Fate is said to have a funny way of working. I would have to agree.
I’d been a single father for about four years now, or was it five? Having a child was an emotional roller coaster, and along with the difficulties of raising a little girl alone comes the rumor of time flying, and boy, did it.
It felt like yesterday that me and her mother had separated, that I was changing her diapers and teaching her to read. Now she was basically a mini human being with her own thoughts, opinions and passions. The truth of how old she was getting was now blaring in my face as I stared at the calendar, holding up the page for March to reveal April.
I was a day late in flipping it. “Wow, April second already?” I was talking to myself as I find the energy to pin the page up finally.
Regardless, my daughter answers from her spot at the kitchen table where she’s sat eating cereal. “Yup! So that means that my birthday is in a couple days, ya know!” She kicks her feet excitedly as she shovels a spoonful of flakes into her mouth, speaking with chewed food still in her cheeks. “But I think we should celebrate all month…my..birthmonth!” Her words are a bit muffled but I still understand her.
I look at her briefly with a smile, making my way to the fridge to fill my glass with orange juice. “Three more days. I think one day is enough...”. I turn towards her. “And don’t talk with your mouth full.”
She raises the edge of the bowl to her lips and slurps the milk from inside to wash the chewed food down. She sets it on the table dramatically and starts counting on her fingers. A huge smile covered her face as she nods with conviction. “Yup! What are you getting me??”
“I think you’ll have to wait and see~” I rebuttal, setting my glass in front of her bowl and ushering her from her seat. “Let’s go, you’re going to miss the bus.”
“Appa, don’t change the subject.” A pout replaces her smile but she shuffles to put her backpack on anyway, waiting for me in the doorway.
“Da-eun, you know it wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you.” I pat her head once I catch up, earning a protestant moan from her.
I check myself in the mirror hung in the entryway, adjusting my tie a bit as Da-eun slipped her shoes on. I followed in suit, pulling my own on before leaning down to help her tie her laces.
“Appa! I can do it myself!” she huffed as she watched me.
“Yeah, yeah. Let me help anyway, sometimes.” I protest, though I’m smiling.
Once we make our way outside, I check that the door is locked, making sure I have my wallet.
We make our way down the driveway on foot, just as we did every other day. I reach down to take her hand, but when she doesn’t take mine, I glance to her. She was holding onto both straps of her backpack tightly, looking down with a troubled expression.
“What’s wrong, Eunie?”
I shake my head as we reach the end of the driveway. I turn to kneel in front of her so we’re eye to eye. “You know that I won’t fall for that. You can tell me anything.”
“Well..will Eomma be coming this year..? For my birthday?”
I feel my heart drop. I should have expected this question after what happened last year, when Jieun never came. How do I tell my daughter that her mother hasn’t talked to me in almost eight months?
“Honey, I don’t think that she’ll be coming this year either. She’s very busy.” I try to reassure her with a smile, but it’s no use against an upset, seven-year-old. My hands move to the sides of her small arms first, then I can’t help but wrap my arms around her after a moment, pulling her into a tight hug. “It’s okay if it’s just us though, right?” I hear the bus and pull back, kissing her head before rising to my feet.
I can tell she’s still upset but she finally smiles back. “Okay! Love you~”
“Love you too!” I yell back, though by time I say that she’s already run onto the bus. I watch as one of her hands presses against a bus window, the other waving. I wave back until the bus is completely out of my sight.
I stand there for a moment, letting out a sigh of relief.
Thankfully, the first half of my shift was over in a heartbeat. I plopped down in the seating of the breakroom, bag of fast food in hand. I barely had enough time to take care of my daughter, let alone my own lunch. Hamburger combo it was again.
One of my coworkers, a tall, stern male with the grace of a computer science major, walks into the room, another coworker in toe with a giddy smile.
“Hoseok!” The excitable male turns his attention from Namjoon and to me, practically skipping to the table and pulling out the chair beside me.
