Since the mechanic had left yet another message asking us to pick up my mother's car, I decided to kill some time doing that.
After arriving at the garage and introducing myself to one of the mechanics, someone else was called from the back to help me.
He stretched out his hand and introduced himself as the manager. After shaking my hand, he led the way. "I'm sorry about your mother," he said as we arrived at her car.
"Thank you. But how did you know about that?" I couldn't imagine that my father would have called him with the information.
"Oh, I saw it in the paper. She was so humble – I wouldn't have guessed that she was from a rich family."
I smiled. "No, we're not rich. So… ," I said, wanting to get it over and done with, "about the car… what was wrong with it?"
He opened the door and explained that the brakes had become stiff and they'd also had to do some work on the engine.
After testing to make sure the brakes were okay, I asked him for the bill.
He shook his head. "No charge."
He shook his head again. "No charge. Your mother was a nice woman and every time she came here, she always made us laugh. It doesn't feel right taking money from her now."
I smiled. How nice. Even though he thought that my mother was rich, he still didn't want to take money from us. "No. I should pay you."
He smiled. "No charge," he repeated. "Even right now, I can remember your mother watching over us while we worked. One time, she asked me if I was purposely not fixing her car well because I wanted her to keep coming back. But before I could say anything, she reminded me that she was happily married but that she promised to introduce me to a nice girl if I fixed her car so well that she never had to come back." He laughed. "Then I asked her how she'll introduce me to this girl is she never came back."
It sounded just like Umma. "So what did she say to that?"
He shook his head and laughed more. "She said that what she meant was that she'd pray for me to find a nice girl. And by 'introduce' she meant she'd 'introduce my problem to God.' So could I please fix her car so that she could pray for me?" He chuckled for at least 30 seconds. "So you see, we are really going to miss her here. So, I won't accept any money. Okay?"
Even though I wanted to insist on paying him, I knew it would be ungracious of me to refuse his kind gesture so I accepted it and thanked him.
I'd barely driven onto the street when I had to pull over to adjust the driver's seat. Even though intellectually, I realized that my mother was shorter than I was, I didn't think she was that much shorter. But driving her car made me feel like I was driving a kiddie bumpercar.
As soon as I was comfortable, I set out on my journey home. It was weird that even though I'd barely ridden in that particular car, it just felt like my mom. She hadn't been in it for at least 2 weeks but it still smelled like her. Not like nasty body odor or anything like that, but the essence of her – that unique stamp everyone had that still came through when they were wearing the strongest perfume.
I looked at the cheap gold-plated necklace hanging from the rearview mirror and instantly felt sad. It had been the first gift my father had given her and the only ornament she ever had in any of her cars. The token of affection I'd always thought was cheesy for some reason now seemed so sweet. For her to cherish a romance that had lasted for over thirty years…? Wow. It really must have been something. And my father? Seeing it swing from side to side suddenly make me think of him as a man. Not my father but a man who'd lost his wife, and not just his wife, but the love of his life. For the rest of his life, he'd never get to hold or kiss her. Or even hear that she loved him.
I was immediately taken back to various family trips we'd taken together. I remembered the trip we'd taken to Busan one summer. I was probably around 12 then and for some reason, my father was so obsessed with that 'Hand in Hand' Olympic song and insisted on playing it over and over again. It would have been one thing if it was at least a new song but by that time it was already over 10 years old!
So we'd be listening to the music, maybe falling asleep or Mi Soo and I'd be fighting, then suddenly, he'd switch from the radio to the CD and it'll be, "Hand in hand we stand…." Everyone in the car would groan and complain but once the verse started, my mother would join in and both of them would assault our ears with their bad singing. At this point, Mi Soo and I would stop fighting and form a united front to get them spare our eardrums, after all, would they be happy if we turned deaf? Then my father would bribe us by saying that he'd never play the song again if we just sang the chorus once, then after we were reassured that he was going to keep his promise, we'd sing the song and get prepared to listen to some k-pop when my mother would burst out laughing and replay the song but then we wouldn't be able say anything because she hadn't made any promises.
Almost as if my father sensed that I was thinking of him, I received a call asking where I was. That was only when I looked and realized that I'd somehow gotten on the highway and was driving to God-knows-where so I quickly looked for the nearest exit and headed home.
I drove into my complex and headed towards my mother's usual parking spot. But instead of seeing an empty space, I saw an ugly, red BMW parked there instead. What the fu.ck? How freaking evil could a person be? So the second my mother died the bastard decided to take her parking space? How could someone be so damn retarded? I had to use every ounce of strength I had to keep from ramming into the stupid car.
