- a Hoony short story
We were all taken by surprise when the car before us decided to come to a stop in the middle of going at least forty-five miles per hour. Good thing that Ji Won had been able to brake in time for us not to crash into it.
“Damn!” Jae Duc had been asleep in the back when this all happened. He wasn’t wearing his seat belt at the time, so when the car jerked to a halt he fell forward and smashed his face into the back of the driver’s seat.
I sat up a bit straighter and tried to get a better view of what had happened up ahead. Seemed like there was an accident.
“Just our luck,” Ji Won let out a groan. “To be almost home and stuck in the middle of the traffic.”
He was right. We were only a couple of miles away from home. I wonder how long it would take for the traffic to clear. Right now it looked like no one was going anywhere.
“Maybe we should get out of the car and walk home,” Jae Duc suggested hopefully while rubbing his nose. But the rest of us were nowhere near being in the good mood he was in.
“Sure ~ be my guest,” Ji Won mumbled sarcastically. I just leaned back and closed my eyes.
“I wonder what happened though,” Jae Duc’s voice came on again after a few minutes. “But – you okay, Sung Hoon? Didn’t hit anything, did you?”
“No,” I shook my head and opened my eyes. “I’m just tired – and car sick…” which was really strange, because I usually don’t get carsick. Maybe I’m just too tired. The final exams were over with for me as of this afternoon – thank goodness. It had been such an awful week for me – studying so hard for those horrifying double E classes – and camping out at Ji Won’s place so he could help me with the math. Jae Duc, on the other hand, had a pretty nice time while the rest of us were struggling to survive finals – he never has to study for anything ~ that brainy ass.
“Well, here’s your chance to rest up a bit, because I think we’re going to be stuck here for awhile,” he said warily as a swarm of police cars approached with their sirens on to the max. How annoying.
I closed my eyes again and leaned my head against the window. Like he said, I might as well get some rest. But how ironic though, because the only reason I tried to stay awake during the ride is to keep Ji Won accompany so he won’t fall asleep himself and crash and kill us all. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but just last month when Hyori was driving home she fell asleep at the wheel and the car toppled into a ditch. She suffered from a head concussion and almost broke her neck or something.
But anyway … even though we didn’t get into an accident, someone did, apparently, and now we’re stuck in the middle of the road.
About ten minutes later the car moved about a yard. I shifted restlessly in my seat.
“What, you can’t sleep?” Ji Won asked me. He was impatiently tapping to the beat of the loud music coming from the Jeep next to us.
“I dunno, this headache is really bothering me. I feel like throwing up…”
“You need to get some fresh air – and maybe some 7UP or Sprite would help,” Jae Duc said from the back. That sounded like a good idea. I looked out the window next to me. I could just get out the car and cross the street – there was a convenient store not too far ahead. It’s just that the area was crowded with the police and paramedics. Obviously someone had gotten injured – but what was taking so long?
“You guys want anything to drink?” I asked before taking off.
“What ~ you really are going? Get me a coke,” Ji Won replied, still tapping impatiently to the beat of that awful music.
“I want some sparkling water,” Jae Duc told me.
“Okay,” I got out of the car and headed groggily in the direction of the convenient store.
I’m not sure whether it was the fresh air or a psychological effect, but not too long after my headache was slowly going away. I was still a bit light-headed though … nearly tripped on my own shoelace. I stopped in the middle of the street to bend down and retie it.
“Get off the road, kid!” I heard someone yell. Who was he talking to? I looked up.
Suddenly I realized that the accident had cleared and the cars were beginning to move again. The ambulance and the police cars were no where to be seen. How did that happen so fast?
People on the road began to honk at me. I quickly stood up and scrambled onto the sidewalk.
I panicked as my eyes scanned the running cars in the streets. Where was my ride now? I decided to forget about the drinks and started to run back towards the direction I had come from.
While I was running, someone had came out of nowhere and crashed into me from the side – hard. The person had been running so fast that I was knocked a good several feet off the sidewalk and back into the street, into the way of huge blue van.
I froze in place. I was gonna get hit.
Lucky for me, the van made a sharp curve and swiveled right past me, missing my body with only a short short distance. I was so numb from the shock though, that I nearly had to crawl my way back onto the safety of the sidewalk. It took me a good while before my mind could function properly again.
As for the person who had knocked into me – it was a girl — I had knocked her down onto the ground. She probably witnessed the whole truck incident and therefore looked almost as pale and scared as I did at the time. I frowned. This was all her fault.
Come to think of it, if it wasn’t for me … it would have been her in the street … and who knows, the truck might have hit her after all. Nevertheless, I went up to her and offered her my hand, although my legs still slightly quivered.
“Hey … are you okay?” I noticed that my voice quivered too.
The girl still had her eyes fixed on the spot in the street where the accident would have happened if the van had hit me. I realized that she was shaking all over as little drops of perspiration appeared on her forehead. She was in more of a shock than I was.
“Calm down,” I knelt down next to her. “It’s okay now … are you okay?”
Slowly she directed her eyes to me. After a long pause –
“Yes, I’m fine now. Thank you very much.”
Thank me very much for what? Asking if she was okay or taking her place in front of that van?
