a dinner

6

A Tale Of Two Sundays
25 June 2017

My daughter is a pretty awesome chick. First up she played her maiden AFL (Aussie rules footy) carnival - won 2/3 games & got a black eye. Then she and the bf opted for lunch at a sushi café just as a robber was fleeing the shop with their takings. She & bf chased him down, directed the cops, recovered the money and got free lunch from the grateful shop owners! The cops have been after the guy for a while and he will be going down for armed robbery. Proud mama.

My Sunday was much more sedate. I spent the day at a corrective running workshop, which was informative and fun, catching up with a uni mate in the process. I squeezed in a 3km walk with the dogs and Wonder Woman before the sun went down and whipped up a delicious low carb dinner. Spaghetti squash is so awesome! My first time! 😊

Today’s lunch was a winner as usual. 🍚🌶 I made the same veggies as yesterday, minus the zucchini because we forgot it. It was still tasty though. 😋👌 We just got back from a quick walk down the beach and now we’re going to cool down and watch a movie. I hope you have a good weekend! Enjoy the sunshine if you have it. If not, we have plenty to share. 😜😎☀️🌴🌺

rt if u wanna scream

Jumin Han x Artist! Reader (Part 17)

When you look at a map of your town you’ll notice immediately that everything branches off from one road. Stick to this road and it’ll take you straight through the stoplights, past tiny homes and businesses, and curve around the lake about fifteen minutes after the last stop sign. The pavement continues to climb along the mountain until it eventually becomes a dirt path wide enough for only one car. At that point the surrounding area is farmland, and the only thing you’ll see for miles are fields occupied by a mixture of crops and animals.

This road, simply referred to as ‘Main Road’ by the locals, also divides the town into two main sections: high ground and low ground. You had often wondered why the halves had been named that way when you were young, but it makes sense to you now considering the town’s unusual geography.

Standing on Main Road and looking down to the east, you can easily see the rooftops of people living on low ground. When you stand and look up toward the west, you can see the buildings of high ground ascending in irregular rows. Due to this, the whole town has a downward slope, like a huge, earthy staircase.

Naturally, the two halves have their differences. High ground is generally more wealthy, made up of vacationers, shopkeepers, and town officials. Low ground is modest, made up of small farmers, old folk, and stay-at-home parents. You grew up in the quieter half, and remember the sleepiness of your neighborhood quite fondly. However, it would be a lie if you said you had never ventured into the upper half of town.

While high ground holds all the schools from kindergarten to college, the plaza, and your mother and father’s workplace, it also holds the home Z.G. used to reside in. You didn’t think you’d be visiting it, but here you are, walking up the steep sidewalk like you used to every morning of the school year.

“Are we almost there? I think my fingers are going numb…”

You turn and watch as Jumin brings his hands to his mouth, ducking to huff into them for temporary warmth. “This is what you get for leaving your gloves in the car,” you smile. “You’ll just have to suck it up ‘til we get inside.” Jumin shoves his hands back into the pockets of his coat and sighs. “Are you really that cold?” you ask. “Here, take my gloves. I’m not sure if they’ll fit, but it’ll be better than nothing.”

Jumin doesn’t protest as he watches you remove your expensive wool and leather gloves. In fact, he eagerly pulls them on. Only after he has his hands back in his pockets, snug with the extra insulation, does he ask if you’ll be okay. “Yeah,” you shrug. “It was like this all the time when I was little. You get used to it.”

“I highly doubt that,” he chuckles. “Weather like this is…desolate. Why would anyone willingly live anywhere so cold?” Jumin complains. As if to accentuate his point, a strong gust of wind pushes past, successfully powdering your boots and jeans with snow. “See? We should just go back to the room and sleep. It would have been so nice to order room service,” he sighs. Agreeing, you look back toward the grey-clouded horizon, wondering if the sun has come up.

You hear Jumin’s footsteps come to a halt, and he asks, “Do all the people here like getting up this early?” You stop and look at him, his clear eyes and pink nose. “Usually I find it nice to be up at dawn, but I still don’t see why it’s necessary for us to be coming here at this hour. Are you sure this is the correct time?” His eyebrows raise, and you get the feeling he wants you to cave in and follow him back to the lodge.

“Yes, Jumin,” you sigh. “Please just trust me. I know you hate waking up early and being cold, but this is important to me. I need to do this, even if you don’t want to.” A breeze floats by. Jumin blinks. You quickly realize that your tone of voice was harsher than you had intended. Looking down, you mumble an apology, shoving your hands deeper into your pockets. When you glance up, Jumin is studying you.

He inhales to speak, but the words don’t come. Instead he sighs, looking up toward the sky. You apologize again, this time more audibly. “I know you’re sorry,” he says, looking at you. “I am too, for complaining so much. But you should know that I’m not doing this against my will. I want to be here with you, because what matters to you is important for me as well.”

His words dissolve into silence, and you feel both very touched and very guilty. “Jumin, I don’t mean to be like this. I just-” you sigh, “It’s stressful to be here. You know? I mean, I don’t want to talk about the things that happened before I left, but I’m sure that’s what Ms. Yoon invited me over for.” Looking over his shoulder, away from his eyes, you admit that you’re reluctant to see her. “But I guess I feel like I owe her something, so I have to do this.”

