The faint sound of singing swelled and burst into a cacophony of noise as Wheein charged through the doors of the auditorium. She could practically feel everyone’s eyes flick towards her as she raced down the stairs towards the stage.
If there was anyone praying she wouldn’t make it, well.
Wheein leaped onto the stage and swung her backpack off a shoulder, tossing it with a dull thump to land among the bags strewn around first row. Running her fingers through short blonde hair, Wheein glanced at the clock on the room’s back wall.
Six minutes past four.
Not exactly on time, but she’d made it. No prayers would be answered today.
The casting director wasn’t known for his punctuality, but he was notorious for locking the doors once auditions had begun. And Wheein wasn’t about to miss auditions for this semester.
A lively buzz surrounded Wheein on stage, the chaos embracing her like an old friend. All kinds of vocal exercises filled the air, scales ascending and descending in every conceivable key. A smile spread across Wheein’s cheeks as she looked around, seeing people she recognised and some she didn’t, all bubbling with the same hopeful determination that kindled in Wheein’s chest.
“Hey, you’re here!”
Hyejin emerged from stage left, and Wheein grinned as she slapped her palm against the younger girl’s in greeting.
“Yeah, I got caught up in a chem lecture. The professor just wouldn’t stop talking.”
“In week two?” Hyejin’s lip curled in amusement and mock sympathy. “Good luck with the rest of semester.”
“Thanks.” Wheein rolled her eyes, but not even the thought of tedious lectures for the next twelve weeks could wipe the smile from her lips. The energy all around her, the nerves fluttering in her stomach, the rolled up script in her hand all filled her with an excitement that nothing could deter.
“Wheein, you made it! I thought for a moment you’d get locked out.”
A competitive spark flickered to life in Wheein’s chest, even before she turned to meet Yongsun’s dimpled smile.
“You wish, Yongsun-unnie.” Wheein grinned.
With her powerhouse voice and shameless passion, Yongsun had cinched the lead role in each of the last three productions Wheein had been a part of. The girl had a big heart to match; Wheein wouldn’t have fallen for the theatre club if not for the nights she’d spent watching musicals at Yongsun’s apartment, the many happy hours spent singing show tunes with the girl during shared breaks.
If anyone deserved the leading role, it was Yongsun. Still, Wheein was determined to change that this semester.
“She really was hoping you’d be late. Yongsun thinks you’ll snap up the lead this time.” Byulyi piped up, her unexpected voice startling Wheein. Byulyi had dyed her hair over the semester break, Wheein realised, from brown to a gorgeous silver. Maybe that was why she hadn’t spotted Byulyi sooner.
At the indirect compliment, Wheein flushed with pride, dropping her gaze to her shoes in an attempt to hide her hopeful smile. She didn’t want to get her hopes too high. But if it was coming from Yongsun, the part was nearly as good as hers.
Yongsun slapped Byulyi’s arm indignantly. “I never said that!”
“You did! You said Wheein was getting so good--”
“I never said I wanted her to be late .” Yongsun insisted.
“Your mouth didn’t say that, but your face totally did.”
A loud, piercing series of claps interrupted their bickering, drawing their attention to the centre of the stage. The casting director swept a commanding gaze around the students around him, and with a flick of his wrist, motioned for someone to lock the auditorium doors.
“Is that safe?” Wheein heard a timid voice from the crowd as the director ushered them off the stage, and she stifled a laugh.
Really, a couple of locked doors were the least of the dramas you could expect at theatre club.
Yongsun led the charge, four of them filing into the second row. Next to her, Hyejin propped her feet up on the seat in front, while Byulyi unfolded the script in her hand, scanning through her lines one last time.
Names were called, one by one, for the scrutiny of the casting director.
She’d signed up for auditions as soon as she could, so Wheein didn’t have to wait long. Two script readings later, the director cleared his throat.
“Jung Wheein.” He called out. Wheein’s stomach flipped, and she squeezed her script tightly as she stood.
“Break a leg.” Byulyi said, patting her on the butt as she shuffled through the row. “You’ve got this.”
Hyejin nodded, Yongsun flashed her an encouraging smile. She descended the stairs and jumped onto the stage, taking steady breaths to calm the thump of her heart.
Looking around, there were maybe twenty other people dotted around the auditorium. Wheein’s gaze found her friends easily, and she kept her eyes on them for just a moment longer before turning her attention to the casting director.
“Which part are you auditioning for?”
She took a deep breath. The nerves melted away, and her voice rang out, clear and confident.
“I’d like to audition for the female lead.”
Her squeals woke Hyejin, but that was the point.
“I got the part!”
The younger girl rolled over in the top bunk, sleepily swatting at Wheein’s beaming face. Undeterred, Wheein shoved her phone into Hyejin’s face, brandishing the email displayed on its screen.
“I got the part of Belle!”
“Congratulations, I knew you could do it.” Hyejin mumbled, her eyes still shut.
Bouncing with excitement, Wheein could hardly sit still on her bed, instead reading the email again and again. A huge smile made her cheeks ache. There it was, clear as day - Beauty and the Beast , with Jung Wheein in the role of Belle, and Kim Yongsun, her understudy.