But I was a gentleman and offered her my hand again. This time she took it without hesitating.
“I’m really glad that I bumped into you, otherwise –“ She didn’t get to finish her sentence, because Ji Won chose that time to pull up in his car.
“Where the hell have you been?” He yelled through his windows. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you, come on!”
I let go of the girl’s hand and trotted towards the car. The traffic was getting heavy again, and as if my mind was affected by it, my headache came back to me.
“Ugh…” I placed a hand on my forehead and got inside the car.
“What were you doing?” Jae Duc asked me.
“I was helping that girl…” I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples lightly. Everything was beginning to look a little blurry. Maybe my contacts need to be cleaned too. Suddenly I remembered that I totally forgot to get them the drinks.
“Hey, sorry about the drinks, but I didn’t get them,” I said. For some reason, however, my voice came out of my mouth sounding slurred and unclear.
“I forgot the drinks,” I tried to articulate more clearly this time. No reaction from any of them.
When I opened my eyes, I saw that Ji Won was throwing me strange looks amidst trying to concentrate on the road.
“What drinks?” Jae Duc poked his head up to the front and asked me.
“The drinks that you guys asked me to get you…” I was confused.
“We didn’t ask you to get us drinks.”
“You did too!” Then what the heck was I doing out of the car? I stared ahead. We were in my neighborhood now.
“The kid’s been dreaming, apparently,” Ji Won said to Jae Duc. He always likes to call me kid.
“No, you’ve got to be kidding, I –“
“Since when did we ever asked you to get anything for us? You were asleep the whole time that we waited for the traffic to clear.”
I swallowed hard. But that was too real to be a dream. “How long did it take to clear?”
“About thirty minutes.”
They didn’t look like they were joking. So I had been dreaming? Really? The girl and the truck and the drinks and the accident … no, there had been an accident.
“It’s okay, Sung Hoon,” Jae Duc patted me on the back. “We all talk in our sleep sometimes.”
Which reminds me … “What did I say? Was it something stupid?”
“Ah … ahem,” he stiffened a giggle. Yeah, he giggles.
“What did I say, Jae Duc?” Hopefully it wasn’t anything too embarrassing, but Jae Duc wasn’t saying.
“Hyung! Tell me what I said? What did I say?”
“You … puhahahahah ~”
At that moment Ji Won parked precisely before my house. “Okay kid, you’re home.”
What a relief! Finally home for a nice long break after a long semester at school, but – Jae Duc was still laughing in the back seat.
“What the f –“ I turned around and glared at him.
“Heeheehee,” he was still laughing. Ji Won let out a sigh.
“I’ll tell you what you said … you said – Oh Hyori, come to me, please don’t leave me baby ~” and with that he cracked up on the steering wheel. I huffed and got out of the car. What a bunch of lunatics.
“Hahaha,” I could still hear them laugh while getting my stuff from the trunk. Especially Ji Won. He’s so loud.
“What a gullible kid…” he was saying. I slammed the trunk close.
“Okay thanks a bunch for the ride, hyung…” I yelled at him. “I suppose you guys have better places to go now huh –”
Jae Duc rolled down the window and stuck his head out the car. “Normally we’d crash with ya — but Ji Won here has a girlfriend to attend to now –“
“Yeah, yeah ~” Of course. Who doesn’t know Ji Won’s pretty little girlfriend? Well actually she’s kinda tall.
“Okay – laterz, kid,” Ji Won waved. “Tell your parents that I said hi – we said hi.”
“Okay hyung,” I replied. “Tell YY that I said hi too ~” YY was Ji Won’s little – I mean, tall girlfriend.
They drove off, leaving a heap of dust smoke behind.
My impression of returning home didn’t exactly match what was going on. In fact, impressions never really resemble realities in general, at least not for me.
I had wished for someone to be home to open the door for me when I returned. After all, after a semester of hard work, I should be able to deserve at least that much, no? But instead I had to fish the keys out of my pocket and let myself in. No one was home at this time of the day … no one’s ever home at any time of the day! My parents were such freakin’ workaholics.
Not like I really had much to complain about anyway, because if anything, I had at least a happy family. People come up with all sorts of problems when there are workaholics in the family, like how one spouse might be bitter and kids didn’t get enough attention or so and such, but that’s not what happens in my family. My parents didn’t mind at all that there seemed to be so little personal time to spend with each other. I guess they’re just weird.
“I’m home!” I called out into our empty living room. Of course I didn’t expect an answer, but hey, what the heck.
I shoved my luggage into the front hall and left it there wile I went about exploring my home. Noticed that I’ve been doing some quite pointless things since I’ve gotten back? There was this theory saying how one’s true self reveals when in their home domain. So what did that say about me?
This was one of those times when I wish I were Jae Duc. Guess what happens every time he goes home – he doesn’t go very often, by the way. His mother always greets him at the door, and then – dishes of home cooked food awaits for him in the kitchen. And then after that food, his entire family – mother, father, little sis and little bro – all go out for a movie and then maybe even bowling afterwards.
A single green apple sat on top of the counter in the kitchen. I took the lonely fruit back into the living room and sat down on the couch.
