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baby (we were meant to be)

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The first time Shin-ae notices something is terribly wrong she's crouched over her morning alarm feeling like absolute shit.

Granted, feeling like shit was pretty much her spirit animal. She's grown up to become a fairly functioning member of society, now twenty two and holding down a very decent job as a customer service representative at the Hirahara corporation while still managing to build her resume to apply for university and continue her education, finding little internships here and there, most paid. Her life was unexpectedly looking up a lot higher than she'd imagined. She helped her dad out of financial trouble while in undergraduate school before finding a place of her own to quell her craving for independence.

You could say it was too good to be true, but despite the little and big victories, Shin-as felt like nothing she ever did was enough. She's still trying to catch up, still trying to make up for the bad that drove her mother and sister away many years ago. No matter how much anyone would compliment on how hard she'd worked, it was never enough.

Her current goal was to save enough money to buy her own car. But for now…

 

“Thanks for the ride, Yeong-gi.”

The redhead has his hand on her headrest, wearing the goofy smile he tends to have when he's around her. “You know, it's been a few months, I think you can stop thanking me.”

 

“Yeah and you can stop telling me not to thank you, otherwise, this will be a never ending conversation.” Shin-ae says with dignity as she closes the door to his very expensive Audi.

 

Yeong-gi snorts, “Whatever you say, peanut.”

 

“I wore that shirt to work one time, you asshat! Will you ever let me live?!” Shin-ae smacks his arm, her face steaming with embarrassment. “And that was a training, so it doesn't count!”

 

Yeong-gi shifts the gears in his car, and they detach from Shin-ae’s apartment to go to work.

 

“Why do you drive a sports car in a packed city? You can never manage to redline out here. I don't even think you can go over 30.” She says, “Plus it’s like, crazy expensive.”

 

“You know what redlining is?” Yeong-gi looks over at her as they stop at their first red light.

 

“Do you think I'm stupid ?”

 

Yeong-gi coughs, “Of course not. I got this car on graduation day, my parents insisted that I have it. I didn't want it at first.”

 

“You didn't want it?” She asks, and doesn't fail to notice the way he tightens his grip on the steering wheel. Shit, okay, think fast.

 

The light turns green and before he can get a word out, force his demons out of his mouth because she'd unintentionally asked him to, she points toward the street. “The lights green, you dingus.”

 

Not much is said after that, a comfortable silence settles between them for the rest of the ride to work.

 

“Alright, catch you at eight?” He asks as he steps out of the car and looks across to Shin-ae, who is already shutting the door.

 

“Sure, loser.” She says, and they playfully shove each other as they walk through the automatic doors that lead to her sweet, sweet eleven-dollars-soon-to-add-75-cents job.

 

Kousuke is standing by the front desk, checking his watch as he leans against the counter. That, Shin-ae learned, was usually a bad sign. Kousuke never had time to wait on anyone, and anyone who did make him wait, usually ends up with crushed spirits for the rest of the week.

He looks very concentrated when he locks eyes with Shin-ae, and she notices that his gait towards her is considerably slow, uncharacteristically patient, like a predator playing with his prey.

 

This was very, very bad.

 

“Yeong-gi.” He greets stiffly.

 

“Kousuke.” His brother greets back with more bite, and looks to Shin-ae for an ‘okay’.

She nods at him, and with one last, menacing look at Kousuke, he leaves. She can't believe that after all these years of working together, of spending so much time at each other’s side, they still haven't been able to patch their relationship. After Shin-se was initially rejected from her job, Kousuke had managed to fuck up his relationship with Yeong-gi even more.

 

Meanwhile,

Kousuke turns to her, and his eyes soften. “I'm sorry, I will have to make you late for work by three minutes.”

 

Shin-ae looks at her thin black wrist watch, noting that there's twenty minutes left for her to clock in.

 

“I've got time, is there something wrong?”

 

“Come up to my office.”

 

Well, shit.

While picturing the many torture scenes in her head while she stares at the red numbers on the top bar as the elevator crawls up to the uppermost floor, Kousuke won’t take his damn eyes off her. Ever since they first started to have this, thing going on between them, Kousuke has been very careful to tend to her needs, and she admits that sometimes it bothers her.

The walk to his office is short, and Shin-ae tries to ignore the piercing stares of their co-workers as she steps into his office and he closes the door behind them, turning the blinds shut.

 

“We need to talk.” He says, turning to her. Despite how serious his tone is, she can't help but catch a little bit of hurt in his voice as well.

 

She shrugs, and looks around his office. “Well, I'm here.”

 

He stares at her deliberately, his eyes calculating and somehow, the blue glint in his eyes is also pleading. “You just, vanished. After…A few weeks.”

 

“I don't know what you-”

 

“You know exactly what I'm talking about, Shin-ae. I-” he sighs heavily, rubbing his eyes with two fingers. “I just want to know, how you're doing.”

 

“I'm fine , Kousuke, and you are too.”

 

“You seem to be a lot closer to my brother now.” He says, but there is no venom in his voice, just a tinge of jealousy.

 

“It's not like that, Kousuke, you know it's not.”

 

“I offered you rides to work too.” He begins, but Shin-ae cuts him off right there.

 

“You are the CEO of this company. You pretty much rule over everything here, you have a very strong reputation, and you know that as well as I do. Everyone is on to, whatever is going on between us. So you know very well why I won't accept rides from you.” And finally, tired of all his beating around the bush and moping remarks she asks, “Is there something you want to say to me? Why are you acting like this?”

 

“You slept with me.”

 

Shin-ae wants to punch him. And herself. Both of them, as the same time. “Oh my god, Kousuke, I've been sleeping with you. For the past five months.”

 

“I don't see why rides to work are a problem if you're already-”

 

“Kousuke, don't.

 

“-riding me anyway.”

 

“You know what, this conversation is over. You want to know why I've been hitching a ride with Yeong-gi? This is it. This is why. Now I've got work to do, and so do you.” She turns away from him and grabs the door knob, but he's quick to put a gentle hand over hers.

They're so close that if Shin-ae were to take a step forward, they would be flush against each other. His cologne is a subtle tickle in her nostrils, combined with his natural musk that makes her thoughts scramble. His blue eyes hold her in place, and again, she feels that foreign rumble knotting her stomach and clenching her heart. Her entire being vibrates at his proximity, the instinctual craving to be near him almost taking over her. She's reminded very gravely that her self control begins to melt away, that out of all the people in this world, every person she's ever met:

Only Kousuke would be able to drive her completely insane.

 

“I actually, want to ask you one more thing.” His voice is low, and careful, creeping over her skin like a gentle brush of cold air raising goosebumps all over her body.

 

She has to swallow thickly to level her throat, which has constricted from the proximity. “What is it?”

 

“Will you have dinner with me tonight?” There's a beat, a single exchange of breath between them before he adds, “I've been thinking about you a lot lately.”

 

Shin-ae quakes in her pencil skirt. “Yeah, no fancy places though, I don't have that kind of cash right now.”

 

He smiles at her fondly, as if her independence had struck a chord in him. “Free dinner? I owe you a fav-”

 

“It's been years, Kousuke, drop the favor thing already.” She jokes, and they share a moment of suppressed laughter.

 

As it turns out, Shin-ae clocks in three minutes late.

 

“Yo, jellybean, you ready to get outta here?” Yeong-gi has his blazer hanging over his shoulder, the white button up shirt underneath wrinkled at his sides paired with a shimmering brown tie that brings out the emerald green of his eyes.

 

“Jellybean?” Kousuke inquires as he steps out of the elevator to mark the end of the work day as well, the sun is setting beyond the entrance of the corporate building made entirely of glass.

 

“Forget the pet names.” Shin-ae fumes as she glares at Kousuke, “You didn't tell him?”

 

Kousuke averts his eyes, something he usually never did when he had nothing to hide. Yeong-gi looks back and forth between them, “What? Tell me what?”

 

“Shin-ae will be coming with me for tonight.” Kousuke says, slipping his hand into his coat. “I'm taking her to dinner.”

 

“Woah, what ?” Yeong-gi pulls a distraught expression, and looks at Shin-ae, “Dinner, with that guy?”

 

Shin-ae, in all her flyaway-wrought ponytail and wrinkled blouse glory, shrugs at him. He scoffs in response, “You've gotta be kidding me. Alright, I'll see you tomorrow morning then.” And with a pout, he stomps out of the building.

 

Shin-ae whips around to look at Kousuke, “Really?”

 

“He wouldn't even look at me throughout the day, I had no other way of approaching the matter.”

 

“That's bullshit and you know it.” She says, but sighs in resignation. “Okay, where are we headed?”

 

Dinner ends up being at the Wacdonalds down the street from work. She gets two dollar burgers and a big order of fries, while he settles with just their chicken nuggets.

 

“It's been awhile since I've had this grotesque food.” He says while he gracefully opens a sweet’n’sour, placing it next to the open box of nuggets. He produces a knife and fork from seemingly nowhere.

 

“Woah woah woah.” Shin-ae protests with mouthfuls of burger. “What do you think you're doing?”

 

He pokes a chicken nugget with his fork and begins to cut it with his knife. “Eating chicken nuggets.”

 

Shin-ae wishes that the Earth would swallow her whole and spit her out anywhere but here . She knows that people are giving him weird looks, and immediately reaches out to snatch the utensils from him. “No, Kousuke, that's not how you eat chicken nuggets.”

 

He looks at her, dumbfounded, then at his hands, then at his chicken nuggets . “What do you people not eat with your hands?”

 

She tucks the utensils into her purse, hiding them from anyone who may have seen Kousuke commit such a crime. “You grab the chicken nugget with your hand and dip it into the sauce, with your hand . It's much more enjoyable that way.”

 

Kousuke rolls his eyes, but complies. “There is absolutely nothing enjoyable about eating with your hands.” He comments, sticking his pinky up when he grabs a chicken nugget. Shin-ae screams internally.

 

When he takes his first bite, Shin-ae leans in with a sneaky grin. “What do you think, hm?”

 

Kousuke looks at her, a small smile tugging discreetly at his lips. “Not bad for the price.”

 

Shin-ae, content at his response, sticks three French fries in her mouth. “The beauty of finger food my guy.”

 

They talk for a good hour about senseless things; their co-workers, their favorite things about work, customer horror stories and Shin-ae wonders why she hasn't given Kousuke the time of day, he's really been asking for it.

 

“For me, it appears that while eating with my hands is not enjoyable, I do find myself being very fond of spending time with you.” Kousuke says as he opens the passengers seat door for her.

 

“It was pretty fun.” Shin-ae agrees, her heart fluttering at his gentlemanly gesture.

 

“Shall I take you back to your apartment?”

 

“That would be great, actually. Here let me-” she digs through her purse, “Get you gas money.”

 

“You really don't have to, Shin-ae.”

 

It's the first time he calls her name in a while, much less by her first name. It catches her off guard and she loses her train of thought for a second, forgetting what she was looking for in the first place. “I insist. I know you don't need it or whatever, but it's not really about the money, it's about being reciprocal. I don't care what you do with it as long as you take it from me.”

 

He takes a ten dollar bill from her, and stuffs it in his coat pocket.

 

“Thank you.” She smiles widely at him. He stares at her for a moment afterwards, before chuckling and turning the car on.

 

The moon had come to accompany them on their drive to Shin-ae’s apartment. Shin-ae watched the lights blur by them, shivering involuntarily as the AC begins to raise goosebumps on her skin. “Kousuke, are you cold?”

 

“I'm not.” He says, but reaches out and turns off the AC anyway, “But you are, and that's all the reason I need to turn the air down.”

 

Shin-ae rubs at her arms, “Thanks.” She looks down where his hand is holding the gears to his car, and is overcome by the desire to put her hand over his. She fights it.

