Chapter 3: Damaged
JULY 28, 1998, Tuesday
A new Lexus LS400 parked right at the front of their hanok house. A woman wearing baggy, hip-hop clothing and sunglasses, sleekly came out the car as if paparazzi were hoarding around her with that prideful smirk on her face.
“Finally here!” she held her chin up high. The gas almost run out trying to keep up with how desperate she wanted to reach this place. It truly was an accomplishment to drive nonstop from Seoul to Yuchiri, Gangwondo.
After seeing the view of a plain land with nothing but grass, dirt, and small, old houses, she took off her sunglasses. She expected to see something like huge mountains or maybe even a lake, but nothing. It was all just the countryside—the flat plain kind. And though there were hills all around her, she didn’t consider it majestic enough.
“Eehh… this place…” she clicked her teeth and softly banged on her car’s window. “Hana-yah, come out!”
At the backseat was a girl the same age as Sunny and Stephanie named Hana or Hannah. She had fallen asleep in the car ride and was startled that she and her sister were finally here. She came out of the car and stretched.
“Woah, where are we?” Hannah looked around, startled that she was seeing entirely different scenery from what she last saw before she fell asleep. She saw high buildings a while ago and now they’re just in a farmland. There were no high buildings, no skyscrapers, nothing grand at all. Only trees, fields, and one-floor houses.
From the hill where the hanok house sat, Stephanie spotted them immediately. She got up to her feet and walked to them.
“Sasha Unnie! Hannah!!” she smiled with her arms wide open. The two sisters quickly recognized her and were happy that they were in the right place. Sasha ran to her cousin and hugged her tightly. Hannah just followed awkwardly from behind but also took a turn to hug her cousin.
“Wow, you really are very pregnant!” Sasha exclaimed and touched Stephanie’s belly. Stephanie felt a little violated by the sudden touch though tried to brush it off since it wasn’t anything new. A pregnant woman’s belly is apparently like a dog that everyone just wants to pet. Hannah, on the other hand, quickly hit Sasha, feeling embarrassed that her older sister might have done something rude. Sasha didn’t really notice anything inappropriate about what she did or said. “Oh, I remember you when you were only 4 years old. Now you’re all so pretty and grown up!”
“Ah… haha thanks Unnie, why don’t we go in?” Stephanie awkwardly said and tried her best not to show her mixed feelings towards Sasha.
Hannah could easily read Stephanie as if she was herself. The two cousins didn’t really know each other that well but they were very similar in character. She met Stephanie’s uneasy eyes and she just bowed her head apologetically.
Since no one was notified that they were coming, no one was at home with Stephanie but Hyuna and Sunhwa. They panicked for a little while when the unexpected guests came but Sasha told them not to stress themselves out. They didn’t need any special treatment.
“Who are they?” Hyuna asked Stephanie.
“They’re my cousins from my mother’s side,” Stephanie said. “I invited them to live here for just a month or so with me.”
“Ya’ guys are livin’ here?” Sunhwa asked.
“Did you get Pap and Sunny Unnie’s approval?” Hyuna said, raising her voice as if she’s not happy two more people are going to live with them.
“Yeah… I talked about this with Uncle Munsik,” Stephanie nodded but quickly averted her eyes away from Hyuna. She didn’t really talk about this with anyone else but Sunny and Hyuna’s father because she thought they wouldn’t properly understand her real intentions.
“So why are you guys here exactly?” Hyuna asked.
“Oh you mean you don’t know yet?” Sasha said. “I’m here to adopt Stephanie’s baby.”
Dead silence came in the room when Sasha said that. Sunhwa’s jaw dropped knowing how sensitive that topic was and dared not say anything. Hyuna became blank, trying to let the woman’s words sink. She was highly against Stephanie giving up her baby to someone else from the very start, now she just invited her cousin to adopt it? And this house isn’t even Stephanie’s so what gives her the right to just allow anyone to live here? Hannah quickly caught on to the teenagers’ surprised expressions. She slapped Sasha again on her arm knowing how inappropriately blunt that was.
“Why? What’s wrong?” Sasha looked at Hannah and to everyone else. Stephanie tried to think of something to say but just ended up clearing her throat, turning the atmosphere even more awkward.
“Well if not that, I’m here to take Stephanie back to America,” Narsha continued.
“You’re in Korea right now,” Hannah hissed at her sister. “What are you doing? I thought we were supposed to keep this part of the plan hushed.”
Korea has a very different culture compared to Westerners. In Korea, single mothers are taboo and highly looked down upon. That goes the same for the children of single mothers, making them an easy target for bullies. As for the fathers, the blame usually will not be placed upon them and they can basically disappear without shame unlike a father in a Western setting who is required to pay child support. Even such a common thing in America like divorce is highly taboo in Korea.
To save Stephanie a bit from the shame of not having her child’s father around, she and the ones closest to her formed the story of Jinwon’s death after he left town. At least death was a bit understandable.
Usually in Korea, marriages are quickly forced into couples who conceive an unplanned child. Well, it’s either that or they abort the baby as soon as possible. The parents of the guy would usually make their son’s girlfriend abort it as quietly as possible. Since Jessica despised abortion so much, she convinced Stephanie not to abort it before she told Jinwon the news. And when Stephanie did tell Jinwon, the couple both agreed to raise it together. Marriage was a little bit far on their minds, but they knew they’d eventually have to tie the knot someday for the baby.
