Enigma (noun): a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand; a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation
"Do you always have to be so stubborn about everything?" Yi Jeong's face creased with annoyance as he leaned against the kitchen island, hands pressing into the cool marble. His wife of two years stood on the opposite side, facing him but with her attention on the pots she was washing.
"I'm being stubborn?" she replied, scrubbing one soapy pot furiously. "I told you I was going to teach summer classes, and you were fine with it until you found out you had to go to Japan. I can't just drop everything and go with you. I committed to this two months ago, and they don't have enough teachers as it is. Plus I get paid more for teaching summer classes."
"You don't need to get paid more. You're the wife of a billionaire. And what's with those shoes?"
"What's wrong with my shoes?"
"The toes are scuffed. Why don't you buy a new pair?"
"I just bought these a month ago. They're perfectly fine."
"You bought them from a thrift store!"
"It was not a thrift store, they were brand new, and why would I buy a thousand dollar pair of shoes to work with children all day?!" Ga Eul shoved a pot underneath the counter, and a bunch of them clanged together as she slammed the cabinet door.
"I'm sorry I'm such an embarrassment to you." Ga Eul grabbed a towel and began drying the rest of the dishes. Her voice grew more animated, higher-pitched. "So Yi Jeong's wife does her own cooking, and she works instead of shopping all day. Sometimes she still takes public transportation, and let's not forget the other day she was spotted at a night market! She has the same nose she was born with, and her breasts are too small, and her legs are too thick. You think I don't hear enough about what's wrong with me!"
"Ga Eul-yang, calm down. I didn't mean—"
"Yeah, yeah, I know." She waved him off with the towel and set a dish in the cabinet. "You never mean it, and then you just expect me to let it go."
Yi Jeong sighed and rubbed his neck in exasperation.
"I just don't see the point in doing things you don't have to do, that's all. I've been trying to get you to see that for two years now."
"Well, maybe I like doing the things I used to do."
"Well, maybe I'd like it if you at least tried to do things some other way for once."
"By some other way, you mean your way." She threw the towel at him, and he caught it just before it hit his face.
"I mean how this damn society sees it!"
"Yi Jeong Sunbae." Ga Eul set another pot down with a jarring clang. "I didn't marry your 'damn society.' I married you."
"I keep telling you. That's not how things work."
"What? I can't break the rules? You did."
"Yeah, and if you knew all the bullshit I have to put up with because..." He broke off, turning away from her, twisting agitated fingers through his hair.
"Because? Because what? Finish your sentence, Sunbae. Because of me?"
He didn't answer.
"Go ahead. Say it. It's because of me. This is my fault."
"That's not what I—"
"Well, you know what, Sunbae? Why don't I leave then? Wouldn't want to disturb your otherwise perfect life."
"Tell me something. How is it that you never listen to anything I say unless it somehow makes you the victim?"
"Oh, and here I thought you were the one putting up with all the bullshit."
"I think you've let being a teacher go to your head. You don't have to listen because you already know everything."
"Sunbae, am I annoying you by refusing to accommodate your every whim? Honestly. You're just as bad as Gu Jun Pyo sometimes."
"And you're just as damn stubborn as Geum Jan Di."
"Only because you have about as much consideration for my thoughts as you do for that clay you fling around."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"I'm not your pot, Sunbae. You can't just make me into whatever the hell you want!"
Sweeping past him, Ga Eul headed out of the kitchen into their expansive living room, leaving Yi Jeong to gape at this last declaration.
Ga Eul picked up the papers she'd brought home to grade and her half-finished lesson plans for the remainder of the school year and marched determinedly back to the study, Yi Jeong's protests following her down the hall.
Thankfully, he didn't get too close to her before she got to the door of the study, closed it, and locked it behind her. He didn't see the tears brimming in her eyes as he made a final parting shot and retreated back down the hallway, his expensive Italian dress shoes clicking against the marble floor.
Whereas most of the house had a more modern design, Ga Eul liked the study the best because the dark hardwood flooring and cabinetry and the comfy, earth-toned armchairs lent a homey, comforting touch to the room. Not bothering to turn on the lights for the moment, Ga Eul curled up in a wide teal armchair and clutched a gray throw pillow to her chest. Silent tears flowed down her cheeks as she replayed the last few insults they'd traded.
