Moo Hak took a deep breath. His heart was racing. He took another deep breath. This time, he let his breath out through his mouth. He wasn’t sure if he wasn’t fit enough for intense rigorous activities, or whether he was still excited about getting together with Dali.
He turned around and saw Dali entering his bedroom after cleaning herself. She folded her dress and put it on the bench before climbing into bed. It was the first time he'd seen her in her undergarments since The Netherlands. Nothing happened between them then, but the same could not be said this time. After his opportunity to sleep with Dali was ruined by Chak Hee the other night, he finally caught his break tonight. He’d thought that he was ready for it, but he was totally caught by surprise at how Dali was in bed.
Moo Hak pinched his cheek hard. He could feel the pain near his jawbone. But it still felt all too surreal for him. Was it a dream? The entire day felt like a dream to him. Just yesterday, he learnt that the person living with his father had assaulted Dali at her workplace. He tried apologising to Dali that night, but she locked herself in the rooftop house.
It seemed like they were being pushed apart from each other, and she had denied him permission to enter her space, into her life that night. He offered her a ride to work this morning, hoping he could use that little time in the shared time and space of having breakfast together to apologise to her. Dali pulled away and got into Tae Jin’s car instead. And then while he was inspecting the kitchen at one of his restaurants, he heard that Tae Jin had bought a ridiculously expensive ring that could buy a truckload of bowls of gamjatang.
He had rushed to Cheongsong Art Gallery to pull her closer to him again, but his anxiety only worsened when she told him that she would pay his two billion won soon, ending their creditor-debtor relationship. His heart sank earlier tonight when he thought something had happened to her. It sank further down when she told him that she could no longer be by his side. He pinched himself again. He still could not believe his eyes. Dali who seemed so far from his reach was now in his embrace.
“Is anything wrong, Jin seonsaeng-nim?”
“No. So many things happened today that this feels like a dream.”
Moo Hak tucked a strand of Dali’s hair behind her ears. He could never get enough of seeing her face. He fell for that face the first time he saw it at the airport in The Netherlands. There was something about her that made his knees weak. He didn’t know what exactly it was, but he wanted to keep seeing that face since his eventful business trip to The Netherlands, especially after the incident in the mansion. Every time he remembered what happened when the light went out, he blushed in silence.
“If this were a dream, I don’t ever want to wake up so that I can keep looking at you. So I can be this close with you, Dali-ssi.”
“This isn’t a dream, Jin seonsaeng-nim. I’ll still be here when you wake up. Also, how can I leave this good-looking money-grubber?”
Moo Hak felt something on his cheeks. Weird, because he didn’t pinch himself again this time.
“You can feel this, can’t you? This isn’t a dream, is it, Jin seonsaeng-nim?”
Moo Hak grabbed her hands from his cheeks and played with her fingers.
“Dali-ssi, this has been bothering me since we left Yeoncheon earlier today. You said you want to love me with the confidence as equals. So why are you still calling me Jin seonsaeng-nim? Every time you call me Jin seonsaeng-nim, it feels like you’re keeping me at a distance.”
“Well, we first met when I was supposed to pick up Jin Hitonari seonsaeng-nim from the airport. I already knew when we met in The Netherlands but the more you helped the gallery, the more I learnt how wise you are, especially in doing business. I keep learning from you how the gallery can make money by being creative with our costs and marketing to attract people to the exhibition. That’s why I keep calling you Jin seonsaeng-nim.”
Moo Hak grinned from ear to ear. He knew Dali was avoiding his question by flattering him. This was probably not the first time she used that tactic to get out from difficult conversations, he reckoned.
“Even then, we’re already this close to each other. Why are you making me feel distant from you, Dali-ssi? We’re close enough to share many intimate moments together. Just now too…”
Moo Hak was silenced mid-sentence with a kiss from Dali. They had kissed many times that night, but this kiss still sent shivers down his spine.
“Sorry. I guess it’s a habit. So many things happened to me today, so this feels like a dream to me too, Jin seonsaeng-nim”.
Dali winked, not even trying to hide her little smile. Suddenly Moo Hak was lost in her smile again. Every time she gave him that smile, he would be at loss for words. And every time he tried to speak, he would end up only embarrassing himself in front of her — sometimes in the presence of Secretary Yeo as well.
Moo Hak pulled her closer to him and brushed her hair with his hand. He could hear her little giggle under her breath. Was she teasing him? The thought occurred to him, but he didn’t mind not knowing the answer. The answer to why she still called him Jin seonsaeng-nim. The answer to whether she was teasing him during the entire conversation. He could endure not knowing the answers to both. In fact, he could endure anything in this world as long as he was still with her, sharing their space together.