As a Korean adoptee, Hara Wilson doesn’t need anyone telling her she looks different from her white parents. She knows. Every time Hara looks in the mirror, she’s reminded that she doesn’t look like anyone else in her family—not her loving mother, Ellen; not her jerk of a father, Pat; and certainly not like Pat’s new wife and new “real” son.
At the age of twenty-five, she thought she had come to terms with it all, but when her father suddenly dies, an offhand comment at his funeral triggers an identity crisis that has her running off to Seoul in search of her roots.
What Hara finds there has all the makings of a classic K-drama: a tall, mysterious stranger who greets her at the airport, spontaneous adventures across the city, and a mess of familial ties, along with a red string of destiny that winds its way around her, heart and soul. Hara goes to Korea looking for answers, but what she gets instead is love—a forbidden love that will either welcome Hara home…or destroy her chance of finding one.
|Penguin Publishing Group
|5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)
About the Author
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When I was ten, my dad, Pat Wilson, joked that I should've had my tear ducts removed with my tonsils. I understood where he was coming from. I used to cry all the time. I cried when my crayons broke. I cried when I lost the red bow that was tied around my favorite stuffed bear. I cried when I broke the back door to the garage. Dad seemed like he was going to cry over that one, too. Hara, you're eight. How in the hell did you pull the door off its hinges?
I can't remember how I broke the door, but the reason I was crying when I was ten is still vivid in my memory. Why that's the memory of my childhood that has stuck with me I can't explain, but humiliation is like superglue. My elementary school days are a mosaic of failing the spelling bee, tucking my skirt into the back of my tights, not realizing I had peanut butter smeared across my sweater for a whole day, seeing my crush confess his feelings to another girl on the same day I was going to declare my fourth-grade heart, and then this one. I'd like to say that these past hurts stung and I moved on, but I can recall the day with perfect clarity. It was sunny and the school term was nearing its end. We were all anticipating summer break and perhaps that was why we were testy with one another. During recess, a couple of stupid kids asked if my face was flat because I'd fallen off the monkey bars and landed facedown. One, I had never fallen off the monkey bars. I was strong as hell even at age ten and I could fly across those damn things. Second, my face is not flat. If anything my face is too round. My chin is curved and my cheeks are plump. I don't have a prominent forehead or deep-set eyes, but that's not a bad thing. It's an Asian thing.
Even though I knew this, I felt ashamed of my face and so I cried because that's what ten-year-olds do when their feelings are hurt. The tears bothered my dad.
Hara, are you seriously crying because some kid said you had a flat face? What's the big deal? Hara, tears aren't going to make other kids stop making fun of you. Ellen, tell her to stop crying.
He wasn't wrong. Crying didn't change anything, and a year later, my tear ducts closed up and haven't worked since-not even at times when they should, such as when the hero or heroine dies in a book after you were promised a happy ending or when Allie remembered it was Noah reading the stories to her in The Notebook or when I'm sitting in the funeral parlor with my dad's body in a casket next door.
Even if I could produce tears on command, there isn't much to cry about today. Dad and I hadn't had much of a relationship since I was eleven and he'd decided that the fatherhood experiment wasn't working out for him. He'd been busy finding himself, which entailed him taking boys' trips to places he couldn't afford, shacking up with women half his age, and generally making Mom miserable. I was glad he'd kept his distance, because any interaction between them ended up sending Mom spiraling. We once joked she cried enough for two people, but it wasn't just a joke. She wished I would cry more and I wished she would cry less. I'd turned into my dad at some point, I guess. How depressing.
"Drink this. You look thirsty." Mom shoves a mug into my hand.
"I'm good." The thought of putting anything in my mouth makes my stomach roil. Not only is the body of my father lying in a box in the next room, but all the prep work for the deceased is done in this very building. I'd rather eat my own toes than digest this funeral food.
"You haven't eaten or drunk anything all day. I understand if your stomach is upset, but at least put some liquids in you."
I pretend to sip because getting into an argument over a cup of hot water at a funeral doesn't seem like the best course of action. It's easier to give in.
