My heart is a falling leaf.
Please let me in your garden to stay briefly.
The night was silent enough for Seulgi to hear the ticking clock. After tossing and turning for a while, she sits up with a defeated sigh.
This has been going on for hours. Her insides are burning because of Joohyun that she can't even fall asleep.
Joohyun didn't say anything on their way back home. And Seulgi was too busy acknowledging the fact that Joohyun's hands were wrapped around her arm holding the umbrella.
Even though Seulgi wasn't afraid of the water anymore, she felt safe. Unlike her younger days when she was terrified of rainy days. Summer had been her least favorite season ever since.
But now it's different. Joohyun is making it different.
Seulgi finds herself unconsciously touching her lips, tracing her fingers on her dry lips as she struggles to remember her first kiss. And then she places a palm over her cheeks(which are getting warmer by seconds), then on her chest where her heart is rapidly beating irregularly. She stares into space for a while, still stunned but feeling sad at the same time.
The clock ticking sounds loud in her ears as the dread sits heavily on her chest. Thinking she is one-second closer to say goodbye to Joohyun who will leave someday.
Is this what love is like? How can it be like this?
It's so different from what she'd imagined. Before she'd even realized, Joohyun rooted deeply in her mundane, almost even useless life.
And yet Joohyun didn't say anything. But Seulgi could tell from that look on her face that she must be struggling too.
But her heart says otherwise, almost confessing in each beat that she misses her even when they're under the same roof.
So Seulgi furiously shakes her head. This, this feeling will only make things harder. It will make Joohyun feel guilty, maybe even uncomfortable. And if there ever comes a time when Joohyun really does decide to leave, Seulgi has to, just has to say goodbye with a wide smile. Or at least hold back a cry just like when her beloved teacher had to leave her behind.
But at this rate, she isn't sure. She is terrified she might break down in tears because her heart will surely sink if Joohyun ever decides to look back as she leaves.
If only she loves her too.
If only she wants her just as much, if only she doesn't have anywhere else to return to but here, there's nothing more Seulgi will wish for.
Seulgi leans against the wall, resting her head on the cold surface but she still keeps her eyes open.
She's not quite used to being this selfish. She'd never wanted anything much. Just enough field to grow potatoes and apple trees, just enough money to make a living and have three meals a day. All that was enough.
Or at least, she thought it was.
Her thoughts are going nowhere, just scattering around which doesn't ease the longing at all.
So Seulgi forcefully lies down, tightly closes her eyes as she covers herself with the blanket.
But a hushed voice stays in the dark. And leaves a soundless echo of three words.
I love you.
“You look so pretty, mom.”
Joohyun says as she helps Seulgi’s mother put on her hanbok. Seulgi’s mother gives her a small, but pleased smile. Her pale blue and white Hanbok flutters as she slowly turns around and lets Joohyun do her hair.
Joohyun does her best to comb her white hair delicately, enough for Seulgi’s mother to only feel the of the comb but never the tips of it. And Joohyun feels ever so peaceful, her eyes almost closing ready for an afternoon nap.
Then a wave of joy washes over and she can’t help but place her cheek on Seulgi’s mother’s shoulder. And the smell of the field and oil from the kitchen only comfort her more.
Today is a memorial ceremony day for Seulgi’s father. And Seulgi seems to have been busy since early morning even though Joohyun got up at 5 o'clock.
Seulgi had gone off to the marketplace(with huge bags under her eyes) and came back just when Joohyun got out from the shower. Even so, she hadn’t said a word since. So Joohyun could only watch her busily going in and out of the kitchen as she smelled the chicken boiling, the savory smell of rice cakes and sesame seeds. The watermelon floated in the basin near the facet and in the large straw basket, Seulgi is placing Korean pancakes one by one.
Joohyun was having a hard time figuring out if Seulgi is purposely ignoring her or if she’s really that busy.
“Do you think Seulgi is ignoring me, mom?” Joohyun quietly asks, slowly putting down the comb and Seulgi’s mother slightly turns around.
“She is ignoring me, isn’t she?” Joohyun mumbles. And Seulgi’s mother immediately seemed to have noticed the disappointment in her tone.
