They meet on Jeju island, on the beach, at sunset.
She sits at the water's edge, watches the lapping of the waves against her bare legs as she folds her dress up into her lap. There is salt on her lips as she breathes in fresh, sea air.
Se Joo stands behind her. He makes some quip about her dress looking too expensive for the way she is allowing it to skim the water, to which she replies, "Aren't you allergic to water? Isn't that why you sit in that beach hut staring at the girls beside it all day?"
She watches as he ducks his head sheepishly, laughs and then rolls up the hem of his dress pants, sits down beside her and lets his feet sink into wet sand.
Then there is dinner, wine, and laughing. And then, kissing and everything else that comes afterwards.
Except, this doesn't happen. Not even close.
They meet in the offices at the television studio. There is a failed attempt at flirting, a distraction in the form of one Nam Mi Rae. There is a friendship, an understanding, a bond. But there is no relationship, no love, no marriage. Not this time.
They didn't meet first, and there is nothing that can change that.
But that's okay.
Yoo Kyung throws herself head-first into her scholarship program, focuses on this, on her career, and on reaching the top without having to speak in baby-talk ever again (unless she wants to, of course.)
She has been in the US for nineteen months before she sees anyone from back home.
As soon as she was granted the scholarship she'd made plans to leave, and left quickly. She'd decided that there was no point in sticking around, and, honestly, it had been a relief to get away and clear her mind. To try to forget about a time when there were two Mi Rae's and a diary Yoo Kyung can't quite believe she read.
It's late when her phone lights up, alerting her to the text message and distracting her from a four hour study session. She flexes her fingers as she puts down her pen, wonders who might be texting her after midnight. Maybe a fellow student, knee deep in study notes, finding any excuse to procrastinate.
When she opens it, the message doesn't mention next week's finals. Instead, it reads, "I'll be a five minute drive from your school on Friday. Shall we get dinner?"
She texts back, "Who is this?"
"Park Se Joo." A third message pops up. "I guess you never saved my new number?
Yoo Kyung stares at the screen, until she realises that, no, she didn't save it. She doesn't remember having it in the first place, to be honest. After all, why would she need in the here and now?
But, she is interested in how he's been, what he's been doing. She supposes it's only natural, since in another life they'd have been engaged by now, or maybe they'd be married; she never got the exact date for that out of the other, older Mi Rae. Not that it matters much, she realises. She's long accepted the truth of there being more than one reality, of the way one lane over on the highway can change the course of a lifetime, but it doesn't stop it from hurting a little when she allows her mind to wander there.
Yoo Kyung thinks that maybe the word hurt is too dramatic a way to describe it, but-- well, it was a pretty freaking dramatic situation. The chill that ran along her spine as she'd read the musings of another Mi Rae from another timeline had stayed with her for a long time after that, and, anyway, unrequited love does hurt, it hurts bitterly in fact, and it had done for a while.
She waits until the next morning. Ignores the fact she'd never saved his number, and texts back,"I'd love to have dinner. I'll pick the place!"
The reply comes as she is boarding the bus to her first lecture of the day.
"I'm already looking forward to it."
She doesn't text back this time. Thinks, me too, and then slides the phone back into her bag.
Yoo Kyung picks a tiny bistro in her neighbourhood. Gets ready for dinner whilst re-reading parts of a paper she has due in. Reads it aloud from post-it notes stuck on the wall surrounding her bathroom mirror. She rips one off that won't make the final cut and tosses it into the trash on her way out of the door.
Daydreams of head anchor status, of heading up meetings and of reading her name at the top of the credits list at the end of a show accompany her on her walk to the restaurant and she almost forgets who she is going to meet.
She makes it to the restaurant ten minutes early, sits at the bar, swings her legs in anticipation as she stirs her drink and the realisation sinks in that she's here to meet the man she once loved, or still loves, or maybe it was never love at all, just something very close to it. It doesn't matter either way, she decides now.
She's halfway through her drink when suddenly he is there, beside her, and there is genuine warmth in his voice when he says, "It's so good to see you."
