When she was eighteen and giggly and spontaneous and spent every summer morning baked under the unforgiving sun, Choi Sooyoung found her true love.
She had herself splattered over the lawn, swimming in sweat on her mother's best quilt. There wasn't a speck of cloud in the sky and the mist in the air makes it a little too hard to breathe. She had a foreign book in one hand, turned to a later page as if in illusion of doing something smart, as she chugged bottle after bottle of fruit juice she kept in a cooler by her feet.
A shadow cast over the blurred print of her book. Sooyoung pushed her sunglasses over her sticky hair and tilted her chin to look.
He was tall and handsome and every bit the cliché of the guy all the bad girls want. He had a boyish grin permanently painted on his face, and he looked as if he knew that he was heaven-sent. Even upside-down from where Sooyoung looked and with the rays of the sun glaring angrily behind him, he was… perfect.
"You're blocking my light," she complained.
"Aren't you done pretending to read that? Summer's almost over," he laughed, lying on the grass beside Sooyoung's quilt.
"I'll be done when summer's over."
"If you say so."
Sooyoung snapped the book close and propped herself on one elbow, turning to his direction. His eyes were now closed and he started humming a comfortable tune. The late tan from all those afternoons in the soccer field didn't help her from ignoring the deeply-carved muscles on his arms.
"What will happen when summer's over?" she asked.
He pursed his lips into a thin smile, "You go to college."
"Do I have to go to college?"
"Unless you want to stay home and be my housewife."
Sooyoung punched him on the shoulder and plopped back on her quilt, facing the sun. "You wish!" she scoffed.
She held out an arm, fanning her fingers out, and winced at the sunlight piercing through the narrow gaps, "What will happen when I go to college?"
He sighed, “We will have to be apart for a little while.”
“Will we be over when summer’s over?”
"I’m not forgetting about you, if that's what you mean," he said firmly.
“How can you be so sure?”
He slipped a hand over hers and intertwined their fingers, blocking the light completely from her vision.
"Because you’re the best thing that's ever happened to me."
When she was twenty-five and still giggly and spontaneous and coveted the days when she can soak in the mid-morning sun without worrying about cancer, Choi Sooyoung lived in the best memories of her true love.
She worked as a schoolteacher in a little suburban town just outside of Seoul. She lived in a rented house with a thin picket fence and a small vegetable garden that the previous tenants started. She liked the fresh breeze and the fluttering meadows of peonies and daisies that go for miles and miles on both sides of the road.
Down the street was a big white-washed building that housed forgotten people. Or people who thought that they have been forgotten. Sooyoung stops by with baked goods to make sure that those people are remembered somehow.
Sooyoung loved being in the countryside. It was the life she often dreamed of in her younger, lazier days. All that’s missing is a husband who needed her to knot his tie, little footsteps to mess up her polished floors, and maybe a dog to keep her company while she does the housework.
She would love to share the country life with her true love.
“Why not date again?” Tiffany asked her during their lunch break. Joohyun's head snapped up from her lunch tray and sent Tiffany a glare, but she doesn’t scold her like she used to. After all, Tiffany says that every day since she moved out of Myeongdong to live with Sooyoung a year ago.
“I should, shouldn’t I?” she laughs, stuffing her mouth with baked beans and pickled radish.
She’s been told too many times that she should move on. Even Joohyun says so (and Joohyun never says anything she doesn’t mean).
“Yes,” Tiffany said, piling Sooyoung’s tray with meat, “Because someone’s got to tell you to stop eating beans and radish with every meal before you die of heartburn.”
“I like beans and radish, Tiff.”
Sooyoung didn’t like beans and radish, and Tiffany knew that. But Sooyoung wasn’t ready to move on from beans and radish just yet.
The summer of 2008 began with so much time to spend and so few things to do, yet the eighteen-year-old Choi Sooyoung thought otherwise.
She finished her college applications and even took all the pre-college courses her mother enrolled her in. All of them. She was exhausted from all the chewed-up pencil erasers and paper cuts she had rewarded herself with. High school was over. She wanted to surf the tides during the storm, volunteer at the wildlife sanctuary, learn how to play soccer. She had mentally mapped out her six weeks of vacation. But, as great plans usually go, hers flopped during the very first day of summer.
“Absolutely not,” her mom looked her straight in the eye.
“Surfing is just like riding a bike! It’s perfectly safe and everybody does it anyway.”
“I highly doubt that it’s safe. And what's with this 'everybody does it' business? I don’t surf," Mrs. Choi interjected, handing Sooyoung a portion of whatever that night’s dinner was.
“But you’re a mom, of course you don’t surf!” she sat down on the counter with a thump, “How about the sanctuary? I can do that, right?”
“And get eaten by giraffes? No.”
Giraffes don’t even eat people, she wanted to say. “At least let me join the summer soccer league?”
“I thought that was a boy’s league?”
“It is! But I want to learn how to play. Besides, Kyuhyun’s gonna be there.”
Her mother turned away from the stove and bopped her head with a wooden spoon. “Mom! What was that for?!” she complained, cradling her head.
“Is that who this is about? Is this about the Cho boy?”
“Of course not!” Sooyoung replied almost immediately, “I mean, that’s silly, mom. I just want to play soccer.”
Mrs. Choi returned to her bubbling pots and pans, stirring sauce with the spoon she had hit her daughter with. "You're not exactly graceful, Sooyoung. I need you to have a complete set of arms and legs when college starts."
"You're so unfair," Sooyoung mumbled, pushing around the vegetables on her plate.
The kitchen door swung open and in came the boy who lived next door. "Dinner smells great, auntie," he said, sliding into the seat next to the sulking girl.
"Tell my daughter that she cannot join the soccer league with you," Mrs. Choi demanded, pointing the wooden spoon accusingly at Sooyoung.
