A/N: I'm sorry this took me longer than expected, but here it is, the next chapter that I promised. It's a long one!
Jal danyeowasseo?: Did you go and come well? (closest I've found to 'Welcome Back' in Korean)
Special thanks to my muse and soundboard, NerwenT! Thanks for all you do, 'always!'
Disclaimer: As always, I do not own the BOF characters or storyline.
Chapter Eleven: Friendship, Friction, and Forgiveness Part IV
Jan Di and Ji Hoo arrived at the psychiatrist's office to an empty waiting room with soft nature sounds playing in the background. Upon entry, they were greeted by the mousy receptionist behind the desk. Ji Hoo bowed his head slightly, and Dr. Geum greeted the girl and asked how her cat was doing.
The shy girl instantly perked up. "Oh, much better! Gomawo, Dr. Geum!" she sprightly exclaimed as she pulled out her phone to show Dr. Geum some recent pictures of the gray and white ball of fur. From what Ji Hoo could ascertain, the animal had sustained some massive injuries, probably from being hit by a car. She was showing before and after surgery photos.
"I was so worried, you know," the receptionist prattled on, tearing up a little at one particularly bad photo. "It was really serious, and I didn't know how good this veterinary surgeon was…"
"Yes, that's always a concern, putting someone or something you love in the hands of another," Dr. Geum empathized.
"Yeah." The girl nodded. "If only you could have operated on Antigone, Dr. Geum."
She named her cat 'Antigone?' A bit dark, mused Ji Hoo. No wonder it has problems.
"Yeah, I trust you, and I know you would've done an amazing job." The receptionist must be yet another friend or fan of Dr. Geum's. Was she on familiar terms with nearly everyone at the hospital?
Dr. Geum smiled warmly. "Well, I don't operate on animals, Im Chaewon, or I would've tried to help."
Chaewon smiled a little. "Yeah, I know. It turned out alright, though. The surgeon did a fine job, I think, and Antigone is recovering." She showed Dr. Geum a close-up of the cat lying on its side, its tiny, black stitches visible. Over Dr. Geum's shoulder, Ji Hoo naturally zoned in on the incision site; not that he was an expert on animals, but it looked nice and clean.
"I'm so glad," Dr. Geum said.
After a few more exchanges and scrolling through a dozen or so more images, the receptionist looked over at Ji Hoo. "Oh, excuse me," she murmured as if she'd forgotten he was even there. "How may I help you?" Her gaze flitted between the two of them.
"Dr. Geum needs a psychiatric evaluation for a work release," Ji Hoo explained, relieved that the waiting room was empty, so Dr. Geum didn't have to feel as embarrassed about that admission. "Is the doctor able to squeeze her in sometime today, preferably this morning? If so, we'd be most grateful."
Jan Di noticed Dr. Yoon didn't try to schmooze the receptionist as he had the coffee girl; he simply asked politely.
"Hm, let me see…," Chaewon muttered, going back to her computer and clicking a few keys. "Mm...yes. There was a cancellation, so he does have an opening in about, erm, 10 minutes. If you can stay, that is."
Ji Hoo nodded. "Yes, thank you."
Im Chaewon clicked her mouse, hit a few keys and said, "Got you in." Then she turned and picked up a clipboard, which she handed to Jan Di. "Could you fill this out, please, Dr. Geum?" she asked in a sweet voice.
Ji Hoo and Jan Di were headed to the seating area when the door to the psychiatrist's office opened, and a couple of male voices came forth. The psychiatrist, a middle-aged man with graying hair, wearing dress pants and shirt, glasses, and a lab coat, emerged. He was laughing a little as he bid his last patient, a twenty-something man in scrubs, a good day. When the patient exited, the psychiatrist turned toward the pair of surgeons. And as soon as he saw Jan Di, he grinned. "Geum Jan Di. As I live and breathe..."
Like so many others here at the hospital, the psychiatrist seemed to know, and be fond of, Dr. Geum. As for her, she was wearing a wide smile on her face, so she was clearly fond of him, too. Why had she put up such a fight to go, then? Her pride, that's what it was, that pride of hers, again.
"Dr. Cha," she greeted affectionately as she made her way over to him.
Dr. Cha met her in the middle, reaching out to place a hand on her shoulder. One of those touchy-feely types, Ji Hoo assumed. "What brings you here?" he asked.
"It wasn't my idea," Jan Di grumbled, casting Ji Hoo a sidelong glance as if it was his fault. She looked back at the therapist, and he shot her a mock hurt expression. "Not that I'm not glad to see you, Dr. Cha. I just don't like being forced."
"Forced?" He raised a brow.
"Yeah." She shrugged. "What can I say? The chief takes the mental health of his returning employees very seriously." It was the nicest way she could put it.
"Of course he does." Dr. Cha put on a playfully stern expression and placed his hands on his hips. "Returning, eh? Well, what have you done now?"
It didn't sound entirely professional to Ji Hoo, but he supposed the only people here to witness it were Dr. Cha's secretary and himself.
"No, wait, don't tell me. You…" Dr. Cha raised a hand to his forehead, wiggled his fingers, and scrunched his eyes shut as if getting a psychic vision, which Ji Hoo found a bit odd. "...You...said something blunt that was misconstrued."
Jan Di made a sound in her throat. "Close. But nothing misconstrued about it. I meant exactly what I said."
The psychiatrist chuckled softly. "Of course you did. You know, that's what I love about you, Jan Di-ah; you're an open book. You never pretend to be what you're not, and you always say what you mean. If your type wasn't so rare, my job would be much easier."
Ji Hoo listened to them banter back and forth a bit more as if he'd been forgotten again. Finally, Dr. Geum glanced over at him, and Dr. Cha's eyes followed hers.
The psychiatrist fixed his gaze on Ji Hoo. "Oh, forgive me...Dr. Yoon, isn't it?"
"That's right." Ji Hoo nodded; although, he knew Dr. Cha knew who he was. He had evaluated him when he first came to Shinwha, a requirement. He must be trying to respect his privacy, that whole doctor-patient confidentiality rule they all had to live by.
The two men exchanged a bow, and Dr. Cha walked over to his assistant's desk. She whispered something to him, and he nodded; then, he turned to Dr. Geum. "Why don't we step into my office, Jan Di. Leave the paperwork for now." She didn't move right away, which elicited a throaty chuckle from him. "Don't worry. I'll make it quick and painless."
Dr. Cha turned once more to Ji Hoo. "Dr. Yoon, I apologize for taking up your time and to ask for more of it. The session with Dr. Geum will take approximately 40-45 minutes..." Dr. Geum started to protest that that was not 'quick and painless' at all, to which he replied, "Says the surgeon who spends 3 and 4 or more hours in the operating room on a regular basis."
She opened her mouth and closed it, having no good response.
"My dear Jan Di, we both know you're stubborn about talking, but once you get going, you don't stop. I thought I should ensure there was enough time." She grumbled. "Oh, stop sulking." He smirked. "If you behave yourself, I'm sure I have a lollipop around here somewhere."
Ji Hoo thought the comment might irritate Dr. Geum, but instead, the corners of her mouth twitched. She'd either found it funny or actually believed he was going to give her candy and was pleased by the notion. He wouldn't be surprised if it was the latter.
"Anyway, Dr. Yoon, I'd like to speak with you after, for about 10-15 minutes, at most, if you have the time. If not, you're welcome to come back later, but I do need to speak with you before releasing Dr. Geum to work."
"I see." Ji Hoo nodded. "I can wait."
"Very good." Dr. Cha said, then ushered Dr. Geum into his office.
After the psychiatrist had closed the door to his office, Ji Hoo looked around the waiting room. There were pink faux orchids on the end tables, which he recalled from last time, but now there were also fresh lilies on the reception desk‒he could tell they were fresh by their unmistakable scent. Like before, there was soft lighting in the room and quiet music playing (nature sounds); there was even a trickling stream coming from a fake waterfall device on the wall. The environment was meant to be serene; however, this kind of office was anything but for Ji Hoo.
"You can have a seat if you'd like, Dr. Yoon," the receptionist offered. Ji Hoo's head snapped in her direction.
"Oh. Of course." He nodded to her and approached the seats, eyeing them carefully. He wondered how many people had sat in them and to what degree of cleanliness they'd been. He wondered how often they were wiped down. He recalled thinking the same thing last time, too.
"Is there something I can do for you, Dr. Yoon?" the receptionist asked sweetly. "Would you like some water or something?"
"No, thank you, Ms. Im." He gave her a polite bow and chose a seat a few down from the mechanical waterfall.
Ji Hoo wiped the chair down and sat in it; he folded his hands in his lap and sighed. He really didn't have time for this, and it wasn't how he'd choose to spend his time if he did. But he'd been asked to accompany Dr. Geum, and he wanted to make sure she'd be able to return to the operating room today. So, he decided to make the most of it. He pulled out his phone and went over his schedule, deciding to do what work he could electronically while he waited.
Meanwhile, Dr. Cha went to his cabinet to retrieve Jan Di's file, and she took a seat on his olive green tufted couch‒she'd sat in this very spot on more than one occasion. Glancing to her left, she noticed the new wallpaper, which very closely simulated a wooded area. When she looked back at him, Dr. Cha had taken a seat in his matching chair across from her and was waiting, a file in his lap. He had on that 'whenever you're ready' look. Dr. Cha was the most patient man she'd ever encountered, aside from Dr. Yoon. As for Jan Di, she was anything but patient; she just wanted to get to the point quickly, so she could get back to work, but her mouth wasn't cooperating.
"Soo...I see you redid your office," she finally uttered.
Dr. Cha removed his glasses and glanced casually around. "I did. Do you like it?"
Jan Di smirked. "I feel like I'm in a forest."
"That's the point." He twirled his glasses around. "It's supposed to be peaceful."
"I'm not saying it isn't..."
"But...?" Dr. Cha cocked his head to the side; he touched the end of his glasses to his lips.
"But nothing. Um, how's your wife?"
"She's well. Geum Jan Di, you wouldn't happen to be stalling, would you?"
"No," she snipped. "Why would I?"
"No reason I can think of." He watched her squeeze the underside of the couch cushion. "Hey, no need to be uncomfortable, Jan Di-ah. We've talked before. And that's all this is, a talk.
"I'm not uncomfortable," she said, hugging herself. Her body language was clearly contradictory, but truth be told, she was more agitated than anything. And of course, Dr. Cha noticed it.
"I know you don't want to be here, but it's one of those necessary evils we all have to suffer through at some point."
"Right." She eyed the file in his lap; his hand was strewn across it protectively, almost affectionately, like a pet. No doubt it was hers, and it was looking a little thicker than last time.
"I suppose you already know why I'm here."
Dr. Cha gave a single bob of his head. "Yes, but I'd rather hear your account. Why do you think you're here?"
Ugh. Such a psychiatrist thing to say. "Isn't it obvious? Because Chief Lee hates me."
"Is that what you believe?"
"Of course. He's always hated me. He would love nothing more than to get rid of me."
"But he hasn't."
"No, not yet." Jan Di released a small breath. "I don't know why he didn't fire me this time. I thought sure he'd fire me."
"Perhaps he sees you as valuable."
"No. That's not it."
"Look," Jan Di decided to get to the heart of the matter. "I know he's asked you to sign off on me or something, say I'm mentally stable and fit to return to work. Right? Maybe he'll even make me take anger management with you...he's probably hoping you'll refuse to clear me at all."
Dr. Cha patiently crossed one leg over the other, holding onto the file so it didn't tumble out of his lap. "Jan Di," he began once situated. "I've known you since you started here, and in the past few years, I've learned a lot about you. I've learned that you're short-tempered and passionate and very caring. I've never seen you in surgery before, but I can only imagine you give it everything you've got. You're a talented physician, from what I know, but I think you stand in your own way a lot."
"Do think before you speak, Jan Di," he gently interjected, smiling softly. "I don't like to interrupt, but I know you kick yourself more often than not when your mouth runs on its own."
Jan Di thinned her lips. Just like Mo Kyul.
"I don't know if the chief is trying to get rid of you or not. What I do know is, I don't want to see you go, and it's not going to happen because of me." Jan Di's lips parted, her tense shoulders relaxing a bit. "Not because of any personal feelings for you or what I owe you," he continued, "but because you're a smart, talented individual with a good heart. You're good at what you do, and you care about it. Do you think I would refuse to sign off on such a person as that returning to the job she loves?"
"Um...well, no." She shook her head a little.
"And as far as anger management goes, I won't be recommending that. I don't feel you need my continued treatment because I know you have a healthy outlet for your frustrations. So, let's just talk. Relate the situation to me in your own words."
She took a breath and did so, and Dr. Cha listened patiently without saying a word.
. . .
"It was a high-stress situation...the patient was losing a lot of blood, and Dr. Gyo was only making it worse," Jan Di explained, her face reddening and her heart galloping at the memory. "I said what I needed to to get rid of him."
His validation soothed her, and she finally took a breath. "I know I have a temper," she continued, softer, "but I normally control myself better in those situations. I guess...he'd just been antagonizing me all day long, and the others, so I was close to my boiling point. But, there's more..."
Dr. Cha ran a finger across his lips. "Go on."
"I think there may have been a...contributing factor…"
"A contributing factor?"
"Yes. One that...pushed me over the edge." She paused. "Dr. Yoon."
"What about Dr. Yoon?"
"He-I...well, I'd been on edge because of..." She sucked in some air and decided to tell him the entire story, which required some backstory. She wasn't worried about telling him; she knew she could trust him completely, and he was obligated to keep it confidential, anyway.
. . .
Jan Di slapped her hands against her thighs. "So, there you have it." She shook her head. "I'm so angry with myself for letting it get to me this much."
Dr. Cha remained quiet while taking plenty of time to put his glasses back on. "You know, not many people can be friends with their superiors," he finally said.
She knew he meant it as a statement, not a judgment.
"I know, but I was just hoping that this...could be different." She sighed. "Is that stupid?"
"Not at all."
Jan Di forced a smile, but it came out mirthless. "Maybe he was right. If my stress over him or my personal feelings had anything to do with me blowing up in the OR, I shouldn't be friends with him. And I really don't know, Woojin-ssi…"
Cha Woojin was quiet again, too quiet. Usually, she was fine with that; it just meant he was contemplating and allowing her the chance to say more if she wanted to. It was a psychiatrist thing. But this time, it unnerved her. This time, she didn't want him to be the objective psychiatrist. "Say something, please. I want to know what you really think, not as a therapist but as my friend. And be honest; I can take it."
He stroked his chin. "Well, I shouldn't be giving you advice as a friend. This is a therapy session, and I need to be professional."
In the moment, Jan Di realized just how similar he was to Dr. Yoon.
"I'll just say this…"
She shifted in her seat, rested her hands on her thighs and leaned forward, waiting for him to go on.
"It's impossible not to let emotions affect us. We are human beings, after all. That's not to say it isn't important to control our emotions, especially in a high-stress work environment. Whether you have to walk away, take a break, or do...whatever, you need to do something when you have stress or conflicted feelings. You need to find what works for you."
Jan Di chewed thoughtfully on her lip.
"As for this situation, you and Dr. Yoon need to work it out somehow. Whether you decide to be friends or not, it can't continue as it has. You need to find a way not only to coexist but to be a team."
Jan Di leaned back to rub her legs briskly and heaved a sigh. "I know…"
"You said you wanted honesty, right?"
"Yes." She nodded her head several times.
"Well, lingering resentment is not something you should have in the OR or toward a superior. So, I think…," he touched his lips in a thoughtful manner, "that maybe it's good you took a break away from each other."
Jan Di's countenance was solemn. "You're right. Yeah, of course you're right."
Dr. Cha went on to make a general statement about how both she and Dr. Yoon were dealing with their own issues and how they needed to address those issues while working on their relationship. Well, Dr. Cha didn't call it a 'relationship' but instead used some fancy, vaguer term which she'd already forgotten.
"So…" Dr. Cha pushed his glasses back further on his nose. "How do you feel now that you're back?"
She knew what he meant. And it wasn't how did she feel about being back to work. That was a no-brainer. No, he was asking how she felt about Dr. Yoon after the space they'd had.
"I feel…" She took a deep breath and slowly released it, her shoulders sagging along with her chest. "I don't know...I'm..." She stopped short of using an emotion word like 'sad,' although she was sure Dr. Cha would decipher it. "...I don't like the way things are," she told him instead.
Dr. Cha nodded in understanding; he didn't exactly bypass her remark but merely gave her a look that reinforced what he'd advised her to do before. He was basically putting it on her and Dr. Yoon to solve.
They talked some more, and Jan Di filled Woojin in on pretty much everything that had transpired since Dr. Yoon started working at the hospital, about the NICU and more about the incident with Yeon Mi, which had indirectly led to the whole issue between them. Dr. Cha was once again a patient listener. Jan Di worried for a moment that she was betraying Dr. Yoon's confidence, but surely, Dr. Cha knew of Dr. Yoon's condition. The rest of the hospital did, though not the details of it, and every new hire was required to pass a psychiatric evaluation before beginning work, so she assumed he'd seen Dr. Cha before.
