내게 기대도 돼
Lean on Me
Seohyun spent her days immersed in her studies, even topping the class ratings. Her teachers were definitely proud of her, and the other students envied her. Some girls even gossiped behind her back, but they never really could say anything bad about her because she had always been the innocent angel that she was. Since she was very intelligent and well informed in many different topics, some classmates made it a point to ask for her help with class lessons they did not understand. She was more than glad to help them out.
As for Yonghwa, he has fallen into Seohyun’s ocean and he cannot fight her strong currents no matter how hard he tried. Seohyun’s pure spirit influenced him, may the influence be welcomed or not. First, he was forced into riding home with the crazy bunch of neighbors that he despised since he was a young child (yet still considered them as his friends), and now he had to continue being nice to them no matter how much he just wanted to shut them out. It was all for Seohyun’s sake. He felt like he did not want to shun her and turn a cold shoulder on her since she had been trying so hard to make him feel less lonely. She was too sweet and innocent. Breaking her heart might make him feel guilty for the rest of his life. Because of her angel-like qualities, he had such a horrible time trying to contain the little devil in him. Sometimes, he just wished she would leave him alone with all the outlandish sweet potato talk. Yet, for shining down in that little dark corner of his heart, he was actually glad. He was glad she whole-heartedly cared about him even though she barely knew him. No one else really cared about him these days but his mother. Like his mother said, the one caring soul that brought him a little sunshine—he has to hold on to it.
One afternoon ride home after school, while Yuri and her obnoxiously loud bunch of friends were all singing and going crazy in the truck, Seohyun sat beside the quiet Yonghwa admiring the countryside view.
“Hello Yonghwa Oppa,” Seohyun greeted after seeing the loneliness in his eyes despite being in the midst of a rowdy group of friends.
“Hey, Seohyun,” Yonghwa tried to smile back in order to hide how much he was annoyed by Taeyeon’s and Yoona’s loud, witch-like laughter. “Let me guess, you want to ask about the sweet potatoes again? Don’t worry, they’re doing well. I’m taking good care of them,” he said, wanting to dismiss her as soon as possible.
“Oh that’s great. You know, it’s the beginning of autumn, and isn’t that just the right time to harvest them?” she inquired rather curiously, trying anything to keep a conversation going.
Yonghwa blinked a few times at her strange, yet somehow, expected question. I really have no idea why she keeps asking me about the sweet potatoes. Does she like sweet potatoes that much? “Well, we might just harvest them this weekend,” Yonghwa honestly replied.
“Whoa…,” her eyes twinkled in amazement.
Finally, Yonghwa sighed. He just knew this conversation will eventually take place. “If you want, you can come by and try our first fruits after harvest. You can help out with the harvest too, but it’s hard wo—”
Seohyun gasped in excitement. “Can I really come?!”
Later that night after the encouragement from his two mischievous best friends, Jonghyun walked to the Xiah Dragon Noodles restaurant to see if he can get a job as a musician. Yoona works there as a waitress, and he wanted to see her as much as he can. He definitely liked her—to the point that he has her buzzing around his brain on random times of the day. Minhyuk, who unexpectedly was caught up in playing cupid, suggested plenty of romantic and even cheesy scenarios for Jonghyun to win Yoona’s heart. Most of his suggestions were not bad; in fact Jonghyun thought they were good that he even wrote some at the back page of his math notebook. Jungshin’s suggestions on the other hand were just silly quips involving ridiculous puns and punch lines. When the two quirky boys suggested using his charm and musical abilities, Jonghyun thought it was a great idea. He was confident she will fall in love with his music. Girls like that kind of stuff, right? According to Minhyuk and Jungshin, who both have never courted a girl before, girls apparently do like romantic, sensitive men with exceptional musical talent.
