9. After a Long Time

The Last Summer

Chapter 9

The Park family and Choi family are gathering together for a dinner at an Italian restaurant. The get-together is planned since Choi Siwon declared that he’s coming to Korea for the summer holiday. He’s going to stay for two weeks, a pretty short time considering after not coming home for so long. It’s understandable since he’s been so busy creating his own career path abroad.

Son Jii feels a bit nervous to meet her childhood crush. She only gets the updates of Siwon from his social media, but Siwon doesn’t even post that much. She’s wondering how he will look like in person. Son Jii puts on a simple black backless dress with laces details, a pair of subtle flat shoes, and ties her hair up. She makes sure she would not embarrass herself in front of Siwon. If Siwon has glowed up, so should she.

Mr. Park opens the door of the restaurant for his family. A receptionist greets them by the door and guides them through the hallway to reach a private dining room. Inside, there’s already Mr. Choi and Siwon, sitting and waiting by the enormous table. Both of them quickly stand up to greet the Parks.

“Dae Ho ya, welcome”, Mr. Choi informally greets Mr. Park and gives him a brotherly hug. Then he bows to Mrs. Choi and Son Jii. Son Jii’s eyes attract to Siwon immediately. He’s a real grown-up, clean-cut, neat, and more handsome than in pictures. Son Jii can’t help but be more nervous in the room. She bows to Siwon since he’s older.

“Oh, Son Jii ya! You are so big now. It’s been so long”, Siwon friendly greets her and even gives her a hug on the shoulder. True, they’re childhood friends and she shouldn’t have felt nervous at all. But he was her secret crush. Son Jii gulps down her anxiety and greets Siwon back, “Oppa, it’s been so long. You look good!”, Son Jii hopes she’s not saying it wrong. “Ah, kamsahamnida. Likewise”, Siwon replies back and bows jokingly to Son Jii. Siwon has always treated Son Jii like his little sister, no different than how he treats Soo Young. Mr. Park then swifts in to greet Siwon. They exchange greetings and just like any other get together, do a template chit chat.  

“Okay, before we go sit down. Should we choose some wine?”, Mr. Choi invites them. “Oh, they have a wine cellar here?”, Mrs. Park asks. “For sure”, Mr. Choi answers. “It’s Siwon’s day. Siwon you can lead us and choose”, Mr. Park says and opens his arm to let Siwon lead the way. “Ah, Son Jii, are you coming?”, Mr. Choi turns to Son Jii. Being an inexperienced-in-winery Son Jii, there’s no point and no interest from her to join. “Ah, it’s okay. I’m good. I’ll just wait here”, she answers.

The four of them left the room to go to the cellar. Son Jii takes a seat and adjusts herself to the room. Seeing how the adults are making a fuss about a drink, she thinks to herself, is that what being an adult like.

Five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes.

They’re taking longer than they should. What’s so hard in choosing a drink?  

Son Jii grows tired and has laid her head on the table while playing with her phone. She could hear the clock on the wall ticking loud in her ear, indicating how empty the room is. Suddenly, the door opens. Finally! She quickly lifts up her head and returns her phone to her purse.

Choi Min Ho enters the room, alone. Son Jii’s face is still showing the last excitement from finally ends her waiting, but the person coming in is not who she expected. Confused, both of them stares at each other for a second. This is gonna be awkward. Min Ho scans the room, making sure he’s in the right room. After seeing his uncle’s jacket, he makes his way into the room.

As he walks calmly towards the seat across Son Jii, Son Jii scans Min Ho from head to toe. It is the first time she sees him dressing neat – with a white shirt, black denim and a beige blazer that accentuates his shoulder. Son Jii is taken aback that she stares at him until he is seated well. He takes off his blazer and hangs it on the chair’s frame. He’s looking good and.. y.

After Min Ho is seated, he looks up, and Son Jii quickly looks away. “Where are the others?” Min Ho asks with his usual deep, cold tone. “They’re picking a wine”, Son Jii answers, too quickly. Then, again, the emptiness fills the room. The situation is too similar whenever she’s with Min Ho. The ticks of the clock resurface. Tick… tock.. tick.. tock… How much longer are they going to pick a freaking one drink?! Gosh, this restaurant doesn’t even have music to play. Both of them glue their eyes on to their phone screens.

Restless, Son Jii speaks up, with the most unexpected subject, “I think you owe me an apology”. Her lips are shaking but Son Jii tries to get a hold of herself as much as she could. Words are said. There is no going back. Min Ho slowly turns his eyes away from his screen and looks around. He is surprised by the sudden attack that he is making sure that Son Jii is talking to him.

Confusion. That’s what’s drawn on his face. He raises one of his brows, his forehead lines form as he frowns. “M-me?”, Min Ho asks. As Son Jii opens to speak, “Ye-“, the other four return. They laugh as they enter the room while holding one bottle of wine each. Son Jii counts with her eyes; one, two, three, four bottles?! Are they trying to get drunk?

