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Excerpt for Answered Prayer by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Answered Prayer

By Jennifer Park

Edited by Rachel Guerrero

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 Jennifer Park



Smashwords Edition, License Notes


Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.





Table of Contents



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 1

Present Day

Eun Seo stopped walking and rubbed her aching wrist. After enduring an interminably long bus ride, she had dragged her hefty suitcase seven blocks from the bus station. Finally, she found herself in front of Saint Anne’s Catholic Church. The church had a stone stairway leading to the entrance. As Eun Seo gazed at the steps she must climb in order to reach its large wooden doors, she wondered what would happen once she made it to the top. She was physically exhausted, but after this long journey, she still had no assurance that the priest would be able to see her. She wouldn’t think about what to do if he wasn’t available. This plan had to work because she did not have a plan B.

After an arduous climb up the stone steps, she opened the doors and found herself at the entrance to the sanctuary. An elderly nun appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and asked Eun Seo if there was anything she wanted.

"May I see a priest?" Eun Seo ventured. Does one ask for a father or a priest? Having never stepped foot into a Catholic church before, Eun Seo didn’t know if there was a difference.

The elderly nun told her that Father Park was meeting with someone else at the moment, but she would let him know that someone was waiting to see him.

Eun Seo waited on a pew for over an hour before the nun came back and escorted her to the priest’s office. Eun Seo had not minded waiting. She wondered how she ought to begin conversation with the Catholic "Father." She had never talked to one before. How would she tell him her story? She could barely bring herself to think clearly about her own circumstances. How was she going to share them openly with a complete stranger?

Eun Seo was comforted by the sight of Father Park. He was a kindly-looking, grandfatherly sort of man. His hair was solid grey and his face wore a lifetime of wrinkles.

"Hello, child," Father Park greeted Eun Seo. "Would you like to come to my office?"

Father Park led Eun Seo to a room off the sanctuary. He led her to a small seating area and offered her some tea. After she had taken a sip, he asked, "What would you like to talk with me about?"

Eun Seo explained her situation as best she could. She tried to keep her voice calm and steady. She explained that she was unmarried and expecting a child. That she had left home and she only had a high school education and no work experience. She had little money and nowhere to live.

Father Park showed no sign of surprise at her tale. He simply listened.

Eun Seo continued. Maybe the church would know of someone that needed a live-in helper? Perhaps there was some family with whom she could work, and, in exchange, have room and board for herself and later for her child. She would be a hard worker. She just needed a chance. Eun Seo knew she sounded desperate and she was.

Father Park leaned forward and took Eun Seo’s hand in his old and wrinkled one. She could see the tears well up in his eyes as he asked her further questions.

"Child, what about your parents? Do they know the situation you are in?"

"I can’t tell them. I can’t," Eun Seo insisted.

"And what of the father?" the old priest inquired.

"He doesn’t know."

"Shouldn’t you tell him?" the old man tried to be as gentle as he could.

Eun Seo sighed and rose. "If you can’t help me, I understand." She gathered her things and turned to leave.

Father Park stopped her. "Not so fast, child. I didn’t say I can’t help you. I am asking questions to make sure you have thought about what you are doing. Sometimes people need to give their families and the men that love them more credit than they do. Sometimes those people respond to the difficulties of life in the most unexpected and wonderful ways."

"I did think about it. I thought long and hard. This is the only solution."

"Are you sure, child?"

"Yes, Father, I’m sure."

Father Park sighed. He wondered how this young girl came to be in such a state where there was no one she trusted to stand with her.

"I will need to make some phone calls, I can think of a couple people who might be looking for some live-in help. Meanwhile, I think you can stay with Sister Mary. She lives in a small guest house on the back of the church property. There are several small rooms. You can stay there until we find a suitable place for you."

Father Park called Sister Mary and told her to prepare a room for Eun Seo. Eun Seo was led to a small building behind the gardens of the church. The building had several rooms with basic furnishings. A bed, a table, and a lamp were the sole furnishings of her small room. Sister Mary showed her where the common bathroom was and where the kitchen was. She told Eun Seo to ask her any questions she had and invited her to morning prayers at 6:00 a.m.

When Eun Seo was alone in her room, she sank down exhausted on the bed and wept.



Chapter 2

One Year Ago.

Eun Seo wanted to break the alarm that had awakened her from her beautiful dream. She glared at the offending device and silenced it roughly with a punch to the stop button. She stretched lazily as she tried to pull back the memory of her dream before it faded. She had been dreaming of a handsome somebody. This person did not exist in the real world, at least she had not met him in the real world. But she met him regularly in her dreams. She could never clearly see his face, yet she knew he was quite handsome.

In her dreams, he would arrive at some dangerous and terrifying moment, like before she fell from a cliff or was run over by a bus. In each and every situation, the handsome someone saved her from all manner of harm. Eun Seo wondered at her dream hero. Did all girls have dream heroes that rescued them from life’s dangers? Each time in her dreams when she came close to seeing his face clearly, she would waken and the image of her hero would fade as she left the world of dreams and entered the harsher reality of being wide awake.

Eun Seo was shaken out of her fantasy by her mother's voice. Eun Seo's mother, Jung Hee, was the wife of Pastor Lee Sang Chul. Jung Hee was well suited to her role as a pastor’s wife. She dutifully assisted her husband and cared for her three children. Her eldest, Hyun Woo, was nearly finished with his internship in neurosurgery. The family was proud of their eldest. At least, they were as proud as their religion allowed them to be. One could not be too proud as the family of a pastor, because that would not be right. Still, the family and even the church held the firstborn of their senior pastor in high regard.

