NOTE: It took a few days but here it is… the conclusion to “Goodbye, Hello.” I hope you love this story as much as I do!
OST PART IV: ONE REPUBLIC “All This Time”
I stood by the arrival gate, shifting my weight from foot to foot. I craned my head over the crowd and checked my watch impatiently.
She'd said they were landing on time. Maybe I should move to the front of the queue.
I weaved my way through the other people and looked around. I noted, with some apprehension that some of the people waiting had placards and others had flowers. Suddenly wondering if I should have prepared more, I tightened my hold on the bag I carried, flushing.
It's been almost a month since Deok Sun and I became a couple. We had not seen each other since that idyllic, surreal weekend, when we spent almost all our waking moments together. Or at least as together as we could be with me staying at my parents upstairs and her staying with her parents downstairs and all our friends home as well, in their respective households.
Though we spoke on the phone every day, I was pretty sure she was frustrated with this distance. And maybe, me, too. I had never been much of a talker, preferring to think things than to actually say things; it was still an adjustment to be with someone who asks, no, demands that I speak of everything that is going on in my mind. I had only just gotten myself comfortable with the idea that she loved me back. It might take a little while for me to actually just blurt things out.
My girlfriend definitely got the shorter end of the stick.
I straightened my shirt for the umpteenth time, ran my fingers through my hair nervously. The whole drive here I wondered if, in the following days after we got together if she'd change her mind about me.
Well, I thought, if she had then I'll just have to win her over all over again. The thought made me cringe. I didn't do so hot the first time around.
In the middle of checking the time, again, a vision appeared from the corner of my eye. Someone was walking through the throng of people who just came at the arrival gate. Her eyes scanning, she broke into the biggest smile when our gazes met. Despite my reserved nature, I felt my face mirror her expression, my mouth curving up into a smile of my own.
She quickened her strides until she was practically running towards me and I began to walk. Her hair was pulled back, revealing the face that I knew so well, but in some ways I had still yet to discover. When we were but a couple of strides away, she launched herself at me, her arms wrapping around my neck.
I was so unused to receiving spontaneous bouts of affection that my first instinct had been to stiffen up. But when I looked down, I saw the expression on her face and nothing else mattered. Deok Sun was here, looking as content and happy as I had ever seen her. Deok Sun was here for me.
I leaned down and breathed her in, uncaring now that there were still people around us. I felt soft fingers over my forehead, her touch gentle and loving, before she placed a kiss on my cheek. The chain around her neck blinked at me and I didn't have to look down to see my ring hanging from it.
"Jagiya," she said, her voice whisper soft. I blinked a couple of times when I realized that it was the first time she has called me something else other than my name.
I liked it. I really liked it.
I could feel the goofiest of smiles form on my face and I only just managed to straighten my expression when she pulled away and took a good look at me. Unable to resist, I ran a hand down her hair, still surprised that she did not turn away from my touch.
I cleared my throat. "Did you have a good flight?"
She nodded, the smile that I know so well gracing her mouth. "It was okay," she said. "It feels weird flying now as a passenger since I do it for a living. Is it like that for you, too?"
I shrugged my shoulders, allowed myself to pull her close one more time before reluctantly releasing her. As soon as I did, she took hold of my hand and interlocked her gloved fingers with mine. We were almost out of the airport when I remembered the bag I carried.
"Oh," I said, stopping mid stride. Turning to her, I watched as her eyes took me in, her gaze warm and tender. "This is yours."
She took the bag with her free hand. "Mine?" She asked, her brows lifting enquiringly. She looked down for a second but made no move to open it. "What is it?"
I had almost forgotten how handsome he was. Almost, but not quite. In my mind I always saw him as the Jung Hwan I grew up with, so much so that I practically forget that he was no longer that boy.
Until moments like now, when the sunlight filtering through the airport walls made a slash of light over his impossibly high cheekbones and generous mouth. His dark brown eyes were focused intently on me, traveling over my face as if it was the only thing that mattered.
"This is yours." He was holding out a bag towards me, from a store whose name I didn't recognize.
"Mine?" I reached for the bag with my other hand, keeping the one that was holding his firm. When he didn't respond, I looked down and couldn't see anything. "What is it?"
He looked away. "Just open it."
I narrowed my eyebrows at him. "Why can't you just tell me what it is?"
"You can just open it." I wasn't exactly quite sure when Jung Hwan's tone of frustration started sounding a hell of a lot like affection to me, but every time he sounds aggravated I just see it as more proof of his love for me.
He was so quiet normally; it seemed almost an aberration that he was so argumentative whenever he's dealing with me. But… as long as I was the only one he was bickering with, I found that I didn't mind it so much.
"Just tell me what it is," I demanded, enjoying the banter, expecting him to throw his hand in frustration at my stubbornness any minute now.
"Do you not want it?" He asked, trying to take it back.
I almost laughed. I know people might think that it's bizarre how much I enjoyed seeing Jung Hwan annoyed, but it's nice to know this was Kim Jung Hwan who I was in love with and who loved me. Sure… he can act like everyone else and be all lovey dovey, but Jung Hwan is not like that.
I knew that when I fell in love with him. In fact I think it's the proof to how real this was that he could just be himself and still be loved. Just like I felt with him.
For the first time in my life I knew what it felt to be accepted as I was, flaws and all.
"How are you going to take it back?" I asked, pretending to be angry. "You already gave it to me."
