Black Sun (Part 1) – Sleepless
Stephanie was woken up by the blasting of the storm’s intimidating fireworks. The sound of thunder and rain beating against the window did not sound pleasant to her at all, especially the ghastly howling of the wind seeping through the cracks. They were like trumpets warning her of danger and she feared it like a little child.
Just as she was about to grumble under the bad weather, she caught a glimpse of Jinwon hidden among the sheets. She slightly pulled down the blanket to get better view of him and she quickly bursts into giggles. Last night, she imagined him sleeping like an angel, but reality was far from that. His face was deeply pressed against the pillow and his hair exploded in every direction. When he turned his head, his eyebrows crumpled and were followed by soft, uncomfortable groans. She found it cute and reminisced for a moment how he once spoke out clear words while asleep in the past. Even then, he had a lot of repressed stress. It made her wonder what bothered him this time. She caressed his hair hoping his mood would lighten up in his sleep. In no time, his features became more gentle and at peace.
When Stephanie got up and decided to cook some breakfast, Jinwon slowly woke up from his stressful dream. He lay there for a few seconds with his eyes still closed, trying his hardest to remember what reality was and what wasn’t. Did he have sex with Stephanie? No, the night ended without it happening… right? He immediately looked down under the sheets to see if the things he witnessed in his sleep were really all just a dream. He had full clothing on and there were absolutely no traces of alcohol anywhere. That was good. Maybe his brain just got way ahead of him because of last night’s sudden make-out session. That sex scene was not a memory of his past, no, no. It just can’t be…
Soon, he smelled something being cooked up. He quickly got up, washed his face, and walked out of his bed room. As he groggily scratched his head and walked to the kitchen, he found Stephanie cooking up some scrambled eggs.
“Sorry if eggs are the only option in to cook,” Jinwon chuckled.
“Oh, that’s alright. I’m used to having an empty fridge,” Stephanie laughed. “Now, it’s ready,” Stephanie said as she moved the eggs to a plate. “Let’s eat.”
As they ate rice and scrambled eggs with some kimchi for breakfast, their phones vibrated beside them. Both looked at their phone and surprisingly, they received the same text. It was from YongHwan.
“Guys, could you please go visit the hospital today? I’d love it if you would support JooHyun. She’s on labor right now. She’ll probably pop our baby out anytime soon.”
Since they were both close friends of SeoHyun, they couldn’t say no. So after eating breakfast, they both freshened up and went to the hospital. The rain still poured on, but that didn’t stop Jinwon from driving them to the hospital.
Eunji turned her head to the window as the skies started to rumble. She was seated on the far left side of her class near the windows. She could see the whole view outside clearly. Everything was gloomy and the trees were swinging from the wind’s pressure. She didn’t like what she was seeing. She was a girl who liked sunny days and got most of her energy from the bright and shining sunlight.
“Hmm… the sun isn’t gonna show up, isn’t it?” she mumbled to herself and sighed.
The bell loudly rang like a fire alarm on Eunji’s high school. It was lunch time. Eunji cheerfully packed up her notebooks and prepared to leave. All day, he had been looking forward to talk with Kibum. Yesterday night, Kibum insisted to stay in her home until she finally fell asleep. Kibum even tucked her in that night. It was the first time she ever felt her heart pump for Kibum. She wanted to get to know him more. She wanted to be a better friend, or even a better girl for him.
With a big smile plastered on her face, she looked at Kibum who was just a few seats away to her right. However, her smile slowly went down when she saw him acting very depressed as he lazily dropped his notebooks into his bag. Where did the foolish, smiling boy go? Every time the bell rang, he would always greet her with such a bright aura, but now he barely lifted his head for anyone. What could possibly be wrong with him today?
As Eunji stood up from her seat to approach Kibum, two girls stopped her. Sarong, who was seated in front of Eunji, and Bomyi, who was seated beside her took a glance at Kibum, then back to Eunji. The two were noticed that something was going on. Eunji would never stare at Kibum for a minute, but now, they can’t even get Eunji’s attention. They’ve been calling Eunji for some time now, but there was no response.
“Yah, Eunji-ah!” Sarang slammed a notebook onto Eunji’s arm. Eunji softly yelped in pain and glared at Sarang.
“Aaaissh! What was that?” Eunji grumbled as she rubbed the part that was hit.
“What’s with you today? You were dosing off,” Sarang said.
“Dosing off to Kibum’s direction,” Bomyi added with a smirk.
“Y-yah… I wasn’t,” Eunji stuttered, trying to hold her chin up high.
“Tch… You’re suddenly easy to read,” Sarang mumbled, but loud enough for Eunji to hear. Eunji just snarled and scratched her head. She looked away and slightly blushed. She couldn’t help it. She knew her friends already somewhat knew how she was feeling towards Kibum. She didn’t have to say it. She took one last glance at Kibum who was leaving the room. Kibum still looked depressed, and that made her heart feel a little heavy. Trying to brush it off, she said to Sarang and Bomyi, “Come on, let’s go and eat lunch.”
“Fany-ahh!!!” Jessica jumped in excitement and hugged Stephanie as soon as she entered the room.
“Oh, you’re here,” Stephanie responded by giving her best friend a quick, tight squeeze. Then she warmly waved to JooHyun who was lying on the hospital bed. When she withdrew from Jessica’s hug the two men YongHwan and Yohan stood up to take turns to greet her, too.
“Oh, Jinwon?” Jessica’s eyebrows shot up, startled that he was following behind. Stephanie turned her head to Jinwon and clung to his arm just to boast about how close they were starting to become. Jinwon blushed from Stephanie’s sudden gesture but he did not fight it. Jessica and Yohan exchanged smirks at each other. They liked what they were seeing.
“Hi Sica, hi Yohan,” Jinwon cheerfully greeted. “Where’s Yoona and SooJung?”
“They’re in Hyungsoo and Sunny’s care. Waiting here in the hospital will just make those kids tired.”
