It was Saturday morning and Eunji had nothing planned. She wanted to just lazily hang out with her mother like the usual Saturdays, but apparently Stephanie had somewhere to go—to Jinwon. After observing her mother, who had been stuttering about whom she was with for the past few days, she could only assume it was someone totally impressive. It was just too rare for her picky mother to suddenly have so much interest in a man that she wants to meet every single day, let alone keep the identity a secret from her. Who was this man that was stealing their precious mother-daughter time?
“Who is he? When are you going to tell me?” Eunji asked as she mindlessly pressed the remote control in front of the TV while her mother was getting ready for her “date.”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Why not? Can’t you tell me some kind of description or occupation of him at least? Shouldn’t I know who’s making my honest mom all secretive?” Eunji pouted as she turned to her mother with puppy eyes.
Stephanie’s eye-smile peeped on her face and she said, “He’s an old friend.”
“Old friend?” Eunji tilted her head and asked, “From what time?”
As Stephanie brushed her hair with her hands for final touches, the doorbell rang. She grabbed her bag and approached the door and replied to Eunji, “From high school.”
“High school?” Eunji’s curiosity level instantly went to the roof. She had recently been reading her mother’s old high-school diary. Was he perhaps mentioned there somewhere?
Stephanie swung the door open and their stood Kibum, happily holding a bunch of books on his arms. “Oh hi Kibum, you’re just in time to keep Eunji company,” Stephanie said.
“Out for your date huh, Ms. Hwang?” Kibum smiled as he gladly entered the home.
“Yeah,” Stephanie chuckled. “You kids have fun. I’ll be home before dinner.”
Jinwon scratched his head in his living room as his brain couldn’t come up with next lines for the new song that he was currently writing. His mind was as white as the paper he hadn’t written on yet, and he could do nothing but tap away subconsciously with his pencil. It seemed as though writing depressing love songs have become his expertise for the past week that he couldn’t seem to write with his new emotions.
Someday, even if we get old and tired
Let’s promise to love just like now
Till the day you are in my arms
And we close our eyes
Let’s be together
These lines endlessly echoed in his cave of thoughts. So far, these were the only words written on his notebook’s page. He couldn’t come up with the structure, additional lines, and tones at all. Feeling frustrated, he laid his book down and closed his eyes for a few minutes. Maybe his head would be cleared if he took some rest. However, the alarming sound of his doorbell didn’t allow him to do so.
Stephanie’s hands fidgeted as he waited for a response outside of Jinwon’s apartment. She clearly didn’t know what to say to him even though she had been practicing her speech the night before. She didn’t even know if coming to his house the day after he gave her his address was a good idea.
“Oh, Stephanie!” Jinwon’s eyes sparked with excitement. “You’re extremely early today.”
“Oh, was I too early?” Stephanie sheepishly smiled. “Ugh, I knew this was a bad idea,” Stephanie silently cursed herself.
“Well, I don’t mind you being too early,” Jinwon smiled as he let her in. “I have to warn you though; my living room is kind of a mess right now.”
Stephanie was still too immersed in thinking about her insecurities that she didn’t mind the papers scattered on the coffee table at all. Besides, the apartment wasn’t that of a mess. If she had to compare the mess in Jinwon’s apartment with the mess going on in her head, her brain would definitely be defined as chaos. She prepared so many topics for them to talk about, but her brain just lost all of those files.
“Want something to drink?” Jinwon asked, taking Stephanie out of her thoughts.
“Oh?” Stephanie turned to him and smiled. “Oh sure, anything’s great.” Stephanie sat on his couch and her eyes started to wander at the random papers on the coffee table. “What are all these?” She asked.
“Oh, I’m just writing songs,” Jinwon said as he browsed his refrigerator.
Stephanie nodded and picked up a random paper. “Want me to help you write some songs?”
“March 9, 1997, Sunday
Today is the day that I finally come back to the town where my real friends live. I’m finally leaving the city! Oh how refreshing!
Once again, Uncle SooMan and Sunny brought me back here on their white, rusty, old, Mitsubishi. They were supposed to bring me back to Jessica’s home since that’s where I used to live, but I insisted they take me to Mr. Daydream’s home. It’s his birthday today so I just want to surprise him. I haven’t actually told anyone other than Jessica and her family that I’m coming back in town.
