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All these words they come out wrong
At least that's the way it seems
See, I've been using the word love but I don't know what it means
Am I awake
If I've been dreaming all my life?


 

It's late at night when they speak in hushed whispers—a maelstrom of heinous secrets.

   Joohyun listens, eyes closed for their delicate words to brush against her ears. She stays as still as them, lit only by the delicate frequency of street lamps and the dull florescent from above—they each have their tales of vice and use—barely alive in the shadowed secrecy of midnight.

   She listens and listens to their crescendo of complaint as they lie unaware of her intrusion.

   She listens in hope of her own story told through their vague neutrality—she listens to understand the vivid images burnt in her mind—the faceless declarations of eternal promises and blurry images.

   But they never speak of her, instead they consider her one of their own; harmless and inanimate—a reoccurring prop in their horrific tableau.

 


 

There are questions pressed against her collarbone by the softest of lips.

   Mumbled declarations tattooed on her skin—promised treasures buried deep inside her heart.

   She can't remember what they are or who says them. She can't understand their significance, their routine to inspire insatiable curiosity.

   All she remembers is the shape of those lips, their warmth and their comfort.

 


 

Every night Joohyun boards the same bus to go home.

   Most night she's alone, lost inside a vast and insidious darkness. At times there comes a paradoxical happiness to remain unnoticed amidst empty chairs—she doesn't care for the attention of stray drunkards that stumble onto the bus whenever it rains.

   She shuts her eyes and finds herself in a new world entirely—just slightly out of focus.

 


 

The bus halts at one of its usual stops and a familiar figure steps inside.

   Joohyun can't see who it is properly, only catches a glimpse of them silhouetted against the red light of a traffic signal as the bus starts again. A deafening silence punctures through the atmosphere, it's reminiscent of the sort of silence that rushes in your ears underwater—terribly violent and suffocating.

   She misses her stop.

 


 

Weeks pass by and Joohyun doesn't see the stranger again.

   Her heart shivers with a sense of unknown loss. Her dreams turn frightening, she wakes gasping in her bed—alone, with only memories of the day before as her companions.

   Joohyun dreams of cold water and poison forced inside her veins, of madness coiled around her neck—tighter and tighter until she can no longer breathe. She dreams of walls stained white as harsh hands pull at her, smell of common disinfectant etched into her skin.

   She doesn't go back to sleep.

   Instead, she stares at the shadowed corners of her room that seem like elongated pathways to other worlds.

 


 

A voice haunts her during the day.

   It's beautiful in its mumbled nonsense, so delicate and serene as it trickles down her neck and pools in her stomach like the most exquisite of velvet.

   It's here and there and nowhere, all at once—a reality in the corner of her eye, always out of reach.

 


 

Getting off at an earlier stop, Joohyun doesn't expect to find the stranger sat on the bench.

   It's her—it's her.

   But Joohyun is numb to all sensation, stood in awe like some senseless admirer. Stars whirl and stutter periodically behind her.

   Joohyun knows her, she knows yet every time she tries to grasp at her name, it remains unattainable—lost and forgotten amid grains of perishable sand as it slips away from her fingers.

   Walking past Joohyun, she climbs onto the bus. Joohyun turns or is rather, pulled by fate to catch another glimpse but she's already gone, leaving behind her only a memory to chase after.

 


 

Sounds melt into the ground the moment she enters—a strange hush borne from some sense of unreality.

   Joohyun averts her eyes when the girl turns to look at the lack of passengers—there is no unease or recognition in her eyes at the prospect of a dreary ride home. Hushed whispers spark in the air, wild and untamed.

   She doesn't miss her stop again.

 


 

Heavy rain falls rather mystical outside as people come inside for shelter and scatter to claim different seats.

   A figure stands near the empty seat next to Joohyun, she glances up and feels a slight tremble under her wrists.

   "Do you mind if I sit here?" She's polite but her expression is already marred by a sense of rejection. Lips rolled into her mouth in anticipation—her hoodie is damp from the rain, fringe matted against her forehead.

   "No," Joohyun manages—her tongue feels dry, "not at all."

   She smells of the rain oddly enough, rather sweet with a touch of wet grass. A million possibilities swell inside Joohyun's chest—they pulsate and claw at her ribs like insatiable creatures.

   Joohyun turns slightly to glance at her. "Have we met before?"

   "I don't think we have."

   It's the same voice that fills the empty sentences in her mind whenever she's alone—soft and melancholic it traces over her fractured dreams.

   "Well," she says, "I'm Joohyun."

   She smiles and Joohyun's heart sings to the tune of an ancient symphony, "I'm Seulgi."

   Oh. Seulgi.

   Seulgi.

