Chapter 4: Afraid to Lose You
JULY 29, 1998, Wednesday
“Hey, stop eating already,” Sunny slapped Stephanie’s thigh. “You’ve eaten literally everything Jaejun Oppa had served you! Aren’t you bloated?”
“Not one bit!” Stephanie said with a mouthful. “I am pregnant. It’s only natural that I eat for two, right?”
“Yeah, I guess… but seriously, you weren’t like this before. I mean you eat just enough,” Sunny said. “Now you just look like… a pig.”
“Whatever. Pigs are pink. I like pink,” Stephanie smiled at her and gulped down what she was eating. Sunny just scoffed at her.
While Stephanie was drinking water, she suddenly choked and dropped the glass. The glass shattered and one of the shards pricked Sunny’s leg.
“Ow!” Sunny yelped in pain. A quite large shard pierced through her skin, but it didn’t seem to hurt as much as she thought. She took it off and stared at the shard in confusion. She was about to tell Stephanie that something about this painless wound seemed strange, but then she noticed Stephanie breathing raggedly.
“W-woah, hey, what’s wrong?” Sunny asked. Stephanie couldn’t talk and her body shook. Tears started falling and she fell on the ground. Her hands were immediately wounded by the broken glass shards.
“Stephanie!” Sunny gasped and ran to get the bandages. When she came back, Stephanie started vomiting. But it wasn’t vomit, it was blood. Sunny couldn’t get any closer and her head pounded. The sight of blood made her paralyzed her eyes rapidly blinked out of shock.
“Unnie!” she heard Hyuna shout.
“Unnie! Sunny-Unnie! Wake up!” Hyuna shook her and Sunny eyes immediately opened.
“W-what… what just…” Sunny panted as her body shook.
“You just had a nightmare again, didn’t you?”
“Wh-where’s Stephanie?” Sunny said, still uneasy and nervous from what she had seen in her dream. “I-I-Is she alright?”
“Woah, hey, calm down,” Hyuna said. “Unnie…”
Sunny quickly stood up and ran towards Stephanie’s room, ignoring her injuries. She opened the door and saw Stephanie fixing her bed with Hannah. There was also Yohan sitting on the corner of the room all snuggled up in a blanket as he was writing on his journal.
“Sunny…?” Stephanie stopped what she was doing when she saw Sunny in a very anxious state so early in the morning.
Yohan laid his notebook down and stood up. “Woah, hey, are you alright?”
Sunny felt her energy drain and her body felt light, feeling relieved that what she saw was only a dream. She was about to fall, but Yohan quickly caught her. “Hey, what happened?”
“She just had a bad dream,” Hyuna said from the back. She then rubbed Sunny’s back and gave her a glass of water.
“Bad dream? What was it about?” Stephanie asked as she approached Sunny.
“You’d rather not know about it,” Sunny said and drank some water while trying to avoid Stephanie’s face. “It’s not exactly pleasant.”
“You better take it easy, Unnie,” Hyuna said. “You always have bad dreams when bad things happen to you.”
“It’s not as if I can stop it from happening,” Sunny huffed and tried not to think about it. “Anyway, what time is it?”
“It’s 10 AM.”
“Ten?? What? I should’ve woken up at 7! Pap should’ve woken me up at 7!”
“Pap figured to let you sleep more because you’re injured. C’mon, give it a break. You’ve been working too hard. Besides, it’s raining. It’s not like you can do a lot of roaming around town. You might get a cold at this rate.”
“So much for those sunny days, then,” Sunny mumbled and pouted.
“Go get breakfast,” Hyuna said. “Ma and Narsha Unnie prepared quite a lovely breakfast. Seems like Narsha Unnie isn’t a bad addition to this house after all.”
“Ah! I’m hungry!” Yohan stretched and then yawned. Then he held out his hand for Stephanie to hold. Together, they both went to the dining room.
“I’ll just freshen up, and then I’ll eat,” Sunny said.
“Okay then. Don’t take too long! The soup will get cold.” Hyuna smiled and followed Stephanie and Yohan.
Meanwhile, Hannah just sat there on Stephanie’s bed, starring at Sunny.
“Aren’t you going, too?” Sunny asked Hannah.
“Huh? Me? I’m strangely not hungry yet,” Hannah said. She still could not believe that Sunny had saved her from that barn—this little girl, who could pass as a middle school student, saved her from danger.
“Oh… okay then.”
An awkward silence fell between them until Hannah tried to break it. “So… you had a bad dream?”
“I had a bad dream, too,” Hannah said.
“And it was honestly weird.”
“What was it about?” Sunny asked.
Hannah looked around and then whispered, “Stephanie.”
“Fany?” Sunny’s eyebrows shot up. Her dream was also about Stephanie.