"Your eyeliner is smudged."
That's from earlier when I thought if I poked myself in the eye, it might produce tears. It didn't, even though it hurt. Mom licks her finger and drags it underneath my eye as if I were a little girl again and had dirt smeared on my face. Her action leaves an uncomfortable wet spot above my cheek that I itch to wipe off, but because I don't want her to feel rejected, I let my face air-dry. She's already on edge.
"Your dad is probably livid at this." She waves a hand toward the table someone set up with a poster board filled with photos. "It's so low-rent. And the lack of people . . ." She clicks her tongue against the top of her mouth. "He'd be devastated. I can't believe Geoff Kaplan didn't come. Those two had a business together, for crying out loud."
A failed one, if I recall, but Mom is absolutely correct. Dad would not be happy with this event. If this were Geoff's funeral, Dad would be in the corner with a golfing buddy declaring that this joint was both dull and tacky. The reception table has a grocery store cake, an assortment of cheese slices on a tray with the UPC label still visible on the black plastic, white disposable cups, liters of off-brand soda for the punch, and two tall stainless steel hot liquid dispensers filled with coffee and tea.
Dad would take this all in with his social smile-the salesman grin that seemed permanently etched into his face like the Joker's scars-but inwardly he'd be fuming. The attendance at the wake is sparse and no one sounds like they miss him. Even the second Mrs. Wilson is occupied with trying to keep her toddler from drooling all over the punch bowl instead of sitting still in her black dress weeping delicately into a handkerchief.
The last straw would be the fact that the sun is shining and there's a whole row of yellow and pink tulips sprouting in the funeral home's flower beds that line the walkway. Pat would want wailing and rain and a scene full of black umbrellas. He liked drama and attention, which is how he ended up with Nina Mathews. My mom has purses older than Nina.
The second Mrs. Wilson was a waitress at a bar that Dad liked to frequent. One thing led to another and she got pregnant. I was informed via text: Hey sport. Brush up on your baby facts. You're going to be a big sister soon.
The second-fatherhood thing must've terrified him so much that his heart gave out. That and the fact that his arteries were as hard as a cinder block.
"This whole thing looks so . . . cheap," Mom declares with a sniff. "But what do you expect from someone like her. Trash only knows trash."
I wince. Mom hasn't always been this antagonistic toward Dad's new wife. Up until yesterday, Mom's primary emotion toward the current Mrs. Wilson was one of pity. That poor girl better start hiding the grocery money or She's wasting her youth on that man. But last night, the new Mrs. Wilson revealed that Dad left a mortgage bigger than the value of the small two-bedroom that they lived in and a car loan that was three months late. Oh, and an insurance policy of twenty grand. Mom had demanded I get half. Dad had died without a will, and per the law, I guess I was entitled to some share. Mrs. Wilson countered that it was all that young Ryder would have to put toward his college education. You've already been to college and gotten a degree, Nina had said, her small face looking more pinched than normal. Don't be selfish.
Mom disagreed, loudly, and maintained that as Patrick Wilson's daughter, I deserved an equal portion. Nina then made the mistake of saying Ryder deserved it more because he was the real child. I'd had to drag Mom out of the house before she committed a homicide. She was that angry. How dare that tramp say that about you? Of course you're his real child!
What Nina meant, what everyone means when they say that I'm not Pat Wilson's real kid, is that I'm adopted. I don't look anything like my parents and this has been the cause of a great deal of confusion to strangers who would sometimes stupidly ask Mom where my actual parents were. Mom always responded tersely that she was my real mother. Real because I'm the one who raised you. It doesn't matter who gave birth to you. I chose you. I supported you. I raised you.
And she did. She wiped my tears, made my lunches, took me to my appointments, paid for my college, bought me a car, and even helped me with the down payment on a condo, which makes me the envy of all my millennial coworkers. I'm actually doing fine because of her and don't need half of the insurance policy, although I know my friends would tell me to take it and go on some wild vacation. I glance toward my purse, where a folded email rests. I've been thinking about traveling lately . . . but, no, if I take that trip I'll use my own funds.
