Nayeon first meets Jihyo in a dingy, low-end club. Their encounter is nothing short of anti-climactic. With led strobe lights dancing and painting multiple colours on her skin, Nayeon barely manages to squeeze past sticky bodies to make her way to the bar. Someone crashes into her and the next thing she knows, her jeans are drenched with cheap, watered-down beer. Mumbling a curse, she finds the washroom quickly, not even bothering to stop and hear an apology.
This is not what she came here for. Perhaps the club is not the best place to find a temporary lover, but the city bars downtown are filled with people who ask for more than a one-night stand and Nayeon hardly has the patience for that.
The washroom is dimly-lit and littered with cigarettes and poorly rolled weed joints. It smells putrid, a combination of marijuana smoke and vomit. She tries her best to ignore the stench, turning the tap to wash her hands. Nothing comes out of the soap dispenser no matter how hard she presses. She can feel the frustration wear her down as she closes her eyes, taking a deep breath.
“Bad day?” a sultry voice asks.
Lifting her head, she catches a raised eyebrow and a shadow of a grin in the stained mirror. Even through the distorted reflection, she can make out dark brown tresses, the swell of breasts, and the smooth curve of apple hips.
“It’s starting to feel like the end of it,” she smirks.
She turns off the tap, flicking her hands before wiping them on her soiled jeans. When she turns, she feels her cheeks getting warm with the way the stranger is staring at her. Her gaze, hazy with liquid courage and lust, wanders down to Nayeon’s lips. Nayeon’s tongue darts out to wet her lips and she can only giggle as the stranger’s eyes seem to darken.
“It’s Nayeon,” she offers. “In case you’re wondering.”
“Nayeon,” the girl tries, rolling her name around her tongue, nice and slow, testing out how the name sounds.
The stranger’s voice sparks a delicious heat between her thighs and she would love to hear more.
The girl has a lopsided grin, almost as if she knows, “It’s Jihyo, in case you’re wondering what name to moan later.”
Jihyo closes the distance between them, leaning in to swipe her lips against Nayeon’s. It is a chaste kiss, a promise of more, all to build anticipation and desire. Lips ghost against her chin before coasting the length of her jawline slowly—tantalizingly.
Nayeon finds what she is looking for—and suddenly, her day isn’t so bad anymore.
Jihyo is not one for pillow talk, Nayeon learns.
Somehow, their one-night stand extends beyond one single night. Nayeon doesn’t mind—Jihyo only comes to her for sex and she is really good at making Nayeon come apart at the seams. It becomes an unsaid arrangement and Nayeon starts to learn things about Jihyo.
During the sex, Jihyo never allows Nayeon to leave any marks. After the sex, Jihyo never stays for pillow talk; she always leaves Nayeon’s apartment when the both of them are satiated, no longer dripping with desire. Right before Jihyo leaves, she checks her phone for messages (there will always be one) and replies. Nayeon doesn’t miss the way Jihyo’s eyebrows pinch together or how her shoulders slouch forward when she leaves.
Jihyo has a lover (and it’s not her).
Nayeon doesn’t mind and she doesn’t pry. She can hardly give a fuck about who Jihyo is dating because her relationship with Jihyo does not extend beyond sex. She also doesn’t care if she is a supposed third party and a homewrecker of sorts. It’s not her problem.
But curiosity gets the better of her one night when Jihyo slips out of bed for a quick shower before heading out. Jihyo’s phone is left on the nightstand and Nayeon blames her curiosity on boredom and the brief flash of light emitting from the phone screen.
Rolling over to the space Jihyo previously occupied, she picks up the phone and presses the home button. The screen lights up and as always, there is a message waiting to be read.
Mina: You’re working overtime again? I saved dinner for you. You just need to heat it up later. I lov…
Nayeon doesn’t need to open up the message to know what the last sentence is.