… even Ji Won, whose family was actually very far away – had someone to go to right now. I suppose that his girlfriend could be considered close to being “family.” He sees her in school almost everyday too, I think.
Come to think of it, I had a girlfriend too, once upon a time.
I took a bite of the apple and chewed it thoughtfully. It was crunchy and … sour.
She was … a very long time ago, that girlfriend of mine. And she supposedly left me because I didn’t spend enough time with her.
“You’re so self-absorbed, Sung Hoon,” she told me. “If you’re like this now, imagine how it will be in the future!”
She had a point. I wouldn’t even skip a day of work to celebrate her birthday with her. What I believed was that I should work as many hours as I could so I would have enough money by the end of the night to get her the ring that she had really wanted.
But when she said that to me … I was so disappointed in her that I decided that it was best for me to let go. I didn’t spend every single day afterwards regretting what I did, but I really wished that I had handled the situation differently. If so, maybe we would still be together.
Well, too late to say that now. I finished the last bit of that sour green apple and tossed the core into the trash.
I was so bored.
Anyway … I suddenly remembered that dream I had while we were on the road. That was a random random dream — and I didn’t even realize that I had fallen asleep. I closed my eyes and tried to remember it. I could still vaguely sense the shakiness in my legs when thinking about that blue van.
It was a strange feeling … sort of a numb … I stood up and stepped around the living room to get rid of the feeling. And for some odd reason I couldn’t stop myself from walking –
I walked straight out of the house and down the sidewalk…
Pretty soon I was out of the neighborhood…
Eventually on the road too…
And ended up heading towards the area where my dream took place.
What the hell?
Stop stop stop … I told myself. Stop stop stop… I looked down at my feet and told myself. And then because I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going –
“Hey—“ I bumped into someone on the way.
“Sorry – what … you again?”
I looked up and met the surprised gaze of the girl of my dream, literally.
“Shouldn’t I be the one saying that, why are you always getting in my way?” I asked her just as demandingly. What an AWFUL coincidence.
I noticed that her eyes were red and there were wet streaks running down her cheeks. She wasn’t crying because she ran into me again, was she? I’m sure that I wasn’t that bad.
She turned around and looked back at where she came out from – it was a coffee shop.
“I don’t know what you’re doing here,” she then told me. “But leave, leave now – Sung Hoon honey!”
Sung Hoon honey?
“Sung Hoon honey!” she said again … and came over and gave me a tight hug so tight that my eyes cringed shut with pain.
And when I opened them…
“Ma ~ what are you doing here?” I blurted out, seeing that my mother stood right before me. My mother burst out in silvery laughter.
“Why are you sleeping on the couch, dear? And how long have you been home?”
Sleeping on the couch? Of course – I had fallen asleep again … and … aww man, dreaming of her twice in a row – talk about freaky. I broke out in a fit of cold sweat.
“What’s wrong?” my mother asked me.
“No – nothing. I mean I’m fine,” I resumed to normal behavior and stood up to return my mother the hug. “Hi Ma, I missed you.”
“I missed you too,” she patted me on the back – hard. “So, how long are you going to stay this time?”
I coughed a little. “Um … like a week or two or three…”
She gave me a strange look. “Well okay, it’s up to you. I’ve taken like a week or so off too.”
“Really? Are you serious?” Now that was something new, her taking any time off from work.
“Yes, there’s a new person in training here … so I requested some time off since you’re back home and all.”
I couldn’t help but put a huge smile on my face. It felt good to know that my mother values me enough to take a whole week off just for me. Eheheheheh.
“So – you’re gonna stay home and cook right? You’re going to cook for me right?” I kept on asking.
Ah … it felt good to be home (just in case I hadn’t mentioned it before). It really did. Bad thing was that she made me go to bed right after shower – which was only nine o’clock at night, and my father wasn’t even home yet!
“It’s your normal bedtime, dear~” said my mother.
Nine o’clock was my normal bedtime when I was back in elementary school. It’s just that they stopped coming home from work before I go to bed so I guess she always figured that I would go to bed at nine o’clock. And do we know how to count here – how long has it been since my elementary school days?
I told her reluctantly that I wanted to stay up until my father comes home to say hi … I had done it reluctantly because guys usually don’t stay up late just to say hi to their fathers – ya know? Anyway, there was another reason (of why I didn’t want to go to sleep).
That girl I kept on dreaming of. Was she some kind of psychotic dream stalker or something? Nevertheless I went to bed as I was told. Believe or not, as much as I slept today during the day I was still very tired, and also not feeling very well either. But I knew what was coming…
I was going down that same street again, supposedly getting something from the drug store. It was probably around the same that I always go there, about early – mid afternoon. The weather was extremely chilly. When I reached the drug store, I had already forgotten what I was supposed to buy. I ended up walking around inside, trying to remember what I needed to get, but still came out of it empty handed.
The coffee shop where I ran into that girl was right next door. I stopped by and peered inside its glass windows.
To my surprise, she was in there again, sitting with a dude dressed in khakis. I’m not sure if I was judging correctly, but those two looked like a couple to me. A couple that had been arguing, because she looked like she was crying again.
That was what she was doing that last I saw her…
She suddenly stood up from her seat and walked quickly out of the shop. Khaki boy stood up too but didn’t follow her.
