Chapter 5: Take Care of Me
AUGUST 17, 1998, Monday
That night, Yohan couldn’t stop thinking about how Haneul shed tears earlier in the afternoon. Haneul was never a dramatic person in general but it seemed the thought about separating from him made her emotional. He used to always understand what girls mean when they talk or bring something up vaguely but not this time around. He knew Haneul might just be sad that he’ll go to the army in December, but it was too early to cry about something like that. He kept replaying it in his mind until he couldn’t stand it anymore.
While he was massaging Stephanie’s back to ease some back pains, Yohan started, “Fany-ah, can I talk to you about something?”
“Sure, fire away.”
“Haneul kind of broke down a while ago.”
“Haneul? About what?” Stephanie gasped.
“Oh… what about you?”
“Well, she cried saying she was afraid to lose me because of my enlistment this year. We still have three months to be together but it seemed she was pretty upset that we’re going to be separated. A lot of things can still happen in three months, and it’s not like we’ll break up either. Does she not trust me enough? I don’t really know why she’s so afraid… am I overthinking this?”
“Probably,” Stephanie shrugged. “She’ll miss you and that’s understandable, don’t you think?”
“Yeah but… we’re talking about Haneul here. Why would she just cry like that? I told her I loved her and promised I won’t leave her or forget her, but she just kept… crying.”
Stephanie analyzed the situation for a moment and wondered. “What did she say to you exactly?”
“’I’m just afraid to lose you’ and ‘I really am afraid of losing you’,” Yohan replied. “Then she burst into tears.”
“Are you sure there’s nothing up about her?” Stephanie asked.
“Huh? Like what? She was happy just a few minutes before the army thing was brought up.”
“Because the last time I used those kinds of words, it was when I confessed to Jinwon…”
“That I’m carrying his child…” Stephanie stared at Yohan like a stern mother. At first, Yohan couldn’t understand her, but then it quickly clicked and furiously backed away from her.
“Wait, are you implying she’s pregnant!???”
Stephanie just shrugged.
“No, no, no way!” Yohan puffed like a blow fish and turned a little red. “Get that out of your head right now, Seu-Te-Pa-Ni Hwang! We never did that! You know I’m not that daring!”
“Okay, right, I’m just saying those words might mean something’s going on with her. Sometimes it might not be entirely about you but more about what’s happening or going on in her life.”
“What do you think it might be?”
“I don’t know… since her parents divorced back then, maybe she’s just really afraid of what a breakup could actually do. Just a guess… I really don’t know.”
“But why would she think about breaking up with me? You don’t suppose she’s pregnant with someone else’s child… could that be possible?” Yohan shuddered.
“Don’t think of the worst just yet. You’re acting like a girl. Stop overthinking it and just ask her about it.”
“But I don’t want her to cry again,” Yohan pouted.
“Just try. If she cries, then hug her. You’re Yohan, the guy who can comfort anyone.”
“Am I really?”
“Yeah. Don’t be afraid, Yohan. You’ll destroy yourself wondering about it all day. Sometimes girls’ emotions can just randomly change for no clear reason. It might not even be a big deal in the end.”
“And what if it is a big deal?”
“Then come back to me and let’s talk about it,” Stephanie smiled.
“Of course. Anytime.”
“Is there anything more I could do to bring you comfort?”
“Could you sing me something? I just need to clear my mind with some music…”
(Song Take A Breath – JooYoung)
Oooh… Ohh… Mmmhm…
Stop it when you cannot breathe
Trapped in a crack in the sky
The deep breath will seep through
You’ve got to take a breath
In this patched time
So you can relax and breathe in it
Filled with sigh in the gray light
My heart is scattered like a mist
Don’t you slow it down, your life
Never get in tight
In the dark night’s arms…
As Yohan continued to sing, Stephanie recalled a time just like this. It was a few days before Jinwon’s accident, and even though it was such a small moment between the both of them, it’s one of the most precious memories of Jinwon and she keeps it close to her heart.
DECEMBER 13, 1997, Saturday
Jinwon wanted to take Stephanie out on a date to cheer her up from the sudden revelation, but the weather had gotten colder than it was a few days before with the snow storm pouring down. It kept them from going anywhere to spend their Saturday. Stephanie didn’t want to go anywhere anyway. The outside world felt 10x scarier to her than it already was. She just wanted to be with Jinwon even if no words were said.
Stephanie rested her head on Jinwon’s shoulders as they silently sat on his bed. The lights were closed and everything seemed still, as if time had stopped for a moment. It’s like nothing much has changed for they have shared this quiet moment together a few times before. However, like a fever, her eyes heated up and trembled remembering that things are completely different from now on. She closed her eyes hoping for a darker world to escape to, but her heart ached even more through the doubts that flashed before her. She buried her face on his shoulders and cried silently. Jinwon could do nothing but swallow his own tears and give her the consolation she needed.
Stephanie thought her tired mind would be eased by Jinwon’s warmth, but that just made things worse. The growing human being inside her had his DNA. All her worries traced right back to him. She wanted to hate him for putting her in this misery, but that wouldn’t make things any better. She was also at fault. She can’t just blame him for everything.
