My heart is a wanderer.
Please play your piano.
All alone, listening under the moonlight,
I shall get through my night.
It dawns onto Joohyun how time slowly but still passed when Seulgi flips the calendar showing an eight.
The two gradually became used to each other, spending peaceful days together. Making meals together, going to the valley together when the heat is overwhelming. already permeated in each other’s life.
“Fully cooked yolk for you,” Seulgi says as she puts the plate down on the table. “And half-cooked yolk for me!”
Joohyun can’t help but giggle as Seulgi sits down, reaching out for a piece of peach that Joohyun pared this morning.
“Tell me, do you always prefer fully-cooked yolks? Even on ramen?”
What’s changed is Seulgi became the one who’s asking questions. Quite a lot of them.
“You sure ask many questions these days,” Joohyun says teasingly and Seulgi sheepishly shrugs.
“Well, nothing wrong with that, right?”
And Joohyun isn’t sure how to answer that. Seulgi’s questions were at first, quite simple. Maybe even trivial.
What’s your favorite color? Why don’t you like chicken?
But then they started to get more personal.
Are you married? Do you have a boyfriend? What’s your ideal type?
And now Joohyun is worried she might ask the most important question : why did you come here?
But thankfully, Seulgi hasn’t asked. At least not yet. And Joohyun wonders why.
Then after thinking about those several questions, she realizes those more ‘personal’ questions all have the same topic.
She can feel how things changed after their day from the valley. The fondness that settles in one over another by each endearing look, careful hands, and honest gesture.
And Joohyun feels that once again when Seulgi can’t even allow herself to meet Joohyun’s long stare.
She’s as clear as water. Joohyun can so easily see and she can’t help but laugh to herself.
Seems like someone has a crush on her.
“I guess there’s nothing wrong with that,” Joohyun replies, her lips twitching into an amused smile.
Even though she doesn’t feel anything like that, Joohyun finds it adorable how she looks away and clears to break the silence.
She finds it cute when she asks those questions and chatter endlessly, eager to know more.
She finds it all amusing.
“It’s you who stopped asking though,” Seulgi says with a small pout showing slight disappointment.
It’s just a silly crush, Joohyun thinks to herself. And she has no idea why it feels like she’s shoving the fact in her head, but she knows it’s true.
Love is not something trivial or simple anyway.
“Okay, I have one,” Joohyun says, brushing away her thoughts. “Why don’t you use dialects?”
Why, Seulgi asks herself. Then her eyes trail toward the front door. As if the memories are slowly walking in.
“There was a teacher I really liked, who really cared about me.”
Then she smiles a little and Joohyun waits for her to continue while just staring at her in silence.
“I don’t know how to describe her. She was a good person though. She came here from the city just like you. She came here just to teach children from a very small school. It’s funny how I even met her when I didn’t even go to school.”
Seulgi sniffs, her expression not even showing a glimpse of sadness because there’s no use when all of that will forever just be a memory.
“I always liked visiting the school playground in the evening. I remember how I was climbing up the slide for the nth time. And that’s when she saw me.”
But even so, she remembers vividly of their first meeting. How the teacher looked so surprised and Seulgi just stared back at her, halfway up the slide.
“Of course it sparked her interest because she never saw me before even though she teaches all kids my age in this town.”
The teacher had said hello and then asked her name. But Seulgi, feeling a little uneasy because of the way the teacher’s eyes looked so bright, so interested, she’d run away.
“She must have asked about me to the adults because, after a few days, she came to my house out of nowhere. And being young I thought she was pitying me. Her attention was almost even overwhelming because nobody cared that much.”
Seulgi smiles to herself, recalling the memories of her teacher constantly visiting no matter how many times she pushed her away.
“She came to cook dinner with me, sometimes even spent the night whenever I felt too lonely. And it just felt like magic to me. Meeting someone who cares, someone who knows how I feel even though I never said it.”
She meets Joohyun’s eyes.
“I learned how to read and thanks to her, I was able to attend middle school. She was the one who bought that uniform in your room. She even sewed my name on it.”
Seulgi frowns a little, digging up a memory that happened almost sixteen years ago.
“I remember how pretty her bobbed hair was. She liked playing the piano especially. Because of that I asked her if she could teach me.”