She ran her gaze down the rest of the cast. Moon Byulyi, playing the Beast. Ahn Hyejin in the role of Mrs. Potts.
“You get to sing the best song.” Wheein poked at the underside of Hyejin’s mattress through the slats, giggling when the girl grunted irritably and rolled over.
“Rehearsals start next Wednesday.”
“You’re such a nerd.” Hyejin said into her pillow.
“Am not.” Wheein was glad Hyejin couldn’t see the smile still firmly plastered on her cheeks, betraying her overflowing excitement.
She would need to get tips from Yongsun on acting with Byulyi; Wheein hadn’t worked with her very closely before. Byulyi almost always played the male leads - a perk of being one of the few alto voices in their all-female university’s theatre club.
There would be tons of lines to learn, choreography to practise, and many late nights at rehearsals in her future. Wheein could already see it.
Wednesday couldn’t come fast enough.
Wheein hadn’t quite anticipated just how closely she would be working with Byulyi.
Four weeks into rehearsals, Wheein was sure she’d spent more time with Byulyi than in the entire year and a half she’d known the girl. Besides rehearsal with the whole crew for a couple hours on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, they met up whenever they could to go over their parts.
Yongsun’s light-hearted warning - ‘she can be a bit greasy, but you’ll get used to it’ - often ran through her memory. Because ‘a bit’ was an understatement.
A gross, gross understatement.
“Hey, beauty.” Byulyi called as Wheein entered the practice room on a Friday afternoon. She always greeted Wheein like that, always with that smug grin of hers, insisting she was ‘getting into character’. Wheein had long since given up asking her to quit, though she still had to cringe whenever Byulyi said that.
“Hello, beast.” Wheein responded, her smile softening the usual retort. The older girl was crouched on the floor, marking out stage boundaries with a roll of masking tape. Her silver hair was in a low ponytail, a dark blue baseball cap hiding her eyes. Dropping her bag along the mirrored wall, Wheein stepped onto a line of tape that marked stage left.
“Ready for today’s scene?” She asked, walking on tiptoes along the white tape.
Byulyi looked up, and Wheein caught a flash of the girl’s smile in the mirror before she turned on her toes, retracing her steps.
“Of course. I just hope you’re ready.”
Wheein didn’t need to look at her to hear the smirk in Byulyi’s voice. The girl rose to her feet and stretched her shoulders, raising suggestive eyebrows as Wheein turned to face her.
“It’s the most romantic scene, you know. You better not fall for me.”
“Oh, shut up.” Wheein barked out a laugh and slapped Byulyi’s shoulder. “In your dreams.”
“How did you know I dream about you?” Byulyi asked, somehow sounding both innocent and teasing at the same time.
“Yah, stop it, seriously!” Wheein pushed the girl’s playful grin away from her face, moving to plug her phone into the aux cord. “How can I act if I’m cringing all the time?”
Byulyi’s low, melodic laugh was soon drowned out by the opening notes of the musical’s most famous song, sending a shiver of excitement through Wheein. She had been looking forward to this scene since week one. It was iconic, and Byulyi was right, the most romantic scene in the entire musical. She wanted her performance to blow the audience away.
“We’ll start here, move around the stage, and finish in the centre.” Wheein traced out their route around the practice room with her finger.
Byulyi tossed her cap aside and extended her hand, and Wheein waggled her eyebrows playfully, making the older girl laugh, before she reached out to take it.
When Byulyi wasn’t being absolutely disgusting, she was a pretty good actress. She had an eye for detail, while her silly side kept Wheein’s perfectionistic streak from making their rehearsals too serious.
And she always had her lines memorised - Wheein appreciated that.
At first, Wheein thought Byulyi had joined theatre club for the same reason Hyejin did: for the friends, and for the drinks that abounded at their cast parties, rather than a love for the performing arts. When Wheein first struck up a friendship with theatre legend Yongsun, Byulyi had come as part of the package deal. Compared to Yongsun’s exuberant passion for singing and the stage, Byulyi just seemed to be tagging along for the ride, her easy-going demeanor and natural talent making it easy for her to play along with whatever she was told.
But the more time Wheein spent with her, the more she was realising that maybe she’d misjudged Byulyi.
A hand rested on her waist, gentle yet certain, as Byulyi led her through the steps of the dance. Wheein focused on the count, left hand on Byulyi’s shoulder, right hand in Byulyi’s left.
“Relax.” Byulyi murmured into the space between them, her breath warm on Wheein’s cheek. “Let me lead. We’ll cover the whole stage, don’t worry.”
Wheein breathed out and nodded. She matched her steps to Byulyi’s, let the firm hand pressed to her back guide her.
“Look at me. You’re falling in love, remember?”
“Am not.” Wheein mumbled, earning a chuckle from the older girl, but she raised her eyes to meet Byulyi’s obediently.
“Okay, maybe not. But still, you’re feeling something. ” Byulyi grinned.
Wheein tried to recall the emotions, the atmosphere, the grandeur of this scene. But the only thing Wheein could think about was how close Byulyi’s face was to hers.
