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2017

 

“It will be hilarious.” Jiwon asserted as she shifted the putty knife under the floorboard. “You just don’t want to admit it.” She waved a hand at Sungmin. “It’s okay, my charms have overwhelmed you.” Jiwon patted her chest. “I understand.”

Sungmin rolled his eyes and grabbed the tool from her. “Exactly how many times do you need explained to you that a joke is only funny if other people laugh.”

Jiwon snatched it back and tilted her chin towards the door. “If you don’t want to help, you can leave.”

Sungmin settled on the floor next to her and nudged her shoulder with his, moving her to the side and putting his hand out for the putty knife. Jiwon flashed a bright smile and gave it to him with an obnoxiously triumphant twist.

“Just because I’m helping you,” Sungmin hit the butt of the knife with the heel of his palm after he wedged it between the boards, “does not mean I approve of what you’re doing.”

Jiwon moved onto her knees so she could see over his shoulder. “Doesn’t that basically describe our entire relationship.” She tilted forward as he popped up the floorboard and rested a hand on his shoulder.

Sungmin stiffened and shook her off. “Sit over there.” He pointed with an elbow to the space opposite him.

Jiwon raised her hands in surrender. “Fine. Fine.” She moved and settled across from him. “You’d think I was touching your-”

“Do not.” Sungmin pointed a finger at her. “Finish that sentence.”

Jiwon took on a dramatically pitying expression. “Sungmin,” She put a hand to her heart. “When did it happen?” She asked with unnecessary carefulness.

He sighed heavily. “What? When did what happen?”

“The operation.” She replied solemnly.

Sungmin stopped detaching the floorboard and looked up. “On my leg?”

“No.”

“Then-”

“To remove your sense of joy.”

Sungmin stood and made to leave the room. Jiwon followed flamboyantly. “Were you very young?” She called after him as she braced against the doorway to her room.

He reached the entryway to the girls’ place and shoved his feet into his sneakers.

“Did it hurt a lot?” She continued to pepper with him questions as he finished putting his shoes on, descended both sets of stairs and reached his car. When he had his hand on the handle to open the driver’s side door he stopped as she mirrored the gesture on the opposite side.

“What are you doing?” Sungmin asked.

“Oh,” Jiwon opened the door. “I’m hungry.” She settled into the passenger seat and buckled the belt. “Come on.” She waved at him. “We don’t have all day.”

Sungmin threw open the door and immediately reached for her seatbelt to unbuckle it. “Get out.” He whispered. “Get out.”

Jiwon fought off his hands, slapping them out of the way whenever he found purchase. “Are you saying you don’t want to eat lunch with me?” Jiwon raised her eyebrows and flashed another bright smile.

Sungmin hung his head and groaned. He let go of her seatbelt and settled into the driver’s seat, starting the engine. “I must have betrayed my country in a past life.”

Jiwon’s gaze was trained outside the window on the street as they passed. “No, you owned a bookstore.” She said quietly, her hands wrapped around the belt across her chest. “Then you died in your sleep.”

Sungmin eyed her cautiously for a moment but ultimately decided to ignore the odd answer. It was Jiwon after all, who had apparently called him over to her apartment for an emergency that amounted to removing a squeaky floorboard so she could hide some fake letter underneath for future tenants. Giving any weight to the nonsense she said was a mistake.

2025

“Excuse me is this...um…” A young voice shyly asked after he distractedly answered the phone. “Song Jiwon?”

Sungmin bit back a sigh. “No, she’s…” He scrubbed his face with his hand. “This is her husband.”

“Oh,” The girl on the end cheered a bit. “Oh, so maybe this is for you then!” She laughed. “We found this letter you see and-”

He listened to her ramble on, clearly excited at the prospect at finding the potential intended recipient of the mysterious love letter. He looked to the photos on his desk while she spoke.

His wife smiling brightly at the camera in a sundress in an apple orchard. Her holding their daughter as a toddler, foreheads leaning together, both with that same impossibly bright grin. Their wedding. One of them just before they started dating. Jiwon was laughing, she had been teasing Yoo Eunjae about something, and he had been looking at her. Really looking at her. He had made sure Kwon Hochang never let anyone else see it, luckily the younger man hadn’t quite understood the implications of the photograph.   

A few years later Jiwon had found the only existing copy o on an old cellphone of his and never let him live it down. She usually wouldn’t let it go until he distracted her properly and he would admit his methods were occasionally short-sighted, seeing as he became a father because of some of them. She had printed a copy the very next day after she found it, immediately giving it it a home on his desk.

“So if you give us an address we could mail it to you or-” The girl was saying politely.

Pulled back into the present Sungmin sat up and scratched his temple. “No, that’s fine, I’ll…” He picked up the photo Kwon Hochang had taken. “I’ll come pick it up this afternoon.”  He ran his thumb across the glass of the frame. “No, I know the address, thank you.”