Jumin nods, stepping closer to take your hands. You notice that some of his movement is constricted by your small gloves, but he attempts to bend the fingers anyway. “Having trouble?” you laugh, lacing your fingers with his. He tries to do the same, but can’t successfully return the gesture.

“Me? Having trouble? Not at all,” he chuckles. As the laughter subsides, you’re able to meet his eyes and realize that he hadn’t taken what you said personally. “We’re both tired and hungry,” Jumin explains. “I think we should keep moving.” You nod and allow him to pull you along, eventually resuming a leisurely pace.

With Jumin at your side, more quiet than before, you allow yourself to enjoy the scenery. Snow has been dusted across everything, and the clouds are heavy. The surrounding homes are neat and polished, in a rustic kind of way that gives the neighborhood a country-like charm.

You see plenty of bicycles, pretty fencing, and front porches with swings and garden statues. Here and there you spot a gazebo, or a playground, over the top of a backyard fence. Someone even owns an elaborate treehouse with working lights! As you continue up the hill, eventually reaching the point where things level out, you make a turn onto a short street with a dead end.

Coming to a stop before the second house, you reach out and open the latch on the decorative, wooden gate like you have thousands of times before. “Here we are,” you announce, allowing Jumin to enter first. You step in after him and the gate swings shut on its own behind you. You look around, unsurprised that the garden has remained the same. Jumin, however, is seeing it for the first time.

“This is nice,” he says, taking in the small, snowy space. You watch as Jumin walks along the dark, flat-stoned path, and onto the tiny decorative bridge leading toward the entrance of Ms. Yoon’s house. He turns and observes the surrounding trees, which are neatly trimmed, and the rocks which have been neatly combed into uniform stripes. At the far end of the garden, in a corner surrounded by a small moat, sits a meditating Buddha statue, elevated with three small flowers lying in front of it.

“There’s usually water here,” you say, gesturing to the empty stream leading into the moat, “but I guess she turned it off for the winter.” Nodding, Jumin turns toward the house, noticing the ‘welcome’ sign written in Japanese. He sends you a curious glance, and asks if Ms. Yoon prefers Korean or Japanese. “Either is fine,” you laugh. “But I think she prefers Japanese, since she grew up speaking it.”

He nods, and you add, “I don’t think she’s been back to Japan since her divorce, so I wouldn’t worry about it.” Joining him on the bridge, you loop your arm around his. “Let’s get inside, hm? I’m getting cold.” He smiles, and follows you to the front step. As you ring the doorbell, Jumin takes his arm away and struggles to remove your gloves, shoving them into his pocket before the locks on the door click open.

Ms. Yoon smiles as she opens the door, and you notice that she’s taken the liberty of dressing up for breakfast. “You actually came! Please, come in. I have something warm waiting for you in the kitchen.” She steps aside, holding the door and closing it after Jumin has followed you in. You carefully remove your shoes and line them up with hers, toes facing the door. Jumin does the same, and smiles as Ms. Yoon offers to take his coat.

“Thank you for having us,” he says, in Japanese. “I know we met yesterday, but I didn’t get the chance to properly introduce myself. My name is Jumin Han. It’s nice to meet you.” He finishes off with a bow, placing his hands at his sides and bending at the waist.

You’re surprised by the formality, but Ms. Yoon is speechless. Placing her hand over her heart, she stutters out a response, which you barely comprehend because of your limited knowledge of the language. As Jumin stands upright again, she looks at you with wide eyes, continuing her awestruck chattering. Jumin says a few more things before they revert back to Korean, much to your confused relief.

“That was unexpected!,” she smiles. “Usually, I can only speak Japanese to my dogs!” Laughing, she hangs Jumin’s coat. “Why don’t you get settled in the dining room? I’ll bring out the food as soon as I make the plates.” Nodding, you hand her your coat and head into the house with Jumin following closely behind.

As you make your way through the living room, Jumin notices that you seem quiet. “Am I?” you ask, after he points it out. “I guess I’m just surprised!” You let out a small laugh as you switch on the light of the dining room. “Somehow, you always manage to make a perfect introduction…”

Jumin pulls out a chair for you with a smile. “Do you really think so? Your mother didn’t seem particularly impressed yesterday…” Laughing, you insist that doesn’t count. “Okay, but I only said enough to be polite,” Jumin continues, pushing you in, “I’m sure Ms. Yoon will be much more interested with what you have to say when breakfast starts.”

“Let’s hope so,” you laugh. “Or she might just steal you away from me.” Jumin chuckles, taking the seat next to yours. You notice his gaze shifting around the dining room.

It hasn’t changed much since you last saw it. Ms. Yoon still has her familiar, round table and tall chairs standing under the hanging light fixture she talked about replacing years ago. The walls are still pale olive, but the tile that used to line the floors has been replaced by a wood that’s light and glossy. From here you can still see through the glass sliding door into the backyard, which is empty except for a doghouse buried in snow.

To your left is another pair of sliding doors, made of translucent screen, that lead into the kitchen. Jumin seems surprised when they open, revealing Ms. Yoon holding a tray of tea, probably because they look like a solid wall when closed. “I hope you don’t mind oolong,” she says, giving you each a cup. “I ran out of green tea, and the only other thing I have is roselle.”

