Chapter 1: Brighter Skies or Greater Storms - Part 1
Author's note: This is book 3 of the series. To be read after The Sprout and The Bud.
The morning sun steadily climbed on the horizon sky. In its perpetuity, it remained unbothered of how it brought to light the havoc left behind by the storm from the previous night. Branches and leaves laid scattered all over the yard. In places, the tiles lifted from the roofs by the gushing winds were made one with the gravel.
The scattered puddles, molded by the torrential rain, were now calmly reflecting the clouds, gliding with grace on the fresh blue sky, revealing the inner works of the world.
Every dark cloud clears out in the end, making way for brighter skies, or for even greater storms.
Dark clouds still lingered on Soo-Ah’s mind. No sleep was to be had in the restless night. Laying awake in her bed, she heard all the commotion outside, in full throttle, as it was set into motion by nature’s fury. In those moments, she felt Mother Nature was the only one in sync with her state of mind. Dawn brought calm to the world outside, while her inner storm still raged on.
A swift bang on the door made her raise her head from under the covers. “Soo-Ah? Are you sleeping?” Sung-Ho’s curious voice echoed from behind the door.
Soo-Ah only pulled the cover back over her, and laid still, waiting, unwilling to answer. Her breath quickened in anticipation of what he might say next.
“I do not know what got into you the other night, and I hope I will hear some apologies. We need to have a serious talk about your behaviour.” After a short pause and afraid to put his intentions into words, he added, “and about those feelings. I could care less if you have nothing more to say, but I will have you listen. I am due back late tonight, so make sure you wait for me in your room, after dinner.”
Only after the sounds of Sung-Ho’s steps faded, as he moved away on the corridor, did the young woman get out of bed to check if he was truly gone.
It was easy to jump to conclusions and make assumptions based on sparks ignited by the clash of two hard-headed individuals.
For Soo-Ah those conclusions were the main reason for the storm still raging inside of her.
She launched at Sung-Ho with her bare heart and almost her bare bosom. The manner in which she professed her love and her expectations of him only brought her disappointment. She feared her feelings were dropped in a bottomless chalice because he could not be deterred from marrying the other woman. He was content to share his life, feelings and his bed. Soo-Ah was not willing to share her Sung-Ho with anyone. Either there was another way to claim him for herself, or she will renounce her love. Surely there was a way to do that as well.
If disappointment was not enough to bear for the young woman, along came embarrassment.
She made a show of herself in front of him, giving voice and putting on a display her most intimate desires, while her only audience member responded to her advances with the libido of a eunuch. He kept a tight lid on those feelings she knew were simmering inside. This gave him the higher ground to judge her morality and question her actions. To him, she was an assailant who wanted to step on his precious morals. Soo-Ah did not want to imagine the look in his eyes once he found out she lost hers, in the spur of the moment, and in the arms of another man.
Confusion from trying to reconcile the image and carnal desires she had for Sung-Ho, with the affection and sisterly love she felt for Ho-Orabeoni was the cherry on top of her layered frustrations. Finding out they were one and the same was not an easy fact to swallow.
For Sung-Ho, the labours of the previous night still laid shattered on the floor, in his room, and it left him with one less cup for sipping his soju.
At first, judging from her reactions, he was glad Soo-Ah managed to overcome the fears of intimacy she developed while growing up. However, he did not expect such an exhibitionist outburst after her fears were unleashed.
He was apprehensive to stare the truth in the face; he became the object of her affections. Her extremely passionate affections. Even if this was something that greatly soothed his ego. And frustrated him at the same time.
He could have no use of her passionate affections since she would not give herself to him, in the proper, honourable way. The woman got a peculiar view on married life and was unwilling to go past it for his sake. She proved to be harder to manipulate to make her submit to his will. And this angered him.
On top of his frustration, the events from the previous night only fuelled the intensity of his lewd fantasies. He was proud of himself for holding his ground when it came to the young woman’s advances, but in turn that only managed to unshackle more of his animalistic instincts in his dreams. He was made of flesh, bone and desires, after all.
His unconscious self needed to be ignored. He decided to confront the young woman and teach her again about proper behaviour in front of a man. The words she spat at him when she left his room sounded like she held him responsible in some way. Why was he to blame if she fell in love with him?
One feeling, unveiled the other night, intrigued him. The strong pull he had towards the woman, that enveloped him in a warm embrace and made his heart fill with joy, as he watched her sleep. Not knowing what to make of it, he brushed it aside to focus on more important matters.
The subject of those matters was something Soo-Ah strived hard to avoid facing. Their looming discussion.
It was no wonder how that night, after dinner, she made sure to be anywhere else but in her room. This aggravated Sung-Ho and made him curse at her for the first time in the long years they have known each other. He wished she was still a little girl, so he would be able to spank her for straying from his word. Although, spanking could be used at any age. He should have been disturbed at this thought yet he found himself unwarrantedly thrilled.
In the days that followed Sung-Ho was able to see Soo-Ah only if he was in time for dinner. His family members were gathered around the table and carried on with their evening meal, making small talk and asking him about his day, while the young woman would not even glance in his direction. With his daughter and his mother in attendance, there was no way to approach the delicate subject at liberty.
