Abandoned Chapter 3
Choi Kang Ju
From the expression on her face, I know that she did not expect to see me as she exited the station. I had seen the teen going for her wallet and watched as she and the girl got taken into the station by the cop. It was fascinating to watch the exchange. Arissa’s eyes were hard and cold as she stared at the young girl. I was surprised that she insisted the girl be punished in some way even though it appeared to be the child’s first offense.
“What are you doing here?”
“I saw what happened and was curious how you were fairing,” I reply, keeping my eyes locked on hers. Her eyes narrow a bit, but she says nothing to my comment. She continues walking and I fall in step beside her. “You must be hungry as I’m starving. Let’s get something to eat.” If she is surprised by my offer, she doesn’t say and just lets me take the lead to a nearby café that I frequent because they serve the most delicious dumplings.
As we sit and wait for our food, my curiosity gets the better of me. “Why did you not take it easy on that kid?” Arissa slowly looks up from her black tea and gives me a scrutinizing look.
“She was lying,” she eventually says.
Our food arrives and the awkward atmosphere is covered by our eating. I am shocked to see just how good an appetite this strange woman had after everything. It was new to see a girl eating with such gusto in my presence. She is interesting, this Arissa. When the food is gone, I find myself wanting to know more about the whole situation. “What did you say?”
Arissa looks up at me and cocks her head to the left. “When?”
“At the station, just before you walked out.”
“Ah…that. ‘You don’t know the meaning of suffering’ is what I told her.”
“And you do?” I ask, incredulous that this woman from America has the right to be so judgmental.
“Yes, I do. To be honest, from that kid’s appearance to how she acted, it was obvious she wasn’t struggling or suffering all that much. She was wearing designer clothes even if they were older. Her eyes…her eyes showed she wasn’t hungry or tired. How can she justify stealing because she’s ‘in need’?”
“You must be very observant.’
Arissa chuckles. “Yes and no.” She clears her throat and finishes her tea. “I spent my childhood on the streets. When you have nowhere to go, nothing to eat, no shelter or place to call your own…you show it. You can’t help it. When will you be able to eat again? Will you be able to find a warm place to sleep for the night? Are you desperate enough to survive that you start to steal?” She looks me straight in the eye and tells me that it really takes that personal experience to be able to gauge others.
“Lies,” I say, even though I am not certain I really believe she is lying to me. Her matter-of-factness makes it feel true.
She shrugs her shoulders and checks her watch. I can tell she doesn’t want to go back to the house. I can’t say I blame her as I am sure my uncle will be there and ready to pounce after the meeting and her proposal. As much as it is a good thing for Shinhwa, he doesn’t want his brother involved.
“How old are you?”
She jumps as if startled by the question. “That’s rather out of the blue.”
“I’m curious,” I say. She is using formal speech with me and my family, so it is hard to guage.
“26,” she says, her blue eyes twinkling. “You?”
“Ah, should I talk informally to you then?”
“Not just yet,” I say. “I have a proposal—you need the votes for your merger idea. I’m willing to show my support if you can do one thing.”
Her eyes narrow. “What?”
“Simply put, prove it.” I lean back in my chair to study her even more closely. She seems to war with herself a bit before responding.
“That you weren’t lying earlier. You have one week to show me.”
“Call,” she says leaning back in her own seat and crossing her arms over her chest.
I grin. I had a feeling she would accept the challenge. “Fine. We’ll start tonight then. I’ll have Mr. Lim grab a change of clothes for you that would be more appropriate.” This gives me one week to also learn as much about her as I can while keeping her out of my family’s wrath for the time being. Oddly enough, I am highly anticipating learning more.
It is an odd request, but I can’t refuse. I can’t let my Samchon down. This battle will be easier if I can get at least Choi Kang Ju on my side. If he helps, then his mother and father are sure to back him as well and that means that Eun Tae wouldn’t have the grounds to stand against Samchon anymore. This is one of the few ways I can repay all he has done for the three of us over these last 12 years.
When Mr. Lim comes, I change out of my suit and into jeans and an oversize sweater and beat up jacket. Heels are exchanged for my worn out combat boots. Kang Ju arches an eyebrow at my attire, but I don’t care. I don’t like fancy things and am not embarrassed at my older casual clothes. I hand over my secret wallet so that I have no cash. This surprises him.
