For the next few weeks, Rang made himself scarce whenever Chu Ga Eul came over to tutor Soo-oh. He'd driven her home the night she'd ruined her shirt—an awkward, but mercifully silent, affair—figuring that would make up for the shirt and he wouldn't have to bother with her again, but no matter where he went or how he rearranged his schedule, he ran into her at least twice a week. In the apartment complex lobby. In the park. At a restaurant. Twice at the school when an 'unforeseen emergency' detained both Yu Ri and Shin-joo. And, of course, there were days when he stayed in the apartment out of spite with his bedroom door closed and his noise-cancelling headphones on, trying to drown out the grating sound of her laughter from the living room. Honestly, why should he have to wear noise-cancelling headphones in his apartment? The only noise cancelling he should be doing is kicking her out.
When Rang entered the empty hall in front of the elevators one Thursday—a month or so after Chu Ga Eul started tutoring Soo-oh—he wasn't even surprised to see her stepping out of an elevator as he approached.
He just couldn't get rid of her.
If only Soo-oh had stayed a puppy...
Grinding his teeth around that irritating fact, he gave her a short, inconsequential nod as he stepped around her to get into the elevator she'd vacated.
But then she spoke to him, and it pulled him up short.
"Uh...Mister Lee Rang...excuse me...um...I wanted to say I'm sorry."
With that last word, he backed out of the elevator and turned to face her, letting the elevator doors close behind him.
"Come again?" he asked, totally clueless as to what she'd be apologizing for. Though he could think of plenty of things she'd done to annoy him since they'd met—invading his apartment and basically stealing his puppy—he doubted she had any of that in her mind. Humans were terribly oblivious that way.
Chu Ga Eul didn't immediately answer, instead worrying her lip as she sidestepped to let an older man enter the elevator across from them. She looked hesitant, shy even, and it was such a change in her demeanor from their previous interactions that he found himself actually curious as to what she would say. When the elevator closed, carrying the man away, she said, "I think you've been avoiding me, and I wanted to apologize. I've been kind of snappy lately, and...I realized I've been taking it out on complete strangers. Like you." She gestured to him. "A-and I'm sorry if the kimchi thing made you uncomfortable. I didn't mean it like that. I...I should have just taken it back like you wanted," she rambled on, nervously fingering the satchel she kept her school papers in. "I'm not normally like this." She smiled as if to prove she was normally a nice person. "I've just been having a...a rough month." With that final detail, she paused. Rang said nothing, choosing to scrutinize her expression instead. People who called themselves 'nice people' generally weren't. Particularly if they were human. At Rang's continued silence, she glanced down at her feet. When she looked back up, she had a blush on her face, and her tone was apologetic. "Anyway, sorry for detaining you. I just wanted to say that."
Rang wasn't sure how to answer that. He didn't know what her motivation could be for wanting to be on good terms with him; Shin-joo and Yu Ri were determined to employ her no matter how he felt about it. He certainly didn't know what she wanted to hear—not that he cared about satisfying her with an answer she'd like. So he said the first thing that came to his mind.
"I haven't been avoiding you," he clarified, with a bit less condescension than he normally would have used. "I just have things to do."
"Right. Sorry. Of course not." She shook her head, as if berating herself, then took a deep breath. "Anyway, I guess I'll see you around." She gestured around the lobby. "Um, have a good night." She backed away quickly, and then she was gone, the clack of her high heels echoing through the lobby until it suddenly fell quiet.
On the following Tuesday afternoon, Rang decided to sit at the kitchen table with his laptop while Chu Ga Eul tutored Soo-oh at the coffee table in the living room.
He figured he could both keep an eye on her and make her patently aware that he was not hiding from her. That he was not a person to hide from anyone and certainly not her.
She was teaching Soo-oh basic math, and he could barely hear himself think over her calling out numbers and Soo-oh randomly blurting out things he'd seen earlier in the day.
Rang swore the kid had the attention span of a puppy in a park full of squirrels.
Even so, it irked him that so much of Soo-oh's limited attention was lately directed at the teacher instead of Rang.
Seonsaengnim this. Seonsaengnim that.
Rang made a face at her that he knew neither she nor Soo-oh could see, but almost as if she sensed him watching her, she chose that moment to look over. He whipped his eyes back to his laptop and didn't look at the two of them again for several minutes.
They were seated on the floor, Chu Ga Eul in one of her trademark pastel cardigan-blouse-skirt combinations. Sometimes she wore her hair up in a bun, sometimes half-up, half-down. He'd never seen her wear her hair fully down and didn't know why he'd made such an observation at all.
That afternoon, she had half of her hair pulled back with a pearl hair barrette, a few loose strands clinging to the sides of her face. She kept brushing them out of her eyes when she craned her head over Soo-oh's workbook—and Rang definitely wasn't paying attention to that.
The afternoon lingered on far too long, and by the time the teacher cleared away Soo-oh's papers and Yu Ri took the boy away for a promised ice cream treat or some other nonsense, Rang was itching to leave the room. He closed his laptop while the teacher packed her things, and he would have mumbled a quick 'goodbye' and made his retreat if she hadn't said anything to him.
But of course she said something. Apparently, she was the epitome of politeness.
"So what do you do, anyway? I mean, for work. Or did you inherit your money?" She was standing now, a few papers sloppily stuffed into her hands, her open bag hanging off her shoulder. She gave him a nonjudgmental look, but he stiffened nonetheless.
Inherit, his ass. He'd been building his fortune off human misery for centuries.
