|MH| Sunshine: Chapter 2


STORY 1 | STORY 2 | STORY 3 | STORY 4 | STORY 5


SUNSHINE

Chapter 1: Let Go

Chapter 2: Rest

JUNE 5, 1998, Thursday

      Handprints and footprints—once in a while they rise and fall on random corners of Stephanie’s belly. It was an unusual thing to see and it felt like someone was punching her from the inside. Mothers would usually take much pride and joy over the fact that they have come as far as seven months nursing the new life, but she could not share the same feeling. She felt like there was a monster living inside her that drove her physically and emotionally askew, but she couldn’t really call it a “monster” since everyone around her would shake their heads in disapproval. This was a blessing, they say, and truly, it was, but to her, it was a curse, too.

      Still in denial and grief, focusing on the welfare of the baby was something she hasn’t been good at. Life got heavier day by day the more she buried her tears under the smiling mask she has created. She thought being away from the land of her tragic teenage love-story would expel her of things that used to haunt her, but how would that be possible? Those memories didn’t just stay at one place. It scarred her whole body, heart, and soul, and it will stay wherever she goes. She did not want anyone to see just how deep those emotional cuts have been, so she hid them in any way she can. But oh, how careless was she to hide those wounds without sealing them first.

      No one can ever seal these scars anyway, Stephanie thought. They were so deep not even family could help her. Her family consists of broken people just like her. If fact, the unspoken discord among her family was caused by her mother’s death. Her distraught father had a hard time getting by taking care of her and her brother Leo, so they were sent to the care of trustworthy people. At first, Stephanie thought it was utterly foolish to separate at such a devastating time, but she couldn’t do anything about the decisions that were made. But she was thankful that she was able to continue with a normal teenage life under the roof of the Jungs, at least for a few years.

      On the first few weeks of being separated from her best friend who cared about her so much, she’d wonder why she even agreed to live here in Yuchiri. What would it have been like staying under Jessica’s roof? There was no one else who truly understood her situation but her best friend. Both of them could’ve strengthened each other. If she stayed there a little longer, maybe, just maybe, she would be able to go back to her normal stance and feel normal again.

      As she tried getting past that thought, she noticed that there was one family member that truly felt like home to her after all. It was Sunny, her cousin. She grew up with her for a few seasons back in the States when they were only children and they were almost inseparable. They were like twins who knew each other back to back. Hurting one would also hurt the other. So to hear how much family complications Stephanie had stumbled to, Sunny and her family wanted to help her in some way. She didn’t want Stephanie to lose touch of what a family should be—a family that never gives up on one another. So now that Sunny has taken the role of accompanying her in any situation, Stephanie had at least a small but growing sense of hope that the days will gradually get brighter.

      Whenever Stephanie could not do any tasks because of her depression, Sunny would be there by her side trying to help her and cheer her up. She was the busiest girl of her age, yet all of her free time consisted of nothing but spending it with Stephanie. It was still a mystery to her how Sunny was able to balance her time. Sunny had numerous jobs around town like feeding cows, cleaning out dung, catching a few chickens, and gathering eggs.  She also had jobs harvesting crops, taking out weeds, and picking out different kinds of fruits. She even babysits the folks’ children and tutors some of them. And still after all that, Sunny often took her to walks around town with Prince Charming the dog, treated her with the love of family that she had lost touch in the past few years, and also personally checked the baby herself with the folks’ pregnancy and ultrasound equipment. Sunny was one of the most inspiring people she has ever met. “If she had a past life, she would probably be superwoman,” Stephanie always thought.

      “She can basically run the whole place. I would totally vote for Mayor Soonkyu,” Stephanie would joke to most of the folks by calling Sunny her birth name (which Sunny really isn’t fond of). She was indeed, after all, the deceased mayor’s grand-daughter. It was no doubt that she came from the upright, hardworking Lees. Rumor even has it that their family line dates back to a successful king in the Joseon period—maybe King Jeongjo or even an older line, Sejong the Great. With that said, Sunny really does act like a superior who’s more than able to lower her status for anyone in need. Whenever and wherever she was needed, Sunny would come rushing over without question, and she would always do a job well done.

      There was also Hyuna, Sunny’s sister. Like Sunny, she was fierce and strong physically and mentally. The only clear difference between them was that she was more vocal about things that displease her unlike her soft-spoken and laid-back sister. She was three years younger than Stephanie and Sunny, and she was infamous for being blunt and immature. But as the teenage philosopher that she kind of was, the elders deemed her very wise compared to the other kids her age. Stephanie cannot even begin to count how many times this teenager insulted her on something (or on everything) for her good. She was good at pointing out what was bad, but she was also good at showing the right way. It was slightly irritating to be nagged by someone younger than her, but she tried her hardest not to resist them. To her, Hyuna was that buzzing conscience sitting right on her shoulder; she took every scolding at heart.

