"Giselle, open up. It's urgent!"
Both Tae Soo and Giselle jumped from their seats, choking on the noodles they were eating.
"Your father!" "Dad!" They screamed simultaneously.
Loud banging continued, but neither of them moved exchanging bewildered looks. Different thoughts flew through each of their minds, none of them in favor of allowing the uninvited guest into the house. "Oh, just let him in, for God's sake. We can always kick him out." Giselle flung her hands up in the air with resignation after five minutes of standstill. The actor braced himself for another scene and opened the door.
"Good, I'm glad you are home. Lock the door behind me quickly," The father mentioned, rushing toward the wide expanse of the glass wall. Tae Soo only reached out with his hand, words hung mute on the tip of his tongue. A trail of sand and dirt clearly defined the path of the man's boots. The actor stared at the floor then at the disregarding and impudent old man.
"Ah, the shoes, the shoes," mumbled the guest noticing Tae Soo's piercing stare. He pulled them off carelessly, leaving more mess around and then threw them toward the door. The dirty boots dropped loudly and Tae Soo turned away, letting out a long line of some heavy duty Korean curses before bending to fix the shoes.
"Nothing to be proud about," said under the breath Giselle, watching her father's smile of achievement. "What brings you here today? I thought we have nothing to talk about anymore," she asked loudly, putting on a stern facade with her hands crossed.
The father smiled at her as if his last visit never occurred and they were still on speaking terms and announced, "I will be carrying out this operation. Let's turn off lights and close the curtains."
"It's daytime, Dad," Giselle said coolly, not moved one bit by his pompous statement.
"Right. Still use the curtains."
"I don't have curtains. I do have automatic blinds." Tae Soo, who was busy being angry, was startled by the strange direction.
"Now! Cover up all the windows. We need to block the exits. I'm thinking moving the couch and that table. They are coming." His face looked truly worried and he spoke mixing up English and Spanish, a clear sign of anxiety. Tae Soo looked over to Giselle for help. He was only conquering English, and this was way beyond his capacity. "I am in command. Even if you hate me, I'm still your father and it's my duty to protect your home from the foreign invasion. I had already put out an alert." The man pulled out his phone, which was buzzing with messages. He reviewed them with a satisfied sneer. "OK. The guys are in position. I called in some people from the base. They are guarding the perimeter. I put some posts on the road, so any suspicious traffic is reported. Although we can't stop them, at least we can track their movements and prepare for an attack."
The two young residents of the house exchanged the looks of confusion. Has he become delusional? Paranoid? Maybe, he took some kind of wrong medication by accident. Giselle once read this article about a perfectly normal person becoming crazy because the pharmacy dispensed the wrong medicine and he was taking it as prescribed.
Giselle tried to calm her father down. "Dad, before we turn the house into a defensive fort, can you please explain who is after whom and why."
"I think it's the Chinese mob. They have found your boyfriend. Are you by any chance a son of the mafia? I heard they are ruthless."
Tae Soo only huffed before he could even remind the man that he was not Chinese.
"Dad, he is Korean. And he is not a son of the mafia boss. He is just an actor."
"No, no, no. That man was too suspicious and threw money at me for information. Good thing I discarded him at the side of the road."
"Discarded him?" Giselle and Tae Soo yelled in unison.
"Yes, I took care of him. He won't be coming here."
"Did you kill him?" Asked Tae Soo with trembling voice.
"Did you?" Echoed Giselle. She wanted to know as well if her father finally had lost it.
Mr. Gonzalez pursed his lips. "Of course not. But I scared him well."
"That's a relief," with a large dose of sarcasm replied Giselle. "I still don't see what's the big deal."
"I do," Tae Soo said with an extremely grim expression. "I think I do. Those pictures on the net. I bet they leaked the location. The reporter is sniffing around. We don't have much time. I agree with your father. This is an emergency."
