Actions

Work Header

Old Flame

Chapter Text

After spending the week working on the project and distracting himself from thinking about his life, Sung Hyun decided to take a break on Friday night. However, his three best college friends cancelled one by one as he was getting ready to go out. That's why he called room service to get some liquor, but In Young was the one to make the delivery this time.

"Isn't your shift over?" Sung Hyun asked, letting her in.

"It is. I was in the kitchens when you called for..." She put down three bottles of soju and a plate of snacks on the coffee table. "Are you planning to get drunk tonight?"

"I am." He sighed as he sat down on the sofa. "I'm not asking you to join me since you're going home."

Still, In Young sat down and only stared at him until he had downed his first glass of soju. "Is it about the dorms hotel or is it about your ex fiancée?"

"Why do you care?"

"Because you can't drink."

"So?" Another shot.

"Just because she found love with another man doesn't mean you won't find love with another woman."

"Don't..." he warned her with a glare that left her silent long enough for him to drink two other shots. "Should I ask you to leave?"

"You're really going on a self-pity party."

"And you're not welcomed."

Sung Hyun toasted to the door she slammed on her way out.

***

"Wake up!"

Sung Hyun's eyes snapped open. He sat up straight but held his head at once as the hangover effects started kicking in.

"I knew I'd find you like this," In Young sighed. "You have 30 minutes to take a shower."

"Or what?" he groaned.

"Trust me, you don't want to know," she said with a stern voice but stuck her tongue at him. "Just get ready."

Sung Hyun did as he was told and In Young found him having breakfast while watching the news on TV.

"I thought you weren't working this weekend," he commented as he flipped through the channels.

"I'm not. That's why I'm not wearing my uniform."

Sung Hyun eyed her up and down. Her summer dress reminded him of the one she wore on their 4th official date. The memory was still vivid in his mind. Too vivid. "So what do you want?" he asked when he met her gaze.

"I have plans for you for today."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"Just come with me and you'll see," she said with a mysterious grin. "Come on. For all the times, you did it to me. Just trust me, okay?"

The car ride was short as they stopped at a coffee shop which was empty so early on a sunny Saturday morning.

"So do you want to talk now?" In Young asked as on their way out with the coffees he carried.

"About where you're going to take me now since we didn't even sit?"

"You're not upset just because your ex is getting married. There's something else."

Sung Hyun sighed as he stilled. "What makes you think I'd like to tell you about it?" He winced when she pushed his head. "Do you remember who I am?"

"Right now, you're an idiot who can't appreciate the helping hand I'm offering."

"Maybe because I don't want it."

"Doesn't mean I'll stop offering."

"With the same hand you use to hit me?"

Pouting, she lightly pushed him on the shoulder this time. "Until you stop being stubborn about talking to me... I'll wait. Now walk."

The poke she gave him in the ribs startled him on their way back to the car. "I don't know how I feel about you bossing me around."

"You know you like it."

She stuck her tongue at him but slapped his hand away when he pinched her cheek just like he used to. "You know you like it," he repeated.

Her cell phone rang as they got back into her. In Young gave him an apologetic smile and turned away as she answered.

"How are you? No, I don't know where your math textbook is... I told you to pack your bags the evening before, didn't I?.. No, I can't look for it right now." She lowered her voice even more. "Because I'm not home. I'll check tonight. Bye." Putting her phone back into her purse, In Young cleared her throat. "Sorry about that. Minah just never knows where she puts her stuff. She definitely gets this from her dad."

"So your kids are spending the weekend with their father?"

"Yes, he's back in Korea for a few weeks..." She glanced at him and shook her head. "Go ahead. Ask me."

"It's pointless of me to ask if you won't reply."

"How about I tell you what's been going on with me and you tell me what's been going on with you."

"You've been pretty hostile to me since I came back. Why the change of heart suddenly?"

"That's because..." She pretended to think, but her smile was only half-teasing. "You know, after all these years... With no contact at all."

"Because you didn't want to."

"Because I didn't want to lead you on." In Young relaxed against her seat and looked at him. "You're the one who kept saying you're a sensitive guy."

"You still broke my heart."

Her smile was replaced by a frown. "... Are we really having this conversation again?"

