Silent Love Part III
He sees her thumbing through a tabloid, once in a while her foot tapping against the floor producing the soft thud noises. Her dark hair falls around her shoulders and underneath the eye makeup; he is certain he sees dark rings encircling her beautiful eyes. The sunlight filters through the window, illuminating the floor of the supermarket, the noise is everywhere as well created by customers and workers. He does not like shopping in Wal-Mart, but today is his brother’s birthday and at the last minute he makes a choice to go and buy him chocolate.
The line is without end as he looks around and his eyes land on her. In his heart he feels pain as he recalls the last meeting the two of them had together, how she ran after him and begged him to take her away. He denied her that and drove away. He wonders how she is doing now, and if she is okay. He doubts that she will forgive him. In truth, if he was in her shoes, he would not forgive himself.
He wonders if he should try to catch up with her and then decides not to. He has his brother’s birthday to attend. His parents are expecting him as well. And if he does, what shall he say to her? He sees her walk from the cashier with two heavy bags, one in each hand. Those are too heavy for her to carry, he thinks to himself. He wonders where her husband is and why is he not here helping her. She stumbles once, twice, and then falls to the floor, the bags spilling their contents all over the floor.
Before he knows what he is doing, or before he can reason with himself, he runs to her side leaving the chocolate in the magazine stand. She lies on the floor, crying loudly, not even bothering to get up. “Therese,” he says her name. Her eyes are on the floor but then she raises them up and in her eyes he sees lightning and thunderstorm. He gulps, feeling that he made a big mistake. He gives her his hand to stand up but she does not take it.
She stands up herself. “You,” she whispers.
Silence reigns as he wonders what to say. What does one say in such a situation? I’m sorry is not appropriate for him as the image flashes yet again of her running to him, begging him to give her a new life. He has hurt her a lot worse than her husband, he realizes. What can he do to make up for this pain? “Therese,” he says again as he looks down on the floor and moves his feet from side to side, his hands move into the pockets and ball up into fists.
“Why did you do it? Why didn’t you take me away from him?” Before he knows what is happening, she begins to beat him up and he stands there and takes it.
The image fades and he gets up, breathing loudly. A dream, he realizes as he opens his eyes. He lies against the pillows, his eyes searching the ceiling and sees the light switch in the dark. He gets up and pours himself a glass of water and remains lying in the bed. As he drinks it, he begins to recall the dream and memories.
The dream was the one he has every night, ever since he met with Therese and her husband. He recalls the dinner all too well; the broken glass, her husband wanting to beat her for breaking it, and he attempting to diffuse the situation and failing at it. He recalls the sounds and curses he hears as he exits outside. Before he leaves though, he leaves two gifts for Therese; the movie that he enjoys, The Classic, and the love songs with English translations.
At that time he stands beside the car, sadness and pain washing his body at the thought that he lost her to someone like her husband. He remembers how he asks her to wait for him, but she does not do it, she marries that no-good bastard. The pain is too much, and as she begs him to take her away from this life, all he thinks about is how she does not want him in her life.
He had come by earlier when she was taking the trash out and he wanted to ask her to become his girlfriend but she tells him to go away and that she does not want to see him anymore. Watching her being someone else’s wife is too much for him and so with these thoughts he drives away.
He tries to stop the memories and realizes that this is another sleepless night he will have to go through. As he thinks that the phone begins to ring and he sees an unfamiliar number. He checks the time and sees its one in the morning. Who could be calling this time of night? He picks up the phone and says hello in Korean.
“Seung-Hoon Shin,” its Therese, he realizes. “Please let me explain everything. Please don’t leave me alone.”
He says nothing but he finds his heart contracting painfully.
“Let me in. I promise I will leave at daylight and you’ll never hear or see me again.”
“Wait.” He says as he makes a choice. He will let her in, he decides, and hear her out. It is the least he can do with the way he treated her.
He sighs. “Hold on. I am not properly dressed.”
“It’s okay,” she says on the other end. “I don’t mind if you’re in your pjs.”
He minds though. Even if Therese is American and is more used to casual styles, he is still Korean where being properly dressed is of greatest importance. In Korea people do not dress in home clothes, especially if company was coming over; they wear stylish and elegant clothing even for the most mundane tasks such as checking the mail. “Wait five minutes,” he tells her and quickly puts on jeans and a white shirt. He combs his hair back, sprays cologne and then he lets her in.
She looks ragged and her head moves in different directions. “Thanks,” she says. She is about to come in when he stops her.
“Take off your shoes,” he tells her calmly.
“You forgot? If you come inside, you have to take your shoes off.”
She takes them off. He lets her come inside.
“Something to eat or drink?”
“A glass of water,” She sits down on his bed and he turns on the light, seeing her more clearly. She is wearing a light beige shawl around her upper body; her hair is a mess and isn’t combed or brushed. Her eyes are red and he is sure he sees tears inside. He gets a glass of water and pours her some from the sink. As he hands her glass, he sees her hands are shaking badly, as if she is frightened of something.
He sits down beside her and remains silent. He hears soft gulps and hears a small thud as the glass of water is placed on the dresser nearby. “You promised to explain,” he tells her casually. “I will not be in your life.”