Silver strands of hair escaped the girl’s messy ponytail, framing her slender face. She had a little mole on her left eyelid, Wheein noticed. The usual, playful glint in her eye was replaced by a look of steady concentration as she guided them around the practice room. Wheein swallowed, her pulse picking up its pace.
“Spin.” Byulyi instructed, her voice low. Wheein didn’t have time to think; she spun out of Byulyi’s hold, and in the next beat, Byulyi tugged her back in, the momentum nearly causing them to collide.
“Careful.” The girl smiled, a little dimple appearing high on her cheek, and Wheein’s stomach fluttered.
The song built to its crescendo, and Wheein could feel Byulyi’s shoulder tense under her hand.
Wheein blinked, but her steps didn’t falter. “For what?”
“Jump?” Her eyes widened. No way Byulyi was serious.
“Jump.” Byulyi said, more firmly, the hand on her back insistent, and Wheein jumped.
Byulyi’s arm wrapped around her waist, the other scooping up her legs--
and Wheein shouted in alarm as the girl overbalanced, staggered backwards, and crashed heavily down to the ground.
“Oh my God,” Wheein struggled to hold back laughter as she rolled off the girl and knelt beside her. “Byulyi, are you okay?”
A snort of laughter escaped Wheein as Byulyi slowly sat up, rubbing her tailbone gingerly. The girl shot her a weak glare, and Wheein couldn’t help but burst into giggles.
“Jump, are you serious? These arms of yours couldn’t lift a sack of rice.” She picked up Byulyi’s wrist and squeezed the girl’s bicep.
“I’m stronger than I look!” Byulyi retorted, yanking her arm back. Wheein’s uncontrollable giggles seemed to be infecting her, the pout on her lips curling into a smile.
“Well, we aren’t doing that again. I might break your back.” She managed to wheeze between bouts of laughter, sitting down on the floor beside the winded girl.
Unsurprisingly, Byulyi shook her head. “I can do it. Come on, it’ll look amazing.”
“You know what looks amazing? You, not in a hospital.”
Still caught up in her amusement, Wheein reached for Byulyi’s wrist again. Despite Wheein’s teasing, she’d been surprised to discover that Byulyi’s skinny arms actually hid lithe, toned muscles.
She yelped as Byulyi seized her forearms instead, her pulse spiking when the girl got up suddenly and straddled Wheein’s lap.
“Byulyi, what are you--”
She jerked away when Byulyi leaned in, pushing her back insistently. Wheein squeaked and yielded, her legs kicking out as she fell backwards against the floor with a sharp gasp.
Byulyi pinned her arms down, silver hair falling like a curtain around them.
“Are you trying to prove a point?” Wheein breathed out a laugh, her heart pounding much too loudly as she looked into Byulyi’s determined gaze.
“If you really are stronger than me, I’ll admit that we shouldn’t do the jump. But if you can’t get free, we’ll try it again.”
Wheein swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. Byulyi’s gaze didn’t falter, holding Wheein’s with a look that promised she wasn’t about to back down. Challenging in a way Wheein never expected from Byulyi.
Yongsun never warned her about this .
“Fine, fine.” Wheein turned her head away, fighting the blush threatening to spread over her cheeks. “Let’s try it again, beast.”
The pressure on her forearms eased, hands wrapping around her arms and pulling her up instead. Wheein dusted off her pants, stubbornly refusing to meet Byulyi’s triumphant gaze.
“Good choice, beauty.”
Byulyi’s signature smirk was back on her lips as she resumed her position at stage left, but Wheein was already heading for the aux cord to get her phone back.
Her heart was still pounding, her mind reeling. She was in no state for a replay of the last twenty minutes.
“Let’s wrap up for today.”
Byulyi frowned at her. “You said we’d try again!”
“I never said when.” Wheein shot back, picking up her backpack and slinging it over her shoulder. “Get some rest, do some push-ups, we’ll try it again next week.”
“Fine.” Byulyi pouted, rubbing at her tailbone again. “Monday next week.”
“See you then.”
Wheein pushed aside the thought of Byulyi’s teasing smile above her, the memory of soft silver hair brushing her cheeks, and hurriedly left the room.
She was pinned down again, arms held beside her head against the softness of a mattress instead of the hardwood floor.
Wheein moaned as hot kisses trailed up her jaw, parted her legs easily to let slender hips press against her. The friction wasn’t quite enough, and Wheein rocked her hips upwards, desperate for more.
Silver hair fell around her face, brown eyes dark with desire holding her gaze. She didn’t move her arms even when Byulyi released her, warm hands moving down Wheein’s body to slip under her shirt instead.
Wheein bit her lip to hold back a gasp as Byulyi palmed her breasts, lithe fingers pinching and rolling her nipples. Even with her eyes squeezed shut, Wheein could feel the weight of the older girl’s hungry gaze, roaming her body, making her burn with anticipation.
Soft lips pressed a kiss to the underside of her ribs, sending a shiver up her spine.
“Byulyi-unnie, please.” Wheein whimpered.
“Please what, Wheein-ah?”
She could feel the girl’s smug smile against her abdomen, and Wheein drew in a shaky breath as Byulyi undid the button of her jeans with a flick of her wrist.
“I want you.” Wheein pleaded, trembling with need.