You assure her it’s fine, and take the pot as she leaves to retrieve the food. Pouring Jumin’s cup carefully, you fill yours and a third for Ms. Yoon. When she returns, she sets down plates of omurice with a smile. You notice that she’s using the fancy dinnerware she keeps locked away in a special cupboard, and raise your eyebrows with a knowing smile. She winks, and takes her seat.

“Go ahead and dig in. I also made rice porridge, but it’s very burnt to be honest with you,” she laughs, taking her first bite. You thank her for the meal, in rough Japanese, which makes her laugh even more. “You’re going to have to do a lot better than that if you want to keep up with him,” she teases. “Thank you, though. For coming and eating my food.”

By the end of breakfast, once everything has been cleared, Ms. Yoon invites you and Jumin to join her in the living room. She takes a seat in a plush recliner, while you seat yourself with Jumin on her matching love-seat sofa. You quickly give the room a once over, because you didn’t get to before, and Ms. Yoon smiles as she catches you doing so.

“Don’t bother. Everything’s the same. TV’s still here, the shelves, your painting, all of it’s here.” You can’t help but perk up at the mention of your work, and twist around to look at the portrait hanging above you. There, bordered by the very frame you remember helping her choose, is a still-life of Ms. Yoon’s dogs. They look angelic and soft, their hair illuminated by something close to moonlight.

“I remember how long you took to finish it,” Ms. Yoon smiles. “It was hard to get them to sit still for you, since the boys were still puppies, but you always managed to find a way…” She laughs to herself, smiling as she looks around the corner of her chair. “Where are those boogers anyway? Tatsuo! Shinji!”

She whistles a few times, similarly to the way you did yesterday, and the dogs come running. They bound into the room with huffing snouts and wagging tails, obediently coming to sit at the feet of Ms. Yoon. “Good boys,” she praises, scratching their heads. “Go say ‘hi’. Go.” Directing their attention to you, Ms. Yoon gives them both a pat on the rump and they happily trot over.

The dogs aren’t shy with you at all. It’s clear they’ve missed you from the slobbery way they cover your face in kisses, but they don’t get as rowdy with Jumin. They cautiously sniff his pant leg, knees and hands before deciding he’s okay. You laugh at the surprised look Jumin gives when both dogs come to a sitting position, and look at him expectantly. “They want you to pet them,” you explain.

“Oh, I see,” Jumin says, patting their heads. You smile, and Ms. Yoon comments that he doesn’t seem like much of a dog person. “I’m afraid not,” he admits, smiling at her politely. “They seem nice, but I’m not sure our cat would appreciate it if ___ and I brought one home.”

Ms. Yoon raises her eyebrows, arching them so high they disappear into her hair. “Our cat? Home? Don’t tell me you’re already living together!” Sitting straighter, you avoid her interrogating stare by glancing over at Jumin. He sends you a tight smile, silently apologizing for the mistake. “I can’t believe it,” Ms. Yoon chuckles. “You’re not sharing a room, are you?”

You inhale, slightly irritated by her smugness. “So what if we are? It’s not like it’s any of your business. Besides, weren’t you the one always telling me to do what I wanted with my life?” Ms. Yoon’s expression is guarded, but you know she has more to say.

So say it already!

“___,” she laughs, softening her tone. “I’m surprised you’re so easily provoked! It was only a question.” Smiling pleasantly, she apologizes. “I didn’t mean to offend, but trust me when I say you shouldn’t rush into anything! Going through divorce is hell, especially if you have kids.” Looking away, you sigh. “I’m just saying,” Ms. Yoon frowns, leaning forward, “you should always be thinking about that future of yours. Don’t end up like me, okay?”

Her words hang in the air for a moment, and you neither accept or reject them. In fact you don’t say anything at all, and you’re thankful that Jumin keeps the conversation moving along. 

“I must compliment you on your hair,” he says to Ms. Yoon. “Do you color it at all?” She’s instantly flattered, and you wonder how Jumin knew to say that.

“You’re not going to believe me when I say this, but no! I do style it myself, though, since being a hairdresser gives me access to all the tools,” she laughs, running her fingers through her silky hair. Ms. Yoon continues to blabber on about her job at the salon, and various gossip she’s heard, until Jumin’s phone rings. He apologizes for the interruption and dismisses it, but the ringing resumes after a short pause.

“Would you excuse me? I have to take this. My assistant never calls back this quickly unless there’s an important issue with work.”

Ms. Yoon furrows her brow. “Sure, don’t worry about it. The back porch should be unlocked…” Thanking her, Jumin disappears into the dining room. You hear the glass door slide open, then the rubbery smack of it sliding shut. Ms. Yoon looks over her shoulder before meeting your eyes with a sly smile.

“So that’s your type, huh? You sure do have peculiar taste.” You shrug, leaning onto the arm of the couch. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Ms. Yoon snorts. “You’re not in it for the money, are you?” You scoff, looking away in disbelief. “Hey, don’t go getting all huffy with me! I saw the silk inside your jacket, and I noticed it’s tailored! I bet your earrings are made of some rare metal to match your designer boots, too!”

