“Appa, will you tell us a story?”
Ri Ahn gazes up at him, her dark eyes sparkling. Beside her, Lucy perks up and adjusts the twinkling birthday tiara on her head.
Taken individually, he might have been able to resist. But their combined charms, plus the glowy, wavering light of their mermaid night light, plus the warm scent of cake frosting wafting in from the kitchen, and he might has well be powerless.
“Any requests?” he asks as he edges onto the bed.
“One we've never heard before,” Lucy tells him.
“One with magic shoes,” Ri Ahn gushes. “And hot air balloons, and a lemur, and a masquerade ball, and a chicken with razor-sharp wings that flies at a hundred kilometers per hour and lops off the heads of unsuspecting peasants.”
Appa meets Lucy's eyes over Ri Ahn's head, and they share a grin. “Do you wanna tell the story?” he asks.
“Nope,” Ri Ahn says. She nestles into her pillow. “Anyway, it's Lulu's birthday. Maybe there could be a cake?”
Reaching at random for one of the hundreds of books on the shelf beside the bed, Appa asks, “Lulu, any special birthday considerations?”
“Don't make it scary like last time,” Lucy says. “Abeoji was so upset.”
Ri Ahn rolls her eyes. “Abeoji gets scared at everything. Just like you.”
“I do not get scared at everything,” Lucy asserts with a less-than-convincing scowl. “But your radioactive zombie dragon story gave Abeoji nightmares.”
Appa plucks a thin volume from the stacks and squares it on his knee. “Check,” he says. “No radioactive zombie dragons.”
“Promise?” Lucy sighs.
“Cross my heart,” Appa says, pantomiming the motion across his chest. Then he adjusts his glasses and clears his throat, making a spectacle of it, as with a flourish, he opens the book and reads, “Once upon a time in a kingdom far away—”
“—Wait a second,” Lucy cuts in. “That book is in Chinese.”
“Oh?” Appa says, flipping the book this way and that to show the girls its front and back cover as well as its spine. “Very clever. So it is...”
“So you can't read Chinese, only Abeoji can,” Ri Ahn points out.
Again, Appa fiddles with his glasses. “I've been learning,” he tells them. “You were both born in China, which is very important to your Abeoji and me, because you should know all about where you're from.”
“But we're from Korea, like you,” Lucy says.
“You are very blessed to be from both places,” Appa says. He lightly bonks Ri Ahn on the head with the flat of the book. “Now, may I continue with the story?”
“Yes, please,” Ri Ahn says.
“Yes, Appa,” Lucy says.
Appa opens the book and reads, “Once upon a time in a kingdom far away, there lived a very handsome, very poor young man named Jin. He had once been the youngest son in one of the wealthiest families in the land, but misfortune befell him, and he found himself the penniless servant of a cruel man called Saghan Mabobsa, or Bob.”
“Bob?” Lucy asks, Her small mouth quirks into a sneer. “The bad guy's name is Bob?”
“Bob the Evil Sorcerer,” Appa says. “Yes.” He briefly points to the page. “Says so right here.”
Lucy and Ri Ahn exchange a look. Then Ri Ahn shrugs, and Lucy nods for him to continue.
Appa says, “Bob ruled over his household with an adamantine fist, like an evil Wolverine. He would hit his servants and take away their food and, for his own dark amusement, he would make them dance and dance for hours until they would pass out from exhaustion and hunger. Bob had two young proteges... do you want to guess their names?”
“Jimin,” Ri Ahn says automatically.
“J-Jimin? Really?” Appa asks.
“And Jungkookie,” Lucy adds.
Appa chuckles. “Jimin and Jungkookie, all right. Bob had two apprentices, Jimin and Jungkook, and he spent all of his time and money spoiling them so that they were very happy.”
“Yay!” Ri Ahn sings.
“So happy that they never saw how unhappy Jin, their servant, was.”
“Poor Jin,” Ri Ahn says.
“Bob especially hated Jin because, underneath all of the dirt and the rags of his clothes, he was the most handsome man in all of the realm.”
“Like Abeoji,” Lucy whispers.
“Exactly like Abeoji,” Appa says. “So Bob the Evil Sorcerer cast a spell on him so that the only way he could ever speak was if he was telling a really bad joke, and the only way he could ever dance was if he danced like this...”