Jonghyun then casually entered the diner with his guitar case in hand and looked around for any sign of authority. Hyoyeon busily walked around with drinks and food on trays, serving them to customers as efficiently as she can. He did not want to bother her, and he did not really have the guts to ask her for information either because she did have a very strong, intimidating personality. Looking around once more, he saw that someone was singing on stage, and it was none other than that awkward fellow, Jung Yonghwa, with his guitar.
“That guy again…,” Jonghyun scoffed. He just despised Yonghwa’s whole presence even though he barely knew him. It was mostly because he knew Yonghwa has taken Seohyun’s attention making him feel uncomfortable for reasons he could not explain. “I’m so better than him…”
“Oh hey, it’s you!” exclaimed a familiar voice. It was Yoona. She was wearing a red apron around her waist and her hair was tied up to a messy ponytail. The neon lights flashed from behind her, giving her the visual effect of a halo. She looked more mature now than when she was wearing black school uniform. “What’re you doing here, Jonghyun? Do you want to eat something? Be warned though, there’s no way you’ll get a discount!”
Jonghyun smiled at the sight of his familiar friend. “I’m here for a job. Do you know how I can get a job here as a musician?”
“Oh, you’re here to work? That’s great! Follow me and I’ll introduce you to Junsu Oppa. He’s the current manager of this place!”
Jonghyun followed Yoona into a private room behind the curtains of the small stage. There in the room behind a wooden table sat the restaurant manager. On his table was a name plate that says, “Kim Joon-Soo” in Korean characters.
“Junsu Oppa, this is Lee Jonghyun, Yuri Eonni’s cousin from Seoul. He says he wants to work here,” said Yoona.
“Hello,” said the kind man in a rough high voice as he stood up to greet Jonghyun. “Since you have a guitar case with you, I’m guessing you want to work here as a musician.”
Junsu seemed to be a very good-natured and optimistic person. In fact, his bright personality was a lot like Yoona’s. He smiled and giggled a lot too. Jonghyun could definitely see the family resemblance, even though Yoona and Junsu are just cousins. He’s really rather friendly and eccentric just like Yoona, Jonghyun thought.
“I still have customers to serve. Good luck with the job interview. I’m sure you’ll do well,” Yoona said to Jonghyun with a flirty wink. Then she left the room.
“So, I heard you just moved in the nearby farm,” Junsu said, trying to make friendly conversation. “How’s living here working for you? Do you miss Seoul?”
“Please, call me Hyung,” the man chuckled.
“Hyung, living here is alright,” he replied with a bright smile that showed off his dimples as he kept thinking about Yoona. “I don’t really miss Seoul all that much since I’ve met really good people here so far…” …and that includes Yoona.
“That’s a relief,” Junsu chuckled. “Now, before you can perform, there are two steps you must take. Number one, watch how it is done. Number two, show what you can do. It’s simple. I even made it rhyme for easier memorization!”
As Junsu was explaining things to Jonghyun, another guy came into the office, interrupting their conversation.
“I’m here, Boss!” the guy exclaimed.
“Oh, Seunggi! Sorry to have you playing here today. Taeyeon is just nowhere in sight again and Yonghwa refuses to have his shift extended tonight,” Junsu told the guy.
Jonghyun turned around and bowed to the guest. The guy was about a few years older than him. He also had dimples and seemed to be a really nice guy. Plus, they both have the same last name. Little did Jonghyun know he will despise Seunggi sooner than the processing of his job application.
“Lee Jonghyun, this is Lee Seunggi, and he will perform on that stage and show you how it’s done. He’s one of our less frequent musicians, but every time he does sing, everyone’s heart is moved. Anyway, if you can play as well as he does, or even better, then you’re in.”
Soon, Jonghyun and Seunggi went out of the office. Jonghyun sat by a table to listen to his senior’s performance. As the charming musician readied himself on the piano, Yoona walked over to Jonghyun and sat on the seat close to him.
“You’re on ‘number one, watch how it’s done’ part of the recruitment process, am I right?” Yoona asked Jonghyun, trying to make conversation.