“Oh… okay,” Jinwon nodded. Actually, he wanted to play with those two little girls, but it’s not going to happen today.
“Oh, I’m glad you came,” YongHwan said with a smile on his face. He hugged Stephanie and then Jinwon, softly patting the man’s back. He was feeling quite anxious about her wife and her about-to-be-born child the whole day. Seeing more of his friends show up took a bit of the pressure off him.
“Did you both come here together?” Jessica asked.
“Yeah… I slept in his apartment so I-” Stephanie stopped herself, realizing how she sounded just now. She knew the things coming out of her mouth were not right since Yohan and Jessica immediately got the wrong message with their jaws slowly gaping at her. “I mean, uh… He doesn’t have a car… so I went to his uh… he drove here.”
“She slept in my apartment because of the storm last night,” Jinwon explained, his words not stuttering. “She just slept so stop thinking weird things.”
“So how is the baby? Are there any complications?” Stephanie asked as she touched JooHyun’s belly.
“So far, the doctor said everything’s going fine, so we’re okay Unnie,” JooHyun smiled. “I’m still kind of nervous, though. The contractions started last night so I know this baby will be born today, but my heart won’t stop beating loudly just by thinking about when it will finally be out.”
“Oh, I think that’s pretty natural for every expecting mother, don’t you think?” Stephanie said, turning to Jessica.
“Oh yeah, it is,” Jessica nodded. “I’ve experienced it twice, so I know how it feels. You may be really scared and nervous right now, but I bet the moment the kid comes out, you’ll forget about everything that gave you a hard time.”
“Wow, really? And to think you’ve felt it twice… I really admire you, Sica Unnie,” JooHyun chuckled as her eyes sparkled in amazement. “You’re a strong woman.” Her eyes then turned to Stephanie who was right beside her. Stephanie noticed her gaze and felt SeoHyun had something to say.
“What?” Stephanie asked.
“Oh, nothing…” JooHyun glanced at Jinwon then back to Stephanie and sheepishly smiled. She also wanted to complement Stephanie for being a strong woman. Stephanie has also gone through this and was indeed the strongest out of the three of them. Just by looking at the couple, it was obvious to see how the truth has not been revealed yet.
“Ah… I feel so old,” Jessica sighed. “First you, then me, and now our maknae, who we used to call Seobaby… Ahh, how time passes by.”
Stephanie tried her hardest not to react to Jessica’s statement, but JooHyun was startled since she tried so hard to be careful with her words. Yohan, too, was surprised by what she said and nudged his wife with a soft glare. Jessica became a bit confused by Yohan’s slight scolding but it suddenly hit her when she repeated her words in her head. Before she could correct them, Jinwon had already processed what came out of her mouth.
“Stephanie?” Jinwon turned her head to Stephanie. “What do you mean Stephanie was first?” Stephanie stayed silent but she stared at Jessica hoping she had a good excuse to give. She knew the truth would come out someday but she didn’t want it to come from someone other than herself or from his memories.
“Ah… ahahaha,” Jessica awkwardly laughed. “Did I say that? It’s nothing. I’m just a bit tired. I haven’t slept last night…”
“You’re lying, aren’t you?” Jinwon glared at Jessica and everyone quietly anticipated how Jessica would reply.
Jessica glared back and slightly raised her voice in an annoyed tone, “Hey, I stayed up until 3 am, and you should know how If I don’t get enough sleep, my brain does not function properly.”
Jinwon suspiciously eyed Jessica and everyone else in the room. Jessica’s words were very clear. “First you, then me, and now our maknae.” “You” was referred to as Stephanie, and he knew Jessica was not a person who stutters with her words. So does that mean Stephanie has a child or had a child? It left him something to wonder about. They’ve been separated for 15 years so it would make sense to him. It’s possible that he still has so much more to discover about her. It’s possible for her to already have a family. Whether she was married still or was divorced, somehow it is possible. However, his thoughts would lead him back to their intimacy last night. His thoughts would lead him back to his friends who tried so hard to put them back together. Stephanie was also not the cheating type either. “I guess Stephanie is single and that is certain, but her with a child? What did Jessica exactly mean? Am I over thinking things? Aish! This is driving me crazy,” Jinwon thought and sighed in frustration.
It was already noon and the guests in the hospital had nothing to do. YongHwan insisted they should go home for now, but the four hesitated. If the rain subsides a little, then they would go home, but not now when the storm is pouring on. However, around this time, HaYeon, Jinwon’s sister, managed to arrive at the hospital. As JooHyun’s closest friend, she would not want to miss this special day.
After eating lunch with HaYeon, the four got bored quickly. Jinwon and Stephanie decided to wander in the halls of the hospital and found themselves on an open lounge where people hung out and waited. There was an unoccupied baby-grand piano and Stephanie dragged Jinwon there.
“Play something,” Stephanie said as she sat beside Jinwon.
“I don’t know… I’m not very good at piano.”
“You’ve been learning piano from your student right? I want to know how well she has taught you.”
“Oh, Eunji?” Jinwon wondered. “Hmm… I guess she did teach me well, but I still suck, you know. People here might find my playing irritating.”
“C’mon, you can play as softly as you can!” Jinwon she nudged him.
“No,” Jinwon he sighed feeling burdened and shy. He only learned one song, and that was the Chopin nocturne that had brought them together. Even though he learned it so that he could eventually play it for her again, there were people everywhere. As a musician, he did not want to humiliate himself by making a mistake if he ever did start playing.
“Jin-goo-yah~,” she cutely pouted like a pleading puppy and held his hand, “Please? For me.” Jinwon’s mouth dropped as he was taken aback by her sudden aegyo. Even at thirty-four, somehow she still had an amazing ability to be cute. But since he really did not want to play, it had little effect on him and he just turned his head away and scoffed.
