She waited, listening to the sound of water, trying to figure out whether he managed to take a shower or was forced to wash at the bathroom sink, feeling progressively guilty.
She never thanked him for fighting on her behalf. It's not like she asked him, it was all his choice, but still. Smile plastered on her face permanently as she recalled all the things he had done to kick Mr. Jerk's sorry smug ass out of her apartment and out of her life. In her bathroom there was her own personal knight in shining armor, less the armor, and the shiny part, and maybe not so much a knight, but a man who protected her from humiliation and spared her regret already on a few occasions over this very short period of time.
She felt as if she knew him longer, longer than since the night before when he gave her a smile and words of comfort in the parking lot, making it just about one day. She was still smiling and hiding blush under the long tresses of hair that fell to her cheeks, when she pressed the side of her hand against her face trying to cool the wave of heat passing over her. "What is it with me all of a sudden?"
"Do you have a hair dryer?"
She jumped from her seat, startled, her foot hit the coffee table leg and she yelled "Ouch", tripping forward, her knees pushed the candles and she screamed loudly from the pain of the flame burning through her jeans. She lost her balance and was heading down with her head toward the corner of the table, not able to stop the fall, the impact of the sharp edge was inevitable and she braced herself…
The scent of his clean skin and the warmth emanating from his bare chest made the pain numb for a moment. He was holding her tight against himself; her lips planted right in the middle, just above the ribs, almost as if she was kissing his heart. His arms were long and wrapped in a way that did not allow movement.
She could not comprehend why all of her senses were returning very slowly, one by one: first smell, than touch, then hearing – she heard his loud heartbeat so closely, it felt like it was inside of her, then sight – her eyes were squeezed close and slowly she fluttered them open, her eyelashes brushed against his skin, which was soft and smooth and she tilted her head just enough to notice the length and width of his neck and a prominent Adam's apple, bobbing. Basically, he was hugging her, but not for any other purpose than to ensure her safety.
He must have been in shock himself, as only now he opened his mouth and spoke Korean; she picked out a few words that she has heard before, probably, expressions of worry and concern, "Kinchane-yo? A pa –yo?" the voice so familiar by now coincided with the movement of his jaw, which looked wonderfully sculpted even from this odd angle, and of course the deliciously moving Adam's apple that captured her attention.
"I think I'm OK", she answered, frustrated with herself. So far, she has not had good track record – crying, sad, abandoned, cheated on, harassed – she was a classic damsel in distress, promoting their cycle of her needing to be rescued and him doing the rescuing, conveniently always at the right place at the right time.
He will never look at her with anything, but pity… She pulled away, trying undo the clasp of his arms, which opened up for her escape without much hesitation, making her feel upset.
She was certainly starting to view him like a man. It was time to stop and take a good hard look at him, and remind herself that in her definition a man was supposed to have looked like, unfortunately, Mr. Jerk.
Tae Soo groaned, all of his tender spots were agitated again, but he was willing to oversee it, since Giselle was safe. He folded slightly and half turned, letting out a soft moan, then shrugged his shoulders in discomfort, pressing his arms to the sides. He had a towel loosely wrapped around his hips, his long fingers clutching at the piece of cloth. He tried to look away shyly, realizing that he had nothing on, but then if he let go of the towel to cover the chest… He decided to stick to the towel, hence the deliberate attempt to keep it there and cover himself from her prying eyes and hoping she would not notice freshly burgeoning bruising.
As she stepped back, she was able to clearly see all of him right in front of her. The man looked like he just came out of the shower, with droplets of water still sliding down from the shoulders and onto his chest. She thought she saw something, kind of bluish, but then shadows were deceiving. His skin seemed to be flawless. Better than hers actually, which irked her for a second; but it looked gorgeous, under the dim light of the candle glistening with the little water beads dangling and caressing his skin. It had a golden hue, like a very even sun kissed tan, but appeared to be just his natural coloring. She followed the thin water trail down toward his stomach where it paused at his belly button and then continued lower to…
"Snap out of it," she ordered herself. Her eyes betrayed her and she had to give them a lesson in obedience.
