An abandoned child, a lost man, and a lonely woman: perfect family or perfect disaster?
“It’ll only be for a little while.” The younger woman strokes the elder’s arm. “Just until Taeyeonie comes back from her maternity leave.”
“Isn’t that months away, though?” The brunette’s worried, amber eyes find Sunny’s peaceful, dark ones again.
“Well, you don’t have to do it the whole time she’s gone. Just until we can find someone else. ...Help me out, Sissy, pwease?”
Jessica smacks herself in the forehead and falls back against the couch cushions. “You know that I hate when you do that. ...And love it too.” She sighs. When she opens her eyes, Sunny’s are already naughtily triumphant. “You’re terrible. And we’re not sisters!”
“That’s okay; you’re the best! But we are too sisters!” Another cutesy pout makes both Jessica’s hand twitch to smack her roommate and her heart melt a little.
Rolling her eyes, she pauses before admitting, “But you know that kids don’t like me...”
“Sure, they do! You just gotta relax. They can feel when you’re stressed or uncomfortable and then take it into themselves. If you’re happy and confident, then they will be too.”
“Well, it’s either you or Fany-ah, so-”
Big eyes widen. “Oh, sure. Play dirty... I couldn't let those poor kids-”
“You’re bad! She’s gonna be a mother soon too, you know!” Sunny smacks the other woman’s arm with a laugh.
“Heh. I had no idea! ...But I’m still the best, right?”
Jessica cannot fully follow Sunny’s advice. She walks into the classroom well enough, greets the parents and children with passable outgoingness, but reddens once it’s just her and Sunny with the kids.
“Good morning, Boys and Girls!” the younger, curly-haired woman calls the children to attention.
“Good morning, Miss Sunny!” they answer back cheerily.
“Look here, Everyone! You know who this is, right?” Their teacher pulls the slightly taller woman forward and slings an arm around her shoulders.
“That’s Miss Jessica!” the children who have met her and remember her name chime.
“Y-yes.” Jessica blushes at the ground as she runs her clammy hands down her pant legs. “I-it’s great to meet you!”
A tall, thin child pouts severely at the newcomer. “Miss Sunny!” she calls out. “Where’s Miss Taeyeon? I don’t like this lady and want Miss Taeyeon back!”
“Oooh!” Several other children giggle.
“Kwon Yoona, that’s not nice.” Sunny looks at the four year old disapprovingly. “We don’t talk about each other like that in this class.” On the inside, the woman is reeling from shock.
Yoona has been nothing but sweet, positive, and kind since she joined the class a month ago. “But!” The child crosses her arms in a huff.
“See me after circle time, Yoona-yah,” Sunny says clearly but non-threateningly.
The girl seems to take it as such, though. Her eyes widen and her mouth drops open. Bringing her crisscrossed legs up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them, the child presses her forehead to her knees.
Jessica stares at her, disheartened. Leaning over to whisper in Sunny’s ear, she murmurs, “I told you that this was a bad idea.”
“You’ll be fine!” Sunny grins too hard, speaking without moving her lips or unclenching her teeth in what she and the other teachers call “grown-up ventriloquism-talk.”
The women join the circle. Within seconds, children climb into their available laps.
The smaller child smiles up at the new woman and pats her cheeks. “Don’t worry, Miss Jessica. I like you.”
Sunny reaches out and pets the little girl’s hair. “Thank you, Sweetie. I know, how about we go around the circle and have everyone say their names?”
The little girl in Jessica’s lap goes last, saying, “I’m Hara. Please be my friend!”
“Okay,” the woman cuddling her agrees softly. Still, her eyes keep being drawn back to the child who has not spoken or moved since her original outburst.
One of the boys points at Jessica curiously. “Why is she here?”
“Remember, Class? We talked about this. Miss Taeyeon is staying home to rest for a while so she can have her baby. Then she’ll come back! We’re going to make cards for her today at art time!”
“Yay!” several little voices cheer.
“Kwon Yoona, let’s talk.” Without waiting for an answer, Sunny picks up the troublemaker and carries her to the teacher’s chair where she plops herself into it and sits the child on her lap facing her. “What’s going on, Honey?”
The girl fiddles with the buttons on her teacher’s shirt, not daring to look up into the woman’s face.
“Honey?” Sunny lifts her chin anyway.
The child avoids her eyes and instead moves forward to hug the woman. “Please don’t send me away. I’m sorry, Teacher,” her tiny voice breaks.
The curly-haired woman gently pushes on the girl’s shoulders to look her in the face.
Yoona squeaks and clings to her tighter, even using her legs to clench around her teacher. “I’m sorry! I won’t be bad again! Please don’t be mad at me!”
“Honey, I’m not mad at you. I just want to talk.”