      When Sunny and Hyuna are not available, there’s Sunhwa, a girl a year younger than Stephanie who quit school and is now homeschooling since she can’t seem to catch up to the normal school system’s standards. She lives at the neighboring house of the Lee’s old hanok house. She’s the closest teenager around that Stephanie could come to. Since Sunhwa can’t really do basic math and on other subjects well, the least Stephanie can do was to tutor Sunhwa in whatever she found hard to do.

      There was also the Kim family (unrelated to Jinwon), a family of exceptionally good cooks with exploding senses of humor. There were a lot of members in this family but only three who were very close to the Lees. The trios were Taewoo, Shinyoung, and Jaejun. Taewoo, age 27, was a man known for his bear like strength and stature. He usually wears a cap, glasses, and soldier cargo pants along with his masculine stubble he dared to never shave or grow out. There was Shinyoung, age 24, a woman craziest in comedy lines out of the three, with a height a little too small for a normal adult. Then there was Jaejun, age 22, the super handsome and talented, adopted kid of the Kim family.  Since the three visit often, Stephanie was very fond of them, especially Jaejun who has become like her older brother. He’d sing to her and write songs with her whenever he’s free and cooks healthy meals that she likes whenever she loses her appetite.

      Stephanie likes being surrounded by people. It keeps her mind steady and distracted from falling onto the edges of depression’s cliffs. It doesn’t matter who it is as long as they keep her busy in doing something. It doesn’t matter who it is as long as they have no knowledge of Jinwon.

      However, it was still hard to avoid getting to the topic of the baby’s father. She had to create a consistent lie of what had happened, for every time someone new strikes a conversation with her, the same question’s echoed. “Who’s the father?” “How did he die?” It was hopelessly unavoidable. Seven months pregnant was hardly something that she could hide now. How much more will they buzz these questions to her ear once the baby comes out? She dared not think about it for now.

      “There’s so many things I want to do with you,” Jinwon said.

      “Like what?”

      “When the baby is born, I want to… hmm… something like take walks around parks with our child like a family. When it grows a little older, I want to take it to school myself… teach it to play guitar. Just some things like that,” Jinwon awkwardly said and laughed. He never really thought about those kinds of things until now. A family was far from his teenage mind until this happened. Now he’s just racking his brain for a way to look on the brighter side of things.

      “You seem excited,” Stephanie blushed. “I haven’t even thought about that part yet.”

      “C’mon, tell me. Just think of at least one—with me and the baby. What would you like to do in the future as a family? Tell me your wish.”

      “My wish?” Stephanie thought as she traced her finger on the visible moving hand under her skin. She heaved a sigh and rolled down her shirt to cover her belly.

      She’s been thinking of putting her baby on adoption since she doubt she’ll ever do well as a mother. She was never an expert at handling children. She remembered babysitting a child once back in America with Jessica and it was basically too awkward and chaotic for her to handle. One time, she even spoke to a child formally. So what chaos would erupt if she tried taking care of one? Putting this baby on somebody else’s hands seemed like the wise thing to do. Some other family could be blessed through this child.

      But really, those were just excuses. Deep inside her she knew every girl had an inner maternal instinct. But raising a child without its father—without Jinwon, who was still alive? No, that’s just too difficult. And how will she deal with the child’s curiosity over its father’s death? What was she to say? It was just too burdensome.

      Giving up her baby for adoption was a strong and serious matter. Hyuna constantly objected to it and would shake her head in disappointment every time the topic was brought up. Sunny, on the other hand, chose to support Stephanie in whatever decision she would make. Though she herself didn’t believe that adoption was the best way to go, she made sure the baby’s future family will be someone she could trust well. As the mayor’s grand-daughter, the folks around the area respected her decision well. But at most, only two families which were close friends of the Lees volunteered themselves as potential adopters of the baby. But since nothing was official yet, Sunny wouldn’t make any rash agreements. The battle inside Stephanie had to be settled first.

       

      Feeling as if she stayed inside the house today for too long, Stephanie got up from her bed and stepped out for some fresh air. Looking upon the horizons, there was the setting sun seeping through the puffy clouds, painting the skies a vivid red-orange and yellow. The starting summer wind brushed against her skin, refreshing her soul from worries. Nothing could be better than this, she thought. The countryside was totally a nice place to clear her mind off things.

      The gate squeaked open, making way to Sunny who had work evidently trickling down her skin. On one hand, two small chickens hung helplessly, making Stephanie chuckle. Sunny always has a handful of something at the end of the day.

      “What’s with the chickens?” Stephanie asked. She picked Charming up on her arms and approached Sunny near the chicken coop. She’d rather not get too close for she didn’t really like the cow stable’s stench near it. It makes her want to vomit sometimes especially since she’s pregnant.