Her body quivers as if going through an earthquake and she begins to cry. Pain is felt in his heart and he longs to place his arms around her and bring her close to his body. If the situation was different, he imagines himself kissing her eyelids, his fingers would be playing with the dark hair and maybe then he will kiss those soft lips and she would no longer be sad.
“I never wanted to marry him, Seung-Hoon Shin,” she says. “Never.”
He realizes that the last thing he wants to do is to hear about her husband. He will see the guy tomorrow; he is the man’s boss. But he lets her continue.
“We met one another and on our first date he forced me to marry him. If I didn’t, he would kill my family…” Fresh sobs break out and she starts crying. “My mother planned all this from the start, please believe me, and please help me escape.”
He wonders if she knows that her husband is part of KKK, or if he is the editor of a paper called ‘White America,’ but he decides not to ask. He longs to switch the subject to something else. “More water?” He asks as he gets up to take the glass. She nods her head and he pours her more water and hands the glass. She drinks more and the sobs subside inside of her.
“You do believe me, don’t you?”
He is not sure what to answer her and sits beside her. He looks over at her and for the first time notices a bruise on her arm. It is of dark color and a small one. Against his will his finger touches it and she looks at him with surprise. He is also surprised and forces himself to remove his fingers from it. “I am sorry,” he says and moves farther away. To him, her story sounds unbelievable and contrived. What kind of a mother would force her very own daughter to marry someone who hurts her?
“Don’t apologize, it felt good.” She remains seated in one place and doesn’t scoot closer. “I forgot the good feelings you used to give me.”
He says nothing and pours himself a glass of water. He drinks it down, noting the taste is slightly metallic and places the glass on the dresser. Silence begins then and he finds his fingers playing with his hair. She says nothing as well as her hands clutch the glass tightly and once in a while she bites her lower lip. He wonders at the shawl around her shoulders, why she came in with it. Not one to be silent, she begins to talk, to tell him how living with her husband is a nightmare.
“My mother supports what he does to me,” she says. “She comes in once a week and stays for a day. She always asks me if I’m pregnant yet and always mentions how she can’t wait to become a grandmother to a normal looking grandchild. She thinks I’m infertile because for the last five years I can’t become pregnant.” She chuckles then and wipes away the tears with the back of her hand. “I’m on birth control,” she says. “He may have my body, but I won’t let him reproduce inside of me.” Her hand snakes over to her hair and begins to coil a strand around her fingers. He begins to feel restless, desiring to be far away from this conversation, to no longer listen to her words. If her story is true, he has to admire her spirit even more for placing herself on birth control and refusing to allow him to have the children. She hands him the glass and stands up. “I think I’ll go now,” she says. He places the glasses on the dresser and stands up.
“Have you had dinner yet?” He asks her. “I can make noodle Kimchi styled soup for you.”
“It’s all right; I don’t want to trouble you.”
“No, it will not be trouble at all.” He stands up and takes out ramen styled noodle soup and heats it up. He also heats up the water and places two bowls on the table. “The soup will be very spicy,” he says as he then pours two glasses of cold water and brings out chopsticks made of wood for her, and for himself chopsticks of metal. “Do you remember how to use chopsticks?”
She shakes her head. “I forgot. I’m sorry.”
He serves her the bowl and takes one for himself. They sit at the table, not in a Korean style on the floor but in an American style on chairs. While he enjoys sitting on the floor, he doubts that Therese will, especially right now. She sits at the table in silence while he prepares soup for her. He makes no small talk, and neither does she.
While he makes the Kimchi soup, he wonders about her husband and how will he face him at work. Jimmy Smith, her husband, is rumored to be a firecracker and often acts out in anger and doesn’t forgive anyone. Does her husband know that she is out of the house, and if he does, where does he think she went? He hopes that suspicion won’t fall on him. But the hope is in vain, he realizes. He protected Therese against his punches that night, so of course blame will be on him. Out of habit he brushes his hair back and inspects the water which is beginning to boil lightly. Just a few more minutes and then the soup will be ready. He decides to ask Therese some questions about today, just so he will be prepared if the worst becomes worst. He clears his throat once, twice but finds it difficult to talk and to ask questions. He is not in habit of questioning people.
He sees her turning away and letting go of the beige shawl so it falls on the bed. What he sees underneath causes him to turn away and touch his burning cheeks. She is wearing only a night shirt with not support. He rubs his cheeks in hopes that the red will go away. Still turned away, he begins to talk. “Please put your shawl on,” he asks her.
“It is not right for a man to see a woman like this,” he says. He glances quickly towards her direction and much to his relief she complies with his request. Meanwhile the soup began to boil and he quickly shut off the power and poured the soup into bowls and serves it.
He says no prayers before eating it and Therese follows his lead. They eat the soup silently, he enjoying the taste and once in a while his eyes stray over to Therese. She seems to enjoy the soup as well, but he does not like the tears that begin to pour down her cheeks. He does not question her about them though, fearing to embarrass her. Still though, it is vital that he get the information pertaining to her husband. Against his will he begins to question her.
“How is the dinner?” He asks.
“It’s good,” she says.
“I can give you more water,” he offers, noting the empty glass.
“It’s fine,” she says. “I don’t mind the spiciness. Do you, by any chance, have any silverware?”
He shakes his head. “I do not have forks.”
“Still no friends huh?”
He does not reply.