“Okay.” Yoona nods against the collar of Sunny’s shirt. “But can you talk? And I’ll listen? I’m a good listener!”
“Yes, you are, but-”
“Please, Miss Sunny?” that little voice trembles once more.
“Alright.” Holding the thin child close to herself, Sunny strokes her back and speaks warmly to her. She doesn’t ask Yoona to apologize but as soon as she puts the girl down, the child drags her to Jessica.
“I’m sorry, Um- Miss Jessica,” the doe-eyed girl stares steadfastly at the woman’s feet.
Jessica receives the apology well, hugging the child and telling her that it’s okay by some inexplicable inner compulsion.
Both women note Yoona’s happy but nervous smile when the older pulls away from her and how Yoona does not let go of her main teacher for the rest of the morning session.
Tears form in Yoona’s eyes when Sunny tries to free her hand so that she can take her break. True to what Sunny knows of the child, however, Yoona does not cry. She just keeps asking, “You’ll come back, right? You promise? You’re not mad at me?” over and over until Jessica offers to stay with Yoona while Sunny relaxes and then gets the classroom ready for their next tasks. Yoona’s eyes flash at the suggestion, but she holds her tongue.
Juhyun, her best friend, comes up to the older girl and holds her other hand. With a shy smile, she says, “I’ll play with you, Yoongie!”
“Great! I’ll be right back, okay?” Sunny pats both children’s heads.
“Okay,” Yoona tries to return the younger child’s smile and finally lets her hand drop from her teacher’s. Her eyes never leave Sunny’s back as it retreats to the office.
“I can play too!” Jessica tries again to make Yoona feel better.
“No!” Yoona suddenly bursts out. “I don’t want you to! Leave me alone!” She glares at Jessica as she leads Juhyun away from the woman.
“I- We’re sorry, Miss ...Teacher,” the three year old says, wide-eyed, as she’s dragged to the sandbox.
Jessica smiles at the littler girl but finds it difficult to keep the edges of her mouth upturned. Her gaze does not shift from the older child, but Yoona only has eyes for the office door.
The second Sunny emerges from it, the girl is upon her. “Miss Sunny!” she cheers as if the five minutes apart had been five months.
“Heya Honey.” Her teacher smiles. “I just had a snack. I gotta go to our classroom now.”
“Can I come?”
“No, sorry, Sweetie. I have a lot to do and cannot watch a student while I do it.”
“I can help!” Yoona insists. “I’m a good helper! And really strong!”
The teacher glances at her roommate who coming up to them. “I know you are, but I have to do this alone, okay? Why don’t you and-”
Yoona flees at once.
When the bell rings at the end of outdoor free time, the taller child sprints from the sandbox though she knows not to do so. Getting back to Sunny is her top priority.
Juhyun stands slowly, brushes all the sand off of herself, and calls for Yoona not to run.
The raven-haired girl falls. “Miss Sunny!” she cries, but the woman is not there. Her eyes clamp shut to block out the image.
Ever watchful of Yoona, Jessica comes to her immediately. She is surprised when Yoona seems to gladly let herself be carried by her. The woman sits and puts the girl on her lap. “Oh no!” she sympathizes when she sees bloodied knees. Very carefully brushing them off, she then blows on them. Her arms instinctively bring Yoona closer to her chest and cuddle her.
Juhyun helps Jessica blow on the injuries.
“Are you okay, Honey?” the woman asks.
Yoona leans the slightest bit against Jessica on her own and smiles slowly. “Yeah, I’m okay. ...That feels better.”
“But these poor knees really look like they hurt a lot! Are you sure?”
The older girl nods while Juhyun holds her wrist. “Yoona’s really strong, Teacher. She always laughs when she gets hurt!”
At that, Yoona remembers to laugh. “’Cuz it’s funny!” she says too cheerily. “I don’t fuss ’cuz I’m no trouble!”
Jessica simply hugs her tighter and strokes her hair.
The girl breathes her scent in deeply and smiles wider. “Um- ss Jessica? My hands hurt a little too...” She shows the woman her scuffed palms.
“Oh no!” Jessica responds quickly, cradling the backs of the girl’s hands, pressing comfort into her fingers, and blowing on the scratches.
The girl sighs happily and rests fully against the woman. Her eyes slip closed.
“Poor, poor baby!” Jessica continues fussing over her injuries.
Yoona’s expression changes at once. “I’m not your baby!” Jumping out of the teacher’s assistant’s lap, she grabs and leans on Juhyun. “Take me to Miss Sunny. I want her to help me! ...This... this lady can’t even get me band-aids!” she complains as she glares at Jessica and limps away from her.
The woman stays where she is, too stunned to do anything else. She had sincerely thought she and Yoona were getting somewhere.