Since Jinwon’s parents favored and trusted Stephanie too much as if she was their own daughter, they didn’t have it in them to force her to do something she didn’t want to. They also didn’t have it in them to abandon her as a father would normally do, so they are still supporting her with some money. Their ties with her are not that far off.
As for adoption in Korea, babies are sold higher to foreign adoptees than to domestic adoptees. Stephanie didn’t like the idea of selling a person based on whatever race it was going to be placed into. She didn’t like the idea of giving up her baby to those foster cares at all!
Thus she searched up her options and Sasha was more than willing to adopt her baby. If Stephanie was to ever change her mind and keep the baby before or after it is born, that would also be fine. Stephanie’s main idea was to send her baby to America or go back to America with the baby herself along with Stephanie’s full support. At least in America, her situation would be more understandable and life would be so much easier. There might even be a chance to meet Jessica there again.
“How old are you?” Hyuna asked Sasha as if she was interrogating her.
“Yah! What’s with that glare? I’m 27, kid. Do I look like I’m not old enough to be a mother? And if you are wondering, paper work and all that are already being arranged.”
“Then what are you doing here?” Hyuna pointed to Hannah. Hannah was taken aback and tried to find something to say. Truthfully, she just wanted to go with her sister because back in Seoul, she was being bullied for weird reasons she couldn’t even understand. She just wanted an escape for a little while. Get some fresh air and all that.
“Yah, Hyuna,” Stephanie grabbed Hyuna’s hands and let it down. “Don’t be so rude to them. This is all my decision to bring them here. Don’t treat them like they’re outlaws.”
“Whatever…” Hyuna scoffed. She didn’t really have any ill-feelings towards the guests. She’s just frustrated that Stephanie was doing things again without notifying those closest to her. “I wasn’t going to say this, but really, you are just going to give your baby away like how your family gave you away.”
Hanna, Sasha, and Sunhwa’s jaw dropped all at the same time. They didn’t expect Hyuna to say such a rude thing. When Stephanie’s mother was about to die, her traumatized father didn’t want her to witness her mother’s death and sent her to live with the Jung family, and she was willing. Stephanie wasn’t really given away by her family for she was the one who actually decided to stay with the Jungs longer than her family wanted her to. But of course, what Hyuna said was really offensive. Family was such a sensitive topic to Stephanie.
Stephanie’s temper immediately boiled up to the point that she acted out in anger. She struggled to stand up and started packing her bags as quickly as she could.
“What are you doing now? You’re just going to leave?” Hyuna scoffed. Hannah stood up and tried convincing Stephanie to calm down but Stephanie just stubbornly and silently proceeded to do what she was doing. Sasha and Sunhwa just tried to stay quiet.
As Hannah tried her hardest to stop her cousin, Stephanie angrily shook Hannah’s hands off her arm and said, “Don’t touch me.”
Hannah was astonished and backed off. She awkwardly stood there, nodding her head. “Okay then…,” she thought with her eyebrows raised.
“You do know that Sunny Unnie will hate you for that. She doesn’t like it when people leave so suddenly,” Hyuna said, making Stephanie pause on what she was doing. So far, Sunny has been the most helpful person that tended to her in this little village, and she can’t deny that she loved Sunny very much. She was so intent on leaving this place at this moment that she didn’t realize Sunny was someone whom she needed in her life for now.
“Can you all just go outside for a moment and let me live my life the way I want it,” Stephanie said, completely tired and done of Hyuna’s ways of putting her down. “I need to have a word with Sasha Unnie.”
“Fine,” Hyuna stood up, grabbed Sunhwa’s arm and stubbornly left the room dragging Sunhwa with her. As for Hannah, she also sneaked out the room, not wanting to get involved.
Stephanie massaged her temples and took a deep breath. She sat back down and said, “Sorry for Hyuna. She just doesn’t understand a few things, or maybe I just haven’t explained the situation to her yet.”
“Oh, that’s alright Fany-ah!” Sasha laughed. “You’re okay though, right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Stephanie sighed.
“That’s good. Why did you choose me again? I don’t think I caught on with a reason.”
“Oh, you? You’re my cousin and I trust you. Remember, you used to babysit me and Hannah back in America when we were really young. I figured it’d be nice to let this child be with someone close, especially on my mother’s side of the family. I don’t know… it just feels more secure to me than any of the choices here in the village. And you have a fiancé who’s obsessed with babies so that makes it even better, right?”
“Well, I’ll take care of it really well as if it was my own,” Sasha said, gently taking hold of Stephanie’s hand. “But of course, it can never be too late for you to change your mind.”
“I’m… I’m not changing my mind,” Stephanie sighed. “This baby will be yours, Unnie.”
While out walking around the community, Hannah picked up a few flowers on the side of the road and started humming to herself. A wind blew her way and she found herself grinning more than she expected. The summer air was quite refreshing and the quiet farmland was relaxing, too. As a city person, the countryside was definitely a great thing to visit once in a while. It made her realize how peaceful life can sometimes be when she’s far away from all her troubles and responsibilities—that is, when she’s far from all those stupid bullies who think she never talks.
