“Jessi, have you watched the news?”
“Oh, right. I’m sorry. What am I thinking?”
“But Yul is going to watch it in a moment. What’s up?”
“Your sis is on the news.”
“Krystal is on the news. That girlfriend of Young’s that we saw at the car show has done some kind of publicity stunt and spun up a terrible story about Krystal coming in between them.”
“That bitch! What else did she say?”
“You’re not going to like this.”
“I don’t know how they found out about it but they know that Krystal is your dad’s illegitimate daughter.”
“No. No. No, no, no. How did they—?”
“I don’t know. The news report doesn’t have Krystal’s picture or anything yet. All they reported was that the illegitimate Jung daughter is a boyfriend snatcher—if that isn’t bad enough already. But they’ll find her real soon.”
“Holy crap. This is bad.”
“You bet it is.”
“My dad is going to be so mad. He’s going to screw over the TV station that reported it.”
“There’s no point in doing that, Jessi. Once the news is out, it’s out.”
“I know. But I’m so pissed!”
“And they’re going to pester you as well.”
Jessica sighed. “I hate this kind of reporters. The kind that have no qualms with destroying your life just to sell a few more copies of their paper.”
“I’m just a phone call away if you need any help, Jessi.”
The Jung family sat in their spacious and luxuriously furnished living room, looking more sombre than they ever had been. Jessica had gone home after calling Krystal to see if she was alright. Apparently, their father had known about the news leakage as soon as it was reported in the news and wanted them to gather at home.
“Soojung ah, I think it would be best that you stay at home for the next few days.”
“But they don’t know who I am yet. Wouldn’t it be more suspicious if I don’t go to work?”
“You could quit your job.”
Krystal shook her head. “No. I don’t want to.”
“Soojung ah, I’m only trying to protect you from the reporters.”
“I can’t hide forever.”
“But isn’t it your wish to stay out of the limelight? Isn’t that why you refuse to be introduced as my daughter?”
“Illegitimate daughter. Yes, I want to live like I did before. But I also want to spare you the trouble of having to deal with the mess that comes with officiating me as a Jung. And if they find out about who I am, it’s not going to make a difference whether I quit my job or not.”
“It’s going to be difficult for you at work.” Jessica looked at her worriedly. She knew what it was like to be the subject of everybody’s attention. She had had to deal with it all her life and hence, she was comfortable with it but she knew very well that Krystal was much more private as a person.
“I’ll just have to learn to deal with it. The good, the bad, the ugly. I’ll take on all of them.”
Jessica’s heart ached at the sight of Krystal’s forced resolute expression. Krystal had told her some stories about her life before coming here and it wasn’t pretty. She felt that Krystal had gone through enough and she didn’t want her to weather the storm all by herself this time. Instinctively, she inched nearer to Krystal and put her arm around the younger girl.
“Soojung ah, I’ll be here for you. You can count on your unnie to slap those bitches for you.”
“Unnie, you don’t have to get involved in this.”
“What nonsense. Of course I have to get involved. It’s my little sister that they’re bullying. Nobody hurts you and gets away with it with me around.”
“I’m not so little anymore, unnie.”
“Tsk. You’re younger than me so you’re little. Don’t argue with me on this.”
“Okay, but I still want to go to work.”
“The people who saw the drama at the car show would have figured out that you are that Jung by now. The gossip will spread like wild fire. You can be sure that they’ll all be whispering and pointing at you when you turn up for work tomorrow.”
“What drama at the car show?” Mama Jung was lost.
“There was a little…episode involving a girlfriend of Young’s and me,” Krystal explained.
“If that is the case, we’ll need to hold a press conference. We’ll need to be upfront about it before they start digging for the information. That way, they’ll leave you alone,” Papa Jung said confidently.
“Daddy, what about the scandal with Young? That stupid actress will milk this for all it’s worth to be famous.” Jessica could recognize a vicious and sly woman when she saw one.
“I’ll have to discuss this with the Choi family. But it will be easy to paint that actress as a person who is willing to do or say anything that will propel her to fame. You can also stand by your claim of innocence and maintain that the both of you are only good friends. Of course, no one will believe it but the scandal will eventually fade away.”
“I can handle it, Daddy. I’m very sorry about this. You are busy enough with your work without having to deal with this mess.”
“Soojung ah, it’s not your fault.”
“It is, it is. It’s my fault. The news must have started leaking from that car show and it’s all because I said something stupid to that actress. If I didn’t say all those things to her, she wouldn’t be doing this to me. To us.”
“Soojung ah, it’s because of me that you have to live such a difficult life. There is nothing I can do to make it up to you.”
“You are part of the family now, Soojung ah. You are a Jung. Embrace it. We are a family now. I may not be your biological mother but I have accepted you as a Jung—as difficult as it was—and I have come to terms with it, so you need to do the same.”
“And you have me, your gorgeous unnie, who will slap the bitches for you.”
Krystal teared and Jessica could feel her trembling slightly.
“You have Daddy, Mummy and unnie behind you. You’re not alone. So there’s no need to take on this all by yourself. You got that?”
“I got it, unnie.”
And Jessica smiled back at Krystal who smiled most beautifully with glistening eyes that spoke volumes of the intensity of the emotions that were running high at that moment.
“Have you gone nuts?! Why did you do that?”
“I’m not nuts. I’m brilliant. I’m now in talks with a TV station to star in a new drama. This publicity is more effective than you. You’ve been my manager for what—six months now? And I have yet to hear any good news from you about any drama. I’ll have to seriously reconsider renewing my contract with you once it expires.”
“Malina, you’ve only been in the modelling business for a little over a year. What do you know about entertainment? Six months is nothing if you’re looking for the right role that will propel you to fame. Do you even know what kind of role they are offering you?”
“Any role is better than no role. I’m young now, but I won’t be young for long. I don’t want to waste my time waiting for that suitable role.”
“I have kept you busy with photo shoots and modelling projects. Your income has been stable and higher than average. What are you unhappy about, Malina? We have an image to uphold, a career path to carve out. What you’ve just done is incredibly stupid and has gone against our terms of contract. You’ve not supposed to accept offers without telling me beforehand. I’m supposed to be the one representing you in negotiations with TV stations. How did you even get the offer? Did you accept help from external sources?”
