Authors: David Yoon
Before me and Paul hit the road, I have one pit stop to make: Q’s house.
He forgot his big bag of dice again.
“Wait here,” I tell Paul, and run up the three-hundred-kilometer-long gravel driveway.
When Q opens the door, he’s all alone.
“Where is everybody?” I say.
“Mom-n-Dad are with Evon up in SF tooling around before Stanford starts,” says Q. “She said you might want these back, by the way.”
Q hands me a fistful of cables in Loco-Lime™ green, Grape-Escape™ purple, Citrus-Spin™ orange, and so on. All the colors of the rainbow, in order.
“Thanks,” I say.
“What about your million relatives?”
“Mouse World Theme Park,” says Q.
“Jesus,” I say.
“I told them I had tapeworm.”
“Nice,” I say, and give Q a fist bump. “You forgot your big-ass dice.”
I hand him the bag, and he presses his lips to mine.
“What—” I say, only to have him kiss me again. Curiously, his lips are softer than Joy’s. More tentative. He smells like lime soda and Blazing Hot Nachitos.
When he pulls away, I see his eyes are brimming with tears.
“Please don’t tell anyone,” he says.
A wave surges the sea level in my chest; two new tears sting my eyes with their salt. Suddenly realizing that Q, my top chap, has been living with a secret fear—secret even to me—for who knows how long makes me want to rage out against entire stupid world.
But Q does not need rage right now. He needs the opposite.
I wipe his tears with both my thumbs and study his face. I never noticed how fine it was, how lovely in shape. I never noticed his
, even. It is a face, I realize, whose beauty shows itself only when it’s ready—a face that has the grace and strength it takes to reveal the true self just beneath. It is a face someone will no doubt fall in love with one day. So I tell Q this.
“One day you’re gonna make some lucky boy very happy.”
“I’m gonna miss you,” he says.
“I’m gonna miss you too,” I say.
We know we’re out of civilization when we reach the burned forest. The flames that ran through here were the same flames
that started while I was breaking Brit’s heart, a million years ago.
“Man, I guess the fire reached pretty far,” says Paul Olmo.
“Yeah,” I say. It’s been an hour and a half of driving, and I’m still kind of in shock.
Suddenly I need to get out of the car. “Hey,” I say. “Gotta pee.”
“Take your time,” says Paul. “We’re frankly in no rush.”
“Har,” I say. “You’re olmo funny.”
Paul smiles a sad smile and begins flipping through photos of all of us on his phone.
When I’m done peeing, and the crinkly pattering sound stops, all that’s left is silence. Total and complete silence. I realize why: with all the leaves burned away, the forest no longer makes sound. There is a brand-new sign, probably put here recently to replace the old burnt one, bearing the words
FIRE HAZARD LOW
And yet, there’s a size and shape and quality to this dead forest that is palpable. It is there. Like a soft breathing. This is but a moment in the life of this colossal organism, for the trees will grow back, and everyone will forget there were ever flames hot and high enough to melt houses.
I am standing on a road leading away from home. It’s strange to be here. I shouldn’t be here. Because at home lies Dad with his to-go cup. Mom gets him whatever he needs, which is becoming less and less with each day. He hasn’t checked the security cameras at The Store for a couple of days now. He knows it’s no longer important.
Anyone else would think I was weird for leaving like this.
One day soon I will get the call. I’ll slip out of lecture, or shush my dorm friends, or freeze in midstride on a quad path. I’ll drive home as fast as my car will go, holding ready the one last goodbye I’ve saved in my heart.
For now, Mom-n-Dad would be proud to see me standing here on this road. They insisted I do this. So I’m here for them just as much as I am for me. And that makes me proud, too.
“We are okay,” said Dad when I left. “Have a fun.”
I take out my Tascam. I hit Record. I brace the device in the crook of a tree limb. Memory is cheap and plentiful, and the Tascam will record for hours and hours even with all the other sounds that are still on it: Lake Girlfriend, ocean waves, diners at Scudders, that samulnori quartet, and so on. Maybe someone will find these sounds, and also find delight in them.
I leave the Tascam, get back in the indomitable Consta, and head out north.
after we end
I have one name.
