He is slumped on the chair, head resting on the dining table. It was one of those nights, his first love made him feel like a fool again. You sat on the sofa by the living room, staring at him as he slept the alcohol off. A tear rolls down your eye. You stand up, to gather the empty beer cans and the half-empty bottle of wine. Cleaning up after his mess. There were days and nights when he makes you feel like you are the world to him. But there are also times when you felt as though you were just there to clean up after him. The mess that was his life. The mess that was his heart. The mess…
So, tonight, you felt a little more brave. As you dumped the last garbage from this kind of night, you come to his side, occupying the chair next to him at the dining room. You fix his arm, so it wouldn’t strain him when he wakes up minutes or maybe hours later. You smooth the stray hairs covering his peaceful face. Funny, you seem peaceful only when you are in this state. You stood to leave for the night but his hand grabbed yours first. He called your name. Not anyone else’s. Yours. But he still looked like he was sleeping. You gathered your strength. Clearing your throat, you managed to ramble in whispers…
Who am I? Thank you for helping me realize my worth. It’s so funny isn’t it? Because it really was my greatest dream to be guided by someone like you. And I’m here. About to realize my dreams. So, thank you. Yes, it is so funny. Because as much as I feel all this gratitude. I try not to fall, but what do I do? I try not to… Because every time you make me feel like the moon and stars are just at my feet, you also make me feel that the world is so far from my reach. You have become my world. And I am not yours. I’m just your project. That’s it, just a project.
You took a step away from him, carefully trying to not rouse him from his sleep. Yet, his grasp was firm on your hands. You did not want to believe that it was his attempt to not let you go. But even in doubt, you tell him…
I won’t go. You can still make me as you feel you need to make me. Make me into someone great. Make me into someone you want me to be. I will try not to fail you. Maybe my success, your success in my being your project will make you learn to love me.
He loosened his grip on your hand. And you stepped away, towards the door, scurrying with every step. You were careful not to look back, just so maybe when you return on another day, you can still pretend everything was okay. Outside his house, into the empty night, your tears fell.
You still remember that night like there was no alcohol in your system then. It was so vivid, so crystal clear. The way her hands felt against your grip. The pain in her whispers. Her breath shortening as she choked back her tears. You knew she cried the moment she left your house. She didn’t know that your tears also fell that night, finally.
She is standing on stage right now, with the spotlight on her innocent face. Like a clarion or a nightingale, she sings her song. The song you made for her. You smile, watching her in the dark. She had gone this far. You’ve always believed she will go this far. With or without you. It must be the purity of her heart. It could be the steadfastness of her ambition. Or it could be the childish way she fights her own feelings so it will not get in the way of her dreams, or of yours.
She scans the crowd as she sings another song. It was an unfamiliar tune. She scans the dark, for a glimpse of you. Your eyes meet hers and she takes the song to a height you knew she couldn’t yet reach. And she reaches it, not holding her gaze down. You listen to the song in her eyes. You knew she got your message.
You had asked someone to give her your recorder before she comes on stage. Last minute reminders, this was the excuse you told your messengers to give her. In that little silver box was your heart. In it, it was her name you frequently mentioned.
That night you tried to change the game, I was really not sleeping. I am sorry for not letting that on. It was the night you broke my heart. Battle-weary fighting for you, I made the mistake of having a drink one too many. I am sorry. But tonight, before you take the spotlight, you must know a few things. I forgot how to feel until I met you. The music made no sense until they came from your voice. My dreams were lost until they found you. So, thank you. You trusted me with your dreams. And, I’ve always felt I was not worthy. Yet, knowing you will be beautiful tonight, I finally feel glad. My dream has come true. Through you. My dream is you. You, who have taught me how to fight for love. You, who have taught me how to see beauty again. You. Naturally wonderful. Born to be awesome. You. So, please stop saying that you are my project. Because with these things you’ve taught me. With the dreams you gave me. You prove that you are not my project, never just a project. It is actually the other way around. With the ways you made me better, I was yours.
Both your eyes fill with tears. You both had gone this far. She sang to new heights, with a new song she made. The perfect pact. The perfect way to seal a promise. Belonging never felt that good. She is yours. You are hers.