Jung Hee’s second son, Min Jae, was in his last year of medical school. He was nearly as impressive as his older brother. He hoped that his internship would be in cardiology. There was a slight competitive tension between the brothers that made him think that choosing separate specialties would add to family harmony.

Jung Hee’s third child arrived four years after her second and it was an answer to her secret prayer that this child was born a girl. Having a daughter had long been the undisclosed desire of Jung Hee. She would have loved the child if it had been another son, but she was so pleased when the doctor announced she had given birth to a girl. She had visions of dressing her in pretty dresses and putting bows in her hair. Having another female in the house with her husband and two sons would be most welcome. Eun Seo was a little spoiled. She was the pet and mascot of the family. The parents who had the heart to be harsh and strict in the upbringing of their sons had no such heart towards their beautiful daughter. And the competitive brothers saw no reason to compete with their much younger female sibling.

Jung Hee was calling for Eun Seo to get ready for church. Soon it would be time for them to leave. Eun Seo dressed quickly and ate her breakfast. Eun Seo’s clothing was fashionable yet conservative, as a pastor’s daughter’s dress should be. When she arrived at the entrance to Faith Baptist Church, she saw her lifelong friend Sung Ho waiting for her.

Sung Ho was the son of Elder Lim at her father’s church. They had played together since they were babies in the church nursery. They were in Sunday school classes, youth groups, and prayer meetings together for as long as they could remember. They had both gotten in trouble when they erased the memory verse from the Sunday school board when they were little so that they would have room to play tic-tac-toe. They had spent hours waiting for their respective fathers to get out of meetings so that they could go finally go home. Sung Ho and Eun Seo had the special bond that only happens when the years of childhood are spent in each other’s company.

The church had watched with interest the closeness between the pastor’s daughter and elder’s son. More than one had speculated what would happen to them when they grew up. Would they grow up to be a couple (as their parents hoped)? Or would their friendship survive the eventual boyfriend or girlfriend that could disperse their twosome in the years to come? It was a favorite pastime of the congregation to speculate about the futures of the young people who attended their church.

Sung Ho and Eun Seo were scheduled to help in the 7 to 9 year old children's church class. They helped with the craft and the serving of snacks and they organized and led games. By the time church was nearly over, Eun Seo was getting a headache from the rowdy youngsters and her stomach ached with hunger.

"Your brother wants us to meet him at the park after church," Sung Ho whispered so as not to disturb the closing prayers.

"Why?" Eun Seo whispered back, while keeping her head bowed and eyes closed, as if reverently paying attention to the prayer that was ridiculously lengthy for a children's Sunday school class.

"He wants us to meet his new friend from medical school. He said he was trying to set you up." Sung Ho was not ashamed to tease her even during prayers.

Eun Seo opened her eyes to glare at him, only to shut them quickly as she realized that the Sunday school teacher had noticed her lack of reverence.

Sung Ho quietly laughed at his friend’s embarrassment. Served her right for talking during prayers.

Min Jae, Eun Seo's brother, texted to say that she should meet him by the bench near the stall that sold ice cream at 2:00 pm. Eun Seo and Sung Ho patiently greeted and said goodbye to various members of the congregation as they left the morning service. Both friends tried to be polite and courteous in their brief conversations as people left. In reality, they were counting the minutes until it seemed like they had stayed long enough that they would not be accused of running away as soon as the service was over.

Sung Ho and Eun Seo arrived at the designated bench before Min Jae arrived with his friend Han Gyul. Sung Ho was off at the ice cream stall when the two arrived. Min Jae was in a cheerful mood as he introduced his friend to his sister. It was obvious that he was trying to play cupid. This was very embarrassing to Eun Seo, but Han Gyul seemed to take it in stride.

Sung Ho saw Han Gyul while he was still busy at the ice cream stall. He took in the tall young man and his neat, fashionable appearance and smiled. This was not the type of guy Eun Seo would like. It was evident that he spent too much time and money on his appearance. He looked like a rich pretty boy. Eun Seo often described boys who were pretty enough to be girls as entirely unattractive to her. And she despised people who spent money on designer clothing when you could feed a small village in a developing nation for less. After this judgement made from a few seconds of keen observation, Sung Ho sighed in relief. He need not fear this introduction. His Eun Seo had the unique quality of telling boys to "bug off" in the most efficient manner. Maybe that was why Min Jae insisted on playing matchmaker for his sister. He liked to see how swiftly most men were judged unworthy by the proud Eun Seo.

The foursome sat on the bench while eating ice cream. After the brief introductions, Eun Seo paid no attention at all to Han Gyul. While she talked and laughed with her brother and Sung Ho, her replies to Han Gyul were one-syllable grunts, usually made while she was looking off into the distance, never looking directly at him if she could help it.

Han Gyul had agreed to this meeting against his better judgement. He had wanted Min Jae as a lab partner at school and Min Jae had agreed on the condition that Han Gyul take his sister on at least one date. Han Gyul had refused but thought better of it when the only other alternative was partnering with Ye Jun. Ye Jun was the worst student in class. Min Jae was the second-best student. Almost as good as Han Gyul himself. Han Gyul was famous for his dedication to success. He was the best at everything he attempted. And many girls at his college would had fought for the opportunity to eat ice cream with him. He was amused at the young girl at the end of the bench who couldn't have cared less about the highly intelligent, highly desirable Han Gyul.