Was this a break-up scene that I just witnessed? She stumbled a bit when coming down the steps of the coffee shop.
“Hey you again –“ I called out to her from aside. “Are you okay?”
Her eyes widened before she looked up at me. “Why … why are you here again?” Tears were still streaming down from her face.
“That’s what I want to know…” I replied. “Are you alright?” I gave the khaki boy inside the store another glance – he was looking back at us with confusion on his face.
She turned to look at him too, and wiped the moisture on her face away with her hands. “I … let’s go somewhere else, I don’t want to stay here anymore.”
So … that was a break-up scene I saw. Poor girl, she must be the dumpee.
Without speaking, we started to walk down the street. I had no idea of what to do but stare down at my shoes for awhile – what was I doing with her? But I when I looked up at her I saw that her cheeks were streaked with tears. I put an arm around her shoulders.
I was once a dumpee too.
Whenever I decided that it was a bad idea to have gotten angry over that comment she made about me … she was already going with someone else. She didn’t even tell me – I found out when I saw her at a dance with him.
I went stag that night – first time in my life going to a dance without a date. Everyone found out then that Kang Sung Hoon had been dumped by what’s-her-face. I hadn’t dated anyone since then.
It’s not worth it.
When I’ve done so much just to give my heart out … it’s not worth for it to be broken over and over again.
“It wasn’t my fault, Sung Hoon,” my ex-girlfriend defended herself. “You should have never had let go of me so easily – you made me feel like I wasn’t important to you at all.”
But it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t like that.
I had thought that I loved her.
“Don’t cry…” I told the girl next to me. “Not worth to be crying over someone like that.”
“That doesn’t help,” was her reply. “ You know that feelings stay even though the other person has stopped caring for you.”
Well, that was true. I won’t deny it.
“Uh … let’s talk about something else … you need to get over it anyway,” I wanted to change the subject. “My name is Sung Hoon.”
“…I’m Shin Ji.”
“Nice to finally know your name, after running into you for so many times,” we stopped at the park next to an elementary school.
“Yes, it is,” she sat down on a swing. “Can you tell me why I always see you before the coffee shop? Were you following me?” She had beaten me to the question.
“Of course I wasn’t following you, I still have no idea of who you are!”
“I’m Shin Ji.”
I shook my head. “That I know, but…” she looked at me curiously. “Are you real?”
She frowned. “What is that supposed to mean – of course I’m real … I do exist in real life, if that’s what you mean.”
“So you know that we’re both dreaming, don’t you?”
She looked down sadly.
“And you know what I’ve figured out –“ I continued. “This your dream, not mine – I have no control over it what-so-ever…so you tell me, what am I doing here?”
Her head bowed even lower. “I don’t know why you’re here.”
This was getting nowhere. “It’s okay … just a dream right? No big deal.”
She looked at me and smiled – a rather sad smile, for some reason.
“Yeah, it’s no big deal … it’s just a dream,” her face was beginning to blur. I knew I must get going.
“Ah, you’re leaving?” so she noticed too.
“Yes…” I replied as she gradually disappeared from sight.
“…I’ll see you next time,” was the last thing I heard her say.
I woke up with the most hideous cough.
“Looks like you’ve come down with something,” my father came into my room to see me before he left for the work. “I had your mother put some chicken soup on the stove – should be ready in a couple of hours. Rest up kid,” he patted my head. Gee – this was worse than Ji Won – not only does he call me kid, he treats me like one too. But then considering that he IS my father…
“Okay Pa ~ see ya later,” I managed to get the sentence out of my mouth in between coughs, but I was too restless to rest up that day. I hated to stay in bed and rest whenever I wasn’t tired — so boring. So I went out shopping with my mother. She had agreed to get me some new winter clothing. We drove past by the area where the accident had happened the previous day. I was really surprised that they hadn’t cleaned up the place totally – I thought Ji Won had said that it took about thirty minutes to clear.
“That was a horrible accident yesterday,” my mother said as she observed the mess. “See how they sectioned off that section of the street? I heard there were at least five cars involved.”
“We came across the accident on the way home,” I told her. “But couldn’t see what was going on – we weren’t close enough to it.”
“Well, that’s a relief. Ji Won’s a good driver, isn’t he?”
“When he’s awake he is.”
My mother threw me a side-glance. “Well that’s good to hear.”
I was exhausted by the time we got back from shopping. My mother had bought me almost an entire new wardrobe – I was beyond happy. My cough, however had gotten worse over the course of just a couple of hours.
“Chicken soup is on the stove,” she told me as she shuffled through the cabinets inside the kitchen.
“And where is that cough medicine I bought last month…”
“I told you to rest up,” my father was giving me that I-told-you-so lecture. And then I was sent to bed after a steamy hot shower. This time it was only eight o’clock.
* * *
“Hi…” Shin Ji greeted me as she was walking out of the coffee shop. This time she wasn’t crying … but she still looked a little upset. “Are you okay? You look a little pale.”
“I’m sick,” I blurted.
She looked even more surprised. “Then what are you doing here?” She asked as if I had a choice of where to be. Didn’t we already go through this last night?
“That’s what I want to know,” my throat was so from coughing so much, and my voice was beginning to sound a little coarse.
