The next day I’m sitting in my room and stare at my phone. I can’t stop thinking about what Minhyun said yesterday. I’m still not quite sure what it all meant and I haven’t had an opportunity to ask him because he is visiting his parents. Aron is also at his parents’ house and they both probably won’t be home till tomorrow. And my parents went on a ‘date’ which means JR and I are home alone. The thought of JR pushes my concerns about Minhyun away and I put my phone on my desk. I get up and walk to the window. From it I can see the garden and right now JR is lying on the grass with his hands behind his neck. He is lying in the shadow of our cherry blossom. I smile and leave my room to join him. I walk over to him and sit down next to him. His eyes are closed and his breathing is steady. It looks like he is sleeping. I gaze at his face and feel my heart beat faster. I reach out my hand but JR grabs my wrist so my hand can’t move closer to his face.
“What are you doing?” he asks still with his eyes closed. “Don’t be so paranoid,” I say and remove his hand. Then I reach out again and remove a cherry blossom leaf from his forehead. JR opens his eyes and looks at the leaf.
“They are everywhere,” he says and closes his eyes again. I inspect the light pink leaf in my hand. “It’s pretty,” I say and JR snort. “You’re easy to impress,” he mumbles and I blow the leaf away. I’m about to lie down next to JR when I hear the doorbell. I don’t expect anyone and look at JR. He doesn’t look interested so I’m guessing that he didn’t ask anyone to come by either. I get up and walk to the front door. I open it and see a middle-aged couple on the doorstep.
“Is Jonghyun here?” the man asks and I nod with a confused expression on my face, “we are his parents.”
My eyes widen a bit and I look closer at them. The man isn’t very tall and is kind of slender, just like JR. His hair looks like it has started turning grey and his face has a few wrinkles. The woman on the other hand still looks quite young. Her face is still smooth and there is no doubt that JR has a lot of the same facial features as his mother. Her body looks a little weak and she is about my height. I recognize JR’s father because I have seen him before at school but it’s my first time seeing his mother.
As I look closer at them I see something about both of them that I never really see in JR. They are both smiling. They look friendly.
Suddenly I realize I’m just staring at them and I shake my head. I smile quickly and turn around.
“Jonghyun-ah! Someone’s here to see you!” I yell through the house. “Who is it?!” he yells back. “Your parents!”
He doesn’t answer but a few seconds later he comes running. He stops when he sees his parents and I ask them to come inside. His mother walks right over and hugs him. He awkwardly pats her back. When she pulls away she starts moving her hands and fingers very fast. JR observes her hand gestures and then starts doing some himself. I must look very confused because JR’s father leans closer to me and says: “JR’s mother is deaf.”
I look at him with a shocked expression. “Jonghyun learned sign language from an early age so he would be able to communicate with his mother. And because he has always preferred spending time with his mother he didn’t talk much while growing up. He also had a hard time making friends because when his classmates found out about his mother being deaf they made fun of him. In middle school his mother visited him in class and his classmates said mean things about her. That was the first time Jonghyun got into a fight and he broke the other guy’s nose. Since then he fights every time someone makes him feel weak or vulnerable.”
I turn my head and glance at JR who is still ‘talking’ to his mother. “As if that wasn’t hard enough he also had to deal with me having cancer when he was 12 years old.”
I look at him surprised and ask: “Are you okay now?”
“Yes I am,” he says and watches his son with a pitying look in his eyes, “I fought with cancer for three years and won. I’m healthy now but there is always this fear. The fear of getting sick again and not being able to win the fight. Me being so terribly sick for so long left a scar in Jonghyun. Every day he was scared of losing me. Every day he was scared I was going to die. And it only got worse as time passed. He was only 12 years old when I got sick and with a deaf mother he had to take care of a lot of things on his own. He had to grow up fast and that ruined something inside him. He got cold, withdrawn and at times even hostile. Most people see it as arrogance, but in reality it’s just him trying to handle the fear. He tries hiding the fact that he feels hopeless and vulnerable.”
I look at JR again and suddenly see him in a whole new light. The cold and arrogant guy that I used to know suddenly looks different. But it doesn’t make me feel closer to him. Quite the opposite actually. What he has been through I can’t imagine and I would never be able to understand. But at least his aggressive attitude somehow makes sense now. It doesn’t make his fighting okay in any way. But it’s not just meaningless fighting. There is a story behind it that I now know. And maybe, just maybe, I can begin to try and understand.
“By the way why are you telling me all this?” I ask JR’s father and to my surprise he puts his hand on my shoulder. “Because I think you’re just what he needs,” he says and I look at him confused. “I don’t understand. Jonghyun needs me? What is that supposed to mean?”
JR’s father smiles and gently squeezes my shoulder. “He needs someone who can break the barrier he built around his heart. Because of my illness he shut people out. He doesn’t want to let anyone in because he is scared.”
