R94: A MOMENT’S CHOICE TENTH INNING PART 2

Tenth Inning

Part 2

 

March 30, 2002

7:30 p.m.

Jae Joon

I rang Jung Jin Hyung’s doorbell a second time and wondered why he wasn’t answering. He told me to meet with him tonight, right? Something about settling CFs before the season even started. I recalled him mentioning the Park Hyatt but I assumed that’s where he’d be later and came here an hour early instead. I’m meeting the guys in about an hour and a half for drinks and thought about inviting Jung Jin Hyung along.

Na Jeong is staying at the boarding house this weekend as Sook Sook had baseball practice earlier and a game tomorrow and her parents are in Masan for the weekend as Hoon’s memorial day is on Monday. I offered to have him stay at the apartment with us but she declined, saying she was tired and that packing all of Sook Sook’s regular clothes, his game uniform, his toys, as well as his homework would be too much.

I had pulled my phone out of my pocket when I heard the blare from the music coming out of the apartment and a woman’s voice singing obnoxiously and fairly out of tune. I double checked that I was at the right door and confirmed that indeed, I was.

Does Hyung have a woman in his apartment? I shook my head at the thought. Even if he did, Hyung’s music tastes ran towards classical and indie, not the disco music playing in the background. And Hyung is a little too refined and straight laced to be playing music that loudly.

Has someone broken in? I started knocking on the door more incessantly even as my other hand continued to press the doorbell. I heard the music stop and prepared to call the police instead. Imagine my surprise when the door opened and a familiar face from so long ago greeted me.

“Mr. Kim!” She exclaimed in English as her mouth formed an “o”. “What are you doing here?”

“Please, Gia-ssi… Call me JJ… That’s what they used to call me in America.” I watched as she looked at me directly and I observed her as well. She was hardly recognizable with her hair down and wearing regular clothes. Barefoot and dressed in jeans and a loose shirt with a sleeve off one shoulder, she looked younger and more carefree. Very different from the efficient nurse who made my acquaintance almost a year ago. “You don’t look like yourself…”

She raised an eyebrow at me before responding. “Please, JJ, if we’re going to drop formalities, just call me Gia. And what do you mean I don’t look like myself?”

“Just… You just look different, Gia Noona,” I replied. “Noona means elder sister… We say that as a sign of respect. Hyung… Ahh… Jung Jin Hyung would never forgive me if I spoke to you so casually.” I poked my head inside the apartment for one minute before I spoke again. “Is… Is Hyung here?”

“No… Why would he be here? I thought he was staying with you,” she said. “I’ve been staying here since the beginning of the month and he said it was fine.” She paled and I wondered if I stepped my foot in it and got Hyung in trouble.

“Ahh, I remember now,” I said even though I don’t remember any such thing, but I felt the need to quickly backtrack. “It was just miscommunication. Don’t worry about it.”

She looked at me, looking like she didn’t believe me, but said nothing else.

“Noona… How long will you be staying here?” I asked curiously. “I’m getting married in a few months’ time and I would like for you to come.”

“Ahh JJ… I am not really sure yet how long I’ll be here, but if I’m still here I will definitely come.”

She flashed me a smile then and I glimpsed somewhat how Hyung became so fixated on her. Pretty girls and smiles, I thought as I shook my head. No man is immune. I think of how my heart races when Na Jeong sends a smile my way and I realized how accurate that statement is. It’s good to know that the rule applies everyone, including Hyung apparently.

“Do you… Do you want me to tell him you came by?” She asked. “He’s supposed to come by tomorrow to collect rent.”

“He’s charging you?” I asked incredulously.

“I’m no charity case, JJ. I offered to pay.” She noted my look of amazement and lifted her chin.

“And he let you.”

“No man lets me do anything,” she said challengingly and I almost laughed in glee. Hyung will have his hands full with this woman.

“Noona… It’s okay. I’ll text him.” She nodded and I smiled. “I hope to see you again soon.”

“Me too, JJ. And congratulations to you and your fiancee,” she said warmly. She closed the door after giving me another smile and I made my way back to the elevator even as I was writing Hyung a text message with nothing more than the name of the restaurant we were all meeting at. He better show up. He’s got some explaining to do.

*****

March 30, 2002

8:00 p.m.

Na Jeong

“Yoon Jin-ah… Dong Min has gotten so big!” I said as I peered over the sleeping baby in the stroller. “Who knew they grew up so fast?”

I studied the smooth skin and the tiny rosebud of a mouth and felt myself soften. I leaned in closer and sniffed his baby scent when I heard Yoo Mi Unnie’s voice.

“Careful, Na Jeong-ah… Baby fever can be strong,” she warned. “You and Joon may be next.”

“Aigoo, Unnie, don’t jinx us,” I answered teasingly though the idea wasn’t so unattractive to me. In fact, it wasn’t unattractive at all. Joon and I have talked about this, and I know should we get pregnant, it was going to be okay.

“How’s the wedding planning going, Na Jeong-ah?” Jin Yi Unnie asked as she took a sip of coffee.

“It’s good, Unnie. We just settled on The Ritz Carlton as the venue,” I said as I chewed on some ddukbokki.

“The one in Gangnam?” Ae Jung asked and I nodded. “They have a great catering menu.”

“I attended a wedding there a couple of years ago and the food there is fabulous,” Misoo added.

“We have our tasting set up in a few weeks’ time. Free food!” I said enthusiastically and everyone laughed.

“Do you need an officiant, Na Jeong-ah? I can call the one who did our wedding if you’d like,” Yoon Jin asked as she took a sip of water.

“Nah… I think Joon said that Oppa knows someone who can do it. Plus your person will have to come from Samcheonpo, and that’s a long ways to go,” I said decisively. “Enough wedding talk… Who has gossip?”

When no one spoke, I sighed. That’s the problem when all of our partners are all friends with one another. There are hardly any juicy secrets to spill and with the baby around we can’t even get inebriated enough to get our lips loosened up.

“Girls, what do you think the guys are doing right now?” Yoo Mi Unnie asked. “Do you think they will be like us and talk about anything and everything? Do you think they gossip like women?”

“Knowing my husband they’re probably out drinking,” Yoon Jin said. “I will confirm when he staggers home drunk tonight.”

“Uh-oh,” Jin Yi Unnie commented. “I thought that Joon wasn’t allowed to drink with Jung Gook anymore?”

“As long as I don’t have to clean up after either of them it’s fine,” I said. “Besides, Joon said they’re not going too far from the apartment so he didn’t have to drive. And no one else took their cars, right?” Everyone shook their heads no. “So worse comes to worse, they can all pass out at Joon’s place.”

“Na Jeong-ah… You don’t even know how disgustingly happy In Sung was to be going out tonight,” Misoo said contemplatively. “It’s all he could talk about all week.”

“Joon, too,” I said.

“And Samcheonpo,” Yoon Jin said.

“Haitai took forever trying to figure out what to wear,” Ae Jung commented. “The whole time he was on the phone with me he kept describing outfits.”

“Dong Joon, as well,” Jin Yi Unnie said. “You’d think they were going on a first date or something.”

“Yeah… The way they’re reacting to a night out together, it is as if we keep them jailed and handcuffed,” Yoon Jin said.

“Yoon Jin-ah… I don’t think any of them would be opposed to being handcuffed,” I commented and all the women laughed.

“Jung Gook was also very excited. He said that since all these young guys are going out, surely they needed an adult?” Yoo Mi Unnie said, chuckling.

“What did you say, Unnie?” I asked her.

“I said… Well… Why are you going then?” she responded drily, making everyone laugh.

“They’ll be fine…” I said to everyone and no one in particular. “They are not like us. I mean… They’re hardly going to sit around and bitch and moan and cry, are they?”

They all looked thoughtful but agreed anyway. Of course they wouldn’t. They’ll probably talk about sports or something. But definitely no tears. At least not from Joon.

*****

8:15 p.m.

Jae Joon

“So you decided to come out,” I said to Jung Jin Hyung as he pulled out a seat next to me and motioned for a server.

When the server came, he placed an order for whiskey on the rocks and I sat back on my chair and observed him. Well… At least nothing looked untoward. He still looked as smooth and suave as ever. He said nothing as she came back with his drink and took a swallow as soon as it was put down on the table.

“Are you going to tell me why Gia Noona is staying at your apartment?” I finally asked when it appeared like he wouldn’t be offering me any information whatsoever.

He looked at me once and ran a hand through his hair. “Do I have to?” He asked as he took another swig of his drink. When I nodded, he sighed. “She needed to get away. I had a place to stay, so I offered it up.”

“And where are you living?”

“The Park Hyatt… Where I told you to meet me,” he said resignedly. “I don’t really feel like talking about this right now.”

He took another drink and finished the glass. I looked in concern as he motioned for a second drink. I don’t think I have ever seen Hyung drink anything this quickly. His eyes were hooded, veiled. I can feel the tension rolling off him and wondered what the hell was going on.

“Hyung, what’s the matter?” I asked. I’ve never seen him like this. I expected bashfulness and amusement as I asked him about Noona but not this. He looked thoughtful and pensive, not unlike how I was before I came home before Binggrae’s wedding.

“She wants to be my friend,” he replied with a sigh. Okay… I don’t see anything wrong with that. “I have enough friends. And she wants to be my friend. We’ve kissed…” At this my mouth gaped open in surprise. “… And she wants to be Friends… Friends…”

He looked to me for some sort of explanation and I could do nothing but stare at him. The last time someone wanted to be my friend I ended up falling in love with her. Maybe this is why I don’t have a lot of friends. I am the last person he should be asking for advice. Though looking at him, it seems that he was way past that stage.

“There’s something there, Joon-ah. I feel it. That woman,” he said almost resentfully. “That woman… She’s gotten under my skin and I need her out.”

“Well you’re not going to do that with her living at your apartment. What were you thinking?” I asked. “And… Why can’t you two just stay there together? You’re adults. Surely if she feels nothing for you that wouldn’t be a problem. I mean you’re like a live in translator slash tour guide. She’ll only have to pay half of what she’s paying you and you won’t have to live in a hotel.” Hyung looked at me as if considering it when I pulled out the final card. “Plus, if she saw how awesome you are… She might be persuaded to give you a shot.”

I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about as I already started drinking even before he got here, but I’m pretty sure that Na Jeong would roll her eyes at what I just suggested. Hyung, however, looked at me so hopefully that I know I’d be in trouble if it didn’t work.

“Hey… Have you already started the party without us?” In Sung said as he walked in with Jung Gook Hyung, Samcheonpo, Haitai and Binggrae. I greeted them all by lifting my glass up and Jung Jin Hyung flashed them all his trademark smile.

“What are you two talking so seriously about?” Binggrae asked as he picked up some peanuts from the dish on the table.

“Oh… Not much, just how to win a woman’s heart,” I responded. “Hyung here is having a problem,” I said even as he fixed a glare my way. “Does anyone have any suggestions?”

“I’m no good with romance,” Samcheonpo said. “Yoon Jin and I had our first kiss on a fishing boat.”

“I just called Ae Jung on the phone,” Haitai said.

“Jin Yi approached me,” Binggrae said as he motioned for the server.

“So did Yoo Mi,” Jung Gook Hyung declared proudly.

“Misoo and I met in college, so… There wasn’t that much wooing to do, really,” In Sung said.

“Wow… You guys… Show off why don’t you?” Jung Jin Hyung said derisively. “Joon here had to wait six years and all of you hardly had to work at all.” He shook his head at all the men in our table as the server delivered the bottles of beer and soju.

Jung Jin Hyung’s predicament was forgotten and I reminded myself to ask him what he will do before he leaves. Talk turned to sports between Jung Jin Hyung, In Sung, Haitai and I while at the other end of the table I spotted Jung Gook Hyung speaking animatedly to Samcheonpo and Binggrae about something.

“Can we also have some spicy stir fried squid and some pa jun, please,” Haitai requested with a smile when the server was about to walk away. She nodded and walked off and Haitai proceeded to pour beer for all of us.

It felt good for all of us to be together, like this. It felt so good in fact that I didn’t mind when they even teased me good-naturedly about Na Jeong wearing the pants in our relationship. Little do they realize that she wears the pants because I want her to.

Our relationship is dynamic, with the power changing hands on a day to day, sometimes hour to hour basis. Sometimes she leads, and sometimes I lead. Na Jeong is neither stupid nor trivial, so I know that her judgment is sound and therefore can be trusted. I mean… If the person who loves me most is pointing something out, then it must be true since she would never just say or do anything that would intentionally hurt my feelings. I understand this now. I understand her very well.

“Joon-ah… How do you feel about being a married man in a few months?” Samcheonpo asked. “I know you already gave the answer to that interview but I’m curious to find out whether that was just for public relations’ sake, or…”

“For the record, I had nothing to do with that interview,” Jung Jin Hyung offered. “He wasn’t coached or he wouldn’t have practically spilled his heart out to a reporter.”

“Hyung… What’s the use in lying?” I said. “It was much easier to just tell the truth.”

“Tell that to YOUR Na Jeong. She called me and practically cursed me out when she found out that I didn’t give you clear instructions to not. Say. Her. Name.” Jung Jin Hyung laughed along with the memory.

“Yeah… She’s a gangster,” Jung Gook Hyung commented. “Scary woman. Just be glad she didn’t speak to you in person. You might have ended up with a black eye.”

Everyone nodded at the table except for In Sung. Of course. He doesn’t know Na Jeong as well as everyone at this table.

“She looks so gentle, though…” In Sung said and Samcheonpo snorted his drink.

“Yah… Don’t let that face fool you. She can throw it down better than most men. Joon-ah,” he said, lifting his glass for a toast. “Here’s to you and your brave soul.”

Everyone lifted up their glasses and clinked it together as I smiled at all my friends. We all continued drinking well into the night as we shot the breeze talking about anything and everything under the sun. A dozen bottles of beers later and almost as many bottles of soju, we all staggered out of the restaurant with Haitai singing and all of us joining in.

“Yaaaahhh…. Let’s goooo… Let’s goooo tooo a noraebannggggg,” Binggrae said, opening one eye as he put an arm around me.

In my state this sounded like the best idea ever to exist and I nodded. Everyone else murmured their assent and we all agreed that this was, indeed, a brilliant idea. Except for Jung Jin Hyung. He started hailing a cab while swaying and for a minute I was afraid he would fall down. Both of him, since I already started seeing double.

“Hyuuuuung!!!! Wherrreeee arrree yooouuu goooiinggg?” I asked, my voice slurring.

“I goott toooo gooo tooo mmyyyy appparrrtmeeent and puuuutt my foooot down,” he replied, nodding at me resolutely.

“Hyung… Are yooooou druuuunk?” I asked.

“Joon-ah… How many timessssss did I have to tell yooooou that gentlemen don’t get druuuuunk?” He asked. “I’m tipsy. Thaaaatss… That’ssss aaaaall.”

This struck me as the funniest thing I’ve heard in a while and I started laughing. I don’t suppose now is the right time to point out that Gia Noona might not appreciate him coming to the apartment in the state that he’s in and he’ll get no closer to her heart this way. I should tell him but no words would come out. I don’t even know how to compose a full sentence right now that was made up of more than five words. So I just watched dumbly as he managed to flag a cab down and entered without so much as hurting a single hair on his head. He’ll be fine… He’ll be fine.

We all continued walking to the nearest noraebang and after what seemed like the longest five minute walk that I’ve ever had to do, we all entered the room that we were directed to. Samcheonpo grabbed the microphone as soon as we were inside and pointed a song in the book that Haitai was trying to read. With one eye open.

“I waaaaant to sssssing that song Fateeeee…” Samcheonpo whined.

“That’s so ooooold!” Haitai exclaimed. “That’s eight years old. Sing sooooomething by GOD. Moooove with the timessss…”

“Yaaaah…” Samcheonpo responded. “That’s mineeeee and Yooooon Jin’s soooong. I don’t caaaaare. Give me thaaaat boooook. I’m singing thaaaat… Thaaaat sooong.”

“Fineeee… Fineeee…” Haitai pressed the number and Samcheonpo started swaying along before belting the song out.

I opened my eye to see Jung Gook Hyung passed out on the couch and I huddled closer to him. In Sung curled up next to Haitai and I thought Binggrae was also asleep until I saw him waving his arms back and forth in the air as Samcheonpo started singing. He finished the song tearfully, screaming “I love you Yoon Jin-ah!” And we all managed a round of applause.

Next Haitai launched into another sad song as Samcheonpo drank from the glass I had been drinking in and sidled close to me.

“Yaaaahhh, Saaaam… Saaaamcheonpo… Did you knooooow that in Ameeee… Ameeeerica, they have groomsmen? I wish yooooou could AAAAALLLL be my groooooomsmen.”

“Jooooon-ah… How luuuucky am I to have Yoooooon Jin, huh?” He asked me and I nodded. “She’s very preeeeetty…”

“Very preeeetty…” I echoed.

“Very smaaaart…”

“Very smaaaart…” I repeated. “Na Jeoooong’s very pre… Preeetty too… She doesn’t eeeeven know hooooow pretty she isssss. And she’s veeeery ssssssmart, too. Muuuuch… Muuuuch smaaaarter than me. You should seeeeee how… Hoooow she is with nuuuumbersssss. She’ssss the beeeest. I’m gooooing toooo give her aaaall my mooooney… Annnnnnd have her maaaaanage it AAAALLLL.”