And speaking of which...oh, how she would love to ask Dr. Cha about Dr. Yoon's deal! But of course, that would be completely inappropriate, and he'd never tell her even if he knew…
She shook off her curiosity about one doctor and focused on the one before her; he was watching her, naturally, but he seemed a little more pensive than usual.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Well," he stroked his chin, "I suppose I'm wondering...if you've mentioned your daughter to Dr. Yoon?"
Of all the things to ask…
"No, I haven't," she said, no hemming or hawing. He gave her an 'I see' kind of look as if he'd expected it, and that look made her feel defensive. "Why do you ask that?"
Woojin countered with a pacifying look, probably because he'd caught her tone. "Well, because you want to be friends with this man. Your daughter is such a huge part of your life and who you are, so surely you would tell him about her. You've known him for over a month now, haven't you?"
Her eyes flitted to the side. "That's not that long… Besides, it's not like our conversations have been super personal."
"But for her to not have come up once? Not in any stories or anecdotes, or even a casual comment. If I may ask, have you purposely been keeping her a secret."
Damn. He hit the nail on the head.
Jan Di shifted uncomfortably in her seat, looking everywhere but at him. She'd just answered his question without saying a word. "Okay, fine, you got me." Her eyes shot back to him. "I haven't mentioned her on purpose. Well, I have, but...he only knows her as 'my favorite person.'"
"I see." Dr. Cha nodded.
"I'm...I'm just not ready for him to know," Jan Di explained without him having to ask.
Jan Di pressed her lips together. "You know the answer to that."
"I don't like to assume things."
She took a long pause, then blurted out, "Because he might react the same as others have."
"Which is how?"
Damn shrinks, always making you come right out and say it!
"Like I'm trash. Like I did the worst thing humanly possible." She felt herself tearing up a bit, but she refused to cry. She blinked back the moisture and cleared her throat. "I mean, if he condemns me over sticking up for him, how do you think he's going to react to finding out I'm a single mother who got pregnant as a teenager out of wedlock?"
Dr. Cha was resting his chin against his knuckle, his expression neutral. She expected him to comment on her use of such a strong word as 'condemn,' but instead, he focused on something else. "You seem very concerned about what Dr. Yoon thinks of you."
"Of course, I am," she confirmed right away. There was no question about that. "Wouldn't anyone be concerned about what their superior thinks of them?"
"But this is a personal matter. It has nothing to do with your work."
"You say that so casually, Woojin-ssi, but you know it's not really like that. It should be, but you know it's impossible to keep a personal 'indiscretion' as others would view it, and that's putting it mildly, from seeping into work life. You know how unforgiving our society is about that sort of thing."
Cha Woojin's expression was one of empathy. He'd never been among those who'd looked down on her or even despised her for getting pregnant as if it affected them in some way. He'd always been understanding. Maybe it was just because of his profession, or maybe it was because of the backlash he'd received when he was considering divorce. Either way, she'd always thought him to be a good guy, and through a mutual sharing and helping one another in the past, they'd become good friends.
Jan Di shook her head. "But it doesn't matter. I don't regret a thing. I don't think badly of myself, and I don't really care if others do. Even if I didn't make the best choices back then, I got Soo Yun out of it, and I can never regret her."
"Of course you can't. Don't forget, I have a daughter, too, Jan Di. And it seems to me that no matter what's happening in our lives, our children are the bright spots in the darkness."
Jan Di smiled at his beautiful, albeit slightly sappy but nevertheless true sentiment.
"Even though sometimes they make you want to bash your head against a wall," he added.
Jan Di laughed, appreciating the lightened mood. "Well, that doesn't sound like something a psychiatrist would say."
"Psychiatrists are people, too. We get angry and frustrated, same as anyone else."
Jan Di chuckled. "Guess so. And yeah, you're right. There are definitely days like that as a parent."
"Especially when they're toddlers."
"Please," she held up her hand in the 'stop' gesture, "I'd rather not relive those days, Woojin-ssi. As cute as Soo Yun was when she was little, the toddler stage is..."
"Horrific," he inserted.
"Exactly," she agreed, laughing a little.
"Adorable monsters," they said at the same time, followed by a "Heey!" They grinned and pointed at one another, and then they did that unjinxing thing all kids and former kids are familiar with.
"Anyway…" Softly chuckling, Dr. Cha transitioned back to the matter at hand. "You know, it seems to me Dr. Yoon is the type to be professional, regardless of personal views or feelings."
Jan Di nodded. "Yes. Yes, he is." She glanced away. And that's really the problem…
Reading Jan Di's body language and feeling the re-thickening of the tension in the air, Woojin decided to let the matter drop, requesting simply that she think about what he said. Then he moved on to a much safer, more comfortable subject for Jan Di‒her daughter.
"How is Soo Yun doing, anyway?" he asked.
"Oh, you know, she's growing up, which makes me proud and sad all at once," Jan Di replied. Dr. Cha smiled affectionately, nodding. "You should see her, Woojin-ssi. She's tall and beautiful and...fragile."
"Fragile?" He cocked his head in disbelief. How could Geum Jan Di's daughter possibly be fragile?
"Yes. But you know, when I say fragile, I don't mean like a flower...I mean like a bomb."
Dr. Cha barked out a laugh. "Yeah, that sounds about right."
When Dr. Geum finished her session with Dr. Cha, Ji Hoo told her not to wait for him; he asked that she instead go and work on her paperwork until he got the official approval for her return to work. He then followed the psychiatrist into his office.
Dr. Cha beckoned for Ji Hoo to sit and was patient while he went through his hygienic routine prior to doing so. Ji Hoo ensured the place he sat was clean, using his sanitizer spray and a wipe for his hands. He took some extra preventative measures, mainly because the notion of being in a psychiatrist's office made him anxious.
"Dr. Yoon," Dr. Cha began after both had settled in. "I won't keep you long, but I am required to speak with you about some concerns regarding Dr. Geum as you are her direct supervisor."
Ji Hoo nodded with his eyes, and Dr. Cha went on to ask him for his rendition of the incident in the OR with Dr. Gyo. Naturally, Ji Hoo related it as factually as he could while Dr. Cha 'mm'ed and scribbled some things down on his notepad.
Once Ji Hoo was done and Dr. Cha had finished writing, the latter looked at Ji Hoo. "Thank you," he said. "Oh, and there was another incident involving Dr. Geum I hoped you'd comment on."
Ji Hoo waited, hands clasped in his lap, legs squeezed tightly together.
"This incident happened about two-and-a-half weeks ago in the NICU. It was all around the hospital. Now, normally, I don't repeat gossip, but this was actually reported to me as a concern about Dr. Geum returning to work. Her 'erratic behavior' as it was described to me."
Ji Hoo knew the situation Dr. Cha was referring to, and he had a pretty good idea of who had reported it. He shifted in his seat a bit. "Yes, I know which incident you mean."
"She took her clothes off in front of you, I'm told." He stated it plainly, and oddly, Ji Hoo had to stave off some extra warmth in his cheeks.
"I don't see how this is relevant," Ji Hoo said, casting his eyes to the side.
"I agree, but a complaint was made, so I have to address it. Can you state for the record: She took her clothes off in front of you in the NICU, correct or incorrect?"
'State for the record?' What was this, a court of law?
"Incorrect," Ji Hoo replied without hesitation. "She only removed her shirt. And it was for the purpose of keeping the crashing infant warm."
"Ah, so she had a medical purpose for it." He scribbled something down, which for some reason, unnerved Ji Hoo.
Ji Hoo simply nodded, though he was thinking, Of course, she did. Of course, there was a medical purpose for it; Dr. Geum never did anything without reason. And if this man knew her at all, he would understand this. Honestly, it agitated him a little that it was even brought up again. Hadn't the situation been dealt with? Hadn't it been turned into a positive event because of Mr. Kang?
"And how did you feel about that, Dr. Yoon?" Dr. Cha went on to ask.
Again, Ji Hoo failed to see the relevance.
"I don't understand the question," Ji Hoo voiced calmly. "There was nothing to feel about it." The strange thing was his heart had begun to beat slightly faster, and the warmth in his cheeks had spread down his neck to his arms. He shook his head as if that would do anything. "She was acting in the best interest of the patient, that's all."
Dr. Cha observed Dr. Yoon closely‒he was flustered and very uneasy.
"I don't mean to make you uncomfortable, Dr. Yoon. I ask because of your aversion to touch and uncleanliness. I wonder how you felt about a colleague taking extreme but understandable measures in front of you. And being so close to her while she was exposed, how did that make you feel?"
Ji Hoo was ready to storm out this second. This was way too personal, and it had nothing to do with her ability to return to work. He crossed his arms tightly and said, with as little hostility as possible, "I thought this meeting was about Dr. Geum, not me."
"That is true." Dr. Cha nodded. "But you are also involved in this matter, Dr. Yoon."
A scoff passed Ji Hoo's lips before he realized. He shook his head and fixed his gaze on the man opposite him. "Allow me to settle something here, Dr. Cha, and forgive me if I'm rude; I only mean to express myself in the clearest way possible," Ji Hoo preempted. "I've been to therapy before as you know, and I'm not planning on receiving more of it. Ever. I know what you're going to ask me and what you'll say in response. I've heard it all; I know how it works, but I'm living proof that it doesn't work, not all of the time, not on everyone."
Dr. Cha gave the barest nod, and Ji Hoo feared he'd expressed too much and that this man had just read him like a book in those few seconds.
"I'm well aware of that," Dr. Cha said. He paused a moment before going on. "But perhaps you didn't give it enough of a chance, Dr. Yoon. It's not just about the therapist but about the patient, too. The therapist can do nothing if the patient is unwilling."
The statement slammed into Ji Hoo like a freight train. And he had to wonder, had he given up too soon...back then? Love was an extremely powerful motivator, but maybe it wasn't enough…
Ji Hoo's legs were beginning to tremble; fortunately, the psychiatrist didn't push him further.
Observing him carefully, Cha digressed. "But you're absolutely right, Dr. Yoon, about this being about Dr. Geum. I apologize."
Arms folded and eyes trained on the ground like a punished child, Ji Hoo nodded, and the rattling in his legs began to subside.
"If you'll allow it, I'll only ask one more thing..." Ji Hoo loosened his self-embrace and waited. "Because she is, of course, the subject of this session, I'd like to know, what is your opinion of Geum Jan Di?"
There could be so many answers to that question…
"I assume you mean my opinion of her as a doctor."
Dr. Cha found Dr. Yoon's need for clarification...interesting, to say the least. He tilted his head slightly, observing the younger man seated across from him. "Of course. What else could I mean?"
His words almost seemed like a challenge, but Ji Hoo remained expressionless.
"Let me remind you, Dr. Yoon," Cha inserted, "that this is completely confidential. Whatever you say will remain between us." He considered telling Dr. Yoon that all he needed was his seal of approval or disapproval on whether or not Dr. Geum was fit to return to work, but he didn't want to stifle him if he had more to say.
Cha Woojin had known from the beginning that he was going to approve Dr. Geum's return‒she wasn't mentally or emotionally unstable as Chief Lee seemed to believe (or at least wanted to use as an excuse)‒but part of the process was speaking with her supervisor. So, yes, he was following protocol, but maybe he could help a little in the process. After all, the desire to help went hand in hand with an individual in a profession such as his.
But Dr. Yoon didn't trust him, that much was clear. Maybe Dr. Yoon trusted no one. So far, he'd given him some basic information about his condition and his previous involvement in therapy, but he'd only offered the bare minimum, nothing detailed, nothing personal. He wouldn't even relate what had brought on his condition, only that it began at age 9. Dr. Yoon denied knowing the cause, but it was either a lie or something deeply repressed, for such a sudden, drastic change in behavior as had been described to him always had an underlying cause. To the best of Woojin's knowledge, either Dr. Yoon had suffered a severe brain injury or something traumatic had happened. As a psychiatrist, he was very curious to find out, and as a compassionate human being in a helping profession, he wanted to do something about it.
As for Ji Hoo, he had nothing against Dr. Cha. He seemed like a decent guy and therapist, but still, he had his concerns about speaking his mind to him.
"I know you're aware I'm friendly with Dr. Geum," Dr. Cha surmised, "but I assure you, I'm a professional. I'm not going to text her what you said right after like some teenage girl at a sleepover."
The comment was humorous, but Ji Hoo didn't smile. That was by far not his only reservation, though it did put him a bit more at ease; thus, he went on to give his exact opinion of Geum Jan Di…
Three hours later, Jan Di was scrubbing out of the successful carotid endarterectomy with Dr. Yoon and the team. Despite all that had transpired lately, she was feeling good and was even on a bit of a high. She had been approved to return to work quickly, and she'd been able to assist in quite an interesting procedure: Dr. Yoon had stopped the blood flow during the carotid endarterectomy rather than rerouting, a method she'd previously only heard about. Not only that, but the team had worked so well together. She could see a difference from before, or at least she thought she could, but perhaps she was just so glad to be back in the OR. Then again, the guys had told her about Dr. Yoon's attempt at getting to know them while she was gone, so maybe they were feeling more comfortable around him, and it was reflected in their confidence in the OR. And it gave her hope that despite the drama, they could all be a team as Dr. Cha had said they needed to be.
As for her impromptu forced session with the hospital psychiatrist, Jan Di had thought a lot about what he said, and it made a lot of sense. She recalled him saying it was good she'd taken time away from Dr. Yoon and asking how she'd felt after gaining some distance from him. She hadn't really had a good answer to that question, only that she didn't like the way things were, which couldn't be truer.
Being back, the pain felt surprisingly fresh, as if the wound had been infected all over again, but in a rare crystallizing moment that came not an hour later, alone in the stairwell, Jan Di decided she was done‒Done worrying about it, done feeling bad, done hoping for something that would never be. There was only so much a person could take before wanting, no, needing to move on.
Since the psychiatrist's office this morning, Ji Hoo had felt a shift in Dr. Geum's behavior toward him. He didn't know if Dr. Cha had said something to her, but something was different. It was even more pronounced when he saw her after the carotid endarterectomy. She was still being professional, though not so icy cold, yet she felt much more distant than when they were mere strangers. Even though she'd never said the word, it felt like she'd bid him a formal goodbye. Not goodbye as in farewell, but a symbolic one, a goodbye to any hopes of them being more than colleagues.
If he thought she'd washed her hands of him before at the scrub sink, now, she'd completely renounced him. But it was more serene than vengeful; it was as if she no longer cared. And this solemn indifference was by far less preferable to Ji Hoo. At least when she was angry with him, he knew she cared, but now, it was as though nothing remotely unusual had ever happened between them, as though he was the same as every other doctor walking these halls. Not that he should be any different to her than every other doctor in the place.
What was he doing thinking he meant something to her, anyway? And she meant nothing to him, really, right? His still tender hands would beg to differ. It wasn't like they'd forged such a strong bond in a month's time, but that little extra unnamed...something they'd possessed was gone.
Ji Hoo released a sigh, occupying his mind with more pressing matters, such as getting back the electrocardiogram results for his coronary artery disease patient. Test results were always entered electronically these days, which was usually done by a transcriptionist or one of the nurses when the doctor himself wasn't doing his own. After checking, Ji Hoo saw that the results weren't entered into the system yet, so he decided to stop by the nurses' station and see if the paper results were back.
As he was approaching the nurses' station he noticed Nurse Jung attempting to hang a giant banner along the edge of the U-shaped receptionist desk. Unfortunately, the ends kept curling up, causing her to groan in frustration. Ji Hoo stood behind her, several feet back. "Do you need some help with that?" he asked.
Nurse Jung's head whipped around, and she nearly fell over, one end of the large banner crumpling to the floor in the process. Ji Hoo caught sight of the 'Jan' in Jan Di.
"I'm sorry to startle you," he said sincerely.
She averted her eyes. "You didn't. And no, I don't need help."
A silence passed while he watched her try to smooth out the edge of the sign.
"Having a party?" he asked, tucking his hands into his pockets.
"What's it to you if I am?" she shot back. "There's nothing in the rules against it."
"I know," Ji Hoo replied.
Like Dr. Geum's, the shift in Nurse Jung's behavior was also blatant‒this young woman, who'd never shown him anything but the utmost respect, was now treating him with utter disdain. He assumed she knew about his situation with Dr. Geum.
"We've been having celebrations here since long before you came," she muttered, only occasionally glancing at him. Suddenly, her head snapped fully in his direction, an expression of concern flashing across her face. "You're not going to try and shut it down, are you?"
"No. I have no intention of doing that."
"Good," she spat. And she started fumbling with the banner again.
"Sure you don't need help?"
"Noo," she drawled. "And if I do, I'll go to one of the other nurses or find someone, anyone else."