      “Oh this? It’s dinner,” Sunny said “Chief Noh told me I could bring some home to roast. These babies’ sacrifice will be a feast tonight.”

      “What!? Sacrifice?” Stephanie’s mouth dropped. “Wait, do you mean you’re the one who’s going to kill the chickens yourself? Why didn’t you just buy frozen chicken or something?”

      “Hey, the next convenience store is like a mile away from here and I’m dead tired,” Sunny laughed and wiped the sweat off of her forehead. “I’m surprised you’re still not used to life here. Besides, don’t freak out so much. Tae-woo and Shinyoung’s coming over to kill and roast it. Y’ know I’m not one to kill the animals myself.”

      “Oh… phew,” Stephanie huffed. “I thought you were going to kill it yourself. That shocked me a little bit.”

      Sunny just rolled her eyes and chuckled. She then went closer to her cousin and caressed Charming’s head. The sleepy dog didn’t stir much and continued sleeping on Stephanie’s arms.

      “Since it’s Hyuna’s birthday tomorrow, of course there’s a bit of a celebration. Oh, and I heard Pap said something about guests—that’s why they want to prepare a good meal.”

      “Guests? Does it always have to be in this hanok house?” Stephanie pouted.

      “Well, this is the largest hanok house around the village. This is usually a house great for close-friends gathering.”

      “Oh… any idea who the guests might be?”

      “I’m not sure. I didn’t really ask. They did say some young new guy was going to stay here with us.”

      “Guy? What—like live with us?”

      “Yeah, I guess.”

      “Are you sure it’s a guy? I’m really not into the idea of having a new guy to ‘live’ with us. I’m not into having guy company at all.”

      “It kinda worried me too at first but he’s probably not troublesome. Pap wouldn’t let ’em live with us if he’s any-who a loser or some jerk, especially with you here.”

      “I guess… but still…” Stephanie sighed.

      As they sat by the house’s porch letting their legs dangle on the edges, Sunny asked, “So, what happened to you today?”

      “It’s surprisingly very laid back today.”

      “Wow, no sulking over the past?” Sunny said.

      “I did for a little while,” Stephanie chuckled. “But my brain is in no mood to grieve today. It’s a nice day.”

      “Yeah, talk about nice day,” Sunny snickered. “Shinyoung talked about setting up a new restaurant business all day with her family. I wonder how that’ll go. You know how well they cook… Man, it’s totally gonna be a feast tonight.”

      “I know,” Stephanie’s mouth watered at the thought of the Kims’ cooking. “I mean have you tasted Jaejoong-Oppa’s Jajjangmyun from scratch? He made a whole huge plate for me last week and I totally finished it in less than ten minutes or so. Maybe it was the baby wanting to eat, but I have to admit, that was really good.”

      “Wow, seriously? Is that why you threw up so much in that one morning last week?”

      “Um…,” Stephanie’s cheeks flushed pink and she awkwardly chuckled, “Haha… Yeah.”

      After a full conversation of how good the Kim family cooked, Sunny stood up and said, “Want to go for a walk?”

      “Aren’t you tired? You worked all day,” Stephanie said.

      “Well you need to move around,” Sunny said. “That baby won’t exercise for you.”

      “Alright, alright,” Stephanie laughed. She stood up and held Sunny’s hand. Together, they went out of the house and walked around the village. It was their usual routine, and even then Stephanie couldn’t grasp how Sunny had always been so thoughtful of her.

      “Why do care so much about me?” Stephanie asked. Sunny just shrugged.

      “I’ve already told you, didn’t I? You’re my family,” Sunny said. “And I don’t want you to hurt so much. It upsets me when you’re sad because you are the prettiest girl I know when you smile. So my goal is to turn you prettier every day. “

      “Whatever,” Stephanie ignored her cheesy words by playfully hitting her. “But c’mon, is there some other reason why you care about me so much? I mean I guess I can just go with the fact that you love me and all because I’m your cousin and we were like twins in the past, but now I have all these problems… do you really just have a heart of gold or is there some other reason?”

      “I don’t know,” Sunny chuckled. “Okay, maybe it’s because I owe it to you… or I can kind of relate to your situation.”

      “What does that mean?” Stephanie asked but Sunny just shrugged and didn’t answer—as if she didn’t take it seriously. However, deep inside her, she was thinking of the right answer. She just didn’t think today was the right time to say them.

***

As the two girls arrived back home, Shin-young and Tae-woo entered the house like it was theirs and greeted them. Without wasting any time, Shin-young and Tae-woo went straight to cooking business. While the two prepared the pots and chicken, Stephanie  and Sunny helped by chopping up some ingredients. They didn’t want to just sit idly by waiting for the guests to arrive.