"You cannot join the soccer league with me," he said automatically.
Satisfied, Mrs. Choi finally turned towards the stove, "Thank you."
"Traitor," Sooyoung hissed.
He shrugged, "Want to go to the shore?"
She pretended to think about it but she knew she looked too eager to get out of the house, "Mom, we're going to the shore."
"Not before you finish your food."
"But I'm coming back for dinner!"
Mrs. Choi did not even turn around to command, "Finish your food, young lady."
"But you gave me beans and sweet radish! You know I— " she was abruptly cut when he snatched her chopsticks and silently scarfed down the baked beans and pickled radish that sat on her plate.
He gave her a big grin through a mouth full of food.
"I'm done eating," Sooyoung said in a sing-song voice, face breaking into a smile, and grabbed him by the hand, "We're going to the shore."
They left on his bike with Tiger Lily, the Chois’ dog, barking after them. He pedaled with one hand on the handlebar and the other on his cap, keeping it from flying away. She sat behind him, clutching the waistband of his jeans and pressing her face on his back to keep the wind from scratching her cheeks.
"Thank you for eating my beans and radish," she mumbled into the fabric of his shirt.
"I'll eat all the beans and radish in the world for you, Soo."
Sooyoung stepped inside the warm, homey cafe and immediately knew that it was a set-up.
Her favorite table by the stained glass window was adorned with a pot of bright lavender heathers and a stubby display of steaming banana muffins. It was the middle of the afternoon and the sun was up, yet the bamboo blinds were drawn down and the overhead lamps were dimmed to an orange glow.
The owner, Sunny (as she’s called by everyone, but who knows what her real name is), was perched on a high stool behind the counter. She gave Sooyoung a small, suggestive smile before pretending to rearrange the pastries on display.
Heaving a small sigh, Sooyoung walked towards the table. A man in a starched white shirt with a loosely-clasped tie stood up and studied her nervously.
"Hi. Are you Sooyoung?" he asked tentatively.
She smiled at him comfortably and offered her hand, "Yup, that's me."
He shook her hand in a loose grip and gestured for both of them to sit. "My name is Kris. Kris Wu," he said.
"So which one of my friends blackmailed you, Kris Wu?"
He rubbed the back of his neck, "Ah. Well…"
Of course it was Tiffany. It was always Tiffany who stalked all of their other friends for single brothers, cousins, workmates, neighbors, gym instructors, cab drivers, bellmen to force Sooyoung to date. She had always agreed to go on all of them to shut sweet, darling Tiffany up.
But this Kris looked like a good kid. With an unusual delicateness in his eyes and a firm jaw, Sooyoung decides that he's not bad-looking either.
"Their cafe con panna is the world class. If you like espressos, that is," she offered, pointing to the chalk-drawn menu.
They got cups of snobby coffee and shared a blueberry scone to go with the fresh batch of muffins on the table.
Kris talked about being a middle school music teacher in the next town over. He had a deep voice and a foreign accent almost too faded to notice. He talked so quietly and it was even quieter when he laughed.
An hour passed, and another, and then two more. Sunny the owner's small, suggestive smile turned into a wide, cunning one as she personally served them their third round of coffee.
The date ended right before dinner (which they said they'll go to some other time) with Kris settling the check after a good ten minutes of insisting. He helped Sooyoung into her coat and hoisted an arm for her to hold.
"Come again!" Sunny the owner called out, waving both her arms in the air.
Sooyoung and Kris stood face to face outside the cafe. It was long after dark and the wind smelled of pinecones and roasted peanuts.
"Tell me something," Sooyoung said, busy knotting the tie that came undone around Kris' collar.
"What is it?" he asked, a little startled from the other’s impulsion.
"You went out with me as an excuse to see Tiffany."
Sooyoung looked up to meet the surprised expression on his face when he realized that she didn't have to use an interrogative punctuation to ask that question. "Seems like you got it all figured out," he muttered apologetically.
"It’s probably the caffeine but… you ask about her every few minutes," Sooyoung teased, giving his tie a final tug.
Kris hung his head like a child, "I can't say anything to save myself now, can I?"
The truth is, Sooyoung knew Kris Wu even before he said his name. Sooyoung knew all of Tiffany's drunk college memories; the dire, forgettable ones and the ones with the nice-looking guys like Kris.
"You're good company Kris," she tells him, "I'll see you around."
Sooyoung gave him a small hug and a pat on the shoulder before turning to leave.
Kris watched her walk away, gripping the ends of his tie. "You knot a messy tie, you know!" he called after her.
Sooyoung twirled around, her teeth glistening in a huge smile. "I know!" she yelled in reply through cupped hands.
She continued walking down the path, leaving a confused Kris Wu in front of her favorite warm, homey cafe, still looking down at his misshaped tie.
Sooyoung wasn't ready to learn how to knot a tie just yet.
“Tell me again why I have to go to this thing.”
He waited for her to finish, but Sooyoung was already busy looking at dress shirts and other forms of men’s clothing. He watched her skirt away from the blacks and the beiges, and worked her way through the pastels and the purples.
“This?” she asked, shoving a shirt to his face. It was a short-sleeved lavender pinstripe button-up.
“Yes,” she slung the shirt over her shoulder.
He tailed her across the floor and towards another section in the department. This time, Sooyoung was scanning through an assortment of ties. Plain ones, darks ones, light ones, monogrammed ones and ones with Disney characters on them.
“I’m not wearing a tie,” he refused, putting back everything she lifted.
“Yes, you are,” she replied.
They waddled in a beeline to the counter, and Sooyoung took out a thick wad of bills from her life savings to pay for the shirt and the outrageously-expensive black velvet tie.
The cashier rung up the machine and monotonously announced the price.
He quickly snatched the items from the counter, “We won’t take it.”