Fingers hooked into the waistband of her jeans and underwear, tugging insistently. Wheein lifted her hips, shivering as cool air hit bare skin, and she barely had time to catch her breath before her eyes flew open and a ragged moan spilled from her lips.
A firm, wet tongue slid through her folds, lapping at her languidly, and Wheein’s hips snapped upwards of their own accord. Strong arms wrapped around her thighs, pressing her down, holding her still. Wheein gripped the sheets tightly, needing to hold on to something before the sensations threatened to overwhelm her.
Her cheeks reddened at the praise, a jolt of pleasure shooting through her as the vibrations reverberated across her body. Already she could feel her body tightening like a bowstring, at the brink of release.
“Please, Byulyi-unnie.” Wheein begged, the name rolling off her tongue like a plea.
Every stroke of the girl’s sinful tongue against her clit felt like electricity singing through her veins, and Wheein couldn’t silence her moans as Byulyi slid a finger easily into her, curling slowly, then relentlessly, bringing her ever closer to the release she craved.
“Byulyi-unnie.” Wheein cried out, squeezing her eyes shut, arching into Byulyi’s touch.
“Come for me.”
Byulyi’s lips crashed onto hers, stealing what little breath remained in her lungs--
And Wheein woke with a start, fighting the blankets that tangled around her as she struggled to sit up, heart pounding wildly.
The room was quiet except for Hyejin’s faint snores drifting down from the top bunk. A digital clock on her desk blinked 6:42 AM.
Wheein pushed her fingers through disheveled blonde hair, still trying to catch her breath. Breathing out a shaky sigh, she fell back onto the bed, staring at the wooden slats of the bunk above.
It was just a dream.
She crossed her legs tightly and shut her eyes, trying to ignore the sticky wetness between her thighs. A hot rush, equal parts desire and shame, flooded her body at the thought of Byulyi’s husky voice.
But why the hell would she dream about Byulyi ? No way did she have feelings for Byulyi, of all people.
Better not to think about it. Wheein stuffed her face into the pillow, willing herself to forget.
But the heat pulsing low in her abdomen burned low, insistent, and Wheein bit her lip as she slid a hand into her underwear, trying not to think about Byulyi’s smirk and Byulyi’s fingers and Byulyi’s goddamn tongue.
She was too busy trying to shove aside thoughts of Byulyi to be embarrassed by how quickly she came.
Today was different.
No; today, Wheein was different.
She placed the blame squarely at the feet of one particular dream, the details of which still lingered in her memory no matter how hard she tried to forget. The weekend flew past in a blink, her normally sluggish Monday lectures suddenly much too short.
Every clock marched steadily on towards the dreaded practice session with Byulyi at 5pm. Wheein never thought she would feel this way, but the practice room was the last place she wanted to be today.
Impulsively, Wheein made a detour on her way to the arts faculty, waited listlessly outside a lecture hall of the psychology building. Hyejin’s midterm should be wrapping up any minute now. Although knowing Hyejin, it was a coin toss as to whether she’d breezed through the questions and left the exam early, or decided to take her sweet, leisurely time writing down her answers.
To her immense relief, the younger girl soon emerged through the doors. Her confident, lipsticked smile made her easy to spot amongst the crowd.
Wheein leapt on her like she was a lifeline, startling Hyejin.
“Oh, God. Where did you come from?”
“Can you come along to me and Byulyi’s practice session today?” Wheein asked breathlessly, matching her pace to Hyejin’s quick strides. Please say yes, please say yes, please--
“Practice session? What, for theatre?” Hyejin didn’t slow down when Wheein nodded, adjusting her bag on one shoulder. “Two days aren’t enough for you?”
“There’s a lot for us to work on.” Wheein tried to keep the desperation from her voice as they stepped out into the sunshine. “We could really do with some constructive criticism. Please?”
“Sure, though I think Yongsun-unnie would give better advice.”
“She’s got classes all day.”
“All right. Just for you.”
A few of the butterflies in her stomach eased as Wheein wrapped her hand around Hyejin’s arm, locking the girl firmly into her promise.
“Now.” Wheein gave her the most innocent smile she could muster and tugged her along. The flicker of guilt she felt at Hyejin’s resigned sigh was quickly drowned out by the anxiety welling up in the pit of her stomach, the closer they got to the arts building.
It was only a dream, Wheein reminded herself fiercely, willing her heart to stop its frantic pounding. It certainly didn’t mean anything, and nothing was going to come of it.
“Hey, beauty--” Byulyi stopped short, looking from Wheein to Hyejin with puzzlement. Her familiar voice and that cheesy nickname were enough to make Wheein duck her head, tighten her grip on Hyejin’s arm. “Oh, hi, Mrs. Potts. Are you joining us today?”
“Wheein wanted me to watch.” Hyejin shrugged, wincing. “Ow, Wheein.”
“Sorry.” She released her grip and put her bag down, avoiding Byulyi’s gaze.
“So, we’re trying the jump again today, right?” Byulyi said, excitement lacing her voice. She rolled up the sleeves of her blue flannel, stretching her arms above her head. “Did Wheein tell you what happened, Hyejin? Keep emergency services on speed dial in case something goes wrong.”