Her honesty when she had finally made her choice between Sung Soo and him had sealed their breakup. Yet, it was her patience until he was ready to let go that had helped him deal with the situation. And he had moved on. "Thanks for the coffee. Take me back to the hotel now," he said, putting on his seatbelt.

"No." She took a long sip of her coffee and put it back in the cup holder. "Even if you don't want to talk to me, you will relax today."

***

It wasn't until they found themselves on the highway that Sung Hyun let his curiosity get the best of him.

"We're going to Gangneung."

Sung Hyun turned down the music. "Where did you say we're going?"

"Gangneung." It was a two-hour drive at least. It made no sense to go all the way there. "Don't act like an old man," In Young said, dismissing his objection. And she turned back up the music.

Despite her singing – out of tune – at the top of her lungs, Sung Hyun still ended up falling asleep during one of her rare breaks. When he woke up, the car was parked in a parking lot by the ocean. It took him a few seconds to notice In Young staring at him.

"You should have wake me up," he said after a yawn. In Young just smiled and they got out of the car. "So what do we do now?"

"Eat!"

Maybe it was because of the seafood restaurant owner who kept saying he was good-looking and gave them extra food, maybe it was because of the cheap wine, but Sung Hyun found himself smiling as In Young shared anecdotes about some clients.

"You should have seen his face when Manager Seo just stepped to the side and the man fell into the pool," she said, laughing. "I kind of felt bad for him, but he was so rude, though."

"Yeah... Do you remember that Japanese man who slapped you when you just had saved his wife's life?"

"I think he hoped for her to die and that's why he was mad at me."

"Still, I wish I could have punched him... He had no right to treat you that way."

"No one deserves to be treated that way." In Young cleared her throat and glanced down. "So that was a lot of talk about me."

"It was, but we both know how much you enjoy talking about yourself."

"I do not!" she protested with fake outrage but gave him a resigned smile since he didn't catch her line. "So how about we go to Gyeongpo Beach?"

"Lead the way."

In Young did have prepared everything from sunscreen and hats to beach mats and beach umbrellas. The scent of pine trees mixed with the sea air was a nice change from Seoul. There were a few tourists and families enjoying some quality time.

"Yes?" In Young said without looking up from the novel she was reading, lying on her belly.

"I apologize for being rude to you last night."

"And I accept your apology, but that doesn't let you off the hook." She lightly pulled down her sunglasses for him to see her eyes. "You need to talk."

That was what doctors suggested him three years ago, but he had refused. The official reason was because he didn't have time to waste in a weekly therapy session. The unofficial reason was because he didn't want to admit a weakness he couldn't win against.

"When I was in college, none of my friends thought about getting married. It was just something they knew they were supposed to do and they were expected to do," Sung Hyun began, his gaze fixed on the ocean. In Young sat up. "But I wanted to get married. I wanted to start a family. Might be the reason why I still expected you to accept my proposal and kept sending you this open ticket for Singapore for five years."

"I figured you had found someone when you stopped renewing the plane ticket," she quietly said.

"It was pathetic of me, right?"

"It wasn't." She lightly squeezed his forearm as if to convince him or encouraging to keep talking.

"That's what In Jae said too."

In Young let go off him and started playing with the sand. "Do you want to talk about her?"

"There's not much to say. She's a Korean teacher. She had moved to Singapore because of a bad break-up too and taught Korean over there. We were on the same page...And she was ready to settle down. We had been dating for like... 4 years? So I proposed to her..."

"And then?"

"And then, it just didn't work out, so we broke up. She came back to Korea and now she's getting married. The end," Sung Hyun said with what he hoped to be a genuine smile. "I'm going to take a walk," he went on, cutting her off.

In Young let him go without a word. Just like she remained silent when he came back half-an-hour later, his head clear of the bad memories. "I like this place," he stated, sitting back on his beach chair. "Do you come here often?"

"Actually..." she cleared her throat and sat up, putting her book aside. "This is when Sung Soo and I had our honeymoon. It was just some kind of a getaway weekend because his career was really taking off, so he didn't have time for more. He just kept working and working...We didn't even have a wedding ceremony. We just went to city hall to register our marriage and had dinner with our families."

"So that's why you divorced?"

"Because we didn't have a wedding?" she tried to joke. Sung Hyun didn't return her smile, though. "Well, I guess you can say we weren't on the same page anymore. Honestly, I speak to him more now than when we were married. And he's a great father, so... all in all, I guess my situation isn't that bad."