Stephanie paid no attention to his hesitant expression and gently laid out his hand on the keys. She then forcibly stretched out each of his stubborn fingers and spread them properly on the piano.
As soon as she finished fixing them into place, Jinwon glanced back at her, but strangely, the scene changed. In front of him was Stephanie looking extremely down and depressed than how she was enthusiastically forcing him to play. He also noticed that he was back in the studio instead of the hospital. With the different paint of the wall and the different arrangement of furniture, that’s when he realized, he was witnessing a very vivid memory.
He said, “I am not sure if we will end up being together forever… But when I finish this Chopin piece, when I can play it perfectly, when I can play it without my hands trembling, that’s when I’ll know, I’ll be with you forever…”
With a few blinks, he came back to the present day and saw Stephanie cheerfully withdrawing her hands from his. He took a deep breath, relieved that she was smiling again rather than having her bangs darkly hovering over her eyes. He did not want to ever see her in that state and so, he calmed himself down and started taking it away gently.
“Oh!” Stephanie jumped in her seat at the first few notes, surprised and excited that he actually decided to play something. But not even five seconds in, she recognized the tune he played and was left breathless, unable to move a muscle. He played it so perfectly with a sweet and soothing flow that even the people who were around had bobbed their weary heads up to listen.
Stephanie could not believe what she was hearing at this very moment. She knew that Jinwon had been remembering his past lately, but she never thought he would actually play this song again for her. She could still remember the last time he played it which was just a few days before his accident fifteen years ago. When he played this song for her, his tempo always went off trying to find a certain note, he would slightly panic when he made a mistake, and he couldn’t even finish the song. But the most memorable part of that afternoon was his promise. Does he remember what that promise was?
Her heart pounded faster and faster the closer he got to the end. There was a high chance of him finally completing this song due to the fact that he hasn’t made one mistake at all. Louder and louder, her heart pounded, until it froze right when he finished.
Applause echoed throughout the huge room from the guests to the patients and even to the nurses and doctors. No doubt it soothed a large number of people. Jinwon shyly bowed his head to everyone from his seat and he took a few deep breaths to calm himself. He himself couldn’t believe that he was able to play it so perfectly.
“What do you think?” Jinwon asked, snapping Stephanie out of her thoughts.
“That was amazing!” Stephanie clapped with so much awe. “Now, who said you were bad? It was so perfect! You were so good!”
“Really? I’m surprised myself!”
“How were you able to play that?” she asked, still dazed that he was able to finish the piece.
“My teacher taught me well,” he replied and Stephanie remembered that Eunji was the one who had been teaching him piano.
“She taught you well, alright!” Stephanie chuckled, finding another reason to be extremely proud of her daughter.
“By the way, I didn’t play this for nothing,” Jinwon suddenly said. “Um… Fany-ah,” he timidly asked, “What do you think when you hear this song?”
Stephanie blushed and replied, “Us.”
“It’s the same for me, too.” He took a deep breath and continued, “Most of my life I knew so little about classical music, but when I heard this song again about a month ago, I was suddenly so overwhelmed and moved by it. A memory of us came back to me not long after that. And the more I heard it, the more I knew I had to play it for you again. I wasn’t fond at all of playing the piano, but I learned and practiced it every day just for you. I didn’t even know why I was so passionate to complete it, but I think I remember it now.” He stared at her and asked, “Do you remember?”
Stephanie anxiously stared at him right back, unable to say a word. If he remembered the day he made his promise, he should also remember the things she confessed on the same day.
“When I finish this Chopin piece, when I can play it perfectly, that’s when I’ll know I’ll be with you forever,’” Jinwon said.
“Like an assurance,” Stephanie softly added as she clearly remembered his words.
“Yes, like an assurance,” Jinwon smiled. “And even though there’s still so much about each other that we don’t know and we’re still standing on somewhat unstable grounds, I’m not worried it will fail anymore. We got forever on our side.”
Tears brimmed Stephanie’s eyes. Even though she devotedly prayed so much about their relationship, she had been so doubtful and anxious since the very beginning. The longer she kept things from him and lied to him, the more she pictured his haunting and stressed demeanor, ready to leave her life again in an instant. However, hearing these very words from her gave her a new sense of hope. It’s like God has answered her weary heart through this clueless man beside her.
She hugged Jinwon as tightly as she could and relied on his warmth to help her ease her worries. “Just a little bit longer,” she thought, “Then I will tell you everything.”
It was already 4PM in the afternoon, and JooHyun had not yet given birth. Her contractions are surely getting worse, but YongHwan, Yohan, and Jessica, starting to lose their sanity from waiting. Good thing HaYeon was there to keep up very interesting and entertaining conversations. If they focused on her, they wouldn’t get too bored and fall asleep unlike the two lovers outside the room. Jinwon was too used to his own sister uttering complete nonsense that he would rather just drowse off without hearing any of it.
Jessica peeked out the room and found Jinwon and Stephanie sleeping on the bench and then withdrew her head back in the room. “So guys, when do you bet Jinwon will find out about Eunji?”
“How long have they been together now, anyway?” HaYeon wondered.
“I think about a week or something,” Jessica shrugged. “It hasn’t been that long, really.”
“I feel the truth will come out very soon,” Yohan said. “Or maybe I just want it to happen soon…”
“Ugh, why can’t we just tell it to him straight, anyway?” Jessica huffed in an annoyed tone. “I’m getting tired of not being able to blurt out whatever the hell I want in front of him. If this goes on for more than a month, I might explode and tell it to him myself. I don’t care anymore if he suffers to some extent since he has hurt Tiffany more.”
“Why didn’t you guys tell him the truth before hiring him as his own daughter’s music teacher?” Yohan added as he pointed to JooHyun and YongHwan.
“Have I never told you guys yet?” HaYeon replied. “There’s only one reason for it all. His brain is unstable.”
“Unstable?” Yohan and Jessica’s eyebrows shot up in unison.
