5:00 pm and I’m at the sports center; I don’t know what I’m doing holding a bouquet and prepped up. Eun Ju has probably gone inside already.
“Oppa, Oppa, Tae Won Oppa.”
I turn to see a hand sticking out, which shakes vigorously in the air. Eun Ju is a small girl. I’m surprised she even managed to see me.
I walk to where she is; she looks like a porcelain doll with her bob haircut and bangs. Soo Ae’s little sister has grown a lot, the last time I saw her, she was 13, and now she’s a pretty 18-year-old. Her youth makes the soon to be 23 years old in me feel old.
“Wow, unnie will be happy; she told me to wait outside even if I miss her performance.”
“Mian [sorry], Eun Ju.”
“Qwenchana [it’s okay], Oppa, I’m glad you came. Come, let’s go inside.”
“Wait, are your parents there?”
Eun Ju frowns, “yes.”
My face must be pale or something because she adds, ” they’re waiting for you too.”
Eun Ju’s words are enough to make me take the steps leading to the hall; I don’t know why I’m acting as though I’ve done something wrong.
It’s just; it’s been four years since I saw Soo Ae’s parents and almost one year since I last saw Soo Ae. But she calls weekly, and I figure her parents must hate me.
The competition has started, and Eun Ju leads me to the place of choice for family members. Her mother gives me a small smile, and her father nods; I bow. Her mother’s eye on the bouquet makes me feel obliged to hand them over to her. How foolish of me I should have anticipated this.
“Omo, qwenchana, Tae Won, keep them for Soo Ae,” she says, pushing back the bouquet, and I sit down.
Being here reminds me of a lot of things; watching each other competitions was routine.
Silver sometimes or gold medals, we were passionate, and we motivated each other. Soo Ae she steps in, her name and row appear, my heart skips a beat as I feel the adrenaline mount.
I would qualify Koreans as sports lovers; a medalist from any discipline can find themselves idolized here. People follow and come to events that are as popular as the Superbowl here.
Her fans are screaming, but Soo Ae’s eyes are targeting where her family is seated. Her Hawkeyes search till they lock us.
Soo Ae’s hair sways out of her cap; I see how long they are even from where I am.
It’s her turn to shoot, and she lifts her arm; she lowers all her fingers except her index and thumb with which she makes an L sign. We did this at every competition. It was our secret cliché message of love to one another.
Everyone starts looking around; our couple wasn’t a secret. We even had fan clubs rooting for our happiness. All the eyes await a response, my response. It’s automatic; I lift my hand and imitate the movement. The crowd is in a frenzy as the cameras zoom on my gesture.
I don’t know if my presence or the sign does anything, but Soo Ae shoots as though her body invested with the spirit of Artemis.
The commentators are crazy; I don’t even dare look at my phone as I can imagine social media gossip building around our secret message.
It’s no surprise to see Soo Ae stand on the highest march when the prizes are distributed.
Here Soo Ae takes off her cap, she gorgeous and I clap with all my might. She bows to the crowd and turns to do a heart sign with her hands in my direction.
The attention is too much for me, I got carried away, and it won’t be long before she joins us. I’m embarrassed because I’m back in reality, and everything which occurred during the last two hours was a mirage.
What was I thinking?
I can already imagine the expression on her face when she sees me. My expectations are far from meeting reality. Soo Ae harbors a huge smile as I hand her the bouquet, and the few flashes in my direction put a lot of pressure on my shoulders.
The reporters repeat my name so many times that I get the impression the journalists are saying Kimchi.
“Kim Ssinen, are you resuming your career?”
“Kim Ssinen, are you two back together?”
What did I expect?
I might have turned the page, but I left the world with question marks.
Not many know about the accident. It scrolled line the bottom line on the news bulletin screen, my surname being common no one associated my family’s death to me. The population got a pretentious statement saying I chose to take a break from a career that was still on its starting block.
I manage to wiggle myself out of the situation with a few smiles, and Soo Ae takes the lead, answering that it’s our private life. She’s a pro; I feel little next to this confident woman in casual attire.
I almost forgot how beautiful she was; right now, she shines as a woman but also as a champion athlete.
“Come on, kids,” Soo Ae’s mother says.
Soo Ae takes my hand spontaneously, and we leave. It’s difficult for me to accept the fact she is holding my hand; it feels awkward.
A leash, that’s how it feels.
I regret my presence; coming here was stupid.
Once outside, I opt for a quick exit,” eh, I came on my bike, I can’t leave it, and I forgot I’ve gotㅡ.”
My comment makes everyone turn, “ah, well, if you have to goㅡ,” starts Soo Ae’s mother, who seems relieved.
“I’ll go with Tae Won.”
“Soo Ae,” yells her mother.
I can tell this was not the plan Soo Ae’s parents had in mind, and neither did I.
“Uhm, Tae Won, can’t I?” Soo Ae asks in a mink voice.
With all the eyes upon me, I can’t refuse, at least I managed to avoid a dinner with her parents and the embarrassing questions like:
What do you do now?
How do you get by financially?
What are your plans for the future?
A precise checklist to see if they can reconsider me as a potential son-in-law, but that’s not what I hoped for when I choose to come and watch her. And at this instant, I wish it’s not what Soo Ae desires.
We head to my bike, “where do you want to go?”
“To your place,” Soo Ae answers.
It’s blunt and direct. That’s fierce Soo Ae for you. How to not be attracted to this confidence?
Bewitched by her stare, I climb on my bike without a word, and she follows, clinging to me like in the old days.
The only thing which crosses my mind is: THIS IS WRONG.
Despite the mental warning, I start the engine.