“Yeah, and it was strange. She was in pain and everyone else was running around trying to find something to help her. It was like she was about to give birth. But then… she stopped breathing. She….,” Hannah cautiously looked around and continued in a very hushed tone, “She died, but the baby was alive when they proceeded to cut her belly open.”
“What the hell?”
“Yeah, yeah… Yohan then started crying and carried the baby when it was born. He started getting angry with everyone and argued with Narsha Unnie that he will be the one to adopt the baby. He even completely ignored his girlfriend. What’s her name again? Haneul?”
“Yohan adopted the baby? Okay, your dream is definitely weirder than mine,” Sunny laughed.
“I know it’s so weird, right? I couldn’t even tell it to them.”
“Some dreams are just left to be private from the ones whom you dreamed off, I guess. Mine’s pretty much like that.”
“Why, what did you dream of?” Hannah asked.
“It’s about Stephanie, too, actually… but,” Sunny paused and didn’t want to recall her dream. “It was quite nerve wracking for me. She vomited out blood and I was…,” she paused and hesitated to tell Hannah that she actually had a hemophobia. “Well, the dream felt real and I freaked out.”
“By the way, though,” Hannah said. “How’s your leg and arm? Does it still hurt?”
Sunny touched the bandage on her left arm and said, “It does sting but it doesn’t hurt that much. How about you?”
“My leg’s still bad,” Hannah whimpered.
“Well, it hasn’t even been a day since it happened.” Sunny shrugged. “I guess healing all these wounds would take both of us some time.”
“Yeah…,” Hannah nodded. She then got up and slowly limped to the door. However, she couldn’t quite walk properly with the severe pain whenever she moved her leg. It wasn’t long before she soon became outbalanced. Sunny quickly grabbed Hannah’s hand with her left hand. All of Hannah’s weight at that moment landed on Sunny’s left arm, the one that had been burned, but Sunny didn’t seem to show any discomfort.
“D-doesn’t that hurt?” Hannah stuttered. “Your arm…”
“Don’t worry about me,” Sunny said. “You’re doing worse than I am. And I told you, it doesn’t hurt a lot.”
“Th-thanks…,” Hannah bowed her head shyly.
“Now, hold it,” Sunny said as she offered her right hand. “I’ll be your crutch for now.”
“Y-you don’t have to, though… I-I can walk by myself.”
“Don’t tease me,” Sunny said. “You almost fell a while ago!”
“Well?” Sunny waited for Hannah to grab her hand and soon enough, Hannah did, grateful for the offer.
“Guys!! The mails are here!” Sunhwa, with a big smile on her face, came in the house and took off her raincoat. She then sat down with the big family and dropped quite a pile of letters on the table.
Like Christmas, their faces lit up and started passing around the letters.
“Now, why’d all the bills get passed on to me?!” Munshik, or Sunny and Hyuna’s dad, complained and the others just laughed.
“Oh? I got a letter from my girls!” Hyuna jumped from her seat, excited to read her friends’ letters from Seoul.
While the others were passing a bunch of letters, Stephanie spotted a letter for her and smiled. She got up quietly with Charming following behind and went out the house to read the letter in private. She sat by the edge of the porch of the hanok house and let her legs dangle even though it was a bit cold because of the rain. Her heart felt uneasy once again being under those gray skies. She can never get used to this kind of weather anymore. The baby started moving inside her belly and she just gently traced the bumps while heaving a big sigh. She tried to shake these glum feelings off and proceeded to open the letter—a letter that was definitely only for her written in English by Jessica.
My Dearest Stephie,
How have you been? As for me, I do like to think I’m fine and happy all independent at home right now without you but I miss you so much, really. It’s really quiet here all by myself. I was so used to having you suddenly talk to me randomly. Now nobody talks to me—nobody talks to me like you do.
You know, sometimes 3 is such an odd number (literally ㅋㅋㅋ). There would even be times when I have a mental confusion for a few seconds when my parents only order three servings or three meals. In the restaurants, there’s that one empty seat. And don’t even get me started on the unoccupied left back seat… It’s so strange without our number four. I miss you, our fourth family member, Stephanie ❤. I used to always worry about you back then and I admit I still do. But it’s kind of weird just trying to take care of myself now. We have to be together again someday and live in the same apartment or something either back in the states or here. You have to promise me that. With your baby, too.
Stephanie instantly felt tears rushing. Jessica had such high hopes of taking care of the baby with her. Jessica always seemed quite excited about it—being an aunt. Maybe she should’ve told Jessica a little sooner, too, that this was not her baby anymore; she doesn’t feel like it is anymore. Surely Jessica will understand that somehow, right?
I received your letter last week (which might be a week or maybe even a month for you by now when you receive this) and I honestly almost cried a waterfall just hearing your voice in my head. I really miss you but I guess you being there with your family is for the best. What you said about the farm seems really nice. I’m glad that you’re living there quite alright. I’m also glad that your cousin Sunny is taking care of you really well. She seems like a fun gal to have around for you.