Wheein couldn’t bring herself to join in Byulyi’s laughter. The thought of Byulyi’s hand around her waist, of Byulyi’s soft gaze holding hers, set Wheein’s body alight with hot embarrassment.
She’d dreamed of Byulyi doing unspeakable things to her. Looking the girl in the eyes was a feat that Wheein wasn’t sure she could accomplish today.
“I think we should do another scene.” Wheein stated, turning to face Byulyi, her firm tone inviting no argument. The girl looked up in surprise, eyebrow lifting in question.
“The one where Belle enters the West Wing and the Beast scares her off. We should go over it again before Wednesday’s rehearsal.” Wheein barged on.
They’d already practised this scene a couple weeks ago. But more important to Wheein than perfecting it, the scene ensured that Byulyi would be at the opposite end of the stage, snarling at her ferociously. The very opposite of attractive.
She folded her arms, setting her jaw decisively. If Byulyi wanted to argue, all the better. She needed to get that stupid dream out of her head.
But Byulyi simply shrugged and walked to the bag at Wheein’s feet to get her script. “Ah, I didn’t think of that. Smart idea.”
“Cool.” She breathed out a tiny sigh of relief, shoulders relaxing ever so slightly.
Until Byulyi stood and leaned in close, catching Wheein off guard, and growled .
Low, teasing, completely unexpected. Wheein jerked backwards, nearly tripping over her feet, and there was no hiding the red on her cheeks.
“The hell was that, weirdo?” Wheein spluttered, hands on Byulyi’s shoulders shoving her away.
“Just getting into character.” Byulyi laughed, stepping back, but Wheein was in no mood to laugh this off.
“If you’re not going to take this seriously, then we might as well not practice.” She snapped, painfully aware of the wild beating of her heart, the traitorous spark of want that had flickered in her chest at the sound of Byulyi’s husky growl.
Wheein didn’t give Byulyi a chance to respond, didn’t give herself time to change her mind. She snatched up her backpack and stormed out of the practice room, cursing the hot blush on her cheeks.
The snap of bubblegum drew Byulyi’s attention away from the back of a closed door. She turned to look at Hyejin, confusion and hurt in her frown.
“Did I do something wrong?”
Hyejin shrugged, but the pinch of her eyebrows told Byulyi that something wasn't right.
“That was strange even for Wheein. Give her space and she'll tell you in her own time.”
Another pink bubble grew and popped on Hyejin's lips. Byulyi bit her lip worriedly, a pang of longing tugging at her as she stared uselessly at the door, torn between staying and running after the girl.
With a defeated sigh, Byulyi picked up her backpack.
“I hope she does.”
Wheein reached for the popcorn, her fingertips scraping the bottom of an empty bowl instead.
“Want me to make some more?” Yongsun asked. It wouldn’t matter what Wheein said; the older girl was already uncurling from the sofa, heading to the kitchen for another batch of microwave popcorn.
Yongsun’s cosy apartment was easily one of her favourite places on earth. One of their favourite musicals played on the TV while Wheein snuggled deeper into the soft pile of blankets heaped on a worn couch.
Loud crackles, pops, and the low hum of the microwave filled the room, along with the buttery scent of fresh popcorn. Yongsun poked her head around the doorway as the microwaved beeped. “Want something to drink?”
“I'm okay unnie, thank you!” Wheein called back.
In seconds Yongsun reappeared, settling into the cushions with the newly filled bowl cradled in her lap.
If soulmates existed, Wheein was certain that Yongsun was one of hers. Wheein had lost count of the number of Sunday movie nights they'd shared, singing along in the silliest voices, the number of mornings she'd woken on Yongsun's couch with a blanket tucked around her shoulders.
They had clicked from day one, the moment a starstruck Wheein approached Yongsun after a performance to find out how to join the theatre club. As mentor and now friend, Yongsun always had good advice for her, both in theatre and in life. Wheein trusted no one nearly as much as she trusted Yongsun.
“Hey,” Yongsun started, lowering the volume by a couple of notches. Wheein sat up a bit straighter, looked at the older girl expectantly.
“Byulyi told me that you two haven't practised together for a while. Since last Monday, she said.”
At the mention of Byulyi’s name, Wheein fidgeted uncomfortably, dropped her gaze to Yongsun’s polished pink nails. She'd managed to avoid solo rehearsals with Byulyi for a whole week, blaming everything from a cold to assignments to the unquestionable ‘family emergency’.
She only showed up to group rehearsals, and even then she'd limited her contact with Byulyi to the requirements of the script. With the entire cast around, so many other elements demanding her focus, it was easier for Wheein to ignore the unease she felt whenever Byulyi was near.
Easier, but never truly possible. Every nerve in Wheein’s body seemed hyper-aware of Byulyi’s presence, as if tuned to a frequency that Wheein didn't know how to switch off. Every look, every word, every touch made Wheein bristle with a discomfort she refused to acknowledge.
“I find it a bit hard to work with Byulyi sometimes, to be honest.” Wheein said carefully. That wasn't even half the problem, but she'd sooner die than tell anyone the real reason.
Yongsun raised an eyebrow, looking both unsurprised and pre-emptively offended.