In other words, 'I don't want help from you.'
Part of him was glad, for the banner was covered in paint and glitter, and that stuff got everywhere, managing to stick to your clothing and parts of your body that never actually touched the material, and remain there. And who wanted to deal with that, aside from a kindergarten teacher? Still, it had been the gentlemanly thing to do to offer.
Given the out, Ji Hoo gladly took it and went to retrieve the lab results on his own. Nurse Jung had taken her effort down to about 50% and was watching him warily as if she didn't like him snooping around when he had every right to be checking these files. But she didn't stop him, nor did she offer to find it for him.
Ji Hoo sanitized the silver handle of the file cabinet, opened it, and retrieved the file. He flipped it open and read. Fortunately, the test results were in, and he digested the more-favorable-than-expected results with a pleased twitch of the lips. He then returned the file to its place, sanitized his hands again, and moved to leave. As he did, he caught Nurse Jung's gaze following him.
"I'll be going," he stated.
"Wait," she called out. He turned to face her, and she stared him dead in the eye, only hesitating a few seconds before blurting out, "I want you to know that I don't like you." Her words were firm, though her chin quivered slightly.
It was the boldest thing he'd ever heard pass Nurse Jung's lips. She was definitely taking a page from Dr. Geum's book in her frankness, and although the statement didn't sting quite as it would coming from Dr. Geum, it had an impact. After all, who wants to hear he's disliked?
Ji Hoo simply nodded and said, "Alright." What else was he supposed to say? Ask why? He didn't need to; he already knew why.
But apparently, Nurse Jung wasn't finished. "You know, Jan Di may have thought she saw some good in you, but I know the truth." He waited for said 'truth.' "That you're pure evil."
"Pure evil? That's a bit strong, isn't it?"
She shook her head vehemently. "No, I think it's fitting. After all, the most wicked ones always have the most beautiful appearances, so as to ensnare their unsuspecting victims." Nurse Jung's cheeks immediately reddened, and she quickly, almost contritely dropped her head, undoubtedly embarrassed by her words. In some ways, she was a lot like Dr. Geum, letting words so easily fly from her mouth, but in others, she was completely different.
Ji Hoo's brow furrowed. He didn't quite know how to respond to that. He should probably just ignore it, but instead, he defended himself. "I assure you I'm not out to 'ensnare' or do anyone any harm; I'm just here to do my job."
"So typical." She scoffed. "You just say what you want so casually without any kind of emotion or caring who you might hurt..."
"You've barely been here a month, and you've already done plenty of harm." The young nurse's nostrils flared, and she balled her fists at her sides. "How dare you...how dare you make my friend sad when all she's ever done is be nice to you! Wh-why...why...?" She spewed the last part out quickly, "Don't you just go back to where you came from?!"
Her words were like a punch to the gut, but not because she wanted to banish him...
Jan Di was sad? He'd known she was angry with him but was she really so sad over this? He hadn't really considered it, though he should have. The way she'd nearly teared up that day in the stairwell… Dr. Geum was such a strong woman, but deep inside, there must live a little girl who just wanted the most basic of things‒to have friends and be liked. She'd given him so much already, only asking for his friendship in return, and he'd thrown it back in her face. If before he felt like dirt, now, he was even lower.
"So there, uh, I said my piece." Nurse Jung's eyes darted away. "I know it won't matter to you, but I needed to say it. From now on I won't be rude or speak so directly, Dr. Yoon. I'll respect you and do as you ask, but...but I won't like you." She bookended her little speech by fixing him with a last 'you wanna die' look.
And all Ji Hoo could do was nod and say he understood. Seemingly satisfied, Nurse Jung lowered her eyes and bowed a bit, but she was still glowering, so the bow came out more as a 'screw you' than a polite gesture. And with that, he took his leave.
An hour later...
Chan Mi's not-so-surprising surprise party was a nice distraction for Jan Di. Her young friend had delivered on her promise to throw a bash for her return, and she'd thrown one heck of one. There were balloons, a big sign reading 'Welcome Back, Jan Di!' and a cake, pink all over (not Jan Di's favorite color, but Soo Yun would love it), topped with fruit and an elaborate chocolate heart design. All she cared about was that it looked delicious.
To Jan Di's surprise, quite a crowd showed up for the party; at least 10 or 12 were hanging around, and many more were stopping by to say hi and ask, "Jal danyeowasseo?" This included all of the surgeons...And yes, even Dr. Yoon.
He'd come by just a few minutes ago, not long into the party, and was standing in the distance, looking on. He wasn't exactly participating in the festivities, but it was clear he intended to be here. As hard as Jan Di tried to ignore him, her gaze kept flashing over there, even after being dragged off to the side by a few of the chattier girls from obstetrics.
Ji Hoo had stopped by Dr. Geum's welcome back party to show his support for her return. Although he wasn't technically invited by Nurse Jung, and he definitely didn't want to be a part of the crowd, he wanted her to know he was glad she was back. Many of the other hospital employees had welcomed her back with open arms, and he was glad for that; she deserved it. The outpouring of love and support for Dr. Geum was a little surprising to Ji Hoo, but in a way, it really wasn't. He'd long since learned she was rather beloved around here, at least by most. Not that she didn't have her mortal enemies‒Chief Lee and Cho Yeon Mi came readily to mind‒but usually, she was well-liked. The people who did dislike her either seemed jealous or threatened by her in some way. The funny thing about Dr. Geum was that most people either seemed to love or hate her; there wasn't much in-between.
Upon his arrival at the party, Nurse Jung had shot him a warning look as if to say 'don't ruin this for her.' He wouldn't dream of it. Thus, he kept his distance. And it worked out well. Standing back, watching from afar was just fine by him; she would know he supported her, and he wouldn't have to deal with the crowd or the awkwardness between them.
Right now, he was watching her chat with some friends and be fawned over, but she'd glanced over at him a couple of times. The third time she did it, he attempted a private, genuine smile, which he hoped spoke volumes to the woman who always seemed to read his mind. She didn't smile back.
Just standing there, hands tucked into his pockets, watching, Ji Hoo began to feel rather foolish, even a bit like a creep. His social skills weren't nonexistent, but they weren't exactly honed, either, so he wasn't sure how long was appropriate to stay or how he should occupy himself. Before he could decide what to do, though, an older doctor passed by; he did a double-take and stopped in front of him.
"You're Dr. Yoon, right?" the senior doctor asked.
"Yes." Ji Hoo bowed to the man, who fortunately only bowed back and didn't attempt to shake hands.
"I'm Dr. Han from Radiology."
"Oh, yes." Ji Hoo was familiar with the name; he'd received results of various scans from him, and they'd even conversed electronically regarding a couple of cases, though they'd never officially met. "Nice to meet you."
"Likewise. I'm sure it was inevitable we'd meet." Dr. Han smiled, and Ji Hoo gave him a small nod.
Before Ji Hoo knew it, Dr. Han had sidled up next to him, thankfully, giving him enough space. The older doctor was also observing the party from a distance, and perhaps keeping Ji Hoo company, surely just out of politeness. Neither spoke right away, which didn't bother Ji Hoo at all; in fact, he preferred it this way.
But for some reason‒perhaps it was Dr. Geum's influence‒he ultimately decided to speak up. "Quite the party," he commented. It was a casual attempt at conversation, neither incredulous, negative nor positive.
"Yes, it is," Dr. Han replied. Ji Hoo rather liked that they were both men of few words.
"Sizable turnout," Ji Hoo added, another simple observation.
"Mm, yes." The older doctor pursed his lips. "I suppose that's just the Geum Jan Di Effect."
'The Geum Jan Di Effect,' an interesting term, thought Ji Hoo. He turned to study Dr. Han's profile. Dr. Han had his arms folded and was keeping his eyes trained on the group.
"Dr. Geum is very popular around here, you see. She's managed to worm her way into a lot of hearts."
Worm her way in...
His terminology implied a sneakiness about her as if people had no choice but to like her. And Ji Hoo could understand that, in a way. She had certainly wormed her way into his mind as of late. But perhaps Dr. Han was just joking.
Still, it'd gotten Ji Hoo curious. "Why do you think that is?" he asked this near-perfect stranger, who, for some reason, he felt comfortable asking questions like this to.
"Ohh, well…" Dr. Han stroked his gray stubble. "I suppose it's because of her personality. She just...has this way of drawing people to her. And she's also helped a lot of people around here."
"She has?" Ji Hoo shouldn't be a bit surprised to hear this, given what he'd seen her do already.
"Yes. I can't count on my fingers how many people she's done something for around here. And I'm not talking doctorly duties; I'm talking above and beyond stuff, personal stuff, stuff a best friend or family member might do, but for people she barely knows." A wistful smile graced his lips. "She's quite possibly the most selfless person I've ever known."
Ji Hoo fell silent, wondering if she'd done something special for Dr. Han. The way he spoke about her, it certainly seemed like it. But he didn't ask.
"Still, no matter how hard she's worked and all she's done for people, not everyone is a fan of her around here, because...well, you know."
Ji Hoo didn't know. His first thought was that Dr. Han was referring to Dr. Geum's bold personality, but it seemed like more than that.
"One mistake is all it takes for some people to be condemned forever, especially women," Han commented.
Ji Hoo was utterly confused. What terrible mistake had Dr. Geum made that'd condemned her?
"This place can get very depressing, you know..." Apparently, the floodgates of Han had been opened, and the initially quiet man chattered on. "I mean, I work in Radiology, so you can imagine how much bleakness I deal with. I constantly have to break the news that a patient has cancer or their cancer's back or not responding to treatment, and I get the pleasure of saying things like: 'Hey, looks like your husband lost all brain function in that accident' and 'Yep, that lung's gotta come out!' and 'Sorry to say, but that broken leg is going to require months of physical therapy and will never quite be the same.'"
Ji Hoo thought him a bit dramatic but understood the point he was trying to make.
Dr. Han heaved a sigh. "Naturally, I get a bit grumpy. Dr. Geum, though..." His mouth tilted, and he shook his head. "She's almost always bright and cheerful. I don't know how she does it. She has terminal patients, too, and she has to deliver bad news a lot. Sometimes, patients even die on her operating table, I'm sure. You know how it is, Dr. Yoon." He rotated his neck to look at Ji Hoo. "It's not all fun and games for you surgeons, either, is it?"
Ji Hoo lightly shook his head. It certainly was not. His stats were excellent, in general, and flawless since being at Shinwha (meaning no table-deaths), but it could happen anytime, and it would. A patient would die, and he would have to explain why it happened. And it had happened to him before and was bound to happen again and again…because surgery was like repairing a vehicle. Sometimes the machine was too far gone from age or wear and tear, and even when he could fix or put in a new part, it only delayed the inevitable; eventually, the machine was going to cease to function.
"Dr. Geum's had to deal with a lot in her personal life, too," Dr. Han went on, "but she always manages to stay upbeat and determined. And that tends to rub off on others."
Ji Hoo could attest to that.
"As corny as it sounds, Dr. Yoon, I think she makes this hospital just a little bit brighter."
Ji Hoo wholeheartedly concurred. Hadn't he above all noticed the dreariness of walking these halls during her absence?
Both men fell silent again as they turned their eyes to the suddenly noisier crowd. Everyone was beginning to sing, all but Ji Hoo and Dr. Han, as Dr. Geum grinned awkwardly and was handed a giant piece of cake by Nurse Jung.
Jan Di took the huge piece of cake reluctantly. She'd asked Chan Mi for a small one because, even though she loved cake as much as the next girl, she didn't exactly want to be hopped up on sugar the rest of the day. The thought reminded her of some of Soo Yun's sugar-induced crazes, followed by crashes and comas. She was a lot like Soo Yun in that manner; they shared genetics, after all. Combine that with a sharp scalpel, and the results could be disastrous. But Chan Mi rarely listened. When everyone started singing, she smiled and shyly glanced around the crowd (she didn't like being the center of attention), and she did her best to avoid eye contact with Dr. Yoon. Once they'd finished their song, she thanked them, and despite her initial hesitation, she proceeded to ravenously dig into her cake.
The corners of Ji Hoo's mouth upturned as he watched Dr. Geum devour her piece of cake. She was practically sucking it in like a vacuum, and he had to wonder if she was even chewing. Would he or someone here be forced to perform the Heimlich on her? Well, at least there were many qualified persons present to do it. His grin widened when he noticed the few crumbs that lingered on her lips and around her mouth. He was just wondering how long it would take her to notice when her tongue poked out and swiftly licked the pieces clean. The sight was almost too much; fighting a massive smile, he shook his head affectionately.
Ji Hoo nearly bucked at the sound of Dr. Han's voice. "Excuse me?" he asked, not having caught all of what the older doctor had said.
"I said I'm going to get some of that delicious-looking cake. Will you join me, Dr. Yoon?"
"No, no thank you."
"Suit yourself. I admit I'm a sucker for sweets." He guffawed. "I'll be leaving first, then. Nice talking with you, Dr. Yoon."
"You as well," Ji Hoo said formally. The two exchanged another bow, and Dr. Han went over to join the group. Once he was gone, Ji Hoo decided it best to take his leave, too; he had things to do, and standing here was beginning to seem a little pitiful. He chanced one last look at Jan Di, which she didn't notice, and he walked away.
Twenty minutes later, the party was dying down, and just in time, for Jan Di had a ton of documentation and other work to do before she left for the day, and she didn't want to miss her bus. Odds were she'd be taking some of it home with her or doing it early the next morning, if she could get in early, that was.
It came down to only Chan Mi and her, and as Chan Mi boxed up the leftover cake for her to take home to her family, the former started talking. She told Jan Di about her little interaction with Dr. Yoon.
. . .
"You...you really said all that?" Jan Di was incredulous.
"Oh yeah; I gave it to him good!" Chan Mi bragged. "He looked contrite as a little puppy who'd been whacked with a newspaper. You should have seen him walk off with his tail between his legs! It was great!" She was absolutely beaming with pride for herself.
Jan Di rubbed the pulsing spot on her forehead. And with a sigh, she took both of Chan Mi's hands in hers. "You're a good friend, Chan Mi-ah." Chan Mi smiled. "And I appreciate it; I really do, but..." She squeezed the younger woman's hands. "But I can fight my own battles."
Chan Mi's shoulders slumped. "Yeah...I know, b-but, I…But he…O-kay."
Jan Di gave her hands one more squeeze before releasing them. "I should be going. Thanks again for the party."
"You're welcome," Chan Mi muttered, still looking a bit concerned.
Jan Di smiled softly. "It's okay. Don't worry." She gave a certain nod of her head. "I think I'm over it, anyway."
Chan Mi sucked in her lower lip and nodded.
"I'll drop by in about an hour and a half for the rest of the cake," Jan Di said. Chan Mi nodded, and Jan Di waved to her before heading off to the general office she shared with the other surgeons. She was relieved to find an iPad available for her use when she got there, which wasn't always the case.
Two days later...
It was early afternoon when Jan Di received a surprise visitor at the hospital. To her shock, he was there, just waiting for her at the nurses' station, leaning casually against the wall adjacent to the reception desk. Chan Mi was nowhere to be seen, which must be why she hadn't messaged her.
When Jan Di first saw that familiar, overworn‒but still in good condition‒black leather jacket and that messy mop of dark waves, her instinct was to march over and scold him for showing up here. But from there, another thought surfaced, and she moved on to panic. If he was here, something must be wrong! She strode quickly down the hall, trying to read his expression along the way, but he was staring down at his favorite pair of Adidas‒practically worn ragged‒so she couldn't tell.
What is he doing here?! She picked up her pace, jogging a little, but she held back. For some reason, she feared what he might have come to say...
When he finally looked up and locked eyes with her, he smiled. And that roguish yet innocent smile immediately alleviated Jan Di's tension. He wouldn't smile like that if something was wrong. She was still curious about why he was here, but she supposed she'd find out soon enough. For now, all she could do was grin like an idiot and rush at him…
Since her return, Ji Hoo had only come to feel worse and be more confused about the situation between Dr. Geum and him. Those feelings didn't abate, only confounded the afternoon a mysterious guy showed up to see her at the hospital…
Ji Hoo had just witnessed the guy embracing Dr. Geum, but not only that, he'd picked her up and swung her around like they were a newly engaged couple in some cheesy movie. Both were all smiles and laughs as he spun her around in the air. He was a younger guy, probably 19 or 20, slightly taller than her, wearing a leather jacket, jeans, and tennis shoes. He couldn't be her boyfriend; surely he was a bit too young for her, but why should it matter if he was?
