Late fall, seventeen
Myung Soo cuts the carrot lengthwise and steps back to admire his work. "I could be a chef," he says admiringly. "Don't you think so, Eun Sang?"
Eun Sang rolls her eyes and hands him another carrot. "You chop too slow. We have a lot of gimbap to make. It's going to be a busy day for us."
Young Do adds another roll to his stack of uniform gimbap and snorts. "That's number fourteen, for me." Eun Sang leans over and picks up a roll with her gloved hand and makes an approving noise. "That's great. It's a perfect size, and you have the right amount of filling." She places it back carefully.
"It's not that hard to do," Young Do says casually. "I already had an idea…" he trails off and looks at his hands. "I watched my mother make gimbap," he says to the countertop. His jaw twitches slightly.
There's a tense silence, and Myung Soo fidgets as he tries to think of a different topic. Young Do rarely mentions his mother anymore. Eun Sang reaches over and pats Young Do's hand. "You did well, Young Do-ah," she says. His shoulders relax, and he looks at her. His lip curls into his familiar smirk. "So you finally admit I'm better than you at something?"
"You might be faster, but you're not better," she retorts playfully. "I still haven't tasted them."
"I get the first taste," Myung Soo interjects. "I chopped all those carrots for the filling."
He opens his mouth expectantly. Young Do raises an eyebrow. "Feed yourself. I'm not a mother bird."
"Oppa is so mean," Myung Soo sing songs and then splutters as Young Do crams a roll in his mouth.
"Shut up, idiot," Young Do says. Eun Sang bursts into laughter. "Where's my phone? This needs a picture."
"Don't you dare, Cha Eun Sang," Myung Soo says through a mouthful of rice. She sticks out her tongue and reaches for her phone. Young Do picks it up and holds it out of reach.
"Young Do!" She says, laughing. "Give it back."
"No," he says and smiles down at her. "Not until you admit my gimbap is better than yours."
Her eyes narrow and she pushes him slightly. He doesn't move and his free hand winds around her fingers. "Got you. Say it."
He stares down at her, his mouth curved in a half-smile.
Myung Soo drops his knife onto the counter. The clattering noise makes them spring apart, Young Do more reluctantly than Eun Sang.
"Sorry," Myung Soo mutters. "Why are we making so much gimbap, Eun Sang?"
She blinks and moves away from Young Do. "Chuseok, remember? We're going to be by the train station this week. Get the traveler rush."
"Oh. That makes sense. Do you do this every Chuseok?" Myung Soo spreads a thin layer of rice onto his bamboo mat.
"Yes. It's always been a really prosperous time for us. What do you do for Chuseok?"
"We go stay at my grandparent's pension for a few days; then we travel somewhere out of the country."
He lines up the bright orange carrots and yellow radishes in the center of the rice. "This year we're going to Spain."
Eun Sang rolls her own gimbap tightly and stacks it onto the growing pile. "Wow. Spain."
"I'm going to France this year," Young Do says. "My father's opening a hotel there. I get to do the dishes in French." He raises an eyebrow at her. "But I'll be home before the break ends."
She grins. "I'll be here. My sister's coming home from America."
Myung Soo pouts. "I'm going to be missing noona?" He hands over a roll. Eun Sang shakes her head. "I'll tell her you said hello."
"She hasn't forgotten me, right? I'm still her favorite?" Eun Sang laughs. "Yes, you're still her favorite."
The three of them finish their rolls in silence. Eun Sang packs them in a plastic container and puts it in the refrigerator. She peels off her plastic gloves and tosses them into the trash. "Thank you."
"I was free anyway," Young Do says. "Anything else you need?"
"I think we're good," She smiles. "Kitchen duty is over." Myung Soo comes behind her and loops his arm around her waist. "Then let's go to the movies, Eun Sangie."
"What's playing?" She looks over her shoulder and notices Young Do staring at them. "Are you coming?"
He nods. "I brought my motorbike, remember? I'll meet you there."
"You'll be safe, right. You have your helmet?"
He scoffs. "Yes. I'm not that reckless."
Eun Seok sounds distant. Not just because she was in California, and Eun Sang looks outside and marvels that her sister is in a completely different day, but distant like she was thinking about something else while Eun Sang talked to her. "Unni," she repeats. "When are you coming back? Do you need me to meet you?"