Giselle decided to be objective: overall on a scale from 1 to 10, she would give him a 5. Maybe, a 6. Neh, a 5, she decided.
The lean muscle was covering his bones and he was well proportioned: wide shoulders, narrow hips, long legs; however, he was far away from being buff or muscular. For a man, he looked too skinny. He was the opposite of the fitness freak Mr. Jerk, who in her book was the epitome of manly and sexy. Still. Regrettably.
She had no longer feelings for him as a person, his inner beauty was never his strongest attraction. It is the outer shell that still was fresh in her memory. She wished that her rational mind would prevail and she would wipe off the image of Mr. Jerk's bulging biceps, triceps and all other kinds of ceps, and the ass, oh the ass. But she could not help how her hormones guided her thought process. She swallowed, as she recalled the well defined and tightly hugged by the jeans behind of the man who was the biggest jerk ever to walk this earth. If she could only separate his personality from his body!
While she was busy recalling Mr. Jerk's highly desirable and absolutely prohibited hot bod, Tae Soo broke the strange silence simply inquiring, "Does it hurt?"
"Oh that," Giselle interrupted her comparative evaluation session and looked down at her knee that was red and aching, skin showing through the burned edges of the hole in the fabric. "I'll be fine. I have a burn cream somewhere. I'll go change."
"Then, I will just go back," he mumbled, turning back to go to the bathroom.
She followed behind, her eyes brushing past his straight, like an arrow, back, carrying an immaculate posture, and noticing how long his strides were and how he walked with a certain pizzazz, light and confident, which added something special, that extra oomph to his overall outlook. "I'll raise it to 6", she decided, feeling that her rating was fair for the moment.
She needed to give him a chance for privacy and herself the time to clear her head, but something prompted her to open her big mouth and feed her curiosity, "What was that about a hairdryer? We don't have electricity, remember?"
He responded back in Korean, his expression was of surprise and she readily handed him his phone for translation assistance and they had a quick writing exchange:
"Don't you have a battery operated one?"
"A battery operated hair dryer? What for? I don't have one at all!"
"You don't?" His eyes widened in horror. What kind of a person, a girl especially, does not have a hair dryer? He was shocked and dejected. A hair dryer is as important as a toothbrush for some people, it should be a part of your daily grooming routine. Maybe, this girl just had some unusual hair that looked pretty on its own. He stole a glance to confirm his suspicion: yep - silky, straight, long and shiny – all without a hairdryer.
"OK, then," he opened the bathroom door and heard her just before it shut behind him. "You can use my hairbrush. It's clean, I promise."
Tae Soo already used a cold compress on all the areas, hoping to reduce the swelling and sourness. The pain around his ribs has steadied and his knuckles, cleaned of blood, seemed more or less OK. The jaw was another story, as well as the soft tissues of his stomach, which started to show cool hues of blues and purples.
Tae Soo hesitated. He was fiercely protective of his own privacy, therefore, he would never invade another person's. However, this was an emergency. He cringed at the idea how Giselle would make faces and try to take care of him once she will see the rainbow of bruises on him. Stomach could be covered with a t-shirt, but what of the jaw? He had to do it!
He slowly pulled out the first drawer on the left, afraid to find some items of intimate use. He exhaled in relief. It had cosmetics. Some lipsticks, a tube of mascara, powder, eye shadow and what looked like a tube of BB cream. That's exactly what he was looking for. Under the poor lighting, he did the best job he could, covering the reddish purple of his jaw and then thinking that it might be a good idea, rubbed in circular strokes the areas on his stomach and around his ribs, where he was hurt. He put on a T-Shirt and gasped. That won't do at all!
Giselle changed into shorts, cleaned her wound, biting her lips from pain and put some burn cream on, covering it with a bandage. Her ankle was not swollen, just bruised, at least she did not twist it. She's always been clumsy, tall and a bit uncoordinated, she was frequently uncomfortable in her own body and used to bump into things, trip and fall a lot as a kid. As she grew older, she got over that affliction, but tonight reminded her about her insecurities she has overcome with age. She looked at herself in a mirror.
