It was night time at the island.
Vincenzo was lying down on his bed, staring at the ceiling.
He wanted so much to fall asleep but there was just so many things running through his mind, making it impossible for him to get a good night’s rest.
Sometimes he thought of his work, the nature of it and how strenuous it had been for him lately. Other times, he wondered about the people he left back in Seoul, how there wasn’t so much a proper goodbye after he had fled.
But most of all, his mind strayed to the beautiful lawyer he unwillingly bade farewell to. He had wanted so much to take her with him when he had snuck into Seoul with the Italian delegation, but he knew that she’d be safer where she was.
With all the uncertainties in his life, Vincenzo wondered if they would ever meet again.
The sound of her laugh, the curve of her lips, the knowing looks she often threw at him– everything about her was imprinted in his memory and it agonized him to no end.
His heart ached from missing her so much.
He often entertained the thought of them reuniting one day in the future, but would quickly brush it off, knowing well thoughts like these would only cause him further pain.
As he adjusted his pillows for the umpteenth time, he tried to force himself to sleep but to no avail.
This is a regular thing now, Vincenzo thought with a frustrated sigh, this insomnia.
He then remembered he had purchased something from a vendor in the city earlier that week– a teabag of some sort– which the vendor said had healing powers and was supposed to help him sleep well.
“Young man, I have something for you… something that will work wonders,” the vendor had said. “Take this and you will sleep a deep sleep, and dream the most pleasant dream.”
Vincenzo felt rather dubious and he was not one to believe such words, but the lack of sleep had taken a toll on him, and he thought it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try, even if it sounded ridiculous. What’s even more ridiculous was the fact that the vendor was only willing to sell him one teabag.
“Just the one?” Vincenzo had asked pointing to the single teabag that was neatly wrapped, to which the vendor replied with a smile, “That’s all you need.”
With heavy steps, Vincenzo got up from his bed and walked to the kitchenette in his bedroom to make the special tea.
Once done, he hesitantly took a sip. Though there was hardly any sugar in it, the tea tasted quite sweet- a tad bit too sweet for his liking– but he finished it nonetheless.
Suddenly, his head started to feel fuzzy and his body was begging him to lie down.
Huh, it must be working, Vincenzo thought before collapsing on his bed.
Vincenzo woke up because the sun was too bright.
He reluctantly opened his eyes and was surprised to see that his usual blackout curtains had been replaced by thin, see-through ones. Through the long glass windows, he could see the waves crashing on the beach of his island, and the sky a perfect shade of blue.
All of a sudden he felt a little movement on the bed and was shocked to find a figure sound asleep next to him.
Vincenzo immediately sat up. Why is there a woman in my bed?
The woman’s long hair tumbled across the pillow and though her eyes were closed, Vincenzo immediately knew who it was.
“Chayoung?” he whispered, not believing his eyes for a moment.
The other was too deep in sleep to hear him.
This can’t be real, Vincenzo thought. He blinked and even rubbed his eyes several times, but she was still there.
Not knowing what to make of the situation, Vincenzo reached out for his phone on the bedside table next to him and found that he was holding a phone of a different model. It looked more sleek, and was heavier in his hands somehow. A tap on the screen displayed a wallpaper of him and Chayoung holding hands by the beach – a photo he had never seen before.
He wondered if the phone belonged to him and tried punching in his passcode. To his amazement, the phone unlocked.
The first thing he noticed was the date which appeared on the screen – it was a whole five years into the future!
Stunned, Vincenzo put his phone down for a moment.
Did I just time-travel?
Chayoung made a noise as she stirred from her sleep. “Darling… you’re awake?”
“Uh… y-yeah,” Vincenzo stammered. The term of endearment caught him off guard.
“Why are you so far, c’mere,” Chayoung said as she pulled him to lie beside her.
Carefully, Vincenzo wrapped his arm around her slender frame and felt her relax in his embrace.
He couldn’t believe what was happening. All those nights he spent missing her, and here she was. It felt way too real to be a dream.
Vincenzo placed a tender kiss on her forehead before hugging her tight, fearing that she would disappear into thin air.
“You’re suffocating me,” Chayoung said with a muffled laugh. She was pressed against his chest but seemed to be enjoying the close proximity nonetheless.
“I missed you,” Vincenzo said as tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. “So much.”
“But you see me every day,” Chayoung said accusingly.
No, I don’t. Vincenzo thought wistfully and instead said, “Doesn’t stop me from missing you.”
At his words, Chayoung reached up to kiss him on the lips. They stayed like that for a while, kissing and just enjoying the warmth of each other’s bodies when Chayoung’s phone beeped.
