Even though Lee Dongmin was one year older than Moon Bin, their birthdays were just close enough that they were in the same class at school, and they’d become best friends. Dongmin was the kind of beautiful that Bin’s younger sister Sua read about in her stupid romance novels, the sort of Joseon-era prince who’d come in and sweep a girl off her feet with his courtly manners, who composed poetry and rode a horse and did archery.
Sometimes, when Bin and Dongmin were in the music room sitting next to each other on the piano bench, pressed close, hands tangling as they played a duet, Bin imagined being swept off his feet by Prince Lee Dongmin (he’d probably have a more traditional Korean name, like Lee Rim), resplendent in a colorful silk hanbok, confident with a sword, wealthy beyond dreams.
Bin never let himself get too close to Dongmin, though. They were best friends - studying together, riding bicycles together, swimming in the creek behind the school, wrestling, playing music. Even though Dongmin had a brother a year younger than Bin, they were close as brothers, maybe even closer, though Bin was careful to not to let his gaze linger when they scrubbed each other’s backs at the sauna.
“You know I’d do anything for you, right?” Bin said, one night while they were lying on their backs under the stars, watching the late spring cherry blossom trees hang heavy in a warm breeze.
Dongmin nodded. They were allowed to sleep outside sometimes on the weekends, Bin to escape his sister, Dongmin to escape his stifling house.
Dongmin said, “I think my parents want to send me to Tokyo to university.” He turned to look at Bin. “I’ll write you every week. I promise.”
“You promise,” Bin said, and almost added, Seal it with a kiss.
Everything went to hell when the bombs dropped.
Bin’s house was destroyed. His parents and grandmother were dead in an instant. Sua was blinded from the flash, and she was sick. Bin, still in his school uniform, managed to drag her from the house, bind her eyes, and hoist her onto his back. He stuffed his bookbag full of food, filled his canteen with water, and then -
Then he was going to head south.
They had an uncle and aunt in the south. He hadn’t seen them since they were very small, but if they could head south, they’d be safe. The Americans had control of the south. The south had food and shelter and maybe a doctor for Sua. Bin heard vague snatches of news on the radio as he crept through the town, Sua in his arms, doing his best to avoid the soldiers shouting in a language he didn’t understand.
There was a pass through the mountains that could get him where he needed to go. He’d taken the path once, when he was ten, with his father, to meet a cousin on the way to his uncle’s house. He could find the pass again, he was pretty sure.
Sua had to stay quiet, and they had to stay out of sight.
For three days, they did well. Sua was feverish and in pain, but she ate a little and drank a little, and she was quiet, so Bin carried her and walked steadily.
And then -
“Freeze! Put your hands up!”
Bin turned slowly. “Please, my sister is very sick, I -”
Dongmin was wearing a military uniform. His grip on the rifle was shaky.
“Dongmin, what’s going on?”
“I’m running away. I don’t want to fight anymore,” Dongmin said. He sounded like he’d been crying.
Bin said, “Sua and I are going to my aunt and uncle in the south. Come with us. But Sua is sick. She needs a doctor.”
Dongmin said, “Give me your uniform.”
“If either side sees me, I’m dead. Either I’m an enemy or a deserter. Give me your uniform.”
Bin set Sua down very carefully. “Dongmin, come on now.”
Dongmin’s grip on the rifle stopped shaking. “Now!”
Bin’s heart started to pound. He reached up and started unbuttoning his jacket. “All right. Just - I’ll stay with you, and I’ll protect you. But you have to promise to protect Sua if anyone attacks us, all right? Promise me.”
Sua didn’t stir while they hurriedly changed uniforms. Bin felt distinctly itchy and nervous in Dongmin’s military uniform, wearing Dongmin’s name. Dongmin looked about as uncomfortable in Bin’s clothes, but then he picked the rifle up again.
“Wait, what about Sua?” Bin asked. “Won’t it look weird if you have the rifle and I’m carrying her?”
Dongmin started into the trees. Bin scooped Sua up into his arms, then hurried after Dongmin.
