Two years later, it was a crisp autumn day. A car cruised over the leaves scattered on the ground. Suddenly, I felt a pang of sympathy for the leaves that had fallen, seemingly without any say, as if they had fulfilled their duty.
In the distance, I spotted a small flower shop named “Soo.” When I parked in front of the shop, I turned my head to glance at the dried flowers displayed in the newspaper and couldn’t help but smile.
Stepping out of the car, a refreshing breeze rushed through my body. I closed my eyes for a moment, allowing the breeze to wash over me. It tousled my hair and caressed my face as if it were soothing a longing deep within my heart.
I opened my eyes, saw the ‘Soo’ sign, and smiled, then popped the trunk. Cradling the bouquet in my arms, wrapped in newspaper, the scent that wafted up to my nose brought a smile to my face.
I felt a sense of fullness, even though I hadn’t eaten.
“Boss, you’re back?” my employee inquired.
“Yes, did you place any orders?” I asked.
“No, I didn’t,” she replied.
“Great. Let’s tidy things up,” I suggested.
I smiled again as I observed Soo-Jung, a part-time employee, diligently working. A year ago, the flower shop on the outskirts of Gyeonggi-do was small, but it has since grown into a beloved establishment among our customers.
Of course, it had required an immense amount of effort to reach this point. It was a business I had poured my heart and soul into, and I could navigate it blindfolded if needed.
While I arranged the flowers I had purchased at the market, a swelling sense of accomplishment welled up within me. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead, and I wiped them away with the back of my hand.
“Here, have some coffee,” my employee offered.
“Thanks,” I replied, taking the coffee gratefully.
I settled into a small table tucked away in the corner of the flower shop and savored my coffee.
“So when do we finally meet up?” she asked.
“Yeah. You’ve been mentioning it for the past two months.”
“I apologize,” I replied, suppressing a laugh as I noticed her adorable pout.
“Has it been that long already?”
I couldn’t believe it had been a year and two months since I opened my flower shop. Since coming to Korea, time seemed to slip through my fingers as I stayed busy. I had spent about ten months in the U.S. before returning.
I ran my hand through my hair and took a sip of my coffee.
“But why don’t you have a boyfriend? Why are you still single?” she asked. I paused as I set my coffee cup down.
“Not really. I’m not interested.”
“Ugh. You have no idea how many times people ask me if you have a boyfriend, and every time, I lie and say you’re married, and I don’t want to lie.”
The young woman was being honest.
“You could have just said there isn’t one.”
Initially, when people asked if I had a boyfriend, I would answer with a simple “no.” But then they’d inquire if I was waiting for a date or if I wanted their phone number.
Some customers seemed to come to the shop daily. Faced with persistent inquiries, I found it more comfortable to pretend to be married, making a point of glancing at my ring when met with skeptical customers.
Even though I had chosen a straightforward design, the unfamiliarity of wearing a ring had made me self-conscious. Soo-Jung, seated across from me, couldn’t hide her disapproval when she saw the ring. I couldn’t help but laugh at her reaction.
As I burst into laughter, Soo-Jung glanced up at me.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I managed to say between chuckles.
“Are you laughing because of the troubles with your boss?” I asked, still puzzled.
“Sorry, sorry,” I apologized.
She continued to study my face, seemingly in disbelief.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” I inquired.
“You’re already beautiful, but when you smile, my heart skips a beat, even though I’m a woman, and that’s why the customers are captivated,” she confessed.
The corners of my mouth curled upward.
“I see. Alright, let’s have dinner tomorrow,” I suggested. With my jaw clenched, I stood up, attempting to evade the curious gazes.
“Are you done with your coffee? Pass it to me,” Soo-jung asked. While I handed her the cup and began to wash the dishes, I heard her excited voice exclaim, “We’re having dinner tomorrow!” I nodded in agreement.
“Oh, by the way, have you seen the building next to your boss’s?” Soo-jung asked.
“No, why?” I inquired.
“They’ve already completed it. I moved my belongings in today,” she replied.
I suddenly realized that it hadn’t been too long ago that the building was under construction, and time had flown by in the blink of an eye.
I had been so absorbed in my work and life that I hadn’t even noticed the building next door had been completed. The feeling of accomplishment welled up within me. Pursuing my passion had brought me happiness, and it hadn’t been a difficult journey.
“Are you planning to order a plant or something for the office?” Soo-jung inquired.
I overheard Crystal mutter, and I paused, drying my wet hands. It brought back memories of a time when I used to enjoy selecting potted plants for his office.