Appa spreads his arms and wiggles them up and down in a jerky, squiggling motion, which both girls immediately imitate. Then Ri Ahn bumps Lucy in the forehead, knocking her tiara askew.
“Pabo!” Lucy shouts, shoving her. Then she rights the crown and resumes her prim posture against her pillows.
“You're the pabo,” Ri Ahn sulks. “Pabo.”
“Neither of you are pabo,” Appa says. “But Bob the Evil Sorcerer, he definitely was. He liked to invent things – weird, wild, dangerous things – and some of them were amazing machines that made him a lot of money. Like he made a super-hot knife that toasted bread as it sliced. And he made a kind of boat that sailed so fast it could travel two minutes back in time. He bred a brown cow that made chocolate milk and an anxious cow that made milk shakes.”
“Wow,” Ri Ahn mutters.
“Yeah, but... some of his creations were too powerful and they escaped from him,” Appa said. “Like, for instance, an enchanted chicken with razor-sharp wings that flew at a hundred kilometers per hour!”
“Why would he make a chicken that could fly so fast?” Lucy asks.
Appa taps his temple, “I thought you would ask that,” he says. “Evil Bob worked for a food company that wanted him to make a chicken with four legs and four wings—”
“—Ah!” A light goes on in Lucy's eyes. “So people would have more chicken to eat.”
“Poor chickens,” Ri Ahn whines.
“Right,” Appa says. “Right! But the plan backfired, and the enchanted chicken was way too fast. It flew around and around the factory, lopping off the heads of all Bob's evil scientists. And then it escaped into the countryside, never to be seen again. Only, people knew it was there, because in the forest, they would find all the trees neatly chopped right across the trunk by the chicken's razor-sharp wings. The peasants would tell of how they would hear it late at night, whizzing by like a swarm of the angriest bees. Then the next morning, their trees would be all chopped down and their grass would be mowed short. Shhhhk. Just like that.”
“Shhhhhk,” Ri Ahn hisses, as with her hand she pretends to sheer the fine hair from Appa's arms.
“So was Jin afraid of Evil Bob?” Lucy asks.
“Oh he was terrified,” Appa answers. “But because of his curse, he could only tell jokes, and so he lived like that for years, cleaning and cooking and telling stupid jokes. All of Bob's household thought he was feeble, so they made fun of him and teased him so much that he only came out to clean at night. Then one day, the King of the Realm issued a proclamation. King Namjoon wanted to celebrate the Coming of Age of his son, Prince Kim V, so he invited the whole entire kingdom to his epic dance party.”
“But Jin can only dance like this,” Ri Ahn says, flinging her arms with more cautious fervor than she had before.
“Exactly,” Appa says. “And that made Jin very sad, because he wanted to go to the epic dance party more than anything else in the world.”
“More than being treated with kindness and respect among his peers?” Lucy asks.
Appa eyes her side-wise. “Have you been talking with Uncle Yoongi again?”
“Yes,” she answers, proudly.
“Good,” he says, saluting her with two fingers. “Keep that up. So. Soon Evil Bob's house filled with excitement as everyone began to prepare for the epic dance party, which, as it happened, would also be a masquerade ball. Evil Bob promised his trainees, Jimin and Jungkook, that he would make them the most amazing, most intricate masks anyone had ever seen. He set all of his surviving scientists and engineers to crafting their costumes, and he insisted that Jin help them with every fitting.”
“That seems really mean,” Ri Ahn says, frowning.
“It was,” Appa agrees. “But that's why he's called Evil Bob and not Kind Bob or even Sort-of-Nice Bob.”
Lucy and Ri Ahn glance at each other and nod their heads in agreement.
“It's important for you to know, though, that Jimin and Jungkook, while privileged, were not evil like their boss,” Appa says. “They rarely saw Jin, and when they did, they were too busy laughing at his silly jokes to notice how sad Jin was. So on the day of their costume fittings, they played and teased with him like always.
“For example, when Jungkook asked, 'How do I look?' Jin answered, 'With your eyes.' And then, when Jimin asked Jin how his day was, Jin replied with, 'Did you know that french fries weren't cooked in France?' Jimin and Jungkook could only blink back at him in confusion, so Jin continued with, 'They were cooked in Greece.'”
Ri Ahn and Lucy both flounce into their pillows, pretending to be fish drowning on dry land.