You seem to be doing well there but I can tell that you’re still depressed. I’m right, aren’t I? You can’t fool me even with a letter. Tell me everything what you feel next time. It sucks that I’d have to bring up the gray side of your world, but you get what I’m saying. Try not to stay too strong or sound too strong, alright? Don’t make yourself explode someday by burying your worries deeper and let them all out on me slowly. You know I’ll understand you.
The last sentence made Stephanie’s tears trickle down her cheeks. Charming quickly sensed her sad heart and barked. Stephanie caressed Charming’s head, thankful that this dog cared for her. She wiped her tears away quickly and tried to keep it together. There were still a lot more pages she had to go through.
As for me, I’ll just lay it on you everything that’s in my head. I don’t have anyone else to vent to about everything so you have no choice but to hear me babble for about a few more minutes.
Remember that time when you told me that Yohan liked me and I said I didn’t really know what I felt about him? Now, I admit I really do like him back. I realize that now, more than ever. But it’s too late to tell him now. I guess maybe I have already told him that I liked him, but when I did tell him, everything was just on bad timing. I lost him, Stephanie. I lost him and he’s gone. I don’t even know where he went. I asked his dad but he just simply said he went away to prepare for army service. He left… The last time I saw him, we had a fight and I haven’t even apologized properly 😦
But don’t worry too much; I still have one friend left! Hyungsoo is here with me and I am honestly very thankful that he sticks with me and makes time for me. He understands me and just lets me vent out things about Yohan. He also makes me feel better really quickly. I like that. I am actually surprised that I was never close with Hyungsoo before. He is such a great guy to have around.
Now before you ask, no, we’re not in a relationship. Hyungsoo and I are just friends. Besides, I don’t think I would be able to handle having one after Yohan just left like that. Now I really don’t know what to feel about Yohan… he could have at least said goodbye but he didn’t… I seriously might start having trust issues.
Either way, I’m feeling a little better. The days are kind of getting better I think. How about you? By the time you receive this letter, that baby must be huge already. What are you planning on naming it? You still haven’t updated me on anything about your baby. Oh and by the way, advanced happy birthday! I might send more letters so I’ll greet you more on the next one, maybe even send a package.
Suddenly, Sunny sat beside her and greeted her, “Hey, I see your friend sent you a letter.”
“Oh? You’re here,” Stephanie forced a smile even though deep inside her she wanted to cry for a little more, feeling quite emotional reading Jessica’s letter to her. “You have no letter?” Stephanie asked.
“Eh, it doesn’t matter,” Sunny laughed.
It was silent for a little while and there was nothing to be heard but the pounding of the rain on the roof. But then, Stephanie sighed and looked at her cousin, “So… how’s your leg and arm?”
“They’re doing fine. It’s not that bad, really. I want to work but Pap doesn’t want me to.”
“That’s only good. You need to take a rest.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sunny rolled her eyes and chuckled. “By the way, what stories has your friend said this time?”
“Oh, I’m not done reading it yet,” Stephanie said. “She did greet me happy birthday, though.”
“Oh yeah, you’re birthday’s in a few days, isn’t? What gift would you like?” Sunny asked.
Gift?” Stephanie wondered about it for a bit and then sighed, “I don’t really want one, to be honest.”
“Why not? You’re turning 19, aren’t you?” Sunny said. “Is it a weird number for you?”
“No, no, nothing like that,” Stephanie chuckled. “It’s just that… I feel like I don’t deserve any more things from you. You’ve given so much of your time for me and I think that’s good enough.” In truth, she partly blamed herself for last night’s incident. She brought her city slicker cousin Hannah to this countryside and neglected her, eventually resulting to not only Hannah’s injury, but Sunny’s injuries too. She also remembered how much Sunny had been sacrificing for the past few months just to make her a little happier. It was overwhelming how much Sunny cared for her, and she thought of herself as burden. She didn’t want Sunny to get into any more trouble because of her. All the things Sunny did for her was more than any gift she could ask for.
“So you’re just going to leave, because you don’t want anything from me anymore?” Sunny said without caution. She was a little driven by her emotions from last night when Stephanie broke the news that she’ll be going soon.
“I-I didn’t mean it like that. I just… I just haven’t really done much around here, you know? I’m just extra baggage. I’ve already received too much.”
“Oho! Extra baggage? What are you talking about? You’re at it again!” Sunny rebuked. “You are family. How many times do I have to keep telling you that?”
“I know I’m family, but just look at your arm! Charming is my dog and you basically saved him just for me. You’re hurting yourself and it’s usually because of me!”