As Han Gyul ate his ice cream and watched the interaction between girl, her brother, and her friend, he made mental notes to himself.

Note 1: Min Jae is crazy about his little sister. His devotion was clear in each word and mannerism. He teased her, defended her, scolded her, and praised her in turn. He used his napkin to wipe the ice cream from her face. He promised to help her with her homework. Han Gyul made a mental note that he should be careful not to offend his lab partner’s sister if he wanted to remain on good terms with said lab partner.

Note 2: Sung Ho was crazy about Eun Seo in more than a "childhood friend" type of way. But he was not antagonistic towards Han Gyul, which meant he was either very confident that Eun Seo returned his feelings, or that he did not consider Han Gyul to be competition. It was too soon to determine which was the case.

Han Gyul was intrigued. Who was this girl that dismissed him without a second glace? Han Gyul knew people considered him quite the catch. He was a handsome medical student in the top of his class. He was the only son of a reasonably wealthy family. As he continued to simultaneously watch Eun Seo and lick his ice cream, he decided that though she was pretty, she was just an average sort of pretty, not quite his style. Han Gyul did not usually waste his time on girls. He had goals and he was very focused on his goals. Where his classmates could be in the depths of despair over a breakup, Han Gyul prided himself on being above such silliness. Han Gyul was shaken from his reflections by a laugh. Eun Seo was laughing at something Min Jae had said. She was smiling up into the face of her brother, her eyes twinkling with unspoken mischief. A private joke shared by the siblings was making her laugh. In that moment Han Gyul decided he had to reassess his initial valuation. Eun Seo was prettier than he had at first thought.

Han Gyul, Sung Ho, Eun Seo, and Min Jae had a pleasant dinner and then parted. Min Jae and Han Gyul left to return to college and Sung Ho and Eun Seo headed in the opposite direction, towards their homes. Han Gyul was not at all pleased watching the two friends, obviously comfortable in each other’s company, heading happily away. The entire evening had passed without Eun Seo giving him the time of day. It was like he wasn’t even there. This was not something that usually happened to Han Gyul. No one ignored him. His parents doted on him. His teachers gave him extra attention. The girls at school begged to be noticed by him. But the long-haired black-eyed Eun Seo might even have been considered rude in her obvious dismissal of his presence.

Han Gyul told himself it did not matter. He was after a lab partner, not a girlfriend. Still, it stung more than he cared to admit. It also intrigued him. As the evening had worn on, he found himself more and more curious about Eun Seo. As he walked back to the dorm with Min Jae, he started asking questions about Eun Seo.

"Does she have a boyfriend?" Han Gyul got right to the point.

Min Jae looked at his friend. He wonder if Han Gyul actually cared if Eun Seo had a boyfriend or not. "No, she has never had a boyfriend." He answered honestly.

Han Gyul was surprisingly relieved by that answer. "What about Sung Ho?" he inquired further.

"He is not a boyfriend. They have been friends since they were babies." Min Jae laughed at the thought.

"He seems like a boyfriend." Han Gyul persisted.

"He’s just protective. He is like another brother for Eun Seo."

"Can you give me Eun Seo’s phone number?"

"You want her phone number?" Min Jae was shocked.

"You said I had to take her on one date. How am I supposed to take her on a date without her phone number?" Han Gyul reminded him.

"Oh, that’s okay. You can forget it. I just wanted to show off my little sister. She is pretty cool and I just wanted you to meet her. You don’t have to force yourself. Tonight was enough. I will be your lab partner." Min Jae was feeling embarrassed that he'd made his sister a condition for his help.

"No, a deal's a deal. Just give me her number. I’ll let you know when we have our first date."

"No really, I was just joking. I didn’t think you would even agree to meet her. Eun Seo would kill me if she found out I made her a pawn. She is really proud. Plus, I noticed things didn’t really click with you two. I don’t think she is interested."

"Will you give me her number, or do I have to ask someone else?" Han Gyul pointedly directed the question at the obviously embarrassed brother.

"Okay, but I am out of this now. I already told you that you don’t have to take her out. What you do now is up to you. I wash my hands of it."

Min Jae gave Han Gyul his sister’s phone number. He hoped she would not be too angry with him. It was just a joke, he had not expected Han Gyul to take him seriously. He should have known better, because Han Gyul took everything seriously.

When Han Gyul got back to his room, he sent a text to Eun Seo.

"It was nice meeting you. I hope we can have a chance to meet again. Goodnight."

After waiting for 30 minutes, he was sure he was not going to receive a reply. Maybe getting a date with Eun Seo would not be as easy as he thought it would.

Two days passed and Eun Seo had not replied to his message. She did not go to his school and he did not have a natural way to meet up with her. His only connection with her was through her brother Min Jae. Han Gyul sent a text to Min Jae.

"What time does your church service start on Sunday?"

Min Jae was in a quandary. He wondered at Han Gyul’s sudden interest in church. He was going to be in big trouble with his sister if Han Gyul turned into some kind of stalker. But if someone asks you what time church starts, you can’t exactly lie or say it was cancelled. Plus Han Gyul would just look it up on the internet if he didn’t reply.

"There is a great church that starts at 10:00 right by school. I know some people there. How about we meet up at my place beforehand and I’ll go with you?" was the text Min Jae finally decided to send.