“Oh, it’s the baby monitor,” Chayoung said, as she glanced at her phone.
“Baby - what?”
“The baby monitor, I thought you had the app installed in your phone,” Chayoung said distractedly, too occupied with the notification she had just received.
He wasn’t sure what Chayoung meant and quickly went through his phone, too, to get clued in but he couldn’t find the application. He accidentally clicked on his photo gallery in the process, and to his surprise, there was a photo of a little boy and girl who looked seriously alike.
“T-twins?” Vincenzo gasped.
We have twins?!
“Yeah, the twins are up,” Chayoung said as she tapped out of the baby monitor app, oblivious to the other’s internal turmoil.
Vincenzo was still stunned by the photo.
“They look exactly like me!”
Chayoung, a little annoyed now, peered at the screen of his phone.
“I know, you showed me that picture yesterday… Why do you enjoy pointing out that they look like you? I was the one who carried them for nine months,” Chayoung said with pursed lips. “They ought to look more like me.”
Chayoung had been pregnant with his children? Vincenzo thought in wonder, not knowing how he could have lived through this.
“But they have your smile,” Vincenzo said after staring at the photo a little longer, noticing how smiley and happy the twins looked.
“Well, that is true,” Chayoung said, a tiny bit appeased by the comment. “I’m going to check on them now. Can you ask Seokdo-ssi if there is a boat to the city today? We need to go out to buy some clothes and necessities for the kids. They’re growing way too fast.”
Seokdo-ssi? He’s here on the island?
“Yeah, sure,” Vincenzo said as he got up the same time Chayoung did. “I’ll ask him.”
Once Chayoung left the room, Vincenzo sat in silence, thinking of what had just happened.
Him and Chayoung are together. He’s a father of two beautiful babies. They all live on the island. Together.
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
This is going to be one hell of a day.
As Vincenzo walked down the hallway of his house, he noticed that the once-bare walls were now covered with photo frames.
There were pictures of his late mother, Chayoung’s late father and even the twins when they were newborn babies. Vincenzo involuntarily cooed when he saw how tiny their feet looked in Chayoung’s embrace. His heart swelled at the sight of them, and couldn’t wait to meet them later.
He then spotted a wedding picture, in black and white, and suddenly it felt like all the air got sucked out of his lungs.
In the picture, he was holding Chayoung in his arms, and they looked so happy, almost impossibly so, with their friends and family in the background. Not having experienced it, he felt a strange sense of longing as he stared at the frame on the wall.
“Byeonhosa-nim, good morning!”
Vincenzo turned and saw that it was Seokdo who had greeted him.
“Ah, Seokdo-ssi. Good morning,” Vincenzo said, trying to sound as casual as possible. “Is there a boat to the city today?”
“Yes, one is scheduled to arrive in a few hours,” Seokdo said, giving the other an assuring smile. “Have you eaten breakfast?”
“Uh – no?”
“Well come on then, I heard Chef Toto is making something really good.”
Chef Toto is here too?
An ocean of thoughts came flooding into his mind. Did Chef Toto give up on his restaurant at the plaza? Which caused him to hire him as their personal chef? But he hated the man’s food, and was confused as to why his future self made such a decision.
As he entered the kitchen, he noticed how bright the place looked. Chef Toto was busy cooking up a storm and noticed that he was preparing traditional Korean food for breakfast. Relief washed over him.
He noticed that there was a man leaning against one of the countertops. To his disbelief, it was Mr. Nam, who was immersed in a book.
Not knowing what to do, Vincenzo cleared his throat. “Good morning.”
“Byeonhosa-nim!” both of them greeted in unison.
Before Vincenzo could take a seat, Mr. Nam walked over to him and winked.
“I have prepared what you asked for, byeonhosa-nim,” Mr. Nam said gleefully.
“Um… What did I ask for?”
At his reply, Mr. Nam let out a loud laugh. “Look at you, joking so early in the morning!”
Flustered, Vincenzo laughed along, in hopes that the other would elaborate further.
And thankfully, he did.
“The custom ring you ordered arrived just yesterday, and the florists are coming in later in the afternoon to bring in the freshest blooms of the season.”
“I see,” Vincenzo said, still unsure as to what the other meant. “Uh, thank you, Mr. Nam.”
“I'll watch the twins for you both tonight since it’s your anniversary.”
Ah, so that's what it was for. Their anniversary.
“I just think your plan is genius, byeonhosa-nim,” Mr. Nam continued. “Pretending like you forgot your anniversary and when Chayoung-ssi least expects it, BAM! Romantic dinner on the terrace with flowers, music, fireworks… There’s going to be a full moon tonight, too! It will be spectacular.”