If only she could rewind time, she would prevent all this from happening. Now, there’s nothing else she can do but sigh.
“How are you holding up?” Stephanie asked. They kept avoiding this question for the past few days in hopes of not making each other as broken as they already were, but she figured it was time to let it out. They cannot keep brushing things off forever. If they just keep holding it in, the words unsaid will only push them apart.
“I should be asking you that,” Jinwon said. He wanted to run away again from this question. He didn’t want to sort his feelings out. He wanted to avoid any dangerous thoughts that would cross his mind and focus solely on making things better for her.
“I want to know, Jinwon,” Stephanie sighed. “I want to know how you feel.”
He stayed silent.
“How should I even start?” Jinwon sighed. “I don’t know how I feel. From the very moment you told me, I just… lost my breath. I’ve never felt something like it before. The consequences, the responsibilities… it just weighed down.”
“I’m sorry,” Stephanie’s lips trembled.
“No… no, don’t say that,” he shook his head and closed his eyes, feeling his own tears quickly burning him up. “After everything, that’s what hurts me the most. When you say you’re sorry, it’s ridiculous, because I…,” he sighed, trying to keep himself from shedding tears. “When I think of you, everything just seems to crumble down around me. I’m the one who made the mistake. I made you go through all of this pain.”
“Don’t just take all the blame,” Stephanie held his hand. “It’s my mistake, too.”
“I’m sorry,” Jinwon’s words trembled as tears started to fall down. “All I wanted was to make you happy after everything that you have gone through, but I guess I just added to your stress.” He quickly wiped his tears away and said, “I promise you, I’ll make you happy again. I’ll swear it on my life.”
“Do you think we’ll be able to get through this? ‘Cause I honestly don’t know,” Stephanie said as tears started to fall. “I’m so scared… So scared that somewhere along the way, we might fall out of love or… The future isn’t as bright as we think it would be.”
“I’m scared too… but we have to deal with it. There’s nothing else we can do but believe that somewhere along the lines, our mistake could turn into a blessing.”
“Easier said than done,” Stephanie sniffed.
“We don’t know what’s out there for us. We don’t know how hard things are going to be. So why don’t we just lay it aside for a while like we always did? I don’t want to keep thinking about the negative outcomes so please, Fany-ah… let’s rest… even just for a little while,” Jinwon said with his voice going softer.
“Can we really do that?” Stephanie said, wiping her tears away.
“Relax yourself on me. I’ll sing you a song.” And so, Stephanie did as she was told and closed her eyes. She pressed herself closer to Jinwon and sighed. Jinwon softly started to sing softly.
(Song: Sleepless – Standing Egg)
Now is the time my heart begins to flutter
When you’re in front of me with your eyes closed
Like looking at a photograph, taking my time
As I watch you slowly fall asleep
Let me sing
lalala la la lalala
Let me sing
lalala la la lalala
Now is the time I’ve been waiting for
With you falling asleep in my arms
Singing you softly a lullaby
As I watch you slowly fall asleep
Let me sing
lalala la la lalala
Let me sing
lalala la la lalala
Baby I’m sleepless, it’s deep into the night
Sleepless, your soft sound of breath
Sleepless, and my firmly pounding chest
Losing all sense of time
Now is the happiest time I could wish for
When you’re with me until the morning
When I can see myself in your sleepy eyes
I’ll keep singing for you
Let me sing
lalala la la lalala
Let me sing
lalala la la lalala
“Oh by the way, how’s your leg doing?” Sunny asked Hannah as they were headed back to the hanok house.
“Seriously you’re asking that now? I’ve been walking with you a lot this week of course I’m alright now. It still stings quite a bit, though, but I’m fine. How about your burns?”
“It left a cool scar. Wanna see it?” Sunny said and Hannah nodded. Sunny pulled her hoodie’s sleeves back and showed a pinkish marking shaped like the character of her name which was ㅅ.
“Wow, you got yourself a free tattoo!” Hannah laughed.
“At first I hated it but now, I’m actually happy I got this. Reminds me of a lot of things.”
“How everything started, basically.”
“Don’t you remember that day? I saved you from the fire and then found out a lot of surprising things. You were Stephanie’s cousin, Stephanie’s plans on leaving, and Yohan and Haneul’s relationship… so much shocking things happened that day. The fire alone was a horror to me.”
“Ugh… and the amount of lips that touched that day,” Hannah shivered and Sunny laughed.
“When I think about it, it’s not exactly pleasant to remember. But I feel like I have to remember that day for a long time.”
“After that day, I’ve been thinking about so many things and I’ve been realizing so many things. Things like, how precious it is to really have a family, or someone you can truly depend on. For the past few weeks, I’ve been seeing too much of myself on Stephanie and it kinda hits me how much we’re the same. Because for me, I don’t really ask much help from the people around me because I think I could deal with things by myself, just like how she is. But I realized, through these times, that we truly need someone to be beside us who can lift at least a little bit of the weight we think we can but can’t bear.