   Her name is like a subtle assurance to the thought that they will meet again someday, underneath a starry void sky—as if their very meeting is somewhat fated, attuned to the many destinies written on blank slates by deities unknown.

 


 

Joohyun dreams of the softest lips pressed against her neck and a melodious voice murmured in her ear—each declaration laced with a burning adoration.

   She wakes and remembers only fragments as they lie scattered on her sheets, and a pain of longing pulsing in her heart—it's worse than those nightmares.

   At least she forgot them as the day progressed, felt their trace sweep away but these dreams; they make her terribly sad.

   And the sadness is of a loss she can't quite remember.

 


 

On the third time they sit together, Seulgi lets her head fall to Joohyun's shoulder out of drowsiness.

   She shuts her eyes and presses her cheek against Seulgi's hair, an act so impossibly familiar that Joohyun could swear it’s something she used to do—perhaps in another lifetime...

 


 

"You have really beautiful eyes," Seulgi says, a little shy and looks away, "And I don't mean to sound weird but..."

   Intrigued, Joohyun tilts her head to the side, "But what?"

   She's supposed to get off at the next stop but she'd rather stay with Seulgi, in a distant world where only the two of them exist.

   "I don't know, I mean—I just realised but your eyes are so familiar. Like I've met you before, but I know we haven't."

   The bus comes to a halt but she doesn't want to leave—there's nothing out there for her, nothing except an abysmal unhappiness she can't comprehend.

   "That's not weird at all. But I've got to get going, I'll see you around, yeah?"

   "Yeah." Seulgi smiles and god, it's beautiful enough that Joohyun feels that same sense of loss tighten around her throat.

 


 

A little over a week later when Seulgi turns up at the bus, her words are warped with cheap alcohol.

   She wraps her arms around Joohyun rather intimately, delicate breaths fanned over sensitive skin. Joohyun turns to press her lips to Seulgi's hair.

   A timeless emotion trembles under her wrists, it lies in preparation for a moment Joohyun can't reach—it's too far off the edge of her memories. Seulgi smells of a comfort Joohyun can't seem to understand, a comfort she's felt a lifetime ago amidst an agony present in her dreams.

   Oh.

   "I think..." Joohyun whispers against her hair, "I think I've seen you in my dreams."

 


 

Fifteen minutes before Joohyun's stop, Seulgi falls asleep with her head on Joohyun's shoulder—her hair smells faintly of almond shampoo. Her stop comes and goes but she doesn't move, instead she relishes in the warmth from Seulgi's body.

   She shifts against Joohyun after a while and mumbles, voice cracked with sleep, "Tell me when we reach your stop."

   "Missed it some time ago."

   "What?" Seulgi pulls away to look at her properly, albeit a little groggily. "Why didn't you wake me?"

   A smirk curls up at the corner of her mouth, "You look cute while you're sleeping."

   "Okay," she says like it's nothing new, "but how'll you get home?"

   "I've missed my stop loads of times, I know my way around." She shrugs and at Seulgi's frown, she continues, "Why, are you worried?"

   "Yeah, it's really late and not safe at all to wander alone. You could stay over at my place tonight, if you want."

   Apart from being in Joohyun's dreams, Seulgi is just a stranger and technically, it's not safe to get into bed with one—and maybe it's the most reckless decision she's ever made in her life, but she says yes.

 


 

In the warmth of Seulgi's bed, Joohyun feels a drunken euphoria slither inside her veins.

   Perhaps the peach flavoured schnapps they shared earlier did get to her. Seulgi is fairly tipsy, cheeks dusted a faint pink. She's never felt so complete seeing Seulgi sway in the middle of her own room to music only she can hear.

   "Can I play some music?"

   Joohyun nods—she could say yes to anything Seulgi asks of her. But god, her heart twists and shudders because Seulgi is right there, right in front of her—so very real and human, and it stings to see her but not be able to act on her impulses.

   It's probably very stupid when she pushes herself off the bed and treads softly towards Seulgi as she places a vinyl in the record player. The song starts off in the middle when Seulgi turns and Joohyun captures whatever she was about to say with a kiss.

   Of course she's kissed Seulgi before, they've kissed a thousand times—it's easy to fall back into the same rhythm she's dreamt about.

   Her lips are so deliriously soft and it's intoxicating, the way Seulgi tilts her head to deepen the kiss and Joohyun slips a hand through her hair and oh god. She's heard the song so long ago but the lyrics remain tattooed in her brain—and we kissed, as though nothing could fall—Bowie's vocals blend into the background, a distant hum of guitar and bass and drums as they entangle in a web of passion.

   But Seulgi pulls away and Joohyun's heart stalls.

   All she sees is regret and pain and everything so utterly unfamiliar. Seulgi's lips are parted in the form of a question and Joohyun steps back.

   "Joohyun..."

   She's already gone.