Chapter 2: Puzzles and Answers
Ever since middle school, Haneul and I liked to spend the rainy days at a library. She said that reading helped ease her mind and distract her from the weather she hated. I never really understood why she hated the rain so much. She would always lay her cheek on the table while mentioning to me at the library: “I really hate the rain. It’s so depressing.”


Then, I would gloss over the page of my book and tell her, “Aw. It’s not so bad. Rain is good for the plants.”

Her eyes would be still fixated on the droplets outside as she answered, “You always give a positive spin to everything huh?” 

Today is a rainy day too. I close my umbrella and place it in a stand before entering the library. 

“Good morning, Minjun,” the local librarian, Mrs. Kwon, greets me at her desk. “It has been a while since I’ve seen you? Almost a year now?”

My mouth parts by itself as I answer, “Sounds about right.”

“Are you looking for that novel again?” Mrs. Kwon asks me.

“Yes.”

“I’ll get it for you then,” she suggests.

“Oh no. It’s okay. I know where it is,” I reply. 

Mrs. Kwon is already in her fifties, and last year, I heard from her coworker that she had to take a year leave to treat her depression after her husband and daughter were died in a car accident. I don’t want to trouble her with anything. Regardless, she insists, “The library has sort of changed its layout, so the book you want is in another area now. It’ll be faster if I find it for you.”

“All right,” I mutter.

As we walk down the corridor, Mrs. Kwon inquires, “So how are you doing?”

“Fine,” I answer.

“No girlfriend yet?”
 
“No,” I laugh and admit, “I don’t think I’ll ever get married.”

Mrs. Kwon turns back to tease me, “Nonsense, Minjun! You just—“ There is the sound of a cell phone ringing. Mrs. Kwon scrambles to reach for it in her blazer pocket. She almost trips when she answers, “Hello. Yes. This is Mrs. Kwon speaking. Again? I’m so sorry about my daughter causing so much trouble. I will be there as soon as I can.” Mrs. Kwon sighs before smiling politely at me. 

“What happened?” I accidentally ask. Usually, I don’t bother probing into someone’s life, but since Mrs. Kwon looks so troubled, I thought it was better that I asked.

“My youngest daughter, Kyungmi, has been acting out ever since I could remember,” Mrs. Kwon explains with her eyes glancing at the ground. “She is always causing trouble,” she continues to sigh, “and I’m not sure why. I really wish she could understand that she can’t just waste her life away like this.” Mrs. Kwon gawks at me while uttering, “You know, I thought after my . . . h-h-husband and daughter’s situation, she’d understand to value her life more. Instead . . .”

“I can pick her up for you if you’d like,” I suddenly suggest.

“Oh no,” Mrs. Kwon mutters. “That’s too much to ask of you.”

“No, really, it’s okay. I can help you out. Today is my day off from work anyways.”

“No. It’s fine. I’ll just pick her up after work. The school should be able to keep her for a bit longer.”

I flash one of my best smiles and offer, “Why don’t you reserve the book for me? In return, I’ll pick it up when I pass by the library again with your daughter.”

As expected, Mrs. Kwon agrees to my deal. I think that is the least I can do after knowing her for so long. So, I head to Kyungmi’s school with her mother’s instructions. According to Mrs. Kwon, Kyungmi is in her first year of high school and is a delinquent. She skips school often, smokes, drinks and parties late night after night. She’s uncontrollable in Mrs. Kwon’s eyes, but I have a feeling there’s more to Kyungmi than that. Maybe, I’m bored out of my mind too, and that’s why I want to see if I’m right.

The first book I used to pick would always be one about riddles. I’d sometimes pick a riddle for Haneul to decipher, but she never had the patience to solve anything. She wanted answers straight away, so she would guess something completely irrelevant. I would laugh at her silly solutions, but I’d try my best to push her to think some more. Perhaps, this time, she would understand or attempt to understand. Perhaps, this time, she’d change just a bit . . . for me. I knew it was selfish thinking, but at that time, I wanted something to show that she really did love me and that I wasn’t a replacement for him. 

I remembered Haneul asking me one day when I was determining the answer to a riddle, “Minjun-ah, sometimes I wonder . . . do you like the feeling of being in love than actually falling in love? Or do you just like the idea of figuring love out?” I just recalled chuckling as a failed move to change topics for Haneul blurted, “The day you know the answer will be the day you get bored of me.”

“Nonsense,” I closed the book and told her. “I’d never get bored of you.”