This morning was pretty dark. There was actually an eclipse going on so that’s pretty cool. They say the total eclipse can be viewed only in Russia. I wish I could see it with Mr. Daydream though. I know he kind of likes interesting stuff about the world, especially space and all those kinds of things.
I imagined so many things I want to do with Mr. Daydream today. Unfortunately, when I arrived in Mr. Daydream’s home, he was collapsed on his yard, lying on his sister’s arms. Without having second thoughts, I left my bags outside and helped HaYeon carry his brother to his room. Poor Mr. Daydream. It’s his birthday today but he has such a high fever and his parents aren’t even home. I guess I’m taking care of him for now. This is not what I expected doing, but it feels great to be close to him again.
All day, he tossed and turned like he was having a nightmare. It scared me and I was so worried. He was sweating like crazy and he was mumbling all sorts of stuff. Seeing him like that was so pitiful. I sat beside him all trying to calm his fever. It was tiring, but knowing that he is starting to feel much better now is a great feeling.”
When Eunji closed her mother’s diary, she noticed that Kibum was writing something on a paper pad. As soon as she took a peek, Kibum turned the pad away from her.
“What’s that?” Eunji asked.
“I’m writing a song,” Kibum replied.
“Can I see it?” Eunji asked, reaching her hand to the pad.
“No,” Kibum chuckled as he softly slapped Eunji’s arm. “I’ll just sing it when it’s finished.”
It was a Sunday morning, March 9, 1997. Jinwon took a moment outside to breathe since he had been locked up all week in his room, shivering, sleeping, sneezing, and coughing. Even though it was a Sunday, his parents didn’t make time to at least get a day off for his birthday since he was sick anyway. Even his sister was quite busy doing her homework. Besides, he himself didn’t want to be a burden to his family. So he took Ginger out with him since he was the only company he could have. He sat on a bench in his home’s yard and just looked up at the sky. Maybe the peaceful blue skies and the fresh spring air would ease the throbbing pain on his face. But what occurred was totally the opposite, and the sky was turning darker. It was 9 am in the morning; why was the sky gloomy all of a sudden? It didn’t look like it was about to rain since there were no clouds in sight. It just looked like the sun had already set.
“Aigoo, what the heck is with the weather today,” Jinwon grumbled, assuming the weather caused the sky to turn dark. “Does God not want to at least give me sunshine on my birthday? My life is already a misery; no need to make it feel any worse.”
He looked down on his lap to find Ginger staring back at him with its big, round, black eyes. “I guess, my life isn’t such a misery,” Jinwon chuckled as Ginger licked his chin.
After a few minutes of staring at the dark sky, his sister HaYeon accompanied him on the yard. Watching her big brother sitting all alone sometimes makes her wonder how lonely he might be. Although he was quite popular in their school and had five close friends, insecurities and loneliness engulf him when he is left alone to think for himself. Those thoughts could be worse today since it was his birthday and no one came to visit him, especially since he was sick. He’ll surely feel neglected at some point and she didn’t want him to feel that way. She also didn’t want to hear him being half-sarcastically pessimistic about his life again.
“Hey, birthday bro, what are you doing out here?” HaYeon asked as she sat beside him. “It’s still kind of cold.”
“Well it’s obviously better than staying inside the house,” Jinwon replied and HaYeon just nodded.
“What’s with the weather anyway? Why is it so dark today?” Jinwon said as he looked at the dark gray sky.
“Oh, didn’t you hear? There’s an eclipse going on right now,” HaYeon said.
“Eclipse? On my birthday?” Jinwon said while trying to look for the sun. Unfortunately, the sun and the moon were not in sight. Jinwon, who had great interest in the heaven’s wonders, was nevertheless amazed. “Wow, that’s pretty cool.”
“Yeah, it’s even a total eclipse,” HaYeon added.
“Total eclipse?” Jinwon’s eyes filled with excitement. “Woah, I want to see that!”
