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she who wishes on dandelions

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she who wishes on dandelions



i


As Duk-seon scribbles down her thoughts in her diary, she can feel her usual short temper rising. She underlines a particular passage to emphasize how she means it when she says she doesn’t want to stand out, that all she wants is to be heard.

She just wants to ask and get a reply — Is asking for fried eggs too much? Is asking to celebrate her own birthday too much? Is asking for the possibility of the boy that she likes to like her back asking too much?

Sometimes Duk-seon thinks being herself is the most frustrating thing on earth, and she's not even asking for the impossible! The struggles of existing as a middle child should be self-explanatory to that issue, especially when it’s against the type of siblings she has; smack dab between Bo-ra who’s not only studious but also strong-willed, and No-eul who has a sharp attention to detail and sings well when he thinks no one is listening.

On days where Bo-ra is being especially mean, Duk-seon finds it difficult to coddle up to her Omma and Appa because No-eul is busy occupying their parents’ attention. During times like these, Duk-seon grumbles and insists that it should be a crime to put someone in such a position.

Honestly, she feels forgotten when these sorts of things happen. It doesn't help that Duk-seon feels like she can't offer much to her family in return for all their hard work and sacrifices either. She does not win at lucky draws or score perfect grades or remember the promises she is supposed to keep.

So when her family is busy, who else is there to turn to? It's not like Duk-seon expects to stand out or impress new people. Duk-seon knows that, if someone were to stop her, Mi-ok and Ja-hyun on the streets and then ask for directions, they probably wouldn’t be able to tell each girl apart. She, Mi-ok and Ja-hyun look too alike at times; with their similar haircuts and big appetites.

In fact, Duk-seon thinks, if she were to test her family and make them identify who's who from behind, then her family wouldn’t be able to tell the three girls apart either.

Actually. No. That’s not right. That’s the negativity talking — her Omma is such a kind soul, she would recognise her own daughter in a heartbeat; and even if her Appa was intoxicated to the point of not making any sense, he knows Duk-seon too well to get the test wrong; Bo-ra has too many memories of pulling Duk-seon’s hair from behind to mistaken somebody else as her sister; and No-eul’s eyes are too sharp to make such an armature mistake.

Duk-seon stops writing and frowns at the things she’s jotted down in her diary.

Well, at least that’s one nice thought for today. Even when Duk-seon is fuming, there are still some positive things that her mind wills into her. She doesn’t know how the thought came to be, but sometimes, she amazes even herself.


On her good days, Duk-seon spends her time doing the things she likes.

She dances to music videos, eats everything delicious and savours the fact that she got to be on TV while representing athletes and a country. She listens to the same cassette tapes over and over and over again; sits in a crowded bus with Mi-ok and Ja-hyun, being their unapologetic selves no matter how much the locals gawked or if strangers smirked at their girlish ignorance; and hangs out with the same group of boys that she’s known for practically for ever.

She grew up with them, you know? There's nothing she doesn't know about these four boys and nothing they don't know about her. And because of that, Duk-seon thinks, there's also nothing about them that could surprise her.

A part of her never wants anything to change.


It's not fair, Duk-seon thinks bitterly, trying not to let hot tears spill.

Okay, so maybe she does want some change in her life, because — another year has rolled by, and another birthday is shared.

If Duk-seon wasn’t crying on the old bench, then she’s sure she would have chosen to release her anger elsewhere. Maybe she would have locked herself in her bedroom and let her temper get the best of her. Maybe she would have looked around the cluttered place and decide it’s time to throw some of her old stuff out. But, then again, she’s not that well-off, so it’s only natural for her to hoard things and keep them even after they’re worn.

Her pink clothes are an example — the one thing that's not a hand-me-down or expected to be a hand-me-down. It's hers and hers alone. Duk-seon thinks she should at least be awarded one nice thing that's hers to keep.

