A Simple Present, to Say Thank You
I tapped on the door frame, waiting for Jumin to turn around before saying anything. “Hey. Figured you could use a friendly face.”
His expression softened as he saw me, in his usual faint glimmer of a smile. “Of course. You know you’re welcome any time. Did the guards give you any trouble?”
I shook my head. “Nah, I think they all recognize me by now.” I heard a soft mew by my feet, and knelt down to stroke Elizabeth’s fur. “Hey there, princess. Have you been having a good day too? You had a bit of an adventure, didn’t you?”
Jumin sighed. “I can’t believe I failed to check that singular closet. I was sure I had checked every avenue.”
“After what happened last time, I don’t blame you for panicking.” I smiled down at the cat as she licked at my fingers. “Yeah, you probably taste the sandwich I had for lunch, don’t you?” I got a purr and a bonk of her head into my hand in response.
“It’s unlike me to panic.” Jumin’s voice was low, irritated. I looked up at him, frowning just a little at the serious look on his face as he watched Elizabeth wander into a different room. “I should have been able to remain composed.”
“Jumin.” I stood back up and walked over to him, crouching in front of him and resting my arms on his knees. “As much as we would all like to believe it, you are not perfect and you are not infallible. It’s okay to lose control once in a while. I know you don’t like it,” I quickly added on as I saw his mouth open in protest, “but it’s still acceptable.”
“I made a fool of myself in front of all of you.” He couldn’t look me in the eye.
“Hey…” I reached up, gesturing to tilt his chin up since I couldn’t actually reach him from where I was. It worked; he looked up at me begrudgingly. “You didn’t make a fool of yourself. You were worried about your pet. Trust me, I went ballistic once because I couldn’t find one of my cats when my parents had left. I was convinced she’d been taken to the vet without my knowledge or died or something. And I called my parents constantly, and got no answer. I understand.” He looked away again, and this time I stretched up to physically move his chin back.
It did what I wanted, which was startle him.
“Even after all has been said and done, Elizabeth is still dear to you. There’s nothing wrong with that. And everyone is just happy you’re allowing yourself to feel some of these emotions now.”
“I highly doubt your beloved thinks anything of the sort.”
I rolled my eyes. “Luciel is going to be who he is, and yes. That probably means that he’s going to make joke after joke about everything that happens. He means it in good faith. I think he’s a bit jealous of you, honestly.”
He frowned. “What? Why would he be jealous of me?”
“Because he knows we’re close, and he’s not always your biggest fan.”
That didn’t seem to sell Jumin, because the frown just deepened. “But we are not involved with each other in any way. Unless he is considerably mistaken about what occurs when we spend time in each other’s company, I don’t see what the problem would be.”
I just laughed and stood up again. “He knows that nothing happens. He’s just jealous that I spend time with anyone outside of him.”
“Well that’s simply foolishness on his part.” I held out my hands to Jumin, and after a moment he took them and let me pull him to his feet. “I do appreciate your stopping in. I know that your job keeps you fairly busy.”
“My job keeps me fairly a lot of things, but I have the day off, and Luciel needs to get some work done, which he won’t do if I’m in the house. And I wanted to come over anyway.” I couldn’t help it. Though what I always told Luciel was entirely true–that I loved him and would give myself to no one else–the time I’d spent at the beginning of my journey with RFA had brought me incredibly close to Jumin. Both of us knew that a romantic relationship between the two of us would have been disastrous, and he’d never blinked when I ran to Luciel. But there was a connection here, and I knew I was walking a line, but I was always honest with both of the men. Luciel knew I would never do anything with Jumin that I would not do with my other close friends, and Jumin knew that my heart, romantically, was inextricably linked to Luciel.
“Have you considered another position?” He trailed along behind me as I walked over toward his couch.
“Of course I’ve considered other positions. I don’t want to be a server my whole life. But the problem is just getting one. Finding someone who will hire me.”
“Mmmm.” I tugged him down to sit on the couch with me, and he obliged as I looped his arm over my shoulders. “Perhaps I could find you a job with C&R.”
I laughed and leaned back against him, feeling him shift into a more comfortable position for the both of us. “I think they call that nepotism, Jumin.”
“It wouldn’t be. I was prepared to give Yoosung an internship as he had been showing strong signs of wanting to become a more successful businessman. Whether he decides to take that or not is up to him. Whereas I know that you have worked in office settings before, and have excelled. …I can ask for your resumé, if that will ease your conscience.”
I just breathed out another chuckle. “Sure. I’ll email you my resumé. We’ll see how that goes.” There was a beat of silence, and all I could hear was the steady thump-wump of Jumin’s heartbeat. “Do you think Jaehee will actually leave?”
He hummed, uncertain. “It would not surprise me. In many ways, I am surprised she has not left yet. I…believe I overexerted her, those first two weeks you were here. I had been pushing her to extremes anyway…and I believe I hit a breaking point. Even someone as competent as Assis… Jaehee…cannot work miracles.”
I gave his hand a soft squeeze. “I think she’ll be happier.”
I let another pause sit before I brought up the inevitable. “You were right, though.”
“Oh? About what?”
“She and Zen are seeing each other, I’m pretty sure. If they’re not yet, they probably will be soon. He bought her a bracelet.”
“Hmm.” When he didn’t offer anything further, I tilted my head back to look at him. His eyes flickered down to me. “What?”
“No comment on that?”
“I don’t see why I would have any reason or call to comment on their alleged relationship. Assistant Kang has always been vocally supportive of Zen, and Zen is content with anyone willing to bow to his narcissism, which I believe Assistant Kang would be.”
I hit his leg. “Jumin! Rude.”
