Chapter 26: The Innocent Couple Reconciles and the Queen of Spontaneity Cooks for the Leader
Naomi wondered how many times she had seen this image of a man leaving. Countless. Her father had abandoned the family when she was only five. She had seen his parting with a suitcase. She had seen her mother chasing after her father, screaming, “Am I not good enough? You’re leaving me for that whore, aren’t you?”
Naomi remembered asking, “Where are you going, Daddy?”
His dad finally stopped to turn and give her a pat on the head. “Daddy will be back. Now, you be a good girl.”
Naomi believed him. She listened to all of her mother’s orders and requests. She studied diligently and even achieved an acceptance to Columbia University. Did he, however, come for her? No. She never saw him again. So, everything that she had done was useless; all of her triumphs were failures. Deciding to live freely, she rejected her offer to Columbia University and stayed in Seoul at Yonsei University. Ever since her decision, her mother never treated her the same way and instead, felt that she was leading a life of degradation and even imitating her father. 
Naomi disagreed. She began to date and to experiment with love. She, however, never felt a connection with any of her dates and they too left her, claiming that she was not right for them. That was all before she accidentally met Changmin at one of the university’s library. That day, the whole library was filled with students, who were anxious to study for their mid-terms. There happened to be an empty spot beside a boy who was listening to his I-touch with large head phones. That spot was occupied by his blue backpack and by his beige trench coat.
“Is this spot taken?” Naomi asked.
Changmin, however, did not hear her, and so she gently tapped his shoulder. He frowned at her, as a result. In a rude voice, he demanded, “What?”
“Is this seat taken?” she politely repeated.
His frown morphed into a chivalrous grin and his voice softened to murmur, “No, it’s not. I’ll just clear up the space here.”
She felt her heart skip. When he pulled the seat out for her to sit, she felt her cheeks grow warm. Was this the beginning of love?
“T-thank you,” she only managed to stutter.
“No problem,” he responded before putting his head phones back on.
After their brief encounter, she began to think about him. She even asked her classmates if anyone knew anything about him, but they all shook their heads. Determined to discover his identity, she went to the same library every day close to the time that they had met. She even sat at the exact spot, hoping that he would come to take the seat beside her. He never came though.
The next time she met him was approximately a year later. They were finally in the same class, Calculus. She had never loved Calculus, but now she did for he was there. Afraid to show her intentions, she always took a spot behind him. That way she could secretly observe him. She could overhear his conversations with his friend, who she soon learned to be Junsu. She learned that Junsu also detested Calculus, and only cared about soccer. He used to be a star soccer player, but had retired in high school. Still, he had managed to attend Yonsei University based on Changmin’s connections with the Dean of Social Sciences. Thus, Changmin always reminded Junsu not to mope about Calculus because he wouldn’t be here without Changmin’s help.
Changmin, as Naomi discovered, was the opposite of Junsu. Changmin adored Calculus and majored in Mathematics. He hated sports, especially soccer. Every day she would learn something new about the two. One day, she learned that Junsu had never had a girlfriend and that Changmin was not interested in dating at the moment. Changmin found girls to be bothersome and overbearing. He even claimed to have rejected the school’s most popular girl and that was when Naomi realized that she could never be his.
By this time, her love for him had turned into an obsession. There was not a moment where he was not part of her thoughts. She wondered what it would be like for them to be on dates, to hold hands, and to talk to each other about anything. Daydreams, however, were not enough to satiate her love for him. She wanted him to be there for her and suddenly, she had an innovative plan.
She needed him to stay.
Naomi had finally gone to the restaurant where Junsu worked and he was there, serving a customer. After he had taken the customer’s order, she followed him and hollered, “Junsu, we need to talk.”
He stared at her and coldly remarked, “What is there to say?”
“Is that how you want to end things?” she yelled so boisterously that all the customers were staring at them.
Junsu assessed the situation and then replied, “If you’re willing to stay until after dinner service, then we can talk by then. I have work, you know.”
“All right,” she sighed and took a seat at the waiting area.
