Chapter 2 | back to Invisible
“Welcome to South Korea. The time is now 2:15 Korean time and the weather is slightly sunny with a fall breeze at 21 degrees Celsius. Thank you for flying Korean Air and we hope to serve you again in the near future.”
Haewon sighed, turning her attention away from the parting announcements and pressed her fingers to her temple, trying to quell a headache that had suddenly begun.
The flight was a long one and left her feeling anxious and uneasy. Usually she liked flying, liked the beginning bumps and shakiness of taking off. She even enjoyed the slight turbulence up thousands of feet in the air because it gave her heart the jolt it needed from time to time. But there was something about the thought of stepping back into Korea that made Haewon breathe a little harder. This was only the beginning but if she did her job quickly and completely, with any luck, she should be gone by the week’s end.
Of course she knew why her mind and body protested as she walked through customs, glancing at the displays and posters like a tourist. Every step she took brought her a little closer to the different person she used to be. The further she rolled her suitcase, the limper she felt, like she was walking straight into the black whole she only crawled out of 5 years ago.
Stepping through the glass doors and into the Incheon air, she exhaled, committing herself mentally to her execution plan. Her gut clenched a little, seeing the swarm of black heads surrounding her. She was about to flag down a taxi when the familiar sound of chimes started ringing from her purse.
“So how is it?” Chase’s eager voice greeted her on the line.
She took a second to answer, “Did you call to see if I got here safely or did you call to see if I’d chicken out?”
“The latter,” he answered without hesitation, “I had $10 that you’d at least step outside the airport before you decide to turn around.”
“That’s it? Your confidence in me was only worth $10?”
“10 was pushing it sister” he replied, “in all seriousness though, you alright?”
Haewon sighed, feeling as unsure as the note in his changed tone, “I think I should be.”
“Haewon, I wish I could come sooner but with you not being sure how long you’ll be there, I have to rearrange your schedule for at least two weeks before I can come.”
“Chase, I’m not a baby, I’ll be fine. Besides, I’m older than you. You should be calling me noona not worrying about how I’ll fare among my countrymen and women…” she laughed, trying to make a joke of it but she knew that Chase knew exactly what kind of inner turmoil boiled beneath those silly words.
She flagged down a taxi and got into the car while the taxi driver came around and helped her slide her luggage into the trunk.
“To Seoul, here’s the address—” she said, handing him a piece of paper. Returning to Chase she said, “Anyways, if things go my way, I’ll get this deal and be back in New York in no time. I’ve already set up a meeting with their head buyer.”
“But what if it doesn’t work?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if you’re delayed, what if the deal doesn’t go through? Are you going say sorry umma and come straight home or are you going to play Haewon Hero and push until you get the contract? That could take days, weeks, and months even.”
Haewon groaned and inhaled, her headache intensifying. She hadn’t thought about the possibility of not getting the contract or what would happen if she didn’t get it, “of course you know I won’t leave without winning it.”
Chase snorted as if he knew she was already going to say that, “that’s what I mean, if it doesn’t happen right away I know you’re going to guilt yourself into staying there until you figure something out, which means you have to pick up business over there.”
“You’re giving the Advil a hard time Chase...” she replied, rubbing her forehead as thousands of thoughts drilled her mind. She hadn’t thought that far ahead. She had just barely managed to move two weeks out of her life into small crooks and crannies of her future schedule so that she could make this trip.
“If it takes more time, I’ll fly over and we can pick up where we left off, you know your business is mostly mobile except for a few shipment details.”
Haewon looked into the phone knowingly. She had wondered when he would offer his companionship. God, was she that weak that she couldn’t even come back for two weeks without her assistant sailing the high seas to rescue her?
“Chase, I’ll be ok. I just generally don’t want to be here longer than I have to. You know I hate doing this. I felt invisible for 7 years of my life. And I agreed to it myself so yes, it’s my fault but I don’t want to go back to that again anymore than I have to.”
She heard chase sigh and knew what was coming, “look Haewon, you’re 26, you’re a successful business owner in a land of corporate domination in one of the toughest markets, and I don’t see why you don’t just come out with it already! She’s old enough now, she’ll get it.”
Her mind thrummed with frustration, Chase wasn’t helping.
“I know, I get it. I own the world, etc. etc., but I made a promise and I’ll keep it, I’ll just have to suck it up until I get that coveted contract. Look I’m pulling up, I’ll call you soon and thanks for getting me this phone on short notice, you even set up the chimes. Take care of my phone will ya? Bye!”
And she hung up before Chase could hammer more into her past.
She paid for the cab fare and rang the buzzer.
While she waited, she tried to look over the high concrete fence that shielded her childhood home from view. She could only see bits the top few floors even though her house was on a hill. She knew from years of standing in this very spot that she was staring at the east corridors and just beyond it to the left was a room she’d long forgotten.
Her reminiscing was interrupted by a loud buzz, “come in.”
Haewon didn’t recognize the voice but in a house this size, she wasn’t surprised there were new maids. She pushed the door open and began her walk up to the house, immediately feeling her sense of self and control begin to fade. Something raw and painful gnawed at her chest as she stoically glanced around, replaying memories in her head.
When she arrived at the door, she made a move to turn the knob when it swung open to reveal a tall and thin aging but beautiful woman.
“Haewon!” she exclaimed breaking her posture to pull Haewon into a tight embrace.
Haewon smiled, reveling in the woman’s embrace, genuinely glad to see her mother again.
“Umma, you’re crushing me…” she mumbled though with a hint of a smile. Of all the reasons not to come to Seoul, receiving a warm welcome from this woman nearly made up for them.
“Oh sorry dear,” her mother replied, her cheekbones prettily flushed with excitement, “come in, come in, just leave those there, someone will get them.”
Haewon nodded, hooking arms with her mother, letting her lead the way.
“You get more and more beautiful each year, you really should’ve been my daughter” her mother sighed, starring up at Haewon with a mix of happiness and something else.
Haewon smiled thinly, reminded again of why she left.
“So how was the flight?” Mrs. Lee asked abruptly.
“It was long,” Haewon replied, “but I’ll survive.” She smiled, her single left dimple making an appearance across her fine features.
“You always do,” Mrs. Lee smiled, a flash of sadness glazing over her eyes, “I know you didn’t want to come back dear, and I understand why but I have to ask you to do it again..I know it’s tiresome but Mijung is in her last year and she would be devastated at this point in her life. She’s just starting to become more confident..”
Tiresome, Haewon mused over the word. That was how her mother viewed it, the process that kept Haewon invisible and made her question herself for most of her life. It was merely tiresome. But she didn’t say anything because she knew it was better than being alone. So she grinned and nodded awkwardly. She knew the topic was going to come up but she didn’t know it would be so soon. “Don’t worry umma, I know how she feels and I won’t jeopardize her happiness with old news.”
Mrs. Lee smiled broader than earlier now that she had Haewon’s reassurance, “Haewon, you’re so sweet. I always said no one loves your sister as much as you. Now let’s get you settled in one of the rooms I’ve prepared---“
“no, it’s alright” Haewon interrupted, “I’ll stay in my room.”
“Are you sure dear? It hasn’t been aired in a while”
Haewon nodded, “of course, it’s where I’ll be most comfortable.”
She looked around, willing the walls not to speak too loudly to her. The room was full of memories Haewon had not visited for 5 years and was not ready to revisit.
She picked up a picture off her dresser and stared at the woman she only knew in a deteriorating memory.
“Umma, I’m back.I missed you.”
Like usual, no one replied.
Sighing, she put the picture back and lay down on her bed, closing her eyes to the slight pain engulfing her. It couldn’t reply anyways.