She's got curves! She smiled at her reflection.
Her legs were not thin by a long shot, but they were shapely and she liked her calves, which she considered some of the sexiest parts of her body.
She had to remind herself that she was not on a date with her Korean guest, it was just a friendly cultural exchange of a sort; that she was just giving a helping hand to a foreigner during the time of a natural calamity and that if the hurricane did not hit hard, she would have finished her short coffee meeting with him already and they would have said their goodbyes.
Food! She was grateful to him for dealing with Mr. Jerk and for saving her from a pretty bad injury. She had the freshly brewed coffee and the sandwiches she had prepared earlier for a snack. "I should at least feed the guy."
When she returned to the living room, the water in the bathroom has not been running for a while, but Tae Soo still has not come out.
"Are you OK?" She called.
"Yes, I'm OK. Great."
"Do you need anything?"
"No", his voice did not sound so sure.
Giselle suspected that the issue was not whether he was ready, but rather that he was not ready to come out and show himself.
He finally stepped outside, wearing only half of the clothes Giselle had given him, meaning the bottoms, while holding the t-shirt close to his chest.
He tried to look like he was fine and it was not a big deal.
Giselle stared guiltily at him; she really attempted not to have any expression on her face. She wanted to look as neutral as possible and not to show that having him half naked had any effect on her.
Because it should not! This man was not looking like anybody who should make her feel uncomfortable. He was tall and a bit gangly, there was not much meat on him, the pants were hanging off his narrow hips and it was a miracle that they were not already at his ankles and he has not lost them yet. Giselle could not help, but notice his long legs dangling out of too short and too wide pants. "Chicken legs", she thought and covered her lips, pushing back the laughter, which started to tickle the back of her throat.
Was he a man or a boy? He has proven to act like a man, but he sure did not look like one, not in her book. He looked too young, especially under the soft lighting, all of the features less defined; he still had that baby type of face, probably even baby fat; his body fit, yet looking like it was still developing not having a certain mature sharpness to it... And for a second, she thought she might be older than him... Maybe, she was.
He nodded toward the t-shirt, covering him awkwardly in the front, "Too short and too little." He tried to explain with his limited English, and she figured out the fit was off.
"Is the size small?" Frowned Giselle in disbelief. The man with such a slim frame surely should fit into one of her baggy t-shirts. However, she did not consider the width of his shoulders, which were broader than hers, and he was much taller, so he would look ridiculous in a midriff baring ill-fitting garment.
Tae Soo caught himself, thinking that there was nothing wrong with baring his torso and if Giselle and he were to go to the beach, it would be normal for him. However, this reasoning did not work in her house, at night, with intimately dimmed candle lighting around them.
But it was better, than wearing the most hideous t-shirt on earth paired with the most idiotically looking pajama pants, which he was forced to put on at the lack of any other option.
Yes, the sex symbol Lee Tae Soo, always dressed in the latest designer clothes, with popular brands fighting over his endorsement, was sporting girly, puppy decorated pajama bottoms. He shuddered at the thought that he had to stoop this low. But, a mischievous smirk crept onto his pretty face: to think about it, in the past he wore leopard print, pink jeans, low V t-shirts, and a sweater with a huge flower appliqué. He could certainly pull off cute little puppies on flannel!
He rolled the trouser band a few times around his waist and then tied a small knot on the side so that pants wouldn't fall off. Yet as he moved, they slowly started to slide down toward his hips and Giselle freaked out, worrying that in a minute he will be naked.
"Wait, don't move!" she creamed loudly, making him jump and look as if something was looming above him.
"Se-pa-de-re?" He paused and looked at her, puzzled.
"Big scary spider!" She made a huge circle with her hands, signifying the size of the culprit and the danger awaiting him if her were to disobey her orders. The gesture did not leave much room for uncertainty. Something big was out to get him. "Pull you pants up!" she commanded, as if a spider was trying to crawl inside and nip at his slim behind.