Appa has to mash down his own smile before he can go on. “Exactly,” he says. “So naturally, Jimin collapsed with laughter, and Jin, who was distressed because he couldn't say what he wanted to say, which was, 'I want to go to the masquerade dance party, too,' answered with, 'Two guys walk into a bar, but the third one ducks.
“At that moment, Jimin, Jungkook, and Jin hear an odd buzzing outside the window that goes 'Screeeeeeeee' and because of Jin's last joke, the three of them duck just in time to avoid the enchanted chicken as it sailed across the room. It sheered through the air, hacking into the necks of three of Bob's evil lackey scientists—”
Appa gently slices with his hand under the jaw of first Ri Ahn and then Lucy, making them each convulse from ticklish spasms.
“—Amazed that Jin had saved their lives, Jimin and Jungkook got to their feet, and they helped Jin to stand beside them. Jimin says, 'You saved us from Evil Bob's enchanted chicken,' and Jungkook says, 'Is there any way we can repay you?'”
Appa flicks the page of the book and continues. “But of course, Jin couldn't tell them his deepest wish, so he said instead, 'It takes ten-tickles to make an octopus laugh.'”
Lucy groans. “As the birthday princess,” she says, “I order you to stop.”
“What, it's part of the story?” Appa says, gesturing to the page.
And Ri Ahn goes, “Anyway...”
“Anyway, Jimin and Jungkook chose their favorite, most elaborate costumes and masks, and they told Jin to pick out anything he wanted from whatever was left over,” Appa says. “So when they went downstairs to meet their boss, Evil Bob, for dinner, Jin was left with a hundred mismatched costumes pieces and the severed bodies of the slain scientists, which Evil Bob's robots came in to clean up.”
Lucy holds up one finger. “If Evil Bob has robots that clean up, why does he need Jin?”
Appa taps his lip. “That,” he says. “Is a really good question.”
“Maybe Evil Bob only keeps Jin as a slave because he's so handsome,” Ri Ahn guesses. “And if people saw Jin then they wouldn't see Evil Bob's two rookie trainees.”
“Yes,” Appa nods. “Yes, that's the reason. You are so smart.”
Ri Ahn preens, pulling her dark hair around her shoulders. “I know,” she says.
“I'm smart, too,” Lucy whines.
“Of course,” Appa tells them. “Ri Ahn being smart doesn't make Lucy any less smart. And Lucy, you ask excellent questions, which shows you have a good, strong brain, too.”
“Hmm. Thank you, Appa,” Lucy says, blushing slightly, which makes Appa feel all toasty warm inside.
“Jin picked through the costumes,” Appa went on. “But none of them seemed right for him. His shoulders were too broad for the coats, and his legs were too long for the pants. Some of the masks were too heavy, or they had feathers that itched his nose and made him sneeze. So he looked longingly out the window and wished upon the bright, full moon for something, anything that would help him attend the ball. But because he was cursed, instead of expressing his deepest, truest desire, he said, 'I was up all night wondering where the sun had gone. But then, it dawned on me.'”
“No,” Ri Ahn says.
Shaking her head, Lucy also says, “No.”
Appa squints at them, “Yet, as luck would have it, the moon heard his wish, and soon it began to grow brighter and larger and more glowy, and before he knew it, the moon filled the whole window. There, in a basket hanging beneath the shining sphere of the moon, stood two men in bright orange track suits.”
“It's Uncle Yoongi!” Lucy shouts.
“And Uncle Hobi, too!” Ri Ahn adds.
“Yes,” Appa agrees. “Uncle Yoongi and Uncle Hoseok steered their moon balloon to the ledge of the window and beckoned Jin inside.
“Of course, Jin felt frightened, because he'd never flown before. Then he saw that Hobi was also afraid, but Yoongi was controlling the hot air that makes the balloon go up and down, so Jin figured it would be safe if he traveled with them.” Appa smooths the crests of the duvet with his hands. “Soon, Jin was soaring through the starlit clouds with Yoongi and Hobi, his fairy god-uncles. And before he could speak, Yoongi guessed Jin's truest wish.”
“Because Uncle Yoongi is a genius,” Lucy says.
“He certainly tells us that he is,” Appa allows. “So Yoongi said, 'You wish to attend the epic masquerade dance party, but you don't have a costume.'