You glare, but it hardly discourages her. “I bet your life is so easy now. You probably don’t even make your own bed!” She grins, as if imagining something pleasant. “I used to live that way. Back when I was still with my husband.” She fixes her hair in thought before adding a mumbled, “Wow, it’s sure been a long time…”

“Are you finished?” you ask. Ms. Yoon tells you to lighten up, and casually waves her hand to let you take over the conversation.

“Well, about what you said, I don’t think I had a type to begin with,” you laugh, slightly. “I wasn’t looking for anyone when I met Jumin. He just sort of happened, you know?” Ms. Yoon smiles warmly, but there’s something else to it. Probably because of Z.G. “I was at this business party, and he approached me because he wanted me to paint his cat’s portrait.” Ms. Yoon smirks.

“Anyway,” you smile, “I spent a lot of time at his place to finish, and we ended up really enjoying each other’s company.” You pause for a moment, looking down at your hands. “So, when you assume that I’m only dating him for his money, and I’m sharing his home and bed because of that, I hate it. We’ve been taking things slow, and I know that I really care about him.” You look Ms. Yoon in the eyes to show your sincerity. “And I know he feels the same.”

Ms. Yoon clicks her tongue, drumming her fingers on the armrest in thought. “Sounds like you’re doing well, but are you sure this is what you really want? I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but my son still thinks of you.” She frowns, looking away. “I know that must be hard to hear, but he called and told me he visited Meoto Iwa in Japan…”

“Meoto Iwa?” you ask, “Is that a city or something?”

“No,” Ms. Yoon sighs. “It’s a pair of rocks in the ocean near Futami, Mie. They represent the union of marriage, and there’s a Shinto shrine nearby that worships them. I went there with my husband once.” She describes the bay’s water as wild and beautiful, truly a gorgeous sight. “But I don’t see why Z.G. would go there, seeing as it’s so far from Tokyo. Unless it was to…maybe pray that he’d meet you again?”

You feel sick. “Why would he do something like that?” you demand, getting to your feet. Ms. Yoon’s eyebrows knit in concern. “That’s just being selfish! I mean, I’m sorry he feels bad, but does that give him the right to wish for that?” You’re finally happy! Why should you give that up for someone who cared so little for you before?

“___, please. Getting upset won’t help.”

“You don’t understand!” you accuse, turning on her. “It took me years to stop asking myself what I did wrong! And all Z.G. ever did was keep me in the dark!” You pout, your lip twitching. “He never told me why he did it, and at this point I’ve accepted that I’ll never know! So to hear you say that…he’s the one crying!” You shake your head. “He shouldn’t get to do that. Not after what he did.”

Clutching a fistful of your shirt, above your heart, you’re surprised that Ms. Yoon’s reaction to your outburst is simply to stare. As the moment passes, she realizes. “You were alone, weren’t you? After he left…” You swallow, eyes avoiding hers as you nod curtly. “But I thought the reason you went back to Seoul was because you had people to rely on!”

“I lied,” you say, rubbing your forearm. Ms. Yoon stares in shock. “I had to! After the scene I made at the wedding my mom wouldn’t let me out of her sight! It was the only way I knew she’d let me go.” You bow your head, ashamed that you took things that far, but you didn’t want her to worry.

Appreciating your honesty and pitying you, Ms. Yoon breaks her stunned silence to ask what you did after going back to the city.

“I went back to work,” you say with a shrug. “I couldn’t lie in the dirt forever, and it kept me busy. It was easier to deal with everything that way.” Hesitating, you admit that those days had been difficult to face.

Ms. Yoon is quiet for a moment, but speaks softly. “I had no idea. I’m so sorry.” You look up at her, and she rises from her seat to take your hands. You marvel at their warmth, admiring her perfect manicure. “I’ve always thought of you like my long lost daughter. You should have come to me for help!”

“I wanted to,” you admit, “but what if you had accidentally mentioned it at the salon? You know how quickly word spreads around here. My mother would have came looking for me herself!” Ms. Yoon smirks as you trail off, admitting that the salon isn’t the best place for keeping secrets. “Besides,” you continue, “don’t you remember what mom said to you at the wedding?”

“Yes, but I don’t think your mother meant it. She got caught up in the moment, that’s all. I know she hates seeing you cry.” Letting your hands drop, Ms. Yoon sighs. “And who better to blame for a ruined wedding than the mother of the runaway groom? I guess she had reason to be upset with me, but gosh that woman is scary.”

You crack a smile, and Ms. Yoon seems comforted by it. “Don’t look so glum, girlie. You have your whole life ahead of you, and a good person to share it with. I’m sure your mother will come around again, and when she does I’ll be ready to apologize. So…in exchange for that I have something to ask.” You nod, looking at her expectantly.

Ms. Yoon inhales, her eyelids fluttering as she thinks about what she’s going to say. “I was wondering if you could speak to Z.G. I know it’s a lot to ask, but he didn’t sound so great over the phone.” You step away, the back of your calf hitting the couch. “Oh, don’t be so dramatic,” Ms. Yoon huffs, “I’m only asking for one short conversation. You can even do it over the phone. But he needs this, ___.”

“I don’t know,” you sigh, taking a seat. “You do realize that I’m in a committed relationship, right? I can’t just do that to Jumin. He’ll misunderstand.”

“Listen to me,” Ms. Yoon says, her tone growing soft, “My son loved you! He loved you with his entire heart and soul, like you breathed life into his very being. He trusted you immensely, and you were his best friend, ___.”

