial details. Eun Mi was alarmed. She must put a stop to this nonsense. She stood up with a sense of urgency, told Hee Jin not to worry, and that she would deal with the matter. Eun Mi was waiting in the living room when Ji Wook reached home that night. “Where have you been?’ she asked, her throaty voice tinged with a suspicious tone. “I just got off from work. What is the matter Eomeoni?” “I want you and Hee Jin to get engaged by the end of the month,” Eun Mi responded. Adamant to get the point across, she added, “I have already started to prepare for the engagement ceremony.” “Eomeoni, why the rush?” Ji Wook cried out, red in anger. “I have heard some disturbing news about you and a foreigner. What are you thinking?” “I refuse to be forced into marriage when I’m not ready,” he responded in defiance. “Will you do as I say or not? When did you become so disobedient? It must be this foreigner girl's influence!” she charged. “Eomeoni, you are completely mistaken. Emma did not put me up to this. I’m just not ready. I need more time to think this through,” he cried in desperation. “Emma? Is that the foreigner’s name? Has she completely bewitched you?" Eun Mi yelled at Ji Wook and suddenly clutched her chest in pain. “Eomeoni— Eomeoni— are you alright?” Ji Wook shouted out with concern as he bent down to catch his mother from falling over. Eun Mi was having a hard time breathing and was shaking uncontrollably. Ji Wook called out for help. The family maid, Mrs. Jae heard him and rushed in. They carried his mother out to his car and he drove as fast as he could to the nearest hospital. Eun Mi had suffered from a panic attack. Given her age, the doctor recommended she spend the night at the hospital for further observation. When Eun Mi awoke from her attack, the only business she wanted addressed was to secure a promise from her son to go through with his engagement. Ji Wook was left with no other option. He couldn’t possibly risk his mother getting ill again. With a heavy and sunken heart he gave his word. * * * Emma woke up to wretched feelings. Her temples were throbbing from the hangover. As hard as she tried, she could not recall how she got home last night. She was still wearing her work outfit from yesterday but someone had clearly tucked her into her bed. She wondered if Paul was her savior. Glancing at her watch, she gasped as it was already mid-morning. Thank goodness it was Saturday. She showered and made herself a hangover soup she had learned from a colleague. She also made a mental note to go ask Jung for a little briefing. Her mind was in disarray. Her past, her present and her future all came together. Picking up her phone, she scrolled through to check for messages. She was alarmed to see one outgoing call was made from her hand phone to Ji Wook’s. She was now in heightened alert. What had happened? Did she call Ji Wook from the bar? If she did, she must have totally embarrassed herself. She panicked. And there was one incoming call from Paul. She was convinced that Paul must have escorted her home. He probably called to check on her and found her drunk and came to help. She felt grateful and indebted to him. But she was still fretting over the former. What had she disclosed in her drunken state? She dialed Paul’s number. It rang and rang. No answer. Hmmm, she wondered where he was. Perhaps he was sleeping in after a late night rescuing her. She left a message, “Hi Paul! This is Emma. Just want to say thank you for bailing me out last night. I owe you one!” Paul heard his phone ring and saw that it was from Emma. He debated with himself whether to answer; he was still upset with her and his heart was clouded with jealousy. He had expected Emma to exercise better judgment. Even though she lived most of her youth in North America where morals were looser and premarital sex was generally accepted, this was South Korea after all, and he had not thought her easy nor loose until now. He listened to her voice message and was quite baffled. What did she mean about him bailing her out? Curiosity got the better of him so he called her back. “Hi Emma,” Paul said in a reserved tone. “Oh, Paul! Glad to hear your voice. Sorry to be so troublesome last night. I promised I have now learned my lesson to never go drink by myself anymore. If it wasn’t for you, I probably would have made a bigger fool of myself,” Emma blabbered on. “So— are you alright?” he replied, sounding a bit tentative, still unsure what she was referring to. “I’m much better. I made the hangover soup Lin taught me. Thanks for taking me home. I did not throw up on you, did I? I was still wearing the same work outfit from last night so I must not be that drunk, eh?” she carried on unassumingly. Things were making sense now. He contemplated if he should correct her but decided against it. He would keep the discovery to himself for the time being; there should be no harm in it, he rationalized to himself. That mysterious guy must have helped Emma home in her drunken state but Emma had assumed it was him. At least it didn’t appear like anything physical had transpired between the two. He was relieved. “So why did you decide to get drunk by yourself?” “Long story, maybe someday I will fill you in. But I really mean it when I say I owe you one. I promise to repay you one day.” “You can start by buying me dinner tonight,” he answered. He was not going to let this golden opportunity slip by. “Of course, that’s only fair.” Not exactly thrilled about the prospect, Emma hesitated, but she was indebted to Paul and this was not too much to ask of her. “What do you want to eat?” she asked. “Nothing extravagant. Let’s just meet at the entrance of Gwangjang Market and we can figure it out from there. All I really want is to see you,” he replied in a serious tone. Emma was silent for a few seconds. She was uncomfortable with what he just said but she gathered herself and responded cheerfully, “Sounds like a plan. See you at seven then.” When they met, Paul was careful not to dwell on the events of last night. He focused his efforts on spending quality time with Emma. He was a foodie and knew Seoul’s best street food was found here at Gwangjang Market. He guided her through the tightly packed central concourse lined with hundreds of food stations selling a range of Korean street food classics. They pigged out on perfectly formed mandu, bibimbap and bindaeduk. The latter was Emma’s favorite. Savoring the perfectly fried pancake served with kimchi and soy sauce dip brought back memories of eight years ago. Paul was the perfect gentleman. Emma found herself enjoying his society; at least, she was able to temporarily forget her misery. Though they had been alone together in the past, it was mostly work related. Paul wanted to believe this was their first real date. He was delighted to see the fun, cheerful Emma had returned. He was in danger of falling deeply for her. When they reached her apartment, she stopped short of inviting him in. She turned to face him and confessed that she did have an enjoyable evening, and was very grateful for his company. He was hoping for more display of affection but knew he needed to take it slowly. He bid her goodnight and left feeling quite contented, more than he ever had since being introduced to her. * * * The following week passed by quietly and swiftly. Since moving to Seoul, Emma had made it a routine to stop by her neighborhood French bakery for breakfast on her way to the open market most Sunday mornings. The friendly Ajumma always made sure there were steaming hot croissants waiting for her together with her favorite cup of freshly brewed cafe au lait. It was drizzling this morning and Emma was running a bit late as she had to look hard for her missing umbrella. “An nyeong ha se yo,” Emma greeted with a cheerful smile. “An nyeong ha se yo,” Mrs. Hyun replied in kind, “You are late today but no worry. I made the coffee fresh just for you! We sold out the last croissant but a new batch will be coming right out in a few minutes. I will bring it to you. Go sit down.” “Thank you so much, Mrs. Hyun.” Grateful for the camaraderie, she asked for today’s paper and settled into her favorite corner clutching her aromatic hot coffee. After seating herself, she leafed through the morning paper to catch up on current events. She was a few sips into her coffee when she stopped still and almost knocked it off the table. Splashed on the first page of the entertainment section was news of Ji Wook’s engagement to Hee Jin. “Heir to Sanhwa International, Lee Ji Wook, engaged to accomplished violinist, Kang Hee Jin.” A handsome picture of the couple was included; a date was set for a spring wedding. Her eyes went blurry as tears were beginning to show themselves. It was a week Friday when she learned of his engagement. Today must be the public announcement. She grieved over the melancholy news with a saddened heart; it was no easier than when she first learned of it from his betrothed. Mrs. Hyun dropped off the croissant and noticed Emma's saddened expression. She enquired about it and Emma quickly made some excuses about being homesick. Mrs. Hyun consoled her and brought her a box of tissues. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 13 Emma skipped the open market that morning. Instead, she took the subway to Myeongdong station and decided to walk all the way to the Namsan cable car station. She had a sudden urge to re-live that memorable summer evening on top of Namsan Tower. As she was fond of long walks, she did not mind pacing herself in desolate tranquility along the broad sidewalk towards the cable car station. It began to rain, not much, but enough to make most women seek shelter but not Emma. She plodded ahead under her utility umbrella. * * * Ji Wook was late for his appointment with Hee Jin at the Seoul Hilton Hotel. He had woken up to another splitting headache and underestimated the time needed to scour the kitchen for some relief. Mrs. Jae had insisted on making him a herbal drink and saw to it that he emptied it before leaving the house. Hee Jin was throwing a party to celebrate their engagement. The guest list comprised mostly her friends and acquaintances. As he had vehemently protested the plan and was an unwilling participant, he was not disposed to be agreeable. The grey, overcast morning added to his agitated state. By the time he reached the heart of the city, the weather had worsened from grey skies to persistent drizzle. He adjusted the speed of his windshield wiper to accommodate the increasingly heavy rain. That was the moment he saw her profile. She had caught his attention because he could not imagine anyone walking in an unhurried fashion in this pouring rain. She was dressed in cropped light blue jeans and long sleeve redwood hoodie and slung over her right arm was a bright turquoise tote bag. Her hair was tied in her familiar trademark side ponytail. She was oblivious to the precipitation and cars zooming past. Ji Wook slowed down to a cruise and checked his rearview mirror when he drove past the figure and confirmed it was Emma. He longed to stop but fought against his instincts and desires; what good would it do? He was now engaged to be married. There was no turning back. It was not fair to Emma if he gave her even a glimmer of hope. His phone rang. It was Hee Jin and she wanted to know his whereabouts. He answered coldly that he was on his way. Ji Wook turned into the hotel driveway and dropped his car off for the valet. His mind was still vivid of the image of Emma in the rain. He walked with painstaking steps into the lobby. A few steps in, he suddenly stopped, turned, and ran back to the valet who was preparing to drive away. He gestured to have his car returned. It suddenly dawned on him that Emma was heading to the top of Namsan Tower, a place that held special meaning for both. * * * Thanks to the gloomy weather, there were hardly any visitors on the roof terrace. Emma was among a handful of brave souls out there; most were probably out of town visitors whom despite the weather probably had Namsan Tower on their trip itinerary. She had her own reason. She stood there for a long time gazing out at the cloudy view below, reminiscing of happier times. She strolled over to the southeast corner to locate that love lock with the famous quote. She searched faithfully but without success. She felt anguish and was getting discouraged. She remembered distinctly where it was supposed to be but in vain were her efforts. She was so overcome with emotion; tears threatened again and she fought hard to hold them back. It was too much; she couldn’t bear it any longer. She dropped her umbrella and knelt down on the ground and started crying. It was tears of despair, of mental sorrow, of lost love, of regrets. Her heart was breaking and exploding into a million pieces and there was no one to hear it except her. A few passersby stopped to enquire but she politely shrugged them off and gradually picked herself up. Ji Wook rushed to the top of Namsan Tower and headed straight for the roof terrace. With reckless abandon, he surveyed the entire area from end to end and at long last, he spotted her. There she stood, motionless, under the pelting rain, staring into the distance, sobbing quietly. He loosened his tie while advancing towards her. A few moments later his phone rang but he simply pulled it out from his back pocket without even glancing at its caller, and removed the battery pack as he continued his purposeful stride towards her. She sensed his approach and slowly turned around and met his gaze. She held it for a long moment, her thoughts tender while her heart whispered with cautious joy. Without hesitation, he pulled her close to his chest and held up both hands to cup her face, leaned forward and kissed her forcefully. She responded in earnest as she wrapped her arms around him and kissed him back. The passion was undeniable. They remained in that locked embrace for what seemed like eternity. No words were uttered; none was required. Both understood why the other came. When it was time to go, he led her down the