“I wasn’t expecting a call from you so soon.”
Taeng is taken aback by the crispness of Sunny’s voice. “I, er, didn’t think to wait.”
“A man who wastes no time. No wonder our project manager chose you to work with.”
“I’m glad too. Your company has given us a wide berth of creative freedom. It’s really nice to have more room to—”
“You didn’t call to talk about work, did you?” Sunny interjects, her tone laced with impatience.
“No. No, I called about—”
“Yeah, about that night—”
“I apologize for anything that I may have done,” Taeng says in a rush.
The pause makes Taeng uncomfortable and a million bad scenarios run through his mind. Did I come on her too hard? I mean, she’s really cute. I might have . . . oh God. Shit. I must have acted really desperate, right? Or did I do something stupid like try to strip tease? Or did I—shit. Shit.
“The only thing you have to apologize for is,” Taeng’s eyes close, dreading what Sunny is about to reveal, “crashing drunk onto my car.”
That’s it? “Er, is that the only thing . . .”
“Of course, there’s the inconvenience of transporting you to La Casa and checking you in. The lady at the reception gave me the strangest look. And I don’t blame her. A man and a woman checking a dead drunk into the hotel. Who knows what she was thinking.”
“A man and a woman.” Taeng’s heart sinks as he realizes that Sunny isn’t single. It’s not like I can date her anyway.
“My chauffeur. He’s the one who carried you up to your room and helped you into bed. I’ll have to give him a bonus this month for helping me with that.”
A wide smile plays on Taeng’s lips. “Your chauffeur. I see. He’s a good guy. I’ll have to thank him too.”
“You haven’t thanked me yet.”
“You’re right. I haven’t. I, er, didn’t realise how much trouble you got me out of.” Taeng inhales and exhales in relief that things are not as complicated as he imagined them to be. “I’d like to thank you. Properly. How does dinner sound? Your choice of restaurant. Your chauffeur included.”
“My chauffeur. So the three of us.”
Taeng wants nothing more than to knock his head against the wall. I’m an idiot. Way to go, Romeo. “Yes. As you said, he helped too. And he had to carry me . . .”
“That’s very nice of you.” The smile in Sunny’s voice makes Taeng think it might be working out for him after all. “I’ll ask him for you. Maybe he can pick the place.”
Suddenly, it occurs to Taeng that Sunny might not have accepted the offer if he hadn’t included her chauffeur. Way to go, Taengoo! I’m proud of you. “Sure. Just let me know.”
“Alright, I will get in touch with you again. I have to go now.”
“Of course. Have a nice day.”
Taeng ends the call and stares at his phone with a smile. He doesn’t know why he feels this good after what is at most a civil conversation over the phone about his embarrassing night. But talking to Sunny puts him in a good mood. Maybe it’s her voice. She has such a cute voice. Perfect for pinching if there were cheeks involved. And he’s made a good impression. He’s certain of that. There was approval in her voice.
Well done, Taengoo. Well done.
He puts his phone away and whistles a happy tune. Today turned out to be a pretty good day after all.
As it turns out, Sunny’s chauffeur has a thing for barbeque. And that’s how Taeng ends up sitting in a crowded barbeque restaurant with Sunny and her chauffeur. As the plates of pork arrive, the ice between them melts and Taeng gradually feels more at ease. Through three plates of pork belly slices, he learns that the chauffeur’s name is Hyungdon. He also learns that Hyungdon is happily married with two kids, among some other pleasantries exchanged.
“And your kids are in school now?” asks Taeng as he pours more soju for the chauffeur.
“Yes. My first girl is ten. My second girl is ten.”
Taeng blinks. “They’re both ten? So they were born in the same year?”
Sunny laughs. “They’re twins, silly.”
“Oh.” Taeng pauses for a moment before laughing at himself. “Right. You got me there.”
“I didn’t realise you were such a joker, Mr Jung.”
The chauffeur smiles. “I don’t joke at work, Ms Lee.”
Taeng looks at the two of them and grins. “It’s also kind of hard to joke when you call each other in such a formal manner.”
Sunny meets Taeng’s eye. “You’re right. But it’s a habit that’s hard to break. I’ve been calling him Mr Jung ever since I can remember.”
“It’s the same for me.” The chauffeur smiles. “But despite the formality, Ms Lee is a very nice person to chauffeur for. And so are her parents and sisters. The Lees are good people. That’s why I’m happy to stay for fifteen years and longer.”
