September 1953 (Post-War)
Yoona sat with her cousin Kibum by the bar table of the restuarant. Both sighed heavily while staring at the neon red “Xiah” sign hanging over the wooden wall. Yoona and Key have been really close cousins ever since they were little. They liked to joke around, play numerous pranks on others, and laugh at plenty of stupid things. Kibum and Yoona both had a fun, quirky personality, which was why they got along so well. Plus, Kibum was an ultimate diva. He had an interesting (and even strange as others say) fashion sense and a wild, sanguine disposition that was just as interesting as his fashion sense. Yoona considered him as her favorite cousin. These days though, they were both too lifeless and depressed just like everyone else they meet. The war was over, yet everyone was still recuperating from the disasters.
Then, a short girl with a sad, matured face that looks exactly like Kibum’s, joined them and sat beside Yoona, sandwiching Yoona between the two. It was Taeyeon, Kibum’s older sister. She and Kibum looked quite a like—sharp almond eyes; chiseled jawline; impish expressions—but their personalities were slightly different from each other. Kibum was more outgoing and friendly, while Taeyeon usually preferred to keep to herself, which was why she was quite an enigma to some people. Also, the siblings definitely did not dress alike for Taeyeon never really cared about her looks. She wore an oversized sweater of her older brother and her long straight hair was not even combed. She looked like a child who just got out of bed.
“Well kids, we need to get this restaurant business back up if we plan on earning extra money,” Taeyeon announced.
During the later stages of the war, when conditions were slowly getting worse for South Korea, the Jeonju Kims decided to close the Xiah Dragon Noodles Restaurant. Not long after that, they received a letter announcing the death of Junsu, Taeyeon and Kibum’s older brother. Junsu was highly respected among them. Since his father was working far away in Busan, Junsu bravely took up the responsibility of caring for everyone in the family, including his cousins. He earned money with odd jobs and eventually started a small noodles shop in Jeonju. After World War II, they all moved to Busan where his father started up the Xiah Dragon Restaurant. Junsu was then put in charge as the manager. Now the place seemed empty without him running around and making sure the restaurant runs well. They have not opened the restaurant since the war. The only person who visited them often was the lonely Jonghyun, trying to relieve some stress. Other than that, the place was deserted and void of the fame it used to have back in the day. Will the business ever be the same again after Junsu had passed?
“What’s the use of it all? The Korean War hasn’t really officially ended yet. All the parties ever agreed upon was an armistice. Peace could end tomorrow and we’d shut this rat-hole of a restaurant right away. Then everyone will die in war before anyone ever makes any ‘extra money.’ It’s a miracle that Siwan Hyung hasn’t decided to run away again and betray everyone for his own personal gains again,” Kibum said in a very pessimistic tone. He does not usually talk like this.
Yoona slapped Kibum right in the face and angrily stared at him for a few seconds. “Don’t you dare bring that up again! He’s not that kind of person!” Then she hopped down from the bar seat and stormed off in frustration. Siwan is Yoona’s older brother. He has a complicated past and Yoona was affected by his mistakes the most, but she eventually forgave him.
“Kibum! How could you say that? You know Yoona is having a hard time!” Taeyeon scolded her brother as if she was his mother. She usually talked like an adult because she was the oldest girl among her family. Although she did not like being the boss, she felt pressured to be like a leader when they lost their mother to a disease, even though most of the time she just wanted to run away and shut out all the rowdy people in her family. The tougher situations become, the more she preferred to be alone and keep all her true feelings to herself just to show that she was strong even though she was a complete wreck inside.
“Oh, and I’m not having a hard time?” Kibum said in a mocking tone.
“We’re all having a hard time, okay!” Taeyeon shot back. “We all know our mother and Junsu Oppa is gone among others, thus our lives had been forcefully and abruptly changed. Everyone is trying their best to recuperate, so stop being so butt-hurt, ‘cause we have plenty of work to do, whether we’re hurting or not! I know I probably won’t manage this place as well as Junsu Oppa ever did, and our father is not as strong as he used to be, but if we all work together and try our best, I know we can do it!”
“As if you of all people would care,” Kibum muttered. “You never cared about the family business back then. You only pretended to.” Then he left his sister sitting all alone in the empty restaurant.
Six Years Ago: September 1947
“So, what should we do today?” Taeyeon asked Hyuk, who was leaning by the wall of an old building in downtown Busan.