He grimaced in pain at the sound of his heart breaking. It was two seconds after he sent the text message that ended it all. He was sweating bullets before then, sitting in his car, pounding on the steering wheel, hesitating each second at what he was about to do. “Mianhae, noona. This is for both of us.” He said in his mind mere seconds ago. He stared at his phone again. Looking at the digits glaring at him. He repeated the digits in his mind, refusing to talk to anyone in case any interruption distracts him from committing those digits to memory. The protocol was that he would turn in the handphone back to the network, and they will delete everything. Since they were trailing him, he wouldn’t be able to write down any of her contact information. Upon reaching their dorm, he quickly grabbed his notebook to write down the only thing he let run in his mind. Her number. As he completed writing it, a familiar voice yelled. “Hong Star, are you home yet?” He jolted in surprise, like a cat caught in the act. Minhwan entered his room. “Man, you look like you’ve seen a ghost! What happened? You okay?” He nodded in response. “You sure?” The drummer probed. He nodded again. Minhwan knew better, but let his friend keep it to himself. Sooner or later, they will find out. Hours, days, months went by. He started out staring at the numbers he wrote in his notebook. Fiddling with punching them on the keys of his handphone every now and then. “I did want to keep contact, noona. I do want to get to know you.” That and other variations thereof were what he was texting for more than one day. Only to keep himself from keying in the final number and the send button. It became even harder when their episode finally aired. When he saw her bubbly self slump down almost to the point of tears on a subway train. He broke her heart, it seemed. The worse thing is that in that process, he also broke his own.
She felt the tears pool in her eyes. She fought so hard to keep them from falling. She knew well enough not to wear her heart on her sleeve in front of national TV. Yet, she played dumb, and where did it land her? The price she paid for needing some exposure in the world she wanted to join. Was it even worth it? She thought to herself. An idol, a brat at that, just broke her heart. She had no place in his world. At the end of their encounter, she was just another ordinary girl. He was just playing a role. After all, didn’t they say he was a good actor? “Pabo! Pabo! Pabo!” she kept telling herself knocking her forehead as she walked home when the show crew finally left her alone. Why was she so vulnerable? At that moment, she was a little annoyed with the natural goodness of her heart. “Be tough, sometimes YeoHee-ya!” she scolded herself. She went to her bedroom. Wrote down the number she committed to memory, tore the page off and inserted it into a book she knew she was not going to read any time soon. “You’re as good as forgotten now, jashik!” She took her guitar, and strummed her heartache away. Hours, days, months went by. Her friends kept teasing her that they have seen her summer affair in one of those dramas on TV. She pretended not to care. She already forgot about him, she kept telling them. Only her friends knew that it wasn’t them she was trying to convince, but herself. She did watch a few bits, or maybe more, of that drama he was in. She was moved to tears when he was singing his heart out on that bus. And, she did find that book she hid his number in. She did ‘accidentally’ see that scrap of paper. During a high moment from making her music one night, she even dared to type from her iPhone, “I’m not an easy girl to get rid of. I can stay, just ask me to.” But she thought that sounded desperate, so she deleted it. “Ya! It’s Noona. Just wanted to say hello.” She typed instead, only to send it to another dongsaeng, since her pride and fear got the most of her. She didn’t want to lose him, but she knew that had she been the one to run after him, to make him stay, she would’ve lost herself instead.
“Your Noona will be on Inkigayo” Yong Hwa teased his newly dyed red-haired friend. “Some people say it can’t be done, some say it’s a game that can’t be won.” Yong Hwa rapped the lines from her single. Red-haired and annoyed, he glared at his friend. “Shut up. Will you?” It was August, a year and some after that summer they met. Yet, it still gets at him when he is teased about her. He wanted to do something now, but thought the timing was bad. Now that she was getting the spotlight, on her own, his efforts would look like a lame attempt to connect with the fame she is quickly gaining. “Pabo! Stop being scared. I really think you should do something” He heard Yong Hwa say. “Do you want to come watch her film her Inkigayo bit? You can just hang around, pretend you’re a mouse or something.” Yong Hwa suggested. “I’m busy”was his defensive and quick reply. “Ahrasso,” Yong Hwa said, “but the offer stands. Just come by if you want.” That was the most tempting thing Hong Ki heard in a while.
He paced back and forth in his dorm. Wasting minutes when he was supposed to be practicing their new songs. He was keying her number again, thinking to maybe congratulate her for her recent success. He was proud of her, at least that was true. His friends knew, after all, each one of them saw him replay over and over her Applegirl videos on the web. Like a true fanboy, or just a guy smitten. Would his answer be different had he known this side of her then? That was the oft-asked question he got from his hyungs. It would have been the same, because that’s what he was told to do. And at that time she wouldn’t understand, so he didn’t know how to explain. Or how to even begin making things right.
He gave in. He asked for the day off from his managers and went to see Yong Hwa, or at least that was his excuse. He was walking around the Inkigayo set, wondering what time she would be arriving. “Kim Yeo Hee-ssi!” he heard a staffer call. And like a teenage boy, he ran to the closest empty room to hide from her. He was sitting by the dressing room mirror when he realized that she might actually be assigned that room, since she was the only one with no assigned dressing room. “Jashik! Pabo! How do you get out of that if that happens?” He heard a knock on the door, felt his blood pressure rise from nerves. “Hong Ki-yah!” he heard Yong Hwa’s familiar voice. “She’s here! Next door.” He heaved a sigh of relief hearing that. And his friend laughed guessing what just transpired.
