It has been exactly a year since he last saw her.
On this very day, during Christmas on the previous year, she left him without saying goodbye. As if he was in the power to undo it all, he kept on picturing her figure walking towards him with a wide smile carved across her pretty face, hoping that the figure was solid and touchable.
The breeze was ice cold. He stood there, over-looking the frozen lake with so much love trapped inside his heart. He wanted to release this heavy burden along with the blowing wind, but the more he looked out to the dark blue sky, the more he was reminded of her smiles and laughter. How he missed her dearly.
“Jaejoong-hyung, it’s getting late. We should head back now or both of us might freeze to death.”
He lowered his head as puffs of white smoke exited his lungs. He examined the ground down below as if some handwriting might appear from the sand to provide him with answers. He wasn’t ready to go just yet.
Jaejoong brought his gloved hands to his face and covered it momentarily. Then, he slowly turned and faced the bored Shim Changmin. He was glad that he brought this sort of company. Changmin wasn’t the type to ask, unless if it involves good food.
“Let’s go,” he uttered at last, catching the car keys thrown by the younger man.
The journey back was silent. Changmin fell asleep inside the car, leaving Jaejoong to drive alone in the middle of the night. The only sound that fills the car was the soft humming from the radio. With one hand on the steering wheel and the other arm placed on the windowsill, he couldn’t help bringing her back to his thoughts. It wasn’t any better on other days, but the fact that it was Christmas, he was deeply affected.
“Out of the 365 days in a year, why did you have to pick this day to break my heart?” he whispered as if she was somewhere very near. Jaejoong couldn’t deny that his mind was everywhere. He was unaware that he was now driving the car at an unlawful speed.
It happened so quickly. In moments, he couldn’t see or hear anything. He tried to move a muscle but it felt as if something was grabbing tightly onto his skin, pushing him down. Had it been screeching sounds and a distant screaming? Had it been a blinding light and scattering glasses?
Is this what they call… a car accident?
The melody of the voice was strangely familiar. It sounded far away. He couldn’t decide if it was a voice in his head or someone he knows was actually calling out for him.
His eye-lids slowly parted.
The light in the room was dimmed. He caught the sight of a high ceiling in front of him and the comfort of the mattress on his back. His head felt heavy and as he tried to lift himself up. His eyes roamed around and scanned for anything he could identify.
He was inside someone else’s bedroom. There was no one in sight but the doors to the balcony were left open. Soft, icy breeze pushed the thin curtains to make way for its entrance, sending slight shivers to the skin. The dimmed sunshine slipped through possible gaps, lighting nearby areas of the floors.
Jaejoong glanced side-ways and all over himself. Where is this place? Is he dead? Or was that the most outrageous dream he ever had? He was confused.
Slowly, he stepped out of the bed, feet touching the cold parquet. Everything in this room seemed so familiar, like he’d seen it on a page in a magazine not too long ago. He looked around at the walls in admiration until a huge painting of a portrait caught his attention. His heart-beat raced as he stood up and walked nearer to have a closer look. His eyes didn’t deceive him after all. The person in that portrait is really him!
“What is this?” he whispered to himself as he circled on the spot, trying to make sense of the situation. “Hello? Is there anyone here?” he called out.
Nothing replied. Only the wind kept on blowing and the sun kept shining ever so dimly.
Then he glanced over at the balcony. He fixed his jacket and made his way towards the opened doors. It was noon but the wind was cold. Slowly, a wide courtyard fell into view. Patches of snow could be seen on the flatland and on the trees. Either it has only started to snow or that winter was nearly over, he was sure that today wasn’t Christmas.
Did he somehow have slept for a long time?
Once he was on the balcony, he rubbed his arms to help warm himself up. The subtle heat from the sunshine didn’t help him at all. He looked side-ways to search for more clues of where he was, and perhaps to confirm his timeline.
The voice called again. He turned around in the hope to catch the person who called out to him yet again. And he got what he wished for.
The moment he laid his eyes on that beautiful angel, his heartbeat stopped abruptly.
“I’ve missed you, Jaejoong-ah…” she uttered softly, with a painful smile on her face.
The two of them faced each other over the coffee table downstairs. Neither could find anything interesting to speak of despite the length of time they have been apart. Only their eyes were communicating silent whispers of longing.
Jaejoong couldn’t stand it anymore. He had to say something. He had so many questions to ask and the silence was killing him. But he wasn’t sure where to begin.
“Please say it,” she spoke softly. “I know you have things to speak to me. Just say it.”
Jaejoong examined her sweet smile, shocked at the possibility of her reading his mind. Her hands were carefully holding each other on her lap. Somehow she looked anxious at what she’s about to hear.
