NOTE: With the ending of Reply 1988 came another heartbreak. Another ship I supported, one that I believed without a shadow of a doubt would be canon, sank again. Those who know me are aware tha it takes quite a bit of strong emotion for me to write any kind of fanfic. I thought Reply 88 needed an alternate ending, one that would have fit better into the narrative they sold us.
This is for my fellow Jung Hwan lovers. In the end it could have been him. And you know what? It SHOULD have been him. He deserved that and so did Deok Sun.
This is the first of a two point five part story about our OTP. I hope you like it.
OST PART 1: KODALINE “Moving On”
Part 1: Goodbye
“I like you.” My eyes traveled over Deok Sun’s face, taking in the surprise that jumped into her eyes. Did she really not know? When she said nothing I continued. “I’m saying I like you.”
It was as if Sun Woo and Dong Ryong disappeared as words tumbled out of my mouth. Carelessly, thoughtlessly, I finally allowed all that I had been keeping inside pass through my lips. Even as I knew that there was no going back.
I told her about waiting for her to come out when we were school kids so I can have a precious few minutes with her to myself. I told her about being happy sitting with her on the bus so many years ago even though she didn’t know. I even told her about the shirt… the silly pink shirt that to this day I could not bear to get rid of, still hanging in my wardrobe in Sacheon, a reminder of all my past failures. Much like my ring was doing now, its surface glinting at me from the table.
The confession was as liberating as it was painful. Though the knowledge that I was finally saying what I should have said years ago made me feel lighter, the burden that I had carried and no longer had to was now replaced by something else. Something more permanent.
Was this the heartbreak that plagued all those who have experienced unrequited love?
Throughout my confession her expression didn’t change. I didn’t expect it to. As soon as I had seen her eyes dart over to the door every time the bell jingled, I knew.
She was waiting for him. The boy I loved almost as much as I loved my own brother. The boy she perhaps loved more than I did.
I paused, allowing myself to look upon her face one last time; at least as Kim Jung Hwan, the boy who once loved her and the man who still did.
“I love you.”
The air was marked by shocked silence, shadows and outlines of my two friends taking shape in my periphery. Deok Sun’s face blurred in front of me, tears threatening to spill from my eyes.
“Are you happy now?” I asked Dong Ryong, the pressure in my chest almost too much to bear. Needing something… anything to make it go away, to pretend somehow that I didn’t just lay my heart on the table.
I glanced over at Dong Ryong and he stared at me incredulously. I could almost feel the relief emanating from all of them and I reminded myself that this was for the best.
“What?” He asked, almost in a whisper.
My mouth curled into an unamused grin. “You said it was your wish.”
He may have said something, but I didn’t hear it. I could feel Sun Woo’s eyes on me as I went back to being the Jung Hwan that I knew best. The one that pretended that everything was okay.
The next few minutes passed in a blur; I felt like I was outside of myself watching the events unfold. The detachment I had always used in the past didn’t do me any favors this time. I felt like I had been ripped from the inside out.
I dared not look at Deok Sun, afraid that if she turned her eyes to me that she would see that I had been lying. Or worse yet, that she would not care.
It was better this way, I told myself. It was better this way.
When they all stood up, so did I.
I didn’t pick up my ring. Neither did she.
An hour later…
I laid on my bed, my arm resting on my forehead. Despite our friends’ urging to have a second drink, I refused and made an excuse about needing to go to sleep. Sun Woo appeared as if he wanted to talk to me, but I was all talked out.
There was nothing else left to say.
I heard a knock on my door and though I gave no response, I heard it open anyway. I knew before I heard his voice that it was my brother, his hesitation giving him away. I didn’t turn my head when I heard him pull the chair out from my desk and as he sat.
Knowing that he would worry if I continued like this, I took a deep breath and pasted a smile on my face before lowering my arm and addressing him.
“Jung Hwan-ah,” he said and I lifted my eyes to meet his. The wall that I had built up almost cracked as I looked at my older brother, the kindest person I knew, someone I admired and wanted to protect almost in equal measure, looking at me as if he wanted to protect me, too.
I sat up on the bed, my back resting against the headboard. Almost immediately I was reminded of the night Deok Sun slept here, her head resting just inches from mine. I had to close my eyes to banish the memory away.
When I opened my eyes Hyung was looking at me, his eyes missing nothing.
