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Hyunjin is not afraid of anything, really.

 

As a kid, she used to be terrified of dogs, for some reason she couldn’t remember anymore. Then, when she was around five years old or so, she learned to imitate a dog’s bark for a school play, and her fear suddenly disappeared. Growing up, she didn’t really have any major fears or phobias—just the typical angsty teenage stuff, you know—and she was already used to her friends mocking her for being a bit too fearless for her own good.

 

Hyunjin is not afraid of anything, until suddenly she is being pushed down a flight of stairs and the only coherent thought she manages is how utterly terrified she is.

 

When she realizes what’s going to happen to her, as she falls down one of the staircases of her school, Hyunjin realizes that perhaps she does fear something. The burning pain she feels on her knee, the way her body hits every single one of the steps, the soft but clear crack she hears when she tries to cover her face with her hands—she has never been this scared in all of her life, because she has never had so many reasons to be.

 

She doesn’t really know how it all unfolds—one moment, she is waiting for Hyejoo at the top of the stairs, playing absentmindedly with her phone. Next minute, she is at the bottom of the staircase, the weight of her body crushing her wrist (she doesn’t even need to check, her wrist is definitely broken) and crushing somebody else’s body under her. Her head is spinning, her lip is bleeding, her ears are ringing and she feels disoriented yet somehow insensitive, despite knowing damn well her body must be covered in bruises.

 

In those seconds of confusion and slight panic she isn’t really thinking straight, her mind hazy by an odd feeling of numbness, thus her first instinct is to get up so the person under her can breathe. (She can feel them underneath her body, and for a split second she also fears that she might have killed someone by accident, until they start shuffling beneath her and at least she knows they’re not dead.) “Bad fucking idea”, Hyunjin thinks, as she attempts to stand still.

 

Only then, when her knee trembles, sending a wave of penetrating, unbearable pain through her whole body, only then she realizes: her entire life is ruined.

 

She falls back to the floor, screaming both in pain and distress, doing her best to hold back the tears that threaten to fall from the corner of her eyes. Hyunjin can’t remember much after that, her mind too clouded by the harsh stinging on her leg and her wrist.

 

Her head hits the floor and she feels her vision start to get blurry, just as she catches a quick glance of whoever she fell on top of. Judging by the soft wiping next to her, the other person must be in a lot of pain, too.

 

Jeon Heejin, is the last thing Hyunjin can think of before she loses consciousness.

 


 

Hyunjin wakes up in a hospital bed after a successful knee surgery.

 

After she has recovered from the dizziness of the anaesthesia, her mother tries to explain what happened to her as thoroughly as she can: apparently, some freshmen were playing around the stairs and one of them bumped into her a bit too harshly by accident, which made her trip down the staircase. She broke her knee and cracked her wrist during the fall. According to her mother, she was lucky enough she didn’t crack her spine, too, but that sounds more like something she (a worried parent) would say rather than a doctor’s words.

 

It’s then when Hyunjin realizes that her leg is covered in compressing stockings and her arm is in a cast. The other one has an IV tube, probably to give her pain medication (her head still hurts like a bitch.)  She stares blankly, not quite believing her eyes; it feels like she’s not herself, like she’s watching everything from outside her body. Maybe it’s just the concussion, but everything is just… surreal. “This cannot be happening to me,” she thinks. It doesn’t feel like it’s actually happening to her—it’s like some kind of dream, or rather a very vivid nightmare.

 

Hyunjin is not stupid. She knows what a broken knee—and a broken wrist and a fucking surgery—means to someone like her: she won’t be able to play soccer for a while. She will miss the rest of the season and she will most likely lose her spot as the team’s star striker after so many years of effort. Nonetheless, she tries to be positive and not lose all hope yet.

 

“Honey, I know what you’re thinking…” Her mother stops her train of thought in a soft voice, looking at Hyunjin with sadness in her eyes. That only makes her feel worse about, well, everything. “You can’t worry about soccer right now. You need to rest, Hyunjin. You could have—”

 

“I could have snapped my spine, I could have cracked my skull… I know, mom,” Hyunjin cuts her off in a mocking tone, feeling a tad too resentful. Seeing the way her mother’s face falls, however, makes her instantly regret her answer. “I—I mean… you don’t need to worry so much, but…”

 

“You’re worried about playing.” This time, her mother is the one interrupting (Hyunjin definitely got her strong character from her), a sad smile on her lips. “I know and I understand, honey, please believe me, but the doctor said…”

 

Hyunjin quirks an eyebrow in an attempt to look just mildly interested. It fails when her voice comes out too eager, too scared. “W—What did he say, exactly?” She feels her heartbeat slamming against her chest, making it hard for her to breathe.

 

It takes her mother a few seconds to speak. Maybe she’s trying to find the best way to say it without hurting Hyunjin. They both know there’s no best way—no good way at all—to say those words without them completely destroying what’s left of Hyunjin’s spirit.

 

“He said that you might not be able to play this season, or…” Hyunjin holds her breath in anticipation. She knows what’s coming next. “Well, he isn’t sure if you’ll be able to play again, actually.”

 

Words hit Hyunjin harder than any of the steps of that damned staircase did. “He isn’t sure you’ll be able to play again.” Her mother’s voice echoes in her ears, in the back of her head, in every inch of her body. She might not be able to play soccer ever again.

 

It took her 17 years to build her entire life, but it only took a flight of stairs and thirty seconds for it to be completely destroyed. She smiles bitterly at the thought.

 

Her mother stares at her, brows furrowed with worry, and reaches for one of Hyunjin’s hands. Her daughter rejects the gesture coldly—she’s not in the mood for affection. She’s not in the mood for anything, really. Hyunjin feels like something inside her is now gone.

 

A nurse comes in and asks her mother to leave. The woman kisses Hyunjin on the forehead, tells her not to overthink things and bids her daughter goodbye. Hyunjin barely manages a few coherent mumbles that sound like “bye, love you”. Her head is spinning, and it hurts too much for her to being able to deal with it. It’s a pain that isn’t physical.

 

Hyunjin might never play soccer again.

 


 

Here’s the thing—Hyunjin hates Jeon Heejin.

 

There are a few things she knows for sure about Heejin:

 

  1. She’s on the track team.
  2. She’s one of the top students in her class.
  3. Everybody is, like, obsessed with her.
  4. She dislikes Hyunjin just as much as Hyunjin dislikes her.

 

Hyunjin met Heejin on her first year of high school, when they both signed up for the track team. They both were very fast runners and overall better athletes than the rest of their teammates, and perhaps that was why an unexpected rivalry between them was suddenly born—since they were the only ones who could represent a challenge for the other, they were constantly forced to compete against one another.

 

After some months, Hyunjin ended up leaving the track team so she could focus only on soccer, but her relationship with Heejin didn’t improve. As they both were considered to be “stars” and were always praised by their peers for their achievements, their animosity only continued to grow until they could barely stand sharing the same air. It wasn’t that they were hostile, or aggressive—it was that they were the kind of people who weren’t meant to get along.

 

Knowing this, it’s only logical that Hyunjin is completely dumbfounded when, during her second day at the hospital, she suddenly shows up in her room.

 

Jeon Heejin, one of her arms in a cast, an ugly bruise in her usually pretty face, peeks her head through the crack of the door. Her eyes scan the room, as if she were looking for something. After some seconds, she finds it—her gaze falls on Hyunjin and her eyes seem to light up for a moment.

 

“Uh… Hi,” she greets shyly, opening the door but not daring to take a step into the room. Her face falls ever so slightly, as if she has suddenly remembered who she is talking to.

 

“Hello.” Hyunjin says, and quickly adds before Heejin can say anything else: “What are you doing here?”

 

“Oh, well I just—uh, I wanted to see how you were doing. I—I was very worried,” Heejin explains, her healthy hand fumbling with her cast. Hyunjin’s eyebrows raise in surprise—Jeon Heejin, worried for her? That doesn’t sound like the Heejin she knows at all. “When you fell on top of me, you—well, you fainted, and you hit your head pretty hard.”

 

The nonstop stinging on the back of Hyunjin’s head proves that Heejin is not lying. Still, Hyunjin can’t help but feel mildly annoyed at her visit. There’s no real reason for Heejin to be there—if she wanted to know anything about Hyunjin’s condition, she’d have asked any of her friends once she got released from the hospital (Hyunjin suspects she’ll be free way sooner than her, anyway), so there’s no point in paying Hyunjin a visit.

 

“Well, as you can see, I’m perfectly fine,” says Hyunjin quite curtly. “So yeah, thanks and everything, but you don’t have to worry.”

 

The room becomes silent, though Hyunjin could swear she hears the machinery inside Heejin’s brain working, looking for an answer, for something to say that won’t be useless or meaningless. There’s something about Heejin visiting her that should be—at least to a certain point—touching, the way she’s putting their differences aside to make sure Hyunjin’s alright.

 

It annoys Hyunjin to no end, how good Heejin is, how perfect and selfless she always has to be, even towards someone who hates her guts. It annoys her, the way her eyebrows knit together when she looks at Hyunjin’s broken leg, the way her smile twitches when she realizes just how screwed Hyunjin is right now.

 

It annoys her because Hyunjin doesn’t want pity, and she especially doesn’t want Jeon Heejin’s pity.

 

“That’s good to hear, actually,” Heejin finally says, a faint smile on her lips. “I was very worried,” she repeats, which makes the other girl roll her eyes, “but seeing you here… I’m glad you’re alright, Hyunjin.”

 

Maybe it’s the earnest tone on her voice, or the honest worry she can see behind her eyes, but Hyunjin knows Heejin is telling her the truth when she says it. And even though she knows she’s supposed to be thankful—or at least feel some kind of sympathy towards Heejin’s act of kindness—her irritation only keeps growing and growing. That’s the effect Heejin usually has on her.

 

“Thanks,” she says awkwardly. Now please leave, she wants to add, but decides to shut up for once in her life. Since Heejin is being nice to her, she can at least try not to be so cold. Hyunjin is not some beast, after all.

 

“So, uh… When are you going home?”

 

“In a couple of days, I guess,” Hyunjin explains with a tired expression. She looks at her knee for a split second, but is quick to divert her gaze—seeing her leg like this only causes her a feeling of emptiness she’s terrified of. Pretending that it’s not injured won’t heal it, but at least it somehow eases the constant anxiety that Hyunjin feels.

 

“Cool. That’s… good.” Heejin looks at her own arm, an expression on her face that Hyunjin can’t quite read. Though she knows the polite thing to do is ask about Heejin’s condition, she doesn’t. She doesn’t care, and Heejin knows it. “I’m going home today. That’s why I came to see you.”

 

“Great. Thanks for coming. You didn’t need to,” Hyunjin mumbles, though what she means to say is I didn’t want you to come. She glares pointedly at the other girl, in hopes that she’ll get the message and leave her alone.

 

Heejin stares at her, lips pressed together like she’s trying very hard not to say something she’ll regret later. Conversations between them usually go like that, with Heejin trying not to lose her temper while Hyunjin is just… well, Hyunjin.

 

“Okay,” Heejin says, a sigh leaving her lips. “Guess I’ll just leave. It was nice talking to you,” she adds, one of her brows raised, with a hint of sarcasm. Hyunjin can’t help but crack a grin—there she is: that’s the Jeon Heejin she knows.

 

Looking defeated, Heejin turns around and opens the door. Still a slightly confused by her visit, Hyunjin rests her back against her uncomfortable pillow, staring at Heejin’s stooped shoulders and wondering what could have possibly have gotten into her to make her voluntarily visit Hyunjin.

 

The door closes behind Heejin’s back, but it bursts open out of the sudden just a few seconds after. Hyunjin frowns, startled, when she sees Heejin enter the room again.

 

“You know,” Heejin says firmly, her healthy hand tightly wrapped around the doorknob, making her knuckles white like bone, “I—I am very worried about you. And I’m being honest when I say that I’m very happy that you’re okay, Hyunjin. I just… I needed to make sure you knew it.”

 

It surprises Hyunjin, the way Heejin looks at her—not exactly angry, but rather… frustrated, as if she’s expecting something from her. Definitely not the same way Hyunjin looks her, always like she’s ready for a challenge.

 

Has Heejin always looked at her like that? Hyunjin can’t seem to remember.

 

“That’s all I—that’s what I wanted to tell you. I hope you get well soon.”

 

With that, Heejin finally closes the door, leaving Hyunjin even more confused than before. Staring at the spot where the other girl was standing just moments ago, Hyunjin can’t help but wonder what the fuck has just happened.

 

There’s one thing she’s sure of—she doesn’t know as much as Jeon Heejin as she thought she did. 

 


 

Two days after Heejin’s visit, Hyunjin is released from the hospital. The first thing her mother does when she gets home is make an appointment with the physical therapist that Hyunjin’s doctor recommended them. According to him, Dr Park is a renowned professional who has helped many people like Hyunjin before, so she will be in good hands. Her first appointment is scheduled for exactly two weeks after she leaves the hospital.

 

Although she knows she should be looking forward therapy—looking forward healing—the only thing Hyunjin feels when she thinks about it is anxiety. The problem is that Hyunjin does not exactly fear meeting her therapist, but that she dreads whatever she has to tell her. Though she would never bring herself to admit it, Hyunjin spends almost every night before her first physical therapy session lying awake in bed, staring at her ceiling and imagining. Imagining all the possible ways in which her leg may not heal. Imagining the pity in her therapist’s eyes when she tells her “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can help you. You cannot play soccer again, Hyunjin.” Imagining her life without the one thing she’s truly passionate about.

 

Hyunjin has never had so many emotions running inside her before, and yet she has never felt as empty as she does whenever she looks at her leg. Stupid as it may sound, it feels as if an essential part of her was shattered along with her knee, a part that will take longer to heal than any broken bone.

 

If she has to be honest with herself, Hyunjin doubts it’s ever going to heal.

 

Two weeks go by in the blink of an eye, according to her mother, though Hyunjin feels as if time dragged on and on constantly, with hours feeling like days and days feeling like entire weeks.

 

She clumsily makes her way to the car, still not used to needing crutches to keep her balance—especially not when one of her arms is in a cast, making things even harder for her. She hobbles around with terrifying confidence, though her mother watches carefully every single one of her moves, ready to go to the rescue the moment Hyunjin needs her.

 

It feels helpless.

 

When they arrive at the clinic after a short drive, Hyunjin decides to swallow her pride for once and allow her mother to lend her a hand, instead of trying to rush out of the vehicle. The faint smile on her mother’s lips seems to whisper “thank you”, or so she’d like to believe.

 

Meanwhile, Hyunjin is doing her best no to think about anything. She doesn’t think of how utterly ridiculous she must look with crutches, a cast on her arm and body covered with bruises from the fall. She doesn’t think of how people stare at her mother with a mixture of admiration and pity—admiration for being there for her daughter, knowing how hard things are for her right now; pity, because they all can see Hyunjin wallowing in her own misery. She doesn’t think about the numbness that grows inside her since she woke up in that hospital bed.

 

Still too proud for her own good, Hyunjin doesn’t allow her mother to walk her to the clinic. Perhaps that’s why they take way longer than walking just a few steps should, but it’s a small victory for her. Pride is the last thing Hyunjin can hold on, now that she feels as if every human emotion has left her body.

 

The clinic is smaller than she imagined, with only a desk and a couple of ornamental plants in sight after crossing the door. Judging by the muffled noise coming from the back of the building, Hyunjin supposes that’s where the waiting area must be, along with the consultation rooms.

 

“Hello. We have an appointment with Dr Park,” her mother says when they reach the desk. The receptionist, a young woman with glasses, nods and asks for her name. Hyunjin is slightly annoyed that her mother doesn’t even let her speak and answers for her instead. “Kim Hyunjin.”

 

“Ah, yes, here you are,” the receptionist says after a quick look through her computer. “Dr Park will take a bit longer than expected to see you, I’m afraid. There have been some unexpected delays with today’s appointments. I hope it won’t be too much trouble.”

 

Hyunjin is slightly annoyed at the prospect of having to wait longer than expected, mainly because she knows she’s going to spend most of the time overthinking everything. However, she’s very aware of how hard things are being for her mother, so she just shrugs, seemingly unfazed.

 

“Why don’t you go take a seat? I need your mother to fill some paperwork. The waiting room is just around that corner,” she explains, pointing to Hyunjin’s right.

 

Part of her wants to turn around and walk out the door without seeing the therapist. Part of her wishes for her mother to get mad at all the sudden inconveniences so they both can leave the clinic. A smaller part of her, the most rational one, tells her to listen and oblige. Hyunjin is not used to listening to that rational part of her brain, but the cast on her arm and the crutches she’s forced to use are constant reminders of her need to stop being a hothead.

 

“Sure,” she says, pouting childishly.

 

Her mother glances at her, knitting her brows, and Hyunjin could swear she sees all the worry that’s bottled up inside her behind her eyes. It’s almost painful, seeing her mother like that, knowing she’s the reason why she’s under so much stress.

 

“Will you be alright on your own, honey?” The older woman asks. It only makes feel worse about herself. “I can call work and tell them I won’t be able to make it today, if you need—”

 

No,” she cuts her off, and her voice comes out angry instead of reassuring. The guilt inside Hyunjin burns when her mother’s face falls ever so slightly. “I—I mean, I can do it alone, mom. You really don’t need to worry. You—I…. Ugh, just—just don’t skip work for me again, okay?”