Gaze locked on them, Ji Hoo watched their affectionate interaction, his stomach inexplicably clenching at the sight. The guy finally put her down, and looking a little concerned, she moved in closer to say something to him. Her mood seemed to ease at his response as did the visible tension in her shoulders, and the two started chatting happily away. They were standing so close, Ji Hoo noticed, and the guy kept touching her, and she him, a little nudge, a light shove, an arm casually draped across her shoulders…
He wasn't jealous; he couldn't be, and he rationalized the odd twinge in his stomach as being about the closeness between the two, their very public display of affection. That sort of thing just made him uncomfortable. Yes, that was it. He wasn't bothered by the fact that some guy was hugging Dr. Geum; he was bothered by the hugging, itself.
Others took for granted the ability to embrace someone, and every so often, Ji Hoo wished he could easily throw his arms around a person he truly cared for and hold them close, breathing in their essence and enjoying their warmth. Min Seo Hyun had wanted to stay friends after their breakup, and she'd hugged him then... And he'd struggled through it, slipping away as soon as he could. Maybe it had been the awkwardness or the heartache over the fact that they'd just broken up, but no, it had always been that way. Even when things were good between them, he'd never really enjoyed hugging or cuddling or doing any of the romantic things she and most women liked to do. And that was the main reason he'd lost her‒because he couldn't give her even the most basic of human affection…
Although, he had.
Why wasn't it enough for her that he'd forced himself to be intimate with her when she knew every aspect of that repelled him? Sure, he was a guy, and he had urges, and he was certainly attracted to his ex-girlfriend, but it was always a war between body and mind.
After, she always wanted to lie there, limbs entangled, staring at one another when all he wanted to do was run for the shower and clean himself up as soon as possible. It was madness, timing in his head how long he could manage to remain in this dirty state or waiting for her to fall asleep so he could leap out of bed without hurting her feelings. He never lasted long.
Ji Hoo recalled what Seo Hyun had said to him just before their breakup…
"Why is it that even after all this time, you still can't hold me for more than a few minutes? I know you're trying, but I see you flinch sometimes right before we touch. You rarely hold my hand, and when you do, it's not for long and never in public, and I know you sneak out of bed as soon as you can. And it hurts, Ji Hoo. It really hurts. A relationship shouldn't be this way."
He knew she'd felt that way for a long time, but they'd never discussed it. Because he thought she simply accepted the way he was. He'd tried to explain himself, then, but it had only led to an argument, one that broke out in public of all places. She'd questioned him: Did he not love her? Was she not enough for him? And he'd given her the old adage: 'It's not you, it's me,' which only seemed to make matters worse. Nothing he could say would convince her.
He had loved her, hadn't he? It certainly felt like love, and the ache afterward was almost too much to endure. But maybe he didn't love her enough. Or maybe love simply wasn't enough in his case? His condition...shouldn't he have been able to beat it if he loved strongly enough? She seemed to think so, but he wasn't so sure. Maybe his condition was just bigger than their love, or maybe he was just too weak‒too weak to hold onto the only woman he'd ever loved in that way, the one woman who'd been by his side before, during, and after…
And he hated himself for it.
But she was right. Surely a relationship shouldn't be so hard, and one definitely shouldn't be forced. She was unhappy, and that made him unhappy, so it was best he let her go…
Dr. Geum's laughter brought him out of his reverie, and he gazed down the hall at the pair. He considered approaching and asking casually for an introduction, but that would be unnatural. However curious he was, he didn't want to interrupt or pry, and he definitely didn't want to be caught staring, so he turned his back and walked away.
"San-ah!" Jan Di exclaimed, smacking him on the arm once he'd put her down. "You're here! What are you doing here? Is everything alright? With Soo Yun-ah, Eomma, Appa?"
Geum Kang San calmly requested that she stop and take a breath. "Everything is fine, Noona."
She sighed in relief, allowing her initial excitement to return. He'd never visited her at work before, so of course, she was thrilled, once she got past thinking some emergency had come up. "So, what gives? Ya, you didn't ditch school, did you?" She gave him a light shove.
"Nah, had a half-day."
He chuckled. "Yeah, so I thought I'd ride my bike over and visit my favorite sister."
His bike. That hunk of metal he drove around always made her feel a bit uneasy, for she'd seen way too many motorcycle-related fatalities and cases of paralysis. But she couldn't really speak about the dangers of the contraption since she'd been on one plenty of times, herself.
"I'm your only sister, half-wit," she teased, knowing he was probably smarter than her in just about every way. She may have managed to muddle through memorizing all the bones and systems of the human body, numerous symptoms of medical conditions, and various surgical techniques, but Kang San was a math whiz and super tech-savvy and just plain wise beyond his years. He'd always been kind of a nerd, but now he was going through some sort of late rebellious stage. Well, rebellion without so much of the attitude. He didn't have any piercings or tattoos, to her knowledge, but he had discovered his 'wild side,' which included thrill-seeking and driving a motorcycle. He said the latter was because it was cheaper than owning a car, but Jan Di expected he thought it made him cooler.
"That's why I came, for the love," Kang San replied dryly, tossing an arm over her shoulders.
"Of course I love you." She nudged him in the ribs, and he wriggled away. "But that can't be why you're here."
"So mistrustful." He smirked. "Do you think I want money or something?"
She shook her head. "No, I'm just surprised. You've never come here before, and I can't believe you'd choose to spend your time off with your noona over that girlfriend of yours. I hear she's quite the babe." Jan Di winked at him, and Kang San dug his toe into the floor, suddenly shy. He was still too chicken to bring his new girlfriend over for dinner and expose her to their parents, so Jan Di had only heard tell.
"Well, I can see her anytime," he said.
"And you live in the same building as me."
"Yeah, but you're never home."
This friendly bickering could go on forever, so he digressed. "I just wanted to see how you were doing, Noona. You've seemed kind of down lately, and after the suspension, I thought you might be having a rough time back."
The transition had been a little weird, though not bad. And she supposed she had been a little bummed about Mo Kyul being gone and about the thing with Dr. Yoon… She berated herself for even thinking of it when she'd just convinced herself it no longer bothered her.
"I'm fine." She mustered her best smile, but smart as a whip as he was, he saw right through it.
"Noona…," he began, skepticism in his face and voice thick with sympathy over this unknown thing she was going through.
"San-ah…," she mocked, hoping to lighten the mood.
He grinned and shook his head, knowing she was being evasive but deciding to let it go, for the time being. "So, are you free now? Is there somewhere we can get a mid-afternoon snack and talk?"
"Yes and yes," she said with a smile, knowing just the place to take him.
"Lead the way, then." He beckoned with a smile, and she wrapped an arm around his waist and tugged.
She took him to the doctors' lounge. There was no rule against bringing guests here, although usually, people didn't. It wasn't the most exciting of places, but she wanted him to see where she took some of her breaks, and it did have the best vending machines. Standing in front of the coffee machine, Jan Di recalled how this coffee used to be her favorite in all of South Korea, that is until she discovered the hospital coffee shop and tried Dr. Yoon's blend…
No, absolutely no more thinking about him.
Jan Di tore her eyes away from the coffee machine and settled them on the snack machine beside it, and she pointed out the good snacks to her brother.
When Ji Hoo stopped by the doctors' lounge to pick up the box of special sweetener Jun Pyo had had ordered for him, there was Dr. Geum again, seated at the usual table where she took her breaks (when she wasn't at the stairwell). He just couldn't seem to get away from her. The mystery guy was sitting next to her at the round table, and again, he was close, very close, close enough that their arms kept bumping. Since they were talking and joking and not looking his way, Ji Hoo was able to slip in and head for the cupboards without her notice.
He used his cloth to open the cupboard, and he scanned for the box of sweetener. Finding it easily, he pulled it out and shut the door. Then he looked back at Dr. Geum and her male friend. The two were still conversing in that overly friendly manner, and that playful touching was still going on. She'd tap his arm or shove him; he'd jab her in the ribs or ruffle her hair, and she'd respond by sticking her tongue out at him. Ji Hoo also noticed they were sharing their snacks.
Who is he? Ji Hoo wondered. Dr. Geum had never mentioned a boyfriend, but that didn't mean she didn't have one. Maybe this guy was the 'favorite person' she always brought up. Maybe that was their pet name for each other. How adorable…
Just then, the guy made her laugh loudly, and she leaned against his arm while he smiled adoringly down at her.
Why did he get this uneasy feeling seeing them together? Ji Hoo mused. It didn't make sense. He'd seen plenty of couples hugging and touching and kissing, in movies and in public, at the hospital, too. He'd even caught some stolen romantic moments in dark corners and stairwells. So why should this get to him?
Ji Hoo ran a hand through his hair, the sudden movement alerting Dr. Geum. It was only then that he realized just how long he'd been standing there staring at them. Apparently, he'd looked just a little too long because he'd almost made it out without her seeing him. Not that he should have to slink around his place of employment like a criminal...
As soon as she saw him, Dr. Geum's smile fell away and her eyes flashed with something not quite readable‒it wasn't anger, something else… Swallowing thickly, Ji Hoo silently apologized for staring; he hadn't meant to. Her lips parted slightly, and her chest rose and fell. She broke eye contact before he did, her eyes quickly dropping to the table. Ji Hoo then saw the guy murmur something to her and look up at him. She followed his eyes, meeting Ji Hoo's tentatively. Not knowing what else to do, Ji Hoo gave them a slight nod then spun around and walked out.
"Um, so, who was that guy?" Kang San asked curiously once he was gone. He tore off a piece of gimbap with his teeth.
"What guy?" Jan Di played dumb.
"Uh, the guy who was just staring at you," he spoke through the bite. "The guy you could barely look at and who's got you acting all weird now."
"Don't know what you're talking about," she lied poorly. And then, to spare herself, she shoved a pile of chips into her mouth and started crunching away.
She should've known that wouldn't deter her brother, though; he knew she wasn't too dignified to talk with her mouth full.
"Oh, come on. Tell me." Kang San went into protective mode. "Who is he? Is he a creep? Did he do something to you? Do I need to do the brother thing and have a little man to man chat with him?" He poked out his chest as if to appear intimidating.
The combination of chips and her laughter at his 'tough act'‒that Dr. Yoon wasn't even there to see‒nearly choked Jan Di. She coughed and sputtered as Kang San patted her firmly on the back.
"Please!" she scoffed once she could talk once more. "You're barely a man, San-ah. You're just a baby man."
"That's not‒what I mean is, you're my younger brother, so you don't have to protect me. It doesn't work that way. If anything, I should protect you." He still looked a little insulted. She placed a hand on his shoulder. "San-ah, I know you're a man now and a far better one than most out there." Kang San beamed at her words. "I just meant...well, that you don't need to talk to him." Ever.
"Who is he?" Kang San persisted.
"He's…," she flattened out her chip bag, crushing the few remaining ones, "my boss."
"Oh." Kang San's lip protruded, and he nodded several times; seconds later, his eyes lit up in recognition. "Ahh, yes, the new boss! I've heard about him," he muttered the last part as he snuck the chip bag away from her before she destroyed it.
"You have?" Jan Di's neck rotated so fast it almost hurt.
"Yeah, Soo Yun-ah's mentioned him. More than a few times, actually." Kang San smirked. "You know, the way she talks about him, he sounds more like some kind of cartoon character than a real person. For awhile I wasn't sure he existed, thought she made him up."
"Well, she has done that sort of thing before," Jan Di said. "But not anymore. She knows the difference between real and make-believe now, even though she does embellish." She paused a moment. "There's no need to embellish Dr. Yoon, though. He's real." Very real. Although, sometimes she still found it hard to believe.
"I guess his hair really is red," Kang San commented, polishing off the last bite of his gimbap. "Soo Yun found that fascinating. But she made it sound more like he had a head full of genuine flames."
Jan Di grinned, shaking her head a little. Soo Yun hadn't even seen Dr. Yoon; the girl had such a vivid imagination.
"To me…" Kang San was off in thought now, his brow all wrinkled up. "He looks more like a pop star."
Jan Di snorted. Dr. Yoon as a pop star...yeah, that'd happen…
"So, what's the story, then?" Kang San rested his chin against his knuckle as though she was about to tell him something juicy.
"Yeah, about him. He's awful? You hate him?"
Jan Di assumed Kang San was asking because of how uncomfortable she'd gotten when Dr. Yoon looked over.
Jan Di took a swig of her soda and practically slammed it down. "No," she said, much more softly than she'd set down the can. And she sighed almost longingly. "Not at all." Although, sometimes she wished she could hate him…
He was looking at her expectantly. "What?"
"No!" she said, a bit too vehemently.
Kang San's eyes widened. "Okay, sorry." He held his hands up to placate, and Jan Di glanced away. "So...if you don't hate him, and he's not weird, then...are you going to introduce me?"
"No," she bluntly replied. Leaning back in her chair, she folded her arms tightly across her chest. "Why should I?" It came out much more bitter than intended, and Kang San was probably really confused right now. She poked out her cheeks, exhaling in the process. "I mean, you saw what happened. He looked over, said nothing, and left. He's completely...professional. Rigid. By the book." She dropped her arms and began tapping on the arm of the chair. "He'd probably think it a waste of time to meet a family member of an employee." Jan Di knew that was probably a bit unfair, but it was what it was.
"He's really that bad?"
She sat up straight. "Well...not bad. It's not exactly like th-ugh! Can we please stop talking about this?"
Kang San held up his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. Didn't realize it was such a sore subject..."
"Sorry." Jan Di chewed on her lip. She hadn't meant to get so hostile with Kang San. That hostility was meant for Dr. Yoon and Dr. Yoon alone. Okay, so, maybe she wasn't over it…
"It's just as well." Kang San took a big gulp of his canned green tea. "Soo Yun-ah would be heartbroken if she found out I met your boss before her. She's dying to meet the guy."
The mention of her daughter's name lifted Jan Di's spirits temporarily, but it also made her feel bad. Soo Yun was dying to meet Dr. Yoon, but she probably never would. Just another thing she'd fail to give her daughter...
"Yeah, she does really want to meet him. But I don't expect that to ever happen," she muttered lowly. Kang San gave her a questioning look. "Because, you know, Soo Yun doesn't come to the hospital much," she justified.
"Well, maybe that's for the best."
Kang San shrugged. "Because I think...if she meets him she might be disappointed."
"Why do you say that?" Jan Di blurted out, rather defensively.
"Well, because...earlier, that…" The usually eloquent Kang San was gesturing, at a loss for words under the heated gaze of his sister.
"You don't even know him," Jan Di snapped. "You haven't even met him!"
Kang San pinched the bridge of his nose. "Uh, yeah. Right. Sorry." He couldn't quite figure his noona out today. One minute it seemed like she hated the guy, the next she was practically biting his head off for speaking against him. He looked over cautiously, taking some time to observe her while she simmered.
Jan Di noticed Kang San studying her. She hated that, especially when she had something to hide because her brother knew her too well, and now he had his feelers up. He was almost as bad as Eomma when it came to wanting to know information. She supposed computer geeks were like that, always needing to know everything. At least he wasn't quite as pushy as Eomma.
"So, what is his deal, then?"
She stood corrected.
"Geez, are you capable of talking about anything else, San-ah?!"
"Hey, I'm just curious here. I mean, you're acting very, very strangely, and that look he gave us…"
"What look? He just acknowledged us is all."
"Yeah, but his expression…"
"What about it?"
"I don't know." Kang San shrugged. "It was like a mixture of...longing, pissed off, and...constipation."
Jan Di snorted involuntarily. "That's just Dr. Yoon's face. And watch your language," she said sternly.
"Yes, Noona." Kang San saluted her, and she shook her head at him.
"Dr. Yoon, he...he just has this serious expression all the time. Although, sometimes he smiles, and…" She hadn't even realized she'd continued speaking aloud as her eyes drifted skyward and her mouth quirked. By the time she came back down to earth, Kang San was watching her, grinning like the cat that ate the canary.
"What?" she demanded.
"Nothing. Just, I think now we should talk about your face."
"What about my face?"
Kang San smirked. "Looks straight off the cover of a romance novel."
"Wha-?! Does n- Ugh, shut up!" She shoved him hard, nearly knocking his lean but solid form off the chair. "What do you know about romance novels, anyway?" she deflected.
Kang San straightened up as he gave a one-armed shrug. "Just know some people who read them, you know, for a joke..."
Kang San's cheeks flushed a little, but he wasn't letting up, and he maneuvered the conversation right back to her. "So, sis...you're not...dipping your pen in the company ink, are you?" he asked slyly, nudging her shoulder with his elbow.
"Whaa-?" It took her a second to grasp the meaning of the really old English phrase. "San-ah! Where did you even hear that?!" She grasped onto Kang San's ear and tugged. He yelped in pain.
"Ow, ow, OW, Noona!"
It wasn't like her little brother was a child anymore, but such a statement coming from him was shocking. Not to mention, it was an odd phrase for him to know; he probably learned it online. She wasn't even sure she fully understood it, but she could figure out from his visual clues what he was getting at.
"I can't believe you said that, you naughty boy!" she hissed. "I oughta wash your mouth out with soap!"