Her smile falters, then morphs into a wistful one. Just as naturally as the flowers blossoming.
“But then she had to leave. I still remember how tightly she hugged me and cried, not even noticing that she missed the bus for the third time.”
Seulgi also remembers how she bit the insides of her cheeks to not cry. She patted her teacher’s back, saying over and over that it’s okay, that she’s going to be okay.
She didn’t want to be upset when this was their last moment, not when the person who was crying in her arms was one of the miracles she thought she’d never have.
“..You must miss her a lot..”
Joohyun’s voice falters at the last word, but Seulgi smiles, contrasting with Joohyun’s watery eyes.
“I’m sure she’s happy there. I heard from the neighbors that she got married and has twin sons now.”
Even though she was twenty-six years old now, Seulgi didn’t have the courage to visit her. It felt like she was invading her teacher’s life even though she’s sure her teacher will welcome her nonetheless. But even so, she has her own family now. And as someone who thought of her as her mother, Seulgi didn’t want to ruin it only because she missed her too much. It will end as a temporary visit anyway. She isn’t even sure if her teacher remembers her at all. So Seulgi decides to change the subject.
“Is there anyone you miss?”
And immediately Seulgi regrets asking that question. But before she can apologize or take it back, Joohyun answers almost just as fast, propping her chin on her knees wrapped around her arms.
Seulgi cannot mask the confusion which amuses Joohyun. But her smile seems forlorn as if she misses this ‘Yerim’ very much.
“She doesn’t even know I’m here. And I think by now she must be wondering where I am.”
“Why didn’t you tell her where you are?”
Joohyun squeezes her eyes shut, remembering how hard it was for her to throw her phone in the lake, which contained every picture of Yerim growing up.
“Because I can’t.”
Why not? Seulgi wants to ask but stops, not wanting to make the same mistake twice. The reason must be heavy, something that she can’t even tell someone she misses that much so Seulgi didn’t have the heart to ask what it is.
And the last thing Seulgi wants is to make Joohyun sad. She already seems like she’s about to cry.
So Seulgi can only look at her eyes that don’t meet hers, wishing there is a way to do anything that can make it better, and also wondering if it’s okay to hug her because she wants to so badly.
“I may not be able to see her again.. Ever.”
“I wish I can at least know how she’s doing.. Or better, I hope she is fine without me.”
Joohyun quickly rubs her eyes with the back of her hand, not wanting to cry in front of the girl who’s looking at her without a word. Meanwhile, Seulgi feels helpless, having no idea what she can do. Time runs out quickly as Joohyun stands up a few seconds later, with her eyes still watery as she forces a smile.
“It’s late. We should go to sleep.”
Seulgi had a hard time sleeping that day. Which meant that she woke up late the next day, almost jumping up as soon as she saw the time, seeing that it’s almost 10 o'clock.
She rushes into Joohyun’s room, forgetting to knock as she pushes open the door.
And a chill runs to her spine when she sees that the room is empty. Even her handbag is missing. Just like that day after Joohyun left.
She finds herself immediately panicking, not sure if she should run all the way to the bus station again or search the whole town.
Seulgi shakes her head, her palm pressing her forehead so that she won’t lose her mind.
There’s surely no way Joohyun will leave without telling her, right?
She steadies her breathing, the fear is still there but she decides to wait first. Maybe she needed some alone time. A walk around. A little thinking time.
But the look on Joohyun’s face when she told her about this Yerim still lingers in her mind. What if she realized she must go back? What if she thought a goodbye would be unnecessary because she has to leave anyway?
What if it was only herself that felt this way the whole time?
Seulgi crouches in the empty room, closing her eyes because of the doubt that creeps then paralyzes her.
It takes her a while, but she decides to let that doubt go because she remembers the look Joohyun gave her when she told Joohyun about her teacher. So she tries to keep herself busy, cleaning the house, checking the field, and washing the blueberries that their neighbor gave them.
But even an hour seems like five as she crouches next to Post, the oblivious Jindo dog who is impatiently waiting for his dinner.
Seulgi pulls the bowl in front of him and watches the sun slowly setting, spreading its orange hue on the blue and white sky.
And the more the sky starts to turn orange, the more anxious she gets and the more she loses hope.