"No chat up line?" She says it as she turns to fully face him, eyebrow raised, heart beating fast.
Se Joo laughs. "Apparently I skipped right to a declaration instead."
He looks younger, somehow. And his gaze is even more intense than she remembers it being. She's glad she had forgotten.
Yoo Kyung rolls her eyes. Replies, "It's good to see you too," and picks up her glass. "Shall we get our table?"
Se Joo nods a response, and Yoo Kyung tries desperately to decipher whether the butterflies in her stomach are from nerves towards her exams or because of how he is looking at her.
They order too much food, laugh as it arrives and piles up on their table-for-two. Yoo Kyung covers her face with her hands when things start arriving that she'd forgotten they even ordered. Se Joo pulls her fingers away from her face, holds them against the table, watches her cheeks flush as she mouths "Did we really order this?" as the waiter struggles to find space for another dish.
Two hours later, they tumble gracelessly, but not raucously, out of the restaurant near midnight and into a downpour and Yoo Kyung wonders if she was expecting tonight to be awkward, whether she'd wondered if they'd have anything to talk about or whether she'd be looking at her watch within thirty minutes. She wonders if he thought the same.
But, the fact is, she realises, as they hover in the doorway, that there would be no reason for it to be awkward at all. They're old friends in the same industry. Friends who haven't so much as texted for almost two years . They have everything to talk about.
The cold air hits them both as they enter the street and Yoo Kyung takes in a breath, feels the coldness against her teeth as she starts to walk out into the street. Se Joo pulls up the collar of his coat, places his hand on her arm gently and pulls her back underneath the covered doorway. "It's raining," he says, even though it's quite obvious.
They stand and watch the water flow into the gutters at the side of the street, observe streams of rain-water flow from the edges of the canopy above them. There is silence for the first time in three hours, but it feels good. It feels relaxed, comfortable.
"I can't let you walk home in this." Se Joo breaks the silence. "Wasn't it sunny earlier? How can the weather change so fast?"
Yoo Kyung shrugs. She's used to the weather in this city by now. She says, "A little water never hurt anyone."
Se Joo contemplates this. "I guess not." He doesn't look convinced.
"If you're that worried about me being washed away, you can walk back with me." Yoo Kyung nudges his arm. "Or have you developed an allergy to water? Is that why you used to get driven everywhere? Just in case it rains?"
Se Joo feigns offence, leans forward and holds out his hand so that his fingers are no longer covered by the canopy above them. He flinches, pulls back with a gasp and then waits for Yoo Kyung to narrow her eyes before he breaks into a grin. "Oh, it looks like I'm impervious to rain water after all."
"You're not funny," Yoo Kyung says, but she's laughing all the same.
It's not possible to avoid puddles, so they walk through them with determination. Wet hair and wetter feet. Yoo Kyung wonders what the point of putting make up on this morning was.
"Do you want to come in?" She asks, when they get to the corner of her street. "You're going to get your car wet, otherwise."
Se Joo grimaces. "I might not drive back tonight, in case the weather gets worse."
And Yoo Kyung suddenly feels slightly more conscious of the raindrops running from the tip of her nose. "Will your car be okay overnight?"
"If I get a ticket, I get a ticket." Se Joo replies, and Yoo Kyung is suddenly reminded of his empire back home.
Once they get inside, she leaves Se Joo peeling off his jacket, makes coffee as she pulls damp strands of hair from the sides of her face and smooths down her blouse.
"Yoo Kyung?" Se Joo calls from the hallway. "Remember that one segment we filmed together, the family? The way you turned that interview around, whilst treating the family with respect?"
"I-- yes? Why?" When Yoo Kyung turns around he is in the doorway of the tiny kitchen she shares with her two housemates.
"I was just thinking about it the other day."
"But, why?" Yoo Kyung hands over a coffee, clutches hers close to her chest.
Se Joo takes his coffee with a smile, turns and heads out, across the hallway. "Sometimes I think about you, is all. " He disappears out of sight.