“Why are you like this? You’re so…stoic. It’s maddening to be with someone like you. For everything you have no response whatsoever!”
He tries to breathe in and out, tries to calm himself down but without success. Her words cause his insides to boil and he wants to remind her that they’re not together, and, most likely, will never be together.
“You never show any spirit!” With those words she begins to cry anew. He is tempted to tell her that she is a complete opposite of him; the slightest provocation can have her become emotional and unstable, and if she is any better, she is wrong.
“Ka,” he says in Korean, placing down his bowl and chopsticks next to it. He points to the door. “Ka,” he says again more authoritatively.
“What?” She asks.
Much to his surprise she laughs. “At last you’re showing some spirit! Why not be more American, Seung-Hoon?”
“If you like American men so much, then stick with one you got and do not show your face around here again.”
Her cheeks reddened and her eyes narrowed. She too has finished the dinner and stands up. “This is America, not Korea.” She places her hands on her hips.
“I am Korean, not American. I have not made claims of being American, ever.”
“Then go back to Korea!”
This is getting out of control, he realizes, but how to pacify her and still keep face? Why is she truly mad, he asks himself? He recognizes that she is purposely finding things to be angry about, but for what purpose? She continues to stand while he begins to pace back and forth. “What do you want me to say?” He demands. “I cannot make promises that I cannot keep!”
“At last you want to say something as opposed to nothing.” He ignores the last remark and picks up the bowls and chopsticks and tosses them into the sink. “You’re mad aren’t you?” She begins to cry and goes down on her knees. “I’m scared of going back. It would help if you could share yourself with me emotionally, but instead, you’re always frozen and you have no reaction…” She sobs harder. “I tell you things, I share myself with you, but I get nothing from you.”
He finds himself calming down as he studies her and unable to help himself he sits across from her and hugs her close to his chest, feeling the heaving sobs leaving her body. Wetness streams down his cheeks and he knows he is crying as well, albeit silently. He says nothing but continues to hold her, once in a while running his fingers through her hair and feeling her hands exploring his back. It is hard for him to say what is on his mind, and in the end he does not say it. He unwinds himself from her and goes to where he keeps his apartment keys. He sees a copy of one and hands it to her. She stares at it open-mouthed. “What’s that?”
“If you are in trouble, you can come here,” he says. “I will do my best to change my behavior.”
“Seung-Hoon Shin,” she says but no words follow. The two of them continue to sit on the floor, unable to speak or to give voice to their emotions. He breaks the silence then.
“I will treat your bruise,” he says and gets up to get iodine in the bathroom. While there he washes his face and takes the iodine out. He opens it and then makes a grid on the bruise, her eyes staring at him.
“Tell me something about you.”
“I am not ready,” he says.
She says nothing then and turns away. He finishes putting the grid on her bruise and he moves away from her. “It is almost three in the morning,” he says.
“I don’t want to go,” she responds as she places the shawl back on her shoulders. “I wish I didn’t have to leave.” She moves her eyes away from his eyes and clasps her hands in her lap.
“What of your husband?” He asks and begins thinking to himself. It is likely that the husband knows where he lives and he wonders if he should ask for security upgrades on his apartment just in case.
“Please help me run away, Seung-Hoon Shin. You don’t have to be with me if you don’t want to, but please find a way to help me out. If you do, it will help me live, and I’ll have something to look forward to.” She turns towards him and he sees tears in her eyes and a tremble of her lip. She is desperate, he senses. He does not want to let her down but at the same time he does not want to interfere and get himself harmed by the KKK member. What should he do, he wonders.
As he thinks, he hears her footsteps and realizes that she must have stood up. He stands up and grabs her arm before she walks past him. She sits, this time turned towards him and he looks at her face and sees the slightly open mouth, the curly hair falling past her shoulders, that delicate oval shaped face with high cheekbones and the dark eyes framed by dark eyelashes giving a fragile and exquisite appearance. He finds his heart beating faster as he looks at her and despite the possible consequences; he agrees to help her out.
She smiles widely and gives him a hug. She appears to be more cheerful and animated than before and stands up and walks away. With a sinking heart he watches her disappear and he hopes that he will be able to help her out and not disappoint her in the process. After she leaves, he turns off the lights, and goes to bed.
A screaming noise is heard and he gets up, realizing it is his alarm clock. He groans and then stands up, making his bed and looking outside, seeing the full blast of the sun. It is seven in the morning, he realizes as sleep still clings to him and his eyes. He has work today, no excuse for lazing around. He eats a quick American breakfast of bagel and coffee, dresses in a suit and a tie and then waits for the familiar car honk. As he waits, he turns on the notebook PC and begins typing in her husband’s name; Jimmy Smith. The names, first and last were highly ordinary, nothing special about them but he knows of a special search engine where he can find information about Jimmy Smith.
Before he types in the names, he hears the car honk and he is out the door. He walks outside, noting the warm air and sees his brother driving the sporty red BMW with windows down. “Hyung,” his brother greets him. Shin Ji-Hoon is the younger brother by two years. “Come inside.” He opens the door and steps inside, feeling the slight flush in his cheeks. His brother turns on to the popular K-Pop music, and the two begin driving. He is surprised to hear an American song emitting from the speaker and asks his brother about the band. His brother laughs. “It’s my favorite group, Jewelry, from their sixth album Sophisticated,” his brother tells him in Korean. As he listens to the music he is tempted to make fun of his brother for listening to feminine groups. In truth though, he recalls his brother’s latest girlfriend. One of the ways his brother tries to keep girlfriends is to listen to the bands they listen to.
