Chapter 5 - The Girl in the Pink Dress
"Ga Eul! Wake up! Wake up!" Her mother shook her slightly.
"Aish Omoni! It's saturday morning." Ga Eul burrowed deeper into her bed. "Please let me sleep a little more. I was having a good dream." She tried to wave her mother off and return to her dream, where a handsome man (she was sure he was) and her were slow dancing. He smelled familiar but she didn't know him. She felt his chin rest on the top of her head and she smiled into his lapels. She craned her neck to look at her secret dancer-
"Lazy daughter!" Her mother yanked the covers from the bed and Ga Eul felt the shock of cold air. "You have to sign for this delivery."
Rubbing her eyes, Ga Eul repeated, "Delivery? I haven't ordered anything."
Ga Eul felt a wash of deja vu. She was holding a huge paper box, the kind of thick ply cardboard box that contained either pricey jewelry or dresses. She shook the box slightly. Judging from the rustling, it was a dress. She looked at the distinctive ribbon winding around the lipstick red surface and slowly spelled out, "Va-len-ti-no." Surely, this was a mistake. Government workers like her didn't order things from the Valentino store.
"Omoni, I think this was delivered to the wrong home." She called out to her mother.
"Ga Eul, it was addressed to you!"
"Otoke-" She pulled on the ribbon. Encased in a carefully tufted silk interior, there was a nipped waisted shatung silk dress that looked like a dream. Ga Eul was flabbergasted. The color was the same deep blush as the jacket she wore in high school, but in this incarnation, the rich material made the dress look sophisticated instead of girly. The design was so clever, the right shoulder gathered into a thick bow and exposed the clavicles. She slid her hands over the fabric, her hands enjoying the exquisite texture. A thick creamy card was tucked under the dress and she recognized the bold script immediately.
"A dress is a woman's best armour. Good luck at your date auction."
Ga Eul frowned. This felt all too familiar, like she had rewound the tape of her life and restarted in an old spot. She grabbed her phone.
Yi Jeong finally found a suit that he didn't find offensive. He had spent most of his younger years in Kangnam, well-versed in the three G's: Gucci, Givenchy, and Gaultier. Those things in the past didn't feel right anymore. He tapped his knees impatiently in the taxi. Ga Eul's school fundraiser was being held one of the smaller banquet halls in Soeul, in a district he'd never been to before.
He adjusted his thin tie before he stepped into the room. And it was with satisfaction that he noticed people giving him strange, unfamiliar looks. He knew he looked out of place in the conservative crowd, his hair was long and unruly and he didn't bother to wear the normal three pieces of boring. Yi Jeong looked past the group of whispering women and zeroed in on a slender girl in pink Valentino. Her hair swung like a glassy curtain under the spotlight, he could see the elegant lines of the shoulders. Yi Jeong felt his mouth go dry.
He pushed himself through the crowd and finally stood behind his target. He gently grasped her elbow and whispered into her ear.
"Ga Eul? I'm not Ga Eul." The girl turned to look at Yi Jeong. She was right. She definitely wasn't Ga Eul. He jerked back his hand.
"Who are you?"
"Sunbae!" Ga Eul's hand landed on his shoulder. Yi Jeong turned around to see Ga Eul smiling like a cat. Seeing the confusion on his face, she doubled over in laughter. "I'm sorry Ha Jin." she said to the girl wearing the Valentino, "This, So Yi Jeong-shi, is the generous donor that provided your dress."
Ha Jin's eyes widened and she began to stammer.
"Oh, thank you, sir! I truly feel like a princess. I hope I bring in lots of money for Shinsue Foundation." Ha Jin spoke with a thick southern accent, but she had a burst honest admiration that caught Yi Jeong off guard.
He chuckled. "Er, you're welcome. You look stunning." He muttered before bowing politely to leave. He felt Ga Eul latching onto his arm and smiled to himself. When they finally arrived at the bar, he ordered white wine and whiskey.
"You've gotten more clever."
She took a sip of her wine and smirked at him. "Sunbae, a girl with a boyfriend can't possibly accept a gift like that from another man."
"Where is Anders?"
"He's finishing his dissertation." Ga Eul's mouth turned down. "I haven't seen him for days he's been so busy."
Yi Jeon studied her glossy lips and quirked up the corner of his mouth. "Lucky me." He let his gaze drift over Ga Eul's body while she chatted with her fellow teacher. It seemed that Yi Jeong had picked wrong for her. Ga Eul was wearing an off the shoulder black dress that circled her creamy shoulders and hugged her hips. She looked like an Italian movie star with her dark swoop of cat eyeliner and upswept hair. There was slit on the right side of her dress that went dangerously high. He could see the expanse of Ga Eul's thighs. Suddenly, the room felt too small and he tugged at his tie.
"Yi Jeong-shi, are you ok? You look a little flushed."
He sucked down the whiskey and let the burn settle his stomach. He nodded.
Ga Eul gazed coolly back at Yi Jeong. "Thank you for the thought, Sunbae. It was a beautiful dress, but Ha Jin just moved here from Busan. Soeul is so expensive and she was telling me she had nothing to wear tonight. Thank you for helping my friend."
"You're welcome." He tilted his head. Yi Jeong felt thrown. Could this still be the same Ga Eul? This seductress that looked like she could slay a thousand men with a withering glance?
