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more than friends, less than lovers

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Jipyeong’s eyes flutter open as he catches the sunlight entering his apartment. Maybe it’s not a good idea to set Youngsil to open the curtain to wake him up in the morning, especially on Saturday morning when he wants to sleep longer than usual.

He is about to sit up when he feels something, or rather someone, is using his right arm as a pillow. No wonder his arm feels stiff.

He blinks and finds Injae’s naked back is facing him, while her steady breathing lets him know that she is deep in sleep.

Ah, that’s right, they have done it again. And Jipyeong finds himself smiling like a fool at the heated and passionate night they shared together last night.

Jipyeong doesn’t know when he starts feeling this way, but he is always happy to find her spending the night in his apartment. They don’t always have sex though, but he is just happy to be near her.

He carefully untangles his arm and tries to leave the room discreetly without waking her up. He knows she needs to sleep longer.

“Youngsil-ah, what time is it?”

“It’s 7.13 in the morning.” Youngsil’s monotone voice replies back.

“Close the curtain again, so Injae won’t be disturbed.” He instructs, “And set the air conditioner to 25 degrees, Injae prefers her room a little bit colder.” He adds.

“Yes, I understand.”

He then walks to the kitchen to whip them some breakfast, something that is a luxury for both of them since they are so busy during weekdays, so Jipyeong wants Injae to be able to enjoy her breakfast on their off days.

He grabs some bread and puts them on the toaster while he turns on the coffee maker. He then opens the refrigerator and pulls out various fruits, sausages, and eggs. He quickly cuts the fruits, fries the sausages, and prepares some omelete, hoping that everything will be finished before Injae wakes up.

Unfortunately, luck is not on his side.

He is flipping the omelette mid way when he sees Injae walk out from his bedroom, making him surprised and almost drops the omelette he’s been cooking.

The woman holds back her giggles seeing his funny action and Jipyeong clears his throat awkwardly, trying to hold back his embarrassment and blushing face by turning away from her.

“Good morning.”

“Good morning.” Jipyeong replies curtly, “Why are you up so early?”

Injae scoffs, “Say the one who has been up for at least 20 minutes to make breakfast.”

“What can I say, you made me rather hungry yesterday.” He grins at her, flashing his dimpled smile, and gets back in return.

“By the way, are you going back now?” Jipyeong finally takes a look at what she is wearing, the blouse and work pants that she wore yesterday, and she even has put on her coat.

“Yeah.” Injae shrugs nonchalantly.

“But, I have prepared breakfast.” Jipyeong tries so hard to mask his disappointment. He has worked hard to prepare this special breakfast for Injae. He even has stocked up the Tabasco sauce in his house because he knows that Injae loves the weird sauce on her omelette.

Injae looks at him and seems to be deep in thought.

“I guess staying for a few more minutes won’t hurt.” She finally replies after what seems like a long time for Jipyeong.

Jipyeong holds back his smiles and the urge to scream to celebrate his victory. Instead he turns back to the fruit bowl that he has prepared and presents them to Injae.

“Fill your stomach with this first. The American breakfast is coming soon.” He grins at her.

“You are cooking American breakfast?” Injae looks at him astonishedly.

“It’s the simple thing that I can do.” He shrugs, trying to look cool.

Injae gives him a disbelief look and pours herself a cup of coffee. And without much thinking, she also prepares his coffee.

“Youngsil,” Injae suddenly calls for his smart home AI, “Check on Han Jipyeong’s search history. Did he look up American breakfast recipes related these days?”

“Yes, Injae-nim. Jipyeong-nim watched the total of 28 Youtube videos abo-”

“Youngsil, stop.” Jipyeong stops the AI before he starts spilling the tea on how long he has been preparing for this meal.

“Yes, I understand.”

Injae just giggles seeing how red Jipyeong’s face is, but doesn’t say anything and let Jipyeong finish cooking his American breakfast.

“Just eat it.” Jipyeong presents her a carefully plated toast, sausages, omelette, complete with spinach and mushroom, then sets his own plate before sitting down in front of her.

“Can I try it now?”

“Sure.” He puts on a nonchalant expression but he is also worried if Injae doesn’t like his cooking. He tries to divert his attention to the plate in front of him, cutting some sausages smaller and smaller, trying hard not to look at Injae’s expression.

“Hm… it’s good!” She nods her approval at his breakfast. And hearing this makes Jipyeong whips his head so fast, beaming at her.

“Do you like it?” He asks, trying to get her assurance.

Injae puts on a piece of toast topped with mushroom and sausage to her mouth and nods at him.

“Yes, but it will be better if you have-”

“Tabasco. Wait, I have bought it from the grocery. Let me check where I put it.” He then turns back to the kitchen drawer to find the sauce, leaving a stunned Injae behind him.

“Here, your Tabasco.” He puts the Tabasco on the table and goes back to enjoy his plate. It’s indeed quite good.

But when he sees that Injae’s knife and fork aren’t moving, he looks up to find Injae is staring at the Tabasco intently.

“Is there anything wrong?” He asks and this earns her attention. She then gives him her usual smile, the smile that she wears when something is indeed wrong but she doesn’t want others to know.