“Min Soo, luckily I have a day off tomorrow. It’s been a while since I drink. Doctors can’t drink, as you know”, Mr. Park says to Mr. Choi as they put down the bottles on the table. “Ah, Min Ho, you are here already! Where’s grandma?”, Mr. Choi turns to him. “She said she’ll be here in 5”, he answers while looking at his watch.

“Ah good. Please, sit down”, Mr. Choi lets Mr. & Mrs. Park be seated beside Son Jii. As Siwon sees Min Ho, they exchange a fist bump and a brother hug. “So, let me pour you a glass. The first one would be the South African one”, Siwon tells to everyone while holding the first wine bottle. “This is…my dad’s choice, right?” he says while pouring the wine into everyone’s glass and leaving Son Jii the last one. “Are you drinking, Son Jii?”, Siwon asks.

Son Jii usually doesn’t drink but since Siwon is offering, she’s a bit uneasy. “Ah, she doesn’t –“, her mom is about to answer, “Yeah, sure”, Son Jii welcomes him and brings the glass closer to Siwon. “So, what are we toasting for?”, Mr. Park raises his glass and everyone follows. “To Siwon who’s coming home, to his career and..”, Mr. Choi continues then looks at Siwon to finish his sentence. “And to my engagement”, Siwon says shyly and playfully.

The Parks are quite surprised, even Son Jii. Everyone is aware that he has a long-time-relationship girlfriend in the US but no one expected that today would be the day. She is happy but she won’t lie that she’s a little bit crushed knowing her childhood crush is getting married. “Really? Omo, congratulations!”, Mrs. Park exclaims. “To Siwon’s engagement!”, Mr. Park repeats and they cling to their glasses.

They start chatting and congratulating Siwon. “Yes, I proposed to her last week”, Siwon answers Mrs. Park. He starts telling how he met her and how the proposal went. Son Jii secretly wishes it was her that Siwon is proposing. The story went like a romcom drama. It is also amusing how Siwon can handle these curious adults, aka Son Jii’s parents, with their endless questions. Son Jii can only look at Siwon with much amusement. Son Jii then takes another sip of her glass. The taste of sour makes her face then she looks across to Min Ho who is surprisingly looking at her too. Both of them turn away at the same time.

Just before the appetizer is served, the door opens to let in Lee Hwa Yeong (meaning: beautiful flower), Choi Min Soo’s mother, Min Ho’s and Siwon’s grandmother. She is dressed in a light green blouse and black pant. Simple but appropriate. Since she’s living in the nursing home, she is accompanied by one of the caregivers to get to the restaurant. The caregiver leaves the scene after she makes sure Hwa Yeong could be left safely. “Halmeoni, I’ll return again at 9 to pick you up, okay?”, the caregiver says.

“Ani, no, don’t worry. My son will drop me off”, Hwa Yeong says while pointing and smiling at Min Soo. “Ah, ye”, the caregiver bows to Mr. Choi then leaves. About Hwa Yeong, she’s been living in the nursing home since Min Ho left the house to open his restaurant in Busan. It’s not that nobody has ever invited her to live together. Hwa Yeong decided not to be a burden to Min Ho who was pursuing his dream. It was the time for Min Ho to freely explore without worrying her presence at his home. Moving in with his son, Min Soo, is not an option either. The two are too much alike. Despite the mother-and-son love, they argue too much. “Burning” the house down needs to be avoided. 

Everybody stands up at her arrival to show respect. Min Ho quickly walks to her and takes her arm to her to the remaining seat by the head of the table. “Ah, it’s okay. You guys can go back sit down”, Hwa Yeong warmly says. The warmth in her tone clearly shows humility and affection. She’s indeed the kindest woman ever, except when she clashes with his oldest son, Min Soo. Although she's 80 already, she’s considerably still strong. Nevertheless, after a long walk, she would need someone to hold her.

As she is being directed to her seat, she drifts her eyes to Son Jii. “Ah, ye. Mom, this is the Parks. You remember, right? My neighbours”, Min Soo explains to her. “Ye, ye. I remember seeing the three of you (Son Jii, Siwon, Min Ho), also with Soo Young, playing while you guys were kids”, Hwa Yeong flashes a wide smile to Son Jii. Son Jii never has the memory of playing together with Min Ho, though, nor meeting Grandma Hwa Yeong.  Son Jii thought that Halmeoni might remember it differently due to her old age, but Siwon isn’t denying it too.

“I’m Son Jii, Halmeoni”, Son Jii bows. “Son Jii? What a great name”, she exclaims kindly.

 

The three courses meal surely fill up their stomach. There is barely any space left. “What a great food. Thank you, Min Soo”, Mr. Park exclaims while laying his back to the chair, indicating how full he is. The clock shows 9:15 p.m. “Mom, I will drop you off”, Choi Min Soo says while getting up from his chair. “Siwon, the night is still young. Don’t you youngsters want to go somewhere else? The parents are getting sleepy even now”, Mr. Choi says.