“Yes, it sounds great, doesn’t it?” Vincenzo asked, wondering how he had even come up with the idea. He never thought of himself as a romantic person, but with Chayoung, he knew he’d be willing to pull all the stops.
“Your anniversary also marks our fourth year on this island,” Mr. Nam said, looking a little sentimental. “Thank you for saving us, byeonhosa-nim. I know I say this all the time, but I always mean it.”
“Oh, that’s… don’t worry about it, Mr. Nam.”
“No, I am indebted to you, truly,” Mr. Nam said resolutely. “Even after Babel’s collapse all those years ago, the tenants at the plaza were still being targeted by the authorities due to our involvement. Some managed to escape while many of us had nowhere to go. And then you came back for us, took us here and gave us a home.”
So that explains why there were all here.
“I’m just glad it’s over now. You do not know how happy I am now that you’re here,” Vincenzo said, his words sincere.
“Me too, byeonhosa-nim. Me too.”
Vincenzo later learned that the twins’ names were Ara and Leo.
As soon as he stepped into their nursery, the pair of two-year-olds ran toward him and clambered at his legs. In a swift movement, he scooped them up in his arms as they shrieked in joy. He placed sloppy kisses atop their heads and they giggled, slobbering all over his white shirt.
Leo was the first to ask to be put down, while Ara remained content in his hold.
Later when the twins decided to draw on paper with crayons, he watched them talk to each other, their little babbles forming sentences, and couldn’t help but wonder in astonishment.
How could he meet them for the first time and love them so much already? They looked so much like him and Chayoung, too.
Just then, Chayoung entered the room. She was already dressed to go out, in a plain shirt and jeans which she paired with the earrings Vincenzo remembered giving to her a long time ago.
“We have to leave soon if you want to catch that boat,” Chayoung said to Vincenzo.
She then turned to the twins. “Leo, Ara - time to clean up and put away all your toys.”
Ara didn’t look too happy at her mother’s words. She was still busy finishing her drawing and did not want to stop what she was doing.
“No!” Ara yelled.
“Ara-ah, I’m going to count to three,” Chayoung said calmly. “And after that, you will put down your crayons and clean all that mess up.”
Refusing to budge, Ara continued drawing.
Oh, she’s a stubborn one. Almost like her mother, Vincenzo thought with a chuckle.
“No mama, stop!”
Vincenzo thought it was so bizarre to see Chayoung parenting – as the mother to his kids, no less. He was completely in awe.
And Ara burst into tears.
Vincenzo immediately pulled the toddler into his arms and tried to soothe her cries.
“You can’t be picking them up each time they cry,” Chayoung said in a hushed voice. “You’ll spoil them.”
“I know,” Vincenzo said with a grin. “I’ll spoil them rotten.”
Once Ara calmed down, the four of them cleaned up the nursery together. Both Leo and Ara were pretty good at putting away their toys in the right places and Vincenzo felt proud watching them.
He circled an arm around Chayoung's waist and pulled her to his side before planting a kiss on her lips.
“Hey,” Chayoung said, narrowing her eyes at the other. “We’re trying to tone down PDA around the kids remember?”
“Nope, not happening,” Vincenzo said. “Our kids need to know how much I love their mother.”
Chayoung rolled her eyes in response but gave him another kiss anyway.
Once they were in the city, Vincenzo took over the duty of pushing the twins in their double-stroller while Chayoung set off to the stores to buy their necessities.
When Leo asked if they could have ice-cream, Vincenzo obliged with ease. The three of them sat at an outdoor seating area, enjoying a big bowl of ice-cream sundae together.
It was messy and Vincenzo lost count of how many times he had to reach for tissues, but thought it was worth it since the twins were clearly enjoying every second of it.
“Papa, can we get more ice-cream?” Leo asked as he licked the chocolate sauce off his spoon.
“This is enough ice-cream for one day, don’t you think?”
“But mama didn’t even get to try!” Ara reasoned. “So we need more ice-cream.”
“Mama likes chocolate,” Leo continued. “Right, Ara?”
“Yes. And sprinkles.”
Vincenzo couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re right... you’re both right. Ah, my children are so smart.”
Chayoung eventually made her way back to them and was a little appalled at the amount of ice-cream they had all consumed.
“It was a hot day, the kids deserved ice-cream,” Vincenzo said with a sheepish grin.
They walked around the city for a little bit longer before having their meal at a restaurant by the sea. Halfway through eating, Leo had fallen asleep in Chayoung’s arms while Ara laid passed out over Vincenzo’s lap.