“That’s smaaaaart, Chilbooooong-aaaaaah… You’re nooooot… Not an idiooooot.” Samcheonpo continued. “Yooooon Jin is soooo nice…”

“Na Jeooooong is increeeeeedible,” I said, and I teared up myself when saw Samcheonpo dabbing on his eyes with his shirt. Binggrae had now fallen asleep next to Jung Gook Hyung and so has In Sung. “I’m sooooo lucky. I looooove her sooooo… Soooo much! I waaaant to maaaaarry her!”

“Chil… Chilboooong-ah…” Samcheonpo said wisely. “You’re alreeeeady maaaaarrying her.”

I nodded and closed my eyes, feeling emotional. The last thought in my head was how in the world I will ever explain this to Na Jeong. Hee… I won’t have to… I won’t see her until the afternoon and I would be recovered by then, wouldn’t I? God help me if I hadn’t. Everyone’s right. Na Jeong is a gangster.

*****

BON Women’s Clinic

Seoul, Korea

May 1, 2002

5:10 p.m.

Jae Joon

“Sorry, I’m late,” I said as I entered the examination room the nurse led me to. Inside, Na Jeong calmly sat on the table, getting her blood drawn. She smiled at me as they finished collecting her blood. Once the band-aid has been applied, the nurse noticed me standing, still dressed casually in sweatpants and a shirt. I suddenly felt self-conscious and wished I had worn a suit instead.

“Your husband?” She asked Na Jeong.

“My fiance,” Na Jeong answered. “We’re getting married next month.”

The nurse nodded before gathering the paperwork. “We do the blood test in house so we should have the results by tomorrow afternoon the latest. We’ll give you a call,” she informed us both. “Dr. Noh should be here in a few minutes.” She exited the room and closed the door quietly behind her.

“Jagiya… Sorry… Traffic was crazy coming over here. I had to cut an interview short after the game,” I explained.

“It’s okay,” she said. “You haven’t missed anything. They just weighed me and had me pee in a cup. Exciting stuff, I know. How did the game go?”

“We won,” I responded as I walked over to her to take her hand. “You feeling okay today?”

“Yes. The nausea is not so bad now, but I’m still so tired. This pregnancy business is no joke. What time are Yoon Jin and Samcheonpo expecting us?”

“Not until 7. We have plenty of time.”

When the door opened again, a middle aged female doctor entered, holding a folder. She smiled at both me and Na Jeong before extending a hand.

“Hello and welcome. My name is Dr. Noh Jeong Sook and I am the primary obstetrician in this clinic. And you are,” she looked down at the folder before looking at Na Jeong, “Sung Na Jeong-ssi?”

“Yes,” Na Jeong said with a smile before she took the doctor’s hand then motioned towards me. “This is Kim Jae Joon, my fiance.”

She took my hand for a firm handshake before I saw the recognition light up her features. “Kim Jae Joon? The baseball player?” I nodded and she gave me a small smile. “My son… He watches you play. It’s nice to meet you both. Please, sit down.”

She sat down by the table and I sat down on the chair closest to the examination table. I waited as I held Na Jeong’s hand and felt my palms getting sweaty. Na Jeong, on the other hand, remained as calm as ever, as she looked around the room.

“Ms. Sung,” Dr. Noh said as she put her glasses on. “I looked over the intake form that you filled out when you came in. And I see that you have no past medical history except for a herniated disc on your back?” Na Jeong nodded and she continued. “Any surgeries?” Na Jeong shook her head no. “Any medications that you take?” Again, Na Jeong shook her head no.

“Reading through your symptoms, it does sound very much like you may be pregnant. You said your last period had been in April?”

“Yes,” Na Jeong responded. “But it was very very light.”

“When was the first day of the last time you had a full period?” She asked. Na Jeong responded with a date in early March and the doctor made a note on her chart before speaking again. “What you had in April may have just been spotting, and you may continue to have that throughout the pregnancy.”

“So we are pregnant?” I asked, my voice hoarse.

“We will know in a few minutes. The blood test won’t be back until tomorrow, but we can do a sonogram now and listen for a heartbeat. Ms. Sung, please lie down and lift up your shirt just a little.”

I watched as Na Jeong did as she instructed and she turned on the machine next to the examination table. I pulled out a small notepad from my pocket and a pen, prepared to take notes. She then turned the light off and I watched as she placed a small amount of gel on Na Jeong’s still flat abdomen and I wondered how she could possibly be pregnant. The doctor then grabbed a wand if some sort and pressed it lightly against Na Jeong’s belly. It wasn’t long before the small room was filled with the sound of a fast thumping and I wondered if that was normal.

“Mr. Kim and Ms.Sung, congratulations,” she said with a smile. “You are pregnant, and looking at the size of the embryo, you have been for a few weeks, at least six.”

“Really?” Na Jeong said happily. “Really? So that sound is the baby’s heartbeat?” She turned towards me, her eyes glistening with tears. “Jagiya… We’re going to have a baby!” I could do nothing but nod, I was so dazed by the sound I’m hearing.

“Is… Is everything okay?” I asked. “The heartbeat is very fast.”

“Mr. Kim, your baby’s heart rate is about 108 beats per minute, which is well in the range of normal. Everything is okay.” She started moving the wand around. “Hang on one second… I may be able to get a clearer picture. Ah.. There we go.” I look at the screen and tried to see what she saw but was unsuccessful. “I know it doesn’t look like much yet, but you see this right here? That’s your baby.” She looked at me and Na Jeong as we stared transfixed at the monitor. “Right now your baby probably just appears like a little bean but at six weeks, the baby’s nose, ears, and mouth are all starting to take shape. His intestines are developing and so are the tissues for his lungs.”

“That’s… Amazing,” I whispered as Na Jeong turned to look at me. I met her eyes and kissed her hand. A baby! We’re having a baby!

“It is amazing. They don’t call babies miracles for no reason,” Dr. Noh said. “Would you like a picture to take with you?” Na Jeong and I silently nodded.

“Can you print a few out, please?” I asked. “Our parents will probably want a copy and I need one for my locker and at home, too.” She nodded before pressing a button on the machine.

“I will give you the pictures before you leave,” she said before turning the ultrasound machine off. “Now that we’ve confirmed your pregnancy, I suppose you want to know when your little one is coming… My best guess is mid to late December, give or take a couple of weeks. So it looks like you’ll have a late Christmas present.”

Though I have about a million questions running through my mind, I stayed quiet as she perused something on the computer.

“Your urine test looks fine. You just had a gynecological appointment a few months ago so I don’t need to so another pelvic exam. We will send you out today with some prenatal vitamins and Vitamin B3, and you can start them today.” She looked at both of us expectantly. “With this being your first pregnancy, I’m sure you have some questions.”

“When will my next appointment be?” Na Jeong asked.

“We’ll schedule one on your second trimester, at 28 weeks, unless something arises, then you can just call the clinic and get checked out.”

“Doctor… She has a herniated disc on her back… Will the pregnancy make that worse? Are there any activities she shouldn’t be doing?” I had my pen in hand, ready to write down her answer and she looked at me amusedly.

“The herniated disc shouldn’t be affected by the pregnancy but with her back, she shouldn’t be doing anything high impact anyway, like kickboxing or running, even jogging. The same theory applies to being pregnant with a herniated disc. Walking is fine, swimming is also good. Yoga, as well.”

“Is there anything she can’t eat? What about the nausea? She’s had a hard time with that recently. And the lethargy?”

“When she goes into her second trimester in six weeks, the nausea and fatigue should get better. As for food she shouldn’t be eating, we will give you some pamphlets when you check out. Our number is also on the paperwork so feel free to call if you have any questions or concerns. Do you have any other immediate questions?”

I’m pretty sure I have a million more questions but my mind has gone blank, overwhelmed by the news still. In the space of less than one year, I’m about to become not only a husband but a father, too.

“Well then… I will leave you both. Take your time and we’ll give you everything you need, including your baby pictures at the front desk. It’s nice to meet you both and I’ll see you again soon.” She gave us a nod before she left the room.

Na Jeong cleared her throat and I looked at her. “Are you okay?” She asked.

“Yeah,” I answered, standing up to help her off the table. “I’m great. I’m really happy.”

“You sure?” She picked up her purse from the counter and I took it off her.

“Yes. I’m sure.” I tried to keep a straight face, but in fact I wanted to run out of that doctor’s office and tell everyone we pass that we’re having a baby, but Na Jeong may have something to say about that.

A baby. Mine and Na Jeong’s baby. Incredible. Has anyone ever been this happy? Probably. But this journey had been ours and ours alone, therefore so is this happiness. I felt Na Jeong’s hand, so small in mine, and joy filled me up so quickly that tears sprang to my eyes.

*****

7:30 p.m.

Na Jeong

“Well… We have news,” I slowly said, reaching behind me to the back of the chair where my purse was hanging and pulled out the ultrasound pictures. I looked over at Yoon Jin and Samcheonpo, who were waiting for me to speak, and Joon, who was sitting next to me with a small smile on his face, before I put the picture down on the table. “Joon and I… We’re going to have a baby.”

“You are?” Yoon Jin asked and I nodded. “YOU ARE? REALLY?”

“Yes.” I tried to be calm but my heart was fluttering inside my chest in excitement. I just want to get up and jump for joy.

“OMO OMO OMO!” Yoon Jin exclaimed, standing up. “Me too! We’re pregnant too! OHMYGOD!”

“Really?” I asked, standing up and grabbing her hands in mine. “Don’t mess around with me. That would be unbelievable if you are.” She gave me a teary nod, and we hugged each other tightly. “Why didn’t you tell me? I didn’t even know…”

“We wanted to be sure first,” Yoon Jin said. “We just had our first appointment last week. Besides, I think my husband told Joon the night he called me.”

“You called Yoon Jin? When?” I asked Joon, who was calmly eating a piece of fish.

“Last Thursday… The night of the melons. I needed a woman’s input and besides our Ommas, Yoon Jin is the only other woman I know who’s ever been pregnant before. I just wanted to confirm a hunch.”

“When’s the baby due?” Yoon Jin asked.

“The baby is due in December,” Joon calmly said, taking a sip from his cup.

“Congratulations, Appa-to-be,” Samcheonpo said, breaking into a smile as he stood up to shake Joon’s hand. “Our baby will be a month older, Na Jeong-ah. We’re due in November.”

Yoon Jin and I shared an incredulous look before we sat back down again to resume dinner.

“Na Jeong-ah,” Yoon Jin said as she was eating a bite of rice. “You already bought your wedding dress though. You still won’t show by then, right? It will be a nightmare and incredibly expensive to have to keep taking it out.”

Oops. I didn’t think of that. “I’ll only be 12 weeks by then… You didn’t start showing until you were at 20 weeks, so I’m hoping that it won’t be too obvious.”

I drank a sip of water and Joon took my hand under the table and smiled at me. Samcheonpo coughed and cleared his throat.

“But Na Jeong-ah,” Samcheonpo started to say, “your Appa is going to have a conniption.”

“Well, that’s true… He might be upset at first,” I said.

“Upset?” He said. “He’s going to kill Joon.”

“Oh no… His precious Joon can’t possibly have done this. I bet he’ll blame me instead but I don’t care. He’ll get over it. He’ll have no choice,” I said stubbornly. “Besides, what does it matter if we got pregnant now or in a month and a half? We’re getting married in 7 weeks. I’m more concerned about being able to keep food down at my own wedding banquet.”

“Chilbong-ah… Better you than me, that’s all I’m saying,” Samcheonpo continued as Yoon Jin nudged him to shut up.

Joon stayed quiet through the conversation and when I looked over at him, he was staring at his plate with a frown on his face. I squeezed his hands and concerned eyes met mine. I was about to ask him what the matter was when Yoon Jin spoke.

“Speaking of wedding banquets, did you do your menu and cake tasting already?” She asked as she helped herself to some spinach.

“Yes, we did that last month. Omo… I hope my palate wasn’t weird then, yet.”

“Jagiya, it was fine,” Joon said, looking like his mood has lifted. I thought he was happy about the baby… maybe he’s having second thoughts? It IS a big commitment.

“Joon-ah, I think Yoon Jin and I are going to have more kids than you two,” Samcheonpo said happily. “I’ll actually have something more than the great Kim Jae Joon! Who would have thought it?”

I can practically see Joon’s shoulders tense up at the thought. I would know, because I felt my competitive spirit making itself known too. Blissfully unaware of what he just unleashed, Samcheonpo continued eating.

“How did you figure that out?” Joon asked in a low voice, looking at Samcheonpo with narrowed eyes.

“You’re only on your first, and we’re already on our second. We had a year’s head start on you,” Samcheonpo replied. “We’ll definitely have more.”

“Not if I can help it,” I said hotly. “Just wait and see… We’ll definitely have more kids than you!”

“Na Jeong-ah…” Yoon Jin tried to interject. “This is crazy…”

“Your husband started it,” I said to her.

“Fine… Fine…” She answered, chuckling. “But if you’re all going to get into a pissing match about this, there should be something worth winning, no?”

“How about this?” Joon said, thinking. “Whoever ends up the loser, will have to babysit ALL the kids for a week so that the winners can go on a second honeymoon. And the end date is 12 years from today! 1st May 2014!” He looked at Samcheonpo determinedly. “Does that work for YOU?”

Samcheonpo, as if sure of their victory, decided to sweeten the pot. “Only if you add pocket money to the prize. Not too much now… We’re not all Major Leaguers like you. But just enough, to cover one meal. Call?”

Joon nodded. “Call.”

“Call,” I chimed in and Yoon Jin laughed before she agreed as well.

There had been no alcohol involved and we are a few years older. We’re no longer betting on trivial matters, but on the number of our children instead. But I realized as I sat there with my future husband and my best friend and her husband, that some things never really change. We’re still the same people from eight years ago, the bonds we’ve formed unchanged and unaffected by the constant ebb and flow of life. It was reassuring, that knowledge. With change being so constant, some things need to stay the same. I’m glad friendship is one of them.

*****

May 19, 2002

10:30 a.m.

Jae Joon

“Jagiya… We’ll have to tell your parents,” I said gently. “We’ll have to tell my parents too, but we have to tell your parents first, and soon. And by soon, I mean later, when I drop you off.”

We were sitting at the table having a late breakfast when I brought the subject up. I tried to talk to her about it at In Sung and Misoo’s wedding last night only to have her wave it off dismissively. I’m getting stressed out and I know why. I have never been the type to hide something this big. I’m not about to start now.

Na Jeong frowned at me over her bowl of ramyun. “Why?” She asked, blowing on the noodles on her chopsticks. “Why do we have to tell them?”

“Jagiya… Even if you’re not showing by the time we get married, you will be soon after that. When the baby comes out in December, they’re going to know that we hid this from them,” I replied, trying to sound as reasonable as possible.

“Babies sometimes get born prematurely, Joon-ah.” She said this in a condescending tone, as if she’s teaching me something new. She carried on eating nonchalantly, as if we were just discussing the weather.

“Pre-term babies don’t come out full grown, Na Jeong-ah,” I responded with the same tone she used with me. “It’s not as if your parents have no experience. They’ll know,” I reasoned with her. “We should do it sooner than later, so they can have time to get comfortable with the idea, and maybe… Maybe by the time the baby comes, they’ll have forgotten all about how we got pregnant before we were married.”

“They don’t even suspect anything, Jagiya,” she said, eyes stubborn. “Why do we have to incite…”

“Yes, they might be unhappy, and yes, they might even be angry, but at some point, they will be happy. How can they not be? It’s their first grandchild. Na Jeong-ah, this is something to celebrate. I want to be as giddy as I want to be and even though I know I can’t tell everyone, I want to at least be able to show my feelings about it in front of our family and friends.” When she looked like she was about to interrupt, I silenced her with my take-me-seriously look. “I can’t even look your parents in the eyes. I feel like I’ve done something wrong and I don’t want to feel that way. Not about our baby.”

“I still think…”

“I wasn’t asking for permission, Jagiya. I love you and you know I value your opinion. But this will happen, whether or not you like it. I hoped you’d understand, but even if you didn’t, I will tell them. I’ll take responsibility. It’s the right thing to do. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to do right by you and our baby, trying to do right by our parents… Didn’t you say thats one of the reasons why you love me?” I paused and took a deep breath, my eyes scanning her lovely face as she bit her lip. “Yah… You’re on my side, right?”

Her eyes which were just minutes ago blazing at me in annoyance softened. “I’m always on your side.”

“Our baby was conceived in love, and I know the doctor said it doesn’t even have ears or anything, but still, I don’t ever want there to be a moment that he doesn’t feel wanted. The book said that babies feel what the mothers feel. I just want you to focus on being healthy and being happy. I’ll handle this.”

“Okay,” she finally relented, getting up from her chair and sitting on my lap. She ran a hand through my hair and I closed my eyes in pleasure. “Have you been studying that book again? You’ve read it a million times.”

“I used to dream about being a baseball player,” I whispered, opening my eyes and looking into her eyes, a calm, clear green today. “Now I dream about being a good husband and Appa.”

“Kim Jae Joon-ssi, when did you grow up?”