Han Gyul smiled as he read the text. Min Jae wasn't making it easy for him to meet Eun Seo again.

Han Gyul decided to let the matter drop. He had been blown off by a girl. That kind of thing happened to guys all the time. It was not like he was looking for a girlfriend. It was just the challenge of it he told himself. He didn’t have the time or mental energy to waste on some girl. He mentally let go of the goal of making Eun Seo pay him some attention.

Chapter 3

As the semester passed, Han Gyul was increasingly grateful for his lab partner. They made a good team and they remained at the top of the class. But his lab partner always reminded him of the young beauty that had spurned his attention. He had tried several times to get Min Jae to give some little hints on what Eun Seo was up to or how she was doing, but the tight-lipped brother, who before had spoken of his sister almost daily, almost never mentioned her these days. It was three months after Han Gyul had met Eun Seo when he was with Min Jae when he received a call from his sister.

"What?! Which hospital? Okay, I’ll be there as soon as I can. I’ll call you when I arrive. Try not to worry. I’m sure he’ll be fine. Dad’s practically Superman, remember." Min Jae was obviously disturbed as he ended the call.

"What’s up?" Han Gyul asked.

Min Jae looked at his friend as if he had forgotten he was there.

"Can you give me a ride to the hospital? My dad collapsed. They think it is a heart attack."

Han Gyul drove quickly to the hospital. By the time he and Min Jae had arrived, Min Jae’s father was already in surgery. Min Jae’s older brother, his mom, and several friends were already there waiting to hear the outcome of the surgery. Sung Ho was there, his arm around Eun Seo, trying to comfort the distraught girl. Eun Seo had found her father passed out in his study. She did not know how long he had been like that. It had been Eun Seo who had called for an ambulance and alerted the family.

Eun Seo was crying but trying not to. As the minutes passed, more and more church members and friends arrived. Each one wanted to know what happened, and some were scolding Eun Seo for her choice of hospital. Yes, this was the closest, but there were other hospitals that had better surgeons. Some were encouraging Eun Seo to have faith. That God would not allow her father to die. Eun Seo had accompanied her father on too many hospital visits to church members to take comfort in their words. Fathers die. It was a fact of life that she had seen many times before. At this moment Eun Seo wished that she could just blindly believe that because God existed her father was safe, but she couldn’t. Eun Seo had served at more funeral dinners than she could count. Han Gyul was watching the small group of worried people as a spectator. He did not know the man that had brought so many people to tears. At this moment in time his heart went out, not so much to the unknown man having surgery, but to the tear-stained face before him. He sensed she wanted nothing more than to be left alone by all the well-meaning busybodies.

Han Gyul moved without thinking. He crossed the crowded room, reached out and grabbed Eun Seo’s hand. Gratefully, Eun Seo followed where he led. Han Gyul didn’t know where he was going. He just wanted to get Eun Seo away, give her an opportunity to face her fears and grief away from the onslaught of onlookers who seemed to be judging whether or not she was handling it as well as a pastor's daughter should. Han Gyul took her to the roof of the hospital. Once they were there he realized he still held her hand. He released her and she walked to the edge and looked out over the city. He stood some distance away from her, allowing her the space she needed to get her emotions under control. He watched as her feet seemed unable to hold her and she crumpled onto the rooftop and sat perfectly still. He was moved to tears himself as he watched her struggle, but he made no move to intrude on this private moment. He wanted to know what she had gone through that morning, he wanted to know what she was feeling, and he wanted to promise that all would be well. But he somehow knew that she did not need any of that now. Right now, she needed to come to terms with herself. When she was ready, she could face what was happening around her, and then it would be time to ask her, but for now she needed space and he was trying to make sure she got it.

Han Gyul stayed by the door leading to the roof waiting for Eun Seo. After he had waited for quite a while he slowly moved and sat next to Eun Seo. Eun Seo kept her face down, her eyes fixed on the floor of the roof and she slowly started to speak.

"My dad is the greatest man I have ever met. I know people always think that their dad is the best, and kids get into fights about whose dad is the strongest or richest. But I know my dad is an amazing person. He is the real deal. He loves people. Sincerely, honestly, passionately loves his congregation. People think pastors are in it for their egos or that they have a God complex. Dad just wants to lead people, not in an overbearing way, but in a 'lost sheep need a shepherd' kind of way. People think I am brave, joyful, and outgoing but that's because I have someone who loves me unconditionally. I mean the world to him and that is why I am not afraid of anything… except losing him."

Han Gyul said nothing. He just listened. He wondered how much of Eun Seo's opinion of her dad was real and how much was created out of the love and hero worship a devoted daughter gave to her father. It didn’t matter. In Eun Seo’s mind, the foundation of her world was being shaken and she wondered if she would survive.

"I know it sounds silly, but I don’t think I can breathe without him in this world. I don’t need him to hold my hand when things get tough or anything like that. I just need him to exist. "

Eun Seo sat silently. Her tears continued to roll down her cheeks.

"What would your dad say to you now?" Han Gyul asked.

Eun Seo gave a slight shake of her head and she said solemnly, "Eun Seo, God is with you. You don’t ever need to be afraid. The sun will come up tomorrow as it always has. In this life you will have trouble, which is why God gave you family and friends. Trust what God has given you and don’t fear what He sees fit to take away."

Han Gyul nodded his head at the wise advice given by a dad still in surgery through the voice of his grieving daughter. It was good that Eun Seo already knew her father’s thoughts.

"That sounds like good advice."

