Chapter 49: The Mom Comforts the Queen of Spontaneity and the Free Spirit Returns to His Past
Like the movies, Kannei had requested for a long drive to nowhere, and Jaejoong happened to be the one who fulfilled her wish. He drove out of the city, and to the suburbs. The car ride was absent of any conversation. Jaejoong focused on his driving, afraid to bother Kannei, while Kannei blankly gazed out the window, pretending to admire the picturesque scenery. Spectators would have believed that this was a couple suffering from an argument, but both of them knew that this was just a simple moment of silence. There was no need for chattering.

He sensed that something was wrong, but he didn’t dare bother her. She didn’t want to speak, and he didn’t want to force her to talk. When she felt like speaking, she would do so. She didn’t need someone to jab at her pangs. These feelings were painful enough.
Kannei spent the time to cleanse her mind, but she realized that looking at nature did not help. Nature only reminded her of him, of their first adventure. She closed her eyes now in hopes of sleeping away the pain. She couldn’t sleep at all; her mind could only ponder. Why did this have to happen to her? What was she supposed to do now? How could she face him in the future? When was this going to go away?
“Kannei,” Jaejoong finally uttered, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but . . . it might be better for you to talk about it.”
She bit her bottom lip before screaming, “No. I don’t feel like saying anything. It’s over anyways. Ha . . . there . . .” With tears in her eyes, she murmured, “There . . . wasn’t anything to begin with.”
Hearing those few words, he knew exactly what was bothering her, or actually, who. Rhett was the source of her problem, but then again, he had always been what irked her. That, itself, frustrated him. Why couldn’t she get over him? Rhett wasn’t that perfect. He didn’t understand people’s feelings at all. He was always thinking of himself . . .
 “What are you going to do now?” Jaejoong blurted.
“I’m . . .” she hesitantly stated. “I’m g-g-going to . . . I don’t know. It’s obvious that he likes her.”
“Who’s her?” he wondered.
Since when did Rhett learn to cheat on another person? Since when had Rhett become so irresponsible?
“She’s my friend,” she explained. “The two met each other through me, and I’m sure . . . that he has feelings for her. I can see it in his eyes, and . . . the things that he has been saying . . . all of them—“
“You love Rhett, don’t you?”
Kannei didn’t respond just yet. She looked at the road ahead, slightly dumbfounded. She couldn’t say yes nor could she say no. Part of her didn’t want to lose. She never wanted to be the one who fell in love first with the other. She was never the type to chase after guys; she was the sort that wanted the other to do the chasing. For once, she longed to be the prey. She would rather be killed by her predator than to be intrigued by a prey. Part of her wanted to share her misery with someone else. Tired of guarding her inner feelings, she nodded her head and then, she felt her heart twinge and her throat dry and stinging. This was a moment where she had to cry, but she restrained herself from doing so. She seldom cried in front of people. She cried by herself, in the shadows, where no one could hear or see her. That indicated that she was safe.  
Sensing her fragility, Jaejoong pulled over and unbuckled his and her seat belt. His arms gently adjusted her shoulders, forcing her to face him. He snatched a handkerchief from his blazer pocket and placed its corner right under her bottom eye lid.
“Just cry,” he murmured. “There’s already a handkerchief waiting to do its job.”
Although she listened to his command, she did so along with laughter. “I-I can’t cry if you have that handkerchief there! I’ll j-just start laughing!”
“Laughter is good,” he noted.  “I like seeing you laugh.”
“Thanks, Jaejoong.” She flashed a gentle grin. “You always know what to do. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
As she returned the handkerchief to him, their hands had touched one another. Jaejoong wanted to hold on longer, but his brain told him to put it away. Then, he questioned, “So, are you actually going to let go of Rhett?”
 “Yes,” she admitted. “You haven’t seen him with her. They look like cut-out versions of fairytale princes and princesses. They suit each other.”
“So, you’re giving up like that?”
Jaejoong couldn’t believe his ears. Somehow, this answer disappointed him. He would have expected her to fight for Rhett, but somehow, this answer pleased him as well. This meant . . . he had a chance.
She shook her head, answering, “I’m not giving him up. I’m returning him to where he belongs. He belongs with her.”
Jaejoong didn’t know what to say next. He couldn’t help remembering what Ami had said before. Was that why she asked him to dump her? She thought he belonged with someone else? He would be happier without her? Directing his attention back to Kannei, he wondered too where Rhett belonged. Was there even a guideline to determine where someone belonged?
