03

Surprisingly, my mother seems to love Junghoon more than me. I’m pretty sure it’s because Junghoon feeds her compliments every now and then. He tells her how much he enjoyed her dishes. He guesses her age wrong to say that she looks very young. My mother does have a youthful appearance, but I know that Junghoon is purposely using these tactics to win her over. Somehow, I’m sort of bothered by the way he is behaving. I wished . . . that he would show his true self in front of my mother, so that she’d actually like him for who he is.

Even Jina whispers to me as I’m washing the dishes, “Hey . . . is something up with Junghoon?”

“What? Why?” I wonder.

“He didn’t seem like the guy you described to me and he doesn’t sound like the guy I talked to on the phone . . .” Jina mumbles rather quietly. “I mean . . . he seems kind of fake, but you know, Mom likes people sucking up to her so it’s all good. As long as she approves of your choice, then you’re okay.”

“Yeah, but . . . I think he’s only acting this way because . . .”
 
I look back and see Junghoon telling my mother some comical story. They’re both laughing their heads off, but I know that sort of laugh from Junghoon. It’s unnatural. He’s just acting, and he’s good at it. However, I can still see through him. He’s being like a puppet, and I don’t like that at all.

“Because what?” Jina asks me.

“I’m not . . . very sure.” I turn on the faucet once again to rinse off the soap from the bowls. “We kind of got into a fight before coming here.”

“About?”

“He didn’t want me to meet his parents. He doesn’t even want to talk about his family.”

“Maybe they really are horrible, and it’s better that you leave things be.” 

“But,” I voice, “but what if . . .”

I’m afraid to say Taeyang’s name. I feel like it’s something forbidden. If I say his name, then Junghoon might be suspicious of me. I don’t want him to think that way, yet in this case, I’m starting to feel that they are similarly bad in some ways.

“What if?” Jina repeats what I asked.

“Never mind,” I tell her. “I just think it’s unfair that he knows about my situation while I’m buried in the dark about his. He did, though, say that I can go fishing for info.”

“Then, that’s good enough,” Jina relieves a sigh. “Sometimes, it’s hard to say things out loud. I mean, would you have told him about Dad by yourself?”

That question lingers in my mind even when Junghoon and I leave my family’s place. Junghoon is talking to me about what happened with my mother, and I’m sort of tuning in and out. I keep wondering if I would have actually confronted Junghoon about my father. I don’t think so. During my conversations with Taeyang, there were so many times that I’d leave hints for him to uncover, yet he never did. I’m sure that he recognized what I was doing, but he assumed that it was better off not to question or to unearth the issue. 

Junghoon, on the other hand, took the time to discover what was wrong. He wanted to know and to understand why I was like that. So, I guess it’s just like how Jina has told me. If Junghoon is willing to let me probe into his life, then that’s good enough. That means he’s opening up to me and just needs that push.

I’ll give him that push. I have to.

----------

The day that I meet with Junghoon’s family is when I truly understand why Junghoon would rather not tell me anything. Junghoon still organizes to introduce me to his siblings and parents at his parents’ house. They live in an affluent area of Seoul and to have a huge house in this city already shows that Junghoon’s family is wealthy, probably too wealthy for me to handle. As the eldest son’s soon-to-be wife, I know I have much to learn and to endure. Judging from the interior of this mansion, I know that this household is strict and set on rules. Everything is neatly organized and decorated. There is no sense of chaos in this place, and there is no room for error or freedom. There is also no feeling of home; there’s only business.

Now, I feel Junghoon squeeze my hand as we walk down the narrow corridor to the grand hall. I’m not sure if he is reassuring me or himself. Either way, I know that we’re both nervous. I really don’t know what to expect, especially when Junghoon has not told me anything about his family. I don’t even know how many brothers or sisters he has. 

“Sir, your family awaits,” the butler opens the chestnut doors for us and explains.
Immediately, we are facing many sets of eyes and a very long wooden table. At the far end is presumably Junghoon’s father and to his right is probably his mother. To his left, there are two identical twins and across from them is a young, pretty lady in her early twenties. Beside that girl is a teenage boy with seemingly natural brown hair and blue eyes. There are only two empty seats for us: one beside the teenager and the other directly ahead of that spot. The odd part is that all of these chairs are evenly and wide spread apart. Everyone has more than enough room to move both arms and probably even walk around their spot. 