 

Kousuke steals a sideways glance at her, and sighs, “Shin-ae, I know this is a sensitive topic to you, but I must know if what is happening between us means anything.”

 

“Why would it?” Shin-ae asks, shrugging.

 

“Because I have been bedding you for five months and that's all it's ever been. I want more than just sex out of our interactions, like this date.”

 

“What are you saying, exactly?” Shin-ae asks, the tension in the car builds.

 

“I'm saying, that I have very strong feelings for you, and I want to be in a romantic relationship with you.”

Considering all the things they've done together, Shin-ae finds it hard to reply. The words get tangled in her brain, and all she can focus on is the intense emotion that boils at the center of her being. To sum it up, Kousuke has really only ever served the purpose of fulfilling her sexual needs as a human creature. Although Shin-ae avoided and condemned romantic involvement of any kind as strongly as an adult as she had been in high school, she was no exception to the otherworldly craving for sex. Kousuke, as straightforward and intelligent as he is, was so happy to comply with her need for physical attention. She was astonished when he agreed to sleep with her after a night of visiting him at his apartment, and even more surprised when he came to her again, and again, and again .

The car has long stopped, and Shin-ae stared out at the fluorescent light that illuminated her apartment balcony, as pale white as the halo of an angel. “I should go.”

“Shin-ae. If you leave without answering me, I will have no choice but to discontinue our sexual encounters.”

 

“So, discontinue them.” She steps out of his car, bows in gratefulness and closes the door.

Long after she had gone up the stairs, unlocked her apartment, and disappeared into her sanctuary with her back pressed against the front door, does she hear Kousuke’s car ride off into the night.

Somehow, despite the way she's taught herself to grow up, to hate romance, to despise relationships, Shin-ae feels as though Kousuke had taken a part of her with him against her will.

 

There are no tears, there isn't even any real anger or intense emotion. There's just a hollowness that follows her as she undresses, an emptiness she feels in her belly when she brushes her teeth and washes her face. When she lays in bed, her cat snuggled against her leg, she feels the same way she felt the day after the first time she got pushed down the stairs of grade school.

Chapter Text

“Well someone woke up on the wrong side of bed today.” Is the first thing Shin-ae hears when she opens the door to Yeong-gi’s Audi.


“Don't even mention it.” Shin-ae groans when as she shuts the door beside her. “I'm seriously not in the mood.”


Yeong-gi takes the hint, noticing that for the first time in several months Shin-ae has not thanked him for bringing her to work. “Isn't today your short shift?”


“Yeah, about that, um. There's actually an employee dinner tonight, the entire staff is invited. It's got something to do with an anniversary of some kind.”


“Great.” Shin-ae comments bitterly, “A social gathering just had to be the cherry on top of my already shit morning. So you want me to stay for it?”


“Well, I’ve never seen you turn down free food, Pinto. It's also sponsored by the company, so it's very quality food, and drinks, since it's looking like you really need one.”


“I'm
fine.


“Says every woman who's not fine. You don't have to talk about it with me, but at least he honest.”

Shin-ae doesn’t look at him, instead settles with watching the cars blur past them as they ride to work. When they get there, she doesn’t know if she’s relieved or disappointed to see that Kousuke wasn’t waiting by the front desk. She sits at her cubicle, minimally decorated but scattered with an assortment of colored post-its, all with important messages scribbled in black ink.

The day drags on, and at 7:30pm, two hours before the end of her shift Yeong-gi is knocking on her cubicle wall. “Ready to go?”


“Go where?”


“Home, duh, you need time to get ready for a fancy dinner.”


Shin-ae stares at him dumbfoundedly, “Sorry, did you first meet me ten minutes ago? I don't take two hours to get ready.”


Yeong-gi whistles and inspects his nails, tapping his foot to a false rhythm, as if expecting something miraculous to happen.


The phone rings, and Shin-ae answers, “Good evening you’ve reached the Hirahara corporation this is Shin-ae speaking, how may I be of service?”


“Get in his damn car, I'm waiting outside for you.”


“I'm sorry, I think you have-”


“It's Maya-
and Rika! - look, Shin-ae, sweetie, you're not wearing sweatpants to a damn dinner, it's formal wear. Now get in the car and come home now.


Shin-ae slams the phone into the receiver and looks up to see Yeong-gi giving her that dumb smile again, the smile that tells her exactly who put her two friends up to this.


“I officially hate you.”


Yeong-gi just laughs, “Let's go, peanut.”

Maya and Rika are waving outside the gates to her apartment, bags of torture devices in their hands and fancy clothes hung under plastic bags to protect their hostile integrity. Shin-ae steps out of Yeong-gi’s car and thanks him for the ride before closing the door, Maya and Rika waving animatedly at him as he drives off the curb.


“Are you my personal hairdressers? I didn't ask for any.”


“Too bad, they come with the best friend package.” Rika says, waving a cosmetic bag in Shin-ae’s face as she swipes her key card to open the gates. Her apartment is on the second floor, resting in the middle of all the others, painted a soft beige color.


“All right, we've got an hour and a half with you.” Maya says, rubbing her hands together. “Pick your poison, makeup or dress up first?”


There's an odd fondness that comes over Shin-aw, that she's not taking her friends visit for granted. She's actually really happy to see them, to have them in her home, spring over her looks for an irrelevant dinner.


“I like the fuschia color, but I think your skin is too pale for it, you blend everything out.” Rika comments as Shin-ae stands in a thin strapped dress that hugs her body snugly.


There's a green long sleeve dress that Maya deems the weather too hot for. A yellow dress that's too long on the legs. A blue dress that's too glittery, a pink one that Shin-ae absolutely
hates . “No, just, pink is not my thing.”


“There's one more.” Maya says and hands her the black plastic covered cloth. “This one has to be it, just like in the movies, it's always the last one that ends up being perfect.”


Rika and Maya wait anxiously, and when Shin-as steps out of the walk in closet, their jaws drop.


“Just like in the movies.” Rika whispers in awe.


“What?” Shin-ae asks, raising her eyebrows at them.


“Look for yourself.” Rika gestures toward Shin-ae’s vanity style bedroom mirror. She stands in front of it, and even she is caught off guard by the dress.

It’s as simple a dress that fits her personality, but it sculpted her body like it was made to. The black silk pooled above the dip of her breasts, and rounded them just enough to give her an actual chest, the straps kissed her collarbones and dragged all the way down under the prominent bones on her back, revealing milky skin dusted with freckles. The silk radiated a glossy black color, hugged her hips perfectly and stopped three fingers above the knee, revealing the perfect amount of skin to show off the sculpt of her legs, where a muscle marks the skin.


“Perfect. And it's black, so it makes you sexy too.”


“Not what I was going for, but damn I do look good.”


“Okay, now the makeup!” Maya says, and they slip a loose t shirt over Shin-ae’s head to keep powder from staining the dress.


The rest of the hour is spent perfecting her makeup. Shin-ae tries not to focus on the awful smells of the powders that are smacked onto her face, but with her eyes being constantly closed it's pretty much all she can feed her senses. She opts out of fake lashes but agrees to eyeliner and some mascara.


Her hair, which had been recently cut, is half tied up into a small bun, and the rest of the loose hair behind is curled by Rika’s nimble hands, and finally, she's ready.


“You are so gonna steal the night.” Maya comments, and both her and Rika sigh happily at their well done job.


“No, I'm so gonna steal the food.” Shin-ae says.


“The food is free, Shin-ae.” Rika says, rolling her eyes.


There's a honk outside the door, and Shin-ae looks past the blinds to see Yeong-gi waiting past the gates in his
really expensive car.


“Shoot, I gotta go, I'll catch you guys later? There's food in the fridge and the cable is paid for if you wanna hang around.”


“Go have fun!” They both shout at her and she's out the door with a white throw over and a black purse for her keys, her phone and her wallet.


“Wow,” Yeong-gi says as she gets in the car, “You look-”


“Great, I know.”


“I was gonna say like a peanut but great works too.”


“Whatever, Mr. Stalker.”


They chit chat on the way to the dinner, which was to take place at the home of a family in close partnership with the Hirahara’s company. “You look really good, you'll be a good representative of our company.”


“I'm not doing any speeches tonight, I'm only eating food.”


“Good luck getting a bite in, looking like
that.”


“Excuse m-”


“We are here.”

 

Shin-ae is brought to silence with the sheer size of the mansion. It's almost like a castle, three giant three story buildings all connected into one, Shin-ae can't imagine what kind of family needs a hundred rooms. The house is built from porcelain colored brick, cone shaped tops the color of midnight blue skies adorning the tops of the houses. A huge fountain with an angel in the middle holding a vase, with water spewing out of it sits at the center of the lawn in front of the house, creating a curved driveway leading to a tiled porch. Yeong-gi pulls up to the front of the house where nicely dressed men are waiting to receive the keys. Yeong-gi turns the car off and steps out, opening the door to Shin-ae’s side and turning the keys in to the gentleman. “Thank you.” He says, and the gentleman bows.

The inside of the mansion is outlined with pure gold, the floor tiles made of pure pastel pink marble. The antique wooden furniture is glossed over, their handles made of pure gold.


“Does a king live here?” Shin-ae asks as she walks the long hallway with Yeong-gi.


“This family has been rich for a long time, for generations. They're sponsors for our corporation and value the friendship of the head of the families, my father and theirs.”


“Fancy.” Is all Shin-ae can muster.


They reach the main room, which must be a rearranged living room. A set of expanding stairs leads to a series of chairs meant for the main families of the dinner, with clothed tables adorned with fruits and a chocolate fountain, more tables arranged with sample foods like prime meats and custom made cakes. Shin-ae’s mouth waters.


“That's my cue, I better go meet the family. I trust you're in good com-” Yeong-gi realizes he'd been talking to himself and looks around for Shin-ae, finds her tiptoeing over to the tables full of food. “-pany.” He smiles.


Shin-ae has filled her arms with plenty of small plates of food, and finds herself a nice table to enjoy the delectable treats. As she eats, she can't help but overhear other people's conversations. People tend to talk exceptionally loud in public places.


“I heard she's been sleeping with the boss.”

 

“Isn't she getting a higher pay than us?”

 

“That's so unfair, she just got into Mr. Hirahara’s pants for the pay.”

 

“Do you think she's any good, you know, in bed?”

 

“Hell if I know, I bet she's a real slut.”

 

Shin-ae, effectively losing her appetite, takes the last of her food, a piece of tiramatsu cake, and walks over to the balcony, where a gentle breeze and kind silence swallows her into the night. She sits at the glass table outside, away from the gossip and talk. Tired, so tired.

She doesn't touch the cake, instead stands over to the edge of the balcony, and in a moment of blind rage, chucks it over the fountain and watches it disappear into the garden.


“That was a perfectly good piece of cake.” She hears the familiar velvet voice say.


“It's never enough.” Shin-ae says.


Kousuke steps forward behind her, guiding a finger over her skin. “What isn't?”


“Me. I'm never enough. I'm never smart enough, never pretty enough, never working enough. I tried my best at this stupid life, but there's only so much you can do as a person. The rest is out of your damn hands, and who do they blame?
Me . It's my   fault my mom and sister left, it's my   fault for getting involved with you. What the hell do i have to do for people to stop. Talking about me?!”


Kousuke stares at her for a long while, drinking in the moment Shin-ae finally lets him in, the moment she finally looks as vulnerable and scared as she really is, like a cornered animal finally letting its true colors show.

Music begins to pour out of the room into the balcony, a slow piano accompanied by a relaxing violin. He doesn't say anything to her, and instead extends his hand to her. Shin-ae looks up at him and notices the usual ice in his stare has melted over into a halcyon blue ocean. A cold breeze settles in between them, and she instinctually takes his hand.