“Yes, we will,” Sooyoung deadpanned, peeling the bills one at a time and laying them in front of the cashier.
With the clothes still in his hands, he watched the bundle slim down to less than a quarter of its original size. “This is ridiculous! You had that since you were in the second grade! I can’t let you pay for these!” he exclaimed.
“Would you like to pay for them?”
“I don’t have that kind of cash on me.”
“I thought so,” she said, finally handing over the money.
He bought her a giant scoop of ice cream afterwards.
A huge paper bag was slung over a handlebar of his bike as he pedaled home with Sooyoung slurping a mound of chocolate chip ice cream behind him.
“Why do I have to go? I’m not even in high school anymore.”
“The girls wanted to see you there.”
“What am I— some kind of trophy?”
“Don’t be a drama queen!” she scolded, “Besides, you’re keeping me company.”
“Like a date?” he teased.
Sooyoung gulped down the last of the cone and dusted her hands before hitting him square on the nape, “For that, you’re paying me back two hundred and eighty dollars, young man.”
He snorted as if he didn’t care. But he was going to pay her back anyway.
The weekend came. He sat on the steps of the Chois’ front porch, dressed in a lavender pinstripe shirt and dark (freshly-washed and ironed) jeans. He followed the second hand of his watch tick its way around the numbers. He’s going home if she doesn’t come out when the second hand reaches twelve, he decided.
The front door opened and out came Sooyoung in a white dress with a laced skirt. On her feet were black flats that matched the fabric of his tie, and on her head was a crown of faux silver. “Hey there, handsome,” she called out.
He tried to keep his mouth from falling open (and succeeded, thank goodness).
They arrived at Tiffany’s party twenty minutes later. The whole soccer league was there; half of them dragging around a date and the other half trying to get all the single girls drunk.
“Don’t you look smashing!” Tiffany exclaimed, giving her friend a hug. Her arms were around Sooyoung but her eyes were stuck on him.
He tugged the collar of his shirt uncomfortably, forcing himself not to think about how silly he looked in a brand name shirt and an inappropriate tie when all the other guys were wearing plaid and polo shirts. “Do you want a drink?” he asked.
“Cold beer,” Sooyoung replied.
He shrugged, walking towards the refreshments table with his hands in the back pockets of his jeans.
“He’s so hot! Why can you get a guy like that and I can’t?” Tiffany complained, wrapping an arm around Sooyoung’s shoulder to support her drunken weight. Together, they staggered to the backyard where their friends sat in a crudely-formed circle.
“In fact,” Tiffany continued, waving her cup of punch in the air, “You get all the hot guys! I mean, you’re pretty and everything Soo, but you don’t have legs like mine! But still— ” She bounced on a chair next to Jessica and Jonghyun who were this close to ripping each others’ clothes with their teeth, “But still you get all the hot guys! Like that American guy, Eli something, from winter break of oh-six and that— ”
“Lay off the alcohol, Tiffany!” Kim Hyoyeon threw an empty cup at her, “Give Sooyoung a break!”
“I’m just saying!” Tiffany retorted, finishing her punch and throwing the cup at Hyoyeon. “Sooyoung gets whoever she wants! She gets a happily-ever-after every… fucking… time!”
Sooyoung sat still, thoroughly not amazed.
Ever since that Siwon guy from Sunday school broke up with her to run away to the seminary, Tiffany acted like she had lost all her chances in love. Tiffany threw makeshift parties each and every month to fill the void but, worse yet, alcohol fuels her like Siwon left only yesterday.
“Let’s look for a guy drunk enough to play Seven Minutes in Heaven with you, okay?” Sooyoung suggested half-heartedly.
“No, no, no, no, no,” Tiffany shook her head, “We’re not in the eighth grade anymore! But— if you insist— I’d like that guy to play with!”
She was pointing at him, hesitantly walking towards the group.
“What do you want?” he asked, taking a seat beside Sooyoung.
“Sooyoung wants you to play Seven Minutes in Heaven with me!” Tiffany sang gleefully, reaching over to pat his thigh.
He raised an eyebrow.
“I did not say that,” Sooyoung said subtly, “And I said cold beer— unless this is a magic Pepsi can that turns soda into beer.”
“No getting drunk tonight,” he replied, “And I’m not playing that game.”
Tiffany grunted, “You just want to play with Sooyoung.”
Hyo threw another crumpled cup at her, “Go jump in the pool, Tiff.”
“Go get your own Seven Minutes in Heaven guy!” she retorted, grabbing the nearest cup and hauling it towards her friend.
It was a full cup.
The contents landed right at Cho Kyuhyun’s pastel yellow shirt. He yelped in surprise and threw Tiffany a confused look. The accused burst into unreasonable laughter. “I can see your abs, Kyuhyun! You have… abs!” she shrieked.
Victoria Song gave her a threatening glare before jumping up to dab her boyfriend’s shirt dry with a handful of tissues. “Maybe you should call it a night off, Tiffany,” she said through gritted teeth.
“You’re one to talk!” Tiffany scoffed at her invite-by-proxy guest, getting on her feet and swayed a little bit, “If not for booze nights like this, you wouldn’t have scored Soo’s boyfriend!”
Hyoyeon and Sooyoung rose to their feet and grabbed each of Tiffany’s arms before Victoria could lunge towards her. Kyuhyun caught his girlfriend by the waist as she tried to move towards Tiffany.
“Fortunately for me, Kyuhyun was all too willing to leave! Or did you honestly think that he wasn’t already out of love?!”
Sooyoung’s grip loosened around Tiffany’s forearm. The world whirled into life and her vision suddenly blurred. She struggled to look at Kyuhyun questioningly.
It’s been almost two years.