Yoo Kyung can't remember how to follow for a good five minutes. Holds her coffee close to her chest and wonders if she's accidentally found her way into a third, entirely different timeline.
They fall asleep in front of the television and wake up with stiff necks and shy glances at dawn.
"We should do this again soon." Se Joo says as he slips back into his still-damp jacket, and Yoo Kyung wholeheartedly agrees.
Their schedules don't exactly make things easy, but Yoo Kyung at least saves his number this time, sees him five more times before she leaves the US.
Bumps into a friend as they exit the movie theatre one Saturday evening and neither of them bother correcting her when the friend asks if they've had a good date.
Yoo Kyung returns to Korea six months later with a wealth of experience and a resume to match, and presents herself at the head offices of YBS.
She is proud.
Proud for reaching this point, proud for climbing the ladder on her own terms. Proud of sticking to her guns, and knowing those around her appreciate her for her skill, her talent and her determination.
Watches men with thinning hair and wandering eyes that once expected her to bend over backwards for their needs pass her in the hallway on the way to her set, her show and thinks, fuck you, if only for a fleeting moment. Still lowers her head, greets them warmly, but stands back up with her shoulders square. Her head thrown back and a red lipstick painted mouth curved upward.
Yoo Kyung is firmly in control of her destiny, and it feels good.
It's only nine thirty when Yoo Kyung leaves the studio on Christmas Eve. She'd been expecting to be at the studio until eleven, but her interview with Mi Rae is slick and natural and the re-shoots are minimal as a result.
She is still in the lobby, fingers hovered over her phone, deciding whether she can drop by a party for one drink without being persuaded to stay for two, when she sees him, greeting the security staff at the entrance and then shaking them off when they try to carry his suitcase.
When he spots her he grins. "Are you finished work? I came back early, swapped my flight. Want to go for a drink?"
This is the first invitation of the night Yoo Kyung agrees to without hesitation.
She eyes his shopping bag as they slide onto bar stools and his gaze follows. "Ah. I bought Mi Rae's book. It came out today."
Yoo Kyung laughs. "I know, I gave it a glowing review on my show." She pulls the signed copy Mi Rae had gifted her at the start of the interview from her bag and places it on the bar. "Signed personally by the author. I hope it's going to top the charts by the end of the week."
Se Joo seems surprised. Says, "Are you two friends now?"
Yoo Kyung twists her mouth. "No. Not--" She pauses. "I don't think we will ever be friends, at least not in the dinner date, buy-a-birthday-card way. But... I'm really glad she's done so well. She deserves it."
Se Joo smiles. Yoo kyung can tell he understands where she is coming from, and is glad for it.
"So..." She pushes the book bag into her bag. Thinks, now they're on the subject she may as well get the burning question out of the way. "Are you going to see her now you're back?"
"Maybe." Se Joo genuinely looks as though he hasn't put any thought into it. "Hey, maybe we should all go out for drinks -- the old team? Even Kim Shin if we can prise him from the studio."
"Ah, he will come. He's loosened up a bit lately and-- I'm not saying he's fun exactly, but we did go out for barbecue food last month and he's always good company when you get him out of a suit jacket."
Se Joo blinks. Shifts in his seat and asks, "You went out? Just you and him?" as he plays with his napkin.
Yoo Kyung takes in the frown lines in his forehead. Is confused for a moment-- it's as if he's agitated by this. As if he's jealous, which, he can't be. It's obvious, at least Yoo Kyung thought it was, that she and Kim Shin are the most platonic of colleagues, of friends, in the entire history of the universe. In any universe.
Apparently it isn't obvious to Se Joo, though Yoo Kyung can't quite believe he cares.
She waits until he looks up, meets her gaze, and asks, "Does that bother you?"
"No, of course not," Se Joo replies, pulls back his shoulders and smiles. But, it clearly does.
