"Chomee lost her father when she was eight. We ran away to Pusan," Jinjoo explained, her tired eyes on Miyoung and Jaejin.
Miyoung nodded. "She told me."
"She has?" Jinjoo asked softly.
"It took her a while. She didn't start opening up till at the end of the school year."
"End? I thought..."
Miyoung bit her lip, realizing her mistake. Chomee lied to her mother about being away at school! "Uh...I meant, for me. She signed up for summer courses. It was the end of the school year for me."
Jaejin raised a brow, making a face at Miyoung.
"Oh..." But Jinjoo was skeptical. "Is that where is she right now? At school?"
"Yes..." Miyoung whispered, her voice caught.
Turning to Jaejin, Jinjoo murmured, "You're..."
"Jaejin. Miyoung's friend."
"Aren't you two a pair?" Jinjoo smiled, admiring the two children. "Beautiful, too."
"Uh..." Miyoung started, glancing at Jaejin. She was getting ready to say Jaejin was only a friend, not her boyfriend, but she sensed Jaejin's warning.
"Is Chomee well?"
"She's doing very good. As a matter of fact, she has a job now," Jaejin answered.
Miyoung threw dagger-like glares at Jaejin. Jaejin only chuckled.
"Yes, she works as a tutor to the little kids at a nearby elementary school," Jaejin lied easily, his eyes mocking Miyoung.
"She's very well liked. The kids didn't want her to go. She's an excellent teacher. Very good with kids," Jaejin went on.
"Excuse me," Miyoung interrupted, smiling sweetly. "I'm going to make a call to Soowon. I'll be right back." Miyoung made an about face and exited Jinjoo's hospital room.
"Soowon's our friend," Jaejin told Jinjoo.
"I hope Chomee's not taking things too hard." Jinjoo sighed.
"She is a tad upset."
"Why?" Jinjoo asked, worried.
"You fell ill and she hurried in, crying very hard."
"Crying? She was here?" Jinjoo nearly shouted.
"Last night. She had to hurry back to the dorm because Miyoung made her. We promised her we'd be here with you so she wouldn't have to worry."
"Oh, my child."
"She's fine though. We talked to her earlier. Jiyong's taking care of her."
Jaejin gasped quietly as he realized the name had slipped out. "Yeah...he's our other friend."
"Well, I'm gonna go see what's taking Miyoung."
Jinjoo nodded as Jaejin left, the name still lingering on her lips. "Jiyong..."
Jaejin closed the door behind him, sighing in relief. He waited at the door for Miyoung to return, not wanting to be in the room with Chomee's mother by himself. He felt uncomfortable lying and especially without anybody there supervising him, he'd eventually slip out with the truth.
Jinjoo's eyes drifted to the ceiling, her heart skipping a beat. "Could it be..? Ko Jiyong?"
“Ajuma!” Sangah whispered loudly, tugging on the sleeve of Ajuma’s shirt.
“Whuuuhuuuut?!” Ajuma grumbled, hoisting up the hose in her hand.
“Chomee and Jiyong!” Sangah croaked, pointing at the two.
“Where?!” Ajuma shouted, dropping the watering hose.
“Ahhhhh! The flowers! They’re drowning!”
“I’m old. I can’t see that far!”
“Smiling? He never smiled when he was with the other girl.”
“He’s laughing now!”
“Chomee, Chomee...” Ajuma sighed. “Didn’t I tell you so?”
“My mother was a housewife, never applied for a job. My father loved to gamble and drink and I lost him to that; and he the same.
“He gambled and lost money and asked people to lend him money so he could repay other people he borrowed from. Instead of keeping his promise, he gambled more and lost more. He even gambled away out house and all our precious jewlery and cars...everything! Even my mom’s wedding ring and all the other family heirlooms from my grandmothers of both sides. We were finally homeless and one time during the year, it was extremely cold, I fell sick - deathly ill and we had no money to call for a doctor.”
“Then what happened?” Jiyong interrupted, his heart wrenching with sudden pain.
“Nuthin. My mom brought me to a church and prayed every day, every night. She nursed me back to health. My mom is wonderful. She knows everything. It’s a shame how she ended up marrying my father and not someone better.” Chomee waited, not wanting to continue on.