A pair of hands took hold of her shoulders and spun her around, turning her away from the commotion. Her eyes stung with tears that she didn’t want to fall. How stupid. Two years later and she still pined for the Cho boy. How incredibly stupid.
“Look at me,” he said, slapping her shoulders lightly.
“I’m looking at you,” she snapped, willing the tears to stay where they were.
“Look at my tie,” he ordered, loosening the knot around his collar, “Knot my tie.”
Her vision was still hazy, but she obeyed. Sooyoung reached up and, with trembling hands, she twisted and turned the fabric into what she thinks would form a Cavendish knot.
“When you finish knotting my tie, everything will be alright,” he assured, keeping his eyes on her busy hands. The world spun slower and the wetness that brimmed under her eyes evaporated; all Sooyoung saw were her hands and a black tie.
But everything wasn’t all right when Sooyoung finished knotting his tie.
Sooyoung, Tiffany and he sat in a row on the Hwang’s couch thirty minutes later. Tiffany had a bag of frozen peas balancing on her head and she was massaging her temples.
“I’m sorry,” she sighed, “I do not what happened. As usual.”
“No more parties for the rest of summer, okay Tiff?” Sooyoung said, sinking into the throw pillows.
Tiffany nodded, pressing her temples harder, “I’ll go get some orange juice.”
“So,” he spoke up as Tiffany disappeared into the kitchen, “You had to bring a hot date to Tiffany’s weekly high school parties.”
“I was sick of going alone.”
“You could have just asked me. Not bribe me with two hundred and eighty dollars worth of clothes that I’ll wear only once.”
“And be rejected?” she scoffed, “No.”
He stayed silent for a moment. “Were you sick of going alone or of seeing him not alone?”
“I’m sick of not going with him like we used to.”
“So you brought me along in fill his place? You brought a trophy to boast?”
She looked at him, hoping to meet his eyes, but he was looking down at his tie. “Well, if you say it like that— am I too unfair?” she asked, placing a hand over one of his, “I’m sorry.”
He reached up to his collar and clasped the clumsy square knot she had put there, “I would’ve gone here with you, anyway. Even if you don’t ask me to.”
His eyes finally met hers and his grip tightened around the knot, “You’re my trophy to boast, after all.”
Twenty-five-year-old Choi Sooyoung pinned her hair away from her face before entering the recreational grounds at the hospital for forgotten people. She had baked a few dozen strawberry-filled tarts as a Saturday snack.
The patients were dressed in soft slippers and cotton pajamas: yellow for the males and peach for the females. They were scattered smoothly throughout the landscaped lawn; some sat in rocking chairs, reading a book or the funny paper, some treaded down the zigzagged pavements with nurses by their elbows, and others had visitors to chat with.
Sooyoung arranged the tarts on little paper plates before handing them out to the patients and their companions.
“Good morning, Yoona, Donghae,” she greeted, placing a plate of tarts between the two.
“Good morning…,” the brunette with high cheekbones and a charming yet shy smile greeted back hesitantly.
“Good morning, Sooyoung,” the young man she called Donghae gave a full greeting.
“Sooyoung?” Yoona echoed, “You must be new here.”
“Not really. I bring homemade pastries every weekend,” she replied, adding another tart on the plate.
“Oh you make the baked goodies,” Yoona whispered excitedly, looking at Donghae who nodded in agreement, “I’m sorry I only noticed you today.”
Sooyoung smiled, fixing another plateful of tarts for the next table. “It’s fine, Yoona. I don’t know everyone around here either.”
She left Yoona and Donghae to enjoy the strawberry tarts, and proceeded to a little corner by the orchid bushes where a stained glass coffee table and a wide wooden chair stood. A handsome man sat on the chair; eyes closed and legs folded beneath him. He had sun-bleached brown hair and a pleasant smile.
“Good morning, Changmin!” Sooyoung called out, almost skipping towards where the young man sat.
Changmin’s eyes flew open and his silent smile grew wider. “Hello Soo!” he called back, giving her a small wave.
“Here,” she said, presenting her tarts with outstretched hands, “I made strawberry tarts!”
“Strawberry tarts!” Changmin exclaimed, accepting the pastries with a small bow, “My favorite!”
Sooyoung laughed, “Your favorite? You said that about last week’s apricot scones!”
Changmin scrunched up his nose and thought for a while. “Well,” he finally said, “Everything you bake tastes so good that they all become my favorite!”
“Smooth talker!” she scolded, ruffling his hair a little before heading further down the recreational area.
“Thank you, Soo!” Changmin called after her.
Sooyoung handed out the rest of the tarts in a swell mood. By the time she finished, Donghae was waiting for her by the steps of the main house. In his hand was a cup of cold water which he immediately offered.
“She didn’t recognize you today,” Donghae said quietly, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his windbreaker.
“She didn’t recognize my name, but she recognized me,” Sooyoung responded defensively, taking a big sip of water.
“What if, the next time, she won’t recognize me? Not just my name, but me?” Donghae asked.
They stood on top of the steps, looking at the broad lawn. From where they were, they could see Yoona exchanging small talk with a few of the other patients. Changmin was among the group, talking and smiling obligingly. With Yoona and Changmin was a Chinese in his early thirties, Han Geng, and a short, pale guy named Jay.
“Lee Donghae,” Sooyoung said.
She watched Yoona throw her head back in laughter, probably from Jay’s good-natured innuendo or Han Geng’s deteriorated Korean. Yoona talked with her hands in the air, momentarily pausing to touch the plain gold band that hung on a thin, casted chain around her neck.
Sooyoung pulled one of Donghae’s hands out of his pocket and held it in front of his face. A similar gold band glistened on his fourth finger.
“One day, her brain will forget everything, including you. But her heart will always remember everything about you.”
It was the second week of summer.