“You’re not keeping any money?”
I smile grimly. “Don’t worry, I’ve survived for much longer with nothing before.” I walk out of the café after agreeing to meet him back there in one week’s time. Unlike 20 years ago, I am no longer a child. I have more options for survival. While the week won’t be easy, it definitely won’t be as hard as the time I ran away from my addict mother.
The American lady from Eun Su’s company has not been around for days already. I know that my younger brother would not send anyone who would just shirk her duties. I study my son. He has been behaving oddly of late. When I asked him about this Arissa, all he says is that he met and the two have an agreement. What agreement? Just what is my son doing that leaves him looking so grave? Even his personal driver Mr. Lim who must know something refuses to tell me.
A large manila envelope is delivered via special courier to Kang Ju. The envelope is addressed in English. Just what is he doing? Kang Ju says nothing and takes the envelope, spreading its contents all over his desk. I do see a picture of the American woman.
“What is all of this, Kang Ju?”
“My homework,” he says simply. I look over his shoulder and I see a picture of a little waif-like girl staring up from a grainy photograph in an old newspaper clipping. I don’t know much English, but I can make out that underneath the picture it says the child is missing. Another picture shows Eun Su with three children. Looking closer, the little waif from the newspaper clipping is obviously the same girl.
I point at the group picture. “What is this?”
Kang Ju squnts at the photograph before returning back to his report. “It just says that Eun Su fook on three foster children.” My son smirks. “No wonder he trusted her to come in his stead, ohmma.” He looks back at all the pictures and information and his smirk fades and a new expression that I have never seen before in his eyes takes over. What is that? A hint of pained sadness?
“Is your uncle Eun Tae making you dig up information on Eun Su and the girl?”
“No. I told you, this is my homework.” He pats the paperwork and looks up at me. “I think we can trust Arissa-ssi and Uncle Eun Su.”
This announcement surprises me. What would make my son say that? “Kang Ju…you…” I trail off. I must be mistaken. There is no way this foreign woman from the US could attract my son, could she?
“Where they hell have you been, Arissa?” I ask after finally getting through after nearly a week.
“Busy. Lot’s to do,” she says. Her voice sounds strained. How I wish I was there to see her expression. Just what is happening in Korea? “Tell Samchon to go over the information I emailed him. It’s the initial research report for the presentation next month.”
“It’s not I like I need to tell him anything.” There is a long pause before a long sigh.
“I am not in the mood, Jay,” Arissa says. She gets like that sometimes, as if she is older than I am when it is the other way around. She calls it a chip on my shoulder. We both know that I would never have agreed to stay with Eun Su if it had not been for both her sake and Hyeon Seung’s.
“I’m sorry. I’m just tired,” I say. “Have you seen Hyeon Seong?”
“Not yet. He is coming back to Seoul in a few days and I will go see him then.”
“How…are things going?” I drum my fingers nervously as I still feel something is not right and I know that no matter what, Arissa won’t tell him what’s going on.
“Things…?” She pauses for a minute. “As well as can be expected I suppose. Look, Jay, I need to go. I’ll talk to you later, okay?”
And just like that she hangs up. Her voice sounded odd. I know that. WHY did Eun Su send her over there all alone to deal with his family that he himself hadn’t seen in 20 or so years?
“How is Arissa doing?”
I put down the phone and turn around to see Eun Su in the doorway. He looks quite young for his age and is handsome in his charcoal slacks and black turtleneck. His gaze is always the most unfathomable thing about him. It’s the reason I am never certain what he is really thinking and feeling. Does he regard the three of us as his family? As his children? Does he really have our best interests at heart?
“Don’t tell me you haven’t talked to her in a while either!”
“No. I talked to her just the other day,” he replies before turning to leave.
“Exactly how bad is your family?” I blurt out before he can go. His back stiffens and it takes him a long while to answer.
“They are neither bad nor good. They are as they have always been I am sure.” Typical Eun Su, never a straight answer when you want one.
“Samchon…if anything happens to Arissa…”
“Don’t worry. Nothing bad will happen to her. I’ve got someone watching over her in Korea—she is not alone there.” Eun Su then says nothing more and leaves. Who? Who does he have in Korea? And why do I have this sense of foreboding that something is happening that can change things for good?