"What? Are you out of your mind? Agreeing with him?" Giselle was beside herself. It was one thing to have an ex-military lunatic father, but her perfectly normal boyfriend – this was a completely different story.
"These people have no regard for privacy or have any human decency. I'm not worried about myself. We need to hide you."
"Me? Hide me?"
"Yes. You." Tae Soo turned to the man who was anxiously scanning the surroundings through the windows. "Father, can I entrust Giselle to you? She needs to leave this house immediately. I suspect for at least a few days."
"Sure, son. Do you have any weapons?"
"No weapons are necessary," explained Tae Soo calmly.
"Dad! Tae Soo! I'm still here." Giselle practically screamed to get their attention. "I'm still here. Don't I get a say in it?"
"No!" Both men were in agreement.
"You must be kidding me! I'm not going anywhere," Giselle turned and stomped over to the sofa, making herself comfortable. "I don't know what is wrong with the men in my life but at one time or another they all go insane. Oh, well." She demonstratively opened up the laptop and immersed deeply, into reading.
"You are going to have to leave with your father. I'm sorry I've put you in this position. If your name or your face get out – you won't have a life, Giselle. I will never forgive myself if anything bad happens to you," she heard Tae Soo's soft voice next to her. "Don't pretend not to listen. I know you can hear me."
"I'm not afraid of internet gossip," she lifted her eyes off the screen momentarily. "Or are you ashamed of me?"
Tae Soo gulped and inhaled sharply, offended. He shut the computer abruptly, taking it away before she could fight for it, and got up. His long statue loomed over her. His shoulders appeared broader than usual and his eyes projected the kind of resolve only a man going into a battle could conjure. Gentle and protective Lee Tae Soo became so intimidating, making Giselle curl onto herself on the inside and shrink under his gaze.
"I promised I will protect you. I promised to take care of you," his voice was not loud, but it rang like a warning bell in her ears. "Don't make me into a liar. Am I not a man to you?"
His teeth clenched and his eyes glistened with moisture. Giselle could no read what was behind it: Anger? Helplessness? Tears of frustration? Or was it her imagination?
She lowered her head, feeling so confused her mind was twisting into a pretzel of a puzzle. She made him into this incapable man because she was not afraid to be next to him. Does it even make sense? Why is he turning everything upside down?
"Tae Soo, if you are doing it for me, I'm not worried. I will be fine. Since I'm with you... I'm not afraid." She attempted to make clear, but he continued looking at her in silence, his face full of hurt.
"I," he started, "I wanted to pretend that I'm normal. That I can escape the media circus. I honestly believed that if it was just the two of us, we could be happy together. But it's time to return back to reality. I have to take responsibility. Sorry." He leaned and held her head lovingly to place a lingering kiss on her forehead. The kiss felt so sad, it brought tears to her eyes and she finally understood something – his world had no place for somebody like her. He could exist in her world, but she could not exist in his.
In an act of desperation, Giselle threw her hands around his neck, trying to hold onto Tae Soo, but he moved her arms, letting them drop by her side. He gave her a long stare, freezing her in the spot. It was one of those passionate looks she sometimes caught him directing at her, filled with longing and untold melancholy.
"Father, please take Giselle somewhere safe. Do not talk to anybody you don't know. Do not say anything about me. And never admit that Giselle and I were together, especially the fact that she is living... that she was living with me. Trust me."
The actor was talking to her father now in hushed tones, both of them serious, like two soldiers on a mission, while she continued to be frozen in a state of disbelief. The sunny bubble around them popped and the protective walls of happiness they had built were crumbling and collapsing in front of her eyes. Her heart was telling her she was not being abandoned, but her mind suggested if she would hide, whatever it is they had between them, would end. Should she believe her heart or her head?
"Daughter, I will take you to the center of the island to Utuado. They would not think of looking for you there. Once everything is settled, Tae Soo will come and find us," Told her father after Tae Soo had left the house without speaking to her any further.