Hannah was never really an outgoing type and had always been a very, very awkward introvert. She always hid in a corner and avoided crowds of people whenever she could. She was “friends” with a group of girls but she didn’t really feel accepted and loved. She was always ignored and she blamed the fact that she was too quiet. She never gets noticed. She felt she’s nothing special. Well, at least her family loves her, especially Sasha, but her family was just so weird to her.
As she was walking she heard two people giggling within the tall and majestic ears of corn. There were smacking sounds and laughter which got her curious like a little cat. Taking little peeks in between the spaces of each stalk, she saw glimpses of a girl and boy about her age. They were snickering as they whispered inaudible sweet things to each other. And suddenly, the guy kissed the girl. It was quick, but then the guy gently cupped the girl’s face, stared at her for a second, and slowly kissed her again. Hannah was so flustered seeing something like this that her body clumsily wobbled until she fell on her bottom. She panicked that she might be caught eavesdropping with all the crunching ruckus that she was causing with the leaves, but surprisingly, the couple didn’t seem to hear her there.
“They must still be making out,” Hannah said, fascinated. “Seoul is full of these idiots. I can’t believe couples like this would follow me even here.”
Suddenly, something strange and wet was touching her hand. For a second, her heart jumped but then when she saw that it was only a white little dog licking her, she sighed in relief.
“Oh, hello there! What are you doing here?” Hannah smiled and petted the dog. The dog suddenly tugged on her shirt and started walking. When the dog noticed Hyomin wasn’t doing anything, the dog looked back at her and tugged on her shirt again.
“Aigooyah… you want me to follow you, huh little doggie?” Hannah stood up and the dog started walking. Bored, Hannah followed it. Maybe she’ll find treasure or something just like how she found a couple making out.
Meanwhile, at a wide grass plain near the corn stalks, Sunny fell on her butt and sighed. This was the first day she had taken her cow Pureum out for training and discipline. Discipline meant the cow needed to know her role as a plow and should do as it was told. Discipline meant she had to be strict and harsh so that it will not slack off and do whatever it wants. Since Sunny’s heart had a soft spot for animals, especially for the first ever cow that was entrusted on her, she felt a little bit hurt seeing Pureum suffer on her first day of discipline. She just wanted to throw the towel off and spoil it with care, but she knew that won’t do any good. She knew she’d be giving it the wrong kind of love if she just let Pureum do whatever it wanted since the cow didn’t really have a clear sense of what’s good for its life or not.
“Pureum-ie, I’m sorry,” she sighed and caressed Pureum’s head. She laid down a bowl and poured water on it for her cow to drink. “I know it’s hard for you right now, but you have to endure, okay? You’ll be a great cow someday. I just know you will be.”
Pureum silently continued to drink and Sunny wryly smiled. She stared at Pureum’s nose where a stick had been pierced through it and she felt her heart ache. Since Pureum was planned to be a working cow, they had pierced its nose so that it would obey in the future. “It’s hard to grow up, isn’t it?” Before Pureum got pierced, she knew piercing a cow was a normal and necessary thing to do so she thought it would be fine. But when the time actually came, Sunny cried seeing Pureum get hurt as she was pierced. Sunny never did like it when anyone was hurting, especially those whom she loved.
As she watched Pureum drink while Charming tried drinking along, Stephanie’s words from a few weeks ago echoed in her mind, “Why do you care about me so much?”
Sunny’s family moved to the Middle Eastern country of Kuwait when she was 10 and lived there for a few years. The tragic thing is, Gulf War happened and Sunny’s family didn’t have time to move out of the country quickly. For a few months, they endured the war until they finally had an opportunity to go back to Korea. The whole family was fine and was in one piece, but Sunny on the other hand, had seen and gone through some traumatizing events. She saw a lot of people get hurt, get worried, and cry at the loss of a loved one. However, her brain had blocked those traumatizing events as well as bits and pieces from her childhood. But now, whenever she sees a big fire, smoke, or even a small drop of blood, she breaks down and cries for no particular reason. What’s even worse was that, like a dog, she’s sensitive to anything loud like fireworks, drums, explosions, or maybe even as simple as a champagne bottle being opened. She had been hiding this fact really well to everyone. No one ever knew but her father, mother, and Hyuna.
When Stephanie came to Korea when they were 15, Sunny felt really bad that she couldn’t remember a lot of the memories they had together when they were kids. She only knew her by her voice, her face, and maybe vague glimpses from the past, but any inside joke they had together, any adventure they shared together, was nothing but a lost memory.
This goes the same for almost everyone she knew other than her family. There were bits and pieces of memories here and there, but it wouldn’t be enough information to remember who they really were in her life before the Gulf War. Even the English language, which had been so familiar to her before, had become slightly alien speech. Hyuna told her that it didn’t really matter if she didn’t remember certain things and certain people because people naturally tend to forget a lot of their childhood. However, Sunny refused to believe that and still tears herself down for not being able to recognize people completely.
This made her feel so bad that it had shaped her to become the great helper that she is to everyone today. She is recognized as a strong person to everyone, but in truth, she was really just a very weak little girl. Rather than her activities being charity work, it was something to mask her hazy memory to everyone who knew her, especially to Stephanie whom she dearly loved. It was a way to say sorry to all those people whose memories she’s lost.