I used to think I had two names: Frank, my quote-English-end-quote name, and Sung-Min, my quote-Korean-end-quote name.
But now, I’m calling Frank my first name and Sung-Min my middle name. That’s for a few reasons:
Frank + Li makes a funny pun, which I used to hate but now I’ve grown fond of.
Having two names is like trying to be two people at once. Who does that?
No one ever calls me Sung-Min, not even Mom. Dad never did, either.
Dad lasted two more months before my phone rang.
“You coming home,” was all Mom had to say.
When I arrived, Hanna was already there in the room with Dad. She let him feel her belly. He took both of Miles’s hands in both of his and said:
“You whole of world number one best daddy for Sunny.”
Hanna and Miles are having a girl, and her name will be Sunny Lane (nine characters).
I stayed in my room. Hanna and Miles stayed in her room. Mom stayed with Dad. We lived like this for three whole days, waking up together, cooking meals together, watching television. Just being bored together. Feeling the jeong. Mom gave Miles whatever he wanted, and too much of it, which meant,
I am eternally ashamed of how we treated you and will forever be sorry for our foolishness.
Thanksgiving came, and we had the world’s simplest feast of take-out Korean fried chicken, white rice, and pickled radish. Dad even managed to eat a little and hold it down.
It was fun in a bittersweet way. I felt like a little kid again for some reason.
Then it was time for Dad to leave.
Everyone gathered on the green slope the afternoon of the funeral. The Apeys, the Limbos. Q was there, with hot sister Evon. Brit was there. Even Wu showed up. Everyone in black, not knowing where to look. Trying not to stare at me or Mom or Hanna. The ceremony was conducted in Korean, and translated in turn into excellent English by Joy’s dad.
Joy was there. When she hugged me, I felt her secretly kiss my neck.
“You look nice,” she said.
“So do you,” I said, and melted with tears. Joy held me up. I don’t know why I cried so much, or for so long. As in I can’t articulate why. All I could feel was my brain exploding with a million tiny dark stars. When I opened my eyes, me and Joy were the only ones left on the green slope. Everyone else had gone to the wake.
We all sat together in a strange room, eating strange food. It was a phantom party in a dream. No one had changed—no one had started dating anyone new, everyone looked the same—but still: all of us were different now. I could feel it. At one point we all ran out of things to talk about, so we just stared at the black framed photograph of Dad flanked by dancing candles.
Hanna was the one brave enough to start the farewell hugs. Everyone else followed one by one. Q was the last in line, with an awkward bro-hug. I understood why he would give me such a hug, what with all these people present. But to hell with bro-hugs: I held him with all my might, to let him know I loved him.
And then, I was all alone.
“Bye, Dad,” I said to the photograph, and felt a hand slip into mine.
“He can do whatever he wants now,” said Joy.
“Probably open another store in the afterlife,” I said.
We laughed at this. Then Joy began staring at me with a look I recognized. It was the look from that night when she snuck into my backyard for our last kiss. There in the funeral reception hall, Joy stood looking back and forth between my eyes and my lips. Waiting.
But the thing about last kisses is this: they are final. Me and Joy already did that. It was done.
I let her know this by giving her hand a squeeze.
“It’s really good to see you,” I said.
“See you at Christmas, I guess,” said Joy.
“See you at Christmas,” I said.
It’s three days later, and I’m headed back north. Mom’s insisting. Hanna and Miles are staying behind for a few more days, ostensibly so that Mom can buy them a metric ton of baby clothes.
“No way am I letting her buy a bunch of pink princessy crap,” says Hanna.
“You’re such a bullshitter,” I say.
“She’s gonna buy whatever she wants, isn’t she.”
“And you won’t stop her,” I say. “And you’re gonna love every minute of it.”
Hanna gives me the longest hug she’s ever given me, which means,
And now I’m back on the road. Paul Olmo sits in the front seat, Evon Lee’s in the back seat. We drive and drive. We pass a phone around and take turns playing music. We pass through the burnt-out forest again, and when I spot the fire hazard sign, I slow down and crane my neck to see if my Tascam is still there.
But the Tascam is gone.