“I told you that I didn’t know,” she had little sympathy for me. “You make it sound like it’s my fault that you’re here or something.”
“Well that’s what I think,” I told her bluntly. “At least you have the choice of – going inside for coffee – I can’t go anywhere but stand out here and wait for you.”
Shin Ji just stared at me with this really doubtful expression on her face. I wondered what she was thinking. At that moment khaki boy stepped out of the shop too.
“Shin Ji!” he called her. She turned around long enough to give him a short glance and then turned back to me.
“How long have you been standing out here?”
“About an hour.”
The doubtful look from her eyes gradually disappeared; replacing it was a sheen of gentleness. “You must be freezing,” she unraveled the scarf around her neck and placed it around my neck. I glanced at khaki boy uncertainly.
Although I knew that was probably just an act to get him jealous on her part, I couldn’t help but feel a wave of warmth wash over me. It’s been awhile since an unrelated girl had shown me any sign of care
“Let’s get you somewhere warmer,” she told me without giving khaki boy another look.
I wonder where she had meant by “somewhere warmer,” but I followed her anyway. Like I said, I have no choice of what to do in these dreams. It was a rather strange feeling, actually – not being able to make my own decisions. I didn’t feel like I was forced to do anything, such as waiting for her outside the coffee shop – but for some reason I just did. I really wanted to go inside and get some heat – but for some reason I didn’t.
I pulled off the scarf. “Here you go.”
She looked at me “Aren’t you cold?”
I let out a sigh. “You wanted him to see that scene, didn’t you?” I was referring to khaki boy. “And he saw it, so now you can have your scarf back.”
“No, leave it on,” she told me. “I know that you’re cold, Sung Hoon … and perhaps this is the most that I can do for you.”
I stopped walking. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that –“ she looked away to the side. “ – that maybe you’re right. You’re here because of me, because this is my dream. But I can’t seem to leave you out of it … I don’t know how. So I can at least try to keep you warm, can’t I? And besides, you’re sick already.” She started to walk again.
“Well, you’ll have to do much better than that,” I caught up with her.
“Now what do you mean?”
“How about treating me to some hot chocolate and crème cake? At a coffee shop other than the one you just came from, preferably,” I sniffled.
And for the first time since I’ve met her, I saw her smile.
It was a rather nice smile.
* * *
“Hmmm … 39. 64° C,” my mother held up the thermometer up to the light to get a better reading. “What did you do yesterday? We weren’t out shopping for that long.”
Feeling as miserable as ever, I shrank deeper under my blankets.
The vacation wasn’t exactly going the way I had planned for it to be. This was my third day home and instead of relaxing and having fun with my friends and family I’ve had to stay home and attend to my illness.
“So you can’t come out tonight? Ji Yong’s in town too – and we were thinking about going to the movies after YY gets off work. We even found you guys dates,” Ji Won called later and told me all about his plans.
“Dates? You mean for Jae Duc – Ji Yong has Nina,” I argued.
“Oh, you didn’t know that they broke up? Ji Yong dumped her –“
“He did? How come – Nina’s such a nice person,” I immediately thought of Shin Ji. What was wrong with guys these days, dumping their perfectly fine girlfriends.
“It’s hard to explain – anyway, so you can’t come?”
“Hack * wheeze * cough * — does it sound like I should go out?”
“Haha, okay then,” he didn’t sound very sorry to hear that I was sick. What a loser of a friend. “That’s too bad, I hope you feel better.” And then he added, “What a waste of that date we found you, man she’s hot!”
“I don’t need a date,” I huffed.
“Of course you don’t,” he laughed again. “You need Hyori,” he laughed even harder.
“How many times do I have to tell you, I don’t – cough * — like Hyori!” I hung up on him.
I wondered what was wrong with Ji Won – you think he would be a little more mature since he’s older and all – but it was just the opposite. And lately he’s been getting more and more shallow by the day.
And Ji Yong … he and Nina broke up? They’ve been going out ever since high school. We all thought that they might get married someday, too. We all thought they were the perfect couple. But Ji Won didn’t sound at all like there was anything wrong with the break-up … maybe he knew of something that I didn’t.
“You should be lucky that you’re not in a relationship right now,” Shin Ji told me as we were taking a walk in the park. I didn’t have to wait long that day – she came out of the coffee shop sooner than I expected her to.
The first thing she did when she saw me was to take off her scarf and wrap it around my neck.
“Why don’t you ever remember to wear something to keep yourself warm,” she complained.
I just shook my head and laughed, at the same time wondering about khaki boy. He was watching us from the window.
“Relationships can get messy, so people should stay away from them,” she concluded.
“According to your theory, then no one should get into a relationship, no one should get married and have kids, and after about a century the human race will become extinct.”
Shin Ji burst out into gentle laughter. She had been laughing and smiling a lot more lately.
“I still have a lot of feelings for him, Sung Hoon,” she said more seriously, a moment later. “Even though he wants to break up with me – I still like him. And I may even love him. Sung Hoon, what should I do?”
Her lines sounded extremely familiar to me. Who was it that had said something similar?
She looked at me, her eyes pleading for an answer, as if I really know what’s the best for her.