Why did it seem like all they did was fight these days? They'd fought a lot when they first started dating too, both of them being set in their ways, but they never broke up. Not really. A few days would pass, then one would find the other, and they'd admit their misery at being apart. They became inseparable and somehow invincible together, defying his family's protests and even their own expectations for how long their relationship would last. No matter how much they fought against each other, they always fought harder for each other. Ga Eul realized early on that, despite appearances, Yi Jeong was the type of guy that would stay stuck on one girl for life. Once he made a decision, he was loyal to the end, and once he'd finally chosen her, that was it. So here they were, three years—two years of marriage—later.
Still at each other's throats.
Ever since the new wing for the museum had started being designed, she knew Yi Jeong had been under a lot of stress. Besides that, his mother had gotten better for a while, and then she had gotten worse again, and Yi Jeong always got worse when his mother's state went up and down like that. To be honest, she had been glad when he told her he was getting out of Korea for a while, even it if was on business. He needed a change of scenery.
She, on the other hand, well, she missed him.
She missed him, so her refusal to go with him on the trip may have seemed a bit odd, and yet she also needed a break. A break that didn't involve socializing with the arrogant wives of his business clients and attending endless events where she knew no one but was supposed to effortlessly make everyone like her. A break from constantly worrying about saying or doing the wrong things in front of the wrong people. A break from being in the shadow of his spotlight.
She liked to pretend that she was doing fine being the wife of So Yi Jeong, but sometimes she felt like she was drowning in all the attention. Yet she couldn't come up for air for fear she would be seen as weak.
Sometimes, she admitted to herself as she pulled the papers out of her briefcase and arranged them on her desk, she missed her simple life.
Around midnight, Yi Jeong stepped quietly into his study where Ga Eul currently occupied his desk, making lessons or grading papers or whatever she did during the hours he most wanted her in bed with him. Tonight she was up later than usual, probably to avoid finishing their discussion from earlier that day. She'd been in the study ever since their argument, though at some point, he realized, she'd gone out to change clothes and hadn't bothered to lock the door back. As for himself, he'd retreated to his studio downstairs where, a few hours later, he'd hardly gotten anything done.
Now he stared up at the old volumes of books lining the shelves as though their cracked spines might tell him what to say.
"Do you want something," Ga Eul asked without looking up, "or are you just going to stand there sulking like one of my students?" When he didn't answer, Ga Eul let out a sigh and continued marking her notes down.
"What are you doing, Sunbae?" she prodded after a few more minutes had passed.
"I'm getting a book. This is my office, you know."
"You're getting a dictionary?"
Yi Jeong glanced at the book he had carelessly pulled from the shelf and saw that it was, indeed, a dictionary. How could she see that from over there?
Shoving it back into the wall, Yi Jeong muttered, "Sorry, I pulled the wrong one."
"What was that?"
"I said I pulled—"
"No, before that."
"I didn't say—"
"You said you were sorry."
The hair on the back of Yi Jeong's neck prickled. That was what he'd come here to say, but he hated it when she put words in his mouth.
"What does..." He started and then trailed off, trying to keep himself calm and failing. "Are you going to do that all night?"
"If I have to. It's my job. Are you sure you know what you want, Yi Jeong? You just picked up the same dictionary."
He glared at her, then at the book in his hand.
Chu Ga Eul. Always the same. Always so fucking smart.
"Well, I would want to sit down if my desk wasn't occupied," he clipped.
"Oh...and would you like me to get up, your highness?"
Yi Jeong slammed the dictionary back into the shelf again and shot her a look.
Turning on his heel, he began walking toward the door.
"Yi Jeong!" Ga Eul called after him.
He stopping moving before he consciously thought about it. Her voice always had that effect. Always.
Nevertheless, he turned around at leisure and lifted his eyebrows at her when he'd done so, as if to prove he needed a damn good reason to stay in the same room with her.
"There's a chair right here." She motioned to the chair on the other side of his desk. "Pabo," she muttered and returned to her writing.
Yi Jeong said nothing. Several retorts simmered on his tongue, only to fall back into his throat.
Swallowing them down, he crossed the room and collapsed into the chair. He stared at the top of her head as it bobbed up and down while she made rapid, red-inked marks on one student's paper.
After a moment, she glanced up and put down her pen.
