With a sideways glance at her bedside clock, she knew she simply couldn’t wait any longer to call it off. The empty bucket under her boiler she had just swapped out was filling up with water quickly. One-handed, she reached into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled up his number on her phone with a knot curling in her stomach. He answered on the third ring and Jeong-sun began to speak immediately, hurriedly, as though hoping this would lessen the guilt and disappointment that she felt.
“Yoongi, I’m sorry. I can’t make it.”
The panic in her voice made his stomach lurch uncomfortably. “Are you okay?”
“ There’s a leak…there’s water everywhere.” She said, quickly. “I’m running out of buckets. My landlord was supposed to come but he’s not shown up. ” She sounded out of breath, frantic as she dashed between her bedroom and the bathroom sink, tipping litres of water into the drain before rushing back to the spraying pipe with an empty container. There was an angry hiss in the background amidst the interference and her short breathing, making him frown.
“ Where’s the leak?” Yoongi said, his voice coming steadily through the receiver. He clutched his phone to his ear, pausing in the doorway of the coffee shop as he tried to hear her over the background noise. Too agitated to be at home, he had left his apartment early and had spent the last three-quarters of an hour smoking one cigarette slowly after the other. This did nothing to settle his nerves. He stubbed out the lit end against the mortar and brick edifice.
“ My boiler…it’s pissing water everywhere.” The tone of her voice was almost comical, but Yoongi did not laugh. Instead, he responded with a slightly flat inflexion that still managed to sound soft and soothing.
“ Can you turn off the water supply?”
“ How do I do that?” Came her voice at once.
“There’s a handle inside the unit,” he explained. “…You have to turn it clockwise.”
There was quiet on the other end as Jeong-sun tried to locate the part that Yoongi had described. He waited patiently as the sound of her breathing disappeared and he realised she must have put her phone down to remove the metal panel that covered the cavity. He turned his head away from the speaker and coughed once, his chest feeling tight, but less so than it had been the past week. The medicine Jeong-sun had suggested had greatly improved the quality of his sleep in the last few nights, his only main complaint being the consistent burning sensation in his throat.
Her voice returned, a little more calmly. “Okay… I think I’ve got it. But it’s still leaking…”
“There’s only so much water that can drain…you need to relieve the pressure valve too.”
She didn’t question how he knew so much about this sort of thing, instead trying hard to listen to his instruction. Uncertainly, she continued. “There’s a red lever next to it.”
“Flip it up.”
“Alright….It’s slowing down a bit.” She sighed heavily.
“Do you smell any gas?” Yoongi asked.
The corners of his mouth twitched slightly. “No.”
“Good.” Her relief was obvious. “I should have called you sooner.”
The words made his chest flutter pleasantly, inexplicably. Always independent and strong-minded, he knew Jeong-sun was perfectly capable of handling her own affairs and an expert in many things he was not. Yet he had the distinct impression that, despite their years apart, the fact remained that she was simply clueless when it came to the peculiarities of her run-down, old apartment. Though he would never mention it, he had spent countless evenings during his service trying to heat the dorm room with the help of an engineering major named Minhyuk. The boiler there had been equally old and battered, its loud clanks and bangs a regular and discordant sound in the dead silence of 3am. For reasons he’d never really explored, it had become a strange source of comfort in his otherwise bland and personality-free surroundings.
“Do you want me to come round?” Yoongi asked.
Jeong sun hesitated. The thought of him in her apartment seemed like a big step from the neutrality of a coffee shop. And, had she been honest, would have preferred it under different circumstances; not one where her flat looked like a scene from a low-rent Titanic.
“What about the coffee?”
Yoongi paused too, catching the reserve in her voice and thought he could understand. However, he knew he could be of some help, and the thought of her without heat in the midst of winter weighed on his mind. “It can wait…your apartment will get freezing this time of year.”
She knew he was right. Her landlord, with more properties than he could handle, was not likely to be in a rush to repair the damage. And, given her heavily depleted paycheck, had already ruled out another emergency call out.
“Do you mind?” She asked tentatively, realising she needed his help.
“No. I’ll be there soon.”