“What’s her name?” He asks him in Korean, struggling not to chuckle at his brother.
Shin Ji-Hoon’s eyes narrow and he bites his bottom lip hard. “Hey, what makes you think it’s a new girl?”
“Because you didn’t give a damn about Jewelry before.”
“Lee Jaera,” his brother says. “I met her in a university. She needed a ride somewhere far.”
“And you gave her one,” he says, knowing his brother all too well.
His brother nods his head. “I will be seeing her tonight.” He pauses and then continues with lavishing compliments on Lee Jaera. “She is very beautiful with large dark eyes, long black hair and a perfect slim body. She also dresses like royalty with expensive clothes.” Shin Seung-Hoon’s heart sinks.
“A college student, am I right?” He asks him.
Shin Ji-Hoon nods his head. “Of course. I don’t want to date older women.”
“Be careful,” he tells his brother.
“Hyung, why should I be careful?”
He doesn’t answer him but instead recalls the many girlfriends his brother has had. At first the girlfriends seem normal and sane, but then they begin to demand expensive things such as Luis Vutton or Coco Chanel purses. As he heard, his brother, being in so much love with the women, always buys them the best and expensive things he can afford. Despite the generosity, the girls eventually leave him for someone richer.
If the situation was not true, he would have laughed at the soap opera tones that permeate through it. “Hyung, she has a sister about your age. Why don’t we double date tonight?”
“No thank you,” he declines his brother’s invitation. “I planned on learning some new software tonight.”
“That can wait,” his brother says. “Why not go out and have some fun? I’m confused on why you don’t date anymore.” He pauses and then continues. “In fact, I don’t remember you ever dating anyone…”
He brushes his hair back and thinks of a way to deflect his brother’s interest. He does not want for his brother to recall the time they were in high school and he caught him hiding a corsage. He recalls Therese’s husband and decides to ask his brother about him. “Ji-Hoon,” he says, “Do you know anything about Jimmy Smith?”
“In my division he is well known. Sometimes I catch him passing out racist propaganda, but when he gets caught, he always blames someone else.”
“How do you know it’s him?”
“The contact address matches his own home address. He always says he’s innocent, but I have doubts. He’s not a good man, Hyung.” His brother sighs loudly then. “Several times there are rumors attached to him for fraudulent marriages. The only reason father employs him is because of the connections his family has towards KKK and other prestigious government divisions. If it weren’t for KKK, then father would have fired him a long time ago.” At that reminder bitterness rises within him. He recalls the exile and a forced demotion he suffered when his family found out about Therese. He remembers the work he had done in North Korea, secretly taking pictures of the citizens for his father, and most of all he remembers that his father got him a Russian citizenship with money so he could get inside North Korea. His brother on the other hand took over for their father and had an easy life.
Silence ensues in the car as the bitterness continues to grow. How right is it, he asks himself, that someone who had done atrocious deeds and actions got to have a safe and a cushy job, while someone who fell in love with a girl of American heritage went through hell and danger and in the end it was all for nothing?
“Ah, Hyung, father wants to see you.” He says.
“What about?” He asks without interest.
“He didn’t say. Just said told me to tell you that he wants to see you as soon as you come in. Maybe father will give you the job back.”
“That would mean you’d have to step down though,”
“I think father would make it co-joint so to speak. You and I would be both bosses.”
He does not say anything but they finally arrive at a non-descript plain looking building. His brother parks behind the building to make sure no one sees his car and the two walk inside not exchanging communication.
The inside looks ordinary with desks everywhere and few private offices. If someone was to come in, they wouldn’t think it was an intelligence company at all. His brother walks over to the glass office while he walks over to his cubicle. He sees Jimmy Smith in a far off cubicle, yelling and screaming loudly and he remembers that his father wants to see him. He turns on the computer and then walks over to his father’s office.
He knocks on the door and for some time there is silence. He wonders if his father is inside yet when he hears the gruff “enter”. He opens the door and comes in.
His father sits silently at a glass desk with his hands clasped together, the windows are open and are letting in light, and from the distance the view of the city skyscrapers. “Aboji,” he begins in Korean. “Brother told me that you want to see me.”
“Ah yes,” His father itches his nose and stands up. He is a great deal taller than his father at 6’2, while his father was 5’6. Despite the height issue, his father is an imposing man with a stern face and a set mouth. He is also dressed in a black suit and a white tie with black loafers. He finds himself shying away from his father’s gaze, sensing that something is amiss. “I am certain that it is not my business, but your brother tells me that you are refusing to date.”
“I need to focus on my education,” he tells his father. “I don’t feel that I’m good enough for the company.”
His father sighed and sat back down. “If you want to get your old job back, then you have to date. You are my eldest son don’t forget. You are much more suited for the job than your brother.”
“I understand,” he says and looks down on the floor.
“Tonight you will go with your brother on a double-date. You are dismissed.” He leaves the office and feels like groaning. He has no desire to date any girls, yet why is he being pushed to do it?