And so, I’ve been trying to see who that one person is in my life that takes all these burdens away from me. Sometimes it is Stephanie who helps me, but it’s usually the other way around. Sometimes Hyuna, but we don’t even like talking about our emotions with each other that much. I thought I really had no one, but this scar… it takes me back. Thank you for being here, Hana-yah. ”
“Huh?” Hannah was a bit startled that Sunny suddenly mentioned her name after her small speech. She couldn’t understand how she was a help to her for she had never really done anything great to her. All she did was get Sunny burned.
“You know, you help me in a lot of things.”
“What—like havesting the crops? And Pureum?”
“Haha, not just that,” Sunny chuckled. “I’m saying you following me around all the time makes me feel a little lighter. I used to always do my work without anyone’s help, but you always insist on coming with me to help me even though you’re not much of a worker yourself. You don’t know how much that means to me.”
“Well… haha… I’m just trying to repay you back. You saved my life,” Hannah shyly said and blushed because Sunny was suddenly saying these things. She never really thought she was anyone special, so hearing this from Sunny touched her heart and made her happy. She never really had friends who cherished her. Sunny was the only one.
“Then if you take care of me, I’ll take care of you too,” Sunny smiled and held her hand. Hannah nodded and shyly looked away.
“Of course I will.”
“Oh, you better take care of Stephanie too, if she ever goes back with you. Don’t leave her alone for me,” Sunny said.
“Truthfully though, Sunny,” Hannah said, “I don’t want Sasha Unnie to take the baby. I feel like things will be worse if Stephanie gets her way in all of this.”
“I know. I thought a lot about it, too, ever since she considered adoption. We can’t do anything about it now, can we?” Sunny sighed.
“Well, the papers haven’t been settled yet so… maybe she’ll change her mind?”
“Pray she will. But if that really happens, serious changes will need to be done. “
AUGUST 18, 1998, Tuesday
The next day, at 10 am in the morning, the Kim family had an announcement for the whole village. Most of the villagers went to the town center to anticipate the event they have set up. There at the town center was a newly furbished building set up, and they were proud to have an opening ceremony for their new restaurant called Xiah Dragon Noodles. Everyone was excited for this restaurant for they all knew how well the Kim family’s skills in cooking are. Now they can enjoy delicious meals everyday here in Xia Dragon Noodles!
“Ehem!! Ehem!! This is Junsu and the Kim fam!! Are you all listening? Thank you all for coming to the grand opening! Did you all miss me? No? Yes? Well, well, well, anyway, since we have set up a lovely restaurant for our dear lovely parents who adopted us, we have something special for all of you! A contest! A hunting game!! Are you all up for it? Our family has hidden three golden piggy banks somewhere here in the village of Yuchiri! You are all given one week, and the three winners who find these piggy banks will have the privilege of eating her for free for our first month!” The crowd cheered, particularly very excited about the free part, not so much the hunting part.
“And if you find it today, you get to eat at Xiah Dragon Noodles for free for the rest of your existence!” The crowd cheered even louder, all hopeful that their luck could win them free food forever from Xiah Dragon Noodles.
As Shinyoung started going through with the rules, Sunny turned to her family and asked, “So should we group up or something to find these piggy banks?”
“You kids pair up. Your mother and I are going to pair up with our own friends,” Munshik chuckled. “Why don’t you come with us, Sasha?”
“But can’t I pair up with them?” Sasha said, pointing to the teens.
“Aren’t them fellows a little young for ya? C’mon, Sasha it’ll be fun with us!”
Sasha whimpered and agreed to go with the older group. Hannah laughed at her sister, “Hahaha, poor old you.”
“I’M NOT THAT OLD!” Sasha spat and stomped away. “Ugh, I’m only 27 why does everyone think that’s old??”
Sunny and the others just laughed. “So, what’s our team?” Hyuna asked.
“Let’s just stay as this one big pack!” Sunhwa said. “It’ll be fun, yeah?”
“Shouldn’t we split up so that we could find them easier?” Yohan said, particularly wanting to spend the rest of the day with Haneul to talk to her. “Why don’t we go in pairs of two?”
“But then the prize won’t be shared with all of us if one of us finds it first,” Sunhwa pouted.
“But isn’t that the point? As if Xiah Dragon Noodles will allow all 7 of us to eat for free for the rest of our lives? Finders keepers!”
“Let’s just go along as a group for a while, and whoever finds it gets the prize.” Sunny said. “You could get easily lost on some parts of the village so let’s stick together. Besides, look at the sky, it could rain anytime soon. It’s even a little foggy already.”
And so the time soon came when Shinyoung had sent the crowd off to find the three golden piggy banks. The seven teenagers then went on a quest quickly to find at least one. They wandered in the area of the forest where Taewoo would usually chop up some wood, assuming he might have put it there.