 

Her mother seems to ponder whether to listen to Hyunjin or not. Even the receptionist pays close attention to the exchange, though she pretends to check something on her computer to give the two some privacy, which Hyunjin is thankful for.

 

“Alright,” the woman says, a defeated sigh leaving her lips. She cups Hyunjin’s cheeks carefully and presses a tender kiss on her forehead. Though Hyunjin would usually find that kind of public display of affection embarrassing, the kiss manages to make the tightness in her chest disappear for a split second. “Text me when you’re finished and wait for me here. I’ll come pick you up.”

 

Hyunjin nods, does her best give her mother an honest smile. The corner of her lips twitches slightly, but if her mother notices, it doesn’t show. The worry behind her eyes seems to have eased a little, and that’s what gives Hyunjin the strength to turn around and hobble her way to the waiting room.

 

Around the corner she finds what anyone could expect—just a few uncomfortable-looking chairs here and there. The place is completely empty, except for one person, though Hyunjin is too busy trying to sit down without making a mess to notice them.

 

When she finally flops down on one of the chairs, her gaze instantly meets the other person’s.

 

Hyunjin’s heart skips a beat when she recognizes Jeon Heejin’s soft brown eyes staring back at her.

 

You!” Hyunjin says too loudly, pointing a finger to Heejin. “What the hell are you doing here?”

 

Heejin raises a sceptic brow at her, points at her own broken arm with a slight nod. “Probably the same as you, I guess. My doctor wasn’t sure my wrist would heal properly. Having someone fall on top of you doesn’t always end up well, as you can see.”

 

Hyunjin glares at her, only mildly surprised by Heejin’s tone. After her visit at the hospital, Heejin started being nice—if you could call that nice—to Hyunjin, but they had disliked each other for years. That couldn’t possibly vanish in a day.

 

“You know I didn’t throw myself down the staircase on purpose, right?”

 

“Of course I know,” Heejin scoffs. “I’m not trying to blame you.”

 

“It sounded like you were, but whatever”, Hyunjin says, sitting uncomfortably on her chair. For some reason, she doesn’t feel like arguing with Heejin. “I don’t give a damn.”

 

It’s true—she doesn’t care. The only thing she wants is for Dr Park to call her as soon as possible, to get out of Heejin’s sight quickly. Hyunjin feels suddenly aware of how Heejin only looks at her face when she speaks, as if avoiding to look at her broken knee, aware of how stiff her leg really is, aware of how weak and pathetic she must look, barely managing to stand still on her own.

 

Heejin makes a small noise, something close to a chuckle, eyebrows raised in surprise. “You don’t give a damn? Okay, you must have hit your head pretty hard.”

 

“And what makes you say that, exactly?” Hyunjin asks, glowering at her.

 

As usual, Heejin stares back, unbothered by her animosity. For the second time since the fall, Hyunjin finds herself confused by the way Heejin looks at her—not amused, not like she’s making fun of her, but like she’s just asking a question out of simple curiosity.

 

“I don’t know,” Heejin shrugs. “You’re always up for a fight.”

 

Hyunjin can’t hold back the smile that creeps to her lips when she hears that. Always up for a fight. That’s a pretty accurate description of Hyunjin, actually.

 

“Yeah, I guess I am,” she mumbles, a bit caught off guard. She didn’t expect Heejin—Jeon Heejin, of all people—to describe her in one sentence so well. Maybe Hyunjin is just easy to read, if even her biggest rival seems to see through her like that.

 

“I’ve always liked that about you, actually,” Heejin says, staring at the ceiling like she’s reminiscing about something—about Hyunjin, perhaps. “You never let anyone win.”

 

“Why the hell would I let anyone win?” Hyunjin asks, honestly confused, brows knitted together and staring at Heejin like she’s some kind of freak. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard come out of your mouth, and trust me, that’s saying a lot.”

 

Heejin laughs. “Ah, there she is. That’s the Hyunjin I know,” she says, a small smile on her lips that makes Hyunjin look away instantly. She doesn’t like it when Heejin acts so weird, being nice to her and all. She’s not used to it, and doubts she’ll ever get used to it.

 

“You didn’t answer my question.”

 

“Hm. Guess I don’t really know how to answer,” Heejin explains. She seems to ponder what to say for a few seconds. “I mean… Sometimes, I let the new kids win. Just so they could feel more confident. But you never did, you just… You always won. That worked better than my method, I suppose. They seemed more motivated when they were running against you.”

 

Letting others win to make them feel better about themselves. That’s such a Heejin thing to do that Hyunjin isn’t even surprised. And it’s not a bad thing, Hyunjin knows, wanting others to have some confidence in what they do. But she can’t help but feel annoyed—it’s almost impossible to stand Heejin when she’s always acting like this, like she’s some kind of angel who needs to treat everyone well.

 

“Like I said,” Hyunjin says, “that’s stupid. I just—I really don’t see the point on letting anyone win. I mean, I’d feel like shit if I knew someone was letting me win because they felt bad for me.”

 

“Well, you’ve always been very competitive,” Heejin chuckles.

 

Hyunjin scoffs, rolling her eyes. “You’re one to talk,” she says dryly, and Heejin just smiles at her.

 

Even though they have known each other for years and they have spent countless hours together, whether it was in the track team, at class or because they had mutual friends and they forced them to be in the same room, Hyunjin is pretty sure that Heejin has never smiled so much at her. During their first days on the track team, Heejin tried to befriend her—to no avail, obviously. People like Heejin and Hyunjin simply weren’t meant to be friends.

 

If she thinks about it, this is the most civil conversation Hyunjin has had with Heejin in years.

 

She’s about to make a comment, something near-friendly like “hey Heejin, we didn’t try to rip each other’s throats out, is this what they call ‘being mature’?”, because for the first time since she knows Heejin, she feels comfortable enough to joke around with her.

 

The door in front of them opens suddenly with a loud thump. When Hyunjin glances up, she sees a young woman—surprisingly young, she thinks—smiling politely at her and Heejin. The woman takes a quick look at her clipboard and looks between them two.

 

“Kim Hyunjin?”

 

Hyunjin is quick to rise at the call, forgetting for a second why she’s there in the first place. She clumsily wrestles with the crutches, trying to get a hold on them without tripping. It’s so embarrassing, not being able to manage a simple task like standing on her own. Hyunjin can feel her face going violently red, her eyes starting to burn.

 

She feels pathetic.

 

Dr Park is quick to react, stepping forward and reaching for Hyunjin. However, Heejin is faster. (That’s not a surprise—Heejin is always faster than everyone else.) With her healthy arm, she holds Hyunjin by the waist, keeping her balance so the other girl can properly hold her crutches. She doesn’t let go of Hyunjin until she’s safe in Dr Park’s arms. The woman smiles widely and thanks Heejin for her help.

 

“Just take a seat, Hyunjin. I’ll be with you in a second,” Dr Park says while helping Hyunjin through the room.

 

Sitting down in one of the chairs, Hyunjin nods. When she turns her head towards the door, she meets Heejin’s eyes, and the other girl beams at her again and gives her a thumbs up with both of her hands. The gesture catches Hyunjin completely off guard.

 

Hyunjin wants to say something. She wants to thank this girl—a girl she despises—for not laughing at her, for not mocking her while she’s at her worst, for helping her even though she’s hurting too. No words come out of her mouth. As much as she wants to, she can’t manage to say it. Thank you. It’s stupid, but Hyunjin feels like she might break down if she says something. Instead, she just stares at Heejin, in hopes that she understands the message.

 

“Good luck, Hyunjin,” Heejin says, but it sounds more like a “don’t worry, I get it”.

 

Hyunjin sighs, and even though she can’t stand Jeon Heejin, she decides that for the rest of the day, she will be thankful to her instead of hating her.

 

Just for one day.

 


 

Despite her youth, Dr Park proves to be the kind of professional Hyunjin needs. The first three weeks go by too slowly for Hyunjin’s taste, as her visits to the clinic are spent mostly talking and doing very light exercises that barely require any effort, but she’s willing to follow any Dr Park’s orders. They start by testing the extent of Hyunjin’s injury, wanting to discover where they should start, what can they do and which exercises they should avoid for the time being. Hyunjin can’t seem to get used to the stiffness of her leg at first, but with the thorough help of Dr Park she begins to learn what her new limits are. She eager to start her recovery—perhaps a bit too eager, as Dr Park points out during their third session, grinning (and Hyunjin spends the rest of the hour blushing.) The feeling of emptiness is still there, burning inside of her, particularly some nights she spends completely awake, thinking that her leg might never heal again or that she’s never going to play soccer again.

 

However, there’s something new there, something that Hyunjin holds on to with all of her might. There’s the smallest feeling of hope, a faint promise that everything is going to turn out well for her. Those nights when she feels particularly cruel towards herself, that shimmer of hope—small as it may be—is what she clings to.

 

Her weekly appointments with Dr Park become part of her routine, a part of her routine she kind of looks forward to.

 

Surprisingly enough, Heejin does, too.

 

Being forced to undergo physical therapy as well, Heejin visits the clinic with almost as much frequency as Hyunjin does. Like they did the day of Hyunjin’s first session with Dr Park, they always meet at the waiting room, where it’s usually just the two of them.

 

At first, Hyunjin doesn’t want to talk. No, scratch that. At first, Hyunjin doesn’t talk at all. The first two weeks, when Hyunjin takes a seat on a chair—always as far as possible from Heejin—it’s the other girl who tries to start a conversation with her. Heejin has always been keen on talking (“She always talks too much!” Hyunjin told her friend Hyejoo once, while complaining about Heejin), and she somehow manages to always have a new funny story or anecdote to tell. Although she knows Hyunjin doesn’t want to exchange a single word with her, Heejin decides to talk. She tells Hyunjin about her day, about her family, about track, about her friends—she never expects an answer, but seems happy to have someone to listen to her.

 

Because Hyunjin listens. She doesn’t really want to, of course, but she does. Heejin has a special talent to make everything sound interesting, and even the most mundane of her stories always manage to catch Hyunjin’s attention. (She pretends to ignore Heejin all the time, obviously, but to no avail. Heejin is not stupid.) Hyunjin starts to understand what’s so special about Heejin that everyone seems to be fond of her.

 

Much to her own despair, Hyunjin starts to think that maybe, just maybe, Jeon Heejin is not that terrible.

 

Heejin is still annoying. That will probably never change, Hyunjin thinks. But there are new things Hyunjin realizes about her, things that she can’t hate even if she wants to. Some part of her brain seems to empathise with Heejin when she hears the excitement on her voice when she talks about track, the passion she feels for the sport being almost tangible. Maybe it’s because Heejin and her have many shared memories from the track team, and the way Heejin talks about it makes Hyunjin feels as if she hadn’t left the team at all. Maybe it’s because Hyunjin knows exactly that sensation, the tickle in her stomach whenever she thinks and talks about soccer. Maybe because that’s the only thing she and Heejin have in common—their honest love for sport—but Hyunjin starts to understand Heejin. To get used to her presence, to find some of her jokes funny, to stop pretending she’s ignoring her.

 

Maybe that’s why during her fourth week of therapy (and Heejin’s second to last week of therapy, according to her own words), she decides to talk, too.

 

As usual, Hyunjin arrives fifteen minutes before her appointment, just in case Dr Park is done early with her previous patient. Her mother drives her to the clinic, kisses her on the forehead and tells her to text her when she needs her to pick her up. The first couple of weeks, Hyunjin’s mother helped her walk into the building, but after Hyunjin starts to feel some improvement, she decides to do it on her own. Even though she still struggles, hobbling around with her crutches in a way that Dr Park would definitely not approve of if she ever saw her, Hyunjin still manages without any help.  

 

Heejin in sitting in her usual chair, just across where Hyunjin likes to seat (first chair around the corner, the first she can find and the farthest from Heejin), playing with her phone, eyebrows furrowed and looking strangely serious. When she notices Hyunjin, Heejin’s face lights up slightly, and she’s quick to put her phone inside her pocket and smile at her.

 

“Good afternoon!” She greets, voice as cheerful as always. Though it’d normally annoy Hyunjin to no end, she feels some kind of relief when she hears her—Hyunjin feared that Heejin would grow tired of her cold attitude just when she had decided to start acting nicer.

 

“Um, hi,” Hyunjin says awkwardly. Usually, she would just nod or make some sort of noise of acknowledgment, and that’d be all. But this time, she’s willing to talk, which Heejin notices quickly.

 

“You seem to be in a good mood today,” Heejin says with a smile. Although Hyunjin isn’t in a particularly happy mood, she supposes that her greeting Heejin must be some kind of miracle for the other girl.

 

“Yeah, uh, I guess,” she shrugs, fidgeting with her hands, not looking at Heejin.

 

“That’s nice to hear, actually! You looked very gloomy last day, I was worried something had happened to you,” Heejin says. That’s how things always go—Heejin greets her, makes a random comment about the weather or about school or about her injury and then starts rambling until Dr Park calls Hyunjin. Heejin’s doctor always takes longer to call her in, for some reason.

 

“Um. No, I was—um, I’m actually okay. I’m totally fine.”

 

It’s only a half-truth, because Hyunjin feels slightly embarrassed about her attitude the previous day. She wasn’t “gloomy” at all, she was simply furious: Hyejoo had sent her some pictures of soccer practice—one of them was a selfie, with her and Yerim pouting to the camera, and the other was a shot of the team in the middle of a practice match—and Hyunjin just couldn’t stand it. Soccer is a sensitive topic for her. It’s kind of funny, how the thing that used to make her the happiest now only makes her feel miserable.

 

“Well, look at you. Back to being gloomy,” says Heejin, and she’s supposed to sound like she’s joking but instead she sounds like she’s honestly worried about Hyunjin. The part of Hyunjin’s brain that still hates Heejin starts making loud noises inside her head, like a warning, a reminder that this girl is her natural enemy.

 

“I’m not gloomy,” Hyunjin retorts, a little too aggressive. Heejin raises her brows, taken aback. “I mean—I’m gloomy, but—wait, no I’m not. I just, um, I’m having a bit of a hard time. Without soccer and, you know, all this… therapy thing.”

 

Heejin’s lips thin, her expression becoming suddenly very serious. “No, I understand, Hyunjin,” she says like she means it. She understands. “Have you—have the doctors told you, uh, anything?”

 

It doesn’t go unnoticed, how Heejin seems to pick every single one of her words so carefully, as if a poorly chosen sentence could trigger something in Hyunjin. She understands, really—Hyunjin is so used to taking everything Heejin says as an attack, it’s almost hard for her not to be wary around the other girl. She supposes Heejin must feel the same.

 

“Anything about what?” Hyunjin asks, although the way Heejin avoids her gaze is already an answer itself.

 

“About—you know—playing again?”

 

Hyunjin glances at the ceiling, trying to ignore how her eyes start burning when she hears Heejin. The answer is simple: no, the doctors haven’t told her anything. As far as she knows, she’s still part of the team and might even be able to play the last games of the season if everything goes according to plan. Problem is—she isn’t sure things are going according to plan. Yes, she’s improving, slow but steady. But that’s not enough. 

 

“Um, not really,” she says, choking up a bit. She takes a deep breath, tries to get a grip. “In a few weeks.”

 

“Oh,” Heejin nods, careful, “I see.” Her gaze is soft when she suddenly smiles at Hyunjin and says, “I hope you can start playing soon. You were—you are really good. Maybe we should play together some time, it’d be fun.”

 

That catches Hyunjin’s attention, and although the use of the past tense of the verb stings on her chest, Heejin’s kicked puppy-like expression serves as a slightly annoying apology.

 

“Wait, you’ve seen me play?” Hyunjin asks in honest shock. There is no reason at all for Heejin to know how she plays. “Like, voluntarily?”

 

“Uh, yeah, I have, actually,” Heejin laughs rather awkwardly, as if the memory of seeing Hyunjin play has some kind of embarrassing story behind. “My boyfriend is—uh, he really likes soccer. Well, um, he liked, I guess.”

 

Hyunjin’s eyes widen. “Oh my god, is he—?”

 

What!? No, no, no!” Heejin waves her hands, her face going a little pale. “God, no, it’s just—he’s not my boyfriend anymore. Funny story, actually, he was dumping me just when you fell on top of me that day,” she says with a chuckle that sounds too bitter to be honest. The part of Hyunjin that hates her blindly basks in Heejin’s misery, but a much larger part of her is just—not exactly sad for Heejin, but something close to it.

 

“Damn, that sucks. He could at least have tried to help you. Breaking up doesn’t mean you can’t save someone from getting crushed by some random falling down a staircase.”

 

“Oh.” Heejin becomes quiet for a moment, only letting out something close to an awkward laugh. “Another funny story: he broke up with me via text.”

 

Even the part of her who still hates Heejin feels slightly bad for her. Being dumped is one thing, but being dumped through text? That’s unacceptable. No human being deserves such treatment, not even Jeon Heejin, annoying and insufferable as she might be. She can’t put a name or a face on Heejin’s (ex)boyfriend, but she Hyunjin something for sure: the guy is a major asshole.

 

“Fuck that guy,” Hyunjin huffs, arms crossed over her chest. You deserve better, she tries to say, but her voice lodges in her throat once, twice. It’s like the Heejin-hating part of Hyunjin is still trying to hold back the rest of her.