“Boss, would you like me to head over there and try to make some sales?” Soo-jung offered.
“No, there’s no need for that. If anyone’s going, it’ll be me,” I replied.
“Isn’t that true? I’m sure we’d receive many orders if you went!” Soo-jung persisted.
“Never mind. Didn’t you mention you had to leave today?”
“Right!” I shook my head as I observed Soo-Jung hastily grabbing her bag and getting up. Once she left, the world around me fell silent. I settled at the table and gazed around the flower shop. Even though I saw it every day, my heart still raced with affection and pride.
I cherished the view of the small flower shop that brought me so much joy—a place I wouldn’t have been able to establish without the assistance of Miho and Jiu. My cell phone lit up on the table.
“Hello?” I answered. It was my mom on the line. I idly fiddled with my fingers on the table.
“Sorry. I’ll be there this weekend,” I assured her. It had been nearly a month since I had last been home due to my hectic schedule.
It was no surprise that my mom was growing frustrated. I chuckled softly, and she inquired if I was laughing at that moment.
A pang of guilt washed over me as I realized that I hadn’t been able to attend to the needs of my loved ones due to my relentless work.
“What about Dad?” I inquired.
My mother responded, “He’s slicing anchovies.” One of the reasons I returned to Korea was to help my dad recover from his hospital stay.
Thanks to consistent therapy, he has regained his ability to walk and manage daily tasks independently. The mental image of him preparing anchovies brought a smile to my face.
“Tell Dad that I miss him,” my mom urged.
“You should call him and tell him yourself!” I replied.
“Alright,” she agreed. “Don’t skip your meals. It’s not just about work; you should also focus on your personal life.”
At this point, I didn’t want to go home.
“You won’t have a personal life, and your beauty will fade away. You should get married before it’s too late,” my mom continued.
“Mom, please stop,” I pleaded.
“I can’t get a word in, and it’s so frustrating. Bye,” she said before ending the call.
The conversation left me with a queasy feeling in my stomach. I pondered whether I needed to be in a relationship or get married to find happiness, but I began to believe that wasn’t the case.
After finishing work, I locked the shop’s door and tilted my head to gaze at the sky. In the past, it had been challenging for me to simply look at the sky, but now that I had found a sense of ease and relaxation, I found myself gazing at the sky at least two or three times a day.
Despite the dark sky, it seemed as though the traffic jam leading to Myeongchi had suddenly dissipated. I felt a sense of refreshment washing over me and greeted the cool breeze with a friendly nod.
Initially, I had planned to take the car, but on this day, I opted for a 30-minute walk home. If I ever felt weary or under the weather, I would use the car, but most of the time, I preferred to walk. Today, I felt particularly light, and I knew that if I stayed home, my body would ache from head to toe.
I strolled and strolled, embracing the breeze and listening to the sounds of nature, and soon enough, my home stood before me.
Half an hour flew by in an instant. I returned my sight to the sky and took a deep, contemplative breath before entering the house.
I abruptly turned around. I thought I saw someone looking at me, but when I turned around, no one was there. I input the security code for the shared entrance door, shaking my head to eliminate the sensation.
It wasn’t the first time I felt like I was being watched, but every time I looked around, no one was there.
I wondered if I was being overly dramatic, but my shoulders stayed rigid from the sensation of prying eyes. I took one last look back before entering the building.
When I realized no one was home, goosebumps appeared on my arms, and I dashed back inside. I sighed with satisfaction as I methodically locked the door from top to bottom.
My nervousness had caused sweat beads to form on my brow. To console myself, I blamed my anxiety on the lack of sleep I’d gotten since waking up in the early hours of the previous night.
I decided to take a relaxing shower in the bathroom.
I was giddy with excitement, but I didn’t want to ruin my newfound peace with anything unknown. I exited the bathroom, wrapped a towel around my head, and unlocked the fridge to get a beer. I cracked open the bottle and took a deep sip before even settling into the two-seater couch.
“Ah, beer is the best,” I said.
I didn’t need any more reassurance. I ran my hand through my wet hair, then sat on the couch and closed my eyes. He patted my shoulder as I did so, and the corners of my mouth bent into a smile.
* * *
I was on my way to the bank the next day for a quick errand. As I passed past a coffee shop, I remembered Soo-Jung saying, “Our flower shop is great, but the coffee isn’t so good.” I eventually did a U-turn and went inside. Soo-yeon had a weakness for sweets.
