A/N: This chapter covers what Ji Hoo and Jan Di were up to during Chapter 5 of Ten Dates. There is also a smidge of Woo Bin/Jae Kyung in here for you shippers. :)
"Yi Jeong's getting cold feet," Ji Hoo commented, smiling innocently in response to Yi Jeong's warning glare.
As for himself, Ji Hoo couldn't wait to see how the night would unfold.
It had always been amusing to watch Yi Jeong trip over himself around Eun Jae, only to vehemently deny they were anything other than friends.
He could only hope Yi Jeong didn't make the same mistake twice.
Speaking of the waitress, she had entered the lobby at long last, accompanied by her friend.
Yi Jeong pulled the two girls into their small circle and made introductions.
Chu Ga Eul and her bubbly friend, Geum Jan Di.
He didn't miss the way Yi Jeong's eyes skated over Ga Eul as she bowed to Woo Bin and himself or the eagerness in his tone when he offered his arm to her.
Woo Bin's gaze flitted from Yi Jeong to Ji Hoo, searching for an explanation, but Ji Hoo didn't have time if he wanted to get Yi Jeong and Ga Eul alone.
"Geum Jan Di, would you do me the honor?" He held out his arm to the short-haired girl in pale pink.
"Oh." An uncertain smile appeared on Jan Di's face, and she looked questioningly at Ga Eul. "Well, I guess that's okay. Have fun, Ga Eul." Hooking her arm into Ji Hoo's, she let him lead her into the main hall, the two couples leaving Woo Bin to attend to the flock of single girls loitering in the lobby.
Ji Hoo didn't usually have dates to these events, and he didn't care about having one that evening, but he had to admit Jan Di looked quite pretty all dolled up. She'd also seemed nice enough at the porridge shop, and she had a passion for medicine, same as him. There were certainly worse people to be stuck chaperoning.
"My grandfather liked the porridge," Ji Hoo mentioned as they walked.
"I didn't tell him where it came from."
"You should come back to see us then. That proves it. I always knew he was complaining just for the sake of complaining."
"Yeah...He does that a lot." Ji Hoo smiled, remembering his grandfather's penchant for constant grumbling.
"One time, he hated the food so much he refused to pay for it," Jan Di continued, "and the next day when he came for lunch my boss tried to bar him from coming in again, but he started raising such a fuss outside about my boss refusing service to elders that my boss finally let him in. After that day, Master—that's what we call my boss—he said to me and Ga Eul that we should just think of him as our restaurant's grandfather and don't worry about it."
Ji Hoo laughed.
"Well, then I suppose I should thank you for looking after him."
"He gave us no choice," Jan Di said, but a warm smile spread over her face. She stumbled on her gold heels as they neared the refreshments table, and he caught her. When she'd righted herself, she looked away bashfully and slipped her arm out of his grasp. "Thank you," she mumbled.
Ji Hoo let his arm drop back to his side. He watched as Jan Di surveyed the assortment of goodies lining the long table. Sushi and crab legs, yellow cake and chocolate-covered strawberries. An ice sculpture sat in the center of the table, surrounded by red roses. A carving of the museum's crest, which depicted the traditional Korean design of five bats, flamboyantly encircled with a brilliant sun. The design of five bats represented the five fortunes: longevity, wealth, health, love of virtue, and natural death.
A waiter passed by and offered Ji Hoo and Jan Di glasses of champagne. She thanked the waiter as he handed one to her, and the two of them silently sipped the frothy liquid while watching their respective friends wander around the expansive room, flitting in and out of sight behind display cases and other guests.
"Oh, um, did you receive my application? I sent it in on Thursday night." Jan Di broke the silence once Yi Jeong and Ga Eul disappeared from sight yet again on the far side of the room.
"Oh, yes. I did," he replied. "I haven't gotten a chance to look over it yet."
"Oh, that's fine. I just wanted to make sure you got it."
They lapsed into another silence, but it didn't feel uncomfortable. Or maybe only Ji Hoo felt that way. He wasn't good with small talk, wasn't adept at charming the ladies. That was Woo Bin and Yi Jeong's territory. Maybe he'd made a mistake not asking Woo Bin to join them. He'd probably be stuck with Ga Eul's friend for a while yet, if the laughing couple in the corner of the room were to be believed.
Well, at least they were enjoying themselves.
Ji Hoo glanced back down at Jan Di, who had finished her slice of cake and now swayed restlessly in her bell-shaped pink dress. They stood against the wall to the side of the refreshments table, as part of the scenery as the sprigs of baby's breath scattered about the room. Like the proverbial wall flowers at a dance.