He guides her quietly, not saying a single word, to the center of the dance floor. She starts to panic a little, the stares eating away at her conviction like they have been for years. She's at her tipping point with humanity, like standing at the edge of a cliff and deciding maybe it just really isn't worth it trying so damn hard all the time.

 

“What are yo-” She begins to protest when he puts his hand at her waist and starts to sway to the gentle thrum of the music beneath their feet.

 

“You are much more than enough.” He whispers into her ear, pressing her body firm against his. “People will always be envious of how beautiful you are, and how much harder you work than them. Every single person in this room is talking about you, because you are impossible to ignore.”


Shin-ae closes her eyes, focuses on the way Kousuke’s words seem to calm a frightening storm that was brewing within her. He's hardly ever said anything like this, apart from the desperate whispers she's heard when she's on top of him. She's never given him the chance to anyway, always closed off, never letting him take anything more than sex from her. “You're dancing with me, at a family party.”


“You wouldn't have heard me otherwise. You never let me get a word in unless it's about superficial conversations over dinner.” He says quietly, hurt.


“Thank you.” She says, squeezing his shoulders as their bodies slow to the tempo of the song. “I needed that.”

Kousuke pulls back just enough to press his forehead against hers. There's a familiar fire in his eyes, the same she's seen several nights spent in his bed. It's a bright blue flame, burning hotter than an orange flame and dimmer than a red flame. She feels it in her skin, behind her eyes and between her collar bones. She waits, hearing their heartbeats fall into sync until those four words she’s heard many times before make her heart fall out of rhythm.

 

“Come home with me.” The words bring Shin-ae back to passionate nights, and she breathes a heavy sigh, trying to control herself.


“I thought you said you wanted to
end our sexual encounters?” She says, eyebrows raised in defiance, but she knows her eyes have given away how much she really wants to say yes.


“I know what I said. And I will, but you look so beautiful tonight, and right now all I really want is to see you out of that dress.” His arms comes fully around her thin waist and pull her even closer than before.

 

Finally, she nods against his suit jacket. Who cares if people judge her because she’s sleeping with her boss? She earned her points through diligent work, Kousuke never gives them for free, no even for sex. Besides, the sex is really good. Whoever hasn’t had as good encounters as her is really missing out.

 

The slow dance ends, and Kousuke’s warmth separates from Shin-ae’s body. He kisses her hand, “Wait here for me, I have to say goodbye to the family.”

Kousuke disappears into the crowd, and Shin-ae walks proudly out of the hall, basking in the envious glares as if they were rays of golden sunshine on a cold day. She ends up at the large black double doors in the front of the house, and greets the gentleman who stand outside in perfect uniforms. The opposite side of the fountain leads to a garden maze made of tall bushes, the kind of garden she’s only seen in her dreams. A hand grabs her elbow gently, and she turns to meet Kousuke’s eyes. He looks down at her, lips turned up a fraction of an inch.

The drive to his apartment is silent, but his hand is drawing reassuring circles on the back of her hand, and Shin-ae wonders where he gets the courtesy to reach over the drivers side just to touch her skin. They barely make it to his door, clawing at each other’s clothes to try to get it off. By the time Kousuke is able to close the door behind him, lips pressed against Shin-ae’s in a heated kiss, his tie and blazer have come off and been discarded somewhere.

His hands are on her thighs, creeping higher and higher until he’s grasping a lacey buttock in his hands. “Lingerie?” He asks, parting from her.

“It’s supposed to help with the self esteem.” She says, and drags him down to kiss her again.

 

He drags her strapped heels off her feet and pulls her legs up over his waist. They traverse past the kitchen and hallway, into the bedroom without bumping into furniture because their bodies have memorized the path. Kousuke sets her down on the bed and pulls her silk dress over her head, breath hitching at the sight of her half naked body. Every time he takes her clothes off he pauses, and every time has always felt like the first.


“Gorgeous,” He whispers as he crawls over her, slipping out of his shoes while her hands are fumbling over his belt. He presses open mouthed kisses to her bare neck, hot breath raising goosebumps on her skin. His mouth latches onto her collarbone, eliciting a quiet moan from her.

 

There’s something different about this encounter. The air is different, Kousuke feels, different . He usually wastes no time in undressing her, ravishing every inch of her so fast she barely has a chance to engrave it into her memory. But this time, he's coaxing pleasure out of her slowly with his mouth as he drags his tongue across her skin. He flattens his tongue over the most sensitive part of her, right against the blue lace of her panties. Her hands reach out and grasp his hair, a gasping breath between her lips. Every hot breath that ghosts over her is slowly embedded into her memory.

Shin-ae half sits up, bringing her hands over Kousuke’s back, feeling a little too exposed in comparison to him. His dress shirt comes over his head easily, and he tosses it to the floor beside them. His lips are on hers again, erection rubbing against her panties. She whines between their kisses, bucking her hips up, searching  for more friction.


“May I try something different this time?” He asks, hoping she doesn't catch the way he loses his breath every time she rubs against him.


She’s quiet, her breath shaking, but she nods despite the clouds in her vision. He dips his head between her thighs, and she's forced to watch as he hooks a finger at the side of her hip and pulls her lace panties past her  knee, over her foot and onto the floor.

His tongue ghosts over the folds of her womanhood, barely touching, but so present Shin-ae feels like she's going crazy. Two of his long fingers spread her open, and without warning his tongue is hot and wet on her clit.

Caught off guard by the sudden new sensation Shin-ae’s head falls back on the porcelain colored comforter. Her mouth opens and a slur of incoherent words escape her lips.

Kousuke continued his assault, tracing his tongue along every inch of her pink vulva, sucking and pulling her labia between his lips. He pushes his tongue through her entrance, wiggles it between the walls of her intimacy and Shin-ae is gone .


“Oh my god.” Her high pitched cry resounds throughout his apartment, her hips twitching as her vision goes white. She’d never felt anything like this, and when she looks down to see Kousuke wiping his mouth, she asks, “Where did you learn how to do that?”


“I have a few resources.” Is all he answers as he trails kisses up her body.


Shin-ae kicks her legs up and switches their position so that now she is on top of him. “I guess I have to return the favor.”


Kousuke’s eyes darken further with lust, his pupils blown so wide Shin-ae can hardly see the ocean within them anymore. She kisses his jaw, drags her tongue down his neck and presses butterfly kisses down the tuft of happy trail hair that pokes out of his boxers. She curls her fingers around the and of his grey interiors and with one fluid motion they slide off his legs, revealing his throbbing erection against his belly button, beads of pre cum glistening on the head.

She's never done this before, but determined to make Kousuke feel just as good as he had made her feel, she swallows back her embarrassment and traces her tongue over the vein of his dick.

He doesn't hold back the moan that rumbles in his chest. She engulfs him, taking in as much as she could, his hips jerk and another guttural moan escapes  his throat. Stroking the length of him she couldn't take into her mouth, she begins to bob her head rhythmically, drawing quiet breathy sounds from the CEO.

 

“Fuck, I'm gonna-” Shin-ae notes that she'd never, not once in her life heard Kousuke cuss. She feels pride well within her, and when she feels his dick twitch inside her mouth she breathes through her nose and pushes all the way down, feeling hot fluid shoot from the tip of his dick and down her throat. Spitters are quitters, she has to dutifully remind herself, spitters are quitters.

 

Kousuke physically deflates under her, breathing heavily. Shin-ae crawls back up, falling beside him. His hands are shaky around her thin waist, and he pulls her in towards him, pressing his nose to her chest while he catches his breath.

 

“Any good?” She asks, teasing.

 

He has to take a breath to speak, “You are incredible.”

 

They lay together in the aftermath for a few moments, Shin-ae stroking Kousuke’s hair with her lips pressed to his forehead. This moment is so intimate, much more than the usual sexual encounters they have. She feels the empty part of her filling up, and it scares her to death how real Kousuke feels in her arms, how completely vulnerable they both are.

When Kousuke is rested and recharged he hooks his arms under Shin-ae’s knees and pulls her over him. At first she’s ready to sit on his hips, but Kousuke slides himself downwards so his face is level with her pussy, and all she can see is his hair spilled over the comforter and his eyes watching her.

With the new position, Shin-ae finds that rocking her hips on his mouth creates amazing friction against her clit. He works her up with his tongue, waits until she's a moaning mess over him and then slides up and penetrates her entrance with his newly interested erection.

Shin-ae loses every ounce of her resolve as he thrusts into her. Tears sting the corners of her eyes, and she involuntarily rocks her hips hard against his. His hands squeeze the skin of her thighs, occasionally slapping her bottom and making her moan louder.

 

Oh, god!” She screams as he picks up the pace, and buries her face into his neck. Kousuke sits up, kissing her with tongue as they rock against each other.

He always knows when she's about to orgasm. Her thighs quiver, her insides tighten around him. He feels her body shaking, and throws her down, still inside her, hooks his arms under her knees and pulls them up so he can thrust into her faster. She's mumbling nonsense under him, her eyes screwed shut and hands gripping the sheets like a lifeline.

 

Her orgasm coaxed his, and he pulls out, spilling over her stomach and chest.

They collapse against each other, heavy breathing in sync. The intensity of their sex this time around, plus the effort put into socializing at the party has exhausted them beyond belief. Kousuke has the mind to take a towel from his drawer, walk to the restroom and wipe his semen off Shin-as before tossing it to the floor and pulling the covers over them, his arms around Shin-ae, who was barely awake.

Chapter Text

Five months ago.

 

The first night it happened, Shin-ae had taken the closest public bus to Kousuke’s place. In her hands, she had a paper bag with his favorite cake on top of a boxed dinner she had cooked herself, along with a lighter and a pack of candles. The sun was setting behind the bus booth when she stepped out in front of Kousuke’s complexes. She has no clue as to why her stomach bubbles with anxiety at the thought of meeting Kousuke by surprise. If worse comes to worse he might not even answer the door, which, would be a colossal waste of time.

Shin-ae shakes herself out of her trance, and forces herself to walk up to his place. As expected, it’s plain and looks uninhabited from the outside. Most people would have  a plant or two set outside, maybe a welcome mat, some door decorations, but Kousuke’s apartment was barren, stripped down to the very bone, just as Shin-ae expected.

Her first anxiety is relieved because she only has to knock twice for him to answer the door, and her second shortly after because at least he doesn’t look angry, he looks surprised to see her standing at the foot of his door.

“Ms.Yoo, what a pleasant surprise.” Kousuke says as he opens the door and moves over so she can step in.

“Yeah I was at home watching TV when I realized today is some lame-o’s birthday and thought he was probably holed up in his place, without a single candle in sight.” Shin-ae looks around at the spotless place, every dish in its place, every chair in the dining table pushed in, the couch cleared and the bookshelves straightened. “Looks like I was right.”

 

“I’m not one that celebrates trivial events.”

 

“And somehow your birthday falls under that category?” Shin-ae raises an eyebrow at him.

 

“Yes, as a matter of fact, it does.”

 

“Not anymore it doesn’t.” Shin-ae says, shoving the bag into his chest. He looks down at it as if it had fallen from the ceiling. “Happy birthday, Kousuke.”

 

“This is-” He peeks into the bag, and his eyes suddenly shine with immediate recognition. When he looks up at her again, there’s so much emotion dancing across his usually placid features. “You really didn’t have to.”

 

“Come on, it’s Sunday, and your birthday just happens to land on the one day of the week you have off?” Shin-ae opens his fridge and helps herself to some freshly washed strawberries in a bowl. “How many more of these are you gonna have in your lifetime?” She asks with strawberry in her mouth, plopping down on one of his couches.