“You know…” he started before he cleared his throat, “you know that I’m very very proud of you, right?”
I gave him a wry grin. “Yeah, I know,” I answered. “You’ve said it enough times.”
“And you know that you’re my best friend, right?” He asked. “I tell you everything.” I nodded, a bit curious as to where he was going with this. Before I could ask him he gave me a sympathetic smile. “You know you can tell me everything, right?”
I looked away. “There’s nothing to tell, Hyung.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Is there not?” I shook my head no. “Then I must have been making it all up in my head that you liked Deok Sun so many years ago. And that you still like her, even now.”
My head whipped around to look at my brother, his eyes poring over me knowingly. “How?” The one word came out of my mouth and he shrugged his shoulders before responding.
“You know I’m not a good student. I get easily distracted and honestly, it never interested me enough to hold my attention. There’s a lot of things that I have failed at, but if there is one thing I’m really good at, it’s being your brother.” He stood up from the chair and repositioned himself on the bed, right next to me. “Surely you didn’t think I wouldn’t know.”
I looked at my hands, unable to meet his eyes. “I didn’t think anyone would know.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I thought so.” He nudged me with his shoulder. “Yah… if it’s any consolation I think Deok Sun likes you too.” I didn’t respond and he kept speaking. “And why wouldn’t she? My brother is handsome and nice. He has the best heart of anyone I know. He’s smart and…”
“No,” I said, interrupting him. “She doesn’t.”
He blinked at me. “How do you know?” I looked away as his question went unanswered. “Did you ask?”
I nodded. “I confessed tonight.”
I shook my head and swallowed the emotion that came up from somewhere in the pit of my belly, rising up until I felt it lodge in my throat. “Nothing,” I said, the word coming out hoarse. “I was too late.”
As always, I wanted to add. I hesitated too many times. What I always took as care and thought merely amounting to indecision upon reflection. I wasn’t even sure who I had been trying to protect. Taek? Deok Sun? Myself?
It didn’t matter now.
Hyung looked like he didn’t know what to say. I could feel him looking at me, much like Sun Woo did, as if trying to read my mind.
“I’m okay,” I said, more to my benefit than his. “I’m okay.”
And why wouldn’t I be? Nothing had changed. Life will move on, just as it always has. Except mine will move forward without her.
The thought brought on a fresh surge of pain.
As if sensing this, my brother placed an arm around me in reassurance. “This may not be what you want to hear,” he began carefully, as if watching his words, “but you did your best. You told her how you felt. Whatever happens now is out of your control. Sometimes life is like that.”
I focused on his words as if they were my truth, wanting to hold onto them as if they would save me from this moment. I wanted to believe him more than anything, afraid that if I didn’t, that I would have nothing left.
“Better put it out on the open than regret it forever. You’ve done all you can do,” he continued, his normally lighthearted voice suddenly ringing with conviction. “You’ve done your best, just as you always had. And if that’s not good enough for her, then she’s not good enough for you.”
The belief in his voice rang through me and I felt the tears fall out of my eyes. I wiped them off in frustration, wishing for so many things, not the least of which was to do it all over again. To go back to 1988 and do it right, this time.
Hyung said nothing else as he kept his arm resolutely around me. I continued to cry as if I would never stop, the first and last time I will allow myself to mourn.
I laid on my side, unable to sleep. For once I wish Unnie was here, her back against mine, her presence reassuring. So many times her existence alone grated on me; I considered her the constant thorn on my side, someone made just to make my life difficult. In recent years that had changed.
Now I found comfort in her constancy… there was something about her ability to stick to what she believes in, her unwillingness to bend, that resonated with me. Always having been one who was always easily influenced, I sometimes envied her courage to never compromise or sacrifice. Always having been someone who never knew what I wanted, I wish I had my sister’s determination to be whoever and whatever she wanted to be.
I could still hear my parents and No Eul bickering a wall away from me, no doubt about the fact that my brother now had to give up his (formerly mine and Unnie’s) room for the night. I sat up and looked around; the room had not changed since I was last here.
The room looked as it did back then and it made me feel as if I was back in high school. The restlessness I was feeling made me feel as if I truly was.
Wearily I stood up and walked towards the table, turning the lamp on as soon as I sat down. I fiddled with the pens that were in a cup, straightened papers that didn’t need it in an effort to calm my mind.