The lad was scribbling some things on his notebook, ignoring Taeyeon’s question. Jun and Yuri’s little brother Hyuk was out with Taeyeon again. Although his own family rarely see him at home during the day, Taeyeon often ran into him by coincidence whenever she decides to secretly go out on her own. The boy was always silently minding his own business and rarely hung out with family or friends, making him seem very mysterious. Unlike her, his family seemed to be completely alright with him going off alone and not telling them what he did during the day. If she lived like that, her family will definitely go berserk. She had to come up with excuses on why she had not worked during her shift at the restaurant every time she wanted to have a little fun downtown. She was jealous of Hyuk. She wanted to live like him—she wanted to be free.
“What are you even writing down on that thing?” Taeyeon asked after not getting any response from him. “It’s the last day of Chuseok; you shouldn’t be studying. Just enjoy the holiday!”
 추석 – Mid-Autumn Festival; celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar
“Taeyeon Noona, isn’t there a party at the restaurant today?” he politely asked. “Shouldn’t you be there?”
“You’re always asking me ‘Noona, shouldn’t you be doing this?’ ‘Shouldn’t you be doing that?’ What about you? Why are you always out all alone and your family doesn’t even care? Shouldn’t you be helping them make songpyeons or something?”
 송편 – a type of 떡 (rice cake) usually eaten during 추석 (Chuseok) filled with beans, sesame seeds, nuts, etc.
Hyuk put his notebook down to look at her, but before he could answer her, she snatched his notebook and took a glance at its contents. Contrary to how she expected him to react, he just stood still and let her browse through its pages.
“Oh, so you write songs?” Taeyeon asked, completely changing the topic. The notebook was filled with scribbles of musical notes and lyrics. There was nothing completely scandalous like embarrassing diary entries or any of that sort.
“I can let you hear some of them some time if you’d like to listen,” he said with a slight smile. He seemed to be proud of his own rough work, even though most of it was incomplete.
Taeyeon chuckled and handed the notebook back to him. “You’re just like your sister. She writes songs too.”
Hyuk smiled and accepted the notebook. Then he explained, “I think I can write better when I’m out wandering and seeing other people live their lives. There’s nothing to see at home—no inspiration. That’s why I’m here. And my family does care; I just prefer to be out here.”
“Well, I prefer to be out here as well,” Taeyeon said with a smug smirk.
Hyuk blankly stared at her for a while. Then he sighed and asked, “Why are you doing this?”
“What are you trying to accomplish by being here?”
Taeyeon thought for a while and then playfully whispered to him, “I’m rebelling.”
Unexpectedly, Hyuk laughed at her and began to walk off to the street, still laughing.
Taeyeon frowned and went after him, “What is so funny?”
As he was laughing he said, “You know what? I’m going home to make songpyeons with my family. Have fun ‘rebelling.’”
“You-you’re going home?!”
“Good luck, Noona,” he said with a wicked grin.
“Wait, Dean! Kwon Hyuk!”
Hyuk stopped on his tracks and looked at the tiny noona grabbing onto his shirt. “Well, aren’t you going to rebel? Don’t worry when I go home, I won’t tell anyone that you’re meeting me in secret.”
“Yah!” Taeyeon grabbed Hyuk’s notebook and whacked his arm with it before giving it back to him. “‘Meeting in secret’? We met by out here by coincidence! Unless you were stalking me the whole time!”
“Why would I stalk you? I was minding my own business; you were the one who appeared out of nowhere. Anyway, if you’re out to ‘rebel’ please do go off on your way now.”
“Okay fine, I’ll go!” Taeyeon yelled hesitantly and marched off to the other direction. “I’m really going! Who knows what hell I’d raise and how many bottles of alcohol I can shoplift!”
Hyuk continued laughing as he watched her heading to a street with a dead end without even looking back at him. Every time he met her by coincidence, it always struck him as odd for Taeyeon was never the kind of girl who seemed to enjoy going out secretly to have fun on her own. Yuri would sometimes describe Taeyeon as “captivating as a singer, but boring in real life” because she often kept to herself and preferred not to go to gatherings or socialize sometimes. Just as Hyuk had suspected, Taeyeon really was not the type of person to be wandering the streets “rebelling” and going on spontaneous adventures. She probably has a reason for secretly coming out here alone, but whatever her reasons were really did not matter to him. Letting a lady go off alone was just not ethical. So then he ran back to her only to see her looking confused about the path she just took out of impulse. “Noona, you have no idea where you are going, are you?”