Choi Sooyoung, eighteen and bored, sat under the shade of an old tree at one end of the soccer field. She had on a pair of big sunglasses and her skirt was tucked beneath her legs. A copy of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre was opened at a random page on her lap.
A soccer ball was kicked noisily across the grass and mud. It was a practice game: shirts versus skins, the score was tied at 0:0. The shirts were drenched in dirt; dry-fit cloth clinging to their bodies like saran wrap. The skins were equally drenched in dirt but had the liberty of showing off their chiseled, coffee brown chests.
A lone gamekeeper, looking thin and frail, ran back and forth, blowing a whistle and adjusting his visor.
The soccer league’s girlfriends sat in an intimidating bunch on the bleachers. They were all in floppy hats and short dresses or tank tops with jean shorts. None of them were wearing sunglasses so that everyone could see that their eyes were fixed only on their own boyfriends. Some had towels folded on their laps, some had sports drinks by their feet, some took photos with their then-popular slide phones— and then there was Tiffany Hwang, single and flirting, sipping margarita from a thermos.
Sooyoung sat away from that group because Victoria, on the very top of the bleachers with a patterned pink umbrella over her head, was their unofficial queen bee.
The whistle blew and a penalty signaled the last two minutes of the game.
Lee Hyukjae, skins, stood over the penalty line. “Kim Hyoyeon!” he yelled, eyes focused on the shirts’ goalkeeper. Hyoyeon’s head shot up from taking photos. “I will buy you those dance shoes you wanted last Christmas!” With that, Hyukjae heaved his weight towards his foot and kicked.
The crowd by the bleachers burst into a jealous fit as Hyoyeon stood up excitedly, enthusiastically waving a towel over her head.
“Kwon Yuri!” Another yell from the playing field. This time, Choi Minho, shirts, maneuvered the ball to the other side of the grounds.
Yuri instantly got on her feet, her height towering over Hyo’s petite frame.
“I will massage your feet every night until the last day of summer!”
Just past midfield, Yang Seungho etched the ball in between Minho’s working feet and made his way back to the shirts’ goalkeeper. Minho hissed as he chased after Seungho, and Yuri sat back and tapped her foot in disappointment.
“Park Soyeon!” Seungho yelled, dodging Minho’s illicit shoving, “I will climb up the roof every time your cat gets stuck!”
Seungho aimed for a kick but was toppled over by Cho Kyuhyun who fought Minho over the ball, earning a small turmoil from the bleachers. Minho slowed down, surrendering the ball to his equally-competitive team captain.
“Victoria Song!” Kyuhyun’s deep and usually silent voice boomed.
Sooyoung’s heart jumped up her throat and throbbed there mercilessly.
Victoria raced down the levels of the bleachers and towards the goal where her boyfriend was headed for. “Level the score, Kyuhyun!” she screamed back, hopping animatedly, making her skirt hitch up dangerously.
“I will kiss you once when you’re happy and twice when you’re not!”
Kyuhyun halted, directed his kick, and hauled his strength into the ball. The ball fizzed in the air and into an open area of the net. The skins’ goalkeeper dove and stretched his arms for the ball. It was nowhere near his hands but he swiftly shifted position to slide over grass and keenly kicked the ball away from the goal.
The skins cheered. Kyuhyun muttered a curse. Victoria yelled a string of profanity before marching back to her spot on the stands. Tiffany watched her with a satisfied smirk, taking a long sip of margarita.
The skins’ goalkeeper fetched the ball and twirled it between his fingertips.
“Choi Sooyoung!” he suddenly shouted, tucking the ball under the crook of one elbow and shielding his eyes from the sun as he tried to locate her.
Surprised, Sooyoung sat straighter against the tree and pushed her sunglasses over her hair. Her heart dislodged itself from her throat and slowly sank back to where it should be inside her ribcage. She gave him a small, embarrassed wave. She felt the heated stares from the bleachers, and some of the players in the field turned towards her direction.
The goalkeeper smiled. He propped the ball on the ground, took a few steps backwards and then suddenly charged forward, giving the ball a hearty kick that made it fly well over midfield.
The clock stopped. The gamekeeper blew his whistle.
“I will marry you someday!”
The skins won the game, 0:1. Their goalkeeper won a fluttering piece of Choi Sooyoung’s heart.
Sooyoung met the kid, Lu Han, at the hospital for forgotten people.
He had a pink-on-white polka-dotted apron wrapped around his waist, and his shirt and hands were covered in flour. The wide working table was also covered in flour, and so was half of the kitchen floor.
Sooyoung has never seen so much flour in her life.
An enormous lump of dough sat on a steel tray in front of him. He flourished a handful of flour over it before massaging the dough into a stouter, more shapeless mound. He, then, tore pieces of the dough and began squeezing them into balls.
“What are you doing?” Sooyoung finally stepped inside the room, shrugging off her coat to hang on the rack.
Lu Han glanced at her briefly, his hands paused against the dough, “Making bread. Or whatever becomes of this after it bakes.”
He gave each of the lopsided balls of flour a final poke before straightening his back and dusting his hands on his apron, “I think they look pretty good, don’t you?”
Sooyoung peered into the un-oiled steel tray with a dozen dilapidated lumps that weren’t supposed to be gray and gritty. “They’re fine, I guess,” she lied, swallowing a mouthful of giggles.
“Thank goodness you think so,” he sighed, turning away to heat the oven, “If only the lady who was supposed to make these didn’t ditch us, I wouldn’t have to slave around stabbing wheat. You’d think man is made to do everything!” He shoved the tray inside the oven with just enough force to prove his point.
Lu Han ran his right hand over a clean part of his emasculating apron before offering it to Sooyoung, “I’m Lu Han by the way, your resident crash-course baker.”
Sooyoung gripped his hand in a light handshake, laughed, and replied, “I’m Sooyoung, the lady who ditched and enslaved you.”