"Wae...?" he began in a pained voice, trying to wriggle free without her tearing his ear off. "It's not like I said you two are‒" He started to say a dirty word, and that one, she knew. She tugged his ear harder, making him cry out even louder. The few people in the lounge were looking at them, but she didn't care.
"Don't you dare finish that sentence, young man!" she cautioned, her face steaming.
"O-kay. Sor-sorry, Noona!"
She finally released his ear, and he scooted back to a safe distance in his chair.
Glaring over at him, Jan Di groaned. "You sound like Eomma."
"Why? What did Eomma say?" he asked, rubbing his red, tender ear.
"Nothing!" Jan Di snapped.
"Does Eomma also think you and he are…?" Jan Di stuck her pointer finger up in the air in warning, and Kang San scooted back even further.
Actually, Eomma does think that…
Of course, their mother didn't even know who Dr. Yoon was. She only knew him as 'The Sheets Man.' Still, she wondered if their mother had mentioned that to Kang San. Maybe they'd even planned this whole conversation to torture her. No, she was just being paranoid. She did, however, hope San-ah didn't know about the sheets thing because if he connected the dots, which he was more likely to do than their mother, he'd have a field day with it.
"But seriously, Noona, what's going on there?" She never knew her little brother could be so persistent. "I just ask because...well, that little staredown, the way you two were looking at each other..." Her brow furrowed in question, to which he responded, "It kinda seemed like maybe it was a...lovers' spat or something."
"Lovers' spat?!" She moved to smack his arm, but he dodged just in time. Irritated, she sat back down, putting her hands in her lap, luring him into a false sense of security. When she'd gained back his trust enough for him to move a little closer, she leaned forward. "You better watch yourself Geum Kang San," she spoke in a low, menacing voice, "Or, I'll cut you open in your sleep and sell your organs on the Black Market." She snuck a finger up and poked him just above his left kidney.
Kang San swallowed almost comically loud. "Um, you're a little terrifying right now, Noona…"
Jan Di gave a short, sadistic laugh. "Just kidding. You know I'd never harm a hair on that head, you little brat." She wagged a finger. "But watch yourself."
She started collecting their garbage to throw away, but she didn't get up. "Honestly," she began, resting her elbows on the table, "It's nothing like what you're thinking. Definitely nothing going on."
"Okay, I believe you."
Jan Di pursed her lips, and for some reason, she decided to go on. Maybe it was because the frightened and confused onlookers had left, or maybe it was just in her nature to prattle. "The deal with Dr. Yoon is...well, I don't know. He...he can be difficult to deal with; he drives me crazy sometimes, but he's very smart, and kind, even though he doesn't always show it." Her voice softened as she gazed across the room. "He's very serious, and sometimes, he even looks a little sad…but, there are other times when he smiles...and it-it's...enough to make a person warm all over…"
Jan Di hadn't meant to go off on such a major tangent, and when she finally looked at Kang San, he was staring at her. She rolled her eyes. "What now?"
"Well, um, wow. Okay, so you don't hate him at all, do you? You like him."
"Whaa-?!" Jan Di's mouth dropped open and stayed that way. She must look like a fish. "I'm not in high school!" She recalled a similar comment made to Mo Kyul.
"Yeah, but that doesn't mean anything. You know, I was just joking before, but now I really do think you like him."
Regaining her senses, Jan Di clapped a hand over her brother's mouth. "Do not!" she hissed. "And shhh!" Even though the room was empty, her head snapped conspiratorially toward the door as if someone passing by might pick it up on radar. "Don't say things like that here. People talk!"
He mumbled something in garbled speech through her hand, then took hold of her wrist and gently moved it away. "Okay, sorry," he whispered in the empty room to be funny. "You just," he was speaking in a normal tone of voice again, "practically wrote a love sonnet to him, and you say you don't like him."
"Did not, and I don't. And I repeat, shut it," she said through gritted teeth. Thankfully, Dr. Yoon had left the lounge and the others had either left or been scared off, but there were still plenty of people around who could drop in that she didn't want to hear this conversation. Even if she did perhaps, maybe, probably not but possibly like him just a little bit, and that wasn't to say she did, she definitely didn't want anyone knowing it.
Truthfully, she'd had enough of this. She was feeling a little humiliated about the whole interaction, in hindsight, but the people who'd overheard a portion of it weren't known gossips, so she didn't think they'd spread any rumors. Besides, no one here would ever believe there was something going on between her and Dr. Yoon. It was ridiculous, unfathomable. Worst case scenario, they might think she had the hots for him and tease her a bit, and she could ignore that. But she didn't want him hearing any of that talk. As for Dr. Yoon, he could never be interested in her, and certainly, nothing could ever happen, for so many reasons…
Kang San peered over, trying to gain her attention. "I'm sorry. I'll drop it," he said, sensing her obvious agitation.
She finally looked at him. "Thank you."
He nodded in a conciliatory fashion. "And if you say you don't like him, I'll believe you."
She halfheartedly nodded.
"Noona?" he questioned.
She shook her head, a sardonic little smile crossing her lips. "It doesn't matter, anyway...who I like or don't like. It's not like I can...be with someone."
"Oh, Noona." He laid a sympathetic hand on her arm. "Why do you say that?"
"Well, because, you know, my situation, who I am, what I am."
Kang San nodded sullenly. "But that doesn't mean you can never…"
She cut him off. "Besides, guys I like…," she shrugged, "never seem to like me." Or want anything to do with me…
"That's not true. I've known plenty of guys who've liked you. At school," he stopped short of saying 'the hospital,' "...Other places. And how could they not?" He grinned at her. "You're the coolest and prettiest of all, Noona!"
She rolled her eyes. "Just because you think I'm pretty doesn't mean everyone else thinks so. And you're just saying it because I'm your noona."
"Pshhh, am not. And the ones who don't like you are idiots. You really are the greatest, and one day, some good, no great man‒yeah, he's gonna have to be great, practically perfect, a prince as Soo Yun would want‒will come along for you and her."
You're living in a fairy tale land, too, San-ah...
She muttered 'thanks' and forced a smile.
"Look, Noona," he began, tentatively. "I know Eomma gives you a hard time about guys and your age and getting married, and I don't want to add to that misery. I shouldn't have teased you, and I'm sorry. Really, I just want to see you happy."
And he truly did. Kang San loved his sister a lot, and he hated what had happened to her. She didn't deserve it. She was such an amazing person‒she could cook; she was a good mom, and she'd managed to complete medical school despite having a tiny baby at home. She'd even helped pay for his studies, and he still had no idea how he was ever going to pay her back, but she didn't care. To him, she belonged on a golden pedestal. She definitely deserved a good life and someone to love and cherish her. "We all want you to be happy," he said. "Me, Eomma, Appa, and Soo Yun."
This time, Jan Di smiled for real.
"And when you're ready," Kang San leaned in, placing a warm hand on her shoulder, "I know you'll find the right guy. Someone who'll love and care for not just you, but Soo Yun, too. But, let me tell you, he's gonna have to go through a heck of a screening process." Jan Di grinned at him. "I mean, whoever the guy is, if he wants to date my noona and be a father figure to my niece, he's gonna have to man up!"
Jan Di laughed. "Thanks, namdongsaeng."
Later that day…
Ji Hoo missed Jan Di. Plain and simple. It didn't seem possible when he'd only known her for a little over a month–and they'd been in this fight for nearly half that long‒but it was true. He missed her wit; he missed her resourcefulness; he missed her outrageous statements; he missed her cheerfully determined spirit. He just missed her. And missing her had taken its toll on his mind and body. Even his friends had noticed his raw hands and even rawer mood.
He'd missed her while she was on suspension, and at first, he thought it was just because she made his job easier, but it was more than that. He was drawn to her in an inexplicable way; she brightened up the halls and his days, just as Dr. Han had said. At least, before, she had. Now, it felt like she was drifting further and further away from him.
Ji Hoo sat in his office, thinking about their situation. And he'd thought about it plenty, even to the point of obsession. And every time, he came to the same conclusion, that he'd royally screwed up with the one person in years who hadn't treated him like a freak or a piece of glass. And for what? Some sense of pride, decorum, rigid adherence to his own arbitrary guidelines?
It was all his fault. He'd handled it all wrong, hadn't he? Like before. Not that it was exactly the same. Back then, he'd kept his feelings under lock and key, but this time, he may have done something even worse. He'd attacked Dr. Geum when she was only looking out for him. Even if he didn't want to be looked after, there was no excuse for the way he treated her, and her intentions had been good. How could she have known how sensitive he was to the notion of someone protecting him?
Yoon Ji Hoo was used to being alone, especially during some of the most difficult times in his life. He squeezed his eyes shut by force, doing his best not to recall that. No one had protected him back then, so why should they now that he was a grown man?
But even though he was used to it, that didn't necessarily mean Ji Hoo liked being alone; it was just that being a burden was far worse, especially when it came to someone he cared for. That begged the question...did he care for Dr. Geum? He must; otherwise, he wouldn't be feeling this way. And he started thinking about all the evidence suggesting that he did, all the things he'd done for her, things he'd never imagined doing for anyone.
But no, those were all necessary. It was necessary to help her in the NICU‒for the baby. It was necessary to let her sleep in his office‒she needed to be on top of her game, for surgery. He tossed around a few others, including the ones Dr. Geum had pointed out to him. And the more evidence he came up with the weaker his argument became. Perhaps she'd been right, and the things he'd been doing lately weren't necessary at all...
What hit him hardest was how vehemently he'd defended her, twice now, once with Dr. Park and then again with Chief Lee. He tried to argue with himself that those times were necessary, too, at least the latter‒there was no reason to lose a capable surgeon, after all. And he might have convinced himself had he not gotten so emotional. Ji Hoo was not a man who angered easily, but upon recollection, he'd felt as though he would explode when he heard what Dr. Park had said about Dr. Geum and when Chief Lee had disrespectfully called her 'that woman.'
And all at once, he realized. He'd done the very same thing he had condemned her for, protected her.
He was a fool; he was a coward. He'd been so afraid of letting his guard down and experiencing something new that he'd pushed her away. Just because life wasn't predictable around Dr. Geum didn't mean he should cast her aside altogether. That would be like denouncing the weather for changing from day to day. Nevertheless, he'd done it, cast aside a loyal, selfless person who was offering her friendship and asking nothing in return, and anyone who would do that was a complete idiot.
Yes, he was an idiot, and he was paying for it. If he thought he missed her before, now it was even worse. He didn't know when he started to feel this way, but now, it was an ever-present throbbing, like an annoying headache you can't seem to get rid of but inside his chest, resonating around his heart (and sometimes a churning in his stomach). If he wasn't a cardiac specialist, he might think something was wrong with him, and maybe there was, though certainly not physiological. He just missed a woman who'd come to mean more to him in a short amount of time than he imagined possible.
Perhaps the words that'd slipped from his lips to the chief were truer than he thought: I need her. A surprising revelation, and a little frightening.
Whatever the last straw was, something had clicked into place in Ji Hoo's mind, and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he needed to make amends with her. But he didn't know exactly how he was going to do it. He'd learned from the Dr. Park situation that she didn't forgive easily, and his own stupidity and arrogance had possibly even surpassed Dr. Park's. The first thought that'd actually popped into his head was so cliche and wrong that he was ashamed he'd even had it. Sending her flowers was a ridiculous notion. She wasn't his girlfriend, and he suspected that that kind of thing would mean nothing to Dr. Geum. Maybe he should just be honest with her...tell her how bad he'd been feeling...
Even if he didn't have a clue what he was going to say or do, he needed to do something. He was through analyzing and brooding; it was time to act. His mind kept hissing at him, "Fix it. Fix it. You need to fix it." And so he would try, because he couldn't let this continue. But it was going to take a huge gesture...
By the end of the day, Ji Hoo had finally worked up the courage to speak with Dr. Geum. First, he stopped by the vending machine for a peace offering, and then he went looking for her, hoping to catch her before she left for the day. But he couldn't seem to find her in any of her usual spots or contact her. That was odd. She didn't normally rush out but rather stuck around longer than most to make sure things were in order.
He strode down the hall, glancing around and into patient rooms along the way. Perhaps she was chatting with one of her patients. He didn't see her, but he did catch sight of Nurse Jung at the nurses' station. And he stopped. Despite the young nurse's declaration of hatred for him, she might be his best hope; thus, with renewed determination, he approached her for the second time within a few days.
She didn't see him right away, for she was occupied with something, her head lowered. When she finally looked up and saw him standing before her, she flinched. Her shocked expression quickly gave way to a frigid one. "What can I do for you, Doctor?"
For some reason, Ji Hoo suddenly flashed back to the time Dr. Park had asked for her help with making up with Jan Di. But he wasn't going to do that. He'd figure it out on his own; he just needed to find her first...
"Do you know where Dr. Geum is?" he asked directly, ignoring the chill from the north.
Her eyes flitted to the can of peach Fanta in his hand. "Uh, why don't you just page her, Dr. Yoon?"
Ji Hoo suspected Nurse Jung was holding out. Perhaps she even had her hidden in a closet somewhere.
"She's not answering, and I really need to speak with her."
"Is it a medical matter?" the young nurse boldly asked, and Ji Hoo had to wonder if Dr. Geum had coached her on that one.
"No." His eyes flitted briefly to the side. "It's...personal."
"Personal, huh?" Nurse Jung folded her arms, eyeing him suspiciously for what felt like a very long time. "A word of advice, Doctor," she punctuated the title as if it were a curse word; apparently, she wasn't done speaking her mind to him. "Don't cross Geum Jan Di, or you'll sleep with the fishes."
Sleep with the fishes? Was she threatening or warning him?
The gangster-like statement was almost amusing coming from such a tiny woman who was normally so chipper and probably couldn't hurt a fly. Not even Song Woo Bin used language like that. But Ji Hoo couldn't find true humor in it because she was obviously upset, and he was on a mission.
"There are a lot of people who love Jan Di around here, you know," she went on.
"I know." Ji Hoo nodded.
"She's a wonderful person, but she doesn't forgive and forget easily."
"I'm aware." Oh, did he ever know that.
Nurse Jung was wearing that 'go to hell' look, but what did he have to lose? So, he decided to go for broke. "Look, Nurse Jung, I know you know a lot about what goes on at this hospital. I also know you and Dr. Geum are friends and that she talks to you, so you must know what I said to her." He paused. "We both know she's not very happy with me right now, but I want to rectify that, so could you tell me where she is?"
"Why should I?" She wrapped her arms tighter around herself, squeezing like a python.
For the reason I just said…
"Because…" He cleared his throat. "Because you said yourself that she's been sad over this. I have, too. I realize I was wrong to throw away her friendship, and I want to tell her that."
Nurse Jung's face softened a little, and she seemed to consider it. At length. After taking plenty of time to ponder, she finally caved. "She's at the pool."
"Yes, the pool. You see, Jan Di loves to swim. She goes there whenever she has the chance, especially when she's stressed about something. She's been stressed a lot lately because of a certain someone..." She raised her brow at the last word.
Ji Hoo lowered his head slightly. "I know, but if it makes you feel any better, I've been stressed, too."
"Hmm…" She tapped her chin. "A little."
"So, this pool...where is it?"
"You figure it out." Nurse Jung smirked. She didn't seem so angry anymore, but she was clearly not past torturing him. Did she expect him to wander all over the city? He was intent on making up, yes, but he was a busy man. Maybe that's what she expected of him, to prove how much Jan Di meant to him in some ridiculous fashion. But this wasn't a drama; it was real life.
"Nurse Jung, please," he urged.
She stared him down a moment before huffing resignedly. "Fine. There's a pool on Bukchon-ro."
"Thank you." He bowed and thanked her a second time, and she even smiled a little. He then turned to leave, but she called him back.
"Just…" She fidgeted with her fingers. Impatiently, he waited for her to say what she planned to. "Make it right, okay?"
He nodded, thanked her once more, and left.
Tucking the can of soda into the pocket of his lab coat, Ji Hoo picked up his pace. He practically ran to the elevator, but recalling it was still broken, he went for the stairs. In his rush, he nearly forgot to use the cloth and only pulled it out at the last second. He barreled through the door and rapidly descended the stairwell.
Once he made it outside the hospital, he paused to take a breath and get his bearings. Bukchon-ro. He looked right, then left. It wasn't that he didn't know where the street was‒at least he thought he did‒but he'd become momentarily disoriented. He considered for a moment, deciding it was close enough and would be faster, given the traffic, to go on foot. And he turned in the direction he needed to go, walking speedily.
I'm out of my mind here, he thought. Wandering the streets of Seoul, looking for a pool so he could make up with the girl he'd offended...felt like a damn 19th-century romantic novel. He glanced up briefly at the cloudy sky. At this rate, it was bound to start raining and drench him, just for effect.
It didn't rain, nor did it take him long to get to Bukchon-ro.