“Around the same time you did,” I replied cheekily. “Jagiya… Promise me that if Appa kills me, you’ll raise our child well.”

She glared at me even as she fondly put an arm around my shoulder. “That’s not funny. You shouldn’t joke about things like that.”

“Who said I was joking?”

*****

6 p.m.

Na Jeong

“You sit down on the couch,” Joon whispered to me as we walked up to the boarding house. “I’ll kneel.”

“Joon-ah… Really… I don’t really think that’s necessary,” I whispered back. “Why do you even think you need to do that?”

We had just started climbing up the stairs when he stopped and looked at me, releasing a breath. “Well. I kept thinking… What if we have a daughter? And in twenty something years she comes home and tells me that she’s pregnant. I keep thinking about what I would do, and I think I would probably react violently. And I like to think I’m a bit calmer than Appa.”

“You may be calmer but you’re just as dramatic,” I chided him. “Trust you to think about stuff that may or may not happen in twenty odd years.”

I felt my abdomen roll with nausea. Uh-oh… Though it’s getting a little better, every day around this time I still feel queasy. I can’t wait until next month when this passes. I can’t wait for the day I can eat ddukbokki again.

I studied his face, his expression resolute. I know where he’s coming from and why this is so important. I heard the vulnerability in his voice when he spoke about needing to make sure the baby knew that he was wanted the whole time. He’ll get this done because his honor and his word depend on it. And once Joon has made his mind up, there is no changing it, just as Binggrae told me months and months ago.

I opened the door to see the living room empty. “Omma?” I called out as Joon and I changed into slippers. “Omma?”

Omma walked out of the kitchen, surprise lighting her features. “Na Jeong-ah! I thought you said you won’t be home until tomorrow after work? Chilbong-ah, you’re here too. I was cooking dinner. Appa took Sook Sook to his friend’s house to play.”

Joon and I looked at each other before we followed Omma to the kitchen. I’m glad Sook Sook won’t be home for this. We sat at the table and watched as Omma moved around the kitchen. It always fascinated me, watching my Omma move. Since I learned I was having a baby, I study my Omma a lot more. I hope I can be half the mother she is. I hope one day our child will see me the way I see my mother. She’s an incredibly strong and incredibly kind woman. If I could choose my parents, I would choose mine all over again. Tears sprung to my eyes and before I knew it I was crying and Joon was patting my back. He’s used to this by now… It doesn’t take much to make me weepy these days.

Omma, however, turned around in concern before she rushed over and down at the head of the table, where Appa usually sits for meals. She took my hand in hers before she spoke.

“Na Jeong-ah… What’s the matter?”

“Omma…” I sniffled and swallowed. “Omma… Joon and I have something to tell you. It might be sudden and you might get upset, but we’ve talked about it.”

“Don’t tell me you’re cancelling the wedding? I thought it was too good to be true…” She said, looking at is thoughtfully. “We already sent out all the invitations, but we can fix that. Are you two not ready?”

“No… Omma, that’s not it. Joon and I… We’re going to have a baby.”

She looked at me, then at Joon, then at me again, her lips slightly open in surprise. I waited as a few beats passed in silence.

“I… I don’t really know what to say,” she finally said, a hand over her chest.

“I know you’re disappointed, Omma, but Joon and I are ready to have a baby. We love each other and though we didn’t really do this on purpose, it’s how it worked out. I do hope that you can be supportive, though, because I won’t be able to stand it if you’re not.”

“Na Jeong-ah… I’m not disappointed. I admit it’s a bit of a surprise, but you’re getting married.” She stood up and motioned for me and Joon to follow. We did, and she enfolded us in a warm embrace. “Congratulations! You two will make wonderful parents.”

I felt myself sag with relief as Joon sat back down on the chair.

“How do you know?” She asked, sitting back down herself.

“We went to the doctor’s a little over a week ago. It’s very early in the pregnancy, I’m only about 7 and a half weeks along.”

“I should have known, really. You haven’t been acting like yourself. Were you able to hear the baby’s heartbeat?” I nodded and so did Joon. “It’s a magical moment, isn’t it? The moment you realize that there’s a living breathing human being inside you? You never get over that wonder, either. No matter how many children you have.”

Even as Omma and I started speaking about the things we will need for the baby and about the appointment I just had, I looked over at Joon to see him sitting quietly, brows furrowed. He’s nervous. I can feel the worry coming off him in waves. Omma followed my eyes and gave me a reassuring smile. I rubbed my belly protectively and then took Joon’s hand.

“Omma,” I started. “Please tell me there’s liquor in the house.”

“Na Jeong-ah… You know better than to drink,” she replied.

“It’s not for me. It’s for Appa.”

“So that’s what you’re worried about,” Omma said to Joon with a knowing smile. “You know Appa… He’ll probably yell and throw a fit but he loves you both. He’ll need some time but he will soon accept it.”

“You think so?” Joon said hopefully. “I’ve made him mad so often in the last few months…”

“He wouldn’t be so angry if he didn’t care so much. That’s what families do. We upset each other and we get angry, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re family…”

“Yeobo,” we heard Appa’s voice call out from the front door and we all stood up, startled. “Are Na Jeong and Chilbong here?”

He walked into the kitchen as Omma rushed to the cabinet to grab a bottle of liquor, along with a glass. When he saw me, he smiled but when he saw Joon, he enthusiastically clapped a hand on his back. I saw Joon tense up and I tried to send positive thoughts his way.

“Yeobo, let’s go to the living room,” Omma said, her voice gentle. She took Appa’s arm as she led him out the kitchen and motioned for us to follow. She sat Appa down on the couch as I sat down on the opposite end. She uncapped the bottle and poured a sizable amount of the liquor in the glass, then offered it to Appa. He smiled at her lovingly as he took the glass and swallowed.

“What’s this?” He asked. “It’s not my birthday and yet I’m being treated like a king. It must be a special…” His voice stopped mid-sentence when he noticed that Joon had dropped down on his knees in front of him, at which point he narrowed his eyes at him and the smile that had been on his face disappeared. “What’s going on? What did you do?”

“Yeobo…” Omma began to say.

“Someone tell me what’s going on right now! It has to be serious if Chilbong is kneeling on the ground, looking like he’s about to pass out.”

Joon took a deep breath and swallowed. I shot my father a dirty look for making him worry like this, only to be glared at.

“Appa,” Joon said quietly. “Na Jeong and I… We’re going to have a baby. We’re pregnant.”

Appa laughed heartily and took another swig of the liquor. “That’s funny. That’s really funny. You guys are playing a joke on me right now, right? Well it worked! For one second I almost believed you.”

“Appa, we’re not kidding,” I said softly. I pulled out the ultrasound picture from my bag and shakily offered it to him.

His expression sobered up and he tried to wave my hand away. Seeing that he wasn’t going to take it, I set it on the table. I saw his eyes dart towards the picture before he stood up and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. I braced myself for the loud words and the curses, perhaps even the crazy pacing. Joon still had his head bowed down, no doubt expecting Appa to hit him somewhere.

Appa, however, just kept looking at us wordlessly, as if rendered speechless. He opened his mouth as if to say something, and I almost sighed in relief but he seemed to think better of it and closed his mouth again. He walked towards the television, where I thought he would grab something and throw it, but then kept walking towards the front door. Omma and I followed him with our eyes, but Joon rose to his feet.

“Yeobo…” Omma said, the uneasiness thick in her voice. “Where are you going?”

Appa looked like he wasn’t going to answer but seeing Omma’s expression, he replied to her. “Out. I need some fresh air.”

“Appa…” I said, for the first time apprehensive. I have never seen my father like this. Not since Hoon Oppa died.

“You two,” he said, not looking at either me or Joon. He put his shoes on and already had his hand on the doorknob when he finished his sentence “Don’t be here by the time I come home.”

The door slammed behind him and I watched Joon as he closed his eyes. I turned to Omma and she addressed us both.

“I would do as he says for now. Men have a harder time with change than women do. And Appa… Well you know how stubborn he is. There’s so many things changing and he tries to put a brave face on, but I know it’s scary for him, too,” she said pensively. “Let him stew about it and properly digest it, and he’ll come around.”

“Omma… You don’t know that,” I said to her.

“You’re right. I don’t know that for sure. But I know your Appa. There’s a reason I stayed married to him for almost thirty years. He’ll accept it.” She gave us a kind smile. “Now, I didn’t say he will make it easy on you, but he’ll get there.”

Omma placed a hand on my abdomen, and said softly, “Uri agi, this is your Oe Halmoni. Don’t worry, Oe Haraboji will be fine. We’ll all love you. Just you wait and see… In the meantime, grow healthy and strong in your Omma’s belly, okay? We can’t wait to meet you.”

“Omma…” I said, getting teary eyed again.

“Go… I’ll handle Appa.” She stood up and put an arm around Joon. “Take care of our daughter and your little one. We’ll see you in a few days.”

He nodded and offered his hand to me as I stood up. Kissing my Omma on the cheek, we were leaving the house when we saw Haitai walking up.

“Chilbong-ah, Na Jeong-ah… I heard the news. Congrats!” He said cheerfully. “I saw Appa walking home from the bus stop and he looked like death.”

At this, I felt my nausea overtake me and I ran towards the grass to empty my stomach. I heard Joon’s voice, upset and tense, as he told Haitai what happened. By the time I walked back to Joon’s side, Haitai had already gone back into the house.

“You ready?” Joon asked, as he took my hand. “Should we go back to the apartment?” When I didn’t respond, he looked at me. “What do you think?”

I looked at his handsome face, still etched with tension and worry, and my heart hurt. I know how much he takes pride in the fact that Appa seemed to love and accept him no matter what. I know how hard this must be for him. It’s hard for me too but at the end of the day, I am Appa’s daughter and he won’t turn his back on me. Joon, however, doesn’t have such a luxury. Or in his head, he doesn’t think he does. It will take a while for him to realize that he already is family and that no mistake will change that. And our baby… Our baby is no mistake. The pregnancy timing might have not been totally planned, but we knew when we stopped birth control that this was a possibility and were ready for it. We were both guilty of not even considering for one second that Appa will be okay with it… And I wish he’d stop burdening the responsibility on his own.

“Joon-ah… Do you remember the crab we ate a few years ago, after we went to Sang Min Oppa’s game?” I asked and glanced at his face, wondering if he’ll see through my attempt to distract him.

“The soy sauce crab in Keongiwajip in Jeonju? Yeah, I remember.”

Of course he’d remember… that was our very first date. Well, sort of.

“I think… I think I want some of it.” I turned to him and tried to put the most pathetic look on my face.

“Jagiya… It’s already 6 p.m. By the time we get there it will almost be 8 and you have wo…”

“It will make me feel better. You know I have a hard time keeping a lot of things down, but the baby wants crab,” I pouted.

He studied my face for a minute before he relented and grinned at me. I gave myself a silent pat on the back. It worked… I knew just what to say to make him smile again. “So can we go there and eat some?”

He wrapped an arm around my shoulder and for the first time today, I felt him relax.

“Of course. If baby wants crab, baby gets crab,” he said with a chuckle. “This baby is surprisingly particular about food… It’s weird since you’re not.”

“I guess he already takes after you,” I teased.

“You think so?” He asked, his voice soft with tenderness and wonder. I felt him wrap his arms behind my waist to place a cradling hand on my belly. Oh yeah… Joon was already in love with this child. He stroked the side of my hip before he pulled his arms away and we continued walking, hands interlocked, back to the car.

*****

May 28,, 2002

8 p.m.

Jae Joon

“Joon-ah… Why are you sitting all the way over there looking like you’re afraid of me?” Omma said, her eyes narrowing at me.

“Ah…” I answered, thinking of the right thing to say. My palms grew sweaty and I fought the urge to wipe them on my jeans.

Na Jeong and I sat side by side on the couch in my mother’s pristine living room. Since we were invited for dinner, I thought now would be as good a time as any to tell her about the pregnancy. Now… How to actually tell her?

Omma’s not a violent woman usually… She’s usually more a verbal attack kind of person, but seeing how Na Jeong’s Appa uncharacteristically responded to the news made me a bit wary. The wedding is in a little more than three weeks, and I still have to try to fix the fractured relationship with Appa. He hasn’t answered any of my calls, nor responded to any of my texts.

“Omonim… He’s probably scared,” Na Jeong said casually as she drank some tea. She turned her beautiful eyes at me and gave me a look full of pity before she shook her head. “Aigoo… How is it that you’re so nervous with our parents?”

“What does he have to be scared of?” Omma said, puzzled.

“Not much,” Na Jeong said casually. “Probably just how you’ll react to the news that we’re pregnant.”

“Is that it?” Omma said thoughtfully before the words actually registered. “What? Did I just hear you right?”

I looked back and forth between my mother and my wife to be and wondered why I was even invited to come to dinner. The two of them were perfectly happy having this conversation on their own. Na Jeong leaned towards my Omma more closely as Omma sat expectantly for her answer.

“Omonim… Didn’t you say you wanted grandchildren right away? Well… Congratulations! Joon and I did as you asked and in about…” She pulled out copy of the ultrasound picture. “… Six months, you will be a grandmother.”

My mother’s eyes widened in surprise before she jumped up and took Na Jeong into her arms. I watched as the two most valuable women in my life started hugging each other and crying tears of joy. I don’t remember ever seeing this much emotion from my mother. Ever.

She and Na Jeong started speaking quickly about the pregnancy and her symptoms, and I really felt like I was an unnecessary accessory here. I watched, a small smile on my face, as my Omma fussed over Na Jeong, brushing her hair with her hands.

“Joon-ah… GOOD JOB!” She said to me with a thumbs up.

I shook my head, realizing that of all the things I have ever done that I have little doubt my parents could be proud of, she chooses to be proud of this instead.

“Omma… Seriously? Thank you, I think?” I replied. “It’s not like I did this for you…” The last part I muttered more to myself than to anyone else. “You and Appa… Rushing around, happy to become grandparents so soon…”

“You told your Appa?” Omma asked, surprised.

“Omonim… We were at Chungju this weekend,” Na Jeong said as she pulled a packet of pepero sticks out of her purse and started munching on it. “Abonim threw a party. You should have seen it… I think everyone in his village came.” She looked at the pepero sticks and pursed her lips. “Omonim… Do you have some kkakdugi? These chocolate biscuits don’t taste anywhere near as good as they do with radish kimchi.”

“Na Jeong-ah… I just made some last week. It’s in a container in the fridge. Hang on, I’ll get it for you…” Omma started getting up from the chair when Na Jeong stopped her.

“Omonim, please sit down. I’ll get it myself,” she said cheerfully. She quickly stood up before she put a calming hand on her abdomen. Her breath caught and I looked over at her to see her face pale. I stood up just in time to catch her before her knees gave out.

“Jagiya… You okay?” She closed her eyes and her mouth opened slightly. I helped her back down to the couch as Omma rushed to the kitchen to grab a glass of water.

“Joon-ah… I’m good.” Her eyes opened and clear hazel eyes looked into mine before she cupped my face with a delicate hand. The color seemed to come back to her skin and she smiled. “I just felt lightheaded for a minute.”

“We’re going to the hospital RIGHT NOW,” I said as I collected her bag and prepared to lift her off the couch. “We have to go.”

“Joon-ah… Jagiya… Not again,” Na Jeong said as I put her arms around my shoulder. “I’m fine. Don’t be ridiculous. I’m fine.”

“Let’s get checked out just in case. Better safe than sorry, right?”

“Joon-ah… PUT ME DOWN!” Na Jeong said as I made my way towards the door, carrying her in my arms. “I’m fine.”

I stalked over to the door determinedly. That is, until I felt her twist an earlobe with her deft fingers.

“Oww, oww, Sung Na Jeong, stop that right now!”

“No! PUT ME DOWN! I mean it,  Joon-ah,” she said as she continued to glare at me.

Reluctantly I put her back down on the floor and she stayed standing, looking at me with her hands on her hips. Omma continued to keep quiet, just watching us looking like she was about to start laughing.

“Jagiya, I love you, but you need to calm down,” Na Jeong said as she walked over to the kitchen to grab something from the fridge. I followed closely behind her in case she had another of the spells.

After helping herself to a full size bowl of radish kimchi she walked back over to the living room to reclaim her pepero sticks, left on the coffee table when she almost fainted.

I watched as she took a bite of kimchi with a chocolate stick and tried not to make a face. Her eyes closed in pleasure and Omma and I exchanged a look. Omma raised an eyebrow at me and I shrugged my shoulders. I don’t know why the baby wants some strange food. When Na Jeong opened her eyes, she looked directly at me.

“Joon-ah, I’m probably just dehydrated or something. Pregnancy is hard on a woman’s body,” Na Jeong said.

“That’s why I want you to get checked out.”

“We can’t go running to the doctor every time I feel not completely okay. There is a person growing inside my body… I think it’s normal for me to feel funny sometimes, don’t you?” Even as Na Jeong was saying this, my Omma was already laughing. “Jagiya… Millions of women get pregnant every day. If we all went to the doctor every time another symptom comes up, the doctors will never get any rest. I’m okay. The baby’s okay.”

“Na Jeong-ah… That’s all fine and well,” Omma said. “But is he okay?” She nodded her head towards me. “Joon-ah, sit down.” When I made no move to do as she said. “Kim Jae Joon… Sit down. Now.”