She was surprised by his sudden animosity. This was not the Junsu that she had known; he was willing to tolerate many things. Was he going to leave her too? Shaking her head, she wanted to shrug off all of her suspicions and worries, yet she couldn’t. She already had the image ingrained in her mind, the image of desertion.
“Why are you crying?” he at last asked when all the customers left.
She looked up, still with tears in her eyes, “Are you going to leave me?”
“No. What makes you think that?” he quizzically mumbled.
He carefully and considerately wiped away her tears with his thumbs as she muttered, “You walked away after I told you not to hit Changmin.”
“I was frustrated.”
She couldn’t understand how he didn’t hesitate to stop, so she asked, “Did you know that I was running after you? You just drove away.”
Hearing Naomi’s distressed voice, he stuttered, “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know that you were there. I w-was . . . just so . . . irritated.”
 “Because I said not to hit him?” she wondered aloud.
Junsu didn’t know where to begin, so he decided just to be truthful, and blurt out everything in his head. He started slowly, “It’s because of a lot of things, Naomi.” Then, he quickened his pace, “It’s like I . . .try and I try, but nothing is ever good enough for you. Nothing is working.”
Seeing his agitated eyes, she felt sympathy and forgiveness. She settled on an action that could pacify the irritation and the negativity. So, she kissed him on the lips, and then murmured, “Would you say that nothing is working?”
“W-W-well, I . . .”
Junsu was stunned, absolutely stunned. He never expected her to be the one that initiated a kiss. It should have been him that took charge.
Out of the blue, she requested, “Promise me something, Junsu.”
“Yes?” His voice grew shaky.
“Promise me that you’ll never leave me.” She grasped his hand with enough strength to cause him to shiver. “No matter what happens and no matter how wrong you or I may be, promise me that you’ll never leave me.”
She stared with desolate eyes that were avid for love and mostly security. Junsu, thus, responded, “I won’t . . . leave you.”
“Then, I love you,” she bleakly enounced.
Junsu, taken by surprise, felt obliged to say, “I love you too.”
Why was responsibility attached to these words? Why did he feel burdened? Why wasn’t he the one that said it to her first? He couldn’t understand why this sentence seemed to haunt him. It was supposed to be a loving moment. His efforts had showed results, but why wasn’t he feeling the satisfaction from such results? Love was supposed to be thoughtless. Now this phrase carried much thought, bearing the weight of a mountainous stone.
“That’s good,” she declared. “I’m glad you feel this way too.”
He heard a robotic, rehearsed tone. Where was the love, he wanted to ask. He was, however, interrupted by her kiss. She kissed him passionately and he hoped that that meant she loved him.
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The way Rhett had always cooked his instant noodles was with a pot, a pair of chopsticks, noodles, and a stove. That was the way Kannei would have liked for someone else to cook instant noodles. If she were the chef, she would simply use hot water, a pair of chopsticks, and of course, the noodles. When Rhett noticed what she was going to do, he only had one thought in his mind: how could someone be so lazy? She too noticed his expression.
“Don’t give me that ugly look,” she complained while pouring the boiling water from the kettle. “I’m making something better than instant noodles. They’re express noodles.”
“You seem to have an excuse for anything you do.”
He now leaned on the kitchen counter, impatient with her work. She then grabbed a plate to cover the bowl of noodles, and argued, “More like a reason. So, how do you like your noodles?”
She almost threw the bowl and a pair of chopsticks at his face. Rhett, sensing her irritation, quickly answered, “Chewy, but slightly hard. And you?”
He walked with the bowl to an empty seat at the dining table. Taking a quick glance at her, he breathed a sigh of relief. She was grinning when she uttered, “Chewy, but soft.”
Using his chopsticks to grasp the noodles, he murmured, “If only we were actually eating ramen . . .”
“Yunho!” she yapped too abruptly.
“Wh-what?” His chopsticks had rolled off of his hands and fallen into the soup, creating a large splash.
“You said that you’d show me around Tokyo right?”
“Y-yes?”
“Well, I know where I want to go! I want to go to the Shinyokohama Ramen Museum at Yokohama! I’ve been dying to go there!”