The neighbourhood boys are the other thing Bo-ra can’t take away from her. They may have all grown up together, but Bo-ra scares every single one of the boys. And that’s saying something, especially on Dong-ryong’s part, his father is the Dean, after all. And there’s nothing scarier than the reality that a child has to see their parent during and after school.


Sun-woo, Jung-hwan and Dong-ryong are performing SoBangCha's Last Night.

The boys are on stage; they’re living their most embarrassing moment, but also their happiest — singing in front of a mass of students, having familiar people cheer for them as they sang their hearts out, no matter how off-key. There is something so genuine about it. Something that makes Duk-seon scream along with the crowd and makes her give the boys her all too.

Duk-seon is so in the moment that she forgets why she even begged the boys to do this favour for her. The prize of the MyMy is cast away from her mind. For now, all Duk-seon wants to do is remember this moment.


Her toe may be broken, but her spirit isn’t.

Actually, she feels quite tranquil in this big field of green.

For the first time in what feels like a long time, Taek is here along with Sun-woo, Jung-hwan and Dong-ryong. Duk-seon is content just watching her boys playing on the soccer field; hugging each other as a distraction for cheap shots and passing smiles as frequently as they passed the ball; covering themselves in grass stains and laughter.

If anyone had asked her, Duk-seon would have said that she thought the simplicity of things must mean that it would be a good day.


ii


She's not here out of boredom — though, in her eyes, this is more important than wrecking her brain and (stu)dying for something she doesn't understand — she's her on a mission of love!

Her heart is beating in excitement as she walks away from the study centre, a packet of candy pokes out of her jacket pocket. As she hums to herself, she hugs her favourite white bomber jacket closer to her body. Duk-seon wonders if Sun-woo will think that the note attached is as sweet as her gift! She spent her own pocket money on it, there's nothing Duk-seon won't sacrifice for the person she loves.

Ahh, she likes him so much! First loves are really something else, aren't they?


Sun-woo's always been a mountain in Duk-seon’s life. Always visible. Always strong. Another word for him could be ‘stable’.

And that may have been the main reason why Duk-seon is drawn to Sun-woo. In a household where making meet’s end is a challenge itself, stability is something Duk-seon has always wanted. However, it isn’t about the money, because Jung-hwan and Taek have plenty of that and she's not going after them, is she? No.

It’s about the stability of being there for her. And Sun-woo's always around. Unlike Jung-hwan who often acts stoic or Taek who is always away for baduk or Dong-ryong who spends afternoons sleeping on the study centre floors.

Everywhere Duk-seon turns, he’s there; dropping by her house to borrow things or having meals with her in Taek's room or sharing a smile and laugh after a tough day.

There's just something so nice about liking Sun-woo. He's a nice boy — sturdy in his beliefs, excelling in grades and sports, being a good son. Sun-woo’s such a nice boy that Duk-seon thinks she's never seen Bo-ra yell at Sun-woo growing up. And that's saying a lot, because Bo-ra even yells at quiet Taek, not that that's 'special', Duk-seon yells at Taek sometimes too.


You fool! Duk-seon thinks as she openly cries.

She should have seen it a mile away — her first heartbreak. The first snowfall of the year is turning her heart cold. Sun-woo has just broken her heart into a million pieces.

Sun-woo likes Bo-ra. Isn't that fantastic? Just another thing Duk-seon has to give away for Bo-ra’s sake: first love. Can’t Duk-seon have anything for herself? Maybe she shouldn't have spent all her wishes on a separate birthday.

Why? Why is this happening? Sun-woo had seemed within reach. And yet, now he feels like he's miles and miles away from Duk-seon.

Who could have predicted that Duk-seon would feel this crappy; standing in her room, dressed in her best pyjamas, hoping for another wish to come true?


iii


It wasn't always Sun-woo. For the longest time, there was nobody at all. Then suddenly, it's her dear old friend Jung-pal.

