The weather was starting to dip again, and Ho Sun-Woo was concerned.
The eighteen – soon to be nineteen – year old sat in the library, underneath a heater, with a book opened up in front of him. This book was his bible. It was how he was able to keep track of all his income that was incoming and outgoing, how he was able to figure out his weekly and monthly budgets, and how he was able to practically sustainably live with enough food and shelter by himself. And right at this very second, he was trying to figure out how he was going to stay warm for the rest of the year.
Sun-Woo leant back in his chair, crossing his arms over and frowning as he gazed at the piece of paper with all the different figures sprawled across. It reached a max of eighteen degrees today but was apparently going to dip down to seven tonight. That was fine. He could deal with that sort of weather only wearing a jumper and his school blazer. It was November that was going to be the issue. In November, the temperatures were only going to reach up to ten degrees. He was going to freeze his ass off during deliveries and walking to school.
Releasing a defeated sigh, he turned his attention to the chair to his left where he had placed his bag and jacket. He had had the same coat for the last three years and thanks to puberty, he had gone through a growth spurt. The damn thing was way too tight for him now and had clearly seen much better days. Now, he could go ahead and buy some super cheap jacket from an op shop or budget shop – but even then, after looking at the budget for the next month, he was going to have to take up a couple of extra shifts which meant he may have to skip school for one or two days. That wasn’t going to happen. He had a perfect, clean record and he was planning on keeping it that way. After all, he wanted to be a doctor. And to be a doctor, he needed to go to university. And to get into university, he needed a scholarship. To get a scholarship, he needed to make sure he had a clean record and the top grades.
The anxiety and fear of not knowing what was going to happen were filling him up so much that as he heard his stomach let out a ripper of a gurgle, it had startled him, bringing him back to reality. Placing a hand upon his stomach, he began to mentally tell his stomach that it was almost time for food. Well, maybe like… in six hours. After this tutoring class, he was off to work at the convenience store down the road and come midnight – oh, that’s when the party could get started. Anything that was considered ‘out of date’ was allowed to fall into his hands and he could have a feast. There were many nights spent binge eating noodles and corndogs. But he had zero regrets for it all.
Another sigh fell from his lips as he closed the book before him and reached over for his English textbook. His dark eyes travelled up and began to survey his surrounding area. When was his student going to get here? Sure, he had told her six o’clock, and it was only five-fifty. Maybe he was just too anxious about getting to his next job, in fear that he was going to be late and end up getting fired? He needed all the jobs that he could get if he was ever going to pay off those loan sharks. And believe me – there was a lot to pay off. Who knew that funerals and hospital fees were so expensive? Then adding on top the loan shark’s interest fees. It wasn’t pretty.
Self-growth is one of the most important factors in life and, arguably, simple to achieve;
Step 1: recognize your weaknesses.
Step 2: determine the patterns that instigate these weaknesses.
Step 3: eliminate the obstacles that are the bad habits.
Step 4: congratulations, you have made some self-improvement!
It should be easy to follow these steps but…is it really? Mi-rae liked to think she was knowledgeable of her own debilities. For one, she could admit that her attention span was the equivalent of a goldfish, especially if it involved anything cute. Though, could you really blame her for that? If there was an adorable puppy in the metro, it would be a crime not to give it the attention it deserves [ which is all the attention, thank you very much]. So consider her focus accorded to the fluffy puppy that had no business being that fluffy and cute. Doesn’t matter she almost missed one of her most important exams as a result because, while completely honed in on the small animal, her own stop had come and passed without her realization. It was worth it. She almost died running across campus with her sorry excuse of a stamina - but it was worth it.
Mi-rae was also aware of the fact that she tended to make more promises than she could deliver. Blame it on her clamant need of conserving harmony or whatever, truth was that she just found it hard to say no. However, those weren’t her main problems - not at the moment at least. The real issue she was facing was related to academics and how unfair she had been treated by fate for giving her fewer brain cells than her parents at birth. Seriously, how could life gift her parents the ability to be straight-A students while she struggled to achieve Cs? Which universal power thought it would be fun to skip her when bestowing those in her family with academic aptitude? Was it possible to still make her case and be granted the same intellectuality? Mi-rae liked to know.
It wasn’t helping either that another social element was added to her life in the form of a boyfriend. Don’t get her wrong; she loved Joon-Jae with all her heart and wouldn’t want to trade him for anything in the world -- but all those dates and trips were having a baneful effect on her already average school performance. It was so bad that at this point, even her mother – the sweetest person in the world – subtly [ but not so subtly] implied that her scores were hitting an embarrassing low point.
So, to prevent her grades from becoming the titanic and hitting the iceberg of doom next exam season, they enlisted a tutor. Mi-rae had no clue who this tutor was since her mom selected the person, but all she hoped for was for him not to be a mean one. He seemed nice from the text she’d received, but all of that still remained to be seen when he would come to experience the utter incompetence of her brain regarding the English language.
Not wanting to be late, Mi-rae left her home extra early. And by 5:55 pm, she arrived at the library. She pulled her phone out of her bag to refresh her memory of where he would be sitting, eyes briefly scanning across the last message. Second to last long table on the left side. Mi-rae walked towards the back until she spotted a person at the given table. Was that him? He looked young…at least from the back. Her eyes averted to the rest of the table. Empty. Okay it had to be him then. Taking a breath, she mentally prepared herself, before approaching him.
“Ah excuse me?” she started and tapped him lightly on the shoulder. “ Hi- uhm. My name’s Mi-rae and I think – well, I am ninety nine procent sure – that you are my tutor, ” her eyes lowered down at the English textbook in front of him and she flashed him a smile, “unless you are expecting another person who happens to be horrible at English?”
A heavy sigh fell from his lips as he gazed down at the book before him. He was being irrational. Just because it was five minutes until they were meant to be starting didn’t mean that she wasn’t going to come at all. Sunny could feel the nerves beginning to kick in his stomach, building with each passing minute. What if she never came? Then that meant he wasn’t going to get paid. Which meant he was going to be behind scheduled payments. Which then meant he probably would have to skip class to work and to get that money. How selfish of this girl. Just because she doesn’t want to study. And because of her foolish choice, it meant that he was now going to miss important classes just to make up for it. Seriousl-
“Ah …Excuse me?”
Sun-woo had been so deep in his thoughts that feeling the light tap of his shoulder almost gave him a heart attack. He jumped from his inner monologue rantings and looked to see whose body was connected to the hand that had just touched his shoulder. He could feel his face heat up from embarrassment and his brain become flustered – but then, all the sudden, everything just… stopped. His eyes were glued to her. He could feel his heart racing and his ears beginning to burn. His lips, slightly parted and he sat there, blinking a stupid amount of times. He was well and truly having a human glitch, and he needed to get out of it. But… Mi-rae… As in… From… when they were kids? No… surely…. Surely not. There… there was no way.
Get your crap together!
Ah yes. His brain went into restart mode and the windows starting tune echoed in his brain. Shaking his head slightly, Sun-woo stood from his seat and extended his hand to shake the other’s hand along with a bow. “Sorry, I uh… I’m Sun-Woo I uh...” He began, feeling himself getting completely and utterly flustered by this girl he had just met all up two seconds ago. He could feel his mouth hang once again as he tried to come up with something – anything – to say to her without sounding like a complete idiot.
“Uh… please…” He pointed towards the chair that was next to the one he originally sat in “Have a seat and uh… If you have your textbooks… notebooks… pencil case… You’ll uh… You’ll need them” Slowly, he slid back into his seat with his dark eyes watching Mi-rae’s every move. There was no way… right? I mean… what would be the chances? That our of every single girl in Seoul that needed help to study from a tutor… that he somehow managed to snag his old best friend? No, not just best friend. His first love.
Mi-rae watched him jump and slightly winced. Oops. But then he turned around and…. Oh, he was cute. The thought flitted into the mind before her conscience could halt it from materializing, though once registered, other admonishing thoughts followed. Get it together Mi-rae, you have a boyfriend !! But that didn’t mean she couldn’t admire other cute things too, right? No – this was still bad.Joon-Jae would not like it. She quickly banished the thought away - into the abyss of oblivion [ as if a veneer of pretence could save her from the fact that this boy was really cute] Blinking back at him, she waited for his response.. except the boy seemed no close to forming one and instead opted to keep looking at her with an odd expression…? His silence was starting to chip at her confidence, a seed of doubt budding inside her. Was she wrong about him being her tutor? Her cheeks heated up in slight embarrassment and Mi-rae prepared herself, already mid-bow, an apology placed on her tongue for the confusion.