“'And,' Hoseok added, 'You can only speak in jokes and puns, and you're cursed to only be able to dance like this—'”
On cue, Appa, Ri Ahn, and Lucy begin their spasmodic thrashing dance moves, each of them diversifying into their own unique styles until Appa seizes the book again and draws a dramatic breath to get their attention. Giggling, they both sit upright to listen.
“Then Uncle Yoongi said, 'You don't need a fancy costume for the party. You're so handsome that most people will only focus on your face and probably won't even notice your terrible jokes.'”
“Then Hoseok said, 'Unless they're written on paper, because then they'll be... tearable jokes.'”
Lucy makes a retching noise in the back of her throat.
“Yes,” Appa says. “Even Uncle Hobi makes the occasional pun. But we love him anyway. Yoongi, who also loved Uncle Hobi, could only groan in response. But Hoseok continued by saying, 'You may not need a costume, but you absolutely must have magic shoes.'”
“Magic shoes!” Ri Ahn shouts. “I have magic shoes, too.”
“Right!” Appa says. “They help you walk and dance and sing.”
“They don't really help me sing,” Ri Ahn grins.
“But you sing because you're happy about your magic shoes, right?” Appa asks.
“I mean, yeah,” Ri Ahn says.
Appa goes, “Well then, there you have it. Jin would also sing out of happiness for his magic shoes, but his song would be really lame because its lyrics would all be silly puns.”
“Please don't sing the silly pun song,” Lucy implores, and the gravity in her tone makes Appa inwardly laugh.
“Cross my heart,” he says again. “So, while they floated through the clouds high above the kingdom, Hoseok began to dance. He spun and dived and twirled and dipped, and the basket of the balloon filled with light and sparks and energy. Then, suddenly, with a crack of lightning and a whoosh of wind – bang! – a pair of amazing, shiny black shoes appeared. There were diamonds encrusted around the sides and rubies and emeralds and sapphires set in the surface, so that any way Jin turned his feet, the light gleamed on them like a hundred thousand rainbows.”
“Oooh,” Lucy and Ri Ahn enthuse in unison.
“Jin put on the shoes and tried them out,” Appa says. “He spun once and did a perfect moon walk. Then Yoongi told him, 'Here's the deal, Jin. You can take our moon balloon to the party, and you can dance in these fancy shoes, but you have to return to Evil Bob's mansion by midnight, otherwise we'll lose our deposit. And the deposit on the moon... dude, you don't even want to know how much it costs to rent this thing, all right?'”
Appa stares over the top of the book at his daughters. They both watch him with a kind of rapt and sleepy intensity that makes his heart swell with gratification. “Should I continue?” he asks.
Both girls blink. “Please, Appa. You can't stop here.”
“You sure?” he asks. “You've both had a really long day. We can continue tomorrow night.”
“Nooo,” Ri Ahn moans. “We haven't even met the prince yet.”
“Ah,” Appa smiles. “The prince. Right.” He tucks the blanket around Ri Ahn's waist and briefly clasps Lucy's hand. “Okay,” he continues. “As the moon balloon glided through the sky, Yoongi and Hoseok hopped out onto a silvery cloud. Then, all by himself, Jin guided it the rest of the way to the palace, excited at being able to see the whole city lit up just like the magic jewels in his shoes. Because he spent all of his time in the attic of Evil Bob's mansion, he'd never been able to see very much of the kingdom. The beauty of the city – the snowy mountains, the shimmery river – it took his breath away. When he landed in a field beside Dongdaemun Gate (because, of course, where else would you park the moon?), he saw that there were hundreds and hundreds of guests gathered at the palace. And all of them wore glittering costumes and fancy masks. All of them, except for Jin.”
“Oh, but what if Evil Bob is there?” Lucy gasps.
“He will see Jin and lock him away forever,” Ri Ahn adds in despair.
“Evil Bob was there, as were his two young proteges,” Appa says. “But when Jin arrived in his luminous moon balloon, he was so handsome that all eyes and cameras turned to watch him. He was so handsome that the other guests went into a kind of frenzy trying to find out who he is. In fact, so many people looked him up on their smart phones that the internet crashed around the whole world. This alerted Evil Bob's evil henchmen, because only Evil Bob was smart enough to fix the internet when it broke. He was forced to leave the party temporarily, enabling Jin to enter without Evil Bob ever finding out. And that was how Jin became known throughout the kingdom as Worldwide Handsome.”