They sat together in silence. It seemed that the breeze of the rooftop had a calming effect on Eun Seo.

Their quiet reprieve was broken when Han Gyul’s phone rang. They both stood as Han Gyul answered the call. It was Min Jae. He wanted to talk to Eun Seo. Eun Seo was already reaching her hand out to take the phone from Han Gyul.

"Dad is out of surgery. He is fine. He is going to be ok." Min Jae was crying tears of relief as he gave his sister the good word. Eun Seo was so overcome with relief that she couldn't bring herself to formulate a sensible reply. She looked up at Han Gyul, who seemed to know what she wanted. He took the phone and told Min Jae that they would be down in a few minutes. Han Gyul reached out to take Eun Seo’s hand to lead her back downstairs. But when he took her hand, something in her expression made him want to connect with her in her relief. And he pulled her into his embrace and held Eun Seo as she began to sob. Her tears were the tears that one feels free to shed after the terror of potential tragedy has passed. He held her and murmured incoherent phases of "it’s all right… everything will be all right now... you did the right thing… your dad is going to be fine… don’t worry…it’s all right…"

Eun Seo surrendered herself to his embrace. She did not resist in the slightest. She rested her head on his muscular chest and listened to the rhythm of his soothing mantras. They worked a comforting magic on Eun Seo. Her crying slowed and then stopped altogether. She pulled away and smiled a shy smile at her comforter. She was remembered how coldly she had treated this "pretty boy" at their first meeting. And she was also aware that she had never answered his text. She was feeling a bit guilty and embarrassed at sharing such a tender moment with an almost-stranger, yet this stranger had known just what she needed at this delicate moment.

"You ready?" Han Gyul asked.

"Yes. Thank you," Eun Seo said while looking at the ground.

Han Gyul smiled to himself. He had gotten a ‘thank-you’ out of the stone-cold Eun Seo. Well, that was progress.

Sung Ho was the first to notice the two return to the waiting room. Eun Seo was surrounded by friends and family who were hugging and talking and praying in turn. Han Gyul felt immediately like the outsider that he was. He said his goodbyes to Min Jae and quietly left the hospital. Late that night, he received a text. It was from Eun Seo.

"Thank you for today."

Han Gyul replied with, "You're welcome. I hope your dad is doing well. Let me know if I can do anything. I hope you get some rest."

He waited for 30 min for a reply to his reply. He did not get one. Oh, well, he hadn't actually asked a question, so maybe she thought a reply wasn't necessary. He felt as if he had gone from a "nobody" to a "somebody" in just a matter of hours—the fact that Eun Seo had initiated the text seemed to mean something. If he was going to pursue this girl, he coached himself that he would need some patience.

The next day, Min Jae was missing from class and Han Gyul did both parts of their lab assignment. After class Han Gyul called Min Jae for an update on how things were going. Surprisingly, it was Eun Seo who answered his phone.

"Hi, Min Jae is with dad at the hospital, they are running some further tests. Do you want me to pass a message to Min Jae?" Eun Seo asked.

"No. No message. I was just wondering how your dad is doing." Han Gyul liked how her voice sounded on the phone.

"Dad is doing really well, considering he had a quadruple bypass yesterday. The nurses got him out of bed and he walked the length of the hallway. His mind is clear and he seems cheerful. He was remembering a whole bunch of stuff we need to do for him at the church, so it seems like he is going to be fine."

"I’m glad. You had quite a scare yesterday. How are you doing?" Han Gyul knew he was prying, but he really wanted to know how she was.

"I’m okay now. Yesterday I was really shaken up. I can’t imagine my life without dad. I think yesterday I really thought he might die, and I wondered if I could ever be okay again. I know someday I’ll have to face life without him. Others have lost their fathers, but really, I don’t think I could face that yet. I’m not ready. I think that might make me sound like a spoiled baby. But Dad means everything to me."

Both Han Gyul and Eun Seo herself were surprised at her honest and open answer. The more Han Gyul saw and heard from this girl, the more he wanted to hear and see. The more he heard how she felt about her dad, the more he hoped that someday, someone would feel the same way about him.

Eun Seo seemed embarrassed and tried to end the conversation. "I’ll tell Min Jae you called."

"Thanks. Take care." He hung up.

After Han Gyul had finished studying for the night. He went to the webpage for Faith Baptist Church and found out when their services started. His sudden desire to go to church had been rekindled.

Han Gyul did not see much of Min Jae for the next few days. Han Gyul sent a daily text to check on his father and he was glad to hear that Min Jae’s father was improving rapidly. The scare of the heart attack had made Han Gyul think about his own father. As far as he knew, his father was in good health. Han Gyul's father was tall and handsome, an older version of Han Gyul. He had been a young man with a very bright future ahead of him. But he had met and fallen in love with Han Gyul's mother. Their relationship had resulted in Han Gyul being conceived before they were married. They had married immediately, and Han Gyul’s father had left medical school to work in his father-in-law's company.

Han Gyul felt sorry for his dad. He did not see what his dad had ever seen in his mother. The mother he knew was picky, demanding, and selfish. She almost daily berated her husband. Han Gyul received careful attention and praise from his mother, but his father received constant criticism and ridicule. If only his father had met someone else, if only his mother had not gotten pregnant, his father could have been a respected doctor and had a family that looked up to him. As it was, he was a mere shadow of what he could have been, and Han Gyul blamed it on the mistake his father had made with a girl. Han Gyul had always been rather standoffish when it came to relationships with girls. For the most part he just couldn’t be bothered. They just were not all that interesting to him. But there was another reason he had not actively pursued any number of attractive girls that would have been happy to return his attention. Deep down he did not want to ruin his life over a girl. And when he thought of Eun Seo, he felt even more sympathy for his dad. Was this how it started for his dad? Did he start to worry too much about someone he had no reason to worry about? Was Han Gyul destined to end the same way his father had?