      “Hey kids, why don’t you invite Sunhwa and her family over?” said Shinyoung as she and Tae-woo were finishing up with the main dishes. Sunny and Stephanie gladly agreed and went out of the house.

      “Man, it already smells so delicious,” Sunny said as they closed the front gate. “I wonder when we’ll be able to eat that.”

      “I’m assuming soon since the sun’s already down. It’s gonna be dinner time finally!” Stephanie chuckled. “I wonder when the guests will come…”

      “Oh-!” Sunny nudged Stephanie. “Speaking of the guests, I think they’re here.” She pointed to the dirt road where a car parked. She walked past her cousin to welcome the guests. Stephanie just followed behind.

      “Sunny-Unnie!” a 17 year old girl popped of out of the car’s backseat. She immediately hugged Sunny.

      “Oh, so you’re the guests! Wow, I was so tensed up all day wondering who it was going to be,” Sunny laughed. “Nice to have you back, Haneul!”

      “Yeah, it’s good to be back!” Haneul gave Sunny one last squeeze and withdrew from it. Haneul turned to Stephanie and she was drawn to her stomach instantly, assuming she was the girl whom her family has mentioned.

      “You must be Mi-young Unnie,” she smiled widely and bowed awkwardly. Stephanie also bowed awkwardly as she was not very familiar with her Korean name.

      “Please, call me Stephanie. I’m not very used to my Korean name.”

      “She’s my cousin,” Sunny said. “Just comfortably call her ‘Fany.”

      “I will, Unnie,” Haneul chuckled. “It’s nice to meet you!”

      Just then, Yohan came out the other side of the car’s back seat and Stephanie recognized him immediately. That blue and red baseball cap, that slightly long and messy hair, and those manly tan-skinned and charismatic features—it was all too familiar.

      Stephanie’s mood went down drastically and then back up again. She didn’t know what to feel, really. She didn’t expect to see him here—someone who reminded her of Jinwon. Yet at the same time, she was relieved that he was someone she knew.

      “Yohan…?” Stephanie’s eyes turned to Haneul, “What is he doing here?”

      “O-oh, Yohan Oppa?” Haneul took a glance behind her and said, “He’s here for some farm work… and I guess also to be your friend. You do know him, right?”

      “I do…” Stephanie sighed and glanced at Sunny. So he was the guy who was going to live with them? Sunny saw it in her eyes that she wanted to be alone with Yohan for a minute and so led Haneul out of the way.

      “Haneul, let’s go get Sunhwa,” Sunny said and Haneul just followed. Meanwhile, Stephanie slowly approached her old friend. When Yohan locked eyes with her, a shy smile drew on his face.

      “Fany-ah…”

      “Yohan…”

      After a second of being emotionally engulfed at each other’s eyes, Stephanie gave in and threw her arms around him for an embrace. It’s been at least three months since they haven’t seen each other or at least talked to each other. And no matter how conflicted she was being reminded of Jinwon, she was still kind of thankful that Yohan had come.

      “How’ve you been?” Yohan asked.

      “I’ve been getting by,” Stephanie wryly smiled. Then she asked, “How’s everyone back in town? Jessica? Hyungsoo? How are they all doing?”

      “They’re… fine,” Yohan hesitantly said.

      “Oh? It doesn’t sound like it.”

      “I’ll tell you about them later,” Yohan awkwardly said.

***

      After introductions and dinner had finished, Yohan and Stephanie took a stroll under the night sky. They both thought it would be awkward in a way to do so considering their history this year so far, but surprisingly, it wasn’t. Neither of them talked for the first few minutes yet there was this sense of comfort and peacefulness between them. Stephanie, who had been internally broken off from the world, felt connected and alive again even just for a little while because of him. And Yohan, who had been suffocated by his home, felt free and relaxed knowing his problems won’t follow him around for now. The changing winds and cloudy night sky were the only ones with them. Together, they felt at ease step by step with the crickets singing, along with the homey floating little lights of fireflies.

      “Since when did you decide to come here? I don’t think this place suits you,” Stephanie teased.

      “Ah… well,” Yohan sighed. “Made the decision just yesterday, actually. Figured I needed some experience points before going to the army.”

      “And when would the army be?”

     “This December, actually.”

     “Oh,” Stephanie nodded. “So you just made the decision to come here yesterday?”

      “Yeah. There’s nothing for me to hold on back in town anyway.”

      “Nothing?”

      “Nothing…” Yohan sighed. Stephanie wanted to press on but she had the feeling he didn’t want to talk about it.

      Actually, Yohan wanted to let it all out before it built up inside him, and so that’s what he did.

      “About Sica…,” Yohan reluctantly said but tried to force himself to say what happened anyway. He explained the whole thing about not caring for each other and the whole “break-up” with Jessica.

