I think of leaving, a lot of times. A lot of times I did. I want to leave, close my eyes, cover my ears. Forget about everything.
As I stand under the canopy of the cherry tree, under the moonless sky, under the glistening sky, I think of running away. Of running, never looking back. To some faraway place. Away from him.
But I'd always be a coward. If I run, where would I go? I've nowhere to go. No place to run to. No place to call home.
I feel like I'm drowning, pretending. It's hard. It's hard being a puppet. Hard to say the opposite of what you truly wanted to say. Hard to move your hands, and your body, in the opposite direction.
I want my freedom.
I think about the times, in a different space, where maybe I am much braver, much stronger.
I want to leave, I'd tell him. This is wrong, Suwon. Everything is so wrong. You killed my father ... you ... I don't know who you are anymore.
Please just let me go.
I promise I won't speak of my father's death. I'll let you stay on the throne. I'll leave the castle, the country, you can tell the people I've killed myself. I'll live somewhere far, banish my claim on the throne.
I'd never be a threat to you.
I want to leave, break the promise I'd given you. I'd pay the price. Let the gods punish me for breaking the promise I'd bestowed in their name. I'd face their wrath. I'd pay the price.
But then in that world, where I am stronger, I wouldn't have been in this position in the first place. In that world, I would've fought that night, grabbed the sword, avenged my father, died beside my father. Because I wasn't afraid of death then.
Or perhaps I could've ran away that night. Ran with Hak, if he'd not been caught. We could run and go some place. To the wind tribe, or to another country. Find the path. Find a guide. Find the voice of the gods. Find -
"What are you thinking?"
His voice whispers from behind, dragging me from my other world. Lean arms wrap themselves around me, pulling me to his chest.
"...Nothing," I say. "How's your day?"
His hold is tight, like clinging to a winter cloak during the heavy winters. I look down and notice he's holding a small rectangular wooden box in his one hand. It looks familiar, something from a long time ago.
"Not bad," he replies. "Yours?"
"Not bad either."
He hums. "This feels good somehow. Soothing. We should stay like this for a while, hm?"
I nod my head, eyes on the ground. I try not to stray, but when I'm with him, my mind always drifts away. My mind is the only safe space in this world, the only place where I am free. I could think of anything, dream, dream of the things that could've been, things that could never be.
There I am free.
The night is getting deeper. If I were somewhere else, in a different place, a different time, him my lover, us meeting in secret, I would've bid him farewell now. My family will come looking for me soon, my father, and my mother, and brothers and sisters. They would come looking for me. And then I would come home to them.
And then we'll meet again the next night.
Would there be a time, when I can truly be happy?
Time is up.
Suwon turns me around to face him. It's ironic that sometimes, time runs fast even though you're doing nothing. And no matter how much you beg her, she won't listen.
I meet his gaze, blue and green and deep. He meets my lips. It's a light kiss, like a butterfly tapping a flower lightly.
"Look what I found," he says.
He lifts the box in front of me, opens it. Inside is a wooden hairpin, with a purple butterfly resting in pink and green flowers. Wings spread out. Wings that could fly any moment.
It's the one he's given me that night. That night, when he went to my room. I could see myself. I was just returning to my chamber when I saw him outside the door of my own room.
I quickened my pace the moment I recognized his figure. A tall man dressed in white and purple robes. Angelic face. Smiling at me. Like an angel.
Stopping a few feet before him, I looked down nervously, fiddling with my sleeves. "I was looking for you," I said. "You vanished during the feast. What are you doing here?"
He stepped closer. "I came here to give this to you." He handed me a small wooden box. I opened it. Inside was a beautiful hairpin.
A shy smile crept my lips, heat spreading my cheeks. "T-Thank you, Suwon," I said as I stared at it. "It's really pretty."
I kept staring at the hairpin, memorizing each pattern, ashamed of taking even a small glance up at him. My heart is racing fast, like a loud gong beating about and about. My mind is a bit hazy as well. I regret drinking that half-glass of wine.
Think of something to say, I told myself. "U-um," I started, "have you seen Hak? That idiot, he was supposed to escort me back to my room," I mumbled.
