Tzuyu had always wanted to live abroad. There was nothing particularly wrong with Taiwan, she was just impatient to see more of the world. So, when the time came for applying to colleges, she applied for every country she could think of: Korea, America, Japan, England, but only two courses in her home country as last resorts. Her parents were overjoyed when the acceptance letter came, even though they had been hoping she’d choose a course that ensured a secure future instead of performing arts.
But Tzuyu had dreams, and they respected that. She dreamt of being a dancer, or a singer, or maybe even a member of a girl group. She’d been blessed with parents rich and supportive enough to buy her a house near her college despite it being in a foreign country, and with an enjoyable course, a part time job modelling and a fairly good grasp on the new language she needed to speak, she thought she was well on her way to achieving her dreams.
Then she’d met Chaeyoung, and six months later here she was fighting to stop one of their drunk friends from making themselves sick.
“Momo put that hamburger down I swear to God.”
“Fuck you! I do what I want.”
Tzuyu made another grab for the burger, but Momo dodged away with surprisingly good reflexes, and Tzuyu was once again left contemplating how this had become her life.
“You’ve had three of those already, if you have another on top of the six shots you’ve downed you’re going to throw up.”
“Psh, no I won’t.” Momo slurred, waving the burger tauntingly in front of her mouth. “And even if I do Mina will just clean it up along with the rest of the mess.”
“Mina’s threatened to kick us out if you get sick on her carpet tonight.”
“Mina always threatens to kick us out. But she won’t because she loves us.”
“She’s threatened it four times already this week. We both know that if she says it the fifth time she means it.”
Momo pouted, staring longingly down at her burger.
“Sana said it would be ok.”
“Oh, Sana said it’s alright?” Tzuyu rolled her eyes. “Well in that case I’m sure it’s fine.”
“Great!” Momo said cheerily, either ignoring or not understanding the sarcasm in Tzuyu’s voice.
She shoved the burger into her mouth, and Tzuyu dove at her.
Five minutes later she was trying to find a bin for the half-eaten hamburger in her hand. Mina’s house was packed and noisy, with people dancing and laughing and the speakers booming. Tzuyu struggled to manoeuvre around them, eventually squeezing into the back garden. It was just as loud, but there was more space around the pool to walk without bumping into anyone.
She found Chaeyoung sitting on a plastic chair, watching in amusement as Sana and Dahyun drunkenly attempted to waltz around the edge of the pool. She tossed the burger into Chaeyoung’s lap, and sat down next to her.
Chaeyoung got her phone out just in time to catch Sana tripping and falling into the pool, dragging Dahyun with her. Laughter and sarcastic clapping broke out around them, and Tzuyu couldn’t help but smile. Her friends were idiots, but they were her idiots.
“She almost bit my finger off by the way. But I don’t think she’ll throw up tonight so you’re welcome.”
“Hate to make your bad mood worse, but Jeongyeon’s invited her new girlfriend and her friend along tonight, so you have to actually smile and be polite when they arrive.”
“Nayeon?” Tzuyu wrinkled her nose. “Think I’m going to avoid them entirely. What’s that phrase? If you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything?”
“She’s not even that bad.” Chaeyoung rolled her eyes. “And you like her friend, don’t you?”
“Jihyo? She seems alright.” Tzuyu shrugged. “But I don’t know her that well so it’s not worth it.”
“Well too bad because they’re headed our way right now.”
Tzuyu had only a few seconds to send Chaeyoung a death glare before the three arrived in front of them.
“Hey kids,” Jeongyeon smiled at them. “I see Dahyun and Sana have already fallen into the pool.”
“How do you expect us not to call you the mom friend when you call us kids?” Chaeyoung smirked, causing Jeongyeon to scowl.
Meanwhile Tzuyu locked eyes with Nayeon, and an intense staring match began.
“You look as happy as ever.”
“Have you been fired yet? Because that would cheer me right up.”
“No because I’m actually a professional with a full-time job. How’s that degree coming along? Performing arts is such an adorable thing to have on your resume.”
“All right, settle down.” Jeongyeon stepped carefully between them. “We’re all friends here.”
They glared at each other while the rest of their friends struggled not to laugh.
“Come on babe,” Jeongyeon grabbed Nayeon’s arm. “Let’s go talk to my friends who don’t pretend to hate you.”
Tzuyu wanted to protest that she wasn’t pretending when she judged Jeongyeon’s terrible taste in women, but Jeongyeon had already dragged Nayeon away, leaving Tzuyu and Chaeyoung with Nayeon’s friend.
Jihyo seemed as amused as Chaeyoung was with Tzuyu and Nayeon’s petty bickering, and Tzuyu found herself studying her smile a little too closely. She had a pretty smile, one that seemed far less fake than most people. It was… cute? Warm? Bright? Tzuyu couldn’t quite put her finger on what made it so endearing to her.
She shook her head and forced herself to stop staring. How much had she drunk again? Thankfully Jihyo hadn’t seemed to notice.
“I’m gonna go get some water. Anyone want anything?”