Han Gyul went to his desk and found the scrap of paper that he had written the times when services started at Faith Baptist Church and slowly tore it up. Maybe he wouldn't go to church after all.

Chapter 4

Eun Seo, Sung Ho, and Min Jae decided to go for a bike ride after church on Sunday. They all thought the fresh air would do them good after the week they had. Min Jae sent a text and invited Han Gyul. Han Gyul thought about making up some excuse so he would not need to be there, but he decided that it was okay to go along with the invitation, after all, it had come from Min Jae, not his sister.

The foursome raced along the paved path that followed the edge of the river. It was a beautiful day. After returning the rented bikes, they decided to eat barbeque at a nearby barbeque stall. Sung Ho was the main cook at their table, cautiously making sure the meat did not burn. Min Jae carefully prepared a wrap for his sister and placed the oversized morsel not-so-gently into her mouth. Han Gyul was trying not to be bothered by the obvious closeness that this brother and this friend had with Eun Seo. Somehow he perceived them both as a threat. But a threat to what? He had already concluded that he had no intention of trying to deepen his relationship with the pastor’s daughter. With a year left in medical school and an internship after that, he was years away from safely being able to settle down to the responsibilities of a wife and family. Pastor's daughters are not girls one plays with for the fun of it. He had decided to move on from his momentary intrigue with the girl who could take him or leave him.

Han Gyul was pensively eating his dinner when he notice Eun Seo was watching him. He returned her stare by asking a silent question with the raising of one eyebrow. Eun Seo smiled at his comical face and playfully stuffed a wrap of lettuce and meat into his mouth. After his mouth was empty enough to speak, Han Gyul heard himself say, "Would you like to go to the movies next Saturday?"

It was hard to gauge who at the table was most surprised when Eun Seo answered, "Sure."

When Han Gyul got home that night, he was mentally kicking himself. Why had he asked Eun Seo to the movies? What was even more surprising and puzzling was that she agreed to go. Han Gyul needed to be clear with himself and with Eun Seo. He was not ready for a committed girlfriend/boyfriend relationship. He told himself that Saturday would be their one and only date. He would go because there was no good way to get out of it now. But he wouldn’t ask her out again and that would be that. He had made a deal with Min Jae about taking his sister on one date, so this was just him keeping his promise to a friend. He also told himself that he wouldn’t be joining Min Jae on any outings that included his sister. Those were too dangerous. They led to him saying stupid things, like "Would you like to go to the movies?" Idiotic.

Saturday morning he was changing his clothes for the third time when he received a text from Eun Seo, "Sorry I won’t be able to go to the movies today. Mom needed some last minute extra help at a kid’s carnival being held at my church. I need to help run some of the games. Sorry to cancel so late. Maybe Min Jae would be free to go."

Han Gyul replied, "No problem, maybe some other time. Have fun with the kids."

Then he sat down dejected. He had been looking forward to and dreading Saturday all week. This was a disappointment but not really a surprise. He had thought that cold-hearted Eun Seo would drop him for almost any reason. He had never been in such a low standing in any of his relationships thus far. He took it as a matter of course that people did not cancel on him to do other things, or prioritize other things over him. Really, this girl had some nerve.

Han Gyul was bored as well as perturbed. He found himself looking up the address of the church. Since he had his plans cancelled, it occurred to him that maybe he could help at the kids' program.

Sung Ho was the first to notice Han Gyul standing awkwardly at the entrance to the church. Most of the kids were in their respective classes, but Sung Ho had taken an especially rowdy youngster out of his class to get a drink of water and give him a chance to calm down enough to pay attention and participate. Sung Ho walked over to Han Gyul to find out why he was there.

"I came to see if I can be of any help. Eun Seo said that her mom needed help with the kids' day program."

"Eun Seo asked you to help?" Sung Ho was not good at disguising the disbelief in his voice.

"Well, she didn’t exactly ask for help, she just told me that she was needed here to help, so I thought I would see if I could help out as well."

Sung Ho began to explain to Han Gyul that you needed to be a member of the church and needed to have gone through a training program before being allowed to work in children's programs, when Eun Seo entered the hall way. She had a toddler on her hip and a slightly older girl in tow. They were on their way to the restroom. Eun Seo was smiling at her young charges and her obvious enjoyment of being with the children made the pretty young girl seem even prettier. Han Gyul felt his chest tighten. He wanted to bring that kind of smile to Eun Seo’s face. He wanted to hold that hand. Ready or not, he realized he wanted to be with Eun Seo. The realization was immediate and overwhelming. Han Gyul wanted to escape to where he could think, so he turned to Sung Ho, "Okay, seems like I don’t qualify to help out. That makes sense, the parents would want to know who it was that was working with their kids. So, I’ll get going. See ya around."

Han Gyul walked quickly towards the door. He was hoping to make his exit before Eun Seo saw him. He did not want to explain to her why he was there. He was just opening the door when he heard her call his name.

"Han Gyul?"