Kousuke gives her comment much thought as he sits next to her. “Not many, I suppose.”

 

“And you better eat that, it took me way too much effort for your pristine butt not to like it.”

Kousuke gives her the tiniest hint of a smile. “Of course.”

“So, give me a show.” She grabs the remote from his coffee table as he rummages through the paper bag.

 

“I'm afraid I'm not an avid watcher of shows.”

 

“Okay, so give me something you like. Anything.”

 

“I like to be in the know, I like to know everything I have to in order to properly run my business.”

 

Shin-ae nods, “Spoken like a true thirty year old.”

 

“I turned twenty five today.”

 

“My point exactly. I have the perfect show for you.”

 

They end up watching the whole first season of Suits, Kousuke now having a keen interest in the study of law and Shin-ae tired of the same character interactions. “You're a better binge watcher than I am.” She says.

Kousuke has finished his meal, given his thanks and even gotten around to eating his cake when she turns to look at him.

“Kousuke, no!” She snatches the half eaten cake from him suddenly. He's shocked, confused and staring a little angrily at his now empty hands. “Didn't you see the candles in the bag?!”  

“I'm terribly sorry. I just couldn't resist my sweet tooth.” Kousuke apologizes as Shin-are grabs the candles from the paper bag and pushes them angrily into the cake that’s left.

“There. Now, do you have a lighter on you?” She asks, placing the unlit cake on the coffee table in front of them.

“You really don’t have to go through the tro-“

“The lighter, Kousuke.”

Suits is still running in the background, but they’ve since abandoned watching it, focusing instead on the quickly sogging piece of cheesecake. Kousuke gets up to go to the kitchen to fetch the lighter, and Shin-ae accompanies him with the cake in hand, setting it on the countertop behind him and sitting on one of the two spinning stools.

Kousuke hands her a blue lighter and offers her a fork, “I don’t usually share my sweets, as you may know. But I really do appreciate the company.”

 

“You’re in luck, I don’t actually want any. But thanks for the offer.” She takes the lighter and begins lighting the candles, Kousuke takes the seat next to her with a fork in hand.

 

Once the candles are lit, Shin-ae pushes the strawberry cheesecake across the marble counter and in front of Kousuke, where colorful candles decorate the top of the nibbled cake. “You have to make a wish before you blow the candles, otherwise you’ll literally die.”

 

Kousuke raises an eyebrow at her, “Are you really that superstitious?”

 

“I don’t mess with energy man, and blowing candles without wishing first? Bad energy, like walking under a ladder after midnight or seeing a black cat when you’re walking home.”

Kousuke finds it oddly endearing that Shin-ae believes in false superstitions. They watch each other for a few moments, quietly contemplating each other’s facial features. Shin-ae has some barely noticeable freckles peppered over the skin of her nose, and the brightest ruby eyes Kousuke has ever seen on a person. There’s a fear in them that seems to have settled there since long ago, like a piece of glowing metal under a moving stream. Her lips are thin, but nonetheless they curve cutely into the half smile she’s had since she got here. He closes his eyes, and wishes.

 

“How did you like the show Suits?”

 

“It’s unrealistic, and has too many drama factors. I can’t deny the content of the show is very interesting, but since I have limited knowledge of law I cannot argue for any false practice. I’m pretty sure you can’t get into the bar if you’re convicted of fraud and much less not gone to law school.” He babbles, and realizes for the first time work isn’t on his mind. He’s actually thinking about how a fraud who was supposed to serve twenty years in jail got his sentence shortened to two and then got out in two months. He’s thinking about how much he’d like to lean over the table and kiss Shin-ae because somehow, she’s gotten under his skin, and now, she’s everywhere.

 

“Photographic memory of that extent isn’t actually real, I learned that in my psychology class.” Shin-ae says as input. “That would be so cool though, to have a memory like that.”

 

“That is correct.” Kousuke says as he finishes the last bite of his cheesecake. “Would you like to start another show then?”

 

“I’ve got just the one.” Shin-ae winks.

 

“I fail to see how Scrubs can possibly relate to the life of a hospital staff. That first episode was not entertaining nor remotely true.”

 

“You’re just a hater, Scrubs has great comedy. You just don’t see it ‘cause you’ve got zero sense of humor. You can’t even spell humor.”

 

Kousuke turns to look at her across the couch, “I most certainly can spell-“

 

“Proving my point there.”

Kousuke actually squints at her before he gives in and watches another episode with her.

 

“Oh my god it’s so late my kids are gonna miss the bus.” Shin-ae exclaims when the episode ends and the time pops up at the edge of Kousuke’s flat screen tv.

 

“Kids? You have-“

 

“Finish that question and I swear I’ll punch your face in.” Shin-ae exasperates.

Kousuke’s mouth effectively shuts, but opens again on another inquiry, “In any case, please don’t be anxious. I’ll be more than happy to take you back to your home.”

 

“I don’t mean to cost you more on your birthday than what I actually brought you.”

“Nonsense. My birthday ends in less than half an hour, so please do not fret, I-“ He pauses, as if carefully planning his next words. “I enjoy the company.”

Shin-ae watches him for a few doubtful moments, but then sinks back in the couch. “Okay, I guess I can go for a couple more episodes. Do you have any snacks?”

 

“Snacks?” He inquires, snacking was not a habit of his.

 

“You know, like cookies or popcorn, pickles, chips?”

 

“I may have cookies. Yeong-gi has been visiting me often as of late and he may have left some behind.”  

 

“Oh hell yeah.” Shin-ae jumps from the couch and hurries behind Kousuke as he leads the way back to the kitchen once again. He procures a thin sleeve of yellow packaging from the top cabinet. Shin-ae snatches them with little regard, then makes a face. “I knew it! Why did I know this? I knew he’d like the fudge stripe cookies, they’re some of my favorites too.” She’s brimming with happiness.

Kousuke feels a very foreign, unfamiliar jealousy bloom in his chest as he watches Shin-ae nibble on the cookies with pink dusted cheeks. “You two are quite close.” He notes, and can’t hold back the biting tone in his voice.

Shin-ae looks up at him, her ruby eyes wide. “Yeong-gi and me? Yeah, we are close friends.” When she notes the hard look in his eyes she adds, “I know you guys are still having issues, but at least he comes to your place. Leaving cookies in your apartment is a start.”

Kousuke blinks. “I assume so.”

The tension in the narrow walkway of the kitchen rises, and they both feel it, but don’t immediately act on it. Shin-ae is suddenly aware that after snatching the cookies she is now trapped between the side of the counter and Kousuke. She can smell the tinge of cologne, and feel the wave of his body heat pass through the thin cotton fabric of his long sleeve white pajama shirt.

“Shin-ae.” He calls softly, tilting her chin up toward him with caressing fingers. There, in the deep ocean of his eyes, the abysmal desire is fighting to break through the surface.

She’s scared suddenly, and pulls away from him instinctively. “Maybe I should go home now.” Her voice is hollow, and her eyes set to the tile floor of the kitchen.

If Kousuke is upset, he doesn’t show it. Simply nods and gestures toward the living room. “If you wish.”

She gathers her jacket, makes sure her apartment keys are still in her pocket and pats herself down. The entire apartment is quiet, Kousuke and Shin-ae sharing equal amounts of awkwardness and tension.

Kousuke is behind her as she turns the door knob, and bumps into her by accident when she slams the door shut and turns around. “No strings attached.”

 

“I’m sorry?” Kousuke looks at her in confusion.

 

Shin-ae swallows thickly. “I’ll- I’ll sleep with you, if there’s no strings attached. We’re both adults, so-”

 

“I can agree to those terms.” Kousuke says, embarrassingly quick. The only light in the living room comes from the blank TV screen and the two silver lamps beside the apartment window, but even in the dim light Shin-ae can see how Kousuke’s pupils are blown wide, the abyss swallowing the ocean of his irises as he licks his lips.

 

“Then it’s settled,” Shin-ae locks the door behind her and steps forward.

 

Little did either of them know, that on this night, and each one after, was going to change them forever.

Chapter Text

Whenever Shin-ae spent the night at Kousuke’s place, she always woke up before him and would leave before the sun was set to rise. This time, for the first time in the five months she’d been sleeping with him she woke up to the smell of breakfast cooking, her bare legs tangled in the expensive comforter that definitely did not belong to her.

She ties her hair up into a messy bun and wraps herself in the robe Kousuke left hanging outside the restroom door next to his bed. She stalks over to the restroom and rinses her mouth with Kousuke’s mouthwash and splashes cold water on her face. For a while, she stares at herself in the mirror, actively reflecting on the events of last night. Sleeping with the man she’d simply been experimenting with after being told to fuck off was definitely not something she was in the habit of doing.

Well, maybe fuck off weren’t his exact words.

There are hickies adorning her neck and collarbones, bruises colored on her hips and thighs. She can’t say she hates the sight, seeing herself marked like this brings an unwelcome sense of affection, as if she were being protected. Kousuke spots her as soon as she clears the hallway that leads from his room to the kitchen. His eyes are glowing with adoration, and a tiny smile graces his features when their eyes meet. It is then, in that very moment Shin-ae realizes two things: One. Kousuke is in love with her and Two. She is in love with Kousuke. The realization does not settle well in her stomach.

“Good morning, Shin-ae. Sit please, breakfast is almost out.”

And she does sit, because she is too overwhelmed to leave, and because it’s the first time Kousuke is awake before her. He’s cooking bacon, eggs and pancakes. The pancakes are already stacked, four on each of two plates. The eggs sizzle in a large pan while the bacon hisses in another. Feeling useless, Shin-ae figures she may as well be considerate enough to serve the drinks.

“It was not my intention to make you help me.” Kousuke says, not taking his eyes off the pan as Shin-ae surfs through the juices he has stashed in his refrigerator. He’s dressed in a casual dark pant, the navy blue collar of a button up peeking through his eggshell sweater.

Shin-ae doesn’t immediately respond, in fact, she makes it her life’s mission to not answer Kousuke. Instead, she asks him where he keeps his cups.

“Cabinet right next to the sink.” He says. She fetches two circular glass cups and fills one with apple juice and the other with orange juice.

They settle on the island counter across from each other, Kousuke does not fail to notice the purposefully lack of eye contact on Shin-ae’s part, and he respects that by pushing a plate of food toward her.

Halfway through breakfast Kousuke wipes his mouth and sets his cloth on his lap,  “I understand that this is the first time I’m awake before you.”

Shin-ae manages a simple nod, “‘S good, fhank yooh.” She says through a mouthful of pancakes.

Kousuke shakes his head, “I am not allowed to use utensils on my chicken nuggets and yet you are allowed to speak with your mouth full of food.” There is no venom in his voice.

Shin-ae shrugs, she can tell that Kousuke is trying really hard to make the morning a nice experience, but the truth is, Shin-ae feels trapped within these four walls, without escape. It is causing her pain to stay, but she knew it would hurt worse if she left. For the first time, she doesn’t know what to do.

When they finish eating and Kousuke has picked up his and her plates, he sits back down. Ignoring the pile of dishes in his silver sink took a lot of willpower, but he had a much more important task to attend to, and if there was anything about Kousuke, it’s that he knows how to prioritize well. He sits in front of Shin-ae, who is still adamant about not making eye contact with him,, and his frustration grows.

“We must talk. I wish to talk about our current re-” He stops on the word, because it is a forbidden word between them, “Situation.”

 

“We had a deal, five months ago.” Shin-ae offers quietly.

 

“I am undeniably attracted to you. Not just the physical aspects of you, I admire your character, and your strength as a woman. I am not-” God this was so hard . “I did not realize that I am not fit for casual sexual encounters. But even if I wanted to, I cannot stop seeking your affections.”