Sunhwa and Hyuna were the most eager to look for these piggy banks. Hannah didn’t really care about the prize since she won’t be staying here all her life anyway and just followed Sunny. Haneul and Yohan were on their own little party looking at parts of the forest they haven’t checked yet. Meanwhile, Stephanie just tiredly waited at the bottom of the sloped forest. She wanted to search for the piggy bank, too, but she didn’t feel well. Her stomach and lower spine had been aching but she just assumed it to be because of tiredness. She didn’t want to tell the others that she had been feeling really weary because she didn’t want to ruin the fun atmosphere.
When the group got out of the forest, they decided to look for it in the open fields. So they wandered around aimlessly with the only the piggy bank in mind. They didn’t take much notice of where they were going, or how much time they are spending just searching for the lucky pig.
“Guys, it’s starting to rain,” Stephanie said when everyone was out searching for the piggy bank everywhere in the empty field. “Where are the umbrellas?”
“Yohan brought them,” Sunny said.
“No, I thought you did,” Yohan said.
“What?!” Sunny pushed the wall of her cheek with her tongue out of frustration. “So are you saying we don’t have one?”
“Oh my gosh, we’re all going to get a cold,” Hannah said.
“Ugh, this is hopeless. Let’s find shelter quick.”
They surveyed the area and found an empty, abandoned barn at the far end of the field. The group ran there, excluding Yohan and Sunny who were supporting Stephanie at her own pace. When they finally arrived safely inside the barn, Stephanie had become very weary and thirsty. Despite the unwelcoming cobwebs hanging everywhere and the cold ground moistened by the weather, she sat down to take a few deep breaths.
“Are you alright?” Sunny gently asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine… I’m just a bit tired. Do you guys have any water?”
They all shook their heads.
“I knew you should’ve stayed at home. All this adventurous stuff is way too much for you in that state,” Hyuna said.
“Sorry…” Stephanie said.
“Do you think it’s even possible to find those piggy banks?” Haneul said. “We searched everywhere! Yohan Oppa and I even searched the outhouses yesterday and they’re not there.”
“Wait, you searched yesterday?” Sunhwa said. “You knew about the piggy banks?”
“Shinyoung told us about it yesterday but look at us now. We still can’t find it,” Yohan said.
“Maybe we’re all trying too hard at this,” Sunny pondered. “What if it’s in a very easy spot? I mean the areas we searched are these empty fields and the forest, and as you can see, not a single human being is here but us!”
“Looks like we’re going to be stuck in here for a while,” Hannah said as she noticed the rain falling heavier.
“Ha, eventually someone will find those piggy banks before us… well goodbye, luck,” Hyuna pouted. “By the way, where are we? I haven’t been to this area of the village before. Sunny Unnie, do you know the way back?”
Sunny looked out the door and her nose scrunched up. “It’s a little too foggy to see now… and it was sunny just when I woke up. The weather here is just…”
“Wait so if you don’t know the way back, how are we supposed to go back?” Sunhwa said. “We should be having lunch by now. This rain will stop before it turns dark, right, Unnie?”
“The rain can’t possibly last that long, can it?” Hannah said.
“I don’t know, I’m not a weather forecast,” Sunny said.
“You kinda are, Unnie,” Haneul chuckled. “Haha… Sunny… Hahahaha.” Nobody laughed at that joke but Yohan.
“If we’re going to play like that, why don’t you stop crying since you’re the sky (Haneul) after all?” Sunny fired back, a little ticked off not just because of Haneul’s small joke, but also because of the stress that slowly crept up on her. Haneul quickly apologized.
Sunny rolled her eyes and sighed. “We have to find a way somehow to get back.”
“Let’s just wait it out for a bit,” Yohan said. “Maybe it won’t be that bad?”
“No!” Stephanie suddenly exclaimed after a grunt. “Let’s get back quickly!”
They all stared at her strangely. Yohan’s idea seemed fitting for the current situation because they really can’t do anything right now.
“I-I… water…” Stephanie stuttered in English.
“We’ll get you water when the rain stops, okay?” Sunny said softly. “I know you’re tired right now and we all kind of are so—”
“N-no, I meant… I meant my water… i-i-it broke…”
“What?!” Yohan and Hyuna screeched in unison. “Are you serious?” Haneul’s mouth gaped open. “Oh no…” Sunhwa bit her lip. Hannah gasped. Sunny’s eyes grew wide and she froze for a minute. They cannot be possibly dealing with this right now! There are no adults around, it’s raining, and they don’t even know the way back.
“Right now?” Sunny asked. Stephanie nodded nervously.
“A-are you sure?” Sunny stuttered. Stephanie nodded.
“A-are you really sure??” Sunny asked again. Tears started to form in Stephanie’s eyes out of fear and nodded again.
“What date is it today?” Sunny anxiously looked towards Yohan.
“August 18,” Yohan said.
“Dammit!” Sunny breathed out heavily. “It was totally supposed to happen around this time! I can’t believe we forgot!”
The tension quickly rose and most of them had gone into a slight panic. Sunny felt herself anxious too but this was not the time to feel uneasy. If she’s uneasy, Stephanie will be even more nervous and scared. They had to take action somehow.
“What are we going to do now!?” Sunhwa bit her nails.
“That thing’s not gonna come out right here right now, right??” Hyuna said.