“I … I don’t know,” feeling a bit uncomfortable all of the sudden, I looked away from her eyes.
“I don’t want to let go,” she said.
Letting go … I wondered if she had a choice. If khaki boy wasn’t willing to continue the relationship, what was it that she could do about it? But I didn’t want to pour cold water on her. As pessimistic as she sounded, I knew she still had a lot of hope in her mind.
* * *
The conditions of my flu – I guess that’s what it was – improved very slowly for the next couple of days. I slept and ate (although I had no appetite whatsoever, but of course my mother made me) and slept and ate and barely went outside my room.
My parents told me that the guys had been over a couple of times to see how I was doing, but I was too burnt out by my fever to notice that anyone was there. The entire time I was in bed I had felt dizzy, nauseous, achy, and whatever symptoms that were associated with the flu.
Even in my dreams I felt like I was dying.
“Sung Hoon!” Shin Ji exclaimed as I lost my balance and fell to the ground. It felt as if the energy had been drained from my legs. “Sung Hoon, are you okay?”
People who were passing by turned their heads to watch us, but no one really offered a hand to help.
Shin Ji struggled to help me up by herself. She was a bit on the petite side, however, so it was rather difficult for her to move me very far.
“Shin Ji…” I managed to say although the slightest move of any muscle would hurt my already aching body. “It’s alright, just let me sit here for awhile…”
“Okay,” she sat down next to me and leaned my body against her own. We sat there in the middle of the sidewalk like that for awhile. “Sung Hoon – you’re burning.” So my fever was still running. That medicine didn’t work at all. I must tell my mother to get a different brand next time.
“But I feel cold,” I closed my eyes and puffed out short breaths. It was getting harder and harder for me to breath, too. “Very, very cold…”
She took off her jacket and placed it over my body.
“Why did you do that … you’re going to be cold too.”
She put her arms around me and held me closer to her. Strangely I could feel her body heat through the layers of clothing we were both wearing.
“It’s alright, don’t worry about me,” she said, resting her head on top of mine. “I’m about as good as dead, anyway.”
I was in the middle of falling asleep – falling asleep in my dream, funny huh – when I found what she had said extremely queer.
“What does that mean?” I asked her immediately.
“I’m as good as dead … without him…”
I closed my eyes again. It’s been days since I last saw her cry, coming out form the coffee shop – I thought she had gotten over him, a little bit if not a lot. Apparently I’ve been wrong. He really did mean that much to her.
“Forget that dumb jerk … he’s not worth your time. You have me,” I attempted to crack a joke, but in reality I understood that I had already fallen for her.
“Heheh, I know,” she laughed, but then replied in a more serious tone. “I know, but I can’t help it.”
I didn’t know why I was trying to persuade her to forget him; not like I could forget my ex-girlfriend right away either, back then.
“Have you ever been heart broken before, Sung Hoon?” she seemed to be able to read my mind. Of course, this was her dream.
“How did you deal with it – how did you forget her?”
I opened my eyes and smiled at Shin Ji. Forget her? “How do you know that I’ve forgotten her already? Maybe I’m still in love with her.”
Shin Ji smiled back at me. “I know that you have. How did you do it?”
“It takes time, Shin Ji…”
“How long did it take you?”
“A very long time … “ I was slowly falling asleep again when I felt something cold hit my face gently.
“Ah … snow…” I opened my eyes and looked up into the sky. It was finally cold enough for it to snow … and now I must … I must get some rest now…
“Sung Hoon, Sung Hoon!” Shin Ji started to panic for some reason. I looked at her strangely. Her eyes were swelling up with tear again … why?
“Don’t cry … Shin Ji … what did he do to you to make you cry … hmm…”
The tears dripped from her eyes and fell on my face. I reached my hand out and tried to wipe it away … but for some reason I couldn’t touch her.
“What are you talking about … Sung Hoon, no, don’t go to sleep, you can’t go to sleep…”
Oh … I get it … she was crying for me now.
All this time that she’s been crying for him … now she’s finally crying for me…
“No!” she started to shake my body, but my eyelids were so heavy that I didn’t think I could keep them open for the world.
“Sung Hoon … I’m so sorry…” my eyes closed amidst of her sobs.
* * *
She was of course no longer with me when I woke up. I was wearing what I figured to be a hospital gown sitting lying in what I figured to be a hospital bed inside what I figured to be a hospital room. In other words, I had become a hospital patient.
I flipped open the covers and attempted to get out of bed. What happened instead was that I fell from the bed and making a loud crash.
Also, my arm was also stuck to an IV tube at the time but I didn’t know. So … when I fell I brought the entire set up of whatever fluid they had been injecting into me came crashing on top of me, making a loud racket. A nurse rushed inside at once.
“Oh, you’re awake!” she came over and helped me get back into bed. “Stay there and don’t move,” she told me. “I’m going to get the doctor and your parents.”
It turned out that I fell unconscious from a fever that went over 41° C and my parents had rushed me to the hospital. I had been unconscious for nearly 36 hours. It wasn’t just the simple flu that I had caught – it was the death flu, they told me. Personally I’ve never heard of that … but just the name of it sounded bad enough.