“By then, we had hoped Appa had stopped gambling. But the debts he had to pay were far too great. So, then people didn’t want money anymore. They made him give away everything he has and at the end, it still wasn’t enough. My mother was still young back then and very beautiful. Men knew she was married and still wooed her. I was only a child, anybody would have taken me and say I’m their future daughter-in-law. As long as they got back what they've given my father, they didn't care. They're heartless bastards. I'd rather have Appa rot in jail, than having them torture him like that.
“One day, I saw my father being dragged away to a warehouse. By that time, Oma found a part-time job and supported the both of us. She wouldn’t let my dad see me, so she found a small apartment. Somewhere far away, I dunno where.
“I was out playing that day and I found a mob of people screaming and cheering. I followed them and slipped in without being noticed.”
“Sounds like James Bond to me,” Jiyong joked.
“I wish,” Chomee said dryly. “Then it was just so horrifying. Everybody taking turns beating up my father. The women stood aside and cheered and cursed at him. I was just petrified. Then I was spotted and pushed to the middle of the room with my almost-dead father. I remember screaming my lungs out at the sight of blood. Not that I’ve never seen it. But it was like pools and pools of it.” Chomee shivered at the memory, her voice caught, preventing her from continue her story.
Jiyong patted her hand and gently stroke it, comforting her to the best of his ability.
Chomee recollected her thoughts and decided to leave out the graphical events. It was too painful for her to relive them and telling it. "Soon...he died. My mother and I fled to Pusan, where nobody knew us. I continued school there and now my mother's sick. There's nothing I can do since I'm starting new and going to school up here. The doctors up here are much better than the ones down there. I need the money for school and my mother needs money for her illness."
"How'd you find this place?"
"It was advertised. I was going through the newspaper one day and saw this ad saying a nurse was needed to care for an eighteen year old. So I called and I’m here.”
"Now for your end of the bargain. What happened to you?"
"Me?" Jiyong blinked. "Do you take rain checks?"
Chomee sighed. "It's late. I'm tired."
“I was only sixteen at the time and my parents thought I would look cute with Susan. She comes from another rich family and her parents were associates of my parents. They were such great friends, they’re inseparable. So, they decided to hook us up. Great plan, huh? So they can keep all the money inside the family. I never really liked Susan. Only she was just drop dead gorgeous, but she was a dumb bitch. Even Jiwon who was a player said he wouldn’t want to play her ass. She was too rich for his blood.”
Chomee sat up in her chair, fully alert. “Is she really that hateful?”
“She’s always mad for some reason.”
“Have you ever really, truly loved her?”
“Didn’t I just got through saying - ”
“Never mind my big mouth. Go on.”
“They expected us to have kids and all that blah blah blah.”
“Is she really that pretty?”
“She was beyond that. I dunno, I guess her beauty was far too great and it blinded me from staring at her too much.”
Chomee giggled, easing slightly into her chair.
"You have such a cute voice. I wonder how you look like," Jiyong wondered softly with a smile.
Chomee froze. Not quite sure of how to answer.
“I-I-I’m not pretty,” she finally managed to utter.
“Nah! You’re kidding. You have such a cute voice.”
Chomee was actually glad Jiyong was blind at the moment. Her face was flushed deeply scarlet. “Really. I’m ugly.”
“Never had a namja chingoo?”
“Not even a guy friend.”
“Are you really that cute? I’ve heard the servants talk about you. And I heard Jaeduk’s loud mouth screaming you were mad cute to Jaejin.”
“Don’t listen to them. I think they’re referring to my personality. Anyways, I thought we were done analyzing me and were talking about you. ”
Jiyong sighed. "I'll find out how you look like!"
Chomee stuck her tongue out at him.
"I saw that!"
Chomee sat back in her chair, for a moment, really believing Jiyong had saw what she did.
“Well, we were dating for a while and then she had to go somewhere on the night of my eighteenth birthday celebration. So it was only me and Seonghoon and the rest of them.”
“I didn’t want to make it a big deal.”
“I thought it was always a big deal.”
“It was five in the morning when I went to test drive my car. Seonghoon and them bought me a new Supra for my birthday.”
"Well, I was driving along just fine and I think when I skidded and started again, it was too fast. There was this nasty noise that made my stomach churn. My car scraping the graveled ground. I was unconscious for how long, I dunno. But when I woke up, I was already blind.”