 

Dr Park suddenly opens her door, her eyes quickly finding Hyunjin’s. She smiles at her, a silent invitation for her to come in so they can start with their physical therapy session. For the first time since she started going to the clinic, Hyunjin is slightly disappointed in having to leave the waiting room—in having to stop her conversation with Heejin.

 

Before she enters the consultation room, Hyunjin turns around, shoots a shy smile to Heejin. Though rather surprised at first, Heejin is quick to return the gesture.

 

“See you around,” Heejin yells when the door is almost closed, and it makes Hyunjin chuckle.

 

Although that small voice in her head tries to remind her of how terrible Heejin is, how much she’s supposed to hate her, Hyunjin doesn’t listen. She has come to the conclusion that she’s weary of listening to it. Hating someone takes up too much time and energy, and Hyunjin has grown tired of it.

 

When she goes home that day, she can barely hear that little, sharp voice anymore.

 


 

Inevitably, Hyunjin begins to grow fond of Heejin.

 

Hating Heejin was easy, but liking her proves to be even easier. Heejin is sweet, nice, funny most of the time (though she has a certain passion for dad jokes that always gets on Hyunjin’s nerves) and, most importantly, she makes Hyunjin forget. Forget about how miserable she feels when she’s left alone with her own thoughts, when she wakes up in the middle of the night because she keeps having nightmares about her leg, when her mother looks at her and the only thing she sees in her eyes is pity.

 

Those minutes she spends with Heejin before her physical therapy sessions are what she clings to on the days she’s particularly hopeless. If she can’t find strength in herself, Heejin always seems willing to share hers with Hyunjin.

 

Of course, every good thing has to come to an end.

 

“Today is my last day,” Heejin says instead of her usual greeting—she sounds like she’s apologizing.

 

“Oh.”  Hyunjin breathes out, not even trying to hide how utterly disappointed she is.

 

This was predictable, if Hyunjin was honest with herself: a wrist injury and a knee injury were definitely not the same and wouldn’t take the same amount of therapy sessions to be completely healed. While Hyunjin still has at least another month of therapy ahead of her, maybe even more, Heejin is ready to go back to her normal life—and, in all honesty, Hyunjin finds it unfair, considering how much effort she has put into her own recovery.

 

“Hey, don’t be down.” Heejin nudges her shoulder playfully—because yes, they had started to sit next to each other at some point—in an attempt to joke around. Her smile is faint when she looks at Hyunjin, like she can understand exactly what she’s feeling. “It’s not like we’re never going to see each other again.”

 

Hyunjin’s lips thin. Of course they’re going to meet again (they attend the same school, after all) but it’s not going to be the same. That waiting room has become kind of a special place for both of them, a place where they are always together on their own. Hyunjin isn’t sure she can act the same around Heejin outside of that room. It’s not because she doesn’t want to—she just doesn’t know how. Everyone is so used to her and Heejin openly hating each other that suddenly starting to hang out at school would feel… wrong. And Hyunjin, still forced to use crutches and with one foot out of the soccer team, already feels too out of place in the real world.

 

“Aww, is grumpy Hyunjin going to miss me?” Heejin pinches one of Hyunjin’s cheeks, imitating the voice a mother would use with her annoying baby. “And I thought you hated me! Look at you!”

 

“Stop it!” Hyunjin groans, and slaps Heejin’s hand away. The other girl just pouts childishly at her and then laughs, not bothered in the slightest by Hyunjin’s attitude. She seems be used to it by now.

 

Huffing, Hyunjin crosses her arms over her chest and looks away from Heejin, who keeps chuckling and making fun of the other girl’s sudden tantrum. In all truth, it’s not that Hyunjin is angry at her, per se—she’s simply embarrassed. As someone who tends to keep to herself and has a hard time understanding how other people feel, Hyunjin is not very keen on physical displays of affection, with almost no exception.

 

Something seems to catch Heejin’s attention, as she suddenly points at one of Hyunjin’s arms, eyebrows raised and a certain sparkle in her eyes. It’s her broken arm, still on a splint to make sure that the injury heals completely. Though she was lucky that she didn’t need therapy for her wrist like Heejin did, Hyunjin wants to be as careful as possible and not to mess her recovery.

 

“What’s that?”

 

“Um, a splint?” Hyunjin says, slightly confused, and it makes Heejin roll her eyes.

 

“Yeah, thanks, I know what that is,” she scoffs, a bit annoyed. “I mean this.”

 

She rests one of her fingers on the splint and Hyunjin notices. Although neither her mother nor her doctor were very happy about it, Hyunjin’s friends—namely Yeojin and Yerim, who later dragged a reluctant Hyejoo along—decided that, since they didn’t get to sign her cast, they’d sign her splint. As opposed as Hyunjin was to them ruining it, her friends deliberately decided to ignore it and moved forward with their stupid idea.

 

“Oh, this. It’s just, um, my friends’ fault, actually. They wanted to sign my cast, but I got it removed before they had a chance, so…” Hyunjin trails off so Heejin can guess what happened next.

 

Heejin nods, studying the chaotic writing on Hyunjin’s arm with great care. Her fingers brush Yeojin’s message—“once hyunjin is okay it’s over for y’all soccer bitches. love, yeojin”, accompanied by what was supposed to be a small drawing of a frog—, then Yerim’s—“get well soon, hyunjinnie! i’m giving you all of my strength! fighting!”, all of it surrounded by an excessive amount of hearts—and finally, Hyejoo’s. This one seems to stand out particularly for Heejin.

 

‘Dear Hyunjin, please get well soon’?” Heejin reads, cocking her head in confusion. “Wow, that seems quite… intense.”

 

Hyunjin shrugs. “Um, well, Hyejoo likes holding hands, but I can’t do anything with my arm like this,” she explains, waving her injured hand in front of her face.

 

“It’s just holding it; how can it possibly hurt you? Plus, you literally have another hand,” Heejin says matter-of-factly, staring at Hyunjin like she’s a madwoman.

 

“Like I said, Hyejoo really likes holding hands,” she repeats, brows raised to make sure Heejin understands how serious she’s being. After a second or so of pondering, Heejin seems to accept it as an appropriate explanation, and she suddenly forgets the topic entirely.

 

Heejin rummages through her backpack, Hyunjin looking at her slightly dazed, and takes out a marker. She grins widely before asking, “Can I?”

 

“W—What?” She asks, and Heejin eyes move from her, to her splint, and to her again.

 

“Can I sign your splint, too?”

 

It’s weird, how Hyunjin feels suddenly flustered at the question. She’s not particularly opposed to Heejin signing her splint, especially since she’s going to get it removed in a couple of days, but it’s like there’s something bigger behind that. Only her closest friends have signed it. Would this mean that she is admitting to the world that Heejin is her friend? Hyunjin doubts Heejin considers her a friend at all—a close acquaintance, at best. That tiny voice in the back her brain, almost inaudible now, tries to remind her of who Heejin is and why she’s supposed to hate her. Like an animal, the voice scratches her insides, trying to make itself stand out, trying to be. The feeling of having that dark thing within her, clouding her thoughts every now and then, is almost shameful.

 

Hyunjin speaks so she can drown the noise in her head before it gets too loud. “Um, I—I mean, if you want to so bad…”

 

“Great!” Heejin beams, her face lighting up as if she just received the greatest news in the planet.

 

She holds Hyunjin’s arm carefully, trying not to hurt her in any way. Her fingers brush against Hyunjin’s for a second and Hyunjin almost moves her hand away, feeling her face heat up out of the blue for no reason at all. She manages to stay still, staring at Heejin’s focused expression—brows knitted together, tongue poking out ever so slightly—and trying to stop her face from warming up. After a couple of minutes, Heejin looks at her work with a pleased smile and releases her grip on Hyunjin’s arm. She gestures Hyunjin to take a look at it, too.

 

You’re quite nice for someone who hates me. Get well soon, grumpy!”, next to Heejin’s signature and a small drawing. Hyunjin notices it looks like a cat.

 

“What’s up with the cat?” She asks, honestly intrigued. Heejin has never struck her as a cat person—especially considering the amounts of pictures with her dog she posts on Instagram—and she can’t come up with a good explanation to why Heejin would put so much effort into that drawing.

 

“That’s you!” Heejin says cheerfully, and Hyunjin tilts her head in confusion.

 

“I’m… I’m the cat?”

 

“Yes,” she nods. Hyunjin raises a curious brow, waiting for her to further elaborate on her answer. “You are like a cat. You like to act all tough and grumpy, but deep inside you’re just a big softie.”

 

A small smile creeps to Hyunjin’s lips, along with the faint feeling of warmth that reaches her cheeks.

 

“Okay, now it’s my turn,” she says, trying to play it off. She’d be mortified if Heejin ever saw her blush.

 

Heejin pouts. “What? I have nothing for you to write on!” It’s true. Her arm is not even on a splint, only covered by the sleeves of her shirt.

 

“I’ll just do it on your arm.” Hyunjin gestures Heejin to stretch her arm, which the other girl does after rolling her eyes, a small smile on her lips.

 

She contemplates what to write, pen marker pressed softly against her lips to help her think. Hyunjin has never considered herself particularly good with words, always having been one of those people who believe that actions speak louder than any other thing. Her gaze falls for a split second on Heejin’s message, and she decides to write something similar.

 

“Maybe you’re not that terrible, Jeon Heejin. In fact, you’re a pretty cool archenemy,” she writes, and she also quickly sketches a small bunny without really thinking about it. The result is good enough, considering how hard it is to write on someone else’s skin.

 

Heejin studies the ink on her arm, arching a brow. Her lips curl ever so slightly, and her eyes read the message once and then again and again and again. Hyunjin waits for a reaction, feeling her heart beating a bit faster than usual—and she ignores it, because she knows it shouldn’t be doing that.

 

After a careful analysis, Heejin turns to the other girl and asks, “A bunny? What for, exactly?”

 

“You remind me of one,” Hyunjin explains, shrugging, just like Heejin did minutes ago.

 

“Seriously? And why is that?”

 

Hyunjin stays silent for a while, thinking about her answer, but she comes up with nothing. “I don’t know. You just do. They’re energetic and cute and everybody likes them. Kind of like you, I guess.”

 

Though she expects Heejin to react—particularly after having called her cute without even noticing, as Hyunjin realizes while blushing—the other girl remains quiet, staring at Hyunjin’s drawing on her arm. When she looks back at Hyunjin, she’s surprised to discover that she can’t read what’s behind Heejin’s eyes. That seems to happen a lot lately—Heejin is always looking at her in ways that Hyunjin can’t really understand.

 

In her state of sudden stupor, her fingers still resting against Heejin’s arm, Hyunjin barely registers the sound of a door opening at the end of the hallway, followed by footsteps. A head pokes around the corner. It’s probably the first time since she started physical therapy that Hyunjin has actually seen Heejin’s doctor: a man around his 40s, with a receding hairline and a stern look in his dark eyes. He smiles politely when she notices Heejin, but it’s nothing like any of Dr Park’s smiles (friendly, understanding, full of encouragement.) The man clearly is there only to do his job and then leave.

 

“Jeon Heejin?” He says in a monotone voice, probably out of habit—Heejin and Hyunjin are the only other people in the waiting room, after all.

 

Letting out a long sigh, Heejin stands up, carefully removing her arm from Hyunjin’s light grip. She slings her backpack over her shoulder, straightens her skirt and turns to Hyunjin.

 

“Guess I’ll see you around,” she says softly. Hyunjin can only nod in response.

 

When she looks at Heejin’s back as she walks away, Hyunjin feels an unknown pressure in her chest. It kind of reminds her of that ugly thing inside her that preys on her negative feelings for others—particularly Heejin—but it’s different. This being preys on all the positive emotions she has felt in the minutes she has spent with Heejin, and now it wants to get free. Make its way out of Hyunjin, make itself known. Just before Heejin disappears around the corner with her doctor, Hyunjin’s words slip out of her lips before she can stop them.

 

“Heejin,” she calls, and the other girl turns around, head slightly tilted in confusion. Hyunjin looks at her, not talking. Then, she feels her voice creeping up her throat and says, blushing, “I—I don’t hate you. I just wanted—I—I hope you know that.”

 

Heejin stares at Hyunjin in silence. Then, she smiles at her, wider and brighter than ever, and walks away without looking back.

 


 

from: unknown number

hey hyunjin! this is heejin

i asked yerim for your number, hope you don’t mind :)

 

to: unknown number

oh hey lol

it’s cool dw

just let me save your contact

 

from: archenemy

nice! anyway

i was just wondering

would you like to hang out some time?

 

to: archenemy

um

you mean. hang out like,,, outside school?

 

from: archenemy

yeah!

yerim told me you like bread a lot???

and i know a cute café that i think you’ll love

don’t feel pressured to say yes though

i just really liked being around you and was kinda sad that we wouldn’t get to see each other as much

 

to: archenemy

okay, sure

why not

 

from: archenemy

cool cool cool!

next friday?

 

to: archenemy

sure

 

from: archenemy

nice! i’ll text you the details :)

 

to: archenemy

great, see you then

oh and

heejin?

 

from: archenemy

yes?

 

to: archenemy

i like being around you too

 

from: archenemy

 


 

Dr Park stares at Hyunjin, the look in her eyes similar to that of a mother who’s angry at her child. It’s been exactly two months and one week since Hyunjin started going to physical therapy, which means that she’s ready to know whether she will be able to play soccer again or not. Although she has started attending the team’s training sessions again, just because, she still doesn’t know what’s going to happen to her.

 

Her mother is there, mostly to give her moral support, holding one of her hands and rubbing small, soothing circles along her back. Hyunjin is thankful to have someone there in case she needs a pair of arms to stop her from breaking down if things don’t go as planned. She and her mother have talked thousands of times about it: what Hyunjin is going to do if she can’t play anymore, how she’s going to face a future without soccer, how it’s going to affect her decisions about university.

 

“Well,” Dr Park speaks up, and Hyunjin almost jumps out of her chair, “these months have been pretty intense. I don’t think I’ve ever had a patient that put so much into their recovery, to be honest.”

 

Despite being completely anxiety ridden, Hyunjin manages to crack a smile at those words. She’s happy about Dr Park acknowledging her efforts, albeit a little self-conscious about coming on too strong in her attempt to recover as soon as possible, or seeming a little too obsessed with playing soccer again. If Dr Park ever thought of her as weird or found her too irritating, she never gave signs of it.

 

“As you may know,” her therapist continues, “your injury was pretty bad. You were lucky that you were taken to the hospital in time or things would have been very difficult for you.” Hyunjin almost rolls her eyes. As if things weren’t already incredibly difficult for her. “In any case, you’ve been a great patient. When you first came in, so eager about going back to playing, I was very scared that you’d try to force yourself to do some kind of activity that you weren’t ready to do yet. Surprisingly enough, you didn’t.”

 

Hyunjin’s mother pats her on the back, and even though her daughter can only see it for a split second, she knows she’s smiling—it’s a proud smile, the same smile she wears whenever Hyunjin wins a game. After all the things that had happened to her, Hyunjin wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to put that smile on her mother’s face again. It’s such a relief, seeing her face light up. It makes all the negative emotions inside Hyunjin disappear, melted by the warmth of her mother’s unconditional love.

 

Dr Park makes a gesture close to a grin and then says, “I’ve talked to your doctor and to your coach. Although we don’t think you will be able to play the last games of the season, we are certain that you are going to play again soon. And if you don’t feel ready just yet, at least know that next year you’ll be back on the field.”

 

Her words hit Hyunjin in a way she didn’t expect. Of course, there had been that small thread of hope that she held on to desperately, but she believed she was just clutching straws. Hyunjin spent countless nights preparing herself mentally to face her new reality, in case Dr Park told her she wouldn’t be able to play again.

 

“I’ll phone your coach again so you can go back to training. Training for real, I mean. By next month, you should probably be back with the team,” Dr Park smiles, and Hyunjin’s heart clenches in her chest. “Of course, you won’t be doing the same exercises as your teammates—we don’t want you to reverse all this progress, do we?”

 

Right then, Hyunjin starts crying. She doesn’t want to, but she can’t help herself—she has been bottling up emotions inside of her for almost three months, and now they want to get free, to spill over. It’s a weight that’s being taken off her shoulders. Her mother wraps her arms around her in a hug, holding her, silently telling her how proud she is, how happy she feels. A bit overwhelmed by her own emotions, Hyunjin just hugs her back and cries against her shoulder.

 

“I…” She tries to speak up, but her voice is so shaky that she can barely recognize it, and she decides to let everything out before she tries to put things into words. She hugs her mother tighter, with Dr Park looking at them, a wide grin on her lips and a feeling of hope and happiness filling the room.

 

Hyunjin cries and cries and cries, and all the things that had died inside of her finally begin to bloom again, like a flower growing in the desert.

 


 

Hyunjin and Heejin hang out that Friday, and they do it again the following Friday. Then, Heejin comes pick up Hyunjin from soccer practice one day carrying a bag full of her favourite bread rolls and, suddenly, they’re meeting up at least twice almost every week.

 

As much as Hyunjin doesn’t want to admit it out loud, they’re friends now.

