It was a peaceful, quiet evening. The moon hung from above, hidden partially in a silver cloud. Ok Nyeo was able to finish her work early and went back to the house which Tae Won rented out to her. She was using it while she hasn’t yet seen a place of her own.
Ok Nyeo was inside her room, undressing, glad to have been able to retire for the evening after a long day at the office, when she suddenly heard someone calling out her name just outside the door.
Ok Nyeo was in the middle of untying the strings that hold her chima shut. She didn’t have time any more to reach for her jeogori, and so she immediately turned on her back when the door suddenly slid open, crossing her arms in front of her in an attempt to hide her partial nakedness. She looked back over her shoulder and gave a little shriek when she saw Tae Won, whose eyes grew as wide as a saucer plate when he saw her, taking a glimpse of her bare shoulders and her white underskirt– which was unfortunately, see through. Ok Nyeo’s cheeks burned with embarrassment.
“I – I’m sorry, I didn’t…. I thought….. I’m sorry,” Tae Won mumbled in sort of a panic and retreated quickly from the room. Ok Nyeo was left frozen in a corner, unable to shake off the tension that had unexpectedly enveloped her whole body at the thought that a man had seen her almost-naked body.
She wasn’t sure if she could face Tae Won again in her embarrassment.
Calming herself, Ok Nyeo continued dressing up, telling herself that Tae Won couldn’t have seen everything since the lighting of the room was quite dim. And then, after mustering her courage – and making sure she was dressed properly this time – she slid open the door and stepped out.
She was quite surprised to find the hallway empty, feeling a bit strange not to see Tae Won there when she expected she would.
She walked out into the courtyard and sure enough, Tae Won was there. He was standing out on the landing of the platform, his back to her, and she watched him for a moment, noticing his erect form, before calling out his attention.
“Sir Tae Won.”
Tae Won turned almost immediately, a look on his face she couldn’t interpret. He approached her, and then he smiled apologetically. Ok Nyeo already had an idea of what Tae Won was going to say.
But Tae Won didn’t speak immediately. In fact, he looked as uncertain as he had been when he had dealt with her provoking question some nights before.
Finally he said to her:
“About the incident earlier… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have barged in on you like that.”
Ok Nyeo wanted to bite her lip, but restrained herself. Instead, she said, “It’s alright. I know you didn’t mean to do that. But why are you here?”
“Oh, well….” Here, Tae Won sheepishly scratched the back of his head. Ok Nyeo watched him in sudden amusement. “I heard from the police bureau that you were in some sort of trouble. I was worried…. So I rushed out here… to check on you.”
Ok Nyeo was touched at Tae Won’s confession, at the same time surprised. She couldn’t imagine Tae Won coming all the way to where she was at that late hour just to check on her. Tae Won was her friend – co-conspirator at some point – but it seemed too much for him to do such a thing.
It was her turn to look apologetic. “I have certainly caused you so much trouble. You shouldn’t worry yourself over someone like me.”
Tae Won looked incredulous. “How can you say that?”
“How can I not?” Ok Nyeo countered.
“I can’t help but worry about you. I have told you to inform me right away if you’re feeling unwell, haven’t I?”
Ok Nyeo nodded, wondering why Tae Won suddenly brought it up. “Yes, you did. Although I am nothing but a lowly girl, and you shouldn’t bother yourself about me.”
“Ah…” Tae Won clasped his hands behind his back and looked up toward the black night sky. “There’s certainly a reason why I said that.” He looked her in the eye, and Ok Nyeo resisted the urge to look away. “Can’t you tell? I have my eyes fixed on you.”
“Because you’re important to me.”
Ok Nyeo’s heart seemed to jump inside her chest. She was quite struck with the sincerity she saw in Tae Won’s eyes and the firmness in his voice, as though what he said came not from his mind, but from his inner being. He looked as though he meant every word.
She wanted to ask why Tae Won considered her important to him, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask further. She felt her cheeks become warm and Ok Nyeo quickly slightly bowed her head to hide her confusion and embarrassment, while Tae Won kept standing there staring at her.
Ok Nyeo didn’t know what to make of it. She suddenly wanted to be alone – not that she disliked Tae Won’s presence – but because she was feeling uncomfortable with Tae Won’s bluntness.
After a few more moments, Tae Won broke into a grin and spoke again, much to Ok Nyeo’s relief.
“It’s late. You should go back in and rest, Ok Nyeo-yah.”
“Uhm….” Ok Nyeo was trying hard to think of something to say, but all she could manage was: “thank you, Sir Tae Won.”
“Go on now,” Tae Won gave her a gentle nudge toward the steps of the platform.
Ok Nyeo was forced to look at Tae Won and she gave him a small bow.
“Good night, Ok Nyeo-yah. Rest well.”
“Yes, you too, Sir Tae Won. Thank you.”
Strangely, though, when Ok Nyeo said those parting words, she suddenly felt that she didn’t want Tae Won to leave. And just as so, because when she picked up her skirts and stepped up the front porch and walked back inside, Tae Won remained standing where he was. Ok Nyeo didn’t dare look back because she could feel Tae Won watching her as she disappeared into the house.