Jung-hwan who sleeps with his arms crossed like he's disagreeing with his dreams. Jung-hwan who loves soccer more than any other sport. Jung-hwan who looks scary most of the time with his permanent frown and furrowed brows. Duk-seon swears he only smiles ten times a year. And if anyone's really lucky, they'd be able to see at least one time where Jung-hwan loses his shit and laughs until his sides hurt.


Mi-ok and Ja-hyun must have really gotten into Duk-seon’s head.

Her friends are sprouting nonsense again. They were wrong about Sun-woo, so they could be wrong about Jung-hwan too. Why would Jung-hwan suddenly decide that he’s in love with her? Duk-seon, one of his childhood friends? He’s usually so set on things. Can he really flip 180 just like that?

Duk-seon comes back to the idea of change as the answer. Sometimes she wonders if Jung-Hwan's desperate to loosen up — maybe that's why he sneaks in alcoholic beverages and reads all those mature books? She wants to say that he's not fooling anyone, but change comes easy in Jung-hwan's life. After all, Jung-bong had won the lottery all those years ago and now the Kim family lives upstairs, with three rooms and branded clothes and a real stove.

If Jung-hwan truly has a crush on her, like her friends say he does, then he better do something. He better take the first step and make the change in their relationship, because, so far, Duk-seon doesn’t know who to believe.


Duk-seon starts to wonder; has Jung-hwan been giving her signs of him liking her all this time? Maybe she should have noticed Jung-hwan’s efforts much sooner?

Like when he had stood behind her and acted like a shield in that crowded bus. Or maybe when it was pouring and he had hand-delivered an umbrella to her at 2 A.M.? Or maybe when he had travelled from Ssangmundong to Apgujung to meet her at McDonald's and then gave that concerning remark about her wearing a skirt in such cold weather?

(If everything else wasn't enough of a hint, then that should have been it!)

Or maybe the moment after? When they had returned from their outing and she had teased him as they walked home together. At the time, Duk-seon had thought, Jung-hwan really doesn't know how to treat a girl right. Especially when he had decided to squish her face between his hands as a response to her teasing.

A part of her thought he enjoyed making her look ugly; cheeks and lips bloating like a pufferfish. Another part of her almost laughed at the idea that he was puckering her lips like that so that he could kiss her.

Jung-hwan is just being Jung-hwan, Duk-seon reasons in her head.

She thinks this until Jung-hwan said, "You're so oblivious," while blinking his fringe out of his eyes.

And then she thought, Maybe.

Just maybe Mi-ok and Ja-hyun are right.


It wouldn’t hurt to try to like Jung-hwan back … would it?

Surely, he’s not Sun-woon. Surely, he can’t break her heart the same way, right? After much thought, Duk-seon has realised that she’s put Jung-hwan through a lot of nonsense and never once has his patience gotten thin with her.

Not when she had publicly humiliated him and pulled his shirt undone during the class trip. Not when she had mercilessly teased him and punched his skinny arms. Not when she had used him as a human-shield against her furious Omma who was chasing her around for losing the family camera and then accidentally getting Jung-hwan hit on the head with her Omma’s weapon of choice — which happened to be the wooden back-scratcher (why couldn't it be something softer?).

He’s been so kind to her, so Duk-seon feels like she may owe Jung-hwan some kindness too. Actually, she owes him a lot of kindness.


Truly, Duk-seon thinks, Jung-hwan is too tall for his own good.

So tall that, as they're squeezed in this impossibly tight alley, she swears she couldn’t have looked him in the eyes even if she wanted to, even if she were to move and angle her head upwards. She just tries to breathe quietly between the crook and small spaces of Jung-hwan's neck; tries to whisper so Dong-ryong's father doesn't catch them breaking the rules; tries to not look and stare at Jung-hwan’s lips because — they're right there — and hopes she doesn't think too badly of herself for wondering if they're soft.

They are, Duk-seon decides a moment later when his lips are pressed slightly against her forehead.