Slowly, he turned around. He noticed she had a smudge on her blouse where some sticky child’s hand had used it like a napkin. He noticed some hair had fallen out of her ponytail. He noticed the question in her black eyes. He noticed everything.

"What are you doing here?"

"I came to see you." Han Gyul didn’t even try to sound cool. Eun Seo was taken aback at his reply. Han Gyul had come to the church to see her?

"You cancelled our movie, so I decided to come and see you here."

"Oh…" Eun Seo was a bit shocked. She did not think of Han Gyul as the stalker type. The toddler on her hip was trying to wiggle out of her arms.

"Ummm…I…ummm…I need to get these two back to class and I’m sort of busy here until seven tonight."

"Shall I come back and pick you up then?" Han Gyul persisted.

"I can’t. My family is having a family dinner to celebrate Dad’s coming home from the hospital. I’m sorry." Eun Seo added the apology when she saw how dejected he looked.

"That’s okay. I’m glad your father is coming home."

"Thanks for stopping by, sorry to have to cancel on you today. Bye." Eun Seo was moving away from Han Gyul as she spoke. She needed to return her charges to their classes.

Han Gyul left the church and went for a walk. He wanted to think. He had always been quite purposeful in his approach to life. He took his life goals seriously. He was not one to sacrifice his own good for the good of others. He took it as par for the course that others made adaptations and sacrifices for him. Han Gyul was going to be a doctor. A great doctor. Not the kind of great doctor that saved starving children in Africa, but the kind that was famous for their skill and made lots of money. He was going to be all that his father wasn’t. No one was going to look down on him.

So what was he doing thinking about Eun Seo? What were her goals? He wasn’t sure, but he imagined they didn't really line up with his. She probably wanted to grow up to work with kids, maybe adopt orphans, or help the elderly. She probably wanted to protest against injustice. For all he knew, she could be the type that wanted to wander the world and make sure villages in developing countries had clean drinking water. She didn’t seem to care if she was fashionably dressed, or about the latest and greatest phone. She didn’t even seem to care if Han Gyul talked to her or not. And that was what bothered Han Gyul the most. What was it about him that made it so easy for Eun Seo to disregard him?

Eun Seo was the first girl that made him question who he was. He had always considered himself above average in every category. Being a nice guy was not a category he had ever given serious consideration to. From the little he knew of Sung Ho, he knew that he was, legitimately, one of those nice guys. A guy that happily helped out at kids’ days and old folks' homes. A guy that cared about others. A guy that Eun Seo would look up to. While Han Gyul might point out he had more money, a higher class standing, and a better future as a medical doctor, somehow he knew that none of that even qualified him for consideration. For the first time ever, Han Gyul could sympathize with the feeling of being less than what other people expected you to be. It was not a good feeling.

Han Gyul was used to succeeding. Whatever he set his mind to, he achieved. Would a do-gooder girlfriend be so bad? Her family had many connections through her father’s church. She would round out his reputation. A humanitarian connection could be useful for a doctor. Han Gyul’s mind was trying to reason out what his heart already knew. He didn’t have much choice in this matter. The feisty but good-hearted girl had captured more than his attention. He was disturbed to admit to himself that she had captured his heart.

Chapter 5

Han Gyul was bright and early for the service at Faith Baptist Church on Sunday. Min Jae met him at the entrance of the church and guided him to a seat near the front of the congregation. Han Gyul asked where Eun Seo was. Min Jae let him know that Eun Seo was at the hospital. One of the kids from the congregation had fallen that morning and broken his arm.

Han Gyul mentally sighed. It was going to be more difficult than he had thought to get some of Eun Seo’s attention.

Han Gyul found himself enjoying the service more than he had expected to. He was not a churchgoer, so he found some of the things that went on in the service strange. He felt awkward while they sang and he was unsure of what to do when a gold-plated dish with red velvet in the bottom passed down the aisle. He noticed people putting money in the plate. He felt the most out of place when the person facilitating the service welcomed everyone who was there for the first time. He, along with the other first-timers, was asked to stand, and the congregation applauded their welcome. Other than these awkward moments, he found he enjoyed the service, especially the sermon. It was a talk about the importance of forgiveness. Eun Seo’s father was not back to preaching yet, so it was a different pastor that gave the talk. He spoke about the need to forgive yourself for your faults and the importance of forgiving others their faults and reminded the congregation that God forgives people for their wrong doings. Han Gyul was intellectually challenged by the concept. He was not a forgiving person. He did not forgive himself for having shortcomings and he certainly did not accept or tolerate the shortcomings of others. He had concluded that that was a reasonable way to approach life. He felt that his intolerance of shortcomings in himself helped him to be an overachiever and his high expectations of others made it impossible for him to be taken advantage of. No one had challenged him to think otherwise. No one had ever mentioned the freedom that came when one was able to forgive themselves and others.

Han Gyul was not ready to change his approach to life, but still, the idea intrigued him and he wondered if this was how Eun Seo approached life. Was this the reason she could be so unique? Did she not feel the need to push herself to be perfect? Did she not feel compelled to demand perfection of others in her life?

Min Jae asked Han Gyul out to lunch after the service, Sung Ho joined them and later Eun Seo came to join as well.

"How is Do Woo?" Sung Ho asked.

"He will be in a cast for at least six weeks," Eun Seo answered.

"How did it happen?"

"He was riding his bike and fell off. He put his arm out to break his fall. He just landed on it wrong."