"Hak?" He stepped closer. "I asked him to switch place with me. I'll be your bodyguard for tonight, how does that sound?"
I giggled nervously. "Oh, but you're a guest here. How would my father be able to pay you for your service?"
"Seeing you is enough," he said, fully closing the distance between us. "Would you mind if I put the hairpin on your hair?"
"Oh... um... I'm not sure that's a good idea haha. My hair is a bit unruly, it's embarrassing."
He chuckled lightly, lifted his hand, brushed some of my curls past my ear. I blushed furiously, my chest about to explode any moment. His hands lowered, lingered on my neck. I debated whether to take a step back. But before I could do so he kissed the top of my head, tangled his fingers in my hair.
"But I like your hair, Yona," he muttered. "They're beautiful."
"I found it from your old chamber," he says, pulling me to the present. "It holds pleasant memories so I took it back."
My old chamber. Why would he go there? He could've just asked the maids if he wanted to get some of my things. I don't like the idea of him entering the privacy of my own room. I let him enter once that night, when I'd been fool enough. But never again.
I wonder what's happened to it now, my old chamber. Did they touch it after I went missing? Changed some arrangements? I wanted to go back there, a lot of times. But I often forget. Maybe I should go tomorrow.
He flicks the box close, places it in my hand. "I love you," he says as he buries his face in the bend of my neck, one hand on my hair. At this position, it's like he's almost kneeling, bending to meet my level.
"Yona," he says after a time. "Tell me you love me too. I want to hear it."
If only we could be strangers again. If only I could lose my memories, then I would've believed that he really loves me. Unconditionally. And I could've loved him in return. Unconditionally.
"I love you," I say, as if I really mean it. It's between a truth and a lie, a small line.
"Thank you," he says. He pulls away, rests his hands on my face. "Thank you for coming to meet me here tonight. But I've no promise to give you, Yona."
It takes a second, another, before his words sink through my insides.
"Stop trying to get away from me," he says. "Stop trying to find ways out. You would only hurt yourself."
My eyes must have given me away, then. Every time. He knows my thoughts, my actions. My plans. He always finds out.
I let the box that holds the hairpin fall from my hand, into the ground. His gaze catches it fall to the sharp grass. Then I take his hands, yank them down, away from my face. But before I could turn to leave he's gripping my shoulders, firm.
"I would like to talk to you tonight," he says. "Make some things clear. But you first. Tell me if you want to say something."
What's the point? He already knows everything that's running on my head. It's like I'm a book, wide opened, for him. But I speak anyway.
"You killed my father. You locked me up. And you expect me to stay."
"How much time do you need?" he says, as if he didn't hear anything. "Months? Years? I'd give it to you. I can be patient, Yona." He draws me closer, almost forceful, my forehead against his chest. "In time, you'll learn how to forgive me, love me just as much as I love you. You'll have to. Because I'm never letting you go."
It would always be way easier to just float along the shore, not fight the current. That way, you won't get hurt. Because whether you sink or whether you swim, it makes no difference.
My heart has gone numb.
"Anything else?" he says.
I don't move. He pats my back, light tapping, continuous. But they are thorns. Thorns piercing my flesh, in a mask of gentleness.
"All right," he says. "Now let's proceed as to why I told you to meet me here tonight. First, I think we're having some misunderstandings here. May I remind you: you promised to never leave my side, correct? Then pray tell me ... why are you looking for ways out?" Here he bends to my ear. "To make things clear: you're not leaving me. I'll be good to you, Yona. If you stay at your own will. I'll make you happy..."
Tonight, I won't be able to sleep again.
He continues to speak but my mind drifts away, shuts itself off. I don't want to listen to his empty words again. Empty words. And full of deception. Why are we here again ... in this place? We're here because he told me he'd give me his promise too. But he didn't. His words are poison.
In the corner of my eye, I see a flower. It's not yellow, it's not a dandelion. What do I expect? He had them all removed in the whole villa. The innocent, harmless ones, they were thrown away, never to be seen again.
I feel buried.