A Most Opportune Meeting — A Story
I was in deep, deep trouble. Just my rotten luck.
I was at the local supermarket, doing my weekly grocery shopping. Alone, in the evening, as usual. My housemate was out with her fourth boyfriend that summer, doing God-knows-what at a newly-opened club the next block over from our small apartment. Apparently, the boyfriend was someone she met at yet another club she randomly goes to on the weekends.
By this time, I was used to her never-ending gushing about how hot the execs were and how even hotter they were in bed. When Juno told me she was going out with whats-his-face, I simply grunted and continued channel surfing. Just then, I remembered that I hadn’t gone shopping to restock the pantry (it’s always me who does the shopping, but Juno pays her share, so I can’t complain there), so I grabbed the funky sling bag that Dad had given me two birthdays ago and headed to the supermarket downstairs.
I looked through the things in my trolley, checking them against the shopping list in my phone. Eggs, check. Rice, check. Butter, check. It’s amazing how much butter that girl goes through in a week, I thought. Chicken meatballs (my personal favourite because it’s one of the easiest foods in the world to cook), check. Tonnes of vegetables, check. Juno might be going through boyfriends like she goes through the clothes racks at Zara, but at least she cared about her food groups.
The checkout line was quite short when I went to the counter. I reached into my jeans pocket to retrieve my abominably long purse (I’d have gone with a much more sensible small wallet, but Mum insisted I buy a long one because femininity is important. Whatever). Something horrifying happened then.
My hand went straight into the pocket. It was empty, devoid of the red purse. My eyes widened in horror. I patted my decidedly flat pocket in the hopes of my purse making a magical comeback.
Nope, not even a bumpy zipper to fulfill my hopes.
I was in deep, deep trouble.
I looked around me, hoping to get a glimpse of the sneaky red purse. The floor was disappointingly clear. I crouched low and tried to look under the aisle near me. No such luck there either. I actually crawled on the floor and searched beneath the neighbouring aisles. Nada, zip, zilch.
I fell back on my butt, tears threatening to make an appearance. I had always been easily close to tears when I couldn’t find what I needed quickly. This time, though, it was no missing right sock; it was one of the most important things in my life! Everything was in there, from my identification card to the paltry 5,000 won that I kept for emergencies.
My tough side took over then. I don’t have multiple personalities, but sometimes, I think there are quite a few sides to me. I told myself to stop being a baby and retrace my steps. At least I was going to do something about it other than sitting on the floor, pitying myself. So I went back all the way to the entrance of the supermarket. Nothing.
I choked down a sob. Looks like it was gone for good.
The guard at the entrance approached me slowly. Maybe he noticed the distress on my face, or maybe he thought I was going to make a dash for it with the trolley.
“Miss, do you need help?” he said. His voice was kind, but I saw that his left hand was on the walkie-talkie on his belt. Great. He probably thinks I’m a thief, I thought dejectedly.
Just as I opened my mouth to convince the guard of my innocence, someone tapped me on my shoulder.
What NOW? went through my mind as I turned around to see the tapper…
… and came face-to-face with a somehow-quite-familiar, devastatinglyhandsome man who appeared to hold something very familiar in his hand.
My purse! I shrieked and grabbed the beloved item before the man could say anything. I held it to my face tightly. Behind me, I could hear the man saying something to the guard, who then left us and returned to his post. The man came to face me, a slight smile on his lips.
“Thank you so much, kind sir! You really are my saviour,” I said to him, still hanging on tight to my purse. His smile widened.
“You’re welcome, but I doubt what I did constitutes me your saviour.” His deep rumble of a voice thrilled me to the core. It wasn’t often that I encountered men with a voice like it came from a Regency romance novel.
“Oh please. You don’t know how important a purse is to a woman,” I countered gaily.
“You are right, but I think I know how important a purse is to a certain woman.” He bent to look me in the eye. He really was tall. “Don’t you remember me?”