Only they didn't have music to distract them. If someone had only hired a string quartet for the event, he could at least offer to dance with her.
Wait. Music. There was an idea.
"Do you play anything?"
"I'm sorry. What?" Jan Di asked, confusion miring her features.
Right. Coming out of the blue, that statement probably didn't make much sense.
"Instruments," he amended. "Do you play any?"
"Oh. Um, well, I play piano. A bit. I took lessons when I was younger. I'm not very good though." She grinned and opened her hands as if to apologize for her lack of musical skill. Folded them once more and brought them to rest on her waist.
"I play piano, too, but mostly violin."
"Oh, really?" Jan Di perked up.
"That's nice. I wish I was better at playing. But back when I took lessons, I was so young that I hated practicing. And I kind of hated my parents for making me learn. Now I miss it, though. How long have you been playing?"
"For as long as I can remember. I grew up surrounded by music." Ji Hoo rotated the nearly empty champagne glass in his hand, watching the liquid swirl around the base of the glass. "It's all I really knew until I met my grandfather," he explained, looking back up at Jan Di. "He introduced me to medicine. That's how I became a doctor."
"My parents introduced me to the dry cleaning business." Jan Di sighed. "Not quite as cool, is it?"
Ji Hoo didn't know what to say to that. He'd never thought of his profession as 'cool.' At first, once he'd gotten over his resentment toward the man, he'd started helping out in the clinic as a way to connect with his grandfather. Over time, though, he'd found he liked helping people, an odd discovery to make about himself after years of solitude. From there, he decided to go to medical school, graduating early as he had graduated early from every learning experience.
Except that his social skills still came up short.
Another silence had descended.
What did she say last? Something about dry cleaning?
"What made you want to be a doctor?" he asked.
"I was on my high school swim team, and I used to want to be an Olympic swimmer. But I got in a car accident and injured my shoulder during my senior year." She brought her hand up to delicately touch her shoulder. "Because of my injury, I couldn't swim anymore. But when I was in the hospital after the accident and I was so depressed, one of the nurses came by my room every day, and she cheered me up so much when I felt like my life was ending. So after that I decided I wanted to go into medicine and help people the way she helped me."
"You said you want to be a pediatrician?"
Jan Di nodded.
"Ji Hoo, my man!" Woo Bin popped up out of nowhere, a flash of magenta in his peripheral vision, and slapped him on the shoulder. "Do me a solid, and get rid of that girl, will you? Thanks!" His friend darted behind the thick cream curtains hanging behind Ji Hoo and Jan Di before Ji Hoo could answer.
If he had to guess, though, he would say that the girl in question was the one approaching the refreshments table from the far entrance of the room, making a beeline for himself and Jan Di. A tall, slim woman wearing a short, strapless deep purple dress that flared out at the bottom, exposing a black crinoline underskirt. She wore her short hair in a bob, loosely curled at the ends, and a pair of silver earrings dangled to her shoulders.
Ha Jae Kyung. Heiress to a multimillion-dollar international company, if he remembered correctly. Not that he'd met her personally, but he'd occasionally spotted her with her parents in news articles about philanthropy for musical organizations.
She did look like a force to be reckoned with, weaving in and out of the crowd with a focused, resolute expression. More marching than walking. He almost took a step back when she halted within spitting distance of him. A woman with presence.
Now that he could see all of her, he realized why her gait had looked so odd. She was only wearing one shoe. One silver peep-toe pump.
Woo Bin liked to fool around with women. That was no secret. But he did so religiously and unapologetically, so if he was hiding from a woman, he must have done something serious.
This should be interesting.
"You're friends with Song Woo Bin, aren't you?" she demanded.
"Sometimes," Ji Hoo answered.
"Did you see where he went?"
"Are you Ha Jae Kyung?"
"I think he was looking for you earlier."
"He went that way." Ji Hoo pointed in the direction of the lobby.
"What happened to your other shoe?" Jan Di asked as Jae Kyung was about to rush off.
"Oh, that." Jae Kyung looked down, as if only just realizing one of her shoes was absent. She shrugged. "I lost it chasing after him earlier. I don't think he saw me." Then, as if she found nothing odd about that statement, she brightened. "Thanks again for your help!"
Ji Hoo nodded, cracking a smile as she muscled her way through the crowd and disappeared into the lobby.
"Ouch! You kicked my leg!" Jan Di accused, twisting around to scowl at the curtain.
"Oh...Sorry, I was trying to kick Ji Hoo." Woo Bin stepped out from behind the curtain and glowered at Ji Hoo. "The one who's supposed to be my best friend."
"I think romantic problems should be settled between the two people they concern," Ji Hoo philosophized.