When it was her turn to sing her bit, he was feeling goosebumps around. Her song moved him. So, this is what she had been up to all this time. Clearly, he had underestimated her. He already knew that watching her Youtube videos. But he was convinced, as he stood there behind the audience seats watching her performance. “Noona.” He said to himself with a smile.
Someone told her that he was on set. “This doesn’t help my nerves.” She thought to herself. She looked at herself in the mirror. She wondered if she looked okay. She wondered if she could sing fine. She was afraid she would forget the lyrics to her own song. Yet, she didn’t see him around. So, she thought that maybe someone was just playing a trick on her. Yong Hwa came by to say hello to her even. He was nice, especially nice actually, like an old friend she hadn’t seen for a while. She felt more at ease.
The rest of the time at the recording was a blur. As she ended her piece, she scurried back to her dressing room. Being the rookie, she needed to give up her space sooner as someone else needs to take it after her. With her manager and stylist, she fixed her things and got ready to go home. Not having seen even a shadow of his, she was convinced that he wasn’t in the premises.
In the parking lot, as her manager was hauling her stuff inside the van, she was still talking to some other staff member. Until she saw him, walking out of the studio, headed to his car, thumbing on his phone. She smiled, realizing that he really was there. Part of her wanted to think that he was there to see her. But she shrugged the thought away, not wanting her heart be broken into pieces again. “Not anymore, not now.” She thought.
He looked up and their eyes met, even briefly. He smiled, waved and bowed. She waved back, just for civility’s sake.
On the drive home, her phone buzzed, “Oraenmaniyo (It’s been a while), noona.” Knowing who it was, she smiled. “Nae, oraenmaniyo, Hong Ki.” Her heart skipped a few beats with it. She won’t tell him that. Or so she thought then.
He was still high from their performance at the Budokan. He was looking all sweaty, but he was happy. He’s having a good year. All of them in his band were. But what makes it better is that his heart was also in a good place. “Shiny Shiny Hong Hong!!” he heard a familiar bubbly voice weaving through the bustle backstage. “Noona!” he looked back and called chirpily. She hugged him. “It was so great watching you!! The Budokan, my dear, the Budokan!!” she said excitedly jumping up and down holding his hands. He hugged her back, giddy. “Nae! The Budokan, but I don’t know what’s greater, that I got to perform here, or that you got to watch me!” Her face turned red. She was crying now, while smiling. So, he hugged her again. And they stayed like that for a while.
They sat beside each other. Late at night, on the same beach they were on two years ago. He brought fireworks like last time. She was listening to him intently as he spoke of his adventures. She was missing him quite a bit from all the traveling he had been doing with their hectic schedule. This was the only time they found to spend together recently. Sitting on the sand, they were looking at the stars. “Noona,” he started. She turned her head to look at him. “I did want to keep contact, then. I did want to get to learn more about the songs you were making. I did want to hear you sing,” he rambled. She nodded in understanding, and prodded him to continue. “I didn’t want to lose you. Yet, I didn’t want to confuse you. Mianhe.” She nodded again, looked to the direction of the sea, to breathe the salty night air. She hugged her knees, and sat in silence for a while. He waited until she would say something again.
“All I needed was some sort of sign. I would’ve stayed.” She broke the silence finally. It was his turn to nod. “But I know you couldn’t do anything, so I guess I understood.” She assured him. He scooted in the sand to sit closer to her. “It was quite a long journey to get here, eh, noona?” he told her. “Uh, uhm.” she said in agreement. “I don’t regret anything” she told him. “Nae, I do. I regret some things.” He said quite certainly. She looked at him with a question in her eyes. “Back then, I regret not having said anything. Not having done anything, to give you the sign you needed. Back then, I only wished you knew… what I…” She put her head on his shoulders. “Hajima (Don’t.) I now know, don’t I? You got to say it. You’re lucky. We’re luckier than all others who will never get the chance to say what they really want to say.” He put his arm around her, shielding her from the cold draft starting to come through. “I cherish you. Now that’s what I want to say. And I will say it every day.” He told her. “Go ahead, don’t worry. I won’t get tired hearing it.” She told him with a smile.