Ji Hoo walked down the street, whipping his head from side to side, looking for a sign for a pool. He finally saw one, no, two, two signs reading 'Pool and Public Baths.' He shuddered at the thought of a public bath but quickly moved past it. He noticed the two pools were not far from each other but were on opposite sides of the street. Nurse Jung had failed to tell him there was more than one. Whether she'd done it on purpose or not, he wasn't sure; regardless, he just needed to pick one.
Wavering, he glanced from one side of the street to the other, wondering which one it was Dr. Geum frequented. There was really no logic he could apply to this choice, only trial-and-error. And perhaps a little intuition. Some instinct told him to choose the one on the left, so he decided to give it a try first.
As he ascended the two flights of stairs inside the small brick building, he was slammed with a familiar scent. It was the same scent Dr. Geum's hair often had. That was encouraging, but most pools probably smelled this way, or so he imagined. He'd never been in one. He finally entered a small room at the top of the stairs. There, he noticed a lanky young man with messy hair, perhaps late teens, sitting behind a desk. When the guy saw him, he stood.
"Welcome!" The young guy gave him a quick bow. "Membership card?"
Ji Hoo shook his head. "I don't have one. I just...well, I'm looking for someone, and I think she might be here."
"Oh." The guy looked confused, and Ji Hoo supposed it was a rather strange request. "Who is she?"
"Her name is Geum Jan Di. Do you know her?"
"I do," the guy confirmed.
"Is she here?"
"She's here, yes. Came in about a half an hour ago."
"I see." At least he'd chosen the right place.
But before Ji Hoo could ask to go in, the young guy started talking. "While you're here, can I interest you in a membership, ahjussi?"
It was strange being called 'ahjussi,' but Ji Hoo supposed he was getting older, and this kid was pretty young.
"This is a really great place," the kid went on. "Nice, clean facilities, and the price is right." Ji Hoo suspected this was his usual sales pitch, but then the kid started chattering away. "Well, for most people, anyway. I can't really afford it. I have to do a bunch of odd jobs just to make ends meet for me and my family. Delivering newspapers and cartons of milk...some other stuff. This is my third job today."
Perhaps it was part of the pitch, to make the kid seem really desperate for money, Ji Hoo mused.
"Here, I take membership cards and clean out the pool," he prattled on. "Sometimes I wash towels, you know, whatever needs done. It can be hard work, but I don't mind. I'm used to hard work. Oh, and the best part of the job is that the owner lets me swim for free, so it's totally worth it!"
Was the kid trying to convince him to sign up for a membership or fill out a job application? Ji Hoo couldn't decide which option was more ludicrous. Probably the job thing.
The kid finally stopped to take a breath, but only for a second. "I always wanted to be a swimmer, long as I can remember. I'm pretty fast, but my parents don't have a lot of money, so I never had a place to go to train..." He went on to talk more about swimming and his family.
Ji Hoo didn't recall asking for the kid's life story, but he listened politely anyway. Strangely, his rambling reminded Ji Hoo a little of what a younger Dr. Geum might have been like, had she struggled and not gone to medical school. "When I got this job it was a real blessing! Jan Di-ssi loves to use our facilities here, too. She loves swimming like me, but she's very busy. She's a doctor, so she can't come all the time. Oh! Ahjussi, you're a doctor, too, huh?!" He pointed to Ji Hoo's white coat.
Ji Hoo nodded. This kid was far too likable to be annoyed with.
"So, what do you think, ahjussi?"
Ji Hoo assumed the kid was talking about the membership, although he'd nearly forgotten what they were talking about before he began his speech. "I'll consider it," Ji Hoo said, just to be polite. And since there was finally a lull, he got to his purpose. "But for now, would it be alright if I just went in for a moment? I'm not going to use the facilities; I just need to speak with Dr. Geum."
"Oh, well, I don't think I can let you..." The young man shifted from side to side. "It's against the rules, and…" At the sound of a door opening behind them, the young guy's eyes darted back. Ji Hoo followed his gaze to see an old man emerging from behind a door that appeared to lead to a storage area; he was holding a large rod with a net on the end.
"Harabeoji!" the boy called out, bowing his head low and fast.
The old man nodded back and ambled over, eyeing Ji Hoo the whole way. When he got close, his gaze flitted briefly to the kid. "Mingyu, why don't you go and collect the dirty towels now."
"Yes, Harabeoji!" The kid, Mingyu, bowed to Ji Hoo and again to the old man before trotting off.
Then the old man turned to greet Ji Hoo. "Hello. How may I help you, young man?"
"Ahjussi," Ji Hoo greeted with a bow. "As I was telling your very informative assistant, I'm only hoping to speak with Geum Jan Di today." Ji Hoo wasn't sure if he'd get the kid in trouble if he told the old man he'd confirmed she was here (maybe they had member privacy rules or something), so he simply said, "I suspect she might be here."
"Geum Jan Di, eh?" The old man inspected him warily. "She might be… What is this in regards to?"
"Excuse me, but is it really necessary that I say, ahjussi?"
"Yes, young man, it is," he barked. "You see, I run a tight ship around here, and that young woman...well, not only is she one of my best customers, but she's also very special. Like a lotus, that one."
"A lotus?" Ji Hoo questioned.
"Yes, a lotus. Able to clear muddy waters. A rare beauty, inside and out."
Ji Hoo nodded in understanding.
"How am I to know you won't harm her? That you aren't some crazy ex-boyfriend or a stalker?" The old man squeezed the metal pole in his hand, and Ji Hoo wasn't wholly convinced he wouldn't try to whack him with it.
"I assure you, it's nothing like that," Ji Hoo said. Although, he sort of had stalked her here, but that was beside the point.
The old man fixed Ji Hoo with a steely gaze from beneath bushy gray eyebrows. "May I see your membership card or identification?" He held out his free hand.
"I don't have a membership card. All I have on me is this." He held up his hospital ID badge that hung from the lanyard around his neck.
"I see." The old man leaned forward, squinting at the badge from several feet away. Ji Hoo kept his distance, especially considering the precarious way the old guy was holding the metal pole. After moving a bit closer to take a thorough look, the old man straightened and gave Ji Hoo an equally thorough look up and down, particularly taking in his clothing. "So, you're a doctor."
"Fine profession. You work with Dr. Geum, then?"
"Yes, sir. She's my colleague."
"Ah, so this visit is work-related? An emergency?"
"Personal?" The old man raised a brow.
This was the second time today Ji Hoo had gotten some variation of that question. "Yes."
The old man contemplated less than a minute before abruptly shaking his head. "I'm sorry, but I can't let you in without a membership."
Ji Hoo pressed his lips together. "Ahjussi, I understand and respect your policy, but I only need a moment to talk with her."
"I'm sorry, my boy, but everyone who enters here must be a member."
Was this place really so exclusive? To Ji Hoo, it seemed modest and a bit outdated, though it was obviously kept up well and seemed surprisingly clean. The kid had been right about that. Was this old man really so stringent with the rules to his establishment? Or maybe he was yet another loyal supporter of Jan Di's; he'd said as much with his lotus comment.
Ji Hoo muffled a sigh. "What about a temporary pass?"
The old man hmm'ed in a long, drawn-out fashion while stroking his whiskered chin. "Perhaps I could give you a visitor's pass, if…"
"If you give me reason to." The old man cocked his head to the side.
Honestly, this was getting ridiculous. It was as if this old man was a sentry standing guard between Dr. Geum and him and also behind those doors was the land of Oz. Ji Hoo released the sigh he'd been holding in. "Do you want money?" He could hardly believe he was trying to bribe the guy, not that he hadn't done this sort of thing before, albeit rarely; this was more his friends' kind of thing.
To Ji Hoo's surprise, the bribery attempt only seemed to anger the 'Old Man of the Pool.' His aged forehead scrunched up further, forming another dozen little lines, and he turned a light shade of red. "What do you take me for, young man?" He raised his voice, jostling the pole around. Ji Hoo stepped back fully out of range. "Do you think I can be bought? Do you think I would profit off something like this?" The old man huffed in exasperation.
How was Ji Hoo to know? He knew nothing of this man's standards or virtues. But he was thankful he didn't want money because he didn't have his wallet on him. He'd just blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
"Pardon me, sir. I didn't mean to offend." Ji Hoo bowed his head contritely.
This calmed the old man, a little. "Well...hmm...it seems to me this is very important to you." He folded his arms, clamping the pole against his body. "If you're willing to pay me off…" His dark eyes never left Ji Hoo's.
"It is," Ji Hoo assured.
"Then what is so important? You've already said it isn't a work emergency, so what is this thing you must say to Jan Di right now that just cannot wait?"
Ji Hoo hesitated. He couldn't believe he was being asked to explain himself again. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his lab coat.
"Look, I'm a reasonable man, son, but if you want to enter, you'll need to state your case," the old man said when he failed to speak.
State his case. Funny how he was being forced to plead 'his case' yet again, only for the opportunity to beg forgiveness from Geum Jan Di. And that's what it was going to come down to, wasn't it? The situation was looking more and more like that romantic novel, with a ridiculously comic twist. But at this point, Ji Hoo no longer cared. He no longer cared about his pride or looking foolish; he simply wanted to accomplish what he'd set out to do.
"It's an apology, ahjussi," Ji Hoo admitted. "The thing I came to say."
"Yes. I...hurt her feelings, and I want to make amends for it."
The Old Man of the Pool's eyes narrowed slightly. "I see."
Clearly, this harabeoji was another hurdle, yet another person Geum Jan Di had had an effect upon. So, he told him the story, in brief. Finding no sympathy in the old man's face afterward, at least not for him, Ji Hoo sealed it with, "I know I was wrong, and I'm not above admitting that. I just want to make things right. Haven't you ever wanted to right a wrong, ahjussi?"
This reminded the Old Man of the Pool of his wife. But that was another story for another time. Perhaps If the boy ended up sticking around, he'd one day tell him the story and impart some wisdom.
"Alright," the old man said after much internal debate. "I'll set you up with a temporary visitor pass."
The old man dug inside a drawer of the desk the young guy had been sitting at and came back with a clipboard and pen. He handed them to Ji Hoo, both of which he sanitized. Ji Hoo was then offered a seat, a choice of three folding chairs. He politely refused, deciding to remain standing. The old man was requiring he fill out some rather extensive-looking paperwork for a simple day (not even) pass. Ji Hoo was told it was standard procedure, but he suspected the Old Man of the Pool was punishing him a little for having hurt Jan Di, making him work for it. Regardless, he filled in every line while the eyes of the old man followed each scrawl of the pen.
"Finished," Ji Hoo announced, handing off the clipboard. He resanitized his hands after.
"Good." The old man watched him rub his hands briskly together. "Now, let me see, hm…" He scanned both sheets, front and back, and nodded. "Well, everything seems to be in order."
"Then, may I?" Ji Hoo motioned toward the door.
"Yes. I'll, uh, show you the way." The Old Man of the Pool led him through the door, pole still in hand, and pointed out where the pool area was as well as the men's baths. "If you decide to sign up for a membership, that is," he said.
Well, that isn't going to happen. What use would he have for a membership to a public pool? He'd never set foot in this place again, let alone use it. He simply nodded.
"Just don't go that way," The old man added, pointing in the other direction. "That's the women's baths."
"Duly noted," Ji Hoo said. He thanked him, bowed humbly, and headed off to the pool.
"Oh, and boy," the old man called out. Ji Hoo turned back. "I hope you've learned something from your mistake."
"Yes, ahjussi," he said politely.
"Good. Because, as I said, she's a special one, that girl."
I know she is. One side of Ji Hoo's mouth quirked. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here…
"She's been through a lot of hardships, you know, and she doesn't need anymore..."
The old man's statement resonated with Ji Hoo; Dr. Han had alluded to something, too. What exactly had happened in Jan Di's past?
"Oh, and just keep in mind, seventy-years-young or not, if you hurt her, I'll whip you, boy!"
Despite the old guy waving that heavy pole in his direction, Ji Hoo had to fight a smile. "Understood."
The old man grumbled something under his breath, then, using the pole like a walking stick, made his way to the other side of the room and disappeared behind another mysterious door.
Just ahead, Ji Hoo could hear splashing, and he made his way toward the open door of the pool area. As he approached, he felt the thick, warm moisture heavy in the air. As soon as he stepped through the doorway, the ends of his bangs began to dampen and curl. He'd definitely need a shower after this, just from standing in the room.
Looking out across the pool, he saw a black-capped head bobbing at the surface and creamy, slender arms rising and falling as they sliced through the blue-green water. Geum Jan Di. He approached the lap pool and stopped eight or so feet back. He watched her bullet from one end to the other, amazed at how fast she was and how gracefully she skimmed the surface. It was as if she was some sort of aquatic animal and the water was her natural habitat. Who knew she had such a talent? From what he could see, she probably could've been a competitive swimmer if she'd wanted. But the world of medicine was lucky to have her talents instead.
Another thing Ji Hoo couldn't help but notice was how every time she turned her head toward the opposite wall, he caught sight of a milky patch of skin peeking through the keyhole design in the back of her suit. Her skin, faintly illuminated by the fluorescent lighting in the room, appeared tanner than usual, and smooth, very smooth, as smooth as he recalled it being that evening in the NICU. Of course, he remembered every detail of that night. He remembered most things he read and observed, but unlike facts, which he tucked away in a corner of his head for later use, the image of her that night was branded in a spot all its own. Just like Dr. Geum, her image did its own thing, rooting its way into his mind, possibly for good.
She hadn't noticed him yet, so focused was she on reaching whatever goal was in her sights. It was as if she was swimming an imaginary race and there were imaginary competitors in the other lanes, although she was the only one in the pool. Did Dr. Geum ever do anything less than at least 110%? He didn't think so.
Ji Hoo continued to watch in awe of her speed and stamina, still fixating on that oddly alluring patch on her back, a perfect ring of rippling muscle working beneath smooth skin. She did another lap then finally touched the far edge of the pool and surfaced, waist-up. He watched her hang onto the edge of the pool, hunched over slightly, trying to catch her breath. With her upper body now visible, he noticed the rise and fall of her chest as well as her attire. She wore an athletic one-piece, ink blue with lavender stripes on the side and thin, red straps holding it up. He'd seen her in street clothes before, but they were always a bit loose; this suit, although modest, was suctioned against her skin, the tight, wet spandex leaving nothing of her body's curves to the imagination.
It was because he was a doctor, he told himself. As a physician, he could appreciate a healthy, toned body, curved in all the right places, but if he was being completely honest with himself, he wasn't looking at her purely as a physician. At least part of him was looking at her as a man. He'd been told long ago that there was no shame in appreciating the female form or having urges‒even if he couldn't fully express them as a normal man would‒but one thing was certain, he should not be evaluating Dr. Geum as a man would.
She finally pulled up her swim goggles, resting them atop her head, and her eyes wandered over. When they settled on him, she reared back in surprise. Her reaction was so over-the-top he found it cute.
"So, this is why you often smell faintly of chemicals," he said, rather than greeting her. And he smiled a bit. She said nothing in return, only stared. "It's the chlorine; I understand now," he went on, "and whatever else they put in the pool. You know, I had a devil of a time figuring out what the strong scent of your hair was."
So, this was going great so far. He'd stalked her to the pool, tried to bribe an old man, was nearly beaten with a pole by said old man, and confessed that he'd smelled her hair. Aish. Of all the things to say… And through it all, she hadn't uttered a single word.
Still clinging to the edge of the pool, she treaded water in stunned silence. Ji Hoo wasn't surprised she hadn't commented on his remark about smelling her hair, for Dr. Geum knew him well enough not to take it as an insult or as a cheesy romantic line; she knew he just noticed details like that. But he wished she'd say something.
As for Jan Di, she couldn't believe he'd come here looking for her. "What-what are you doing here?" she asked when she could get out words. There was also the matter of how he found her, but she suspected Chan Mi had something to do with it. Traitor.
"I was looking for you," he stated the obvious, nonchalantly sticking his hands into his pockets. He traced the rim of the can of soda inside until he realized he'd forgotten to sanitize it.
"Why?" Jan Di fixed him with a stern expression. "Was there something left undone? An emergency?"
"No. I came to talk to you." She didn't ask why this time, though he knew she was thinking it.
"I almost didn't get in here, you know," he stalled. "The old man who owns this place is quite the stickler. I had to sign up for a visitor's pass." He decided to leave out the attempted bribery and the near-beating.
Her face remained somber. "Why would you do that?"
"He wouldn't let me in, otherwise. And, as I said, I needed to talk to you."
"About what? Have I done something wrong? Have I somehow offended you again?" The last part just came shooting out of her mouth, but Ji Hoo took it in stride.
"No, nothing like that." Quite the contrary. It was he who was the offending party.
"Then, what is so important that you'd go to all this trouble to find me, Dr. Yoon? You could have waited until tomorrow at work." She said matter-of-factly, not caring whether she was being short with him or not. This was on her time, after all. "I have limited time before I need to go, so could you please hurry this along?" She glanced up at the clock on the wall for effect.