"Ji Hoo, why would I have romantic problems?" Woo Bin gestured frantically. "I assure you, romance is always the last thing on my mind."
Noting Jan Di's confused expression, Ji Hoo explained, "Woo Bin never goes out with the same woman twice."
"I never went out with her!" Woo Bin protested. "I just gave her a compliment!"
"On her shoes?" Ji Hoo asked.
"No!" Woo Bin asserted, suddenly appearing uncomfortable. "On her right hook," he added grudgingly, crossing his arms.
"Her what?" Jan Di piped up.
"So the other night I was at this bar, and I got into a fight. Got thrown into some chairs." He flicked his wrist toward the proverbial chairs. "I'm picking myself back up." He leaned in toward them, eyes wide, and dropped his voice lower. "Next thing I know, this lady comes out of nowhere and starts pummeling the other guy. I mean, she really kicked the shit out of him." Woo Bin straightened back up. "Apparently, it was some guy who tried to cheat her parents on an investment. So I said she had a nice arm...for punching people, you know. I didn't actually mean anything by that...for once. But now I can't get her to stop following me around!"
"You do know who that is, right? Her parents own—"
"I don't care who she is! She's crazy! She thinks she's in love with me!"
"Don't a lot of women think they're in love with you?" Jan Di gave him a knowing look.
Woo Bin laughed.
"Miss Jan Di, I like you. And yeah, but...she wants to marry me. Yesterday." He shuddered. "Anyway, I'm gonna get out of here. Lay low for a while." He picked up a glass of champagne and surveyed the room. "And I see just the lady to do it with. Catch ya later, bro." He hit Ji Hoo on the shoulder—again—and took off.
"So...does your friend normally hide behind curtains at these events?" Jan Di asked after a few moments.
"He's even worse at small talk than I am," Ji Hoo responded, earning himself a chuckle from Jan Di.
By the time Ji Hoo and Jan Di had filed into the room where the auction was being held and had taken their seats alongside Yi Jeong and Ga Eul, Woo Bin and his lady friend had reappeared, slightly ruffled from whatever 'laying low' had meant.
Halfway through the auctioneer's opening remarks, Jan Di leaned over to Ji Hoo and whispered, "Ji Hoo Sunbae, isn't that the shoe lady from earlier?" She nodded toward the back, and when he turned his head, he saw that it was Ha Jae Kyung. The heiress had taken a seat in the last row, in the last empty chair, and was glaring daggers at the back of Woo Bin's head. Or his date's. It didn't seem to matter which.
Ji Hoo lowered his gaze to Jan Di and gave her a secretive smile.
"I guess she found her target," he said.
"And now she's scoping him out."
"Don't worry, the great mafia prince Woo Bin can take care of himself." He glanced back dramatically. "I think."
They shared a quiet laugh.
The auctioneer finished his speech, and the auction began.
"So, do you have any theories?" Jan Di whispered after the first piece had been auctioned off.
"Theories?" Ji Hoo whispered back.
"About what that piece means. I don't know much about art, but I've been dragged here so many times by Ga Eul that I have some very compelling theories about a lot of the pieces in here. It's what I do to entertain myself. Like take that one for instance." She gestured to a white vase the auctioneer was currently describing as an early piece by its particular craftsman. It had circular holes carved into it in no particular pattern, a veritable Swiss cheese of pottery. "Obviously you would think it decorative"—she gave him an all-knowing look—"rather than functional. Because of the holes. But"—she leaned in closer—"what you don't know is that the potter was also a snake charmer. He had a tiny pet snake—a beautiful snake, green and brown—and that vase was actually the snake's playground. So"—her voice grew deadly serious—"it was functional."
"You can tell all of that just by looking?" Ji Hoo's mouth quirked up in a smile.
"Mm-hm," Jan Di replied with a sharp nod.
"What about that one? The red and green one." Ji Hoo pointed to a skinny, bottle-necked vase sitting off to the side.
"That one's easy. Two potters were having a paint war with each other, and that poor pot got caught in the crossfire."
Ji Hoo raised his eyebrows.
"Well...it makes more sense that painting it that way on purpose." Jan Di glanced back at Ga Eul, who looked completely engrossed by what was happening on the stage. "I don't understand artists," she admitted to Ji Hoo. "Even though I live with one."
Ji Hoo smiled wider at Jan Di's indignation.
He'd been smiling a lot tonight.
The rest of the auction passed by quickly. At least it felt like no time at all before the four of them—Ga Eul, Yi Jeong, Jan Di, and himself—had vacated their seats to stand by the wall, conversing and watching the chairs get put away. After a minute, Ga Eul excused herself to go to the restroom. Then suddenly Woo Bin came up behind Ji Hoo and accosted his arm.