"It's Chuseok," she says plaintively. "Remember? You're coming back."
Eun Seok sighs. "About that – I already told Eomma. I can't make it back. I've got all these tests and studying to do."
"But you're good at that," Eun Sang says. "Studying is easy for you. Can't you just do it when you get back?"
"No, Eun Sang. And – I don't have enough money for the plane ticket. Eomma offered to make up the difference, but I know you need the money."
"I have my savings," she says quickly. "And I have three part-time jobs."
"That money is going for your university," Eun Seok says. "I'll be back, I promise. Just not for Chuseok."
"Oh." Eun Sang deflates.
A moment passes, and then Eun Seok says brightly, "So what's going on at home?"
Eun Sang settles back against her pillows; her phone cradled against her cheek. "Myung Soo says hello, by the way."
"How is that cute boy? Is he your boyfriend yet?"
"What? I think you two would look good together."
She shakes her head, momentarily forgetting her sister couldn't see it. "No," she denies. "Myung Soo's my friend. One of my best friends."
"A best friend who is your boyfriend isn't a terrible idea, Eun Sang." Eun Seok says gently. Eun Sang stretches out her legs and looks over at her bedside table. Picture frames crowd the small space, and she picks up the newest frame. It holds a photo strip of her, Myung Soo and Young Do. They're all pulling faces, and Myung Soo has managed to give Young Do bunny ears behind his head. She traces the shape of their faces and places it back on her table.
"That's not how we are," she says. "We laugh and joke, and it feels right the way it is. I don't think of him like that."
"Is there someone you do think of like that?"
"No," she says lightly. "I don't have time for a boyfriend anyway. It's not like they're lining up for me as they did you, Unni. I've got my jobs and looking after Eomma and – I just don't care about that."
Eun Seok chuckles. "Of course. You sound like the unni. So school's going well?"
Eun Sang sighs in relief. "Yes. I finished all the reading, and I'm revising my notes. Chan Young's going to check them for me."
"Good girl. How's the pojangmacha?"
"The same. We made a lot of gimbap for the traveling crowd. How's America? Does California really look like it does on TV?"
"It sort of does, and it sort of doesn't. There are a lot of Korean students here, actually. It's almost like being at home."
"Yes. But the sunsets are pretty. Like someone smeared bright watercolors in the air. And there are these tall skinny trees with spikey leaves – they're called palm trees. They look odd, but they fit there if you can believe it."
"Send me a picture," she says. "I want to see."
"One day you can come and visit," Eun Seok says warmly.
They end up talking for an hour and a half. Eun Sang hangs up feeling slightly better about her older sister. Eun Seok was doing fine. She could keep their family running in Korea.
The second day of Chuseok, her phone doesn't stop ringing. First, it was her aunt confirming the time for their family dinner, then Chan Young and his father wishing her a happy Chuseok. Then a text from Young Do saying the same thing.
She smiles and texts a reply. How's France?
Old. The buildings here are really different. The dishes are the same though.
Are you really washing dishes?
My father wants me to know everything from the kitchen up. In all his hotels.
I thought you'd get to see the sights. The Louvre. Eat French bread.
There's mostly meetings and people talking at me in French and English. I'd rather hang out in the kitchen. Anyway, I'm not staying long.
I've got important matters back home. I'll be flying back to Korea in a day.
Oh. Do you have plans?
Just something I have to check and then nothing. Why?
If you're not busy – my mother and I are having dinner. My sister is staying in America, so I'm free again.
Dinner at your house?
Chuseok dinner. My aunt and uncle and my cousins are going to be there too.
No thanks. I don't do well at family dinners.
She looks at the screen and sighs.
Okay. Coffee sometime then?
I'll pick you up on my motorbike.
Got a helmet?
You wound me, Cha Eun Sang. I'll even put your name on it.
Young Do smiles and puts his phone away. Now there was something to look forward to when he got home.
a/n: Chuseok is the autumn festival in South Korea where people usually go back to their hometowns and visit parents/grandparents. Thanksgiving is not a direct correlation but there is a big emphasis on spending time with family and eating food.
For those who were wondering why there was such a big gap - here is the missing time