“He may seem fine and a lot of him still functions normally, but ever since the accident fifteen years ago, parts of his brain were greatly affected. It gradually became even worse when he kept on having accidents throughout the years. He didn’t lose his memories just once, you know. And I think you guys, know this: Ever since the accident, he’s had a hard time dealing with his emotions and stress unlike his usual relaxed poise back in the day,” HaYeon said and Jessica and Yohan slowly nodded their heads, remembering the events after he woke up from his coma. “When he is deeply and emotionally stressed, he becomes irritable and reckless, and then he forgets a large portion of the memory that caused it in the first place. The last time it happened, he forgot a really close family member—totally erased everything about her. That’s why we’ve been cautious towards him and his emotions. We don’t want that to ever happen again. Even when he enlisted for the army, they had to dismiss him when they checked his health. It was just too risky.”
“But… eventually, he has to face the truth,” Jessica whimpered. “Would it really stress him so much to know that Eunji is his daughter? They are already pretty close.”
“Rather than that, I think the fact that everyone around him kept it all from him will fuel most of his stress,” YongHwan said. “But he’s too much of an understanding guy, I won’t be surprised if he refuses to blame anyone and direct all fault to himself. Self-hatred is his worst enemy and if it comes to an extreme, no one is sure if he’ll remember his yesterday.”
“That just can’t happen again!” Yohan sighed in frustration. “He wouldn’t really forget everyone, especially Fany and Eunji, all over again, would he?”
“That’s why the only thing we can do now is wait—wait for him to remember it all by himself while Stephanie is assuring him that he is welcome to be a part of their lives again. It’s the safest option. Then we can help him fill in all the other pieces of his memory’s puzzle if he asks for it.” HaYeon said. “I mean it’s actually very hard for him to remember anything so I’m actually very surprised that after he met Eunji, the next morning JooHyun immediately called me to tell me that he told her that he had such a weird dream about meeting new teenagers in a studio, which turned out to be you guys. Actually he called me to tell me that, too. Ahh he’s really calling me every morning telling me he’s remembering things so vividly and clearly. Considering all that he has told me so far, I think he’s pretty close to remembering that he has a daughter.”
“But the only problem now is how do we tell Eunji? We’re all here talking about Jinwon’s emotional state, but I’m getting more worried about Eunji, too,” Yohan chimed in. As the closest father figure of Eunji, he couldn’t help but worry about this a lot, too. “Stephanie has basically lied to her all her life.”
All four suddenly looked stunned and lost. How were they going to deal with that?
“Whatever happens,” JooHyun spoke, “Let’s all help them become the family that they should’ve been.”
DECEMBER 10, 1997, Wednesday
“No, no, don’t take that path. It’s dark in that cave,” Yohan said, lazily resting his head on Jessica’s shoulder as she played her Japanese game. He’s been watching the small Gameboy screen all afternoon with Jessica since there was nothing else to do.
“Well we’re not gonna get through with this game if we don’t go here, idiot,” Jessica scoffed. Her eyes wouldn’t blink since she was too focused on the game. Even her mouth was slowly gaping without her noticing.
“Then how the hell are you going to get through that cave? You can’t see anything… Oh! See,” Yohan said, pointing to the little character surrounded by darkness in the small screen.
“Yah, I’ve been through here many times before,” Jessica snarled. “I know every corner of this place and can navigate it through the dark. This is my game.”
“You know you could make that cave light up, right?” Stephanie said as she came out of her room. “I’ve played that before and I think that Sicachu of yours has the move to do it.”
“Really?” Jessica said, and looked for her Pikachu in her team box. “Oh!” Yohan and Jessica both stared in shock. What Stephanie said was true. A move from her Sicachu really did make things visible to see in the dark cave. “Oh, that’s so cool,” Yohan and Jessica simultaneously said.
“Cham…,” Stephanie laughed. “Anyway, I’m about to grab a snack. You guys want anything?”
“Sure,” Yohan nodded cheerfully.
“Your sandwich, Fany-ah… sandwich,” Jessica said, still intensely immersed in the game.
“Alright,” Stephanie chuckled.
As Stephanie prepared the sandwiches, her head suddenly started feel heavy. She thought it was maybe just a cold since she was soaked under the rain yesterday while buying groceries. She tried to brush it off, but the longer she stood there in the kitchen, the more her head ached. After preparing the sandwiches, she tried one for herself, but she couldn’t take a first bite. The closer the sandwich reached her mouth and nose, an upset feeling rumbled in her stomach. She gulped her saliva down, thinking it would ease the weird nausea. She took a bite and chewed it normally. Swallowing it though was a bit hard. She stood still for a moment trying to analyze what was happening to her. Before any thought came, she came rushing to the guest bathroom and vomited.
The constant gruesome sound echoed loudly in the restroom—loud enough to get Yohan and Jessica’s attention. Jessica quickly saved her Pokémon game and flipped the Gameboy to a close. Without wasting a second, Yohan and Jessica ran to the restroom. Their minds were blank and their faces were filled with worry. In front of them was Stephanie on the floor, in the verge of crying. Her vomiting stopped, but she looked awfully drained out.
“What happened?” Jessica anxiously asked her best friend.
“Y-yah, Fany-ah,” Yohan bent down to Stephanie’s level and softly caressed her cheeks. “Are you alright?”
Stephanie shook her head as she wiped the tears that were about to fall. With all her energy, she stood up and tried to put on a smile. “I’m fine… probably just ate something bad.” Yohan and Jessica didn’t buy it. They were extremely worried for her because Stephanie doesn’t get sick that easily.
“Wait, don’t tell me…” Jessica trailed off. With a big gasp, her eyes instantly grew bigger and her jaw dropped. Yohan and Stephanie just stared at her, wondering what she thought of. “Y-you…” Jessica trialed off again while pointing a finger to Stephanie. “What if you’re pregnant?”