"You got here just in time."
She sighed. "I know this is important to the school, but it's still boring me to death," Ga Eul made a funny face and Yi Jeong snickered in response. "I don't know why Jun Pyo drags Jan Di to things like this."
"Probably because Jun Pyo makes it up to Jan Di in other ways." He waggled his eyebrows at her and her eyes widened. In the past, Yi Jeong could count on Ga Eul to blush a furious shade of pink and ignore him for the rest of the night. But this new, older Ga Eul just tossed her head back and laughed. He groaned internally. Ga Eul only got better with age.
"I should hope so. Maybe they'll get married when the Koreas reunite." She conspiratorially whispered. "I really think date auctions are awful."
"You wouldn't." She shot him a glare. "Using your economic advantage is really unfair."
"Why is it unfair?" He tapped his rocks glass and the bartender poured him two more fingers of whiskey. "Because I intend on bidding on you?"
"You don't think I have a strategy to outwit you?"
"Maybe you do."
"Yi Jeong-shi, do you take my friendship so lightly that you're willing to make trouble between my boyfriend and I?" Her voice hardened. Gone was the light mood of a few minutes ago. Instead, he noticed that her back had stiffened against some type of invisible onslaught.
"Ga Eul, I am here to support your foundation. I don't think it's outlandish of me to bid on you." He shrugged good naturedly. "Wouldn't you rather spend time with me than some of the ajusshis here?" He leaned in and delivered his smirk. "Or are you really interested in learning the finer points of a fifty year old man's digestion?"
She chuckled but just as quickly, she corrected herself. "They're not just some ajusshis." Ga Eul replied. She nodded to the far corner. "That's the education minister. That group runs all the private funding for early start education." Her voice cooled considerably. "These are some of the most important people in the education. They decide how the future of Korea will look." Her eyes swept the room. "That has to count for something."
Her upturned face had a million thoughts running underneath its beautiful surface. He caught something flinty in her eyes and he heard her say, "After all, we all can't be artists. Korea has to work."
Yi Jeong sucked in his breath. Was he hearing it correctly? Ga Eul thought he was shallow? Was he purposeless in her eyes?
"Of course. Artists can eat only when everyone in society works." Ga Eul paused for a moment. "I think all of my kids are talented. But I have to teach them enough skills so that they can survive in the world." Ga Eul took a critical eye at the program on the bar. "This is just the first step, making sure that lower income children have access to education." Suddenly her mood brightened "Sunbae, if this goes well, kids in the Eunpyung district will finally get computers. Do you know what this will mean to them?" The megawatt smile on her face was infectious.
Ha Jin suddenly appeared behind Ga Eul. "Yah, Ga Eul! You have to come with me now. You're next on the auction block!" Yi Jeong leaned against the bar to let Ga Eul through.
He plopped down at the bar stool that Ga Eul just vacated, the wind knocked out of him. Ga Eul wasn't just a kindergarten teacher, she was a passionate advocate for education. Her clipped precise prose when she talked about her work was astonishing. He knew Ga Eul was smart, but her passion, optimism, mixed with her amazing mind was a potent cocktail. He ran through his hand through his hair. He was wrong when he said that not much had changed back at home. It was he who was left behind, not Ga Eul.
He glanced up at the stage when the nebbish MC finally called out Ga Eul's name. The man was awkward in old tweed, but Ga Eul looked at him like he was a member of SHINee.
"The lovely Miss Chu Ga Eul will take the lucky bidder on a tour of Eunpyung," the MC warbled out. "Of course, dinner and drinks will be provided at the finest kalbi restaurant." This earned a few chortles from the audience. The MC handed the mike to her.
Ga Eul bowed to the audience and began, "As this distinguished audience knows, Eunpyung doesn't have the income to support a robust early start program. Because our society is so highly competitive, these kids from Eunpyung are disadvantaged from birth." The audience murmured in consent. "Please help the Shinsue foundation so that we can help the children of Korea. Thank you!"
Yi Jeong watched as some of the old men that he certainly knew through his father started a bidding war among themselves. He ground his teeth, there was no way he would let Ga Eul spend anytime in their company, no matter how good their money was for the foundation. He slammed down his glass.
"One hundred million won."
A/N: Thank you for reading! Here's a preview of Chapter 6. Please review! If I get 10 reviews, I'll be sure to post the next chapter early.
Chapter 6 - Is It a Date if You Bought My Time?
His voice rang out. There was the predictable gasp from the audience and Ga Eul looked a little embarrassed. But Yi Jeong didn't care. The bidding war for Ga Eul was over. He gave a nice charitable tax-deductible donation that his father wouldn't object to; and most of all, because he bought her time, she couldn't refuse to see him.
Ga Eul stewed silently. She thought that her bleeding heart speech would at least annoy Yi Jeong or turn him off. Annoyingly, Yi Jeong did exactly what he said he would do, which was to buy her time with money. Ga Eul grumbled to herself. This wasn't going to be end of it. She'd make sure Yi Jeong would be miserable enough that any romantic notion would go out the window. She set her jaw tightly and saw the insufferable cad waiting outside.
"Yi Jeong sunbae. I will see you next Saturday."
With his hands in his pocket, he leaned back to bounce on his heels. "Can the future of Korea wait that long?"