Sunny’s eyes widen. “It’s been fifteen years?”
“Wow, that’s a long time,” Taeng adds.
“Yes, I remember Mr Lee interviewing me for the job. I had come from another family that treated me badly so I had little expectations. But your father gave me a raise and reasonable working hours. And he talked to me as a friend would, boasting about his sweet little daughter, telling how I would enjoy driving you around. And I did. I still do, even though you’re no longer the naughty teenager you were.”
Taeng chuckles. “A naughty teenager, huh.”
Sunny clears her throat. “Mr Jung, maybe you’d like to tell Taeng about his glorious night.”
Red is the colour of Taeng’s cheeks as his grin slips off his face.
The chauffeur smiles. “It wasn’t too bad. You puked but I managed to get you to the sink before you dirtied your clothes. Then I took your clothes off before tucking you in so you wouldn’t dirty them if you puked again. Nothing else happened. You fell asleep as soon as you touched the bed and we left.”
“I’m sorry for causing you trouble. I, well, I should have watched myself.” Taeng scratches the back of his head, wearing a sheepish grin on his face. “My alcohol limit is quite low.”
“How low?” Sunny asks. “You haven’t drunk more than one shot this whole time.”
“Stooping low,” Taeng confesses. “I’m the guy who takes care of the bags at the club. And the one who drives everybody home.”
“So why did you get so drunk that night?”
“Well, I . . . I just wanted to let it go for one night. I’d been holed up at home for a long time before that night so my friend dragged me out to the party and practically ordered me to have some fun.”
Sunny leans forward on her elbows and picks up another piece of pork with her chopsticks. “Why were you holed at home?” she asks before popping the pork slice into her mouth.
I catch myself staring at her pouty lips and look away quickly. “I—” Taeng coughs. “My ex broke up with me and a huge account came up at the same time—” Taeng nods at Sunny, “—your company’s account in fact, so I told my team that I needed some creative space. I’d done it before so they didn’t find it weird.”
A brow of Sunny’s cocks an inch. “Which means that soulful concept of a girl finding herself, meeting herself—that was what you came up with while you hid in your home?”
Taeng nods. “Yeah. And if I can be honest, it was a last minute change. I trashed my first three concepts because they were too depressing. Then I hit on the fourth and did it all up. But three days before the party, this idea popped up in the middle of the night. And I couldn’t sleep until I had it all down on a storyboard.”
“You sound like a real artist.” Sunny grins. “The eccentric kind.”
“Tell me. How did you learn the art of making a compliment sound like criticism?” Taeng asks as a grin grows across his face.
A throat is cleared and the sound draws Taeng’s eyes from Sunny’s. The chauffeur smiles. “I have to get back to my family so I’m afraid I can’t stay too long. But thank you for this treat, Taeng.” He turns to Sunny and says, “My apologies for leaving early, Ms Lee.”
Sunny shakes her head. “I’ll leave with you, Mr Jung.”
“No, stay. You’ve worked very hard this week, Ms Lee. You should take a break and enjoy the rest of the pork belly. I know it’s your favourite.”
“Mr Jung . . .”
The chauffeur chuckles. “Why do you think I chose this place? This is the first proper dinner you’ve had this week, Ms Lee, so you should give yourself a treat and have a good night’s sleep later. Taeng is good company. He’ll make sure you get home safely as well or would you rather I tell Mr Son to pick you up when you’re ready to leave?”
“I’ll send her home, Hyungdon. Don’t worry.”
The chauffeur pats Taeng on his shoulder and stands. “Thank you for this lovely dinner.”
“It was great talking to you,” says Taeng.
The chauffeur smiles, nods and walks out of the restaurant. Leaving Taeng and Sunny to enjoy the rest of the evening. But as soon as the chauffeur is gone, the ease that Taeng found disappears as well. Awkwardness sets in and he fiddles with his chopsticks, trying to think of something to say. He’s staring at his plate when a piece of pork belly lands on it, courtesy of Sunny.
“What’s on your mind, o’ great eccentric artist?”
Taeng shrugs. “Nothing.”
“So tell me. Is this what you’ve always wanted? Designing, drawing . . .”
Taeng nods. “I’ve always loved to draw. I love looking at something and seeing something else.”
“What do you see when you look at me? Be honest.”
“What do you mean?”