"I...I came to apologize."
"Apologize?" Her eyes darted back to him. "For what?"
"For what I said before, for saying we couldn't be friends, for…," he released a small sigh, "all of it."
"There's no need." She shook her head and wiped away a few droplets of pool water that'd trickled down her forehead. "I heard you loud and clear, and I get it."
"But what? I'm doing exactly as you asked, Dr. Yoon. This…," she gesticulated around the metaphorical space between them, splashing some water in her wake, "is what you wanted. For us to be just two people who work together."
"Yes," he calmly replied. "But maybe...I don't want that anymore."
And they say women are fickle…
But despite everything, Jan Di's heart skipped a few beats. Her reaction only served to exasperate her, though; she couldn't believe she was letting him get to her.
They locked eyes for a seemingly interminable time.
"Why are you doing this?" she demanded, sounding peeved and almost desperate. Ji Hoo's lips parted in surprise. "Why are you confusing me like this? We agreed to be professional. Colleagues only, remember? And I've been respecting that. But you…" Her even tone faltered a little. "You've been staring at me and trying to talk to me, and then you go and follow me to the pool to apologize? What am I supposed to think now, huh?"
"I haven't been staring at you," was his only response. And it was partially true. Yes, he had let his gaze linger longer than it should have a few times, but that was only when he was thinking about something deeply. Something related to her, of course. So, the more accurate statement would be that he'd been thinking deeply about her. Okay, so that wasn't any better, and possibly much worse.
"My mistake," she mumbled. "As usual."
Aish. She was so stubborn and pigheaded. She was definitely going to make this much harder than it needed to be. Ji Hoo raised a hand to his head; he could feel the beads of perspiration that had gathered there beneath his fingertips. Whether it was the heat or the situation, he definitely needed to get out of here soon.
In response to his silence, Jan Di let out an exasperated sigh. "You know, you can't have it both ways. You can't say one thing and mean another."
"Then what is it you really want, Dr. Yoon?"
"I want things to go back to the way they were before."
After what he'd just blurted out, she got very quiet.
"I know it might seem strange and even a little foolish because we haven't known each other for very long, but...I liked the way things were. I got used to it."
"So, this is about your routine?" she said.
In most cases, hers would be a shrewd postulation, but this time, it was much more than that. He shook his head. "Not entirely."
As he seemed to have captured her full attention, he decided to lay it all out. "It isn't just about the change. I thought so at first, but it didn't get any better. To be honest, these past couple of weeks have felt...wrong. I'd gotten used to our interactions, yes, but I also enjoyed them. And I think I'd even come to count on them, and you. I don't fully understand it, but I feel more comfortable with you than most. You're one of the few people I can completely be myself around."
Damn. When he actually strung together more than a few words or short phrases, he spoke so well. But she refused to give in. She gave a vigorous shake of the head. "You said‒"
"I know what I said," he cut her off. "But after thinking about it, a lot..." More than I should have been thinking about something personal at work. "I realized something."
He chose this moment to pull out the can of Fanta. He set it by the edge of the pool in offering and took a couple of cautious steps back as if it was an explosive device. Jan Di stared at the colorful can for several seconds, then raised her eyes to him. "I realized that I do want to be friends," he said.
"B-but…" She was losing steam. She clenched her jaw, hardening her expression and her resolve. "Friends? We were never really friends, were we?" He looked a little hurt by this, and she immediately regretted saying it. Averting her eyes, she muttered, "I thought you said it was a bad idea."
"A person is entitled to change their mind, aren't they?"
She looked back at him, and his expression was once again neutral. "I guess so," she replied.
"And I'm hoping you'll change yours."
"Well, uh…" She searched for something to say. "What made you change your mind so suddenly?"
A soft sigh fell from Ji Hoo's lips. It felt anything but sudden; it was more like weeks of wracking his tortured mind on what to do. That might be a bit dramatic, but it'd definitely preoccupied him.
"Originally, I thought being friends would be an issue. Not just a conflict of interest, but I thought it would also mess with my routine," he spoke in earnest. "But the irony of this whole thing is that during our...time apart…" He was referring as much to the fight as the suspension. "I was distracted. More than that. I was feeling very anxious and...washing my hands more often."
She lowered her eyes. "I noticed."
"I know you did; I received the ointment."
"Did I know it was from you?" He filled in the blank. "Who else would it be from? Not Mrs. Ahn." He shook his head. "She always sees to my needs, but she doesn't anticipate things like that. She's never once taken it upon herself to decide what I need without asking or to offer a new product to me. Besides, I know your handwriting, Dr. Geum."
Oh, right, that freakish attention to detail…
Jan Di poked out her cheeks, slowly sending a gust of air through her protruding lips. "Hey, I wasn't trying to interfere or look after you or anything," she defended. "I just thought‒"
"I know, Dr. Geum. It's alright. Actually, I appreciated it, and it helped greatly. See." He raised his hands to show her, more as a gesture because she was too far away to get a good look at them.
Jan Di blinked a few times, completely at a loss. Honestly, the man was so infuriating! One minute hot, the next, cold. Why was he suddenly okay with her doing something nice for him?
"You weren't the only one who noticed my hands," Ji Hoo continued. "One of my friends brought it up to me, too, and that's when I realized just how much our 'separation' had gotten to me. It took me some time to see it, but I realized my extra anxiety was because of you." He glanced briefly to the side. "I don't say that to make you feel bad. And it wasn't just because of my guilt..." He returned his gaze to her. "But because I genuinely...missed you."
He'd clearly stunned her again, so he took the opportunity to further pour out his feelings. "I missed having lunch with you and getting coffee in the mornings. I missed discussing our cases. I even missed washing up together. You always used to stay until I was finished, and you didn't make it seem forced or inconvenient. You made me feel more...normal, I suppose."
Jan Di was trying very hard not to melt at his words. What he'd said was definitely touching, but she couldn't let herself be so easily swayed by a few lovely words after what he'd done.
"What I'm trying to say is, I was wrong. I knew just how wrong I was when I remembered that I'd done the same thing as you. I defended you, to Dr. Park." He decided not to add in his defense of her to the chief. "I got so angry with Dr. Park without realizing, for the way he treated you, but I was no better. Can you ever forgive me?"
"I...I...don't know." As heartfelt as his apology seemed, she still wasn't ready to accept. She didn't need to go through what she'd gone through the past two weeks again, should he change his mind. She shook her head once from right to left. "Maybe you were right about it being too much of a conflict of interest..."
"I think we're both professional enough to not let it interfere with our work."
Jan Di lightly scoffed. "You say that now…why?"
"Because I want this to work." Maybe it's selfish, but I need this to work, Jan Di.
Jan Di's eyes fell on the warm pool water surrounding her; she started swirling it with her fingers. "So, how does this work, then, Dr. Yoon?" She met his eyes, growing bolder all the time. "We can be friends so long as I don't interfere with your routine or defend you or do anything nice for you? Oh, but wait, sometimes it's okay, like with the cream. But how am I supposed to know? Does it depend on what mood you're in that day?"
He wasn't fazed by her brusque words. "I know I have things to work on, but you don't have to do anything special, Jan Di." He tested out her name, tasting it on his lips. Her own lips parted at his informal reference to her. The last time he'd said her name was at the stairwell when he'd told her they couldn't be friends.
"I have a very competent colleague in Dr. Geum," he went on to say, "and I'm proud to work beside her, but I also had a good friend in Jan Di. And I want my friend back."
Jan Di sucked in such a sharp breath that it hurt her lungs a little, and her body suddenly felt like jelly. Perhaps she'd been in the water too long. She clutched the side of the pool for balance, digging her fingers into the hard slab of concrete. No, she shouldn't give in. She couldn't.
"That's all very nice, Dr. Yoon," she began, keeping her voice as steady as she could, "And I appreciate your words, but I just…"
He didn't let her finish. "How can I get you to forgive me?"
With a sigh, Jan Di turned her head away. What did he want, an instruction manual?
"It's not even about forgiveness, anymore. I've forgiven you; it's just..." Her shoulders sagged; she felt like she was softening from the inside out. Why couldn't he just give up and walk away? It would be so much easier. She fixed her eyes on him, steeling herself. "Look, Dr. Yoon, you made your feelings perfectly clear before. I can't say that it didn't hurt me, but I've moved past it." She tightened her jaw, hoping to hide the fact that she was lying through her teeth about being past it. Sure, she'd decided to move past it, but deciding and actually doing were two very different things.
"Maybe it's no longer your decision to make," she exclaimed, exasperated as much with herself for wavering as with him. "Ya ever think of that? You got to decide before, so maybe I get to decide now. And maybe I don't want to be friends anymore!"
She probably sounded like a petulant four-year-old, but she didn't care. It needed to be said. He needed to know he couldn't always hold all the control, as important as that was to him. She squared her shoulders, tensed her entire body, and dealt the final, crushing blow. "There's nothing you can say, so you should just give up."
She saw the disappointment in his eyes, and she detested it. She didn't mind his neutral, professional expression; she even found it kind of cute, and she definitely adored his rare smile, but she couldn't stand seeing him wounded, especially not because of her.
"I see." Ji Hoo exhaled in resignation.
It seemed he was finally letting it go, and when he turned away, she expected him to leave and drop it for good, but he didn't get far. He turned back, his eyes briefly shooting to the ground then meeting hers. "One more thing."
"May I remind you that you agreed to accept me for who I am, and this is who I am. I'm not perfect." As he said it she couldn't help but think he looked the part, though. "I'm obsessive and compulsive and phobic and neurotic. I'm not like other people, and there are things about me I never want anyone to unearth."
Such a statement should frighten her, for who knew what skeletons he kept locked away in that closet, but instead, it made her want to comfort him. She blamed her maternal instincts.
"I'm trying," he said sincerely. "I'm standing before you, casting aside my pride and practically begging." He held out his open palms in gesture. "I'm doing my best, and I thought Dr. Geum Jan Di appreciated a person who honestly does their best."
Jan Di's heart gave a strong thump-thump. His speech had definitely gotten to her, but she truly didn't know how to proceed. A part of her had already developed such a soft spot for him that it wanted to shout out that of course, she forgave him, but another part, the one that wanted to protect itself, and yes, hold a grudge, saw that spot as a bruise on an apple in need of being sliced off. The two sides warred for a minute or two, resulting in a strangely unexpected truce, the word 'fine' leaving her lips, followed closely by "Prove it."
"Prove it?" he inquired.
"Yeah." Well, she had to follow through now… "If you're really sorry, and you really want to be friends…" Her eyes bore into him, challenging. "Then prove it."
"How am I supposed to prove it?"
She shrugged. "You're a smart guy; you figure it out."
Jan Di watched him go off in thought. She'd really only said the 'prove it' thing out of spite, hoping to send him away because it was just too hard a choice to make right now. She hadn't expected him to actually consider doing something.
Another moment passed, and Dr. Yoon nodded decisively. "Alright."
And then he did the strangest thing...he flipped up his collar and started loosening his blue and gray silk tie…
Jan Di's eyes went wide. "Wha-what are you doing?" she stammered.
"Taking off my tie." He said it as casually as if he'd just told her he was going to put on gloves before performing surgery.
"Because it's my favorite one, and if I jump in the pool with it on, I'll ruin it."
"You're...you're going to jump in the pool?" Her forehead scrunched up in disbelief. "Um, why would you do that?"
"You asked me to prove I was sorry, did you not?"
"Well, clearly words won't suffice. I've already pleaded my case three times."
Ji Hoo glanced down, delicately fingering his tie. "I can see Dr. Geum appreciates actions more than words." He looked up at her once more. "As you said, there's nothing I can say, but maybe there's something I can do."
"Jump in the pool," she repeated flatly. "What's that going to do?"
"Isn't it obvious?" She shook her head. "Well, quite possibly the last thing in the world I'd ever want to do," he embellished a little, "is jump in that pool. Therefore, this must be important to me, right?" Didn't she see it? He'd left the hospital to come looking for her, for crying out loud. Wasn't that reason enough? Even the Old Man of the Pool had realized how important it was to him.
Jan Di's stomach did several annoying somersaults in a row. This was either the craziest or most romantic gesture she'd ever witnessed. Wait, what was she thinking? Romantic?! There could be nothing remotely romantic about this situation or Dr. Yoon's motivations!
She stared at him, keeping a somber expression as best she could. "You're not serious."
"As a heart attack," he quipped. "Forgive the bad analogy."
Jan Di shook her head and sighed. "No offense, Dr. Yoon, but did you suffer a head trauma on the way here?"
"Not to my knowledge," he remarked dryly.
Before, a comment like that would've made her laugh, but right now, she was seriously concerned about him. "You're not really going to jump in the pool, are you?" It was a question-statement combo.
"Yes," he said, surprisingly steady. "That is unless you forgive me first." His fingers remained poised at the knot of his tie.
Jan Di slapped at the water in frustration. Was he bluffing? Surely, he had to be bluffing. And he was doing an excellent job of it…
When she said nothing, he undid the knot of his tie and let it hang over his shoulders. He proceeded to shrug off his lab coat and fold it neatly over his arm. Then he glanced around for a place to put it, the only place being the white pool chair, the germ-ridden pool chair, behind him. He walked over and stared down at the chair, contemplating. Finally, he bent to place it there.
The entire time, all Jan Di could do was stare, transfixed. She couldn't believe he was actually doing this, and she had to wonder if he'd put the lab coat back on afterward, or if he'd even want to touch it. He'd surely have the coat cleaned thoroughly, or perhaps he'd just throw it out.
He removed his tie from around his neck next, gingerly rolling it before placing it atop his lab coat. Next, came off his watch, a gift, which he also laid atop his lab coat, nestled inside the ring the tie made. When that was done, he stopped for a moment to look down at his remaining attire.
Jan Di watched Dr. Yoon stare down at his clothing‒a white button-down, gray dress pants, black belt, and black loafers. He seemed to be considering what, if anything, to remove next, after the tie, coat, and fancy watch. He ended up leaving the belt on‒he must not care about it as much as the tie‒and then he fixated on his shoes, for nearly a whole minute, probably worried that if he took them off he'd be stuck walking on damp, dirty concrete in soggy socks, and if he removed both socks and shoes he'd be forced to touch his bare feet to the floor. Ultimately, he left everything else on and took a couple of steps toward the pool.
"This is crazy," Jan Di muttered. "You can't just...you don't have to..."
Maybe he was acting crazily. It was definitely something he never would've considered doing in the past, nor was it something he could ever imagine doing in the future, but here he was. He took another cautious fraction of a step forward. "I do," he said.
Growing bolder, he took a couple of larger paces. He was nearing the edge of the pool now, and Jan Di noticed the top two buttons of his shirt were undone, displaying a sliver of light tan skin in between the pucker of his white collared shirt. Not wanting to ogle her boss‒even if it was only his neck and a hint of his chest‒Jan Di shifted her gaze just as he unbuttoned the cuffs of his sleeves and pushed them up on each side.
He was really serious about this.
Jan Di threw up her hands. "Don't do anything you'll regret," she warned as though she was talking a suicidal person down from a ledge. Dr. Yoon was hardly twenty stories up, but the situation seemed nearly as dire. All she needed was for him to jump in and go into shock. No, she couldn't have that on her conscience, so she decided to reason with him, just as one would with a jumper.
"This water is filthy, you know. Never mind my germs, but do you know how many hundreds, if not thousands of people have been in this pool?" She was exaggerating, of course. There weren't that many people who came here, maybe a dozen or so, most of whom she knew. And the lot of them seemed pretty clean, although not likely up to Dr. Yoon's standards.
"Some don't shower before using the pool, either," she went on to say. She didn't know that for a fact, but it was possible, and she did want to scare him a little because apparently he'd lost his sanity somewhere between the hospital and here. "They're supposed to, but not all follow the rules," she babbled on. "The pool chemicals don't kill all those germs, you know."
"I'm aware," he replied.
She made good sense, and he should probably be more terrified right now than he was, but just as in the meadow dream, he felt himself being pulled by an unstoppable force toward a body of water, a place he wouldn't normally touch with a ten-foot pole, let alone set foot in. Could he really do this? He wasn't sure. From the look on Dr. Geum's face, her anxiety seemed to nearly match his.
Shockingly, her words hadn't sent him fleeing but had rather seemed to spur him on. He was definitely serious about this; she could tell by the determination in his set jaw. But he was also scared; the look in his eyes gave him away as well as the large lump in his throat. Consequently, she couldn't help but admire his prominent Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed it down...
Geum Jan Di, it's not the time!
"Well?" He interrupted her slightly-less-than-decent thoughts. And he needn't say more. She knew exactly what he wanted to hear from her, but she was in an extra stubborn mood today. She folded her arms across her chest and said nothing, so he inched forward. He got about a foot and a half from the edge and declared he would be counting to 10.
And so it came down to a battle of wills. Would her pride win out or would his boldness (assuming he wasn't bluffing)? She wasn't even sure what would be considered winning in this case...