“Soon after, Susan left me, so did my parents. They made me move out here to live on my own.”
“It’s not that bad. As least I got rid of Susan. Seonghoon and the rest still calls to see my weekly progress.”
“They care about you.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s what my mother and Susan said too.” Jiyong frowned sourly.
Chomee sat still, her mind wandering off. Jiyong accompanied her, enjoying the light breeze.
"Do you think you still stand a chance?" Chomee inquired after a moment of peace.
Jiyong cocked his head to one side. "Do I think? I know I don't have a chance."
"Don't be so negative. At least give it a try."
"Because...I don't want to."
"Don't want to and can't are two different things," said Chomee.
"I know that."
"I still say you should make a trip to the hospital or some specialist. I mean, it's not a big problem."
Jiyong shook his head, objecting to Chomee's suggestions. "No."
"But why?! You have the perfect opportunity!"
"Trust me. If I had the chance to see again, don't you think I would be living at home right now?"
"I've gone to every possible doctor, every hospital, looking for a cure. If neither I nor my mom has found one last year or several months ago, what makes you think they'll have a cure now?"
"Jiyong! That was then!" Chomee cried, raising her voice. "Now...you dunno how much better technology has gotten! Maybe your case is different! Maybe you have to wait a little longer before regaining your vision, but it's not impossible! I mean, you didn't have a pausible reason to be blind. It's not like I stabbed your eyes out or anything."
"Nah, Susan maybe. You're too nice."
"I'm serious here!"
"I am, too! Can't you see this is pointless?!"
"If it's money you're worried about, then you shouldn't! You're loaded!"
"It's not the money!"
"Then what is it?! Not time, I know. You don't have anything to lose!"
"Can we drop the subject?"
"Only for the time being."
"Boy, you're more persistent than Susan."
"Haha. Isn't that the role of a girlfriend?" Chomee threw back.
Jiyong chuckled at the reminder. "Sure."
"I'm having problems."
"Kid, you've been having them!" Chomee said playfully.
"I'm serious. I don't think I can ever sleep again."
"After last night. I'm too scared to sleep."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. I'm scared, too. But you shouldn't be. I mean, you dunno how the guy look like, so you don't have to worry about him haunting you."
"That's what makes it even scarier. I won't know when he'll come again and kill me. I won't be able to see anything!"
"Sometimes, I think it's an advantage...being blind. Although many people think of it as a flaw. I think a person could be just as beautiful and perfect when they're blind. It's just all wonders."
"Yeah. I wish I could see again."
"Go - "
"Fine. Just don't tell me you wanna see again."
"But you didn't see the guy, so why are you worried?"
"Hmmm? I didn't see his face, but I saw him and all these little images of him would float into my mind. Ya know? Scary..." Chomee shivered at the thought.
"Yeah, but you can't beat me."
Chomee blew a raspberry. "Well, I think it's your loss. Not getting to see the wonders. I think it's good too. Not as tiring or stressful. Everybody has things to worry about and you don't. You're handicappedm, people won't be expecting you to perform as well and so they won't ask you to do so much. It's better...not having too many things to think about. Makes you old and wrinkly.
"You know what? Never thought of that. I like the way you think," Jiyong said slowly, a lightbulb going off in his head.
The phone rang again, rocketing Mrs. Ko’s annoyance. She snatched the phone off the hook again and thundered a loud, “Hello?!”
“Ko Puyin?” came a short, choppy reply.
“I am,” she responded promptly.
“Hi, I am Jiyong’s medical doctor. Remember?”
“Uhm...regarding the latest technology techniques. We do have a breakthrough. Although it may not promise your son full vision, but it does provide him a better chance for the future. And we would like to examine his eyes. Do you agree to this?”
Mrs. Ko hesitated. "What are his chances?"
"From the very last checkup, records show he has a seventy-thirty. But statistics could change over a period of time. So, as of now, we won't be able to know."
Mrs. Ko nodded, absorbing the detailed exchange. "When will be the best time?"
"Anytime. We are thinking the sooner, the better. It will give us more time to seek assistance to your son's vision."
"I'll call you when my son and I reach an agreement," Mrs. Ko said crisply.
"That's fine. We'll be waiting."