tower to his car and they drove back to her apartment. When they reached their destination, he scooped her up and carried her to the futon bed. Their eyes never left each other. He unzipped her hoodie with deft hands. Gradually and deliberately he removed it slowly while gently planting kisses on her neck and shoulders with his aching lips. Her heart was beating wildly at his touch. With the hoodie out of the way he took a few moments and held back to admire her beauty. He carefully placed a hand over the soft mounds of her full breasts, caressing them ever so lovingly. She helped him out of his tie and unbuttoned his shirt jacket with nervous fingers. His lips found hers again; their kisses were long and hard and passionate. His hands finally moved to the small of her back and lingered while searching for the hook on her bra. He suddenly broke the kiss and pulled back. Guilt overcame him, reminding him of what he was doing and with whom. He must not be so irresponsible. He was betrothed to another. His fiancée was waiting for him. He was not being fair to both women. He had fallen in love with Emma but he could not deliver what she wanted and deserved most. He picked up his shirt, turned to face her with a pained expression and said, “I am so sorry,” and left the room. Emma stared at the closed door and wept. The Gods cannot be this cruel. Every time they came together, it was short lived. She was his Juliet and there was no beaming light at the end of this tumultuous road. Their future looked bleak. He had left behind his necktie, the only memento of his. She picked it up and stared at it. She held it close to her chest while tears continued to stream down her cheeks. Ji Wook stepped outside her apartment door and leaned against the wall to steady himself. He fought hard against his own will from returning inside and make love to Emma. He knew she would be crying her heart out at this moment. He felt her pain. It was also his pain. He could no longer deny that he loved Emma. For the second time in his life, he had fallen in love. With Hee Jin his love was that of a young boy falling for the first time: eager, youthful and inexperienced. This time, he was a grown man. It was not a love affair that he had sought. He had fought hard against it but as if to torment him, he kept falling for Emma and the feelings kept growing and were etched deep within him, haunting him and cursing him. He could no longer avoid them. He wept, for him and for Emma and for a future that was not to be. Ji Wook turned his phone back on and as expected there were numerous missed calls and voice messages from Hee Jin and also from his mother. He knew there was hell to be paid. He placed a call to Hee Jin’s number. “Where on earth have you been?? You’ve totally embarrassed me!” Hee Jin screamed into the phone. “I’m very sorry. Something unexpected came up and I’d to follow up on it. Forgive me but I have to be away for a few days. I will explain after my return,” and he hung up. Hee Jin’s anger was beyond description, akin to an erupting volcano unleashing its fury, spewing ash and steam plume on its victims. She tried feverishly to call him back but his phone was now turned off. She threw her phone down in disgust. She suspected this had to do with that foreigner woman and was determined to get to the bottom of it. She was Kang Hee Jin after all; a famous and accomplished musician; men drooled after her; women envied her. She could have any hot blooded man in Seoul if she wanted to. She was not about to be upstaged by some unknown foreigner with questionable accomplishments, zero family connections and absolutely no standing in Korean society. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 14 Ji Wook was mentally drained and physically exhausted. He wished he had the courage to walk away from it all; the suffocating responsibilities as the only son and heir to his father's empire, and the expectations to honor his engagement to Hee Jin. For once he wished he could ignore duty and loyalty and carve out his own destiny. The decision before him was daunting. He must get away for a few days to re-group but first he must go home, pack a few things and face his mother. He placed a quick call to his trusted secretary, Mrs. Park and informed her that he would be gone for a few days and to cancel all his appointments. Mrs. Park was not to reveal his intended destination but if there was an emergency, she would know how to reach him. Upon reaching home, Ji Wook took a few moments to gather himself before entering the family room. As expected Eun Mi was sitting in her usual spot, arms crossed, her face looking stern, eyes flashed with anger and clearly not amused. But before she could get into her tirade, Ji Wook delivered the following monologue to her stunned mother. “Eomeoni, I love you and I’ve always respected your opinions but today you have to let me be my own person and not your son. I apologize for any embarrassment I may have caused for not showing up at my own engagement party but as I’ve informed Hee Jin, something very important came up and I needed to follow through on it. Please respect my need for privacy. I’m not breaking off my engagement to Hee Jin but I must get away for a few days to sort things out. I’m no longer a child and I’ve always put the family first above everything else. But today I beg you to respect my decision to be alone, just this once. You gave me life, raised and nurtured me so I can grow up to be the man that you want me to be but that man is suffocating right now and he needs to get away so he can finally breathe again,” he finished up sounding weary and depressed. “Where— where are you going?” she asked, a panic-stricken expression crossed her face as she followed up quickly with, “are you going alone?” “Yes, I’m going alone and if there is an emergency, Mrs. Park knows how to get hold of me.” This time Eun Mi did not try to stop him. Her only son, heir to the Sanhwa Empire was looking pale and sickly. Maybe she did push him too hard. Worried for his health and mental well-being, she asked Mrs. Jae to pack some vitamins for Ji Wook to take along. * * * Ji Wook reached Busan five hours later. It was now late evening. He had called ahead to Cho Hee to advise her that he needed to crash for the night. Cho Hee loved her brother and they had maintained a very close relationship even after her marriage. She was a late second child and eight years younger than Ji Wook. He was a very protective brother and took prodigious care of his sister during her formative years. She was not as gifted as her brother and found instructions in the sciences and math challenging. Ji Wook took his sister under his wing, cared for her and tutored her every day. He was the father figure as Tae Yeon was already in his mid-forties when she was conceived and was already busy building NCC Construction. After graduating from two years at a Junior College, Cho Hee helped out at Sanhwa in an administrative capacity until she married Seung Pyo. It began as a business marriage. Seung Pyo, the second son, was not heir to his father’s shipping conglomerate, but he was still an excellent match. And it was far from love at first sight for the young Cho Hee. He was ten years older and this would be his second marriage. His first wife had died of a terminal illness a few years earlier and left a young child. Cho Hee was always an obedient girl and knew this was her parents’ wishes. But this was her life and she wanted so badly to marry for love. She was only twenty one; the world was her oyster and she did not want to be burdened with a small child and an older husband. She reached out to her brother for advice and support. Ji Wook consoled his younger sister and promised to help her. He made inquiries of Seung Pyo, and hired a private investigator to look into his background. He was pleasantly surprised to find that Seung Pyo was an honest, upstanding character who had loved his wife dearly and was a doting father. He was a fine man with decent features; one would not call him handsome but he possessed a certain kindliness that more than made up for his lack of good looks. Ji Wook related to Cho Hee all he had learned and asked that she meet with him at least twice. If she decided after the second meeting that there was no possible love connection, he would stand by her decision and speak to their parents. Cho Hee trusted her brother and went on a date with Seung Pyo. That was two years ago and she never looked back. Though Cho Hee was not in love with her husband when she walked down the aisle, she cared enough to give the marriage a try. Since then she had gradually fallen in love with her kind husband as she got to know his gentle character and his person. Seung Pyo truly loved Cho Hee. His was love at first sight. Cho Hee adored her step daughter and could not wait to give So Ra a little sibling before the first snowfall. Both Cho Hee and Seung Pyo felt indebted to Ji Wook and considered him their matchmaker and guardian angel. * * * Cho Hee was earnestly waiting for her brother when he arrived. “Oppa! What a surprise! I’m so glad you finally found time to visit me but why the sudden stopover? And— what is this about not telling mom you’re here?” Cho Hee asked with furrowed brow as she embraced her brother. "It’s a long story. I’m exhausted. Hope you won’t mind if we continue our conversation in the morning," Ji Wook replied, his shoulders sagging and tired lines edged on his handsome face. "Of course not," Cho Hee said, suddenly realizing how much older her brother looked. He did appear pale and tired. The sun was already high peeking through the drapes the next morning when Ji Wook finally gained consciousness. He woke up feeling refreshed and well rested. The long drive from Seoul on top of a stressful day full of emotional turmoil had drained him. The moment his head touched the pillow he completely passed out into deep sleep even devoid of dreams. The luxury of sleeping in this morning rejuvenated him physically but he still faced the painful decision of having to choose for love and happiness, or family loyalty and honor. He took a long hot shower, dressed in a casual pair of corduroys and polo shirt, and went out to the dining room. Cho Hee was nowhere to be found. Her maid, Mrs. Kim informed him that his sister had gone out for a scheduled prenatal checkup and would be home in an hour. Seung Pyo was also away on company business for another few days. Mrs. Kim laid out a traditional Korean breakfast of rice, soup, meat and an array of side dishes. Ji Wook surprised himself that his appetite had returned. Having skipped lunch yesterday, he’d not had much nourishment in a turbulent day of gut wrenching emotional upheavals. Ji Wook planned to leave today for the island of Geoje. One of his close engineer friend from university owned a vacation home in Gujora, a beach side town on the island and had offered Ji Wook access to it anytime he needed a break from the city. If there was a time he needed to take up the offer, this was one of those times. With the exception of Mrs. Park, no one knew of his destination. However, he did not wish to leave without saying goodbye to Cho Hee. He owed her an explanation. He decided to wait for her to return from her doctor’s appointment. “Oppa, you are up! I did not want to disturb you this morning. You looked so tired last night,” a beaming Cho Hee exclaimed as soon as she stepped into the house. She was dressed in an elegant white top and black pants. Her blossoming figure showed a small baby bump which suited her quite well. She was one of those lucky women that could manage to look even more beautiful when pregnant. Ji Wook stood up from the family room couch and went over to hug his sister. He was pleased to see her happily married and settled down with a loving and caring husband. He was looking forward to playing the role of the adoring uncle. Brother and sister spent the next hour catching up on Ji Wook’s love life and subsequent dilemma. Cho Hee was pleasantly surprised to learn that the love interest in his life was none other than Emma, the visitor from Canada. She remembered her well. They had struck up a friendship right away and corresponded for some time. She had found Emma warm and likeable, more than what she had felt with Hee Jin. Hee Jin never really took the time to endear herself to Cho Hee during the four years she dated her brother. When her brother's engagement was announced she had not rejoiced over it. She was secretly disappointed to learn that Hee Jin had returned. But if Hee Jin could make Ji Wook happy, she would never question it; all she wanted was for him to be as happy as she was. “Oppa, what are you going to do?” she asked, feeling rather sad for him. “I need time to sort things out and weigh all the consequences of either decision. I‘m going to Gujora, to a quiet place to be by myself and hope that the peaceful surrounding will help me make the right decision. Please do not tell anyone where I am especially mom and Hee Jin. I cannot allow them to distract me during this difficult period.” “You have my word. Your secret is safe with me. But I really rather not keep a secret from Seung Pyo. Will it be alright if I share with him your troubles?” Cho Hee asked with wide eyed innocence. Ji Wook loved his sister more than anyone else in the world and could not deprive her of such a request. He smiled and said, “Of course, you should not have to keep any secrets from your husband. You may tell him.” “You must come back and visit us before you return to Seoul. You have to do what is best and right for you. It is your happiness that counts. I love you very much and I don’t want to see you unhappy.” She hugged Ji Wook and kissed him on the cheeks. Ji Wook gathered his overnight bag and headed out the door. He was grateful for his sister’s companionship and love. He felt blessed to have her in his life. He turned on the ignition in his car, powered up the GPS, keyed in the address of his destination and headed out the paved driveway and out the iron gates towards Gujora. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 15 Emma sobbed uncontrollably after Ji Wook's abrupt departure. The pain cut like a knife. Her head was throbbing and she desperately needed some relief. Her legs felt like lead as she dragged herself to the medicine cabinet to retrieve a small bottle of pain reliever and popped in two tablets with a glass of cold water. Suddenly the loud ring of her front doorbell awoke her senses. The impatient visitor did not care to wait for the swell of the ringtones to die down before pressing the bell thrice in rapid successions. Emma was still partially undressed and her eyes were puffy from crying. She quickly donned her discarded hoodie and zipped it all the way up to her chin. It was still slightly damp from the rain. Her heart wished it was Ji Wook returning to quell her misery. She hustled to the door with renewed energy and hastily opened the door without checking the security camera. To her great alarm, the visitor at the door was a most unexpected one. Hee Jin stood in the open doorway looking outraged, her face fuming with anger, eyes hostile and her tone accusing. The usually elegant and composed concert violinist was nowhere to be seen; rather this was a hunter out looking for her prey. She had used her connections to find out where Emma lived and was convinced that Ji Wook was on premise. “Where is Ji Wook?” she screamed at Emma and pushed her way past the front door into Emma’s small apartment. She took note of the slightly crumpled bed spread and her eyes narrowed with fury. She moved with quickened steps into the bathroom and shower stall to complete her inspection, her red heels clicking noisily on the wooden floor to a furious rhythm. “He’s not here,” Emma replied, still very much in shock. “Do you not have any shame? He’s engaged to be married! Are you going to lie and tell me that he was not here?” she yelled at Emma. Emma chose not to give her the satisfaction of a response. Hee Jin continued with her ranting, "How dare you try to break up my engagement! Who do you think you are! You’re not even Korean, let alone his equal! You’re nothing but the scum of the earth!" Emma eventually mustered enough strength to reply, “I have nothing to say to you. You have insulted me enough. Whatever my relationship is with Ji Wook, it is between him and me. I do not owe you an explanation. Please leave my apartment," and walked over to the front door and held it ajar. At that moment Hee Jin’s gaze fell upon a crimson colored striped necktie lying next to the bed. It was one of Ji Wook’s favorites and he had worn it on many occasions. She picked it up and without any warning walked over to Emma and slapped her hard across her left cheek. “You bitch! How dare you lie to me! You think you can seduce my fiancé and get away with it? If you don’t stop this nonsense right away you will be very sorry. And you had better watch out. I will squash you like the rotten cockroach that you are!” She was about to slap Emma again when Paul heard the commotion through the wide open doorway. He rushed in and grabbed hold of Hee Jin’s raised right arm. “Please leave immediately. You have no right to be here. If you raise your hand again, I will call security and press charges,” Paul said in a commanding and angry tone. He had come by to check on Emma as repeated calls to her hand phone had been left unanswered. They were scheduled to catch a movie that night. Hee Jin had no choice but to leave. She stomped out the front door glaring at the pair of them, head held high, but admittedly curious as to the identity of the stranger. * * * Today had been an extraordinary day of heartbreaks for Emma. She had never in these twenty six years of her young life shed so many tears for love. From the letdown of reading Ji Wook's official engagement in the newspaper to the sheer joy of their passionate kiss on top of Namsan Tower to the dejection of their aborted love making and finally the unwelcomed appearance of his betrothed. She suddenly felt very weak. She had not eaten anything all day and her strength gave way and she sank down onto the floor and fainted. The lack of nourishment on top of the emotional stress was taking a toll on her body. Paul rushed over to prevent Emma’s head from hitting the tiled floor right inside the front door. He cradled her lovingly and supported her head with his chest while trying to position his right arm under her legs. He lifted her easily to the futon bed and laid her down gently. Her forehead felt feverish to his touch while her hair and hoodie felt damp. He decided to get her out of her wet clothes. He never questioned the propriety of his action. His thoughts were primarily focused on his concerns for her well-being. He went to her dresser drawers and fumbled around for something appropriate. His cheeks colored when he came across Emma’s intimate undergarments which included a selection of feminine bras and laced bikinis. He quickly closed it shut and opened another one. This time he found an oversized tee with Columbia University embroidered on the front and a pair of black sweatpants. Dry clothes in hand, he went back to the sleeping Emma. She was now breathing peacefully and appeared to be in a deep sleep. She must be exhausted. He slowly unzipped the front of her hoodie and carefully slid it down her arm, one at a time. He tried very hard to ignore the swell of her full breasts, her taut nipples peeking through the thin nude fabric. He was a hot blooded heterosexual male after all and Emma was a most desirable woman. He allowed his gaze to wander for a brief moment before shaking it off. He quickly pulled the oversized tee over her. Next he had to get her out of her jeans. It was not as wet as the hoodie but he decided it must be done. This next maneuver was as trying on his manhood as the previous act. His fingers nervously unzipped her pants and inch by inch, he slid them down her hips, exposing a sexy silky soft nude bikini panty. He quickened his motions to discard her wet jeans as swiftly as he possibly could so as not to leave himself any time to think or respond to his urges. As soon as they were out of the way, he slipped the sweatpants up her legs and rolled her sideways to complete the job. Emma stirred slightly but it was not enough to awaken her. Satisfied that he had restrained himself most gentlemanly, he tucked her in lovingly, pulled the comforter over her shoulders and let her rest while he continued to nurse her the rest of the night. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 16 Emma stirred to the pre-dawn rumbling noise of a few early motorists going about their business. She rubbed her eyes and slowly opened them. Her head was pounding and her back was slightly stiff. And she was starving. The apartment was still shrouded in darkness and her eyes fell on a sleeping figure slouched over right next to her bed. The memories of yesterday flashed before her. She remembered quite clearly the ugly scene with Hee Jin and was quite relieved when Paul had shown up just in time to rescue her but she could not remember anything after that. She must have lost consciousness and Paul must have stayed to care for her. She scanned around and suddenly blushed having realized that he had helped her change out of her wet clothes. Paul was roused from his sleep when Emma tried unsuccessfully to roll off the bed unnoticed. He opened his eyes and smiled at her. Embarrassed at her state, she tried to act nonchalant to conceal her uneasiness and subsequently put on a brave face. "Thank you for coming to my rescue again last night. At this rate I’d be totally indebted to you before spring." "I like it that way!" Paul answered with a playful tone and quickly followed up with, "how are you feeling? You must be hungry. I made some juk last night but since you were so tired, I did not want to wake you up." He jumped up and stepped into her kitchen and started prepping and reheating the juk. Paul seemed quite adept with domestic activities as he went about the tasks with expert hands. Emma decided to go wash up and shower, partly because she wanted some private time to herself, and partly to delay the awkwardness or inquisitions as long as possible. After an unnecessarily long shower, she walked into the kitchen to the aroma of steaming hot juk with hints of sesame oil. Paul had also prepared a variety of condiments to go along with his signature chicken sesame juk. "When did you go and get all these?" "After I tucked you into bed, I went to the neighborhood market to pick up a few things. Your fridge and pantry were practically empty," he chided. He was beside himself with happiness for having this opportunity to care and pamper her. "I was on my way to the open market yesterday morning but something unexpected came up and I had to skip it…" her voice trailed off as she recalled the painful scenes from the previous day. Paul noticed the change in her voice and demeanor and quickly switched subjects. "What do you say if we take a few days off and go away for some rest and relaxation? I can call Mr. Seo and explain. You haven't had any time off since you came to Seoul and there is no urgent assignment due this week." "I don’t think it’s a good idea. Work is probably the best thing for me right now," she replied. "You need a break. You still need to recover from your fever. Did you forget that you had fainted last night? Just leave it with me," he insisted. Paul fished out his phone and dialed Mr. Seo’s number. It was a quick conversation and after he hung up, he walked up to Emma with a beaming smile, both hands clutching her shoulders and exclaimed, "All taken care of. We get to take the entire week off." Emma was most uncomfortable. She had only been at UNIDO slightly over three months and did not deserve so much time off this soon but she did not feel like arguing with Paul. “So where are we going?” she asked, trying to sound enthusiastic. “My mother runs a pension on the island of Geoje. It is absolutely beautiful there at this time of the year. She will be so happy to see us.” The thoughts of meeting Paul’s mother made her uneasy as it would suggest a more intimate relationship between Paul and her than she wanted. “Paul, I don’t want your mother to get the wrong idea about us," she replied diplomatically. "Emma, I know you don't think of me in that way right now. I have not said this in so many words before, but this is probably as good a time as any for me to tell you that I have fallen in love with you. I want you to be my wife. I know we have only known each other for a mere three months but I know deep down I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I can guess from the scene yesterday that you probably have someone else in your heart right now but I’m willing to wait. Just give me a chance to win your affection. You don't have to worry about my mother. She will not be presumptuous. She knows I have feelings for you and that those feelings are not reciprocated at the moment. Regardless, she will still be happy to see us," he replied, looking straight into her large dark brown eyes, his hands resting on her shoulders. Emma was speechless but she held his gaze. She didn’t know what to make of this. His confession of love was too sudden. She knew he was attracted to her, but she never suspected the attachment was as deep as this. She felt very sorry for perhaps having led him on and very apologetic for not returning the same sentiments. She cared for Paul but there were no sparks on her part. He was comforting to be around but his presence did not stir any romantic feelings within her, reminiscing of her relationship with Jeremy. Even now, gazing right into his soul, she knew she could never commit wholeheartedly to this man. Even if she never saw Ji Wook again, her heart had already been scarred and could never be touched in the same way again. But she owed Paul so much already. Ever since she moved to Seoul, he had been there for her every step of the way, professionally as well as personally. He was her guardian angel, her savior and her strength at time of need. She owed it to him to give him an opportunity to change her heart and her mind. She decided to give Geoje Island and Paul a try. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 17 Ji Wook reached his friend's vacation home in Gujora by midafternoon. He had stopped by Okpo for lunch and also to pick up some groceries for his stay. The last time he visited this part of the country was sixteen years ago on a field trip to Oedo Botanical Island located in Hallyeo Maritime National Park. He had just met Hee Jin and was head over heels in love. He was then the President of the Environmental Club and the field trip was an excursion to study the habitats in the Park. Despite having no interest in the study of plants and the environment, Hee Jin had joined the club for the sole purpose of keeping a watchful eye over her prized possession. He noted the irony of the moment; both trips to Geoje Island were closely linked to his love life. The bungalow style home faced a private beach and came furnished with all the necessities including a well-stocked pantry and a large selection of books, mostly fiction and historical biographies of famous people. Ji Wook was an avid reader and looked forward to some quiet time to catch up on his reading. The scenery was breathtaking; blue ocean water run alongside pristine sandy beaches overlooking a natural backdrop of flying black tailed gulls. * * * Emma dozed off on the long drive from Seoul to Geoje Island. She tried hard to stay awake to take in the beautiful countryside scenes; after all she might never get the opportunity to see this part of South Korea again but her body was still weak. She finally woke up when Paul made a pit stop at Gwangju for a late lunch. She was thankful to him for convincing her to take this trip but her heart still ached. She had not heard from Ji Wook since he left her apartment. She wondered about him and how he was coping with the fury of Hee Jin and the disapprovals of his parents and the explanations he would have to provide regarding her. They finally reached Paul mother's pension just before sundown. The two story European style home was located within walking distance to the famous Gujora Beach. Paul's mother was expecting them and had prepared a welcoming feast consisting of the freshest local seafood and produce. Emma was overwhelmed and touched by Su Yong's hospitality. She was unassuming and warm. Emma felt at home and very much at ease. There were no undue expectations and she was left to enjoy her surroundings and the company on her own terms. Su Yong was an excellent cook and hostess. It was clear from whom Paul had inherited his exquisite taste and talent in the kitchen. He not only inherited his mother's culinary skills but also resembled her in looks which explained why he looked more Korean than Caucasian. Su Yong had met Paul's father when he came to South Korea in the seventies as an English teacher. John Sherwood had just finished his undergraduate degree at Melbourne University and decided to travel throughout Asia. When he got to South Korea, he fell in love with the country and its people and stayed for the next five years teaching English in Geoje City. It was there that he met Su Yong, a fellow teacher at the local elementary school. They fell in love and got married the following year despite opposition from both families. When Su Yong was pregnant with Paul, John moved the family back to Australia in order to better provide for his young wife and child. Su Yong and her two children lived in Australia for the next fifteen years until John's passing at which time she returned to South Korea with Paul and Garrett, and settled in Busan. “So where is Garrett now?” Emma asked after she was introduced to the family history over dinner. “He's pursuing his Master’s degree in Biochemical Engineering at Melbourne University,” Paul replied and continued, “He was offered a generous scholarship and could not refuse it. Mother was very sad to see him go but he promised to come home and visit soon.” "What a lovely family," Emma thought to herself. It would be so much less complicated if only she loved Paul. She would have been blessed with a wonderful mother-in-law and a caring, loving husband. Su Yong brought out the family album and showed Emma a picture of Paul's father and brother. Paul clearly resembled the mother, while Garrett was the complete opposite. He was a replica of his dad with high cheekbones, wide shoulders and light brown hair. After the early dinner Paul took Emma down to the beach. They sat on a fallen tree trunk looking out at sea, soaking in the tranquility of their surroundings and strolled in companionable silence along the tide line, leaving footprints that lasted no longer than the next wave of tides. * * * Back at the bungalow, Ji Wook had prepared ramen for dinner and decided to finish it off with a bottle of soju on the outside deck. He chose the biography of a famous Korean poet from the bookshelf and started reading the first chapter. Far away in the horizon a couple was walking the beach in a leisurely fashion in the fading light. Must be the last tourists of the season as summer was now winding down. He suddenly felt very lonely and wished Emma was here. It reminded him of that night in Penang when they had strolled the beach of Batu Ferringhi and she had asked him if he was married. He was full of emotion and could no longer concentrate on his book. He gulped down the remaining soju, turned off the outdoor light and went to bed. * * * After an early night, Ji Wook was awoke before sunrise. Normally his routine would include a run on the treadmill in his home gym, but in the absent of one, he opted for a jog on the beach. It was slightly breezy and there was no one in sight. All he had for company was the sound of the waves breaking the shores and chirping melodies of the gulls looking for food or their mates. Over at the pension Emma also arose to the symphony of the morning waves crashing the shores. She had left the window opened all night to soak in the refreshing night air. After donning a pair of casual sweats and hoodie, she walked out to the balcony facing the beach. It was quiet and the sun was still low. Her eyes fell on a single man running along the shoreline. He looked peculiarly familiar. He was in her view for a few seconds and then he was out of her sight. She chastised herself for imagining it to be Ji Wook. She had promised Paul to give this trip a chance. She owed him at least that. There was no use daydreaming about a life with Ji Wook. It was an impossible situation with his family and he was engaged to be married. She stood there for a full twenty minutes reflecting on the days since returning to Seoul. She sighed, shook it off and composed herself. She slowly made her way to the kitchen and was greeted by a merry Su Yong who had laid out a sumptuous western style breakfast of bacon, eggs and pancakes for breakfast. Su Yong was busy packing a basket full of the morning delicacies. She gestured to Emma with her free hand, and greeted her with a smile. "Good morning Emma! Please sit down. The coffee is freshly brewed and there is orange juice in the fridge. The pancakes just came off the griddle. It is a special recipe I brought back from Australia. Please don't be shy and help yourself." Emma seated herself and poured a cup of coffee. "Thank you Mrs. Sherwood but are you going somewhere?" "I’m heading over to a neighbor house to check on a guest staying there. The owner, Mr. Go called me yesterday and said his bachelor friend was coming to stay for a few days. He asked if I could check on him and see if he needs anything. Tell Paul I'll be back shortly," Su Yong replied and off she went out the back door with her basket of goodies. Ji Wook had just finished showering when the front doorbell rang. He was surprised since he was not expecting anyone and other than Mrs. Park and Cho Hee, no one knew of his destination. "Hello, my name is Su Yong from the pension up the hill. Your friend Mr. Go had told me you were coming so I thought you might like some breakfast to start your day. Here are some freshly made pancakes, bacon, eggs and fruit compotes I made this morning for my guests. Please enjoy!" Su Yong said as she handed over the basket to Ji Wook with a huge smile on her face. "Oh, thank you so much, you should not have troubled yourself. The pantry here is well stocked and I also purchased a few things from town yesterday," Ji Wook replied, feeling a bit unglued by the generosity of the Ajumma. "No trouble at all. I was already making breakfast for my son and his girlfriend from Seoul so not a big deal," Su Yong replied rather casually. "Ah, I see," Ji Wook smiled, "would you like to come in for a cup of coffee?" "Maybe some other time. I need to get back and run to the market to prepare for tonight's celebration. Why don't you come over and join us? We’re having a barbeque feast." "I don't wish to intrude on your family. What is the special occasion?" "Oh— it’s the first time my son has brought a girl home. She is technically not his girlfriend yet but Paul is very much in love with her so I’m hoping this trip will bring them closer together. She is a very nice girl but Paul told me she just went through a hard time so hopefully this will cheer her up. I don't mean to bore you but please come tonight. We will be eating around seven. The white two story house with the large pond one street over," as she finished up, waved to him and started walking back up the hill to her street. Ji Wook watched the back view of the Ajumma disappear past the curve in the road up the hillside. He slowly closed the screen door behind him and gave the invitation no further thought. * * * It was now late afternoon and the sun was starting to set. Its orange hue blended in with the sea reflecting a sparkling mirage of heaven upon earth. Ji Wook had spent the morning catching up on work and responded to a few urgent matters on the latest product design. It was almost five in the afternoon before he found time to relax. He poured himself a glass of his favorite Australian Chardonnay, grabbed the biography he had started yesterday and went out on the deck to watch the setting sun. It was strangely quiet. Even the black tailed gulls had gone home to their families. He put down his book and glanced at his watch. He suddenly remembered the invitation by the Ajumma this morning and contemplated if he should go. He had come here for solitude. Was making new acquaintances the best thing for him right now, he wondered. In the end curiosity won over logic. He rationalized to himself that he had to return the basket and the hospitality. He put on his light windbreaker, picked out a bottle of wine he’d purchased at Okpo and headed up the hill. He passed by several homes and finally spotted a white two story English style country manor which fitted the description provided by the Ajumma. He could smell the smoky aroma of food being grilled outdoors and happy chatter of people in the general direction of the beach. The porch light was on but he decided to skip the front entrance and snuck through the side gates which were slightly ajar and followed the pebbled pathway leading to the back courtyard. The laughter and chatter grew louder as he closed in on the congregation. There were roughly half a dozen or so people gathered around the outdoor pit. His gaze fell upon a young couple. They looked very familiar. The gentleman had his arms around his female companion. Her profile was in plain view and she had her hair up in a side ponytail. He froze, unable to advance any further. There she was, his very own Emma. A pain stabbed through his chest and everything suddenly clicked. He flashed back to this morning conversation with the Ajumma. He recognized Paul as Emma's gentleman companion at the restaurant in Jeju. She was likely the Ajumma son's intended girlfriend. His presence was still undiscovered by the party as he was partially covered by the overgrown foliage surrounding the courtyard. He lingered for a few more seconds to observe Emma's expressions. She looked relaxed and contented. With a heavy heart, he retreated his steps, turned around, left the basket on the front porch with the bottle of wine in it and returned to his friend's bungalow. Ji Wook left Gujora early the next morning and drove back to Seoul. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 18 Herein ended the difficulties of the decision that Ji Wook had come to Geoje Island to make; it was for the best. He focused his attention on the long drive ahead as salty tears rolled down his cheeks. With steely resolve, he managed to control its abundance but certainly not the grief. Ji Wook drove straight to Gangnam and rang the doorbell to Hee Jin's penthouse apartment. She was utterly surprised and startled to see Ji Wook through the security camera. She opened the door in haste and as soon as it was ajar, she slapped him hard across his cheek. Ji Wook did not respond; he merely stood there; his lifeless eyes staring into oblivion as if she wasn't there. He could not feel the pain as the reality of the unhappiness produced by his being here hit him much harder than any physical pain Hee Jin could inflict. “I have come to apologize in person for missing our engagement party. I’m also here to tell you that I have made the decision to keep my promise to marry you. I will leave all the arrangements up to you and mother.” He finished what he came here to say, turned around and left. Hee Jin could scarcely believe what she just saw and heard. Yes, she got what she wanted; a marriage proposal but the manner in which he delivered the news left much to be desired. She ran after him and grabbed hold of his arms before he managed to step into the elevator. “Wait— you can't leave like this. You owe me an explanation!” “What more do you want from me? I gave you what you desire so please leave me alone.” She stood in front of him and blocked him from entering the waiting elevator. The elevator doors opened momentarily and soon closed, and subsequently moved on to its next awaiting customers. Ji Wook raised his eyes to Hee Jin. His stare was cold and full of disdain. He repeated himself, this time with controlled aggression and informed her, “My offer to marry you is only good if you take it now and leave me alone. If you insist on pestering me I will rescind my offer and I promise you that I will never make a second one ever again as long as I live.” Hee Jin had never seen him so angry before. She was made slightly afraid by this declaration and backed off. Ji Wook decided not to wait for the elevator; he could not bear to be in her presence any minute longer; he turned towards the stairwell exit and sprinted down the twenty flights of stairs. * * * Emma and Paul stayed in Gujora for the remainder of the week. They took lengthy walks every day. Her heart, though not healed, was soothed by the peaceful ambience and the love and kindness of the people around her. Paul had proposed again one starry night on their daily moonlight walks along Gujora Beach. It was near the end of their visit and he could not pass up the perfect moment to declare his love for Emma once again. They had spent a blissful five days here. Emma appeared happy and cheerful. Her eyes sparkled and she had laughed more than usual. The romantic setting lent itself to a proper proposal. She was only mildly surprised but unlike his first proposition a week ago, this time she was prepared to indulge him. Instead of an outright refusal, she left the door to her heart slightly open. He was deliriously happy and on impulse he kissed her on the lips. She was astonished but did not deny him. It was a pleasant kiss but the chemistry was lacking. She closed her eyes and all that came swirling in her head was the lingering, passionate kiss she had shared with Ji Wook. * * * At her request, Paul drove Emma straight home to her apartment in Yongsan-gu. It was late Friday afternoon and he would have gladly stayed or taken her out to dinner if she had hinted but it was not to be; he bid her a