At this point in her life, Shin-ae is standing in front of a gigantic wall. Where she is, there is her life, her accomplishments, her future goals and aspirations, and on the other side of the wall is love, affection, all the things she’d considered a  hindrance to her moving forward with her life. She was terrified of the other side, because it was as if Kousuke was taking a sledgehammer and cracking through that thick wall, banging it over and over with his words, his touch, his insistence. It was loud, unrelenting and she couldn’t do anything to stop it from happening. There are cracks on the wall, and she can feel him trying to get to her. It was so terrifying for her.

 “I can’t Kousuke. You’re my boss , and you have been since a month after we started this, this thing .  And not just that, at this point in my life I’m not ready for a committed relationship.” She won’t admit that she’s running away from her feelings, Kousuke would never forgive her for that.

 “I will wait.”

She’s stunned, and angry. “Wait? I don’t need you to wait.”

“I have never felt this strong of an attraction towards another, and I will not let you go without putting every effort forward to have you. So I will wait, until you are ready.”

 “You’re not getting it.” Shin-ae stands from the counter. “I’m not going to be ready in a few months. I have other things to take care of, I have other goals. It’ll take years before I’m ready to settle down.”

 The sheer determination in Kousuke’s blue eyes does not falter. He will not break eye contact with Shin-ae. It was as if he grounded her there, as if for a single fleeting moment, she could hope. “However long necessary.”

Shin-ae sighs and shakes her head “This was the last time, Kousuke. You let feelings get involved, and now, we have to stop. I will not be seeing you again.”

 “I do not expect you to. But I understand one thing,” Kousuke stands as well, “You can not deny your attractions to me either, but you will fight them, because you want to survive. As long as you have stirrings for me, I will not give up.”

 There’s a stiff moment of silence, then Shin-ae turns her back, “Thank you for breakfast, Kousuke.” And walks back to his room to search for her clothes and shoes.

Everything else seemed like a blur, Rika agreed to pick her up at the entrance of the apartments. The sun beats down on her shoulders, stings despite the chilly morning ahead of them.

“You look like fresh hell, Shin-ae, I can’t tell if you had a bad or good time last night.”

 Shin-ae shuts the door to the small blue Honda, “Is both best and worst night possible, I feel like absolute shit. Can we go to Maya’s café? I don’t really feel like going home.”

 Rika smiles in understanding, she reaches for a bag in the back seat and sets it on Shin-ae’s lap, “It’s a fresh set of clothes, just a shirt and a pair of my tights and some sandals.”

 Shin-ae squeezes the bag, “You're so great, I take way too much advantage of our friendship.”

 Maya greets them at the cafe with a smile that quickly turns sour “Oh my god Shin-ae, what on earth happened to you?! Are those hickies?!” She rounds the counter and pushes through the little swaying door to pat her very busted friend down. Her light auburn hair stops short of her shoulders, small bangs trained to the right side of her thin face. The shop was just about to open, and there were no customers in line to come in yet. She wears an orange apron with her name tag over her right breast.

“She got the L word.” Rika says just as Shin-ae opens her mouth to answer.

 “Jesus, that good huh?”

 “Can we not talk about this please? And where’s your restroom?”

 “Unless the sex blinded you the signs are right behind me.” Maya teases

 Shin-ae rolls her eyes “Stop.” Is all she says as she wobbles to the restroom.

 Maya and Rika talk animatedly to themselves, Shin-ae tunes them out as she strips her dress down and changes quickly into her friends black tights and red shirt, slipping into some black sandals. When she comes out, Maya and Rika look back at her.

 “Much better, you look like an actual member of society now. So how was it?”

 Shin-ae shrugs, “It was alright.”

 Maya and Rika look at each other. “She clearly needs an intervention.”

 “Nope, I don’t do shrink groups.” Shin-ae shakes her head.

 “Have you eaten?”

 Shin-ae has a whole two seconds to think about her answer: if she says she’s not hungry they’re going to assume she stayed to eat breakfast, which is exactly where she doesn’t want the conversation to go. “Hell no, I need food. Whatchu got?”

 “Rude.” Maya says pointedly, but she immediately goes back to the counter to get a chocolate filled donut,  “He should’ve at least offered.” She says a little loudly so Rika and Shin-ae Can hear her.

 Shin-ae sighs, oh thank god.

 “That’ll be ten bucks.” Maya jokes as she hands Shin-ae the donut. Rika rolls her eyes “Talk about a healthy breakfast.” 

Shin-ae tastes Kousuke’s soft pancakes when she bites into the donut. “Yeah.” She says, a little offhandedly.

 Maya stretches her arms above her head, making a gratified noise when her muscles finally relax. “So, shop is about to open up in about fifteen minutes, I’ll have to go up to the cash register.”

 “No problem, we’re gonna head out in a bit anyway, Shin-ae needed a little shaking up- Rika shakes her hips for emphasis- before she heads back home. Ready to go?”

 Shin-ae nods, “Thanks for the restroom break Maya.” They head out of the store. It’s a quaint little place, built of thick burnt maroon bricks with two giant tinted windows to deter the sun’s rays. Tiny bells ring as Rika and Shin-ae open the glass doors to leave.

 “Thanks for this Rika, I think I’m having a sex hangover.” Shin-ae admits, rubbing her temples and taking steady deep breaths.

 “Don’t mind it, are you okay being alone at your place? I’m off work today.”

 “I’ll be fine.” Shin-ae says, and when they pull up at the driveway, Yeong-gi’s Audi is parked outside of the apartments. Shin-ae externally groans.

 “Who’s that guy?”

 “A coworker, I think he’s here on work related business. Which means I’m in huge trouble.”

 Rika laughs, “You're so lucky to be surrounded by hot guys. Sounds shallow of me, but we all have that inner princess that wishes to be whisked away by handsome men.”

 “Sorry, can’t relate. He’s a pain in my ass.”

 Rika gasps at her, “You didn’t! Shin-ae, that hole serves one purpose! Only one!

 “Don’t be disgusting.” Only Rika, Maya and Min Hyuk have been able to make her laugh so hard it sounds ugly, they call it the ugly laugh.

 “Anyway, go to your Prince Charming, someone that hot is bound to be the bringer of good news.”

 “I’ll let him know you’re interested.” Shin-ae crawls out and shuts the door before Rika Can say anything. She doesn’t fail to notice how fast Rika pulls out of the driveway to the gate and takes off in the opposite direction.

 “I’ve been calling and texting you for an hour, where were you?” Yeong-gi looks a little frazzled when he steps out of his car. He’s wearing casual pants and a pink polo matches with a brown belt.

 “Was at Maya’s cafe with Rika.” It wasn’t a complete lie, truth be told, Yeong-gi didn’t know about her and Kousuke and the Big Sin, some personal things should be kept to herself.

 “Well that’s not all you were, you and Kousuke disappeared from the party last night.”

 “Right, about that-“ Shit, she takes it back. “Maybe we should go inside, it was fresh this morning but it’s hot as balls now.”

 They reach Shin-ae’s apartment in stiff silence. Talk about being a bringer of good news, Shin-ae hates all the drama. “You can sit at the table, have you eaten anything?”

 “No, I’m not hungry. I haven’t slept either. Shin-ae, tell me you’re not sleeping with Kousuke.”

 Shin-ae offers him a cold juice pack and has one for herself. “I’m not.” Then, after a thick pause of him staring at her with those intense green eyes, she pops the straw into her juice and looks away, “Not anymore.”

 “God dammit !” Yeong-gi’s face turns beet red,  he squeezes the pouch in his hand so hard it explodes all over his clothes, Shin-ae reaches for a random rag, a hand towel hanging off her couch and hands it to him so he can wipe himself down.“You and that- hooligan. Why?!”

 "Does it matter? It’s not happening anymore, he wasn’t-“ Shin-ae realized she’d made a mistake mentioning such a detail, it would give away how long her affair with her boss has been going on.

 “He wasn’t what, Shin-ae?”

 “He wasn’t my boss at the time.”

 “Holy shit.” Yeong-gi won’t, can’t sit down. He runs anxious fingers through his hair. “Do you know how close I cut it for him at the dinner? My father was onto you two like a wolf. After that dance everyone saw, it was so obvious there was something going on between you. Now the big guys are paying attention to the rumors.”

 “I told you, it’s not happening anymore. I cut it off.”

 “I hope it was soon enough.” Yeong-gi makes his way to the door. “Out of everyone,” when he looks back at her, she sees a sad glow in his eyes, a subtle disappointment shrouded in pure sadness. “It was you.”

 Shin-ae watches him slam the door, confused. She sucks the straw in her mouth and turns away towards her bedroom, she was out of the game with Kousuke, she doesn’t have time for this shit.

 The next workday came quickly, Shin-ae got ready thirty minutes early to take the nearest bus. When she goes outside, she sees Yeong-gi waiting for her.

 Fucking hell.

 He brings down the passenger window “I knew you’d try and take the bus this time, I wanted to make sure you didn’t.”

 “I thought all that yelling yesterday was you telling me to go fuck myself.” She says, a little jokingly. She’s not easily hurt, not for things like this.

 “I don’t agree with your life choices, but you’re my friend and I’m not a dickhead.”

 “Debatable.” She says, still standing outside.

 “The friend part or the me being a dickhead part?”

 “Both.”

 “Get in already.”

 “It’s early.”

 Yeong-gi looks at the time on his Bluetooth radio. “We’ll get breakfast at Maya’s.”

 “Fair enough.” Shin-ae opens the door and slides into the car. Oddly enough, it feels more like home than even her own apartment.

 Despite how bad Yeong-gi’s outburst was, there was no change in her work life. She continued to answer calls, submitted her timesheets, noted her call logs and got her paycheck at the biweekly mark. Before she knew it, four and a half weeks had passed in a blur.

 Kousuke continued to seek her out, but she ignored his texts, ignored his calls, avoided him at work. Everything was going back to normal, the way it should be, the way Shin-ae wanted it to be.

 But she still felt empty, hollow. She spent nights with Rika and Maya, hung out with Yeong-gi, video chatted with Min Hyuk and yet she still felt that nagging need for Kousuke’s warmth, his hands, his presence. It was almost unbearable.

 She wakes up one morning, and suddenly everything feels so wrong. She chugs almost all the strawberry yogurt shake in the corner of the fridge and eats half a bar of cream cheese before even washing her face. Within half an hour, while she’s brushing the knots out of her bed hair she leans over the sink and throws up into the toilet.

 “Fucking yogurt.” She pants as she pulls the lever to flush the vomit, “I didn’t check the expiration date.”

 “Are you okay?” Yeong-gi asks when she settles into the passengers side.

 Curse him and his fine tuning. “I’m fine, I just felt a little sick when I woke up. Drank a bad shake, and I practically swallowed half a block of my cream cheese, didn’t go down so easy.”

 “You wanna call off work today?”

 “Hell no, I can’t afford to miss work.” Shin-as suddenly remembers something as Yeong-gi drives away from her apartment, “Speaking of work I’ve got enough saved up to pay off most of the car I want.”

 “Damn, guess you won’t be needing me.”

 “You think I’ll ditch you once I get my car? What do you think I am? A gaping asshole?”

 “Now that you mention it,” He begins, and breaks off into laughter when Shin-ae clocks him on the arm.

 Work goes by particularly easy, morning calls are slow during the week, but once the middle of the day hit the call centers we’re getting waves of callers with questions and complaints.

 “Good afternoon you’ve reached the Hirarahara corporation how may I-“

 “I need to speak to your boss.”

 “May I ask who is calling?” Shin-ae maintains her cool despite the ugly tone the customer is using.