Yoo Kyung tries not to replay this exchange in her head later as he texts her to say goodnight, but it plays on a loop behind her eyes until she falls asleep regardless of her good intentions.
Yoo Kyung's phone rings two days later and the voice on the other end of the phone is a determined one.
"You should come to Jeju island with me," It's Se Joo. She can hear voices in the background, knows he must be with his Grandmother and their family. A big, lavish, Christmas party, no doubt.
"I can go to Jeju island on my own," she replies, skims over her script for tonight's show. She pauses to write a note in the sidelines.
"I know you can, but... You have three days off after tonight's show right? I leave in the morning, just a short break. I know how hard you work..." He trails off. Takes a different direction. "Remember that time, when you found out about me at that club?"
"Of course I do. You were wearing sunglasses." Yoo Kyung closes her script, leans against the arm of her chair. "It was nine thirty pm, and very dark."
"I was being inconspicuous." Se Joo replies, but Yoo Kyung can tell he's not being serious.
"Why are you bringing this up?"
"Just because-- I don't know. I know I took you for granted back then. You were completely honest with me, and I-- I took you for granted as a friend. As a person."
Yoo Kyung feels a lump in her throat. For once in her life, she has no idea how to respond. In the end, she just says, "What time do we leave, then? For Jeju island."
"Why not. It's the holidays, I deserve some time off. And, anyway, I want to hear everything you've been up-to in the States. We hardly even covered the basics on the 24th and I interview for a living, Se Joo. I've become nosy as hell since I moved back here."
"You're inquisitive, you always have been."
Yoo Kyung murmurs an agreement.
Se Joo says, "I'll pick you up at seven am, okay?"
"Will you be wearing sunglasses?" Yoo Kyung asks, tongue firmly in cheek.
"Only if you are," Se Joo replies.
Yoo Kyung just laughs.
They're on the balcony of Se Joo's suite, looking out across angry, Winter waves. Se Joo takes in a breath of salt air and says, "We were meant to meet here, weren't we?"
Yoo Kyung isn't going to pretend that she hasn't spent a lot of time over the years wondering exactly how much of their story, of their other life together, Se Joo was ever told. She has since come to realise that, really, it doesn't matter at all. But, still, she's taken aback by his question. Starts to wonder why he wanted her to come. "You didn't bring me to see if you could manage to bring yourself to fall in love with me here, did you?"
"No-- no." Se Joo's eyes widen. "Do you think I would do that?"
Yoo Kyung can feel heat rising in her cheeks. "No, I don't. I'm sorry, I just--"
"Don't be sorry." Se Joo reaches out, takes the glass from her hand and places it on the table next to them. Replaces the glass with his own hand. "I'm an idiot for not realising what an amazing person you are back then. I didn't realise how much I'd miss you after you moved away. I-- I didn't have any reason to visit you that first time in the US. I made up some excuse, I just drove to see you. And I'm glad I did."
"Yeah. And you hadn't even saved my number!" He smiles, almost sadly. "It serves me right."
Yoo Kyung looks down at their fingers, intertwined. "Yes, it does," she says, but she lets him pull her closer. "I was really looking forward to that vacation. I'd been saving for so long. I can't believe I got a head injury instead." She sighs.
Se Joo frowns at the thought. Asks, "How do you think we would have met? Here, I mean?"
"Hmm," Yoo Kyung mulls this over. "I'm not sure. But, however we met, I will have been looking really cute and you will have probably been wearing sunglasses in the dark."
"I'm never getting to live that down am I?"
"No." Yoo Kyung pulls her hand free, picks up her drink again. Raises her glass and says, "Here is us to us not meeting on Jeju Island." She's joking, but it rings true.
She has no regrets, she wouldn't want to change the way things played out, the place she has gotten to and on her own terms.
Se Joo raises his own. "Something could happen on Jeju island, though. I mean, if you wanted it to."
"Like what?" Yoo Kyung let's her heartbeat increase as Se Joo moves towards her.
"Like this." He smiles, closes the gap between their bodies.
And, as they kiss, it starts to rain.