"I wanted a big wedding, but In Jae wanted to keep it low-key. You're supposed to only get married once, so you should make it big, right?"

"That's exactly what I told him! Well..." She gave him a sheepish smile. "Considering that we divorced, it was probably a good thing not to make a big deal out of it."

"I would have invited every Korean person to our wedding." It was too late to take the words back. "I mean, I'm talking about In Jae and me. Not you and me."

"Of course, I knew that," In Young replied after a short hesitation.

Yet, as she kept playing with her phone, none of them was able to break the awkward silence that followed... Although it shouldn't be awkward as they were just two friends catching up on the past ten years. "So, how long your daughter has been playing the piano?" he asked, noticing her kids picture as her phone wallpaper.

In Young touched her phone screen again. "About five years. Her teacher says she could actually become a professional pianist."

"You don't sound very happy."

"Well, she'd have to go study abroad for a few years and even with a scholarship..." She quietly sighed. "It's her dream. I know it, but she never talks about it because she knows how much it would cost me."

"What about her dad?"

In Young hesitated but smiled. "There's still some time before it happens, anyway. I'm sure we'll figure it out. We always do."

The "we" sounded intimate, as if their family was still intact and the love between them was still the same. Maybe it was. Somehow. Sung Hyun had no direct experience to understand how that "we" was still possible after everything Sung Soo must have put her through.

"You sure you don't want to lie down?" she asked as he stifled a yawn. "You won't get a lot of sleep until the hotel dorms project is over."

"You're really going to boss me around all day?"

"It's kind of fun," she said with a matter-of-fact tone, preparing a beach mat for him. Maybe this was the motherly instinct people talked about, this way they took care of others even when not asked to because they just knew what to do or what to say to make one feel better. And it was nice, Sung Hyun admitted to himself as he rolled onto his side. In Young was sitting, already back to her book, but her presence was enough to put him at ease as he drifted to sleep

***

They didn't fight over which restaurant they'd have dinner at. They didn't fight over who'd pay the bill – Sung Hyun did. They didn't fight either when he offered to be the one driving them back to Seoul. And they even sang together when songs from the early 2000's were on the radio. However, as they got closer to her home, the atmosphere turned quieter.

"Thanks for today," Sung Hyun said as they unloaded the truck in the garage.

"It's better than getting drunk on your own, right?"

"If I recall, you were quite a good drinker back in the day," he teased her.

"I don't know what you're talking about," she replied with an innocent smile.

"Sure..." He stood in front of her when they finished putting away the beach equipment. "I mean it. Thank you."

"That's what friends are here for."

"Right. Friends. I'm glad we're able to be... friends now."

In Young looked straight into his eyes. "Me too."

***

Being friends with In Young was the assurance of getting a good morning text every day, an encouraging smile whenever they ran into each other. It was almost as if they were back to flirting like they used to. Almost. When they had a ramyeon lunch "date" in his suite, all she talked about was her kids. And when he called her at night because he wanted to her voice before going to bed, all she still talked about was her kids.

"I'm boring, right?" In Young stated. She let out a sigh of contentment as she looked up at the stars. They were sitting in the swinging sofa in her backyard, enjoying a cup of tea. She had insisted he stopped by for a home-made dinner she was sure he hadn't had in a while. "I had promised myself I wouldn't be one of these moms, you know? The ones who brag constantly about their kids... It's weird, you know I feel like I spend my time complaining because they don't listen, but when they're not here, I miss them like crazy."

"I think it's cute."

"It's horrible. This need of wanting them to be always happy and feeling sometimes that you fail no matter what... It's like the worst feeling in the world."

"I can only imagine," he quietly agreed.

"You'll see when you get kids one day..."

"I don't think I will."

The words were out before he knew it, but In Young missed the other meaning as she just laughed him off. "You're only like 39, 40? That's definitely not too old nowadays."

"Problem is to find the mother, right?" he replied, forcing himself to smile.

"Well, yeah, but that shouldn't be a problem for you."

"It's not that easy."

In Young nodded and took a sip of her tea. "Maybe we're the ones who make it complicated. Always going for what we can't have... Or maybe we shouldn't have," she added as if she were more talking to herself than to him.

