Personal Taste (the novel): Part 2
Now that the premise is established, this is where the plot really gets going. Some of my favorite bits are in these chapters, because this is where the gay/not-gay misunderstandings start to unravel, and hate turns to uh-oh-maybe-not-hate?
(In case you missed the intro, here are Chapters 1-3.)
Chapter 4: “Caught by an ankle”
(“Caught by the ankle” is a phrase meaning you’ve been ensnared — i.e., he “caught me by the ankle” and used my weakness to threaten me into agreeing. But in this case, it’s true both in the figurative AND literal sense. Ha.)
Jin-ho is now living with Woo-min, but they’ve barely seen much of each other, mostly because Jin-ho prefers to avoid her. He hasn’t been back to his own apartment, either, so Hye-mi calls to demand why he’s not coming home. She has been drinking and bursts out tearily that he’s being mean — after she came all the way from Canada to see him!
Hye-mi’s friend Tae-hoon (played by Im Seul-ong, at left) takes over the phone, respectfully addressing Jin-ho as his hyungnim. Jin-ho thanks him for taking care of her, leading Tae-hoon to ask hesitantly if he’s really going to marry her. In Tae-hoon’s opinion, it doesn’t seem like Jin-ho loves Hye-mi — if he did, he’d come running to help her. Rather than being offended, the question makes Jin-ho think seriously about his relationship with Hye-mi.
Coming home from work late at night, Jin-ho finds Woo-min dozing on the couch, listening to a fairly obscure Japanese musician he likes. He still thinks of Woo-min with disdain and therefore is not eager to draw similarities between them, even when it turns out they’ve got a number of things in common. For instance, when Woo-min awakens, she shows him sketches she’s drawn for new characters on the TV program and asks Jin-ho for his opinion. He picks her favorite, and when he compliments her drawing, she says she used to dream of being a manhwa artist — something Jin-ho also once wanted. He doesn’t share that with her, of course.
Woo-min gets hungry, and suggests they head out to a neighborhood grill restaurant. He tries to decline, but she insists. Sighing, Jin-ho decides to go, although he can’t resist commenting on her ugly sweater, then chides himself for bothering (“So what if she looks homeless?”). Woo-min isn’t offended, and cheerfully takes his advice and changes. (And assumes he paid attention to her style because he’s gay, of course!)
To Jin-ho’s dismay, he recognizes a professional acquaintance at the restaurant — Kim Sung-han, the planning director for the new museum building project Jin-ho’s team is hoping to acquire.
(Note: The character’s name is different, but it sounds like this will be the character played by Ryu Seung-ryong. If so, I LOVE it. You’ll see why in a moment.)
Woo-min gets tipsy drinking soju and starts to air her grievances about men and how they all want sex. Embracing Jin-ho as her new confidant, she talks loudly, and he dearly hopes that Sung-han cannot hear them. Especially when she engages the nearby ajusshi in conversation and clarifies that Jin-ho, of course, is different. Jin-ho tries to hush Woo-min, but she says in a loud whisper, “He’s not like other men! Because HE’S GAY!”
The reason I find Woo-min so adorable is because she’s a little dense, but she means well and she speaks out of a genuine good nature. This makes for hilarious exchanges, such as when she asks him for a piggyback ride home. He balks, and she immediately corrects herself, “I’m sorry. I suppose your back is reserved for Sang-jun only?” Grimly, he orders her on his back and carries her home.
Later, he comes out of his room to find Woo-min sleeping on the sofa. The glimpse of her sleeping face and her bare legs strangely attracts him, and he feels the urge to touch one ankle. Knowing this is crazy, he convinces himself that he’s only going to move her leg, which is dangling over the edge at an awkward angle, and does so… which is when Woo-min wakes, wondering groggily why he’s touching her leg. Thankfully she accepts his lame excuse that she looked uncomfortable — but she takes it a step further and he finds himself roped into giving her a leg massage. (HA! Serves him right.)
Chapter 5: “Things that ought not be suffered”
Disturbed at his wayward feelings, Jin-ho tries to ignore them, wondering if he’s a perv to be attracted to such a mess of a woman. He decides it’s because he’s been celibate so long: this can be fixed moving out and finding a girlfriend.
At work, he takes a meeting with the museum’s planning director, Sung-han from the restaurant, who regretfully tells him that they have decided against working with his company after all. Jin-ho recalls the scene at the restaurant, and suspects this may have something to do with it. He broaches the topic carefully, asking if this has anything to do with last night (implication: Do you have something against working with gay people?). Sung-han assures him that it’s not it, and confides that the president suddenly decided he wants to hire Professor Park’s (Woo-min’s father) team.
Jin-ho can’t give up after all the work his team has poured into the project, and pleads for one more chance. He’s confident that he, a longtime devotee of Park, can design in his style even better than Park’s associates, who may not have the man’s aesthetic.
Sung-han agrees to give him another chance, and shakes his hand. And then comments, “Your hands… are quite nice.” Jin-ho smiles uncomfortably, and wraps the meeting up. Sung-han, however, draws out the conversation, even inviting Jin-ho along to a trip at his vacation villa with other friends. Jin-ho politely says maybe next time, and gets up to go. But Sung-han insists on going to lunch together, just the two of them.