It’s on the tip of my tongue but I’m still afraid Sometimes the only things words do is get in the way Sometimes the easiest things are the hardest to say But I don’t want to lose you, drive you away Don’t want to confuse you, I need you to stay
Only wish you knew what I wanted to say
Only wish you knew what I wanted to say -What I Wanted to Say, Colbie Caillat
After a few minutes of lively breakfast talk, there was an awkward pause. You look at the woman before you, right before she averted your gaze, to mindlessly stare at a spot outside the window. She is thinking deep. You let her be still like that for a few more moments, until you break the silence. “Ji Won-ssi, do you have any other projects lined up after Secret Garden?" you asked her. She smiles, but you sense that whatever she was thinking moments before changed the mood. “Yes, I do. I am playing the role of the captain of the Korean table tennis team.” She tells you with a new aloofness in her tone. “Good! I look forward to watching that then,” you honestly tell her. “Really?” she asks. “Really.” You tell her. You smile the smile of a proud sister. “Hae Rim” she says. You look at her with a question in your eyes. “Just call me Hae Rim. All my close friends call me that. I like you and I want you to be my friend.” She tells you. You nod, “Hae Rim-a”, you said acknowledging her permission with a smile. There was both privilege and responsibility to that, you knew.
Alone in your room that night you look back at the time you spent with your newfound friend. You are still quite amazed at how easily you warmed up to her. “Her smile is like sunshine.” You thought to yourself. And you chuckle at the clumsy way she had asked you to call her by her real-name. At that point, you knew that she dropped all formalities, but you also knew she still had her guard up. Your phone rings. “Hyun Bin!” you exclaim as you spoke into the receiver. “It’s been a long time!” you said to him. You exchange greetings and after a while he tells you the real reason he called “Ji Won-ssi came to meet you? He asked. Silence. Then, you chuckle. “Did you hire bodyguards to keep watch of her, Hyun Bin, dear? Wow, this must be something” You teased him. “Mianhae, I-I-I…” he starts to explain, stammering at every third word. You chuckle even more. “Stop. You’re sounding like a fool in love.” You said to him in between a laughing fit. You know him too well, maybe a little too well than you would want or need. “Yes, we did see each other,” you finally answered the question he put forth. “We’re cool. I like her. Don’t hurt her,” you said almost rapping. Silence again. “What are you talking about?” He asks with a notable quiver. “I don’t need Calculus to figure this out, dear. And I’m fine with it. I like her for you.” You tell him. Sigh. From him, not from you. You caught up for a few more minutes until he needed to hang up. And you sat, alone in your room again.
With the lights turned off, you lay on your bed, thinking about the day that went by. “If it cannot be me, then it needs to be her.” That was the part you left out in your conversation with him. “I like you too, and I want you to be my friend too.” You didn’t tell her this, since it sounds so pretentious. Yet, today, you feel no pretense in your motives with both of them. You do like her and want her to be your friend. You do want to move on from a complicated past with him. You do like him, but more than anything you even like the thought of him with her. And as the thoughts spill in your mind, you remember days from the previous Spring, when he was healing from the impending demise of a dead-end relationship. His grief came too early, you thought then. Right before you were falling madly for him. Wondering if you were falling for Hoon as Anna or you were just being crazy, accepting easily to be the girl you never once was in any of your past affairs—the one who got the losing stick, the one who is destined to be left behind even before anything began.
Those days in California, in between shooting for Manchu, was fun. There you learned more about him, even if he was withdrawn and aloof at first. The hesitant kiss you almost made real for those ending scenes in the movie. The little rendezvous you both were involved in, set in a foreign land. Those little pieces of heaven before truth sank in. The truth that he was still healing from a broken heart and that it will take time. The truth that you were his halfway point. The truth that he is searching for love, and that he hadn’t found it yet. You didn’t cry during those times. Because you were strong, but you’ll be lying if you say you didn’t get your heart crushed. These thoughts, like a river, are coming to you now. All because of that moment she stared at the window, with worry in her eyes.
You saw her agitation – borne out of fear, hesitation, doubt. She didn’t know if she could trust you. She also didn’t know if she should trust him. For a moment, clouds covered her sunshine. Yet, bravely, like the amazing woman you’ve heard that she is, she took the leap of faith. She decided to let you in. She chose for you to be her friend. In the deep of night, as you celebrate making a new friend, you whisper to the empty silence, “Hae Rim-a, do not fear. You have his heart. You are not the rebound girl. I know. Because that girl was me.”
Then, you saw your phone light up. Incoming message. “Tang Wei-ssi, thank you for your kindness. It’s nice to have you as my new friend.” You smile again. “Tang Mei. Mei. Sister. I am now your sister.” You replied.
***Us and our complicated relations, the beauty of being human. My POV of the Tang Wei-Ha Ji Won relationship.***
“You think fairy tales are only for girls? Here’s a hint – ask yourself who wrote them. I assure you, it wasn’t just the women. It’s the great male fantasy – all it takes is one dance to know that she’s the one. All it takes is the sound of her song from the tower, or a look at her sleeping face. And right away you know – this is the girl in your head, sleeping or dancing or singing in front of you. Yes, girls want their princes, but boys want their princesses just as much. And they don’t want a very long courtships. They want to know immediately.” – David Levithan & Rachel Cohn, Lily’s Book of Dares
Your mother is carefully tucking away things you would be bringing in your luggage, checking if they are completely essential, and she finds that you are packing a few books along. Alice in Wonderland,Little Mermaid… She was about to ask you to take them out and leave them behind, before she paused and just piled them neatly inside your bag. She knows why you were bringing them. And she has no problem with the reason behind it. You are smitten with a woman, and you don’t even try to hide it.