“She won’t ask about it any further, right?” Sunny said as she caressed Pureum’s neck. When Pureum was done taking a break, Sunny led her back near the house and Pureum automatically went back to her stall to rest more. Sunny on the other hand had other errands to attend to.
“I wonder what Shinyoung’s cooking…”
As she was walking towards the Kim’s home, she smelled something burning. She thought today was probably one of the Kim family’s barbeque days in their backyard where nothing ever goes right. They were so good at cooking yet they haven’t quite gotten the hang of outdoor cooking. Thus, she laughed it off. But suddenly, when she was about to enter the gate of the Kims, there was a sudden blast coming from her left, a block away where the barn of the Kim family was, and the barn was burning away into bits and pieces. The crackling fire had grown too big in a few seconds with the bomb-like explosion that it had opened the traumatizing feeling hidden deep within Sunny’s heart. She felt the tears automatically pulsing out of her eyes as her head started to ache. She tried to pick herself up and turn away, but her body started a slight convulsion. The struggle to control her body was too much that she couldn’t even breathe.
Suddenly, Charming jumped off of Sunny’s arms and ran towards the burning barn.
“Cha’ming!” She panicked thinking the Maltese dog would be harmed. “I’ll be dead if I hurt Stephanie’s dog!” she thought and forced herself to chase him.
Through the flames and smoke, she called out for Charming while struggling to breathe, think, or even keep it together. Her eyes were becoming an uncontrollable waterfall, her heart was churning up and twisting, and she could not hear anything but white noise. When she spotted Charming whom was scratching on a pile of hay while barking, Sunny quickly seized him and cuddled him tightly.
“Why did you run away from me?!” she scolded Charming and coughed.
When she struggled to get back on her feet, she caught a glimpse of a leg behind the hay that was in front of her. She pushed the hay away and found a girl passed out with a scratch in her head. There was also a plaque with a sharp nail that had wounded the girl’s right leg. There was blood trickling out and again, her fragile heart was hit with a hammer of trauma. Trying to hold back the trauma from controlling her, she ran out of the burning barn, dropped Charming and tied him to a post, then ran back to the burning building to save the girl. Without thinking, she carried the girl out of the building with her short but strong arms. As she was carrying her out of the building, a fire roared to her left and burned her arm and leg. She yelped in pain but tried not to drop the girl.
When they were finally a few feet away, Sunny tiredly laid the girl on the ground. She shouted for help but no one could hear her. Seeing that no one was around, she quickly took out a cloth from her pocket and wrapped it around the girl’s legs to stop the wound from bleeding. She tried to wake her up by slightly slapping her face but there was barely a response. She wasn’t even breathing.
“No, no, no, you’re not going to die today…,” Sunny said as she brushed away dust from the girl’s face. Sunny then quickly straightened her posture, positioned her wrists on the girl’s chest, and started pressing down on it for thirty times. Then she tilted the girl’s head up, opened up her mouth, and blew air into it while carefully watching her chest rise. She did this for about three times until finally the girl started choking on air and began to breathe again.
Out of energy, mentally and physically, Sunny passed out.
“You want me to kiss you?” Yohan whispered in Haneul’s ear when they have been going at all these stupid flirty jokes for an hour hiding behind the corn stalks. It was the first try at mentioning “kissing” to their little game and Haneul was totally amused.
“Mmm, Oppa!” Haneul snickered and hit him. The both laughed and seductively looked at each other as a joke, but Yohan looked at her differently in the process. He got attracted to her gaze and so did she. He quickly pressed his lips to hers and after a second, he withdrew from it. Just like that, he passionately went for his first kiss without knowing. It was a little sloppy and wet, but there was just something about it that made him want to immediately try more. His hand made its way gently to her cheek and slowly but surely, he leaned in and kissed her lips. This time, he wanted it to last longer. Haneul, who was at first paralyzed, slowly gave in and made out with him for as long as he pleased.
But when Yohan opened his eyes for a brief moment, it wasn’t Haneul that he saw kissing him back. It was Jessica with her eyes closed and she was passionately savoring the taste of his lips. The shock was so surreal that he backed away from her, confused and conflicted. He was quickly brought back to the reality that it was Haneul who was with him. Why did he just suddenly imagine Jessica? He knew this wasn’t right. He had convinced himself way too many times that he was over her. So how come she’s still here haunting him?
“Get a hold of yourself!” Yohan hit his head, “Aish, Kwon Yo-Han! You must be reeaally losing it already! Why did you have to bring up Sica right now?? She was never your girlfriend! You never even kissed her in your life!”
Haneul felt embarrassed realizing what was also going on. She looked away and giggled awkwardly. Her head was too over the clouds at what Yohan did that she didn’t notice Yohan mouthing curses under his breath.
“We should probably get going,” Haneul said, blushing.
“Huh?” Yohan gulped, still emotionally confused.
“I mean you know… Fany Unnie must be waiting for you.”
“Um… can’t we just spend a little more time together?” Yohan asked, feeling he had to spend more time with Haneul to get rid of the thought of Jessica.
“Oh… okay… what do you want to do?” Haneul shyly said.
“Let’s just take a walk.” So for an hour, they walked around town without conversing much. Neither really had anything more to say. Haneul clung onto Yohan’s arm and Yohan felt weird for the very first time with the skin contact. He casually pried her away and just held her hand even though holding her hand was also something that was suddenly so strange. Haneul was too happy to even notice the hesitancy in his actions. She didn’t notice that his heart was not with her.