 “I’m not talking to anyone but Kousuke, I had no choice but to call the main office since his assistant wouldn’t help me.”

 “I’m sorry, but in order to transfer your call I must have a name and purpose for the call.” Shin-ae commends her self control, because right now she really wanted to reach through the receiver and slap the caller across the face, she sounded like a shallow bitch.

 After a few exchanges Shin-ae realized this was getting nowhere and the problem was personal. She sighed and asked for the girl on the other line to hold and see what she can do, and dials Kousuke’s direct office number.

 “Who is this?” Kousuke sounds very irritated, and Shin-ae feels the last thread of her patience snapping. Somehow, hearing his voice under these circumstances made her feel bewilderingly despondent,“The main office should not have my desk number, I asked my assis-“

 “It’s Shin-ae, you gave me your office number a while back. Listen, there’s a customer here who refuses to tell me her name or her reason for calling, since she’s your problem can you get her off my back please?”

 There’s a tiny moment of silence, a simple intake of breath before he speaks again. “Yes, have her call transferred to my office.”

 Shin-ae says nothing more and hangs up on Kousuke, transferring the call without a word to the girl on the other line either. She can’t explain the jealousy that bubbles in her stomach, and she tries her best to shake off the depressing mood. It does little, her day had been completely ruined, she spent most of the rest of it chewing the inside of her cheek raw.

 At the end of the day, when she clocks out, Kousuke is standing at the front office by the entrance of the building. He’s typing away at his phone, occasionally looking up as if he were waiting for someone.

 He sees her, and puts his phone away. Her gut twists in both relief and agony.

 “How can I help you, Mr. Hirahara?” Shin-ae asks when he walks up to her.

 His eyes flash hurt, but it’s gone as soon as it had appeared. “I don’t understand why, but I felt as though I may have to explain myself to you, about what happened earlier today.”

 Shin-ae shakes her head solemnly, “You don’t have to explain anything. We are not seeing each other. If that is all, I’ll be on my way. Have a nice evening.”

 “Tacos.” He says, and it immediately draws her attention. She turns around and raises her eyebrows in confusion.

 He covers his mouth with his hand in attempt to hide his blush. “There is a taco place, around the corner. I’ve heard good reviews from it.”

 Shin-ae’s mouth parts, but she has no words. Kousuke really is trying with her, and she has no idea how else to push him away. “Okay.”

 “Okay?”

 She nods, heart clenched. “Okay.”

 It’s almost an exact replica of a Mexican restaurant, there are red wooden benches outside of the place, but there’s also tables scattered inside. The tile floor is flat, as if traced on with pencil.  There is one AC unit at the corner window, with the tell tale strips of colorful paper tied to the skits as it sputters like an old engine, it does little to cool the room, the doors are propped open and the inside is humid, but not uncomfortably. It’s a weekday, so the restaurant is not entirely busy, Kousuke and Shin-ae find a vacant table in the corner, order their drinks and tacos and sit in silence, sipping away at their straws.

 “I suppose you don’t want to know what happened today.” Kousuke suggests, his eyes serious and mouth drawn into a tight line.

 “No, I don’t, but humor me.” Shin-ae says.

 “I have been attempting these so called “blind-dates”, set up by my mother. They’ve all ended in disasters, and this last one I’ve had particular trouble shaking off.” Kousuke is honest in his words, and takes a sip out of his plain water.

 “You can file a harassment claim.”

 “It is too troublesome, she is not worth that time and energy.”

 Shin-ae winces involuntarily, she doesn’t like this topic of conversation, and Kousuke immediately notices.

 “I admit I had to polish up on some how-to reading.”

 “About what?” Shin-ae asks, thankful for the topic change.

 Kousuke hesitates, blushing. “E-eating tacos.”

 Shin-ae chokes on her coke, laughing. “Oh my god that’s golden. I can’t wait to see how you eat them.” Tears sting her vision from how hard she’s laughing.

 When the tacos finally arrive, Shin-ae watches Kousuke eagerly. He pinches the top of the taco with two fingers and tilts his head to the side. The greasy tortilla slips from under his finger and the entire contents of the taco spill onto the other four on his plate. He sighs in defeat, sitting up straight and and closing his eyes. “My patience for finger food wears extremely thin.”

 Shin-ae giggles, and shows him the proper way to eat a taco. “You know, you can’t just expect to do everything right just by reading about it.”

 “It is an efficient form of learning when hands on experience is not readily available.” Kousuke argues, and Shin-ae has to agree.

 They talk easily for hours, until the bell rang that closing time was near.

 “I am willing to take you back to-“

 “Oh no, thank you, I called a friend earlier to pick me up.” Shin-ae smiles, noticing Kousuke tried hard to keep his expression neutral.

 When Maya pulls up, Shin-ae turns and calls after him as he retreats to his red Ferrari. “Kousuke! This was nice.”

 She earns one of those small smiles of his.

 Maya and her talk about everything except Kousuke. Min Hyuk landed a great job after graduating from college, he’s saving up for a couple of months to visit. Maya’s bakery has been doing great, she’ll be able to pick up a few more credits to become a nurse, the road is long and arduous, but they’ve come far with their lives. Shin-ae thinks it’s a pretty damn good life. She herself has been considering going to college, taking a few classes at a time. She doesn’t want to be a call center representative forever, it would drive her crazy.

 The next morning two hours before her alarms, with no explanation, Shin-ae is hovering over the toilet bowl with the worst morning sickness on record. Now, as she stares at herself in the mirror, her cheeks puffed and her eyes red and swollen, she’s suddenly very afraid.

 Her hands are shaking as she grabs her phone and dials the most recent call.

 “Shin-ae it’s six in the goddamn mor-“

 “Rika, listen to me very carefully, I need you to go to the nearest convenience store and bring me a..”

 “A what Shin-ae? Is this a joke?”

 “No, I need a..” She can’t say it, it’s too dreadful to even think about. She swallows hard and shuts her eyes, this can’t be happening. “A pregnancy test.”

 “I’m on my way.” The line cuts and Shin-ae lets her phone drop.

 Rika shows up in running shorts and her dark hair pulled up in a messy bun, if she was sleepy before, she sure as hell isn't now. The hairs on her arms are standing up on end, and she looks frightened. She can only imagine how Shin-ae must feel.

 “You never know, you could just be really sick.” Shin-ae hears the encouraging voice through the white restroom door. Shin-ae feels a thousand pounds heavier as she holds the pink stick up to the light. She wants to believe Rika’s words, wants to melt away this worry, but the soiled stick in her hands isn’t letting her.

 When it takes too long for her to keep waiting, she steps out of the restroom and hands the test to Rika. “You check it for me, I’m dying with anxiety.”

 She can’t stop running her hands through her hair as Rika paces around her bed. The blue comforter is halfway across the floor from her struggle to make it to the bathroom earlier, the sheets a tangled mess. Some clothes is strewn about the floor, and her lamp flickers on her desk, as if it were waiting too.

 There’s a thick moment of silence, and when Rika turns around to face her, the answer is written all over her face.

 

“Shin-ae, you’re pregnant.”

Chapter Text

Shin-ae is pretty sure the room is spinning. She feels like she’s drowning several meters below the surface of the ocean, her lungs feel as if they’re being crushed by the increasing pressure as she falls. Her vision is blurry from the fat tears that pool over her red irises, staring into the wall ahead of her blankly as her mouth moves, trying and failing to formulate words.

She hears a voice, distantly, as if it were calling to her from the surface of the bottomless ocean she’s drowning in. It slowly becomes clearer and clearer, and she realizes Rika is touching her biceps softly and guiding her to the bed.

“-in-ae… Shin-ae..You’re having a panic attack, look at me.” She looks into Rika’s eyes, “Follow my breathing, breathe.” Slowly, their breaths fall into sync, and Shin-ae can now formulate proper thoughts.

She stares at her hands, folded and shaking in her lap. “Fuck.”

“Oh, sweetheart.” Rika embraces her, and it’s then that Shin-ae realizes thick streams of tears are falling from her eyes. “Whatever you need, do you want me to call Maya?”

“No! No- no.” Shin-ae sobs, shaking her head, “I don’t need more people knowing. Not right now. Dammit-“ She hiccups, “Dammit!”

“Okay, calm down. You can figure this out.”

“How?!” Shin-ae looks up at Rika, and her eyes reflect how utterly terrified she is, how much she really wishes it wasn’t true. “I can’t- I can't get rid of it.”

Rika grabs her hand and sits next to her, shaking her head “No, but there’s help. The father-“

“Never. I’m not going to tell him.” Shin-ae says immediately.

“Who- Who is the dad?”

Shin-ae shakes her head, and doesn’t answer. Instead she turns to face her, “Rika, you can’t tell anyone about this. I need time to figure it out.”

“I promise.” Rika says, and despite her tired eyes, she smiles reassuringly. “I support you, Shin-ae, whatever you choose.”

The first thing she does is send a text to Yeong-gi not to pick her up, and then she sends notice she will be taking a sick day today via email. Rika makes eggs for breakfast and toasts some bread slices. She takes the aqua glass plate filled with food to Shin-ae, holding her own purple plate in her other hand.

“Do you need me to stay here with you? I can call in for work.”

Shin-are shakes her head, forcing a forkful of scrambled egg into her mouth. “Sorry for waking you up so early, I’ll be fine from here.”

Rika’s eyes are filled with doubt, but when she finishes breakfast, she washes her dish and grabs her keys from Shin-ae’s dresser. “If you need me for anything, anything at all, call me.”

Shin-ae waves goodbye, and when she hears the front door shut, she throws away the eggs and toast, and drinks a cup of water.

Ten minutes later, there’s another knock on her door. She stands from her bed, hair tied up in a messy ponytail and a pair of black short track shorts and a black t-shirt. “Rika, I’m seriou-“

“Got your text, wow you look crap.”

Shin-ae is very startled to see Yeong-gi standing in her doorway. In his hands are a variety of flu and cold medicines, as well as a bag of groceries for making chicken soup from scratch. “Yeon-gi, I sent you a text that I was gonna miss work, not that i might possibly die tomorrow.”

“Of course, peanut. People don’t die of colds.” Yeong-gi sets the goods down on the counter.

“Then with all due respect what the fuck are you doing here? How did you get past the gate?”

Yeong-gi shrugged, “Followed someone in, May have taken your neighbors parking spot. Hopefully works a nine to five job.”

“It’s an apartment complex, anyone who doesn’t work nine to five probably doesn’t live here.”

“I’ll take your word for it. So, what’s got you feeling like hell?” Yeong-gi sets his keys on the counter and hangs his coat on one of her chairs.

“Well first, you. And then, I have a killer headache and an even worse stomach ache. It’ll pass, I usually don’t miss work for this but I’m feeling really sluggish. I'm gonna head to bed soon, I threw up this morning and don’t really have an appetite for now. Thank you for stopping by though,

Yeong-gi is rolling up the sleeves of his white button up shirt, “You go on ahead, I’m just gonna leave some stuff for you to eat, since I know the first thing you’re gonna do is grab a bag of chips when you wake up.”

Shin-ae sighs and plops down on the counter stool where Yeong-gi hung up his jacket. “I can’t just fall asleep with a guest in my place. You’ve got- thirty minutes before you have to head out to make it on time.”

“I submitted a notice too, when I submitted yours I made one for me too.”

Shin-ae gawks at him, “What?”

“The hard-working Shin-ae Yoo herself calling in for a sick day? You bet your sweet ass I wouldn’t miss it for the world, this day is gonna be on my calendar. Marked as an annual celebration and every time? Chicken broth for dinner baby.” Yeong-gi swings a spoon in her face.