“No. The daughter of your boss pulled some strings and got me into talks with a director and casting team.”
“The daughter of my boss? Lee Jieun?!”
“Yes. Lee Jieun.”
“How did you even get to know her? Why would she help you?”
Malina smirked. “That’s none of your business.”
“Yes. You’re right. It’s none of my business. As of today, I am not your manager anymore. You can liaise directly with my boss’ daughter and get yourself more opportunities. I will not manage an artiste like you.”
“You can’t do that! What about the contract?”
“Yes. Yes, I can. I’m the company’s top manager. Mark my words when I say that I can drop an artiste when I want to. You may be friends with Lee Jieun, but I am her father’s longest standing manager in the company. I have dropped artistes for reasons less severe than yours and artistes whom I have dropped take that much longer to find work. However, since you are backed up by her, you should have no problems landing yourself more jobs in future. I wish you well.”
“But—But the contract!”
Her manager scoffed. “You’ve already breached the terms of our contract. Besides, there is a clause in the contract that says that it is my prerogative to free you from the contract.”
“But what am I going to do without a manager to manage me?”
“You can always ask your friend for help.”
Malina was at a loss for words.
“You are young, impatient and impetuous. It is such a waste. I had such great plans for you. You have the potential but lack the aptitude. I see that now. If you and I do not share the same goals in your career landscape, it is best that we go our separate ways.”
Malina bristled at his words.
“You know what? You may have propelled many newbies to fame in the past, but you’ve lost your touch. You talk big, as though you can propel me to such great heights but the fact is, you’ve lost your touch.”
“Have I? Funny how you can say this when just a year ago, I landed one of the biggest roles of the year for our top A list actress and she won the Best Actress award this year.”
“That must have been a fluke.”
“A fluke?” The manager laughed. “I wish you luck, Malina, for you will need it. You think fame comes easy. You think staying famous is easy. You call landing a meaty role and winning an award a fluke.” He laughed again. “I’d like to see you succeed in this line with your mentality.”
The day after the news leak was punctuated by calls from reporters hoping to reach Jessica through Tiffany and Tiffany was sick of it. Utterly sick of it. She completely silenced her phone so that it wouldn’t ring or vibrate every five minutes or so. Then she put her phone aside and got back to work. Finally, she could work in peace.
Taeng sat on his bed, staring at his watch. He’d been sitting and staring since a quarter to ten. They’d agreed that he would call Tiffany at ten every night so that they could tell each other all about what their day was like. They planned to talk for about an hour till Tiffany fell asleep. That was the plan.
He waited impatiently for the hour hand to move. Just a few more minutes. A few more minutes. A few more minutes…
What time was it again? Nine fifty-one. Argh. This was the longest fifteen minutes of his life. Come on. Come on. Can the second hand move a little bit faster?! He hummed and tapped his foot but the second hand continued to crawl like a snail. Slow. So slow. Unbearably slow.
What time was it now? Nine fifty-two. He heaved a great, big sigh. He had to endure eight more torturous minutes before he could call Tiffany. Please go faster. Just a little bit faster. He tried blowing at his watch’s clock face in a bid to make the second hand go faster. Didn’t work. Darn.
Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock.
Nine fifty-three. Help. He held his phone in his hand, ready to make the call as soon as the hour hand hit ten.
Then it struck him. He’d be cheating but…
He pulled the knob on his watch and turned it. The minute hand moved forward to the fifty-ninth minute. He pushed the knob back in and smiled. Thirty seconds to ten. Hurray. He could call Tiffany real soon.
At last, his watch said ten o’clock. His finger was tapping on her name as soon as the hour hand moved but something was horribly wrong.
The ringing tone went on and on. She did not answer the call.
“Nooo!” Taeng was almost devastated.
He tried again.
The ringing tone went on and on. She did not answer the call.
He couldn’t understand it. Why wasn’t she picking up her phone? Was it because he had cheated? Maybe. It wasn’t really ten yet. Maybe she’d answer the call at ten.
He suffered through the next few minutes, attempting to call her a few more times in between but was disappointed each and every time. He called and called but she never picked up.
Did she not look forward to his call? Why wasn’t she answering? The time now was eleven past ten. Had she forgotten about their agreement?
He tried calling her a few more times but decided to stop when it was almost eleven. She must have forgotten. She had forgotten about him. She didn’t miss him. She was fine without him.
“Peas…” He pouted at his peas sadly. “She’s forgotten about our promise already.”
Yoong leaned in and Sunny responded with a quick peck on his lips and a happy smile afterwards.
“So I saw you getting out of a car after lunch yesterday. Did you meet someone during lunch?” Yoong asked as casually as possible as they entered the elevator together.
Sunny tensed for a split second. It was quick but Yoong was looking out for it so he caught it. He frowned inwardly but kept his face as passive as possible as he punched the ninth button to get the elevator going.
“Yeah, I met an old friend.”
“Old friend? Do I know your friend?”
“No, you don’t.”
“Oh. I’ll take it that you had a good time with your friend and forgot to eat? I saw you eating a sandwich in the office after coming back.”
“Yeah, we were chatting so much that I kind of forgot about lunch so I grabbed a sandwich.”
Yoong couldn’t take it anymore. He had to ask.
“So is your friend a male or female.”
Sunny responded without hesitation. “Male.”
Yoong sucked in his breath and exhaled quickly. “And you didn’t see the need to tell me about it?”
“No. It wasn’t anything significant enough. It was just a chat.”
He could feel the green monster rearing its head from within but he reminded himself that he wasn’t supposed to be jealous over little things.
I have to trust Sunny. She’s being totally honest so there’s nothing to worry about. Trust. Trust.
Yoong tried his best to smile. “Okay.”
The elevator doors opened just then.
“After you, my lady.”
Sunny giggled and stepped out. Yoong kept his smile as he leaned in and kissed her forehead.
“Have a good day at work, bunny,” he whispered in her ear.
“Right back at you, Yoongie.”
Tiffany giggled. Taeng was dancing with his peas in the silliest manner.
“Boom boom boom…”
Tiffany frowned. What was that irritating noise? Go away! She moved her hand about in search of the sound and found her phone. She opened her eyes a crack, stopped the annoying noise and closed her eyes again.
Where did Taetae go?