“No, look, the path is this way,” he said.
Dongmin spun around. “Yah! Don’t follow me!”
Bin felt the blazing pain before he heard the rifle report.
Dongmin’s eyes went wide.
Bin staggered to his knees.
“Binnie, no, I’m sorry.” Dongmin backed away, clutching the rifle.
“Wait, don’t leave my sister,” Bin begged.
“I’m sorry,” Dongmin sobbed.
Bin remembered nothing after that.
Myungjun stood at the entrance of the Blue Moon Inn and frowned at the ash raining down from the sky, listened to the bombs screaming in the distance.
The teenage boy who approached the door wore a military uniform had a bloodstain and a bullet wound right in his heart. The name on his uniform read Lee Dongmin.
War was hell. Myungjun had fought in dozens and lived through hundreds more, for certain values of the word lived.
The moon was full overhead, so plenty of spirits would be finding their way to the inn.
“How long ago did you die?” Myungjun asked. He only had two staff, and neither of them watched the front door.
The boy was tall, handsome, with cat-like features. He looked dull, dazed. “I don’t know,” he said.
“What’s your name?” Myungjun asked. If he remembered, he’d died recently, or perhaps not too traumatically.
“Moon Bin,” the boy said.
Myungjun looked at the name on the boy’s uniform again. There was a story there.
Myungjun said, “Welcome to the Blue Moon Inn.”
“What about Bin?” Sanha asked. Even though he was only a high schooler, he was a very eager intern.
Myungjun said, “Everyone at the Blue Moon Hotel has a story.”
“Is he from the Joseon era, like Kihyun and Changkyun?” Sanha looked ready to take notes.
Myungjun shrugged. “Ask him yourself.”
Sanha thought Bin was handsome. Sanha had been tall and handsome, once, before he’d been murdered by one of his classmates. Jinwoo, the hotel’s human manager, had noticed that Sanha had taken his revenge by stealing the body of the boy who’d murdered him, but he hadn’t stopped Sanha, so now Sanha was shorter and not nearly as handsome, but at least he had his life back.
But he could now also see and interact with ghosts, including all the ghostly staff at the Blue Moon Hotel, like Bin the bellhop who welcomed guests at the front desk on full moons.
Where Kihyun the room manager was older and fussy and uptight and Changkyun the bartender was a little crazy and too philosophical and intellectual to be fun, Bin was closer to Sanha’s age, had died as a teenager, and he was the only one of the staff who Sanha considered a friend.
Sanha found out that Bin had died during the War of 1950 and was waiting for his younger sister to die so they could cross the bridge to the afterlife together.
“That’s really sweet,” Sanha said.
“I gave my life to make sure she would be all right,” Bin said.
One small problem with Sanha taking over someone else’s body was that he had to live someone else’s life now - with someone else’s parents. The boy who’d bullied him hadn’t been well liked, so he’d had to weather the initial storm of the boy’s victims turning on him. And he’d had to fake being someone he wasn’t.
The boy he was inhabiting played piano.
Sanha’s own parents hadn’t had money for music lessons, so when the other students cornered Sanha in the music room, he panicked.
And then he felt Bin beside him, and Bin said, “May I?” and Sanha closed his eyes and Bin took over and then Sanha was playing piano.
After, the other students shuffled out, grumbling, and Bin said, “Wow, I’ve missed playing piano. Will you let me, sometimes?”
Sanha said, “If you let me record myself, because it’s just so cool to watch.”
Sanha saw how Jinwoo, the hotel manager, helped some of the hotel’s customers cross the bridge, and he wanted to help too, and one day when he was at the hospital with Jinwoo checking on a customer’s loved one, he spotted her.
Moon Sua. Bin’s younger sister.
Only she was old and gray, hunched in a wheelchair, still blind from the bomb blast.
Sanha crept over to her, knelt beside her. “Hello, Grandma.”
“Hey, do you miss your older brother?”
Sanha fished his phone out of his pocket, flipped on the recording of Bin playing the piano. “Do you recognize this song?”