"Pants?" The only expression on his face was that of confusion, yet responding to Giselle's look of clear freight, he grabbed his pants as directed, dropping the t-shirt that he was clinging to his chest, and stood waiting for further instruction on how to fight off this "se-pa-de-re".
She ran up to him and her hands landed on top of his, right on the sides of the pajama pants, pulling them up. He tried to push her away, and after a minute of struggle he managed to free himself, only to notice that his pants were sliding down at a quick rate and that Giselle indeed was doing him a favor. He grabbed the pants and turned away. He was clearly mortified and embarrassed.
"No more spider," weakly announced Giselle, pointing on the ceiling above him, where candles cast playful shadows.
"Good," he could only say, his mind grappling with the fact that she could not have seen anything without a light and that the "spider" rouse was a trick to deal with his outfit malfunction in a tactful manner.
And Giselle realized that this man would never - ever kiss, in a million, even trillion years ever kiss her again. After having embarrassed him so much, she did not deserve it, anyway. He might probably run out right now into the storm and never come back again. Or he might even book the first plane out of the country and leave forever never to return.
"S-s–s orry," she stammered. She was stammering a lot around him and that was not her thing, but he somehow made her feel shy and embarrassed about many things she did around him. Her self-confidence, aquired after many years of convincing herself that she was in fact special, smart and attractive, has disappeared. Instead, she felt very little and very stupid, like she screwed up pretty badly what might have been a very nice evening; she managed to put Tae Soo in one uncomfortable situation after another tonight, culminating into this.
For Tae Soo it was do or die moment. He could not simply walk out. He was stuck here till the storm passed. It was dark, late, and he had no clue where exactly he was. He doubted that the taxi driver would pick him up or even answer his phone call.
He decided to fall back onto one of his acting personas. The role of a tough and cool young man, who can pull off any look with confidence, who would not be shaken by a small incident of almost losing his pants or how badly his outfit looked or fit. Such a man would shrug it off, put on a smile, lift his chest and make some kind of throwing back his hair nonchalantly move. Such a man would turn toward the woman in a room and make her forget about what had just occurred a minute ago, just by acting so suave as if nothing happened.
Keeping his hands casually on his hips (securing the pants in this clever move), he turned around and stared at Giselle. He smiled with confidence, and asked, "Since we never had that coffee, should we have some?"
Giselle hurriedly agreed. She went to the kitchen counter to pour them two cups from the thermos, which kept its contents warm. "Do you want sugar or milk?"
"Black, please." He took the moment to settle at the coffee table, arranging the folds of his pants and retying the knot. He leaned on the soft back of the sofa and closed his eyes.
So far these have been the most peculiar, unexpected, full of adventure, unpredictability and loads of fun few hours of his life. And he had some adventurous and interesting situations on the drama set in his time.
But it was not him, Lee Tae Soo, who had those experiences, these were the characters whom he played.
He slowly relaxed the rays of the wrinkles, which formed around his eyes after a brief smile, and licked his lips, biting the lower one, what he usually did when thinking or anxious. Right now he was thinking.
Who would have thought that a man, who was so concerned about his image, appearances, other people's opinions about him, and did not like to take many risks, following a path suggested and laid out by his agency, managers, and his parents, would be here, tonight.
Here, tonight, alone with a woman in her apartment, taking a shower and walking around half naked. Just a week ago, he would have never imagined that he could be in such a predicament tonight. He looked at the shape of her back, softened by the trembling flames of the candles. Tonight he was lucky to be with Giselle, a girl who was clumsy and shy, but at the same time had a strength about her, which he could feel. She was a person with a fragile and sensitive soul, yet courageous and defiant personality. She was different from any other girl he's known. And he found her absolutely adorable.
A huge dimpled grin, adorned his relaxed and happy face, signifying that there was not any other place in the whole wide world right now where he would rather be, but here.
. . .
Giselle put down his cup and lightly tapped on his shoulder to get his attention. He glanced at her and picked up his coffee, tasting it first with his lips. "Thank you."
"No problem." While drinking from her cup she was keenly aware of his presence. Her eye caught his profile: a chiseled noble nose and well defined cheekbones. Those lips, which tentatively touched the rim of the cup, were full and deep pink.