Thanking him, she hung up and got from her knees and collected a stack of fluffy towels from the bathroom. On the other end of the line Yoongi exhaled, not sure how to feel as he slipped his phone into his back pocket. He felt sorry for her troubles, but there was an odd sense of relief too as his heart thumped steadily in his chest. In the back of his mind he couldn’t help but think that, were she had refused his help and suggested they rearranged for another day, the pressure to meet again would have been uncomfortable. With another small cough, he turned to the street signs around him and followed them dutifully into West Eunpyeon-gu.
“Has it stopped?”
Jeong-sun appeared from behind the door, clutching a large knitted cardigan around herself. He thought that she must have just put this on. His eyes lingered a fraction on the visible dark patches on the neckline of her blue shirt and the damp ends of her hair which had started to frizz.
“ It’s still dripping. There’s a huge wet patch on the carpet.” She said, holding up a sodden towel. “I was trying to soak it with this. But I might not get my deposit back.”
He closed the door gently behind himself. He was surprised by how familiar it still seemed; from the pile of clothing on the threadbare sofa to the odd assortment of coloured mugs on her kitchen counter. She had evidently tried to update the decor by adding a feature wall and a few extra cushions that only seemed to add to the overall impression of chaos. Jeong-sun folded her arms, clutching herself tightly as she took him in properly. The way he looked made her ache. Unlike herself, he was beautifully put together in a thick woollen sweater and stone-washed denim jeans that hugged his thighs.
“How’s your patient?” He asked, trying to ease the thick air between them.
“Well , her arm is still broken. And she’s complaining that the cast is itchy.” She sighed. “I’ve given her a barbeque skewer. ” There was a lingering pause as they began to move automatically towards her bedroom, but neither broke it as she followed a few paces behind and hesitated in the doorway. There were more towels laid across the cream carpet, a variety of different buckets, jugs and saucepans scattered across the length of the room. Yoongi stepped carefully to the exposed boiler unit, moving a metal dish that had once been part of a rice-cooker to his right, and sank to his knees.
“I’m sorry about this…” Jeong-sun said after a few moments of silence, her voice small as he artfully rolled his long sleeves to his elbows.
Yoongi thought she sounded sad as she said this, her tone heavy with apology.
“Don’t worry about it.” He reassured, his voice coming out deep, if a little hoarse. She returned his tentative smile, noticing the way his eyes flickered quickly away from her own.
“I’ll make some coffee.”
Grateful for something to do, she placed a cap of fresh grounds into the paper filter and flicked the switch. The machine hummed loudly as hot black liquid began to trickle into the glass jar, the steam fogging her thick-rimmed glasses. She wiped the lenses on her sleeve and balanced the frames back on her nose with a glance back to the bedroom door. Only the foot of her bed and the yellow glow of the lamp were visible, the rest bathed in shadow. The darkness shifted slightly as Yoongi brought his clenched fist to his lips and coughed. Carefully she poured the coffee into two mugs, adding two sugars and a little milk to her own. He looked up as she approached, settling the cup next to him on the carpet. He thanked her quietly but did not touch it, focused instead on the maze of plumbing in front of him.
Jeong-sun hovered, clutching her own mug with both hands. It felt gratifyingly warm between her numb fingers.“How are the others?”
“They’re not all out yet.” Yoongi replied, relieved that he didn’t need to explain further. “Jungkook’s working on a solo album and Jin’s married now.”
“ Min-Seo?” She asked, eyebrows slightly raised.
“Before he enlisted.” He confirmed. Now she thought about it, she began to recall the articles regarding the member, Yoongi’s elder by a few months, prior to the announcement of his military service. Vaguely she had known, yet instinctively she had shyed away from details, and so the news was both surprising and pleasant to hear.
“Are they happy?”
Yoongi nodded, his tongue sliding absent-mindedly over the cracked skin of his bottom lip, not meeting her eyes. “They seem it.”
“That’s good. I always liked her.” She remembered Min-Seo well. Petite, dark haired and good-natured, the now married woman had always been gracious and sweet to her. Idly she wondered whether Min-Seo had ever mentioned her to her husband, having met her on several occasions, all of which had involved Yoongi in some way or another. Jeong-sun couldn’t help but recall that she had been one of the few people who had truly seen them as a couple. Trying not to think about the details, she was glad when he pressed on.
“And what about you?” He asked, seeming to know her train of thought on her furrowed brow.
“I don’t get out much.” She confessed. “But Yu-Jin’s thinking of moving back to Seoul.”