Taeyeon glanced at him and flushed red with embarrassment. “Aren’t you going home to make songpyeons? Just go quickly; get out of my sight.”
“Nah, I think I’ll just stay out here with you,” he said as he continued chuckling. If she wanted to secretly have fun, maybe he should help her with that.
Taeyeon brightened up again. “Alright, that’s the spirit!”
“If you clearly don’t know what you’re doing and where you’re even going, how are you supposed to rebel?”
Jonghyun opened his drawers and dug out his best shirt and his best pants. After putting them on, he sprayed cologne all over himself and wore his jacket. Then he took a comb and fixed up his bangs to keep it from falling over his eyes.
“What’s with all the fuss? You’re just going to the Xiah Dragon Noodles. No big deal,” Jun said as he wiped the sweat off of his face after a hard day of work. “Besides, I thought you didn’t care about what you wore or how you looked like?”
“It’s a party; I need to look nice,” Jonghyun sharply replied. But what he really meant was, Yoona is going to be there. I haven’t seen her in about three days and I need to at least look impressive if I’m going to meet her family.”
Jun just chuckled and patted Jonghyun on the back. “Don’t party too hard or you’ll strain yourself.”
Meanwhile, Seohyun and Yuri are both putting on their cardigans before heading outside. “So what exactly is this party going to be about?”
“Party? Well, you know Yoona right? Before she and her extended family moved here from Jeonju, she had a father, a mother, and an older brother. When her mother was taken away by the Japanese, her father secretly ran away one night and never returned. Then after that, her brother also disappeared.”
“That’s awful,” said Seohyun, “She’s never told me that.”
“Yeah, she never told me that either. I heard all of this from Hyoyeon. She says Yoona doesn’t like to talk about it, so don’t bring it up, okay? Anyway, they’re having a party because apparently, Yoona’s brother has returned. They met him during Chuseok when they went back to Jeonju a few days ago. Now he’s staying here with them as well.”
 추석 – Korean Thanksgiving Holiday; usually people would visit their clan hometowns and pay respects to their ancestors during this time
When they got to the party at Xiah Dragon Noodles, Yoona escorted them in like she usually did. Her friendliness was like rain; it fell equally on everyone, no matter who they were. She smiled a little brighter at Jonghyun though, because she and Jonghyun would talk to each other often during their work shifts at the restaurant. They certainly have gotten closer. But then Yoona also quickly left them and after a while Yuri also went off to her friends, leaving Seohyun and Jonghyun standing awkwardly, looking for a place to sit.
“Hello, Jonghyun Hyung; hello, Seohyun,” greeted a familiar friend. It was Minhyuk, the young Kang Goon.
Jonghyun smiled and gave his friend a big hug.
“Hi Minhyuk Chingu, how are you?” Seohyun sweetly greeted. She and Minhyuk were born on the exact same day and were very similar in many ways so they easily got quite close to each other.
After pulling away from Jonghyun’s hug, Minhyuk replied to Seohyun with a big smile, “I think I feel so much better after seeing you both.” And so for a while these three introverts sat into one table, not bothering to talk to anyone else in the party.
“Have you guys met Yoona Noona’s brother?” Minhyuk asked. “My sister coincidentally met him yesterday and immediately fell head over heels for him. She wouldn’t stop talking about him last night.”
“I’m guessing your noona already left you for him, that’s why you’re here with us,” Jonghyun said as he slurped his udon noodles. Whenever he was at the restaurant, he usually ate a lot.
“Oh yeah, I’m definitely doomed to boredom,” said Minhyuk as he played with his chopsticks on the table. “Noona will be too busy with her future husband and in-laws to care about me now.”
Seohyun sighed with her chin rested on her palm. “We can actually talk to people and make friends, you know.”
“Fine, I dare you to do it. If you’re successful, I’ll go along,” Jonghyun teased her while he was beastly devouring his food.
“Never mind,” Seohyun sighed. “I don’t even know who I should talk to first.”
“You were pretty good with Yonghwa Hyung though,” remarked Minhyuk.
“Yeah, but he was lonely at that time so I felt like I had to because no one else was approaching him. He’s actually really cool. But I guess he didn’t come to the party today,” Seohyun said dejectedly.
From a distance, Jonghyun secretly watched Yoona conversing with her friends and family. Then while watching her and entertaining the thought of approaching her and talking to her, he saw Lee Seunggi walk up to her and playfully joked with her. Jonghyun’s blood began to boil in jealousy.