Joohyun feels a hand wrapped around hers, and when she moves her gaze away from the busy girl, she sees Seulgi’s mother the back of her hand with her other hand.
Her smile is still there. But it seems to have a different meaning but Joohyun can’t figure out what.
Then she points at her daughter as soon as she hears Seulgi standing up, holding a basket to carry it to the kitchen.
Seulgi’s mother pats her hand twice encouragingly, and that was Joohyun’s cue to also hastily stand up.
Joohyun bites her bottom lip as she follows Seulgi from behind.
What is she going to say first?
She never really mentioned that kiss to Seulgi ever since that day. And Seulgi seems to leave early in the morning and then come back late at night. Joohyun swears she spent more time with Post than Seulgi, crouched beside the Jindo dog’s bowl until Seulgi comes back.
She wonders if Seulgi keeps thinking about the kiss too.
She wonders if it’s her first kiss.
And she wonders if she’s okay with it.
But judging by how she’s ignoring her, Joohyun can’t help but worry. Worried that she actually stole this girl’s first kiss.
And very worried that she might not feel the same way, that Joohyun ruined their.. Relationship.
What exactly was their relationship anyway?
Sooner or later they’ll have to talk. So Joohyun pushes down her worries as she counts up to five before entering the kitchen.
“Is there anything I can help?”
Joohyun sees Seulgi’s back flinch in surprise. And it’s Joohyun’s turn to be surprised when Seulgi looks back to give her a brief smile and say :
“It’s all done.”
Seulgi gestures at the dishes of fruits, Korean pancakes, rice cakes, and even a huge dry fish.
“Can you help me carry those?”
We’re gonna get so full today. Seulgi says cheerfully as Joohyun picks up a dish of tangerines and a dish of pink and green rice cakes.
So Joohyun nods in agreement, returning the smile. Feeling somewhat relieved.
Surrounded by the smell of incense, Seulgi places a spoon and a chopstick beside the rice bowl. Then she pours the liquor in a small wooden cup then moves it around the incense burner in a circle three times.
Seulgi’s mother is silently seated behind her and Joohyun watches as Seulgi goes down on one knee to give a deep bow.
As Seulgi bows deep enough for her forehead to reach the floor, she struggles to recall every faint memory of her father. Even the word father sounds strange in her head.
She never really had a father in the first place. He passed away before she was born. Just like some old stories from the Chosun dynasty, her neighbors told her he died while trying to collect a herb in the mountain. He slipped and hit his head hard on one of the rocks. But her neighbors never forgot to mention how happy he looked when her mother was pregnant.
He had gone to the mountain to get her mother one of the rarest herbs for both of them. So Seulgi always imagined him as a kind man who loved her mother and as a hard-working farmer. Maybe that was why Seulgi could never blame her mother for leaving her. Feeling the responsibility weigh on her weak shoulders while trying to bear her husband’s absence. After having a similar experience Seulgi never had the heart to be upset.
“Eat well, father,” Seulgi says as she sits down after bowing. “And please take care of my mother and me.”
Seulgi swallows, feeling Joohyun’s eyes on her.
“And also our new family member too. Please take care of her too.”
Seulgi turns a little to meet Joohyun’s eyes, then points at the table in front of them.
Joohyun carefully sits up, feeling nervous and the silence doesn’t help. But she manages to mimic what Seulgi did earlier. Moving the cup of alcohol around the incense burner, pours the alcohol in the bowl, then deeply bows three times.
And when she stands up, the smoke from the incense burner almost seems like a ghost of Seulgi’s father.
So Joohyun clasps her hands together in prayer, even closing her eyes.
I may not know you, but I know you must be watching me from above.
I’m not sure if you’ll be satisfied with someone like me filling your absence.
You may even feel disgusted by my past, and sometimes I’m not sure if I deserve to breathe.
But I dare ask you to take care of the place I can finally call home. Please accept my hope that I searched for such a long time.
Because I love the girl you let in this world very much.
Please take pity on me, who is so happy by their side. And please protect me as I don’t know what’s going to happen in the near future.
Joohyun searches for Seulgi’s eyes as soon as she opens her eyes. And she somehow sees Seulgi’s father in her expression.
She can even hear a voice telling her :
You don’t need to worry.