To the world, you are like this astonishing prince, knight in shining armor. You are the envy of many other men, and the dream of many other women. But in your heart, there is only one yearning. A woman fit to be queen. For her, you want to be what the world crowns you as. And to be her prince, her knight, her man, you will need to work for it and deserve it.
It started with a gaze, that first time your heart fluttered so much after 100 sit ups. It was not due to the cardio, you knew. Yes, eventually that much practice allowed you to score almost perfect in the military physical exam. But what made your heart flutter was her scent, her timidity, her honesty and the passion she puts in her work. With that one gaze, even if for a script, you were done for. And weren’t you glad that the lines you had to utter in character matches exactly what you wanted to say “Since when had she been amazing?” From then on, you saw her for the woman she was, beyond the sisterly affection you initially had.
No, you doubt yourself for a moment, it started with a dance. That moment you held her in your arms, looking into her eyes, swirling her to faint music. You were dancing in the spotlight, like no one else was watching. You realized moments later that everyone, in fact, was watching. But you gave nary a care. You liked holding her like that. There was a warmth about it. Your heart may be beating like a drum, your ears flushed red, your face painted with an indelible grin, but deep within, you were at peace. Even with the exhaustion of grueling filming days , for the first time in how many years, everything felt perfect.
Then, maybe again, it started with a kiss. The cheesiest and most scripted of kisses. When she had froth on her mouth and you were ordered to take it. It tasted good. Not the coffee, her lips. You would give anything to taste it again without a camera capturing the moment. With or without the froth. And you longed to really have those private moments after you get many other kisses under the bright lights and rolling cameras.
No, once upon a time, there was a touch. The first time your skin brushed against hers. You don’t even remember now if it was captured on camera. But all skin contact is electrifying too after that. She feels soft, warm, comfortable. You could get used to it easily.
So, you give up figuring out how it all started. All you know is that you’re all in by now. That your story had already climaxed before you even remembered starting it. So what if your friends chide you for going fast. So what if they think you have this annoying habit of falling for your co-actresses. No, in your mind they are wrong. You don’t always fall. You may have always been attracted, but you never fall. This was the first time you fell. And it is the right time.
So, tonight, when you’re done packing for the real world of ROK-Marines ahead of you, you will be her prince. You decided that finally, without objection from your friends and family, you will seal the deal. You will give her glass slippers, her bubble vial or quite simply the only token you know to make her yours forever. And you wish she will accept. Even if she bawls at the thought of it, swoons, be speechless, speak rapidly or everything else in between, you only wish she will agree.
But before that, you admit that you had been reading fairy tales as a kid. You wondered why most of them had heroines who were damsels in distress. You value women more than that. To you, women are far more capable than being damsels in distress. And that’s when you thought you stopped believing in fairy tales. You went on thinking that maybe they were lies spun by men trying to woo a woman. Until you met her. The one who made you want to write your own fairy tale, the proper tale in your standard. So before you get on your bestfriend’s car, to meet her at an undisclosed location, your mind is spinning…
Once upon a time, there was a man who had his heart broken quite a few times. This man almost stopped believing in love. Until an amazing woman came along. She dared to do her stunts on her own, doing somersaults into the man’s heart. Their bodies switch in a script, and with that he found her heart and soul. Until one day, the man knew not to ever let her go. And is hoping she feels the same. So, they, together, would live happily ever after.
You are quite sure of your question, and the consequences of the answer. Like Prince Charming in fairy tales, you need not wait forever to claim your princess, your queen, your prize. So, you hope Fate would be nice enough to let “happily ever after” finally begin, with her “Nae”.
“Have you ever thought about falling in love with a co-actor?” You remember sitting across from your childhood friend during your almost year-long hiatus as an actress, over coffee, with a sight of trees lined outside the cafe. The wind was calm then as was your conversation. You remember looking up to her, not knowing what words to say. You took an absentminded sip at your cappucino and glanced at the gentle breeze blowing tree branches. You heard her sigh before you said, “I don’t rule that out, chinggu-yah. I just haven’t found a co-actor to fall in love with, yet. Maybe I never will. Or maybe in my next project. Who knows? Really. Who knows?” She took an absentminded sip at her coffee also, satisfied with the answer you gave.