Her eyes remained closed for a few more seconds before they sprang open in shock. She was sprawled over her work desk and her laptop was in hibernation mode. She came to the conclusion that she had fallen asleep while working again and groaned. It was not one of her favourite ways of sleeping. More often than not, it meant a strained neck or back. Sure enough, her neck was strained. She could feel the pull of muscles when she turned too far to the right. Argh. What a way to start the day.
A second look at the phone sent a chill running down her spine. She felt terrible immediately. Terrible. Horrible. How could she? Argh! There on the screen of her phone was the notification that she had missed many calls from Taeng.
Taeng woke up to the sound of his phone ringing. He groaned and turned but his eyes remained closed. The phone rang on incessantly. He tried to tolerate it but lost the battle after a few seconds. He reached out and picked up his phone.
“Hello?” he croaked with his eyes still closed.
“Taetae, I can’t see you.”
His eyes sprang open at once. There was no better agent to wake him up than the sweet sound of Tiffany’s voice. He looked at the screen and saw Tiffany smiling beautifully. For a split second, he felt immense happiness. Then unhappiness welled up and snuffed out the happy flame.
“Fany, I am angry with you.”
She looked apologetic immediately. “I’m sorry. I fell asleep last night.”
“We promised to call at ten.”
“I know, I know. But I couldn’t help it. I don’t even know when I dozed off.”
“I called and called. I was very sad.”
“I’m so sorry.” Tiffany’s eyes lost their shine.
“Didn’t you miss me? I missed you so much that I was waiting for ten o’clock. I was staring at the clock, Fany. Staring at the clock. While you were sleeping.”
“Taetae… I don’t know what to say.”
Taeng felt bad. Tiffany looked very sorry and very sad. He probably ruined her morning. He ruined her beautiful smile. Yet, he was entitled to be unhappy. He had the right to.
“Fany, let’s talk tonight. At ten. I’m still tired and angry and I don’t want to make you sad.”
“Taetae… I’m really, really sorry.”
“I know you are. I’m just so disappointed.”
“Will a kiss make you feel better?”
“A kiss? But you’re not here.”
Tiffany brought the phone to her lips and kissed the camera lens.
“A virtual kiss.”
“I can’t feel it. It only works if I can feel it.”
Tiffany sighed. “Okay, we’ll talk tonight. At ten. I promise to be here when you call.”
“Okay. I have to go now. I promised to spend the day with Hayeon. I will tell you all about her graduation tonight. She was so happy yesterday and I really wanted to tell you all about it. I’ve got lots of pictures in my camera to show you too.”
“I’m very sorry. You were so eager… and I wasn’t there.”
“Just…don’t fall asleep again, please.”
“So is the news about that illegitimate daughter true?”
“I’m not answering that question.”
“Oh come on, you must know all about it, right?”
“I said, I’m not answering that question.”
“It’s going to be in the news soon anyway. I’m sure there’s more to come.”
“Then you can get it from the news. You aren’t going to get anything from me. You better get back to work. He’s watching.”
Yul heaved a sigh of relief after his co-worker turned back to her desk. If he was being hounded like that at work, what was it like for the sisters, he wondered. He couldn’t help but worry for both Jessica and Krystal. The younger sister especially. Jessica said that she insisted on going back to work as usual when he called her late last night. In fact, Jessica seemed to be quite resilient to the bad news so there probably wasn’t much to be worried about. He was sure that she could handle the attention and the press. She had ample practice after all. It was Krystal who was new to this. New to the press, new to the vicious tongues of the general public, new to the possibly bad consequences of being exposed as the illegitimate daughter of the Jungs.
Unable to put his mind to rest and concentrate on his work, he decided to step out and call Jessica. It was almost noon. Jessica should be awake by now.
He heard a kiss on the other end and smiled.
“Good morning, Kwon seobang.”
He chuckled. “It’s not morning anymore, baby.”
“It’s morning as long as I haven’t had breakfast.”
He chuckled again. Jessica had a knack for saying the darnedest things at times.
“Whatever you say, princess.”
“Why did you call? Is anything wrong?”
“Nothing. I was just worried about you and Krystal.”
“Oh. There’s nothing to worry about. I’m fine. I’ve been holed up in my room since last night and I only woke up a while ago. Amber and Suzy called though. I’ll call them back later.”
“I’m actually more worried about Krystal. Some of my co-workers have been asking about the news. I can only imagine how bad it must be for her if her co-workers have figured out that she is the one.”
“You’re more worried about her than me? You’re calling me because of her? I thought you called because of me.” Jessica sounded unhappy.
“What? No. It’s just that—”
Jessica’s giggle stopped him.
“I’m just teasing you. Relax.” There was a slight pause before she added, “But you better love me a lot more than you love her.”
Yul burst into laughter. Jessica was going to drive him nuts one day. Wait, no. He was nuts for loving her.
“I’m serious, Yul.”
“Baby, you have nothing to worry about. I love you.”
Jessica giggled. “I love you too.”
“Call me if there’s anything, okay?”
Yul smiled when he heard Jessica’s kiss again. Something about hearing it almost made it better than the actual kiss itself. Almost, but not quite. It was definitely better to kiss her in person.
“I feel like kissing you right now, baby.”
Yul glanced at his watch. If he took lunch a little later…
“Baby, join me for lunch today.”
“In the office.”
“I’ll need an hour.”
“I’ll see you at one.”
Jessica giggled. “Okay.”
Tongues were set wagging by the appearance of a certain lady at one. Everyone was surprised to see her, especially when she was in the limelight for news that wasn’t exactly good.
Jessica knew that they were whispering about her. She knew that they were all wondering if she really had a sister. But none of it bothered her. Let them whisper. Let them wonder. She didn’t have to care. She was fabulous regardless. And she only had eyes for a certain man who was yet again, completely engrossed in his work. Oh, he was so sexy when he stared at those pages so intensely. It was similar to yet different from the intense look that he gave her when they were…intimate. His brows were furrowed. Oh, how she loved to finger his brows after they were…intimate. They wouldn’t be furrowed then. Instead, they were completely relaxed and at ease.
She smiled and rapped his table. He looked up and smiled in return. He pulled an empty chair for her and she sat down elegantly. The sandwiches were put on the table and he opened the box. Beautifully made sandwiches, courtesy of a certain samchon, were waiting to be eaten. He took one out and offered it to her. She tried to take it with her hands but he shook his head and pulled away.