“I’ll have a java chip frappuccino,” I ordered.
A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as I thought about Soo-jung’s enthusiasm.
“Se, Se-Yeon?” said a voice, and my eyes widened as my heart skipped a beat. I glanced toward the source of the sound, startled.
“Ji, Jimin. Ms. Ha-Young?” I exclaimed, surprised.
They both stood there, mouths gaping, staring at me in bewilderment.
“Se-Yeon? Is that you?” Jimin and Ha-young cried, their eyes bulging. I stayed mute for a few minutes as they raced over, gripping and shaking my arm.
“Oh my God, Cha Se-Yeon!”
“I never expected to see you like this! I thought we’d never see you again!” Ha-young said as she shook my hand, evidently pleased to see me.
“Are you busy, or can we talk for a moment?” Jimin said.
“Of course. It’s been a while since we last met, and we have a lot to catch up on,” I told them.
I grabbed the coffee Soo-Jung had brought me and took a seat across from them. Their eyes twinkled with interest. I scratched the back of my neck, nervous about being the center of attention.
“How have you both been?” I inquired.
Ha-young began, “Yes, Mr. Jimin is…”
“As you can see,” Jimin said, raising her shoulders and rubbing her pregnant stomach. My sight was drawn to Jimin’s round stomach, and I couldn’t help but stare.
I asked, “Are you married?”
“Yes, I married shortly after you were gone,” Jimin said.
“Oh, I see.” There was a little silence between us.
“Unfortunately, you had to leave like that,” Ha-young said.
“…I’m sorry,” I muttered.
“There’s no need to apologize. It’s all in the past. What have you been up to lately?” She asked.
“Just… trying to live,” I said.
Ha-young hid a piece of hair behind her ear and smiled awkwardly. Jimin reached out and gently patted my hand on the table. My palm tingled curiously as I returned the gesture.
“I missed you,” Jimin admitted.
Even though I hadn’t been gone long, I found myself missing them. We hadn’t been particularly close, and I wasn’t sure where to focus my attention. Jimin’s eyes were filled with emotion.
“Congratulations on your marriage and pregnancy,” I said with sincerity.
“Thank you,” Ha-young replied, softly patting her pregnant belly. Jimin returned the smile.
“Are you guys both working together?” I asked.
“Yes, we’ve been working together since you left Royal Group,” Jimin confirmed.
“It’s nice to see,” Ha-young commented.
“It’s…?” I asked, intrigued.
“You look much better than you did two years ago, Se-Yeon. It’s always on my mind,” Ha-young chimed in.
The earnestness in Ha-young’s voice was palpable. Jimin has always been like that, now that I think about it. Despite his occasionally distant exterior, she was always attentive, going out of her way to help me and patiently teaching me topics I didn’t understand.
My eyes welled up with tears as I remembered those events, and my throat choked with sorrow.
“We may not have been together for long, but I genuinely wanted to see you happy,” she said.
“Thank you,” I answered, moved by her words.
“You’re very welcome,” she replied.
Ha-young went on to express her appreciation, but I recognized it all too well, prompting a sincere laugh from me.
“I suppose it’s fate that we’ve met again like this, right?” I thought to myself.
“You’re correct, Se-Yeon; we do see each other quite frequently!” Ha-young added.
“Yes,” I said, smiling.
I couldn’t help but smile as I watched Ha-Young take my hand and shake it, expressing her genuine happiness at our reunion. Just as the conversation was flowing, my cell phone in my pocket began to ring.
“Excuse me a moment,” I said, checking the caller ID, which displayed Soo-Jung’s name.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Boss, you have a visitor. Where are you?” Soo-Jung inquired.
“A visitor?” I replied, taken aback.
“Alright, please ask them to wait. I’ll be there shortly.”
After ending the call, I turned back to Ha-Young.
“I’m sorry, but I have to go. It seems I have a visitor at the shop,” I explained.
“You’re quite busy, so I should probably get going too,” Ha-Young responded.
I took Soo-Jung’s coffee and went to leave when I spotted Ha-Young staring at my hand. Her expression changed unusually.
“Se-Yeon, do you have a boyfriend?” she said.
Even though I hadn’t done anything illegal, I paused for a moment before concealing my hand with the ring. Ha-Young dropped the query when a slight smile pulled at the corner of my mouth, indicating that I didn’t want to answer.
“I really should get going,” she said.
“Give me your phone number. Let’s meet up for a meal later,” I went on to say.
“Okay,” Ha-Young agreed, exchanging contact information as we parted ways.