As the evening begins, he sits in front of his PC already dressed in a tuxedo with his hair styled back. He is wearing sunglasses and is reading information about Jimmy Smith. The cell phone rings. He sees it’s his brother and decides to tell him that he is not feeling well. “Hyung, we’re here,” he says.
He coughs weakly and lowers his voice to make it sound raspy. “I will be coming downstairs,” he coughs into the phone.
“Are you all right?”
“No. I am ill…excuse me,” he walks to the bathroom and pretends to retch while holding the phone to his ear. “It struck without warning.”
He hears his brother groan. “I will tell them that you’re not coming. Lee Haera is very beautiful by the way,” he hears a faint slap. “Ouch! You know I’m talking to my brother! I think I’ll—“
“Let’s go!” he hears a shrill feminine voice shouting. “Let’s go now! We’ll be late! Ugh what a tragedy, bought four tickets to a movie theatre and your brother can’t make it!”
“We’ll refund—“ Another slap.
“What about my sister? Have you given no thought as to how she would feel? Being alone while you’re with me?”
“Well it doesn’t have to be a date—“Pause and then, “Hey, stop doing that!”
“Have you thought how I would feel? Oh I need a Coach purse to soothe my fragile nerves!”
“Make that two,” another feminine voice says. “I need one to make up for this tragic evening.”
“Very well,” he hears his brother say. “Get well soon Hyung. I’ll visit you tomorrow.” The phone clicked off and he sighs in relief and laughs afterwards. His poor brother with two greedy women. Now Shin Ji-Hoon will be six hundred dollars shorter.
Free, he realizes and wonders what to do next. He is tempted to give Therese a call and ask her to spend the evening with him just watching movies. Perhaps they’ll watch Classic together. But there is the matter with her husband. How to get him away from Therese? He wonders as he picks up the phone.
He remembers the man’s supervisor and gives him call, telling him that Jimmy Smith is needed to go back to work on updating all employee and employer profiles for the company. That should keep him busy. He waits thirty minutes before calling Therese. The phone is picked up on the third ring and he hears her voice, shy and hesitant. “Hello?” She says.
“Therese,” he says then draws a blank. He wonders if he is calling too soon and is unable to complete the sentence.
“He’s still here,” he hears her whisper.
“What?” He asks, surprised. Shouldn’t the man be at work now updating the employee and employer profiles?
“I will visit you at night,” She whispers and before he says another word, she hangs up the phone. He is puzzled. What had happened? Why is she unable to talk? He decides then to learn more about the new programs and begins his diligent study.
He stretches his arms to the ceiling and realizes that he has been on computer for four hours, for its midnight. He shuts down the PC and just as he is about to do his night routine, he hears a knock. He comes over to the door and asks who it is. “Therese,” the voice says. He opens the door and she runs inside, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Thank God you’re here,” she says and then much to his surprise she hugs him. He is surprised by her actions and does not hug her back. “He’s been hounding me the whole day, calling all the time, threatening to kill you if he had a chance,” he didn’t need to be told that it was her husband.
“Does he know you are here?” He asks carefully, wondering if he should call his brother to get body guards installed in front of his apartment.
“Oh I hope not,” she says. She untangles herself from him and he asks her if she would like watch the movie with him. She says yes.
That night they watch Classic together, with him telling and explaining various facts about the movie; where it was shot for instance, the romantic scene where the young lovers run through the rain, and he even clarifies things for her such as the when the actress found out about the umbrella in the coffee shop. “He wanted to get wet from the rain with her,” he says as the actress stares at the umbrella and gives the proprietor the one she has.
“This is very different than American movies,” she tells him and chuckles. “This movie is very quaint and old fashioned. I never thought it would exist.” During the movie, he is surprised to find himself putting an arm around her shoulders. He wonders if she is okay with this and as he turns to ask her if it’s okay, she leans forward and he feels her lips on his and senses desire and desperation of the kiss. Her arms go on his shoulders and he feels her body against his. Logic has almost flown away. He wants to push her back from, tell her that what she is doing is madness that she is playing with fire, but he is unable to. She breaks the kiss first and moves away from him. He places his arm on his leg and continues to stare at her, studying her movements. “I’m sorry,” she apologizes. “I know I shouldn’t have done this, but I couldn’t help it. I wanted to feel alive. I have been dead for too long.”
He places his chin on tops of his knees and says nothing, still thinking of the surprising kiss he shared with her. His mind is no longer on the movie though but instead he wonders on how he can help her escape from the marriage. He remembers his brother’s curious remark about Jimmy Smith being tied in to marriage frauds and decides to mention this fact to her. “Therese,” he says as she turns towards him. “Is this yours and Jimmy’s first marriage?”
“I know it’s mine first,” she responds not meeting his eyes. “I don’t know about Jimmy though. Jimmy shares very little to me about his life before me. He never tells me anything at all. I don’t know why he forced me to marry him. I know my mom had something to do with this, but why, no idea.”
“Can you find out more about Jimmy?” He asks her.
“What do you want to know?”
What would be the vital information to help her escape from the marriage? What does he need to know? He ponders some more and finally knows. Blackmail, perhaps he can blackmail Jimmy, and get him kicked out of the company, and that might help Jimmy in letting go of Therese. Instantly he sees the flaws to the plan; Jimmy is very possessive and even if he were to starve, he would never let Therese go by himself. The only other option is to encourage Therese to leave Jimmy and the marriage, but how to go about it is another question. He sees Therese for the first time and realizes that if she were to leave Jimmy, she would need to have more confidence in herself first of all, and second of all, she has to sever connections between herself and her mother and Jimmy. Would she be able to do it?