 

She should have seen it coming, because it is evident, how similar she and Heejin are. Hyunjin likes to believe that’s the reason why they didn’t hit it off at first—with both of them being so alike, and both of them being extremely competitive by nature, they were almost destined to be great rivals. However, and albeit a little too late, they realized that this rivalry between them was kind of stupid. One of the traits Hyunjin respects the most in people is their ability to acknowledge other’s talents, something she wasn’t doing when it came to Heejin, opting to hate her for being good at what she did instead. But now? Sometimes, Hyunjin can hardly remember that she hated her, or why she even hated her in the first place.

 

It’s weird to consider Heejin a friend, but Hyunjin does. In fact, it’s pretty embarrassing, seeing how much Hyunjin has come to value Heejin’s friendship in such a short amount of time.

 

Hyunjin realizes how important for her Heejin has become after her last appointment with Dr Park. Although she’d never dare to confess it, she’s scared to death. She’s so scared that she decides to call Heejin and ask her to hang out, because, for some reason, she seems to be the only one who can make her forget the anxiety that is wasting her away.

 

As usual, they meet outside that little café that Heejin loves so much and spend almost the entire afternoon there, talking about everything and nothing. Time seems to go by faster when she’s with Heejin—those short minutes before therapy look awfully short when compared to the long hours they spend together now. Hyunjin wonders how they even managed to have a proper conversation then, when now they can talk about eighty different things throughout the hours without stop.

 

Heejin is always so disarmingly charming that Hyunjin can’t even bring herself to say no when she offers to walk her home—even if Heejin’s house is in the opposite direction, and even if Hyunjin doesn’t need help to walk anymore. They make their way together, walking slow under the pretext that Hyunjin shouldn’t make efforts, when in reality what they both want is to spend as much time with the other as possible.

 

There are some kids playing near Hyunjin’s house that day. It shouldn’t be normal, but Hyunjin feels her chest tighten and her breath hitch ever so slightly when she realizes they’re playing soccer. Just seeing them enjoy themselves makes all her negative emotions pile up in a way that doesn’t allow her to think clearly.

 

So when one of the kids kicks the ball a bit too hard, and it falls right in front of Hyunjin, she just—she freezes completely. For a moment, she feels like she’s not really Hyunjin, like she’s not in control of her body. It’s like the ball is staring mockingly at Hyunjin, forcing her to remember soccer and how she might never play again, and how empty her life is right now, and how pitiful she must look, frozen on the spot, like she’s in front of a wild animal.

 

“Come on,” Heejin says suddenly, startling Hyunjin, and she reaches for her hand as if to say “don’t worry, I’m with you”. The look on her eyes is so earnest that it makes the knot in Hyunjin’s chest untie and tie itself again, but for entirely different reasons. “I believe in you.”

 

Heejin gently kicks the ball, making sure to return it to its owners. Although a bit confused, the kids politely thank them and resume their game as if nothing happened. Hyunjin is a bit jealous of them, because they don’t have to deal with that whirlwind of emotions inside her. She wishes she could be a bit more like them, so careless and cheerful. She also fears that part of her is gone and never comes back.

 

She feels Heejin squeezing her hand and then gently tugging at it, encouraging her to continue walking. To forget what has just happened. Heejin might not exactly know whatever is going on inside Hyunjin’s head, but she seems to understand. She understands that Hyunjin needs someone to hold on to sometimes, even if she doesn’t say it.

 

Hyunjin needs a friend, and Heejin is there to provide.

 

When Hyunjin dares to look at her again, she sees a person she can barely recognize—Heejin, always faster than her, always one step ahead of her, is now by her side. And Heejin believes in her, or so she says, so Hyunjin decides to give it a chance—she’s going to start believing in herself again, too.

 


 

For the first time since they started hanging out regularly, Hyunjin is the one doing the waiting. She’s standing in front of the café they usually visit, back rested against the wall and scrolling idly through her phone. It’s not common for Heejin to be late for—well, for anything, really. Hyunjin isn’t particularly worried, as she will have something to brag about later. Although she and Heejin are now friends, they still have the whole rivalry thing going on. Most of the times, it’s about who can drink her milkshake faster (it’s Heejin, though Hyunjin claims that she wants a rematch) or who can stuff more food in her mouth (to nobody’s surprise, it’s Hyunjin), but they always manage to make a competition out of everything, even about who’s late or who isn’t. A small victory is still a victory.

 

Hyunjin is done watching the fourth soap cutting video Yerim has sent her that day when a new picture pops up on her Instagram feed. It’s a new post from Heejin, uploaded just six minutes ago—right after Heejin texted her “i’m omw, sorry ><!!”—and it makes Hyunjin stare at the screen of her phone, slightly dazzled.

 

The picture is cute, really: Heejin and Jiwoo (an older classmate and friend of theirs, now a freshman at college), both pouting and with their cheeks tightly squished together. There’s another picture if you slide to the left, very similar to the previous one, but this time with both of them smiling, faces so close together that it’s hard to tell where Heejin’s cheek ends and where Jiwoo’s starts. The caption reads “with my favourite unnie! i missed you so much”, crying face emoji, penguin emoji, and ten heart emojis.

 

Feeling an unknown tightness in her chest, Hyunjin goes from one picture to another, mind buzzing with questions about Heejin, about Jiwoo, about Heejin and Jiwoo. She knows it’s none of her business, but she can’t help but wonder. What’s their relationship? Are they just friends? Those photos seem a little too friendly, but then again, she knows Jiwoo has always been known for her extremely affectionate and clingy nature. And what’s up with all those hearts? Heejin never uses so many emojis, not even when she still had a boyfriend and posted pictures with him—Hyunjin made sure she checked before Heejin deleted them all.

 

After going back and forth between the pictures for almost three minutes straight, Hyunjin stops herself abruptly. Why is she even doing this? It’s not like she has any right to micromanage Heejin’s personal relationships. Plus, she doesn’t even know whether Heejin and Jiwoo actually have anything close to a relationship beyond friendship.

 

Hyunjin’s eyes widen. Okay. Wait. Oh god, why is she worried about Heejin dating anyone? Is she perhaps—

 

“Stalker much?” She is startled when Heejin’s breath suddenly tickles her ear, making Hyunjin almost drop her phone.

 

Heejin’s soft laugh gets mixed with the cold winter air, and Hyunjin can only feel her face flushing bright red. At least she can pretend it’s because of the freezing weather and not because—well, because of Heejin. She starts to panic a little inside. God, since when does Heejin make her feel so flustered?

 

“I—I wasn’t stalking you!” She groans, voice halting a bit. Heejin stares at her, raising an inquisitive brow at her—she can see there’s something weird going on. “You literally posted this like five minutes ago! I didn’t want to see it!”

 

“Wow, okay, you didn’t have to say it like that,” Heejin chuckles half amused, half confused, and puts a hand over her chest, pretending to be terribly offended by Hyunjin’s words. “If you hate me so much, you can unfollow me. I’ll miss your stupid comments on my pictures, though.”

 

Hyunjin grabs Heejin’s wrist in a swift and involuntary motion. “I don’t hate you,” she says, rather vehemently, and it makes Heejin’s expression change, become unreadable.

 

“I know. It was a joke, Hyunjin,” Heejin mumbles, her face softening ever so slightly. “What’s wrong with you today?”

 

“Um, nothing I—I’m feeling a bit sick, that’s all,” she lies, a shaky smile on her lips. One of Heejin’s hands moves to rest against her forehead, with Heejin staring at her, eyebrows twitched with worry. “W—what are you—”

 

“Your face is burning.” It’s true. Hyunjin can almost feel her face melt because of how flustered she is, the heat spreading from her cheeks to the tip of her ears. She feels odd, not being very used to be so shy around people. And the worst thing is that Hyunjin can’t understand why she feels so nervous around Heejin all of a sudden.

 

“Yeah, I—I, um, I might have caught a cold or something…” Hyunjin trails off, letting out an awkward chuckle.

 

“Let’s just go inside. You shouldn’t be out here in the cold,” Heejin says, yanking Hyunjin by the elbow. She seems honestly worried about her health, which surprises Hyunjin—and makes her face get a little bit redder, if that’s even possible.

 

The café is small and cosy, never crowded or particularly busy. The barista is already used to seeing them almost every week, and his face lights up when he notices them walking through the door. Their usual table, small and kind of isolated from the rest of the café, is empty. Heejin says she likes that spot because she can look at the street through the window, whereas Hyunjin simply enjoys the privacy that the place provides them. It reminds her of the waiting room, where it was just the two of them—it makes thing easier for her. Talking, laughing, everything seems easier when she feels like she’s alone with Heejin.

 

The place is almost empty when the barista takes their order—even though he already knows it by heart—which only makes Hyunjin feel slightly more nervous. To make things worse, Heejin seems to have noticed her weird behaviour and keeps stealing sidelong glances at her, as if to make sure she’s alright. Hyunjin can only force an awkward smile.

 

With their drinks ready, they take a seat at their table in silence. Hyunjin decides that she’s going to stare at her muffin until her face decides to stop getting so war, because she’s sure she’ll spend the rest of the day blushing like a teenage girl (which she actually is) if she so much as glances at Heejin. (And it frustrates her, because she doesn’t understand why is Heejin suddenly making her blush, and why the hell she keeps thinking about that stupid Instagram post.)

 

“So,” Hyunjin starts, clearing her throat and doing her best to sound like her usual self, “you were kind of late today. I win,” she adds, making a victory sign with her hand.

 

Heejin lets out a sigh and pouts. “Yeah, sorry about that. It’s just… I hadn’t seen Jiwoo in months, since she left to college. I got kind of caught up in our conversation and completely forgot about our meet up.”

 

Something small but pointy stings inside Hyunjin at those words. Heejin forgot about her because she was having such a great time with Jiwoo, okay. That is cool. If the spoon she’s holding weren’t made of metal she’d have snapped it in half, but it’s cool. Absolutely cool. Hyunjin is totally chill.

 

“Don’t worry about it,” Hyunjin says, her smile so wide that it’s kind of terrifying. “How is Jiwoo doing, anyway? I haven’t heard from her in a while.”

 

“Oh, she’s very happy with her classes, apparently. But I can’t trust her judgement. I feel like she’d be as happy even if college was actually hell.” Heejin laughs softly, remembering Jiwoo’s brightness, and Hyunjin’s knuckles go white around the spoon. “You know how she is, an absolute optimist. I’ve always liked that about her, though.”

 

Hyunjin feels her smile twitch, so she takes a bite from her muffin to hide it. “Really? I didn’t even know you two were that close.”

 

“What? She’s one of my best friends, how can you not know that?” Truth to be told, Hyunjin knows. She has stalked—no, not stalked, she has stumbled upon Heejin’s Instagram page enough times to know who she is close to or not. She also knows that Jiwoo and her are close, and that she feels very stupid for not having noticed it earlier.

 

The question echoes in Hyunjin’s mind—“how can you not know that?”—and the slightly vexed tone of Heejin’s voice makes her want to say something stupid, or spiteful, or both, but she doesn’t. Because Hyunjin knows that Heejin doesn’t deserve it. So instead, she just presses her lips together, to prevent words from escaping her mouth, and waits for Heejin to keep talking.

 

“Look, this is us when we helped Jiwoo move in just before classes started!” She shows Hyunjin a picture on her phone—Jiwoo, Chaewon and Heejin, surrounded by cardboard boxes, all of the beaming at the camera. Heejin looks fondly at the picture, the memory making her smile. Hyunjin smiles, too. “It’s weird, you know? I feel like it was centuries ago.”

 

It really feels like it was a long time ago, Hyunjin thinks. Just three or four months ago, she still hated Heejin. If someone had told her then that she’d be hanging out with Heejin every week voluntarily, she wouldn’t have believed them. And she’d especially wouldn’t have believed that she’d end up enjoying her time with Heejin so much.

 

Heejin giggles, the same sound she makes whenever Hyunjin tells her a funny joke. “Hey, do you want to hear something hilarious?”

 

“I guess?” Hyunjin arches a curious brow, intrigued by Heejin’s sudden laugh.

 

“I was like—,” she points at the screen of her phone, “—obsessed with Jiwoo when we took this. Look at my face, oh my god....” If you look up close at the picture, there’s a certain sparkle behind Heejin’s eyes, a faint curl of the lips usually reserved for special smiles. Hyunjin nods and makes a small noise, close to “ah” though it sounds more like “what the fuck” in her mind. Meanwhile, Heejin continues laughing at the picture, at her face, at her obsession with Jiwoo.

 

There’s a clench in Hyunjin’s chest when she hears that, but she ignores it, like she does most of the times. Still, it makes it difficult for her to force a smile and say, “What? Seriously? I’d never have guessed.”

 

Truth to be told, she could have guessed if she hadn’t spent most of her time blindly hating Heejin. If Jiwoo and her seemed close now that they were just friends—at least as far as Hyunjin knew—she couldn’t imagine how clingy they must have acted when Heejin had feelings for Jiwoo. The knot in Hyunjin’s gut twitches and tightens and twists suspiciously at the thought.

 

“Yeah, it was so embarrassing. I was annoying as hell,” Heejin says, and Hyunjin thinks that past-Hyunjin would definitely agree with her. “No wonder why Jiwoo wouldn’t even give me the time of the day.”

 

“So she rejected you?” Hyunjin asks rather stupidly, because she already knows the answer to that. Still, she wants to know the whole story from Heejin’s point of view.

 

“Uh, well, guess you could say that,” Heejin shrugs, looking slightly more serious than just seconds ago. “She made sure to let me know that we were friends and nothing more.”

 

“And…?” Hyunjin knows there is an “and” to the story. What gives it away is the look on Heejin’s face—a frown, but the faint shadow of a smile on her lips, expectant to continue talking.

 

“That’s how Hansol and I got together.”

 

Right. Hansol. That’s the same guy that decided to break up with Heejin through text message, something that—for some reason Hyunjin can’t understand—Heejin doesn’t seem to hold against him. And it irritates Hyunjin to no end. The guy was an asshole, he hurt Heejin and acted like a coward and yet Heejin doesn’t think badly of him. How is that even possible, Hyunjin doesn’t really know.

 

“He asked me out again,” Heejin mumbles, words coming out of her mouth in a short breath. Before Hyunjin can say anything, she says, “and I said yes.”

 

Hyunjin wants to protest, really. She wants to be mad at Heejin, to tell her how utterly stupid she is for giving him a second chance. He doesn’t deserve you, she tries to say, but only a sigh leaves her lips. Heejin looks so determined and confident in her decision that it’s almost intimidating—she glares at Hyunjin, and it’s like a warning for her not to say anything. So Hyunjin remains silent, while thinks over and over about how Hansol doesn’t deserve her, and how blind Heejin is being, and how stupid Hyunjin is for not having the guts to tell Heejin all of this.

 

Like most of the things that Heejin makes her feel, she decides to act as if it wasn’t there. Maybe it’ll go away eventually—and she won’t have to face all these scary, weird feelings she’s been having lately.

 

Still, the thought of Heejin going back to the idiot who dumped her burns in her chest for the rest of the day.

 


 

“I can’t fucking believe this.”

 

“Hyejoo, language.”

 

For the sixth time that day, Yerim has beat them all at Mario Kart. Hyunjin, comfortably squeezed between Hyejoo and Yeojin in the former’s bed, lets out a loud laugh when she hears her friend curse. Although she’s usually soft-spoken and rather quiet, Hyejoo becomes a completely different person when it comes to videogames. Especially when it comes to losing at videogames.

 

“Aww, c’mon Hyejoo, don’t be such a sore loser!” Yerim whines, a mocking smile on her lips. Hyejoo glowers at her, making everyone burst into laughter because of her cute scowl.

 

“I want a rematch,” Hyejoo says decisively. Hyunjin, Yerim and Yeojin all groan, rolling their eyes, only slightly annoyed by Hyejoo’s competitiveness. After all, nobody (or, at least, none of them) takes Mario Kart as seriously as Hyejoo does.

 

“You want another rematch?” Yeojin says. “For fuck’s sake, just admit that Yerim is better than all of us already. I want to play Smash.”

 

“Yeojin, language,” Hyunjin repeats, pointing a threatening finger at her.

 

Being the oldest in her group of friends, Hyunjin feels like she needs to take the role of “mom friend”—as much as she hates it—and put some sense into them every now and then. Surprisingly enough, it works most of the times.

 

“This is the last one, I promise. That’s all I’m going to need,” Hyejoo says. The confidence in her voice contrasts the pout on her lips, and it’s almost enough to persuade Hyunjin.

 

“Okay, just one more game, okay?” Hyunjin sighs. “Plus, I need to leave early today. I have homework to do.”

 

“Pf. Homework,” Yeojin sticks her tongue out, as if to say “that’s disgusting”. Yerim mimics her gesture, a wide grin plastered on her face. “Couldn’t you have done it yesterday or something?”

 

“Uh, not really. I was busy with—” Hyunjin makes a pause, feeling strangely weird about telling her friends that she was actually with Heejin, “—a friend.”

 

Yeojin snorts and nudges her shoulder playfully. “So you have other friends? That’s unexpected. Who was it?”

 

Hyejoo restarts the game with a loud “hmpf” and the TV goes back to the character selection screen. Lips pressed together in a thin line, Hyunjin chooses her character (Princess Daisy, as usual) while musing over her possible answer. There’s no point in lying to her friends, she knows, but it doesn’t stop Hyunjin from feeling like has to be secretive about her friendship with Heejin.