“Yeah,” Jonghyun smiled. Yoona could not help but notice his dimples. It was no doubt she found him attractive. She has told Seohyun a few times about how fine and good-looking her brother was.
“Well, you’re in for a teary show. Seunggi Oppa makes even the most callous men cry. He’s just the coolest! I really, really like him!” Yoona squealed. As much as she liked Jonghyun’s alluring sharp stare and prince-like smile, she also has eyes for other boys. She was just the kind of girl to naturally adore the attractiveness of the opposite gender, unlike Seohyun, who initially views them all as nothing but walking, talking flesh and bones. Thus, Jonghyun felt a bit jealous. Somewhere along the lines, he began to feel discouraged.
“By the way, you’re friends with Jungshin, right?” Yoona’s pretty almond eyes focused onto Jonghyun again. “Seunggi Oppa is his older brother.”
Jonghyun was a bit surprised. Jungshin has told him about having an older brother before but he never really met the guy. “Really?”
“Hi everyone, it’s me Lee Seunggi,” the performer said over the microphone. The small crowd gave him a warm round of applause. “Here goes…”
Soon, he was playing his piano.
“The first words your small lips ever said
‘안녕 (Hello),’ that word was really good to hear
It seemed like our beginning
It seemed like it became us…”
Back in the Hanok house, Seohyun shut her mouth about the sweet potatoes. She danced and twirled around at the thought of seeing the sweet potato farm as if she was about to enter heaven. Sweet potatoes were her most favorite food in the world. Just the thought of being in a sweet potato farm filled her with happiness. Others may find that a rather shallow childish trait of hers, but what else can they really expect from a sweet, innocent sixteen-year-old? Besides, it was not like she had ever been to a countryside farm when she lived in Seoul. Everything about this new place was still fascinating to her.
“You know, I’m really surprised he invited you to come over to the farm,” Minhyuk’s adorably short and baby-faced older sister Sunny said as she sat in front of the small box television set and turned the dial. She sometimes relaxes at the Kwon Hanok house after working at the farms. “He hasn’t asked my brother Minhyuk come over to his house for a year, and they used to be quite close. In fact, he hasn’t bothered to talk to anyone in about a year.”
“I’m surprised that he willingly rides home with us at the truck,” Yuri added as she sat down beside Sunny with a plate of tteok. “What exactly did you do to him? Did you threaten him during that night or brainwash him or something?”
 떡 – Korean rice cake
“I didn’t do anything. I just tried to be nice,” Seohyun innocently replied. “He looked lonely.”
“Well, we’ve all tried that, but it didn’t work,” Sunny shrugged. “When I do my work at the sweet potato farm, he usually just ignores me.”
“Just go easy on him,” Yuri advised. “I don’t want you to be disappointed when he gets frustrated with you. And purposely making friends with him just to get free sweet potatoes is just wrong!”
“No, Eonni! I’m not doing that to get free sweet potatoes…,” Seohyun whined. Maybe she did want to be friends with Yonghwa because of the sweet potatoes at first, but certainly not because she wanted to take advantage of him.
Suddenly, the sliding door opened and Jonghyun shut it with a bang, surprising Seohyun, Yuri, and Sunny who were in the middle of a conversation.
“What happened to you?” Sunny asked Jonghyun, who was grumpily dragging his guitar on the way to the room he shared with Jun.
“How did it go? Did you get the job at Xiah Dragon?” Seohyun asked.
Jonghyun looked the girls in the eyes, breathed out, and politely, yet dejectedly said, “It went well. I got the job. Thanks for asking.” Then he went off into the corridor that led to his room.
Later that night, Jonghyun climbed up the giant cherry blossom tree and just sat there on the branch, staring up at the clear, starry night sky. He just wanted to be alone for now, but Seohyun decided this was just the right time to bother her big brother.
“So how did it really go at Xiah Dragon earlier?” she asked from below him.