She stopped when hearing him speak up, eyes widening lightly at his name. Sun-woo…? As in the same name of her childhood friend? Ya… It couldn’t be…. Unless?? Mi-rae blinked, before dispelling that concept instantly upon a second look. Nahhh. He looked way different than the young boy she had befriended those years ago. Surely enough, looks couldn’t alter that much over the years…right? And not everything evolves your Sunny, she reminded herself. Umma has a funny sense of humour though for picking out someone with the same name. Mi-rae wondered what her mother’s motives could be. Did she hope for the boy to be Sunny? Or a Sunny 2.0? No, her mother wouldn’t think that way. Sunny was irreplaceable, even after all these years. Yet… Mi-rae couldn’t help but consider the scenario of her befriending another Sun-woo as somewhat comical. What can she say? People are able to attract the same kind.. Maybe she’s secretly a Sun-woo magnet? Hehe, that’s funny.
A small chuckle escaped her lips at her own silly train of thoughts, right before a remembrance seeped into her mind, alerting her of her surroundings and that she had yet to give a response back. “It’s nice to meet you Sun-woo” she smiled while returning the small bow. Mi-rae quickly sat down in the chair next to him and began to unpack her bag to gather her school supplies. Textbook, check! Notebook, check! Pencil case, check! Food containers, che-oh right! Grabbing both of the food containers, she turned back to Sun-woo. “Ah, uhm.. My mother wanted to thank you for tutoring me, so she packed some homemade food to give to you? Also, she didn’t know which food you liked, so she packed both Tteokbokki and some kimbap. Anyways, so yeah- please accept this as a thank you. ”
She offered him another smile, before lowering her gaze towards the textbooks in front of her.
"So.... How should we start?
As Mi-Rae began to unload her items onto the table, Sunny took the time to have one final glance at his phone (triple checking his text message which his boss sent him, informing him of his shift hours this week; right. Start at seven-thirty. So, an hour of study and straight to the shops he thought to himself) before switching it off and shoving it into the front pocket of his very used travel backpack. Thank God he found this backpack while cleaning out their family home. It had been in Appa’s cupboard and looked old and worn out. But the material was so durable, and it had been faithful. There were no rips or holes in it, and it fit everything he needed in it. Clothes, books, and other necessary items. So, he wasn't one to complain at all.
Just as he turned back around, he came face to face with the girl beside holding… some food containers? His eyes darted from the food containers to her face, back to the containers, and once again, back to her face. Was she… was she offering them to him? She began to explain to him how her Umma had made some homemade food to… to give to him? Once again, Sunny was in a state of shock. His mouth was slightly ajar, and he had to blink a couple of times to try and process everything was going on. What the hell was going on exactly? Her Umma was paying him to tutor her daughter – and here she was, also giving him food? He couldn’t remember the last time he had a homemade meal. In fact, the thought of it was… well, crap, it was making him a bit emotional.
Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t you freaking cry he began to chant in his mind. But really, he felt like he wanted to cry from feeling so… well… feeling so blessed by just one simple act of kindness. And not to mention – Teokbokki was his damn favourite meal. If he could live off of one food for the rest of his life, it would be teokbokki. He would bathe in it if he could. Wait – what was he meant to be doing? Sun-Woo blinked a couple more times before realising he had just been staring at the girl and her food and was yet to thank her for it. “Oh uh… thank you,” he responded shyly, bowing his head towards the girl before taking hold of the containers in his hands. “Please… pass my gratitude to your Umma, also.”
Placing the containers on the table, to the side, he brought his attention back to the girl who was asking how do they start. “Ah yes so… Um… I thought I’d give you a little test first,” he explained in a soft-spoken voice “To see your level of English and then… We can see where you need improvement and uh… We can discuss different goals? And uh… usually, during these tutor sessions, I tend to speak in English as much as possible. If that’s… okay… with you?” Sun-Woo released a shaky breath, reaching over to take hold of the textbook he had been preparing earlier, pulling it closer to the pair of them. “So on this page… there is a test for your spelling. If you have a pencil, I’ll get you to quickly fill it out and we can go through it together afterwards” he informed her before sitting back into his chair.
No matter how hard he tried though, his eyes kept on dragging themselves back to the containers. No! He needed to focus on the student next to him! Yeah, but it sure looked good. Sun-Woo felt his stomach churn causing a low rumble. Holy heck, he was hungry. But they were in a library. There was no way he was going to be able to just whip open a container of teokbokki and eat it without anyone saying anything! Crossing his arms in front of himself, he gave a final glance to the container before releasing a sigh. He would have to indulge in it later on. For now – he needed to concentrate on his job. His dark eyes glanced back over to the textbook on the table. Mmm. For some reason, even that textbook looked delicious enough to eat. Man, was he really this hungry?!
His silence coupled with the ajar expression made Mi-rae regret her decision to present the food containers to him. Her mother was an absolute angel, but her kind gestures could sometimes be overbearing and perhaps a bit off-putting to some. In retrospective, she could’ve just kept the food a secret and eat it all by herself afterwards. No one would notice and oh god- was he going to cry?? Mi-rae’s eyes widened at the sudden change in expression, his face looking as if it was on the brink of being stained with tears. Light panic settled in along with the fear that her actions had caused this emotional turmoil.. but what did she do?! Was it the food?? Did her mother accidentally make a dish that was favoured by a deceased relative or something?? With her fate of luck these days, it was not improbable.
This imagined scenario left Mi-rae to opt for two things; she could, for one, just book it after issuing an apology. It would not be the most mannered follow-up, but it would spare them both from the awkward aftermath. Believe it or not, the girl was horrible at dealing with awkward situations. Her insistent need to fill any awkward silence or to distract often led to arbitrary ramblings that most of the time ended up in her just digging a deeper hole for herself in terms of embarrassment. Her other option, however, involved keeping up a veneer and pretending she hadn’t seen anything, and anyone who was even vaguely familiar with Mi-rae knew how bad she was at veiling her emotions. Therefore, she was doubtful about being able to sell the lie if she tried to.
So… bolting it was then?
Mi-rae rose up from her seat, her hand extended forward to her school supplies, ready to stuff everything back in her backpack and execute her escape manoeuvre. But then he spoke again. Oh frick. Immediately abandoning her pose, like how one would drop burning items in their possession, she sat back down, cheeks slightly reddening “Ah, uh, I-“ her thoughts ran and crashed together in the mind in attempt to forge a credible excuse. “I, um, thought I forgot something at home but it was nothing. So never mind that. ” Nailed it. Mi-rae smiled brightly back at him [ because that’s usually her follow up trick to mask up the lie], before replying; “It’s no problem and I’ll give Umma your thanks!”
She then nodded along with the next words, though they didn’t quite register in her mind until one moment later when her eyes met the cursed word in front of her. Wait…A test???! As realization dawned upon her, she felt anxiety kick in, and her stomach churned. It was an unfortunate confrontation, though predictable. She knew her skills had to be measured in some way to determine the learning plan, nevertheless, Mi-rae still broke out in cold sweat upon facing the questions, knowing very well failure was the outcome. Hesitantly, she picked up a pencil and moved to start the test… Except, she couldn’t. Not with the anxios thoughts speeding through her mind. Ah, fuck. I'm not ready!! He’s going to think I’m super dumb!! What if he starts to judge me? Or deem me a lost cause? Should I run away?? Or-
A low grumble interrupted her panicked train of thoughts and caused her to narrow her eyes towards the source. Was that…his stomach? She blinked. Ah, he must be hungry…“You can eat while I complete the test if you want. I don’t mind” She told him with a small smile. There was a small hope he would do it. Better have him focused on eating rather than her having a meltdown. Ah get over yourself Mi-rae. Just complete that damn test. Mi-rae huffed at the voice in her head, displeased with how right it was. She affixed her attention back to the textbook and took a breath. Oh well, here goes nothing.
Mi-rae was unsure how much time had passed before she reached the end. It could’ve been five minutes or thirty – it was always a surprise with her intellectuality. She put her pencil down and let out a prolonged sigh. “Okay, I’m done.” She announced, and passed him the answers. She had no idea how well she did, but if her past grade was to be an indication, it was only right to have low expectations. Mi-rae glanced over to him and shuffled in her seat as she nervously waited for the results.
“It’s okay, you can give it to me straight. How close would I be to getting my ass kicked by a middle schooler in an English language competition?”
Sunny watched as the girl next to him looked down at her test before they were dragged back to the boxes of food before him. His stomach gave another gurgle. No, he wasn’t allowed to eat in the library. There were signs everywhere that said no eating (and no bubblegum, and phones on silent). Sun-Woo envisioned himself as a lawfully good person. He didn’t like the thought of betraying the trust of others, even if that said person wasn’t there or was a government building. In fact, he would be one of those people who would get arrested and if the jail door opened up or his handcuffs came loose, he would notify the officers rather than run away. He believed that every action has a consequence and you shouldn’t try to weasel your way out of your consequences.