“My son loved you!”

“___? What’s wrong?” Z.G. asks. He looks up at you with curious eyes, down on one knee and holding out a tiny box. The simple band glimmers at you under the  stage lights. All around you, the auditorium is empty. Only the soft red chairs were able to hear his question, because you’re stunned. You can’t hear anything over the sound of your heart.

Z.G. calls out again, getting up and automatically stepping close. He knows that look in your eye, and smiles easily. “Are you that surprised? I know it’s not much, but I saved up for a long time to buy it. Here, why don’t you put it on?” He reaches for your hand, but you pull it away before he can touch you. He lets out a laugh, thinking that you’re being funny. “You want to be chased? Come here, babe.”

You inhale shakily, speechless as the band is slipped onto your finger. Z.G. smiles widely, his sleepy eyes disappearing into his grin. “You’re quiet. I thought for sure you’d cry. Are you sure nothing’s wrong? I can still get a different one, if you don’t like it.” His hands are warm, and they snake to your waist. You push them off, and his smile fades.

“What about my parents? I can’t go home with this Z.G., they’ll-”

“Your dad gave me permission and helped me out with your mom,” he explains. “You don’t have to worry about a thing. I went out and did that traditional thing too. You know, when the guy gives the girl’s mother a goose?” He grins crookedly, and you can’t help but laugh.

“You bought my mother a goose? Z.G. Choi, you’re going to get me killed before we’re married!”

“So, is that a ‘yes’?”

“Yes.”

He throws his head back and whoops, the sound echoing off the walls as he pumps his fists through the air. You cover your mouth as you laugh, watching as he spins away. His hair flies up as he sinks to his knees, praising god and becoming one with the floor. “What are you doing, you big oaf? Let’s go grab some cake! The diner has this new one with-” 

Z.G. looks up at you, smiling with teary eyes. He looks oddly childlike in his poorly ironed shirt, and you notice the extra effort put into his hair for the occasion. “Your eyes are gonna get puffy,” you laugh, offering a hand to help him up. He hoists himself to his feet, but doesn’t let go. Instead he brings you closer, wrapping both arms around you and nuzzling into your neck.

“I love you. I love you so, so much.”

You stare at Ms. Yoon, blinking back the prickly feeling in your nose and eyes. “I have to go,” you mutter, getting up quickly. The dogs, sensing your distress, whine nervously and bark as they circle you. Ms. Yoon steps into your path, her hands held out to keep you in place.

“I’m not asking this to torture you, ___. I’m asking you to do this so that he can move on! Don’t you think he deserves to love someone who can love him back?” She tenses, her hands clenching as they fall to her sides. “Please, I’m asking you as a mother who loves her son; give him the chance to come clean. I know he’s carrying things that he can only say to you.”

You sigh deeply, stepping around her and walking in the direction of the dining room. “You’re going to regret this!” Ms. Yoon shouts, suddenly. Her voice shakes, but you continue walking. “You’ll look back and hate yourself for this one day! You can run off with your stupid sugar daddy and pretend life’s all fun and games, but you’ll go to sleep thinking of him! I guarantee it, because you know just as well as I do that my son loved you more than he loved me, or his father, or anyone else on this Earth!”

Turning to face her, you’re horrified to see that she’s getting closer. “And all you ever did was complain that he didn’t love you enough! He’s not the selfish one, you are!” Ms. Yoon raises her finger to point at you accusingly. “You’re nothing but a spoiled brat! Get out! Leave! How dare you come back here with someone else!” Her movements are aggressive, but you hold your ground and prepare to fight back.

However, Ms. Yoon seems to have a sudden change of heart as she angrily wipes a tear from her eye.

She continues to come at you, but seems to realize that what she’s doing is wrong. In that small moment where her faith waivers, she missteps, tripping and falling as you stretch out your arms to catch her. For the first time, you realize how bony she is. You can feel her spine flexing under her skin, her shoulder blades threatening to poke through. Her whole body convulses with sobs as she weakly tries to hit you, but you hold on tightly for fear that she’ll collapse. Her tears, and saliva, drip onto your shoulder as she continues to cry, like an animal in pain.

You’re at a loss of what to say, or even do. Ms. Yoon had never struck you as fragile, but it’s clear that her son’s wellbeing is one of the few things that can break her down. You wonder, over the sound of her wails, how long it’s been since she cried, and feel bad that you didn’t think of her as someone deeply effected by the marriage and its aftereffects. Like you, she had to deal with the loss of Z.G. too.

“I’m sorry,” you mutter, staring at the wall across the room.

You’re relieved when you hear the backdoor slide open, and look back to meet Jumin’s worried expression. He opens his mouth to speak, but you beat him to it. “Can you help me and get her something to drink? I think there’s leftover tea in the kitchen.” Nodding, Jumin blinks rapidly as he tries to make sense of the scene, but you hardly allow him time to process. “Hurry up and close the door. I’ll explain later.”

While he does that, you guide Ms. Yoon back toward the couch. “We’re going to sit down, okay? Do you want anything? Look, the boys are here to see you.” The dogs, whining and yawning, climb up on the couch to half-lay in Ms. Yoon’s lap, unaware that they’re much too big to be doing so. But, Ms. Yoon seems comforted, and asks you to get her some tissues through shuddering breaths.