“Where are you going? Again?”
Seulgi almost jumps in surprise at the sharp voice.
She turns around and sees Joohyun, her arms folded and a crossed look on her face.
“Um… Downtown.. To buy something.”
Well, it is partly true.
Seulgi is actually very desperate to properly talk to Joohyun. Her heartbeat doesn’t ease at all and it almost hurts, and she isn’t sure how much she can hold on without letting Joohyun notice her blush.
So her plan was to buy something nice for Joohyun, a somewhat bribe to ease the ‘tension’ between them before talking.
And she can’t believe her plan actually got ruined as soon as she started it.
“Buy what?” Joohyun suspiciously asks.
“Dunno.” Seulgi shrugs. “Something nice.”
“Then I’ll go with you.”
“It’s okay,” Seulgi replies a little too quickly. “It won’t take long.”
“I have to make a phone call anyway.” Joohyun insists. “And I’m tired of waiting for you until dark. I’m almost scared I’ll become a dog too.”
So Seulgi has no choice but to walk in awkward silence to the bus station, take a short nap on the bus, then wake up after Joohyun’s light tap on her shoulder(which instantly warms up her insides).
“There’s the phone booth,” Seulgi speaks up, pointing at the old orange phone booth nearby. “I’ll come back here after I’m done.”
Joohyun opens to argue but then closes it, nodding slowly and blankly watches Seulgi hurry off. And a ponderous weight starts to settle down on her chest. Almost like she’s slowly drowning on a quicksand.
She’d meant to make a call ages ago. But she never really had the actual guts to do it.
Now, with the orange telephone booth in front of her, she doesn’t have the heart to ignore the chance either.
So she drags herself in front of the telephone. She pulls out a few coins and takes one more deep breath as the coins land with a loud clunk.
Joohyun dials the number, unconsciously mumbling each number as she does. And when she hears the call being connected, her hand that just punched the numbers curls into a sweaty fist.
Her breath hitches when the receiver picks up.
Joohyun’s lips part but no words are let out, still feeling lost, not even sure if this moment is real.
A voice, much quieter than before, calls out her name. And Joohyun can hear the soft rustle of Joy collecting her bag.
“Irene is that you?”
“...Yes.” Joohyun swallows uneasily, her dry lips before talking.
“How are you? How’s Yerim?”
She then hears a soft snort.
“Of course, I’m fine.”
Joohyun knows that’s half the truth. Joy is the kind of person who mostly says she’s fine when nothing horrible happens. And by ‘something horrible’, it can mean more than what other people think. Always much worse.
“And Yerim got surgery a few days ago.”
Joohyun almost drops the telephone, feeling paralyzed in astonishment.
“Don’t worry, she’s fine. Better actually.” Joy reassures her. “I took care of the bills. She really misses you though.”
“Oh..” Joohyun breathes out. “Thank you, Joy.”
“Where are you though? Are you not coming back?”
“I’m…” Joohyun shakes her head. “I can’t tell you.”
“..I know what happened.” Joy says quietly.
“Are they still..”
“Still trying to find you? You know them better than anyone right?”
Joohyun laughs bitterly, looking down at her white sneakers already a little dirty.
“But I’m glad you sound okay.” Joy says softly. “Is there someone who can help you?”
“..Yes.” Joohyun pauses for a moment.
“I think.. I think she’s very.. Kind.”
Joy stays silent for a while. It takes her a moment to recall what she just heard.
It wasn’t just the word ‘kind’, something in her friend’s voice was.. Different.
Different enough for Joy to wonder if that ‘she’ is actually ‘special’ to Irene.
“Never thought you’d swing that way.” Joy says jokingly and Joohyun smiles to herself even though she still wants to cry.
“Yeah.” Her voice is a little shaky. “Who would have thought.”
“Wherever you are, please be careful. Go somewhere far away if you can. Tell me if you need more money, okay?”
“Okay.” Joohyun croaks, dawning onto her that it’s going to take a long while before she can see Yerim again. “Please take care of Yerim for me. And take care of yourself too.”
Joohyun puts the receiver down, blankly staring at it for a while.
And she feels even the strength holding herself up draining quickly. So Joohyun crouches, hoping Seulgi is still taking her time.
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