As they walked through town square they settled instead on Bungeoppang. The fish-shaped waffle was a delicacy she wasn't able to have back in Washington. As Hongseok exchanged a few dollars for the fish bread, another worker behind the little street cart handed her the treats. She thanked the other woman and waited for Hongseok before handing him his fish and taking a bite.
Soo Young closed her eyes and sighed happily as a burst of flavor filled . It had been such a long time since she'd had one of those and for a second she was transported back in time to when she and her group of friends ran through town square to get to the small cart. They had always made a ruckus everywhere they went.
After swallowing the food in she turned to Hongseok suddenly who was happily munching on his own. She put on her best fake reporter voice and held her dessert to his face as if it was a microphone.
“Nice to meet you. I’m reporter Son with the Pocheon Daily. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me,” Hongseok gave her a funny look but she ignored his ‘are you okay?’ stare and continued, “And can I say that it is an honor to get the chance to interview the Class President of Pocheon High.”
“Oh!” Hongseok breathed, he squared his shoulders and spoke sheepishly into her makeshift microphone, “Uh… it's my pleasure…”
“Why don't we start with an easy question, to help our readers get to know you better?” They walked down the sidewalk as she spoke, “Tell us about your aspirations. I hear that despite only being a junior, you're already looking at colleges. What do you plan to major in?”
“Well my mom wants me to become a neurosurgeon like her, but my dad wants me to become a cardiologist like him.”
They reached a bench and he motioned for them to sit down. The sun was high above in the sky but the large oak behind the bench shaded them from the worst of the heat.
Soo Young sneaked a bite of her fish before continue to question him, “And what do you want?” she asked around a mouthful of red bean paste. She reached out again, holding the bread a few inches away from his mouth in a pretend microphone.
“Well, I have two older siblings who have both followed in my parents' footsteps. My sister is a cardiologist while my brother is a neurosurgeon. And honestly? I want to be a philanthropist.”
“Really? How do you go from doctor to benefactor?”
“It's random, but the thing is… my parents adopted me shortly after I was born. My biological mother died during childbirth and she was a jane doe so no one ever figured out who my father was. When my parents took me in they were in their late forties and both their kids had already gone off to college. Even though their days of parenting were over they still took me in. But they gave me more than just a home. They gave me love, people to depend on, stability. I don't only want to help those in need on a financial base but I’d like to be hope for someone. The same hope that my family has been to me.”
Soo Young remembered when they were kids, how the bullies at school would torment him because his parents were old enough to be his grandparents. Hongseok had confided in the group not long after, telling them that his real parents were gone and that he had been adopted. It had been a surprise to them then and she had almost forgotten this. But it made sense, Hongseok’s parents were in their sixties now and he had a successful older brother and sister in their forties. It made sense now why he devoted so much time to studying and school. He didn't want to disappoint the people who gave him a family and a second chance.
“Wow, that's a really sweet answer.”
Soo Young was still holding her fish bread to his face and he ducked down and took a bite, “Thanks.” he said, chuckling at the complete look of betrayal on her face. She took it back and finished it before he could even think of taking another bite.
“Moving right along… let's talk about the school year ahead. What are you looking forward to the most?”
“Good question…” He leaned his back against the back of the bench and pursed his lips as he thought, “I’d say this year what I'm most looking forward to is homecoming.”
“Really?” Soo Young made a face.
Hongseok laughed, the sound was unique and made her smile. It sounded like he was inhaling in short bursts every time he laughed.
“This is the first year the student council has an actual budget, so we can afford to hire a decent DJ.”
“Now that we’re on the subject how is the planning going?” She asked, lifting her right leg and turning so that she was facing him.
“I don't know, actually.”
“I thought you were on the student committee?”
“I am, but once the actual planning starts, the cheerleaders tend to take over. Which I am more than okay with.”
“So… Bae Irene is planning homecoming?” Soo Young couldn't for one second believe that the she-devil would allow anyone to throw decisions around about something as big as homecoming. She could bet that Irene had put herself in charge of all the planning.
“Yeah, do you know her?”
“I've seen her in passing. Actually, I heard you two were together...” Soo Young glanced at him hoping to find a hint, any sort of shame or fear. She couldn't believe that such a decent guy was with someone as evil as Irene. Surely he was being blackmailed.
“We are,” He said with a smile, “I should introduce the two of you, she's a bit strong-willed but she's a cool person once you get to know her.”
“Oh, I bet she is,” she mumbled sarcastically, “Anyways, last question. Why do you think you should have a spot in Harvard's early enrolment next year?”
Hongseok was quiet for a moment. He looked out into the town square where a few other people were busily walking about.
“I've done everything I could to make sure my resume stands out. I have the highest GPA in the entire school. I’m the class president, treasurer. My family is a public icon and I volunteer all my free time to both the animal shelter here in town and the nursing home. And I teach music at the elementary every day during my free class,” He turned his head to look at her and she met his soft eyes.
Soo Young could quite literally reach over and pinch his cheeks if she didn't think that would make her look like a lunatic.
“I don't say all of this for recognition but so that you can see how important my dreams of becoming a patron for the needy is. I don't think there was anything I wouldn't do to help someone if they needed me. Early admissions to me means the chance to reach those dreams sooner.”
With a smile, Soo Young reached out and took Hongseoks fish bread from his hand, which had sat untouched during the entire fake interview. She took a bite before saying, “Well, that's just about everything I need for the interview. You can look for it in the stands tomorrow.”
Hongseok laughed, “Thanks, I feel strangely calm about my interview tomorrow.”
She finished the fish before glancing at him solemnly, “Now, there's something else I need to talk to you about.”
Hongseok grew noticeably uncomfortable, “You mean what happened at lunch?”
She nodded. Glancing around the street, Hongseok avoided her gaze, “I mean, look, I don't need it getting around that the class president hears voices… but hypothetically, suppose I did. Then what?”
“Well, hypothetically, a bunch of us are meeting by the fountain to talk about it. Six pm. So are you in?”
Hongseok sighed and scratched the back of his head, he glanced at her and bit his lip before answering, “I’m in. I owe you at least that much for helping just now.”
A weight she hadn't realized she was carrying was lifted off of her shoulders. She really needed the entire group to be there, they needed to figure out what was going on together.
“Great,” she replied, more cheerfully than she'd wanted to sound, “Great,” she replied again more solemnly.
A few hours later, after the sun had fallen behind the line of the school building, Soo Young made her way to the large fountain in the center of town square. The streets were quiet by this time, lit by a long string of fairy lights. There were a few people walking in and out of the local diner, which was usually always full and a few middle schools students throwing a frisbee in the park. Sehyoon, Yerin, and Hongseok were already waiting by the fountain in silence.
After she and Hongseok had parted ways, she made a quick trip to her grandmother's house to make sure the old woman was okay. Yeri had come over and they had chatted for a bit but as the time to meet her old group neared, Soo Young made an excuse to step out for a moment. Yeri barely noticed Soo Young sneak off, too busy paying attention to her grandmother's instructions on how to make her famous sugar cookies.
She greeted the three with a small nod and they greeted her back. A boy and a girl she recognized from the lunchroom--the two who had appeared just as startled by the voices as she--arrived a few minutes later with the girl trailing behind, texting busily.
As the boy greeted the other's he walked up to Soo Young and threw his arms around her in a hug, catching her off guard. He was the same height as her.
“Hey Joy, how's it been? You're looking good!”