“Alright. I’ll be right back, okay?” You let her know that Jumin is on his way with a drink, and ask her to stay put. She nods, eyes downcast as she buries her face in the scruff of her dog’s neck. “Okay,” you confirm, unsure if leaving her alone is a good idea. Fortunately, Jumin rounds the corner with a mug of tea, catching your eye as you pass to leave the room.

You’re sure he’ll want to know everything in detail, but for now you’re on a mission for tissues.

Navigating her home with ease, you open the closet where you remember she stores them. It’s filled with paper towels, toilet paper, laundry soap, and various cleaning products, but no tissue boxes. You heave a sigh, realizing that this mission will be slightly harder than you thought.

The next place you check is her bedroom. Switching on the light of the ceiling fan, you give the place a quick once-over and gasp as you take in its messiness. Dog toys lie scattered around the unmade bed, along with many pairs of one-sided, half chewed shoes. The trashcan sitting under the vanity reeks of old food, and as you pull out the chair, you discover a pile of wrinkled laundry. You’re not sure if it’s clean, but don’t stick around to find out.

Heading into the attached bathroom, you’re relieved to find that it hasn’t fallen into despair yet. You search under the sink for the tissues, amazed and thankful to find a box until picking it up and realizing it’s empty. Groaning, you throw the box away and switch off the light as you exit Ms. Yoon’s bathroom, then bedroom. You stand in the hallway for a moment, racking your brain until you realize that there’s another closet you can check.

It’s located at the back of the house near the other bedrooms, where Z.G.’s is.

You really don’t want to go there, but in the distance you can hear Ms. Yoon beginning to cry again. With a sigh, you force yourself to walk, dreading what you’ll see and remember. One step after another, you make it to the closet and laugh in relief as you find a fresh box of tissues. “Thank god,” you mumble, closing the door. You lean against it, noticing how the morning light seeps through the windows to dimly illuminate the hall.

From here you can see Z.G.’s door, and the longer you stare at it, the more you can imagine hearing his violin. You take an unsure step toward it, compelled by nostalgia. Soon your hand is hovering over the handle, and you can hear the sound of your breathing reflected off the door. You turn the handle, entering the room and getting a strange chill.

The walls, unlike all the others in the house, are white, and they reflect the light coming in from the drawn curtains brightly. You recognize the desk and lamp, his books and wire music stand, and frown. Taking a step, you feel how cold it is. No one has set foot in here in years, and its even more apparent as you notice the outdated calendar pinned to Z.G.’s cork board.

You’re glad he was never one for pictures, but his little knickknacks resurface memories just as easily as any photo could. 

The shelves hold jars of money, which he’d promised to use to take you to the sea with, and his wall of violin plaques and awards remind you of just how skilled he is. His laundry basket is empty except for a basketball signed by his high school buddies, and you can see the toes of his forgotten shoes peeking out at you from under the bed. Stepping further into the room, you turn, taking it all in. 

How strange it is to stand here, in the middle of a room once filled with laughter and music, and find it completely empty. You stare at the floor, noticing the layer of dust, and follow the floorboards to the doors of Z.G.’s closet. You wonder if he kept his high school uniform like you did. Hesitating, as if someone is watching, you step over and slide the door open.

A musky smell emits, and you’re met with an array of sweatshirts, hoodies, and T-shirts. It’s easy to picture him wearing them, and you reach out to rub the familiar fabrics with your fingertips. The textures, soft and rough, are pushed aside so you can see deeper into the closet. Finally, at the back, behind a number of wrinkled dress shirts, you spot the old uniform. It’s presence is enough to make you drop your hand and stare, void of any emotion.

How many times had your mother yelled at him to tuck in this shirt? Or smiled at you and offered to carry your bag in it? These pants used to get so dirty whenever he played baseball, and you can clearly remember him asking you to  replace the buttons on the back pockets after they’d fallen off. In the winter, Z.G. would keep the shirt hidden under a thick coat. In the late spring, just before summer, he would peel it off and sling it over one shoulder. You still remember all the times you had looked at the back of this collar on the walk uphill to school, thinking that you would love its wearer forever.

You swallow, fixing the closet to look as though no one had looked inside, and slide the door shut as quietly as possible. Your eyes wander across the patterned tissue box you hold, and you wonder why you thought it would be a good idea to come here. Not just to Z.G.’s room, but to his mother’s house as well. You’re still trying to figure that out as you exit the bedroom and return to Jumin and Ms. Yoon.

She looks up at you, her lip trembling as you offer her the box of tissues. “I’m so sorry you had to see me like this,” she sobs, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I said. For insulting you and hurting you…” She takes a wad of tissues and blows her nose, wailing as you motion for Jumin to get up and let you have the seat beside her. Rubbing Ms. Yoon’s back, you place the box in your lap and hush her as Jumin awkwardly seats himself in the recliner.

The dogs begin licking Ms. Yoon’s tears, and wiggle nervously as they attempt to cheer her up. “Ms. Yoon,” you sigh, trying to think of something to say. “Please don’t cry. Why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind instead? Hm? That way I can help you.” The woman shudders at your kindness, crying harder as she begins wiping her tears with the palms of her hands.

