Hey guys, this is a book I’ve been writing called Select Love (for now), that was inspired by KDramas. Mostly it’s the location and style rather than happening. I’m uploading it on Wattpad for now and thought I’d double post here. enjoy ~
Despite the late morning breeze floating through the open window, I was feeling suffocated as I sat alone in the classroom staring at my open English textbook.
This was nothing new; I often felt suffocated at school. If I had a home, I would probably feel suffocated there as well.
It was hard to have a home when your father was dead and your mom kicked you out because you wouldn’t buy her any more alcohol.
For the past two weeks since I’d been kicked out of our tiny apartment, I’d spent most of my evenings at the sauna, but my funds were running desperately low and I had the depressing notion I would be spending the night on the streets today unless I skipped all my meals.
I wouldn’t usually mind skipping a meal or two, but I had been skipping too many of them lately and I was afraid I would faint if I didn’t eat anything today.
A sharp pain shot through my stomach, accentuating the fact I would need to eat something, and I clenched my fists to fight through the feeling. Fortunately the school provided a lunch or I would not have survived this long.
I let out a breath and closed my eyes. Suffocation. Would it be such a bad thing?
Of course, I wasn’t quite literally suffocating here. If it were up to the other students though, I think they wouldn’t mind if I did suffocate. They were the ones who made my days a nightmare after all. The taunts and harsh words, laughing at my apparent lack of hygiene, jealousy of my intelligence.
I was under no illusions that I was stupid. I was probably one of the top students in the high school, but it was really hard to care as life went on. Would any of this matter in the future?
Would it even matter tomorrow? Why did I keep coming to school anyway? Should I just run away?
For a brief moment a wonderfully vivid daydream filled my mind.
I saw myself boarding a plane, staring out the window in awe as we floated high above the ocean, dancing in delight as a taxi took me towards the beach, laughing as my bare feet felt the sand sifting through my toes. I would be dressed in a cute sundress, a fetching hat and a pair of sunglasses covering my eyes. The foreign men would stare as I relaxed in a beach chair. A young man with sunny golden locks would approach me, a grin on his face, no shirt in sight, and give me a deep bow before asking me how I could possibly be so beautiful.
A sharp knock on my desk startled me out of my dreaming and I looked up to see Choi Eun Ji glaring at me.
“Please take a shower,” she snapped. “I can’t stand sitting behind you and smelling you, it is utterly disgusting.”
I bowed my head in acknowledgment of her words and despite myself, a deep flush crossed my cheeks. If I could have had a good shower last night, I would have. I did the best I could with what I had and I didn’t think I smelled that bad, but I knew I was not very clean. My school uniform would probably need a good wash in a bathroom sink tonight, especially since we’d just come back from gym.
Eun Ji rapped on my desk again and stared into my eyes.
“Can’t you speak? Just say yes.”
“I will shower,” I said, lowering my head, but she reached out and grabbed my chin forcefully, looking around my face with an assessing expression.
I tried to pull out of her grasp but her gaze sharpened and she held my chin tighter.
“Honestly, when was the last time you washed your face? It’s not healthy much less fun for the rest of us to see.”
“I… I washed it this morning.” It was true, though probably not in the way she meant. I had splashed my face over with water only this morning since it had looked a bit grimy, but I hadn’t used any fancy face wash.
If I couldn’t afford food, there was no way I was going to be spending my precious remaining money on cosmetics.
“Do you even use a face mask ever? You really should you know. You should start taking care of your skin as young as you can.” Eun Ji finally let go of my chin and sighed heavily as she sat down behind me.
“I’ll think about it,” I mumbled, but she was no longer listening, instead talking with a group of friends that had gathered around her desk.
Despite how little I cared for school, I still deep down sought some form of belonging and every time someone put me down with their words, it hurt my heart. I don’t think Eun Ji meant wrong, she was one of the nice girls here at school. Comparatively.
By this time, the classroom was mostly full as students got back from gym, and someone had shut the window I’d opened when arriving early.
“Come on teacher,” Eun Ji moaned behind me. “Let’s get started. I hate English so much. It’s stupid.”
A few of the girls around her agreed but I shook my head at that. It might not be used on a daily basis here in Korea, but English could be essential in many good job positions. It had also always been a favorite of mine ever since I’d watched a show in English when I was young. Since I’d done a lot of studying on my own, I was fairly fluent in English and the assignments in this class were usually a breeze.
“It’s not so bad,” another of Eun Ji’s friends said. “At least our teacher isn’t bad to look at. It could be an old hag like we have for math.”
“Sun Hee!” Eun Ji chided, “Ms. Choi is not an old hag!”
“Yes, she is and you know it. And Mr. Kang is a beautiful specimen even if he is old enough to be my dad. You can’t deny that either.”
Eun Ji groaned but it was obvious she agreed.
Just then the object of their discussion opened the door and walked in with a smile on his face.
Kang Do Hyun.
There was nothing wrong with the description of the gossiping girls behind me. Kang Do Hyun was a beautiful man and he was also probably at least 35 or 40 years old. My own mother was older than that.
Still, I did bite my lip a bit and give him a once over. His button down white shirt and khaki slacks were not far from the usual, but they seemed to fit him especially well today. His slightly messy hair gave him a casual look that made it easy to want to tell him all my woes. For a moment, his dark brown eyes found my own and my breath caught and held in my throat.
As I had done, he also gave me a once over, but unlike me, he appeared to find me lacking and his face formed a frown. I quickly looked down and bent my head, allowing my long dark hair to cover my face from view.
“Good morning class,” Mr. Kang said, giving a sharp rap on his desk to quiet down remaining chatter. “I hope you all have been studying your English well.”
