Bar 2 & Bar 3
By Toni Kore
“Areum-ah!” an aged voice hollered up the stairs, “Come for breakfast!”
“Coming, Halmeoni!” Areum answered as she finished brushing out her long hair. She placed the brush carefully on her vanity and took one last look in the mirror. Satisfied, she grabbed her schoolbag and violin case and went down to the dining room.
“Areum-ah,” her grandmother said as she placed a bowl of rice on the table, “sit down and have breakfast before school.”
“Yes, Halmeoni,” Areum smiled, taking a seat at the table.
Her grandmother sat across from her. “Please eat a lot,” she told her kindly as a big smile adorned her gently wrinkled face.
“Thank you, I’ll eat well!” Areum smiled brightly before digging in.
The weather was nice as she peddled her bike down the road. There was a light breeze that ruffled her hair. The school wasn’t too far from her home, which was convenient. She enjoyed biking the short distance to get there. It was somehow refreshing.
As she pulled up to the bike rack, she caught sight of some familiar faces headed to class. Usually she would try to catch up with them, but today she wanted to take her time and enjoy the nice weather a little more before staying in a stuffy room for hours.
When she finally entered the classroom, most of the students were already there and tuning their instruments. She, too, pulled out her violin to tune it.
“You’ll win for sure, Chan Jae!”
“No one plays like you do, Chan Jae!”
Areum looked up to see who had been talking. She noticed Lee Chan Jae surrounded by his usual fan girls, who were all as usual, praising his musical skills. They must have been talking about the upcoming music festival. It was true. Chan Jae was indeed very skilled, but Areum never thought he was that astounding. In her eyes, he couldn’t even compare to the other piano player in their class. He played with so much feeling and emotion; he put his soul into playing almost as if his heart was singing through the piano. That was what she had thought at the first recital earlier that semester; it had been touching to listen to. Chan Jae, however, while he played the music correctly, that’s all that could be said. He played as written, correctly and well, but no artistic liberties were ever taken when it came to him. He did the bare minimum to be the best. Turning back to her violin, Areum rolled her eyes. He was too arrogant to waste any time with.
The bell rang, signaling the start of class. All the students filed to their seats, allowing Gwan sun-saeng-nim to begin the roll call. He went down the list of names, everyone announcing their attendance as it came their turn until a short silence fell after one particular name was called.
“Kim Yeong Gi,” Gwan called. There was no answer. “Kim Yeong Gi Shi?” Still no response.
Areum glanced around. He truly wasn’t there. “What a shame,” she thought, “I was looking forward to hearing him play today.”
After clicking his tongue in disappointment, Gwan made a note on his sheet and quickly finished with the rest of the names.
“Well, jae-hak-saeng, today we will be playing through the Symphony piece we’ve been studying and since Kim Shi is not here today, Lee Chan Jae will stand in for him,” Gwan sun-saeng-nim announced. He turned to Chan Jae. “You can play that line, right?”
Chan Jae almost scoffed. “Of course, Sir! It’s no problem, Gwan sun-saeng-nim!”
Areum rolled her eyes once again before they prepared to start a quick warm up. After the short warm up exercise, they jumped right into the Symphony. It was a lovely piece and Areum immensely enjoyed playing it, however; it was infinitely less lovely with Chan Jae at the keys. She was just busy thinking how unfortunate it was that the other player was absent when the classroom door opened.
To her surprise, Yeong Gi stepped into the room. A wave of relief washed over her as he quietly took his seat. However, there was definitely something different about him today. He was usually quiet and kept to himself, but he didn’t usually pull a hoodie over his head to hide his face. Was he okay? Areum truly wondered if he was.
Noticing Yeong Gi’s late entrance, Gwan sun-saeng-nim stopped the students and turned to Yeong Gi. He approached him openly in front of the class. Quite humiliating, honestly.
“Kim Yeong Gi,” he spoke with harshness in his voice, “you’re late. What’s the meaning of this, coming in at this time and hiding under a hood?”