"You don't even want to see what's in it!"
"I do, too," I said, pulling on the bag so hard that when he let go, it almost smacked me on the face. I glared at him. "God… what is the big deal anyway?" I asked as I pried my hand away from his and began pulling the tissue paper out. "What could be so important that you have your shorts all bunched…"
My words stopped when I pulled out the softest pink scarf from the bag, the color exactly the same as the gloves I wore on my fingers.
Momentarily rendered speechless, I lifted my eyes only to see him watching for my reaction. My breath caught in my throat, I looked away as my eyes filled with tears.
He knew me so well, I thought, remembering how I had come to own my most favorite pair of gloves to begin with.
"Do you not like it?" He asked, his voice full of concern, as he lifted my chin to look into my eyes. "If you don't like it we can take it back. If you didn't need one we can just return it and you can pick out something you want. I just thought…" he blew out a breath, "I just thought with winter coming that you would need one. One that matched your gloves, but…"
I leaned in until our lips connected, effectively stopping him in the middle of his seemingly one way conversation. "I love it," I whispered. "I love you."
"Yeah." I wrapped it around my neck and struck a pose, batting my eyelashes at him. "How do I look?"
His mouth relaxed into a small grin. "How you always look," he answered. "Ugly."
On a literal level I knew exactly what he said, but the way he said it… the way he said it, made 'ugly' sound as if it was the most beautiful thing on Earth. Part reverent, part amused, the timbre in his tone made me want to curl up my toes inside my shoes.
That's the thing about Jung Hwan. Some people may think that he's brash in his speech, that he can be callous in his opinions, but the truth was that he merely liked to hide behind that toughness. And unless you knew him, you would never guess the kindness that lives inside of him.
It was a lucky thing that I knew him.
"Yah," I said, "do you know how lucky you are? If you called another woman ugly and she was your girlfriend, do you even realize the drama that would ensue? Never mind that she would probably hold it over your head forever." I flipped my hair. "Whereas I… don't need any of that, since I know you so well. Aren't you lucky?"
I was just teasing him, but he didn't even bat an eyelid before he responded. "Yes," he said in all seriousness. "I know exactly how lucky I am."
"As long as you know." I grabbed one of his arms and wrapped it around my shoulders. "I'm very lucky, too."
"Not as lucky as me."
We continued bickering as we walked to the airport parking lot where his car was waiting. As he opened the car door, he asked, "where do you want to go first?"
"I don't know," I responded. "You're the one who knows Sacheon."
We all had gathered together in Ssangmundong, in Taek's room. Deok Sun and I held hands under the table, and Sun Woo and Dong Ryong were talking about… something to my other side. My gaze was fixed on the show in front of me, the starting credits for "Sandglass" flashing on the screen.
"Yah…" Deok Sun asked, her voice sarcastic, "aren't you glad we came home?"
As soon as the first CF came onscreen, I turned and scowled at her. Without saying anything, I directed my attention to Sun Woo, who was currently pretending not to notice mine and Deok Sun's noticeably absent hands. "Yah… when's Taek coming back?"
He looked at his watch. "Anytime now, I should think."
"Did he win?" Dong Ryong asked. "I was working and didn't get a page."
"Yeah, he called me a few hours ago." I drank from the glass of juice in front of me even as I felt Deok Sun's head whip around. I looked at her and raised my eyebrows, as if asking 'what?'
"He called you?" She asked, her face relieved. I nodded. "I'm so glad. Everything is okay with you guys now, right?"
I thought about her question. Was everything alright between me and Taek? I smiled, a little wistful. Perhaps that had been the problem, many many years ago. Things had always been alright with me and Taek, making the decision I had to make even harder back then.
It might have been because I loved him so that I felt as if I couldn't possibly love Deok Sun and still be his friend.
Perhaps it was a testament to our friendship that to this day we never spoke about it. Just as I had once stepped aside for him, he had done the same for me. Just as we both had done for Deok Sun, for her to be able to make her own decision.
About a week after that night Deok Sun and I came together, Taek had won a baduk competition. He called me first to share the news. And just like that it was as if everything had been forgotten… that everything had been forgiven.
"Hold on…" Dong Ryong continued, "if his match ended hours ago, why is he not home?"
Sun Woo chuckled. "He had a second date today."
"WHAT?" Deok Sun and Dong Ryong said simultaneously.
"He actually went on a second date?" Deok Sun asked out loud, to no one in particular. Sun Woo and I exchanged a look and Deok Sun creased her brows in understanding. "Is this why we had to absolutely come home today?" Her voice was still confounded, though maybe not as annoyed.
Before I could answer, the door opened and Taek appeared. He had only just taken a step in his room when he discovered that we were all there waiting, boxes of untouched pizza already on the table.
His face broke out in a smile as he put his bag down and sat next to Deok Sun. He glanced at our hands and began to laugh.
"Why are you still hiding your hands?" He asked us innocently. "Everyone here already knows that you two are together."
"Right?" Deok Sun asked, no ounce of shyness in her voice. "We already made out in…."
I cleared my throat before she said any more. "So how did it go?"
Taek took a deep breath before helping himself to a slice of pizza. He took a bite before responding. "It was very strange," he answered, thoughtful. "She seems to really like me?"
Dong Ryong nodded enthusiastically. "That IS weird. Maybe it's because she doesn't know how helpless you are, yet."