To my embarrassment, I felt my cheeks grow warm. Just perfect, Sora, my tough side chided me. A handsome man invades your personal space and all you do is blush.
Shut up, I told myself mentally.
I tilted my head to the side, trying to place him in my memory. I did feel that niggling feeling that I knew him, but where in my thirty years on God’s green Earth did I meet him?
He simply kept silent as I scrutinised his features. Big, almost black eyes that tilted up at the corners (reminded me of tadpoles, oddly); thick brows; a sharp nose, sensual lips curved in a knowing smile; and short, black hair with the front stylishly up… not to mention a hint of a well-built body in the crisp blue shirt…
I jumped a mile back when I recognised him. “Great frolicking kittens! Lee Hongbin!”
His knowing smile became a huge, confident grin. “I knew you’d remember me.”
How could I not? I had the biggest crush on him back in university, even though he was my junior by 2 years. Then again, half of the female student population had the biggest crush on him, but he never seemed to date anyone. We hung out together because my younger cousin was his roommate. As far as I knew, his nose was always stuck in a book. The huge pair of glasses that he used to wear back then was gone, though.
Even though it’s been years since my graduation, I still had a small candle lit in my heart for him. My gratitude came back in dollops then. Other less innocent feelings came in dollops too, but he didn’t have to know that. He had always been a very kind person. Sexy, too, don’t forget that.
I held up the purse and smiled the most grateful smile I could. “Apparently, I’m very lucky today.” He laughed at that. His laughter was warm and infectious. Soon, I felt the corners of my mouth lift in a grin.
“I really appreciate you returning my purse, you know.” I continued in a serious tone. He shook his head, waving off my thanks.
“Are you done shopping?” he said. I nodded, and then he took over my trolley. Trust him to be the perfect gentleman. I walked beside him in companionable silence, enjoying the covetous looks from women we passed by.
“How did you find it?” The question burst out before I realised it. He looked down at me and raised an eyebrow in a question.
“You know, my purse.” I waved it at him. “How did you know it was mine?”
He smiled that knowing smile again before answering. “Easy. I saw you earlier at the vegetables aisle. I was going over to say hi, and then I saw the purse fall out of your pocket. I picked it up to return it to you, but I lost you in the crowd.”
Whew. He didn’t see my mini-breakdown earlier.
“It’s been some years since we saw each other, hasn’t it?” he said a few moments later. I nodded. Too long, my mind whispered.
We reached the checkout counter then. He took out all my grocery and smiled at the cashier, whom I could see was melting already. When I opened my purse to pay, he stilled my hand (man, his hand was big and warm!) and paid for them himself. He then lifted my bags of shopping and waited for me to come out.
“Where’s your car?” he said when I joined him. I pointed upstairs.
“You parked upstairs? Isn’t the parking lot outside?” he said with an incredulous raised eyebrow. I shook my head, chuckling at his confusion.
“No! I live upstairs.” I held out my hands for my grocery. “I’ll take it from here.”
He shook his head. “I’ll carry them. We can have drinks and catch up afterward.” He headed for the lifts across the supermarket.
Whoa, talk about being the boss! I had no choice, so I followed him to the lift bank. A lift arrived then, filled with a few people, and we got in. I pushed the button for the 16thfloor and we rode up in silence. I was grateful for the people in the lift. It would have made conversation awkward, and I didn’t want to talk. I wasn’t sure what to make of the sudden turn of events. Ten minutes into meeting this blast from the past and he’s taking charge of my life already?
The lift dinged to signal our destination. I led the way to my apartment, Hongbin valiantly holding on to the numerous plastic bags. Note to self: must buy green shopping bags.
I unlocked the door and swept a hand towards the hall. “Welcome to my humble abode,” I said, a hint of sarcasm in my voice. Handsome or not, no one had the right to decide for me what we were going to do next. That was one of the things my ex-boyfriends detested in me: the streak of independence. My resentment at being ordered around would always manifest in the form of sarcasm, and it didn’t sit well with them.