"So... are you... dating someone?" Sung Hyun asked with what he hoped to be a nonchalant tone.

In Young had a little laugh. "Who would want to date an ajumma like me?"

Her t-shirt and sweatpants when she opened the door earlier had caught him off guard since it was a side of her she had never let him see before. "Not all ajummas are as beautiful as you," he commented as he tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

"Always the sweet talker," she replied with a light slap on his thigh. "I'm focusing on raising my kids right now. I don't need all the trouble coming with dating."

"Are you sure you're not using them as an excuse?"

"Maybe..." She stirred her tea. "I dedicated more than 15 years of my life to a relationship with a man that didn't turn out to be "the one". I deserve some "me" time, don't you think?"

"As long as you're happy."

They smiled to each other, toasting to that with their mugs and fell into a companionable silence.

***

Although the works for the dorms hotel project were following the schedule, Director Hwang kept trying to move forward with buying the resort in Jeju. Sung Hyun read over one more time his weekly report and sent it out to the board members.

"I heard Choi Young Do is looking for investors to secure this resort, so he'll probably win the bid anyway," his father reassured him as they played their usual Friday night pool game in his home study.

"It's not the problem here. I can't keep having Director Hwang trying to sabotage everything I want to accomplish."

"Fire him, then."

"Father..." Sung Hyun growled.

"What? We both know we can't fire him, so either you find a way to deal with him, either you..." He adjusted his shot and pocketed the last ball of his group. "Find a way to deal with him."

"Thank you, Father. That really helps me."

His father's laugh turned into a cough he suppressed by drinking some water. "I'm fine," he said as Sung Hyun was offering they stopped to play. "I'm winning, so let's proceed, will you?" Sung Hyun sighed but focused his attention back to the table. "So, I've been wondering..."

"Yes?" Sung Hyun asked, glancing up.

"You've been back for about two months now. And Madame Kang has been asking about you."

"The matchmaker?"

"She's been telling me about—"

"Father, please."

"She's a 35-year-old widow. Her husband died in a car accident a couple of years ago. And her father is a bank owner, by the way."

Sung Hyun missed his shot. "Father, I'm not thinking about marriage."

"For now. But you will have to eventually, so we might as well as start looking at potential candidates now."

"I don't want to get married."

"You need an heir."

Sung Hyun's knuckles turned white as he squeezed his cue. "And we both know that I can't have kids."

"She already has a 15-year-old son, I think. All you have to do is to adopt him and the problem is solved. Sung Hyun!" Sung Hyun stilled at the door but didn't turn around to face him. "No one will get suspicious if the two of you don't have a kid together."

"Have a nice evening, Father", he replied and left the study.

***

Choi Myung Hee was the perfect wife-to-be indeed. Yet, after their first date a week after his discussion with his father, Sung Hyun found himself back in his suite, fighting the urge to call In Young. However, he couldn't come up with one good reason to disturb her at midnight, so he just went to bed with his doutbs and unanswered questions.

"Looks like everything's ready for the opening," In Young said once they finished the tour of the dorms hotel that Saturday afternoon. Her kids were at their grandparents' for the weekend.

"Yeah, the ads campaign is starting getting attention. We're already booked at half capacity until December."

"That's great," she said with a grin and linked arms with him. "I'm very happy for you."

"There's only one tiny problem, though." They were back on first floor and he led her down the hallway. "I have everything ready. From the cleaning team to the kitchen team, the security team..."

"And?"

"However, I won't be able to supervise the whole thing. Maybe for the first month, but I definitely need a manager to handle the day-to-day business." In Young let go of him as they stood in front of an office door. "I need someone I can trust, someone I know who will work for our interest and not against it."

"Do you mean what you think I mean?"

"Well..." Sung Hyun gently took her hand and led her inside. He had made sure the office was exactly like the one she had at the main hotel. "I'm thinking, a general manager and three assistant managers might be enough for now. One for the day shift, one for the night shift. And maybe one for the weekend."

"You're asking me to run all of this by myself?"

"You're scared?" It was supposed to be teasing, but her smile didn't hide her worried expression. "I wouldn't ask you if I wasn't sure you'd do a great job."

"Oh so if you hadn't offered me the job, it would mean that you doubt my skills," she slightly pouted but slapped his hand before he could pinch her cheek. "I'm serious."