“My bad,” He says, noticing how he had accidentally brushed his mouth against her hairline.

A shiver goes up her spine and Duk-seon convinces herself it’s because the night is cold. The logic in her head tells her: The white jacket Jung-hwan’s dad had gifted her to match with his own jacket isn’t the best at keeping her warm.


Jung-hwan is racing through her head so much that she thinks he’s sneaking into her dreams.

At least, it might have been a dream, Duk-seon —no, Soo-yeon — can't remember. The memory is a little hazy, she mostly remembers sleeping in Jung-hwan's bed, the Kim’s house being warm and a promise to see a concert.

Yes, it really must have been a dream, because if it was real, it would have felt so, and something would have come out of it, but instead, nothing did. And soon her feelings disappeared like smoke.


iv


Maybe she should have known that it was him when she had stepped into his world — filled with flashing cameras, reporters, score sheets that she can’t seem to wrap her head around, freezing hotel rooms, sleeping pills, starvation and —

A cigarette between his slim fingers.

"Ah," The gasp escapes from her mouth before she could cover it.

In response to Duk-seon’s sudden entry, Taek only stands there. He does not run away. He does not even hide the smoke floating from the lit cigarette. He only bows his head — all formal and cool.

She bows back and closes the door with as much politeness as she can will herself.

The sight perplexes her for several minutes until she realises what Taek’s bow means. What Taek is trying to say is: He's not sorry that he's showing this side of him to her, he's sorry that she had to find out this way.

“I don’t always smoke,” Taek promises later, concerned that Duk-seon will worry about him. “I only smoke when I feel very tired and want to wake up.”

Duk-seon doesn’t know what to say to that. Bo-ra smokes too. But that’s not really a justification, is it?

Smoking is a bad habit. But it doesn’t change the fact that Taek had shown her who he is. Shown a secret that most probably don’t know about him. He’s unapologetic about being himself. The only issue he’s having is that he feels bad for not telling her.

“Does any of our friends know about you smoking?” Duk-seon asks.

“No. It’s just you.” Taek says. There’s a shine behind his eyes as he said that second part. “But don’t worry about it, okay?” He says again.

“Would you stop smoking if I asked you to?” Duk-seon asks. But the moment the words leave her mouth she feels silly. “Sorry, I —”

“Of course, I would.”

“What?”

“If it bothers you, I’ll stop smoking. I told you I don’t want you worrying about it. So I’ll stop if you ask me to. I’ll do it in a heartbeat.” Taek promises.

Duk-seon stares.

Bad habits are hard to get rid of, she should know. Her Appa can’t stop drinking, and her Omma’s told him many, many times to quit. Will Taek really give up his bad habit just like that? He doesn’t owe her that. They don’t have that kind of relationship. She and Taek are good friends, but friends nonetheless, why would he do that for her? That’s such a big sacrifice!

She doesn’t know if anyone’s ever considered her feelings like that before. It’s usually her who’s always taking care of him.

“Really?” She double-checks.

“I wouldn’t lie to you, Duk-seon.”

She grins at him. “Thank you.”


"Oh, Teak, how are you?" Duk-seon asks with her familiar smile.

She feels like she hasn't seen Taek in forever thanks to all his baduk matches. He's been running through her mind lately; she finds herself thinking, I wonder if Taek’s eating well, and Has Taek been getting enough sleep?

Duk-seon wonders what it means when images of Taek enters her head. She doesn't know why she’s been thinking this way though. She does, however, chalk it up to the fact that she misses him. Taek is, after all, always away, and one of her childhood friends.

Taek gives her a shy smile in response.

“You’re always too quiet,” Duk-seon says to his grin. “You need to say something or I’ll never have you figured out.”

“Do you want me to share my feelings with you?” He asks, perhaps way too genuinely.

“Wah, that sounds like a confession!” She remarks, hoping she sounds playful.

“Maybe it is,” He teases.