“That's Abeoji's nickname!” Ri Ahn chirps.
“Is it?” Appa asks, feigning shock. “I had no idea.”
“Appa, that's how you have him saved in your phone,” Lucy tells him.
Appa squints at her. “Since when?”
“Since... forever,” Lucy says.
And Appa shrugs. “Probably,” he allows. “Anyway, Jin entered the palace and found it more luxurious than anything he'd ever seen. The walls were painted gold, the chandeliers were like crystal waterfalls, and huge overstuffed velvet cushions of every color were strewn along the walls.”
“Are there lemurs in the palace?” Ri Ahn asks.
“Completely forgot,” Appa says. “The palace lemurs acted as attendants to the party guests. They're just like our lemur, Frankie, only they wear bowties and waistcoats, and they deliver messages and cakes to the king and the prince. In fact, a lemur exactly like Frankie was riding around on the prince's shoulder when Jin entered the main hall. In the center of the palace, there was a massive ballroom with glossy marble floors. People in their flowy, glittery costumes danced to bright, cheerful music played by the coolest, most talented musicians in all the land.”
“Uncle Yoongi again?” Lucy asks.
Appa shrugs. “He could be playing the piano, I guess.”
“He should be the producer,” Lucy tells him.
Appa narrows his eyes. “Okay, he's the producer.”
“Much better,” Ri Ahn says.
“Uncle Yoongi has brainwashed the both of you,” he says. Appa tousles each of their heads, careful not to unseat Lucy's birthday crown. “So,” he continues. “There, dancing among the guests, was the prince himself, Prince Kim V, the First of His Name, with his trusty lemur, Frankie. And of course, from across the room, Prince V spied worldwide handsome Jin. The moment he saw him, it was like all of the sound and movement suddenly ceased. As Prince V danced his way toward Jin, the visitors parted to allow him passage, until finally, they stood face to face.
“At first, Prince V was speechless, but when he could finally talk, he asked, 'Who are you?' And Jin, who was still cursed, answered, 'Oh! My name is... Kari Oki.'”
Ri Ahn smacks a hand to her forehead, and Lucy goes, “Ugh.”
“Fortunately, that was not Prince V's reaction,” Appa says. “Because V was the prince, he was used to everyone being very serious and formal with him all the time, so Jin's appropriately-timed name pun caught Prince V completely off guard. He laughed and laughed, so much that everyone around them also began to laugh. The laughter rippled all the way outside of the palace and through the streets, where even the villagers and the forest peasants could hear it and rejoice.
“Prince V then asked Jin to dance, and because of Jin's magic shoes, they were perfectly matched on the dance floor. They danced, and Prince V talked to Jin, who followed Yoongi's advice and just listened to him, which made Prince V fall hopelessly and wholeheartedly in love.”
Ri Ahn bats her long lashes and sighs. “Oh, it's so romantic.”
“Totally romantic!” Appa agrees. “But unfortunately, and just before they were able to sneak in a secret kiss, the giant bell in the center of the palace began to gong. Jin snapped back to his senses by the fifth ring. But he couldn't ask what the time was, so he told Prince V, 'Time flies like an arrow...' And Prince V smiled and said, 'And fruit flies like a banana.'”
Before the girls can react, Appa leans in. “Then something strange happened to Jin,” he says, “because his tongue untied for just a moment, long enough for him to say, 'Please, Prince V, can you tell me the time?'”
“The curse!” Lucy breathes. “Is it broken?”
“Hm, I wonder...” Appa says, stroking his chin. “Well, Prince V checked his phone and told Jin that it was only a few seconds before midnight. So Jin turned and ran as fast as he could, but when he arrived on the steps, he heard this huge buzzing noise—”
“—The enchanted chicken!” Ri Ahn shouts.
“Run, Jin!” Lucy shrieks.
“But Jin didn't run, because he knew if he did, the chicken would fly into the party and kill everyone inside, including the Prince,” Appa leans in, whispering for effect. “So he stood perfectly still on the step, waiting for the chicken to whir down upon him. When the chicken struck, it knocked Jin off balance, making him lose one of his magic shoes. With only one magic shoe, he began to flail and dance, like this—” Appa flings out his arms and waggles them in a frenetic shimmy, which Ri Ahn and Lucy both imitate with thoughtful fervor.