*****

Na Jeong

I looked on as Joon stubbornly stood with his arms over his chest, refusing to sit down. I should have known as this pregnancy wore on that he was going to get more and more protective. That’s his way and I love him for it, but really. I was going to aegyo him into sitting back down when I heard Omonim’s voice.

“Joon-ah, sit down.” Joon didn’t make a move and Omonim narrowed her eyes at him. “Kim Jae Joon… Sit down. Now.”

At last, Joon sat down after just standing dumbly for a few more seconds. I guess a stern tone from his Omma works just as well as my aegyo. I contemplated this as I took another pepero stick and crumbled it over my kimchi. Something about the sweet and the spicy when I take a mouthful of both combined makes me happy nowadays. Heavenly, I thought. This baby knows what’s good.

“What were you going to do anyway?” I asked Joon amusedly, trying not to laugh at the fact that he still looked pale as a ghost. “Burst into the emergency room carrying me in your arms, yelling out for a doctor? And what will you say when they ask what the emergency is? Help, my fiancee is pregnant? This is not a drama, Joon-ah.”

“I knew he’d be like this,” Omma said, clucking her tongue at him. “Overprotective. He’s just like his Appa was when I got pregnant. Na Jeong-ah… You think this is bad…” She shook her head at the memory.

“Omonim… It wouldn’t be so bad except he just about blew up the doctor’s phone the first few days after we found out. Bless her… She was as patient as ever, but he was studying that pregnancy book like someone’s about to quiz him on it… And writing questions down. Like we didn’t have nine months to get ready. And you don’t know how many times I’ve had to stop him from taking me to the emergency room in the last week.” I looked at him and shook my head. “I’m not the first woman to ever get pregnant, Jagiya.”

“Well… At least he finally found something he actually wants to study,” Omma responded. “He’s never been into…”

“YAH… I’M STILL HERE,” Joon said, looking at both me and his mother. “I’m standing right here. I can hear everything you’re saying.”

“Jagiya… You’re so touchy these days. Is it because Appa is still not answering your calls?” I looked at the shadow that fell over Joon’s eyes and realized that it must be just that. “He’ll be fine… What’s he going to do, really? Spend the rest of his life never speaking to either of us again? The wedding is in three weeks. I’m pretty sure he won’t pass up the opportunity to walk me down the aisle.”

“What’s the big deal? You’re about to get married anyway,” Omonim asked and I nodded in agreement.

“That’s what I’m saying,” I said. “I’m not worried. He is,” I added, looking pointedly at Joon.

“Why?” Omonim asked. “You’re the oldest child, and the only one who will have children any time soon since your brother is still little, right?” I nodded. “He’s our only child. That means all the grandbabies will just come from you two, for now. Of course he’ll have to accept it. That’s one of the reasons why people have children.”

“Why?” Joon asked.

“To have grandchildren, of course!” Omonim said matter of factly. “Your worry seems a bit too much, Joon. You’ve never been the type to care too much about what anyone thought before.”

“Ahh… Omonim…” I said thoughtfully. “Joon and my Appa have a special relationship.”

“What special relationship?” Joon asked.

“Joon-ah… It’s so special it defies definition. I would worry if he was female,” I replied with a wink.

“I suppose it makes sense. They’re both in baseball, after all,” Omonim commented.

“But Omonim… It goes far beyond baseball. Sometimes I wonder if Joon is his kid or I am. He’s so protective of him.”

“You two need to stop talking about me like I’m not here,” Joon interjected grumpily.

Omonim shot him an irritated glance for interrupting and I patted his hand in sympathy. I was one of only three women in the boarding house when everyone lived there. I know how it must feel to be outnumbered.

Omonim looked like she was thinking for one more minute before she spoke again. “You need to speak to your Appa, Joon-ah. He’s really good with getting people to do what he wants them to do, even if they weren’t willing. He’s very persuasive that way.”

Joon tensed up next to me and appeared to be debating in his head what to say next. He coughed and cleared his throat before he spoke. “Ahh… Omma… Speaking of Appa, he sends his regards.”

I watched as Joon’s Omma blushed and had to hold back my tongue from asking what that’s about. Best leave it. Apparently there are still some things left unsettled between the two of them, too. Joon continued to watch his mother closely.

“Omma… Where’s Ahjussi?” He suddenly asked.

Omonim waved her hand dismissively and tried to look nonchalant. “He’s on a business trip. He’ll be back next week.”

“Omma… He seems to be going on a hell of…” I heard the irritation in his voice and knew I had to step in. Now is not the time to be talking about this, I realized as I saw a frown overtake Omonim’s beautiful face.

“Joon-ah… Go set the table, hmm?” I said gently. He turned to me questioningly, but nodded anyway and stood up and walked towards the kitchen.

I half expected Omonim to tell me to stop ordering her son around when I glanced over at her and saw that she was staring at the table, a distant look on her face. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that Joon was busying himself with setting the table for dinner. I’ll ask Omonim to lunch sometime this week, I thought. She looks like she needs someone to talk to and what better friend to have than your own future daughter in law?

*****

Jamsil Baseball Stadium

June 10, 2002

4:00 p.m.

Jae Joon

“How’s work going?” I asked Na Jeong as I walked into Jamsil Baseball Stadium.

“A lot better now that I don’t feel queasy half the time but I think I’ll be here until 5:30 at least. There’s a lot of work left over from last week.” I heard her sigh at the other end of the line. “Where are you?”

“I’m at the stadium.”

“Joon-ah… Your game ended hours ago. I thought you said you were going to see Omonim after the game?”

“I did. I brought her lunch at the university,” I responded. “I just got back here a few minutes ago.”

“Jagiya… Not again…” She said. “How long are you going to do this for?”

“As long as it takes,” I said. “He’s going to cave soon, I can feel it.”

“You said that two weeks ago, when you called him every day. And last week, when you showed up to their training every day. Jagiya… He ignored you. Every single time,” she said, frustrated. “Even Omonim and Abonim reacted better. Appa’s just being ridiculous and unreasonable and… ”

“Na Jeong-ah… It’s totally understandable. You’re his only daughter. And he did tell us no kissing.”

“Yah…”

“All I’m saying is to try to understand where he’s coming from. Besides, I brought the big guns today. Don’t worry,” I reassured her. “I’ll tell you about it at dinner tonight. What does ae agi want to eat today? Appa will buy it for you.”

Na Jeong released a throaty giggle. “You’re so silly sometimes,” she said. “The baby doesn’t talk yet so you’ll just have to make do with what his Omma wants, and his Omma wants gamjatang.”

“Jagiya… It’s already June. Isn’t it a little too warm for gamjatang?”

“I want gamjatang,” she complained. “The one from Eungam-dong Alley… What’s the name of the restaurant?” I heard silence as she thought about it. “Ah! Daerim Gamjaguk! That’s the one!”

“Jagiya… That’s at the other end of town. There are a lot of restaurants that serve that around me.”

“But… That’s the one the baby wants,” she said in a little voice. “The baby is very specific. How should I explain to him that his Appa didn’t want to get what he wanted, even though he had a car right there, and it only took a few more minutes to get it? How do I explain that his Appa couldn’t be bothered?”

“Fine… Fine…” I replied, shaking my head. She is really going to milk this for what it’s worth. Luckily for all of us, I am a sucker. Anything for my woman and my child. “I’ll go there after I get out of here. Should I even ask of you what size of gamjatang you want?”

“You know what I want,” she said triumphantly.

“I got it. Jagiya… I have to go. In Sung just spotted me. I love you. I’ll call you on my way home.”

“I love you, too. Drive safely, ok?” She said plaintively.

I hung up the phone and walked over to the locked entrance, peering in to see the Twins still in training. I looked at my watch, figuring that they must just only have a few more minutes before they have to take a break. I’ve learned a lot in the last week that I’ve been showing up here. In Sung’s eyes met mine and his face lit up into a smile.

“Chilbong-ah… I got your text. I can’t believe you’re here again?” He asked as he unlocked the door. “Coach-nim is still not cooperating with you?” I shook my head no in response. “I should have known that you weren’t giving up.”

I entered the stadium after him, tucking the package I brought with me closer.Though our teams share the venue, we had just had an away game earlier in the day and I had just gotten back into Seoul.

“How can I? I’m about to marry his daughter in a few weeks’ time and we’ll be having a baby before the year is out. I can’t give up.”

“He’s in a mood today, so you best watch it. I’ll see you during the break.” In Sung responded as he went to join his team.

I stood on the sidelines, watching the Twins practice and saw curious eyes directed my way. I know a few of them recognize me, even though I’m dressed in a hoodie and tracksuit bottoms. I saw Appa follow their gazes to me and straightened my spine. He glanced at me but didn’t acknowledge my presence. Not even a nod. I have come to expect this. This has been his M.O. for the last two weeks, which is why I changed my plan of attack.

Within a few minutes the team dispersed for their break as my phone buzzed. Just in time. I watched as the caterers showed up to the stadium with their bags and bags of food, as well as coolers full of drinks. The manager of the snack shop approached Appa and spoke to him in hushed tones, then pointed to me. He looked at me, frowning, but signed for the delivery anyway.

“Change in strategy?” In Sung asked as he joined me. “You’re using the team to get your way… I like it. Free food usually does the trick.”

“Fish cakes, blood sausage, ddukbokki… all high in carbs and proteins, all good for athletes,” I said. “Appa likes food as much as anyone. Don’t people say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach? My Appa said to think outside the box and I took his advice.”

“My, my, how things have changed. You’re actually listening to your father now?” In Sung asked. “Amazing how quickly it all happened once you finally opened your mind up.”

“Yah…” I said defensively. “I wasn’t closed minded before.”

“Yes, you were,” he insisted. “That stubbornness of yours is remarkable… especially since you’ve been this stubborn since we were kids. It made you an amazing baseball player. But not so flexible a person. Love softened you up.”

“Buttered me up, you mean,” I said without any irritation. “Na Jeong gets her way most days… And now with the baby… I can’t say no. If I wasn’t so damn happy I would be disturbed.”

“Yah… Wipe that shit eating grin off your face, man. Your future father-in-law is heading towards us. I got to go.” He quickly walked off and rejoined his team by the tables, where I saw him grab some fish sticks and soondae.

I stayed in place, unmoving, as he made his way towards me. When he was about two feet away, another of his players, Kim Sang Hyeon, approached him. I recognized him because as one of the youngest players in the league, it’s my job to keep track of my opponents or possible teammates.

“Coach Sung… Why is Kim Jae Joon here?” He asked. “You trying to recruit him?”

Before I can answer, Appa fixed him a glare. “No. I don’t know this person.”

“You don’t?” He continued to ask with a smile. “He knows you. You’re one of his role models. He said so, in that interview.”

I stepped forward and offered the young player my hand. “Hello, I’m Kim Jae Joon. Coach Sung is my father-in-law. It’s nice to meet you.”

Though Appa continued to look at him sternly, he loped over to where I am and shook my hand. “It’s an honor to meet you, Kim Jae Joon-ssi.” Turning back to Appa, he said, “Coach-nim… Why didn’t you tell us your daughter getting married to THE Kim Jae Joon?”

“He’s not my son-in-law! How can someone who plays for the Bears be my family?” He turned to Sang Hyeon. “If you don’t get out of here right now, you won’t get to eat any food.”

“Coach-nim… What are you talking about? The food’s not going to run out. There’s enough to feed…”

“I meant YOU won’t get to eat. I’ll forbid you to eat.”

Sang Hyeon is no idiot. After giving us both a chagrined look he practically ran to the food table without looking back.

“Appa…” I started and he turned to walk away. “Appa…”

“Walk with me,” he ordered.

I walked behind him to the bleachers and watched for what he was doing before I followed suit. He sat down, and I sat down as well, on the same bleachers. A safe distance away from him. In case he decided to beat me.

“Kim Jae Joon-ssi… Why are you here?” He asked softly.

“Appa… You know why I’m here,” I answered. “Na Jeong and I are getting married in less than two weeks, and you’re still not talking to me. It’s really upsetting her.” Even though it’s not. “And me, too.” That’s a little more accurate. “I’ve come to ask for your forgiveness and understanding. Not just for me, but for your daughter… And your grandchild too.” I took a deep breath. “We all need you in our lives. And we can never celebrate our wedding properly if you’re not happy.”

Appa stayed silent for a few minutes, his eyes distant. Just when I thought we were going to sit in silence for the duration of the time that I’m here, he spoke quietly. “Na Jeong… My daughter. She’s like the light in my life. No one pisses me off more… Or makes me happier. You need to remember that.” His voice thickened and I looked at him. “You don’t know about my oldest son, Hoon. We don’t talk about him much, but..”

“I know about Hoon, Appa. Na Jeong told me,” I said.

He turned to me in surprise. “She did? She doesn’t say much about him anymore… I think like the rest of us, we just always think about him, because talking about him hurts too much. But…” I watched as he swallowed. “But when Hoon died, I don’t know what Omma and I would have done if we didn’t have Na Jeong. There were days when neither one of us wanted to get out of bed… But then we thought of Na Jeong and it gave us the strength to get up and to keep going. Having her kept us living and she kept our family together.”

“I know you love her and have loved her for a long time. She loves you too, and she’s happier than I can ever remember her being her whole life. I’m happy for both of you, make no mistake about that, but I look at her sometimes and I still just see my little girl. And you… You’re the man who is stealing her from me. As selfish as that sounds, there it is. And she’s not just about to become your wife, but a mother, too. It’s happening so fast, and this old man is having a hard time. You are a really ugly person.”

“Appa…” My voice trailed off, not quite knowing how to respond.

“You’ve thought of me as Appa for a long time… But now we have to make a transition. I won’t just be Appa anymore, I’ll be your father-in-law too. I will always watch out for my daughter’s well-being, and I can tell you in no uncertain terms that if you break her heart, I will kill you. No matter how much I care for you.”

“Understood.”

I looked at his face, slightly older now than when I first walked into the boarding house and smiled. “Appa… When I decided I wanted to marry Na Jeong, I realized it wasn’t just her I was marrying. I knew I was marrying into your family, and the thought of being in it permanently made me happy. Because the truth is… The truth is when I fell in love with her, I fell in love with you, too.”

His eyes widened. “You fell in love with ME?”

“Yes,” I started chuckling before I replied. “You and Omma. And then Sook Sook too, when he was born. I fell in love with all of you. That’s why it was so important to me to ask you all first if it was okay before I asked her. I even went to Masan to visit Hoon Hyung. I wanted to know if you would accept me into your family, not just as Chilbong, but as Na Jeong’s husband.” I unwrapped the bundle I brought with me and offered the box to him.

“What’s this?” He asked. “You’re not bribing me? I’m still going to call you ugly.”

“Appa… That’s fine. You can call me whatever you want. But that,” I said pointing to the box. “… That is not a bribe. Consider it part of my wedding gift. Omma should be getting a few bottles of perfume as well.”

Through this whole conversation, he became emotional but didn’t tear up. Until now. Appa looked at the box in wonder, then back at me, then back to the box.

“Chilbong-ah…” The familiar use of my name made me smile and I felt relieved when I realized that all was going to be fine. “… Thirty?”

I almost started laughing at this same conversation that we’ve had twice over before. I shook my head no slowly. “Fifty.”

“Fifty?” He asked disbelievingly. I nodded. “Fifty? I didn’t even know this existed.”

“Appa… You should enjoy it. That cost almost as much as Na Jeong’s ring.”

He frowned at me. “Almost?”

“More. It cost more than Na Jeong’s ring.” His face broke out into a happy smile before his expression sobered. “So how about it? Sung Dong Il-ssi, will you take me as your son-in-law and the father of your grandchildren?”

“I will,” he answered before standing up. “I do… But I am still annoyed.” He put his hand out to help me up and I took it.

We walked side by side towards where the rest of his team was, and I looked at my watch. If I left now, I might be able to pick Na Jeong up from work.

“Go eat something,” Appa ordered as we walked. “You bought all this food, and you haven’t even touched any of it.”

“Appa, I’d love to,” I started. “But I have to go. Na Jeong’s about to get out of the office and I promised her gamjatang.”

“Gamjatang?” He said. “It’s June though.”

“That’s what I said,” I responded, shrugging my shoulders. “But she said that’s what the baby wants. We have to get to Eungam-dong in this traffic.”

“Why there? There are plenty of restaurants that serve that around her office,” he said.

“Appa… She said the baby wants it from there.”

“And you bought that?” He tsked at me but I spied the look of approval in his eyes. “That bad girl… Abusing uri Joon so much. At least let me introduce you to everyone.”

I was about to ask him to do it after the wedding when Appa’s loud voice startled me.

“YAH! YOU SEE THIS GUY? I KNOW YOU ALL KNOW HIM,” the whole team turned to listen to him. “KIM JAE JOON. HE’S MY SON IN LAW!” He put an arm around me again and I bowed to the team.

“Wow,” another player said. “Coach-nim, that’s amazing! Congratulations!”

Everyone else yelled out congratulations and let out celebratory whistles. They had all surrounded Appa and were still congratulating him when I walked off the field and out of the stadium, my heart finally at ease.

*****

June 22, 2002

3:30 p.m.

Jae Joon

“Did you know that Na Jeong invited Park Soo Hyun?” I asked Samcheonpo as I waited in the hallway for the ceremony to begin.