“You said you love seeing something else when you look at things. So what else do you see when you look at me?”
This is the kind of question that traps anyone who attempts to answer it. There is no good answer. “Well . . .”
Sunny holds Taeng’s gaze, her lips tilted to her right, slightly.
Here goes nothing. “I see determination. I see courage. And confidence that comes from the two. And after tonight, I’d say I see a rebellious streak too.”
Sunny’s eyes light up at the mention of ‘rebellious streak’. “What makes you say that?”
“I don’t know. It’s something I see in your eyes tonight. And maybe I got a sneak peek back at my office when you told me to call you.”
Sunny tosses a short laugh into the air. “You’re right. I was feeling kind of . . . naughty when I hinted about your grey waistcoat. You have no idea how surprised I was to see you.”
“Speaking of that, I’ll have to admit that the way you stared at me made me feel even more nervous.”
A cheeky grin surfaces on Sunny’s cheery face. “But that did not affect your presentation. My project manager is impressed by your clear explanation of the concept. He thinks it is effective and will be a hit.”
“I’m very glad to hear that.”
“Don’t let him know I already told you that. He’s planning to contact you in a couple of days.”
Taeng holds up two fingers and puts on a solemn expression. “I promise not to tell. And I’ll act like I just heard it from him.”
Sunny giggles and Taeng thinks it’s the cutest sound he’s ever heard.
The rest of the dinner flies by as Taeng enjoys himself, chatting idly with Sunny over inconsequential things. It is such a pleasurable thing to be able to just talk to someone. And despite her status as CEO of her company and the business ties between them, Taeng finds that they talk like friends who’ve known each other for much longer than just a couple of days. He knows that it isn’t every day that he meets someone who puts him at such ease. Sunny seems to be the sociable type. He’s probably just another person she can chat up to. But it’s not the same for him. To him, meeting Sunny is turning out to be something quite out of the ordinary.
So when it’s time to part, Taeng is hit with a full dose of reluctance to say goodbye. It must have shown on his face because Sunny smiles and says, “There’ll be plenty more chances for us to meet again.”
And Taeng doesn’t recognise his voice when he says, “Name one.”
The twinkle in Sunny’s eyes is teasing. “You tell me.”
“Okay.” Taeng pulls his shoulders straight. “Dinner. Tomorrow night.”
“A man who wastes no time.”
Taeng notes that Sunny spoke with a smile. Fish’s on the bait. Time to reel her in. Seal the deal. “Time is of the essence. So I’ll pick you up at eight? Is that a good time for you?”
Sunny checks her phone and looks up with curling lips that promise a very good time should they ever advance to a higher level of intimacy. “As it turns out, my dinner date cancelled on me this morning. I’m in the clear. You’re in luck.”
“So.” Taeng resists the urge to pump his fist in the air. “It’s a date.”
“If you insist on calling it that.”
“Are you uncomfortable with it?” Taeng is filled with self-doubt now. Am I too forward for her? I’ve pushed it a little too far, haven’t I? “It doesn’t have to be—”
“Just don’t be late.”
Taeng salutes at once, failing to suppress his grin. “Yes, Madam.”
“Crap, I’m gonna be late.”
“I’m so sorry, Taeng,” says Yoona.
“It’s not your fault some careless drivers decided to crash and block two lanes out of three.”
“But I asked for your help. You wouldn’t have been on this road if it weren’t for me.”
“Shut up, Yoong. Don’t be an idiot.”
“I just don’t wanna ruin your chances with this hot CEO who makes your eyes light up in lust.”
“My eyes don’t light up in lu—”
“Oh they do. Don’t you deny it.” Yoona grins. “Are you sure she didn’t take advantage of you that night?”
“Her chauffeur was the one who carried me up to the room. How many times do I have to—”
“Okay, okay. Chill.” Yoona shakes her head. “Dude . . . you should text her or something.”
“Give me your phone,” Yoona demands with her palm up. “I’ll text her for you.”
Taeng pulls his phone from the holder on the dashboard and hands it to Yoona. “Don’t text anything stupid.”
“Of course not. I wouldn’t dream of sabotaging your blossoming relationship with CEO Lee.”
Taeng rolls his eyes. Great. Just what he needs on a Saturday evening: to be stuck in an accident-caused jam when he has somewhere important to be and dependant on a friend who sometimes makes enemies look like family. Fan-tas-tic.