“She might have it here. We don’t know how long or fast this is going to be so we better make a plan now,” Sunny said. “Hyuna, Hana, and Sunhwa, you guys go find anyone and call the physician right away.”
“What?! Have it here?” Stephanie cried. “No… N-no, I can’t possibly have it here!” Suddenly, she felt a contraction and it felt like her stomach and back was being stabbed and electrocuted at the same time.
“Wait, what, are you expecting us to go out there? It’s foggy and raining, and we don’t even know where we are!” Hyuna said. “And Hana can’t even run with that leg!”
“I’m sending Hana off with you because she roamed a lot with me before and she’s good at directions.”
“I am?” Hannah wondered.
“C’mon, I trust you on this, Hana,” Sunny said and Hannah believed her. “If we somehow got here, of course there will be a way back. Now go, this isn’t the time to complain!”
“Can’t you hold the baby in or something???” Hyuna asked Stephanie. Stephanie didn’t answer for she seemed out of it and couldn’t really pay attention to anything but the pain engulfing her body. She screamed in pain and the group felt awkward and tense all at the same time, slowly spiraling down to their own worlds of hysteria.
“Well how about you guys?” Hyuna asked, finally making up her mind to leave and call for help since she was afraid to witness this scene any further.
Sunny huffed determinedly, “We’re going to stay here just in case.”
“Just in case what?”
“Just go!” Sunny said and Hyuna asked questions no more. Hyuna yanked Sunhwa with her and Hannah followed along. They quickly got soaked in the rain as they ran and Sunny watched them until they disappeared in the fog a mile away.
Then she turned to Haneul, “Haneul, please scan the place. Try to find cloths and just anything that you think might be useful.”
“What? A-are we seriously doing this here?” Haneul stuttered.
“I hope we don’t, but it’s good to be prepared if we have to,” Sunny said. Haneul then nodded and went out the barn to check the area for useful supplies.
Sunny then crouched down to Stephanie’s level and held her hand. “Are you alright?”
“I don’t know,” Stephanie’s lips quivered while tears started flowing down because of the pain.
“Did you feel anything a few hours before—something like menstrual cramps?” Sunny asked. “The physician told us that’s what contractions kinda feels like… or worse.”
“Oh my god… I felt it last night and even today,” Stephanie said. “So that’s why my back was hurting so much!”
“Fany-ah, you have to be real honest with me from now on, okay?”
“Urgh… It’s getting worse than before. What’s going to happen, Sunny? I don’t want to harm the baby,” she sobbed.
“You won’t… Just try to stay calm, okay?”
“Are you really going to help me give birth? What if there’s blood, what will happen to you?” Stephanie worried.
“Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. The only thing you should be focusing on is getting that baby out. Don’t try to hold the baby in, okay? You’ll only make it harder for yourself and the baby. Right now, I’ll try to make things more comfortable for you here until the three can get help,” She stood up and went to Yohan, who was paralyzed in his spot, staring worriedly at his friend.
“Yohan, help me fix this barn up. Cover the windows so it won’t get too cold. Also try to find something to cover the door.”
“I-I is it really going to happen today?” Yohan stuttered, still shocked over the situation.
“Snap out of it and help out, will you?” Sunny said and left him to search some cloths with Haneul. However, Yohan tightly took a grip on Sunny’s arm and turned her around.
“Sunny, if her water broke, that means the baby is going to travel down right now,” Yohan whispered. “There may not be enough time for Hyuna, Sunhwa, and Hana to call on anyone!”
“Do you think I wouldn’t know that?” Sunny said. “That’s why I’m telling you to mentally prepare yourself and help out! I’m hoping they’d find someone soon, but come on; you and I both know the baby could come out any moment now. So go and help me out here.”
Yohan sighed nervously and then quickly tried to do what he was told with the junk and resources they had from the abandoned barn. Soon, the open windows and half of the entrance were covered with thin boards, enough to keep the rain and wind from entering. He also took off his jacket and covered up the dirty roll of hay so that Stephanie could have something to lean her back on. When he tried his hardest to make the hopeless room look somewhat pleasant enough, he sat beside Stephanie and sighed.
“How are you?” he asked.
“Very scared,” Stephanie said. She didn’t see the point in lying about her condition now. It was obvious to see that she was not doing very well anyway when screams and moans unconsciously pulse out of her. “The contractions are really starting to hurt so much and they’re just a few minutes apart.”
Ten minutes has passed and Haneul and Sunny had managed to find dirty cloths and clean them with the pouring rain. It was still too dirty for it to be used as something to wrap the baby with, but at least they got something to cover Stephanie. On the other hand, the three girls who were sent to call on anyone still hasn’t come back. The situation got tenser with each droplet pounding on the roof. Yohan tried his best to make Stephanie feel better, but her body was now on an unstoppable streak to finish the last stages of her labor.
“I don’t think I can do this anymore…” she clenched her teeth and had trouble breathing because of the excruciating pain overcoming her lower body. She released a ragged breath and she screamed in a higher pitch than normal. It was obvious to hear that this wasn’t normal contractions anymore.