Yoongi cocked his head.“ Does she not like Beijing?”
“ I think she just misses home.”
“I see.” He said, softly, and she knew that Yoongi would understand the feeling better than anyone. She took a large gulp from her mug, the bitter taste of the burnt grounds momentary as the sugar dissipated on her palate. Quietly she watched him work, and though she could not see his face, she could tell that he was frowning by the way his long fingers hesitated over the new, shiny copper pipe.
“Did someone try to repair it?”
“ The boiler?”
Yoongi grunted in reply. “This fitting is really loose…I don’t think it’s the right size.”
“I called an emergency plumber a few days ago from the phone book…” She admitted with a frustrated, inwards groan. The repairman had been overly-quick to assure her that the problem was fixed before departing with the better part of her bank account. Now, she felt a little foolish. “That’s 300,00 won down the drain.”
“I’ll sort it.” He said, simply, getting up from his knees as he held the small hollow piece in his palm. “I’ll need to get some new parts though. Is there a hardware store near here?”
Jeong-sun blinked, trying hard to remember the name of the worn-down storefront without success. “I think there’s one round the corner.”
“Alright. I won’t be long.” He stood, collecting the thick jacket he had spread across the edge of her bed and shrugging it on.
She side-stepped a little to let him pass, unsure how to vocalise her gratitude. Softly, she said, “I’ll leave the door unlocked.”
He nodded in response, his lips not quite turned up in a smile but nevertheless reassuring. Jeong-sun hadn’t realised how tense she had been until he was on the other side of the door, the sound of his footsteps ebbing away. The weight lifted almost immediately from her shoulders, her breathing much easier in his absence.
Somewhere in the last few years her heartache had dulled, but the fact that she cared deeply for him had never seemed to leave her. Their phone call earlier that week had brought back several memories, and her heart had thumped madly as she recalled the intensity with which she had fallen for him. She no longer remembered the plot of the play they had once seen; she only knew how giddy she had felt as their lips crashed together against a pillar in the theatre, and afterwards how sad she had been to be pulled away from him without a proper goodbye. It had surprisingly hurt, after so long, to remember why she had felt his proposal a few months after that accidental meeting had felt so wrong.
Eventually, Jeong-sun had come to realise that it wasn’t possible for them to be friends after all they had been through. They had been lovers from the very beginning. The coffee shop, she thought, was another chance. A fresh start. Were things not to work out, she would at least know, and be able to carry on without wondering what might have been. But for now, she didn’t know quite what she wanted.
Her gaze rested momentarily on the navy blue garment folded on the arm of the sofa before turning her attention to the chaos that was her apartment. She drained her coffee mug and rinsed it under the freezing cold tap. The soles of her polka-dot socks were soaking as she trod back and forth from the boiler to the sink, stacking the pots and pans haphazardly. With a little sigh, she reached for the hairdryer on her nightstand and slowly but methodically began to dry the waterlogged carpet, moving his still full cup a little to the side.
“I thought you’d made off with my….thingamajig.” Jeong-sun remarked, over an hour later, as she opened the door to let him in. Yoongi had knocked softly and waited patiently for her answer.
“I wouldn’t get much for it on the black market.” He replied, setting down a heavy plastic carrier bag on the floor next to the boiler with a distinct metallic clatter.
She thought he sounded a little raspy having come in from the cold, his pale cheeks reddened by the cool winter air. “I’m sure you could drive a hard bargain.”
He smiled briefly and began to unpack the contents of the bag, extricating a little white box and fiddling for a moment with the casing. She watched him, her eyes lingering on his long fingers as he delicately inserted four triple-A’s into the back slot. “Did you get lost?”
“The hardware shop wasn’t well stocked. ” Yoongi said, in way of explanation, setting the blinking object down next to him.“But I managed to find everything in the end.”
Not knowing what else to say, a long silence proceeded as he quietly began to work. It wasn’t exactly uncomfortable, but Jeong-sun couldn’t help but feel a little spare as she hovered behind him. It wasn’t an easy fix for sure.
“I’m sorry.” She said, helplessly. “I’m not much use here.”
From the corner of his eye he saw her body shift, and he turned a little to see her sink back slowly against her headboard with a thick paper-back in one hand. She hugged herself, drawing the over-large cardigan closer to her. Yoongi couldn’t see her expression well in the glare of her spectacles which caught the warm glow of the lamp.