      “I’m sorry. I feel like it’s partly my fault,” Stephanie whimpered.

      “No, no. Don’t pressure yourself to think like that. I completely understand where Sica was coming from. You were her best friend. Of course she’d take care of you first. If it’s anyone’s fault, it was mine for not knowing how lonely she was.”

      “I wish I could’ve known how you two were holding up. I could’ve done something to make it last for the both of you,” Stephanie sighed.

      “No, really… It’s alright,” Yohan said with a smile though it quickly faded the next second. “We’re probably never meant to be together in the first place.”

      Stephanie wanted to encourage him and say “you’re both meant to be if you believe it in your heart,” but she couldn’t say it. Deep inside her, that belief was nothing but a Disney fairy tale. She knew those words will let him down the same way it did on her.

      Silence fell upon them, but that silence itself made them communicate with each other. The quietness of it all made them realize that they have ended up in similar situations—losing the ones they love. And now they’re here together as friends, healing one another step by step in silence. Though it cannot completely heal the pain of lost love, the least this silence could do was give them a sense of peace.

      “How’s… your baby?” Yohan awkwardly said. He had a feeling Stephanie didn’t really love it as much as she should so he wanted to be cautious in bringing it up.

      “It’s alright, I guess,” Stephanie sighed. “There’s really no knowing until it comes out.”

     “Have you thought of a name yet?” Yohan asked.

     “I haven’t really thought about it,” Stephanie sighed.

      “Oh… Where are you planning on having it, though? I don’t see any hospitals around here. Do they even have one?”

      “Not really. That concerns me a lot, too. There are only two midwives around the community and neither of them are very close to our area. You’d have to take at least an hour to get there by car and I don’t think that’s good. And the roads on the way there aren’t exactly great either. There are a lot of dirt roads and it almost got me throwing up because of the uneven flooring. There’s also physician nearby but he kind of scares me.”

      “Then where do you get your check-ups?”

      “Sunny knows a thing or two.”

      “Wow, really? Isn’t she the mayor’s granddaughter?”

      “Yeah, and basically my savior,” Stephanie chuckled. “Those two midwives were not very welcoming to me anyway. The least I wanted was to feel more uncomfortable than I already am.”

      “Well, I’m here so you better lift more of your burdens,” Yohan smiled. “Give ‘em all to me. I’ll be your servant if you want.”

      “Tch. Just go do some farm work,” Stephanie laughed. “You’ll be staying on our house anyway. We’ll be seeing each other every day. That alone will lift my spirits up.”

      “Ei, c’mon! Appoint all sorts of things to me for your benefit and I’ll do it! I can even give you a piggy-back ride right now!”

      “Haha, no, I don’t think that would be appropriate right now,” Stephanie scoffed.

      “Oh, right,” Yohan scratched his head.

      “I won’t ask for any requests, Yohan,” Stephanie said as she patted his back. “Go and live your life the way you want to. I don’t want to be a burden, at least not to you. I’ve already become everyone’s burden. A lot of people have already said that I am their first priority. I don’t want to drag you down with me too just because this has become my life now—pitiful or whatnot.”

      “Alright… but don’t be ashamed to ask for help. You can’t escape a quicksand alone.”

      

JULY 5, 1998, Sunday

      A month passed since Yohan arrived in the country town of Yuchiri. At first, he really couldn’t take the stench of this place filled with animals and nature for he had always been acquainted with a very clean home. He also couldn’t take sleeping on the floors. For the first week, he actually felt kind of homesick. He wanted to play his electric bass guitar again and he wanted to sleep on an actual mattress.

      But it wasn’t exactly all that unbearable. There were a lot of good things that came his way by staying here. First of all, as we all know, Stephanie was there. They both strengthened each other every day. When hard times come by, they would talk about it and try to clear the dark clouds out. Then he learned to farm and harvest crops with the town folks and loved it. Even though most of those activities were back breaking and tiring, it made him feel alive and actually a person who’s useful for something. He was even greatly loved around town, especially because of his volunteering spirit and humor. Also, the old people were actually very friendly and welcoming. Since he was quite charming especially when he starts humming a song during work, a lot of the old folks there would joke about marrying their daughters off to him and he’d just laugh it off.

      He and Haneul also fell for each other more and more every day. They constantly denied being in a relationship around town but everybody knew there was something going on between them. You can never really trick the old folks when it came to love especially since they’ve experienced romance at least once or twice in their lifetimes.

       To his surprise, he had never seen or heard Stephanie shed tears. He thought she’d at least tear up every single day but she always had this unbreakable smile. He totally underestimated her emotional strength. He himself wasn’t even that strong to consistently show a bright side of him every day.

      “Fany-ah,” Yohan said one afternoon as he sat down with her. He just came back from plowing a few plots using tractors with Haneul and mostly spent his day with her. “I really like Haneul,” he admitted.