The phone background is a picture of Jihyo and a girl. Their cheeks are barely touching, and they look happy, wide smiles for the camera. The girl—presumably Mina—is pretty. Nayeon thinks Mina might even be prettier than Jihyo. She stares and stares until the phone screen goes dark.
When Jihyo emerges out of the bathroom, Nayeon is still clutching the phone, staring at a blank screen.
“What are you doing with my phone?” Jihyo sounds wary and Nayeon knows it is with good reason.
She does have the power to sabotage Jihyo’s relationship with her lover. But she won’t. Nayeon doesn’t care.
“Mina messaged you,” she says nonchalantly, tossing the phone aside. “Don’t worry, I don’t care enough to bother with anything.”
Nayeon wonders why it sounds like a lie.
Nayeon does not stop engaging in sexual shenanigans with Jihyo. Jihyo also does not stop showing up at her apartment with dark eyes and a hungry mouth. Sometimes, Nayeon thinks that Jihyo should stop. There is someone in another apartment, waiting for Jihyo to come home to her, and yet here she is, warming Nayeon’s sheets instead. But then she realizes that that’s Jihyo’s problem, not hers, and Jihyo is really good at making her stop thinking anyway.
It is one of those days. One of those days where it is a weekend night, Jihyo isn’t free, Nayeon’s tried to hook up with someone only to have puke nearly projected on to her shoes. Thank god she moved away fast enough. It is one of those days that has her sighing, exiting the club and retreating into a twenty-four-hour café to sober up with coffee.
The café is situated in a quaint neighbourhood, slightly away from where all the bars and clubs are at. The menu isn’t unnecessarily expensive like Starbucks and she orders a double-shot espresso before settling near the glass window. There is soothing jazz and bossa nova playing over the speakers and the scent of coffee beans fill her lungs—it is much better than pounding EDM club music and the smell of weed.
As she sips her coffee, she takes in her surroundings. There are only a few people in the café other than the baristas. They look like overworked university students rushing for deadlines. Nayeon only smiles in sympathy—been there, done that. Continuing her people-watching, she lays eyes on a girl sitting a few tables in front of her, also by the window. Her eyes widen in recognition when she realizes who the girl is.
Now that Nayeon is looking directly at her and not through a phone screen, she realizes that Mina is more than pretty—she’s beautiful. From the slope of her nose, to her plump upper lip, to her smooth jawline, Nayeon knows that Jihyo’s lover is the most beautiful girl she has ever laid eyes on. (It makes Nayeon wonder how Jihyo can bear to cheat on someone this beautiful.)
Mina has a cup on her table and Nayeon doesn’t see steam from the cup evaporating into tufts of white smoke, unlike her own. Her gaze is on the scenery outside, but her eyes look glazed over and she looks like she isn’t looking at anything in particular. The ends of her eyebrows are tweaked downwards, and she looks wistful, detached from reality.
Nayeon can’t seem to look away; there is something mesmerizing about Mina that has Nayeon staring. The girl seems entirely oblivious to her surroundings, too caught up in her own thoughts.
Suddenly, Mina’s face contorts, as if an abrupt sharp pain just went through her. Then there are tears escaping and running all over her cheeks. Even though she does not make a sound, Nayeon cannot help but think about how loud her silence is. Her shoulders are shaking and convulsing but none of the other people in the café seem to notice.
The jazz in the café continues to play.
Nayeon now knows what heartbreak looks like—midnight, a girl, a cup of coffee gone cold, and jazz music.
She chances upon Mina again after work on a Friday night. Jihyo is working overtime again and cancelled on her. Nayeon doesn’t mind. Perhaps it is time to meet a fresh face, maybe someone a little kinkier. But something keeps nagging at her and she finds herself walking along a serene neighbourhood instead of making her way to a bar or a club.
When she passes by the café, she sees Mina in the same spot she was nights ago, and she pauses outside the café, feet feeling like lead. Mina is crying again and Nayeon doesn’t understand why her stomach feels like it’s turning on itself.