“Look, the unfortunate things that happen to me are not your fault, okay?” Sunny softly said. “And it may look unfortunate to you, but unfortunate things usually happen for a bigger reward. Look at me, I was planning on a full schedule today but since I have a broken arm, I get the day off.”
Stephanie listened carefully to those words and scowled in her head. Even though deep inside her she knew that was true, she hesitated in believing it at the moment.
“You of all people should know this,” Sunny said. “So many unfortunate things have happened in your life, but did you always get stuck in the loss? You get more of a reward after, don’t you?”
Stephanie understood what she was saying but didn’t want to continue on the conversation.
“Think about it,” Sunny said. “When your mother died, what happened? Name at least 3 blessings.”
“Don’t remind me of this,” Stephanie grimaced.
Sunny bit her lip and nodded, understanding her cousin’s feelings. She forgot that she was walking on thin ice by mentioning the past.
After another silence, Sunny said, “I’m scared, too, you know.”
“Of what?” Stephanie asked.
“The past. I’m scared of the past, too.” Stephanie looked at her in confusion not knowing what she was talking about.
“I’m trying to be strong by not remembering it, but it just haunts me at my most vulnerable times. It may not be as bad as yours for you have a clear memory of what happened. I don’t even remember mine, but the pain is there. My body remembers, and that’s emotionally frustrating enough.”
“What are you talking about?” Stephanie asked.
“When I was about 12, I lost my childhood on the Gulf War. The trauma is still scarred on me, though. I don’t even remember, but every time I see blood, fire, or hear loud blasts, I kinda get dizzy or I cry.”
Stephanie tried to process what she just heard for she had always seen Sunny as a girl without weaknesses, but apparently such a person doesn’t exist. “Why are you telling me this?”
“I don’t know…” Sunny sighed. “I guess I just wanted you to know… Or… Well, I’m just saying I kind of understand what you might be going through, and I’m sorry if I ever hurt you for bringing up the past. Truth is I’m not good at this comforting thing as I seem to be. I don’t even know if happiness is the cure for pain because that doesn’t seem to be effective all the time. All I know is that the pain sucks, but the pain of bearing it all on your own is even worse and I just don’t want you to experience what I have gone through.”
“Is this why you care about me so much?”
“Remember when I said you’re the prettiest girl I know when you smile? Your smile gives me strength and it’s also comforting to me. When I do something great for you, you also do something great for me without even trying. You have gone through so much pain and knowing that I can make you smile is a very nice feeling. This feeling is so indescribable, really… It’s just so great that it can heal my old scars, too. That’s why I care about you, because you mean so much more to me than you think.
“Also, I’ve recently been having dreams with you in it… Some are strange, and some are just… well, they’re quite disturbing. My most recent one had you vomiting up blood. It seemed like such a life-threatening situation and I didn’t know what to do, especially since there was blood—and as I’ve mentioned before, I fear blood. It was scary that I couldn’t do anything to stop what was happening. But most of all, I think I was just scared of losing you.”
Stephanie burst into tears hearing those words from Sunny. All this time she thought she was just a burden to her cousin. Hearing that she was doing a good deed to Sunny just by staying beside her was too overwhelming. But now she was planning on leaving the farm after she gives birth and maybe go to America with Sasha and Hannah. How could she just leave Sunny behind like that—after saying that she means so much to her, after saying she was afraid to lose her? “I’m sorry,” she cried. “I’m really sorry…”
“Sorry for what? You didn’t do anything wrong, at least not to me. Look, don’t worry too much about me. I will be fine, always have been, right? Don’t be sad about leaving if you’ve already made up your mind, okay? We’re cousins, we’ll still meet again in the future, I promise that.” Sunny said, softly patting her cousin’s back. “Now, what present would you like for your birthday?”
Stephanie tried to stop crying and sighed. She then pondered about Sunny’s question while caressing Charming’s fur softly. When the dog was close to falling asleep, Stephanie said, “Did I ever tell you how I got Charming?”
“There were no details, but it was from your band members, right?”
“Yeah… but it’s mainly from Jinwon,” Stephanie smiled remembering her 17th birthday. She felt her heart thump but sink at the same time remembering that he’s not with her anymore.
JULY 27, 1996, Saturday
A few days before her birthday, the band members gathered at the Jungs’ house just to hang out and get closer with each other. Being new members, Jessica and Stephanie didn’t really know if hanging out with these boys was a good idea. Jessica developed trust issues with boys when high school started making it understandable that she wasn’t friendly with them on the first days they all got together as a band. Though she was little more comfortable with them, especially since she knew Jinwon, she still had her guard up. Stephanie on the other hand, had a blooming crush for Jinwon after he bought Mariah Carey’s Daydream album for her without hesitation a Thursday ago. How could she be in the same room as him? She’ll only turn red seeing him and that’s embarrassing! Not wanting to admit these reasons, JooHyun, who were already good friends with Hyungsoo, Yohan, and Jinwon, convinced them easily to let it happen.