Like with many women, you want to experience that one love of a lifetime. You want to do crazy things for the sake of it. You even tell everyone that you are the type who would disappear in a heartbeat to pursue a love so great and worth to give up everything for. Deep within your soul, you view love as the ultimate prize and sacrifice for all the hard work and successes you have amassed. Yet another year had passed last July, before you decided to take on Secret Garden. You are almost at your prime, even if your youthful appearance doesn’t reveal that. Yet, you were still single, available and eligible. You remember being lonely at the thought of it. You remember pouring your heart in your work just to drown reality. Even with the passing time, and with fading youth, you still believe, in your deepest being, that you will also have your shot at that tiny piece of heaven, someday.
You also remember that first day at script reading, when you meet the great Hyun Bin again, and for the first time in an official manner. You’ve seen him walk the halls of Star M after the merger years back. You saw him chat it up with other colleagues at an event not too long ago. Yet, today, in your first meeting, you notice that something was off about him. He seemed distant, alone and confused. You observed him from where you sat, trying to figure out how your cheerful self can possibly channel its inner Eeyore just to pull a convincing body swap sequence with such a gloomy quiet person. You talked to him after the reading, and you still remember how he said, “Let’s do our best, Ha Ji Won-ssi. You be me and I be you. Let’s both fall crazily in love as Ra Im and Joo Won.” You laughed. He looked at you questioningly as he said “Did I say something wrong? What’s so funny?” You were still laughing, snorting as you replied “Anieyo. Mianhae. Don’t be too serious, Hyun Bin-ssi.” And you continued to gleefully chuckle for no reason. He looked at you, dumbfounded at the behavior of the peculiar stellar actress before him. PD-nim saved you both from embarrassment as he offered an excuse for your sake, “Hyun Bin-ssi, that’s normal for uri Ji Won. In outtakes and between takes, she is just like that, happy laughing woman. Don’t mind her.” He nodded at the PD’s explanation. “Ahhhh… mutjida,” he said looking at you before he started laughing with you.
You kept to yourself the real reason why you were chuckling. His words reminded you of a more recent conversation with your best friend as you discussed the scenario of your new project. Upon seeing the scenario, she was elated “Whoa, that’s one good script!! Jjangiya! Maybe this time you can make your characters real too, in real-time, in real-life. Maybe you can fall for the actor playing opposite you, Kim Joo Won.” You had slapped your friend’s arm as you heard that. “Ya! Don’t be saying such things! Who knows if the actor already has a girlfriend or is married?” you say cautiously. “Apa! Ai-ya.” your friend said rubbing the area where your hand landed. “I was just entertaining the thought. It will be so unfortunate if you have no chemistry with the male lead. More so if he’s what you think- attached with lots of strings,” she tried to rationalize to herself. Slap. You hear it as her hand landed on your arm. “That’s what’s wrong with you! You don’t believe in magic! Here I am trying to entertain cute stories for your lovelife, and what do I get? Doubtful, careful, scared Ha Ji Won,” she tried to knock some sense into you. “Well, I’m just trying to keep it real, you know?,” you tell your bosom friend. “Hae Rim-a,” she begins, “I’m not saying that you be a fake. I’m just saying that it’s okay to let go of the handrail and just skate. We will be here to catch you or to help you up. That part never changes. So stop being scared, and just fall.” You turn quiet hearing her sternly call your name. “That’s true,” you finally say. “But is it okay if I at least try and make sure he’s not attached first, before I entertain such thoughts?” You laugh together heartily. You returned home that night, wishing that, maybe in one way or another, magic will reveal itself.
They are good memories, these thoughts rushing in your mind under the light of the lampshade in your room. You look towards the direction of the bed, and stare at the tired military guy sleeping on it. And you smile, as you stared at his stillness. He slept as if his heart found a home, and that made you feel good. You go back into your reverie again as the memories you’ve made together replay themselves in your head. The day he finally warmed up to you. The many other days you seemed to have a world of your own as you only understood each other’s characters and each other’s real selves. Chemistry, other than it was one of the best classes you had in school, you are so full of it with this man. You can never identify the exact time and place when you started to fall. You just knew it when he was already happily catching you.
During one of the less busy drama filming days, you managed to spend time with your best friend again, who at that time had already turned into one of the drama’s many fans. “Omona!” you remembered her almost shrieking. “Hyun Bin-ssi! Hae Rim-a, how much more lucky can you get? Don’t tell me what happens in the story!!” She tells you almost without pause. You laugh at her. “And I expected to meet you to hear, bogosipeo, chukhahae, daebak. I should have known better.” You tell her with a pout. “Aigoo, kyeopta!” she says pinching your cheeks. “Does he fall for these antics?” she asks. You froze at her question, turning ashen-faced at the suddenness of how she asked. She read the expression you made with your face. You couldn’t hide for she knows you too well. “OMONA!” she said really shrieking. You shushed her out to deflect the attention she was gaining from the small crowd. She turned her voice low and spoke really fast “Don’t-tell-me-you-have-something-going on-with-that-man. Are-you-nuts?-What-about-Hye-Kyo-ssi?-Yes,-I-remembered-telling-you-to-take-risks-but-this-is-pretty-big-you-know.” She was really both elated and worried for your sake. So you just nodded with a laugh, “I know. And I’m not nuts. I’m almonds.” You said with a corny punchline. “YA!! Spill, spill. What is up?” She asked excitedly, trusting your word. “Let’s continue this at home.” you simply told her as you stood up to leave. You filled her in with as many details you could on the short car ride. And you found it funny how she did her happy dance at every stoplight. Your best friend was doing what your heart had been doing all this time.