I opened the drawer slowly, wondering if my diary was still in it, the one I wrote in back in high school. It had been my companion whenever I felt confused, and one I left at home when I started working.
I thought that in leaving it behind I would leave who I was too. I had been intent on becoming a better version of Sung Deok Sun. Someone who was wiser. Someone who actually became someone without anyone’s help.
I opened the first page and touched the words, almost laughed at what I had written. When was this? I thought as I continued to read, my girlish handwriting almost too juvenile now.
There was a whole lot of inane details about the things that made up my life: my neverending complaints about my sister, my frustration at myself for not knowing what to do, and my friends. Taek, Dong Ryong, Sun Woo.
I had written things in detail about each and every single one of them. Until the last few years there had not been a day when we all didn’t see one another. My memories were as much theirs as they were mine.
Except I had a secret. Several, actually. First: I had liked Taek, a long time ago. Second: I thought I liked Sun Woo too, before I realized it was not me he liked.
And the third… I hesitated before I flipped a page. The third. Maybe the most important.
My heart paused as I ran a finger over the characters of the name that came into view.
Kim Jung Hwan.
I felt a wave of emotion pass through me so quickly I had no time to guard myself against it. His words coming to me in echoes, memories of our past coming slowly, then all at once.
He confessed, then took it back. Was any of it real? Why did the idea that none of it had been make me feel as if I’d been punched in the stomach?
I thought I was over the feelings I once had for him, chalked it up to an adolescent crush. The same thing I once felt for Taek. The same thing I once felt for Sun Woo.
So why did my heart feel as if there was a vice around it now? Why did it sound as if he had been saying goodbye? Why did it matter so much?
I tried to laugh it off like he did except it didn’t ring true. I barely had time to digest what he said before he had taken it all back, tried to pass it off like a joke.
It wasn’t fair to even say those things out loud if it was only a joke. Jung Hwan can be so cruel at times.
I shook my head as if flinging the thoughts away, tried to tell myself it didn’t matter at all. And then I remembered something.
I reached my hand behind me and pulled out a box from the pocket of my coat. I felt its weight in my hands before I shakily put it on the table. I opened the lid and fingered the heavy ring, wondered what made me fabricate an excuse about needing to use the restroom just so I could get it.
I told myself it had looked lonely on the table, that I was only taking it so I can give it back to him. That it’s what a friend would do.
Except that wasn’t quite right, either, was it?
Not for the first time tonight I wished I was more like my sister. She would not have hesitated to say what was on her mind many years ago. She would have asked Jung Hwan directly if he really was kidding.
She would have told him how she felt.
I sighed before I closed the lid, wrapped my arms around myself. Jung Hwan had sounded so convincing when he told Dong Ryong matter of factly that he had been merely granting his wish. But then again, why did everything he said before then sound true, too?
I remembered the times before school, the morning on the school bus. The pink shirt. I remember them, too. I treasured those moments, too.
Besides, if that pink shirt had made him so happy why did he give it to his brother? It had been so characteristic of the Jung Hwan I always knew it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it still hurt.
That had marked the day I began to consciously disentangle my feelings from him. Except it didn’t quite work.
Still, life moved forward. Weeks turned into months and then months into years. I began to date while pushing memories of Jung Hwan to the back of my mind. I learned to forget that once upon a time I had been a girl who only wanted him to acknowledge me.
Except now here we all were. Back to where it all began, as if no time had passed at all. As if I was back to the indecisive Deok Sun I once was. As if I was back to the Deok Sun who only wanted Kim Jung Hwan to love me.
Well… I’m not her anymore, I thought, trying to adopt a bit more of my sister into myself. I need to know the truth. I needed to know if Jung Hwan really meant what he said.
And this time, I’m not leaving without any answers.
I turned the lamp off and laid back down, feeling proud for having made a decision on my own. Growing up had some perks, after all. I fell asleep feeling a little more optimistic than I did just minutes before, finally feeling as if I am taking control of my destiny rather than letting it take control of me.
The next morning…
“Deok Sun-ah, breakfast!” Appa was mid sentence when I opened the door to his face. He looked me up and down before narrowing his brows. “Are you leaving already?”
I shook my head and smiled brightly, trying to muster up some courage. “I’ll eat breakfast when I get back. It will only take me a few minutes.”
“What will only take you a few minutes?”
I walked passed him and straight out of the basement room, only hearing him call out as I put on a coat and my shoes, balancing a cap on my head haphazardly, my fingers slipping into the pink angora gloves that Jung Hwan gave me years ago.