Ji Hoo could tell the mafia prince was seething, but he smiled at Jan Di and said, "Excuse us a minute, I have to ask Ji Hoo a question about...violinists." Biting out the last word, he jerked Ji Hoo away.
Once they were out of earshot, Woo Bin exclaimed, "What the hell, Ji Hoo?! Ha Jae Kyung just manhandled the girl I was with thanks to your smart mouth!"
"Where is she now?" Ji Hoo looked past Woo Bin to the people milling behind them but didn't see Jae Kyung.
"The girl I was with? Probably on her way to the emergency room. She broke a nail."
"No, I mean Ha Jae Kyung."
"Why the hell do I care? She got escorted away by her security detail. I think her parents were looking for her. Man, what's the idea, bro?" He punched Ji Hoo in the arm—the same arm in the same exact spot for the third time in the past hour. Though he knew the light punch didn't reflect at all the amount of pain Woo Bin was capable of delivering, his shoulder throbbed with the impact.
"I don't think she'll go away if you avoid her. Maybe you should go out with her once since she's so persistent." He squinted at Woo Bin. "If you don't like her after that, you can just tell her you don't think it'll be a good fit."
"If I tell her I don't like her, she'll probably beat me up, then throw me to her security detail so they can beat me up some more."
"I've never known you to be afraid of a fight." Ji Hoo smirked.
"I can't hit back if it's a girl." Woo Bin drew himself up. "I won't. On principle."
"Then I guess you'll just have to be very firm when you say 'no,'" Ji Hoo prompted.
"Yeah...firm." Woo Bin said it with a note of uncertainty. He tugged at the collar of his magenta suit jacket.
Ji Hoo had never seen him look so disconcerted before.
"Where are they going?" he asked Jan Di when he had rejoined her, referring to Yi Jeong and Ga Eul, who were going off by themselves again. The former was gesticulating about something.
Jan Di frowned in their direction.
"Jan Di?" he tried again.
"Oh." She blinked, noticing him. "Sorry, I was thinking about something. Um, did you ask me a question?"
"I asked where our friends went off to."
"Oh, Yi Jeong wanted to show Ga Eul his favorite place in the museum. Do you know where that is?"
Yi Jeong's favorite place.
Ji Hoo tilted his head in thought.
Perhaps the kiln?
But would he take Ga Eul there? She was a potter, but he usually took women someplace more...opulent. Like the vast Joseon Dynasty exhibit on the second floor.
"I'm not sure," he confessed. "But I'm sure wherever it is, Ga Eul will like it," he added, trying to reassure Jan Di, who seemed worried. She'd been fussing with her gold headband ever since he'd walked over.
"I'm not worried about that." Her brow furrowed as she tucked a few stray hairs underneath the headband. Appearing satisfied with her adjustments, she brought her hands down to rest at her sides. "But I'm wondering if you could tell me something."
"What is it?"
"What do you think your friend wants with my friend?"
Her expression looked more curious than threatening, but unfortunately, Ji Hoo didn't know if he could answer that question either.
At least not fully.
It was obvious to him that Yi Jeong liked and respected Ga Eul, but he had no way of knowing for certain Yi Jeong wouldn't sabotage this relationship as he'd done with Eun Jae. Ji Hoo knew how hard it was for Yi Jeong to accept or express any serious affection.
Ji Hoo had no wish for Ga Eul to be the target of a broken heart.
Yet at the same time he couldn't help but hope things would turn out differently this time around.
So he answered Jan Di in the best way he could think of.
"I think he genuinely likes her, but...what his exact motivations for inviting her tonight are, I couldn't say. Yi Jeong's not a bad person, but he can act immature sometimes. I'm not saying she's in some type of immediate danger. Yi Jeong's not like that. But longer term...she should just be careful."
Jan Di nodded, seeming to weigh his words in her mind.
"Thank you," she said after a pause. "I appreciate your honesty."
"So...what should we do while we're waiting on them to come back?" she asked, her normal, lively tone returning. Bouncing on her toes, she looked up expectantly at Ji Hoo, her bright smile drawing him in as it spread to her eyes. That, and the cute way she bobbed her head. The way part of her hair curled softly around her ears, the rest of it swept up to reveal the elegant curvature of her neck. She stood almost exactly a head shorter than him, and if he hugged her, the top of her head would probably tuck neatly under his chin.
"Any artistic theories in particular I should know about?" Ji Hoo asked, remembering their discussion during the auction.
"I'll let you pick. The art on the first floor or the second?"
"Excellent choice." Jan Di beamed, and Ji Hoo offered his arm to her.
"Shall we then?"