“You can eat while I complete the test if you want. I don’t mind”
Wait? What? Sun-Woo’s dark eyes snapped away from the container, back to Mi-Rae with an innocent ‘I wasn’t thinking of that at all’ look upon his face. He was about to open his mouth to tell her – well, lie to her – and say that he wasn’t even hungry. And then his stomach gave a rather clear gurgle that half the population of Korea could probably hear. Sun-Woo a shy, half-ass, embarrassed breathy chuckle. “Thank you.” He said politely and formally to the girl, bowing his head slightly before turning back to the containers.
Okay. He was going to sneak some. But he couldn’t let anyone else know that he was doing it because he didn’t want to get kicked out of here. Okay… Okay… Okay… he was going to do it. He was a man! I real man! Slowly, he brought his fingers to the lid of the teokbokki filled container and began to open up the box as silently as possible. His head darted upwards, making sure that no one was around to see him. After all, he didn’t want to get into trouble! Once everything was clear, he lifted the lid up the tiniest bit and snuck his hand in to take a piece of the rice cake. Once the small piece was in his hand, he quickly placed it into his mouth and shut the lid – as if nothing had happened. Oh yeah. Totally smooth. And God this tasted like heaven on Earth. Ahhh, the best damn food in the whole world.
Sun-Woo had been off in his food coma heaven from that one small piece of rice cakes that he had been surprised when Mi-Rae announced to him that she had finished. He quickly licked any remaining sauce off his index finger and thumb before sitting up straight in his chair and gazing her answers. As his eyes looked upon the book, he had flashbacks to when he was teaching a Kindergarten child English. Involuntarily, his face scrunched slightly before remembering Mi-Rae was sitting right next to him. “It’s uh…” He began, pausing for a moment before tilting his head to see if that would help with reading the girl’s answers. “I’ll tell you what,” Sun-Woo placed his hand on the book, pushing it away from the pair of them before closing it’s cover. We offered the girl an encouraging smile as he re-positioned himself to turn his whole body to her in his chair. “Forget the test. Let’s just start off with some simple conversation exchanges. English is a hard language to grasp around and some people find it easier to do the practical rather than the logical first. So… we’ll just start with basic greetings first and see how much you know, okay?”
Once again, he offered an encouraging smile before speaking once more – this time, in English. English was one of those languages Sun-Woo had always managed to master even at a young age. While the other children were reading picture books during English class, Sun-Woo had been able to read the whole first Harry Potter book in complete English. “Good evening. My name is Sun-Woo. What is your name?” He asked in English before motioning his hand towards Mi-Rae as if to say ‘now it’s your turn’.
Mi-rae had already prepared for her verdict, knowing it most likely very, very bad. She should be embarrassed, really. What kind of seventeen year old could not even spell the word ‘acceptable’ right in English? That was unacceptable. Mi-rae could never forget the look of sheer disappointment and pain on her English teacher’s face when he handed back her first test. She was pretty sure she heard him even weep once while grading some papers and it wouldn’t surprise her if it was her paper that caused the emotional discord. But compared to her teacher, Sun-woo had a much more neutral reaction; just a slight face scrunch and the familiar hesitance in telling her how awful her grasp on the English language was. She’d seen it all before, except he seemed to take a more subtle approach. Mi-rae could not help but burst into a small laughter at the discarding of the book – as if it was better to pretend that the test had never happened. Perhaps it was partly out of embarrassment [ using laughter to hide it was one of her known tricks] but it was also because this guy just really tried to avoid disclose her results. It was sweet… and kind of cute. He also could’ve easily have run for the hills after having to read her spelling with his own eyes, but he didn’t. She could appreciate that.
“It’s really that bad, huh?” she chuckled, before nodding her head at his suggestion. Now, Mi-rae’s English conversation prowess was not that much better, but she did listen to enough songs and watched quite a fair share in English movies to be able to be somewhat coherent. Ask her to sing any Disney song in English and she would deliver -- though she doubted that was to be requested of her today. Such a shame. Maybe someday she could convince her tutor to go and do karaoke instead of sitting in the library practising the language the old-fashioned way.. But wait…would it be inappropriate to ask him to do karaoke with her? Sure, he was her tutor but he seemed to be around the same age. Her boyfriend wouldn’t get mad over that, right? It was just to practice her English - and to maybe to show off her vocational skills - but they would mostly be there for educational reasons. Oh, who was she kidding? Joon-jae wouldn’t approve of it. He was already upset when you went clubbing with Hana and went to a male classmate’s house together afterwards.
Her lips formed a small pout as the thought entered her mind. As lovely as Joon-jae was, she couldn’t grasp why he always acted as if he was going to lose her whenever she was in another male’s company. She loved him, not someone else! Besides, she would be crazy to leave someone like him. He was the epitome of perfection; kind, intelligent, good-looking, generous. No one else could compare to him – except for maybe one… but to go down that road, one had to change time and Mi-rae had to take a sombre trip down memory lane. Luckily, before that happened, a distraction emerged. English words ran into the open air, and it took a few hot seconds before she realized those words were directed to her.
Shit. Right. English. Words. “O-oh. Good evening, my name is Mi-rae. Nice to…meet you?” Her speech was covered in a heavy accent, the cogs in her brain turning to recollect all the vocabulary she should know. Instinctively, to battle the nerves, Mi-rae reached for her charm in her pocket and sneakily tried to pull it out and hide it in her hand that was to rest on her lap. Tried to. Midst-pull the charm managed to slip through her fingers and fall on the ground. She lightly winced at the metallic 'clink' that resounded from the charm connecting with the hard surface underneath and quickly bent over to reap it off the ground. Bringing it close, she inspected for any chips or damage, before releasing a relieved sigh upon finding it intact. Mi-rae pocketed it back and offered Sun-woo a sheepish smile, cheeks lightly flushing. “Ah… Is my lucky charm I always carry. “ she tried to explain in English. “Helps me calm and remember words.”Great job Mi-rae, he probably thinks you’re weird now. Just go and divert the topic before you spill any more embarrassing facts about yourself. “You are high school student too, right? You also go to Inchang?”
As Mi-Rae began to speak, Sunny had to muster all the power he could not to flinch or cringe at her pronounciation and accent. He had forgotten what it was like to speak to someone with such a broken accent that it was like nails on a chalk board. Even though he was Korean, when he spoke English, he didn’t have a heavy accent like Mi-Raes. In fact, it was more American. One may wonder why the hell Sun-Woo had a bit of an American accent as he spoke. Well, you could thank all those American programs and songs. When he would help the Ajumma’s with their laundry or kept them company, they would often watch America Soap Opera shows or comedies like Friends and Seinfield. And, well, that was how his accent was created.
He masked the internal pain he was feeling from hearing Mi-Rae slaughter the English language by giving her an encouraging smile and nodding his head slightly as it to say good work. However, their little class was cut short as Mi-Rae was distracted by something dropping onto the ground and quickly snatching it back up. Sunny’s brow rose up curiously, moving slightly to see what it was that the girl had just dropped. However, it was back in her pocket before he could get a glance of it – and she then explained herself. That it was a lucky charm that brought peace to her. Ah, well, that was nice… I suppose? Giving her a small smile, he then nodded his head as if to say ‘ah yes, I see’ before a nod that said ‘okay, let’s keep going’. That was when Mi-Rae brought up the topic of school.
“You attend Inchang?” He asked, his eyes widening slightly as he questioned her. He had always dreamed of what it would be like to attend a private school like Inchang. Sunny had only ever heard great things about that school compared to his own. Inchang was getting featured in newspapers for having celebrities attend their spring festivals. The only reason his school was getting featured was to be exposed as one of the most violent schools in Seoul which… probably wasn’t the greatest thing to be known for, right? “Ah, I’m so jealous. I wish I could go to Inchang.”
Sun-Woo crossed his arms in front of himself before resting leaning against his chair once again, feeling a bit more relaxed with each passing moment. “I attend Seorabeol High School in the Nowon district” he explained “It’s not as nice as Inchang, and I know it has a bad reputation. But if you keep to yourself and just focus on studying, then no one really bothers you.” The truth of the matter was that he was more willing to travel for an hour to come into the city to tutor someone who attended Inchang rather than someone in his school. The key of it all was to keep to yourself. If you mingle in with anyone else, you get dragged down.