After I found a spot about a hundred miles away from my building, I parked the car and opened the door. The second I set one foot out, the stupid car moved. What the hell? If I was a learner driver or on a hill, it would have been one thing, but on flat ground? What the hell? I jumped out of the car to run to safety but it had already stopped moving. I stared at it and shook my head. So that's what my mother had to deal with? Freaking psychotic cars whose sole purpose was to make her life hell? Was that it?
Before I knew it, I started kicking the tire. Stupid, freaking car! If it hadn't acted up, my mother wouldn't have had to rent a possessed car that just decided to stop in the middle of a busy highway. If the car had just been fine and didn't need to keep getting fixed and all that bullsh.it, would she have ever gotten into an accident? I could feel my eyes welling up and that only made me angrier. Were tears going to bring my mother back? Were they going to bring her home so that she could be yelling at Jin Soo to eat his vegetables instead of laying in a coffin covered by earth? Were they? Jin Soo might never get the chance to go to Busan and hear that stupid song! Fuc.king car! I kicked and kicked the freaking tire and even though my foot hurt, I kept kicking it because I wanted it to feel at least half the pain my family felt.
"What?" I yelled into the phone. I'd been standing at the car for God knows how long. I knew the temperature had dropped and that I'd probably catch a cold, but I just couldn't step away. And it wasn't because my foot hurt from all that kicking and boy did it hurt because I was sure I'd somehow pulled a toenail as I could feel some stickiness around the big toe on my right foot.
"Hee Soo, where are you?" Yun Ah asked.
I could tell that I was sobbing heavily. Other than the fact that my top was practically soaked, my chest was heaving and it was difficult to speak. I couldn't believe that I'd never hear my mother's voice again. I hung the phone up and threw it into my bag.
For goodness knew how long, my phone kept ringing and ringing till I couldn't keep ignoring it. "WHAT?"
"Hee Soo, are you okay?"
"L-l-l-l-l-l…." I tried to tell Ji Tae to get lost but I just couldn't because my chest was beating so heavily that my heart was practically in my throat.
"Are you okay? Hee Soo yah, where are you? Everyone's looking for you. Please tell me where you are."
I took a deep breath in and tried to calm down. I managed to tell him to leave me alone because I was already home.
"But you're not. Your father's looking for you too. Please tell me where you are."
Knowing that everyone was looking for me, I wanted to just turn around and walk home but I couldn't. It was like I'd lost all my energy and will and had become some kind of mannequin. Or like I'd somehow transferred my mother's lifelessness into myself. How was it fair that she was dead and I wasn't? What had I ever done for the world? What had she done to deserve it? WHAT?
My face had already become dry and my sobs were no longer accompanied by tears. It seemed that even my tear ducts had given up on me. I was standing there trying to figure out how I was going to get home and face the man who'd just lost the love of his life when someone quickly turned me around and pulled me into a hug.
I wasn't surprised that he'd come, in fact, I'd expected that he would, because otherwise, he wouldn't be Park Ji Tae. But I still didn't want him to comfort or console me. Nothing he could say or do would bring my mother back.
"Hee Soo, stop struggling!?"
For some reason, the strength that had eluded me when it came to walking home or calling my father suddenly returned when it came to pushing him off me.
"Hee Soo, are you crazy!? Stop struggling! You're only going to hurt yourself. STOP IT!" he yelled, holding me tighter.
He had no reason to try to console me and I had no right to be consoled so I ignored him and kept trying to wrangle myself free.
I woke up confused as my eyes tried to adjust to my surroundings. I looked to my left and saw Ji Tae looking ahead of him and like a tap turning on, all the memories came flooding back.
So it just happened that a few hours earlier, I, Kim Hee Soo, had cried on Park Ji Tae's shoulder. My mother had been in her grave, my father had been home, Jin Soo had been sleeping, Mi Soo, if she was being good, would have been studying and I, Hee Soo, had spent countless minutes leaning into Ji Tae and crying my eyes out.
Crying hadn't made me feel better about losing my mother, it hadn't made me feel optimistic about the future, it hadn't even made me feel relieved. In fact, I was certain it had been a pointless exercise that had only served to place strain on my tear ducts and nose but I'd done it anyway with Ji Tae next to me.
He hadn't said a word after I stopped struggling but he'd taken his arms off me and just let me lean into him. He hadn't whispered any consoling words, hadn't told me it would all be okay, hadn't gone into all that B.S. about how she was in a better place and how heaven had found an angel and all that cringeworthy bullsh.it people said to make others feel better. No, he'd just stood there and let me cry.
But somehow along the way, I'd gone from crying on his shoulder to sitting in his heated car. It was my first time in it so I decided to take a look around which was how I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the rearview mirror.