“Yeah can you find me a blunt?” Chaeyoung laughed at the look Tzuyu shot her. “Kidding, kidding, I smoked one before we came.”
“You’re such a wannabe hipster.” Tzuyu shook her head fondly. “Jihyo you want some water?”
“That would be great!” Jihyo practically beamed at her, and Tzuyu was a little taken aback because damn she just offered her some water. “Mind if I come with you? I haven’t seen much of the party yet.”
“I mean, it’s not that different from out here, just louder and more cramped, but sure.”
Jihyo’s smile got brighter, which shouldn’t be humanly possible. There was no way that was a genuine smile, but at the same time Tzuyu had a pretty good radar for sensing fake bitches and for whatever reason Jihyo felt honest.
They made their way into the kitchen, shoving past people making out or doing shots. Tzuyu finally found a place in the corner to pour some water without anyone jostling her, as her glare kept everyone but Jihyo away from her personal space.
“I’m guessing parties aren’t your thing?” Jihyo said sympathetically.
“Really? How could you tell?”
Jihyo just laughed, which made Tzuyu smile in response. People who took offense at her blunt humour normally didn’t last long as friends, so she was glad Jihyo understood not to take her sarcasm too seriously.
She was going to say something nice, maybe complement Jihyo’s smile, but before she could the kitchen door flew open.
“Ohyo ohyo ohyo ohyo.”
Tzuyu closed her eyes in a futile attempt to block out the sheer loudness of Sana and Dahyun’s presence. She was forced to open them again when Dahyun whipped her damp hair around in a circle, showering everyone in the kitchen with droplets of pool water.
“Guess what time it is?”
“Time to go home?” Tzuyu shot at them.
“Karaoke time!” They yelled excitedly, completely ignoring Tzuyu.
The crowd in the kitchen began to whoop and cheer, moving in towards the already cramped living room. Tzuyu was tempted to just go back outside, but Jihyo seemed curious and she couldn’t find it in her to abandon the new girl.
“Come on.” She sighed. “Let’s go watch drunk college kids butcher iconic songs. I have spare earplugs if you need them.”
Jihyo laughingly declined, but two minutes into Sana’s off-key rendition of I Will Always Love You she looked like she was seriously considering Tzuyu’s offer.
“She can actually sing this ok when she’s sober.” Tzuyu informed her. “But tragically she only gets the courage to belt it out after a few drinks, so we’re stuck with this.”
Next up was Momo’s cover of BBA SAE, which was mostly just an excuse for Dahyun to go wild on the dancefloor. Tzuyu was careful to drag Jihyo out of the way of Dahyun’s flailing limbs, because she knew from experience how much those flapping hands could hurt.
Nayeon and Jeongyeon did an embarrassingly sappy rendition of I Think I Love You, and Tzuyu pretended to gag when they shyly sang the chorus to each other. Jihyo chuckled a little at that, clearly not too bothered about Tzuyu’s blatant distaste for her friend. Tzuyu wondered absently if anything actually offended Jihyo, because the older girl seemed far too chill despite being flung headfirst into the madness that was Mina’s house parties.
Chaeyoung had snuck in sometime in the middle of the performance, and she and Dahyun jokingly covered Panda, which everyone pretended to dance to ironically while actually enjoying themselves wholeheartedly.
“I see now why all of you are studying some form of music.” Jihyo grinned, cheeks flushed from dancing. “You’re a pretty talented bunch.”
Tzuyu studied her for any sign that her remark wasn’t genuine, because so far, her friends hadn’t exactly been showcasing their musicality. But Jihyo actually seemed impressed, which baffled Tzuyu. Did she just have low standards or was she the kind of positive person who saw the good in everything?
Chaeyoung sat in next to them as Mina calmed things down with a rendition of She Said by Toy. Tzuyu nudged her and nodded to Jihyo.
“Jihyo liked your performance.” She explained. “I didn’t know how to tell her that you can rap so much better than that. She’s going to go home tonight thinking we’re a bunch of barely talented losers.”
“She said all that did she?”
“It was implied.”
“Of course.” Chaeyoung smirked. “I’m guessing you want me to go back up there?”
Tzuyu winked at her, and Chaeyoung sighed, faking reluctance. Tzuyu nudged her again and she stood up and walked over to where Mina was finishing her song. Tzuyu grinned at Jihyo, who looked confused but intrigued.
“Kill it Young Money!” Tzuyu called up onto the stage, laughing when Chaeyoung flipped her off.
“Mina, you still have Rap God on this thing?”
A buzz of excitement swept through the room, excluding Nayeon and Jihyo who didn’t quite understand what was going on. Tzuyu couldn’t hide the smug smile on her face as Chaeyoung grabbed the mic. She may have befriended the first year with the most ridiculous group of friends, but that first year happened to be the most talented girl in her course, so it evened out.
Five minutes later, her smile had become a full-blown grin. Chaeyoung left the stage to the heartiest applause of the night, and a few new customers asking to buy her mixtape. Tzuyu’s eyes were still drawn to Jihyo, who looked completely stunned.