He grinned and put it near her mouth. Somewhere at the back of her mind, she could hear gasps but they didn’t bother her. All she knew was that her beloved Kwon seobang was feeding her and she loved it. She leaned forward slightly and opened her mouth, taking a small, dainty bite from the sandwich. It was delicious. He then brought the sandwich to his mouth and took a bite out of where she bit. She couldn’t help smiling as their eyes met. It was amazing how electric it still was between them.
“I must be crazy but I feel like kissing you right now,” he whispered in her ear.
Her eyes widened at once. This was so unlike Yul! But she liked it. Oh, she loved it!
“Let’s finish our sandwiches quickly,” he said.
So she nodded and chewed faster than before.
Eyes followed them as they left the office but by that point in time, neither of them cared. They walked quickly to his car and got in. And like a dog that finally got out of its leash, their lips met. There was vigour. There was passion. There was no time for light, fluttery kisses. They went straight for the kill with deep, deep kisses; their tongues meeting as their lips parted and engulfed the other person’s lips. It was lips on lips, tongue on tongue. Their heads moved fluidly, never falling out of sync. The sounds of their lips meeting filled up the space in the car as did the sounds of their clothes rubbing against the leather seats. And they continued to kiss, losing sight of where they were and who they were.
When they finally stopped, they were breathing heavily. Forehead against forehead, they clutched at each other for support.
“Seobang,” breathed Jessica.
“Baby,” breathed Yul.
“That was so good.”
“I wish we could.”
Jessica glanced at the time flashing away on the dashboard.
“But we’ve run out of time.”
“Tonight, baby. We’ll have time.”
“It’s difficult to wait so long.”
“But it’s going to feel so much better once the wait is over.”
Jessica’s eyes gleamed.
“Time to go, baby.”
Jessica sighed. “Okay.”
They got out of his car, held hands and headed back up to where Jessica’s driver was waiting patiently.
Yul kissed her one last time before letting her go.
“Bye, see you tonight.”
Jessica’s eyes danced as she smiled. “See you tonight.”
Yul headed back to his office after that and had a very productive day at work.
“Dad, I don’t know if you’ve heard the news yet, but I thought I should call you and explain everything to you.”
“I just got to hear it. And I’m glad you called me before I called you but I want to hear your explanation.”
Young took a deep breath and explained. He told his father everything. From the fiasco with Malina at the car show to the truth about Krystal’s identity. He split everything.
His father was silent for a while.
“Dad? You still there?”
Long distance calls could be cut off sometimes without you knowing it.
“I’m here. I’m just thinking.”
“Krystal is innocent. It’s not her fault, Dad.”
“I know that. This whole fiasco is your own doing. It’s the end of your playing days, son. It’s time for you to settle down. You need to get engaged. That will shut the irritating mouths of our shareholders.”
“Why are you so surprised. You know that your playing days will have to end the moment it gets into the way of business. I’m already starting to get concerned calls from some people.”
“I don’t want to get engaged.”
“Well, you could come over to America and join me here. It’s less of an issue here than back home.”
Young gasped. ‘No, I want to stay here. Everyone is here. Mum is here. Noona is here. My friends…”
“It’s either you come to America or you get engaged. You don’t have to stay in America forever. Maybe two or three years? Until the news dies down and investors forget about you and your behaviour.”
“No, I can’t leave.”
“Then you have to get engaged.”
“Yes, the very girl who is said to have come in between you and that conniving girl.”
“Why Krystal? No, no. She can’t be engaged to me. What makes you think she’ll agree to it anyway. She won’t agree. Heck, her family won’t agree to it either. I’m not a good husband for her.”
“Really?” His father chuckled. “My son, I know Krystal’s father well. He is every bit the businessman like me. And they do want to keep their daughter’s image clean. It won’t do to have her look like a loose woman with no morals. And she works for you. Do you know how bad this looks for our company and her?”
“I know. I know that I’ll be pressured to step down. I don’t mind. I can leave the company and let someone else run it. Noona! Noona can run it.”
“And she’ll have to quit too.”
Young winced. Krystal wouldn’t want to quit. He knew it. He knew it the moment he was told that she had turned up for work this morning.
“No. I won’t make her quit if she doesn’t want to.”
“Son, do you love her?”
“What?” spluttered Young. “Why would you say that?”
“It’s plain to see, frankly speaking.”
“No, no. It’s not like that. I love her as a sister. The younger sister that I never had.”
“Don’t bullshit me. You may be able to lie to your friends but you can’t lie to me. I know you, son. I know you like the back of my hand.”
“I’m not lying.”
“Tell me the truth, son. That’s the only way I can help you.”
Young squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn’t lie to his father. If he was going to protect Krystal, he couldn’t lie to his father.
“I love her.”
“I love her. That’s why I won’t agree to be engaged with her.”
“No, Dad. Please don’t. She’s…she’s so pure. I can’t. I’m not the one for her.”
“I’m afraid it won’t be your call. You’ve always been aware that you will marry someone we pick for you.”
“Anyone. Anyone but her.”
“You’re giving me a headache, son.”
“I know you are. Well, for starters, you can stop going out with random girls for a while. Can you do that?”
“Good. We’ll talk about your scandal with Krystal a little later. First, we’ll have to deal with the company’s board of directors.”
She was ready for it. Or so she thought.
Eyes followed her as she entered the building. It was so evident that people were gossiping about her even if they tried to be inconspicuous. The more they tried to hide it, the more obvious they were. The irony of it all.
It hurt. It hurt like it did in school. When she was deemed to be lesser just because of the circumstances of her birth into this world. It never seemed fair to her. Why was a person any lesser than another just because he or she wasn’t born into a regular family? She had a father and mother just like everyone else. The only difference was that her father wasn’t her mother’s husband. Did that fact have to shape the way people saw her? Why couldn’t they accept her as she was? She was just an ordinary girl like everybody else!
Yet the more it hurt, the more determined she was to show them what she’d got. She had enough of the shallowness and superficiality of people who didn’t even come close to knowing who she really was. She was top in sales for three months running. She’d show them. She’d shut their mouths up with her outstanding work performance. Work performance was something that was undeniable. No one could say anything if she topped the charts for six months running, could they? No. They couldn’t.