“It went well just like I told you earlier. I’m a great musician and you know that,” he coolly replied. He was being honest after all.
“You seemed upset though.” Then she took off her slippers and tried to climb up the tree.
“Be careful,” Jonghyun advised. He knew how clumsy his sister was.
Since she was having a hard time climbing the tree, she finally asked, “Would you help me up?”
When Jonghyun and Seohyun finally settled at a stable branch, Seohyun was in awe. “Wow, the air seems fresher here. It’s nice and the view of the stars seems clearer somehow, though maybe a bit scary if you hadn’t helped me up.”
“You’re just ten feet above the ground; don’t get too excited. We’re not significantly high up, you know,” said Jonghyun.
Seohyun just smiled at him and asked, “So, what’s bothering you?”
Normally, Jonghyun would not tell anyone how he felt, but whenever his little sister asked and offered to listen, he would not refuse. She often gave great advice if needed, so he usually felt no harm in telling her things. Besides, they were already sitting so close together on a tree branch so no one else would hear them anyway. “There’s just this girl that I really like.”
“Is it Yoona Eonni?”
Jonghyun got startled by her quick guess. “How did you know that?”
“Yuri Eonni thinks so. She says you’re too obvious because you stare at her all the time when we ride home from school. I don’t mind. Yoona Eonni is really nice to me and to everyone she meets, so I like her a lot too. Why were you upset earlier though?”
“I just don’t know if she likes me too, that’s all.”
“Maybe you should ask her.”
“No way,” Jonghyun reacted as if she just said the stupidest thing in the world. “I just met her. I don’t want to ruin everything by asking a really awkward question all of a sudden.”
“Well, I don’t think you should worry too much about whether she likes you or not. She has told me a few times that she thinks you’re good-looking. I think she wouldn’t say that if she doesn’t like you. You are pretty cool after all. And even if she doesn’t like you, don’t worry; I will always like you, Oppa.”
Jonghyun grinned widely after hearing Seohyun’s words. “Just forget I ever told you anything, okay? This is a secret between us, you understand?”
That weekend, Yonghwa welcomed Seohyun into the vast sweet potato farm past the white-washed fence. She did not hold back her amazement at all. She gasped and squealed the whole time Yonghwa showed her the place. They walked past rows and rows of sweet potato plants. Past the field was a quaint traditional Hanok house where Yonghwa lived. It was smaller than the Kwons’ Hanok villa house but to Yonghwa, it as home.
Out by the front wooden steps of the house was Yonghwa’s mother. She was a beautiful woman even for her age. Her eyes clearly match Yonghwa’s big charming ones, and her facial expressions look a lot like his. The moment Yonghwa’s mother saw the couple approaching, she was quite surprised. She did not expect Yonghwa to bring a guest home—especially a girl.
“Yonghwa, you’re here,” his mother greeted with a strong Busan accent. Then she turned to Seohyun and said, “And who might you be, young lady?”
“Hello Ma’am, I am Lee Seohyun. I just moved at the neighboring farm few weeks ago from Seoul. It’s very nice to meet you,” Seohyun respectfully bowed.
“It’s very nice to meet you too, young lady,” Yonghwa’s mother smiled back. Then she glanced at Yonghwa. “Yonghwa…?”
“She’s just a friend, Mother. Please don’t get any strange ideas,” he snapped at his mom, though still sounding quite courteous. “She just really wanted to see the sweet potatoes.”