2017

“After everything you went through because of anonymous letter you’re going to leave another one under your floorboards?” Sungmin asked as Jiwon stamped the floorboard back into place.

“Of course not.” Jiwon’s eyes flashed mischievously. “It’s not a letter.” She waggled her eyebrows. “And it’s not anonymous.”

Sungmin clenched his jaw. “What did I just help you do?”

Jiwon pursed her lips and looked around innocently. “Make memories.” At his skeptical expression she grabbed his forearm and walked towards to door. “Come on, the children will be home any minute.” She stopped at the doorway and slammed a hand on the doorframe, whipping her head back to look at him over her shoulder. “Their innocent eyes don’t need to see what a man and woman are up to in a bedroom.”

Sungmin shouldered his way past her. “I’m never answering my phone when you call ever again.”

“What?” Jiwon called as she followed him. “I was gentle wasn’t I?” She continued with a suggestive smile.

2025

“Jiyin,” Sungmin bent in front of her as she sat on the bench. “I’ll be out in a few minutes okay.” He handed her an apple. “Wait here, don’t go anywhere. Got it?”

His daughter nodded, swinging her feet. “Got it.” She gave him a bright smile. He returned it, trying not to do so sadly. She reminded him so much of his wife and he supposed that would always hurt just a little, but for as much as it did it also filled him with warmth. A reminder that she was never truly gone, not when she was in their daughter’s eyes, her smile, her laugh. He squeezed her shoulder and stood, taking a steadying breath as he faced the house.

A thousand memories of Jiwon filled that place. It still felt like she might walk down the steps at any moment, demand he abandon his plans because they were going on some insane quest of hers, laugh brightly as she followed her friends out the door, casually teasing them about their love lives, mock interviewing them about their thoughts on some event, ogling some unsuspecting young man.

He swallowed thickly, hands in the pockets of his suit pants.

God he missed her.

God this sucked.

He could even imagine her standing next to him, poking him in the side, looping her arm through his, and dragging him to the door. “Why are you keeping them waiting?” She’d say. “I thought you were the polite one.” She’d shake her head. “No, wait, you’re not polite, I’m the nice one.” She’d pat his arm.

“You’re not nice, you’re insane.” He’d say back. “That’s why I’m here.” He’d tell her. “Because of another one of your crazy schemes.”

“Why is it that when you say ‘fun’ it sounds a lot like ‘crazy’?” She’d ask.

“Because your definition of ‘fun’ is almost identical to everyone else’s definition of ‘insanity’.” He’d say.

“But you’re still here…” She’d sing-song, needling him with her finger.

“Because you’re not.” He whispered to the empty air.

He cleared his throat and rang the bell.

2017

“Hey.” Jiwon poked him with her unused chopsticks. “Don’t change your number okay?”

Sungmin frowned at her. “Ignoring your calls is still easier than changing my number.” He blew on the noodles in front of him.

“Just remember.” Jiwon told him distractedly, her attention drifting towards her roommates in the living room. “No changing your phone number.”

“You know I’m genuinely starting to worry you’ve lost what little sanity you had left.” He said quietly.

“Aw,” She turned back to him and smiled brightly. “You still thought I had some left.”

He snorted and rolled his eyes.

2025

“At first we thought it was just loose but then Yeri tripped when she came in drunk,” The girls dissolved into laughter. Their story continued, the process of finding the box, and the letters. They’d read only the unsealed one they promised, addressed to ‘My Heart’, and signed by Song Jiwon. At first they were going to try finding her through the landlord but then they saw the phone number on a slip of paper tucked into the lid of the box. His unchanged phone number.

The unsealed letter was sappy, ridiculous and absurdly explicit. It was three pages long, double-sided. The girls blushed profusely as they apologized for reading what they assumed was a love letter to him. A very sappy, over the top, unnecessarily graphic and decidedly fake love letter to no one.

He slipped that work of fiction and the other sealed envelopes into his suit jacket pocket and headed back out. He came up behind his daughter and put out his hand. “Let’s go.”

Jiyin looked up to him, “Is this the house where mom used to live?” She asked as the walked away.

Sungmin adjusted his grip on her hand. “Yes.”

She fell into silence next to him, occasionally glancing over her shoulder back at the house as they walked towards the car. He situated Jiyin in the back seat and started the engine, trying to keep his gaze from the empty front seat next to him. He adjusted the rearview mirror just slightly so he could catch his daughter’s face and the back windshield.

“Did I ever tell you about the first time your mom and I met?” He asked, catching her eye through the mirror. She flashed him a bright smile, Jiwon’s smile, and shook her head.

“It was raining…” He began, pulling onto the road.

2017

“Hey.” Jiwon stopped him, her eyes searching his face before she continued. “Thank you.”

Sungmin’s brow furrowed. “For what?” He asked suspiciously.

Jiwon gave him a fond smile. “Oh you know,” She rolled her hand. “Just.” She bit her lip. “Everything I guess.” She met his gaze. “Putting up with me.”