Rather than protesting, Taek merely concurred.
"Do you like her?" Deok Sun asked as she helped herself to a slice of pizza, assured now that it was okay to eat since Taek has arrived.
Taek, if it was possible, looked even more confused than he did thinking about this woman liking him. "I don't really know yet."
"That's natural," Deok Sun said sympathetically. "I mean those things take time, right? Unnie wasn't quite sure she liked Sun Woo at first. I…” She emphasized the word, "I didn't know how I felt about Jung…"
"Yah," I warned her. "I'm still here."
"What?" she responded cheekily. "I was just saying."
Sun Woo and Dong Ryong were shaking their heads at us, laughing.
"Do you two ever stop bickering?" Sun Woo asked. "It's hard to believe you really are together."
Deok Sun pouted, grabbed my arm impulsively and leaned closer to me. "That's because you've never seen us just by ourselves. We are amazingly sweet and romantic…”
"Really?" The disbelief in Taek's voice had me chuckling silently, already knowing that Deok Sun was only going to get defensive.
"Don't sound so surprised," she warned him, lifting her chin up, as if in defiance. "I'll have you know that my boyfriend is the best."
Despite knowing that there was a possibility that she might just be saying that, I couldn't help but puff up with pride, at both the possessive tone in her voice, as well as what she said.
"The best at what?" Dong Ryong asked. "Being grumpy?"
Deok Sun glowered at him. "He's the best at everything," she said. "It sucks sometimes to hang out with you guys, did you know that?" Averting my eyes, I felt her glare directed unto me as she lowered her voice. "And especially not on our 100th day."
"It's your 100th day?" Dong Ryong asked. "Why are you guys here?"
Deok Sun shook her head, then pointed at me. "Ask him."
Sun Woo looked confused, looking back and forth between me and Deok Sun. "Hold on," he said, "aren't you guys going to celebrate this weekend, though?"
"No," I quickly responded fixing my eyes on his, trying to send the message (telepathically) not to say anything else.
"But you said you were going to…"
Obviously that plan had not worked and I ended up resorting to clapping a hand over his mouth, accompanied by a scowl. I looked over at Deok Sun, to realize, with some relief, that just like in high school, she still had the amazing ability to zone us out. At this moment she was currently distracted by the show playing on television.
"Does she not know you're taking her to Jeju?" Sun Woo whispered. I shook my head no. He nodded in confirmation before mouthing 'sorry.'
"Jung Hwan- ah…" Deok Sun said, once the commercials were playing once more.
"Hmm?" I asked, relieved that she heard nothing of mine and Sun Woo's conversation.
"I want to sleep over here tonight."
"No." Before I even had the chance to reply, all of our friends already answered for me.
"What?" she asked, hurt. "Why is it that when I didn't have a boyfriend I couldn't sleep here because of my," she cleared her throat, "reputation, and now that I do have one and he's right here, I'm still not allowed?"
"Yah," Dong Ryong said, "We see you all the time. We want to spend time with him, too."
"Deok Sun-ah." Taek said. "We don't let Bora Noona stay here, either."
"But that's because she's scary," Deok Sun retorted and crossed her arms over her chest. "But I'm your friend."
"But you're also his girlfriend." This came from Sun Woo.
"I'm okay with it," I said, and Deok Sun turned around and beamed at me.
"I'm not," Sun Woo said. "If your girlfriend gets to sleep over then my girlfriend should be able to, as well. And when Taek has a girlfriend, will we invite her too? What about Dong Ryong? When he gets a girl…" He stopped mid-sentence. "Maybe we don't have to worry about him."
"I hate you guys." Dong Ryong kept his eyes at the television, his expression forlorn.
"Jagiya," I whispered to Deok Sun as I scooted closer to her. "You don't want to sleep here anyway."
Her eyes widened. “I don’t?”
I shook my head slowly. "Have you smelled Dong Ryong's farts?" She burst out giggling and the sight of her face, practically bursting with joy, and her laugh, warm and unrestrained made me smile too. "I'll tell you what, though… we can have a sleepover, if you want."
"We, as in all of us? Girlfriends and all?"
I shook my head before looking away, could already feel my cheeks burning. "No," I answered. "We, as in you and me." She didn't answer right away, looking a little nervous. It was such a strange expression on her, one I very rarely see. "We don't have to do any…"
"Okay," she said quickly, her cheeks blushing.
"Okay." She nodded, her hand squeezing mine. I thought that our friends heard nothing of our conversation, until I heard someone clear their throat and turned my head to see three pairs of eyes watching us.
Taek was trying to not to laugh.
Sun Woo was looking around, as if he didn't need to be hearing this.
And Dong Ryong… Dong Ryong was watching us closely and eating chips, as if there was nowhere else he'd rather be.
I took a whiff of the crisp spring air, feeling more content than I have all my life.
Jung Hwan and I walked hand in hand, trailing behind Jung Bong Oppa and Man Ok. We had all just been out to dinner, and were now walking to Jung Hwan's car. Ahead of us, Oppa and Man Ok walked with their arms interlinked. I watched, a little enviously, as he pulled her close to him and whispered something in her ear, then looked at Jung Hwan, his face unreadable.
Around us there were couples walking around in similar fashion, openly affectionate and so close you could barely discern one person from the other.
