“Yes?” My father asked, quirking an eyebrow at me. He looked back down at his papers. “I am surprised that you have come here by yourself after your fiasco this morning.”
My stomach grumbled once again.
“Don’t be surprised. I’ll come visit you often, daddy.” I managed to fake a smile, showing my pearly whites.
It was what I had called him before my mother died, and before he started to change into a taciturn man. I never actually addressed him properly afterwards. On rare occasions I would say ‘father’, but never anything more intimate.
“I’m sorry for my behavior this morning, daddy.” I examined the brief surprise that crossed his face when he heard the words ‘I’m sorry’.
A corner of his lip turned up, as if he was restraining himself from smiling fully. “I must be dreaming if my daughter is apologizing to me.”
“Daddy, this is definitely not a dream. I have changed, believe it or not. I will no longer uphold such disgraceful behavior.”
“Very well.” His tone was dismissive. He looked back down at his papers, not bothering to say anything else. Suddenly, memories of how I was treated by him in the past resurfaced in my mind, and I couldn’t stop my small fists from shaking at my sides.
“Daddy,” my tone was now as icy as his was in the beginning, “I need to have a word with you about your treatment towards me. You are not acting like the father I once knew.”
Father lifted his head from his papers, his eyes registering more shock than anger.
“You are deliberately ignoring and neglecting your only daughter until the very end,” I said, my voice trembling with rage, remembering how pitiful my old self was without a good father figure in my life. I wanted to nip this problem in the bud before it got any worse. “I too, am grieving because of mother’s death. You are not the only one who is sad. You forget that I am here as well. Please remember that, daddy.”
Father’s face crumpled, as if I had hit a nerve. We stared at each other for the longest time, neither one of us looking away.
After the shock, which seemed like a millennia, father’s face turned to that of true sorrow, and my anger turned to sadness.
I stepped closer to the table, until we were face to face, and placed my small hands on top of his clenched ones. “Daddy, your love for mommy was great and true, that is why you have become like this. But I am her as well. I am the fruit of your love. Won’t you at least give me a share of the love you also had for mommy?”
Father bowed his head as he cupped both my hands together. I couldn’t see his face, but his broad shoulders were trembling.
My father didn’t change overnight, of course. But his attitude towards me was warmer, though he was still distant. As long as he didn’t develop into a bad father who didn’t care about what would happen to his daughter in the future, I didn’t mind. In the future I recalled, father didn’t care about my engagement with Prince Arion, and only followed the will of the monarchs. But if he cared for me now more than he used to, perhaps he could take my feelings into consideration and tell the King to cancel the engagement. There were other qualified daughters who were prettier than I. It didn’t have to be me.
When my father and I would have our private meals together, I noticed that although he was still quite reticent, he would try to make small talk, however awkward it would be.
Have we never had any father-daughter bonding before I went back in time?
“Elena, what did you do today?” Father asked over breakfast.
My face scrunched up. “I just woke up, and now I’m eating.”
“I see.” My father looked shaken, as if he had said the wrong thing.
What else should I say?! I wanted to make small talk too, but never had I ever experienced being pressured to create a topic with family before. I used to be able to say anything right off the bat, as my modern father was a huge jokester, and my mother was the admonishing type, but who loved to be coddled by him.
Thinking about my modern family made me miss food from my home country.
I could even name 3 dishes right off the top of my head, that I could eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday. I would cook those dishes myself right now, but I doubt there were any ingredients around here.
Although the squash pudding I was eating right now was tasty, there was still something about my local Korean dishes that would bring forth a nostalgia and craving that no other cuisine from foreign places could replace and imitate. It just wasn’t the same.
“What are you going to do today, Daddy?” I asked, wanting to know more about him. Even with my past life’s memories, I knew close to nothing about my own father.
“I have a meeting with Sir Reginald regarding our plantation in the south, then approve documents concerning our staff’s wages. If I have time, I might make a few rounds outside our estate to oversee the surrounding villages under our duchy.” He wiped his mouth with an embroidered table napkin, and continued talking. But his speech was hard to follow. He sounded rather mechanical about everything, as if he was just reciting a written itinerary created by his secretary.
From what I’ve gathered, father was obviously too busy to make time for the old Elena, as his schedule was always full. Right now, it was even a miracle that he could set aside time to have three meals a day with me. And if he couldn’t make it to some meals, he would tell me in advance, so I wouldn’t have to wait for him. What I had told him back in his office really struck a nerve, and my heart warmed at how considerate he was becoming now.
“Is there anything you want for lunch, Elena?” Father asked, noticing how I just kept staring at my porridge in rumination (or dissatisfaction).
“Kimchi,” I said without even thinking.
“Who is this Kimchee?” Father looked befuddled, as he should be.
“Nothing, haha.” I waved the awkwardness away with a hand. While waving, the spoon I had in one hand slipped from my fingers and fell on the floor with a clang.
The maids around the dining table stiffened, thinking that this might be another one of my tantrums. When I was the old Elena, I had hit a cowering maid with a spoon, that she ended up having a huge bruise on her hand.
That same maid was now still trembling, but kneeled before my chair to pick up the spoon. But I had already leaped out of my brocade chair, and kneeled before her to pick the spoon up myself. I had hands, so why did I even need someone else to do something so trivial as this?
“Thank you, and I’m sorry for what I did to you before.” I smiled warmly at the maid despite the mixture of confusion and resentment swirling in her eyes, and sat back on my chair. I wiped the spoon with a napkin, then scooped up my porridge once again.
But everyone was horrified as I continued eating.
Um…what did I do?