Courage, Sung Deok Sun, I kept chanting to myself. Courage.
I continued to tell myself this as I climbed up the stairs, the sight of Jung Bong Oppa almost taking me by surprise. He had a newspaper under his arm, and he looked just as surprised to see me as I was him. He still had slippers on, his just wakened expression reminding me so much of Jung Hwan’s I almost lost my breath.
He stopped mid stride up the stairs and faced me. His mouth appeared as if it was about to break into a smile before he suddenly stopped, his face taking on a more guarded look. All of a sudden I felt self-conscious, as if he knew something about me even I myself didn’t know.
He bowed stiffly. “Deok Sun-ssi.”
His formal use of my name took me aback. As did the fact that he turned around and began walking up the steps without saying anything else.
I frowned. “Oppa.” When he made no move to once again address me, I repeated myself. “Jung Bong Oppa.”
He stopped but didn’t turn around. His behavior confounded me… I thought he and I had a special kind of kinship because he dated my friend Man Ok. There was once a time when I was part of his close circle, bringing me into his confidence, so why was he was treating me now like a stranger?
Maybe something else happened. He seemed pretty heartbroken after Man Ok left but that was years ago. And as far as I knew Man Ok was not back. What happened between them had not been my fault.
If that’s what this was all about, I should be angry too. I lost her, too. Suddenly inexplicably angry, I was about to ask him what the matter was when he finally turned around.
“Deok Sun-ssi,” he said, his eyes serious, as if considering what he was going to say next. It made me bite my tongue, unused to seeing him this somber. “My brother refused to give me his shirt.”
I looked at him in confusion. O-kay? Why was he telling me about a shirt now? They were brothers… I’m sure there had been a whole lot of pieces of clothig passed back and forth between the two of them, much like how it had been with me and Bora Unnie. I really don’t know what this had to do with…
“I’m just telling you because I think you ought to know,” he continued. “Jung Hwan refused to give me the shirt you gave him for his birthday. Even after I asked many times.” He gave me a wry grin. “And you know my brother gives me everything.”
What? The words he was saying were not registering and I found myself gaping at him in confusion. Jung Hwan kept the shirt? He kept the shirt? But I saw Jung Bong Oppa wearing it. But I thought….
“Man Ok and I promised each other we wouldn’t say anything about it since I didn’t want you to know that I asked her for the same gift you gave Jung Hwan,” he continued, seemingly unaware of my confusion. “And I probably wouldn’t ever have said anything about it. Except…” he paused for a few seconds, bit his lip, “except I can’t stand the idea that I may have done something that you may have misunderstood. My brother loved that shirt.”
His mouth said shirt but it sounded as if he was speaking of something else. For my part, it felt as if I had been doused with cold water, his admission not taking hold. It was just like Jung Hwan to not say a word. It was just like him to not clarify.
I stopped myself from going further. I needed to stop assuming things about Jung Hwan. It seemed that he had secrets of his own.
“Where is he?” I asked before I could even think about what I was saying, the panic in my voice audible. What if I had been wrong about him all this time? What if he had been telling the truth? Embarrassingly tears sprang to my eyes. It seemed just as it was years ago, it didn’t take a lot to make me cry. Except this…. felt like a lot. Like a lot more than it seemed. “Can you…” My voice sounded small even to my ears and I took a deep breath, “can you have him come out so I can talk to him?”
Jung Bong Oppa shook his head. “No.”
“But…” I said, my voice breaking a little. “I just wanted to talk to him! Just please let me talk to him!”
“I would if I could,” he answered, his voice softening. “But you just missed him. He already left for Sacheon.”
“When…” I cleared my throat, tried to blink the tears away. “When is he coming back?”
“You know the answer to that as well as I do, Deok Sun-ah,” he said softly. “You know my brother.”
Did I? I thought I did. I really thought I did. But the Jung Hwan from last night and the Jung Hwan that he was now talking about seemed a different person than the one in my childhood.
Or was it that it was I who saw him differently?
After two decades of having these friends in my life I once thought I knew all of them better than anyone else. Especially Jung Hwan. It was another thing I had taken comfort in… that despite his stoic nature, his often surly humor, that I knew him. And understood him.
Until now. Until today.
Now I had the sinking feeling that I didn’t know him at all.