“Hey, Taehyung.” I say with a smile.
“You look tired!” he points out the obvious as Namjoon pulls out the chair on the opposite side of me from Tae.
“He’s raising a kid and working here, remember...?” Namjoon points out, unpacking his lunch box.
“Oh yeah~ Da-eun, was it? She’s such a cutie. I remember her from ‘bring your kid to work day’.” He leans his elbows on the table, resting his chin in his hands as he looks at me.
“How’s she doing?” The other male asks.
“She’s good. Growing up so fast..and her birthday is in a couple days.” I explain tiredly, unwrapping one of my burgers.
“Ooo, what are you going to get her?” Taehyung questions.
“A kitten.” I admit with a little hesitation.
Namjoon seems surprised by this. “Oh, really? Are you sure you can handle a cat on top of taking care of her?”
“Hah..” I let out a chuckle, though it’s clearly forced. “What’s a little more work?” I take a bite of my burger, setting it down as I think over the completely valid point that I hadn’t thought of.
Tae’s face even drops. “Are you okay?”
“Uh, yeah.” I nod, suddenly not hungry. “Well, no. I’m tired, and today she asked if Jieun was coming to see her for her birthday.”
“I haven’t heard from her in eight months.” I admit. Though I was close to these guys, I hadn’t yet told them. Especially since these were the only guys I had a social life with outside of taking care of my kid, I almost felt guilty.
“Oh.” Namjoon sets his own fork down, clearly sympathetic.
“A-ah..I didn’t mean to make you guys upset. It’s fine, really. Just stressful to try and explain it to Da-eun, that’s all. That’s why I’m getting her a kitten. She needs company, I can only love her a certain amount, I’m one person.”
“Why don’t you go on dates?” Taehyung suggests. “I mean, it’s been years, right?”
“Yeah, but you know why me and Ji split up, right?”
“Yeah, because she cheated on you, that and you’re into men anyway. So, what?”
“That’s even harder to explain to Eunie!”
“Well, she seems pretty understanding, and she’s a smart girl, right?” The calmer of the two asks. “You’re gonna have to tell her some time.”
“Yeah, I suppose. It’s hard being a parent, is all. I feel like I haven’t cared about myself in so long, it almost feels selfish to see someone again.” I say thoughtfully. “Everything I do, I think of her. What she’d think, how it could affect the rest of her life..”
“You shouldn’t! I think you seeing someone would actually benefit her. She’ll have another person to take care of her and if it’s a guy, she’ll grow up more open-minded.” Tae scoots closer, leaning against my side as he pulls something up on his phone. “This is the app where I met my boyfriend, I think you should try it. It takes into account everything you input and matches you with the most compatible people!”
I watched as he navigated through the app. I had met my ex on an app like this, so I was reluctant, but it looked much more advanced than what we’d used ten years ago. Making the decision to get married at twenty-two and have a kid a year later wasn’t the apps fault anyway, it was one of those young, dumb mistakes.
I sigh, “You know what, maybe I will.”
I tucked Da-eun in, waiting for her to fall asleep. I sat on the edge of the bed, letting the back of my index finger graze her cheek, a smile covered my lips. I got up and left as quietly as possible.
As I walked around the house tonight, I felt twenty times more lonely than usual.
Everything I did was for my daughter, I’d really lost touch of what I needed. My life had become mundane, a routine. When I was off, I either slept the day away or had to take Da-eun to lessons. There was no point in living.
I shook my head rapidly, as if it would shake the thoughts out of my head. Of course I should be living, for Da-eun! I had to do something so I wouldn’t think. Dishes! The dishes needed to be done.
I made my way from my room upstairs, heading down and into the kitchen. The house was so quiet, so empty.
As I stood over the sink, cleaning the grime from the dirtied plates, the silence crept up on me. I stared down at the sponge in my hand, watching as tears fell into the basin.
It was finally Da-eun’s birthday.