In Stephanie’s mind, she knew it would make sense if she was, but it was hard to believe because she and Jinwon were being cautious. She gulped and blinked a few times trying to find words, but all she could do was turn away from Jessica’s gaze.
“What are you saying?” Yohan defended Stephanie, not knowing what occurred between her and Jinwon a month ago. “That’s crazy talk,” he scoffed.
“Yeah, Jessica,” Stephanie scoffed with Yohan even though deep inside her, she trembled at the possibility of it. “That’s real funny…”
“Hey, I’m not joking! I’m serious here. You did do it with Jinwon, after all!” Jessica said and Yohan’s jaw dropped.
“Wait, what?! Really?” Yohan’s face comically widened in shock as he looked at Stephanie. Embarrassed, Stephanie dared not to look back at him.
“Stephanie, this could be serious,” Jessica said as she tightly grabbed Stephanie’s hands. “All of the things going on in your life lead to this one fact. I’m just worried for you.”
“You better find out quick before things get worse,” Yohan suggested firmly. “They have those tests in the pharmacy store right? It’s near here.”
“Woah, hey guys, what if it’s just nothing? No need to do be too concerned about me,” Stephanie said. In her mind, she wanted to know what was happening to herself too. She just didn’t know if she could handle the truth.
“Hey, this is something extremely important, Hwang Mi-Young!” Jessica sternly said, almost like a mother. “You need to know if it’s true or not as soon as possible.”
“Yeah,” Yohan nodded. “If it makes you feel uncomfortable, we’ll buy the test with you.”
There they were at the pharmacy just a few blocks from Stephanie and Jessica’s home. Not much people were at the pharmacy, but every time a person passes by on the isle they were on, they were getting judging looks. They were at the section where weird pregnancy items, including weird brands of condoms, were sold. There was nothing more awkward than standing in front of these products when they felt too young to even be there.
“Do we even need two?” Jessica asked as Yohan and Stephanie picked out two pregnancy tests.
“Yeah, to be sure,” Yohan said. “My mom always says these things can get it wrong sometimes.”
“Ugh… hey, just buy it quickly,” Jessica nudged Stephanie. “I wanna get out of here fast.”
“B-but, I-i…” Stephanie stuttered. She’s the reason why they were here, but she was too ashamed to even go to the counter.
“Fine, give me that,” Yohan said, snatching the pregnancy tests. “I’ll do it for you.”
“Thanks,” Stephanie sheepishly smiled. Jessica nudged Stephanie again and they both scuttled out the pharmacy.
Yohan scratched his head as he laid the two pregnancy tests on the counter. He thought it would be easy to just go and hand over the money, but the old rotting-like woman on the counter lowered her glasses and judgingly glared at Yohan.
“Um,” Yohan cleared his throat. “These are the most accurate of them all, right?”
The old woman glared at him, “Yes.”
“Ah… good.” Yohan nodded.
“Are you buying these to test your two girlfriends?” The old woman suspiciously looked at him.
Yohan looked flustered for a second. After realizing what the old woman meant by that, he made unnecessary hand gestures to say no. “N-no, hey that’s not the case!” Yohan sheepishly laughed. “Those girls outside are not my girlfriends. They are just my friends…” The woman still gave him a suspicious look, making him say unnecessary things, “And I’m buying this for my older sister because I lost a bet that required lots of–”
“Here you go,” the woman interrupted as she handed the small plastic bag to Yohan.
“Ah, Th-thank you,” Yohan bowed. He felt embarrassed and walked out of the store as normal as possible. When he finally got out, he sighed, “This thing better work. That creepy old woman scared me to death.”
Jessica nervously bit her nails as she stared at the pregnancy test. They’ve been waiting for about thirty minutes now. It felt like it had only been a minute. She was already tapping her foot, getting extremely impatient by the second. Her eyes constantly bounced to the clock and back to the pregnancy tests.
“Oh, I don’t think I can watch,” Stephanie pouted and turned her head away as she lowered Prince from her lap. She walked to the couch and sat beside Yohan who was lifelessly sitting there. Things weren’t certain yet, but Yohan was already feeling as if the news had already been said. What would happen to their friendship? Nothing will change, right? They will all still be smiling together as teenage friends even if this fear becomes a reality, right? It just seemed so out of blue to suddenly grow up this way. Out of nervousness, Stephanie hugged Yohan’s arms and Yohan nervously leaned on her.
“If it’s true, what are you going to tell Jinwon?” Yohan asked Stephanie.
“I don’t know,” Stephanie sighed.
Jessica suddenly slammed her hands on the table, startling Yohan and Stephanie. She was silent for a moment and the two waited for an answer. A huge gasp was heard. Stephanie and Yohan instantly stood up. They could not tell if it was a gasp of relief or terror.
“F-fany-ah….” Jessica trailed off. Jessica picked up the two pregnancy tests and showed it to Stephanie herself. + and ||, those were the two signs that made Stephanie fall lifelessly to the ground. Yohan covered his mouth out of shock. The fear became a reality.
Since HaYeon and JooHyun were close friends, HaYeon would usually hangout in JooHyun’s house. Jinwon would come along since Hyungsoo’s house was close to JooHyun’s. Instead of actually heading to Hyungsoo’s home, he’d just call him over. Being an only child, JooHyun liked having company. Having JooHyun, Hyungsoo, and Jinwon around made her happy.
“Wow, that was great, Oppa,” JooHyun clapped for Jinwon. “If you practice more, you’ll probably get this song perfect.”
“Man, you’ve been learning that for such a long time,” Hyungsoo said. “You guys are really still not done with that song? It’s been like a year or something already…”
“Yeah, don’t you guys get tired?” HaYeon said.
“I already am,” JooHyun replied. “But Jinwon Oppa isn’t giving up.”
“This song is a big deal for me, you know,” Jinwon said.
“You still haven’t told me why though,” JooHyun said. “I’ve been asking thousands of times, but you never answer me,” JooHyun pouted.