Forgetting about everything her father had done, Giselle let herself cry in his arms, while the old man hugged her. She wanted to run after Tae Soo. She wanted to hold him, but she was left in care of a man who never knew how to take care of her. And the one man who did – had just left her because it was the only way he could protect her. Her hopeful heart, her heart held the answer – she was trying to convince herself. Her heart would not lie. Her heart had Tae Soo in it.
Utuado was colder, much colder. The air was cleaner and crisper. At night the temperatures dropped and the morning dew sparkled in the fog, like icicles. The little cottage they were staying in was owned by a nice old lady, who brought them homemade food. "If you need anything, let me know," she offered, giving the father and daughter some privacy.
Giselle surprisingly appreciated having her father around. He was not condescending or judgmental for a change, he gave her steamy coffee and a wool blanket to warm up. He talked a lot, mostly about himself, sharing some of his old army stories, making her laugh so hard, her stomach was hurting, forgetting the strange circumstance that had led her to visit this remote part of the island. He even attempted to have a heart-to-heart talk with her. Suddenly, his vocabulary simplified to a miserly maximum of twenty something words. Talking to Giselle about feelings or relationships proved to be a difficult task for a man, who never bothered before.
"The Chinese guy... He is not that bad, you know," he started clumsily.
"He is Korean, Dad," she said with an annoyed sigh.
"Do you like him?"
"And does he like you a lot? Because he seems to care a lot."
"He does. He cares. A lot."
"Is he good, like a man, I mean?" The father peered at her intently, as if the answer to this question would make or break how he dealt with Tae Soo in the future.
"Da-ad!" Screamed Giselle, hitting her father with a pillow. He could never stop, could he?!
"Sorry," the old man laughed. His face softened and almost shyly he tried to explain himself, "I just want you to be happy."
He sighed, turned slightly to the side and looking out the window added with a heavy undertone as if unburdening his heart at last, "I was not a good father to you, Giselle. I know that. I never understood you or your dreams. He seems to want to understand you. It's good. For a man it is good."
"For a man it is good," echoed him Giselle. Tae Soo wanted to know about her, wanted to know her dreams, he supported her passion for writing and not once made fun of her.
"He was not afraid to speak up to me and he fought for you against my wishes. I can respect that. So, if you are serious about him... I approve." He heaved a sigh. To his surprise, his daughter pecked his cheek and took his hand. For the first time in years he felt like he finally did something to make her feel loved.
Tae Soo did not bother to change. His casual style was perfect to demonstrate that he was having fun and enjoying his vacation without worry. The military posts on the road, placed by Giselle's father, indeed paid off and he soon received exact coordinates for the reporter's last location. Imagine the man's surprise, when the car drove up, the door opened and Lee Tae Soo himself ordered him to get in.
"I heard you were looking for me?" The actor asked coldly, hiding his angry eyes behind the darkness of the sunglasses.
"How did you find me?"
"I have my sources. The question is how did you find me?"
The reporter pulled out a recorder and smirked at the change of luck he had today. "You already know how. The pictures those Japanese tourists took of you. It was not hard to track them down through the social networking sites. The thing is – they said you had a woman with you." The recorder clicked on, ominously blinking with its red light.
Tae Soo gritted his teeth and instead put on a smile of indifference, before looking down at the reporter. "You are not seriously suggesting I brought a secret girlfriend with me on vacation?"
"Of course, not." The man moved the recorder from his lap over the dashboard and nodded nudging the confident actor to heed what was coming. "Lee Tae Soo-shi, it is well known you have not been dating recently in South Korea. You are a young man vacationing on an island, populated by many Latin beauties. Did anybody caught your eye?" He demonstratively clicked the recorder off as Tae Soo slowly removed his sunglasses and faced him off, disdain burning in his darkened almond eyes.
