Two: The One with the Rumors and Secret Lunch Dates

Hey, man. Where are you? I called your office and the secretary said you were out.
Yo! Lunch date. Can’t text much.
With whom?
Hah! I really can’t tell you. I’ll see you guys later.
You’re pretty sneaky.

No sooner than he slipped the phone into his pocket, his lady friend motioned towards a recently opened clothing store within the mall’s premises. ‘What is it with women and shopping?’, he wondered. Woo Bin grew up with high tolerance for shopping trips that could last for hours. This surprisingly worked to his favor when charming the socks off women.

“Oppa!” his companion, Kim Su Jin, called out. “What do you think?” She had picked a floral printed sun dress from the racks while sizing herself in front of the mirror.

He nodded absent-mindedly as he felt his attention slowly waning. At that instant, as if granting his wish for a distraction, Ha Jae Kyung’s willowy frame entered the same establishment. She was shopping by her lonesome, listening to her iPod and seemed oblivious to the people around her. Woo Bin casually approached and tapped her on the shoulder.

“Woo Bin-sshi?” she gasped, although her voice sounded more like a squeak.

“We have to stop meeting like this, right?” he replied, a joking smile on his face. “Where’s Ga Eul?”

“At work,” Jae Kyung replied. “I didn’t want to impose so I decided to do some sightseeing of my own.”

“You need any help?” he asked, referring to the shopping bags she carried.

“No thanks,” she said. “You seem to have company –”

They were interrupted by elegant hands snaking his forearm. He turned to see Su Jin, her perfect, china-doll face pleased at her recent purchase. Breezing through quick introductions, she prodded him to go to a different store acting completely oblivious of Jae Kyung’s presence. His shoulders slumped in defeat as he reluctantly followed Su Jin on the way out. Woo Bin was too much of a gentleman to ignore his date, and he tried hard to look interested as Su Jin kept him in a conversation. He stole one last look at Jae Kyung and her eyes briefly met his before she turned on her heel and went the opposite direction.

~o~

“Do you always shop like that?” Woo Bin’s voice startled Jae Kyung who was standing outside her favorite noodle shop. She turned towards his direction and noticed that he’d been happily observing her for the past few minutes. His reddish brown hair looked slightly disheveled and he sported a more casual look as he folded his long-sleeved shirt to the elbows.

Jae Kyung was suprised. It had only been an hour since they last saw each other. How did he know where she was? Feeling suspicious, she tiptoed and looked over his shoulder. “Where is she?”

“Who?”

“Su Jin,” she wondered. “Your date?”

He never flinched at the question. “She knows her way home.”

“You ditched her?”

“Now that’s harsh,” he feigned offense at her statement. “I talked my way out would be more like it.”

She was amused at his nonchalance. Song Woo Bin had this crazy sense of humor that none of the F3 can ever pull off. Feeling upbeat, she cajoled him into buying her some jajangmyeon to which he gladly obliged.

“Where should be we sit?”, she asked as soon as they entered the premises. The afternoon crowd was quite lean, but the place was bustling with activity.

“Follow me,” he replied, taking her hand. He seemed to know the place pretty well and even acknowledged one patron when they passed by a table.

“Hey, Woo Bin! How’s it going?” the storekeeper said with a smile. “Are you ordering the house specialty?”

“Yeah, make that two? I’ve got a friend with me and I need to make an impression,” Woo Bin replied jokingly which left Jae Kyung slightly flustered. “We’d be sitting at the corner, Geum Suk.”

“Sure, no problem!” the man called Geum Suk replied. “I’ll have your orders prepared in no time.”

As they settled into a booth at the corner, Jae Kyung couldn’t help but admire Woo Bin’s maturity and people skills. No wonder the F4 worked so well as a group. If she had grown up with the same set of friends then maybe her life would’ve had a little direction by now.

~o~

The tea shop was quite modest with its interiors but had a homey ambiance to it. He preferred unwinding here because it allowed him the solitude to finish his favorite books without any interruption. As he took to his regular nook he spotted familiar faces about to enter the nearby noodle shop. The sight pleased him and thought they made quite a lovely pair.

He was so engrossed with people-watching that he didn’t notice the storekeeper approaching.

“More tea, Mister Yoon?”

~o~

Song Woo Bin was pissed.

He had to leave suddenly because of a phone call from Shin Hwa middle school. To top it off, Jae Kyung was nowhere to be found when he returned to their table to properly say goodbye. Worried over the reason of the call, he drove at maximum speed only to be ushered into the headmaster’s office as soon as he arrived.

To his left were his sisters, fifteen year-old twins Song Hye Jin and Song Hye Rin. One sported a bloody nose while the other tended to her wounded sibling.

“Hye Jin, what the hell happened?” Woo Bin asked exasperatedly. School violence was something he never thought his sisters would be involved in. What started even before the F4 ruled the Shin Hwa campuses continues to be one vicious cycle until today.

“Your sister here is quite the martial artist, Mr. Song,” a stern-looking woman explained. She introduced herself as Baek Sul Hwa, the headmistress of the school. “She kicked a student in the face.”