“How is that rude? I am merely stating facts about their personalities. I believe they will be well suited to one another, should they choose to pursue such a relationship. Much as I believed the same about yourself and Luciel.”
I actually turned a bit at that, looking at Jumin more directly. “Oh, this I have to hear. How exactly is my relationship with him similar to what you just described?”
He leveled a glare at me. “If you are attempting to insinuate that I considered either of you to be in a similar position to Zen, you are incredibly mistaken and do not know me nearly as well as I believe you do. What I meant was merely that your personalities are well matched for each other. You ground Luciel from his more fantastic flights of fancy, and he brings out the more…mm, playful side of you.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Playful?”
“It is one of the things we share, Rion. Neither of us are supremely demonstrative with our emotions, though you have always been more expressive than me. And where you manage to bring some of my emotions closer to the surface, Luciel brings yours up. The dynamic is not much different between Chrissy and Yoosung. They are…what did you say the literary term for it was?”
“Huh? Oh, foils. A character who appears in order to highlight aspects of the protagonist. Huh. I didn’t really think of it that way.”
“Precisely. You and Luciel, Yoosung and Chrissy, Zen and Jaehee. All foils to each other.”
“What about you, then? Don’t you get a foil in our narrative here?”
“I’m afraid I don’t reflect much, though I attempt to return your light back to you.” He set his lips against my hair, and I shifted again to lie against him. “And with that, I am content.”
“I hope so.” My voice was soft.
“Mm? Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I know how lonely you can be, Jumin.” I took his hand again, lacing my fingers with his. “I just don’t want you to be sitting here and watching everyone else play matchmaker while you sit alone in your house.”
“I’m not alone. I have Elizabeth the 3rd.” I grumbled, and heard the breath of a laugh from him in return. “I assure you, I am content with what I have. I am dedicated to my work, and for many of the same reasons why we never pursued anything, I am not interested in finding another woman to insert into my life. I do not believe I would make an adequate…boyfriend.” I giggled, and I got an irritated huff in response. “But in addition to Elizabeth, I now have a human companion, a friend who I can talk to if I feel the need. Someone who I know can see all those tangled threads within me.” His voice had dropped, and I felt it against his chest more than heard it. “I don’t need someone to love me. Just someone to see me.”
“I do love you, Jumin. Just…not the same way I do Luciel.” I pulled our hands over to me so that I could kiss the back of his hand, and he tightened his grip on my fingers in return. “But I do see you. And I’m glad that you’ve found happiness through this…at least some, anyway.”
“I have found more happiness in all of this than I have much else in my life.” He shifted so that both arms could wrap around me in a firm hug. “And I owe that to you entirely.”
“I’m not sure I deserve all of the praise on that one, but thank you.” I set my hands over his arms, closing my eyes and letting us sit like that for a long moment.
I wasn’t sure how much later it was, but I heard Jumin make a soft noise. “Mm, here. Get up for a moment.”
“Mmmm.” I sat up, letting go of his arms and shifted enough so that he could stand up and walk back over to his office. He came back a moment later with a small black velvet bag. I raised my eyebrows. “What are you doing.”
Jumin sat back down next to me, and offered me the bag. “For you.”
“This looks suspicious, Jumin.”
“I assure you it is nothing untoward.” He waved a hand. “Open it.”
I watched him for a moment, but when he just gestured again, I finally relented and opened the pouch, tilting it to spill the contents into my hand. I drew in a breath as the light caught it. It was a necklace, a fine silver chain with two small charms on the end: one a silver key, and the other a blue jewel. “Oh Jumin, it’s gorgeous. You really shouldn’t have.”
“I wasn’t going to. I was looking for something unrelated, and was shanghaied into a conversation with a woman at the store about gemstones. According to her, blue topaz is a stone commonly linked to writers, and is said to promote higher thinking, as well as…oh, what did she say. Promote fidelity, ease mental anguish, and strengthen friendship, gentleness, and integrity.”
I could feel my cheeks burning, and I covered my mouth with my free hand. “That’s beautiful, Jumin. Thank you.” After a moment, I pulled my hand back to shift the key away from the gemstone. “What about this?”
He didn’t have an answer for me at first, but I felt him rest his hand on the small of my back a moment later. “For what you have unlocked, and for what you are keeper of. As a sign of my gratitude.” He set his lips against my hair again.
I blinked back tears and wrapped my arms around him in a tight hug, which after a moment’s hesitation, he gently returned. “Thank you,” I managed to get out.
“You’re very welcome. May I?” After a moment, I nodded and handed him the necklace so that he could clasp it around my neck. His lips turned up in his classic almost-smile. “It suits you. Just as I knew it would.”
I wiped at my eyes. “Such a jerk, for making me cry.”
“You would not be the first person to tell me that.” That I had to laugh at, and his smile grew just a fraction. “I do hope you like it.”
“I love it, Jumin. It’s beautiful.” I looked down at the two charms, picking them up and turning them in my fingers. “I’ll have to start wearing jewelry more often, I guess.”
“Mm. I know you are not much of one for these sorts of things, but…well.” His cheeks tinged a shade of pink. “The reference to writers was too much for me to pass up. Even if you do not wear it commonly, I believe it will serve you well.”
“I’m sure it will.” I leaned up to kiss his cheek, which just made him blush brighter and I grinned. “Thank you.” He nodded. “Now.” I looked at my watch. “I seem to have very conveniently landed myself here right around lunch time. What say you to that?”
He rolled his eyes. “And now I am merely a conduit to spend money through. I see how much my gesture has meant to you.”
I laughed. “Fine then. Tomorrow’s payday. Lunch is on me today.”