The reporter spitefully scoffed, not hiding his contentment. He finally landed the story of his life and with none other than Lee Tae Soo, who never had a scandal in all of his spotless acting career. "I'm thinking of a good beginning for a front page article. Lee Tae Soo and his mysterious lover caught on camera – this is the title my boss is suggesting." He took a purposeful pause, beginning to feel the chill under unwavering gaze of the actor. Not easily deterred, he swallowed loudly. "But I'm prepared to expose that woman. I already met her father, soon I will know her name, where she lives, where she works. Her picture will not be hard to get. I got a large budget for this trip."
"Your boss is wasting money for nothing. But, it is not my problem," said Tae Soo as nonchalantly as possible. "I am warning you – I don't like to be disturbed when I am having my private holiday time off. So, how about I give you a nice friendly interview, a couple of pictures with me on the beach or whatever it is your boss wants and we part our ways on good terms."
Reporter quickly weighed his options. Exclusive with Tae Soo sounded good, but an exposé about an affair was much better. He was a gambler, when it came to cards, and he was a gambler when it came to work. He was always looking for the biggest pay off. So he bluffed. "I already know who she is. Here is my number," he handed Tae Soo the card. "Call me if you change your mind. Otherwise, check our website tomorrow. You may be surprised at the quality journalism I can do in a day." And with that, he got out of the car.
Tae Soo swore thickly under his breath. The actor was almost a hundred percent sure the sniveling bastard was bluffing, but that 0.1% of nagging worry that he in fact might have found out Giselle's identity was still there. Tae Soo decided not to panic and think this over. He could not go home, afraid that the reporter will be on his tail. He needed to think some place where he would be undisturbed and unnoticed. The chicken place!
Tae Soo has not come here since he waited for Giselle to finish her last shift. He ordered his usual meal and chose a corner seat, overlooking the parking lot. The view was boring as usual. But the place held some comfort, even with the distinct fried chicken smell and ugly decorum, this was where he first met Giselle, and Tae Soo was grateful that he decided to stop for a bite here one fateful evening.
Nostalgically he looked at the cashier's spot where Giselle used to friendly greet the customers, moving quickly and efficiently and when the crowds were gone, typing something on the sly, while nobody was watching. He smiled at the happy image that held his interest for days before they spoke. But instead of Giselle's beautiful smile in return, a pimple faced teenage boy was staring at him, surprised. Tae Soo avoided awkward eye-contact and sighed - the place was quickly loosing it prior appeal.
Chewing on his chicken absentmindedly, he thought back at how distraught Giselle became because of the rumor at work. The unfounded accusation affected her deeply not because she was called a lesbian, but because she valued her privacy and hated when others assumed things about her or tried to pry into her life. She was a writer, a person comfortable in the silent company of her laptop and coffee, quietly contemplating at home, not somebody who wanted to be in the limelight. She was extremely sensitive to harsh words and people pointing fingers at her. That's why he always felt extra protective toward her. With her father and her whole family never understanding how special and precious she was and her work place being a nightmare, Giselle finally found a shelter next to him. And here he was – exposing her to the millions of curious and vicious netizens to poke at the wounds that never got a chance to heal. A woman who had already been mistreated badly should not be put in this position. He imagined the kind of callous words and hateful remarks his fans might post and how angry his management company would be at his carelessness. Protecting him would be their priority, and while his image might suffer temporarily and cost him some seriously lucrative endorsements, he would eventually recover. However a slightest intrusion into Giselle's world may become catastrophic and cause unimaginable ripple effects to last and affect her for years to come as a consequence of her being associated with a celebrity like himself.
Tae Soo made his decision easily. He called the reporter and invited him to come to the chicken place.
The reporter showed up soon wearing a wicked smile and greeted the actor with fake politeness. Tae Soo offered a deal he could not refuse and soon they shook on it. The actor stayed behind replaying the conversation in his mind while he watched the man's self-satisfied swagger as the reporter took his sweet time leaving. Apparently unable to contain his excitement, he stopped a few times to cast a glance at the victim of his blackmail and finally giving a quick departing nod exclaimed, "Have a good rest of your vacation. I'll be seeing you back in Seoul... frequently," and cackled.
