I’m honored to share this short fictional story by Sveta, who blogs about books at Sveta’s Reads and Views.
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He watches her from afar, the umbrella in his hand as it rained. The raindrops ran down her unprotected face, creating streak of tears. Late afternoon sun peeked out, almost shy and hesitant in breaking the reverie between the two. The clouds were of white hue, the unexpected summer rain. The smell of earth invaded his nostrils, reinvigorating him in body and soul.
Don’t be sad, he thinks to himself as he looks towards her. He just wants to make sure that she will be all right, his final goodbye. Silently he tries to send messages towards her, hoping against hope that she’ll receive them and will understand what he cannot express in words. Don’t be sad, he repeats the message inside, please remember the happy times you and I have had; the time I told you rabbit living on the moon stories, the time I taught you to use chopsticks and how to eat bibimbap.
All this time had passed, countless years, yet I cannot say these words in my heart. I know that you might think I have no feelings for you, but it’s not true. I wish you could understand more of my culture, but you cannot, and there are things that I cannot find words for in your tongue to express.
The present image faded, no longer there in front of him, but instead the history unfolded, how he first came over to a public school, and silent with humiliation of not knowing English. How he came to meet that unusual girl, Therese Fairbanks.
Slowly, even with blocks along the way, the two of them move forward to becoming more than friends, until that fateful day before the start of their senior prom.
It was May, the rain pouring steadily down, soaking the granite, the splattering heard everywhere. He is dressed in a black tuxedo, a small bowtie around his neck, and in his hands he carries a corsage. His parents are nearby, taking pictures of him, proud of his status, of his scholastic achievements. His father walks over then, and whispers into his ear. He remembers the father’s words, what he will do after the graduation.
He checks the corsage, noticing the crimson rose in the center, surrounded by baby’s breath, an island in the center of an ocean. His parents do not know about Therese, for it is customary not talk about a woman unless there is intention of marriage. His mother is dressed in traditional Korean dress for the honor and takes pictures of him. He hides the corsage, but his younger brother spots it. “What’s that?” He moves over, his fingers getting it out.
He says it is nothing as his fingers tightens over it.
His parents come over then and spot the wrist corsage. “A nice Korean girl, right?” His mother asks as she smiles. He walks away, hoping that they will forget about it. “How come you hadn’t told us?” She asks.
He does not want to tell them that it happens to be an American girl and not a Korean girl. His mother’s family suffered under the American control. “Ah, my apologies,” he says smoothly.
“I should meet her,” his mother continues as she takes a picture of him. She motions for the younger brother to get into the picture as well. “It’s good that you are sticking to Korean girls. I am proud of you. Aigoo, I have heard so many horror stories from the church members about their sons dating American girls, you wouldn’t believe. None of the relationships worked out however, and at least now the sons know better and are dating Korean girls.” Despite the feeling that a ship was sinking inside his heart, he stood beside his brother, smiling.
Very soon he went inside his car, carefully placing the corsage on the front seat so it will not get rumpled. He hopes Therese will like it. He hears rain in the background, pounding against his windows, sees the dark gray skies with endless rain, the streetlights begin to shine faintly, their light in waves when compare it to the incessant rain. His favorite weather though. The two of them agreed to dine in a romantic restaurant and then travel to the prom. He has tried to make it romantic to the best of his ability, but due to his schedule was unable to. She wouldn’t have a limo picking her up. The restaurant and corsage is the best he can do. She will pay for the tickets to go inside.
He stops by her house and honks the car, waiting for her to come out. He wonders if she will remember the umbrella and then decides no, she will not remember it. He gets the umbrella out and walks up to her house, ringing the doorbell, hoping that no one besides Therese will open the door. Much to his dismay, an older woman opens the door, staring at him curiously. She is tall, almost as tall as Therese, with a lined face and a mass of curly light brown hair. She brushes her hair away from her eyes and stares at him curiously. “And you are?” She says without preamble. He clutches the umbrella tightly, the drops becoming tiny waterfalls. He does not want to tell this woman of himself, for she might know his family and if it should be spread around that he is here, his family will be ashamed of him.
“I am a friend of Therese,” he tells her.