As the boys along with JooHyun entered, Jessica warmly welcomed them while Stephanie was following behind.
Hyungsoo bear-hugged Jessica as soon as he saw her. Yohan pouted and Jinwon just laughed at him because it seemed like Yohan can never get too close to the American blonde beauty like Hyungsoo could.
When Stephanie saw Jinwon, she squealed excitedly in her head and quickly tried to compose herself. She shouldn’t show him how much she likes him, at least not this soon. She doesn’t know much about him and neither does he know much about her.
“Jinwon, hi!” she waved her hand as she smiled like there was no tomorrow. Even the pitch of her voice rose a little higher than usual.
“Fany-ah! You’re here!” Jinwon smiled and hugged her.
“Yeah, I kind of live here… so…,” she said, carefully watching how he would react. Usually, people tend to ask her why she lived in Jessica’s home, but Jinwon didn’t seem to care about that right now. He was easily distracted by a Mariah Carey song playing from the speakers—a song from the album he bought for her.
“Is that the album I bought for you?” he smiled.
“Yeah,” Stephanie timidly said.
“It sounds nice!”
“Of course, it’s Mariah Carey,” Stephanie chuckled.
The six played a bunch of random games such as Pictionary, Scrabble, and other board games. They dared not to turn on the TV as a challenge that day. In a while, Jessica took out her white Gameboy and gathered her friends to the living room. Since her new Pokémon game was in Japanese, Hyungsoo was the only one able to understand what was going on. With Yohan, JooHyun, and Jessica all crammed up trying to take a peek at the small screen, Jinwon and Stephanie awkwardly sat out of it. Not knowing what they were talking about, Stephanie took this as an opportunity to get to know Jinwon.
“Oh, I have something to give you,” Stephanie nudged to Jinwon.
“Come with me.” Stephanie stood up and dragged Jinwon to her room.
“Here.” Stephanie handed him money to repay him back for buying the Mariah Carey album.
“What’s this?” Jinwon stared at the money baffled.
“For the Mariah Carey album,” Stephanie replied.
“Heeeey,” Jinwon scoffed. “I told you it was my treat! Just think of it as me buying it for you, since that’s what I actually did,” Jinwon said, handing back her money.
“Well, in that case, thank you,” Stephanie blushed. “I just wasn’t used to people buying me stuff.”
As the four were busy playing Pokémon in the living room, Jinwon and Stephanie continued to chat in her room at the end of her bed while flipping through magazines and books since there was nothing else much to do.
“So which college are you planning on going to?” Jinwon asked.
“I don’t know. I’m not quite sure yet. I have nothing in mind,” Stephanie replied.
“Doesn’t your parents help you in picking at least one?” There was no answer from Stephanie. She just continued flipping through the magazines, ignoring Jinwon’s question. Parents were such a sensitive topic to her she couldn’t even find an answer for him.
Before he could turn to another topic, Stephanie sighed tiredly feeling as if it was rude not to answer him. “I’m kind of parent-less right now,” she said.
Jinwon stayed silent since he didn’t know how to reply to that. He wanted to say sorry for her but he was afraid that Stephanie already grew sick of hearing that. He also wanted to ask why, but the conversation could lead to an uncomfortable topic.
“Is that why you’re living here in Jessica’s home?” Jinwon asked.
“Yeah…” Stephanie’s voice got lower and Jinwon didn’t like the sound of that.
“My mom died…” Stephanie admitted. She didn’t know why she was letting her guard down all of a sudden. She knew once she started talking about these things, she might never stop. The only people that knew about her situation were Jessica’s family and Yohan.
That phrase made Jinwon cringe and made him feel uncomfortable. What answer should he give? How should he react? It was indeed a sad thing to hear from someone who always had such a bright smile. But just how should he console her?
“And my father is distant from me…” Stephanie’s voice broke as she tried to hold back her tears. “And my brother, my sister…”
“You don’t have to tell me,” Jinwon laid his hand on her wrist.
She had always shown Jinwon such a cheerful side of her. She cursed herself for not trying to hold up her guard a little longer. How could she just let him see her like this?
“I’m sorry,” Stephanie tried to laugh it off even though tears were already about to fall. “I just feel…,” she paused, making Jinwon worried. Soon, Stephanie couldn’t hold it in. Tears started to trickle down her face. “…lonely.”
“Hey, hey, you’re not going to be alone.”
Even though Jinwon thought he didn’t know what to do in a situation like this, he automatically pulled Stephanie in his arms and let her cry on his shoulders. Too deep in the pain, Stephanie had forgotten whom she was crying on.