"Me too! Look, I'm not sure what we're arguing about right now. You're the first person I'm asking because I do want you to take the job, but it's your decision. I won't force you into anything."

In Young thought it over as she walked around the office. "I need to think about it," she declared as she stood in front of him again.

"I understand... However, the opening is on Friday, so I'd need an answer by Tuesday at the latest." She glared at him. "I was pretty sure you'd say yes right away, so I didn't check any other potential manager... which is what I will be doing starting from Monday. Just in case."

In Young didn't say a word until they were back at her house. "Are you mad at me?" Sung Hyun asked once he turned off the engine.

"For offering me a great job without knowing anything about my life outside of the hotel?"

"I wanted it to be a surprise," he admitted. "And I do know about your life outside of the hotel. At least some of it. And I believe this job would be easier to work around your kids' schedule."

"... I have a few questions, though. Do you want to come in so we can discuss about it?"

"Sure."

Somehow, Sung Hyun felt that he was the one being interviewed as he sat on the sofa and In Young noted down all his answers about her work hours, her pay and her management style.

"Sounds like a fair deal," she commented, reading over her notepad.

"I told you." Sung Hyun went to the piano. "And it's closer to your home too," he added, leafing through the pages of the repertory before putting it back down. "Did I mention the pay was better?"

"Three times... Which is starting to make me wonder if I'm being favored just because..."

"Just because you're more than qualified for the job and I'm actually sorry I can't give you more. At least for now. Is this a telescope?" he asked, pointing out to a pile of pieces scattered on the floor by a window.

"It's supposed to be. I bought it for Jae Min for his birthday and I was trying to put it together before they come back tomorrow night... It didn't really work out well."

"May I?"

In Young rolled her eyes. "It's not because I'm a woman that I can't do this stuff."

"And I never said that. I just asked if you wanted my help."

"That would be nice of you," she reluctantly agreed.

The instructions indicated the telescope could be put together in 30 minutes, but In Young's confused indications for the first ten minutes had Sung Hyun ask her to leave him alone. Once he was done, he found her skulking while making dinner. She had changed into what seemed to be her home outfit: t-shirt and sweatpants.

"I think I did a pretty good job," he declared as he poured himself a glass of water. Cutting vegetables, she ignored him. "You're welcome," he said, stealing a piece of cucumber.

"Don't do that!" she warned him, although she let him take another piece. "Do you want to stay for dinner... unless you have another date?"

"How did you—"

"You were the number 1 discussion all week among the employees."

"So much for trying to keep a low profile..."

"Why would you? People will talk since you're so handsome and rich."

Each word represented the expectations people always had about him and he never had the impression to meet. "Is that all there is to me?" he asked, putting down his glass in the sink.

In Young glanced at him. "What do you mean?"

"Being handsome and rich. Is it all I have to attract someone?"

"You can't deny that it's a helping factor."

"So you dated me because of that."

"You know it's not the reason," she slightly stuttered as she placed the vegetables in a large bowl. "I didn't even want to do anything with you when I found out you weren't just an intern, but you were the boss' son."

"So why did you still date me?" he asked, his voice slightly raising.

"Why did you date me?"

"Because I loved you. That's why I wanted to marry you, remember?"

She faced him, her eyes reflecting an anger that didn't match her even tone. "You know you wouldn't have married me anyway."

"I proposed to you."

"Only because you knew I would turn you down. What if I had said yes?"

"I spent years proposing to you."

"But you never came back!" she shouted. "You left for Singapore and you never came back. How was I supposed to know your feelings were still the same after a while?"

"If you had just come visit me, you would have known!"

"Maybe that's why I didn't!"

"I don't get it."

She took off her apron and threw it to his face before rushing out of the kitchen and into her room. Sung Hyun stilled at the threshold as she turned over a box that was in her closet. The content fell on the floor. There were several plane tickets, pictures of them, movie receipts and other reminders of their relationship. It seemed like she had kept everything.

"What if you had ended up realizing that I wasn't good enough to marry you?" she went on, her voice still shaking. "Maybe I just wanted to stay the woman you loved in your memories."

Sung Hyun closed his eyes, letting the words sink in, revealing the missed opportunities that could have changed both of their fates. "So despite everything I did to prove my feelings to you, you just didn't want to give us a chance because you were scared?"

