“…What did she say?”
“Your grandmother told me that she’s close to the Mr. and Mrs. Yeongjin, and that I should let her know if there were any problems or difficulties with Yeongjin.
“So, what did your Grandpa say in response?”
“He asked if there was anything else besides worrying about the company going bankrupt.”
Hearing Gwihyeon’s story, Siyeon felt uneasy.
Why did Ichon-dong father want to know so much about my Hannam-dong parents? Did they want to repay their kindness for upbringing Eunhye in some way?
It’s hard to think positively when her Ichon-dong mother’s in an unstable state of mind, and her father’s face is filled with bitterness. Neither of them are in the right frame of mind right now.
“Oh, by the way, when do you think it would be convenient for me to go to Seoul?”
“What do you mean? Are you coming to Seoul?”
“Well, your grandmother invited me to her house.”
“Grandma invited you?”
“You didn’t know? You dad said that your grandma wanted to see me since I got out of the army.”
Siyeon looked at Gwihyeon with a puzzled expression.
“…I’ll let you know soon.”
“How about next Friday? Uncle suggested we choose a day that works for you.”
“You can decide the day that’s convenient for you, you don’t need to ask me.”
“Do you have any other plans for that day?”
Next Friday is the day when Ijun takes his break. He’s already halfway through his military service, and he has become a Sergeant. Siyeon couldn’t help but feel a tickle as the image of him arrogantly saying, “It’s Sergeant Ijun for you now.” crossed her mind.
“That day is when Ijun is on leave.”
“…Is that so?”
Siyeon pretended not to know.
“Yeah. Even on his leave, he’s so busy that he can’t even spare time for his family.”
“He probably has to meet up with his friends and all, that’ why he must be busy.”
Siyeon responded casually, as if it wasn’t a big deal. She sensed that Gwihyeon was trying to get something out of her.
“Ijun is popular not only with guys but also with girls.”
“…Is that so?”
“You didn’t know?”
“How would I know that?”
Siyeon felt a bit annoyed by Gwihyeon’s unnecessary information, but she didn’t show it. She secretly made a mental note to talk about Ijun’s “popularity” when she meets him.
Next Friday, Gwihyeon came to Seoul. Grandma invited him to her Hannam-dong house, and she also invited her son and daughter-in-law.
Siyeon had expected it, Grandma didn’t invite her to the gathering. Even if she had, Siyeon would have made excuses not to attend. She had been busy with her moving preparations, not just because it was Ijun’s day off.
Siyeon, dressed in jeans, a black turtleneck sweater, and a beige long double coat, sat by the window of the café, gazing out at the street.
The cafe was close to the subway entrance, so she had a good view of people coming and going through the glass window. She had arrived earlier than their expected meeting time and was sipping coffee while keeping an eye on the subway entrance.
When she saw a tall man in military uniform appearing at the subway entrance, Si-yeon jumped up from her seat and greeted him warmly, waving her right hand.
Ijun, with a broad smile on his face, entered the café when he spotted Si-yeon. She went to meet him at the café door, and the cold outside air hit her as she approached him.
“You’re wearing sneakers instead of rubber shoes?”
“Wearing rubber shoes in winter can give you frostbite. Anyway, I ordered this while I waited for you. What warm drink would you like?”
Seeing the redness on Ijun’s hand, exposed to the cold, Siyeon quickly took out a hand warmer from her coat pocket and offered it to him. But, Ijun didn’t take the hand warmer, instead, he brought his both palms against her cheek. She shivered from the icy cold, and Ijun let out a mischievous laugh.
“Is it really that cold?”
As Siyeon blinked her eyes, Ijun pressed his palms firmly against her cheeks. Her cheeks squished and her slightly parted lips puckered forward. She could tell that she must have looked ridiculous without even looking in the mirror.
Her pronunciation also got comically muddled. Ijun, still smiling, held her gaze then his eyes passes over her nose and settling on her lower lip. Siyeon felt flustered internally. Her heart raced, and her cheeks flushed.
Ijun lowered his gaze, but he was still smiling, the atmosphere was different from usual. Somehow, it became uncomfortable to breathe. A few seconds felt like an hour.
In the end, Siyeon grabbed Ijun’s hands and gently removed them from her cheeks. His fingertips, which had felt like ice, now radiated warmth.
“Well then, Mr. Soldier, what would you like to drink?”
Avoiding his gaze, Siyeon put the hand warmer back into her pocket as she asked. Her heart was still racing.
“I’m good. Let’s go once you’ve finished your coffee.”
Following Ijun’s suggestion, Siyeon cleaned up the coffee cups she had used and then exited the café with him.
“We can stay inside to warm up a bit longer.”
“I wanted to hold your hand.”