Jinwon slowly withdrew from their embrace, and as tears kept flowing down, he wiped them off lovingly with both his hands. Compassionately smiling at the girl who was trying her hardest to stop from crying, he cooed, “You’re not going to be alone, okay? We’re all gonna be here for you.” Still, Stephanie wouldn’t stop crying.
With his thumbs, Jinwon wiped Stephanie’s tears once more. “I’m gonna be here for you…” His compassionate and caring words slightly calmed Stephanie down. Looking up, she met Jinwon’s gaze and it paralyzed her. It was at that moment that she realized what she had done. She just cried on her crush’s shoulders.
“Jessica, Yohan, JooHyun, Hyungsoo, and I can be your family from now on if you let us,” Jinwon kissed her forehead. “Now, you’re going to be fine right?” Jinwon said, still not removing his warm hands from her face. Stephanie tried to find words, but she was just too surprised to be cared for so compassionately and to see Jinwon’s kind and handsome face so up close.
“You’re going to be fine right?” Jinwon repeated.
“Y-yeah,” Stephanie slowly formed a smile.
“You sure?” Jinwon stared at her.
“I’ll be fine.” Finally, Stephanie chuckled as her tears had completely stopped falling.
“You need to show me that you will be, okay?” Jinwon smiled as Stephanie’s eye-smile started to show. Stephanie, who was somewhat trapped between Jinwon’s hands, didn’t exactly know how to show him that she will be fine. But a tempting idea came to mind. Closing her eyes, she leaned forward and pecked Jinwon’s lips.
Realizing what she just did, Stephanie giggled and madly blushed, making her cover her cheeks in embarrassment. She quickly got up and left Jinwon who was completely stunned in the room all alone.
“You made the first move?” Sunny laughed.
“I had no choice, his face was like just a few inches away,” Stephanie giggled. Sunny brightened up when she saw Stephanie smile and cherished the moment.
AUGUST 1, 1996, Thursday
When August 1 finally arrived, the little Jung family held a small celebration when she woke up. They ate brownies fresh from Mama Jung’s oven, and opened up one present from the two older Jungs.
“Why don’t you have a gift for me, Jessi?” Stephanie pouted.
Jessica just shrugged and sighed, “I ran out of money.” Stephanie felt a little angry that her best friend didn’t get her anything for her birthday. So they continued on with their lives that Thursday without talking to each other and it seemed as if Stephanie’s day was spoiled because of her best friend.
However, that all changed during the afternoon when she entered the studio to meet the band on their usual Thursday sessions.
“SURPRISE!” They all screamed, and the four members, excluding Jinwon, squeezed her all at the same time. She was really surprised and touched that they were showering her with much love. However, since her mood was still quite sensitive, she was not completely happy since Jinwon didn’t seem to join in the festivity of it all. His back was turned on her and he hasn’t even greeted her happy birthday.
“Happy Birthday!” Jinwon smiled as he turned, holding a white, fluffy Maltese puppy on his hands. Stephanie didn’t expect this at all. Her face instantly turned from a pout to a chuckling eye-smile the moment Jinwon handed the puppy over to her. He then hugged Jinwon warmly and patted the puppy’s head.
“Who’s this?” Stephanie asked, staring at the cute, silent dog on her arms.
“Someone to keep you company when you’re lonely,” Jinwon smiled and Stephanie blushed, remembering what had happened a few days ago.
“Yeah, we all gathered our money to buy him so take care of him well,” Jessica added.
“Who’s idea…?” Stephanie looked up.
“Our chin-gu (friend), Jin-Goo,” Yohan pointed to Jinwon.
“What?” Jinwon blushed and denied. “No, it was all our idea.”
“Tch! yeah right,” Jessica silently scoffed at Jinwon with a smirk.
“Aww thanks you guys!!” Stephanie squealed. “I’m so touched!”
“What are you planning on naming it?” JooHyun asked.
“Since he’s going to keep me company, he will be my prince, won’t he?” Stephanie made a kissy face in front of the puppy that didn’t really seem to care about any of its surroundings.
“Name it Jin-goo,” Hyungsoo whispered to Yohan as he referred to Jinwon’s nickname, making them both secretly giggle on their own at the back.
“I’m gonna name it Charming. Prince Charming!”
“Cute!” Jessica giggled, petting the somewhat sleepy puppy.
“I want you to be Charming’s owner once my birthday comes,” Stephanie suddenly said after she paused on the story.
“What?” Sunny’s eyes grew wide, shocked that she would even have the courage to say something like that.
“Since I’m leaving, I want you to take care of him for me.”
“But… but Charming is precious to you, isn’t he? You just told me the story and now… how could I?”
“Please let that be your birthday present to me,” Stephanie met her cousin’s gaze and pleaded with her eyes. “This doesn’t have anything to do with me hating Charming or anything like that. This dog may look a little grumpy all the time but he’s an angel in disguise. I want him to take care of you.”