“You can’t,” HaYeon suddenly added. “They say the total eclipse is only going to happen somewhere around Russia.”
“Oh…” Jinwon slumped in his seat and continued to keep his head down as he caressed Ginger’s black fur.
After a two minute silence that fell on the two siblings, Jinwon said, “Make me feel better.”
“How?” HaYeon asked.
“I don’t know,” Jinwon shrugged. “Just make me laugh or something. Entertain me. It’s my birthday anyway.”
“Okay…” HaYeon snickered. She sighed and her eyes wandered as she tried to think of something. As Ginger crawled on her lap, she looked at the sky and an idea clicked in her mind.
“I’ve heard of some kind of myth about total eclipses before,” HaYeon started and Jinwon just listened. “There’s this myth called the black sun,” she enthusiastically said with her hands forming an “o”. “I don’t fully remember what it is, but there’s this bunch of tribes or whatever—or was it gods? Anyway, I don’t know if I’m getting this right but they were traveling to this underworld that contained nine levels during the ‘black sun’ through an image of a butterfly that represented a new soul. They were given new life, but at the same time, the ‘black sun’ eats the dead people and then lets them enter in a deeper level of the underworld.”
“You’re making no sense,” Jinwon noted in a bored manner.
“Right…” HaYeon sneered at him and continued, “Well, all I know is that the ‘black sun’, which is usually just total eclipses, is a sign of life or death. People freaked out about it back then.”
“Oh, and that’s supposed to make me feel better on my birthday?” Jinwon sneered. “Come up with something better next time. I mean, come on, would you want me to believe that I’m going to die soon?”
“Hey, for all you know, it could mean a new life,” HaYeon said. “Besides, it’s just a myth. No need to believe in that stuff. It’s just something for fun.”
“For fun my ass,” Jinwon snarled, and HaYeon just snickered.
As the morning got darker and darker, Jinwon’s head ached even more. His vision constantly blurred, as if his eye sight wasn’t bad enough. His head heated up like a burning furnace and his nose became stuffed. Coughing roughly after every second, HaYeon couldn’t stand it.
“Are you okay?” HaYeon asked as Jinwon closed his eyes, trying to ease the sinking feeling engulfing his eyes. “It doesn’t even sound like a cold anymore.”
“I’m fine,” Jinwon said as he released a rough sigh. “Don’t worry about me too much. I’ve been like this for a week now.”
“But colds shouldn’t even last that long… do they?” HaYeon wondered.
Jinwon stood up and like a zombie, he walked slowly back to the house. Every step he took though, his head became heavier and his energy quickly drained.
Concerned, HaYeon watched his brother as he weakly walked back to door. There was something off about his cold and she didn’t like it. She tried to brush it off since Jinwon had been sick constantly for the past few months. However, she was right. Jinwon was burning up, so horrible that he fell to the ground halfway while walking back to the door. With a quick response, HaYeon ran to him.
“Oppa!” HaYeon’s voice trembled as she lifted his unconscious brother’s head from the ground.
“HaY…” He coughed, and everything went black.
After the Sunday service, Jessica, Yohan, Hyungsoo, and Stephanie gathered once again on the courtyard. This time, Jinwon joined them.
“How’s our two lovers doing?” Hyungsoo asked as he hung his arms around Stephanie and Jinwon’s shoulders.
“It’s going fine,” Stephanie chuckled. “Thanks again for reuniting us, guys.”
“You guys better not break up, alright?” Jessica glared. “We went through a lot of trouble trying to bring you guys back together.”
“We won’t,” Jinwon chuckled. “We’ll be together for as long as you want.”
“We want you guys to be together forever,” Yohan said making Jinwon and Stephanie blush. “So don’t screw things up this time around.”
“Well, you guys stay happy now, okay? We still have youth to handle back in the building,” Hyungsoo said, tugging Yohan and Jessica.
“Okay, see you whenever then,” Jinwon waved at them. Soon Stephanie was the only company he had. They were once again filled with awkwardness towards each other.
“Want to come hang out again at my place?” Jinwon shyly asked as he fixed the hanging guitar on his shoulders.
“Sure,” Stephanie nodded.