The best thing that happened that day wasn’t that you were back to being a giddy schoolgirl again with your best friend. The best part was when you reached home and he was already there waiting for you after having wrapped his own filming. “Annyeonghaseyo, you must be Hae Rim’s best friend, “ he greeted your friend and you as you both arrived. “What brings you here?” you asked him. “I missed you today. PD and writer-nim needs to have more Joo Won and Ra Im scenes together!” he said as if professing his feelings was as natural as water. “Ahem!” your friend made her presence felt. He got a little guarded, wondering if he let in on a secret. “Don’t worry, she knows.” you assured him. He just managed a wide smile. “Okay, I’ll leave you beautiful women together. I will see you tomorrow, motji.” He said as he pulls you in for a short but tight embrace, running his fingers through your short hair. You see your friend make gestures behind his back “Let me die” she mouthed while hyperventilating. Yes, the shooting star you wished on long ago is finally making your wish come true.
You were still lost in your own thoughts when you feel strong arms envelop you warmly where you were seated. “Are you not sleeping yet, motji? You don’t need to think of me, now. I’m here.” He says whispering in your ear. As you looked up to him to answer, his lips find his way to yours first. And like with all the times this happens, you feel your heart lifted as if you were floating in the clouds. You lose your senses only to process one truth – miracles happen. His being in your life is better than all the “What If” you asked in your lifetime. And with him, there are no more “What Ifs” just “What Is”.
*** What if wishes all came true? And each one had a star That would keep it shining brightly however near or far? What if a miracle appeared? And heaven was here for us to see? What if… you were to fall in love with me?
***For Raine, who is every inch her mother’s daughter. You are loved just as you are. The world is grateful to your mom for bringing you to us. Happy Birthday-week, chinggu-yah. ***
“Hae Rim-a” you call her gently as you hear her voice lilt with joy hanging up the receiver. “You have to try and move slower. I fear that you are going a little too fast with that man,” you gently reminded her. You see the defensiveness in her eyes for a moment before she tells you, “Omma, I’m 33, I can’t keep moving slow with things like this. The bus already left me years ago, so either I chase the bus or run on my own.”
You don’t believe her any bit. Because to you, she’s still the little girl who came home to you, showing her almost perfect report cards from school, the one who cried uncontrollably on your lap when you found out the gaping wound on her thigh she endured for hours and the sweet tomboy who would challenge every girl and guy in the neighborhood. Even with her myriads of accolades from her profession, you don’t believe her one bit, about being 33, about being old, about being left by a bus. Because to you, she deserved the best there could be, even in love. Yes, with Hae-rim, you believe that some people can and do have it all.
You’ve seen her shed tears over the men who left, the men she left and everyone else in between. You’ve seen her heart crushed as she made decision after decision, to pursue the right thing – be it a carefree relationship or a stable career. And you don’t want to see her cry again. Because maybe, little girl that she is in your eyes, you also believe that at this age she should know better. And your heart could only take a number of heartbreaks. Does she even know that your heart hurts more than hers does every time a tear falls down her eyes?
You feel someone’s arms around you, and a peck on your cheeks. “Omma, let’s spend girl time today, nae? I’ll take you to the foot spa and we can go have lunch.” You smile as you nod at her suggestion. “I will get ready so we can leave soon.” You say. “Yay! Saranghae eomoni!” she says in a singsong tone as she goes into the room of her childhood. She was there to visit you that day, in spite of her busy schedule. Your little eagle knows how to come back to the nest every now and then. You dare not imagine what she does as she lives on her own, especially with such a huge and continuously growing infatuation with that man.
“I have every reason to fear for my Hae Rim’s sake.” You think to yourself as you got ready for your girls’ day out. Guys like Hyun Bin are dangerous, smooth criminals. If you were younger, you probably would have been infatuated with him as well. And now that man’s lovebug has gotten to your own daughter. In your wildest dreams or worst nightmares, to your own daughter. Save the fact that your daughter carries her own bug as well to all other eligible and well-intentioned bachelors in South Korea, you especially fear guys like Hyun Bin. Because in a mother’s intuition, they’re just the type of people who can leave your little one’s heart broken into pieces, when they finally decide to break it. But knowing Hae Rim, you stand back and watch. You vow to be there if she does end up crying, but just to be safe you will offer up countless prayers to the heavens that her tears will not flow again. “She will do the right thing. She always does.” you console yourself.