Every step they took, Yohan would remember all the times he spent with Haneul wondering if he could’ve spent those experiences with Jessica instead. What could it have been like?
What could it have been like loving Jessica?
What could it have been like joking with Jessica?
What could it have been like flirting with Jessica?
What could it have been like walking and holding hands with Jessica?
What could it have been like kissing Jessica?
“Fire!” Haneul screeched, snapping Yohan out of his thoughts. In front of him, he saw the burning barn hardly being extinguished away by Taewoo, Jaejun, and a few other neighbor men. Yohan ran to help.
“S-s-Sunny Unnie!” Haneul ran to the collapsed girl and shook her. She did not wake up. Then she also did the same to the other girl beside Sunny but there was no response. She checked both airways and found the other girl breathing. Sunny however was not breathing.
“Does anyone know how to do CPR?” Haneul shouted.
“We’re kind of busy here,” Taewoo shouted back. “You’ll have to do it Haneul!”
“B-but I don’t know how!” Haneul said. Then an idea came to mind, “Yohan Oppa! Please help me out here! You know CPR, right?”
“W-what??” Yohan panicked. He’s never really done CPR before but he was taught by his father and even practiced on a dummy. He knew how to do CPR but he was too emotionally unstable to do it with a girl, specifically Sunny out of all people.
“Go ahead,” Taewoo said. “We can handle this fire.”
With that, Yohan went to the passed out Sunny and mentally panicked. How was he supposed to do CPR—locking lips with Sunny—right in front of Haneul while Jessica was sticking to the roof of his brain? He looked at Haneul for some kind of permission and she just nodded. She only wanted Sunny to be saved and didn’t really think any weird thoughts about it. So Yohan breathed in deeply to calm himself and exhaled.
“Help me,” Yohan said to Haneul as he laid Sunny flat on her back. Haneul helped him by unzipping Sunny’s jacket. He checked Sunny’s pulse and it was beating. But as expected, when he checked her breath, she wasn’t breathing. He then straightened his posture, positioned his wrists on Sunny’s chest, and started pressing down on it for thirty times. Then he tilted Sunny’s head up, opened up her mouth, and blew air into it while carefully watching her chest rise. Even though he had all these weird thoughts flying around his head, he didn’t let it conquer him. Soon enough, Sunny’s airway had been revived again.
Exhausted, Yohan panted for air and said, “We need to let them rest.”
“Oh darn, what are we going to do about her?” Shinyoung, the short, chubby, twenty-four year old woman sighed as the bandaged Sunny started groaning and sweating while she slept. She seemed to have picked up a bit of a fever and that doesn’t seem good. It has already been three hours since Yohan saved her from dying, yet she still seemed to be battling life as she slept.
“She’s going to be fine,” Yohan said. “Her injuries don’t seem to be too serious.”
Meanwhile, in the far corner of the room, there was Hannah sitting quietly as she stared intently at Sunny. “You’re not going to die today…” she faintly remembered hearing. She stared at her wounded leg and touched the edges of the white, blood-stained cloth. She thought this was done by a physician or maybe Yohan, but he said it was already there before anyone else got to the scene so Sunny must’ve been the one who had done it. Hannah was so shocked that a small girl like her had saved her from a very dangerous event. How was it that a stranger cared to bring her back to life and even tended her wounds like an expert?
“Okay, excuse me but who are ya again?” Shinyoung suddenly asked Hannah, “I haven’t seen you around these parts before.”
“Um… I’m just visiting a cousin,” Hannah scratched her head and awkwardly stammered with her voice barely audible to them.
“A what?” Shinyoung said, unable to hear her.
“C-cousin,” Hannah said, raising her voice a little bit.
“Um… well…” Hannah bit her lip.
“Why don’t you take it easy on her,” Yohan said, sensing the awkwardness in Hannah’s voice. “She did get hit in the head.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hannah turned to Yohan with a pout. “Is that implying I’m dumb?”
Yohan waved his hands to clear the misunderstanding and stuttered, “I-I meant I didn’t want you to be burdened because you were wounded! I just thought you need a bit more rest since what happened a while ago was really traumatizing. I mean a fire? That’s really scary!”
“It’s getting pretty late, though,” Jaejun said. “Are you sure your folks aren’t looking for you? One of us could escort you back to your cousins. Just tell us the name of your cousin. We’ll probably know who it is.”
Hannah shivered at the thought of going back to the very awkward atmosphere around Stephanie and Hyuna and decided not to go back there until she knew this Sunny girl, whom saved her life, is alright.
“I-I’ll be fine for now.”
“Where am I?”
Sunny walked around a really dark place with nothing but light from the fire around her. Strangely, the fire wasn’t making her cry and it wasn’t reminding her of any flashes from the past war she had witnessed in her younger years. She found it interesting that she could stare directly at it without reacting, so she reached out to touch the fire and it did nothing to her. It was as if it was only hologram. The fire was just there, completely harmless.
Suddenly, she heard someone crying from a distance, as if it was a little girl. She followed the sound and found a little girl about the age of four, crying. By this time, the fire had gone, and they were both in someone’s living room.