An observer would use perception and intuition. What Kannei saw and felt led her to believe that Rhett was meant for Hana. What Jaejoong wanted to point out was that Kannei wasn’t exactly a bystander. She was part of this triangle. She could transform the shape of the triangle to a scalene, equilateral or an isosceles one. Jaejoong was sure that she held a place in Rhett’s heart. He just wasn’t sure if Hana was of greater, lesser or equal value. It was up to Rhett. No one could decide for him, but if Rhett was discarding Kannei, then . . . 
       He sighed at himself, knowing that he shouldn’t have had these thoughts. He shouldn’t, but he couldn’t stop his mind. He was always by her side, and somehow, he felt Ami was right. He did belong . . . with someone else.
He pulled to the side of the road. His mouth opened, and out popped a crazy question, “Kannei . . . why don’t we date each other?”
“Wh-wh-what?” Kannei blinked a few times with her mouth gaping.
Jaejoong looked at her head on, and uttered, “You might think that I’m a friend, but a friend doesn’t do so much. Guys aren’t like girls. If we treat a girl well, then we’re into her.”
You’re . . .”
“I’m interested in you,” Jaejoong declared. “I . . . can’t say I love you yet, but I can say that I want to be with you. I want you to be with me too. I don’t want you thinking about Rhett. I just . . . want you to be thinking about me.”
            “Jaejoong, this is too . . . sudden,” she muttered. “I don’t know—“
“I know you’re always going to be unsure of what to do,” Jaejoong interrupted. “That’s why I’m making the decision for you. Just give us a try. It’s not as if you hate me, right?”
“But—“
“Let’s give this a try for six months,” Jaejoong proposed. “If you don’t have any feelings for me in six months, then we’ll call it quits. Okay?”
“Isn’t this a bit—“
Jaejoong did what he had always wanted to do. He leaned to her side, pulled her head towards him, and crashed his lips onto hers. Her lips were dry, and chapped, not to his liking, but somehow, kissing her felt just right. He loved how her lips was roughly brushing against his, and how her tongue was lost, not knowing what to do. As he guided her tongue with his, he wrapped his arms around her body, making sure that she would stay. As expected, she pushed him away and then frowned. She was glaring at him as if he were a murderer.
“I’m not going to apologize,” Jaejoong noted.
“I thought you were my friend,” Kannei grumbled.
Jaejoong chuckled while folding his arms together. “I don’t want to be your friend forever.”
“Since when did you—“
“So . . . what’s your answer?” Jaejoong demanded. “Are we going to be more than friends or are we going to be strangers?”
“Strangers?”
Confessing with a scoff, Jaejoong clarified, “Like I said before, I’m not like you. I can’t just be friends with the one I like. I think you know that . . . if I can’t love, then I’d hate.”
“If . . . I said no, then . . . you’d never talk to me again?” Kannei’s eyes widened as she gripped onto her trembling fingers.
“Yes,” he confirmed.
There was a long wait before Kannei stuttered, “O-o-okay . . . I can try . . . until I go back to Canada.”
The car ride home had been even more silent than before. She only said goodbye to him once he dropped her off at her apartment. Watching her walk towards the building, he felt his heart grow sore. He never expected himself to say those words. He never expected himself to be so desperate for her to be his. Banging his head against the steering wheel, Jaejoong wondered why he couldn’t just be like before. Before, he would have allowed her to do what she wished. He would have been beside her, protecting and supporting her without a reason. Because he knew that there was someone better for her, he would be the guardian. Now, he was restless. He didn’t want to be forced to do anything he hated. He didn’t want to wait for happiness to be snatched from his side. This time, he would be the one who made the decision for someone else, and not the other way around. He wiped the corner of his eyes and laughed at himself. He was being stupid again, thinking too much. This time, he told himself, he would be happy.
There were numerous factors that Yoochun had to consider, in terms of finding a new place to live with Sanghyun. These included cost, location, access to services, and safety. Yoochun’s savings were limited; he had wasted most of his money on entertainment and dining out. It wasn’t as if he needed to save to raise a family. With a limited budget, it was difficult to find a location suitable for his lifestyle and for a kid’s well-being. Safety also fell under that restriction. Money seemed to determine the result in the end.   