 

“Heejin,” she finally says in a whisper, oddly embarrassed about it.

 

Yeojin turns to look at her, eyebrows arched with curiosity. “Oh? The Jeon Heejin? Wasn’t she, like, your mortal enemy or something?”

 

“Jeon Heejin, yes. Apparently, they’re friends now,” Hyejoo says for her. “Haven’t you seen them around? Heejin comes to pick her up from practice every day.”

 

“Wait, seriously?” Yeojin asks with a snort, and Yerim nods energetically. She looks at Hyunjin with the same sparkle in her eyes she has when she’s about to crack a joke. “I should have seen it coming. She’s totally your type.”

 

There’s a moment of silence, with all four of them staring at each other—all of them staring at Hyunjin, actually.

 

“What the fuck,” Hyunjin says, blushing wildly, her whole face heating up, “is that supposed to mean.”

 

All of her friends, including Hyejoo (“traitor”, Hyunjin thinks), burst into laughter, loud and extremely annoying. The three of them look at Hyunjin, smiling like idiots, and she feels oddly intimidated by them. Their laughter seems to echo in Hyunjin’s head, a sound she can’t quite understand, a jumble of words she can’t quite make sense out of. When the room becomes silent, they all look at her like they know something she doesn’t know.

 

“That means,” Yeojin says, a stupid grin plastered on her lips, “that Jeon Heejin is the kind of girl you’d be into. And you are totally into her.”

 

Hyunjin gapes like a fish, letting out small noises that aren’t quite words yet. Her face feels like it’s almost overheating, and her heart beats loudly against her chest. “She is not my type! What the actual—I can’t believe all of you! And I am not into her! What the fuck. What the fuck!”

 

“I mean,” Hyejoo says, and she has the decency to try and hide her smile, “she kind of has a point.”

 

“No she absolutely does not!” Hyunjin yells, combatively as always. “My type? C’mon guys. Please. Heejin is the farthest from my type one can be. Remember when I had a crush on Jinsoul? What does she have in common with Heejin? Absolutely nothing. See? Not my type!”

 

Yeojin snorts, loud, and Yerim shushes her. She smiles gently at Hyunjin. “Um, Hyunjin, I really don’t want you to get so worked up, but…”

 

“But what!? And I’m not worked up!”

 

“But Jinsoul is the exception, not the norm,” Yerim says. “Plus, I think we all had a crush on Jinsoul at some point, so…”

 

That’s kind of true, Hyunjin has to admit. But it doesn’t mean anything—Heejin is still not her type, has never been, will never be. How can someone whom she used to hate just months ago be her ideal type? It’s just really stupid, she thinks. Her friends are being stupid. Heejin isn’t her type. She isn’t.

 

“Okay, but if you weren’t at least a little into her, you wouldn’t get so mad,” Yeojin says, arching her brows, and Hyunjin is about to strangle her, but Hyejoo’s hand on her shoulder stops her. “Don’t give me that look, I know you.”

 

“Hyunjin,” Yerim calls softly, “we aren’t trying to make fun of you. But please think about it. You two hang out almost every day and, no matter how much you try to deny it, she’s your type. Maybe you just haven’t noticed yet, but there has to be something there.”

 

Being the pessimist among her friends, Hyejoo points out rather blankly, “We don’t know if she’s into girls, though.”

 

Hyunjin’s face gets redder. “Um, actually, I—I know,” she says, the ghost of a sheepish smile on her lips. “She told me herself. That she—um, she used to have a crush on Jiwoo.”

 

All of her friends look at each other, eyebrows arched and mouths hanging open.

 

“Congrats.” Yeojin pats her back, beaming. “When’s the wedding, then?”

 

“Never.” Hyunjin groans and she glowers at her youngest friend, who steps back on the bed. “In fact, she’s on a date with a guy as we speak. So yeah, no wedding.”

 

It’s kind of embarrassing, because suddenly Hyunjin feels something that resembles disappointment settle down in her stomach. Where that little, dark thing that used to despise Heejin once was, now there’s a new but identical thing that hates the idea of someone else being with her. It burns inside Hyunjin, and instead of laughing at the joke she just made, she just feels anger and frustration and—

 

No. She shakes her head. Decides to brush it off, wait for it to go away.

 

“Hyunjin…” Yerim says, seemingly having noticed her sudden change of mood.

 

She smiles, weak and completely fake, and grabs her control.

 

“Let’s just continue playing, okay?”

 


 

It’s 3AM and Hyunjin can’t sleep.

 

She stares at the glow-in-the-dark stars on her ceiling, like she has done thousands of nights before. Most of them were nights where she was worried about her leg—she couldn’t bring herself to sleep because she constantly had nightmares about it, about not playing soccer, about living a long and miserable life without any passions. So she just stared at the ceiling, waiting for things to disappear from her mind. She waited for the waves of her sleep to wash things away, but they never did. Hyunjin is already so used to feeling constantly empty, especially when she’s lying on her bed in the middle of the night, that she’s not sure of what to do with all the emotions she’s feeling right now.

 

The conversation she had with Yerim, Hyejoo and Yeojin that afternoon echoes in her brain. After playing (and losing against Yerim again) Mario Kart for another hour or so (because Hyunjin decided to neglect her homework, claiming that she needed a clear mind to do it), her friends decided to go back to teasing her about Heejin and her ideal type. Against Hyunjin’s protests, they made a list of things that Hyunjin was looking for in a girl, no matter how much she argued.

 

“Hyunjin’s future wife,” Yeojin started, loud enough that a mortified Hyunjin worried Hyejoo’s parents could have heard it from downstairs, “needs to be shorter than her. Plus, she needs to have a pretty smile, whatever that’s supposed to mean, and a weird sense of humour that matches Hyunjin’s.”

 

With an offended gasp, Hyunjin interrupted her, “My sense of humour isn’t weird.”

 

“Sure, Miss I-start-barking-at-random-times,” Yeojin cut her off with a pointed glare. “Anyway, as I was saying… She also needs to match Hyunjin’s competitive spirit and, oh!, this one is really accurate, Yerim… She must know how to make her happy!”

 

“That’s literally the vaguest thing on that list,” Hyunjin pointed out, arms crossed over her chest.

 

Yerim, who was the mastermind behind the making of that stupid list, chimed in. “It means someone who’s willing to pamper you, Hyunjin. Not that you’d notice that, though. You can be pretty dense sometimes, especially when it comes to people showing affection to you.”

 

Hyunjin threw a pillow at her. Affectionately.

 

Hours later, Hyunjin is still thinking about that list.

 

As much as she doesn’t want to admit it, it’s pretty accurate. If she herself had to list the kind of things she looks for in a potential partner, she’d include all of those, although she’d perhaps word some of the points in a different way. She’d also add that she wants someone who will give her space when she needs it. Sometimes being with others can be pretty overwhelming for her.

 

Though it makes her rather flustered, Hyunjin can’t help but wonder whether Heejin really meets all the requirements. Her friends insisted so much on it that she can’t stop thinking about it. She hasn’t been able to stop thinking about it for the entire day, and it’s starting to drive her mad.

 

Is Heejin shorter than her? She is, although there isn’t much height difference between them. Hyunjin is just taller enough to be able to tease Heejin when she feels like it.

 

Does she have a pretty smile? Definitely yes. Heejin’s eyes are so pretty, so bright, like they sparkle when she smiles or laughs. Plus, the way her nose scrunches ever so slightly when she finds something really amusing or when she’s telling a story that she likes is very, very cute.

 

A weird sense of humour? Hyunjin wouldn’t call it weird, but she laughs at all of her jokes, loud and sincere, and even though she likes to pretend that she’s mad when Hyunjin teases her, at the end of the day they always end up laughing together.

 

Competitive spirit? This one goes without saying.

 

Does she know how to make Hyunjin happy? That’s a tricky one, apparently, because according to her friends, Hyunjin doesn’t know when people are spoiling her or giving her the special treatment. When she thinks of her relationship with Heejin, she doesn’t think that she’s exactly being pampered. Sure, Heejin always brings her favourite bread rolls after practice “to reward her for her efforts”, or so she says. Sure, Heejin doesn’t mind paying for both of their drinks every now and then, just when she knows Hyunjin might be short of money. Sure, Heejin lets Hyunjin have the last piece of cake when they share, even if they can split it in half. And sure, Heejin always texts her before going to bed, telling her to call at any hour if she has a nightmare and—

 

Hyunjin shoots upwards on bed when she realizes.

 

Oh. Oh. Heejin is totally her type.

 

She, Kim Hyunjin, finds Jeon Heejin, her biggest rival since she first entered high school, absolutely endearing and captivating and charming and dateable.

 

She likes Heejin.

 

And now that she thinks about it, it’s almost painfully obvious. All the signs, all the red lights warning her because, hey, maybe that noisy mess of feelings inside her weren’t platonic at all! Wanting to spend as much time as possible with Heejin? Well, they are friends, so… Thinking about her every night before going to sleep? Kind of creepy, Hyunjin has to admit, but she also spares a thought every now and then for her other friends. Blushing every single time she remembers how good Heejin looked while wearing a crop top? Certainly an intrusive thought, but it didn’t have to mean anything. Problem is—it definitely means something to Hyunjin. It means that she has romantic feelings for Heejin and she’s just realizing because she was stupid enough to believe that constantly daydreaming about how soft Heejin’s lips must be is somehow a platonic thought.

 

Then, the thing that has been bothering her for a while now, buzzing on the back of her brain, finally hits her. Although she blithely ignored it, tried to drown it with music, pretended that it wasn’t there—truth is, it was. Has been there for a long time. Hyunjin doesn’t even want to look back and discover how long. At least it all makes sense now.

 

Okay. She really likes Heejin. And that isn’t exactly bad per se—in fact, it’s a very good thing that Hyunjin has finally stopped repressing her feelings or else she’d probably have drowned in them at some point—but now the uncertainty of where her relationship with Heejin is going to end up settles down on her stomach. And of course, there is the fact that—

 

Oh my god, Heejin was in a date with somebody else just hours ago.

 

Hyunjin, never one to think before making impulsive (and more often than not, stupid) decisions, grabs her phone and opens her chat with Heejin. The last message sent is hers, wishing Heejin good luck with her date and followed by a cat emoji and a flexed arm emoji. She almost feels sick, rereading it and remembering how much it hurt to send that—an emotion that she finally identifies as jealousy burns her insides.

 

She types a new text, trying to sound as casual as possible.

 

to: archenemy

hi

how was your date lol

 

“Oh my fucking god,” Hyunjin groans, loudly, after realizing two things: 1) it’s freaking 3AM, there’s no way Heejin is awake to read her message and she’d probably find it weird that Hyunjin texted her in the middle of the night; and 2) there’s a fucking heart next to Heejin’s contact name and can’t remember how long it’s been there, or why on earth she has never noticed it before. Maybe her subconscious isn’t as stupid as she is.

 

She buries her face in her pillow and lets out a scream, loud enough for her to let some of her frustration out but not enough to wake her parents up. (Hyunjin is simply mortified at the thought of her parents finding her wide awake in her room, panicking because she has just discovered that she’s head over heels for a girl and has texted said girl out of impulse.) She repeats: “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my fucking god.”

 

Her phone vibrates next to her.

 

from: archenemy

hey

uh, well

could have been better haha

 

Hyunjin is low-key ashamed of the sigh of relief that leaves her lips after reading the text. She types a quick reply, scared that Heejin might decide to go to sleep.

 

to: archenemy

damn that sucks

are you okay?

 

The answer doesn’t come right away. In fact, it takes Heejin really long to reply, so long that Hyunjin can’t help but think, feeling defeated, that she has most likely fallen asleep. Meanwhile, Hyunjin has never felt so awake in her whole life.

 

She stares at the dim glow of the stars on her ceiling, looking for answers. Wondering what could have possibly happened during the date. Wondering how Heejin is feeling. If she’s still awake, it means she probably can’t sleep either—something must have gone very wrong to keep her up at night. Maybe she’s staring at the constellations on her room, too. Maybe she’s also waiting for the stars to talk back at her, too.

 

Hyunjin waits for a text, now sitting cross-legged between her rumpled sheets. She stares at her phone, challenging, as if the phone was actually staring back at her. In a way, it is—the black screen, her reflection in the dark, it all seems to mock her. She can almost see a wry smile in the darkness.

 

The screen lights up.

 

from: archenemy

yeah

 

Heejin continues typing for a long minute, then stops. Expectant, Hyunjin waits for a new message to pop up, but nothing happens.

 

to: archenemy

are you sure?

you know you can tell me anything

 

This time, Heejin replies almost instantly.

 

from: archenemy

i know

but i just

i realized he wasn’t right for me

 

I can be,” Hyunjin thinks, and she feels her eyes burning and her fingers wrapping around her phone so tightly that they start to hurt, “I can be right for you.” She’s tempted to write that down, perhaps encouraged by the darkness of the night that seems to make everything less scary for her. She deletes it before she’s even done typing.

 

Instead, she answers with what she knows will be the right thing.

 

to: archenemy

do you need to talk?

want me to call you?

 

And she’s ready to do it, one tap on her screen away from pressing Heejin’s number and making that call.

 

from: archenemy

no, don’t

it’s cool i swear

 

to: archenemy

you sure? :/

 

from: archenemy

i am, seriously

it’s just

 

Hyunjin waits for the next text, knowing how hard it must be to type. She can’t even feel happy that she still has the slightest chance with Heejin, because all she can think about is her, heartbroken, miserable, alone in her room, while she’s there, doing absolutely nothing.

 

from: archenemy

he didn’t care

never cared, actually

he didn’t even listen to me

 

Something crawls inside Hyunjin. From her deepest ends, it crawls until it reaches her ear, and whispers, soft and sharp and cruel, “You listen to her. You care.” And it’s true. Hyunjin listens to her. She has listened to every anecdote, every joke Heejin has told her. She listens because she wants to do it. She wants to learn all there is to know about Heejin. She wants to listen to her voice all day, she wants to discover every secret and every quirk and every pet peeve. Hyunjin listens to her. Maybe that’s why she likes Heejin so much—because she has listened to her, and all of her words managed to build a room somewhere inside Hyunjin to stay there forever.

 

Does Heejin know it?

 

Does Heejin know she cares so much?

 

to: archenemy

let’s hang out tomorrow

we can’t talk about it if you want

 

from: archenemy

i’m not really in the mood for that

i’m so sorry, hyunjin

 

She’s sorry, too. Hyunjin’s heart sinks a little when she reads that. She reads it over and over, hoping that somehow the words will morph into something closer to “sure, let’s hang out like we always do.”

 

Nothing happens.

 

from: archenemy

guess i’ll try to sleep it off haha

sorry again, hyunjin

good night

 

And then she goes offline.

 

Hyunjin stares at the screen, heart wrenched and her whole body feeling like she just got run over by a car. She doesn’t even try to type a reply and closes the chat. Something tells her that if she tries to answer to that, she’s going to break down.

 

She knows she needs to let all of this out before it eats her up. All these newfound feelings, all these sudden wants she has… Hyunjin needs to share them, or else she’ll explode and there will be no one to pick up whatever is left of her.

 

There’s always one person she can trust.

 

to: momseul

hey

i need your help

 

She gets ready to sleep, because now it’s almost 4AM and she doesn’t expect an answer. However, Haseul always manages to surprise her.

 

from: momseul

I believe I’ve told you this before

But if Yeojin gets in trouble you need to call our mother first, not me

 

Feeling slightly calmer than before, Hyunjin chuckles.

 

to: momseul

it’s not about yeojin

it’s about me

btw why are you awake so late

 

from: momseul

I’m studying

Are you in trouble?

You okay???

 

Hyunjin bites her lip and considers being vague with her answer. She decides against it—Haseul will only understand how serious this is if she gets an honest reply.

 

to: momseul

not into trouble but also not really okay

 

from: momseul

What’s wrong?

 

to: momseul

i think I might have feelings for someone

and i don’t know what to do

i feel like shit

 

from: momseul

Meet me tomorrow at my place after lunch

I’ll make sure the house is empty

 

to: momseul

aren’t you at uni rn?

isn’t it like a long drive?

we can do this on the phone

 

from: momseul

I’ll drive, it’s alright

See you tomorrow, Hyunjin

I love you, okay?

Sleep well and take care

 

to: momseul

thank you

love you too

good night

 

Hyunjin lies back in bed and looks at the ceiling again.

 

The stars seem to glow a little bit brighter than before.

 


 

Haseul’s room has always been a place of comfort for Hyunjin.

 

She and Haseul met during Hyunjin’s first day of high school. Haseul was a senior with a reputation of being rather uptight, while Hyunjin was a lost freshman doing her best to fit in in a completely new school. A group of older students dared her to play a prank on Haseul, and she agreed because she thought it’d make others like her—she didn’t realize she was being used, or that she was definitely going to get into trouble. She was given the keys to the art supply closet and told that she had to “customize” Haseul’s locker without getting caught. She did get caught, though. Haseul caught her red handed, paint brush ready on her hand. Being part of the student council, Haseul knew before anyone else that someone had stolen paint from the school. Hyunjin was scared to death when she saw her there, towering menancigly over her (because Hyunjin didn’t have her growth spurt until her second year); she knew she had messed things up. But Haseul didn’t snitch on her—no, instead, she took the blame for her. When Hyunjin asked her why, Haseul just shrugged and said: “I know what it is like to be scared.”