Duk-seon slaps him lightly on the arm in return. “I never knew you could be so cheeky, Taek!”

Taek then drops his gaze to the floor for just a moment before daring himself to look at her again. It was like he was wondering if she would catch on to the meaning behind his eyes.


Duk-seon doesn’t think she’s grown up just yet. She thinks she’s barely a foot into adulthood.

Being in her twenties is so difficult. But, it's normal for her not to understand many things; Mathematics, the long-levity of an open packet of chocolates that she forgot to seal the night before, romance, her feelings. Why does it seem like everyone else has everything figured out except for her?

She thinks being asked to return Taek’s feelings is asking too much. Especially when she’s been struggling to decide if she’s ready to fall in love yet. She already got it wrong with Sun-woo, and then with Jung-hwan. How can she be sure she’s right with Taek too?

She’s so afraid of change, and now everything’s changing!

Taek’s just confessed to her in a fancy hotel room, kissed her too — a second time. And now she’s spilling her guts to him and he’s standing still like the day Duk-seon had caught him with that cigarette.

He’s staying quiet and blinking slowly, soaking her in as she pours everything at his feet. Never once does he interrupt her or pretend what she’s saying isn’t valid.

"I just don't understand." She says, anger in her throat. "I don't get it.” It was like, suddenly, she’s a high school senior again and trying to do Math equations. It’s that frustrating, and that confusing. “Why do you like me?”

She makes a sharp turn of her head, her eyebrows knitted and now long hair swishing. Surely, Taek must know that she's mad, furious even, but he doesn’t give up on her.

Taek tells her exactly what’s on his mind — He shares his emotions with her, he tells her how he can't help but feel his heart skip a beat every time he sees her. 

Then he says that he’s decided that he'll love her, each and every day, on days she's across the world and days he's stuck in a hotel room and days like these where Duk-seon think she doesn't deserve it.


v


She often thinks back and wonders how she could have missed all the signs. Sometimes, she catches herself in deep thought when she looks at her agora pink mittens. Or when she looks at old pictures and remembers how he had put his hand on her shoulder and pulled her close — the smile on his face puts the grin of the happiest man alive to shame.

.

.

.

“Honey?” Duk-seon calls out.

“Hmm?” Taek hums as he gets into bed next to Duk-seon. The camera crew just left and he’s tired from all the question.

“Did Jung-hwan really have feelings for me?” Duk-seon asks bluntly, remembering the photograph taken at the concert.

Taek doesn’t even pause, he only moves closer to his wife and replies, “Yes. But I’m not surprised that you were oblivious to it.”

Duk-seon gaps at her husband. “How did you know Jung-hwan liked me? Was it a boy thing?”

“No.” Taek shakes his head. “It was his eyes. I could tell by the way he looked at you.”

“His eyes?” Duk-seon echoes then turns her head to see Taek staring at her longingly. "Wait … why are you looking at me like that?"

"Like what?"

"This is the same look you used to give me when you had to pick me up from the airport after my long flights and then you whined about missing me. I'm right here, you know."

"I know, but … Do you get what I mean now when I said that I knew how Jung-hwan was in love with you? You clearly recognise what my eyes are trying to tell you."

It clicks to her. "Ooohhh,"

"Yeah,"

"You could have told me sooner though, you know I don't always figure things out as easily as everyone else."

Duk-seon knows herself. She’s really a straight-forward person. And often, things need to be spelt out to her. It’s great that Taek tells her things, because, Duk-seon is sure, if nobody had told her, then no matter how big the gesture is, it would have flown over her head. She’s missed a lot of things growing up and they end up getting diminished thanks to the avoidance of the truth.

"It’s not something for me to tell," Taek mumbles. Then he wraps his arms around her, and she understands what that means too.

"Why are you so cuddly? Are you jealous of the past?" Duk-seon asks.

