Park _____ probably wouldn't have heard the soft muffles of distress if he hadn't been subconsciously listening for them.
Sitting up in bed, he tried not to sigh. Even the air seemed muggy. He got out of bed and dragged his dressing gown on, glancing out of the window with a shake of his head. If anything, the rain seemed to have become even heavier in the night. "Should have taken that job in Dubai," he mumbled to himself. "Bet it never rains like this over there."
"Honey..." came the murmur from his wife's side of the bed.
"Don't get up," he whispered. "I'll go to her."
He listened for her murmur of acknowledgment, then shuffled to the other bedroom in his slippers. He stood outside for a moment, wondering if this was one of the times she'd go to sleep on her own after a while. There was another stifled sniffle, so he knocked gently, before pushing the door open.
Park _____ wasn't sure where his daughter had got her taste for such old-fashioned whimsy when they were redoing her bedroom, but she had been insistent about the pastel walls, and he had to admit that they looked especially cosy at this time of the night.
His daughter was hugging Mr Buckwheat with one hand and rubbing her eyes with the other. Her bedside nightlight was on, its faux-candlelight making the shadows in the room dance.
He sat down by the side of the bed, and smoothed her hair. "Sweetie, are you all right?"
"I'm just a bit sad," she mumbled between sniffs. "Sorry 'bout waking you, daddy."
"I don't mind."
It had been a bit frightening the first time it happened, when she woke up in the middle of the night, sobbing as though her heart would break, for no reason that they could discern. After all, she was past the age of being frightened by thunder, and it was only rain, after all. Even So-min couldn't explain why, other than that "she felt sad". But it was such a huge change from her usual self so when it happened a second time, the third time...
They'd brought her to doctors and therapists, but she'd been pronounced normal and healthy. Puberty, perhaps, one of the therapists speculated; her moods would settle once she was older, perhaps when she was in high school. Park _____ hoped it was just that.
She had been a serious child. There were times when she'd seemed too mature for her age, and Park _____ had even been proud of that, congratulating himself silently on having such a wise, lovely girl as his daughter.
It was not so lovely when she became a teenager and rather than outgrowing her old night terrors, she started to have crying jags that were seemingly beyond her ability to control. She grew more pensive, and often stared into the distance when she was alone.
"What did you dream about this time, sweetie?" he asked, wondering idly if there would be an explanation this time. She never said anything; he kept hoping, anyway.
She shook her head. "Nothing. Just that... I know someone misses someone very much," she said softly. "And they are sad, and it rains."
"So it rains when someone is sad?" he asked, hiding the fact that his excitement was mixed with disappointment. It was more of a reason than she had ever given, but it still didn't explan why.
She nodded soberly.
"Hm, I wonder who it is, to make it rain when he feels sad," he mused out loud, half-wondering if So-min would say more.
"Someone who is lonely," she whispered, her eyes on him as though willing him to understand.
Despite himself, Park _____ nodded as though he did. "I see," he said, then stroked her hair again. "Do you feel sad because you are lonely, sweetheart?" he asked.
She couldn't be lonely, not really, could she? She had friends from her school.
"No," she hugged Mr Buckwheat closer, rubbing her cheek against the toy. Park _____ felt a bit jealous. He would have thought that she was getting too old for soft toys, but she had had Mr Buckwheat since she was seven and it was her treasured possession. "He feels sad because he's lonely," she half-mumbled into her pillow.
"He feels...?" Park ___ echoed, then frowned. "Sweetie, who?"
That didn't make sense. "Sweetie, who feels lonely?" he asked, trying to keep the urgency from his voice.
She blinked at him as though she didn't understand the question. "Mr Buckwheat," she said, and a yawn escaped her. "Want to sleep now," she said, as her eyelids slid close. "'night, Daddy."
He hesitated, then answered, "'night, sweetie." He tucked her in more securely and stood up once she had settled down.
Closing her bedroom door, Park ______ noticed that the rain had stopped.