      “O…kay?” Stephanie just laughed and continued folding some clothes. She didn’t really care whether or not Yohan liked Haneul. If he’s happy, Stephanie will be happy for him. His preference on girls wasn’t really any of her business unless he’s talking about Jessica, her best friend.

      “But there’s a problem…” Yohan said with his voice getting more timid.

      “What?”

      “J… Jessica,” Yohan stuttered. Stephanie put aside what she was doing and listened.

      “She seems to be in my mind more than I expected,” Yohan continued. “Every time I’m with Haneul, a piece of Jessica pops up in my head and I don’t know what to feel about it. She… she just keeps coming back,” he breathed heavily. “And we weren’t even in a relationship, right? Jessica and I… we’re just friends. We were just friends. But… the thought of her makes me so depressed.

      “When I hear a certain song in the radio that we used to sing in the band, her part would echo in my head… you know, that high, Disney movie kind of voice or that really chick, pop star vibe. And I remember just how much she had a hard time when I was trying to teach her how to get the right key. She was… adorable,” he said and spaced out for a moment, reminiscing. Stephanie nodded her head and let him continue. “When I’m just sitting on the couch with the television on, I would remember the lazy days when I just watched her play her Gameboy. Even every 6PM, I would have this urge to call her, but then I wouldn’t really know what to say and the elders would kill me with the phone bill.”

      He sighed. “Is this what they call being lovesick? It hurts way too much when it shouldn’t. I even let her go because I know I had to move on. Haneul is making me happy now so I still don’t know why I keep coming back to the thought of her. I mean Jessica wasn’t even that nice to me on some days. She teases me a lot and bullies me a lot. I don’t even want to come back to her.”

      Stephanie stayed silent as Yohan denied his feelings for Jessica. He kept scoffing at the thought of her but would quickly feel down knowing what he’s saying didn’t agree with his heart. He has never been a man with a high sense of pride. He’s not like those guys who would hide their face when they cry. And this time, he definitely didn’t have enough energy to move to another room to do so. So he uncontrollably started crying right in front of Stephanie.

      “Why do I still love her? And why do I love her more than I should?” he cried. Stephanie just sat beside him and hugged him like a mother. “I know I shouldn’t keep hanging on to her… Man, what is this? I don’t even know why I’m crying.”

      Stephanie didn’t say anything but just patted his back to comfort him like he was a small child. She knew all too well what Yohan was feeling. She couldn’t really find any answers to his problems because she herself was still trying to figure it out. How do you forget a first love? How much negative sides of someone do you have to remember in order to get over them when all you ever recall are the positive ones? How do you stop hanging onto someone who you shouldn’t think of anymore? How long do you have to keep lying to turn a lie into the truth? She definitely had no clue how to do such things but one thing’s for sure. She didn’t want anybody else to feel what she was currently going through.

      Every time Yohan would see Jessica’s photo sitting on his wallet, he’d cry—not just shed a tear, but sob like a little boy who fell on his bike. Just like that day, he would come rushing to Stephanie and cry even though he felt like it wasn’t appropriate to come running to her. They do have similar situations, but isn’t Stephanie’s problem much worse than his?

      Yohan was very thankful that she was willing to help him out in his troubles. He wished he could repay her back the same way but he was never really being given a chance. Stephanie would brush off her worries a lot and that worried him. She’d pull a smile, and he thought she was being strong at first, but really, he knew it wasn’t right to let it all bottle up in her heart. She always carried her own problems thinking she could handle it all by herself.

     

JULY 12, 1998, Sunday

      About a week later, it started to rain. It was summer, ironically the rainiest season in the country. Yohan felt rather happy with the first rainfall after a while, but he felt troubled about something. He couldn’t place what exactly bothered him, but there was just something off about that day.

      While he was watching the raindrops fall from the roof and down to his long, tanned legs, he felt sleepy. An afternoon siesta would probably refresh him so he got up and came in the house. When he entered Stephanie’s room where the roll-up beds usually were placed, he saw Stephanie curled up on her mattress. She looked asleep and Yohan didn’t want to disturb her. He silently picked up his rolled-up bed and decided to sleep on the other room.  Before he walked out, he heard Stephanie faintly call out for his name.

      “Yohan, is that you?”

      “O-oh? Yeah. Don’t mind me… I’m just going to sleep in another room, okay?” He picked up some pillows and a blanket. He also searched his bags for his journal.

      “Yohan?” Stephanie suddenly called for him again.

      “Yeah?”

      “Can you… just stay here… beside me?” she said, her voice faintly breaking.

      “Huh?”

      “I can’t sleep.”

      “It’s the middle of the day so isn’t that normal?”

      “I want to rest.”