Tae Soo was used to having rage flare inside his chest lately - with Mr. Jerk and Giselle's father and now the reporter. Falling in love allowed him to discover the depth of emotions that were buried so deeply, he usually had no access to them. With his even keel personality, such inflamed bursts almost hurt and took him by surprise. He never realized prior how intensely his feelings ran to cause such powerful responses when the person he cared for with all his might was in danger of being hurt. He chuckled thinking that if he were Mr. Jerk, instead of a deal, the reporter would get his jaw broken and instead of going back to Korea, he would be in the process of being admitted to the hospital. Tae Soo felt a strange kinship toward the hotheaded guy, although he absolutely did not agree with his method of throwing punches as the first line of defense.
And speaking of the devil... When the actor could not imagine the day to get any worse, Rico waltzed into the shop with a girl loosely hanging off his arm. At his sight Tae Soo gaped, refusing to believe what was clearly in front of his eyes. The last thing he needed was for crazy Mr. Jerk to talk to him and tip off the reporter that he was familiar with anyone on the island. His story was airtight, but he's been around long enough to know the true nature of the bloodthirsty barracudas that swam in the media waters circling high profile superstars. They lived for sensational headlines to ignite the public's interest, whether they were true or not and could care less if their words ruined peoples names or lives for that matter.
Tae Soo got up and turned away from the short line of customers, hoping to exit unnoticed. "Hola!" Rico's voice was unmistakable. The man waved at him like an old friend.
The actor cringed as if he just swallowed a bitter pill and was given a sour candy to kill the taste in his mouth. He pretended not to notice and darted toward the exit, but Mr. Jerk was swift, blocking the way with open for a hug arms and genuine grin of excitement. Of course, the prior agreement not to ever show his face in front of Tae Soo was conveniently forgotten.
"Tae Soo, what's up?"
Tae Soo balked looking for reporter's whereabouts. The parking lot seemed empty and he felt his body start to uncurl from all the tension. Now he could give his full attention (NOT!) to Mr. Jerk.
"Where is Giselle?"
"I thought we agreed not to cross each other's paths," Tae Soo remarked distantly, still scanning the door with unease.
"You were here first," happily explained his friendly outburst Rico.
"I see you are not wasting any time," and Tae Soo nodded toward the girl whose skirt was riding higher than the g-string of her panties, giving a nice view of her behind, whether one wanted to or not.
"I'm not sleeping with her, right baby?" Rico hurried to defend himself.
"Aha," the woman replied, pouting. Like a caricature of the type of a girl she was, she made big eyes and sucked on the lollipop making a smacking sound of satisfaction.
Tae Soo felt a gag reflex come on and turned away before something unsightly would occur.
"I'm just making some money on the side. Since I got the skills, I might as well use them."
"Are you selling yourself now?" Even from what he had seen before, he did not peg Mr. Jerk as a Gigolo for pay.
"Come on, man! What do I look like to you? I teach the basics of dating both to men and women and sometimes couples. I now have a website and all. It's a legit business. This pretty young thing wanted to experience what it was like to have a casual date with a hot experienced man. After she goes out with me for a week, she then will test out other dating candidates and see which one passes her high standards."
"Papi," the girl batted her dripping with layers of mascara eyes at Rico. "Who is this flaco?"
"He is the guy who is sleeping with my girlfriend," kindly explained to her Rico.
Tae Soo's eyes finally popped out so far, he looked like a cartoon character himself, needing to pick them off the floor. "What is the matter with you!"
"So you are with the girl he is hopelessly in love with?" Wondered clueless slutty doll, giving another smoochy suck on her lollipop.