“Oh, no. Does she make up gross nicknames for you?”
“No.” Aside from beauty, but technically that was her character's name.
“Tickle your chin constantly?”
Wheein blinked. “Everyone does that.”
“Use terrible, greasy lines and expect you to laugh?”
“Sometimes…” Those had never really bothered Wheein though, and she really did find them funny.
“Does she put her nose on your chin once and suddenly she won't shut up about how soft it is, then drag you around set telling everyone to put their nose against your chin, even though that's so unhygienic and an invasion of your personal space?”
“Is everything okay, unnie…?”
Yongsun huffed, fluffing her long brown hair, then patted Wheein’s hand sympathetically.
“I understand, Wheein.”
For once, Wheein wasn't sure that she did. But she waited anyway, until Yongsun was seemingly calmed and ready to dole out some advice.
“Whatever problems you might have off stage, you have to learn to put them aside for the performance. Remember that you aren't you, and Byulyi isn't Byulyi on that stage. The show comes first. That's what it means to be a professional.
“That being said, the best performances happen when you are in sync, both on stage and off. I know Byulyi can be a bit…” Yongsun sighed, but there was affection in her smile. “A bit gross, but she means well. She's like that with everyone.”
That hit Wheein like a slap in the face.
“Is she.” Wheein mumbled, dropping her gaze to the pastel stripes of the blanket. Of course Byulyi was. What, did Wheein think she was special?
She pushed a smile onto her cheeks, ignoring the sinking weight in her chest.
“Thanks, unnie. It helped a lot.”
Yongsun smiled and tickled Wheein’s chin fondly, giggling as Wheein scrunched her nose cutely.
“Go and practice, okay? Don't make the casting director get your understudy to step in.”
The older girl’s eyes twinkled, and even Wheein had to smile.
“You wish, unnie.”
As the credits rolled on the television, Yongsun snored quietly on the couch. With Yongsun’s advice still ringing in her head, Wheein pulled out her phone and wrote a short message.
> I’m free for practice tomorrow at five if you are.
Almost suspiciously quick, a reply caused her phone to buzz.
> finally! hope ur feeling better, beauty. see u at 5 ;)
Wheein thumbed her screen over to Hyejin’s chat and began typing out another text.
> Can you come tomorrow
She paused, fingers hovering over her keyboard, biting her lip.
“She’s like that with everyone.”
Her outburst at last Monday’s rehearsal now seemed horrifyingly incriminating. Fighting back the heat on her cheeks, Wheein deleted the text and put her phone away.
Knowing what she did now, she wouldn’t need Hyejin any more.
Wheein switched off the TV, tucked a blanket around Yongsun’s shoulders, and quietly tiptoed out of the apartment.
Tempted as she was to sleep over, she had lines to memorise before tomorrow.
“Hey, beauty. Long time no see.”
Byulyi, taping up the practice room, baseball cap over her silver hair. It could’ve been any other Monday evening rehearsal, except for the smile on Byulyi’s lips that looked more genuine than Wheein could ever remember.
It made her stomach flutter, but Wheein ignored it. She’d come to terms with her crush, and made her peace with the knowledge that nothing would come of it.
Besides, she was here today to practice. The show came first, and Wheein was not about to jeopardise her first lead role because she couldn’t handle a stupid crush and a stupid dream.
“Hi.” She slung her backpack off her shoulder, stepped onto a line of masking tape. Byulyi, crouching to mark the centre of the stage, caught her eye in the mirror, and Wheein didn’t look away.
“How are your assignments going? Are you feeling better?”
“Good. I'm fine.” She replied shortly, turning on her toes.
To her right, Byulyi tore off the tape, patted it down on the floor. She stood, awkwardly fiddling with the roll in her hands.
“Is… is everything okay? You seemed a bit tense. At last week’s rehearsal. I hope I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Wheein stiffened, stared at the white line of tape at her feet.
“No, you didn’t. I was stressed with work and all of this, too. I shouldn’t have yelled at you.”
She heard a soft sigh of relief, igniting a flicker of guilt in her chest. Had Byulyi been wondering about that all week? The last thing she wanted was for Byulyi to blame herself, when all the girl had done was be herself.
Wheein only had herself to blame - for reading between lines that didn’t exist and wanting a dream that had never been real.
“Let’s get started.” She pulled her phone from her pocket, headed over to the aux cord. “Should we try the jump again today?”
“Yes!” Suitably reassured, enthusiasm once again coloured Byulyi’s voice.
Wheein hit play and moved to where Byulyi was waiting at stage left. The older girl took her cap off, running her fingers through loose silver hair, and held out her hand with a small smile.
Taking a breath, swallowing her nerves, Wheein stepped close and placed her hand in Byulyi’s.
“Around the stage, twirl in the chorus, jump at the end in centre. Don't drop me again.” Wheein murmured to the round collar of Byulyi’s white t-shirt.
The hand at her waist slipped away and gentle fingers tilted her chin up. Wheein couldn't help the way her pulse sped up as she looked into Byulyi’s eyes, bright with determination, warm with affection.
“You're safe in my arms, beauty.”
She's like this with everyone, Wheein reminded herself. She shut her eyes, tightening her grip slightly on Byulyi’s shoulder, as the girl’s hand slid around her waist once more.
