A few beers later, the chill of the early autumn night was just beginning to cut through Inho’s clothes. Moths were battering against the street lamp above as it blinked slowly awake for the night. He pulled his feet up underneath him and blew smoke towards his crossed legs, careless of the smell it would leave. After a while he plugged in his headphones to help him ignore the circulating beggars that kept interrupting his self-indulgent despair.
Jamie, smart, pretty, witty Jamie. He’d never quite shaken the feeling of shocked surprise that she wanted him. He pictured her as she’d looked two days ago. Her dark brown hair was now bleached to an even honey blonde. It fell to her narrow shoulders that somehow filled out the blazer of her tidy suit without looking like a child playing dress-up. Her straight posture and heels did little to increase her small height, but she had presence regardless. She looked so much older like that - mature, confident, and powerful.
Memories of her smiling deviously, wearing ripped jeans and a crop top overlaid the image in his head, though it had been years since she’d dressed that way. Even longer since she’d looked at him with that toothy grin that crinkled her eyes.They hadn’t been together in person for over a year, so his mental portrayal of her was having a hard time reorienting to the current Jamie - the Jamie that didn’t seem interested in him at all.
How did they get to this point? When had things started to feel so stale? He considered the last time he had seen her in person in Korea. After he had completed his two mandatory years of military service, and she had graduated from her business degree at her canadian university, she had come to visit. Had that reunion been off already?
He pinched his lower lip gently. His thoughts reached further back, evaluating each of their visits over the last 6 years, searching for the shift.
He had first met Jamie in Seoul when he was 18 and freshly out of high school. She was on break from her first year of university, and had come to Seoul to visit her grandmother, the elderly Korean woman who lived in the condo next to Inho’s family.
It was a sticky hot summer where the fact that Inho hadn’t passed college entrance exams felt like drowning in a frozen lake. His dad had called from America to admonish him for failing, but easily accepted Inho’s plans to try again the following year (he didn't). Inho’s mother was a little too deep into one of her secret depressive episodes to have much of an opinion, and eventually Inho had shrugged it off. He went back to his normal daily routine of playing video games and sneaking drinks into park playgrounds with his friends .
He had met Jamie for the first time in the hallway of his apartment building while taking out the trash, and they had exchanged awkward greetings. Since her accent was terrible and she didn’t look korean, he greeted her in English the next time they met, and she had quickly latched onto him, dragging out each subsequent greeting in the hall until they were hovering in the hallway for an hour at a time to chat.
After that, they quickly became close friends, and he remembered how good it had felt to have her full attention on him during the humid months of summer that she had stayed. She didn’t talk much about school or grades, in spite of being top of her class in the first year of her business program. Jamie was self conscious of her broken Korean, and clung to him when he introduced her to his friends. It felt good, both to have such undivided attention on him, and to be the object of his friends’ jealousy for being connected to this pretty foreign girl. Her friendship made him feel important for the first time in ages, like he wasn’t just a failure that played around too much in senior year.
They started dating after a couple weeks, and almost 2 months later after their first meeting, right before she went back to Canada, he’d told her he loved her. Hiding together under a tented white bedsheet one afternoon, they lay with their foreheads pressed together. Bright afternoon sun lit Inho’s bedroom, making their hiding place glow warmly as it filtered through the sheet. Jamie’s eyes were scrunched in a smile as she focused so hard on looking into both his eyes that her own bounced back and forth. He’d giggled at her intensity, and at his own nervousness before blurting it out: “I think, I love you.”
She’d laughed and teased him, “You think? You don’t know?” and he’d blushed furiously, before grabbing her waist and pulling her body close in a tight hug. “I do. I love you.” Then he’d kissed her long and deep until she pulled away, just to say it back. He’d felt like the luckiest guy in the world.
The cold from the bench was seeping into his legs now; Inho crossed his left arm around himself, hugging it tight against his ribs. He replayed Jamie’s response in his head, “I love you too, Inho.” He still remembered exactly how her voice sounded when she said it.
He choked down the rest of his warm beer. It was bitter and stronger than he was used to. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he pulled out his phone to revisit his checklist. He hadn’t even hit Step 2 yet - visit Jamie at work. It wasn’t time to give up.