“Of course she did,” he replied easily. “They’re friends. Plus everyone’s here anyway… Including all of Aboji’s team. I can’t believe he didn’t let you invite any of your teammates or coaches. You’ll have to make it up to them. Oh, look there’s Park Soo Hyun now.”

He pointed to the direction of a very good-looking man and I swallowed. I knew he’d be well-dressed but she never mentioned he’d look like a model. Best get this over with, I thought to myself as I excused myself to approach the man Na Jeong worked with for months. I approached him confidently and extended a hand even as I noticed his pretty date watching on curiously.

“Hello… We’ve never met. I’m Kim Jae Joon, Na Jeong’s fiance. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

He smiled detachedly and just looked at my face. Hmm… No response. I should try to engage him… Talk about something he knows. So I started rattling off everything I knew about computers, grateful that I prepared myself for this moment. Just because I’m an athlete doesn’t mean I’m dumb. I may not be the smartest guy but I can carry on a conversation. His date spoke up as I was about to move onto the topic of business.

“Kim Jae Joon-ssi,” she started softly, but I detected the gleam of merriment in her eyes. Is she… Laughing at me? I was about to ask her what was so funny when I felt a hand on my arm and turned to see my cousin.

“Joon-ah… They’re ready to start,” Binggrae said as he handed me my gloves.

I hastily said my goodbye to Soo Hyun as Binggrae led me to the bridal suite. He wiggled his eyebrows and smiled at me before making his way back to the wedding hall. I placed my fingers into the gloves and took a deep breath before I knocked and opened the door.

The sight that greeted me took my breath away. Na Jeong was sitting down, her skirt flared out over her, looking regal. She looked beautiful, her hair in a loose knot at the back of her head, and she wore a tiara. Yards of tulle surrounded her incredible face, and I had to force myself to breathe.

I vaguely heard Yoon Jin’s voice as she directed the camera at me and I think she might have asked me to say something but even now, I struggled to form a coherent thought in my head. Finally her words started to register and I zoned in just in time to hear her ask me a question.

“Ah… What’s wrong with this? Look what you did with your hair.” She asked me. “Why is it all puffed up like that?”

“Yah… I think he looks handsome,” Na Jeong said as she studied me from head to toe. I don’t care if I looked ridiculous if she kept looking at me like that. “But is that lipstick on your mouth?”

I nodded, wondering why the photographer insisted I put color on my lips, but no matter. The way Na Jeong looked at me made me feel like I was the only person here. And I drank in the sight of her like it was the air that I breathed. It’s time. It’s time to make her my wife.

“Are you ready, Sung Na Jeong-ssi?” I asked, my voice thick with emotion as I held out my hand.

She stood up quickly and walked towards me. Her skirt made her look like she’s gliding on the floor and when she turned I saw the row of buttons covering the back of the dress, with only a hint of her upper back visible. I wanted so badly to place a kiss there, where her graceful neck met her spine. Magnificent hazel eyes met mine as she interlinked our fingers, and I could feel the warmth of her hands through my gloves.

“I’ve been ready for years, Kim Jae Joon-ssi. Let’s go get married.”

*****

June 22, 2002

3:30 p.m.

Na Jeong

I raised both my arms in the air as Ae Jung and Yoon Jin lowered the dress over me. Should I hold my breath in? I thought. Well that’s fine, except what’s in your belly is not exactly something you can hold in. Right.

I felt the texture of the silky fabric as it brushed over my skin, and I hoped that it wouldn’t mess up my hair. I had styled my hair simply for this occasion, merely putting it into a bun. With my headpiece so elaborate, I opted to go understated with the rest of my wedding wear.

I felt Yoon Jin’s nimble fingers behind me as she did the row of buttons on my back, extending from the top of the dress between my scapula down to the small of my back, where the dress’ skirt flared out into a simple A line silhouette, emphasizing my small waist and my slender hips. It wasn’t until Yoon Jin indicated she was done that I allowed myself to turn around and look at myself in the mirror.

My breath caught as I looked at myself in the mirror, my already frazzled emotions threatening to overwhelm me. The dress I chose was unadorned, the neckline modestly covering my chest and softly sitting just off my shoulders, and with my hair up, my neck and my collarbone were exposed.

Omma walked up to me, her eyes tearing up as she handed me a box.

“Your mother-in-law handed this to me when I was talking to her just a few minutes ago. She said she forgot to give it to you last week,” she said, watching me as I opened the box to reveal a pair of chandelier earrings. “I met Joon’s Appa, too. Isn’t he so handsome?”

“Yes, Omma. Abonim is astonishingly handsome. Good looking genes run in that family.”

The earrings caught the light and I watched the way they twinkled in front of me. I shakily picked one up from the box as my mother took the other one. Putting it on, I watched myself in the mirror as my mother placed it on my other ear. Perfect. Omonim knew just what would go with the dress. Thank goodness I showed a picture of it to her when we met up for lunch a few weeks ago.

“Yoon Jin-ah… Can you grab the box on the table, please?” I called out as I sat myself down carefully. She brought me the box and I opened it slowly, not unlike the way I did the first time I got it. I lifted the tiara from the tissue cradling it and wondered if my neck was strong enough to hold this up. I’ll manage, I thought determinedly. I have to.

I lifted it to the top of my head and tried to secure it, but the off the shoulder sleeves on my dress limited my movement and I struggled. After the third time, Yoon Jin and Omma took the pins from me and directed me to stay still.

“Na Jeong-ah… This is very pretty… But it’s a bit large,” she commented. “When did you get this?”

“Omma… It’s a long story. But I definitely have to wear this,” I said. “Is it going on okay?”

“Yes,” she said as she stepped back and perused her handiwork. “Now, where is your veil?”

Yoon Jin picked up the video camera and turned it on. She told me to smile as she started filming. Meanwhile Ae Jung and Jin Yi Noona took their cameras out of their bags and started taking pictures as well. Omma fasted the veil on top of my head and I fought the urge to blow the tulle off my face. Really… All this just for a couple of hours. Joon wanted to have a party, so we’ll have a party.

Speaking of Joon, I’ve spent the last week before the wedding at home, packing up my room and my life into boxes that we’ll be moving to the apartment tomorrow morning. We don’t go to Japan for our honeymoon until Monday, with Joon getting the time off from work, and we’ll spend our first day as a married couple getting myself settled into the apartment.

I wonder what he’s doing right now. I hope he’s not nervous. We’ve planned this for what seems like a long time and he’s always been very comfortable in a crowd full of people, so this should be a picnic for him.

Whereas I… I’m not nervous, but the thought of taking center stage still makes me apprehensive. Even at my own wedding. I thought about taking a swallow of water but decided against it. No one wants to see the bride lose her lunch while walking down the aisle. From the corner of my eye, I saw as Yoon Jin panned the video camera over all the women in the bridal suite before turning it onto me. I fixed a smile on my face automatically though I wanted to cringe instead.

“Yah… Sung Na Jeong,” Yoon Jin said behind the camera, “Don’t you think you put too much in there? Your chest is pushed up too much. I think I will be able to see your breasts soon!”

I carried on smiling even as I responded through gritted teeth. “I want to die right now.”

“Still,” she quipped back. “You’re the bride. Relax your face.”

“You take 50,000 pictures like this and see if you are any different from me.” My face felt frozen in a smile, but I can’t be frowning at any of the photos or the video for that matter.

“Na Jeong-ah. This is your last chance. Run away quickly. If you just walk out these doors, you are once again free,” she said seriously.

“Should you say that to a bride who’s about to get married? You are happily married and you’re telling me to grow old by myself?” I said this lightly, because I knew full well that even without this wedding I will never grow old by myself. Joon will never permit that. We will grow old together, just as we were always meant to do.

“If you get married now, you can no longer go see Lee Sang Min Oppa at Jeon Joo,” she said. How dare she dangle Sang Min Oppa’s name to me? I thought crossly.

“I got permission from the groom. He said holiday games are okay.” Now is not the time to mention that he actually agreed to me going to holiday games alone but said yes to more than that, provided that I go to the other games with him, when he’s not playing. I don’t want Joon to look like a wuss.

“What won’t they promise before the wedding?” She scoffed. “And you believe him, you dummy?”

“Yeah,” I said, as the door opened and Joon stepped in. Tender dark brown eyes met mine and I smiled. “Or just ask the groom behind you.”

“Really?” Yoon Jin responded. “Then the groom should be saying something too. Oh wait a minute… Wait a minute… Ah, why is it doing this?” She started fiddling with the video camera even as she continued speaking. “But you look awesome today. You’re so different after you’ve been styled. Ah… Whats wrong with this? Look what you did with your hair.” She said laughingly. “Why is it all puffed up like that?”

“Yah… I think he looks handsome,” I said as his mouth curved up into a smile. “But is that lipstick on your mouth?”

He nodded, blushing as I unabashedly studied him from head to toe and felt a warmth suffuse me. Dressed in a tuxedo, he looked beautiful. If a man can be considered beautiful, that is. The jacket fit his broad shoulders perfectly, the white shirt underneath crisp. The bowtie was fastened at his neck and the tuxedo lapels lent a formality to his jacket. Perfectly tailored pants covered his long lean legs leading to handmade leather shoes. I directed my eyes back to his face and he raised an eyebrow at me.

“Are you ready, Sung Na Jeong-ssi?” He asked huskily and put out a gloved hand.

Before I knew it I had already stood up and taken his hand in mine. I didn’t even notice the women behind me as they straightened my veil and smoothed out my skirt onto the floor, so focused was I on Joon.

“I’ve been ready for years, Kim Jae Joon-ssi,” I responded, a lump in my throat. “Let’s go get married.”

*****

I stood at the doorway to the wedding hall, one arm looped into my father’s and my free hand carrying a bouquet of cream and white roses. I looked at my Appa, his face proud but nervous, as he waited for the signal to enter. Joon had already disappeared behind the double doors, having made his entrance just a few minutes before.

“You look beautiful, Na Jeong-ah,” Appa said quietly and I suddenly felt tears in my eyes.

“Appa…” I said, my voice thick. “Thank you. You look great in your suit. Who knew Sung Dong Il cleaned up so well?”

“This old thing?” He asked bashfully. “I had to get dressed up. The whole team is here. And maybe, some very special guests.”

“What special guests?” I asked.

“You’ll find out soon enough,” he answered with a wink. He cleared his throat and looked away before he spoke again. “Na Jeong-ah…Omma and I… We are very proud of you. Not just because you’re getting married, but because of the woman you grew into. You are already a wonderful person, and Joon is very lucky to be loved by you.”

“We’re both lucky, Appa,” I said sincerely. “Joon is a good man. Don’t worry.”

“We are very happy for you both. And your Joon is not just a good man, but a great one. I knew from the moment I met him that I could trust him with you. Even now, under these circumstances…” He added as he looked at my belly, “I still believe that.”

“He’s wonderful, Appa. But he’s not the best. Not yet, anyway,” I said softly.

He narrowed his eyes at me and I almost laughed. “Don’t you be comparing your groom to that Lee Sang Min on your wedding day,” he said. “I know you thought he was the best, but still…”

“I’m looking at the very best man I know, right now,” I interrupted. “You are the best, Appa. How lucky I was when I was born that I had you.”

He lifted my gloved hand to his lips and kissed it before placing a kiss on my forehead. “Be happy, my daughter. And you and Joon, take care of each other. Don’t ever forget what brought you two together. It’s the only way you’ll weather all of life’s storms. Be kind to each other. Just like me and Omma.”

I nodded tearfully even as I heard Samcheonpo’s voice on the mic as the double doors opened.

“Now, next is today’s main star, the bride Sung Na Jeong will enter. Bride enter!”

My father looked at me and nodded before taking a step forward. With no hesitation I followed with a slow step. I heard the music playing softly in the background, and admired how the chandelier sparkled. All the details that I had so carefully chosen and obsessed over the past few months were neglected by me, though, as my eyes strayed to the guests who have come to witness our wedding. I glanced over at my side, where all our friends and family sat. I nodded at Yoon Jin, Haitai, Ae Jung, and Yoo Mi Unnie. Omma met my eyes and dabbed at her own, while Sook Sook stood, dressed in a tuxedo that he picked out with Joon, watching us with bored detachment. But then my eyes met Jung Gook Oppa’s and he nodded encouragingly, eliciting a small smile from me. How strange this must all be, for him and Joon both, to be sharing this moment all together.

My eyes traveled to Joon’s side of the hall, where his parents sat apart, both smiling as they watched me walk down the aisle. Jin Yi Unnie stood with the camera in her hand and took pictures, while Binggrae gestured a thumbs up to me. In Sung and Misoo stood together, holding hands, gazing at me fondly and at each other, no doubt remembering their own wedding, from not so long ago. There were others, too, other faces I didn’t know on Joon’s side, but I recognized John, his doorman from San Francisco, sitting with a kind looking woman who I assume is his wife. I beamed at him and he smiled back before I saw another face. One I had not been expecting. Lee Sang Min Oppa. OMO OMO… Joon invited Sang Min Oppa!?! He wasn’t kidding when he said he’ll make all my dreams come true. Although just by him loving me, most of them had already come to fruition.

It suddenly hit me as I walked towards Joon, his handsome face illuminated by the soft glow of the lights, that I am in a room, flanked by the men I’ve ever loved in my life on all sides. Appa, who guided me surely to my future, the one who taught me what love meant even as a child, through words and by example. To my left was the love from my adolescence, the one who I worshipped from afar. To my right was my first love, the person I loved in my youth, someone I had loved with the idealism of someone too young to have any idea what love actually meant. But in front of me, in front of me, is the man I love and will love until my last breath. I loved him not with the naivete of youth, but with the gravity of a woman, fully understanding, and fully accepting of what it entailed to truly share yourself and your life with someone else. I love him not because he’s perfect, not because I have no choice but to love him even though at times it may have seemed that way, but because he is my choice.

As I walked down the long aisle in the arms of Appa, I allowed my mind to wander to what could have happened had Joon and I not been given another chance. I imagined Joon loving someone else, and though I’ve considered it before, even the thought of it now, punches me straight in the gut and brings tears to my eyes instantaneously. I thought about what my future might have looked like if I had ended up with Oppa, not having allowed myself to know who I really am, before I learned to love myself, and I felt a fraction of the grief from what might have been the bigger sin overwhelm me. I imagined a different life, where Joon and I both ended up with other people and I felt a loss so great the magnitude of it almost brought me to my knees. Never have I been more grateful for second chances than now, as I saw my future standing not too far from me now, waiting patiently, as he always did, and as he had always done.

I love Joon not only because he loves me, but because in his eyes, even all those years ago, I saw a vision of myself, perhaps the truest version of myself that I had ever known. Because of his love and his belief in me, I wanted to be stronger, kinder, more loving and better. To this day I continue to live with that in mind, brave enough to take chances, safe in the knowledge that I am loved no matter how many times I fail.

I looked at his face as my steps quickened, our eyes locked together. I would have sprinted to him if I could. Love shone through his eyes like a beacon in the dark, and I knew that he was calling me home.

Joon-ah, I thought. I take you as my husband. To have and to hold. For richer or for poorer. In sickness and in health. All the days of my life. No truer words have been said, Joon-ah… And in no moment truer than this. The world could end and I will love you still. For now and for always.

When at last only a foot separated us, he reached his hand out to me and Appa brought my hand to his. I thought we were scot free, that is, until Appa refused to let go.

*****

Jae Joon

Appa sent me a reassuring smile as I stood at the front of the wedding hall waiting for Na Jeong to enter with her father. Omma, sat two spaces away from him, watched me with knowing eyes. She must know how nervous I am. Being in front of a crowd was nothing but I have never gotten married before. The double doors opened and when I saw Na Jeong, all the nerves went out of my body, replaced with the thrum of anticipation.

I took deep breaths and forced my heart to slow down some. My palms felt sweaty under the gloves I was wearing and the glare from the light was distracting. I realized as I stood that I felt the same emotions that I do before my first pitch in every game. The same tension… The same excitement… After all these years… After all the things we’ve gone through, we were finally here. Our future right in front of us. Our future growing inside Na Jeong.

I have only ever loved her in my life and yet I felt no loss. Although I’ve never known anyone else, I felt no regret for what I may have missed. Just because I have only loved one woman doesn’t mean that I have lost out on feeling all the kinds of love out there. I have loved Na Jeong with the idealism of youth, and have tasted the bitterness of an unreciprocated first love. And now I love her with a deeper love, fully grounded in reality, built on a solid foundation that we ourselves established and that we continue to strengthen every single day.

A lump formed in my throat as I remembered all those times that I had gazed at her always from afar, all the instances where I had seen her walking away from me. I had always stood behind her, wondering if she will ever see me. But now as her lovely eyes locked with mine, our past, present and future in her eyes, though I remembered the sadness and the loneliness, I knew that it had all been worth it to have this moment. To see her walking towards me, her feet quickening as she rushed to my side.

I smiled at her when at last we stood face to face, and when her father offered me her hand, I had taken it unhesitatingly, only to have her Appa hesitate to let go. I smiled at him, fully understanding his plight, and he soon relented.

“Hi,” she said softly, her eyes shining with unshed tears.