“Does it work?” Ri Ahn asks.
“It did,” Appa says. “Jin's silly dance scared the chicken so much it zoomed away. But, Jin didn't have any time at all to celebrate his victory, because he had to return to the moon balloon, so he left his beautiful magical shoe on the stairs as he quickly ran away.”
“It must be really hard to run with only one shoe,” Lucy says solemnly.
“Very,” Appa agrees. “And, when he reached the clouds in his moon balloon, it started to rain. He couldn't see anything so he was unable to find his fairy god-uncles The moon rose up and up and up, high above the city, where the rain turned to ice, which covered Jin from the top of his head to the tippy part of his bare big toe. But even worse than that was the fact that the moon kept rising, and Jin grew frightened because the moon carried him further and further away from home. So, summoning up all of his courage, and despite the shivering cold, Jin slipped to the edge of the moon's basket, and when it skimmed by Namsan Tower, he leapt off and slid down, all the way to the ground.”
“Was he far from home?” Ri Ahn asks.
“Very, very far from home, and lost, too,” Appa says. “Jin hobbled for hours in the freezing cold, until finally he spotted the twisted tower of Evil Bob's mansion. He had to climb up the storm drain, which was slick with ice, to get into his attic room, where he curled up on a ratty old blanket and cried himself to sleep.”
Ri Ahn's bottom lip pudges out, and Lucy, noticing this, reaches to pat her sister's cheek. Watching them, Appa feels a blooming of warmth in his chest. They may fight like attack badgers during the day, but he trusts that one day they'll look after each other as only sisters can.
Quietly, Appa says, “But what Jin didn't see was a flash at his window—”
“—The enchanted chicken?” Ri Ahn guesses.
“This was a blur of bristly black and white, so quick it was gone in a swish,” Appa says.
“What was it?” Lucy whispers, and Appa gives them a noncommittal shrug.
“The next morning,” Appa continues, “all of Evil Bob's mansion was abuzz with talk of the mysterious, handsome young man who danced all night with the prince. Jimin and Jungkook could speak of nothing else, and they were so loud in their excitement that they woke Jin up from his weepy sleeping.”
Ri Ahn bites her lip. “Weepy sleeping,” she echoes.
“Jin crept downstairs to listen to what they were saying,” Appa says. “First, Jimin said, 'I heard that on the way out of the palace, the boy tripped and lost his awesome, jewel-encrusted shoe.' And Jungkook said, 'Well I heard that the prince is so desperate to find this worldwide handsome boy that he's sending out all of the palace guards to search for him.' And then Jimin said, 'Well I heard that King Namjoon has issued a decree, that whoever fits that amazing shoe will be allowed to move into the palace and hang out with the prince for as long as he wants.'”
“As long as the prince wants, or as long as Jin wants?” Lucy asks.
“Both,” Appa answers.
“Okay, good,” Ri Ahn says.
“Jin, in a panic at this news, went into his small bathroom to look at himself,” Appa says. “He was covered with mud and sludge from his trek through the city the night before. His already ragged rags looked worse for wear, his hands were scraped up, and he had a bird nest for hair.”
Lucy inhales softly. “You made a rhyme,” she says.
“It'd be amazing if he had a real bird's nest in his hair,” Ri Ahn adds.
“So he did,” Appa says. “But he carefully plucked it from his head and set it on his windowsill to bask in the sun. Then he did his best to wash his face and clean his hands, but everything in his attic room was coated with muck and dust, so he only managed to kinda push the dirt around.
“But he did have his magic shoe, which he cradled close to his body as he slipped down to the main part of the house. He cleaned there while listening for King Namjoon to arrive,” Appa says. “Hours and hours ticked by, and soon Jin grew tired. He was so sleepy from the night before that he found a dark alcove in the stairwell where he laid down for just a second. But just like that—” Appa snaps his fingers. “—He fell asleep.”
“Oh no,” Ri Ahn says.
Appa, nodding, leans in. “He woke to the sounds of shrieking and breaking glass and the telltale shhhhhhhk of—”
“—Evil Bob's Enchanted Chicken!” they all scream together. Appa planes his hand through the air in time with his whirring sound effects to snick Lucy and then Ri Ahn just below their ears, making them squeal and recoil in ticklish delight.