The old woman smiled. “Orabeoni plays this song for me.”
Sanha said, “Your brother is waiting for you.”
She nodded. “I know.”
And then an older man, distinguished, in an expensive suit, came and put a hand on her shoulder. “Ready to go?”
The man nodded at Sanha and wheeled the woman away.
Sanha reached out and snagged a nurse. “Who is that man? With the old lady in the wheelchair.”
“Hm? That’s Dr. Moon Bin. He’s a very famous doctor. He used to work here before he transferred to a more prestigious hospital downtown. He comes to visit his sister all the time.”
Back at the hotel, Sanha said to Bin, “You’re waiting for your sister.”
“Your sister doesn’t know you’re dead. A man is pretending to be your brother.”
Bin’s eyes gleamed red for just a moment, the way a ghost’s did when they turned resentful. “I made him promise to look after her.”
“How does she not know you’re dead?”
“After he killed me I followed him all the way to Cheongju and made him promise to look after her. My aunt and uncle hadn’t seen us since we were children. He told them he was me. She was blind. She believed,” Bin said.
Sanha stared at him.
His eyes gleamed red again. “And if he ever stops looking after her -”
“H-how are you here?” Dongmin stood on the front porch.
Bin pressed a hand to the red bloodstain over his heart, over Dongmin’s name on his uniform. “I was in love with you,” he said quietly. “And you betrayed me. So for the rest of your life, you will do two things: you will look after my sister, and you will remember me. Do you understand?”
Dongmin stared at Bin’s ghostly form under the light of the full moon, under the ash falling like snow. “I’m so sorry.”
“Enjoy the rest of your life,” Bin said.
From inside, his aunt called, “Bin-ah, Sua’s asking for you.”
Bin leaned in and said, “Goodbye, Lee Dongmin.”
“I told you,” Myungjun said. “Everyone at the Blue Moon Hotel has a story.”
He reached down and scratched the massive wolf behind the ears.
Sanha offered the wolf a treat.
The wolf accepted it carefully, then gobbled it up.
“What about you?” Sanha asked.
Myungjun smiled brightly and said, “Jinwoo, bring me some champagne.”
Jinwoo sighed and said, “Champagne isn’t currently in our budget.”
Myungjun scowled. “With all my careful budgeting to turn the Blue Moon Inn into the Blue Moon Hotel, we have no money for champagne?”
Jinwoo ducked his head. “I’m sorry, Myungjun-ssi.”
Myungjun turned his nose up. “Sell another painting or something.”
Myungjun bought a baby grand piano for the lobby, so Bin could play while he was waiting for customers to arrive, and he could teach Sanha as well, and sometimes Myungjun would come visit them and play as well.
One full moon night, while Bin was teaching Sanha to play his favorite song, customers began drifting through the door, and Bin took up his post at the desk, so Sanha kept playing.
Bin said, “Keep an eye on the desk for a moment, will you? I seem to have misplaced a key, and I need to ask Kihyun-hyung about it.”
He headed for the elevator, so Sanha went to stand behind the desk.
A girl drifted through the front door and across the foyer. She wore a very old-fashioned hanbok but looked about Sanha’s age. Something about her face was familiar. She was very pretty.
“Welcome to the Blue Moon Hotel,” Sanha said.
“How long ago did you die?” he asked, a bit nervously. If it was as long ago as her clothing suggested, she could be very powerful - and very dangerous, even though she looked mostly normal.
“Just earlier today,” she said.
“Oh,” Sanha said. “Ah - were you an actress? Were you filming a historical drama?”
“No,” she said, and she looked down at herself, smoothed a hand over her hanbok fondly. “This is how I looked as a teenager. I lived a long, full life.”
“Congratulations,” Sanha said. “I hope your stay here is a pleasant one.”
It would probably be short.
“The elevator is at the end of the hallway. The staff on the second floor will see to your needs.” Sanha gestured politely.
Why Hyunwoo the grim reaper hadn’t taken her straight to the bridge, Sanha didn’t know.