      Yohan stared at her who had her back turned to him. She was sleeping on a bed fit only for one person yet she occupied just half of it. He gently sat down and caressed her long, brown, wavy hair. Whatever was in her mind must be bothering her.

      He sighed, rested his head on Stephanie’s pillow and relaxed his legs. Even though he wanted to close his eyes now and sleep, he worried that one single move would make sensitive Stephanie flinch. He didn’t want to come in contact with her. Stephanie was not his girl and so was he not her man. He cannot hug her tightly with his warmth and touch her like Jinwon did. He was not in the position to do such a thing.

      With Stephanie’s back facing him, he could see the slight loss of weight in her arms. Even though she carried another human being, it seemed as if she hadn’t had enough to eat for herself. It looked as if she still had the same weight as before she even conceived the baby. She didn’t look pregnant from behind at all.

      He could feel a Stephanie’s breath shaking like she was sobbing. He wondered when this might have started and soon he realized that she had been like this since the morning when it started to rain. Stephanie didn’t have a big appetite and neither did she smile naturally. Everything seemed fine for the past few days, yet what made her cry now? As the raindrops beat heavily upon the roof, he knew immediately why she was acting this way.

      There was a snow storm that night—that night Jinwon got into a car accident. The ghastly howling of the wind back then sounded almost identical to the wind’s shrill whispers today. Stephanie wasn’t there personally when Jinwon swerved his car in the dark slippery road, but she remembers all too well every detail that night in the hospital after she was told he could die. Now every time she hears the howling wind and the pounding drops whether it be snow, rain, or hail, the same fears that built up on her and the anxiety of anticipating whether or not everything would be fine would come crashing on her like an unstoppable storm. The gloomy skies and the loud drops have now become the source of her greatest fear—the fear that something bad might happen.

      Oh how badly Yohan wanted to caress her arms to comfort her. It was natural for him to be affectionate to any girl he was close to, but with Stephanie, he knew he couldn’t just do as he pleased. This made him sigh. He really didn’t know how to comfort her.

      “Yohan?”

      “Yeah?”

      “…”

      “What is it?” Yohan asked.

      “Never mind…,” Stephanie sighed.

      In reality, Stephanie wanted his warmth. She knew he was an affectionate guy, and she wanted him to hug her in the most innocent sense, to provide her warmth on this cold summer afternoon. She wanted him beside her so that she could forget about Jinwon. She wanted to sleep off the rainy day hoping when she wakes up that it would be sunny again. However, she didn’t have the guts to ask Yohan to wrap his arms around her. She couldn’t request such an awkward thing. For some reason, it feels wrong to her considering what they both know about each other. She knew Yohan had fallen for her sister-like-best friend Jessica and was still grieving about losing her. She also knew Yohan was now starting a thing with Haneul. So how could she possibly ask for him? That would only make her selfish. Well, it’s not that she lusts for him. She didn’t want anything sexual with him—oh no, none of that shenanigans at all! She also feels no fluttering feelings of love towards him. Bottom line is she just wanted someone to assure her that everything will be alright.

      “Yohan?”

      “Hm?”

      “I’m cold.”

      “Here, let me get a blanket for you.”

      “No, no…” Stephanie hesitantly stopped him. “Can’t you just stay here?”

      “Huh?”

      “I… I’m cold.

      Yohan wondered what she meant by that because after being friends with a lot of girls, he knew there were sometimes messages hidden in their words. Stephanie obviously wanted something more from his presence.

      He lay back down and softly rested his left arm on Stephanie’s. He sighed and pulled her a little closer. As he could feel Stephanie’s uneven breathing slowly softening, a smile unknowingly formed in his lips. He was surprised that a simple embrace could really do wonders to comfort somebody.

      “Do you remember that time,” Stephanie suddenly spoke. “That time we first met?”

      “Huh?”

      “When we were sixteen—that night?”

      “Oh, that night?” Yohan chuckled.

MARCH 20, 1996, Wednesday

      Only two weeks passed since Stephanie lived with Jessica to avoid witnessing her mother’s death. Earlier in the day, she received a call that her mother had passed away. She thought it would be less painful that she wasn’t there to witness it all, but truthfully, she now started regretting not hearing her mother’s last breath. She loved her mother so dearly and was gravely saddened she had to pass away so quickly. She wasn’t even there to catch her last smile. Now she’s gone.

      She didn’t tell Jessica about it when she received the news because she didn’t want to be treated differently. So all day, she tried pulling off her usual eye-smile, but deep inside her, all she wanted was to crumble. All she wanted was to ask for second chances to meet her mother again. She could find no relief in her heart even when she did all sorts of fun things with Jessica to clear her mind off of it. From her exterior, it was as if her life was perfect, but inside her, she thought, oh what a cruel world life truly was.