WHAT THE HELL? The bags under my eyes were big enough to store three month's worth of rice! Sh.it. I looked like someone who'd just lost a heavyweight boxing match. In fact, I looked so hideous I wanted to gouge my own eyes so I wouldn't ever have to mistakenly catch a glimpse of my reflection again.
I quickly turned my face away so that Ji Tae wouldn't see me. Not that I cared about his opinion of my looks or anything. No, I was just doing him a favor so he wouldn't have to have nightmares for the rest of the year.
"Ehm, Ji Tae, you didn't have to come," I said quickly. I wanted to say what needed to be said and get the hell out of his car.
"I know. But I did anyway. Are you feeling better?"
"Yes." I turned my body so that I was practically backing him.
"Hee Soo, what's over there? What are you looking at?" he asked curiously.
"Then why are you looking over there?"
I turned back around and sat properly. My back hurt. All that standing had put a lot of strain on my back and I needed to rest it. "I look like sh.it," I admitted.
He laughed. "I'm sure you don't. Let me see."
I turned my face to him so that he could take a good look. Maybe he did deserve those nightmares.
He chuckled. "You're right. You really do look like sh.it."
I grimaced. Weren't gentlemen supposed to lie to ugly women? "Do you have a pair of sunglasses in the car? I need to cover my eyes."
He burst out laughing. "Then what are you going to do about your swollen nose?"
I snarled at him. "I love how my misery is bringing you so much joy. Do you have sunglasses or not?"
He shook his head. "Sorry."
I rolled my eyes. Normal people kept at least one pair around to protect them on random days with blindness-inducing sunshine.
"But you really don't look that bad," he said in a way that showed that he was obviously lying.
I sighed and decided to change the subject. "You said that my father was looking for me. Does he know we're here?"
"Yes. Who do you think brought these blankets?"
I hadn't even noticed it but one of the guest blankets was covering the lower half of my body and an identical one was on his lap. "I wonder why he called you – he really shouldn't have."
"He didn't. Yun Ah did."
Argh, what da heck?
"He was actually surprised to get my call."
Dang, I really screwed up, didn't I? My father didn't need all that drama so soon after my mother's passing. "Was he mad?" I asked, crossing my fingers.
He shook his head. "No. He was just glad that you're okay. I promised him that I'll stay with you till you were feeling better."
Gosh. Why did the fool sitting next to me have to be so nice? "Thanks so much, Ji Tae. I don't know what else to say."
He shrugged. "It's not a big deal."
But it kind of was. Because at 2:13 am, instead of sleeping in his nice, warm, cozy bed, he was sitting in his car, staring at my ugly face. "Well, thank you anyway." Then I remembered something. "Oh, do you still want to help out with Jin Soo?"
He arched his brow and looked at me curiously. "Why? You're moving out?"
"No. Well… so because Jin Soo was supposed to stay late from school today, Appa wanted to call you to tell you not to bother picking him up. Long story short, I told him that you'd been fired and after screaming at me, my father told me to rehire you. So do you want the job?"
He stroked his chin. "Your father was mad?"
"Well, I guess it depends. Will it be okay with you?"
I shrugged. "It's really out of my hands. It's not up to me."
"No," he said, studying my face, "if it were up to you, would you be okay with it?"
I sighed. "Look, I know I've always given you a hard time…."
"Not always," he countered.
"Okay, 99.99% of the time."
He chuckled. "Alright, go on."
"But it's just that we have history and I guess you're an easy target. It's because you're an ex, you know? Nothing personal. It's not about you or anything." Yeah right. "It's a personal problem with me and how I treat my exes. I'm just not very good with them."
He moved his lips around like he was in deep thought. "And how many exes do you have?"
He laughed. "Putting all that aside, would it be fine with you? Because I don't want to do it if it's going to make everyone feel uncomfortable."
"If you don't do it, my father will skin me alive. And like Yun Ah said, in all fairness, you've really been there for us. And I really don't think you're a bad person." And I meant it. Pushing all that anger aside, even I had to admit to that fact. "Like whatever happened between us was all in the past, you know?"
He chuckled. "I see. But you still haven't answered my question. Will it be okay with you for me to help out with Jin Soo?"
What had I been saying for the last 5 minutes? The damn bastard just wanted to hear that word. "Yes, Park Ji Tae. Yes."
"And you'd be civil to me?"
I rolled my eyes. "Of course."
"And we'd both act like adults and for whatever reason, you won't wake up one morning and decide to have an attitude with me? Actually, that might be too much to ask for but you know what I mean."
"Yes, Park Ji Tae! For God's sake, do you want me to beg you or something?"
He let out a low guttural laugh. "Begging sounds about right. And pleading. You need to beg and plead."
He laughed. "Okay, I'll do it. I'll see you tomorrow."