"I... It wouldn't have worked anyway," she replied without meeting his gaze. Still, she followed him to the entrance. "So you're just going to leave like that?"

"Why would I stay?"

Tripping over his sneakers when In Young turned him around, he had to hold onto her to keep balance as she stood on the small step allowing her to be at eye level. Sung Hyun was too confused to do anything but to hug her back as she apologized. The regrets, the resentment, the misunderstandings were unleashed as they shared a passionate kiss. They briefly paused when she helped him get rid of his polo shirt and he returned the favor for her t-shirt. As soon as he picked her up, she wrapped her legs around him. As they kept kissing, they managed to make it back to her room. Kneeling on the bed, she was breathless as she started unbuckling his jeans and he cupped her face to keep kissing her until reality kicked in.

"I don't have condoms", he said, stilling her hands.

It took her a few seconds to catch on as she blankly stared at him. "I don't either."

And it seemed the wall they had just broke down was back up even higher as she moved away from him, hiding her chest.

"Maybe I can go buy..." He didn't even finish his sentence because she shook her head.

Their moment was gone. Sung Hyun didn't know exactly what to say as she was hiding her face in his hands, sitting back to him.

"Can you leave, please?" she quietly asked moments later.

So Sung Hyun did as he was told. "This doesn't change anything about my job offer," he said, stopping at the door.

She put on another t-shirt from her closet before facing him. "I'll think about it and let you know by Monday at the latest."

***

Sung Hyun wanted to call her or at least text her, but truth was he also felt angrier as time went by. It had taken him years to get over her. Thinking that her choice made her happy had been his only comfort as he realized he had been miserable in vain.

On Monday night, when her shift was over, In Young came to his suite.

"I want the job," she said, sitting on the sofa as Sung Hyun took a seat in the armchair. "On one condition, though."

Leave it to her to make requirements when she was in no position to. "I'm listening."

"We pretend nothing happened on Saturday and we never talk about it."

The past was the past. There was no need to make it more than it was.

"It works for me." He gave her the contract. "I'll let you review it. Let me know if you want to change anything. And we need to start talking about the overall organization and make your schedule."

In Young nodded and stood up. "I'll bring you back the contract tomorrow."

***

They were already used to each other's way of thinking, so they worked fast, complementing each other's idea and without any argument. They made a good team no matter what, Sung Hyun admitted to himself as In Young left the suite after their final meeting before the opening tomorrow. Still, when the memory of their kiss popped in his mind, he texted Myung Hee to offer her to be his date the next day. Her "yes" was followed by a smiling emoji and a heart.

The ceremony itself only took 10 minutes, five for his father's speech and five for press pictures. With Myung Hee by his side, Sung Hyun socialized and answered some reporters' questions. Once in a while, he spotted In Young across the room. Despite the enthusiasm she showed, he knew her well enough to notice how she often discreetly wiped the palms of her hands and she smoothed out the front of her uniform jacket. Yet, every time she looked in his direction, he turned back his attention to Myung Hee who was making comments about how wonderful the hotel was. She said all the right things, had the right behavior in any circumstance and judging from the way people looked at them, marriage rumors would be everywhere by Monday.

"It's still a bit early. Would you like to have dinner with me?" Myung Hee asked on their way back to her home.

"I already have... other plans for tonight," he lied. "Maybe another time?"

"I assumed that your invitation today meant you were willing to give this a try."

"I am. It's just that I already have plans for tonight."

It seemed she had let it go until he parked his car in the underground parking lot of her building. "I'm sure you're a nice guy, but I'm looking for something serious." She gave him a gracious smile. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that there's no need to contact me again if you're only thinking about having fun."

***

Love had nothing to do with finding a long-life partner. It was just a bonus clause in a contract with a woman he'd be able to live with until the end. So it wasn't about Myung Hee or any other woman he could be introduced to. If his mind wasn't into it, he'd never be able to be with anyone.

Running on the treadmill, Sung Hyun tried his best to clear his mind from his discussion with his father the night before. If he wanted to build the perfect family he had ever wanted, it was time to settle down.

The timer went off. Sung Hyun stopped the machine, picked up his towel and bottle of water before leaving the hotel gym. Debating if he should gather some college friends to have dinner, he ran into In Young in front of the elevators.