“But it’s your birthday. Shouldn’t you be the one receiving a gift, not me?”
“The gift that I will receive is knowing that you’ll be alright and happy. As you said, the reward is great for someone who can make a person smile. Just keep on making me smile ‘till I go. Keep doing what you do. That’s the biggest present I could ever ask from you.”
“Are you sure about this?”
Stephanie took a deep breath and said, “I’m sure.”
“Then I will take good care of him. I promise. Thank you,” Sunny smiled and then patted Charming’s head. “The tables have turned now, have they?”
Afternoon came and an elder came to the house to bring over some easy work—making dumplings for supper. The girls gathered at the living room but Yohan decided to stay out of it. Stephanie found it a little strange since Yohan liked volunteering even for the smallest activities. Today, he just stayed out of everything and didn’t want to get involved. He just stayed in the bed room all day.
“Something wrong?” Stephanie knocked on the open door and looked at Yohan who was sitting on the floor.
“Oh, hey,” Yohan looked up. “How are the dumplings?”
“Doing pretty well,” Stephanie said and slowly sat down beside him.
“That’s nice…” Yohan then drifted to his notebook while tapping his pencil on it.
“What are you writing there?”
“Just some poems.”
“Oh, really? What is it about?”
“Well… just some random thoughts.”
“Like what? Jessica?”
Yohan chuckled, “You already know.”
“Oh, predictable Yohan…” Stephanie laughed. “Anyway, can I tell you this? Hyungsoo and Jessica are becoming quite close,” she said, anticipating his reaction.
“That’s good.” Yohan nodded.
“You’re not jealous or anything?” Stephanie asked. “You both do have some kind of rivalry back then. You’re not upset?”
“I told Hyungsoo to take care of her so I’m okay with it. It doesn’t matter anymore to me what happens to Jessica.”
“So you’ve gotten over her?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say it as getting over her because she still holds a part of me. I’m just accepting that it happened, I guess,” Yohan nodded with a smile. “I’m slowly feeling lightweight by doing that.”
“Is it easy?” Stephanie asked.
“To let someone go, I mean…” she said, her voice not as strong as it was.
Yohan caught onto her tone and held her hand to comfort her. “It’s not easy,” he softly replied. “I don’t think it will ever be. But life gets better eventually…”
“I gave Charming to Sunny today, or actually, on my birthday which is just a few days from now. It felt like the right thing to do.”
Yohan was taken aback by this but decided not to say anything. Charming was a precious gift from Jinwon and Stephanie cherished the dog too much. Yohan knew that was a hard decision and worried about her. As he said, letting go was never easy.
“Do you think I’ll be able to get over him?” Stephanie said.
“Yeah… do you think it’s possible?”
“Um…” Yohan pouted for he didn’t really know what to say.
“When this baby is out and I’m finally living life again without everything that used to remind me of Jinwon… do you think I could do it?”
Suddenly, the baby started moving and kicking, and Stephanie got a little startled. She sighed and just let it move for a moment. Yohan just awkwardly watched her sigh tiredly every time it kicked. Then Stephanie grabbed Yohan’s hand and let him touch her belly. Yohan never felt it move before so this was shocking for him. His eyes, nose and mouth comically grew wide for a second, fascinated at what was happening.
“Woah, that’s so weird!” Yohan chuckled. Stephanie laughed at him and then stared at her belly for a moment. She was happy that Yohan looked joyful experiencing something like this, but her mood dropped again knowing this wasn’t her baby anymore.
Deep inside, she was afraid to let go of her baby. What if it grows up and she suddenly develops affections for it while the child is with his or her new parents? What will happen when that child discovers who his or her real parents are? What will happen in the future when they meet again? Is it really going to be a better future, or is it just going to be as sorrowful as her life right now? Keeping or giving the baby up would be the same, she would convince herself.
In her head she whispered to her child, “I’m sorry.”
AUGUST 17, 1998, Monday
When the sun had risen up again, routines went back to normal. Sunny slowly started doing chores around town again with Hannah accompanying her. Stephanie went back to teaching Sunhwa with her studies. Sasha also helped around house chores. And as for the couple Yohan and Haneul, they continued being cheesy around each other.
The days slowly got brighter, especially for Yohan. He was finally feeling free from Jessica. There were even days when she doesn’t cross his mind now. He was happy and back to his playful self again.
This afternoon, while Shinyoung, Jaejun, Taewoo, and Hara slept for a while before getting back to work, he took out a marker and started drawing on their faces. On their closed eyes, he drew eyes and on their cheeks he drew whiskers. But as he finished on the three, Haneul was left and he couldn’t bring himself to draw on her pretty face. Instead, he kissed her on the lips until Haneul was already kissing back even though she was still asleep. Then he giggled, withdrew from it and went out of the house to laugh loudly.