“Hmm,” she says, studying him. “For someone who’s from China you’re not that bad looking.”
He doesn’t reply. He is used to people thinking he is either from China or Japan, or else assuming he is from there. He stopped trying to explain to others where he is truly from.
“Hmm,” she says again. “I’ll go get Therese.” She shouts Therese’s name loudly and he sees her enter the room, wearing a crimson red dress that exposed her shoulders, a silk shawl the color that matched the gown was wrapped around arms, tiny flowers sewn in. Her hair was piled up, red rosebuds protruding from the curls. In a word, she is breathtaking.
She greets him with a smile and a wave of her hand as he places corsage on her wrist, carefully checking to make sure that it is not too tight or too lose. He does not meet her eyes, does not want for her to see his emotions inside. “It is still raining,” he says as he lets go of her wrist and picks up the tossed away umbrella. “I will walk you to the car.” He checks to make sure that she will not get wet and the two walk towards his car.
“I like this weather,” she says. “I often fantasized about romance on those days.” She chuckles.
Despite himself, he asks what kind of romance.
“Being in a restaurant as classical music plays, eating expensive dishes, getting an unexpected proposal.”
He does not say anything as he opens the car door and she gets inside. He gets into the driver’s seat and they drive away towards an expensive Korean restaurant that he reserved.
While driving, he calls the restaurant and orders bibimbap. She is sitting beside him, staring outside. The sun peeks out slightly, the dark clouds still on the horizon. He wonders if there might be a rainbow. “Have you ever eaten bibimbap?” He asks her, concentrating on the road.
“No. What’s that?” He hears shuffling from her side and sees her looking at him. “It has a cute name.”
“It is a Korean dish,” he begins to explain. “There are lots of vegetables inside, along with chili pepper and a raw egg and some meat as add-ons. Long time ago, the dish was for emperors.”
She doesn’t say anything.
“This dish, you mix it with chopsticks then eat it with spoon. Do not worry,” he tries to reassure her. “I will show you.”
It stopped raining as the sun peaked out as both saw a rainbow floating across the sky, the arc composed of violet, blue, then finally the bright colors of green yellow and red. “It’s beautiful,” she whispers. He turns towards her, noticing the arms crossing her chest. Tears begin to accumulate, dropping down on the dress, dark marks against the red color. “I hadn’t seen one since I was a little girl.” Carefully he parks the car, extracting the keys. Neither makes a move to leave though.
“We are here,” he reminds her.
“Please, let’s go in when the rainbow is no longer seen.”
“It may take a while.” He is eager to go inside, for the prom will start soon. Unlike her, once he sticks to a plan he does not deter from it and becomes stubborn to changes.
He exits from the car quickly, and moves to her door, opening it. Her eyes focus on his as her hand reaches out for his. He clasps it gently as she leaves her seat, her other hand brushing off the dress. From her hand he feels warmth encompassing his, and surprisingly, he senses a rapid heartbeat. Never before had he felt it from someone, much less from her.
In response, he feels his heart starts beating quickly as he moves her close to him, his body desiring to taste her lips, to give her the taste of himself. He finds himself throwing away the rules, if for a brief moment as his lips seek hers out. He senses her surprise and then he tastes mint from her breath as the breathing quickens for both of them. She stays in his arms for what seems like a long time, and reluctantly he lets her go.
Her eyes are wide; her lips are parted in shock. He turns away from her, the flush heating his cheeks. Inside of himself, he mutters in Korean, “Nae Saranghe,” the words he cannot say to her. Instead he collects himself and the two walk inside. He does not speak of what happened outside.
They are seated quickly, on the opposite side of each other. To his relief, she begins the conversation. Within the restaurant he hears The Classic soundtrack.
“Has anyone told you about the rainbow?” She asks innocently.
He shakes his head.
“There is this story of Noah and the ship. Noah was a righteous man among the bad ones. God was angry at the world and eventually flooded it. He spared Noah and his family though, and they lived in a ship. When they finally emerged from the ship, God set a rainbow in the sky, saying that this promise that He’ll never flood the earth again.”
“Interesting story,” he says. They continue to wait for bibimbap to arrive. He taps his foot impatiently, remembering the movie he had seen. He decides to tell her about the movie. “The music from a movie called Classic.” He says.