Yu-Mi was the one who kept the conversation alive with recounts about visiting her friends, while Mistress Myeong only spoke if she was correcting the girl about how to sit, and the proper way to converse or to ask her son about his day. His mother could read him even from the slightest muscle twitch. She could tell there was something not working in his report with Soo-Ah. And she could not say she was sorrowful about it.
Each time after dinner, Soo-Ah hurriedly made her way straight to the kitchen to see her friends, imagining how Sung-Ho burrowed his stare into her back, watching her walk across the courtyard, sultry about being denied again the chance to lecture her.
The only option left for Sung-Ho to have their eye-to-eye was to wait patiently outside Soo-Ah’s door until she returned from her post-dinner escapade. Something he found to be utterly demeaning, wasting his precious time on a spoilt young woman. He concealed himself in the shadows, lurking like an animal, ready to jump on its prey. The anticipation of hunting her gave him an unexpected exuberant feel.
Soo-Ah entered the pagoda and sauntered closer to her room, yawning, ready to get straight to bed. She was lost in thought, trying to find a reason why entire days went by since Jung-In was last seen or mentioned in the household. She was too embarrassed to ask about him and went to see her friends in the kitchen every night, wishing he would make an appearance so she could put to rest all her worries. Deep in her thoughts, she entered her room. The last thing she expected was for a strong clasp on her arm, pushing her to move faster.
Sung-Ho quickly closed the door behind them then spun around to face her, standing guard by the entrance in case she would be brazen enough to try to escape him. “Well look how you made me play this stupid stalking game!” he admonished in a harsh tone, matching his ogling.
Soo-Ah quickly overcame her initial fright and stared back at him mockingly. “You know what they say, stupid game, stupid player...” She trailed the last sounds coming out of her mouth noticing how the man’s face tensed up, vexed at such unsavoury remarks.
Sung-Ho decided to be the mature one in the room in order to get to the point of their conversation. First, there was something else eating away at his curiosity, “What are you doing every night after dinner, going to the servant’s quarters?”
“I am spending some time with my friends. And Jung-In!” Soo-Ah emphasized the name in a sarcastic tone.
Sung-Ho understood what she was doing and paid no attention to her scheme. “Soo-Ah, the servants of this household are not meant to be your friends! Besides, I told you the other day I wanted to speak with you.”
“Oh, you did? I honestly cannot remember when you said that,” said Soo-Ah, prancing around her room, making herself busy and not paying him any attention. How she wanted to irritate him. It was a strange impulse that gnawed at her, feeding on her anger and disappointment. Him, standing tall and intoxicating the air with his alluring presence, did not help her bad humour either.
“You cannot remember? Fine! Then you are going to listen to me, now.” Sung-Ho grabbed her arm again and made her sit on the bed, like a disobedient child. “I want you to tell me what made you behaved so reckless the other night and to apologize.”
Hearing his demands Soo-Ah felt she could snap at will. “Apologize? For what? For confessing my feelings for you? Or for having those feelings, in the first place and inconveniencing you? You have some nerve!”
“Me? I have some nerve? You insult me thinking I would behave like a lustful teenager, then you lie and try to pull a tasteless prank, pretending to accept my proposal, then you berate me like I did something wrong towards you. You are in my house and I will have your respect!” His outburst made the walls in the room tremble, while he pointed his finger at her, not realizing how he was demeaning her to an actual child.
Treat someone as you expect them to behave. The memory of his tutor saying this to him, suddenly resurfaced in Sung-Ho’s mind.
Vexed by his tone and reproaches Soo-Ah intently looked the other way, keeping quiet and pouting to show her disapproval and hide her embarrassment from her previous actions. It was also the only thing she had at her disposal to steer away from his magnetic charisma. The man’s tone and words bothered her less than the fact that he was so alluring even when he was angry and berating at her. Something that was beyond her power of comprehension.
“Soo-Ah, what has got into you?” Sung-Ho subdued his voice as he sat on the bed next to her and tried to take a hold of her hands.
Soo-Ah avoided his touch. The warmth of his hands sipping into her skin threatened to bring forth all those fervent moments when he had done so in the past. Perilous memories for her efforts to keep a cold and composed demeanour.
Sung-Ho continued his speech. “We should have celebrated having found each other after so many years, not play hide-and-seek to yell at each other’s faces. You are not inconveniencing me with your... love.” He almost hesitated to say that sentence and studied her reaction to be reassured he used the correct word to describe what she felt. “How can you say something like that?” In asking this he caressed the woman’s hair, sending shivers down her spine. The good kind.
The shivers made her even more apprehensive to say anything and to turn and face this man, in fear she will again make a wrong move, allowing for him to judge her.
“Soo-Ah, you are still very much in charge of your future and as long as you obey the rules of this house, I will support your decisions. After your anger levels out and you are ready to talk, you come to find me. I want to listen to you and learn about your plans. The serious and down to earth plans.” Saying this the man got himself up and headed for the door, but he turned to face her for one last time in this restless night. “I am still expecting an apology!” he added before he left the woman alone, to her own machinations.