“Nothing, nothing at all. Thank you for the Tabasco sauce.”

She then proceeds to pour the sauce on her plate and enjoys her breakfast in silence. And Jipyeong wonders if he has done something wrong.

But he knows better not to push her for an answer. And he knows he doesn’t have the rights to question her.

So he let it slide and both of them enjoyed their breakfast in silence.

“Are you coming to Jihye’s first birthday today?” Injae asks.

Jihye is Dalmi and Dosan’s daughter. And as Koreans, the first birthday is the most important birthday to be celebrated as they will try to guess the future of their baby by doing doljabi.

Doljabi is a tradition where the child is placed in front of various items or objects. Then, the child is encouraged to grab one or two items from the set of objects where each choice represents a certain future of the child with respect to his or her career or a lifestyle.

“Of course, I have bet that she will choose the money and become a genius investor like her uncle.” Jipyeong suddenly smiles remembering the cute little girl who Dalmi always brings to his office whenever she visits her parent’s workplace. Everytime Jihye visits him, he ends up ignoring his work to play with her instead.

“And Dosan said he will put a computer in front of her.” Injae adds, earning her a stink eye from Jipyeong.

“My niece will have a better choice than to choose a computer.”

“But he is her father. Blood is thicker than water.” Injae retorts, “Have your own child if you want to have a mini-Jipyeong.”

Jipyeong whips his head so fast, Injae swears she can hear his neck cracking. And she knows that she has hit a nerve.

“Sorry, I don’t mean…”

Everyone knows that Jipyeong is brokenhearted when Dalmi chose Dosan despite standing by her through the years and helping her to build the company that is thriving now.

Injae bites her lips and mutters to herself.

Jipyeong clears his throat, trying to break the ice.

“You are also coming, right? You are her aunt, after all.”

Injae nods, not trusting herself to utter another word.

Let’s go together! Do you need a ride?

Several suggestions start to pop on Jipyeong’s brain. He knows he is being unreasonable this way but he wants to go with Injae.

“It's at 12 PM, right? Then I still have time.”

Jipyeong is pulled from his own thoughts, “Have time to do what?”

“I plan to go to the salon first.” Injae says, “My hair is getting too long.”

“You want to cut it?” Jipyeong takes a closer look at her hair. It indeed has grown longer compared to when they first started their agreement.

Now that she has mentioned it, he just realizes that her hair is as long as Dalmi now.

“Yeah. And I plan to color it and cut my fringe.”

“Why the sudden change?” Jipyeong tries to look disinterested, although he starts to imagine how good Injae would be with a new hair color and a fringe.

“Yisoo mentioned that going for a fringe and a lighter color will make me look younger.”

“But you don’t need it though?” Jipyeong tilts his head as if trying to assess the information.

 

---

 

Injae knows that she has made a grave mistake. She should have just left this morning instead of staying for breakfast. Nothing good will ever come out from a conversation after a one night stand.

Well, technically it's not one night that they have shared together. Injae has lost count on how many nights she has spent on his bed, whether to “sleep” or to have a literal sleep.

She has been trying her best to hide her feelings whenever he is near. She knows he won't feel the same way because his heart belongs to Dalmi since the beginning.

She is just a distraction. A companion. And she knows their relationship is not going anywhere.

But he is making it more and more difficult for her to ignore her feelings. Especially when he is being attentive to her.

Like how he keeps a bottle of Tabasco in his apartment, although she knows he can't handle the spice well. Or working hard in preparing her favorite breakfast.

And her traitorous heart starts to pound faster when he looks at her and says she doesn't need to change her hair to look younger.

Suddenly it's getting too much for her. And she can't bear to be near him right now. Or else, she might do irrational things.

Like confessing her feelings to him.

No, that won't do. She wouldn't let him know. It will only crush her because she knows he will accept her feelings in order not to hurt her. Because he knows the feeling of brokenhearted well. And she knows he is too considerate to let anyone feel the same way.

But she doesn't want him to accept her feelings out of pity.

If it's not love, then it's better not to do it.

“My appointment with the salon is at 8 AM. I need to go now.”

She stands up from her seat, puts on her coat, and grabs her bag which she finds on his sofa. Don’t ask her why it ended up there, she also doesn’t know.

“Do you need a ride? I can drive you to the salon.”

The ever so gentleman Han Jipyeong makes her heart break again. She forces a smile.

“No need. I will take a taxi.”

“Then I will escort you to the lobby until you take the taxi.” He is about to stand up when she stops him.

It’s too much. She can’t bear it.

“Jipyeong-sshi, just enjoy your breakfast.” She replies with a tone of finality, something that she uses a lot as a CEO, leaving no room for the other party to retort.

She walks faster to the door and she realizes that she hasn’t bid him goodbye.

So, she turns around to look at him once again. He is still sitting on the dining table watching her.

“Thank you, for the night.” She whispers but she knows he hears her, “See you at Jihye’s birthday party.”

Then she leaves the suffocating flat without giving a glance back towards him, missing the way Jipyeong looks at her.

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