Ijun held her hand, and they slowly began to walk, choosing the sunny side of the street. Despite suggesting they go for a walk, he seemed somewhat concerned about the cold air outside once they were outside.
“I have gloves, you know.”
“We should share the burden of suffering. Why stay warm alone?”
Siyeon informed him of the existence of her gloves, but he didn’t seem to acknowledge it.
“Do you like being a college student now?”
“I haven’t really felt it yet. I’ve been using SNS to find seniors or classmates, but I’m not too eager to actively look for them… I’ll just probably get to know them during the orientation.”
“Do you have any plans for what you want to do, now that you have more time?”
“Who says I have plenty of time left?”
Siyeon raised her eyebrows and looked serious. It seemed like he thought Siyeon would be bored once her college entrance exams were over, but she had plans to keep herself very busy.
“Have you thought about what you want to do?”
“Of course. I plan to live quite busily.”
“What will you be busy doing?”
“I’ll be working part-time at a friend’s café, slowly preparing for exams, and other things, too.”
“Part-time job? Exams?”
Ijun stopped in his tracks.
“My close friend’s family owns a café. My friend is going to inherit it later… Anyway, I decided to work part-time there. We’ve already discussed it.”
“Why do you want to work part-time?”
“For the experience of working in a social setting.”
In reality, the purpose of the part-time job was solely to earn money. Siyeon was confident that she could put her experience working at her friend’s café in her previous life to good use and handle the job skillfully now.
While she did receive money from her Ichon-dong father, she had no intention of touching that money. She saw it as money that she would need to repay at any time.
Apart from that money, she felt a sense of pressure to improve her financial situation independently. She couldn’t erase the memories of her Hannam-dong parents’ poverty and unhappiness in her past life from her mind.
“What exams are you talking about? Are you trying to get a driver’s license?”
“No, not that. I’m planning to take the civil service exam.”
Ijun’s eyes widened, and he didn’t hide his bewilderment.
“Didn’t you say you wanted to be a children’s book author?”
“Not anymore. I’ve had a change of heart.”
She was already writing quietly from time to time, but it wasn’t children’s books.
“Why did you suddenly want to become a civil servant?”
“If I pass, my future will be stable, right? As long as I don’t make any mistakes and work diligently, there won’t be any failures or layoffs.”
Siyeon said with a twinkle in her eye, but Ijun furrowed his eyebrows. His dissatisfaction wasn’t with her decision but rather with his inability to understand her.
“Did something happen while I was away, like you guys failing in an investment or falling victim to a big scam? Is that why you’re like this now?”
“What’s wrong with me? Don’t most twenty-year-olds prepare at least to this extent for their future?”
“Among the twenty-year-olds I know, none of them are like that.”
“Then I will be the first one.”
In fact, this wasn’t the whole story. Siyeon was also considering applying for a part-time job at a packaging position offered by Yeongjin. She wanted to see her Hannam-dong parents’ faces even from a distance.
She had been hesitating about whether to go through with it, but hearing that her Ichon-dong father had asked about Yeongjin, she made up her mind. Whether her Hannam-dong parents would be surprised to learn later that she was their biological daughter was a problem for another day.
Siyeon planned to put all these plans into action once she finished moving to the apartment.
“Since when have you been so independent? Does your father know you’re doing all this?”
“Never talk about it. That means you won’t tell your brother anything either.”
“So you’re telling only me?”
Even though she had shared some good news, Ijun didn’t smooth out his furrowed brow.
“Spill it all. There must be more to this than what you’re telling me.”
“Oh! I’m moving next week.”
“Moving? Where to?”
“I’m going to Gangdong-gu. It’s a quiet and clean apartment complex.”
“I always thought you and your parents would live in Ichon-dong forever. This is unexpected.”
“I’m moving by myself. It’s been a struggle trying to nag them all along to finally let me become independent.”
“You’re moving alone?”
Ijun froze like ice. He stared at her without blinking, verifying whether what he just heard was true.
“…What’s with that terrifying expression?”
“I’ll try living there first, and if it’s too difficult, I’ll go back, so there’s nothing to worry about.”
Ijun seemed agitated, so Siyeon decided not to provide further explanations.
“You’ve read too many novels. Even if you’re fearless, how can you think about living alone like this? Don’t you watch the news?”
“I do watch the news, and I’ll start reading more novels from now on. Besides, you said too that you’d be living on your own after you’re discharged.”
“Well, I am a college graduate and a military veteran, I’m not the same as you, who’s just finished high school. And why now, of all times, to become independent?”
“Is this such a big deal?”
Siyeon was puzzled. She knew Ijun would be surprised, but she didn’t expect him to get this angry.
“I heard today that your grandmother invited my brother to your house.”
And then she realized the real reason why Ijun was so angry.