Sunny released a soft sigh, wondering where he should bring the conversation to. Something that would make the young girl before him relaxed and calm… Wait – didn’t she say her lucky charm kept her calm and helped her to remember words? Maybe talking about her charm would help to put her mind at ease? “You said you have a lucky charm?” he asked her before lightly gesturing to the pocket she had placed it in. “I’ve never had a lucky charm before so I’m interested. What is it of and where can I get myself a lucky charm too?”
Mi-rae was well aware of how atrocious her accent was and she had grown insecure about the language partly because of it. There had been too many times when her accent was mentioned in a joke among fellow students, too many sighs of disappointment from her English teacher whenever it was her turn to read out loud. It became a self-crafted, dooming cycle, where she could not improve without practising but only tried to speak English when it was truly mandatory due to the insecurity. Her nerves mostly stemmed from fear as well; the fear that Sun-woo would be equally as exasperated as her teacher or as derisive as her classmates. Of course, Mi-rae quickly found out there was nothing to worry about; Sun-woo being nothing short of encouraging. Along with her lucky charm, it greatly aided in soothing the nerves and she visibly started to relax.
She nodded in response to his question, before listening to the name of his school. Seorabeol… Seorabeol…. It sounded very familiar and Mi-rae could swear to have heard it from somewhere recently. Seora- her eyes widened as the memory suddenly entered her mind again from a forgotten realm and she involuntarily released a gasp. “Seorabeol as in the high school where one student stabbed another student??” It was surprising to find out her tutor attended a school notorious for being one of the most violent ones in Seoul, especially given how gentle he himself was. Different emotions coursed through her at this new information; confusion about how he was not attending a ‘better’ school, curiosity how he came to attend that school, worry about his safety. His elaboration did manage to alleviate some of the latter and she nodded again.
“My school, not that good too. It’s ah….” She paused for a moment, trying to find the correct words in English. Ugh why was this so hard?? “ People are very smart. It’s hard if you are not that smart. Lot of rich people too. They can be…. Stucky?” Shaking her head, Mi-rae briefly reverted back to Korean. “Wait no, that’s not it…I mean…. Stuck – Stuck… Stuck-up!” Her lips curved into a bright smile as she remembered the word. But it was true. Inchang, as high in reputation as it was, had its own issues. The environment was immensely competitive, sometimes even to the point of sabotage, and there was an air of superiority among part of the more privileged students. Standards were high and if you didn’t meet those, you were easily viewed as someone lesser. A person deserving of ridicule. Crafted rumours were also a prevalent happenstance in and around the school, gossip being one of the most favoured forms of communication. Don’t get her wrong though. Mi-rae felt more than lucky to be able to attend Inchang, especially since she met her boyfriend there, and the pros did outweigh the cons.
Her eyes lowered back to her pockets as the word: ‘lucky charm’ reached her ears. It took her a moment to process all that he was saying and translate it back to Korean, but she immediately perked up after realizing he was expressing interest in it. Mi-rae pulled her lucky charm out of her pocket again and laid it flat on her palm so he could see it more easily. “It’s a sunny flower!” She told him with a wide smile. “I got it from best friend when I was young. Special gift.” Memories flooded back as she spoke about its origins. Memories about him. It was a day she could never forget and one she might cherish the most from back then. A sense of nostalgia washed over her, followed by a colder wave filled with melancholy. It was a flicker of a familiar feeling, one she had hoped to have passed now along with time, yet here she was once again: missing her childhood friend, who might’ve already forgotten her.
This was not the time or place to start thinking about these things. Get it together Mi-rae.
She pushed away the moroseness, recollected the smile that had slightly fallen, and brought her attention back to the conversation. “ You can buy at charm stores like Pandora.. or old shops with ….old stuff” Mi-rae didn’t know the word for second-hand shop in English, but hoped he understood what she meant.
“What charm you like?” she asked, “maybe I can help find!”
Sun-Woo wanted to smack his face as hard as he could for even bringing up the fact he went to Seorabeol. The school was okay; I mean, there was a lot of areas it could improve on. But, sadly, there were those stories that would make its way around the city. Like the story that Mi-Rae had just brought up about the student stabbing another student. Okay, well, she wasn’t wrong. It did happen. It was just such a shame that it was generally what people thought about when they thought about the school; it was with notorious for its violence. “It uh… It wasn’t that bad, honestly,” He tried to reassure her. “I mean… he used scissors instead of a knife so… It wasn’t like he brought a knife to school, you know?” Oh man, he was just digging himself a deeper hole. It was time to just shut up now.
The boy’s brows rose as the girl began to speak – well, attempted to speak – about how her school wasn’t as good as everyone made it up to be. She said how people were smart and there were stuck-up rich people. Ah yes, that sounded right. All the rich folks that came into the places he worked were always so damning and snooty. He was just glad that it didn’t seem to be the case with Mi-Rae. She had to be rich, after all, considering she was attending Inchang. But, instead of gawking over how lucky she was to attend such a school (and how it meant that she was probably rich too), Sun-Woo continued to encourage her by nodding his head up and down.
He waited patiently as Mi-Rae reached for her lucky charm and pulled it out, displaying it flat on her palm for him to see. As soon as he laid his eyes on it he felt… well, he felt like he could almost cry again. That little charm sitting in the centre of her palm was the key to so many memories. His dark eyes quickly flickered up to Mi-Rae’s face as the girl continued to speak about the charm. It really was her, wasn’t it? Mi-Rae… From when they were little… And she… She didn’t recognise him, did she? With this newfound information, he didn’t know what to do. Should he awkwardly bring it up? Tell her that he was that best friend from when she was young? Or should he just let it be? He didn’t want her to think like she was a massive idiot for recognising him. Then again, he had barely recognised her.
“What charm you like? Maybe I can help find?”
He had been paying little to no attention to what the girl before him had been saying. After all, his mind had been filled with memories of the past. He could remember the day he gave it to her so clearly now. His Appa was finally going through his Umma’s old clothes and jewellery. He asked Sun-Woo if there was anything that he wanted to keep before he sold it off. Sun-Woo picked out the charm, knowing that it was Mi-Rae’s birthday coming up and he wanted to get her a special present to say thank you for everything she had done for him. He could remember how her face shone as bright as a sunflower as she opened up her present from him. It was that same sunshine smile that was upon her face now.
“I uh…” Sun-Woo paused, unsure of how to respond. Thankfully, his phone which he had placed upon the table was beginning to vibrate. His dark eyes quickly darted over to see that his silent alarm (hello, they were in a library after all) was going off. Wow. Had it already been half an hour? He promptly took hold of his phone, turning off the timer before looking back at Mi-Rae. “Our study time is finished for today,” he explained to her, still using English. “Your Umma only booked for a half an hour lesson today, and I have to go to make sure I catch the bus on time. Did you have any questions, or did you want to borrow my English book to practice a bit more at home?”
Mi-rae had been so immersed in introducing Sun-woo to the delight of charms that the emotional turbulence went unnoticed by her. Even when it took a moment for him to start formulating a response to her question, she did not think much of it. Lord knows he might just have been trying to decipher what exactly she was saying with that accent of hers.
Before he could give her an actual answer, though, his attention was snatched away by…. his phone? Her eyes travelled to the mobile device that was buzzing in its place and she watched him pick up the phone, before blinking at his words. Wait…. Was it time already?? In own disbelief, she grabbed her own phone and checked the time. 18:30… He was right. Her lips formed a small pout upon the realization that the tutor session was already over. Unexpected as it was, Mi-rae actually had somewhat fun talking to Sun-woo in English. Perhaps it was his encouraging demeanour or just his overall kind persona that made this more enjoyable than anticipated, but the female actually found herself being kind of disappointed that her mother only booked half an hour…
Oh well, there was still a next time wasn’t there?
Mi-rae shook her head. “A-ah no. it’s okay. No questions. And I make photo of book so I can buy! No worry!” She quickly snapped a couple of photos of the English book, before hastily stuffing all her school supplies back in bag. It was kind of odd, feeling this rush even though there was no one pressuring her to hurry. Maybe it was because she wanted to keep talking to Sun-woo just a little bit longer and a walk together to outside would grant her that time. It felt silly….was it silly? It wasn’t odd to walk together, right? Would he find it odd? She just wanted to be friendly! Her mind, as usual, quickly became one jumbled mess of inconsonant thoughts, and Mi-rae had to slap a mini-self in her head to prevent the course of thoughts from crashing and burning. Stop overthinking or else you are going to make this weirder than it is! She inwardly told herself. Just flash him a smile and act casual. She looked back at him and flashed him the most innocent smile she could muster, before starting to walk beside him towards the exit.
