“What did you eat here?”
“Cup ramen. Triangle kimbap. Strawberry milk. And iced coffee.”
As Siyeon stepped out of the convenience store, she playfully raised one finger to Ijun, who looked at her with a pitiful gaze.
“Is that your meal substitute?”
“Well, sort of, but I can eat more. Oppa, we’ll get dinner too, right? This time, let’s go to a restaurant where the food comes out slowly.”
“Why are your eyes puffy?”
Ijun examined Siyeon’s face and furrowed his forehead.
“I cried because I was hungry, but after eating, I’m fine now.”
“You call that an explanation?”
Siyeon smirked and nodded her head lightly.
Her mood had indeed improved, but it wasn’t because her empty stomach had been filled. It was because of Ijun’s concern for her. His gaze focused solely on her felt so heartwarming. The word “nice” kept circulating in her mind.
“If your mother knew you were eating instant noodles, she’d be furious. What were you doing that kept you busy you couldn’t even eat on time?”
“Are you, a soldier, worrying about civilians’ meals now?”
“I’m not worrying about any civilian; I’m worrying about my girlfriend.”
“…What time is it now?”
Siyeon, who had become flustered, raised her phone to check the time unnecessarily. Every Every time he mentioned girlfriend or lover, it made her heart flutter.
“Do you need to get in early?”
“Then let’s take a leisurely walk to aid our digestion. If you get hungry again, just let me know, and we can eat more.”
The two of them began to walk slowly along the asphalt road by the roadside. The breeze blowing from the opposite direction was refreshing.
As Siyeon walked with Ijun, she didn’t think about her Ichon-dong parents or her Hannam-dong parents. Her heart was at ease, and she felt happy and fluttery.
She suddenly looked up at Ijun, who had a sun-kissed complexion. She glanced at his broad shoulders and muscular arms one by one. He had only been in the military for a few months, but he felt distinctly different from those few months. He exuded the aura of a grown man.
“Your brother will be discharged from the army soon.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“The time passes so quickly. It feels like I just heard about his enlistment yesterday, and now he’s almost discharged.”
“Is that something you say to a soldier who just got his first vacation?”
In response to Ijun’s teasing, Siyeon smiled and locked eyes with him.
“When you get discharged, I would probably be still in college.”
And if things went as planned, she would be living independently. Thinking about it made her parents, who had been out of touch all day, come to mind.
Where could my parents be right now after leaving grandmother’s house? Would I be able to see their parents’ faces and act like nothing had changed, just as before?
She felt suffocated at the thought of having to pretend to be a family even though they weren’t.
“When I get discharged, I’ll come up to Seoul right away. I can’t stand the dormitory, it’s too cramp.”
“Are you going to find a place near your school?”
“No? I’ll be looking for one in Ichon-dong.”
“Well… If it’s because of me, you might not need to do that.”
“It’s not certain yet… I’ll let you know when it’s decided.”
There was no need to bring up the topic hastily, especially when her independence wasn’t even confirmed yet. Besides, with Ijun in the military, if she mentioned that she planned to live independently, he would surely have something to say about it.
It would be nice if it ended with just a few words of advice, but given Ijun’s personality, he might even call her Ichon-dong father directly to voice his concerns. However, she believed that Ijun’s stance on her independence would change after his discharge and that was a possibility Siyeon wanted to explore.
“I want to tell Gwihyeon-hyung that we’re dating.”
Siyeon fell silent for a moment. If Gwihyeon heard about their relationship, there was a high chance that both families’ elders would naturally find out about their relationship.
Siyeon, who had lived quietly as Gwihyeon’s fiancee for a long time, suddenly dating Ijun might be something hard for him to understand, and the adults might find it even more difficult to accept. Moreover, if they found out that she wasn’t really Baekya’s true great-granddaughter, they might find her presence even more burdensome.
Regardless of their reasons, her existence would become uncomfortable and burdensome for them, but Siyeon wanted to delay that moment as much as possible.
“You don’t want to?”
“It’s not that I don’t want to tell the truth, but I want you to take a little more time to think about it.”
“If Hyung gets discharged and goes back to school, he’ll start learning about company work right away. Your story will naturally come out.”
Ijun was concerned about Gwihyeon and Siyeon’s relationship would become more public. Discussions of marriage that come after becoming adults carry a different weight than when they were still young.
Siyeon knew there was no chance of her marrying Gwihyeon before she turned twenty-five, and even after that, it was highly unlikely, but Ijun didn’t know this, so he couldn’t help but worry.
“If I have to tell them… I’ll find the right opportunity to talk to your grandfather.”
“I don’t want to deceive Hyung. Keeping it hidden for too long won’t be good for you either.”
“I understand what you mean.”
Regardless, to Ijun, Gwihyeon was his only brother. Since Siyeon had made the decision to be with Ijun, it was only right that they make it clear to Gwihyeon.