“Without thinking, Jin darted down the stairs into the main lobby of Evil Bob's mansion, where he beheld the chicken like a blur of knives careening down on the King and all his soldiers. Jin bravely dived in front of the chicken, and remembering his encounter on the steps the night before, he shimmied his hips and waggled his arms—” Again, he and the girls perform Jin's dance, “—only this time, confused by Jin's wacky dancing, the chicken flopped onto the floor and died.”
“Yay!” Ri Ahn and Lucy shriek together.
At that moment, the bedroom door bursts open and Abeoji leaps in, brandishing a pair of bamboo tongs like a sword.
“Yah,” he shouts. “I heard screaming.” He glances from the girls to Appa and then makes an elaborate show of poking behind their pillows with the tongs.
Lucy stifles a chuckle. Ri Ahn explains, “Abeoji, Appa's just telling us a story.”
Abeoji squints at Appa. Then he peeks behind the door, making both girls giggle to each other. “That was a lot of noise for a story,” he says. “Are you sure there aren't any zombies in here?”
Appa shrugs. “Well I was going to make Jimin and Jungkook into Enchanted Chicken Zombies?”
“Noooo!” Ri Ahn shouts.
“Enchanted Chicken Robots?” Appa tries.
“No zombies or robots,” Abeoji insists. “And no radioactive dragons.”
“Fine, then,” Appa huffs. “I'll just stick with the actual facts.”
Abeoji gestures to each of them with the tongs. “And I'll stick with putting Lucy's beautiful cake away before Yeontan gets into it and tracks tiny doggie footprints all over the kitchen floor... Again.”
Appa grins. “That was one time, Yeo-bo. And it wasn't birthday cake.”
Abeoji sniffs a short laugh. “Birthday cake, wedding cake...” He shrugs. “I doubt Namjoon's mother will ever really forgive us.”
Lucy and Ri Ahn glance from Appa to Abeoji, their eyes wide with intrigue.
“A different story for another day,” Appa tells them.
Abeoji leans over Appa's shoulder and kisses each of them squarely on the forehead. He whispers, “It's a really good one.” Then, with a wink and a salute, he leaves Appa to finish the story.
“Okay,” Appa says. “Where was I?”
“Jin just saved King Namjoon from Evil Bob's Enchanted Chicken,” Lucy says.
“Right,” Appa nods. “Excellent. So Jin stood there in the middle of the lobby, surrounded by flurries of feathers and a whole bunch of stunned, frightened soldiers and henchmen—”
“—And Jimin and Jungkook,” Lucy puts in.
“Yes, non-zombie, non-robot Jungkook and Jimin,” Appa says. “When the King went, 'Omg, you just saved us all from that horrible poultry beast.'
“And then Jungkook went, 'Look, there in his hand. It's the magic jewel-encrusted shoe.' The King glanced from the shoe in Jin's hand to the one that Jimin was currently trying on with his teeny weeny foot.
“The King just couldn't believe it. He said, 'You're Worldwide Handsome?' And Jin answered with, 'Don't call me later, just call me Jin.'”
“Oh no, his curse isn't broken?” Lucy asks.
“But wait,” Appa says. “Because a moment later, while everyone was groaning over Jin's words, a twitch of bristly black and white appeared in the door. Then, a second later, Prince V burst in with his trusty lemur Frankie at his side. What Jin didn't know was that the lemur followed him all the way home the night before, and then rushed back to the palace to tell the prince what he had found.”
“Good Frankie,” Ri Ahn says.
“He's such a smart lemur,” Lucy says.
“A very clever lemur,” Appa agrees. “And so, Prince V crossed the room, stepping over dismembered henchmen and the dead enchanted chicken, to stand with King Namjoon and Jin.
“Jin was overcome with joy at seeing the prince, and remembering the moment when he was able to speak to Prince V the night before, he asked, 'How many apples grow on trees?' To which Prince V responded...”
Appa lingers, waiting for the girls to figure it out. It's Lucy who gets there first.
“All of them,” she says, holding her hands as if to say Obviously.