With a bright smile, she approached a man who looked interested in their new sedan, the 2012/2013 Azera. However, as she neared the man, her co-worker elbowed her out of the way and got to the man first. It was all she could do to hold her tongue and prevent herself from confronting her co-worker there and then.
It didn’t happen just once. It happened all day. Time after time, somebody would cut in and get in her way of whoever she tried to approach. Even the laziest of them all was working that much harder today. All because of her parentage?
“Why are you still coming to work? Are you shameless or something?”
A co-worker stopped her as she was about to head off for a break.
“What’s wrong with coming to work?” Krystal tried her best to stay level.
“You’re really shameless, aren’t you? No wonder you have no qualms about stealing somebody else’s boyfriend. I knew it. You and the boss’ son couldn’t have been platonic. Who were you trying to kid? All of us suspected that there was more but Sulli convinced us that you weren’t like that. She must be kicking herself right now for defending you. Defending such a slut. You’re just like your mother. A woman of no morals.”
Hold on. That was wholly unnecessary. Why was her mother dragged into the picture? What did this woman know about her mother? How would she feel if her own mother was insulted like that?
“Excuse me, but don’t you think you’ve gone too far? If you want to talk bad about me, go ahead, but there’s no need to bring my mother into this.”
Her co-worker scoffed. “Heh. It’s a fact that you’re illegitimate, isn’t it? And the Jungs don’t want anything to do with you. Why else would you be working like us ordinary people? Your mother must have tried to pull the same trick you’re pulling with Young. Like mother, like daughter. Always going for the rich guys. You are the kind of girl who makes us girls look bad.”
Krystal clenched her fists as anger swirled from the depths of her tormented heart. Her mother had suffered enough. She was gone from this world, at peace at last. Who did this woman think she was? Who was she to judge?
“Shut your filthy, good-for-nothing mouth before I slap you so hard that you can only have porridge for the rest of your life,” she seethed.
Her co-worker looked taken aback by her ferocity and took two steps back.
“You’ve finally shown your true colours. You’re scary.”
And Krystal was left standing in the locker room with emotions that she wasn’t quite sure how to handle as her co-worker made a hasty retreat. Sulli had defended her? Oh no. Sulli. She froze. If there was anyone who deserved an explanation, it was Sulli.
“Sulli, can I talk to you for a moment?” Krystal approached the girl who was talking to another co-worker. The co-worker looked at her with distaste but she ignored it completely. Sulli was the one she cared about.
“What do you have to say to me?”
Krystal was thrown off balance by Sulli’s curt tone but she persevered.
“Please, just give me a few minutes. In private.” She pleaded with her eyes as she prayed for Sulli’s understanding in her heart. She had but one friend in this place. Please, she didn’t want to lose a friend.
“Fine. But make it quick. I’m quite busy.” Sulli excused herself and followed Krystal to the rooftop—their usual hangout.
“I suppose you’ve heard the news,” Krystal began tentatively.
“I’ve heard it. Everyone’s talking about it,” Sulli said gruffly.
“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t tell you before.”
“So it’s true then? You’re really an illegitimate Jung girl?”
Krystal hung her head low. “Yes. It’s true.”
“And you’re involved with Young?”
“No! That’s not true!” Krystal shook her head violently. “I’m not involved with anyone!”
“How can I trust what you say? You’ve been lying to me all this time.”
Sulli’s voice was low and quiet. Completely devoid of the usual perkiness that Krystal was used to hearing. Her eyes. Krystal couldn’t bear to look into her eyes. They were the windows to Sulli’s upset soul. She knew what Sulli must be thinking right now. She understood the sense of betrayal that Sulli must be feeling right now. Sulli had always been upfront and honest about herself. And as a friend, she had been supportive and stood by her side. Krystal knew that a simple apology would not suffice. Yet, there was nothing else she could do or say to undo the lies that she had told.
“I really had no choice. Please forgive me.”
“No choice? I told you everything about me. Everything. Even the ugly details of my parents’ divorce. I told you my deepest and darkest secrets. I thought we were really good friends, Krystal. I thought we were sisters. And while I was putting myself out there, you were keeping everything a secret. How do you think I’d feel?”
“I know that you feel betrayed right now—”
“Hell yeah I feel betrayed. I feel like I’m totally played! I thought you were some poor girl with parents who aren’t there. Just like me. I thought that you had suffered. Just like me. We were two girls struggling to survive in this cruel world. But what are you? You’re the daughter of a freaking rich man. Filthy rich! You have all the money in the world! And here you are, pretending to be ordinary like the rest of us. Do you think it’s funny? Huh? Do you think it’s fun to ride on buses and trains with the rest of us? Is it like an amusement park ride to you? HUH?!”
Sulli was raging and her voice had reached a pitch so high that it was about to crack.
“I’m not a regular daughter, okay? I’m an ILLEGITIMATE daughter! And it sure as hell isn’t easy to live my life, okay? I’ve suffered. Lord knows I have. I’m been teased, ridiculed, insulted, even bullied because I’m illegitimate. I just want to be like everybody else. I don’t want to be me.”
“Did you think that I would think less of you because you’re illegitimate? Am I that kind of superficial person?”
“I couldn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t risk it. If the truth leaked out like it has now, my family would have a lot of problems to deal with. My father now has to deal with questions from everywhere. The press, his business associates, family, friends. My sister has to deal with it too. Even Young is having a really hard time and it’s affecting his family and his company. Please understand why I chose to keep it a secret.”
Sulli laughed coldly and shook her head.
“You didn’t keep it a secret because of other people. You did it for yourself. You didn’t want to be seen as illegitimate again. You wanted to be just another girl on the street. And because of that, it has become a problem for everyone. And you would lie to your best friend about who you are just because you’re afraid of being treated differently.”
“And is there anything wrong with wanting to have a new life as a new person? Is it a crime to try to start out anew?”
Sulli shook her head sadly and teared.
“No. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not a crime at all. But now, I feel like I don’t know you at all. Everything you said you were. Everything I thought you were. For the past few months, everything you told me was a lie. Best friends don’t lie to each other about who they are. Best friends shouldn’t be afraid to be who they are. I would have kept it a secret for you if you really wanted me to. And it hurts to know that you didn’t trust me enough to tell me the truth.”