Once outside, she fully turned to Sun-woo and proceeded to bow. “Thank you for the tutoring. I have to say that it was much more enjoyable and comfortable than I had anticipated at first!” She told him in back in Korean again, “ also, thank you for being patient with me. I know my English is probably worse than most pupils you ha-“ her sentence fell as soon as her vision got obscured. There was the feeling of two hands against her skin, followed by a low voice saying:” Surprise.” Her smile brightened tenfold at the familiarity of the voice and the female spun around, only to come face to face with a princely figure she’d the luck of calling her boyfriend.
“ Oppa! What are you doing here-!” she exclaimed, tone surprised yet happy.
“ I was just around the neighbourhood and figured out to surprise you,” Joon-jae replied, before gazing over to Sun-woo. “Who’s this?”“Ah… this is my English tutor Sun-woo. Sun-woo, this is my boyfriend Joon-jae.” She said, introducing the two to each other.
Her boyfriend’s eyes travelled up and down Sun-woo’s frame, before nodding and smiling something smooth. “I see.. It’s nice to meet you.” He responded, though he quickly lowered his gaze back to Mi-rae.
“Shall we go?” he extended his hand and she nodded with a bright smile, taking his.
“ Let’s go! Oh, and thank you again Sun-woo!” she gave her tutor a small wave, before turning to walk away.
While other students were sighing relief that Friday was well and truly over, and it was time for the weekend, Sun-Woo found himself in his usual predicament. Rushing for the bus as it was about to depart from the bus stop. Thankfully, the bus driver saw him frantically waving his arms and running towards him, and so waited for him. He would’ve been on time had he kept an eye on the time.
You see, today was his third tutoring lesson with Mi-Rae. Each lesson had only been half an hour long for two reasons; the first being her mother had explained to him that she wanted to see how he and Mi-Rae got along. There was no point in her daughter studying with someone she didn’t feel comfortable around. Which was a fair point. The other reason being that he had work after these tutoring classes. Now, if Mi-Rae wanted an hour class, she’d have to start half an hour earlier which he had already discussed with her mother before she had booked in with him for this week.
Now… the reason why he was late for his bus? Well, they had finished their lesson for the day and he just couldn’t help but keep talking to her. He was so sure that this was the Mi-Rae that he grew up with. Everything just seemed to line up perfectly into a nice wrapped package. However, he was also a bit afraid that he would look like a complete idiot if he asked her about it and then it turned out that she wasn’t her and things were just awkward, right? So, he held his tongue and just thanked the time that he got to spend with the young lady.
Now, it wasn’t her fault that he was late. Oh no. He was the one that wanted to keep on talking. Never once did he mention to her that he had another job to go to or that he had somewhere to be. In fact, all he told her was that he had to catch a bus. He didn’t want to stress her out or seem like she had to rush on what she had to say. And because of that, he was now rushing around, trying to get to his next job and to be on time. As he hurried into the Korean Barbeque restaurant which he had worked at for the last year or so, he could hear his boss call from afar that he was late.
In response, and almost completely out of breath, Sun-Woo apologised and mentioned that he would quickly get changed and start serving. Thankfully, his boss was his Appa’s friend from a long time ago. The older male just grinned at the boy before gesturing for him to continue his way to the back. Within the time frame of five minutes, Sun-Woo made his way out to the back and began to change his clothes. He hung up his school uniform onto a coat hanger that he always kept in his bag, and changed into his usual work attire; a white shirt and blue jeans, along with sneakers that have seen better days. Once he changed, he placed everything neatly aside and ventured out to the main area.
“We have a big night ahead of us,” Park Hu, the boss, mentioned to the boy as he was writing out an order onto the till. Sun-Woo nodded, taking hold of a nearby clean apron and tying it around his waist. “I hope you have all that teenage energy and strength in your tonight because I’ll need you on waiting and charcoal”
The boy once again nodded and smiled towards his boss. “Of course.” he responded politely. Even if he didn’t have the energy or strength, he was going to pretend that he did. Because, well, he needed this job. He needed all of them.
Do you ever feel a connection with someone that it feels like you have known this person for ages, even though you’ve only met this person recently? That’s how Mi-rae felt about Sun-woo. Despite the fact they’d only met up a total of three times, she kept wanting to talk to him about well – everything. Never had she anticipated to be excited to go to an English tutor session, yet there she was; always showing up well ahead of time and staying longer than that was obligated of her, all with the hope she could converse with him a bit more. It was a bit odd, even with her open and social perception to the world, to so eagerly befriend someone. So much so that it brought a bit of conflict. While she openly welcomed Sun-woo’s presence in her life, she could not help but silently question if it was 100% genuine. Was the connection she felt real – or was she just searching for something she lost all those years ago in someone that bore the same name? Did this Sun-woo really resemble her old childhood friend in some ways or was it an illusion born out of a forgotten longing? Was she truly intrigued in him as a person or was the driving force behind her interest a desperation to have that past collide with her present? It was these thoughts that kept her awake late at night and what caused a turmoil inside. A turmoil she was not quite ready to fully confront yet.
Deciding it was a bridge she would cross when the time arrived, Mi-rae often banished these thoughts and continued to live in her own ‘ignorant’ bliss where Sun-woo was just someone in her life she wanted to obtain friendship with. Unfortunately, this state of mind also led to her almost being late for her date with her boyfriend. After speaking a bit too long with Sun-woo, the female had found herself in a hurry getting ready back at home. Mi-rae had barely put on her attire for the evening when the doorbell rang. She could hear her mother opening the door, followed by a gasp – which most likely indicated that Joon-jae had brought something fairly expensive with him as a gift – and his calm voice greeting her mother. It was the usual ordeal really; he complimented her outfit, pressed a kiss on her hand and the two bid goodbye to her mother, before leaving to go to the restaurant.
No date night was complete without the discussion where they should go. Joon-jae, as expected, mentioned restaurants that were way above her paygrade and Mi-rae, not being nearly as affluent than him, mentioned some cute restaurants that were low in price but delicious nonetheless. In the end, a compromise was made with kbbq as the result.
“ I really feel like I’m improving a lot!! Sun-woo is very good and patient at teaching.” She prattled on as they were walking to the restaurant.
Joon-jae merely released a disinterested ‘hm’, his eyes focused on the shops they passed. Mi-rae frowned lightly at his demeanour. Ever since he met her tutor, he had been acting quite indifferent or cold whenever she mentioned Sun-woo or her tutor sessions. She had briefly entertained the notion of jealousy – although it’s still confusing to her why he would be. If anything, she should be the one worried about someone snatching him away from her. His popularity greatly exceeded hers, not to mention his social status. Joon-jae was a male with wealth and ambitions, a person that was going places. On the contrary, Mi-rae could only be considered an average citizen, just going through her life day by day. Honestly, she would be a fool to let Joon-jae go.
“Oppa-“ she started, but was cut off as he spoke up.
“I think this is the place.”
Her eyes followed his gaze and she realised he was right. They were standing right outside the restaurant her best friend Hana had recommended.
“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go inside.. I’m curious if the food is as good as your friend said.” He flashed her a smile, before pushing the door open and leading her inside.
Immediately upon entering the restaurant, warmth and the smell of grilled meat engulfed her. It brought a smile on her face and her enthusiasm sparked, fuelled by the hunger.
“Doesn’t it smell good already? I can’t wait to eat! Hana said we have to try out the Dwaeji Galbi here.” She lightly jumped in excitement, eager to get seated and eat some delicious kbbq. Her eyes travelled across the room, before catching someone in a waiter attire in the corner of her vision.
“Ah good eve-“ her sentence fell as her gaze fully landed on the person, her eyes widening in surprise. “Sun-woo??”
Hu-Ssi had been right – they did have a big night ahead of them.
They had been anticipating two large groups of eight through their online booking but had not anticipated the further group of ten that came in soon after. Apparently, there had been a grand final to some soccer match nearby and the winning team decided to stumble upon their establishment to celebrate together. As they weren’t completely full for the night, Hu-Ssi couldn’t resist the offer of having such a rowdy group of men, celebrating their latest victory; it meant there would be plenty of meat and alcohol on their bill for the night.
The restaurant was booming, loud laughter and conversations echoing off the walls and ceilings. This was good. It brought a good atmosphere and made the place feel homely. It also gave the look that it was a brilliant establishment and popular, I suppose. However, it meant that the waiters and waitresses working here, like Sun-Woo, were run off their feet for the night. Sun-Woo could feel the sweat run down the side of his face as he carefully carried the charcoal to eat table by the charcoal stick, and carefully placed it under the grill for the customers. Oh man, he could start to feel the sweat slowly roll down his back. All he could think about was how damn nice it was going to be once he got to the spa tonight; have a good old bathe in the tubs and ask some random old stranger to scrub his back for him. The usual. Not to mention to have a couple of hard-boiled eggs and finally go to sleep in the sleeping chambers. Oh, everything seemed like bliss to him right now. Sadly, he still had another three hours of his shift to go before that dream could come to a reality.