“That's correct,” Appa grins. “So then, he said to the prince, 'My name is Jin, and it's my pleasure to meet you.' All at once, Jimin and Jungkook and the king and the prince and Frankie the lemur leapt up and shouted for joy, because Jin's curse was broken by V's answer to the riddle, and soon he moved into the palace to live there happily ever after. The—”
“—Hold up,” Ri Ahn interrupts. “What happened to Evil Bob?”
Appa brings his hands together. “Oh right! So when the Enchanted Chicken appeared, Evil Bob ran screaming into the streets, where on the corner he tripped and met two men in orange track suits. He tried to bully his way between them, but Hoseok and Yoongi dazzled him with a sick rap-dance cypher that sent Evil Bob into the gutter. Then, Jin's fairy god-uncles snatched Bob up and took him to jail, where he remains to this day.”
“So then Prince V and Jin get married?” Lucy asks.
“Eventually, yes,” Appa says, smiling.
“And they live happily ever after?” Ri Ahn asks.
Appa shrugs. “So far, so good,” he tells them. “Now. Time for bed.” He kisses each of them on their foreheads, just as Abeoji had done only a few minutes before.
“Will you tell us about Yeontan and the wedding cake tomorrow?” Ri Ahn asks.
“If you'd like.”
“Yes, please!” Lucy exclaims.
“Can it be a magic wedding cake? One that makes everyone's wishes come true?” Ri Ahn asks.
“Of course,” Appa says. “That would be the most amazing wedding cake in the world.” He turns to Lucy and asks, “Want me to take your tiara?”
“Nope,” Lucy replies, “I want to wear it forever.”
“Completely understandable,” he says, tweaking her on the ear. “Happy birthday, Lulu.”
“Thank you, Appa.”
Appa steps to the bedside table and returns the book to the shelf. He watches as his daughters snuggle together, Ri Ahn beneath the arm of her older sister, before clicking off the light and leaving the room.
Taehyung finds Seokjin in their bedroom, Frankie the lemur perched on his shoulder, 'helping' him feed Gukmul and Odengie. Taehyung slips his arms around his waist and rests his chin against the back of Seokjin's neck. Frankie gently migrates across Taehyung's back, dropping to the floor before loping off to his cushion by the window.
“Were there monsters in this one?” Seokjin asks as Gukmul nips a bite of sweet potato from his finger.
“Only a chicken,” Taehyung answers.
“A chicken made them squeal like that?” Seokjin says.
Taehyung scritches the top of Gukmul's head. “It was a scary chicken, and completely Ri Ahn's idea.”
“She is so your child,” Seokjin says. He lets Gukmul scrabble back into his sling before reaching for Odengie. He cups him with both hands before pulling the sugar glider close to his chest. He turns to face Taehyung, and together they coo over the little creature between them.
“It was good birthday,” Taehyung says.
“I cannot believe you got Lucy a lemur...” Seokjin says.
“I can't believe you got her a diamond tiara,” Taehyung says.
Seokjin lifts his shoulders. “We got one for Ri Ahn when she had the fitting for her leg braces. I figured they should both have one, since they're both clearly princesses.”
Taehyung lifts his hands in surrender. “She wants to sleep in it,” he says. “She'll probably wanna wear it to school.”
“Well why can't she?” Seokjin asks, and again Taehyung holds up his hands.
Odengie twitches his tail and snuffles Seokjin's fingers. Taehyung pinches a piece of sweet potato and offers it to him. Odengie grips it between his tiny claws and fastidiously nibbles it down.
“You ready for bed?” Seokjin whispers. His lashes flick and his eyes light with a subtle smile.
“I've gotta walk Tan-ah, but afterward, I will be,” Taehyung says.
Seokjin replaces Odengie in the cage and sets the lock. Then he dips in for a brief, teasing kiss. “Don't keep me waiting,” he says.
Taehyung grins. “I will do my best.”
He's almost out of the room when Seokjin calls, “Hey, Taehyung-ah,” and he cringes slightly because often this leads into a terrible pun which Seokjin has either just made up (usually awful) or retold to him a thousand times (exponentially more awful).
Instead, Seokjin crosses the room and enfolds him in a tight embrace, burying his face against his neck. He smells like birthday cake and sweet potato, and when he speaks, he kisses the words into Taehyung's skin. “You are a wonderful Appa,” he says. “And I love our life together.”
Taehyung inhales a deep, satisfied sigh. “Happily ever after, huh?”
Seokjin shrugs and says, “So far, so good.”