“Right. Why don’t we go for another drink?”, Siwon asks Son Jii and Min Ho. Son Jii has had two glasses of wine and she gets a bit tipsy already. She is definitely a lightweight. Nevertheless, since Siwon is the one asking, she feels a bit uneasy to turn down. “Yeah, sure”, Son Jii enforces herself to be jolly. Min Ho doesn’t respond right away. “Ya, you’re coming, right?” Siwon nudges Min Hoo on the shoulder. Min Ho nonchalantly nods, “Yea.. okay”.  

Min Ho, then, gets up from his seat to help his grandma standing up. “Don’t worry, I can do it”, she stands up by herself then gives Min Ho a goodbye hug, a long one. It’s clear that the bond between them is more than just a grandma and a grandson. Hwa Yeong has been in the critical years of Min Ho’s life. It’s even more than just a mom and a son. “You take care”, she says. “I’ll visit you next week”, Min Ho replies.

Realizing that Son Jii’s eyes are pinned to the warm scene, Hwa Yeong turns to Son Jii, “Are you two on bad terms or what?”, she asks curiously. She means Son Jii and Min Ho. “W-what do you mean?”, Son Jii asks back. Min Hoo looks as baffled as Son Jii. “You guys were so close, weren’t you? I don’t understand young people”, she says jokingly and shakes her head. Son Jii is not grasping what she means but she doesn’t bother to ask more.

The devoted children are walking their parents and elder to their cars. “I’ll drop Son Jii home later, Mr. Park”, Siwon says to Son Jii’s father as they enter their car. “Gomawo, Siwon ah. See you!”, Park Dae Ho answers. The children wave their hands as the two cars leave the parking spots. “So… where should we go?”, Siwon turns to Son Jii and Min Ho.

“It’s up to you. It’s been a long time since you are back. What do you miss doing?”, Min Ho says to Siwon. Siwon gives it a thought, “Hmmm… Honestly? I actually miss drinking makgeolli (rice wine)”. “I know a place”, Siwon continues and drags the other two to the place.

 

 

Makgeolli is not a new taste to Son Jii’s palate, but she only realizes now that it is so delicious. She is not a drinker, but she sure can gulp down a lot of this one. “Akkhhh”, Siwon lets out a satisfactory exclamation after finishing his glass. “This surely cures my craving”, he continues. No doubt, Siwon is getting chattier as he finishes his third or fourth glass. Nope, actually, he has been chatty after the consecutive wine drinking. Siwon is the one who always makes the conversation, but never did they find a common topic that the three of them can talk upon. The conversation goes either between Son Jii to Siwon or Min Ho to Siwon. That’s all. The alcohol doesn’t help them in sync somehow.

Son Jii is still in her third glass but she’s already feeling the weight on her head. She tries to keep an attentive listening to Siwon. Meanwhile Min Ho, he’s getting even quieter by time. Son Jii is not sure whether it’s because of the alcohol or Min Ho is just a heavy drinker.

“Should we order some bossam (pork shoulder)? Oppa’s treat”, Siwon says cheekily to Son Jii. She nods to agree. At least it’s already two hours after dinner, so she has created more space in her stomach. “Excuse me,”, Siwon raises his hand, “can we get two more bottles and one bossam plate, please”. “Yee”, the ahjumma answers. “Oh, I really need to go to the toilet”, Siwon says and gets up to get to the toilet. He’s already walking a bit weird, but he’s still in control.  

Son Jii sees Siwon walking away, a bit worry. She never expected that she will see a drunk Siwon tonight. “Is he an alcoholic or what”, she whispers to herself and chuckles. She then continues to gulp down her third glass completely. “Sorry”, suddenly Min Ho’s voice breaks. He says it quietly but loud enough for Son Jii to hear. Son Jii was bewildered.

“Ah, no, it’s okay. It’s normal as it’s been a long since Siwon oppa is in Korea”, Son Jii replies quickly. She wonders how could Min Ho heard her talking about Siwon before. “No, that’s not what I’m sorry for”, Min Ho continues. He then looks up to Son Jii to meet her in the eyes. Son Jii becomes worried because he looks serious but she can’t guess what he’s up to.

“Sorry for offending you. When I talked about your parents”, he continues. He sounds so genuine that it makes Son Jii goes blank for a second. She doesn’t expect any of this. Min Ho keeps looking at her in the eye, then Son Jii realizes that she needs to respond. She nods and says, “It’s okay. I forgive you”. She gulps. “Gomawo”, Min Ho answers, still looking at Son Jii. She can’t help but shuddered by his gaze. “Another one?”, Min Ho offers to pour a drink to Son Jii, finishing the last drops of the bottle.

 

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Hazelnut227
NEW CHAPTER IS OUT FOR THE LAST SUMMER <3
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