He watched her get up from the bench and walk over to the railing on the river’s edge and he forced himself to stay still. Six months of shooting this drama with her had made his whole body so attuned to her movements, her scent, the sound of her giggles, the soft way she would murmur her lines to herself, and even the blur of her ponytail as she would flit from one part of the set to another. Wherever she was, he could always find her. And any time his eyes landed on her, the rest of his body would soon follow and he often found himself walking towards her – like gravity.
Like now. Even though he had told himself to give her a little breathing room, that resolve only lasted about half a minute. They were about to shoot a tender couple’s moment by the riverside so he really should go to her and make sure she’s comfortable. He was older, the one with more experience in the business. It was his duty. He had plenty of other excuses in his pocket but he deemed those two to be enough to justify why he was now standing beside her.
“Do you miss the water?”
He made no secret that he had been lurking about on her Instagram and found all her posts of beaches and sunsets that nearly matched all of his.
She turned to him, her delicate face breaking into a tired but fond smile. “Yeah, I do,” she murmured as she turned back to gaze at the river glittering with the reflection of city lights. “I bet you miss it just as much.”
That gave him a start. So she had looked at his Instagram, too.
Then she continued, “Maybe when the shooting for The King ends and all the press work are done, I can go back to the beach and maybe go diving again...”
At the mention of their time together ending, his felt his heart clench a little. He couldn’t imagine a time when he would long for the sight of her face in the middle of a fit of giggles or the scent of her hair in the breeze, turn, and not find her. Like his character, he could feel time pressing down on him with this portal to a magical world with her about to close soon.
“Don’t go somewhere nice without me. Think of going together.”
Her lips quirked in a goofy smile and her eyes sparkled as she turned to him, recognizing that what he said was her own line from episode 9. And because she was a consummate actress, she knew his next line and threw it right back at him, “I think I’m going to miss you so much!”
Then she made a sad face, a parody of the sad one he had given her on that episode. She loved making fun of him whenever they had to do a serious scene. She often pulled him to the side just to show him her version of his serious Pyeha face. The entire staff had found it funny but it would be one of the rare moments when he could feel the heat of her small hand wrapping around his wrist so he endured the teasing and laughter just so her hand would stay just a little bit longer on his skin.
His heart ached. Then it told him to be brave and jump. “Will you?” he asked her softly. “Will you, really?”
She held his gaze even as her face stuttered for a few seconds. Her eyes searched his and he let her see it – his whole heart laid bare. Her mouth, always so soft, opened slightly as he heard her sharp intake of a breath.
“It took me 33 years to find you,” he started.
“No, Lee Gon says 25 years,” she says automatically, cutting him off.
“No. It took me,” he said, his voice low and his pause, patient, long enough to let it sink in, “33 years to find you. You don’t know, or maybe you do, how being with you, even just near you, has made me so happy it’s almost as if I never knew what happiness was before you. I don’t know why it took so long but I think, maybe, it’s because I had to deserve you first. I’m not saying I deserve you right now, right this second but—”
Her eyes moved over his face slowly as he spoke, taking in his words as carefully as she would study her lines. She knew him, how he never wasted words, and how his face could never lie. She swallowed a lump in her throat as her eyes finally gave away that she understood the enormity of what he had just told her. Her cheeks had turned pink, from the wind and from his words, and she looked down at their bent elbows, both resting on the railing.
Space, she thought. There’s so little of it between them and yet she could feel the rising gulf of emotions that were threatening to drive a wedge between them. His fans. Her fans. The public. Social media. Just thinking about it all made it a little harder for her to breathe right then.
But then he moved and she knew without even looking that he had just bent his whole 6 foot 2 inch frame low enough so he was at her height and his face turned fully to the side that if she chose to look up at that moment, she would find herself face to face with him. She knew this. She knew when he would do this.
“Will you let me show you that I am worthy of you? Will you let me try to make you as happy as you make me?”
He often did it when he asked her a question and wanted an answer.
She bit her lip, afraid to meet his eyes. Their elbows fascinated her. The space wasn’t there anymore. Through the wool of his crimson sweater, she could feel his warmth spreading from their joint elbows, across her chest, and settling strangely around her wildly beating heart. She found herself releasing a breath she hadn’t know she had held in. She could breathe fine. Her heart slowed to a steady thud. But his warmth stayed and she found herself leaning more towards him, wanting more of it, for far longer than she realized.
“Minho-nim! Goeun-nim!” Their names being called out startled them and both turned back just in time to see one of their staff holding a camera. Years of media work took over and she immediately broke out one of her signature soft smiles. He, on the other hand, tried to muster up the energy to smile but he couldn’t. His question still hung in the air between them and he was still waiting for an answer. Unlike Lee Gon, he didn’t have the benefit 15 more episodes to wait for an answer to his proposal. Nor did he have the patience. Their staff quickly took their picture, probably for more promotional work on Instagram, and moved on to their next task.
They turned to face each other once more but before either of them could say anything, his manager called him from across the set, gesturing to a young man beside him. He had a MEDIA ID around his neck and he realized he still had to do that 5-Word Interview. It couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time. But he prided himself on his work ethic so he knew he had to attend to it right away.
Sighing heavily, he turned to her, ready to apologize and beg her to continue this later. He was surprised to see the same regret he felt staring back at him on her face.
“Do you have to go? Right now?” Her voice felt small, tentative. He had to fight the urge to wrap her in his arms and never let go until all the doubts and worries he could feel emanating from her moments ago disappeared. “I don’t want to,” he said miserably, “but I have to.” His whole face had crumpled into a frown. Then he felt the smallest of nudges on his arm. He glanced down and saw that she had moved a little bit closer to him until their elbows and upper arms were pressed up against each other. Even bent over like that, she was still so small compared to him that her shoulder only reached half of his arm.
She looked up at him then. Her eyebrows were lightly scrunched together in worry but her eyes were bright and brave. She scrunched up her nose in that adorable manner as he had seen her do during their press conference. He had told her to hold on to his arm while the press took their picture, a poster of The King: Eternal Monarch looming large behind them. And then she gave him a small smile; held his gaze before dipping her head in a short, sweet, nod.
His eyes widened. His heart stopped as if it had just passed through the obelisks into a parallel world. “Do you? Is that a...”
Her head dipped once more. Her smile was just a little bigger this time. But her eyes stayed on him.
Her voice was still as soft as the strands of her hair that escaped her ponytail. But it was clear and strong and it rang through his chest like a forest of a thousand bamboo flutes. His world righted itself and time began to tick by once more.
But his life wasn’t the same anymore.
“Minho-nim!” It was his manager again, much more insistent this time. He felt his body straightening up, slowly turning away from the railing. But he kept his gaze on her, a smile that started from his chest had climbed up to his cheeks and up to the corner of his eyes.
He bent his head, as if to nuzzle it against the top of hers the way he had wanted to for episode 6. He remembered how she had found his suggestion so ridiculous at that time. She drew away from him now, laughter bursting from her. Her cheeks were still tinged pink; her hair, a little wild from the wind. Her eyes glittered with a river of city lights as she playfully gave him a little shove towards the direction of his manager and the reporter.
“Yes. Yes! Yes! Now go do your interview!”
He let her push him, still a little bit dazed. Kind of like Lee Gon when TaeEul finally told him that she loved him. They weren’t there yet, him and GoEun. But unlike Lee Gon whose world was about to close, his just opened up. And he was going to make damn sure that she would be there by his side to share all of his beaches and sunsets.
But first, he had to do that that 5-Word Interview.