A few moans went up from the classroom.
“Teacher, why did you learn English?” Eun Ji asked loudly. “What made you want to teach it? I think it sounds awful and it’s so hard to learn.”
Mr. Kang looked thoughtful for a moment and his gaze roamed to the window before he answered.
“Have I never told you before?” He finally said. “I studied in America and got married to an American and lived in the United States for quite awhile.”
A few gasps went up from the room and students started asking questions.
“No, no, no,” Mr. Kang said, raising his hand to quiet the students. “I came back because I wanted to, yes I like teaching English, and yes I am no longer married. Now we need to get down to studying because you know we have exams coming up soon, right?”
Another wave of moans and groans swept the classroom and Mr. Kang smiled before turning to the board.
Class passed quickly since I was familiar with everything we were taught, and before I knew it, Mr. Kang was getting ready to leave the classroom.
“Alright, students, remember to study this chapter well and everything else we’ve covered so far. The test is coming up at the end of this week, so you need to be prepared, okay?”
Halfhearted assents came from most students and as Mr. Kang turned to leave he stopped and then looked at me.
“Lee Ha Eun, please come and see me in the office.” Then he turned and walked out of the classroom.
My heartrate picked up and a loud thumping noise started to assault my ears. He’d asked me to come to his office? Was I in trouble? Had he found out that I was living practically on the streets?
Eun Ji prodded me from behind and laughed a little.
“He singled you out Ha Eun, aren’t you going to go have fun with him?”
Several students laughed and I quickly stood up and left the room, my ears burning bright red. It was bad enough I was being called out, why did she have to bring attention to it like that? My throat closed up and I had to force back tears as I walked down the hall towards the teachers’ office.
As I walked in, Mr. Kang looked up from his desk and motioned me over, taking off a pair of reading glasses as I approached.
“Ms. Lee, I have been looking at your scores and you are a very talented individual.”
My eyes wandered around the office, looking around the messy desks of the other teachers and briefly landing on a group of students outside the window on their way to an activity.
“Ms. Lee, are you doing alright? Is everything fine with you?” Mr. Kang prodded, trying to look me in the eye. I glanced at him and quickly looked away, trying not to get caught in his electric gaze. He had a slight bit of stubble on his jaw and I had the sudden urge to reach out and feel it. Treacherously handsome teacher. Ugh.
“I’m okay,” I said quietly, and looked down at my dirty, torn shoes.
“You can be honest with me. I know I’m not your homeroom teacher, but I really want to help you out. Forgive me, but you’ve always appeared a bit troubled and it has gotten worse lately. Are you really doing fine?”
“Yes, I am fine,” I said again, trying to keep annoyance out of my voice. He couldn’t do anything to help me. All he would want to do is take this to the authorities or something. I couldn’t have that; despite not enjoying school, I just wanted to graduate and be done with it.
Again, I started toying with the idea of quitting school altogether and getting some more part-time jobs so I could afford a place to stay. Independence was nothing I had really ever experienced and it now glowed strongly in my mind like a beacon. Would everything be better if I just settled into the daily grind of working, eating, and sleeping with a bed I could call my own and food earned by the labor of my hands?
It would be better than this at least. As it stood, I had to go to school, study, work for the few hours I could spare, and, if I had enough money, get some food and then sleep at the sauna on the hard ground in the silly pink and gray shirt and shorts with a towel for my pillow. Once I graduated, nothing would change. Perhaps I would be smart enough to get into a college, but I could never afford it and without a college degree there would be no jobs better than what I could get as a high-schooler who hadn’t graduated.
If it would make no difference between graduating and quitting now, then this idea of leaving this all behind and finding a place of my own would be ideal.
“Ha Eun,” Mr. Kang said, his voice sad. “I know something is wrong. I really want to help you if I can. You don’t have to struggle alone.”
For once I willingly looked him in the eyes and let him see the dead, suffocating feeling I felt at this school. His face gradually fell and he started to reach out to place a comforting hand on my arm.
At that moment however, the door to the office slid open and a few of the other teachers entered, chatting among themselves.
Mr. Kang dropped his arm, but left his gaze on my face.
“Ha Eun, please just think about it,” he said, but this time in English.
“I’m fine,” I replied, also in English. “You don’t need to help me okay? I’m fine.”
“See look how talented you are. You speak English near perfectly with hardly an accent. It took me many years living in America to achieve that level of skill. I’m speaking English with you now because I know none of the teachers here will be able to follow along with our conversation. That’s how good you are! If you apply yourself and continue on you could be very successful. Any college would be excited to accept you. Despite anything that is going on in your life currently, I hope at least you don’t plan to skip college.”
I gave him a dull look and turned my eyes back to the window.
“I don’t plan on going to college teacher. I don’t plan on doing anything special.” My voice was low but he obviously heard me.
“Why? Why is that, Ha Eun? You are probably the brightest student at this school. You can do anything you set your mind to.”
“Well, maybe I don’t have anything to set my mind to,” I shrugged. “Can I leave now? I’ll be late for the next class.”
Mr. Kang sighed, knowing that my math teacher sat only a few desks away and didn’t appear to be in any hurry to start the next lesson. I probably still had 15 minutes left of break.
“Just… just please let me know if I can help?” His beseeching eyes ensnared me like the helpless fly trapped by the spider and I backed up a step.
“Please, don’t ask again,” I said, my voice bitter. “You can’t help. I don’t want your help.”
“Ha Eun!” He reprimanded, but I turned and stalked out of the office, my books clutched to my chest like a shield, trying to block out the negative thoughts forcing themselves at me.
“Ha Eun!” He called again, but I was already out of the room and half way down the hall.