Yoochun could have asked for the other boys to help him out financially, but he didn’t want them to feel burdened. Who else could help him then? His other friends were only with him for amusement. His co-workers were quite indifferent. It seemed that the only plausible source of help would be his family, specifically his mother. Awkward and detached as their relationship was, Yoochun felt that it was still worth asking his mother for support. It was time too, to revisit the past and all that he needed to do was to drop by their home. He was never good with phone calls, unlike Rhett, who chattered away on the phone. He could simply hope that his mother still followed her routine of baking a set of cookies in the afternoon. After his mother’s divorce with his father, the whole family had moved back to Tokyo to live. His mother needed her family’s love and care. Yoochun, his younger brother, Yoohwan, and his mother relocated to Yoochun’s grandmother’s home. It was then that she started to bake for him and his younger brother to preoccupy their minds.
Cookies were the epitome of rewards for good behaviour. These treasures were stored in a glass jar found in the centre of an island found in the kitchen. His mother said to each of them while handing out a treat, “A cookie for goodness.” When they grew older, she still baked a variety of goods, but she left them in the jar for them to devour. They were old enough and tall enough to seize what they wanted. They were too mature to be satisfied with simple prizes. There were better fixations in life than cookies and so Yoochun and his brother stopped behaving well, or so his mother believed. After Yoochun refused to listen to his mother’s advice about his future, he never ate another cookie. He had grown tired of that syrupy, buttery taste. He would choose wine over baked goods any time.
When Yoochun arrived at his grandmother’s home, he felt nostalgic. It was a Victorian Stick style house with its typical features: soft white rectangular shaped windows, ornamented walls with stickwork, steep, gabled roof, decorative brackets and braces, and wood siding. On the exterior, it appeared comforting. In the interior, it was forbidding. He hadn’t stopped here or even looked at this place for many years. No matter how thorny his journey was, he never had to return home for comfort. His home had become the boys’ residence for a while now. Walking up the short staircase to the front door, he felt hesitant. Unlocking the lock with his key, he felt ill-mannered. Setting his feet into the house, he felt intimidated. Marching down the long corridor, he felt anxious. He could smell the aroma of freshly baked cookies. It smelled of cinnamon, Yoohwan’s favourite flavour. This was a good sign; she was probably home. Going into the kitchen, he felt tranquil. She was there with her back facing him, washing the dishes.
“It’s me,” Yoochun announced. “Yoochun.” When she turned around, Yoochun was stunned. “Where’s Mother?” he wondered.
He had mistaken his grandmother for his mother, which was a grave error. His grandmother still looked the same, with her narrow, far set eyes, bulbous nose, and curly, puffy hair, which reminded Yoochun of a poodle. The only feature that differed was the added wrinkles on her skin.
“Care for a cookie?” His grandmother asked and lifted a cookie from the glass jar.
“Please answer my question,” he stressed. “Where is my mom?”
His grandmother sighed before smiling, “Why where else would she be? She’s off vacationing again with her friends.”
“I suppose some things never change,” he muttered almost too quietly.
His mother used to spontaneously take long trips to parts of Europe after the divorce and after he and Yoohwan had grown up. She never told them when she would be leaving. She would just leave a sticky note on the refrigerator saying that she would be back. Before, the two of them would secretly wait and became wary of her appearance each day. They would subtly ask each other questions about their mother’s return, but there was only so much one could do with wondering. As time passed, they were numb to her sudden disappearances.
“So what brings you here, Yoochun?” his grandmother leisurely questioned as she took a bite from the cookie in her hand.
Yoochun requested, “I actually need your help.  I actually need a place to stay.”
“I thought you were living with your friends?”
“I would still live with them, but now that I need to fully take care of a friend’s child, I can only come here for help,” he spluttered. “I know this seems too sudden and I know I shouldn’t ask for a family member’s help because I’ve left this place, but . . .”
His grandmother faintly grinned. “Yoochun, who said that you can’t go back home? I think I’ve told you before, this house is always welcome for you and your brother to visit or to stay. Your mother would have said the same. She probably would have forced you to eat a cookie because of your skinny figure.”
“So the kid and I can live here for the time being?” he confirmed again.
Once she had finished her cookie, she washed her hands and then spread her arms apart to hug Yoochun. “I think you need a hug, honey,” she said. 
Honey reminded him of his mother, who used to call him by such. It was her nickname for him since he loved to munch on honey-coated cookies. She would also hug him when she called him by that name. These were familiar words, and actions, so he never felt more at ease in his grandmother’s arms. It was if she had read his mind. He needed someone to tell him that it would be okay. He had been living on his own for too long. The boys would never hug one another unless they were the winners of some competition. It was nice to be back with his family. It was soothing to be the one who was comforted for once.
Then, a few tears rolled down his cheeks.
Welcome home, he felt he heard his mother’s voice say. Welcome home, honey.          
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