“It’s Z.G.,” she moans, forcing herself to speak. “He never told me where he was until he last called me! I told him I was happy to hear his voice, and that I wanted him to come home, but he won’t! He says it’s because of you! Because you didn’t want to get married and don’t love him anymore!” Ms. Yoon coughs, putting a momentary stop to her crying.

You offer her another tissue to wipe her nose. “Well where is he?” you ask. “If he’s back in Seoul I’m sure Jumin and I could ask around and convince him to come see you.” Ms. Yoon looks at you, her mouth a deep frown.

“What do you mean Seoul?” she asks, now a little calmer. “Didn’t I tell you? He’s here. Staying at one of the inns.” You furrow your brow, and ask why. “Oh, I think he told me he’s going to be hosting a class at the college and high school. For violin.”

This is certainly news to you. 

“Well, if he won’t come here, couldn’t you just go and see him instead?” you ask. “I mean, he didn’t tell you not to, did he?”

“No, but you don’t understand!” Ms. Yoon mutters, getting misty eyed. “He has to come home because this is where we were supposed to live and be happy together! I used up all of my settlement money from the divorce on this house, and now he won’t even come near it!” Her voice begins to break, and she takes a shaky breath. “I just want my son back. Please speak to him, ___! I’m begging you.”

Jumin catches your eye, and you know immediately that the choice is all yours.

———

Walking down the street, away from Ms. Yoon and her house, you kick a pebble. It skips along the sidewalk, coming to a stop until you kick it again. The cycle continues, and you sigh as you accidentally scuff your boot.

“So,” Jumin begins, noting your stormy mood, “she would’ve been your mother-in-law?” You nod, and mutter that you’re glad she isn’t. “Really? I kind of liked her. When she wasn’t crying, of course. Or insulting us…” 

You send him an annoyed look.

“Jumin, I appreciate that you’re trying to cheer me up and all, but I don’t find that very funny. She wasn’t in her right mind. Don’t make light of it.” You mutter that he should be more careful with his words, which makes him sigh and apologize. “You should be sorry,” you huff. “That woman never gets upset over anything, so to have seen her snap like that worries me.”

There’s a small silence, and your eyes lower to the cracks in the sidewalk. “While I was looking for those tissues, I saw her room. It’s a complete mess, which is so unlike her. I mean, she’s the type to get upset when her dogs track dirt into the house!” You shake your head in disbelief. “If she’s fallen that far from her usual standard, the whole thing with Z.G. is really getting to her,” you conclude.

“I don’t understand,” Jumin says, after a moment. “You say that you’re glad she’s not your mother-in-law, but you still seem to care for her as deeply as your own parents. I find that counter intuitive…”

“Well, she disappointed me today,” you sigh. “After you left the room, she spoke her mind about our relationship. She thinks I’m only dating you for money, because of my clothes and because she doesn’t think you’re my type. After that, when she asked me to talk to Z.G. and I told her I wasn’t sure, she called me a selfish brat. I mean, I guess it might look that way if Z.G. complained to her all the time, but I’m really shocked she thinks so little of me.”

You shrug, and keep your eyes downcast. “Still, I want to give her benefit of the doubt. She’s obviously very lonely, and I think she’s been that way since the wedding. I mean when you think about it, that single event took away her son, my mom, and me. The three people she was closest to.” You admit that Ms. Yoon might have had a friend or two to comfort her, but you seriously doubt she wanted to get close to anyone after realizing how temporary people can be. “Either way, I’m sure she didn’t mean what she said,” you sigh. “She’s just worried about her son.”

Jumin is quiet as he considers this, but eventually asks, “So you forgive her?”

“Not entirely,” you mumble. “I’m just saying that I’m willing to let most of this slide because I feel bad for her. A part of me will always remember what she said when she wasn’t thinking about filtering her words, though.”

The two of you grow quiet, and Jumin reaches out for your hand. He’s wearing your gloves again. “I suppose there’s only one thing left to ask,” he sighs. “Are you really going to speak to Z.G.?” He squeezes your hand in anticipation of your answer.

“Yeah, probably.”

“Today?”

“No, not today. I think I’ll explode if I have to deal with anymore feelings,” you laugh. “Maybe sometime tomorrow. Or right before we leave? I don’t know.” You ask Jumin what time he thinks would be right, but you don’t get much of a response. “Well I guess it doesn’t matter until I figure out where he’s staying,” you say, letting go of his hand. “Do you think Saeyoung or Saeran could help me?”

Jumin nods, but frowns. “I’m sure they’ll both be willing to help, but don’t go out of your way to make this meeting happen if it’s too difficult. You shouldn’t have to continuously worry over an old partner like this. He should put his feelings aside and think of how much trouble he’s causing you.” He scoffs, muttering that Z.G. should be thankful you’re so kind.

You agree and sigh. “It’ll pass, though. In a couple of days we’ll be home again, and hopefully things will be better.” Jumin nods, and the two of you stay silent.

Continuing to follow the slope of the sidewalk, you arrive at the plaza and notice how quiet it is. Only a few early birds can be seen shopping for groceries, most of them silver-haired and elderly. They seem to be enjoying the chilly morning, as most of them have only bothered to put on thin sweaters.