I felt the beginnings of a frown on my face. Though Jung Hwan has gotten a bit more comfortable with physical affection than he had been in the past, he was still so… cheap with it. Even the weekend we spent in Jeju was spent in two different rooms, and the sleepover he promised really consisted of him sleeping on the floor and me on the bed.
"Hmm?" He turned his head and looked at me enquiringly.
"How come you're not as affectionate as him?"
He looked puzzled, as if he didn't know who I was talking about."Him?"
"Jung Bong Oppa," I said. "Or them even."
I waved my hand around us, pointing to no one in particular. "Everyone."
Jung Hwan looked confused. "What do you mean?
"Just…" I tried to find the words as we walked, unable to explain how I feel in a way that he would understand. "It's just… I'm okay with you not saying much, but can you be more…"
"Touchy?" He finished for me.
I pursed my lips together. "Actions are supposed to speak louder than words and that… but your actions are kind of…" I searched for the right word, "not saying enough. You didn't even say anything about my skirt. Sometimes I wonder if you like me at all, much less love me.” I deflated when I heard how needy I sounded. “Even Bora Noona is more affectionate with Sun Woo."
Jung Hwan stopped walking even as I continued.
"So," he said, making me freeze mid stride to turn around. His eyes traveled over my skirt before going back to my face. His handsome face was scowling, his jaw tense. "You doubt how I feel for you because I'm not like everyone else?"
I lifted my shoulders in a shrug. "How am I supposed to know when you only tell me once in a while and you don't act like not touching me will kill you?"
I cringed at myself. Why did I have to sound so dramatic? Feeling suddenly vulnerable, I looked down at my feet. Was it so wrong for me to want the man I love to love me back with the same intensity and the same openness? I had waited so long to have a proper boyfriend.
Jung Hwan's face remained implacable and he started walking, his steps a bit faster. He said nothing to me and for a second I feared that he would just walk off. That he would just leave since I made him angry.
I watched him, close to bursting into tears, when, in the middle of the crowded street, he cupped my face and took my lips in his. I closed my eyes as his warm breath invaded mine, the taste of spring, love and the hot chocolate that he drank after dinner on my lips. I felt a strong hand on my hair, his fingers tender, another on my neck, his touch heartbreakingly soft. My arms went around his neck, my fingers running through his thick head of hair.
His lips moved over mine gently, his tongue dancing on the edge of my lips. I made a sound in the back of my throat before clutching his shirt, pulling him as close as he could possibly get. In one second, the softness with which he was kissing me transformed into a barely restrained control, his heart beating against my chest just as fast as mine was.
I felt out of breath, as if I'd been running and running and running. The scent of him was all around me, and I felt my knees go weak.
If he was trying to convince me of how he felt with this kiss, then I was thoroughly convinced. If he kept kissing me like this, I thought a bit dizzily, then I don't even care if he ever spoke again.
Just as I thought my legs were going to buckle from under me, he pulled away and opened his eyes, his finger tracing a line over my cheek.
"Just because I don't tell you how much I love you, doesn't mean that I don't," he said, his voice husky. "Just because I don't touch you all the time and demand that you do the same doesn't mean that I don't want to."
I nodded, struggled to find the words.
"You…" he said softly, his hand tightening over my hip, "are everything to me. I waited for you for so long… do you think I am going to do anything to mess this up? You are everything to me. As precious as my family. As loved as anyone could possibly be.”
I could only stare at him as a small smile formed on his lips, lips that, until just a few minutes ago, had fit perfectly with mine.
"I didn't say anything about your skirt because I didn't think it would be gentlemanly. You want me to tell you you're beautiful? I'm not going to keep saying obvious things. That's not the only reason why I love you."
I looked at his eyes and was struck by the honesty that I saw in them. He may not say much most of the time, but when he does… my heart fluttered, reminded me how much I loved this man.
I caught something on the corner of my eye and gazed around to see Jung Bong Oppa and Man Ok standing not too far from us, identical expressions of surprise on their faces. There were others too, bystanders, staring at us agape.
"Uhmm, jagiya," I said, suddenly self-conscious. "You can let me go now."
He did as I asked, picking up my hand and resuming walking as if he didn't just turn my insides to mush.
He grinned at me. "Was that clear enough for you?" He asked. "I don't want you getting confused and getting ideas in that ugly head of yours."
I bit my automatic sarcastic reply and decided to give him a pass… this time. I knew better now than to jump conclusions.
"Yeah," I said, happier than I've ever been, "I love you, too."
Jung Bong Hyung practically skipped up the steps to our house and Deok Sun and I stood by the bottom of the steps, reluctant to part.
The kiss we shared in the middle of the street still danced in my mind, and I had to force myself to think of something else as I looked at her face. The light from our house played over her features, and I felt my heart slow as I looked at her.
She looked luminous.
I was humbled by the fact that it took so little to make her smile. And how even now, even with having known her for so many years, how there was so much about her that I didn't quite understand.
She played with the hand that was holding hers captive, her graceful fingers running over my palm. She kept looking at our hands together, her mouth in a small smile.
"Are you that happy?" I asked, trying to stop myself from taking her in my arms.
"Yeah," she answered. "I'm really happy right now."
"Me, too." I knew that if I didn't let her go back to her house now that I wouldn't be able to at all. I might have tried to find any excuse to keep her with me. "Don't you have to go in?" I asked her. "You have a flight in the morning, right?"