And so they walked side by side together as the headed towards the gate. Casually, Jinwon held Stephanie’s hand, rapidly making Stephanie’s feelings spark like fireworks exploding in her heart. However, it stopped when Kibum appeared in front of them. She quickly withdrew from Jinwon’s hands, making Jinwon feel stupid since he thought he acted too soon.
“Oh, Mr. Kim?” Kibum’s eyes caught the both of them holding hands. A small smirk formed in his face as she finally knew Stephanie’s secret man.
“Oh hey Kibum,” Jinwon happily greeted. “I’m glad you came. Here’s your guitar back,” he said as he gave the guitar to him. “I won’t need it anymore.”
Stephanie was a bit confused. She didn’t know Jinwon knew Kibum. How do they know each other? “Wait… Mr. Kim?” Stephanie thought as her eyes widened. “No… Eunji’s music teacher? It can’t be… can it?”
“Thanks Mr. Kim,” Kibum smiled. “Nice running into you again. I’ll be going now,” Kibum said with a bow. “Nice seeing you again, too, Ms. Hwang,” Kibum bowed with smirk. Stephanie just nodded awkwardly. Kibum then headed for the youth group and left them.
“You know Kibum?” Jinwon turned to Stephanie.
“Oh, yeah, he’s my-” Stephanie paused. “He’s my daughter’s friend” didn’t seem to be the right sentence for this. “He’s my neighbor. He visits my home a lot.” Stephanie mentally scolded herself for that statement also did not sound right.
“Visits your home? For what?” Jinwon innocently asked.
Stephanie broke eye contact with Jinwon and lied, “I pay him to help clean my house. I mean you’ve seen my home. It’s quite huge for a single woman to live in. It’s hard to clean all by myself.”
“Oh…” Jinwon didn’t suspect anything strange from Stephanie’s expressions. He just believed her.
Jinwon and Stephanie hung out in Jinwon’s apartment. Slowly they got more comfortable with each other by watching a movie and playing a bunch of games, but they still tried their hardest not to make skin contact. After Stephanie resisted his hand a while ago, Jinwon thought it was sign that she was not ready for an intimate relationship at all, and he knew should respect that. They were once lovers and it is sure that they still have feelings for each other, but staying friends might be good for them for now.
“So what’s your job again?” Jinwon asked Stephanie as he sat beside her on the couch while they watched and listened to music videos on YouTube. “I don’t think you mentioned it to me yet.”
“I just work at home,” Stephanie said. “I run a few businesses in the internet.”
“So you stay home all day?” Jinwon looked at her in amazement. “Wow how comfortable that must be…”
“It is,” Stephanie smiled. “The start was pretty painful since I felt like I wasn’t earning anything, but internet business keeps on growing as time passes, and so are my earnings!”
“But wait, are you just always at home then? Do you not go out and meet people?”
“Of course, I still do,” she replied. “I’m also quite involved in the church.”
“Oh…,” he nodded. “But isn’t it lonely at home? Do you not have a boyfriend?”
“If I did have a boyfriend, I wouldn’t be hanging out every day with you like this,” she giggled. “Besides… I don’t get lonely at home,” she smiled remembering her bright daughter.
“I’m curious, though. You once asked me about my past relationships and now it’s your turn. Tell me about your past relationships.”
“Ah…,” she scoffed. “There wasn’t much at all. I was such a work-a-holic—I still am—and I made little effort to maintain relationships I didn’t need. Jessica and Yohan always set me up on blind dates and some of them became my friends, but most of them barely gets a second date.”
“So you really had no serious relationship with anyone other than me?” Jinwon asked in disbelief.
“Well… There was this guy Nicholas. He became my boyfriend for a short while but we ended up just being… friends.”
“Being friends? How did that happen?” Jinwon asked. He couldn’t believe that someone would actually be able to end up just being friends with Stephanie after a relationship with her. He himself felt somewhat uncomfortable about the idea of just staying friends with Stephanie.