“Hey,” Sunny sat down beside her and patted the little girl’s back. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m really worried,” cried the little girl. “Why does she have to keep hiding it?”
“Hiding what?” Sunny asked.
“I really, really do love her,” the girl said, “But she’s hurting me.”
“Who’s hurting you?” Sunny asked.
Suddenly, from the stairs, Stephanie showed up and paused the moment she saw Sunny and the girl sitting on the couch. Stephanie was not pregnant and she seemed lively, healthy, and outgoing. Sunny didn’t really think of this as anything different and took it normally.
“Sunny!” Stephanie’s face lit up and hugged her.
However, when she withdrew from the hug, she was no longer Stephanie. She was now the girl whom Sunny saved a while ago, but Sunny couldn’t remember who she was. The girl took hold of Sunny’s hand and said, “Come with me.”
“Where?” Sunny asked.
They ran and ran through the dark place with nothing but the harmless fire in it and for what seemed to be an hour, there was finally a door. The girl turned the knob but Sunny suddenly gripped her hand to stop her.
“Wait, where does this lead to?” Sunny asked. “Are you sure about this?”
“What’s keeping you from opening it? Do you want to stay in this fire?” the girl asked. Sunny shook her head.
“Let’s go, then! It should lead to anywhere but here.”
The girl opened the door and there was a blinding light.
A rough groan alerted everyone that Sunny was awake. When she opened her eyes, she saw Hannah sitting on the corner. Wasn’t that just the girl who ran with her in her dream? When her eyes adjusted well to the room, she saw the Kims and Yohan staring intently at her. She felt a bandage around her head and felt a sharp, tight sting on her left arm and left leg. What’s with her lying on a bed? What happened? She couldn’t remember anything that happened at all.
“Sunny-ah!” Yohan said.
“Sunnyyyy! Are you alright? Can you get up?” Shinyoung asked.
“You’re so loud. Keep it down,” Sunny grumbled as she slowly sat up. “Ugh… what time is it?”
“6PM,” Jaejun said.
“What?!” Sunny exclaimed in shock. “It’s already 6? Man, they must already be looking for me,” she mumbled. “What happened to me?”
“You were collapsed in front of a burning building. Don’t you remember what caused the fire?” Taewoo asked. A while ago, he also asked Hannah but she also apparently doesn’t remember much.
“Oh… was I? I don’t… I don’t really remember anything,” Sunny scratched her head.
“Dinner is about to be ready. Do you want to eat here or…”
“No, no,” Sunny shook her head. “I have to go home. Fany must be looking for me.”
Hannah’s eyebrows shot up hearing Stephanie’s nickname. “Did I hear that right?” she thought.
“I promised her I’d go back early,” Sunny continued. “And where’s Prince Charming? Did ya’ guys perhaps see him? Damn that little rascal…”
“Haneul took him home to Fany,” Yohan said. “You don’t have to worry about that too much.”
“Wait, wait… How do you guys know Stephanie?”
“Hm?” Everyone turned her eyes to Hannah in confusion. Everyone in the village knew Stephanie as Sunny’s cousin. “What do you mean? I’m her cousin.”
“But I’m also her cousin,” Hannah said.
“What?” Shinyoung, Yohan, Jaejun, and Tae-woo all said in unison.
“Why…?” Hannah nervously laughed. “It’s the truth…”
“Sunny? Hannah! Oh my god, what happened?” Stephanie hugged them as soon as she saw their beaten up faces. She helped them walk to the house, not letting go of each other’s hands. With bandages around both heads, Hannah’s wounded leg, and Sunny’s wounded left arm, Stephanie knew something serious had occurred during the day. Earlier, Sunny had told her that she would finish her duties quickly to take her out for a walk but she never returned early. Only Haneul came with Charming in the afternoon. But even then, Haneul was too quiet and that definitely gave Stephanie the impression that something was not right with her cousins.
“Calm down, I’m going to be fine,” Sunny assured even though she constantly winced in pain every other minute. When she sat down in front of the porch to let her legs dangle, Stephanie joined her. Hannah sat beside Stephanie and Yohan sat beside Sunny. Haneul was also there and sat beside Yohan.
“Oh and thanks, Yohan,” Sunny said. “For saving my life.”
“Oh, hahaha,” Yohan laughed awkwardly. “It was nothing…”
“You saved her?” Stephanie said in disbelief.
“Yeah, he did CPR on Sunny like an expert,” Haneul proudly said.
“CPR? So you guys touched lips??” Stephanie said that teasingly to which Sunny laughed her head off.
“It’s not as if I wanted to!” Yohan angrily said. “She was dying and nobody else knew how! And stop laughing! You’re making me feel weirder.”
“Yeah, that must’ve been really hard for you when you just made out with your girlfriend,” Hannah softly chimed in. The four looked at her in confusion. Soon enough, Yohan felt his body heat up out of embarrassment and Haneul blushed.
“What? Girlfriend?” Stephanie and Sunny said in unison as their heads slowly turned to Yohan and Haneul. “You guys made out?”
“Ahah… ahahaha, what are you talking about?” Yohan awkwardly laughed. “Made out?” he gulped.
“U-us? Psh! Since when?!” Haneul nervously laughed.
