"What is this?" Eomma demands. "What else have you been hiding?"
"Why didn't you tell us?" Appa's eyes widen behind his glasses.
"Is this why you only got into one medical school?" Eomma asks.
"No! Of course not!" God knows I'd thrown body and soul into my applications and interviews, knowing how important they were to my family. But even though University of Arizona's program ranks higher than Phoenix's, Eomma and Appa blamed my Bs in biology when I didn't get into a bunch of places I applied. "How did you get this?"
"A woman called asking if you were accepting," Eomma says through clenched teeth. I imagine the explosion on the phone, then the frantic search of my room. Eomma shakes my letter as if it's crawling with red ants. "There's no future in dancing! You want to live like Ellie when you're old? You want us to live like that?"
Ellie. Eomma's favorite object lesson from church, who comes in for free senior lunches with her lipstick as crooked as though a toddler crayoned it on, and warbles about her days with the Cleveland Ballet.
Appa's face is as stunned as if I'd taken out a gun and shot him in the chest. "Did you tell UofA?"
"Of course not," I say, and Appa's shoulders relax. "I haven't said anything to anyone!"
But I can read the thought bubble that hovers over Megan's head:
Just tell them what you want. They can't keep treating you like an infant.
"You think Appa wanted to push an orderly cart all these years?" Eomma demands. "He did it to put food on our table." Because the state licensure board wouldn't honor his medical degree from Korea without him going through a residency he couldn't afford with a wife and baby on the way. Because this world crushes all our dreams. I know; God, I know. This time, she doesn't add what she often does: But it's worth it. You got to grow up in America. You'll have opportunities we can't even dream of.
And grown up I have, knowing that it falls to me, as the elder child, to earn back the cost of two lives.
But why did you let me dance when I was little? I want to cry. Why give me honey when you knew my future was diabetic? Why let in to fuse with muscles and seep in under every square inch of skin?
"You've worked so hard," Appa murmurs. He means for med school. But I can't help rubbing the swollen blisters on my palms.
Overhead, storm clouds have turned the sky to ashes.
"Tisch-" I can barely get my words out. "I applied on a whim. I didn't even get in at first. It wasn't serious-"
"Then you don't" -Eomma crumples my letter into a ball- "need this."
She could have gone pro with that shot. My letter sails into the dumpster.
"That's mine!" I scream.
I fly forward and grab the rusty edge. Blisters burst as I heave upward-but my shoes slip, it's too high, too choked with moldering garbage to salvage my heart not pulsing on the other side of this metal wall-then Eomma grabs the back of my leotard and pulls me off and clangs the lid shut with a whoosh of rotting air.
"What is wrong with you?" she cries.
My shoulders shake. I feel cold. So cold, despite the June humidity. Nick's backed up against his car. Wendy clings to our flags. I wish they were anywhere but here. Wendy's brown eyes plead: tell them tell them tell them . . .
I fight to steady my voice. "I just need to dance next weekend in the parade." No need to tell them about the scholarship audition, not until I win it. "I'll study bio between practices. I'll be ready for med school. I promise."
"Suzy-" Eomma protests, but I shake my head at her. We can' afford Tisch. That scholarship is my only chance and until I win it, there's no point telling Eomma and Appa anything.
Eomma and Appa exchange a look I don't like.
"Not just biology," Eomma says stiffly. "Korean."
"Korean?" This must be what that Korean printout was about, but seriously? Saturday morning Korean school has been torture: a thirty-minute drive to affordable classes in Pima, copying characters by the hundreds into symbols, reciting ancient poems without understanding a word. "I dropped out of Korean school in second grade." After my teacher complained I had the fluency of a two-year-old, and the shame got too much for even my parents to bear. No way do I have time for Korean this summer.
But somewhere in the recesses of my mind, an alarm bell begins to clang.
"I was trying to tell you." Eomma pulls another piece of paper, folded into quarters, from her pocket. Glances at my friends. Later, she'll regret her outburst in front of them, but it's too late now. "Your father and I feel it's time you learn your culture. We got you into a program. In Seoul."
My parents have always talked about taking us to visit Busan, the province in southeast Korea where they were born, and met in college. They left after Appa finished med school. But we've never had the money to go. Family hasn't been a draw either. Eomma's parents passed away before I was born, and Appa's four years after.
All I know about Korea is that it's a peninsula off the branch of Russia and China, and my uncle Eric, married to Emma's sister in Vancouver, was both there. She might as well have announced we're blasting off to the moon. We can't afford a trip there, not with my tuition ahead, and Sihyeon's on the horizon.
"It's a good opportunity." Appa removes a cap, suddenly earnest. "You'll learn hanja-traditional characters."
I barely know what he means. "I can't take off for a week-"
"Eight weeks," Eomma says. "It starts this weekend."
"This . . . this weekend?"
She nods. "Sunday."
"I'm not going!" I rage. "I got into University of Arizona! I did everything you asked. I haven't done anything wrong!"
"Wrong? This isn't a punishment." To my surprise, Eomma's near tears herself. "Aunty Lily said the program's very good. Lots of young people enjoy it. And your ticket is so expensive. No refund!"
"Wait," I cry. "You bought a ticket already?"
"I sold my black pearl necklace!"
Her black pearl necklace.
The present from her father, who died when she was fifteen, younger than I am now. How many times have I seen her bring the necklace out on his death anniversary, polish the parels with a scrap of red silk? She's told the story so often, how halabeoji brought it back for her from a failed business trip to Hong Kong.
And in Eomma's necklace is the echo of their every other sacrifice-her slippers scuffling the hallway as she folds laundry, covering my chores while I studied into the night; the scar where she cut her finger chopping black chickens to nourish me during finals; Appa chauffeuring me to my clinic internship; all their worries over my med school applications.
Wendy clutches Nick's hand.
Tell them tell them tell them . . .
A war rages in my heart. That guilt that comes with Mother's Day, when I can't feel as grateful as I should. No even close.
It's one thing to dance around the little controls Eomma exerts on my life. Quite another to shed a hard-fought-for future of financial security and respect for our family. My parents would slit their throats for my happiness, and in return, my future is their future.
I should have known better than to let myself get swept away.
My shoulders slump. I can't even meet Wendy's eyes.
"I'll need to find my passport," I say, then head for the car, leaving my heart in the dumpster, gasping like a dying fish.