“Woah.” She said at last.
“Yep.” Tzuyu smirked.
“She’s an amazing rapper. I get why you’re such a proud girlfriend now.”
“She is.” Tzuyu agreed, before the second half of the sentence registered with her. “Wait girlfriend? No, Chaeng and I are just friends.”
“Ah, my bad.” Jihyo said, nodding apologetically.
Tzuyu could have let the conversation die there, she wasn’t the most talkative person in general, but something about Jihyo tempted her to keep going.
“I’m very much single at the minute.” She said, cringing internally as soon as the words had left her mouth.
“Me too.” To her relief, Jihyo smiled, and Tzuyu felt her stomach flip flop.
In front of them, Momo started singing some new song. People danced along, but it was kind of hard to hear her over Sana’s chanting.
“Go best friend that’s my best friend that’s my best friend!”
Tzuyu began trying to puzzle out where Mina had hidden the aspirin this time, because she had a feeling she’d need it by the end of the night. Glancing across at Jihyo, she saw the older girl staring longingly up at the karaoke machine.
“A little.” Jihyo admitted. “But I’ve never really sang much in front of anyone but Nayeon.”
“Well it’s not like the standard here is super high.” Tzuyu shrugged. “You should give it a shot. Most people here are too intoxicated to care if you’re hitting the notes or not.”
Jihyo bit her lip and Tzuyu deliberately avoided staring at her.
“Alright.” Jihyo decided abruptly, standing up and making her way over to the stage. “I’ll give it a shot.”
Momo gave her a warm smile as she passed the mic to her, which didn’t sit right with Tzuyu. She was probably just reading into things, but Jihyo seemed like the kind of girl interested in meaningful relationships, whereas Momo was more into casual flings. Hadn’t Momo been a bit flirty the first time they met Jihyo?
“Damn, Momo was that bad huh?”
Tzuyu jumped, not having noticed Chaeyoung sit down next to her.
“She was alright.” Tzuyu muttered, still keeping her eyes trained on Momo until the dancer had sat back down away from Jihyo.
“Then why the long face?”
Tzuyu was spared from answering thanks to the music starting up again. Jihyo looked nervous on stage, but as she moved to the rhythm of the beat she seemed to relax a little, a smile appearing on her face as she began to sing.
The song started off slow and soft, but Tzuyu was impressed by how good Jihyo’s legato was. For someone who claimed to not be a singer she hit the notes cleanly and easily. Tzuyu couldn’t take her eyes off her as she sang along to the soothing piano instrumental.
Then the song picked up the pace, and Jihyo belted.
For the rest of the performance, Tzuyu sat there in stunned silence. Jihyo had to have been fucking with her when she said she didn’t sing much, right? Because that performance was easily the best one of the night. Tzuyu knew she wasn’t being biased because when the song ended, the applause Jihyo got was equal to Chaeyoung’s. Jeongyeon started the chant for an encore, and soon a blushing Jihyo was picking another song.
A finger pressed under Tzuyu’s chin, and she snapped her mouth shut. She felt her cheeks go red as Chaeyoung laughed, and when she saw the look in her best friend’s eyes she got a sinking feeling in her chest.
Tzuyu knew that look. That was the look Chaeyoung got when she had an idea that would make her laugh at the expense of one of their friends. None of their others seemed to fully realise that Chaeyoung was a mastermind at messing with them, and part of the reason Tzuyu came to all these dumb parties was to watch Chaeyoung wheedle their friends into doing stupid stunts. When it came to convincing Dahyun to egg a police car or encouraging Jeongyeon to eat a week-old hotdog, Tzuyu found great enjoyment in being Chaeyoung’s right hand woman as she orchestrated her various schemes.
What she didn’t like was being the victim of one of those schemes.
“Whatever you’re thinking I won’t do it.”
“No fair.” Chaeyoung pouted. “I was just going to poke fun at your adorable crush on our new friend. She’s got quite a voice am I right?”
“I don’t have a crush on Jihyo.”
“You’re dropped jaw says otherwise.” Chaeyoung chuckled as Tzuyu buried her head in her hands. “But I know you, and I know you won’t do anything about it without some incentive.”
Tzuyu peeked suspiciously up at Chaeyoung, who blinked back with false innocence.
“What kind of incentive.”
“Well it just so happens that I might find Jihyo quite attractive myself. So, I was thinking a little friendly competition might help you work up the courage to ask her out.”
“You want to make a bet?” Tzuyu said sceptically.
“Yep!” Chaeyoung grinned. “If Jihyo agrees to be my girlfriend you have to buy me lunch for a month, and vice versa. Sound fair?”
Something about this didn’t sit right with Tzuyu. She didn’t want her relationship with Jihyo to be based on a silly bet, but at the same time Chaeyoung was right. Tzuyu knew that she was likely to quietly pine after Jihyo until her crush eventually wore off, and right now, with Jihyo looking so elegant and beautiful singing some old-fashioned jazz song, Tzuyu didn’t want that to happen either.
“Deal.” She said, and hoped she hadn’t just made a huge mistake.