“Don’t tell me that was just a hallucination,” Hannah said. “I saw you both hiding in the cornstalks.” Yohan felt his body heat up and Haneul’s eyes grew big. Hannah looked at her nails and sighed, “I witnessed it all, you know.”
“Whatever, whatever!” Yohan huffed stubbornly. “Haneul, did I ever kiss you?”
“N-no,” Haneul lied, trying to go along with him, assuming he wanted to keep it a secret.
“Then let’s change that,” Yohan said. Without a warning, he quickly kissed Haneul on her lips. Hannah rolled her eyes, Stephanie’s jaw slightly dropped, and Sunny’s eyes and mouth grew wide with a big smile on her face. She started clapping and laughing uncontrollably.
Yohan quickly ended it and stared at Stephanie shyly for a brief moment before storming off of their presence. Haneul on the other hand blushed madly and was so embarrassed that she ran away and went home. After Sunny laughed her head off again, Stephanie cleared her throat and changed the topic.
“Okay then… I heard you were there first in the burning barn,” Stephanie asked Hannah, “Did the other guys save you, too?”
“I saved her,” Sunny said, surprising Hannah.
“You?” Stephanie’s eyes grew wide.
“Yeah… but I guess I passed out. I did CPR on her a few times and it was exhausting,” Sunny said. “I’m glad I put my dad’s life saver lessons to work.”
“A few times??” Hannah thought, feeling weird now with all the topic about lip-locking. “Does that mean—”
“But why were you even there in the first place?” Sunny asked Hannah, snapping her out of her thoughts. “Seems unlikely that a girl like you could set fire to a barn.”
“Not really unlikely. I’m a bit clumsy so it’s possible… But I don’t even remember how I got there or anything.”
Then Sunny remembered the dream she had a while ago. She only vaguely remembered a few parts of it, but she clearly remembered the part when Hannah opened the door. It was something to ponder about and it made her want to get to know Hannah. “So why are you here again?” she asked Hannah. “Were you just visiting or…”
“Stephanie Unnie is officially putting her baby up for adoption,” Hyuna suddenly said from behind them.
“Huh?” Sunny’s eyebrows furrowed and then she turned to Stephanie. “What?”
Stephanie just stayed silent as she could not lift her head up to face Sunny. Maybe keeping things a secret from her wasn’t a good idea after all.
“Go on, tell her,” Hyuna said and crossed her arms. “She’ll take it really well.”
“Tell me what?” Sunny said. “Stephanie?”
Hannah felt bad for Stephanie and said, “H-hey… truthfully my sister and I am here to bring her back to the states or just adopt her baby… B-but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t trust you with your choices!”
“What?” Sunny said, still confused. “B-but I thought…”
“She was going to leave this place without a word. How great is that,” Hyuna scowled and walked away.
“It’s not like that!” Stephanie angrily said to Hyuna.
“It feels like that!” Hyuna shouted back. “Sort your thoughts out, Unnie! We’ve been working our butts out helping you live a suitable life but how do show us your gratitude? With leaving—just because you feel this is a better way? I guess we’re really not good enough for you, huh?”
“Stop making your words up, Hyuna. I never said anything like that!” Stephanie said. “I am thankful but—”
“Thankful but…? You’re always creating so many unnecessary options and excuses. Why can’t you look at what’s in front of you?!”
“That’s enough, Hyuna,” Sunny said sternly. Hyuna shut her mouth and walked away. When she was out of sight, Sunny looked at Stephanie and Stephanie began to cry.
“Why is she so mean?” Stephanie cried and Hannah just patted her back to comfort her.
“Seeing how she’s so upset that you might leave, she must really love having you around,” Sunny guessed. “It’s not that she’s mean. You know Hyuna… she’s really caring but not always in the gentle way possible. And when she loves… I think when she loves too much, it’s hard for her to let go. She’s just… maybe she’ll miss you a lot, that’s all.”
When Stephanie heard this, she cried even harder but not because she felt hurt, she cried even harder because she realized she’s been only looking at herself in this situation. She realized what her mistake had caused and felt really bad about not telling them any sooner. But it’s not like she could change it all around now. Sasha and Hannah are here and it’s either they’ll take the baby or Stephanie will go with them back to America.
“So you’re… adopting the baby?” Sunny gently asked Hannah.
“Not me. My sister will,” Hannah said. “And her future-husband.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you any sooner,” Stephanie sniffed. “I was planning to tell you but I didn’t have the courage to.”
“That’s alright,” Sunny sighed. “It’s your life anyway, right? You’re old enough to take care of your own well-being. If you think that’s good, then okay.”
“You’re not upset?” Stephanie asked.
“Don’t worry.” Truthfully, Sunny was upset. She didn’t want Stephanie to leave even though she knew eventually they’d have to go on their separate ways. In about two months, that baby will be born soon, and she wouldn’t want to find out what will happen by then.
After dinner, while Stephanie and Yohan were washing the dishes together, Stephanie couldn’t hold in her thoughts any longer as she kept recalling what he did with Haneul. She spoke to him cautiously in hopes of not making him break down again at the topic of Jessica.
Stephanie said, “You know, what you did a while ago was a pretty bold thing to do.”
“Was it? I don’t even know what I did back there,” Yohan said. “I feel really weird.”
“In what way are you feeling weird? Didn’t you do that to show me you’re trying to move on?”