“Sulli…” Krystal couldn’t find the words to express herself. She was in turmoil. Bullies she could handle. Insults she could ignore. Ridicules she could laugh off. But Sulli’s accusations were true. They were just. She was guilty as charged. And it hurt. It hurt real bad. It hurt to know that she was the cause of Sulli’s tears. It hurt to think that she had hurt someone that she truly cared about. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I lied about who my father was. I’m sorry I lied about my family. But I didn’t lie about my mother and how we lived in San Fran. And everything else. I didn’t lie about anything else.”
“Krystal. I don’t think I can hang out with you for a while.”
“What? No, no, no. Please, you’re my only friend.” Krystal reached for Sulli’s hand but she backed away.
“No, I’m not your only friend. You still have Young.”
And as Krystal watched Sulli turn her back on her, she bit her lip to stop herself from crying. She bit hard. Hard enough to break the delicate skin of her trembling lips. She could taste the rancid taste of iron on her tongue and pain kicked in soon after. But the pain was a welcome feeling. She deserved it. She deserved it and more.
“How was work today?”
“It wasn’t too bad, Mother.”
Mother was the extent of what Krystal could bring herself to address Mama Jung as. Mommy and mom were reserved for her real mother. She would never call anybody else that.
“Are you sure? Did anybody treat you badly at work?”
“No, Mother. It was alright. Nothing I can’t handle.”
“Alright, if you say so. Remember that we’re right here for you if it gets too much to take.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t call earlier.”
“I heard that you turned up for work today.”
“Yeah, I did.”
“Young, don’t worry about me. I’m sure you have plenty to deal with right now.”
“Krys, how can I not worry about you.”
“Look, you’re not the one who’s responsible for this. It’s my fault for pulling that stunt on your ex.”
“Why did you say those things to Malina?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“I guess I didn’t like her that much.”
“Jea—what? No! I wasn’t jealous. Why would I be? It’s not as if I’m in love with you or anything like that.”
“Oh. I see.”
“I was just curious, that’s all.”
“And there’s something else I need to tell you.”
“What is it?”
“My dad…he thinks that we should get engaged.”
“Yeah, I know. That was my reaction too. Listen, my dad thinks that the best way to shut mouths is if we get engaged so that Malina looks bad instead of us.”
“But don’t you worry. I told my dad that I won’t agree to it and neither will you.”
“You won’t agree to it?”
“Of course not. We’re best friends forever right? Best friends don’t get engaged. Besides, I’m not good enough to be your husband.”
“Krys, listen to me. My dad is going to talk to your dad. Your dad might think that it’s a good idea too so you have to object. Violently.”
“Is that what you want me to do?”
“You want me to object to the engagement. Violently.”
“Yeah. Surely you don’t want to be engaged to me, do you?”
“Oh, no. No. of course not.”
“Yeah, I thought so too.”
“Thanks for the heads up, Young.”
“No problem. I’ll always look out for you. You know that, right?”
Taeng’s phone rang at half past nine. He answered it in a jiffy. It was Tiffany calling.
“It’s not ten yet.”
“I couldn’t wait any longer.”
“Are you not happy that I called?”
Tiffany was frowning. Oh no!
“No, no. I’m very happy! You can call me anytime you like!”
“I can’t wait to make it up to you.”
“Make it up to me?”
“Uh huh.” There was a gleam in Tiffany’s eyes. The way she looked at him (or the camera, rather) was making waves in his little thumping heart. “I’m really sorry about missing your call last night.”
Tiffany giggled and winked. Something about that wink told him that he should put his peas away.
“What are you doing, Taetae?”
“Er, I’m keeping my peas.”
Tiffany giggled again. “Why are you keeping your peas?”
“I don’t know, but I think I should. Just give me a moment, please.”
He quickly put his peas back into their pod and zipped it up. Then he turned back to his phone and smiled. “Done!”
“Good. Now, do you want to tell me about Hayeon’s graduation first or let me make it up to you first?”
“I-I d-don’t know.”
“Why don’t you tell me about Hayeon’s graduation while I make it up to you then?”
Taeng got his camera and began showing Tiffany pictures of Hayeon’s graduation.
“This is Hayeon and I at her school gates,” began Taeng. “And this is Hayeon and her teacher. Her teacher said that Hayeon is a very good girl.”
“I’m glad to hear that. She looks very cute in the pictures, Taetae.”
“She’s very pretty, isn’t she?” Taeng felt proud of his little sister.
“I’m sure she has boys hot on her trail.”
“I think so.” Taeng frowned. “She was taking pictures with many boys. Too many, in fact.”
Tiffany laughed and rolled her eyes a little. “Brothers. What other pictures do you have?”
Taeng’s eyes bulged when he looked at the screen again after fiddling with his camera. Tiffany had taken off her t-shirt.
“F-Fany, w-what are you doing?”
Tiffany giggled. “What am I doing? I’m making it up to you, of course.”
“Do you like it?”
“Should I keep on taking my clothes off?”
Tiffany didn’t wait for Taeng to answer. With a simple manoeuvre, her brassiere was unclasped and hung loosely on her shoulders. Taeng couldn’t breathe. A tiny squeak escaped as her brassiere dropped and revealed her beautiful treasures to his eyes. He couldn’t blink.
“Taetae, I can’t wait for you to come home.”
Her voice turned husky and set his heart on fire.
“I miss you, Taengoo.”
“I miss you too, Fany ah.”
Suddenly, the door burst open and Hayeon bounced in.
“Oppa! Are you talking to Fany unnie? I want to talk to her too!”
Taeng squeaked in fright and clutched his phone to his chest immediately.
“No, no, you can’t. I’m talking to her.”
Hayeon pouted. “Don’t be selfish oppa. Just let me talk to her for a few minutes.”
“Fany ah, Hayeon says that she wants to talk to you.” Taeng sneaked a peak at the screen. Tiffany was scrambling to put her clothes back on with her phone in her hand and the camera was terribly jerky.
“R-Right. I-I’m ready.” Tiffany had her clothes back on, albeit a little untidily.
“Hayeon ah, don’t be too long.”
“Sure thing, oppa.”
