The home was vacated except for his parents. The stay-at-home mom who never worked a job in her life. His father who was just back from a doctor appointment taking the day off to rest. Jeonghun had explained the old man was experiencing chronic backpain and on the doctor’s orders to take several days absence from work. Sahyeon had been hired at an entry level marketing position. He’d be late. Leaving Nagyeom and Jeonghun who were both at work.
Jongin had his space of privacy to work things out. Prove to his parents he was in a happy place despite Namjoo’s family’s unforgivings.
It was his father who answered the knock.
“Can I come in?” Jongin asked. Sadly, it was not his home anymore. His home belonged with Namjoo.
The old man eyed Namjoo not quite behind him but not quite in front either. Stepping back the old man let them enter.
Breakfast had just been had. The sink was running, dishes clattering. As expected, his father headed into the kitchen where his wife busied. His presence caught her immediate attention. Jongin heard their hushed voices travel back and forth as he approached the corner of the room his mom loved most.
Coming into view, Jongin greeted as his mom wheeled his direction. “Mom.”
Stricken, her eyes inched a tiny fraction then narrowed upon recognizing Namjoo still holding his hand.
Jongin had pictured in his mind various ways how to approach them. Fall onto his knees, beg. Say he was marrying Namjoo, please accept her as your daughter-in-law. Ask for forgiveness hoping to break through their rigidness.
“Sit down.” His father directed. To his wife, “Get us some tea.”
The sink went off sending the house into some kind of deafening silence. His mom’s flowery kettle settled on the stove to heat. Jongin led Namjoo to the dining table, pulled a chair out for her, and sat opposite his father.
“I’m sorry. I left rashly.” Jongin apologized. “I know you feel I have no sense of the future, but I think it’s time you let me go, too. I’m not a child anymore. There are wrong choices I will make, but don’t always hold that against me. There are more times I’d rather hear you tell me it’s ok than another lecture reminding me of my wrongs.
“So, about what happened the other day, I did not mean for it to. I’m sorry I couldn’t prevent it and I didn’t warn you about Namjoo’s family. I didn’t tell you the entire truth.”
“Well,” his father briefly nodded, “you should have said something.” Indirectly gazing at Namjoo suspicious of her presence, he pressed, “So, what will you do now?”
Glancing at Namjoo to summon an ounce of bravery Jongin faced his father, “We’re going to get married.”
Two teacups landed on the table noisily. His mother shaken from the abrupt news. “Are you pregnant?”
Namjoo’s face immediately pinked. “N…no.”
“Mom, please.” Jongin tried.
“How rash! How are you going to get married when her family doesn’t even respect you?” His father demanded. “Are you thinking, Jongin? You are taking their daughter from them. Short sightedly getting married won’t resolve the tensions between families. It is more complex than that.”
“Just come back home.” His mother softly persuaded, sad puppy eyes landing on him.
It seemed they had talked the possibility of him leaving home. Maybe Jeonghun had had a slip of the tongue.
“I’m not coming back.” Jongin persisted. “I can support myself. I can be happy, but I’ll do it on my own in my own space.”
The woman tossed her head back flustered by his stubbornness. In contrary his dad continued to hammer, “Marriage, have you two really talked this through? This is bringing a union of two families together. And yours,” finally meeting Namjoo stern to hard, “is untouchable.”
An out of sorts moment flushed with discouragement and frustration wafted over them. Parents to children. Experienced to inexperienced.
This is what differentiated his family from Namjoo’s. His father was strongly family oriented, rooted in everything traditional, the wise one every troubled relative came to. He was not chief of surgery, he did not raise his hand to his children, parade around emitting an air of importance, but he backed his family up, and he did not see any brightness in Jongin’s future with Namjoo, the only common factor in their families.
The other factor lie in the fact neither father nor mother knew their children.
“We’re,” Namjoo’s voice perked up, “not in contact anymore.”
When their interrogative gazes flashed on her, Jongin cut in, “It’s a long story.”
“What is it?” His mother impatiently put a hand on her hip. “What can be so difficult to say that we won’t understand?”
Jongin did not want to go through this. Tell Namjoo’s most personal story, use it as a weapon to make them pity and accept her.
Disappointed, Jongin said, “I just wanted to get your blessing and tell you you’ll be having another daughter-in-law. That’s all I want to say today.”
“The truth is,” Namjoo began, “my family isn’t a happy one. Maybe we can’t be considered one. My older brother took his life, because of my uncle. Maybe you’ve seen it on the news. I met Jongin, because I wanted him to help me get justice. During all this time, he has been a source of light for me.
“I know, Jongin’s too good for me. I also know that he loves his family a lot, and you’re all he has. I envy that a lot, so I promise I will love him a lot so you never need to worry about him. I will be a good wife and if I make mistakes, I promise I will learn to do better. My love might not amount to the love his parents give him, but I will love him for the rest of his life. Please, let me marry him.”
Another long sentence of silence stretched over them.
At long last, his father lowered his head, nodding. “All right then. All right.”
A surplus of emotions surged through him. Tears crept to his lids as he turned to Namjoo kind of laughing, kind of crying. Touched by her words. Immensely overwhelmed with his father’s approval. Displaying affection publicly in his conservative home was rare, but he hugged Namjoo in front of his parents. Tightly cradling her in his arms as they fought back genuine tears of happiness.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Jongin’s lips split wider. The creation of her painting more beautiful up front and personal.
“I love you more.” He playfully ran a finger down her nose.
They had gone to bed jittery. Exhilaration a disease still pulsing through their blood. The full moonlight radiated across his face animatedly. Every feature of his face visible.
Inching forward she gave him a peck. His hand settled on her back.
“Let’s go buy rings tomorrow.” Jongin suggested.
“I don’t have that kind of budget yet.” Namjoo reminded.
“I’ll buy a set.” Jongin told. “Pay it off with my salary down the road and all you’ll owe me is a warm meal every evening when I come home from work.”
“I should still be buying you one.” Namjoo mumbled.
“Then in the future. When you have a job, when you have money.” Jongin twined her hair.
“I can do that.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Over the following weeks, they reserved a pictorial session, purchased a set of gold rings, and traveled from store to store searching for the perfect tux and wedding dress. Enjoying the best times stepping out of the dressing room and aweing one another. Constantly laughing and giggling, because making each other happy was a bonus greater than any existing experience.
Early on a Thursday morning they registered their marriage at the courthouse. Legally now, husband and wife.
With nothing special planned, because Jongin was working and Namjoo awaiting to hear news of the trial. It didn’t mean they weren’t happy; they were flying over the moon and back these days.
She was wearing his ring and he hers.
Life was fulfilling, she was learning, even with losses but that did not mean she never gained anything thereafter. There was Jongin. Welcoming him home after a rough day at work. Feeling him hug her behind as she completed her amateurish cooking. Or if she wasn’t in the apartment, he’d find her smelling like chemical and painting in the studio.
Even when bad and good things happened, life cycled onwards, never backwards. The sun never sunk into the horizon; it rose from there. Each and every day, and every day was a new beginning.
Namjoo truly felt that the day she got the phone call from court.
Jongin was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. Exactly where she’d often waited for him at the beginning of their story.
Unlike every other time she came to desperately beg for help, today Jongin’s black robe flapped around him heroically. The strict yellow sun beaming its ginormous spotlight on him. Behind his tall, sturdy figure the terrace of steps led to what she’d long waited for.
Running up to him, Namjoo threw her arms around his neck. Her heart quaked. The ground unsteady beneath her new dress pumps, Jongin’s recent gift