Dragging her heavy feet, she enters the café, ordering two cups of coffee. Before she even realizes it herself, she has already seated herself opposite Mina, placing the two cups of coffee on the table. Mina turns to her, eyes swollen and red. It is not a pretty sight, but Nayeon still finds her beautiful.
“I’m sorry. Do you need something?” Mina asks, voice hoarse.
Nayeon shakes her head, pushing one cup of coffee along with a couple of serviettes towards Mina, “Your coffee has gone cold.”
Mina smiles in appreciation but there is nothing happy about the way the corners of her lips are forced to lift into a broken smile. (It makes Nayeon wonder how Mina beautiful Mina would look if she ever wore a genuine smile.)
Her voice cracks at the end of her sentence. She takes a sip of the coffee Nayeon bought before thanking her once more. But her words of gratitude seem to get caught up in her throat and she is crying all over again, more tears staining her cheeks.
Nayeon knows that if she ever kisses Mina, all she will taste is the salt of tears and the bitterness of coffee.
Her stomach is turning on itself again. But she only averts her eyes, gazing outside and listening to jazz instead of watching Mina cry.
Jihyo is leaving a trail of kisses down her navel when she thinks of Mina. She thinks of Mina seated in that quiet café at midnight, with only a cold of coffee and jazz music to accompany her. She thinks of Mina by the window, body wrecked with cries but refusing to let a single sound escape her.
She thinks of Mina and blurts, “Stop.”
Jihyo pauses, fingers hovering above the silver button of her jeans. Her eyes are swimming with confusion and lust, looking up at Nayeon. Nayeon only blinks, feeling something building at the pit of her stomach, causing her chest to tighten.
Jihyo frowns in worry, “Nayeon, are you okay?”
Nayeon only pulls away, swinging herself out of bed. She hears Jihyo calling for her, but she doesn’t want to hear her name falling from Jihyo’s lips anymore. Her hands are clenched into tight fists and she stands a distance away from Jihyo, looking at Jihyo seated on her bed.
Here she is, undressed in her own apartment, with Mina’s lover on her bed.
The thought has her stomach lurching.
Jihyo bites her lower lip, “Is this about Mina? I thought you didn’t care.”
Jihyo looks contrite and Nayeon only clenches her fists tighter. When her nails dig into her own palm painfully, she realizes that it is anger that is accumulating at the bottom of her stomach. (Anger towards Jihyo or herself, she cannot tell.)
“I met her,” Nayeon says to wipe the look of insincere guilt off Jihyo’s face—Jihyo has no right to wear that expression.
Sure enough, it sends Jihyo panicking, stumbling off the bed to approach Mina.
“Did you tell her?” she asks desperately, eyes pleading.
Nayeon thinks of Mina again and this time, she feels her heart lurch.
“I should have.”
Nayeon never sees Jihyo again after that. She continues visiting clubs, but never the same dinghy club where she met Jihyo. She makes sure all her one-night stands are unattached and remain as one night stands. Things return to what they used to be before Jihyo; they become normal again.
Except that they really don’t.
She finds herself walking by that little café at the corner every day at midnight even though she never goes in. It’s funny because she keeps searching for something—or someone—even though it’s no longer there. (It’s not that funny anymore when she realizes why.)
On a whim, she decides to walk by the café on a sunny weekend afternoon. As she passes by, she notices a girl sitting by the window. Pausing in her tracks, she feels her heart lurching in her chest.
Mina is sitting by the window, flicking her wrist to look at her watch. There is a cup of coffee on her table and it looks cold. Just as Nayeon struggles to decide whether to enter the café, she sees a short-haired girl approach Mina, hands full with two cups of steaming coffee.
Nayeon watches as Mina spreads her lips into an easy smile, eyes crinkling at the sides. The sunlight basks her in a warm glow and Mina looks at ease and content—happy. She was right—Mina is even more beautiful when she truly smiles.
Nayeon only smiles knowingly, turning to walk away.