Hayeon grabbed the phone from him and started chatting with Tiffany merrily. In the meantime, Taeng looked down at himself in despair. He could feel the effects of Tiffany’s seduction and it wasn’t good. He’d have to cool down before Hayeon noticed anything. Cool down. Cool down. A shower! Yes, a quick shower would be good.
After having dinner with his grandfather, Yoong was invited into the study to talk.
“Yoong, I had lunch with Sunny yesterday.”
“No, you didn’t. What kind of stunt are you trying to pull on me this time?”
“I’m not pulling a stunt. I really did have lunch with Sunny.”
Yoong scoffed. “She said she met an old friend during lu—” He faltered mid-way through his sentence as he recalled how Sunny had tensed up when he asked her about it.
“She told you she met an old friend?” Grandpa Im chuckled. “She does have a way with words, this girl.”
“Wait, so…you are the old friend she was talking about?” Yoong spluttered.
“I’m afraid so.”
“Then why did she lie to me about it?!”
“It’s my fault, I’m afraid. I made her promise to keep it from you.”
“What? Why? What are you up to now? If you’re trying to break us up, forget it. I’m not leaving her for anything or anyone. I love her, grandpa. I love her. I refuse to accept anybody else. You can tell Hyesun to scram.”
“How can I calm down?! Are you even making sense? Why did you ask her to keep things from me? Do you know that I almost thought badly of her today? Do you know how much trouble I have trying to trust her?”
“Yoong, I was testing her.”
“Testing her? Why?”
“I wanted to find out more about her. I need to know if I can entrust you to her.”
“Of course you can! She’s the one, grandpa. She’s the best girl I’ve ever met.”
“Yoong, that’s what you said about her too.”
Yoong was silenced in that instant.
“Don’t blame me for being extra cautious this time. I’m just worried about you.”
“Sunny is not like her,” Yoong said flatly.
“What?” Yoong was surprised.
“I like Sunny.”
“If I were younger, I’d give you a run for your money.” Grandpa Im chuckled.
“I-I don’t understand. I thought you were trying to break us up. Especially with Hyesun in the picture and all.”
“Hyesun came to me. I didn’t go to her. I didn’t see anything wrong with Hyesun so I went along with it.”
“So you aren’t trying to break us up.”
“I was considering it. But I changed my mind after talking to Sunny over lunch.”
“She’s really something, isn’t she?” Yoong asked excitedly.
Grandpa Im chuckled and nodded. “I liked how much tenacity she had even when she was intimidated. She didn’t back down in front of me. Her answers were straight, honest and I liked how she could look me in the eyes confidently while answering. And as a final test, I asked her not to tell you about meeting me. She lied to you to keep her promise to me. In doing so, she has passed the test.”
“She passed the test by lying to me? Please explain your insane logic.”
“She lied to you because she cares more about you than herself. It was a risk that she’d be found out but she did it anyway. She could have blown the whistle on me and gotten you all riled up over me but she didn’t. She was protecting your relationship with me. This girl is a keeper. Yoong, you’d better not mess this up.”
Yoong broke into a glorious grin. “Does this mean that you are okay with my engagement with Sunny?”
“Yes. I will tell Hyesun that you are taken.”
“YES!” Yoong punched the air with his fists jubilantly while Grandpa Im sat back and smiled with a twinkle in his eye.
Jessica kept her chin up high as she strode into the grand house that belonged to Mr Lee Kun Hee, the richest man in South Korea, with Yul, Krystal and her parents. He was throwing a lavish party, a party that was deemed as the most important social event of the year. It was the party to see and be seen at. Top celebrities, politicians, South Korea’s richest and Mr Park’s business associates from all around the world were among the guests invited. The invitation list was in itself a ranking of the who’s who in high society.
As usual, the Jungs were invited. Interestingly, this year, the invite read like this:
To: Mr and Mrs Jung and daughters
My, my. The news was barely out a couple of days ago and already invites were including Krystal? Krystal was surprised.
Papa Jung, on the other hand, had merely grinned when he showed Jessica and Krystal the invite.
Jessica smirked. “Nice move, Dad.”
“Why, thank you.”
“Can somebody tell me what is going on? Why am I invited to this party? Can I give it a pass?”
Jessica turned to Krystal and glared at her.
“You’re going to this party whether you like it or not. Dad got you invited to this party for a good reason.”
“Why? I don’t understand how going to a party can be good for me.”
Papa Jung sighed.
“Soojung ah, I know that you don’t want to be part of this world but I hope that you can go to this party. We are in a very superficial world. A world that is full of people who measure their self-worth in terms of how others perceive them. To be seen at this party may not mean anything to you. It may be a chore and a hassle to you. A thoroughly unpleasant experience even. But in our superficial world, to be seen at this party is worth its weight in gold.”
Papa Jung looked at Krystal meaningfully.
“The news has caused some damage to our family’s reputation and our company stocks have dipped because of it. I need you to go to this party because it will help our standing in our circle. We need to stop the tongues from wagging and one of the best ways is to face it head on. Once the tongues stop wagging, the fear of the unknown will dissipate and confidence can be restored in our company. Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?”
Krystal was silent for a while.
“Soojung…” Jessica held her hand and smiled her sweetest smile. “Unnie will be there. Yul oppa will be there too. We will be with you all the way. You won’t feel so bad with us around.”
Krystal turned to Papa Jung. “If going to the party is going to help the family, I will go.” Then she turned to Jessica. “Unnie, please help me. I don’t know anything about parties like these. I’m scared.”
Jessica grinned and put her arm around Krystal.
“You’re looking at the princess of all these parties. I’ll tell you everything you need to know. And you have nothing to worry about because you’re a princess too.”
“I’m not a princess. I’m just an ordinary girl.”
Jessica shook her head. “You’re my little sister and that makes you a princess as well. Hold your chin up high and don’t let anyone trample on you. Woe to the person who dares to try.”
“No buts. It’s about time you embrace who you really are. Enough of the crap about living life like before. You have Daddy’s blood in you. That makes you a Jung. A freaking rich Jung. Princess Krystal Jung Soojung. That’s who you are. And don’t argue with me over it.”
So with her arms linked with Yul and Krystal’s, she led the both of them through the milling crowd who were looking at them curiously. People turned to each other and whispered, presumably about the identity of the girl she was with. But it was no matter. They would have to accept that Krystal was a Jung girl. Just like her. They would award Krystal with the same respect and awe that they awarded her. After all, to be seen at this party meant that you weren’t just anybody.