In a rather bored gaze, she just stared at me and smiled as if she knew the key to this puzzle of hers.
It was a moment that I’d never forget, just like how I feel when the knob of the classroom door turns and I see Kyungmi for the first time. She has cuts and bruises all over her face and arms. Her long hair is dyed blonde and her legs are propped on top of the table. She shifts her head to see me. Then, she grins like she knows the story completely.

“And you are?” the teacher stands up to ask me.

I nod and introduce myself, “Kyungmi’s mother, unfortunately, has work, so she could not pick her daughter up. I’m just a friend of her mother’s, and I thought I’d do her a favour.”

“Oh,” the teacher mutters. “Kyungmi-ya, could you please wait outside?”

Kyungmi jumps up and scratches her belly. Then, she flings her hair over her shoulder while scoffing, “Sure. Sure. I’ll wait outside if you promise not to fail me for English.”

“Kyungmi-ya!” the young teacher shouts loudly and shakes her head. “Sorry about that . . . Mister . . .”

“Mister Lee.”

“Please sit.” She points to an empty chair behind a long table. “I wanted to discuss with you about Kyungmi’s behaviour. I think she’s acting out to seek attention. She’s a smart girl, you know? If she could just apply herself, then she could even make SNU in the end.” The teacher lets out a deep breath. “It’s really a shame when you see such a smart girl waste herself like that.”

“Yes,” I agree. “It is a shame.”

“I was wondering then . . . if you could pass this message along to her mother?” 

“Sure. I’ll do that.”

“Thank you.”

“No. Thank you for helping her.”

“That’s my job as a teacher. Aha.”

So, I leave the room like that, but Kyungmi is already folding her arms and glaring at me. “So? What did that old hag say?” she bellowed.

“You should respect your elders,” I politely instruct.

“Who fu.cking cares about them?” she cursed. “They can all die for all I can care!” I slap her without thinking, causing her to shriek, “Who the fu.ck do you think you are? Hitting me like that? Even my mother doesn’t dare lay a hand on me!”

“Well maybe she should!” I yell back. “If you want her attention so much, then stop acting like a baby and get your life together!”

“Shut up!” she stomps her foot to argue. “What do you know? What the fu.ck do you know?” 

She then sprints away, but I have a feeling that she is crying. I don’t really pity her because I have a brother that wanted his parents’ attention as well, except he never rebelled. Instead, he made himself better than he could ever be to prove to the world that he deserved to be cared for. That’s why I don’t even chase after her. I think I can tell what type of person she is already. She is the type that will go back home eventually. She wouldn’t survive a day on the streets. She is also the sort that is desperate for anyone to look at her, so if you ignore her, she will still come for you. 

I decide to walk out of the school and to the parking lot for my car. Just as I anticipated, I find Kyungmi sitting on the steps that lead to the front entrance of her school. I pass her without even glimpsing at her, and within minutes, she chases after me, roaring, “You’re not going to force me to go home? You’re not going to ask me what’s wrong?”

“No,” I answer her out of courtesy.

Suddenly, I feel a jolt on my elbow. Kyungmi is pulling me back, compelling me to stop for her. My feet shifts in her direction, and there she is tugging on my sleeve and sobbing. She has one hand to shield her tears. I can’t help but wonder if this is just an act like those times when Haneul would pretend to cry and then jump out to surprise me. I don’t ask, however. I just stand still and let Kyungmi do whatever she pleases. 

“Say something,” she urges in between her sniffles. “Please?”

I feel like I have heard of this phrase before. I think a bit harder, and now I can picture it completely. It was the end of my second year of high school. It was also that summer day that I discovered that Haneul had been seeing Yeonjun behind my back. She was begging me to say something. She was crying too. I didn’t believe in her though. I thought she was acting. In fact, I believed everything was an act. Our relationship was built on fakeness. I was just a rebound, a substitute for my brother, and thus, I said nothing. I just grinned, turned at my heel and left the room. I didn’t need her to repeat an answer I already knew. I didn’t need to check the solutions at the back of some book this time. I was too sure that I was right. We never talked properly to each other again afterwards.

I give this girl a smile and ask, “What would you like me to say? Mm?”

Kyungmi ogles at me with enlarged eyes. She stammers and releases her grip from my sleeve, “I-I-I . . .”

“Well, I promised your mother that I would send you to where she works, so we should get going now,” I tell her and head towards the parking lot once more.

Kyungmi follows me silently to my car. I open the car door for her out of politeness, and she just nods her head and seemingly blushes. I think to myself that she’s still an innocent girl. During the car ride, Kyungmi keeps looking at me every few minutes and then flustering when I catch her.

