I’m a big fan of first dates; when everything you say is cute and funny and everything your date does is equally wonderful. If only the magic could last forever. Happily, it can in Red Sky. Here’s my early Valentine’s gift to you; the first date in Alice Again. ADL
Chapter 14: Love Like A Fool
The bus ride into Midtown reminded me of the time my boys, then eight, were loudly counting down the seconds till our Disney World jitney arrived at the Magic Kingdom.
“Are we there yet?” they asked over and over in unison.
“Be patient,” I instructed. “We’ll be there in an instant.”
Luke tugged on my sleeve. “But, Mom, sometimes instant gratification isn’t fast enough.”
I finally appreciated Luke’s wisdom. I couldn’t get to the place where I met Hoon fast enough. The wait had my heart pumping as though I had run all the way from Queens. As soon as the bus pulled up to its last stop, I jumped off to scan the crush of workers heading for the bus queues.
An army of commuters were climbing up from the IND subway station. I studied their faces as well. A bearded man in a black hoodie stared back. What was I thinking? This may be Red Sky but it’s still Manhattan. Girls in short skirts are lunatic magnets. I scurried towards the safety of the 950 entrance, while the Change-of-Watch crowds thinned.
What made me think Hoon would return to look for me too? He probably had a girlfriend. I recalled his high cheekbones and skin the color of tupelo honey. He probably had a fan club.
The wind picked up, bringing the unmistakable January damp. My denim skirt left my legs shivering and my peep-toed heels were more fashionable than functional. I pulled up on my scarf for warmth.
“Ja gi ya! My Alice from the moon.” Hoon was seated on the bus bench where we had said goodnight.
This was really too good to be true. The seeds must have produced episodic dreams. Why else would I meet the only man in two universes who stayed right where I left him?
He looked taller than I’d remembered and much leaner than my husband and sons. His eyelids stretched taut over his eyes; making him both alluring and impelling.
“Bo guh ship ugh suh. I missed you, Alice. I’m really glad you came back from the moon.” His smile framed beautiful white teeth. “Let’s eat. I’m starving,” he invited.
I wasn’t the least bit hungry but I would have eaten boiled snakes to be near him.
He suggested Nino’s on 52nd. We walked five blocks along Third Avenue. By the time we reached the restaurant, Hoon had taken my hand in his.
Nino’s foyer was flanked by two marble columns that rose off plush maroon carpeting. I tried not to gawk at the impeccably outfitted wait staff or the gleaming stemware. I hadn’t seen flower arrangements that grand since my cousin’s wedding.
The maître d’ greeted Hoon warmly and led us to a corner table.
The sommelier arrived as a waitress waited behind him. “Did you want the 2006 Marchesi di Barola tonight, Mr. Park?”
Hoon looked to me for approval. Me? I thought wines only had three names—white, red and rosé. I nodded yes.
Our waitress stepped up to describe the evening’s specials.
We ordered yellow beet, tomato and buffalo mozzarella in a balsamic reduction for our appetizers. I was impressed by menus that weren’t covered in plastic and grateful for an English mother who taught me table manners. Did Hoon dine out every night
My entree was a perfectly charred red snapper circled by fanned fingerling potatoes and baby carrot tournees the size of Christmas bulbs. Hoon insisted I taste his filet mignon. This was truly a world away from Carlucci’s Ristorante.
Hoon spoke comfortably, as if we’d known each other for ages. “Work was crazy today. I couldn’t break for lunch. Word that the Korea Development Bank was considering a buyout came just before First Watch. It was pandemonium when we closed up five percent. Jeez, Alice, I am so grateful you came back tonight.”
He worked for a bank? What was I supposed to talk about? My IRA account?
“Don’t let me shop talk, Alice. I can be pretty big bang about numbers. I don’t want you to tell your friends about that boring guy you met last Watch.”
Tell my friends at Carlucci’s about my four star dinner with the handsomest man in two worlds while they dip their limp lettuce into bottled dressing? Not bloody likely. How could I share this with Peg? Or Ilene? It would be downright mean to tell Laura. Even if she marinated in Botox, she’d never look young enough for a hottie like Hoon.
Hoon mouthed something to our waitress. She returned with two warmed glasses of Sambuca topped with roasted coffee beans.
“I’m not a numbers person,” I admitted. “But I’m not bored. I appreciate passion. What could be better than loving what you do?” I tasted the Sambuca. It was like everything else that night, warm and sweet. It was not the way I usually spent Tuesday evenings. It was so much better. Still, I knew a thing or two about life that I could share with him. I offered my caveat: “You should rest more and eat well. Even if you love work, don’t give your life to a job.”
Hoon raised his glass. “I want to work like a monster and love like a fool. So, when I’m old and dying, I’ll have no regrets.”
Is it really possible to die with no regrets?
“Jah gi, what do you do?” Hoon asked.
“It’s Korean for…friend,” he hesitated.
“Really, so if I Google jah gi, Korean friend will come up?” My girl-radar knew he wasn’t calling me friend.
“Kul seh, probably my dearest will come up. That’s OK isn’t it? We’re going to be each other’s dearest one day, unless you tell me something scary like you’re into voodoo,” he said casually.
My dearest? I tried not to look at his full lips. What color would they be called? Tawny? Burgundy? I bet his nipples were perfect circles in that exact color. Oh my, what was I thinking? I needed to re-focus on his words. Just his words.
“You don’t look like a big game hunter,” Hoon teased. “I’m hoping you’re not a mortician. Alice, you’re not a taxidermist are you?”
Saying I stuffed dead pets for a living would be preferable to the truth. I can’t tell him I earned my BA in English Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing only to end up a stay-at-home mommy.
“No, nothing like that.” That stall would only buy me another five seconds. I need to use a career I know something about. What did I want to be since first grade? “I’m a writer,” I lied.
“Whah, Alice, I’m impressed.”
My brain went into overdrive. “I’m writing on my own…from home.”
“Chung mal? You’re the first author I’ve met. Maybe I’ve read you. What do you write? Mangas? Hypertext? Wikis?”
What the heck are mangas? I couldn’t even remember the other two choices. Did he mean Kindle type things? Was it just Red Sky or had young people replaced all the universe’s books with digital reading toys?
“Actually, I’m working on a science fiction novel.” What am I saying? Now I have to give details.
“That is so cool. Can you tell me what it’s about?”
Why not. “Parallel universe travel,” I dug deeper into my lie. If Hoon was a science fiction aficionado, I was dead. “This dinner is going to be expensive,” I said, trying to change the subject. “Let’s go Dutch.”
“Let’s go Korean tonight. My treat.” He signaled our waitress.
“Does your novel have a title yet?”
“Hmm. That’s really good.” Hoon signed the receipt and took back his card. We walked outside arm in arm.
He looked up at the burning sky. “Blue Skies? That’s wakie awesome.”
It was. I had nearly forgotten the endless bright blue canopy of my childhood summers. Why had I been content to live out my days in black and white? Maybe I should write my story. Hadn’t my college professors said writers get to invent their own endings? Me, in charge of the way my life turns out? That would be wakie awesome.
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