“Oppa, you rascal!” Haneul hit him as he was still busy laughing. He got startled that she was suddenly up. “You should’ve woken me up first before making out with me like that!”
“At least you didn’t get whiskers like the rest of them!” Yohan said. “Admit it, you liked it.”
“Aigoo,” Haneul hit him again and started blushing.
“Since no one is awake, why don’t you come with me?”
“The Kims are going to open their new restaurant soon and they’ve hidden up a golden piggy bank up somewhere around town. If I find it before the event tomorrow, I get to keep the piggy bank and eat for free for a whole month on their dishes.”
“Let’s do it!” Haneul smiled.
As they were walking, they wondered where Shinyoung and her family could’ve kept the golden piggy bank. The first place they decided to go for was the outhouses inside one of the pot-toilets. I mean, who would look for something so valuable in a potty place? It had to be somewhere no one would search at, right? They even checked in the piles of cow dung just a building away from the Kim’s house. After a futile effort and almost smelling like animal feces, they sat by a hill and took a breather.
“Gosh, this stinks!” Haneul exclaimed as she picked a weed and threw it.
“Ha, literally!” Yohan laughed. “But at least we won’t go there tomorrow! Man, I really want to eat for free in their new restaurant. They really have good food.”
“Ah! I know,” Haneul stopped him. “What if they hid it in the hanok house, or perhaps somewhere near there? They do come often, don’t they?”
“Maybe… let’s check it out then.”
“Maybe in a little while,” Haneul sighed and threw her back on the grass. “I’m exhausted!”
“Want to do yoga with me?” Yohan said.
“What? I said I’m exhausted!”
“C’mon, it’ll relax you!” Yohan said, tugging her arm up. Haneul wouldn’t budge though. She closed her eyes and started to whine.
“Ahhhh why yoga of all things? Oppaaa! I know that you’re flexible for a guy and all that, but seriously don’t make me do this!”
“Don’t make me think I wasted my time on ballet classes with my sister back when I was a kid. C’mon, get up!”
“Why did you even take ballet classes?? It’s so weird just thinking about it!”
“I didn’t really go on ballet classes. My sister taught me a few things since she was the one who took ballet classes, and she had no one else to teach them to but to me. Is that bad? And about a hundred years ago, there were guys dancing to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and that was the hit entertainment!”
“No wonder you’re so feminine sometimes!”
“Feminine? I’m manlier than most guys! You’ll see me even manlier after I go to the army. Now, get up, let’s do yoga. It’ll be refreshing.”
“Wait, so are you really going to enlist for the army this winter?” Haneaul asked as she sat upright.
Yohan sat back down and sighed, “Yeah… It’s pretty unavoidable.”
“You can wait for me, right?” Haneul said.
“What? When I go to the army?”
“Yeah… like can we still be together even if we’re apart?”
“Of course we can,” Yohan said and lovingly intertwined his fingers with hers. “It’s just two years, how long could that be?”
Haneul stared at Yohan’s innocent eyes and felt her heart sink. Tears formed in her eyes quickly and she hid her face beneath her long silky brown hair.
“What’s wrong? I won’t leave you,” Yohan said and kissed her hand.
“You promise, right?” Haneul said with her eyes peeking from her hair.
“If you also promise to still love me after two years, then yeah,” Yohan said. Haneul still looked pretty upset and Yohan sighed. “Look, I’m not going to let you go.”
She nodded her head and smiled, but her expressions were still down.
“Why are you suddenly asking about this though?” Yohan asked and sat closer to her.
“I… I’m just afraid to lose you.”
“Is it time to start being cheesy again?” Yohan smiled.
“No, I’m serious, Oppa… I really am afraid of losing you,” she said teary eyed while staring at him. Yohan was startled that she was being emotional.
Despite not knowing what is really going on in her heart, Yohan let her lean her head on her shoulder to cry. He cooed, “Don’t worry about that. If you love me as much as I love you, there will be nothing to lose.”
Chapter Theme Song:
Kahit Kailan (cover) – Mikey Bustos
The mind is asking
It said it couldn’t understand what it’s feeling
There is something you must know
In my heart, you’re the only one
Should I think about forever?
Count on it now
At any time,
I’m not going to leave you
At any time,
I’m not going to let you go
At any time,
At any time
The whisper of your feelings
A love with no end
That is what I want
Now that I am here
I’m ready to love you
Without an end
Should I think about forever?
Count on it now
At any time,
I’m not going to leave you
At any time,
I’m not going to let you go
At any time,
At any time
If you vanish from my side
I don’t know if I can love again
Whatever happens, I can’t replace you
I’ll be with you until the end
At any time,
I’m not going to leave you
At any time,
I’m not going to let you go
At any time,
This will not change
At any time,
At any time
At any time…