For the rest of the day, Yonghwa and Seohyun helped harvest the crops at Seohyun’s insistence. Seohyun did not really know how to do it properly, but trying with a bit of help was the best way to learn. After changing into loose farmer clothes and rubber boots, they began their work. First, they each took a spade fork and started carefully digging under the plant shoots. Once they found the sweet potatoes, they pulled them out and placed them in sacks. Yuri was right—this farm really did grow the best sweet potatoes. Most of what they dug up was a bunch of huge ones. Seohyun found it a lot of fun—like digging up treasure. After a long hour of sweat-inducing labor, Yonghwa’s mother called them into the house for some refreshments and freshly baked sweet potatoes. Seohyun raved about how amazing the sweet potatoes taste. She even claimed that she had never had anything so delicious in her life. Her great enthusiasm and bright attitude just made Yonghwa laugh, and he has not really laughed in a long time. Even his mother saw how he smiled at Seohyun’s every whim. It made his mother happy that Yonghwa was finally smiling again. When the day ended, Yonghwa walked Seohyun home down the dusty trail that led to the Kwons’ farm. Although they had fun, the day had to end.
As Seohyun skipped happily beside him, he turned to her with a smirk and said, “I bet you really had a great time with the sweet potatoes.” He has never seen anyone so happy about harvesting sweet potatoes before.
“Oh yes, I very much did!” she exclaimed with a sweet-sounding giggle.
Yonghwa could not help but smile with the cheerful girl. Nearing the entrance of the Kwons’ farm house, Yonghwa slowed their walking pace and said with utmost sincerity, “I had a great time with you too.”
Seohyun stared right back into his eyes and smiled. “Can I come help out again tomorrow?”
The next day, Seohyun went to Yonghwa’s house after school to help at sweet potato farm. Yonghwa also began to look forward to spending more time with Seohyun too. He began to appreciate her company. Although farm work was exhausting for both of them, they had so much fun. Yonghwa found himself slowly warming up to her; something he never thought he could do. It was like she breathed fresh air into his dying lungs. Life was bearable again.
As they walked together around the empty field after harvest, Seohyun asked, “Why were you so lonely and depressed?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh come on, don’t pretend like everything is okay when I’m around,” Seohyun insisted. “I’m your friend. You can tell me when you’re really hurting, not just when you’re happy.”
Although he hesitated for a bit, he finally sat on the tree trunk with Seohyun to tell her everything. “Some people have probably told you this: it’s about my father.”
“Yuri Eonni said that he was stationed at the North Korean border…”
“Everyone knows that,” Yonghwa scoffed. “Do you really want to know the truth?”
“Yes,” Seohyun nodded.
“I have one condition though,” Yonghwa said with a mischievous smirk. His true colors were slowly showing now that the ice has been broken between the two of them after playing “farmer” together.
“A condition?” Seohyun whined. “What do you want?”
“Since I’m going to tell you a secret, you better tell me a secret too.”
Seohyun contemplated it for a while. Finally she whined some more and said, “But I can’t think of a secret right now.”
“Then I’m not telling you,” Yonghwa childishly stated.
“Oh, wait, I think I do have a secret.”
“What is it?”
Before saying anything, Seohyun looked around to check if anyone was close enough to listen. Seeing that no one was around to hear them, she finally whispered, “My brother likes Yoona Eonni.”
Yonghwa shook his head. “Who cares…?”
“Sorry, it’s the only thing I can think of right now. I don’t really keep secrets for myself,” said the innocent Seohyun. “But I do promise to keep yours if you tell me.”
“Okay then, how about a different condition?”
Yonghwa thought for a while and then he finally said, “If I’m going to tell you a secret, you need to be my friend first.”
“Aren’t we already friends?” Seohyun asked it so innocently and adorably that he could not help but laugh. Getting a laugh from him was rare these days, but Seohyun suddenly induced him to do so without even trying. She thought it was nice to finally hear him laugh, even though she had no idea why he would laugh at what she just said.
“No, if we can be good friends, we need a good codename for each other,” Yonghwa stated. He used to be so serious but suddenly he was being so childishly playful to Seohyun. Actually, he was a very fun person before he became depressed. Seohyun was becoming his remedy, and he still has not fully realized it.
“Oh, you mean like nicknames?”
“I guess if you put it that way. Hm… What should I call you?”