I couldn’t wait to get out of the hospital; it wasn’t a specifically pleasant place to be.
* * *
“Hold the elevator!” Someone called as I was ready to go downstairs for checkout. I pressed the open button as quickly as I could. The doors of the elevator reopened and a guy about my age stepped in.
“Thanks,” he said to me. I gave him a slight nod. As we rode down I had a funny feeling that the he was watching me. I had wanted to take a better look at him, but we were standing at an odd angle and I couldn’t turn around to see him without making it obvious. When the doors finally opened again on the ground floor, however, I took a quick glance of him before we went off our separate ways. He did look a bit familiar too me. Where had I seen him before?
“Are you all ready to go?” my parents asked me. I nodded.
“Your mother made a lot of your favorite dishes,” my father told me while we were in the car. “They’re all ready for you to dig in when you get home.”
Too busy trying to remember where I had seen that person in the elevator, I only give my father a murmured response.
“Careful here,” I heard my mother say to my father. “This was where that accident was last time.”
The accident that we came across on our way home almost two weeks ago.
I looked off to the side. There was that coffee shop where I always met up with Shin Ji after she talked to her boyfriend.
The guy inside the elevator was khaki boy. I didn’t recognize him right away because he wasn’t wearing khakis at the time.
What was he doing in the hospital?
Some vague ideas popped into my head. I shifted in my seat uncomfortably at the thoughts.
“How did the accident happen?” I hadn’t paid any attention to the news at all this past week.
“A van hit a girl while she was crossing the street … it didn’t brake in time and caused the other cars behind it to crash as well.”
A van hit a girl.
A van hit a girl.
A van hit a girl.
A van, almost hit me, in the dream.
That van, would have hit a girl, if it hadn’t been me.
The first thing I did when I got home was to dig through our newspaper pile for that day’s paper. I yanked it out of the pile and searched the front page. It should have been big news, locally, at least. I couldn’t find it though…
I pulled out the paper from the day after.
Mass Accident On … the headlines read. That was it. My eyes scanned down the page.
A 20 year old girl, later identified as Park Shin Ji, was hit yesterday after at the corner of … by a large blue van…
“Sung Hoon,” my mother came out of the kitchen and called me. “Do you want to eat now? The food is ready.”
I shook my head. “I … don’t have much appetite right now,” I tossed the paper back into the pile, and stood up. “I think I want to take a nap.”
She probably said something else after that, but I was too preoccupied to hear what she was saying. I simply went to bedroom and closed the door.
Shin Ji … I needed an explanation.
* * *
I was on my way to the coffee shop when something happened up ahead.
I heard the sharp screech of a car trying to brake, and then a loud scream of a girl.
Next came a loud crash, and a long honk, another loud crash, and more loud crashes.
Other people started to scream.
I ran as fast as I could to the scene. I wanted to know what happened.
“Excuse me,” I said, trying to push through the crowd of people. I wanted to see what had happened.
The first thing I saw was a mess of cars, all smashed together. The people inside the cars who were still conscious struggled to get out. My eyes wandered to the front of the mess.
A girl lay still at the fore wheels of the blue van.
Some people were telling me to stay away, but I walked up to her anyway.
Blood was quickly draining from her body out onto the pavement around her. Soon the bottoms of my shoes were soaked with her blood, too.
I looked closely at her face.
I know this girl, I thought.
Police came to clear the crowd away. They pulled me aside.
Not too far away, I spotted Ji Won’s car down the road.
He was tapping impatiently to the beat of some annoying music played by the jeep next to us while Jae Duc chatted with him from the back seat.
And I was there, too. I was sleeping soundly in the passenger’s seat.
“You found out,” said a voice behind me. I turned around to find Shin Ji watching the accident just steps behind me.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked her.
She shrugged. “What difference would it have made?” She gestured for me to follow her down the sidewalk as we always did. We looked like two people taking a walk down the street on an ordinary day. The accident was left behind.
“I’m glad to see that you’re okay,” she said out of relevance. “I was worried that something would happen to you after that night.”
“I ended up in the hospital.”
“Well, you woke up, didn’t you?”
Yes, at least I woke up. But she…didn’t.
“In my dream, normally you would see me come out of the coffee shop … that’s because … that’s all I ever dreamed about since the accident.”
I looked at her.
“Through my dreams I attempt to change the course of past – remember the first time I met you? Instead of me, you were the one that was hit – or almost hit,” she looked away almost shamefully. “And then, the truth altered little by little every time after that – there was no accident at all. I was still alive and well.”
As much as the truth had been changed in the dreams, the accident still happened in reality. But there was a little twist to that.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she was reading my mind again. “For some reason my dreams directly affected your health. You knew that your flu got worse because you were wandering around with me in the cold. But you did it anyway. So apparently you had no control.”
I didn’t say anything. What was she getting at?
“So now … I’m going to stop dreaming,” she also stopped walking. Suddenly I realized that we were standing before the coffee shop again. The accident had already cleared, and the cars were moving along smoothly in the streets … or had there been no accident at all to begin with?
“I’ve decided to wake up,” she said. Khaki boy was now standing at the entrance of the coffee shop. He watched us with a grin on his face. “He had agreed to take me back … if I wake up.”