Alarmed, Jin-ho puts two and two together. Surely… he’s not making a move on him? He starts to set Sung-han straight, but Sung-han grabs his hand and confesses, “Actually, I liked you from the first time I saw you. When I found out the truth yesterday, you don’t know how glad I was!”
Thankfully, best buddy Sang-jun opens the door and interrupts this cozy moment, and Jin-ho escapes. Now he has to explain the situation to Sang-jun, who finds this wonderfully entertaining. So Woo-min thinks he’s gay? Jin-ho puts a swift end to his amusement by adding, “Not just me, you too.”
Jin-ho’s impulse is to put an end to this whole wretched mess by moving out, but now his work project is tied up in Woo-min’s house. He must stay there in order to study it thoroughly if he wants to land this project.
Meanwhile, Woo-min receives fresh oysters from a co-worker friend, who shares the batch her mother had sent from her hometown. Excited to have something to share with Jin-ho, Woo-min gets busy cooking them in a gratin dish. Can you see where this is heading?
Chapter 6: “The intersection of hate and love”
Yup, food poisoning!
The next day at the office, Jin-ho starts to feel ill. He heads to the pharmacy for a tonic to settle his stomach, but unfortunately he can’t hold it in any longer and has to use their bathroom to relieve his diarrhea. Dammit! This would be humiliating for anyone, but it’s even worse for Jin-ho, who has his cool, chic image to uphold. Plus, he’s been flirting with the cute pharmacist for weeks.
When he returns to the office, he has an odd visitor: Woo-min’s friend In-hee, who was “just in the neighborhood.” He receives her curtly and declines her suggestion to lunch together, which insults her pride. Put out, she tells him he’s being quite rude when she was just trying to be friends, but he replies that he has no desire to make new friends and excuses her.
And he doesn’t even know the full truth! After meeting Jin-ho at Woo-min’s house, In-hee had felt attracted to him and thought it was too bad he was gay. For some odd reason he doesn’t ping her gaydar, which is usually accurate; in the fashion field, she works with a lot of gay men. Not ready to give up on him until she has to, In-hee is out to confirm for herself that he’s unavailable. Upon leaving his office, she sees someone else arriving, growing suspicious to witness Jin-ho’s friendliness toward Hye-mi. She hangs back and requests a talk with Hye-mi, who is just as curious to figure out who this lady is.
Both women exaggerate their claim on Jin-ho. Hye-mi calls herself Jin-ho’s fiancee, which tips In-hee off that something doesn’t add up. Jin-ho is either lying to Hye-mi that he’s straight, or he’s lying to her that he’s gay. Either way, this gives her the confidence to boldly state that she’s Jin-ho’s girlfriend. Of course, Hye-mi doesn’t believe her, but she can also sense that things don’t add up and can’t completely dismiss In-hee’s claim.
Woo-min hears from her friend that the oysters were bad, because her mother had sent the wrong batch. Woo-min worries, because Jin-ho had eaten them all. What if he got sick? She hadn’t had a chance to taste any because she had offered them to Jin-ho, thinking to eat together. He, feeling uncomfortable with his newfound attraction, had opted to avoid her and took the dinner plate to his room.
When he gets home that evening, she asks if he got sick and experienced any diarrhea. Normally he’d be too proud to admit it, but he’s irritated and barks that yes, he got sick and it’s all her fault! Immediately, she feels contrite and fusses over him, giving him things to settle his stomach. She offers to make him some soothing porridge, and hurries off to the kitchen.
As she walks away, Jin-ho finds himself inadvertently looking at her legs. Too bad she’s wearing long trousers today, and Jin-ho chides himself furiously, “What the hell! Why are you disappointed?!”
He awakens from a nap to hear yelps from the kitchen, and comes out to see it looking like a hurricane hit. Woo-min is not much of a cook and has burned her attempt at dinner. Jin-ho takes over, and as he cooks (and she marvels), he finds her cute for the first time. In no time he’s got a delicious spread prepared, which they eat together. He even forces himself to drink the instant coffee she makes him, which is noteworthy coming from a guy who refuses anything if it’s not his favorite gourmet brand.
They take a walk outside while chatting, and she tricks him by slipping in fake stories as she relates the history of the house, then teases him for being gullible. All in all, the mood is pleasant, and Woo-min tells him, “At first impression you seem difficult, but once you get to talking, you’re like a longtime friend, and you accept jokes well. That’s why I get a very comfortable and friendly feeling from you, do you know that?” This is possibly the first time he’s had someone describe him that way, and he’s embarrassed and pleased by it.
As they lie down under a tree, she falls asleep. He tries to wake her, but for some odd reason — possibly the romance of the moment with the beautiful surroundings, gentle wind, flowery fragrance in the air — he finds himself leaning over to kiss her forehead.
And then he comes to his senses. Alarmed at his feelings, Jin-ho dives into his go-to source of comfort with manhwa books. He picks up a collection from the manhwa store and heads home. Woo-min glances at the titles and recognizes them — it’s a rather obscure series — and comments how rare it is to find a friend who likes this artist. In fact, she once had a friend in an online club who liked this artist, and they’d hit it off. They even had similar user names, and she’d been sad when he stopped writing her.
This is starting to ring a bell, especially when she mentions that his user name was “Spark Boy.” He laughs in disbelief and asks, “Then, Spark Girl? Was that you?”