“What are you reading?” He asked, curious. He squinted, having left his own glasses on his desk and could vaguely make out a blurred figure from the black and white cover.
“Atonement. It’s about a little girl who tells a lie and destroys her sister’s life.”
He vaguely knew the title, suspecting like most of her books that it had been one that had been translated from English into Korean. “Are you enjoying it?”
“I preferred the film.”
“I haven’t seen it.” Yoongi replied honestly, and they naturally grew quiet once more with only the sound of the pages turning and a few intermittent clinks and clangs. Every so often she would look up over the pages of her book as he groaned and muttered under his breath, rubbing the back of his short hair for a moment before continuing with a fresh sense of determination. Jeong-sun couldn’t help but feel warm, and oddly tingly at the sight. Her most recent ex hadn’t many talents outside of his job, and she found herself strangely compelled by Min Yoongi’s cool expertise. Soon she rolled onto her side, lost herself in the chapter, and left him to work.
“I think I’ve done it.” He said finally, glancing at his Rolex. It’d taken the better part two hours, and the carbon monoxide alarm he had placed next to the unit had not made a single protest in that time. The boiler rattled into life as though it were an old man struggling to catch his breath, the loud wheezing of the copper piping filling the room. “It’s not a long term fix but it should work for now.”
Yoongi got up from his knees a little stiffly to reach for the outer casing before putting it gently back into place. His fingers left black smudges on the white aluminium, and he wiped them roughly on his jeans before picking up a cloth to clean up the surface.
“I think you missed your calling in life.” Jeong-sun said, impressed, turning the book face down on her duvet as she admired his handiwork.
“Atleast I’ve always got something to fall back on.” A small, slightly embarrassed smile tugged his lips, making her heart stutter unexpectedly.
“Is the café still open?” She asked quickly, the hopeful tone of her question obvious.
Yoongi shook his head regretfully. “It closed 30 minutes ago. I’m sorry it took so long.”
There was an awkward sort of pause, both unsure what the next step was. With a small oh, she pressed on. She looked a little guiltily at the black grease marks on his thighs.
“We’re not really dressed for it anyway. I hope your jeans weren’t expensive.”
“They were on sale…” He said easily. It was probably true, Jeong-sun thought.
Realising that their time together was drawing to a close, she shifted uncomfortably as he began to collect together the contents of the plastic bag on the floor. The sense of panic that overtook her was unexpected, and she felt the words tumble out of her mouth before she had time to think about what she was going to say.
“I was going to get changed before we went out….” Jeong-sun rambled, not knowing why she was telling him this. Yoongi paused, listening patiently, his expression unreadable as he watched her speak. His gaze made her suddenly nervous. “I bought a new dress.”
She cringed slightly at the admission, and at the pause which followed. A small frown crossed Yoongi’s brow at the change in her voice, his tongue sliding habitually over his chapped lips before he spoke. “Can I see?”
For a moment, he thought she was going to refuse as she met his eyes with ones that were wide and bright. His stomach lurched unpleasantly as he wondered whether he had overstepped a line. He was relieved however, when she nodded with a tiny, half-smile and left the room.
The dress had been an afterthought, a spontaneous purchase the day following their phone conversation. On her way home from work, her hands laden with shopping bags full of her weekly groceries, she had detoured into a little boutique just off the high street. The sales assistant had asked her if she was looking for anything in particular, and Jeong-sun had shook her head truthfully as she searched through the racks. That afternoon at the pharmacy had been painfully slow, leaving her with too much time to think. Whilst re-ordering the children’s medicine that she had dropped two days before, her mind had began to wander so much that she hadn’t realised she had ordered 2000 cases of the stuff. A very confused salesperson from the supplier chain had called to confirm the order, to which Jeong-sun had been mortified to admit had been a mistake.
She found the dress where she had left it on the arm of the sofa, immaculately ironed, and carefully removed the sales tags. Knowing that Yoongi wouldn’t interrupt her, she began to undress down to her simple black bra and underwear and stepped into the material, sliding it over her wide hips. She spent a long time adjusting the straps of bra underneath the shoulders, teasing the knots at the ends of her hair and sweeping it into a loose bun at the back of her head.