When she opened them a second later, she was no longer Wheein, Byulyi was no longer Byulyi. They were actresses immersed in their roles, and the only affection she saw was scripted.
She allowed the beast to lead her around the stage, concentrating on her expressions, on the volumes of emotion she would have to convey without words. She looked at Byulyi without seeing her, her attention laser-focused on the performance.
When the pressure on her waist increased ever so slightly, she spun out of the beast’s certain hold, envisioning the way her dress would twirl around her in a beautiful blur of gold.
On cue, she spun back into the beast's arms, a firm hand wrapping around her waist as if it belonged there. Wheein’s heart beat louder in her ears, her triumphant smile matching Byulyi’s.
“Doing well, beauty.” Byulyi whispered. Wheein nodded, still caught up in the music, adrenaline singing in her veins.
Music built to a crescendo, and Byulyi’s shoulder tensed under her fingers.
Without hesitation, she jumped, arms looping around Byulyi’s neck. Strong arms caught her waist, swept up her legs, and Byulyi didn't stumble as she continued to spin with Wheein held safely in her arms.
There was nothing in character about the impossibly huge smile on Byulyi’s cheeks, the adorable dimple beneath her shining eyes. Wheein couldn't help but smile too, couldn't tear her gaze away from the beauty of Byulyi.
The girl slowed to a stop, resting her forehead against Wheein’s, her breath coming in soft pants that stirred the silver locks falling around them.
“Beautiful.” Byulyi whispered, so soft that Wheein would have missed it, had she not been close enough to feel the whisper of the word against her lips.
Too close. Wheein squirmed, tapping Byulyi’s shoulder wordlessly, and Byulyi set her down with almost reluctant gentleness.
“That was brilliant. We were so in sync.” Wheein beamed, still riding the high of their success, determined not to let that oddly intimate moment faze her. She held up her hand for a high five.
Byulyi slapped a palm against hers, and Wheein was certain it was only elation that made Byulyi’s eyes sparkle as brightly as they did.
“It was amazing.” Byulyi said breathlessly. “You… You were amazing.”
“I had a good partner.” Wheein laughed, patting the girl’s shoulder a little awkwardly.
“Should we try it again?”
Wheein pushed aside the tug in her chest begging her to say yes, ignored the eagerness in Byulyi’s smile that seemed more than friendly.
“Don't you have work to do, Moon Byulyi? I'm stressing over assignments and you seem to have all the time in the world.” Wheein asked, heading over to grab her phone.
“For you, I'll always make time.”
The playful smirk that Wheein had grown used to seeing didn't follow. Byulyi looked at her earnestly, and Wheein cleared her throat, stuffing her phone in her pocket.
“I'll see you on Wednesday.”
“No practice tomorrow?” Byulyi asked, pouting forlornly. Wheein stared at her shoes as she shook her head.
“I'll be busy.” This, at least for tomorrow, was true. They were in the thick of mid-semester exams and free weeknights were becoming increasingly precious.
“Okay then. I'll miss you.” Byulyi said, a small smile back on her lips.
Wheein rolled her eyes, picked up her backpack, pushed on a grin to avoid the flutter in her chest at her words.
The dates were all starting to blur in her memory. Wheein flipped back through her art history textbook, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose as she tapped a pen against her chin.
Her stomach gurgled and she reached for another handful of potato chips. Disappointment distracted her from her books when her fingers scraped only at greasy, empty foil.
But the clock ticking away on her desk wouldn’t allow her the luxury of a break. Wheein crumpled up the empty bag and threw it away, licking at the salty remnants on her fingertips before picking up her pen once more.
A knock on the door surprised her. Hyejin never knocked, and she wasn't expecting anyone.
Sweeping a glance around the dorm, Wheein quickly snatched up an empty bottle of soju sitting in plain sight by her bed and stashed it in her backpack. Pushing a hand through her hair, hoping she looked presentable, she opened the door.
To her surprise, it was Byulyi. Wheein’s gaze fell almost immediately to the plastic bag in her hand and the takeout containers held within.
“I thought you might not have time to eat, so I brought dinner.”
Preoccupied by the promise of food, Wheein almost missed the shy smile on Byulyi’s lips, the uncertain way Byulyi met her gaze and looked away.
It figured Byulyi would be awkward; Wheein couldn’t remember seeing Byulyi without Yongsun any time outside of theatre practice. The thought that Byulyi was going out of her way just to see her made Wheein’s chest warm, and she pulled the door open invitingly.
“Thank you, unnie. I’m starving! Come on in.”
“I hope you like tteokbokki.” Byulyi smiled, stepping into the dorm.
Wheein shut the door and hurried to clear some space on the floor. Shoving aside clothes and stray papers, she managed to expose a patch of off-white carpet big enough for the two of them to sit.
“I didn’t know you wore glasses.” Byulyi commented, glancing at Wheein with a grin as she unwrapped two boxes of steaming tteokbokki. “You look cute.”
“Thanks.” Wheein pushed the rim of her glasses up, picking up some chopsticks.