“Y-y-y-you’re always like this right? Being a gentleman and all so you can play with some girl’s heart?” 
Kyungmi suddenly chirps.

“Why do I need to be rude to people?” I reply. “Why make more enemies than friends?”
 
“Oh,” Kyungmi mumbles. “So you’re the half glass full type.”

“Meaning?”

“You see everything positively.”

“Mm . . . I’ve been told that before.”

“Well, let me tell you something that you haven’t heard of before,” Kyungmi notes.

“Yes?”

“Optimism is very stupid people,” she states boldly.
 
“Oh? Why is that?” I wonder aloud.

“Because if you keep dreaming, then you’ll keep falling.”

“Then, I’ll tell you this,” I utter while parking the car. “If you keep hiding, then you’ll keep sinking. I’ll also tell you that no one likes a complainer or a whiner or a troublemaker, so if you want others to like you, then stop behaving irresponsibly. You’re only hurting yourself this way.”

“But . . . no matter how hard I try,” she murmurs, “nothing works out. You know, my older sister was good at everything. My mom and dad always told me that I should be more like her, and it wasn’t like I didn’t try. I studied hard but only did worse. She did nothing and she could be everything!” Then, she shouts, “I’m glad she died!”

As I unbuckle my seat belt, I remark, “That’s not the right thing to say about your deceased sister. It’s not her fault that she’s naturally gifted.”

“But, but, but . . . everyone loved her! It’s unfair!”

“I hate to spoil your optimistic thinking, but life is unfair,” I explain.

“People like you would never understand! You perfect people!”

I calmly explain, “I may not understand your pain, but I know that I am not perfect. I am sure your older sister was not perfect either. You simply idealized her and believed that she went through no hardships.”

“But . . .”

“Think harder, and I’m sure you’ll understand what I’m saying. According to your teacher, you’re smart,” I open my car door while saying.

When the two of us are outside, Kyungmi confirms, “Th-th-that’s what my teacher said to you?” 

“Yes.”

“B-b-b-but . . . why?”

“Because she cares,” I respond. “She said it was her responsibility to care and that it’s a waste for you to continue being this way. And that if you keep working harder, you still have a chance to get into SNU.”

“N-n-n-no . . . my sister didn’t even get into—“

“You aren’t your sister,” I interrupt, “so stop comparing yourself to her. You are you.”

Kyungmi looks at me for a good while, and then a few tears drizzle down her cheeks. “Your smile is so fake, but . . . aha, your words . . . are . . . so true,” she whispers. 

“I think it’s time for you to apologize to a few people,” I say.

Kyungmi returns to the library and hugs her own mother. I keep hearing Kyungmi say sorry over and over again. I leave the two alone and borrow that novel I have been meaning to read. The cover still looks the same, and the pages are just as faded. I have a feeling that this time, I’ll know if Capitu has cheated on Bento. 

Before I go home, I shop at the grocery market. I like to cook nice dishes for myself while enjoying some glasses of wine, and afterwards, I like to read. When I turn into an aisle, I feel my jaw drop a little. “Minjun-ah? Is that you?” she asks easily.

I want to turn back and go the other way. She is the one I don’t want to see the most. She is the one I am afraid I can’t keep smiling towards. It’s just too hard in front of her. 

But . . . I know better. Like I told Kyungmi, I am myself. I’m not Yeonjun. I’m not just his twin or the other one. I’m Minjun. Now, what would Minjun do? The Minjun that everyone knows would put up with a smile and reply to all her questions civilly. What do I actually want to do then?

Back then, I wanted to howl at her and ask why she did that to me. Why did she have to hurt me? Did she even love me? Why?

Right now, I’m not mad at her anymore. I’m just afraid to know the solution to this enigma. I don’t want to have that feeling after peeping at the answer key, where I’d gasp and sigh that I knew all along that this was it but didn’t believe in myself. I also don’t want that feeling of being completely wrong. What if all these years . . . I was wrong?

I know, however, that one day or another, I’d need to check my guess, and the only way to confirm would be to speak to Haneul. I breathe in now before saying, “Yes, Haneul. It is me, Minjun. I think you’re still the only one that can tell Yeonjun and me apart.”

“Aha. Is that so?” she chuckles.

“But let’s cut the small talk,” I utter. “I think we both know what we have to do.”

Yes, what we both needed was a talk, and a talk is what we shall get.      
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