reluctant goodbye and left only after making sure she was alright and well settled. The memories of Ji Wook on that rain soaked afternoon were still quite vivid. Emma could almost smell the musk of the late summer rain lingering in the air and the touch of his hungry and ardent kisses. She decided she needed a drink to help her forget. She strolled to the neighborhood bar. Jung greeted her with a smile. She was one of those ladies that commanded attention and made single men like him take notice. He wondered if she was going to stay sober this time. She ordered a light beer and sipped it slowly, deep in thoughts. “Mister, do you remember me? I was here a few weeks ago and I got really drunk....” Emma asked, slightly blushing. “Oh yeah, you insisted on the second and third shooter even though I could tell right away you could not hold your liquor,” Jung laughed. “I’m very sorry,” she replied, red with embarrassment. “Thank goodness your boyfriend came right away to pick you up. Handsome guy. Nice car too. He was very concerned and rushed over here after I called. You are very lucky!" “Oh... he’s not exactly my boyfriend yet,” she replied with an awkward laugh. “Just a very close friend from work. We’ve been here several times with our coworkers. We work across the street at the UNIDO office.” She was puzzled for a moment as Paul drove a small domestic car which by most standard was quite ordinary. “Oh, UNIDO? Yes, many of the expats come here after work. But, are you sure? I’ve never seen him before. And I’m pretty good with faces.” “Hmm— are you sure you’re not mistaken?” she insisted. “I’m one hundred percent sure. I’ve worked here for many years and I will never forget such a distinguished looking gentleman. We get mostly foreigners and working class patrons. He is definitely a different breed, more like Chaebol type.” Emma almost dropped her beer bottle. Her senses were suddenly aroused and her eyes widened with curiosity and apprehension as she proceeded to ask Jung to describe the gentleman and his car. She could feel her heartbeat exploding as she hurried to pay the bill and gave Jung a large tip. It was Ji Wook who had come to her rescue, not Paul. He cared enough for her to rush here that night; just like he came to her that morning on top of Namsan Tower and that night on the beach at Batu Ferringhi. She must get hold of him and fight for their love one last time. She must persevere and not give up so easily. She pulled out her hand phone and dialed Ji Wook's number. There was no answer. She gave time the luxury of thirty seconds and tried again. Again, it failed to produce a response. Unperturbed, she flipped to her text function and penned him a message. She paused, re-read and re-edited her own note but eventually settled on something brief before pressing the green send button. “Ji Wook, I have something very important to tell you. Can we please meet?” Two little check marks popped up indicating successful delivery of her message to its intended recipient. She stared at her phone, anxious for a response, as if she could will it to reply. Dread and anticipation crept in. Finally, the excruciating wait was over. Happy tweet tones signaled an incoming text. But oddly, the response was rather curt and distant. “I will see you in my office at eight.” Not wanting to waste even one more second, she quickly flagged down a taxi and gave the Ajusshi the address of the Sanhwa head office. * * * Hee Jin and Ji Wook were mid-way through an early dinner in Gangnam when Ji Wook had to leave their table to greet a business acquaintance at the other end of the dining hall. His hand phone which he had left behind started to ring. The screen flashed Emma's caller ID. Hee Jin was instantly alarmed and infuriated. What nerve! Seeing that Ji Wook was still occupied, she grabbed the phone and quickly declined the calls and deleted the evidence before Ji Wook caught on to his ringtone from across the room. But as if to torment her further, a text message followed. Her anger had now turned to paranoia. She must put a stop to this nonsense. Unless she took charge of the situation, her well designed plan to marry Ji Wook was seriously in jeopardy. Emma had already succeeded in stealing his affection away from her and if she did not step in now, she could lose everything: the love of her life, one of Seoul’s most eligible bachelor, the ultimate social status of marrying into a Chaebol family, and a secured fortune for life. When Ji Wook returned from mingling with his business acquaintances, Hee Jin made a sudden excuse that she had forgotten about an appointment with a girlfriend and would call him the next morning. She left hastily and headed straight to Sanhwa head office. Emma arrived as Shin Hye was about to leave. “An nyeong ha se yo, I’m here to see Director Lee. He asked me to wait for him in his office at eight o’clock. We have something important to discuss.” “I’m sorry Miss. There is no one here anymore and I’m about to close the office.” “I really must see Director Lee. It is very important.” She showed Shin Hye Ji Wook’s response to her text message. Shin Hye was unsure it was the right thing to do but she pitied Emma and decided to make an exception. She recognized Emma as the woman whom had left the potted plant for his boss. “Alright, I will let the security guard know. Please just wait quietly in here.” This was Emma's first time inside Ji Wook's office. It was surrounded on two sides by wide glass windows decorated with beautiful striping curtains offering a hint of calm and comfort. A couple of contemporary art pieces framed the opposite wall. She smiled when she spotted her echeveria plant taking its rightful place next to a handsome picture of him and his family. Lovely flowers had begun to bloom and it was looking strong and healthy. She was overflowed with happiness as she recalled their delightful and playful conversation at the restaurant by the Han River. The wait was a short one. Minutes later the sound of the door knob turning invaded the deafening silence. She lifted her head and spun around, feeling both excited and nervous. The smile on her face faded when she saw the incoming visitor. Her expression turned pale as confusion and distress overwhelmed her. Standing just inside the doorway, arms crossed stood Hee Jin in navy blue designer slacks, matching Gucci blouse and long toed shiny heels, looking stunning as always. “So we meet again,” she said unsmiling with a combative smirk. “Why are you here? I’m expecting…” Emma replied but she stopped in mid-sentence, still shell shocked at the appearance of her most dreaded nemesis. “I want you to listen carefully this time. Ji Wook is not coming. He sent me to tell you this. Whatever fantasy you think you have with him is entirely over.” “This cannot be. He— he would have come himself—” Emma stammered, still in disbelief. Hee Jin walked purposely towards Emma, inching closer to intimidate her. Emma backed away a couple of steps, her eyes wide with fear, mindful of the violence Hee Jin could inflict on her. “Miss Emma Lam. That is your name, correct? Ji Wook may have been temporarily smitten by your womanly wiles but he has now come to his senses. He knows there is no future between the two of you. Are you even aware of what it means if he marries you? It means he will be disowned by his family, disgraced by society and left penniless. And, do you think he can be happy knowing that his living in exile from his beloved family for the rest of his life will be because of you? Do you think that your so called love will survive this?” Hee Jin went on to describe how Eun Mi fell ill because of Emma except she exaggerated her condition and lied about the extent of her illness. She elaborated and claimed that Eun Mi had a heart attack and almost died after learning about Ji Wook’s relationship with Emma. “Do you think you can live with yourself knowing that you would be directly responsible for the death of his mother? Do you think Ji Wook could ever forgive himself if his mother died because he was selfish enough to ignore family loyalty and responsibilities to be with you?" Emma was rendered speechless. Her shoulders dropped in defeat as she shifted her weight to steady herself. A single tear rolled down her right cheek. All seemed lost. What’s left was for her to do the right thing. If you love somebody, set them free. If nothing else, she understood that Korean culture put family first above everything else. As much as she loved him, she must not possess him. She might have earned a place in his heart but perhaps in this lifetime they were not meant to live as man and wife. She looked up and met Hee Jin in the eyes; the fear was now gone but she swallowed hard to control the tears. She acknowledged defeat for Ji Wook’s sake, for his sanity and for his mother’s peace of mind. She asked Hee Jin to treat him well, congratulated her on her upcoming nuptials, wished them happiness and left. Hee Jin was surprised Emma relented so readily. She was relieved that her lies had worked and Emma had believed her. A small part of her realized that Emma must truly love Ji Wook so deeply that she was willing to put his happiness before her own. She felt a slight sympathy for her but she quickly dismissed it by reminding herself that Ji Wook was hers to begin with; had it not been for a minor misunderstanding they would have been married by now; after all they were a perfect match in all things that matter. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 19 Gangnam Boulevard was bustling as usual that Friday night. Neon lights flashed from ground to sky. Students from cram schools rushed in and out of buildings carrying heavy textbooks; some headed to twenty-four hour cafes to study for the next exams, while others headed to nearby subways for the long trek home. Overworked, tired workers slowly made their ways to numerous orange tented outdoor restaurants for their doses of soju and street foods. For the first time since returning to Seoul, Emma felt she did not belong; a sense of resignation permeated her thoughts. For a split second overpowering regrets overcame her, chastising, and mocking her. Why did she choose to return, she asked herself over and over again. There were no more tears left to be shed. She would finish up her one year appointment and return to New York. She was young and her options were plenty. She also knew a future with Paul was not to be. Though he had lost some of her trust for not coming clean with the events of the night she got drunk that alone was not the reason to reject him. It was not fair to Paul to be in a one sided relationship. Marriage itself was hard enough to sustain under normal circumstances; to begin theirs burdened with so much baggage was cruelty in itself. She walked and walked, and continued walking for the next hour with no clear destination in mind. She finally reached the banks of the Han River and stopped to rest for the first time. She could see the colorful lights of the Rainbow Fountain illuminating in the distance. The skies were surprisingly clear that night. She could almost see the stars, and she gazed at them, wondering what lay beyond. She recalled her lovely lunch date with Ji Wook. It was her first close up view of the Banpo Bridge that day. She brushed aside the memories and moved on. She returned to her apartment just before midnight and turned on her phone. As expected there were multiple messages from Paul. Though obliged to return the courtesy, she had no energy or desire to engage in any conversation exchange, especially one that required explanation of her current state. Instead she texted him a message to advise him she was alright but exhausted, and would call him the next day. * * * Paul sensed something was not right when he picked Emma up for an early lunch the next morning. She was too polite and reserved. Whenever he tried to show any signs of affectionate display, she pulled away and avoided his gaze. They arrived at a traditional restaurant close to Yongsan Station where Paul was a regular patron. The jovial Ajumma instinctively brought them an order of rice, seasoned vegetables, kimchi, and a steaming bowl of jjajangmyun and seaweed soup. “Emma, it is time you tell me what is bothering you.” She took a deep breath, looked straight at him and replied in a clear but sincerest tone, “Paul, I’m truly sorry, but I cannot marry you. I value you as a good friend. But that’s all I can offer you; no more, no less. I have ten months left here in Seoul. I will be returning to New York at the end of my contract. I want to concentrate on doing my best for UNIDO during my remaining time here.” Paul was devastated and could not comprehend what had changed so suddenly in a matter of twenty-four hours. He tried to compose himself and held back from lashing out his frustrations. He laid down his chopsticks, folded his arms and leaned back in his seat and stared straight at Emma with troubled eyes, searching for any signs that could give him any indication of her change of hearts. “Something happened yesterday after I dropped you off and you don’t want to tell me about it. Even if I were just a good friend, good friends share their troubles and help each other get through them.” She did not avert his gaze but held it instead. “You are absolutely right. Something did happen but it is a very private matter and I would like to keep the details to myself and handle it on my own but I sincerely thank you for caring. You have always understood my need for solitude on such matters and I hope you will grant me this understanding one last time.” "This concerns this other guy, right? Can you deny it?" "Yes— Paul,” she replied with civility and an air of tranquility. “I’m not going to lie to you. It does involve another gentleman, someone that means a lot to me but I cannot disclose it without bringing him harm. It is not my secret to tell. I have to respect his privacy." * * * Paul reflected on all the other occasions when she was clearly troubled and in each and every one of those instances she had never disclosed the reason for her sorrows. He now understood that it concerned this enigmatic gentleman, one that Emma clearly loved deeply. He recalled the night he rang her hand phone and spoke to a strange male voice. It all came together: the mystery man, the stunning brunette and correlations to Emma’s troubled expression after each incident. He started connecting all the dots: the event at the Jeju conference, the odd request from Sanhwa International for Emma to be their interpreter, the night she got drunk, and the infamous incident at her apartment. Like a spurned lover, Paul was driven to get to the bottom of the truth. Back at his apartment, he googled everything he could find and scoured the Internet like a crazed lunatic for any news related to Sanhwa. There it was. He finally found Emma’s invisible lover and instantly recognized him as the speaker at the Jeju conference. There were also multitude of articles on Lee Ji Wook’s engagement to Kang Hee Jin, the contemptuous but gorgeous looking brunette that struck Emma at her apartment. A few business articles focused on Sanhwa’s successful trade mission to Malaysia with the inking of their first factory outside of South Korea. He now had the full picture. But, he was still missing the part how Emma had met Ji Wook in the first place. She had only been in Seoul no more than three short months and the likes of Lee Ji Wook just didn’t mingle with ordinary folks like him and Emma. This might be modern Korea but social order and classes remained and such families moved in completely different circles. All he could surmise was that it must be a chance encounter and love at first sight on both sides. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 20 Ten somber months came and went. December brought the first snowfall along with cold and windy days; it was soon followed delightfully by the bright and colorful spring blossoms in March; and just like that, in a quiet way, Emma’s year-long appointment at UNIDO had come to an end. It was now late June. Her Seoul fairytale had come full circle, starting and ending with the nostalgic days of Seoul summers. She kept herself occupied at work, volunteering for assignments that no one wanted and staying late almost every day for no particular reason. Paul had also accepted his role in her life. They remained friends but not as close as they once were. He was still hurt by the rejection and secretly wished for a miracle in that department. * * * Her flight to New York was now confirmed. She was scheduled to leave in two days. All that was left to do was to pack up a few of her belongings and say her goodbyes. She gave away her prized herbs and houseplants to the Ajumma next door, her favorite mug collection to Lin and her treasured Oriental rug to Paul. “This rug has kept me warm and cozy many, many rainy nights. Along with my herbs and mug collection, it is one of my most treasured possessions in Seoul. I had to bargain really hard with a very shrewd Ajumma before I could afford it,” Emma laughed, paused and continued. “Paul, you were there for me during my ups and downs from the very moment I set foot in Seoul. I want you to know you were my rock. I wish things were different for you and me and I’m truly sorry for breaking your heart. I know there is a special lady somewhere out there waiting for you. Thank you for loving me once and I wish you nothing but the very best," she ended with a sisterly peck on his cheek. With the kitchenware and living room knick knacks all cleared away, all that was left was to sort out the two dresser drawers. It started routinely, one compartment at a time until she came across the crimson striped necktie left behind by Ji Wook. She removed it gently and stared at it for a long ten seconds before holding it up close to her cheek. She caressed it lovingly as the memories came flooding back: the embrace, the kiss, the touch, the longing, the parting and the subsequent heartache. She had not heard or met him since that fateful day when he aborted their lovemaking and abruptly left her apartment. Emma was momentarily distressed. She had no business keeping it; it was time to close this chapter of her life. She retrieved her purse, grabbed her house key and her trusted umbrella, and ventured out into the street below. The monsoon rains seemed to have arrived early this year. Normally she would shop nearby Hangangjin station but today she decided to journey further beyond her neighborhood. She boarded the train to the Lotte Department Store. Time was on her side and this was her final opportunity to soak in the last impressions of Seoul. She felt connected to this land; perhaps she lived here her past lives; the thought buzzed through her head, drawing upon her Buddhist beliefs in reincarnation and karma. She had no particular destination or purchase in mind with the exception of a small gift box and wrapping tissue papers. The mall was full of young people living it up, having the time of their life at the Lotte World Adventure Park. She strolled leisurely throughout the mega shopping complex and finally stopped at a gift shop. The shelves were fully stocked with souvenirs and accessories. Shoppers were spoiled with a variety of selection for all ages and price range. While strolling through the aisles, her attention fell on two stacks of shelves promoting the sale of love locks. They came in all shapes and sizes; one corner was full of mini oval and circular picture frames with attaching padlocks; the top shelf stored mostly traditional ones with red and pink hearts imprinted on them but the largest selection was made up of colorful heart shaped locks which occupied most of the lower shelf space. One particular lock caught her eye, a larger than usual white heart-shaped one with a tiny red diamond painted on the upper left hand corner; it was neither pretty nor spectacular except for its size but it was the exact same one from nine years ago, the one with that insightful love quote that defined her relationship with Ji-Wook, the one she had feverishly looked for but failed to locate that rainy day ten months ago. She plucked it out from the lot with mixed emotions. It was time to replace the lost one on top of Namsan Tower. After picking out a small navy blue gift box, a matching gift bag with gold trims and blue wrapping tissue papers, she paid the cashier and headed home to pen her farewell letter. * * * The next morning brought a sense of finality for Emma. This was her last full day in Seoul. Her flight to JFK International was scheduled to depart at seven thirty tomorrow night. She had one last mission to complete before returning to North America; to restore the crimson striped necktie to its rightful owner and replace the lost love lock on Namsan Tower. She took her carefully wrapped gift bag and dropped it off at the post office and instructed to have it delivered to Sanhwa head office. The sweet girl at the counter asked if it was a rush delivery; she nodded her head and replied next business day would suffice. She quickly handed it over and paid the courier fee before she could change her mind. She let out a sigh of forlorn relief; that chapter of her life was soon to be closed; silent dejection was to mark their parting. The sun shone brightly that morning; the sky was blue and there was no precipitation in sight. Seoul summers were notorious for its humidity and sudden downpours. But on this day, the air was still relatively dry and cool. She caught the bus heading to Namsan Tower and walked the rest of the way up to the Tower Plaza. When she arrived at the observation deck, she was swamped with emotions; this place held her tenderest and fondest memories. She strode purposefully towards the southeast corner and looked again for that special love lock. She worked hard scouring the entire length of that corner, meticulously poring through the heaps of locks; some overlapped each other; others tucked beneath the bigger ones until she was convinced that it was really gone. Only then did she produce her replacement lock acquired the previous day. She had painstakingly wrote that quote onto the heart shaped surface using a waterproof felt tip pen, taking special care not to misspell any word. As soon as she found a suitable spot devoid of clutter, she declared herself satisfied; despite not being the original locale, she hooked the lock around the metal fence and snapped it close. Her mission was now complete; there was no looking back. Perhaps someday she could come back and visit with her grandchildren and see if it was still here; she pondered aloud with a sad smile. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 21 One day later Ji Wook awoke in cold sweat, his head heavy and spinning to the same restlessness which had, at length, kept him awake the previous night. It was a few days before his reluctant wedding to Hee Jin which had been postponed from early spring to late June. The Seoul Philharmonic lost one of its key members due to illness and they needed Hee Jin to stay until the end of the Asian premieres in June. Hee Jin had flattered herself that the Orchestra could not go on without her, confirming her self-importance to that establishment and how she was doing them a huge favor. As there were no more troubles in the Emma department after the lies she inflicted ten months earlier, Hee Jin was more than assured there would be no danger in postponing her wedding till June. She had planned to retire from the Orchestra and become a full time Chaebol wife after their honeymoon. * * * Ji Wook had long accepted his fate and resigned to this destiny, but his heart had remained true to Emma. He often wondered how she had been and if she was still living in Seoul. He skipped breakfast that morning and headed straight to the office. A small navy blue gift bag with gold trims was sitting on his desk upon his arrival. He enquired after Mrs. Park to see if she knew the nature of the package and was informed that it had arrived early that morning and was dropped off at reception. He asked for the description of the sender as there was no gift card attached and was told it was dropped off by courier and no further details were given. He assumed it to be a wedding gift from a business acquaintance, shoved it aside and showed no further interest in it. Product development meetings kept him occupied for the rest of the day. It was Thursday before his weekend wedding and he wanted to get everything wrapped up before the ceremonial affairs begin on Saturday. His mother had gone ahead and booked a French Riviera cruise for the couple as a wedding gift. Despite his protests, he had no choice but to comply with her wishes for the sake of family harmony. Eun Mi wanted a grandson at the earliest opportunity and had planned at great lengths with Hee Jin on this scheme. It was now past five o’clock. Hee Jin had called ahead to coax him to meet for dinner. He had replied in the negative and gave her the usual excuses. She was careful not to vex him as her grand plan was coming to fruition and she didn’t need to spoil it; patience was virtue at this stage of the matrimony game. As Ji-Wook was getting ready to leave for the day, his eyes caught sight of the shiny trims of the gift bag sitting on the credenza begging to be opened. He appeared to be mesmerized by its glow against the fading light, drawing him to take notice. He finally picked it up and sank back into his leather chair, removed the gift box from within and meticulously pulled the ribbons apart. He slowly pried the box open and unwrapped the tissue papers gingerly, almost afraid to find what’s inside. He was dumbfounded to see his own crimson striped necktie. It puzzled him for a split second as he tried hard to recall where he had left it. It eventually struck him it was at Emma’s apartment, removed whilst in the act of lovemaking; his emotional state suddenly frail and melancholy as he remembered that afternoon. Nestled between the wrappers was an envelope containing one sheet of elegant handwritten letter and a small padlock key. With the greatest of anticipation but also trepidation he started reading the letter. It was dated two days ago and read as follows. My dearest Ji Wook, It is with mixed feelings that I begin this letter. By the time you read this, I would have left Seoul. But when you finish reading it, it should bring us both some closure and allow us to move on to a new chapter of our separate lives. Meeting you was indeed fate. Nine years ago I was supposed to meet Mr. Kim; instead I met you. Becoming your friend was a reluctant choice; mostly against your will more than mine. But falling in love with you was infinitely beyond my control. From the very first moment I laid my eyes on you at Incheon International Airport, you had become a part of me, a part of my history and a part of my being. I tried hard to forget you but I failed; it began as a girly crush for a handsome young man but eight years came and went, and there you were, still etched deep within my soul. I want what’s best for you even if it is not with me, although each tear I shed reminds me that I am not ready to let you go. The times we spent together were the happiest and most memorable days of my life. For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for loving me once and for giving me joy during our short times together. I hear that your wedding to Hee Jin is imminent. It is with sincerity that I wish you well and abundance of happiness. You loved her once and you can love her again. She was right about one thing; she and you are the perfect match, one that I could never aspire to be. It also pained me to learn that your mother almost died from a heart attack because of me. Please accept my sincerest apologies if I inflicted pain on you or your family. I hope they will find it in their hearts to forgive me for falling in love with their cherished and only son. I now understand why you could not meet me that August night ten months ago. I should not have put you in a compromised and difficult position. You were right to send Hee Jin otherwise I would have selfishly