“Well, this is boring,” Jonghyun said as he abruptly stood up from his seat after finishing his meal. “I’m going home.”
“Oh hey, me too, Hyung.” Minhyuk stood up and walked out with him. “Let’s just go to my house and I’ll show you this drum set…”
“Wait! What about Yuri Eonni? We can’t just leave her behind!” Seohyun called out. “We haven’t even met Yoona Eonni’s brother yet.”
“You can stay if you don’t want to come with us,” Jonghyun coldly shrugged. “Are you coming or not?”
“I’ll just stay here,” Seohyun bit her lip and sat back down on her chair. Then she watched her brother and friend leave. Now she was all alone.
After a while, Yoona angrily sat on one of the round chairs by the drinks bar after talking with Seunggi and the others. She was smiling earlier, but now her face was all scrunched up. She looked quite like a young child whom was grounded for a whole year. Whenever she was upset, she would usually come to her cousin Kibum about it because she felt comfortable talking to him even though he never did anything to make her feel any better. Usually he would just make her feel even worse or just laugh at her, but she felt like she had no other choice but to tell him anyway.
“What’s with the ugly frowny face?” Kibum said in a rather insulting tone.
“I’m upset,” Yoona childishly stated.
Kibum faced her and leaned closer to her on the bar table. “What is it this time? Your brother just came back. Aren’t you supposed happy?”
“Tch…,” Yoona scoffed. “That traitor Im Siwan basically ran away and now they’re throwing a party for his return? I can’t believe it.”
“So is that really the story? Did he really decide to leave you?”
Although it was well known in their extended family that Siwan disappeared about a week after their father left them, Yoona never told anyone the real details. Their family was perturbed ever since their mother was taken away, but whatever happened in their house remained a secret. Not wanting to talk about it anymore, Yoona looked around and noticed Seohyun sitting all alone. Yoona felt bad for her, so she nudged Kibum and said, “Oh hey, look, it’s Seohyun, Yuri Eonni’s cousin. Let’s go talk to her.”
“Oh I’ve seen her around a few times before. She’s Jonghyun Hyung’s sister, right?” Kibum said, recognizing Seohyun. “I’ve never really talked to her before.”
“That’s because you’re always out with your other friends and you never ride home with us after school.” Yoona thumped his head with her finger. “Let’s just go talk to her. She’s really lovely and sweet.”
Yoona and Kibum suddenly sat by Seohyun’s table, startling the bored Seohyun. Then Yoona said, “Hello Seohyun, what’s up?”
“Hello Yoona Eonni, I’m doing well.” Then she nodded at Kibum, who she had never really talked to before.
“I’m Kim Kibum, Yoona Noona’s cousin, but you can call me Kibum. That’s my nickname,” Kibum said with his silly, yet charming smile. “Also if you know Junsu Hyung and Taeyeon Noona, they’re my older siblings.”
“Whoa, that’s a progress in respect,” Yoona scoffed at Kibum. “You never call me Noona.”
“I’m trying to look good, okay?” Kibum pouted. Seohyun just chuckled that the two’s closeness. Then Kibum continued, “On evenings I help prepare food in the kitchen. I also sing sometimes with my friends…”
Seohyun just listened as Kibum continued talking about himself. He was very friendly too, just like Yoona, and they both laugh like crazy. Seohyun could definitely see the family resemblance.
“Well, Almighty Kibum, are you finally done with your gloating?” Yoona interjected to stop Kibum from talking on and on about himself. Then she looked at Seohyun and said, “Sorry about my cousin. He’s just attention starved.”
“By the way, have you met everyone? We’ll introduce you to people!”
Yoona and Kibum dragged Seohyun to introduce her to their huge Kim family. When it came to introducing Siwan, Yoona faked a smile the whole time. Just like Yoona, Siwan was quite good-looking. They both had pretty almond shaped eyes and a slim jawline. However, their personalities were absolutely different. Yoona can be quite loud sometimes and was more friendly and outgoing; Siwan seemed more toned-down and self-controlled. He also seemed to be quite classy, and he looked too young for his age because he was a bit short for a guy. Despite the ordinary, dark-green sweater and simple blue jeans, his poise and stature gave him a classy aura that was unmatched among their family. Out of all the crazy kids in this family, he was easily seen as the odd one out.
“It’s very nice to meet you,” Seohyun said awkwardly. She was highly curious about Yoona’s past but because of Yuri’s warning, she did not bother to ask anything.
“Alright, you’ve met my brother. Let’s go,” Yoona said as she dragged Seohyun away with her.