“I think it’s coming, I think it’s coming,” Stephanie mumbled and she felt like she was about to have a mental break down. “I don’t think I can do this!”
Sunny called the couple over and had a short discussion as to what to do.
“Haneul, go check up on her and help her breathe for now. I’ll be right behind you,” Sunny said and Haneul did what she was told. “Yohan, do you have a multi-tool? It might come in handy.”
“I don’t have one,” Yohan said.
“What?! Hm… I thought all guys had that tool… well, do you have a string or something that can clamp?”
“I don’t,” Yohan said and Sunny gave up on asking him for any more things. She cursed under her breath but then saw something she could use. She crouched down and started untying Yohan’s shoelaces.
“What are you doing?” Yohan asked.
“I will need this.”
“For what exactly? You’re not serious about delivering that baby are you? Do you even know what you’re doing? What’s the shoelace even for?”
“Well do you have any other ideas? Want to go find out where those three got lost to?”
“There might still be time. We’ve only been here for about 10 minutes. They will be back before… before things happen!”
“Um… I don’t know about that,” Haneul said with her eyes restlessly closed. “Sunny…”
“What?” Sunny turned her head while her hands were still untying Yohan’s shoelace.
“Why, what’s going on, what did you see?” Stephanie asked Haneul anxiously. Haneul couldn’t answer and was frozen on her spot. Her face had turned pale as if she could faint any second now. Sunny left Yohan to untie his own shoelace and came to the two girl’s rescue. She checked up on Stephanie and her eyes dilated nervously at what she saw under the dirty cloth that provided as a blanket for Stephanie’s legs.
“It’s really time,” Sunny said.
“How close??” Yohan asked as he gave his shoelaces to Sunny. Sunny didn’t answer him for she was trying to organize her thoughts and calm herself down.
Stephanie shrieked in pain and reached out for Yohan. Yohan took her hand and wanted to yelp in pain the moment Stephanie seized it. She could deform his hand in seconds, but he could not complain because this probably won’t come close to being as painful as this delivery. Between Stephanie’s horrifying screams, Yohan tried his hardest not to tremble and he closed his eyes hoping this would end soon.
Haneul stood up and turned around, unable to take in what was happening. She was too shocked to be able to help. Sunny understood that this was not for the faint heart so it was alright for Haneul to stay out of this. However, not knowing what was really happening, Yohan kept asking Sunny what was going on. It bugged Sunny that he was being so impatient and blocked out his voice so that she could focus on helping her cousin. She didn’t want her sanity to deteriorate just yet. The job was almost over.
In a second, Stephanie felt relief overcome her body and she panted for air. She didn’t know what just happened, but it seemed like the torturous contractions had suddenly left her.
Haneul turned around when she heard Stephanie take a deep breath, and her eyes grew wide. There it was—a little human being on Sunny’s hands. The baby’s head was covered in a little blood but its body was only covered with vernix. Haneul covered her mouth of shock and happiness and said, “Omo!! It’s a girl!”
Yohan and Stephanie could not keep their mouths shut nor could they take their eyes away off the little girl the moment they laid their eyes on her. Stephanie started crying while trying to catch her breath, relieved that this was finally over. However, Sunny just sat there with the baby, patting the baby’s butt and back. She seemed more of in a panic than in relief. Her emotions have been sedated for the past twenty minutes, but now, she was starting to lose her cool. Stephanie assumed it to be Sunny’s fear of blood, but then looked at the baby and realized what was going on.
“Sh-she’s… she’s not breathing,” Sunny trembled.
For what seemed like a few seconds of bliss became hell again for the group.
“No, no, that can’t happen!” Stephanie cried, mentally panicking that all her efforts for the past 8 months and especially for today’s efforts would all just be for nothing. “A-are you sure?”
Haneul turned away again, feeling her own tears pool at the nerve-wracking situation.
“Calm down, guys,” Yohan suddenly said. He let go of Stephanie’s hands and came to Sunny to check on the baby. Gently, he took the baby on his arms and carefully cleaned the baby off of vernix. The girls were a bit baffled at how calm he was and quietly watched him, anticipating what he could do.
“It’s only been a while. She’s still attached to the umbilical cord. Let her adjust,” Yohan said. He then handed the baby carefully to Stephanie and helped her carry it properly. Stephanie felt a tense crawl of goosebumps running through her skin as she held the baby on her arms. The little girl was just exactly the length of her forearm, her body was warm, and her skin had a light shade of Stephanie’s favorite color—pink. But to finally see the baby girl’s face was the most overwhelming thing to experience, for she immediately saw Jinwon’s sleeping face beaming back at her. It filled her heart with a new sense of peace.
Then suddenly, the baby squirmed a little and it started making sounds, as if gasping for air. Stephanie panicked, but naturally, she let the baby lay on one arm and patted its back to help it breathe. Stephanie started chuckling between her tears hearing that the baby was alive. Their tense shoulders slouched and they all leaned on something to recharge a little bit. Yohan, Sunny, and Haneul felt a huge relief and started smiling themselves.