I didn't mention that I had to be awake in a couple of hours to drive back to Sacheon, that I had driven here tonight specifically because I knew that she was coming home.
I didn't need to.
She nodded, her face sobering. "I won't be back until the weekend," she said. "I hate back to back international flights."
"That's okay," I reassured her. "I'll call you."
"I'll miss you," she said, her voice soft.
I was just about to lean down and engulf her in one last hug before letting her go when the front door to our house opened and out came Appa, a dish of food for the dog in his hand. He brightened when he saw Deok Sun and assumed his position.
"Aigoo, Sung Sajang!" He said loudly, his arm shooting in a straight line against his head.
As if on cue, Deok Sun broke away from me and ran towards my father. "Aigoo, Kim Sajang."
I watched as they went through the routine, Deok Sun just as enthusiastic as my father was. There was a time when I might have found this whole thing confounding, but now… I smiled as I watched them, pride mingling with affection for both my father and my woman.
Just as the small things never failed to make Deok Sun happy, it seemed that she didn't hesitate one bit to do the same for someone else.
I wasn't lying when I said that I didn't just love her for her looks. Her kind heart, her easy personality, her willingness to put herself out there regardless of the consequence… all these things made up the reasons why Deok Sun was the only one for me. As she always had been.
Her acceptance of my family was just the icing on the cake.
She winked at me as she finished her routine with my father, her smile widening when she saw the smile on my face, very much like it did back in the day.
There might be lots of things I don't always do quite right, things I don't always say quite right, but these were not some of them. The first: I wasn't lying when I said I knew exactly how lucky I was. And the second: falling in love with her was the best decision I ever made.
Jung Hwan and I sat next to each other, watching a movie in his new apartment in Sacheon. I looked around distractedly as the music from "Dirty Dancing" played in the background.
He looked as if he was focusing on the film though we'd seen this so many times since our teenage years. The way he looked right now no one would even guess that I had to almost twist his arm just to get him to agree to it.
His apartment was small and sparse, efficient and neat… a perfect reflection of the man I loved. Even his refrigerator was so tidy it was almost maddening. The only touches of softness were pictures of us scattered on every flat surface all over the place, coupled with pictures of our friends and his family.
I wondered what I could buy to bring myself into this place. I was still thinking about this when Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey came onscreen, dancing together, with not an inch between them.
"How can two people dance that close?" I asked out loud, more to myself than to him.
I stole a glance at Jung Hwan and saw that his eyes were still intent on the film. He shifted his weight on the couch until he was a few inches away from me. There was color high on his cheeks, his eyes averted.
The way he looked now sparked a memory: the one of us during the night of the retreat, stuck in an alley, our bodies pressed closely together. I had thought then that he must have been uncomfortable and that was why he was avoiding my gaze, but why did he look that way now?
An idea formed in my head and I tried to push it away, trying to tell myself that Jung Hwan didn't like me then. But then again, had he not confessed since that he did?
If that was the case, could it be that…
The thought left me blushing. I knew I felt something back then! Deciding to ask him directly (knowing that Jung Hwan was actually quite a lousy liar), I spoke before I lost my nerve.
"Hmm?" His voice came out in a croak and I almost laughed. What the heck was he? Sixteen again?
"That night… at the alley…"
"You know what alley," I said. "When we were stuck together and couldn't move…" I let my words trail with the hope that he would look at me but the man remained stubbornly adamant about not doing so. "Something was pressing against me."
"I don't think so," he said, not quite convincing to my ears.
"Really?" I asked. "Because I really think that you were ha…"
"I'm sure you're mistaken," he replied, clearing his throat.
"Really?" I repeated, inching myself closer to him.
"What are you doing?" He asked, sounding nervous all of a sudden.
"Testing a theory," I said, leaning myself closer him as he leaned away. Unluckily for him and luckily for me, there was only so much distance he could do before he was practically parallel on the couch.
I silently rejoiced. He can't run away now. My chest against his, he blinked at me but didn't try to push me off.
"What…” he stammered, "what theory was that?"
I smiled at him. "The theory that my close proximity does things to you," I answered. "That it did, then, too."
He didn't give me an answer and I relaxed my weight against him, letting my body melt into his. He stiffened under me, tried to get some distance and I giggled.
I was right.
I only just had enough time to marvel at the thought before I found myself under him instead. He had moved so quickly I didn't even have time to brace myself.
"Well?" He asked, his eyes taking me in.
"Was your theory right?"
I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him down until nothing but air separated our bodies. "Let’s see if we could prove it further."
I straightened my uniform and took off my hat, tried to stand a little straighter. I smoothed a hand over my hair, and took a deep breath.
I had just lifted my hand to knock on the door to Deok Sun's parents' house when the door flew open and No Eul came out, his face looking at me in surprise.
"No Eul-ah," I greeted.
"Unnie isn't home," he said, looking behind him as he closed the door. "She won't be back until next week."
I nodded, tried to look behind him. "I know," I said. "Are your parents home?"
He didn't respond right away, looking at me in confusion. "They are, but why…" He smiled, relief flooding his face, as if in understanding. He pushed the door back open. "Omma! Appa! There's someone here to see you!"
I bent down to pick up the basket I had placed next to the door, and by the time I rose, Deok Sun's Omma and Appa were standing behind No Eul, both of them regarding me with a mixture of bafflement and joy.
"Jung Hwan-ah!" Deok Sun's mother spoke first. "Deok Sun isn't here."