I happily shared my cellphone number with Ha-Young, and although I could sense her eyes on my fingers, I chose to ignore it.
It had been quite a while since we’d last seen each other, and it wasn’t the right time to explain why I was wearing a ring, especially when customers often bothered me about it.
I stood up without bringing up the subject, deciding to leave it for another time. As I hurried back to the flower shop, thoughts of waiting clients flashed through my mind.
I couldn’t help but notice the moving crew carrying potted plants heading into the opposite building as I went quickly toward the florist. As I watched them, a wave of melancholy washed over me.
I opened the door to the flower shop and was met by a familiar face behind me.
“Mr. Hyun-woo, is that you?” I inquired. The customer must have been Mr. Hyun-woo.
“Ms. Se-yeon, it’s been a while,” he greeted me.
We had initially met two years ago when I was arranging pots and flowers for the president’s office at Royal Group. Since then, Mr. Hyun-woo, the owner of a flower shop, and I had encountered each other again at a wholesale market. Since then, we have occasionally kept in touch or crossed paths.
“Please take this,” he said, offering something.
Mr. Hyun-woo gave me a sour look as he handed me a red dahlia.
“Do you often give flowers to florists?” I inquired, delighted by the gesture. As I spoke, my initial smile, prompted by Mr. Hyun-woo’s gift, dimmed.
“Once again, they’re beautiful,” I said, admiring the flowers.
Mr. Hyun-woo’s ears flushed, and there was an awkward stillness as I fiddled with the flowers without saying much.
“A man who doesn’t appreciate your beauty isn’t cool,” Mr. Hyun-woo said.
“Thank you,” I said gratefully.
I forced a smile, my practiced customer service smile, and though I’d gotten better at dealing with people, this was always the most difficult part of the job. It was quite weird.
“I heard you’re having dinner tonight?” He asked, looking over at Soo-Jung, who was sipping a java chip frappuccino and winking at Mr. Hyun-woo.
“Yeah,” I agreed.
“Can I join you?” he inquired.
As I considered his plea, my uncertainty was evident.
Mr. Hyun-woo opted to close his mouth because he sensed a sense of unease in the air. However, Soo-Jung, who was standing behind him, stepped in with vigor.
“Come with us! The more, the merrier, right?” Soo-jung pushed as if supporting Mr. Hyun-woo’s proposal.
I agreed with a nod, thinking it would be unusual to decline. As the day went on, I found myself always busy with a steady stream of clients, and it had been a long and exhausting day by the time I was ready to head home.
I realized I hadn’t checked my phone because of my hectic schedule, so I took it out of my pocket.
When I opened Messenger, I saw Jimin and Haeyoung’s invitation to a group conversation. I joined the group with a smile. When I saw Jimin’s profile picture with her spouse, I was reminded of her remarks about wanting me to be happy.
It struck me as odd because I had never considered them to be overly busy people. Nonetheless, they appeared to be overjoyed to see me again.
I couldn’t understand why they were so happy to see me after I had abruptly stopped talking to them. Nonetheless, the reassuring notion that someone still liked the person I used to be washed over me.
“Boss, have a drink,” Soo-Jung suggested, jarring me from my reverie.
Soo-Jung eagerly shook the bottle, encouraging him to drink it quickly. I momentarily paused from grilling the meat and raised my glass in response.
“Thanks,” I expressed my gratitude.
Soo-Jung took the bottle in her hand and filled my glass. Then, she proceeded to pour some into Mr. Hyun-woo’s glass beside hers.
“I have to drive,” Mr. Hyun-woo mentioned.
“Ah, don’t let that stop you from enjoying the meal,” I replied.
“Thank you. After all, we did get to know each other while enjoying the meat you grilled, right?” Mr. Hyun-woo acknowledged with appreciation.
Feeling slightly awkward, I managed to put on a smile, as I would for a customer. I clinked glasses with Soo-yeon and took a swig of my drink.
The taste of the liquor was satisfying as it slid down my throat. I couldn’t help but feel a bit uncomfortable with the way Mr. Hyun-woo was gazing at me, but as usual, I kept my composure.
“Why are you staring at our boss like that?” Soo-Jung finally remarked her tone less than impressed, addressing Mr. Hyun-woo’s lingering gaze.
“Thanks,” he expressed my gratitude.
“For what?” Se-Yeon inquired.
“For bringing me dinner. I rarely have the time to eat with you unless it’s a special occasion,” he replied.