 

They have been friends ever since.

 

Sitting on Haseul’s king-sized bed, a cup of hot chocolate on her hands and a plate of homemade cookies next to her, Hyunjin realizes just how much they both have grown. The first time she stepped on that room she was a trembling kid with a sharp tongue, and now she’s almost a college student having the biggest headache of her life because she has feeling for a girl and doesn’t know how to deal with them.

 

(Maybe the old Hyunjin and the new Hyunjin aren’t that different, she thinks, except for that one little thing—one of them hates Heejin and the other is completely head over heels with her.)

 

“Well,” Haseul breaks the ice, looking at her with arched brows from behind her cup of coffee, “aren’t we going to talk? Or you’d rather sit here in silence after I drove for an hour just to see you?”

 

Hyunjin glowers at her. “As far as I remember, there wasn’t a gun pointed to your head when you decided to do any of that.”

 

Haseul smirks, takes a long sip from her coffee and says bluntly, “Who do you have feelings for?”

 

The cookie Hyunjin is holding crumbles between her fingers.

 

“Did you really have to ask like that?”

 

“So…?” Haseul ignores her grumpy remark, waiting for an answer to her question. At times like this, Hyunjin remembers that Haseul is almost an adult now, so different from the shy and awkward Haseul she met in high school.

 

Hyunjin groans, suddenly regretting the idea of talking to Haseul—or anyone for the matter—about her newly found feelings for Heejin. “How do you even know if you have feelings for someone?” She asks, partly because she’s curious about her friend’s answer, partly because she wants to avoid saying Heejin’s name. She isn’t sure she’s ready to admit she likes her out loud.

 

“Well, for starters, if you think you might have feelings for someone it’s because you probably do,” Haseul says, and Hyunjin hates how she’s always right as much as she’s irritating. “And considering you texted me in the middle of the night panicking about it—”

 

“I wasn’t panicking,” Hyunjin interrupts. They both know is a lie.

 

Haseul lets out a soft laugh, shaking her head. Hyunjin can’t help but remember freshman-Hyunjin, so small and scared, always following Haseul around, trying to impress her, to become more like her. She’s not there anymore. Now, Haseul and Hyunjin are equals—Haseul’s laugh isn’t motherly anymore; it’s simply that of a friend.

 

Thinking about freshman-Hyunjin, and how she’d have never been able to do the same, Hyunjin takes a deep breath and says, “I think I’m in—I have romantic feelings for Heejin.” The words roll off her tongue so easily, like they were meant to be said out loud, to be yelled from mountaintops for the universe to know. I like Heejin I like Heejin I like Heejin, she repeats in her mind like a mantra, a feeling of ease settling in her chest.

 

“Oh? Jeon Heejin?” Haseul asks with a frown. “Didn’t you two, like, hate each other to death? Is it another Heejin?”

 

“Yeah, Jeon Heejin,” Hyunjin nods, the name sweet like candy on her mouth. “We’re friends now. Got closer during my physical therapy. I’ll tell you all the details about that later, I promise.”

 

“And how long have you…?”

 

“I realized yesterday.” It makes Haseul laugh and Hyunjin’s cheek flush bright red. “Hey! Stop laughing! You know how hard feelings are for me, okay?”

 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it’s just…” Between soft giggles, Haseul nurses the rest of her coffee before it starts getting cold. “It’s actually kind of funny. Of all the people I know, Heejin is probably the last person I’d have expected you to fall for.”

 

“Yeah, well, guess we agree on that,” Hyunjin says with a pout, placing her mug on Haseul’s nightstand, and crosses her arms over her chest. “I didn’t think I’d end up like this, either.”

 

“I mean… You’ve always had very strong feelings about her. Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising that they just kind of, um, transformed.”

 

The room becomes silent for a few minutes. It’s not that neither of them has nothing to say, but rather that both have too many things they want to say. Hyunjin has always struggled when putting her feelings into words, so she decides to wait. Haseul seems to be pondering on something, so she might be able to give her advice, or support, or both.

 

After much thought, Haseul shrugs and says, “I think you’re being an idiot.”

 

Hyunjin opens her mouth to protest—because what the actual fuck, Haseul?—but her friend signals her to stop before she can even utter a word. Haseul has never been very keen on people interrupting her when she’s speaking.

 

“I know you and I know what you’re thinking right now, Hyunjin,” she says, and she sounds like she has said the same words thousands of times. “But having feelings for someone is not a bad thing. It’s not something you should be embarrassed of. Love is something that should be celebrated.”

 

Slightly hurt by the ability Haseul has to read her like a book, Hyunjin decides to bite back. “Is that why you don’t want us to meet your girlfriend from college?” She asks, rather defensively.

 

Haseul’s face falls visibly. “I don’t have a girlfriend,” she says. It doesn’t sound like a lie—it sounds like something she wished weren’t true. Hyunjin feels the sting of guilt in her chest.

 

“Maybe we’re both idiots, then.”

 

They truly are the biggest idiots on planet Earth. Haseul, because for some reason—Hyunjin doesn’t know the details—she doesn’t dare to woman up and make her relationship with her mysterious not-girlfriend official, which clearly is hurting her. And Hyunjin, because she probably has been pining for Heejin for weeks (months, maybe), and not only she has just realized, but she’s also willing to repress her feelings until they eat her up.

 

“Maybe we are.” Haseul lets out a long, tired sigh. She looks so dejected it makes Hyunjin’s heart clench, although she understands the feeling.

 

Hyunjin grabs two cookies and crosses the room until she’s standing in front of Haseul. It’s kind of reminiscent of the day they first met, but with the roles reversed this time. She smiles and offers one of the cookies to Haseul, who accepts it with a confused frown.

 

“Let’s make a deal,” Hyunjin says, grinning. “From now on, we both get our shit together and stop being idiots.”

 

“Sounds easier said than done,” mutters Haseul, but there’s a usual softness behind her eyes when she looks up at Hyunjin and smiles. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

 

They “toast” with their cookies and the air in the room changes—it’s warm and new, and when Hyunjin takes a deep breath it feels like there’s hope and thrill filling her lungs (although the delicious scent of Haseul’s cookies might be the real cause) instead of the constant dreading that used to scratch her insides.

 

After staying silent for a while, both of them too busy munching on their food to care to talk, Haseul looks at Hyunjin. There’s so much fondness in her voice it makes Hyunjin feel eternally grateful that she has Haseul in her life.

 

“You’ve grown so much, Hyunjin. I’m very proud of you.”

 

It’s true. They’ve both have grown a lot.

 

And it is time Hyunjin starts acting like it.

 


 

After a sudden rush of confidence born out of her conversation with Haseul, Hyunjin decided to text Heejin and ask her to hang out again. She wrote it over twenty times before she gathered the courage to actually send it, but Heejin’s answer came as quick as usual and Hyunjin was over the moon when she read it.

 

She is ready, she really is. Ready to face her feelings, to tell Heejin how much she likes her. It’s kind of exciting, knowing you like someone, and knowing you’re ready to let the whole world know—more importantly, knowing you’re going to let that person know.

 

And then she sees Heejin, and all that goes straight out the window.

 

Hyunjin can barely talk when Heejin comes up to her, gives her a quick hug and yanks her by the elbow so they can go to their table before anyone else sits there.

 

Although she knew she’d be slightly overwhelmed when she saw again, what Hyunjin didn’t expect was the impact her feelings were having on her. Heejin is—she’s just out of this world, and Hyunjin is just noticing (or allowing herself to notice), because she looks at her and it feels like she’s seeing her for the first time. Like there are two Heejins, the one she knew before and the one she sees now, bright and beautiful.

 

“I feel like we haven’t seen each other in years damn. How was your week?” Heejin asks, a cup with her usual order of coffee in front of her and a soft smile on her lips. Hyunjin looks at her in the eye for a second and then has to look away because it makes it hard for her to breathe. “Have you been studying? I feel like I’m slacking off lately… I’m going to end up flunking.”

 

“Um, yeah, not really,” answers Hyunjin, praying her voice doesn’t sound as hysterical as she actually is. To be honest, she spent most of the time she didn’t waste daydreaming about Heejin actually studying, quite the achievement for her, but only because it helped get her mind off the whole having-feelings-for-Heejin issue. “I think I’ll do well. Hopefully.”

 

“Ah, as usual, nobody is as confident as Kim Hyunjin,” says Heejin, leaning back on her chair. She smiles playfully at Hyunjin, who feels her face growing hotter by the second. “You’ll probably do way better than me, anyway. You look like you’ve been studying pretty hard.”

 

Hyunjin tilts her head, confused. “Hm? Do I?”

 

“Look at your eyes. You look like you haven’t slept in days,” says Heejin. Then, she leans in over the table and softly pokes the baby fat under Hyunjin’s eyes, not quite where her dark circles actually are.

 

“W—what are you—” With her mouth full of croissant and her mind completely overwhelmed by Heejin’s sudden touch, Hyunjin is unable to utter a full sentence. She feels her face go beet red, and even though she wants to move away so Heejin won’t notice, she can’t move—she’s frozen.

 

Heejin smiles like a devil before she says, “Cute.”

 

And Hyunjin just knows that she’s royally fucked up.

 

There’s no way she’s going to survive if Heejin keeps doing this. Though the question is—has Heejin always been like this, so touchy, bordering on (Hyunjin shivers) flirty? As much as Hyunjin tries, she can’t remember. Her feelings seem to magnify every little thing Heejin does, anyway.

 

They drink in silence for a while, which Hyunjin is thankful for because she can’t come up with a single coherent thought, let alone have a conversation, and it’s all Heejin’s fault. Heejin, who sits in front of her, her cup of coffee on one hand while she looks absentmindedly through the window.

 

She’s so pretty,” Hyunjin thinks, mouth dry (even though she has just taken a very long sip of her cappuccino). Her gaze moves from Heejin’s nose, to her long eyelashes to the little mole next to her eye, which Hyunjin finds endearing. “Beautiful. She’s beautiful. She’s breathtaking. She’s so—so—”

 

Hyunjin is so focused on admiring every single detail about Heejin that she can barely understand the other girl when she speaks up again.

 

“How is soccer? Are you back to your rightful place as top scorer of the team?”

 

Hyunjin huffs. Soccer still frustrates her to no end because, although yeah, okay, she’s back on the team, she barely makes a difference anymore. Both her coach and her are still scared of cutting short her recovery by accident, so they are extremely careful about what Hyunjin can or cannot do.

 

“If anything, I’m the team’s top benchwarmer,” she explains, not wanting to elaborate any further. Heejin laughs, throwing her head back, her voice deep and full, and the sound hammers against Hyunjin’s chest.

 

“Hm… Maybe you can try new things.” A thoughtful finger rests on Heejin’s chin and she purses her lips, thinking about what to suggest next. Her face suddenly lights up. “Ah! How about being the goalkeeper?”

 

“I don’t know about that one,” Hyunjin says, sneering visibly. Changing her role on the team wouldn’t change anything, anyway—the coach, her teammates, herself, all of them fear that her knee is still too fragile to play. Maybe they’re not wrong. She doesn’t really want to find out.

 

“Aw, c’mon! I think it’d suit you!” Heejin whines playfully.

 

“Okay, elaborate on that and I might consider it.”

 

“I mean,” says Heejin, and her hand creeps suspiciously across the table towards Hyunjin’s, who almost has the reflex to move it away. “Your hands are so big, you’d probably make a great goalkeeper.”

 

She grabs Hyunjin’s hand and lifts it, pressing their palms together. Surprised, Hyunjin notices for the first time—Heejin’s hand so small, like it was made to fit with hers. Hyunjin’s heart swells twice its size at the feeling.

 

“It’s not my fault you have tiny hands,” she grins, and doesn’t move away. Not yet. She waits for Heejin to do it, to remove her hand, but she doesn’t either. “Look at them, oh my god… They look like a baby’s.”

 

Heejin lets out a soft chuckle and, much to Hyunjin’s surprise, doesn’t bite back with a snarky remark.

 

They stay like that for a while and—well, it feels nice. The feeling is unfamiliar at first (although Hyunjin is a professional hand-holder thanks to Hyejoo), but it doesn’t take long for it to become natural, almost automatic.

 

“So,” says Heejin when she considers it is time to remove her hand from Hyunjin’s, who is rather disappointed about the loss of contact, “about my date.”

 

“About your date,” Hyunjin repeats, brows arched with interest.

 

“It was fucking terrible.”

 

“Yeah, I figured. You spent like, a whole week sulking over it,” Hyunjin sighs, the memories of those days where Heejin basically ignored her stinging in her. “Didn’t even reply to my texts,” she adds in a whisper, not for Heejin to listen, but for herself to let it out.

 

“I know and I’m sorry, Hyunjin,” Heejin says, resting her hand on top of Hyunjin’s. It’s way more discreet than before, but Hyunjin still feels like her chest is about to burst open. “I’ll make it up to you—”

 

“You don’t have to—”

 

“No, but I want to. After we finish our exams, I promise, okay?” And she sticks her pinky out, waiting for Hyunjin to do the same.

 

Hyunjin bites her lip before she wraps her little finger around Heejin’s. “Okay…”

 

“Great.” Heejin beams, and it’s strange because Hyunjin can’t really understand what she’s so happy about suddenly. “Anyways, back to Hansol…” (Hyunjin almost gags at the name), “he was the same. I mean—nothing changed. He didn’t try anything weird, but I… I started to notice things—things I had never noticed before—and I just… It’s like he was a completely new person, you know? Someone I couldn’t recognize. Like—like I was seeing him for the first time. Do you understand what I mean?”

 

If only you knew,” Hyunjin thinks. But she looks her in the eye, and says instead, “Yeah, I completely understand.”

 


 

As it tends to happen when they are together, hours go by in the blink of an eye. Heejin suddenly gets up, looking at her phone with wide eyes, and says she has to leave because she needs to study and she’s already half an hour behind schedule.

 

It’s the first time since they’re friends that Hyunjin feels awkward around Heejin.

 

They are standing outside the café and they’re supposed to say goodbye, but neither of them says anything. Hyunjin just stares at her feet, the tips of her ears getting redder by the minute, waiting for Heejin to do something, whatever.

 

“Um, so…” Heejin speaks up, and Hyunjin can’t bring herself to look at her. Outside their safe place everything is somehow overwhelming for her—the cold wind against her face, the smell of coffee that comes from inside the café, the inexistent space between her and Heejin. It’s too much for her. Having Heejin’s hand brush against the sleeve of her coat is just too much. “I’ll text you.”

 

“Yeah, um, cool. Great. Not if I text you first, ha ha,” Hyunjin laughs so awkwardly she might as well let the earth swallow her whole right there. Things were way easier when she could function properly around Heejin, but now—

 

Heejin’s face is so close to hers.

 

This is not an overreaction caused by Hyunjin’s messy feelings. It’s reality—when she lifts her head, Heejin’s face is just centimetres away from Hyunjin’s, so close that it can’t be accidental, it has to mean something. All the things Heejin does mean something. Maybe that’s why Hyunjin’s gaze moves from Heejin’s eyes to her lips, heart hammering against her chest, loud and clear.

 

She’s about to lean in when Heejin’s phone starts ringing.

 

Hyunjin shakes her head, like she has just woken up from a dream, and shyly looks at Heejin, who shoots her an apologetic smile and answers the call. She can barely process what just happened—what was about to happen. Did Hyunjin really have the guts to almost—?

 

“Sorry,” Heejin whispers rather sheepishly, “I really have to go.”

 

“Sure,” says Hyunjin, and gives her a thumbs up. “Oh my fucking god. I’m so embarrassing. Jesus fucking Christ,” she thinks, but smiles nonetheless.

 

“After exams, remember?” Heejin repeats, an unknown decision behind her eyes. There’s the faint sound of a promise in her words, and Hyunjin lets herself be carried away by her wishful thinking. After exams. She’s willing to wait forever for Heejin, anyway.

 

Heejin pats her on the arm and jogs off without looking back. Hyunjin stares at her until she disappears around the corner, already used to the longing she feels whenever Heejin leaves her. She stands there for a few minutes, thinking about her and Heejin and the two of them together. For once in her life, she’s sure of what the feelings she has are.

 

When Hyunjin goes home, she’s completely determined.

 

First, she’s going to ace those fucking exams.

 

And then, she’s going to finally get the girl of her dreams. 

 


 

from: archenemy

hey!!

are you free tomorrow?

 

to: archenemy

yeah

i was going sleep all afternoon

unless you have a better idea?

 

from: archenemy

i do!!!

i want to take you somewhere special

to celebrate the end of exams

and your birthday!!

 

to: archenemy

that sounds oddly menacing

and my bday was like,, a week ago

anyways i’m in

 

from: archenemy

cool!!

i’ll pick you up at your house

it’s going to be a surprise so

i hope you don’t mind blindfolds ;)

 

to: archenemy

omg

i already regret this

 


 

“Don’t open your eyes yet, Hyunjin! You’re too impatient!”

 

Hyunjin scoffs, her eyes closed tightly, Heejin’s right arm around her shoulder and her left hand wrapped gently around Hyunjin’s hand. The day is cold—it’s almost winter, after all—but Hyunjin feels a strange, fuzzy sensation of warmth inside her.