“Sorry Seobaby. Can’t tell you,” Jinwon said with a chuckle.
“Then I won’t teach you,” JooHyun crossed her arms.
“What? That’s unfair,” Jinwon stuttered. “Can’t you at least teach me until I finish the song? I’ll work extremely hard.”
“Hmm… in one condition,” JooHyun said. “You have your driver’s license now right?”
“Yeah, I do,” Jinwon shook his head.
“Then take me to my piano recital on Sunday.”
“Sunday?” Jinwon slumped in his seat. “I think I have plans with Stephanie though…”
“Well then no more lessons for you,” JooHyun stuck out her tongue and stood up.
“B-but it’s Fany we’re talking about here. Can’t I give you a ride some other time?” Jinwon pleaded. JooHyun was still stubborn and did not answer back.
“Y-yah! Aniya! Fine, I’ll drive you to your recital,” Jinwon gave up. “Just promise you’ll teach me, okay?”
Stephanie sat between Jessica and Yohan, trying to muffle her cry. Tears were falling down without her control. Emotions were rushing rapidly inside her. It was all too soon. How would her family take the news? How would people treat her? How would her friends treat her? But most importantly, how will Jinwon take it? He’s a man full of dreams and expectations for the future. This one thing could gravely upset him. This one thing could end what they have between each other.
“Y-yah… Fany-ah,” Jessica softly spoke. “Are you going to keep it?”
“What kind of question is that, Sica?” Yohan angrily scolded Jessica. “Of course she’s going to keep it. What choices left does she even have?”
“Well… she could abort it you know. It’s not like she’s carrying it for months now. She could still–”
Yohan scoffed. “Just shut it,” Yohan said, pressing his hand over Jessica’s mouth
“Hey, it’s not that I believe in abortion or anything,” Jessica snarled as she slapped Yohan’s arm. “I’m just making sure she doesn’t consider it.”
“I have to tell Jinwon first before I decide on anything,” Stephanie suddenly spoke, with her voice slightly breaking. The desperation in her voice immediately silenced the two.
“But before I do…” Stephanie tried to hold herself together. “You guys will stay by me… right?”
“What kind of question is that?” Yohan said. “Of course we will!”
“Yeah, no matter what happens, Fany-ah,” Jessica continued. “Even if everyone will turn their backs on you, we promise that we won’t. We will love you and support you though anything. No… scratch that. We LOVE you and we will support you through anything.”
DECEMBER 11, 1997, Thursday
It was another time for band practice. As the band’s leader, Jinwon was the earliest out of all the band members. For about five to fifteen minutes, he would be alone while waiting for the others to come. The silence gave him time to sort out his music plans and basically just anything that confused him throughout the whole week. In a way, this calmed him, but if the members do not arrive at the time they are expected to come, he would often be hit with a light shade of melancholy. As much as he liked being alone, he truly did not want to be lonely for long.
In a usual fashion, Stephanie would be the second member to arrive, and that would lift Jinwon spirits up. Even though she lived with Jessica, Jessica came later because she claims she always had something she had to do before practice. Thus, the couple always had a chance to have the studio for themselves. They would talk about their day comfortably with each other and sort out problems whenever they had any. They discussed serious topics and often dove into deep conversations without realizing. Even though this precious time would only last for around thirty-minutes, the still, silence the room provided always slowed the world down—like they could endlessly spend time together and be the happiest in the simplest way.
Stephanie took a deep breath and hesitantly turned the knob. Although it was just another Thursday for Jinwon, it was totally the opposite for her. If only she had an excuse to avoid being the 2nd honor in attendance just this once, maybe she could have escaped this alone time with him and reveal her secret on another day.
“Oh? Fany!” Jinwon cheerfully waved his hands as he was already seated comfortably in front of the baby grand piano.
“Hi…” Stephanie forced a smile, trying not to show the distress on her face. She sat beside Jinwon and silence became their company.
Jinwon was extremely bubbly that day. Even the silence between them didn’t make him stop smiling. He was too busy thinking about his own fantasies that he failed to catch on Stephanie’s downcast expressions. “So, how was your day?” Jinwon asked as he opened the baby-grand piano in front of him.
“It’s… fine,” Stephanie smiled while she slightly turned her eyes away, trying not to meet his gaze.
“You don’t seem so fine,” Jinwon noted. “I’ll cheer you up,” He giggled. He started playing the Chopin song and left Stephanie a bit confused. Jinwon had not played this song or the piano in front of her since a week before Halloween night. It has been a month since then. Why was he playing this again?
The sweet sound of Chopin’s composition echoed through the small studio, throwing Stephanie daggers of mixed emotions right through her heart. He seemed too eager to play this sweet nocturne, too deep in-love, as if music and love could really get him through anything in life. He even sat up straight instead of having the slouchy and depressing musician posture he never bothered to fix before. He was radiantly glowing while Stephanie flickered dimly with all that was left inside of her.
Jinwon stopped just right before the ending of the song. He played the song well, but he didn’t finish the ending.
“Why did you stop?” Stephanie asked. She wanted him to keep playing so that she could forget about the cruel world—even for just a minute.
“I can’t quite get the last part right yet,” Jinwon replied. He looked at Stephanie and saw that she looked a bit letdown. He thought it was because he couldn’t play the last part, so he grinned excitedly and said, “Do you know why I have been trying so hard to learn this song?”
“Why?” Stephanie asked.
“Since we’re still kind of teenagers, I am not sure if we will end up being together forever,” he said and tears instantly started pooling on Stephanie’s eyes. He was at it again with his honeyed words. “But,” Jinwon continued, “When I finish this Chopin piece, when I can play it perfectly, when I can play it without my hands trembling, that’s when I’ll know, I’ll be with you forever. It’s like an assurance.”