“Seung-Hoon Shin,” she says his name. “What information do you want to know about Jimmy?”
“His personality,” he says. “If he is able to let go of things easily, if he had any prior marriages before you, and how he is towards you.” He sees her face beginning to darken.
“You forgot that night you met us at home haven’t you?” She accuses him.
“I have not,” he assures her. “Is he bad towards you all the time or once a month or once a year?”
A long sigh escapes her and he sees her fingers clench into the fists. She begins to try breathing slowly without success. “All the time.” She says evenly. “Sometimes I think he has a severe case of mood swings that change all the time. One minute he gives me a hundred bucks and tells me to go ‘buy myself something sexy,’ and the next minute he begins to call me bad names.”
Odd, he thinks to himself. Did he go through a psychological testing before entering the company? He makes a mental note to find that information out. If he did go through it, why wasn’t this discovered earlier? And if he didn’t, why? A bribe perhaps? Either way, Jimmy needs to leave the company. His family does not need somebody like him, especially a man who is likely to go through extreme actions just because he does not like the skin color or religion. “What about abandonment or letting everything go?”
“I’m not sure about stuff, but he never lets me go anywhere, and doesn’t even let me see my friends.”
He sees the blank screen of the TV and turns off the DVD player and TV. It is time to ask her tough questions, he realizes, time to at least help her consider leaving the husband. He takes a breath and begins, all the while fearing her reactions and the words she will use. “Why do you stay with your husband?” He asks.
She snorts. “He’s Catholic. Or didn’t you know that? If he’s a Catholic, I can’t divorce him or leave him…”
“You can get the marriage annulled. You have means to do so, Therese.”
“I made the decision to marry him,” she protests. “I doubt that any leading Catholic authority will believe me.”
He wants to tell her many things, that she should not give up, that she can no longer live this way, that something must change but he senses a fight in her, and feels that the words will be wasted.
“I admire you,” she says out of the blue. He faces her then. “You don’t lose control easily; you don’t panic but think everything through. Why is that both a quality I like and a quality that is maddening?”
He has no answer for her.
She continues on. “I wish I was like you sometimes, and then perhaps I can leave my husband without fear and start over.”
He stands up and checks the time. 3:00 AM. “I think it is time that you went,” he tells her.
“Before I go, I would like you to answer a question.”
He does not say anything but continues to stare at her as she gets up and walks over to the door, putting on her shoes and a jacket.
“What caused you to become like this?”
He knows the answer to her question as he recalls the training he received from his father at an early age. He does not feel ready to reveal that to her yet. He settles for a simple answer that he hopes she will not take farther. “I was raised like this,” he replies.
He nods his head but does not go into detail. He does not feel ready to share the moments with her, not just yet, but at the same time he cannot help but remember the lessons his father gave him and his brother. They were forbidden from expressing themselves to one another, and if he had done something simple such as telling his father what happened to him, or that he had a fight with his younger brother, his father promised to keep it a secret, and later on he learned that his father shared the knowledge to everyone else, even mentioning the fight and the feelings to his younger brother.
As children he and his brother tried to share secrets with one another, but that did not work out. His father often called him inside and he recalls sitting in an uncomfortable wooden chair, squirming and wanting to play. His father would stare long and hard and he had an uncomfortable sensation of feeling naked and vulnerable in front of him. His father would then begin asking simple questions sometimes giving him candies and sweets. Eventually, without him being aware of it, the topic would turn to his brother and he or his brother would confess the secrets that his father did not know about.
As these and many other memories pass through, he feels moisture sliding down his cheeks and he feels warmth as he looks over at Therese, her arms around him, her head on his shoulder. “There, there” she whispers. “Cry as much as you’d like to.” He feels the danger of being emotional in front of her and wonders if she will tell everyone that she saw him this way. “Even when you get sad or show yourself, you’re still you,” she says. “You haven’t lost anything by being emotional.” The words, the fears he has, she has vanquished them. Despite the emotion he enjoys being held like this by her, feeling the warmth from her body enveloping him. The fact that she is seeing him like this, in his most vulnerable state without berating or laughing makes him feel determined that at all costs he will try to be more open with her and he will eventually claim her and be with her no matter what.
She leaves soon afterwards and he decides to go to bed.
The bell rings loudly without warning. He wakes up and sees its 7 in the morning. He overslept. He groans as he gets up but then the door opens and his brother comes in. He remembers the lies he has told his brother to get out of the date. “Hyung,” his brother calls out. “Thank goodness you can stand up!” A pause and he sees a bag of groceries in his brother’s arm. “I brought you seaweed soup to make you feel better,” he says. “Its packaged though.”
“No big deal,” he tells him and then sits down on the bed. He is still in pajamas and feels his cheeks turning red at the thought of his brother seeing him this way.
His brother walks over to the kitchen gets out plates and heats the soup. While waiting for the soup to heat, he begins telling him about his date. “Aish,” his brother says. “Those two women cleaned me out big time.”
“Oh? What happened?”
