I hear the crash as the door bursts open, but I don’t stop to think as I hurl myself up and onto another unfamiliar floor, slam the trapdoor down.
Instantly, lights flash on. My eyes, so used to the dark now, burn with the glare.
There is screaming and shouting in a language I don’t know. I curl instinctively into a ball, my breath coming harder as the screaming gets louder. But the words I don’t understand do not matter. There is already one thought pounding over and over in my head:
The Scarred Man killed my mother … and he is going to kill again.
Grandpa isn’t happy. To be fair, I don’t know that many men who would be pleased to have their granddaughter dragged home after dark, sopping wet and disheveled after turning up in the South Korean embassy totally uninvited and unannounced.
I mean, I know I’m no expert in diplomacy. But appearing on the basement floor, wet and terrified, probably isn’t the best way to make an entrance. Even I know that.
But that’s what I’ve done. And now it’s time to pay the price.
The man who walked me here keeps a death grip on my arm. We stand at attention side by side in front of my grandfather’s desk, as if we’re here for some kind of inspection. Grandpa stares at me like an executioner might. Ms. Chancellor stands over his shoulder, uncertain whether to laugh or to scream. She no longer looks at me like she wants us to be friends. I know without asking that she’ll probably never again try to give me candy.
My grandfather and my captor speak to each other in rapid Korean. No one offers to translate for me, but even though I don’t know the words, I know exactly what they’re saying. When my grandfather lowers his voice and speaks softly, the man lets go of my arm and looks at me. The truth about what my grandfather just told him is written all over his face. I call this particular look the Dead Mom Smile. He’s giving it to me now. The tilt of the head. The slightly upturned lips. Oh, poor thing, he’s thinking. When he speaks again, I know that’s what he’ll say.
It’s a free pass and my grandfather knows it. How am I supposed to know that it’s rude to show up unannounced in the basements of foreign governments? I no longer have a mom to tell me not to.
“Gracie.” Grandpa’s voice pulls me back. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
It might be a trick question, so I take a moment before deciding to speak. Carefully, I look from Grandpa to the man from South Korea to Ms. Chancellor, who gives a little nod to go ahead.
“Well, I was out walking, and then it started to rain,” I say slowly. “And then I got lost. I didn’t know where I was. The sidewalk was slick and I fell through some kind of hole and ended up in this tunnel. I couldn’t get back up. So I started walking. But it was so dark down there. And I was wet and cold and afraid.” I look at our visitor. “I was so afraid,” I tell him. My voice breaks.
“And then I saw a ladder and a sort of trapdoor, so I started to climb and … the next thing I knew, I was in your embassy. But I didn’t know it was your embassy!” I hurry to add. I’m almost shaking as I drop my gaze to the ground. “I was just trying to find a way out.”
I wish I was exaggerating, but the terror I felt is still too fresh, and there is so much truth in my lie that it is maybe the most honest thing that I have ever said. But they don’t know that. They just look at me for a long time. It’s Ms. Chancellor who finally breaks the silence.
“Mr. Kim, I assure you, no one regrets this terrible accident more than Grace. I’m sure she is sincerely sorry for any shock or concern she might have caused you or your staff. Aren’t you, Grace?”
“I am. I really am,” I say.
Then the man turns to my grandfather and says something else I do not understand.
Grandpa laughs, pats him on the back, and shakes his hand.
“It’s a deal,” Grandpa says. Then he turns to me. “Gracie, what do you say to Mr. Kim?”
I give a low bow and use my most reverent tone as I tell him, “Juay song hamnida.”
This, at last, makes the man smile. He bows back, then shakes my grandfather’s hand one final time and leaves.
“That was very impressive, Grace,” Ms. Chancellor says before Grandpa can speak.
I shrug. “I can apologize in seven different languages. It’s just something you pick up when you’re me.”
But Grandpa isn’t pleased. “Gracie, I do not know why you were there —”
“I told you why I was there!”
“— but you cannot go sneaking into places where you don’t belong!”
“I didn’t sneak in! I was lost! I was scared! I was …” I trail off as soon as I remember I’m not lying.
I would give anything to be lying.
“Did that boy make you do this?”
“That — Wait. What boy?”
“The Russian,” Grandpa snaps, and I want to laugh, the thought of it is so absurd. That Alexei could be a bad influence on me …
“Well, did he?” Grandpa persists.
“I haven’t talked to Alexei since …” I don’t want to say that night or since my attack. I don’t want to re-live it in any possible way. So I simply shake my head. “I don’t talk to Alexei.”
“Good. The Cold War, Gracie — it was easy compared to this.”
This what? I want to know but do not ask. Instead, I hang my head and nod ever so slightly.
“I was so scared.”
Maybe it’s the softness of my voice, the gentle quiver in the words. Maybe I look like my mother. Whatever the reason, neither my grandfather nor Ms. Chancellor scold me anymore.
“I guess that does it, then,” he says.
“Yes. For tonight,” Ms. Chancellor tells him. “We should touch base with them in a week or so. Perhaps the Korean ambassador will —”
“He’s going to kill again,” I say, but the words are barely more than a whisper.
“What’s that?” Grandpa says. I can’t tell if he didn’t hear me or he’s pretending he didn’t, then I decide it doesn’t matter.
“Never mind.” I shrug and shake my head. “You never have before.”
I want to storm off, make a statement with a slamming door. But as soon as I reach the hallway I can see I’m not alone.