“Yeah, good luck with that.” Shin-ae rolls her eyes, but can’t stop the smile that blooms on her face. She relishes in this little fleeting moment of freedom, and silently thanks her friend for forcing his presence on her.

When she wakes up, she vaguely remembers having slumped into bed. There’s a cool towel on her forehead, and for a minute she thinks Yeong-gi may have left, but she hears voices talking just outside her closed door.

“You have some real fucking nerve showing your face here.”

“I was concerned for Miss Yoo’’s welfare. And I presume that you were too. She was not answering my calls or my texts.”

“Miss Yoo, is that what you call her when you take advantage of her?”

There’s a thick pause. “Our personal lives do not concern you in the smallest fraction.”

“She’s actually feeling like real shit, and she’s sleeping right now, I’m sure you’re the last person she’d want to see.”

“It is as I have theorized. You harness affections for her.”

“That- has nothing to do with this.”

“I’m afraid it does. I have never once taken advantage of Shin-ae. Our copulation was a mutual desire. It is the very reason you do not wish my presence here.”

“Leave.”

“I will not, until I see that Shin-ae has improved.”

“So help me I will-“

Shin-ae opens the door, staring them both down. “Are you done bringing negative energy to my place? I feel like I’m drowning in it.”

“Shin-ae.” Yeong-gi looks panicked for a second, “How are you feeling? You barely slept.”

“I slept fine, woke up to you two bickering in my living room. The living room is for binge watching shows, so you either sit your ass down and turn on the TV or you get the hell out.” She winces and holds the towel to her pounding head. “Stupid headache.”

Yeong-gi gives Kousuke a menacing look, then turns to Shin-ae “Do you need to go to the doctor? I can take you.”

Shin-ae shakes her head, and is wondering how in hell she's keeping so calm. One of her best friends and the father of her child are standing right in front of her merely two hours after she’s discovered that she’s pregnant. “Rika is going to take me after she leaves work will you two stop? I feel like I’m in a daycare.” Yeong-gi and Kousuke are beating each other up with their eyes, and it’s then that Shin-ae realizes just how damaged their relationship is.

“I am merely concerned for your welfare, and wanted to be assured that you were recovering.”

“Well I’m fine. I’m walking, I’m talking. And you-“ Shin-ae looks pointedly at Yeong-gi “You have to go to work, for one I don’t want you sticking to me you’ll probably catch my illness, and two did you even think what calling in sick after me will do? Nobody can touch the great Yeong-gi but people will start talking, I’m already in deep shit ‘cause of..” She trails off, and shakes her head. “Look, I’m fine guys, really. So your hovering right now is unnecessary.”

Yeong-gi walls over to the counter and grabs his coat. “I left the soup heating on low, and four bottles of lemonade in the fridge. If you eat and drink all that you’ll feel better in no time.”

“Thanks, I really appreciate it.”

Kousuke stands, “I left a series of medications on the counter to treat cold and flu symptoms, be weary that they cause drowsiness.”

“Thank you Kousuke. No shoo, both of you, I don’t need you all over my sick germs. You guys have important jobs to do.”

Yeong-gi and Kousuke wrestle each other to get through the doorway, Shin-ae scolds them to go one at a time and shuts the door after saying goodbye. She turns and presses her back against the door, eyeing the medications on the table. Her legs suddenly feel like jelly, and she slides down the length of the door, cupping her face in her hands. What was she going to do? She had a little less than five or six months to adjust to a dramatic change in her life. In her fantasies, she’d dreamed of having a big house to raise a family, not this little apartment. She had a big chunk of savings in her bank account, enough to raise a healthy baby, but what if hers was born sickly and ate away her finances? What if her baby ate a lot and spent three times as much on food than on diapers? What if-

Her phone rings across the room on the coffee table, a text message comes in and soon after, another, and then another. She stands, glad to be taken away from her own thoughts, and sees a message from Rika, one from Maya, from Yeong-gi and.. her dad?

 

Rikalicious, 12:33pm: Hey girl I’m out in two hours, be ready to go to the doctor.

 

Maya Papaya, 12:35: heard you skipped work?!?! you are probably too dead to answer this text message but send pics!!

 

Mr. Stalker, 12:35pm: eyy lemme know how u like my soup ;)

 

Dad, 12:36pm: I called the office today and asked for you and they said you called in sick. Are you okay honey?

 

Shin-ae opens her dad’s text message and replies to it first.

 

To Dad: yeah dad im fine, probably just a cold, im going to the doctor soon just in case. no need to worry

 

To Rikalicious: ill be ready, thanks for everything.

 

To Maya Papaya: lol where’d u hear that from?

 

To Mr. Stalker: if I don’t respond in two hours your soup probably killed me :p

 

Shin-ae puts her phone on silent and throws it on the couch. Her stomach growls, she looks down at it and realizes, there’s another human being inside her. She’ll have to stop eating the way she does, and try to take care of herself so her baby’s medical bills won’t leave them homeless. She serves herself a bowl of soup and eats all the vegetables and chicken in it. It wasn’t bad at all, actually, and it surprised her that Yeong-gi knew how to cook this so well. She drinks half of one lemonade and gets into the shower.

While in the shower, her phone vibrates on the couch. It was an incoming call from Kousuke, that rings the whole minute until it shuts off, and the call is missed.

Rika is knocking on her door as she was changing, and with one leg out of a pair of pants Shin-ae pulls the door open. “You’re early.”

“And you’re a mess, you couldn’t put the whole pant on before opening the door?” Rika steps in and closes the door behind her as Shin-ae hops back into her room, stuffing the other leg into the pant.

“I’ll be shopping in the maternity section, I already feel like burning these pants right off.”

“I heard that being pregnant is like being constantly on your period but without the blood.”

“You’re not helping.”

Rika sucks in a breath, “Maybe they have skinny jeans in the maternity section?”

Shin-ae stares at her for a long moment before she bursts into tears.

“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.” Rika hugs her.

“I don’t want to wear yoga pants and oversized t shirts, and I don’t want to wear the same loose blouses pregnant women wear to work. I’m not thirty.”

Rika soothes a hand over her back, effectively calming her. “It’s okay, you’re gonna talk to the doctor and they’re gonna help you, just get dressed. You’re not at that point yet, so don’t worry about it until you get there.”

Shin-ae nods, and after pulling on a dress shirt they set off to the clinic.

Shin-ae’s feet pat nervously on the spotted tile of the clinic. It has a friendly enough vibe to it, colorful patterns painted onto the white walls that calmed her down enough to stop herself from running out screaming. There were women seated at the various furnitures garnished in the spacious waiting room, all at different stages in their pregnancy. She wonders then if she looks pregnant.

“Do I look pregnant?” She whispers to Rika, who’s shuffling through a magazine with her legs crossed.

“If you keep looking around like you’re paranoid maybe the moms will catch on.” Rika turns the page. “Do yourself a favor and grab a magazine, you’re gonna burn holes through the poor women’s uteruses.”

Shin-ae makes a face, but listens to Rika and grabs a magazine. An Oprah magazine. The pages are all interesting, there’s clothes, furniture, and her favorite, a recommended booklist.

“Yoo Shin-ae?” A sweet voice pours into the waiting room, and Shin-ae slams the magazine closed. Rika closes hers too, but leaves her finger on the page she was on, “I’ll wait for you here, take your time.”

Shin-ae smiles weakly at the woman dressed in butterfly scrubs and blue crocs, and she is guided into a small room with various chairs, but no ultrasound.

“Good afternoon Ms. Yoo, I’m nurse Krysta. If you could just sit down at this table right here, I’m going to ask a few questions and get some routine testing out of the way.”

The kind woman asks about her family history, her own medical history, a few questions about diabetes and hereditary diseases. For a while it seems like a routine check up. She’s a thin woman with gentle blue eyes, long blonde hair braided back and her nails painted a baby pink.

“How far along do you estimate you are?”

“I don’t know. I found out earlier today and set up an appointment right after.”

The woman nods, as she jots down notes on her pad. “A very good decision, if you want we can get you an ultrasound and figure out exactly how far along you are.”

“Sure.”

“For the final parts of this examination we are going to draw some blood, collect some urine and perform a full body physical as well as a pap smear.” The nurse smiles again, “After the ultrasound I will give you a few pamphlets for first time moms and if you need counseling the first four sessions are free.”

Shin-ae nods in a weak kind of way, letting her head fall and picking it back up. She’s so overwhelmed it makes her dizzy. The nurse takes her weight, height, checks almost every muscle in her body and draws blood. She pees in a cup, gets her intimates checked and before she knows it, Krysta is talking to her about counseling.

“Are you excited?” Krysta asks.

Shin-ae’s smile is sad and downcast, she looks at her hands and folds them together. “I’m scared.”

Krysta grabs her hand, “You are very brave. Lots of girls as young as you refuse counseling and quickly abort, but you are different. The fact that you’re sitting here instead of on the other side of this clinic, you’re going to make a great mother no matter where you are in life.”

Shin-ae’s tears leave thick trails on her cheeks, “Is it wrong, to think about it?”

Krysta shakes her head, “Absolutely not. I’m a mom of two, I got pregnant when I was two years younger than you and I was scared out of my wits. In fact, I sat on the other side. And then I realized that if I followed through, if I really believed that my baby was a mistake, why then was I wondering if it would have my father’s nose? My mother’s eyes? I would leave that clinic never being able to answer those questions. So I had my baby, and I worked hard to become a nurse here.”

Shin-ae nods, and squeezes Krysta’s hand. “Thank you, I didn’t know how badly I needed to hear from someone like me.”

Krysta smiles at her, “Nothing is impossible Ms. Yoo. Here are your counseling pamphlets, group sessions are very affordable and I highly recommend them. For your first few visits I encourage one on one. You’re a very strong woman, I know you can do it.”

“Okay, I will. Thank you again.”

“Alrighty, I’ll see you here for your next check up  in four weeks. I’ll call in two to talk about your test results. Thanks for coming in!”

When Rika and her get into her car, Rika asks her how it went.

Shin-ae looks at her, her smile sincere for the first time. “Can we go see Maya?”

“What.” Maya drops her chocolate glazed donut all over her pink apron, staring dumbfoundedly at Shin-ae after she broke the news to her. They were sitting at a tiny booth against the window of the shop, Rika tapping excitedly on the paper cup of her iced mocha while Shin-ae devoured a strawberry glazed donut with sprinkles. She usually hated strawberry glaze.

“Oh my god, you hate strawberry glaze. It makes so much sense. Who?! ” Maya picks up her donut from her lap and continues to eat it as though she had never dropped it.

“She’s not telling, but I’m guessing it’s one of those hot shot CEO’s from her company.” Rika eyeballs her.

“Oh my gosh, we’re gonna be aunts!” Maya shakes excitedly and Rika laughs.

Shin-ae rolls her eyes as she finishes the last bite of her donut. “I need a life plan, I’m dying on the inside. This seriously wasn’t planned, so there goes finishing the last of my college classes, might have to hold off on buying my car too.”

“Nope, nuh-uh. You’re getting the car you want no questions asked, and babysitting? Are you kidding, I’ll fight Rika right now. I call dibs right now. Me first.”

Rika holds her arm out. “We’ll arm wrestle for it right now.”

“Let’s go.” Maya rolls up her pink sleeve.

Shin-ae laughs. “Thanks guys. Well, for now I have to work up telling my dad, count my savings and go from there.”

“We believe in you.” Maya says, smiling. “And if you need anything ever don’t hesitate to ask.”

“Okay.”

Rika and her pick up a salad at the wacdonald’s on the way, and they talk for a bit in Shin-ae’s apartment about Rika’s work, how the day went and bid each other farewell.

“Thanks for everything Rika, seriously. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without you.”