“Hi back,” I responded, trying to hold back my own tears. I will not be like Samcheonpo, bawling like a baby on my wedding day. “I love you,” I blurted out before I could even stop myself.

“I love you more.”

Even before the ceremony started, I had already begun reciting my vows as I felt the weight of her hand in mine.

Na Jeong-ah, I thought, I take you as my wife. To have and to hold. For richer or for poorer. In sickness and in health. As long as we both shall live. I will love you through life. And even in death. Though with you by my side I plan on living for a very very long time.

Na Jeong smiled as she looked me in the eyes, a tear falling. I brought a hand to her face to wipe them away. She brought my palm to her lips and placed a kiss there, just as she had so many times before. It felt like the world had dissipated and it was just us again, all the many times we have stood face to face like this. We stared at each other for a few long beats until I heard the officiant cough and clear his throat. Some of the guests giggled and the men were overtly laughing.

Feeling self conscious, I led her by the hand to the front of the wedding hall, in front of the officiant. We stood side by side, and the officiant started the ceremony with a greeting and a few words.

“In many people’s blessings, two of you that blossomed as one flower, are the most beautiful and happy people in this world. And this happiness will last forever but… ”

Next to me I looked at Na Jeong, her expression impatient, and had to hold back a smile. The officiant continued to speak and I sensed a disturbance behind me to see Na Jeong’s Appa standing up and taking Sook Sook by the hand to leave the hall.

“…You will get wealth from your children and grandchildren…” the officiant continued and I felt even myself spacing out. I wondered if I had made a grave mistake letting Hyung recommend this officiant, as I spied Samcheonpo holding back a yawn.

“First, let’s trust one another. Trust, even though it seems easy, it can be really difficult. However, if you think it’s hard and choose to not trust, then you won’t be able to accomplish anything,” he continued.

Na Jeong still looked bored and appeared to be holding back a yawn as well. We should have eloped, really. The pregnancy wore her out so quickly and I wouldn’t be surprised if she fell asleep right now.

Am I allowed to be bored at my own wedding? I looked over at Na Jeong and she looked back at me with laughing eyes. I know she knows what I’m thinking and I felt a grin form on my face. I saw Na Jeong’s Appa and Sook Sook come back to the wedding hall and reclaim their seats and smiled when Sook Sook gave me a thumbs up and a wave.

“The husband trusts his wife and depend on her, and the wife trust the husband and depends on him. Trusting means not doubting, but with your heart, giving reliance and accepting. I wish for both of you to be a couple who trusts and believes in each other. Now the bride and groom will light a candle together to symbolize their unity and togetherness.”

Samcheonpo motioned for me and Na Jeong to come to the front of the hall and light the candles that were on the table. We weren’t quite sure about this tradition in Korea but I had seen it at one of my teammates’ wedding in America, and I thought it was sweet. Na Jeong walked to the opposite side of the table as she picked up her candle just as I walked over to my side and picked up my own. We lit them both at the same time as we looked at each other and I could have sworn we have done this before. Of course we have… The night of the blackout at the boarding house. We both walked to the center of the table and our hands clasped together, lit the middle candle aflame.

As we walked back to our places in front of the officiant, Binggrae walked up to me and handed me a small box, as Yoon Jin handed Na Jeong one as well.

“The bride and groom will now exchange rings, as a symbol of their neverending love and devotion,” the officiant said, and gestured for us to begin.

“Kim Jae Joon,” Na Jeong started shakily as she lifted my left hand and placed a plain ring onto my finger. “Take this ring as a symbol of my love and devotion. I marry you with this ring, and all that I have, and all that I am, is yours, will always be yours.”

Though her hands were trembling she was able to slip it on without much trouble. I looked at the ring over my glove and remembered that I now wore the first ring she gave me around my neck. We shared a smile even as I took her left hand and placed a more elaborate ring on her finger.

“Sung Na Jeong,” I repeated, my voice a little more nervous than hers. I cleared my throat and began again. Don’t embarrass yourself, Kim Jae Joon. “Sung Na Jeong,” I said, a little more strongly this time. “Take this ring as a symbol of my love and devotion. I marry you with this ring, and all that I have, and all that I am, is yours, will always be yours.”

I thought she would at least look at the ring I had carefully picked out for her, but she didn’t take her eyes off my face, not for one minute. Are we husband and wife, yet? I thought about this for a couple of minutes as I would really like to kiss my bride. I got my answer when the officiant began speaking again.

“Lastly and second, let’s love each other. Try thinking of the word love for a moment. how sweet and profound…. And lastly,” my heart rejoiced when I heard that word, “my wish is for you to be happy and joyous. Thank you.”

“Thank you for your valuable words. Now, you’ve waited for long time. Next, to congratulate today’s wedding ceremony, there will be a wedding song performance,” Samcheonpo said, his tone at least growing more awake now that the officiator had finished speaking.

“We had a wedding song performance?” Na Jeong asked me and I shrugged my shoulders. We didn’t hire a wedding song performer, so I have no clue who would be singing or who arranged it.

“For the groom, Kim Jae Joon, and the bride Sung Na Jeong’s wedding, as a special performance I will sing the wedding song,” Samcheonpo declared and I could have sworn I heard Yoon Jin mutter a curse. “I would appreciate it if the groom and the bride can turn towards me. The song I’m going to sing is The Blue’s “I Only Feel You”. I will sing Song Ji Chang’s part and for Kim Min Jong’s part, someone else will sing it. Then, please play the music.”

“It’s you, it’s you, right?” Na Jeong asked when she turned to face Yoon Jin.

“No!” Yoon Jin answered vehemently.

Na Jeong turned to me with questioning eyes. “Who is it? Who is it?” She asked before asking Yoon Jin again if she knew and she swore that she did not.

“Applause! Applause! Na Jeong, live happily ever after. And stop tormenting your pitiful groom,” Samcheonpo said happily before the beginning strains of the song came on and he began to sing. He was doing quite well actually, with his sunglasses on when he stopped singing and started calling out, “Kim Min Jong!”

I watched in surprise as Kim Min Jong did indeed turn up and started singing along. He and Samcheonpo continued to sing their alternate verses before breaking out into a duet. I watched as Na Jeong started swaying to the music and stopped myself from laughing. I noted the incredulous expression on my parents’ faces and completely understand how they feel. The song ended and we all broke out in applause. Kim Min Jong took the mic and everyone quieted to hear him speak.

“Hello, I am Kim Min Jong. I sincerely congratulate the groom and the bride on their wedding today.”

“Thank you. It’s Kim Min Jong. Once more, applause please,” Samcheonpo said.

“Have a great time. Thank you everyone. Let’s give congratulations to our groom and bride, once more. Thank you. I’m Kim Min Jong. Once more, applause please,” Kim Min Jong continued. “I love you. I am forever your fan! Thank you! Thank you!”

“Applause! Applause!” Samcheonpo encouraged as Kim Min Jong made his exit.

Once everyone had settled down, Samcheonpo once again took the microphone and continued with the proceedings.

“Would all the friends of the bride and groom come up on stage to take a photo,” he said as he gestured for all of our friends joined Na Jeong and I as we stood facing the guests.

Both he and Yoon Jin went automatically to Na Jeong’s side, as did Haitai and Ae Jung. Jin Yi Noona was already standing on my side and Binggrae looked like he was about to join the rest of the gang when he bypassed Na Jeong, who frowned at him.

“Kim Dong Joon, where are you going?” She asked.

“Dong Joon should be standing at the groom side,” Samcheonpo answered for him.

“Jagiya… Of course he would be on my side. He was my cousin before he was your friend,” I told her even as she frowned at me.

Yoon Jin said something to Na Jeong and she looked at her left side in surprise. Binggrae had just joined me on my side of the group when I heard the photographer speak.

“The groom is too tight, give us a smile,” he instructed. Though my face hurt from all the smiling, i complied and gave a small smile. “A bigger one… Yes, like that… The one standing beside the bride…” he continued, looking directly at Haitai. “From the expression to dress up. The style is awesome! Awesome! Lets take the pic… One… Two… Three…”

Finally when all the pictures had been taken, we all relaxed. The hard part is over. Now we get to enjoy our meal. I waited impatiently as Samcheonpo delivered the closing words to the ceremony.

“Now, for the wedding finale, we will have the wedding procession. We would be grateful if the guests would bless the newly married couple’s first steps together with a big round of applause. Now… Groom and Bride, proceed!” He finished gleefully and I tucked Na Jeong’s arm into mine as we walked out of the reception hall.

I can feel her happiness… Whether it’s from the fact that we’re now married or from the ceremony being finished I wasn’t quite sure. No matter. We are now husband and wife. We stood outside the hall, along with our parents to greet the guests as they came out when Omma’s phone rang and I followed Appa’s eyes as he watched her walk a fair distance away.

It must be Ahjussi, I thought, as I studied the frown that came over her face. Though I still feel uncomfortable speaking to her about him, I would be happy to listen if she needed someone to speak to. Thankfully for her and me, it seems she has found a confidante in Na Jeong. I looked at Appa to catch him still looking at Omma and wondered if I needed to talk to him about it later.

“Yah, smile, yeobo,” Na Jeong said next to me with a nudge to my side, breaking me out of my reverie. Seeing as we’ve now progressed to Yeobo made me smile and I cupped her face with my hand before giving her a light kiss.

She pulled away as Soo Hyun came out of the wedding hall and I waited for her reaction to him. She untangled her fingers from mine and approached him with her arms outstretched.

“SOO HYUN-AH!” Na Jeong squealed joyfully and and I tamped down my jealousy. Yeah… He’s a good looking guy. FINE… He’s a ridiculously handsome man, but Na Jeong resisted his charms before. And he did come with a beautiful date, as I studied the woman standing next to him. She had shoulder length black hair and smart almond shaped eyes. Her lovely face was looking around observantly but lit up when she saw Na Jeong approaching them. Maybe she’s someone else Na Jeong knows… But either way, I hope she doesn’t hug him. I watched with narrowed eyes as she ran towards him and I almost stopped her lest she trips and falls.

“Soo Hyun-ah,” she finally said when she stood in front of them, and then launched herself in Soo Hyun’s date’s arms.

Hold on… Soo Hyun is a woman? That woman? Then what the hell was I doing speaking to the man earlier? And why didn’t anyone stop me?

“Soo Hyun-ah… Let me introduce you to my husband,” Na Jeong said as she dragged her friend to where I stood. “Joon-ah… This is Park Soo Hyun, my friend from my old company. You remember, right? I went out with her on her birthday.”

Soo Hyun smiled at me knowingly and I cringed. I bowed formally and shook her hand when she spoke.

“Kim Jae Joon-ssi, it’s nice to finally meet you. Na Jeong spoke of you constantly when we worked together,” Soo Hyun said when her date whispered something to her. “Let me introduce you to my date, though it seems you already made his acquaintance earlier. This is Daniel Henney. He just came from America.” She turned to her date and said in perfect English, “Daniel, you say chukhamnida in Korean for congratulations.”

Daniel flashed me a smile before repeating the words.

“Thank you, ” I said in English. Had I known… I shook my head ruefully. “Sorry about earlier. I didn’t realize you didn’t speak Korean.”

“I didn’t realize you spoke any English,” he responded. “I saw you play in the MLB when you were in America. You’re very talented. I was just telling Tess, here, how she should have told me it was your wedding we were going to.”

“Tess?” Na Jeong asked Soo Hyun and she grinned in response.

“It’s my English name,” she replied. “We’ll talk later,” she said to Na Jeong as she pulled Daniel away. “And Kim Jae Joon-ssi… Don’t worry. I think the only thing you said that Daniel understood was computer.” She gave us one last smile before they walked away.

“Joon-ah… I didn’t realize you already met Soo Hyun,” she chided.

“I didn’t,” I responded. “I thought Daniel was Soo Hyun.”

“What? Joon, really…” She said. “Mmmm… It makes sense now, all that jealousy. Why would you think Soo Hyun was a man?”

“I don’t know…” I responded uneasily. And there I was trying to impress Daniel about my knowledge of computer science and business. I flushed self-consciously and Na Jeong kissed me.

“You’re adorable, Kim Jae Joon-ssi,” she said. Her eyes were bright with amusement and her lips pink as she bit her bottom lip. “I love you.”

“I love you more. And I’m nowhere near as adorable as you,” I said, as I wrapped my arms around her waist.

“Stop that, you two,” Na Jeong’s Appa whispered. “You’re already pregnant.”

“YEOBO!” Na Jeong’s Omma exclaimed as everyone burst out laughing.

 

*****

September 18, 2002

6:15 p.m.

Jae Joon

“Yeobo, I’m home,” I called out as I closed the apartment door behind me.

Putting my car keys on the table that now graced the apartment’s entrance I wondered if Na Jeong had already left for her evening walk. Damn. I didn’t get home in time. With her approaching her sixth month I am getting increasingly nervous about leaving her alone for long periods of time but thankfully the season’s almost over and I get to be at home at her beck and call until the baby comes.

Training ran later than I thought it would and the traffic had been horrible. I placed the bbyudagui hae-jang-guk that my Omma sent over for Na Jeong and a Jurassic Park set that I picked up from Tous les Jours before coming home. Grabbing a bottle of water, I was perusing the fridge for banchan to eat with the pork back soup when I noticed that the living room was dark. I closed the fridge and turned on the light and was surprised to see my wife sitting on the couch with her head down. Nervous that something had happened I walked slowly towards her and sat down. It wasn’t until I was about to take my hand in mine that I noticed she was sniffling and tearing up.

“Na Jeong-ah… What’s wrong?” I asked hesitantly.

Did she have a doctor’s appointment today that I forgot about? I could have sworn I marked my calendar correctly, but I am a bit forgetful sometimes. Between games and training I wonder sometimes how I can keep up with the schedule, but it’s so much easier than it would have been had we decided to move away from Korea. At any given time, I know she can call her Omma and Appa if she needed help. When she didn’t respond right away, I wondered what had occurred that made her like this. I spoke to her earlier and she sounded fine.

“Yeobo…” I repeated. “Are you in pain? Are you angry?” I lifted her chin so I can look into those beautiful eyes, still glistening with tears. As soon as her gaze met mine my heart thumped in my chest, love coursing freely for this woman I now call my wife. “Na Jeong-ah…”

“I’m fat,” she finally cried out, her voice breaking. “I’m ugly and I’m fat and I can’t see my feet! My ankles are swollen and so are my boobs! My center of gravity …”

Is this what she’s upset about? Seeing that she was so obviously distraught about this, I struggled to keep my face neutral even as I wanted to chuckle and let her continue on with her ramblings.

“… Is so warped that I feel like I’m always tipping forward. I cannot even smell ddukbokki without puking! My back hurts and it takes me forever to even find a comfortable sleeping position!” She sniffled earnestly before delivering her last complaint. “I can’t… I can’t even tie my own shoelaces!”

I thought for one moment on how I should respond. After all I have no idea what kind of physical and hormonal changes a woman goes through during pregnancy. Reading the pregnancy book helps, but I am not experiencing any of what she’s feeling, so I can’t disqualify any of her statements.

For one second I thought about just following Samcheonpo’s advice. He told me that the nine months will go by fairly peacefully if I just agreed to whatever it is she wants and says. “Don’t waste your energy and your breath trying to argue or make sense of any request or anything… Because no matter what she will win the argument,” he advised. “And you’ll do well to let her win, since you know… You’re not the one carrying another person in your body.” He had patted me on the shoulder before we shared a sigh. “A happy wife means a happy life. How do you think I survived Yoon Jin when she had been pregnant with Dong Min? How do you think I’m surviving now? ‘Yes, yeobo’ has become my new best friend and has saved my life plenty of times.”

Keeping this in mind, I thought about what to say. It was in these long moments of silence that I remembered something. Uri Na Jeong is nothing if not sensible and should I say something just to try to calm her down, she will see right through it and accuse me of being condescending and patronizing. Should I agree with all that she’s saying I will be called insensitive and thoughtless. Samcheonpo is so wrong. His tactics may work on Yoon Jin, who admittedly is probably right all the time, but it will not work for Na Jeong. I took a deep breath before turning back to look at her face.

“What shall we do then?” I asked with a smile. “We’re about to have a quarrel.”

Na Jeong looked at me, confused. I stood up and dropped down on my knees in front of her. I held her hands before I spoke.

“It’s true you can’t see your feet and you can’t tie your shoelaces. I bet it’s really hard to keep yourself balanced what with the baby weighing you down and your back hurting from the effort of standing upright. Those things all matter and they’re true,” I continued. “But you’re so wrong. You’re neither ugly or fat. You’re glowing and you’re pregnant… There’s a difference.”

“Yah… Kim Jae Joon…” She said. I heard the warning in her voice and smiled. I knew she’d hear ‘you’re wrong’ and automatically feel irritated that I disagreed with her, even if I was saying sweet things that every woman would want to hear. My woman is at the very least consistent.

“Na Jeong-ah, You can’t win every argument. Not when you’re insulting the woman I love.”

I looked into her eyes and watched them soften. These fluctuating moods and her hormones should probably scare me, but it’s lovely to see her like this. Cool and confident Sung Na Jeong has become one composed woman these days. We’ve definitely come a long way from Yonsei. But seeing her expressive face always reminds me of why and how I fell in love with her in the first place. I stood up after tying her laces and sat myself back down on the couch next to her. I pulled her to my lap and though her motions were slowed down by her stomach, we got there in the end. I rested my head on her shoulder as my arms wrapped around her.