I frown and ask what he is scared of. “He is scared of losing them. During my cancer I could have died at any moment and that scared Jonghyun. Going around with that constant fear of losing me marked him. He doesn’t want to get attached to anyone because of the fear of losing them.”
“Dying is a part of life and it’s part of being human. If he doesn’t want to get attached to anyone because he is afraid of losing them he is going to be alone for the rest of his life. That doesn’t make sense.”
“Fear isn’t something logical. Fear is.. well fear. It doesn’t always make sense and you can’t reason with it.”
I look down and bite my lip. So that means JR is keeping his distance because he is afraid of attachment. Or rather he is afraid of losing the people he gets attached to. He has every reason to feel scared when you look at his childhood. But if he never faces the fear and realizes that it’s okay to be scared as long as it’s not controlling your life. Accept the fact that we all die at some point and there is nothing we can do about it. We just have to live every day to the fullest. Live every day is if it was our last.
“What exactly is it that you think I can do for him? And why me?” I ask and raise my head to look at JR’s father. “Jonghyun has never been good at accepting or giving love. But he has always been good at taking care of his deaf mother and helping her in every way he can. But his heart is closed and he needs someone who will accept him. When he feels lost and hopeless he needs someone to hold their ground in the middle of the storm. He needs someone who can make him feel safe. I think you could be that person.”
My eyes widen and I start shaking my head. “I think you’re misunderstanding something. Jonghyun and I aren’t that close. I’m not even sure if you can call us friends. Wouldn’t it be better to find someone that Jonghyun actually wants to be around? Because I really don’t think I’m the right person for the job.”
“Someone else won’t do,” he says and I ask why, “because you’re different.”
“I have visited your school a couple of times since Jonghyun moved into your house, just to see how he was doing. I have seen you two together. There is no doubt in my mind that you are the one.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“No matter what Jonghyun says or does to you he can’t scare you away. You haven’t backed off a single time and you stay by his side despite his efforts to make you leave him alone. And I can already see a change in him. He isn’t as cold as he used to be. He isn’t exactly friendly but he is more open towards you than he is towards other people. He doesn’t mind you being around him and maybe he even enjoys your company from time to time. And I’m sure that if you stay by his side he will continue to open up more and eventually he will be able to love someone with all his heart.”
I think about what he just said and wonder what JR and I look like in other people’s eyes. Do we look close? Does it look like JR wants me around because it really doesn’t feel like that’s the case. But his parent should know him better than anyone and maybe he sees something that I don’t. No matter what I want to find out. Find out if I can really change JR.
“So what exactly is it you’re asking me to do?” I ask and JR’s father smiles as if that was exactly what he wanted to hear. “Stay by his side no matter what happens. That’s all I’m asking.”
I turn my head and realize that JR is watching me. I don’t know if he has heard any of the conversation but it doesn’t really matter anyway. I have made my decision.
I look at JR’s father over my shoulder and whisper: “I will do my best.”
He smiles and then walks over to his family.
Since my parents aren’t home JR’s mother decides to cook for us. I offer to help and follow her to the kitchen. I explain where everything is by showing her. I open the cupboards and point since it’s the only way I can communicate with her. But I realize that we can do something much more effective. I find a notepad and a pen. I write down that we can communicate through this and show her. She nods and then we start cooking. Even though we can’t talk it’s not awkward at all. And I think I have a special ability to understand what she’s trying to say.
When the food is almost ready I start setting the table. JR and his father are already sitting at the table. They are talking about JR’s progress in boxing. I gaze at JR in secret and listen to his voice. For some reason I love it. I don’t know what it is about his husky voice that I like but I never get tired of listening to it. He could read out loud from the phone book and I would still listen without getting bored.
Suddenly I realize that JR’s mother is standing next to me and is watching me. I look away and feel my face turning red. Then JR’s mother touches my arm and hands me the notepad. I can see that she wrote a question and I read it.
Are you in love with my son?
My eyes widen and I look at her with a shocked expression. I shake my head violently till it hurts. But she just smiles and she obviously doesn’t believe me. She writes something more and then shows me.
The way you look at him speaks for itself.
I shake my head again but more hesitant this time. Could it really be… could I really have…
I look over at JR again and feel my heart skip a beat. No it can’t be…
JR’s mother touches my face to get my attention and I turn to her. She shows me the notepad again where she wrote a new message.
You don’t have to be shy about it. I know he seems cold but he has a gentle heart. Every emotion Jonghyun feels is very passionate. Whether it’s anger, sorrow or fear. His emotions fill him up completely and I’m sure that if he falls in love he will give himself to that girl. The love will fill him up till there is nothing else left. I am sure of it.
I look at her face and she smiles gently. First JR’s father and now his mother. Are his parents trying to hook me up with their son? I’m about to write that it will never work between JR and me but his mother puts her hand over mine. She shakes her head and I understand. She is convinced that I like JR and won’t believe me even if I deny. And now that she told me about the way I look at him I have started to wonder. Is it possible that I could be in love with JR?