Lu Han followed Sooyoung around like a puppy brought home from the dog pound, his face scrunched into an apologetic scowl. His bread cooked soggy on the inside and charred on the outside. Sooyoung made a fresh batch with the snap (and kneading) of her fingers and even offered him the leftover sweet bean paste, which he accepted with a perfect 90-degree angle bow.
It was already a quarter past snack-time when Sooyoung and her brand new puppy left the kitchen to bring out the baked treats. Lu Han carried the large basket lined with a white and red checked blanket while Sooyoung handed out the warm snacks. Donghae followed not far behind, pushing a small trolley laden with glasses of lemonade.
“It’s about time!” a tall girl named Jiyoung exclaimed playfully, “My diseased brain is starting to forget what baked bread looks like!” Some of the patients laughed in spite of themselves (the ones who didn’t were those who didn’t anymore remember that they were sick).
Donghae’s trolley stopped at the table where Yoona sat. She had a large ball of olive green yarn resting on her lap and a busy pair of knitting needles in her hands; she was making a crocheted scarf in Donghae’s favorite color.
“Ice cold lemonade for the pretty princess,” he said, placing a glass in front of her.
Yoona looked from the glass to Donghae’s charming smile. She placed a hand atop her husband’s and smiled back, “Thank you.”
Donghae gave her a wink and started pushing the trolley again when Yoona’s hand caught the hem of his sweater. He turned his head back at her and found his wife looking at him shyly.
“You think…” she hesitated, dropping her gaze to the half-finished scarf in her hands.
Donghae waited for her to continue.
“I suppose— I know I shouldn’t ask…” she tried again, eyes still on the scarf.
Donghae rested his hands over Yoona’s and the scarf, pursing his lips in amusement at how his wife still feels embarrassed over the little things despite being married for a good four years. “It will turn out beautiful, Yoona. No matter what it will look like when you finish it, it will turn out beautiful because you made it.”
Yoona removed her gaze from the knitted cloth and beamed at Donghae. “You’re too kind,” she whispered.
He gave her hands a small squeeze and was about to return to the trolley when he felt Yoona’s hand clutch the hem of his shirt again.
“Then… then do you think my husband will like it?”
That’s all it took for Donghae to quiver his lips into a terrible smile and, without so much as an apology, made a sprint to the farthest wall to collapse against, hidden at the far back of the pavilion.
Yoona stared after him, confused. She saw the nurse in baby blue scrub pants and a white cardigan approach her, carrying a folded napkin with a crisp bun on top.
“Did I say something wrong? The good gentleman looked scared— well, maybe not…maybe he looked a little sad?”
The nurse laid the bun beside the glass of lemonade Donghae had placed on the table. “Maybe he has a lot on his mind,” she said.
“Do you think I offended him? I talked about my husband… perhaps he’s also a patient’s husband?”
“His wife’s memory must be getting worse too. Like mine, I guess, but I often don’t realize what I forget. Poor guy. He’s always been so kind and polite.”
The nurse ran a comforting hand down Yoona’s hair and smoothed it over the curve of her back. “The thought of me forgetting my husband scares me,” Yoona said sadly, “Do you know what it’s like being forgotten?”
The nurse (who wasn’t really a nurse, but Yoona didn’t know that) knew she wasn’t supposed to answer that, “As long as you remember the love you have for him, then that’s enough. You don’t have to remember his face or his proposal or your wedding day— all you have to remember is how he made you feel.”
Yoona patted the nurse’s hand affectionately, “You are too kind to me. It would be helpful if I remembered your name so that I can thank you properly.”
The nurse’s eyes broke contact as she replied, “It’s Sooyoung. My name is Sooyoung, Mrs. Lee.”
Sooyoung left Yoona to her knitting with a stiff and bitter smile, as opposed to the latter’s unsure yet radiant one. And after the remaining patients were handed their afternoon fill, she sat on a wooden bench at the end of the garden, the one draped in moss and what seemed to be wild orchid blossoms, blanched and suddenly exhausted.
Lu Han sat beside her, the woven basket in between them. “I ate a hundred dollars worth of Harry Potter candy the first time my girlfriend couldn’t remember my name,” he offered.
“I watched The Notebook seven times in a row the first time.”
“I’ll pretend that I didn’t do that too,” Lu Han laughed, reaching into the basket and breaking the last bun into halves.
“What happened to her? Your girlfriend, I mean,” Sooyoung asked, nibbling into the bread.
“The long version or the short version?”
“Whichever you like.”
“Well— she left me,” he replied without wincing, as if he has already told that story a million times before, “Hers was a different illness. She lost control. One day, she couldn’t make it to the toilet on time. The next day, she couldn’t remember what a toilet was. Before I knew it, she couldn’t remember how to breathe on her own. And, then, she left quietly in her sleep.”
“You know the worst part? I saw her stop breathing and, for a few hours, I just sat there waiting for her to breathe again.”
Sooyoung lost her appetite halfway through the story. “I’m sorry, Lu Han,” she said.
“Doesn’t matter. You know what it’s like,” Lu Han looked at her and smiled, not a trace of a broken heart lingering on his face. “And you? What happened to you and your boyfriend?” he asked.
“You know… same as everyone with demented lovers. He sort of also— “
“No, not that,” Lu Han interrupted, “I don’t want to hear about that. I meant, what happened after you found out that he was sick?”
“Oh, that. Well,” Sooyoung answered,
“I married him.”
On her first spring break, Sooyoung made banana pancakes with peanut butter on top. She thought it was his favorite breakfast.
They are. She’s right. He forgot.
On bad days, he forgets the littlest details— how to fill in a Sudoku puzzle, which way it was to the back door, having to read a dog-eared book from the beginning because he couldn’t remember the parts he had already read… and mornings like this one, when he woke up and saw the girl from next door cuddling his pillow on the other side of his bed.