Just as he began to walk away from the table, he felt like he had… heard his name? His dark eyes gazed around the room which was… well, packed and filled with people, to be completely honest. If someone said his name, there was probably no way in hell he was going to hear it properly. Sighing softly, he walked back to the charcoal oven and placed the charcoal stick and his gloves down with the other ones. Once again, he heard his name; but this time, it was one of the waitresses, Yerin. She asked if he could seat the couple that was waiting at the front as she quickly cleaned one of the tables so the couple could sit at.
With a nod and thumbs up (because what was the point of trying to speak over this loud crowd?), Sun-Woo wiped his forehead with the back of his hand before making his way towards the front. Of course, he had to maneuver his way through the crowd, apologising to some customers who were trying to take a picture as a group before he… He saw her... all dressed up and looking real… pretty. “Mi-Rae?” fell from his mouth before he could even properly process it. Out of all the places in Seoul that she could eat, her and her boyfriend happened to land at the one barbeque establishment that he worked at? Well, wasn’t fate a funny thing.
Wait. Boyfriend. Wait. Customers. That’s right. They’re customers. As he stood before them, he gave them a respectful bow. They were customers now, not friends. He had to show them top respect, no matter what. “Would you like a table for two?” he asked, trying to ensure his voice travelled over the sound of the sizzling grills and laughing families while placing his hand up with two fingers up.
Truth to be told, Mi-rae had not expected the restaurant to be that packed – despite the fact it was a Friday evening. A slight trickle of worry ran down her spine at the peal of slurred shouting from a table nearby, fully aware that her boyfriend was not fan of this scenery. Her eyes narrowed back to Joon-jae, ready to catch a glimpse of distaste, but his face did not betray such an emotion. Instead, she was surprised by a somewhat pleasant expression. Heh, maybe I am rubbing off on him, she thought with a smile. Ever since they began dating, Mi-rae encouraged him to seek activities that were out of his comfort zone, such as eating at establishments that were not considered 4+ star restaurants. The first time was not really a success, though, to her defence, no one could’ve predicted for some wild ahjussi to barge into the restaurant and start undressing. Safe to say that they left the restaurant without finishing their meal, her boyfriend one prejudice - and possibly trauma- richer. Thanks, Ahjussi.
It took nearly a month to convince Joon-jae to try another restaurant she’d picked out. Luckily, this time, there were no stripping ahjussi - and even though Joon-jae didn’t want to admit it, she saw him enjoying the food. After that, it became gradually more easy to steer him away from selecting the most fancy restaurants when on a date. Compromises were made, and her boyfriend became a little more comfortable with the more ‘ordinary’ places.
But aside from Joon-jae’s agreeable demeanour, another surprise befell upon Mi-rae. Or at least, that’s what she thought. She could swear that was Sun-woo working on the charcoal and that it was not a figment of her imagination. Almost everything matched; the hair, the height, the back… She wasn’t just imagining it, was she? Silly, why would you be imagining such a thing? It isn’t like he lingers around in your mind…..that often. Her cheeks reddened in slight realization. Okay. Sure. Sun-woo occupied her head numerous times outside their tutor sessions, but that was only because she was excited about getting to know him. Yes, it was merely something that manifested from innocent curiosity. Nothing more and nothing less.
And- oh… It really was him!
Mi-rae blinked once… twice… before letting out a small laughter, equally surprised as happy to see him. “ I didn’t know you worked here! Wow, this is such a coincidence! ” She exclaimed with a bright smile. “Did you go directly from our tutor session to here?” Not that much time had passed since they bid goodbye in front of the library and from the looks of it, he had been working for some time already. Speaking of which – Mi-rae could not help but note how he managed to look good even with a glistens of sweat across his forehead. Wait… Was that weird to notice?
A small cough from beside her snatched her attention, and the female quickly realized she hadn’t accorded an answer to his question.
“Oh, yes !! A table for two please.”
Mi-rae followed both her boyfriend and Sun-woo to their table and sat down in her seat. Her hands grabbed the menu as soon as it was given to her, eager to fill her stomach with some delicious meat. “Have you worked here for long?” She asked Sun-woo as she glanced up from the menu, “ if I knew you worked here, I would’ve come sooner!” It felt kind of odd to see him outside of their tutor-sessions, though she guessed it was not improbable to run into each other. Speaking of tutor sessions-
“Oh! By the way, my mom wants to book you for an hour from now on.” Her smile widened at the thought of getting to spend more time with him. That half-hour passed way too fast in her opinion. “And does it also work for you to have our next tutor session back at my house? I have to work till 5 that day and my house is closer to the cafe than the library. We'll pay for the extra transport costs!”
He was just about to head off to grab the couple a jug of water and glasses as Yerin had just finished cleaning the table and was in search for clean utensils to bring over. However, something caused him to stop his steps; Mi-Rae’s voice to be exact, asking him a question. How long had he been working here? Well, he had started sorting here around the time his Appa got sick… so… “Uh… I’ve been working here since I was sixteen… So… around about three years now…” He explained to her. “Hu-ssi, our boss… he’s a close friend of my Appa. He offered me a job here.” And need he say more? Was there even a point to explain to her that he decided to get a job after his Appa announced that he was going to start treatment for cancer? Plus, he didn’t know is Joon-Jae was going to be willing to sit there and listen to him talk about it.
Sun-Woo, once again, was about to announce to the couple that he would go and get a jug of water and cups for them. And, once again, Mi-Rae began to speak to him once more. This time, however, it was some damn good news. Tutoring always paid better than working at the seven-eleven. So, to hear that someone was interested in having him for more hours was always a bonus. His dark eyes widened slightly at the news, trying to calculate if he had enough time to fit in that extra half an hour before his next shift. Sure, they didn’t have to do it at the library, but that also depended on where Mi-Rae lived too.
“Uh… You don’t need to worry about transportation costs, it’s okay,” he responded, feeling a bit flustered at the offer. Never once had any of his students actually offer to pay for his bus or train fees. Well, then again, never had any of his students slaughter the English language like Mi-Rae had been able to do. “It just depends where you live, I suppose, and also uh… We may need to start just a little bit earlier too. I have another… client afterwards.” Oh, he was being careful with his words. He didn’t want Mi-Rae to think that he was just some money-hungry teenager with working all these damn jobs.
Yerin returned to the table with the utensils, giving Sun-Woo a rather frustrated glance. “Can you get their charcoal and I’ll get their drinks?” she muttered to him as she placed the chopsticks and bowls in front of Mi-Rae and Joon-Jae. It was quite obvious that the other girl thought that Sun-Woo was just hanging about, talking to Mi-Rae like they were old time friends, catching up on the weekly gossip. Feeling that little bit flustered once again, Sun-Woo’s eyes widened slightly and he nodded. Without a moment of hesitation, he turned at the heels and began to make his way into the back once again to the charcoal for the table.
A few moments later, he re-entered with gloves upon his hands, and charcoal on the end of a charcoal stick. As he approached the table, he made sure to keep the hot charcoal away from any of the customers. Upon returning, he took the cover off the grill on the table and then placed the charcoal bucket into the designated slot. Once in the slot, he removed the stick and placed the cover back on. Finally, he reached towards the ventilation and pulled it down slightly to ensure that any smoke or stream coming from the grill would go straight into the vent.
“Would you like to order now?” He asked, straighting up as he spoke. “If not, we have the bells on the table for you to ring,” He indicated, pointing towards the button on the table. “Just ring and someone will be with you straight away”
Mi-rae has always been one to latch onto new people like a sloth does to a branch, more than eager to establish new connections and add another person to her own social circle. Her chatter comes easy – perhaps too easy – and it’s certainly not the first time she got lost in her own wonderland of thoughts and babbling. Her attention-span was below average, nevertheless, once it gets truly captured, everything else around it simply fades away. This was the case with Sun-woo. No matter how many things happened around them, her tutor just managed to seize her focus and keep it there. There was a glint of curiosity in her eyes as he unveiled a little bit more about himself, the mention of his appa catching her interest the most. Much about his family still remained a mystery since they rarely talked about it – or at least he didn’t. Of course, he was under no obligation to tell her about his family nor did she expect him to, but her curiosity couldn’t halt her from wondering about it.
“Ohh lucky that your appa’s friend is the boss here and offered you a job!” She commented with a smile.
It was to no surprise that Sun-woo rejected their offer to cover the transport costs should they hold the tutor session at her house, humble as he was. Mi-rae, however, was just as persistent and shook her head. “Oh no, we insist!! Consider it a payment for the extra time you are spending to travel to my house.” Just to add a bit more charm into the persuasion, Mi-rae mustered her best puppy-pleading expression. It was a tactic with 98% success rate, proven and tested.