Directing your attention to the car, you notice that Driver Kim is standing with the door wide open, observing the road. You call out to him, curious to know what it is he’s up to.

“Oh, Miss ___, Mr. Han! I was just getting up to get myself a coffee when I noticed something coming up the road. Do you see it? Just there, on the horizon.” He points to something in the distance, which is sort of hard to make out at first, but you quickly recognize the familiar sight. “Do you know what it is?” he asks, as you gasp in surprise.

Your whole face lights up with joy. “They’re sheep!” you laugh, beckoning Jumin over to take a look. “It must be time for the ranchers to bring up their flock again!” You begin to explain, after noticing Jumin’s curious expression, that they’re taken down before winter to protect them from the cold, and brought back up to the pasture every beginning of spring. “The road used to get clogged up when they did this during the day, so I guess they started earlier to beat traffic.”

Driver Kim continues to marvel at the sight of the fluffy mass slowly inching up the road, looking back to smile at you from time to time. “There sure are a lot of them,” he chuckles. “But isn’t it still too cold to bring them up?” Jumin agrees, reasoning that it would be much easier to herd the sheep after the snow melts.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” you smile. “The ranchers up there have been doing this forever, so they know exactly when to make the move. Oh, and there’s a little superstition around here that says when you see the sheep ascend, the sun will too. So, I guess we should be expecting some warmer days before we leave!” Jumin seems especially pleased to hear this.

The sheep continue to get closer, and you begin to hear the ranchers on horseback shouting commands to their dogs. You can see the canine helpers weaving through the flock and barking as necessary to keep everyone on the correct path, causing some of the sheep to bleat in surprise as they zip past. The sounds of their bells can be heard, and the sheep keep coming and coming for a long time. Eventually, they’re right in front of you, and you can see the eyes, noses, and ears of each individual.

“There’s more than I expected,” Jumin says, smiling at you. “How do they keep track of so many? From what it looks like, they’re not tagged in any way…” You shrug, and Jumin returns a wave from one of the ranchers. “Their coats are quite thick as well. How long does it take them to trim off the excess?”

“Ah, maybe a couple days?” you laugh. “I know they do it in the summer, when it gets really hot, but I never asked any of them how long it takes.” Jumin nods, and you go over to join Driver Kim in leaning on the car. Awhile later, Jumin joins you, smiling as you admit you feel better. “I didn’t realize how upset I was,” you sigh, resting your chin in your hand.

The sheep continue to go by, but Jumin has his attention on you. “I’m glad you’re feeling better. You shouldn’t have to put up with so much.” He grins. “Perhaps I should look into getting us a lamb instead of a dog? Though I’m not sure how Elizabeth would react, it would be worth it to see you smile.” You laugh and come to stand at his side, where he gets up off the car to drape his arm over your shoulder. You lazily sling your arm around his waist in return, smiling up at him before returning your attention to the flock.

———

It’s a long time until the last sheep is out of sight, and you wonder what other strange events the day could have in store.

Jumin helps you into the car, which Driver Kim has generously warmed up in advance. You let out a content sigh as you snuggle into the heated backseat, and notice Jumin’s smile as he slides in after you. “See? I knew you would be cold. You’re just too proud to admit it.” You deny it of course, which earns a small laugh as he closes the door. “Oh, I’d better give these back before I forget.” You smile as you watch him struggle to break free of the tight gloves, and laugh as you notice Driver Kim’s confused expression in the rearview mirror.

“He’s fine,” you assure. “Those are my gloves. I let him wear them because he forgot his in the car.” Driver Kim chuckles, and goes to take a sip of his coffee. When Jumin finally manages to get them off, he hands them to you and sits back in his seat.

“Now that the road is clear, where to?” Driver Kim asks. You look at Jumin, who shakes his head, and shrug to Driver Kim. “Neither of you have a destination in mind? Perhaps I could suggest something. Maybe the lake? Or further up the road to where the sheep are headed?” You ask Jumin what he thinks.

“The lake might be nice. You did say that you wanted to visit it.”

“Yeah, but it’s kind of far. It’s easy to lose track of time there too, so I’m not sure we’d be back in time for dinner with my parents.”

“I suppose that means the ranch isn’t a wise choice either.”

You hum in thought, resting your head on the window. Jumin and Driver Kim seem to be thinking hard as well, but the silence is broken by the short buzz of your phone. “Someone’s texting me?” you ask, giving Jumin a strange look. You open the message and your eyebrows raise in surprise. “It’s my mom. She’s asking me to pick up eggs at the grocery store…” Your phone buzzes again, and again for each item she adds to the list.

“She certainly isn’t holding herself back, is she?” Driver Kim laughs. “Would you  like me to take begin route to the grocery store? Or would you like to purchase the items in the plaza?” You sigh.

“Grocery store, please. She’s asking me to pick up dietary supplements now. I’ll give you directions.”

Imagine going through Leonard’s closet to help him get ready for dinner with your parents. “Len?”, You say as you go through black upon black clothing. “Yeah kitten?” He says as he walks in the room and leans against the wall. “Why do you only have black clothes? And don’t say because of robbing banks.” You say as he smirks as you find a black suit and navy blue tie. “See you found something blue.” You just roll your eyes. “Put this on and I’ll be back at 7 to get you.” He kisses you as you then leave smiling.