The bubbly feeling Jinwon intended to overflow her with could not put a smile on her face. It’s not every day he gets to say he wants to be with her forever and she needed it today more than ever, but it was said at the wrong time. She tried to hold her tears back. But like a balloon that could not hold any more water, she grimly burst in to tears. She quickly turned her face away from him and sobbed trying to say sorry for reasons she didn’t even know.
“Wh-what’s wrong?” Jinwon asked, trying to sound as calm as possible even though he mentally panicked, catching onto the fact that she was not crying tears of joy, but rather, pain and anxiety. Did he do or say something wrong?
“I-it’s just…,” Stephanie breathed raggedly and her voice trembled, “do you really believe in that? Do you really believe that we can make it through anything… forever?”
Jinwon stared at her in confusion. Why was she suddenly asking these kind of questions—these words of doubt? That was not the Stephanie he was familiar with. “I can’t say for sure since this life is unpredictable,” Jinwon sighed.
“Extremely unpredictable…” Stephanie thought.
“But I do want to believe that we will be together… forever,” Jinwon continued. “No matter what.”
“Even if the worst comes?” Stephanie asked as her tears continued to fall down.
The worst never came to them but hearing this question caught Jinwon off-guard. They have maintained a fresh relationship for a year now by avoiding the hard circumstances. They do fight at times, but it would always be resolved the next day. Gloomy topics barely got brought up since she wanted her days to brightly move forward despite a hurtful past. The only things they ever sought to do were to understand each other and love like they have known each other all their life. So why was she so doubtful towards him today? What was she hiding from him? Did the worst finally come?
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Jinwon warmly side-hugged her and brushed her long wavy hair away from her face. “Is there something you’re going to tell me?”
Stephanie wiped her tears away and stared deeply into Jinwon’s eyes. The longer she stared, the harder her tears wanted to pulse out. She could feel her chest burning in agony and her throat choking up until she could breathe no more.
“I’m pregnant,” Stephanie said as her voice trembled and broke. “I’m sorry…” she closed her eyes to avoid his gaze, for the longer she felt those shattered eyes linger on her, the more her heart bled with ignominy.
Jinwon froze at the unbelievable news. The climax of what they did 6 weeks ago flashed right before his eyes. Shame engulfed him and he trembled knowing what they had both willingly and foolishly done. He was so sure they played it safe. Although this news came from the love of his life, the girl he swore he would marry someday, this felt more like a nightmare than a dream. He did not want to grow up so fast. He was too young and immature to handle such a responsibility.
He cradled Stephanie into his arms to stop her from crying for her cries made him weaker like a kryptonite. He did not want her to think—not even for a second—that this situation would make him leave. “I’m not running away,” is what his soul’s embrace assured. “We’re not going to break,” his body screamed the tighter he pulled her in.
It was like Heaven and Hell clashing together as his warmth comforted Stephanie while haunting her of their sin. She uncontrollably sobbed causing him to pull her closer more than ever.
“Shh, shh, you don’t have to be sorry,” Jinwon softly hushed as he caressed her hair with stiff hands. “It’s going to be alright. I’m right here. You’re not losing me.”
That same day, the two, holding each other’s hands tightly, told everyone close to them the news. It was the hardest thing they have ever done together, but it was for the best. They told Hyungsoo and JooHyun first after they did the band practice. Hyungsoo was concerned for them, but he tried to make jokes to lift up the mood. JooHyun gave them uplifting words and hugged the two.
They told Jinwon’s parents. Though they did admire how the teenagers did not keep it from them, they still scolded them. They went easy on Stephanie and took it all out on Jinwon for they knew he had always been a mischievous rascal towards these things. They were angry and they were frustrated, but in the end, their decision was to start preparing them for parenthood. They could not force Stephanie to give it up and cut ties with them for they loved her too much like their own to do such a cruel command to her. So no matter how big the mistake was that their children had created, they will never abandon them.
In all those loud shouting, HaYeon overheard the conversation. She wasn’t surprised at all. She kind of expected it to happen since she thought his brother was stupid in the first place. “That’s what he gets for kicking me out of the house,” she scoffed and laughed. Deep inside her, she worried about her brother and Stephanie as much as her parents did. She loved them both very much and didn’t want them to hurt because of one another.
Stephanie told her family. She sent letters to her two older siblings and then phoned her father. The man was grieved at his youngest child’s news. Among her siblings, she was the one her father hoped wouldn’t get hurt the most. But now that he could not do anything about it, when he managed to talk with Jinwon, he scolded him and shouted hundreds of death threats against him for that’s all he could do. Stephanie tried hard to let his father soften towards Jinwon and eventually, he gave in and told him to take care of her well.
She also told Sunny. As always, Hyuna happened to overhear the conversation and can be heard shouting at Stephanie in the background. Being the understanding cousin that she was, rather than saying “I told you so,” she comforted her and wished the best for them.
So far, everyone who cared for them understood. Not one promised to treat them differently and they were grateful for that. Other people will surely judge them and ridicule them, but it was okay. As long as they were both together, and as long as the people who loved them keep supporting them, those were the only thing that mattered.
DECEMBER 13, 1997, Saturday
Jinwon wanted to take Stephanie out on a date to cheer her up from the sudden revelation, but the weather had gotten colder than it was a few days before with the snow storm pouring down. It kept them from going anywhere to spend their Saturday. Stephanie didn’t want to go anywhere anyway. The outside world felt 10x scarier to her than it already was. She just wanted to be with Jinwon even if no words were said.
Stephanie rested her head on Jinwon’s shoulders as they silently sat on his bed. The lights were closed and everything seemed still, as if time had stopped for a moment. It’s like nothing much has changed for they have shared this quiet moment together a few times before. However, like a fever, her eyes heated up and trembled remembering that things are completely different from now on. She closed her eyes hoping for a world darker so that she could escape, but her heart ached even more through the doubts that flashed before her. She buried her face on his shoulders and cried silently. Jinwon could do nothing but swallow his own tears and give her the consolation she needed.