“So Junghoon, you finally have the guts to show your face,” his father, looking like in his mid-sixties, utters. Junghoon doesn’t say anything and instead, he walks over to take a seat next to the teenage boy. As a result, I go for the final open seat. Before I can even sit down properly,  Junghoon’s father growls while lifting up his fork, “Aren’t you going to introduce that woman to us?”

Now, Junghoon shoots his father a menacing glare and grumbles, “This ‘woman’ is my fiancée, Kim Jikyung, and I’d prefer you refer to her as Ms. Kim, my fiancée, or Jikyung.”  

His father scoffs prior to taking a sip of his half-filled glass of red wine, “All right, son, if that’s what you want then that’s what you’ll get. You’ve always strived for less anyhow.”

One of the twins, the one without a freckle on his face and longer hair, utters, “Father, that is a bit—“

“Silence, Minjun! This has nothing to do with you!” Junghoon’s father slams his fist on the table to bellow.

“Father, Minjun oppa was only trying to be nice,” the doll-like girl protests in a sweet voice.

“Darling,” the older woman clings her arm around the younger girl’s, “don’t interfere with your father’s matters now.”

During this time, the other twin has been constantly checking his many phones. He has one of the sternest faces I have encountered and for a man in his mid-twenties, he seems way too mature and far too overworked. After all, he already has a few wrinkles around his eyes, which is probably due to a lack of sleep. Plus, he has his hair slicked back to look older unlike Minjun, and he is clad in complete black.

“Father,” this serious brother utters, “if this is nothing of importance, then please excuse me for a business meeting. The spring line has to be approved within this week.”

Before their father can even open his mouth, the girl already chirps, “B-b-but, Yeonjun oppa, this is about Junghoon’s wedding!”

“Now, Sohee sweetie,” their father voices in a surprisingly tender tone, “your brother has business to attend to, and surely that is more important than social matters. The family business has to continue somehow, and Yeonjun is only do his job.”

The blonde boy now sits back in his chair, tilting it at a dangerously obtuse angle. Cracking his neck, he adds in a sing-song manner, “R-r-right. Doing his business and adding value to the company. More like kissing people’s asses, especially yours, Daddy dearest.”

“Lee Kyungsoo! Stop that idiotic attitude of yours!” their father hollers. “You know some day you have to grow up? When I was your age, I was already—“

“Working four shifts while studying. You also bought your first company when you were twenty. You started with nothing,” Kyungsoo rolls his eyes and recites. “Blah, blah, blah. We all get it. You’re magnificent, and that’s why you can go around screwing women like—“

“Kyungsoo!” Their mother shrieks at the top of her lungs. “There is a guest here!”

“Guest?” Kyungsoo glances at me with his devilishly, cold blue eyes. “She’s going to be part of family soon. Knowing Junghoon hyung, she’s going to be here for good. Isn’t that right, hyung?”

Junghoon steadily answers, “That’s right. I’m definitely marrying Jikyung.”

“Perhaps you should consider about it,” their father utters aloud. “There is still a seat for you as the CEO. You just have to quit your job and stay in Seoul. Marry—“

“I’m sorry,” Junghoon interrupts firmly. “I’ve already decided ever since high school that I will be a doctor. I’m not suited for business, and you have Yeonjun and Minjun to handle everything eventually.”

“Exactly, Father,” Minjun stresses. “Rest assured that Yeonjun and I will—“

“Lee Junghoon, you clearly have not grown up! What will others say? My son is playing games at a hospital?”

“I’m not playing games, Father. I am saving lives.”

“When you can be doing so much more than that! Leave it to the others to save people! You have far more important things to do in life!”

“But that’s not me,” Junghoon explains as he stands up from his seat. He lets the cloth on his lap fall down to the ground, and I know that’s our signal to go. I follow Junghoon’s move by arising from my chair as well. So much for an introduction. I barely even said a word.