Soon, the baby started crying and Stephanie tried her best to comfort her. “She’s here guys… she’s here,” she cried. “Oh my god… Oh my god…” she kissed the baby’s forehead and continued crying.
After five minutes, help finally came and the physician, along with the adults, was shocked at what they saw. The umbilical cord was cleanly tied with a shoelace by Yohan, and the baby was warmly wrapped in Haneul’s sweater. The physician praised the teenagers for handling the situation well and helped Stephanie finish the rest of the process. With the villagers, help, they were able to transport Stephanie safely back to the hanok house by nightfall.
Stephanie sat on her bed with the baby fully wrapped up in a warm cloth looking like a little crumpled up old doll on her arms. She didn’t mind how fragile it looked at the moment, for in her eyes, the baby was beautiful. The physician occasionally checked up on her and the baby, but everything seemed fine and the baby was pretty healthy. The other teenagers were celebrating at the living room for Hyuna had apparently discovered one golden piggy bank and now has a free pass at Xiah Dragon Noodle’s menu for the rest of her life. Stephanie, as the socialite that she was, wouldn’t want to miss out on such fun, but at this time of her life, it was alright for her that she wasn’t involved in the festivities. She didn’t want to do anything else but marvel at the pink little girl that has been with her all these months.
After a while, Hannah came in and sat beside her. She silently watched Stephanie staring at the baby, finding it adorable how Stephanie suddenly seemed different today.
“So what are you going to name it?” Hannah asked.
“Huh?” Stephanie looked up and then looked back to the baby again. Then she remembered that this baby was not hers for she promised to give her over to her cousin Sasha. She felt tears rushing at the thought of separating with this new life and didn’t know what to answer.
“You know, it’s alright if you keep her,” Hannah said. “I’m sure Sasha will understand.”
Not sure what choice she should do, Stephanie cried, “I’m sorry…” What then was the use of having her cousins over from America?
“You don’t have to be,” Hannah said. “She was yours from the very start.”
“Can I really keep her?” Stephanie said. “Do I really deserve her? I don’t know if I’m ready.”
“Do you love her?” Hyomin asked.
“I do… I do love her, and she’s beautiful… I don’t know what I’d do if I lose her. Somehow, it feels so heavy to think about letting her go. I don’t even know why…”
“She truly is beautiful,” Hannah said. “Her lips seem to take after yours, too.”
“I guess,” Stephanie chuckled.
“Maybe it’s because she’s pink that you’ve become so attached to her. You are after all a pink monster back when we were kids,” Hannah said. “You thought anything pink was yours.” Stephanie felt embarrassed and laughed.
“Quite a day, isn’t it?” Yohan chuckled as he was out on the porch with Haneul.
“Yeah, I still can’t believe Fany-Unnie gave birth in some barn or abandoned shack. Like wow, without those medical equipment and such… She’s strong.”
“Yeah, she really is a very strong woman. She thinks she isn’t but she really is.”
“And how was that baby even born a month earlier? Isn’t that dangerous?”
“The physician said it was because she and the baby had little nutrition. It’s because she hasn’t been eating properly because of her grief. I’m glad that everything went well, though.”
“Yeah… and did you see how much she loved her baby? She seemed so overjoyed when the baby started breathing. I’ve never seen her smile like that over her baby.”
“I guess it’s because she didn’t really know what to expect of the baby, and for months she believed she was going to give it away. But now that she’s seen the baby, something clicked her mind, I guess.”
“Truthfully, I don’t think I would be able to let go of my baby just like that if I was in her place,” Haneul said. “Seeing the baby made me so happy, I wonder how much more overjoyed she would feel.”
At that sentence, Yohan remembered how Haneul cried yesterday and how he couldn’t understand why she was being emotional. He started thinking of the worst again. What if Haneul was pregnant?
“You’re not pregnant, are you??” Yohan said, scared of the answer.
“What?! Where would you get that idea???” Haneul laughed.
“I mean… you cried yesterday for no clear reason. I thought…,” Yohan scratched his head.
“Oh Oppa, seriously?” Haneul laughed.
“Why did you cry yesterday, then? Will you just really miss me if I go to the army or is there some other reason? I mean we still have a lot time before I can sign up for the army.”
“Oh… about that,” Haneul’s mood dropped and she sighed. “I’m just scared that I won’t see you again.”
“We have plenty of time to be together. I won’t leave.”
“But when I do?” Haneul said, staring sadly in his eyes. “I will leave soon, Oppa.”
“To where?” Yohan’s voice became soft, a little startled at what she said.
“A week from now, I’ll leave for Japan,” Haneul whimpered. “I’m sorry I haven’t told you earlier, Yohan Oppa…”
“Japan? Next week?! Why?”
For a second, Yohan felt his heart sink hearing those words from the one whom he just started to dearly love. Soon, she will be gone. After a long, torturous silence, Yohan said, “We can… we can still keep in touch.”
“Do you think so?”
“The only thing I know right now is I don’t want to lose you either,” Yohan said. “This can’t be the end for us. You don’t want us to end either, do you?”