"Of course, I am." Taek answers honestly then buries his face into her neck. Probably embarrassed. Or maybe he just wants to show Duk-seon that he wants to be as close to her as possible, even if he knows she would bite his hand without a moment of hesitation.


Duk-seon wonders: Has Jun-hwan ever acted jealous when she was around other boys? Actually, now that she thinks about it ...

No. No … it can’t be. Can it?

Duk-seon knows she tends to be too caught up in her own world to notice certain cues, but she can’t be that blind … can she?

Well, it wasn't obvious to her at the time that Sun-woo didn't like Duk-seon like that, but maybe it was obvious to everyone else — if she had known, she wouldn't have written that embarrassing diary entry or sent that postcard to that radio show. However, Jung-hwan must have known. He's always been smart.

Duk-seon remembers the night she had sat in Sun-woo's room and tried to find an excuse to stay. Jung-hwan must have noticed her scheme and said something to piss her off. Duk-seon recalls throwing a vicious glare at the curves of Jung-hwan's cheekbones and then him deciding to counter her heated gaze by staring at the ground and sipping on his drink.

And before Duk-seon knew it, both she and Jung-hwan were out of Sun-woo's room because — “You two are being too loud. I’ve already hurt my leg, I don’t need a headache too,” and taa-daa, they’re standing by the blue gate. 

"Well," Jung-hwan had said, almost smug at her failed attempt to make herself look soft and girly. 

Duk-seon remembers being irritated at his foolishness and wondering, What's with that expression? Did he deliberately get us kicked out? Oh, how she had wanted to beat him! But before she could, he walked away.

"Good night," Jung-hwan had muttered, probably sensing the rising danger.

Duk-seon remembers how she had balled her fist to his reaction, not caring that she was raising her voice or making herself harsh. She was just angry at him because, out of the four boys, only Jung-hwan really knows how to get on her nerves.

So he was jealous. Duk-seon decides from the memory.

She also remembers how she had decided — Coward, when Jung-hwan had walked past the gates to escape her wrath and not explain himself. He’s a real coward.


For most of her simple life, Duk-seon has gotten herself into a whirl-wind of events thanks to her first loves. But now she believes it was all worth it, building up to acts of true love; with Taek is smiling at her and Duk-seon being speechless 

Speechless and frozen and staring at the ring presented to her. Taek doesn’t take her lack of words to heart, he’s used to the quiet.

Finally, Duk-seon nods her head and, in tears, stutters out a mumble that she isn’t quite sure what she was aiming to say.

Maybe being a flight attendant benefited more than she thought? With her job asking her to fly all over the world, Duk-seon has learned that distance doesn’t mean as much when the person you love makes great efforts.

And, maybe her failed romances weren’t as bad as Duk-seon thought either?

Thinking back Sun-woo was a good person to fall for, Sun-woo was a nice person to be her first love. Honestly, she could have liked someone bad, but she didn’t. Her only regret is that she never got to get it off her chest, she's sure her seventeen year old self would have appreciated being let down gently rather than being stung by the reality that Sun-woo likes her scary older sister.

But, it would be too awkward to confess now, huh? Even if it was just a passing mention. Awkward … sort of like, Jung-hwan’s confession. It had come out of nowhere and —

And, when Jung-hwan he had given her that ring — shiny and red stoned, gifted in a pretty velvet box — and confessed to her so publicly in front of Sun-woo and Dong-ryong without any alcohol in his veins, Duk-seon would like to think it prepared her for a real proposal. Taek’s proposal.

Duk-seon now feels horrible for labelling Jung-hwan as a coward those many years ago. For Jung-hwan to pop the question then delivered such a heartfelt speech out of thin air was really brave. Jung-hwan said it was a joke, but it felt so true, it swept the table into a loss of words, Duk-seon swears she could hear a pin drop.

And now, with her engagement being a pleasant memory and a golden band around her fourth finger, Duk-seon wonders where Jung-hwan’s own ring is and if he ever put it to good use.


end