“Is… Is this real?” Jaejoong uttered under his breath, not sure if it’s the right thing to start off with. He glanced at her direction. Her eyes were unsure but she gave him another smile.
“This is as real as you want it to be.”
Jaejoong’s eyes narrowed. He didn’t understand what she meant. One minute he was inside the car with Changmin on his way back to the apartment, and the next, he’s lying on someone else’s bed and in someone else’s room. As he thought that he’s having some sort of illusion after a hard knock on his head, she claims that this is as much as a reality as it could be. It doesn’t make sense.
Wait. Where the hell is Changmin?
“Did I come here alone?” he asked as a sudden gush of concern ran through his veins. A quick blood-rush flushed to his face as the fact that he might’ve indeed slept for a long time and skipped a good amount of days hit him. And the thought that there is a large loophole in his memory terrified him.
She looked at her hands, calmly brushing them together. The sadness was still present in her eyes. There was something she didn’t want to tell him. At least, maybe she wasn’t ready.
“I’m the reason you’re here, Jaejoong-ah,” she whispered. “I was being selfish and I hope you’ll forgive me.”
“What are you talking about?”
Suddenly the visions of a year ago flashed through his mind. One by one, it ran in and out of his memory box, giving him moments to reminisce that bittersweet chapter of his life.
It was once beautiful. Everything seemed perfect as he was holding tightly to her hands, guiding her along the silent pathway back to her doorsteps. It was a cold night, the snow was inches deep and they’d just had the most wonderful Christmas dinner in a quiet restaurant in town, just the two of them. Jaejoong thought that it was the most perfect night that he will remember for the rest of his life. In fact, it was too perfect that one could guess something should go wrong soon. And so it did…
When Jaejoong texted her the next day just to wish her a good morning, he was only greeted by a long silence of his cell phone. This has never happened before for the two excited. He was on a live set when he tried again, this time calling her for a straight 15 tries. It wasn’t her caller ringtone that answered him, or even the voice mailbox for that matter. It was the voice of the operator, saying that the number he called doesn’t exist. What he felt then was worse than worry. The thought of not seeing her again, killed him.
And the pain lasted for a long time, because he never heard anything from her ever since.
“It was unplanned,” she started. Slowly, she stood up and took a few steps away from him. She pulled her arms to cover herself from the shivers of regret and remorse. Her white, silk dress flew lightly behind her as the soft wind blew across the room.
It was a magnificent view for Jaejoong to see the love of his life standing there, looking perfect and angel-like that he could only wish to grab her in his arms. How he missed the warm heat from her body and the sweet scent that came from her soft hair.
Unknown to himself, he was already nearing towards her, one step at a time.
“I was told that it was going to be a long family vacation,” she continued, still unaware of the closing distance between them.
With care, Jaejoong kept a reasonable distance in fear that he might startle her. After all, he just wanted to relive his memories, inhaling her scent into his lungs and let it send sparks to his heart once again.
“I didn’t even know when they managed to sneak into my room and took my cell phone away.” Her voice started to shake. “I was so scared that I didn’t know what to do. Everything happened in a rush, and they didn’t give me a chance to say anything about it. At that moment, I felt like a prisoner. My hands were tied and my lips were glued.”
This is when she turned around and let out a gasp at the sudden view of Jaejoong’s worried face very close to hers.
“I only wanted to say…” she paused to hold down the shock and a painful sob. “Goodbye.”
Jaejoong did nothing but stare at her flawless details. The trapped feelings inside his heart found no trouble at all finding its rightful place now that he’s standing in front of its rightful owner. He was overwhelmed when he could feel her soft breath brushing his skin. This girl is really real. And she’s standing right in front of him, after all the pain that he had gone through.
“That was when I was sent to this place,” she added.
Their distance was so close that both of them found it rather hard to breath. The room felt a bit warmer as they kept their eye-contact. Jaejoong wanted to crush his lips on hers already, but he knew it’ll be too awkward.
“What is this place?” he asked instead, steadying his breaths.
“This is our home, Jaejoong-ah, the one that I’ve always pictured ever since you asked me to be yours alone.”
This is when it struck him. Of course this place looks weirdly familiar. Of course there was a portrait of him on the wall inside the bedroom. This is all what she always talked to him about, asking his opinion if he agrees with her or not ever since he presented her the ring. How could he forget?
But why is this place being what it is? It doesn’t make any sense.
“Is this what I think it is?” he mumbled under his breath. He didn’t want to admit it, but it was the best explanation he could tell himself. He was hoping for her to say otherwise, but her small nod crushed his heart to the ground.