“He seems nice,” Seohyun remarked.
“Who, my brother?” Yoona shot Seohyun a glare and then craned her neck to look back at her brother. Then she sarcastically scoffed, “Yeah, he seems nice.”
Later that night when the party was over and everyone went home, Taeyeon also arrived home, only to be greeted by worried family members. Junsu was upset that she was gone again, but he could not scold her. He was just too much of a pacifist to raise his voice to her. Taeyeon never used to stay out late like this. Usually she would just stay at home and entertain herself by drawing pictures and experimenting in the kitchen for long periods without any human contact.
“Just where have you been? What had you been doing?” Junsu asked as if he was begging her for an answer.
“I just wanted to spend the day outside and see Busan’s scenic views. Back then you wanted me to see sunlight a little more and now you’re upset that I decided to spend time outside?” Taeyeon, once again, was avoiding the question.
“I didn’t mean you can stay out so late without telling anyone,” Junsu whined. “Even father was worried. But well, what’s done is done. Just please be reasonable, Taeyeon. Nobody is stopping you from going out; we all just need to know you’re safe. Now go to bed, you must be tired. Goodnight.”
Truth be told, she went with Hyuk to watch movies at the theater downtown, play by the beachside, and shoplift cheap little trinkets. Taeyeon got herself a necklace with a sapphire-like gem, while Hyuk almost got a fake emerald ring. All day, she insisted they wander, play around, and try new things. She let the time pass without a care. Overall, it was a very thrilling day for the free-spirited couple. She loved feeling her heartbeat pounding on her chest; she loved being so carefree without thinking about her responsibilities. It was as if she was in a whole new world of her own where her problems did not exist. At that moment, she could be whoever she wanted.
When Taeyeon entered the room she shared with Yoona and Hyoyeon, the two girls already laid out their sleeping mats and Taeyeon’s mat for her. Yoona was lying down while Hyoyeon was doing her routine stretches.
“I haven’t seen you all day.” Hyoyeon stopped stretching and raised an eyebrow at Taeyeon. “Be honest with me; you’re meeting a guy, aren’t you?” Hyoyeon has always been so straightforward, intimidating almost everyone.
Meeting a guy? “No way!” Taeyeon exclaimed. Her reaction and blushing face upon hearing Hyoyeon’s question screamed “I am guilty and totally lying” more than anything else.
“Oh yeah you are.” Hyoyeon sat down without taking her eyes off of Taeyeon. “So who is the lucky guy? You have to introduce him some time.”
“Can you cut it out? This is no guy, so shut up.” Taeyeon lay down on her bed beside Yoona and turned away from Hyoyeon. Hyoyeon was usually a funny cousin but she can be so blunt and annoying at times that it stressed Taeyeon out just being in the same room with her. How frustrating it must have been for Taeyeon to live with her since they were children!
Yoona who was quiet the whole time, suddenly said, “I don’t think there is any point in asking where Taeyeon Eonni went, because we all know she will always comeback. She will never run away because she’s not that kind of person and she cares about us.”
Taeyeon and Hyoyeon became quiet upon hearing her speak. They both know she was still upset over her brother. Yet something Yoona said struck a chord in Taeyeon’s heart: “She will never run away…she cares about us.” Is that how Yoona really thought of me? Yoona has always been a troubled child so Taeyeon often looked after her. For Taeyeon to hear that Yoona held her in high regard was a lot of pressure. Letting Yoona down should never be an option. Yoona has had her family members turn their back on her. Taeyeon knew letting Yoona down will only cause more emotional harm. Yet—Taeyeon—what has she been doing? Going out for thrills… trying to forget responsibilities… wishing for freedom from this messed up family… What a big misconception it was that Yoona had of her. Yoona knew nothing of Taeyeon’s inner desire to leave the family in a heartbeat just to break free from the stresses and drama coexisting with it. Yet she was right about one thing. Taeyeon would never leave. She could not. She did not have the courage to take that unknown step. She did not have the brains to deal with all the cons might come with it either. But most importantly, her conscience will never forgive her if she were to run away. Nevertheless, just longing for that freedom made her feel like a traitor.
“Anyway, it’s late. We should sleep,” Taeyeon said as she hid under her blanket. Hyoyeon then switched off the light and lay on her mat on Yoona’s left side. In that dark room, all Taeyeon could hear now was Yoona’s breathing and the echo of her own distraught thoughts. I guess I am bound to this family after all.