Chapter 31

“Hello, Shinhae.”

Jimin bent down slightly as she did her best to get on eye level with Shinhae. It seemed Shinhae was still suspicious. She had unfastened the door’s chain lock, so Jimin could only see her through the small crack. Still, it was enough for Jimin to see Shinhae.

‘She looks just like her picture. She is a cute girl.’

No, she looked better in real life than her picture. However, Jimin could see a darkness shadowing her face. It must be because her father wasn’t here. Shinhae’s mother had abandoned her, and the only person she could rely on was her father.

“Are you Jimin ajumma?”

Jimin’s eyebrows twitched. Unlike her usual self, she had done her best to put on a smile. However, a crack appeared on her face. Of course, she didn’t outwardly express her true emotions, and she decided not to push it too much.

“Yes, I’m Jimin unni.”

However, there was one thing she wouldn’t allow. She didn't want to be called an ajumma. 

Never.

“Unni made a promise with Shinhae’s father. I told him I'll make sure you are doing ok. May I come into your house?”

Shinhae stared at Jimin’s face for a moment. Jimin worried Sungyoon had not told Shinhae about the promise she had made with him. Jimin was close to being flustered when it happened.

“Wait a moment.”

Shinhae closed the door after she spoke those words. 

Click!

The last lock was the chain lock. Jimin heard it unfasten from the other side of the door, and in the end, the door was fully opened.

“Please come in.”

“Pardon me.”

Jimin was careful as she entered the house.

She took off her shoes and placed her feet on the wood floor. She looked at her surroundings.

There wasn’t much furnishing in the house other than the essentials. In some ways, it was a practical yet boring house. At the very least, her hired help was doing their work well as the house was clean, the dishes had been washed and put away in the cupboard, and not a single mote of dust could be found on the floor.

After her visual inspection, she lowered her gaze. Shinhae reached her waist in terms of height, and she kept fidgeting in place in response to her scrutiny. It seemed she felt awkward since an unfamiliar person had visited her home. Of course, Jimin felt awkward too.

“Mmm. Do you find anything lacking? Do you need anything”

That was all she could come up with. Shinhae shook her head from side to side.

“Do you mind if unni looks around the house?”

From what she could see right now, everything looked good. However, there might be problems somewhere else. As a stranger, it would be rude of her to search the house without consent, so Jimin asked for permission from Shinhae.

This time Shinhae moved her head up and down.

When she received consent, Jimin immediately inspected the house. The rooms were clean, and the refrigerator was clean. Food had been prepared in containers, so Shinhae could eat whenever she wanted. The sheets and blankets were washed not too long ago, so Jimin could smell the scent of the laundry detergent.

In the course of her inspection, she located a sketch book placed on a desk in the smallest room. There were several crayons next to it. It seemed Shinhae had been drawing pictures. Naturally, her eyes were drawn to the sketch book.

Shinhae had drawn two people. A man with short hair was smiling, and a small female child with bobbed hair stood next to him. 

‘Did she draw her family?’

It was obvious that it was a picture of Sungyoon and Shinhae. Normally, a child would draw the mother alongside the dad. However, the mother didn’t exist within the picture, but it wasn’t as if the picture was incomplete. Shinhae had been coloring in the background, and it was more than halfway done.

Her mother was no longer her family. Shinhae’s picture made this abundantly clear.

Jimin came back out to the living room and found the little girl sitting in the main room, watching TV. When she realized Jimin had come out of the room, Shinhae quickly got up from her seat.

“Mmm! Were you drawing pictures today?”

“…yes.”

Shinhae’s voice was cute. It matched her cute face. However, behind her cute appearance, there was pain and loneliness.

It was as if Jimin was looking at her past self.

“…do you mind if unni sleeps here today?”

Maybe that was the reason why she blurted out those unexpected words.

Shinhae looked a little bit surprised. Jimin was surprised too. Of course, a child would be surprised by such a statement made by a stranger. In fact, it was quite rude for a stranger to ask to sleep over at someone's house.

“This was one of the ways I promised I’ll take care of you.”

She quickly came up with an excuse. Shinhae looked conflicted, but in the end, she nodded. Jimin’s excuse had worked.

“Thank you.”

Even as she said those words, she inwardly wondered if she was doing the right thing. She didn’t have any spare clothes, and she didn’t have any make up. She didn’t even have pajamas that she could wear to sleep. She had no choice. She would have to visit her house early in the morning before going to work.

Shinhae entered the main room.

“Hnngh!”

Shinhae let out a cute noise as she quickly dragged something out of the room. It was a blanket. Shinhae’s cute little hands brought out the blanket, and she started unfolding it on the floor of the guest room.

“This is ajumma’s blanket.”

Shinhae spoke those words, and then she went in to get her sketch book and crayons from the desk.

“Oh my! Did you bring this blanket out for me?”

“Yes.”

Shinhae replied as she placed the sketchbook and crayons on top of the dining room table. The girl was so cute and well behaved. Jimin knew that Shinhae’s heart had been wounded, and it had made the child mature more quickly. Jimin felt sorry for her.

‘Anyways, I should wash myself before I do anything.’

Jimin received permission from Shinhae before she used the bathroom.

Nothing remarkable happened afterward. Jimin and Shinhae didn’t have a personality where they became attached to someone they met for the first time. 

The silence continued. Shinhae swung her legs on the dining chair as she colored her picture, while Jimin brought out a book she carried around in her purse. She sat in the dining chair as she read the book.

