“That was a long time ago,” Talia said, tucking her hair behind her ears.
He took a deep breath and smiled. “You loved me a long time ago.”
She smiled, her eyes far away for a second. “I did.” She looked at him again and her smile softened even further, allowed him to imagine they were in love once again.
“Remember when I bought you that rose? It was bright yellow. It matched your summer dress.”
She nodded and then took a sip of her green tea, crossing her legs under the table.
“Yes. Do you remember after that we went to a garage sale and I found a beautiful old camera, and it still had film in it?”
“I still have that picture of us.”
She laughed. “Still? For what?”
Jung Min wrapped his fingers around the warm mug in front of him. “When I miss you, I look at it.”
“I was just a silly exchange student. You couldn’t have imagined we’d stay together.”
“No, you’re right, I didn’t.”
Their eyes met, and for a second Talia wondered if his lips still tasted of peppermint.
“Your Korean has improved,” he uttered, looking back down at his coffee.
“I’ve been teaching my…” She said, trailing off.
“Children?” He finished for her, smiling again. “how are they doing?”
“Fine,” she said awkwardly, “thanks for asking.”
“How many do you have now? Two?”
“Three. I just had another a few months ago. I have a great husband. He works so hard, and it allows me to do what I want with our kids. I write and do photography.”
“You don’t look like you have three kids.”
“Yes I do, underneath all these clothes!” She laughed.
“You’re beautiful anyway.”
“Thank you, Jung Min.” She bit the smile off her lip and looked down.
“So, what are you doing in Korea?”
“A photo expo. They asked me to be the guest photographer. I was quite excited.”
“Ah, that sounds like you. Of course you must be amazing at it.”
“Eh, not really. It’s just a hobby.”
They were silent for a few minutes, and Talia took a look around at the restaurant. It was a stunning little place, set up with dim lights and gorgeous flowers of all different types. She could suddenly, very faintly, smell the air from the day they met. She inhaled the petrichor as she walked outside, searching for a rainbow when she, lost in her own swimming thoughts, stumbled into another’s.
And when Jung Min looked at her, everything within him was swept away.
“Do you think you might want to go for a walk?” she asked suddenly, surprising him.
“But what about dinner?” He asked, confused.
“Never mind that. There’s something I need to do.”
They stepped outside and she closed her eyes, inhaling deeply, praying for a single moment it was there. And in that night, through the rot of the day behind it, was the sweet after scent of the rain, heavy on her heart. “Do you smell that?” She asked, looking at him, listening to the wild traffic rolling by.
He sniffed, slightly confused. “Smell what?”
She stepped closer to him and whispered, “close your eyes.” Then she put her lips to his ear and asked, “do you smell it?” She put her hands over his ears and he took a deep breath.
“It smells like… you.”
She smiled, knowing exactly what he meant.
When their eyes met again, something ignited in his heart, brighter and wilder than ever before, and he pushed her into the nearest wall, ravaging her mouth with his own. The kiss was deep, passionate, and absolutely forbidden.
“JMinnie, we can’t!” she giggled, falling down.
“Why not?” he asked sitting over her, pinning her wrists to the ground behind her.
“Because,” she said trying to wiggle free, “we just can’t.”
“Yes!” he exclaimed, leaning in, enclosing her mouth with his own.
“Mmm,” she said, the sound vibrating on his tongue.”
He pulled back with a laugh. “Alright, we can’t run away, you win.”
She pushed him and they switched positions, and then she kissed him. “I know, I always win.”
She winked and sat up, then began setting up the picnic he had brought for them to share.
“Jung Min, we can’t.” She pulled back, lungs desperate for air. It was as if he had wanted to suck the very air from her soul in that kiss.
“Why not?” he asked.
“I’m married! I have children!”
“I have someone waiting too, you know.”
“How is she?” She asked bitterly.
“She’s fine. My parents are pleased with her. We’re comfortable.”
“Then why?” Her eyes searched for an answer in his, but she couldn’t find one.
He huffed and said, “Stop looking for an answer! Don’t you feel it? I still love you!” He crashed his lips against hers again and she let him.
“Why?” she begged, pulling his arm, tears threatening to fall.
“Because I have to. I have to.”
“Because they want you to! They are forcing you to! How could you let them tear us apart?” she sobbed, tears actually splashing down from her wide eyes.
“They’re my parents. I can’t say no.”
“No, you’re afraid to say no. You’re afraid to disappoint them. Fine, I won’t be your disappointment anymore.” She turned away, letting go of his arm, letting go of him.
He wanted to call out for her, but he couldn’t find the courage to say the words he needed her to hear.
They fumbled around in the dark room, grabbing each other desperately, making up for the time lost.
“I missed you, Tali,” he whispered.
“I missed you too, JMinnie.”
Her fingers slid open the buttons of his shirt effortlessly, and he knew each curve of her body like he had sculpted her from clay with his own two hands.
“Nothing has changed,” he muttered more to himself than to her.
“Everything has,” she whispered back into his collar, her hot breath brushing it.
They were home alone, and he had popcorn in the microwave. She turned on a silly television show she didn’t recognize and he sat down next to her. Eventually the show was forgotten and they were looking at each other as if they were completely new to one another.
In the comfort of his bed, she slid off her shirt.
They smiled and their lips met. With shaking fingers, he put his hand on her side and whispered “I love you.”
“I love you too,” she whispered, cuddled up next to him, warm and at home.
“In the morning, we’ll have to go.”
“But it’s not the morning,” she said, smiling.
“No,” he agreed, “it’s not.”
He leaned into her, holding her close for one last time before saying goodbye.
“I won’t be back,” she said, sadness present in her words.
“I know,” he said.
She smiled at him and he nodded, knowing the goodbye would be their last.
“When you’re at home with her, think of me sometimes, okay?” She asked, teasing.
He smiled half-heartedly. “Okay, I will.”
He grabbed her wrist. “Please, please don’t leave. I’ll tell them I can’t be with her! I need you. I need you here with me.”
“What happened to ‘I can’t say no?’” Please don’t do this to me. I can’t stay here. I can’t be with you anymore.”
“But I can’t let you go. With you, my heart just explodes.”
She wiped a tear away roughly. “Jung Min, I love you so much. And I know that you love me. So you have to understand why I have to do this. You have to let me go if you love me. I’ll come back to you.”
He released his grip on her and watched as she walked away, the loudspeaker announcing her flight was boarding.
“You’ll be back,” Jung Min said with a sly grin.
“Maybe,” she said forcing a grin herself.
“No, not maybe. I know you will.”
She smiled brightly, “You’re silly JMinnie. I have to go, my flight is boarding. It was lovely seeing you again, thank you.”
He wrapped her up in his arms, inhaling her scent. “You’re welcome. Come back anytime.”
She nodded into his shoulder and then pulled away. She took a long look at him one more time, and spun on her heel, quickly walking away.
Tears stung her eyes as she felt him slipping away from her again, turning into nothing but a memory once more.
He felt something wet roll down his cheek and it shocked him. He touched his cheek and pulled his fingers back to examine what could possibly be wet on his face. To his surprise, he discovered it was a tear.