"Did you want to see me?" he asked after they exchanged greetings.

"Oh, no. I just went to get a sweater in my office because I was being cold by the pool."

"I didn't think you'd spend your free time even here."

"It's Jae Min's birthday party. We're spending the afternoon here with a couple of his friends."

"Right... Order anything you want. It's on me."

"You don't have to."

"As you wish," he said and called the elevator.

"So, I'll see you on Monday."

"See you on Mon—"

"Mom?" a young voice called out, interrupting him.

Sung Hyun turned around. It was Min Ah. In Young quickly excused herself and walked up to her daughter who stared at Sung Hyun until her mother led her away. So these were In Young's parameters. Strictly professional. Not that their interaction hadn't been other than professional for the past week, but Sung Hyun had the confirmation now their friendship couldn't be saved.

A bottle or two of soju should be enough to help him forget about the situation for the time being. By the time he walked into his suite, two of his friends had already agreed to meet him tonight. A few knocks on the door interrupted his third call.

"Hello, I'm Minah, Manager Sunwoo In Young's daughter," the girl stated. As she bowed to finish her greeting, Sung Hyun quickly checked the hallway. "I don't have much time. May I come in?"

Confused, Sung Hyun stepped aside and followed her to the living room. "Have a seat," he invited with a hand gesture toward the sofa.

"That won't be necessary. I have to go back before my mom wonders where I am."

"So she isn't aware of this little visit? Wait. Do you know who I am?"

"RH Hotel Vice-Ceo Bae Sung Hyun, my mom's ex-boyfriend. I don't know about your current status, though." Her confidence left Sung Hyun speechless. "Are you with my mom or not?"

"We're... friends, I guess?"

"So you're not the reason she's been crying for a week?"

"I wouldn't know about that," he slightly stuttered under the accusation.

"If you aren't, then be a friend and comfort her. If you are, I will ask you to stay away from her when it's not work-related. Thank you."

Scolded by a 12-year old girl. That was a first for Sung Hyun who stared at the closed door for a moment. Pushing away any curiosity – or maybe guilt – about In Young, he went back to setting his plan for tonight.

***

A Sunday spent with a hangover hadn't cleared the confusion Sung Hyun was still in when he greeted In Young on Monday morning. While she was her bubbly self with the other employees and their first customers, she never made eye contact with him, even when she made her report in her office at the end of the day.

"Things are still slow, but I'm hoping we'll get more reservations by next week if our customers spread the word about us," she commented. "Do you have any new instruction?"

"Everything looks fine to me," he replied. "By the way, your daughter came to see me on Saturday."

"She did what?"

Her chair nearly fell over as she stood up. This was the first genuine reaction he had seen from her in days. "She told me that you... have been upset lately." In Young closed her eyes. "And she thought it was because of me." She hid her face in her hands. "Basically, she said to comfort you if it wasn't the case and to stay away from you if it was."

In Young heavily sighed and finally looked at him. "I'm so sorry. That was totally inappropriate of her."

"Which scenario is it, though?"

"It's neither of them," she said after a brief hesitation. "This won't happen again."

"Good because I don't need another reminder that I got rejected again." He stood up. "I'll see you tomorrow."

He was already at the door when her voice stopped him. "I can't say that I regret never going to you back then because that would mean I regret having my kids. I love them and I can't imagine my life without them." Sung Hyun faced her. "What I do regret is not asking you to stay the other day."

"Why didn't you?"

"Because you have a girlfriend now and I didn't know if... The consequences..."

"Myung Hee isn't my girlfriend and even if she were, she should be my concern, not yours." Sung Hyun took a deep breath. "Is it really that fun to make me believe that you care when you don't?"

"Is it really fun to make me believe that you don't care about how harmful being with me could be to you?"

"Back then, you were one of my father's employees. You were five years older than me and you had just broken up with the man you had been with for ten years because he had been cheating on you. Today, you're still one of my father's employees. You're still five years older than me. You're a divorced mother of two. So what?" In Young didn't answer and didn't hold his gaze either. "I don't get why what everyone may think is so important to you, but what I think doesn't matter at all."

"So if I came to you right now, you would accept me?"

"Just try and see." When it became clear she wouldn't move, he nodded her goodbye. "As you wish."