“Lee Junghoon!” The father bellows fiercely. “Don’t you dare run away from the situation! You coward!” In a quiet voice, he mumbles, “Just like your mother.” No matter how soft he sounded, Junghoon heard him because immediately, Junghoon marches towards his father with one of the most threatening glowers I have ever encountered.

“Don’t you dare badmouth my mom in any way!” Junghoon hollers with his hands in his pockets. I know he is restraining himself from punching his own father, but still, one of his hands slips out and using his index finger, he points at his father, screaming, “You’re the one that killed her!”

His father cocks his head away, mumbling, “Nonsense. She was the weak one that turned ill.”
Junghoon shakes his head while rolling his eyes. “And even all these years . . . you are still so . . .” Then, Junghoon turns at his heel in the direction of home and tells me, “Come on, Jikyung. Let’s go. We don’t need them to wish us anything.”

I murmur, “But Junghoon—“

“What?” he grumbles at me and stares me down for the first time. Before I can do anything, I am forced to leave with him. He seizes one of my hands and drags me away from this palace. As we leave, I accidentally glimpse at his family. Most of them are gaping at us with much shock. Only Junghoon’s father, Kyungsoo, and Yeonjun seem indifferent. By the time we reach the car, Junghoon changes his tone to a very soft one. “So . . . where do you want to go for lunch?”

Just as I open the car door, I see that young girl dashing towards us along with one of the twins. “Oppa! Oppa!” she shrieks with all her might. “W-w-w-wait!”

I see Junghoon buckle his seat belt and start the engine. He is about to step on the gas, yet I hold onto his arm. “Junghoon,” I utter and glance at him.

He seems to understand what I want to him to do for he rolls down his window and asks, “Yes, Sohee? What is the matter?”

“I-I-I-I am sorry about what happened,” Sohee pants. “Y-y-you know how Father is like.”
“No,” Junghoon corrects her, “actually I don’t know what he’s like in your eyes.”

“B-b-but Junghoon,” Sohee utters, “will you . . . at least . . . go to my wedding then? And I really want to go to yours too. Minjun . . .” She glances over her shoulder to continue saying, “Minjun would like to go too.”

Still, Junghoon stubbornly notes, “We’ll have to see the guest list. You see, we have a very—“

“Sure,” I interrupt Junghoon. “You are all welcome to our wedding. I’d love to actually get to know all of you properly.”

“Really?” Sohee squeals with a bright grin. “You’re actually letting us come, unnie?”

I return her smile and nod. “Yes, of course. We’re all going to be family right? There’s no sense in having tension in the family.”

Minjun now leans in towards our car to add, “You’re a very nice lady, noona. I hope you do bring my brother happiness.”

“I will,” I promise. “Don’t worry.” Junghoon gives me that questioning look, and I do my best to reassure him with a smile. I even hold onto his hand during the whole car ride. He doesn’t say anything, and I don’t ask anymore. Instead, I tell him, “I know you hate your father, but your brothers and sisters didn’t do anything to you. They weren’t asked to be born in this family, and I’m sure they all have their troubles. So, be a little more mature and let them into your life. You never know when you might need their help in the future.”

“Mm . . .”

“And . . . at least . . . your father cares about how you’re doing.” I look out the window and sigh. “My dad . . . doesn’t even know what I’m doing nor does he even care about anything with my family.”

After a long pause, Junghoon, at last, holds onto my hand tighter and announces, “Sorry.”

“It’s okay. I don’t mind anymore,” I utter. “I only mind it when I see someone that doesn’t appreciate what he or she already has.”  

Junghoon retorts, “A father that pushed my mother to death?”

“Maybe I have lower expectations for a father, but . . . I think . . . if he worries about your career, then he still cares about you,” I explain. “And that . . . is good enough for me. At least . . . invite him to our wedding. That’s the least and most that you can do.”

Now, there is silence. I know he doesn’t want to listen to me nor does he want to fight. He just needs time to digest what I just said. He needs . . . time to heal from past wounds.
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