He sets up a clinic next to the sandwich shop called Silvertop Bakery.
Eunmaru, he reads, and tests the name on his tongue. It tastes pleasant and slightly bittersweet.
The shop is run by a girl with curly hair and sad eyes. The first time he sees her, he is overcome with a surge of protectiveness that takes him by surprise.
The first time he walks into her bakery to order breakfast, she is bent over the counter, forehead furrowed in concentration as she takes an order with one hand on the telephone, the other poised over a notepad. She freezes in place when she hears his voice, and when she turns and catches sight of him, her eyes fill with tears, and she stands very still for a long time. Her faithful assistant, eight-year-old Myeong Joo, has to prepare the sandwiches in her stead.
Maru collects the sandwiches, offers them both a smile, and introduces himself as the new doctor with the clinic just a few steps up the hill from the bakery. He hands over his name card, a simple card with his name and his telephone number for consultation or medical emergencies. The girl with the curly hair reaches out automatically to take the card with her hands, which are shaking just the slightest bit, but she doesn’t say anything, and her eyes never leave him.
“I’m Myeong Joo,” the little girl chirps, when she realises her unni is not going to speak, “and this is my Eun Gi unni.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Maru says. “I’ll come again.”
When he steps out of the shop, he puts his hand to his chest. His heartbeat is racing.
After that, he has all his meals at the little sandwich shop.
At first, Eun Gi sidles around him almost reverently, as though hardly believing he is there. After the first time at the bakery, she can barely meet his gaze, dropping her eyes and occasionally worrying her bottom lip with her teeth, as though feeling unaccountably guilty about something that has happened in the past. Maru is not used to being treated with such carefulness, and temporarily wonders if he should eat elsewhere, if only to give the girl some space. But he feels that it is important that he chooses to be patient. It pays off when she warms to having him around, and he knows he's won her when she starts to eagerly explore new recipes for his meals.
He eats everything she makes him, down to the kalbi-flavoured cookies she tried once, and the kimchi ramen cheese sandwiches. He has always thought it would be nice to eat food prepared by someone who loves him. He has a memory of a sunny kitchen in a different time, with a pair of hands stirring a ladle, one gently wrapped around the other. It's the first time this friend is preparing breakfast for me.
He settles in easily, and soon adopts a seat of his own, outside in the sea breeze. He picks the one which lets him glance into the side window of the shop from time to time, and see her surrounded by an array of assorted cook books, with a smudge of flour on her face as she tries to figure out her latest recipe.
Sometimes he just leans back into the sunshine, letting his gaze sweep over the houses of the village and the sparkling sea, and the sense of peacefulness that comes with being in a place where no one knows him. He remembers a time when the sea didn't hold such promise for him. But it seems that God gives second chances to everyone. And for some lucky ones, third, fourth, and fifth chances.
The little village is grateful for the clinic. Some of its residents have never grown accustomed to the big hospitals, and Maru likes that his clinic makes them feel comfortable enough to drop in even about the smallest things. He finds himself a pair of helping hands in an unlikely ahjumma, who putters about meticulously cleaning the clinic and insists on making sure his patients all have a hot drink if they have to wait.
He begins to think this could be home.
Still, the girl at the bakery does nothing more than smile at him when she sees him, and exchange occasional pleasantries when they meet. After their first encounter at the bakery, she gives no indication that she likes him, and Maru wonders if he’s on the right track. Until the moment he catches her secretly taking photos of him as he sits outside her bakery. Fair’s fair, he supposes, since he was looking at her first. But that doesn’t mean he can’t tease her about it.
"Are you... interested in me?" He wonders if she would deny it.
She lifts her chin and meets his gaze squarely. "Yeah. The handsome guy is my ideal type. I’m easily moved."
The words echo in his mind.
“Are you interested in me?”
“Are you the type that is easily moved?”
“Is your ideal type men who are handsome?”
His heart thumps with an unnamed emotion that threatens to bubble itself out of his chest. He excuses himself instead.
Every morning, he sits on the bench next to the road on the hill, waiting for her to wheel her bicycle by. Every morning, he watches her wheel her bicycle past, hesitate, and then keep going on the road up to her bakery.
Then one morning, she wheels her bicycle past, hesitates... and stops her bicycle.
“Since when have you liked me?”
“It’s been a while.”
He tries his best to even out his breaths. She comes nearer. His heart is beating frantically. It can’t be, it’s too fast. He quietly panics as she makes her way over to the bench. He shifts in place as she sits down on the other end of the bench. He wonders if he can carry it through. But he’s promised himself he would.
She tucks her hands into her lap and he steals a look at her, finally allowing himself to drink in the sight of Seo Eun Gi, sitting next to him, still waiting for him here in this little sandwich shop as he had waited for her in his old house on the hill. It overwhelms him how completely two people could choose each other. If you wait, the person is sure to come.
It’s really time.
He reaches into his coat pocket for the box he has carried with him every day, ever since he met her again. The chapter they first began writing eight years ago could finally come to its conclusion.
"Were you never going to say anything?"
"I wondered if you were still ready to walk this path together."
"Of course," with certainty. "Our hearts remember each other."