"One." He began the count a little shakily.
She warned him not to do anything rash.
"T-two." He stumbled over the word.
She expressed how ridiculous this was.
"Three." His voice was steadier, but his body had begun to tremble.
"It's not worth it," she insisted. And she sighed, realizing she'd exhausted just about every tired, old platitude, and he still wasn't backing down. She swam closer to the center, placing her body in his line of sight. She wasn't directly beneath him but out further, treading water in the deeper end. They were separated by the lane lines, so it wasn't like she was blocking his path, but maybe her being here would deter him a little. She doubted it, though, if he really planned to jump in.
"Four, five…" He began counting more rapidly, and Jan Di grew more frantic. This was nuts. He was behaving like a reckless teenager. What was he trying to do, prove just how dumb a thing he could do to make an impact on her? Of course, she was the one who'd originally egged him on with her 'prove it comment…
"Think about what you're doing," she urged.
He ignored her and kept counting. When he got to 7, he dropped one foot back and bent his knees slightly as if getting into a dive position.
Aigoo, he's really going to do it!
She wondered if he could even swim. It wouldn't matter, though. As soon as he hit the water, he was going to freak out; she just knew it. She was getting desperate now, so she could only imagine what was going on in his head...
Standing in position, Ji Hoo stared down into the aqua abyss. The chemicals in the air stung his nose, and the heat permeated him, and he was sweating, actually sweating. Normally, he stayed dry even during the most difficult of operations, but the enormity of what he was about to do was beginning to hit him.
What was he doing, anyway? This was off the charts insane. How and when had he become such a desperate, illogical man? It was frightening, the lengths to which he'd go to earn her forgiveness, possibly even more frightening than jumping in the pool itself. But he couldn't back down now. Well, there was only one way he would…
Thus, he continued counting, albeit slowly. "8...9..."
Last chance. Jan Di, please… He begged her with his eyes; she was the only one who could stop him now…
This was it…
He took a deep breath, mentally coaxing while simultaneously soothing himself. He repeated the mantra over and over that it would be fine, that he would be fine. He told himself that he could get out immediately after, rush back to his office, and take a long, hot, sterilizing shower…
Deciding once and for all to do it, he shut his eyes, raised a foot, and...
His eyes sprung open, and he put his foot down.
"Stop, Seonsaengnim, stop!" her loud voice rang out again.
The sound of the familiar title, that he hadn't realized just how much he missed, on her lips, and the forcefulness in her tone stopped him. Lips white, chapped, and parted, he looked down upon her. Her hands were raised, and her eyes were wild, pleading. If she looked so distraught, he could only imagine how he must look…
"Don't do this," she said. "I forgive you, okay?"
"Really?" His forehead creased.
"Yes." She groaned. "And I'll be damned if I'm going to be responsible for sending you into shock, so step-away-from-the-edge right this second!"
Obediently, he took three or four steps back, but unsteadily, for he was still reeling from what he almost did. He stumbled, causing Jan Di to gasp and throw up her arms as if she could actually do something about it. Fortunately, he managed to regain his balance, only slightly embarrassed over his graceless moment.
"Are you okay?" she asked, truly concerned.
"Yes." He cleared his throat. "So, uh, you really forgive me?"
The way he said it with such childish innocence and the adorable manner in which he rubbed the back of his neck after his awkward moment made it difficult for Jan Di not to liquify. It was the mother in her again, she supposed. Or maybe, not entirely. And despite his reckless, uncharacteristic behavior, that she really shouldn't encourage, she smiled.
"Well, I have to, don't I?" She rolled her eyes at him, yet her smile was plastered on–and wasn't coming off anytime soon. "Can't have you jumping into any pools."
He also broke out into a smile, a wider one than she'd ever seen before, offering her a rare glimpse at those perfectly straight, pearly white teeth of his.
"So...friends, then?" he asked.
Jan Di gave a casual one-armed shrug. "Yeah, I guess so. Whatever..."
"And you're firm on this decision?"
She shook her head, grinning, then nodded once, deliberately. They exchanged smiles again and shyly gazed at one another, both unsure how to proceed from here.
"I should tell you, I'm not very good at being friends," Ji Hoo admitted after another moment or two. "Or, anything involving people who aren't, well, unconscious."
Jan Di laughed. She'd truly missed that dry wit of his.
"I do have friends, though, believe it or not," he said.
"Oh, I believe it, Seonsaengnim." The rapid bobbing of her head to assure him caused a small rumble to emit from Ji Hoo's throat.
"I have a few close friends I've known forever," he told her. "They find me rather dull." He shrugged. "But they keep me around."
"You're not dull, Seonsaengnim." The corner of his mouth twitched in appreciation.
A brief silence followed, but it wasn't uncomfortable.
. . .
"My favorite color is white," he finally said. It sounded so lame coming out, like something a kindergartener would say.
She was clearly confused by it, too.
"I know it's plain, but it's...pure and clean. That's the best I can explain it. And on Friday nights, when I'm not working, I enjoy reading–literature or poetry, usually‒or watching the symphony on TV. And sometimes, I play my violin."
So, he's a music guy...
Jan Di shook her head. "Not at all." It was fascinating learning more about him; although, she was rather confused. "But, um, why are you telling me this all of a sudden?"
"Because you said before that you knew a lot about me, but you didn't know those things. Now you know."
"Ahh." Jan Di's mouth opened and closed quickly. She pressed her lips together, but the harder she pressed the more the corners kept twitching involuntarily. She just couldn't keep from smiling.
"Well, um, thanks." She nodded. "That's...good to know." She felt stupid and awkward, and she hoped he wouldn't regret opening up to her a little.
"I suppose those are the kinds of things friends talk about," he deadpanned.
She chuckled in response. "Yeah, among other things."
"All my friends ever do is complain and talk about women, or occasionally their businesses." Ji Hoo went on. "But Heaven forbid I mention anything medical. They hate when I do that."
Jan Di grinned; she could just picture Dr. Yoon talking to his friends about things only a surgeon would understand, in the most technical manner possible.
"So, you might have to guide me a little on this friends thing."
She smiled warmly. "You're doing just fine."
It was then that Jan Di noticed the time on the digital clock on the wall. "Oh." She swam toward the edge of the pool.
Dr. Yoon also walked over to the pool stairs, and to her surprise, he squatted down directly in front of her. From this new position, she was almost level with his chest. If asked anywhere but in a court of law, she would have lied and said she couldn't look anywhere else but directly at his chest, but the truth of the matter was, she was curious and wanted a peek. So, she took it. From what she could see through his open collar, he was nicely-contoured and nearly completely smooth, which made sense‒Dr. Yoon was a clean-shaven kind of guy, so naturally, his chest would be, too. She wondered if…
Her cheeks heated up instantly. Geum Jan Di! DO NOT go there! She punctuated each word, berating herself harshly in her head. What was wrong with her, anyway? Checking out her boss, and new friend, like this?! But who could blame her? It had been a very, very, very long time, and he was handsome, sexy, even. Just because she could...appreciate him didn't mean she'd ever act on it.
Her gaze flickered back up to his face, and she hoped desperately he couldn't read in her eyes or lips or cheeks what she'd been thinking. Fortunately, Dr. Yoon hadn't seemed to notice her wandering eyes and thoughts, or if he did, he didn't call attention to it.
"What's yours, then?" he asked, looking down at her.
"What?" She blinked several times. "Um, my what?"
"Favorite color, activity you do on Friday nights."
Gripping the railing of the pool ladder, she thought about it. "Hmm… Well, my favorite color is blue, light blue, not dark, almost silver, and on Friday nights...I'm usually spending time with my favorite person, having dinner or watching a movie."
Ji Hoo nodded. "I must admit I'm very curious about this favorite person you always mention." Curious, yes, that was the word. Not jealous. He wasn't jealous at all.
She was smiling at him in a way that suggested she wasn't planning on telling, and he wasn't sure why. His mind drifted to the guy who'd visited her at the hospital. He was probably completely out of line in asking, but… "Was the guy who came to visit you at the hospital your favorite person?"
"Guy? What guy?" Jan Di's eyes darted from side to side; then, realization dawned on her. "Ohh!" She looked up at him and smirked. "You mean my brother?"
Her brother. God, he was an idiot. He'd actually had a moment of potential jealousy over her brother. But no, he'd already decided it wasn't jealousy at all.
Jan Di gave a hearty chuckle. "Well, I do love my little brother, but he's not the one I call my 'favorite person.'" Ji Hoo was staring down into her eyes, waiting; although, she didn't feel pressure from him.
"I promise to tell you...someday." Her voice playfully lilted at the end.
"Someday," Ji Hoo repeated, resting a forearm on his thigh.
"Yes, someday. When...the time is right," she whispered cryptically. And she grinned at him. "Hey, a woman has to remain a little mysterious, right?"
Ji Hoo tossed her a smile. "Fair enough." He'd be satisfied with that for the time being. "Well, I was going to say we could go somewhere and get to know each other better, but you needed to go, didn't you?"
She glanced up at the clock again. "Yes. Yes, I do," she said, not even trying to disguise her disappointment.
"Another time, then. It seems Geum Jan Di-ssi is intent on keeping her secrets today, anyway," he teased.
Jan Di was, again, unable to fight her smile.
The next thing that happened was so surreal Jan Di felt certain she must have dreamed this whole thing...Dr. Yoon raised his arm, hesitated several seconds, then extended his hand to her, palm up as if offering to help her out of the pool…
Her eyes widened and shot down to his proffered hand, and all she could do was stare at his palm as if reading it. After such a prolonged moment that she almost could have memorized the lines of his hand, she looked up, trying to gauge his expression. The corners of his mouth were upturned slightly, and he didn't seem a bit nervous about giving her his hand. Her glance flitted between his palm and his face, finally locking on his eyes. Hers must've seemed filled with uncertainty, but his eyes were warm, steady, and lulling like a cup of hot cocoa on a cold day.
When she couldn't seem to make up her mind or even move, a small, throaty purr emanated from her seonsaengnim. It was warm, velvety, and it sent shivers up and down her spine...
"Don't worry," he said, gifting her with that smile again, the beautiful one, "it's clean."
Warning: Super long author note ahead with a teaser at the end… Gasp! Are they going to touch hands?! A little bit of sexual tension, eh? So, they FINALLY made up, and the slow slow slow slow slow burn continues. One reader actually told me they didn't think it was such a slow burn and that the story was progressing, so that was good to know. I hope everyone else thinks I'm pacing it well, given Ji Hoo's condition and how long they've known each other. But the pool scene! What did you think? It's been written for quite some time, at least partially, but I changed it so many times. Hope it turned out okay. I've been waiting to get to it for quite some time, though...you guys have no idea. There is actually another pool scene that I'm even more eager for, but that's hush-hush right now. Anyway, yes, there was a little sap there at the end, but I'm sappy, so it's bound to come out now and again. You either like me or you don't, haha. So now, they're definitely going to be more 'friendly' with one another from next chapter on, but there will still be things to work on. It may not seem like it, but I think I covered a lot of ground this chapter.
Some concerns I had that I wanted to address (and anyone can feel free to chime in): I was worried about Jan Di becoming too much of a 'Mary Sue' in this. I really hate when people do that; I do, of course, tolerate it more with my favorite characters, but I don't intend for Jan Di to be a Mary Sue in this by any means. She does have her enemies/people who don't like her, as you've seen, and she does make mistakes. Basically, I wanted to keep her as true to the original character as I could, albeit older, a bit more mature and confident, and wiser to the world/hardened a bit. I wanted her to still get into trouble and lose her temper, but I also wanted that perky, can-do spirit we all loved in Jan Di (that frankly made her her) as well as some of the romantic awkwardness, but tempered with more realism brought about by becoming a mother at such a young age (and the hardships of that), which I'll go into more later on. I hope I have been somewhat achieving all of this. I was also worried I was introducing too many OCs, but not all of them will play a major role. But the old guy at the pool, I just had to include him. He's gonna play a small role and make a couple of reappearances. It's funny, for the longest time, my writer friend and I were just calling him 'The Old Man of the Pool' because I hadn't named him, haha, so I had to throw that little name in there as a nickname, at least in Ji Hoo's head. I was sorry to take Grandfather's lotus line away and give it to another old man, but chances are good Ji Hoo's grandfather will have some kind of interaction with Jan Di at some point. ;)
Questions (unanswered and answered): One person has guessed who the medical school benefactor is, so points for her! Congrats, KimchiAyu! Regarding Ji Hoo's past, no one has guessed the reason for it yet, but I honestly don't expect anyone to. I haven't given nearly enough clues yet for you to know, so don't stress over it. I promise all will be revealed in time. And half the fun is figuring it out along the way, right?
On another note, 50 points to Gryffindor or Slytherin or Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw, whatever house you identify with if you know who 'Antigone' is. Not sure why all the Harry Potter references lately; I guess because I've been listening to the audiobook of "Chamber of Secrets." As for me, if you're curious (probably not), I've taken various house quizzes with mixed results (I've gotten Gryffindor, Slytherin, and Ravenclaw), so I think the sorting hat would have a bit of trouble placing me, lol. Also, points for those who noticed my little nods to canon in dialogue or situation.
FYI: I just wanted to let you all know that I plan to take a little break from fanfiction in order to focus on my original fiction. I really want to be published this year or get at least one book publisher-ready, and I'm also going to be looking for a literary agent, so I have lots to do. I have three books going, two of which are series (so, actually 7 books).
I don't know if this break will last a couple of weeks, a month, 2, 3, or whatever, but I promise to return and finish all of my fanfiction. I won't abandon it. I love my stories and fanfiction too much. Like chocolate to many women (or whatever you find enticing), fanfiction (reading and writing it) is very addictive to me. It's hard to get away from, and that's part of the problem. I really need to show my original stories the love and attention I always give to my fanfics, and I am also getting some subtle pressure to publish. But please don't give up on me because I will definitely return, and maybe when you least expect it. I suggest putting my stories or me on story/author alert in the meantime if you have an account. Yes, I love getting follows, but I am not bartering for them right now; I legitimately want to make things easier on you. Then you don't have to be checking for updates, and you'll see right away when I do update. It may happen when you least expect it. ;) Also, feel free to PM me if you're curious about where things stand. I'll try to update my profile here on occasion to keep you all posted. It seems the site and the app are not quite synced up. I get messages on the app that I don't get on the site, and vice versa, at least recently. So, if you message me on the app, I may not see it right away, but I will respond when I do. I like getting messages, btw!
Thanks so much for your patience and understanding. This is just what I need to do to become a successful writer, but I will NOT give up on my fanfiction. I plan to be writing it for many years to come. The pairings and subjects may occasionally change, but I'll be around, probably until I'm an old lady. This year, you can most likely expect more BOF stories from me as well as "The Hunger Games" because right now I am really shipping Everlark. Everlark hasn't replaced JanHoo, but I'd say these two pairings are running neck and neck with me right now. Different, yes, but they have their similarities. I have also been listening to the Harry Potter books, so maybe someday I'll write fic for that, but I feel like there are already so many Harry Potter fics out there that it's almost pointless. If I have an idea that's calling out to me, though, I won't ignore it. Anyway, that's what's to come from me…
Kudos to anyone who actually read this super long rambling author note! Haha! Love and appreciate you all!
Teaser, upcoming: Jan Di and Ji Hoo's friendship progresses, rife with teasing, quizzes, banter, and accidental and, possibly, more purposeful touches? Ji Hoo begins to realize he might want to change, and just maybe Jan Di can help. Mo Kyul returns from Japan. Will he notice a shift in Jan Di and Ji Hoo's relationship? Jan Di's birthday arrives, and the surgeons want to take her out. Will Ji Hoo join? What will the celebration bring? A bit too much alcohol? Some confessions? Who knows?! One day, Jan Di is late to pick up Soo Yun and misses her bus. What will she do? And a special visitor at the hospital gives Ji Hoo an interesting nickname.
Lastly, remember to check out my Pinterest page if you're interested in seeing what's in my head about this story. www. pinterest acpoe82/ open-hearts / (put the spaces back in). It's not the most organized board, kind of a tangled mass of vines, like in my head, haha, but it will give you some visuals. One day I'll fix it up completely. Warning, there are some spoilers in there and some things that may not yet make sense. Also, for some scenes that will happen between JanHoo, I had to use different actors, obviously, because I don't have images of them in those positions/situations, haha. And it would be a lot of work to edit it to look just right, haha. For the lovey scenes you may be seeing, note, I will keep this story T, but I may push the boundaries of that later on (I'll warn you when I'm going to). There's a slight chance I may write a short companion piece of outtakes for this story with some M scenes that I was inspired to do but didn't want to put in because of the T rating. One day, perhaps. I don't usually write M, but occasionally (I'm branching out into it a little), and there are a couple of scenes I really want to do that just don't quite fit that T rating, hehe.