Next thing she knew, she studied his body, having difficulty not to stare at his flat stomach and scapulas sticking out on his back. "Skinny", she thought to herself, "Very skinny. I don't like skinny guys, I like them buff". Just because she said it, it did not mean it helped. How could she not focus on what was in front of her eyes?
His chest was not muscular, but toned, and everything about him had a restrained and beautiful quality, despite the most ridiculously looking outfit, he still managed to be attractive.
He ran fingers through his hair, lifting it off his high forehead, but it stubbornly fell back down in tousled disarray. It was straight, in fact very straight, but not limp. And again there was something captivating about how silky and dark his hair lay against his olive skin.
A thought occurred to her that made her scared for a moment: "How can a man be that… beautiful? It's just wrong!"
"What?" he asked, "What did you say?"
When is she going to learn to think inside her head, not blabber with her mouth!
"Nothing," she gulped and started swallowing saliva that began forming in her mouth, as if she caught a scent of something very tasty placed in front of her.
"Are you hungry?" He asked, noticing.
"Me? Oh, yes." Thank God, he saved her. "How about some sandwiches? Or do you prefer Ramen?"
"Ramen?" He perked up, like a kid, offered unlimited supply of candy.
"Yes, I like it."
"Me, too." He felt like he found a soul mate in the middle of the Caribbean Sea on this island where people's food and customs were so different from his own. "I'll cook!" He followed with a wide smile of pure childish and innocent happiness.
"Sure." She did not mind. With a smile like this, who could resist anything he asked?
Tae Soo got excited to show his skills. There were two things he could make to perfection – one was meat. He could grill any type of meat, Korean style. His father taught him that if a man had to learn to cook something, it had to be grilled meat. And another specialty of his was Ramen. Any self respecting guy of his age should be able to whip up some Ramen.
A propane powered cooktop, water and some instant ramen, and he was creating pure, one of kind, Korean magic. The last time he cooked Ramen for a girl was… in … some time in college. His girlfriend. In the dorms. During the rainy season. Rain… Just like today… Suddenly, the joy and ease of the moment dissipated and he felt awkward. Did that mean that it was like a date? He immediately became acutely aware of everything.
His hand lifted to check his hair; his fingers tried to arrange the long bangs neatly. It was a mess. Before he would never step out of the door without making sure his hair was impeccable. Some would call it obsessive, he called it the need for perfection. This was also his outward presentation to the world. As a celebrity, he could not be caught looking sloppy. His appearance used to be 90% of how he was judged.
In a few minutes on the couch next to Giselle, he has gotten used to his uncovered self and was not self conscious at all, he kind of liked the idea of not paying attention for a change to the way he looked or what he wore. He was tired of all the eyes on him, an actor, a model, his every angle, his every move observed and evaluated.
Giselle made him feel at ease, there was no pressure from her, but he felt nervous for another reason. After being drenched in a storm and slithered in mud and dirt, after having to wear pajamas with puppies, he was still fine. But cooking Ramen for a girl made him realize that her opinion mattered. That she might have judged him or evaluated him, secretly thinking that his hair was a mess. He realized that he cared enough about her opinion to look his best.
Sensing a change of his mood, Giselle asked, "Is everything OK?"
He turned, feeling her eyes on him. She just set next to him quietly; her chin settled between her fists, her eyes on the pot. She watched him cook.
"Nae," he nodded affirmatively. "I'm cooking," he said sternly, avoiding any more questions.
Giselle watched him, unable to distract herself from further committing to her memory a slender shape of a man, who was preparing food for her.
Where a Latin hottie would have had a well sculptured six pack, Tae Soo's abs were defined with slight shadowy outlines; protruding chest, hard as iron on someone like Mr. Jerk, was more of a finely chiseled marbled art piece on Tae Soo, like one of those Greek statues she's seen in books. His arms were long and hinted at the strength only because she has already been held by him and experienced it for herself. They were perfectly fit, the muscles formed and well kept, but not thick and about to burst like on steroids. He had large masculine, yet elegant hands with long fingers; his back was strong and broad, each vertebra defined and when his arms moved, so did his muscles, rolling softly underneath his skin…
She shuddered, completely having lost her mind. "Let me go and find you another shirt," mumbled Giselle, realizing that she could not comfortably sit next to him when he was shirtless. Not that she could not deal with it, she blatantly lied to herself, but she just did not want to deal with it.
