Time for another of my published works, serialized for this webpage.
This week, I begin sharing The Faces They Wore, a story I published as part of Nothing Too Familiar by the Busan Writing Group. This work really brings in a lot of my experience in Korea, I think, as I tackled some of the cultural differences I’ve heard of through my friends and experienced myself.
The Faces They Wore by TCC Edwards
Daniel zipped up his jacket as he shivered in the mountain air. Felix sighed, his eyes drifting across the vista.
“You weren’t having fun at that wedding,” he said, “I know she was at the school before I arrived – you two dated or something?”
“I wish. I was crazy about her, but she wanted to be friends. Like all the girls back home.”
“Fuck, that’s rough. But hey, you know what you can do…”
“Yeah, yeah – you told me already.”
“It’s no biggie, mate. Just go to the streets around the love motels near the beach. Show your cash, get some lady in the sack. No different than a one-night stand, right?”
Daniel rolled his eyes as he looked away from Felix.
“You’re kidding. You’ve never had a one-nighter?”
“Wait. No way – you’ve never done it, have you?”
“Huh. That is rough. High school must have been hell.”
Daniel snorted a laugh. “University was worse.”
“Why? You’re not hideous or anything.”
“Studied hard, like everyone told me. Didn’t really ask anyone out until second year. Awkward every time, let me tell ya.”
“Huh. Well, whatever you do, never let the ladies know you’re … you know, inexperienced.”
“Thanks, but I had figured that out.”
“Just making sure. And hey, you think about my little suggestion.”
Felix threw up his arms, conceding defeat.
They stood a minute longer, looking out over the stone wall, taking in the tree–lined mountainside.
“I gotta go. There’s that one bartender in Hollywood Star – you remember her?”
“I think so. Orange hair, really short, …”
“Huge boobs, exactly! I’m helping her set up the Valentine’s stuff tonight. We got a thing going – just bunkmates for a bit, you know?”
“Just like that, huh?” Daniel faked a smile, “Keep it safe, I guess?”
“Don’t worry; I never tell them my real name. See you Monday!”
Daniel stifled his polite chuckle as Felix turned away. As he watched Felix turn to the path down the mountain, he wondered if Felix had really been joking. Why does someone like Felix get all the girls?
Daniel walked along the stony path before the temple. The doors of the main shrine were open as he passed before them, allowing a glimpse of a golden Buddha with colorful paper lanterns hung above his head. The polished floor before the Buddha was empty, with only a single low podium and microphone visible through the wooden doorway. Daniel stepped on the low stone stair just outside the frame, a sharp sandalwood scent filling his lungs as he examined a bowl with sticks of incense set just before the Buddha. No different than a one–night stand? No. Of course I won’t do it. Shaking his head, he turned away from the Buddha, walking around the small pond set into the center of the stony ground before the temple. He allowed himself a last look at the peaceful place before descending the tree–lined path down the mountain.
Felix and the orange–haired girl were a blur as they danced. People jostled and bumped Daniel from all sides as the world of the bar warped around him. Couples danced tightly, rubbing and grinding.
He found his seat at last, his jacket still draped over it. He stood next to the chair, grasping its back as he looked around the tables at the sides of the bar. Couples and groups drank, managing conversations through the intense music. There. She’s alone.
There was a girl at the bar, the seat next to her now empty. Just talk. If I could just talk – I don’t need more than that, do I? Moving quickly, he took the empty seat just as the girl emptied her drink.
“Buy you another?”
She quickly looked him over.
“No thanks.” She turned to the bartender and ordered, not giving Daniel another glance.
“Oh.” What more could he say?
Daniel stood awkwardly, stumbling back to his seat. He dropped in, barely noticing the jacket as he sat on it. He poured the last shot from the soju bottle still waiting before him. Should I find another girl? Or will it be the same damn story?
He heard Felix’s suggestion in his head again, as he had so many times over the last month. Haven’t I waited long enough? I could have a taste, just a hint while I wait for the right girl.
He stood. Somehow, he navigated his drunken haze and found Felix. Felix looked up, and Daniel shouted a quick goodbye over the techno thumping. Felix waved as the girl pulled him close for another grinding dance.
He stumbled down the filthy street, fumbling with the zipper on his jacket in the chill breeze. The subway had cleared some of the haze in his head, but his steps were still slow, carefully measured. On this first trek down the first alley, he barely noticed the women smiling coyly through neon–lined windows. Instead, he checked every corner and shadow, fearing that someone he knew might see him. It’s not too late, he thought. I took a wrong turn; I wanted to see this place for myself. He could still escape from this foolishness.
Sighing, he turned and followed a parallel alley back the way he had come. Time to go – I’ve had my look. He strode back, fixing his eyes on the street at the end of the alley and avoiding the pink neon haze at the edges of his vision.
He was almost free of the alley when there was a wide, welcoming smile ahead of him. Daniel returned it, despite the sudden tension gripping his insides. The girl was standing inside one of the many glass doors, holding it open as he walked toward her.
“Hey,” she whispered, “Come in?”
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