Mornings like these make him confused.
“Good morning, handsome,” she murmured with eyes still closed.
“Good morning,” he replied, self-consciously gathering the blankets to cover himself.
“Breakfast is in the kitchen. Your favorite.”
French toast? Froot Loops? Kimchi fried rice?
“Pancakes,” she said sleepily, “Banana pancakes with peanut butter on top.”
“Thank you,” he said quietly, slipping out of bed and still confused. He fought the thought of telling her to go to the Chos and make Kyuhyun Cho breakfast instead. He didn’t know why he thought of that. Or why there was a little tug at this chest while we thought of it.
He padded barefooted into the kitchen. On the kitchen table was his breakfast. On his breakfast were little sticky notes.
On the plate of pancakes: This is your favorite breakfast. You don’t hate anything on this plate.
On the glass of orange juice: You hate orange juice. We ran out of milk.
On top of a few prescription bottles: These are your superhero pills.
On the handle of his fork: You are blind. Put on your contacts. They’re in the bathroom.
On the first door the left: I am the bathroom.
He wore his contact lenses with a little bit of a struggle and sat back down at the breakfast table set for one. All his breakfast memories came flooding in after the first bite of pancakes.
He noticed a final sticky note attached to a vase of white daisies at the center of the table: The girl in your room made you breakfast. Her name is Sooyoung. She’s your wife.
But, by then, he already knew that.
“Ask me,” Lu Han said.
“Ask you what?”
“You know. The question. The one they always ask.”
“Did— did you ever love again?”
Lu Han closed his eyes, afraid of what she might see through them. “I never can,” he replied.
One Thursday afternoon after class, Sooyoung stopped by the bakery across the street and bought glazed doughnuts.
Tiffany Hwang, kicking off her leather high heels and taking a long drink from the coffee tumbler that was never filled with coffee, complained, “That’s carbs. Those people will wake up one day and wonder how they became fat.”
“Oh, shut it, Tiff,” Sooyoung laughed, “You’re not gonna get one if you don’t behave.”
Rolling her eyes, Tiffany grabbed the brown bag Sooyoung had left for her to carry and trudged behind, heels tossed inside the satchel that contained her lesson plan and the tests she was supposed to grade a week ago.
She acts like she hated going to the hospital for forgotten people, but she doesn’t. She met Choi Siwon there, after all (no matter how convincingly she insists that they bumped, literally, into each other in front of the school gates on the first day of middle school and he caught her in his arms, like the leading men did in the movies). That was a long time ago when Tiffany was visiting her mother, and Siwon his father; four years before Mrs. Hwang said goodbye, a year before Mr. Choi followed her.
Tiffany and Siwon became fast friends. They aren’t really friends anymore, although Siwon thinks they still are.
Tiffany acts like she hated tagging along with Sooyoung to visit the forgotten people but, really, how could she ever hate the thought of Choi Siwon?
“Good afternoon, Soo!”
It was Yoona who greeted her first. Today, like one of her rarest days, she was completely herself. Sooyoung gave her a hug, and so did Tiffany who she met one once before— at her wedding day two years ago. Yoona hugged the both of them back.
“It’s a good day!” Donghae gushed in a loud whisper.
The very moment Yoona went back to her knitting, Tiffany whacked a hand over Donghae’s bicep. “So,” she said through gritted teeth, “You’re the reason why our friend here wouldn’t even try to move on!”
“What did I do?” Donghae demanded, briskly rubbing his arm with a look of distaste (but not of surprise).
“Because she comes here an unhealthy number of times and sees… this!”
Sooyoung snatched the tumbler away from Tiffany before she could take a sip. Tiffany growled at her, and then at him.
“This!”, she said, frustrated, snatching the tumbler back and marched over to the white wicker table where Changmin, a patient was on speaking terms with, was watching Jay teach Han Geng how to play chess. Han Geng had taught Jay and Changmin how to play a few months back. Today, however, he looked thoroughly confused. It must be one of Han Geng’s bad days.
“She’s drunk,” Donghae declared, still rubbing his arm.
“Do you remember a time when she isn’t?” Sooyoung said teasingly.
Donghae smiled, “What did she mean, though?”
Sooyoung looked at Yoona, still knitting, sneaking little peeks at Donghae, who had dropped his hand to absently tickle her cheeks. “You know, that,” she pointed out the gesture,
Sooyoung left Yoona and Donghae to collect Tiffany from the boys’ table before she reveals any more trade secrets. She reached the group just in time to hear Han Geng say, “They tell me I used to have a boyfriend. I think about that sometimes but… I don’t know. Do I look gay to you?”
“Your sweater does,” Jay deadpanned, moving a chess piece.
Han Geng’s sweater had a picture of a fat cat with a pink bow hanging from its tail. It looked kind of gay.
“But, hyung, if you don’t remember him at all, why not just love again?” Changmin openly asked.
“See, that’s what I have been telling Soo for so… so, so, so many years now!” Tiffany exclaimed, nudging Changmin for a high five, to which he obliged. Sooyoung guesses that the coffee tumble is now empty.
All three boys turned to look at her, but it was still Changmin who spoke first, “Then why not love again, Sooyoung-sshi?”
Sooyoung breathed out an easy laugh. “I won’t be seeing you guys as often if I fall in love again,” she teased.
Almost immediately, Changmin replied, “Not if you fall in love with me.”
The truth is, Choi Sooyoung didn't meet her true love that one summer before she went away for college. In fact, she had met him years before, when she knew nothing about love.
She rang the doorbell to his house one foggy mid-summer morning in 2008. His mother, hair still tousled from last night's sleep, opened the door with a mug of coffee in hand.