Stephanie thought her tired mind would be eased by Jinwon’s warmth, but that just made things worse. The growing human being inside her had his DNA. All her worries traced right back to him. She wanted to hate him for putting her in this misery, but that wouldn’t make things any better. She was also at fault. She can’t just blame him for everything. If only she could rewind time, she would prevent all this from happening. Now, there’s nothing else she can do but sigh.
“How are you holding up?” Stephanie asked. They kept avoiding this question for the past few days in hopes of not making each other as broken as they already were, but she figured it was time to let it out. They cannot keep brushing things off forever. If they just keep holding it in, the words unsaid will only push them apart.
“I should be asking you that,” Jinwon said. He wanted to run away again from this question. He didn’t want to sort his feelings out. He wanted to avoid any dangerous thoughts that would cross his mind and focus solely on making things better for her.
“I want to know, Jinwon,” Stephanie sighed. “I want to know how you feel.”
He stayed silent.
“How should I even start?” Jinwon sighed. “I don’t know how I feel. From the very moment you told me, I just… lost my breath. I’ve never felt something like it before. The consequences, the responsibilities… it just weighed down.”
“I’m sorry,” Stephanie’s lips trembled.
“No… no, don’t say that,” he shook his head and closed his eyes, feeling his own tears quickly burning him up. “After everything, that’s what hurts me the most. When you say you’re sorry, it’s ridiculous, because I…,” he sighed, trying to keep himself from shedding tears. “When I think of you, everything just seems to crumble down around me. I’m the one who made the mistake. I made you go through all of this pain.”
“Don’t just take all the blame,” Stephanie held his hand. “It’s my mistake, too.”
“I’m sorry,” Jinwon’s words trembled as tears started to fall down. “All I wanted was to make you happy after everything that you have gone through, but I guess I just added to your stress.” He quickly wiped his tears away and said, “I promise you, I’ll make you happy again. I’ll swear it on my life.”
“Do you think we’ll be able to get through this? ‘Cause I honestly don’t know,” Stephanie said as tears started to fall. “I’m so scared… So scared that somewhere along the way, we might fall out of love or… The future isn’t as bright as we think it would be.”
“I’m scared too… but we have to deal with it. There’s nothing else we can do but believe that somewhere along the lines, our mistake could turn into a blessing.”
“Easier said than done,” Stephanie sniffed.
“We don’t know what’s out there for us. We don’t know how hard things are going to be. So why don’t we just lay it aside for a while like we always did? I don’t want to keep thinking about the negative outcomes so please, Fany-ah… let’s rest… even just for a little while,” Jinwon said with his voice going softer.
“Can we really do that?” Stephanie said, wiping her tears away.
“Relax yourself on me. I’ll sing you a song.” And so, Stephanie did as she was told and closed her eyes. She pressed herself closer to Jinwon and sighed. Jinwon softly started to sing softly.
(Song: Sleepless – Standing Egg)
Now is the time my heart begins to flutter
When you’re in front of me with your eyes closed
Like looking at a photograph, taking my time
As I watch you slowly fall asleep
Let me sing
lalala la la lalala
Let me sing
lalala la la lalala
Now is the time I’ve been waiting for
With you falling asleep in my arms
Singing you softly a lullaby
As I watch you slowly fall asleep
Let me sing
lalala la la lalala
Let me sing
lalala la la lalala
Baby I’m sleepless, it’s deep into the night
Sleepless, the soft sound of your breath
Sleepless, and my firmly pounding chest
Losing all sense of time
Now is the happiest time I could wish for
When you’re with me until the morning
When I can see myself in your sleepy eyes
I’ll keep singing for you
Let me sing
lalala la la lalala
Let me sing
lalala la la lalala
Baby I’m sleepless, it’s deep into the night
Sleepless, your soft sound of breath
Sleepless, and my firmly pounding chest
Losing all sense of time
lalala la la lalala
Let me sing
lalala la la lalala…
When he finished, he noticed that Stephanie had already fallen asleep on his arms. He has never seen her so at ease after the past few days. He was thankful and happy that she finally rested her head.
He softly swiped his hand over Stephanie’s smooth arm and brushed her hair away from her face every now and then, but his eyes stayed still, staring at Stephanie’s flat stomach. He wondered what it would be like when it would grow round and when the baby would start moving and kicking around. Although he was still scared of what was to come, Stephanie’s gentle features as she slept peacefully in his arms slowly repelled most of his fears away.
He pictured himself taking care of the child, giving it walks to school, and even teaching the kid how to play the guitar. Who would his child turn out to be? Would it take after him, a calm, insightful introvert who’s often hit by life’s melancholia, and hated large social events? Would it take after Stephanie, a little sensitive but nevertheless tries to smile through any situation, and absolutely loved arranging social events and enjoyed conversing with many people? Or would it be an interesting mix of both? The mystery of the future excited him and he thought this might not be so bad after all.
It was half past 6 in the evening when Stephanie finally woke up. All that she could remember was Jinwon’s sweet voice lulling her to sleep. Music had always been a great weapon to lift her spirits up and so was Jinwon’s love towards her. So merging them together definitely gave her a strong sense of hope. With his help, she’ll be able to make it through this. There was no use in being sad about the situation. After all, pregnancy means life; she’s creating a new life inside her. A new life is a blessing.
“So what names do you have in mind?” Jinwon asked when their hearts have finally become lighter about the situation.
“I haven’t thought about it… I don’t know, like Hyerim or something if it’s a girl”
“Hyerim? Doesn’t that sound a bit old?” Jinwon snickered.
“Well I’m not good with Korean names. If it was something American, I’d probably have the perfect name.”
“Then you can name it whatever you want. But I personally would love the name Ji-Eun or 은~~~~~
Things suddenly turned into a blur. Jinwon became half-awake since Stephanie shifted from her position. He didn’t mind it and quickly went back to sleep.