Mrs. Ko replaced the receiver on the cradle and whooped with joy. She felt the heavy, dreadful feeling she have had endured for over a year lift off her chest and shoulders, making her grin spread even wider. She quickly called her son and notified him of such news and once again laughed giddily to herself once she was done.
"My mom," Jiyong replied, sighing loudly.
"What did she say?" Chomee asked, her brows scrunching.
"She wanted me to got to the hospital. The doctors say I have a chance of regaining my vision."
Chomee gaped openly at him. "That's great!"
"Yeah, but what if they're just saying that? Don't you think it's a waste?"
"No! At least something's happening!"
"Yeah. Sumthin," Jiyong snickered.
"Why..? Aren't you happy?"
"I'm not gonna work myself up for nothing."
"But what if..."
"Yeah, what if? That's the question. What if?"
Chomee ignored the comment. "When are you seeing them?"
"In two weeks."
"Are you going?"
"I guess. I did say I wanted to see again."
"So...did your mother say anything else?"
"Funny. She sounded a lot more cheerful."
News was out - Ko Jiyong was recovering.
“Ouch! This thing is stiff!” Jiyong complained, rubbing the bandage.
“You’ve been saying that ever since you went into therapy. It won’t be for long,” Chomee assured him, patting his head.
“Dammit, two weeks! I’ve been wrapped up for two weeks!”
“Just be glad it's not two months.”
“That’s very charming,” Jiyong said sarcastically.
“Very,” Chomee agreed.
“Can’t wait till tomorrow. I’ll be free of this hard shit and I'll be able to see again.”
Chomee smiled. “Oh, the humanity!”
“Don’t get soupy,” Jiyong warned.
Chomee laughed. She stopped short when the phone started ringing and hurried to answer it.
“Yes?” Chomee whispered, feeling queasy.
“This is Jiyong's mother.”
Chomee was breathing normally again. “Puyin! How are you?”
“Good. Do you think it's possible that I see you for a few minutes?”
“Perhaps later on? Around three?”
“Is something the matter?” Chomee asked.
“There is something I would like to discuss with you.”
Chomee bit down on her lip, feeling nervous.
“I’ll come around at three,” Mrs. Ko repeated.
“Sure,” Chomee agreed slowly.
“See you then,” Mrs. Ko replied.
“Bye,” Chomee murmured, hanging up the phone.
“Chomee!” Jiyong called.
“Coming!” she answered. She stared at the phone, her heart beating rapidly. She returned to Jiyong, wondering what Mrs. Ko wanted to speak to her about. She thought back to the day she started working, trying to figure out where she had gone wrong. Maybe Mrs. Ko thought she wasn’t good enough and wanted to get rid of her. Maybe because she made too many mistakes -
“Huh?!” Chomee yelped, startled.
“What’s wrong?” Jiyong asked, concerned.
“Nu-Nuthin,” she stammered.
“Who was that?”
“On the phone.”
“What did she say?”
“Why are you scared?”
“Scared? I’m not scared,” Chomee lied.
“Chomee, I may be blind, but I’m not deaf.”
“It’s nothing, really.”
Jiyong gave her a skeptical look.
“Well, I have to run an errand later.”
“Is that what my mother called for?”
“Seriously, no. I have to find a few things for my mother,” Chomee said uneasily. She hated lying. Even if it was something small. She hated lying.
Jiyong shrugged. He trusted her. “Fine. Can you help me ask Ajuma when I can get this thing off? I wanna know when.”
Chomee sighed. “Tomorrow. Sit still and wait.”
“But I’ll die waiting!” Jiyong cried dramatically.
“That’s something I’d look forward to,” Chomee replied just as playfully.
Jiyong smiled, feeling happy for the first time in years. “I’m gonna finally see how you look like!”
“Don’t be too disappointed,” Chomee reminded him.
Jiyong nodded. “I won’t, I won’t.”
The hours quickly passed and soon enough Chomee was in the same car as Mrs. Ko, her breathing short and nervous.
The ride was quiet and Chomee kept her eyes stuck to the window pane. She watched the beautiful scenery fly by, not quite sure of where they were headed. She tried sitting back and felt herself tighten up with uneasiness and sat stiffly in her end of the car. She clapped her hands together and rested them in her lap, cold sweat washing over her. She couldn’t help feeling queasy. Being in the same car with the bossy woman was frightening and with matters waiting to be discussed...she was ready to hide in a bomb shelter.
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