 

She tightens her grip on Heejin’s hand.

 

“Come on, we’re almost there… Careful, don’t trip!”

 

“You make it sound so easy…” Hyunjin grumbles, but she’s quick to crack a grin when she hears Heejin chuckle next to her.

 

“Don’t be grumpy, Hyunjin. Just a little bit more…”

 

After a few hesitant steps, Hyunjin and Heejin finally stop walking. She doesn’t open her eyes—like she promised Heejin, she has to wait until she tells her to open them—but the tingle in her chest doesn’t go away even when she feels Heejin removing her arms from around her.

 

“Okay, you can open your eyes now!” Heejin says, excited.

 

Hyunjin obliges with a sigh. It takes her eyes some seconds to adjust to the light, but after blinking a couple of times, she can finally see where they are. Of all the things she had expected, especially after seeing how eager Heejin was, what she sees surprises her.

 

It’s a soccer field.

 

Well, it’s not actually a soccer field, but rather an open field next to an old park. A bunch of worn-out wooden poles serve as goals, and the lines drawn roughly on the ground are already fading. Clearly, the place must be pretty popular among little kids—it’s the perfect spot for them to spend all afternoon playing safely, as it’s big and secluded enough for there not to be any cars around.

 

Hyunjin feels her chest swell at the sight with an emotion she can’t quite recognize. She’s astonished—even if she’s back to practice, she feels oddly detached from soccer, but seeing this place… it’s a whole new experience. The feeling is similar to her games, when she was happy just being in the field. Everything around her (the old goals, the dirt on the ground, the sudden wave of memories about soccer, Heejin and her stupid smile) makes her overcome with emotion.

 

“What do you think?” Heejin asks, her smile so bright it makes Hyunjin look away, nudging her shoulder playfully. She rummages through her backpack and takes an old soccer ball out, holding it proudly in her hands.

 

Hyunjin breaks down crying.

 

The thing is—Hyunjin isn’t used to cry. She cried when she fell down the stairs because the pain was too much even for her, of course. Dr Park has seen her cry many times, too—tears of frustration, tears of rage, tears of self-pity. And tears of happiness when she learnt that she’d be able to play again. But that’s all. After all these months where feelings moved like a rollercoaster inside her, she has discovered that crying—especially in front of others—is nothing to be ashamed of.

 

“Hyunjin? Oh my god.” Heejin says, sounding slightly panicked. In less than a second, she drops the ball and her arms are quick to wrap themselves around Hyunjin, holding her in a tight, comforting hug. “Are you—are you okay?”

 

With her head buried on the crook of Heejin’s neck, Hyunjin nods weakly, trying her best to muffle a sob. “Y—yeah, I’m—I’m fine, I just…”

 

She dries her own tears, tries to get a grip on herself. She doesn’t want Heejin to see her like this. Pity is the last thing she wants from Heejin—she wants her to see how happy she is with her, how touched she is because Heejin brought her to a place that is supposed to be special. Soccer has been so important for her, and Heejin knows it.

 

“I’m sorry, I—,” she sniffles, “—I really don’t know what came over me.”

 

“Hey, it’s alright,” says Heejin, holding her face between her hands, and carefully brushes away a stray tear on Hyunjin’s cheek. “Cry all you want, okay? You know you can trust me. I’m here.”

 

It takes her a while to stop sobbing, mostly because Hyunjin finds the comfort of Heejin’s embrace extremely soothing. It’s a place where she can see herself living—wrapped forever in Jeon Heejin’s arms, head rested on her chest (her heart is beating so fast, just like Hyunjin’s) and her hair tickling her cheeks.

 

“You’re so soft,” whispers Hyunjin against Heejin, hoping that the other girl won’t hear. Heejin’s answer comes in the form of a giggle, airy and sweet.

 

“Do you feel any better?” Heejin asks, breaking their hug to look at the other girl, and Hyunjin is very thankful that she promptly ignores her previous comment.

 

“Much better. Thank you.”

 

“I’m sorry I made you cry,” apologizes Heejin. She squats to pick up the ball she dropped minutes ago, looking rather sheepish. Her face, Hyunjin notices, is a little pink. “I only—I wanted to surprise you.”

 

“It’s cool, I swear. This is really nice,” Hyunjin smiles. Part of her is telling her to reach for Heejin’s hand to hold it, but she doesn’t. She can’t. “Is there, um, any reason why you chose this place?”

 

There are plenty of fields around the city, Hyunjin knows. She has played in almost every single one of them, sometimes for practice, sometimes for an actual game, sometimes just for fun. These kind of fields (old, used only by little kids), though… They have a different feeling to them. More… homely, like nothing bad could happen there.

 

“Yeah. My sisters and I used to come here a lot when we were younger,” explains Heejin. She stares up at the sky, seeming rather nostalgic, and Hyunjin’s chest clenches when she realizes this is such a meaningful place for Heejin. “Thought you might be interested in—you know—playing with me?”

 

“Playing?”

 

“You don’t remember? I told you that I wanted to play with you some day.”

 

Hyunjin remembers, of course. Every second she has spent with Heejin is completely ingrained in her memory—full conversations, fleeting smiles at school, all the coffees they have shared… She can remember everything so vividly it’s kind of worrying.

 

“Oh, yeah, it rings a bell,” she shrugs.

 

“Great!”

 

With the ball under her arm, Heejin jogs towards where the goal is supposed to be, the cold air making it possible to see her breath creating small clouds around. Hyunjin stands there, wondering what to do. When Heejin looks back at her, eyebrows raised and a silly smile on her face, she decides to move.

 

She walks to the centre of the field, not particularly close to where Heejin is, but far enough for her pride not to be hurt. She doesn’t want to play so close—it’ll make her look like she has lost her touch.

 

Heejin tosses her the ball. She seems pretty excited, which makes Hyunjin smile. At least one of them doesn’t dread playing soccer. Her positive energy is contagious, and Hyunjin feels a little more positive than she was before—soccer is fun, right? It’s her passion, not something to be afraid of. Plus, she’s going to play with her favourite person in the world. If this isn’t happiness, Hyunjin doesn’t know what it is.

 

“Hey, you ready there?” Hyunjin asks, partly because she wants to make a little more time. To clear up her mind. To mentally prepare herself. It’s what she always does before a game, not matter whether it is “important” or not. She takes off her coat so it doesn’t get in the way, and although the cold bites her skin, the fire of adrenaline is the only thing she can feel.

 

Heejin gives her a thumbs up from the goal, a wide grin plastered on her lips.

 

“Come on, hit me with your best shot!” She yells. Although the tone of her voice is playful, there’s a certain sparkle behind her eyes that Hyunjin easily recognizes. If she and Heejin have something in common, it’s that they both are extremely competitive.

 

If Heejin wants to play hard, Hyunjin is more than willing to oblige.

 

She decides to kick the ball with her left foot, still a bit paranoid about her recently healed knee. The last thing Hyunjin wants is to ruin her leg again for being too reckless, even though she knows nothing will happen unless she does something extreme. Still, she gets anxious thinking about all the “what if…?”,

 

Her first shot is weak and hesitant. It flies above Heejin’s head, missing the goal entirely.

 

Hyunjin sighs.

 

“This is no use,” she says, disheartened. Of course she knew things wouldn’t be the same after not playing for so long, but she expected something… different. Not complete failure.

 

Heejin retrieves the ball and tosses it back to Hyunjin, smiling reassuringly.

 

“C’mon, I trust you! Stop holding back! I know you’re better than this.”

 

She is better than that, Hyunjin knows too.

 

“Alright,” she says, determined. “Warm-up is over. Get ready!”

 

Due to the fact that it’s been months since Hyunjin last played soccer, it takes her a few shots to adjust. She has it inside her, she knows. When she played in a match, she knew exactly what to do—how much strength she needed to put into a kick, when to hog the ball or when to pass it to her teammates, when it was the right time to try and score. Soccer is natural for her, almost organic. All of that is still part of her, she only has to dig it up from within.

 

They keep playing, and every shot Hyunjin makes is a tad more precise than the previous. Little by little, she starts to get used to the feeling of kicking again. There’s not the slightest trace of pain. Her fear starts to disappear—she doesn’t have to worry. Nothing is going to go wrong, because she’s finally okay.

 

With all that in mind, she gets ready to kick again.

 

After so many years of playing soccer, Hyunjin knows when she has made a good shot. She can recognize the tickle throughout her body, the adrenaline inside her as the ball flies straight into the goal. Her knee doesn’t even sting when she kicks the ball with just the right strength, just in the right angle. Just like she has always done.

 

The ball flies past Heejin, who can’t even move an inch. The shot is too fast for her to even see, let alone stop it. She simply stares at Hyunjin in awe as the ball hits the wall behind her with a loud thump, only to bounce on the ground seconds after.

 

Heejin and Hyunjin look at each other in surprise, neither of them having quite expected such thing to happen.

 

“That was…” Heejin says, breaking their little moment. Her surprise quickly turns into joy. “That was amazing, Hyunjin! That was—it was nuts! How the hell did you do that? Oh my god! Hyunjin, this is crazy.”

 

It isn’t crazy, nor amazing. It doesn’t even come close to Hyunjin’s most average goals throughout her career, but it’s a good starting point. And if it keeps Heejin saying her name like that… Hyunjin is willing to call it whatever she wants.

 

“I already knew you were good, Hyunjin, but you always manage to find a new way to surprise me,” Heejin says, beaming.

 

Seeing Heejin smile like that—smiling because she’s sincerely happy about Hyunjin—moves something inside her, and it starts building up until it reaches her chest and Hyunjin forgets how to properly think for a second. When Heejin turns around to retrieve the ball, everything hits Hyunjin at once.

 

She looks at Heejin and her old soccer ball and her smile brighter than the sun—all the things she makes her feel seem to suddenly tighten the knot in her chest, until Hyunjin can’t breathe anymore. There’s something about Heejin—something she has never felt about anyone before, she knows—and Hyunjin can’t push it away any longer.

 

“See?” Heejin says, giggling as she returns to her spot, the ball on her hands again. “I totally knew you’d do it! And you thought I was overreacting!”

 

She stops on her tracks when she notices Hyunjin standing just centimetres away from her, close enough to her face for it to be considered too close. Heejin drops the ball, her eyes never leaving Hyunjin’s. The air between them is thick, or at least Hyunjin believes it is. She has never seen Heejin stare at her like that.

 

“H-Hyunj—?”

 

“You talk too much, Heejin,” she mumbles, her hands cupping Heejin’s cheeks.

 

Hyunjin has always thought that Heejin talks too much. That was one of the things she used to hate about her, actually. It always managed to get on her nerves. But right now, their faces so close she can feel Heejin’s breath almost mixing with hers, Hyunjin can only think how much she loves it.

 

It took her a smashed knee to realize, but Hyunjin knows now. Standing in the middle of an old field, with Heejin’s eyelashes tickling her face, she knows—she loves this girl. Love is a very big word, Hyunjin thinks, but it’s the only one that can properly describe what she feels when she leans into Heejin and, for some reason, Heejin seems to do the same.

 

Her eyes flutter closed when soft lips brush against hers. Hyunjin’s heart leaps in her throat, every inch of her body filled with warmth, feeling electricity where her fingertips touch Heejin’s smooth skin.

 

Trying to somehow deepen the kiss, Heejin grips at the fabric of Hyunjin’s hoodie, pulling and pulling until their bodies so close together that Hyunjin has to hold one of the wooden poles next to her so as not to lose her balance. Heejin whines against her mouth when one of her hands leaves her cheek.

 

Hyunjin feels her head swimming when she breaks the kiss as she tries to catch her breath. (After all, this is her first kiss, it’s not like she’s supposed to know what to do, right?)

 

Heejin barely gives her five seconds to breathe before she’s pulling her and slamming their mouths together again. She does so too roughly—their teeth clack together and Hyunjin is this close to lose her balance entirely. Hyunjin wants to laugh, but her chuckles die against Heejin’s lips when she kisses her for a second time—soft and careful this time—and she melts into it, her entire body tingling.

 

She’s just getting used to the feeling of Heejin’s lips on hers, her hands tangled in her hair, when Heejin bites down her bottom lip a bit too harshly. Hyunjin lets out a whimper, partly because it hurt and partly because Heejin suddenly breaks the kiss, staring at her wide-eyed, eyebrows furrowed in worry.

 

“Hyunjin! Are you—oh my god, are you okay?” Heejin says, holding Hyunjin’s face between her hands carefully. “I’m sorry, I just—”

 

“It’s okay, Heejin,” Hyunjin grins. Although her lip stings and seems to be bleeding slightly, she couldn’t care any less. “I’m okay, don’t worry.”

 

(When she tries to relive the kiss later that night, Hyunjin realizes, turning beet red at the thought, that she might have even enjoyed it. So yeah, she’s definitely okay.) 

 

“I’m so sorry, seriously, I just—I got carried away, and...”

 

Hyunjin stares at Heejin, who’s rambling and panicking over her bleeding lip. As if Hyunjin gave a single fuck about her stupid lip, when the only thing she can focus on is the way Heejin pouts and frowns so adorably.

 

I love you, she wants to say, but the words get stuck on her throat. Maybe she’s not ready. Maybe this is just not the time.

 

Instead, Hyunjin closes the small gap between them and kisses Heejin again. Unlike the previous kiss, it’s short—barely a peck. It’s enough to make Heejin shut up and it’s enough for Hyunjin to know that she’s more than willing to ignore some pain if she gets to keep kissing Heejin forever.

 

“I think we both got a bit carried away, right?” She asks, smiling. Heejin nods and laughs against her mouth, her hands now playing with the hairs on the back of Hyunjin’s head.

 

Perhaps Hyunjin was wrong, she thinks as she leans into Heejin for what it seems like their millionth kiss that afternoon.

 

Love doesn’t even begin to describe this.

 


 

Hyunjin hasn’t seen Heejin for an entire week since they kissed. Well, that’s not true—they met two or three times at school, but they didn’t interact so much as awkwardly waved at each other in the hallways. Wait, that’s not true either—Hyunjin has been actively avoiding Heejin the whole week, too embarrassed to even dare to look at her in the eye.

 

After having kissed in the park, they didn’t really say anything to each other. When they both seemed to reach a silent agreement that they should stop kissing—or else they’d never stop, Hyunjin knew—Hyunjin literally ran away. She half-assed an apology, claiming that she needed to help her sister with dinner (a blatant lie, they both knew) and pretty much fled the place before Heejin could complain. Hyunjin wanted to kiss her one last time goodbye, but didn’t dare to.

 

Therefore, it’s entirely normal for Hyunjin to be nervous about their meet up. Who wouldn’t be nervous if they had to see the person they liked—the person they were in love with—after having ignored them deliberately for days?

 

(Much to Hyunjin’s embarrassment, they texted each other almost at the same time.

 

to: archenemy

um hello

 

from: archenemy

hey!!

 

to: archenemy

oh

haha

hey .

 

from: archenemy

hey

 

to: archenemy

can we meet up?

please?

 

from: archenemy

sunday, same place and time as usual?

 

to: archenemy

yes please

 

That was all. Now that Hyunjin thinks of it, she sounded really desperate asking Heejin to meet up with her. And to make things worse…

 

Is it a meet up? A date? Hyunjin’s starts sweating when she realizes she doesn’t even know at what point her relationship with Heejin is right now. She isn’t even sure she wants to know, really.)

 

Her heart is about to burst out of her chest when she notices Heejin already waiting for her in front of the café. She’s this close from turning around and running away, but Heejin notices her before she can do anything. Her face lights up ever so slightly. Well, at least Hyunjin knows that she doesn’t hate her. Not yet, at least.

 

“Hey, you,” Heejin greets her with a wide smile.

 

“H—Hello,” says Hyunjin, her voice cracking at the end even though she’s doing her best to hide the fact that she’s about to pass out. If Heejin notices, she doesn’t say anything. Instead, she takes a step forward—Hyunjin almost steps back in panic—and wraps her arms around Hyunjin in a tight hug.

 

Sighing in relief, Hyunjin rests her head in the crook of Heejin’s neck, her arms finding their way around the other girl’s waist as if by instinct. Hugging Heejin, kissing her—being with her, actually—seems to come naturally to Hyunjin. Heejin hums against her ear, pleased, making Hyunjin’s heart flutter.

 

They hug for what seems like an eternity and Hyunjin can’t stop overthinking it. Where is the line that makes a hug too long for it to be a “just friends” hug? Is there even a line? Do Heejin and Hyunjin need to cross that line? Have they already crossed it after making out at the park, or that’s an entirely different line?

 

Heejin is the one to break the hug (probably having noticed Hyunjin’s sudden stiffness) and she takes some seconds to stare at Hyunjin, arms still around her neck. It’s kind of reminiscent of the day they kissed at the park. If she leaned in, they’d kiss again, she’d remember exactly how Heejin’s mouth felt against her own, Heejin’d maybe bite her lip again and—

 

Hyunjin feels the tips of her ears get red just by thinking about it.

 

She wants to kiss her so bad.

 

“Let’s go?” Heejin says, removing her arms from Hyunjin’s neck.

 

What?” Hyunjin asks, raising her eyebrows. Almost immediately, she mentally slaps herself for being such a dumbass—but she also mentally pats herself on the back, as she manages to make Heejin let out one of her adorable chuckles.