“Ohhhhh!” Soo-jung exclaimed, clapping her hands and displaying more enthusiasm than I was entirely comfortable with.
I subtly shook my head, trying to signal her to tone it down, but the alcohol’s influence appeared to render her oblivious to my cues.
She wished me luck, and I let out a small sigh. Moments like this were precisely why I preferred to avoid in-person meetings whenever possible.
A shiver rushed down my spine as I remembered Aiden pursuing me in a foreign country. Aiden’s words rang in my head.
“You smiled at me because you loved me, and I love you.”
I couldn’t get that memory out of my head. I’ll never forget how taken aback I was when Aiden barged into my house.
Soo-jung inquired, “Boss, what’s on your mind?”
“Well, I suppose I should probably get going,” Soo-jung responded.
“Okay. Call me when you get home. I’m worried.”
“All right!” Soo-jung agreed before leaving.
I sent Soo-Jung off first since her house was nearby and she preferred to walk.
“I’ll give you a ride, get in,” Hyun-woo said emphatically.
“I can take a taxi,” I said.
“No, get in,” he said again, and I unwillingly climbed into Hyun-woo’s car. We arrived at my house fast because the ride was short.
“Be careful,” he cautioned.
“I’ll see you next time, Se-Yeon.”
“…… Thanks,” I said gratefully.
I entered the code for our shared front door, happy that no one was watching me today.
As I turned around to enter my home, Hyun-woo waved at me with a warm smile. I lowered my head, tucking my hair behind my ear as a gentle breeze passed by.
Once I arrived home, I received a text message that read, ‘Let’s watch a movie next time.’ I pondered how to respond, and with time passing without a reply, I started to feel unnecessarily anxious.
It didn’t seem polite to leave the message unanswered, so I eventually sent a response, typing ‘yes.’
I couldn’t decide whether to watch a movie or something else, partially because of the relentless temptation to date.
I glared at my phone and tossed it onto the table, frustrated. Despite my continued deliberation, I couldn’t summon the courage to seek a relationship. I sighed deeply and absentmindedly fiddled with the ring on my finger.
* * *
The following day, I received a call from Soo-Jung, her voice weak, informing me that she wasn’t feeling well and would be late. I advised her not to worry and suggested she visit the hospital.
Since there were no customers expected for the day, the morning passed peacefully. Occasionally, there were days like this. While I was in the middle of sweeping the floor, I received a call from an unfamiliar number.
It turned out to be a new office located on the top floor of the building next door, and they were interested in ordering a plant. My excitement soared as I contemplated this new opportunity.
After understanding that the office space was large, I decided to pay a personal visit to improve the client experience. The proximity of the location makes this a manageable undertaking. I informed Soo-Jung that I needed to go to a business meeting in the afternoon and dashed over to the adjoining building.
To my astonishment, I ran across Jimin and Ha-young again. At the recurrence of our meeting, I couldn’t help but laugh. They appeared surprised by my arrival.
“You’ve opened a flower shop!” remarked Jimin.
“Yes,” I said. “Do you both work here?”
They both nodded. “You two look great as flower shop owners,” Jimin said, smiling.
I felt a rush of embarrassment at the compliment, and inside the owner’s office, I went through my belongings. Jimin and Ha-young’s smiles seemed slightly awkward.
Jimin spoke, “The place you need to see isn’t here; it’s on the rooftop.”
“The rooftop?” I questioned, curious about their suggestion.
“Yes, the rooftop,” Jimin confirmed. Ha-young and I followed them to the rooftop.
When I opened the door to the rooftop, I was left in awe. The space was incredibly vast, and I couldn’t help but be amazed.
“What do you think? The owner has taken great care of this place,” Jimin said, clearly proud of the rooftop area.
The rooftop glass garden took my breath away. I had previously discussed my ambition to develop a glass garden at home. Jimin and Ha-young abruptly left to attend to an urgent matter, leaving me alone in the glass garden.
I stood there, mesmerized by the garden’s splendor. It was clear that the owner had taken considerable care in designing this space, making it ideal for plants to grow.
The sight of these plants made me happy, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how to adorn this magnificent place.
When I heard a sniffle behind me, I turned around and remarked in a nostalgic tone about the garden’s beauty and how much the owner must love plants.
I eventually turned around because no one had responded. Han Se-hyuk, to my amazement, was standing at the garden’s entrance.
He had a serious expression on his face as if he expected to see me here, and his gaze slid down to his fingers, causing his pupils to shake. My heart was racing, and I couldn’t think of anything to say.