“He was a very gentle guy and he liked music, too. Eu—Um,” she tried to normally cough off the words that Eunji liked him. She shouldn’t just carelessly mention her daughter! “He was working at The Mall of Records and he asked me on a date after a series of events. And so we dated and he was pretty fun to have around. He like, wrote me letters on the back of Yiruma’s piano pieces and once played ‘Love Me’ on a grand piano just before Heartstrings closed for the night. He was a little cheesy like that.”
“Did you love him?”
“I… well, I actually don’t know,” she said. “He really loved me and I wish I could say that I also did love him back, but… I realized that I didn’t so I broke things off with him.”
“And you’re still friends with him?”
“I don’t know either,” she sighed heavily. “I guess not.”
“Did you break it off because you didn’t like something about him? Did he do something bad to you?”
“No, nothing like that. He was perhaps the nicest guy I’ve ever met, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by lying to him about my own, because every time I was with him, my mind would be on someone else.”
“Someone else…?” Jinwon wondered.
Stephanie stared at him and said, “You.”
Jinwon glanced back at her, surprised because of that reason. Jessica once said that Stephanie got over him, or at least tried, but that was never the truth, was it?
Stephanie timidly turned away and hung her head low. “You both were so similar. Everything he did only reminded me of you,” she said. “Whenever I was with him, it was like reliving my memories with you. I guess that’s why I hung on for a while. Eventually I realized how cruel I was to keep him around just because of that. Because even though I was with him, I wasn’t. He truly loved me, but I couldn’t do the same. So I broke it off because I knew he deserved to be loved by someone else, someone who could actually love him back.”
“Is that why you let me go, too?” Jinwon suddenly asked.
Stephanie became silent for a few seconds trying to find the right words to say. “I couldn’t let you go even if I tried,” she breathed out.
Jinwon sighed as he thought of how they ended 15 years ago. From what was written on his journal, she had the chance to let him stay, but she let him go. Now with these words, how was he supposed to react? What was he supposed to believe? If she couldn’t let him go, why did she do it anyway? Besides, fifteen years has passed by. How was she still so attached to him? As a nineteen-year-old, he didn’t seem all that special, and he even treated her so coldly multiple times, but now she’s here with him again trying to slowly rebuild what was once destroyed. It still felt like a dream too good to be true to finally have her beside him. He was grateful and overjoyed because of it, but some things just didn’t make sense at all.
Even though a music video was playing in Jinwon’s laptop, Stephanie could feel the uncomfortable silence starting to fall upon them. She gulped and asked, “Where do you think our relationship will stand in the next few years?”
Jinwon was taken aback by her question. He tried to think of the numerous possibilities on what they could be in the next few years. What if they were both married a few years from now, having little kids running around them? That’s the life he thought he would never have, but with Stephanie, he could clearly picture it. But what if they will both just stay friends forever and hide their feelings away in a small box? In truth, he wasn’t really sure where their relationship will stand. It was a scary feeling—not knowing what the future will be.
“I… don’t know,” Jinwon slumped in his seat.
“How do you want things to be?” Stephanie timidly asked, fidgeting with her fingers.
“Truthfully,” Jinwon sighed. “I want whatever we once had back then—whatever kind of love we had when we were teenagers. I just want us to be comfortable with each other again, knowing each other back to back, laughing at the smallest things, and growing together as one body… that kind of love. Even if we’re just agreeing to be friends right now, I don’t want to stay like this with you forever.” Then he continued in his head, “I want my dream to become a reality.”
Stephanie deeply sighed and turned her eyes to Jinwon. “Me too…” Stephanie said as Jinwon met her eyes. “Can’t we comfortably start that kind of love now?”
“I’d love nothing more,” Jinwon compassionately smiled. A smile of relief showed in Stephanie’s face. At least now, she knew how Jinwon felt. The pressure that has been weighing down on her was somewhat lifted.
Feeling slightly better, Jinwon started to wake up. His head still ached, but it wasn’t as bad as the last time he felt it. The last thing he remembered was her sister slowly panicking out in the front yard, but now, he was lying comfortably on his bed in his room. He was neatly covered under his bed sheets and his head rested peacefully on his pillow.