Papa and Mama Jung had left them earlier upon Jessica’s assurance that she could take care of both Yul and Krystal. It was their usual practice. Papa Jung would be busy networking and socializing with the who’s who in the business world while Mama Jung would stand beside him and engage in conversation with the wives of those men. Meanwhile, Jessica would hang out with Amber and Suzy, her favourite people at such events.
Jessica found them by the chocolate fondue—their favourite spot to hang out at. Their favourite parties were the ones with good chocolate fondues.
“Nice to meet you again, Amber, Suzy.” Yul smiled handsomely at them and Jessica couldn’t help giggling at them. Even after seeing Yul a few times now, they were still affected by his handsome smile.
“Jessica, Yul, you’re here! And this must be Krystal.” Amber smiled warmly at the younger Jung and stepped forward to give her a quick hug. “I’m Amber and this is Suzy. Don’t worry, Jessica has already told us about you. We’ll take care of you too.”
Jessica smiled and gave Amber and Suzy a hug.
“Narsha and company will be arriving soon.” Suzy looked up from her phone. “They just texted me.”
“Noses will bleed when they arrive.” Jessica smirked.
“Why?” asked Krystal.
Jessica exchanged a knowing glance with Suzy before turning back to Krystal and saying, “You’ll know what I mean when you see them.”
Just then, an unwelcomed acquaintance breezed towards them.
Jessica felt Krystal’s hand gripping her a little tighter at Hara’s appearance and patted her hand to assure her. She was in turn assured by Yul’s hand which made its way to her waist at the sight of Hara.
“You’re so lucky to be invited after that great, big scandal. I’m so happy for you…”
Jessica scoffed inwardly at Hara’s lies but her smile grew wider.
“Why wouldn’t we be invited? It almost sounds as though you wished we weren’t but you love me too much to wish that on me, don’t you?”
“Ha ha ha…” Hara covered her mouth and laughed airily. “You have such a sense of humour, Sica ya…” She shook her head slightly. “I would never ever wish that on you.”
“Have you met my sister, Krystal?”
A look of shock registered on Hara’s face and Jessica smirked. She knew that Hara would not be pleased to see Krystal.
“I’m sorry, I did not notice you at all. All of my attention was on Sica. I am so pleased to meet you, Krystal.”
“It’s nice to meet you too.”
Jessica had the urge to laugh. Krystal did not excel in hiding her true feelings. Her tone was so forced that anyone who heard her would have known that she felt otherwise.
“I guess… we have the scandal to thank. If it weren’t for the scandal, Krystal would never have agreed to join our fabulous world of parties. She was so adamant on living her own life comfortably that I couldn’t get her to come with me at all. Now, I’ll have her to accompany me to these things.”
Jessica watched Hara’s face carefully. She had her suspicions. And her suspicions were confirmed when Hara’s face looked constipated. If she had nothing to do with the scandal, she would have laughed airily and scoffed. Instead, she looked as though she didn’t know what kind of expression to put on. Suspicious. Definitely.
“Anyway, please excuse us. I need to bring Yul and Krystal around to meet other friends.”
“And I was just about to say the same. Great minds think alike, don’t they?” Hara laughed airily again before walking away.
“Unnie, I don’t know how you can do it,” whispered Krystal after Hara was out of earshot.
Amber and Suzy giggled. “Krystal, your sis is one of the best actresses in this party because she’s had lots of opportunities to practice.”
“You can be as good as me too. If you want to.” Jessica winked at Krystal.
The younger Jung shuddered and shook her head vigorously. “No, I don’t want to be good at this.”
“Mr. Jung, how are you?”
“Reporter Song, I’m surprised that you have the time to attend this party.”
“To be honest, I attended it mainly because I knew that you were coming.”
Mr. Jung flashed a wry smile. “And this is probably the only way you can get to ask me some questions.”
“You know better than I do that it is incredibly difficult to get to you if you do not want to be reached.”
“Mr. Lee must have made it known to you that you are not invited as a reporter but as a personal friend. So I expect that whatever I say to you will not be reported. Mr. Lee will not be pleased otherwise. He has gone to great lengths to ensure the privacy of his guests who come to this party.”
“I am aware of the ban on reports of this party. Mr. Lee even has a private enclosure for us get off our cars. I know that it is the exclusivity of this party that gives it its reputation and I do not intend of break that rule. I simply am curious about the state of your affairs as a human being. After all, I have known you for a long time even if most of the time, we meet for less pleasurable purposes.”
“Well, you can find out as a reporter real soon. I will hold a press conference on this.”
“Really? I’m surprised. You could smother the news if you wanted to.”
“I want my family to be at peace. I don’t want them to have to deal with all the gossips.”
“Very noble of you, Mr. Jung.”
Mr. Jung smiled and shook his head. “I’m just a husband and a father.”
Reporter Song smiled back. “You have changed a lot over the past few years.”
“As you age, you begin to understand what really matters and cherish them more.”
“Your appearance belies the extent of your experience in life.”
“Now you’re just flattering me.”
Reporter Song chuckled. “No, I assure you, I am not.”
“Oh my gosh, Krystal!”
The sudden exclamation made them jump and they turned to see Young gaping at Krystal.
“What are you doing here?”
Jessica took offence at his question.
“What do you mean by that? Krystal has every right to be here. She was formally invited.”
“No, no. I don’t mean it that way. It’s just that, Krystal doesn’t like these things. And… she didn’t mentioned it to me.”
Young turned to Krystal and asked, “Why didn’t you tell me that you were coming to this party?”
Krystal merely shrugged.
Young whistled. “You look absolutely gorgeous in this dress, Krys. Absolutely beautiful.”
Krystal turned pink and looked very awkward. Jessica had to stifle her giggle. The woman next to Young didn’t look so pleased, however.
“Young,” she said, as though to remind him at she was just beside him.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Young looked rather apologetic.
“Jade, this is Krystal.”
The two ladies shook hands. Jessica noted with interest how tensed her sister looked. There was definitely more to this than friendship.
“This is Jessica, Krystal’s sister and Yul, Jessica’s fiancé.”
They shook hands and smiled at each other politely.
“Jade is an old friend of mine and we’re going to be engaged soon.”