The girl smiled. “Thank you.” She started toward the elevator, then paused, drifted over to the piano. “My older brother plays the piano. He always played for me.”
The elevator doors pinged open. “Found it,” Bin said. And then he came up short. “Sua?”
The girl’s eyes went wide, and immediately Sanha could see the family resemblance.
“Orabeoni!” She ran and flung herself at Bin, and he caught her, picked her up and spun her around.
Bin looked overjoyed and heartbroken at the same time. “Little sister. You’re here.”
“Orabeoni!” Sua pulled back. “But...why are you here? You were fine when I left you. You -” Sua patted him down, inspecting his bellhop uniform curiously. “What’s going on?”
“It’s a long story,” Bin said.
“So I shouldn’t be calling Hyunwoo to get the car to take you to the bridge?” Myungjun asked, appearing in the elevator behind Bin.
“Boss!” Bin started.
“This is your sister, right? Who you’ve been waiting for all these years?” Myungjun flashed her a brief - and not entirely nice - smile. “I can summon Kihyun and Changkyun and they can have the cake and drink and whole farewell shebang. It’ll be Jinwoo’s first time. He’ll probably cry.”
“Orabeoni?” Sua asked.
Bin’s arm around her tightened. “Maybe I’m not ready to leave just yet.”
Myungjun’s expression turned knowing. “I see. And your sister?”
Bin turned to her. “Do you want to wait with me?”
Sua’s eyes were wide. “Wait for who? Mother and Father and Grandmother are long gone, as are Uncle and Aunt.”
“For the person you’ve been calling brother all these years.”
Myungjun said, “Sanha, have Jinwoo teach you how to order new uniforms.”
Sanha bowed. “Yes, Boss.”
Myungjun was sitting at the piano bench, tinkering with a tune he heard Bin play for Sua often, when the front door opened and guests began to drift into the foyer.
Another full moon night.
The boy who approached the front desk was wearing a school uniform the likes of which Myungjun hadn’t seen in over half a century.
The boy was also one of the most beautiful people Myungjun had ever seen, and Myungjun had been alive for almost two millennia.
Myungjun took in the boy’s dazed and lost expression and braced himself for a spirit of unparalleled vengeance.
The boy had a nameplate on his uniform, but the accuracy of his memory would tell Myungjun about the manner of his death and the strength of his resentment.
“Welcome to the Blue Moon Hotel,” Myungjun said. “When did you die?”
“Yesterday,” the boy said.
That didn’t sound right at all.
“What’s your name?” Myungjun asked.
The boy closed his eyes, and tears slipped down his face, and he said, sounding utterly relieved, “Lee Dongmin.”
The nameplate on his uniform read Moon Bin.
There it was. The other half of the story.
The elevator doors pinged open, and Sanha, Bin, and Sua spilled into the lobby.
“Sorry we’re late, Boss,” Bin said, voice bright with laughter.
The smile on his face faded when he saw who was standing at the reception desk.
“Dongmin-oppa?” Sua asked. “All this time, it was you?”
Dongmin swallowed hard. “Binnie, I’m so, so sorry. I -”
Bin reached out and dragged Dongmin into a crushing hug, and both of them were crying.
Sanha whispered to Myungjun, “Should I call Hyunwoo-hyung and ask him to pull the car around?”
Myungjun said, “Call Kihyun-ssi and Changkyun-ssi and tell them to prepare cake and drinks first.”
Bin stood at the beginning of the bridge with his sister and Dongmin beside him, white lily in hand.
“What’s on the other side of the bridge?” Sua asked.
“Heaven,” Dongmin said.
“I don’t know,” Bin admitted.
“Will we even remember each other?” Sua asked.
Dongmin reached out and grasped Bin’s hand. “I remembered you every day. I won’t forget you in the next life.”
Bin said, “In the next life, I’ll be brave enough to kiss you while both our hearts are still beating.”
Sua grabbed Bin’s other hand. “Don’t let go, okay?”
“I’ll never let go.”
Together, they walked into the mists.
Around them, cherry blossom petals fell.