During lunch, her phone vibrates on the table. She glances at it and pauses to look at you, asking permission to take the call. Seeing the mirth in her eyes, you understand who was on the other line. Her phone keeps ringing, so you finally say “Munja wassyeong. Gureom, take it!” You guess the conversation that transpired between the two lovebirds as Hae Rim spoke to the other line with an indelible smile on her lips. She told him she was spending time with you. And that yes she’ll have to see him again some other time. She told him where you both were and promised to say hello to you for him. You don’t know if you were supposed to feel guilty or proud, that at that moment you were still her queen and that she is choosing time with you, over the obvious longing in her heart for him. She repeats to you what she told him “Tae Pyung says hi. And that he wishes to see you someday.” She says this happily, and that’s how you know that you will not dare take away that joy from her now. You cannot and you wouldn’t. So, you brace your heart and try to conquer your fears.
You see a tall, lanky man with jeans and shirt on, hiding beneath a baseball cap and shades from where you were seated. You don’t tell Hae Rim yet what you were seeing as you were rather dumbfounded with his appearance as well. He looks at your direction, smiles and waves as he hurries to the door of the restaurant you were in. You watch him as he whispered to the server, as the server leads him to your table and as he teasingly says “Sillaehamnida, Ji Won-ssi, is this seat taken?” Not able to contain her surprise and amusement, Hae Rim claps at the sight of him. You almost cannot bear watching the cheesiness of the situation. “Kids these days!” you thought. “Annyeonghaseyo, eomoni. Kim Tae Pyung-imnida. Bangapsumida.” he tells you as he bows in respect in front of you. He also extends his hand to introduce himself. Either he forgot the Korean customs or was plain confused with situations such as this, so you save him from further humiliation and shake his hand. And you feel it being cold and shaky. Nerves. He was full of it. So, you decide to be nice to him at least then.
Hae Rim moves sidewards to let him take the seat next to her. You engage in friendly conversation over lunch. He was a gracious uninvited guest. He listens to you and Hae Rim catch up, almost as if he wasn’t there, only if not he was pouring water on her glass or yours, fixing her plate, passing food around or asking questions every now and then to engage in the discussion. Clearly he understood that the time was meant for you and Hae Rim, and he made you feel as if he will not try mess with that even one bit. He was just happy being there, next to her, or maybe even, finally, in front of you.
Almost an hour had passed and she taps his arm, to signal the need to go out to make a call to her manager about changes in her schedule He moves to let her pass, leaving you both alone at the table. A few moments of awkward silence later, you muster up the courage to tell him, “Don’t go breaking my daughter’s heart. I’m a good friend, but a bad enemy. Remember that.” He nods silently. Moments of awkward silence again. You wonder why Hae Rim is taking so long. “Omma.” he says almost in a whisper. “De?” you ask with arched eyebrows. “Jeongmal kamsahamnida. Jeongmal komawoyo.” He says sincerely. “De?” you ask bringing your eyebrows down. “For molding Hae Rim to who she is now. For making her tough. For making her gentle and warm. For making her easy to fall for, and hard to leave.” And you don’t know if you would cry hearing those. You hadn’t heard that in a while, much more so from a guy you fear for your daughter. “Omma, I will go into the military soon. I will try to be a better person. So I will be more worthy of her and your family when the service is over.” he continues. “I know you will do it anyway. But if not too much to ask, can you look after her for me too?” he genuinely asks you. And you can’t help but nod. You reach out your hand for his to squeeze it. This guy is going right by the how-to-hook-mom-playbook, okay, but in your mother’s intuition you knew, you heard from that voice, that he isn’t playing. That makes you feel warm. That makes you feel proud. Your Hae Rim knows to pick the right guy after all.
At your house hours later, you watch a movie with her, sharing a pint of ice cream. In a movie’s moment, when the guy was chasing after girl, you remember what transpired earlier that day. So, you tell the woman beside you, “Hae Rim-a, don’t break Tae Pyung’s heart, ahrasso? Move slow if you need to be sure. Just don’t break that boy’s heart.” She looks at you, surprised at your words, contrasting your words that morning. Avoiding her teasing, you stand up to go to the kitchen. She laughs heartily by the couch you just left. That day, you knew, he proved, that there’s likely no reason to be afraid. That smooth criminals like him can be innocent after all, for the right woman. With the look in his eyes as he spoke to you, it did seem like your daughter, to him, is the right woman.
If things go well for the both of them, you vow to yourself that you will guide them through that however way you can…
If things go well, you learn that your daughter will be safe. She can fly, much on her own. And that she can pick her own battles.
If things go well, you learn that you are just about to gain another son.