held on to you. Painful as it was, I had to face the reality that my wistful hopes and dreams to be a part of your life were never going to come true. I sincerely wish you well and happiness. My last gift to you is a prayer that you will eventually forget me so you can live your life to the fullest and love again. Emma Had Ji Wook, upon seeing his necktie returned, expected something extraordinary, this was some and more. After ten long months of self-inflicted exile from Emma, he was convinced she must have left Seoul. She had to have forgotten him and perhaps had married that other gentleman. The manner in which he left her apartment was more than cruel. He stared at the padlock key and instantly recognized its meaning. He re-read the letter a second time; bewildered and confused, he perused it again a third time with increasing amazement and impatience as the latter part puzzled him considerably. What did she mean by her mother having a heart attack? And when was this supposed meeting with Hee Jin? These were all questions swirling in his head, his temperament approaching rage as he finally pieced together the mystery. Back to Table of Contents Chapter 22 The urgency to clear up the matter could no longer be contained. Ji Wook was furious after learning the truth. He could not find it in his heart to forgive Hee Jin but more importantly, he needed to track down Emma. As it happened, he never deleted her contact information from his address book. He charged it up to procrastination but in fact, his inner self had refused to carry out the deed. He dialed her hand phone but there was no answer. He quickly followed up with a call to her UNIDO work number but it yielded the same outcome. All that awaited him was a voice message offering different menu options. Not a moment to lose, he interrupted the recording and had the call transferred to the receptionist. “I am sorry. Emma Lam no longer works here.” “When did she leave?” “I am not quite sure but it must have been recently.” “Can you please put me through to Emma’s previous manager?” “Director Seo is away on business but I can put you through to Paul Sherwood. He’s acting for Director Seo for a few days.” “Yes, please do, thank you very much.” “Hello, this is Paul Sherwood speaking.” “Hello, my name is Lee Ji Wook. I am looking for information on Emma Lam.” Paul, despite being surprised, was dignified in concealing his astonishment. The name was quite familiar to him as this gentleman had been his source of frustrated anger and the primary reason for his unrequited love. “I know who you are,” he replied tersely; “if you care even an ounce for Emma, you should rush to Incheon airport right now. She is scheduled to depart at seven-thirty tonight for New York.” “Thank you very much! I am truly grateful and indebted to you," Ji Wook replied, feeling marginally elated; finally there was a flicker of hope. Ji Wook was thankful to the stranger but based on the tone of his voice he reckoned he might have been that Ajumma’s son. He glanced at his watch. It was now almost six forty-five. It was unlikely he could reach Incheon Airport before her flight departed. He tried Emma’s hand phone again while running with lightning speed to his car parked in the underground parkade but all hope seemed lost; the phone rang and rang with no answer. He wondered if she had disconnected her voice plan since she was leaving the country for good. He jumped into the driver seat after reaching his red sports sedan parked in the VIP spot and with reckless speed, zoomed his way out of the multi-level parkade without bothering to fasten his seat belt. Like an obsessed psychopath he sped through the expressway heading towards Incheon International Airport. He called Mrs. Park from his hands free phone to check the departure schedule for flights leaving for New York City that night. His voice was surprisingly calm and restraint despite his frantic state. Mrs. Park did not even question her boss on the odd nature of his request. She was a rare breed who kept her nose out of other people’s private lives. It was her job to be efficient and effective and she did what her boss commanded. She needed only a couple of minutes to complete her assignment as she calmly informed him that there were two flights scheduled to leave for New York City at seven thirty that night: Korean Air direct to JFK was delayed by one hour and the United flight via Chicago to La Guardia was departing on time. After engaging in stunt like driving way above speed limits, Ji Wook covered the distance in record time and reached Incheon International Airport a few minutes past seven-thirty. He dropped his car off in the unloading zone, darted out of his seat and sprinted into the terminal. The enormous flight information display board confirmed that the United flight was currently boarding but the Korean Air was still delayed. * * * Emma had insisted that Paul and Lin did not accompany her to the airport. She wanted to leave alone: no tears, no hugs, and no farewells at the departure hall; every good thing must come to an end, and she did not want sad departures to spoil her memories of Seoul, especially the happy ones; good or bad she was grateful for them all. As her flight had been delayed, she was in no hurry to check into immigration. A cultural performance was showcasing at that moment in the passenger terminal. She stopped to watch and to soak in the lively atmosphere. The performance had just started and a crowd was starting to congregate around the stage. To this day she still enjoyed Korean music the most. She found a spot not too far from the perimeter of the stage and sat down to enjoy one last live entertainment in Seoul. The theme song was especially sentimental, reminiscent of her relationship with Ji Wook. A sudden reminder of him almost brought tears springing to her eyes as she shook it off and departed from the area. It was time to head towards the security checkpoint in the middle of the vast departure hall. She meandered at a leisurely pace while fumbling for her passport and boarding pass. Ji Wook discovered her first. Decked from head to toe in a pair of medium blue skinny jeans, a white tunic with mini stand collar and a cognac leather ballet flats, she was dressed for comfort and not to impress. She had momentarily stopped walking and was looking down searching for something in her soft oversize shoulder bag. His presence had totally escaped her despite being within twenty feet of him. The moment he laid his eyes on her, relief, happiness and gratitude engulfed him. His heart was still thumping with anxiety but he felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders. He stopped advancing towards her; instead he waited with bated breath for her to notice him. He stood stationary with his hands on his sides, feet slightly apart, and followed her every movement with his earnest eyes. Passport and boarding pass in hand, she finally lifted her head and bent her knees to clutch the handle of her carry-on luggage with her free hand, ready to pull it forward towards the female officer manning the security checkpoint. At that very precise moment she saw him; that same handsome face that had captivated her innocence and stole her heart nine years ago, right here at this same airport. Emma was paralyzed and fixed in astonishment. She knew not how to respond. Was she hallucinating or was he really there in person? Perhaps this was really just pure coincidence. She turned around to see if there was anyone else that he might have been here to see off. But he was looking straight at her; except for his penetrating gaze, his expression betrayed nothing. She was afraid to advance any further. They kept staring at each other, hearts pounding, oblivious to the noise and busyness of their surroundings. “Why are you here?” she stuttered after summoning enough courage to break the silence. “I read your letter.” “But how did you find out my flight schedule?” “Paul told me.” She was perplexed but she knew him well enough that he was a man of few words, always to the point and never offering or divulging more than necessary. She was still unsure as to what this meant; was he here to confess his love for her or was he here to officially bid her goodbye. Five excruciating long seconds ticked by with nothing but continued silence. “I have to get going, my flight is departing very shortly,” she stammered, holding her gaze and trying hard to block the floodgate of emotions stirring within her. “I love you,” he finally said in a voice trembling with tender passion and eyes filled with gleams of unshed tears. She could scarcely believe what she just heard. Tears of happiness trickled down her cheeks. This was the first time he had confessed his love for her; he was not one to say it lightly. “Don’t ruin it for me unless you truly mean it. I was ready to walk away and let you go.” He took baby steps forward until he was standing right before her; every inch brought heightened palpitations and magical moments for both. He raised both his hands to cup her face and gently wiped away her tears with his thumbs and spoke in a soft and endearing voice. “When you first showed up in my life, I was afraid to know you; when I got to know you, I was afraid I could like you; when you returned again after eight years, I fought hard not to fall in love with you; in the end I have failed miserably. I cannot deny it any longer that I am head over heels in love with you.” He paused his speech to plant a tender kiss on her forehead. “Emma, I love you with all my heart and I don’t want you to leave. Will you stay and give our happiness a chance?” All she could do was nod her head to affirm her answer. She was far too emotional to respond in between her sobs. He couldn’t resist it any longer and kissed her through her tears. “I love you. I’ve always loved you,” she whispered, still sobbing. “I know,” he smiled and cradled her head against his chest and hugged her close. ### Back to Table of Contents Thank you for taking the time to read my book. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Please take a moment to leave me a review on Goodreads or at your favorite retailer. Thanks! Mitta Where Seagulls Fly A Contemporary Romance By Mitta Currently available FREE on Wattpad K-drama meets modern day Elinor Dashwood Born out of wedlock, Su Bin's safe existence is turned upside down when she has to quit her study to fulfill her father's wishes to name her his heiress. Not only does she put her dream of becoming an ER doctor on hold, she falls for her father's right-hand man, Lee Min Jun, who is engaged to be married. Fate brought them together but can Su Bin and Min Jun overcome their individual struggles and see past their differences? Will love come after marriage or is Su Bin doomed to live a lie knowing Min Jun's heart belongs to another? Excerpt Gangneung It was only late March but cherry blossoms were already in full bloom. Pink and white flowers atop leafless trees flanked the bicycle path like giant canopies, adding to the beauty of Lake Gyeongpo. Su Bin cycled along the winding path, humming to the latest CNBlue tune. On days like this, the park was her sanctuary: quiet, serene, and absent of starry-eyed visitors from Seoul. She loved the solitude, a reprieve from the frenzy of near-constant sirens and chatter of the ER. The air carried a slight chill though the sun was already high that morning. A gentle breeze blew through the trees, the wind blowing a wisp of hair across her face as she cycled on at a leisurely pace. Early for her ER shift, she slowed down to a wobble-free speed to enjoy the peaceful surrounding, basking in the warmth of the beautiful sun. Unlike the competitive, cut-throat internship positions in Seoul, the lack of doctors in this seaside town gave her ample opportunity to hone her craft. At twenty-five, she was two years away from achieving her lifelong dream of becoming an emergency physician. Years of toil and sacrifices had finally paid off. A loud, high pitched scream from a female penetrated the calm silence. "Help! Someone please help!" Su Bin brought her bike to an abrupt halt, looked around and followed the direction of the voice originating from across the street. A group of onlookers started to congregate around a collapsed body. Too far to discern the gender or gravity of the situation, her instinct took over. Hopping back on her bike, she pedaled as quickly as she could towards the crowd. Upon reaching the site, she jumped off in haste and rushed over to the patient. A man in his early thirties laid on the ground wheezing. His face and lips had swelled up and raised red bumps had spread all over his face and neck area. Wiping her sweaty palms on her slacks, her heart palpitating uncontrollably, she turned to address the crying woman. "Did— did he just have something to eat?" "—No— not since late last night—" A quick scan around and her attention fell on a swarm of bees in a nearby foliage away from the pathway. After all, the blooms were early this year and the bees must be confused. In a voice projecting calm and control, she swirled back to the woman companion and said, "I am a medical intern at Cottage Hospital. This man is having an allergy attack, possibly from reaction to a bee sting. Do you know if he has an EpiPen with him?" "I don't— I don't know— He said nothing about having allergies—" the young woman replied, her speech almost incoherent. Crouched next to the man, she continued her hysterical sob. "Someone please call 119!!" Su Bin yelled to all the bystanders who seemed to be caught by surprise and frozen with indecision. A few people fumbled around for their hand phones. An older looking gentleman replied immediately that he just made the call, and an ambulance should be on its way. The man's body went limp and unresponsive as his eyes glazed over and started to close. "Please save him doctor! Please— You must— you must not let him die—" the woman cried out, tears pouring down her pretty face, both hands pulling on Su Bin's sleeve. "I will do my best. Please try to calm down." With the help