His eyes slowly wandered around his room. There was nothing much to see since it was dark. The contrast of the room was just the same as it was in the morning so it was hard for him to tell how long he had fallen asleep. Getting his senses back, he felt a cold, wet cloth resting on his head. That was not strange since that’s how his life usually went when the fever struck him. He tried to take it off with his right hand, but something held him back. There was someone gripping his hand tightly. That someone had fallen asleep by his bedside. That only meant it was probably already late at night.
“Gosh, I slept through the day,” Jinwon whispered to himself as he took of the wet cloth on his head with his left hand.
He decided not to let go of the person’s grip since he thought it was a very caring gesture. He just lay there, with his eyes wide open under the dark, holding the person’s hands. “This hand is quite feminine,” Jinwon thought as he slightly caressed the person’s hands with his fingertips. “I wonder if it’s HaYeon’s,” he giggled since HaYeon usually didn’t care if she was going to be teased because of her caring gestures towards him even though they weren’t the kind of siblings to be very affectionate with each other.
He tried to take a peek of the person’s face but she buried her face in her arms, and her slightly long, brown hair fell smoothly to cover whatever is possible to be seen. “This isn’t mom,” Jinwon mumbled to himself for he knew his family members’ figures even in the dark. “This isn’t HaYeon either.”
He turned his body and reached for the lamp. He saw a pink-striped notebook lying on the side table, and that made him even more curious. He flicked it on and the small, yellow light instantly woke the woman. Slowly she lifted her head and her eyes groggily opened, obviously dazed for a second as she questioned herself where she was.
“F-F… Fany?” Jinwon blinked rapidly as his mouth gaped open.
Stephanie’s senses instantly snapped back to her as her name entered her ears in the voice of Jinwon. Her eyes jumped straight to Jinwon and found his eyes going up and down at her. For a few seconds, they just stared at each other in surprise.
Jinwon was extremely speechless. The last time he remembered seeing her, she had a short bobbed hair. But now her hair cascaded flawlessly on top of her shoulders. She was extremely beautiful and her face shone even though she just woke up. He was extremely happy to see her again, but why was she here?
Seeing how Jinwon had been paralyzed for almost half a minute now, an eye-smile formed on her face and she giggled. She knew he was completely clueless.
“Are you feeling alright? You were sweating like crazy a while ago,” Stephanie said as she giggled and laid her hand softly on his head. Jinwon’s heart jumped as soon as her warm hands touched his forehead. By reflex, his right hand slightly flinched, unknowingly squeezing Stephanie’s hand tighter. Stephanie just chuckled and withdrew her hand from his forehead.
“Hmm…You seem to be fine now,” she smiled. “You were in quite a fever today.”
“What are you doing here?” Jinwon asked and looked at the clock on his side table. It was 11:11 PM. “It’s already late.”
“I just figured to stop by before I head to Jessica’s home since it’s your birthday,” Stephanie smiled. “I wanted to surprise you, but apparently, you were out lying in the cold on HaYeon’s arms when arrived.”
“You arrived in the morning?” Jinwon asked.
“Yes. It’s around 9 am, at the time of the eclipse to be more specific.”
Jinwon sighed as he felt bad luck. If only he had a little bit more energy that morning, then he could’ve at least given her a proper welcome back.
“Why are you back here?” Jinwon asked. “Is your father alright?”
“Yeah,” Stephanie smiled cheerfully as she nodded. “My father is doing well.”
“Then why are you back here? Wouldn’t he want his family near now that he’s well?”
“Well…” Stephanie sighed and smiled. “He wanted what was best for me.”
“Life in Seoul had always been frustrating for me. Nobody in my family knew I had a hard time getting by since I never wanted to worry them. But my dad started getting concerned about me since I rarely smile every time I visited him in the hospital after school. He kept asking how I was and how my life was on the three months I’ve been here. Then just one day, he said that I should go back here. I tried to deny it but he insisted.”
“Are you happy?” Jinwon asked.
Stephanie chuckled and smiled. “Yes… ‘cause I get to be with you—my Namja Jin-Goo.”
(pun: namja chingu 남자 친구 = boyfriend)
fun fact: A real eclipse did occur in March 9, 1997 around the area of North-Eastern Asia and the black sun landed somewhere on the eastern part of Russia.