KITTY’S BEEN A LITTLE COMPLAINER all morning, and I suspect both Margot and Daddy are suffering from New Year’s Eve hangovers. And me? I’ve got hearts in my eyes and a letter that’s burning a hole in my coat pocket.
As we’re putting on our shoes, Kitty’s still trying to weasel her way out of wearing a hanbok to Aunt Carrie and Uncle Victor’s. “Look at the sleeves! They’re three-quarter length on me!”
Unconvincingly Daddy says, “They’re supposed to be that way.”
Kitty points to me and Margot. “Then why do theirs fit?” she demands. Our grandma bought the hanboks for us the last time she was in Korea. Margot’s hanbok has a yellow jacket and apple-green skirt. Mine is hot pink with an ivory-white jacket and a long hot-pink bow with flowers embroidered down the front. The skirt is voluminous, full like a bell, and it falls all the way to the floor. Unlike Kitty’s, which hits right at her ankles.
“It’s not our fault you grow like a weed,” I say, fussing with my bow. The bow is the hardest thing to get right. I had to watch a YouTube video multiple times to figure it out, and it still looks lopsided and sad.
“My skirt’s too short too,” she grumps, lifting the bottom.
The real truth is, Kitty hates wearing a hanbok because you have to walk delicately in it and hold the skirt closed with one hand or the whole thing comes open.
“All of the other cousins will be wearing them, and it will make Grandma happy,” Daddy says, rubbing his temples. “Case closed.”
In the car Kitty keeps saying “I hate New Year’s Day,” and it puts everyone but me in a sour mood. Margot is already in a semi-sour mood because she had to wake up at the crack of dawn to get home from her friend’s cabin in time. There’s also the matter of that maybe hangover. Nothing could sour my mood, though, because I’m not even in this car. I’m somewhere else entirely, thinking about my letter to Peter, wondering if it was heartfelt enough, and how and when I’m going to give it to him, and what he’ll say, and what it will mean. Should I drop it in his mailbox? Leave it in his locker? When I see him again, will he smile at me, make a joke of it to lighten the mood? Or will he pretend he never saw it, to spare us both? I think that would be worse. I have to keep reminding myself that, despite everything, Peter is kind and he is easygoing and he won’t be cruel no matter what. Of that much I can be sure.
“What are you thinking so hard about?” Kitty asks me.
I barely hear her.
I close my eyes and pretend to be asleep, and all I see is Peter’s face. I don’t know what I want from him exactly, what I’m ready for—if it’s boyfriend-girlfriend heavy-duty serious love, or if it’s what we had before, just fun and some here-and-there kisses, or if it’s something in between, but I do know I can’t get his Handsome Boy face out of my mind. The way he smirks when he says my name, how when he’s near me I forget to breathe sometimes.
Of course, when we get to Aunt Carrie and Uncle Victor’s, none of the other cousins are wearing hanboks, and Kitty practically turns purple with the effort of not yelling at Daddy. Margot and I give him some side-eye too. It’s not particularly comfortable to sit around in a hanbok all day. But then Grandma gives me an approving smile, which makes up for it.
As we take off our shoes and coats at the front door, I whisper to Kitty, “Maybe the adults will give us more money for dressing up.”
“You girls look so cute,” Aunt Carrie said as she hugs us. “Haven refused to wear hers!”
Haven rolls her eyes at her mom. “I love your haircut,” she says to Margot. Haven and I are only a few months apart, but she thinks she’s so much older than me. She’s always trying to get in with Margot.
We get the bowing out of the way first. In Korean culture, you bow to your elders on New Year’s Day and wish them luck in the new year, and in return they give you money. The order goes oldest to youngest, so as the oldest adult, Grandma sits down on the couch first, and Aunt Carrie and Uncle Victor bow first, then Daddy, all the way down the line to Kitty, who is youngest. When it’s Daddy’s turn to sit on the couch and receive his bows, there’s an empty couch cushion next to him as there has been every New Year’s Day since Mommy died. It gives me an achy feeling in my chest to see him sitting there alone, smiling gamely, handing out ten-dollar bills. Grandma catches my eye pointedly and I know she’s thinking the same thing. When it’s my turn to bow, I kneel, hands folded in front of my forehead, and I vow that I will not see Daddy alone on that couch again next year.
We get ten dollars from Aunt Carrie and Uncle Victor, ten from Daddy, ten from Aunt Min and Uncle Sam, who aren’t our real aunt and uncle but second cousins (or is it cousins once removed? They’re Mommy’s cousins, anyway), and twenty from Grandma! We didn’t get more for wearing hanboks, but all in all a good take. Last year the aunts and uncles were only doing five apiece.
Next we do rice cake soup for good luck. Aunt Carrie also made black-eyed pea cakes and insists we try at least one, though no one wants to. The twins, Harry and Leon—our third cousins? Cousins twice removed?—refuse to eat the soup or the black-eyed pea cakes and are eating chicken nuggets in the TV room. There isn’t enough room at the dining table, so Kitty and I eat on stools at the kitchen island. We can hear everyone laughing from over here.
As I begin to eat my soup, I make a wish. Please, please let things work out with me and Peter.
“Why do I get a smaller bowl of soup than everyone else?” Kitty whispers to me.
“Because you’re the littlest.”
“Why don’t we get our own bowl of kimchi?”
“Because Aunt Carrie thinks we don’t like it because we’re not full Korean.”
“Go ask for some,” Kitty whispers.
So I do, but mainly because I want some too.
While the adults drink coffee, Margot, Haven, and I go up to Haven’s room and Kitty tags along. Usually she plays with the twins, but this time she picks up Aunt Carrie’s Yorkie, Smitty, and follows us upstairs like one of the girls.
Haven has indie rock band posters on her walls; most I’ve never heard of. She’s always rotating them out. There’s a new one, a letterpressed Belle and Sebastian. It looks like denim. “This is cool,” I say.
“I was just about to switch that one out,” Haven says. “You can have it if you want.”