“Na Ra started it first!” Hye Jin bellowed.

“I did not!” came the voice of another girl. He turned and saw another teenager seated across the twins.

“You hated Hye Rin because your boyfriend likes her,” his sister’s face was filled with fury. “Now you go about spreading lies to the entire school after trashing her locker? Why don’t you fight fair, you witch!”

Hye Rin was desperately trying to calm her sister down. Woo Bin knew how much the twins were protective of each other despite having opposite personalities. The prim and proper Hye Rin was the brainy and pragmatic type while the boyish Hye Jin was the sporty and impulsive twin.

“And you allowed this behavior among your students?” he asked, turning to the headmistress for answers.

“I’m really sorry, Mr. Song. We don’t condone incidents like this within our school’s premises,” Mrs. Baek said. “I can assure you we will speak to the students concerned and sanction them properly.”

“But Oppa! Why do I have to be punished as well?” Hye Jin complained

“Because what you did was wrong,” Hye Rin explained, feeling bad that all these happened because of her.

“Rin-nie -” Hye Jin said tearfully.

“Mrs. Baek is just being fair -“, he told the twins. “I’m really sorry for my sister’s behavior,” turning to the administrator.

“We understand, sir. I assure you incidents like this won’t happen again,” Mrs. Baek promised.

“We’re counting on that,” Woo Bin said.

With their concern done, he led his sisters towards the door. It was a quiet ride on their way back to the Song manor. Hye Rin promised him countless of times she’d look after Hye Jin to make sure this never happens again. His feisty sister, on the other hand, sulked at the back seat still smarting over the incident earlier. Both barely said a word to him by the time he dropped them off at their parents’ house.

~o~

Two days later…

The F4 and the people closest to them knew that anything Goo Jun Pyo does always generates media attention. So when news of the engagement broke out, they had been extra careful with their actions to avoid being tabloid fodder. But this never stopped the sleazy magazines from running headlines on speculations as to how long the supposed marriage would last.

“Aissshhh!” Jun Pyo yelled, slamming another magazine on the coffee table. On it was a photo of him and Jan Di, with the heading “WILL IT LAST?” screaming all over the front page.

“This,” Yi Jeong pointed out. “is a freakin’ tabloid. Do not let yourself be affected by it.”

“Yi Jeong’s right,” Ji Hoo added. “What you need to focus right now is your upcoming wedding.”

“Let us worry about the unnecessary stuff,” said Woo Bin, who had just arrived from the office. He had caught the part where Yi Jeong tried to calm Jun Pyo about the tabloid.

“Speaking of unnecessary,” Yi Jeong turned to Woo Bin who was now seated beside him. “Who was the unfortunate lunch date you refused to introduce a few days ago?” He was trying to pry some details despite knowing it would fall on deaf ears.

“Just some lady,” was all he answered. He was being cryptic yet no one insisted further.

Ji Hoo cleared his throat loudly. ‘Some lady and a noodle shop,’ he whispered to himself, his attention still on the book he was reading.

Jun Pyo, who was grateful the discussion diverted his attention from the tabloid incident, only had one piece of advice. “The next time it won’t be just ‘some lady’ anymore, Woo Bin-ah,” he said, whacking his friend playfully on the shoulder.

~o~

Everything happens for a reason, no matter how inane it may sound.

The next morning, unexpected visitors surprised Jae Kyung for the day.

“Good mornin’ sleepyhead!” Jan Di greeted her as she stuffed a toast into her mouth. She was busy reading that morning’s issue of The Seoul Times.

Ga Eul grinned herself. “I hope you don’t mind. We took the liberty of preparing breakfast.”

She hugged them one after the other. “The company is most appreciated, ladies. I thought you had forgotten about me.” Trying to thumb sleep off her system, she helped herself to a cup of coffee.

“Nonsense,” Jan Di waved her off. “We’ve been busy, yes. But we haven’t forgotten that you’re our guest.”

“So who’s up for a Spa Day?” Ga Eul asked, offering some french toast. With no immediate reply, she retreated to her seat and opened her laptop to check some email.

Jae Kyung raised her hand. “I’m in. Just give me twenty minutes to prepare.”

When she returned downstairs, the mood had changed.

“You might want to see this,” Ga Eul said, leading Jae Kyung to her laptop. Her tone was serious while Jan Di was unusually quiet, almost like she didn’t want her to see what Ga Eul found over the internet.

“SHINHWA HEIR’S EX-FIANCEE RETURNS WITHIN WEEKS BEFORE THE WEDDING”

Jae Kyung gasped. So much for anonymity! Her return to Seoul had apparently made it to a famous netizen blog. What she hated was the way she was portrayed in the article, not to mention someone managed to snap a photo of her arriving at Incheon without her knowledge.

“I am so sorry, Jan Di.” Jae Kyung apologized. “Whoever came up with this trash is seriously nuts.”

“I know,” Jan Di assured her. “We’ll fix this, unni. You shouldn’t be apologizing. This wedding was what dragged you into this mess.”

Jae Kyung had the nagging feeling the problem was far from over unless she does something to fix it herself. But how?

It was a question she drowned over a huge cup of coffee.

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