“Is one of the bad days, auntie?”
She smiled wanly but let her in, “He's upstairs if you want to see him.”
Sooyoung hated that part: walking up the stairs during the bad days. She hated that in that moment, for him, she didn't exist. She's afraid that she always gave effort explaining who she was; as if she had to prove that she was a part of his life.
Of course, she hated it. He's the boy next door, after all. The boy from all of the memories she'd care to remember. The boy who eats her baked beans and sweet radish, drenches her in sweaty hugs after soccer practice, tries to make her problems disappear by letting her knot his tie. The boy whose shoulder she cried on when Kyuhyun broke up with her two summers ago; the boy who broke Kyuhyun's shoulder (and nose and left cheekbone) after her tears have dried on his shirt.
Sooyoung peaked inside his room. He was sitting on his bed, looking blankly at his fog-frosted windows. In his hands was a family photograph that was taken at a picnic in the spring; one of his fingers rested against pixels of his father's face. He was memorizing his face, convincing himself of the memories he couldn't remember.
“Doctor... cardiologist... pulmonologist... oncologist...”
“Sports... hiking... swimming... soccer...”
He threw a quick glance towards the foot of his bed. “District attorney. Gardening.” he scowled at himself quietly.
His finger slid a little to the right, landing on his youngest sister's faces.
“Twenty-one... no, younger... seventeen... eighteen...”
Sooyoung knocked uncertainly on the half-opened door. His body did an awkward half turn.
“Hi,” she said (timidly, like she always did during the bad days).
He looked at her expectantly, like she was supposed to explain why she was standing by his doorway that very moment. Slowly, he looked down at the photograph in his hands, searching for her face.
“Um... I'm Sooyoung,” she said, still not moving from her spot behind the door, “Sooyoung, from next door.”
“I'm— “ he began to say, still looking at the photo.
“I'm right there,” she pointed at the huge cork board hammered to the wall opposite his bed. It was where he kept all the information he couldn't keep in his brain: people, birth dates, how he was related to each of them; small facts like favorite colors, chatroom IDs, favorite condiments; bigger facts like ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, suicide attempts, secret literature; and, tacked in the middle, was his medication schedule, printed pictures of the pills included.
At the left of his pill chart was a photograph of him blowing out a single birthday candle on his first birthday, with his mother and father at either side of him.
At the right, was a photograph of Sooyoung, looking out from her bedroom window which was directly across from his. She was wearing his graduation robes. It was the eve of his high school graduation; he had tossed his robes across the lawn adjoining their houses. He had taken that photo himself using a disposable camera with just one more shot left. (But, because that day was a bad day, he didn't know how it got there.)
There was an inscription in the tinniest font on a corner of the photograph:
Write her a letter for her birthday. Check calendar everyday! Watch out for February!
XXX: yellow radish, beans, soccer, marriage
Eat her radish and beans. You like radish and beans (repeat to self when eating radish and beans).
✓✓✓: black coffee, pink, food, weddings
You like pink! You like pink! You like pink!
Middle school graduation! Look at this note!!! Look at this note!!!
High school graduation! Look at this note!!! Look at this note!!!
“That's you,” he finally concluded.
“That's me,” she echoed.
He paused, looking at her. Sooyoung waited for him to start talking again. “You graduated last February... Did I remember?”
“Yes, you did. You woke me up at four in the morning, do you know? You dragged me out of the window and it was snowing outside.”
“Well... did I apologize?”
“You never apologize.”
“Then, I'm s—“
“You never need to apologize,” she corrected herself quickly.
A pause. Sooyoung hates those pauses.
“Well... did I remember your birthday too?”
“What do you think?” she grinned, holding up a thick silver-chained bracelet adorned with little trinkets, including a rhinestone-studded letter S (for Sooyoung).
He watched the trinkets jingle from her wrist. “So... I didn't forget anything, after all?”
Sooyoung walked up to the cork board, studying it for a while. She then turned towards him, poking his shoulder with her finger.
“You forgot to write down August 4th!”
He looked warily at the date on his digital clock: August 5, 2008.
“What happened on August 4th?”
She scoffed at him teasingly before jotting a short note at the very end of her photograph on the board. She motioned for him to come closer. He obliged.
It was when they were standing side by side that he finally saw:
August 4, 2008
I asked her to marry me.
Sooyoung had already clasped his hand before he even realized that she was already huddled next to him.
“I said yes.”
Choi Sooyoung felt someone watching her as she crossed the street to the hospital for forgotten people. She shielded a hand over her eyes to see who it was. It was Changmin, the brown-haired boy who was friends (well, most of the time, when they remember that they're friends) with her childhood friend Donghae's wife, Yoona. He waved at her and, for a moment, she wondered if he had the slightest idea who she was.
“I know who you are,” he immediately said, holding the door open as she stepped inside.
“Of course you do, Changmin. You’re doing well.”
“No. I mean, I know who you are. Not so much, but I do remember who you are.”
Sooyoung turned to face Changmin. The late afternoon sun glared mildly behind him, framing the body of a boy once confused and heavily-medicated yet, that day, was solid and unwavering. He usually had a good idea who she is, yet that day was different.
That day was one of the good days.
It was a day the peonies and daisies bloomed the brightest for miles and miles on both sides of the dirt road in that little suburban town just outside of Seoul. The sun shone brilliantly, but the wind was dense and firm— the cold was coming.
“Who am I?”
“I’ll tell you tomorrow. I will remember to tell you tomorrow. I know I will.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Tomorrow was the last day of summer. The day Choi Sooyoung (eighteen, giggly, spontaneous) married her true love.
“Because you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
falsefallacy: God I missed writing! Sorry if it turned out a little strange, but at least it's not (totally) angst lol (: Rain me down with criticism, you guys. I badly need it!