"Don't you want to talk about what's bothering you?" Ga Eul asked, folding her arms on top of the desk.
"Why?" Leaning back, he crossed one leg over the other. "You do such a wonderful job reading my mind. You know everything, including how much I hate being married to you, apparently." The words snapped out before he could stop himself. Maybe she had a smart mouth, but his own snarky comments never helped anything; he knew that. Yet they always flowed out effortlessly around her. Always.
"I never said that," Ga Eul corrected, even-toned. She met his gaze and held it, ever in the right.
"Neither did I," he replied.
"I didn't mean that the way it came out."
"Well..." She stopped suddenly, and after a long moment, she looked back down, much to his surprise. When she spoke again, he barely heard her. "It still hurt." Resuming her grading, she continued, "Whatever, Sunbae. I just need to"—she took in a deep breath—"get this finished for tomorrow."
He stared at her, not sure what to make of her sudden change in demeanor.
Keeping her eyes down, she hovered her pen over the page. He wasn't convinced she was actually reading it.
"Ga Eul-yang, look at me."
"Quit telling me what to do," she replied, but her voice had no force to it. Her fingers quivered, making ghost-strokes on the page. He knew that look.
"Hey, quit crying." Reaching across the desk, he touched her chin, but she brushed him away.
"I'm not...crying," she replied shakily. "It's allergies." She sniffed.
"Uh-huh, allergies you didn't have two minutes ago?...Look...dammit...I'm sorry, okay? I never regretted marrying you. Not for a second...Fuck society."
She didn't answer.
"Ga Eul-yang. I'm sorry. I'm so fucking sorry. Why the hell do you think I came in here?"
Ga Eul snorted. Stifled laughter.
A smile curved slowly over her lips.
"It's nothing. It's just...I remember I used to have to wait days for an apology. You've grown up a lot, you know that?"
"I wouldn't accuse myself of that. If I wait days, I'll lose the use of my office for the next month. Plus I still don't trust you won't follow through on your threats to throw me into one of the guest rooms."
"Just be glad you're rich. Otherwise, you'd be sleeping on the couch in the living room."
"I'd rather sleep in the living room. There's a TV in there...but it's not as nice as the one in our bedroom. Company's not as nice either."
Wiping her face on her arm, Ga Eul got up and circled around to the other side of the desk where she plopped down on Yi Jeong's lap, facing him. A loose t-shirt and pajama pants hung off of her petite frame.
"You think my company's nice?" she asked, wrapping her arms around his neck. "After I screamed at you for half an hour for wanting to take me on international vacation."
"At least you're not boring." He poked her nose with his index finger.
She smiled and tugged at her t-shirt.
"Remember this shirt?"
Yi Jeong nodded.
"You've had that a long time," he replied.
"You spilled soy sauce on it, remember? The stains are still here."
"I thought you were going to cry. You loved this shirt."
"I was upset at first, but it gives it character, I guess. And I always remembered you when I wore it after that."
"That's nice." Yi Jeong fingered the threadbare hem of her shirt, tracing the seam until his hand came to rest on her back, and she scooted closer to him on his lap. They probably looked like quite the pair right now, him with his expensive dress shirt and pants and her with her comfortable but worn house clothes. She looked so utterly adorable he wondered how he'd ever raised his voice at her.
"I'm sorry, too," Ga Eul admitted. "I'm sorry I yelled at you earlier. I was...tired."
"No, no. I guess if I'm allowed to go to Japan, you should be allowed to stay here."
"Well, that's very progressive of you, Sunbae. Almost makes me feel like we're not living in the dark ages."
"Don't push it. I'm still mad about the shoes."
"I'm kidding. You can wear whatever shoes you want."
"What if I don't want to wear shoes?"
"What if I don't want to wear anything?"
"Well, that's one way to get out of going to Japan. Because I'm definitely not letting you out of the house."
"If I can't leave, you can't either."
"Wow, what could we possibly do"—he kissed her nose—"with all that time"—he kissed her again—"stuck together without clothes?"
"I have some ideas." She grinned.
"Of course you do."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Calm down. I like your ideas."
Yi Jeong nodded.
The best idea she'd ever had, he'd decided, was for them to be together.
"You look pretty." The words slipped out.
Blushing, she glanced down at her t-shirt again.
"What?" She laughed. "I look like I haven't slept properly in days. Because I haven't."