“Do you know what I thought when I first saw you?” I asked. “Eight years ago… When I walked into breakfast at the boarding house?” I felt her shake her head over me. “You had your crazy short hair back then, and you were wearing just regular clothes. Pretty, I thought, but that was nothing. Looks never bothered me before. I’ve seen a lot of pretty women in my time.”

She kept quiet but I could feel her bristling with indignation and I had to hold back to keep myself from grinning. “But then I got to know you and what once was just pretty became the most beautiful person in my eyes. Your mind… Your heart… Your humor… All those things combined together and I realized that you would forever be the most beautiful girl to me. As the years of loving you went by, you stayed the loveliest girl in my memory and then a miracle happened.” I raised my eyes to hers and she looked at me questioningly.

“You fell in love with me. You became luminous. Happy, crying, angry… You were always magnificent. I’ve watched you from afar for so long and I’ve now seen you up close a million times and every time you never fail to make my heart race. I often think this. How can she still do that? How can she get even prettier every time I look at her? But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Yes, you’ve gained some weight and your face is a little fuller. You waddle sometimes from your back and your swollen ankles… But you’re still beautiful. In fact you have never been more beautiful to me than now, carrying our child. I look at you and I’m amazed and humbled by the thought that you carry within you a life we’ve made together. I must have saved a country in another life because you are best gift I ever received. Even when we’re old and gray I WILL still think that way. So whose opinion matters more? You only get to look at yourself in the mirror a few times a day but I’m the one who gets to look at you all the time.”

I placed my hand on her abdomen, and smiled when I felt a kick under my palm.

“Uri Young Seon-ah… You think Omma is beautiful too, right?” I asked, speaking to our child. “Just wait until you see her. Even you will be surprised at how pretty she is. You’ll say, ‘Wow, Appa… How is it possible that Omma is like that?’ And I won’t be able to answer because I don’t know either.” I leaned down and pressed a soft kiss at the spot where I felt him kick.

“Joon-ah,” I heard Na Jeong say and I looked up to see her eyes soft with tears. I brushed my fingers to wipe them away before a small smile lit up her face. She leaned down and pressed a kiss to my lips before speaking. “I love you.”

“I love you more.”

We sat quietly and watched as the sky darkened outside our windows. She said nothing and I took comfort in the silence… we’ve finally hit a point in our lives where words are sometimes unnecessary. I can read her like the back of my hand… She’s become my favorite song and my favorite book, all in one. I used to think my favorite color was blue until I realized that my favorite color changes now along with the color of her eyes. To this day I’m convinced she still doesn’t quite fully grasp how beautiful she is to me but that’s okay.

“Na Jeong-ah… What brought this around?” I asked quietly.

“I wanted to take a walk after work… And when I tried to tie my shoelaces I almost fell.”

“I’m sorry about that,” I said, even though I started chuckling. “But that’s so cute. You’re like the cutest pregnant woman in the world.”

“You’re biased,” she teased.

“Be that as it may, I think that every time I look at you,” I said.

“But… But I’m not very sexy nowadays,” she said softly. “I feel like another person has taken over my body.”

“Only for a few more months,” I reassured her. I started rubbing her lower back and she sighed in pleasure as she relaxed against me. “And you, my love, are very, very sexy. You’re like a goddess and earth mother all in one.”

“Joon-ah… I swear you’re so dorky sometimes,” she said laughingly. “But we haven’t… You know…” Her voice trailed off and I had to hold back a smile.

“It’s only been two weeks, Sung Na Jeong-ssi,” I responded. “You’re tired most days from work and you know I’m tired after my games and training. Two weeks without it and you’re questioning how desirable you are to me? That’s…”

“Crazy. Insane. Ridiculous. I know,” she said quietly. “… But my hormones are all over the place and I think about how everything is changing all at once.”

“Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Everything changes even as they stay the same. The things that matter… Like how much I love you and how much you love me… Those things will never change. We may transform into other versions of ourselves but essentially we are already who we are meant to be.”

“I know that,” she responded. “Do you think it’s selfish of me that I should be all peaceful and happy about being pregnant and all I worry about sometimes are my swollen ankles and my sore back?”

“No. I think it would be abnormal if you don’t have those thoughts. You will be a mother… and a great one at that, but you are still a woman first,” I reassured her. “There is nothing wrong with that. Us being parents… It will change our perspective for sure and our priorities too but I hope that we still see ourselves not just as parents but people first. I think our children will be better for it, as well.”

“Aigoo… This one is not even out and you’re already talking in plural.” She shook her head at me and I smoothed her brow with a finger. “I’m relieved we’re having a boy first. I feel like I already have some experience, having been so involved with Sook Sook growing up…. Oh yeah… Speaking of Sook Sook, he wants to stay here this weekend.”

“I’ll pick him up Friday after training. But… Na Jeong-ah, I wanted a girl,” I whispered to her. “But Young Seon-ah… Appa’s glad you’re a boy too. My Appa, your Haraboji…”

“I know that he’s crazy excited. ‘We needed someone to carry on the family name.’” Na Jeong shook her head. “I kinda hope the baby looks like you. But not really.”

“Why not?” What’s wrong with looking like me?

“He’ll be a heartbreaker if he resembled you,” she responded. “You’re a very handsome man.”

“Is that right?” I joked. “How handsome?”

“Stop fishing for compliments, Joon-ah. Do you want to die?”

I stood up and leaned back down to wrap one of her arms around my neck. Her eyes widened in surprise but she did it anyway. I lifted her tenderly off the couch and started making my way to the bedroom. I kicked the door closed and gently put her down on the bed before I started unbuttoning my shirt slowly, just the way I know she likes, my eyes locked with hers.

“What are you doing?” She asked, her tongue peeking out to lick her lips.

“Well… What does it look like I’m doing? I think if I let another week pass by without making love to you, you’ll start coming up with more crazy conclusions in your head,” I said as I lowered myself next to her and kissed her lips. “You’re a practical woman. You deal with facts and figures. So… I’ll let you show me how handsome you think I am instead,” I grinned when she frowned at me, “… And in return I will show you how very sexy I still think you are.”

“Joon-ah…” She whispered.

“Keep saying it like that…” I whispered back. “You’ll be saying it much louder soon.”

“You’re so cocky sometimes,” she said even as she kissed me. Her soft lips met mine tenderly and my hand landed on the side of her neck. “I like it.”

I looked at her face, just inches away from mine and my heart tightened inside my chest. I took in the eyes that looked at me with so much love and felt touched. I have never been a religious man, but so often now I find myself wanting to send a prayer to the powers that be for my life, this woman and our child.

“I love you, Na Jeong-ah.”

“I love you more.”

All words stopped as I proceeded to show my wife how much I loved her. I worshipped her with my body until she was trembling and shaking with need. When at last she cried my name out, I looked into her eyes and watched as she became undone. I let my release take over, her name on my lips, its strength and intensity leaving me breathless.

We rested for a few minutes before I loved her all over again. She looked at me incredulously at first, but willingly and enthusiastically cooperated anyway. I was glad and happy for that. After all, I have two weeks to make up.

*****

December 30, 2002

8:30 p.m.

Na Jeong

I tried to discreetly straighten out the apartment as soon as I had persuaded Joon to go out and grab us some food. He’s so paranoid that as soon as he leaves the house, I will go into labor. With the baby’s birth looming so near, I decided to take the whole of December off, much to Joon’s relief. In all honesty I would have preferred to use all my maternity leave after the baby was born, but Joon was so stressed out about me working such long hours and barely left me alone that I decided to give the man a break. For both our sanities.

It seems that that had been the right thing to do as I have moved on to the nesting phase of our pregnancy. Whenever I have any energy I devote it all to cleaning the house and getting the nursery ready. That’s all I seem to want to do these days.

Joon still has to train every weekday at the stadium and continues to run every weekend while I walked. I see the way he looks around the house whenever he comes home and know that he worries about me working too hard, even at home. He almost had a heart attack when he came home from practice one day and found me trying to assemble the nursery furniture. His face got all red and he looked like he was about to explode. Really… Men are so strange. He continues to act like this pregnancy was a miracle of epic proportions.

He worries too much but I let him. After all, no matter how many children we end up with this will always be our first. By the time the next one comes, we will be experts, so there is a sweetness to how strange and new this experience is. Omma and Appa are very excited as well, albeit nervous. They both call me at different times of the day, always when Joon is not home and I know that he had put them up to it. Our friends do the same… And Yoon Jin and I get together a lot since she had just given birth to their daughter last month and she was still on maternity leave. I am so happy that we both got to be pregnant at the same time. It made the experience easier when I had someone who knew some answers only a phone call away. We laughed at our swollen bellies and swollen ankles while drinking apple juice and pretending it was soju.

Omonim comes over for dinner quite often and I am glad for it. It seems that her relationship with Joon is growing leaps and bounds, and I see how relaxed he is now around her and it makes me happy. But perhaps, the biggest transformation I have seen is between Joon and his Appa. With me being heavily pregnant now, we are unable to drive to Chungju, but Abonim tries to come down every other weekend to see us. He stays at his apartment in Seoul, still unoccupied since the last renter’s lease had expired, whenever he’s here. I love Joon’s parents. The more I get to know them, the more I can see where he gets his strength and drive from. Their dynamic as a family is completely different from the dynamic in mine, but the love is the same. Though splintered and broken, there is a lot of respect and affection there still. This baby will be very lucky to be born to such grandparents. Between Joon and mine’s parents, I truly feel like they represent all of our very best qualities, which I hope Joon and I will pass on to our child.

I walked to the nursery and turned the light on slowly. I noted the hospital bag on the changing table, already packed up and ready to go. The changing table had piles and piles of diapers underneath it, as well as wipes. I humored Joon and let him buy a diaper genie, although I insisted that it was completely unnecessary. However I stayed adamant about the wipes warmer. I will not budge on that. The nursery chest of drawers were full of clothes for the baby… With so many friends, Joon’s whole team, Appa’s whole team and our families, we have been overwhelmed by the gifts that have come our way. Someone had even bought us a custom made baseball jersey onesie, fully embroidered with Kim on the back and Joon’s number.

I traced my fingers over the bassinet, which will be moved to our bedroom when the baby is born, as well as the crib, which Joon ended up putting together in significantly less time than it would have taken me. We had painted the room in muted greens, creams and browns, and soft curtains graced the window. We had debated about the color of the walls for a long time, with Joon wanting blue and me wanting red, but agreed that we should paint it at least something that could be used again, for our second child, which I have no doubt we will have. Joon has already prematurely childproofed the house, and I had to laugh at how detail oriented he was when it came to this.

I should have known, really, that he would take this role as seriously as he took baseball. I don’t know how many times I have gotten up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night only to find him in the nursery, tightening a bolt on the rocking chair or checking the stability of all the furniture. He will be an incredible father, and I can’t wait until Young Seon grows up and realizes just how lucky he is to have an Appa like Joon. I might even tell him how his father made it a point to attend all the birthing, breastfeeding, and newborn care classes with me, always changing his schedule and making us his first priority. I’ve lost count of how many CF filmings have been rescheduled and how many interviews were refused by him because of a class.

I thought it was funny the first time he strolled in and saw that he was the only man in the class. I thought for sure he would turn back around and wait for me in the car, or offer to pick me up when I was done, but Joon being Joon just took a deep breath and sat down on the floor next to me. He endured watching birthing videos, practiced pre-natal massage on me, did breathing exercises along with the rest of the class, and encouraged all the other women there, as well. I think he quite enjoyed being the lone man in the company of all these pregnant women. I watched with affection and pride as he always greeted all the women there with kind and flattering words. It seemed that having Kim Jae Joon had an effect on all the men as well, as the next time we had class everyone’s husbands and/or boyfriends were there. Now whether they were there to meet Joon or to actually learn, I wasn’t entirely sure, but I know the women were grateful and happier for it. By the time we attended our last session last week, I know with certainty that Joon knows how to burp a baby properly and how to change a diaper like an expert.

I noted the pamphlets and guides that Joon had meticulously placed on a bookshelf, along with the baby book we started together. Lifting it up, I placed a hand on my lower back as I walked to the rocking chair. My back has been sore all day today. I opened the baby book to see the Polaroid pictures of me and Joon from the time we were dating to our wedding. I fingered the pictures as I allowed my mind to travel through time, sifting through our memories. There was us in the park, joking about how many children we’ll have, us in San Francisco, posing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, happy smiles lighting our faces. A picture of me at the baseball stadium in Yonsei, standing up, with Joon in the field, cupping his hands, taken by Ae Jung, who didn’t walk off to the basketball court as I thought she had. A picture of us on our wedding day, both of us laughing with cake and icing on our faces.

There were many pictures of Young Seon too, from our first ultrasound pictures all through to the one we had from our appointment just a week ago. It was amazing to see how our little bean transformed into this baby, who was sucking on his thumb even in my womb. I traced a finger over his little face, his little hands and feet, and felt my throat tighten with emotion. I placed a hand tenderly on my tight belly before I spoke to our son.

“Young Seon-ah… You know that tomorrow is an auspicious day for Omma and Appa, right? Three years ago tomorrow, Appa came back and Omma fell in love with him. Two years ago, we spent New Year’s Eve together for the first time as a couple. A year ago, Appa asked Omma to marry him. Are you going to follow tradition and make this year’s New Year’s Eve a memorable one too?” I asked him. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine our child listening to my voice and I smiled. “Come out soon, ae agi. There are a lot of people waiting for you. Especially your Appa. He says he can’t wait until he meets you for the first time. You’ll know him. He’ll be the one looking at you like you’re the only thing in this world that matters, because that’s how he always looks at Omma. You’ll recognize his voice, too, seeing as he talks to you all the time. So… Come out soon, hmm? Come out happily into this beautiful world and beautiful life that’s waiting for you.” I felt a gentle, yet persistent tightening and I knew that he was listening.

I put the baby book on the window sill, still full of empty pages to be filled in when the baby is born. I must have overworked myself today, seeing as my back is hurting more than usual. I lifted myself carefully off the chair and turned the lights back off, the light from the windows casting shadows on the baby mobile hanging over the crib. What could be taking Joon so long? I could have sworn he was just going to the snack shop a few minutes away. I wasn’t really hungry though, but I am tired. I went to our bedroom in slow, measured steps and positioned the maternity pillow that Joon had bought when I started feeling the aches and pains from carrying another person inside me. I kicked off my slippers and laid on my side and closed my eyes. Just a nap, I thought, just a nap until Joon comes home.

*****

11:30 p.m.

Na Jeong

The cramping in my stomach woke me up. I looked over behind me and saw that Joon was asleep, his arms wrapped around me, his hand resting protectively over my bump. I slowly disentangled myself from his arms and toddled to the bathroom, wondering if I’ve eaten something bad today. After I was unsuccessful, I rubbed my belly as I drank a glass of water in the kitchen. It wasn’t until I looked down that I realized that my water had broken. I ran through the list of things that needed to happen now and sat down on one of the chairs at the kitchen table, being careful not to slip and fall.

I should wake Joon up, I thought. Maybe in a little while. Let me just time my contractions first. The second contraction came a little more than fifteen minutes after the first one, and I knew that we had time. I continued to walk and pace the kitchen, debating when to wake Joon up. He’ll kill me if he misses any of this. Finally I decided to just bite the bullet and let him know. I walked back to the bedroom and gave him a gentle nudge.

“Yeobo,” I said gently as I kissed his nose. “Yeobo…”

“Hmm?” He murmured sleepily.

“Yeobo… I think the baby’s coming,” I said and Joon shot up, to a full sitting position in bed. I had only just stood up from the bed when he got up as well and spoke.

“Na Jeong-ah… It’s going to be fine,” he said and I raised my eyebrows as I watched him pull a pair of sweatpants on and a shirt. He was walking quickly around the room, talking to himself, and occasionally turning to me to tell me again that it was all indeed, going to be fine. After the third time, I slowly walked to the bathroom with a towel in my hand.

“Where are you going?” He asked when he saw me waddling off.

“I’m going to take a shower,” I said to him.

“But… But the baby’s coming!” I heard the panic in his voice and smiled.

“Joon-ah… The baby’s coming, but not at this exact minute.” When he looked like he was about to protest, I added, “I have to shave my legs.”

“WHAT? Yeobo, no one will care about your legs,” he said.

“I care about my legs. I’m the one who’s going to have them open to have this baby and if I want smooth legs, I should have it. I don’t want to be judged.”

“Who’s going to judge you?”

“ME,” I responded. “Just because I’ll be someone’s mother doesn’t mean I can stop taking care of myself. Besides, the contractions aren’t even coming that frequently yet. We have plenty of time. First babies notoriously take a long time to be born.”

I walked in the direction of the bathroom before he can even protest. I had just stepped into the stream when he joined me.

“Joon-ah… No monkey business,” I warned as I perused his naked body. “That’s how we got here to begin with.”

“You’re the one always thinking about that,” he whispered. “I’m just here to help you shave your legs. Na Jeong-ah… How will you shave your legs if you can’t even see your feet?”

“Very, very carefully,” I answered with a laugh.