Flash!

A light flashed once again outside the window.

Rumble!

The lightning must have occurred nearby since the lightning and thunder almost simultaneously. Moreover, the thunder was clearly louder now.

‘Is it about to strike again?’

It continued to rain outside even after she arrived here. However, the frequency of the thunder and lightning strikes had decreased. It seemed the thunderstorm was about to pick up once again.

Flash!

Another lightning appeared. It lit up the night sky.

“Oooh…!”

Jimin heard an odd sound from next to her. It sounded like a suppressed cry. Jimin turned to look at the source of the sound.

Shinhae was slightly hunched as she continued to draw her picture. However, something was wrong. Until a moment ago, her crayon had been moving constantly. Her hand had come to a stop.

Flash!

Another lightning flashed, and thunder accompanied it. It sounded as if the sky would fall.

Flinch!

Jimin could clearly see Shinhae flinch, and her body started shaking violently.

“Sniff!”

Shinhae’s shoulders shook. Jimin could also hear small sniffles.

She was only 5 years old. She was at an age where she should be shaking in the arms of her mother from being afraid of the thunderstorm. However, Shinhae didn’t have a mother or a father that she could rely on right now. Shinhae did her best to curl in on herself as she waited for the frightening event to end.

Jimin stood up. She saw her past self when she saw Shinhae. Jimin’s father had always been at the labyrinth, and her bitch of a mother had divorced her father early on. Fortunately, there had been other female figures, who had been like a mother to her. Their presence had made her childhood bearable.

On the other hand, Shinhae had no one.

Jimin calmly placed her hand on Shinhae’s shoulder. Shinhae turned around in surprise. Jimin could see Shinhae’s crying face.

“Are you scared?”

Jimin knew she didn’t have a motherly bone in her body. However, she did her best and tried to put on a soft expression. If Chelsea saw this, she would have run away claiming that she wasn’t the real Jimin. Her current expression differed so much from her normal expression.

Shinhae hesitated before she nodded.

Flash!

Another lightning flashed, and Shinhae’s body jumped in place once again.

“It’ll all be ok.”

Jimin hugged Shinhae.

“It’ll all be ok. It’ll be fine since ajumma is here.”

Jimin used the word she hated the most. She called herself ajumma as she consoled Shinhae. It was such an unexpected gesture that Shinhae’s body turned stiff. Jimin could tell that Shinhae didn’t know what to do. However, it only lasted a second.

Flash!

Another lightning flashed, and Shinhae instinctively moved closer into Jimin’s arms.

Jimin thought about her childhood as she patted Shinhae’s back. Of course, she couldn’t dispel all the terror felt by the child. However, Jimin blunted the fear felt by Shinhae. Shinhae realized that there was someone next to her that she could rely on. This fact brought immense sense of security to Shinhae.

Shinhae’s trembling lessened. Of course, she continued to jump whenever she heard thunder. However, she was much more grounded than before.

Jimin continued to hold Shinhae for almost an hour. Jimin didn’t look annoyed that she had to do this. Instead, there was a benevolent smile on her lips.

At some point, Jimin heard even breathing. Jimin carefully moved Shinhae away from her bosom. Shinhae’s tear stained eyes were closed. Her chest rose and fell in a rhythmic fashion. It indicated that Shinhae was asleep. Jimin’s blouse was tear stained, but she didn’t care.

Jimin quietly carried Shinhae into the main room and lay her on top of the bed. She placed a blanket over her, and she stroked her hair once. Shinhae muttered in her sleep as she re-positioned herself. Jimin let out a small smile as she stood up. She quietly closed the door as she exited to the living room, which was attached to the kitchen.

‘What should I do now?’

It wasn’t that late. When she looked at her watch, she saw that it had just turned 10 PM. She could head back home. However, she hesitated. She looked at the blanket that had been spread on the floor by Shinhae. 

‘Also, the thunderstorm hasn’t stopped’

Shinhae might be woken up by the sound of thunder. She might cry again. This thought rooted Jimin to the floor.

‘I did tell her that I am sleeping over.’

She didn’t care if it was an excuse or a legitimate reason. She gave up on the thought of going back home. She tucked herself into the blanket provided by Shinhae. In the end, her breathing became even as she fell asleep.

* * *

She had a dream. It was the time when her father wasn’t as handsome, and her mother wasn’t scary. It was a time when everyone laughed brightly in their big house. When it was morning, her mother would quietly wake her up, and she would grumble that she wanted to sleep more. Then her father would let out a big laugh, and he would pick her up into his arms. Her father would brush his scratchy beard against her cheeks, and she would desperately try to avoid it. She would get up. After eating a hot breakfast, she would say goodbye when her father left for work.

It hadn’t lasted long, but it was the happiest period of Shinhae’s life. However, Shinhae knew this was a dream. It was a memory that she’ll never experience again. Shinhae was young, but she knew this to be true.

“Shinhae. Shinhae.”

Was she still in her dream? Someone was shaking her awake like before. The voice was warm and kind. Shinhae rubbed her eyes as she woke up, and she unconsciously spoke out.

“Mom?”

Shinhae’s vision came back into focus, and she caught sight of Jimin’s face. She had an awkward expression on her face. 

“Mmm. Hello, Shinhae.”

She let out an awkward smile as she pointed towards the kitchen.

“Would you like to eat some breakfast?”

Before Shinhae could think, she subconsciously nodded.

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