I smiled sheepishly. "I know," I said, feeling as if this conversation had already taken place. "I came to speak to you both."
Deok Sun's Appa nodded, before opening the door wide. "Come in, come in," he said, shoving No Eul out the door.
"But, Appa," he protested. "I want to st…"
"Just a few minutes ago you said you were going out!" Deok Sun's Appa frowned at his son before smiling again at me. "Don't mind him, Jung Hwan-ah. Come on in."
No Eul was still complaining when I entered their house, and I took my shoes off before walking to the main room. Deok Sun's parents sat themselves down warily in front of me, eyeing the basket I had brought.
"Deok Sun mentioned how much you loved blood clams," I said, explaining, "and since I was in Sacheon, I brought you some. There's some fresh fish and meat in there, too."
Deok Sun's Omma took the basket to the kitchen and I waited for her to come back, meanwhile trying not to let Deok Sun's Appa intimidate me. When finally she was once again seated, I cleared my throat, and then sat on my knees.
"Omonim," I started, all of a sudden nervous. I only planned on doing this once, and the magnitude of the moment of this moment. "Abonim."
They both raised their eyebrows expectantly, as if they knew what I would say next.
"I would like to ask your permission to marry Deok Sun."
There was a pregnant silence before Deok Sun's Omma erupted in joy, clapping her hands. Deok Sun's Appa, though a bit more reserved, broke out in a grin that stretched from ear to ear, his dimple creasing his cheek.
"You're not kidding, right?" He asked.
I shook my head no. "I've been thinking about it a long time, and I knew I could never marry her without your blessing," I said.
"Deok Sun is very soft hearted," Deok Sun's Omma said. "And she's not very smart, but she's a good person."
"She is smart," I corrected her. "Maybe not book smart but in the ways that do matter. And she's kind. I," I coughed, "I love her very much. I'll make her happy, even if it's the only thing that I do."
Deok Sun's Omma fixed me with a thorough look, as if assessing how serious I was and I bowed my head.
"Her Unnie isn't married yet," Deok Sun's Appa said quietly.
"I could wait," I said. "Until Bora Noona's married. It would take that long to figure out where we would live anyway. As you know, I'm still serving at the base in Sacheon."
"That's a long way away from us," Deok Sun's Omma said, her tone a little sad.
"I know how important it is to Deok Sun to stay close to her family," I told them both, "which is why I already put in a transfer to Osan. It's closer to Seoul, so you wouldn't have to be without her too often."
Deok Sun's Omma started tearing and her husband placed a comforting arm around her.
"I'm so happy," she said, dabbing her tears.
"Does that mean you approve?" I asked, not wanting to count my eggs before they hatch and start celebrating before I received their blessing.
Deok Sun's Appa nodded solemnly. "I think I speak for both of us when I say that you have our permission."
I released a sigh of relief. One question down and another question to go. Inside my pocket another ring sat, one that was as important as the other ring I once wanted to give her but didn't until much later. Until it was almost too late.
That's not going to happen this time. The single greatest gift that Deok Sun gave when she decided on me was her unending faith, her willingness to give me another chance, time and time again, and the benefit of her doubt.
This time, I won't fail her. I will make up for those lost years for the rest of my life, forever thankful that she chose me.
"Abonim," I said suddenly and Deok Sun's Appa looked at me. "Can I ask another question?"
I sat in our living room, the mountain of food in front of me failing to whet my appetite.
"I said I didn't want to celebrate Unnie's birthday with mine," I complained. "Didn't I tell you this years ago? We were born three days apart!"
Unnie glowered at me. "What's the point of having two celebrations when our birthdays are so close together? Especially now that neither of us is barely home?"
"That's easy for you to say," I mumbled under my breath, knowing that she and Sun Woo celebrated her birthday just a few days ago.
"That's right." Appa frowned at me across the table. "You're so petty."
"I'm not petty."
"You're in a bad mood, Noona," No Eul said, helping himself to a generous portion of galbi. He placed a whole fish, one from the mountain in front of us, on his plate and licked his lips. "I don't know why, when there's so much food around."
"I'm not in a bad mood," I argued. "I'm just mad that you people always ignore what I say."
Technically Noona's birthday had already passed and today was actually my birthday. Even as I protested I knew I was being unfair. My bad mood wasn't so much about the joint celebration (though in the past it had been,) but the fact that on my birthday, my boyfriend was nowhere to be found. Nor any of my friends.
Sun Woo was doing an overnight shift at the hospital. Dong Ryong was also working and Taek was abroad on another baduk tournament.
And Jung Hwan… I sighed. Jung Hwan said that he had some flying exercises at the base and couldn't leave, promising to come up next week.
I knew it was unavoidable, but still… next week was no longer my birthday.
Omma was putting some food on a plate just as I took a reluctant bite of fish, following it up with a spoonful of rice so large it almost didn't fit in my mouth. I was still chewing when my mother spoke.
"Deok Sun-ah," she said. "Go bring this across the street to Sun Woo's Omma's house."
"WHAT?" I asked indignantly. "I haven't even finished eating! Send No Eul."
My mother clucked her tongue at me. "Sun Woo is your friend. You do it."
"Sun Woo is her boyfriend," I said, pointing at my sister. "Why can't she bring it?"
"I don't want to," my sister said, looking at her plate.
"And I do?" I cried out. "We haven't even had cake yet!"