I’m so happy to see it missing that I tear up. I’m grateful someone is listening to it right now. I’m grateful for everything:
this road, the trees that will soon bloom with life again, and all the life ahead of us.
I drop off Paul Olmo in Santa Cruz, and then it’s just me and Evon alone.
“Your turn to DJ,” I mumble, blindly handing her the phone.
“So my brother told you he’s, uh,” says Evon.
I glance at her. She peers at me from behind my phone.
“Yes,” I say. “He did.”
Evon nods. “He said he was gonna, so. Good.”
“How long have you known?”
“He’s been working up to it,” says Evon.
We drive for five miles, passing endless tan hills and vast refinery lots. I glance at Evon a few more times. She doesn’t know about the kiss.
“So did he come out to your mom-n-dad?” I say.
Evon shakes her head. “He was barely able to tell me, let alone them.”
“And you kept his secret this whole time.”
Evon just shrugs at me:
“You’re the best little sister by three seconds in the whole world,” I say.
Heavenly Evon Lee smiles one of the best smiles ever.
We reach Stanford. I drop her off at her dorm. I reach my dorm, park the car, and get out to stretch.
I don’t know what else to do, so I walk the campus.
I cross the parking lot to find myself in a field that dips to
reveal a serpent-like wall constructed of stone. It’s a famous sculpture, apparently, one that evokes sinuous change and unyielding permanence both at the same time.
I descend the bank to the wall and walk its length. I run my hand along its undulating tapered top ridge as it winds left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right.
Then the wall ends and I continue on.
Thank you, Mom. I love you.
Thank you, big bro. I love you too.
Thank you, Jen Loja, for taking the time and caring with such sincerity. Thanks to your team as well.
Thank you, Jen Klonsky, my champion at Penguin. I’m beyond lucky to have as a believer someone as smart and fearless as you.
Also many thanks to:
Shanta Newlin and her indomitable publicity team, including Elyse Marshall and Marisa Russell
Emily Romero and her inspired marketing team, including Alex Garber and Felicity Vallence, and Erin Berger and Christina Colangelo
Felicia Frazier and her intrepid sales team
Laurel Robinson, Theresa Evangelista, Marikka Tamura, and Caitlin Tutterow, plus Kelly Hurst across the pond
I could not dream of more gracious, patient, and ingenious people to work with. All of you are the shinobi elite of publishing.
More thanks to my Alloy family: Josh Bank, Sara Shandler, Joelle Hobeika, and to Les Morgenstein and Elysa Dutton here on the West Coast. You guys believed in me so steadfast for so long, even when things weren’t going so well, and now I’m teary-eyed.
Enormous thanks to Yoon Bai and Gemma Baek for keeping my crappy Korean straight and for your critical translation skills.
All the hats off to artist Owen Gildersleeve, for crafting a cover authors dream of.
Thanks to Jillian Vandall, because Jillian Vandall.
I would not even be here without wife Nicola Yoon. You are my love, my best friend, my weirdest friend. You are my most trusted writing partner and tough-as-nails business sounding board. I have a hard time believing we actually get to be on this creative journey together. Hand in hand. Step by step. Some mornings I wake up and think, “We are married, and we are writers!”
Thank you, Nathan Cernosek, Wendy Wunder, Gregg Rosenblum, Anna Carey, Adam Silvera, Sabaa Tahir, Ransom Riggs, Tahareh Mafi, Marie Lu, and Primo Gallanosa for your cheers and support. You know like only fellow writers can know.
Thank you Andrew Dodge, Michelle Hlubinka, Sue Jung, Christina Ma, J Chad Evans, and the rest of the original Apey crew.
Hi Penny! One day I bet you’ll get to write acknowledgments too.
Thanks also to Billy Lambufonda.
Finally: thank you, Dad. You taught me more than I think either of us realized. I know you only got to hold the book in your hands, and not for very long because you were so tired, but I know you read it in your own way using your heart instead of your eyes. You can officially brag about me to your new mysterious friends. I miss
Photo Credit: David Zaugh, Zaugh Photography
grew up in Orange County, California, and now lives in Los Angeles with his wife, novelist Nicola Yoon, and their daughter. He drew the illustrations for Nicola’s #1
New York Times
Frankly in Love
is his first novel.