When she peered around the doorway, she found him deftly positioning the monoxide alarm just below the unit, a cloth in his hands as he attempted to remove the limescale on the pipework beneath. He didn’t look up, and she stepped a little further into the room by the edge of her bed, her heart racing a little at the chilly breeze on her bare legs.
“Mmm?” He turned his head the delicate, appealing sound of his name, his chest contracting tightly as he admired her with parted lips. The navy blue tea-dress would have been modest on a slimmer figure, but Jeong-sun’s curves filled the garment beautifully. Her waist was perhaps a little thicker than it once had been, and her thighs were fleshier too, exaggerating her already hourglass figure. The V-neck drew particular attention to the space between her breasts, a few freckles dotted in the crevice of her cleavage. The shape of her was incredibly attractive, womanly, and Yoongi couldn’t help but think that he had never seen her look more beautiful. Heart thumping madly, he struggled to find the right words, feeling extremely tongue-tied. Jeong-sun felt a hot blush colour her face too as she met the unmistakable look in his dark eyes. She had seen it there many times before and the familiarity of it brought a strong throbbing pulse between her thighs. It was desire, and every inch of her body burned as he looked at her hungrily.
Yoongi shifted from his knees to stand shakily, but a soft tinkle of ceramic tore their eyes away from each other. The ice-cold, black liquid was spreading over the cream carpet, and they both stared a little perplexed until they realised that it had been the coffee that Jeong-sun had prepared several hours before. Yoongi had forgotten all about it.
“Do you know how long it took me to dry that?” She groaned, exasperatedly gesturing to her ruined carpet. She laughed despite this, her chest aching with the effort it took to bring her giggles under control.
Yoongi smiled nervously, his own blush still colouring his pale cheeks as he sank back to his knees and upturned the mug, though the damage had already been done. “That would explain the hairdryer.”
The sound of her laughter warmed him, and she hiccupped once as she tried to bring it under control. She leaned over to the wash basket by the bathroom and extricated a damp towel. Yoongi couldn’t help but notice the visible band of her bra between her cleavage as she got to her knees to soak the coffee from her already done-for carpet, looking away quickly.
“Careful.” He warned, moving the hem of her dress delicately away from the patch of coffee.
“Thank you.” Jeong-sun breathed, tucking the fabric between her thighs as she pressed the towel repeatedly to the floor. He couldn’t help but smile back at her.
“Did you want another?” She gestured to the untouched coffee mug, her cheeks glowing warmly as she met his eyes.
The thought was undeniably tempting. Desperately he wanted to stay, yet he was far too aware that doing so would be a mistake. Their exchange had been dangerously close to escalating already, and he was, in reflection, glad that the tension had been diffused. This time he wanted it to be different. He wanted to get to know her, to fall for her all over again. Whether she wanted the same, he wasn’t sure, and did not ask.
“I’d better not.” He replied, voice slow and steady.
Jeong-sun got to her feet, a little deflated by his answer. She knew it was probably best. When she continued, she sounded a lot more like her usual self as she reached for the copy of Atonement laying spread-eagled on her bed.
“Yeah. I’d like to finish this chapter anyway. I’ll pay you… for the parts.”
It took Yoongi a fraction to understand what she had meant.
“It’s okay.” He said, after a moment, his chest fluttering slightly as she removed her glasses and rubbed the indent they had left on the bridge of her nose. “But the coffee is on you next time.”
Jeong-sun’s lips turned up in a sweet, but challenging sort of smile. “….Deal.”
He collected his jacket, feeling so elated that he had to turn slightly away as he fastened the collar to disguise a shy, gummy grin. Warmer than he had ever felt in his life, coat or no coat, he walked slowly to the door with her footsteps clearly audible behind him. She hesitated, as though wanting to say something, and he tried hard not to dissuade her. However, she seemed to have lost the thought as he saw it growing smaller in her eyes. She had put the cardigan back on; evidently, the dress had been out of season when she had purchased it.
“You look really nice.” He purred, as an afterthought, the sound of it resonating in Jeong-sun’s ears and making her skin prickle pleasantly.
“I’ll save it for another time. Goodnight Yoongi.”
She closed the door gently behind him, sinking back against the door with her head between her hands. Her face felt incredibly hot, and she realised, wet, as a tear slipped down her cheek.
Yoongi, the only man she had truly loved, was really back.