I took a half day of work and even picked her up from class, something I rarely had time to do.
“Daddy, where are we going?” She asked excitedly as I drove her towards the shelter.
“You’ll see, we’re almost there.”
She giggled a bit, mostly out of excitement, her legs kicking anxiously as she stared out of the window. As the shelter’s sign came into sight, she perked up, hands pressing on the window. “The pet shelter?! Really?”
I glanced between her and the gravel road that led to the building, not able to stop the smile on her face as excited noises came from her side of the car. “Yup, I know you said you wanted a kitten..so..”
“Really? Y-you mean it?! Hehe..” She bounced in her seat, hands moving to unclip her seatbelt, but not quite doing it until we came to a stop in the parking lot. She hopped out of the car before me, laughing as she basically ran in circles.
I climbed out, watching her giddily run up to the outdoor kennels and talking to the dogs through the fence. “C’mon.” I command as I walk to the entrance, also full of child-like excitement as I glanced at my phone.
I was actually pretty popular on the dating app, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t picky. Even though I had tons of admirers that weren’t exactly handsome, there were a few that were seemingly perfect. One of them was a suave, almost mysterious man. We’d been talking since yesterday, but it felt like an eternity.
I took my eyes off the phone long enough to open the door for my daughter, walking up to the woman at the desk who led us to the room full of kittens.
My daughter ran wild, filled with joy and energy as me and Suga exchanged messages.
S U G A: What’s up?
Hoseok: I decided to bring my daughter to get a cat for her birthday. You?
S U G A: I was thinking of doing the same, her birthday is soon too. I’m waiting for the bus right now.
Hoseok: It’s a relief you know how I feel. None of my coworkers get it. She’s running around now, I should make sure she doesn’t man-handle any of the kittens too badly. I’ll message you soon.
S U G A: Actually, when you get a chance, just text me? XXX-XXX-XXXX
Hoseok: Okay! \(o//w//o)/
I smile, holding my phone to my chest happily before tucking it into my pocket, just as my daughter runs up, cat in hand. She holds it up towards me. “This one!”
“Are you sure, Eunie? There are a lot of cats here, after all.” The kitten was really cute, but that was to be expected. It was a little, orange tabby cat with a white belly and muzzle. His eyes were a lime green, bright with huge pupils.
“Yes! He’s so cute~ And he lets me hold him and doesn’t squirm around!” She says as she hugs it close to her chest, the kitten well-tempered and allowing.
At my daughter’s feet, another kitten, almost identical, was mewing as he looked up at her. “Okay, if you’re sure.” I reached a hand to scratch between the purring baby’s ears.
“There is one problem!” She says, looking down at the other cat as well. “He has a brother! Can we have both?!”
Now she was giving me those big, kitten like eyes. I’m tempted to, but I know that our house won’t allow us to have more than one uncaged pet. The downside of renting to own. “Honey, we can’t. Our landlord won’t allow us, we can only have one.” I see a bunch of cats starting to pool around us, wanting attention or food. “How about we pick another?”
She looks like she’s pondering, but when her eyes meet the kitten’s, she shakes her head. “No, I want this one!”
“Okay, okay.” I smile, ruffling her hair.
After a ton of paperwork and some shopping at a local pet store, we finally arrived home. The kitten sat in Da-eun’s lap the whole ride, not fussing too much.
I sat on the couch, relaxing after a rather eventful day. The TV idly played the local news, but I wasn’t paying attention, I was too busy texting the man I’d quickly become infatuated with. The bell on the collar faded in and out of earshot as my daughter chased the kitten around the house, giggling and calling his name.
We’d settled on the name Hobi.
“Eunie! Time for bed. Take Hobi up with you and I’ll be up in a minute.” I yell, making sure she can hear me.
A moment later, her voice comes from another room. “Okay!”, followed by footsteps heading up the stairs.
Hoseok: Are you sure you’re not a catfish?
I pick up the conversation.