"I have to go," Tae Soo could not stand this grotesque extravaganza of dumb and slutty in training.
"Say hi to Giselle." Waved Rico before snaking his arm around the girl's waist.
Tae Soo just shook it off like a nightmare that Rico always was and went outside where hot and stuffy air suddenly felt more refreshing than the cool air-conditioning environment of the chicken place. He was still dumbfounded at Mr. Jerk's ability to take pride in acting like an idiot, despite the fact that he had shown signs of both intelligence and some sincere concern for Giselle before. However, it was not Tae Soo's problem to solve and he was glad the surreal encounter had come to an end.
He got into the car and pulled out his cellphone.
"Hyung. It's me... Yes, I know. And I appreciate it... I'm having a great time. There is something I have to tell you."
His manager was surprised to have received the call, but he was even more surprised to learn that Tae Soo just offered exclusive newsworthy rights about his personal and career developments to the reporter.
"He was aggressive and I did not want to be bothered on my vacation. It seemed like the best way to get rid of him completely. Please smooth things out with the agency, I trust in your abilities..." Tae Soo winced, rubbing his ear and pulled away from the phone that spewed a screaming tirade at him. "I will reflect on my behavior, Hyung. I promise... I understand it's not my job; I handled it. The article will come out soon. I approved it, so no worries..." He smiled relaxing. "Yes. The weather is nice and the girls are pretty. And I'm not doing anything a high profile celebrity should not be doing. Yeh, yeh." Tae Soo nodded complacently at the harmless nagging of his manager, who seemed to have calmed on the other end of the line.
He just gave exclusive rights for the first release of any updates about him to the reporter and his magazine. Pretty much he sold his soul to the devil for the next year, but this high price should ensure Giselle's piece of mind. What a nameless girl of no interest to anybody in Korea in comparison to the first bids on Lee Tae Soo's life? It was more than a fair trade off.
After the lights of his car had faded, out of the shadows stepped the reporter. If he thought he hit the jackpot before, now he won the international lottery of all tabloid reporters – apparently he saw the interlude before Tae Soo and the Latin couple and he'd be damned if he were not to investigate their relationship a bit further.
"Excuse me?" He came to the couple devouring the extra large special of chicken thighs, "do you know the man you were talking to earlier?"
"You mean Lee Tae Soo?"
"You know who he is?" The reporter felt the kind of tremor in his heart a lover feels next to the object of his affection.
"A famous Asian actor." Explained Rico.
"Do you mind if I join you?"
"Sure," the woman moved, offering him a spot next to her.
"How well do you know him?"
"Well, Giselle is the girl I've had a crush on forever. We finally started kind of dating, but then Chino shows up and sweeps her off her feet with his foreign accent and long legs."
"Anyway, she chose him over me, can you believe it?" Both the girl and reporter adamantly shook their heads.
"So I let her play with her boy-toy for a while, I don't mind if she bangs him for a bit. That way she would know the difference when she finally comes to me."
Reporter's mouth opened unnaturally wide. He was not very familiar with Puerto-Rican customs and was not sure such sexual freedom was condoned.
"That son of a b...ch," mumbled the reporter. He is good. No wonder he won awards, his eyes looked so honest, I forgot he is an actor for a reason. Do you think somebody like me will fraternize with commoners? – what a line! And the pained facial expression like I accused him of meeting a prostitute!
"Are you telling me they have a romantic relationship?" He shifted slightly bumping into the half naked creature that smelled robustly of god-awful perfume from the sales rack of Sears, and could not help but look at the woman beside him. The girl's lollipop sucking continued since she stopped eating chicken, making the reporter very distracted. He tore his eyes of her mouth and forced himself to refocus on the babbling mouth of her friendly companion.
"Well, she lives with him, for one. But she also supposedly works for him. A tour guide or something."
"And her name?"
"Giselle Gonzalez. She used to work here before she quit and started to work for Tae Soo."