 

“Let’s go—” she repeats, “—inside?”

 

“Sure!” Hyunjin nods, suspiciously chirpy. Great. Apparently, she just can’t stop embarrassing herself in front of Heejin.

 

Heejin shakes her head, smiling, and wraps her fingers carefully around Hyunjin’s elbow. She tugs at her, opening the door of the café with her free hand and drags her inside. The barista waves at them when he recognizes them and makes a comment about how long it’s been since they last went to the place. Hyunjin laughs awkwardly, having barely processed what he said because she’s too focused on Heejin’s hand around her arm; Heejin, as usual, makes small talk with him as they wait for their orders.

 

Drinks in hand, they sit at their table. The café is completely empty, Hyunjin notices, except for an elderly couple with their grandson sitting next to the front door. She isn’t sure if being almost alone with Heejin makes relax a bit or not.

 

Heejin is the first to speak up, pointing at the mug in front of Hyunjin. “New drink?”

 

“Hm?” Hyunjin looks at her order, and then back at Heejin. Her mind isn’t working properly, so she simply says, “Uh, yeah.”

 

“How come?”

 

Coming up with an excuse in just three seconds is an absolute achievement for Hyunjin. Her usual order is large caramel latte with whipped cream; today’s is black coffee, no sugar. The truth is that she doesn’t want any sugar in her system or else she’s going to have a stroke. Heejin already makes it very hard for her heart to beat at a normal rate.

 

“I haven’t slept well tonight,” she shrugs. “Hyejoo needed someone to play LoL with and I agreed.”

 

“All night playing videogames?” Heejin’s eyebrows quirk in surprise. “Damn, she must be really invested in that game.”

 

“Yeah, you can’t even imagine,” groans Hyunjin, remembering Hyejoo’s usually soft voice yelling at her through her headphones. Although she accepted to play with her because she needed to get her mind off her “date” with Heejin, she ended up regretting it. “She hates losing.”

 

“Well, then that’s something you both have in common,” Heejin points out. “I still remember all the dirty looks you gave me whenever you lost a race against me.”

 

They both smile at the memory. Months ago, Hyunjin would have felt offended at that comment—Heejin reminding her of how she never got to win against her would have definitely hurt her pride. Not anymore. Now that’s another good memory, because she shares it with Heejin.

 

“I was a sore loser. Still am, I guess.” She takes a sip of her coffee, the bitter taste of the drink making it hard to swallow. “At least I got to win once.”

 

“Oh, I remember that! It was your last race,” she says. “I had a lot of fun! You were a tough rival.”

 

There’s a slight change in Heejin’s expression. If Hyunjin didn’t know her so well, she wouldn’t have noticed. She has learnt to discover every nuance of Heejin’s attitude; she knows when she’s mad just by the way she curls her lips, or when she’s sad because her voice becomes a little deeper. She doesn’t quite know what this one expression means, though.

 

Hyunjin stares at her in silence, trying to discover why the sudden change.

 

“Oh god, speaking about Hyejoo, you won’t believe what Chaewon told me the other day,” Heejin says with an amused smile. She’s back to being normal, with the same look and tone she uses whenever she’s about to tell an anecdote she considers hilarious. “Okay, so we were in my room and…”

 

Her story gets muffled by the loud noises of Hyunjin’s brain working, searching for the reason why Heejin’s face seemed to change for that split second.

 

Then it hits her.

 

Hyunjin feels kind of stupid for never having realized before. She should have, especially after that one conversation in the clinic. “Sometimes, I let the new kids win. Just so they could feel more confident,” was what Heejin told her. Heejin, who never once lost a race against Hyunjin, except for one. Heejin, always so selfless.

 

Heejin let her win.

 

Even though they hated each other—at least Hyunjin did; she’s not sure anymore whether Heejin actually ever hated her—and even though Hyunjin never treated her like she deserved, Heejin let her win. Knowing it was their last race, knowing it’d make Hyunjin happy, she let her win.

 

Hyunjin is completely overwhelmed by all the feelings she has for her.

 

So when Heejin says—

 

“…but Chaewon told me that she was going to do it anyway, and I said ‘you’re going to regret it later’, but she didn’t listen to me, as usual. Can you believe her?”

 

Hyunjin blurts out, “I’m in love with you.”

 

Heejin drops the spoon she is holding, mouth forming a perfectly round ‘o’. She makes a small noise, like she’s about to say something, but no words leave her mouth. Her eyes move over Hyunjin’s face, as if trying to read her, to find that small curl of the lips, that certain sparkle in her eyes that’ll prove that this isn’t more than a simple joke.

 

The air between them becomes thick, hard to breathe. The silence, too uncomfortable to bear, interrupted only by the background noise—cars passing by, other customers chatting, completely oblivious to them. Hyunjin feels her heart race, beating in her chest, her ears, her head.

 

With her heart about to explode, Hyunjin waits, biting her lower lip. There’s no use in denying what she just said, so know she can only wait for an answer. She isn’t sure what to expect—acknowledgment, confusion, I love you too, a smile. Anything. She’s willing to take anything.

 

But Heejin says nothing.

 

“H—Heejin, please just—say something, please, I…”

 

She hates how desperate she sounds, like she’s begging for Heejin to speak. Worst thing about it is that she is—she begs her, she begs God, she begs anyone who’s willing to listen for Heejin to answer. For Heejin to love her back.

 

 “I… Hyunjin I—I don’t…” Heejin trails off, but her voice becomes small, impossible to hear. She stares blankly at Hyunjin, still trying to utter something, but words seem to die in her throat. It doesn’t matter. This is enough for Hyunjin; she already has her answer.

 

After long, awkward seconds of staring at each other in silence, Hyunjin stands up, almost kicking her chair in the process, feeling suddenly overcome with everything she’s feeling. She wants to run away as fast as she can. No, she needs to run, to get away from Heejin. After this, Hyunjin isn’t sure she’ll be able to look at her in the eye again. She isn’t sure Heejin would want her to, anyway.

 

Her face feels warm and her vision is blurry with tears. She feels like an idiot—no, she is an idiot. The biggest idiot in the world. Fuck, fuck, fuck, I just ruined it. She ruined it. I just ruined everything. Fuck.

 

It starts to sink in when she crosses the door of the café and nobody stops her—Heejin doesn’t love her back, she never will. Hyunjin is just an idiot who’s in love with someone who doesn’t feel the same for her. Is this karma getting back at her for hating Heejin at some point of her life? Is that even how karma works: making her fall for everything she once hated about Heejin, only for her not to return her feelings?

 

Why’d Heejin kiss her back that day if she was going to reject her in the end?

 

Hyunjin feels humiliated, stupid. She really should have known better. There’s nothing about her worth falling in love with, anyways.

 

For a second, she considers going back home, but is quick to discard the idea. If she showed up like that, sobbing uncontrollably, her mother would ask questions, and Hyunjin isn’t sure she is ready to answer any of them. Thinking about what just happened makes her chest tighten until it starts to hurt—she doubts she’ll be able to tell anyone about it, not even her mother.

 

Her feet move on their own, walking opposite of the café, away from Heejin. She knows it’s helpless, but it’s also the only thing she can think of: running away, as fast as she can.

 

Hyunjin manages to find a lonely bench just around the corner. The street is almost empty—the area isn’t particularly busy—so she can mope in peace. She hides her face in her hands, tears slipping through her fingers, every inch of her body shuddering.

 

She regrets all of this.

 

It would have been better to stay quiet, Hyunjin thinks, feeling brittle in a way she has never felt before. This is exactly why she has always been so careful about letting her walls down, the reason why she has steeled herself from others.

 

Love is supposed to be good. Haseul herself said so. Love is supposed to be celebrated, not dreaded. Loving someone, being loved—they are supposed to be positive things, they are supposed to make you feel good, to make you happy. Hyunjin is miserable, at best. She wants to blame Heejin for making her feel like that. She wants to be angry, to feel bitterness towards her, but she simply can’t manage.

 

She’s just so in love with Heejin, it’s actually pathetic.

 

Everything is just so pathetic: Kim Hyunjin, the girl who fears nothing, who never cries, breaking down in a bench in the middle of nowhere. Kim Hyunjin, rejected by the girl she’s in love with. Kim H—

 

“KIM HYUNJIN!”

 

Hyunjin’s breath hitches for split second. Her head starts spinning when she sees Heejin from the corner of her eye. Heejin, brows furrowed, breathing heavily. Heejin, coming towards her with a determination behind her eyes she has never seen.

 

Heejin.

 

Hyunjin!”

 

Of course, Hyunjin’s first instinct is to run away.

 

Unfortunately, Heejin is faster. She has always been a bit faster than Hyunjin. Just enough to never lose a race against her. Just enough to grab her wrist, to prevent her from fleeing that bench and never looking back.

 

“Kim Hyunjin,” Heejin repeats, and Hyunjin hates how much she likes her saying her name over and over and over and over, “how do you always manage to do it?”

 

(Maybe it’s because she’s still crying, but Hyunjin could swear Heejin’s eyes are getting slightly teary, too.)

 

“W—What?” She asks, voice cracking at the end.

 

“You always have to ruin everything. Every single time.”

 

Hyunjin’s heart sinks more—if that’s even possible—until Heejin lets go of her wrist to hold her hands carefully, as if they’d break at any given moment. Her fingers are so small compared to Hyunjin’s, and yet she’s the one who feels herself shrinking as seconds go by.

 

“First,” Heejin says, “when you kissed me at the park. I had all this stupid, romantic confession planned out and you just—you kissed me. You had to ruin it. I couldn’t even—I didn’t dare to tell you afterwards.”

 

What?

 

“And now,” she continues, “I think that, this time, I have everything under control. First, we’re supposed go to the café. Then, I’m supposed take you somewhere special, where we can have some privacy so I can finally tell you how in love I am with you. But of course you go and say it first and I—god, I’m such an idiot, because instead of kissing you or saying it back or, or—whatever. I’m there, gaping at you and you probably think I’m not saying anything because I don’t feel the same or anything but that’s not… that’s just—it’s not true. It’s not true, Hyunjin.”

 

Heejin pauses to recover her breath, while Hyunjin has already forgotten how to breathe, how to think. Her mind is buzzing with one single thought: Heejin loves her Heejin loves she loves her she loves her she loves her she loves her

 

“Thank god,” she says, laughing yet still unable to hold back her tears. There’s a warmth inside her, spilling over. “Thank god,” she repeats, and Heejin looks at her so fondly that it makes Hyunjin’s chest ache.

 

“Hyunjin, I love y—” Heejin’s words die on Hyunjin’s lips when she leans in for a kiss. Slightly taken aback, Heejin makes a small noise in the back of her throat and moves her hands to frame Hyunjin’s cheeks.

 

They pull away for a split second, with Heejin opening her mouth to speak—Hyunjin, cheeks still damp from crying, interrupts her with another kiss. And another, then another. Diligent as always, Heejin does her best to keep up with her.

 

“Oh my god, Hyunjin,” Heejin says against Hyunjin’s mouth. She tries to sound serious, angry even, but Hyunjin can hear a smile on her voice. “Hyunjin can I just—oh my—,” she whines when Hyunjin moves to plant a kiss on her jaw, giggling. “Can I—oh my goodness, stop it! Damn it, can I—will you just let me say it?”

 

“Sorry, sorry!” Hyunjin chuckles. “Let me just—” She presses a short kiss on Heejin’s lips one last time. “Okay, there, I’m done.”

 

Heejin takes a deep breath, staring intently at Hyunjin, softly caressing her skin with her thumbs. Her hands on Hyunjin’s face are so careful, as if she’s touching something precious, something that might break at any point.

 

“Kim Hyunjin,” she says, like there’s only her and Hyunjin in the universe to listen, “I love you.”

 

After wiping the stray tears on her cheeks—happy tears, this time—Hyunjin wraps her arms around Heejin, her face hidden against the soft skin of her neck. She has never felt closer to any other person, ever. With a faint laugh, Heejin mimics her, holding Hyunjin like she’s the only thing keeping her from falling.

 

Holding Heejin so close she can feel her heart beating against her, Hyunjin forgets about everything—about soccer, about her knee, about her therapist, about those passers-by that are staring at them with curious eyes. Her mind is clouded by Heejin, filled by all the love she feels for her.

 

In that moment, Hyunjin knows one thing for sure: she loves Heejin, and Heejin loves her back.

 


 

to: momseul

[image attached]

how is that for an idiot, huh?

 

from: momseul

Aw, you guys look so cute!

Heejin has changed a lot, she is even prettier now

 

to: momseul

stay away from my girlfriend miss

 

from: momseul

You don’t need to worry about that

[image attached]

 

to: momseul

i still can’t see her face

but cute

 

from: momseul

Hyunjin…

 

to: momseul

sorry

 

from: momseul

Don’t be

Anyway

I wanted to tell you something

 

to: momseul

??

 

from: momseul

I’m really proud of us, you know?

 

to: momseul

me too

you can’t even imagine

 


 

University starts in just one week.

 

“What are we going to do now?”

 

They are supposed to go on dates and make the most of their time together before their classes starts and both of them have to move to their respective dorms, too far away for them to be able to meet every day. They try at first, they really do. But with the end of the break around the corner and the beginning of the school year getting closer and closer, Hyunjin and Heejin end up spending most of their time on Heejin’s bedroom, binge-watching reality TV and poorly written movies.

 

“Hm? What are you talking about?” Heejin asks, lazily running her fingers through Hyunjin’s hair. They are squeezed together on Heejin’s bed, watching one of those terrible and sappy romcoms you can find on Netflix.

 

“Um, I mean,” says Hyunjin, blushing slightly, “what’s going to happen to us?”

 

Heejin quirks a brow at her girlfriend. “Are you trying to break up with me, Hyunjin?”

 

Quite panicked, Hyunjin shoots upwards and waves her hands vehemently. “What!? Oh my god, no no no no, I just—”

 

Heejin starts laughing with a very flustered Hyunjin glowering at her, a childish pout on her lips.

 

“I’m just kidding,” Heejin says, kissing Hyunjin’s temple. It seems to calm the other girl down, as she smiles and snuggles closer to Heejin. “Like I’d ever let you get rid of me.”

 

With her head buried in the crook of Heejin’s neck, her voice sounds so low and smooth it makes Hyunjin shiver. Sometimes she still can’t believe this—she can’t believe she gets to be with Heejin like this. There are so many new things she can do now that Heejin loves her. Holding her hand, kissing her… even looking at her feels like a miracle.

 

“Are you scared of what’s going to happen?” Heejin asks, biting her lip. The movie she chose to watch is still playing in the background, long forgotten now. Neither of them bothers to turn it off.

 

“Hm, I guess,” Hyunjin murmurs against Heejin’s skin. “I just really don’t want to be away from you.”

 

Heejin turns around so they are facing each other and then pokes Hyunjin’s nose, smiling wide and bright. Her cheeks seem to get a little red, and Hyunjin has the sudden urge to kiss them, but she manages to stop herself. Her feelings for Heejin are really overwhelming sometimes.

 

“It’s just a two-hour drive,” Heejin says, caressing Hyunjin’s face. “And we can Skype every day. Twice, if you want.”

 

“As long as I get to see you every now and then, I’ll be fine.” She pulls her head up to kiss Heejin under her ear. “Plus, you need to come to my games. I need a cheerleader.”

 

Heejin gasps, pretending to be offended. “So you just want me to be your trophy wife, huh?”

 

“Who knows, maybe,” Hyunjin grins, holding Heejin’s face to lock their lips together. She kisses her, slow and deep, trying to convey all the emotions she knows she could never properly put into words.

 

It’s so unbelievable, to love Heejin, and to have Heejin love her back.

 

“Sorry,” says Hyunjin, breaking their kiss with a grin. Heejin pouts, trying to reach for her mouth again, “I can’t kiss you with Naruto looking.” She points at one of the action figures on the shelf next to their bed, and Heejin slaps her arm playfully. She laughs, loud, and the sound of it makes Hyunjin’s heart soar.

 

The room becomes silent, with both of them holding each other close together. They don’t need words—after everything that has happened between them, they can understand. Their silence can speak for them. Sometimes, it’s better like this. Having someone to hold on to is such a good feeling that it aches in both of their chests. It’s a wonderful ache.

 

Hyunjin smiles, more content than ever.

 

After everything she has been through, she’s finally back where she started, both mentally and physically. No, that’s not right—she’s not the same she was before. She’s a whole new Hyunjin, much different from the Hyunjin who was pushed down the stairs that day, who couldn’t imagine a life without soccer, who hated Heejin with every inch of her body. Hyunjin is now a better version of herself, she knows. All the pain, all the bad memories… They are gone, and Hyunjin doesn’t feel that burden anymore.

 

Plus, she now has Heejin with her.

 

“I’m so used to this,” Hyunjin whispers, her head resting on Heejin’s chest. She can feel her heart hammering against her chest, a little faster than usual. It makes her smile like an idiot. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without you.”

 

“I don’t know either,” Heejin says, and she kisses Hyunjin again, soft and reassuring, “but we’ll figure it out.”

 

They’ll figure it out, they both know it. Meanwhile, they still have each other.

 

This,” Hyunjin thinks, looking at Heejin, who smiles back at her. It makes her heart swell, “this is as good as it gets.”