“Yeah, I guess that is the thing, but truthfully, I’m still confused. Do you know the feeling when someone is always at the back of your head, always preventing you to do something that maybe felt so right to do at the moment? Like a conscience? Like an annoying little bug?”
“Of course,” Stephanie nodded.
“Well it’s like that. I want to be with Haneul, you know? But Jessica just keeps popping up and it’s honestly getting so frustrating now. I don’t even know if I’m still in love with her or I’m just starting to hate her because the thought of her makes me stop doing what I want to do. Do you have any idea how I can completely get over her?”
“I’m not an expert in that area, I’m sorry,” Stephanie said. “But I think maybe you should talk to Jessica.”
“What? Why would I?”
“Well not as in technically phone call her because that’s a bit expensive, but maybe write her a letter or something—rant about her or praise her? And she doesn’t even have to read it. If Jessica is something that’s becoming an unhealthy thought for you, maybe you should let all of her out of you? I don’t know if it’ll actually work… but you know, it’s just an idea.”
“But then at the same time,” Stephanie continued. “Why don’t you try looking at Haneul only when you’re with her? From what you always tell me, you seem to always have your mind elsewhere when you’re with her.”
“You really think so?” Yohan wondered.
“I really think so,” Stephanie said.
“Then I’ll keep trying harder,” Yohan said. Then he remembered, “Oh yeah, what was all that about you going to America? Are you leaving Korea once you give birth?”
“Well, nothing is really for sure yet,” Stephanie sighed and didn’t want to continue the topic any further. “There’s about two months left before the baby is born. A lot of things can change by then.”
Meanwhile, Sunny caught Hyuna sitting by herself outside. She sat beside her little sister and said, “Why did you do that?”
“Do what?” Hyuna pouted.
“She upset me first,” Hyuna huffed.
“How can I not be upset? Why can’t she always make up her mind? I thought she was going to stay here and we can all take care of her baby, but what is she doing? She’s suddenly inviting her other cousins to stay here until the baby arrives, and then they’ll all go?”
“Is that a way of you saying you’ll miss her?” Sunny asked.
“What? No.” Hyuna crossed her arms to her chest.
“Really?” Sunny smirked. “’Cause it sounds like you’ll really do miss her.”
“Don’t look at me like you can read right through me. I have different reasons and it’s not just because I’ll miss her.”
“Then what is it?”
Hyuna stayed silent for a while, but then, in a low and shy voice, she said, “It’s because of you, Unnie.”
“Why? What about me?” Sunny asked.
“You don’t know it, but you always smile so much when you’re with Fany Unnie. I don’t really see it when you’re with others. You always have that really natural and joyful smile when you’re with her and I… I just didn’t want you to lose that, you know? For my own sanity, I wouldn’t mind sending her away, but for you…,” she sighed.
Sunny was stunned and became mute. She didn’t know what to say for she didn’t know Hyuna cared about her in this way.
“You know… after the war, you became different. It’s not that it was a bad thing. You actually became really mellow and kind-hearted and understanding. But I just feel like you always had this weird, smile on you—even this restrained laughter when you… you know—lost it and all that. With Fany Unnie, you seem to be really, really happy, as if you forget what happened to you.”
“Am I really happy around her?” Sunny asked herself. Truthfully, Stephanie made her even more depressed and conflicted than she had ever been before Stephanie came to the farm. When Sunny heard about Jinwon losing his memories, she was shocked. It had only been two years ago when she saw Jinwon hugging Stephanie so lovingly. His eyes were always filled with joy every time he held Stephanie’s hand. Even when she talked on the phone with him when they revealed the pregnancy, he seemed like a guy that loved Stephanie too much that it was impossible for him to forsake her. Now, Jinwon’s memories of Stephanie are lost just like how her memories of her are somewhat lost, too. How unfortunate for Stephanie to have close people with such bad memories. So every time she’s beside Stephanie, she feels very sad and sorry.
But above all that, Stephanie was someone she cared about a lot even before Stephanie became pregnant or lost her mother. Stephanie was a cousin whom she cherished wholeheartedly because she was someone who didn’t bring the past up. Stephanie always looks to the now and future and Sunny admired that. She was also so fun to have around.
Sunny’s family wasn’t always living in this farm and was only here for a certain period of time. At the first month, she was just trying to pass time by living in her deceased grandpa’s farm, but when Stephanie came, she was actually trying to live every moment of her life. Stephanie actually made her want to do better in her own duties.
“I want to see more sunny days and I don’t want you to lose that, Unnie,” Hyuna said.
Sunny sighed and chuckled, “I won’t lose my sunny days anymore. I promise. Tell you what, from now on forward, it’ll be a Sunny Day.”
Chapter Theme Song:
Damaged – Fiction Family
I am damaged and I don’t want you to know
Under bandages are wounds I’ll never show
I dress them well before you come around
They’re wrapped up till you go
Cause I am damaged and I don’t want you to know
There are many pictures hung up on my wall
And I have let you think that you have seen them all
But I take some down before you come around
It’s propaganda, yeah I know
But I am damaged and I don’t want you to go
Read the inside and you’ll find some rotten boards
So I paint the outside with only major chords
And I won’t lie, but I’ll hide things
In the basement down below
Cause I am damaged and I don’t want you to know
Yes I am damaged and I don’t want you to know