Yoongi: If you think so, video chat with me after you put your daughter to bed.
Hoseok:You can never be too safe. You should be flattered because it means I think you’re unreal~
Yoongi: Hmn, if you say so~ Put your kid to bed already.
Hoseok: lol, I’m going. (>w<)
I put my phone down on the coffee table in front of me, getting up and making my way to her bedroom. I give a quiet knock, waiting for her answer before entering.
Inside, Da-eun was sitting on the bed, the kitten laying on his back on her lap, purring as she almost rhythmically pet him. She looks up at me as I approach, carefully laying down and trying not to disturb the cat too much.
“Looks like he’s settling in nicely.” I wait for her to scoot over a bit so I can sit on the side of the bed.
“Mhmn! But I’m worried he misses his bother.” she hugs him to her chest where he squirms a little then adjusts enough to fall asleep.
“I think that’s inevitable, but I’m sure he’ll find another little girl to love him just as much as you love Hobi.” I pull the blanket over both of them.
“I hope so.” Da-eun nuzzles into her pillow a bit, side-eyeing me. “Hey, Appa?” she asks.
“Who have you been talking to on the phone?”
“What do you mean?” I tilt my head a bit.
Her eyes shift around before falling on me again. “You’re never on your phone, so I’m just curious.”
I take a deep breath, feeling like a deer in the headlights. Do I tell her the truth, do I make something up? Namjoon’s words echo through my head though, ‘ you’re gonna have to tell her some time.’
“Honey, Appa has been feeling…lonely, recently.”
“But you have me!”
I smile, reaching over to tenderly brush hair from her face. “Yeah, I know, but I need someone more my age. Just like I’m not your only friend, right?”
She seems to think about this before answering. “Right! So you’re making friends?”
“Maybe more than that.”
“OH, you like like this person?”
I shrug, beginning to tuck her in. “I’m not sure yet, but maybe.”
She takes the news better than I thought, a big smile crossing her lips. “I just hope you’re as happy as me and Hobi!”
“You know, you’re a smart little girl.” I say almost as if this was an epiphany.
“That’s what I’ve been saying this whole time!” she jokes snidely.
I laugh. “Go to bed, soon, okay? You have school tomorrow.” I finishing tucking her and kiss her head, getting up.
“I love you, Appa.”
“I love you too.” I respond, offering a long glance before turning the light off, only a small night light illuminating the room as I quietly close the door behind me.
I stand outside, listening for a moment as my daughter says goodnight to her kitten and goes silent. I can’t help but keep smiling, wasting no time in getting downstairs.
I stop to glace at myself in the entry way mirror before hurrying to my phone, my heart pounding a million miles a minute. I stare at it for a moment, tempted to tell him that I can’t call anymore out of anxiety.
I somehow find it in myself though, palms sweaty as I plop onto the couch. I reluctantly call, waiting anxiously for him to answer. With every ring, my finger hovered closer to the ‘end call’ button. Just as I’m about to press it, he answers, the picture fuzzy and whit.
As it comes into focus, I see the exact man I’d seen the hundred times I’d scrolled through his profile. I relax some, smiling into the camera and waving.
“H-hey!” I say with some nervousness, and perhaps a hint of cutesiness.
“Yo. Da-eun is asleep..?”
“Yeah! How’s your daughter?” I try to make conversation.
“Supposed to be sleeping. I can hear her watching tv still though.”
“You’re not worried?” I can’t help but to frequently brush the hair from my face and check my appearance in my camera.
“She’ll fall asleep soon and I’ll go in and turn it off.” He nods, watching me fix my hair. “Hey, you don’t have to fix yourself so much, you know. I think you look fine.”
He doesn’t falter or show much emotion as he says it, but my face still heats up, and I’m sure its clear how flustered I am. “A-ah! Sorry.”
He smiles, the first time I’d seen him do it. “Cute.”
I can’t help but smile back, probably goofily. “You too..”