Sungmin narrowed his eyes. “You’re not going to try to borrow money or something right now are you?” She laughed and shook her head. “You weren’t arrested again were you?” Again she shook her head.

“Just,” She patted his upper arm. “Thanks.” She smiled softly once more and headed back inside, waving when she opened the door.

He returned the gesture and pulled his car keys from his pocket. “That woman is going to be the death of me.” He mumbled with a sigh.

“Oh!” Jiwon called out, the door opening again, Sungmin turned. “I need a ride tomorrow.” She grinned. “Eight o’clock sharp.” She spun on the ball of her foot and ran back inside.

“Hey!” He pointed towards her retreating back with his car keys. “Hey!” He exhaled sharply through his nose and ran after her. “I am not your chauffeur.” He yelled. Her laughter filtering back to him as he chased her.

2025

Only the light next to the reading chair was on in the house when he opened the letter. His daughter had been asleep for at least an hour. His infant son less than twenty minutes.

He settled into the chair and broke the seal.

Sungmin,

I bet you thought you were rid of me huh?

He let out a breath that was half a laugh, half a sob. He should have known.

I figured by the time someone finds this letter you’ll probably have figured out how to ditch me properly. I’m assuming it was by getting married. You’re stuck with me until you get married. I hope you realize that. Maybe even after if your wife is someone I like. Fair warning.

What did you think of my letter? Steamy stuff huh? I know what you’re thinking, and yes I was watching porn while I wrote it. I’m a method writer after all. I need to be one with my material. Really feel the moment.

The sappy parts I may have copied from some of Eunjae’s diary. Don’t tell.

That girl really loves her alliteration.

I bet you didn’t realize this prank was for you, did you? Even when you think you’re rid of me BAM, I’m back. I’m like herpes. Or an Asgard reunion tour. I know you can’t tell but I’m wiggling my eyebrows right now. So...picture that. For proper effect.

Honestly this whole thing is going to be hilarious. There you are, somewhere in the future, living your nice quiet life with your sane, young, pretty, boring wife (I assume the only person you’d marry would be boring, I’m definitely right aren’t I?) and out of the blue you’ll get a vague phone call about some obscene mystery love letters.

Maybe you’ll remember today, when I made you pry up the floorboard, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll think for a second that I really wrote you a bunch of sappy haikus. Did your heart flutter for just a moment? It’s okay to admit if it did. No one but you and the letter will know. And me. Obviously. Even if I’m six thousand miles away being my fabulous self in America somewhere. I’ll feel it. A disturbance in the unifying force. Somewhere, out there, Sungmin is secretly flustered because of me. Poor guy, never stood a chance.

I wish I could see your face, I bet it was priceless. Plus you’ll have to go get the steamy letter from a bunch of young girls. If you’re not married feel free to pick a wife from among them, I’m sure the most boring one will do. I think you probably deserve a nice quiet life after putting up with me all these years. A reward from the universe.

Although meeting me was also likely the best thing that ever happened to you right? Next to meeting your boring wife, obviously. I can concede that-for you at least-that might be more important.

But still, I hope it was ridiculous. I wonder if you’re really old by the time you get this...Did you get fat? Lose all your hair? It’s okay if you did, I will only judge you silently. I’m a letter after all. The real Jiwon, future Jiwon (well, present Jiwon to you that you longer talk to because you’re married and can’t be friends with someone as patently fantastic as myself) is probably judging you vocally.

If you’re still young when this letter is found you might fluster the girls of the house too much. Don’t. The poor things don’t need that kind of disappointment. Not when you’ll be going home to your wife. Don’t get their hopes up like that. What’s wrong with you? It’s the young students epidemic all over again. You heartless bastard, toying with their emotions like that. What will  your wife say?

Anyway, you’re going to be here in a few minutes. Past you is still not smart enough to have figured out the wife loophole and is stuck with me. Should I say hi for you? Pass along some wisdom from your mature older self? Eh, you probably wouldn’t listen anyway.

Remember to thank you future wife tonight, without her you’d probably be in the middle of another adventure of mine against your will instead of reading this letter. It sounds terrible. But you probably love it.

Remember me fondly. Well, probably not fondly, but pretty. Remember that I was at least very pretty. A real knock-out. You were at times at a loss I was so stunning. Even if you don’t remember it exactly that way, trust me, I’m in the past I know. I’m the authority.

Your Friend (and employer),

Song Jiwon

PS I feel like the statute of limitations has passed and I can finally tell you… It was me that scratched your car last week. I just blamed Eunjae because you can yell at me but you can’t yell at Eunjae. It’d be like kicking a puppy.

PPS Also the one that stole your yogurt last year. Since we’re confessing.

PPPS You know what? Blanket apology for all the times I definitely stole your food, lied to get you to go somewhere, and maybe broke something you owned. We’re good right? <3 JS