"I'm an investor," he answered vaguely, looking down his nose at her.
If she noticed his disdain for her question, she didn't show it.
"What, like, the stock market? Real estate?" she asked.
"Whatever suits me. Whatever...brings in a profit." He traced circles on the top of his laptop. Glanced down at the metallic surface and back at her.
"Hm." She looked at him like she expected him to say more, and he had no intention of doing so.
Why couldn't she just leave?
Well, if they were going to be doing the small talk thing…
"So, why did you become a teacher? You like kids that much?"
"Uh, yeah. Yeah, I like kids. Oh, and my mother was a teacher, so..." She trailed off, tucking the rest of her materials into her bag.
"She's"—dead?—"retired now. My father still works, though," she continued brightly. "He's a project manager at Song Construction." Her hair had floated into her face again; he had the irrational urge to brush it aside.
"Your father's a construction worker?" he replied, his annoyance with himself creeping into the question.
If his tone offended her, again, she didn't show it.
She shook her head.
"No, my father's an architect."
"Well, anyway, I'll let you get back to whatever you were doing. Have a good night."
"Oh...Good night." He watched her disappear into the hall, and after a moment he heard the door click shut. Then he was alone in the empty apartment, staring at a mess of Soo-oh's toys in the corner of the room—Shin-joo would have a fit when he saw those, especially when he realized they'd been out when Chu Ga Eul came.
Was it him, or did they just have a normal conversation?
Rang had never been so bored in his life.
Before there had always been something to run from or run to, someone to fight or someone to pick a fight with. He'd lived his life with such a singular purpose for so long that now he had no idea what to do with the rest of his ridiculously long existence. And, even worse, he had no one to annoy the crap out of while he did whatever it was. Not now that Lee Yeon had returned and settled into fucking human marital bliss and Yu Ri had pretty much replaced him with Shin-joo and that fucking teacher had decided she could teach his puppy tricks better than he could.
Rang could read; he could count. Even if he had no proper education, he knew more about the history of Korea than any damn history teacher ever would.
He bet that schoolteacher thought she was so smart.
Rang swirled the scotch in his glass. He'd been sitting at the bar of one of his favorite restaurants for an hour, mulling sullenly over his own restlessness.
He needed something to focus on, some new scheme to shape into being.
At the very least, he needed to find a new drink.
Putting the glass to his lips, he threw back the last of his regular order of scotch and nearly spit it back out when he saw who had wandered into the restaurant, as if he wasn't tortured enough by her presence. Chu Ga Eul in a strapless black dress that stopped mid-thigh, her hair completely down for once and curled loosely around her shoulders.
What the fuck was the little schoolteacher doing out of her classroom dressed like...that?
His unspoken question was swiftly answered in the form of two giggling women who appeared on either side of the teacher and pulled her to a corner table by the window. Surprisingly, he recognized one of the ladies as the heiress of JK Group. Not to mention the restaurant was by no means cheap. But he knew Chu Ga Eul didn't come from that type of money, and she didn't seem like a social climber either. So how…?
Rang snapped his head away from the unexpected scene and toyed with his empty glass. He didn't know why he was interested.
What had he been thinking about before?
A scheme. Right. A scheme.
He tapped his fingers on the glass.
A waitress came over to give the bartender a drink order. He realized it was for Chu Ga Eul's table and watched the bartender prepare three different mixed drinks out of the corner of his vision.
Which drink was hers? What would a teacher of small children drink on her day off? He wondered. Who were the women she was with? Relations? Doubtful. Friends from school then? Not coworkers, obviously.
So lost in thought he was that when the bartender suddenly appeared in front of him, asking if he wanted anything else, he hesitated, another order of scotch on the tip of his tongue, then said, "Do you see that lady in the black strapless dress by the window? In the corner? Over there." He jerked his head in the direction of Chu Ga Eul's table without looking at her. Thankfully, the restaurant wasn't too crowded at that time of day, and the bartender nodded. "I'll have what she's having," Rang replied.
He could hear the teacher laughing on the other side of the restaurant; it was odd—not that he could hear the laughter given his heightened senses but that he could pick her voice out specifically from the other two girls. Stranger still, her laughter had a sad lilt to it, like she was forcing it out from the back of her throat. Not like she didn't mean it but like...she didn't feel like laughing. He knew what her real laugh sounded like, and that wasn't it.
Rang shook himself.
What the fuck kind of observation was that?
When the drink came out, it was something fruity and girly—of course, it was. Lemon and berries and coconut rum. He snorted a laugh when he tasted it. Precisely the type of drink he would have pegged her for. Not his style though.
He gulped it down quickly—it went down smooth and sweet, like something he would have enjoyed as a child.
Well. Perhaps that explained Soo-oh's infatuation with her.
Rang paid his tab and left out of the exit furthest from Chu Ga Eul's table.
Three days later, when Ga Eul came to tutor Soo-oh, Rang sat at the kitchen table again and pretended to do important things on his laptop while scrolling through the listings of video games that could potentially fill his empty hours.
Ga Eul spoke to him again before she left, and he tried not to picture her in less appropriate attire than her teacher cardigan and knee-length skirt.
He tried to answer her nosy questions in as level a tone as possible.
He tried to ignore his observation that Ga Eul mistook his grudging tolerance of her for friendliness.
He tried to ignore his knowledge that Ga Eul had been sad on Saturday and that it probably had something to do with the 'rough month' she'd been having.
He tried to ignore that she was suddenly 'Ga Eul' in his head.