Yeong Gi didn’t respond. He just continued to look down, as if in shame. This greatly irritated Gwan sun-saeng-nim, who truly despised being ignored.
“Hak-saeng!” Gwan sun-saeng-nim shouted in irritation, which surprised Areum and made her jump, “Take off that hood! Explain to me why you’re doing this!”
There was still no response from Yeong Gi. His head remained hidden under his hood, as if shielding him from the blows of the teacher. If it continued this way, he was sure to wind up with detention.
“Yah! Is your voice broken or something?” Gwan continued, almost taunting him, “Guess that’s lucky you’re not a vocalist. Even so, you are supposed to be a pianist, and yet you’re not in class when you’re supposed to be. You think this is a game? You think you can just come when it’s convenient for you?”
Areum watched as Gwan sun-saeng-nim ripped into the poor kid. He couldn’t even stand up for himself against his teacher. She wondered why he didn’t just apologize and be done with it. Why wasn’t he saying anything?
“Such a waste of talent for some kid who is too lazy to work hard,” almost sneering he continued, “if you’re not going to come on time, I’m surprised you bother to show up at all and waste my time!”
Areum couldn’t believe how cruel her teacher was being. How could he say such things when Yeong Gi didn’t even have a chance to defend himself? She couldn’t stand to witness such a scene.
Gwan shook his head. “Tsk, such a pity. Why does such talent have to be wasted on a loser like you?”
“What?!” Areum couldn’t believe he actually said that. She was at her limit and was about to stand up to Yeong Gi’s defense when Yeong Gi himself stood up from his seat. For a small moment she thought he was going to defend himself, but instead he turned and dashed out of the classroom.
Her first thought as she watched him run was, “Is he okay?” He had always been by himself. Even though he made it seem like he didn’t mind, surely he must have been lonely. No one to share his dreams with, no one to share his fears with, and no one to confide in when things got hard. She had never spoken a single word to him before, but now she thought that was going to have to change.
Yeong Gi sat quietly as the bell rang and students flooded the hallways. He didn’t move, even though he had another class to get to. He stared at the floor, his hood blocking out the rest of the world from his view, that is, until he saw a pair of shoes standing right in front of him. He glanced up just enough to see who it was. A girl. Who was she? She seemed familiar to him, but he didn’t really pay attention to other students.
“Kim Yeong Gi?” she asked in a sweet voice.
Ignoring her, Yeong Gi leaned back and turned away from her. He wasn’t interested in talking to her, so why bother?
“My name is Jung Areum,” she persisted, “we are in first period together.”
When she said that, he immediately recognized her, but continued to act like he had no ears. Areum could tell he clearly wanted to be left alone, but she wasn’t going to give up so quickly. From where she stood, it seemed like he could use a friend.
“Are you alright?” Her voice was gentle and genuine.
Yeong Gi was a bit taken aback by the question, but still offered no response. He wondered why she seemed so invested in him. They had never spoken to each other before, so it felt weird talking now. If she pitied him, that was even worse.
Taking the hint, Areum ignored it and sat down next to him. She looked out the large glass window-like wall to see the pretty trees that stood guard outside the school.
“We really have a nice view here,” she said listlessly, trying to make small talk.
Yeong Gi bit his tongue and continued to look away from her. He didn’t hate her or anything, he just didn’t want to be bothered. Plus, they didn’t even know each other.
“What year were you born, Kim Yeong Gi Shi?” she asked cheerfully. “I am the year of the Ox!”
Yeong Gi held his ground in silence. She seemed nice, and he appreciated the effort she was giving, but he didn’t understand it. It made no sense why she suddenly started to bother him.
“If we are in the same year, we can drop the formalities!” She smiled eagerly.
Yeong Gi quietly cleared his throat. “I do not want to,” he mumbled.
“Oh, daebak!” Areum exclaimed with wide eyes.
“What?” Yeong Gi asked in a low tone.
“So, you can talk!” Areum noted teasingly.
Yeong Gi lightly scoffed. “Why are you talking to me?”