She had shrilled like a fan girl would to her favourite celebrity and was holding her hands together like she was praying to some deity. As a result, Rhett laughed. He laughed wholeheartedly at her reaction towards ramen. Even though he couldn’t understand why or how she could be so obsessed with ramen, he unpredictably wanted to support her obsession.
“I could take you there this weekend,” he, without any warning, offered.
“Really?” Her eyes instantly twinkled with joy.
“Really,” Rhett affirmed, “I’ve actually wanted to go there too, so does Saturday afternoon sound good?”
“You’re a good guy, Yunho!” she jumped up from her seat and cheered. “You just made my day! Thank you! Thank you!”
Before Rhett could reply, she took both of his hands, even the one that was now holding onto a pair of chopsticks, and shook them up and down and up and down. During this strenuous routine, she kept rambling, “Ahh! You’re too awesome! You’re even too cool for school! Ah, I just rhymed! I don’t know what I’m saying anymore, but I love you! I love you! You’re too awesome, really!” Just when Rhett thought that she had calmed down, she leapt forward and gave him a hug. “Now, I don’t normally give out hugs because well . . . I don’t like them, but honestly, thank you!”
Rhett could only mumble as he reciprocated her hug. “You’re welcome.”
When Jaejoong returned home from a long day of work, he headed towards the kitchen. He needed a beer. He was stunned to find Rhett sitting at the kitchen table, just staring out into space. Rhett rarely wandered off into dreamland.
“Rhett,” Jaejoong hailed. There was no response. So, Jaejoong attempted another try with a louder voice, “Rhett Jung!” Again, Rhett was stationary, unwary of anyone’s presence. Now fully querulous, Jaejoong squawked, “Jung Yunho!”
Slowly, but surely, Rhett answered, “Y-yeah . . . and who said you could call me that name?”
“Since you’ve been zoning out, but that’s beside the point. How long have you been here for?” Jaejoong interrogated while opening the fridge for his chilled beer.
“I don’t know,” he mumbled. “I haven’t really kept track of the time.”
“Well,” Jaejoong now opened his can of beer with a cracking sound, “something smells fishy.”
Rhett shrugged, “No, there’s nothing wrong.”
While Jaejoong shook his head, he glimpsed at the counter and noticed two empty bowls beside the sink. Then, he knew what was occurring. “Say,” he decided to test out his theory, “was someone here tonight?”
“Y-yeah.”
“Could that person happen to be Kannei, I mean, Kannei Lee?” Jaejoong chirped.
“Yes.”
“So, what did you guys do?” Jaejoong pressed forward.
Rhett murmured, “Nothing much. Just ate some stuff and ugh, I agreed to take her to the Ramen Museum.”
“Interesting.” Jaejoong chuckled. “So, I take it that your relationship with her is going well.”
“W-what, w-w-what r-r-relationship?”
Jaejoong continued to laugh, almost spilling his beer on his new blazer. “Chill, man. Relationship can mean many things. I mean, friendship is a type of relationship. Now, I suppose you were thinking it as going beyond being friends?”
Rhett immediately tensed and shuddered. “N-no!!”
“So you like her, don’t you?” Jaejoong artfully smirked.
Refusing to make eye contact with Jaejoong, Rhett remained silent. He was unsure of what to say and what to think. The words that kept echoing in his mind were hers. They were of her chants of “I love you, I love you”. It was a sentence that she spoke of too casually, yet he thought of too seriously.
Confusion was now the epitome of Rhett’s mind. He didn’t know what he was feeling. Was this love then or was this friendship? He hadn’t known Kannei for years so he could not assess her completely. He wasn’t the sort to fall in love easily. Love at first sight never happened to him, except maybe that actress. He needed reasons to support his love for someone and he couldn’t seem to clearly announce that he loved Kannei for love came with responsibility.       
There was one thing he was sure of: his surging anxiety. To make matters worse, Jaejoong pinpointed, “Rhett . . . are you getting a fever?”
“What do you think?” Rhett stormed upstairs to his room.
Jaejoong hollered, “I think you like her! I think you like her a lot!”

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