His words are slowly being registered in her head. It depends where- oh!“Of course! Wait. I’ll send you the address and you can decide if it’s possible for you or not.” She immediately grabbed for her phone in her bag and swiftly typed up her address in a message to Sun-woo. His peculiar choice of words didn’t go unnoticed by her either and she looked up from her phone, smile amused and eyes teasing. “Ohh a client? Are there any other secret jobs?” Mi-rae was about to add that she was joking, but another waitress halted her from doing so. Her annoyance was palpable, and Mi-rae felt her cheeks burning up in embarrassment. Too engrossed in talking with Sun-woo, she’d briefly forgotten that he was currently working. Damn it Mi-rae and your blabbering.
Her eyes immediately travelled to the other person sitting at the table and there was a tidal wave of guilt upon realizing she’d been completely oblivious to her own boyfriend’s presence when conversing with Sun-woo. Gahh, how could you forget your boyfriend?? A voice inside scolded her, deepening the red hue across her cheeks. Feeling somewhat inclined to make amends for it, Mi-rae reached for his hand. Joon-jae raised his eyebrow, clearly able to detect her motive behind it, but grabbed hers nonetheless and planted a reassuring kiss on the back. Her guilt ebbed away at this, the action setting also setting off a small flutter of wings inside her stomach. That’s right. Joon-jae wouldn’t be mad at this – he’s very understanding.
Mi-rae smiled at him, before retracting her hand when Sun-woo returned with the charcoal. Her eyes watched closely how he began to operate the charcoal, and somehow, found her oddly immersed in it. She noticed the muscles in his arms tensing in labour and- wait… why was she staring solely at his arms?? Mi-rae instantly averted her eyes back at the grill, feeling a heat creeping up her neck. Was it hot in here or was that just her? It must be the warmth emanating from the grill right? Yeah, that was the most logical explanation. She reached for her cup and took a gulp of water in attempt to cool down the warmth that was suddenly burning her up. Ahh much better.
Her attention was once again piqued at the mention of ordering, but as usual, Joon-jae took the initiative to order for the both of them.
“We’ll have the samgyeopsal, dwaeji galbi, haemul-jeon and kimchi stew please.”
As Mi-Rae began to speak, telling him what the couple would like to order, he was quick to take out the notepad from the front pocket of his apron, along with a pencil. He flipped open the book with one swift movement and brought the pencil to the paper to start writing down what was being ordered. “Samgyeopsal… dwaeji galbi… haemul-jeon… and kimchi stew” he repeated under his breath as he rapidly wrote down the order in hangul on the piece of paper. His dark eyes gazed back up to Mi-Rae’s face once again. “Anything to drink?” Sun-Woo asked, reminding himself to look over at Joo-Jae as well. Because the last thing in the world that he wanted was for his new student’s boyfriend to pound him in the face for putting so much attention on his girlfriend.
Once Mi-Rae confirmed which drinks they would like, Sun-Woo nodded and gave them a polite smile. “I’ll get your drinks for you right away,” he explained to them as he reached over for the menus “And I’ll bring your side dishes too” And with that, he gave them another respectful bow (hey, he was working after all – and this was how they were taught to treat customers, regardless if they knew them or not), and turned at his heels to make his way out the back.
A sigh fell from Sun-Woo’s lips as he travelled his way into the back kitchen, placing up the piece of paper with the order on it in the waiting queue. Oh man, he wanted to take a few moments to just… relax and breathe. After school, he had gone straight to the library where he had a tutoring session with an eight-year-old, and then one with Mi-Rae. And then raced from there to here, and was going to be here for another good while. He felt drained, and tired, and exhausted. But there was no rest for the wicked. Just think how wonderful it’s going to feel once you get into that spa tonight… he reminded himself as he headed towards the fridge.
Grabbing a nearby tray, he began to pull the side dishes and the drinks out from the fridge. And for a moment, he had to pause and reflect. Mi-Rae. It was one hundred per cent her. His childhood friend. Her smile flashed into his head, and he couldn’t help but feel like it was somewhat contagious; he allowed a huff of air to slip past his lips as a smile crept onto his face. She hadn’t changed one bit. Such a chatty, social-butterfly, who made everyone around her feel… well… feel wanted.
Okay, get your head into the game he told himself, shaking his head before dropping the smile. She doesn’t even remember you one bit. There’s no point in drifting off into the past. Ah, sometimes his inner thoughts were a dick. But sometimes, it’s what he needed to get up in the morning. Releasing one final sigh, Sun-Woo took hold of the tray which was now covered in an array of free side dishes, two bowls of rice, and the drinks in which they ordered. He began to make his way back to the table while balancing the tray in his hands.
“Okay… I have your drinks… and rice… and side dishes” He said to them softly, taking hold of each item as he said it and placing it down on the table neatly. Once all the dishes were placed down, he took hold of the tongs and began to prep the grill for them; taking an onion and rubbing it on top of the grill. Ten out of ten customer service, am I right? He placed the tongs in front of Joon-Jae (as a sign to show yes, I understand you’re the man of this relationship) before taking the meat scissors and setting them next to the tongs.
Finally, he stood up straight, holding onto the board and looking at the couple. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” he asked in the politest way possible.
The three years of experience was evident in Sun-woo’s performance as he quickly seemed to slip back into his role of a waiter; speech and actions professional. It was a sight familiar and one that always caught her admiration. Watching people in their own drive and working hard was something Mi-rae could do all day. There was nothing particularly special about it yet it inspired her – and it would be a lie to say it didn’t attract her… Of course, that did not signify much. Was she slightly attracted to seeing Sun-woo doing his job? Maybe! But the same applied to seeing Joon-jae working hard. Besides, attraction didn’t equal love, and love didn’t equal love love and….why was she even thinking about these things? Her mind paused at the self-formulated inquiry, its confrontation hitting her straight in the face. It was not uncommon for her thoughts to spiral into a peculiar direction but this, even for her, felt a like a running train she should not board.
Another question entered her mind, this time in a male voice, and it took a moment for Mi-rae to realize it was external and belonging to Sun-woo. “O-oh!” she uttered, unable to think about an answer on the spot. Her eyes lowered down towards the menu, desperately searching for a drink before it could properly become awkward. Keep calm Mi-rae.. Drink… Drink.. Choose a drink.. what does Joon-jae like? Wine! But that doesn’t go as good with the meal as… “ Maekju!” the word slipped past her lips in a volume higher than intended and her cheeks blossomed red again in embarrassment when it caught the attention of nearby tables. Mi-rae cleared her throat, before attempting to state the order in a more normal fashion. “I mean – could we get two maekju please?”
Luckily, and unsurprisingly, Sun-woo conserved his composure and accorded a professional response in return – for which Mi-rae was grateful. She nodded in response, before turning her head to gaze back at Joon-jae. His features were melted into amusement, punctured by a knowing smile, and it looked like he was holding back a chuckle.
“What?” She questioned, confused about his expression.
“Nothing… Just you.”
“What? Me? What is it with me?”
Joon-jae merely shook his head in response, evidently planning not to let anything loose.
“Oppa~” Mi-rae whined, while attempting to kick his leg under the table. He knew she didn’t like it when he acted like that; knowing something she didn’t and not telling her. She was highly aware how her knowledge compared to his and accepted those differences between them, but hated being purposefully left in the dark about things. It made her feel even more stupid.
“You were lost in thought again weren’t you?” He pointed at her face for further elaboration,“ you always wear a dreaming expression whenever you get side-tracked by your own mind.”
Oh shit. Was it that easy to see?
Mi-rae parted her lips to form some protest, refusing to believe she was that readable, but Sun-woo’s arrival with the drinks and side-dishes snatched her attention instead. She watched how he put down the side dishes and drink and prepared the grill. At his following question, Mi-rae shook her head.
“I think we’re good for now! Thank you Sun-woo!” She beamed.
Some time passed before the rest of the food arrived, but it was well worth the wait. Mi-rae’s eyes widened at how delicious the food looked and she had to withhold herself from eating too fast. The dwaeji galbi did not disappoint ( was it even legal for meat to taste this good?) and she could see Joon-jae, who was more of a fancy seafood fan, enjoying the meal as well. Near the end, Mi-rae grabbed her phone to snap a photo of them together. She always liked capturing these moments, just to have them as a little memory in her phone. Finding the right angle, however, was a bit tricky.
“Just ask someone,” Joon-jae told her after another ‘failed’ photo. His eyes narrowed to search for a person nearby, “maybe your tutor can help us with that.” She looked up from her phone and followed his gaze back to Sun-woo. Oh right! He can take the picture of us!