Innocently shrugging, she answered, “I just want to know what year you are.” It was an innocent question to spark a connection.
Yeong Gi furrowed his brow at her. Surely that wasn’t the only reason. He turned away from her again. He didn’t want pity; it made him feel worse.
“Oh, come on!” She pleaded, “What year are you?”
Sighing heavily and rolling his eyes, Yeong Gi finally gave in. “The rat.”
“Ah, I see,” Areum nodded and pouted her lips. “I assume you do not want to drop formalities.”
“No,” Yeong Gi grabbed his binders and bag and abruptly stood from the bench. “You should get to class.”
“You should too,” Areum said, standing up as well. “What class do you have next? I have music theory.”
“Does it matter?” He huffed. “See ya around.”
Areum pouted again as Yeong Gi turned away from her and headed down the hall. “Goodbye! See you tomorrow, Yeong Gi Shi!” she called after him.
He didn’t bother to turn around or wave or even acknowledge her. She wasn’t bummed, though. At least he spoke to her. That had to be a good sign. Although she didn’t get to look at his face since he wouldn’t take his hood off, he did talk to her.
“Progress,” she smiled to herself. Satisfied with what little conversation they had; Areum skipped down the hall to her next class.
After school was over, Yeong Gi had to rush to one of his part-time jobs. This one in particular happened to be waiting tables at a little corner cafe two streets down. Luckily, he didn’t need to take the bus and he could walk, which saved him money. Anything that saved him money was welcome.
When he entered the cafe, his boss immediately hollered at him. “Hey, part-timer! It’s about to get busy, so hurry up!” She pointed toward the register, indicating she wanted him behind the counter.
“Yes, sa-jang-nim,” he bowed politely and immediately headed for the counter. He hesitantly took off his hoodie, his purple eye now on full display.
His boss finished cleaning up a table and met him behind the counter. She snagged an apron from the back and handed it to him.
“Hey,” she said slowly as she noticed his eye, “are you okay, part-timer?”
Embarrassed, he turned his face away from her. “I am fine, sa-jang-nim,” he unconvincingly assured her.
She was unconvinced. “Yah, Yeong Gi-ah,” she reached up to turn his head to face her, “did your father strike you again?”
He didn’t need to respond. The shame in his eyes was enough. Unable to meet her gaze, he looked down at the floor.
“Aigo,” she sighed, “I told you, didn’t I? Don’t let that man touch you anymore. He’s no good! Any man who strikes his own kid is no good! Understand, part-timer?” She pointed sternly at him with the tablecloth she had in her hand.
A subtle warmth spreading over him. Yeong Gi nodded. “Yes, sa-jang-nim.” Even though she was tough sometimes, he knew his boss genuinely cared for his well-being, and that was comforting. Not even his own mother cared, at least, not enough to do anything about it. A pang resounded in his chest as he choked down tears. He didn’t want to cry and look weak in front of his boss. He didn’t need to add to his list of humiliations.
“Good, now put some ointment on that, then get to work,” his boss ordered.
Just as his boss had predicted, the cafe was soon filled with students hanging out after a long day of school. Yeong Gi recognized some from his school but secretly hoped they wouldn’t recognize him, since his shiner was on full display now.
He busied himself with clearing tables and taking orders, trying to get his mind off things. It seemed to be working until a familiar face walked in. “Aish!” He exclaimed internally, “What is she doing here?”
To his horror, the girl from earlier walked through the front door and took a seat at a booth with two friends. Frustrated and worried she’d say something, he bit his lip and took a deep breath.
Toni Kore was born in CA but raised in AZ. She studied vocal performance at MCC and is now in management at a highly popular theater company in the Phoenix valley. Her gift of writing fiction and her love of Korean culture shine through in this beautiful story. Toni also designs stunning pins for K-Pop fans. Check out her pins on etsy! https://www.etsy.com/shop/urkoodesigns?load_webview=1&bid=Y2z7Oa82Z3aOmEZxNZ5-rtCjMCnw