We took a shower together, with him shaving my legs, as he promised. I washed his back in return. By the time we were done, I dressed myself in loose fitting pants and a blouse, knowing that I will be asked to change into a hospital gown as soon as we got there. Joon also got dressed in some casual clothes before placing a baseball cap over his head. I sipped on some water, careful not to drink anything with too much sugar in it, as I continued to pace the length of the apartment. I watched as my husband ran around like a chicken with his head cut off, gathering the hospital bag and various baby books. Thankfully after a few minutes, he relaxed some and managed to mop up the kitchen floor and even sat down on the couch with the television on low as he waited for my instructions.

When the contractions increased and I was able to feel them every ten minutes, I told Joon that it was time for us to go to the hospital. Suddenly that frantic look was back in his eyes again and I shook my head. Is he the one about to give birth or am I? I was still wondering this when he turned the television off and walked out of the apartment, hospital bag in his arm and closed the door behind him without saying a word to me. I stared at the door incredulously for a few minutes as I sat myself back down at the kitchen table. All of our family and friends will never believe me if I told them that Joon had forgotten me, the mother of his unborn child at home, so panicked he was about getting to the hospital in time for ME to give birth… Aigoo…

I calmly flipped the magazine open even as I pulled out my phone from my bag. I looked up at the clock and noted the time. 12:57 a.m. I wonder how many minutes it will take Joon to figure out that the most important component of this whole situation is still at home. I don’t think that he would start driving before he realizes this, would he? But then again, I never thought he would forget me, either.

I dialed Omma’s number and released a breath when she answered.

“Omma?” I said softly.

“Na Jeong-ah! Why are you calling at this time of the night? Don’t tell me…” I heard Appa’s booming voice in the background as he yelled out, “Is it time? Is it time?” even as Omma tried to calm him down.

“Omma, the baby’s coming,” I said. “I’m having contractions every ten minutes.”

“We’ll meet you guys at the hospital. I should leave Sook Sook at the neighbors’, right? It might take you a long time since it’s your first baby.”

“Nah… If Sook Sook wants to come, let him,” I said. “He shouldn’t be left out at a time like this. Besides, I’m sure there will be plenty of people who will watch him there.”

“Where’s Joon?” Appa asked. “Is he okay?”

“APPA!!! I’m the one who’s about to go into labor, why are you asking about him? He’s fine,” I responded. “Or I’m assuming he is, seeing as he just walked out the door and left me here without even turning back.”

“WHAT??? Aishhhh… He dared to forget my daughter… Let me go call him,” Appa said.

“Appa, don’t,” I responded. “I’m sure he’ll realize it soon enough. After all you can’t have the baby without the mother.”

“What are you going to do?” He asked.

“Oh… I’m just going to sit here and wait patiently for my husband.” I continued to read the article in front of me. “We’ll see you guys soon.”

*****

December 31, 2002

1:05 a.m.

Jae Joon

I’m forgetting something.

I emptied the hospital bag in the trunk of the car and checked all the items off. Na Jeong’s robe, check. A nightgown and a pair of slippers, check. A pillow, check. Shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, toothpaste, and body wash, check. Nursing bras and underwear, check check. A book on newborn care, check. A going home outfit for the baby, check. A receiving blanket, check. I should know the content of this bag by heart since I was there when Na Jeong was packing it, and I have since then checked it many many times over.

My eyes wandered to the car seat I installed a week ago and crossed that off my list, too.

Maybe something in my overnight bag? I pulled it out of the footwell of the backseat and perused everything I packed. This bag has been a permanent fixture in my car for a few weeks. I think I packed this even before Na Jeong packed her bag. A change of clothes and toiletries, an extra cell phone charger, a pair of slippers. All there. I had even surreptitiously dropped a camera in the bag, with clear instructions from Na Jeong that if I dared take any pictures of her during labor, I can forget sleeping with her ever again.

I pulled my phone out to send a mass text to all our friends, asking them to meet us in the hospital if they’re able, but not to worry if they’re not. I dialed Omma’s phone without hesitation and left a message on her voicemail. Next I dialed Appa’s number and breathed a sigh of relief when he answered, his voice thick with sleep.

“Appa, it’s Joon,” I said. “The baby’s coming.”

“Joon-ah, congratulations in advance on becoming an Appa.” He emphasized the word with a smile in his voice and I grinned even as I teared up. “I’ll drive up this weekend to see you two and the newest member of our family. Joon-ah, pass the phone to Na Jeong, will you? I want to speak to my daughter-in-law.”

“Sure, Appa, hang on… SHIT!” I exclaimed as I realized that I forgot my wife in the apartment. I ran back to the building even as my father kept asking me what was wrong. “Appa… Shit… I forgot Na Jeong.”

“WHAT?” He asked and started laughing. “Calm down, Joon-ah.”

“I’m trying, Appa, hang on…” I was just about to get into the elevator when I realized that I left the car doors all opened and unlocked. Shaking my head at myself, I ran back to the car as quickly as possible before going back to the apartment. “Appa… I have to go. Na Jeong will be pissed.”

“Joon-ah… It will be okay,” Appa reassured me. “Just get your wife to the hospital safely, okay? Have Na Jeong call me whenever she can.”

“Okay, Appa, I’m going.” I hung up the phone quickly as I walked towards the apartment.

I entered the code quickly and opened the door to see my wife at the kitchen table, calmly reading a magazine and munching on some ice chips. She looked at me with one eyebrow raised and a smirk on her beautiful face.

“So you remembered?” She asked, her eyes sparkling with mirth.

“Sorry, yeobo… Sorry,” I said. “I lost my head for a minute.”

“It’s okay, Joon-ah… It only took you eight…” Her eyes closed as another contraction descended upon her, and she tried to breathe through the pain. “It only… Took… You… Eight… Minutes… To… Come… Back…”

I watched in concern and wondered if this was normal. As if reading my mind, she said, “Joon-ah, you look like you’re the one in labor. Don’t worry… Of course I’ll be in pain. There’s a person trying to… OWWWW,” she said as she doubled in pain. The knuckles on her delicate hands were so white from gripping the table so tightly. “There’s a person trying to come out of me… Of course it’s going to hurt, right?” She gave me a brave smile as the contraction eased up. She reached a hand out to me and I rushed to her side. “Help me up, yeobo, please. The contractions are coming faster, now. I don’t think this baby wants to wait much longer.”

I helped her up off the chair and wondered if I should carry her to the car.

“Do you need me to carry you to the car?” I asked Na Jeong.

“I’m in labor, not an invalid,” she retorted back. “I still have full use of my legs.”

I followed her as she walked slowly out of the apartment, one hand against the length of the wall, her mouth blowing slow breaths, just as we were taught to do in class. I don’t know if I will survive this… I’m already exhausted and we haven’t even left the house yet. She continued her breathing as she got into the car, and still as I drove more slowly than I have ever driven in my life. I felt her eyes studying me and turned to look at her.

“Joon-ah… Is there a reason why you’re driving like it’s your first time driving?” she asked.

“I have precious cargo in the car,” I said. I tried to focus on the road even as she continued to glare.

“We have to get to the hospital for your precious cargo to be born, Joon-ah. I’m not giving birth in the car,” she said.

“I meant you, but okay.”

Now that I have her approval, I stepped my foot on the accelerator and didn’t let up on my speed until we were at the hospital entrance, where Binggrae was already waiting with a wheelchair.

“Thank God you’re working tonight,” I said to him as I opened my door. I opened Na Jeong’s door and helped her onto the wheelchair. “Bing… You can go ahead and bring her in. I’ll grab the car and park our stuff… I mean… Park the car and grab our stuff.”

“Here’s her room number,” he said as he shook his head in amusement and handed me a piece of paper. “She’s already pre-registered and it’s a birthing room, so you won’t have to change rooms for the labor. Hurry back, Appa.”

“Joon-ah,” Na Jeong said, and for the first time today I heard the nervousness in her voice.

I bent down to place a kiss on her lips. “Yeobo… I’ll just be a minute. I’ll be right back. Bing will take you to your room, and you can get settled in, okay?” She nodded at me with wide eyes. “I love you… It’s going to be okay.”

I nodded at Bing, and he turned the wheelchair around to bring Na Jeong to her room. She turned back to me one more time and I swallowed the lump in my throat as I got back into the car to park it. Once done, I quickly grabbed our bags and walked quickly through the lobby of the hospital and into the elevators to go to Na Jeong’s room.

By the time I entered her room, she was already in a hospital gown, sitting serenely on the bed, still deep breathing. Her face lit up as soon as she saw my face and I pulled a chair over so that I can sit next to her.

“You okay?” I asked, noting the paleness in her cheeks.

“Yeah… I’m okay. A little nervous, but I’m okay. I’m glad I wasn’t giving birth while you were away.”

“Yeah, me too…”

Our conversation was interrupted when Dr.Noh entered the room, wearing scrubs and a scrub cap.

“Sung Na Jeong-ssi, Kim Jae Joon-ssi, it seems that your baby is on his way,” she said. “Your parents just got here, as well as some of your friends. I told them to stay in the waiting room as I examined you, and I’ll let you all know how much time we have before the littlest Kim will enter this world.” She winked at Na Jeong as she took her hand in hers. “Omma… I’m going to have you lie down flat and put your feet up in these stirrups, okay? Not unlike how we did at the office a week ago.”

Na Jeong nodded and laid down, even as I continued to hold her hand. She lifted her legs up onto the support that the doctor pulled out from underneath the bed. I continued to watch her face as the doctor examined her.

“Na Jeong-ssi, how long ago did the contractions start?”

“Maybe… Uhmm… Maybe a couple of hours ago?” Na Jeong responded. “I had fallen asleep and it woke me up.”

“I think… I think you’ve been in labor for most of the day… Have you had more back pain today than normal?” she asked.

“Yes, but it was hard to tell with my herniated back and everything,” Na Jeong said slowly. “I thought it was normal.”

“Well… You’re completely dilated and the baby’s crowning,” Dr.Noh said from between Na Jeong’s legs. “How far apart are her contractions?”

The nurse at Na Jeong’s bedside examined the strips coming from the machine attached to Na Jeong and said, “Every 4 to 5 minutes, Doctor.”

“It seems you two got here just in time. If you waited any longer, this baby would have been born at home or in the car,” Dr. Noh said with a smile. “Na Jeong-ssi, when the next contraction comes, I’m going to need you to start pushing. Unfortunately I can’t even offer you an epidural. I’m afraid it’s a bit late for that.”

Na Jeong nodded as she gripped my hand. Her breathing accelerated and even I knew that a contraction was coming. She tried to breathe through it, her face sweating from the effort of not screaming out loud.

“Yeobo… It’s okay,” I said softly. “You can grip my hand as tightly as you need to, okay? You can scream too, if you want.”

She nodded and looked into my eyes. When the contraction started again, she gripped my hand so tightly I thought my wedding ring was going to dig a crater onto my finger, as I tried not to show how painful it was.

“I hate you, Kim Jae Joon,” she muttered darkly as she glared at me through the contraction. I withered from her gaze and felt like apologizing a million times over. “This hurts. I HATE YOU!”

I cringed even as the nurses exchanged knowing smiles. It seems they have heard all this before.

“I love you. But that’s okay. You can hate me… You can hate me forever. I’m sorry, yeobo. It won’t happen again,” I said.

The contraction eased up and she loosened her grip on me. She pressed a kiss on my lips and said, “I’m sorry, Joon-ah. I didn’t mean it. I love you a lot. You know that, right?”

I nodded and waited for the next contraction. I placed my hands under the bed and placed my wedding ring onto my right hand, just in case she continues to grasp my hand like it was a lifeline. The next contraction started again soon thereafter and Na Jeong continued to declare that I was the worst man in the world and how much she hated me and how she’ll never let me touch her again, only to be told when the contraction stopped that she didn’t mean any of it and that she does indeed love me still.

After the fifth go round, the doctor told us that she can see the baby’s shoulder, and Na Jeong’s next contraction eased the baby’s shoulders out. The next few minutes were frantic as Na Jeong continued to push and yell expletives that would make any man blush. I was even afraid at one point that she would punch me.

To be honest, I never thought when we found out that we were pregnant what birthing actually entailed and how intense it all was. I watched my wife in wonder, and marveled at her strength. I could never do this. No man could. Women are amazing creatures. As I stayed by her side as she gave birth to our son, I felt myself falling more and more in love with her as she battled the pain in characteristic Na Jeong fashion. My wife is magnificent.

I was still thinking about this when the doctor proclaimed that the baby was out, and I looked down to see her place our son onto Na Jeong’s chest. Even as Na Jeong held the baby, I could do nothing but stare at them both in shock. Emotions uncurled in my chest and I felt tears spring to my eyes as I saw our baby for the first time.

“Appa,” Dr. Noh said as she smiled at me and offered a pair of surgical scissors. “Would you like to cut your son’s cord?”

I shakily took the pair of scissors as she guided my gloved hands to where I should cut. Even though they were still shaking, I managed to perform this simple task and I looked to see Na Jeong hand the baby to the nurses.

“Where… Where are you taking him?” I asked hoarsely.

“We’re just going to get him cleaned up,” the nurse holding our son said.

“Congratulations, Mr. Kim,” Dr. Noh said after she washed her hands. She offered a hand out for a shake and I hugged her impulsively. “You’re now the proud father of a healthy baby boy.” She then turned and looked at Na Jeong. “Na Jeong-ssi… You did very very well. Congratulations.”

She nodded to both of us and made her way out the door, no doubt to attend to other patients.

I turned back to where the nurses were and watched as they carried our son to a nursery cot and proceeded to wipe him down and clean him up. Within a few minutes, I heard the most beautiful sound I have ever heard in my life, rivaling only Na Jeong’s voice as she told me she loved me for the first time.

I heard our baby cry.

It was soft at first, tentative, as if he was testing it out. Within a few seconds his cry grew gustier and louder until the whole room was filled with the sound. I started chuckling. I can guess from whose side he got that pair of lungs from. He certainly knows how to make an entrance.

*****

Within a few minutes, Na Jeong had been cleaned up and dressed in a fresh nightgown, her hair combed down and looking more peaceful than I have ever seen her. She held Young Seon in her arms and smiled at me as I kissed both their foreheads.

“Na Jeong-ah… You were… Amazing,” I said. And I meant it. She was. “I love you.”

“I love you, too. You didn’t do too badly either, Appa,” she responded. “Would you like to meet your son?”

I nodded silently and held my arms out as I have learned to do from the classes we took, and Na Jeong placed him gently in my arms.

He’s so light, I thought. So, so little and so light. I sat down on the chair as I gazed at our child, quietly counting his fingers and toes. I started getting choked up as I perused his perfect nose and his perfect mouth, laying still in slumber. I breathed him in and lifted my eyes to see Na Jeong watching me, tears openly running down her face. I felt tears fall down from my own eyes, but didn’t bother hiding them or wiping them away.

“Welcome to the world, Kim Young Seon,” I whispered. “I don’t even know you yet, but I already love you. I know your Omma loves you so much, too. Do you know who I am? I’m your Appa.” It’s New Year’s Eve… Uri Young Seon is born on New Year’s Eve… “Uri Young Seon really lives up to his name even at birth… Thanks for being born on this special day. You are our gift… Our special gift… New Year’s Eve will always be the best day for us.”

I lowered a finger towards his little hand and fell even deeper in love when his tiny fingers all wrapped around one of mine. I’ve had this feeling before… The first time I held a baseball in my hand… The first time Na Jeong placed her hand in mine. My life has come full circle. Appa. Another title to add to the roles that made up my life and who I am.

I owe Na Jeong for a lot but this takes the cake. She had carried our child with grace and strength, and without her this relationship would not have been possible.

I was still holding our son when the door opened and everyone came piling in, armed with vases and baskets of flowers and balloons. Jung Gook Hyung was even holding a giant stuffed dog. Omma gave me an embrace as Na Jeong’s parents rushed to her side. Her Appa met my eyes over her head as he nodded at me with a smile. Sook Sook peered into my arms curiously and started cooing when he saw the baby’s face.

Our friends surrounded me and the baby, and pretty soon I was handing the baby over to Na Jeong’s Omma. It’s safe to say that this baby will be held by more people than any baby has ever been in the first few minutes of his life. Everyone was here. Everyone showed up, to be present for our baby’s birth, just as they had been for our wedding, just as they had been all the steps of Na Jeong and my journey, together and apart. My heart filled with so much happiness I felt overwhelmed.

I met my wife’s eyes over all the people and as it always did, the world disappeared and returned, transformed again into a more beautiful place. A place where we would raise our child.

She mouthed the words ‘I love you’ to me and I mouthed it right back. It’s been a long and sometimes, painful journey, but it’s how we got here. Would I do it all over again? The same exact way? That answer remained the same, as it has been for the last few years.

For this moment? Of course.

For this love? Absolutely.

“Joon-ah,” I heard the loveliest voice call out to me. “I’m hungry.”

I chuckled in response. I should have predicted it would be so.

“What do you want to eat?” I played along. “Ddukbokki?”

She nodded and a dazzling smile came over her face, the same smile that captured my heart eight years ago, and still holds it captive more tightly now than it ever did.

“Of course. There is nothing else I would want,” she replied with a wink and I knew she wasn’t just talking about ddukbokki anymore.

Me neither, my love. Me neither.

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