Outside of the practice rooms where they’d gotten to know each other, Wheein felt suddenly self-conscious. There were no scripts to hide behind, no characters to disguise misplaced glances and joking words.
Maybe Byulyi felt it too. They lapsed into silence as they ate, and Wheein dared not lift her gaze beyond the black stripe of Byuyi’s sneakers, crossed under her legs, the hem of Byulyi’s frayed jeans.
They looked at each other with embarrassed smiles. Wheein cleared her throat, tapped her chopsticks against her empty container. “It’s good tteokbokki. What were you going to say?”
Byulyi stared into her food, only half eaten, with uncharacteristic bashfulness, and Wheein found herself suddenly nervous.
She wasn’t sure when these nerves had stopped being about the terribly inappropriate dream she’d had, and when it had started being about how pretty Byulyi looked whenever she smiled.
“So I wanted to talk to you about something.” Byulyi said slowly, her gaze finding Wheein’s, and Wheein heard her heart pick up its pace.
“What’s up?” Wheein tried to sound nonchalant, tried to evade the flutter of hope in her chest.
She’s like this with everyone, she reminded herself, holding Byulyi’s eyes.
Byulyi looked away first. “I’ve decided not to continue in my role as the Beast in our play. I’m going to tell my understudy tomorrow, but I thought you should know first.”
Wheein blinked. So out of left field, the statement took a while to sink in. “What? Why?”
The girl shrugged, picked at her food. “I’d rather not say.”
Wheein stared at her, bewilderment slowly giving way to a fiery, blossoming anger. After everything she’d done - all the feelings she’d suppressed, all the evenings she’d sacrificed for practice, just when it was finally coming together and now Byulyi was calling it quits?
“No.” Wheein clenched her jaw, setting down her empty container. “We were doing so well, you know we were. Tell me why.”
“Wheein…” Byulyi put down her chopsticks, looking at her helplessly.
“The show comes first!” Wheein exclaimed angrily, tears prickling at the back of her eyes. Byulyi wasn’t supposed to do this, wasn’t supposed to just give up like this meant nothing. “What’s so damn important that you have to drop out now?”
Byulyi’s voice was so small and soft that for a moment Wheein thought she’d imagined it. She glowered at Byulyi, but surprise made her stop short.
“I - what?”
“You are what’s so important.” Byulyi said, a little louder now, looking at Wheein worriedly, and Wheein could only stare, all anger melting away as she waited for an explanation.
“Yongsun told me…” Byulyi licked dry lips, eyes downcast. “She said to stop being so greasy, that it was making you uncomfortable.
“And I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but I… I really like you, Wheein. I didn’t want my feelings to get in the way of your performance. I know how much this role means to you.”
“She told me you’re like this with everyone.” Wheein said, her throat dry, still disbelieving. The drumbeat of her heart pounded loudly, and Wheein clenched her fists, afraid it would beat right out of her chest.
“I--” Byulyi reddened, lost for words, and Wheein didn’t give her a chance to explain herself. Didn’t let herself change her mind.
She surged forward and kissed Byulyi, hands cupping her cheeks as Wheein pressed their lips together firmly, her chest so full that she thought she would burst.
Byulyi gasped as Wheein pulled away, her lips red and glossy, silver hair tousled where Wheein’s fingers had tangled into her.
“Don’t quit the play.” Wheein mumbled, breathless. “Please?”
“I like you too.” Wheein said, a blush spreading across her cheeks. Byulyi looked at her, eyes wide with disbelief, and Wheein’s blush deepened.
“Is that why--”
“Shut up. Yes.”
“You could’ve told me.” Byulyi said, reaching out to push Wheein’s glasses up with a smile full of affection. Wheein scrunched her nose and shook her head.
“I didn’t know you liked me too.”
A whimper escaped her as Byulyi pulled her in, thumb stroking her cheek gently as their lips met again. And Wheein let herself melt into Byulyi’s touch, into her soft, sweet kiss, for the first time doubtless that Byulyi would not let her fall.
The door squeaked open suddenly, and Wheein pulled away just as quickly as Byulyi did.
Hyejin stood in the doorway, and she didn’t even have the decency to look surprised.
“I told you she’d let you know eventually.” She smirked at Byulyi. Red-faced, Wheein grabbed a pair of chopsticks and flung them at the smug girl.
“Hyejin, get out of here!”
The wooden sticks clattered uselessly against the closing door and Wheein bolted over to slam it shut.
She turned around, drawing in a breath as Byulyi smirked down at her, hands on either side of her head enclosing her against the door.
“You’ve convinced me. I won’t quit.”
Wheein breathed out a quiet laugh, her breath hitching as Byulyi leaned in close to press her nose against Wheein’s.
“Yongsun-unnie said you did that to her too.”
“Her chin, actually. It’s really soft. But I never did this.” Byulyi murmured, pressed her lips to Wheein’s chin, the soft dip of her dimple, the corner of her lips.
The click of a lock made Wheein glance up to see a mischievous smile. Byulyi’s hand dropped from the door handle to wrap around Wheein’s wrist, and Wheein brimmed with eager, nervous excitement as the girl tugged her back towards the bed.
What happened behind locked doors were the least of the dramas she expected at theatre club, but Wheein wasn’t complaining.