Seulgi doesn’t know how many times she had counted up to fifty. But she ends up counting up to fifty again. And she makes up her mind to at least go to the bus station one more time if it gets dark.
The creak of the gate is finally heard when she reaches forty-four, and Seulgi immediately stands up, so abruptly that she almost loses her balance.
And Seulgi figures she must look hilarious, her jaw dropping with her eyes round as Post’s bowl.
But she can’t help it when Joohyun shyly brushes her bobbed hair, twirling strands of it between her fingers awkwardly.
“Do I look okay?”
Seulgi, still speechless, remains frozen. Only Post seems to show his enthusiasm, wagging his tail and scurrying over to Joohyun.
She was never really an adventurer, no matter how reckless she wanted to be, what is there to do when she has barely enough money to buy a meal for herself?
But the moment Seulgi told her that her teacher’s bobbed hair was pretty, her long hair that went down from her shoulders suddenly seemed heavy. Burdensome even.
And after she found herself at the hair salon that afternoon, sitting in front of the mirror while the friendly owner trimmed her hair. With the white fabric around her, Joohyun watched as her dark hair either helplessly fell on the floor or on the pale fabric, and she didn’t feel even a bit of regret.
She saw herself changing, and that brought a smile to her face. It even felt like a new start.
“What… Wh-Why…. How-”
“You were sleeping.. And I kind of wanted this to be a surprise.” Joohyun explains, tilting her head to one side and her bobbed hair brushes against her shoulder. “You don’t like it?”
“I-” Seulgi is about to ask why, but then she realizes it as soon as she opens .
Joohyun looks nothing like her teacher. And honestly, sometimes she has trouble remembering exactly how her teacher looks like. She can only remember her bobbed hair, the gentleness in her voice and smile.
But she can feel her heart beating hard against her ribcage, even tearing up a little because she’d just spent hours thinking if Joohyun didn’t care as much as she did which was all a foolish notion.
“..You look pretty.”
Seulgi says it so quietly, so sincerely that Joohyun doesn’t know what to say. She looks down and then realizes the paper bag she is holding.
Joohyun holds it up, handing it to Seulgi who still seems stunned.
“I know you have trouble sleeping unlike today so.. I wanted to give you this.”
It always bothered her that Seulgi always woke up in the middle of the night whenever she had nightmares. And she would often find Seulgi taking a short nap every day even though it has been over a week that Joohyun no longer had those nightmares.
She always wanted to give something as a thank you to the woman in front of her. So right after getting her haircut, she’d walked around downtown, trying to figure out what gift would be perfect for Seulgi who’s different from her in so many ways.
“..You didn’t have to.” Seulgi finally says as she takes the paper bag and Joohyun waits as she pulls out the gift in the bag.
A candle. Seulgi slowly takes the purple candle, almost cradling it in her palms as the scent of lavender adorns a smile on her face.
Then she looks at Joohyun, looking quite pleased. And touched.
“Nobody really gave me a present before. And it’s not even my birthday.”
Joohyun lets the words sink in, her smile fading a little but soon regains it.
“So does that mean I’m the first?”
Seulgi giggles, still holding the candle close to her heart.
“I guess you are.”
And Joohyun quietly, secretly wishes she’ll be able to give Seulgi a birthday present too.
Anything if that means she can see that smile again.
“I mean, it’s not like we’re sleeping in the same bed right? So..”
Seulgi had knocked on her door that night, holding the candle on her palms as if it can break within seconds or as if it’s the only thing that exists in this world, not a cheap candle you can buy in any market. (Joohyun had to refrain herself from something at that sight, feeling a tug on her stomach.)
And Seulgi had asked her if it was okay to sleep next to her because she wanted to try lighting the candle with her.
“If it’s too much of a bother it’s okay..” Seulgi mumbles but her expression don’t match her words, looking like a rejected puppy as she looks down.
Joohyun doesn’t understand why it’s so hard for her to say yes when she’d slept with several people before. To be brutally honest, she’d done more than just ‘sleep’ with them. So why is this so hard?
Maybe it’s because she’s not drunk at all? She didn’t even think of drinking ever since she started to live here. And the last thing Joohyun wants is to go back to her usual lifestyle.
But it’s Seulgi of all people who are asking for a favor. How can she say no?
Seulgi, who has no idea what Joohyu