As Ijun mentioned, if this situation dragged on for too long, it would make Siyeon’s position even more difficult. Meeting Ijun while still being in a “relationship” with Gwihyeon would create a sufficient misunderstanding.
But all these worries would ultimately become irrelevant once it was revealed that she was a fake. Yet, the biggest blame for all of this would fall on Siyeon herself, who had willingly taken Ijun’s hand because she liked him, despite knowing it would make their situation complicated.
“Give me your hand.”
Her response seemed less than enthusiastic, and Ijun looked at her with an uneasy expression as he extended his right hand.
“Why do you want my hand?”
As he asked, Siyeon gently placed her left hand on top of his right palm.
“Why do you think?”
Their fingers intertwined, and Siyeon’s smaller hand rested on Ijun’s larger hand. With a slight smile on his face, Ijun, turned their hands over and examined it curiously, then tilted his head to the side and asked.
“How do you use chopsticks with hands this small?”
“I manage just fine. It’s the first time I’ve heard that my hands are small.”
“They look like they might break if I apply too much pressure…”
“I once won first place in a punching machine contest with these hands.”
Ijun burst into laughter at Siyeon’s earnest confession.
The two of them held hands, painting matching smiles on their faces, as they walked down the darkening street. It was a night filled with mixed emotions, both weight and excitement in their hearts.
* * *
Late at night, Siyeon and Ijun had another meal together and shared some tea before returning to their respective neighborhoods.
After saying goodbye to Ijun, Siyeon gazed up at the apartment building where she lived. She took a deep breath when she noticed the bright light in the living room. Then, she walked towards the building entrance.
When Siyeon opened the front door and stepped inside their home, her father was sitting on the living room couch, watching TV. It was an entirely unfamiliar sight. Usually, at this time, her father would be reading a book.
Her father, looking weary and listless, turned his head to look at Siyeon when she spoke. With a tired expression, he mumbled in a weak voice.
“…Yeah. You’ve had a long day. You should wash up and get some rest.”
His face had changed significantly overnight, and in that moment, Siyeon realized that her parents had learned the secret.
It felt like a familiar expression and atmosphere she had experienced once before. The only difference now was that there was no Eunhye in front of her.
“What about Mom?”
“She went to bed early because she’s tired.”
Siyeon didn’t step into the living room and remained standing at a distance as she asked.
It didn’t feel like an atmosphere where she could approach closely. Normally, her father would have sensed her presence and come near the entrance to greet her. He would have welcomed her in, helped with her bag, comforted her and they would have a small conversation. But today, her father just sat on the sofa, not moving an inch.
“Is Grandma okay?”
“Yeah, she’s fine.”
“…I’m glad. Goodnight.”
Instead of going closer to the living room, Siyeon turned and grabbed the handle of her own bedroom door. She couldn’t bring herself to act like everything was normal while knowingly withholding the truth.
Siyeon quietly opened her bedroom door and entered. She felt like a criminal even though she hadn’t done anything wrong.
She lay in bed after washing up, but sleep eluded her. She stared at the ceiling and lost in her thoughts. She contemplated whether it would be better to just come clean about the truth, but then realized that if she were asked how she found out, she wouldn’t have an answer.
Regardless, her Ichon-dong parents in had raised her well up to this point. She had no reason to rush into revealing the truth when she could wait until she turned twenty-five to express her gratitude.
In reality, her situation was tangled in a complex web involving her the Suwon family, her Ichon-dong parents, and her Hannam-dong parents. It was too intricate for her to make any rash decisions. Ultimately, staying silent and keeping it to herself was the best course of action.
As Siyeon thought about Ijun, a sigh escaped her involuntarily. Continuously acting as if she were implicitly engaged to Gwihyeon while dating Ijun was a problem.
In this current life, she had simply hoped for the well-being of her parents in Hannam-dong and Gwihyeon’s safety. However, encountering Ijun unexpectedly had changed everything in her life once again.
Lost in thought, Siyeon heard a faint knocking at her door.
Siyeon got up and sat on the bed. Her father opened the door and stood there, silently gazing at her before speaking.
“…Did you have dinner?”
“Siyeon, Mom and Dad might need to take care of Grandma for a while… Can you manage on your own for a bit? We’ve arranged for a helper to come starting tomorrow, so you shouldn’t have any inconvenience with your daily life.”
Siyeon understood the underlying meaning of his words. It seemed that her Ichon-dong parents had decided to move her to her grandmother’s place so they could keep an eye on Eunhye rather than bringing her back home.
“…For how long?”
“Well, that’s something we’ll have to see… Anyway, it’s an important time, and I feel really sorry for you.”
“It’s okay, really.”
Siyeon smiled faintly.
Since that day, she hadn’t seen her parents for a while.