Hongbin was either thick-headed or decided not to notice the tone of my voice. He went straight to the kitchen and unloaded the plastic bags. I hurried to him, amazed at his apparent familiarity with my house.
“How did you know where the kitchen is?” I said loudly. My hands were on my hips and I stared hard at him (or rather, his broad back). I didn’t care that he easily stood at least 20 cm taller than me and probably outweighed me by… quite a noticeable amount. Things were getting a little too Twilight Zone-ish for my liking and I was going to get to the bottom of things.
He paused in his arranging the vegetables in the chiller and looked over his shoulder at me. Then, he continued his unpacking of MY stuff without so much as a reply. That only made me madder, but I waited until everything was safely in their place before grabbing him to face me.
“Hongbin! I’m asking you a serious question! I haven’t seen even a hair on your head for years, yet you’re acting as if you live here!” I crossed my arms as he rose to his full height. He was probably a little over six feet. He didn’t do anything though; he just looked at me.
“What is going on?” I said in a quieter voice. He bowed his head without a word and stayed that way for some time. When I thought he had frozen into a marble statue right there in my kitchen (a hunk of a marble statue, pun intended, but still), he spoke.
“I’ll explain. You go and sit in front while I brew us some tea.” He then proceeded to busy himself with filling the electric kettle with water from the tap. I shook my head, frowning deeply as I made my way to the living room.
At least he put away the grocery nicely, a chipper voice piped up inside me. Yeesh.
Some minutes later, he appeared in the doorway, bearing a steaming pot of tea and two mugs. My eyes widened and my jaw fell open when I saw he carried my favourite mug in his hand.
He set the pot and mugs gently on the coffee table. I pointed at my mug and stared at him.
“H-h-how did you know…?” My voice trailed into a frightened whisper. When he sat on the sofa opposite me, I curled myself into a protective ball and eyed him balefully. He held his hands up as if to show me that he wasn’t dangerous.
Yeah, right. He probably went through my underwear drawer while I was asleep.
The thought made me wrap my arms tighter around my knees. I began looking around for ways to escape. The window seemed a viable option. I probably would be dead when I hit the ground, but better dead by my own hand than at the hands of a creepy stalker.
Apparently, he noticed my darting eyes. “Sora, you have nothing to fear. Please, let me explain.” His big eyes seemed to bore into me. Against my better judgement, I put my feet on the floor and leaned forward slightly.
“Hear me out first, okay?” he said. I nodded, my eyes never leaving his face. I considered the possibility that he had drugged me, but the Hongbin I knew would never do that, so I hazarded a sip. It seemed to be fine. No dizziness attacked me.
“The reason I am familiar with your house is because I know Juno and have visited her often here. She’s actually my cousin.”
Bomb number one.
“Y-your cousin? But how is it that I’ve never-“
“I purposely timed my visits when you were not in the house. At first, I didn’t know it was you who answered her ad for a housemate, but when she described the person as a bookish, quiet girl, I knew that it was you.”
I sputtered over my tea. “That’s vague. It could have been anyone! How sure were you that it was me?”
“Juno mentioned that you squealed every time you saw a cat. I don’t know anyone else who does that.”
I sat back carefully, mindful of the hot tea in my hand. He was right; I was the only person I knew who unconsciously made high-pitched sounds whenever I saw a cat.
“I also know that you harboured feelings for me back in university.”
Bomb number two. I nearly spat out my tea.
“Juno doesn’t know that! I never talked about my school years with her. For God’s sake, I’ve only known her for two months!”
His lips curved up in a smirk that made me long to pour the hot tea on his head. I never carried out my violent fantasies, though, so the thought stayed in my head.
“I noticed, Sora. I’m not dense like most men.”
Clearly you are not sane like most men, either, my mind shot back.
“And I’m not crazy.”
“I didn’t think that.”
“I don’t have to read your mind. Your face is like an open book.”
I put down my mug on the table. Things were getting super weird.