"We'll have cake when you come back," Appa said, his face softening and I wondered at the expression in his eyes. Within a second it was gone and I was convinced I must have imagined it. For a second he looked as if he was tearing up.
It wasn't that serious. Feeling guilty I stood up, already in my pajamas, and took the plate that my mother prepared.
"Don't eat the cake until I get back," I called out as I slipped my feet into my sneakers and marched out the door.
I ran up the stairs and noted curiously that Jung Hwan's parents’ house was dark. I slowed my pace, wondering where they were. Usually at this time everyone was home.
I opened the gate and almost dropped the plate I was holding. Jung Hwan was sitting on the platform outside our house, a lit cake in front of him.
She looked so surprised I thought she would pass out.
I stood up and took the plate from her hands before she dropped it. She remained silent as I led her towards the wooden platform, where her favorite cake was waiting for her.
As soon as I sat her down she looked at me, her features stunned. "I don't understand," she began, "I thought you weren't coming home?"
"I'm sorry I'm late," I said. "But I made it just in time."
She may just think that I was referring to tonight, but little did she know that I was referring to all our lives. It seemed like I was always one step behind, but no longer. We were both finally side by side. Just as we will always be.
"I would have found a way to come home tonight, no matter what.”
"But you said…"
"I know what I said." I slid the cake until it was right in front of her. "I also know how much you hated that you never got to celebrate your birthday by yourself."
"How did you know?" She asked, her voice small.
"Your Appa told me," I answered. "He told me how much you hated your birthday because you never felt like it was just yours. I wanted to give you something to be happy about today."
She smiled and my heart shifted and squeezed. She stared at the cake in wonderment, her eyes glistening. "Jung Hwan-ah…"
"Well?" I said. "Do you want me to sing? I might sound bad but I'll give it my best shot."
I sang softly, words only meant for her and me, and watched as her smile grew. It was then that I vowed to keep her looking like this… to remember this moment in my memory for the rest of our lives.
"Make a wish," I urged after I finished. She closed her eyes slowly, her forehead lined in concentration.
When she opened them again she leaned across the cake and kissed my lips, hers pillow soft against mine.
"Deok Sun-ah," I said as she pulled away. She dipped a finger in the icing and licked it off, oblivious to my apprehension.
"Hmm?" I tried to calm my racing heartbeat, wondered if I will be able to do this right. "Did you want to say something?"
"What?" She asked, concern marring her features. I placed my hand in my pocket, touched the box that was there.
I was still trying to find the right words when it seemed she came to a conclusion she didn't like and now appeared as if she was about to cry.
"Oh my God," she said. "Are you breaking up with me?"
"What?" Trust Deok Sun to arrive at the worst possible conclusion. "Why would you think that?"
"I knew it!" She exclaimed. "When you said that you were busy and then you show up. That's not even like you. You're breaking up with me!"
How did I mess this up so badly? One minute she was so happy and now she looked like she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
"I'm not breaking up with…"
"Of course you are," she said, sniffling, my words falling on deaf ears. She began to cry and I was so panicked for a second I didn't know what to do. "Why else would you be nervous and looking like you're about to throw up? I can't believe you would break up with me on my birthday. I can't believe that you…"
She was still speaking, saying a lot of things that made no damn sense. I realized that the only way to shut her up once and for all was to just ask. She would never calm down otherwise.
I pulled the box out and opened it even as she continued with her tear-filled monologue. "Marry me."
"I don't know why you would do this," she continued, my words not registering. Then, she stopped. Hiccuped. "What?" She asked. "What did you say?"
I slid the ring towards her, the diamond blinking in the light. "Marry me."
"You…" She paused, as if not believing her ears. "You weren't breaking up with me?"
"No," I answered. "I was trying to ask you to marry me. Apparently I wasn’t very clear.”
She fell silent, as if not knowing now how to respond. It made me even more nervous.
"I don't have a lot," I said, my voice lowering. "In fact I don't have much, but everything I have is yours."
Her mouth was opening and closing like a goldfish, her eyes still tear streaked.
"I'll make you happy," I said. "I'll find ways to make you smile every day, I swear it. I'll fight with you but I'll let you win every time." I coughed. "Well, maybe just most times." She continued to say nothing and I found myself doing what I've never done before. I started blabbing. "You might get aggravated with me sometimes, maybe even angry, but I'll always apologize. Maybe I'll say things I don't mean and I can't promise that I won't be grumpy at times, but…"
"Jung Hwan-ah," she interrupted.
"You know what I wished for?" I shook my head and she smiled. "That you and I be together forever. Just as we are now." She took a deep breath and I saw that she was still wearing the chain that held my ring. "We're not perfect but we're happy. We're us, and that's enough for me. I love you as you are and you love me as I am… no pretense and no lies. How many people can say they have someone who loves them just the way they are?"
I hazarded a guess. "Not many?"
I looked at the ring, still sitting on the platform. "You still haven't given me an answer."
"Haven't you been listening?" She sounded so frustrated.
"I don't know," I said, genuinely confused. "You were happy and you were crying and then you're happy. Forgive me, jagiya. I'm only a man. I need to be told clearly."
She sighed at me then held out her hand. "Ask me again."
"Ask me again," she said, pointedly looking at her outstretched hand.
I picked up the ring and looked into her laughing eyes. "Marry me?"