That night, lying on this bed that night, Sung Hyun reviewed the files of five candidates the matchmaker had emailed him. Now that love was out of the equation, finding a wife should be done in no time.

***

Although she looked tired, In Young's behavior didn't show any sign of hostility the next day. The only time Sung Hyun spoke to her was to thank her for her daily report.

"I have something for you," she said as they both stood up. She cleared her throat and took out a plastic rose from one of her desk drawers. There was an envelope attached to it. "I've been thinking... A lot. About you and me. You asked me why I dated you and here's the answer."

Her hands were slightly shaking as she handed him the envelope. There was just a post-it inside, though. "Number 1. Because you're sweet." He looked at her. "Thank you?"

"Don't. I should be the one who..." She took a deep breath and smiled. "You were right. You've never given me any reason not to trust your feelings, and even if you're doubting mine now, I will show you why I... I love you."

"With a fake rose and post-its?"

"To remind you that I love you and the reasons why I do."

"So you're saying you're going to... court me?"

"Yes... If that's okay with you," she added, her smile fading away.

This was another first. And maybe, just maybe, Sung Hyun saw an opportunity to test her as he replied "do as you wish" before heading out. She did look determined, but he could no longer afford to have his heart being stomped over one more time.

***

Number 2. Because you're smart.

Number 3. Because you're sincere.

Number 4. Because you're loyal.

Number 5. Because you're caring.

... Each day, In Young gave him a new rose, listing one quality. It went on for two weeks. No matter how nice it was, Sung Hyun was starting wondering what would happen once she'd run out of things to say. There was no rose on Friday night, though.

"You're giving up," Sung Hyun noted, a bit hurt that she didn't have the perseverance that he had shown to her for years. "Well, this was nice."

"I was thinking about something different for tonight. If you don't have any plan, we could have dinner together ay my place."

"What about your kids?"

"They're spending the weekend with their grandparents so... You can even spend the night if you want to."

It sounded too good to be true. Unable to sort out his contradictory feelings, Sung Hyun went for the truth. "I have a blind date tonight."

"Oh..." She didn't try to hide her disappointment. "I understand. In that case..." She took out a rose from her purse and gave it to him. "I wanted to give it to you later, but..."

"Number 20. Because you're you," he read out loud. "That was an easy one."

"Not for me, considering your background and mine... Well, you know how I feel about it... But I'm ready now."

Sung Hyun was the one unable to hold her gaze this time. "So the decision is mine?"

"I think we both wasted enough time. Mostly because of me," she quickly said before he protested. "But I understand you need to move on and I won't stand in your way."

So Sung Hyun no longer hesitated. "I texted my blind date that I wouldn't be able to make it tonight," he said, holding up his cell phone. "What do we do now?"

***

There were only three people Sung Hyun sought approval from before he could make his relationship with In Young official. And his father hadn't been the hardest to convince. Despite warning him about the judgmental comments they would get, his father still hugged him and wished him to be happy.

Jae Min and Minah were another story. After a dinner to make a proper introduction which the two kids welcomed with silence all through the evening, In Young set up an afternoon at a theme park the following weekend. Jae Min was too busy having fun to be moody unlike Minah. She was always respectful, politely smiled, but Sung Hyun always got the impression she was watching him. When In Young took Jae Min to the bathroom, the teenage girl attacked.

"I asked my mom why you have no kids."

Sung Hyun choked on his ice tea. In Young had promised to keep to herself the fact that he was sterile. "And what did she say?" he asked once his cough died down.

"That you never got the opportunity to, but that didn't mean you couldn't be a good stepfather."

"I don't know about being a good stepfather. I do know that I will try my best to be one." Her stare started making him feel restless. "Do you think I can do it?"

"I just want my mom to be happy."

"So do I."

"As long as you keep her happy, then we're good."

"That's your only condition?" Sung Hyun smiled when she nodded. "That's a deal then." Minah shook the hand he held out. "Thank you."

"I'll be watching you."

It was a fair warning, one Sung Hyun took seriously, although it sounded like a truce too. Even an alliance, maybe? As soon as In Young and Jae Min came back, Minah offered to take him on a merry-go-round.

This wasn't the family Sung Hyun had dreamed of. Yet, as he wrapped his arm around In Young's shoulders while Jae Min and Minah walked ahead hand in hand, it did feel like it was the start of something pretty close to it.