"No, I like the soy sauce accent. It really brings out your eyes. I think I'm going to do that to all of my dress shirts."
"Sunbae." Giggling, she wrapped her arms around his torso and nestled her head on his shoulder.
"I'm serious. It's going to be the exact same stain on every shirt. The exact same pattern."
"You're so weird," Ga Eul mumbled. "But I guess if anyone can pull that off, it's you."
"Wow, a compliment from the great Ga Eul-yang. I can retire now. I've accomplished my goal." Brushing his thumb over the smooth t-shirt fabric covering her shoulder, he kissed the top of her head.
"I thought you accomplished your goal when you married me."
"I'm sorry I've been so snappy lately."
"You already said that. You don't have to keep apologizing."
"I know, but I wanted to explain. It's just that I'm so tired, and I feel like I'm losing myself."
"Losing yourself?" Yi Jeong frowned.
"At my job, it's so hard to make friends now. I hate wondering all the time if people are nice to me because I'm me or if they're nice to me because I'm your wife. Sometimes it's really hard to tell. I don't even know whether I'm actually doing a good job, so I try to work extra hard to prove I belong there."
"Is that why you volunteered to teach over the summer?"
"Partially, yes. But I do really love what I do. It's not like I'm forcing myself to be miserable. I also figured you might be gone somewhere, and I didn't want to be in your way or have you worrying about me being lonely or anything. And, well, I guess I also wanted an excuse not to go. I don't think I'll ever much like being a socialite. I'm much more comfortable talking to kindergartners. Even if they're acting childish, at least they're honest. And they don't care who my husband is."
"You never told me all of that."
"I don't like for you to worry about me. You're stressed out enough as it is."
"Still, you should talk to me. I feel more stressed not knowing what's going on with you. At least now I know why you keep biting my head off."
"And I take it you've been badgering me because you were worried about me anyway."
"Of course, I'm going to worry about you. I know people don't always say nice things, but look...people like to talk about us because we're...an enigma...something they don't understand."
"I know," Ga Eul answered glumly. "They want to know what someone like me is doing with someone like you."
"They can't figure it out. It's what makes them terrified." He shrugged. "You're disrupting a pattern. But that's for them to worry about. I know it's easier said than done, but you owe it to yourself to not let people get to you. Those women only act cold to you because you did something they couldn't."
"What do you mean?" Ga Eul gave him a confused look.
"You married me."
"Well, now you're not bragging at all."
Yi Jeong hugged her tighter.
"Hey, for once, I'm not trying to brag. I'm just stating a fact. But we got the really hard part over with, right?" He shook her gently. "We're here."
"That's what I tell myself." Ga Eul snuggled closer to him. "Sometimes I miss how we used to be, though. I feel like I hardly see you anymore."
"And that's my fault." Yi Jeong sighed. "I know. That's why I wanted you to come to Japan with me. So we could be together more...also because it's probably going to be a stressful trip, and I thought with you there..."
"It would be less stressful?"
Yi Jeong nodded.
"But it's okay. I understand. I'm going to miss you a lot though."
"Well, maybe I can pop up now and again and surprise you."
"That would be nice." He smiled.
"And if you take lots of pictures for me, I can make it up to you when you get back." She sat up straight, her eyes glimmering with possibilities. "I have two weeks between when summer classes end and fall planning begins. We could go somewhere."
Yi Jeong tapped his foot, contemplating.
"Or we could stay here and tell everyone we went somewhere," she suggested.
"See. I like that idea." He lifted his eyebrows.
"I'm glad you like my ideas."
"I like all of you."
"Even my thick legs?" Standing up, she leaned back against the desk and lifted one pant leg up for his perusal. Yi Jeong mockingly inspected the leg underneath.
"In my expert artistic opinion..." He trailed off, feigning to be in deep thought. "I think you have excellent legs." Yi Jeong stood. "And when So Yi Jeong says someone's beautiful, they're beautiful."
She laughed, and he picked her up to hold her bridal style.
"Obviously," he went on, "I'm the only person in this society with any fucking taste."
A/N: This started out (months ago) as a chapter of Good Girl that never panned out. That said, I'm actually quite happy with how it turned out. Oh well, maybe we'll see Ga Eul as a sexy secretary some other time. Much fluff for now. :)