of a young man standing nearby, she laid the stung man flat on the grassy field and gave instructions to lift his feet off the ground. He was wearing a sporty quarter zip sweatshirt over a pair of slim fit designer black jeans. After loosening the zipper, she instantly spotted the sting site hidden underneath his stand collar. With frantic hands, she fished inside her shoulder bag but could not find any firm object to scrape the stinger off. As precious seconds ticked away, it suddenly occurred to her to use her fingernail. Thank goodness she hadn't trimmed them this week. "Got it!" she exclaimed with a small sigh of relief. "Mister! Mister! Can you hear me?" she called out to the man and gave him a gentle nudge. But his eyes remained closed and his body still unresponsive. "Why— why— is he still not moving? Doctor— please do something!" the woman cried again, her desperate wails echoing above all the chatter. She mustn't let him die! She can't! Not here! Not now! Still early into her stint as a doctor, she had yet to experience a patient dying in her care. Please God! Help me save this man! Time was her enemy as her heart lurched into a beating frenzy, adrenaline kicking in while her brain pondered the next course of action. Left with no choice, she pinched his nose shut with her thumb and forefinger, inhaled, and gave him two full breaths, each time maintaining an airtight seal with his mouth. At that same moment, loud siren blared in the distance. "Bring me the EpiPen! Quick! Over here— Please hurry!" she shouted as loudly as her lungs would allow while flashing her Cottage Hospital ID card to the paramedic running towards her. EpiPen in hand she jabbed it into the man's right thigh, and almost immediately his chest rose and his eyes flickered. The paramedics strapped him onto the stretcher, hooked him up to an oxygen mask and IV, and loaded him into the ambulance. The distraught woman companion jumped in followed by Su Bin holding onto the IV while she continued to monitor his vitals on the short drive to Cottage hospital. *** A team of ER doctors and nurses were waiting at the entrance when the ambulance pulled forward, its light ablaze. "Man stung by bee. Anaphylaxis. Stabilizing now," Su Bin reported, handing the patient over to her trusted colleagues. She stood rooted at the emergency entrance, a hand wiping her brow. She hadn't realized how much she'd worked out a sweat from her first experience delivering solo emergency medical care. Not from physical exertion but from the enormity and stress of the moment. Though she had interned in the ER over the past six months, there was usually one other veteran doctor on premise when patients arrive. Relieved that she'd saved a life outside the usual comforts of a hospital ward and without the full complement of support, the experience convinced her even more she had chosen the right profession. A sob caught in her throat as she recalled the two women who gave their all to make her dream come true. But— both had not lived long enough to see her graduate. Her mother passed away prematurely of kidney disease and her grandmother, of old age. The only family she'd left was her biological father. Swallowing the sob, her mother's favorite remark popped into her head, reminding her to leave the past behind. "Always think happy thoughts, my dear!" Looking upwards at the Heavens, as if on cue, the baby clouds parted and the sun shone through. She smiled, heaved a sigh of relief and proceeded to enter the open ER ward. Dr. Chun had just finished his initial examination of the patient and walked towards her. "Su Bin, thank you for your quick action today. Could have been a lot worse." "I'm glad to be of help. And very fortunate to be nearby," Su Bin replied, humbled by the whole experience. *** After washing up and changing into her hospital scrubs, curiosity got the better of her and she decided to look in on the gentleman. On record, he was no longer her patient but she felt responsible, and wanted to make sure he was recovering well. He must be someone important or made with money, she speculated. After the initial assessment, he'd been transferred to one of the few private rooms on the west wing. As one of the smaller hospitals in Gangneung, only a few such rooms existed and these were usually reserved for VIPs or people with connections. The oxygen mask had been removed and the swelling had subsided. His face had returned to normal but he was still hooked up to the IV. Looking quite peaceful in a deep sleep, his chest rose and fell, steady and constant. Picking up his chart, her eyes searched for his name. There— at the top left hand corner. Three letters stared back at her in bold Hangul. Lee Min Jun. She whispered it to herself, one syllable at a time as a gentle smile formed in the corners of her mouth; tis a popular Korean male name meaning 'clever' and 'handsome'. She took a few steps closer to his bed and could not help but admire his face. Born with one of those manly faces, his features rugged but elegant: square jaw, high cheekbones, slightly crooked nose but perfectly sized lips. Blushing like a school girl on her first date, she hadn't realized she'd raised a finger to touch her lower lip as vivid memory of her mouth on his flashed by. Recalling the taste of his lips, cold but soft, a rare and foreign sensation raced through her body; one that had caused her cheeks to color an even more unnatural pink. What's happening! Why am I like a woman in heat! Waving a hand at her face, she tried with futile attempts to fan herself. A good-looking man for sure, gorgeous to be precise. Just like his name. So appropriate. Snapping herself out of her current trance, she reminded herself that he was a patient and nothing more. He might be handsome but that was all to it. Turning around, she checked the IV drip to make sure it was administered properly, tucked her long fingers into her front coat pockets and started to move towards the door. The single panel door swung open with force, interrupting the low rumbling of the overhead ventilation, the incoming visitor almost crashing into her. In stepped the pretty young lady from earlier on. Though still looking slightly pale and worried, she was no longer distraught; her demeanor projecting much more calm and steadiness. Even in her state, she still managed to look stunning and sexy. Her long chestnut colored hair swayed weightlessly to and fro as she ran to his bedside, reminding Su Bin of models in shampoo commercials. She had on an off the shoulder suave jumpsuit shaped by a low ruche waist which accentuated her voluptuous hourglass figure. She introduced herself as the gentleman's fiancée and thanked Su Bin for saving her lover from a potentially fatal incident. Her display of gratitude so profuse and animated, it made Su Bin blush. "We came here to celebrate my birthday and he proposed to me last night. We are getting married—" Her face glowed with pride and affection as she turned around to face Su Bin and said, "The wedding is next April. You must come." "Congratulations— and— and thank you for the invitation." Caught off guard by the news and the impromptu invite, Su Bin's voice trailed off into a whisper. Awash with embarrassment, she felt her blush deepen. Feeling uneasy for having admired the woman's fiancé a few moments earlier, and oddly uncomfortable with this exchange, she quickly composed herself, and declared that anyone with her training would have done the same thing. She just happened to be in the area, she said matter-of-factly, and soon after, politely took her leave. *** Faint specks of light danced before him, lifting him from sub consciousness as Min Jun slowly pried his eyes open. For a moment, he was confused. His head felt heavy. Squinting to suppress the sudden glare of the overhead light, he blinked hard several times to allow his vision to adjust to the room. Peering at him, an older gentleman with wrinkled brow straightened up, stepped back and greeted him. His salt pepper hair was tousled and unkempt, partially covering his heavy set black-rimmed glasses. A traditional acoustic stethoscope draped across his neck, the chest-piece peeking through his left pocket. "Mr. Lee, I am Dr. Chun. How are you feeling?" Min Jun rolled his head sideways to face Dr. Chun and replied in a groggy voice, "Um... a bit stiff... and my head feels weird. But other than that I— I think I'm alright." Eyes still glued to Dr. Chun, his throat suddenly feeling dry, he whispered, "But— what the hell happened?" Picking up Min Jun's medical chart, Doctor Chun scribbled something and replied in a calm and steady voice, "You almost died from an allergy attack. But you are safe now." "I-I what?" "You— almost died from an adverse reaction to a bee sting. Luckily one of my interns was nearby and her quick actions kept you alive long enough until medication could be administered." "Oh gosh—" Min Jun turned his head back and stared at the ceiling, half listening to Dr. Chun, his own thoughts drumming out the one-sided conversation. Reality hit him, how close he came to death's door. "....we've completed a comprehensive allergy test...." "....no major food allergies..." Dr. Chun continued with his briefing, conveying to Min Jun the events leading up to his hospitalization. He also educated him on the gravity of allergy attacks and advised him on precautionary measures. "You must be very careful around bees, wasps, hornets and even yellow jackets especially in wooded areas. I strongly suggest you get a Medic-Alert bracelet and keep a self-care kit close by all the time." After one final checkup, he pronounced Min Jun as fully recovered and ready for discharge. As grateful as he was to the hospital staff and the top-notch care he'd received, Min Jun was anxious to meet the intern who had saved his life and Su Bin was thereby summoned. *** Su Bin paused in front of the private room, took a couple of deep breaths, and gave her head a shake. This nonsense had to stop. Why was she sweating this meeting? Snap out of it! She scolded herself, and without further delays gave the solid wood door three deliberate knocks. But without waiting for a formal response, she entered the room with determined steps, making as much noise as her sneaker clad foot would allow. What a difference twenty-four hours made. Yesterday was now a blur as she'd been happily going about looking after patients with minor cuts and bruises, following instructions from her seniors, and learning from Professor Chun, but this, this was unfathomable. She saved a life! She did it when it mattered the most! And now that handsome gentleman had requested to meet her! Doing her best to hide her nerves, she pushed her shoulders back, stood up straight, and held her head high. Crossing the small space from the door in a few nervous steps, she stopped at the end of Min Jun's bed. This should be close enough to appear diplomatic, she justified to herself, the bed frame keeping her from her imaginary danger zone. "Hello, I am Dr. Kim Su Bin. You asked for me?" she opened the conversation. Min Jun looked up from his sitting position, set aside his prescription slip on the bedside table and surveyed her. His eyes gave the impression of surprise, making her even more uncomfortable. She shifted her stance to shake off the discomfort and brushed a strand of hair behind her left ear. "I want to personally thank you for saving my life," he said, his tone full of sincerity and appreciation but one projecting easy confidence. "No need to thank me. I was in the right place at the right time," Su Bin replied, her gaze lowered to avoid his stare. "But— I owe you my life and I would like to repay you. I hear you are an intern. Since interns don't get paid very well, I'd like to reward you in that capacity." Su Bin could not believe what she just heard. Eyes widened, mouth twisted into an annoyed smirk, she tried to compose herself in a professional manner before replying, "Please don't— I make enough to keep myself fed and sheltered." Her previous uneasiness now gone, her professional pride shattered as anger took over. "I don't mean to insult you. I know many interns struggle to make ends meet—" She cut in. "If you must repay me, do me a favor and get yourself a prescription for an EpiPen and carry it with you wherever you go," she replied without flickering an eyelash. Her tone was direct with a hint of disappointment. "But... Dr. Kim, there must be something else I can do for you." "Please don't forget it is my job to save lives. I'm just grateful I was able to draw upon my training at this early stage of my career and put it to good use." "Yes, I know but I really want to repay you for saving my life. Are you... are you quite sure there is nothing I can do for you?" "No, there isn't. But thanks to this experience I'm now even more confident this is what I want to do with my life," she said with a firm conviction and quickly added, "I must be going. My shift in the ER is about to begin," bowed and hastily departed the room. "But Dr. Ki—" She left in a hurry, leaving him speechless as she was gone in a flash before he could even respond. Stepping outside his room, Su Bin took a moment to lean against the corridor wall to gather herself. This was the first time she'd seen him with his eyes wide open. Though alarmed and insulted, she was nonetheless mesmerized by his dark brown eyes which were fixed on her with a look of intensity she'd rarely seen, as if he could look right into her soul. Part of her was mad. Did all people of means use financial rewards to show their appreciation and to clear their conscience, she asked herself, jaded by personal experience. How she wished her father had given her more of his time rather than his bank account. She sighed, deeply disenchanted at the perceived shallowness of this enigmatic man. For a brief moment she'd thought him romantically handsome but his subsequent proposal to recompense her financially for her act of doing her duty as a doctor had completely wiped that whimsical notion out of her mind.


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