“I never heard of it.” The waiter then showed up with their water. She opens up the straw and begins to sip it noiselessly.
“It’s a Korean movie,” he explains. “It starts with a girl liking a guy, but she has friend who likes him too. The friend asks the girl’s help to write letters, and the girl agrees. They begin to write letters, and soon the girl discovers the story about her mother, how the mother falls in love with one guy while being engaged to another.” He stops, unwilling to spoil the movie anymore for her.
“How does the movie end?” She asks after a long pause.
“I will not tell you,” he says. “I want you to see it yourself.”
The food arrives by then. He showed her how to eat bibimbap, how to mix the red pepper and egg together with chopsticks, and then used his spoon to eat the food. She followed his suit. He sees that she likes bibimbap and feels relived. She starts to talk again.
“Would you like to make a promise?” She asks him.
He places his chopsticks on the table, surprised by her words. A promise? What does she mean? “What kind of promise,” he asks cautiously, his fingers remain near the chopsticks.
She places her chin on top of her hands, the chopsticks still in her slender fingers. “We will graduate soon,” she reminds him.
He nods his head in response, wondering where she is leading up to.
“I think,” she pauses as he sees her inhaling inside. She places her hands on her knees and her eyes look down. “I think,” she begins again. “I think I’d like to be your girlfriend.” This time he no longer sees her face. That was not something he expected. He expected for her to ask him about keeping touch together or something of the kind. But not a girlfriend.
“How is this a promise?” He asks calmly, calculating and wondering if there is something he should do or how to switch the topic from a girlfriend to something more favorable.
She clutches her chopsticks tightly, her fingers white from lack of blood. “Just promise me that I’ll be your girlfriend.”
He panics inside then. A girlfriend, his mind echoes over and over. Not something he could escape from. He wants for her to be his girlfriend, but not now, not when his parents are thinking and encouraging him to date a Korean girl, not with his future being the way it is, a future leader of a special organization. Not when there is a very real possibility of him being killed. He realizes then that much to his chagrin, the magic of the day has flown away. He no longer wants to go to the prom. He remains silent, thinking the situation over, carefully considering the options.
“Will you wait for me?” He asks as he begins to eat again.
“What do you mean?” She asks.
“Wait five years before I say yes or no.”
“Why five years? Why not now?”
He finds himself no longer able to face her. He turns his head away from hers, feeling her eyes on his face. “There are things I need to do, things I need to prepare for. I cannot have a girlfriend now, it might ruin my life.”
“What things?” She asks.
“I cannot tell you,” he says. “Please wait.”
Afterwards she told him she didn’t want to go to the prom and so he took her home. He saw the tears flowing down her cheeks as she rang her own doorbell and ran inside when the door was opened. He drove home.
Few weeks passed until he graduated and then his job began. His father gave him the airplane ticket and he called Therese at the last minute, asking her to meet him at a restaurant for a final goodbye. During that time he contemplates on whether or not to tell his family about Therese and finally decides to tell them. Understandably they were angry and upset, his mother in particular reminded him of the atrocious acts the Americans have done against her own family. Despite their disappointment in his decision for a mate, he is still needed by them. “You will continue to work here,” his father tells him, “but you no longer will have us as your family unless you agree to break up with the girl.”
Even if the pain in his heart was great and he disliked the decision forced upon him, he told them that he will not break up with Therese. Instantly he was kicked out of the house, carrying clothes on his back. His father placed him in a more dangerous position than before and if he survived the next five years then he might return and claim Therese as his own.
With a heavy heart he returns to the much pressing present and no longer sees those happy times inside his mind. Instead, the present becomes more visible as he feels tears pour down his cheeks, mixing in with the rain, adding in the saltiness. His memories gather up together like a pile of leaves, each one unique and special, different emotion colored in, and he hopes that should they fly away, every single one will return to her so she could put them in a scrapbook and look at them each time she feels sad, and soon he watches as she gets up and walks away, her form and shadow fading into others, no longer standing out. He himself gets up and walks away to his destiny, wondering if he will see her again as behind them a rainbow begins to appear within the gray clouded yet at the same time clear sky.
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