“And I don’t have much time left.”
“How do you know that? We could both stay here as long as we wish to, right?” Jaejoong tried to look on every possible positive reason he could hang on to.
“No, Jaejoong-ah. You still have a long way to go. It’s only unfortunate for me to have a very weak body.” Tears started to stream down her cheeks. Seeing those pearls on her pretty complexion, Jaejoong felt like his heart were torn apart. “This was my last wish.”
Out of his own will, his hands crawled upwards to search for her neck, landing them lightly but comfortably just above her shoulders. Her skin was cold, as cold as the wind outside. It easily occurred to him that she’s in fact dying, inside and out, a painful truth that he had to accept. He pulled her closer in the hope to console not only her heart, but also his which couldn’t seem to clot its own bleeding.
“It was really lonely here without you,” she mumbled into his chest. “I couldn’t even remember Christmas clearly. Maybe that day was too painful that I forget it on purpose. I can’t even make it snow properly.”
He recalled the weird rhythm of snow patches outside. “So it’s still Christmas today?”
She didn’t reply, but Jaejoong felt his shirt was drenched with cold wetness on one spot. “I don’t want to go,” she sobbed.
“Then don’t…” he spoke through her hair. He left one light kiss on the top of her head and tightened his hold around her. “Stay here with me.”
“But it’s not my choice to make and not yours as well.”
“Don’t say such harsh things. We’ll take our chances,” Jaejoong spoke softly.
“Promise me you’ll try and make yourself happy. It hurts not seeing you smile.” She pulled away from him and held onto his hands instead. Her eyes were glittery but it was full of hope. Jaejoong had to nod. She smiled at him and that was the last smile he will ever receive from her.
As she looked deeply into his eyes, she whispered, “Merry Christmas, my darling husband. I have nothing to offer to you on this special day, except for my undying love for only you.”
As soon as their lips touched, Jaejoong was knocked unconscious by a painful thud on his chest. It was once again that blurred vision of blacks and whites. The outline of her figure was now far from his reach. He knew that this time, it was really goodbye…
The smell of medicine stung his nostrils and forced him to open up his eye-lids. Everything was white at first, but it slowly turned to a light shade of green. He was in a hospital ward.
“Hyung? Are you awake?”
A distant familiar voice rang in his ears. As a sharp pain pulled at the back of his head, he tried to turn his head to find the face of the speaker.
“Yoochun?” he asked weakly.
“Oh! Thank God you’re awake! We were really worried that we’ll lose our lead singer to a stupid car accident!” Yoochun scream and muttered, too happy that his hyung wasn’t in a coma that the doctor had warned them to be a possible thing to happen.
“Yah, don’t say such things. Just be glad that he’s safe, okay?” Yunho stormed back at Yoochun.
Jaejoong felt pain lurking to every part of his body. The most pain was coming from his head, which he find to be the hardest to move at the moment.
“Stay still, hyung. It won’t look good if an ugly scar appeared at the back of your head,” Junsu mumbled. “I wouldn’t want the group to look bad because of it.”
Without asking for it, a painful smack quickly landed on Junsu’s own head. “Be more polite, could you?” Yunho thundered.
“C-changmin-ah…” Jaejoong called out.
“He’s alright Jaejoongie,” Yunho answered for him. “He only had scratches here and there. It was you who got the most blows out of the accident.”
Jaejoong tried to process everything inside his brain, but it was really painful. He can remember the blinding lights, the screeching sounds and shattering glasses, but everything else was blurred. He knew he had one thing to remember, but what is it?
“Oh, hyung. A woman I met at the corridor wanted me to give you a note. Would you like me to read it for you?” Yoochun spoke suddenly.
Jaejoong mouthed the word ‘yes’ and Yoochun began unfolding the piece of paper.
“Jaejoong, I’m sorry I’ve kept it a secret from you. Your wife suffered from a coma for exactly a year now and we decided to stop her suffering. Her body was weakly responding to the machines and keeping her attached to it was a painful view to our hearts. So we’re pulling the plugs and we thought it’s only fair to let you know. Consider it as our apology from taking her away from you, especially when both of you were newlyweds, even if the marriage was held in secret. Please forgive our selfishness and may all of us be reunited with her in heaven. We will pull the plug at midnight on the 26th of December, at exactly 365 days from the day she had the accident. P/S: We hope you’ll get better soon. –your mother-in-law.”
“It’s already 2 hours passed midnight,” they whispered.
Then everything reoccurred to him. Visible to the eyes of the other three, a trail of liquid ran down the corner of Jaejoong’s eyes as he stared blankly at the ceiling above.