As soon as she said yes, I wanted to shout out a whoop of relief. It took everything in me to remind myself that I was Kim Jung Hwan and that I wasn't one to show my feelings.
She grabbed me to her as soon as I slipped the ring into her finger and gave me noisy kisses over my face before stopping as she was about to graze my lips.
"She said yes!" I heard my Omma yell as she exited Sun Woo's house, followed by all of Jung Hwan's family and Sun Woo, Taek, Jin Joo and their parents.
"Oh, thank God," Dong Ryong said as he came out of his house. His father and mother were behind him, smiling happily.
My family opened the gate and filed out, my sister wiping what looked like tears from her eyes and going straight to stand on Sun Woo's side.
"That was the most painful proposal I have ever seen," Sun Woo joked.
"You guys were here the whole time?" Deok Sun asked.
"Of course," Taek said. "We wouldn't have missed this for the world."
Before I could even embrace Deok Sun fully, my mother beat me to it. Wrapping her arms around her, I could barely hear the words she whispered in her ears.
"You've made us the happiest parents, Deok Sun-ah," Omma said, her voice tight with emotion. She sent me an affectionate glance. "He's a handful but he's not so bad." I was about to object when she continued. "Welcome to the family."
"So we'll do this interview as if you don't know me," my high school friend Ja Hyun said as she fixed the camera. I straightened my black sweater as she fiddled with the lenses, amazed that for someone who once only dreamt of being a hairstylist, she somehow managed to get the most glamorous job amongst all of us.
When she called me a while back asking for a favor, I never thought it would involve giving an interview on screen. As one of the top PDs for one of the channels in Korea, she was doing a special on dating and marriage.
"And who," she had said, "would be a better interviewee than you and your husband? You have been married almost twenty years."
I almost busted a gut laughing, just imagining how cross Jung Hwan will be. Though he has not been in the military in years, he was still the same Jung Hwan that I have always known, meaning, that he doesn't warm up to strangers that easily.
"Are you sure your husband is coming?" Ja Hyun asked. "I can't do this interview with just you."
"Yah…" I answered. "I told you he would come." Though he mumbled and grumbled before he left for work this morning, I knew that my husband will do just as I ask. Because he always has. He may not be the most gracious person about having to do it (some things never change,) but he'll still do it because I asked.
“Where are the kids?"
"My Omma and Omonim are watching them through tomorrow night," I answered. "Jung Hwan and I are spending some quality time after this."
I smiled and my eyes drifted to the family picture in front of me, where Jung Hwan and I were surrounded by our two boys and daughter. Our first son, almost fourteen years old now, reminds me so much of Jung Hwan when he was a kid, all rebel without a cause and staying in his room, listening to music. Our second son, eleven years old, was a bit more like both our brothers; generous like Jung Bong Oppa and extroverted like No Eul. Our seven year old daughter… was probably the combination of every woman that Jung Hwan has in his life. Soo Hyun had the fiery personality of Jung Hwan's mother, my mother's kind nature, and my aegyo. But she had inherited something else: her father's mind… a fact that I am eternally grateful for, since the whole reason she was named thus was to avoid the misfortune of having a name that would give her my lack of talent for studying.
I've been very lucky to have been able to do a career I liked until I chose not to anymore, with our growing children. And my husband… my husband left the military just as we were expecting our second kid and began a career in commercial flight, giving him a bit more flexibility and allowing our whole family to move back to Seoul, just minutes away from mine and his parents' houses.
I sighed inwardly, immensely proud of him. I always knew that he would do the right thing. I could never stay angry at him because he does things like this.
"Shall we begin?" Ja Hyun asked, straightening her spine and stretching before plopping herself down on a stool next to the camera.
"When did you first meet your husband?"
I had my head down, my face hidden behind my hair. I thought that Ja Hyun asked a question, but didn't quite hear it, and so I lifted my head. "What was your question again?"
"When did you first meet your husband?"
"Oh," I said sheepishly, then thought about it. "When we first met…" Ja Hyun nodded, urging me to continue. "I'm sorry. When I was young I inhaled too much carbon monoxide." I took a deep breath. "Actually it's been a couple of decades since we met," I answered, "We grew up on the same street, but I never imagined that I'd end up marrying him." Ja Hyun smiled and I kept on speaking. "I think I went crazy for a minute or something. Honestly, I inhaled the most carbon monoxide in Ssangmundong. It was constant… I probably inhaled it for twenty years straight. I think something happened to my head because of that." I wrapped my cardigan closer around me. "That's the only explanation." I looked at her pointedly. "My husband got lucky. Where else would he have found such a pretty wife?"
"And cut…" Ja Hyun motioned with her hands.
"How was that?" I asked. "Was I too honest?"
She chuckled. "No," she responded. "It's fine. People who watch these documentaries love that. You with your bubbly self, your husband all intense and grouchy. It's perfect material for television."
"You think so?" I asked and she nodded. "Jung Hwan will love being described as intense." I got up from the couch and looked at my phone just as a text came through. As expected, my husband, asking me if I wanted coffee. I sent a quick answer, amazed at the fact that so many years later, Jung Hwan still would rather that people think of him as this distant, unapproachable man when he was really the opposite. Even after seventeen years of marriage, he still never fails to surprise me.
"Are we going to film the next part?" Ja Hyun asked me. "Are you ready?"
"Nah," I said. "Let’s wait for my husband.”