      At 11 PM in the evening when the Jung’s lights were turned off, she sneaked out of the house to get some fresh air. At this hour, she would usually be asleep, but this evening was no exception. Her mind was too suffocated with the thoughts of her mother and family. She had to let the pain out somehow and she didn’t want to burden Jessica with her audible weeping.

      “Why did she have to die?” Stephanie thought for the 20th time today. Honestly, she had been questioning that ever since her mother got sick. Just thinking of how kind and lovely her mother was when she was alive would squeeze out the streams of tears bottled up inside of her.

      “God, why did You have to kill her? What did she ever do to You?” Stephanie wearily spoke to the God her mother used to always mention in their house. She never really bothered knowing who this God her mother had so much faith in, but she knew the concept of God. From what she knew, God was someone who you pray to in times of need and hope He grants it. He’s basically someone who governs the world with the good side of things, but that’s just unbelievable. Why would He just suddenly kill her mother, someone who obviously wasn’t evil? Stephanie just couldn’t understand it. And so she grieved heavily unknowing whether she’d see her mother again.

      As she was walking down to the road home still wiping the tears she had left, Yohan had spotted her as he was sitting on higher ground.

      “Hey,” Yohan called out, finding it weird that a girl was out late this evening crying all alone. Stephanie was startled and stopped right at her steps.

      “Why are you out this late?” Yohan asked. Stephanie at first didn’t know what to answer as this was her first Korean encounter without Jessica translating some words she might not understand.

      “U-um… just can’t sleep,” she stuttered.

      “Can’t sleep? That’s strange. I can’t sleep either,” Yohan said as he turned his eyes to the starry night. Stephanie just stood there stiffly, debating whether or not she should excuse herself and go home or stay a little bit more to chat with this boy her age. After all, company makes her forget a few things.

      “Want some milk?” Yohan suddenly said, stretching his hand to give Stephanie one bottle. “I bought two bottles in case I didn’t feel drowsy after one bottle. Want some? It really helps make you feel sleepy.”

      “Thanks…” Stephanie bowed her head awkwardly and accepted his offer. She went closer to him and jumped on the concrete to sit with him.

      “I-I heard you crying a while ago,” he timidly said as Stephanie started drinking. “A-Are you alright?”

      “There’s just someone close to my heart who died. But thank you for this,” Stephanie smiled, “I’m fine now. Thanks.”

      “Who?”

      “Um… my mother.”

      “Oh…”

      “Yeah…”

An awkward silence fell upon them. Stephanie looked up at the sky to avoid eye contact, but Yohan kept his eyes on her.

      “…Are you really okay?” Yohan asked worriedly.

      Stephanie shook the bottle of milk and stared back at him with a smile. “I feel slightly better.”

      “And I remember thinking even then, you were such a good guy,” Stephanie said. “You made me feel better so quickly. I mean not even Jessica had that ability that day.”

      “But how about now, Fany-ah? Are you fine, now?” Yohan suddenly asked. Stephanie didn’t expect him to ask that.

      She thought about it and sighed, “I feel slightly better.” After that, neither of them continued the conversation.

      In a few minutes, both were sleeping soundly on that rainy afternoon—one tired from working, and the other tired from grieving. If anyone saw them together on one bed at that moment, they’d be mistaken as a couple sweetly sleeping in the afternoon, but really, they were just friends trying to heal each other’s scars.

      Truthfully, Stephanie had never slept that well when it rains, but this afternoon was somewhat bearable. Life wasn’t so bad, really. She was never alone in the world. No matter how much she’d try to deceive herself with that statement, cousins like sisters, a boy like a brother, and a whole town like parents would always prove her wrong. No matter how heavy a situation could be, sometimes, all she needed was to give in and rest. And maybe when she wakes up, the sun will be up again.


CHAPTER 3: Damaged


Chapter Theme Song:
Resting Hour – Green River Ordinance

When your bridge is burned and you can’t find a quiet mile
Lost and deserted
Leave it behind
I’ll come running

When all your hard days wear on your shoulder
Can’t help but feel like you’re walking the same old line
I’ll come running

Open up to me, open up to me
I will always be your resting hour
Give it all to me, give it all to me
Maybe I can be your resting hour

I see the sun and it’s rising slowly
For every shadow there’s a light
Open your eyes I’ll come running

Open up to me, open up to me
I will always be your resting hour
Give it all to me, give it all to me
Maybe I can be your resting hour
Your resting hour

When we are broken, we’re not forgotten
You will be strong
And even though that fight that we’re facing
Leaves you burned out and shaken
You’re not alone

Open up to me, open up to me
I will always be…
Open up to me, open up to me
I will always be your resting hour
Give it all to me, give it all to me
Maybe I can be your resting hour
Your resting hour
Your resting hour

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