“After renting all Twilight movies and being forced to stay awake while they watched them, the sisters drag me to a Coach Store and there I had to spend at least one thousand dollars for both their purses!” A pause, and his brother walk into the kitchen and returns with a bowl of soup. “I hadn’t told father that you lied,” he said.
“How did you know?” He demands, surprised that his brother saw through the ruse. “How did you know I lied?”
“I’m your brother am I not? You cannot act worth a damn. You didn’t want to meet with them, simple as that.”
“Why did you meet with them?” His brother sighs and gives him the bowl of soup.
“I told mom and dad you were sick. Act like you’re sick at least.” He changes the subject.
“When will they be coming?” He asks as he uses the spoon to eat the soup. He has missed eating seaweed soup and enjoys the taste on his tongue.
“Don’t know. They didn’t tell me.” He shrugs his shoulders. “Hyung, this is a mistake. You should be with Korean girls instead of dating white girls.”
“Why? What’s wrong if I date white girls?”
His brother sits down beside him and he sees a pained expression on his face. He sighs heavily and then begins. “First of all they don’t know or understand where you come from. If you want to speak Korean to them, will they be able to understand it? No. They don’t understand you as a person either. They will expect you to be more American and to abandon your family once you get with her.”
“All the girls you dated leeched off of you,” he points out. “Korean girls themselves are difficult; they think they’re princesses and expect a guy to pay for everything, while American girls are more willing to pay for their purchases. They scream all the time and hit men and they often place guys in difficult situations.” He laughs as he recalls one situation. “Some Korean girls will expect you to stalk them or to show up when something bad happens to them. They also expect you to have a PhD, be rich and do everything for them while they themselves will not do anything. Korean girls are also not attractive to me; not at all. Many do not have the bodies or the appearance of American women. Keep in mind that there are American women who are willing to be with Korean men and will be willing to learn and understand where they come from and what ticks them off.”
“Is the girl you want to be with like that?”
“She has potential.”
Shin Ji-Hoon snorts. “She’s still not Korean, and she’s still not accepted by our parents.”
He wants to tell his brother that their father is hypocritical in the dealings but decides to switch the subject. He has had enough of discussion and of trying to defend his choices to his brother. In truth, if his family will again decide to cut him off permanently for wanting to be with Therese, then he will willingly go through it and will find a different job to support her. But he is getting an idea though. Perhaps if he will find a way of getting rid of Jimmy then he will ask his father for a favor of not being let go. He will not be the leader, but at least he will have a good job and will be able to provide money towards Therese.
He finishes the soup and places the bowl into the sink to wash it. His brother, meanwhile, gathers the things he has brought and tells him goodbye as he walks off.
Months begin to pass quickly and during that time Shin Seung-Hoon finds out more and more information about Jimmy Smith that might help Therese to run away from as well as be used for blackmail against Jimmy. He has heard that somehow Jimmy found out their bank account and often steals money from the company and often uses the money for unsavory activities such as backing up of a main boss from KKK to run for governor. The man lost the bid but Jimmy and others men of KKK do not give up and continue to pursue that activity. Also during the time, he and Therese meet and he finds himself changing, becoming more open with her and more willing to share himself.
One day, when he feels that he has sufficiently collected enough information, he comes over to his father and the two begin discussing the evidence, he trying to convince his father that Jimmy needs to go. His father stands up then and makes a noise. “My hands are tied you realize,” he tells him. “I need to have him leave voluntarily. If I fire him that will put me in a precarious situation where he and his cronies will act out and then what should I do?”
“Father, you cannot allow him to continue working here,”
“I know that son. I know what he is trying to do, but think of my situation as well. Everyone he and I know will be after my blood.” He pauses and then he sees his father’s eyes studying him. “Convince him to leave the company.”
“I will do so,” he says. He feels bad for even thinking of asking his father a favor. Although Therese is important to him, being the oldest son, Shin Seung-Hoon still feels an obligation to take care of his family and look after them.
“Thank you,” his father says and the sits back down on his desk.
Later on, as he walks home, he sees Therese and her husband in front of the building where he lives. Gulping nervously, he watches them from afar, listening to their conversation. “You still visit that chink?” Jimmy asks. “Why you do that? You ain’ go no respect fer me?” He longs to swoop in and somehow free Therese from him.
“Why did you drag me here?” He hears her ask. “I am bound to you legally! What else do you need from me?”
“Whut you ain’ wantin’ t’ give! Yer heart an’ yer body!”
“If you loved me, Jimmy, you would let me go. I never had any feelings for you! You killed them all with your words and actions.”
“Therese,” he says. “When’s he cumin’? I wanna beat him up into dust fer even thinkin’ of messin’ with ya.”
“Just go away!” Therese screams and he sees her struggling against his grip. She frees herself and runs away from him in tears. Jimmy sighs and continues to stand with his arms crossed.
“Dumb chink,” he hears him mutter. Quickly making up his mind, he takes out his cell phone and calls Jimmy. Jimmy picks up on the first ring. “What ya want?” He asks.
“Are you alone?” He asks him.
“Whut’s it to ya?”
“I want to talk to you, to discuss things.”
“Therese, your job, what it will take for you to disappear for good.”
Jimmy chuckles. “I be plannin’ on giving Therese divorce papers soon. I may not love her but I feel sorry fer her.”
“Why are doing this to her?”