“Sun-woo!” She called to catch his attention, “could you maybe take a picture of us with my phone?” Mi-rae extended the phone towards him, before bringing her seat closer to Joon-jae. He slung his arm around her shoulder and pressed her lightly against his side. She tilted her head towards his and smiled brightly while putting up a peace sign with her right hand.
After bringing all the side dishes and the drinks to Mi-Rae and Joon-Jae, Sun-Woo continued on with his job. Sadly, he wasn’t on meat distribution for the night which meant that probably the last time he would see his student and her boyfriend would be when he would come to take the charcoal grill away. But that was possibly one of the last things on his mind right now. Instead, he was focused more on ensuring that every table had their grills going and if they needed their grill plate changed over. And that, my dear friends, was a very physically demanding and sweaty job.
Time had passed and he could continue to feel the sweat running down his back. Thankfully, he made sure to put on deodorant before work and he was one of those lucky Koreans who have a low level of apocrine glands. Running back and forth from each table had him thankful that it was almost home time. Especially as he stood near the charcoal fire, waiting for the next charcoal grill to be ready for the customer he was serving.
As he waited for the next grill to be ready, he couldn’t help but gaze over at Mi-Rae and Joon-Jae who seemed to enjoying their meal together. Even though he had worked here for so long, Sun-Woo had never ever once had a meal here. It was way out of his price range and plus, where would he find the time of day to stop rushing around and eat? It would have to take a miracle for him to be financially stable to do so. But as he cased over at Mi-Rae, eating wasn’t the only thing on his mind. He watched as her cheeks puffed and her face shined when she smiled. How her eyes sparkled and even though he couldn’t hear her laugh from where he stood, he could feel it in the pits of his stomach.
And maybe he had been too distracted. Because as Min-Ho, the other waiter who was helping with the grills, walked by with a very hot grill (even asking Sun-Woo to move a bit), Sun-Woo accidentally bumped against the hot metal. Automatically, the boy’s eyes widened as he felt the pain shoot through his arm, causing him to draw his attention to his outer left forearm and place his hand over it. While Min-Ho apologised over a thousand times, Sun-Woo insisted it was okay; I mean, had he not been distracted then this probably never happen.
Sun-Woo hurried into the kitchen to run the new burn underneath the cold water. He frowned as his dark eyes gazed at the fresh mark, telling himself how foolish it was to have been so damn distracted. Once he felt the pain beginning to subside, he turned off the tap and had a better observation of the burn. It was about six centimetres; it would probably lightly scar but nothing too horrific. After all, this wasn’t his first time getting burnt off these grills. His first few weeks of learning how to carry the grills were filled with many burns.
After applying some first aid cream, he released a heavy sigh and made his way back out into the main area. Min-Ho had been kind enough to take over the customers that he had been serving, so he was free to start looking for any grills that needed to be change. Luckily, this was when Mi-Rae grabbed his attention. His eyes widened, slightly startled that the girl had been calling him over, before walking over. Seeing the phone and her request, Sun-Woo gave her a small smile before nodding. Once the couple were next to each other and ready, he lifted up the phone and pointed it at the pair of them.
“Alright… Everyone say… gasidudeokji” he chimed as he began to take a couple of pictures with the phone. Gasidudeokji. Echidna in Korean. He wasn’t sure why, but when he was growing up, that’s what his Appa used to say. It’s a well-known fact that people either say “cheese” or “kimchi” when taking a picture. But for Sun-Woo, who hated having his picture taken even as a child, his Appa had always told him to say “gasidudeokji” for two reasons. The first being it was such a long word that half the times Sun-Woo would mess it up and end up laughing, making it a better picture. The other reason being that if Sun-Woo one day did end up mastering it, then at least it ended with a “ji”, causing the boy to smile.
Once the photo was taken, he handed the phone back to Mi-Rae politely with both hands and a small bow; I suppose it was just out of habit because of work. “I hope the picture came out okay,” he mentioned to the girl before pointing to the grill before them. “Would you like to order more food? If not, I’ll move the charcoal grill out of the way.”
“Gasidud…ehh?” Mi-rae stumbled over the word in attempt of echoing it back, taken by surprise by the length of it. Her boyfriend, unsurprisingly, repeated it with ease. But there was something else about the word that made her mind pause -- a ring of familiarity that tugged at the strings of her memory. The word kept swirling around in her mind, dancing at the cusp of her memory like a forgotten task. Mi-rae could have sworn to have heard it from someone when she was younger… but who? She blinked a few times, hoping the action would engage the memory centre of her brain, though no clear remembrance was summoned. Maybe my mom will know it… I will ask her when I get home.
Mi-rae had retreated so far back in her own mind palace that she had not noticed the hand with her phone extended back towards her. Oh right! The photo’s! “Thank you!” She beamed back at Sun-woo, while her eyes skimmed through the pictures. As usual, Joon-jae looked unnecessarily great in them ( seriously, it was unfair how photogenic he was on top of all his other qualities.) Her surprise was reflected back in the pictures, eyes slightly wide and lips a bit parted. Nevertheless, the pictures still turned out pretty cute in her opinion. Heh, I’ll send it to Hana & Dae-won. Opening KakaoTalk, Mi-rae swiftly uploaded the picture in the chat she had with both her friends, along with the following caption: ‘eating at the place you recommended me Hana! It was so good, even jae liked itヽ(〃＾▽＾〃)ﾉ!’
Her eyes travelled up from her mobile device once the question about more food popped up. Ah, the most important question of all questions that ever existed. To eat or not eat more? Her hunger had been sedated, her stomach filled. From a rationalistic standpoint, it was best to halt here and go on their merry way, knowing they had a fulfilling meal. From a more emotional standpoint, however, those desserts had looked temptingly good.. “I think we’re good, thank you,” the male voice next to her said. Aw man… Mi-rae did her best to hide the flicker of disappointment upon missing the opportunity to taste some delicious desserts. Oh well… There was always a next time, wasn’t there? She cheered up at the thought, her smile brightening again…
“Omo, did you burn yourself??” Her eyes were drawn towards the burned mark on his arm. A pang of worry settled in her stomach, even though it probably looked worse than it was. Nevertheless, it looked painful, and that was enough to capture Mi-rae’s care. “Did you hold it under cold water? Put some cooling gel or first aid on it? Wouldn’t it hurt to lift the charcoal grill up?” The questions left her lips in a rapid cadence. It was perhaps a nosiness she inherited from her mother, but she just could not refrain herself from expressing worries – especially if it involved those she cared about. And yes, Sun-woo was someone she cared about! …..That wasn’t weird right? She has always been one to quickly form connections with people, her care so easily obtained all you had to do was to act like a decent person.
“I am sure he will be fine,” Joon-jae assured her while squeezing her shoulder. It was a non-verbal action that signified she was being noisy again, which caused her to look down in slight abashment. Right… It was not really her business. Even though they were friendly with each other, it didn’t mean a friendship had automatically been established. To him, they were probably just student and tutor.. Mi-rae’s expression slightly fell at that thought. Even though it was completely normal for Sun-woo to regard their relationship just as ‘business’, her heart still stung. She wanted to be friends with him ( had hoped to already be friends with him), but she had to be reminded that not all connections were reciprocal- that not everyone considered others to be their friends as easily as she did. It hurt but that was just the reality of it all, wasn’t it? At least that was what her friends and Joon-jae told her.
“We also want the check please..” her boyfriend’s voice pulled her back to reality. Her gaze was lifted up back to Sun-woo, and it was something about seeing his kind face that caused a wave of unfound determination to wash over her. Okay, so maybe he doesn’t see me as a friend yet, but that doesn’t mean I should stop trying, an inner voice spoke. Right. She might not be the handiest or the smartest person, but she was not a quitter.
“Wait-“ Mi-rae said, before opening the small purse she brought with her. Out of the purse, she grabbed a small tube and handed it to Sun-woo. “It’s some aloe vera gel. You can put it on the burn when it starts burning up again.”
Joon-jae merely shook his head and let out a sigh. “I am sure he has his own anti-burn ointments back at home, love.”
“but this is the best one!” She defended, eyes turning to her boyfriend, “don’t you remember when you had this horrible sunburn and your back was as red as a-hmmpf-“ Mi-rae suddenly found a hand pressed against her lips, halting her from finishing the sentence. Joon-jae looked at her with a gaze that spoke ‘not everyone in the restaurant needs to know’ and she looked around to see several people staring into their direction. Oops. Mi-rae lowered the hand and switched her gaze back to Sun-woo.
“A-ah.. I mean, please take it?” She offered him a smile and a hopeful glance.