“They look like angels when they’re asleep like this,” Chayoung said as she brushed Leo’s hair away from his face. “They’re growing up fast too, I wish time would slow down.”
“Me too,” Vincenzo said quietly.
He took his wife’s hand in his and squeezed it tight.
Chayoung smiled, and for a moment, Vincenzo believed that all was right in the world.
When Vincenzo told Chayoung to meet him up at the terrace that night, the other only raised her eyebrow before easily agreeing.
As promised, Mr. Nam took the responsibility of watching over the twins. He was pleasantly surprised to see how much the older man doted on his children, and how fond they were of him as well.
Once he cleaned himself up, Vincenzo made his way to the terrace before Chayoung could arrive, and saw the work carried out by Mr. Nam and his staff.
There were little fairy lights hanging in the air, a luxurious dinner spread on the table, and classical music playing from the portable speaker. The full moon hung low and looked bright against the dark night sky. Fresh flower arrangements were scattered everywhere, its smell permeating the cool air, and Vincenzo thought the place looked very much like a scene from a movie.
He spotted candles on the table and decided to light them up. Out of his pocket, he pulled out his reliable lighter.
“Do you always have that with you?”
Vincenzo looked up to see Chayoung making her way towards him. She was a stunning vision in her deep red dress, her long hair neatly brushed to one side.
“Yes, I can’t live without it,” Vincenzo replied as he reached out to take Chayoung’s hand in his. “Just like how I can’t live without you.”
Chayoung laughed. “Oh, you flatter me.”
"Speaking of which, I have something for you," Vincenzo said as he took out a box from the inside pocket of his suit.
"I told you not to spend money!" Chayoung chastised as she spotted the ring in his hand.
"And I didn't listen," Vincenzo said with a chuckle before slipping the ring onto her finger. "They're made of diamonds and sapphire - diamond is my birth stone and sapphire is Leo and Ara's. This way you'll have no choice but to always think of us."
"I think of the three of you all the time," Chayoung said in a quiet voice as she studied the ring, and Vincenzo knew she was secretly delighted at the gift.
Vincenzo pulled out a chair for Chayoung before pouring them both a glass of wine. They talked as they ate dinner, with Vincenzo subtly asking her a ton of questions – he had missed out on so much and wanted to know more about her life.
She told him about her day, about work – how she’s working remotely from the island, and mostly just stories about their mischievous little children.
Once they were full and tipsy enough, Chayoung asked if he wanted to dance with her, and they did.
Chayoung put her arms around his shoulders while Vincenzo rested his hands on her waist. They danced real slow, neither wanting to break apart.
“Happy anniversary,” Vincenzo whispered, his lips brushing against the shell of her ear, which elicited a giggle from the other.
“Happy anniversary, indeed.”
That night, they climbed into bed and Vincenzo showed her how much he loved and worshipped her.
“Have I ever told you how good you are in bed?” Chayoung later asked, as she sat up.
“No,” Vincenzo said, eyes twinkling. “Please do tell me.”
“Ah, I’d rather not,” Chayoung said with a laugh. “Wouldn’t want you to get cocky.”
When it was finally time to sleep, and their room in complete darkness, a feeling of dread washed all over Vincenzo. He wondered if all this would be gone if he woke up in the morning. He wouldn’t have married Chayoung or met his children, and instead, he would go back to being alone on the island.
“Darling, I can hear you think.”
“Is something bothering you?” Chayoung asked as she moved to face the other.
“I love you,” Vincenzo said, his voice tender. “You know that, right?”
“Of course,” Chayoung replied, surprise colouring her voice. “And I love you, too.”
“I love our kids. So much. And all the people here on the island... They’re like family.”
"I'm just... scared that all this would go away."
Vincenzo felt tears welling up in his eyes.
"Hey, it won't, okay?" Chayoung said, visibly concerned. "Come here.”
Chayoung wiped his tears with her fingers before pulling the covers over their bodies and made sure that the other was comfortable and warm. She then rested her head on his chest and wrapped her arms around him.
“I will always be here, with you,” Chayoung said softly, her last words before drifting off to sleep.
As much as he wanted to believe her, and as much as he wanted this life for the rest of eternity, Vincenzo knew he was stuck in a dream.
Sooner or later, he’d have to return back to reality where Chayoung and him aren’t together.
As he closed his eyes, a small part of him was hoping to be proven wrong and that this was now his happily ever after.
Eventually, exhaustion took over him and he fell into deep sleep.
Vincenzo woke up to a dark room.
He spotted the blackout curtains.
His old phone.
The cold, empty space beside him on his bed.
Like an overflowing river escaping a dam, Vincenzo sobbed hard.
One day I’ll return for you, Chayoung. I promise.