The Choi family is always a close family to Park’s. Both families are probably among those ones who stay in the neighbourhood the longest. They are very close that both families took it hard when Mrs. Choi died from cancer five years ago.
Since childhood, Son Jii used to play with their eldest son, Choi Siwon, and her daughter, Choi Soo Young. During weekends, they rode their bikes around the neighbourhood or went together to the nearby grocery store to grab some candies and ice creams.
Not only they are Son Jii’s playmates, but she also had a crush on Siwon for two years until he got herself a girlfriend in high school. He and Son Jii is five years apart. He had moved out of the house for ages ago. As far as Son Jii knows, Siwon is now working abroad in the United States. His status now? He has a girlfriend, not the same one as 10 years ago though.
Soo Young, on the other hand, used to be Son Jii’s best friend. They are at the same age and thus, went to the same high school. It had been a sweet friendship until an unnecessary school drama broke. Son Jii was accused of ratting Soo Young out for cheating and plagiarizing. This caused their classmates to see Soo Young differently-- as if they are the rightest, and the teachers to misjudge her.
To be frank, academically, Soo Young was not as bright as Son Jii. But Son Jii would never do that to her best friend. They never spoke again ever since. Soo Young invested in the rumour too much before she could hear Son Jii’s explanation out. Now Soo Young is studying business in the Netherlands. Luckily, at a different university and different city.
“This is my nephew, Min Ho”, Mr. Choi takes a step back to let Son Jii sees him clearer. They both bow to each other. “I’m Son Jii”, she says confidently. Min Ho only nods and returns to his seat. The others do the same. I guess I need to sit too then, Son Jii thinks and takes a seat beside her mother.
“So, Son Jii. How are you now? Did you just return yesterday?”, Mr. Choi asks her. “I’m doing great, I arrived two days ago. How about you?”
“Oh, you can see yourself. I am still in my best shape, aren’t I?”, Mr. Choi says while flexing his arms childishly. Son Jii replies with a laugh. “What year are you in now? You are taking medical study, right?”, he continues to ask.
“I’m entering my final year. Yes, psychology, to be exact”, she answers. “Oh, really? That sounds great”, Mr. Choi replies. The room is suddenly filled with a strange silence. Son Jii’s father quickly cuts in, “Yes, but she’s taking a proper medical school after. You know, psychology won’t make you a medical doctor”.
Son Jii opens to argue, but her mother’s arm is already on her lap as if signing to not say anything recklessly. Son Jii swallows her words hard and forces a smile to Mr. Choi. On the corner of her eyes, she realizes that Min Ho is staring at her. His eyes are studying her. Son Jii looks back to Min Ho, but Min Ho does not look away right at that instant. He stares at her for another second before looking down to his phone.
“So, how’s Siwon, Mr. Choi?”, Son Jii asks, diverting the conversation. “Well, he’s doing really great. I think he’s going to propose to his girlfriend next year”, Mr. Choi answers.
“Oh, that’s great news! I think they’ve been in a relationship for long now. Are they going to hold the wedding in Korea? Or?”, Mrs. Park barges in. “Nah, the wedding is still later. I don’t think they give it a thought yet”, Mr. Choi chuckles.
Mr. Choi takes his turn to ask Son Jii. “Did you meet up with Soo Young, by any chance?”. “Ah, no”, Son Jii is confused on how to answer the question. The doubt in her words make Min Ho looks up from his phone and again, studying her. The first time is okay, but the second time, he’s making Son Jii uncomfortable.
Guessing from how she answered, Mr. Choi concludes that her daughter and Son Jii are still not talking.
The afternoon passes to dinner time. They have dinner together with the food that the helpers had prepared. Deep inside, Son Jii really wants to get back to her room. But courtesy holds her back.
“He’s here until the summer ends, to accompany me. He needs to go back to Busan”, Mr. Choi states and pats Min Ho’s shoulder. Mr.Choi must be lonely. He looks so happy to have Min Ho around especially now that he lives alone and his children only come home once in a while.
“Ah, you are closing the business for a month?”, Mr. Park asks MinHo in a surprise. “Yes”. “Well, that’s so brave of you”.
MinHoo answers calmly without getting his eyes off of his food, “One gets to live for his own”. Mr. Park replies with a smile. Somehow, Son Jii feels like those words are meant for her. She does not dare to look up to him who is sitting right across her. She also glues her eyes to her almost empty plate.
The clock strikes 8 when the guests are ready to leave. “Son Jii, if you want to come over to my house another time, please do”, Mr. Choi says to Son Jii with his warm smile. Mr. Choi has always been a good man, like a father to Son Jii too. Son Jii nods and waves at them as they leave.
Min Ho only bows to Mr. & Mrs. Park and tails his uncle. He does not give Son Jii even a glance.
The morning after Son Jii wakes up to 15 notifications from Ah Roo. She chuckles at her best friend’s clinginess.
“Son Jii ya~”
“Where are you?”
“You don’t text me since you landed”
“Are you still on the plane?”
And on and on.
Son Jii replies to her:
“Sorry. I’m perfectly fine. Hbu?”
In a few seconds, the message was read and Ah Roo replies:
“That’s all you gotta say?!”
“You know, a cute exchange student is coming in the next semester. You’d like him”
After the message was read, Son Jii receives a call from Ah Roo. She quickly picks up, “What---”
“Ya~ It’s been three days, gosh. You don’t tell me anything, do you?” Ah Roo shouts right in Son Jii’s ear.
“Sorry, my day was full yesterday”, she answers calmly.
“But you could at least text me when you arrive”, Ah Roo adds. There is no need to add fuel to the fire, Son Jii is better silent. “So….”, Ah Roo continues. “Who’s it that you’re talking about?”
Son Jii laughs, “You are calling me for this, aren’t you?”. Ah Roo denies quickly, but she can never lie to Son Jii. “His name is Bogum, Park Bogum. But really, you are out of his league”, Son Jii jokes around.
“Ya~ you! Do you think you aren't?!” Ah Roo argues back. Son Jii replies with another laugh and says, “How’s life going there?”
“Boring. Our classmates invited me for a drink, but I was too lazy to go out. I ended up eating pizza alone”, Ah Roo explains in an ironic voice.
“Uuuu~ looks who is alone now. Poor Ah Roo”, Son Jii teases her.
Ah Roo hasn’t got the chance to reply as Son Jii’s mom enter the room. “Son Jii—“, she notices Son Jii is on a call. “Is it Ah Roo? Hi, Ah Roo”
“Hi, Mrs. Park”
Mrs. Park returns to Son Jii again, “Son Jii, can you please visit Mr. Choi later? He said he packs something for us. Your dad is gone for work and I have an appointment in an hour”. Son Jii nods to her mother.
“Thank you”, Mrs. Parks answers and leaves the room.
“Uuu, daughter on duty”, Ah Roo goes on after eavesdropping. “Shut up”, says Son Jii.
They talk for another hour until Son Jii leaves for Mr. Choi.
Indeed, it’s daughter on duty.