She quickly entered the dark safety of her bedroom and pressed her back against the door. How could she even be so affected? He was that irresistible by any of her standards! He is not even her type!
She grew up around tough men, men who went to the gym daily, men who worked out and liked to flaunt their fit bodies. Those men were nothing like him.
He seemed more sweet and fragile and not masculine in that rugged manner at all, yet he was handsome in his own right, in the most delicate, yet striking way.
That's the last thing I need - to get all worked up about the half naked guy in my living room with whom I can not make out. Is not it how I got in trouble with Mr. Jerk? Living in fantasy, instead of reality? Shoot!
She was not a shallow person. On the surface, it might have seemed that she only fell for the looks; Mr. Jerk is a good example. But it was not all black and white. The reason she first got attracted to any man was her perception about his caring nature. She liked them to be kind and sensitive and interested in what she had to say and offer. She enjoyed when men were pleasant on the eye, but she also looked for inner beauty.
Her heart ached a little at the memory of Tae Soo's eyes, which poured warm chocolate of pure worry on her, when they were complete strangers. And at how tenderly, yet strong he held her in his arms to protect against Mr. Jerk's harsh words and how he caught her, forgetting about only wearing a towel, and saving her from cutting her head open on the corner of the table.
And his sunny smiles. She noticed his warmth before she noticed his body. Despite everything else he had to offer, his eyes were the sexiest and the most desirable part of him. Here, she said it – she did find him sexy and desirable.
Giselle had to pinch herself.
He is just visiting. After tonight I will never see him again. So pull yourself together and let's just make the best out of it. The hurricane should pass soon. In the morning, the rain will slow down and I could take him home.
. . .
Giselle ruffled through her closet. All of her t-shirts were the same size, so they would not fit. She looked at the long sleeved shirts – they were too narrow. She directed a flash light into the corner shelf, noticing a package there. She bought this shirt for her father, but never got to give it to him. They had this big fight and a falling out … Long story, she completely forgot about it. She unwrapped the package. It was nice, new and crispy. Probably the kind a classy guy like this Korean would wear.
"Hey," she forgot how to say his name, but did not want to admit it. "I found this, let's try it."
He smiled without looking. "Let me finish", and continued cooking.
"I insist you try it". She almost pulled the spoon out of his hands and commanded him to lift up his arms. He scoffed at her persistence and did as was told. She watched him to put the shirt on and nodded satisfied with the result. "You look good. How does it feel?"
He checked the fit and closed a few buttons. It was a man's shirt. "Whose shirt is it?" He tensed, waiting for an answer and ready to take it off. He did not want to wear another man's things. A shirt that she had prepared for another man, an ex-boyfriend or a lover. The idea hurt him and he was surprised at his strong reaction.
"I got it for my Dad. It is new, never worn."
He exhaled loudly. Another one of his understated smiles brightened up the dark space, outshining even the candles. Giselle already recognizing that pretending was not helping, admitted with sadness that he was a very good looking man and that his smile made her melt a little inside every time.
Suddenly, his stomach growled and he licked his lips nervously, creating super cute dimples, making her swallow at his deliciousness again.
If he were a dessert, she'd already be chewing on him.
"Shut up!" She scolded herself. "He is foreigner. He is just somebody I'm helping out." Finally able to use her inside voice not to arouse any curiosity.
"It's ready," he announced, not giving her enough time to pity her situation.
The ramen he cooked tasted like heaven. It was just perfect! Giselle made noises of satisfaction while chewing on the long strands of pasta and drinking the flavorful broth. Tae Soo relaxed, forgetting about his odd appearance and multitude of mishaps that's befallen them. His stomach filled with warm comfort food of his home, his company pleasant – it was a perfect way to spend the time.