“Of course not…,” Haneul said.
“And it’s only Japan. You’ll never know, maybe I’ll go there someday, too,” Yohan said.
“You’d really visit me?” Haneul said.
“I could work hard and live with you there.” Yohan said. “There are many possibilities… because I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Instead of kissing like they usually did, they held each other’s hands and let the warmth of each other’s presence linger inside their hearts. It was a more precious moment somehow, to be together just like this. And though they knew their time together was limited, in their hearts they believed this really wasn’t the end.
“By the way,” Haneul asked as she leaned her head on his shoulder. “How did you know about the baby breathing?”
“I’m a son of a very smart nurse. Of course I know a lot of things,” Yohan smiled.
“Oh don’t you worry about it!” Sasha laughed. “Of course it’s alright! You are the real mother after all!”
“Can I really keep her?” Stephanie said.
“Yes, dear, now don’t you worry, okay? I support you in your decision,” Sasha said.
“Thank you…” Stephanie smiled as she felt tears rushing. “I’m sorry I called you here for nothing.”
“For nothing? It feels great living here in Yuchiri and I have learned a lot of things. Thank YOU for calling us here!” Sasha said and wiped Stephanie’s tears.
“What will you be naming her, then?” Sunny asked.
“I was thinking of Hyerim but…” Stephanie smiled and closed her eyes. “I think I’ve got a perfect one.”
“What is it?”
DECEMBER 13, 1997, Saturday
It was half past 6 in the evening and Stephanie finally woke up. All that she could remember was Jinwon’s sweet voice lulling her to sleep. Music had always been a great weapon to lift her spirits up and so was Jinwon’s love towards her. So merging them together definitely gave her a strong sense of hope. With his help, she’ll be able to make it through this. There was no use in being sad about the situation. After all, pregnancy means life; she’s creating a new life inside her. A new life is a blessing.
“So what names do you have in mind?” Jinwon smiled.
“I haven’t thought about it… I don’t know, like Hyerim or something if it’s a girl.”
“Hyerim? Doesn’t that sound a bit old?” Jinwon snickered.
“Well I’m not good with Korean names. If it was something American, I’d probably have the perfect name.”
“Then you can name it whatever you want. But I personally would love the name Ji-Eun or Eun-ji”
“Why? What about Eun-ji?”
“I don’t know. I just like it somehow. It sounds nice. And doesn’t it mean something like ‘wise’ or something?”
“How should I know,” Stephanie chuckled.
“Anyway, that’s what I’d name her… if it’s a girl of course. Promise me we’re going to name her that if it’s a girl. It’s simple and nice.”
“And what if it isn’t a girl?”
“I just really want to have a daughter named Eunji, okay?” Jinwon laughed. “It seems cute.”
“It’s Eunji,” Stephanie said.
“You won’t be giving her an English name?” Sunny asked. “I mean after all, you’re more comfortable in English.”
“No, no… I want her to be more Korean than American,” Stephanie said. “At least more like Jinwon anyway…,” she thought.
“Well it’s a beautiful name,” Sasha said.
“Ma’s gonna educate you from now on, then,” Sunny said.
“Of course… I-I’ll try my best to be a mother,” Stephanie said.
When it was finally time to sleep, she started talking to her mother in her head.
“Mom, are you watching? Look at what I have on my arms right now… I’m such a fool, aren’t I? Look at me, your daughter who doesn’t know anything. I’m holding my own daughter right now. Wow, it feels so strange to say that I have a daughter. It makes me happy but I’m scared, really. How did you feel when you had me? I might never know and talking like this to you is hopeless.
I’m guessing it was a little easier for you since Dad was with you. You also had Michelle and Leo first so I guess you also knew what to expect when you had me. You had so much support from everyone. I had a lot of support today, too. But you had support from Dad, which probably was the only person whom you needed. It must’ve been easier, right, to have the father of your child with you? As for me, I don’t have Jinwon around and even though everyone is taking care of me here, I still feel so scared without him. I keep his memories around and replay them to make it feel like he’s here with me but… I wish I had him around…
What if something goes wrong along the way, you know? I don’t want to keep losing the ones I love. And I love Eunji, I don’t ever want to lose her or make a big mistake. I’ve already neglected her for the past 8 months, and I hate that I can’t turn back time to appreciate what was right before me—this… this beautiful little girl. When she wasn’t breathing a while ago, I was so scared. Words cannot express how thankful I am when she started breathing. And now… staring at her like this sleeping peacefully makes me feel so relaxed. I keep forgetting a lot of my problems when I stare at her. I thought it would be unbearable to look at her after everything, but now… she makes me feel like I could breathe again.”
She then kissed Eunji’s forehead softly and smiled.
“Oh, Eunji… You’re so tiny, but you’re the biggest thing in my mind right now. Thank you for making Mommy’s heart beat again… though it may seem like I’m not fit enough, I will take care of you, and I promise that. And you better take care of me, too.”
Chapter Theme Song:
Rainy Day (piano version) – Sungha Jung