“Can I call you ‘Goguma Namja’?” Seohyun said with shining eyes.
“What? No way, that’s weird. Call me Yong.”
“Yong? Like a dragon? I like Goguma Namja better,” Seohyun said with a pout.
Then maybe I should just call you ‘Goguma Sonyeo’.” Yonghwa said sarcastically.
“Okay, fine, Yong Oppa. What will you call me then? ‘Hyun’? These nicknames sure are awesome,” she replied back sarcastically as well.
“Okay Hyun, that’s settled then,” Yonghwa smiled, feeling proud of himself for having special nicknames that only the two of them can call each other. Seohyun just shook her head in mock disappointment though.
“Now that we are officially friends, I can tell you about my father now.” Then on a more serious tone, he began, “My father is dead. He died during a shooting at the border. I just never talked to anyone about it because…”
“Because?” Seohyun’s eyes sparked with curiosity.
“It’s just too painful for me to process,” Yonghwa said with tears welling up in his eyes. “Honestly, ever since World War II, I have been so scared to death about wars. I mean, who wouldn’t right? Dad was conscripted by the Japanese before the war. I was just a kid back then. Then two years ago, he was in stationed in Nagasaki the day before the bombing. If he had not been sent back to Korea, he could have died. Now that the war is over and Korea divided, he was stationed at the North Korean border and got killed in a crossfire. Now I just can’t shake the feeling that the war might not be over yet.”
“I’m sorry,” Seohyun said as she tried to comfort Yonghwa with a pat on his back. Then she held his hand and said, “You have been grieving for a great loss all this time, and yet you never told a single soul. How could you suffer alone like this?”
“I did not want to burden anyone with it, especially since war is a very sensitive issue,” Yonghwa coldly replied. “Besides, no one else will understand anyway.”
“Still…,” Seohyun looked at him with kind eyes as she held his hand in hers. “Since I promised to keep this secret, you should promise me to always come to me when you’re hurt. I’m here for you. I can comfort you.”
When Yonghwa finally managed to look straight into her eyes, all he saw was a caring girl with the purest sincerity. In that moment, a spark ignited in his heart. An angel was slowly reaching down on him to lift his burdens. As he promised to lean on her, all he can see was a beautiful young lady who he knew would have an important place in his heart forever.
Six Years Later: September 1953 (Post-War)
Seohyun stood before the entrance of what used to be the Jung’s house and just stared at the barren place for a moment. Everything has changed. The atmosphere and the scene was nothing like it used to be. Past the white fence used to be Yonghwa’s home; beyond was their field right beside the Kwons’ field. Nothing grew there anymore but weeds. Nobody has tended to that field; nobody has lived in that house since the war. Looking back, this place held plenty of great memories. Those rugged trails was where they once chased each other and threw leaves at each other during the fall. On cold winter days, two pairs of foot prints left imprinted proof of their walks together on the frosted ground. Spring grew flowers from the wild bushes which he would tuck behind her ear as he marveled at her innocent beauty. Summers had them falling asleep to the sound of cicadas resonating with the warm breeze. Each season was beautiful. Each season was a frame of happiness and innocence. For each season, their affection for each other blossomed. It was because of him that she learned love and learned to dream of a future with a hand to hold. Now, those long days of doing nothing but enjoying each other’s company was all just a season of the past—left and soon to be forgotten. Without him everything has come tumbling down like the drops of tears shed for each memory. It has only been him from the beginning. There was no one else. Now the future seemed empty if he were never to return.
“You do know that this is all yours now?”
Seohyun turned around to see her brother approaching her. He came closer and wiped the trail of a teardrop from her cheek with his thumb. She put his hand down and turned away from him to look at the Jungs’ house again. “I know. He transferred the land contract to me last year.”
“I hope you know that he didn’t just leave it to you for you to cry over every time you see it,” Jonghyun said. “He wouldn’t want to see you like this, and neither do I.”