Rika hugs her tightly. “It’s no trouble at all, call me sometime, or text.”

“Sure, bye.”

Rika waves and Shin-ae shuts the door. Alone with her thoughts now. She really needs to tell her dad before it’s too late.

The rest of the week passes by quickly, Shin-ae and Yeong-gi fall into their routine again, but Yeong-gi is a lot more perceptive than Shin-ae gives him credit for.

“You’ve been eating a lot more than usual lately. You almost never bring food to my car.”

“I’m a fatass I thought you knew that. Does it bother you? I’ll stop.”

“No no, I’m just saying. And I’ve been coming earlier for breakfast too, you always want something different. Are you sure you’re okay? Is something stressing you out?”

“I’m fine.” Shin-ae munches on a cucumber from a bag. “At least they’re healthy morning snacks.”

Yeong-gi laughs, and they drop the subject.

The following week, at the end of the week, Yeong-gi drives her home from work when she asks if they could eat out before she goes home. Yeong-gi agrees and they stop at a seafood restaurant. Shin-ae felt like stuffing her face with fried seafood. Her stomach growls defiantly. ‘Oh, shut up, it’s my cheat day today.’ She scolds her uterus.

“I didn’t say anything.” Yeong-gi’s hand is on the door and his face is scrunched up in confusion.

“Did I say that out loud? Sorry.”

They find a table for two and look at their menus in silence. Shin-ae closes her menu in two seconds.Yeong-gi notices and glances from his menu. “I bet you ten bucks you didn’t even look at it.”

“What’s wrong with knowing what I’m gonna get? I knew even before I asked if we could come here.”

“Right right, sorry lima.”

“A lima bean? Of all beans. You’re so original.” Shin-ae teases.

They order, For Yeong-gi a scalding lobster and for Shin-ae a plate of various fried seafoods. Their conversation has always been so easy, there’s jokes and gossip, like a never ending stream. Yeong-gi waves down the waiter and asks for two cups of wine.

“Ah, no alcohol.” Shin-ae says, shaking her head.

“It’s friday, there’s no work tomorrow.”

“I know but I’m not drinking alcohol right now.” Shit. She forgot to come up with a valid excuse for that one, it wasn’t usually in her habits to drink on any day, but she did indulge anytime Yeong-gi offered.

With the moon high above their heads, the drive back is particularly silent. There’s an unnamed tension in the air that settled between them after dinner. When Yeong-gi pulls up at the apartment complex, there’s a long drawn out silence.

“Shin-ae, is there som-”

“I’m pregnant.” Shin-ae says, not blinking and not looking at Yeong-gi. She breathes, as if for the first time. “Wow I haven’t said that since, I found out.”

Yeong-gi doesn’t look at her, his hand on the steering wheel. “The day you called in sick, two weeks ago.” He grips the steering wheel, “God I’m an idiot.

“I’m sorry.” She says quietly, “He doesn’t know.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. Do you- do you want him to know?”

“I don’t know.”

Yeong-gi scoffs, shaking his head. “I can’t process this right now. I’ll text you later. Thanks for dinner.”

Shin-ae steps out and shuts the door, not looking back as Yeong-gi pulls out and drives away. She stands outside of her apartment for a minute to think, just what the hell had she done? She pulls out her phone and calls her dad.

“Hey baby, what’s with the late night call?”

“Dad, sorry about the late call, can you-” Her voice cracks, and she suddenly feels anguish wash over her. “Can you come over?”

Her dad had never driven so fast in his life. His place was a fifteen minute drive at least from Shin-ae’s place, and yet he was knocking at her door just nine minutes after the call. Shin-ae opens the door, her eyes red rimmed and puffy. Shin-ae Yoo hardly ever cried, she was a tough nut to crack, but right now she was as vulnerable and weak as an eggshell.

“Dad.” She greets, her eyes puffy and red from crying.

Her father wastes no time to wrap his strong arms around her, cradling her the same way he had when she was a little girl and cried for her sister. Shin-ae brings her arms around him as she sobs, apologies dripping from her swollen lips. “I’m sorry dad, I’m sorry.”

“For what baby? You didn’t do anything wrong.” He doesn’t let go of her as he guides them through her apartment to sit at the couch.

Shin-ae is grabbing at him desperately, breaths hitching with every sob that erupts from her throat, as if she couldn’t find a lifeline in her dad’s arms. “I can’t do it, I can’t say it-”

“Sweetheart, look at me.” Her dad grabs her chin softly and tilts her head to him. “I love you with every ounce of my being. You helped me out of a shithole when you were still in high school. Shin-ae, you’re my superhero .”

Shin-ae smiles weakly at him, and the words dance at the bottom of her stomach.

“I’m supposed to protect you, okay? I’m your father, and I know I haven’t been the best one, but right now, let me be your superhero.”

“Okay.” Shin-ae sits up properly and grabs both of her dad’s hands in hers. “I- I’m expecting. And it- wasn’t planned.”

Her father stares at her blankly for a moment, and then nods slowly. “Okay. Okay, um. Okay.”

“I’m so-”

“No, don’t apologize. It’s just, so early. Have you thought about, not keeping it?”

“I can’t get rid of it. I don’t want to live with that regret for the rest of my life.”

Shin-ae’s father nods again. “Okay. And the father-”

“I haven’t told him.”

“Shin-ae. You can’t do this alone.” Her father says, his voice still a little dumbfounded. “The baby is going to need its father.”

“Like my pregnant belly, I’ll deal with it when it comes.”

“Your mother was very young when we had your older sister. I will do my best to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes we did.” “Thank you, dad.”

“And it starts with telling the father. You have to.”

Shin-ae breathes. “Okay.”

 

“Dinner.” Is the first word that comes out of her mouth a week after telling her dad she’s pregnant, and Yeong-gi looks at her like she’d just announced she was pregnant to him from the drivers seat of the car.

“What?”

“Maya and Rika are coming to dinner with me at a burger joint. You should come too.”

Yeong-gi snorts. “Are you asking or telling me?”

Shin-ae grins at him, “Will it make a difference?”

Yeong-gi laughs then, for the first time in weeks. And for that small window of time, everything feels like it’s gone back to normal.

The burger joint is kind of lonely when they get there after work. Maya and Rika were spamming her with texts, excited to meet an actual CEO of a big company. Yeong-gi seems to have wrapped around her like a guard dog, making sure she doesn’t bump into anything or let anyone bump into her. It’s sweet at first, but Shin-ae can’t stop missing Kousuke.

Suddenly it felt as though Yeong-gi had read her mind and sensed that she missed him, because he stiffens as he guides her through the restaurant.

Shin-ae sees him there, seated at a table for two but sharing no one’s company other than his own. He’s bent over his phone, writing little notes on it with a silver stylus. His burger is virtually untouched, but the fries and ketchup in the basket look like they’ve been nibbled on. He liked to bring her here a lot, back when they were seeing each other.

Shin-ae is about to decide that he looks in good shape, but when he sits back on the chair, dark lavender crescent shapes are colored onto the bottoms of his eyes, and he looks so sad. Shin-ae’s heart clenches.

She doesn’t know what wills her to do it, but she takes the seat across from him, laying her scarf across her lap. “You look like you could use a shot of excitement.”

“Miss Yoo.” He says with a hitch of his breath, and tries his best no to look pleasantly surprised.

Shin-ae never thinks before she acts. She tried to come up with a reason for sitting here in front of Kousuke, other than ‘you looked a little sad’, but looking into his intense blue eyes, she realizes she can’t keep hiding from him anymore.

A breath, maybe two. She blinks slowly, feeling her heart in her throat and hearing it beat loud in her ears. “Would you like to come over later tonight? There is something we need to talk about.”

Kousuke stares at her blankly, but then the sadness fills his irises again, and he nods. “I would like to, may you perhaps explain why,” he pauses at the words, almost embarrassed to be asking the question, “Forgive me, I simply figured we were finally becoming comfortable with each other.”

Shin-ae shakes her head, “I really do like you, Kousuke. But you should really come to my place, eight o’clock.”

“Very well.” He says, and she doesn’t miss the raise of his shoulders, the smallest flicker of brightness within those sad eyes. He stands, placing his hands on the table in hesitation,  “I have a meeting in half an hour, I would not like to leave you here if you should require comp-“

Shin-ae immediately waved him off, “I’m here with a few friends, don’t worry, and don’t cancel your meetings, the Kousuke I know is never this soft.” She has a teasing glint in her ruby eyes as she narrows them at him.

Kousuke nods curtly, “Your assumption is correct, I have no practice in the art of wooing.”

“Cancelling an important meeting just to have lunch with your crush?” Shin-ae snorts “You’ve got wooing in the bag.”

Kousuke raises his eyebrows in question, “I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with that term.”

“Just- Just go.” Shin-ae rises from her seat, smiling and bidding farewell as she travels back to Rika and Maya, who are seated at the tables outside.

Maya, Rika and Yeong-gi are eyeballing her as she grabs her menu and settles in. She looks up at them, completely oblivious, “So, what’s good here?”

The doorbell to Shin-ae’s apartment rings at 7:59. She’s dressed in casual black tights and a loose t-shirt, she throws the turquoise blanket wrapped around her shoulders aside, one arm around a bucket of banana split ice cream and the other holding a spoon to her mouth. She leaves Stranger Things playing in the background as she places the bucket of ice cream on the counter and wipes herself down.

“Right on time,” she smiles and lets him in. “Excuse the mess, I tried to tidy up a bit.”

“It is of no consequence.” Kousuke says as he steps inside, “I arrived fifteen minutes early in hopes that I could follow a resident through the gates, as to not deter you from your-“ he looks at the ice cream and notices the pillows and blankets strewn across the brown couch, “activities.”

“Breaking the rules I see.” Shin-ae laughs, “You’re becoming more and more bad. Counter? Or couch?”

“I have no pref-“

“Sit on the damn couch. I don’t want to miss this episode anyway.”

“If I am correct, you have previously completed that series.” He pauses as he hears screaming coming from the TV. “Twice.”

“Your point?” She grabs the ice cream and guides him to the couch. They sit side by side, and suddenly Shin-ae can’t stomach another spoonful of ice cream. “I called you here because we need to talk.” She turns off the TV, places her melting bucket on the coffee table and turns to him.

Kousuke stares at her intensely, but does not otherwise move from his spot. She sighs, and grabs his hands. “Do you know who I am?”

“You are Shin-ae Yoo, employee at Hirahara-“

Shin-ae shakes her head, “I mean me . Not the employee, not the girl you would sleep with, no, me. The Shin-ae right in front of you.”

Kousuke grips her hands, there’s a slight tremor in them, “I know every miniscule detail you have allowed me to know. You are admirable in your decisions, you care for others before yourself, you are- as they say- the bigger person during conflict.”

“But I am not perfect.”

“To me, there is no person who comes closer to perfection.”

“Kousuke I have made many mistakes, and these past seven weeks have given me ample time to reflect on who I am and who I want to be. I’m scared to death right now, and I’ve surrounded myself with the people I love and confided in three of my closest friends, but this- I can’t find the strength to tell you or my dad without bawling my eyes out.” Her voice quivers, and her bottom lip trembles. She bites it to hold it still, tears blurring her vision. Kousuke pulls one of his hands from her and strokes her face, pressing his thumb against her chin.

“You have nothing to fear, my feelings have not changed in all this time, and they will most likely never change, no matter what happens.”

Shin-ae looks at him then, her ruby eyes swimming. There’s a sincerity in Kousuke’s eyes that glows so radiantly in his ocean blue gaze, and in that moment she knows that she can trust him. She uses both of her hands to guide his to her stomach, where a bump has began to form. “I‘m pregnant, and it- the baby is yours.”