“I don’t know.” Jimmy admits. “Cum here so we can talk, man to man.”
He hears a click on the other end and he decides to risk it and comes over to Jimmy. “I am here,” he tells the man.
“M’ ma wanted me t’ marry Therese. She an’ Therese’s ma were best of friends and thought it would be cool if they were ma-in-laws. I ain’ never wanted t’ marry Therese. M’ ma freezes m’ inheritance if I refuse t’ marry her. Both also were scared of her marryin’ outside race.”
“What of now?” He asks Jimmy. “If you divorce her, what about your inheritance?”
“I’m twenty-eight, an’ both ma’s believe that Therese can’t have them kids. I’ll marry someone else an’ Therese will be with a chink.”
“I am Korean, not Chinese,” he corrects the man.
Jimmy simply shrugs. “Don’ make no difference if you’se a Chink or Jap or a Gook. Ya’ll look the same.”
“Therese said you’re a Catholic though.”
“I lied,” Jimmy admits. “I’m a protestant.”
While thinking of what else to ask the man, Jimmy pulls out a gun. “What are you doing?” He says. “Put it down!”
“Naw, never.” Jimmy says lazily. “Been learnin’ on how t’ shoot them guns. You’ll make a good target practice punk.”
Only now did he realize that he was not wearing a bullet proof vest and he wondered if Jimmy would shoot him. Life passed quickly in front of him and he feels something crush him inside as he knew that it was too short and he did not get to do what wanted. He closes his eyes and feels something rip through his body and then everything became black. Before he blacks out, he swears that he hears Therese scream loudly.
She continues to kneel in front of his grave, remembering the times and laughter they shared together. To this day, she cannot believe that he is gone for forever. She finds herself calling out his name, asking him to come back when she hears footsteps behind her. Her husband, she thinks to herself as she turns around and her eyes fall on his ghost. She freezes, unable to ask questions.
The ghost slowly comes closer as she stands up and desires to run away from him. “Ghost,” she whispers. “You’re a ghost! You’re not real.”
He stops then. “I’m not a ghost, Therese.”
“But you’re supposed to be dead! I saw Jimmy shoot you!”
He closes his eyes and rubs his head. She sees a bandage on his chest. “What has happened after you come back?”
“Jimmy took me by the hand and we ran inside the house. Yesterday he lost his job or so he tells me and that’s it.”
He sighs. “After my father hears about my accident, he hires lawyers and they manage to use the evidence I collected and get him to leave the company.”
“You’re not dead though, why?”
He laughs. “Someone drove by and took me to the hospital. I have been healing ever since.”
“What of the missing body story?”
He explains then that at the time he is too embarrassed to call his parents and let them know that he is in the hospital. Few nights ago, in order to convince Jimmy that he has died, he calls his father and both of them come up with the funeral plan. Meanwhile, he tells Therese that Jimmy is not a Catholic and he found records where Jimmy has been married three or four times.
“Yesterday I paid Jimmy money to let you go,” he says as he flashes out divorce papers. “You finally left him. I came by wearing a bullet proof vest and some bodyguards. We started to talk with Jimmy and I asked him how much money he needed to let you go. He named his sum and that’s it, you’re free.”
Therese feels like screaming and jumping and crying from happiness. At long last her nightmare is over, for she is free! She sees him smiling then. “Thank you so much!” She runs up and hugs him tightly.
He hugs her back. “You are welcome.” She parts from him and sees an odd expression on his face. “I bought you shoes,” he says, his voice awkward, almost embarrassed.
“What?” She asks, puzzled.
He bends down and reveals a new pair of house shoes in a box. “In Korea, it is an old tradition. If a guy buys a girl shoes, then he wants to marry her.” She is surprised that he is asking her a question. “Take them and think it over. You do not have to decide right away.”
She already knows what and who she desires. Instead of being her mother’s pet or always listening to her, she will marry someone she loves and be happy for the rest of her life. In response she smiles as she takes off the shoes and places his shoes on her feet. Both of them laugh and they hug each other once more, already looking forward to the future.
Today will be their fifth wedding anniversary as Therese prepares the traditional Korean food for her husband and her two kids; Samuel and Stella. They are in pre-school meanwhile but soon Shin Seung-Hoon will arrive with his brother and his brother’s wife and their parents who at least have accepted her as a daughter-in-law.
The relationships between the parents and the couple were strained at first are still the way now, but at least they visit the children frequently, teaching them about the Korean culture and even watching Korean dramas with them.
She and her mother cut off ties with one another and despite Therese trying to get her mother to accept her husband she will not budge. Perhaps one day her mother will accept them and bless them but now is not the time.
She places the food on the bowls and begins to whistle a song. The doorbell rings and she opens it and sees her in-laws. She greets them and they her and they walk inside one after another. First comes her brother-in-law and his petite Korean wife whom he calls after a girl on Classic movie, followed by the mother and father in law with the disapproving faces, and last but not least by her husband who recently came from the same job he had when they first saw each other.
They did not kiss or do things that American couples do when they see one another but instead smiled at each other as they prepared for the dinner. With certainty, Therese now knew that everything will be okay, and perhaps next year her mother will let go of the prejudices she has and become part of the family once more.
The family sits down for the dinner and begins to eat. Eventually her children return and at last everyone becomes happier and this was the best Therese’s wedding anniversary.