The insurance proceeds are necessary for Nina because saving money wasn't Dad's forte-using all available cash on reckless get-rich schemes, such as opening a taco franchise when there were already two in the same zip code or buying up a bunch of biotech stock based on a tip he overheard at lunch, was what he was good at.
So while Mom might be mad at Nina forever, I'm fine with not getting anything. I'd also be fine with not being Pat Wilson's real daughter at the moment if that meant I could leave.
The slight chemical smell of the funeral home, the hushed whispers, and the casket sitting in the other room were all making that space between my shoulder blades-the one I can't reach from either above or below-begin to itch.
"Ellen, my goodness. I wondered if you would come. How are you holding up?" A big woman with a beak of a nose dressed in a black floral dress leans down to envelop Mom. I breathe in a wave of lavender and eucalyptus, which makes my empty stomach turn over. "I can't believe Patrick is gone and so young, too. I heard it was a heart attack?"
"Yes, while he was mowing the grass, can you believe it? His arteries were a mess. I always told him he needed to lower his cholesterol."
"How could he when he was married to you, though? You always made the most delicious desserts. Potlucks haven't been the same since you and Pat got the divorce. Do you still make that chocolate mousse? You told me your secret once and I forgot."
"Ice," Mom explains, happy to be distracted. "Everything needs to be cold. I even freeze the whisk that I use to whip the egg whites. That's the key to a perfect piecrust, too. Cold butter. So many people forget that. I have this book I adore even though I know paper books are outdated these days."
"I love paper cookbooks, too!" declares the other woman.
The two fall into a discussion about the merits of print versus internet recipes. The new ones can't compare. Since Mom is occupied and the overwhelming perfume is threatening to make me sick, I decide to move. Over the woman's head, I point to my barely touched tea and mouth that I'm getting a replacement. Mom gives me an encouraging smile and motions me off.
I drop my cup into a nearby trash can and wander over to the memory table. Set up near the poster board full of pictures is a television monitor. It plays a loop of photos and videos of Dad's life. Nina put it together so I'm not surprised that large chunks of Dad's life are unrepresented in the movie, but I find myself engaged anyway. There are baby pictures. A montage of old school photos with Dad holding a baseball bat and then a football and then at a track-and-field event. There's an image of him leaning against a bright blue sedan and then another at prom followed by a young Patrick throwing his graduation cap in the air.
"It's such a pity about Patrick, isn't it?" a woman says behind me. "He couldn't do much of anything right and now he's left behind a young widow and a baby."
"He finally got a kid after years of trying. At least he was successful at one thing before he died," answers a man.
I wonder if criticizing a dead man is normal discourse for a funeral. It feels like it's in bad taste, even if it is accurate. After the text, Dad invited me to dinner. Over pasta, he'd admitted to being a bad, absentee father. The specific words were: I had shit for brains when you were a kid, Hara. I didn't do good by you so I think I should make it right by being there for my son.
I nodded and told him it was fine. Even if it wasn't fine, I would've said it was because Dad is-I mean, was-a salesman and if he suspected that I didn't agree with him, he'd try to "sell" me on his ideas. I saved myself from that exhausting experience.
"Didn't he have a child from a previous marriage?"
"I think so, but not a real one. Apparently his first wife couldn't have kids. Or maybe she had kids before they were married because she has a daughter. Anyway, this is his first real child-and a son, thank goodness."
I should move. There's no point in listening to this conversation anymore. I look down at my feet and order them into motion but they remain planted.
"I knew it was something because when I first heard he was having a baby, I offered my condolences. Who wants to parent a toddler at the age of fifty? But Pat was thrilled to death. He said that he hadn't ever got to experience the whole bottle-feeding, diaper-changing bit and that he couldn't wait."
"Crazy. I'd lock myself in the bathroom for the next five years if my wife told me she was pregnant."
"Same, but Pat was beside himself with excitement." The woman tsks. "Too bad. It's all so tragic."