She was … still alive.
I was too stunned to know how to react.
After all that had happened between us … was this the final result?
To see that someone I’ve come to care much for … walk away with someone else … again…
“Is this the last time that I’m going to see you?”
There was a long, long pause.
“…yes, we’re marking an end to our dreams as we speak. You will no longer see me after this. Even if you do…” she slowly bowed her head as her voice trailed away.
“Even if I do … what would happen?” I reached out and lifted her chin.
“Nothing. Because I am asking you to forget me right now.” Tears rolled around in her eyes.
“How can you ask me to do that?” I questioned. It took me that long to finally find someone that could be special to me after all this time – and she’s asking me to forget her?
“Because I will not remember you after I wake up … there’s no use for either of us to keep this memory – do you understand?”
Meaning that … the only way for us to keep in touch was through her dreams. But that was about to end very soon.
If she wakes up … she’ll still have him, at least.
She turned out to be another person that I have to let go.
“Are you not going to say something … Sung Hoon?”
I shook my head and started to walk away.
“Sung Hoon!” she chased after me.
“What else can I say?” I snapped bitterly. “To ask you to stay in your coma so you could be with me – this is your life, Shin Ji, isn’t it? I guess I could always find another girl –“
“Sung Hoon,” she hung on tightly to my arm, tears rapidly rolling down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry…”
I cupped her chin in my hands and brought her lips to mine.
And then there was no more of Shin Ji.
* * *
I suppose I did try hard to do what she had told me to do. After all, a dream is a dream, and no matter what happened in the dream, when the dream is over, life will go on.
I recovered magically after that last encounter with Shin Ji – which was something that I couldn’t understand. What did my illness have to do with her — dream and reality shouldn’t mix. Perhaps I would never find out.
And Shin Ji – I kept on telling myself – was just a dream. If she couldn’t become a part of my life, there was no point in keeping remembering her.
I returned back to school with Ji Won and Jae Duc within a couple of days and started a new semester of school. Everything went about normally just as how it used to … Jae Duc still never had to study for anything and Ji Won still made fun of me about Hyori. Really, I wonder where he even got the idea.
“Hey Sung Hoon –“ YY came up to me after a tae-kwon-do session at the gym one afternoon. “You want to have dinner with us today?” She meant eating with Ji Won, Jae Duc, and Jae Jin over at their apartment.
“Um, it’s alright, I don’t think I can stand any more of Jae Jin’s cooking,” the last I went over Jae Jin cooked and over-cooked everything on the plate.
“Oh…” YY tried to think of something else to say. “Well, Ji Won said that he can cook for you, if you want.”
Pause. And then she said, “We’re really worried about you, Sung Hoon … you haven’t been yourself since break … you don’t even defend yourself when Ji Won makes fun of you.”
I gave her a grateful smile. I understand that they’re all my friends and they care about me … but I just didn’t feel up to it.
“It’s alright… tell him thanks anyway,” I waved her goodbye and left the gym. But still, it was nice to know that someone cared.
I stopped by the water fountain for a drink of water. What a workout I had … really made me thirsty.
“Where are you going this time?”
*Choke * ~ I spat out a mouthful of water. For a moment there I thought I was hearing things. I turned around to see whom that voice belonged to.
It was just some girl talking on the pay phone next to me. I turned back around to finish my drink of water.
“So you can’t pick me up … okay…”
I shook my head and turned around again. I couldn’t have been mistaken. I stood there and waited until the girl turned around enough for me to see what she looked like.
I drew in a breath.
“I see, I see. Sure … maybe next time then…” she was still saying.
It was that same face.
“Bye,” she was about to hang up the phone when she caught me staring at her. She looked back at me curiously with wide eyes, as if she was seeing me for the very first time.
It was the same set of eyes.
Please forget me … Shin Ji had asked me. But did she really think I could do that?
“Um … I’m sorry, for taking so long,” she apologized to me, thinking that I needed to use the phone.
“No, it’s alright. I didn’t need to use it,” I replied, giving her a smile.
“Oh,” she returned to me a confused smile.
Shin Ji hadn’t lied to me … she really didn’t remember me, but…
I suddenly realized that I’ve gone through weeks of misery for nothing.
“I just find you familiar, that’s all,” I told her.
“You do? What is your name?” she asked me.
So what if she doesn’t remember me at all…
“My name is Kang Sung Hoon. Are you Park Shin Ji?”
I will give her the time to get to know me – all over again.
“How did you know – I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before. This is my first semester here at the university.”
It’s not like I didn’t have the time.
I smiled. “I must be psychic then ~”
“Well, you must tell me about it some times,” she placed the receiver back onto the hook and proceeded to leave. There’s my first opportunity.
“How about now?”
This time, I refuse to let her go.
“Huh?” She looked at me blankly
“What I meant was … would you like to join me for dinner?”
“Well…” Shin Ji took a look at her watch. “I guess so … plans were canceled for tonight away.”
This was good start.
“Let’s get going then,” I said. She nodded and followed me out of the gym. It felt so much like the past, with her walking beside me down the street.
She had been wrong about one thing, though.
The end hasn’t been market yet.
The dreams – no, our dreams, shall be endless.