“While I was at the hospital, Do Woo’s dad told me the story about how he and his wife got married. He was only 19 years old when he got his girlfriend pregnant. His dad had been an elder at church. Both families ended up leaving the church. He said it has been really hard. That once their friends and family found out about the pregnancy, they just ignored them. It was the most scary and painful time in their lives and they felt like total outcasts. I asked him what would he do, if somebody he knew was in the same situation, how would he help? He said, ‘I’d tell them not to worry. That it would all be okay. That though it seems like the end of the world, it doesn’t need to be.’

“He said they have made new friends, and things are better now, all these years later, but it was hard to really get over the rough beginning. I thought the whole thing was so sad, and I have no clue why he decided to share such a personal story with me, except I guess he knows that I love Do Woo no matter what.”

“Don’t you think that if you make bad choices, you should have to live with the negative consequences?” Han Gyul asked.

“No doubt you have to live with the consequences, but that doesn’t mean society should make the consequences more severe than necessary. I think people who are intolerant of mistakes are bound to learn tolerance the hard way. There is no one who doesn’t make mistakes and thinking that you can go through life perfectly is just prideful,” Sung Ho countered.

“I see no correlation between looking down on the poor judgement of others and the possibility of making bad choices yourself.” Han Gyul was not following Sung Ho’s logic.

“It’s the good ‘old pride cometh before a fall’ principle,” Min Jae tried to help his friend out. “If a person thinks he is above making mistakes, it is pretty certain that he is setting himself up to make a big one.”

“I don’t know,” Eun Seo ventured. “I think I’m with Han Gyul on this one. There are some things I just can’t ever see myself doing, no matter what. I think certain people really are just not as prone to bad judgement as others. And if I did do something incredibly stupid, I don’t think I could ever forgive myself.”

“Oh my dear sister, don’t let Dad hear you talk that way. You know he always says ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I.’ Any one of us are capable of anything. Just because you haven’t done something doesn’t mean you couldn’t. Live humbly little sister, you can make mistakes just like everybody else can.” Min Jae gently chided his ever proud little do-gooder.

“I think if I did something like that, I would find it hard to even live, let alone ever be happy again.” Eun Seo was thinking out loud.

“I think if people own up to their mistakes, there is no reason not to be happy. Isn’t that what forgiveness is for. Isn’t there supposed to be life after mistakes?” Sung Ho replied.

The conversation took a turn towards happier subjects with an interjection from Min Jae and Sung Ho and Eun Seo kept up a lively conversation mostly about kids who Han Gyul knew nothing about. Once again, he felt himself an outsider. How could he break into a relationship that started when these two were just babies? When Han Gyul had first met Sung Ho, he had dismissed the tall youth as someone not worth bothering about, but the more he observed Sung Ho's interactions with Eun Seo, the more he was bothered by their longstanding friendship.

Han Gyul needed to think of a way to get Eun Seo’s attention. He had never had to work to get a girl's attention. And he was quite sure the normal tactics wouldn’t work with Eun Seo. He needed to show he was a good guy. A sudden idea struck him.

He blurted out, "There is a blood drive at my school this week. Most of the medical students are helping out. We could also use people to pass out juice and help with the paperwork. Would you like to help?"

Eun Seo was surprised to hear Han Gyul was involved in a blood drive. Maybe she had misjudged him. "Sure. What days?"

"The drive is Thursday and Friday, it starts at 3 o’clock."

"Okay."

Min Jae was staring at his lab partner. He had asked Han Gyul to help at the blood drive, but he had refused. But now he was recruiting his sister to get involved. Min Jae had a mixed reaction. As a guy, he was impressed by Han Gyul's tactical expertise. But as a brother, he was not at all happy to see his sister as part of the game.

The blood drive was the first in a series of small but persistent changes in Han Gyul's life. In addition to his life as a medical student, he found himself involved in a fundraiser to install clean wells in Africa. Then it was a charity walk to support medical research for stroke patients. Then he was helping Eun Seo tutor disadvantaged children in science and math. Most Sundays found him dutifully sitting amongst the congregation of Faith Baptist Church. Although it was strange, it was not unpleasant. At times, when he let himself think about it, he felt that he was being deceptive. The only reason he was interested in such things was because Eun Seo was interested in such things and he was interested in Eun Seo.

Eun Seo was astonished at Han Gyul. When she first met him, she had thought he was a self-centered individual whose only goal in life was to please himself. At first, she thought he was faking his interest in church and social activism. But for the last six months, he was involved in most of the projects she got involved in. Was Han Gyul actually sincere? Had she misjudged him?

Another thing about Han Gyul was that he made Eun Seo nervous. It was not a bad feeling, more of a curious and tense feeling. He watched her intently, he seemed to always know what she was doing and who she was doing it with. She also sensed a strange hunger in him. Eun Seo was naturally sympathetic. She felt a kind of pity towards the highly talented Han Gyul. If she could, she felt that she wanted to be what Han Gyul seemed to need. The inexperienced Eun Seo did not identify the hunger in Han Gyul as the smoldering passion that it was. Neither did she know that her own propensity to meet the needs of others was not always a good trait. Eun Seo was overly confident in her relationships with people. Up to this point in her life, no one had systematically tried to deceive her for their own benefit. Eun Seo loved people as she was. She did not try to change who she was just to be more acceptable to others. Her father, her brothers, and Sung Ho’s constant support was enough to give her the confidence to be herself. At this point in her life, she did not realize that most don’t have that confidence.


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