“Look, I don’t understand how you know me that well. We weren’t that close in university; we only hung out together because my cousin was your roommate and he was about the only friend I had then. I stress again the fact that I haven’t seen you since then nor heard anything about you from anyone I know from university.
Tell me, what’s going on?”
He heaved a sigh then. A huge one, like he was unloading a heavy burden.
“I’ve been looking for you since graduation. Do you remember that rainy night?”
I didn’t at first, but soon, memories of the night came back to me.
It was a stormy night. I was studying late in one of the classrooms, trying to cram as much information as I could before the mid-semester exams began the next day. I was yawning too many times by then, so I decided to call it a day. I was getting ready to pack up when I heard a voice from the door.
“Han Sora? Is that you?”
Hongbin came into the room, holding a sodden umbrella. He had a worried look on his face that instantly changed to relief when he saw me. Apparently, my roommate had asked him to look for me (I didn’t have a mobile phone then). He helped me to pack my things and offered to carry my bag for me. I knew he would insist on it anyway, so I let him.
Just as we reached the door, lightning flashed outside and the lights cut off. I let out an involuntary shriek and clung to Hongbin’s back tightly. The classroom was some way away from the exit and it was raining heavily, so we had no choice but to stay inside.
I was feeling my way between the tables and chairs when lightning flashed again and I fell, pulling Hongbin with me. We lay on the ground, winded from the fall, him on top of me. I blinked owlishly at him. He blinked back at me, his pupils so large that they reminded me of a cat’s.
Out of nowhere, he bent down his head and kissed me.
“You ran away and left me alone in the building,” I said, glaring at him accusingly. “I had to wait until the rain let up before I could go back to my room.”
“I panicked. It was my first kiss and I didn’t know what to do then.” He looked up at me. “Forgive me?”
His voice was full of sincerity and it was mirrored in his dark eyes. Looking into them, I knew that he was telling the truth.
“You’re forgiven.” He smiled wanly at my words.
I tilted my head to the side. “So, what now?”
To my surprise, he stood up and came over to sit beside me. I scooted away from him. Not too far, though. He might be a doofus, but he was still a very attractive doofus.
“Would you believe me if I say I’ve always had eyes only for you?”
I shot to my feet. No. Freaking. Way.
He stood as well. Damn, but he was tall. I had to look up to talk to him.
“I don’t believe you. You could have had any girl in uni. God knows they’ve tried so many things to get you to notice them. Why me?”
“Why you? I don’t know. I only know that when you appeared in my room to help your cousin unpack his things, I couldn’t see any other girl in the same way again. They always paled in comparison to you.”
He was drawing closer. My heart was traitorously leaping up and down in anticipation, but I didn’t want to make things so easy for him. I backed away slowly.
“That was in uni. What about now?”
He matched my movement, step by step. He smiled a rather predatory grin, as though he knew he was close to victory. “Why do you think I visit Juno so often? She’s only my second cousin, but she knows you in ways I can’t.”
His statement piqued my curiosity, much as I didn’t want it to do so. “Such as?”
His grin became wider. “Such as the way you like your eggs fried, which is your favourite mug, the way you kick in your sleep, the way you whisper my name in your sleep…” He trailed away meaningfully.
Good God! Was Juno purposely spying on me for Hongbin?
Without realising it, I had stopped on the other side of the sofa. He quickly closed the distance between us and tipped my chin up. His eyes held so much hope in them; I felt as if my chest would burst with it.
It didn’t matter then that Juno was probably spying on me. I could see his sincerity for me like a glowing aura around him and I was touched.
“Is it true? Do you dream of me as I do of you?”
My eyes widened in surprise. “You dream about me too?”
“I do.” The words felt like a promise that was soon sealed with a kiss.
Author notes: I hope you enjoyed reading this! As with most of my stories, the idea for this came out of the blue. I wondered how it would feel to bump into my bias in such an ordinary setting much like the show ‘Take Home Chef’ and the story was born! A quite cheesy story, I think, but it’s just for fun. :)
Originally published at fishcrumbs.tumblr.com.